95 thoughts on “Open Thread XVII”

  1. Soob’s article was good, though I seem to recall seeing on the news last night that they were considering taking the costs of the bonuses out of the next subsidy instead. To the extent one can think of the words “next subsidy” without getting a sour stomach, it’s a better idea than taxing the brokers for their bosses’ stupidity.

    Ethnically cleansed peoples: Why not? Fairness (and not wanting to give the green light to future cleansers) would suggest that they be included. It would make the run-up to the vote that much longer, but that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing; it gives everyone plenty of time to ‘bribe’ the effected peoples with assistance in rebuilding and resettlement. Any rate, I seem to recall seeing a demographic chart of the Trans-Dniestr Republic suggesting that little or no ethnic cleansing was involved there.

    Taiwan: They seem to be taking care of themselves just fine.
    http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2009/03/12/toward-chinese-taiwanese-military-cooperation.html
    Getting China’s cooperation is a good idea: relations between them and Russia aren’t exactly great at the moment, so they may be amenable so long as we agree to keep to the status quo in the Taiwan straights.

    Gaza: Sounds good to me. They carry on acts of war like an independent state, then cry oppression when Israel responds with violence. Forcing them to make up their minds and live with the consequences may improve matters.

    Another good candidate would be Somaliland. They’ve been de-facto independent for years now, have a better human rights record than most of their neighbors, and aren’t even claimed by the Somali government. . . but no one will recognize them for fear of encouraging minorities in other African countries. At some point, someone has to recognize that a long-dead country has no sovereignty to respect.

  2. I responded to Soob more fully with a post of my own [1]

    On your proposal for changing borders.

    Who decides when we reach a point that a plebescite can be used to change national borders? Any case where the Russian army invades another state? Or would such an election in S. Ossettia and TDR only occur simultaneously to one in Chechnya? Or will we consistently do it when a terrorist group seizes a territory (e.g., Gaza) but not when a racist group seizes a territory (theoretically, some areas of South Africa?)

    Taiwan was diplomatically isolated during the Bush Administration, as President Chen was vociferous in his desire to change Taiwan’s status to a de jure independent state. We harshly condmened his proposals to put independence to a vote.

    [1] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2009/03/19/the-focus-on-aig.html

  3. In general, I’d draw the line at legal ambiguity and extended change in control.

    In most of the above cases, you have situations where the status of a given territory is legally and practically ambiguous. This ambiguity allows people to make trouble by assuming different rights as needed for their own ends. I mentioned Gaza in my last post; Russia’s mischief in its neighbor’s countries are another such situation. Somaliland is one exception–the country it was a part of no longer exists!

    In all the cases, you also have a situation where the theoretical sovereign of the disputed area hasn’t had practical control of it for well over a decade. Are claims of sovereignty supposed to be eternal? At what point does a claim over territory you don’t actually control become meaningless?

    As for the question of legitimizing the troublemakers efforts, the mere act of settling the ambiguity make life harder for them. If the Gazans- for example- vote for independence, Hamas can’t complain when Israel reacts to mortar attacks the same way any other country would react to such actions by their neighbors. If they vote for formal reunification with Israel (unlikely, but that should be on the ballot), they won’t be the bosses any more and will have been repudiated by their supporters; ditto if they vote for unification with Egypt. Likewise, an independence vote in South Ossetia would make all those Russian passports meaningless and set an example for their northern neighbors Russia wouldn’t like–as would a vote to unite formally with Russia.

    As for the Chechnya question, there was a period of a few years when they were effectively independent. They aren’t that way now, though, so such a vote would have to wait until the next time Russia’s grip on the caucasus weakens.

  4. Michael,

    Thanks for the reference.

    In general, I’d draw the line at legal ambiguity and extended change in control.

    So presuming that functioning, peaceful states are unlikely to invade and occupy their neighbors, this proposal increases the powerful or dysfunctional, warring states?

    Russia’s mischief in its neighbor’s countries are another such situation.

    The only ambiguity here is the ambiguity Russia has made by invading, first in the early 1990s and against

    Are claims of sovereignty supposed to be eternal? At what point does a claim over territory you don’t actually control become meaningless?

    It depends.

    If we wish to return to the pre-1946 world where war and occupation legitimized national borders, then we go down one path.

    If we wish to maintain the present position of nations, we go down another.

    As for the question of legitimizing the troublemakers efforts, the mere act of settling the ambiguity make life harder for them.

    How so?

    If the Gazans- for example- vote for independence, Hamas can’t complain when Israel reacts to mortar attacks the same way any other country would react to such actions by their neighbors.

    What you say is not true.

    Of course Hamas can complain. Do you expect that sovereigny confers sitting-room style manners?

    Egypt has been sovereign since before Israe’s independence. This hardly stopped Egypt from ‘complaining’ about Israeli actions — including several wars of aggression.

    Likewise, an independence vote in South Ossetia would make all those Russian passports meaningless

    Why would you think this?

    There are Israelis who hold American citizenship. The legal existence of Israel does not make those American passports meaningless.

    As for the Chechnya question, there was a period of a few years when they were effectively independent. They aren’t that way now, though, so such a vote would have to wait until the next time Russia’s grip on the caucasus weakens.

    I don’t think it’s wise to encourage war. Indeed, much of my reaction against Russia’s invasion of Georgia has been worrying about the damaging consequences of rewarding war-mongering states. As you clearly do not share this (demanding that S. Ossettia be independent, because of Russia’s military’s action; denying that Chechnya may be independent, because fo Russia’s military’s action, etc.).

  5. Michael,

    South Park was hilarious! Though I think it gives Geithner too much credit in as far as his decision-making methodology…

    Edgewise.Sigma,

    Hopefully it will not come to that!

    Eddie,

    Heh. If the Iranians hook up with Maoflag [1], maybe’ they’ll discover that the KMT is the true villain!

    Purpleslog,

    I remember watching that video off snopes… It’s crazy, how we’re living in a science fiction world!

    [1] http://www.maoflag.net/

  6. Eddie & Purpleslog,

    CNBC (in a rare moment of clarity) noted that starting during the transition, Geithner has been aggressive in accusing China of being a currency manipulator. The reprecussions from this can be severe, as it prevents us from better coordinating with China and forces Beijing to take actions that would deter an official declaration of currency manipulation.

    Compared with Bush (who spent his last days attempting to push through FTAs with Colombia and Korea), Obama’s protectionism is deeply troubling.

  7. I do understand Obama faces a deeply hostile Congress on the trade issue, but he is not helping matters. Ron Kirk looks set to be a disaster on this, but we shall see.

    What are the potential legal barriers to states or cities considering free trade-esque deals with other states or cities outside of the American Union? When I lived in Washington, there was always much discussion of what a Washington-BC free trade zone (no tariffs, harmonized security, safety and financial regs) would do for the local economies.

  8. “Letter from America”: what a magnificent way to start a fight!!

    Going back to my earlier comments about Gaza. Suppose a referrendum was held in which the Gazans were given the options of formally joining Israel, joining Egypt, or becoming an independent country. What would each of those options do to Hamas? A free and fair vote to join Israel or Egypt would turn Hamas into subordinates of governments they’re ideologically opposed to . . . or back into a guerrilla group with little popular support amongst the Gazans (the latter is a given if they’re voting for such a thing).

    A similar vote for independence would look like a boost for Hamas until they have to sit down and rule. How long would it be before the Gazans realized that their trade difficulties weren’t the fault of the Israelis anymore? How valuable would they be to the Iranians as a sovereign country? If they started mortaring the Israelis again, would they still be seen by outsiders as freedom fighters (even though they have their freedom) or would they be seen the same way as North Korean troops mortaring Seoul or Mexican troops mortaring El Paso (i.e. aggressors starting a war)? How long could they allow smaller groups to launch attacks from their territory until they either had to fess up to being sponsors or confess that they don’t have much control over their own territory? And could they avoid troubles with Israel- and Egypt- without compromising their own ideology?

    In short, under what circumstances would an offer to recognize the results of a popular vote in Gaza benefit Hamas?

  9. “Sarko to Obama: Je T’aime”

    Too bad they’re referring to the male halves of those couples:(

  10. I can’t remember be as excited by any SECDEF speech as I was this afternoon.

    We have a Secretary of Defense who truly “Gets it.”

    If only Bush had given him more than 2 years to work.

    At least Obama is letting him make up for lost time.

  11. This is bizarre: catholic schools are listed as disappearing, but I would think any school with a good academic reputation would be solid. My cognitive dissonance isn’t helped by the knowledge that the number of such schools in my town actually grew over the past decade or two.

    http://www.walletpop.com/specials/top-25-things-vanishing-from-america?icid=main|compaq-laptop|dl4|link4|http%3A%2F%2Fwww.walletpop.com%2Fspecials%2Ftop-25-things-vanishing-from-america

  12. On the subject of cars, China cements her status as the world’s #1 car market. [1]

    At least part of this has to be industrial structure: the major car companies in Communist China are for-profit entities that compete in a dynamic marketplace. In the United States, the traditional car companies are welfare agencies run to subsidize the health care and retirement of workers. [2]

    The same basic analysis holds when comparing the successful banks in China (ICBC, BOC, CCB) against the zombie institutions in the United States (Citi, Goldman Sachs, et al) [3]

    [1] http://www.calculatedriskblog.com/2009/04/china-record-auto-sales-now-1-auto.html
    [2] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2009/03/22/the-90-tax.html
    [3] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2009/03/29/welfare-queens.html

  13. Interesting article on a three-year BA/BS degree:

    [Sen. Alexander] currently promoting the idea of offering a three-year bachelor’s degree that could reduce the cost of attending college by one-fourth.

    It would be up to individual schools to decide how to accomplish a three-year degree program. Possible scenarios include encouraging more Advanced Placement credits in high school, reducing credit hours or degree programs, encouraging students to take more courses per semester or to take courses year-round.

    I earned by degree in two years using AP. I started with 40 credits from AP, CLEP, online, and night classes, and had one semester of 26 or so credits. Accelerated graduation is already available for students who are sufficiently motivated.

    The only roadblock I had was an awful Vice President of Academic Affairs, who thought this would make the school look bad. That problem was resolved, though.

  14. In December, 1918 my dad’s father died of the swine flu. My father was born three months later. His mother was blind, and she had 5 children.

    Tough start.

  15. Michael,

    Interesting link. Though there’s an obvious question of the directionality of causation. Presumably, those areas with the least trust among families are the most likely to sell their brothers for extra cash.

    Jeffrey James ,.

    Has the image been taken down?

    sonofsamphm1c,

    The existence of disease proves that the war against nature is not over.

  16. “Tradition is the sum of everything that has kept us from being destroyed. Changing traditions without knowing what we are doing strikes me as wise as changing our genetic code without knowing what we are doing.”
    -My initial tweets were a response to this. I never advocated change, just to question the assumptions already present, or more simply to question the tradition itself. (What makes this right? Why did we agree upon this tradition? Etc.) We can’t understand our choices to change the tradition till we understand completely why we advocate the traditional view in the first place.
    -Trying to keep within the spirit of your tweets, blog entry, and comments. If I misunderstand you, please correct me. I would never want to bastardize your points.
    -I surly hope you didn’t mean every tradition, like bowing ones head to pray.
    -The genetic tradition that has kept us from being destroyed is the way I am interpreting your comment.
    -Is this “genetic tradition” the best? No, but it has not destroyed us. For that, before we advocate change, we should completely understand the genome. Bringing this argument out to those who advocate social engineering through legal standards (either through legislature or judicial fiat) must first understand why we chose this tradition.
    -We will never be sure of all the intended consequences (or unintended consequences) of our choices. Yet, by you raising these thoughts on Soobs comments and on your site you are helping bring some “unknown unknowns” to “known unknowns.” Once again, thank you. Unlike the scientific realm, where we can control test (variables and such) and replicate finding to asses the validity of the first test. What happens when we leave the lab and move into the realm of real world? Can scientific results account for every variation possible within this realm? We probably will never find the absolute answer in the social realm, but still it is our responsibility to think these things through as much as possible, like you advocate.
    “I do not know of any large-scale social engineering effort that you can point to as being easily reversed without lasting consequence, while examples of large-scale social engineering efforts that have irreversible lasting consequences are too numerous to count.” So political choices usually are “basically just collections of prejudices fear and optimistic generalizations” We then come back to the “man is the measure of all things”
    -Then underlining theme that I see reoccurring: Where does the freedom of the individual trump his/her responsibility to society? By allowing “gay marriage” to occur are we letting the individual freedom trump the productivity of society? Are we setting a legal precedent where the freedom of individual freedom trump in the face of overwhelming evidence that their choices harm society as a whole? I do not know, but we seem to change our views on such things case by case. Think of the whole drug debate, why do we allow cigarettes but not weed?
    -Choices will be made, listening or not listening to our concerns or points. And as evidence seems to suggest we are going in the direction of allowing gay marriage. At best, either we try to influence policy or we try to anticipate the consequences of these policy decisions. You seem to push for the latter, which I find laudable.
    -Btw, red herring? Psh! Bollocks I say.

  17. Glenn,

    Thank you for your comments. I will respond to them individually, following your pattern. Also, I have moved them to the most recent open thread, as I gave you the wrong link on twitter. My apologies.

    On Tradition and Homosexual Marriage:

    My initial tweets were a response to this. I never advocated change, just to question the assumptions already present, or more simply to question the tradition itself. (What makes this right? Why did we agree upon this tradition? Etc.) We can’t understand our choices to change the tradition till we understand completely why we advocate the traditional view in the first place.

    Asking those questions of tradition make no more sense than asking those questions of the genetic code. This was the point I was attempting to get across on Twitter [1].

    It’s obvious why we should want to change the tradition, as it is obvious why we should want to change the genetic code: much of life is full of misery and oppression.

    “I do not know of any large-scale social engineering effort that you can point to as being easily reversed without lasting consequence, while examples of large-scale social engineering efforts that have irreversible lasting consequences are too numerous to count.” So political choices usually are “basically just collections of prejudices fear and optimistic generalizations” We then come back to the “man is the measure of all things”

    I don’t follow the chain of logic here. The political reaction of individuals may well be collections of prejudices and biases, but the choices that are actually made reflect the received political environment that all political actors find themselves in. [2]

    Then underlining theme that I see reoccurring: Where does the freedom of the individual trump his/her responsibility to society?

    I would argue nowhere, as all individuals are born free, and only submit to the State in order to live as free as they can.

    A more practical question is at what point does the State allow individuals to act in ways which generate unknowable outcomes, given that the State exists to war against Death.

    To that, I would argue that there are two coherent standards that may be used.

    1. Under the assumption that all is legal, unless it must be prohibited to fight Death
    2. Under the assumption that all action is controlled in the war against Death, except in those spheres where it is proven to help in the war against Death

    The first standard leads to libertarianism, homosexual marriages, father-daughter marriages, and the like. The second leads to a system of social control in most areas of life except the economic.

    [1] http://twitter.com/tdaxp/status/1755987386
    [2] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2007/07/07/describing-the-military-industrial-sysadmin-complex-how-we-will-win-the-5gw-to-shrink-the-gap.html

  18. My reply to your points of Zoroastrianism
    Lets look at your points…
    “Judaism comes from the “Council” (Elohim)-based semitic religions. J’s contribution are “YHWH” and the directionality of time.”
    -“Z is Indo-European, unattested before Herodotus, etc. Saying J <- Z is like saying Buddhism <- Alaskan TotemO”
    -Your correct and my brief generalization of saying Judaism was just a remixed form of Zoroastrianism is wrong. The influence of Zoroastrianism brought by the exile in Babylon does seem apparent. If you wish for me flesh out this point of the argument I will but we known that religions borrow from each other. How else did those Jews become henotheistic to monotheistic? How did those pesky Jews get the idea of a heaven and hell.
    -I would like to also add that scholars still debate the exact origins of when Zoroastrianism was formed. I’ve seen from 1,500 BCE to 500 BCE. I would side with you view, as I researched the origins, it was unattested before Herodotus. There was no definite answer, but for simplicity lets say Herodotus.
    -As is apparent, Judaism is quite okay with it’s own evolution so lets move on.

    As for Christianity…
    Zoroastrianism has…
    -Zoro learns the “truth” at the age of 30. – Like Jesus as the Christ (I never liked calling him the Jesus Christ. It is still debatable on that point)
    -It’s an evangelical religion – Like Christianity.
    -It has a militant element, it’s the “one and only way ” to God – Like Christianity
    -In the beginning one and only god, Monotheistic – Like Christianity
    -A conflict between good and evil – Like Christianity
    -Has a satanic figure, Angra Mainyu – Like Christianity
    -Spenta Mainyu (holy spirit) is how Ahura Mazda intervenes in the world – Like Christianity
    -Triumph of good over evil in the end – Like Christianity
    -Dead will rise – Like Christianity
    -A “big book” will be open and everyone will be judged. If you sided with Zoroaster you will live in heaven – Like Christianity
    -Saoshyant will be born a virgin and will save help save the world – Like Christianity
    -Evesta(Holy Text) is incomplete – Like some argue in Christianity.

    While Christianity took many elements of Judaism, where did Judaism get these elements? Does these points I raise diminish Christianity? Not at all, I just want most people to realize these ideas don’t fall from the bloody sky. The story I’ve always heard a Frenchman brought the Evesta to Europe in th1 19th century. He was dismissed and ridiculed because they thought he wrote it. I would rather challenge an idea then stick my head in the sand and act as if doesn’t exist. Faith and doubt can be compatible and good at times. You know this already so I’ll move onto my final point.

  19. On Zoroastrianism:

    Your correct and my brief generalization of saying Judaism was just a remixed form of Zoroastrianism is wrong.

    Thank you. I agree. :-)

    The influence of Zoroastrianism brought by the exile in Babylon does seem apparent. If you wish for me flesh out this point of the argument I will but we known that religions borrow from each other. How else did those Jews become henotheistic to monotheistic? How did those pesky Jews get the idea of a heaven and hell.

    Both are interesting questions. The former assumes that Mazdaism was henotheistic, which I am not sure of. The second

    The second is interesting. Catholicgauze has a good map of the cosmos according to the ancient Hebrews. [1] The first reference to occurs in Maccabees in the context of execution of zealots by Romans, IIRC. Hell first occurs in the New Testament, where it is described using terms from the Greek. None of these belie an obvious persian influence.
    Like tracing Buddhism to Alaskan totem worship, I’m sure you can find connections, if you look hard enough. that does not mean they are plausible or falsifiable, however.

    The parrallels you cite are interesting, but to again use the Buddhism : Alaskan totem worship analogy, get you nowhere. Similar list of parrellels have been drawn up for Christianity to the mythology of ancient Egypt, the Oddyssee, Buddhism, Taoism, and even an abscure magician from Tyre.

    [1] http://catholicgauze.blogspot.com/2007/12/world-to-ancient-hebrews.html

  20. “Your religion does not say this, your interpretation of your religion say this.”

    ___o_______o_________o_________o_____o

    -This line represents human time.
    -The “o” represents transcendence of God into our time. When these occur and these “miracles” happen, such as creation (That one miracle seems to get less miraculous as we understand evolution, but you get my point)

    ___o____>___o____>____o____>____o__>___o

    -The “>” represents our interpretation of these miracles.

    V V V V V V V
    ___o____>___o____>____o____>____o__>___o

    -The “V” represents God’s perspective.
    -We cannot understand things through God’s perspective. Since he is omnipresent, omnipotent, and a bunch of other amazing adjectives I rather not type out.
    -We can only understand things through a human’s perspective.
    -As times change, so do we.
    -We will come up with different interpretations of the miracle in light of the evidence presented to us.
    -To speak with “absolute truth” that your religion says “this” is pretentious and quite arrogant. We are only human and we could be wrong. At best, we can hope that God is guiding our interpretation but we can’t say that he is with absolute certainty. So when different interpretations arise we have three choices:
    Exclusive, Inclusive, or Pluralistic.

    Exclusive
    -Belief in the exclusive truth in your religion, without any other.
    -If you hold this view you have to answer this questions
    -What do you do when your “truth” wasn’t known because of the time it occurred or by geological factors?
    -What if they don’t give up their religion and think you’re the believing the wrong “truth” and will go to hell?
    -What if they are morally good according to your religion, but they still belong to the “wrong” religion will they still go to hell?
    In the end, this is a very tricky position to hold and at best apologetics, at least in Christian tradition, tend to come up with sweet answers saying God will forgive them out of ignorance or time. How can they be sure of this?

    Inclusive
    -Tolerate another religions
    (Tolerance is funny as a virtue to me)

    Pluralistic
    -To admit or accept that your religion may be just one of the many “right” ways
    This by far the hardest view to hold for many.

    In the end, all we can appeal to is faith…for better or for worse.

  21. Glenn,

    I’m puzzled by your exclusive v. inclusive v. pluralistic dichotomy. The Catholic Church’s position on its dogma, for instance, notably fails to fall in either of these three categoires. It strikes me that if you are going to build a taxonomy of faith, it may be well to begin by making sure the largest faith is included somewhere in the taxonomy!

  22. I recall a quote of Voltaire’s that suggests a compromise here.

    “A more practical question is at what point does the State allow individuals to act in ways which generate unknowable outcomes, given that the State exists to war against Death.

    To that, I would argue that there are two coherent standards that may be used.

    1. Under the assumption that all is legal, unless it must be prohibited to fight Death
    2. Under the assumption that all action is controlled in the war against Death, except in those spheres where it is proven to help in the war against Death”

    That quote translates to something like “Your freedom to swing your arms about ends at the tip of my nose.” Add exceptions only for situations where the fight against death is involved, provide enforcement mechanisms, and you have neither anarchy nor totalitarianism.

  23. How about Gov. Huntsman from Utah as our new China envoy? That seems to be an exceptional pick to represent America’s interests and maintain the US-China relationship.

  24. Eddie,

    Obama’s foreign policy continues to be good move after good move. It makes his tolerance of raids against the Treasury (eg [1]) all the more perplexing, unless his policy is trust his secretaries almost all the time (which it might be).

    Michael,

    That quote translates to something like “Your freedom to swing your arms about ends at the tip of my nose.” Add exceptions only for situations where the fight against death is involved, provide enforcement mechanisms, and you have neither anarchy nor totalitarianism.

    This is reasonable, if you assume there are no black swans, that actions always have only their intended consequences, etc.

    [1] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2009/05/17/only-fools-pay-their-mortgages-wise-men-have-friends-in-the-treasury.html

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