Octavo Dia

Monday, July 31, 2006

Death to opinions

From the Wisconsin State Journal Forum section on July 30.

In the United States, the military is supposed to be subordinated to the elected government...

Much of the reason that the military is unable to handle counter-insurgency warfare is that it is not used to functioning politically. We have overly subordinated the military.

...but many do not trust recent elections.

First, a perfect election is impossible. Second, all that is necessary is that the irregularities are not at a level sufficient to change the end result. Third, most of the protest in the previous elections was a result of the electoral college, which was part of the rules of the game, which are open and aboveboard. Change them if you want to, else shut up.

The corporate interests in armaments and the price of oil suggest that war is too profitable to leave to nation states.

Ironically, the concept that only nation states should be involved in war is fairly new. It dates from the peace of Westphalia, in 1648. Even after that private groups, for example, privateers, were extensively involved in the making of war. Corporations in that period up to about the time of the American Civil War often had their own armies. WalMart may be greedy and exploitative, but it isn't fielding troops yet.

Fundamentalist religious groups believe that spreading democracy or Zion or the caliphate are too important to leave to nation states.

First, Zionism was, at the time, seen as anti-religious. God was supposed to restore the kingdom to Israel, not man. The Zionist movement was opposed by most of the religious leaders of the time, and was led mainly by secular jews. Second, how is democracy linked to fundamental religious groups? Normally they are accused of attempting to suppress human rights to establish religious rule.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Da Baby

Just a random thought from the plot of the Da Vinci Code. Why would it matter if Christ were married and had children? Marriage is a sanctified act, established by God, as is sex. To be married and have children is not in itself a sin. The only objection that I could see is that the world would be overrun with half-god children, ala the Greek myths, but Christian theology specifically rules that out, as Christ was true man. His divine nature was not encompassed within his human nature, nor vice versa, yet both were full and coequal.

I'm watching a documentary about Thomas Jefferson at the moment, and they all seem puzzled by Jefferson's stalwart defense of the rights of man and his slave-owning lifestyle. That had never seemed to be such and issue for me. If Jefferson did not consider African slaves to be human, but rather a particularly trainable ape, then defending the rights of man while holding slaves was no contradictory.


After providing a hefty dose of vitriol for those who wrote to the opinion page, it is only just that I should present my views on this topic. It is my belief that the entire controversy is the result of the availability of embryonic stem cells. Were there no stem cells available, there would be no debate.

Why are stem cells available? Leaving aside abortion, stem cells are a result of in vitro fertilization. Our ability to successfully implant embryos is quite limited, so we create large quantities of them in the hopes that a few will survive. The remainder are "wasted," and are as such the hope of stem cell researchers.

Why are we performing in vitro fertilization? Well, so people can have babies, right? Wrong. There are millions of babies worldwide in need of good, caring homes. The time, effort, and expense of in vitro fertilization is easily equivalent to the costs of adoption. In vitro fertilization is performed so that someone can be pregnant.

I believe that the desire to be pregnant is not a sufficient justification for destruction of human life.

Opinion page grab bag

So I read the opinion page of the Wisconsin State Journal yesterday, which I shouldn't do, because it always frustrates me greatly, but I did anyway.

Apparently only some murder is wrong... how does [Bush] justify executing living, breathing human beings when he was governor of Texas?

Ah yes, the old, pro-life-people-are-hypocrites-because-many-of-them-support-the-death- penalty argument. Is the concept of "innocent" life really that difficult?

But the president is worried more about murdering a clump of cells which most likely would have been discarded...

Here is my real fear about the embryonic stem cell debate. The primary justification is that they would be wasted anyway (without questioning whether having these cells available to waste is ethical in the first place), will shortly become a justification for the practice of harvesting such cells.

Do right-to-life people not see discarding of viable embryos as an affront to their religious beliefs? Why are they not storming fertility clinics to save embryos that would otherwise be "killed" during disposal?

The pro-life movement can't get people to stop sucking the brains out of full term fetuses. How the heck do you think they'd be able to stop people from killing zygotes when you have a tearful woman on TV saying, "But I just wanted to have a baby!" It's not hypocrisy; it's not fighting a battle you know you cannot win.

Many routine medical technologies of today were once vehemently opposed for being "unnatural".

And many of them were at the time unnatural, and, were they practiced today, would be banned. We transported the smallpox vaccine across the ocean before the dawn of refrigeration by deliberating infecting orphans, one after another, on the trip over.

A collection of less than 100 cells does not constitute a human being.

But 101 cells would? Curse my slow cellular division! Had I replicated a few minutes faster, I would have been a human! The author provides no rationale why such a collection is not a human being, but simply asserts that this is the case.

What is the difference between taking organs from a dead person or using stem cells?

Here's the difference: one of the two is already dead.


In yesterday's paper, there was an opinion column saying that we should save Wisconsin's water resources by not letting it be bottled up and shipped out of the state. First of all, the author has apparently flunked first grade science, since there is this wonderful thing called the hydrologic cycle. If all it took was a boatload of water to green up an area, we would have done so generations ago. How much water is in a particular area is more a function of weather patterns than water exports.

Second, she chooses her targets rather peculiarly. Why not target milk exports? Milk is primarily water, yet exporting milk has not aroused her ire.

Third, there are always proxy exports. Beef, for example, requires a tremendous amount of water to produce. If we export beef, we are, in effect, exporting water to areas that have little water.

Fourth, it is not like we are not receiving anything in exchange for our water exports. Wisconsin may be loaded with water, but we are significantly short of other things, which other states supply. In the end, we provide water where it is needed, and goods where they are needed, and everyone is happy.

Finally, just to be facetious, why don't we dam up our rivers at the border to keep our precious water from leaving the sodding state? Or better yet, let's suck all the water out of the river and sell it to the neighbors to whom it would otherwise flow!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Urban Insurgency

The Bix and I were talking about counter-insurgency today and whether it was a good idea to set a date for withdrawal. On the one hand, the citizens of a representative government demand, and I think it rightly, a timetable for the support of foreign adventures. On the other hand, by placing a timetable for withdrawal, it tells the insurgents that all they have to do is last until then, and they will be able to win. On the third hand, a fixed date for withdrawal can cut the legs out from under a nationalist insurgency, as we experienced in the Phillipines. On the fourth hand, withdrawal without victory is absolutely devasting to our troops--as John Kerry's one bit of eloquence put it, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"--which was illustrated by the crumbling of the American military during the withdrawal in Vietnam. On the fifth hand, without a set date, why should the local troops bother fighting. They have two perverse incentives: first, they do not want to be left hanging should the occupying power withdraw (so they won't get themselves noticed as major counter-insurgency players); second, they have no stake in victory. They can be quite confident that the occupying power will not throw them to the wolves, so they do not need to take risks themselves--in short, they'll fight just hard enough not be killed, and rely on the other powers to bear the brunt of the fighting.

How can we resolve this conundrum? We want to withdraw in order to appease the citizens at home and the nationalists abroad, but we want to stay for the sake of our troops, but we don't want to stay too much or the local forces will not rely on their own resources.

I propose that the best solution in Iraq is for the United States to pull out of the cities and leave pacifying the cities to the local forces, and meanwhile dominate the countryside, the small towns, and the borders.

1. This approach would get the United States out of the cities, and thus out of immediate contact with the majority of the population, making the U.S. presense seem much less present.

2. It would allow us to throw the local forces to the wolves--forcing them to rely on themselves--but it would not pull us so far out that we could not get back in if things went terribly, terribly wrong.

3. It would allow us to separate and contain the insurgency, so problems could not spread as easily from one city to another.

4. It would use U.S. power to its best advantage. We lack the language and cultural skills needed for pacification programs, but when it comes to smacking down the bad guys, no one comes close.

5. It would be a demostrable step towards withdrawal, without having such a negative effect on our troops (plus, it would most likely reduce our casualty rate).

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Health Care

This is just a random thought I had a few months ago, to which Noumenon raised his usual criticism: that I'm too far removed from the problem to understand any of the intricacies. Anyway, it occured to me that the cost of health care is extremely back-end loaded. Most of one's life-time health care costs are in the last month or two of life. Similarly, life insurance is back-end loaded. Therefore, we could sell health insurance like life insurance. You buy a policy when you're young, paying premiums and building cash value during your healthy years, and then drawing on it in later years when your health has gone sour.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Something that caught my eye

Bin Laden is getting involved in sectarian disputes. That is unwise of him. Because of U.S. efforts, it seems to me, he has very little direct control, and is more of a spiritual leader. Attacking a fundamental decision of a large group of potential supporters seems to be a mistake.