Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Muslim-American Mujahideen

Capt. Humayun Khan, a 27yr old Muslim American soldier in Iraq, lured a suicide bomber vehicle away from his unit and gave his life for a free Iraq:

His family says Capt. Humayun Khan, a Muslim and an American, loved his country and the military. He also believed strongly that peace would be the ultimate outcome of the war in Iraq.

Khan did not live to see that outcome.

The Department of Defense announced the 27-year-old was killed Tuesday in Baquabah, Iraq. It happened when suicide bombers drove into an American compound while Khan was inspecting soldiers on guard duty.

Khan, who lived in Bristow, is the 20th Virginian to die in Iraq.

"Instead of running, he stood foward to the oncoming taxi to prevent it from going inside," said Shahrayar Khan, who is 11 months older than his brother. "Even being in Iraq, surrounded by moral peril, I knew he would do the right thing. That he was there to protect and to save lives."

InnaLillahi Wa inna Ilahi Raji'un.

Another muslim soldier, Cpl Wassef Hassoun, has been captured by Al-Qaeda extremists in Iraq and also faces the likely prospect of beheading. Falsely accused of deserting his post (a charge that most observers accepted uncritically), his family prays fervently for his release.

It is crucial to note that these soldiers are doing jihad. Not just the internal struggle to stay upon the Path, but the lesser but no less critical at times type that involves risking your life to defend what you believe in. The essence of jihad is to fight in defense of your values, and these men have chosen to answer that call in service of the only nation on Earth that lets them pursue their faith in true freedom and liberty. Is it any surprise that they take up arms?

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Houston subway?

I admit to being initially against the Main Street rail line, on strictly transport-efficiency and cost grounds. I was ultimately won over by the sheer cool-factor and convenience, plus some arguments by Charles that the line could act as a terminus for the heavy-rail commuter lines I really want to see built.

So it's with no small sense of deja-vu that I find myself reacting negatively to the possibility of a subway line in Houston (ie, build the expansion of the light rail underground to reduce the collision-with-ignoramuses problem).

The main problem is not flooding - Boston has an extensive subway system too, and the Atlantic hurricane season is just as vigorous as the Gulf. Not to mention the fact that Intercontinental airport already has a mini-subway which was expanded for the new terminal, and that there are plenty of below-grade roads in town. A big storm like TS Allison will flood things no matter what, and even Boston had to send divers into Copley Square station on occasion.

Nor is construction as severe a problem as you might imagine. It is easier to simply open th eground, dig down, and lay track than it is to tunnel - and by closing up the line as you progress, you could mitigate the blockage of local businesses problem.

The real problem is cost of operation. If I recall correctly, there isn't a single subway system in the United States that pays for itself - even new York and Boston have to partly subsidize their lines (I am open to being fact-checked on this score). The cost of running a useful line will be quite high and ridership on the above-ground light rail line has not been conducive to rosy estimates of future traffic. I have to question whether any additional light rail lines can be built within budget for a city that is already facing severe challenges to paying its pension plans and whatnot.

The population density of Houston is just too low to support a subway system, IMHO. A commuter rail line, however...

Reference Scan

Finally got around to adding some content to Reference Scan, my new MRI-blog. Hopefully I can entice some others in my field to contribute... should be a fun experiment.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

right-wing hate

Right-wing loons make death threats against a two-year old. Thank the Dallas Morning News for printing the toddler's name.

You use the word "obnoxious" in your editorial, and decried strident partisanship. I couldn't agree more. Why? Because, as of yesterday morning, I'd received more than 250 hate calls. They used the "f" word, death threats, threatened visits to my home -- and one threatened my child.

I joined the Mothers Opposing Bush because I want to protect my daughter from a future defined by an administration that has waged war and hampered health care and environmental concerns. I'm a sadder, wiser Mother Opposing Bush today -- and, thanks to death threats, more committed than ever.


the angry people do not just disagree with me. They have wished me harm. And wished my children harm, too. ... I've been told I am not entitled to an opinion on matters of national security or war and that I should go back to "baking cookies and driving carpools" and leave these matters "to the men we elected." ...

And when, after the column on Mothers Opposing Bush, a male caller left a virulent, two-minute voicemail threatening my daughter, I felt sick. These people are out there, gentle reader. These are your neighbors or your friends or the people next to you in the grocery store check-out line.

This is how it begins. One little step at a time. Why is the Right unwilling to denounce them?

the Iranians clearly didn't read the Script

Dan's idol, Michael Ledeen, had some intriguing speculation about the rationale for the Iranian naval actions a few days ago, capturing eight British officers in the Shatt al-Arab straits:

here's a perfectly straightforward explanation for the whole episode: The Brits were laying down a network of sensors to detect the movement of ships toward major Iraqi oil terminals. The Iranians considered that a bit of a threat. So they attacked.

And why, you might ask, did the Iranians feel threatened?

Because they were planning to attack (or have their surrogates attack) the oil terminals, silly.

And why attack the oil terminals?

Because they want to defeat President Bush in November, and they figure if they can get the price of oil up to around $60 a barrel, he'll lose to Kerry.

Not to mention a considerable side benefit: At $60 a barrel, they can buy whatever they may be lacking to get their atomic bombs up and running.

It's not that hard to understand the mullahs once you learn to think as they do, and understand their hopes and fears.

Leaving aside the fact that any Iranian action towards Iraqi air terminals would hardly be invisible to the US military forces monitoring the entire region, the idea that an attack on Iraq's barely-functioning oil infrastructure would somehow raise oil prices to $60/bl makes no sense. Ledeen weakly throws the kitchen sink (ie, Iranian nukes) into the argument as a desperation scare tactic to boot. The entire argument is so absurdly self-serving and tailored to promote the "terrorists want you to vote for Kerry" meme that it's the nail in the coffin of any authority he once had on the topic of Iran. Certainly Ledeen's ability to "think as they do, and understand their hopes and fears" is atrophying at an alarming pace as the election season nears.

Oh, and Iran released the British crew, concluding that they were telling the truth.

My friend Dan Darling is currently working for Ledeen, and has his (valid) reasons to idolize him, but I can't take Ledeen any more seriously than I do Michael Moore for depth of analysis. It's sad to see someone with a fine sense of analysis reduced to propaganda.

(not that propaganda doesn't have its place - but then so does counter-propaganda. So in that sense I am quite pleased we have Michael Moore around).

debate lives online

I can't speak for other bloggers, but I personally feel that the level of cross-blog debate has increased (in my experience). Of course that is because I tend to seek out challenges to my views, and avoid echo chambers like the plague. My blog-habits tend towards polymaths like Razib and Steven, moderate liberals like Matthew and Kevin, and civil conservatives like Tacitus and Dan. To be brutally honest I have found more instances of echo-chamber thought on the right than on the left, but that opinion is certainly open to vigorous debate.

I do read partisan sites such as Kos and Atrios avidly however, because in general the media's Establishment bias (not liberal or conservative) requires going to these sources for the missing information. I also read partisan sites such as Glenn and Brian to gauge what the other side is thinking, and have generally found that their accusations of bias are more driven by "doesn't agree with my opinion/interpretation of the facts"-ism rather than "biased intent to actively suppress information"-ism. I've found that right-leaning partisan sites are in general quicker to accuse "the left" and "liberals" of treason/fellow traveling/sedition/etc, because they are unable to grant that the reason there is disagreement is because of interpretation of data and disagreement on certain basic axioms. For example, if you have an a-priori belief that the war on Iraq was relevant to the war on Terror, then anyone who does not support the war on Iraq must harbor secret sympathy for Al-Qaeda. QED. The idea that perhaps those people simply dont accept the initial proposition, and are arguing their case out of the same shared sense of concern for their Nation, is simply dismissed.

In general, it's the right side of the blogsphere that has grown more strident - with notable exceptions - and several conservative free thinkers are beginning to find themselves on the receiving end of the abuse that follows any attempt to stray from the party line (the most notable case being Andrew Sullivan). Not to say such witchhunting doesn't occur in the leftSphere either, but when it does, it is far more a niche phenomenon.

What I want to do is create a kind of forum or public space that exults in the old spirit of debate, the cross-sommunication of ideas, th ehashing out of policy with input from left and right, a true synthesis where people can argue and disagree without the world hanging in the rhetorical balance. But who else would I recruit to join me? I have some ideas, and maybe I'll act on it.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Kirkuk will be the Sarajevo of Iraq

I've been pessimistic about the future of the Iraq adventure before, predicting civil war. This new piece by Sy Hersh in the New Yorker reveals how ignorant I am by proving my pessimism to have been overly optimistic.


It's embarassing to admit, but several Texas bloggers were more on the ball than I was in noting the passing of Juneteenth this year on Saturday.

It's a uniquely Texan holiday, comemorating the arrival of Union troops on Galveston Island to announce the reality of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Two years late.

Juneteenth has a long tradition in the state, though it sort of faded out of view for a while, it is enjoying some resurgence. There hasn't been much media oxygen for it this year, however, given that the Texas Democratic Convention is in town and the Father's Day holiday. Houston's Emancipation Park was actually dedicated to the memory of the holiday, at the intersection of Elgin and Dowlings, a bit of a hike from the Main Street Rail's McGowen stop.

The Next Frontier

Today is a historic day - if all goes well and as planned, SpaceShipOne will be the first civilian vehicle to perform manned spaceflight. The flight is scheduled to reach 100 km (62 miles) bove the surface, officially qualifying as a sub-orbital trajectory, and the pilots officially qualifying as the first non-governmental astronauts in history.

The event is open to the public - check out Scaled's FAQ about the launch for more information. Excerpt from the FAQ:

Q: Who is invited?

A: Everyone, especially children. They will want to tell their children that they were there to see the event that triggered the industry of private space tourism.

UPDATE: Mike Melvill has been selected as the pilot.

UPDATE: Successful launch, attainment of space altitude, and safe return to Earth! SpaceFlightNow has the blow-by-blow report. Apparently the International Space Station was passing overhead at the same time and the crew attempted to take photos, which should be interesting indeed. The space station orbits at about 360 Km, which is about six times higher than SpaceShipOne reached in today's historic flight.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Father's Day

This photo captures every facet of meaning for Fathers' Day for me - and I'm not even in it :) Happy Father's Day to Dad and to Abba!

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Si vis pacem, cole justitiam

The beheading of Paul Johnson is disgusting and vile murder for its own sake, not in service of any true religious impulse or belief. These are thugs and they will pay for their inhuman brutality.

Muslims have never been silent about the evil done by these munafiqin claiming to carry the tandard of Islam.

And what about jihad? This is not it - killing an innocent man is hirabah. Jihad is a girl asking that she not be forced to take clothes off - itself as much an outrage as when women are forced to put clothes on. And Jihad can and sometimes must be violent - as with the Army of Thulfikar, who have taken to the streets of Najaf to rid their neighborhoods of evil thugs. Jihad is a continuum of pious resolve, self-examination, and Jacksonian defense. Islam is not a religion of peace, it is a religion of justice. And the divine justice upon the murderers of Mr. Johnson will be terrible indeed.

translation of the Latin: "if you desire peace, work for justice." Justice precedes peace, in other words. Sometimes, to achieve justice, one must work against peace in the short term - and that too is jihad.

Texas Blogger Caucus

great coffee, a bunch of Texas bloggers, and a visit by Richard Morrison, running for TX CD-22. A great time was had by all.

Gary Hart for SecHomeDef

If there's one thing that the entire liberal blogsphere should agree on, it is that Gary Hart needs to be in the Cabinet as Secretary of Homeland Defense. His recent interview at The American Prospect is essential reading, where he lays out broad and muscular principles for applying all forms of American power, hard and soft, to both foreign policy and honeland defense. Excerpt:

What is the message of your book?

From the end of the Cold War until the terrorist attacks of 2001, America did not have a grand strategy. We did not take the time to define our purpose in our world. To rectify that, I propose that we strive toward three goals: achieve security, expand opportunity to ourselves and others, and promote liberal democracy. We have abundant power to achieve these aims. We have the largest economy, and we are a political and military power. In addition, America has a fourth power, which are its principles, including, of course, free press, freedom of assembly, human right, and rule of law. When we support a government that doesn't believe in those things, we are weakening ourselves. We did that during the Cold War. We should not do that in the war on terrorism.

Even Jimmy Carter, who believed strongly in human rights, aligned himself with unsavory characters.

It�s hard. We could become more European and say: "The world is a messy place. We understand. We'll have to get ourselves messy. We make no grand claims for being superior." But America does claim to be superior. And, like an individual, if you violate your own principles to achieve an objective, you should question the objective. It's probably wrong.

You're critical of an ad hoc approach to foreign policy. But why can't you just deal with a crisis in, say, Somalia as it comes up?

Well, that was basically the Clinton approach. Madeleine Albright -- or Sandy Berger -- said, "We don�t have a strategy; we deal with issues as they arise." The problem is the world surprises you. Having this kind of approach is like an individual who says: "I don�t know what my purpose is in life. I'm going to get up in the morning and see what happens."

Friday, June 18, 2004

Muslims in India - Bohraization

Omar Khalidi is an architectural historian at MIT, with a special interest in the political future of muslims in India. He was recently interviewed by the Times of India while on a lecture tour, and had some interesting comments about my community as a role model.

You have studied the Indian Muslim situation for years. How does the community fit into the larger picture of India?

For the present, they do not fit into the tech-savvy, high income, self-confident India of the 21st century. Despite the famous Khans of the Bollywood, Infotech czar Premji, and the famed musicians, most Muslims are far poorer than their compa triots. Their stock in the political decision making is empty. Thin dispersal of the Muslims across the country prevents their numbers from being shown in legislative seats. Many constituencies with large Muslim voting population have been reserved for the SCs. Without some political leverage, public policies cannot be changed The biggest Muslim concern today is physical security of life and property Followed by economic and educational opportunities. For this one cannot blame the govern ment alone. Mus lims need a huge amount of self-in trospection to find the lacunae.

Have the Indian Muslims benefited from the socio-eco nomic development of India in the post Independence era?

No, they have not but not because they are Muslims, but because the economic policies pursued by successive governments have benefited only the upper middle classes and the rich and leave out the rural poor, the urban slum dwellers, SCs and women. The Muslims be come worse off because there is a political culture of indifference towards them. I say indifference � not discrimination � be cause Muslims do not have the political clout, which was lost in the wake of Pak istan�s creation. They inherited the stigma for Pakistan�s birth. So when public funds are distributed, there is a tendency to ignore them. The same policy would have been pur sued in the case of the SCs, but they are pro tected by the policy of reservation at all lev els. A new middle class emerged out of the ranks of the deprived SCs, far outpacing Muslims.

You once called for the �Bohraisation of Muslims.

By that I mean that Muslims ought to take more interest in trade, small businesses and self-employment. The era of flabby civil service is over. The path of upward social mobility is by entrepreneurship. In this venture, they have their own Prophet Mohammad as the role model. Don�t forget that he and his wife were both merchants And Bohras � whatever their sectarian beliefs are � have followed the example of the Prophet almost to the letter. The vast majority of the Bohras are small and medium businessmen and industrialists Only a tiny number of Bohras are independent professionals. I have not heard of a Bohra in government employment exceptions apart. The Aga Khani Khojas Memons, Nawaits of Bhatkal in Karnataka Tamil Labbais, Saudagaran of Delhi Kolkata and UP and elsewhere can be good role models for other Muslims.

Part of the economic success of the Bohras is also due to the liberal yet pious approach to theological interpretation - particularly with respect to womens' rights and embrace of technology and modernism. But the lion's share of credit for the Bohra community's success lies with the leadership of the office of Dai u-Mutlaq, who have promoted entrepeneurship and trade explicitly by explicitly invoking the Prophet Mohammed's teachings - and rejecting the vocabulary of hatred and intolerance that has steadily crept into the Muslim mainstream.

The relative independence, if not affluence, of my community, even in the smallest villages, is why I sometimes seem ignorant of the broader social status of muslims in India in general - it's just been as light-years beyond my experience as Bangladeshi poverty has been to Razib.

Edwards for Veep

I think I've finally decided who to root for. Read why at Dean Nation.

save us, Microsoft!

Cory Doctorow's talk to a MIcrosoft audience about why Digital Rights Management (DRM) is bad for society and for business is a fantastic and in-depth primer on the topic. But by far the most important part is where Doctorow urges Microsoft to use it's muscle:

Sony didn't make a Betamax that only played the movies that Hollywood was willing to permit -- Hollywood asked them to do it, they proposed an early, analog broadcast flag that VCRs could hunt for and respond to by disabling recording. Sony ignored them and made the product they thought their customers wanted.

I'm a Microsoft customer. Like millions of other Microsoft customers, I want a player that plays anything I throw at it, and I think that you are just the company to give it to me.

Yes, this would violate copyright law as it stands, but Microsoft has been making tools of piracy that change copyright law for decades now. Outlook, Exchange and MSN are tools that abet widescale digital infringement.

More significantly, IIS and your caching proxies all make and serve copies of documents without their authors' consent, something that, if it is legal today, is only legal because companies like Microsoft went ahead and did it and dared lawmakers to prosecute.

Microsoft stood up for its customers and for progress, and won so decisively that most people never even realized that there was a fight.

Do it again! This is a company that looks the world's roughest, toughest anti-trust regulators in the eye and laughs. Compared to anti-trust people, copyright lawmakers are pantywaists. You can take them with your arm behind your back.

Will Microsoft pursue the path of enlightened self-interest? and save us all? I don't know, but I sincerely hope so. But this is the right way to encourage them:

The market opportunity for a truly capable devices is enormous. There's a company out there charging *$30,000* for a $600 DVD jukebox -- go and eat their lunch! Steve Jobs isn't going to do it: he's off at the D conference telling studio execs not to release hi-def movies until they're sure no one will make a hi-def DVD burner that works with a PC.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

shared values

In my post below (and as a comment at I stated:

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence - but I do not have evidence for a link between Al-Qaeda and the Texas GOP, and still remain fairly confident that their shared religio-political values are not sufficient to warrant cooperation and support.

Tacitus took great umbrage at what he perceived to be moral equivalence between Al Qaeda and the Texas GOP, but I made no such claim. Rather I was pointing out that his argument that "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" is a faulty (and somewhat lazy) attempt to keep afloat a flawed hypothesis.

However, the point I was making about the shared values of Al-Qaeda and the Texas GOP is a factual one - exemplified by this excerpt from their 2004 platform:

The Republican Party of Texas affirms that the United States of America is a Christian nation, and the public acknowledgement of God is undeniable in our history. Our nation was founded on fundamental Judeo-Christian principles based on the Holy Bible. The Party affirms freedom of religion, and rejects efforts of courts and secular activists who seek to remove and deny such a rich heritage from our public lives.


Our Party pledges to exert its influence to restore the original intent of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and dispel the myth of the separation of Church and State.

Note that the key point expressed here is that the US is a "Christian Nation" - an axiom from which calling separation of Church and State a "myth" is a logical consequence. As the pro-Separation/pro-free-excercise advocacy group Americans United explains in their excellent background brochure on the question of the Christian Nation, the Texas GOP is at odds with the Founders' intent - including the Father of the country himself:

Washington's administration even negotiated a treaty with the Muslim rulers of north Africa that stated explicitly that the United States was not founded on Christianity. The pact, known as the Treaty with Tripoli, was approved unanimously by the Senate in 1797, under the administration of John Adams. Article 11 of the treaty states, "[T]he government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion�."

The bottom line here is that the Texas GOP unambigously rejects the separation of religion and politics - and does so because it seeks to impose its own religious beliefs on the rest of the population of the United States, against their will. They seek to criminalize sexual behavior, outlaw abortion entirely, elimination of the social safety net, inclusion of Creationism in school textbooks, dismantling of the United Nations, and numerous other extreme positions well outside the current moderate mainstream concensus. They seek poltical power as a means to that end.

The value system that rationalizes he desire to impose extreme religious beliefs upon the mainstream - against the will of the majority - is the one shared by the Texas GOP and Al-Qaeda. Far from being an equivalence, it's a common attitude, a fervent belief that the ends justify the means. The Texas GOP does not kill or commit violence to achieve it's goals, but then again, it hardly has to. In essence, Al-Qaeda are fundamentalists of type B, and the Texas GOP is type A.

My friend Dan Darling took exception to my earlier alarm at the Texas GOP platform, arguing essentially that the influence of the Right is zero and for evidence argues that we do not currently live in a Mulla Falwell theocracy. True, and the people of Afghanistan did not live under a Taliban-style theocracy during the 80s when Reagan called them "freedom fighters" in explicit analogy to the Minutemen of the American Revolution. But fanatics left unattended - and vigorously un-repudiated - have a way of making things happen.

But that part of Dan's argument is a red herring - teh real point he makes is that the Christian Right is marginalized and powerless to ever bring such a state of affairs about. Kevin Drum offers a succinct rebuttal:

One of the longtime arguments of mainstream Republicans has been that the Christian Right doesn't really have much influence on the party, so there's nothing to worry about. Gay marriage, though, is an opportunity to show that that's not true. After all, if Bush is willing to amend the constitution to ban gay partnerships in order to win their votes, what might he do next?

All politicians pander - but Bush's pandering is deeply dangerous. And while Republicans may be closing ranks in denial, true conservatives are taking notice and making tough decisions baed on what's right, not Right:

Could it be that Bush has not governed as a conservative in critical ways - and hasn't even governed competently in others? Let's list a few: the WMD intelligence debacle - the worst blow to the credibility of the U.S. in a generation; Abu Ghraib - a devastating wound to to America's moral standing in the world; the post-war chaos and incompetence in Iraq; an explosion in federal spending with no end in sight; no entitlement reform; a huge addition to fiscal insolvency with the Medicare drug entitlement; support for a constitutional amendment, shredding states' rights; crusades against victimless crimes, like smoking pot and watching porn; the creeping fusion of religion and politics; the erosion of some critical civil liberties in the Patriot Act. I could go on. Is there any point at which a conservative might consider not voting for Bush? For the editor of National Review Online, the answer is indeed "fairly obvious." But for people not institutionally related to the G.O.P., the only question is: where would that line be?

Ultimately, the vote is the only means by which the electorate exert their influence upon the system. That is what makes our system different from ones in which the Taliban rose to power. But that is a frail defense if it is not invoked.

Recursive Godwin's Law

Vice President Cheney:

Vice President Dick Cheney, who took the lead in pushing the idea of long-standing links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, has no intention of backing down despite a finding to the contrary by the Sept. 11 commission, aides said on Wednesday.

Bill O'Reilly says:

"Joseph Goebbels was the minister of propaganda for the Nazi regime and whose very famous quote was, 'If you tell a lie long enough, it becomes the truth.'"

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

the enemy of my enemy

Tacitus makes a valiant attempt at squeezing lemonade from the lemon conclusion by the 9-11 Comission that Iraq and al-Qaedea had no relationship of support:

First, that all those claiming that the "secular" and religious fanatics of the Muslim world would never consider working together are now definitively shown wrong. Actually, they were before, as any observer of the Palestinian and Iraqi guerrilla movements would have noted: so let's just call this a nail in that coffin. Second, that the idea that knocking out the aforementioned "secular" autocracies of the region does not deprive our Islamist enemies of props, refuges and allies just suffered a serious blow. Which, again, those of us arguing that the social pathologies of the region constitute a unified whole already knew. Third, that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. It's something that I doubt most of those reveling in schadenfreude over this news will bother to acknowledge.

Islamic fundamentalists have no scruples about whom they ally with - they accepted our help in Afghanistan to oust the Russians in the 80s, after all, and while Zarqawi's memo has few kind words for Shi'a, most of the Al-Q leadership has taken refuge in Tehran.

However, secular Arab nationalist regimes are indeed VERY leery of alliance with religious psychotics (more so than our real-politik foreign policy establishment during the 80s) because they know that the (twisted) populist message poses a direct threat to their totalitarian grip*and thus are much more paranoid.

Saudi Arabia has managed to find a way around the conundrum by making a pact with the devil, ie the symbiosis between the House of Saud and the Wahabs (where religious authority is granted in exchange for oil-revenue-derived funding of the theocratic infrastructure).

That Al-Qaeda sought an alliance with Saddam is unsurprising and illustrates even more strongly their threat as the priority. That Saddam rejected the alliance is equally unsurprising (and in fact Saddam tried to appropriate religious symbolism for his own use to try and fill the vacuum).

The merits of the case for war against Saddam aside, the argument that his regime "supported" Al-Qaeda is therefore false, and the insistence by the Vice President that Saddam was linked to 9-11 is therefore risible.

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence - but I do not have evidence for a link between Al-Qaeda and the Texas GOP, and still remain fairly confident that their shared religio-political values are not sufficient to warrant cooperation and support.

This is a fact that I expect most supporters of the Iraq War and rejectors of the multi-pole theory of American power (ably articulated by Gary Hart and the foundation of more comprehensive proposals for execution of the war on Terror than anything the Bush Administration is capable of conceiving) will surely not bother to acknowledge.

[1]all nationalist movements trend towards the totalitarian.

sticking with Blogger

Dave Winer, creator of the Manila blog system, has shut down the free hosting service overnight, cutting off about 3000 blogs. The Slashdot story gives good background, and Dave Winer offers his defense.

This comes only a month or so after Six Apart, makers of Moveable Type blog software, drastically raised prices, in a pretty clear attempt to get users of the free MT software to eventually migrate to their paid service, TypePad.

Both of these business decisions are justifiable on the merits but have left users of the respective services outraged. I think however that they are important developments, because they help to illustrate the limitations of various models for blog services.

The main problem in Manila's case was that the server load became too high. This is a pretty powerful argument against dynamically-generated blog pages - the Blogger method of static files is much more scalable. Blogger has an advantage over Manila in that the actual pages generated after publishing are strictly text-html. The otherwise excellent blog software Wordpress also boasts of dynamic page generation, which is a deal-breaker for me despite the fact that WP is essentially perfect in all other respects. Static pages are archived more consistently in Google, they require very little server load to host, and they provide an instant-backup (to archive your blog, just download the static files).

The main argument against Moveable Type was cost - over $600 for version 3.0 if you run multiple blogs and have multiple team members. That's an absurd price, and while TypePad hosting is cheaper, it still costs you several hundred dollars a year to gain the same control as you do for free on blogger.

Overall, I am pleased with Blogger and intend to remain - especially since the acquisition by Google puts Blogger at the center of innovation (and it got me some gmail invites too).

That said, what does Blogger need to improve on? There are two gaping holes: 1. searching and 2. categories. Since blogger data is stored in the backend as a database, a search function should be made available to weblog authors from their control panels, and not just the rudimentary search box currently available, but rather a full-fledged field-specific advanced query capability. For categories, there needs to be the ability to classify posts - and in this regard, adopting the "virtual folder" labeling of Gmail would be ideal.

In fact, gmail provides the perfect model for both of the above. A single archive, accessible through powerful search filters, and a "virtual folder"labeling system. All of which allow the author to easily access the data and to also provide "custom views" of the data (published to static files) as needed for the readers.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

conservative "discourse"

The Nazi analogies comes easy to Bill O'Reilly:

O'REILLY: So who turns out for the screening of this movie [Fahrenheit 9/11] last night? You ready? Now, here are the celebrities that turn out. Here are the people who would turn out to see Josef Goebbels convince you that Poland invaded the Third Reich. It's the same thing, by the way. Propaganda is propaganda. OK?

No Dean for VP

It may surprise people who know of my long advocacy and continued sentiment for teh Dean campaign - but I don't think Howard Dean is the right choice for Kerry's VP. Read why at Dean Nation.

Saturday, June 12, 2004


Keanu Reeves was in a drive-by shooting. Not the shooter, obviously! one of the shoot-ees:

The actor stayed calm as windows shattered and people screamed in terror inside the supermarket, according to a US tabloid.

And Reeves reacted like it was a real-life version of one of his films as he hit the ground, yelling at panicked customers: 'Get down.'

After the gunshots died away, Reeves crept to the front of the store to peak outside.

After scanning the empty street, he said to the store owner: 'Call the police.'

But when cops arrived and swarmed the streets the culprits were nowhere to be seen.

The shoppers then found many of their cars had been shot.

Police believe the shooting was a random attack by a gang member proving himself.

no word on whether the sky was tinged green or blue.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

WiFi on the Texas Highway

This is pretty cool:

Texas is the first state in the nation to provide free wireless Internet access at its safety rest areas, the Texas Department of Transportation announced today.

TxDOT began experimenting with wireless Internet service last fall, when the department provided the capability at twin rest areas on U.S. 287 in Donley County. Free wireless service also is available at two rest areas on the same highway in Hardeman County.

�The feedback we�ve received so far has been very positive,� said Andy Keith, Safety Rest Area Program Manager for TxDOT�s Maintenance Division. �Texas� highways are seeing an increasing number of business travelers, truckers and RVers and access to email is important to them. They have really responded favorably to our four �hot spots� on U.S. 287.�

TxDOT has taken the first step to expand the service to all of its 84 safety rest areas and 12 Travel Information Centers by issuing a request for offer seeking vendors able to provide free wireless Internet service and pay telephone-like Internet access at kiosks.

Keith said he envisions computers in the kiosks being available in 15 minute increments by swiping a credit card through a reader. But wireless access will be free for anyone with their own equipment.

I will have to make use of it this summer enroute when we take the baby to Sea World :) The spread of Wi-Fi technology is really a major event which we who live through it don't really have the perspective to fully grasp. The potential for transformative impact on our society is immense. The transformative power is not just in bringing new uses to market, but in making old institutions obsolete.

UPDATE: Seems that Austin is the Wi-Fi capital of the planet...

Monday, June 7, 2004

why I am not a Republican

The Texas GOP is not the Party of Reagan.

It is, however, the Party of Tom Delay. Those who register and vote Republican are fellow travelers of the ideology above, and their refusal to denounce it and take their political party back from teh extremists - including the party leader - is a failure of priorities. As Kevin Drum observes with an equivalent hypothetical:

Consider this. Suppose that very serious, very miltant communists took over the New York State Democratic party and wrote a platform advocating, say, nationalization of key industries and confiscatory taxation of all income over $50,000. And suppose that one of these New York Democrats had enough support in the party to become House majority leader. And then, finally, suppose that as communist influence spread throughout New England and beyond, Democrats pretended that nothing was amiss. A few communists here and there are harmless. Most of them don't really believe that stuff anyway, and we're just compromising with them on a few minor issues. Honest.

Republicans would � rightly � be aghast and would refuse to accept bland assurances that nothing serious was going on. And what I want is for the vast majority of decent mainstream Republicans to understand that something very similar is happening to them, and to insist that their party marginalize and repudiate the Texas strain of social destruction currently growing like a cancer on their right wing.

Bottom Line: America cannot eradicate oppression and tyranny abroad, and be a beacon of liberty to the world for our sake and theirs, if at home we lose those same freedoms.

Sunday, June 6, 2004

Soviet spending was flat during the 1980s

Give Reagan his due, but the claim that he outspent the Russians (or that SDI caused an economic race the Soviets could not match) are overblown:

The Soviet Union's defense spending did not rise or fall in response to American military expenditures. Revised estimates by the Central Intelligence Agency indicate that Soviet expenditures on defense remained more or less constant throughout the 1980s. Neither the military buildup under Jimmy Carter and Reagan nor SDI had any real impact on gross spending levels in the USSR. At most SDI shifted the marginal allocation of defense rubles as some funds were allotted for developing countermeasures to ballistic defense.

If American defense spending had bankrupted the Soviet economy, forcing an end to the Cold War, Soviet defense spending should have declined as East-West relations improved. CIA estimates show that it remained relatively constant as a proportion of the Soviet gross national product during the 1980s, including Gorbachev's first four years in office. Soviet defense spending was not reduced until 1989 and did not decline nearly as rapidly as the overall economy.

To be sure, defense spending was an extraordinary burden on the Soviet economy. As early as the 1970s some officials warned Leonid Brezhnev that the economy would stagnate if the military continued to consume such a disproportionate share of resources. The General Secretary ignored their warnings, in large part because his authority depended on the support of a coalition in which defense and heavy industry were well represented. Brezhnev was also extraordinarily loyal to the Soviet military and fiercely proud of its performance. Soviet defense spending under Brezhnev and Gorbachev was primarily a response to internal political imperatives--to pressures from the Soviet version of the military-industrial complex. The Cold War and the high levels of American defense spending provided at most an opportunity for leaders of the Soviet military-industrial complex to justify their claims to preferential treatment. Even though the Cold War has ended and the United States is no longer considered a threat by the current Russian leadership, Russian defense spending now consumes roughly as great a percentage of GNP as it did in the Brezhnev years.

it's possible to argue a factual point that Reagan helped win the Cold War without invoking mythos. The real manner in which Reagan was critical was in trusting Gorbachev as a partner to peace - the Soviets were on the brink of collapse, and had Reagan been a cowboy the hard-liners might have opted to go out with a bang.

Saturday, June 5, 2004

where did the GOP of Reagan vanish to?

because sometimes I feel like I'd vote for it if it were around. With Reagan's passing, perhaps it's gone forever too.

President Reagan dies at age 93

Rest in peace. He deserves kudos for his role in bringing about the fall of Communism and for being a leader that actually did unite our nation rather than the division that GOP candidates have sown since. His foreign and fiscal policies would be welcome by liberals today, in comparison to the extremism of the present Administration. But if his greatest legacy is that his example furthers the cause of research into Alzheimer's disease, with stem-cell technology, against the policy of the present Administration and the right-wing zealots who have dominated the GOP, then that will be a far greater acclaim than any other judgement history may provide.

If you read one speech by Reagan, make it two. The speech after the Challenger, and the speech where he dared Gorbachev to "tear down this wall."

UPDATE: beware the GOP attempts at revisionist history. Much of Reagan's success as President owed to some of his decidely non-conservative policies:

Reagan is, to be sure, one of the most conservative presidents in U.S. history and will certainly be remembered as such. His record on the environment, defense, and economic policy is very much in line with its portrayal. But he entered office as an ideologue who promised a conservative revolution, vowing to slash the size of government, radically scale back entitlements, and deploy the powers of the presidency in pursuit of socially and culturally conservative goals. That he essentially failed in this mission hasn't stopped partisan biographers from pretending otherwise. (Noonan writes of his 1980 campaign pledges: "Done, done, done, done, done, done, and done. Every bit of it.")

A sober review of Reagan's presidency doesn't yield the seamlessly conservative record being peddled today. Federal government expanded on his watch. The conservative desire to outlaw abortion was never seriously pursued. Reagan broke with the hardliners in his administration and compromised with the Soviets on arms control. His assault on entitlements never materialized; instead he saved Social Security in 1983. And he repeatedly ignored the fundamental conservative dogma that taxes should never be raised.

All of this has been airbrushed from the new literature of Reagan.

UPDATE: an excellent point which is also in danger of being papered over by modern GOP revisionists as an inconvenient fact, even though it is actually critical and profound:

So tonight, as we live in a world where the danger of nuclear war is much lower than it was in 1985, when Reagan and Gorbachev first met, let us praise Reagan for ignoring the advice of those who said bargaining with Gorbachev would endanger the safety of the free world, especially then-Defense Department official Richard Perle and then-Wyoming Congressman Dick Cheney.

UPDATE: Kerry's statement on the death of Ronald Reagan. It's a noble gesture of respect which all Democrats would be wise to heed.

the fruits of govt spending: an educated middle class

via Phil Carter, this story in the Washington Post that touches on the legacy of the GI Bill and the impact it had upon America:

Since it was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, about $77 billion in benefits authorized under the bill have flowed to 7.8 million veterans of World War II and 2.4 million of the Korean War, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. An additional 1.4 million post-Korean veterans and 6 million Vietnam-era veterans have used the GI Bill for education and training.

That snapshot, however, does not begin to explain how one law has touched generations of Americans. "It built a modern middle class. It propelled a generation of leaders," said Anthony J. Principi, the secretary of veterans affairs.

Phil isn't one to just link to a good story, though - he always has some interesting insight of his own to add. He comments:

The GI Bill is what enabled the veterans of WWII to flood America's colleges and universities -- previously bastions of privilege -- and subsequently become the scientists, engineers, lawyers, teachers, salesmen, managers and leaders of the 20th Century. The GI Bill touched off the greatest educational boom in this country, which according to many studies, is as much responsible for our economic boom during this period as anything. And today, the GI Bill remains the most important benefit for new soldiers choosing to enlist; it has given millions of Americans the chance to earn a post-secondary education that would not have otherwise had it.

It's worth noting that the educational legacy of the GI Bill also lay at the foundation of the civil rights movement and the women's rights movement. To that end, imagine the transformnative effect that a similar investment in education might make for Iraq and the rest of the Middle East. In fact such a proposal has been made as part of a lengthy report on winning the War on Terror by Congressman Jim Turner - and at a fraction of the cost of the war on Iraq itself:

Most interesting, however, is part three, concerning what Turned describes as "the greatest challenge and most neglected problem we face": preventing the rise of future generations of terrorists. The centerpiece of this strategy is the welcome twofold proposition that the country, in conjunction with allies, commit substantial resources toward improving living conditions in the Islamic world.

In the first instance, this means improving education by directing $10 billion over 10 years "directly for operation of primary and secondary secular schools in Arab states that commit to doubling their investment in public education over the course of ten years." The goal here is to wean students away from the radical indoctrination of the madrasas, traditional schools where Islam is taught. But unless we want to be running Arab school systems forever, sustainable secular education is going to require local economic development, so Turner's second proposal is a Marshall Plan-like effort to provide $100 billion in aid over 10 years (to be matched by allies) that would be conditioned on recipient countries adopting a broad range of internal economic reforms.

Relative to the scale of the challenge, these proposals are actually rather modest. The invasion of Iraq has cost more than $100 billion so far, with $25 billion more requested in early May and no end in sight. (The $1 billion a year Turner wants for schools, by contrast, is less than the Pentagon's budget for a single day, though stopping terrorist ideology from spreading is clearly preferable to trying to combat its adherents later with cruise missiles.) The real Marshall Plan, undertaken by America alone, cost $200 billion per year relative to the present size of the economy, not $200 billion over 10 years with half the money coming from Europe and Japan.

This is a grand Neo-wilsonian policy of projecting American soft-power to achieve a mutually beneficial end. It's a compelling case and I am trying to track down a full copy of the report to study it in more detail at leisure. There is much food for thought here, but we only have to look at the fruits of investing in education and infrastructure after World War II in our home country to get a sense for the transformative power of ideas and knowledge upon society, and the potential such a course followed in the Middle East would have for Arab liberty and American security.

Wednesday, June 2, 2004

democracy vs Jewishness in Israel

The fundamental paradox at the heart of Israel's civil society is its desire to be both a democratic state and a Jewish one. I strongly support the right of Jews to have a homeland, but I think that abandonment of the concept of the separation of church and state is a step backwards. The supermajority of Judaism amongst Israel's population exacerbates rather than mitigates the need for Synagouge-state separation there, because the rights of the minorities are even more at risk, and because the superficial homogeneity of the majority is broken by the internal divisions - especially secular vs Orthodox.

Cases in point: voices calling to end the Orthodox rabbinical monopoly over legal marriage in Israel face a chilly reception:

Speaking at a rabbinical conference in Jerusalem, Bakshi-Doron urged the repeal of the law stating that marriages in Israel must be conducted according to religious law.


The other rabbis at the conference greeted Bakshi-Doron's statement with silence, but later, many described it as a "bombshell."

In his speech, Bakshi-Doron gave several reasons why he thought the rabbinate's monopoly on marriages must end. First, he said, the law has become irrelevant, as growing numbers of Israelis are choosing to marry in civil ceremonies either abroad or in Israel (the state recognizes civil marriages conducted overseas, but not those conducted locally). Second, he said, the law encourages hatred of the rabbinate, since it is seen as the primary expression of religious coercion in Israel.


"I know this is a taboo, because the law is perceived as one of the symbols of the state," he said. "But unfortunately, it's a symbol without content."

Tsohar, an organization of young religious Zionist rabbis that hosted the conference, stressed that Bakshi-Doron's views did not represent those of the organization.

Meanwhile, baby steps towards misogynistic social customs are being taken in Orthodox strongholds:

Last week notices were posted on Admor Mevishna Street in Bnei Brak announcing that men and women, boys and girls, must now walk on opposite sides of the street, regardless of the direction in which they are walking.

The signs declare that rabbis of the Vishnitz Hasidic court had decided on the new arrangement because the crowded, narrow street led to immodest contact between the sexes.

The street is located in a neighborhood where most residents are members of the Vishnitz community.

The comments on that Maariv article are revealing - a general sense of "well, if the women don't complain, then who are we to judge?" That's almost pathological in its refusal to accept the universality of human rights and the very meaning of liberty. I had considered Diana's comments about the docility of Israeli women (sorry, permalinks broken) to be hyperbole, but the women in Bnei Brek are proving her right.

Note that Israel has an advantage of a democratic structure, which should theoretically allow for the secular voices to exert influence over the direction of their nation. The influx of non-Jewish immigrants, primarily laborers, also adds to balancig societal pressure (though not much political capital). However, the fact that Israel's very definition rests on a Jewish identity means that the Orthodox will wield disproportionate power over the process. And their birthrates are higher.

This is not a problem unique to Jews, the same sectarian dynamics are at work within the United States (by the conservative, evangelical non-majority of Christians, esp in the South) who are waging a culture war against homosexuals and women's rights, and in Islam with the struggle between moderates and fanatics (and the latter get all the press, of course, while the former suffer the consequences).

Ultimately, the problem arises from allowing religion into the political sphere. Religion cannot accept compromise (and nor should it), and therefore it is forced almost by default down the road of extremism once it tastes electoral power, by sheer inexorable logic of what is right and wrong. The act that God's law transcends man's law is acadeimic; rather, religion seeks to mirror God's laws in the mortal realm, and the invariable result is a dramatic reduction in the freedom to excercise reason that lies at teh heart of any honest religious belief.

Tuesday, June 1, 2004

save Yglesias

Matthew Yglesias was unfairly harassed by The Man on Memorial Day. Read all about it - and don't miss the funniest comment thread since Bush was selected. Damn these big-government conservatives! (if only the Libertarian party wasn't so lame...)