Sunday, March 16, 2008

Taking some time off

I will be taking a break from the blog for a bit. Please check in again in a week or so as I hope to return then.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

America's Image

French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner says, in reference to America's image, "the magic is over."

I'm not certain what magical image America had prior to the Iraq war, except for the image of the poor victim for a couple of weeks following the World Trade Center. Would Europe prefer that the United States had taken a different path following the attack? Most believe so.

I ask a specific question. Would the world be better off with Saddam Hussein and the Taliban still in power? Is there a belief that diplomacy would have cured the ills in those areas? If diplomacy removed the Taliban or Saddam, it truly would have been "magical." Just look at the success of diplomatic efforts in North Korea. I am not proposing that this war was run in the correct way, only that any efforts less than war would not have been effective at getting the same result.

As it happens, the fighting in Iraq is giving the world the results of an interesting experiment. The experiment wasn't intentional, but it exists nonetheless. Can a nation that is attempting to run a "moral" war, win that war? Can civilian casualties truly be minimized? Obviously, trying to run a "moral" war has been much less effective than the traditional manner. That doesn't mean it's not worth trying.

Let's ask a different question.

Does the image of America matter? Not the actions, but the image. If the United Nations gives any clue, those nations with the worst reputations and records get to rule on human rights. Apparently, the more awful one is in the world, the better one fares in the UN. Why should that be?

One possibility is the US is a horrible juggernaut that trounces over the people of other nations and all they can do is beg for mercy. If that's true, it has been the single most ineffective use of power by any nation in history. I mean, what if we really tried to do what we are accused of doing? I can't imagine a less effective way to do it. I think there is a much more accurate answer.

In the immortal words of Lord Palmerston, "We have no permanent allies, only permanent interests ." Nations do not follow or agree with other nations because they are pleasant, only because they have something they need. This is why the world pays more attention to 500 deaths in the Middle East than 50,000 in Rwanda. It's not a kind world. If the US wants to be popular, it can always give away money, land, and sovereignty to other nations and it's popularity will skyrocket. It is always easier to avoid fighting a difficult fight than standing up for one's principles. The world is annoyed with the US because it was willing to stir up the hornet's nest of the Middle East while Europe was willing to quietly turn it's back on the situation there.

If we must err, let's err on the side that is least likely to harm freedom in the world. When the United States becomes isolationist and allows Europe and Asia to control their own affairs, it inevitably ends up in a World War as the most aggressive power comes to control (historically this has been Germany). When the US is active, the USSR falls, South Korea maintains itself, or the US ends up with a bloody nose like in Vietnam. Choosing between these two historic options is not difficult. Take a messy war like the one in Afghanistan any day over a World War with a real power. Fortunately, success in foreign policy is not a popularity contest. I fear Machiavelli had it right when he said it was better to be feared than love. May the US be the most just and least popular ruler the world has ever seen.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A link to the girl

Here she is, the one Spitzer paid 3k/night to ruin his career.

Thanks wwtdd for linking to Page 6.

I love Goldenberg's Peanut Chews

I had some of them the other day, and they were awesome, but apparently I missed the news. A few years ago, the brand was bought out by Just Born, Inc., which also makes Mike & Ike. The shape of the candy, with that small sheath of cardboard holding all the lined up peanut chews in it is exactly the same, just the outside is different. Still, I'm sorry to see them change at all... it was kind of like eating a candy from the '30s. And they've added a milk chocolate flavor in addition to the original dark that I refuse to try. Ever. Unless I'm at the movies and there's nothing else.

Rumor has it the average Goldenberg's consumer was getting older and they decided it was time for an image change. Though they're the same candy, I'm sorry to see the era of the Goldenberg's name come to an end. Apparently they were a Philly original and have been around since 1890. See, you learned something today.

Riviera Beach sucks!

What is wrong with the people at Riviera Beach?

"Under the new law, anyone with droopy pants that show skin or underwear faces legal action."

Somehow I doubt there is a law on the books preventing someone from going out in a bikini, but if you cover that up with saggy pants, it's a fine for you. Nicely done, outlawing styles of dress that offend. What could be wrong with that? Is this what we need government for?

Shame on you, Mayor Thomas Masters! And shame on the voters that passed this bill!

Quick Mississippi analysis

Obama won roughly 90 percent of the black vote in Mississippi on Tuesday, but only about one-quarter of the white vote.

This is interesting. The black vote entirely votes Democrat. According to Time, nearly 80% of blacks voted for the Democratic Party in general elections.

If one were to avoid the question of blacks simply voting for a black candidate, and whites voting for a white one, and instead focused on blacks voting for the candidate that is most in line with the Democratic party, is it possible that Obama is showing the inclination of the Democrat faithful to vote for him? After all, what could represent the faithful more than the black vote? Would Hillary, by taking large sections of the white vote, be more likely to take the white vote in an election, which is more likely to be swing votes or centrist? Has she become the "Republican" in the race for the nomination?

Perhaps Republicans should be cheering Obama as a candidate, as he appears to be taking less of the centrist vote and may continue on that path if he is the Democrat nominee. After all, McCain is about as centrist a Republican as the Republican party has put forth in decades. I am beginning to suspect Hillary would pose a stronger threat to a possible Republican victory than Obama. It's also hard to consider a victory by McCain a victory for Republicans... it would probably just be a loss for Democrats. Will I really have to choose between, in the immortal words of South Park...

Spitzer... staying or leaving?

It's being reported today that Governor Spitzer is weighing his options, choosing whether or not to resign. Why the delay? I suspect he has been hoping that his support would appear after the initial statement. He's a politician and is making a political decision. I might hope for better, but I should expect nothing less.

But one reason that is given is he is planning to use his office as a bargaining chip with prosecutors. This part makes no sense to me.

Why should his resignation of his office in ANY way change the way the law treats him in a plea deal? Would it make sense for a CEO to tell a prosecutor he would resign in the same circumstances? What about a convenience store clerk? The idea of a convenience store clerk using his resignation as a bargaining chip is absurd. Why should the prosecutor care? And by the same token, why should a prosecutor care if Spitzer stays or goes?

Has the law been upheld if a felony is reduced to a misdemeanor or if jail time is avoided by a guilty party because they held a position of high power in the government? I say no. That sounds to me like an excellent reason to go exactly by the book.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

It's Magic!

Fed improves liquidity by lending to banks that are squeezed. Like magic, the market rallies and news commentators are talking about how this will help avoid recession and improve recovery. Is anyone asking why these banks are unable to get liquidity themselves? If this is so good, why not do it all the time? What has the government been waiting for? Why not always have a fantastic economy if there's no down side? Why EVER have a recession?

I have the answer.

There is a downside.

Banks can't get liquidity because people don't think they're worth the risk. There's no free lunch.

Allowing companies to fail is a good thing. Propping them up encourages failure. Who do you think will foot the bill if these risks, that the market has deemed not worth supporting, fail? The answer to that is whoever gave these banks the loan. In this case, it's your government.

Mark my words. Whenever the government invests in the markets, it takes risks the market participants are unwilling to bear. It buys high and never sells. We should be careful that the cure is not worse than the illness. When a bank goes under and doesn't repay the loan to the government, the next question you will hear is whether the government should support the bank and effectively add to a bad trade. We should stop rewarding failure.

After we take the medicine of recession, if it even comes, our economy will be stronger for it. There is no way to buy your way out of it. Trying to do that will only hurt us more in the long run.

Prostitute Aggravation

Apparently running an international prostitution ring isn't as glamorous as it seems. Paying bills, working with vendors... it's like another long day at the office, and that's not even considering the jail time. Soon, they'll be telling me being a world class assassin is all about filling out the correct paperwork.

Monday, March 10, 2008

This story speaks for itself

Shroud Of Turin Accidentally Washed With Red Shirt

Proud to be a New Yorker

Governor Spitzer was involved in a prostitution ring

I can't help it, I just think this is hilarious. So much for cleaning up Albany with a prosecutor! At least he's doing New York proud by not knocking on the door of his stall for gay sex in a bathroom. How the mighty have fallen.

I'm commenting on this prior to his press conference, so maybe this won't be as steamy as I hope. Personally, I'm hoping for an arrest at his home and a perp walk in front of his family, a humiliation he visited on many of those he prosecuted who were not allowed to surrender to the police.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Torture Pt. 3

We all know there's a difference between torture involving mutilation and rape, and waterboarding. We do a disservice to the debate by categorizing them together under the title torture and pretending they are the same thing.

Torture Pt. 2 - Bush's Veto

Torture's been on my mind a bit ever since President Bush vetoed a bill to prevent the CIA from using certain interrogation techniques including waterboarding. I haven't read the bill (or any bill in it's entirety since I went to Model Congress as a kid), but I feel confident to discuss the issue involved.

At this time, there are two distinct aspects as to whether or not the United States should use coercive interrogation techniques, aka torture. 1. Does it work? 2. Is it moral?

Many say it doesn't work, but personally, I'm convinced that I'd talk hours earlier if someone hurt me than if they did anything but. I'd like to think I'm stronger than that, but torture techniques have been improved upon for millennia and I'm confident I can deal with psychological pain far longer than physical pain. But that's not the issue at hand. If it doesn't work, we won't do it, and if it does, that doesn't make it morally correct. For the sake of getting to the core of the moral argument, let's assume torture works.

This is not a simple issue. Obviously there are levels of coercion, from sleep deprivation and imprisonment to the iron maiden and beyond. Some have permanent physical and/or psychological effects, other do not. In addition, there are many reasons given for the motivation to torture, from those who would use it as a punishment, a deterrent, an incentive, an interrogation technique, or a number of other reasons. I have intentionally left out entertainment and many of the other macabre reasons people have used torture in the past as I'm trying to focus on one particular aspect of torture. That aspect is torture as an interrogation technique. That's what this bill was about.

The question is, if torture for interrogation can be proven to save lives, should we prevent our CIA or military from doing it anyway? It's a difficult question, especially given the usual hypothetical: What if torture was used to glean information on the location of a nuke in a major American city and the information ended up preventing the catastrophe? Most people agree, and I suspect most Democrats as well, that torture would be justified in those circumstances. I certainly believe this.

If we make torture illegal under all circumstances, and design our laws to follow what we see as moral, can we be convinced that a government bureaucrat will risk breaking those laws to his own personal detriment? Or will he be more likely to do as our soldiers did when they had Osama bin Laden in their sights many years ago? Apparently we didn't fire because we required confirmation. When that confirmation arrived, the opportunity was gone and so was Bin Laden.

Of all the people we want to steadfastly follow our laws, none are more important than those with the guns in our government. Our military MUST be held responsible for its actions and must follow the laws and orders set by civilian authority. There must be NO misunderstanding as to what is allowed by our troops. We cannot have a loophole that is understood that under certain circumstances "It is okay to break those laws, all will be forgiven."

If we all agree that there are certain circumstances where torture is acceptable (think nuke in New York City), let's spell them out. This is too important an issue to insist on making it illegal, while simultaneously saying that in extenuating circumstances it is both acceptable and expected. Anyone who votes for the bill making torture practices illegal should answer the direct question of "Is torture EVER acceptable?" with a resounding "NO!" I sincerely doubt the many lawmakers who voted for this bill feel that way. The answer should not be "let's make it illegal, but expect extremely good and patriotic men will risk the consequences by breaking this law when it seems in the nation's best interest." Our military and foreign policy need clarity. I don't want to hear that we could have prevented losing a city if we'd gotten the information a few hours earlier, but the subject was still resisting talking in his comfortable cell and our men were proudly following our laws.

We are a nation of laws and not of men. At least, we strive to be a nation of laws. We build statues of lady justice, whose eyes are blind to those who stand before, and we wish all to be equal before the law. We should not place laws on the books that are intended to be broken by our own government, with the punishment to be withheld by the whim of the State after the fact. That's a slippery slope I'd rather not slide down.

Shameful AP misrepresentation, or, Torture Pt. 1

Yahoo news says, printing an article By Deb Riechmann, Associated Press Writer :

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the nation's ability to lead the world depends on its morality, not military might. "We will begin to reassert that moral authority by attempting to override the president's veto next week," said Pelosi, D-Calif.

Actual quote:

In the final analysis, our ability to lead the world will depend not only on our military might, but also on our moral authority.

Emphasis added by me.

There is a difference, and when I originally read the misrepresentation, my head almost exploded. It was bad enough that I had to go to Speaker Nancy Pelosi's blog just to confirm it.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

I love cheap technology... and drugs!

Staples just sent me an ad for $50 off this hard drive. It's a 500GB external drive, which, with the rebate, comes to $120. Seems to me that the prices are getting a bit close to zero these days! Inflation may be increasing, but it's not stopping the march of progress in lowering prices.

And yet... I wonder if some health cost issues are similar? People say drugs are more expensive today, but I think they're just talking about new drugs. I'm willing to bet that drugs haven't increased in price a bit in 10 years if one were willing to use the drugs available 10 years ago. Perhaps the the cost of drugs to receive the best available today should not be compared to the overall cost of drugs from 10 years ago. The inflated cost may be the result of "newer and better." If you want the same old 10-years-out-of-date drugs, I'm sure you can get them cheaply today. (I'm not saying expired, just the same drugs available then.) If you want drugs from the '90s, expect to have a '90s lifespan as well. Sort of like a computer form a decade ago... today charities don't even accept them.

Friday, March 7, 2008

The right response

Obama's advisor who called Hillary a monster has resigned.

Congratulations are in order to Obama's camp for the rapid recognition of the inappropriateness of this comment, the immediate apology, and the resignation of the offending party. I am honestly proud of this response, which would be expected from a principled candidate running a principled campaign. I am not an Obama supporter, but this is the single most impressive item of integrity I have seen coming from his camp to date. It is the correct response of a politician who does not approve of what his advisor said in front of the media. It is the standard for the industry.

On a separate note, does this portend a joint ticket of Obama and Hillary (I don't know yet which one leading)? Certainly one could not have a joint ticket if one were to support an advisor who called one's president or vice-president a monster. Of course, if Reagan-Bush tells us anything about political bedfellows, one may say "voodoo economics" and still work for the shaman in charge.

Slapstick gets me every time.

I kinda lost it at work today when a glanced at wwtdd and saw this.

And I thought I partied hard...

Apparently you can get much more alcohol into your bloodstream if you snort vodka instead of just drinking it. Is it classier if you do the shot with a straw up your nose? I guess I'm just a vodka lightweight with my Ketel One chilled in a martini glass.

And the drinking game's called "Gas Chamber!" Sweet!

(Don't misunderstand, real gas chambers aren't cool, but as a name for a drinking game... awesome)

Panic! Panic, panic, panic...

Unemployment dipped to 4.8% and 63,000 jobs went up in smoke. What does that mean?!? You read that correctly. A higher percentage of people who want employment are now able to find it. And there were wage gains, too. But fewer jobs. Apparently fewer people want to work right now. This means that fewer workers than last month were looking for employment and unable to find it, while at the same time, people with jobs earned slightly more. Sure, losing jobs is bad news, but seriously, when, in the entirety of US history, has there been under 5% unemployment with wage growth and everyone is screaming recession? We may go into a recession, but if this is what recession looks like, we've become a bunch of wimps. I'm still waiting for our first quarter of negative growth.

I agree, recession is likely to arrive, but ups and downs are a natural part of markets and economies. But if we call this a recession and panic, I expect heads will start exploding if we are visited by a real economic downturn, with 10% unemployment and GDP growth that ACTUALLY drops below zero.

Some perspective please. Let's try not to go to the emergency room when the weather's cold and our noses start to drip. Runny noses and cold weather are a part of life. It's not the plague, at least not yet.

Hamas Heroes Pt.2

Does it take courage to give one's life for a cause? I think so. But please, think a bit first. Getting killed while killing a bunch of students who are studying the bible? You absolute moron! Courage? Yes. Glory? None. Pathetic. If that's glory, would Hamas would have been prouder if he'd gone to a nursery and killed dozens of babies? It's not like they wouldn't have grown up to become Israelis who'd fight and be a part of Israel's government through their voting and taxes.

I'm unimpressed. Glory in war comes from extraordinary courage or success, and probably many other things that don't roll off the tongue so easily. Falling on a grenade or taking out an enormous number of enemy soldiers before succumbing to your wounds, that sort of thing. I think it is past time that Hamas reconsidered acting as though enemy civilians are soldiers. It is hard to imagine the atrocities the Israelis would create if they treated the civilians in Gaza as soldiers as well. There would be Israeli heroes who had killed thousands of enemy combatants with the push of a button and a well placed bomb. We should all be thankful that this answer to the heroes of Hamas is unacceptable to the Israelis, but none should be more thankful than the Palestinians.

Hamas Heroes - An extended commentary

"The Hamas movement announces its full responsibility for the Jerusalem operation," a Hamas official told Reuters in Gaza. A Hamas operative successfully killed 8 students before being killed himself.

Let's be clear on what has happened here:

A sovereign government (Hamas in Gaza), in prosecuting a war against another sovereign government (Israel), successfully infiltrated a soldier across the border into a school in Israel and killed 8 civilians (students at the school) before the soldier was killed himself. Hamas is celebrating this action and has labeled the soldier a hero.
I believe everyone (both Hamas and Israel) agree that this is what occurred.

The Israeli government and Hamas are at war. I cannot see this described any other way when one side of a conflict is celebrating the intentional and planned death of another nation's civilians by it own soldiers. It seems, based on this admitted and intentional action, that there is nothing Hamas is unwilling to do to the Israeli populace in an effort to achieve its goals. I have intentionally left out the reasons for this war, whether the action was in response to other actions by Israel, whether the nation or the border itself is legitimate, whether Jews should be allowed to live in the Middle East (or at all), or any of the muddier aspects of this conflict. I am focusing purely on the act itself, which was specific and achieved an intentional result.

I am not a military strategist, but I am willing to assume that Hamas is achieving some military goal through this soldier's act. Perhaps this it will be this act, when combined with many other acts and a successful overall strategy, that will win the war for Hamas. Let's assume this is true. Let's give Hamas the benefit of the doubt and assume that this sort of action leads to less bloodshed in the long run and will give the Palestinian people the land and lives they believe they have always deserved. That this act will lead to justice for the Palestinian people as they see and desire it. If this is true, we may continue to condemn the action, but we cannot reasonably expect Hamas to remove this military option from the table or cease this strategy.

But I don't like it. I think killing civilians, with the intention of killing civilians, is utterly reprehensible. So the question becomes, "How can this strategy be removed from the table?" Obviously, this strategy forwards the goals of Hamas or they wouldn't be doing it, admitting it, or celebrating it.

I have the obvious answer. Whatever actions Israel has been taking to prevent this strategy are not working. These actions will not work until Hamas says, "We will not try to kill Israeli civilians," or at least "The soldier who crossed the border was not ours," as Iran says on a regular basis in Iraq. To get Hamas to say this requires Israel to bring Hamas to the negotiating table, even while the nations are at war. These negotiations will be over how the war will be prosecuted. Since Hamas will never voluntarily go to the negotiating table, it would require Israel to negotiate unilaterally until Hamas comes around. For example, if Israel said, "Every time a soldier comes from Gaza, successfully kills Israeli civilians, and is admitted to by Hamas, the nation of Israel will react by notifying the populace of the the first town on list A, that they have one week to evacuate before the town becomes a replica of Dresden." This sort of strategy was very effective in ending the resistance of the Japanese (who intended to fight to the last man) to coming to the negotiating table at the end of World War 2. Japan had suicide bombers of their own and a tremendous devotion to their cause. After "Fat Man" landed on Nagasaki, the Japanese lost their will to fight.

Of course, Israel can afford to be kinder and allow residents to evacuate before obliterating a town. I have a suspicion that by the time the 4th or 5th militarily strategic town had been razed to the ground, Hamas would no longer be sending soldiers into Israel.

Is this a moral solution? Not great. Is this an acceptable answer? Maybe. Is this overkill? Very likely. Would this create a humanitarian disaster? Probably a small scale disaster. Is it morally reprehensible to destroy civilian property (and likely unintentionally kill civilians in the process)? I think so. I think this may not work at all. But what is clear is that, for Hamas to stop attacking Israeli civilians, the strategy of killing civilians must be shown to be a losing strategy. Hamas must WANT to stop killing civilians, even though it may mean they are losing what they have considered a effective strategy to prosecute their war with Israel. Ideally Israel should not lose its own humanity in the process.

If the USA had not dropped atom bombs on Japan in 1945, how many more lives would have been lost? Those cities were both strategic and civilian targets. The issues involved here are far from clear. I just can't get past the idea that the Rape of Nanking or the intentional execution of civilians by Hamas is a strategy that should be allowed to survive in war during the "Pax Americana." As Churchill observed, history is written by the victors, and I'm awfully glad we won that one.