Thursday, April 30, 2009

FLG is currently listening to

NATO In Crisis Claimed To Be An Illusion

Chatham House:
A comparison of NATO's experience in the Balkans and in the Afghan theatre suggests that the view of a NATO perched permanently at the edge of collapse is problematic and misleading. This is not to defend alliance actions as such but rather to suggest that the narrative of crisis and collapse makes for poor analysis and underestimates NATO's proclivity for adaptation and endurance.

FLG never underestimates an irrelevant bureaucracy's ability to find new justifications for its continued existence.

Quote of the day

Fama and French:
we cannot reject the hypothesis that no fund managers have skill that enhances expected returns.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Good Way To Cause A Fucking Panic

"All countries should immediately now activate their pandemic preparedness plans," [WHO Director General] Chan told reporters in Geneva. "It really is all of humanity that is under threat in a pandemic."

FLG is currently listening to

I Laughed About This Today

FLG's Not Jewish

but this is stupid:
Deputy health minister Yakov Litzman, a member of an ultra-religious party, said "swine flu " should not be used as it contains the name of the animal banned by Judaism

It's self-evidently stupid to ban the word describing banned things, but it is doubly stupid because associating the name of a banned item with something bad should make it doubly scary, but it is triple stupid because:
Within the Old Testament there was usually a matter of fact acceptance of nature and material things, but there was a significant exception regarding certain categories of objects or activities that were looked upon as unclean. These were four in number: certain foods, leprosy, contact with corpses and sexual activities of any kind. (Frazee 1988)

The Bible lumps disease and certain foods together. It's like saying we shouldn't call leprosy leprosy because the Bible is concerned about leprosy. It's circular logic with no real benefit to anybody.

Chinese Navy

I wrote approximately a year ago that an increase in Chinese naval capabilities is almost inevitable and filled with peril:
On one hand, I would be building a blue water navy if I were the Chinese. They are so reliant on trade and oil imports that ensuring the free flow of ships, particularly at crucial points like the Strait of Malacca, is a national interest. On the other hand, this capability also threatens Taiwan and American naval hegemony.

Well, Chinese navy had a 60th birthday party.

The Economist:
WITH an unprecedented display of its rapidly growing naval armoury, China has flaunted its ambitions as a global power. To mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), Chinese leaders on April 23rd reviewed a maritime parade of hardware ranging from nuclear submarines to amphibious assault-craft and fighter bombers. The only missing ingredient of naval might was an aircraft-carrier. Officials hint it will not be long before China has some of these too.

Strategy Page posted this video of the festivities the other day:

AP Courses

That the democratization of the A.P. curriculum has sometimes come at a price was evident in the response of teachers when they were asked if their students were ready and able to handle the work in such courses. More than half, 56 percent, said they believed that “too many students overestimate their abilities and are in over their heads.” Even more teachers, 60 percent, said that “parents push their children into A.P. classes when they really don’t belong there.”

This brings up something that FLG likes to point out from time to time -- the fundamental irreconcilability of excellence and equality.

Kids are taking AP classes because they look good on college applications. They look good on college applications because they're challenging. They're challenging because they are more rigorous than the standard courses, which means only the most motivated, prepared, and intelligent can truly succeed in them. More students enrolling in AP classes means more mediocre students enrolling in AP classes, which will either mean that AP classes will have to be dumbed down (which would remove the appeal) or the barriers to entry will have put back in place. Since the educational system is so inclined toward equality and downplaying differences among students, the democratization of AP will inevitably mean the dumbing down of AP exams and classes. Thus, the desire for equality will ruin excellence.

The only other alternative would be to reimpose the barriers to entry and only allow the best students to enroll, which would re-establish/ensure excellence at the cost of equality.

Before anybody responds with utopian dreams of increasing the preparation of all students so that all students are prepared to take AP classes, allow me to point out that even if this idea were successful, it doesn't change the basic calculus of the best students wanting to distinguish themselves from the mediocre students.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

If The Lawyers Are In Charge Of The Anti-Piracy Campaign It's Going To Be A Long, Ineffective Exercise

Danger Room:
A Spanish warship picked up nine suspected pirates in the Indian Ocean — and subsequently released them for lack of evidence. They were suspected of being involved in a pirate attack this weekend on the cruise ship MSC Melody.

Establishing jurisdiction over Somali pirates — particularly if they are caught in international waters — has presented something of a legal conundrum for naval forces operating in the region.

FLG's response:
You can take that juris-my-diction crap and cram it up your ass.

To steal a page from Robbo's playbook -- can you identify the movie?

In Which FLG's Hypocrisy Comes Out

FLG has long maintained that texting is ruining our language, which when he thinks about it is a cultural analysis of a type of technology.

Anyway, he didn't really think about Powerpoint ruining our language, only ruining our corporate and educational systems, but he saw this in the NYTimes:
More and more, the ability to speak well and write is important. You know, writing is not something that is taught as strongly as it should be in the educational curriculum...It’s not just enough to be able to just do a nice PowerPoint presentation...I think this communication point is getting more and more important. People really have to be able to handle the written and spoken word. And when I say written word, I don’t mean PowerPoints. I don’t think PowerPoints help people think as clearly as they should because you don’t have to put a complete thought in place. You can just put a phrase with a bullet in front of it. And it doesn’t have a subject, a verb and an object, so you aren’t expressing complete thoughts.

Powerpoint sucks and FLG isn't going to defend it. Nevertheless, he disagrees that the educational curriculum doesn't focus on writing. FLG was slammed with writing in high school and college. It is taught. It's just a tough skill to master.

Heck, FLG's a blogger. He writes everyday. More importantly, he thinks about his writing everyday, and he's still not happy with it. Somebody, FLG thinks it was Ray Bradbury, said you need to write a million words just to make it to the foothills of being a competent writer. That's a lot of writing.

FLG is currently listening to

A Conversation

FLG's coworker and boss walk up behind FLG while he is at his computer.

Boss: What do you usually pay for suits?

FLG: I dunno. $500 or so.

Boss: I just got two $500 suits for $150 each at [store name redacted.] You should check it out.

FLG: Thanks. I'll be sure to do that.

Coworker: Don't sound so excited.

FLG: Sorry.

Coworker: What's the problem? That not a good deal?

FLG: It depends on the suit, but I wouldn't know.

Boss: What do you mean you wouldn't know? You just said you usually spend $500 on a suit and I'm telling you that you can get two for $300.

FLG: Well, I try to pay $500 for $1,500-$2,000 suits, not $500 for $500 suits.

Boss: $1,500 for a suit. Are you crazy?

FLG: I didn't say I spend $1,500. I said I spend $500.

Boss: You think there's really a difference between a $1,500-2,000 suit and a $500?

FLG: Surely, you jest.

Coworker: I don't buy it.

FLG: Do me a favor. This weekend, go to [store name redacted] and try on their $500 cum $150 suit. Then go to Brooks Brothers and try on their Golden Fleece navy suit. Speaking of which, I wonder if they're having a sale as well. Let me bring up the website. Ooohh....nice seersucker.

Boss: That's not $1,500.

FLG: I wasn't talking about seersuckers. That's totally different.

Coworker: You're a fucking suit snob.

FLG: I prefer to think that I possess discriminating taste in suits, but I guess you could call it that.

Coworker: Pretentious prick.

FLG: Talk to me after you try on the Brooks Brothers.

FLG is currently listening to

FLG is currently listening to

FLG is currently listening to

The Probability Of War On The Korean Pennisula

Danger Room visits the DMZ and comes away unconcerned:
A starving and stunted (literally) country without an economy has no chance of taking over one of the world’s most economically vibrant countries. Sure, the North could attack and cause a bloody mess, but to what end? Once they leave their bunkers and tunnels, they are prey to the modern world. North Korea’s farmboys-turned-tank-commanders might be able to get around Seoul’s sprawling, serpentine highway system, without GPS. But the navigation system will absolutely help the South’s precision weapons find those former peasants — and take them out. Minus complete dismantlement of South Korean’s modern infrastructure, there is no hope that the North could begin to administer the South. Of course, this also means that no amount of sanctions will ever end the regime. Its like a limit in calculus. You can only get so much closer to zero.

This assumes rationality on the part of North Korea as it approaches that zero. I'd like to use another analogy in place of the mathematical limit. In this case, let's talk about a gravitational singularity, often referred to as a black hole. As you approach the singularity the laws of physics begin to change to the point where they actually cease to apply at the singularity itself. It is entirely possible that North Korea lashes out, much like a cornered dog, in a suicidal take-them-down-with-me, nothing-to-lose attack when the regime nears the point of unraveling.

To discount the possibility of attack because the North could never win is very questionable. They could still cause untold death and destruction.

FLG is currently listening to

two songs high in the running for strangest choices of songs to cover by an artist ever. I mean, they make sense, but still strange...

FLG is currently listening to

Follow-up To The Previous Post

The lyrics to Safety Dance are absolute genius:

FLG is currently listening to

FLG never realized how atrocious the lyrics to this song were until just now.

Quote of the day

IN GENERAL I have been quite sceptical about the internet's supposedly transformative effect on politics, at least in Britain.

Count FLG as skeptical without geographic qualification.

French Answer To Pig Flu Is To Regulate Financial Markets

Charlemagne shows how disassociated from any and all reality the French left is. La Libération writes:
The globalisation of trade and movement means there are no barriers to stop people, financial flows or viruses....the international community, burned by the financial crisis, has since realised that nation states have been overtaken by events, and proved insufficient to face up to them... No country is immune, and this new crisis shows that the world, whether it involves toxic assets or viruses, needs international regulation

Thorough Report On The Swat Valley


Pirate Graphic

I love this image from Le Monde because of the use of the jolly roger to indicate the pirate hideouts.

Britain Is Either Taking That Big Brother Thing Too Far

or is going for massive irony:
Firemen to wear 'Star Wars stormtrooper helmets'

Stupid Idea

In a speech on Monday at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, President Obama presented a vision of a new era in research financing comparable to the Sputnik-period space race, in which intensified scientific inquiry, and development of the intellectual capacity to pursue it, are a top national priority.

There's an argument that the government should contribute to research in basic (as opposed to applied) science, but what Obama's proposing sounds far too broad.

Mr. Obama made clear that a new burst of advances in energy technology, medicine and other important arenas would not come from money alone, but required scientists to get out of their laboratories and find ways to inspire young people “to create, build and invent — to be makers of things, not just consumers of things.”

Oh, fuck me. Do I get a bullshit feelgood reach around too? Much of this is taken care of by the market and spending money on it is either wasteful or displaces private funds with public funds.

The Obama Administration loves to call their spending investments. As I've said before, government spending can, in theory and in some circumstances, be called an investment in that it generates economics benefits. Spending money on education, health care, etc can do this. The issue is not only whether the government spending will generate benefits, but whether the private sector failing for some reason. Otherwise, we are just spending government money when private money would do it anyway and the taxpayer wouldn't have to pick up the tab.

Since salaries for science and math grads are higher than others, I would argue the market is already taking care of the incentive to study math and science. I've already gone into this at length so I won't belabor the point anymore.

He provided fresh detail on an initiative, already included in the economics stimulus bill, creating a $5 billion “Race to the Top” fund available to states doing the most to increase the ranks of trained science and math teachers. Mr. Obama noted that the country faced a shortfall of more than 280,000 math and science teachers by 2015.

Here it is again. That BS about math and science and competing in the globalized economy. Ditto on already having gone into this.

On the teacher point, the simplest solution is not to subsidize the training of more science and math teachers but to remove the BS credentialing process so that people with the necessary background to teach the subjects don't have to check meaningless bureaucratic check boxes. The process to become a teacher is far, far too complicated in most states. (FLG blames the teachers unions because they like nice, neat predicable ways to demonstrate teacher quality. So, people need to get MAs in Education when those are mostly complete bullshit.) We should also fight the unions on the way teachers are paid. The idea that teachers should be paid according to some schedule for years of service and education achieved is a mess. If there is a higher demand for math teachers than English teachers, then we should raise the salary for math teacher positions. It's simple market economics.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Idiosyncratic Take On The Torture Debate

Tyler Cowen:
At many blogs (Sullivan, Yglesias, DeLong, among others) you will find ongoing arguments for prosecuting the torturers who ran our government for a while. I am in agreement with the moral stance of these critics but I don't agree with their practical conclusions. I believe that a full investigation would lead the U.S. public to, ultimately, side with torture, side with the torturers, and side against the prosecutors.

I didn't see that logic coming at all.

John Galt Is Overrated

FLG has a strong libertarian streak, but he would like to reiterate his equally strong opinion that Atlas Shrugged is a mediocre to downright crappy piece of fiction. Rand would have been better off writing a manifesto based on John Galt's speech rather than wasting everybody's time.

FLGs' Patio Garden

Last summer the FLGs had a great success growing herbs and tomatoes. So, this weekend the FLGs traveled to the garden center and bought several plants, including sweet basil, Thai basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, grape tomatoes, strawberries, and jalapeno peppers.

Quote of the Day II

Donald Kagan:
What is so splendid in my eyes about Thucydides understanding of why these things happened and why it's superior to what is typically taught in the graduate schools that study international relations is he's talking about human emotions. He's talking about feelings; he's not talking about structures that you need to be a professor in order to understand. I think that that's one of the powerful things. Thucydides is interested in structures, the first one he ever looks at. He thinks it's a very important thing, but when he comes down to explaining why nations go to war, he looks at the feelings that the people involved have.


Quote of the Day

Donald Kagan:
we should face the fact that the history of civilized mankind is almost the history of warfare. There's nothing more typical of human societies than that they are organized to fight wars and do so. And I think by the twentieth-, twenty-first century we ought to have come to the conclusion this is a bad thing. Wars, certainly now, whatever positive functions they might have had in the past, and they have been sometimes glorified for various reasons, the price of them is just far too high for us to think that's fine, let's keep doing that. So, the problem why do wars happen and how can they be avoided strikes me as important a question as there is, and Thucydides I think gives us some food to chew on as we think about that.

FLG's Dream Education

If admissions and tuition were magically taken care of, FLG would attend SAIS and study Global Theory & History and International Finance.

Unfortunately, SAIS is far too expensive considering FLG's current student loan debt and the income that can be expected after graduation from the program. Moreover, given FLG's perfect track record of grad school rejections it just ain't gonna happen.

Georgetown Professor On Torture


Random Thought On The Torture Debate And Morality

Jim Manzi has an interesting post up on the torture question, which I won't comment on directly. But it did remind me of something that I don't mention very often.

It is naive and dangerous to demand that political leaders act morally. I don't mean that they are above the law, but that they are partially outside of it when they are acting as part of the state. I'll give you an example.

Killing people is wrong. Yet, executioners kill people and it isn't illegal. They do this with the authority vested with them through the state by way of the governor and laws. As part of their job to enforce the law they are outside of it.

Expecting the standards of morality, ethics, and decency that apply within our society to how our society acts towards individuals, organizations, and states outside our society is fraught with peril. To state the obvious example, the president can send troops to fight, kill and die. Part of protecting our society may require actions that could not be tolerated within our society. It's an important distinction that too many people overlook.

I'm uncomfortable with the torture issue, and I think it was a mistake. However, there are a bunch of people who believe the standards within our society should apply to the actions of our state outside of our society, which is, sorry to repeat myself, naive and dangerous.

I'm not saying that our leaders are completely above the law, but outside of it. What's the distinction? Well, for me, a general rule of thumb is whether they were acting as a part of the state or themselves. If the president is acting immorally in the pursuit of the interests of the United States, then he's outside the law. If he's acting in his own personal interests, abusing power, then he is not outside the law. If a president uses clever lawyers to get around the letter, but not the spirit, of then ban on political assassinations in Executive Order 11905 in the pursuit of American national interest, then I'm apt to give him a pass. If it's in his personal interest for whatever reason, then I'm not so inclined.

The world's a nasty place and often states need to do some nasty things. I'm not exactly happy about it, but that's the reality we have to deal with. I just say this because I'm almost as uncomfortable with the comments people are making in support of investigating the Bush Administration's use of harsh integration/torture. Many seem to be predicated on the idea that our leaders must always act as if they are within our society, but when they are acting as part of the state apparatus they are outside our society.

For instance, there is a long history on the Left of being uncomfortable with intelligence agencies. Intelligence agencies are in a dirty business, and they need to do some dirty things. I mean they wire tap, steal, bribe, and extort. Sometimes they even need to kill people.

I'm sure there are thousands of questions or hypotheticals where my stance becomes problematic, but I'm equally sure that there are thousands of questions or hypotheticals whereby the idea that the leaders of our country have to act according to our laws as they stand and apply within the United States at the time would be problematic.

If I had to sum up what I am trying to express it would be: Yes, this torture thing was bad and I believe we should have investigations, but sometimes leaders have to do bad things in the pursuit of our national interest and I'd rather not have every one of those skeletons always pulled out of the closets that hide them.

Academic Silos

This article that Miss Self-Important commented on reminds me of something that pops in my mind every so often.

From the article:
Unfortunately this mass-production university model has led to separation where there ought to be collaboration and to ever-increasing specialization. In my own religion department, for example, we have 10 faculty members, working in eight subfields, with little overlap. And as departments fragment, research and publication become more and more about less and less. Each academic becomes the trustee not of a branch of the sciences, but of limited knowledge that all too often is irrelevant for genuinely important problems. A colleague recently boasted to me that his best student was doing his dissertation on how the medieval theologian Duns Scotus used citations.

What I always wonder when professors talk about how the Academy is too divided into narrow silos of knowledge and that there should be more interdisciplinary work is whether these narrow fields of study may actually be a consequence of increased knowledge.

Human knowledge continues to increase at an increasing rate because each previous discovery helps us make new discoveries faster. And if we assume the human mind can only learn so much information from both the perspective that there is probably a maximum capacity of the human mind and also simple time constraints on learning, then isn't the logical outcome that our most knowledgeable people will be become ever more knowledgeable but in narrower and narrower fields?

Once upon a time it may have been possible for the world's foremost physics professors to understand all aspects of the field. However, as the field expanded it became more and more difficult for one person to do so and the field subdivided into astrophysics, particle physics, etc. Likewise, for all the sciences, medicine and engineering.

The same can probably be said for the humanities as well, but at a lesser pace I think. Or at least I don't think the humanities are creating new knowledge at the same rate as the sciences.

Anyway, I'd say that increasing specialization is a consequence of the increase of knowledge. At some point in history, probably around the Middle Ages, a single person could be up to speed on all aspects of human knowledge. Not know everything there is to know, mind you, but to have a working knowledge of everything and the background knowledge to jump into any field of endeavor. But that state is long gone and today a PhD is lucky to master anything beyond their particular and rapidly advancing subfield. I don't know that interdisciplinary dreams can overcome that simple fact.

FLG is currently listening to

Leisure Wrongly Understood

Valenti's mislabeled "pro-sex feminism," like Maher's childish atheism, is merely an unresolved adolescent emotional issue carried forward into adulthood by immature personalities. Unable to accept and adjust to their own failures to live up to traditional ideals, they manufacture their own counter-ideals, which naturally compel them to scoff and sneer at tradition.

As I wrote a few weeks ago:
The ultimate goal of Marxism, in its purest, Platonic form, is Leisure. Leisure in this case means the ability to pursue one's goals free from constraints. Those constraints could be cultural, economic, or political.

As the previous discussion revealed, Marx took this goal from Aristotle, who I would argue rightly understood Leisure. I vacillate between whether Marx bastardized Aristotle's version of Leisure so much that he wrongly understood it or whether Marx kept Aristotle's Leisure largely intact and the modern Left bastardized Marx's generally correct understanding. Somehow Leisure, which used to be understood as a virtuous use of free time and resources for the betterment of oneself and one's society, became a hedonistic consumption of experiences. I might even say Leisure went from Apollonian to Dionysian, but that would probably require more thought than I'm willing to put in this morning.

Disney English

The other day FLG read about Disney teaching English in China. He found the idea fascinating for some reason. Perhaps because Disney used to offer classes in animation to regular people through its Disney Institute, and FLG always wanted to take that class. Too bad it cost like a gazillion dollars, which might be why they stopped the program.

Mickey Mouse has a new job in China: teaching kids how to speak English at new schools owned by Walt Disney Co. popping up in this bustling city.

Click the above link to see a video of the place. Looks pretty snazzy for a foreign language school.


PS. FLG has long been a believer that the TSA should contract with Disney for customer service training and line management consultations. I'm sure Disney could help vastly improve the entire TSA experience.

On Models and Athletes

Phoebe examines the myth of naturally thin women:
Every women-oriented thread about fashion models, once it passes the 'she should eat a cheeseburger' stage and the 'eating disorders are no laughing matter' one, includes someone pointing out that for all we know, many of these models are 'naturally thin.'

One thing I'd like to point out is that for models, movie stars, etc being thin is part of their job. Perhaps many models, movie stars, etc are naturally predisposed to be thinner than average, but it is still their job to be thin insomuch as being attractive is part of their job and thinness is part of attractiveness.

Much like I'll never be as good at basketball as a professional basketball player because I don't have the physical ability or time because, well, I don't have the physical ability and I have a day job, so should women realize that models are both predisposed to thinness and spend time, money, and effort that people whose jobs aren't to be attractive just don't have.

Jennifer Garner or Reese Witherspoon bounce back eight weeks after they give birth into a bikini because it's part of their job to do that. Much the same way that Tiger Woods bounces back from knee surgery to play golf better than I ever will in my life.

Women fool themselves into thinking all kinds of crazy things about food, weight, beauty, etc. when it's probably best to think of Gisele Bundchen as naturally gifted for and putting as much effort into her job as Tom Brady does.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Bit More On Torture

I wrote this in pieces. If it seems jumbled and contradictory that's because it is.

After reading this, this, and this and watching this (plus Alan's arguments of course) I have to say that I've change my mind. Well, maybe not changed my mind, but seriously close to it. Let's have those investigations.

The key point for me is that apparently much of the pressure for the harsh interrogation was to find a link between Iraq and al Qaeda, which was always a tenuous link. If the reason harsher and harsher interrogation techniques were approved was to prove a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq, then it's not that the Bush Administration was immoral, but fucking idiots. The links were always tenuous. Saddam let some al Qaeda terrorist live in Iraq. Ergo, Iraq is a terrorist state was always a dubious conclusion.

I always thought that Iraq was part of a larger, Hail Mary plan to remake the Middle East by creating a stable democracy. Iraq seemed like a good nation to do this with for several reasons: 1) Everybody believed that it had weapons of mass destruction. We really need to remember that there were very few doubters at the time. Mostly because the Iraqis were even lying to themselves about it. 2) It was run by a murderous thug. 3) It had a central location in the Middle East. 4) It had an educated, secular population.

If it turns out that our leaders really believed in some sort of collusion between al Qaeda and Iraq, then we really need to revisit the entire prosecution of the Global War on Terror because I'm very concerned that they were operating under false or questionable assumptions throughout. Maybe after the Iraq intelligence fiasco they revisited them and corrected some of their thinking, but I have to say that I'm worried they didn't.

I think that using some of these harsh interrogation techniques was torture and was a mistake. Nonetheless, I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. They probably had more information regarding the level of perceived threat, and if they crossed the line in a good faith attempt to protect the country based on reasonable logic, then I'd be willing to say -- they went to far, but they meant well. Let's reverse course use it as a cautionary tale to subsequent administrations. But if they went this far to prove shaky links between Saddam and al Qaeda, something few people believed at the time as opposed to the WMD issue, then they were negligent in their duties.

Now, you might be asking how FLG can say that they tortured and then say let's move on. Well, there's a spectrum of torture. We'd all like a bright line, but it's not always there. Hooking car batteries up to people's testicles is clearly torture, but a reasonable person might not view everything Amnesty International calls torture as torture. And I think that's where the problem exists. The definition of what is torture. Much like pornography, it's a kinda know it when I see it thing.

So, the question for me is whether a reasonable person would consider waterboarding torture. Personally, I do, but I guess I can see how another reasonable person wouldn't. If the decision were up to me, I'd say techniques where the torture/not torture is ambiguous shouldn't' be used. But I can also see where a good, reasonable person in the pursuit of protecting the United States could deem one of the ambiguous techniques justified or necessary. So, we should definitively call waterboarding torture, and use this as a cautionary tale.

There's been some really good debate on the morality of torture in and of itself, and whether it's effectiveness should even be part of the debate. Furthermore, there's been some interesting debate about the tactical versus strategic effectiveness of torture. Cheney's going on about how it worked, but his definition of worked is that it stopped an attack. He is using a tactical level of effectiveness, when we should really be concerned about strategic effectiveness. And strategically I'm not so sure it's working. Seems to me that torture may very well have created more terrorists who will attack later.

But then again, I'm not terribly comfortable with the it works defense regardless of the defintion of "works." We could pretty much solve the terror problem tomorrow by enacting what GEC calls the "green glass scenario" -- nuking pretty much everything from Morocco to Indonesia. But that's self-evidently immoral, and so we don't do it even though it would solve the problem permanently. Oftentimes the ends don't justify the means.

Airport Security

Not too long ago I wrote that airport security is largely a waste:
Many people forget that prior to 9/11 terrorists hijacked planes, flew to Tunisia, demanded prisoners be released, maybe killed a couple of passengers or the pilot before Delta Force or an SAS team stormed the plane and killed the hijackers. The crews were instructed to comply with hijacker demands. Obviously, people won't do that anymore as the famous "Let's Roll" demonstrated.

A terrorist may kill or injure a handful of people with a knife or gun before that are beaten to death, but the passengers sure as hell ain't letting them take over another plane again. And good luck trying to get into the cockpit.

As proof I offer:
An aircraft flying from New York to Israel with 206 people on board was diverted to Boston on Friday after an unruly passenger tried to break into the cockpit, Boston media reported.

The passenger, a 22-year-old Israeli, was subdued by fellow travelers

Current Reading Update

I finished watching the firstand second seasonsof Dexter. I enjoyed them both. And since I figured that the book is almost always better and that is particularly true in the case of a serial killer story (See American Psycho), I picked up Darkly Dreaming Dexter.

So far it's a pretty good book.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Effective Propaganda

This is some effective propaganda on the part of the Israeli Defense Forces:

HT: Strategy Page

Possible Flu Pandemics

First, avian flu. Now, pig flu. Please excuse me while I ignore the irrational panic.

Then again, this might be the right time to start that internet Cirpo business I've been contemplating...

Alan And FLG Disagree Volume 2 Gazillion

Alan writes in response to my post on torture prosecutions:
Sorry, you are quite wrong. The Bush administration did NOT change the law--they have no authority to change it. What they did was create a specious interpretation of the law and acted under that flawed interpretation. The Bush administration itself later rejected its own flawed interpretation. Dick Cheney knows they violated the law. That is the only reasonable purpose of his public assertions that torture "worked." He is hoping for leniency. Note that he is not asserting that torture is legal.

The acts of this administration quite clearly violated U.S. and international laws, including treaties we have agreed to. (Of course, treaties we have approved become part of our law.) Justice and respect for the rule of law require investigation, prosecution, and incarceration for those properly subjected to due process. Let the Constitution have its revenge!, I say. President Obama can pardon those who he feels properly believed they were doing the right thing. It is at this point, and only at this point, that politics plays a role.

Krugman and others have been making arguments recently that closely parallel mine in "We Are Blindfolded." Naturally, I agree with them. We are a nation that tortures. And we will be that until we properly punish those who broke the law to conduct torture. Time is not on our side.

I responded in the comments, but I don't think that was sufficient.

The executive branch has the authority derived from both the constitution and common sense to interpret the law as part of its duty to enforce it. Therefore, the Bush Administration's interpretation has the effect of changing the law in practice. Whether the Bush Administration went too far and overstepped their constitutional bounds is really a question for the Supreme Court, which if it ruled against the Bush Administration I still don't think would make what they did prior to the ruling illegal. It would just prevent the administration from continuing along that path.

I don't really give a shit about international law. It's a figment. International treaties, however, are another thing. If the Bush Administration violated an international treaty that the US has ratified, then they did break the law. But I find it doubtful that we signed an international treaty that explicitly forbids their interpretation of torture.

So, again, they didn't break the law. Even a specious interpretation by the executive branch is still a legal interpretation. So, while it may have been immoral, it was not illegal.

UPDATE: Alan responded in the comments to the prior post:
Legal interpretation by courts, yes. Interpretation to allow the chief executive and his administration to jump the legal barriers and engage in patently illegal activities, no. I decide I am threatened, so I kill someone in "self-defense." Do I get a pass based on my interpretation? Perhaps a court will rule that I was not justified in crossing the street, entering my neighbor's home, and shooting him to end what I perceived to be a threat. Courts, courts, courts, not the executive branch.

We had heard recently that the administration did not look into the history of waterboarding and did not learn that we had prosecuted people for this technique because it is, in fact, torture. We are learning last night and this morning that the administration, in fact, was told repeatedly and earnestly that the techniques used in SERE constituted illegal torture. The training techniques were designed to teach our forces how to resist torture. Using them to coerce information (that would be suspect and unreliable in all cases) would constitute illegal torture.

We have prosecuted Americans and Japanese for engaging in torture, including waterboarding. In "Taxi to the Dark Side" we learn that three American soldiers in Bagram were convicted of crimes related to the torture and death of a detainee. Why only them? They were "just following orders" (an invalid legal defense). Those were orders based on an interpretation the Bush administration later rejected. I am at a loss to understand why soldiers can go to jail for torture and CIA officials must be spared. I am outraged that those knowingly ordering illegal torture might be spared.

In any event, it is our courts that decide these legal questions. How to reach that point? Pursue due process. Porter Goss writes in the Post this morning, giving us another "the ends justify the means, so shut up" argument. Sorry, Peter, that will not do. We must root out the truth and recover our status as a nation of laws. Otherwise, the "end" will never justify the means.

This is "political" only in the sense that we are trying to preserve the Constitution. I expect we will learn that Democratic representatives also made poor choices. They may not have acted illegally, but in my quest for educated, informed voters, I want their actions exposed, so we can decide whether to throw them out for failing to protect the Constitution. They will argue "we were under orders from the administration not to divulge classified information." I will argue that secrecy to conceal a crime is conspiracy to conceal that crime. Courts and voters must decide. We owe them the facts necessary to make their decisions.

FLG Was Surprised To Learn

that William Brafford reads Fear and Loathing in Georgetown. He writes over at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, a blog, which contrary to The Other McCain's position, I quite enjoy. Well, all except for Freddie whom I've placed in the sarcastic prick category since he left this comment.

On an unrelated note, this was about the same time that I put John Schwenkler in the smug, sarcastic prick category.

Now, you might be saying to yourself, "Self, FLG can be an immature and sarcastic prick." Yes, but like Bruce Campbell he's in on the fucking joke.

Torture Prosecutions

Paul Krugman's recent column demonstrates a certain misunderstanding among liberals on the torture question.

America is more than a collection of policies. We are, or at least we used to be, a nation of moral ideals. In the past, our government has sometimes done an imperfect job of upholding those ideals. But never before have our leaders so utterly betrayed everything our nation stands for.

Whether you agree or disagree with the last sentence, the first three are certainly true even if we bicker over precisely which moral ideals. Unfortunately, this doesn't follow:
And the only way we can regain our moral compass, not just for the sake of our position in the world, but for the sake of our own national conscience, is to investigate how that happened, and, if necessary, to prosecute those responsible.

What about the argument that investigating the Bush administration’s abuses will impede efforts to deal with the crises of today? Even if that were true — even if truth and justice came at a high price — that would arguably be a price we must pay: laws aren’t supposed to be enforced only when convenient.

The reason this doesn't follow is that the our moral ideals and our laws aren't the same thing. The Bush Administration changed the laws in a way that liberals, and even I, would say diverged from the American moral ideals as regards the torture issue. They redefined things under a new category, coerced interrogation, which in effect made certain types of torture legal. The key issue is what is moral and what is legal are not always the same things. And you can't prosecute people who followed the law.

If we do prosecute them, then it's a politically driven, not legally driven prosecution. I will grant that sometimes politically driven prosecutions are necessary. If an administration or regime commits crimes against humanity under the guise of laws they themselves write, then a political trial by the next regime may be necessary. But a political trial is fraught with peril. It's a break glass in case of emergency type thing -- genocide, etc. While the Bush Administration did some dirty stuff, it doesn't rise to that level.

Friday, April 24, 2009


NATO is only just beginning to recognize that the Internet has become a new battleground, and that it requires a military strategy.

What the author meant to say was NATO only recently realized that cyberwar could be an excuse to keep itself going. That said, the article raises some interesting questions:
Experts with backgrounds in the military, technology, law and science are wrestling with such questions as: What qualifies as a cyber "attack" on a NATO member, and so triggers the obligation of alliance members to rush to its defense? And how can the alliance defend itself in cyberspace?


The comments over at Boing Boing regarding this video of a naked man getting tazed generally go along the bad cop line of argument:

I'm of different mind. The guy was an idiot to be sure. Notice that around the 2:45 mark it looks like the naked guy grabbed at a cop's balls, and that's when the cop pulled out the tazer. After continued non-compliance I think the cops were justified. The guy was obviously out of his mind, and for at least two minutes they asked him nicely and routinely to put his clothes back on. Something that I must say that if I were the guy with a unit that small I would've appreciated so that my dick doesn't end up on the Interwebs.

For comparison purposes, unreasonable, out of control cops look like this.

Quote of the day

Hillary Clinton:
I think that we cannot underscore the seriousness of the existential threat posed to the state of Pakistan by continuing advances, now within hours of Islamabad, that are being made by a loosely confederated group of terrorists and others who are seeking the overthrow of the Pakistani state, a nuclear-armed state.

It's a bit of a convoluted sentence construction, but she's right.

FLG is currrently listening to

FLG is currently listening to

More on Politics and Culture

Miss Self-Important and Dance offered insightful rebukes to my argument. MSI writes:
But do we have to limit consumption of this trivial stuff alone to the shame of our darkened rooms? If not, then we enjoy it w/ other people, which necessitates talking about it. Out of talking comes analysis, both primitive and sophisticated. And out of analysis comes categorization and generalization. TV show Y is a lot like movie X, and both are part of Genre Z. Why do we have Genre Z? Why do we like it? What does it say about us? Now we have stumbled into the terrain of socio-political analysis of ephemera. It's totally unpreventable, unless you can draw a bright line consistently applicable between Subjects Worthy of Public Discussion and Subjects Not. Yes, cool new technologies are superseded by newer technologies, but that doesn't mean that the ground line telephone did not have important ramifications for society just because it is being replaced by cell phones, or that the record player didn't influence behavior because now we have iPods. So how do we decide in the present what is worth contemplating based on a future-oriented view of technology?

Dance writes:
Hmm....I would disagree with the way you set up the analysis. I think pop culture does effect changes at the individual level and that the claims you resist have to do with how we get from the individual level to a societal level. But, you know, I believe in social construction theory, at least as I understand it.

So let's say Grand Theft Auto does reduce the shock a frequent player might feel on watching a news broadcast about a tragic death (or would you resist that claim, also? seems pretty reasonable to me). How does that desensitization to violence have a larger effect? NOT in students shooting up schools because they think life is worthless from playing GTA, but maybe in more students thinking bullying is funny. Or worse traffic because lots of people are rubbernecking more.

I'm pretty sure I've read stories (possibly apocryphal) of parents shocked by children coming out referencing Will&Grace while coming to terms with the situation.

And I don't know how we discuss the impact of tech without using Facebook, Twitter, et al, as vehicles to illuminate the patterns. Yeah, the headline "Twitter makes you sociopathic" is ridiculous, but I think that's a sensationalistic media problem, not inherent to the analysis.

I cannot deny that pop culture and technology influence people, but my point is really a matter of degree. I find it annoying when the first question after something is released is "what does this mean?" The vast majority of the time people spend more time thinking about what these things mean than the actual influence the damn things have in the first place, and the entire dialogue is one big pseudo-intellectual circle-jerk among wannabe sophisticates rationalizing their fascination with shiny things that they think deep down should be beneath their notice that has all the material relevance of an angels on a pinhead argument. Just to be clear. I'm not saying these things don't have influence. It's just very often widely overblown. And I think the thing that feeds the hype is not necessarily the media but wannabe sophisticates needing to justify their interest in trivial things.

In response to the issues raised about technology, I don't have an answer. As I've said before, technology in and of itself is pointless. It's how it is useful to people that makes it important. And to determine how technology relates to people we need to use and discuss it. How we do that without referencing specific devices and applications by name seems difficult if not impossible. So, yes. Facebook and Twitter have an impact as part of the larger technological shift, but again much of their predicted impact is widely overhyped and misunderstood.

If I had to summarize my argument on this point into one statement it would be -- Before you write about the political, cultural, or societal impacts of some piece of tech, art, television, movie, etc ask yourself if you aren't just trying to justify your infatuation with it; an infatuation that you have some small, deep sense of shame about.

Just admit that you like Twitter. Maybe it's infantile and stupid to tweet that you are buying a coke, but embrace it rather than trying to justify it through questionable cultural analysis. As I was saying, maybe, just maybe your Twitter doesn't mean anything at all.

I hope that makes more sense.

Oh, and please spare me the idea that people are ashamed is a cultural analysis.

FLG's Blogging Innovation

FLG, as far as he knows, pioneered the inclusion of random music videos on a blog with his continuing "FLG is currently listening to" series of posts. He mostly did this to fill space when he couldn't think of anything to write, but still wanted to get the satisfaction of updating the blog. He's surprised by the reception it has received and in the mind of imitation being the best form of flattery we have:
The Maximum Leader

* Anti-Climacus didn't mention "currently listening to" by name.**
** FLG's blog use of footnotes has been brazenly ripped off from Alpheus.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

An Example

A great example of what I am taking about when cultural analysis goes awry is this review of Grand Theft Auto IV. The author, Phillip A. Lobo, writes:
It sounds crazy, perhaps, but Grand Theft Auto IV introduces a powerful statement on the immigrant experience, and the violent process of assimilation.

Mr. Lobo, you've thought too hard about this. I can tell already.

Fair warning: this will come perilously close to a full-on Marxist critique.

Alright. Mr. Lobo wasted at least an hour, probably many more, thinking too much about this, and he will never ever be able to get those hours back.

Political Lens

Withywindle expresses some distaste for food philosophy.

This got me thinking about the tendency some people, too many, have for viewing everything through a political lens. This applies almost equally to both the Left and Right.

Not everything has to be political. Maybe, just maybe some books are just fun children's books and not tools of Satan. Maybe, just maybe there aren't hidden references to masturbation. Maybe, just maybe not every movie has to be analyzed under the assumption that it contains some political message or says something about our society. Maybe, just maybe food is just food.

I realize that many artists, actors, directors, actors, etc hold the pretension of revealing some truth about the human condition or feel that they are raising awareness of some important issue that the masses are ignorant or ignoring. Both the original The Day The Earth Stood Still and the piece of shit remake try to make obvious political statements. Great art reveals something that is particular to its milieu, but also contains universal applicability. For example, The Great Gatsby is probably the quintessential Jazz Age novel and it captures something unique to that moment in time. Yet, it also says something timeless about The American Dream. So, I understand the tendency to analyze art and culture through a political lens.

In the broadest terms everything involving more than one person can be interpreted for political content. (In fact, a compelling case could be made that solitude, the rejection of others, has political content as well. The Unabomber comes to mind.) But not everything has to be analyzed as if it has something to say about society or politics. Maybe some art doesn't mean anything larger than what it is.

Star Wars has left as big an imprint on our culture as any piece of fiction in the last 50 years. We are awash in allusions to Star Wars. But what real political change, or even cultural change, can be traced to Star Wars? People aren't any better or worse because of Star Wars. People aren't anymore liberal or conservative because of Star Wars. If Star Wars hasn't had any real political impact, then why all the fuss about a whole host of pop culture phenomena?

I guess I've always rejected, not completely but largely, the idea that people are susceptible to influence through pop culture. I doubt that kids will reject God because of Harry Potter. I doubt that portrayals of homosexuals on sitcoms are anywhere near as influential to the acceptance of homosexuals in society as actual homosexuals coming out of the closet. I doubt that depictions of violence really result in longer term increases in violence. In part I doubt these because they come to close to the social construction theory crap.

Why is there so much interest in analyzing the politics of the artistic and cultural? Part, as I mentioned before, is the pretension of Hollywood assholes. But that on its own would largely be ignored because Hollywood is so politically unsophisticated. The issue, as I see it, is the wannabe sophisticates.

Educated, intelligent people who try to reconcile their interest in crappy pop culture with their self-image as sophisticates. Dara Lind referenced my Culture11 analysis in the comments over at The American Scene:
I think this helps illuminate the C11 backlash, actually. For those on board with the operation (it seemed to me), C11 was interesting because it examined culture and politics with the same critical eye. Many of the critics, on the other hand, enjoyed the political heterodoxy but saw the cultural stuff as something fundamentally different: it wasn’t on board with the “important things,” so it was trivia, or “self-referential hipness.” My favorite C11 postmortem was “it went to your heads, like a nerd who becomes a popstar overnight,” which sounds like a decent description of plenty of hipsters.

Then again, by having adopted that quote ironically, I suppose I’m helping the argument that C11ism is/was hipsterism…

My point here isn't about hipsters, but she raises an interesting point. For many people, politics is the most important topic. While culture is trivia. Analyzing the politics or societal impact of Firefly provides a veneer of intellectual sophistication to what would otherwise be considered a diversion.

I keep going on and on about culture, but the same applies to technology. The Internet was a game changer. Twitter, Facebook, whatever have a minor and marginal impact. Analyzing Twitter, iPhone, or [fill in new tech toy here] and predicting its impact on the wider culture seems to be the favorite pasttime of people who are uncomfortable with their relationship to unimportant technology. But FLG, isn't technology hugely important? How can you say that?

Technology as a category is important, but Facebook is the latest in a line of social networking sites, including Friendster and MySpace. Something will probably come along and replace Facebook. The disposability of each of these sites makes them trivial. The same goes for smart phones. Blackberries were the cool thing, then iPhones. The same thing applies to all technology really. It's planned obsolescence and its rapid pace of improvement make it both important and trivial simultaneously.

Getting back to my point, these wannabe sophisticates feel a need to reconcile their interest in the trivial, be it TV, movies, technology, or food, and render it important by analyzing it at a political, societal, or cultural level. There's always some truth to it, but it's overstated and far too often a haven for pseudo-intellectuals trying to make themselves sound and feel sophisticated.

How about sometimes we just enjoy stuff even if it is trivial and leave it's broader political or cultural importance aside. As I said, if Star Wars hasn't had a huge political impact then very likely nothing will.

Annuities and Retirement

Perhaps Andrew Stevens can explain the logic, but I don't understand the appeal of buying a fixed annuity to turn a lump sum into a series of payments. Inflation erodes the value. Why not just put the money in 20-year TIPS? And then, if necessary, buy more after the 20 years is up?

A New Type Of Narrative Conflict

We all know about Man vs. Self, Man vs. Nature, and Man vs. Man, but Man vs. Ron Jeremy's Cock is an entirely new form of conflict:

Obvious Questions

Spike may be interested in whether a ninja or a spartan would win in a battle, but this story about a ninja robbing a dry cleaners prompts an even greater question.

What would happen if the ninja thief tried to rob Samurai Dry Cleaners?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009



Tuesday, April 21, 2009

FLG is currently listening to

FLG is currently listening to

For Later

FLG has to run, and he was only a bit into Deneen's latest post when the striking similarities to FLG's favorite Tocqueville passage became apparent.

Subjection in minor affairs breaks out every day and is felt by the whole community indiscriminately. It does not drive men to resistance, but it crosses them at every turn, till they are led to surrender the exercise of their own will. Thus their spirit is gradually broken and their character enervated; whereas that obedience which is exacted on a few important but rare occasions only exhibits servitude at certain intervals and throws the burden of it upon a small number of men. It is in vain to summon a people who have been rendered so dependent on the central power to choose from time to time the representatives of that power; this rare and brief exercise of their free choice, however important it may be, will not prevent them from gradually losing the faculties of thinking, feeling, and acting for themselves, and thus gradually falling below the level of humanity.

I add that they will soon become incapable of exercising the great and only privilege which remains to them. The democratic nations that have introduced freedom into their political constitution at the very time when they were augmenting the despotism of their administrative constitution have been led into strange paradoxes. To manage those minor affairs in which good sense is all that is wanted, the people are held to be unequal to the task; but when the government of the country is at stake, the people are invested with immense powers; they are alternately made the play things of their ruler, and his masters, more than kings and less than men. After having exhausted all the different modes of election without finding one to suit their purpose, they are still amazed and still bent on seeking further; as if the evil they notice did not originate in the constitution of the country far more than in that of the electoral body.

It is indeed difficult to conceive how men who have entirely given up the habit of self-government should succeed in making a proper choice of those by whom they are to be governed; and no one will ever believe that a liberal, wise, and energetic government can spring from the suffrages of a subservient people.

At the same time, the national government is a massive and largely impersonal organization. Like most modern organizations, it is composed of innumerable faceless functionaries whose job is largely to render all problems and concerns subject to administrative logic and "rationalization." Government is largely something we perceive to be "out there": even those of us who regularly vote know that our vote is a tiny fraction of actual sovereignty, and that even changes in representatives will result in small actual changes to the daily grind of the administrative State. While we are theoretically citizens, we regard Government as something alien and separate from us, an entity hardly comprehensible and barely under control....

We should understand that "the system" was designed to render us relatively politically insignificant and inert (or, "tractable") while, it was hoped, any potential frustrations from that public irrelevance would be obviated by great potentials for private success, particularly economic opportunities and prosperity. The modern liberal project of mass legitimating "democracy" was a wager designed to purchase our acquiescence to political insignificance in favor of private satisfactions. It was the literal reversal of the ancient and Christian counsels that private satisfactions needed forms of restraint whose sources derived from publically defined conceptions of common weal, and at their most expansive demanded a strong degree of publically shaped and determined self-government.

Yet, Deneen is drawing from something else as well because where Tocqueville talks about government control of minor affairs to render larger political affairs out of the people's control. Deneen is arguing something akin to Poulos' Pink Police State where freedom in minor affairs acts as distraction from the nefariousness at the higher political level.

I'll have to finish reading Deneen's post later and think about it some more. Right now, I just don't buy it, but then again I've never really bought into the Pink Police State theory either.

Computer Security Is A National Security Issue

Computer spies have repeatedly breached the Pentagon's costliest weapons program, the $300 billion Joint Strike Fighter project, The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.

An unsecured windows laptop can be as big a security risk as an unguarded door to the organization's headquarters.

Concerns About Georgetown Community To Be Solved By Rebuilding The Community

A meeting at Georgetown.

Students: We're concerned about the Georgetown community.

Administration: We are as well. We must rebuild this community by rebuilding trust in the community, which will allow us to rebuild the community.

Students: Yes, yes. We must rebuild the community by rebuilding the community.

Administration: We will create working groups. They will hold meetings and things will get better.

Faculty: Why weren't we told about this meeting?

Administration: We're responding willy-nilly to the perceived slights and problems of a group of whiny, mercurial 18-22 year-olds. It's a tough job to coordinate all of this stuff.

Faculty: Wanna see whiny and mercurial?

Administration: Did you hear about our proposed working groups? They will hold meetings and everything will get better.

Faculty: Will there be faculty representation through which we will be able to champion our pet causes?

Administration: Oh, of course.

Faculty: Excellent. Then please proceed.

Administration: So, we are all agreed? We will rebuild our community by rebuilding our community and the hard work of rebuilding our community will begin with working groups, trust building, and dialogue...

Students: Open and honest dialogue!

Administration: Is there any other kind?

NATO, Bungling Itself To Irrelevancy For Nearly Two Decades

On Sunday, after foiling an attack by Somali pirates on a Norwegian oil tanker, NATO forces detained and then released seven gunmen, alliance officials said.

Emphasis FLG's.

Hillary Clinton says that this "sends the wrong signal." Ya don't say?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Beers of the Month

Proof That The Results Of Studies Are Often Complete Bullshit

The well-worn concept of 'beer googles' that make men view women as more attractive the more they drink is a myth, claim scientists.

In Case You Didn't Know: TIPS ETF

FLG had no idea until just now that there is an iShares TIPS ETF, which stands for Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities Exchange Traded Fund. Or, if you prefer, it's a bond fund that you buy and sell like a stock that should give you a real return regardless of interest rates.

Expenses are 0.20% and the real yield is listed at 1.85%, but for some reason FLG is skeptical of the damn thing as a means to hedge inflation.

Dear Lexington:

Your work in The Economist is first rate, and I love your blog, especially today's post about higher education:
The result is one of the most bizarre protection rackets in human history: in order to give their children a decent chance of getting into the middle-class, many American parents are supporting a menagerie of pseudo-academics who devote their lives to denouncing "classism", "sexism", "racism" and the rest of it.

But...ay, there's the rub. Why use the phrase "in order to?" "To give their children a decent chance of getting into the middle-class..." would be just fine.

Moreover, you wrote "in order to" twice in this week's column. In both cases "to" would have sufficed.

Great work, but please try to cut down on the in order to's.


Sweetest Love Song Ever Written

I think we better split up.

Good idea. Yeah... we can do more damage that way.

FLG is currently listenng to

FLG is currently listening to

Exercise In Understatement

A potentially troubling era dawned Sunday in Pakistan's Swat Valley, where a top Islamist militant leader, emboldened by a peace agreement with the federal government, laid out an ambitious plan to bring a "complete Islamic system" to the surrounding northwest region and the entire country.

Potentially troubling? Let me remind people of a few facts. 1) Pakistan is a nuclear power. 2) Pakistan doesn't exactly have the most stable government. 3) Pakistan is a nuclear power. 4) Some Many Most of the Islamists in Pakistan are on that whole, let's bring Sharia to the world kick. The AKP these guys ain't. 5) Pakistan is a nuclear power.

So, I'd say this is a bit more than potentially troubling. Phrases like "scary as fuck," "freaking the fuck out," "shitting pants," and "preparing a contingency plan involving a shitload special forces to secure Pakistan's nuclear weapons in the event of state failure" come to mind.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Hate Groups

I actually agree with the majority of a Charles Blow column. I think it's a first. In response to the DHS report warning about extremist groups, he writes:
conservatives reacted by throwing a knee-jerk hissy fit. They twisted the report’s meaning to imply that they, and more importantly our war heroes, were being vilified by a partisan document.

While listening to talk radio last week I cringed at the poor logic. Just because the government worries that some people who hold conservative views may be terrorists or extremists does not mean that the government is saying ALL people who hold conservative views are terrorists or extremist. And some of the rhetoric used by the talk show hosts sounded an awful lot like the left wing during the Bush years -- whiny and illogical.

One point raised by Blow that while true I also have a problem with is:
while only a tiny number of conservatives and veterans are members of hate groups, nearly all hate groups do indeed follow far-right ideology. And they covet members with military experience.

Part of this is the conscious and unfortunately all too successful attempts by the Left to associate the word "hate" with the Right.

I'll be the first to admit that there are vile, hateful people on the Right. However, the use of the word "hate" in the media almost invariably refers to hate toward some favorite group of the Left. For example, I could probably write ten thousand words on how defining some crimes as "hate crimes" is a bullshit.

The nutjob groups on the Left hate different things and people, and are all too often defended as those misguided in the pursuit of Justice. Mao and Stalin killed a lot of people. When you kill millions you are hateful even if you rationalize it away. The Environmental Liberation Front hates a lot of people, corporations, and things. The left wing nutjobs rioted in Seattle, attacked the Fred Goodwin's house, etc are full of hate.

I have always been extremely uncomfortable with the they're doing it too, so it's okay for us rationale. So, I'm not trying to justify hatred by the Right. My point is that Blow's statement about the all hate groups being on the Right is true, but part of it is because of the meaning implied in the word hate. Too the extent that the Left has made "hate" and "right" synonyms his statement has become a tautology.

Another Example Of Why FLG Hates The Word Fair

Kathleen Parker:
That not all people have access to all the same housing opportunities is called life in a free-market society. But the fair-housing folks want life to be more fair, and the ads are warming us up for some really fun social engineering.

It is a completely relativistic term. There is no absolute fairness, only what makes people feel negatively is not fair and what makes people feel good is fair. I loathe the word fair.

Gift Update

Some of you will remember that Linda was kind enough to send along a onesie for Miss FLG. Well, it was a tinsy bit big for her. Miss FLG was a tiny baby. But she's a growing girl and it fits her now. She loves it. Thanks again!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Most Airport Security And The Air Marshals Are A Waste Of Time And Money

Another 9/11 will never happen. And by this I mean nobody will ever take over a plane and crash it into buildings. Never. Ever. 9/11 was a one shot deal.

Many people forget that prior to 9/11 terrorists hijacked planes, flew to Tunisia, demanded prisoners be released, maybe killed a couple of passengers or the pilot before Delta Force or an SAS team stormed the plane and killed the hijackers. The crews were instructed to comply with hijacker demands. Obviously, people won't do that anymore as the famous "Let's Roll" demonstrated.

A terrorist may kill or injure a handful of people with a knife or gun before that are beaten to death, but the passengers sure as hell ain't letting them take over another plane again. And good luck trying to get into the cockpit.

Therefore, spending a bunch of time checking for guns while not a complete waste of time isn't the best use of limited resources. Checking for knives even less valuable. And worrying about nail clippers and scissors just dumb.

The biggest worry is bombs and explosives. We should be checking more thoroughly for them and drastically reducing the effort spent looking for guns and knives. Air marshals are next to useless against bombers and bombs on the plane. In fact, we should scrap the entire Air Marshall program altogether and buy more explosive detection machines and bomb sniffing dogs. As mentioned earlier, sky marshal or no, terrorists are not taking over a plane.

It's unfortunate that we spend so much defending against the previous attack when it is already impossible to recreate it.

Female Soldiers In Iraq

I was listening to the BBC Global News podcast yesterday, and one of the segments was an interview with Helen Benedict about her book, The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq.

At the beginning of the interview, Benedict claims to have been interested in how women adapt to combat in a situation like Iraq where there are no front lines. She implies that after interviewing female veterans that she is surprised to hear tales of rape repeatedly. She then starts going on about how some 30-something percent of female soldiers are raped, 70-something percent are sexually assaulted, and 90-something percent are sexually harassed by their own comrades. The BBC hired an actress to read one harrowing story of how a female soldier was raped in Afghanistan in which the soldier claims to have informed the chain of command, but is told that if she formally reports her rape then she would be charged with dereliction of duty for leaving her weapon unattended. This would result in a court martial, and she didn't want to go through that because it might end her career in the military. This was where I became suspicious of the entire report.

It just didn't make sense to me that a woman who was raped would want to stay in a career which according to the book's author is filled with near universal sexual harassment and assault and an appallingly high rape percentage. I'm not saying I don't believe the woman was raped, and it's tragic if she received the response she claims to have received. The more likely scenario in my mind was a anti-military hit piece by Benedict. So, I started looking into her background.

A quick google search revealed her Columbia Journalism School webpage, and it's very clear that despite her implied shock at discovering the repeated reports from female vets of sexual assault that she was in all probability searching for them. Look at the other book titles: Virgin or Vamp: How the Press Covers Sex Crimes and Recovery: How to Survive Sexual Assault.

I also discovered that she wrote an article for Salon on the topic that had to be corrected:
The March 6 story "The Private War of Women Soldiers" originally said that National Guard soldier Demond Mullins told the author that "a commander in his camp turned a blind eye to rape all the time." But Mullins says that he heard only secondhand from his unit commanders about rapes in other units. The story also quoted Mullins as saying that more than one solider raped a woman in the shower, whereas Mullins says that he heard that only one man committed the rape. The misstatements have been corrected.
[Correction made 3/8/07]


The March 6 story "The Private War of Women Soldiers" originally included the following statement from National Guard soldier Demond Mullins: "Rapes were happening every night ... Married men were doing it, everyone." Mullins says that he misspoke and was also misunderstood by the reporter. The statement has been deleted.
[Correction made 3/7/07]

Let me be clear here. I'm not saying that I don't believe the women. There's a very high likelihood that many if not most of the reported rapes and assaults in the book occurred. Sex and violence are unfortunately linked in the reptilian parts of our brains and rape has a long, sad history in warfare. So, in some sense I'm not terribly surprised, as awful as this entire topic is. Nevertheless, this does not excuse the United States military from taking these accusations as seriously as possible. Even one rape at the hands of a fellow soldier, sailor, or marine is too many.

While I'm glad somebody is keeping an eye on this important topic, we also have the unfortunate problem of self-selection. People driven to cover a specific, difficult to report topic usually care a lot about it. I don't doubt for a second that Helen Benedict cares a great deal about the safety of female service members. Yet, I also fear that this passion would lead her rationalize the exaggeration of the scope of the problem and I'm also apt to believe that she objects strongly to the male dominated, hierarchical culture of the military in and of itself. Therefore, I'm taking what she says about the scope of the problem with a grain of salt, but not dismissing the individual reports.
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