Sunday, February 24, 2008

SciFi Writers Helping DHS

Yep, this is what I wouldn't call helping.
Niven said a good way to help hospitals stem financial losses is to spread rumors in Spanish within the Latino community that emergency rooms are killing patients in order to harvest their organs for transplants.

“The problem [of hospitals going broke] is hugely exaggerated by illegal aliens who aren’t going to pay for anything anyway,” Niven said.

“Do you know how politically incorrect you are?” Pournelle asked.

“I know it may not be possible to use this solution, but it does work,” Niven replied.

“I cannot guarantee I’m going to be a great help to Homeland Security,” Niven said earlier.

Pournelle said that once mobile phone technology and the devices tacked on them to take pictures and record video become more ubiquitous, then ordinary citizens will be empowered to take security into their own hands — a prediction some have said already has come to pass.
Great. Probably be best just to ignore Niven. As to Pournelle's mobile phone thoughts, that's one of those double edged swords. Yes, they'll be able to report in problems, but that isn't taking security into their own hands. Just gives them an easy way to report non-issues. Something Schneier has called the War on the Unexpected. They may have their place, but I'm not sure how effective it really is.
The 45-minute panel discussion quickly deteriorated as federal, local and state homeland security officials, and at least one congressional aid, attempted to ask questions, which were largely ignored.

Instead the writers used their time to pontificate on a variety of tangentially related topics, including their past roles advising the government, predictions in their stories that have come to pass, the demise of the paperback book market, and low-cost launch into space.
Yeah, I suppose this is what is to be expected. Not dissimilar from what you get from asking actors for foreign policy advice.

The "Geek" Defense


In the courtroom where Hans Reiser is on trial for murder, all this might appear to indicate guilty knowledge. But his attorneys cast it as evidence of an innocence peculiar to Hans, a computer programmer so immersed in the folds of his own intellect that he had no idea how complicit he was making himself appear.

"Being too intelligent can be a sort of curse," defense counsel William Du Bois said. "All this weird conduct can be explained by him, but he's the only one who can do it. People who are commonly known as computer geeks are so into the field."

And so this week, after a prosecution case that took almost three months, Du Bois launched what Wired magazine dubbed "the Geek Defense." In court, Du Bois has taken pains to portray his client as an irritating nebbish. He has repeatedly asked Alameda County Circuit Court Judge Larry Goodman to order his client to stop distracting him by talking in his ear at the defense table. He called Reiser "an inconsiderate slob" in front of the jury.

Very odd. You can get more details from Wired's Threat Level Blog.

Winnable Wars

Krauthammer pointed out Friday that the Dems still cling to the hope of failure in Iraq.
Unless you're a Democrat. As Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) put it, "Democrats have remained emotionally invested in a narrative of defeat and retreat in Iraq." Their Senate leader, Harry Reid, declares the war already lost. Their presidential candidates (eight of them at the time) unanimously oppose the surge. Then the evidence begins trickling in.
He also quotes Anthony Cordesman:
"No one can spend some 10 days visiting the battlefields in Iraq without seeing major progress in every area. . . . If the U.S. provides sustained support to the Iraqi government -- in security, governance, and development -- there is now a very real chance that Iraq will emerge as a secure and stable state."

-- Anthony Cordesman,

"The Situation in Iraq: A Briefing From the Battlefield," Feb. 13, 2008

This from a man who was a severe critic of the postwar occupation of Iraq and who, as author Peter Wehner points out, is no wide-eyed optimist. In fact, in May 2006 Cordesman had written that "no one can argue that the prospects for stability in Iraq are good." Now, however, there is simply no denying the remarkable improvements in Iraq since the surge began a year ago.

Which leads nicely into Cordesman's own Op-Ed in the WaPo today.
No one can return from the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan, as I recently did, without believing that these are wars that can still be won. They are also clearly wars that can still be lost, but visits to the battlefield show that these conflicts are very different from the wars being described in American political campaigns and most of the debates outside the United States.
What the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan have in common is that it will take a major and consistent U.S. effort throughout the next administration at least to win either war. Any American political debate that ignores or denies the fact that these are long wars is dishonest and will ensure defeat. There are good reasons that the briefing slides in U.S. military and aid presentations for both battlefields don't end in 2008 or with some aid compact that expires in 2009. They go well beyond 2012 and often to 2020.
With all the whining from the Dems on the "failure" of the surge and that Bushitler will be handing them an unwinnable war when he leaves so that they will have to clean up his mess, it really makes you wonder what they will do if he hands them a war that is winnable. Obama still sounds like he wants to run away to show the Iraqis that the US won't support them forever, and Hillbilly has stated similar things, though I'm not sure she has such a simplistic view of the situation.

As Cordesman points out, the military sees this as something that will take some effort for some time. It should also be noted that that commitment will likely vary in resources over that period.
If the next president, Congress and the American people cannot face this reality, we will lose. Years of false promises about the speed with which we can create effective army, police and criminal justice capabilities in Iraq and Afghanistan cannot disguise the fact that mature, effective local forces and structures will not be available until 2012 and probably well beyond. This does not mean that U.S. and allied force levels cannot be cut over time, but a serious military and advisory presence will probably be needed for at least that long, and rushed reductions in forces or providing inadequate forces will lead to a collapse at the military level.
No doubt there is quite a lot of risk that it will still fail. Divisions on sectarian lines can still bring about disaster. Moqtada al-Sadr popped back up to renew his "truce" this week. Which is interesting in that he's been quiet for quite some time.
Anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr ordered his Mahdi Army militia on Friday to extend a cease-fire for six months, a decision designed to bolster his stature and power but one that U.S. and Iraqi officials hope will also increase stability in Iraq.
No doubt he wishes to stay relevant, and more in the international world's view. Bolstering his stature is possible, but I doubt that stability in Iraq will aid him in gaining power. He's even getting into the Turkish involvement in the Kurdish areas of Iraq. Areas that I highly doubt he has much influence.
"We demand that the Turkish government withdraw its forces immediately from the Iraqi territory and rely on negotiations to solve this conflict," al-Sadr's influential political committee said in a statement issued by his office in the Shiite holy city of Najaf.
Turkey has a legitimate reason for taking these actions. I'm not sure what Sadr thinks he gets out of making such statements. It probably helps him in the international opinion realm, but within Iraq, I doubt it gives him any aid with any of the non-Shia groups. And all the Kurds are very Sunni.

Cordesman's piece is quite balanced and fully worth the read.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Hillary's Mortgage Bailout Plan

I find this disturbing:
Clinton has a stunningly simple solution, as stated in one of her TV ads: "freeze foreclosures" for 90 days and "freeze rates on adjustable mortgages." Those are a perfect answer, assuming this is the question: How can the government reward irresponsibility, discourage mortgage lending and raise the cost of financing a home?

After all, it's easy to pass a law prohibiting lenders from foreclosing. But the first result of that would be a lot more borrowers deciding that paying the mortgage is no longer the highest priority. Those who have practiced strenuous frugality in order to meet their monthly obligations would get nothing, and those who behaved recklessly would prosper.

The second result would be to choke off the flow of credit. When a bank makes a loan, it needs some assurance of being repaid. When it isn't, foreclosure offers a way to minimize its loss. If Clinton blocks that option for a time, banks will be markedly less eager to offer loans—particularly for anyone with a less than perfect credit history.
I'm guessing that any such attempt to "freeze foreclosures" would be found illegal. I don't know of any mechanism the President has that would allow them to interfere in private and legal contracts.

I'm still of the opinion that the banks aren't complete fools. They know that foreclosing on large numbers of houses will cause problems in the market, and it will mean even greater losses as they try to sell them. Let's also consider that they will have to maintain them while they try to sell them which means costs of that maintenance or loss of house values.

Then again, these are the same fools that thought selling to high risk customers seemed a good idea. Frankly, I think the irresponsible borrowers and lenders should lose their asses on this. Unfortunately, that will damage the economy and I don't see any way around that.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Kosovo Declares Independance

This article has a picture I never expected to see. The American Flag being held up between Albanian flags. Now that just strikes me as weird.
PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) - Revelers fired guns in the air, waved red-and-black Albanian flags and set off fireworks in the skies over Kosovo Sunday after parliament proclaimed independence, defying Serbia and Russia which condemned the declaration of the world's newest nation.

A decade after a bloody separatist war with Serbian forces that claimed 10,000 lives, lawmakers pronounced the territory the Republic of Kosovo and pledged to make it a "democratic, multiethnic state." Its leaders looked for swift recognition from the U.S. and key European powers—but also braced for a bitter showdown.

Serbia called the declaration illegal and its ally Russia denounced it, saying it threatened to touch off a new conflict in the Balkans. Russia called for an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council, which met later on Sunday.

Let's hope this doesn't turn into a mess. Because you can be assured the UN and the EU will do just what they did when Yugoslavia fractured. (For those with short memories, they didn't do anything.)

Effects of the Iraq War on Jihadist Movement

This from WaPo. Not exactly what I was expecting.
Among Democrats and even many Republicans, it is by now accepted wisdom that the war in Iraq brought huge numbers of holy warriors to the anti-American cause. But is it true? I don't think so.
Well, what do you know.

This point is interesting:
A second striking fact about Islamism and the Iraq war is that the arrival of foreign holy warriors is deradicalizing the local population -- the exact opposite of what happened in Afghanistan. In the Soviet war, the "Arab Afghans" arrived white-hot -- their radicalization had occurred at home in the 1960s and 1970s, when Islamic fundamentalism replaced secular Arab nationalism as the driving intellectual force. On the subcontinent, Arab holy warriors accelerated extreme Islamism among both Afghans and Pakistanis. We are still living with the results.

In Iraq, as we have seen with the anti-al-Qaeda, Sunni Arab "Awakenings," Sunni extremism is now in retreat. More important, the gruesome anti-Shiite tactics of extremist groups, combined with the much-quoted statements made by former Sunni insurgents about the positive actions of the United States in Iraq, have caused a great deal of intellectual turbulence in the Arab world.

I'd take this even a step further in the direction that was originally argued about the "fly-paper" theory. Iraq attracted many insurgents, by this articles estimate about 25,000. This drew those willing to take action to a theater where they could be handled by our military who has the skill to do that fight. The result appears to be that the insurgents alienated the locals who have moved either away from them or completely against their standard. And the effect should also de-radicalize the populations where they came from.

I'm not saying the effect is overwhelming, but it is having an effect in the middle-east that not only helps the majority of populations there, but helps the US and the rest of the world. It would be interesting to hear someone who is knowledgeable on the topic speak to the effect.

What Aircraft are You

Hmm. I'm not familiar with this air-craft.

Though I guess I don't mind the results much.

What military aircraft are you?

EA-6B Prowler

You are an EA-6B. You are sinister, preferring not to get into confrontations, but extract revenge through mind games and technological interference. You also love to make noise and couldn't care less about pollution.

Personality Test Results

Click Here to Take This Quiz
Brought to you by quizzes and personality tests.

Found that one at Ride Fast & Shoot Straight.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Fairly Unbalanced - Buzz-wording to Hype

Sometimes you see a lead in and just think WTF.
A Navy cruiser in the Pacific Ocean will try an unprecedented shoot-down of an out-of-control, school bus-size spy satellite loaded with a toxic fuel as it begins its plunge to Earth, national security officials said Thursday.
Why is it "unprecedented." Maybe because it hasn't happened before? So why exactly is that bit needed?

"Out-of-Control" is interesting. I think most people got that point from the fact the freakin' thing is falling back into the atmosphere.

Of course they must yelp about the "toxic fuel" which is the reason why they want to shoot it down. The article points out that they think it could make it to the ground. I find that curious since much larger satellites have come down with very little remaining, so how would a very large tank of volatile fuel make it through re-entry?

I'm surprised they don't conjecture on the death and destruction that could possibly happen. I mean it could hit something important, like a nuclear power plant and cause a problem. Hell, why not, they spun that lead in to scare, why not go all the way?

I really like this bit:
The announcement set off a debate on defense blogs and among experts who questioned whether there was an ulterior motive. Some experts said the military was seizing an opportunity to test its controversial missile defense system against a satellite target.
So the anti-missile defense is still controversial. Why?

And why is it an issue to test that system with a free target?

But others noted that the Standard Missile 3 has successfully been tested against warhead targets, which are far smaller than the satellite.

"There has to be another reason behind this," said Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Henry L. Stimson Center, a liberal arms-control organization. "In the history of the space age, there has not been a single human being who has been harmed by man-made objects falling from space."

Of course there has to be some secret spooky conspiracy on this. Obviously if Bushitler is involved a liberal tinfoiler has to rant on motives.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Voting in Depth

Let's just start with the fact that I can't stand any of the standing presidential candidates, and any of the third party candidates that have been mentioned by the MSM are worse.

Sadly that leads to the discussion of McCain. Maverick he may indeed be, but mostly a maverick jack-ass. And sadly, he's likely going to get my vote. The link above has a discussion where Bill Whittle has made a point that I find quite powerful.

I would point out that this “let them screw up the country so we can win next time” theory was loudly bandied about in 2006. How’d that work out for us?

We lost the House and the Senate, and we have stayed in Iraq and seen the benefit of the Surge only because we had a President who said he would veto any withdrawal legislation.

Now, many of you are calling for the same strategy again. The result will be to have all three branches of government (yes — especially the Judiciary) go hard left. Forgive me if I do not see the sense in this.

When I hear this argument, I think of this: Grandma smokes in bed, and we’ve told her a hundred times not to do it. So now, to make sure she gets the point on how serious we are, we’re going to stand there and let the bed burn. To teach her a lesson. Hey, know what? Let’s let the whole house burn down! That will REALLY send her a message. I have an even better idea: Let’s let the grandkids burn to death too, because if anything will get her attention, that’s it.

We’ve lost 4,500 soldiers fighting in Iraq. If you think I am going to sit back and let Hillary or Obama cut and run, and have those brave men and women die in vain, simply because I don’t like John McCain (and I most emphatically do not like John McCain), then you have another think coming.

This is a very cogent argument. It clearly takes into account the fact that this is not the time to "punish" the Rethugs because with both houses of congress in the hands of the Dems and likely to be moving to even greater majorities, such action would end with devastating changes in government that would doom the country in ways that would be unrecoverable. Libertarians and Republicans will end up being the prolonged losers.

Like your free market capitalism? Like the ability to defend yourself? You don't honestly think that HillBilly or Obama wouldn't damage both of those hugely do you? (I don't know if Whittle coined "HillBilly" but that is hilarious.)

How much are you willing to be taxed to pay for socialized medicine? (And then have to live with the rationing of services.) How much benefit to the economy will there be when HillBilly is done with redistributing wealth?

How long before the return to police policies round terrorism end up with the US paying with lives for limp wristed foreign policies? I'm sure Obama's policy of talking to our enemies will help stop terrorist activities world wide. Precipitous withdrawal from Iraq won't be declared a major victory by the jihadis. No doubt all those poor poor Moslems in GITMO will get fair justice when they are given the constitutional rights of a US citizen. And no doubt the destruction of the intelligence community won't continue from where Slick-Willy left off.

Think hard. This is the country of many liberals, but it is our country as well. If you have any inclination of balance or even moderation, you need to see where a Democratic presidential win would lead us.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

NH Legislator Building Gun-Free Zone

Another unfortunate flair up of lack of reasoning.
Of the 3 dozen people who attended the hearing, the only person to speak in favor of the measure was the its lone sponsor - Henniker Democrat Eleanor Kjellman……The Vietnam-era Air Force veteran told colleagues that her plan to restrict guns at the capital was inspired by three things: a threatening phone call from an Ed and Elaine Brown supporter; a wrathful outburst in the house gallery by a pro-life activist; and most decisively, by the mass shootings that took place last year at Virginia Tech………

"And I thought that no one ever knows when that kind of tragedy will happen, aor where it will happen. And sometimes afterwards people will say 'I had no Idea,' and sometimes they do have an idea, and say that they were just not proactive to take measure to prevent it, and I consider this bill a proactive measure."

The plans opponents had a decidedly different view.

"This is simply bad public policy."

John Evans is president of the NH firearms coalition.

"The gun free zone is just a murder and mayhem zone. You are taking away a citizens right to be armed and defend themselves when they are most vulnerable."

Evans basic line was echoed by representatives of most state gun rights groups. The measure’s critics also cited potential enforcement costs and argued that current policy -- which simply bars weapons in or near the house chamber -- is working fine. More basically, there was also the issue of who the law would most affect. Dan Eaton is a Democrat from Stoddard.

"You have a multitude of members who do carry weapons."

Precisely how many remains anyone’s guess…..But what is widely believed among those who do carry, and many of them have law enforcement experience, is that they serve as de facto back up to the four unarmed security guards and two state troopers who now patrol the statehouse.

I suppose they could spend a huge amount of money on putting in metal detectors on all 10 entrances to the building, and pay for armed security service, and disarm the legislators (of course leaving them unarmed when they leave since you'd have to go completely nuts and not allow guns in any parking lots either).

This would end up as more security theater. Yep, we made a gun free zone, where there hadn't been an issue because someone was scared. Note she didn't bother to think about the threat any place else. What would stop the threat when she walks out of the building?
"We’ve had people come to our committee, testifying on bills who we knew were armed."

That’s Republican John Tholl. He’s a retired state trooper and part-time Police chief for the town of Dalton.

"And I will tell you quite frankly that members of our committee have said many times we’re glad that some of the members are armed because it makes us fell a lot better when we are dealing with someone who is volatile or a little excited."

The scenario Tholl describes isn’t the norm in Concord, and probably isn’t typical anywhere else…. But according to those who track state capital security polices nationwide, NH’s approach is in line with about a third of all states. …Kae Warnock of the national conference of state legislatures says in most capitals polices have changed little since the since the 1970s. …More stringent approaches, she adds, typically come only when something bad happens.

Hmm. Me thinks the writer shows a bent view. No reasoning why he thinks this isn't the "norm." No statistics to support, and in fact from what he does report NH's approach is fairly common.

I'd be more concerned if this was a court or any place where there is a concern with criminals gaining access to a weapon. This on the other hand is a public building and stripping the rights of the citizenry when the walk in the door is questionable.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Candidates and Trade

Informative article. I'd heard some of this before, and obviously I didn't like Hillary's stance. No shock there. I think McCain comes out the best, though I find some of what he says confusing.
It was courageous of Mr. McCain to tell Iowans that he would eliminate subsidies for ethanol and other agricultural products. Instead, he expressed strong support for job retraining programs: "We need to go to the community colleges. We even need, if you're a senior laid-off worker who gets another job, to make up in compensation for the amount of money that's the difference between the job that he lost."
What? I don't think so. Why should a "senior" worker get any preference? And what is he saying, we should subsidize his income? Not likely.

Then there is Obama:
Barack Obama is more even-handed: "Global trade is not going away, technology is not going away, the Internet is not going away. And that means enormous opportunities, but [it] also means more dislocations." In a 2005 essay he said: "It's not whether we should protect our workers from competition, but what we can do to fully enable them to compete against workers all over the world."
The Democratic candidates do not speak of reducing or eliminating farm-subsidy spending, only of redirecting it toward the "little guy." According to his Web site, Mr. Obama "will make sure our farm subsidies help family farmers, not giant corporations." He envisages "a national commitment to prepare every child in America with the education they need to compete in the new economy; to provide retraining and wage insurance so even if you lose your job you can train for another." These are laudable goals, but they sound impossibly expensive.
I don't understand where these people keep coming up with the idea that we aren't trying to prepare the youth for the new economy. I'd say that there is more effort by the teacher's unions to maintain the status quo rather than adapt. Parents for the most part want their kids to succeed, but they don't always have the ability to make it happen. It also brings up the question of what do we do about those jobs in the economy that need to be maintained and are not part of the "new" economy? I'm sure we can get illegal immigrants to do the work, but that isn't viable.

Farm subsidies are a real issue. I just think Obama's statement is vague like most of his policy statements to date. Hillary at least has laid out her intentions with some detail. I still think Obama is being elected based on charisma and not on content. And that is a serious problem.

Mr. Romney sometimes advocates less government intervention, other times more. In an optimistic speech in Detroit, he said "that Michigan can once again lead the world's automotive industry. But it means we're going to have to change things in Washington." Rightly pointing out that "the burdens on American manufacturing are largely imposed by government," Mr. Romney believes "taking off those burdens is only part of the solution."

But he will not leave the rest to the marketplace. He pledges to "make a five-fold increase -- from $4 billion to $20 billion -- in our national investment in energy research, fuel technology, materials science, and automotive technology." He also says he would maintain U.S. farm-subsidy programs until other countries remove theirs.

I'd like to know specifics on what burdens he proposes removing. Taxation would be nice, but what do we throw out otherwise? OSHA rules? Hazardous material and pollution laws? Most of our regulations were put in place for a reason, the business world will skip protection the environment or the worker if they aren't held to the law. I am aware that some of these regulations are extreme. Simplification and removing the fees for licensing and regulations would be a start. It'll never happen.

I do like the ideas on funding research, though I think that it should only be matching funding for the industries that specialize in those technologies. They need to do some of that on their own. The public needn't solely fund their share holder profits.

Go and read it.

Pompous Prince

Prince Andrew whining the the US didn't listen.
The prince has a full-time role as a trade envoy for Britain but for 22 years he was in the Royal Navy, serving as a helicopter pilot during the Falklands conflict, and Iraq is a preoccupation.

Because of its imperial history, Britain has experienced much of what the United States is going through, Prince Andrew said.

"If you are looking at colonialism, if you are looking at operations on an international scale, if you are looking at understanding each other's culture, understanding how to operate in a military insurgency campaign - we have been through them all," he said. "We've won some, lost some, drawn some. The fact is there is quite a lot of experience over here which is valid and should be listened to."

So let's see, what advice should we be listening to? The methods the Brits used to screw up Cyprus? How about the way the managed Kenya? Aden? Burma? Palestine? Or maybe how they made a complete mess out of Iraq in the '20s?

No doubt they had success in Indonesia, but the similarities to the issues in Iraq are hugely different. Larger land mass, religious schisms, tribal frictions, out-side interference at both the state, group, and individual level. Yeah, taking their advice would have been wonderful, and likely would have been worthless.