Thursday, December 16, 2010

At the Shores of the Sea of Stars

From The Australian comes this update on the whereabouts of the Voyager spacecraft, at the very edge of the region in which the influence of the Sun is waning, the solar wind beginning to blow sideways, rather than outward from the primary.

I am awed to silence at the notion that an artifact of a certain species of naked ape is about to go interstellar.

Wow. Just wow.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Whittle Boils It Down, Part Six: Immigration, Assimilation, and the Rule of Law

Here's the Sixth part in Bill Whittle's excellent "Firewall" series on the core ideas of the Tea Parties. Part Five dealt with gun rights, and was the usual cool, rational tour de force, and I do recommend it. But, in my view, it lies a bit to the side of the main thrust of the series, which is to shine a clear light on the dizzying succession of absurdities which are leveled at the Tea Parties by their determined, well-funded adversaries.

The Tea Parties are a heterogeneous assemblage of  groups, still very much finding its voice and finding its feet. They contain a fair share of flakes and philosophers, psychos and statesmen. They differ broadly on methods and on messages. They engage in their fair shares of far-sightedness and folly. They are still evolving. As such, they are easy pickings for those who would "pick their target, freeze it, personalize it, polarize it." It's easy enough to pick and decontextualize the dumbass things that are said and done within established political entities, with lobbyists and press handlers and a measure of message momentum. To take a stew like the Tea Parties, still in full rolling boil, and dip the fork of opposition research into it, one is bound to come up with more than one unsavory ingredient.

All of the abject nonsense about racism, xenophobia, theocratic aspirations, and domestic terrorism has either dropped into the pot from fringe elements who are broadly denounced from within the Tea Parties themselves...or have been slipped into it from without. I can only get up so much of a head of steam about the foolishness which comes out of the mouths of some Tea Party adherents. I could really live a whole lot better without the selective harvesting of these mal mots, and their use as cudgels, but if someone said 'em, there's no use hiding 'em. It's the introduction of slanders spun of whole cloth which really chaps my chalupas. One of the real biggies, the great, steaming, nitrate-rich piles of pure felgercarb, is this whole bit about racism.

One may, of course, differ with the small-government, free-market, decentralized politico-economic model of the Tea Parties (the one thing they all have in common). One can, of course, hold to a model of greater intervention in the economy by a more robust centralized government. But all of this non-sense about xenophobia is simply not in code of the Tea Party program. If anything, the meritocratic opportunity society which the Tea Parties envision is one which leaves zero room for the identity politics which form a far more fertile patch of soil for the undue emphasis on differences whose excessive extension leads into the rank recesses of racism.

It is to this last point that Whittle speaks in this latest vid. One of the recurring themes in the Tea Parties' discourse is one of push-back against illegal immigration, and against those government policies which --in effect or by intent-- abet it. Naturally, among Transnational Progressives, any mention of protecting National borders is at best worst, it is a kind of nativist provincialism which is treated as interchangeable with xenophobia. The cult of multiculturalism will not brook any talk of assimilation, treating it as some Borg-like attempt to erase the essence of the soul of the somethingorother. They would have us replace the "melting pot" with a very busy salad.

The problem is that all of this is beside the point. That point is that one of the chief functions of a Nation-State is to guard the borders which, in large part, define it. It is to reinforce the membrane around the organism of State, and thus to preserve the integrity of that entity with respect to its surround. A cell with an overly porous membrane (or none at all) simply melts into a patch of protoplasm, indistinct and quite dead. Say what you will about the Nation State as a concept (sigh, I guess that includes you, Mike), but so long as it exists, it must preserve a certain structural integrity, which includes the regulation of passage across its borders. Ethnicity has nothing to do with this, except inasmuch as given ethnic groups may (lamentably!) be statistically (though by no means essentially) associated with the sorts of failed and failing states from which people show a tendency to want to emigrate, with the US as a prime destination. But (and this is the central point) that ethnicity is wholly incidental to the question of whether their quite legitimate grievances with their countries of origin entitle them to carry with them some of the lawlessness that they strive to escape, and to import it into this Nation by the sheer act of slipping into it extra-legally.

There are whole shadow infrastructures which subtend the passage of illegal immigrants into this country, vast criminal enterprises which I would flatter by referring to them as merely amoral. Emotional appeals about poor families, hoping to make a better life must be held up against clear-eyed acknowledgments of the brutal, lawless cartels which pad their clandestine balance sheets by flouting the legal structures of this Nation and marching those families across the frontier in the dead of night. An insufficiently guarded border is like one big broken window in the neighborhood. It signals a laxity and decadence which invites exploitation like a wounded seal in a school of sharks. The national security implications of poor border enforcement are obvious (or should be!). But there are subtler issues afoot here, issues having to do with the level of order which a Nation can assure its citizens (not so great for the people of border states, who are urged to avoid certain areas so as not to run afoul of well-armed Coyote caravans), and with the value of labor (materially deflated by the presence of an entire underground economy of desperate people willing to take less than a pittance for jobs which would otherwise have to compete for workers in the full light of day).

The leaky bottom of the labor market, as far as I've been able to discern, is the main point of contention within the Tea Party ranks when it comes to illegal immigration. It speaks directly to the integrity of the marketplace as a mechanism for assigning value to economic activity, and the distortions of that marketplace where the value of labor is so unbalanced by a vast pool of undocumented workers, pulling that value artificially downward. Throw in the whole bit about the government failing to act on its Constitutionally-mandated charter to enforce the borders, and there's a whole lot of principled ground for the Tea Partiers to stand on with regard to this issue, and not a bit of it has to do with racism. Fancy that.

Now, I would be the first to be attacked from some quarters of the Tea Parties (and no, not because I am Hispanic. Sheesh!), in that I do support some kind of mechanism for bringing many of the diligent and law-abiding illegal immigrants in out of the cold...though not without penalty, and not in a way which disadvantages those who have striven mightily and waited long to secure legal residency or citizenship. But such measures would be meaningless in the absence of robust border enforcement, and a national will to expel those who game the system and/or commit crimes while they're here (aside from the one about being here in the first place, that is). If this way of thinking appears racist to some, then I submit that their definitions of that word cry out to be revisited.

Anyway, here's Bill's take on the matter:

Friday, November 12, 2010

Per Libertas Ad Astra

In the course of my journey from Big Government Liberal to libertarian-esque Conservative, one of the hardest things for me to let go of has been my hitherto-unquestioned belief that it is the business of the Federal Government to shepherd humanity into space.

It had always been an article of faith for me that only an Apollo-like Project could midwife the hatching of our species, at long last, from its primordial creche at the bottom of the Earth's gravity well, and out into the cosmos, where it belongs. The maddeningly slow progress of that momentous trek, of course, had to be due to an infuriating lack of vision at the top: If only Nixon had not killed the versatile and muscular Apollo in favor of the nifty but limited and cash-hungry (and ultimately lethal) Shuttle (and if only that program had not itself become freighted with the 'all-things-to-all-constituencies' bloat which subverted its initial purpose as a cheap, fully re-usable space truck), we could have expanded Skylab into a proper orbital village. If only Vietnam had not squandered so much of this Nation's wealth on a vain and pointless struggle against somethingorother, we could at least have had a fracking Moon Base. If only the Luddite fetishes of the 70s-era environmentalists hadn't refocused NASA into an operation bent on going around in circles, gazing at its own navel, we would have made it to Mars (and, having been an Environmentalist myself, this last came with no small quantum of cognitive dissonance!). On and on, I gritted my teeth at the absence of a Mission for the agency in charge of our Government's sacred trust to lift us to the stars.

It was only long after I had transitioned from Liberalism to a succession of species of Conservative that I had what, in retrospect, was a rather embarrassingly-belated realization: Why the blazes should mere Government be expected to oversee --let alone monopolize-- the greatest adventure on which humanity would ever embark? Why should it be the (IRS-enforced) obligation of a grain farmer in Iowa, or a Burger King manager in Virginia...or a clinical psychologist in Philadelphia to bankroll our evolution into a spacefaring species? If humans are going to hoist themselves into free space and forge a destiny in its airless reaches, why on earth (pun intentional) must it be left to the grinding Rube-Goldberg mechanism of pork-laden appropriations to make it so?

In an editorial by Iain Murphy and Rand Simberg at The American Spectator, the authors tackle this very question, and articulate the answer in devastatingly clear terms: It shouldn't:
There's something about space policy that makes conservatives forget their principles. Just one mention of NASA, and conservatives are quite happy to check their small-government instincts at the door and vote in favor of massive government programs and harsh regulations that stifle private enterprise. It's time to abort that mission. [...]
It is time for conservatives to recognize that Apollo is over. We must recognize that Apollo was a centrally planned monopolistic government program for a few government employees, in the service of Cold War propaganda and was therefore itself an affront to American values. If we want to seriously explore, and potentially exploit space, we need to harness private enterprise, and push the technologies really needed to do so.
One of the few things that the Obama Administration has gotten resoundingly and unambiguously right was the shift of NASA's priorities from old-school, Manhattan Project thinking on space access, in favor of a less-centralized, free-market approach. I know...right? Here is one area in which the Administration's singular (and in so many other ways extraordinarily dangerous and misguided) focus on a domestic policy of Transforming America tm  has happened to strike precisely the right note. Now, if this is simply a case of doing the correct things for the wrong reasons, then I'll take it just the same.

For, so long as this Administration shows its indifference and disdain for human spaceflight by refusing to bestow upon it a Big Government Project (which, in Obama's world, is the ultimate marker of value, after all), then that endeavor stands a chance of actually getting off the ground. On the one hand you have a set of fixed-funded, results-based benchmark incentives for competing private industries' achievements in developing a viable, human-rated commercial launch and orbital operations system (from which NASA can then purchase flights, while shouldering a relatively paltry share of the R&D costs). On the other, you have the usual cost-plus shenanigans of the usual suspects drawing the usual (voluminous) booty into the usual districts. The pace of the process might not be as gratifyingly brisk as you get when you unleash the jury-rigged juggernaut of State-Sponsored Will on a problem. At least not at first. But as markets are created and exploited through a ratcheting series of entrepreneurial beach-heads, the gains are apt to be more durable (as their funding streams will not be pegged to the American election cycle), and to ramp up more steeply once established (same reason).

So, it took Bigelow and Branson and Musk to make manifest what had previously only been that, in the end, even I got it. I've been able to redirect my geek sensibilities in a direction more in keeping with my larger politico-economic explanatory system (and thus to discover that, even at my advanced age, I am still capable of changing my mind on important matters. Again.). And all this just in time for some most unexpectedly sensible legislation from the last Administration from which I would've seen it coming. Epic win!

And, in the end, once Bigelow builds his station, and clients (including NASA) start lining up, you start to introduce modest economies of scale, which bring down costs to orbit, which opens up new markets...and suddenly the landscape seems a mite more amenable than it ever would have been under NASA to the prospect of my not shuffling off before having seen the blue-white, gracefully-curved limb of the Earth, brightly sunlit under a black sky...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Will on the Limits of Predictability

Here's a nice meditation by George Will in Newsweek, a glimpse of a glimpse of the fringes of the sheer complexity of the ever-shifting topology of the global economy. Commenting on the ideas of Robert Weissenstein, a chief investment officer in Credit Suisse Private Banking, Will highlights “the enormous iterative impact of everything we hold and do.” He points to the unanticipated consequences of seemingly unrelated innovations and how they create (and destroy) opportunities in a manner reminiscent of Burke's splendid series, "Connections."  It sounds what could be a healthily cautionary note for zero-sum, fixed-"pie" static-model economic thinkers with a mind to tinker with the workings of the marketplace in an effort to control it.

The oft-cited example of this unpredictability is the devastating effect which the advent of the automobile had on the buggy whip industry ("Think of the jobs!!"). The point of the article is the non-linear, unpredictable downstream effects of events and innovations, driving new growth, even as they annihilate previous growth drivers. It's the global economy as a dynamic and evolving landscape, in which dynamic and evolving things live. And die.

It is no more predictable than were the consequences of increasing amounts of oxygen in the atmosphere, billions of years ago, which killed off virtually all of the primordial anaerobic life forms that made up the vast bulk of the Earth's biosphere. It was a Disaster! But, of course, aerobic life forms were able to utilize and dissipate energy far more effectively, leading to greater diversification and complexification, ultimately producing the spectacularly successful dinosaurs...

Complex systems like organisms and species and economies are like that: they are inherently unpredictable, dancing always on the edge of chaos. And that's where evolution happens, on the margins.

If we let it, such can be a profoundly humbling perspective on our efforts to predict and control, and on the hard limits with which those efforts will inevitably collide.

I suppose "that's why we have a Tea Party."

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Whittle Boils It Down, Part Four: On Natural Law

At last, the fourth in Whittle's superb series on the core concepts of Tea Party-style Conservatism. As usual, Bill states his case in a cool, rational, amiably non-confrontational manner, articulating these eminently sensible ideas in a gently persuasive style which befits their profound reasonableness. As with previous entries, it clocks in just under ten minutes, and is well worth every second:

Now, as someone well-steeped in Post-Modern academic thought, with its hermeneutic approach to texts (broadly defined), I'm disposed to be wary of appeals to "Natural Law." This is not a skepticism which I am inclined to repudiate fully. As a non-theist, it would be bad faith for me to posit some transcendent ontological status for even the most "self-evident" of epistemological constructs. If there is no Divine Firewall behind our concepts, they are, in the final analysis, all relative.

That being said, however, there are legitimate areas in which it is sensible to behave --as mindfully and humbly and self-critically as possible-- as though there were bedrock under our feet. For example, yes I am free to abandon my family and take off across the country to Find Myself. For me to sit here and say that I cannot do this would be bad faith. However, my liberty, my personal freedom as a choice-making agent is but one of the variables that enters into this decision. Leaving aside for the moment the fact that I don't want to do this (because I am deliriously happy with my family, and far luckier than I have any right to expect that I have it), the simple fact is that such an exercise of my freedom bumps up against the needs and feelings of others, and thus would bring about consequences which I deem adverse out of proportion to the advantages I might glean from such a self-serving journey of discovery. So, I choose to act as though this choice were not on the menu. Indeed, the very notion of contemplating such a step feels absurd. Although, in the strictest sense, this position is a conclusion, it is sensible to behave as though it were a premise.

Similarly, when Whittle makes reference to those "Truths" which we "hold to be self-evident," there is a part of me which cannot help but respond with a hearty "Who says?" After all, I don't fall into the "endowed by their Creator" camp. But let's look at a couple of the truths he is talking about: The rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," are construed as emanating not from the State, but from the intrinsic nature of humanity. Further, it is the role of the State to protect these rights, and not within the power of the State to bestow (or abridge) them. The right is similarly posited as being self-evident to freely enter into contracts, within the bounds of laws which protect the liberty and property of others, and without the fear that those contracts will be abnegated by political fiat. It is eminently sensible to depict these rights as transcendent and true, even though history is replete with examples (many still extant!) of the freedom of humans to behave otherwise. The advantages which derive from treating these "truths [as] self-evident" far outstrip those of leaving them on the deconstruction block.

The concept espoused by the Tea Parties that individuals are free to pursue their interests within a free-market system, and that the State's power to intervene in this marketplace should be robustly curtailed is frequently mischaracterized as "greed" and "selfishness." This could not be further from the truth. Indeed, it is the converse view (i.e., that it is within the power of the State to declare something --like, say, health care-- a "Right," and to forcibly extract the energy of the marketplace to fulfill that right) which smacks more of vampirism than altruism, however high-minded the intent behind it.

Whittle makes reference to the fact that corporations are currently sitting on immense cash reserves, rather than investing them and using them to create jobs. This is an observation which is not-infrequently used by critics of free-market capitalism to indict that system, and to posit the need for the State to step in and create and enforce mechanisms for the "equitable" distribution of those resources (e.g., via taxation). It's a fair-ish argument, but too narrow a view. For it would be very much in the interests of businesses to plow their cash reserves back into the operations of their enterprises, and to grow and add value to them (and, in effect, to the economy as a whole)...if they could be confident that their efforts would not stand to be thwarted by the operations of a State which could, by the exercise of political (that is, force-backed) power, act to tap into that value for the sake of the "Right" du jour (and de jure).

The conclusion/premise of the Tea Parties is that the energy which is currently being held off-line is trapped by an all-too rational fear of the overreaching expansion of the public sphere --via political power-- into the arena in which that energy might be liberated...if only the "Natural Law" of individual liberty and the relatively unfettered operation of the marketplace were allowed to hold sway. It is the unpredictability of political processes which creates an environment in which the most rational choice is to hoard capital, rather than unleash it. By contrast, it is the predictability of contract law and a constrained and frugal State which creates incentives to take financial risks for the sake of potentially rich rewards. In the final analysis, it is within the power of private enterprise to throw such caution to the winds, and take its chances that its investments will not be deemed low-hanging fruit for the fulfillment of the State's hunger for energy. They are free to do so, and it would be bad faith to say otherwise. But then they would have to look their stockholders in the face when their balance sheets were raided by those who deem them public property.

As Bill would say, "That's why we have a Tea Party."

Friday, October 22, 2010

Whittle Boils It Down, Part 3

Here's the third in the excellent series by Bill Whittle on the fundamental ideas which animate the Tea Parties (note: neither race nor religion enter into it at all). This time, the subject is the nature of wealth and its creation. (see here for Part One, and here for Part Two).

Once again, this is nothing new for those who grasp even the most rudimentary concepts of free-market economics...and that's pretty much the point: there is nothing particularly novel or radical about the basic tenets of the Tea Parties, however hard a dedicated cadre of spin-sters may be working to paint it otherwise. The 'kernel' of the Tea Party code is as elementary and intuitive as the transaction between two trade partners, both of whom walk away from a voluntary exchange of value with the sense that they got the better of the deal. Wealth is created, Whittle calmly and amiably explains, by the creativity of producers, who add complexity (or information, or value) to the world through their inventiveness and industry...then proceed to multiply that value via free trade.

It is the removal --to the greatest extent feasible-- of Government interference in the operation of this immensely powerful engine of wealth creation which is the main animating principle of the Tea Parties. Government is understood as a necessary set of negative feedback loops in the vast cybernetic edifice of the economy, governing the operation of that system to prevent its collapse into chaos. But an excess of negative feedback will stall and stultify the operation of the system, gumming up the works and diverting its energy into a great bureaucratic heat sink.

This is the principle which is so strongly opposed by adherents of the Liberal, Keynesian model of strong public-sector involvement in the operation of the free market which they so profoundly distrust. Now, it's clear that I have some pretty strong opinions on the topic, but I will not sit here and arrogate to myself some God's-eye view of what is correct (my positions on these things, were you to drill down to specific policies,  would probably engender a hefty dose of annoyance from both sides of the debate). But the beauty of the Tea Parties is that they have focused the attention of the GOP on these core questions, attention which it has been justly lambasted for allowing to be diverted by the K Street culture of irresponsible spending and creeping corruption. Despite the myriad distractions and smoke-screens which have been thrown up in the face of American voters with respect to these matters, the essence of the Tea Parties is the restoration to primacy of these elemental questions of where wealth comes from, to whom it belongs, and what is to be done with it. It really is as simple as that.

And, when you burn away the epiphenomena, when you tune your mind to the signal hiding in the noise, what emerges is a clear choice between incompatible visions of how an economy and a Nation should operate. Such clarity has been sorely lacking from this conversation for far too long, and far too many of the wrong people have been benefiting from its absence.

In that sense, the Tea Parties have already created considerable wealth for us all.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

There But Not Back Again

Over at, the intriguing (though hardly new) idea of one-way Mars colonization is discussed. The idea does have a certain appeal, once you get past the vicarious dread at the notion of leaving behind the Good Earth for ever. Once you remove the reaction mass and logistical complications of a return trip, you could find yourself in the position to derive far bang per buck of mission cost. There is plenty on Mars for the establishment of a self-sustaining colony, if only the seed materials could be included in the outward-bound leg of the journey. Fuel and shielding and provisions alone would probably be a fair approximation of the mission mass for a greenhouse enclosure, where Mars' CO2-rich environment and roughly 24-hour days would make local food production (and air/waste recycling loops) eminently doable.

The main question in all this is: Who would do such a thing?

Let me go on record here and say, "No exclusively NASA (or any other government agency)-only colonization missions!" If government wants to lend a judiciously-limited hand (say, by results-based matching programs with industry, or by a prize structure, or somesuch), then that's shiny. But we can't afford some sort of Mayflower Project.

Besides, as many others have noted, NASA has proven conclusively that it is capable of rendering sterile and prosaic even the single greatest adventure on which the human species will ever embark. That such a dessicated, risk-averse bureaucratic entity should ever muster the testicular fortitude to send people on a one-way trip is simply incomprehensible. Which is a good thing! The aridity of a Government-controlled mission would rival that of the Martian atmosphere itself. The chances of true social evolution would run constantly afoul of the culture of meticulous regimentation which so characterizes NASA. Any such colony would have woven into its DNA an ethic of control which would put the most grandiose fantasies of Progressive Social Engineers to shame!

Much better would be a colony ship festooned with corporate logos, with ad revenues, reality show and documentary film rights (can you say "Planet Mars," in IMAX?), and the promise of hermetically contractually-protected mining claims (Mars has had some very significant vulcanism in its past, offering the promise of rich veins of precious and "rare earth" say nothing of the downstream value of helium-3 for fusion energy tech). Protocols would, of course, be in place, but they would stand a much better chance of being malleable in the face of local conditions than a military-style State-controlled regime. A society and an economy would arise from the exigencies of the survival situation.

In The Case For Mars, Bob Zubrin said that "the chief export of a Mars colony will be ideas." Now, you'd think that a die-hard Mars colony advocate like Zubrin would be some kind of social-engineering Utopian. In point of fact, he is refreshingly Conservative/libertarian in his thinking, and has some uncommonly intelligent things to say about our energy conundrum. He truly believes that Mars colonists will have to make hard choices with scarce resources, in ways that maximize the value of even more scarce human capital. The result will be a crucible of bold, fast-paced social and technical evolution of the sort which would make Thomas Paine weep with joy.

The kinds of people who would want to go on such a trip stand a very good chance of being precisely the sorts that we'd want on it: intrepid but not reckless, independent but aware of the importance of a chain of command...actually, now that I think of it, I'm not sure we can particularly spare them right now! But they would constitute the ultimate laboratory of what free people can do when their lives depend on it.

The ideas would shoot sunward at a pace which even the editors of high school textbooks would have a hard time buffering for censorship!

H/T to Hot Air for the headline.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Whittle Boils It Down, Part 2

Shivering a bit in my hoodie. I'm going to miss this deck-blogging thing; sipping Jameson, a little Chopin over Pandora, and only the stars for proof-readers. Winter makes me feel like a night watchman for Nature.

I'm braving the chill, though, to bring you the anticipated 2nd in the series by commentator Bill Whittle on the core tenets of Tea Party-style Conservatism. As with the first part, Whittle makes the case with simplicity, humility, humor, and an easy aplomb which eschews any but the barest whiff of demagoguery. It is two for two in the area of dispelling the noxious fog of disinformation and spin which has so stubbornly attached itself (or rather willfully been attached) to the Tea Parties, and the beliefs of their supporters.

In addition to his characteristically clear elucidation of political principles, Whittle hits on themes of complexity and distributed, evolutionary processing which are near and dear to my heart.Whittle does indeed channel Hayek here (as pointed out by Ed over at Hot Air) on the prohibitive information barrier between Central Planning and the indescribably complex topology of something like even a relatively simple economy...let alone that of the US.

However, one need not take recourse in such dusty volumes to find the sense in this vid's point about the preferability of distributed, federalist, free-market decision-making over Central Planning. Mr.Hengist recently turned me on to Orbit At Home, which I plan to set into motion on  my home machine tomorrow.  Like SETI At Home, and a host of other distributed computing projects, Orbit uses the power of large numbers of processors, working snippets of a problem in massively parallel fashion to converge on solutions with a nimbleness and horsepower which leaves even the most powerful centralized supercomputer in the dust. In the case of Orbit, the task is the computation of the orbits (get it?)  of large numbers of potentially Earth-impacting Solar System objects.

The US economy is obviously even more complex a problem than the dance of celestial billiard balls. More bodies in motion. In just over two weeks, the American end users will have some deep thinking to do about how they want to use their clock cycles.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ego Ergo Sum

Holy hand grenade! Over at the LAT, Jonah Goldberg drops a daisy cutter of a column on self-esteem of our current POTUS. To wit:
There's an irony to occupying the Oval Office. When presidents think they're bigger than the job they hold, they shrink in office. When they think they're smaller than the honor they've been temporarily bestowed, they grow into it. Obama has done nothing but shrink.
Ouch! Let me be perfectly clear: that's gonna leave a mark. Read the whole thing, if you dare.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


For a while now, the blabosphere and Facebook status-klatches have been sporadically abuzz with the story of the wealthy, conservative Koch brothers. Supposedly they've been busily at work manipulating public disgruntlement by diligently, quietly seeding a little astroturf garden called the "Tea Parties."  The story has never felt especially credible, given the 'epidemiological' patterns of the TP movement's efflorescence, from Santelli's rant, on outward. It just felt too organic for such claims to hold much water with me.

An amusing little editorial by Andrew Ferguson, in Commentary more or less echoes my initial reservations about the story, and provides more context. It deals with the style of meme-weaving which lends itself to the kind of conspiracism that's become such the stock in trade for this administration and its backers:
The story of the Koch brothers and their involvement in politics, unknown as it is to most readers, is undeniably worth telling. But mere interest isn’t the reaction that ThinkProgress and Mayer, who is as much a party apparatchik as a reporter, meant to provoke. This is five-alarm journalism. “In many places,” Mayer told Maddow in a back-scratching interview, the Tea Party movement “has been considered a spontaneous uprising that came from nowhere.” In fact, it is merely one of the Kochs’ “stealth attacks launched on the federal government, and on the Obama administration in particular.” Maddow summed up the theme of top-down manipulation: “Tea partiers who attended these rallies, particularly the early ones, were essentially instructed to rally against things like climate change by billionaire oil tycoons.” 
Now, as the editorial points out, the Koch brothers have hardly been shy about their political positions: public financial records, not to mention public appearances...and even one run for VPOTUS on the Libertarian ticket are kinda hard to square with any attributions of attempted stealth!  Nonetheless, the brothers' perfectly above-board contributions to a group which shared their clear political proclivities were reported by "Think Progress"as though they were late-night dead drops of envelopes stuffed with unmarked bills and coded instructions.

But such is the perfectly consistent belief system of the collectivist on proud display. The very notion of the spontaneous emergence of a political phenomenon is anathema for those who maintain that humanity can truly advance (or "progress") only through the deliberate action of duly-designated elites.

And, of course, the irony that the heavily Soros-backed Center for American Progress should be the source of this story is apt to be altogether lost on those who've hitched their wagons to the Statist star. Pretext of principles, indeed!

But Star Chambers and Secret Groves have always been the preferred provinces of those who harbor an unnerving skepticism about the capacity of people to come to their own conclusions without being managed from the shadows...or from the Capitol. Since the Tea Parties arose, they have been: catspaws for the GOP, fronts for racist organizations, and Trojan horses for social conservative groups. Now they're a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries. Must be quite a challenge for the CAP "idea factory" to have to re-tool its assembly line so frequently!

Quoth Ferguson:

One mark of the paranoid style in American politics, Richard Hofstadter wrote in his famous essay, is its concern with “factuality,” a piling up of random details to create a coherence that reality itself can’t provide. Journalism of a certain sort becomes a convenient instrument of the paranoid partisan. “The paranoid’s interpretation of history,” Hofstadter wrote, “is distinctly personal: decisive events are not taken as part of the stream of history, but as the consequences of someone’s will,” an “amoral superman” who “manufactures the mechanism of history, or tries to deflect the normal course of history in an evil way.

With the Kochs, the American left gets two amoral supermen in one. Mayer’s article, and the larger campaign it’s a part of, is meant not only to alarm its audience but to soothe it as well. Any Democrat unnerved by the rise of the Tea Party movement will find it comforting to learn that it’s a giant confidence trick. The belief requires both a deep cynicism about one’s fellow citizens and a touching credulity about the ease with which they can be manipulated. All those angry, badly dressed people shouting into megaphones on TV: they’re not evil, they’re just stupid. [Hofstadter link added]
A charitable characterization of Progressive thought is that it believes humanity can be remade, perfected by a benevolent and comprehensive manipulation of its environment in order to foster the development of its highest potentials. For one who holds such beliefs, the idea that such large numbers of people can be so thoroughly hoodwinked and herded must at some level be a hopeful one. After all, if they can be prodded over to the Dark Side so easily, then they can be just as easily coaxed back into the light, right?

This endless cavalcade of narratives which opponents --on the Right and Left-- have hatched to try and fathom the Tea Parties resembles nothing more than the twitchiness of a species in response to the appearance and adaptive mutation of a rival species. One might imagine the reactions of Neanderthals, perfectly comfy in their lush valleys, to the arrival of those bald, skinny Homo Sapiens with their silly big heads...

[Shamelessly and extensively edited 10/12/10, to correct grievous violations of proper syntax and other late-night crimes against the English language]

Late update (3/29/2011):  Here is a lengthy, excellent account of the Koch brothers' history, and the evolution of the ginned-up, Outrageously Outraged campaign to smear and demonize them. Worth a read.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Bamster Bangs Into Facts, Walks it Back

Not much time to post today; used up pretty much all of my available slack giving the 'Cyte a long-overdue facelift (like the light gray on dark gray, Mike?).

But I just had to comment on this article in the NYT (!!) on the richly-deserved blowback from the administration's desperate ploy to gin up outrage over the supposed (but as-yet unproved) "funneling of foreign money" into the political process on behalf of the GOP by the Chamber of Commerce. Well, that, and I couldn't resist throwing down that title (c'mon, tell me you don't hear James Brown in your head when you read it).

Anyway, it'd become clear even to Obama's people that this spaghetti just isn't sticking to the wall.
White House officials acknowledged Friday that they had no specific evidence to indicate that the chamber had used money from foreign entities to finance political attack ads

“The president was not suggesting any illegality,” Bob Bauer, the White House counsel, said. Instead, he said Mr. Obama’s reference to the chamber was meant to draw attention to the inadequacies of campaign disclosure laws in allowing groups to spend large amounts of money on politics without disclosing their donors.

White House officials called on the chamber to go beyond current disclosure laws and establish that no foreign money has been used in its political campaigns. “They can put this to rest,” said Joshua Earnest, a White House spokesman. “They have the keys to the file cabinet.”
Think about that for a minute. The White House levels charges which, if true, constitute a violation of  campaign finance law (yes, even under "Citizens United." Fancy that...). When confronted with the fact that they have no evidence to support the charge, they backtrack, and then suggest that the accused should provide evidence of their innocence. Something smell funny about that to you? It certainly does to Ed Morrissey over at Hot Air:
This is an administration that apparently has never learned the difference between being a political campaign and serving in the government.  In the former situation, this would constitute slander, which is bad enough.  When it comes from the government, it’s a form of tyranny — an attempt to use the power of government to silence dissent.
Ed's not given to histrionics, so this graf rang out pretty powerfully to me, as it should to you. This administration is behaving like a cornered animal, and we need to be very watchful over the next 800-odd days...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Whittle Boils It Down

In a soft-spoken, eminently reasonable tone, one of my favorite commentators, Bill Whittle, of ejectejecteject fame, lays out the fundamentals of the free-market, small-government philosophy which animates the Tea Party movement. Kinda old hat for those like myself who support that philosophy and movement.  But the concision and lack of demagoguery with which he makes the case will make viewing the vid a very well-spent ten minutes or so, whether you are a supporter or --even moreso-- if you are one whose exposure to the Tea Parties' ideas is limited to the very deliberately and disingenuously promulgated narratives of "racism" and "greed."

It is unfortunate in the extreme (no pun intended) that candidates like Christine O'Donnell and Carl Paladino have lurched onto the scene and made it so easy to mischaracterize the Tea Party movement as a whole with their missteps, shenanigans, and outright wackiness (but, it should be noted, somehow the hopefully-soon-to-be-unemployed Alan Grayson has managed to not tar the entirety of Liberalism with his nauseating antics...).

Items like this  vid are essential if the real terms of this conversation are going to have a chance to make their way out to an electorate with the clearest set of choices to make in altogether too long.

Rove Fires Back at Bamster's Blather

Posting from the playground, on my ever-so-shiny HTC Evo, as the Li'l Cyte manages negotiations of dominance, imagination, and assorted rivalries and alliances.

While witnessing the proceedings, it seemed especially apt to read this.

The sooner these ill-bred children are deprived of dominion over the sand box, the better. "Stealing our democracy," indeed! What a bunch of whiney little drama queens!

I mean, if the GOP's "Shadow Organizations" are outspending the Donks' like seven to one, then whose fault is that? ("Dammit, Soros! I need more power!")

Sunday, October 3, 2010

"No Pressure"

This vid has been getting been getting a whole lot of play on the Interwebs lately, of a sort which is engendering a bit of consternation among its makers (though not nearly enough!). It is a perfectly horrid glimpse into what passes for humor in the dark depths of the apocalyptic "environmentalist" mind. Just under four minutes, but you really should not spare yourself. Just keep the kids away, and a tight rein on your lunch:

What can one say about the consciousnesses which hatched and executed this misbegotten bit of eco-snuff? What do you call it when the products of one’s vomitous projections induce projectile vomiting in their viewers? Regurgitation loop? Circle-hurl?

I suppose I could say “the mask has slipped,” if I could only stop giggling at the notion that there was ever a mask to begin with!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

On the Limits of Knowledge and the Knowledge of Limits

Via Hot Air (where a quite lively discussion did ensue!), comes this perfectly lovely article from The New Scientist. It is an eloquent essay on the approach of an honest, open-minded scientist to the needlessly limiting categories of "theism" and "atheism" with respect to the mind's on-going dialog with nature.
 So while there are plenty of good books by scientist-atheists, they sometimes under-emphasise the main lesson from science: that our knowledge is vastly outstripped by our ignorance. For me, a life in science prompts awe and exploration over dogmatism.
 Given these considerations, I do not call myself an atheist. I don't feel that I have enough data to firmly rule out other interesting possibilities. On the other hand, I do not subscribe to any religion. Traditional religious stories can be beautiful and often crystallise hard-won wisdom - but it is hardly a challenge to poke holes in them. Religious structures are built by humans and brim with all manner of strange human claims - they often reflect cults of personality, xenophobia or mental illness. The holy books of these religions were written millennia ago by people who never had the opportunity to know about DNA, other galaxies, information theory, electricity, the big bang, the big crunch, or even other cultures, literatures or landscapes. 
So it seems we know too little to commit to strict atheism, and too much to commit to any religion. Given this, I am often surprised by the number of people who seem to possess total certainty about their position. I know a lot of atheists who seethe at the idea of religion, and religious followers who seethe at the idea of atheism - but neither group is bothering with more interesting ideas. They make their impassioned arguments as though the God versus no-God dichotomy were enough for a modern discussion.
Indeed! Over the years, I have developed a feeling for militant atheism which is akin to that which I feel about dogmatic theism. They both make me a bit sad.

I consider myself a functional atheist, but a technical agnostic. I simply cannot rule out that there is an Intelligence orchestrating the unfolding of the Great Cosmic Simulation (scale = 1:1). But nor can I reconcile my observations and studies with the premise that there must be such an Intelligence. I have absorbed enough from Chaos/Complexity theory to find highly satisfying comprehensiveness in the explanatory power of the concepts of self-organization in complex systems under far-from-equilibrium conditions. I simply do not see the need for a Cosmic Controller, any more than I need to posit a "Brain Bird," guiding and controlling the dynamics of a flock in flight.

But, when you come right down to it, what the hell do I know?

To make the leap from "What" questions to "Why" questions is to commit the fundamental(ist) error of both believers and non-believers. "What" questions are the proper domain of science: they deal with that which can be tested and observed (what are the proportions of ordinary matter to dark matter in the observable universe?). "Why" questions deal with ultimate issues (Why is there something instead of nothing?). Any effort to transplant one from the other is bound to bump against a hard metaphysical stop, and require what, for all intents and purposes must be considered a leap of faith. One of the most lovely treatments of this matter was the brilliant 1996 film, "Contact," in which a woman of science and a man of faith must find a way to reconcile their ostensibly antithetical world-views to questions of cosmic import. It is one of my very favorite films for the sheer poetry with which it addresses this matter which has so dominated the landscape of my thinking since childhood. The limits of knowledge need not represent the foreclosure of possibilities, but that we conjure they do.

This is why I call myself a "possibilian". Possibilianism emphasises the active exploration of new, unconsidered notions. A possibilian is comfortable holding multiple ideas in mind and is not driven by the idea of fighting for a single, particular story. The key emphasis of possibilianism is to shine a flashlight around the possibility space. It is a plea not simply for open-mindedness, but for an active exploration of new ideas.
Is possibilianism compatible with a scientific career? Indeed, it represents the heart of science. Real science operates by holding limitless possibilities in mind and working to see which one is most supported by the data. Sometimes it is difficult or impossible to gather data that weighs in - and in those cases we simply retain the possibilities. We don't commit to a particular version of the story when there is no reason to.
Again, big bang-on. Now, he term “Possibilian” seems too precious by…well, a frack of a lot more than half. But the term “agnostic” has always rankled me something fierce. To live by the dictum that the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence seems a mite…reduced by simply calling it “No-Knowledge.”

Sure, sure, saying you don’t know is supposed to be the beginning of wisdom and all that. But it feels a little like calling an American boy “Leslie.” It’s a fine name, but don’t expect him to thank you for it in middle school.

Nomenclature aside, though, it's a big 'Verse, with room for Grand Unifying Narratives aplenty. It seems to me that digging in our heels and shouting names at each other is a less than optimal use of the finite quanta of energy available to us before we flame out. This is one of the (many) reasons I find Bill Maher no less a nauseating homunculus of a man than Pat Robertson. Both pull for a zero-sum, annihilationist exclusivity which offers absolutely no quarter for the "other side."

To quote from another one of my favorite movies, "You have to see with better eyes than that."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Tea's a-Brewin'

Nice article in the WSJ, which articulates much of what I have been thinking about the influence of the Tea Parties on the American political landscape. Important graf:
Much will depend, of course, on which tea-party favorites actually win in the November general election, but a likely outcome of all this will be a Republican party more to the right, and a Democratic Party more to the left. "It's going to be a bipolar Congress," predicts Kenneth Duberstein, White House chief of staff for President Reagan.
At first glance, the notion of such bipolarity conjures images of gridlock and chaos. But thus does evolution work. It is a messy business, fraught with pain and turbulence and extinctions and dislocations.But it is a spectacularly effective engine for cobbling fitness from the staggering dance of environment/organism co-adaptation, the wrenching improvisational composition of blind variation and selective retention. The mess is the message.

As the Tea Parties impose selective pressures on the entrenched GOP establishment from the very soil below the grass roots, the elephant is forced, ponderously and reluctantly, to evolve or die, and with it, the whole of the political ecosystem through which it moves.

Much is made by the Democratic commentariat about the "Civil War" taking pace within the GOP. Fair enough, and we've certainly heard that language before, when Liberals want to sound a triumphalist note (and I'm not just talking about Iraq here). But just as important here is the internecine strife taking place within the Democratic party, as it faces what looks to be a sound drubbing, come November. As the factions of Dems who view the emerging Tea Party insurgency as a call to shift all the more shrilly to the Left have it out with those who see the need to let the Blue Dogs have their day, so is the donkey compelled to adapt, lest it become a mule.

All this excites me greatly. There are those who decry the retrenchments, Left and Right, and bemoan the "loss of the Center," lamenting that it is out of this center that "true" governance takes place. But they are missing a very crucial point: The "Center" cannot hold. When the poles of political thought become cross-contaminated by the efforts of our would-be leaders to be all things to all people, the result is an unhealthy loss of clarity. This brings about a blurring of the focus which animates the Centralizing/Federalizing dialectic which has held in its uneasy balance the very dynamism which has kept the Founders' grand experiment on the bleeding edge of civilizational evolution since its inception. The "center" is what emerges from the push-pull of competing visions for our Republic, the "big government, small citizen/small government, big citizen" tension out of which arises an ever-changing synthesis which is able to keep pace with shifting circumstances.

Before us today is the emergence of a purifying blast of clarity on both sides of this dialog. And, as they thrash it out, the promise of a properly divided government is, at long last arising. The "center" will wrench itself into being as the moribund, accommodationist oligarchies of both parties are forced to weather the withering blasts from the sharp, hungry purists on both sides of the political divide. They will be forced to ply the same waters, held to account by the voters should they fail to find a way to man the oars and get the ship of State back underway.

EDITED: 9/21/10 for typos.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Nine Years Down the Line

This text field has been empty for quite some time now.

I'd been watching footage of that Terrible Tuesday, trying to move myself to generate some meaningful associations, to stir the psychic pot and see if some words would float to the top, and spill out onto this screen. But, like Kurtz, all I could come up with was "the horror."

The fact is, that I am tired. I feel as though I will never again have as clear an access to my feelings on the horror which reached from the darkness of those benighted hearts to strike at our civilization as I did on a late night, two years ago. I know I did not say all there is to be said. Far from it! But I just can't seem to find the words to yoke themselves to the thoughts and emotions which still swirl in me as I think back to that surreal morning, almost a decade ago (!!).

I can't help but feel that I am not alone in this. The fact that this Nation elected a president who, in his words and deeds, seems to live in the world of 9/10/01, the fact that somewhere around 1/3 the US population harbors some variant of the unutterably nauseating belief that it was actually our own government which had a hand in the atrocities of New York, Washington, DC, and Shanksville, PA, the fact that Iran inches, all-but unmolested, toward the capability to field nuclear weapons (!!!), or that, somewhere in this world, Osama bin Laden still draws breath, or that the very idea of constructing a mosque, mere steps from Ground Zero itself (!!!!) is felt to warrant serious consideration, or that the site itself is still a big fracking hole in the ground...It all just leaves me numb.

For all of the heartfelt and sincere statements of remembrance, the Facebook profile images replaced with pillars of light on the scarred NYC skyline, the earnest statements that we should "never forget..." too much has  been forgotten. The terrible duties imposed by the horror which was visited on us are now routinely trivialized by fools who fail to grasp the enormity of what was done, and of what it demands.

I am tired. And I feel as though we are all just falling, falling.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Day of the Dove: A Modest Suggestion for Pastor Jones

First, the obvious: The planned burning of some 200 Korans by Pastor Terry Jones, of the Gainesville FL Dove World Outreach Center is a stupid idea. I'm no fan of the absurd prostrations of multiculturalists before the barbarous and bigoted threats of retaliation for any perceived slights against Islam, but this is simply unnecessary, unwise, and threatens mayhem far out of proportion to any "message" the congregants of this church may believe they are sending. It is, to any reasoning being,  an insensitive provocation.

It is also a Constitutionally protected form of political expression which, some niggling fire codes notwithstanding, there is no legal grounds to suppress.

But just because Pastor Jones has a right to do this, does not make it the right thing to do. And, if that phrase sounds familiar, it should. It is the phrase which is so frequently uttered with respect to the planned mosque and Islamic cultural center within steps of Ground Zero. There is broad agreement that Imam Rauf has every right to go forth with the construction of that center. Religious freedom and private property rights are crystal clear on the matter. But this inarguable fact does not in any way diminish the staggering insensitivity of constructing an Islamic center --however many nods to interconfessional amity may be incorporated into its plan-- well within the debris field of an horrific attack on the West by those who were motivated by the most virulent strains of Islamist ideology. No, it was not "Islam" which attacked us, and therefore it is unwarranted to generalize that Jihadist atrocity to the whole of Islam. Duh.

But if Rauf is really interested in promoting peaceable coexistence between the Islamic and non-Islamic worlds, then the very best thing he could do would be to recognize the overwhelming opposition to the Cordoba House, and exercise his rights to find an alternate location for the structure. I suppose it would  be well within bounds for him to publicly lament that the rift between his stated ideals and the reality of the current zeitgeist is such that such a step would be necessary. I'm not even altogether sure that I would disagree.

Now, I have no idea if Pastor Jones would be interested in the following suggestion, but he has a real opportunity to perform a mitzvah here. Long about September 10th, say, he could grab one of the many microphones which are doubtless being shoved in his face on a daily basis, and say something along the lines of: "It is no secret that I consider Islam to be opposed to the most cherished tenets of my faith, and I had planned to make a statement about the dangers of this heathen religion to the very soul of Christendom. But, upon reflection and prayer, and mindful of the far-reaching consequences should I exercise my Constitutional right of free expression, I have chosen --and am directing my flock to follow me in this-- to forgo that right, and to cancel the planned burning of the Moslem Book. I am dismayed that my ability to express my faith and my protest has raised such opposition, but the ideals of charity and tolerance which are the very soul of Christianity must win out over my concern at the corrosive effects of the Moslem heresy."

OK, so I suspect we're not talking about someone with such an evolved capacity for verbal expression, but you get the general idea.

Now, were he to leave it to the punditry or make the statement himself,  explicitly, the connection between Jones' possible actions and what one might hope Imam Rauf would choose could not be lost on those who struggle with their own feelings and ideals with respect to the Cordoba House. Justly or unjustly, book burnings evoke ugly images of orgiastic fascist exercises in thought control. Similarly, images of Victory Mosques simply cannot help but intrude on even the most sober discussion of what to do with the site of the former Burlington Coat Factory, which was struck by the landing gear of one of the hijacked planes.

Both of these men have a unique opportunity to teach a lesson on rights and Rights. I do hope they both choose to do the right thing.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Canard Season: On the Economic Impact of Operation Iraqi Freedom

Via QandO, comes this devastating deconstruction at The American Thinker of the oft-repeated meme that the Iraq War was responsible for the ballooning deficits under which our economy now labors. The general idea has been that Teh Eeevil Booosh had squandered our Nation's wealth on his Massive Boondoggle (for the enrichment of the Oil Companies, the Military-Industrial Complex, or any other of a host of popular bogeymen). And so, the 'reasoning' goes, it is hypocritical in the extreme for Conservatives to now decry the deficits which we now endure under our Democratic Administration and (for now!) Congress.

Bunk. Pure, unadulterated bunk. Have a peek at the chart, below.

Notice anything about the years? Specifically, recall which party was in charge of Congress from 2003 through 2007. Notice anything about the deficit trend lines during those years? How about right after?

The less I say here, the higher the probability that you will read the whole thing. And you should read the whole thing. The author cites the Government's own numbers (i.e., this isn't something cooked up at the Heritage Foundation  or somesuch). It is a bit of much-needed perspective, particularly as we approach the time when we get to decide who writes the next set of budgets.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Dog Bites Man: Media Moguls' Dollars Skew Hard to Port

From the files of the Utterly Unsurprising comes this report of the political contribution tendencies among the denizens of the MSM. Given the spectacle of leg-tingling hagiography to which The One was treated during the 2008 election cycle, this kind of falls in the "water is wet" category of reportage. If you'll pardon the expression, here's the money quote:
Senior executives, on-air personalities, producers, reporters, editors, writers and other self-identifying employees of ABC, CBS and NBC contributed more than $1 million to Democratic candidates and campaign committees in 2008, according to an analysis by The Examiner of data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
The Democratic total of $1,020,816 was given by 1,160 employees of the three major broadcast television networks, with an average contribution of $880.
By contrast, only 193 of the employees contributed to Republican candidates and campaign committees, for a total of $142,863. The average Republican contribution was $744.
And, lest one malign the source (the Washington Examiner is hardly Liberal-friendly), these stats were drawn from the Center For Responsive Politics, whose invaluable site, is widely considered  unimpeachable in its non-partisan objectivity.

Just a little food for thought, for the next time Fox News is raked over the coals for Rupert Murdoch's political contributions. That is, if one were inclined to be --dare I say-- Fair and Balanced.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Maliki Handed his Hat?

From the WaPo comes this bit of bad news for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Back in March, you'll recall, Maliki's State of Law coalition fell just short of former PM Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya bloc in the national elections, and long weeks have dragged into months while the various groups have wrangled to work out who would get to form the new government. Now Maliki's State Of  Law party appears to have lost the support of the Iraqi National Alliance, an (Iran-endorsed...) coalition of religious Shiite parties which had backed Maliki's claim to power.

Without INA backing, Maliki just doesn't have a chance, and he should recognize this. Allawi appears to have pretty much shed his previous stigma of "American Puppet" among Iraqis, and holds great promise in bringing Sunnis more actively and productively to the table. Necessary as they were overall (if at times heavy-handed in the execution), Maliki's aggressive de-Baathification steps have never been forgiven amid a large swathe of the Sunni population. Allawi's broadly secular, trans-sectarian appeal is as much the thing for today's Iraq as Maliki's nails in the Baath Party coffin were for the Iraq of four years ago. Allawi is also a very vocal and credible opponent of Iranian influence in Iraqi affairs (and, despite some recent brave noises along these lines, Maliki just hasn't been able to close that sale with the Iraqi people for whom Tehran is not popular). Kurdish former President Talabani is one of Allawi's closest friends, which appears likely to be reflected in relations between Arab and Kurdish blocs in an increasingly coalitionist government..

Maliki is being obdurate, and Iraq is suffering as a result. This is not to say that he does not have a legitimate case. He just might. That’s not the point. A true statesman would see that this protracted stalemate is the ultimate “broken window” in the neighborhood, and it’s signaling to the agents of chaos that they have their own window of opportunity.

After initially low expectations, Maliki has impressed me on more than one occasion with his tenacity and mettle. It is a shame to see him appearing to regress in what most observers agree is a strenuous and increasingly ignoble-seeming effort to cling to power, at the expense of the stability of his nation.

He should let Allawi have another turn at the tiller, soak up the goodwill from taking that high road, and use it to try again the next time around.

That’s what people do in a republic.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

There's Just No Appeasing Some People

Ran into this story in the CSM which, okay, I'll have to admit it, schaded my freude something fierce.

Remember those hapless American hikers who were scooped up last year on the Iraqi-Iranian border, and remain in Iranian custody on suspicion of espionage? Well, it seems the Iranians have a pretty shoddy way of treating their useful idiots:
In an ironic twist, Iran appears to have arrested a trio of passionate young Americans who espouse some of the same causes as Iran itself, particularly taking a stand against United States and Israeli aggression.
Mr. Bauer, an Arabic-speaking journalist, had previously exposed pitfalls in the US strategy in Iraq. His fiancée Sarah Shourd was teaching Iraqi refugee children in Syria, where an estimated 2 million Iraqis fled during the US-led war in their country. And their college friend Josh Fattal had fought to get military recruiters off United States campuses.
Kinda conjures images of scorpions and frogs, no?

Well, at least they'll be well-prepared for their captivity by all the time they've spent as political prisoners in the US for their...oh...wait.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of all this is the near-certainty that when these imbeciles finally are released, they will just turn around and blame it all on the Americo-Zionists' misdeeds making the wise and beneficent Iranians all crotchety.

Here's hoping the Iranians are not clever enough to be making use of this prison term for the purpose of turning mere addle-brained adolescents into actual operatives....

Friday, July 23, 2010

Nazi Smears Old & Busted? Whip Out the Race Card!

[by Mr.Hengist]

Let me just start this off by saying that "race relations", as they used to be called when I was a boy, are of no interest to me. I was raised in a racially colorblind household, and, come to think of it, I can't recall ever having seen even mild racism in my nuclear or extended family. I attended colorblind schools with a variety of peoples of different races, and so forth. As a result of this upbringing I believe that racism is just wrong. This was an issue to press with my parents' generation, and my parents in particular, and press they did. As for me, well, waging eternal war against racism is just not my bag.

Here in America, the advocates of racial equality won, thankfully. I was born at a time when the first inter-racial kiss on Star Trek was a notable event, and what seemed generations away back then has, after a generation or two, come to pass: we have a black* POTUS, as well as black Congressmen, Governors, Mayors, CEOs, and so forth. America has come a long way, yadda yadda yadda. The color barrier has been broken and racism dare not show its face in polite society. However, I'm of the opinion that racism has not been and never will be eliminated; we waged a world war trying to eliminate the f'ing Nazis and yet there are still admirers of that abomination to this day; racism, likewise, will endure. It usually takes some generations to make societal changes like these. We should neither sanction racism by law nor countenance it personally. I don't make friends with bigots, and I keep myself from slapping them.

I find myself in good company on the American Right. In the midst of my political conversion during the Spring and Summer of 2003, I found myself visiting rightwing blogs for reasons wholly unrelated to politics and, to my surprise, I found paraphrased there the famous quotation of Martin Luther King Jr. from his "I Have a Dream" speech, to the effect that he wished for a nation that would judge people not on their skin color but the content of their character. I found it on several different rightwing blogs, actually, and it took a while before I came to believe that, rather than simply being than a cudgel with which to beat the hypocrisy out of their ideological enemies, it was indeed, as it appeared: an expression of genuine desire. After a couple of years of reading rightwing blogs, columns, and publications, I came to realize upon reflection that not only was racism absent from the places I visited on the Right, but also absent too was the soft bigotry of low expectations to which I had become accustomed in my previous life as a Liberal (not that I shared it at the time, but it's so pervasive on the Left that I'd come to hardly notice it).

Accusations of racism, however, are cudgel in the hands of Liberals. They're also big on calling us Nazis, notwithstanding the irony. Racists, like Nazis, have no legitimate currency in our realm, and no say in our national debate. That's why they demonize us by calling us these names; not because it's true, but because they would have their idological competition eliminated from the debate without having to address our arguments on merit. We end up having to defend ourselves from these scurrilous attacks which in turn reduces the time we can spend talking about the flawed policy and wrongdoings of our opponents and it taints our image in minds of the gullible and uninformed. It's a despicable political tactic.

You'll want proof, of course. By way of example I give you Rush Limbaugh, who was most recently pilloried when he tried to buy an ownership stake in a football team. The Left used one of Alinsky's tactics (see "Rules for Radicals"): "Pick the Target, Freeze It, Personalize It and Polarize It". The Left set their sights on Limbaugh and opened up with all guns blazing - blanks. The quotes used against him were either fabricated or decontextualized. That was the best they could do, and bear in mind that Limbaugh has been broadcasting for the last twenty-five years. That's an hour or two a day, five days a week, most of the year, year after year, and despite the vast wealth of material through which they are free to comb for examples to bolster their charge, again, this is the best they can do. If, like me, you think as serious an accusation as racism should be backed up by evidence, then that's not just weak tea, that's homeopathic tea, but then, Liberals neither require proof to make accusations against their political opponents, nor do they see this as being a problem.

All this brings me to my pet piñata of a dinosaur media columnist: Eugene Robinson of the WaPo, and his latest column, "Obama needs to stand up to 'reverse racism' ploy" (WaPo - July 22, 2010 - A19). Let's start with the title, which calls out the "reverse racism ploy" of the Right. "Reverse racism" is sort of like racism, but in reverse. It's when people of other ethnicities are accused of racism - other than white, of course. That is to say that racism, as defined by the Left, is when whites discriminate against people of other ethnicities, so the reverse of that would be when people of other ethnicities discriminate against whites (or, occasionally, ethnicities other than their own). Racism is, by their definition, exclusively the province of white people; racism, when exhibited by non-whites, is the reverse of that. "Reverse racism" is, therefore, a divisive and racist term itself (it's a racist term, in that they have a special term for wrongdoing by a particular racial group). Congratulations, Eugene! Right out of the gate, you've beclowned yourself.

Let's move on to the body of the text:
"After the Shirley Sherrod episode, there's no longer any need to mince words: A cynical right-wing propaganda machine is peddling the poisonous fiction that when African Americans or other minorities reach positions of power, they seek some kind of revenge against whites."
Leaving aside the false pretense that Robinson or Liberals have up until now been mincing words, the "right-wing propaganda machine" is what Leftists imagine to be the rightwing equivalent of their own propaganda machines. Like, say, JournoList, in which Liberal journalists and academicians colluded to coordinated smears of their political opposition and spike stories which made their side look bad. They imagine that since they work together in this way, their opposition must as well, and having imagined it to be possible, they suppose that it's probable, and having supposed that it's probable, they conclude that it must be true, and so with the speed of a caffeinated ferret they know to be true that which they've only imagined. Proof is no longer necessary for Leftists to delude themselves. At any rate, the target of Andrew Breitbart's posting of the clips of Sheley Sherrod was not her; it was aimed at the group to which she was speaking, the NAACP. The NAACP, which is working together openly with the openly racist "Nation of Islam". This was in response to the NAACP calling out racism in the Tea Party, citing now-debunked accusations of racism (see Power Line's "Don't leave it to Cleaver", parts 1 through 17).

This was not, however, an accusation that when "minories reach positions of power, they seek some kind of revenge against whites." What it illustrated was that the NAACP, which hosted the event, applauded and gave approval to Sherrod's recounting of her tale of when she racially discriminated against a white farmer, not doing all she could to help him (when she was working for a non-profit). She states that she was of the opinion that he should seek help from "one of his own kind." She went on to say that she had since come to believe that poor whites are also worthy of her help. Middle class and rich whites should still, presumably, be helped "by their own kind." (in her own semi-coherent words, "That’s when…it was revealed to me that it’s about poor versus those who have. And not so much about white — it is about white and black — but it’s not, you know…it opened my eyes." )

"A few of the purveyors of this bigoted nonsense might actually believe it. Most of them, however, are merely seeking political gain by inviting white voters to question the motives and good faith of the nation's first African American president. This is really about tearing Barack Obama down."
This had nothing to do with POTUS Obama. The fact that this Marxist racist worked for the USDA was something of an embarassment to the Obama Administration, and she was fired for it. Now they've apologized for that, since, I guessing, they're of the opinion that if you're a Marxist racist, and not just a plain old racist, that's OK.

"With the Obama presidency, though, has come a flurry of charges -- from the likes of Breitbart but also from more substantial conservative figures -- about alleged incidences of racial discrimination against whites by blacks and other minorities. Recall, for example, the way Obama's critics had a fit when he offered an opinion about the confrontation between Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and a white police officer. Remember the over-the-top reaction when it was learned that Justice Sonia Sotomayor had once talked about how being a "wise Latina" might affect her thinking."
Well, no, there haven't been a flurry of charges about incidents of racial discrimination against whites by blacks and other minorities. Robinsons WaPo readers are not expected to doubt this despite having little recollection of any such thing, but rather his assertion alone, in their minds, will make it so. He imagines it, and so he asserts it, and on that basis they believe. His examples?

There's the Gates/cops incident, in which Gates threw a tantrum, ranting and shouting about how he was being racially harassed when the police came to protect his home from burglars. They had asked him to step outside of the house, which is a standard police procedure which removes a person from any potential threat in a dwelling; even if a homeowner insists from within their own house that everything is OK, the police will ask them to step outside and say the same thing, just in case the homeowner is being coerced by, say, somebody behind the door, holding a gun on him. The problem with what POTUS Obama did was that, before any investigation, and before all the facts were known, Obama characterized the police as having acted "stupidly." This was unpresidential and possibly racially motivated, as Gates is black and the police were mostly white, but not provably so. That was the attitude, by and large, of the Right on this flap; it was Gates who was the primary object of scorn on the Right, for playing the race card, and POTUS Obama a distant second for inappropriately injecting his uninformed opinion on an issue of minor national significance - and, predictably, automatically siding with the black guy screaming "Racism!"

Then there's the then-nominee for the SCOTUS Sotomayor, who made an arguably racist statement in a 2001 speech to law students at the University of California at Berkeley: "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life." That remark was less about wise Latinas as it was about how white men are not as wise or fair as Latinas.

That should have disqualified her for the nomination to the Supreme Court. Don't think so? Fine, let's try a little thought experiment. Imagine the SCOTUS nominee of a Republican POTUS had said the following: "I would hope that a wise white man with the richness of his experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a Latina who hasn't lived that life." Kinda pops out at ya now, doesn't it?

Remember, these are Eugene Robinson's cited examples of false charges of racism by the Right against POTUS Obama.

He goes on:
"Before Sherrod, the cause celebre of the "You Must Fear Obama" campaign involved something called the New Black Panther Party. Never heard of it? That's because it's a tiny group that exists mainly in the fevered imaginations of its few members. Also in the alternate reality of Fox News: One of the network's hosts has devoted more than three hours of air time in recent weeks to the grave threat posed by the NBPP. Actually, I suspect that this excess is at least partly an attempt by a relatively obscure anchor to boost her own notoriety."
Robinson will not let his lack of comprehension of the arguments of his opponents stand in the way of his characterizing them as being frivolous or malevolent - a pitch-perfect Liberal. In this case, what has the Right outraged has less to do with the New Black Panther Party than the Department of Justice. The New Black Panther Party is, indeed, a tiny group of violent racists who are, on the whole, of little consequence. During the 2008 election two of them, one armed with a billy club, were stationed just outside a polling station, and were intimidating voters. It was a clear violation of law, and regardless of the merits of the case, the DOJ had the case won through a default judgement, had they but taken it. The New Black Panthers did not show up, nor did they send representative council, and so would have lost the civil suit filed against them by the DOJ had only the DOJ accepted it. Deliberately, they did not do so, and it is the contention of J. Christian Adams (and initially corroborated by two of his colleagues, now a third) that it is the internal policy of the DOJ that the voting rights laws will not be enforced in the defense of white voters. The Right has a problem with that. So should the Left, but they don't. Instead, they mischaracterize these allegations and their political opposition.

The last thing the Left wants is to have a serious discussion with their political opposition about the future of this country and Liberal vs. Conservative policies. Instead, as always, they seek to eject their opposition from the discussion by manufacturing accusations of racism against them. Granted, when your ideas are as bankrupt and divisive as theirs, it's understandable why they would like to avoid that debate, even if it means throwing serious accusations of evil around. It's understandable, and shamefully so.

Shame on Eugene Robinson, shame on the Left, and shame on you willing Liberal dupes who live in your Liberal bubbles. You will never understand your political opposition, or have a coherent political discussion with them, until you start to listen to what they have to say for themselves. When you let fools like Robinson (or the busted ThinkProgress) explain the Right to you instead of actually listening to the Right, you end up sounding incoherently disconnected from reality and dishonest.

* Regarding my usage of the word "black" instead of the more PC "African-American": yes, that's right, I still say "black". I know, I know, black people aren't actually black, they're brown, in the same way that I'm not white. As inaccurate as these hues are in describing our relative pigmentation, they are a more accurate description of the thing we're talking about than the term "African-American". There are lots of black people who are not from and have never been to Africa, just as there are lots of people who are fishbelly white who actually live there, and, perhaps just as confoundingly, black people who were born in, say, Canada are not, obviously, African-American. As far as our use of language goes, black beats colored beats negro beats darkie beats the-n-word-I-can't-say-because-I'm-white-even-if-I-do-so-in-contempt-of-it, but African-American is just silly and so I generally avoid it.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Care of the Belmont Club, comes this vid of a remotely-operated quad-rotor platform. Some truly impressive software enables it to execute maneuvers which are downright balletic in their nimbleness. Check it out.

This is some pretty extraordinary stuff, and begs the question of why the frack we don't have piloted vehicles with this sort of architecture. Their superiority over conventional high, open-rotor designs is obvious, in terms of maneuverability and range of safe operating environments. Four shrouded ducted fans could propel a vehicle, for example, through forest canopy in ways that would turn a conventional helo into a shrieking mass of falling metal and several high-velocity flying swords. Sure, you couldn't autorotate in the event of an engine failure, but you could probably compensate for the loss of one engine, and a ballistic parachute system would be simpler to implement than in a typical rotorcraft for catastrophic faults.

All that aside, the possibilities for reconnaissance and surveillance (not to mention kinetic urban engagements) are just as obvious. Armed with ordnance and/or cameras and sensors, one or ten of these little suckers would vastly increase the potential situational awareness of troops in complex areas of operation. They could scoot through windows or doors (or tunnel hatches), and scope out those pesky blind corners with the greatest of ease. Packing a grenade, they could be very effective in breaking the ice...

Of course, on that latter point, Richard Fernandez at the above-linked BC post has some things to say about the law of unintended consequences with respect to the current administration's efforts to close both prominent and clandestine facilities for the holding of captured baddies. In essence, by foreclosing on options for detention and interrogation of high-value targets, the emphasis has, perforce, moved decidedly in the direction of liquidation (everything must go!). Despite international hand-wringing on the "legality" of targeted assassinations via drone strike, there really is little alternative for dealing with those who draw breath all-but solely for the purpose of doing us harm.

Come hellfire or high-waterboarding, somebody is going to be offended by our efforts to defend ourselves against murderous miscreants. There is no simple solution to the dilemma. It is at least useful, however, to reflect on the distal implications of our decisions when it comes to fighting our  foes.

After all, as the video so clearly shows, thrust in any given direction must be balanced by opposing counter-thrust. We really don't have all that much room to maneuver.