September 13, 2005

All right, it looks like all my tedious work is done and I can now announce the blog has moved to another domain and is hosted by powerblogs. The pay service is a big benefit, providing the blog with categories and autotrackbacks, among many other features. And cosmetically the blog is now available partially integrated with the neo-libertarian site at blog.neo-libertarian.com.
LDP Victory in Japanese Election

The Liberal Democratic Party strengthened its majority in the elections for the lower house from 249 to 296. The majority needed is 241. Along with the Komeito Party, their centrist-Buddhist partner, the LDP's ruling coalition is up to over two-thirds of the lower house. The head of the Democratic Party, the presumptive opposition party, admitted defeat and resigned.

Results?

Well, Japan isn't really a two-party or multi-party state at this point. Of course, that's a very narrow, Western-focused way of looking at the situation since the LDP itself is split into at least half a dozen major factions and the views of minority parties are regularly taken into account. People are free to vote as they wish and elections are fair, it's just that the LDP has won all but a few elections since the 1950s. It lost in the 1990s a few times and it looked like Japan would have several competitive parties but the multi-party factionalism outside the LDP was less capable of ruling than the single-party factionalism inside the LDP. It's also important to remember that Japanese politics is incredibly non-ideological compared to other liberal democracies, and except for Ichiro Ozawa (in the most superficial comparison, he's Japan's Reagan or Thatcher). I'd say Japan's democracy is just fine, if - like all things Japan - different from everyone else.

Beyond that, this is another validation of Koizumi. One of Japan's most charismatic politicians, possibly their most charismatic Prime Minister ever, his popularity is still strong. This is a vbalidation of him because the election was a fight between Koizumi and his internal LDP opponents. He ran candidates against some LDP rebels and Koizumi's candidates all won. Koizumi is still going strong.

Policy-wise, this was a victory for Koizumi's fight to privatize Japan Post. He lost a vote to privatize the world's largest financial institution when members of the LDP went against it. He revoked LDP support for these party members (even in the upper house) and called a snap election for the lower house. A month later, he gets a big win and against the rebels. The meaning is clear: voters support his plan to privatize the postal finances.

Of course, it would be nice if he could go further in liberalizing the economy, which is still a structural mess with most of the burdens of state socialism - inefficiencies everywhere, weak companies and weak business models protected, bad loans forgiven or covered, and good businesses and hard workers forced to prop up the bad ones through the economic design. Beyond that, the government exercises enormous influence, de facto and de jure, on the economy. Still, at least privatizing Japan Post is something.

A lot of analysts in the US are looking at it from the US foreign policy standpoint and what it means for Bush and Iraq. That's fair for US media to drive it back home, but the election wasn't really about that. Just like with the UK and Australia, a good US ally and supporter of the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan was reelected because he was a good politician who was good on the other issues. Iraq was not what won this for Koizumi and it probably wouldn't have lost it for him. Iraq just wasn't an issue in this election, and if Iraq were a defining moment of these elections then we'd probably see PM Kennedy (UK), PM Latham (Australia) and a Koizumi defeat today.

It's a good thing for Bush and his Iraq policy that his allies are reelected (save Aznar in Spain) but let's not confuse that with any sort of specific mandate for the policy. If anything, it's simply a message that foreign feelings about Iraq are insufficient to shoot down an otherwise decent PM.

But the best part of the Japanese election is that a difficult reform is being pursued to help the Japanese economy, and that reform is being met openly by the voters. Best of luck to Japan in liberalizing with the LDP government.
E-mail to Instapundit

Over this piece in the NYT.

I have to strenuously disagree with your interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment in your third question to Judge Roberts in your NYT piece. The "born or naturalized" line is without a doubt NOT a definition of personhood, but rather a way of specifying which persons "are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside." "Born or naturalized" is a modifier of "all persons," the same as the qualification that they be "subject to the jurisdiction thereof" in order to be citizens.

If the first sentence of Section 1 were a definition of persons then it would be open hunting season on immigrants (the non-naturalized) and foreign diplomats (those not 'subject to the jurisdiction thereof'), who would be reduced to no more rights than an embryo or fetus, rules of comity aside. Such is thankfully not the case.

September 11, 2005

Literally

Sen. Landrieu:

"These guys [in the National Guard] are carrying the weight of the world literally on their shoulders."

Really? The third planet from the Sun is no longer being held in orbit by inertia and gravity but by some guys with M-16s and humvees?

Literally is the adverb form of literal. It means you are speaking without exaggeration or metaphor. Learn it.

September 10, 2005

3-Line Popularity

As it turns out, tons of people have taken the 3-Line Quiz and reported their scores. A plug on NationStates by Adriana brought in some reports and what appears to be possibly several hundred test-takers over a few days. I have maybe 3 dozen score reports, so I could now post a compilation of them. I'm not sure whether to count each person's three scores separately or linked together. It would be most interesting to see the combinations that are uncommon.

I'm more interested in refining it based on these test runs. I might need to adjust the questions to be clearer so that they're not overly narrow or overly broad. Still, an important part of the test is the preconceptions that a taker has; if I ask a certain question broadly then somebody's negative or positive interpretation of it betrays their biases on the issue.

The 4-line quiz is next. I need to rescore the questions a little bit, then I'll spend three years of my life doing the whole code by hand. I think I'll limit it to five rankings per line instead of seven, so that way I'll have fewer combinations I have to go through in the coding process.

After getting the 4-line done I might unify the 3-line into just one quiz for all three lines. Eventually I could try and run it all into one big 100-question test but as it stands the "7 Line Quiz" is awfully far away.

My main goal for the quiz at this point is to refine it sufficiently to give me a good idea of the test-taker's views. Then, in conjunction with a more conventional, policy-based quiz and the 4 Line, I'll be able to author Intelligence Reports for and about people. I'll send it out to some famous bloggers, see if they're interested in having an Intelligence Report written about them. They take the tests, I'll read them, look over some of their blog posts and be able to write a decent Intelligence Report.

If it works well and some big-time bloggers post their IRs with links here, then I'll start doing it for a small fee, largely in order to offset my bandwidth and hosting costs (I have thus far declined to put up ads or a paypal link). I'm not going to go into it with the expectation that I'll profit any off of this, or even break even, but I expect it to be fun.

September 09, 2005

Flight 93 Memorial

The memorial for Flight 93, the one that crashed in Pennsylvania en route to DC, is called the Crescent of Embrace. You can guess why:



In case you didn't know, the Crescent is essentially the symbol for Islam in the same way the Cross and the six-pointed Star are symbols for Christianity and Judaism, respectively. In Muslim countries, the Red Cross is called the Red Crescent. I would not say it's appropriate to mark the graves of these dead with a memorial that's shaped like a symbols that the terrorists (as well as many others) worshipped. Maybe including the crescent alongisde symbols of all religions would be a way to do a sort of holding-hands type thing, but otherwise it's not what we should be shooting for.

Maybe it was a coincidence and the architect didn't realize that the crescent is a symbol of the killers (as well as the symbol of many victims of terrorism) and that standing alone it seems to send a pretty startling message. After all, the crescent is a pretty basic geometric shape, just like a six-pointed star is (many-pointed stars are common in Arabic architecture for their mathematical and visual properties, and would suggest no affiliation with Jews). The red for the maple trees that form the crescent could be explained as chosen for their striking color. Still, it's a big frickin' red crescent laid out around the site where 40 passengers and crew were killed for people that worshipped in the name of the Red Crescent.

Whatever the reason, I think it would be a good idea to change the memorial to something with different symbolism. Maybe they could complete the crescent into a circle and use many different colors of trees.

I followed Charles Johnson's link to the Forest Service to comment. When I tried to send it in, it said the requested URL was not found on this server. So I guess they disabled it or it doesn't appear or something. Anyway, here's what I said:

"I am concerned that the shape of the memorial for the 40 souls lost in Flight 93 has unintended symbolism. The choices of a crescent and red trees, though each innocent enough, means that the memorial will be a red crescent. The international symbol of Islam is a crescent, and red is often associated with it (as in the Tunisian flag, or the Red Cross-affiliated Red Crescent organization). Leaving to one side the vast majority of Muslims that wished no ill will toward those lost, a red crescent is still a symbol that the terrorists would have identified with. Perhaps a full circle with many different colored trees would be a less controversial memorial that's no less effective in commemorating the lost."
Krauthammer on Katrina

As usual, Krauthammer provides a nice broad picture of the problems behind the response to Katrina. It seems to me the biggest problem is that the Mayor and Governor didn't order evacuations and that politicians and bureaucrats subsequently prevented (and continue to prevent) the Red Cross and private citizens from helping out in the city proper. I suspect it has a lot to do with bureaucratic processes and control (see Coyote here and here) but their rationale was that giving food and water to the refugees in the Superdome and Convention Center would encourage them to stay there, and that letting the Red Cross go in to help would make people want to return.

Apparently they're willing to see people undergo health risks (including death for the very young and very old) of not having clean water and sufficient food on the premise that refugees will make an informed decision to stay or go based on where the Red Cross provides aid. That is an awfully flimsy reason to risk lives.

The city should have been evacuated, the charitable should be allowed to help, and the state should have had a plan in place. The fact that they had to take valuable time (including Blanco's apparent need for 24 hours to decide whether to give Bush command control) shows they were flying blind. They needed a plan and they didn't have one.

September 03, 2005

Chief Justice Rehnquist 1924-2005

The Chief Justice has died tonight. Born in Milwaukee, he was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1971 and took his seat in 1972, replacing Harlan. In 1986 he was elevated by Reagan to be Chief Justice, replacing Burger. Along with Salmon P. Chase, he was one of two Chief Justices to oversee a presidential impeachment in Congress. He was battling thyroid cancer.

September 01, 2005

Katrina and Climate Change

Hurricane Katrina and the ensuing horrible damage to New Orleans were not caused by climate change. First of all, the reason the damage is so extensive is the flooding of the area; climate change is not responsible for New Orleans and the Mississippi River delta being extremely low-lying areas. But neither the intensity nor the frequency of the hurricanes are likely caused by climate shift.

Hurricanes were more intenses and more common in the 30s, 40s and 50s. Right now we're just swinging back to above the mean, but when we find the mean of below-average and above-average, we'll come out with: average. This is just a natural cycle of hurricanes, and historically they could be worse, with worse hurricanes coming more frequently. Let's all be thankful that's not the situation right now.

What's interesting is that one contention of environmentalists is that El Nino will worsen with global warming, but El Nino is a hurricane killer. If we wanted to stop hurricanes, global warming would actually improve our lot (assuming that it would worsen El Nino).

More annoying is that some people (such as Jürgen Trittin) are giving that stupid movie "The Day After Tomorrow" credence as a climatological model. The ridiculous science of the plot is thus:

Global warming causes the Gulf Stream to shut down. This current normally brings tropical warmth northward and makes Europe much more comfortable than it should be at its northerly latitude. The heat stays stuck in the tropics, the polar regions get colder, and the atmosphere suddenly flips over in a "superstorm." The frigid stratosphere trades places with our habitable troposphere, and in a matter of days, an ice age ensues. Temperatures drop 100 degrees an hour in Canada. Hurricanes ravage Belfast. Folks in Japan are clobbered by bowling-ball-size hailstones. If we had only listened to concerned scientists and stopped global warming when we could.


The entire plot, line for line, is simply impossible. It would require halting the rotation of the Earth, repealing the laws of thermodynamics and the law of gravity, as Patrick Michaels said in the USA Today quoted above.

Katrina had nothing to do with global warming and everything to do with the natural cycle of storms in the world. It's regrettable that it happened and that such a tremendous loss of life has ensued, but that doesn't mean we have to find a cause and a bogeyman. Blaming Katrina on Bush not signing the Kyoto Treaty is like tribal elders blaming a drought on not sacrificing enough virgins to the gods of rain. It might be satisfying to reinforce your view of the world, but it's useless for fixing anything.

August 27, 2005

Don't Overplay Your Hand

I was reading a piece about invading Iran on Chicago Boyz, basically a hypothetical or a thought experiment more than a real examination. It was intended to focus on the argument that attacking Iraq made us less able to attack Iran, and I found this part thought-provoking:
    Now, assuming that we decide to use force to deal with Iran, would we be in a better or worse position if we hadn't dealt with Iraq? Without a large body of troops already in Iraq, how exactly would we invade Iran? Over the mountains of Afghanistan? From Kuwait? Let's not be silly. Not only that, if you don't think we can invade Iran with an active insurgency in Iraq, how'd you like to try an invasion and occupation of Iran with Saddam Hussein in power next door? Maybe invade both at once? (Actually, that wouldn't have been a bad idea two years ago... better to be hung for a sheep, as they say. What're people going to do, accuse us of imperialism?).
It seems to me that by calling the Bush Administration fascist, imperialist and murderous, the hand has been WAY overplayed. If the Administration were to do something ACTUALLY fascist then the legitimate complaints could get lumped with the bad ones. It weakens the arguments.

Just like taking pills builds up a tolerance and a partial immunity, overplaying a political hand continuously for five years weakens your arguments and the influence they have over the audience.

Now, of course it actually doesn't make sense that attacking Iraq made us weaker in dealing with iran. If anything, the Libya effect acts to persuade the Iranians to stop fucking around and get on board, while the military board is FAR more favorable with access through the Iraq-Iran border, as well as the less accessible Afghanistan-Iran border. In a way, the Western powers overplayed their hand on nuclear proliferation by talking about it for years and years but not backing it up when it counts. The US action against Iraq, not just bombing but an actual invasion, definitely restores credibility behind a US threat.

Remember, Iran, Saddam was convinced up until mid-March, 2003 that France, Russia and Germany would stop the US invasion of his country. Don't think that the US would be scared to blow up some reactors if in two, five or ten years you're still non-compliant and threatening the world (Israel did it to the Iraqi Osirak reactor in the 1980s). Of course, here's hoping that diplomacy will pull out some really victories here.

Still, better a definitive military solution that fixes the problem than a feel-good diplomatic situation that only facilitates proliferation (exactly what happened in the 1994 Agreed Framework deal with North Korea).

The real reason some people think Iraq puts us in a worse position to attack Iran is that they see things in terms of victimhood. The US attacking Irq is a non-victim thing to do, so we're not in a good place to do more non-victim things. Cindy Sheehan, however, lost her son and that allows Maureen Dowd to bestow upon Sheehan the power of "absolute moral authority" for her victimhood. Certain people don't see it in terms of effectiveness or of overreach, but in Kindergarten terms of reference like meanies, bullies and so forth.

This sort of perspective would say that our victimhood gained by 9/11 was spent on the Taliban, overdrawn by Iraq, and that iran is just too far from our reach. It's not based in military strategy, since if anything we'd have more trouble holding down the no-fly zones over Saddam and invading Iran from Afghanistan, and it's not based on effectiveness, since even a horrible, violent quagmire in iran would still allow us to bomb their nuclear facilities. I really don't want to go to war with the Iranians, because I have many hopes for reform and a little hope for diplomacy. However, let's not assume that Iraq made us worse off in dealing with these guys.

Iraq gave us teeth to add to our threats, and it shows that even against a brutal insurgency and a chorus of negativity from allied countries we can make good on our threats. Libya's learned its lessons, and it's not going to help Iran's position to have a US ally on their border. Now what we need to do is hold up the carrot to balance the stick: dropping the sanctions and engaging in normal relations if they drop all the nuclear work and join the NPT.