Saturday, March 22, 2003

THE DECEPTIVE DAMSEL: I've been reading a lot of Mickey Spillane recently. My little contribution to detective noir is over at The Forge: The Deceptive Damsel. Ah, but aren't they all?

Update:
The direct link to The Deceptive Damsel doesn't seem to be working, so just go to The Forge and look for it on March 22, 2003.
KEVIN'S OSCAR PICKS: Kevin passed along his Oscar picks and gave me permission to post them here.

Hey all,

Sorry there's no contest this year. In fact, I haven't done one in three years! But I've made my Oscar picks anyway... not that you really care.
It's a tough year to call, and I'm still not totally sure about a couple of the categories. But if you think you can do better, I'd love to hear your suggestions. Bring it on! (These are the only categories I care about, really.)

Picture: Chicago
Director: Martin Scorcese
Actor: Daniel Day Lewis
Actress: Nicole Kidman
Sup. Actor: Chris Cooper
Sup. Actress: Meryl Streep
Org. Screenplay: Talk To Her
Adap. Screenplay: The Hours

I guess I'd better go see Chicago! Unfortunately, the last two (new) movies I saw were pretty terrible. Old School was funny, but I don't think it's in Oscar contention. We'll see how Kevin's selections hold up... but I'm still hoping for an alternate ending to Oscar night.
POPE THINKS HE'S IN HEAVEN: The Pope says: "Violence and arms can never resolve the problems of men." Apparently, he has not only forgotten the numerous disputes and disagreements over the millenia that have, in fact, been resolved by war and other sorts of organized violence, he is also ignorant of Jesus' own words in Matthew 10:34 "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."

Not to mention, of course, the final war which will resolve all the problems of men:

Revelation 19:11-21
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. "He will rule them with an iron scepter." He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, "Come, gather together for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and mighty men, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, small and great."

Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army. But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. The rest of them were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.

It appears that God disagrees with the Pope's position on violence in general, and that in at least some circumstances finds it justified.
'PEACE' PROTESTERS STEAL FOOD FROM KIDS AND HURT OLD PEOPLE: Ok, it's a long title. Clayton Cramer over at the Volokh Conspiracy talks about the hidden costs that 'peace' protesters impose on society when they protest rather uh... violently. This is a thought I've had before, but it hardly seems worthy of comment since it falls so neatly into the typical mold of liberal hypocrisy. Protests in San Fransisco have already cost the city and state more than $450,000, and that money has to come from somewhere. Taxes won't be raised, so guess what? It comes from the liberals' pet social programs.

He also links to an article in the San Fransisco Chronicle on the same topic.
PICTURES OF CELEBRATION: I'm going to use this post to link to some pictures of Iraqis celebrating their liberation.

American protesters vs. Iraqis

'You're late. What took you so long? God help you become victorious.' Not a picture, but I like it.

'The human shields appealed to my anti-war stance, but by the time I had left Baghdad five weeks later my views had changed drastically.' Also not a picture. Via Instapundit.
A BREAK FROM REALITY: I decided to segregate my fiction from my commentary, and so I started a new blog to host any such future offerings. It's called The Forge, and I put a link to it in the left-hand column. I'll post a note here when I write something new, and any interested readers who need a break from reality can meander down that path at their leisure. I'm not going to put much effort into its layout and design at this point (unlike this graphical masterpiece), but I probably will at least change the color scheme when I have a few minutes to rub together.

The story I posted here a few days ago, "A Long Night", has been moved to the new location, and I'll add more as the muse leads me.
MIDNIGHT MOVIE MADNESS: I went to see Goonies with a few of my friends last night at the Nuart, and it was as fun as usual. The only bad experience I've had there at a midnight movie was when we went to go see a pseudo-live re-enactment of the movie Clue. It was pretty boring, due in no small part to the fact that Clue isn't nearly as entertaining as an adult as it was when I was a kid.

The crowd that turned out was largely hipster types, and nearly all of them seemed to smoke. This is unusual in Los Angeles, where in general there just aren't as many smokers as you'd find in other places around the country, or around the world. The audience was enthusiastic at all the right points in the movie, and I had enough candy and chips to keep me awake through the whole thing. Next week is Ghostbusters -- another one of my favorite movies -- but I won't be able to see it because I'll be camping in Malibu.

There was more protesting going on last night near UCLA (and thus near the Nuart); according to the radio more than 12,000 protesters marched around and disrupted traffic. I didn't actually see any of them, but the police were out in force around the theater and had several major roads (Santa Monica and Wilshire, at least) blocked off to traffic. I asked one of the cops what was going on, and she told me that the protesters had threatened to storm the police station on Santa Monica. Is this America, or what? I felt bad for the police who have to deal with this kind of nonsense, but I'm sure they get paid overtime so they probably don't mind.

Friday, March 21, 2003

LET'S TALK TURKEY: Turkey continues to waffle over cooperation with the vast, world-wide concensus that Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq needs to be toppled. First it appeared that they would allow the US to deploy ground forces from our military bases in southern Turkey, and then they changed their mind. Then they said we could fly over their territory, but they have apparently changed their mind on that as well. Why?

"Turkey closed its airspace Friday, saying it would remain closed until the United States agreed to allow Turkish troops to move into northern Iraq."

Well, that will never happen. The Turks want to move into northern Iraq for two reasons: to terrorize the Kurds who live there, and to take over the oil fields. Neither of these coincides with US/UK interests, and in fact:


"After Turkey's decision on Friday to suspend the overflight rights, a senior U.S. administration official said the administration is "very worried."

"We told them to stay the hell out and it is a major problem which we are going to be watching very closely today," the official said.

Needless to say, the billions of dollars in aid that the US had offered to Turkey are already off the table.

Update:

Fortunately, we have our coalition of the willing.

Update 2:

Turkish Troops Enter Northern Iraq. Did the US allow it? The article doesn't say.
TROUBLED WATERS: I see via Best of the Web that my representative in Congress, the lamentable Maxine Waters, was one of eleven House members to vote against a non-binding resolution whose purpose is "Expressing the Support and Appreciation of the Nation for the President and the Members of the Armed Forces Who are Participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom". She's in good company, such as Jim "Baghdad" McDermott and John "Impeach Bush" Conyers. Five of the eleven House members who voted to not express support for our troops are from California.

To quote a little from Best of the Web:

In addition, 21 Democrats, including presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, voted "present," which we guess means they can't decide if they're for or against America's troops. Also voting "present" was Republican Ron Paul, the isolationist feather of the GOP.

By our count, 23 members of the Congressional Black Caucus--a clear majority--voted either "no" or "present" on the resolution. This goes a long way in explaining why so few black candidates are able to win statewide office in America. Racial gerrymandering produces districts that elect black candidates who are so far to the left that they cannot even bring themselves to endorse a simple expression of patriotism during wartime.


Sorry for the horrible pun in the title.

Update:
I changed Conyers' middle name to avoid causing unintended offense.

I also wanted to note that the Senate passed the same resolution unanimously, which goes to show that representatives who have to worry about facing state-wide electorates tend to be a little more moderate. As Best of the Web aludes to, racial gerrymandering may result a greater number of black elected officials, but it also eliminates the possibility of any of the radical officials so elected continuing on to higher office. This fact works against the interests of racial minorty communities in the long run, but as long as playing race politics benefits the Democrats in the short run it's sure to stick around.
PERSUASION: Here's a quote from CNN:

Rumsfeld said the latest waves of air attacks were launched after senior Iraqi officers failed to turn against Saddam following initial U.S. airstrikes Thursday, including one aimed at Saddam himself, and a U.S. and British invasion of southern Iraq.

"What we've done so far has not been sufficiently persuasive," Rumsfeld said.

This surprises me. Of what do they remain unpersuaded? Maybe I'm too rational (or maybe I have more information than the Iraqi generals do?), but it's almost incomprehensible to me that anyone in a leadership position in Iraq still has doubts that they're going to lose, and lose badly. So, assuming they know this, why are they refusing to surrender?

  • They're biding their time, hoping to use the fighting as cover to escape (with money or other assets).
  • They think Saddam is still alive and still has a gun to their heads (literally or figuratively, through blackmail) and are more afraid of him than of us.
  • There is some sort of surprise plan that they think will change the tide of the battle (it seems unlikely that they think this, and it's even more unlikely that it's true).
  • They expect the UN or some other group to try and step in and save them (also implausable).
  • They're all meglomaniacal madmen, just like Saddam. This seems unlikely to me as well, since I don't think Saddam would want to surround himself with henchmen who didn't kowtow to his meglomania.

    I'll send this post to SDB and maybe he can enlighten us.
  • SURRENDER? WHAT?: Unless Saddam shows up on TV again, I'm going to assume he's dead. Nevertheless, someone in Baghdad thinks he's got a few hairs left in his moustache, and is still living in fantasy land:

    At least 60 and as many at 250 Iraqis surrendered. Col. Steve Cox of the British Marines told the Reuters news agency that U.S. Marines under British command captured 250 Iraqis near Umm Qasr. Television images from other parts of Iraq also showed Iraqi prisoners, marching in single file with their hands behind their heads. Sahhaf, the Iraqi information minister, said the images were fabricated.

    "Those were not Iraqi soldiers at all," he said. "Where did they get them from?"
    BOWLING FOR OSCAR: I loath Michael Moore, and every time someone I know comes up to me and asks me in an excited voice whether or not I have seen "Bowling for Columbine" I almost want to poke them in the eye. Yes, I'm a mean person, but I have to be honest; everyone has vices and mine is poking ignorant people in the eye. Anyway, sorry for the condescending tone of this post, but as this article will explain in detail Michael Moore is a fraud and a liar, and if you like him then you have fallen for it.

    Thursday, March 20, 2003

    A LONG NIGHT: This short story has been moved to my new fiction blog, The Forge.
    STRATEGIC TIMING: Call me petty, but I think it would be extremely excellent if our military could time some significant battle (the initial ground assault on Baghdad, say) such that it coincides with the Academy Awards. Two birds with one stone! Take over Baghdad and eviscerate the most annoying anti-American faction at home with one fell swoop.
    MOMENT OF LIBERATION: Via Andrew Sullivan, a quote from John Burns who reports for the New York Times from Iraq:

    Iraqis have suffered beyond, I think, the common understanding of the United States from the repression of the past 30 years here. And many, many Iraqis are telling us now, not always in the whispers he have heard in the past but now in quite candid conversations, that they are waiting for America to come and bring them liberty. It's very hard though for anybody to understand this. It can only be understood in terms of the depth of the repression here. It has to be said that this not universal of course... All I can tell you is that as every reporter who has come over here will attest to this, there is the most extraordinary experience of the last few days has been a sudden breaking of the ice here, with people in every corner of life coming forward to tell us that they understand what America is about in this. They are very, very fearful of course of the bombing, of damage to Iraq's infrastructure. They are very concerned about the kind of governance, the American military governance, that they will come under afterward. Can I just say that there is also no doubt - no doubt - that there are many, many Iraqis who see what is about to happen here as the moment of liberation.
    THE BEGINNING OF THE END... not for Saddam (it's the end of the end for him), but for the appeaser-states. Saddam has already launched at least one SCUD that he said he didn't have, and I'll be really surprised if there aren't more. I obviously won't post every single bit of news relating to the war (that's what news sites are for), but this seemed significant.

    It also raises a question in my mind. It seems virtually certain that Saddam will order chemical attacks on our troops, but:
  • will his commanders be able to receive orders from him, if we cut all their communications?
  • will his commanders follow his orders even if they are received?
  • will his chemical weapons actually be a real threat to us, even if they are delivered?
  • (and the big one) will our government tell us?

    I'm not normally a big government conspiracy nut, but there are many plausible reasons why they wouldn't want to announce Saddam's use of chemical weapons. The biggest reason I can think of is that it might make create political pressure for us to escalate and utilize tactical nukes. It might also make it harder for troops on the ground to peacefully accept surrenders if they get word that their brothers have been gassed.

    These factors need to be balanced against the potentially huge political gain that would result from Saddam's use of chemical weapons. It would serve as a vivid vindication of everything the US has been warning of for the past year, and for that reason alone I am skeptical that we would try to cover it up.

    The biggest obsticle to Saddam's use of chemical weapons is the problem of delivery. Even if he does have dozens of SCUDs left, they aren't very accurate weapons. His most reliable distribution method would be to set up gas traps in and around Baghdad, but that type of operation would take months to set up. Oh wait, he's had months. Thanks, France.
  • WONDER BOYS: Something about the movie "Wonder Boys" really struck a chord with me. It was hilarious and fascinating. I don't want to get into a detailed analysis of the characters, language, or events, but a particular quote from this movie has been running through my mind for the last few days. If you've seen the movie, you might recognize it. Professor Grady Tripp, having just witnessed his most brilliant student shoot the blind dog of a University administrator, says: "He's dead James. Believe me. I know a dead dog when I see one."

    Wednesday, March 19, 2003

    IT'S ON: The President has spoken, and war has begun. My prediction was off by a few days, but now it doesn't matter -- that's all in the past. War is a horrible thing, but I actually feel a sense of relief that it's finally underway. France, Germany, and the other appeaser-states can complain all they want, but within a few weeks they will be silenced by the powerful truth that comes out of Iraq -- stories of unimaginable evil told by eye-witnesses grateful to be finally free from Saddam's cruelty.

    I just came from a prayer service at my church where we prayed for the safety of our brothers, sons, fathers, and friends, as well as for the deliverance of the Iraqi people. There were tears, and a few laughs, and a lot of hugs. I told one of my friends about a photo of soldiers being baptized in the Kuwaiti desert, and here it is:


    For some excellent videos of our troops and equipment blowing things up, head on over to GrouchyMedia.com.

    It's very hard to focus my mind and finish my take-home final exam while other young men my age are fighting, and possibly dying.
    EARTH TO TOM DASCHLE: cont...
    Michael is right about Daschle. Not to mention the fact that, even had Bush's diplomatic efforts been "successful," armed conflict would have been almost as likely as it is right now, realistically. The only significant difference is that it would have come much later. Hussein will not cooperate peacefully even when the UN stands united against him, as he has demonstrated. So, eventually, either the UN would have had to change it's collective mind about the unacceptability of Hussein's behavior, or the UN would have had to enforce its collective will physically, militarily. And so it is not clear at all that a diplomatic "success," as Daschle might call it, would have saved lives. But it is clear that such a "success" would have cost much time.

    Furthermore, I see no honesty or sincerity behind Daschle's symbolic use of language. He is advertising himself, not expressing true sentiment. Call me cynical. Color me skeptical.
    A STAUNCH ALLY: Tony Blair has stood by the US, and for all the right reasons. Not merely because of our countries' historical ties and close friendship, but also because he truly believes in both what we are fighting for and how we are fighting for it. He's basically a socialist -- and I wouldn't want him directing my nation's domestic policy -- but he has been dealing with the War on Terror in a brilliant and admirable manner. Read Andrew Sullivan's comments on Blair's speech to the House of Commons. Read the text of the speech itself.

    Update:
    I want to add that Tony Blair has risked a lot for taking this position on Iraq. Although his approval ratings are trending upwards now that troops are in action, there were times over the past few months where his political survival was not even close to a sure thing. Nevertheless, both he and President Bush have been willing to put their political careers on the line to do what they know is right, and that's more than Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter or Jacques Chirac or Gerhard Schröder or Tom Daschle can ever say. Our soldiers, men and women who are mostly younger than me, are willing to risk their lives to do what is right and what needs to be done. How can any of the "leaders of the free world" do less?
    SADDAM'S SUPER GUN: Note to self: don't believe everything you read on the web. Debka.com often has some interesting information on the Middle East from an Israeli perspective, but articles like this (Google cache) make me question the site's reliability.
    EARTH TO TOM DASCHLE: Senator Tom Daschle said on Monday: "I'm saddened, saddened that this president failed so miserably at diplomacy that we're now forced to war, saddened that we have to give up one life because this president couldn't create the kind of diplomatic effort that was so critical for our country." Well, aside from his misinterpretation of the events (as the Emperor would say if he were President, "Everything is proceeding as I have forseen"), this was a foolish thing to say. As Michael Barone points out, it's a lose-lose statement: if the war goes badly then Bush et al. will be hurt politically regardless of what Daschle says now, but if the war goes well then Daschle's words will make him look like a vulture, hoping for political gain from the corpses of dead Americans.
    FINAL FINAL: I just finished my final final exam. It is now just after 330am. I started the second half of the exam before 5pm, and haven't taken a break since.

    I've had a lot of jobs over the years: tutor, law intern, librarian, programmer, process analyst, baby-sitter, writer for a Stanford newspaper, and a few others. But being a student is the most demanding occupation I've ever had, and I'll tell you why.

    Being a student is a 24 hour job, and the material is purposely designed, by experts in the field, to keep you pushed to the limits of your ability to reason, plan, and work. It is fun and fascinating, but it is also incredibly draining. By the end of every academic quarter I can remember, I have suffered from a form of mental and spiritual fatigue that cannot be healed by sleep, or by medicine, or by hearty meal after hearty meal.

    A 24 hour job. At every single moment, the student has to choose between studying and something else. Eat breakfast, or study? Go to class, or study? Sleep, or study? Should I go back to the dorm so that I can call my family, or should I stay here in the library and finish this article / problem set / essay / chapter ? Can I wait until next week to interact with the people I love? Wait, how long has it been? One week, or two?

    Working in an office is hard, mainly because you depend on so many other people, and they depend on you. Close coordination becomes key, and I know this can lead to internal politics and other frustrations that students do not have to face, in general.

    But in none of my other jobs have I had to stay up for 72 hours straight just to get by. My other jobs had things like food and sleep built-in to the program, if not during the day then sometime after the whistle blew at 5pm or 6pm or 7pm or 8pm or 9pm. It is after 330am right now. And 330am is relatively early, for finals week.

    The flexibility of being a student would be a blessing, if it weren't simply stretched and abused to the point of constant, painful tension, just one tiny tug shy of snapping.

    But it feels good to be done for this quarter. Now I can begin the long, slow, stiff, and desperate process of releasing the tension without just letting it loose to flail wildly.

    Tuesday, March 18, 2003

    FRUSTRATION: Remember, I warned you that this blog would contain periodic complaints. I am frustrated. Why? I don't know, my life is great. Blah.
    OPERATION LIBERTY SHIELD: Geesh, could they come up with dumber names for these programs? It doesn't even have a cool logo like TIA. Anyway, what does Operation Liberty Shield mean to you? More of everything! According to the press release, we'll get:
  • More Sea Marshals
  • Security measures that are proactive, sustainable, and focused, based on intelligence information
  • AMTRAK will implement security measures consistent with private rail companies
  • Tracking Suspects - The FBI will continue to closely monitor individuals suspected of links to terrorism.
    Et Cetera. Just like your average threat level day, but more so. I would have liked to see national guard troops at the borders, or an announcement that the 2nd Amendment would suddenly be respected, but whatever. I don't mean to sound bitter, but the whole Homeland Security thing seems like it was devised to appease the soccer-mom masses, rather than to actually accomplish anything.

    From Senator Diane Feinstein's webpage:

    ... in the last fiscal year, 23 million people arrived in the U.S. from 29 different countries under the so-called "visa waiver program" with no visas and little scrutiny. More than 7 million tourists, business visitors, foreign students, and temporary workers arrived last year as non-immigrants, yet the INS does not have a reliable tracking system to determine how many of these visitors left the country after their visas expired.

    Among the 7.1 million non-immigrants, 500,000 foreign nationals entered on foreign student visas alone. The foreign student visa system is one of the most under-regulated visa categories, subject to bribes and other problems that leave it wide open to abuse by terrorists and other criminals. In fact, in the early 1990s, five officials at four California colleges were convicted of taking bribes, providing counterfeit education documents and fraudulently applying for more than 100 foreign student visas. …

    Mohamed Atta, the suspected ringleader of the attack, was admitted back into the country through the Miami airport on January 10, even though his visa had reportedly expired. ... Suspected hijacker Ahmed Alghamdi remained at large in the United States after his student visa had expired. Another hijacker, Hani Hanjour, was here on a student visa that the INS still cannot determine was valid as of September 11.

    I'm not a fan of Feinstein, but this bill was a good idea; Bush signed it in May of 2002. This makes me feel safer than all the alerts.
  • ANTI-WAR == STALINIST?: Old news to Instapundit readers, but here's a FoxNews article that explains a little bit about how large anti-war protests are mostly finianced by Stalinist and Islamofacist organizations.
    DO YOU THINK SADDAM WOULDN'T DO THIS TO US? PART 2: If you really want more evidence of Saddam's evil brutality, read this Times Online article written by a British Minister to Parliment.

    Via Clayton Cramer on the Volokh Conspiracy.

    Monday, March 17, 2003

    FREE-RIDERS (CON'T):(Update part 2)
    Dr. Boyd responded and told me:

    The metapopulation is made up of 128 populations. Payoff biased imitation tends to reduce the frequency of punishers in each population. Random variation due to sampling variation in who gets imitated causes frequencies to jiggle around randomly, but if these were the only two processes populations would all eventually evolve to all defect. However, competition between populations causes some populations to become extinct, and this is more likely to happen in populations in which have fewer punishers because such groups tend to have fewer cooperators. Sometimes these processes balance out so that the metapopulation frequency of punishers reaches an approximate steady state---only approximate because stochastic variation in which groups go extinct and who reproduces causes variation in punisher frequency around the long term means reported in the paper.

    Very interesting. I emailed him back and told him a little about my MS thesis and my PhD dissertation, and he offered to send me the VB code that he used for this paper. How exciting.
    FREE-RIDERS: Also via GeekPress, an article in the Economist that discusses evolving cooperators and 'punishers' as a solution to the free-rider problem. On the most basic level, the free-rider problem arises in situations where groups of organisms are cooperating for the common good, and a few members of that group cheat the system by taking advantage of the cooperation without giving anything back to the group. The problem is also known as the Tragedy of the Commons, meaning that any resource that is held in common by a group will tend to be abused by individuals rather than used in a coorperative manner, because there is just too much short-term advantage to cheating the system.

    Anyway, back to the Economist article. I'm working on my PhD in artificial intelligence, and so I have quite a bit of experience with evolutionary systems such as the one described in the article. I haven't yet read the entire paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, but based on the description in the article, I can't see how their model could achieve cooperative punishment as an emergent phenomena. The author of the paper, Robert Boyd, is a professor at UCLA, so I think I'll email him about it (after I read the paper, of course).

    (Update)
    The paper can be found here.
    It's pretty interesting. The formulas the author gives are satisfying, but in his discussion section he states that the punishers never do reach a stable equilibrium frequency, which is what I would expect given that they will always be at a disadvantage to the meta-free-riding cooperators. I emailed the Robert Boyd to ask for clarification, in case I am mistaken.
    THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES...: Via GeekPress I found an interesting article on the science behind flirting. It starts off with a great quote: "Male over-optimism - often followed by a clumsy chat-up attempt - is triggered by women sending out a series of subtle and highly deceptive flirting signals known as 'proteans' when they meet a prospective mate." Allow me to paraphrase: women send mixed-signals that lead men on. Gee Science, thanks for that revelation. Also,
    "By sending erratic and ambiguous signals in the early stages of an encounter, women manipulate men into showing their hand," Fox said. "It's not entirely surprising, given the levels of ambiguity and deception to which they are subjected, that males tend to become confused."

    What's this?! Women manipulate men? Impossible. I'm glad I'm in on the secret now -- these little games won't work on me anymore!

    It all plays into my new theory on women. I don't think I'm going to post it right now though, because it's just too much for you to handle.
    DO YOU THINK SADDAM WOULDN'T DO THIS TO US?: This article from the New Yorker is very difficult to read. It describes the horrors of Saddam's use of mustard gas against the Kurds in Halabja in 1988, and I found it via Lagniappe, an excellent medical/chemistry blog. Here's an excerpt:

    "On the road to Anab, many of the women and children began to die," Nouri told me. "The chemical clouds were on the ground. They were heavy. We could see them." People were dying all around, he said. When a child could not go on, the parents, becoming hysterical with fear, abandoned him. "Many children were left on the ground, by the side of the road. Old people as well. They were running, then they would stop breathing and die."

    And another:

    Nasreen would live, the doctors said, but she kept a secret from Bakhtiar [her husband]: "When I was in the hospital, I started menstruating. It wouldn't stop. I kept bleeding. We don't talk about this in our society, but eventually a lot of women in the hospital confessed they were also menstruating and couldn't stop." Doctors gave her drugs that stopped the bleeding, but they told her that she would be unable to bear children.

    Nasreen stayed in Iran for several months, but eventually she and Bakhtiar returned to Kurdistan. She didn't believe the doctors who told her that she would be infertile, and in 1991 she gave birth to a boy. "We named him Arazoo," she said. Arazoo means hope in Kurdish. "He was healthy at first, but he had a hole in his heart. He died at the age of three months."

    How about this:

    Saddam's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, who led the campaigns against the Kurds in the late eighties, was heard on a tape captured by rebels, and later obtained by Human Rights Watch, addressing members of Iraq's ruling Baath Party on the subject of the Kurds. "I will kill them all with chemical weapons!" he said. "Who is going to say anything? The international community? Fuck them! The international community and those who listen to them."

    Saddam Hussein and his cronies are evil, and even if it were plausable that our own security isn't at stake, I would be willing to take him out.
    (Update: Here is the first article in a five-part series that Derek Lowe has written about chemical weapons in general.)
    MARRIAGE: I want to get married sometime. I think that most people have, at some point in their life, a desire for the companionship and mutual support that are typically associated with an ideal, happy marriage. However, I've read many studies that show that marriage does not make you happy, which doesn't surprise me but seems to surprise some of my unmarried friends, and to cruelly surprise some of my married friends. This particular article says that people who are happy and content before they get married tend to remain so, and that people who are unhappy tend to remain unhappy after they are married. Additionally, people who are happy before they get married tend to have longer, more satisfying marriages.
    THIS YEAR'S SUPER-FLU: SDB has an insightful analysis of the recent (likely) flu strain that is spreading around the world. Looks like it started in Communist China, which as SDB describes is often the case due to Communist China's collective farming system. Go read his site, as you should every day.
    INSANITY: This is what happens when a society allows crazy people to freely wander the streets. Yes, it's unfortunate that some people are comlpetely insane, but we shouldn't let our pity move us to foolishness. I'm not a psychologist or a medical doctor, so I don't know exactly where to draw the line, but I believe that a fair and just system of civil committment could be developed that would benefit both society as a whole, and the crazy people who were locked up. How crazy is too crazy? I know it when I see it. Society should be willing to bear this cost, as it does with the prison system, but money should not be wasted on largely inneffectual "treatments"; innmates should be housed in as comfortable a state as is reasonably possible, and should be prevented from hurting themselves or others.

    Our prison system is awful in many ways, but it is better than any other in the world. Nevertheless, it is still in dire need of improvement, and I'm not talking about greater access to gym equipment or cable TV -- I'm talking about eliminating the daily routine of rape and assault that goes on in many of our nation's jails with a wink and a nod from society. A more robust civil committment system would be in danger of this same corruption, in addition to the danger of abuse by authorities given charge over it. It would need to be closely supervised by the public, and its power divided between competing branches of government. It would also not be cheap, but it would be cheaper than the costs of allowing dangerously erratic and insane people to roam freely, beneath our notice until they commit some horrible crime.
    EXPERT WITNESSING: In my imagination, being an expert witness has always sounded like a dream job. Throw on a suit, go to court, answer questions for a few hours, and take home a nice fat paycheck. Not only that, but I would contribute to the general welfare of society by disseminating truth in an otherwise shady legal system. Imagine my shock, shock I say, to read that expert witnesses sell their opinions to the highest bidder. And for such paltry sums!

    Sign me up.

    Sunday, March 16, 2003

    THE ADVANCE OF CIVILIZATION: I do not mean to beat a dead horse, but I have trouble evaluating the rigor, applicability, and validity of a theory whose key terms are only defined in terms of each other. As described up to this point, civilization advances in proportion to interconnectedness (which increases as a result of innovations like language, writing, moveable type, digital information processing, etc, and which determines the rate at which such innovations can spread), which is directly related to functional density. There are no definitions here, and so the given relations between concepts cannot be verified or evaluated in any substantive or analytical way. I do not question whether Michael has rigorous definitions for these concepts, as he has clearly given the theory much thought. But without being provided with a more precise, concrete, and independent formulation of each of the key terms, interested and careful readers will be unable to reproduce the logic inherent in the theory and thereby achieve non-trivial agreement.

    For example: the idea of interconnectedness is frustratingly ambiguous. Does interconnectedness refer to frequency of communication, or accuracy of communication, or some particular quality of communication such as coherence or relevance? And how would these aspects of communication relate to each other, within the definition of interconnectedness? In the vague sense of it that I currently grasp, it seems like interconnectedness would also increase conflict and confusion, as individuals are exposed to a wider range of opposed and irreconcilable communications. Couldn’t this increase in conflict and confusion lead to societal stagnation, at least enough to balance out the positive effects of innovation dispersal? Isn’t it possible? Maybe not, but without a more rigorous formulation of the concept of interconnectedness, the reader may be left with such unanswered doubts.

    I have to go study for final exams, but I want to give this horse one more swift kick. I am still dissatisfied with the idea of advancement as described. You’ve given four dimensions of advancement: “increased freedom for individuals, increased health and standard of living, increased happiness and fulfillment, and increased security from internal and external threats.” But you have not given any account of the fact that it is often the case that an increase in some of these benefits comes only with a decrease in others. For example, it is a major concern that increased security from the threat of terrorism in the United States will only come with a decrease in personal freedom. Innovations that provide for greater security may cost us in terms of freedom. Or again, maybe such trade-offs are not necessary in your theory- but the reason why your theory excludes this possibility would have to be explained before it can be accepted. Furthermore, each of the four given dimensions of advancement is of so complex a nature that it is impossible to gauge how they might be affected by interconnectedness or functional density, as they are currently described.

    But believe me, I wouldn’t be so nit-picky if I didn’t see great potential in what you have described thus far. I look forward to hearing more, if you have the time and desire to provide it.
    THE ADVANCE OF CIVILIZATION (CON'T): Like the light bulb, most world-changing innovations required a low marginal cost to implement, allowing every person in a society to quickly and cheaply reap the benefit of one man's genius. The rate at which an innovation can be spread throughout a civilization is directly dependent on that civilization's interconnectedness, and its functional density. Consider the written word, the cotton gin, mass production, agriculture, the wheel, sidereal navigation… each of these innovations had a low marginal cost of implementation and provided a huge benefit to any people-group that could take advantage of it.

    The benefits of a high functional density are twofold: first, the benefits of innovation spread more quickly through a civilization; and second, there is less duplication of effort among geniuses because they are more aware of each other and are better able to collaborate together. The net result of all this is that functional density fuels innovation, and innovation reinvests to yield ever-increasing functional density (through the spoken word, writing, the printing press, the internet, &c).
    THE ADVANCE OF CIVILIZATION: I promised earlier to post a little more detail about my theory on the advance of civilization and its relation to what I termed functional density. Nicholas pointed out that I should define my vocabulary in more detail, and so I'll attempt to do that as well.

    I believe I explained functional density in sufficient depth in my earlier post, and covered how it relates to interconnectedness and actual population density. To take a step farther back, what do I mean by the advance of civilization? Nicholas is correct that this is an essential definition. To me, and to all who live in and value a liberal democratic society, the definition should be fairly clear: increased freedom for individuals, increased health and standard of living, increased happiness and fulfillment, and increased security from internal and external threats. A Nazi or a communist might disagree with some or all of these principles and with good cause -- totalitarian governments are in fact harmed by greater interconnectedness among their subjects and between their subjects and the outside world. But if one desires a populist society that is based on freedom for all, then I believe that my theory will hold true.

    Now, to the theory itself. I have described functional density and what I hold as the principles of civilization that are to be advanced. How does greater functional density lead to this advance? Let me first define another term that I will use in a specific way: genius. Dictionary.com defines a genius as a person of extraordinary intellect and talent and in general I am inclined to agree; in this particular context, I want to focus on a certain kind of genius: a person who creates or conceives of an innovation that leads to the advance of civilization. One example would be Edison and the light bulb. The invention of the light bulb was instrumental in the industrial revolution, and made it possible for factory workers to labor night and day through every season, immune to the vagaries of the sun and the weather.

    (Continued...)
    ON THE OTHER SIDE: Nicholas makes a good point: renaming french fries "freedom fries" is a silly symbolic gesture. Aside from anything else, their name doesn't have anything to do with France, but rather refers to the process of "frenching" -- to cut into thin strips before cooking. This renaming isn't a new idea... in The War To End All Wars sauerkraut was rechristened “liberty cabbage”.

    In any event, it is a silly symbolic gesture and it strikes me as strangely appropriate considering France's silly symbolic grandstanding over the Iraq situation. I suspect that France is hiding a great deal of sinister activity behind its newfound public pacifism (at least insofar as their pacifism doesn't prevent them from meddling dangerously in small African countries.) So yes, it is somewhat juvenile, but it makes me grin and it lets us stick our tongue out without sticking our neck out.
    ON THE SIDE: I visited a friend's dorm room today seeking some lecture notes that I had lent to him a few days earlier. It turns out that my classmate wasn't there, but his roommate was, sitting at his desk with a Styrofoam take-out container half full of chili-cheese fries.

    "Hey, want a freedom fry?" He smirked at my puzzlement, and lifted the container toward me a little as though offering me a better view. I looked closer. What on earth was a freedom fry? They seemed like normal fries to me, if maybe a little soggy.

    I said as much, and he laughed. Then he explained the sad and ridiculous truth.

    I did not believe him at first, of course. It sounded like the kind of word-game school children play to tease and exclude the dorky kids. "You can't join the club, because it costs a nickel to join and you're Nickel-less Williams! Ha!" I remember that one very well. Even as a second grader, it seemed dim-witted, annoying, and petty. A silly symbolic gesture, easily shrugged off, serving only to diminish those who wielded it so proudly.

    Like I said, I did not believe my friend's roommate at first, but I believe BBC News, when it comes to easily falsifiable stories such as this. Our statesmen are behaving like second graders, only this isn't an elementary school playground we're talking about. Silly word-games reminiscent of propaganda from the Second World War, the war after The War To End All Wars, and the main reason that we helped create the United Nations in the first place.

    I read the BBC article, and after my amused huffs, puffs, snickers, and chortles were over, I was left with sense of dread. Who are we? What are we trying to get ourselves into?
    MOMENT OF TRUTH: Looks like I jumped the gun again. I was one of the crowd predicting that war would start near the end of February, and that mistake should have taught me that Bush isn't quite as impatient as I am. According to this FoxNews item, Bush says that tomorrow will be the "moment of truth" not for Saddam, but for the world. "Asked whether Monday was the day that would determine whether diplomacy could work, he replied, 'That's what I'm saying.'"

    Everyone knows that Saddam has no intention of disarming. His moment of truth was some 12 years ago. Finally, though, France, Germany, and the other appeaser states will be forced to stand up either with the United States and the peace-loving nations of the world, or to stand up with Saddam, a murderous, torturing rapist.

    I really hope that tomorrow actually is the last chance. That phrase is thrown around far too liberally in diplomatic circles, and I'd like to actually see it stick.
    WAR, CONTINUED: Well, no cruise missiles flying yet, as far as the major news sites know anyway. I thought that Bush and Blair &c. would be in the Azores already, but it looks like that might not happen until later today. That FoxNews article also has a quote by Colin Powell in which he says, "It's not a war council, and ultimatums are not the issue today. The issue today is, 'Has the diplomatic track run its course?'" That doesn't necessarily mean that the bombing won't start today, but it makes me a little more doubtful.

    Donald Sensing has predicted a Monday attack already, and maybe he's right. I haven't looked at his site much before, but SDB over at the USS Clueless has some links to him, and his site, One Hand Clapping, has some very interesting posts. I'd link through to a few more, but I have to go running this morning so I should tear myself away from the computer screen.

    One other concern I have is that Saddam will attack Israel again, as he did in Gulf War I. This FoxNews article indicates that Israel will not refrain from retaliating as it did 12 years ago at our behest, and to the best of my knowledge we haven't asked them to. Obviously, if Israel strikes Iraq it could inflame some of the other Arab states nearby... not that they love Israel now, but it would give them a more immediate grievance. Sorry, I should use quotes... "grievance".

    If you're familiar with the Al Samoud missile destruction charade that Iraq has been performing over the past couple of weeks, you'll have read that their range exceeds the UN-mandated maximum of 150 km. That range was established as the maximum because that's just about the shortest distance between Iraq's border and Israel's.