Sine Qua Non Pundit

And what is good, Phaedrus, And what is not good -- Need we ask anyone to tell us these things? ------ ------ ------ ------ E-mail: charlesaustin@earthlink.net

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Saturday, February 16, 2002
 
Damian, This Is A Test

Would you be willing to share the picture posting protocol perspicaciously proferred by Dan Rector? I'd ask him myself, but I cannot find an e-mail link for him.




 

Stick A Fork In Him, He's Done

According to the Times:

Britain and other US allies have been briefed that action against Saddam is inevitable before the end of the year.

I wonder if its true, or if it is all just Psy Ops to get someone close to Saddam to finally realize that they are only going to survive if he's dead.




 
Irony Isn't Dead, Its Just Dressed Up As An Unhinged Lefty

A much better argument for unilateralism than anything I could write.

Whenever I read something like this I am appalled by the contempt for freedom that some people have. How dare Americans spend money on confectionery products when the UN is struggling to meet it's budgets! The shallowness of her ideas and approach are revealed in her last paragraph:

Even I had to give some thought as to how to present myself in a way that would be taken seriously in this social whirl. And I certainly looked as if I belonged there in my white, Bianca Jaggeresque trouser suit designed by the British design duo, Boudicca. Few who complimented me on my attire, of course, got the irony. Boudicca prides itself on being fashion's first anti-capitalist label.

And we are supposed to hand the keys to the empire over to people like this?




 
Bush Announces Right to Take Over Mexico and Canada

Well, not really, but apparently John Laughland thinks so. You have to read the whole thing to see how Mr. Laughland's sacred cow has been skewered, but if President Bush is one of the leading globalists in the world, how should one interpret this statement:

Like today's globalists, the Nazis argued that economic realities had changed and that, therefore, the great powers should have the legal right to interfere in the internal affairs of smaller nations in their sphere of influence.

But what's really bad is that at the beginning of this Guardian Comment, Mr. Laughland writes:

As with many bodies in search of legitimacy - the Hague tribunal was created in 1993 by the UN security council, a body which has as little right to set up a court as it does to raise taxes - its defenders probably think that a quick reference to Hitler can settle the matter.

So it's illegitimate for the Hague to drop Hitler's name to fight war criminals like Milosevic, but it's ok to compare your opponent's market-oriented philosophy to the Nazi's?

As to Mr. Laughland's conclusion that:

... the Nuremberg jurisprudence of peace has been abandoned in favour of the Hague's decision to award - to the powerful western states at least - a licence to kill.

I'm always amazed that otherwise intelligent people refuse to believe the world works the way it does.




 
Blofeld Was On to Something

The Laser of Death has arrived and it is called "Son of Spectre!"

The next generation gunship, codenamed AC-X and nicknamed 'Son of Spectre' by US defence officials, will carry all the weaponry already used on the AC-130, including twin 20mm Vulcan cannon (capable of firing 2,500 rounds per minute), 40mm Bofor cannon (100 rounds per minute) and a 105mm Howitzer. Its 21st-century addition, however, will be its biggest punch: a chemical oxygen iodine laser (Coil), capable of carrying out lethal and non-lethal attacks. The Pentagon is yet to announce when the new laser-equipped "Son of Spectre" will come into operation, but it is understood that the first upgraded version could be involved in military operations within two years.

I guess Laser of Homeland Protection would have been too much to ask for. You gotta love the UK papers.




 
Weld That Barn Door Shut

I noticed this earlier while surfing this WMD site. Lots of links disappearing from the ether, institutionalizing what has been happening ever since 9/11. Unfortunately, I think it's the wrong solution to the wrong problem. It is far, far too late to imagine that a lot of this data hasn't already been downloaded via the Internet. And trying to suppress information and technology is a futile exercise that gives the dangerous illusion of safety while probably doing more to inhibit the good guys than deprive the bad guys of any ideas. Kind of like confiscating nail clippers to prevent hijackings. Well, as long as we feel safe.

What has changed in the human condition in the last 100 years other than technology? Terrorism is not caused by technology and no control or suppresion of technology is going to be able to stop it. Terrorism is predominantly a political and military problem and isn't war just a continuation of politics by other means according to Clausewitz? And what has changed in politics in the last 2000 years?




 
Al Gore Does a Forrest Gump Impression

So I had to run for President. Again.




 
Got Nightmares?

HOLY CRAP!

I've been surfing a bit from this WMD site and the future looks pretty scary. Ten years from now, the world is going to look a lot different than it does now, politically and technologically. Will it be because someone has used a WMD, or because we've had to sacrifice so many of the freedoms to which we have become accustomed, or both?

It just reinforces my belief that the US is going to go a lot farther in the war on terrorism than most people are even considering in their most unlikely scenarios thus far. The political will is there right now, and if it should falter, the next act of terrorism will make it unlikely that any politician will be able to oppose the most draconian actions. This is why it is important for Europe to get on board and work with the US rather than carping from the sidelines and doing their best Neville Chamberlain impressions.




 
Civilian Casualties

There has been a lot written about the number of civilian casualties recently, but why exactly? Are the proponents of exaggerated claims trying to build a rationale for condemning the US for any casualties? Or are they focused on the future and hoping to inhibit any future actions by the US by establishing some rationale for a threshold that even the US won't exceed?

Naturally, the opponents of any US action usually seem to fall into the former group and want to develop a rhetorical or moral club with which to beat the US in any way possible. Of course, were there no civilian casualties, the anti-American crowd would probably be just as vicious in their condemnation of any action whatsoever. Without civilian casualties, they would place their focus on the destruction of property, the loss of Aghan sovereignty, or perhaps even how America's ability to kill with maximum surgical precision has made it even more of a hegemonic danger than ever before. When you're looking through dung-colored glasses, there are no silver linings. Sgt. Stryker has made an interesting argument that perhaps a little less surgical precision would be better in the long run. Personally, I'd still rather focus on getting more precise and try to attack the problems raised by the Sarge in a different manner.

The question of whether 600 or 4000 civilians have been killed in our war in Afghanistan is moot. Not meaningless, and certainly tragic, but moot. Would the anti-American crowd think any better of the US if there had been only 300 confirmed civilian casualties? Or only 30 casualties? Would the US public have turned against the war on terrorism if the actual number of civilains killed was 6,000? Will the US public turn against the war on terrorism if we attack Iraq and another 6,000 civilians die? No, no, no, no.

Can we begin by acknowledging that the US does not willingly and knowingly kill civilians, and in those extremely rare occasions where some member of the armed services commits an atrocity, we do everything possible to discern what happened and to punish those who commit crimes. Can we also acknowledge that war has been, is now, and will always be a nasty business in which plans and best intentions quickly get lost in the fog of battle and situations that are wholly unimaginable occur with remarkable frequency? We fight and kill to accomplish strategic goals. The tactics used to achieve these goals must necessarily take into account collateral damage, but it is beyond naive to posit that no civilian casualties are acceptable. At the far end of the scale we could have started dropping nukes on Afghanistan indiscriminately if our only goal was the destruction of Al Queda without regard to anything or anyone else. But of course the US didn't do that. Dare I say that the US outlook is more ..., wait for it ..., sophisticated than that?

The only argument I've seen thus far that would fall into the category of thinking ahead towards trying to use a death toll establish a threshold intended to inhibit action is trying to tie the number of civilians that the US kills to the number of civilians that were killed on 9/11. While this would presume a tacit admission that the US is justified in acting and killing, it's still nonsense. Revenge has not driven any US actions since 9/11. I believe that the two motivations behind everything done to date and everything that is being planned now is a desire to see justice done to those who committed and enabled the atrocities of 9/11 and an attempt to make sure that this never happens again -- big time. Even if we accepted this argument as valid, do we prorate the number the US can kill by the population of Afghanistan, the population of the Arab world, or the population of the Muslim world? If the terrorists manage to pull off some new atrocity and kill another 300, or 300,000, does the US get to increase its deadly ledger? Bottom line, it's not a war of revenge or attrition.

As the war on terrorism progresses, more civilians will die. This is inevitable. It's tempting to write that it is a question of whether those civilians will be Americans (or other Westerners) or not. But this falls into the same trap as trying to establish a tolerable (or untolerable) threshhold of death. In the future the US will be focused on trying to inhibit the possession and use of WMDs. I am still waiting for Europe, Asia, South America or Africa to engage the US in a constructive manner that readily acknowledges the dangers and tries to reach some intellectually honest accord concerning where the lines should legitimately be drawn on the requisite compromises between the interests of individuals and the interests of states. Of course, this would require many states to acknowledge the rights of individuals to a greater extent than they have done to date.

It is truly too terrible to contemplate a nuclear device going off in a city now or a smallpox outbreak anywhere in the world. When faced with these consequences, how far are we prepared to go? I don't know, but I think it is a whole lot farther than we have gone thus far.




 
I Mean It! Use MS Word

Damn it all. I just lost another long post due to being "not logged in" even though Blog Central suggests I "log out and try to log back in." This is a little frustrating, but I'll keep hacking away until I figure it out. I'm sure the professional bloggers would have given up a long time ago if they had this much trouble.




 
It Is Not Enough That We Win, You Must Also Lose

So the Russians are now unhappy that Sale and Pelletier have been awarded a gold medal for their performance to at least remove the obvious damage done by the judging fiasco in the Olympic skating pairs competition. Take a look at Russian paranoia at its best:

"It's a disgraceful fuss," Matviyenko said before the second gold was announced. "The International Olympic Committee should get to the root of it and not allow American mass media and amateurs give marks to our skaters."

So, you prefer crooked judges giving marks? And what about everyone else's skaters?

Renowned Russian film director Sergei Mikhalkov warned that Friday's decision was a dangerous precedent that discredited the games overall.

I'm going to be gracious and assume he's talking about the corrupt judging.

"This means they can reconsider any decisions by the judges," he said from Salt Lake City on Russia's ORT television.

Oh, he's not. Maybe he's mixed up that old saying -- don't break something that's already fixed! But take a look at this!

The Kommersant daily said Sale and Pelletier's complaint would likely lead to reform of the judging system. "And that will hardly be favorable to the Russians," the newspaper concluded.

Or the French. Perhaps it is easier to understand now what Mr. Putin has to overcome as he tries to reform Russia.

The Trud daily called the scandal a "soap opera in a glass of dirty water," saying that "one has to be able to lose as well. Unfortunately, the Canadian Olympic Association has not learned that" -- a pointed dig at the Canadians.

The Daily Trud? Are we sure there isn't a typo there? Their glass of dirty water must be half empty. Good thing they corrected me, for a moment I thought it was a pointed dig at the French.

Piseyev was quoted in Trud as saying: "We have not lost at the Olympic Games in pairs skating since 1964. That irritates many people." Piseyev denied that the Russians had exerted pressure on any judges. "You have to be able to honorably accept defeat," Piseyev added. "And if you haven't learned it yet, then learn it."

Oh yea, honorably accept defeat. Like in the 1972 Olympics men's basketball final. Seems like the fear of defeat rests much more heavily on your shoulders, comrade. I gather that Mr. Piseyev does not agree with the blogs I read that said that Canada always gets screwed like this because they usually just roll over.

In my humble opinion, Sale and Pelletier have conducted themselves with grace and class throughout this entire fiasco. Are the Russian officials concerned because, while it hasn't seemed to bubble up to the surface yet, the Russians must be in on the fix as well, even though only the French are taking the heat for it so far.

My wife told me that there is an exhibition at the end of the games where the gold medal winners in skating go out and perform once again for the crowd, but that Anton Sikharulidze and Elena Berezhnaya are afraid to go out now because they might get booed. Somehow, I think the American crowd will be substantially more gracious than they anticipate.




Friday, February 15, 2002
 
Next Time, Use MS Word

I just lost a long screed on Enron and campaign finance reform when I tried to post it. Arrrrgggghhhhh!!!! I am too tired, intoxicated and frustrated to try again now, so perhaps tomorrow.

Downdate: Is it working yet?




 
Heady Stuff

Wow. I just started this blog thing and already the IOC are taking the advice offered in my second post.

As if.




 
... Shooting Fish in a Barrel

Everytime I see someone write that, "[pick your target] is like shooting fish in a barrel," I have this recurring vision of Captain Quint shooting barrels into a fish.




 
He's Right You Know

The Professor has boldly stated that anyone can do this. But OBFNUR 1 clearly implies that not everyone can do it well.

So I've got that going for me.





 
OBFNUR 1 (Obvious, But Frequently Neglected, Universal Rule):

In any sufficiently large group of people, half of the people in the group are, by definition, below average.




Thursday, February 14, 2002
 
Recognizing Winners or Selecting Winners?

With the apparent travesty in the Olympic pairs figure skating (Sale and Pelletier getting a silver medal instead of a gold because a French judge was emotionally fragile and pressured to select Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze before the competition began), there has been some discussion in the ether about whether or not this event, or in fact, any events that rely on subjective judging should be in the Olympics. This is, dare I say it, a complicated topic, but not one that cannot be clarified a bit with a little effort.

Personally, I think the Olympics should be about higher, faster, farther, and longer - i.e., something that can be measured objectively like the pole vault, the downhill, the long jump, or the javelin. Of course, even in these events you may still have to resort to a referee’s or umpire’s subjective judgment at times, e.g., in the event of disqualifications for bumping or breaking the rules in a not completely objective manner. In fact, in the men’s short track 5,000 meter relay last night, the Korean team was literally knocked out of the race when one of its skaters was elbowed by the American skater as he tried to pass. (From what I’ve read today, the American was within his rights and within the rules with the use of his elbow in this situation, and hence the American team was not disqualified.) But, in most cases, the winner is clearly the one who has the best time, distance, or score by a reasonably objective metric that can in most cases be taken almost completely out of the hands, eyes, or subjective interpretation of a human judge. These events demand pure athleticism and the best athlete giving the best performance almost always wins.

There are some events, e.g., ski jumping, which have an objective component and a subjective component. To be honest, I have trouble understanding why form should matter at all in ski jumping. Either you land on your skis or you don’t. Shouldn’t distance be all that matters? Presumably, if you have bad form, you are probably not going to travel as far through the air anyway. Anyway, for sports like this, I think they could easily be converted to a metric for which an objective winner can and should be easily discernable by everyone, without any ambiguity. Events like ski jumping demand athleticism as well and the best athlete giving the best performance usually wins, but the gate guarding the slippery slope (no pun intended) of untoward intervention has been opened.

There are many events that absolutely require subjective umpires or referees while they are being performed, but yield a clear and unambiguous result when they are complete, e.g., ice hockey or baseball. During the contest, the umpires or referees constantly have to make subjective judgments about what has occurred and whether rules have been infringed upon and what to do about it, but when the event is over, there is no doubt about who won (or tied). It is impossible to eliminate the subjective roles of the umpires or referees, but nominally, the result will be that the team that performed better according to the rules of the contest will win. Of course, one can never account for something like the 1972 men’s basketball result when an official came out of the stands after the game was over to award the U.S.S.R not one, but two tries to score a final bucket. But that was an egregious abuse of authority that can be found nowhere in the rules governing the game of basketball. But I digress.

In a game like baseball the umpires are expected to make decisions (usually binary in nature) that are unambiguous in their meaning to all the contestants. Whether a pitch is a ball or a strike or whether a runner is out or safe is a subjective call, but the import of the decision itself is crystal clear and not subject to interpretation. The range of possible choices is set a priori and the rules are extremely precise in defining how to determine the result. While the effective strike zone may change over time or even from game to game, the meaning of a strike remains constant. Perhaps a better way to say this is that an umpire is expected to decide an objective fact based upon his subjective perception. We can argue endlessly about whether the umpire was correct in his subjective perception, but not whether it was a strike, or a .95 strike, or whether it was more of a strike than the last one. Such distinctions are meaningless. Without question, umpires will make mistakes and sometimes those mistakes will have a material bearing on the result. But so long as they are honest mistakes, the integrity of the contest remains inviolate. What is important is that the likelihood of a mistake, whether its result be good or bad, happening to either team is the same as any other random uncontrollable event like the wind or a bad hop occurring. It can be safely assumed that the mistakes will even out in the long run, although, admittedly, it never feels like that at the time.

And then there are the events which clearly demand a great deal of athleticism, yet cannot possibly be judged in a purely objective manner, e.g., figure skating and gymnastics. In these events a winner must be selected, and this makes all the difference. You could show a video clip of a 100 meter dash final to an alien culture and they would understand what winning meant and be able to indicate who won. If you showed the same aliens a video of the pairs figure skating, would it be obvious that it was even a competition, much less clearly delineating who won and why? There is no question that figure skating requires an enormous amount of skill, sacrifice, and dedication to be able to do what they do. But despite the obvious athletic difficulty and precision of what they do, it is impossible to do anything other than select a winner. No number of rules requiring a .4 deduction for failure to successfully complete a required jump can ever change this.

Does this mean that these events shouldn’t be in the Olympics? I don’t think so. While they are not necessarily to my personal taste, there is no good reason to eliminate them just because there is a substantial subjective component in selecting the winners. The athletes in these sports are strong, agile, graceful, supremely gifted and dedicated. There is nothing wrong with providing them with the opportunity to compete for medals in the Olympics in events which are every bit as difficult and perhaps more difficult than most track and field events.

Events with a long legacy such as figure skating and gymnastics are, in my humble opinion, always going to be part of the Olympic pantheon. If they were ever to be removed, some group of people that have devoted their lives to these sports would have the carpet unceremoniously yanked out from under them and I don’t think anyone really wants to advocate that. On the other hand, the introduction of new events, like the halfpipe for the 16-25 demographic, that must rely on the same kind of subjective judging to select the winner are an abomination. This pathetic sellout to boost the viewership for the network that shells out the most dollars to the overpaid, over-pampered, sanctimonious IOC for the rights to televise the most commercials ultimately cheapens and degrades the whole Olympic ideal.

Back to Sale and Pelletier. The real problem is the corruption of the judges, not the "sport" itself. If the integrity of the competition cannot be assumed because of acts or prejudices of officials, judges, referees or umpires, then there really is no hope. All of the sports in which a winner must be selected can be improved if an attempt is made to reduce the subjectivity of the judging that makes it easier for shenanigans to take place. It can never be eliminated, but it can be improved. Even now, there are attempts to justify the awarding of the gold medal to Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze based upon the technical difficulty of their routine, even thought they were pretty clearly outperformed by Sale and Pelletier in performing it. I don’t know enough about figure skating to know if that argument has any merit or not, but those proposing it are not being laughed out of the room.

So what should be done? Since Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze are blameless, no sanction should be placed on them and they should be allowed to keep their gold medal. Sale and Pelletier should be awarded gold medals for the obvious harm that was done them by the actions of the judges. The actions of almost all the officials responsible have been reprehensible and they should all be shamed out of their positions by their respective organizations. Keep in mind that whenever a bureaucrat starts a press conference with “I’m going to be completely honest with you” you are about to be spun mercilessly if not outright lied to. Mr. Cinquanta appears to be in no hurry to resolve the issue and clean up the sport for which he is responsible.

Ultimately, if the IOC and all the related organizations don’t clean their houses and try to restore some integrity to their actions, then the Olympics will become nothing more than a biennial opportunity for a select group of undeserving plutocrats to get more cash from an American TV network to stage increasingly ridiculous “sports” to a jaded public. I’m not so naïve as to believe that the Olympics have ever been pure, but the level of corruption today has reached depths that are beginning to cost them the respect and interest of the public. And what’s really sad is the people who end up suffering aren’t the Rogge’s of the world, but the athletes who make all the sacrifices.

Isn’t it interesting that I was able to write all this about the Olympics without any mention of nationalities after the obligatory slam of the French in the first sentence?




Wednesday, February 13, 2002
 
Stranger in a Strange Land

After roaming through the land of blogdom for several weeks and enjoying the wit and wisdom of so many others, now seems to be as good a time as any to join the fray. I cannot hope to match the levels of quality, quantity or consistency of the distinguished luminaries who have inspired this action. However, I dedicate this blog to the inspired efforts and continued success of Andrew, the Professor, lgf, Dr. Frank, Tim, Jeff, Damian, Sarge, a gaggle of libertarians, and the many others whose blogs have graced my browser from time to time.

And so, I'm off!






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