28 June, 2006

Welcome to the club

Montenegro joins the U.N. as member 192.

Gerrymandering decision

From our friends over at SCOTUSblog:
The Supreme Court, splintering widely, on Wednesday found an insufficient claim of partisan gerrymandering in the Texas congressional redistricting. It also rejected a challenge to mid-decade congressional redistricting. It did not rule on whether all partisan gerrymander claims are beyond judicial review. The Court is split on that issue, and the division remains. It found the state's new District 23 invalid under the federal Voting Rights Act. District 24 was upheld against a Voting Rights Act challenge. The opinion can be found here.
So there's no objection to redistricting after every election? Let the fun begin. I wonder how long it will be to have even more states locked into unbreakable majorities for one party or another? And since the only part of the Texas plan to be overturned was on the basis of minority voting rights, I can just imagine the number of "concerned" politicians, "fighting to give the people a voice," will be tieing up the courts with accusations of racial peference. Then again, I'm opposed to gerrymanering as a general rule. We now have the software to divide up districts according to two criteria:

  1. each district has roughly the same number of people, and
  2. overall, the total length of all district borders within a state is minimized.

If we were to do that, we'd have something more like an impartial and intuitive distribution of districts. The equal population rule promotes the ideal of one person/one vote. The minimum borders rule restricts the unnatural road-hugging, stretching, and other shapes that make represntation more about party, race and class than about common location. I suspect federalists like Madison, with his general opposition to parties and factions, would agree that this is superior to the current (and future) rules.

It ain't gonna happen, though.

15 June, 2006

The sky is falling!

You must hand it to Rear Admiral Chris Parry of the Royal Navy. His job is to identify threats, and in one sense he certainly earns his pay.

If a security breakdown occurred, he said, it was likely to be brought on by environmental destruction and a population boom, coupled with technology and radical Islam. The result for Britain and Europe, Parry warned, could be "like the 5th century Roman empire facing the Goths and the Vandals".

Parry pointed to the mass migration which disaster in the Third World could unleash. "The diaspora issue is one of my biggest current concerns," he said. "Globalisation makes assimilation seem redundant and old-fashioned . . . [the process] acts as a sort of reverse colonisation, where groups of people are self-contained, going back and forth between their countries, exploiting sophisticated networks and using instant communication on phones and the internet."

Third World instability would lick at the edges of the West as pirates attacked holidaymakers from fast boats. "At some time in the next 10 years it may not be safe to sail a yacht between Gibraltar and Malta," said the admiral.

Parry, 52, an Oxford graduate who was mentioned in dispatches in the Falklands war, is not claiming all the threats will come to fruition. He is warning, however, of what is likely to happen if dangers are not addressed by politicians.

And what is to be done about it? Here the advice is a bit more conventional, if less than helpful.
Any technological advantage developed to deal with the threats was unlikely to last. "I don’t think we can win in cyberspace — it’s like the weather — but we need to have a raincoat and an umbrella to deal with the effects," said Parry.

Some of the consequences would be beyond human imagination to tackle. The examples he gave, tongue-in-cheek, include: "No wind on land and sea; third of population dies instantly; perpetual darkness; sores; Euphrates dries up ‘to clear way for kings from the east’; earth’s core opens."

It reminds me of Ghostbusters:

Dr. Peter Venkman: This city is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions.
Mayor: What do you mean, "biblical"?
Dr Ray Stantz: What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath-of-God type stuff.
Dr. Peter Venkman: Exactly.
Dr Ray Stantz: Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies. Rivers and seas boiling.
Dr. Egon Spengler: Forty years of darkness. Earthquakes, volcanoes...
Winston Zeddemore: The dead rising from the grave!
Dr. Peter Venkman: Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together - mass hysteria!

Who ya gonna call?

The real prize

Now that al=Zarkawi is dead, it's clear that the attack on his safe house was even more of a success than previously noted. Evidently the "emir" kept copious records with him. This really isn't all that surprising--a year ago al-Zarkawi was nearly captured by coalition forces, escaping while carrying little more than his notebook computer. His files were as valuable as his life then, and they are more valuable today.

So what's in there? Names, locations, sources of funding, sources of intelligence, plans, communications with other organizations...we can only speculate. And there's no way we'll find out, I hope, until well after the last of the infornation is exploited. Today every member of the al-Zarqawi network, every ally, every client, every informer, every supplier has to assume the worst: that everything has been compromised. There are a lot of people looking for new places of safety today.

Moreover, consider what the ability to target that house means for coalition intelligence. Assuming any reasonable operational security for Al-Zarkawi and company, and the fact that house was well away from others, it can't help but make you wonder if the key source was a ranking (or at least middle-rank) member of the network. Even if that isn't the case, any reasonable (?) terrorist has to assume that he can't trust the people he works with. That, in turn, leads to delays, mistakes, and even new informers (who want to get the best deal they can from the coalition, while they still have the chance).

Let's not go overboard here: al-Zarqawi wasn't Al-Qaida in Iraq, and Al-Qaida in Iraq is not the sum (or even the majority) of the insurgency. But it is a major victory, a victory that goes well beyond the death of a homicidal thug.