space elevator physics

I don't have access to USENET right now, so I can't get immediate consultation with other people in the physics community, but I think that Steven Den Beste's analysis of space elevator physics is omitting some facts which IMHO ameliorate the pendulum effect he describes. He writes:

Thinking of this as an elevator in a building is the wrong model, because a building is stiff. The right way to think of it is as a weight hanging from a string. At my altitude with my orbital velocity, such a weight hangs "down". At the altitude of the proposed counterweight, it hangs "up". (Actually, it's "down" too by definition. But it's the direction that we on the earth think of as "up".) But in every other way it's very similar. What you're talking about is the world's largest pendulum.
So you got your elevator crawling up the kevlar ribbon, and like the elevator in the building, it is not only forcing itself and its passengers "up", but also "sideways". To reach the classic geosynchronous orbital altitude, you not only have to pick up a lot of altitude, but also several kilometers per second of lateral velocity.
What will happen is that as the elevator rises, it's also going to be forced to the side:
When an elevator climbs this ribbon, it's going to make the counterweight start to swing back and forth, with a very long period. (It's impossible to calculate the period without knowing the mass of the counterweight and its altitude and the mass per kilometer of the ribbon, but it's going to be on the order of hours or days.) When the elevator goes back down, it will cause lateral force in the opposite direction, but that may not necessarily be helpful; it all depends on when it goes and how long it takes to reach the ground and which side the counterweight has swung to. It's actually possible for a descending elevator to increase the swing. It doesn't necessarily automatically decrease it.

If I understand the space elevator concept, it is designed to be built at the equator. The centrifugal force (not centripetal) applies to the eleator structure itself, which would keep it rigid. Also, the mass of the elevator is so huge that the mass of any cargo and the cabs that traverse the elevator is negligible in comparison, so they won't have much effect. Fundamentally, the space elevator is a transformer, turning the Earth's rotational energy into kinetic energy.

I may have a BS in physics, but my MS is in Medical Physics and MRI theory, so I am NOT an expert on dynamics. So I may be grossly wrong.

war on Islam

This is an insult to the faith of such magnitude, that there's really no other way to interpret it:

BAGHDAD, Iraq � World War II had its "krauts," Vietnam had its "gooks," and now, the war on terrorism has its own dehumanizing name: "hajji."

That's what many U.S. troops across Iraq and in coalition bases in Kuwait now call anyone from the Middle East or South Asia. Soldiers who served in Afghanistan say it also is used there.

Among Muslims, the word is used mainly as a title of respect. It means "one who has made the hajj," the pilgrimage to Mecca.

But that's not how soldiers use it.

Some talk about "killing some hajjis" or "mowing down some hajjis." One soldier in Iraq inked "Hodgie Killer" onto his footlocker.


time travel sucks

Phlegmatic has a good post on how dumb it is to use time travel as a literary device. I've also loathed it for ages. In fact, as Phlegm also notes, the only one to get it right was Douglas Adams.

As Ford patiently explains to Arthur on prehistoric earth, "we've gone backwards and forwards through time to end up here. We know the future but we can't change it because we've seen it, it's already happened." The concept of "already happened" is a curious one, we humans tend to misunderstand it because we only look at time in the forward direction. But everything that happens, happens.

This is also why an omniscient God does not invalidate free will. For example, God knows exactly what I am about to do, and might even adjust the Universe accordingly. But at no point did my choice become predestined - any more than Hitler was predestined to slaughter 6 million human beings just because I read about it in my history book. (I've written on this before)

The larger question is whether to take the many worlds theory seriously. You can prove quite simply that it cannot coexist with the idea of time travel (thus rendering every single fictional work about time travel using th emany worlds theory to resolve the inherent paradoxes, a pure fantasy, not science fiction). Like so:

- if there are an infinitely many worlds (ie, realities/timelines etc), and time travel is possible, then there must be an infinite subset of worlds where time travel is invented

- if there are an infinite number of worlds where time travel has been invented, then there must be an infinite subset of which will use it to travel to London Bridge, 1/1/2001.

- the date 1/1/2001 is arbitrary, since there are an infinite number of potential visitors for any date, since all dates have significance.

- the location London Bridge is arbitrary, since there are an infinite number of potential visitors for any location, since all locations have significance.

Therefore, if time travel is possible, at any given instant of time, we will be inundated with an infinite number of travelers from the future arriving at all points on Earth simultaneously, from all the possible futures that branched off from the instant of time in question.

Since we are reasonably certain that this has not happened, either time travel is impossible or the many worlds theory is impossible.

Personally, since my religion mandates absolute free will and also mandates the omniscience of God, I find the many worlds hypothesis to be impossible on theological grounds also. But note that if many worlds is impossible, then time travel becomes neutered (though still possible), in that any action taken by a time traveler becomes part of history itself and can therefore represent no paradox.

It already happened.


Magneto appeal

While continuing our conversation, Dan Darling makes an incredibly insightful analogy, that you have to be part geekboy to really appreciate:

I also understand how easy it is for angry or resentful individuals to fall under the sway of a demagogue who promises to provide a means to vent out their frustrations on the people or nations responsible for them. This is one of the main reasons why I think that so much support for bin Laden exists within the Arab world, as I've noted before, he has what I call "Magneto appeal."

In the fictional universe of Marvel Comics, mutants are feared, persecuted, repressed, and in various alternate realities finally exterminated by robotic Sentinels. Magneto takes those mutants have suffered oppression or seen those who have and after explaining that they are involved in a zero-sum situation, offers to help them vent out their anger on those responsible for their plight: humanity. This is one of the reasons why I hold that the war on terror is and always was more about power than it ever was about religion.

Instantly added to my vocabulary.

I find the rest of his argument compelling. He has shifted the center of mass of my thinking on Sadr, for the moment I just intend to see what happens next.

UPDATE: Dan provides some more detail on the analogy, and make an important corollary point:

That is the greatest weakness of the war on terror to date, as Rohan Gunaratna notes in his book: the failure to create the necessary counter-ideology among Muslims to those of such individuals as bin Laden or al-Zawahiri. In Marvel terms, we don't have a Charles Xavier to counter bin Laden's Magneto as far as international appeal among Muslims goes.

That counter-ideology is key to the war on terror - and this is partly the argument of the neocons, that a free Iraq would generate such a counter-idoelogy out of thin air. However, the problem with how the Iraq project was pursued was that there was not enough planning, which means that the democratic Iraq is not necessarily the most probable outcome anymore (case in point: Sadr).

The more I think about where we are headed - even if Bush is defeated in 2004 - I think that its highly unlikely that Iraq can avoid a theocratic fate. Even if democracy is imposed by a sovereign Council, the mistakes made by the occupation forces have already created the Magneto appeal. Dan's suggestion that Sadr has "hijacked" the Shi'a is not the right word - a better one is "coup". Sadr's support is real and the people who support him do so willingly. They will have the power to leave their mark upon Iraq regardless.

I posed the question well before the war, just how free do we want Iraq? What if the Iraqis elect a theocratic government?

In the end, the path to peace might well lie along Iran's path. That's scary, because Iran hasnt traveled that path completely yet either...

There was an indepth profile of Sadr, maybe in the CSM, but I am not exactly sure. Someone fwded me the link and I've lost it. It was a journalist interview who actually went to Iraq and observed Sadr holding court, and was superbly detailed as well as maintaining a tone of skepticism throughout. I remember one part where Sadr admonishes someone who had been a looter, saying that the spoils of looting are haram (forbidden) ... If someone out there can help me find it, please let me know.


iTunes for Windows

I like it. I really do - but as I commented on the iTunes feedback form, I do have some minor gripes:

I am very impressed with ITunes thus far - kudos on a very inuitive and powerful application.

I have some comments however - none of which are deal-breakers, but are what I would consider a smothing out of rough edges, especially for a Windows and Unix user like myself.

1. Ogg support. Please add an Ogg Vorbis encoder and decoder to the ITunes import and play capabilities. Ogg is a free codec and costs nothing to license. Please see www.vorbis.com for details.

2. Please include a Wizard upon first-run so that basc and important options and preferences can be set to the user's desired defaults. The settings such as which music codec to default to for importing, and whether iTunes should copy music files to the ITunes folder, are the most important ones. Please do NOT default to AAC encoding, as Windows users typically have MP3-compliant portable music players only.

In fact, the intuitiveness of your interface (insert disc, press "Import") for importing music worked against me, because I had already imported about 10 CDs vefore I realized it was all in AAC format. This forced me to start over and was a massive waste of time. Give us a choice up front so this can be avoided.

3. Aesthetics. Please include a "View" submenu where Artwork and View options and other interface widgets can be consolidated. This wil adhere better to standard Windows UI design. The location of Preferences under Edit was especially confusing, and was why i missed the fact I could default to MP3 instead of AAC encoding (see point 2 above).

Also, it would be nice if ITunes had an option to use the Windows theme instead of the Aqua lookalike.

Summary - the Windows version needs to play nicely. It needs to remember that we are using this app in the context of our environment - and the settings, UI choices, andgeneral behavior needs to respect that fact. Intuitiveness can be counterintuitive if you dont follow the rules of the pond.

The app is a joy to use however, once I got past these initial snafus. I may buy music in the future from the music store and I am even considering buying an iPod. But I hope that the next version of ITunes does address these concerns.

PS. Is it possible to combine QuickTime and iTunes into a single app? I would greatly enjoy being able to sort my video (esp trailers of movies downloaded from the web or Apples own site) the same way i do my music.

Bottom line - dump whatever programs you currently use for ripping CDs and managing playlists. Use iTunes. It's just better. But not perfect... but given Apple's history of claiming perfection, I intend to hold them accountable to their own standard.

Shehrullah il-Moazzam 1424H

O Allah! This is the month of Ramadan in which descended the Qur'an as a guide to mankind and a criterion to separate truth from falsehood. O Allah! Bless us in the month of Ramadan, and give us Your help and accept our ibadat, for You have power over all things.

There is no god but Allah. We seek Your forgiveness. O Allah! Grant us Paradise and save us from Hellfire.
Mubarak to all on the holy month of Shehrullah il Moazzam. Please remember me and my family in your precious dua during Ramadan.


General Boykin and the vast left-wing muslim conspiracy

Yourish has a report from her breakfast with Daniel Pipes up, and the part that caught my interest was Pipes' interpretation of the General Boykin flap.

Boykin, a Christian evangelical, made comments to a Christian group that described the battle agains Islam and a clash with the devil. Boykin has apologized for these remarks, but says he was taken out of context (the similarity to Easterbrook's apology is quite striking). The Pentagon initially defended Boykin and is now investigating whether he violated regs by making the comments whil on duty in uniform. He will not be asked to resign.

(my opinion on Boykin: much like Easterbrook, he made a valid point in a truly reprehensible way. As with Easterbrook, his apology speaks volumes more than the original comment. Whether he is guilty of violating regs is another matter but I'm simply not interested in that issue).

What is more interesting is Pipes' analysis:

Pipes said that he is being silenced because Boykin criticized Islam. "There is an attempt by Muslim organizations to silence criticism of Islam." Pipes spoke briefly about American Muslim organizations trying to prevent his appointment as another example of silencing criticism. Pipes was also very clear about where he stands on Islam. He said the problem isn't Islam, it is Islamic fascists. He said that the war isn't really a war on terror, it's a war on the ideology behind the terrorists.

I don't disagree with Pipes' main point, in fact it's one of my themes as well. I can't believe that Pipes has the same enmity for Islam as the LGF commentors do, for example, or that many muslims have against Judaism.

But I think it does take a certain animus towards American Muslims as a group to paint the reaction to Boykin's poorly-phrased comments as the work of a concerted conspiratorial attempt by muslims to silence "criticism of Islam". Boykin did not make the distinction between Islam and fanatics in his comments, and until his apology it was not clear that he even understood that distinction. Pipes betrays his own attitude that any defense of Islam is objectively pro-terrorist, and imself fails to understand that sometimes Islam itself does indeed come under attack.

It's a trivial excercise to replace "Islam" with Judaism" in Boykin's statements and speculate about the reaction. It would have been much the same if not greater, with good reason. Islam is not a valid target either.

I find the argument that muslims are silencing criticism to be ironic, given the fact that he precedes topse comments by muslim animus towards Judaism. There are certainly parallels galore here.



(warning: lots of blog-quotes. If you want to know what I think, scroll to the end). These are the offending grafs from the post that caused Gregg Easterbrook to be fired from ESPN:

Corporate sidelight: Kill Bill is distributed by Miramax, a Disney studio. Disney seeks profit by wallowing in gore--Kill Bill opens with an entire family being graphically slaughtered for the personal amusement of the killers--and by depicting violence and murder as pleasurable sport. Disney's Miramax has been behind a significant share of Hollywood's recent violence-glorifying junk, including Scream, whose thesis was that murdering your friends and teachers is a fun way for high-school kids to get back at anyone who teases them. Scream was the favorite movie of the Columbine killers.

Set aside what it says about Hollywood that today even Disney thinks what the public needs is ever-more-graphic depictions of killing the innocent as cool amusement. Disney's CEO, Michael Eisner, is Jewish; the chief of Miramax, Harvey Weinstein, is Jewish. Yes, there are plenty of Christian and other Hollywood executives who worship money above all else, promoting for profit the adulation of violence. Does that make it right for Jewish executives to worship money above all else, by promoting for profit the adulation of violence? Recent European history alone ought to cause Jewish executives to experience second thoughts about glorifying the killing of the helpless as a fun lifestyle choice. But history is hardly the only concern. Films made in Hollywood are now shown all over the world, to audiences that may not understand the dialogue or even look at the subtitles, but can't possibly miss the message--now Disney's message--that hearing the screams of the innocent is a really fun way to express yourself.

Most excerpting of the statements above don't include the paragraph about Miramax - but I found it relrevant for context of the final one which spurred the controversy. The invited accusation of anti-Semitism predictably came from Yourish, who responds:

WTF? Did he just blame Jews for being greedy, money-grubbing Hollywood executives partly responsible for today's real-life violence? Did he just say that because of the Holocaust, Jews should know better than to allow films that depict mindless violence to be made on their watch? And is he actually implying in that last sentence that Jewish film executives are partly responsible for Muslim terrorism?...
That is one unbelievable ethical standard to hold Jews up to. That's right, the Jews have to be the most righteous among all nations, because six million of ours were slaughtered. Your logic is missing a crucial step here, though. The Jews weren't slaughtered in the Holocaust as a result of people reading the violent popular fiction of the day. The Jews were slaughtered because of bigotry and hatred.

(note that Yourish does not call Easterbrook an anti-Semite, but calls his words anti-Semitic. Important and subtle difference). Easterbrook duly apologized, and clarified what he intended by his remarks:

Nothing's worse, as a writer, than so mangling your own use of words that you are heard to have said something radically different than what you wished to express. Of mangling words, I am guilty.
How, I wondered, could anyone Jewish--members of a group who suffered the worst act of violence in all history, and who suffer today, in Israel, intolerable violence--seek profit from a movie that glamorizes violence as cool fun?
I'm ready to defend all the thoughts in that paragraph. But how could I have done such a poor job of expressing them?

In other words, Gregg apologizes for the packaging, but not the content. The full apology is worth reading in full beyond this excerpt. Yourish finds the apology adequate and argues in his defense that he shouldn't have been fired. Yourish also writes about the casual anti-Semitism of civil society as the rationale for her anger. She also points to another writer who explains why Jews shouldn't be held to a higher standard even though their religious beliefs postulate that they are bound to one, and this interesting survey of reactions that hints at wider social implications of the whole affair, and this bit by Jeff Jarvis about how many are using it to promote their own agendas. The epic flamewar between Yourish, Diana, and Judith takes place in the comments of that last link.

What do I think?

If I read it correctly, he says that Jewish executives should not use the fact that Christian executives profit from the adulation of violence, as carte blanche to profit from the adultion of violence themselves. He says that recent European history should be a disincentive to Jews especially from glorifying fictional violence for any reason.

I have to note here that as a muslim, I am accused of having a religious and cultural indoctrination in favor of anti-Semitism. Any critique I make of Israel, for example, can and should be interpreted through the lens of muslim anti-semitism. And as a muslim, I am held to a higher standard of critique against any Jewish institution, because what I say may ultimately enable that institutionalized angti-semitism of my coreligionists and in the end translate directly to real harm against Jews.

If you accept that premise (which i do not), then certainly the actions of Jewish executives such as Eisner and Weinstein are likewise causal[1], though of course in that latter case the glorification of violence is a general one and not necessarily aimed at Jews alone. So I perceive some contradiction in attitudes amongst his accusers.

I don't have any real sympathy for Easterbrook, since he made a fair point unnecessarily complicated (the argument would have stood alone without any reference to anyone's religion or to European history).

Easterbrook does get a pass on the question of being an anti-Semite, presumably because he is not muslim and thus lacks the perceived institutionalized hate that my religion supposedly bestows. Had he been muslim, Yourish would not have regretted his firing, nor would the question be why was what he said anti-Semitic? , it would have started firmly at Why is he anti-Semitic? and moved quickly to why are muslims anti-Semitic?

For this I am thankful, because in answering why what he said was anti-Semitic, there was much interesting discussion about Jewish beliefs and the whole higher standard thing. But having been on the receiving end of an accusation of anti-Semitism myself, I see that the concept of higher standards is not a problem uniquely faced by Jews.

And what of the casual[2] anti-semitism of civil society? Yourish's examples are of course unfortunate, but the net harm appears to have been hurt feelings. I don't rank anti-semitism in this ocuntry as any greater a scourge than I would, say, the anti-muslimism that I endure without complaint at airports. I actually have had eggs thrown at me and been spit upon, and called a rag-head, all of which was before 9-11. And I think I get off pretty easy: I'm not a black man. I see Yourish's invocation of a deep strain of endemic anti-Semitism as more victimization of victimhood.

[1] CAUSAL: to cause.
[2] CASUAL: not formal.

al-Sadr: proto Khomeini? only if we make him

The Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is an interesting figure. I've compiled a number of links as I try to find out more information, and have come away with the conviction that he's being drastically mis-represented by our media and by supporters of the war.

Consider this typical link from Winds of Change:

Iranian-backed Shi'ite leader Muqtada al-Sadr is warning the US to stay out of Sadr City, Baghdad's largest Shi'ite area. Al-Sadr is also calling for a Khomeinist-style theocratic government independent of the United States.

The first link leads to a "fisking" of the real story at The Financial Times (reg reqd). The clear attitude is that anyone who refuses entry to US troops into their neighborhood must have nefarious motives - but as first-hand reports of abuses by the occupying forces against civilian innocents demonstrates, there are good reasons for Iraqis to distrust their benevolent overlords.

The second link is a gross smear. The article actually quotes Sadr:

"I have decided and I have formed a government made up of several ministries, including ministries of justice, finance, information, interior, foreign affairs, endowments and the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice," the young cleric had said.

"If you agree, I ask you to demonstrate peacefully in order to express you support," al-Sadr had exhorted.

Nowhere is mention of a Khomeini-style theocracy. Sadr's spokesmen have in fact explicitly rejected the Iranian model:

Abbas al-Robai, one of al-Sadr's Baghdad aides, denied that the movement wants to create an Iranian-style state. ``What we are after is a democracy with an Islamic character, not a religious state,'' he said.

Though of course, since Sadr's appeal is primarily to the poor, there is already signs that Sadr's movement is attracting exacty the kind of religiously intolerant thugs that are the greatest threat to the development of such a democracy:

With unemployment running at 60-70 percent, al-Sadr's lieutenants have not found it difficult to recruit from poor Shiite areas in Baghdad and in the southern region of Iraq despite the movement's lack of a clear political vision for the country and al-Sadr's modest religious qualifications.
Many in Karbala, Najaf and Sadr City, a mainly Shiite area in east Baghdad named after al-Sadr's slain father, have expressed anger over the heavy-handed attempts by al-Sadr's followers to impose a stricter version of Islamic teachings.
residents in Sadr City, home to some 2 million Shiites, complain that shops selling compact discs and cassettes deemed immoral by al-Sadr supporters have been trashed or torched and say women not adhering to the strict Islamic dress code in public were being harassed on the streets.

(Let me make note here that I am Shi'a, but am an Ismaili Bohra, not the Ithna Ashari sect that dominates Iraq. I don't believe in the return of the Mahdi. I don't acknowledge any of the Shi'a clerics in Iraq as authoritative on religious issues).

There is a definite threat here, but centered not on Sadr, IMHO. Rather, it is the threat that the lack of Iraqi leadership is allowing religion to fill the political vaccuum. But the religious aspect of the future Iraqi state cannot be minimized, either - Iraq is NOT a place for pure separation of church and state (which I strongly and fervently support here in the US).

If Iraq is truly going to reflect the culture and personality of its people, then its future government does indeed need to incorporate Islam in some way. The problem with the American occupation and the governing council and Chalabi is that they do not demonstrate an awareness of the role that Islam needs to play.

Most critics seem to forget that the Iranian revolution was embraced willingly from within, not imposed from above by Khomeini. In fact, that makes the Islamic Revolution in Iran essentially unique - and also is why the flaws of the Islamic theocracy model are so clear to the vast bulk of the Iranian population today, who are striving for reform. But the point is that it was a natural process of growth. Iran's theocracy has a finite lifetime, and will soon fade, from internal forces. The result will be a truer and more robust synthesis of Islam and democracy (assuming that the US or Israel do not play the role of external threat, which might interrupt the process).

In 25 years, Iran will be a powerful ally. Iraq might well be where Iran is today, if Sadr eventually is elected from his growing base of support and leads Iraq towards a more religious identity. But if our intentions towards Iraq are true, then we have to at some point let Iraq make these decisions for itself.

However, if Sadr is made into a scapegoat and bogeyman figure, it will radicalize his base, and push them further from the path that eventually leads to democracy. Juan Cole notes that the Governing Council is trying to link Sadr with Ba'athist remnants, which makes no sense if you stop to think about the idoelogies involved. Sadr is also being accused of coordinating the bombings in Najaf that killed al-Hakim. And Billmon has more insight into the demonization process.

But what Sadr has actually done is provide Iraqis with a sense of true leadership. Unlike the Governing council which is widely regarded as a puppet of the US, Sadr is making a case for Iraqi sovereignity and control. Unlike the cleric al-Sistani, who has recused himself from political leadership, Sadr is asserting the importance of Islam in the future of Iraq in a tangible way. And he is taking the initiative for providing security and infrastructure that the occupying forces have still failed to provide to a majority of Iraqis.

Sadr is not a unifying figure yet, and doesn't have the broad support that he claims. But he does represent a non-trivial fraction of the Iraqi viewpoint. Attempting to marginalize or worse, demonize him will only guarantee the worst-case scenario.


loshon hara

This flamewar between Meryl Yourish, Judith Weiss, and Diana Moon in the comments thread at Jeff Jarvis' blog (Buzzmachine) is worrisome to me. I don't exactly have a record of great relations with any of the three combatants - in fact all three have called me an anti-Semite. But it's troubling to see three bloggers whose sense of purpose is so similar, squabbling like this. I regularly read Yourish because she does represent a perspective I want to understand, and try to factor into my awareness. This process does not require agreement, just awareness.

Diana emerges from the affair as a more thoughtful analyst than I had previously given her credit for. She claims she represents the silent majority of Jews who were not offende by Easterbrook's recent remarks (which I've not actually read). My recollection was that she had been exactly the type to take offense, but either her attitudes have shifted since our last encounter, or I am simply wrong and have misjudged.

Still, the whole discussion is somehow disturbing in that it shatters my simplistic binary image of Jewish attitudes towards anti-Semitism. It has convinced me that I need to re-read the Easterbrook offending article and try to understand what he was saying, and the offense it caused. There's something here of value, for it to be a catalyst of such a unique exchange.

UPDATE: To put my previous disagreements with Diana in context, see this post of mine and a good meta-commentary by Miranda.


losing the peace: cheap labor

It's great we are building schools in Iraq. But it's NOT great that we are doing it with cheap imported labor from Asia. via TPM, the article in the Financial Times last Tuesday:

�We don't want to overlook Iraqis, but we want to protect ourselves," the US Army colonel who heads the Coalition Provisional Authority's procurement office told the paper. "From a force protection standpoint, Iraqis are more vulnerable to a bad guy influence."
"Iraqis are a security threat," says a Pakistani manager in Baghdad for the Tamimi Company, based in the Saudi city of Dammam, which is contracted to cater for 60,000 soldiers in Iraq. "We cannot depend on them."
The company, which has 12 years' experience feeding US troops in the Gulf, employs 1,800 Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis and Nepalese in its kitchens. It uses only a few dozen Iraqis for cleaning.

In the dusty backyard of the US administrators' Baghdad palace, south Asians, housed 12 to a Saudi-made temporary cabin, organise 180,000 meals a day for US troops and administrators.

A Tamimi manager says the company pays an average salary of one Saudi riyal (Dollars 3) a day and grants leave once every two years. The contracts are awarded by Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR), a subsidiary of Halliburton, which in 2001 won its second Logistics Civil Augmentation Program, or Logcap, contract to sub-contract the supply of US military provisions. The Logcap is open-ended and its Iraqi share is worth "in excess of Dollars 2bn", according to officials of the Defence Contract Management Agency in Baghdad.

Though Marshall initially accepts the security premise for the policy, an email from a reader suggests otherwise:

Josh: I just read your FT blog - to a certain extent I think this rationale of the "Iraqis can't be trusted" is a bunch of hoo ha.
UAE: 20% of the pop is local. Of the 80% of the expat pop, fully 75% are subcontinenters. Why? Dirt cheap, much cheaper than the Arabs (imported or otherwise).

Of the international construction firms here, they all use minimum of 80% subcontinenters (i.e. the Halliburton and Bechtel types take all the money).

Bottom line: wages are a function of the price of living in the home countries. The price of living for subcontinenters in the subcontinent is nothing. E.g. I pay my Indian maid USD 300 month of which she supports a family of 10 people in Bombay and still manages to save probably 50% of her salary here in Dubai.

When you prepare city plans you have to do population studies first, e.g. existing and forecasted pop, breakdown of population by M/F and ethnic mix, et al. Why? as an example - the low wage Indians are in construction camps w/o dependents- I need land for construction camps for them, not houses; they also do not own cars so I don't need to factor in their "trips" as car trips, I factor them in as bus trips since they are bused everywhere, etc.

The reader misses one additional point - much of the imported labor is from Pakistan, not India. That means that the same security risk applies as with Iraqis! It is clearly a financial calculation, not a security one.

I know of many many families from India and Pakistan who have moved to Dubai and other middle east countries for precisely this reason, so I have much corroborating information. Coupled with the many reports of how money is being misspent in Iraq, this is amounting to an outrage for both Americans (whose money is being wasted) and Iraqis (who are being exploited).

den beste defense...

...is a good offense, so I'm going to blog once and for all why I like Steven's writing and thus hopefully stave off any more snarky comments or email that inevitably result whenever I'm inspired to blog by something he wrote. This is my definitive last word on the subject, so [DWL]!

Steven writes for much the same reason I do - it's about process, not popularity. In fact, I take it further than he does - unlike him, I don't even keep a hit counter on UNMEDIA because I'd be too interested in my traffic stats, and that would influence my writing. And the process of writing is not just mechanics, it's an integral piece of how I excercise my right of self-expression. That right, collectively excercised by all Americans, is what makes our culture so vibrant and innovative, and what keeps our liberty alive[1].

The idea is that honest and open and unrestricted debate gives ideas a chance to thrive and compete and most importantly, evolve. If you argue with yourself in an echo chamber, then it'snot surprising you find agreement - but agreement is not the end goal. I deliberately read Steven's writing because he makes his best argument for what he believes, and looks for that debate. It's doubtful I'll ever convince him he's wrong on an issue, but thats as much a matter of personality as anything else. But what it does achieve is a rigor that appeals to my peer-review oriented approach to problem solving. Steven's arguments are the gold standard to disagree against. He takes the time and makes the effort to put the complete argument together, and thus keeps the debate focused by giving me a clear target with which to disagree, and a clear rationale of why[2]. There isn't a single blogger out there who does this as well.

In the end, it's a matter of selfishness - reading Steven makes me a better writer, and gives my ideas and my writing more power. And we share that goal - of putting our points of view out there into the public domain so that they can go forth and compete.

[1] One of the areas in which i difer from Steven is the relative importance of keeping our culture open vs the war on terror. The worst that Al-Qaeda could do was martyr 3000 American heroes who died in the name of an open society. And clear out some inconsequential real estate. The damage that we inflict upon ourselves out of fear is far worse. As the New Hampshire state motto says, Live free or die. Patrick Henry wrote, Give me liberty or give me death. And Thomas Jefferson said that the tree of liberty must be watered with the blood of patriots (and tyrants). I am sure Steven agrees with all of this, but he still supports the Bush Administration, which clearly does not. The New Republican Party is a danger to the American way of life, whereas Al Qaeda is a danger to American lives. And fascism is a cancer that only grows in liberty.
[2] Of course it isnt always disagreement.


tech watch: second city

The city of Taipei has dethroned Kuala Lumpur - the Petronas Towers are no longer the "world's tallest" :

TAIPEI (Reuters) - The Taipei 101 office block has attained its full height of 508 metres (1,667 feet), unseating Malaysia's Petronas Towers as the world's tallest building.

At a ceremony on Friday witnessed by officials and business leaders, a 60-metre (197-ft) spire capped the 101-storey structure, officially making it taller than the 452-metre (1,483-feet) twin towers in Kuala Lumpur.

What I like about this tower is what I also liked about the Petronas - the design evokes traditional architecture of the region. Whereas Petronas was an eight-pointed star in the mode of Islamic architecture, the Taipei101 has its own nod to Chinese architectural heritage:

It is one of the few supertalls in the world in which the design inspiration comes from traditional Chinese buildings. The tower's design and specifications are all based on the "8", a lucky number in traditional Chinese culture. This kind of "8-design" was also widely used in the Jin Mao Tower in Shanghai.

It's worth noting however that there are FOUR definitions of "height" when used in ranking the world's tallest buildings:

Tip Height is defined as the vertical elevation from the base to the highest man-made part of the building, or any fixed attachment thereto, whichever is higher. This includes flagpoles, antennae, fences, cooling towers, signs, aircraft warning lights, and all kinds of chimneys. Mobile parts such as extendable signs may be included in the measurement as long as the variation of their heights is regular; in this case the maximum height shall constitute the tip height. Attachments such as flags, loose ropes or wires, and trees shall not be considered.

Structural Height is defined as the vertical elevation from the base to the highest architectural or integral structural element of the building. This includes fixed sculptures, decorative and architectural spires, ornamental fences, parapets, balustrades, decorative beacons, masonry chimneys, and all other architecturally integral elements along with their pedestals.

Roof Height is defined as the vertical elevation from the base to the highest exterior portion of the shell enclosing the building's interior space. This excludes spires, parapets, and other protruding non-habitable elements. In the event of ambiguity between the enclosing "shell" and the projecting element, then the roof's thickness shall be established by setting its height 10 cm above the highest reach of inhabitable space inside the building.

Highest Occupied Floor Height is defined as the elevation from the base to the top of the floor slab of the highest occupiable interior level, excluding mechanical, storage, or stairway penthouses whose walls are set back from the perimeter of the highest non-mechanical floor. In the event that the floorplate is not of uniform level, then its height shall be defined as the median height taken across its entire area.

Until the Petronas Towers were built, the Sears Tower in Chicago held all four titles. Petronas displaced the Sears Tower only by virtue of an enormous spire, which was part of the architectural design but did not actually have usable space. Thus Petronas got a boost to its Structural height by virtue of its spire, but the Sears Tower actually remained the leader in Highest Occupied Floor, and Roof, and Tip. Unfortunately, Structural height is the one used in the public domain to assert the title of Tallest. You can see that the Sears was taller by far in every intuitive sense of the word by looking at the scale drawing below (taken from skyscrapers.org). And the illustration actually omits the Sears' antennae masts. From left to right: World Trade Center NYC, Sears Tower, Petronas Towers.

However, with the advent of the Taipei101, the Sears Tower is truly second-tallest in the Occupied Floor category. Even those of us diehards who have defended the Sears Tower all these years have to admit defeat. But at least the unworthy Petronas are finally unmasked as the impostors they are[1].

UPDATE: Here's a scale diagram comparison of Taipei101, Sears, and Petronas.

[1] and since I'm originally from Chicago, and was born in 1974 the same year as the Sears, I'm particularily sensitive to the issue. Imagine if the Yankees were turned into the Red Sox overnight by virtue of a fan catching a ball in the stands for a sense of the injustice. Taipei101 coming online is thus equivalent to the Cubs subsequently beating the Red Sox. The Yankee fans would find some solace in this, I am sure, and I do too.


DDB: tyranny of the majority, tyranny of the minority

Steven explains why Instant Runoff Voting is a bad thing, because it would give too much power to smaller parties, and also explains why the Electoral College is a good thing, because it preserves the representation of voters living in small states. It's not a contradiction.

Too often I see "progressives" (ie, Kucinich supporters, Greens, etc) calling for abolition of the Electoral College and also clamoring for IRV. The net result of adopting both changes would be to give power to fringe political interests and simultaneously degrade the representation of voters in small states and rural areas. A better cause for people concerned with fairness might be repeal of the 17th Amendment...

SDB's essays are essential reading to understand in clear terms why we must preserve the EC and never adopt IRV.

UPDATE: In response to a commentor who argues that the empowerment of the fringe vote is a feature, not a bug, Steven responds:

The basic question of whether minority political positions should or should not be able to influence the system is judgment call, a matter of philosophy. My opinion is that on balance the consequences would be more negative than positive, but it's not something which can be proved one way or the other.

Agreed that its partially a philosophical opinion, but I think the analogous economic philosophies would be Soviet centrally planned socialism and free-range Honk Kong capitalism. There probably is some middle ground. But the get-IRV/dump-EC combo would put us firmly at one extreme, whereas right now we are nowhere near the other end (though we'd get closer if we dumped the 17th amendment).

It is to an extent a philosophical issue, but one that has solid empirical support, if you consider European governance as an example. Any suggestion that our political system is unstable or ineffective is laughable compared to those. An economic analogy would be the difference in philosophy between centrally-planned Societ socialism and unfetterred Hong Kong capitalism. At present the American economy leans centrist with a strong HK (rightwards) tilt.

The political system we use also has a left-right spectrum, with abolishment of the EC and adoption of IRV forming the extreme far-left end. Whereas at the extreme right end, we would have no direct elections of our representatives at all (they would presumably be appointed by the State legislatures). Repeal of the 17th Amendment would be a recalibrating step rightwards, to the sweet spot defined by the Founders.

I can't stand here listenin' to you and your racist friend

GOP: Pandering to Racists. via Calpundit, ArchPundit, and Political Wire:

The smiling guy in the middle is Haley Barbour, chairman of the Republican party from 1993-1997 and currently a candidate for governor of Mississippi. And where was Barbour when this picture was taken? Why, at the Black Hawk Barbecue and Political Rally, held on July 19 to raise money for � wink wink, nudge nudge � "private academy" school buses.

Still not clear on what the problem is? The BHBPR is sponsored by the fine gentlemen of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a bunch of well-known racist neanderthals based out of Missouri. I think most of my readers are probably aware of the CCC's handiwork, but in case you aren't you might want to visit their website and browse around. You can start with "In Defense of Racism," and then head over to "the TRUTH about Martin Luther King," and then finish up with "Angry White Female" and a report from the Mississippi chapter about how Abraham Lincoln was an imperialist warmonger.

You get the picture. As they themselves put it, "The C of CC recognizes that European Christian heritage is essential for the survival of our standard of living and way of life. There is no acceptable substitute for the civilization that has evolved through the Greeks, Romans, Celts, and Anglo-Saxons."

The CCC has a long history with Mississippi politicians - including a recent affair with Trent Lott in 1999. Big surprise, that. As one Calpundit commentator put it, "After expressing regret that a white supremacist failed to win the presidency, Trent Lott was demoted to the 4th most powerful job in the Senate." And hey don't forget Ashcroft's own ties to this group.

By the way, the photo above is taken directly from the CofCC web site, with the following caption:

The election year Mississippi Black Hawk Barbecue and Political Rally held on July 19 drew dozens of political candidates and was attended by a crowd of over 500. The Black Hawk Barbecue is sponsored by the Council of Conservative Citizens to raise money for private academy school buses. (Pictured L-R: Chip Reynolds, State Senator Bucky Huggins, Ray Martin, GOP gubernatorial nominee Haley Barbour, John Thompson, and Black Hawk Rally emcee and C of CC Field Director Bill Lord.

Barbour has feigned ignorance of the CCC, but ArchPundit has the goods. Andrew Sullivan asks, "Who does he think he's kidding?"


bwahaha! hahha ha. heh heh *sob*

OCTOBER 15- Steve Bartman

UPDATE (10/15/03) : I knew he was an undercover operative all along.

rational actors

After the bombing of the American convoy in Gaza, Ha'aretz makes the observation:

The attack could impact on U.S. relations with the Palestinians. The area where the attack took place was under full Palestinian control. Israel handed it over to the Palestinians after Abbas took office earlier this year.

The Americans will demand that the Palestinian Authority investigate the attack and find the perpetrators. If the PA fails to do this, it will lose what little credibility it has left in the eyes of the Americans.

exactly. It's possible that this was the precise intent (and easily sold to the angry public as a strike against the Americans for their "one-sided" support).

After all, Hamas and Islamic Jihad are waging war for control of the Palestinian street. They execute the bomber's veto on the peace process at every step, in order to trigger Israeli responses - which always cause death and humiliation to the Palestinian public, while the PA issues condemnations. Its a PR war and Hama and IJ are winning. The attack on the Americans serves the same purpose.

It's time for a solution that circumvents the bomber's veto.


Boycott Episode III

Oceania was at war with Eastasia: Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia. A large part of the political literature of five years was now completely obsolete. Reports and records of all kinds, newspapers, books, pamphlets, films, sound-tracks, photographs -- all had to be rectified at lightning speed. Although no directive was ever issued, it was known that the chiefs of the Department intended that within one week no reference to the war with Eurasia, or the alliance with Eastasia, should remain in existence anywhere.

That's it. I've had enough of the contempt that George Lucas has, not just for Star Wars fans, but for the very films that have shaped our imaginations even as they fattenned his pocketbook. This story from AICN, about how Lucas won't even allow the original 1977 Star Wars to be screened at the Century of Cinema festival, is just the latest in along string of outrages, whereby Lucas has with Orwellian precision sought to erase all evidence that the original Star Wars films ever existed.

I won't take it anymore.

I am boycotting Star Wars Episode III. I know Anakin turns into Vader. I know that Palpatine is Darth Sidious. I know that Yoda kicks ass with a lightsaber. I don't really need to watch the movie - especially not when I have The Lord of the Rings and the Matrix trilogies to anticipate.

And I'm saying this as someone who waited all day in line to score tickets to Episode 1 for opening day.

I've got my Classic Trilogy VHS tapes in widescreen - the true versions of these films that I will always love. I don't need Star Wars beyond those three tapes. And unless Lucas releases them in their true and original glory on DVD, there isn't any point in doing business with the Lucas Greed machine.

And if he refuses? then Star Wars is dead. and good riddance.

Best Buy Bucks Blegging

Seeing as how other bloggers have reported success beyond their wildest imaginings with their pledge drives, Im emboldened to try my own hand at this. But with a twist - I don't want Pay Pal donations or Amazon wishlist items. I want your McDonald's Monopoly Game Best Buy Bucks Gampieces.

The problem is that the Best Buy Bucks only come attached to large fries, which is the menu item I am least likely to buy (I personally prefer buying a Big Mac without cheese and a medium coke. I then refill the coke once to get maximum value). So maybe other people buying the occassional large fry but who have no intention of driving to Best Buy to spend a single lousy BBB$1 might be willing to lend me theirs.

My intention in amassing these Best Buy Bucks is to buy the Finding Nemo DVD for my 18 month old daughter. Her current favorite movie is Monsters, Inc., so I think the Nemo DVD will go over well.

So, if you've been to McDonald's recently and bought a large fries, and don't plan on using your Best Buy Bucks, email me!


the process never ends

Thomas of Newsrack blog reflects on his support for the war, and finds the cause wanting:

But wrongly attacking is wrongly attacking, and unfortunately for my position, there is little evidence of violations yet. Perhaps there never were violations after all. So the gamble I supported -- despite the lack of direct evidence, and merely on the say-so of my President, his allies, and other country's intelligence services -- has apparently not paid off the way I thought it would, and there's a high price tag in dollars and lives I share responsibility for, in my own small measure. I'll support paying that price, and support caring for the veterans and their families who bear the brunt of that price. Like Will, I'll take some measure of satisfaction in the demise of a truly evil regime, and hope that what follows next in Iraq will be better.

Thomas is one of the very few people who supported this war whom I respect, precisely because of his determination in thinking things through, no matter what conclusion they lead him to. It was unpalatable to him, but he still supported the war based on his reading of the facts. This post of his is no less courageous.

What's needed now though is determination to finish the war. And given the Administration's schizophremia on this score, it's clear to me that we need a Howard Dean, not a George Bush (or a Dennis Kucinich) to do the job.

a lack of leadership

Shahed of alt.muslim has a fantastic post about the need for the muslim community in America to be more critical of its leadership:

There is no room for American Muslim leaders to either serve their own private interests at the expense of ours, or to further tarnish the Muslim image with acts that, legal or not, have the appearance of impropriety and further erode what little trust our fellow Americans have in us. For example, Mr. Alamoudi's emotional outburst a few years back in support of Hamas probably made him feel better, but that one statement cost Muslims much in the way of political goodwill and was used relentlessly in the 2000 elections to discredit all of us. And while Mr. Alamoudi probably thinks he has a good reason to collect $350,000 from an unknown person in London as compensation for his services to Libya's Qaddafi - a man perceived by the majority of Muslim Americans as a dictator who has used violent means to eliminate his opponents - he only shows himself as a man with extremely poor judgement who has forfeited any claim to moral, much less political, stewardship of a Muslim organization.

The Alamoudi case highlights a major flaw that exists in many American Muslim organizations and centers. In the pursuit of rapid organizational growth, transparency and accountability have taken a back seat. There is nothing inherently wrong in raising money overseas for causes here at home, but to do so without strict reporting of both donors and recipients, especially in the past few years, is reckless and causes more harm to our community than any PR program that such money could fund. And there is no room for people in people in positions of power to abuse the trust of Muslims by either pursuing personal enrichment or playing fast and loose with the laws of this country. Especially in this day and age, how could Mr. Alamoudi, or any notable American Muslim who lives in the limelight, not consider the possibility that such actions might have dire consequences that the rest of us have to pay the price for?

can't seem to please anyone

Muslim Wake Up! has decided that my supportive position on Israel's strike on Syria is equivalent to a Jew praising the Holocaust, or a black paean to slavery. Rather than excerpt and be accused of taking things out of context, it's better that I just link to the accusation and let their words speak for themselves. Especially the disingenous mention of my moral denunciation of "a long string of Palestinian names" which sounds like I'm just picking on some poor innocent upstanding Palestinian citizens. Read it for yourself - adding to the surreality, Billmon (whom I idolize) even makes an appearance in the comments, and wonders aloud if I'm not really a neocon/Israeli in drag.

But the basic problem here is absolutely symmetrical with that faced by opponents of Israel's policies. The reason I tend to ruffle feathers[1] is because I take a basic set of principles[2] and apply them consistently. This just doesn't square well with people who'se intense opposition to group A on the basis of principles 1-2 means that they overlook the violations of principles 3-4 by their own group B. Normally, I like symmetry, but being called an anti-semite on one hand and a brown sahib on the other is giving me rhetorical whiplash.

Unfortunately, the Israeli strike on Syria didn't kill any actual terrorists - it was largely symbolic. What I want to see is a shift in Syria's strategic thinking, because right now Syria seems to think it's more of a power than it really is - and they are playing with real fire. The way that the US was playing with fire when it funded Saddam and trained Osama, to be exact.

I also disagree with Demosthenes' assertion that the strike somehow accelerates Iran's drive for nuclear weapons:

That race for the bomb will be the #1 priority for Iran now, and I wouldn't be overly surprised if cash gets funnelled in from other parts of the Middle East to make it happen, because Israel's threat to "hit its enemies at any time in any place" will be taken very, very seriously.

I think it's fairly obvious that Iran would be moving at top speed towards that goal irrespective of the Syrian strike. Few Arab countries would subsidize a Shi'a and Persian bomb, anyway (don't underestimate sectarian prejudice - I got called an apostate in MWU's comment before the editor intervened). If anyone is going to send money to Iran, it's Germany and Russia, since there's a lot of fat contracts involved. And Israel's tendency to strike pre-emptively was already demonstrated against Osirak in Iraq, so it's not a big surprise. Israel's neighbors take Israel very seriously already.

In that context, I don't think that Iran's drive to acquire nuclear weapons is that alarming, either. I've been forwarded links where firebrands in Iran issue fatwas about nuking Israel as being a holy duty - but the fat theocrats in Tehran who actually set policy know full well what Mutually Assured Destruction is, and Israel's "nuclear ambiguity" is not that ambigous. India hasn't exactly been nuked by Pakistan yet, either.

At least the Democratic Presidential candidates agree with me:

Former Vermont governor Howard Dean, asked to comment Tuesday by CNN's Judy Woodruff on the show "Inside Politics," said, "If Israel has to defend itself by striking terrorists elsewhere, it's going to have to do that. Terrorism has no place in bringing peace in the Middle East. You know, the attack, [a] deliberate attack of men, women and children, is not permitted under the Geneva conventions, and nations have the right to defend themselves just as we defended ourselves by going into Afghanistan to get rid of Al Qaeda."

And what about the Iranian nuke issue? (See this excellent analysis and links roundup by Meteor Blades at Daily Kos. He gets called an anti-semite in the comments.) If Israel attacks Iran to take out their reactor, they will succeed, and won't suffer any military retaliation either (no muslim army will rise up and begin WWIII. Trust me).

But what will happen is that the fledgling roots of Iranian democracy will die. Immediately. And the Shi'a in Iraq will align with Iran, meaning that our crucial task of fixing what we've broken in iraq will be dealt a mortal blow. These reasons alone are enough rationale for us to strongly urge Israel to follow our lead in N. Korea and do nothing.

(let's make it a trifecta. I agree with Bush's policies in N. Korea. That rhetorical whiplash is a real bear, eh?)

[1]I seem to have alienated Al-Muhajabah as well, over the Imad Hamdi issue. For the record, I think that the allegations against Hamdi, as reported in the NY Post, should be considered separately from whether Yourish, LGF, Freepers etc. assume they are true. But those allegations are nicely rebutted by Hamdi's own statement, and the FBI seems to agree as well. All told, I am glad that the NY Post article I mentioned (and which triggered AM's anger) is included in this collection, as it makes the case for Hamdi's award stronger IMHO, not less.

[2] Opposing arguments should be directly addressed rather than ignored. There is no peace without justice. People are rational actors. Murdering innocents is wrong.


bunny love

I like this photo, it's cute.

Caption: U.S. President George W. Bush is kissed by a supporter at Pease Air National Guard Base in Porstmouth, New Hampshire, October 9, 2003. President Bush, in a new push to defend the war on Iraq in face of mounting doubts, said on Thursday he acted to protect Americans from 'madman' Saddam Hussein. REUTERS/Jason Reed

a unified model of community discussion data

I posted this comment to the MOD Request forum at phpBB.com:

greetings mod-dev creatures,

I'm a heavy user (not an admin) of phpBB boards and I appreciate the work that you've all done in making this such a functional and powerful tool.

It occurs to me however that the data in a forum is analogous to the data in a weblog, with categories and comments. For example, in Moveable Type, you might have a blog entry whose data is:

Author: Aziz Poonawalla
Date: 10/1/03 6:54 AM GMT
Title: deep philosophical thoughts
Body: give Arnold a chance
no more recall! glenn, please link to my post...l8r
heading: California politics

followed by a number of comments, each with teh same fields (but different data in them, except for Category which presumably is fixed by the Parent post).

This kind of data maps directly into the phpBB data space, as far as I can determine (without having looked at the code directly myself). The phpBB "Categories" but there is a direct mapping between the blog fields above, organized under Forum/Topic instead of heading/title. Responses to the initial post are equivalent to comments.

What would really be interesting, then, would be a "blog view" alternate index to the existing data in the forum. Instead of sorting top-level posts by category and forum, they would simply be listed chronologically, but you could also filter teh view by a specific forum/heading if so desired.

Thoughts? It doesn't add functionality, per se, but it does allow forum discussions to be accessed under the blog paradigm rather than teh forum one. It might not be too drastic a step from there to generating RSS feeds just as Blogger and Moveable Type already do.

The main appeal of the idea is that it truly lives up to the ideal of separating content from presentation. Having identified the intrinsic data in blogs and forums as isomorphic, choosing a "blog" or a "forum" interface becomes another tool for modifying website design, syndication, and user interface aspects.

This idea is not new. There already is a "forum" skin for Moveable Type, but the main problem here is that a classic blog such as MT lacks the query power under the hood that phpBB or any other forum that is provided by the SQL engine. Also, forums such as phpBB have much more sophisticated user registration, private messaging, groups, and permissions functionality than blogs do. Of course all of these things are available as additional extensions to the Moveable Type environment, but I personally believe that this wider functionality is more robust when you arrive at it from phpBB as your starting point rather than MT.

We need a unified model of community discussion data - and I think phpBB is already there, whereas blogs are evolving towards it. A blog index view for phpBB would accomplish a great deal towards demonstrating that model.

Would love to hear your thoughts.

Regards, Aziz Poonawalla

I should point out that my coments above are not intended to denigrate the blog in favor of the forum - but I think that there's much effort at reinventing the wheel, and right now forums such as phpBB have a much richer feature set (aside from RSS) than blogs, as a general rule. Where blogs are superior is in the data entry interface (I think Blogger Pro remains the most elegant), and in syndication. But forums have the edge in accessing archives, searching, and controlling user access/permissions.

If we could achieve some kind of synergy between these two seemingly separate models of community discussion, it could stimulate a new explosion of innovation. Only two years ago, who could have imagined that blogs would have played such a powerful role in politics? But they certainly have, as the Dean campaign has demonstrated. If you could combine the blog with the forum, and switch effortlessly between the two as the need required, who knows what future applications might result?

I'm not a coder at this skill level - but I think there are plenty of people, both in the BB world and the blog world, who are. I'll see if I can get some of the notables to comment.


reclaiming the label "republican"

Glenn Reynolds puts the lefty reactions to the recall in context by explaining just what it means to be a republican:

Recalls aren�t anti-democratic. They are, if anything, anti-republican � by which I mean that they�re inconsistent with the �republican principle� of representative government over direct democracy. (It�s ironic, isn�t it, that at the moment the main champions of this republican principle are Democrats?) And representative government, for reasons that Madison, et al., spelled out in The Federalist, is a good thing.

But it�s not the only good thing. A danger faced by all governments � including representative governments � is the danger that they will be taken over and paralyzed by what economist Mancur Olson, in a famous book titled The Rise and Decline of Nations, called a �web of special interests.� Because it pays for special interest groups and politicians to collude, lining their pockets at the taxpayers� expense, Olson argued that nations � and perhaps especially representative ones � would tend toward paralysis over time, as special interest groups locked up government revenues and fought off changes

Note however that the general reaction to the Arnold victory from committed Democratic partisans (a group I don't share allegiance with, only immediate short term goals) has been a condescension towards anyone who voted for recall or for Arnold as fools unworthy of enfranchisement. After all, their crime was to vote the "wrong" way. That arrogance is fundamentally at odds with the view that the people are sovereign, and is regrettably a side-effect of republican political theory.

The US constitution strikes a great balance between republican and representative governments. The Electoral College is a quintessentially republican idea - since they are not elected, but appointed by people who are themselves elected - and are not bound to vote in favor of the plurality winner. The US House of Representatives is directly elected by the people, and acts as their direct spokesman. The Senate was actually also supposed to be a republican entity, or rather a representative entity for the States. However with the adoption of the 17th Amendment, that has been undermined, and this has directly led to the increased influence of "the web of special interests" as described by Olson on the political process.

It's a shame that Democrats have reacted to the recall with republican fervor - if anything, a recall is the kind of representative governmental action that they should support in principle (remember Hillary Clinton's call to repeal the Electoral College? at least she's consistent). However what's much worse is that the Republican Party has moved so far away from it's own roots in federalism and republicanism. As Kevin Drum points out, the GOP has become the party of American Shari'a - and the true conservative republicans are in a vanishing andincreasingly irrelevant minority.

For much more info on the 17th Amendment, I suggest this CNN article and this website.


Give Arnold a chance

I'm dismayed.

Not because Arnold was elected Governor of California last night. The people of California spoke, and last night they chose a new governor, with such a forceful mandate that there is no way to doubt the will of the people. And they had every right to do so.

The recall itself was a function of the classic GOP disdain for democracy - and they were counting on low turnout overall, but high turnout amongst disaffected voters, to propel their chosen candidate McClintoc to power. But the people of California responded en masse, and chose a socially liberal, bipartisan-minded Governor, someone who was fresh, someone who stood outside the tainted circle of politics.

And Gray Davis, in the most gracious concession speech since Gore in 2000, put it best:

"My friends, we've had a lot of good nights over the last 20 years, but tonight the people did decide it's time for someone else to serve. I accept their judgment.
I am calling on everyone in this state to put the chaos and the division of the recall behind us and do what's right for this great state of California.
And I pledged to Mr. Schwarzenegger tonight the full cooperation of my administration during the transition, we want to let the new governor know what the challenges are, what the status is of various issues in Sacramento, we will do that."

As the San Diego Union Tribune editorial notes, the recall may have required GOP partisan money to get started, but it tapped into a massive vein of voter discontent which must not be trivialized as we analyze the results. And in so doing, the recall offers hope for a historic opportunity in California:

All the same, the voters' drastic action yesterday also creates an uncommon opportunity for structural reform of state government, starting with the out-of-control budget process. It is our fervent hope that the recall of Davis less than a year into his second term will concentrate the minds of legislators of both parties. The paralyzing partisan polarization that has stymied progress in Sacramento for years must come to an end. As Schwarzenegger aptly stated last night, "For the people to win, politics as usual must lose." In that spirit, Republicans and Democrats must work together to solve the chronic problems confronting the state.

After yesterday, it is clear the voters are demanding nothing less.

No, I am not dismayed by Arnold's victory. I'm dismayed by the reaction to it.

I'm dismayed by Hesiod's view the vast majority of people are fools. That condescension towards the common man is as profoundly distasteful to me coming from the left as it does from the right.

I'm dismayed by Kos's plan to launch RecallArnoldNow.com. In so doing, he legitimizes the tactics of the GOP. This isn't a game, to see who gets the most tallies under their column marked D or R. It's about what's best for California - and Arnold deserves a chance to carry out the will of the people.

The single reason I support Dean is because he promises a return to the shared sense of duty to the country, rather than partisan loyalty. His campaign isn't about building a vast network of D-lever-pulling robots. It's about bringing people in to a common cause, reaching across party lines, and putting the needs of our nation above the petty political interests of the party. ANY party.

The recall is over. Arnold won. Now the challenge is fixing California - and all energies must be devoted to helping that cause succeed.

Kevin Drum is as always the voice of sanity - and I'll leave him with the final word:

Trying to mount a recall against Arnold would be bad for California, bad for the Democratic party, and only distracts attention from the bigger task at hand: electing a Democrat to the White House in 2004. It's time for the circus to stop.

This is one time that we should accept defeat graciously and turn our attention to more important things. Remember, anger is only useful if it's focused and channeled on something worthwhile, and recalling Arnold isn't it. Let's not blow it.
Eyes on the prize, folks, eyes on the prize. I don't actually care all that much who the governor of California is � and I live here! � but nothing in this world would give me more pleasure than to see George Bush sent packing back to Crawford next November, never to be heard from again. That's the goal to keep front and center.
Plus, to be honest, I really don't want California to be a continual war zone. We really do have some problems to solve here, and running two recall campaigns a year isn't going to help us do it.

UPDATE: Kos has more details:

If timed to coincide with the March primaries, the new recall effort will cost the state little. The reason this recall cost so much is because the state had to create an entire election from scratch. In March, we're already having an election -- the presidential primaries (both Democratic and Republican).
But he should have to prove himself the same way the GOoPers forced Davis to prove himself -- 50 percent plus one.

And once the Republicans have been bitten by a recall, then maybe both parties can sit down and amend the constitution to make recalls a much fairer process and difficult proposition.
It'll now be our turn.

Not good enough. Just because there's an election planned for March anyway is not justification for yet another divisive recall campaign. It's wrong. "they started it" is Bush Administration highschool bully rhetoric, not a declaration of principles. And "we must hold a recall to prove that recalls are bad" is as morally bankrupt as "we must burn the village in order to save it"

I'm aghast at this.

UPDATE 2: Jerome Armstrong, who I greatly admire and respect, is also on the wrong side of this:

It's simple, the GOP muscled the situation to avoid the democratic process.

NO, it's not that simple. Yes the GOP funded the recall - but the recall was done legally, and it did unleash a massive wave of legitimate voter discontent - which can be harnessed, as Howard Dean pointed out:

"Today's recall election in California was not about Gray Davis or Arnold Schwarzenegger. This recall was about the frustration so many people are feeling about the way things are going. All across America, George Bush's massive tax cuts for the wealthy are undermining state budgets, causing cutbacks in services and increases in local property taxes. Were recalls held in every state, it's quite possible that 50 governors would find themselves paying the price for one president's ruinous national economic policies. Tonight the voters in California directed their frustration with the country's direction on their incumbent governor. Come next November, that anger might be directed at a different incumbent...in the White House."

The Arnold victory is actually a dark omen for Bush. We must remain comitted to the main goal. ANy focus other than Bush will be disatrous. And Arnold's ability to help Bush is limited - he's a social liberal.

The recall was truly democratic. It's not relevant whether Arnold got 50% of the vote. Its relevant that Arnold got more yes votes than the recall got no votes! Its relevant that voter turnout was record high - far greater than that during Davis' election last year!


Edelstein for Israeili PM

Jonathan writes about the security fence - and how both sides have it wrong:

And yet - even though the fence is fundamentally necessary, the Sharon government is going about it all wrong. As Gil Shterzer has eloquently stated, the present government has lost sight of the purpose of the fence - to prevent terrorists from infiltrating Israel. Instead, it is building the wall according to the agenda of the far right, resulting in the planned Ariel loop and the proposed extension along the eastern boundary of Area B. If the fence is built along the route now envisioned, it will go far beyond anything necessary to protect Israel. It will effectively divide the West Bank into two enclosed cantons that are cut off not only from each other but from Jordan, effectively separating them from the world. I don't ordinarily like to use the word "bantustan" to describe proposals for a Palestinian state, but no other word does justice to the proposed redrawing of the West Bank map.

But Sharon isn't the only one getting it wrong. So are the international opponents of the fence. The great majority of them seem to oppose the fence in principle as well as in practical application; they fail to distinguish between the objectionable and legitimate parts of the wall, and refuse to acknowledge the terrorist incursions that prompted its construction. As such, they give the appearance - and sometimes the reality - of not acknowledging Israel's right to defend itself and control its borders. By doing so they virtually guarantee that their criticism will not find a receptive audience within Israel, and will indeed contribute to the sense of siege that led to the current plans. It's clear at this point that the fence is going to be built, and by overstating their criticism, the international community is sacrificing its influence over the route.

He's absolutely right - especially about how critics of the fence also failed to understand how it could even be legitimate. I am an opponent of the fence as well in principle, but I'd support the one that Jonathan proposes (though I think that his proposal for parties external to Israel deciding the fence's route would be an impossible sell).

However since there's no chance of that fence being built, I think that principled opposition to the fence at all costs is the best position, since the way it is being implemented in service of Greater Israel will ultimately harm Israeli self-interest. Jewishness, Greater Israel, and democracy - pick two.

defense of Al Sharpton

I keep hearing about Al Sharpton is supposedly scum of the earth by GOP partisans desperate to rationalize their support of a political party that embraces racism and social oppression.

Ok, then. educate me. What did Sharpton do that was so evil? Give me the details. I found one reference to "diamond merchants" in an eulogy he gave for a black boy who was killed by a Hasidic rabbi's motorcade - and Slate does a fine job of explaining the context:

Quote: At a funeral on Aug. 26, 1991, Sharpton complained about "the diamond merchants right here in Crown Heights," a disparaging reference to the Brooklyn neighborhood's Orthodox Jewish population.

Charge: Many people viewed Sharpton's comment as anti-Semitic. On Oct. 3, 1991, a liberal Orthodox rabbi wrote a column in the Jewish Advocate titled "Why Anti-Semitism Lingers in the African-American Community." The rabbi called Sharpton an "agitator" and urged the black community to repudiate "its extremists."

Context: Sharpton delivered the eulogy at the funeral of Gavin Cato, a black boy from Crown Heights who was killed when a car in a Hasidic rabbi's motorcade accidentally veered off the road and hit him. In retaliation, a gang of black youths stabbed a rabbinical student to death, and black-Jewish tensions ran high. Sharpton said of Cato's death: "The world will tell us he was killed by accident. Yes, it was a social accident. ... It's an accident to allow an apartheid ambulance service in the middle of Crown Heights. ... Talk about how Oppenheimer in South Africa sends diamonds straight to Tel Aviv and deals with the diamond merchants right here in Crown Heights. The issue is not anti-Semitism; the issue is apartheid. ... All we want to say is what Jesus said: If you offend one of these little ones, you got to pay for it. No compromise, no meetings, no kaffe klatsch, no skinnin' and grinnin'. Pay for your deeds."

is there more? I await edification.

UPDATE: Several commentators pointed to the name Tawna Brawley. A cursory search for info reveals this article in Slate:

Charge: In 1987, a 15-year-old black girl named Tawana Brawley went missing and was found four days later covered in dog feces and with racial slurs written on her body. She claimed that at least two and possibly six white men, one of them carrying a badge, had repeatedly raped her in the woods in upstate New York. Sharpton took up Brawley's cause and defended her refusal to cooperate with prosecutors, saying that asking her to meet with New York's attorney general (who had been asked by Gov. Mario Cuomo to supervise the investigation) would be like "asking someone who watched someone killed in the gas chamber to sit down with Mr. Hitler." According to the Associated Press, Sharpton and Brawley's lawyers asserted "on 33 separate occasions" that a local prosecutor named Steven Pagones "had kidnapped, abused and raped" Brawley. There was no evidence, and Pagones was soon cleared. Sharpton then accused a local police cult with ties to the Irish Republican Army of perpetrating the alleged assault. The case fizzled when a security guard for Brawley's lawyers testified that the lawyers and Sharpton knew Brawley was lying. A grand jury investigation concluded in late 1988 that Brawley "was not the victim of forcible sexual assault" and that the whole thing was a hoax. The report specifically exonerated Pagones, and in 1998 Pagones won a defamation lawsuit against Sharpton, Brawley, and Brawley's lawyers. Sharpton was ordered to pay Pagones $65,000. Johnnie Cochran and other Sharpton benefactors subsidized the payment.

Defense: Sharpton stands by Brawley's story. In May 2002, when the Associated Press asked whether he would apologize to Pagones, Sharpton replied: "Apologize for what? For believing a young lady?" Referring to his incipient presidential campaign, Sharpton continued, "When people around the country know that I stood up for a young lady ... I think it will help me." In March 2003, when the Washington Post asked whether Sharpton could have expressed sympathy for Pagones after the prosecutor was cleared, Sharpton replied that Brawley "identified Pagones. I was her spokesperson. I cannot turn around in what I said I believed." As to the jury verdict against him, Sharpton told the New York Daily News in July 2003 that "a jury said in the Central Park jogging case � that I was wrong, and it was just overturned 13 years later. Juries can be wrong. I've stood by what I believe. Juries are proven wrong every day."

I've emphasised what I think are the important points. So, Sharpton defended a rape victim, and accused Pagones of being involved based on her statements. Pagones was later cleared. Sharpton believed that the jury was wrong. Since I wasn't on the jury, and neither were you, we have to accept the verdict on Pagones and grant him the benefit of innocence. But also acknowledge that sometimes, juries are wrong. If you disagree, I refer you to OJ Simpson. I don't fault Sharpton for his continued belief in Brawley's statements. And I have to wonder why Sharpton is being held to a double standard - aren't lawyers supposed to defend the views of their client?

featured troll: Joshua Scholar

welcome to a new feature, where I share the best trolling that UNMEDIA receives, via email or in comments. Consider it an open thread for all five of my regular readers, where the nonsensical shall for sake of diversion be treated as worthy of response. Let no one say I am ungenerous - even trolls receive their due here on UNMEDIA.

Today's recipient of the award is Joshua Scholar, where he asserts in comments that if you criticize Israel, you must have a latent belief that Jews are evil. Discuss.

Israel was right to bomb Syria

Am I alone in the non-Israeli-partisan blogsphere for thinking that Israel's strike on Syria was, perhaps, justified? It's odd to read Yourish and think "yeah, good point." Further evidence of Meryl stealing my talking points:

End the bloodshed first. Then they get a state. Not before.

good grief. I'm on the same page as Meryl Yourish. What's next, Blue Kryptonite?

I should clarify, of course. I don't think there's any point in establishing a Palestinian state if it's going to be just a glorified ghetto. The reason, Palestinian aspirations firmly aside, is because the last thing Israel needs is a mass of tightly restricted, humilated, and angry Palestinian nationalists next door, just outside their fence-with-gaps. As if the fence would do any good anyway.

Jonathan probably will disagree, which is always welcome, since his disagreement always results in further education on my part. I know Jonathan advocates the two-state solution and we do agree that a two-state solution is probably a necessary precursor to an eventual binational state. The settlement activity makes the binational state the only possible long-term outcome. The question then becomes, which of the other two options, Democracy or Jewishness, will the people embrace. As an optimist, I think I know the answer.

What is needed is a comitment to reducing the Palestinian oppression, which has to start with reform in Palestinian government first, but insisting on zero violence as a precursor is as always cart before horse. The legitimate Palestinian government with which Israel can make peace can never come into being unless Israel is willing to give them a chance to reclaim the mantle of self-interest, which is impossible as long as the assasination policy continues (note, the retaliation policy is something else).

If the Palestinian government is given a chance to re-define the Palestinian national self-interest, the violence will stop. But it will be a slow cessation, not an overnight one. And then, talk of a Palestinian state will actually make sense.

As for Syria, some fear of YHWH is a good thing. There has to be some way to change that nation's political calculus. Hezbollah is not Hamas, but Syria needs to redefine its own self-interest with a longer horizon than just short-term Israeli counterbalancing. So, dubious intelligence aside, Israel made a good decision to strike at Syria and I'm positive Assad understands the import quite well.

I can't find the link, but Jonathan's recent series of posts on the polling re: the Palestinian right of return is also essential reading. I'll try to find it...

also, Joe Katzman says being a Cubs fan is like being a Jew. ok, if the yarmulke fits...


compassionate conservatism

If you vote GOP, you're a fellow traveler of Fred Phelps:

Anti-gay preacher Fred Phelps has announced intentions to erect a monument to Matthew Shepard the gay college student brutally murdered five years ago near Laramie.

But, the monument will be no memorial. Phelps says the monument would be 5 to 6 feet tall and made of marble or granite. It would bear a bronze plaque bearing the image of Shepard and have an inscription reading "MATTHEW SHEPARD, Entered Hell October 12, 1998, in Defiance of God's Warning: 'Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is abomination.' Leviticus 18:22."

The monument would be erected in downtown Casper, Shepard's home town.

Phelps has sent details of the monument to the city of Casper city council and there may be nothing the city can do to prevent it.

Phelps said he intends to put up the monument in City Park, already the location of a controversial statue of the Ten Commandments.

(links added) BTW, President Bush intends to proclaim the week of the anniversary of Shepard's murder, as Marriage Protection Week:

Marriage is a sacred institution, and its protection is essential to the continued strength of our society. Marriage Protection Week provides an opportunity to focus our efforts on preserving the sanctity of marriage and on building strong and healthy marriages in America.

Marriage is a union between a man and a woman, and my Administration is working to support the institution of marriage by helping couples build successful marriages and be good parents.

yes, the timing is deliberate - it's called "playing to the base." American Shari'a, anyone?