Octavo Dia

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Conservatism

Here's an intersting bit of political analysis from the Washington Post. It seems a bit heavier than the usual post fare, and I'm not done pondering it yet.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Nuclear Peace

The North Koreans are right. Why should the United States be permitted to have nuclear weapons when they are not? The current standard for whether you should have nuclear weapons is quite simple: if you do, that's fine and dandy, if you don't, the Wrath of God will fall upon you if you move in that direction, but once you've got them, then it's fine and dandy.

Why should we have nuclear weapons at all? Nuclear weapons have created a "nuclear peace" or the end of great power war. Nuclear peace is rather simplistic in its most common form, because it doesn't take into account the conventional power of the states. A superpower, of which the U.S. is the only current example, has risen above nuclear weapons. If all the nuclear weapons disappeared tomorrow, the United States would still be able to handle all comers in a conventional war. Nuclear weapons are not an essential part of a superpower's arsenal. They are, in essence, diplomatic tools. By maintaining nuclear weapons, the United States avoids nuclear bullying. Great powers, such as France and Britain, or India and Pakistan, use nuclear weapons to prevent major wars with each other. Neither is strong enough that it doesn't fear the other member, but both are powerful enough that an all-out war is unthinkable. The small powers, however, are where the problem with nuclear peace really happens. Small powers are unable to defend themselves through conventional means, so they play nuclear brinksmanship to shore up their security situation. It is from these powers that the risk of nuclear war occurs.

Yet the problem is that, to develop nuclear weapons, small powers must develop precisely the wrong characteristics. We want countries that develop nuclear weapons to be stable, peaceful, prosperous, and civilian-controlled. To develop nuclear weapons, one has to be secretive, militaristic, authoritarian, and poor (since a rich nation tends be integrated into the global economy, which makes secrecy difficult). Therefore, I propose that we make the nuclear club a true nuclear club. To join the nuclear club, and earn the right to develop nuclear weapons, one must meet the following criteria:

Political:
1. The state must have a free press. No inspection regime can do what a free press can do.
2. The state must have regular, free, and fair elections. A regime that does not change is more likely to act in its own interests than in the interests of its people.
3. The military must be under civilian leadership.


Military:
1. The state must have a stable domestic security situation. There can be no insurgencies, porous borders, or the like. For obvious reasons, the ability to secure a nuclear arsenal from domestic threats is essential.
2. The state must be able to project force. If, for example, there were an incident of ongoing genocide on the opposite side of the world, would the state be able to make a significant and timely contribution? The ability to project force is necessary because it demonstrates the availability of other military options. Currently, Russia's military is so weak that it could not handle much more than a border skirmish. What are its options? It has an under-strength military and nukes. The ability to handle routine military threats (of which the ability to project force is a measure) is thus needed by a nuclear state.
3. The cost of a nuclear program must form no more than a small percentage of a state's military budget. Some states are simply too small to support a viable nuclear force and still maintain the conventional forces necessary to provide security and options.


Economic:
1. The state must have an economy on par with the rich nations of the world. Nukes are expensive to build, secure, and maintain.
2. The distribution of economic resources, measured by the gini coefficient, must be below a certain level. A nation that does not have a substantial middle class is not a stable society. The last thing we want are nukes in the middle of a revolution.


Social:
1. Corruption must be brought under control. A corrupt society, however prosperous, is one in which criminals and terrorists can have access to nuclear materials.
2. The state must not have any systematic human rights abuses. Human rights abuses lead to insurgencies, which means a state is not stable.


All of the previous criteria should be maintained for a substantial length of time. The nuclear club should also have some enforcement mechanism, both means of punishing negligent members, and rewards for entering the club. Using these criteria, only three, the U.S., France, and Britain, of the nine nuclear states (U.S., Russia, China, India, Pakistan, France, Britain, assumed North Korea, and assumed Israel) meet all of the criteria. Russia, Pakistan, and North Korea fail them all. China fails all but the domestic security situation (which is questionable, as there are separatist movements in Tiber, Xinjiang, and Inner-Mongolia). Israel is the opposite of China, failing only in the domestic security situation. India fails in the domestic security situation and in the economic criteria. All in all, not a good record. However, there are more nations who could be allowed to go nuclear (I don't know whether some of them are big enough): Germany, Japan, Spain, Italy, Australia, Canada, the Scandinavian nations, and Austria. Not that they would have to, but when a rogue state argues why shouldn't they have nuclear weapons, we can rebut that they can, so long as they prove their ability to use them responsibly.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Plausible

I read a letter to the editor today that, at first glance, seemed terribly plausible. Here's the part that confused me for a bit:

"Elected officials continue to swallow the story that WalMart 'creates' jobs... Adding a store does not add jobs [since] there are the same number of people buying the same amount of goods. Buying them from WalMart rather than locally owned stores simply shifts jobs from one location to another."

I think the problem is the idea that businesses are interchangeable. If there were no price difference, the same number of people (who would have the same amount of money) would buy the same amount of goods. However, if WalMart is not the exact equivalent of these local stores and has managed, through economies of scale, management, etc., to create greater efficiencies, then WalMart can provide more goods for the same amount of money. So the same number of people spending the same amount of money will buy more goods (which means an improved standard of living) and more jobs for those who manufacture the goods that are being sold. What happens to the goods that are not available? They're not providing jobs for local businessmen, they're being wasted.

Opinion piece

Here's an op-ed piece from a French newspaper that's very optimistic about the state of world affairs, and is also quite self-critical of the French government's approach.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Took 'em long enough

The fiscal conservatives are rising up! My question is, where are the Democrats? There's been all this infighting in the Republic ranks of late, and the Democrats are eerily silent. Is it (a) that the Democrats are at least as splintered as the Republicans, or (b) that they're holding back and letting the Republicans exhaust themselves fighting each other?

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Outsourcing War

If you can get your hands on it, I strongly recommend reading the article "Outsourcing War." by P. W. Singer in the March/April 2005 issue of Foreign Affairs.

Between the devil and a hard place

I have figured out what my beef with the Geneva conventions are: we have laws of war, but no courts of war, particularly not ones that can create advisory opinions. Suppose the enemy is holed up in an urban, and thus heavily populated, area, and you want to remove as many civilians as possible from the scene in order to reduce collateral damage. On the one hand, you could try cutting off supply lines of food and water, but that is apparently a war crime, even though it will most likely result in fewer civilian casualties than undertaking an assault with the population intact, especially since the assault with most likely disrupt distribution of those essentially needs services anyway, giving you the war crime of disruption and collateral damage. Furthermore, should not the blame be placed on those forces which are using the civilian population as human shields? Were those who occupied the urban area to face the enemy in an unpopulated area, the risk of collateral damage would be nil. My political magic wand, along with calling a new Geneva convention on illegal combatants, would also call for the creation of a Geneva war rulings court, to address just such issues.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Fidgets

Here's an interesting article about the President's body language. I like this kind of reporting. It's in depth, detailed, and not something that I would normally pick up on my own.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Immigration

Let me start off by saying that I have no problems with immigration whatsoever. In fact, proportionally, I tend to have more problems with Americans by birth than I do with Americans by immigration. What I do have a problem with is illegal immigration. Illegal immigration is essentially a black market in human labor, and black markets are, as Henry Hazlitt put it "dedicated to removing the constraints on an economy." The easiest solution to eliminating a black market, therefore, is to remove the constraints. There are, however, some constraints that we don't want removed. Particularly in the labor market, we want there to be standards of health and safety. My company, for example, is absolutely devoted to safety. They hire special safety auditors to make sure that we're doing things as safely as possible. They inspect the entire factory every month to make sure that no new safety issues have come up. They'll add safety precautions even if it already meets OSHA standards. (Heck, they have approved all four of my safety-related suggestions.) That emphasis on safety is easily worth the extra few cents an hour I could be paid, or the extra profit the company could make, by ignoring safety rules. Thus constraints can be good things.

Regardless, a good portion of illegal immigration is not caused by people trying to avoid worker safety laws, but is caused by worker scarcity. Thanks to the wonder of borders, unlike oil, steel, and other commodities, we cannot ship labor where it is most needed. There are hundreds of millions of un- and under-employed workers around the world who would be perfect for many of America's unwanted jobs, but we can't employ them, except via the black market of labor--illegal immigration.

To solve future problems, the United States needs to permit a more free flow of labor, but that will not solve the current problem with illegal immigrants already in the United States. So, pulling out my trusty political magic wand, I have a spell for you: a general amnesty for the businesses that employ illegal immigrants. During a certain time period, for example, six months, a business can report an illegal immigrant in its employ without fear of penalty, and, for every illegal immigrant so deported, a new, legal immigrant will be admitted to fill the newly vacated position. This will avoid the moral hazard of an amnesty for illegal migrants (immigrate illegally, in the hopes of an amnesty), and dramatically reduce the black market incentives to fill the unwanted jobs.

Comics

And now, more excellent political cartooning:


Sunday, October 09, 2005

Reporting Bias

Here's an article from a Saudi newspaper arguing that Americans get a particularly warped view of the Middle East. I particularly liked the line,

"Just imagine if, after a visit to America, I write only about drugs, crime, and racial discrimination. While those problems exist in America as in any other society, they are not what America is all about. It is the same here."

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Puns

"A pun is the worst form of humor, unless you thought of it yourself."

Thus I present, "This booty's made for running."

Friday, October 07, 2005

Supreme Court

I haven't made up my mind on the whole nominee issue yet, but here's a well-argued article from the anti-Bush side.

Torture

My favorite branch of government has done another thing of which I approve: it set standards for interrogation techniques. I have two predictions based on this:

If Bush accepts it and it makes it through the House as well, everything will be fine and dandy, and Bush may get a little boost in the polls.

If Bush fights it, however, he's going to get a serious whupping. John McCain's personal history gives him an unapproachable lead in this area. If Bush fights it, and John McCain smacks him down, I predict McCain in 2008.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Opiate of the Masses

Is religion political? It can undeniably be used for political ends, but was religion established to be political? Religion is highly useful for organizing society. It provides a moral consensus, a batch of in-group characteristics, very often origin myths, and can be used as an unquestioned and unquestionable motivational tool. I have now met three people who believe religion was created solely to stop people from thinking and therefore accept the political status quo.

We can't use the current formulations of old religions as an argument in favor of religion as a political institution. Given the obvious advantages of exploiting religious belief, any religion is likely to become co-opted into the political system. Thus we have to look back to when religions were new to determine their role.

It is my understanding that very few new religions were adopted peacefully. Usually, the established order attempts to crush the new religion. The only religions who weren't faced with such pressure were those whose origins are lost in the mists of time, and they may have. Islam and Christianity were. Christianity, in fact, was only accepted into one society (Ireland) without violence. Monotheistic sun-worship caused the collapse of the Incan empire. Socrates was executed for his actions. We can thus be certain that religion is not normally a political institution established by the ruling elite.

This does not, however, preclude the possibility that religion is a revolutionary institution. It is a means by which a disenfranchised elites overthrows the current regime and establishes themselves. A revolutionary institution is a very different animal from the established religions used to control society. Thus a successful political religion is one that manages to overthrow an established order and then tame its revolutionary fervor.

How do non-religious revolutions tame the revolution? They tend to do it through purges. There are overt purges, of which Stalin was the master, and covert purges, such as Yushchenko's ousting of his Cabinet in Ukraine's Orange Revolution, but there are also redirected purges. Leroy Thompson, in his book Ragged War: The Story of Unconventional and Counter-Insurgency Warfare, argues that the Tet offensive was essentially a North Vietnamese purge of the Vietcong cadres. The insurgents who might have been a threat to a repressive North Vietnamese regime were liquidated in a wholesale assault on "the enemy." The best target of a redirected purge for a political religion would be heretics. One would thus expect that a political religious institution would begin liquidating its most ardent supporters and its non-conformists by placing them at each others' throats, which is born out by history.

This, however, takes place too late in the cycle. It could be that an up-and-coming religion is exploited by the disenfranchized elite as a means of regaining status. With the notable exception of Islam, the founders of new religions, and their immediate followers, tend to eschew political action. It is only later in their development, when the religion has gained a larger following, and thus a substantial political influence, that it begins to take political stands. Though this could be a consequence of new possibilities opening up to religious leaders, I believe that this shift is externally motivated, by a disenfranchized elite, because such elites tend to adopt whatever means are available. Therefore, religion is not born as the opiate of the masses. It is born of fervor, redirected into revolution, repressed into submission, and reintroduced as the opiate.

Take this job

Do you know what I really like about my job? After about the first four hours (I work twelve-hour shift), I have all the problems fixed and I've adjusted the extrusion line to the point that it can't get any better. After that point, after I've become as productive as I can possibly be, if I spend the rest of the day shooting the breeze, I'm not wasting anybody's time.

Do you know what I hate about my job? My company's market niche is sucking up to customers. No matter how idiotic it is, we'll do it if the price is right. Of course, I don't see the right price, I only see the great supreme idiocy that I have to deal with.

Today I was making garage door coatings. If you've ever thought about a garage door, and if you have, well, as Captain Jack Sparrow said, "You need to find yourself a girl, mate," there's a thin veneer of textured plastic covering the outside. I make big rolls of textured plastic, which we then send to another part of the factory to be cut down into little rolls, which we then ship to the garage door manufacturer, who laminates the garage doors with them. The great supreme idiocy, in this case, was how insanely thin they wanted the plastic. The company asked for a sheet thickness of .0135 inches, which is doable, but they also wanted the textured surface. The texture cuts .01 inches into the plastic. Which means that the low spots in the sheet are only .0035 inches thick. Had we been able to get everything perfect, we probably could have kept the line going long enough to finish the job, but we kept having strange problems. And it was only ten and a half hours into a 12-hour shift of non-stop aggravation that I was in the right place when the line went down. I heard the sound of chrome roll gears slipping. So I opened the desk drawer to get the tools needed to check the gears, and I found a chrome roll key (which keeps it aligned), thus the problem. (Gee, I've just put a $250,000 piece of equipment back together and I have this piece left over. Well, it'll be okay.) So I opened it up to see which chrome roll was missing a key, and I found two of them were, so spent an hour looking for a piece of metal about 1 1/2" long in a factory that covers 200,000 sq. ft. I tried to realign the rolls so I could reinsert the keys, and discovered that all the bearings on the rolls were sticking. However, it was time to go home. The person who messed up very badly was a person who could use a good solid mess up (his nickname is "super-perfect", the quotation marks included), and the next shift will have to do the eight hours of hot and messy work and I won't. Today stunk, but it could have been a lot worse.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Self deprecation

I don't mind mocking myself, so long as the mocking is done in a highly entertaining way. For example, I read Leviticus so you don't have to, is a particularly brilliant piece. My particular favorite part is,

"But there's another sort of religiousity out there as well--and it's driven by a desire to point a finger at those different from oneself and say, 'Aha! Unclean!' Christians of this later sort tend to grasp onto two particular books of the Bible, Leviticus from the Old Testament, and Revelation from the New. Never mind so much about all that stuff in between, like the parts where that hippy [sic] guy goes around preaching boring liberal [crap] like 'love' and 'compassion'. Instead, from Leviticus we get a great big laundry list of items about which we can put other people down--and Revelation does a swell job of describing the wrath of God that's going to come down on those heathens."