Saturday, April 19, 2003

GERMANY: It's been said that the Germans have never met a fascist dictator they didn't like, and it appears to be true. The quote near the end of the article is priceless:
Last night, a spokesman for the German government said it was "well known" that it had been offered lucrative contracts by Baghdad providing it maintained an anti-Iraq war stance. "Iraq made these kinds of promises before the war and praised Germany for its position," he said.
I just watched GlenGarry Glen Ross, and although it's a great movie it put me in a bad mood. It's strangely appropriate for me to now read rather conclusive proof that one of our "close allies" has stabbed us in the back. Bah, whatever. SDB has more if you've got the stomach for it. Myself, I'm going to bed.
SETTLERS OF CATAN 3D: One of my friends sent me a link to Settlers3D, a 3D version of the board game Settlers of Catan. This is one of the best mid-complexity board games ever created, and I highly recommend checking it out. This 3D version doesn't let you play against a computer opponent, but Java Settlers does. You can find some rules there too. If anyone wants to play a network game with me, shoot me an email. My address can be found on the left side of the blog.
IT TOLLS FOR THEE: SDB analyzes the French situation and tolls the bell once more. The demise of Europe as a world power and the ascension of the East will probably be the tidal shift of the 21st century.

Friday, April 18, 2003

A-10 THUNDERBOLT: I wrote a post a few weeks ago about the A-10 Thunderbolt ground attack plane. It's an awesome weapon. Strategy Page has a sequence of photos up that show a Thunderbolt (also known as a Warthawg) that got shot pretty bad during a sortie in Iraq, but still managed to make it back to base. The picture of the pilot at the end is priceless.
HE WHO DARES, WINS: How many ex-presidents can say that they successfully prosecuted two foreign wars while at the same time presiding over a recovering economy? I'm not a historian, but I play one on TV, and I'd venture to say "none". If circumstances cooperate, W could go down as one of the most accomplished American presidents in history, and the question is, why? Shortly after 9/11, Bill Clinton lamented that the terrible attacks didn't occur during his watch and that he had missed out on a great opportunity for historical significance. Aside from the baseness of this perspective, I wonder if it's even true. Clinton had opportunity enough to confront evil (what with the first attack on the WTC, the embassy bombings, the attack on the USS Cole, and more) and yet he chose not to.

The difference between Clinton's response to terrorism and Bush 43's is partially related to ideology -- but only partly. The Democrats always wail and moan when the character of their politicians is called into question, but I believe that a difference in character is at the true root of the difference in action between these two presidents. Whereas Clinton appears to have been primarily concerned with building a legacy for himself and securing the political fortunes of his party, Bush has been willing to risk both of these considerations in order to protect the United States and to advance the cause of freedom. It is easy for a cynic to look at the current situation and say that the results of Bush's actions clearly benefit both his legacy and his party, but 18 months ago it was not at all obvious how this War on Terror would unfold, or what it's conclusion would be. Even now the war is not over, but with two important battles behind us the end is taking shape, and looks ever more certain with every passing day.

But our present was a not a foregone conclusion immediately after 9/11, as the Democrats can attest to. Theirs were the loudest voices decrying the risks of the course of action that our President had set us upon, and although their fears did not come to pass it was by no means certain that we would prevail as decisively as we have to this point. Nevertheless, W was willing to risk his political future, his reputation, and the credibility of his ideology because he saw that the cost of inaction was higher than the value of these ephemeral concerns. He took an oath to defend the Constitution, and he holds that oath in higher esteem than he does his own reputation. That truth is something that few of our former presidents can lay claim to.
OIL TO THE PEOPLE: Glenn Reynolds writes supporting a plan to give ownership of Iraq's oil directly to the Iraqi people. Quoting Michael Barone,
The Alaska Permanent Fund each year pays a dividend of 20 percent of the state’s oil profits to every citizen — $1,540 per person in 2002. The rest of the money is invested, to provide a permanent income when oil revenues decline. Alaskans regard this as personal wealth; in 1999, 83 percent of Alaska voters rejected a proposal to use Permanent Fund revenues for state government spending. A similar fund could be created for Iraqis. It could provide a payment of something like $1,000 a year —meaningful in a country where Umm Qasr dockworkers make $30 a month.
It's an interesting idea. Obviously, if every Iraqi has an extra $1000 per year in income it will cause dramatic inflation and will not directly quadruple their buying power. Still, the idea has merit. In order for it to work properly, and for the distributed ownership to actually foster capitalism, it is essential that each person be able to sell or rent out their share of the oil. Private corporations must arise to manage and develop the oil deposits, and these duties must not be left to the government. Each individual Iraqi should be able to decide who controls and administrates his share of the oil.

Finally, I'm not sure if it's wise to give parents control over their kids' share of the oil. It might be more beneficial to hold each child's oil money in trust until they reach adulthood. There are a lot of details to be worked out, obviously.
PEOPLE FOR THE EATING OF TASTY ANIMALS: Do I ever link to anything other than the Volokh Conspiracy? Well, sometimes. But Eugene posts this little poem:
If meat is murder,
then chicken is manslaughter,
eggs are kidnapping,
and milk is sexual harassment.
and I have to disagree. No self-respecting animal-rights lefty would conceed that taking an egg (fertilized or not) constitutes kidnapping, since eggs are only potential chickens and not actual chickens. Yet. Or something.
TIMING, RELEVANCE, ABSURDITY 2: Following up on this earlier post, I did email Prof. Holczer and ask him about the accuracy of the quote in the Daily Bruin in which he said "The few academic senates in the country are the only organizations who should take a stand on human morals. It's more than our right, it's our obligation." He told me that the quote is basically accurate, but taken out of context, and that he has had to deal with a lot of complaints about it. He asked me not to post any of the emails we exchanged, and so I won't.

I apologized to him for my personal attack on him in my last post. I wrote "Blind to his lack of credentials, physics professor Karoly Holczer said..." and that was inappropriate. I was rather upset at the time, but there was no need to be snide in that manner. I have not changed my position on the resolution itself, and I think it is wrong for the faculty of UCLA to trade on the university's name and reputation to further their own political agenda. I think I'm honest enough that I would have objected to the resolution even if I had approved of its contents, but we may never know that. By passing this resolution, the faculty as a whole has officially positioned themselves in political opposition to every member of the UCLA community (employee or student) who approves of the battle in Iraq, and I don't believe it's appropriate for them to marginalize us in this manner.

Additionally, I'm curious about another factor. There was apparently some trouble reaching a quorum for the Faculty Senate meeting -- if at least 200 professors don't show up there can be no meeting. The final vote on the resolution was 180 to 7 (with 13 abstaining?), and what I can't figure out is why the 7 who voted nay didn't just leave and eliminate the quorum.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

SLEEPING DRAGON 2: Although I play an economist on TV, I am not one in real life. For more information on China and their economic situation, I refer you to this comment section from Mr. Mean Mustard.
RUSSIAN WEAPONS: Opinion Journal quotes this headline from Pravda: "Russian Weapons Make All Countries Feel Safe". The article itself is quite an interesting read, and the title is fun to analyze -- Russian weapons don't make countries safe, they just make countries feel safe. The countries that have the Russian weapons, or those countries' enemies? Here are some other choice bits.
It became obvious after Iraq ingloriously surrendered to coalition forces of the USA and Great Britain: no country could feel safe without nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.
Actually, Iraq's forces, and their Russian weapons, were totally defeated.
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov happily stated during his visit to South Korea that a number of addresses to the Russian Defense Ministry pertaining to deliveries of up-to-date conventional arms had increased greatly. The minister did not fail to thank the American government for advertising cheap and reliable Russian arms for free.
I really hope that all our enemies buy Russian weapons, please oh please. I think our government should endorse them heavily.
The popularity of the Russian weapons has not suffered a bit on account of the fact that the Iraqi army lost the war. At the end of the day, the Soviet weapons - Kalashnikov guns, MiG planes and guided missiles - defeated the American army in Vietnam.
Where to start? Russian weapons defeated American soldiers who fought with their hands tied behind their backs 30 years ago. Why not buy weapons from the American Indians? They defeated Custer a while back.
A lot of countries (especially Muslim ones) evince their interest in compact anti-aircraft complex Phoenix, which is capable of detecting and downing air targets.
Figure that one out.
The Russian leadership will need to have a lot of courage and political will to arm the whole world. Russia might help a lot of countries in this respect, if it is allowed to do so, of course.
I hope they do sell weapons to the world. It will help their economy, and weaken our enemies at the same time.
It is worth mentioning here that members of the Saudi royal family have already released public statements like "we are buying Russian weapons whenever we want, and the USA is not an instructor to us." It is rather hard to imagine that American officials will quietly watch the Russian defense industry selling more and more modern weapons, especially to those countries, which might become another target for the USA to hit.
I guess everyone knows by now that Saudi Arabia is on The List. I hope their Russian weapons don't kill us all when we come knocking.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING ELOQUENT: I'm sure we've all had a class whose subject matter is incredibly interesting, but whose professor is not a particularly great communicator. At some universities (*cough cough*) it's partially due to the fact that many of the professors don't want to be teaching -- they want to be researching, getting grants, and publishing papers. Sometimes the professor just doesn't speak English well, or isn't a very fluid speaker. Sometimes I just sit in class and mentally pound my head against the desk thinking, you know so many things that I want to know, tell me them right now! Some of the professors at UCLA are quite brilliant in their fields, but I sit in class and everything just washes over me because they can't articulate it in an understandable way. It's maddening because I want to know everything and they seem to be incapable of telling me.

Another situation we're all probably familiar with is trying to make conversation with that girl that sits next to you in class. I've written a story about Flirtation, and how difficult it can be at times. Usually it ends up with me feeling like a babbling idiot (today, for instance). Words just keep pouring out of my mouth in broken phrases and endless run-on sentences, and when I look back I can't even figure out what the heck I said. Mostly nonsense, I'm certain. I have no problem talking in front of hundreds of people, but sit me down next to a cute girl and my mind just goes totally blank. It's like I have nothing to say, but I have to talk anyway. I like to think that I'm moderately eloquent (or at least coherent), but this afternoon I felt like a total doofus.

In the various jobs that I've had over my life, I have learned that the key to advancement and achievment is speaking and writing with clarity. Sure, it's important to know your stuff and meet your deadlines, but it's equally important to write clear reports and to explain yourself and your knowledge with words. I'm an engineer, and I work with many non-native English speakers and with many people who are far better with numbers than with words, and the fact that I can speak and write precisely has been a great advantage for me. I suspect that in any field, particularly those that are not writing-intensive (as law is, for example), strong language skills can be useful for setting yourself above and apart from your co-workers. In fact, once you reach a certain point in your career language skills can be more important than technical skills simply due to the requirements of management and administration.

It doesn't matter what you know if you can't share with other people.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

ETHICS AND MOTIVATION: Eugene Volokh points out that when private individuals boycott others or fire them because of their speech there is no First Amendment violation. Private actors cannot violate your First Amendment rights -- only the government can do that. The First Amendment creates no obligation on the part of private citizens to listen to you, support you, purchase your products, or associate with you in any way. Eugene then asks whether or not it is ethical to retaliate economically against people you disagree with. Is it morally acceptable for me to not only refuse to buy your product, but to also try and convince others not to do so either?

As with many ethical issues, the answer comes down to motivation. The same action, taken with differing motives, can be either right or wrong -- let's consider a concrete example. Michael Moore is an annoying blowhard who regularly speaks against my Constitutional right to keep and bear a gun. This makes me angry, especially because he uses his mild celebrity as a platform for advocating his views and is eager to lie to further his cause. If I supported a boycott of Michael Moore's "work" based on my loathing for him personally and a desire to see him die pennyless in the gutter, I do not believe that my motivations would be ethical; my actions would be primarly based on spite and a desire to harm, and I don't think that would be right.

However, I could alternatively be inclined to support such a boycott based on my belief that Moore's positions are harmful both to me personally, and to the country as a whole. I believe that having less restrictive gun laws would save hundreds of lives every year, and by speaking out against such a possibility (and even calling for more restricive laws) Michael Moore is directly involved in promoting these deaths. His ability to advance this agenda is based on his celebrity and fame, and so by supporting a boycott against him and his work I can undercut the source of his power to do evil, as well as possibly encourage him to change his views due to his own desires for fame and fortune. Thus, if this were my motivation then my support for such a boycott would be moral, and perhaps even obligatory.

The use of economic force is then justified in the same manner as the use of other forms of force. Defending oneself and defending others are justifiable motivations, but using force based merely on a desire to injure someone you dislike is not morally acceptable.
SLEEPING DRAGON: Mean Mr. Mustard has written an interesting analysis on the possible future of China as a world power, based on a series of lectures by a Prof. Gregor at Berkeley. In response, I posted the following to his comments section:

First, IANAE (I Am Not An Economist), but I play one on TV. Trade "deficits" aren't really bad, and can be particularly good from a national security point of view. For instance, if China goes to war with us they immediately lose access to all our hard cash, and all we lose is their plastic crap that we can easily make ourselves. This is a huge disincentive and greatly reduces the chance that China will want to fight us.

In a balanced economic exchange, we trade cash for goods of equal value; our economy does not lose any net wealth. It can, however, become a problem if hard currency is invested in foreign countries, and in fact this is one of the middle east's largest problems. Saudi Arabia has nearly $100 billion invested in North America and Europe; if that money had instead been put to work in the middle east it could do a lot to stimulate their economies. Of course, no one will invest money if their investments will be constantly at risk of war and seizure.

Secondly, China has a lot of people but is absolutely no match for the American military. Their equipment is worse than Iraq's was, and they have little training. Additionally, even if a significant portion of their population could be conscripted it would consist entirely of light infantry which would be no match for our armor on the ground, or our planes in the sky. China will be unable to modernize or improve their military capability until AFTER they industrialize, at which point it is hoped that they will also have democratized.

The China situation should be handled carefully, but I do not believe they are the threat that many make them out to be.
COULROPHOBIA: Mark Aveyard writes about clowns. He doesn't seem to like most of them, other than Krusty, and I think that's perfectly understandable. I'm certainly not the first to point out that there is something distinctly unsettling about clowns. There's some unspoken understanding that clowns are funny, and it's so ingrained that the clown persists, despite the painfully obvious fact that clowns are not in the least bit funny. Many people are afraid of clowns, most people seem to dislike them, and no one thinks they're funny in general.

That's why they bother me. Is civilization too afraid to tell the clowns the truth? Your time has passed! Get a new schtick, and don't even consider miming. The water-squirting flowers and tiny cars that hold 50 clowns just aren't amusing anyone anymore. In the age of Real Ultimate Power, The Powerpuff Girls, Hamtaro, and the GBA SP, you are nothing more than the remnant of entertainment's pitiful past, invisibly forgotten. Go gently into that good night.
COMPUTER INTERFACES: James Lileks mentions computer interfaces in his Bleat today, and I wanted to comment briefly since this touches on one my my major interests. In his final three paragraphs, Mr. Lileks says:
If you opened your desk drawer and saw a floating maelstrom of recent bank statements and insurance bills, it wouldn’t help you find a receipt from 2001. You’d want to say the name of the paper you requested and have it pop out of whatever folder you’d put it in.

So either we breed supersmart hamsters that can throw up the relevant piece of paper on demand, or we work on voice recognition, or we learn to parse marching index cards.

I’ll chose the middle option. I love my computer. I already talk to it. How sweet will be the day when it listens, and replies.

He may not realize that the type of performance he desires is not dependent on mere voice recognition, but will also require the development of supersmart hamsters -- useful AI. Voice recognition is reletively mature, but the AI required behind the scenes to yield such spectacular results does not yet exist.

In the process of earning my PhD in artificial intelligence, I've refined my expectations for the future of AI. Sure, machines like HAL or Johnny 5 would be fascinating, but I don't think the true promise of AI lies in self-aware machines. Consider instead HAL's initial job description: it was designed to add a layer of abstraction to the otherwise complicated task of operating the spacecraft. The task would otherwise be impossible for two astronauts; the International Space Station requires a crew of three just to stay in low-earth orbit. With HAL's assistance the task of maintaining the ship was vastly simplified by leaving the details to the computer.

This is my hope for the future of AI in the real world. Forget about sentient robots that are indistinguiable from humans... what's the point? Instead, AI research should focus on assisting humans with their daily activities. One of the only areas in which computers surpass humans is in data management, and this strength should be harnessed to abstract-away many of the trivial details that consume our time. Consider the simple task of buying groceries. A sufficient articifially intelligent agent could handle the job more capably than a human can, by comparing food prices, keeping track of household inventory, observing consumption trends among household members, and then ordering the necessary food.

If it's done right, the homeowner may never have to intervene other than to tweak preferences or make special requests.
SELF-DEFEAT: Glenn Reynolds writes at Tech Central Station that :
Tyrannical dictatorships depend on lies for survival - in fact, near-universal lying about nearly everything by nearly everyone is one of their hallmarks. Meanwhile those things that aren't lies (and a great many that are) are secrets. Which raises an interesting point regarding the style of warfare demonstrated in Iraq.

One of the great worries of a country that pioneers a new military technique is that its rivals will imitate it. But that may not be a major worry where the new, high-intelligence style of warfare employed in Iraq is concerned, at least not if you assume that our military opponents are likely to be tyrannies of one sort or another.

This goes back to my earlier post in which I pointed out that totalitarian governments are inherently unstable. The very qualities that make them tyrannical (and thus likely to be our enemies) also make them weak, militarily and economically.

On a level that may seem ridiculous to some (ok, most) people, this is where computer strategy games get it all wrong. Typically, in empire-building games such as the Civilization series, the Master of Orion series, and others, the player can choose the form of government for his empire. Representative type governments tend to have high science bonuses, socialist governments tend to have high industry, and dictatorial governments tend to have high military power. This makes the game-worlds interesting by forcing the player to weigh the costs and benefits of each, but in the real world all forms of government were not created equal, and representative civilizations tend to outperfom their competitors in every area.
TIMING, RELEVANCE, ABSURDITY: I first heard that the UCLA Faculty Senate was considering passing a resolution condemning the battle in Iraq from Prof. Eugene Volokh, and I've been watching the issue closely ever since. As Eugene has pointed out, only a very few members of the UCLA faculty can claim expertise in relevant fields such as international relations or middle eastern history, and an anti-war resolution by the generally non-expert faculty is as irrelevant as such a resolution passed by a labor union.

Of course, irrelevance didn't stop the UCLA faculty from passing such a resolution on Monday. Blind to his lack of credentials, physics professor Karoly Holczer said "The few academic senates in the country are the only organizations who should take a stand on human morals. It's more than our right, it's our obligation." Naturally, not only are professors the most qualified people to comment on the morality of the war, they are the only people qualified. Most of the fighting in Iraq is already over, Saddam's government has been toppled, and the lives of Iraqis have already improved dramatically. So the UCLA Faculty Senate is nearly as irrelevant to the issue as are whiny celebrities, but it has even worse timing. Good job, you make me proud.

For some reason, I'm not at all surprised that the Faculty Senate rules were played fast and loose in order to even establish a quorum. The Daily Bruin article above says:
Faculty began to get restless about an hour into the discussion, and some started asking the moderator if they had reached quorum. John Tucker, chief administrative officer of the senate, replied that they needed one more.

Suddenly, a professor who refused to give his name entered, and Tucker announced quorum had been reached.

The man then marched to the front of the assembly and demanded an official count by the moderator. As suddenly as he had come, he left the room, bringing the count back below 200.

A heated debate ensued, with members yelling at each other over the validity of the now absent man's quorum call.

The entire episode seems surreal to me. The resolution was passed 180 - 7 (with 13 members abstaining? or... not present?). I have no doubt that these professors are talented within their fields (mostly...) but this type of absurdity reminds me why I want to stay out of that ivory tower.

I emailed Eugene about the quote by Holczer above, and he pointed out that it's so absurd that he suspects Holczer either misspoke, or was misquoted. He's probably right, and I'm going to email Prof. Holczer to find out if this is the case.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

NOW WHO'S SMART?: Robert Bartley has an article up at Opinion Journal that describes why Bush's correctness on the Iraq issue should carry weight as America deals with other issues, such as tax cuts.
Jubilant crowds in Baghdad show that President Bush and his team were spectacularly right and his critics spectacularly wrong. And this says something about who are the smart guys and who are the dullards in this society--or at least, what kind of mindset leads to good judgments.
ON LIBERTY: Via Donald Sensing I came across this excellent Times Online article that discusses the growing momentum of democracy in the world.
Now democracy is spreading in a remarkable way. There are 54 African nations; Africa is the poorest continent on earth. In 1989 only four of these nations were democracies; in 2003, 17 of them are democratic despite poverty, the spread of Aids, and the social problems of tribalism. In 1989 the Warsaw Pact still existed. None of the regions of the Soviet Union, nor any of the Warsaw Pact nations, were democracies. Now most former Soviet countries and all the Warsaw Pact nations are democracies, despite corruption and the ghosts of the past. Self-government in a free society has become the global standard. ...

The American victory in Iraq is a warning to the tyrants and terrorists of the world. The momentum of liberty continues to accelerate. The dictators have had a very bad couple of decades; in 1980 the world was still “half slave and half free”. Now the remaining dictators, old Castro, young Assad, Kim Jong Il, mad Mugabe and the others, look foolish and obsolete, though still horrible. They must mend their ways or liberty and democracy will amend them.

The world is a competitive environment, and over time efficient processes will out-compete inefficient ones. Totalitarian government is on the way out, not because it's morally repugnant (which it is) but because it is inefficient and cannot compete with free and open societies. A totalitarian government is precariously balanced and difficult to maintain; the longer it is in existence the more stable it can become, but it always perches on the cusp of an unstable equilibrium.

Iraq is a perfect example. The government was very stable internally due to mass psychology and brute force, but one solid push from the outside and the entire construction toppled to the ground. Try to imagine a similar breakdown of morale and order in the United States -- even if we are someday faced with overwhelming military force. I may be biased, but I think that many/most Americans would be willing to fight and die for our country and our freedoms if some invader threatened to take them from us, and our society could not be so easily torn asunder for precisely that reason.

I believe that if we play our cards right and do not tolerate brutal dictatorships even when it is in our short-term best interests (I'm looking at you, France), ours may be the last generation that has to struggle overtly against this totalitarian meme; perhaps we can force it underground and eventually out of civilization altogether.

Monday, April 14, 2003

WHAT ARE WE?: As a part of a homework assignment for my Population Genetics class I had to "summarize and comment" on this New York Times article in 200 words or less.
Dr. Small argues that sociobiology and evolutionary psychology do not accurately predict real life mating choices made by human beings. Although some predictions by these fields follow intuitive lines and can be supported by research studies, statistical analysis, and anecdotal evidence, in the end Dr. Small believes that "Our brains are not designed specifically to desire this or that, but to weigh the options, and then get down to the business of having babies."

Her point appears to be that culture and society influence mate selection among humans as much as genetics do, but I do not believe that this assertion is controversial. The real difficulty is her underlying assumption that culture is itself independent of genetics; this is much more questionable. If biology is not the basis for society, what is? If the laws of physics and chemistry do not wholly determine our existence, where does that leave us? If quantum mechanics and initial state-sensitive chaos theory do not induce our every thought, what are we? Some supra-physical embodiment of free will? God forbid.
WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?: One of the things that most surprised me about the Iraq endeavor is that the Russians played a very strong hand very poorly. Sure, they're heavily invested in Iraq and stand to lose a considerable amount of money now that Saddam's regime has fallen, but from the very beginning it must have been obvious to any intelligent observer that there was no other possible outcome once Bush made up his mind to attack. It's phenomenal to me that Putin could have anticipated any other conclusion. That said, I don't understand why he was so eager to squander the goodwill that had been built up between himself and Bush over the past couple of years, and between Russia and America in general over the past decade.

He should have realized that his best hope for recovering any portion of the money that Saddam owed him was to give America political support during our war effort in exchange for a committment on our part to honor some portion of the debts. Russia has it's own problems with Islamic terrorists in Chechnya, and it would have been politically easy (internationally, not necessarily internally) for Putin to have at least remained neutral, as China has largely done. Instead, he decided to line up with the Axis of Weasels and is now basically stuck with the worst possible scenario: no chance of debt repayment, and a strained relationship with the United States. All for nothing.

Instapundit has more along the same line. It's quite mystifying to me. Glenn suggests that Putin may have been ill-advised by incompetent Russian generals. Who knows. Russia has a lot more going for it than France does because Russia is a powerful international player apart from its seat at the UN Security Council. I expect that although we will move to punish France, we will be more conciliatory towards Russia for precisely this reason. Russia will be useful to us in the future, but France is now basically worthless.
TEEN PREGNANCY: Teen birth rates and pregnancy rates have both been dropping for the past decade or so, and many sources have been attributing these drops to more widespread condom usage. However, here's a newly released study that indicates that the drops are almost entirely due to increasing abstinence among teenagers.
“Our research was much more sophisticated than all previous research on the subject,” said Joanna Mohn, a physician from New Jersey and the primary researcher of the study. “We took into account important statistics on girls who are married as well as those who had not be sexually involved for more than a year.”

The study determined that abstinence is the primary reason for the decline in births and pregnancies among teens. Among unmarried girls abstinence accounted for the entire decline in births and 67 percent of drop in

Previous research claimed that 75 percent of the pregnancy decline was due to the increased used of contraception, 25 percent to abstinence. “The decline in the number of teens who were married accounted for 24 percent of the decline in teen pregnancies,” Mohn explained. “This decline had previously been attributed to contraception, producing a significant source of error in earlier research.”
NORTH KOREA: People have been asking me about North Korea... what can I do but refer them to the master?
DEBRIEFING: SDB points to an excellent Newsweek article that gives some fascinating details about our invasion of Iraq. On the use of intelligence:
...young Arab toughs cannot tolerate insults to their manhood. So, as American armored columns pushed down the road to Baghdad, 400-watt loudspeakers mounted on Humvees would, from time to time, blare out in Arabic that Iraqi men are impotent. The Fedayeen, the fierce but undisciplined and untrained Iraqi irregulars, could not bear to be taunted. Whether they took the bait or saw an opportunity to attack, many Iraqis stormed out of their concealed or dug-in positions, pushing aside their human shields in some cases—to be—slaughtered by American tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles.

One point that the article doesn't specifically make, but that I think is very important, is that there was a critical political reason for attacking Iraq with as small a force as we did. We took over the entire country with only five divisions of grunts -- and only three and a half of those divisions were American; that's around a third of our military power, not counting the heavy use of our Air Force and Naval Air Force. The fact that we could win so easily with such a small force should serve as a warning to North Korea, Iran, Syria, et al that we can take them all one at once if we need to, and that they are absolutely no match for our power.

Iraq had the 5th or 6th largest (/most powerful) army in the world, after the US, the UK, Russia, China, and possibly North Korea. And we decimated them in less than a month with minimal casualties. Just as this war should encourage our enemies to step a little more lightly, I hope it also helps to shake the "American street's" Vietnam-syndrome. America can win wars, we're the big man on campus, and "quagmire" is a thing of the past.