Thursday, November 30, 2006

Why the War was Wrong, Part the Fifth

If the war in Iraq fails, it will have been wrong.

If the war in Iraq fails, it will fail because governments and peoples, West and East, have willed it to fail.

The war will have been/will be wrong because governments and peoples wanted it to be wrong, and for no other reason.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Neoconservatism Explained: An Interview with Dr Clam

Dr Clam, a Neoconservative has been defined as 'a liberal who has been mugged by reality'. Do you think this is a reasonable definition?

I would put it slightly differently. I think every Neoconservative has reached a point where they could take one of two paths. They could forget everything that they had experienced and remain in the world they thought they lived in, or they could chose to see things as they really are, knowing that there was no going back.

So having taken the second option, Neoconservatives see the world differently from the rest of us?

Yes. They're aware that the world we think we inhabit is a fraud, a construct, and with this knowledge they gain special powers to remake what we call reality. The laws of the world we think we know no longer apply to Neos.

So how is the world the Neoconservatives perceive different?

Well, we think we are free, but Neos know that we are slaves of the system. The system is parastic on us and keeps us totally inert, unable to act or interact with the world as it really is. Neos want to destroy this system.

Uh huh. It has been said that Neoconservatives are deluded, that they can't face the complexities of the real world, and so have projected a fantasy world where everything is black and white and they can fight an abstraction of evil. Do you think that Neoconservatives have a case to answer?

Well, the Neo worldview does have elements of apparent wish-fulfillment, but at the same time it is a harsh and uncomfortable existence. People don't realise that even with superpowers, its pretty hard fighting multiple copies of Hugo Weaving.

I guess it would be. So, granting for the moment that all this true, what is the ultimate goal of Neoconservatives?

Well, basically, Neos want to destroy the system and give us freedom.

Some people would say that was an impractical dream. Some people would say that the majority of people, even if you showed them the world as Neoconservatives perceive it, they would want to stay in the world they know.

That's understandable, I guess. Not everyone is destined to be a Neo. But we will free them whether they want to be free or not.

Thank you, Dr Clam.

No worries.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Unposted Posts

"Are you going to put that in your blog?" asked Jenny (28% Clam nature) at the beginning of the year, seeing the secondhand copy of "Why we were in Vietnam" by Norman Podhoretz that I was reading. "Yes," I said. But I never have gotten around to it.

I wrote at least two straggly drafts of posts about Norman's book.

The first was the obvious one, about the similarities between then and now. It seemed like exactly the same two mistakes had been made:
In both cases there was a clear and compelling case for the war, but the governments that were pursuing the war never really bothered to argue it. In both cases there was a desire to do things on the cheap, and promise the electorate that it would be easier than the generals said it would. But these thoughts never really came together, and I couldn't find certain passages I thought I had read and wanted to quote so I didn't post anything.

The second was about unintended consequences of polemical writing. I had always considered the Vietnam War to be a ghastly mistake, until I read a book by John Pilger (many years ago now) that convinced me it was a noble and successful endeavour to save the rest of Southeast Asia- Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, etc.- from Communism. John Pilger didn't intend to convince me of that, of course, being a virulently anti-American looney, but he made a pretty convincing argument that the Vietnam War had been fought to strengthen the hand of Suharto and other right-wing strongmen and had been successful in doing so. This argument didn't come up in Norman's book, so I researched a little bit more, and found that Suharto had well and truly finished massacring the Indonesian Communists before American involvement in South Vietnam got underway, and that the Thai strongmen in 1975 were much less pro-American, and much less secure in their position, than the Thai strongmen in 1963. I guess that serves me right for trusting John Pilger.

I also read a book written by H. G. Wells in what was, I later found out, a very brief religious phase during the First World War. I suppose it was pretty innocuous, really, humanism tacked on to a finite emergent God like the one found in some of Frank Herbert's books, but in every line it was as though it was Weston writing, the evil demon-possessed scientist from C. S. Lewis's Perelandra. Was it just that H. G. Wells and C. S. Lewis came from the same age and wrote the same kind of prose? Or was Wells the model for Weston? I wrote a whole post about this but never posted it, either.

Lastly, I have been kicking around for at least a month the idea that the Reformation was inspired by Islam, and that the religion developed by the Reformers was a crude attempt to make Christianity into a less self-consistent version of Islam. But these tenuous stirrings haven't really come together.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Coupla graphs

Here is the scary CO2 graph; red points are the famous Mauna Loa data, blue points are from the number 1 ice-core study turned up by Google (

Here is the HadCRUT3 global temperature dataset for the same period at annual resolution; the solid black line is the best estimate value, the red band gives the 95% uncertainty range caused by station, sampling, and measurement errors, the green band adds the 95% uncertainty range due to limited coverage, and the blue band the 95% bias range due to bias errors.
Bias errors are urbanisation (the 'heat island' effect) and changes in thermometer exposure protocols over time. They have taken an urbanisation bias value of 0.055 C per century for their land values, which seems to be a consensus value. Some researchers they cite (i.e., not fruit loops) claim this may be as high as 0.3 C per century, but this figure incorporates both land and sea data so is not likely to be out by as much as that.

Here is my quick and dirty correlation of the two graphs above, with one data point every five years:

My naive extrapolation of graph (1) and graph (2) suggests that the mean global temperature ought to be bopping up and down one side or another of 0.0-0.2 degrees above today's mean c. 2030.

The nanny state taketh, and the nanny state giveth away

Being too disorganised to renew car registration on time: Unexpected $922 fine.

Being too disorganised to correctly calculate my share of the tax/benefit churn: Unexpected $1376 cheque.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

All the obituaries of Milton Friedman relate this little anecdote:

In 1962, Mr. Friedman took on President John F. Kennedy's popular inaugural exhortation: "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." In an introduction to "Capitalism and Freedom," a collection of his writings and lectures, he said President Kennedy had got it wrong: You should ask neither.

"What your country can do for you," Mr. Friedman said, implies that the government is the patron, the citizen the ward; and "what you can do for your country" assumes that the government is the master, the citizen the servant. Rather, he said, you should ask, "What I and my compatriots can do through government to help discharge our individual responsibilities, to achieve our several goals and purposes, and above all protect our freedom."

Milton Friedman forgot that John F. Kennedy was Irish Catholic in background, and hence knew that more often than not, the question: 'What can I do for my country?' should be answered: 'Shoot the landlord, and take to the hills with a rifle.'

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Global Warming, My Shiny Metal Arse

This increasing multipartisan consensus that Global Warming is occurring and is a Bad Thing is pushing me more and more into the 'Greenhouse Skeptic' camp.

I predict that the average temperatures in the place where I live now and the average temperature in the place where you live now, gentle reader, for the years 2026-2030, will be lower than for the years 2001-2005.
I'm happy to wager $1000 (in CPI-adjusted 2006 Australian dollars) on this prediction to the first three gentle readers who respond, even if they live in Southern Siberia.

I further predict that the net change in sea-level around the Pacific Ocean, once all local sinkings and risings of the crust are accounted for, will be not demonstrably different from zero over the years 2001-2030.

I predict finally that the relative magnitude of the costs incurred in avoiding global warming and the costs that can be with a reasonable degree of certainty be attributed to global warming will bear an eerie similarity to the 'Y2K' situation.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Lone Crescent State

All this talk about Rumsfeld reminds me of my preferred model for Middle Eastern democratisation. If I had been a member of the Neoconservative cabal surrounding Bush in 2003- a state of affairs fortunately impossible- I would have said something like this:

‘Once we have half a million men on the ground and have stabilised Iraq, we will need to organise some sort of referendum about their future. Of course, we are all hoping they will vote for a stable secular democracy. But how hard is it going to be to establish that, with Iran and Syria and all the unrepresentative swill in the neighbourhood keen to see democracy fail? So, let’s make one of the options on the referendum ‘Join the United States’. This manifest destiny thing has been on hold since the Spanish-American War and its time we got it rolling again. What is easier, constructing a functioning democracy from scratch or expanding an existing democracy? If the Iraqis go for that option, we can offer them the same deal we did Texas in 1845- option to form up to five states within the union, yadda yadda. They’ll never have to worry about a Democratic Congress stopping the flow of military aid in their time of future need, like happened to Vietnam in 1974. They’ll have the freedom to move anywhere within the United States, of course, so I expect given a choice they will come to Michigan and make money instead of blowing each other up. They’ll be grateful, so they’ll probably vote Republican. They’re certainly social conservatives, so they’ll get the country moving in the right direction. And they’re not Evangelical Christian social conservatives, so they will tend to balance out the peculiarities of the Evangelical Christian right.’

Monday, November 13, 2006


I spend much too much time meandering about the web, like most people nowadays. One place I visit far too often is Mark Steyn’s website, which is where I found the link to this sad little book review.

I am assuming the Mr Christian who wrote it is not one of the ones on Pitcairn Island, because I would expect a randomly selected inhabitant of a remote inbred island to write something more coherent. I am afraid, however, that you will have to read his book review if you want to make sense of the rest of this post.


Mark Steyn’s arguments may well be wrong. But they are not self-evidently wrong. It is not sufficient to repeat his premises without refutation, give his conclusions which follow logically from his premises, and then just state: ‘There certainly seems to be a large market for rants of this sort in the United States.’ What sort of feeble excuse for thought is that? O tempora, O mores!

Without any hint of irony, or even the rudimentary self-awareness of a mollusc, William Christian segues from:

(a) Mocking as ridiculous the idea that a strong Islamic faith might be incompatible with the core values of Western-culture-as-we-know-it, to

(b) Assuming that a strong Christian faith- an integral part of Western culture until a hundred years or so ago- is incompatible with the core values of Western-culture-as-we-know-it.

Mr Christian says that Christians said; ‘People who said that this wasn't a black-and-white issue simply didn't understand it.’ But look at the words he was using a few paragraphs before! ‘A woman’s right to choose,’ are not the words of someone attentive to shades of grey. They are the words of someone for whom abortion is a black-and-white issue, just with a different white and a different black.

And I hold this simile up for mockery: ‘Life is like a conversation. It is important to keep the conversation going. There is no defined conclusion that it is required to reach. It is the nature of an ideologue to demand the certainty of a conclusion.’

Perhaps there is no defined conclusion that it is required to reach, but I would hate to be dining with Mr Christian if he thinks that this obviates the need to reach some conclusion. ‘You want me to pick an entree? What are you, some kind of theoconservative ideologue? It is important that we keep talking about lunch, but only a fanatic would demand that we actually order something.’

In order to do anything, surely it is necessary to come to some sort of conclusion about what ends we want to achieve? And then come to some sort of conclusion about what means are best to achieve those ends? Obviously there will never be unanimity about either ends or means, but collectively we still must do something. Maybe Mr Christian really does believe that muddling along without explicitly defining either ends or means is noble and proper. But I think it is more likely that what he means by ‘conclusion’ is ‘conclusion different from my (self-evidently correct) conclusion’. Perhaps Mr Christian does not approve of the conclusions of Barry Goldwater and Andrew Sullivan that he quotes. But there is nothing in the review to suggest that he disapproves of them. There aren’t any weaselly statements like ‘appalled by this intolerance’. Sigh.

Friday, November 10, 2006

That eerie silence with a few chirping crickets... the sound of me not saying anything about the 34:32 vote in favour of therapeutic cloning in the Senate, nor the mid-term elections in the United States. Nor- you may have noticed- about NaNoWriMo.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Meandering through the stacks

Among the books I have fallen in with recently is a fairly slim volume written by Cecil Edward Chesterton (brother of Gilbert Keith) in 1916, the ‘Perils of Peace’. Its main theme is that the Prussian Empire must be thoroughly punished after the war to prevent it doing the same thing again. It is eerie to read someone innocently advocating something that we know in hindsight turned out really badly. He outlines a policy that sounds very like the policy that was eventually imposed at Versailles, but this is only his Plan B, and he recognises in a caveat that it can only be successful if the rest of Europe retains the will to enforce it and will be dangerous if they grow slack. His Plan A is for a thoroughgoing partition of the Germany more along the lines of what was done (temporarily) after World War Two. He presciently recognises the dangers in dismembering the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but not Germany: “For if the war leaves the Prussian Empire in being, even though reduced, while the Austrian Empire is dismembered, Prussia will certainly seek compensation by laying hands, sooner or later, on the German provinces of Austria (she would swallow Mr Shaw’s Austrian Republic at a gulp) and might ultimately emerge stronger in resources and more of a menace to European civilisation than ever.”
C. E. never got to write any second thoughts about any of this, since he went back to the Western front and was killed there.

I also re-read Erewhon. There is a little bit of good sense in the Erewhonian attitude to crime and disease. I am sure we would all look after ourselves much better if illness was seen as something disreputable and worthy of punishment. Conversely, I have always thought it is dreadful that our priests and sages can only say ‘well, don’t do that’ as guidance for dealing with temptation, rather than ‘take these drugs.’
I had forgotten that the narrator suggested the Erewhonians be induced to work on Queensland sugar plantations as the best way to effect their conversion to Christianity.

Oh, and how could I forget? The other day in Devil Bunny City I saw what appeared to be a scholarly work about the Cathars on the discount table of a bookstore and snapped it up eagerly. The first chapter seemed more favourable towards the Cathars than in other books I had read, but this was much as I expected, as those others were pretty much all written by the ideological descendants of the crusaders who wiped the Cathars out. Feeling the treatment of Cathar philosophy was a bit vague, I flipped idly ahead to get a feel for what the rest would be like, and found this on page 119: ‘In the preceding chapters I have dealt with Catharism as it is known to historians, theologians, and philosophers. In this section of the book I am concerned with what has been revealed to me of its deeper teachings. These have been communicated by a group of discarnate entities.’
Oh dear.