Octavo Dia

Monday, June 27, 2005

The Terrorist Plot

The terrorists' objectives are: to split the economic-political solidarity that exists between the U.S. and the E.U. by creating pro-Islamist governments. To promote the seizure of of U.S. investments, thus halting the flow of oil, stopping Middle Eastern development and paralyzing trade. To harass us with so many nearby alarms that we would not block terrorist moves in Asia and Africa. To cut us off from strategic supplies.

The plan picked soft spots--embassies, business districts, nightclubs--but did not contemplate turning authoritarian governments to theocracies overnight. It counted on subtle conversion: aggravating the discontent of underpaid workers and teachers, winning peasants with "oil for the masses," supporting nationalist demands for the expulsion of foreign interests, then uniting such elements in an "Arab Street" in which the terrorists would be the guiding influence.

Until the Islamist grip was tight it was vital to have non-Islamist governments of men who were ambitious, venal, and stupid enough to play the terrorist game in excahnge for wealth and pride of office. This formula is at work in at least four countries. Its partial success would mean an all-American disaster.


The previous three paragraphs are an excerpt from Scully, Michael. "The Inside Story of the Kremlin's Plot in Guatemala." Reader's Digest. February 1955. 73-78., with the names, places, etc., changed to reflect current geopolitical realities. The point is to illustrate that we are witnessing the dawn of the Second Cold War. Those paragraphs could have been written today (though I would expect their tone to be much more shrill), just as I have edited them. We are hearing the same rhetoric today as we heard in the fifties, the same fear of a faceless other, the fear of destruction through terrorism or nuclear war, the fear of subversion by an ideologically motivated and unconvertible foe, the same fear of traitors in our ranks, the same lack of understanding of how someone could hate us, lovable as we are. I will not say that history repeats itself--circumstances, players, technology change so rapidly as to make any comparison vague and emotional. I will, however, say that history is the cause of the present. The "friends" we made during the First Cold War, the regimes we supported for the sole reason that they were not communist, have given birth to the enemies of the Second Cold War. The ghosts of our mistakes have risen to haunt us. And so we ask ourselves the same questions: are we patriotic enough, is the war winnable, should we even be fighting, at what price victory, how can we fight the enemy without using the tools of the enemy--and if we do, how are we different from the enemy? Our moral clarity, the clarity of the oft-cited "End of History," has been shattered, just as our moral clarity was shattered in the wake of World War II. Yet there is hope. There is hope in freedom.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Great site.

Peter's Evil Overlord List.

Materialism

In the Daybreak section of the Wisconsin State Journal, on June 25th, they had a "Pack the perfect picnic" column. Not counting food and entertainment, the list ran to 23 items--many of which, such as "folding chairs" were plural. Now perhaps I'm biased, but if you're going to bring 23 items to a picnic without even including the actual picnic parts (food and stuff to do outdoors) you might as well sit in your kitchen and look out the window. Here's my picnic list that doesn't include food or stuff to do: bag with which to carry the food and stuff to do.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Polish Guy #3

The third question, why Iraq, instead of North Korea. My answer, because we could handle Iraq. All negotiation requires two things: the ability to reward and the ability to punish. With North Korea we lack the ability to punish, which is why our agreements so rarely last. The North Koreans have discovered that, by breaking a treaty, they can renegotiate a more lucrative one. Why do we lack the ability to punish North Korea? South Korea. The North Korea border is all of 25 miles from the city center of Seoul which has about a quarter of South Korea's population. With manpower resources of 1.2 million, as compared to South Korea's 650,000, there is little chance, short of nuclear weapons, that, should there by a war, the U.S. and South Korea could prevent a devastating counterattack. The War in Iraq, on the other hand, was unique in world history. Traditionally, when attacking, one needs a three-to-one manpower advantage. In the War in Iraq, the United States et al were outnumbered, the enemy knew exactly where and when we were coming, and we didn't care. I'm quite positive that, had the relative military merits been reversed, we would currently be engaged in North Korea.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Polish Guy #2

The second question from the Polish guy was whether I supported the War in Iraq. I said yes, but for reasons other than the official one.

I said that we could dismiss the idea that the War in Iraq was about oil for two reasons: first, it's entirely illogical, "Hey, we could get more oil by destabilizing one of the least stable regions in the world that also happens to be sitting on most of our oil! Brilliant!" Second, from just war theory, the resources of a state do not necessarily play a role in the moral calculus of war, for the simple reason that every state has something of value--if there were nothing of value, there would be no population, and, as such, no state. Since one cannot know the motivations of another (and to judge another without such information is morally questionable), one must only judge their actions. Since the United States actions have been ineffective at best at resuming the oil flow, we can determine that oil is not the primary motivator.

Anyway, my opinion on the War in Iraq is that we should have blasted our way through Iraq, as we did, hit Baghdad and keep on going, creating a protectorate of Kurdistan. We have a moral obligation to the Kurds, as they supported us in the last war, and then we left them to fend for themselves. Of course, had I my pick of countries that could use a good invasion, I would pick Sudan.

Polish Guy #1

One of my coworkers is a Polish immigrant with a degree in International Finance. We have become quite useful to each other as I ask him questions about European politics and he asks me questions about American politics. Yesterday he asked me three questions that I felt were worth blogging about. You'll find them, appropriately, in posts "Polish Guy #1, 2, and 3".

The Polish guy asked me why America was rich. After pondering this for a while, I decided that the best way to answer the question was to turn it around, since other nations besides the U.S. are rich, and ask why other nations are poor. My solution was the rich nations have a bias in favor of the individual. When a problem occurs, the first solution is to see if someone can make money by fixing it, and only after individual, private solutions have been tried does the government step in. That's why some nations are rich--and no, I'm not denying the importance of accidents of history, such as geography, but the world has a great many nations whose physical attributes should have made them rich, but they are still poor.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Time Travel

While not as good as this, the BBC wrote a very good article about time travel, with the exception of one paragraph: "Clearly, the present is never changed by mischevious time travelers: people don't suddenly fade into ether because a rerun of events has prevented their births - that much is obvious." Ummmmmmmm... if their births were prevented, we would not remember them at all--they never existed and thus our memories of them could not have formed. There was a Twilight Zone episode that excellently illustrated the impossibility of time travel. What we know as the past is the past with "future" time travel's influence already there; it happened in the past.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The beat rolls on

The Economist, which has been warning about a housing bubble for years, has an article this week which is a much better researched and written version of my initial blog post. If this topic interests you at all, go read about it. There's an opinion piece as well that uses the same arguments about bursting that I did, but it adds that the nature of housing makes the decline less swift, but equally traumatic.

Social Security

Noumenon sent me an article as a followup to my social security post. You can get it from the grey lady. I've read the article by Phillip Longman that he referred to. The best quotation from it is "Governments must also relieve parents from having to pay into social security systems. By raising and educatng their children, parents have already contributed hugely (in the form of human capital) to these systems. The cost of their contribution, in both direct expenses and foregone wages, is often measured in the millions. Requiring parents to contribute to payroll taxes is not only unfair, but imprudent for societies that are already consuming more human capital than they produce." Longman, Phillip. "The Global Baby Bust." Foreign Affairs. Vol. 83 #3. (New York: Council on Foreign Relations, May/June 2004): 78.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Ready... Aim...

Right on the Left Coast linked to some blogs concerning the burning of American flags. Rather than give in to my vengeful, knee-jerk reaction, "Well, let's flush a copy every time a flag burns and see what happens," I began to ponder why someone would go to the trouble of purchasing an American flag only to burn it. Symbolism is a powerful thing. They burn flags because they create an excellent visual symbol--a much more profound one than people shouting in languages we don't understand. So then, how does one stop (or at least slow) the desecration of the American flag? Stop filming it. Streaking used to be a thing--until we stopped showing it on television. Symbols may be powerful things, but only if they get to their target audience. If, rather than broadcasting pictures (or videos) such as those in the links, we had an eight-word blurb, "Rioters in furrinerland burned an American flag today," on the news, flag burning would become rare.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Shakira, Again

Has anyone else noticed that Shakira's face can change dramatically in a moment? She's brush her hair aside, or smile, or something, and it will be an entirely different face. The most dramatic illustration of this was at the 2004 Latin VMA's. She looks like an entirely different person. When I first saw that picture, I thought it was a different person.

I have been informed that that link does work for everyone, so here's another one.

Freud

I purchased Shakira's new album "Fijacion Oral" yesterday. The dual disc feature rocks! It's a Spanish-language album (although there's a song that has some German in it, so I was able to understand a few lines without help) and the dual disc provides English translations of the lyrics. Now if only she would start releasing music DVD's with all of the music videos (including those from previous albums).

The dual disc also has an interview in which the dude with whom she sings the first single, "La Tortura", interviews her. It is extremely funny. My favorite line is, when he's interviewing her about how she likes interviews, he says, "There are a lot of terrorists working as journalists."

The booklet also has an interesting feature. Rather than being folded and stapled like, well, a booklet, it is folded like a road map. One side of the unfolded booklet is a poster, so in case you decide that you never want to read the lyrics again, you can put it on your wall. Or you can call Superman, go into the next room, and have him read them to you.

Hamlette looked at the album cover and said, "What's with the baby?" Um, oral fixation. It's what Freud was actually talking about. I remember reading, when the name of the new album was first released, a long complaint from a fan about how Shakira should have known better, it was something like "NOOOOOOO! SHAKIRA!! Don't you know what you'll be asked about at every single interview!?!" And on and on like that.

There are some very pathetic individuals in the world. Following the gossip leading up to the release of this album, I ran across quite a few of them. Even were I the poetry writing kind, I don't think I would write sappy, poorly-written love poems to someone I had never even met, much less known.

Not that I'm greedy, but I can't wait for the second volume to come out.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Countdown

And, continuing the count down to the bursting of the housing bubble, is Alan Greenspan, who had, prior to this point, denied the possibility of a housing bubble.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

It's certain

I find myself disagreeing with a little green man. In SW III, Yoda says something to the effect that death is a natural part of life. Death is not a natural part of life. Death is unnatural. Death is the antithesis of life. It is as much a part of life as darkness is part of light. Have we become so accustomed to this curse, that we embrace our chains?

The most comforting view of death I have ever discovered was in Augustine's City of God. Augustine argues that death is actually merciful. It is through death that God frees us from this world of pain and separation.

The most unusual view of death was in Edith Hamilton's Mythology, in which she discusses the Norse heaven of Valhalla. Unlike most religions, the Norse did not believe that good would triumph. Instead, evil would ultimately triumph, destroying the earth, the gods, and the heavens. Essentially, the Norse worshiped courage, and true courage could only be demonstrated in a lost cause--how much heroism does it take to fight for a sure thing?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

War

Whatever happened to good old fashioned violence? I remember reading in one of Ernie Pyle's books that it cost us around $20,000 to kill someone in WWII. One of the G.I.s he was talking to said, "Why don't we just offer them $20,000 each to surrender?"

As the good book says... "A bribe concealed in a cloak pacifies great wrath."

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Smart Growth

As a recovering opinionated idiot, here's an issue about which I have no opinion: smart growth city planning. The proponents argue about the cost-savings in government expenditures and the social and environmental benefits of creating high-density cities. The opponents describe the economic costs to local businesses and residents. On the one hand, any time one does something that the market would otherwise no do, it's going to cost more--that's a given. On the other hand, we do a lot of things that the market would not do, and we do it because there are other things, things which can very rarely be measured in dollars, which we also find valuable. On the third hand, my favorite city in the world, Portland, Oregon, is a smart growth city, but then I've never had to live there, so it may be very different than my idealized view. On the fourth hand, I don't live a typical-American, car-addicted lifestyle, so I appreciate public transportation, bike lanes, wide sidewalks, and nearby services more than most. Thus, with two extra hands, I have no opinion.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Uselessness

Here's a rather useless rule of thumb: the Swiss do not join any organization until they are sure that being involved in that organization will not force them to violate their neutrality. In other words, an organization has to be pretty much useless before the Swiss will join. The Swiss didn't even join the U.N. until March of 2002. Thus I present for your viewing pleasure the demise of the E.U.: Switzerland has joined the Passport Free zone.

Federalism

There is a city near where I live that has the most politically active city council I've ever heard about. They make some good decisions, a few questionable ones, a great deal of bad ones, and some which are simply bizarre. Why am I not protesting the bizarre decisions? Because I am a fan of federalism. Even though it is wasteful and confusing, when it comes to power, I much prefer having hundreds of people trying to do hundreds of different and contradictory things, than I do having one all-powerful person (or group) in control of everything. It's just much safer that way.

So, how can you tell that a federal structure is working? When a lower level of government does something that the higher level disapproves of, and the higher one can't stop it. That's why I approve the random bizarre decision.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Work

Lest you think that all is bad and stinky at my place o' employment, I'm going to tell you about one thing that my company does right: safety. We not only comply with all of OSHA's rules--truly comply, not sneak around it when we can--but we also actively seek out potential safety hazards. Furthermore, when someone suggests that a safety hazard might exist, they study it and take care of it. Today I suggested that we relabel the controls on a piece of machinery to make them more logical and less confusing, and thus much safer. It was approved in approximately 90 seconds. Gotta love it.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Abu Ghraib

Based on Noumenon's response to my post "History Shmistory," I thought I would write about the torture scandal at Abu Ghraib. To be perfectly honest, I was neither surprised nor shocked--I expected it to happen, I just did not know when or where. When I was studying social psychology, one of our textbooks discussed the Milgram experiments under the chapter title, "Why Good People do Bad Things." I would rephrase the title: "Why Bad People do Good Things." On September 11, one of my professors said to me, "How could someone do something like this?" I replied, "We did worse to Dresden." To me, Abu Ghraib is a mild example of how humans would like to behave. In such a view, the Holocaust is not a horrible abberation from the norm, rather it is how we would behave were there no constraining influences. Those constraining influences are in no way noble, since they exist solely to create a society, which in turn serves to aggregate force against others.

Some may point to supremely altruistic individuals and that they, at the very least, are capable of acting in ways that are not evil. To this I reply that, from a religious viewpoint, one could say that God, who is by definition good, has allowed them to act less evilly than normal. A philosophical viewpoint, derived from Plato's Republic, is that altruism is the highest form of selfishness. Who trusts a man who is a known liar? The most perfectly deceptive person is the one with the most sterling reputation for honesty.

Of course, as Isaiah Berlin pointed out in Four Essays on Liberty, very few people with philosophical beliefs actually act as though they were so. I don't tend to talk to people as though they were unmitigatedly evil. Of course, I might just relate to them so well because I'm one and the same.

Beliefs

I've been thinking about a logical term called the fallacy of irrefutability. It means that, if there is no way of proving something false, we cannot accept it as true. Not that we must prove it, but there must be a way of proving it--a test that it could fail. It seems to me that, rather than being fallacious, such an idea is more rightly defined as a belief--that which we accept as true without demanding proof.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

History Shmistory

I would like to share with you a quotation found in the Wisconsin State Journal (I don't have the link, I clipped it out of a "real" newspaper.) "'Time doesn't erase the lessons of the Holocaust,' says John Kaplan, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer who teaches photojournalism at the University of Florida. Kaplan equates images of Holocaust evils to the images of prison abuse at Abu Ghraib..."

This is an excellent example of what historical analysis is not. To equate, or even to compare, the horror of the Holocaust to the Abu Ghraib scandal (about which The Onion had the headline "Inside Joke at Abu Ghraib Lost on Rest of World") is an affront to the victims of the Holocaust. Even the creator of the word "genocide," Raphael Lemkin, was adamant that that we not use the term "Holocaust" to describe acts which we now know as genocide. The Holocaust is a unique term for a (I hope) unique event in history. Yes, bad things were done at Abu Ghraib, but there are times when a qualitative difference is so great as to be entirely distinct and beyond comparison. This is such a case.