To subdue the enemy without fighting is the supreme excellence. - Sun Tzu

Friday, October 22, 2004

Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracies. Don't. Exist.

Osama bin Ladin was not colluding with the Carlyle Group to cause 9/11. 'The liberal media' is a myth.

It's human nature to try to find connections in unrelated, but elusively similar, events. But without any evidence, Occam's Razor always wins:
In the event of two possibilities, the more simple one is what should be assumed to be or have occured.

The rule of thumb I use is this: Everyone is loyal first and foremost to themselves, and everything they do is in the pursuit of profit. A safe, profitable course, is preferable to a risky, high-profit course. Above all, very few people are 'evil' in the traditional (sadistic) sense (since greed is much more self-serving to almost everyone), and those who are rarely attract followings. Certainly not large followings. How many did Charles Manson have? That's about as big as they get.

Osama bin Ladin conspiring with Carlyle to kill thousands for oil and defense spending? Why bother, when conventional means (extortion, conglomeration, threatening to stop dealing with a company unless they give a better price) are technically legal and already give plenty of profit?
Liberal media? Sure, maybe a bit because more media people are liberal than are conservative, but not to a 'conspiratorial' level.

So the next time you find yourself saying, "There just has to be a connection!!", without any other evidence, ask yourself if it is likely, or if it's just stupid.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Bush/Kerry Debate 4

Just to change pace a little, go read this transcript of the untelevised fourth debate, on worker safety standards and all that. Funny, depressing- can't solve a problem until you identify it.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Vietnam II: Son of Ho Chi Minh

In yesterday's episode, I explained, very quickly, the general way that we lose counter-insurgencies. Today I'll go into what we can do to get out of this mess.

First, there's the not-gonna-happen Best Case Scenario. That's where Iraq has elections in January and everyone accepts them. I think we can look at Afghanistan as an example of why that's wishful thinking. Elections have no practical meaning.
If elections somehow go perfectly (and I will guarantee that they won't), we'll still have to have a military occupation for years to keep the country stable. We're building 14 permanent bases. Think we're planning on going anywhere? Guess if we'll hear about near-constant attacks on these bases?

It's moot, though, because even if they hold elections, the populace won't accept them. So, alright, we kill the rebels until they change their ways. Whoops, that doesn't work, because we kill civilians and otherwise ruin their lives.

So, we do what the Brits did in the Boer war to win that guerilla war: Concentration camps. Read Gary Brecher's article #172 for more on how that works. In summation, it works, but it's dirty, and these days it'll make more enemies than we kill. So that's not going to work.

Okay, if things are so bad, let's just cut and run? No good. Everyone will hate us if we do that. Best-case scenario then is years of power struggle, deaths of thousands, poverty, etc.

In case you can't telll, it was a mistake to go into Iraq in the first place.

The only thing I see that has even the remotest chance of success is to flood the country with so many soldiers, that you can't throw a rock without hitting four of five. Most of these would, unfortunately, have to be somewhat-trained Iraqis, but we're looking for quantity, not quality. Before you call me racist; I don't have much faith in the common Iraqi recruit because their training is not remotely as good as ours. A few weeks of boot camp and then "Here's a gun and a uniform" is not how to make a good soldier.
The rest of the troops- in the realm of 600-700 thousand- would simply have to come from Germany, France, and especially Russia. No one else has enough manpower and money except China, and I doubt if even Henry Clay could have negotiated that.

Station them there for a few years, but passively- don't go looking for the enemy. Don't bomb "known terrorist safehouses". Play it cool, accept the losses. Just be police. If you see someone clearly, irrefutably breaking the law, then conduct a formal investigation, bring them to trial, allow them legal counsel, and punish them legally.
We have to win the PR campaign, and bullets don't do that. Our only alternative is the deaths of thousands.

Of course, I'm a realist. What's going to end up happening is that we'll be around for a few years, gradually pulling out, gaining more and more resentment, supporting a string of dubiously legal puppet dictators, sucking out the oil, killing innocent Iraqis, bombing the whole country until you can't tell where the sand stops and the cities start, and generally making a mess of things. Eventually, the rebels will collaborate with existing terrorist and criminal drug and weapons organizations for funding, introducing future Iraqi youth to violent gangs and crippling drug addictions, and turning the country into Los Angeles, except that everyone looks Mexican. All this happens while our leaders tell us things are getting better. Finally, the Iraqi government recognizes that it has no power and secretly negotiates with the criminals, ending the violence but keeping the extortion, drugs, and poverty. Freedom on the march.

Ah, I hear Colombia is nice this time of year...

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Vietnam II: Are we really this Stupid?

One of the most common complaints that the right-wingers have about liberals and leftists is that we're being 'anti-American' by 'taking the terrorist's side'.

The terrorists are the enemy. No one's going to disagree with that.

What we disagree with, however, is obviously how to go about getting rid of them. The rightists say that we should invade every country that knowingly houses terrorists, and kill everyone who gets in our way. It's the 'common-sense' strategy.

Unfortunately, while the initial invasions obviously go well, it isn't very difficult to, essentially, drive in a straight line. Did anyone seriously think that the Republican Guard would put up a meaningful resistance in Iraq? We had the whole 1980's to see how they fare in a straight-up war: They suck. We have the most powerful army in the world. That wasn't the tough part.

The tough part, the part we're in now, the part that our leaders didn't plan for, is the occupation and transfer of power. We, the American public, were told, with a straight face, that the Iraqis would welcome us with open arms and this wouldn't decay into another Vietnam.

Let's tally it up:
-Militarism, military training, and gun ownership are planks of Iraqi culture.
-When you blow up half of a country's infrastructure, you tend to put a lot of people out of jobs.

I think you can see where I'm going with this. There were 500,000 men in the Iraq army when we disbanded it. They were getting paid. Now, they're getting nothing. Who are they going to blame?

To think that the end result would not be a country-wide insurgency is negligent.

Unfortunately, that's where we are today. The Mahdi and various other rebel factions are doing exactly what any insurgents would do: Guerrila fighting, use of the populace as spies, using crowds as shields. If our soldiers don't shoot back, that same insurgent is just going to be shooting again tomorrow. If they do shoot back, and they wipe out half of Ahmed's extended family with stray fire, he'll be videotaping his friends cutting off someone's head the next day. That's how insurgents get recruits. The same things happened in our own revolution 200 years ago.

It's dirty, but all's fair in war. There aren't referees- "That's an illegal torture penalty! al-Qaeda is penalized 5 yards! First down!" War is not disneyland. War is hell. There's no way around it.

Next: Options

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Stolen Honor: Behind the Scenes

Scoobie Davis has a link to an article by John Gorenfeld about Carlton Sherwood, the 'journalist' who is doing the Stolen Honor propaganda piece through Sinclair Broadcasting Group. They wouldn't broadcast Ted Koppel reading the names of the soldiers killed in Iraq because it was 'politically motivated', yet they are showing Stolen Honor which, according to its own website, is "A Documentary exposing John Kerry's record of betrayal".

I can't make this stuff up, folks. I'm not nearly imaginitive enough to concieve of that kind of politically motivated hypocrisy.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Death and Taxes

Well well, this is my first post as a member of the "Progressive Blog Alliance". I hope I can write with the same quality of these other great free-thinkers.

To business. I revised my take on an income cap, because there's really no hope of convincing the average American that it's not communist. A better way of executing wealth distribution is to have 'exponential' progressive taxation.

Under the current system, if the hypothetical entrepeneur Bob Goursie makes a huge heaping pile of cash, he gets taxed at about 35% regardless of how much he makes. If he makes $1 million, he keeps 65%, if he makes $10 million, he keeps 65%. Almost everyone agrees that this is fair.

I do not. I think that our current system neglects the real purpose of money- It is worthless in and of itself; rather, it is a medium of exchange. Money is just numbers and paper, but saying a loaf of bread is $1 gives money value. Money = standard of living. However, it is not a direct correlation. The goal being to maximise happiness, $1 means much more to a starving person than it means to a rich person. $1 is the difference between life and death for some, but nigh-worthless to others. The key is standard of living: The value of a dollar varies for each person based on how many they already have.

So here's the problem: Our current system neglects the impact of taxes on standard of living.

Even though a poor person, let's call her Polly, might only be taxed at 15%, 15% of $20,000 is a much, much bigger blow to her standard of living than that 35% of Mr. Goursie's $1 million. $3,000 is several month's rent for Polly. I don't have to explain how much money $3,000 is.
$350,000, though- what does that mean to Bob? He might not be able to buy another mansion. He'll still have plenty to eat, his kids will go to the best schools, he'll fly first-class everywhere. His standard of living is hardly affected.

So, even though Polly is paying a smaller percentage, her Standard of Living is being reduced by a larger percentage! Is that fair? There is no data what the populace thinks about this, but I'm confident that, should the question be posed in a way the average person could understand, they would agree with me.

I propose that tax rates graduate like this: If you have no income, your tax rate is 0%, and if your income is (a very large number), you pay 100%. The shape of a graph of Income vs Tax Rate would be along the lines of x^2, sloped so that the amount of government income is whatever is needed that year. No one would actually be taxed at 100%, because it would take an astronomical income, in the trillions of dollars, to be taxed that highly. Similarly, someone making a median income would not necessarily be taxed at 50%; it depends on how the slope comes out that year.

Because it takes a very large amount of tax to affect Bob's standard of living the same way as Polly's, the net effect is that taxes would generally be raised on the wealthy and sharply reduced on the poor and middle class. The increased taxes on Bob could pay for the reduction of taxes on hundreds of worse-off people. Raising his taxes from $350,000 to even $600,000 doesn't reduce his standard of living as much as it raises the standards of living of over 100 people in Polly's situation. An 80% tax rate on someone who made $40 million leaves them with $8 million, still an astronomical sum, and significantly increases the standards of living of over 16,000 Prollies!

So I took my idea over to a right-wing website, Right Wing News, where they don't get much more rabid. They came up with the following counter-points:

1) I am an idiot.
2) I am a Communist.
3) This is unfair.
4) I should move to Europe if I'm such an America-hating commie liberal pinko hippie fag.
5) This would be disasterous for the economy.

Frankly, #'s 1 and 4 seemed a little unfair. I didn't inquire as to their justification for these stances, as history has shown that the conservatives consider them to be self-evident. I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree.

The rest I'll address out of order.

3) This is unfair.
They argued that each person deserves to keep as much as they can and that taxes should be minimal.
However, that ignores standard of living. They are of the opinion that if someone makes a million dollars, it doesn't matter that they could take a slight hit to help out dozens of people; the wants of the individual are greater than the needs of the many. Spock disagrees, but I don't see any way to reconcile this.

5) This would be disasterous for the economy.
The increased tax burden on the wealthy would cause them to reduce their investment in the economy, leading to recession and depression.
They believe that economics is not a 'zero-sum' game, even though they never substantiated what that means. Anyway, even though I explained repeatedly that the money's not being destroyed, just moved to a more fair location. Since the lower classes now have more, they have more to invest, so overall investment would not decrease significantly. In fact, since the lower classes spend a much greater part of their income on consumer goods, the economy would probably be better off than it is now.

2) I am a Communist.
Since I proposed a plan which is clearly socialist, that makes me a communist.
I stated many times that, this is socialist, not Communist. Communism would involve the equal distribution of wealth- I've never proposed that. That's stupid. It squashes incentive. No one worked in Russia. The place was a dump. My old history teacher, who visited in 1986, had a story about trying to use a Soviet bathroom. Not pleasant.
But I digress. Socialism and Communism are different things, and there's nothing inherently wrong with socialism. Socialism is everyone giving a little toward greater collective good.
Government is the classic socialist institution. If each farmer had to defend himself against the Vikings, then they'd had their way with Europe- well, to an even greater extent. But if the farmers give part of their crops toward the purpose of fielding a professional army, then some of them have a chance of surviving. At their most basic level, governments are just mutual defense pacts. Some socialism is good.

Guess if that worked? Of course not. The American populace was brainwashed for 70 years that Communism, and socialism by association, is evil. No amount of logic and calm rationality can penetrate that. They even think that history textbooks are controlled by a communist conspiracy.

So 'Exponential Taxation' is probably not going to happen, if only for that reason. I won't say this isn't a great country but, man, we sure screw ourselves some times.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

The Progressive Alliance

Go to Net Politik and read "Notes on Organization and governance on the Internet" before reading this, or it won't make any sense.

Nationstates is like that. Each country, which is analagous to a website, is in a 'region', and the regions have their own message systems and such, and they're close little units. But each region elects a UN Representative. Everyone is in the 'world', and there are search boxes and indexes to find any region or country.

I don't know off the top of my head how linkage would best be specifically structured. Perhaps each 'blog squad' would have a name (like the "La Follette Cluster") and an 'overblog'. This information could be displayed in a panel that is identical for each blog in the alliance (except for content). Each blog's panel would state the name of the alliance, the name of the cluster, the name of the overblog, a list of all the other blogs in the cluster, and links to the other clusters' overblogs and the masterblog. The masterblog would have a complete index of all the information: Clusters and their overblogs, and all the blogs in the alliance.

Administration. Each cluster is responsible for its own members, and when one cluster gets too large, it splits off a new cluster and informs the masterblog and the other overblogs.

Overblogs would be elected by a simple vote in the cluster. The overblog would be responsible for approving new blogs in the cluster, and cutting any miscreants. If an overblog oversteps their authority, another vote by the cluster could replace them with someone else.

Similarly, the Masterblog, if they somehow are found lacking, could be ousted by a vote, in this case by all the blogs. A direct vote (as opposed to an electoral or parliamentary system where the Overblogs elect the Masterblog) is best on the internet where the candidate doesn't have to go anywhere to campaign.

Any grievances could be appealed to an assembly of the overblogs and masterblog if it must come to that.

Any changes that anyone wants to make to any aspect of anything under the alliance's control could be proposed by an Overblog to the general assembly of Overblogs and the Masterblog. Usually, decisions could be made by a simple majority, with the Masterblog granted a special vote like a veto. There's no real purpose for the veto except to add some drama.

I'd be willing to link up a storm, as soon as I sit down and take a look at blogspot's html structure and whatnot. I know just enough about the language to get myself confused.