Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Logos, meet Nomos. Nomos, Logos.

John A Baden suggests, at Tech Central Station, that economists and ecologists should be brought together. I've noted before that ecology and economics have many striking features in common. Generally, the phenomena we see in the marketplace has very close analogs in the biosphere, and vice-versa.

And for those who are violently opposed to evolution, too bad. The exact same process Darwin discovered in biology works in markets.

Swift Vet FAQs

Here's a pretty comprehensive FAQ, and even SAQ (Seldom...) for the Swift Boat Veterans' story. I'd like some evidence that the folks who raise objections to their story show some evidence of having at least read this document.

Debunkers, you know who you are. At least address the points that are raised here. Show some sign you're actually looking at, and for, evidence. If you're not going to treat the responses seriously, why should I take you seriously?

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

How geeky is that?

What's geekier — going online to look for instructions on how to put together a Cat-5 twisted-pair cable, or actually finding them?

A few months back, Jerry Pournelle was sounding off at a LASFS meeting. Several people had asked him what a router is, and why someone might want one.

Rather than answer the same question a dozen times, he stood before the meeting and answered it in one swell foop. Those who were interested listened. Those who were definitely not interested had a chance for a bathroom break. Many who didn't know they were interested decided they were interested.

When I got my new computer and DSL set-up, I decided I'd also buy a router to use as a hardware firewall. It also lets my laptop talk to my desktop. (Though I still haven't figured out why the desktop refuses to recognize the laptop.)

I've been limping along with a length of cable running down the hallway form my bedroom office to my living room. (The office is actually a "bonus room" off of the bedroom.) Last weekend, I decided to take matters in hand and clean up the mess before I tripped over it and did serious damage to stuff I might want to keep.

I drilled two holes in the wall, one next to the router, and one next to the cable, phone, and electrical outlet. Tonight, I finished wiring the cables to some modular jacks, and using leftover cable to make short connectors to go between the router and the jack, and between the jack and whatever else someone might want to plug in.

And as it happens, I've got three more slots on the router, so I could run three more cables. Maybe for form, I should run a connection into the library, which used to be a second bedroom.

Stopping an Outlaw

"The right war, at the right time."

Saddam's continuing and flagrant violations of the 1991 cease-fire agreement was enough. Failure to bring him to account for thumbing his nose (moustache and all) at the US doubtless encouraged people like Osama bin Laden in a belief that the US would not respond if attacked.

About that National Intelligence Estimate...

[Hat tip: Tech Central Station]

"The estimate outlines three possibilities for Iraq through the end of 2005, with the worst case being developments that could lead to civil war, the officials said. The most favorable outcome described is an Iraq whose stability would remain tenuous in political, economic and security terms."
The 'one hand, other hand' analysis is what one would expect from an institution that has been pilloried lately for drawing firm but incorrect conclusions about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And from an institution that was pilloried in the past for other errors in judgment: The CIA got the size of the Soviet economy wrong. It got the fall of the Shah of Iran wrong. It failed to predict India's detonation of a nuclear weapon. Indeed, intelligence analysis more often than not has a heavy quotient of C-Y-A. The ambivalence isn't motivated only by analysts' self-preservation instincts. It's also motivated by the fact that predicting world events with certainty is impossibly hard.

Intelligence is hard. I think Mark Twain said, "Prediction is very difficult -- especially about the future."

Intelligence deals with subjects that are very fuzzy, with facts people generally don't want you finding out, and with people who don't want to be identified. By the time you know the situation with any real degree of certainty, it's too late to act on the information.

Intelligence estimates therefore have a lot of wiggle room, simply because it's so hard to hit the target dead on. In addition, people who compile them, and who act on them, have to anticipate the worst cases. Given these pressures, I'd bet heavily against any intelligence estimate sounding optimistic.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Why Iraq? (4/4)

Third, what specific criteria do you recommend that we should use over the coming months and years to measure whether the Iraq invasion has been a success?
Let's try these:
There's a saying to the effect that one election is not proof of a successful democracy. Two elections are. I think at least two, preferably three, elections that actually have a chance of changing things, would go a long way toward marking "success". The franchise should extend to at least 50% of the population in all elections.
Free Market
The system should preserve enough economic freedom to allow individuals to become prosperous. People who are prosperous, who can buy the good things in life and give their kids futures, have a lot less time for suicide bombings or insurrections.
Democratic Form of Government
Here, I'd like to refer the reader to the book, Power Kills by R. J. Rummel. He picks up on the fact that democratic governments are much less likely to make war against each other, and spends some time exploring why. Establishing a government that behaves like other democracies would be a major success.
Exchange Culture
This is what Rummel calls a culture where disputes are solved by negotiation rather than by violence. When a population uses negotiation as a first resort and violence as a last, it creates the expectation that the government will do the same.
Non-violent social field
(This will take years, possibly a generation or two.) The society must adopt a -- zeitgeist, if you will -- which considers violence to be something completely separate from other methods of settling disputes. When violence is initiated, the initiator has crossed a line into an area that is not part of the social norm. In this way, the mental and emotional barriers to violence are strengthened.

If free elections take place in January, that will be encouraging.

If free elections take place again in 2-4 years, that will be very encouraging.

If many institutions are set up, within about 5 years, to allow people to settle disputes nonviolently, and strict punishments are imposed for using violence anyway, that will be very encouraging.

If the next generation is brought up believing that violence is not acceptable unless the Uncivilized force it upon one, that will be extremely encouraging.

Can we succeed? I don't know. All I know is, if we bail out now, we'll certainly fail, and the price of failure will be a death rate that makes the Twin Towers look like a hiccup.

To give Bush credit, the campaign in Iraq was a huge gamble, and totally unnecessary -- from the perspective of a political calculation.

He could have stopped with the invasion of Afghanistan. Maybe he could have had people scurrying across the globe looking for Osama. The mainstream public would understand why he couldn't be found. Bush could have sat on his laurels, and let Iraq wait.

Of course, eventually, containment would have finished breaking down. The Oil for Food Palaces program would have morphed into an Oil for Uranium or Oil for Anthrax program as the underground market opened further.

But the next attack, inevitable as it would have been, might have waited until Bush was safely out of office.

And then again, it might not.

Why Iraq? (3/4)

Second, what reaction do you have to the not-very-upbeat news coming of Iraq these days, such as the stories I link to above?
Eugene Volokh posted an article by Max Boot suggests a bit of perspective. On average, we're losing one or two soldiers per day in Iraq. Compare that with 250 per day for the Civil War, and 300 per day for World War 2. I suggest that if we can achieve even one of the criteria listed in my response to question 3, it'll be worth it.
Americans seen as "Occupiers"
The poll question in which the coalition forces are seen as occupiers is followed by a question which shows that half the population wants them to stay, at least until a permanent government is elected. Other figures seem to indicate that Iraqis dislike the coalition forces, more than anything else, because they humiliated Iraq. In addition, the main reason given for wanting the coalition forces out is that all foreign forces are "occupiers" and all "occupiers" need to leave. All in all, the questions struck me as rather badly written, and there were a lot of points that seemed to be only halfway covered. There were areas where I'd have loved to ask a follow-up question.
Intelligence Report
First: It was three months old when published. Second, this was the same group that reported Iraq was swimming in Weapons of Mass Destruction. Third, it seems this report deliberately focuses on the worst case scenarios so policy makers can address them. hat tip: Command Post We also see reports like this, from people who are not only in Iraq, but actually don't spend their days in the hotels interviewing each other:
The US media is abuzz today with the news of an intelligence report that is very negative about the prospects for Iraq’s future. CNN’s website says, “[The] National Intelligence Estimate was sent to the White House in July with a classified warning predicting the best case for Iraq was ‘tenuous stability’ and the worst case was civil war.” That report, along with the car bombings and kidnappings in Baghdad in the past couple days are being portrayed in the media as more proof of absolute chaos and the intransigence of the insurgency. From where I sit, at the Operational Headquarters in Baghdad, that just isn’t the case. Let’s lay out some background, first about the “National Intelligence Estimate.” The most glaring issue with its relevance is the fact that it was delivered to the White House in July. That means that the information that was used to derive the intelligence was gathered in the Spring – in the immediate aftermath of the April battle for Fallujah, and other events. The report doesn’t cover what has happened in July or August, let alone September. [snip] ...We are realizing significant progress here – not propaganda progress, but real strides are being made. It’s terrible to see our national morale, and support for what we’re doing here, jeopardized by sensationalized stories hyped by media giants whose #1 priority is advertising income followed closely by their political agenda; getting the story straight falls much further down on their priority scale, as Dan Rather and CBS News have so aptly demonstrated in the last week.

The strong impression I get is that a great deal of good news is not making it into the mainstream press, and all available bad news is.

At best, it seems as if the press is beholden to the notion that "if it bleeds, it leads", and wants to publish/broadcast the stories that will draw the most eyeballs to the page/screen. At worst, it seems as if there are anti-Bush factions that want the war in Iraq to go badly so that Bush will be thrown out of office, and Anybody But Bush will be installed as President. Some of these factions appear to be media outlets.

Even those who concede that we're in this war until we achieve some degree of success are not terribly specific with respect to what they'd prefer we do instead of what we're doing now. I hear statements that the war should have been "fought differently" or "planned better" or "executed more competently".

I've remarked on the nature of these criticisms here.

Frankly, I see lots of reason to distrust the mainstream press. Accounts from people who have been in Iraq, and out where the action is, have accounts that sound like they're from a different continent. CBS "News", of course, has lost some credibility in the eyes of anyone with enough brain cells to form a synapse. AP (source of the "more than 90% of Iraqis see us as occupiers" poll) thought there was booing at the rally where Bush announced Clinton was in the hospital for a bypass, and wished him well.

Media bias has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt (though not, I keep noticing, beyond an unreasonable doubt). News outlets, run by editors and staffed by reporters that want Bush to lose are liable to succomb to the temptation to "enhance" the story.

Frankly, I want to run the bad news past people who have been in the field and see what they say about it.

Why Iraq? (2/4)

First, assuming that you were in favor of the invasion of Iraq at the time of the invasion, do you believe today that the invasion of Iraq was a good idea? Why/why not?
I was in favor of the invasion before we went in. The reasons are pretty much as stated in the resolution authorizing force.
  • Iraq never abided by its cease-fire agreement following the Gulf war
  • Iraq kept hidden stores of chemical weapons, and maintained bioweapons programs
  • Iraq interfered with the efforts of the inspectors to identify and destroy these weapons
  • Iraq's weapons programs threatened vital US interests and international peace and security
  • Iraq kept trying to develop or obtain ABC (Atomic, Biological, Chemical) weapons in violation of the cease-fire agreement
  • Iraq is continuing to engage in brutal repression of its civilian population
  • Ieaq is refusing to release, repatriate, or account for non-Iraqi citizens wrongfully detained by Iraq, including an American serviceman
  • Iraq has used chemical weapons in past conflicts and on its own people, and shows every evidence of being willing to continue
  • Iraq continues to be hostile toward, and to attempt to attack, United States, including a 1993 attempt to assassinate former President Bush, and continuing to shoot at planes patrolling the "no fly" zones
  • Members of al Qaida are known to be in Iraq
  • Iraq continues to aid and harbor other international terrorist organizations, including organizations that threaten the lives and safety of United States citizens
  • After September 11, 2001, we can no longer ignore the threat posed by the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction by international terrorist organizations. The risk these weapons might be used against us, either by Iraq or by a terrorist group that buys them from Iraq, is unacceptable
  • UNSCR 678 (1990) authorizes the use of all necessary means to enforce United Nations Security Council Resolution 660 (1990) and subsequent relevant resolutions
  • Relevant UNSCR resolutions include #687, 688, 949, 661, 662, 664, 665, 666, 667, 669, 670, 674, 677, and 688
  • Public Law 102-1, passed by Congress, supports the use of all necessary means to achieve the goals of UNSCR 688
  • The Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 elucidated a policy of encouraging regime change
  • Bush committed the United States to `work with the United Nations Security Council to meet our common challenge' posed by Iraq and to `work for the necessary resolutions,' while also making clear that `the Security Council resolutions will be enforced, and the just demands of peace and security will be met, or action will be unavoidable'
  • The US does not believe it needs to wait until bombs stamped "made in Iraq" are exploded in a major city before acting
  • Any entity responsible for, assisting in, or providing "aid and comfort" to those reponsible for the attacks on September 11, 2001 are fair game
  • The President has authority under the Constitution to take action in order to deter and prevent acts of international terrorism against the United States

In my opinion, any of these is sufficient grounds. Some of these reasons may not have panned out, but enough did to justify war.

Iraq was also a fairly "low hanging fruit". It was possible to knock it down and remove its dictator. I don't think anyone expected Iraq to become a Jeffersonian democracy overnight, but it's hard for any system of government to be much worse than Saddam.

As a Wiccan, I'm occasionally asked how this squares with Wiccan belief, and the Wiccan Rede in particular. The Rede is often misquoted as "harm none". In fact, it's "If it harms none, do what you will". It is blanket permission to do anything that causes no harm, and a warning that you're responsible for those acts that do cause harm.

In any major decision or course of action, there's always a chance, and frequently a certainty, that someone will be hurt. Good and evil have to be weighed in the balance. We don't always have the choice between an absolute good and an absolute evil -- sometimes, it's the choice between the lesser of two evils.

Doreen Valiente, an Elder in the Crart, has stated, "Allowing harm to continue unchecked is not 'harming none', rather, it harms everyone." I agree. We are responsible not only for any harm we cause, but also for harm we allow when it is in our power to stop it.

Another element of Wicca is the "Law of Three". This is the notion that what you put out will return to you three-fold. Many cite this as an excuse not to get involved. (The concept of "Karma" also pops up at about the same time.) The claim is that the Gods, or Karma, or Nature will take care of balancing things out and punishing any evil. Maybe, maybe not.

I am a High Priest in my tradition. The oaths and ceremonies involved in the elevation to second degree are secret, but some details are public. One of the oaths I took was to return ill and good threefold.

We, as children of the Lord and Lady, are not expected to leave everything in Their hands. We are on the path from childhood toward adulthood -- toward becoming more than we have been. We are expected to take on certain responsibilities ourselves. With the power we gain as we grow, we also gain responsibility. To whom much is given, of him much is demanded.

Likewise, the United States has been blessed with great material wealth and power, and thus has great responsibility toward other nations. Also, Homo sapiens has been given much power -- intelligence, a moral sense, the ability to remake the world. We are commanded to use this power responsibly.

As Americans, and as human beings, we are called to use our power for good, to the best of our ability. As a Wiccan, I am called to do the same.

Why Iraq?

Orin Kerr, a member of the Volokh Conspiracy issued a request for discussion (RFD?)on the topic of the invasion of Iraq:

So here's a little experiment in blogospheric dialogue. I would like members of the hawkish side of the blogosphere to post responses on their blogs to three questions I have about the situation in Iraq. In exchange, I'll post links to the answers on the Volokh Conspiracy. Here are my questions

Because of the length of this draft, I'm going to break it into pieces. seems to sort the day's entries from earliest to latest within the day, so the responses to the three questons should be in the next three messages.


Byproduct of water disinfection process found to be highly toxic

15 Sep 2004

A recently discovered disinfection byproduct (DBP) found in U.S. drinking water treated with chloramines is the most toxic ever found, says a scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who tested samples on mammalian cells.

Water in the United States has to be treated with a chemical to disinfect it. That is, to keep bacteria from growing in it before it can get to the consumer.

We've been using chlorine in water for about a century now, and it works pretty well. But it produces byproducts, including trihalomethanes (THMs) which hit the news a couple of years ago as possibly causing miscarriages.

There are other chemicals that have been used to disinfect, or sanitize, or sterilize water. These include chlorine dioxide (used, you may recall, to kill anthrax spores in the Capitol back in 2001-2002), chloramine, and ozone. Each of these chemicals has its good points and bad points.

The linked article points out that all these chemicals cause byproducts to form. In the case of chlorine, we know what about half of those byproducts are. Compare this with knowing about a third of the byproducts that arise from chlorine dioxide, a sixth of those caused by chloramine, and a twelfth of those caused by ozone.

In all cases, we know the toxicity of only three in ten of these chemical byproducts.

My hunch: The risk of disease or toxicity from each of the chemicals used to treat water will probably turn out to be about equal. Changing from one chemical to another may decrease your risk of kidney cancer, but it will increase your risk of something else, like leukemia. You're not going to find a water treatment that has no risk at all.

Oh, and the possibility of skipping the disinfection step altogether? Maybe we could forget about treating the water, and not generate the byproducts in the first place? Well, they've tried that. The byproduct of not disinfecting is called "typhoid" and it kills more people, faster, than disinfection by-products do.

About those unwashed masses...

An article I read a couple of years ago made the point that police officers surveyed tend to think they shoot and drive considerably better than they actually do. It would appear journalists think more of their own skill levels than may be justified by objective measurements of their performance.

However, just to balance things out, it appears journalists think a lot less of the same skill set in non-journalists than objective tests might justify.

RATHERGATE UPDATE: This excellent column notes that news media people know less than they think -- but that more importantly, they sharply underestimate what ordinary people know...

People accumulate knowledge.

I've accumulated a lot of knowledge on my way to a BS degree in physics.

I've accumulated a lot of knowledge in the pursuit of various hobbies.

I've accumulated a lot of knowledge by just being curious about things, and checking out books from the library.

So have a lot of other people.

I've made the point to my "adopted nephews" that no matter how big and strong they get, there's always someone out there who can beat them up. (So don't start fights just to show off.)

Likewise, no matter how much you know, there's always someone out there who knows more than you do.

And that's even more true if you don't know as much as you think you do.

Where the RatherGate memo came from?

Ah, there it is! I've been looking all over for it!

Hat tip: Hobbs Online.

Should blogs be regulated?

Charles Johnson (who has an excellent first name, by the way) cites this article in which David Broder complains about the journalistic bar being lowered and all the riff-raff getting in. He asks how long it will be before Broder calls for blogs to be regulated.

I'm wondering how blogs might be regulated. A blog does not differ in any substantial way from a personal homepage, or personal messages posted in an online mailing list. I don't see how anyone can regulate blogs without imposing similar regulation on any other form of personal communication over the internet.

Now there is a possible way out: Gun control advocates have argued, among other things, that the Second Amendment was written when no one had imagined such things as rapid-fire assault weapons, armor piercing bullets, or any of a number of other modern innovations. Some folks have said the Second Amendment properly assures only the right to keep and bear muzzle-loading single-shot weapons, like muskets.

I believe this interpretation has been pretty much abandoned, though I'd want to see what a lawyer has to say about it.

But if that argument has any merit in the issue of gun rights, it makes as much sense to argue that the framers of the Constitution never imagined the electronic media -- a case which would be much harder to refute than the argument about high-capacity and high-rate-of-fire weapons.

In other words, stealing a page from the gun control advocates, we could claim First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech apply only to unamplified speech on a street corner or similar forum. We could also claim freedom of the press applies only to newspapers published using techniques substantially like those employed by Ben Franklin.

Of course, that opens a six-pack of canned worms with respect to the Fourth amendment...

Funny, though probably apocryphal

I would not encourage anyone to do this. It probably wouldn't really work, and besides, it could be used the other direction, also. But it's still pretty funny!

Working people frequently ask retired people what they do to make their days interesting. I went to the store the other day. I was only in there for about 5 minutes. When I came out there was a cop writing out a parking ticket. I went up to him and said, "Come on buddy, don't be a jerk. How about giving a senior a break?" He ignored me and continued writing the ticket. I called him a bad name. He glared at me and started writing another ticket for having worn tires. So I called him a way worse name. He finished the second ticket and put it on the windshield with the first. Then he started writing a third ticket. This went on for about 20 minutes. The more I abused him, the more tickets he wrote. I didn't care. My car was parked around the corner and this one had a Kerry-Edwards bumper sticker on it. I try to have a little fun each day, now that I'm retired.

Hat tip: Clayton Cramer.

Belmont Club notices: Putin may not "play nice"

Terrorism, being militarily weak, relied upon legal restraints, inviolate borders and traditional respect for noncombatants and holy places to provide the shelter that concrete could not. Khalil lived in an unguarded compound in Damascus, in an ordinary residential neighborhood, free to plot the deaths of Jewish civilians. His armor was neither Kevlar nor steel but the certainty -- until now -- that Israel would not attack him across an "international" border. Hama's eagerness to limit the response to Israel proper betrays a growing fear that borders no longer provide sanctuaries. In the weeks following the masscre of schoolchildren in Beslan, the Russian strongman Vladmir Putin announced his intention to strike pre-emptively at terrorist targets all over the world.


...Golda Meir may have been wrong. She once said, "there will be no peace in the Middle East until the Palestinians love their children more than they hate the Jews". She forgot the alternative which Putin may even now be thinking of. 'that there will be peace in the Middle East when every Arab school is as secure as Belslan; and the Kaaba as inviolate as any synagogue in Jersualem.' America must win this war before it is too late -- for Islam.


Again, I can't help thinking the condemnation we heard of the massacre of Russian school children may be due less to any disgust over the barbarity of the act than to the historical barbarity of the Russians.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

John Kerry in gote*

* If you don't already play go, you might take a look at it. It's a neat game. When you are in sente, a move you make must be answered to prevent significant losses.

If you are in gote, a move you make can be ignored. On the topic of the CBS memos, and indeed, on the entire issue of Bush's service in the Guard, Kerry appears to be in gote.

Also, take a look at:

Memogate: The Real Story

Is this the Bush Memogate Strategy?

Kofi Annan -- shut up and, well, stay shut up.

The U.N. Secretary General does more harm than good with his statement that the war in Iraq is "illegal". (hat tip: Iraq the Model)

Partial answer to a question

After Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi gave his speech to the joint session of Congress, Dennis Prager had wondered what fraction of the Democrats joined in the applause at his applause lines.

Blaster supplies some of the answer:

...19 of the 49 Senate Democrats bothered to show for the speech...Senator Dayton (MN) said he wouldn't go and he wouldn't watch it on TV...

CBS -- News?

Blaster's blog notes the "bafflement" among journalists that CBS does things no serious journalism organization would do.

A quote from Ayn, for all you objectivists out there: "Check your premises."


Friday, September 24, 2004


From Damian Penny's blog, the Weekly Standard has a long, link-filled article about Rathergate. One detail left out: An advocacy group is less concerned about the truth of the memos than whether their story is real. This advocacy group is Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting.

Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi addresses Congress

We are winning.

Birds, feathers, and networks

Critics call the war in Iraq a "diversion", saying Bush should have pursued Osama bin Ladin until he was captured, killed, or proved to be out of commission.

The Belmont Club has a posting on the subject of network analysis. Figuring out the links among Hussein's family and clan helped soldiers find him, and it turned out the car window squeegee wielders on the street corners were able to lead police to more serious criminals.

It also turns out that networks -- any networks -- are limited in their function by their characteristics. A network that is designed to conduct terrorism, for example, starts to lose cohesion at about 80 members, and becomes completely unstable at 150.

John Robb's analysis indicates that you can have a small, operationally secure terrorist group, but you can't have a large, secure group without a state sponsor.

It follows that by removing state sponsors, such as the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, you make it impossible for large terrorist groups to stay together, especially long enough to commit large acts of terror.

Read the whole thing. And follow the links.

Iraq: Not a disaster

Eugene Volokh reprints, with the proper permissions, the full text of Max Boot's article on Bush's "Colossal Failures of Judgment" in Iraq.

Some clips:

Reading the depressing headlines, one is tempted to ask: Has any president in U.S. history ever botched a war or its aftermath so badly?
Actually, yes. Most wartime presidents have made catastrophic blunders, from James Madison losing his capital to the British in 1814 to Harry Truman getting embroiled with China in 1950. Errors tend to shrink in retrospect if committed in a winning cause (Korea); they get magnified in a losing one (Vietnam).
Despite all that's gone wrong so far, Iraq could still go either way. (In one recent poll, 51% of Iraqis said their country was headed in "the right direction"; only 31% felt it was going the wrong way.)


And, no, I'm not suggesting Bush is another Lincoln or Roosevelt. But even if Bush hasn't reached their lofty heights, neither has he experienced their depths of despair. We are losing one or two soldiers a day in Iraq. Lincoln lost an average of 250 daily for four years, Roosevelt 300 daily for more than 3 1/2 years. If they could overcome such numbing losses to prevail against far more formidable foes than we face now, it's ludicrous to give in to today's fashionable funk.
"Colossal failures of judgment" are to be expected in wartime; I daresay even John Kerry (whose judgment on Iraq changes every 30 minutes) might commit a few. They do not have to spell defeat now any more than they did in 1865 or 1945.

As they say, read the whole thing.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

How CBS Will Pull Its Chestnuts Out of the Fire

At some point in the very near future, Dan Rather will hold a press conference at which he will state that a staffer forgot to label the memos "artist's conception". That staffer, he will say, has been fired.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Autumn Equinox


The wheel of the year has turned, and we have reached the autumn equinox. On this day, the day and night are equal in length, and from here on, the darkness will outweigh the light.

In the Wiccan religion, this is the maiden harvest. The harvest season is in full flow, and all of nature's bounty is reaped, processed, and stored away for the coming winter. That which we have tended in the preceding year is weighed in the balance and judged against our wants and needs. Here is where our intentions meet the results of our actions, and we learn the truth about ourselves.

"Harvest", of course, does not refer only to the crops growing in the field, or even to our activities of only one year. The Wheel of the Year is reflected in all cycles, great and small. We see the same pattern in the lunar month, the course of the day, and even in the cycle of a single breath.

We also see the cycle in the span of civilizations, and of the lives of men.

I happened to think of Robert Heinlein's book, The Puppet Masters. In this story, we see a son, growing up in his father's shadow. He is told that he will be promoted to head the Agency on the day he overrules his father, and is right.

On the day that happens, his father steps aside and tells him he's in charge. What's more, he refuses to take command back. The son is now in charge, like it, or not!

Here, the son has harvested his independence. He has graduated from childhood, and though he has gained responsibility and freedom, he has lost the protective mantle his father had heretofore spread over him. Every harvest has its pleasures and its pains.

This time of year, let us pause to reflect on what we have harvested, both the joys and the hardships. In each case, let us pray for the wisdom to recognize how the seeds we have planted, and the way we have tended them, have combined to give us the harvests we deal with today.

Every moment, for good or ill, we plant a seed. Every choice we make nourishes one crop or another.

Let us harvest, and plant, wisely.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

That Time of the Month

Well, it's that time of the month. I spent a couple of hours bleeding this evening.

Of course, since I'm the wrong sex to menstruate, I do my bleeding with the assistance of the Red Cross. I have a standing appointment every four weeks to go in and donate two batches of platelets, so people who don't have a good supply of clotting factor in their blood will have a chance to live.

By my count, I figure I donated my 316th, or maybe 318th, unit of platelets.

Tell you what:

You don't need to spend 90-120 minutes hooked up to a machine donating platelets. If you're patient enough to do so, great! But they need whole blood, too.

If you're eligible to donate, why don't you make an appointment to donate blood on or near your birthday. It's only once a year, it's easy to remember the date, and it's nice symbolism.

It's the day you were given life.

Pay it forward.

Leaders, because of those who follow

Frederick Turner, at Tech Central Station, weighs in on the blogosphere's newfound power. [cue dramatic music] This power was demonstrated to an extent few would have predicted in the whole RatherGate mess.

CBS announced that it had uncovered documents that showed George Bush had been derelict in his duty. Then CBS made its big mistake: It posted the documents on the Web.

Within hours, these documents were being picked at by experts in any number of fields, ranging from typography to military procedures to the history of the National Guard to what address George Bush would have used at the time the memos were written.

The documents, which Dan Rather stated had been thoroughly vetted, and which came from an "unimpeachable source", were revealed to be fakes. At last, CBS fell back on the statement that the documents were not genuine, but the information they contained was true.

Leaving aside the gaping logical flaw in this statement, I'll merely note that five years' quest for anything to get Bush research wound up being thoroughly fact-checked and discredited in a matter of hours. This is the kind of processing power most research departments can only dream about.

With this success under the collective belts of the bloggers, the blogosphere has awakened to its power, and read the work of F.A. Hayek with new insight and recognition. Nevertheless, Turner has his concerns:

So two centuries of centralized knowledge-dissemination are now coming to an end. The Public, which was once the state's final arbiter of truth, has revived after its long subordination to the media elite, and seen itself, and started to flex its muscles. ... But with power comes responsibility. The blogosphere needs to live up to it new duties. When this election is over, and the partisan furies temporarily placated, perhaps the bloggers of the left can join the bloggers of the right in the pursuit of fact and reason.

First of all, let's hope that the bloggers of the left and right, and of any other axes that have been proposed, can get together. This is essential for the health of the blogosphere. Indeed, if one point of view is excluded from the blogosphere, it will doom it as thoroughly as CBS has been doomed by its exclusion of any viewpoint too close to the center. A blind spot will eventually swallow something critical, and down comes the whole show.

That being said, power and responsibility do go together, but in some cases, it can be hard to say which is cause and which is effect. In an essay on The Witches' Voice, I tackled the subject of leaders.

One kind of leader, which is the only kind that has any real power in a community as chaotic as the NeoPagan community, is the kind who is a leader because people choose to follow. Such a leader does not have followers because he is a leader, he is a leader because he has followers. And if the followers see the leader as no longer worthy to lead, they will find someone else to follow.

(Leading NeoPagans has been likened to herding cats. Well, it's easy to herd cats -- if you're a mouse. The trick is surviving the process.)

The public has fallen away from network news because they have come to recognize that it is unworthy of following. The main advantage of the Internet, of Cable News, and of the blogosphere, is that these outlets have given the public someone else to follow. But by increasing the number of choices available, they have also caused the public to become more discerning.

Failure to live up to the responsibility of a leader will result in that status being revoked, in a very spontaneous, but very orderly, fashion.

Monday, September 20, 2004

CBS Documents Update

The Washington Postchimes in on the CBS documents, and here is a comparison between the CBS documents and some real ones.

CBS News claims: We Were Deceived

Indeed. Of course, it looks like the deceivers had a lot of inside help.

Mark Steyn asks, "So the question now is why won't Dan and Co. just admit their docs are crocks and let it go?"

Part of his answer:

"...once they admit the documents are fake, they can no longer claim ''journalistic ethics'' as an excuse to protect their source...You'd think CBS would be mad as hell to find whoever it was who stitched them up and made them look idiots.
So why aren't they? The only reasonable conclusion is that the source -- or trail of sources -- is even more incriminating than the fake documents. Why else would Heyward and Rather allow the CBS news division to commit slow, public suicide?"

Why, indeed?

Information wants to be Wiki

If you don't know about wikipedia, take a look. It's cool.

And a Google search turned up:

MediaWiki development:
The Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. is a non-profit foundation registered in the state of Florida which operates Wikipedia (a free encyclopedia in over 50 languages), Wiktionary (a free dictionary), Wikisource (a collection of public domain or FDL-licensed texts), Wikibooks (free textbooks for schools and universities), and Wikiquote (a collection of notable quotations).
All these projects are based on wiki technology: they are open knowledge bases which can be improved by anyone. This is the homepage of the underlying open source wiki engine, MediaWiki, which is developed here on SourceForge via CVS, and is available under the GNU General Public License (the contents of the Wikimedia wikis themselves are licensed under the GNU FDL).

This site advertises a free wikipedia system for your own web site. I haven't checked it out yet, but if I make a note here, I'll remember later.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

When News Goes Prompt Supercritical

For some reason, it occurred to me to make the comparison between news sources and nuclear reactors. I think it may have been because someone said the CBS memo story had reached a "critical mass".

In nuclear engineering, a reactor is "critical" when the number of fission events produced in one generation produce enough neutrons to produce the same number of fission events in the next generation. If the next generation has more fission events, than the current one, the reactor is supercritical and the reaction is speeding up; if it has fewer, the reactor is subcritical, and the reaction is slowing down.

In a way, news cycles could be thought of the same way. A story is reported. If it's picked up by enough people to generate more stories in the next cycle, the story grows. If not, the number of stories shrinks in the next cycle, and the story is dying.

Can a useful analogy be drawn between reactors and the news media?

Maybe so.

One feature of nuclear reactors is the "cycle time". This is basically the amount of time it takes for a reactor's energy output to change by a given amount. Most reactors are run with fairly long cycle times, and are designed to shut down if the cycle time gets too short, especially while the power is increasing.

In a reactor, the cycle time depends on the multiplication factor, how many more neutrons there are in generation X+1 than there are in generation X. If this factor is 1% over break-even, then it will take just under 70 generations for the reactor to double its power output. If, on the other hand, if it's 1% under, 70 generations will see the reactor's power output cut in half.

Now, obviously, how long this takes depends on how long a "generation" is. Reactor engineers like to run reactors using the fraction of neutrons that are delayed, giving a generation time of some 0.2 seconds. In this case, doubling the power output would take about 14 seconds. They want to make sure that the multiplication factor, counting only the prompt neutrons, is less than break-even. If it ever went above break-even, the reactor would become "prompt supercritical", and it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to control. A computer could probably react fast enough, but control rods and control plates don't move that fast.

The reactivity of a reactor is expressed as "dollars" and "cents". One cent is 1% of the fraction of neutrons that are delayed neutrons. Different parameters in a nuclear reactor are worth a certain number of dollars and cents, and change the balance of reactivity when applied. Control plates are typically worth many negative dollars, and when they're lowered, nothing's going to get the reactor going. The last few rods are balanced so that when they are raised, the reactivity is greater than zero, but never close to one dollar. As soon as you get above one dollar, the reactor becomes prompt supercritical, and the generation time drops to a ten-thousandth of a second or less. Even at one tenth of a cent into the prompt supercritical range, the power doubling time is suddenly 11 seconds, plus whatever the reactor was already doing. If it's already at a doubling time of 10 seconds, the cycle time is instantly cut in half.

Think fast!

I think Dan Rather has just experienced this phenomenon up close and personal.

It used to be that news cycles were fairly slow. As soon as a story hit the airwaves, you'd have a day or so to react to it. You could put out your spin the next day, and that would be the official story for at least another day. You'd want to make sure you assembled some facts to back up yor spin for the next broadcast, but you had a whole day to get researchers on it. The generation time was one day.

Furthermore, you had a bunch of the control rods for any given story, and if you didn't air it, the other two networks would have to work all the harder to keep it going. If all three networks agreed that a story was not newsworthy, it didn't get covered. Period. The local press simply didn't have enough reactivity to get a story moving, certainly not on a national scale. They just just couldn't compete with the national networks' dollars and cents.

Enter the blogs.

Blogs move information at the speed of the internet. Take a story that generates some interest, and it can be moved past any number of experts in a hurry. All of a sudden, the cycle time for a story becomes minutes instead of hours. This is a great deal faster than the control systems at the major media are capable of responding. A story can spread all over the web, and because people who notice it and comment on it can also link to it, anyone who spots an interesting fact in one location can find its source, and find other facts along the way. They can piece facts together on their own, or they can read other bloggers' attempts to piece them together and see if they ring true.

By the time the national networks have made their adjustments to the reactor, many, many generations of growth or decline have taken place.

They don't have enough dollars and cents to shut down the reactor.

This is just a thought, and I may play with it further, but I offer it for any readers who may wander along. (And if it's sitting here, I'll spot it again later and play with it some more.)

...But of course, there is no media bias...

One of Jonah Goldberg's readers submits the following:

Imagine this press conference: GW Bush: "We found WMD in Iraq. All of our critics have been completely discredited" Media: Can we see them? GW - No. you'll just have to take my word for it. We have experts to prove their authenticity. Media: Can we talk to the experts? Can we interview the people who found the weapons? Gw: NO. And the mere fact that you are asking these questions proves that you are partisan rumor mongers. End of story. case closed.

Bad News from Iraq?

The press has a responsibility to report the news, and we've been hearing any amount of bad news out of iraq.

Not surprising. People die in wars. This one is no exception.

However, the press has a responsibility to report the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. If the good news isn't reported, the press is falling short of its duty.

Another place that might be worth looking is this post at Iraq The Model. One of the Kerry Kool-Aid drinkers tells me that America is hated because of what we've done in Afghanistan and Iraq. These folks might beg to differ.

And then there are:

And any number of other reports from people who have been there and who are there now.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Sir, your spontaneous order is ready!

An article in Tech Central Station details why bloggers, working independently but cooperatively, were able to uncover the truth about the Killian memos in an astonishingly short time. The reasons stand as a vindication of the work of F.A. Hayek, who wrote extensively on the concept of spontaneous order.

The "blogosphere", defined, roughly, as the set of all bloggers who may interact with each other in discussing any particular topic, had developed very good reasons to suspect the memos were forged within one day of the first critical post on Free Republic. It might have been even quicker, but the first post on Power Line had to wait until someone was awake and had read his e-mail. Once that e-mail had been posted, information started to pour in, and within a handful of hours, the memos' falsity had been established beyond any reasonable doubt. (But not beyond unreasonable doubt, as Dan Rather was to demonstrate over the following week.)

So what happened, and why?

What happened was that questions about the CBS memos were turned over to the blogosphere, which acted like an information marketplace.

A marketplace is a region where goods are exchanged for other goods, according to the rules of a free trade as laid out by Adam Smith. In a free market:

  • people will exchange goods only if each person values the good he is receiving in the trade more than the good he is giving up.
  • trades are not coerced; coercion introduces another good into the trade -- the good of being allowed to continue living, or to keep your kneecaps, or to not experience whatever threat is being brought to bear. In a free trade, the only goods considered are the goods being traded.
  • people have the option of not trading. They may choose to trade with another person, or to refrain from trading altogether.

Bloggers trade information. A blogger will read through the web, looking for items concerning topics that interest him, and will freely link to them. If someone else happens to be interested in some or all of the same things the blogger is, she'll read his blog, and very likely follow the same links. Thus, a blogger who has an interest in the art of Salvador Dali may run a blog (perhaps titled "Hello, Dali". Others who have some interest in the artist will find the blog on a search, and find it a useful pointer to articles that interest them, too.

So what do bloggers get in exchange for information? Well, sometimes they get more information in comments left on the blogs, or in e-mails sent to the authors. More often, any payment is in the form of strokes: their words are cited with varying degrees of approval. They may be passed along to othe people as something worthy of reading. Hit counters show that people are stopping by and reading their words. People give the blogger positive feedback.

In science fiction fandom, we invented a term for this kind of payment decades ago. It's called "egoboo", short for "ego boost". Egoboo is the sum total of everything that can be lumped under "hey, they're paying attention to me!"

Now since this is a marketplace, and since every person only has some 1,440 minutes of reading time, at most, in any given day, egoboo is a scarce resource. Some people will get a lot of it, and some will get very little. Those who want to get any amount of egoboo will have to pay for it, and they pay for it by posting information worth reading.

Now "worth reading" can mean any of a number of things, but in discussions of news and current events, it has to include being true. Any claim about any subject can be read by any number of people, some of whom will know more about that subject than you do.

I recall an incident some years ago when Nike had an ad featuring an African tribesman holding up a pair of shoes, and saying something in his native language. As he spoke, a caption gave the translation as "Just Do It". Nike got a letter from an African Languages professor who said, "What he's actually saying is, 'I can't wear these, give me bigger shoes.'" The folks at Nike declared themselves astonished that anyone in the region where the ads were shown would turn out to speak that language.

On any given subject, someone out there knows more than you do.

If a topic generates enough interest, any claims will be vetted by any number of people with varying degrees of expertise in that subject. Many of them will be able to confirm or refute those claims, and many of those will be more than happy to post their findings in the comments section, or e-mail the author of said claims. Failing that, the "six handshakes rule" means that someone who reads a claim will know someone who can comment knowledgably, and will probably be a lot closer than six handshakes away from that someone.

A hot enough claim can be examined by experts, and confirmed or refuted, in the time it takes to send a couple of e-mails.

Since blogs link very freely, the support and refutations of claims are almost always accompanied by a link to those very claims. The "track-back" feature becoming almost ubiquitous in blogs makes it easier to see what other people have said about any given claim. Internet searches make it much easier to examine the credentials, or at least the other writings, of anyone who offers purportedly knowledgeable comments on a claim. With tight feedback loops like that, false claims are quickly refuted, and are not passed along; claims that appear true, or at least consistent with the evidence, are passed along and echoed in other blogs. (And each such reference counts as "egoboo".)

By this mechanism, it is possible to bring the knowledge, experience, and intelligence of thousands of brains to bear on any given question, and arrive at an answer much faster than any individual, or any news bureau, could ever hope to. And this shouldn't be at all surprising. A team of 10 news reporters has, at best, 14,400 minutes of research time available in any given day, and absolutely won't be spending more than a fraction of that researching any given story.

Ten bloggers who happen to know a little something about a topic can each offer what they happen to know in a couple of minutes. If they're of a mind to, they can mail the story to a few friends, or link to it in their blogs. If each blog attracts ten more knowledgeable people, each with a bit of pertinent information, that's 110 people. If each of them decide to pass it along, we're up to 1,110 people.

If it takes ten minutes for each cycle, than at the end of the first hour, a story will have been handed around to 1,111,110 experts. If each expert adds only one word of new information to the story, that's the equivalent of 2,200 typewritten pages of researched material after the first hour.

Bill O'Reilly complained that the story that the Killian memos might be forgeries had spread through the blogosphere and to "right-wing talk radio" in an hour. Well, if the garbage is filtered out, and if only good information is passed along, that's not necessarily a bad thing. But it can be surprising to those unfamiliar with self-ordered systems.

Indeed, if the memos were forgeries, and if they were planted with the intention of discrediting Bush until after the November elections, the speed with which an information marketplace was capable of finding the truth would appear to have caught a lot of people by surprise.

Gee, what a shame.

A little more specific, please?

John F. (as in "forgery") Kerry is on record saying the war in Iraq was "the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time."

He did vote for authorizing the use of force in Iraq. He said it was right to threaten the use of force, and that he himself was prepared to use force.

Nevertheless, the war, as prosecuted by the Bush administration is all wrong.

I'm reminded of the scene in the movie Amadeus, in which one of Mozart's pieces has just been played for King Frederick. The King turns to Salieri and asks his opinion of the piece.

Salieri, desperate to find some fault with the piece declares it has "too many notes." He said Mozart should remove some of them. The King stumps him with his question, "Which ones?"

To me, Kerry's criticism of the Iraq war sounds like "too many notes." Everything the Bush administration does is wrong, but Salie -- I mean Kerry --is very short of specifics of how it should have been done.

Indeed, the more I think about it, the more Kerry's reaction to Bush, and indeed, the reaction of most of the Lunatic Left, reminds me of Salieri's reaction to Mozart in Amadeus. Salieri is greatly offended that music of such transcendent beauty could possibly emerge from the pen of "that horse's ass".

Mozart was a kid. He was uncouth, he was ill-mannered, and he looked and sounded funny. But in one particular area, he was a genius.

We don't need a Renaissance man in the White house. We don't need a literary scholar, or someone who would be perfectly at home in the courts of European royalty. We don't need someone who can dance the latest dances, or quote Sartre or Proust. We need someone with one particular kind of genius -- the genius for keeping this country safe from attack.

The question that needs to be asked, and answered on or before November 2, is, "Which candidate has more of that particular genius?"

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Rather Amusing

Fellow LASFS member Eugene Volokh writes:

"A word of encouragement":After posting my words of encouragement, I opened up my First Amendment textbook to look at today's materials. They are on false statements of fact, and I included an epigraph — coincidentally called A Word of Encouragement, by J.R. Pope. It reads (in one of the several forms that I've seen): Oh, what a tangled web we weave When first we practice to deceive But when we've practiced quite a while How vastly we impove our style.
For obvious reasons, of course, this has nothing to do with the alleged forgeries, but I thought it was amusing enough to pass along in any event.

Of course, that's precisely what some folks are worried about.

It's about time....

Now muslims condemn terror in their name.
Revolted by the grisly seizure of a Russian schoolhouse by Islamic terrorists, Arab and Muslim leaders have become increasingly critical of terrorism committed in the name of their faith.

Well, it's about time.

Thing is, there were children in the planes that were flown into the Twin Towers. There were probably children in the Towers themselves. Bombings in Israel, in the name of Islam and Arabs, have targeted children.

Those incidents have not been sufficiently revolting.

Now, Arab and Muslim leaders are revolted.

How much of this is due to revulsion at the targeting of children, and how much is due to the fact that the Russians have not, historically, "played nice"?

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

First Post

Greetings: Welcome to Rite Wing TechnoPagan, the web log of -- well -- a right-wing technopagan. Briefly, yes, I am a Pagan. Specifically, I'm Wiccan, a High Priest in the StarKindler tradition. I am also a technical sort, having a BS in physics from the Cal State system. How do I reconcile the two? Pretty much the same way any religious person reconciles religious beliefs with scientific knowledge -- by recognizing that the two disciplines address different realms. This blog is an extension of my publishing in the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society (LASFS) (or at least in fanzines associated with the organization.) It is also my place to sound off on subjects of interest to me. I'm reassured, though, by the continued attention of fellow LASFS members, that other people find my writings about these things interesting. Subjects that I've been following of late include: Politics, especially the war on [Islamic Fundie Nutcase] terrorism. Science, with some attention to the "debate" between creation "science" and evolution. (Oh, did I give away my perspective on that one? Sorry.) Religious, philosophical, and metaphysical speculations. (And I'm writing two books in that field, one on the Wiccan Rede, one on the Wiccan festivals.) In general, though, I don't like writing introductory statements, and no matter how many mailing lists I join, or how many other time I have to compose one, I always seem to leave something out. But, hey, comments are on. If you ask something I don't want to address, I can always quote Theresa Heinz-Kerry at you.