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Saturday, January 31, 2004

And So It Starts

I was snowboarding with my 7 year old daughter on Friday, and about half way down a moderately long run towards the end of the day, we had the following conversation:
Me:"Cassia ... (huff, puff, gasp, wheeze) ... let's stop ... (pant, pant, heave, snort) ... and rest here ... (gulp, suck, gasp) ... just for a minute."
Cassia:"I don't want to stop, Daddy. You rest here and I'll wait for you at the bottom."
Ouch! Okay, well then. I don't think anything has ever made me feel quite so old as this exchange. The fact that this was only the second day she's ever snowboarded (and she's never skied) didn't help. At seven years old! Couldn't my not being able to keep up with my children have waited until she was at least ten?

Granted, it was only my second day ever on a snowboard (Howie was there for the first time, about eight years ago, do you remember Howie?), and Cassia's technique has a ways to go (she cheats by staying on her heel edge and alternating between regular and goofy-foot heel traverses, so her movement down the slope looks sort of like a falling leaf), but she never falls and keeps going, and going, and going, and going, and ... I'm glad she's learning how to do it as quickly as she is, but I wish I had been able to keep myself in better shape. All the rest of you with older children have been through this already, but it's been quite a shock for me.

Exercise has suddenly become a much higher priority for me.

Friday, January 30, 2004

Scraps Fall From a Table Stacked with Piles of Cash

Yesterday, ChevronTexaco announced its quarterly/annual profits. For the year, the company made $7.2 billion.

I received good -- but not great -- news yesterday as well. My time at the company has been extended by 2 months to do a Special Assignment. That gives me 2 more months of breathing room to try to secure permanent assignment. Another way to look at is I get to continue to sweat it out. Still, all stays of execution are welcome.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

If the Boot Fits

Pode, I'm pretty open to ideas at the moment. There are two reasons I'd like to stay here with ChevronTexaco for about 2.5 more years -- both my kids will then be out of high school and off to college, and I will qualify for lifetime health insurance coverage from the company. But, if I don't get a job in the next couple weeks, all bets are off. I'd need to figure out where I could make a living.

As for an idyllic spot, Northern California isn't bad, but lately I've been thinking about the west coast of Florida -- maybe somewhere around Tampa. It's far from skiing, but that's what planes are for. The weather's good, and it's cheaper than the prime parts of California. San Diego would be another possibility. In general, it's hard for me to imagine any place being idyllic that isn't warm enough to wear shorts and T-shirts most of the year.

So, in addition to solving the world's problems, how would the company actually make money? How about if we try to decide on the place to locate, then look around the area for businesses to buy? With the talent in this group, it's hard for me to believe that we couldn't add more value than the management teams of most small to medium sized companies.

Let's restart SYZYGY

With Boot's possible departure from the evil clutches of ChevronTexaco and Hunersen's current non-committed status, the timing is perfect to restart SYZYGY. We'll all move to some idylic (sp?) setting and form a consulting powerhouse to solve all the world's problems. Whada ya all say?????

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Off Skiing

I'm taking the daughters skiing (snow boarding, actually) for the first time. Be back Sunday (hopefully in one piece, it's been a while)...

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

An Interesting Link

I was doing a little research for a book I'd like to write, and came across this link. The article is interesting, but I think any of you would find the excerpts from the author's book engrossing as well. I think I'll order the book.

Political Quiz - Help in Chosing Your Candidate

Can't decide which candidate best matches up with your preferences? The site linked below gives you a 5 minute quiz on the various issues, and, presto - the candidate which best fits you spits out. Created by Time and AOL so it must be accurate....

It appears I am in the Kerry camp which no surprise. But I had actually I had Al Sharpton fourth ahead of Kucinich, Lieberman and Bush. Hmmmm......

check it out.

http://www.presidentmatch.com/Main.jsp2?cp=main


Monday, January 26, 2004

Too Many Things On My Mind

As I'm struggling to find a job in ChevronTexaco, I haven't had much time to organize thoughts for the blog. My "final day," unless I manage to land a job, will be February 16. I'm still somewhat optimistic, although, as Samuel Johnson said, "Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."

So, just a few comments here and there...

Regarding a previous claim of mine about the U.S. living beyond its means, I thought you might enjoy this article about record personal debt, record personal bankruptcies, and record low savings rates. Average credit card debt for those who do not pay off their bills monthly is $18,700. When interest rates go up, there will be a great deal of misery.

Regarding Bret's recent posting, there are some complicated issues here that are not easy to deal with briefly. But, let's consider his ideas in the context of system archetypes (a la the Peter Senge school of thought). One archetype is known as Tragedy of the Commons. The Commons in this phrase refers to the Boston Commons. The simplified concept is that if everyone acts at an individual level based on the natural incentives that exist, the Commons will be trashed because it is not in the interest of the individual to clean up after oneself, and there really is no incentive to clean up after others (since they will just trash even more indiscrimately in the future), so the Commons gradually spiral downward. It is this type of situation where regulation is often applied (i.e., in this case, fines for littering) because it is hard (although maybe not impossible) to create incentives for the individual. This can be generalized to many environmental issues. While nobody wants their water and air to be polluted, the individual polluting company quite naturally sees its contribution as small compared to the total level of pollution, and is incented by cost structure to pollute as much as everyone else rather than investing in expensive pollution-control equipment that won't make much difference at all if all the other companies are not using it.

Bret's assertion is that only those rights that are conveyed to individuals (whatever their source) can be conveyed from individuals to governments. I think I disagree with this. There really are two different constructs needed -- one for individual rights and one for collective needs (which, if they're well-structured, serve individuals). I think this is, in a way, what Hayek is arguing as well. The collective superstructure, which contains the economy and the economic activities of all individuals, has its own special set of rules and requirements that don't really have any relationship to morality-based rights of individuals. Whether these rules and practices arise through cultural evolution or through governments acting on behalf of the people, they are intended to provide an order that enables greater individual empowerment (at least if you can buy the idea that a government can act on behalf of people). But, all this is very tricky when it comes to government because there are fair arguments about how many resources should be devoted to these issues that address the collective good. Almost everyone agrees that national defense does, although you'd certainly get a lot of argument about the degree of expenditure to attain the desired ends.

Are there other things the government might manage on behalf of the collective? The environment? It certainly would be a stretch to say that individuals have a "right" to tell someone in another state that they can't release nitrogen or sulfur oxides as it would be nearly impossible to prove any direct "offense" (to use Locke's terms). How about infrastructure - highways, airports, shipping ports? I think one could make a theoretical case that this could all be done through private enterprise -- and, in fact, I think it might eventually work that way -- but I would contend that our economic superstructure is not yet sophisticated enough to have handled those kinds of decisions in a manner that would have yielded the great efficiencies that we now enjoy due to government investment in our infrastructure. Then there's safety nets, healthcare, child welfare. I think there are some reasonable arguments that the government should have had a role in these areas in the past, and I haven't yet seen an alternative system that has dealt well with these issues. In fact, the lack of such a system is why the government has stepped in.

The other day on NPR, during the Lehrer report, Kevin Phillips (who, admittedly, represents the liberal view), said something that resonates with me. The gist was that he thinks many Americans are insulted by the statement in Bush's State of the Union that the American people can spend the money better than the government, and that's why he (Bush) is so pleased about the tax cuts he pushed through (sorry, I don't have time at the moment to get the exact text off the internet). Kevin Phillips pointed out that it doesn't matter how much his taxes are cut, nor how much anyone else's are cut, this will not address the challenges that we face. No matter how much money he saves in taxes, Kevin Phillips will not be able to do anything about the environment, national defense, or the healthcare system. Purists, like Howie, might argue that there are private solutions for all those things (except maybe national defense) and all the private sector needs is resources and it will find them. I'm skeptical that the solutions can be found in a timeframe that is acceptable to anyone. In the meantime, we need the government solution, even as the government tries to formulate, with the private sector, an effective solution that backs the government out of the implementation role, even while maintaining the oversight/governance role.

There's a whole lot more to say on this, but no time now. Later.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Ends, Means, and the Modern State

Modern States, such as the governments of the anglosphere, most of the governments of Europe, Japan, and a few others, vary somewhat, but have certain things in common. They all provide many services to their citizenry, including at least a minimal safety net for the poor and elderly, educational funding, and at least some regulation of their economies. In order to accomplish these Ends, the Modern State claims the right to certain Means. For example, the Modern State claims the right to regulate and tax.

From where does the Modern State derive its rights to those Means? There aren't many choices: from God or other supernatural phenomenon (I'm sure this group of readers will reject that possibility immediately); from might ("might makes right") which is inherently immoral; or from the people, which, in a democratic society with a government of, by, and for the people, seems like the only reasonable choice.

If the government derives its rights from the people, can the people give the government rights that they don't have individually? Volumes have been written on the subject, and it's pretty clear to me that the answer to this question is no. Or more accurately, that I can't see how the answer could possibly be yes. There's no way I can make a compelling argument for this view in the limited space and format provided by this blog, so I'll make a non-compelling one instead.

We need to start by backing up and considering what rights people have outside the framework of a modern state. Those rights are part of a moral framework so we need to agree on the moral framework. There are many possibilities, but given that our society has evolved from a Judeo-Christian framework, it's likely that we'd all agree that lying, stealing, and murdering are immoral (ten commandments stuff). Conveniently, many philosophers have taken this basic Christian morality and rolled it up into something a little more detailed. For example, John Locke wrote "Two Treatises of Government" to address exactly this (among other things). Robert Nozick, in "Anarchy, State, Utopia" conveniently summarizes Locke's thoughts in regard to this subject:
Individuals in Locke's state of nature are in "a state of perfect freedom to order their actions and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave or dependency upon the will of any other man" (sect. 4). The bounds of the law of nature require that "no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions" (sect. 6). Some persons transgress these bounds, "invading others' rights and ... doing hurt to one another," and in response people may defend themselves or others against such invaders of rights (chap. 3). The injured party and his agents may recover from the offender "so much as may make satisfaction for the harm he has suffered" (sect. 10); "everyone has a right to punish the transgressors of that law to such a degree as may hinder its violation" (sect. 7); each person may, and may only "retribute proportionate to his transgression, which is so much as may serve for reparation and restraint" (sect. 8).
You can imagine that for people living in "nature" or anarchy, this describes a good and rational moral code. It's even a familiar moral code. In other words, if we were suddenly dropped in a part of the world that subscribed exactly to Locke's description, we would likely feel comfortable with it, or at least we wouldn't have to learn lots of new and foreign principles in order to fit in.

This moral framework assumes that people have the right to have possessions and to dispose of those possessions as they see fit. One could imagine a moral framework without possessions, but in the real world, there's never been a society that didn't have possessions, except for primitive peoples who were so poor that there simply was nothing to possess. Modern States have limited property rights via taxation and regulation, but at this point in our discussion we're dealing with the interactions between individuals in a "state of nature" or anarchy, and we'll return to the behavior of Modern States, and whether or not they're acting morally, shortly.

Let's start with two people in Locke's state of nature. Neither can take property from the other without the other's permission, nor can they prevent the other from using that property as long as no harm comes to the first from that use. If there are three people, no one may take from the two others and no two may gang up and take from the third. We can add people one by one and find that for any N people, none may take from the others, and no group of N-1 may combine to take from the remaining person. Repetitively following this logic we would find that for any N people, no group of N-K people may take from the remaining K people. Or at least they cannot do so without utilizing immoral Means and violating at least one persons rights.

N has no limit. It's not the case that the above is true for N below some threshold (as an example, 97,246, or any other value), but for N above that threshold, some magic government fairy dust gets sprinkled, and it's suddenly okay for various subgroups to take from other subgroups. Thus, a government that is of, by, and for the people has no right to use Means that the people didn't have the right to use before the government was formed.

So now let's consider a large number of people (large N) operating within Locke's moral framework in a "state of nature" (i.e., anarchy). One thing that comes to mind is that these N people are really, really free. As free as you can get. And, they are living morally. In fact, Anarchists claim that this (anarchy) is the only morally acceptable structure for society.

Using only moral Means derived from the people, can we get from Anarchy to a State? The answer is yes, but it's only a Minimal State, consisting of only protective and defense agencies. In "Anarchy, State, and Utopia," Robert Nozick (in a mere 294 pages of detailed logic) manages to show that for protective and defense agencies only and nothing else, taxation is morally justified. Taxes for any other purpose are immoral. This is the pure libertarian position.

But what about a social safety net for the elderly? Surely it must be moral to tax for such a purpose? The libertarian position is "no, absolutely not." Unlike the libertarian position, my position is maybe, but only because the Ends justify the use of immoral Means. That's how we can get to the Modern State from the libertarian's Minimal State. By judicious use of immoral Means to achieve beneficial Ends. In other words, a large fraction of Modern State is moral only because the Ends justify the Means.

So, you don't agree? So, you say that Locke's state of nature wasn't the right place to start? Fine. Your challenge then, is to put forth an alternative and realistic moral framework that holds between individuals, and then show how a modern state could be derived from that moral framework. Give it a try. It's an interesting thought experiment. If you can't do it, I wouldn't be surprised, because nobody else has been able to do it either (without invoking God). John Rawls' "Theory of Justice" is the closest anybody has come (I think) but it's based upon a hypothetical ideal that can't actually be implemented. All other utopian schemes, in addition to the justification for the actions of the Modern State, are strictly based on Ends justifying admittedly immoral Means.

Given the above, I would like to address some previous Ends and Means posts. Jim writes:
...the electorate (including Howie and Bret) cares almost exclusively about results, and not the way the results are achieved (nor even the potential long-term consequences). Indeed, an examination of means to the ends is deemed an exercise in futility since all sources of information are assumed to be compromised.
I don't disagree with this statement at all. However, I would add that even if the Means are immoral, they could be easily justified by the Ends. Or, if it is simply unacceptable to ever use immoral Means, then we need to revert back to the Minimal State. I can be quite happy with either approach, but strongly think consistency is important.

Jim, being a prolific guy, also writes:
So long as principles are secondary to securing advantages, progress for democracy and individual freedom will be slow.
I'm not sure about what "progress for democracy" means, but I think that it is exactly correct to say that there is a tradeoff between "individual freedom" and "securing advantages" for society. Anarchy provides maximum individual freedom, but the Modern State focuses on securing advantages for it's citizenry. If we really think we need more freedom, then we need to head back towards the Minimal State and get the State out of the business of safety nets, education, and the like.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

That's an Interesting Point

From Orrin Judd:
[Pinkerton, a pundit] suggests that the two senators--Kerry and Edwards--may be "more electable" than the governor (Dean). You've heard this kind of nonsense alot in the last few days and, being charitable, it's perhaps best to chalk it up to the lingering shock of Monday night. Suffice it to say, it's an antihistorical notion that a sitting senator is more likely to be elected president than a governor. Mr. Edwards at least has the advantage of having practically no meaningful career, but by the time the GOP gets done with John Kerry's voting record in the Senate he'll be nothing more than Ted Kennedy with a fresh liver.
Ouch! Bummer!

More:
It is probably inevitable that Karl Rove and the $100 million-plus Bush campaign juggernaut will try to tag any Democratic opponent as a Chablis-sipping, leftist elitist. But the record of Kerry, who has represented a liberal state in the Senate for 20 years and has often voted accordingly, provides a good deal more fodder for such attacks than the studied centrism of Lieberman or the shorter resum├ęs of Edwards or Wesley Clark. Moreover, Weld has already shown what these attacks would look like-even with his far-right hand tied behind his back. Yes, some of Weld's punches landed below Kerry's belt. But they were rooted in facts, and Rove would hit much harder. This is one reason long-serving senators have so much trouble getting elected president; they have to vote on bills they did not design, and those votes end up in opposition research.

Howard Dean Remix

I feel kinda bad for Dean, but I think this remix of parts of his Iowa concession speech is really funny. The author (artist) of the remix is James Lileks, a columnist.

Iraq Strategic Plan

This analyst does a nice job of elucidating some of the reasons I thought were good for invading Iraq:
THE STRATFOR WEEKLY
21 January 2004

Beyond Iraq

The Bush Administration never saw the war in Iraq as either a stand-alone operation or as distinct from the generalized war on the Islamist movement that al Qaeda was part of. As clumsy and, at times, devious the public presentation of the war was, it had a clear logic. Despite ongoing tactical problems in and around Baghdad, the broad strategic goals of the Iraq campaign are being realized. Therefore, the question now is: What will the next stage of the U.S.-Islamist war look like?

In order to project forward, it is important to recall the strategic purpose of the Iraq war. This was two-fold. First, the United States had to establish its ability to carry out extensive military operations to the conclusion, despite casualties. The perception in the Islamic world -- a perception that al Qaeda attempted to systematically exploit -- was that the United States was unwilling to undertake the level of effort and endure the level of pain needed to impose its will on the region. The war in Afghanistan, rather than proving American will, was seen as the opposite -- another demonstration that the United States is averse to casualties and unable to bring a campaign to a definitive conclusion.

The second goal was geopolitical. The United States knew it could not defeat al Qaeda on the retail level. They were too well dispersed, too few and too secure. Defeating al Qaeda meant inducing several enabling countries -- particularly Saudi Arabia. These countries had little interest in the internal destabilization that engaging al Qaeda would entail, and in some cases, they sympathized with al Qaeda. The United States had no direct means for inducing these countries to change their behavior. Iraq -- bordering on Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Iran -- was the single most strategic country in the region, and a base from which to exert intense pressure throughout the region.

The occupation of Iraq was intended to solve both problems. By invading, occupying and pacifying Iraq, the United States would be able to reverse the perception of American weakness. In addition, U.S. forces based in the Iraqi pivot, would force fundamental reconsiderations of national strategies in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria -- and in other countries also.

The strategy ran into a major challenge with the discovery that the Iraqi government had planned an extended resistance after the collapse of Iraq's conventional forces and the fall of Baghdad. The United States miscalculated the extent and intensity of Iraqi resistance and the extended difficulty in suppressing that resistance. This created a situation, starting in the summer of 2003, and reaching its greatest intensity during the October- November offensive, in which the United States appeared to have failed to achieve either of its strategic goals. It appeared unable to bring the conflict to closure, and its forces appeared incapable of threatening any neighbor.

The perception had a kernel of truth to it, but only a kernel. Most of Iraq was not involved in the guerrilla war. Neither the Kurdish nor the Shiite regions were involved. The war was confined to the Sunni regions and, when compared to guerrilla wars in Vietnam or Afghanistan, was neither particularly intense nor particularly effective. Its significance was magnified by the Bush administration's consistent and curious inability to manage public perception of the war's status. The loss of credibility the administration suffered over weapons of mass destruction and its inability to express a coherent strategic sensibility made benchmarking the war impossible for the administration.

In spite of this, the behavior of regional powers began to shift. Saudi Arabia began shifting its behavior before the Iraq war began, once it realized it could not longer prevent it. Iran began shifting its behavior by the fall, when it became apparent to it that the United States was prepared to create a Shiite- dominated government. All of these processes accelerated in December 2003, when the United States succeeded in penetrating the Baathist guerrillas' security system and began making headway in shutting down that segment of the insurrection. Attacks today are, in spite of headlines, a small fraction of what they were in October-November 2003.

The situation in January 2004 is startlingly different than it was in November. The guerrilla movement is contracting, and the core problems in Iraq have become primarily political, involving the transfer of power. The Saudis are intensely involved in an internal conflict with Islamists and are paying a significant price to wage the war. The Iranians are discussing the public price of reconciling with the Americans while privately collaborating. The Libyan government has reversed policies dramatically, while the Syrians have also begun to search for a path to policy reversal, having massively miscalculated the course of the Iraq war in the summer of 2003.

Finally -- and this may be the single most important fact -- threats that an explosion in the Islamic world would follow a U.S. invasion of Iraq proved to be in error. The single most important fact is that the genuine anger in the Islamic street has not had any political repercussions. Rather than trending away from the United States, the political behavior of Islamic states has been toward alignment. This tendency has accelerated since the decline in guerrilla activity until it is difficult to locate an Islamic state that overtly opposes the United States. When even Syria is asserting its desire to cooperate with the United States, the situation is utterly different than what some expected in February 2003, before the war began.

The situation, therefore, is much better than the administration had any right to expect last fall and substantially better than the general perception. It might be put this way. Even while the tactical situation in Iraq deteriorated, the strategic situation in the region improved. Once the tactical situation in Iraq improved, the improvement in the strategic situation accelerated.

The United States is in the process of securing -- to the extent anything in the Middle East can be called secure -- the Middle East from the Nile to the western reaches of the Hindu Kush. All of the states on this line are aligned with the United States or in the process of aligning to the extent that they are no longer willing to facilitate al Qaeda in any way, and are prepared to act against the Sunni Islamist movement. That is an extraordinary achievement, but is not in itself sufficient.

First, the situation throughout this line remains fluid and can deteriorate. Second, the Arabian Peninsula has not stabilized and is likely to remain a battleground in which al Qaeda will seek to reverse its fortunes by destabilizing the Saudi regime and, if possible, bringing it down. Third, the situation in the Hindu Kush is, from the U.S. point of view, entirely unsatisfactory. Al Qaeda remains embedded in that region, particularly in the Pakistani Northwest Territories, and the war cannot be concluded until al Qaeda loses its Pakistani sanctuaries -- as well as whatever footholds it retains on the Afghan side of the border. Indeed, the situation in Afghanistan itself appears to be deteriorating.

From the U.S. point of view, therefore, the next steps are obvious. First, having changed regime behavior in Saudi Arabia, it is now in U.S. interests to stabilize the situation there and prevent the fall of the Saudi government, or facilitate a shift to a more favorable regime. Since the latter is unlikely in the extreme, it follows that the next step must be a change in policy that is more supportive of the current regime but still rigidly opposed to al Qaeda. This will be difficult to achieve.

Second, the United States must, at some point, liquidate the remnants of al Qaeda in the Afghan-Pakistani theater of operations. Ideally, the Pakistani army will bear the burden of moving into the tribal areas in the northwest and will do the job for the United States. In reality, it is extremely unlikely that the Pakistani military will have the ability or motivation to undertake that mission. Therefore, it is likely that the United States will try to close out the war with a final offensive into northwestern Pakistan, preferably with the approval of a stable Pakistani government, but if that is impossible, then on its own.

We would be very surprised if the United States launched this offensive prior to its elections. The administration has no appetite for another military campaign until the election is finished. Therefore, we would expect the United States to be in a defensive mode until November 2004. It will seek to consolidate its position in Iraq and in the Egyptian-Iranian line. It will work to assist the Saudi government, while carrying out covert operations throughout the region to mop up identified remnants of al Qaeda. This could include increased operations in northeastern Africa and in Afghanistan. Until then, the task of General John Abizaid, head of Central Command, will be to focus on developing a plan for moving into al Qaeda's homeland, if you will, and terminating the war by liquidating the final command centers. Assuming that the preference is not to launch this campaign during the winter -- not necessarily a fixed principle -- the offensive would take place in spring 2005.

Al Qaeda's mission is to prevent this end game. It has three potential strategies, all of which can be used together. The first is to intensify its operations in Saudi Arabia to such a degree that regime survival is in doubt and the United States is forced to intervene. We cannot help but note that in the rotation of forces into Iraq, an excessive amount of armor for the mission remains there. It is excessive for Iraq, but not if U.S. forces should be forced to move into Saudi Arabia. If al Qaeda can bog the United States down on the Arabian Peninsula, it might by time for itself in its redoubt.

The second strategy is to completely destabilize Pakistan. It is no accident that two attempts have been made on President Pervez Musharraf's life. There will be more. There are powerful forces within Pakistani intelligence and military that oppose Musharaf's alliance with Washington and sympathize with al Qaeda. You can add to this number those who would oppose any American intervention in Pakistan under any circumstances. Invading the northwest while Musharraf is nominally in control of the country is one thing. Invading in the face of a hostile government or total chaos is another. The United States does not have the forces to occupy and pacify Afghanistan or Pakistan. It has what it needs to execute a large-scale raid against al Qaeda. Therefore, it is al Qaeda's strategy to protect its redoubt by intensifying operations in Afghanistan and in Pakistan.

Finally, al Qaeda might seek to break U.S. will by conducting extreme operations in the United States, obviously focusing on weapons of mass destruction. Al Qaeda's initial read of the United States was that it didn't really have the stomach for this war. It is unclear how al Qaeda reads the current political situation in the United States. Indeed, that situation is not altogether clear. However, if al Qaeda determines that the United States lacks the will to prosecute the war in the face of massive U.S. civilian casualties, it might try to carry out an extreme attack. Certainly, Sept. 11 did not achieve what al Qaeda wanted. Therefore, another attack on the order of Sept. 11 is unlikely. It is not clear if al Qaeda can carry out a more extreme operation, or if it views such an operation as helpful, but the strategic possibility remains.

We would, therefore, expect that between now and the U.S. elections, it will appear that Islamist forces have the initiative. They will press hard in both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, and the United States will appear to be in a passive and defensive mode. In fact, during the next nine months, in our opinion, the United States will be engaged in intense preparations, coupled with defensive actions designed to shore up the Saudi and Pakistani regimes.

The fundamental issue now is what al Qaeda and its Islamist allies can achieve between now and November. This is their open window and the period in which they must reverse the direction the war has taken. If the current trend continues, and the Saudi and Pakistani regimes survive, the United States will attack in Pakistan; Al Qaeda, an organization that took a decade to create, will be shattered. The Islamist movement will become a widely held sentiment rather than an effective politico-military force. Contrary to popular opinion, it is not really that easy to construct a group such as al Qaeda, which is effective and
resistant to intelligence.

Therefore, the United States has had an extremely good few months. It has recovered from its imbalance in Iraq -- and although the resistance has not been destroyed, it is in the process of being contained. The U.S. strategic position has improved markedly, to the point that it is actually possible to begin glimpsing the end game. But between the glimpse of the end game and the end, there is al Qaeda, which must move vigorously now to reverse its losses and regain the initiative.
Nonetheless, if this analysis is accurate, I think it may imply that a vote for anyone but Dean (and maybe Clark) for President is a vote for more war (in Pakistan).

Word for the day - Kakistocracy!

We can now summarize the current Bush administration in a single word:

KAKISTOCRACY (noun) - meaning "government by the worst people."

Originated as a combination of the Greek KAKISTOS (superlative of KAKOS, which means "bad") and the English suffix "-cracy," meaning "form of Government.

Kakos also the the root word for the modern "ka-ka" meaning shit.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

I Feel Like a New Man

I re-registered today as a democrat so I can vote (and have that vote count as a democrat) in the upcoming presidential primary. If you're an independent in California, you can also vote in the democrat's primary, but it potentially can be counted differently.

Plus, now I'll get even more political junk mail! Hooray!!

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Democrats Regain Sanity

I am so relieved that Dean didn't lead in Iowa. I think Edwards and Kerry are much more electable than Dean. The 2004 presidential election could be a real contest as long as it's not Dean. I'm a great believer in split government where each party (Democrats and Republicans) has control of either one of the houses of Congress or the Presidency. A landslide for Bush would make it extremely unlikely that either the House or the Senate would have their Republican majority overturned. If it's a close presidential race, it's more likely. If the Democrat wins the presidency, so much the better.

Go New Hampshire! Make a sane choice!!!

Monday, January 19, 2004

Ends and Means Discussion

There are a few posts below (for example here, here and here), discussing Machiavellian principles. I have quite a lot of thoughts on this. But before I start spewing, I'd like to focus on a specific example. To do so, I'll present a statement and define it in detail. I think that the statement is implicit in some of those posts I just linked to. Here's the statement:
Bush intentionally deceived someone regarding Saddam's WMDs to help him achieve certain ends, someone was deceived, lying and deceit are considered wrong in the chosen moral framework, but the ends could plausibly have been expected to provide increased utility to the United States.
I'll start from the end of the statement and work backwards. If the intended ends weren't good, then no means, even perfectly moral ones, could possibly be justified by them. For example, if Bush's intended ends were limited to benefiting friends at Haliburton, then there aren't any means, even those completely principled, that could be justified by such ends. Even if other things were accomplished, for example the beginning of a glorious and peaceful era in the Middle East and the rest of the world, if those ends weren't intended, they wouldn't justify any means under any moral framework. On the other hand, if Bush's ends were noble, but implausible, they still couldn't justify any means in any objective sense. I think that the intended utility (the expected gain minus the expected cost of every possible (foreseeable?) outcome) for the U.S. had to plausibly be positive for us to say that the intended ends were good. Therefore, I have to assume, for purposes of discussion, that Bush's intended ends in Iraq plausibly had beneficial utility for the United States.

I think it should be obvious that lying and deceit are wrong. However, moral relativists would disagree. They would say there is no objective good or evil and the way that each culture defines those sorts of things are morally equivalent. By their logic, Saddam was simply acting within his culture's (or sub-cultures) moral framework, and his actions, such as killing 300,000 Iraqi civilians and putting them in mass graves, could not be said to be objectively evil. That may be, but clearly for this dicussion we need to pick a moral framework where lying and deceit are wrong.

For the purposes of this discussion, we also have to assume that Bush intentionally attempted to deceive someone. Clearly, if he wasn't lying, or trying to deceive, or trying to mislead, then there are no potentially unprincipled means to discuss. The deception also had to be targeted at accomplishing the ends. Otherwise, there is no way to discuss whether or not these particular ends could have justified these particular means. So let's assume that Bush intentionally practiced deception in order to achieve particular ends. I'm far from sure this is actually true. In fact, I'm actually hoping it is true, because the alternative is that Bush actually believed that there were substantial WMDs to be found, which implies a serious failure of intelligence, which I think is pretty scary. In other words, I'd much prefer that Bush lied to me rather than find out he is actually clueless. Unfortunately, I find the latter more likely.

We also have to assume that the deceit succeeded and actually helped achieved the ends. In other words, the lies had to have been a necessary condition for achieving the ends. If the lies weren't a necessary condition for achieving those ends, then they weren't really means to those ends, and therefore would also undermine any potential debate about ends and means. Again, I'm not sure this is actually the case. I'm not sure how many people who had a say in the matter were fooled by the lies. I'm also not sure that Bush lying about WMDs was a necessary condition for the Iraqi invasion. Nonetheless, let's assume that the lies were a necessary condition for the Iraq invasion.

Okay, I think I've put together a coherent example with all important details defined. Any discussion? Do you agree with the analysis of the statement?

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Artist's Drawings

Relative to the Cool Artist Sequence, Jim asks "Do you think it's true, or concocted?" I sent an email to the owner of the site with the pictures and received the following response:
The drawings are printed in a book titled 'The Science of Life - a Picture History of Biology' published in 1963 by Thames & Hudson. Even though the book is probably out of print you might find a copy of it online somewhere.

Try going to www.abebooks.com.
So here's where my investigation ends. To actually have to put real money down in order to verify authenticity is beyond my level of interest. Because, to me, even if not authentic, the series is still pretty cool.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Nice Timing Al

From CNSNEWS:
Former Vice President Al Gore's speech on global warming to MoveOn.org Thursday is getting booed by a public policy research group, after the Democrat called the president a "moral coward" who abandoned the public's environmental interests to placate his financial supporters.

Gore made his speech to a crowd at New York's Beacon Theater on the coldest day in the city in decades.
(Italics mine). I think it has better psychological effect to make global warming speeches in the summer.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Wes and Jim

Well, Wes Clark agrees with Jim's concept of Bush's deception (alleged) being a criminal offense:
Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark said Thursday it was up to Congress to determine whether President Bush's march to war in Iraq amounted to a criminal offense.

Asked if misleading the nation in going to war would be criminal, Clark told reporters, "I think that's a question Congress needs to ask. I think this Congress needs to investigate precisely" how the United States wound up in a war "that wasn't connected to the threat of al-Qaida."

The retired four-star general defended his recent comments against the war after both his Democratic rivals and top Republicans complained that the statements were inconsistent with past remarks by Clark, including testimony to Congress in October 2002.

Clark has called for a full congressional probe into why the United States went to war in Iraq, but his comments Thursday marked the first time he had hinted at possible criminal wrongdoing.

Asked by a reporter if he thought Bush might have committed an impeachable offense, Clark said, "Let's have that investigation done."

Clark renewed his criticism that Bush misled the nation on Iraq. "This was an elective war," he said. "He forced us to go to war."
I think there should be a full congressional probe into the intelligence agencies and what they knew or didn't regarding Iraq. Effective intelligence is critical in fighting terrorism and it seems that our intelligence agencies are far from effective.

However, Bush may not be the only politician who misleads and deceives:
The RNC also released a transcript of Clark's testimony in September 2002 to the House Armed Services Committee in which he called Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein a clear threat and said military action could not be postponed indefinitely.
I'm starting to come around to Jim's point of view. Throw 'em all in jail! Anarchy! Anarchy! Anarchy!

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Would it be less cool if it was a lie?

The drawings are neat, Bret. Especially with the "story." Do you think it's true, or concocted? How hard do you think it would be for us to find out for sure?

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Cool Artist Sequence

Check out this sequence of drawings over a nine-hour period as an artist transforms from normal (drawing 1) to Picasso (drawings 6 and 8) to Dali (drawing 7) and back again (drawing 9) as part of a 1950's drug experiment.

Saturday, January 10, 2004

Much Appreciation

Bret and Howie, thanks for your responses (and jabs). No doubt, there will be much more sparring. As my son is currently in wrestling season, I've come to appreciate intense struggles to "win" without any lasting animosity.

By the way, Howie, we just had our holiday card to you returned in the mail. I forgot that you had moved. What's your new address?

Friday, January 09, 2004

Howie, Are You Accepting Jim's Bet

Jim is admirably putting his money where his mouth is. You're gonna rise to the challenge, aren't you Howie? I'd go with the recession of 3 or more consecutive quarters option if I were you.

Re: Political Deception and Direct Democracy

I agree with Jim's analysis that if we switched to direct democracy just before last October and voted on Jim's proposed referendum, that it would NOT have passed by a wide margin. I wouldn't have voted for it either.

I might have voted for something like this though:
Yes or No: Should the U.S. government be given authorization to use force in Iraq if Saddam Hussein fails to comply with U.N. resolutions.
Nonetheless, I agree that this would also NOT have passed by a wide margin.

Nonetheless, I think that direct democracy is still a good idea. Partly because (apparently contrary to common belief) I wasn't particularly gung-ho on invading Iraq (I'm more happy about it after the fact because of the mass graves, stories of people being fed into meat shredders for fun, etc.). However, note that the world would be a totally different place if direct democracy had been instituted a while back, and this particular situation wouldn't exist, so even if I was pro-invasion, there would not be any invasion to be supportive of.

Re: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Report

While I do generally ignore Journalistic Analyses, if a report is identified that I can look at directly, I'm often interested. That happens to be the case in this entry by Jim. The full report is available here.

The report itself is well done, in my opinion. Given that an organization for "International Peace" is unlikely to come out with a report supporting war, I think that this report is surprisingly balanced. I agree with the vast majority of its claims, particularly their opinion that there was a massive intelligence failure regarding the quantity and quality of Iraqi WMD's. This failure was present in the British and Israeli intelligence services as well as our own.

There was likely deception by the Bush Administration above and beyond the intelligence failure. Interestingly enough, one interpretation is that the Bush Administration managed to deceive themselves. This is partly because the intelligence agencies slanted reports to be to Bush's liking (they were trying to please the boss) and partly because the intelligence agencies felt it critical to err on the side of caution. There was nothing for them to lose by being too shrill regarding Iraqi WMDs, but lots to lose by down playing the possibility if it turned out Saddam actually had them. As a result, I think the Administration is genuinely surprised, shocked even, that more WMDs haven't been found.

The Carnegie Endowment doesn't have access to classified intelligence documents. The report was based on declassified intelligence documents and other public information. There is, of course, some chance that classified information might refute some or all of the report. However, given how few WMDs have been found so far (or at least reported), it seems likely to me that the report's claims will likely ring true in the final analysis.

One last note. I feel the articles that referred to the report were less balanced. The report begins:
Iraq's WMD programs represented a long-term threat that could not be ignored.
I don't think you would guess that from the articles. The articles happened to hand pick the quotes that were the most damaging to the Administration and ignored everything else (such as the focus on intelligence failures).

Jim Jones and the IMF

I don't accept drinks served by Jim Jones nor economic advice served by the IMF. The common link, of course, is that they both serve things that are poisonous. In all fairness, they don't cause all of the economic disasters they are involved in, occasionally a country is a basket case before they arrive. My long time nickname for them is International Mayhem and Fraud - because it fits. Their specialty is what I call root-canal economics. Accept their drivel at your own risk or learn better if your mind is open.

This article gives them their due. I can provide more articles of very high calibre if there is any interest.

Heck, I'll post the whole thing!


This excerpt from the article posted below is my biggest concern. Fiscal policy is a very limited risk, a major screw-up by the clueless Federal Reserve is a big wildcard...

As long as the Federal Reserve maintains a firm hand on the monetary tiller and a watch on the dollar's value -- as long as Alan Greenspan heeds the Volcker lesson of the 1980s -- then the earnings from U.S. growth and investment should be more than able to repay any accumulating debt. We'd add that if Mr. Greenspan retires, Mr. Bush needs to replace him with someone with Mr. Volcker's starch.


January 9, 2004


REVIEW & OUTLOOK


The IMF Votes Dean

"IMF Warns That U.S. Debt Is Threatening Global Stability"

-- New York Times, January 8, 2004

"U.S. Budget Deficits and Sparse Savings Will Snag Economy, IMF Director Says"

-- Wall Street Journal, March 31, 1982

As the headlines above suggest, at least the staff of the International Monetary Fund is consistent. This week the doughty global bureaucrats once again issued a report predicting disaster unless the U.S. raises taxes. If President Bush's tax cuts are allowed to stand, the Fund declared, interest rates will rise, private investment will be "crowded out" and productivity will fall.


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Hmmm, where have we heard this before? To be sure, the IMF has offered this same high-quality counsel to Argentina, Turkey, Russia, and before that to Mexico, Indonesia, Brazil ... (How much reading time do you have?) But specifically regarding the U.S., we have a sense of deja vu. Ah, yes, the year was 1982.

Jacques de Larosiere, IMF managing director at the time, put it like this in late March of that year: "The current borrowing requirements of the federal government ... leave little available for private-sector borrowing. Unless the projected levels of fiscal deficits over the past two or three years can be reduced, only a very large expansion in private saving would prevent serious crowding out and a continuation of the present high rates of interest."

Mr. de Larosiere uttered that dire warning just before the great Ronald Reagan expansion took off. Between 1983 and 1988, the U.S. economy grew by roughly the size of the entire German economy. And, by the way, interest rates gradually fell throughout those years despite large U.S. budget and trade deficits, as Paul Volcker's Federal Reserve broke the back of inflation and the Reagan tax cuts spurred the boom.

Yet here we are back at the same old stand, with the IMF staff once again leaping into a U.S. election tax debate. The IMF economists recommend allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire if they can't be repealed, and then suggest that "energy taxes, which are comparatively light in the United States," could also reduce the deficit. Almost on cue yesterday, Howard Dean issued a press release declaring that "IMF Report Confirms Bush Policies Danger to U.S., World Economy." Guess we know whom the IMF is voting for.

Mr. Dean's assertion, like the IMF warning, has the embarrassing disadvantage of appearing just as the U.S. economy is once again recovering smartly in the wake of the Bush tax cuts. The IMF missed this growth spurt completely, predicting only last April that (as a Journal headline put it) "IMF Says Bush Tax Cut Is Poor Policy, Ill Timed."

Regarding interest rates, the IMF seems to believe the U.S. is no different from Argentina, which has to borrow in foreign currencies to finance its debt. But the U.S. dollar is the world's reserve currency, and American capital markets are the deepest and most sophisticated. The U.S. trade deficit that the IMF also bemoans is a sign that American growth is attracting capital and sucking in exports from the rest of the world.

As long as the Federal Reserve maintains a firm hand on the monetary tiller and a watch on the dollar's value -- as long as Alan Greenspan heeds the Volcker lesson of the 1980s -- then the earnings from U.S. growth and investment should be more than able to repay any accumulating debt. We'd add that if Mr. Greenspan retires, Mr. Bush needs to replace him with someone with Mr. Volcker's starch.

Far from endangering the global economy, the U.S. recovery is now the main force lifting the world out of three years of the doldrums. Far from deploring the Bush tax cuts, the IMF should be exporting them around the world.

URL for this article:
http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB107360830184999400,00.html




Updated January 9, 2004



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Clearing the air

Jim states:

It will be convenient for Bush's re-election efforts in 2004 that the electorate (including Howie and Bret) cares almost exclusively about results, and not the way the results are achieved (nor even the potential long-term consequences).

Since I don't have the crystal ball which some people pretend to have, I have developed a rather extensive bag of tricks focused on decision making under uncertainty. It is a huge part of my work. What long-term consequences do you wish to give more than passing consideration?

Also, in the past I gave significantly more weight to principles over results. The previous adminstration, which I voted for, cured me of this naive view through their lack of principle. A more balanced weighting of principle and results is actually a good way to evaluate matters. It is appropriate for the complexity of the real world - the complexity which "pretenders" like to remind other people of ad nauseum.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Masters of Deception

While our own citizens seem to focus on results, and to discount the importance of deception in achieving those results, this is not true of people in other countries who scrutinize our actions. When we are deceptive without remorse, we undermine international trustworthiness among all countries, we encourage other countries also to become masters of deception, and we weaken the sense of approbation when deception is discovered.

In a world in which the power bases of many countries are more or less equal and there is a constant battle for supremacy, a Machiavellian foreign policy may be justifiable. But, in this world in which we are supremely dominant, this approach represents a shameful lost opportunity to lead the world to the next higher plane of civility among nations.

Is Bush more trustworthy than Musharaff? Not even a little bit.

So long as principles are secondary to securing advantages, progress for democracy and individual freedom will be slow.

For Those Who Ignore Jounalistic Analysis, Don't Bother With This

Interesting articles in the papers today....

First, let's consider the report from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a non-partisan organization. Inspections had worked and were working. There's no evidence of WMD. And, by the way, those who were in Iraq to deal with WMD are leaving Iraq because they don't expect to find anything. Check out this article and this one for more details.

In other news, the IMF reports that the U.S. deficit is dangerous for the long-term, and that it is unlikely that growth will solve the problems as the baby boom generation begins retiring in the next decade.

It will be convenient for Bush's re-election efforts in 2004 that the electorate (including Howie and Bret) cares almost exclusively about results, and not the way the results are achieved (nor even the potential long-term consequences). Indeed, an examination of means to the ends is deemed an exercise in futility since all sources of information are assumed to be compromised. The results in Iraq as of this Fall are likely to be good enough for the American people (the false premises that brought us to that point having no decisive effect on most voters). And the effects of massive deficits probably will still radiate a short-term glow, with the long-term consequences "unknown."

Yes, Bush is very likely to be re-elected. In his next term, the outcome in Iraq is unknowable. My guess is that under some possible scenarios the situation in Iraq can hurt the Republican camp, but, even under optimistic scenarios, "victory," no matter how hard it is spun, will not be sufficient to offer much electoral help. The spectre of an unsustainable fiscal policy, however, will come to haunt the Republicans before 2008. It is clear that Howie and I disagree on this issue. Care to wager a dinner on it, Howie? If so, what criteria would you propose to determine who wins? Interest rates above a certain level? A recession of 3 or more consecutive quarters?

On Political Deception and Direct Democracy

Bret, as a champion of direct democracy, do you think that the citizens of the United States would have voted to go to war in Iraq?

Let's imagine that, before this Iraq War, a referendum was put forth as follows:

Yes or No: Should the U.S. government conduct a military invasion of Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein and his government, and spend the funds necessary, estimated to be in excess of $100 billion, to build a stable democracy there?

Let's now imagine that such a referendum was posed then voted upon across the two-month period over the past eighteen months in which a "Yes" outcome was most likely. What would the outcome have been?

I contend that it would have been "No," by a large margin.

If you want direct democracy, you may need to settle for a world in which both the boldly progressive and the boldly deceptive are decapitated by details that emerge in a democratic dialogue. I'm quite sure Bush would not want direct democracy. Are you sure you do? If so, then you may wish to reconsider your support for the Iraq War as I doubt that it would have happened within your ideal system.

So long as leaders make the decisions, bold moves, rather than incremental improvements, will be the primary currency of political power. Americans, especially, will support the decisions of a bold leader, and most will maintain their support even when confronted with uncomfortable information about the premises on which the decision is made (the screaming partisans on both sides notwithstanding). Why? Because once a bold decision is made, the country is already committed -- there's no going back without great pain (think Vietnam). However, give the responsibility for decision-making to the citizenry, then, except for local issues, decisions will be framed in terms of gradual and tentative changes. This is the way the U.N. works, and that's what Bush hates about it.

In a direct democracy, I think pre-emptive war would be a very rare occurrence, and would be supported by a mountain of evidence of imminent threat. But perhaps you would exempt this area of government from the rule of the ballot?

On Brian

Jane and I had dinner with Brian last night. He's living in Mill Valley in a place with a great view, and doing fine. I don't think he considers himself a part of the GG group in the way that the rest of us do. Perhaps he thinks of himself as an interloper, through me. Or, on the other hand, maybe he prefers to keep his distance from any group who would proclaim themselves Great Guys. Either way, I think you can drop him from your GG e-mail list as I don't expect that he will ever make more than a cameo appearance in the annals of Great Guy history.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

GG IV Update

We're currently contemplating two dates:

Feb 27-29:
Yes: Bret, Howie, Boots, Frank, HB
Tough: Pode
No Response Yet: Benj, Drake, Brian

Mar 5-7:
Yes: Bret, Howie, Boots, Frank, Pode
No ("Bleak"): HB
Definite Maybe: Drake
Maybe: Benj
No Response Yet: Brian

Brian, where are you? Has anybody had any contact with Brian recently?

"Yes's" are equal for both dates. Pode, is there any way you can pull off the earlier date?

Same Difference?

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

So if "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech", why is lying about doughnuts illegal? Why is shouting "FIRE!" in a crowded theater (assuming there is no fire) illegal? Clearly these are abridgements of what one can say.

On the other hand, why is political deception protected? Shouldn't that be illegal too? After all, doesn't political deception have the potential for far, far greater damage to society than someone lying about doughnuts?

I believe the answer to that is "Maybe, But" with the "But" hugely outweighing the "Maybe".

While political deception has great potential to damage society, if lies regarding commercial speech were protected and therefore common, whether it be about doughnuts, contractual agreements, etc., it would either stifle or destroy commerce since nobody could depend on anyone else to follow through on their obligations ("I said I'd do X, but I lied, too bad for you"). Our society is absolutely dependent on commerce. So if commercial deception was protected speech, it's hard for me to imagine that there would be much of a society left. The potential for political deception to be even worse is therefore limited.

There are checks and balances built into our system to mitigate the damage caused by political deception. Opposing candidates and parties are highly motivated to check every statement of a candidate or politician. A fine example of this is the many groups combing Bush's SOTU address and investigating every sentence and discovering that those "sixteen words" were potentially misleading. That level of resource and focus cannot be applied to every doughnut salesman or commercial venture.

There are also the checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches. The President can't make laws and thus has limited power. The President can attempt deception from the bully pulpit but it's Congress' job to see through that deception and they usually do. While the President is the commander-in-chief, Congress can take away military funding and you can't fight a war without money.

If political deception was to become illegal within government, there's a serious practical consideration. Who would enforce the laws? The executive branch normally enforces laws, but would it enforce the laws against deceptive statements by Senators and Representatives? Wouldn't that enable rampant intimidation and blackmail by the President against Congressmen ("Senator, I'll let that lie in your last campaign go if you vote for this piece of legislation")? Who would enforce deception laws against the President? A special prosecutor? If prosecuted and jailed, would he still be President? After all, he wasn't impeached for treason or other high crimes, just jailed for lying. Or would the President just be impeached and then prosecuted and jailed as an ordinary citizen.

The last consideration is also the scariest. Politicians, including the President, are also ordinary citizens in this democracy. If ordinary citizens could be jailed for deceptive political speech or lies, the effect on political debate would be devastating. The government could comb the speech of dissidents for potential lies or deception and jail all dissidents and stifle all dissent. As an example, Donald Luskin has nearly made a career by checking every one of Paul Krugman's columns, books, writings, speeches, etc., and pointing out every false statement (i.e., lie). By the standard that would put Bush in jail for lying, Krugman would be in jail many times over. But Krugman is a critically important voice in the political landscape right now (I don't always agree with Krugman but I do think he's critically important). Stifling voices like Krugman's (or even Luskin's for that matter) would stifle democracy.

So no, I don't think lying about nuclear fuel (political deception) and lying to sell more doughnuts (commercial deception) are even vaguely similar in terms of legal, political, and societal implications. All of our other freedoms are completely dependent on free political speech and debate and I firmly believe that any speech within in the political realm must be tolerated at all costs, whether it be deceptive, hateful, stupid, wrong, ignorant or otherwise negative. And I don't see that to be the case for fraudulent selling of doughnuts or other commercial speech.

More fun than paint-by-numbers

Here is the game: choose the right width brush to paint a picture which allows you to blur or create whatever distinctions you wish...

Commercial fraud versus possible deception by a political leader. There are rules defining and prohibiting fraud but I'm not aware of such rules regarding political deception. Don't worry, just pick a wide enough brush and voila, any important distinctions go away. RULES, we don't need no stinkin' rules! Here is an added bonus for this round of the game. Since many of the great leaders in history were great masters of deception, we get a free pass to smear them(Lincoln, FDR, Churchill...). It gets even better. Next time a football team runs a reverse or a flea-flicker we can arrest the whole team or atleast throw the offense coordinator in jail for practicing deception. If people are concerned about political deception, they can vet the matter at the polls.

Next round. There are people in this country who are in jail for lying under oath about sex. You can't see the difference between lying UNDER OATH about sex and lying under oath about sex? Get with the program, pick a fine enough brush and you're all set!!

There are an infinite number of opportunities to play this game. You're only limited by your creativity.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

"I Back"

Bret,
Apologies for the extended absence. Like Frank I will plan to be a real friggen blogger this year.

I note with interest your thoughts on Bush's lie and jail time. Todays Wall Street Journal reports on a donught guy who made a big business selling his low cal version into the healthy foods marketed. Basically he told people they had 20 percent of the calories and fat when in fact they were just like any old garden variety glazed Krispy Kreme cruller. People complained because they tasted too good. Now the donught guy goes to jail for fraud.

Two lies. Donughts or nuclear fuel....same difference.

Welcome Frank!!!

Frank Waldman is now an official blogger here at great guys! Welcome!

Six of nine great guys have joined. That leaves Drake (I might have been using a bad email for his "invitation"), Brian, and Benj. I haven't seen a post from Tom Hunersen in quite a while. Tom, where are you?

I see a vote for hang gliding from Frank. I'll get some more details and report back shortly.

A new leaf

Now that the New Year is here, there's one resolution that I can knock off right away...joining the GG Blog! Sorry that it took me so long, but I intend to participate as time allows. Looking forward to GG 4 in San Diego...the hang-gliding sounds like fun!

Monday, January 05, 2004

Those Pesky Sixteen Words

The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. George W. Bush, in his 2003 State of the Union Address.

Bush couldn't validate those 16 words he used in the State of the Union address about Iraq buying plutonium from Nigeria. Jim, below.

I didn't see a reference to Nigeria in the SOTU (I searched the text). There are other countries in Africa besides Nigeria. Did the British government identified those sixteen words as false? I missed it. The latest I saw was the following CNN excerpt:
At the time the speech was delivered, Tenet said the line was correct because British intelligence believed that it had evidence of such activity. But he said the CIA's investigation of those same allegations had led the agency to decide that the evidence was inconclusive.

"From what we know now, [CIA] officials in the end concurred that the text in the speech was factually correct -- i.e., that the British government report said that Iraq sought uranium from Africa," he said. "This should not have been the test for clearing a presidential address.

"This did not rise to the level of certainty which should be required for presidential speeches, and the CIA should have ensured that it was removed."

But the British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw defended his government's decision to include those claims in a dossier.

In a letter to Donald Anderson, chairman of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Straw acknowledged that the CIA expressed reservations about the allegation.

"However, the U.S. comment was unsupported by explanation, and U.K. officials were confident that the dossier's statement was based on reliable intelligence which we had not shared with the U.S. (for good reasons, which I have given your committee in private session)," he wrote.
My understanding is therefore that the statement is "factually correct", through misleading according to our intelligence services, and the British still believe, based on their "dossier" that the statement is unambiguously correct.

But even if those 16 words are a lie, what's the crime? If everyone who told a lie was put in jail, I don't think there would be enough people left to take care of all of the lying prisoners. If every politician who told a lie was put in jail, there simply would be no government. Zero. Zilch. Nada. (Hmmm. Wait a minute. Maybe that would be a good idea!) If you tell an ugly woman that she's beautiful, you lied, but you didn't commit a crime (regarding the lie) even if she did sleep with you because of that statement.

Also, note that Congress had already authorized the use of force prior to the SOTU address, so Bush needed nothing further from Congress or the American people to prosecute the war against Iraq. Therefore, I think it's difficult to cast this particular lie (alleged) into some sort of fraud since nothing was, nor could have been, gained from it (relative to expending U.S. resource on prosecuting a war in Iraq).

So I certainly understand why many people call those 16 words a lie, but I'm having trouble making the leap from lie to crime to jail.

Speculation in the Media

One of the themes I have flogged constantly and will continue to flog is my perception of incompetence in the media. I recently saw this not so recent speech by Michael Crichton, author of numerous best selling science fiction novels.
... Media carries with it a credibility that is totally undeserved. You have all experienced this, in what I call the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. (I refer to it by this name because I once discussed it with Murray Gell-Mann, and by dropping a famous name I imply greater importance to myself, and to the effect, than it would otherwise have.)

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray's case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward - reversing cause and effect. I call these the "wet streets cause rain" stories. Paper's full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

That is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. I'd point out it does not operate in other arenas of life. In ordinary life, if somebody consistently exaggerates or lies to you, you soon discount everything they say. In court, there is the legal doctrine of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, which means untruthful in one part, untruthful in all. But when it comes to the media, we believe against evidence that it is probably worth our time to read other parts of the paper. When, in fact, it almost certainly isn't. The only possible explanation for our behavior is amnesia...

Apparently, I don't happen to suffer from this particular type of amnesia since I've talked about this particular effect (though not by name) before. I am surprised at how many people do seem to suffer from Gell-Mann Amnesia. Since Bush doesn't seem to suffer from it either, I'm guessing those of us with lower IQ are immune.

GG IV Update

We're working towards GG IV in San Diego March 5th - 8th. Current status (I think):

Yes: Bret, Pode, Howie, Jim, Frank.
Checking: Benj.
No response yet (Haven't been checking greatguys.blogspot.com?):
Hunnersen, Drake, Brian.

Proposed itinerary:

Friday Afternoon and Evening: Great Guys begin arriving
Saturday: hiking and partying in the anza-borrego desert. I'm intimately familiar with this particular desert and know many really interesting and fun places.
Sunday morning: mission bay beach and boardwalk activities - rollerblading, surfing (rent boards and wetsuits)
Sunday afternoon: Black's beach (one of the most beautiful nude beaches in the U.S.) - swimming, hackey-sack, frisbee
Sunday night and Monday: Great Guys begin leaving

Other possibilities: Mexico, Hang-gliding (for beginners on Dunes down in Mexico).

We can rent a condo at the beach for the weekend for reasonable rates. Please confirm/update your status so I can reserve one.

Reason - a clarification please

Jim, you wrote

Instinct was first – it developed through all our predecessor species. With the advent of our species, the one with a gigantic brain, came reason: the ability to speculate about cause and effect in most profound ways.

Did this profound ability to reason, or reason profoundly, arrive in full flower at the dawn of man? Where did it come from? A new born baby has legs but it can not walk. The mere potential represented by its' legs doesn't mean much without a year of stimulus and lesser physical excertions. That's also an ability well developed in earlier species. Might the potential of a large brain be nearly meaningless without 100,000 years of stimulus provoking variation and selection of various behaviors???

Sunday, January 04, 2004

The Origin of Hacky

This was in my local paper:

'In 1972 in Oregon City, Oregon, John Stallberger was recovering from knee surgery and looking for some good rehab exercise. His friend Mike Marshall made a small beanbag, which they started kicking around to keep it from touching the ground. They dubbed the game "Hackin' the Sack" and finally "Hacky Sack." A sport was born.'

Saturday, January 03, 2004

Happy New Year to All Great Guys!

Is there anyone who isn't planning to be in San Diego in early March? Let's hope all can make it.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

That's Some Food For Thought

You can tell who the Literature major is. Great article Jim! After I've digested some of that "food for thought" I may have a comment or two.

Happy New Year all, have a great 2004!