Friday, July 29, 2005

Individual Rights vs. Public Defense

Musings over at Normblog on the inherent conflict between individual rights and public defense in Britain's shoot-to-kill policy with potential terrorists. I have nothing to add, other than that I agree that how this conflict is resolved will affect all of our lives greatly. How do you choose which is more important? "On the one hand, the insistence on protecting the individual's rights regardless of the common good; on the other hand, the desire to protect all of us from deadly threats." Tough question...

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Japanese Android

Is it just me, or should American Engineers (like myself) be a little worried at how fast we're being outpaced by Japanese robotics technology? Look at this! They've got a creepily realistic android in progress... We've got some catching up to do if we don't want to be left woefully behind.

On a semi-related note, this is just creepy...

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Political Satire...

... is possibly the most hilarious thing I've ever seen. In order to share with you the endless laughs I've found, I direct you to the following sites:

Simultaneously mocking both Wal-Mart and Che Guevara (but mostly Che). Particularly amusing is the Che T-shirt marketing technique:

Che has marketed his brand name brilliantly over the years, selling to specific niche in the market: young people who have no clue what Che has done or what he stands for. The cash keeps flowing as most college dorms world-wide are being adorned with his face, and more and more middle class sons and daughters wear Che products in order to, among other things, wash away the guilt of their well-heeled upbringing.

Dedicated to the communist-egalitarian principle that competition is barbaric and the only truly progressive society in which "Everyone will be a loser, which in our book means an ethical team player."

Of special note is the People's Cube Manual and the little "On Star" button at the top which has the O as a hammer and sickle.

Next to the button is the sentence, "Press this button if you believe that your neighbors, family, co-workers, or yourself are guilty of thought crimes." Where does is take you? Four letters: A-C-L-U.

Lately it's become just another political blog, but in the beginning, it was a satire of the Islamic Fundamentalist mind posted from the perspective of Allah (yes, that Allah). Possibly the best part in the whole blog:

Allah checks his stats often and is amused to find that booze-swilling infidel Steven Green has dropped a sweet link on him. Tell me, infidel, do you think this will atone for calling your blog "VodkaPundit"? You should know that Allah forbids the consumption of alcohol by his children except for Saudi royals on vacation in the south of France. Allah also wants to know what the deal is with that photo on your homepage: Are you trying to get Allah to switch sides, with your Semitic good looks and come-hither stare? Because while Allah is flattered, and is not embarrassed to admit that if he were gay you might make a nice pony boy until you were beheaded, the fact is Allah doesn't "read the Daily Dish" if you know what Allah means.

No wait... most of the old stuff's that funny... not PC at all, but funny. Start at the back of his archives and work your way forward until it stops being hilarious.

Intelligence Failures

Jeff Jacoby has a piece on intelligence failures and what kind of culture we want to cultivate in the intelligence community. Money quote:

If intelligence failures are inevitable — and in a world of human fallibility, they are — we are better off worrying too much about our enemies and taking steps to defeat them than worrying too little and being caught, unready, when they attack. Worrying too much led the United States and Britain to topple a brutal tyrant. Worrying too little led to 9/11 and 7/7.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Help Africa: Trade With Them!

Publius has an enlightening piece on how the real way to help African Poverty is not through debt relief, but through trade. What has pouring billions into Africa in the past gotten us?

You see, for twenty years the West has made the disastrous mistake of attempting to correct the genocides, famines, and poverty of Africa by fueling unchecked billions of dollars into the very root of the problem. These strongmen maxed out their Visas, shot the political opposition with their gleaming AK-47s, and then cruised around in their brand new Hummers with some hoes in the back. It’s enough to make the mad mullahs bounce for some bling.

Now, we with hard-earned productive and democratic countries are supposed to roll over, play dead, and forget all about it. “Sure,” the dictators will say, “we’ll do better this time! Just forget the billions wasted and the millions dead and we’ll single-handedly bring democracy to Africa!” Just, of course, as they single-handedly trashed decades of progress in a matter of years. The problem is not a lack of support for leaders in Africa; it is our support for them within systems of government that guarantee their corruption.

So how exactly would the US be able to help free trade with Africa, you ask?

In order to make free trade with Africa work, therefore ensuring its prosperity and democratization, the United States and Europe need to deal blows to a more covert enemy: agricultural subsidies. Artificially lowered prices in the West prevent their produce from entering the market, trapping them in a fake poverty with very real effects. When the G8 met in Scotland, they promised to cut deep into these subsidies; however, no timeline has been set and Africans are doubtful that one ever will be... With Africans steadily losing hope in the promises made to them, it’s time for the Unites States and Europe to put up or shut up.

Hmmm... cutting government spending on subsidies while helping Africa's impoverished. Sounds good to me, and a heck of a lot more useful than the Live8 concert a little while ago. Maybe next time it should be a Liber8 concert.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Back to the Drawing Board?

Paul Cella asks what may be the most important question facing the free world in the decade to come:

By now, every free nation in the world still possessed of its senses knows it must face this self-interrogation: Are we or are we not going permit (or perhaps continue to permit) the emergence, within our midst, of totalitarian Islam? Again I deliberately leave open the question of whether "totalitarian Islam" really means "Islam in the modern world" or merely "a perversion of Islam in the modern world." But to repeat: The people of the free nations of the world, the citizens of the West (or her descendents if in fact the West is no more), are now confronted with sufficient evidence that the efforts to call totalitarian Islam into existence in every free nation are well underway; that such efforts will be materially supported from the home bases of totalitarian Islam, and may be spiritually supported by the very nature of Islam as such*; and that those efforts can, at least to some degree, be encouraged or discouraged by the actions of our own governments.

The instinct of most of us is not even to face the question, to decline the self-interrogation altogether, and get on with our barbeques and reality shows; but face it we must, because ultimately the threat it signifies is neither fleeting nor mild, but rather persistent and existential.

The terrorist attacks of 7/7 have confounded every explanation offered as a "root cause" of terrorism, as well as the current attempt to stop terrorism by spreading democracy. The perpetrators of the London bombings were not impoverished third world Arabs; they lived in what was once the heart of the Western world, and what is still a bulwark of liberal democracy. Whatever we decide to do to combat terrorism, one thing is certain. We cannot reject the idea of going back to the drawing board.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Before Iraq...

The Anchoress posts a photo essay response to the "blame-terrorism-on-Iraq-war" crowd.

(Hat Tip: Michelle Malkin)

Genoan Economics

I don't know enough about economics to judge the feasibility (or advisability) of instituting a similar system in the USA, but here are some interesting thoughts on the Republic of Genoa and fiscal responsibility.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Waking Giant

Max Boot takes a look at what could be our opponent in a new Cold War: China. And with China’s Gen. Zhu doing some serious saber rattling, this is not something we can afford to ignore. Particularly worrisome is that many Chinese have come to acknowledge that America cannot be defeated on its own terms, and they’re trying to work around that. For example:

[Unrestricted Warfare's authors] different approaches include financial warfare (subverting banking systems and stock markets), drug warfare (attacking the fabric of society by flooding it with illicit drugs), psychological and media warfare (manipulating perceptions to break down enemy will), international law warfare (blocking enemy actions using multinational organizations), resource warfare (seizing control of vital natural resources), even ecological warfare (creating man-made earthquakes or other natural disasters).

Cols. Qiao and Wang write approvingly of Al Qaeda, Colombian drug lords and computer hackers who operate outside the "bandwidths understood by the American military." They envision a scenario in which a "network attack against the enemy" — clearly a red, white and blue enemy — would be carried out "so that the civilian electricity network, traffic dispatching network, financial transaction network, telephone communications network and mass media network are completely paralyzed," leading to "social panic, street riots and a political crisis." Only then would conventional military force be deployed "until the enemy is forced to sign a dishonorable peace treaty."

Puts the Chinese bid for Unocal in a whole different perspective…

(Hat tip: Instapundit)

Friday, July 15, 2005

One more reason I don't like the UN

If this is what it appears, the UN is engaging in one of the worst (and worst executed) cover-ups I've ever seen... One of these days I'll get around to clearly articulating my philosophical objections to the UN, but for now, this is as good a reason as any to call for major reforms. And not just "pretty please" either. Either they shape up, or we allow our dues to fall a bit behind (again). If enough of us ask for it, it could happen.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Summer Reading

John Irving once wrote, “My life is my reading list.” In a further effort to share with everyone the wonder that is my life, I present: My Summer Reading List!

1) The Dragonriders of Pern series, by Anne McCaffrey

A classic series that claims (dubiously) to be sci-fi, but reads like fantasy. In this extended narrative about the people of Pern, she presents an intriguing culture centered around the dragons that were genetically engineered by the colonists of the planet before their descent into the current dark age to protect the planet from an interplanetary parasite.

It’s a ridiculously farfetched scenario, but the books are still a lot of fun to read. I’d recommend reading the first three in order, because I don’t think she even knew what she was doing until halfway through the second book. After that, go nuts in any order you choose, since most of the books are chasing down offshoots of the “main” storyline, such as a plague several centuries in the past, the rediscovery of dolphins and their unique abilities, and the life story of The MasterHarper of Pern (my personal favorite).

2) Paperboy: Confessions of a Future Engineer, by Henry Petroski

A memoir telling the tale of his childhood in Queens, his early fascination with all things mechanical, and a story about the intellectual and moral development of a young boy into a young man.

I enjoy memoirs, but this one was mediocre. If you’re going to read a memoir of a future engineer, go with October Sky (originally published as Rocket Boys). It’s a much more compelling story, and way better than the movie to boot.

3) A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving

Owen Meany is a diminutive child with a disturbing voice. He believes that he is God’s instrument; he’s right. The story is told from the perspective of his best friend, John Wheelwright, several years after Owen’s death. It’s a compelling story of how a troubled child deals with foreknowledge of his destiny, faith and its many unanswered questions, and how John deals with the death of his best friend, who is also the reason for his faith in God.

This story has more plot twists than you can believe, and is only slightly spoiled by its rampant anti-Americanism. I don’t want to spoil the book for you, so I won’t elaborate. Its opening chapter (plus a few more tidbits) was made into the truly horrid movie Simon Birch (a.k.a. Owen Meany). If you saw the movie, don’t let it poison you toward the book. To make that infernal film they eviscerated the entire storyline by treating the exposition as the plot and ignoring everything that made this book so moving. The odd mix of humor, wit, and a heartbreaking story make it one of the best books I have ever read.

4) The Road to Serfdom, by F.A. Hayek

Originally published in England in 1944, this is the classic warning against economic totalitarianism decades before it became obvious that the planned economy was a flop. In this book, he points out many not-so-obvious prerequisites and consequences of a planned economy, be it fascist, socialist, or any other type.

Oh, come on… did you really expect me to go all summer without reading anything political? Anyone who at all supports any form of communism (which I abhor) needs to be able to refute the arguments in this book. I recommend it to anyone at all interested in the politics of the past century, because it goes a great distance toward explaining the roots and depth of the conflict between the capitalist democracies and the socialist dictatorships that dominated the latter half of the twentieth century.

5) The Smoke Ring, by Larry Niven

The sequel to the very enjoyable The Integral Trees, it continues the story of a group of humans who abandoned their starship 500 years ago to inhabit a gas torus surrounding a neutron star… The residents of Citizens Tree learn of the existence of a large civilization called the Admiralty, which is both a threat to their small city-state and a potential source of knowledge. Exploration ensues, and neither Citizens Tree nor the Admiralty will emerge unchanged…

This is a fun book, although like much of Niven’s work, puts entirely too much emphasis on sex. (Why is it that in every vision of the future, sexual morality goes out the window? Does no one ever speculate that it might intensify, or at least remain roughly the same?) It’s an entertaining book with a well developed ecosystem for a completely freefall environment. My only other gripe is that it doesn’t end, it just stops. There’s no resolution, so there’s obviously another book to follow (that I now need to find). I prefer the Ringworld series, but if you’ve already read those classics, by all means tackle these next.

UPDATE: I just looked online, and there doesn't appear to be another book to follow. This means that the ending officially blows. You'll get little to no plot resolution. For geeks like me, the interesting exploration of a planetless ecosystem may be enough to recommend the book. For others, consider yourself warned.

6) Songs of Earth & Power, by Greg Bear

What do Mahler’s Tenth Symphony, Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, and the Christian narrative have in common? All art, music, poetry, and myth contain the roots of a Song of Power, which allows passage into the Realm. The Realm is home to the Sidhe, an ancient race of magicians who fought and won a war with humans eons ago. Michael Perrin has been transported to that realm, and it falls to him to discover the Nature of the Realm, the source of the enmity between humans and Sidhe, and eventually, to attempt to reunify the Realm with Earth, a created world whose garden has long since gone to seed. Originally published in two volumes (The Infinity Concerto and The Serpent Mage) it is now in one volume as the author had intended.

I found the first half of this (The Infinity Concerto) at the used book sale in Valpo, and I just got around to reading it. I read it in one sitting, and immediately set about finding the second part. This is definitely the most original fantasy epic I have seen, and one of the most riveting stories I’ve ever read. It keeps you constantly on your toes, and you learn with Michael just how he is being used and by whom, as well as what exactly he is capable of. (It possesses much of the feel of the first Matrix movie in that respect.) This is highly recommended to anyone who enjoys fantasy, music, and literature. He weaves a complex and mysterious tapestry of connections between the arts that is a wonder to behold.

7) The Federalist Papers, by Publius (Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay)

A series of editorials on the United States Constitution, they were originally published serially in newspapers to convince the people of New York to ratify it. It is, as Madison pointed out, “the most authentic exposition of the text of the Federal Constitution, as understood by the Body which prepared and the authority which accepted it.”

There are some books which you need to read to be able to speak intelligently on some topics. In the field of American politics, this is one of them. It is America’s addition to the body of political literature. I’ve only just started, but it’s fascinating thus far, and I’m enjoying myself.

9) The Babylonian Captivity of the Church; To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation; The Bondage of the Will; by Martin Luther

Definitely worth reading in full, particularly for Lutherans like me. Particularly important in Babylonian Captivity are the section on communion in both kinds vs. in one kind and the last part, where he presents the case against marriage, confirmation, ordination, and last rites. Christian Nobility is marvelous for understanding the historical context (from Luther’s perspective) of the Reformation and the abuses in the Church. Still working on the full text of Bondage of the Will.

10) One Nation Under Therapy, by Christina Hoff Summers and Sally Satel, M.D.

A political polemic on the transformation of American culture from one of self reliance to one of “a counselor for every crisis [and] a lawsuit for every grievance,” dedicated to the premise that “talking about problems is no substitute for confronting them.”

I have yet to read it, so I am unqualified to comment.

11) Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi

It’s Starship Troopers minus fascism meets The Forever War without the societal degeneration. Humanity has begun to colonize the stars and has discovered that the universe is a crowded and unfriendly place. At the age of 75, you become eligible to enter the Colonial Defense Force and fight for the preservation of Humanity. But you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into…

A must read for any fan of the space warfare genre. Not quite as good as Heinlein’s classic, but it’s close. From me, that’s quite a compliment. In my opinion it’s a great what-if scenario with not-too-implausible science.

I’m sure there will be (and have been) more, but this gives you a decent feel for what I’ve been up to. Also yet to come: Democracy in America, more by Luther, more by Niven, and whatever I can find at the Waukesha Public Library. In closing, I like books. A lot. :-)

Friday, July 01, 2005

The Left Revealed... and it ain't pretty

Before reading the transcript of this debate, I was willing to dismiss David Horowitz's recent book, Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left, as fringe lunacy. But Daniel Lazare did more to damage his cause than Horowitz ever could.

I was willing to believe that most leftists actually did like America, and were only critical because they want to improve it. Now I'm not so sure.

I'd quote it for you, but you really need to read the whole thing for it to be credible. If you only follow one link I ever put up on this site, follow this. You need to see this to believe it.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to decide whether to fly into a rage or weep at how messed up people like Lazare are trying to ruin our country, which is, at worst, better than most.

O'Connor Retiring

Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has announced her impending retirement. No matter who Bush nominates as a replacement, prepare for partisan mud-flinging the likes of which we haven't seen since... well... last November. In the words of Lt. Smash, "Partisans, man your battle stations." This will be ugly.