The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Lean and Mean

In the United Kingdom, new fathers are entitled to two weeks' paternity leave [with minimal pay], and mothers to six months. In France and Germany, the policies are still more generous. In Germany, with its emphasis on job security [and chronic lack of jobs], a guarantee even of unpaid leave has substantial value; either parent may take up to three years of such leave.

For interchangeable employees at large corporations -- the undifferentiated "labor resources" that these policies are designed to protect -- such a long absence might not be considered a burden on the employer. In a static economy, a similar job can be expected to be available for the returning employee, even after three years.

But if companies are smaller, so that there is less redundancy and interchangeability, this is no longer the case. And even a large company, if it has a diverse or rapidly changing business [like the large investment bank I work for], will have many employees whose function is unique. It is clearly not in the employer's best interests for such an employee to go on leave.

The European policies place the cost of such a departure squarely on the employer [to the extent this is possible]. But there is a real economic cost to this departure -- that is, after all, why the employer does not desire it. As they are less able to deter departures, employers must act to reduce the resulting cost to themselves.

The simplest and most effective mechanism is to move operations out of Europe. Thus investment banking is dead on the European continent [except for a few French banks indifferent to revenues], and corporate science is apparently dying.

Employers can also mitigate the costs of protracted parenting leave by ensuring that every employee is redundant. This increase in redundancy will of course cause an immediate loss in efficiency, and its second-order effects will likely also be negative -- as individual responsibility is diluted, initiative is less rewarded. Thus small, innovative businesses will form less often, and growth initiatives within established companies will be rarer and on average less successful.

So far, we have not been completely fair to Europe, since this is an economic critique of a social policy which is meant to increase security, not wealth. So let us consider the tacit agreement, in America at least, between high-value employees and their employers.

Each employer understands the risks of losing a key employee, even temporarily, and each employee understands that he can only gain exceptional responsibility by demonstrating a commitment to his employer's needs. It is rational for employers to seek out and reward such employees, and rational for some workers to agree to this bargain. This is the underpinning of all the management consultants' talk about "commitment" and "motivation".

For parental-leave legislation to work as intended, those taking the leave should not be at any disadvantage. However, we have just seen why this is unlikely to be the case: it is equivalent to forbidding preferential treatment of committed employees. We can only offer this protection by making it illegal for exceptionally hard workers to get ahead.

The wealth of a society is based on how much its workers can create, and on very little else. Yet somehow governments are always attempting to decouple the two, at the individual level. This is intrusive -- perhaps some people are willing to work very hard to get ahead, and the state should permit them to make this choice -- and also inevitably wealth-destroying.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


I saw an interesting Budweiser ad in the London subway. The tagline was "You [i.e. the English] do the football, we'll do the beer." The text was a list of 20-some reasons why American football is risible or otherwise inferior to English "football" [soccer]. I wonder how that would play at home?

Well, I wasn't going to waste precious brain cells on a Budweiser anyway. Happy Thanksgiving!

[The post below is dated 23 November but finalized and posted today. It is quite long -- over 2000 words -- so enter with caution.]

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


At Obsidian Wings, the reliably anti-Bush Hilzoy has a substantial post entitled "Failures of Will." Its argument has two main parts. The first is an attempt to deduce, from the observed failures of planning, that the Bush administration does not care very much about the Iraq war:

I think that it is absolutely true that if you really want something, you will not make fundamental or careless mistakes about it. And this is a test of how much people do want something: are they careless about the task of getting it, or do they work for it as carefully, as thoughtfully, and as hard as they possibly can?
... Because transforming Iraq into a democracy is a difficult enough task with careful planning, and anyone who cared about success would never have undertaken it without a serious, well-thought-out plan.
The second is an attack on Bush's supporters, who are claimed to have chosen vindication over victory:

The second crucial failure of will belongs to those Americans who voted for George W. Bush in 2004. By that time, his administration's incompetence in Iraq was absolutely clear, as was the fact that he had no intention either of doing things differently or of holding accountable those of his subordinates who had gotten things so catastrophically wrong. Even admitting any mistake at all seemed to be beyond him, at a time when his mistakes were obvious to anyone. It was therefore completely predictable that a second Bush administration would continue to screw things up as badly as the first.
People who genuinely wanted our invasion of Iraq not to end in catastrophe, therefore, ought to have voted him out, especially since whatever his faults, Kerry plainly was a responsible person who was not in favor of cutting and running.
The article is wrong in several ways, and its conclusions are direly overstated. Another Obsidian Wings contributor has written a substantive reply, addressing the most direct of its attacks. My concern here is more with Hilzoy's premises about the reasons for the invastion of Iraq, which I feel are so flawed as to be worse than useless.

A large part of the flaw in premises stems from a disagreement as to the meaning of international law. According to many opponents of America's allegedly unilateral ways, international law consists of consensus agreements, encouraging desired behaviors and opposing undesired ones with resolutions and possibly sanctions. Whenever it is stated baldly, this seems like a caricature; but it is not. To judge its veracity, one need only examine the reactions of its proponents to more robust enforcement of international law.

To me, and also perhaps to the Bush administration, the meaning is different. International law is either an expected set of behaviors of nations, whose violation brings consequences disproportionately outweighing any potential gain, so that the threat of enforcement need not be constantly tested; or else it is nothing at all. An international law of resolutions from the U.N. Security Council, whose violation is punished with further resolutions, is the latter.

A respected international law leads directly to a more peaceful world. [This is not necessarily a better world; if that law is based in realpolitik or on the nations are people too fallacy, then it will be a world of stable national boundaries circumscribing genocidal horrors.] But the respect of international law derives solely from the perception that it may be enforced.

Let us consider the actions of the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein which might be considered infractions of international law. This is very much in the eye of the beholder; to some, Donald Rumsfeld's actions in organizing the prosecution of the Afghanistand and Iraq campaigns, under orders from the Chief Executive at whose pleasure he serves, are "crimes" against some nebulous "international law". I hope to do better than that, but I cannot hope that my own perceptions will be universally accepted.

First, Iraq was more or less openly supporting Palestinian terror, by rewarding the families of suicide bombers. We would like to define international law so that this is a violation. This is the translation into action of the words "with us [the civilized and potentially peaceful nations of the world] or with the terrorists."

Second, Iraq was in direct violation of U.N. Security council resolutions, which are at present the nearest written approximation to the law we are seeking. Since these resolutions were not written by fools, they did not specify that Iraq must not possess unconventional weapons; instead, they explicitly denied the benefit of the doubt, and demanded that Iraq convincingly demonstrate that it was not developing such weapons. [Not only are nations not people, they are not protected by the U.S. constitution or the Anglo-American judicial tradition.]

Third, the Iraqi government was a bloody one, killing perhaps 20,000 citizens each year in peacetime. It is not clear whether this is relevant; there is no consensus on the desired international repercussions of domestic butchery.

Finally, the strongest punitive measures short of forcible overthrow were already being applied to the Iraqi regime, and had not produced the desired effect. In other words, the Iraqi regime felt that it was gaining something not only commensurate with the cost of the sanctions, but greater -- enough greater that it would risk invasion to preserve the imbalance. [We now know that the purported "sanctions" acted to both enrich and empower the governing regime, at some expense to the Iraqi people. Thus what was thought to be a sign of some great incentive to resist sanctions can now be seen as a desire to preserve them until they had run their course. I do not believe this point affects the conclusion here.] Thus the penultimate enforcement mechanism of international law was shown to be ineffectual.

Above I asserted that, for any law to be effective, the consequences of violation must be disproportionate to the potential gain. We now have an illustrative example. For suppose, as in the above case, that the cost of consequences is closely proportional to the potential gain. Then the violation will provide an expected gain unless the probability of enforcement is very high (so that the expected cost of the consequences is high enough to deter). [I have omitted risk aversion here, but including it would tilt the argument still further in favor of draconian enforcement.] [This is closely analogous to the situation in traffic property law. The penalty for speeding is not twenty minutes on the side of the highway, losing somewhat more time than you gained by speeding. The penalty for robbing a store is not a fine.]

The weaker the penalty, the more credibility is required. But credibility is not created from nothing; it is earned by acting. A world of weak penalties would require a feverish pace of sanctions for them to have any significant deterrent value; this would not be sustainable, and it would inevitably slide into a world of sham law, like that before Kosovo. Tony Blair stated this at the time, clearly and eloquently.

As the failure of sanctions became clear, it became necessary to choose whether to apply the one remaining tool of enforcement. There were two forces in the world which could feasibly remove the Iraqi government by force: the United States, and the United Nations (with U.S. backing). [Other powers, such as Russia, would have found it possible but not feasible, as it would require from them a relative commitment disproportionate to any gain.] The course preferred by almost all Americans, on the left and right, was for the United Nations to act. [I presume here that in saying "no war without UN authorization", rather than simply "no war", those against unilateral intervention were arguing honestly.] The credibility of that body had been greatly eroded by its non-intervention in Kosovo, and East Timor, and Rwanda, and Cambodia, and Uganda; its worse than uselessness in Sarajevo; its stubborn silence at the already-emerging Darfur genocide; and so on down the roll call of shame. Thus it was clear at the outset that persuading the U.N. to act would be a Sisyphean task. The United States, as the grownup in the room, began making its own military plans.

In the event, the United Nations proved as corrupt and refractory as its harshest critics could have claimed. Weapons of Mass Destruction, which it was hoped would be the lever to move this immovable object, were hyped by both sides -- for example, Dick Cheney saw them as a justification, while John Kerry found them invaluable for ass-covering. The American military developed to maturity its own plans -- plans which were focused on the removal of the regime of Saddam Hussein, which was at the time the overriding goal.

Once it was known that the United Nations would not itself act, the importance of American credibility was precisely equal to the importance of international law. Without the one, the other could no longer exist. The immediate danger posed by Iraq was one of the risks of inaction; less defined but no less important was the question of how other dangerous nations, freed from any meaningful constraint, would then act. Opponents of action claim that the later failure of stabilization has made the region a powder keg; but inaction would have emboldened aggressors across the whole world.

Our treasure and the blood of our soldiers are buying not only a chance of freedom and safety for the people of Iraq, but also the restored credibility which alone can maintain some level of international order, and which only that blood can buy. Those who agitate for withdrawal are within their rights; but it is a matter of fact, not of opinion, that they are debasing that precious coin.

From the point of view of the Bush Administration, or of anyone dedicated to the defense in the medium term of a more peaceful world, the invasion of Iraq was mandatory. The planning naturally centered around how to effect it. The lack of postwar planning, which Hilzoy cites as a sure sign of casual incompetence, merely shows that the main impetus for invasion was not the postwar improvement of Iraq.

The best realist solution would have been to seek Saddam's rapid replacement with another secular dictator, protecting American credibility with minimal involvement in the region. This is a defensible, if amoral, view, and seems to have had significant support at the time, though its proponents have remained less dedicated to the cause than those of the antiwar faction.

The Bush administration, after acrimonious internal debate and without a well-formed plan, chose a more ambitious route. The lack of a plan was a major handicap, but not in the manner Hilzoy implies. An attempt to do something never attempted before, on a large scale and in the face of active opposition, can be expected to raise genuinely difficult problems. We quote Hilzoy again:

First, it is true of some things (like philosophy) that getting the fundamentals right is very difficult, and in those cases, I don't think it's true that if you really care about something, you won't make fundamental errors. You just won't make careless ones.
I think this is the applicable case.

Finally, we turn to the question of whether continued support for Bush was defensible after his many errors. This is, in fact, a very easy question. Let's start with a great quote from Rob Booth [via Alex Whitlock]:

Nancy Pelosi et al criticizing the GOP for abandoning their ideals is kind of like David Lee Roth criticizing The Police for abandoning their New Wave roots. He might be right, and it is sad that Synchronicity isn't as good as Outlandos D'Amour, but are you saying that if I buy the new David Lee Roth album it's going to sound like Regatta de Blanc?
John Kerry was at best a reluctant advocate of even minimal action against Saddam Hussein's regime. His victory, in a time of modest but steady prosperity, would have been widely interpreted as a rejection of Mr. Bush's foreign policy, which advocates of withdrawal and sham law would -- rightly -- have claimed as a major triumph. And we are to believe that he would have proven more determined than George Bush?

Most of those who voted against Mr. Kerry probably disagreed with a majority of his domestic policy prescriptions. It is unlikely that a President Kerry would have nominated either John Roberts or Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. And we are to disregard all this in favor of a weird double-bluff theory that Mr. Kerry was actually the tough one, that those spots he had shown along were really stripes if you just looked hard enough?

That would have been a far greater leap of faith than any the Bush administration has ever asked of us.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Will (Prelude)

Commenting on a post by Tom Maguire about the lack of reasoned debate among blogs, I compared back-and-forth formats with shared-screen:
The only way I can see for more reasoned argument, rather than more savage invective, to gain ground is if there is a format where two viewpoints are forced to stand against each other, sharing the same screen real estate. Even the Becker/Posner interchange format is not intimate enough.
An example of the failure of the interchange format can be seen at Obsidian Wings, where proximity has led the posting team to more, not less, hyperbolic statements, and where ad hominem attacks on other Obsidian Wings posters are now a commonplace of the comments sections. The fraction of consecutive posts with the same author, which seems a decent proxy for impassioned prolixity and certainly not an indicator of dialogue, increased from 17% (16/96) in February [the oldest archive accessible from the main page] to 38% (24/64) in October.

This failure mode is not unique to Obsidian Wings. In any group blog with sequential display, there is a temptation to shout down your opponents with voluminous posting.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Beldar Agonistes

[Disclaimer: this post speculates on the thoughts of the quasi-fictitious personage "Beldar", the blogging nom de plume of Houston-based lawyer Bill Dyer. I have chosen to imagine Beldar as a person for the purposes of this post. I have no knowledge of Mr. Dyer other than that which he has chosen to disclose on his blog, and my comments should not be construed to reflect on him. Obviously, my speculations may be inaccurate, and Mr. Dyer is in no way responsible for them.]

Beldar was the most important (with the possible exception of Hugh Hewitt) and certainly the most cogent and diligent of Harriet Miers's supporters on the occasion of her late nomination to the Supreme Court. In particular, without whining [much] about "elitism", he strongly argued that Ms. Miers's record was in fact an indicator of excellence. For example:
Being chosen as a large law firm's managing partner, and being successful in that role once chosen, reflects certain useful management skills, as the title implies. More specifically, running a law firm is a lot like herding cats. And not housecats, but lions — a "pride" of lions, I believe they call it. Hungry, dangerous, big cats with bigger egos and sharp claws and teeth, plus the ability, and the incentive when they perceive themselves slighted, to drag off into another part of the jungle their own recent kills along with their protegés and subordinates. Dealing with partner-level lawyers requires tact, creativity, flexibility, judgment, listening and communication skills, the learned or intuitive ability to broker compromises, and finally (but not least importantly) a backbone of steel and the ability to display and occasionally use one's own teeth and claws.
And again:
When presented with a nominee whose main credentials are (a) a successful career in private practice as a courtroom lawyer, (b) business leadership within her firm, (c) professional leadership within her profession, and (d) competent performance of important but entirely behind-the-scenes work for the Administration, your reaction has been: "But she's not a judge! She's not a professor!" And you're just stuck in that rut. You're so deep into it that you can't even tell it's a rut.
But conservatives, in the media and in the blogosphere, remained unrelentingly hostile to Ms. Miers. The Senate, sensing a lack of support, was more ready to pass judgement against her than they had been with John Roberts. And finally [you can still see the date on Beldar's homepage], the nomination was withdrawn.

What is the effect of this on Beldar -- a self-proclaimed heartland conservative who maintains, not from mere self-interest but from real conviction, that leadership in Houston and at SMU [or, by extension, in other provincial but important cities and schools] is commensurate in importance with that of the Beltway, City and Media elites and the scions of the Big Three?

Five of the nine current justices attended Harvard law school. Does that mean that, at the age of twenty-one, a single institution can successfully identify and recruit more than half of the very best legal minds in the entire country? This is certainly false for Nobel laureates in the sciences, who are roughly the same age on average as new Supreme Court justices. It is far more plausible to perceive, in the existence of such a dominant coterie, a clique which successfully rewards and advances its members -- and which is ipso facto anti-meritocratic.

We seem to be trapped between two unpleasant possibilities. One the one hand, perhaps the Republicans, as much as the Democrats, are in thrall to an illusory elite and have made themselves tools of its propagation, by scorning those without the credentials it grants. The alternative is even worse: perhaps this elite is not illusory, and those capable of true intellectual leadership truly have been identified and cultivated from an early age. How can either of these be reconciled with a belief in real freedom -- a belief which must be tinged with populism, arguing as it does that everyone should be considered best qualified to judge his own needs, and also that everyone should have a meaningful say in the policies of society? This is Beldar's dilemma. Has he served a false god?
(I say "my team," I actually mean "what I thought, apparently wrongly, was a team, and the one I've always thought I was on.")

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Small Victory

R. Alex Whitlock discusses the U.S. rejection of the attempted tyrants' takeover of the internet. His irritation with the reporting on the issue is palpable (and justified). The quote that struck me was this:
Mugabe's remarks signaled that, despite the U.S. success in winning over a broad group of nations including the European Union bloc, underlying complaints about American hegemony in Internet control still linger.
So, to the article's authors, international meat-packing glitterati like Robert Mugabe are now statesmen and harbingers of international opinion? Were Messrs. Saddam and Milosevic unavailable for comment?

[No link in Mr. Whitlock's post; this looks like it.]

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


At Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen defends the concept of limited resources. His Philosophical Observations are pointed and accurate. For example:
Conservatives, liberals, and libertarians all exhibit different attitudes toward death. Conservatives are obsessed with death; look at their emphasis on abortion, capital punishment, and the need to kill people in our foreign policy. In their view death is everywhere, and we must make hard decisions to limit it (banning abortion and invading other countries, for a start).
Worth a read.


Another whiff:
The Committee found that the oil deal was abandoned and there was "no evidence of Kojo Annan’s participation in the negotiation for an oil transaction with SAMIR through Hazy Investments". We fully accept the findings of the Volcker Committee and unreservedly apologise to Kojo Annan for any distress or embarrassment.
Coming soon to an echo chamber near you. If you're lucky.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Style Tips

Following a deliberately clumsy statement of the possible inapplicability of the Suspension Clause overseas, Peter Lushing writes this gem of self-unawareness:
While this crude formulation may hardly be equal to the scholarship the issue demands, it is hard to brush the conclusion off inelegantly though it may have been stated.

[Hat tip: Instapundit.]


Many people are discovering, with sudden horror, that the CIA has made many imperfect estimates of foreign threats over the years. In a recent press release, the White House asserts that CIA reports to the executive branch were "if anything, more alarmist" than those to the legislative.

Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that leaders within the CIA have been aware -- to a greater extent than their clients -- of the low quality of the intelligence they were producing. What would we expect them to do about it?

During the Clinton presidency, self-interest dictated a clear answer to this question. Loud and frequent warnings of sundry threats gained good publicity for the CIA and for the administration, which could show its concern and publicly feel the pain. A steady display of such threats would demonstrate to the executive the CIA's productivity. The threat of controversial or far-reaching action, which would have exposed the low quality of this intelligence and the systemic flaws of the agency, was rightly discounted.

President Bush, by acting and by using CIA intelligence to defend his actions, violated this cozy gentlemen's agreement. Whether the CIA has acted against the Bush administration is open to debate, but certainly they have a motive. They can't exactly look us in the eye and admit they were faking it all along.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Applied Reason

At Asymmetrical Information, Megan Mc. Ardle has a series of clear-headed and sincere posts on that least clear-headed of topics, abortion. Just keep scrolling, as they say. It seems Ms. McArdle has been thinking on this for some time, and she has quite a lot to say.

Swamp Thing Devours Judicial Process
Brighten the Corner Where You Are
Swamp Thing (Prelude)
Get Over Yourself
Premises (Starring Helen Keller)
Hiding Behind Extremism
Policy and Responsibility

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Wingnuts and Dreck

At Vodkapundit, Stephen Green has a long analysis of the media's crucial role in the current "long war". Mr. Green writes:
What I didn't see then - but what I do see today - is what "taking the initiative" really means.
It means, fighting a media war. It means, turning the enemy's one great strength into our own. Broadcast words, sounds, and images are the arm of decision in today's world.
And if that assessment is correct, then we're losing this war and badly.
Mr. Green goes on to document examples of media power -- the debacle of First Fallujah is a particular example -- and call for more responsible media. I want to add a few thoughts to that analysis.

Mr. Green's calls, if heeded, can bolster our defenses and prevent our collapse from within. [Unlike Mr. Green, I do not believe that the existence of the West is threatened; I share the Belmont Club's view that the worst-case outcome is a terrorist attack sufficiently horrible to be met with overwhelming retaliation, leading to massive loss of freedom in the West and hideous loss of Islamic lives. Thus, rather than "collapse from within", I would say "quiescence until new horrors are unleashed". But this is a quibble, and not directly relevant here.] That is, the U.S. media represents our defensive front in a media-centric struggle. What is the offensive front?

The Cold War answer was Voice of America, a state news and propaganda organ for a struggle between states. While that may still have some role to play, it has two fatal weaknesses as a primary offensive weapon.

First, it is too easy. We can envision a "Voice of Iran" which would present the opposite vision, at minimal cost, and degenerate the debate into a back-and-forth of indistinguishable accusations and unverifiable claims to superiority. Second, it lacks the power to convince in a media-savvy world. The listeners or viewers who believe in the evil of America -- and are surrounded by others who believe similarly -- will find it easy to dismiss. [This differs from the Cold War situation, where the populace of enemy states was not our enemy.]

The Terror War requires a new media weapon, an in-depth bombardment of information against the dark heart of ignorance. It needs personal voices, each different, which cannot be discredited en masse. It is one thing to claim that Voice of America lies; but how can enemies claim that everything you read on the Internet is a lie?

They cannot; and that is why many are so eager to strangle this flow of information into their countries. A great battle of the Terror War is being fought at the U.N., as its dictators struggle to stop our media offensive at their borders without shutting down their own telecommunications. Yet this battle has excited little commentary.

Another offensive front is American media, the liberal Hollywood dreck that so angers the right blogosphere. Here, the context is the message, and the context speaks of America's awesome wealth and casual freedom. There's a weapon for you. How can the joyless streets of sharia seem attractive?

They cannot; and again, our enemies fight on the defensive. Another battle, against America's "cultural invasion", is also being fought at the U.N. The "Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions" is a Maginot line against America's media onslaught.

Mr. Green has made the case for considering this a media war. These are our weapons. Ready to rumble?

[Update 10 November: At Belgravia Dispatch, guest blogger Edward Djerejian has related thoughts, though he is calling for a reinvigoration of the government-driven approach.]

[Update 3 December: Welcome, Vodkapundit readers! Those interested in the long-term view may wish to read Tomorrow, and Tomorrow.]

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


A hawkish talking point has emerged, to the effect that Iraq has shown a tremendously positive GDP growth rate during the reconstruction period. This is less than compelling evidence of success, given that Iraq's per capita GDP is about $3500 -- giving a national GDP in the neighborhood of $80 billion, far less than the American budget commitment to date.


In a comment to the Belgravia Dispatch post I linked yesterday, Ukranian commenter "bb" writes:
The real results of this will not come from the actions of the rioters but will be from the actions of the government. If there is a sense that the government responded positively to rioting, then I would expect a repeat not only in France but other countries. If the government smashes the violence and makes it clear that this is not an effective method to addressing grievances, it will be less likely to recur.
This is an immensely important point, which does not seem to have received much attention. A hard line against the rioters is a dangerous position for the French government; but anything other than a hard line is a danger to the governments of Denmark, Italy, Spain and more.

[Here is a recent article from the Seattle Times, which at least mentions the problem of contagion, though it treats the other governments as passive bystanders. It also shows some preposterously inept posturing from Turkey, the country with most to lose from these riots:
Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan said France had ignored his calls for more tolerance, arguing that France's ban on head scarves in public schools triggered the riots.
"We've always told our friends in Europe that they should not lead to a clash of civilizations in order to prevent such incidents," the daily Hurriyet quoted Erdogan as saying.
"We should work for an alliance between civilizations. There is a great duty which falls on the Christian and Muslim world. Europe should have evaluated this," Erdogan said. "We said it. But France did not take it into account. It did not listen to us."]

I do not know whether the diplomats of these countries are pressuring the French to take a harder stance, or what they can offer in return to sweeten the bitter pill.

Just think, France is now being asked to "take one for the team". Funny old world.

Monday, November 07, 2005


At Belgravia Dispatch, Greg Djerejian has a good primer on the French riots. It is a little long on ends and short on means, but still well worth the read.


In the coverage of the recent pair of Supreme Court nominations, one thing I haven't seen is any clear mention of how well the system is working.

A process failure in the White House led to the nomination of Ms. Miers. [There's no good spin for this.]

Constituents, voicing their opposition to this nomination, persuaded several Senators to declare opposition or withhold support. This is not praised as representative democracy in action, but condemned as "punditocracy". Why? Would it be better if objections were ignored?

The White House, seeking a more conservative candidate, nevertheless shied away from extreme candidates like Edith Clement. In particular, the aim seems to have been for a candidate who would make ideological opponents seems, well, ideological. As Ann Althouse says, "Those who are springing into action to try to take down Mr. Alito by making him look like a right-wing ideologue seemed to have blinded themselves to the way they look." This is not praised as reasonable accomodation to ensure the Senate's consent, but as fainthearted or underhanded "stealth conservatism". Why? Would it be better if the makeup of the court were unaffected by elections? Or perhaps if it were purely majoritarian?

Worse yet, Mr. Alito's supporters have been attempting to focus the debate on his qualifications. This is not praised as an attempt to get the best man for the job, but derided as a smokescreen to cover his ideology. Would it be better if he were unqualified, sharpening the focus on his ideology?

The wonderful property of open, representative system is that it works well even when the individual components work badly. Perhaps President Bush would rather have appointed Karl Rove's bloodthirsty love child to the Supreme Court, and reluctantly settled on Mr. Alito in order to have a smokescreen of "qualifications" and "relevant experience". Perhaps Harry Reid is eager for a grandstand victory to please his anti-democratic base. But the desirability of the result does not depend on Mr. Bush's or Mr. Reid's motivations.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

In a recent post on "The Long War", the Belmont Club's Wretchard points to Newt Gingrich's analysis of the struggle against Islamofascism. I want to focus on one of Mr. Gingrich's comments:
We have not yet developed the doctrine or structure capable of thinking through and implementing a Long War (30 to 70 years if we are lucky) on a societal scale.
This timescale seems reasonable; yet calling it optimistic also seems reasonable. In 30 years, the youngsters toddling along Palestinian parade routes, dressed up in mockups of suicide bomb belts, might themselves be heads of established households. In 70 years, their children's children might have forgotten their parents' grudges. It could work.

Next we turn away from politics toward science. Advocates of a near-future singularity are predicting a world changed beyond recognition in 40 years or even less. These predictions may be off the mark, but consider the following.

Computer hardware with the computing capacity of a human brain is roughly 20 years away. The Moore's-law growth of single chip speeds may not hold up for anything like this long, but as James Miller summarizes the case,
There are so many possible means of expanding computing power that only a few have to be proved practical for the exponential growth in computer power to continue until 2045.
Claims of human-equivalent AI being "10 years away" in 1955 were just stupid, and those who made or even believed them are utterly discredited. But these claims were never widely accepted, largely because the balance of probability is clearly strongly against obtaining human-equivalent intelligence without human-equivalent hardware. Now the balance shifts the other way, and the burden of justification is on those who wish to maintain that human-equivalent hardware will not support human-equivalent AI. [I may attempt such a justification elsewhere, but it is not directly relevant here.] There is a still heavier burden on those who maintain that such hardware will not even result in intelligence amplification, or that society will not be deeply affected by it.

Mild intelligence-enhancing medications are already here. There is every reason to believe that they will become more widespread and more powerful over the next ten years. Even if they only affect attention span and memory retention -- two areas where the ground is already broken -- their effects on the workplace will be immense. Imagine doctors, and engineers, and attorneys who bear down all day, every day and remember everything. The changes necessary to effect drastic social change are far less than those needed for a Drexlerian Breakthrough.

The difficult question is how our society's attitudes toward our backward-looking foreign enemies will change as the effects of these enhancements start to be felt. Two major forces will come into play.

First, domestic bioconservatives will find they have increasing sympathy for the enemies of progress, as progress moves in a direction they consider harmful or even evil. These bioconservatives are likely to be in two largely disjoint camps: some will be motivated by religion, some by a quest for equality. The latter position, requiring as it does that one must value equality for all above opportunity for any, is already associated with those who do not desire a strong or exceptional America. If a significant underclass feels itself left behind, or unfairly disadvantaged by the white-brained privileged class, extreme Marxist bioconservatives will grow powerful and will find it easy to foment violence.

Religious bioconservatives, in America, will be mainly Christian. Thus it is reasonable to expect that they will proselytize peacefully -- consider how low is the present rate of anti-abortion violence -- rather than violently oppose the choices of others. [This may change when bioprogressives begin to, e.g., disassemble the Earth, but at this point the opinions of bioconservatives will no longer be so important.]

The second new force is the rise of technological pressures toward cultural coherence (or decoherence, depending on your viewpoint). I have written previously on the incentives that will begin to reward smaller and more homogenous societies. In addition, as a person's sense of self expands outside his physical body, he will become more perceptive but also inevitably more vulnerable. The desire for security will militate against the ready accomodation with the unknown that is the prime enabler of diversity. Remember that the formation of closed enclaves will become much easier, since it need not even require physical proximity; it is probably that they will become the dominant social focus of bioprogressives.

There is a vast open seam between political and military forecasts, based on a near-static world, and scientific forecasts which ignore the political. Peering from the mists of my own ignorance, I see only a few of the most obvious features within. What do you see?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


The TradeSports markets on Samuel Alito show an interesting picture: as of this writing, Mr. Alito is 94% (mid-market) to receive 50 or more votes in the Senate, 80% to be confirmed, and 58% to receive 60 or more votes. The spread between the first two numbers shows the perceived likelihood of a successful filibuster.