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Mail 518 May 12 - 18. 2008
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May 12, 2008
I'm an American living in Manila, Philippines. Been here for a few months now and thought you might be interested in a report from the largest importer of rice in the world.
I went grocery shopping today at the anchor grocery store in one of the largest malls here in Manila. Definitely not foreigner-only, indeed I get several surprised looks from locals when they see a foreigner shopping there. This particular grocery store isnt the cheapest and (I dont think) the most expensive either. Definitely middle class, and on a Saturday afternoon, VERY busy. For comparison, here are prices on many of the staples that I bought and that the average Filipino would buy (prices in Philippine Pesos, which as of 10 May 2008 is p42.4 = $1):
Cheapest Rice (Sinandomeng): p36 or $.85/kilo Most Expensive Rice (Thai Jasmie): p85 or $2/kilo Eggs, Medium: p54 or $1.27/dozen Bananas: p46 or $1.08/kilo Sugar, Refined: p38 or $.89/kilo Sugar, Brown: p29 or $.68/kilo Fish (Milkfish/Bangus, the national fish of the Philippines): p110 or $2.59/kilo Ramen: p5-p7 or $.11-$.16/packet Milk, Store Brand: p49 or $1.15/liter Milk, Name Brand: p61 or $1.43/liter Flour, Gold Medal: p94 or $2.21/kilo Coffee, Instant: p188 or $4.43/200 grams Bread, White, Store Brand: p46 or $1.08/loaf Bread, White, Name Brand: p55 or $1.29/loaf Butter, Salted Store Brand: p16 $.37/3.5oz stick Butter, Salted from New Zealand: p35 $.82/3.5oz stick Orange Juice, Florida Natural: p238 or $5.61/2 quarts Bacon: p195 or $4.59/400 grams
Some notes: Firstly, there was NO evidence of rationing rice at this grocery store. I did ask a few of the other shoppers there if I could get cheaper rice, which they said I could, from an "outlet store", but they said mainly lower income families got their rice there. I also asked them if they thought food prices were higher now then they had been in the past few months and all of them said they were about the same. I asked specifically about the rice and the fish since thats a pretty large part of the average diet here.
The big news here is how expensive electricity is becoming. The first or second story on the evening news is almost always about how the electric company here (Meralco) should "do something" about the rising cost of electricity. When Meralco responds that energy prices are rising around the world, it doesnt seem to penetrate. Lots of "man on the street" interviews seem to indicate people think they should be able to get cheap power regardless of how much it costs Meralco to generate and distribute it. (Sound familiar?).
Global warming advertising is all over the TV and billboards here as well. I've only seen one reference to "climate change" vs "global warming", but i'm sure thats on the way as well.
Gasoline is about p45/liter, so roughly $4/gallon and during rush hour, it can take 2 hours to get from one side of town to the other.
If you or your readers would like some specific information, please feel free to ask.
Letter from England
I've been learning about Bayesian statistics. I taught
a class in Inferential Forensics this year and realised the field has
foundations of sand. Ever hear of Lindley's paradox? <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lindley's_paradox>
Consider three things: a null hypothesis, H0; some experimental data, x; and
a scientific theory (a prior in Bayesian terms) that favors H0 weakly. The
experimental data can reject H0, and yet the posterior probability of H0
being true can be 95% or more. In other words, the standard approach to
hypothesis testing fails in a big way--often because a black swan event has
James Berger discusses a compromise approach to
resolving this issue in
Classical frequentist hypothesis testing doesn't work when it gets a curve ball. The statistics used in court are almost always classical frequentist hypothesis testing, and they can massively over-represent the strength of the evidence in favour of rejecting the null hypothesis that "the man is innocent." If you see statistics introduced in a trial, be afraid--be very afraid.
Having written that, I'll never be asked to teach a forensics class again.
In the UK, charities now have to pass a 'public
benefit test': The public school story--<http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7392872.stm
> Churches have to avoid taking positions on political issues--
Problems finding math teachers. This year, there will probably be more vacancies than math graduates. That's a bad sign given that math graduates are needed to staff a large number of 'numerate' professions--the UK stops teaching math to secondary students about two years before American schools do, and very few university courses (other than maths courses) teach calculus or more advanced maths-- unlike what American colleges and universities do. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7388528.stm>
-- Harry Erwin, PhD,
This piece from you yesterday is clear and concise about the need for open discussion on all issues.
After observing the adherents of the New Left philosophy for many years it seems they understand Darwin to well. They decided that Darwin was correct, looked at themselves and decided they were what could be called "Darwin dropouts", or not fit on any scale for survival. They then decided to build a world where they and those like themselves could survive through anything they encountered because everything they encountered would be designed to protect them from harm.
Look around and see all the designed for safety items and realize that the safety features mean nothing to a reasoning or thinking person. They only function for somebody who acts on impulse and does not think through things before acting. So for a large part of humanity these safety items are just a tax that will give little or no benefit to the purchaser. But for a potential "Darwin dropout" they mean a chance to survive their mistakes and pass their defective genes on to another generation. This is what the whole New Left program of cradle to grave care is all about and they want to do something abut the grave part also.
-- James Early,
Human Terrain Team
"Michael was in the lead vehicle with four other soldiers. Initial forensics indicate that the IED was triggered by a command detonated wire. Michael died immediately in the explosion. Two Army soldiers from Task Force Currahee were also killed in the attack, and two were critically injured.
During the course of his seven-month tour, Michael's work saved the lives of both US soldiers and Afghan civilians. His former brigade commander, COL Marty Schweitzer testified before Congress on 24 April that the Human Terrain Team of which Michael was a member helped the brigade reduce its lethal operations by 60 to 70%, increase the number of districts supporting the Afghan government from 15 to 83, and reduce Afghan civilian deaths from over 70 during the previous brigade's tour to 11 during the 4-82's tour."
Just in case you'd not noticed that there are actually some social scientists out there doing good work. It can be done, it would appear.
NASA's next boondoggle always best
You know it's getting bad when even the Florida papers are complaining.
War, Burma, and Economic Aid
This may be of interest in light of the comment in mail today.
Apparently a Time Magazine on-line article alleged,
concerning the Burmese typhoon, that the speediest and most effective way to
aid the Burmese people would be to overthrow their government (send bullets,
not food), unintentionally infringed on P.J. O'Rourke's book title, Give War
Time to Invade Burma? [Lisa Schiffren <mailto:lisa.msm%40gmail.com> ]
Actually, that's not my idea. Not that I'm opposed, but our military is pretty overcommitted just now. Time Magazine, of all peace-mongering publications, has a huge article <http://www.time.com/world/article/o,8599,1739053,00.html> outlining the case for invading Burma in order to save as many as possible of the probably 1 million people at risk for death by starvation, disease, and exposure in the wake of last week's typhoon. It is a tragedy that the evil, repressive junta which has governed Burma these past several decades is so scared of threats to its own continued power that it won't allow other nations and/or NGOs with the experience, personnel, and equipment for dealing with major natural disasters to do the job.
The trouble is that the Burmese haven't shown the ability or willingness to deploy the kind of assets needed to deal with a calamity of this scale — and the longer Burma resists offers of help, the more likely it is that the disaster will devolve beyond anyone's control. "We're in 2008, not 1908," says Jan Egeland, the former U.N. emergency relief coordinator. "A lot is at stake here. If we let them get away with murder we may set a very dangerous precedent.
That's why it's time to consider a more serious option: invading Burma.Some observers, including former USAID director Andrew Natsios, have called on the U.S.to unilaterally begin air drops to the Burmese people regardless of what the junta says. The Bush Administration has so far rejected the idea — "I can't imagine us going in without the permission of the Myanmargovernment," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday — "but it's not without precedent..."
To be sure, mostly the precedent is that we don't interfere when authoritarian and/or communist governments let millions of their captive subjects die. But maybe Gates, and his boss, the much maligned as a "war-lover" President Bush, should be giving it some thought. When it comes to being known as a warmonger, may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb....
The reporter discusses costs and complications, both of which would be high, and concludes by noting that nations usually resort to war only when their interests are threatened. "As the response to the 2004 tsunami proved, the world's capacity for mercy is limitless. But we still haven't figured out when to give war a chance."
Let's rule out the possibility that this is Time Magazine 's idea of a parody of a conservative magazine editorial, or that P.J. O'Rourke wrote it. For one thing, unilateral air drops are a good idea to start with. For another, this would be an excellent moment for the CIA to begin co-ordinating the internal dissidents and rebels on the Thai-Burmese border who would like to overthrow the junta. (Oh, no one's organized that? Pity, because when a million people lie dead for entirely preventable reasons, governments should fall without much help.) And perhaps the Time writer could press his colleagues on the political beat to ask Senators McCain and Obama what they think about it. And what they would do, if they were in the catbird seat right now.
|This week:||Tuesday, May
"The word 'hero' is grossly misused today. Sports figures who score a thrilling goal or touchdown; public figures who use their position in the spotlight to advance a particular charity or cause; these and many others are called 'heroes'. They're not.
A real heroine has just left us. If you want to know what true heroism is, take a few moments to think about her life."
Note that this story involves torture. Not war on terror faux torture, but real, actual torture, and a heroine who is a real hero, as opposed to somebody who popularizes a distinctive style of dress or pop song.
Irena Sendler, RIP. Righteous among the nations. I doubt our prayers are needed. Perhaps if she has a spare moment now...
More Inconvenient Truth...
Don't confuse me with the facts; my mind is made up.
Wacky Science Fair...
I am very sorry to have missed the Maker Faire. I hope to get there next year.
- Roland Dobbins
Last of the Tigers
"There was a military reunion last Friday at Lackland
AFB in San Antonio. But it was anything but your typical gathering of
veterans and their family members. In fact, the reunion may be the last of
its kind, since it brought together the last surviving members of the
American Volunteer Group <http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/
Only eight members of the unit made it to the San Antonio event--roughly half of the 19 Flying Tigers who still survive. Time has already claimed most of the group's most famous members, including double ace David "Tex" Hill, who passed away in 2007, and Richard "Dick" Rossi, who died last month at the age of 92. Mr. Rossi, who was credited with six aerial victories in World War II, did much to preserve the heritage of his unit, serving as President of the Flying Tigers Association for 50 years."
The 23rd Fighter Group inherited the traditions of the Flying Tigers, and their A-10s are the only craft in the USAF authorized the snarling shark mouth insignia. One of their warthogs recently became the most flown fighter in USAF history, with more than 9,000 flight hours. Every generation has heroes.
Crisis in Black and White
Reference the City Journal article on the criminal justice system Mr. Dobbins sent to you. . .
35 years ago I read a book that was already close to 10 years old that predicted, with some accuracy, where race relations in the United States would in the books future. It was Crisis in Black and White by Charles Silberman, who also wrote a book about the criminal justice system called Criminal Violence/Criminal Justice at about the same time, which made many of the same observations the article does. The more things change, the more they stay the same, indeed. You may know him as the author of Crisis in the Classroom.
Alas, it appears, from search Amazon, that all of Mr. Silberman's books are out of print. However, as can be seen here,
They may still be available from used book sources.
I would like to hear your thoughts on the current crisis in Lebanon, where you think it is going, and what should the US do in this situation.
Lately there has been a lot of renewed talk about strikes against Iran - I can't help wondering why if not to prepare the world opinion for a strike soon. The recent moves by Hezbollah seems to be be positioning for a strike on Israel if either the US or Israel strikes Iran. Such a strike would set off a chain reaction that God only knows how far it would reach.
What are your thoughts, sir?
I am glad for the good news regarding your tumor and the improvements in previous symptoms.
My view is that I predicted as much back in the last Lebanese crisis. The Israelis kicked a hornet's nest, then weakened the Lebanese government's ability to defend itself, undermined the government's prestige, and then ran away when the job turned out to be a lot tougher than they thought.
I asked Joel Rosenberg to comment on the letter. Here is his reply, which is concerned with nuclear Iran, Osirak, and the IDF:
Let me take the last one first; I'll take the first one on shortly. [I look forward to that. JEP]
I think too many people take the wrong lesson from Osirak; much of US foreign policy seems to be informed by the usually unvoiced belief that, when push comes to shove, the IAF can solve the US's and Israel's mutual problem of the Iranians going nuclear, just like it did for Iraq, at least temporarily.
I see no reason to believe that's the case.
The IAF was able to take out the Iraqi nuclear program because, basically, Saddam Hussein was both stupid and arrogant. He put all his eggs -- at least temporarily -- in one basket, and he kept the basket above ground. The Iranians haven't repeated his error -- they've gotten their facilities, at the very least, distributed, underground, and almost certainly overlapping/duplicated. I wouldn't assume that the projections about how long we've got before the Iranians go nuclear mean much of anything -- if the policy is to hold off making the awful decision until just before, the Iranians will beat the clock, more likely than not.
In order for conventional strikes to work, they would have to take out far more than one facility -- and, unfortunately, things can be rebuilt unless there's enough divisions moving in to take the ground (the US doesn't have those available; Israel doesn't have near enough, nor are they available) -- and prevent them from being rebuilt.
All of which makes Hezbollah's threat basically chin music. It's a cheap form of hostage-taking -- "we know that you're not going to make a serious strike against the Iranian nuclear program, so we'll threaten to lash back against Israel from Lebanon -- so when you don't, we can claim that we have deterred you."
Which will work, since, realistically, the US isn't going to engage in a serious strike against the Iranian nuclear program. A symbolic strike -- to what import, I don't know -- may well go back on the table; it seemed to be there about a year ago. But you can only bomb people into submission who are willing to submit to bombing. I don't see any reason to believe that several -- or several dozen -- airstrikes against the surface above any of the Iranian nuclear facilities would do anything to persuade the Iranians to give up their nuclear program. The North Korea lesson is not lost on them -- once you have a nuclear weapon, your bargaining position gets better, not worse.
So I don't think there's much sense in talking about using not nearly enough force to stop the Iranian nuclear program. Just like the most expensive thing in the world is a military that isn't quite good enough, the most expensive military campaign in the world is one that doesn't quite accomplish a goal.
Charles Krauthammer, among others, takes the position that the US administration -- both this one and the next one, who's ever it is -- has basically given up on the notion of a non-nuclear Iran. I wish I could disagree. Even the most serious proposed sanctions were laughably inadequate, and watered down at the UN to meaninglessness. (I sense a pattern here.) "Stop your nuclear program or we'll warn you again," isn't really a terribly serious threat.
That said, if it is otherwise in America's interest to strike at the Iranian nuclear program, allowing northern Israel to be held as hostage would be insane. I can't imagine what good could possibly come from that.
The US has really two choices: use nuclear weapons to prevent Iran from going nuclear, or accept a nuclear Iran. Both of those are dreadful.
The assumption that the mad mullahs will be as sane and deterrable as the Politburo was is a pretty spectacular one; all indications are otherwise. As are, for that matter, notions that the move for democracy or at least away from Islamic totalitarianism in Iran is going to be more than just talk. The Supreme Leader is in charge, and he's not going to be dislodged by petitions and demonstrations, but by guns and explosives -- if he's dislodged at all. No sign of that.
So? Which is worse? A nuclear Iran, or a nuked Iran?
By default, we're going to get a nuclear Iran.
I don't see any reason to believe that the Iranians won't use the nuclear weapons that they've been threatening to, and that the question really comes down to whether or not it's better to see Iran nuked, or, say, Tel Aviv or Jerusalem (let's not accept the notion that Muslims really care about Al Quds; historically, the only thing they really care about, with regards to Jerusalem, is that it not be in the hands of infidels) and then Iran.
From an Israeli POV, that's an obvious -- not pleasant, but obvious -- choice. As bad as the former would be, it's hard to see how it wouldn't be worse than having at least one major Israeli city nuked and then having to retaliate. I know that the narrative is that Jews are supposed to be compliant victims to earn sympathy, but that's not likely one that will appeal to Bibi, shortly, and it was never one that had a lot of appeal for Sharon or Begin. (Golda, for all her virtues, fell for it in '73, by letting the Egyptians and Syrians strike first; that was, pretty clearly a horrible mistake, which perhaps may not be repeated.)
From an American POV, though? I'm not at all sure. And here's where there's a problem. In terms of deterrence, there's nothing much wrong with the US quietly taking the position that Krauthammer, among others, has suggested that the candidates should do publicly (and which, of all three, only Hillary has taken, albeit not quite explicitly): that a nuclear attack on Israel would be treated in exactly the same way as, during the height of the Cold War, a nuclear attack either on Western Europe from the Soviet Union or on the US from Cuba would have been treated as a nuclear attack on the US from the Soviet Union.
There's nothing much wrong with it . . . as long as the deterrence works.
I don't think that it will.
So, yeah, it's going to be ugly. And, as I've been saying for some time, that's the center of mass of all of this: the Iranian nuclear program. All three Presidential candidates say that for Iran to have nukes is "unacceptable," but, pace Inigo Montoya, I don't think that the word means what they think it means.
What should scare the hell out of all your readers -- it does me -- is that, of all three of the candidates for President, not one of them gives any hint of thinking all of this through.
-- Joel Rosenberg
Alas, I see little in your analysis to disagree with. Our only hope is our Cultural Weapons of Mass Destruction, which cease to work if we take a military threatening line.
We used to say the Stalinists were crazy but not THAT crazy.
I wish I could say the same for the Iranians.
I usually know what I would do were I suddenly proclaimed Caesar. In this instance I do not. As you say, we cannot occupy Iran. The Legions are stretched to the breaking point now. And bombing from 15,000 feet with iron bombs will not end the Iranian nuclear programs.
. . . what you've named Cultural Weapons of Mass Destruction are lethal. Hot babes (and/or guys, depending on one's preferences), good music and plenty of choice of it, computers, open discussion, and such are just plain more attractive than self-flagellation, beekeeper suits, the Gulag, Great Leaps Forward, Five Year Plans, self-criticism sessions, and all the other things that the various other sides have had to offer.
Not for everybody, of course. All of that being available in the West hasn't prevented, say, the Amish or the Mennonites or the Lubavitchers from maintaining their own lifestyles, nor does it force the folks in John Ashcroft's church to dance -- but the presence of options does do a lot to prevent it from being compulsory for those who don't want it. I think Raoul Castro is making some serious longterm errors in maintaining the Castro dynasty's control of Cuba by opening it up to outside influences, but I digress.
-- Joel Rosenberg
I think the results are predictable; you and I just disagree -- in part -- as to what they're the results of.
I don't think it's as much an issue of the Lebanese (government and polity) being unable to defend themselves, as unwilling, although the difficulties in standing up to Hezbollah are hard to overstate.
"The army is too weak and divided along sectarian lines to protect Lebanon from internal or external threats. It was sabotaged for more than a decade during Syria's military occupation and was staffed at the highest levels with Damascus loyalists who have yet to be purged. It is a make-believe army at best, and a part-time tool of the Syrian state at its worst."
That wasn't a function of the 2006 war; that problem has been institutionalized over (depending on how you look at it) at least a generation or so, and there's been no serious move to fix it; the US megabucks didn't address the underlying problem.
The reservation that the rest of the Lebanese have in taking on Hezbollah is understandable, up to a point. Without a working military and police, the Lebanese government is capable of little more than trying to shuffle around patronage. (Which, by the way, is the one thing that they can do reasonably well, and which Obama is idiotically claiming is the heart of their problem.)
Preface: I think Totten is a must-read for anybody in the US who wants to understand the disaster of Lebanon, but he's only a starting point. His (entirely understandable; they're lovely people) affection for the westernized Lebanese leads him into errors. Minor ones -- "My old liberal Sunni neighborhood of Hamra near the American University of Beirut – the best in the Middle East – is now occupied by the private army of a foreign police state" -- excuse me? The American University of Beirut is certainly, most of the time, a fine educational establishment, but better than, say, Hebrew University? (Compare their distinguished faculty lists at Wikipedia. The comparison doesn't do well for AUB.)
And major ones. Like this:
Why should Lebanese Sunni, Druze, and Christians risk their lives when the West doesn't help them? I have to admit being a little perplexed by this one.
Because they would lose. Fighting a war you know you can't win is dumb. If the most powerful military in the Middle East (the IDF) can't beat Hezbollah, why should anyone think the weakest (various Lebanese forces, some which barely even exist) could possibly do it?
The flip side of that is that Hezbollah cannot conquer and rule all of Lebanon. No one in Lebanon is strong enough to hold it together. Anyone who seriously tries will get creamed.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page <http://profile.typekey.com/miketotten> at May 13, 2008 10:30 AM
Well, yeah, to all of that. Even now, with the opening salvos of the third Lebanese Civil War under way, the non-Hezbollah Lebanese are just barely willing to fight in their own defense.
That's the Lebanese attitude. They simply have to live with Hezbollah, they say, so they keep making concessions to Hezbollah, and on the rare occasions that the Lebanese government tries to say no over something important (like, say, attacking their southern neighbor) they shrug and say that there's nothing they can do, and then, if they try to press the matter at all . . .
. . . the Hezbollards send out the troops. Note that the troops aren't being sent out to take over the Lebanese government -- just to stop even the slightest interference by the government with Hezbollah, and that the defense, such as it is, isn't being fought by the US-funded Lebanese army, which even on Day Six of the new civil war, is only now threatening to begin trying to impose order, something that it's not in any way prepared to actually do. At best (and things rarely work out for the best in the Levant) they're prepared to stay neutral between the heavily-manned, heavily-armed Hezbollah army and the Druze militias (and others) that the Hezbollards are busy killing. The US-funded Sunni militias, according to local reports, threw down their weapons and ran when Hezbollah attacked.
The results are predictable, but they're not the results of the botched 2006 invasion; that, at best, is a minor contributing factor. More to the point: Lebanon is the host to an army funded and armed from outside, that the other locals do not have the will to take on . . . nor the ability to do so, without serious outside help. And Hezbollah will continue to push the Christians, Sunni and Druze just hard enough for them to delude themselves that this isn't an existential matter for their communities, but merely just a few inches more of camel's nose being pushed into the tent. (For the benefit of your readers -- you know this as well as I do -- note what culture that story comes out of . . . )
Where it's going to go from here is easy to predict: in a few days or a couple of weeks, the fighting will die down, and the Lebanese government and army will remain ineffective and impotent. Hezbollah will allow the government to do almost anything it wants, as long as it doesn't want to do much of anything. The government, having learned its lesson, will allow Hezbollah to ride even more roughshod over it, and more and more dominate it.
I don't see the outside help coming. Condi Rice is willing to send more words, as is the Arab League. But who is willing to pick up rifles, pack up the artillery, and fire up the tanks and go and help the Lebanese who won't even help themselves?
That's easy: nobody.
Lebanon is, to use the technical term, a tragedy. Just as their deal with Arafat led to the last civil war, the attempt to buy off Hezbollah with money and power is leading to Lebanon's destruction, and whether it happens in this round or the next, it's inevitable.
I suspect we're still in disagreement, in part, about the causes. But I'd surely love to be persuaded that Lebanon isn't on an inevitable downward spiral -- do you have any reasons to doubt that it is?
There was a time when the US would have helped. Eisenhower ended the first efforts to destroy Lebanon with about five casualties. Alas, we don't have the resources -- or the reputation -- now.
I would say that Israel has a great concern with keeping Lebanon a viable state. And I think there is a better chance for Lebanon to be a viable multi-cultural state than any other Arab state in the region.
As to the future, without some kind of international assistance, Lebanon may not be viable; but it's sure a lot less viable now than before the 2006 invasion. Had the Israelis concentrated their efforts on the actual enemy and left the central government alone, I think the results would have been better for all concerned. Had the Israelis had the determination to do what it took to finish the job they started, there would have been a Lebanese government to pick up the pieces -- and a lot of fear in the potential rebels. Yes, it would have been a long, expensive, and politically difficult job; but surely the Israeli government knew that when they began?
As to the inevitable downward spiral, that may be inevitable now. I don't think it was in January 2006.
Did the solar system ‘bounce’ finish the dinosaurs?
- Roland Dobbins
"We can bring together a large number of skilled lawyers in no time at all and at one-fifth the cost."
The part about 'hack-proof servers' is a absurd on its face, patently impossible, of course:
- Roland Dobbins
Wednesday, ay 14, 2008
Re: Hezbollah, Lebonon, and Israel
What I haven't seen taken into account about Iran's Glorious Leader is that he announced that he believes that it is his destiny and calling to start the next global conflict in order to usher in the coming of the Islamic Messiah, the 12th Imam.
Therefore, for Ahmadinajad, win or lose is not of interest to him. He will simply be martyred (in his eyes) and go to glory while the world suffers through the mess and the 12th imam comes (supposedly).
Lebanon, and not the future of Israel
Of course, it's in Israel's interest for there to be a stable -- preferably friendly, but at worst coldly hostile -- Lebanon on its northern border, even moreso than it would be for the US to have a stable, decent state in the Levant. (Another ally with resources would be a good thing, but that's not in the cards for Lebanon, even if magic is available.) It's in the US's interest.
It's obviously in the interest of the Lebanese.
And it would be in the interest of the non-Hezbollah Lebanese to cooperate in making that happen. Pretty easy to game out -- the Druze, Sunni and Christian militias flush the Shiite militias out to where IAF airstrikes and IDF artillery can nail them, rather than (often unwillingly, as in 2006) providing human body armor. For an example of how such things work, see Afghanistan, with the Northern Alliance and local tribal forces doing much the same thing for the US. (And, yes, following through, as you suggest, is the key thing in this sort of thing.)
But that didn't happen -- not in Peace for Galilee, not in 2006, and it's not going to happen now. For lots of reasons, being nibbled to death by the Hezbollah Shiites is the determined strategy of the Lebanese polity. Walid Jumblatt, whatever his flaws, is determined to keep his Druze followers tumbling from temporary alliance to temporary alliance, and he's merely the most adept of that sort of leader there. That likely will keep his body from being dragged through the streets by Nasrallah's storm troopers, but it can't earn him the sort of longterm alliance with anybody that the Druze badly need . . . in the long run. (It's hard to fault him for that; perhaps he's consulting Gemayel's ghost on the dangers of taking a firm position and sticking with it.)
And the US can't help, either. Not after Reagan's attempt to save the Lebanese from the consequences of tolerating the Fatah terror state ended in the Beirut barracks bombing and the withdrawal that Bin Laden cited as a victory for the forces of jihad even decades later. (Some of us were saying at the time that it was a mistake for the US to cover the PLO's withdrawal, and a worse mistake to retreat after having made the commitment. Somewhere in my files I've got a letter from Bill Rusher, complaining about -- and I swear I'm not making this up -- "hysterical conservatives like [me]" for blaming Reagan on the failure to follow through after the barracks bombing.
Help from outside? The Saudis have apparently been sending weapons to the resistance -- they're none too fond of the Syrians and Iranians -- but the Lebanese, even were they ready to fight Hezbollah, need a lot more than a few more guns and bullets that aren't even a serious counterweight to what the Iranians are providing to their Hezbollah minions. Not going to happen.
I'm not going to disagree with you that 2006 was a failure for Israel -- as I said, earlier today, the most expensive military operation is one that doesn't do the job, and the job should have been to, at a minimum, deal a serious body blow to Hezbollah in the south, which wasn't going to happen without a drive at least to the Litani; fighting along the Hezbollah defenses in the south was a huge error, for both the sake of Israel and Lebanon.
That said, I will point out that there were, as far as I can tell, literally no voices in Lebanon shouting, "Hey, IDF -- finish the damn job", much less "Hey, IDF -- finish the damn job, and I'll help."
I guess our major difference is that I haven't seen any indication that Israel ever tried to solicit the cooperation of Lebanon, and the 2006 war began with attacks on the Lebanese military which had not fired on the IDF, as well as on Hezbollah; it is as if they believed there was no real difference between the Lebanese government and Hezbollah. If you act as if someone is you enemy, it should not be startling if they believe you.
All that is by the board, I expect.
As you know I wasn't happy with Reagan over the Lebanese affair in his turn. I always thought that propping up Lebanon was important to US interests, and that it could be done rather cheaply compared to the cost in blood and treasure of most Middle East adventures. In Reagan's time it would have been possible to build a stable Lebanon, or so I believe. I do not know what Israel's views were in those times.
Subject: Iraq could become another Lebanon
Here is a grim prediction: http://www.newsweek.com/id/136788
"If you want to know what Iraq will look like 25 years from now, look at Lebanon today. The similarities and differences-but mainly the similarities-raise a lot of painful memories and questions for Americans."
"And yet, whether the United States stays in Iraq or goes, "Lebanonization" is the most likely result: a foundering half-failed state where neighbors fight proxy battles through sectarian militias and through the many factions in a government that is unable to govern at all. There will be times of war when life seems to go on almost as normal, and times of peace when it seems not to. There will be spurts of investment, maybe even tourism. There will be festivals of democratic excitement. And then sudden storms of savage violence will sweep through the streets of the capital, only to subside, then erupt in smaller cities, and subside. And erupt again. And so it goes, to borrow the old refrain from Kurt Vonnegut's novel "Slaughterhouse Five." If the world pays any attention at all, the span will be brief. The fighting and the failures to govern will have gone on so long that nothing seems new in that news."
It is certainly a likely outcome unless something is done right. I'm still working on what I would do were I in charge in Iraq. Given the current situation and US politics, the options are very limited. Were I Caesar, I think I know what I would do, but that's not possible in today's political environment.
And on a more bizarre note:
'Darth Vader' spared jail in Jedi church attacks.
- Roland Dobbins
When you have to say "it seemed like a good idea at the time," one ought seriously to consider going on the wagon. When you have to say "It must have seemed like a good idea at the time," it's well past time to take the pledge...
And still bizarre:
An interview at Thinking Machines.
- Roland Dobbins
Subject: Renaming the paradigm
"I've decided it's time to jettison entirely the words "Left" and "Right" when used with reference to political ideologies. I came to this conclusion after a very interesting discussion with my mother. While we were talking about the military Junta in Burma, she let drop the fact that she believes that all tyrannies come from the political Right.
I was taken aback, especially when my mother explained
to me that the Soviets, Nazis and Italian Fascists were all tyrannies from
the Right. I could understand her confusion about the Nazis and the Italian
Fascists — after all, Jonah Goldberg wrote a whole book
I thought this might interest/entertain you, especially the updates.
Goldberg's book was book of the month recently, and of course my PhD thesis was on the uselessness of the left-right spectrum as a paradigm...
May 15, 2008
Subject: How to make the Iron Law work for _us_
Dear Jerry Pournelle:
You said of the Stalinists, they're crazy but not that crazy; and now you worry if the same is true of the Iranian imams.
I say, let nature take its course. It's true that the imams are fanatical, but they are also cynical. Those who are more cynical than fanatical tend to rise in the hierarchy and thus make the rules for those who are more fanatical than cynical. This is as your Iron Law of Bureaucracy predicts.
The same rules apply to Islamism in general. Fanatics will boast of their power, but in the end it's the cynics who will rule. Plan accordingly.
There are two problems with this strategy. First is that fanaticism's co-optation might take some time. The second is that the Iron Law of Bureaucracy is universal, and therefore applies at home as well.
- Nathaniel Hellerstein
It is certainly a possibility. I would put it at a low probability that (1) Iran gets nukes, (2) those crazy enough to use them remain in power after they get them, and (3) those in actual control of the weapons will carry out the orders to nuke Tel Aviv.
Low probability. Cochran puts that at zero, and tells me that his predictions are always better than mine. I don't agree that's true, but leave it: the fact is that a low probability of a very disastrous result is still a high negative expected value. I would not put the above three events at zero probability. Indeed, (1) and (2) are not independent events, nor really is (3).
If someone is willing to commit suicide to harm his enemies, then deterring him is not an easy task.
Given time, Iran will come apart. But that itself makes those in charge even more desperate.
Your view is the most likely outcome; the question is, what do you do about the low probability contingencies? Nothing at all?
“I really miss the Soviet Union."
- Roland Dobbins
Modern life in Turkestan.
'She had failed not, as some students do, by being absent too often or by blowing off assignments. She simply was not qualified for college.'
Note that the author seems to be a stereotypical campus liberal, with all that implies, yet still (albeit obliquely) arrives at the conclusion that college isn't for everyone. Too bad he hasn't taken this line of thought to its logical conclusion about the educational system in general, and the higher-education credentials racket in particular:
Also note that in his estimation, this older lady's computer- illiteracy is as much of a handicap as her functional illiteracy. What does that say about our society and its priorities?
-- Roland Dobbins
A couple of points on the article you linked in "Current View"
I've added the link to the article again,
"The truth is that the United States, with rare exceptions, has demonstrated little talent for changing the way others live. We have enjoyed far greater success in making necessary adjustments to our own way of life, preserving and renewing what we value most. Early in the 20th century, Progressives rounded off the rough edges of the Industrial Revolution, deflecting looming threats to social harmony. During the Depression, FDR's New Deal reformed capitalism and thereby saved it. Here lies the real genius of American politics."
In fact, both of the eras he points to and his take is, I search for a more tactful word, but can come up with nothing other than, specious. The Industrial Revolution, covered an era of wanton expansion, including the Indian Wars, Admiral Perry and the Great White Fleet. Keep in mind that I'm not condemning the past of what this nation was and is. And, FDR's New Deal not so much reformed capitalism, but created the seeds of the negative direction the Republic is heading now.
I would argue that we have not fought this war as I envisioned, but I think it naive to think that making some fundamental change in ourselves would blunt their (Islam) rage against us, because the very essence of that which we are is what they hate, capitalism, individual freedom and many more facets of what we are.
Before I close here, I also want to send my usual well wishes for your health and add something that I have neglected to thus far. I would like to send my well wishes to your wife and family whom I'm sure have been very supportive of you and we all appreciate them immensely for that.
PS. At the very least with you as Ceaser, I'd know the troops would be taken care of.
I am afraid I do not understand your point. Do you believe you have given instances of US actions changing the way others live? I will agree that our cultural weapons of mass destruction have done quite a good job of undermining cultures and societies, but I don't know about direct actions changing the way people live. The usual examples are the occupations of Germany and Japan but those are not only special cases, but they began with unusual circumstances, peoples utterly exhausted and defeated -- and you can argue that some of the changes may not stick.
We certainly tried to change Philippine society, and we ruled that land for many years.
As to whether Roosevelt saved the Constitution, historians debate that to this day. The Great Depression was quite stressful. But one need not accept Bacevich on Roosevelt to study his analysis of the Middle East.
I haven't said I endorse Bacevich's views. I do think one ought to be aware of his arguments.
“Isn’t this getting a bit dangerous?”
- Roland Dobbins
Cultural Weapons of mass destruction at work
I thought you would find it interesting after the discussions of copyright you have had here.
A fronte praecipitium a tergo lupi,
One of the goals of the Berne Convention as set by Victor Hugo who inspired it was that authors ought not have to go through excessive clerical and legal hoops to protect their works.
In general, authors aren't all that good at that, and any such complexities tend to be to the favor of publishers and lawyers and the detriment of writers.
Recovering "orphan" works helps anthologists. It also helps keep some works in print that might otherwise vanish; but in general 'reforms' almost always help the publishers, not the writers and creators...
Cultural Weapons of Mass Destruction
Regarding the exchanges ...
1. NO conceivable course of action has probability zero, possibly to include some conceivable but physically impossible/improbable ones ("Kimball Kinnison and Lazarus Long just landed in Gay Deceiver on the White House lawn to talk some sense into the President.")
2. The sum of the probability of all conceivable courses of action is always less than one, and is often less than 0.5 -- in other words, no matter how clever we are, we can always look forward to some surprises.
3. An individual with proper leverage can always perturb your prediction of future events beyond recognition. It doesn't take a "Mule" (Foundation Trilogy, for those who don't get the reference) It doesn't necessarily even take a nuke in the hands of a terrorist organization different from the one you were investigating. For that matter, it doesn't take just an individual with leverage -- Lucifer's Hammer will ruin someone's day on that day when, inevitably, it hits.
4. Applying these precepts to today's debate, Mr. Hellerstein's contention is that the Iron Law as applied to the social construct of the Iranian Imams leads to control by cynical conservatives who will prevent the fanatics from doing something crass, while Dr. Cochran's appears to be that it doesn't matter because our Cultural WMD will so totally subvert the next Iranian generation that they will forestall the Iranian nuclear effort before it can bear fruit and thereby threaten them. So a non-exhaustive assessment of the related decision/event trees leads to the following possibilities:
The Imams continue to subvert younger generation, and develop and use nukes on Israel even knowing that Israel and the US will retaliate.
The Imams continue to subvert younger generation, and develop and use nukes on Israel suspecting that the US will be inhibited from responding by China, Russia, and/or Europe.
The Imams realize that they will fail to subvert younger generation, and rush to develop and use nukes on Israel even knowing that Israel and the US will retaliate
The Imams realize that they will fail to subvert younger generation, and rush to develop and use nukes on Israel suspecting that the US will be inhibited from responding by China, Russia, and/or Europe.
The Imams fail in their efforts to develop nukes; policy towards younger generation does not enter.
The younger generation does not wait but inhibits the efforts of the Imams, thereby earning their freedoms on their own and incidentally saving Israel.
The measure (in the Lebesgue sense, though in honesty that is about the limit of my knowledge of Lebesgue integration) of "the Imam's nuke Israel" from the event sequences above is certainly on the same order of magnitude of the measure of the more benign futures. So yes, we have to consider that possibility, and follow through by noting the consequences, as you mentioned.
5. For what it's worth, I discussed some of this with my friend with the most experience in the Middle East. Her response, paraphrased, was that "The Imam's will win out over any efforts at cultural subversion by the West, and will use nukes as soon as they get them." A chilling assessment.
Cochran insists that there is no evidence that the Imams are "that crazy" and the US has already shown that it is by invading Iraq. We have certainly demonstrated that there is little that can deter the US if we decide to act and to use our military. What effect that has on the Imams is not clear. We do know what effect it had on Khadafy and Libya.
The real problem regarding Iran is that I do not think there is ANYTHING the US can do to prevent the Imams from acquiring nuclear weapons. We simply no longer have the capability. Before the Iraq entanglement that was probably not true.
I am not sufficiently well informed about Iran to know what might have happened had we attempted at any point before the turn of the century to restore the Royal Government; I am quite convinced that had Carter been willing we could have prevented the overthrow of the Shah, and I have seen no evidence that his government was any more corrupt than the Imams; while his White Revolution looked to me to be a genuine attempt to build a Middle Class. Since the Shah was not stupid and the Empress quite astute (from all evidence I have and that's a fair amount) I would be astonished they did not know that a Middle Class would insist on a Constitution and a Constitutional Monarchy, more like Spain than England, but still with severe limits on Imperial power.
But then I am unrepentant: I think what we should have done in Afghanistan is restore the monarchy immediately after the expulsion of the Taliban. We could then help them write a constitution. The Northern Alliance would have accepted the monarchy and the southern majority would have welcomed the old Khan and his family. Those are not experiments that the US is prepared to try.
With tribal societies, personal ties can be a lot stronger than ties to the winner of an election.
You quoted Priya Venkatesan as saying this: "In graduate school, I was inculcated in the tenets of a field known as science studies, which teaches that scientific knowledge has suspect access to truth and that science is motivated by politics and human interest."
Well, isn't that what has happened bringing us the Global Warming hysteria? And isn't something of the sort surrounding string theory these days? Yes, it's not real science, but the model may not be so inaccurate in these Crazy Years.
APOD: 2008 May 11 - Retrograde Mars,
Astronomy in action: Mars doing its retrograde dance:
Subject: The Price Of (Some) Food
I have been reading your comments and the e-mails you have posted on the food crisis. One thing that most everyone seems to be neglecting is that Australia, which normally produces a large amount of wheat and rice for export, is undergoing a severe drought.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7289194.stm talks about the effect on wheat. "Global wheat stocks are at their lowest levels since 1979, and the ongoing Australian drought is one of the reasons why."
The Australian drought is not the be all, end all of the rise in food prices, but it needs to be included in the causes under discussion.
Exiles To Glory
I didn't mean to suggest we could conserve our way to prosperity Amory Lovins style. I had rolling blackouts and other police state measures in mind for obtaining the necessary electricity in the absence of more production. Essentially Kevin Senecal's world in "Exiles To Glory".
I think we're entering Kevin Senecal's world no matter what. The story read better when I was 23 and single than at 51 and married with kids. And watching those kids have to do it for real and not have a better 'real' world waiting when they put down the book.
May 17, 2008
"I regret that all this stuff happened, but I had to get him off of me."
- Roland Dobbins
Subject: Dewey or Montessori
Knowing that John Dewey was the person most directly responsible for our current national education system I started reading through his theories on the subject to see where the problem lies. After a couple of days going back and forth between his concepts and those of Maria Montessori it seems their basic difference is depth of culture. Montessori stresses a solid cultural system with historical depth that is strongly documented and applied to the student in the earliest period of development possible. This leads to rapid acquisition of cultural values and functional abilities in math, reading and basic applied skills.
Dewey on the other hand devalues existing culture and history believing that each student must start with a clean slate and acquire only, that which is presented to him by the teacher. Might not this be the reason why students taught under the Montessori or similar natural acquisition systems are more successful earlier than those taught under the Dewey system. What I see from my own experience is that when one has a strong and deep cultural base to build from it is easier to learn and apply that learning practically.
When one has to start virtually from scratch and learn a new system of living that in many if not all cases is radically at variance with the home culture, assimilation of either becomes difficult if not impossible and the student will reject either or both of the official systems presented to him. Could this be a major factor in the growth of radical anti social groups such as gangs? Could this divorcement from a stable background culture be why violence against others or self is growing amongst the youth today? Richard Dawkins who I find difficult to agree with most of the time on anything came up with the term “meme” some years back to describe how culture helps create the person we are as much as genetic materials do.
But could it be that by removing this cultural meme from the student during the education process and trying to instill an artificial one cause many to reject both and become anti social in general because of this? I just finished going back through “Burning City” and the way you and Niven dealt with problems of culture and learning got me thinking on the subject and reading back on applied learning theories which brought me to this questioning note. So could it be that the very small difference of naturally acquired cultural meme and induced artificial meme between Dewey and Montessori is why there is such a huge variance between the final product the two systems produce?
-- James Early, Long Beach, CA
I think the major reason schools fail is that everyone "deserves" a world class university preparation education from high school, and since more than half the students neither want nor need a world class university education, they find the schools boring, useless, and oppressive. They are not being taught anything of conceivable interest or utility, and they lose interest, and greatly resent being kept in a place that is attempting to turn them into something they are not and never will be.
There are also the opposite cases, as explained by "Professor X" in the current Atlantic http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200806/college in which people who didn't receive a university or college or even junior college prep education attempt to go to the school of last resort -- and break their hearts because they just can't do it.
Actually, we insist on extracting fees for "credentials" controlled by the university elites from nearly every vocational position, so even if you learn by vocational school or apprenticeship you are likely to find yourself required to pass "English Literature 102".
Our higher education system right down to the community college level is now firmly in the hands of Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy. Our passion for the appearance of equality helps the education bureaucracy and its fetish for required credentials extract a toll from nearly every citizen no matter what occupation the citizen seeks.
--- Roland Dobbins
And without manufacturing, how long will finance and medicine sustain consumption? So it goes...
Real 'elitism' resentment is about IQ, not income
Americans, as a rule, don't resent people who have more money than them; what Americans more readily resent is someone who is smarter than them, who knows it, who shows it, and who seems to think being smart makes you better than everyone else.
I'd say you need to get out more. I am sure this is true in the circles you move in, (and probably among those I move in as well), but I suspect that out in the real world the size of one's barbeque or Hi Def TV is more important. But the article is interesting.
Just what do we owe, and to whom?
Here's my two dollars (inflation you know):
We don't owe anyone anything.
We should choose to provide non-citizens (regardless of immigration status) in the US basic humanitarian care (i.e. stabilize them long enough to arrive safely) and a trip back to their country of origin out of charity, and only additional care that they can pay for (insurance and cash prior to delivery).
We should choose to provide citizens basic humanitarian care and perhaps a bit more for immediate life threatening illnesses out of charity, and whatever additional healthcare they can pay for (either through insurance or cash).
We choose to provide the rest of the world disaster aid in the hope that corrupt military juntas will be so inspired by our kindness as to renounce totalitarianism and embrace western liberal democracy.
Unfortunately what we are actually doing is bleeding our healthcare system dry to provide free lifetime care for illegal aliens, buying goods from China to send back to China as humanitarian aid (why don't we sell it to them - they have enough of our money to buy it), and lining the pockets of every tin-pot dictator in the world with black- market dollars garnered from selling our aid supplies.
In re James Early Letter
Mr. Early makes persuasive points in his analysis of the differences between the Dewey and Montessori systems. However, I wonder if he is not missing the elephant in the room, here, i.e., that there is a selection process for students in the Montessori system. Most students in that system come from a background with not only culturally, but economically and intellectually, successful families.
We would expect them to be more successful, just as we would expect (to use examples at the extreme ends of the scale) the children of an Ashkenazi Jew neurosurgeon to be much more successful than, say, the children of a law-abiding and honorably employed African-American school janitor.
We must be careful, very careful, here not to incite racial furor, but the rational expectation in the above example is, well, rational. The same expectation could be inferred from a Chinese neurosurgeon versus the Caucasian janitor.
Surely, there are factors such as imbued culture in and motivation imparted to the child. But there is the huge ability difference also that must be factored into Mr. Early's analysis. The Montessori system selects for culture, motivation, and IQ, which the Dewey system does not.
Well of course. That was hardly the point I took from his letter anyway.
In my view, the more under local control of the parents of the school, the better the school. Yes, that means that in some areas where the local population doesn't care you will have lousy schools. I have news: in general the schools in those districts are already lousy.
School districts with between 1,000 and 10,000 students -- in my judgment the closer to 1,000 the better -- with locally elected boards, and mostly paid for by local taxes assessed by locally elected officials (you can have state supplements to really poor districts, but education ought to have a cost to those whose children go to those schools) will produce the best educational system, and I don't really have a specification of Montessori vs. Dewey. Let different districts try what they like -- and let local boards set the "credentials requirements" for the teachers.
What we have now is largely over centralized disaster posing as an education system.
Subject: Selectivity and Montessori
One of the ironies involving Montessori schools in the US is that only kids whose parents can afford private school get this kind of education. Why is this ironic? Because Maria Montessori began her studies in education by working with mentally retarded children. Her first school, as I understand it, was among the poor in Rome.
I have long thought that our children who need "special education" should be getting a Montessori education. But it was Not Invented Here, so there is no chance.
Logarithmic Spirals- a galaxy and a hurricane:
Hope you continue to improve. You will have bad days with the good, but the general trajectory is upward, and your attitude is worth much in and of itself.
Regarding "real elitism." I think there is some truth in both arguments. There are people who believe they're smarter, or better educated, or educated at better schools than others; conversely, there are people who believe that they're better than others because they can afford more bling. Note that these groups are not exclusive.
But in general, I don't care what other people <i>believe</i>. I care what they do, and what they make you do. The snobbish "owner of stuff" can't do anything to or about you that you don't let him -- "keeping up with the Joneses" is a trap for the person who thinks they can spend their way into the appearance of wealth. The converse of that if, of course, wealth envy, an emotional affliction of those who can't afford to spend their way into the appearance of wealth and resent it. And debate about whose social theory is correct, or whether Freud or Jung offered the most realistic assessment of the human psyche, has an amusement level in some circles equivalent to Lakers' basketball or Nascar in others.
But the intellectual "elite" who believes that he can run your life better than you can, and who seeks political office so as to prove it, is a being to be feared within a Republican -- within any -- society.
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