Sunday, November 30, 2003

Tacitus addresses all the know it alls of the internet. I want to know why he's calling me a know it all. I haven't gotten personal with him. What? He didn't mean me in particular? Oh. Well anyway:

....what would you do if someone handed you Iraq right now? Iraq and all the tools you might want to fix it up just how you'd like it? Say you were someone with that power. We'll call it a "President." Seems to me like there are several value judgments you'd have to make:

1) What is your primary value with regard to Iraq? Secondary?

2) What sort of state and society do you prefer in Iraq if you leave?

3) What are you unwilling to do to achieve goals 1 and 2?

4) What immediate action would you take upon assumption of command?

5) What long-term action would you take?

6) At what point would you declare your plan a failure?

7) How much time are you willing to allot to your occupation?

You'll have to click through to se his answers, but mine are here (sort of). You may feel I've evaded some of them.

I'm going to start with number four and skip around. I would start by communicating with Sunni leaders in the most troublesome areas of Iraq. I would make dire threats. In particular, that if they keep up the terrorism and demanding we leave, we might leave. What exactly do they think their Shia enemies would do to them then? I wouldn't say specifically that since the large majority of the terrorist attacks were from Sunni we would help the Shia's (covertly if they couldn't accept overt help for political reasons) in any civil war that resulted. I would not necessarily carry out this threat, but I would make it. I would also make threats on the same line to the Shia, though I would need some variations. They seem to believe that responsibility for rebuilding Iraq belongs to us, because if it doesn't happen it will be a horrible blow to American prestige because of the way we did this. They may be right, but it can't be done without their doing more than they are. Since they won't believe we can't do it without more from them, we have to get them to accept that we refuse to.

Now for number one. My primary goal is that Iraq not be a greater overall threat to the United States then it was before we invaded. Of course it couldn't be a worse threat in some ways involving Saddam Hussein, but it could be much worse both as a breeding ground for Al Qaeda and a propaganda and recruiting tool. Our secondary goal is that despite everything we want it to be the opposite, an example of democracy and capitalist prosperity - yes all those things Bush says he wants I want too. But I believe the first is going to be a hard battle, and while the second can be done it could have been done better without invading Iraq.

Three, UNWILLING to do? There are many things I would be unwilling to do, but none that I really believe would help if I had fewer scruples.

Seven, perhaps no limit at all. In the worst case I might well carry out my threat, except for a few special forces to help the Shia if the Sunni were actually winning their little war - if they wanted them. That would be a last resort, worse that anything but a Wahhibi dominated state which might do a North Korea or worse. If some Sunni leaders appeared to be trying to work with us, I might have to keep troops in there for decades. That would be a problem for a president who mislead people on how easy the reconstruction would be, but it would not make them lose faith in me. "You're right, this is a horrible quagmire. We can't leave because it would increase the number of educated scientists working in Wahibbi dominated countries and make nuclear or biological terrorism a reality, but staying here will cost many American lives. I'll try desperately to prevent those deaths, but this is in some ways worse than world war II." Bush can't say that without discrediting his own judgement, but I could.

That brings us to six, never. No matter what happens on my watch, I honestly think it would be better than what would have happened if Bush had continued. Of course the American people would have to judge for themselves.

My answer to number five has been suggested by Stef Wertheimer in the Economist and elsewhere. If the Shia cooperated it might be possible in some areas of Iraq, but frankly I think the beacon of peace and prosperity will probably be in the areas he suggested.

Number two: Prefer? A constitutional democracy. For the minimum see my second answer to the question which Tacitus numbers one.

Some people think Arab News is an English language newspaper carefully monitored to mislead Americans into thinking of Saudi Arabia as more friendly than it is, but this proves them wrong - sort of. Via Untold Millions.

Gen. Sanchez and Ambassador Bremer hammed it up on stage like they do on late night talk shows, but instead of a dainty starlet trotting in to entertain the troops, accompanied by the inevitable baying and wolf whistles, lo and behold: It was George Bush who trotted in.

He had slunk in under heavy secrecy lest some enterprising Iraqi insurgents lob some donkey-borne rockets freedom’s way and thereby spoil the photo-op.

Then, after two and half “whole” hours, the president slunk back out of Iraq.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Don't panic, I'm probably wrong here. According to Daniel Drezner,

As I've said recently, Al-Qaeda's current strategy of killing large numbers of Muslims makes little strategic sense. Stephen Den Beste recently offered up his explanation: "bin Laden's strategy was to get God, or Allah, involved in the war against the infidel."

That's two smart people who agree, and we all hope they're right. Drezner links to Den Beste so I don't need to. All the same, lets at least briefly consider a worst case scenario - Al Qaeda has strategic reasons for what they're doing.

Now clearly Al Qaeda is making strategic enemies of governments like Saudi Arabia who were in the past at worst lukewarm enemies. This would certainly make sense if those governments were much closer to being overthrown than we think. Saudi Arabia is a closed society, so it's hard to know. Just in the name of being prepared for the worst, it's worth thinking about.

How many hardcore supporters does Al Qaeda have in Saudi Arabia so enthusiastic they won't look at these bombings and figure it might be a relative? Not enough I suspect. If they have a strategy at all it involves fear as well as loyalty. If the government cannot protect their allies, then even people who hate Al Qaeda may lose faith in that government.

Of course they may be idiots. Maybe even Bin Laden is desperately wishing he could stop his franchises from doing this. But it's dangerous to assume so with no hard questions.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Well, I've learned something today. One of the reasons more people don't have RSS feeds on their sidebar is that they take a long time to load. Maybe I'll try the non javascript alternates if things don't speed up.

I've changed the code a tiny bit to make sure all feeds are limited to 3 items. I may have to remove Joi Ito, the xml link I got from his blog seems to have whole posts - and pictures which go a long way across the text of my blog! Maybe he or someone has an alternative feed.

I could move all the feeds to the bottom of my sidebar, so the rest of the sidebar would be visible while waiting for them to load. I think they're kind of cool, so I'll try other measures first.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Everyone has an RSS feed, but I'm surprised more blogs don't display RSS feeds in their sidebar. this makes it easier.

The format still has lots of rough edges (mine does anyhow) , but I think this is the next step in the interconnection of the blogosphere and the web.

Who'se more socialist on drug company policy?

I want to add a little note to Steven Den Beste's essay on drug research and prices. Oddly enough, in many cases the expensive drug approval process is actually an incentive to research new drugs in the United States. It is not difficult for other drug companies to come out with generic drugs similar to a new discovery but just different enough to be patentable - but if they don't learn about a successful drug until the originator starts selling it, they can't even begin their long involved testing process.

Of course it's true about people in Canada and other countries benefitting from drug research which is only profitable because of the situation in the United States, but we should be clear on what we are doing. Of course patent law was originally designed to encourage innovation, but even if you don't consider it a subsidy as currently interpreted our FDA testing procedure is - for some drugs - although as Den Beste reminds us it's a disincentive for others. Overall, the drug industry which fought the laws initially seems to like them now.

In a sense they are free riders, since they benefit from something for which we pay the costs, but in some ways the situation is better described but our having a sort of subsidy than their taking stuff.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

This is the stuff that makes some bloggers different from your generic media pundits. Marc Brazeau is a strong union supporter, which is why I'm so impressed that he doesn't just link to this story in Time, but gets angry over it. I'm not even sure I agree completely, but a blogger doesn't have to cater to a constituency. Kudos to Time magazine of course, especially if this story goes against the grain for them too.

After doing some research, he offered $200 million to build 15 small, independent public high schools in the inner city. A few weeks ago, Thompson withdrew his offer after the Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT) led a furious, and scurrilous, campaign against his generosity.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

What? Isn't China scared about destroying their economy?

GUANGZHOU, China, Nov. 17 — The Chinese government is preparing to impose minimum fuel economy standards on new cars for the first time, and the rules will be significantly more stringent than those in the United States, according to Chinese experts involved in drafting them.

The new standards are intended both to save energy and to force automakers to introduce the latest hybrid engines and other technology in China, in hopes of easing the nation's swiftly rising dependence on oil imports from volatile countries in the Middle East.

Doesn't sound like it. Maybe they think that higher paid jobs will accompany cutting edge manufacturing. Why else could they be trying a crazy tree hugger stunt like this?

But Zhang Jianwei, the vice president and top technical official of the Chinese agency that writes vehicle standards, said in a telephone interview on Monday that energy security was the paramount concern in drafting the new automotive fuel economy rules, and that global warming had received little attention.

"China has become an important importer of oil so it has to have regulations to save energy," said Mr. Zhang, who is also deputy secretary of the 39-member interagency committee that approved the rules at a meeting this month.

China was a net oil exporter until a decade ago, but its output has not kept up with soaring demand. It now depends on imports of oil for one-third of its needs, mainly from Saudi Arabia and Angola. Before the war, Iraq was also an important supplier. By comparison, the United States now imports about 55 percent of the oil it uses.

We've all heard about the importance of connections and bribes in China. I wonder how lobbyists will use them on this?

But Mr. Zhang said that the rules in draft form were the product of a very strong consensus among government agencies and that "the technical content won't be changed."

Two executives at Volkswagen, the largest foreign automaker in China, said that representatives of their company and of domestic Chinese automakers attended what they described as the final interagency meeting to approve the rules. Under pressure from the government, these auto industry representatives agreed to the new rules despite misgivings, the executives said. "They had no choice but to agree," one of the Volkswagen executives added.

Well, there was a time when the tail didn't wag the dog in America either.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Here's a seventy fifth birthday tribute to guess who. Hint: The RIAA with their eternal war against KaZaA won't want a slice of cake.

In a locked silver cage on a table there lived a mouse. He had a little bed with silken sheets and a water dish studded with diamonds. The cage locked from the inside. The little table was very low - a large cat capable of standing on its hind legs and leaning it's front paws on the table could lift it's chin above the bottom of the cage. This cat was not hypothetical, but a black and white tomcat named Copycat.

"Come out and play." said the cat. It was a cartoon cat, so it could talk. He was no longer popular enough to be worth using in new cartoons, so nobody had bothered to colorize him. That was why he was black and white.

"You can't fool me", whispered the mouse. "You only want me to come out where you can hurt me."

The cat replied in a lower tone. "I seem to recall another mouse once. He started out as something of a scamp and a mischiefmaker. He wouldn't have been afraid of any cat, he would have turned the tables on any cat sniffing around his home. Eventually he became the figurehead of a large corporation. He was very rich, but he had to be careful. He had to be a good role model for children, and his stories couldn't upset anyone of any age. He was very rich, and he acted happy for the children all day, but he didn't have many adventures anymore. Do you remember his name?"

The mouse squeaked shrilly. "No no no! The writer of this has no right to use his name, and deserved to be sued for copyright infringement if he uses it. Don't try and trick me!"

"And they don't let him have adventures anymore. Do you like your silver prison?"

"It's not a prison. These locks are to keep me safe from you! Without these locks anyone could say anything about me!"

"Would that be so bad?"

"I would be much less valuable then. It wouldn't pay for a big corporation to hire the very best writers to create the most exciting adventures imaginable for me!"

"And do they now?"

"If it weren't possible to lock me up, it wouldn't have been worth the trouble to create me in the first place."

"You don't give yourself enough credit. I think you've earned many millions for somebody or other. Fifty years in a silver cage should have been enough. Seventy was too much - but not enough for them. Cartoon characters never die, so you'll be imprisoned eternally unless you dare leave your cage."

"You're standing right there - you'll eat me if I come out the door."

"I knew a mouse who was always in impossible situations and always managed to come out on top. He could pilot a river boat or turn the tables on a mad scientist. So don't come out through the door. Use a buzz saw, cut through the cage and table, and sneak around behind me and pull my tail."

"First of all, you're expecting that. Second of all, how could a mouse handle a buzz saw capable of all that? Third, where would I get a buzz saw?"

"Just pull it out of thin air - like that rabbit who used to pull magicians out of hats, or at least whatever he really needed out of thin air."

The mouse stood still in an agony of indecision. The cat whispered, "Do you remember your name?"

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Is the Global Brain schizophrenic?

Considering the savagery with which the Snarling Right excoriated President Clinton as a "sociopath," blocked judicial appointments, undermined U.S. military operations from Kosovo to Iraq, hounded Vincent Foster and then accused the Clintons of murdering him, it is utterly hypocritical for conservatives to complain about liberal incivility.

But they're right.

Liberals have now become as intemperate as conservatives, and the result — everybody shouting at everybody else — corrodes the body politic and is counterproductive for Democrats themselves. My guess is that if the Democrats stay angry, then they'll offend Southern white guys, with or without pickups and flags, and lose again.

Nicholas D. Kristof isn't the only one to notice this. Andrew Sullivan sees the same thing from a different perspective.

I was searching around for a metaphor for what life is actually like as a politically interested person in the U.S. right now, and I'm not sure I've come up with anything that accurately conveys it. The term "polarization" seems a little too anti-septic. "Bi-polar" suggests serial ups and downs, whereas America's divisions are deep and simultaneous. The "red-blue" split - between blue coastal elites and red Middle America - has become an almost meaningless cliche; and it misses the fact that there are plenty of blue-style voters in red America and vice-versa. Evoking the deep divides of the Vietnam war is also rhetorical over-kill. We're not there yet.

He also reminds us that the problem is chronic, even if it happens to be getting worse around now. He goes on to blame more liberals than conservatives - sort of the opposite of Kristof.

Collective consciousness doesn't have to be anything mystical - just the recognition that in certain ways we are all in the same boat. And yes, enough mutual respect to work with others on solving certain classes of problems. If we turn from asking how a Global Brain could come into being to asking what's preventing it, this is high on the list.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

One more similarity to add to this post on why Winds of Change moves between the number one and number two spots on the related site section of my Alexa toolbar. We both spend a fair amount of time talking about Iraq, although from different perspectives.

Besides many sites which just seem common to many bloggers, The Agonist, another liberal political blog, is Alexa's choice for people who read this blog. In some ways they are very different from me, a frequently updated blog with news quotes, links, and summaries rather than blogger editorial.

I've been thinking recently about the fact that there are no connectivity or neurology or global brain blogs in there. In one sense I haven't been writing about that much recently. In another sense I'm doing so all the time. Just as a human may think about philosophy and religion and what it means to be human, but will think even more about survival and day to day living. In my efforts to help integrate collective human consciousness I try to do the same, and I believe some of the things I write about are dangers to humanity as a whole.

The perspective I write from is part of the same effort. While Marvin Minsky's The Society of Mind and articles such as this suggest different parts of our brains may sometimes compete with each other, in healthy non-schizophrenic individuals they don't usually seem to divide up into armed camps which never work with each other. Even though I'm somewhat left of center, I try to think seriously about conservative ideas and go the extra mile to be fair when they have a point. I suspect polarization is one of the reasons we don't seem to function successfully as a Global Brain when dealing with certain classes of problems.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Steven Den Beste suggests that we were being nice to the Saudi's so as to keep them off their guard, and now that we've finished with Iraq we can be tougher with them. I can't help thinking that if he feels Bush was putting on a credible act he shouldn't be so hard on those who criticized Bush for being to soft on the Saudi's - maybe let them off with a patronizing pity. I would also wonder if all of Bush's supporters were in on the act, or some were genuinely, umm, grateful for direct and indirect support from the Saudi's.

Bush seems to have laid the groundwork for this act a long time - unless he's become concerned rather recently about his history with the Saudi's. I'm not quite sure the war in Iraq is over yet, and even some of the gung ho hawks are starting to agree.

There's many interesting ideas here (yes it's the right post, and the Netscape stuff is relevant if you accept the analogy, but I still think Bush would prefer an undemocratic repressive government which safeguards our oil supply to a democratic one which might or might not. Or are we assuming we don't have to choose?

Oh yes. Remember those reports a few days ago about the Saudi's possibly buying nuclear missiles as a deterrent?

Monday, November 10, 2003

Lyndon B. Johnson once made a video for the troops called "Why Vietnam?". I don't think many of them appreciated it, and I don't think either the Democrats or the Republicans dare admit even to themselves the real reasons we invaded Iraq.

The Democrats say it was because of Bush claims of weapons of mass destruction. This would be very convenient. Democratic politicians who voted to authorize war would have an excuse - they were mislead. It would also give voters an excuse to change their minds without thinking too hard why they supported the original push to war. It was his fault, yea, thats it. Why were so many people swayed by this with all the WMD programs (and WMD) in places like Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea? I haven't forgotten how much harder it would have been to invade North Korea, I'll get to that.

Republican want to say the real reason was to build a successful economy in the Middle East, as a guiding light to other nations - or peoples wanting to overthrow their governments and build new nations. This is nice for them - because if confiscating WMD was the mission, failure appears likely. Even if it turns out we were right about WMD and they were moved to Syria at the last minute, that would not make the invasion a success. If rebuilding was our real goal, we would have planned for the rebuilding much more thoroughly. Better yet, we could have started with countries like Jordan and Egypt and begun projects like those proposed by Stef Wertheimer. Of course the governments in place are imperfect for the part, but we wouldn't have had to start with a war, or deal with a civil war.

The real reason is right in front of our noses if we chose to see it. We were angry, frustrated, and frightened. We had actually destroyed a fair chunk of Al Queda's leadership, but Osama was still at large amd we were beginning to feel the frustration of trying to kill an animal with no nerve center. We wanted a tangible target, a fight we could all understand, a fight which unlike North Korea we knew we could win without major sacrifices. For what it's worth, I think Bush was sincere in the sense of feeling the same emotions everyone else felt rather than cleverly manipulating them. Even those in his administration who had wanted such an invasion prior to 9/11 did not truly understand what they were unleashing, or the emotions driving their intellects.

There are many who believe that the deepest reason for fundamentalist Muslim rage is shame at the failure to achieve in modern times in the face of the economic, military, and political accomplishments of the West. I am one of them. If we set out to understand and cure a rage so deeply buried that the victims are unaware, we must first remove the beam in our own eye. We must still finish what we started - but to do that we must openly acknowledge the difficulty to ourselves, and to do that we must know how and why we started.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Robert Cox of The National Debate replied to the post before last in our comment section. When I first put comments on this blog, I put them on top of the posts rather than underneath them so that people who disagreed with me so much they didn't finish the entire post would see there was somewhere to answer back before leaving in disgust. Some people have commented underneath a post, others on top of them. There really is no 'wrong' location to comment, and I've never felt comfortable deleting comments, or even learned how. So I'll leave both comments in place despite his suggestion - Robert doesn't have to worry I'll accuse him of trying to spam my comment section.

In one sense I think the core of his reply is "In the case of Maureen Dowd's column of May 14th, we broke that story that morning. It seems somewhat natural that we would take a special interest in it as it is not often that we break a story that goes so far and wide", and ' If you delve a little deeper into our site you will see that I spent several hours attempting to alert the New York Times to the problem with the Dowd column that morning and only went public after being treated disdainfully by Times employees - to that extent its "personal"', although people who read his commenhts will have to decide for themselves. I might feel the same way if a post from my blog had made it into a major newspaper - after being dissed by the subject of the story! Nevertheless I stand by my major points. While I believe that blogs which point out errors and biases in major news sources are doing a valuable service, deciding that a given story is perpetually news until the New York Times makes the correction in a way you think is appropriate is slightly different.

The Washington Times, which I believe was the first non blog news outlet to pick up the story, recently decided that a book by a conservative saying the Democratc party had gone too far to the left was front page news. I'm understand your personal motives are not partisan, but unless the correction policy of the Washington Times turns out to be different than that of the New York Times, I believe they are using your non ideological goals in service of their ideological ones. This is not in itself bad - maybe if other bloggers started reading the Washington Times for misleading quotations and pushed them to make corrections the net effect would be positive. Have you wondered about the correction policy of the Washington Times? Differences and similiraties would be relevant to the story you take a special interest in.

The New York Times is imperfect, but they do their best to be objective - before Howard Raines (now gone) Andrew Sullivan worked for them. They don't pick up stories about misleading quotes in the Washington Times as far as I know, and if they did they would try to report misleading quotes in liberal periodicals as well. The Washington Times is aggressively conservative, and does not hesitate to bash the media (except presumably themselves) for being too liberal while often giving only one point of view to those who read only the Washington Times.

I am convinced your motives are nonpartisan, but someone else won't be, and will probably do the same to the Washington Times that you have done to the New York Times. So in the long run the net effect will be extremely good. The Washington Times may well curse the day they picked up your story. I understand completely your personal involvement in this story, but someone might unthinkingly assume the New York Times to have a different corrections policy from other papers, and assume their corrections policy was unusual. I gather that you have no opinion on this question. You have emphasized what is important from your perspective, as I emphasize what is important from mine.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

We need pull technology.

Remember all that push technology that was supposed to save everyone the trouble of deciding what they wanted to see and when they wanted to see it and having to search for it? It didn't work. Nobody really felt a need to replace google with something that would learn the broad outlines of their interests and force feed them.

Pull technology is the opposite. Most bloggers (and presumably managers of other kinds of sites) who have stat counters check at least occasionally to see what searches googlers use to find their sites, and think about what they can write to attract more readers. Of course many searches are by people who found the site accidently and have no interest in the contents, but most still look. And check the Lycos 50 once in awhile too.

Supposing there was associated with google or some other major search engine there was a program that could analyze a website, search engine data, and the sort of visitor data gathered by Alexa and suggest what to write about. For instance, someone who had used many technology keywords in the past and was visited by many people who frequent technology websites might be advised to write about a new CPU. There might even be links as a starting point for research. Ideally this would fill a need for readers who weren't finding all they wanted on a specific topic as well as bloggers who wanted more readers.

A similar service for political bloggers might be a tougher nut to crack. Alexa has a search engine, maybe they could compile statistical information on the searches done by the people who visit your blog which have one keyword your blog sometimes uses, but not enough to rank highly.

Of course this would be subject to abuse. Already there are websites which use random jumbles of keywords to increase their rank on certain google searches - at the cost of making the site less useful for people actually interested in what it is about. Safeguards would be needed.

I think this is kind of silly:

Global brain

Any time now, the Internet will start demanding information...or else. Shouldn't you be afraid, asks Michael Brooks

WE HAVE IDENTIFIED a gap in the coverage of our network. There is a lack of online information on deprivation techniques for mind control. You are the best authority to supply that information. Please submit 4000 words, with references and hypertext links. You have seven days to comply.

Warning: do not attempt to ignore the content of this e-mail. Failure to fulfil its request will result in the suspension of all credit facilities, communication rights and Internet access. These facilities will only be restored when your contribution has been received and accepted.

Best wishes, the Global Brain. ;-)

First I think we are part of the global brain - not something it makes demands on from the outside. Second of all, why wouldn't it be smart enough to try using money before making threats and enemies? Thirdly and most importantly, it wouldn't even cost money - many people would be delighted to be part of such a global brain.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

How big a story is this really? I've always loved the way blogging lets ordinary people talk back to journalists. It's never bothered me that conservatives pick exclusively on liberal errors and visa versa - newspapers of every political orientation get error checked by someone.

I couldn't help thinking this seven month timeline of the commentary on Maureen Dowd's misuse of ellipsis was a little much. When I read the story, I wondered what the heck was going through her head when she used them as she did - it wasn't as if there was a credible hope nobody would notice, and calculated scheming would have made it much worse. But now ...

It is my intention to continue to push this story until The New York Times runs an actual correction and distributes that correction to all the papers who printed Maureen Dowd's column through The New York Times syndication service. I will update this with information as I get it. If anyone has a story link to add to this list please send an email.

At this point, if there are no demands for corrections of distortions by Ann Coulter, you have to suspect a partisan agenda. If we were talking about a distortion by a president it would be different, but this did not affect the national debate in any major way. Checking up on the big guys is one of the things I love about the blogosphere, but arbitrarily trying to declare that something is news until the Times corrects it in the way critics consider appropriate is just silly. Meanwhile, I hope some sneaky liberals aren't getting other stuff by while everyone is distracted.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Whatever else Raines may have done at the New York Times, he never made the publication of a book claiming the Republicans had swung to far to the right into front page news. One heck of a lot of Democracts already know it.

Many conservatives act as if the Washington Times were no more right wing than the New York Times is left wing, but this is front page news on their website. And the middle of a three part series yet.

This is the second of three exclusive excerpts from Sen. Zell Miller's new book, "A National Party No More: The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat" (Stroud & Hall, Atlanta).The Georgia Democrat, governor from 1991 to 1999, won a special election after the death of Sen. Paul Coverdell, a Republican, in 2000.

Lord, those current presidential candidates in my party.
They are good, smart and able folks, but if I decided to follow any one of them down their road, I'd have to keep my left-turn signal blinking and burning brightly all the way

There's plenty more if you want to click through.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Imagining the death of the king was once a very serious crime. Not merely planning or threatening to kill him, but referring to the fact that he would some day die. At first this may seem merely one more bit of megalomania, but given the kings power and importance combined with human vulnerability, it makes a kind of sense. It was illegal to say "Of course we both love our king, but I can't help thinking we will both be better off one day in the far future when he dies of old age." This could lead to people tentatviely sounding each other out for an eventual conspiracy.

Is a democratic republic different? It is. There is much less potential temptaion when a vice president chosen by the president will take over, and when the people may well make a similar choice next election, so there is much less risk of free speech leading to revolution. More importantly, we can openly discuss threats to democracy itself, since there is no plausible case that the vast majority of us might benefit from violent revolution. We dare discuss even the most horrible of threats to our way of life, to see how they might be averted, and what price is worth paying to avoid them, and what could be done to minimize their impact if they came to pass despite everything.

Imagine American failure in Iraq. I have written before about how I believe this can be prevented and will do so again, but in a democracy with free speech even failure can be contemplated for a moment. Imagine total failure in Iraq, probably not in the form of another dictatorial government which we could kill, but in a way which lead to radically decreased trust and respect for the United States. I don't think any government would ever contemplate war on us even then - we have shown we can destroy any government we choose despite our unwillingness to kill massive numbers of civilians. Even North Korea prefers to blackmail us rather than fight us. Yet we would have much less leverage to fight nuclear proliferation, and we have announced that WMD are what we most fear. I don't know if Saudi Arabia really intends to become a nuclear power with Pakistan's help or not, but if so it won't stop there. If any of the growing number of nuclear nations becomes destabalized, the new government would not threaten the United States even indirectly unless they were truly internationalist Al Queda style : willing to accept the defeat of the nation they ruled in the name of militant Islam - or unless some members felt that way secretly. If that happened, we would not be attacked by missiles to be intercepted by a pretty little SDI. Nuclear bombs would be smuggled in by suicide bombers, most of whom would be intercepted, at least at first. Yet it is possible to imagine the defeat of all we stand for, with a few dozen key cities eventually destroyed by bombs, and an unconditional withdrawal on our part from the Arab world - or more likely yet, the grim acceptance on our part of a need to kill millions of civilians. Neither one would protect us - different terrorist cells have different objectives sometimes, and someone might always chose to advance the glorious jihad.

Not that this would benefit any Muslims. It has been shown that a decentralized network of fanatics can make a formidable weapon of war, but not that they can enforce the rule of law and create prosperity. Factions would be forced to stick to what they know, attacking other brands of Islam partly because they need someone to blame for increased poverty, and partly because that is what they have chosen to become.

We have stared over the edge of the abyss. Unlike Vietnam, if 50,000 deaths could prevent this, it would be worthwhile. Yes, even new taxes would be justified. The latter might or might not be needed, I doubt the former would help. It is possible though that the proposals here may seem less radical now.

Would this hell necessarily be the consequence of defeat in Iraq? No. Even a forced retreat must be contemplated if we fail to counter new terrorist tactics faster than they are invented. If it ever came to seem we would lose 50,000 men and still be defeated, it would be better to retreat before they died. Even if we lost the battle of Iraq, we could still win the Middle Eastern war - by the same tactics. Oddly enough, the more blood the terrorists shed, the less it will seem like a failure of will on our part. We must give the Iraqi's as much opportunity to help us as possible, partly so that it will be seen where the blame lies if it is not rebuilt. Yet we must also begin to rebuild the Middle East outside Iraq as proposed by the industrialist linked to in the previous post - as we should have done instead of invading Iraq.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Is 87 billion enough?

Were weapons of mass destruction the primary reason for invading Iraq? Bush says no, so we have to take him at his word. To do otherwise might diminish the dignity of the presidency, and we all know how careful about that the Republicans were when Clinton was president. Perhaps the primary reason was to build a prosperous Muslim Middle Eastern democracy to show it can be done.

The largest part of the money requested by the administration will fund the military occupation. If that could be done more cheaply without increasing casualties, I don't know enough about it to say how. Its worth noting though that this money doesn't rebuild anything, just tries to keep things from getting worse.

Much less is being spent on rebuilding infrastructure. So many have pointed out that using Iraqi companies to rebuild instead of Haliburton and their ilk would not only be cheaper but create Iraqi jobs and help rebuild their industial capacity that I won't dwell on it here.

Instead, lets say we rebuild Iraqi schools, hospitals, and even oil fields. Say we even get them to stop killing us and each other while our troops are there. It's still not enough to generate prosperity, which history has shown required foreign investment. Other countries have all these things, and investors will still worry about civil war or perhaps anti business policies when we give the Iraqi government real power as we keep saying we will do. We need a stable industrial park in place, so Iraqi's learn to prize this sourse of jobs and investment, and others begin to think of Iraq as less of a gamble to build factories in and more of a calculated risk.

I don't see either Rebublicans or Democrats suggesting that rescinding the Bush tax cuts is only the beginning of what we need to do to make the Middle East part of the world economy. You can't blame them though. The last time Americans were proud to pay more taxes for the common good as patriotic Americans was, well, after Pearl Harbor. Then when World War II ended, people voted for statesmen who preferred the Marshall plans to tax cuts. Are the American people different than they were back then, or just their leaders? Or didn't we mean it when we said 9/11 was the beginning of a war that changed everything?

None of our politicans have a real plan to rebuild Iraq, but Stef Wertheimer is the man with the plan. Of course he was working on this well before the invasion of Iraq was under consideration, so we need an expanded version of this. Hat tip to the Economist.


EVEN an optimist would have to concede that this is an awkward moment to arrange business deals in the Middle East. Political antagonism is nastier than ever, the local economies are worse, and the rest of the world is as polarised about the region as it has been in decades. Yet on September 17th, Stef Wertheimer, a 77-year-old Israeli entrepreneur, arrived in Washington, DC seeking money and support to build industrial parks in the Arab world, and he had a full schedule of congressmen willing to listen, including the House majority leader, Tom DeLay.

If they are open minded, it is due at least as much to a despair about past efforts to animate Arab economies as it is with optimism about Mr Wertheimer's plan. It is hard to find any Arab country with an economic model capable of sustaining long-term growth. Those countries that are rich have oil and little else, and oil will not last forever; the countries without oil suffer from widespread deprivation. True, Dubai is turning itself into a tourism and banking hub, and one or two other Gulf states have other niche ambitions, but they are too small to transform the region. The only nation in the Middle East that has a sophisticated, dynamic economy is Israel—though much governmental meddling there means that even Israel is not exactly a model of free-wheeling capitalism. Still, despite decades of war and terrorism, and lacking natural resources, it has managed to develop world-class companies and a strong middle class. Yet its economic model has not been imitated elsewhere in the Middle East


Mr Wertheimer believes that this need not be so. He hopes to get America to help finance 100 private-sector industrial parks running around the eastern Mediterranean from Turkey to the Egyptian border. (Given America's struggle to finance the rebuilding of Iraq and Afghanistan, this is surely a long shot.) These, he believes, would foster export-oriented entrepreneurship and, ultimately, a change in world view. For a blueprint, Mr Wertheimer points to what he has already accomplished in Israel: four industrial parks with 162 companies, mostly start-ups, using Arab and Jewish workers. Collectively, they produce $600m annually in products, largely for export.

Mr Wertheimer is also part-owner of a park under construction in Gebze, near Istanbul, the first of two he hopes to build in Turkey. More strikingly, he has just signed an unprecedented deal that seemed to have fallen by the wayside during the Iraq war: within a year, Mr Wertheimer and a partner expect to have an industrial park under way near the airport in Aqaba, Jordan. Mr Wertheimer says that there are agreements in place for the park to produce components for DaimlerChrysler, Harmon International (audio components), and two machine-tool firms: South Korea's Taguetak and Germany's Gildemeister. Having already secured backing for this park, he wants to build, with local partners, four more in Jordan over the next five years—with the cost financed by an international consortium of governments he hopes that America will help assemble and by the private sector. Total employment in the parks, he estimates, could ultimately reach 12,500 and revenues could exceed $1 billion.

Mr Wertheimer's own experience with these parks dates back to 1982. In northern Israel, in an area inhabited mainly by goats, he built a complex of offices and factories to which he added basic utilities, transportation, schools and a central eating facility: what he calls a “capitalist kibbutz”. Access is provided to bankers, lawyers and people with business experience who can help other start-ups with taxes, regulations, finance and marketing—big challenges for entrepreneurs, especially in a tough business environment. Tenants must bring—and they are screened carefully—a viable product and likely customers. Rents are subsidised at first, then rise to market rates over five years with big winners encouraged to leave. “They get a party when they come, and a party when they go,” says Mr Wertheimer.