Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Something About Wisconsin

There's something about Wisconsin cow humor that doesn't entirely translate. But I would be happy if they would share their frozen custard franchises with the rest of the country.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Bits and Pieces - September 27, 2010

More on Stuxnet: "Realize that the computer malware industry feeds on speculation and fear -- and the journalism industry isn't exactly beyond reproach."

Epic marketing FAIL.

Why immigration is good for the country.

Nice summing-up of the American Taliban from Markos Moulitsas.
I oppose regressive Islamic fundamentalists for the same reason I oppose regressive conservatives - because whether it's their violent tendencies, views on women and gays, hostility to science and knowledge, or fear of pop culture, they're cut from the same ideological cloth.

Added later: On the enthusiasm gap. There are only two parties, and one is mean and crazy. That's the choice.

Science journalism today.

Too Much of a Muchness

A law professor who is married to a doctor last week provided the sad story of his difficulties in living on more than (probably a lot more than) $250,000 a year and the immense difficulties that a tax cut on the amount under that combined with no tax cut on the amount above that would entail him and his family.

The post provoked not much crying and some laughter. Many of us live quite happily on much less than that.

Many religions touch on this problem and counsel, as often as not, giving more away if you're feeling that you don't have enough. It's easy to get into these mental ruts, whether it's keeping up with the neighbors or someone being wrong on the Internet. Washington has its own versions of this, as Joe Klein is finding as he tours the country outside the Beltway.

It's a matter of focusing on what's important. I can't tell if Ezra Klein's use of this quote is sardonic; it would be if I were quoting it.
It is inconsequential whether you like these entrées or not. The purpose of eating at a buffet is to get the most value for money by selectively feeding the face with the most expensive dishes.
I guess I'd disagree. I go out to eat to enjoy what I'm eating.

Paul Krugman gives another example of what we might call false focus:
This brings to mind a review I once read of a bad movie in which Mel Gibson played a Revolutionary War patriot. The film made a point of showing the Gibson character as being apolitical – until the British did him personal harm; that’s when he got involved. As the reviewer pointed out, this gets the notion of patriotism all wrong – you’re supposed to care about the cause regardless of your personal interests. In fact, there’s something especially laudable if you oppose a regime even though you were doing fine under that regime.

So: I support tax increases that will reduce my own after-tax income; I worry greatly about unemployment, even though my own living is secure; I warn about growing inequality, even though I’m of the class that has gained from rising disparities; I’m upset about the direction this country is going, even though my own life is comfortable. And this is supposed to cast doubt on my motives?
I think that Krugman's critics may have swallowed the self-interest thing whole and believe that nothing else can be genuine.

So when James Fallows thinks that that poor sad law professor is just making an error in comparing his wealth to others', he's succumbing to the common wisdom, in this case, that the one who dies with the most toys wins.

Make Up Your Minds

Yesterday, according to the MSM, Stuxnet was the most brilliant computer attack evah. Today, according to the New York Times, it's dumb.

What they are looking at is what I noted yesterday: it's transmissible and seems to be blowing back to all the likely perpetrators. That makes it more likely to show up, which, as I pointed out, could be part of the point. Besides helping to outline associates of the target, having it discovered could be part of the message: we can damage you.

This is an inherent shortcoming of unconventional warfare. Once you use a non-lethal weapon, the enemy knows what it is and can defend against it or use it himself. Any weapon that can spread itself, like computer and real viruses, can blow back.

Feature or bug? One more of the many questions.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

More Stuxnet Speculation and the Limits of "Cyberwarfare"

The Stuxnet worm has infected tens of thousands of Iranian computer systems, along with systems in other countries. It is being unraveled by computer security companies and Siemens, the maker of industrial equipment that is its target.

The exact target is not known, but speculation tends to settle on the Bushehr civilian nuclear power plant and the Natanz enrichment plant, leading to the more speculative conclusion that Israel or the United States is responsible for it. Both have stated that they are using various means to attempt sabotage of Iran's nuclear infrastructure.

But let's look at another possibility: Russia. Russia has direct access to the Bushehr plant, since they are supplying it. Russia also has a great concentration of outstanding computer programmers, many of which have taken to the production of malware. Russia is a prime suspect in the distributed denial of service attacks in Estonia during the controversy over a Soviet monument in Tallinn and in Georgia during their short war. So a motive for the attack in Iran might be to test another sort of attack, against industrial infrastructure. Relations between Russia and Iran over Bushehr have been rocky over the many years it has taken to build the reactor; that's why it has taken so long.

If the code was furnished by Israel or the United States with the intention of harming a particular plant, it is highly irresponsible to make the code in the form of a worm, which can propagate itself. The ultimate protection against computer infection, of course, is the air gap: if a computer isn't connected to any other computers, it can't be infected. The air gap is used for security in many industrial plants. But memory sticks can be infected, and they can transmit the worm, which seems to be the main route of Stuxnet infection.

So why make a worm? It could be that the perpetrators didn't have access to the targeted facility, in which case infection would be necessary. Or perhaps the perpetrators wanted to trace the routes of infection, which might provide some clues as to who might be providing questionably-legal support to Iran's nuclear program. Transmission via memory sticks would be slow enough to outline the importance of various providers. The Guardian provides a map. Interesting connections to India and Indonesia.

Stuxnet is one more demonstration of how difficult cyberwarfare is. Estonia was inconvenienced for a week or two; the attack on Georgia seemed to be less effective. Siemens is introducing correctives to Stuxnet. Warfare has to be more than a one-off, but it is in the nature of an attack to be noticed, and, once noticed, responded to. A great many non-governmental individuals and organizations have as much fun countering malware as others do developing it, and governments have their resources as well. Like the attacks on Estonia and Georgia, Stuxnet is very difficult to trace to its perpetrator, perhaps impossible. So there is no retaliation. And transmissible malware can blow back on the perpetrator. Looks like there are Stuxnet infections in all the major suspects.

Defense works. Sticking possibly infected memory sticks into USB ports is dumb; the air gap applies to memory sticks too. And there are better defenses that most of us have on our home computers. As malware does its damage, it is detected and countered, an emerging and evolutionary process rather than a catastrophe.

Quote of the Day

Daniel Patrick Moynihan personal and confidential memorandum for John D. Ehrlichmann and H. H. Haldeman, July 24, 1970:
I would argue that in such circumstances the first [rule] of patriotism is the willingness not to worsen things, even when the provocation is outrageous, even when there may appear to be a short-term advantage to be gained. This is not just the measure of patriotism, it is the measure of prudence as well.

Truth and Commonwealth

Here in India we've been hearing for months about the problems -- the profound bureaucratic inefficiency, the graft and corruption, the pervasive half-assedness -- with this year's Commonwealth Games in Delhi. Yeah, in a country where millions are starving and where cellphones outnumber toilets comfortably, where children work to build roads and live, without access to water or education, in migrant slums, where filthy, overcrowded hospitals struggle to address each year's fresh outbreaks of dengue and malaria, yeah, here, they've decided to 'showcase' their new status as a world power by hosting the Commonwealth Games.

I'm thinking it'll showcase something.

I've been considering writing a piece on this for the last few days, but it's big and complicated. Fortunately, Jim Yardley at the New York Times has written an excellent summary of the action so far. Here's a nice bit:
India had hoped the Commonwealth Games, a quadrennial athletic competition among nations of the former British Empire, would serve as a public relations vehicle to show off the economic progress that has made the country a rising power. Instead, the world is witnessing an ugly spectacle of bureaucratic dysfunction that only confirms the image of governmental ineffectiveness that Indian leaders hoped to dispel.
That's pretty much it in a nutshell. But read the whole article, especially if you're interested in seeing a weird sort of reverse cultural relativism applied to standards of hygiene.

But my perspective on the whole affair is colored by my preoccupation with Tea Party idiocy in my home country. Most frustrating about that 'movement' is its deep commitment to delusion, its skill at lying to itself about taxes, governance, economics, President Obama. Perhaps the link between my thinking about the Commonwealth Games and my thinking about the anti-intellectual conservative fringe is Dinesh D'Souza, the right's favorite Desi lapdog -- though he's less a lapdog, I guess, than a human version of Cuddles, the Anglo-identified Chatterjee family's mean-spirited mutt kept chained to the piano in A Suitable Boy. I mean, what D'Souza does, what Glenn Beck does, all of them: they simply make shit up. And then they tell people that shit they made up as though it were natural fact.

And this is exactly what Indian officials -- and I mean at every level, from those who work at the driver's license office to those overseeing the preparations for the Games -- this is exactly what they do: they make shit up. And they say it and it gets quoted in the paper and [universal hand-dusting gesture] that's that. And it works here, for a variety of reasons. It works because of the terrible illiteracy in this country, the perception of powerlessness among the institutionally and socially oppressed, the far-reaching commitments to keeping that institutional oppression intact. It works because lots of Indians are too busy trying to find something to eat to worry about whether or not India really is one of the world powers, now. It works because an ascendant middle-class wants desperately for it to be true.

And that's all well and good, I guess. Until the audience changes. India can lie to itself until the water buffalo come home, but it's finding it difficult to lie to others. Its fictions, its delusional pronouncements are now daily confronted, in Delhi, by reality, by the gaze of the world looking in and saying: "hey, WTF?"

But, frankly, India isn't my concern. My concern is the U.S., where we're seeing an entire political movement in the model of Indian politics: D'Souza, Beck, Palin. What they're 'building' is an open-sewer of rank dishonesty, a self-deluded, self-convinced, and self-righteous mob of angry people. They lie to increasing numbers of Americans who want to believe what they're hearing. Worst of all, they're building on the legacy of an administration caught lying baldly, internationally. And they're saying: "it doesn't matter what the world thinks. What matters is we're the greatest . . . blah blah blah. We're paying too much in taxes . . . blah blah blah. Obama is a socialist . . . blah blah blah. If you can't afford health care you probably wish you were dead anyway, blah blah blah."

But then there's the world outside; in its atmosphere, these fictions, they wither.

India wants to cling to its fictions, its narratives of growth and market domination, but it also wants to be a part of the world outside. This is a good thing, an opportunity to calibrate those narratives, to review and revise. Press freedom, for one thing, is clearly pretty healthy in India. That's going to help.

At home, from my perspective here, it feels too much like we're moving in the opposite direction, retreating from the world -- when we're not bombing it from unmanned drones. Like we're locking ourselves in our still-overstocked pantries and telling stories about the way it is.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Peach Palm Fruit

My Creed

I'm going to make "antitheologist" my new answer to requests for "faith" or "religious affiliation" on forms and such. My faith, my creed, is that I do not need to suppose supernaturality to explain what I experience or anything else that happens, has happened, will happen or could happen. Whereas theologists devise and discuss explanations in terms of "God," "soul" and "spirituality," I decline to do that, in other words. In fact, I consider it a waste of time and tax dollars, now you ask. Peace!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Republicans' Pledge

I was going to write something about the Republican Pledge to America, which was released today, but I've just realized that documents like this seldom have any effect on voters whatsoever.

The preamble is a really ugly parody of the Declaration of Independence. Apparently the Republicans no longer believe in the rule of law or republican government.
In a self-governing society, the only bulwark against the power of the state is the consent of the governed, and regarding the policies of the current government, the governed do not consent.
And it repeats that silly idea that the 20% of the population that identify themselves as Republicans, Tea Partiers, or both, are all of America.

I can't read the whole thing; I doubt that any sane person can.

Doug Mataconis has more. I'm surprised; I thought that preamble would appeal to the Tea Party, but apparently not.

More Health Care Provisions Start Today

Peter Dreier summarizes:
As of today, insurance companies can no longer deny insurance to children with pre-existing conditions--the young people who are ill and need insurance the most. As many as 5 million children fall in this category.

As of today, insurance companies can no longer drop people from coverage when they get sick because they made clerical mistakes on their applications.

As of today, insurance companies will no longer be allowed to drop children from their parents' health insurance plans after they reach 21 or graduate from college, unless they are offered coverage at work. About 1.6 million young adults between 21 and 26 will go onto their parents' policies.

As of today, insurance companies will be prohibited from placing lifetime caps on health coverage.

As of today, insurance companies will be restricted in their use of annual limits on coverage and will be banned completely in 2014.

As of today, insurance companies are required to cover recommended preventive services with no out-of-pocket cost for patients and with preventive services exempt from deductibles.

As of today, employer-sponsored health plans can no longer establishing any eligibility rules for coverage that discriminate against lower- and middle-income employees.
At the link, the provisions that were already in effect.

So end a number of worries that nag at people. It'll take a little time to become accustomed to their absence, but we'll do it.

The Coming Christianist Generation

All I can say is that someone really needs to find a way to change the school textbook market so that it doesn't rely so heavily on the dictates of the Texas State Board of Education. It's a difference between a future of thoughtful, intelligent children and a future of ignorant and incompetent children.

There are more and less reasonable ways to evaluate history, literature, culture, religion, ethics, philosophical ideas, etc. To shift US education over to the "math and science" fetish (which unlike, say, reasoned ethical deliberation, can be quantitatively measured and thus more easily compared across populations), on one hand, and the nutty religio-cultural views of a particularly loud-mouthed minority of Americans, on the other side, is to undercut future students' ability to engage in critical thinking and ultimately live life as free, autonomous beings. In such a case, it won't matter how much "math and science" education kids get, unless your idea of what to do with that education is create more technologically sophisticated ways to be bigots.
Texas' State Board of Education - following a long history of throwing itself into "culture war" issues - is set to vote Friday on a resolution calling on textbook publishers to limit what they print about Islam in world history books.

The resolution cites world history books no longer used in Texas schools that it says devoted more lines of text to Islamic beliefs and practices than Christian beliefs and practices...

"It’s that great idea. That radical idea of Judeo-Christianity, that man is created in the image of God. So if you have world history books that downplay Christianity - Judeo-Christianity - and it doesn’t even make it in the table of contents, I think there’s a great concern," McLeroy said.

Some educators fear the debate might lead to a revision of history. "I was a social studies teacher, and, I’m sorry. History is what it is. It happened," Gayle Fallon of the Houston Federation of Teachers told CBS affiliate KHOU.

Fallon said the claim that books devote more lines to Islam that Christianity is baseless anyway.

"I’ve talked to the history teachers. They say there’s nothing there," Fallon said. "A textbook should not proselytize for any side. It should present fact. And, from what we’ve seen of the text, they present fact."...

The resolution concludes by warning publishers the "State Board of Education will look to reject future prejudicial social studies submissions that continue to offend Texas law with respect to treatment of the world's major religious groups by significant inequalities of coverage space-wise and by demonizing or lionizing one or more of them over others."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


We used to at least try. The failure to repeal DADT is yet another instance of untrying, which currently seems to be the norm, when not outright aggressive bigotry that makes no attempt to conceal the untrying. The untrying is not just a moral failure of fairness, justice, equality, and basic human decency. Neither is it simply a failure of legislators to honor the constitutional principle of equal protection. It's yet another failure of public reason.

I recently taught a graduate course in policy and ethics that included a few mid-career students from the Defense Department. Contrary to common perception, these folks are usually rather thoughtful and diverse in their beliefs. Yet, one of these students decided to write his term paper on "homosexuals in the military," wanting to argue that gays in the military is a bad idea. Term papers, of course, have to consider counterarguments and so on in order to assess the strengths and weaknesses of each. This includes assessing the reasons supporting one's own argument or view, which in the course of writing the paper often ends up having to be heavily refined or completely reconsidered in light of strong counterarguments.

At the final class meeting a few days before papers were due this particular student asked, "My conclusion in the paper is that gays shouldn't be able to serve in the military. But what if I find that the arguments against my position are a lot stronger than my own argument?" I asked, "so, you're asking how to defend a view that you don't have good reasons for holding?"

Yes, that's what he wanted to do. And that's where we stand. Public figures don't wish to address journalists because they can't adequately defend the positions they hold. Senators knock down the proposed DADT repeal not because there are good reasons to do so - or even politically prudential reasons - but because it seems politically risky. Public mobs protest against what is essentially in their imaginations, their own ignorant and bigoted view of people unlike themselves.

I constantly hear variations on the theme of "It's just my opinion," where this statement is supposed to finish an argument between differing views. It's supposed to indicate (to the speaker) a kind of magnanimous tolerance for other views (and "that's just your opinion") and even the intellectual modesty that one's view might be wrong. But it doesn't actually do this because the assertion essentially says that either I have reasons you can't understand or I don't care whether you understand or I don't have good reasons at all, but in any case don't wish to or can't think about it further or elaborate.

In essence, it's not an expression of tolerance, but an expression of potential bigotry because the flip side is that I have no interest in understanding you any further either. And if I make some wild claim about you, it doesn't much matter whether it's refutable or not because "it's just my opinion" and you ought to respect that. This is how people can be overtly anti-Muslim bigots yet be offended at accusations of bigotry directed at them.

This subjectivist statement of "opinion," setting aside the fundamental philosophical problems of subjectivism, is at root simply a descriptive truism - we have different views. It is an expression of avoidance of the actual hard work of trying to figure out what is indeed better or worse, right or wrong, true or false, valid or invalid, etc.

A lot of the time it really doesn't matter much (is vanilla or chocolate the tastier ice cream? Will the mail arrive at 2pm or 2:05pm?). But when it comes to ethical decisions or policy decisions the hard work is essential. We're not doing it, but somehow remain self-satisfied at the same time. We're all Sarah Palin now.

Mauritiella (Buriti)

What Is Wrong With This Picture?

GOP blocks repeal of ‘don’t ask’.

10. Many other nations, UK, Canada, Israel among them (h/t BrandonF), allow gays to serve openly in the military.

9. The ones that don't are the US, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.

8. There are already gays serving in the military. DADT just forces them into the closet.

7. The people who are voting against probably have gay employees and neighbors, even relatives.

6. It's not even a vote against the bill, just more minority obstructionism.

5. The bill has a Senate majority in favor.

4. A majority of Americans believe that DADT should be ended.

3. Objections like Scott Brown's (see link) are posturing or just flat lying.

2. Religious objections haven't been voiced this time around, but they're part of it. And quite ambiguous, if you actually check out the Bible.

1. Equal protection under the law. A federal court has already found the law unconstitutional.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Bits and Pieces - September 21, 2010

Flooding continues in Pakistan.

Saber-tooth cat fossils and other goodies in Southern California.

Computer virus discovered that may have been aimed at Iran's Bushehr reactor.

We're probably not going to attack Iran any time soon.

Speaking of spying, the Russian FSB has picked up two. Doesn't seem to be a connection with the American two just indicted, although one always wonders. Possibly just a response to pressure from management.

This is a really important point: ultimately, paring down the defense budget means paring down missions. There's plenty that can be done in cutting out cold-war weapons we no longer need, but the real savings will come from fewer missions. We currently have bases in practically every country in the world. Do we need all that?

Healthcare timeline. When the various provisions become effective.

If you don't want any more politics, you can skip the rest.

Democrats now ahead in Gallup's generic poll. It probably doesn't mean much, but then why is there so much news about it when the Republicans are ahead?

I would like to hear more shout-outs from President Obama to his supporters, but he is the president of all the people. Didn't we find those biblical codes from George Bush inappropriate? And what would a liberal-base dogwhistle sound like?

Now For Some Good News

The United States and Russia have requested the International Atomic Energy Agency to safeguard some of the plutonium they are taking out of their nuclear weapons.

This is a good thing in the immediate sense that there should be international oversight of that material and in the larger sense that the United States and Russia are opening up weapon-related stuff to inspection.

Back in the nineties, when my group was developing cans for that plutonium, there was some resistance to inspection. The reasoning was that if the inspectors knew how many warheads were going into a decommissioning plant and how much plutonium was coming out, they could figure out how much plutonium was in a warhead. And no way could that be allowed. We suggested ways to get around it, like mixing up combinations of weapons decommissioned rather than doing campaigns of one type of weapon only, but they weren't heard.

So perhaps the Department of Energy is recognizing that plenty of people have figured out how much plutonium a weapon needs and that they needn't be so obsessive about any possibility that someone might use their numbers to do that.

But I won't be surprised if the negotiations leading to the specifics of inspection turn out to be very, very difficult.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Madder Than Hell

Why do the Republicans hate the United States?

I'm getting tired of a political party that exists only to exist, only to get its members elected next time. We elect our representatives to do their very best for us under the Constitution. Maybe it's worth quoting the preamble:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Doesn't say anything I can see about making the politicians and their friends richer. Doesn't say anything about power in perpetuity. In fact, if you look through the rest of it, there's more about limiting power. Domestic tranquility - how about that?

Temper tantrums would seem to be outside the bounds of domestic tranquility, so this business about shutting down the government is, simply, ugly. Not to say stupid. Shutting down the government was what got Newt Gingrich thrown out of elective office for good, although he managed to break the Senate in the process. Turned out that people like the national parks, veterans' benefits, and Social Security checks, which went away when the government shut down.

So what is all the anger about? Rich people are angry because they will have a few dollars less than the usual gazillions. Poor babies. Tea Partiers are angry, well, because! Their slogans are incoherent, as anger sometimes makes people. And it's hard to believe that there isn't an element of racism in it.

But I'm angry too! Why are those people standing in the way of progress? Why do they want sick children to have hospital emergency rooms as their only medical resource? Why do they want to heat up the planet and kill the polar bears? Why are they so selfish: my money, my taxes, me, mine, gimme, gimme? Why are they lying about the civil rights movement? Why is there no end to the whining about religious issues that I don't care about, except for the fact that so many of those angry people insist I live by their religion?

While the Republicans have been saying "No," they haven't proposed any solutions to problems. Repealing health care reform will put us back to where we were: insurance companies making life and death decisions for us. More tax breaks for the rich will further exacerbate the problems incurred by those rich financial traders. And if you like oil-rig blowups, salmonella in your eggs and spinach, and more risky financial deals, you'll love a Republican Congress!

They're pushing scare talk instead: be afraid of Moslems, sharia law, the national debt, immigrants, EMP launched on ICBMs from caves in Tora Bora, and sex. I would think we would all be getting tired of nonstop fear by now.

So I think we need to keep repeating stuff like this and this until the election. And probably after.

Photo stolen from Kevin Drum, although I think I've seen it in other places too. Oh, you say it's not a photo?

Shamanic Drums and Maps

Strange Maps gives us a shaman's drum from Lapland with an interpretation of the symbols on it. If you'd like to hear a shaman's drum with some modern overtones, I recommend Veljo Tormis's "Curse Upon Iron." You can hear the ICBMs from 7:40 on. Too bad they weren't included on Strange Map's drum. [The Estonians and Sami are linguistically related, and Tormis uses folk instruments and music throughout his works.]

Profit, Loss, and Proliferation

What’s a Weapons Exporter to Do?

by Molly Cernicek and Cheryl Rofer

The two of us have been considering the arms trade, particularly the nuclear arms trade, in the light of economics. We want to try to understand how economic factors may influence nuclear proliferation. The conventional arms trade is a possible model.

The international arms market has slowed in the aftermath of the financial crisis, states a recent CRS report. It "concluded that the value of worldwide arms deals in 2009 was US$57.5 billion, a drop of 8.5 percent from 2008," the New York Times said last Sunday.

The United States continues to be the largest exporter of arms, far outperforming Russia, a distant second at $10.4 billion. "For 2009, the United States signed arms deals worth $22.6 billion -- a dominating 39 percent of the worldwide market. Even so, that sales figure was down from $38.1 billion in 2008." The decline "was caused by a pause in major orders from clients in the Middle East and Asia, which had pumped up the value of contracts the year before. At the same time, there were fewer support and services contracts signed with American defense firms last year."

A 40 percent decline in any market in one year is something that makes stockholders groan and investors clutch their wallets. Perhaps the market will bounce back with more contracts like that proposed by Saudi Arabia, a $60 billion, 10-year-contract with US defense contractors to upgrade its air force. And that upgrade might spur its neighbors to do the same. But then again, what if it doesn’t? What if the weapons market is saturated for the foreseeable future? What if weapons buyers are holding on to their weapons a year or two longer and spending on maintenance and upgrades only, foregoing the latest, shiny models?

Top weapons producers must be looking for new markets just in case the demand for new planes, big guns, and armor continues to slide south. There are only so many customers in the world who can pay with either cash or energy. Governments that don’t have oil may want weapons, but they need loans from governments of arms-producing companies which may be decreasing because of the slower global economy.

More weapons producers are competing than in the past. China is transitioning from being one of the biggest weapons importers of the last decade to exporting its own. With huge political pressure to export as much as possible to feed their voracious economy, China’s weapons suppliers will continue to chip away at this soft global market.

Whatever new customers are in the market may not consider buying from American companies. Russia has invested billions since 2000 to modernize its military and its weapons industry, but with disappointing results. Russia plans to purchase up to four Mistral class amphibious assault ships from France over the next few years, but still will be trying to gain more of the global weapons market.

So, what’s a nail-biting American defense contractor to do? Build new markets. With a finite number of customers for their current line of weapons, they have to look at expanding their product line and then convince their customers that they need these products. What are some of the new hot areas?
* High-tech intelligence equipment, including software and hardware to protect against cyber warfare.
* Guided missile and space vehicle manufacturing for Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) and counter-terrorism.
* Military simulation and virtual training technologies.

Expect to see the bigger defense contractors gain new capabilities through acquisitions and initiatives. Boeing has recently acquired Argon ST and Narus, companies working in intelligence equipment production and cyber warfare solutions. Boeing and Northrop Grumman have teamed up to work jointly GMD for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. Boeing is still waiting to hear on the long-delayed $35 billion contract to build aerial tankers for the US Air Force.

The Pentagon won’t have much of a chance to pursue a budget reductions if US defense contractors face continued losses in the international arms industry. Their manufacturing capabilities represent jobs, and the contractors have long known that spreading these capabilities across as many states as possible ensure Congressional support.

So we are hearing about the grave threats that cyber warfare poses. In the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, William Lynn tells a scare story about an infection of defense computers that could have been prevented with a good antivirus program or the ever-reliable air gap. Republicans insist on more missile defense, Senator Jim DeMint’s unsuccessful attempt to modify the New START Treaty only the latest example.

We can expect to hear more about these threats.Unfortunately, the products directed toward them will appeal to fewer customers than conventional weapons do, thus putting more pressure on the US government to buy most of the latest gadgets and services.

While China increases its arms production, it is also increasing its role in alternative energies. France is also developing alternative-energy capability. If the arms market is indeed saturated, this may be a wise move that the United States should emulate.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Pseudo-Demand-Side Market in Nuclear Secrets

As Molly Cernicek and I have pointed out before, the "market" in nuclear secrets and material seems to be largely driven by government stings. So Leonardo and Marjorie Mascheroni allegedly wound up trying to sell secrets to US, not Venezuelan, government agents. Presumably the government of Venezuela knew nothing about it, or cooperated with the US government if it did.

No real market there.

And Molly and I hope to have another in our series "Profit, Loss, and Proliferation" posted in the next day or so.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Guavas, Apples, Sweet Limes

Bits and Pieces - Politics Edition

Rallies for the faithful on the Mall!
Rally to Restore Sanity
March To Keep Fear Alive

Charles Krauthammer and Michael Gerson are having some reservations about this Tea Party thing.

Glenn Greenwald has a theory on why that is.

Quote of the Day, Friday

"American scientific companies are cross-breeding humans and animals and coming up with mice with fully functioning human brains." - Christine O'Donnell (TPM, via BJ). An obvious one, I know, and everyone has their slips, but this one is just too damn funny.

Baobab Fruits

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Quote of the Day

Former Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton:
You must encourage the mind-set that if you're elected, your first obligation is to see that America works and succeeds.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Getting the Science Right – And a Bit More

The New Yorker and Time Magazine get nuclear science right this week. Unfortunately, the New Yorker article is behind the subscription wall, and what I’ve linked is what it makes available for free.

The Time Magazine article highlights a joint success: nonproliferation programs working with the nuclear power industry. About 10% of American electrical power comes from uranium from Soviet nuclear weapons. As the Russians disassemble nuclear weapons in compliance with arms control treaties, they are selling us the enriched uranium, which is blended down to reactor grade and burned up in reactors. Kind of a nice story, as close to beating swords into plowshares as we are likely to come in today’s world. But I’ve been told by people in power companies that they don’t want to publicize this for fear of connecting civilian nuclear reactors to bomb-making in people’s minds, and, for some reason, the nonproliferation community isn’t saying much either. I think that’s a mistake; we need all the successes we can get. Now we need to burn up American weapons uranium.*

Peter Hessler gets the science right for the New Yorker, unusual for an MSM reporter writing about nuclear issues. He also does a nice job of investigating risk perception. He doesn’t say it that way, but that’s what he’s doing. He visited southwestern Colorado, some of the places that mined and milled uranium for America’s atomic bombs in World War II and after. The article deals with the uranium miners and their relatives. The names of the towns are evocative: Uravan, Nucla, Paradox. Uravan, the town and the site of the mill, is long gone, shredded and buried to contain the radioactive materials handled under the less stringent standards of that time.

His own risk perceptions come into play: you can feel his “eewww” when he mentions that some folks keep pretty pieces of uranium ore in their living rooms. The miners and their families (at least the ones he reports on) don’t feel victimized. Frank Munger of the Knoxville News quoted another person, Harold Cofer, whose views were similar:
I may have destroyed my good health by working in Y-12, but we were in a race with Russia, developing the Hydrogen bomb and we beat them so badly, they just gave it up! I would do it all over again, I have no regrets!
The Coloradans are not so emphatic, but they don’t have regrets either.

On the other side of the mountains lies Telluride, another former mining community (you can tell from the name!). People there tend to be against mining, but are also more poorly informed on the science than the miners’ families, Hessler notes.

Telluride, now famous for its film festival, is one of those places in the West that has been developed as a playground for the wealthy from other places. And such folks don’t like mining in their backyards. Now that nuclear looks like it may have an increasing role in power generation, the Uravan area may have more mining and milling, and the Telluride folks don’t like that. People also go to Telluride for skiing, an activity I find too dangerous to undertake. There’s an element of the subjective in which risks we’re willing to accept.

It’s important that The New Yorker and Time Magazine have managed to get these two articles right. The perception of risk is a particularly difficult subject to write about, and all too often, nuclear energy risks loom far out of proportion to their reality. We can’t intelligently plan our energy future on the basis of inaccurate information. Maybe this is the beginning of an improved national conversation on the subject.
*The National Nuclear Security Administration has responded to the report I linked to and says
The POGO report is riddled with inaccuracies and half-truths intended to mislead the public into believing that downblending highly enriched uranium is as simple as waving a magic wand and snapping your fingers. This is a complicated process that involves multiple entities and requires a great deal of oversight.
This is not persuasive, as the Russians must have equal concerns about eliminating their weapons uranium by sending it off to a former enemy. I will admit that I haven't read either the POGO report in full or the NNSA statement. Maybe a subject for a later post.

Permanent and Temporary Government

Ezra Klein's visit to the American Political Science Association conference in DC last week has led to a nifty little article in which academics get some respect for the work they do. Not a lot of time right now, but I want to highlight one particular point in Klein's piece:
In this year of "tea partiers" and political insurgents, we keep hearing the same refrain: The founders envisioned not career politicians but citizen-legislators -- decent folk who'd leave the farm to serve the public, then return home before they became corrupt fat cats. It's this idea that lends term limits such perennial appeal.
And yet, says David Canon, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the author of "Actors, Athletes, and Astronauts: Political Amateurs in the United States Congress," term limits would actually have the opposite effect. He explains: "If you have a bunch of rookies in there who don't have much experience, you're basically turning power over to the permanent government in that town: the staffers and the lobbyists the newcomers end up relying on."
This is an important point, I think. I've lived in DC for over a decade and have witnessed this exact phenomenon. Each administration comes to DC thinking it's different than the preceding administrations. Things are going to be done differently in Washington. I know this is partially just a matter of rhetoric, but it's not bullshit rhetoric. This rhetoric is generally believed by the relative newcomers using it. But then the new administration is chastened fairly quickly by the meat-grinder of the longer-term satellite institutions of national government.

I certainly don't want Tea Partiers leading the country for substantive policy reasons, when actual TP policy proposals even exist. But I also think the above point gives some idea of how a TP presence in the federal government might fare. Consider Pres. Obama's own nearly blind-sided confrontation with the "permanent government," particularly the media.


Cacao pod, Pico Bonito, Honduras. Photo: Helmut
(In honor of...)

Need a Copy Editor, Washington Post?

A big misnomer that both Democrats and Republicans buy into?

I realize that Wikipedia's top definition would allow this one to go through. But its examples all have to do with names. Merriam-Webster is more accurate. If you know Latin, you can't miss it: nomen, name. Misnomer. Something to do with the name. Marcus's column has nothing to do with names.

The last thing Republicans need is to be routing around in the ancient histories of black vs. white?

So the Republicans are using computer equipment? Or they are planning a trip? The editor is comparing the Republicans to pigs here, I think, so rooting would be correct.

It's really a shame when one of our national papers of record goes illiterate. Or perhaps the WaPo is trying to get ahead of the Tea Party momentum.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Bits and Pieces - Dinesh D'Souza Edition

Now that we have established that Newt Gingrich admires colonialism, let's look at his source for his wisdom on President Obama's thinking, Dinesh D'Souza.

Conservative David Weigel lists some of the many things D'Souza has gotten wrong.

The Economist analyzes D'Souza in the same terms D'Souza analyzes Obama.

John H. Richardson tries to get some clarifications from D'Souza without success.

Eugene Robinson points out the racism without using that word.

Conservative Michael Gerson blames the intertubes for crazies everywhere, but he gets some points for seeing that something is wrong with these messages.

David Brooks is trying to maintain his conservative cred, but he's worried about what the crazies are doing to his brand.

When are some Republican politicians going to repudiate the racism?

Update: Maureen Dowd forsakes her usual snark to express some real concern about Newt and Dinesh.

More Update: Bill Maher calls it racism.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Conflict Within Iran

It appears that Iran's President Ahmadinejad is defying the mullahs. Whether this will amount to anything more than confusion to the outside world is unlikely, says Gary Sick, an American expert on Iran. Frontline has a long article about the back and forth, and Brian Ulrich takes note as well.


Um,... what, exactly, is wrong with being "anti-colonialist"? Or a "Kenyan anti-colonialist," for that matter? Didn't Kenya gain it's freedom from the colonizing British? Didn't the US gain its freedom from the colonizing British?

Is Newt Gingrich implying that we ought to have embraced the monarchical colonialism of the British?

Bits & Pieces - Helmut Edition

Claude Chabrol, beloved French filmmaker, died this weekend. Above is a typically goofy, but loving photo of Chabrol, taken by Jeanloup Sieff. While looking for a photo of Chabrol, I came across this little homage to Sieff's portrait studies. The Gainsbourg shot is a famous one. I also like the Kirk Douglas portrait. Why are mustaches so creepy from the perspective of the 2000s?

Via Chris Blattman, here's a recent installment of Stuff White People Like (yep, still around): #134 The TED Conference.

South Africa rather sensibly banned Bible burning in response to an attempt there to counter-protest American idiocy. Shorter ruling: don't lower yourself to their level. Since Americans apparently forget that there are limits to freedoms like freedom of speech, the South African ruling provides a nice reminder that even the US courts have deemed incitement (along with libel, obscenity, etc.) as unprotected speech, and for sensible reasons.

Daniel Little revisits the Handbook of Development Economics, 22 years hence.

New shallower plume of Deepwater Horizon hydrocarbons discovered in the Gulf.

Paris becoming the urban beekeeping capital of the world. Avec élan, sans doute. (via Pruned).

Update on climate denialism on the right.

And,... ugly Las Vegas carpets. You knew there had to be a reason, right?

Election Anticipation

On the one hand, I would like a few of the more extreme Republican/Tea Party candidates to win in November to show the country what we can expect from that party.

On the other hand, I fear the damage they would do, both immediately and in the sense of moving the "Overton Window" - the perception of political normality - even more toward the crazy.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Bits and Pieces - 9/11 Edition

Top ways 9/11 broke Islamic law.

Roadside politics after 9/11.

Shall we add engineers to the list of people to be feared?

I never know what to make of these wheels within wheels. But here, for your consideration, is a listing of the CIA connections within the group building the Park51 project.

What we've cut ourselves off from.

Post-9/11 American Talibanism

In Pakistan, "Talibanization" is a label used to describe regressive and parochial conservatism, not just the political ascendancy of Mullah Omar and his extremist disciples. When we use the label "mullah," it is not the same thing as honoring someone by calling him "Father" or "Reverend." Instead, we're most likely referring to a person's narrow-mindedness, bigotry, and possible racism. So when we try to explain to fellow Pakistanis how the United States is much grander than the pettiness of Quran-burning circuses or mosque-defying extremists, we don't use the same labels that Americans would. Describing the ideological kith and kin of opponents of the Park51 project -- including the fringe element of folks like Terry Jones and his flock at the Dove World Outreach Center -- with terms like the moral majority, far-right evangelicals, or even neocons is useless.

Instead, when we try to explain what is happening in America, we simply say that a great country is going through a kind of Talibanization -- led by mullahs like Newt Gingrich, Pamela Geller, and the occasional Terry Jones.

On the ninth anniversary of the atrocities of September 11, 2001, applying these labels to right-of-center America may seem provocative and harsh. After all, even the most grotesque Islamophobia in the United States is not guilty of the horrors enacted by the Taliban, in Afghanistan and beyond. More than any other sin, the Taliban tolerated Osama bin Laden, defended his right to stay among them, and refused to hand him over after he boastfully acknowledged his role as the chairman and CEO of al Qaeda's war on America.

But consider the alternative: What if we didn't present the Quran-burners and mosque-attackers as part of a fringe movement of ideologically driven extremists? Then of course, the only other possibility is for us to accept that International Quran Burning Day and the controversy over the Park51 community center both in different ways signify mainstream America's growing discomfort with Islam. Simply put, if the Islamophobia of an American fringe is in fact not on the fringes, but in the mainstream, then the United States has an Islamophobia problem.

And an Islamophobia problem in America is a problem everywhere else.... [FP]

A Little Saturday Morning Observation

It's quite possible there will never be another pop song with a telephone ring in it, as in Blondie's 1978 tune, "Hanging on the Telephone," or ELO's "Telephone Line," or "Jeu du Téléphone," Natasha Snitkine's 1967 French version of Sid Ramin's "Music to Watch Girls By" (performed by Andy Williams and many others). I imagine there are hundreds of songs out there with telephone rings in them. They tend to be songs about waiting longingly on word from a lover or about long-distance breakups.

Today the meaning would be completely different. A contemporary composition including a recording of a cellphone ringtone of an old-fashioned phone would be playfully ironic. A composition with a pre-programmed Nokia or T-Mobile or whatever ringtone would lack the melancholic atmosphere, and mainly be product placement. And it would kind of miss the point to be waiting longingly by the phone for a lover who finally calls to the tune of a number one single by Shakira.

As it's likely possible to download a ringtone for any of the above telephone songs, some cheeky producer might pull off the postmodern chicken-and-egg stunt of incorporating the ringtone of a given song into that same song. But I think we can probably say that the day of telephone rings in pop songs is over.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Bits and Pieces - September 10, 2010

For those of you who couldn't be at the burning of Old Man Gloom last night. Seems an apt theme for this time of year - I hope to blog more on this.

The Department of Health and Human Services tells the insurance industry no, they can't just raise rates any way they want to.

A nice summary of the British phone-tapping scandal from a Canadian. Do I detect just a tinge of schadenfreude?

Britain and Iran squabbling over the Cyrus cylinder.

Jellyfish in Walden Pond. With video of the little critters.

Senators, it's in the national interest to ratify the New START Treaty.

Could Bibi Netanyahu learn something from Fidel Castro?

Fuyu Kaki

There Are Consequences

While Senate Republicans and Tea Partiers are having a good time enjoying the pleasures of uninhibited emotion, the real world continues.

So cheap publicity for a crazy Florida pastor, and easy reporting for lazy reporters, result in a riot in Afghanistan, with one person killed. That'll help the war effort.

And, while the Republican party has managed to retain a figleaf of responsibility in restraining itself from just saying no to the New START Treaty, they're still playing cheap political games. Not ratifying the treaty will have consequences: the rest of the world will see America as having lost its mind, and certainly any credibility in nonproliferation. As Steve Benen points out, the vote needs to come up soon, and ratification is a no-brainer.

Oh wait...

Update: Juan Cole suggests ten substantive stories that the media might have covered instead of the Florida bigot. And, as he says, I can think of more.

Does Anything Ever Trump "National Security"?

The US courts and government have decided more or less definitively time and again that the US is a torturing nation by blocking any and all efforts at accountability in the name of "national security." Particularly as a democratic country, US citizens are complicit in this policy. Welcome to the 21st Century. Is it possible for it to be even uglier than the 20th?

A question: does anything ever trump "national security"? The apparent operating assumption is that anything can be excused in the name of national security. But can you tell me what, precisely, that is without resorting to platitudes?

Is the policy of torture and non-accountability for torture actually in the interests of national security? In the short term or long term? Is a system of basic liberties, transparency, and democratic accountability unrelated to national security?

And can you tell me why the non-platitudinous conception of national security trumps other concerns? For example, the reality that torture is one of the great evils, which was until the Bush administration treated by all law-respecting nations as non-derogable peremptory law (jus cogens). Peremptory law is about as close as you can come in civil and international law and morality to the objective reality of the basic laws of physics. What gives national security this special status?

One response might be simple survival, that life is ultimately preferable to no life, regardless of the quality of that life. But that's not what is at stake here and never has been with the torture regime. Furthermore, isn't a national defense, a military, comprised of those who will surrender their lives to defend something greater?

"Security" is often cited as connected to "defense of our liberties," etc. etc. Why does no one seem to understand that the Janus-face of security is always a loss of liberty? And why does no one seem to understand that the fetishization of "security" is the vocation of Orwellian tyrants?

Thursday, September 09, 2010

An Emerging Civil Rights Narrative

During my visit to Chicago Boyz, a couple of commenters brought up civil rights. We were discussing, among other things, Glenn Beck’s rally in Washington. That rally was on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Beck claimed that choosing that date was coincidence.

What the commenters had to say was new to me: The civil rights struggle is a victory for all of us, we all deserve credit, because if Southerners hadn’t gone along with it, it would never have been accepted. I agreed that it was a victory for all of us, but I think there are differential amounts of credit to be assigned. The Freedom Riders and many others risked their lives; people like me who stayed home and supported them in other ways don’t get the same credit. Even less so the girl with the ugly expression in this famous photo.

One of the commenters offered up a very softened version of the history: We in the south were not living up to our ideals. The civil rights workers pointed this out to us, and we changed our behavior. I’ve shortened that even further; his later post showed that he’s got more detail to the story, and I’m not going to parse it in detail.

Haley Barbour has his own narrative of the civil rights movement. Eugene Robinson finds it severely wanting, mendacious even.

There was a subtheme at Chicago Boyz that it was Democrats who were the Southern segregationists, and therefore the Democratic Party continues to bear that stigma. This ignores the recent history of that area’s party affiliations and the outcome of Democratic Southern President Lyndon Johnson’s signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which he recognized would damage the Democratic Party in the South. The sad thing is that, in its origins, the Republican Party was the only party willing to take an anti-slavery position.

There are a couple of things that could be happening here, neither excluding the other. It could be that Southerners want to come to terms with the civil rights era and are beginning to face up to that history. It could also be that there is an attempt afoot to appropriate the narrative so that the South can remain blameless and, perhaps, victims.

I’d be pleased if Southerners were coming to terms with their history. We need a reconciliation among the various factions, and developing a narrative that doesn’t depend on stock good guys and bad guys would help. But the cautions on that are that the narrative needs to stay with the facts of history, and all parties need to be involved. So far, the effort to develop a narrative seems to be within the Republican/Tea Party only. I conflate the two, because it seems to be coming from both.

We need to keep an eye on this, encourage reconciliation where it exists, and slap down the lies.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Bits and Pieces - September 8, 2010

The chairman of the Cordova Initiative finally speaks.

Whoo-hoo! Ring them bells! Sound them whistles! The favorability of the generic Republican ballot came down from where it was last month! You haven't seen that in the MSM, you say? Like you did when it went up?

I guess we're all going to have to get nekkid for the TSA.

Maybe data all by itself isn't as helpful as some might think. (h/t to AR)

The end of the Paolo Soleri Theater at the Santa Fe Indian School?

Another Republican Nutcase

Steve Benen has been doing a nice job of tracking the most extreme Republican candidates this season. I have another nomination, although I recognize that he is far behind in the competition for most extreme: Tom Mullins, running for Congress from my district, NM3. He's running against the Democratic incumbent, Ben Ray Lujan.

Last night his campaign called me in one of those mass "town meetings." The technology is an innovation that I'm pleased with. It seems to have emerged when the Tea Partiers were disrupting face-to-face meetings last year.

I joined the conversation when Mullins was answering a question on global warming. I didn't miss much, though, because later a man congratulated him on "seeing through all that nonsense." Mullins stated his position: yes, things are getting warmer, but he doesn't see how it could be human-caused, carbon dioxide and methane are only very small components of the atmosphere, and 30,000 scientists agree with him. He didn't mention that well above 90% of the scientists in relevant specialties think that global warming is human-caused, and his remark about carbon dioxide and methane shows that he clearly doesn't understand heat transfer, although he claims to be an engineer.

The conversation was entertaining. NM3, northern New Mexico, leans highly Democratic. Santa Fe and Rio Arriba Counties, a big part of the population, are Democratic, period. Farmington is fairly reliably Republican. Los Alamos can go either way, as do the others.

I'm curious how Mullins developed a list of people to call. I listened in for maybe five questions, of which one was friendly. The others were mostly polite, but the fellow from Rio Arriba County who asked the question I had lined up to ask, was angry. "Are you going to just be another Republican holdout, or are you going to work with Congress to get something done?" Mullins said that, unlike politicians (he seems to be trying to say he's not a politician - one of his poll questions reinforced that), he's not going to make a lot of promises and will decide each issue on its merits. The questioner didn't buy that.

A man from Los Alamos said that the US ranked among the lowest of the wealthy states in income tax rates, so why not raise taxes. He actually had numbers, which you would expect from Los Alamos. Mullins came out foursquare for not touching the "supply side" of government budgets. "Why does everyone emphasize the supply side?" he asked, reversing what I've observed.

He did a few polls - didn't release the results of the ones asking who people planned to vote for in his race and in the governor's race. We can guess what that means.

So perhaps Mullins doesn't rate Benen's attention. He's a global warming denier, but aside from that, he's pretty much a standard no-tax, (probably) obstructionist Republican. Nowhere near as crazy as some of the ones Benen has been featuring.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

US Income Inequality

This graph is from Timothy Noah's handy little discussion of income inequality in the US and what he calls today's "Great Divergence.

A Spot of Good News

The Potomac River, once so polluted it was labeled a "national disgrace," is now the cleanest it has been in decades - its comeback signaled by the re-growth of large areas of underwater grasses, according to a new scientific study.

The study, announced Tuesday, details the Potomac's slow transformation into an environmental success story. The authors found that improvements at Washington's Blue Plains sewage plant had cut down on choking, unnatural algae blooms, and that - once the water became cleaner and clearer - native plants rebounded, helping to clean the river further...

...[Since 1990] the amount of grasses doubled, transforming the river bottom from a mud flat into a kind of underwater forest, more suitable for fish and blue crabs. [WP]

Monday, September 06, 2010

Friday, September 03, 2010

Others' Shoes, Continued

Perhaps I’m taking on too much at once. I’m listening to Tchaikovsky’s symphonies and reading some Russian history to get a feeling for before the Revolution. I’m re-reading Daniel Martin to get a better feeling for what La Vida Es Sueño is about. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum today sent me an invitation to visualize O’Keeffe’s creative process.

And I’d really, really like to understand what is going on with the admirers of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, the Tea Partiers.

I think I’m making some progress on the first two, and I certainly will go to what the O’Keeffe Museum has to offer. But I have been quite stumped on that last. So I was pleased to see that one of my Facebook friends, who goes by the pseudonym of Lexington Green, wrote a post that was endorsed by The Beck himself.

I have to say that I begin the process of understanding the followers of Beck and Palin with some prejudice. But I have some pre-thoughts about Tchaikovsky and John Fowles, too. And all that may distort what I come up with, but that’s true of anyone thinking anything. And what I am doing, trying to get into people’s heads, is double subjective: theirs and mine. But one of our distinctively human activities seems to be getting into other people’s heads. So I’m struggling with it.

Tchaikovsky spent time in both Haapsalu and Sillamäe. So have I, probably not as much as he did. I have an etching of Sillamäe in about 1860, Tchaikovsky’s time, with little Russian girls in long crinoline-lined skirts enjoying a vacation, a lodge where Soviet-era apartments now stand backgrounded by the site where the uranium plant and tailings pond later would be built. I think that his first three symphonies have a more Estonian feel to them, the last three more the Petersburg court. More reading and listening necessary.

Fowles and Pedro Calderón de la Barca were both writing about men’s maturing and how they learn to handle power. My filter there is the differential with women, and the way both authors recognize that the relationship between the sexes demonstrates and feeds into the uses of power. There’s a lot more, too. I could probably spend the rest of my life and this blog teasing it all out. I probably won’t do that, but there will be many re-readings.

Lexington Green is politically conservative, but he and others at Chicago Boyz have been willing to put up with me; I respect them, too, because they think out what they’re about. I think they actually listen to me, too, even as we disagree.

So when Green’s post was endorsed by Glenn Beck, I realized that this might be a way to get into his admirers’ minds. Green begins with a John Boyd hierarchy that I haven’t spent much time with; this is another of my departures from my friends at Chicago Boyz. But I suspect that that part can be skipped with little loss. He’s saying that Beck is taking a broad view, going up a couple of levels.

But I don’t feel like I get the rest of it. I can do a sentence-by-sentence exegesis, but that wouldn’t be quite right. I’m trying to get into Green’s and Beck’s heads, not dispute them. But there are barriers. Since I wrote that, Green has added another update, which makes some things clearer. I’ll get to the update later.

One is that so much of what Beck offers is factually flawed. Green is an intelligent person; how can he miss that? Perhaps because the bigger things he talks about in the post are more important to him. But those factual flaws are a barrier to me. A lack of fact is a poor foundation for anything to come after.

What Green likes is Beck’s creation of a large narrative.
Beck is building solidarity and cultural confidence in America, its Constitution, its military heritage, its freedom…

Beck is creating positive themes of unity and patriotism and freedom and independence which are above mere political or policy choices, but not irrelevant to them.
This sort of narrative is indeed attractive; I have wished for a vision that can unite Americans, that would provide a solidarity that we can rest on, a positive vision.

But there is a double-mindedness to Green’s analysis that is another barrier to me. I agree that we need unifying themes for us as Americans. Period. Unfortunately, it’s easy to unify around an enemy, and, while talking about solidarity and unity, Green develops an enemy, “the Overlords”, and a sense of aggrievedness. Since “the Overlords” are Americans too, that sense cannot be the basis for unity. But that duality is in Beck’s words too: he condemns President Obama for a cult of victimization, and then tells his followers how victimized they’ve been. And for him and for Palin, there are very definitely an “us” and a “them.” Apparently I am one of “them.” From Green:
This is a vision that is despised by the people who have long held the commanding heights of the culture. But is obviously alive and kicking.


Beck is attacking the enemy at the foundations of their power, their claim to race as a permanent trump card, their claim to the Civil Rights movement as a permanent model to constantly be transforming a perpetually unjust society.


Beck is prepping the battlefield for a generation-long battle.
I wish Green had given more specifics; Christianity is one of his uniting themes, but even his commenters point out that insisting on it is precisely one of the disuniting themes of the right. Green (and other commenters) respond that of course non-Christians are welcome in their America, but it’s hard for me not to feel that those non-Christians would be second-class citizens. So that specific doesn’t work as a uniter.

In fact, what Beck and Green are offering is a bargain, one I’ve been offered many times: give up large chunks of yourself in exchange for becoming a part of our togetherness. Every time I have accepted this bargain, I have regretted it. No mas.

Green gets more explicit in his update (now a separate post), which seems to confirm that I’m one of “them,” although I can barely recognize myself in his description of “The Opposition” (as opposed to us, “The Insurgency.”) He’s got that dreamy-eyed wish for “self-organization” that works in agent modeling and that has some validity in human affairs. The problem is that we don’t start each day anew, at least not if we want some continuity in the economy and such, and so once we’ve self-organized, it helps to institutionalize some of that.

He says his model works and The Opposition’s doesn’t, but provides no evidence. America is some kind of failure? Please.

Our country’s motto is E pluribus unum, From many, one. That was necessary for the founding fathers. The colonists had formed colonies to escape various sorts of discrimination in the home countries, but each group stayed together. Maryland was primarily Catholic, Pennsylvania primarily Quaker, and Massachusetts primarily Puritan. It would have been easy to revert to Europe’s religious wars and repression. The resolution was a broad tolerance, not an insistence that all share in one faith. Of course, the British obliged by providing an enemy to unify against. Maybe that is the only way it can be done, although I would prefer a more positive route, particularly one where I am not the enemy!

Green says some things that seem to imply he shares that broad tolerance. But Beck’s and Palin’s worlds are for believers only.

So sorry, Lex, I don’t buy it. I agree we need to fix some things in the country, to, let’s say, open up opportunity to those whose incomes have stagnated because allowing finance to run unregulated has stomped manufacturing into the ground. Or free us up to create rather than worry about whether the food from factory farms is going to poison us. Those are things that we need government to do. And the, er, “freedom” of deregulation and trying to drown government in the bathtub over the last thirty years are what have brought us those distortions. So I’ve got some evidence for my contentions.

Now what I have to figure out is why someone as intelligent as Green sees this division into Insurgents and Opposition. That might help get me into his head.

[Now posted at Chicago Boyz, at Lexington Green's invitation.]

Bits and Pieces - September 3, 2010

In case you haven't read enough on whether Israel will attack Iran:
Yossi Alpher
Reza Aslan and Bernard Avishai

What seems to me to be a definitive refutation of the "too much debt" argument.

Picture of the week. I'm not going to steal it - you have to click over. It's worth it.

Political pusillanimity. Kevin Drum gets it right, but Juan Cole is pretty good, too.

Sharks in the Potomac. Real ones.

The only MSM columnist worth reading.

Darwin's successful experiment in terraforming.

The US and Russia in Central Asia.

Crazy for You, My Sweet Little Ideological Fanaticism

I'm an environmentalist. I've seen Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and I find it to be what it basically is - a rather superficial advertisement for a very real and serious phenomenon. Part of my professional work is directed at understanding and trying to facilitate effective responses to this phenomenon. I also think we ought to preserve our remaining rainforests and other endangered ecosystems/habitats, try to keep our oceans and skies clean, and help those who struggle to make a living from the limited natural resources they can draw upon without exhausting those resources.

I also think the Discovery Channel basically broadcasts fluff concerned above all with the company's bottom line rather than any interest in advancing public knowledge of science and nature. If a revenue-significant portion of the US viewing audience wanted to see kitten tossing, I'm not so sure Discovery wouldn't offer it to them.

But I don't want to kill anyone.

In the wake of James Lee's attempted kidnapping and who knows what else at the Discovery Channel headquarters in Silver Spring, Michelle Cottle is right to bemoan the loss of simple craziness as the motivation for violent acts by political and religious ideological fanatics.

Lee "thought the best way to save the planet was to force a television network to run game shows promoting the ideals of 'human sterilization and infertility.'" This is a view that even those population control advocates who have discussed the issue of sterilization - Paul Ehrlich, for example - have placed within the framework of a hypothetical and improbable worst-case scenario in which such drastic population control measures are considered in light of other worst-case "life-boat" or Malthusian catastrophe situations such as mass starvation due to severe resource strains. Perhaps the emblematic population control advocate, Garrett Hardin (of "Tragedy of the Commons" fame), was always heavily criticized from the environmental left, a critique that echoed Henry George's much earlier critique of clergyman Thomas Malthus' views on population.

In other words, Lee's views - apart from the wacky game show idea - are a confused distortion of an old discussion about population control that doesn't track typical left-right politics at all. To try tag Lee's putative politics with a liberal or conservative label is an ignorant and just plain stupid endeavor. The guy was a fanatic. As were Timothy McVeigh, abortion doctor murderers, and the anti-tax guy who flew his plane into the government building in San Antonio.

Fanaticism comes in all ideological stripes. All of us have some sort of ideological preference, often several, and often overlapping. Usually incoherent at some level too. Most ideologies have their fanatics - people who can't see anything beyond the boundaries of the most tightly knotted, extreme forms of their ideologies. These are the people who view anything unlike the extreme version of their ideological makeup to be a threat. As a threat, self-defense and defense of the core extremist ideology comes to be seen as a perfectly legitimate response. The more grave the threat, the more that violent self-defense or preemption becomes the only possible choice for the fanatic.

Any society or group that encourages such fanaticism, and the demonization of others that becomes the inspiration for violent action, is irresponsible and morally corrupt. Quite frankly, much of the current public political discourse in the US involves the mainstreaming of the rhetoric of fanatics. I would be surprised if we don't see a growing number of violent acts steeped in ideological fanaticism.