What Would Cosby Do?

The definitive argument against reparations.

There was a time not long ago when we believed that all we needed for equality was a fair shot. Don't deny us the opportunity to use places of public accommodation, to absorb as much education as our appetites demand, to work where our skills and potential warrant, to vote for the people who make our laws, to live where our money will allow and, in general, to seek the good things of life.

That demand could be translated: We don't need white America to do anything for us because we are black; only stop doing things to us because we are black. Just treat us fairly from now on.

The demand for reparations says something else: that fair treatment from now on can't solve our problems; we need someone else to solve them or, failing that, to accept the responsibility for them.

Or just give us a bunch of money.

I would like to propose that Black activists ask themselves, "WWCD?" (What Would Cosby Do?). Can you imagine Dr Huxtable's response if Theo started talking about reparations in the kitchen? It would be a bigger smackdown than the time Theo wanted to drop out of school to drive a bus.

More Neo-Wilsonian arguments

There's another Wilsonian approach to war in Iraq in the WaPo:

What the Bush administration needs to do now is fashion a strategy for the Middle East in which its strike against Iraq won't seem crazy, but part of a sensible plan for a new and stable order in the Middle East. That shouldn't be impossible; the status quo, after all, is a mess -- and has been for decades.

That's the problem with those who argue for caution and inaction. They're defending a status quo that's rotten -- one that has left the Arab world perpetually unstable, and one in which U.S. interests seem constantly at risk. A new order would benefit everyone, most of all the Arabs.

The fundamental difference between this kind of argument and the pro-invade argument of the Bush Administration is the different outlook of time. For political reasons, the Bush Admin is advocating a "get in quick, do it fast" easy-success route. Very little thought to what happens AFTER Saddam is taking place. But as we saw in Afghanistan, a quick war often is just a delayed war.

The point that the current regimes in teh Arab world are all the direct result of colonialist policy should be a strong selling point in taking the long view instead of seeking short-term policy advantages. Had we seeded the region with democracies instead of propping up dictators like Saddam, we wouldnt have these threats to our interests today. Its essential that we take the long view. The principle here is itself the most practical - true regime change is only possible from within, not from without.

Those who ignore (Alternate) History...

...are doomed to repeat it.

TomPain.com has a short piece comparing Bush Administration policies to Orwell's classic book 1984.

It's an entertaining read, but the critique is solid. Any reader of 1984 will recognize these aspects of the dystopia: Permanent War. Ministry of Truth. Infallible Leader. Big Brother is Watching. Though Police. The essay puts forth Iraq, the Office of Strategic Influence, Bush, Ashcroft, and Fleischer as examples of these concepts. I disagree that the OSI is relevant, my choice for Ministry of Truth would actually be the WarBlogsphere and Conservative Radio, especially Bros. Hannity and Limbaugh (and to a lesser extent, Paul Harvey and Bill O'Reilly). OSI is aimed at a specific kind of disinformation campaign that is actually essential to our foreign policy.

I also think that one very important concept is missing from the list, namely, that of doublethink.


Subverting the Fathers

"Those willing to give up a little liberty for a little security deserve neither security nor liberty." -- Benjamin Franklin

"I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it." -- Thomas Jefferson

"The cost of freedom is eternal vigilance" -- Thomas Jefferson

fast forward to 2001...

'The cost of eternal vigilance is freedom' -- John Ashcroft (paraphrased)

it's not an exaggeration.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

-- the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution


Section 3103a of title 18, United States Code, is amended--

(1) by inserting `(a) IN GENERAL- ' before `In addition'; and

(2) by adding at the end the following:

`(b) DELAY- With respect to the issuance of any warrant or court order under this section, or any other rule of law, to search for and seize any property or material that constitutes evidence of a criminal offense in violation of the laws of the United States, any notice required, or that may be required, to be given may be delayed if--

`(1) the court finds reasonable cause to believe that providing immediate notification of the execution of the warrant may have an adverse result (as defined in section 2705);

`(2) the warrant prohibits the seizure of any tangible property, any wire or electronic communication (as defined in section 2510), or, except as expressly provided in chapter 121, any stored wire or electronic information, except where the court finds reasonable necessity for the seizure; and

`(3) the warrant provides for the giving of such notice within a reasonable period of its execution, which period may thereafter be extended by the court for good cause shown.'.

-- Sec. 213 of the PATRIOT Act (H.R.3162), 2001

(there's a lot more info at TalkLeft)


Neo-Wilsonian arguments

I'm going to start collecting arguments against invading Iraq that are Neo-Wilsonian. This essay by Thomas Friedman is a good start:

Why is America pushing democracy only in Iraq? Maybe it's because America really doesn't care about democracy in the Arab world, but is just pursuing some naked interests in Iraq and using democracy as its cover.
"Up to now, the Bush administration has been using democracy-promotion in the Mideast only as a tool to punish its enemies, not to create opportunities for its friends," notes the Middle East expert Stephen P. Cohen.

It's true. The Bush team is advocating democracy only in authoritarian regimes that oppose America, not in authoritarian regimes that are ostensibly pro-American � even though it is America's support for the autocratic regimes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia that has made many of their citizens so anti-American and contributed to the fact that 15 Saudis and one Egyptian played key roles in 9/11.

Some argue that if you have elections in these countries you will end up with "one man, one vote, one time" � in other words, the Islamists would win and never cede power back. I disagree. I think you would have one man, one vote, one time � for one term. Because sooner or later even the Islamists would have to deliver or be ousted.
The Bush policy today is to punish its enemies with the threat of democracy and reward its friends with silence on democratization. That's a sure-fire formula for giving democracy a bad name.

"kick me" signs

Porphyrogenitus sends this link to aerial photos of Iraqi facilities for nerve gas (does that count as WMD? I'm not convinced that nerve gas is any more outrageous-ish than grenades or mines). Lets assume that nerve gas is a WMD, however, just for argument's sake.

The thing about WMD is, you can't really build it in secret. During the Cold War, our ability to spy on the Soviets using a combination of SIGINT and HUMINT was unprecendented - on a country that was astronomically huge. The USSR is so vast you could tuck two United States' into just Russia (forget about the rest of the Soviet states!). Iraq is a tiny sliver, and we have air superiority control over all of it (not just the no-fly zones).

Even civilian satellites can see our air bases. Are we blind as to what goes on in Iraq?

We can easily contain Iraq's WMD ambitions without any kind of full-scale wag-the-dog effort. The WMD argument is the weakest one, in my opinion, for invading Iraq. Since we turned the other way when Iraq used WMD against Iran, we can't invoke any kind of moral righteousness (India has a legitimate beef against our hypocrisy in that regard). So, it's clear we can prevent Saddam from building them, and it's stupid to invade just to punish him for trying.




Is it possible for non-Muslims in general, and warbloggers in particular, to remember that religion != culture?

NZBear's use of the phrase "religion of peace" is as offensive[1] as the idiot tribals morons who make boneheaded and immoral decisions based on tribal cultural traditions and then wrap them in an out-of-context Qur'anic verse to make sure no one dares argue.

It would be more accurate to call these "Bonehead Tribalist Updates". Or, charitably speaking, "More Examples of things God-Fearing Christians have never been guilty of, nuh uh"

Let's start keeping track. Bonehead Tribalist Updates: Nigeria, Pakistan, and India (really!)

UPDATE: NZ Bear is rightfully taken aback at my seemingly equating his use of mere words in a headline with stoning a girl to death. That was not my intent, and I apologise deeply to him for being too sloppy to make myself clear.

What I tried to draw equivalence between was NOT NZB's post and stoning a girl, it was drawing an Islamic wrapper around these actions. Let me be clear, NZB is not "tribal", these morons are. Just like the gang rapers in Pakistan, or the mass murderers in Gujarat.

UPDATE: Bill Allison has kind words and thoughtful comments - never content to let a discussion topic stagnate, he always drives it forward to new insights. For what it is worth, I strongly agree with him that the main problem in the Middle East is tyranny - as Micheal Pine put it, I'm a Neo Wilsonian too.

[1] (yeah, it's footnote day) Of course, NZB has every right to be as offensive as he wants. It's his blog. The only reason I react strongly though is because normally he isn't offensive in this way. Not that he can't be if he wants to. So don't mail me and say I'm a whiny TP, because I can take it and I don't even want reparations! So there.

cry me a river

Atrios adds some commentary to this whiny article linked by Tapped about whites feeling that they aren't represented:

Today in the United States white people have no political representation. Whites have to struggle in the courts against government opposition to claim any resemblance to equal rights. Explicit government policies have made whites second class citizens. Whites are a dispossessed majority in their own country.

Why did the white majority allow themselves to be stripped of the equal protection clause of the Constitution?

Isn't all this petulant victimhood posturing reminiscent of TransNational Progressivism?

(see, this is why labels are bad. They are double-edged. Unless you don't mind being a hypocrite, which seems to accuractely describe Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity).

that which by any other name

I've started /dev/nulling any argument that refers to NeoConservatives or TransNational Progressives.

Not out of some righteous attempt at being holier-than-thou, but simply to keep my head from spinning and being totally distracted from the issues. I'm just not interested in vague generalizations about the Other. Most of what I have seen in the political debates raging throughout the blogsphere are variations of "Us vs Them" with Us and Them being defined in increasingly creative ways. Old stereotypes are resurrected, animated, made to do the bidding of mad political scientists, to wreak terror on the blogsphere. Content is inversely proportional to length when it comes to these "concepts" (I use the term with some irony).

Steven said it best on his blog:

I distrust labels and categories; too often it's a substitute for thinking. Once something has been placed into its designated box it isn't necessary to think about it any longer because you've decided what it is. So I try to stay away from that sort of thing.

(and took some heat for it on his now-closed forum, which is still a useful resource). It's somewhat ironic also that he has embraced TP because it's the same kind of labeling (just like "European" or "French"). And the LeftSphere has on occassion exhorted us to rise above labels as well, but "neocon" is just the same bowl of cracked rice.

Should we invade Iraq? I say no, not because NeoCons say Yes and I'm politically bound to oppose their every utterance (and in fact, some neocons also say No). Nor because I'm a TP who has his head up his socialist commie ass. I say No for lots of reasons and I'm willing to discuss them and I'm even willing to change my mind if you address the main issues that I have and convince me. [1]

This is not a challenge like Steven Den Beste's of a few weeks ago, which was taken up by Hesiod and Demosthenes, went back and forth (Hesiod, Demos) once, but then devolved into ad-hominem attack [2]

In contrast, I'm calling for diffuse debatable talking points, not for lengthy essays, which bifurcate endlessly into minutaie. I am looking for people stating what they think as axioms, not in response to someone's response - to identify the main points, present them, analyse them, without stuffing everyone who disagrees with your bottom line into the Other (ie, Wrong).

UPDATE 082002

Michael Pine introduces some USEFUL labels. I'm a Neo-Wilsonian.

Chris Newman writes:

I agree with you in general about labels, but I think there is a distinction to be made with regard to TP as opposed to many other labels. Fonte's essay defines TP explicitly in terms of enumerated principles. This makes it a useful concept. Whereas most of those labels, "right wing" or "left wing" etc, do not refer to articulable positions but rather to loose constellations of attitudes and associations. They are thus more useful for smearing than for analysis. What do you say?

I still consider the enumerated principles to be caricatures. Its still just a broadly defined category more for the benefit of people who *dont* adhere to the enumerated principles, with which they can tar people who might agree with some. The "neocon" label is as much a caricature as "TP".


[1] Or don't, leave me to rot in my misconception. I'm no one, what I think doesn't affect actual policy.
[2] Steven's entire characterization of Demosthenes was derived from Demos' choice of pseudonym. Setting aside the fact that Steven completely confused the concept of pseudonymity with anonymity (which invalidates his entire rant), he had divined all sorts of motivations and assumptions from Demos' choice of 'nym in exactly the same labeling manner that he subsequently complained about being applied to him.

Steven portrays Demos' choice as indicating that he subconciously wants to emulate the book and sway world opinion and have his arguments change the course of human history. Demosthenes gives his own reason for his nickname in his very first post when he launched his blog on May 14th :

"My name, at least for the purposes of this site, is Demosthenes. It comes from two different people: a fictional character, and a real historical figure. The real one is a Greek orator by the same name, who is considered by some to be the best orator who ever lived. Although I haven't read that many of his speeches yet, what I've read I liked. The second and more important "Demosthenes", however, is from Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game". Demosthenes is the demogogic network pseudonym of one of the main characters, Valentine Wiggin. Together with her brother Peter's more reasonable "Locke" pseudonym, they manage to have a decisive effect on world events and world politics. "

Demosthenes was the foil, with arguments full of holes, used as a pawn. The real "pseudonym-towards-world-domination" was Locke. Demosthenes' choice of pseudonym (as well as Orson Scott Card's choice for his character's name) is more influenced by the *real* (historic, Greek) Demosthenes. I always thought of Demosthenes (blogger)'s choice of name as both historically respectful, with a humorous self-deprecating sense (derived from the book) as well.

Steven admitted later in an email that he his memory of the book was hazy, and that he didn't remember it that well (tut tut. Ender's Game has Cult Status akin to BladeRunner or Akira). I think on that basis his entire argument dissecting Demosthenes' posts by virtue of "anonymity" (actually, pseudonimity) is therefore reflexive ad-hominem, because it effectively silenced the Iraq debate they had at the time by portraying Demos. as unreliable due to his refusal to reveal his real name.

Ironically, Steven has numerous and recent references to ad-hominem attack on his own blog.


The year is 1933

I respect Ashcroft's commitment to his faith. I fear him, however, because he has not mastered the separation of church and state required by the Constitition which ironically he is supposed to be protecting as head of teh Justice Department. A scary irony.

Yes, I truly fear him. That's the word. FEAR. By writing this blogger post, am I not also giving aid to terrorists by eroding our national unity with phantoms of lost liberty ?

For this, I could indeed be considered an enemy combatant. And thus, sent to "camps" for indefinite incarceration without access to the courts. All under Ashcroft's vision for America. Benjamin Franklin said that those who choose security over liberty deserve neither - recognizing that security is a threat to liberty. Ashcroft has reversed the sentiment to read, liberty is a threat to security. But nowhere in the founding documents of this country (so often invoked lovingly to justify gun ownership, or the pledge of allegiance) does it read,

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Safety, Security, and the pursuit of Ignorance"

The Department of Justice is methodically being renamed the Ministry of Truth. And maybe it isn't 1984, or 2004, but 1933.

Return of the Lincoln Bedroom

This story sounds familiar :

A half dozen Bush donors and fund-raisers known as "pioneers" are among the guests on a list released late Friday by the White House. Each raised at least $100,000 for Bush's 2000 campaign, helping him take in a record $100 million for the primary.

Among the "pioneers" are also Ken Lay, who Bush denied knowing when Enron first broke. The pioneers were also at Bush's economic "summit" by invite only, mainly to provide a steady audience of yes-men for his economic policies. It isn't clear whether there were any Buddhist monks in attendance.


2004: Bush is Toast

William Saletan made a famous but completely wrong prediction that Bush is Toast prior to the 2000 election. (He gracefully admitted his mistake later, but i can't find the link).

I thought he was loony to make the claim at the time, but admired his willingness to say something daring. It was probably the most exciting piece of analysis written during the whole election, for it's simple bravado.

I think I am ready to emulate it - by declaring that Bush is Toast in 2004. The reason is, because of the primacy of Karl Rove after the resignation of Karen Hughes.

Since then, the Bush administration has had mis-step after mis-step, alienating core constituencies, egregiously breaking campaign promises, and tilting at windmills. Examples:

The International Association of Firefighters are angry that Bush plans to scrap a promised $340 million to fund fire departments nationwide. Quote: "We will work actively to not grant [Bush] another photo op with us." Quoth the fire fighter's union president: "Don't lionize our fallen brothers in one breath, and then stab us in the back by eliminating funding for our members to fight terrorism and stay safe. President Bush, you are either with us or against us. You can't have it both ways." (They don't plan to boycott the 9-11 memorial, though)

2. The American Legion is getting pissed off at Bush also for breaking his pledge of $275 million to reduce backlogs at Veteran's Hospitals nationwide.

[American Legion National Commander Richard Santos] recalled how Bush, as a presidential candidate, pledged to the Legion's 2000 national convention that he would, if elected, "work with Congress to raise the standard of service not just for veterans, but for our military retirees."

Now, said Santos, "we feel we've been let down. A verbal promise in front of 6,000 people is something you have to keep."

3. Ashcroft wants to create detention camps for citizens. On a related note, Hesiod notes that the NRA really should be backing Democrats, given the piss-poor record of the GOP on personal rights issues.

4. War plans for Iraq continue, with conservatives demanding that we bring back the draft. This, despite opposition to invading Iraq from notable conservatives and military experts including Colin Powell, Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft, Lawrence Eagleberger, Chuck Hagel, Richard Armitage, and Dick Armey. Not to mention Norman Schwarzkopf, and Richard Lugar and Doug Bandow.

5. The demographic trends in America favor Democrats in the long run (for example, former swing-state Michigan)

6. Gore's populist streak certainly seems a lot more relevant and resonates a hell of a lot more today than it did during boom times. Gore the Prophet? Certainly, Enron and Haliburton will have an effect.

(btw, articles from TNR require registration now. But, I have posted the demographic trend article to unmedia list, you can get it from the list archives)

There's plenty more stuff at that other WSJ. Yet, Rove is more concerned with ideological photo opportunities:

and, the Left is pretty energized. Old-style liberals who waste political effort and capital on "being courteous" are losing ground to more aggressive types who are not afraid to meet conservatives on the field. Whereas the right is so paralyzed by its addiction to invective that it's reduced to criticizing American victims of terror in Israel. And Bush's core team of so-called Confidence Men seems to believe in their own myth far too much.

Bush is Toast. You read it here first :)


in defense of my SUV, part II: safety

Argument 2: Safety :

SUV's don't meet car safety standards, and are really less safe in general, according to Consumer Reports.

When I think of safety ratings, the last place I think of is Consumer Reports. Rather, I think of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Look at the crash test results for the Ford Explorer, versus the Toyota Corolla.

note that the side imnpact ratings are worse for Corolla. The front impact ratings, according to the NTHSA, cannot be fairly compared across vehicle classes, but side impacts can (as can rollover ratings). The Corolla has only a one-star advantage over the Explorer for rollover, btw, which means about 10% less chance. Not a big deal.

(you can also look at detailed Info on methodology and you can look up any other vehicle )

That's hardly the only source of solid actual data on safety. There is also Insurance Instittute for Highway Safety (http://www.hwysafety.org/), run by the Insurance companies who obviously have an economic need for reliable unbiased data since it affects their business model to the very core.

The IIHS also does crash tests, and again the Ford Explorer compares well to a Toyota Corolla.

Here, the ratings are determined based on anmount of space left after the frontal crash and whether contact was made between passenger/driver's body and pieces of the car (its ingenious, actually, they coat the dummies with paint and then see where the paint marks end up on the interior of the vehicle).

and truthfully this makes intuitive sense. A decent sized SUV has a more powerful engine, giving you speed and control in traffic. It is heavier and has more safety systems, so occupants are protected better. And it has better suspension, brake, and steering components (rack and pinion in fact is standard on the 2002 explorer).

Note that minivans do get consistently higher safety scores in crash tests than SUVs. If all else were equal or if safety was the sole overriding concern, then there's no reason to buy anything other than a minivan. But the data supports the reasonable generalization to say that SUVs are safer for the passengers than a sedan or other car (except for the high-performance puppies like BMW or the Audi quattro models).

Regarding rollovers - the NHTSA ratings already take into account all those manuevrability factors, etc. The ratings are that each star corresponds to 10% less probability. Look at the definitions of the rollover star ratings , and this cautionary note:

even a five-star vehicle has up to a 10 percent risk of rolling over in a single vehicle crash. In fact, because of the aggressive way in which the vehicle is driven and/or the age and skill of the driver, certain five-star vehicles such as sports cars, may have a higher number of rollovers per hundred registered vehicles than certain three-star vehicles, such as mini vans, due to the fact that they are in more single vehicle crashes.

further, the website notes that All Vehicles Can Roll Over -

All types of vehicles can roll over in certain conditions. While SUVs have the highest number of rollovers per 100 crashes (see Figure 4), because of the higher numbers of passenger cars on the road, almost half of all rollovers which occurred in 1999 involved passenger cars (see Figure 5).

Its true that SUVs do have a higher center of gravity, but even passenger cars can roll over. So it doesnt matter what car our hypothetical idiot is driving.

I'm far less likely to get in an accident driving my Jeep, since I have 4WD and I know how to use it. Modern SUVs like the Explorer come with optional electronic brake assist, with standard ABS, and with optional traction control.

Some point to the unsafety of SUVs regarding braking distances. But, braking distances are based solely on weight, meaning that SUVs are no worse than Caddys or Buicks or even minivans as an entire class. And SUVs tend to come with larger pads on their disc brakes to compensate.

But braking is not al about friction, its also about anticipation. With better visibility in my SUV from being higher, I often see brake situations far ahead that the driver of the car ahead of me doesnt. I slow down gradually whereas the car invariably races on ahead and then brakes much harder. If we are talking about an intelligent driver, then the SUV gives you enormous advantages in visibility and control.

Finally, pickups and utility vehicles generally are heavier than cars, so occupant deaths are less likely to occur in multiple-vehicle crashes. Clearly, driving an SUV is safer for me and my family. If you want to drive your family around in a paper-thin econobox, its your choice, though I wont because of the crash test results I linked to above which are clearly not in dispute. but hey, at least you will save ten grand! thats nothing to sneeze at. And econoboxes are great as single-person commuter cars.

Overall, I consider teh data from the NHTSA and IIHs to be authoritative on the subject. Consumer Reports does have "ratings" (ie, "very good" and "poor") which are not quantitative in any way. In fact, CR uses the quantitative data from NHTSA and IIHS as inputs to their subjective and qualitative ratings:

The crash-protection rating in the Consumer Reports Safety Assessments, places more weight on the IIHS's offset tests, which measure how much a vehicle's structure is likely to intrude on the driver in an accident. We believe that the offset crash is a more common type of frontal crash and that the IIHS scores help differentiate one model from another. Unlike NHTSA's frontal-crash test, however, the IIHS's doesn't address how the front passenger might fare in a crash. Safety experts assert that NHTSA's test better gauges a vehicle's restraints. That's why both types of frontal test are critical

next time: gas mileage :)

Massachusetts becomes Texas

Having lived in Boston for two years prior to moving to Houston, I am well aware of the enormous stereotypical gulf between "Taxachusetts" and "The Lone Gunman State".

Therefore, this news that the voters of MA may well elect to dump the state income tax boggles my mind.

I like the pair of quotes from the opposing sides of the issue:

''There's this incredibly arrogant and demeaning assumption that government are the only ones that can act to meet people's needs,'' Howell said. ''How many people are they so-called serving?''


''It would completely decimate core government functions,'' said Senator Mark C. Montigny, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. ''It's a cheap political thrill, unless you are willing to live in the Idaho of the East Coast.''

We can thank, or blame, the libertarians if the measure passes :) What an interesting experiment, though...

UPDATE November 7th 2002: Looks like it lost, but barely. I'm disappointed but I am sure the issue will be back.

The Years of Rice and Salt

Suman Palit has written more about the I3-Axis, describing how already the countries in the region are moving towards greater economic cooperation. He then takes flight into political poetry, describing an intoxicating meme :

Imagine a network of nation-states from the Caspian to the South China seas, united in economic purpose, bound by fundamental social principles of democracy, self-governance and individual freedoms.

The Years of Rice and SaltThere�s another version of this same meme suffused through the recent science fiction novel by Kim Stanley Robinson, called "The Years of Rice and Salt" (disclaimer: I am an Amazon affiliate)

The premise is that the Great Plague of Europe wiped out 90% of the population there instead of merely 30%. This is not a "look how great things would be if not for those smarmy whities" kind of book, it�s more of an expression of "parallel history". The world that evolves, as KSR imagines it, is fascinating and eminently plausible, and yet arguably not better or worse than ours. For example, a world war does develop, but more as an inter-civilizational conflict between China and Islam (personally, I think Huntington should have looked at this instead of Islam vs. the West, because the West and Islam share Abrahamic roots - they are really cousins. China is the true Other). Their world war lasts sixty years instead of being two smaller conflicts.

By far the most appealing thing (to me, given my ethnic background) is the rise of the Travancori League, which is the Indian civilization�s contribution to the world stage. This book is worth reading for that alone, because in many ways it describes something akin to the I3 Axis.

This book is full of hope, and philosophical insight into history and human nature. Its the best science fiction novel I have read in years.

And wait till you see the narrative device the author uses to bridge the centuries! two words : "karmic jati". Its brilliant. Pay attention to the starting letters of the characters' names!


more Farked photoshops

Just two of my favorites from different photoshop threads:

a hilarious little riff on Apple:


and the USS Constellation:


there are four lights

Instapundit has done his best to add to the "conventional wisdom" of the Right about the Left, by accusing liberals of yet another character flaw:

On the Left, though, we find all these pseudonymous name-calling bloggers whose specialty seems to be abuse aimed at those deviating from the party line. De Long isn't one of those, of course, but this line from his post bespeaks a certain tribalism: "There's still time for Kaus to return to his neoliberal roots."

As the old saying has it, the left looks for heretics and the right looks for converts, and both find what they're looking for

I think this is exactly backwards.

How many times was Jim Jeffords called a traitor? What is Justice Souter's reputation? Would Janet Reno have ever introduced the TIPS program? Which side coined the phrase, RINO ? Were liberals the ones accusing Americans of being unpatriotic, or even treasonous? And of course there's John McCain, perhaps the perfect counterexample.

Remember that it was Ari Fleischer that reminded all Americans that "they need to watch what they say and what they do, and this is not a time for remarks like that; there never is." And that it was John Ashcroft who labeled debate on the tradeoffs of security vs. liberty as "tactics" that "aid terrorists for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve."

So, according to the Bush administration, it's people who speak out about their rights, or who dissent, who are heretics.

And as far as the right looking for converts, granted they have Mickey Kaus. What about Arianna Huffington? David Brock? Jim Jeffords? Could it be a two-way street after all?

And name calling is hardly limited to the right - there is Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage... There was Charles Krauthammer's assertion that liberals are fools. He also claimed that liberals think conservatives are evil, but doesn't have a single example to support that claim. Interestingly, the "liberals are fools and conservatives are evil" meme was first promoted by Eric S. Raymond, who is many things but a liberal least of all. There's definitely a degree of echo-chambering going on here.

what's the point of this discussion? to illustrate that labels have become a substitute for thought - empirical support of Steven Den Beste's theory. The only labels you really need are "Us" and "Them" and drawing that neat line opens the door to demonization and dehumanization.

This leads to double-think. Glenn can point out examples of liberals who engage in name calling, who have converted to conservatives, label them as witch-hunters, but fails entirely to see the exact same processes in operation on part of the conservatives. Ann Coulter decries those who make excuses for suicide bombers, but makes the same excuses for murderers of abortion doctors:

Coulter was asked why she condemns the terrorists so strongly, but not those who kill abortion doctors. She said that the latter have been extremely frustrated by the fact that they can�t vote on this issue, thanks to Roe vs. Wade, and that they worked within the system for twenty years withoutsuccess before turning to murder. She said that those individuals believe they had been left with no other routes for dissent in the face of an ongoing atrocity. Coulter further suggested that althoughshe would not take it upon herself to take extreme actions on the abortion issue, she will not condemn those who do.

It's almost a source of despair to see how little true denate is taking place (aside from the blogsphere). In print media and television and radio, it's this doublethink that prevails, slowly eroding away at the subtleties of our political spectrum. And in doing so, the Administration gets a clearer and clearer mandate from its supporters - Us Vs Them is all about getting You to agree with Us, in the end. Even if we end up in a police state, with citizen snoops and our library card records being vetted by the FBI and citizens detained without recourse to due process.

I wonder if Orwell's book should have been titled 2004 instead of 1984.

to you be your Faith, to me mine

Brian, out of some masochistic impulse, has signed up for a mailing list called Ar-Rahman (The Beneficient). As far as I can tell (from his reports), it's populated by teens whose Cool Identity Thing is Islam instead of skateboarding or the Confederate Flag or any other similar substitute for their self-esteem. One of these young earnest types posted his Revelation of the Week:

everyone person born is a muslim at birth, since it is the true religion. After time, whether it be parents, where we live whatever, that changes, and people have then conform to their different religions. So I have reverted back to Islam. Most people that I have talked to, do not like the word converted. That means you made an entire switch, which is not true. Since you start off as Muslim, you are just reverting or coming back to it.

Brian was somewhat offended by this, which is understandable if taken at a superficial level (which most assuredly, the author is doing). But it is actually a reflection of a deeper and more elegant concept, which is not unique to Islam, either.

The underlying matter of dogma is that the faith (in this case, Islam) is laid out as Ultimate Truth for mankind, by the authority of God. This concept is at teh heart of Christianity as well. Christianity focuses on personal salvation, whereas in Islam I would argue it is more of a personal responsibility issue, but that is truly tangential.

Regardless, Christianity is just as explicit as Islam about the damned state of non-believers. It is fair for a Muslim to call Islam the true religion, and both Muslims and Christians agree that there IS such a thing as a "true religion". Given that the True religion was presented to Mankind 1,423 lunar years ago or 2,002 solar years ago (YMMV), it is logical that all persons born after those dates are subject to that true religion. In Islam, religion is not just a lifestyle choice or a set of abstract philosophies, but rather a condition or state of being. It is the default state for a human being (according to the dogma, of course. If you aren't Muslim, clearly you won't agree.)

It's worth noting that Islam also recognizes as Prophets of equal station, Jesus and Moses (and Noah, and Abraham, and Adam). One of my favorite stories as a child was a tale how the Prophet Moses convinced Muhamad SAW to ask God to reduce the number of daily prayers from 50 to 5. Thanks, Moses :) So in actual fact, Jews and Christians are seen as cousins in faith.

Our young zealot[1] above is focusing on a semantic issue, mainly. For him, it's all about the word "converted". It's a valid but pointless argument. And, due diligence would require that he also mention these Ayats (verses) of the Qur'an:

Ayat 2:256 - "There is no compulsion in religion"

Ayat 109:6, "To you be your Faith, and to me mine."

(click the image to hear a recitation in RM format, courtesy of islam.org)

The point here is that individuals make choices of free will, and part of that is what leads people to either reject or accept the faith. These choices need to be independent (2:256) and respected (109:6). But there is a Right Choice and a Wrong Choice (these moral absolutes are part of what makes a religion a religion and not a science, and are not unique to Islam).

[1]I use the term zealot in a deliberately condescending sense. If I use the word fanatic, it would be in a "this guy is off his rocker and keep him away from my family" sense.


I am not a terrorist

although RIAA and their supporting companies can afford to spend 55 million dollars a year lobbying Congress and in the courts, they cannot afford to alienate every music buyer and artist out there. At that point, there will be a general strike, make no mistake. Just one week of people refusing to play the radio, buy product, or support our industry in any way, would flex muscles they have no idea are out there.

-- Janis Ian

the best argument against attacking Iraq is...

...Saudi Arabia. And the way to deal with Saudi Arabia is to leave Saddam in place

Here's the How and What, forget about the Why:


- continue to enforce the no-fly zone
- intensify observation and intelligence, possibly including human intel
- court Iraqi defectors and spires the way we did with Russia
- continue to pound any military installations where WMD development can take place
- intensify information warfare by funding VoA, dropping pamphlets, etc. to destabilize Saddam's police state and embolden opposition forces

If the Iraqis deserve freedom, let them achieve it themselves. That's the same standard we have to apply to Iran. A home-grown movement can take decades - so be it. But it will be far more stable than a puppet state like Afghanistan. It is in our long term interests to encourage democracy, especially in oil-rich countries like Iraq. We can wait. In the meantime, we can continue to contain Iraq and systematically eliminate his WMD capabilities from the air.

I call this approach a "Chilly War" because we can apply much of the same lessons learned in the conflict with the USSR. Iraq can not escape our scrutiny. It's impossible for Iraq's WMD programmes to continue if we apply the same level of espionage that we employed during the Cold War. It's then just a matter of enforcement with F-16s. Also, we have the advantage of new technoology like bunker-busting bombs that give us new capabilities.

let us also acknowledge explicitly that the White House's attempt to link Iraq to 9-11 is purely FUD. The argument can, and should, be made solely in terms of long-term threat re: WMD. Trying to invoke American OutrageTM is just an insult to our intelligence, which is about par for Rove and Fleischer.


This also needs to be revolutionized from within. The best way to achieve this, however, is to do one thing. Force Saudi Arabia to allow women to drive. The carrot is economic gain by allowing 1/2 the workforce mobility and greater prospects. The ban on women's diving, in addition to being unIslamic, immoral, cruel, and misogynistic, is also an enormous brake applied to what should be a fairly healthy economy (if you doubt this, compare Saudi to Dubai).

The stick is, Iraq. Explicitly state that our policy regarding Iraq is to enforce the no-fly zones, defend Israel, and destroy the WMD infrastructure. Military defense is no longer part of the plan. Speaking as a Shi'a, I can assure you that nothing quakes Wahabis in their boots so much as the thought of Shi'a taking control of Mecca and Medina (we might actually show some respect to the Wahabi-defiled graves of the Prophet's family, for one thing.)

And, we shoudl also have the VoA (in Arabic) used to full effect here, helping undermine the Religious Police's hold on the populace. Tell the women of Saudi that they should be driving. They pretty much agree, but let's make them really mad about it.

I accept the argument that WMD pose a threat to us. Agreed. But I don't buy the argument that neutralizing the WMD threat actually requires full-scale invasion. The proponents of an Iraqi invasion invoke the WMD threat, but Invasion does NOT logically follow from that threat.

Nor am I happy about the inevitable power vacuum - what happens if the Kurds move in to Baghdad, triumphant as the Northern Alliance? And then a resurgent Wahabi movement fosters another Taliban state. And Saudi becomes a haven for terrorists yet again. We have observed these cycles in Afghanistan already. The fact that all the debate has been on "Attack!" and essentially none on "what next?" should be of enormous concern. Currently, we have a dictatorial but secular tyrant running Iraq - that is far, far better than a theocracy run by Wahabis. We have actual empirical evidence on this.

And, the best way tod eal with Syria is to empower Lebanon. But that's an issue for later...


in defense of my SUV, part I: cargo and passengers

This is the first part of a multi-part series of essays on why I like SUVs (how so retro a topic, I realise). I am also working on my related and comprehensive essay describing why Apple Macintoshes are the SUVs of Home Computing :) I'm sure that title will offend pro-Mac anti-SUV people, but its actually a compliment. To think otherwise is almost hypocritical ;)

This is not an essay explaining why SUVs are the best possible car type ever. Its an essay (in series) describing why I choose to drive oine and why my next purchase will be another SUV. Your mileage may vary, pun intended.

My '94 4x4 Jeep Cherokee Sport is my first car. I never really thought about the SUV issue at first - my dad had bought it and when I moved to Boston he gave the car to me. It worked wonderfully in Boston's snow and rain. I moved to Houston and found it equally useful - Tropical Storm Allison was not fun. I'm hooked on 4WD and won't ever buy a vehicle without it now. But you don't necessarily need an SUV for 4WD or all-wheel drive (AWD) so that isnt a reason in and of itself to go for an SUV.

I like SUVs. That's my bias, up front. The rest of the post could conceivably be seen as simply rationalization (and probably will be dismissed as such by anyone who holds fast to ideology about SUVs. We could replace the word with Linux, or Mac OS/X, and have essentially the same conversation). My outlook is that cars are just tools, and SUVs fill several niches for me very well (including, but not restricted to, the aesthetic one). The truth is different for others and some might well find that a minivan is better or that a sedan or an econobox fits their needs.

That said, almost all of the arguments against SUVs are straw men. Each of the following issues are therefore looked at in the context of "all other things being equal". I'm also writing these points as "responses" to a fictional argument. The "quotes" are based on actual arguments in real life from some friends, but I have modified them to be more general for the purpose of this series.

Argument 1: Hauling people and cargo :

Minivans can hold more people more comfortably than even the largest SUV's, they're easier to get in and out of and usually have more cargo room...Getting seats in and out of a minivan (in order to haul stuff) is easy since they tend to be low and roomy.

This common argument clearly doesn't apply to large SUVs like the Ford Expedition which seats 7 comfortably, or the Excursion which seats NINE. No minivan that I am aware of matches that capacity.

The latest crop of mid-size SUVs have third row seating as an option (like the Ford Explorer and GMC Envoy XL). That makes them equal in carrying capacity to normal minivans, so I don't see any advantage. You can argue that SUVs or minivans are more/less comfortable by finding any two representative models to fit your desired result, but on the whole they are equal. I've spent 2,200 miles on the road from Boston to Chicago to Houston in my jeep and my butt was just fine. Kimberlee can chime in as to whether the Jeep was comfy for the Boston-NYC roadtrip we did, or not.

I only need seating for five. A minivan is overkill, just as a 7-passenger SUV.

with regard to cargo, Minivans and SUVs, on average, have about equal theoretical maximum cargo volume, but achieving the maximum capacity in practice is very different. To haul stuff, you have to make some modifications. In my Jeep, that means flattening the middle seat, which takes me about 30 seconds. In a minivan, that usually means physically removing the third row.

However, you usually have enough cargo area even in the default configuration of an SUV that reducing the passenger seating is not necessary. The cargo area on my Jeep even with the rear setback up and five people sitting inside is still enormous- for example, when I dropped my inlaws off at the airport for their trip to India last month, they left with three suitcases and three carryons. When I picked them up from the airport, they had six suitcases, two boxes, six carryons. And a friend who needed a ride. Stuff is cheap in India. If I had been in a minivan, there would have been a third row seat left behind on the tarmac to accomodate the extra goodies.

If you carry both cargo and people on a regular basis, A minivan simply involves extra hassle and less flexibility. I make enough trips to the airport (at least two a month) dropping people off that its not a negligible annoyance. I rarely need to just haul passengers or cargo, I usually haul both, and a minivan won't cut it for me.

(note that this issue is related to engine power, discussed later.)

The "hauling" excuse for an SUV is equally spurious. The actual weight allowance of most SUV's is so low that moving furniture safely would be totally out of the question. In fact, there are passenger cars with higher weight allowances than some large SUV's. The reasons behind that are twofold:SUV's sit up very high, and are heavy themselves so you've got both a center-of-gravity problem and a weight problem.

This is demonstrably false. If it were true, then standard trucks like the F-150 would also suffer from teh same flaw and be utterly useless. After all, the Ford Expedition (a large SUV) is built on the F-150 platform.

But look at the actual numbers between minvans and SUVs. The Ford Explorer can tow up to 3500 pounds sith the standrad tow package. With the optional tow package, it can tow up to 7500 lbs. The optional 4.6L V8 has 239 horsepower at 4750 rpm and 282 lbs.-ft. of torque at 4000 rpm. Compare that to the Ford Windstar minivan (one of the best minivans out there) which handles only 2000 lbs standard, 3500 as an option. The biggest engine that the Windstar has is a 3.8L SPI V-6 with horsepower @ rpm 200 @ 4900 and torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm) 240 @ 3600. The SUV has a truck engine, and the minivan has a car engine, basically.

The curb weight of a Ford Windstar is 4355 lbs. The curb weight of a Ford Explorer is 4344 lbs. They basically weigh the same. whither excess metal?

as for the center of gravity, thats also nonsense. Its true that smaller SUVs have rollover problems (for example, of the same size class as the Saturn VUE or smaller). Of course, an idiot could roll any SUV regardless of size. But the same is true for minivans or cars - put someone who doesnt know how to drive in charge, and its a menace regardless of make or model. I know I'm not taking sharp turns at 35 mph, whether I am driving my Jeep or my wife's 91 Corolla.

btw, the minivan is much more expensive. By about $2,000 for a comparably-equipped vehicle, amenities-wise. But we will examine amenities in the next post.

the fourth humour

Check out this new surreal blog called 4TH Humour, by Phlegmatic. His first post is dark, twisted, and strangely addictive reading:

It hits me that something this nonsensical like this could only happen if it facilitates the an event, the importance of which supercedes the laws of physics. I figure that the event is my death, that I somehow cheated it back in that hallway, and that Thrombus is going to hunt me down until I'm dead. I communicate this to the man and woman, and start to descent the escalator of my own will, when it shifts into moving upward for us instead. "Or not," I think to myself. Looking up/forward, I see Thrombus on another escalator, coming down toward us.
The cat hangs one arm out the window like a cool frood, the other paw on the steering wheel, looking about with that collected self-assuredness and assumed territorial ownership that cats have. In reality, R is using the gas pedal and steering with his left foot and hand from the passenger's seat. And yet I'm in the driver's seat, too, superimposed on the cat, I guess.

I am making a point of visiting blogs beyond the politico-lefty-warblog-spheres. There's a lot of great writing out there - Lileks is not the sole source of great prose. I do encourage dropping by 4TH Humour - it's something to be experienced...


live free or die

Dalia Lithwick of Slate has taken the contrarian position that the Citizen Snitch program, TIPS, is actually a good thing. She makes a good point in that we do have similar "snitch" programs, namely mandatory child-abuse-reporting laws:

...these same dire possibilities lurks in the existing mandatory child-abuse-reporting laws, yet few of us are arguing for their repeal, and fewer of us argue that they have brought about the parade of horribles cited by the critics of TIPS. Indeed, many of us recently called for expanding the reporting laws to include clergy, following the recent church sex scandals. We believe that reporting systems work.
The states' mandatory-reporting statutes exist for good reason: We believe ferreting out child abuse is worth sacrificing some privacy. We believe child abuse is so clandestine that anyone able to pierce the shroud of secrecy should report it. We believe that simply asking good Samaritans to come forward and report abuse is ineffective; they don't. And we believe that child abuse is so awful that identifying the small number of substantiated cases is worth sifting through masses of false reports.

Why is terrorism different? Can't an equally compelling argument be made that terrorism is so vile, and obtaining information so difficult, that it's worth sacrificing some privacy to root out cells before they strike?

but the problem is that terrorism IS different. The reason is that a false accusation can be much, much more harmful. If you are falsely accused of child abuse, you still have a degree of due process. But for accusations of terrorism, all that is required to lock you away without access to counsel or your constitutional rights is simply labeling you as a menace. Just ask Jose Padilla, who has been secreted away without access to his lawyer for crimes he hasn't committed.

already we have seen the effect of having hyper-paranoid civilians in minor positions of authority. Consider the case of 20 year old Samyuktha Verma, a movie star from India flying to New York with her family:

The Vermas' excitement over seeing the New York skyline and the Statue of Liberty for the first time and the seat-switching, finger-pointing and exclamations in a foreign tongue so alarmed one passenger that she alerted a flight attendant, fearing the group might be terrorists.

The end result was that the plane was escorted into La Guardia by F-16 escorts, and police officers stormed the jet and the entire family was taken into FBI custody, and freed after questioning. Verma was understanding but quite shaken - she said in an interview:

. "Now I am afraid to be here, that if I go shopping and start laughing or talking too loudly in my language, someone will think I am up to something. I say to Indians, 'Don't laugh during a flight. Just sit there quietly, read something or sleep.'

The problem with TIPS is that is exists in the post-9-11 world. Mandatory reporting laws still exist in a pre-9-11 atmosphere. But when it comes to the spectre of terrorism, you often hear the refrain, "the Constitution is not a suicide pact."

New Hampshire voters would disagree. Their position is, "Live free or die."