Some problems are so complex that you have to be highly intelligent and well informed just to be undecided about them. - Laurence J. Peter

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Better Than Your Boyfriend

Better Than Your Boyfriend is a very fascinating blog.

France's violent underclass

Primer on France's problem with its violent underclass, influenced by radical Islam. This problem has been neglected, ignored and covered up for a long time, but the horrific murder of Ilan Halimi has made it undeniable.

Saddam ends hunger strike

"Toppled Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has ended his hunger strike on health grounds," - the Scotsman (via Andrew Sullivan).

Saturday, February 25, 2006

America needs better PR

Eric S. Raymond writes about America's problem with memetic warfare.
[I]deological and memetic warfare has been a favored tactic for all of America’s three great adversaries of the last hundred years — Nazis, Communists, and Islamists. All three put substantial effort into cultivating American proxies to influence U.S. domestic policy and foreign policy in favorable directions.
[I]t was the Soviet Union, in its day, that was the master of this game. They made dezinformatsiya (disinformation) a central weapon of their war against “the main adversary”, the U.S. They conducted memetic subversion against the U.S. on many levels at a scale that is only now becoming clear as historians burrow through their archives and ex-KGB officers sell their memoirs.
The Soviets had an entire “active measures” department devoted to churning out anti-American dezinformatsiya. A classic example is the rumor that AIDS was the result of research aimed at building a ‘race bomb’ that would selectively kill black people.
In a previous post on Suicidalism, I identified some of the most important of the Soviet Union’s memetic weapons. Here is that list again:
  • There is no truth, only competing agendas.
  • All Western (and especially American) claims to moral superiority over Communism/Fascism/Islam are vitiated by the West’s history of racism and colonialism.
  • There are no objective standards by which we may judge one culture to be better than another. Anyone who claims that there are such standards is an evil oppressor.
  • The prosperity of the West is built on ruthless exploitation of the Third World; therefore Westerners actually deserve to be impoverished and miserable.
  • Crime is the fault of society, not the individual criminal. Poor criminals are entitled to what they take. Submitting to criminal predation is more virtuous than resisting it.
  • The poor are victims. Criminals are victims. And only victims are virtuous. Therefore only the poor and criminals are virtuous. (Rich people can borrow some virtue by identifying with poor people and criminals.)
  • For a virtuous person, violence and war are never justified. It is always better to be a victim than to fight, or even to defend oneself. But ‘oppressed’ people are allowed to use violence anyway; they are merely reflecting the evil of their oppressors.
  • When confronted with terror, the only moral course for a Westerner is to apologize for past sins, understand the terrorist’s point of view, and make concessions.
As I previously observed, if you trace any of these back far enough, you’ll find a Stalinist intellectual at the bottom. (The last two items on the list, for example, came to us courtesy of Frantz Fanon. The fourth item is the Baran-Wallerstein “world system” thesis.) Most were staples of Soviet propaganda at the same time they were being promoted by “progressives” (read: Marxists and the dupes of Marxists) within the Western intelligentsia.
Interesting. I don't know whether Raymond is overstating the case. It seems very convenient that the memes he identifies are so close to the hard left of American politics. On the other hand, it was the intent of the memes to take root in domestic politics, so maybe it's not so convenient.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Ghenghis the Player

"The greatest happiness is to vanquish your enemies, to chase them before you, to rob them of their wealth, to see those dear to them bathed in tears, to clasp to your bosom their wives and daughters." - Ghengis Khan
What a dick. But apparently chicks dug bad boys in 1200 as much as they do in 2006. Ghenghis Khan has sixteen million descendants.

Behavioral Conditioning

[Personal development]
Personal development guru Steve Pavlina wrote about behavioral conditioning, as applied to oneself. This is useful advice for using time more efficiently. I have used some of these suggestions.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Respect and submission

Flemming Rose, the editor at Jyllands Posten who was responsible for originally publishing the Mohammed cartoons, explains the difference between respect and submission:
Has Jyllands-Posten insulted and disrespected Islam? It certainly didn’t intend to. But what does respect mean? When I visit a mosque, I show my respect by taking off my shoes. I follow the customs, just as I do in a church, synagogue or other holy place. But if a believer demands that I, as a nonbeliever, observe his taboos in the public domain, he is not asking for my respect, but for my submission. And that is incompatible with a secular democracy.
Full background on the cartoon wars at Wikipedia

Dole-bludging terrorists

Dr Helen writes that European countries are appeasing their violent Muslim minorities.
Bawer points out that in Denmark, Muslims make up only 5% of the population but receive 40% of welfare outlays. Many of these immigrants are told by their leaders that Muslim law gives them the right to "cheat and lie in the countries that harbor them." They are told to view the benefits they receive as jizya--the tributes that "the infidel natives of Muslim-occupied countries are obliged to pay to Muslims in order to preserve their lives." And the welfare offices in Denmark can be the setting for violence--termed "culture clashes" by Danish journalists. "Some clients lay waste to social security offices and hit social workers--not out of frustration but because they've learned that bullying gets them what they want. The Danish government is not repressive; welfare workers tend to be sympathetic and eager to help. Many immigrants perceive this as weakness, and exploit it, 'tyrannizing' the social workers." The Danish solution? More PC behavior--get translators to translate not only between languages but between cultures. Yeah, that will work.

Michael Totten is still in Kurdistan

Michael Totten posts another update from Kurdistan.
ERBIL, IRAQ – A Western journalist I met in Erbil, who has been in Iraq for some time, told me the place challenges almost every liberal idea he has ever had in his head. I don’t know what he was like, ideologically speaking, before he got there. But he certainly doesn’t have orthodox left-wing opinions today. (Some right-wingers, especially those who think of the entire Islamic religion as a totalitarian death cult, would likewise get a crash-course in reality if they ever bothered to hang out in Iraq and meet actual Muslims.)
Sounds like an interesting place.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

African Peacekeeping Force

Austin Bay comments on a proposed all-African peacekeeping force. Sounds like a good idea to me.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Taking Tal Afar

The Washington Post has an account of the counter-insurgency operations of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in taking Tal Afar.
U.S. military experts conducting an internal review of the three dozen major U.S. brigades, battalions and similar units operating in Iraq in 2005 privately concluded that of all those units, the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment performed the best at counterinsurgency, according to a source familiar with the review's findings.
"Every time you treat an Iraqi disrespectfully, you are working for the enemy," McMaster said he told every soldier in his command.
One out of every 10 soldiers received a three-week course in conversational Arabic, so that each small unit would have someone capable of basic exchanges with Iraqis. McMaster, who holds a PhD in history from the University of North Carolina and is an expert on the Vietnam War, distributed a lengthy reading list to his officers that included studies of Arab and Iraqi history and most of the classic texts on counterinsurgency. He also quietly relieved one battalion commander who didn't seem to understand that such changes were necessary.
Instead of staging a major raid into the city for suspects and then moving back to operating bases, McMaster said he took a sharply different tack, spending months making preparatory moves before attacking the entrenched insurgents in Tall Afar. That indirect approach demonstrated tactical patience, a key to effectively battling an insurgency and a skill that doesn't come easily to the U.S. military.

Don't trust ugly people

Science has proven that all ugly people are evil.
"We find that unattractive individuals commit more crime in comparison to average-looking ones, and very attractive individuals commit less crime in comparison to those who are average-looking," claim Naci Mocan of the University of Colorado and Erdal Tekin of Georgia State University.

Why would that be? I can think of some reasons:
-People tend to correlate beauty with "goodness". Whatever your expectations of someone, they tend to fulfill them. Steve from The Fat Man Walking wrote about this recently:
One of the most difficult things about being overweight is that your inner demons are obviously on display at all times. People judge you and act differently when you are around and this seems to be an attempt to keep you at arms length. As a result of this you act differently and become defensive, eventually you look for people to treat you poorly and as if on cue, they do.

-Maybe ugly genes group with other undesirable genes. Beautiful people usually have more choice in who they procreate with, so they might get all the honest, compassionate ones. Ugly people generally can't be so picky, and so all the undesirable genes get lumped together. This is just something I just thought of. I hope it's not true, because it's depressing.
-Attractiveness is probably related to self-esteem, and self-esteem is probably related to propensity to crime.
-Attractiveness probably alters your perception of the world. I remember someone once - somewhat humorously but also seriously - proposed an explanation why people at political rallies are below-average-looking: if you're unattractive, you perceive that society is not working out for you and needs changing. If you're attractive, everyone treats you well and people buy you stuff and hold open the door and fall in love at first sight. You like the status quo.

US increases support for Iranian resistance

Iran's quest for nuclear weapons is one of the biggest problems the West faces right now. It'll probably end badly, but there's a chance some good will come out of this confrontation: Iran's theocratic government might be overthrown and a less authoritarian and more democratic government might be formed by the revolutionaries. That result just got slightly more likely, as Condi Rice has asked Congress to increase the budget for promoting democracy in Iran from $10 million to $85 million.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

I want one of these

Touch screens exist, so why isn't every computer like this?

Jouneymen and Masters

As I understand it, everyone who's seriously interested in personal finance should focus on (among other things) making money while they're not doing anything, i.e. passive income. Hugh at Gaping Void put it eloquently:
I try to avoid consulting gigs like the plague.

The thing about consulting I hate is, you just get paid by the billable hour. So the minute you stop tapdancing, you're dead.

A Journeyman gets paid while he works. A Master gets paid while he sleeps.

Friends don't like change

I've changed in the last few years. Some friends of mine resisted it and hated it, which was natural. Friends like you the way you are, and they like the dynamic between you. But I am happier now than I once was, and I'm still on good terms with those who were closest to me.

Hugh at Gaping Void has related thoughts, focused on business (via I Will Teach You To Be Rich.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Tasmanian devil cancer

[Weird medical shit]
I read about this medical phenomenon recently that I found incredible: a new pathogen that seemed to be causing facial tumors in Tasmanian devils. It turned up in the mid 90s, and at first they thought it was a virus. Turns out, a Tasmanian devil got cancer in the face, and because Tasmanian devils bite each other all the time, the original cancer is now travelling throughout the population.

To me, this is staggering. I've never heard of anything like this before. I was taught about the regular pathogens of bacteria, fungi and viruses, but as far as I'm aware this kind of pathogen is entirely new. What do you even call that? Suppose you left it unchecked for thousands of years (and also suppose it didn't wipe out the Tasmanian devils), it'd evolve to be a better pathogen. And the Tasmanian devils would evolve defences to it. That freaks me out. Does it count as a new species?

Kurdistan tourism updated

I've updated the Kurdistan tourism post below with an explanation of why I want to go there.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

More Javascript experimenting

The key is "testencrypt".



Kurdistan tourism

Michael Totten is visiting Iraq, specifically Kurdistan (the northern region where terrorists almost never operate).

Yes, it’s Iraq. But the war is in a different part of the country. There are no Kurdish insurgents. The Peshmerga guard Kurdistan’s de-facto border with ruthless effectiveness. Those who attempt to cross away from the checkpoints and the roads are ambushed by border patrols. Anyone who doesn’t speak Kurdish as their native language stands out among the general population. Iraqi Kurds, out of desperate necessity, have forged one of the most watchful and vigilant anti-terrorist communities in the world. Terrorists from elsewhere just can’t operate in that kind of environment. Al Qaeda members who do manage to infiltrate are hunted down like rats. This conservative Muslim society did a better job protecting me from Islamist killers than the U.S. military could do in the Green Zone in Baghdad.

I did what I wanted and needed to do. I threw myself into their society, without a gun and without any bodyguards, and I trusted that they would catch me. And catch me they did. I trusted the Kurds with my life. No trust in the world is greater than that, especially in an extraordinarily dangerous blood-spattered country like Iraq.

Reading that makes me want to go. What do you guys think? Anyone want to come? I'm thinking either really soon (difficult to get time off work though) or around October, when the temperature should be moderate (see the average monthly temperatures of Mosul, which is pretty close to Kurdistan).

Update: Someone asked why I want to go to Kurdistan, suggesting that it was idiotic bravado. That's a fair question. First let me emphasize that my desire to go is contingent on it being safe (Michael Totten asked a man from the Kurdish Regional Government about safety, and he replied "you are safe here. You are as safe here in Kurdistan as you are in any American city."). I want to go to Kurdistan because it has a culture very different from the one I'm used to, because of its relevance to current events, because of its fascinating history (some major events of which are recent), and because of its relevance to the hopeful future direction of my life.

I want to experience different cultures and see - and experience - how other people live. There are numerous benefits to this:
-I can better understand human nature, seeing the differences and similarities across different cultures and situations.
-I might see ideas that I can apply to my own life.
-I can better understand myself, by watching how these new experiences affect me.

How different is Kurdistan? It is a conservative Muslim country, a infant democracy, with electricity for two hours a day, and it's been at war for fifteen years. That's about as different as it could be from what I'm used to.

Kurdistan has relevance to current events - this is obvious.

The history of the Kurds is fascinating to me, and the interesting stuff is all recent. Somewhat like the Jews used to be, they are denied a homeland. They were persecuted by Saddam Hussein in an unprecedented way (genocide by, among other things, chemical attack). It's the possibly the most heartbreaking place on the planet that might actually be safe to travel to.
March 16th was supposed to be Muhammad's wedding day. "Every preparation was done," he said. His fiancée, a woman named Bahar Jamal, was among the first in the cellar to die. "She was crying very hard," Muhammad recalled. "I tried to calm her down. I told her it was just the usual artillery shells, but it didn't smell the usual way weapons smelled. She was smart, she knew what was happening. She died on the stairs. Her father tried to help her, but it was too late."

Death came quickly to others as well. A woman named Hamida Mahmoud tried to save her two-year-old daughter by allowing her to nurse from her breast. Hamida thought that the baby wouldn't breathe in the gas if she was nursing, Muhammad said, adding, "The baby's name was Dashneh. She nursed for a long time. Her mother died while she was nursing. But she kept nursing." By the time Muhammad decided to go outside, most of the people in the basement were unconscious; many were dead, including his parents and three of his siblings.

Nasreen said that on the road to Anab all was confusion. She and the children were running toward the hills, but they were going blind. "The children were crying, 'We can't see! My eyes are bleeding!' " In the chaos, the family got separated. Nasreen's mother and father were both lost. Nasreen and several of her cousins and siblings inadvertently led the younger children in a circle, back into the city. Someone—she doesn't know who—led them away from the city again and up a hill, to a small mosque, where they sought shelter. "But we didn't stay in the mosque, because we thought it would be a target," Nasreen said.

I want to spend most of my effort in my life promoting freedom and democracy, and defeating tyranny. As an impoverished Muslim infant democracy at war with fascists, Kurdistan is my kind of place. I bring this up to explain why Kurdistan is so compelling to me - I'm not asserting that my going to Kurdistan would actually be useful (though it might). But it's guaranteed to be interesting.

I think it just makes me happier to have wildly new experiences. I literally live in the office. I've spent only three nights outside in the last three weeks. Sometimes I don't leave the building for days. I am starved for stimulation. Kurdistan, with its long-suffering people and their rarely told tragic story, is so romantic.

Oh, and maybe there's some kind of bravado/narcissism involved.

Anyway, about safety: if it's as safe as Michael Totten claims, there's no reason not to go. Despite what I've written above, I'm not very serious about going to Kurdistan (I'm mercurial. If I'd been blogging last week I'd have mentioned I want to travel to the most forgotten parts of Russia, after reading about them.). I can't get time out of work any time soon, so it's academic at the moment. If I reconsider it later, I'll email Michael Totten and some Kurdish bloggers and ask them.

Meanwhile, Michael Totten has a new post up, describing the hopeful future of Kurdistan.
In no country are Kurds closer to realizing their dream of freedom and independence than they are in Iraq. They are wrapping up the finishing touches on their de-facto sovereign state-within-a-state, a fact on the ground that will not easily be undone. And they’re transforming the hideously decrepit physical environment left to them by Saddam Hussein – a broken place that is terribly at odds with the Kurdistan in their hearts and in their minds – into something beautiful and inspiring, the kind of place you might like to live in someday yourself.

Javascript experiments

I've written a script to encrypt posts. I'm debugging it in this post.


Monday, February 13, 2006

Spreading Democracy


Policy review has an interesting article by Carles Boix on the necessary preconditions for democracy. The conventional wisdom is that, because democracy correlates with wealth, wealth is a precondition for democracy, or at least it helps. People are fond of pointing out that no democracy with a per capita GDP of over $7000 has ever collapsed.

This article looks deeper into the role that wealth plays in enabling democracy and singles out two factors - wealth inequality and asset mobility - as being crucial. For democracy to survive, everyone in society must be willing to live with an electoral outcome they don't want. If the stakes are too high (e.g. if you're a rich person and confiscatory taxes will ruin you) you will oppose democracy. Similarly, if your country is rich in natural resources, the despotic leaders will control them, and have a lot to lose by shifting to democracy where the wealth will be more equitably distributed. In order for democracy to succeed, a country should have an economy based on human-capital-intensive businesses, rather than wealth from oil or some other raw resource.

So read it.

This has implications for the project of democratizing Iraq and the rest of the tyrannies in the Middle East (and the world).

Reading it, I was reminded of something Milton Friedman (Nobel Prize-winning economist) said in a recent interview in response to a question about whether European countries like Germany and France should solve their economic problems by adapting the seemingly-successful policites of the Scandinavian countries:
Though it is not as true now as it used to be with the influx of immigration, the Scandinavian countries have a very small, homogeneous population. That enables them to get away with a good deal they couldn’t otherwise get away with.

What works for Sweden wouldn’t work for France or Germany or Italy. In a small state, you can reach outside for many of your activities. In a homogeneous culture, they are willing to pay higher taxes in order to achieve commonly held goals. But “common goals” are much harder to come by in larger, more heterogeneous populations.

The great virtue of a free market is that it enables people who hate each other, or who are from vastly different religious or ethnic backgrounds, to cooperate economically. Government intervention can’t do that. Politics exacerbates and magnifies differences.

Homogeneity of culture would help a democratic society accept its differences too. It's a pity Iraq is so torn ethnically and religiously.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Chronic of Narnia

Chronic of Narnia.


This blog is mainly for me, to record thoughts and useful links. It's also for my friends in other countries so they can see I'm still alive in those long periods between emailing them. Some people will want to avoid some topics, so I'll categorize posts with [Political] and various other categories.