THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 328 September 20 - 26, 2004
Highlights this week:
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September 20, 2004
The mess in Iraq continues. I have no idea what we ought to do there; some sources tell me things are getting better, others that we are getting worse. And there are questions at every level.
Strategically: dare we declare victory and get out? There are a hundred variants on the theme but they all add up to "cut and run" and it will make it difficult to get anyone to believe us in future. Or will it?
The Afghan situation was the right model: can we get anyone to believe we will do that in future?
Morally: we broke it; are we not obligated to fix some of the broken parts? If so how, and what cost? If we admit we had no business being there at all, we are obliged to pay far higher costs -- reparations if you like -- than if we had justification. Oddly enough the WMD come in here: we believed they existed, Clinton believed it, the Turks believed it, the French believed it, the Germans believed it, everyone in the region believed that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons deployed and ready to use; even his generals believed it, each believing that others had them ready to use. It may be that Saddam believed it.
If the elimination of Weapons of Mass Destruction short of nuclear justifies an intervention, we were justified; the fact that they didn't exist is irrelevant, because almost no one was saying they didn't exist until we went in. Almost no one. -- I believed he had them but that non-nuclear WMD were at most a regional threat, and Saddam was deterred and contained, and we were better off leaving things the way they were; but that is a rare position.
Morally: we eliminated a monster but we left many people -- victims, not masters of the former regime -- worse off than before we went in. Have we an obligation to put that right?
Economically: it is a terribly expensive war, our deficits are soaring, and we are incurring the debts not as investment to be paid back but as current expenses: we are not borrowing money (from overseas, from future generations, from ourselves in future; against growth) to promote growth, investing in energy alternatives. The money goes as current expenses. Borrowing money to meet current expenses means belt tightening and cut backs in private lives: only government can borrow money to spend for votes and goodies and largess to the public with no thought of return on that investment.
It is easily established that the correlation between economic growth in the West and energy prices is high and negative. Minor things: shipping movie projectors across country to be used in a convention now costs $5,000, a significant item in a Science Fiction Convention budget; when the tradition of loaning out that equipment was established, the costs were far lower. All travel costs more. Airlines are now losing $4 billion a year (and insanely paying $14 billion a year in taxes). I could continue, but the fact is that with $40/bbl oil the world is in trouble and growth will slow.
Investment in lowering dependence on oil would have a dramatic effect. We aren't doing much of that compared to pouring money into the Iraqi sand: if that got the oil pumping it would have a hell of a return on investment, but so far that isn't happening.
Again: for $200 billion we could have built 100 one-thousand-megawatt fission nuclear power plants, fueling them with fissionables from surplus nuclear warheads. In those quantities (with some sane regulation legislation, which ought not have been all that difficult in the wake of 911: it is after all part of homeland security) the plants would have cost about $1 billion each, leaving $100 billion for research into using electricity for transportation to eliminate need for oil use; and building a fleet of heavy lift vehicles and beginning on solar power satellites. All that would have taken 4 to 6 years. It will take more than a decade to become nearly independent of Middle East Oil, but it can be done, and the costs would not be high compared to what we are spending now to assure Middle East Oil supplies.
Note that as our nuclear plants come on line, and we develop more ways to use electricity for transport, the need for oil falls, and the price of oil falls, benefiting the entire world other than the Arabs. Whatever the merits of the Arabs, they can hardly claim much credit for having been born over resources they are themselves unable to extract. Let the prices fall: it's good for everyone else.
We could still do that: and it would still make more sense than pouring money into the Iraqi sand.
Which still doesn't solve the problem of what to do about Iraq; but it is noteworthy that it would still be worth borrowing $200 billion to do that NOW.
On this subject:
Subject: quick exit
Quick exit from Iraq is likely
They must be trying to get _my_ vote. Won't work.
They will I think keep my vote; having played with the neo-Jacobin fire, perhaps the Bush people, who were not neo-Jacobins, have learned. After all Francis Fukuyama has defected, as have others.
It was an expensive experiment: but the Jacobin notion that every human desires freedom and democracy, and needs only the opportunity to embrace them, has been with Western Civilization for a long time. Edmund Burke's REFLECTIONS was written precisely in answer to this, as was his lecture to the New Whigs from the Old Whigs (to neo-cons from paleo-cons?).
It is an attractive notion, and much taught in American universities to this day; indeed I make no doubt someone is instilling this false anthropology into willing young minds even as I write this, and despite all the evidence from Iraq: for with the belief among the enlightened in the professorate comes a general hatred of America in general, and a radical view of society, which generally blinds the enlightened to illumination from actual events in the world.
But to those in power now perhaps the lesson has become clear. It was an expensive lesson, but apparently it must be learned every few generations. In Burke's time The Terror, Thermidor, Directory, Consulate, Napoleon, all were yet to come when he wrote the Reflections; Tom Paine and Jefferson were still champions of the Revolution when Burke wrote his Reflections; it was only what happened later that enlightened some (and broke Paine's heart as well as his health). But over time we have forgotten that the ancients considered good government a gift of the gods; that the Framers full well understood the difficulty of the task they set themselves in Philadelphia that hot Summer of 1787; that it would be a Republic only if we could keep it.
We have learned that planting Democracy in Iraq is not so simple. Simon Bolivar could have told us of the difficulty: seeking to plant democracy in his country, he said, was to plow the sea. Others have tried.
It was a noble effort; and perhaps those who tried have learned something from it.
Wade Scholine if you wonder why you don't get mail from me, your spam filters are working very well
In fact many of you have good spam filters and don't get my mailings. There is nothing I can do about that. I have put some of the names in badmail along with some of the reasons, but in general, if you did not get today's mailing you ought to look into why.
|This week:||Tuesday, September
Kerry now says we shouldn't have been in Iraq. But that's now, after he has the nomination, and things aren't going well. But he was for it before. Did you know that Kerry served in Viet Nam? Have you looked at Bush's service record?
His campaign is a mess, and doesn't look to be getting better; his camp is full of wonks who don't believe much of anything other than their desperate need to be elected so they will have jobs after the campaign. Young Podhoretz said of his stint in the Bush First White House that in contrast to the Reaganites they replaced (all of whom went out and got good jobs) "We didn't have principles, we had mortgages."
As to what Kerry will DO, his speech has four points.
(1) More international troops. Where he gets them not specified; it's unlikely he can do more to build a coalition than Bush has already done. The war isn't popular and few will want to join up unless things begin to look better over there.
(2) Get more Iraqis involved. Why he will be able to do that better than Bush not specified. The neo-Jacobins who fired all the Saddam security forces did so on their "remove the oppressors and democracy will spring forth" principles; that didn't work. Bringing them back to cooperate as in Fallujah didn't work: once you break something it's much harder to fix it. There is no way to accomplish this but the way Bush and his people are doing it, recruit new, train them, hope they will be loyal to the new government, pray a lot. There is no reason to suppose that changing to a new team to do the only thing possible now will bring more success than leaving it to those who have finally learned what doesn't work.
(3) Rebuild Iraq's infrastructure. The fact that Kerry thinks this is a revelation says all that's needed. Duh.
(4) Bring Democracy to Iraq: that's the neo-Jacobin notion that got us there. It may be possible, but it's not going to happen in a year or two: and the fact that Kerry promises democracy but says it was a mistake to remove Saddam says a very great deal about his principles and his actual beliefs.
I carry no enthusiasm for Bush, but I think his people are learning; and those with political debts who want us in Iraq for the wrong reasons, or have wrong-headed ideas about human nature, have pretty well used up their political capital among Republicans. Kerry's speech makes me wonder if they haven't figured that out and are now shopping about for someone else to carry out their agenda.
It wasn't a mistake: it was worse and better than that.
Many in this world really do believe that democracy is transplantable, that people everywhere long for freedom: all our universities teach that. All of them. It's the world view of the intellectual class. Now their idea of democracy may sound more like Trotsky than Rousseau, but hell, Trotsky and Marx derived much of their notions from Rousseau.
Jacobinism is a powerful force. Burke was railing against the Zeitgeist, and for a while the history the Terror and the like was enough to keep people out of that trap -- but now most have no notion of that period, know no history, and think the Bastille was full of intellectuals and liberal democrats being tortured by King Louis XVI. And that includes the historians!
The neocons may not believe most of that stuff, but they say they do, and some are former Trotskyites and probably do believe it.
OK: We gave the idea a fair shot. The result was exactly what you expect when you remove a regime and don't impose order on the remnants: democratic institutions didn't spring out of the ground. But how in the world would almost anyone educated in the US after 1980 or so be expected to know that, given that they know no history at all?
The fact of the matter is that we have no assurance that a Democratic president would not have done the same or worse; the Democrats have been historically the party of war, and while Clinton seems to have learned a lesson in the Horn of Africa -- Black Hawk Down seems to have made a lasting impression on him -- his Secretary of State got us into Kossovo where we have far fewer vital interests (and nearly got us into a real conflict with Slavophilic Russia), and famously asked what was the use of having the best army in the world if we couldn't use it to Do Good.
Most of our politicians and statesmen know less history than we routinely learned by 10th grade in Tennessee in the 40's. And Rousseau's Jacobin ideas are very powerful. The Noble Savage! Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains!
Just read your view for today. You're right I did not get enough history.
In my college BSEE courses in the 70's I had one and only one history class, and that was an overt attempt by the university to cross pollinate its students! I think I got more historical principles from reading Robert Heinlein's books and your books than in school.
How about a directed reading list on your web site for political history?
I get mail like this a lot. Sometimes I try to respond. Clearly there are problems.
First, though, a quick look at the various books I have recommended over the years will help. You will find that isn't up to date; I will get at it when I can; but many of the books are timeless, and browsing through that list should be a start.
September 22, 2004
Before 2000 I used Franklin Ascend as a Personal Assistant and I liked it very much. With all its files and history the entire thing, program, data files, and all, fit into a single directory C: \ Program Files\Ascend and was small enough to copy onto a Zip 100 disk; I think in fact it was all under 10 megabyte, but it was certainly under 50; I could carry my day's work, novels, dictionaries, web essays, and the Ascend directory on one Zip with considerable room left over. My practice was to take it up to the Monk's Cell where I would go through the priority task items, put off any to the next day that could be put off while I worked on urgent matters, check appointments, and the like. When I was done I would copy the entire directory back onto the Zip disk along with whatever I had done on my current book (including new dictionaries and the like). This automatically made a backup and then I could copy this entire mess onto the "main machine" down here in the office.
The Franklin Ascend program was good enough that I never wanted any improvements in it, and did not do whatever upgrades they were offering. It would print out task list on either plain paper or make lined paper, in various sizes for going into loose-leaf binders; it kept my calendar and appointments, and my phone book, and had both a "journal" for essay thoughts and a "daily log" for free form items. It was more than good enough. It was great. Then came the Year 2000, and it died because you could no longer put tasks off to the next day: it thought the next day was earlier than today. That ended that.
I have since searched for a similar program, and I have not found it. Outlook isn't very good for this. It will do, but it's not fun to use. Franklin-Covey's latest programs don't work the same way at all. There aren't the special "Red Tab" items, and a lot of the other things are just lost.
Query: did anyone ever jigger up the old Ascend to fix the Y2K bug? I would bet a simple patch would do it: it might take disassembly to find the sequence but once found the code adjustments could be done in a hex editor and the patched .exe file could be saved. It wouldn't take a week's work by someone who knows what he's doing. I could have done it myself at one time.
Query: has anyone got a similar program? The latest Franklin programs among other things look to see if more than one copy is running on a network and get upset about that making it difficult to update from main machine to laptop; and it's very difficult to simply put the stuff over onto a Zip disk or Disk on Key and carry it to another machine not on the network at all. Plus the version that integrates with Outlook blows up and Outlook 2003 uninstalls it and I have to turn it back on again ewvery time I close down Outlook 2003; annoying.
What I really really want is a patched version of the old Franklin Ascend that will work with files after the year 2000; and the closest thing to that is what I need. I prefer stand alone to integrated with Outlook.
My daughter Jenny was so happy with her iPAQ that I am getting one for myself, and this may all be moot: it may come with something Good Enough; but I really did like that old version of Ascend.
John Derbyshire has an interesting thought at http://www.nationalreview.com/thecorner/corner.asp
Think on that, on Fred's latest, and on Jane Jacobs on the coming dark ages. then remember that despair is a sin.
About 80% of the emergency room overload in Southern California is from illegal immigrants. Illegal immigrant services, which San Diego cannot refuse, has driven the city to bankruptcy.
The invasion of America continues, but the Army is busy in Iraq and cannot defend the country. The Navy and Marines are also helpless.
And yet we can defend ourselves.
Excerpt: "The new tone that entered the blogosphere was a sense of responsibility to the truth. The bloggers looked around themselves and saw that nobody else had the powerful means, the democratic and distributed organization, the robust egalitarian truculence, and the absence of interest conflict to act as the truth's final guardian and court of appeal. The mainstream journalists had abdicated their responsibility, the political parties were obviously willing to bend the truth, the academy had philosophically repudiated the concept of truth, the courts were increasing based on adversarial rhetorical virtuosity, rather than the establishment of fact. So it was up to the bloggers."
September 23, 2004
Alas, I have heard nothing from any reader on a patched copy of Franklin Ascend (pre-2000). The new Franklin Covey doesn't work well with Outlook 2003, and isn't anything like as convenient as the old one anyway.
Some excellent material on Today's Wall Street Journal editorial page. On that score I have a question. One editorial is about Fannie Mae, and I paid no attention to it, but it raised a question: what the devil is the formal name of Fannie Mae, and its twin Freddie Mac? I know they are semi-private companies with all kinds of government guarantees and subsidies, but that's about all I know: I am pretty sure these things do not have the formal names of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but I haven't been able to find out what their real names are. (THANKS! A number of you have sent this information! Thanks!)
There is also a Mossberg review of the new Apple desktop, both the 17" and 20", and I admit I find them attractive. Very. And not a bad price, either. The 20" sounds particularly attractive, and I presume that Word files would move from those to Niven's Windows machines without problems. Not, I hasten to add, that I have THAT many problems with Windows.
Have new HP iPAQ and I am about to experiment with the synchronization software. I don't really want to synchronize with Outlook, although I may have no choice; the documents are very thin and not very informative. I'll try some on-line reading before I actually run the synch programs. So far I find the instructions confusing, particularly since there is no mention of Outlook 2003 anywhere. It offers to install Outlook 2002 but that is not the same thing.
Well, I found an old copy of Ascend 5 and that works. Now I am confused as to why I ever abandoned it. It seems to work quite well. It is NOT the one I used to like so much, which was I think Version 3 (which had a nicer color scheme) but that's another story and one I don't think I want to get too deep into.
I will have to experiment with this again; but it is stand alone, it looks to print things as Franklin Ascend always did, and to have all the task management features I like. Of course it isn't likely to work with the new PDA.
It may be that I abandoned this to go to the Palm Pilot PDA software, then found I didn't care all that much for the Palm Pilot? Because this sure looks like it works, only I have forgotten much about how to use it. More when I figure out what I am doing.
Well, some people have better memory systems than I do: Dr. Huth found out what happened.
September 24, 2004
Subject: Fantastic stuff about long life
Live long, and prosper, but starve; but perhaps this is a way out of that loop/
Be nice to be around a while.
I continue to play with the iPAQ; the Microsoft synchronization software is a bit flakey and Outlook and it don't play very nicely together; sequencing of events is important. And to get the wireless going I needed to update the firmware to the June 2004 status. But that did work and it is on the air now.
This may be interesting:
September 25, 2004
Those who live in the Bay area and have October 1 free might find this interesting:
"The Computer History Museum hosts Bill Gates, Chairman and Chief Software Architect of Microsoft Corp., in conversation with John Hennessy, President of Stanford University.
"This exceptional Friday afternoon event will feature Gates sharing his thoughts on the theme, "Building Confidence in a Connected Marketplace." With the world increasingly operating as a global network, and companies around the world innovating and contributing to its rapid growth, Gates will be discussing with Hennessy his vision of how technology will contribute to commerce and society in the years ahead, the opportunities and challenges facing the technology industry and, the shared responsibility to ensure trust in the digital future. After the presentation, the audience will have an opportunity to participate in a question and answer session. "
September 26, 2004
I wrote the following for an SFWA conference, but it seemed relevant here:
I am way behind on my reading, so I was surprised when I looked into this week's Weekly Standard and saw letters referring to an essay by Gregory Feeley in the September 6 issue. As it happens I thought I had thrown that one away mostly unread, so went to the trash, where I found that someone had thrown out the Summer Issue of The National Interest, which has a really excellent article by Francis Fukuyama on the failure of neo-conservative foreign policy (excellent = I might have written it myself); I fished that out and read it and I am grateful. It's very much worth your time if you can find it.
Then I went on line to discover that the Weekly Standard doesn't allow you to read Feeley's essay unless you are an enrolled subscriber, which I am, but I had forgotten my password and had to renew that, then printed out Greg's essay; only then I discovered the September 6 issue in my brief case.
In any event, I read it: it's an essay on the "Alternate History" genre, a critique from the literary side of the house. While Feeley is not Epstein, not many are; it's a good essay in that it makes one think about the subject. I am not sure I can agree but then I don't have the academic view of literature as opposed to entertainment in a hierarchy of values that is the starting point of the essay; or so I would think. My own view is that entertainments can be quite as influential over people's lives as "serious" or "great" literature. Uncle Tom's Cabin probably had more influence over the history of the US than Mark Twain, and Twain didn't think of himself as particularly literary in the first place. Kipling paid him great homage, but then Kipling isn't in high favor with the literary set just now. And while The Scarlet Letter may be great literature, I'd far rather read one of the Henty historical novels about that time. I am not even sure that reading Hawthorne is good for my soul. And between having to read Silas Marner again or seeing the wonderful Steve Martin movie made from it, I'll take Martin every time.
In any event, Greg Feeley's essay in the September 6 issue of The Weekly Standard was worth my trouble in hunting it down, and I thank him for writing it; but it raises a very curious question:
What are Greg Feeley and Thomas Disch doing in Weekly Standard?
For the few who don't know, Weekly Standard is a Murdoch Newscorp publication and the flagship of the neo-conservative movement. Now I happen to think neo-concervatives are not conservative at all, and neo-Jacobin would be a much better term for what they believe; but they are almost certainly responsible for getting us into the Iraq War in direct contravention of the advice of the Old Conservatives as well as the paleo-Conservatives (I won't go into THAT distinction just now), their editorial policy is one of "National Greatness", and they certainly support Bush for President; I would not have thought either Feeley or Disch would be in favor of any of that. Perhaps I misread?
None of this should be taken as detrimental to the Weekly Standard essays of either: Disch has done some excellent reviews of modern exhibition art, and Feeley's essay on alternate history is the best thing in that particular issue of The Weekly Standard; but I do confess curiosity as to how they fit into that particular nest.
Meanwhile, Fukuyama's essay is more than worth reading, but it's hard to find unless you are a subscriber to The National Interest. It's the best critique of Krauthammer and the neo-con policies I have seen in some time.
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