Saturday, January 27, 2007

Response from Orson Scott Card

In response to his essay on "The Crisis of the Islamo-fascist War," I e-mailed him the following:
The Democrats will try to blame the disaster on Bush, but the American people will know that things went hopelessly wrong only after the Democrats forced our premature surrender to Islamo-fascism in Iraq.

No, the American people won't. The left will successfully blame the disaster on Bush.

"See, we told you it was a bad idea to invade Iraq! Bush stirred up a hornet's nest." As J.K. Rowling put it in HP6, people can forgive you for being wrong, but they'll never forgive you for being right.

Most of the American people still don't know how dishonorable our withdrawal from Vietnam was. I learned about the subsequent slaughter only a few years ago (I had heard about the Killing Fields, but no connection was ever made between that and our withdrawal), and here I was raised in Utah in a Republican household with John Bircher relatives.

The Left will never admit that it was wrong, and those who didn't get it after 9/11 still won't get it even if Valencia, California goes up under a mushroom cloud.

Today, in 2007, what does it matter whether we should or should not have invaded Iraq? The fact is that we did!

People seem to be operating under the assumption that had we not invaded Iraq, all would be well. We'd have found bin Laden, the Taliban would have been crushed instead of hunkered down in Waziristan, and we'd all go back to our lives and let the CIA swat down the few terrorists who emerge.

I swear to you, I read a comment by a troll on a conservative blog who dismissed the threat posed by the jihadis, saying, in essence, "look, they came at us with only 20 guys. How dangerous could they be?"

As if I need to tell you how incredibly illogical that argument is.

Anyway, keep fighting the good fight.


His answer (if he'll forgive me for posting a private e-mail):
"Thanks for reassuring me that there ARE people even more cynical and depressed about our future than I am <grin>"

Well, yes, a lifetime of depression does give one skills in that area. But I will be ecstatically happy to be proven wrong wrong wrong. Or at least less depressed, which is about as good as it gets, sometimes.

Signed It

I signed the NRSC Pledge that Hugh Hewitt launched. I was a little ambivalent about it, partly because of John Hawkins's objection that it puts the NRSC in a no-win situation (if they give in to this, they'll be deluged by other similar pledges on other hot-button issues), but I resolved the conflict thus:

If someone else comes up with another similar pledge with regard to any other issue besides the war, I won't sign it. It's that simple.

Because the successful prosecution of the war is too, too important to let it be held hostage by political considerations on the homefront. I understand the bind the NRSC is now in, but I want them to be thus bound, and I want them to take a cold, hard stand against what is clearly, clearly a cynical way for senators to have it both ways. If the surge fails, they can claim they were against it, and if the surge succeeds, they can claim that they didn't actually do anything to impede it.

Because as it's been pointed out, if they really think that the surge is a colossal mistake, they should do everything in their power to actually stop it. But they don't. They're just doing what they do best, covering their anatomy for the next election cycle.

I sent copies of the pledge to my two senators (and asked Hatch not to send a letter) and told them that I had signed it and that I meant it.

I had a dream last night where I was on an open field, trying to play soccer in the long, unmown grass (I was successful only in stopping the ball from going out of bounds a few times, which is much better than I'd ever be able to do in real life.) Then something in the sky caught my eye: a small plane was doing loop-de-loops close to the ground. As I watched in horror it sped past, went halfway into a loop, stalled, and did a horrific belly-flop into the ground, bursting into flames on impact.

When the plane sped past me I saw the face of its lone occupant: John McCain, smoking a cigarette. I knew immediately that the crash was no accident; he had stalled on purpose, and his death was a spectacular suicide.

I'm with Hugh Hewitt on this: John McCain just lost every ounce of credibility he ever had on the war. One day after confirming Petreaus, one day after Petreaus made it crystal clear that these non-binding resolutions were detrimental to the war effort, and McCain is back to being his beloved "maverick" self, long-term consequences be damned, and playing footsie with the Dems.

And yet another politician goes into the Narcissistic Personality Disorder column. Although it would be easier to put them all into that column by default, then let them out when they do something to rule out NPD. Like ignore polls, or do what's right despite the consequences to their popularity, or otherwise behave like statesmen.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Quote of the Day

From Jules Crittendon's piece on what the State of the Union Address should say, a commenter responds to the chickenhawk argument:
Some mistakes are with you forever; being a Marine isn't one of them. —htom

[I originally tried to post this on the 22nd, but Blogger did something wonky and it never showed up on the main page.]

Monday, January 15, 2007

Time to Talk about Dinesh D'Souza's Book, I Guess

Here's a round-up of some initial reactions to Dinesh d'Souza's new book, from people who haven't read it. But Amazon has a pretty forthright explication of the book's central argument, and after having read it I wonder why one would need to write an entire book on it.

The short version is that the "cultural Left," e.g., the results of the counter-culture revolution of the sixties, notably the sexual antics, are the primary reason that they hate us. Absent the sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll, 9/11 doesn't happen.

Hmmm. Well. It is true that they are disgusted by the vulgarity that is on display in our popular culture. And it is true that the vulgarity is disgusting.

It is also true that one of the seminal texts that sparked the Wahabbist movement was written by Sayyid Qutb, who came to America and pronounced us horribly corrupt. Clayton Cramer asks,
So where did poor Qutb end up? Disco era New York City or Los Angeles? Did he wander into a strip club? Perhaps he got lost at a gay pride parade?

No, Greeley, Colorado. In 1950. Oh yeah, that's a wild, depraved, and sexually promiscuous place! Pretty obviously, what Qutb was doing was projecting his own sexual desires for these American women with their "round breasts... full buttocks...and... shapely thighs" in a period that is among the more sexually restrained periods.

I agree with Ace: we might have problems in that arena, but we don't need to hear it from them.

I suppose the only use D'Souza's argument has is to serve as a type of tu quoque rebuttal to the Ward Churchill argument about chickens coming home to roost. In other words, an absurd rebuttal to point out the absurdity of the accusation.

The problem is that D'Souza might be serious, which puts him in a camp with those who use 9/11 as a platform to grind their pet political axes. I haven't followed his writings very closely, but I'm pretty sure that this is going to be a shark-jumping episode for him, and whatever clout he had among the right is now evaporated.

At some point, I'll write that essay I have in my head about Historical Inexorability and how there is no single Root Cause to jihadism but rather a convergence of multiple factors. Maybe someday we'll stop blaming ourselves and realize that the jihadis' reasons are their own and that we are unwitting players in their narcissistic drama.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Another Answer to Integralist

From One Cosmos, again, this time in response to something I said.

Dicentra, I don't know why you and others insist on perceiving everything I say in the worst possible light. I am not trying to "score points" off of anyone.

Then what are you trying to do? Why is it so all-fired important that Bob engage you? Why, after being told to get lost, do you keep going back over and over and over again? Why don't you write off One Cosmos as a lost cause, start your own blog, and work to build a discussion that you find fruitful?

Bob and the other Cosmonauts have told you many times over that they're not interested in the discussion that you want to engage in. They see you as passing through a stage in your spiritual development that is way behind them, as a road they've already tread and a thought process that they've already explored and found wanting. They get you, but you don't get them.

The fact that you keep pestering Bob, and that the bulk of your arguments are a whinge against the ill treatment you've received, is an indication to me that whatever your motives are, being that oppositional friend that you mentioned isn't one of them. To become that "loyal opposition" to Bob, you would have to first (a) become his friend (b) prove yourself loyal. Then, and only then would you have the privilege of telling him things he doesn't want to hear, but needs to. Oh, and you have to possess more wisdom (life experience) than Bob. It's evident that you don't.

You're trying to be the loyal opposition by being opposed first, and somehow Bob is supposed to interpret that as loyalty and friendship. Doesn't work that way, but you either can't see that or you don't care, which means that you don't qualify as loyal opposition, no matter how badly you want to fulfill that role.

IIRC, your debut on One Cosmos consisted of reprimanding Bob for the "ugliness" thereon. Here's a hint, for future use, and I want you to tatoo it on your forehead:

You cannot enlighten people by alienating them first.

Have you noticed how ill-disposed you are to listen to the Cosmonauts after they've called you names? Have you any desire to take my words to heart? Had you the wisdom to become Mr. Loyal Opposition on One Cosmos, you would have started out by asking earnest questions, presenting your thoughts, and taking it like a man when people said things you found hurtful.

I could go on, but I have other things to do right now. Besides, I know that you won't listen to a word I say; everything I say is a springboard for a rebuttal, not something to consider.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Political Science

This is amusing, for what it's worth. Cows and economics. Economics and cows. It's just that simple.

Destroying the Chickenhawk Argument

Laura Ingraham went ballistic this morning over Barbara Boxer's insinuation that Condi Rice has no standing to send troops to war because she doesn't have a husband or kids at risk. Laura is understandably incensed on behalf of a fellow spinster, who, like myself, did not necessarily choose to be either single or childless. Converting the personal into the political is a hallmark of the Left, and in this case it was an extremely low blow.

But that's not the primary issue. The issue is the chickenhawk argument, which for some reason the Left thinks is legitimate. Unfortunately, too many on the right miss the point of the chickenhawk argument and retort that "you don't have to be a teacher to support education or a cop to support law and order."

But that's a good counter-argument only if the Left is arguing for authenticity, which, in a wholly uncharacteristic move for them, they are not. They are instead arguing about who stands to lose the most by going to war. The core of the chickenhawk argument is that if you don't stand to lose your own life or that of someone you love, you can rightfully be accused of being careless with other people's lives.

There are two ways to answer this argument, as follows:

Fine, I don't have actual skin in the game. So let's talk to those who do: the soldiers themselves and their families.

Here's the fact: 75% of those who have served in Iraq sign up for at least one more tour, and some sign up for more. Not because they're desperately poor (please, do we have to go over this again? they're totally not) but because they believe in the mission. They think it's worth it to risk their lives to save Iraq.

Furthermore, when you talk to the soldiers in the VA hospitals, the ones who have lost arms and legs and the power to walk and who knows what else, the vast majority of them will tell you that it was worth it, and that given the chance to do it over again they would. In a heartbeat.

The soldiers in Iraq have also gotten to know the Iraqi people on a one-to-one basis, and you know what the Iraqis say? They say, "Don't leave us to the mercy of the monsters among us! Stay and help us like you did with Japan and Germany! Don't give up on us, please!"

Which leads me to my second argument against the chickenhawk accusation: it's not YOUR country that will fall into genocidal chaos if we leave.

That being the case, how can you, you Spoiled American, sit there in your warm, secure home and demand that Iraq be left to twist in the wind, just because you're squeamish or bored or afflicted with BDS? Who are you to tell the Iraqis to go to hell and provide the means for them to get there?

President Bush may not have skin in the game, but he does have to look in the faces of the families who lost loved ones and tell them that their sacrifice isn't in vain. As soon as you, Mr. Dove, have looked into the faces of these angels and told them that they're not worth it, then and only then will YOU have standing to call for withdrawal.

Get it? Good. Now until you have a solution to the problem, sit down and shut up.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Wacademia, Humility, and Gratitude

Victor Davis Hanson asks "Why? Why? Why?" about "this increasingly corrupt institution, whose health is so necessary to the welfare and competitiveness of the United States?" About "Why when academia is so critical of other American institutions, from the Republican party and corporations to churches and the military, does it ignore its own colossal failures?"

I can answer part of that. Academia, or "Wacademia," at it has become, is utterly devoid of two virtues: humility and gratitude.

These two virtues are so absent that there aren't even counterfeit versions of them running around.* The virtues of tolerance and open-mindedness and critical thought are non-existent, too, but they're at least touted. (I can't say if that's better, though, than being ignored entirely.)

Humility does not appeal to academics, regardless of their political leanings. Academics have made their way in life on their book smarts, and society rewards you for being smart: good grades, parental approval, high-paying jobs, and most of all, credibility. It's easy to be self-important in this case, and to believe that because you have are well read and can converse intelligently with other well-read people, you must know quite a bit.

And you do. But to be humble means not over-estimating what you know. It means being aware that there are libraries chock full of things that you don't know, and people living in trailer parks whose understanding of human nature and other kinds of non-book smarts makes yours pale in comparison.

Humility, contrary to popular belief, does not mean that you downplay your strengths, or that you operate in a constant state of humiliation, but that you have a realistic understanding of your strengths and weaknesses.

Humility also means that you're teachable, that you're not so attached to your pet theories that you can't see where you were wrong in the past.

Humility guts hubris, though, and hubris feels good. Oh, it feels good! Not having to ever admit that you were wrong is a place we all want to be in, but it's a position that is contrary to reality. We're all wrong about something, but it doesn't feel good to be wrong and it feels much worse to admit it. Especially when your social standing or your career are dependent on being right.

No, humility doesn't fit into the academic environment very well. So it gets ignored.

Gratitude is also unwelcome, because it erodes hubris as well. You can't think of yourself as self-sufficient if you owe anything to anyone, and you can't enjoy the endorphin rush of hubris if you indulge in gratitude.

But this is also contrary to reality. Universities exist only when there is enough wealth and security in a nation to permit such institutions to emerge. Wealth comes from business, and security from the military, both of which are despised by Wacademia. Could it be that Wacademia despises these two institutions because they know that they are indebted to them? Or is it that they eschew gratitude because it would mean acknowledging their debt to hated institutions?

Either way, humility and gratitude would go a long way to cure what ails Wacademia, but these two medicines are far too bitter for the average Wacademic. Destroy my hubris? Death first!

* The new praise of "uncertainty" coming from cerebral luminaries such as Bill Maher stands to fill that role as a counterfeit of humility. Of course, it's only a virtue when the other guy possesses it.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Alternate Enegry Sources and Other Wishful Thinking

People often cite the West's addiction to petroleum as the source of all our problems, especially those in the Middle East. Although it is true that petroleum dependency is a nightmare, it is not true that it would be an easy thing to find an alternative energy source, if only those bastages in Big Oil would quit suppressing the research.

What people seem to forget is that thermodynamics is merciless and unforgiving. Petroleum is so much more efficient than any current alternative from a thermodynamic perspective, and so much cheaper, from an economic one, that it is difficult to imagine anything replacing it entirely or even principally.

One popular suggestion is Ethanol. It's made from plant matter (renewable), burning it produces few noxious emissions, and we can make it right here at home. But in terms of solving our energy needs (and yes, they're needs, unless you want to go back to the 1600s), it stands to create more problems than solve them.

Take these comments from The Belmont Club. It begins with this question from Mətušélaḥ:

Why live under the threat of nuclear armed Jihadis, when all it takes is about $20 USD to convert your current US motor vehicle to one that can use ethanol as its main fuel. Why?

To which Cedarford responds,
Well, for starters, conversion of all US cropland to ethanol production would give us 24% of the net oil substitute we need.

Second, ethanol, unsubsidized, costs about 6.50 to 7 bucks for the same energy as gasoline priced 2 bucks less taxes. Far more than the cheaper sugar cane cycle now created by chopping down unproductive, cheap virgin Brazilian rainforest.(Emphasis added.)

I don't know where Cedarford gets his numbers, so I can't substantiate them. Mətušélaḥ responds by quoting "A 2005 joint study by the US Dept of Energy and Dept of Agriculture [which] suggests that 30% of US oil imports can be replaced by bio-based ethanol by assuming relatively modest changes in agricultural and forestry practices."

Commenter Bart Hall, a farmer in Kansas, cites the work of David Pimentel a researcher at Cornell who argues that Ethanol isn't a viable alternative.

[G]rowing the corn, harvesting it, moving it, grinding and fermenting it, distilling it, and handling it requires about 130,000 btu per gallon. Ethanol provides 75,000 btu per gallon.

Some have criticised the work for using '80s era corn yields, but yield increases since that time depend on massive applications of fertiliser manufactured using natural gas.

I am a soil chemist and agronomist by training, and earn my living as a farmer. Corn as a crop is very hard on the land. Destruction of soil organic matter is a non-trivial contributor to greenhouse gases.

We need to be taking land out of corn production, not increasing the acreage so we can convert corn to ethanol at a net energy deficit of 50,000 per gallon.

Ethanol is a political boondoggle, pure and simple. That some folks have been suckered in to the naive hope it can provide an energy alternative ... simply adds another layer to that whole unfortunate mess.

If you include the fact that pure Ethanol is useless when the temperature drops below 20°F (adding petroleum lowers the temp, but not by much), you've pretty much closed the case.

If some people want to pour vegetable oil into their diesel engines so that they emit the aroma of french fries, that's fine with me. But to look to it as a Silver Bullet?

Sorry, folks, but the hard truth is that energy production and consumption always involves a trade-off, and never a good one. The only possible exception is geothermal, but that's only if you live in Iceland, and who wants to do that?

Friday, January 05, 2007

Cat on the Keyboard?

Checking my referrer logs, I found this blog, which appears to be either the ramblings of a schizophrenic or the product of a random sentence generator.

Anyone know what this is about?

No More Leno

Sometimes, I will stop watching an otherwise enjoyable show cold when they cross a line that is important to me.

I haven't been watching Leno much lately, but tonight I let it run in the background while I piddled around on the computer. In his monologue, Jay announced that President Bush had signed into law a bill that allows him to read any letter, any time, for any reason, without a warrant.

Of course, the purpose of the announcement was to set up Yet Another Bush Is Illiterate joke, but given that most people get some of their news from Leno and Letterman monologues, the misrepresentation has serious consequences. The Powerline guys explain the bill here.

So I hereby swear off Leno so long as he's on the air.

But can I tell NBC this through the Internet? NO! They have plenty of public forums and if you click "Feedback," you get to answer an interminable survey before being given the privilege of joining their consultant group, or whatever. I get the impression that they'll be soliciting feedback from me, but I can't initiate contact.

However, I'm a contractor at NBC's parent company, so I have access to the NBC employees' Outlook accounts. Not sure I should use that avenue, though. It could get me in trouble for something not exactly work-related. But it's tempting. Oh, it's tempting.

Want Fries with That Crow?

First, I'd like to thank the Associated Press for finally releasing Jamil Hussein, undoubtedly because of the preponderance of banners like these, which I'm removing from the front page:

[Was hot-linked to Flopping Aces, which has since taken it down — ed.]

Only it wasn't the AP who produced him, it was the Iraqi Police. But that's just details. Latest info on the developing story is at Malkin.

I'm trying to decide what the proper, intellectually honest response to this latest revelation should be. A helping of crow? I'm not sure.

I'll start by listing all of the posts I've made on the subject.
In private, though, I was fully willing to believe that Jamil Hussein was either utterly fictional or that he existed but wasn't who he said he was. After Rathergate, Fauxtography, the Katrina rubbish, and countless examples of media bias and distortion, all of which began when we "lost" Tet in Vietnam when the nation's most trusted reporter decided to blur the line between stating the facts and influencing opinion, it fit into a pattern that I have witnessed during my lifetime.

And given that many members of the MSM have long given up the pretense of reporting the facts, considering it a "higher calling" to tell the "higher truth," I will continue to be skeptical about everything I hear from the MSM, especially as pertains to the war. Any war.

Apologies, though? The bloggers have no need to apologize. They asked legitimate questions, consulted as many sources as they could, concealed no information (as far as I know), and stated no known falsehoods.

As for moving the goalposts, this whole Jamil Hussein thing arose when Flopping Aces discovered a story that AP had produced but could not substantiate from other sources. That's when Curt began to wonder about the source.

So now that Hussein has been found, the original question remains: was Hussein a reliable source or a partisan in a uniform all too willing to feed a pack of lies to an infidel reporter?

If it turns out that everything, or mostly everything, that Hussein reported on was the God's Honest Truth, then the reverse equivalent of "fake but accurate" (OK, they weren't lying this time, but we just know they do anyway) will not be appropriate.

Constant Vigilance™, however, will be, as it always is. Would that it were not; would that it were not.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Letter from Orrin Hatch III

I must have made some quick comment about ISG and Gates prior to writing this letter. Either that, or this is a really lame answer. More lame than usual, that is.

11 December 2006

Dear Ms. XXX:

Thank you for writing to express you [sic] feelings about the Iraq Study Group and the nomination of Robert Gates.

The report of the Iraq Study Group represents an important bi-partisan effort to determine an effective strategy for conducting the war in Iraq. It is by no means the only such effort. There are several other proposals pending, including those being developed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the National Security Council. It is my hope that the President will listen to all reasonable proposals for accomplishing our goals in Iraq. I believe that there have been some good proposals made to the Bush Administration, including some by the Iraq Study Group, but I will leave it to the President to decide which recommendations to listen to and which to reject.

[Repeat of paragraph "Regarding your comments opposing Robert Gates's nomination..." from this response]


Back from SoCal

I recorded my observations of the trip on my LiveJournal in four entries:

The Good
The Bad
The Birds (Heavy Graphics Warning)
The Leafy Things (Heavy Graphics Warning)