Nanotech, singularities. Iraq and tolerance. What’s Unconstitutional? Hollywood Sci-Fi Museum

View 828, Friday, June 13, 2014

John Quincy Adams on American Policy:

Whenever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.

She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.

Fourth of July, 1821


Home safe.  A few excitements over weather in Carolina, but US Air handled it all well, and despite several hours delay in getting off Hilton Head Island I got to Charlotte just in time for my regularly scheduled flight to LAX, the limousine service met me at the proper time and place, and LA freeways were working, and I got home tired but safe.  The conference was well worth going to. These are the people who are doing the work in advancing nanotech, mostly working at micron levels now,  building tools, testing materials, polishing surface, developing lithography at micron and smaller scales, and in general implementing the technology.  Think early days of the computer revolution.

In my talk to the conference I said that I could predict with confidence that everything I saw at this conference would be available as an app on whatever equivalent of an iPhone we will be carrying in 2044; that the smart phone we carried would have 10 terabytes of information storage  — on reflection I am sure it will be closer to 100 TB – and be able to Skype with anyone in the world who had one, and that would be a large fraction of the human race. Presumably we will be able to filter out unwanted calls, but it’s not clear how.  “Siri, call whoever is at the GPS location…”  We will not be at a singularity caused by self-replicating self-aware macro, micro, or nanotech robots doing Lamarckian evolution.  We will be building things that all of us will say “I should have thought of that!”.  Some of those in the room listening to this will be billionaires.  Most will not be, but nearly all will be well employed.  You went into the right field.  It was worth the cost of your education.

More on that another time.


The situation in Iraq is terrible. Predictable and predicted, of course. Now the Sunni al-Qaida are running amok killing heretic Shia, and the Shia Iranians are getting nervous, and as I understand it the super-Shia Iranian Republican Guard are now intervening. Meanwhile the pro-western Kurds seem secure and have used this opportunity to seize Kirkuk and some oil fields, and generally to consolidate their hold on their Kurdistan; and of course this all strengthens their independence from Baghdad. As to religion, the saying among Arabs is “Compared to infidels, Kurds are Moslem”. Since the time of the Saladin sultanate (Saladin was a Kurd and his shock troops which took Jerusalem from the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem were Kurds), the Kurds have been comparatively and sometimes extraordinarily tolerant of all branches of the Moslem religion, and have made deals with the Christians. The Third Crusade ended when Richard Lionheart concluded that he could not retake Jerusalem, but was able to negotiate an acceptable truce with Saladin allowing Christian pilgrims to visit the Holy City, and even allowed some of the Christian hospitaler orders to operate.

The enemy of my enemy may or may not be my friend. Sometimes the enemy of my enemy remains my enemy. Between the Iranian Republican Guard and the al-Qaida jihadists there is little difference in their intensity of hatred for much of the west, and each time one of them kills his enemy perhaps we should applaud.

When we first decided to play the conquest game in Mesopotamia, I urged the powers to consider breaking Iraq – an artificial state created from provinces of the disintegrating Turkish empire and invented largely to create a kingdom for the oldest of the Hashemite brothers (his younger brother got Trans-Jordan) – into Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite states, drawing borders so that all got some oil, and all would be reasonably stable.

Note that Jordan is Sunni and more or less pro western, and far more tolerant of Jews and Christians than their Sunni relatives in Arabia. Note also that most Palestinian Arabs – over 90% — are Sunni, although they accept support from the Shiite Iranians.

Syria was Sunni, and tolerant of Christians, Sunni, Druze, Baha’i, and even some Jewish communities. This was because the rulers were Alawite, a minority within the Shia minority, and really needed a national policy of religious tolerance.  There are also Druze in Syria, and Druze are heretics to both Sunni and Shia. Tolerance has ended in all the areas taken from the Syrian government, and the usual first act of the taking of an area by insurgents is to chase the heretics and infidels out.

The Iraqi civil war was predictable and predicted – we predicted it here. The outcome is serious. When we went into Iraq the costs estimate was $300 billion. That was laughable but I pointed out that for that much money we could make the United States energy independent and tell the Arabs to drink their oil; we would not longer have any great interests there. Of course that was never considered; many say “and no wonder, there were too many oil interests involved”; to which I could only nod. Then we went in and Iraq fell. We promised the Iraqi generals that they “would have an honorable place in rebuilding Iraq”. There was a chance then to rebuild a state with regional armies; probably three states, Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd, with a loose federal government and a rigidly tolerant constitution. For a time it appeared that could be done.

Then Came Bremer.


Britain’s failure to intervene in Syria sparked Iraq chaos, No10 aide says

Nadhim Zahawi says al-Qaeda-aligned fighters "thrived" in Syria after Britain’s failure to strike created a "vacuum"


Britain’s failure to intervene in Syria has led to Iraq’s descent into civil war, a Downing Street adviser has said.

Al-Qaeda aligned militants have overrun a string of Iraq’s major cities because Britain created a “vacuum” in Syria, Nadhim Zahawi, a member of the No 10 policy board said.

He blamed the United States’ governance of Iraq following the 2003 invasion for the country’s seizure by Islamist terrorists.

The decision of Paul Bremer, the head of the occupational authority in Iraq, to disband the 700,000-man Iraqi Army eleven years ago is the root cause of the crisis, Mr. Zahawi, who was born in Iraq, said.


It’s hard to say what policy the US should have now. Since this civil war was predictable and predicted, one hopes that President Obama (or VP Biden) have been thinking about this and have a policy ready to implement.

I have seen no evidence that this is more than a hope.

And now we wait and see. Al-Qaida will kill Shiites. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard will kill Sunni. The Kurds will consolidate and continue their policy of tolerance. At least the Kurds are better off than they were under Saddam.


I have this which needs comment:


Your view column on 6/13/2014 includes a section from Roland Dobbins that you seem to agree with. He is saying that an amendment to the constitution is "unconstitutional". A clearly incorrect statement. Your seeming agreement with this makes all of your points suspect. Had He/You stated that you didn’t like the 14th amendment or various SCOTUS rulings, that would be fine and would not call in to question your logic. Please understand, I believe that the SCOTUS has made many questionable rulings, but amendments aren’t their responsibility, other than to rule on the application of the amendments.


Jose Tenembaum

What Roland said was:

I applaud the ends, but deplore the means.


This is not a Federal issue, yet the legal reasoning rests upon the specious ‘disparate impact’ penumbra of the (unconstitutional, in my view) ‘equal protection’ clause of the (again, unconstitutional, in my view) Fourteenth Amendment.

That is not an assertion that the Constitution cannot be amended – there are a couple of very specific things that cannot be amended:

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no state, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate

What Roland asserts, and I tend to agree, is that the majority opinion expressed by Douglas in Griswold v. Connecticut, which stated that cases can be decided by “emanations and penumbras” from other amendments, was improper, and thus “unconstitutional”. Of course it is not unconstitutional in that the court made the decision and it is the law of the land; the proper way for him to have said it, I suppose, would have been to say “in my judgment” or some such, and perhaps to explain the reasoning, but that would have detracted from the point which had to do with teacher tenure – another “constitutional right” found in emanations and penumbras.

It is also possible to make the case that the 14th Amendment was not properly accepted by sufficient state governments, since the former Confederate states were governed by Union occupation forces and the legislators and executives imposed by the Union army of occupation; and thus the amendment was not constitution because not adopted constitutionally.

I tend to agree with that, provided that we understand that it is an academic argument: I conceive of no plausible way that the 14th Amendment will ever be declared invalid. It is not so certain that the interpretation of the Constitution holding that the Bill of Rights (and its emanations and penumbras) is now to be applied against the States will prevail forever. Until the 1920’s the Courts held that was not the case. It is unlikely that the modern interpretation will be overturned but it is not impossible, and one can conceive of plausible scenarios in which a Supreme Court might in fact get rid of all that, emanations and penumbras and all.

And I certainly agree that the vague ‘disparate impact’ penumbra is subject to reinterpretation and may well be cast out by a subsequent majority. If that makes everything I say suspect, I have no reply: I do not believe that the USSC is always correct, and I have considerable evidence that it has in fact reversed itself on many key constitution points. To hold that it is infallible is in my judgment a mistake. It is also unlikely that we will return to the older Jacksonian interpretation of the Constitution, in which each branch – legislative, judicial and executive – is charged to obey its own interpretation of the constitution, because it is good to have an agreed on final authority on that subject. Jackson’s answer in one famous case was “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.” Or so we were taught in Tennessee history in 5th grade; I understand it is now said to be apocryphal. Perhaps so, but the sentiment appears from time to time in other Presidents. USSC is a curb on imperial power.

In any event, I did not have time to write a long comment on the case, and I do agree that the result is good, but the reasoning is appalling. The court says that teachers cannot have tenure in any school ( a good thing, in my judgment) not because it has a deleterious effect on education (which many and perhaps a majority of educational theorists believe) but because it has a deleterious effect on minority students, who tend to be sent more teachers who would have been fired if it were not for tenure. I think that’s the reasoning; it’s not obvious.

Of course it may be a case of finding any stick to beat tenure with, since it is so strongly defended by the teachers unions, and so clearly to the disadvantage of everyone seeking a good education…


Warning: the following is politically incorrect.


ISIS, the naughty boys running over Iraq, are bad medicine. Too radical for Al-Qaeda: better off dead. I haven’t seen this mentioned in the news media, likely because nobody (including the Administration) really understands it, but they’d be easy to squash (with air strikes) . Easy to beat. They were more-or-less pushed out of parts of Syria (fighting against both Assad and most of the other rebel groups). They aren’t able to deal with the Kurds, but they may have to face them. And they’re working at irritating Turkey: big mistake. They’ve only got a few thousand soldiers, tops. Maliki’s army is not running away because ISIS are such demon fighters – they’d probably run away from Mickey Mouse.

A friend and I were talking about this: we were trying to estimate how many 1942 Germans it would take, using WWII weapons, to exterminate these weasels. He guessed a battalion: I was holding out for a regiment. Of course, if you did that you might get some unpleasant side effects..


The proper way to have an empire is to have local troops to provide the blood, while you provide the Legion if needed; and if your proconsul is any use you will not need much in the way of legions.  Herod had more soldiers than Pilate. 


The Hollywood Sci-Fi Museum is trying to raise money with a kind of kickstarter program. If you have any thoughts on donating, go find out about it.  The site is worth a few minutes to begin with.  It might become something important.






Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.




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