Saturday, February 28, 2009

U.S. Controls Pakistani Nukes?

There's an article in Middle East Times called, "U.S. Retains Hidden Grip on Pakistan's Nukes." It's fascinating reading. According to their sources,
under the terms of secret agreements, U.S. personnel have been stationed in Pakistan whose sole function is to guarantee and secure the safety of Islamabad's nuclear arsenal and keep it out of the hands of terrorists
There is much more in the article about secret measures the U.S. has taken in Pakistan.

Along with Pakistan, the article also mentions Iran. Former CIA officials reveal that the U.S. has infiltrated the Iranian nuclear supply chain and has "been able to insert flaws into the technology that we can exploit." And here's the key quote:

"The point is that when they push the button, the stuff won't work," the former senior official said.

He and others said that the operation "is fairly long-standing" and successful.
Read the whole article. If true it is pretty reassuring, and reveals exactly the sorts of things that I hope our intelligence services are doing in secret.

HOT5 Daily 2/28/2009

1. "US Government is Now the New Illinois" No, that's not a good thing.

Representative Sample: Only in the senate do we have any hope, and this is just a slight hope, of keeping the pace of the runaway spending train below the absolute top speed possible.

2. "Royal Navy Still Sinking: Eight More Warships to Go" The sad decline of Britain, naval edition.

Representative Sample: In 1997, the British government said the Royal Navy needed 32 frigates and destroyers to protect the country’s interests. Today, the Royal Navy has just 22 surface warships. 

3. "The stupidity of some Malay Muslims" Is there anything that can't offend some Muslims?

Representative Sample:  There are about half a dozen ‘banned’ words that non-Muslims may not use in their daily communication, basically all words that contain the word ‘Allah’.

4. "Study: Fewer Parents Rely on Religious Texts for Child-Rearing" Even among evangelicals.

Representative Sample: Only 14 percent indicate they are very familiar with what the Bible has to say about parenting, the research revealed. Twenty-seven percent of Protestant parents are very familiar with what the Bible has to say about parenting compared to only 7 percent of Catholic parents. 

5. "Orthorexia"  Good news about less religion in parenting? Here's some bad news of a different nature. 

Representative Sample: The New York Times reports the emergence of children with such strongly instilled food concerns they are afraid to eat. Doctors have coined the term orthorexia for the phenomenon.

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at Put HOT5 in the subject.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Withdrawing From Iraq

President Obama gave a speech today, detailing his plans for withdrawing from Iraq. Our force level will be reduced to 35-50,000 by August 2010, and the rest will be removed by December 2011, as specified in the status-of-forces agreement that the Bush administration signed with Iraq. I have a couple of thoughts on the whole situation.

The time does appear right to start pulling troops from Iraq. Things are probably about as stable as they are going to get any time in the near future. We don't need to have the bulk of our ground combat power tied down in Iraq indefinitely, and there are the obvious financial considerations. On the other hand, I think the total withdrawal scheduled for 2011 is a bad idea, and I'm skeptical that it will actually happen. I'll be surprised if we don't retain some forces in the country. Given the expenditure of life, money and time in Iraq, we have a vested interest in it. I would prefer to see a situation where we kept a relatively small but significant military presence in Iraq as a threat to Iran, as a prop to the Iraqi government, and as a lever to exert influence over the country. We'll see what happens after we cut our force level. Obviously if the Iraqis don't want us there at all, we need to leave. But I don't think total withdrawal is the best option.

HOT5 Daily 2/27/2009

1. "On War #293: The Price of Bad Tactics" Why does the U.S. military rely so heavily on airstrikes, despite the obvious political and strategic drawbacks?

Representative Sample: The easiest way to provide the overwhelming firepower our bad infantry tactics depend on is with airstrikes. So to win tactically, we have to lose strategically.

2. "Is Eric Holder Too Ignorant to Be Attorney General?" Debunking Holder's nonsense about guns.

Representative Sample: There are roughly 240,000 machine guns in civilian hands. Roughly half of those belong to law enforcement agencies, and the other half belong to civilians just like you and me. Just two have ever been used in crime

3. "Mental Slavery and Creeping Atheism" Thought control.

Representative Sample: We atheists often say that religion "hardens hearts and enslaves minds", but it's interesting to see theists who openly agree with us and admit that this is exactly what they are trying to achieve.

4. "Radicals to the Left of Us" Will Obama's radical domestic agenda succeed?

Representative Sample: the economy might have something to “say” about all of this. The slides in markets and consumer-confidence ratings, to some extent, reflect the collective “thumbs down” on the administration’s course of action.

5. "Time for Rational Regulation of Credit Card Lending Practices"  Libertarian calls for tighter regulation.

Representative Sample: As opposed to the infantile straw man arguments of those inveighing against libertarians, being a libertarian does not mean wholesale opposition to government regulation of private activity.

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at Put HOT5 in the subject.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

"Assault Weapon" Idiocy

Here we go again with talk of reinstating the so-called "assault weapons" ban. According to ABC News, Attorney General Holder said
putting the ban back in place would not only be a positive move by the United States, it would help cut down on the flow of guns going across the border into Mexico
I'm sure drug smugglers are going to be deterred by laws banning an imaginary class of weapons. Plus we all know that criminal Mexican gangs are noted for obeying laws. They won't be able to get the weapons they want illegally. According to the report,
Some recent Mexican army and police confrontations with drug cartels have resembled small-unit combat, with cartels employing automatic weapons and grenades"
That kind of weaponry has absolutely nothing to do with so-called assault weapons, and reviving the ban would have zero effect. Holder is either totally clueless, or he knows this and is just spouting dishonest propaganda in order to generate support for the ban. The main people who would be affected by the ban are law abiding gun owners who use the weapons for target shooting, keep them for self-defense, collect them, or buy them for other legal purposes.

Politicians, many of whom are completely ignorant when it comes to firearms, love to toss around terms like "assault weapons," as if they had actual meaning. There are such things as assault rifles, selective fire weapons capable of fully automatic fire. Civilian ownership of assault rifles is already tightly restricted. There are civilian versions of these rifles, but they are semi-automatic only -- you have to pull the trigger for every shot. They are not machine guns, they do not "spray" bullets, and the main reason they are classed as "assault weapons" by clueless politicians, is that they look like scary military weapons. Despite their appearance, they are functionally equivalent to numerous other semi-automatic rifles. Basically an assault weapon can be anything that a politician thinks it is, which is why calls to revive a ban are so disturbing to anyone who cares about gun rights.

Later on in the article, Holder also calls for banning "cop-killer bullets." What's a cop-killer bullet? Again, they are pretty much what any politician decides they are, since any bullet can kill a cop. Assault weapons are a made-up category of weapons, and cop-killer bullets are their made-up counterpart for ammunition. Allowing politicians to make up terms, label categories of weapons and ammunition with them, and then ban them, is a really bad idea. Unfortunately it's not surprising. No one on the right with any sense believed Obama's promises to respect gun rights.


Nancy Pelosi is not on board with reviving the assault weapons ban. She says she hasn't talked to the administration about it, and thinks we need to focus on enforcing current laws. I rarely have anything good to say about the Speaker of the House, but I'm glad to hear that she seems to be taking a commonsense view of this issue.

Rush Limbaugh on Atheists

I normally pay little attention to Limbaugh, but I happened to read a transcript of him trying to defend Bobby Jindal, after Jindal's miserable performance giving the Republican response to Obama's speech. Contained within Limbaugh's rambling rant, was this passage:
believe me, a planeload of atheists on a jet on the way to Hawaii and three of the four engines go out, the atheists start praying to who? God. Not the ocean, to save 'em. Everybody believes in God at some point, but not until they face their mortality. Everybody does. They have some God.
I find this sort of thing pretty funny, but you see it all the time. Some theists apparently don't believe that atheists are serious. They can't imagine that people really don't believe in their deity. They think that all it will take is a life-threatening situation to peel back the thin veneer of atheism, and bring someone's true belief in God to the forefront. This is why so many people believe the "no atheists in foxholes" myth. What Limbaugh doesn't seem to understand is that while most atheists did once believe in God, they eventually came to realize that there just wasn't any evidence that he existed. Atheism isn't a shallow coat of paint covering a theist core.  

A few years ago I was in the hospital with a colon situation that involved a massive infection. I had never before even been hospitalized. I spent over six hours in surgery and the surgeon told my wife I almost died. He told me that when he opened me up and looked inside that it was, in his words, "a real mess in there." After surgery I spent about three days in hideous agony that I can't describe, other than to say that it was the worst experience of my life -- the equivalent of being tortured non-stop. Not even morphine could block it. Did I stop being an atheist and look to God for relief? No, because I don't think there is any evidence that one exists.  I'm certain my view of God's existence isn't going to change suddenly because I'm going down in a plane crash, and I think that's true of most atheists. 

Theists often complain that atheists are disrespectful and dismissive of their religious beliefs. One reason for that is that most theists have no respect at all for atheism, and can't even accept that people really don't believe in God. To them God is so self-evident, that they just can't grasp disbelief.

HOT5 Daily 2/26/2009

1. "A Month of B.O."A recap of Obama's first month in office.

Representative Sample:It's hard to believe the sheer volume of hyperactive bumbling the Obama administration has crammed into the space of a mere 30 some days.

2. "Wordle of Barack Obama’s Congressional Speech Last Night" Interesting graphic.

Representative Sample: It's a graphic.

3. "Hassan Beheading: Feminist Silence Or Fear?" Where's the outrage?

Representative Sample: feminist groups would gladly shout down those who say or do intolerant, sexist things to the sisterhood. But should one of their own be beheaded by a member of a radical theology, we get nothing but silence.

4. "Old men chasing young women: A good thing" Hmm. This could be worked into a pick-up line.

Representative Sample: It turns out that older men chasing younger women contributes to human longevity and the survival of the species

5. "Why do Britain and France have nukes?"  Huh? Smart person asking a stupid question. There's more to policy than economic determinism.

Representative Sample: why France and Britain would spend billions to maintain a nuclear weapons deterrent, a symbol of prestige more than a security guarantee, in the midst of a global recession.

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at Put HOT5 in the subject.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bad News from the Muslim World

World Public Opinion recently completed a poll in various Muslim countries, surveying attitudes toward terrorism, Al Qaeda and the U.S.  Full results can be found at their site, I'm highly skeptical of polling in non-democratic countries, but if you take the results at face value, they aren't encouraging.

Let's just look at some of the responses from two of our supposed allies, Turkey and Egypt. 8% of both Turks and Egyptians actually approve of attacks on U.S. civilians inside the U.S. At first glance, that doesn't seem too bad. Pretty small percentages.  But 40% of Turks, supposedly our strong allies, support attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, as do an overwhelming 83% of Egyptians. The same percentage of Egyptians supports attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan (apparently Turks weren't polled).

And then there is the question of the U.S. and Islam. 82% of Turks and 87% of Egyptians think that to "Weaken and Divide Islam" is a U.S. goal. 79% of Turks think spreading Christianity is a U.S. goal (Turks not polled).  With all the fanatical Jew-hating among Muslims, it's no surprise that 78% of Turks and 86% of Egyptians think that "Expanding Israeli Borders" is a U.S. goal. I'm sure the Israelis would be surprised to know that the U.S. wants to expand their borders.

Only 8% of Turks and 11% of Egyptians think the U.S. "mostly shows respect to the Islamic world." That's pretty funny. The Islamic world deserves far less respect than we've shown it.

Trutherism is of course rampant in Muslim countries. Only 23% of Egyptians, and 39% of Turks think that Al Qaeda was behind the 9/11 attacks.

There are various other questions as well. These are just some of the lowlights. This poll, if at all accurate, illustrates the futility of attempts to reach out to the Muslim world. How do you reason with people who think that spreading Christianity and attacking Islam are major U.S. policy goals? How many times did President Bush bend over backwards to avoid associating Islam with terrorism? Unfortunately, although there are some decent, rational people in Islamic countries, most of them have to keep their mouths shut because they are surrounded by backward, ignorant, religious fanatics. And that's true of the countries that are supposedly U.S. allies. A full 11% of respondents in Jordan are actually willing to admit that they support attacks on U.S. civilians within the U.S., with another 15% having "mixed feelings." Naturally the more hostile areas, like the Palestinian territories, hate us even more. But hey, let's give them 900 million dollars. I'm sure they'll appreciate it and not spit in our faces like every other time. 

The Usual BS

I was going to write something about Obama's speech last night and I went back through the transcript. But it was all basically the same bs we've heard from him before. I didn't hear or see anything that was particularly significant or surprising, although it was pretty funny when he said he didn't believe in big government.

HOT5 Daily 2/25/2009

1. "Questions for Ex-Muslims"An ex-Muslim responds to questions about Islam. Pretty interesting.

Representative Sample: If Muslim immigrants feel shut out from society and from social and economic opportunities, the community becomes more inward looking, and calls on conservative traditions

2. "What Are Our Leaders Smoking?" Many of us wonder.

Representative Sample: Why are we spending money on people who hate us and who routinely demonstrate while shouting “Death to America?” Have we lost our minds?

3. "The 2008 Douche Bag of the Year Awards" Entertaining list.

Representative Sample: THE BIG THREE AUTO-MAKERS For being crappy companies which can't compete on the world market and demanding that the American tax-payer bail them out

4. "Binyam Mohamed Released" Surprisingly enough, military families not happy about the release of terrorists.

Representative Sample: One of the easiest things for Obama to do would be NOT TO RELEASE TERRORISTS back into society.

5. "Now It’s Capital Punishment"  Executing people is supposedly too expensive now.

Representative Sample: This economic crisis is being used as a tool to thrust just about every stinking piece of liberal tripe down our throats. All of America should feel like their intelligence is being insulted.

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at Put HOT5 in the subject.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Atheist Bus Ads Censored

Three Canadian cities have refused to allow the message of the atheist bus campaign on its city buses. Why? Because some religious types might be offended. I wrote about the atheist bus campaign before. Even though I'm an atheist, I think it is a pointless waste of money. But the message is about as mild as you could possibly get: "There's probably no God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life." That line is so offensive that it needs to be banned from city buses? Why cater to hypersensitive idiots who are offended by the most innocuous things?

Four Options for Afghanistan?

Ralph Peters has a new op-ed in USA Today called, "The Mendacity of Hope," in which he argues that we need to face reality in Afghanistan. He describes four possible strategies, which he ranks from best to worst. Here's his recommendation for the best option:
Instead of increasing the U.S. military "footprint," reduce our forces and those of NATO by two-thirds, maintaining a "mother ship" at Bagram Air Base and a few satellite bases from which special operations troops, aircraft and drones, and lean conventional forces would strike terrorists and support Afghan factions with whom we share common enemies. All resupply for our military could be done by air, if necessary. 

Stop pretending Afghanistan's a real state. Freeze development efforts. Ignore the opium. Kill the fanatics.
That's what he's sees as our best overall strategy, and with some modifications I tend to agree. The whole article is interesting, and makes a strong case against putting in more troops.

Funding Our Enemies

The Obama Administration will give 900 million dollar to "help rebuild Gaza," according to the New York Times.  Administration officials claim that none of the money will go to Hamas because it will be sent through nongovernmental organizations. Well, that's a relief. The fact that Hamas actually controls Gaza is incidental. There's no way all or most of the money intended for Gaza could possibly find its way into Hamas' hands. Of course not.

There's no other way to describe this policy other than as complete insanity. Obama, who is now claiming to be worried about the deficit -- despite sponsoring an unprecedented massive spending bill -- wants to send almost a billion dollars to help a terrorist pseudo-state that hates the U.S. That's on top of the money we are already wasting on the Palestinian Authority.

According to Daniel Levy, an analyst quoted by the Times,

“It’s a good effort, but the money can’t be spent unless materials can get into Gaza,” Mr. Levy said. “The next step is opening the border crossings, and that requires more than just signing a check.”
If that's the case, let's hope Israel keeps those border crossings tightly closed, and blocks as much of our idiotic contribution to Hamas as possible.

HOT5 Daily 2/24/2009

1. "Obama’s Budget: Cutting the Deficit He Created" After ramming through monster spending bill.

Representative Sample: This coming from the man that just went on an historical spending spree, much of which is a payoff for the Democrats’ political allies.

2. "Debunking Liberal Economics (such as it is)" Milton Friedman speaks.

Representative Sample: It's a video.

3. "When War Comes to Main Street" Something to think about.

Representative Sample: Westerners will join in the war on terror if they see their own governments refusing to defend the Western way of life that these citizens value. 

4. "Civilian Casualties Hit New Highs in Afghanistan" up 40% in 2008.

Representative Sample: does that mean that the U.S. forces need to change tactics -- or change perceptions about them? Right now, Waterman says the opinion in the military leadership is the latter.

5. "Anti-stimulus; that’s what the ’stimulus’ will actually result in"  The results of relying on the government.

Representative Sample: a constant problem with government - once you give them authority over something and a budget to fund that authority, it is nearly impossible to get rid of the program and the problem the program was designed to solve never goes away.

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at Put HOT5 in the subject.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Strange Case of Binyam Mohamed

Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed was released to Britain today. His case illustrates just how difficult it is to draw any certain conclusions about the Guantanamo detainees. Based on publicly available information, many things about this case do not add up.

The BBC has a profile of Mohamed found here. He is an Ethiopian who was resident in Britain. He converts to Islam in 2001, and goes first to Pakistan and then to Afghanistan. He attends an Al Qaeda training camp. Although he claims he wasn't fighting against the U.S., he admits to being at the camp. That pretty clearly identifies him as a jihadi terrorist. After that things get really murky.

Mohamed is arrested in Pakistan. He is then sent to Morocco for 18 months. He claims he was tortured in both places. In 2004 he's transferred to Afghanistan (where he again says he was tortured), and finally ends up at Guantanamo. In 2007 the UK asks for his release, but the U.S. thinks he's part of the so-called dirty bomb plot and charges him with various crimes. But charges are dropped in October 2008. And now he's released to Britain. Assuming this narrative is all or partly true -- and that's a gigantic assumption -- it raises various questions that I haven't seen anyone asking.

1. If Mohamed was being tortured for information in Pakistan, why was it necessary to send him to Morocco? Do they have better torturers than Pakistan?

2. Why is he in Morocco for a year and a half?

3. Why is he sent back to Afghanistan after all that?

4. Three years after he was captured, he ends up in Guantanamo. Why? Presumably after three years of interrogating him, we know everything we are going to know about him. Why bother bringing him to Gitmo? If he's the dangerous terrorist we think he is, why not just dispose of him in Afghanistan?

5. Why charge him and then drop the charges? We've had years to make a case against him. If we know the evidence is no good because of torture, why even bother charging him in the first place?

6. Why do the British care one bit what happens to him? He's not a British citizen and he's a known terrorist. He was a resident who left to become a jihadi in the Middle East. Why do they want him released at all, let alone want him back in Britain? Are they just stupid? Do they have a special immigration quota for allowing Islamic terrorists into Britain that needs to be filled?

Nothing about this case makes much sense at all. The British are welcome to him. Maybe they'll be dumb enough to take any other terrorists we want to release. It doesn't hurt to ask.

HOT5 Daily 2/23/2009

1. "Russia Sinks a Chinese Ship" China not happy about recent incident.

Representative Sample: The Russians, it appears, fired more than 500 rounds at the bow and the stern of the New Star.

2. "Erasing ‘Blue Laws’ to Help Economy" One good thing caused by recession.

Representative Sample: There are states now that are setting out to repeal “Blue Law” restrictions on alcohol sales.

3. "Indictment of Obama’s Early Leadership Style" Overpromise and underdeliver.

Representative Sample: Mr. Obama continues to promise too much, and of course cannot deliver on those lofty goals. 

4. "The Cost Of A Grunt"Interesting graphic looking at costs of infantryman's equipment.

Representative Sample: It's a graphic.

5. "U.S. Senator Urges Full-Spectrum Somalia Policy"  That would be Feingold. Probably a bad idea.

Representative Sample:urging the Obama administration to fashion a new soup-to-nuts U.S. policy for the tinderbox that is Somalia

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at Put HOT5 in the subject.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Good Articles from the Left

I was skimming some liberal blogs, as I often do to keep up with what's going on in left-wing world, and I found a post at Beautiful Horizons called, "Afghanistan & Obama." It has links to two articles by David Corn, who writes for Mother Jones. Naturally my expectations were very low, but both pieces by Corn are excellent. The first is titled, "Obama Sending More Troops to Afghanistan, But It's Mission not Numbers that Counts." Good title that's difficult to argue with. The second is "Taking the "War" Out of Afghanistan," which makes an argument for a more realistic strategy with limited goals. I'm not often in agreement with David Corn about much of anything, but Afghanistan appears to be an exception.

HOT5 Daily 2/22/2009

1. "The List of Things That Offend Muslims" From 2007. The list is probably much longer by now.

Representative Sample: The intent of the list is to illustrate the futility of the multicultural approach to Islam.

2. "India needs a lot more love from Obama" The Obama administration needs to maintain and strengthen our relationship with India.

Representative Sample: The construction of a strategic partnership with India was arguably President Bush's signal foreign policy accomplishment.

3. "A pox upon this vermin" Zimbabwe celebrates Mugabe's birthday. There sure is a lot to celebrate.

Representative Sample: The country’s bankrupt public sector used tens of thousands of US dollars – now the currency in Zimbabwe – to place large newspaper advertisements congratulating the president.

4. "Prosecutors Waste Time on Teenage Sex" Stupid laws and stupid prosecutors.

Representative Sample:  no violence was involved; how is this a crime? And why are prosecutors even wasting time trying to meddle in the sexual affairs of teenagers?

5. "Get to know " Best Before""  Are you aware of the endowment effect? Interesting article.

Representative Sample: to what extremes can this endowment effect influence our eating habits?

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at Put HOT5 in the subject.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

HOT5 Daily 2/21/2009

1. "Boston Globe - End Heroin Prohibition" Only in Afghanistan, but still a good idea.

Representative Sample: if you were really awake you could have seen this coming over seven years ago. Our war on drugs was bound to clash with our war on terror.

2. "Gitmo not such a big deal after all" Short but to the point.

Representative Sample: Barack Obama must be something. He accomplishes in less than a month something that George W. Bushitlerburtontorturerconstitutionshredder didn't manage in 6 years.

3. "A wide-ranging debate" The EU and Afghanistan.

Representative Sample: Effective action follows in the wake of good policy, and good policy follows debate. Policy is not made in a vacuum..

4. "Andy the Atheist" An atheist looks at a Christian caricature of an atheist. Pretty amusing.

Representative Sample: Today I learned how to witness to atheists. I also learned that I must not be an atheist, because they sure weren't talking about me

5. "The fifth columnist in the White House"  Nutcase alert. Columnist accuses Obama of treason based on hysterical overreaction to one month of foreign policy.

Representative Sample: there is now a fifth columnist in the White House, delivering (however unwittingly) the agenda of the enemies of the west and undermining the cause of the free world.

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at Put HOT5 in the subject.

Friday, February 20, 2009

No Constitutional Rights for Enemy Aliens

From CBS News:

President Barack Obama's Justice Department sided with the former Bush administration on Friday, saying detainees in Afghanistan have no constitutional rights.

The Obama administration maintains that Bagram prison is located in
an overseas war zone and the prisoners there are being held as part of a continuing military action.
No doubt the usual suspects will be outraged by this action. It doesn't look like Obama buys into their excessive concern for the imaginary rights of presumed enemy aliens. And those on the right who are already engaging in over-the-top criticism of Obama's foreign policy might want to tone it down a bit. This and other actions are positive signs that the Obama administration takes a more realistic attitude toward foreign policy and national security than many of us feared.

Observations About Underlying Assumptions

In my years of arguing with people on the internet, I've noticed that it is extremely difficult to have a reasonable debate with someone who holds different underlying beliefs & assumptions, unless you focus on a narrowly specific topic and stick to it. Otherwise you end up talking past each other. It can happen in person also, but the internet exacerbates the problem since it is easier to hold an unyielding/uncompromising position in this less personal format. This happens all the time in most unstructured debates between theists and atheists. It goes something like this:

Theist: I believe this because god said x

Atheist: I don't believe in god. God didn't say anything because he doesn't exist.

Theist: My scripture teaches us x

Atheist: Your scripture is just a bunch of myths

Theist: These truths are self-evident to human reason

Atheist: No they aren't.  You only believe them because of your religion. Why can't you see reality?

Theist: I see reality just fine. You are deluding yourself in thinking your human understanding is the extent of reality. Why won't you recognize these self-evident truths?

And so forth.

Unfortunately this type of thing occurs with many topics. Often underlying assumptions are so strong that they are accepted as fact. In effect, both sides are arguing based on a different set of facts. This is not conducive to a useful debate. Take the stimulus. Some believe that Keynesian governmental economic intervention, as exemplified by the New Deal, assisted the U.S. in recovering from the Great Depression, whereas others believe that New Deal policies actually prolonged the depression. If two people who hold these polar opposite views of history debate current economic policy, it will go nowhere. Both have views of the current situation that rest on a different set of perceived facts.

HOT5 Daily 2/20/2009

1. "10 Words and Phrases Republicans Should Never Use Again" Interesting list.

Representative Sample: 7) Affordable Housing - If someone buys a house in the free market, by definition it is affordable.

2. "Celebrate Free Speech While it Lasts!" The virtues of speaking out.

Representative Sample: “free speech” cannot be controlled or it is not “free” at all. And we in America have for too long engaged in self-censorship in favor of “niceness.”

3. "China hits out at Philippine bill on Spratly claims" One of the many conflicting territorial claims sitting out there like a time bomb.

Representative Sample: Philippine lawmakers on Tuesday passed a bill spelling out its claims in the South China Sea, whose islands are claimed in whole or in part by a host of Asian nations.

4. "Mystery in the desert" What are the Syrians up to?

Representative Sample: IAEA inspectors are finding traces of graphite and uranium at a site alleged to have been a nuclear facility

5. "Eric Holder's "Race" to the Bottom"  Being obsessed with race and talking about it constantly is the obvious answer to improved race relations. Well, at least the new AG seems to think so.

Representative Sample: Mr. Holder (did you know he is a black man?) hasn't considered the possibility that we average Americans don't talk much about race because we don't think about race... because we are not racists.

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at Put HOT5 in the subject.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sullivan's Latest on Torture

Andrew Sullivan has a post up on the torture issue called, "Humane Alternatives." His articles aren't often worth a response, but I thought this one was interesting & thoughtful, even though I disagree with most of his positions. He starts off with a useful observation, pointing out that
Almost any coercive act sustained long enough against a person in captivity can become torture.
But having made that point, he then goes on to state that
The test for torture is whether it is of sufficient immediate or cumulative force to rob the capacity of a human being to say voluntarily what he or she knows to be true.
There's one slight problem with that definition. It is still vague and subject to interpretation. It does not help define torture. This is something Sullivan doesn't understand. He's blinded by his own preconceptions and assumptions, and can't seem to grasp that others actually do define and interpret things differently. Sullivan then goes on to make a one of his patented false assumptions, saying that the purpose of torture
can therefore never be to get truly reliable information. The purpose is to get answers the victim imagines the torturers want to hear.
That could be true, but it doesn't have to be. All situations involving torture are not the same. Interrogations are highly dependent on the interrogator, the interrogatee, and numerous other factors. It is quite possible that the interrogator could be looking for specific information that can be independently confirmed. Again, Sullivan's type of argument, which is regularly made by torture opponents, ignores the fact that good information doesn't turn bad just because of the way it was extracted. That's really a very simple concept, but for some reason many just don't get it. If a prisoner reveals the location of an arms cache under torture, that cache doesn't suddenly disappear because torture was used to obtain the information. If a terrorist reveals the names of his associates under torture, those associates can be investigated using ordinary police methods, to determine if there is any evidence which corroborates the information extracted through torture. Many opponents of torture fail to understand that torture is just one type of interrogation, and can work in conjunction with other investigative tools. Interrogators don't have to be blind fools who unquestionably accept anything told to them under torture. There's no reason a torturer can't recognize the strengths and weaknesses of torture, and evaluate any information accordingly.  

A stronger argument rests on the corrupting influence of torture. Sullivan writes that
the power that torture gives to torturers is an inherently total and invariably corrupting one. It darkens the souls of those tasked with carrying it out; and more profoundly poisons the entire polity that authorizes it
I agree. But it still might be a necessary possible option under certain conditions. We have to contemplate, and sometimes carry out, various measures that have damaging effects on those who employ them. We are willing and able to slaughter innocent civilians, including children, sometimes in large numbers, if such killing is deemed necessary and unavoidable during military operations.  Yet torturing some terrorists is too horrible and corrupting to even contemplate?

Finally, Sullivan asks: "Does torture become something less awful when we do it?" Naturally he thinks the answer is no, and I basically agree. But like most who take a moral absolutist position against torture, he fails to ask another more important question. Does it matter who is being tortured? Is torturing the innocent or the suspected the same as torturing the guilty? The reason moral absolutists don't bother with such a question, is that they see torture itself as morally wrong in all cases. That's fine if you live in a world where moral questions are black and white. But some of us see many shades of gray.

Nonsense about Arms Control

There was an op-ed in yesterday's New York Times called, "Learning Not to Love the Bomb." It makes a broad argument advocating nuclear weapons reduction and "moving away from nuclear deterrence." The author, Philip Taubman, a Stanford professor and former reporter, believes that the Obama administration should
be prepared to reimagine and reshape the nuclear era and, against strong opposition, break free from cold war thinking and better address the threats America faces today.
In my opinion, this article is a combination of wishful thinking, denial of reality, and shaky assumptions. Taubman writes
the nuclear establishment remain enthralled by elaborate deterrence theories premised on the notion that the ultimate defense against a variety of military threats is a bristling nuclear arsenal.
That would be because nuclear weapons are in fact an "ultimate defense." There is currently no way to effectively counter a nuclear strike, except through retaliation. The sheer power and destructive potential of these weapons can't be matched by anything else at present. Taubman points out that nuclear weapons can't deter a terrorist attack by stateless groups. That's true, but so what? That doesn't mean they've lost their usefulness against other threats. He argues that
An achievable immediate goal should be to cut the United States’ and Russia’s nuclear stockpiles down to the bare minimum of operational warheads needed to backstop conventional forces
Why is that at all desirable? It's always better to have more weapons than you need, rather just than barely enough. The author talks quite a bit about getting away from a Cold War mentality, but has bought into the Cold War myth that reducing nuclear weapon stockpiles somehow makes us safer. This is an assumption that often goes unchallenged, but which makes little sense if you actually examine it. If countries retain arsenals large enough to be a strong deterrent -- capable of obliterating any possible enemy -- does it really matter exactly how many such weapons they have? If Russia has just enough weapons to annihilate the U.S., are we now safer than if they had twice as many? Taubman also makes the laughable assertion that
the more you want to engage the world in arms reduction and prevent proliferation, the more you consider radical cuts.

U.S. & Russian cuts in nuclear weapons, which is primarily what he's talking about, have little to do with worldwide arms reduction, and virtually nothing to do with proliferation. Countries don't want nuclear weapons because the U.S. and Russia have too many of them. States like Iran couldn't care less about U.S. nuclear arms reductions. They have obvious reasons for wanting their own stockpile. Those reasons will remain no matter how many weapons are in the U.S. and Russian arsenals.

As long as we have no effective defense against nuclear weapons other than deterrence, it is necessary and useful to keep a substantial arsenal well above our estimated needs. Arms control agreements that make minor cuts in stockpiles are no problem. They allow us to get rid of old inventory and make the naive feel safer. But feel-good diplomacy is unfortunately no substitute for raw power. Let's not pretend that arms control actually makes us safer.

HOT5 Daily 2/19/2009

1. "Bird & Fortune explain the financial crisis." A must see.

Representative Sample: It's a video.

2. "SO WHO REALLY DECIDES?" Why African governments may turn to private military contractors.

Representative Sample: Many governments in Africa are faced with growing external military threats, insurgencies, political upheaval and an escalation in violent crime.

3. "The Liberty to Blaspheme" In defense of free speech against religious extremists.

Representative Sample: Once again, religious lunatics and terrorists have hijacked the marketplace of ideas and twisted the universal right of free speech into a right, possessed exclusively by themselves, to never be offended.

4. "High Stakes Gamble"  Future consequences of today's budget decisions. 

Representative Sample: U.S. budget insanity means that the air power roadmap will have a high risk of becoming strategically weak.

5. "Collective Religious Rituals, Not Religious Devotion, Spur Support for Suicide Attacks"  Interesting study on correlation between support for suicide bombing and elements of religion.

Representative Sample: researchers found that the relationship between religion and support suicide attacks is real but is unrelated to devotion to particular religious beliefs or religious belief in general.

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at Put HOT5 in the subject.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Afghan Surge

President Obama has decided to send 17,000 more military forces to Afghanistan. According to the Washington Post, this represents a 50% increase in U.S. troop numbers. What exactly is the plan for this increased strength, other than just stabilizing what appears to be a deteriorating situation? It's not clear. The Post reports that Obama

has said he wants to limit U.S. objectives in Afghanistan, and administration officials have spoken of a more "regional" counterinsurgency strategy, including expanded assistance to Pakistan and diplomatic outreach to India, Iran, Russia and other neighboring countries.
I'm highly skeptical of this action by the administration. Reducing our troop strength in Iraq, and transferring more troops to Afghanistan seems to be a case of risking success, while reinforcing failure. The success of the surge in Iraq rested not only on increased forces, but on a major change of strategy and the dynamic leadership of General Petraeus and his command team. Do we have a similar plan for Afghanistan? If so, it isn't public knowledge. Do we really want to tie up even more of our combat forces in the remoteness of Afghanistan? We will never have enough there to achieve a complete victory, especially since the Taliban has a safe haven next door in Pakistan.

We are already going to have to maintain a significant force in Iraq for the foreseeable future. It would seem that we should be looking for ways to reduce our commitment in Afghanistan, not increase it. There is no stomach amongst our allies for greater contributions, and putting in more U.S. forces will lead to calls for even more in the future. I seriously doubt that we will be able to quickly stabilize the Afghan situation. The central government there is way behind the progress of the Iraq government in terms of its control of the country, and its security force development. I hope I'm wrong and that a surge in U.S. troop strength produces a dramatic turnaround in Afghanistan, similar to Iraq. But I'll be very surprised if it does. 

Senator Fritz Hollings asks, Why are we in Afghanistan? You won't see me link the Huffington Post very often, but the senator asks some good questions. We know why we went there in the first place, but what exactly we hope to accomplish now is pretty unclear.

HOT5 Daily 2/18/2009

1. "Ron Paul: On Reinstating the Draft" I'm not a big Ron Paul fan, but he understands the fundamental problem with the draft.

Representative Sample: Involuntary servitude was supposed to be abolished by the 13^th^ Amendment, but things like Selective Service and the income tax make me wonder how serious we really are in defending just basic freedom.

2. "Atheism and the "Shut Up, That's Why" Arguments" An interesting analysis, and one which can apply to political arguments as well as religious.

Representative Sample: I'm talking about the arguments whose main purpose is to try to get atheists to stop making their arguments.

3. "Genuine Bi-Partisanship" The real bi-partisan candidate didn't get elected.

Representative Sample: McCain’s brand of bi-partisanship often drove me crazy, but it was true to himself and honest.

4. "Bridges to somewhere"  What is China up to in Africa?

Representative Sample: What really worries me is the day when Beijing starts deploying "private security contractors" to African countries

5. "The Size Of The Universe [vid]"  The universe is pretty big. Interesting video.

Representative Sample: It's a video.

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at Put HOT5 in the subject.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Not A Good Idea

A man in China has five mistresses. His business takes a downturn and he decides he can only afford to keep one. What does he do? He holds a contest run by a modelling instructor to decide who gets to stay, but he doesn't tell the women what the contest is actually about. What could possibly go wrong with that plan? One of those eliminated based on her looks does not go quietly. Instead, she drives him and the other four mistresses off of a mountain road, killing herself and putting the rest of them in the hospital. Full story is here.

Useless Diplomacy

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned North Korea today against launching any missiles, according to ABC News. Clinton said that if North Korea follows through on its plans, that would

damage its prospects for improved relations with the United States and the world.
Yeah, I'm sure North Korea is really impressed with that warning. No doubt improved relations with the U.S is high on their list of priorities. Clinton also noted that a missile launch would be "very unhelpful in moving our relationship forward." What relationship? While the Secretary of State is making these useless statements, the North Koreans are busy threatening us with "destruction," and claiming that they haven't made
a concession despite threat and blackmail from the U.S. nor will make one in the future"
Why do we insist on pretending that North Korea is anything other than a hostile nation run by a deranged dictator? Diplomatic efforts aimed at North Korea are totally useless, and merely encourage Kim Jong Ill and his cronies to keep doing what they are doing, in the hope that they can extract concessions from U.S. administrations stupid enough to give them something. Anyone who trusts a single word out of North Korea, let alone makes some sort of agreement with them and actually expects it to be honored, is a complete idiot.

North Korea doesn't need to be "engaged" or talked to; it needs to be contained & deterred. Our diplomacy in that regard should be directed at China, with the intention of making it very clear to the Chinese that we expect them to maintain a certain degree of control over their insane client state. As a rational actor, we expect China to prevent the insanity of North Korea from spilling over its borders. As long as they keep Kim Jong Ill on a short leash, there will be no need for U.S. involvement - a win/win for both the U.S. and China. 

HOT5 Daily 2/17/2009

1. "Home and away" Criticizing things abroad while ignoring problems at home.

Representative Sample: It is also time for the organized left, such as it still is, to take action against anti-Semitism.

2. "Putin Warns The US Against Socialism" Good advice from Putin of all people?

Representative Sample: the US should take a lesson from the pages of Russian history and not exercise “excessive intervention in economic activity and blind faith in the state’s omnipotence”.

3. "Nanorobots!" If things like this are possible, it's hard to imagine what technologies might be available in 20 years.

Representative Sample: Chemists at New York University and China’s Nanjing University have developed a two-armed nanorobotic device that can manipulate molecules within a device built from DNA

4. "Andrew Sullivan’s Further Descent Into Hackery"  How much further can he go?

Representative Sample: His simple morality play has little to do with reality, but it is a constant struggle for Mr. Sullivan to ignore what is in front of his nose.

5. "The Doctor as the Second Opinion and the Internet as the First"  Something all doctors should be aware of.

Representative Sample: I describe the increasing common phenomenon of people using the Internet before seeing their doctor:

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at Put HOT5 in the subject.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Another Look at the Swarm Scenario

I just posted an article about terrorist swarm tactics, and I thought I would post again with a more detailed scenario. Like the expert I referenced earlier, I think this is one of the most difficult types of terrorist attacks to guard against. In fact, I don't think it is possible to prevent them without turning the country into a combination police state/military encampment. The danger of such attacks, and U.S. vulnerability to them, is one of the main reasons why I support offensive efforts outside the U.S. against enemy states and terrorist groups. Playing defense isn't going to work, and involves major civil liberties issues. Consider the following example of a possible terrorist swarm. 

A terrorist group has succeeded in infiltrating 45 highly-trained members into the U.S. They comprise five 9-man teams each located in a different part of the country. Each team has military assault rifles, handguns, grenades, explosive charges and detonators. The terrorist group overseeing the operation has carefully chosen the targets for each team. Each target is in either a small city or a large town, well away from possible military reaction forces or a major police presence. Number 1's target is a college campus, #2 a popular hotel/casino, #3 a large mall, #4 A 200 child daycare facility, and #5 a senior care complex. Each terrorist team will time their strikes to occur simultaneously. During each attack the teams subdivide into three 3-man groups to hit different areas at once and spread maximum panic. For example, team #1 section A will attack the campus police HQ, to kill the police or at least disrupt their response. Section B will attack a crowded auditorium, while Section C invades the freshmen dorms. Each team divides targets in similar fashion. Attacks are supplemented with the detonation of concealed explosive charges that were place immediately prior to the actual attack, if possible. For example, Team #3 could carry them into the mall concealed in shopping bags and simply drop them into a couple trashcans, to be detonated remotely once they start their attack.

Is there any way to prevent such an attack? Yes, if you discover it before it can be initiated. If not, no military response teams, or militarized police units are going to be able to stop it. The best they can do is try to contain the carnage. Barring the lucky presence of police officers in the right place at the right time, armed civilians are about the only chance of stopping an attack once it gets initiated. Consider target #4, the daycare. As with the other teams the terrorists split into three sections. Section A enters the front of the building, Section B the rear, and Section C the outside play area. This is probably the absolute worst target to defend, since most of the occupants are completely helpless small children. But with this type of target, the terrorists will expect no serious resistance. What if one of the teachers held a concealed carry permit and had her weapon on her? Three terrorists burst into the building through the front door shooting, killing children and staff alike. The teacher is not hit in the initial fire, draws her gun and returns fire, killing one terrorist and wounding another. Many of the children and staff are still going to die, but this changes the entire equation. The remaining member of the terrorist section and his wounded comrade have to focus on this threat instead of continuing to kill the helpless. In the confusion and temporary delay of the slaughter, maybe some of the children could flee to safety. Unlikely, yes, but at least there's a small chance. And this is the worst of all five target scenarios.

In a large public area such as a mall, there could conceivably be a few dozen or more armed civilians capable of reacting to an attack. Some of them might even be ex-military or law enforcement. They pose a serious potential threat to this type of terrorist strike, and one that cannot be fully accounted for in terrorist planning. Chances are they won't be able to stop such an attack cold, but they could disrupt it or manage to stop it short of the number of casualties that would otherwise be inflicted. Even one armed civilian who is willing and able to act is a danger to the terrorists. Unarmed civilians on the other hand are basically helpless, and have few good options. When help arrives it will almost certainly be too late for many of them. In my opinion, small-scale terrorist attacks directed at civilians are best countered by the civilians themselves.

Note -- Pure suicide bomber type attacks are even harder to defend against. Unfortunately, they are often identified after they explode, and then its too late. 

Torture & Bush's Lawyers

Michael Isikoff at Newsweek reports that the Office of Professional Responsibility, an internal Justice Department ethics watchdog group, is getting ready to submit its report on the performance of the White House Office of Legal Counsel, particularly with regard to torture issues. According to Isikoff
OPR investigators focused on whether the memo's authors deliberately slanted their legal advice to provide the White House with the conclusions it wanted
Would this be any surprise at all? I thought lawyers were supposed to act in the best interest of their clients. Here's what I'm guessing happened.

The president goes to the OLC and tells them about his plans for using questionable interrogation tactics, and of the need to use waterboarding on a few high level Al Qaeda prisoners. He tells them he wants to operate within the law, and asks them to come up with a legal finding that will protect the administration from charges of illegality. And he emphasizes the critical necessity of taking these measures in the aftermath of 9/11. John Yoo and others come up with a legal theory that supports the president's position. It boils down to this: torture is difficult to define and the techniques being used are not actually torture, they are merely "enhanced" or "coercive" interrogation methods. Therefore the administration actions are within the law. Legal problem solved.

Let's assume that's what happened. My response is a big, so what? That's what lawyers do. They find loopholes and interpretations to protect their clients. Even if you disagree with it, their interpretation is not unreasonable. Torture is difficult to define, and people strongly disagree on whether or not the specific techniques under consideration constitute torture. In my opinion, the only way the OLC lawyers acted unethically is if they themselves felt that the Bush administration actions would be illegal, and then, instead of resigning in protest, caved in and crafted a pliant legal argument that went against their own beliefs about the law. I'm not sure how anyone is going to prove that -- unless it is clear from their writings or other recorded statements. 

HOT5 Daily 2/16/2009

1. "Stimulus II? Ponder This …." It wouldn't surprise me.

Representative Sample: despite all the rhetoric and nonsense to the contrary by Obama and the Dems, we are on the road to repeating the mistakes Japan made that brought them their “lost decade”?

2. "THE PARTY THAT LOST ITS MIND" David Frum not a fan of GOP tactics used in opposing the stimulus.

Representative Sample: Could we possibly act more inadequate to the challenge? More futile? More brain dead?

3. "Reaction to Wilders’ Deportation" More on the Wilders situation.

Representative Sample: Islamist terrorist attacks from London and Madrid to Iraq demand that mature democratic societies and elected representatives discuss and challenge the ideology that supports terrorism, not hide behind falsehoods

4. "Idiot of the Day"  Are rights based on needs?

Representative Sample: Since when does someone have to have a “need” for any right in order to exercise that right? Shall we require the same litmus test for the rest of the Bill of Rights?

5. "Two if by Sea, three if they attack from freshwater"  Will fish strike back against humans?

Representative Sample: victims of a focused campaign of extermination, are fish forming an insurgency intent on terrestrial Jihad?

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at Put HOT5 in the subject.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Terrorist Swarms

There's an interesting article in the New York Times called "The Coming Swarm," that warns of terrorist swarm tactics being used to target the U.S., and offers possible countermeasures. The author, John Arquilla, who teaches at the Naval Postgraduate School, describes the tactic
The basic concept is that hitting several targets at once, even with just a few fighters at each site, can cause fits for elite counterterrorist forces that are often manpower-heavy, far away and organized to deal with only one crisis at a time.
How would the U.S. counter separate, coordinated attacks by small terrorist groups at different sites throughout the U.S.? Arquilla says that current response plans are inadequate. What does he suggest?

Arquilla advocates a counterterrorist strategy that involves scattering small regular military quick response units throughout the country, training Reserve and National Guard units for counterterror missions, and creating police counterterrorism posts throughout major cities. I see a number of problems with these suggestions.

First let's look at the regular military component. Where are these special counterterrorist units going to come from? Do we have enough troops not committed to other missions and responsibilities to even create these units, or would this be part of a military expansion? Arquilla writes that
Cities, states and Washington should work out clear rules in advance for using military forces in a counterterrorist role, to avoid any bickering or delay during a crisis
That's a pretty big "should." Jurisdictional disputes are inevitable. How do we even identify a terrorist attack as such and not just another incident? If there's shooting at a mall, how long will it take local authorities to figure out that it's a terror attack and decide to call in the military? What's the trigger for using the military? And there are all sorts of other mundane issues as well, such as where they will be based. Will they be permanently committed to this mission? What if we need such a unit overseas? Will the area of the U.S. they are supposed to be protecting be left uncovered? Where does the FBI fit in with all of this? I thought they were a key counterterrorism agency.

Training Reservists and National Guardsmen to assist in counterterrorism response seems to be a reasonable idea, but how long will it take to deploy these units in a crisis? If a terrorist team is shooting up an office building in a small city here in NJ, how long is it going to take to decide to use the National Guard, and then have a counterterror unit respond? Who decides to commit the guard?

The police are clearly the first line of defense against terrorist swarm tactics. They are going to respond first, and have the best chance of snuffing out an attack. But is increasing police readiness for terrorist attacks worth the price? We have already seen numerous problems caused by the militarization of the police throughout the U.S., which has led to many abuses. Arquilla is calling for even greater militarization. What are these elite counterterrorism squads going to be doing for 99.9999% of the time when there is no terrorist attack? Are they going to be launching assaults on houses looking for drugs? There's no way they are just going to sit idle as wasted resources on the off-chance that terrorists hit their area.

Is the terrorist swarm threat even worthy of a major military commitment? Do small teams of terrorists pose a danger that can't be handled by our already militarized police forces? A military response is probably going to arrive too late to prevent the carnage in any event. I believe the threat of this type of terrorist attack is real and we should be planning for it. But freedom has a price. I don't think there is any way to truly protect against this sort of terrorism without turning the country into a police state -- and even then you can't guard everything.

One of the main counters to small scale terrorist attacks isn't even mentioned in the article -- a heavily armed citizenry. The sad fact is, that by the time the police arrive, let alone the military, a terrorist swarm attack will almost certainly have inflicted numerous casualties. Unless police officers happen to be in the right place at the right time, there is nothing to stop the terrorists -- except their potential victims. Terrorists plans account for police/military response. If they have any brains at all, they aren't going to strike targets in a location near a rapid response police or military counterterrorism unit. They are going to target weak spots, where the coverage and response time will be slower. The one thing they can't account for are their supposedly helpless intended victims returning fire and killing them before they can inflict more damage. 

HOT5 Daily 2/15/2009

1. "Text of Wilders House of Lords Speech he Wasn't Allowed to Give....." Transcript.

Representative Sample: Four and a half years ago I lost my freedom. I am under guard permanently, courtesy to those who prefer violence to debate. But for the leftist fan club of islam, that is not enough.

2. "The Most Money Every Spent With The Least Scrutiny" Does anyone know everything that's in this bill?

Representative Sample: We will be posting on the stimulus bill for months and years, because it will take that long to figure out what was in it.

3. "A Brief "State of the Debate," and The Top Ten Worst Arguments!" The worst atheist and theist arguments.

Representative Sample:  3. "You have to believe in God - you don't think nothing made everything, do you?"

4. "Windpower: Yet Another Texas-sized Problem (Hurricane Risk)"  The problems with wind energy.

Representative Sample: Windpower is certainly a candidate for the perfect imperfect energy.

5. "Good Intentions No Substitute For Foreign Policy"  I think this jumps the gun a bit with regard to Obama, since he hasn't done much yet in the foreign policy arena. It's preemptive criticism.

Representative Sample: A foreign policy based on “being liked” is a mistake because it makes the wrongheaded assumptions that nation’s will abandon their own interests

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at Put HOT5 in the subject.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Quick Citizenship for Military Service

The New York Times reports that the military, beginning with the army, will begin recruiting non-citizens who are in the U.S. on temporary visas. In return for joining, the immigrants will be put on an accelerated path to citizenship, able to become citizens in "as little as six months." In return, the new citizens would be required to serve for a certain number of years, depending on specialty.

I have mixed feelings about this program. On the one hand, I understand why the military is doing it, and the value of obtaining native language specialists in particular. And I am strongly in favor of granting citizenship to any immigrant who honorably serves in the military for a significant period of time. But offering it to people who are only in the country on temporary visas seems to be going a bit far. We will in effect be buying their services with citizenship. They won't necessarily be joining out of any desire to serve the country, and their military service might be seen as a burden rather than a commitment -- something they will have to get through in order to retain their new citizenship. According to the Times, failing to complete the service requirement could result in the revocation of citizen status. What happens if they need to be discharged for some reason? Will we make them citizens and then take citizenship away? Wouldn't it be better to grant them citizenship after they successfully complete their term of service? 

Economic Quiz

Here's another quiz, this one a fairly detailed economic one at the Ludwig Von Mises Institute, called, "Are You an Austrian?" Most of the answers fall into one of four categories: Austrian school, Chicago school, Keynesian/Neoclassical, and Socialist. My score: 74/100. The result measures how close you are to the Austrian school.

HOT5 Daily 2/14/2009

1. "Deficits and Deceit: Barack Obama's Stimulus" I was going to respond to Andrew Sullivan's latest ridiculous attack on the GOP, but this article pretty much says it all.

Representative Sample: Sullivan is literally the last person in American politics who should be lecturing others on intellectual honesty.

2. "Bush Legacy: India"A look at one of the highlights of Bush's foreign policy.

Representative Sample: One of President George W. Bush’s greatest successes in international affairs is the institutionalizing of an American partnership with India.

3. "Clueless" Why Feinstein's statements about Pakistan were so stupid.

Representative Sample: we have reached a kind of delicate consensus with Pakistan: They will pretend to protest when we do their work for them. We will pretend to listen.

4. "Statesmanship, Failure of…."  Democrats and passing the stimulus: tactical victory & strategic failure? 

Representative Sample: A global economic crisis and they seized an opportunity to pass an incoherent host of nickel and dime appropriations on their leftwing wish list along with huge giveaways

5. "Britain makes the U.S. look good as it spirals down the police state hole"  Britain to expand domestic spying activities.

Representative Sample: Britain's descent into the world of V for Vendetta has been building for a long time.

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at Put HOT5 in the subject.

Friday, February 13, 2009

33 Minutes

The Heritage Foundation is producing a documentary promoting missile defense. The trailer can be viewed here. I've been strongly in favor of developing missile defense systems for a long time, and wrote about the issue back in November.

Microsoft Stores?

Financial Times reports that Microsoft is planning to open its own chain of retail establishments to compete with Apple stores. They hired a former Wal-mart executive to oversee the operation, so they have someone that knows retail.

This seems like a bizarre idea to me, particularly given the current retail picture, although the article doesn't give the projected time-frame. Unlike Apple, Microsoft doesn't have a line of Microsoft-branded PCs and peripherals. Why would people go to a software store that just carries Microsoft products? It's not like you can't get them at other software stores. Unless they are planning to offer major discounts on their software in order to entice buyers, I'm not sure how well this will work out. It sounds like they are going to spend a huge amount of money mainly to promote brand awareness, for a brand most people use not because they particularly like it, but because it dominates the market.

HOT5 Daily 2/13/2009

1. "POLL: JUST 39% BELIEVE IN EVOLUTION"  Not good news, but not that surprising.

Representative Sample: a brand-new Gallup poll tied to Darwin's birthday

2. "Enough Banker Bashing?" An interesting, more or less non-partisan article by someone that seems to know what he's talking about.

Representative Sample: Why are we in this mess? Too many banks got away from the fundamentals.

3. "Liberaltarianism: Stimulated to Death, or Still Kicking?" Can liberals ever be anything more than temporary allies with libertarians?

Representative Sample: liberal (=progressive) and libertarian personalities may differ too drastically to ever be welded together.

4. "American Lenin"  Libertarians hate Lincoln. 

Representative Sample: In "honour" of Lincoln's Birthday, an article by L. Neil Smith on the tyrant

5. "A Bicentennial Defense of Abraham Lincoln"  Attacks libertarian arguments and defends Lincoln as one of our greatest presidents.

Representative Sample: These criticisms are not justified. They are based on shoddy history – what some historians call “lawyers’ history,” which picks and chooses from the historical evidence

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at Put HOT5 in the subject.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Political Spectrum Quiz

Here's my political compass from the Political Spectrum Quiz. It's pretty accurate.

My Political Views
I am a right social libertarian
Right: 6.48, Libertarian: 3.67

Political Spectrum Quiz

More on State Secrets

Here's a hypothetical example to illustrate why it's important that secrecy be preserved in cases involving rendition and the CIA in general. I can't use real examples, because, well, the details are secret. Let's say the CIA has a contact inside the government of Yemen. He's proven himself a reliable source over a couple years, and regularly feeds the CIA information. He tells the CIA about a senior official in an Islamic charity based in Yemen. Let's call him Al. Al helps coordinate donations for the charity and travels all over the Middle East and Europe. According to their contact, Al uses his work for the charity to funnel cash to terrorist organizations, and sometimes serves as a courier, delivering sensitive messages between groups.

The CIA considers their Yemen contact to be a reliable source of information, so they grab Al during one of his trips, and transfer him to an Egyptian prison where he is tortured and gives up all sorts of information, some good, and some bad. Overall the CIA is happy because they've neutralized a significant cog in the terrorist financing machine, and maybe gotten some useful intelligence as a bonus. After several years Al is eventually released.

After his release Al files suit in U.S. court, claiming that he was kidnapped and tortured. There's plenty of evidence that he was mistreated (scars, medical condition, whatever), but zero evidence that he was ever guilty of anything. The CIA acted based on information gained through a secret informant who is still in place. He certainly won't be testifying in court, and even revealing his existence could compromise him, and remove a valuable source of intelligence. Their goal was to neutralize Al as a financial conduit for terrorism, and to gain information. The CIA is convinced by what they found, by the interrogations, and by the information given by their source, that AL was who they thought he was. But none of that would appear in court. To the public, and the court system, Al would look like an innocent charity official who was kidnapped and tortured.

I would think it should seem obvious, but secret operations based on secret intelligence need to remain secret. What we see and hear from these terrorist suspects is only the one-sided public face of the situation. It is quite possible that there are numerous cases where the U.S. government acted correctly, but that they cannot reveal why in court, because it would compromise ongoing operations or intelligence sources, or that the evidence against the person is not the type that would be admissible. And again, in case anyone jumps to the wrong conclusions, I am making this argument only with regard to foreign nationals.

HOT5 Daily 2/12/2009

1. "Rules for Radicals: UK Edition" A great post on Britain and the Geert Wilders situation.

Representative Sample: what really rankles is the kid gloves with which lunatic Islamists are treated, while radical anti-Muslims like Wilders are denounced as agents of intolerance.

2. "How ’bout that multi-million percentage ROI?" Who knew bailouts were so profitable?

Representative Sample: “TARP,” has been quite a lucrative return on investment for companies getting the taxpayer-funded bailout bucks.

3. "the god gene, redux" Why do people believe in gods?

Representative Sample: Historical evidence tells us that there’s some sort of component in our minds searching for design and purpose in everything

4. "Bunkers"  Interesting photographs of old bunkers in England. 

Representative Sample: Click the picture for more

5. "Why did 'God' only write one book?"  Good question. Maybe he ran out of ideas.

Representative Sample: It is strange that after such a successful product, God has not released the sequel for nearly two thousand years.

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at Put HOT5 in the subject.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

NYT Horrified that Secrets Could Remain Secret

There's a pretty funny editorial up in the New York Times, attacking Obama for maintaining the Bush administration's "state secrets argument" regarding allegations of torture by five individuals affected by rendition. The tone of righteous indignation that Obama would do such a thing is hilarious to behold. The op-ed looks like something a leftist blogger might have written. Like most on the left, the Times makes assertions as if they were indisputable fact. For example,
The argument is that the very subject matter of the suit is a state secret so sensitive that it cannot be discussed in court, and it is no more persuasive now than it was when the Bush team pioneered it.
Actually, to many people living in the real world, that argument is quite persuasive. Apparently it is persuasive even to the Obama administration, who, now that they are in power, have to deal with the reality that sometimes national security involves secrecy. And amazingly enough, protecting the U.S. is more important than the purely theoretical rights of a few alien terrorist suspects who claim they were tortured. Even the Obama administration seems to understand that, unlike the New York Times. The Times says
the Obama administration should not be invoking state secrets to cover up charges of rendition and torture.
Why not? Embarrassing charges that can damage the U.S. and possibly affect current operations are exactly the kind of things that should be covered up by invoking state secrets. In addition, the Obama administration has already decided to continue the rendition program. Why risk compromising it by having damaging secrets come out in court?

If the New York Times editorial board is screaming, and all the so-called civil libertarian protectors of foreign terrorist "rights" are upset, you know the Obama administration did something right for a change. In my opinion, the secret operations of the CIA do not belong in the court system. If innocent people were tortured, or even just detained unjustly, quiet restitution should be made, and worked out in conjunction with the home countries of the victims. They aren't U.S. citizens; they were seized in wartime; and they are not entitled to rights in court. I have yet to hear a decent argument as to why the U.S. should expose its secret operations in civilian court, just to satisfy some alien terror suspects. The job of the U.S. government is to protect the U.S. and its citizens first. And if that causes difficulties for foreign nationals, their governments can take it up with ours, and a settlement can be worked out. 

Not So Fast

Guess who is pushing for even more U.S. money and military equipment? That's right, Pakistan. According to the Washington Post, Pakistan wants the U.S. to "expedite" more aid, including such things as attack helicopters, advanced communications gear, night vision equipment, and of course lots of money -- all to support their counterterrorism efforts. They also want to be included in U.S. planning for operations in the border region. The Post notes that the Obama administration strongly supports increased aid to Pakistan, as does Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry.

Here's a better idea. How about we reassess exactly what we are getting for our money before giving even more? What about demanding some concrete results rather than letting Pakistan make demands of the U.S.? Pakistan has a huge military, but it can't even control an entire section of its own country along the Afghan border. A substantial segment of its population actively supports Islamic terrorism, and Islamic extremists can be found within the military & security forces, intelligence services, and other arms of government. Pakistan is far more worried about India than it is about fighting terrorism. And they aren't particularly effective when they do fight the terrorists. Watch the video at the bottom of this article. It shows a regular Pakistani army battalion, reinforced with armor and backed by air support, precipitously retreating after a clash with Taliban forces.

Giving more aid to Pakistan is pouring good money after bad, and the results are likely to be the same. In addition, military aid to Pakistan seriously annoys India -- for good reason. Pakistan harbors terrorists who strike into India, and who operate in the Kashmir, while at the same time claiming to be a U.S. ally in the War on Terror. If we just keep giving them what they ask for, as fast as possible, why do they have any incentive to do anything differently?

Cowardice & Hypocrisy

"Dutch protest Britain's ban of right-wing lawmaker." That's the AP title. When I read it I immediately thought two things. First, it's an example of the utter spinelessness and cowardice of Britain when faced with its growing Islamic nutcase problem. There's simply no reasonable justification for banning Geert Wilders from visiting Britain. He's no threat in any way. All he did was make a movie -- a movie which warns of Islamic extremism. The threat comes from his critics, Muslims who can't tolerate any criticism of their religion. That's why Wilders has to live with constant security, and is in real danger of being murdered. Ask Theo Van Gogh. Too late. He was murdered for criticizing Islam.

And then there are the Dutch. This is the same country currently trying to prosecute Wilders for "hate speech." Why? For criticizing Islam, what else? Apparently the Dutch government is unaware of the utter hypocrisy of its actions. It tolerates a court system kowtowing to Islamists; but when the British government does the same thing, it lodges a protest. How about getting your own house in order?


Here's Pat Condell's video on The Netherlands trying to prosecute Geert Wilders. If you haven't seen it, it's right on the mark about this issue.

HOT5 Daily 2/11/2009

1. "House Capital Markets Chair: first $700 billion averted "the end of our economic system... as we know it" " Congressman says fiscal crisis was far more dangerous than advertised.

Representative Sample: What really happened in September 2008

2. "Leftist Loon Leaky Leahy’s Loquacious, Ludicrous Litany" A good response to Senator Leahy.

Representative Sample: the path to healing is always paved with inquisitions and comparisons to apartheid.

3. "Creation Science Major Breakthrough" And here I thought creationism was just religious bs.

Representative Sample: Creation scientists have just released a new line of consumer products based on years of top secret Bible research.

4. "Ten Major Flaws of Evolution - A Refutation"  Speaking of creationists. A great debunking of some typical arguments. Unfortunately it won't stop creationists from repeating them over and over anyway.

Representative Sample: Creationists love to imagine that they have dismantled evolution or discovered it’s “major flaws,” however they only succeed in exposing the major flaws in their understanding of evolution and ability to reason.

5. "Plague Infected Mice Missing from UMDNJ Lab"  Another good thing about living in NJ -- we have a major bio-terror research site that can't keep track of infected animals.

Representative Sample: 2 mice infected with Yersinia pestis, the causitive agent of plague, were missing from a lab

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at Put HOT5 in the subject.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Best U.S. Allies

Following up on the earlier post on the five worst U.S. allies, I thought I'd try to identify the five best.

1. Australia. Australia has been a valued U.S. ally for a long time. They have not been a fair-weather friend, and have assisted us even when U.S. actions were highly controversial, such as in the Vietnam War, and the Iraq War. Militarily they have fairly small numbers of forces, but they are highly effective. Despite being far away, Australia is probably the most familiar Asian country to Americans. And by familiar I mean, if they had to leave the U.S. permanently and settle in Asia, most Americans would probably feel more at home in Australia(or in New Zealand) than pretty much anywhere else.

2. Canada. Most Americans take Canada for granted, and that's why it is one of our best allies. Despite the fact that it shares an extremely long border with the U.S., Americans feel perfectly comfortable having Canada as a neighbor. Yes there is a strain of anti-Americanism in Canada, but it never really seems to greatly affect our relationship. Canada is a major trading partner, a good place to vacation in, and often assists the U.S. abroad. Like Australia they speak English (militant Quebecois aside), and have a society most Americans could live in without drastic changes. It's possible they should be in the number one spot, but Australia has been more active in its support for U.S. policies.

3.  Britain. Another long-time U.S. ally. I believe that Britain is in decline, and that the U.S.-British relationship has deteriorated a bit, but Britain's record as a U.S. ally is so strong that it can't be left off of this list. It also has strong cultural, political, and of course linguistic ties to the U.S.

4. Israel. I know Israel is controversial as an ally, but I put it on this list for a couple of reasons. First and most importantly, it is our only ally in the Middle East that we could count on if the region suddenly erupted into chaos. If a new Islamic revolution swept through the area, seizing control of the oil fields and cutting off our access, what is the one country we could count on? Israel. Second, Israel has significant military power and occupies a strategic location. Third, Israel is a reliable U.S. ally because it needs us far more than we need it. Israel has few options for powerful allies. The U.S. is pretty much it. And finally, we have strong cultural ties to the country, and as with Australia in Asia, most Americans would choose to live permanently in Israel rather than any other place in the Middle East -- for obvious reasons.

5. New Zealand. I put them here for most of the same reasons as Australia, although they are smaller and less significant as an ally. That's why they are number five.

Honorable mentions: South Korea, Japan (too recent of an ally. Loses points for WW2 and before), Taiwan (loses points for being a horrible ally as mainland Nationalist China), Philippines