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.

It's Official: The Chinese Government Attacked Google

It's now official. Verisign's iDefense security lab says:

"The source IPs and drop server of the attack correspond to a single foreign entity consisting either of agents of the Chinese state or proxies thereof."

Ars Technica adds: "If the report's findings are correct, it suggests that the government of China has been engaged for months in a massive campaign of industrial espionage against US companies."

What's amazing is how little play this has gotten in the media, and even moreso, on conservative blogs. American companies are being attacked by China, but Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin's press-ops are more important. If China nuked Los Angeles, I think Beck would say "Think about it. Would this have happened if Obama weren't born in Kenya?"

If it's good for the Chinese government, it's bad for everyone else.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

And Another Thing, China...

On top of the Google news, the U.S. has just completed an arms deal with Taiwan and the Secretary of State is meeting with the Dalai Lama in the near future. Is it just possible that the Obama administration is pissed off because China arrogantly and publicly torpedoed the Copenhagen talks, and he's sending a message that it's too early for them to be playing rough?

If only a conservative would be so willing and able to play hardball with China like this.

Google Announcement RE China: Wow

This is huge.

"These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered--combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web--have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China."

If there is bigger news the rest of 2010, I'll be surprised. Google, you had me at "free speech".

Combined with the recently completed sale of weapons to Taiwan, this is not turning out to be a good year for the Chinese government. The worst part of it for everyone (including Chinese citizens) is that it doesn't have to be that way. Imagine a world in which Tibetans and Uighurs and Taiwanese wanted to be part of China! That's a world in which China is an open and democratic nation with elections and freedom of speech.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Palin; Plus, Ailes vs. Murdoch

I don't think many people on either side of the political spectrum are surprised by the FOX-Palin announcement today. What I find interesting is that this announcement comes immediately after some apparent leaks from within the Murdoch family that the Murdochs are increasingly impatient with the pseudo-conservative infotainment that Roger Ailes has turned FOX into. For years, liberals have focused on villifying Rupert Murdoch much more than Ailes, and suddenly we see articles like this that make the Murdochs' position seem much more reasonable and nuanced, then within days, the biggest announcement in conservative media in years. If it's more than a coincidence I'm not sure what it means but the timing is certainly interesting.

I'm on board with John McCain's campaign manager in stating that should Palin run as the GOP candidate in 2012, there would be a "catastrophic result". She would lose badly, embarrassingly, and damage the GOP brand irrevocably. That's why I'm relieved she's off the radar after having joined the librul media that until quite recently she seemed to think was the source of America's problems.

But wait - just because Sarah is now one of the hot FOX anchor girls, does that mean she won't run for President? It should. You hope that it would remove her from serious consideration in the eyes of American voters; then again, I hoped that when she was watching Russia from her house, and it didn't seem to matter.

I can't wait to see the Palin quotes about the media that Jon Stewart's crew digs up.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Xinhua Goes International

The rest of the world will now get to hear a continuous stream of why it's an honor to serve coastal Han who are members of the Chinese Communist Party.

This comment today from status- and signaling-theory-interested economist Robin Hanson is of interest here: "If in the future a low-free-speech nation becomes higher status, nations will instead copy that policy, and make up reasons as needed for that."

The Key to China's Future Success: Integrate

Ilham Tohti is a professor at Central Nationalities University in China, and an Uighur. China's people have a choice: enter the future as a powerful "universal" country that can embrace the talents and energy of all its citizens - like Professor Tohti - or continue to tolerate a small group of insecure, self-interested politicians limiting China's potential. This is one of the under-emphasized aspects of America's success.

This choice is important not just to China but to the whole world.

ARG: Don McElroy

Don McElroy is an Asshole Ruining the GOP. Why? He's censoring science textbooks to avoid offending Muslim extremists. He's quite happy to sacrifice America's economy to keep from upsetting religious extremists.

I would hope Americans find it hard to stomach any political party that tolerates this. Since Texas Republican governor Rick Warren appointed him as chair of the state school board, it's hard to see how the GOP is serious about our economy.

Let me be clear: if keeping America's economy competitive by producing engineers and scientists is liberal, then I am liberal. I'm a frickin communist. And so, by the way, is Mitt Romney.

If you see any inaccuracies in this post, by all means leave them in the comments section, and I'll be sure to follow up.

(Previous ARG winners here.)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Qu'ran Apparently Demands Incompetence

By now you've probably read about the joker in Denmark who tried to break into the house of Kurt Westergaard, the author of the infamous cartoon that Allah says you shouldn't see:

(Original cartoon here. These are key images only - text is in Danish anyway).

This guy managed not to roast his chestnuts over an open fire, but just got shot in the hand and leg. Then again, Christmas is over, so I guess no more "themed" incompetent terrorism.

Let's make sure we're clear on what this means. However powerful Allah is, he's no match for Danish police. I shudder to think what the NYPD could do to him. Once again, the ridiculous set of childish, incoherent violent fairy tales that is Islam produces a miserable failure. In conclusion, please enjoy the last stanza of a poem that can be found here entitled, "Danish Cartoonist 1, Muhammad 0":

Kurt Westergaard is still alive
His freedom, also, will survive—
He will not bow to terrorists
Although his name is on their lists;
He chooses still, by all accords,
To set his pen against their swords
To freely live, as best he can—
So, f*ck Muhammad — Kurt's the man!