Archive for February, 2007

If global warming is a serious problem, offer a serious solution….

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

In 1856, the Xhosa had a serious problem. They had been defeated in many wars and had lost a lot of their ancestral lands. They faced the complete extinction of their culture and way of life at the hands of European colonists. So how did they deal with this serious and seemingly insurmountable problem?

They listened to a man named Mhlakaza who claimed that his niece was prophetess. According to the pair (I put most of blame on Mhlakaza), if the Xhosa killed all their cattle and destroyed all of their food then God would cause an army of Russians to rise out of the sea and destroy the British. The Xhosa people faithfully followed “God’s” commands.

The resulting famine destroyed the Xhosa as an independent culture. The entire people were reduced to servitude to the very British that were supposed to be driven into the sea by the ghostly Russian armies.

You could argue that this would have happened in any case. After all, the whole reason the Xhosa were so receptive to those prophecies in the first place was because their backs were to the wall. But you can hardly argue that Mhlakaza helped the Xhosa by peddling his delusions.

We like to think that we are above all that kind of stuff now. We would like to think that we are more rational. But I don’t see much difference between the solution that Mhlakaza offered the Xhosa and the solutions that are being offered for global warming.

We are told by many that should be in a position to know that global warming is a very serious problem that threatens us all. We are told that our backs are to the wall and we have no time to waste. Yet the solution they are pushing for is nothing but a change in the terms of trade between rich countries and developing nations. Needless to say, changing the terms of trade will do nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A Cliff Notes version of "On the Fear of Matches"

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

The Chieftain of Seir’s essay “On the Fear of Matches” is instrumental to my understanding of US policy in the Middle East. Since a lot of people find the Chief’s essays hard going, I thought I would spell out the basic points here.

(A) US sales of high tech weapons to Israel almost perfectly correlate with the rise of Israel as a nuclear power. It is thought that Israel first acquired useable atomic weapons in 1968. This is also when the US started providing considerable amounts of high tech military weapons to Israel. The Chief quotes both pro and anti Israeli sources to back up this claim.

(B) Israel prepared to use atomic weapons during the Yom Kippur war and made the US aware of this fact. Not only did the US intervene in a dramatic way to help Israel during the war, but an explicit policy of keeping Israel stronger then the combined strength of its neighbors dates from this period.

(C) Israel went on nuclear alert during the first Gulf War and this was instrumental in causing the US to devote considerable military resources to taking care of Israel’s concerns. As the Chieftain of Seir says…..

This policy has not been 100% successful at eliminating nuclear scares. Israel went on a nuclear alert during the First Gulf War as the result of the Iraqi scuds that were being fired at it. Saddam Hussein seems to have calculated that as long as he did not put chemical or biological weapons on his missiles, Israel would not nuke Baghdad. People all over the world should be grateful that calculation was more accurate than his calculations that it would be easy to take Iran’s oil fields, America would not intervene to take back Kuwait, or that George W. Bush was not really determined to remove him from power. But it does not seem to have sunk into people’s consciousness how close the First Gulf War came to going nuclear.

(D) Due to its geographical nature and the technical limitations of its nuclear delivery systems, Israeli has no effective second strike capability. This means that there is tremendous pressure on the Israeli leadership to shoot first and ask questions latter. This means that standoff between Israel and a hostile nuclear power is going to be unstable.

The basic thrust the “On the Fear of Matches” is that Israel’s nuclear weapons have constrained US policy options in the Middle East. You can ignore the security concerns of a non-nuclear power, but you cannot ignore the concerns of someone who can start throwing around weapons of mass destruction.

The Chief ends his essay by warning that…..

This is the nightmare that western powers are trying to prevent with their attempts to pressure Iran into dropping their nuclear program. But even if they succeed in preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power, it does not solve the underlying problem. What if Pakistan should become extremely hostile to Israel due to a change in government? What if Saudi Arabia should purchase nuclear weapons from North Korea or Pakistan?

The time when America could give Israel a sense of security just by selling it advanced weapons is gone. So what is the United States going to do now to try to minimize the chance that Israel will use their nuclear weapons?

This is why no one trusts the media anymore….

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

Remember when I wrote up a post on our local Muslim militia?

Well, read this from the Organized Crime in California Annual Report to the California Legislature 2005…..

Jamaat ul-Fuqra (JUF) is an international terrorist organization based in Pakistan. According to the U.S. Department of State’s (DOS) 1998 Patterns in Global Terrorism, “Jamaat ul-Fuqra was established in the United States during the early 1980’s in Brooklyn, New York, by Pakistani Suffi cleric Sheik Sayed Mubarik Ali Gilani, for the purpose of purifying Islam through violence.” The JUF has been linked to approximately 13 compounds located in 10 states across the country. Individuals from these compounds have been convicted of fraud, murder, bombings, and weapons violations. One of the compounds was located in the Central Valley, but is now closed. The compound was, at one time, advertised as a site for a chapter of an international Islamic school and a charitable organization that were both founded by Gilani. Furthermore, neighbors close to the compound reported hearing what sounded to be automatic weapons fire and explosions coming from the commune. Law enforcement authorities suspect that the compound may have been owned and occupied by individuals connected to JUF, in part, because the terrorist organization, Islamic university, and charitable organization are believed to be linked due to their crossover membership and all the groups operate under Gilani’s authority.

What does this have to do with the media?

Go read this Gates of Vienna post….

The long and the short of it is that a local news editor in Charlotte County, Virginia area is unwilling to print this type of information about a Jamaat ul-Fuqra compound near him. His original stated justification is that all the information about this group is made up by right-wing groups. He says that if any official federal government source had this type of information he would print it. When confronted with actual federal government sources, he came up with a number of different excuses that you can read about at Gates of Vienna.

Now, I don’t agree with a lot of what is said on the Gates of Vienna. For one thing, I don’t think that Jamaat ul-Fuqra is that big of a threat to this country. But I am willing to argue that position based on the facts that are easily accessible to every one with an internet connection. What Averett Jones (the editor in question) is doing is trying to cover up the facts.

We can only imagine his reasons, but I think these types of tactics are going to hurt Moslems living in America. If the mainstream media does not start covering the facts that are available to every American about Jamaat ul-Fuqra, they won’t have much credibility. And if they don’t have much credibility how can they expect to counteract those “right-wing” groups that use slander to whip up hate?

As I have said before, I live about an hour’s drive from one of these compounds. I know people who live near them. You are not going convince the people who live near these compounds that Jamaat ul-Fuqra is peaceful organization. After all, they hear the gunfire that goes on and they see how members act in person. So how about dealing with the facts?

Something that blew my puny little brain….

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

Read in today’s Wall Street Journal on P. A14 under Energy Use Puts Oil Squeeze on Iran

Already, the Middle East and North Africa’s population of some 300 million consumers consumes almost as much oil as 1.2 billion Chinese.

Now I know enough not believe something just because I read it in a newspaper. But I can almost believe this statement. It seems like the natural result of the heavily subsidized energy that almost every one in the Middle East enjoys.

But still, the nerd in me wants to know were they got these figures and how they these figures were compiled. Does it include all the fuel used by the US military? And how close to the Chinese consumption figure is “almost”?

If this statement in the Wall Street Journal is even close to being true, it calls into question the idea that it has been increased consumption in China that has been keeping energy prices high. Seems like they have had quite a bit of help from the Middle East if the Wall Street Journal can be believed.

Don't you think that a nuclear exchange in the Middle East would harm the US?

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

I seem to be on a “pick on the Grumpy Old Man” kick. So I think that I should stress that I read the Grumpy Old Man on occasion because I think he is unusually fair-minded for a political blogger.

But a recent statement that the Grumpy Old Man made left me wondering what in the world he was thinking.

Does the possibility that Iran might acquire a nuclear capacity pose a risk to Israel? To some extent, yes, especially when first-strike capacity will at least initially outweigh second-strike capabilities, thus giving an advantage to the nuclear offense. Does it pose a risk to the United States? Not particularly


Does the Grumpy Old Man really think that a nuclear exchange in the Middle East would not harm US security?

Let us imagine the following scenario. Iran has nuclear weapons and it is going through a rough patch domestically. Let us say that to take their people’s mind off of their troubles some leaders like Ahmadinejad starts spouting out the rhetoric against Israel. Let us say he starts saying all that crowd pleasing stuff like “why don’t we wipe Israel off the map.”

Let us say that at 2:00 in the morning the Israeli Prime Minister is awakened and told that it looks like Iran is preparing to launch its missiles. Let us say that the majority of his advisers are advising him to launch now to stop the Iranian launch, but a minority of his advisers think that it is some kind of exercise. Let us say that the Israeli Prime Minister is told that he has only 3 minutes to make up his mind before it is too late.

If I were the Israeli Prime Minister I would have a heart attack on the spot. (more…)

A review of the Chieftain of Seir's latest essay…

Monday, February 19th, 2007

As people who read the newspaper already know, the Chieftain of Seir has a new essay up called Considering the Invasion of the South. Personally, I think that it is one the worst essays that the Chief has written in a long time. But I cannot be too critical because I am largely responsible for its low quality.

If you will remember, I did a rant back on Lincoln’s birthday badmouthing those conservatives and libertarians who serve as apologists for the pre Civil War South. I was not gentle with my criticism.

As a result of my little rant I was challenged by the Grumpy Old Man. In a post responding to mine, the Grumpy Old Man said…..

A blogger known as “the Ape Man” is shocked by Larison’s characterization of Lincoln as a “tyrant” and my pondering the justice of that rather severe historical judgment.

My sin in the pongid world is to have asked whether, if the North had let the South go without war, slavery would have long persisted in the South. I can also ask whether, given the blood spilled in the War and the rapid turn away from Reconstruction, Lincoln was far-sighted, bloody-minded, or a bit of both.

The Chieftain of Seir took it upon himself to write a serious answer to that question. But sadly, he wrote it out in one weekend and the speed with which he wrote the essay limited its quality.

I think the argument is solid (naturally) but the presentation seems crude and it is not always as well supported as I would like. Part of this is due to the fact that Chieftain of Seir relies mostly on the novelty of his ideas for his appeal. When the Chief’s ideas are not all that novel (as it is the case with Considering the Invasion of South) it shows up the bad quality of the Chief’s writing.

But another problem is that a lot of the documents that would have bolstered the Chief’s case are only available in book form. By writing the essay over the weekend, the Chief limited himself to documents that were available on-line. This means that the Chief did not always support his various arguments as well as he should.

I think one of the reasons that the Chief was so eager to jump all over the Grumpy Old Man’s question is that he has been banging his head against another essay he is trying to write. In the Chief’s bizarre little system, there was an essay that was supposed to come after Spinoza, Einstein, and Failure of Reason. It is a measure of the Chief’s frustration with the essay that was supposed to come next that he has put up an essay that does not belong there.

Hopefully, the poor quality of Considering the Invasion of the South will inspire the Chief to find some way of finishing the essay that he has in progress. But till then, those who have been waiting for another Chieftain of Seir essay will have to be content with Considering the Invasion of the South in spite of its flaws.

Why do I want to see this movie?

Saturday, February 17th, 2007

I am not much of a movie watcher. But for some perverse reason I want to see The 9th Company.

I say perverse, because I am not sure that I could watch the movie all the way through. Besides, it is a foreign langue film and I don’t really go for sub titles. But the trailer really grabbed my attention and I can’t stop thinking about it.

I think that one of the reasons that the trailer grabbed my attention was that for me reading about the Russian war in Afghanistan was a very emotional experience. No other war I have ever read about disturbed me in quite the same way and I have read about a number of nasty wars.

So I think that a large part of this trailer’s appeal for me is that it perfectly taps into the feelings generated by my reading about the Russian experiences in Afghanistan.

But even removing my emotions from it, I think that it was a very well done trailer. But perhaps I am just revealing my poor tastes.

The clip below was also taken from the movie. It makes me think that the movie was very well directed. The clip just seems like it was perfectly done. But again, what do I know?

If you want to read a review of this movie go here

Why I don't worry about Iran or North Korea….

Saturday, February 17th, 2007

I always find the current fuss over Iran and North Korea rather amusing. To a person of my limited education, it seems that if you could magically make Iran and North Korea go away you would only marginally increase the safety of the world.

And no, I am not a liberal. I don’t think that America is the big cause of insecurity in the world. In fact, not withstanding all its mistakes, I think that the world will have cause to regret it if/when American no longer has power to knock heads together in this world.

But I think that there are forces that will throw this world into turmoil that are beyond the power of the US to contain. Fires that will spring up that will make North Korea and Iran seem like child’s play. Here is a short list of things that worry me more than Iran and North Korea….

The implosion of Russia.

Russian demographics are awful. It is thought that Russia may lose up to one third of its population in the next 40-odd years. That number may seem alarmist, but it may very well be too optimistic. Russia is not doing very good job at handling AIDS. If that problem explodes into an epidemic all bets are off.

Compounding this problem is the fact that Russia’s government is dysfunctional. Its army beats up its own soldiers. All of its officials are corrupt. And it has a growing xenophobic movement.

These problems have all been obscured by high commodity prices and the relative competence of Putin. But both of these factors are not likely to last long. Russian gas is already unable to keep up with demand as this blog post points out...

The Industry and Energy Ministry estimates Russia’s gas shortage this year (given international commitments) at 4.2 billion cu m. By 2010 it could reach 27.7 billion cu m and by 2015 – 46.6 billion cu m. Meanwhile, Russia has the world’s second largest coal reserves and produces almost 300 million metric tons annually, with a possibility to boost production to 400 million metric tons by 2010 (it produced 426 million metric tons annually in the late 1980s).


Ape Man's Guide to the Internet: Unchained Logos

Wednesday, February 14th, 2007

If I could wave a magic wand and make any blogger write more it would be Andrew. Most bloggers are very replaceable. Good economists are a dime a dozen and there are too many pundits. General interest blogs are generally boring (including mine) and single subject blogs are often not much better. But good poets are a rare find in any age.

And Andrew is a good poet.

Unfortunately, of all the bloggers that I regularly keep tabs on, he is the one that I am most afraid will quit blogging.

He has two blogs currently up. He keeps Unsleepable (used to be Philosophical Poetry) up for archival purposes and he is now supposedly blogging at Unchained Logos. I say supposedly, because he has only managed to put up four posts in four months. And two of those posts were reworks of poems that he had already posted on Philosophical Poetry.

To make matters worse, both of these web sites have a habit of going down for long periods of time. Anytime his sites go down, I always feel the compulsion to keep checking anxiously to see if they have come back again. I am always afraid that that his poetry is going to disappear for good.

I am have been tempted to assuage my fear somewhat by downloading all of his poems to my hard drive. But should you really intervene if a poet wants to damn his own work?

I don’t know what Andrew’s problems are with his web hosting, but I would gladly fix the problem if I could. I am always tempted to ask him if he wants to use some of my unused bandwidth. But I never do because I can’t offer him his own domain. He would have to sub off of the Ethereal Land and I don’t think that would be acceptable.

Heck, I would even pay for his own web hosting package if he was not too proud to accept. But I don’t think that the problem is money. Instead, I suspect the problems have something to do with the famous poetic temperament and I can’t help him with that.

Regardless of what Andrew’s problems are, I encourage everyone to check out his poems. Pass up this opportunity and you may never get another one. In fact, currently most of his poems are inaccessible do to some kind of technical problem. But you can still find some of his best.

If you are short on browsing time here are some of my favorites (of those that are still accessible)…

Animal Sensation

The Great

Why the Titanic Sank

Derek on Gene Patents

Wednesday, February 14th, 2007

Derek Lowe has an interesting post up on the patenting of genes. Well worth taking a look at for a more technical description of the problems with the practice.

Best part….

How about polymers that aren’t man-made, like cotton or silk? We have no good way (at present) to produce or isolate individual single isomers of such things, the way we can with stretches of RNA or DNA. If I invent one, I’ll most certainly apply for a patent on the method of doing that, just like someone who invents a new way to separate or purify DNA would. I don’t think anyone should have a problem with that, because that would be an inventive step by anyone’s definition. But can I then turn around and get composition-of-matter patents on some of the things I can isolate with my new technique? Judging from the genomics examples, I’d say that I could, if I could pass a further test.