Sunday, August 1, 2010

Signing Off

As you might guess, I'm not posting much here any more. But a non-democratic China is still a threat, religious fundamentalism (both Islamic and Christian) remains a threat to America's economy and security, and the GOP has yet to revert to its Roosevelt-Eisenhower-Reagan facts-and-figures, fiscal conservative/social moderate roots. But all these things are now at least a subject of debate within some conservative circles. Maybe my 0.00000002 cents helped move things along; who knows.

In the meantime, I highly recommend the following blogs and writers:

Andrew Sullivan
Marginal Revolution
The Late Enlightenment
The Secular Right
Bruce Bartlett

Thanks for reading!

Monday, April 12, 2010

One Upside to the Greek Crisis

If you're an American - the next time you hear a Western European complaining about the unenlightened behavior of the American government with respect to foreign aid and support for international organizations like the U.N., how about you remind your new friend of the time that a country IN THEIR OWN ECONOMIC COOPERATION SPHERE NEEDED HELP AND THEY ONLY GRUDGINGLY GAVE IT WHEN THEIR OWN ECONOMIES WERE IN IMMEDIATE DANGER.

Now I can't wait to hear this old saw again. See what positive thinking does?

Don't Like Hippies?

Then legalize pot, like California is about to. The ex-hippies up there in the NorCal woods are terrified because they know it's going to to kill their economy.

If I Were a Central Planner in China thing I would be doing is decreasing Chinese dependence on fossil fuels, and developing renewable energy technology. That way, as oil runs out and climbs above $120, countries whose voters didn't demand foresight of their elected leaders would be, pardon the pun, over a barrel. If your military has no fuel, it doesn't matter how big it is.

In this article about Arizona officials trying to woo solar technology developers, count up the companies they visited in California that were from China.

Meanwhile, American social conservatives continue to knee-jerk-react to any suggestion that the U.S. consume less oil as if changing our principle energy source and suppliers is a form of communism. When did conservatives decide to let the elitists running oil companies and their PR agents make decisions for them?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Science Magazine: Markets Make Humans Fairer

Here's the paper in Science, here's the shorter write-up in Reason.
There are likely some self-described conservatives that will applaud this conclusion but reject other scientific conclusions produced by the same methods.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Successful Iranian Space Launch Uses North Korean Technology

This weekend Iran successfully tested a rocket that they launched into space. I wonder what other kind of technology they could be readying for use with it? Meanwhile, Fox News hottie Sarah Palin met with the Tea Partiers at the Gaylord Opry-land Hotel. (Can I say that again? They're at the GAYLORD Hotel. G-A-Y-L-O-R-D.)

As you might expect, her address showed a complete ignorance of facts-and-figures governance or any knowledge of what's going on the outside world. I guess if you can't see Iran from your house you don't know what to do about it.

Does anyone remember why we're in Iraq? Because of all of Saddam's nuclear weapons; that is to say, because the Bush administration made a HUGE MISTAKE. And the Chiller from Wasilla dares to even imply she's a better national security choice? Do you really want Sarah Palin anywhere near an national office when understanding North Korean space technology is critical to national security?

California Cities Teaching Their Officials Mandarin

[Lancaster, CA] is sending business delegations to China, partnering with a Chinese sister city, and using a language tutor to teach bureaucrats Mandarin.

It may seem odd that this frontier desert town, where many residents relish the separation and distance from downtown L.A., is actively courting the language and culture of a far-flung land. But city leaders say they're on a mission.

"We have to recognize it's a global economy," said Parris, who has been studying Mandarin using the language-learning software Rosetta Stone, and plans to send his two adult sons on a year-long language-study trip to China. "The Chinese have trillions of American dollars. We want them to reinvest those dollars back into America."

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Obama's Leftward Drift Since Taking Office

Is it just me, or do some of Obama's speeches seem to be continuing a leftward tilt since he took office? It's as if he thinks he's "safe". Look at the text of some of these speeches and think about what he's saying:

"Freedom is the right to question and change the established way of doing things. Freedom is the recognition that no single person, no single authority or government has a monopoly on the truth but that every individual life is infinitely precious and has something to offer. Every victory for human freedom will be a victory for world peace."

He can't hide the liberal obsession with peace and weakening America, can he?

It gets worse:

"The United States believes that respect for human rights is not social work. It is not merely an act of compassion. It is the first obligation of government and the source of its legitimacy. It also is the foundation stone in any structure of world peace."

"Symbolizing his personal campaign to...allow greater freedom of religion, [he] lit a candle during a visit to an Orthodox Monastery."

Are you scared yet? You shouldn't be. These are Ronald Reagan's words. Gotcha! (If this took you in, you should be asking yourself why.) I didn't go quote-hunting; they first two are the summary of a film about his life that's shown in the museum and that he narrates, and the third is from a photographic caption (see below). Can you imagine going to a Tea Party rally and talking about your support for human rights and Obama attending non-Protestant religious services and defending the right to change the established way of doing things? You'd be taking your life in your hands.

I visited the Ronald Reagan Library a few weeks ago and it occurred to me while listening to his stirring speech that if any politician made statements like this today, they would be immediately reviled by Tea Partiers as some kind of radical. In fact, they might point out, the Reagan Museum is chock-FULL of suspicious left-leaning motifs. First of all, it's in the middle of a stunning desert area in California (that's where liberals come from!), AND it contains a theater named after Mikhail Gorbachev. AND he used to be a Democrat. If Ronald Reagan were running for the Presidential nomination in today's GOP, he'd be run out of town as worse than a RINO. A visit to the Reagan Museum will give you more than enough evidence of how the GOP has changed for the worse in two decades.

I highly recommend a visit to the museum. If you're a Gen Xer and you remember Reagan from your teen-aged years, it's good to re-map him to your modern political sensibilities. One reflection I did have is that his speeches and his policy don't strike me as the work of a genius - and that's just fine. What it did strike me as was his the work of someone of solid character and clear-thinking principles. Because Reagan probably wasn't reading Plato in his spare time made him no less effective. Most importantly, he presided over and was at least half-responsible for the end of the Cold War, a legacy that isn't celebrated nearly enough. When I was ten years old I remember being scared every time I heard a siren that World War III had started and I would die within an hour. While the threat is not entirely gone, it's mitigated substantially, thanks largely to Ronald Reagan.

And of course, I ended up in my mind comparing Reagan's heroic handling of the Soviet Union to our current handling of China. I'm not pointing at either party as the one that dropped the ball, but since the Democrats are in office right now, it's their responsibility. This makes me nervous because they seem ready to surrended even to Scott Brown. But then where are the modern Republicans with the knowledge and resolve about foreign affairs? The GOP seems interested in internal bickering, period. (And by the way, it's exactly this willful ignorance of the outside world in favor of political inbreeding and navel-gazing that wrecked Rome and Spain and Ming China and every great nation in history that's joined the dinosaurs.) Attempts to appease the more belligerent elements in the CCP are pointless, but so far it's the best our leaders have been able to do. yet somehow, Reagan stared down the Soviet Union when they were much stronger and able to inflict far more damage than China could now.

Here are some pictures I took; apologies for the quality of my phone camera. It's winter here in Southern California which means it rains, which felt appropriate for a visit to his grave, immediately behind the museum.

Blinded Test: Warren Buffett, or Sh*tmydadsays

It occurs to me that some of the Oracle of Omaha's more candid and off-the-record statements overlap with the tender sentiments we see from Sh*t My Dad Says. Take this quick quiz and see if you can tell which is a cranky retired doctor and which is a cranky investment guru scolding employees and investors:

1) "You know, if I'm playing bridge and a naked woman walks by, I don't ever see her."

2) "Get married when you want. A wedding's just one more day in my life I can't wear sweat pants."

3) "I hate paying bills. Don't say 'me too.' I didn't say that looking to relate to you. I said it instead of 'go away.'"

4) "You can't produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant. It just doesn't work that way."

5) "You practically invented lazy. People should have to call you and ask for the rights to lazy before they use it."

6) "It's nice to have a lot of money, but you know, you don't want to keep it around forever. I prefer buying things. Otherwise, it's a little like saving sex for your old age."

7) "I wouldn't worry about money. It has a lot to do with happiness, I just meant YOU shouldn't worry, cause you would just piss it away."

8) "Sometimes life leaves a hundred dollar bill on your dresser, and you don't realize until later that it's because it screwed you."

9) "If you have a harem of 40 women, you never get to know any of them very well."

10) "[It was like] half a tablet of Viagra and then having also a bunch of candy mixed in -- it doesn't have really quite the wallop."

Buffett quotes from here. Sh*t My Dad Says here.

ANSWERS: 1) Buffett, 2) Sh*t, 3) Sh*t, 4) Buffett, 5) Sh*t, 6) Buffett, 7) Sh*t, 8) Sh*t, 9) Buffett, 10) Buffett

Monday, February 1, 2010

Tim Pawlenty Is Becoming Stupid

[Added later: We need more Republicans like Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who actually produced a real budget - and not only that, but Obama had some constructive criticism to listen to, unlike with the hold-my-breath-until-I-turn-blue tactics most of the GOP is using these days. See, I knew you some of you upper Midwesterners still had your common sense intact.]

That's the only conclusion you can draw from Pawlenty's Politico piece, which Republican economist Bruce Bartlett adeptly disassembles:

Like all Republicans these days, Pawlenty wants to have it every possible way: complain about the deficit while ignoring everything his party did to create it (Medicare Part D, two unfunded wars, TARP, earmarks galore, tax cuts up the wazoo, irresponsible regulatory and monetary policies that created the recession that created the deficit, etc.), illogically insisting that tax cuts are a necessary part of deficit reduction, and never proposing any specific spending cuts.

The only specific thing Mr. Pawlenty is capable of proposing is a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. It’s hard to know where to begin in explaining why this is such an irresponsible idea, but I will try.

And he does. Long story short, if Pawlenty's article was a ninth-grade term paper, it might get a C. Lots of talk, no specifics, and the same tired old ideas that have broken the budget. There's no time for grandstanding. WE NEED REAL SOLUTIONS, TIMMY. IF YOU DON'T HAVE THEM, DON'T WASTE OUR TIME APPLYING FOR THE JOB.

This is where GOP campaign strategists take me aside and say "You don't want to get too specific in an article like this. That just gives ammunition to his enemies, and anyway the common man won't understand that. Pawlenty is trying to get his name out to the general public."

Yes, I know that, you dipshits. What's so disconcerting is that I wonder if the GOP is right that this is really where we are - that a would-be national leader has to dumb down his message and avoid any and all substance to appeal to the moronic mob. Is that really where America is? (And do you want it to be there?) I've said it before and I'll say it again: if the only way to get our ideas enacted as policy is to hide them or distort them, or the tried-and-true populist appeal to the most-easily-distracted-by-shiny-objects among us, then we don't deserve to be in office. The other side should win. Elitism is to be encouraged when it's elitism in problem-solving.

In any event we've seen nothing from Pawlenty in the last year to show that he has any ideas other than greasing himself up for a Ted-Haggard-style date with the Religious Right. I was once hopeful for him, but he's not presidential material. While I'm at it, I'll quote another Minnesota voice: "Be as anti-elitist as you like, but when the surgeon comes in to open up your skull to see what that big dark spot on the CT scan was, you don't want him to be wearing a humorous T-shirt ("Hey, it is brain surgery") and eating Jujubes. You board the DC-10 to London and you'd like to see a lean guy with a military-style crew cut, an overachiever, not a guy with hair in his eyes who is really, really into his own music. Your life may depend on an arrogant elitist who happens to know what he's doing."

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Democracies and Dictatorships are Playing Different Games

There's a common theme that runs through many history and decision psychology books, which is that conflict sometimes arises because game players each think they're playing a different game with their opponents. Three books in particular stick out: Spencer Weart's Never at War: Why Democracies Will Not Fight One Another, Robert Kagan's Return of History and the End of Dreams, and Irving Janis's Groupthink. Groupthink in particular analyzes these strategic misalignments that result in conflict between democracies and dictatorships.

The famous WWII miscalculation is Chamberlain's doomed attempt to appease Germany, but far more fascinating is Janis's review of Japan's mistaken decision process leading up to Pearl Harbor (although America's equally foolish complacence played a part too.) It boils down to this. Democracies, accustomed to transparency and rational decision-making as it applies to a much wider chunk of their populations, assume that they're dealing in good faith with rational and above-board decision-makers whose citizens have access to full information. And this works fine when democracies are dealing with other democracies, but when they're dealing with dictatorships, taking statements at face value and assuming that being nice will be rewarded is a dicey proposition. Meanwhile, dictatorships can only assume that the so-called democracy of their enemies is just as much of a sham as their own "people's republic" (which people?), and that the leaders of those so-called democracies will sacrifice their population however they have to in order to preserve themselves. Hence Japan's misapprehension that the U.S. would fall back from Hawaii and sacrifice the islands to fortify more easily defended targets; this was after all the most rational decision from the perspective of just protecting the military. The Japanese command didn't realize that the American people were loyal to their government out of choice and that their demands to strike back had to be heeded by elected officials.

Bottom line: it's as if dictatorships are playing football and democracies are playing basketball. But this has been going on for long enough to have been studied, so we democracies can't act surprised anymore when a linebacker tackles us during a foul shot.

This is why there is growing concern in many quarters about the West's behavior toward China and North Korea. China recently made a point of collectively snubbing the rest of the world, and even prior to the Great Cyberattack the current administration was quietly pissed off about it. Looking at the recent tone in the Western press, it seems hopeful that China's Sudetenland days are numbered. Still, when you read things like this about China and its client states you can't help but worry:

Humanitarian aid [to North Korea], from Americans or others, is explained away as tribute from an inferior state or as reparations for past misdeeds. The 2008 visit of the New York Philharmonic to North Korea was depicted there as a gesture of respect for the regime. When former President Clinton went to the capital, Pyongyang, last summer to win the release of two detained American journalists, the official media made much of the deference and contrition that he supposedly showed to dictator Kim Jong Il.

Now China is asking, in arrogant tones, that NATO countries drop their arms embargo and start selling Western weapons technology to the People's Middle Kingdom again. It's time to call bullshit on China's perpetual victim card, and whether it's a Republican or Democrat who does it, we shouldn't care. At this point, it should be obvious that attempts to appease this prematurely arrogant dragon are futile. We can't make Chamberlain's mistake with China and North Korea; otherwise we're inviting them to make Tojo's with us.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

How to Set Up Proxy Servers in China

To get around the Great Firewall. There are tips here and here, and many other places.

Worlds Collide in Afghanistan

Worlds Collide Part I: it turns out Bin Laden likes Noam Chomsky's political work. Is anyone surprised? What's old Noam's reaction to this? I have to admit sometimes I feel bad for Ozzie Bin Laden. He's really crying out for attention with his most recent recording; these days he comes across as a frustrated blogger who he has to try to cheerlead even failed bombing attempts. Hey, here's a suggestion Ozzie: send flame-retardant underwear, as opposed to mentally-retarded bombers. Here's another one: your culture and ridiculous religion are dying. You are impotent and have failed. Global capitalism and technology are inexorably assimilating the Middle East with every breath you take. There is nothing you or Chomsky or any army in the world can do to stop it.

Worlds Collide Part II: like many minorities in China, Uighurs are rightfully unhappy with policies that reflect Han domination of government and repression of the general population (for that matter, more and more Han Chinese are unhappy with censorship and opacity too, now including even retired members of the Chinese Communist Party, in writing.) But what do you do with Uighurs who made the mistake of associating with the Taliban in Afghanistan who are now at Guantanamo Bay, and whom the Chinese government is trying to have returned to China? Should we send them back, where they will be treated (predictably) as China treats terrorists? If not, is it because we're worried China would torture them, or alternatively that they wouldn't torture them enough? I'm sure Eisenhower and Reagan would be thrilled either way, to see how America has changed since they left it, and that now we're in competition with a communist dictatorship to see who can torture its captives worse.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The States as Democracy Laboratories

Has anyone ever complained that Congress is too efficient or productive? I've never seen an objective measure of legislature productivity, but I would like one. That way I could better support my argument that there's an inverse relationship between productivity and legislature size. The bigger they are, the more gridlocked they are. One mechanism to explain this scale-emergent trend is Olsonian veto groups.

I'm unfortunately really starting to believe that whatever is wrong with our national lawmakers is not fixable. Elected leaders are constitutively unable to address real problems, chiefly among them our budget. State legislatures aren't always any better off, but if that inverse relationship is real, they stand a better chance of making a difference on real questions and enacting meaningful fixes. Not only should states (and even individual cities) be less shy about passing laws in opposition to the Federal gubmint, they should actively seek out confrontation.

Mind you, I'm not talking about secession, and I'm not talking about idiot tea-bagger take-up-arms nonsense, but I am talking about legal challenges. A good model is how the marijuana issue has played out, mostly between Western states and the Feds. Marijuana, while a minor social issue, is a good model. A few states experimented, the world didn't end, and now you have even states like New Jersey allowing medical marijuana. If we had waited for the Federal government to do this, we'd have waited forever. What else can we address this way?

Die, Healthcare Reform, Die

To paraphrase a friend regarding the Mass. Senate election: "Last night at Ace Hardware I was in line behind Satan. He was there to buy a space heater." Several places in the blogosphere I've seen the Democrats' shrieking hissy-fits summed up best by the headline "Republicans Gain 41-59 Majority in Senate". The Dems are like six year old girls at a piano lesson who won't play any more after they hit one wrong note. Honestly now. If the Indians were Democrats, Custer would have won in a rout.

I'm cheerful about this because it means that health care reform is probably dead in the water. Why is that good? It's good for me, because I'm in medical school, and I plan to go into a high-earning specialty. To be blunt: I want to make lots of money, however I can, and I don't want any laws passed that mean I will make less money. End of story. And if your dad can't get that medical procedure he needs because my price is too high, then too goddamn bad for him. You can't say you're a capitalist and then bitch when the free market hurts you. You whiner.

Now, I can understand why maybe the foregoing passage might come across as less than persuasive that there is no need for reform in healthcare, but now that it looks dead thanks to the surrender monkeys currently running Congress, it's safer for me to be more direct. My motivation here is fourfold: 1) looking back over the blog, it's a little more colorless than I'd like it to be, and who gives a rat's ass if I scare off my 10 readers; 2) I'm so full of disgust with the moralizing that has gone on in this healthcare debate that my judgment is impaired; 3) conservatives have been really inconsistent in this debate (more below) and 4) if people just stared reality in the face, the world would be a better place. And here's reality: medicine is hard, it costs a lot, and you have to pay for it one way or another. If you can't, too bad.

One of the moral arguments that makes me puke is that human life is different, and since I'm going to be a doctor I should want to help people and not just make money. Yes, that's right! And then unicorns will come prancing from a magical fairy-land of rainbows!

Now, about that conservative inconsistency: do you know what the biggest medical entitlement program is in this country? Medicare. Why do Republicans not only avoid cutting it, but actively protect it? Because they know old people vote Republican, and that their constituents (the ones who pretend to be capitalists) won't call them on their hypocrisy. But if you're serious about keeping government out of healthcare, then where's the outcry to cut Medicare? For me, that's the next step. Medicare badly distorts the medical marketplace because the reimbursements are a joke. Here's what I don't know: what will happen to your mother's prescriptions once Medicare is gone. Here's what I do know: don't send her to me unless she has private insurance or can pay out of her pocket. Don't like the sound of that? Then boo hoo, and stop pretending to be a conservative, you pussy.

Wake up everyone. None of this is about morality or values. It's not about America. It's not about capitalism vs. socialism. It's about self-interest, and mostly, about our pockets. Most importantly, about my pocket.

Are You a Darwinist, or a Socialist?

So, which is it? Good capitalists choose Darwinism on all fronts. William Jennings Bryant, good Democrat that he was, argued in the Scopes trial that evolution shouldn't be taught in schools because it would make the children more capitalist. Got that?

Make your pick, conservatives - the clock is ticking. Are you real capitalist-Darwinists, or national socialists who just think you're capitalists? It really is that black and white.

Friday, January 15, 2010

More on the Great Cyberattack of 2010

There has been some print coverage of the Chinese Cyber-9/11, especially in the SF Chronicle, the New York Times and the WaPo, but still precious little in other media and not much at all in the blogosphere. Darpa has identified the lack of computer science degrees being produced in the U.S. as not just an economic problem with a national security issue. The same is true of public awareness or lack thereof of the links between technology, innovation and economics, and at no time could this be more obvious. This has aspects of Sputnik and Pearl Harbor. Historians will refer to this as a watershed moment - and what are the American people doing? In what way are we holding our elected leaders accountable?

The Chronicle published a good timeline of Chinese cyberwarfare developments. Other American firms have stepped forward to announce that they've been attacked and that they're aligned with Google, like Yahoo, which extends the hope that now the Google has set the example, other Western companies will follow suit.

What's really curious is that just yesterday, out of 8 lead articles on the Yahoo main news page, 3 were about China, and one of them was an essentially undigested press release from the Chinese Ministry of Commerce that everything is just fine, and Western companies should ignore all these scandalous stories of the Chinese government attacking them even while it forces them to bend to its oppressive laws and restricts their operations while it can develop native industries. Indeed, the damage control efforts at MiniCom have been both rapid and Orwellian: "China's foreign ministry issued a statement on Thursday saying the Internet in China is open, and companies that follow China's laws are welcomed." War is peace! Freedom is slavery! Or how about the ominous "China will still strictly adopt a policy of openness and offer a good investment environment." One plus one is five! Western firms, wake up: this is a game that's been set up for you to lose. (Note: originally one of those links went to a Chinese news site with a .cn domain. I changed the link to Yahoo for reader safety, and I didn't do it just to be cute.)
A lot has been made of the sophistication of the attacks, but the targeting is anything but subtle. In this case a dotcom retained a U.S. law firm to sue China for (what else) stealing code. Soon enough they were under attack. Come on, China. Even Gotti was more subtle than this. That was just this past Monday, four days ago. Apparently no fish is too small to escape notice of the Red Cyber Army. (If you wonder why I use a pseudonym on this blog, there you are. And do I wonder whether that's enough? You bet.)

For now, I'm pissed enough that next week I'll be looking at my IRA allocations to make sure none of it is allocated to Chinese investments - no, pulling my savings out won't do anything, but I don't have to be party to building this regime's infrastructure for them even if everyone else is - but in any event the United States has been running up a monster debt since 2001, and China's financing it.

I think everyone has had enough of China's "strict policy of openness", especially its citizens. Unless China doesn't think that it's ready for elections and free speech, now is the time for a real policy of openness. Let's hope more companies follow Google's example and that this spurs change at the level of the Chinese people. As I often lament, there seems to be no encouragement from American conservatives.

Even Eric Erickson Isn't Safe

...from frothing-at-the-mouth attacks from the Legions of Palin. Any political organization that doesn't tolerate honest and constructive internal criticism will not last long, though I think it's telling that even such an impeccably aligned blogger as Erickson gets accused of being a closet leftist when he dares to point out areas for improvement for Queen Sarah. While I'm not holding out for a Charles Johnson-style declaration of independence, I think Erickson has just seen the ugly side of the social right wing that scares so many independent-minded young people away from the modern-day GOP.

By the way, Erickson acquitted himself on Colbert better than anybody gives him credit for.

Is Sarah Palin the woman to navigate our complicated and tense relationship with China?

Even If It's Not Your Thing, This Is Why We're the Good Guys

The Mr. Gay China Pageant has been forced to close by police in the People's Middle Kingdom. Even if it's not your thing, it says something about the CCP that they're so puritanical and paranoid about mass gatherings of citizens, of any kind, that sometimes they won't allow even non-political events to go forward.

Our civilization is resilient enough to adapt to change and tolerate events like this, even if many Americans find it distasteful or immoral. Why isn't China?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

China Cyberattacks: It's Not Even New

A correspondent sends me a Register story showing that the UK's FBI-analog (MI5) had openly identified the Chinese government as the source of cyberattacks on British firms over two years ago. While it's not surprising that the Chinese government has been behaving this way for a while, it is surprising that the U.S. is so far behind our European allies in openly identifying their actions. I guess America's massive intelligence community has the excuse that it's been so successful in following the TSA model to identify Muslim terrorists that it hasn't had time to defend against the Chinese Communist Party.

My hopes are that the Google withdrawal from China (that's what it is already, in all but name) will set a new tone. It will show other companies and their shareholders that in fact you can withdraw from China and survive - if you're a foreign firm, your fate in China is predetermined anyway. In fact your withdrawal may well be in in the combined interest of democracy and your own business interests. Even Hugo Chavez isn't constantly spying on and sabotaging developed-world firms that operate in his territory.