08 March, 2005

Freakin' incredible

Democracy on the march.

The battle's far from over, but it's progress.

What more can I say?

Look for yourself.

The value of the collegiate bull session

One of the better classes in a while happened last week when my class on terrorism got onto a series of interesting side issues, including
  • autonomus robot soldiers
  • artificial intelligence
  • the nature of consciousness
  • the connections between neural networks and spontaneous social orders
  • the prospects for evolution of software at computer speeds
  • the assumptions about human nature common to tragic and utopian views of politics
  • the difficulty of transcending the fact/values divide (and Hume's Law)
  • the difficulty of having a discussion about politics when dealing with contested concepts
  • the relevance of the most recent research on evolutionary psychology for political philosophy
  • (and other stuff)

We never did get to the original topic for the day, but who cares? I suspect everyone learned more that day than we would have ever covered in the "prepared" class. Sometimes the best thing a teacher can do is get out of the way. It can be more fun, too.

Flat tax?

A flat tax might not meet the lofty goals associated with progressive taxation, but in the real world it's seldom the rich who pay the bills. If the rich want to avoid taxes, they lobby legislators and pay tax attorneys and move assets out of reach. (I'm amazed by how many people think that becasue they give a job to government it will somehow escape selfishness and/or corruption. If anything, the history of taxation argues the opposite.) At least with a flat tax, the burden is more clear, and avoidance is more transparent.

Yet the U.S. government, among others, resists the idea. No wonder--what would all the tax attorneys and lobbyists do if they were no longer supported by an indirect government subsidy? What would the bureaucrats do if they had to administer a code so clear? There would no room for "prosecutorial discression" (read, arbitrary decisions) and that would reduce their power.

The competition between countries for investment, however, is pushing governments in directions they would rather avoid. Flax taxes are becoming the norm in eastern Europe and Russia--and they are succeeding. Western Europe, dependent on VATs and the politics of income redistribution, is left behind. Where will the United States fall?

For all the talk of Social Security reform, the single greatest thing the Bush adminnistration could do is a radical restructuring of the tax system to remove the debris from the experiments of the past century.

Bolton to the U.N.

Not Michael Bolton--John R. Bolton. He's one of the U.N.'s most articulate critics. This should be fun.

Underground nuclear sites

Iran admits that some of its nuclear facilities are constructed underground, supposedly out of fear that they will be subject to attack.

Meanwhile, the plans for a bunker-busting nuke proceed...

01 March, 2005


My Dad's back from the hospital. He had a heart attack last week. He doesn't want the quadruple-bypass the doctors recommend ("not for now," at least). I hope he's making the right decision.

It seems that as one person I love begins to recover, another comes close to death. This is not a pattern I want to continue.

Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq

Things are looking up. The pro-Syria government of Lebanon resigns. Saddam's half-brother is turned over to the Iraqis. Although the weekend car bombing was a horror, it shouldn't obscure the fact that the number of applicants for the security forces is increasing, and that's good news for the legitimacy of the new government.

I opposed getting into this war. I wanted to focus on Bin Laden. I still think the intervention was illegal, and I still hate the deaths. But we are there. What next? Two points come to mind:

(1) make the war about something larger than the particulars of the case. If it's just another example of aggression, it's worse than useless--it's a bad example. If, however, we can really link this war to aims that transcend Iraq and principles we can be proud of, it should be done. GW Bush's second inaugural was a step in the right direction.

(2) win.

And Now a Word from Osama

The Department of Homeland Security is sending bulletins to remind people that Al Qaeda would love to strike the American soil. The interecepted message from Bin Laden to al-Zarqawi dosn't actually mention the U.S. but analysts are drawing the inference. Should we be especially cautious?

No more than usual. The fact that the communication was intercepted is a good sign that the connections between the two leaders are under stress. The fact that Bin Laden feels the need to call on al-Zarqawi for support indicates there is less he can do on his own. Add to this the reality that al-Zarqawi hasa been criticized by OBL for his prior tactics, without producing any change in those tactics, and this sounds more like a "plea" than a "command". It's heartening, actually.

One small problem: why didn't U.S. sources keep this information secret? The information in the message is less significant for homeland defense than the fact of the intercept. Did U.S. intelligence just get lucky, and expects to never duplicate the event, or has some fool warned the targets that their communications are being intercepted?