THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 604 January 4 - 10, 2010
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January 4, 2010
The morning was devoured by locusts and I didn't even get my morning walk. I'll try to get some work done with the rest of the day. For the moment, apologies, but you'll have to make do with what I did last night.
Eric found this product on line. Be sure to read the reviews. I don't know anyone who needs this, but I am told there are audiophiles who think they do.
Well, the shoe bomber made us take off our shoes. What will we do now that we have had the underwear bomber? And the body cavity bomber? How do we remain politically correct now?
Make everyone safe. Everyone flies commando!
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January 5, 2010
For a good defense of expensive physics experiments, see Steve Giddings, The Physics We Don't Know. Unfortunately I can't find a link to it, although it was in my morning paper. It will eventually emerge on the web I expect.
It is once again very late in the day and I am just getting started. Apologies. I'll try to catch up. Reading the paper this morning, I made a note that it was time to write a new essay on federalism. What sparked that was the Nebraska Exemption to the MEDICAID unfunded mandate in the Health Care Bill. It seems to me obvious that unfunded mandates are precisely what Congress is forbidden by the entire document: they are a means of taxing the states. As to General Welfare projects, it's clear from the debates that the best examples of what was intended were harbors, canals, and highways: the sort of thing Adam Smith had in mind when he spoke of the legitimacy of government financing "those projects of great benefit to all but of small benefit to any single person."
The reasoning of the courts in allowing unfunded mandates on the states has never satisfied me. I would think it time and past time to have that discussion again, particularly when Nebraska was bribed by being excepted from the mandate in order to get one Senator's vote. Astonishing.
Everyone has commented on the similarity of the Dubai Tower to the Biblical Tower of Babel, so I suppose I ought to get in on it. I thought I had said something of the sort when the project was announced, but I can't find any record of it. I used to have a lecture I gave in Senior Political Theory on the meaning of the Tower of Babel legend, and the consequences of believing that you can do anything that you can imagine. Science fiction writers write about that all the time. C. S. Lewis in his "The Abolition of Man" gives us a lot to think about on that subject, and if you haven't read it, you probably ought to: it's in three parts, and you can read each part in an hour, a worthwhile time investment even if you don't accept his conclusions.
As a science fiction writer I have mixed emotions about the stricture that there are some things better not known, but I'm pretty sure there are experiments we ought not run. (An unrestricted race to dump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is one of the experiments I wouldn't want undertaken, but we're a long way from doing that; it is a threat over the long haul, and we ought to be using the energy from fossil fuels to develop energy sources with fewer side effects; but that's another story, and deserves a lot more than just the bald statement). In any event, the Dubai Tower may be a healthy reminder of the sin of hubris, and of those who punish hubris: Nemesis and Catastrophe...
Something in today's papers reminded me of the great expectations back at the end of the First Gulf War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, back when The Wall came down and the USSR became Russia; back when the neo-cons proudly proclaimed The End of History. History would end because universal liberal democracy was inevitable.
The Technocracy movement emphasized self-sufficiency. One can put independence or great wealth as one's first choice. Like all things there is a balance. We have lost ours.
January 6, 2010
I have successfully built Atomic, Intel/Windows answer to the Mac Minnie. It took about an hour to assemble and another hour to install Windows 7. Actually it took me longer than that because I made several errors, but then I do lots of silly things so you don't have to. It will all be in the column which ought to be up next Monday or so since it's due in Tokyo Sunday evening Los Angeles time.
But once again I have a late start and since I am actually making progress on Mamelukes I intend to go up there and work this afternoon.
Actually, I don't need to do an essay today if you have access to National Review. The four articles on American Progressivism in the December 31 issue are very much worth your time. Alas, apparently you have to be a National Review subscriber to read them. I'd rather you subscribed here, but once you've done that...
Anyway, I recommend the articles. American Progressivism -- which had many similarities to Mussolini's Fascism (but not so much to the parody of Fascism, Germany's National Socialist German Worker's Party after Hitler was finished with it) -- has been very influential among American intellectuals and remains so although many of those influenced by it do not know they have been, and may know nothing of Progressivism. Hillary Clinton calls herself a Progressive, but it's pretty clear she doesn't know much about the Progressive movement.
I wish I had time to do this justice because it is important. Progressivism like most Utopian schemes was a form of gnosticism, the sort of thing that generated Eric Vogelin's phrase "immanentize the eschaton"; a phrase that so engaged William F. Buckley that he adopted it, and I can recall one senior seminar in political theory in which every one of my students appeared wearing an EVSS: an "Eric Vogelin Sweat Shirt" which pictured the scowly Vogelin and the phrase "Don't let Them Immanentize the Eschaton!". Gnosticism has been with us for millennia, and the fact that most American intellectuals never heard of it is more a commentary on modern education than anything else.
The dream of perfecting society, or of using the State to generate the means by which those who desire perfection may obtain it, has many variations. It has ever proven to be a nightmare, in many diverse places and over centuries of time. The Pursuit of the Millennium is a highly attractive temptation, and gnosticism has the added temptation of allowing you to denigrate your intellectual opponents as uninformed or worse, perverse and selfish dogs in a manger, preventing others from perfecting themselves because of their base motives. Gnosticism is doing very well and thriving in Washington. And, of course, as always there are those who take on the color of the gnostic while remaining the selfish wolves the Progressives so detest.
And, of course, the gnostic, who has such noble motives, may well believe himself entitled to a few benefits. He is doing good; should he not do well? Contemplate Bill Clinton as a candidate for that mantle.
I don't recommend that you read Vogelin, although it would do no harm; but he is thorough and assumes a level of education that was higher than much of his readership when he wrote. Western intellectuals used to share far more common education -- novels, familiarity with myth and legend, Iliad and Odyssey and Aeschylus and Sophocles and -- ah, well. There is a great deal of more modern stuff that we must know now, and perhaps a neglect of the classics was an inevitable result of all our modern scientific discoveries. Jacques Barzun told a story of the days in the 19th Century when Harvard instituted the Bachelor of Science degree; something new at the time. It did not guarantee that its recipient knew any science, but it certainly guaranteed that he would know neither Greek nor Latin... Today's graduate can add history and philosophy to those guarantees; all of which makes communication more difficult. If I say David and Goliath most readers will understand the reference and the image of the underdog winning; but the days when there were thousands of such colorful images for a writer to draw on in the sure knowledge that the reader would understand are long gone. Alas. I am not sure we are the better for it.
And that, certainly, is more of a ramble than I had intended. I have to get to work.
I just realized something. I think I actually paid for a copy of Microsoft Security Essentials in a fit of absence of mind. I forget which machine I did that on; I need to scan it.
If you Bing Microsoft Security Essentials the first listing to download it is NOT Microsoft. It's an outfit that wants money. It's not a lot, and I think I absent mindedly sent them a few bucks through Paypal. Now I worry that what I got was corrupted, although as I recall the machine did install the real thing. I wish I could remember which machine I put that on.
I recommend MSE but get it from Microsoft. It's free.
I went looking for the four articles on the Progressives. One has to be a subscriber to National Review, and then create an account, all of which I did. And logged in, and went looking for the articles, found them, and had to log in again on the account I had created. But they are there. I suppose I have seen a picture of the future, and I can hardly object.
January 7, 2010
Obama has abandoned the "war on terror" in favor of treating international acts of war as civil crimes. There is some logic to this in that "terror" is not an enemy and a universal declaration of war without a named opponent and no definition of when the war is over is hardly in keeping with Constitutional principles. The Framers were well aware that in England the King had the right to make war on whomever he pleased, Parliament's only control being the supply of money. They were also aware that wars require executive powers that can be dangerous to the liberties of the people. In particular, in war the Federal Government gains powers normally reserved for the states or to the people. The solution was to give Congress the power to declare war. Presumably Congress also has the power to undeclare war, but no Congress has ever done that to the best of my knowledge. Once the President -- actually the federal bureaucracy -- gets War Powers, they remain until the executive declares they are no longer needed. The likelihood of that is strongly influenced by the Iron Law of Bureaucracy.
We went through most of these discussions back in Cold War days, when it was clear that there was an existential threat against the United States -- 26,000 nuclear warheads, and the evidence is piling up that the USSR had not ruled out a first strike -- but we did not dare end it by preemptive war. (Patton: "We're going to have to fight the SOB's sometime, why not do it while we have a GD army over here to do it with?") It was clear that the logic of Communism made it immoral for Communists not to strike if the end result would be the permanent revolution, universal Communism, and the end of history. Most of the Soviet nomenklatura didn't believe that, but they professed Communism and had to say they believed it -- and there were some true Communists in the Communist Party. (I suppose that everyone has noted the analogy to jihad and Muslims.)
Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace (title of a relevant and worth reading collection of essays about World War II edited by Harry Elmer Barnes and containing a worthwhile essay by one of my former mentors, the Swedish sociologist George Lundberg) in its very title describes what became the greatest danger of the Cold War. The Cold War greatly expanded the powers of the Federal Government, and of the bureaucracies. It was a standard practice of the liberals to insist on more liberal economic powers and bureaucratic "Great Society" structures in return for allowing the Cold Warriors the means for defending the nation. None of this was lost on people like Possony, who concluded that the cost was high but worth it because the threat was very real; but some of us never forgot that the only justification for our military buildup and the consequent construction of what Eisenhower called the Military Industrial Complex was the external existential threat. Today we have a different kind of external threat. Note, though that because we are threatened by international terror does not mean that there is no internal threat of the more traditional kind -- the kind of threat that the Constitution was designed to prevent.
The case for a global war on terror is stated in an article "What Does the Detroit Bomber Know?" by former Attorney General Michael Mukasey. He gets into specifics on why the ordinary civil laws ought not apply in the particular case of the underwear bomber.
Make no doubt, the threat was real. The johnson bomber came within an ace of bringing down that airplane, and only his incompetence prevented it. Those who credit a guardian angel will get no arguments from me. It was a very close thing, and next time we might not be so fortunate. The arguments for treating this as an act of war and dealing with it by military means are quite strong; but the implications of that are quite real also. Mukasey states his case well.
My conclusion on all this is that we need a fundamental rethinking of our criminal justice system, which has become a jousting game between lawyers. We have lost sight of the notion that a trial is intended to determine truth, not choose among lawyers; that rules of evidence are supposed to make it more likely that truth will be discovered. So far have we come, that our choices are military courts and detention in military facilities, or a farcical show trial such as will happen in Manhattan some day after innumerable motions are disposed of. If the only way to win the war on terror is to have perpetual war powers, we have lost a great deal -- and of course we have lost a great deal. We used to trust our courts to deal out justice. For the most part they do, but we all know that trials are now more contests of legal skill than quests for truth. Much of that came about from the compromises required for survival in the Cold War, and which are still in place, propped up by the war on terror.
We need a fundamental rethinking of our legal system and the complex rules of evidence.
Paul Wolfowitz in "Wahid and the Voice of Moderate Islam" is worth your while. Note, though, that "moderate Islam" is heretical according to any fundamentalist interpretation of the Koran. Fortunately, the largest Muslim country has gone toward toleration -- similar to what used to be called latitudinarianism in Christian history (and which is pretty well the belief of most Christians today). Yesterday's heresy can become today's doctrine, but that takes time. Wahabi fundamentalism has evolved to allow extended truce with the infidel -- else Saudi Arabia would long ago have been overrun by imperialists -- but many other Muslim brands have not. Jihad remains orthodox for vast numbers of Muslims, and the straight stuff is taught in schools all over the world.
I believe time is on the side of the West. Our cultural weapons of mass destruction work their magic on the young. Blue jeans, iPods, rock music, all the secular blandishments seduce them away from strict Muslim commands and toward a more latitudinarian view of the world. That dictates a Western strategy, or so it seems to me.
January 8, 2010
My old friend and associate Adrian Berry (formerly science correspondent for the Telegraph) recommends http://www.thegwpf.org/ for climate change discussions. I've just been over there and it's worth looking at; they seem to have a rational approach and have much more time and space to devote to the subject than I do. I don't and can't keep up with breaking news, and I have only so many things I can pay attention to at a time.
Of course I do have you: readers and subscribers who find things I ought to see. Sometimes it takes me a while to get to them, but I try to read at least some of what's recommended here. Of course it's inevitable that some of what I get doesn't appear useful, and I generally ignore that unless it sparks some thoughts for reply.
Major Democrats abandon the ship -- an important story, actually. Two Senators, a Congresscritter, and a Governor in one jump. All were considered safe last year. None had much of a chance of winning reelection this fall. That will have two effects: causing some Members of Congress to rethink their blind support of Obama's policies, and redoubling the administration's efforts to rally its supporters.
The johnson bomber has pleaded not guilty. If we are at war with Al Qaeda, why is he to be tried in civilian courts? Roosevelt had no compunction about letting the military handle the eight German saboteurs landed on our shores by submarine to carry out sabotage missions against what most would consider military targets. Lincoln had fairly drastic means for disposing of Copperheads and Southern spies.
I hear various lawyers saying that we can't turn him over to the military because he was arrested by the FBI, which demonstrates the inadequacy of legal education in this country as well as our deficit in history. That problem didn't arise with the German saboteurs.
Political Correctness prevails again.
Obama says that this wasn't a screw up, the system is broken. He also says that we are at war.
Actually the system isn't broken, it has been deliberately gummed up with political correctness. The same nonsense that causes little old ladies to be as likely to get special attention from our incorruptible and intrepid crackerjack TSA officers as would a Nigerian coming on a flight from Yemen and buying his ticket with cash applies to a great many other cases. Obama can only fix that by making it safe to "discriminate", and he won't do that. Thus even the most conscientious TSA officer must weigh his possibility of being personally ruined by a charge of racism or being anti-Muslim against the probabilities of detecting an actual terrorist. There are not many terrorists. There are plenty of people willing to charge racism. Like being a "denier", the charge is sufficient: no real evidence is required, and the result of such calumny is well described in Rossini's Barber of Seville.
Of course the US had sufficient information; but the informal communications channels that allow intelligence work to be done have been deliberately gummed up since last January. Intelligence operatives have retreated to bureaucratic tools. "I ain't talking to nobody without a direct order." The fear of being politically correct pervades the entire security system. Better to be embarrassed by demanding the confiscation of a General's Medal of Honor than to chance the charge of favoritism and by inference racism and political incorrectness.
One wonders how far this will go? I assure you we are not past it yet. We are getting the Change You Can Believe In, and we are getting it good and hard.
January 9, 2010
I am way behind on getting the column out. Fortunately Peggy Noonan's column in today's Wall Street Journal is as good as any essay I might have written. Go read that. If you've got a lot more time you might look at this retrospective on the Legions. Noonan is very much worth your time, and the other is also if you are concerned with that sort of thing. I'll be back in force when I get some other work done.
Meanwhile we took Sable to the vet this morning. She has some kind of joint disorder that will probably be expensive (just finding out wasn't cheap). Upsetting news. Nothing we can do about it.
January 10, 2010
Thanks to Lee Rose.
I continue to hear legalistic nonsense about why we cannot try terrorists like the johnson bomber, and the Fort Hood jihadist, cannot be tried by military tribunals. In those debates I hear nothing about the precedent of the eight German saboteurs of World War II who were arrested (after they had landed) on American soil by the FBI, and turned over to the military for trial and execution.
The defense that "I am not a terrorist, I participate in jihad" is silly.
The President said in his speech that we are at war. The jihadists get their marching orders from al Qaeda and jihadist imams. Jihad is war against the infidel. Our security forces, and the Legions, should be given the marching orders: find them, prove that they are engaging in jihad, and unless they are taken in uniform fighting with weapons allowed under the Laws of War (in which case they become POW's), execute or detain them depending on which best serves our interests.
This is a day book. It's not all that well edited. I try to keep this up daily, but sometimes I can't. I'll keep trying. See also the weekly COMPUTING AT CHAOS MANOR column, 8,000 - 12,000 words, depending. (Older columns here.) For more on what this page is about, please go to the VIEW PAGE. If you have never read the explanatory material on that page, please do so. If you got here through a link that didn't take you to the front page of this site, click here for a better explanation of what we're trying to do here. This site is run on the "public radio" model; see below.
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