Beauty of Gray

Saturday, February 23, 2002

Interesting Poll

No really, I'm not lying. Via Vodkapundit, I found this poll, which tells you how your opinions compare to philosophers through the ages. I came out with a 100% match with Mill, which seems right to me, although some of the other details of the list area little odd. Rand third, at 82%? That's kind of wierd, since I totally reject her main conclusions, or at least their univeralistic pretensions and extreme expression. I'm also not sure how I can have ratings of 76% for Aquinas and Sartre. Meanwhile, Aristotle, who's another whose thought I feel great affinity for, comes in at 74%. Anyway, it's a neat test, check it out.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 1:33 PM

Well, if you're going to have an empire, might as well learn from the best

I found this quote in my current reading, JFC Fuller's Military History of the Western World, Volume I (It's OK, but not as good as I'd hoped. Fuller does a very good job laying out the strategy of different campaigns, and waht the motivating reasons were for armies' actions and maneuvers. But the book, like every military history book I've ever read, is woefully short of maps. And he also does not do a great job in the reconstruction of battles, tending to accept ancient soruces too uncritically, or at least not doing the analysis to present any plausible alternatives. For battle details, you're much better off checking out Hans Delbruck's groundbreaking military history.)

Anyway, it's the Roman Consul Paullus, speaking in Rome prior to setting out for Greece to command in the Third Macedonian War. I couldn't help but think of the US critics in Europe when I read it. (It could also apply to us armchair generals in the blogosphere as well, but we're just talking to ourselves rather than seriously giving advice.)

If, therefore, anyone thinks himself qualified to give advice respecting the war which I am to conduct, let him not refuse his assistance to the state, but let him come with me to Macedonia. He shall be furnished by me with a ship, a horse, a tent; and even with his travelling charges. But if he thinks this is too much trouble, and prefers the repose of a city life to the toils of war, let him not, on land, assume the office of a pilot. The city, in itself, furnishes abundance of topics for conversation; let it confine its passion for talking, and rest assured that we shall be content with such councils as shall be framed within our camp.

(Livy, XLIV, 22)

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 1:13 PM

It only takes one side to make a war

If the current Israeli-Palestine conflict wasn't enough to make you realize that, then consider the situation in Columbia. The government has been facing a guerrilla uprising for over 30 years, and had decided it had had enough and wanted to negotiate a peace settlement with FARC, the main rebel group. FARC, much like the PLO, happily agreed and took every concession the government was willing to make, up to and including unopposed sovereignity over a large portion of the country. In return, again like the PLO, they promised a truce and more talks. And once again, like the PLO, they completely ignored this and continued to attack government outposts and officials, trying to destabilize and topple the existing regime. This culminated in a recent plane hijakcing and kidnapping of a high government official last week.

So finally, the government has had enough, and seems to be moving once again to try and wipe out the rebels. They are hoping to get more US assistance, although they have already gotten hundreds of millions, so an increase is uncertain. (although the US is continuing to provide direct and indirect aid.) Here's hoping they can beat the rebels, for the sake of Columbia (while the current government isn't great, it's better than a continuing gurrilla insurgency with frequent terrorist attacks and assassinations.) And for our own sake as well. It was previously reported that the FARC had allowed IRA terrorists to come train in their zone of control, and al Qaeda would probably be welcome as well, as terrorist groups continue to form cross links and support each other around the world.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 1:00 PM

Democracy to all, and to all a ???

Well, I just spent 45 minutes writing an essay on the establishment of democracy in the Third World, only have my girlfriends AOL account crash, and losing the whole thing. Since I'll be here all weekend, don't expect too much from me, since I don't have the energy to deal with AOL. "So easy to use, it's an incredibly obnoxious pain in the ass!" Anyway, in abbreviated form...

One of the virtues of Robert Kaplan, who I mentioned below, is that his work reopens the question of whether democracy is always the best short-term solution to a country's problems. It is certainly the desirable long-term outcome, but for a country emerging from anarchy or civil war, order must first be established, and that is done by power, not by the ballot box. While the governments in the West have established their legitimacy to the point that the people and the militaries are habitually loyal, this is not true in many third World nations. As a result, the fundamental power of the military, which is what all states are based on, is more obvious and apparent in those countries, which makes them vulnerable to coups and military dictatorships.

Throughout history, government has been established by force, and it is only later that the despotic central authority relaxes and bestows rights and powers on the people. The Kings in Europe brought their Barons to heel by force, and Augustus brought order to the Roman world in the form of empire, and by winning the final Civil War, not by winning an election. As Hobbes put it, "Covenants, without the sword, are but words, and of no strength to secure a man at all." And this security, established by the sword, is the first step, without which the final step of democracy cannot be realized.

In a country like Afghanistan, the people may want a fair and democratic government, but the warlords don't, since they benefit from the chaos and unfairness of the current situation. Here's an article in the Washington Post detailing the problems that they face trying to bring together the loya jirga to form a representative government.

One solution for Afghanistan is for the US to remain engaged and involved in the situation. The US can provide a third party military force which can compel obedience to the central authority without representing a threat to overthrow it.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 12:49 PM

Friday, February 22, 2002
How are you unique?

Perhaps it interests only me, but here's an idea that I've been toying around with. I guess it's sort of related to googlewhacking, but a little different. It's a plattitude that "every person is unique." So what is the simplest description of yourself that uniquely identifies you? That is, how many general characteristics do you have to specify before you're the only person who fits the description?

For example, if you said you were 5'10", then that's not a very good distinguisher. But 7'6", well that pretty much narrows it down. Similarly, saying you've read all John Gresham's books isn't very unique. If you've read everything written by Balzac, on the other hand, there aren't too many more that you're left competing with. Or if you've walked on the moon, then that *really* narrows it down.
I'm also curious just how big some of these sets would be. I mean, how many people have read all of Balzac?

The key is to try and identify several things that you've done that very few other people have, and find characteristics that are uncorrellated. (For example, if the person who'd read all of Balzac added that she'd read all of Trollope as well, those would both specify small sets of people, but there is probably a lot of overlap, so the second constraint wouldn't add that much to the first.) I'm still trying to figure out if I could do it in 2 or 3 cuts.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 2:29 PM

Nuclear deterrence and...?

Vodkapundit linked to this interesting story in the Washington Times, detailing that the US has backed off from a pledge not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear nations, wondering what it means. Ican think of a couple of things.

First, I think the main purpose is to underline what has in the past only been an implied threat: that we consider all weapons of mass destruction to be in the same class, and would respond to the use of chemical or biological agents with nuclear force. (Which doesn't just mean multi-megaton city-destroying ICBM's. THe US has a full spectrum of nuclear weapons ranging from giant ICBM warheads down to smaller nuclear-tipped cruise missiles (not sure if those are still in the arsenel) down to tactical nuclear weapons, like nuclear artillery shells. So my first interpretation is that it's an attempt to strengthen the US's deterrence position both against Saddam, in the event of a war, and against any terrorist groups or helping nations that might attack us with WMDs.

A second possibility, which I think is less likely, is that the US would consider using tactical nukes as part of an attack, rather than solely in response to a WMD attack on us. In particular, this could be useful for bunker busting--destroying deeply buried and entrenched positions. Saddam has a lot of these deep, deep bunkers around the country (Remeber the scene in 3 Kings where they went into the door and it led to a multi-story underground bunker?) and they're a real bitch to take out. Even the biggest bombs barely make a dent in 30 meters of concrete and rock. These bunkers could be used not just for command and control, but also as storage depots for chemical weapons and other nasty things. The US is developing missiles that are specially designed to penetrate these things, but as far as I know they haven't got any yet (except maybe for a small number of TLAM variants, and I'm not sure on that.)

Anyway, the upshot is that, if we were interested in attacking Iraq and decided that we really, really wanted to blow one of these bunkers up, the only way to do it would be to drop a small nuke on it. So there's a slight chance that somebody could have that in mind as well.

Lastly, as the Vodkapundit pointed out, part of the old policy was designed to reassure nations that we wouldn't nuke them, so they wouldn't try for nukes themselves, but it's pretty obvious that that has convinced exactly no-one. First, a lot of them would still like to have nukes to scare the US, but also because they all want nukes to scare each other, too. North Korea wants to have it to blow up Seoul, not San Francisco. India and Pakistan are much more interested in nuking each other than the US. All the mideast countries would like to nuke Israel first, then their nearest neighbors.

So really, the old policy had nothing in its favor and it restricted US action. So removing it is a net gain for the US. (Since he asked for game theory, I'll just add that, the more predictable your own response is, the weaker your position in a competitive game and the lower your payoff. (Unless the game has a saddle point, which I won't get into right now.) So removing a constraint makes the US action less predictable and so makes an opponent's strategizing more difficult and automatically increases the US's theoretical expected payoff.)

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 2:15 PM

Why Ken Layne is great

From his site:

People actually seem to put some importance on half-wit gibberish I type at 3 a.m., when I'm sick of typing witty fiction and want to type the non-witty kind for the Web site. This concerns me, of course. Anything written during commercial breaks on Letterman and CNN -- and typed directly into the little Blogger window without so much as a spellcheck -- should not be taken too seriously. I also like to lie -- yes, I know Peter Jennings isn't Waylon Jenning's brother, but that doesn't mean the idea is without merit.

For some reason, I can't stop laughing at that last line. Indeed, the idea is not without merit...

If you're interested, you can also find a thumbnail bio of Glenn Campbell there, too. My parents had several of his albums when I was a little kid, and when I was 5 or so my favorite song in the world was Rhinestone Cowboy. I can still remember the opening lyrics to it. (My other favorite was the now forgotten Limelighters, who were a fantastic folksy ensemble group, with some strong influence from eastern europe and Jewish musical traditions. Unfortunately, from a search at, it appeasrs none of their albums are still in print. Hmm, this could be it, but Amazon has no information. Oh well.)

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 10:09 AM

Response to JunkYardBlog. Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love evolution.

If there are any readers that haven't been driven away yet by this discussion, this should do it for you. But don't worry, I promise to get back to more general blogging soon. Patience, grasshopper.

Anyway, Bryan's post can be found here, where he challenges me and makes several critiques of evolution. His challenge to is cite an instance of observed speciation, or direct, incontrovertible proof that such occurred.

For Doug, I have posed one simple question to evolutionists, and none of them have been able to answer it. That question, or really challenge, is: show me the proof of transition from species X to species Y. Pick any two species, I don't care, but proove conclusively that species X transformed over time into species Y. When I set that challenge out, I get a lot of side-steps, and a lot of postulation, but no straight answers. Why, after nearly 150 years of research, can no one answer that question with anything approaching definitive proof?

Well, to start off with the side step, I think the reason is that the main lines of evidence supporting evolution are of a different nature. Because of the long time scales involved, what we mostly have is large amounts of indirect evidence, rather than a series of clear photographs of a species evolving from one state to another. So in that sense, I don't accept the grounds for argument that Bryan is setting out--that we have either seen speciation or evolution is false.

And this use of indirect evidence does make something unscientific. There is more evidence for evolution than there is for continental drift. After all, nobody's actually seen continents move, right? Maybe they've taken some high resolution measurements at seams and seen a shift of a couple of millimeters, but that's micro-drift, not macro-drift as the theory predicts, right? Show me Africa sitting next to South America and moving to where it is today, or else the theory is wrong. It's really the exact same argument, in my opinion. The theory of evolution here is being held to a different standard than any other historical science, and levels of evidence that in other cases (like continental drift) are accepted as conclusive are either ignored or discounted.

Having said all that, speciation has been observed in the lab, in plants, fruit flies, worms, and a couple of other species. There's an overview at this site, with references to the primary literature. It contains a couple of dozen or so examples, once you get past the extended discussion at the start about what exactly a species is, and how you define it (which is a pretty interesting question, actually.)

Now, most of these instances are cases of fairly minor changes--none of these organisms have been sprouting fins or horns or anything dramatic like that. So maybe a critic would still claim this is "micro-evolution," whatever that fuzzy term is meant to be. If you're looking for bigger changes, the best example I can give is the cases of dogs. (Darwin was inspired by the similar example of breeding pigeons, but that doesn't seem to be popular anymore so I'll stick to the more familiar example.)

In a few thousand years, the stock of dogs has gone from a fairly uniform stock of domesticated wolves to the incredible display of diversity on stage at the Westminster Dog show. Now, again a critic could say this doesn't count because it was done with selective breeding, but I'd reply that it's rather a proof of principle--that a standard stock can, under selective pressure, diverge very considerably in a relatively short period of time, geologically speaking. So the potential is clearly there. In this case, the process was sped up by human intervention, but from one perspective, the source of the selective pressure is really irrelevant. Selective pressure is selective pressure, no matter what exact shape it takes. And dogs show that animals can respond, in major ways, to selective pressures.

Bryan's second claim is that the predictions of evolution are not borne out by the evidence.

Additionally, the measure of any scientific theory is in its predictive power. Big Bang theory predicted the cosmic background radiation, which was found in the 60's and confirmed in the 70's and 80's. Einstein's general relativity predicted black holes and gravitational lenses, again confirmed later. Darwin predicts smooth transitions, and instead scientists must modify evolution to account for "punctuated equilibrium." That's more than a problem with the theory--it's a refutation of the theory. Scientists worldwide admit that the fossil record, from the Pre-Cambrian "explosion" forward, is a disappointment. And then there's the world of microbiology, where things really get hairy for evolutionists. And there's the continued reliance on such junk science as recapitulation theory--that the human fetus "retraces" is animal roots on the way to birth--that further weakens the case for macro-evolution.

Taking the first argument, evolution does make dozens and dozens of falsifiable predictions, in all sorts of fields. All of these predictions have stood up. I can only reference the same, wonderful overview I did earlier. This article is actually organized by area, in each laying out what evolution predicts in that field, what experimental evidence from that field would falsify evolution, and what the actual experimental evidence is. In every case, the theory of evolution passes the test. To take one example that is less familiar to most people, consider biogeography--the distribution of species in space.

Because species divergence happens not only in the time dimension, but also in spatial dimensions, common ancestors originate in a particular geographical location. Thus, the spatial and geographical distribution of species should be consistent with their predicted genealogical relationships. The standard phylogenetic tree predicts that new species must originate close to the older species from which they are derived. Closely related contemporary species should be close geographically, regardless of their habitat or specific adaptations. If they are not, there had better be a good explanation, such as extreme mobility (cases like sea animals, birds, human mediated distribution, etc.), continental drift, or extensive time since their divergence. In this sense, the present biogeographical distribution of species should reflect the history of their origination.

A reasonable nonevolutionary prediction is that species should occur wherever their habitat is. However, macroevolution predicts just the opposite – there should be many locations where a given species would thrive yet is not found there, due to geographical barriers (Futuyma 1998, pp. 201-203).

With few exceptions, marsupials only inhabit Australia. The exceptions (some South American species and the opossum) are explained by continental drift (South America, Australia, and Antarctica were once the continent of Gondwanaland). Conversely, placental mammals are virtually absent on Australia, despite the fact that many would flourish there. Humans introduced most of the few placentals found on Australia, and they have spread rapidly.

Similarly, the southern reaches of South America and Africa and all of Australia share lungfishes, ostrich-like birds (ratite birds), and leptodactylid frogs – all of which occur nowhere else. Alligators, some related species of giant salamander, and magnolias only occur in Eastern North America and East Asia (these two locations were once spatially close in the Laurasian continent).

In addition, American, Saharan and Australian deserts have very similar habitats, and plants from one grow well in the other. However, indigenous Cacti only inhabit the Americas, while Saharan and Australian vegetation is very distantly related (mostly Euphorbiaceae). Humans introduced the only Cacti found in the Australian outback, and they grow quite well in their new geographical location.

The west and east coast of South America is very similar in habitat, but the marine fauna is very different. In addition, members of the closely related pineapple family inhabit many diverse habitats (such as rainforest, alpine, and desert areas), but only in the American tropics, not African or Asian tropics (Futuyma 1998, ch. 8).

Potential Falsification:
From a limited knowledge of species distributions, we predict that we should never find elephants on any Pacific islands, even though they would survive well there. Similarly, we predict that we should not find amphibians on remote islands, or indigenous Cacti on Australia. Closely related species could be distributed evenly worldwide, according to whichever habitat best suits them. If this were the general biogeographical pattern, it would be a strong blow to macroevolution (Brown 1998).

Lastly, Bryan argues that claims made about developmental biology in support of evolution are "junk science" that have been discredited. This is half true. The way it is taught in many high schools and intro courses--that "ontogeny recapitualtes phylogeny"--is no longer accepted. But this does not mean that commonalities in development between different animals are not still evidence for evolution. Again, from the same general overview link (did I mention this is a great link), a discussion of just this issue:

Embryology and developmental biology have provided some fascinating insights into evolutionary pathways. Since the cladistic morphological classification of species is generally based on derived characters of adult organisms, embryology and developmental studies provide a nearly independent body of evidence.

The ideas of Ernst Haeckel greatly influenced the early history of embryology; however, his ideas have been superseded by those of Karl Ernst von Baer, his predecessor. Von Baer suggested that the embryonic stages of an individual should resemble the embryonic stages of its ancestors (rather than resembling its adult ancestors, a la Haeckel). The final adult structure of an organism is the product of numerous cumulative developmental processes; for species to evolve, there necessarily must have been change in these developmental processes. The macroevolutionary conclusion is that the development of an organism is a modification of its ancestors' ontogenies (Futuyma 1998, pp. 652-653). The modern developmental maxim is the inverse of Haeckel's biogenetic law. "Phylogeny recapitulates Ontogeny," not the opposite. Walter Garstang stated even more correctly that ontogeny creates phylogeny. What this means is that once given knowledge about an organism's ontogeny, we can confidently predict certain aspects of the historical pathway that was involved in this organism's evolution (Gilbert 1997, pp. 912-914). Thus, embryology provides confirmations and predictions about evolution.

From embryological studies it is known that two bones of a developing reptile eventually form the quadrate and the articular bones in the hinge of the adult reptilian jaw. However, in the marsupial mammalian embryo, the same two structures develop, not into parts of the jaw, but into the anvil and hammer of the mammalian ear. This indicates that during their evolution, the mammalian inner ear bones were derived and modified from the reptilian jaw bones (Gilbert 1997, pp. 894-896).

Accordingly, there is a very complete series of fossil intermediates in which these structures are clearly modified from the reptilian jaw to the mammalian ear (see Figures 2.9.1 and 2.9.2; also compare the intermediates discussed in prediction 4) (Carroll 1988, pp. 392-396; Futuyma 1998, pp. 146-151; Gould 1990; Kardong 2002, pp. 255-275).

There are numerous other examples where an organism's evolutionary history is represented temporarily in its development, such as mammalian pharyngeal pouches (which are indistinguishable from aquatic vertebrate's gill pouches) and avian teeth (Gilbert 1997, pp. 380, 382).

Potential Falsification:
Based on our standard phylogenetic tree, we may expect to find gill pouches or egg shells at some point in mammalian embryonic development (and we do), and we may expect to find human embryos with tails (and we do; see Figure 2.8.1). However, we never expect to find nipples, hair, or a placenta at any point in fish, amphibian, or reptilian embryos. Likewise, we might expect to find teeth in the mouths of some avian embryos (as we do), but we never expect to find beaks in eutherian mammal embryos (Gilbert 1997, esp. Ch. 23).

As for his other claims, I simply disagree that the fossil record is a big disappointment. It would be nice to find more fossils, but the ones we have fit very nicely into the evolutionary paradigm, showing gradual developpment of structures over time. There aren't sudden, discontinuous appearances of animals or structures. The fossils we find are most similar to those from just before and just after.

And again, despite claims to the contrary, there are transitional fossils that have been found, and some fairly complete serieses showing transitions. Of course, what you count as complete is a matter of judgement--if one fossil is found to fill a gap, it's always possible to simply turn around and claim that there are now two gaps, so arguing about this is not very productive, in my experience. If the clear gradual change and development of species in time from the fossil record is ignored or discounted, than adducing the evidence of one more wierd transitional fossil is not going to change anybody's mind.

Lastly, I really don't know what he's referring to in talking about microbiology. I'd say the observed evidence of evolution in action in microbiotic resistence to entibiotics is a pretty compelling argument in evolution's favor, as are the remarkable commonalities in the cellular structures and biochemistry of all known organisms.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 9:43 AM

Once more, into the fray! Or: yet another evolution post

I should have known I wouldn't be able to stop with a single post. (Betcha can't post just one!) There have been some additional replies. First, Louder Fenn has several longer posts on the subject, following up the one I initially replied to. Bryan Preston over at the JunkYardBlog also has a couple of replies, the key post being here.

First, there's really not much to reply to from Louder Fenn's posts. His writings boil down to two assertions, which I don't think he really makes any arguments for. First, that evolution and Christianity are incompatible, and second, that there's no good evidence for evolution. He asserts the second claim several times, but as I will attempt to show here and in later posts, that assertion is simply not true.

His claim against evolution essentially rests on what is sometimes called an "argument from incredulity." He says that evolution's claims are just so ridiculous, that a walrus could evolve from a land animal, that it must be false. The problem with this argument is that, first of all, it depends on an individual opinion rather than any facts. I have no problem believing that walruses evolved from a very different looking creature. So that leaves us nowhere, with just competing arguments from authority. Second, the argument from incredulity is unreliable because it rests on intuition. But intuition is not a good guide for things outside of the common realm of experience. And evolution occurs across such a huge timescale that our intuition is essentially worthless in predicting anything about it, just as our intuition is worthless for predicting what happens when you travel at extremely high speeds. The theory of relativity is far more offensive to common sense than that of evolution, yet is equally true.

Again, his assertion that evolution is incompatible with religion is not true. He might feel that way, but many Christians have no problem reconciling their faith with the claims of the theory of evolution. He raises the issue of the spirit or soul, saying that no-one can believe that it spontaneously arose from some lesser structure. That might be true, but science says nothing one way or the other about the soul. If you believe there is some spiritual essence in people, fine, but that is outside the realm of science. You are free to believe that, at some point in history, God breathed the spark of divinity, the soul, into the flesh of mankind. But that doesn't contradict evolution at all--it's a claim on an entirely different plain from anything science talks about.

OK, that took longer than I thought, so I'll stop here and put my reply to Bryan in an other post. That should be up soon--same Blog time, same Blog place!

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 8:24 AM

Colleges keep jacking up the price

Steven Den Beste over at the USS Clueless raises (so to speak) the issue of tuition hikes. This has been going on for quite a while now. The article he references mentions that recently tuition costs have been "fairly stable," rising at only twice the rate of inflation. But this year they will be rising even more, because the poor economy has cut some outside sources of revenue.

The question that immediately rises is, why has tuition been going up so quickly, to the point that a steady rate of twice inflation is actually seen as stable? What are the driving factors here? I think there are two things. The first is supply and demand. More and more kids are going to college--the "customer" pool is still growing. I don't know what the statistics are, but I think the percentage of HS graduates who even attend college, much less graduate, is well below 75%, closer to 50% is memory serves. But there continues to be a yawning gap in the salaries between college educated and non-college educated workers. This, combined with the increasing size of the middle class (and the increasing population) means that there's an increasing demand for spots at universities. In other words, there's an increasing demand, so the market can bear increased prices.

That might be part of the explanation, but it still doesn't explain where the money is all going. As the universities always represent it, it's rising costs which compel them to raise tuition, rather than increasing tuition revenues driving rising costs. (That is, they aren't just raising tuition to maximize revenue, and then going out to find ways to spend it. Or are they?)

So what is driving costs up? Colleges aren't increasing the faculty size relative to the student population, at least not significantly. So it would seem that the basic cost of education--paying for a professor, a chalkboard, and a room full of desks--should have remained roughly constant. (I don't think professorial salaries have risen that much. The faculty star system means that a few professors have gotten much higher salaries, but I don't think the run of the mill professors salary has increased that much.)

I can think of two major factors: administrative costs and financial aid. Taking the second one first, right now almost all colleges accept students on a "need blind" basis, meaning they don't consider how much they can afford before letting them in. This has several effects. First, as the applicant pool gets more diverse and has more and more students who can't afford the tuition, then the college needs more and more money to provide them with aid to cover costs. (As an aside, this i something to consider when planning for a child's education costs. There is actually a pretty limited incentive to save a lot of money--since tuition rates are sol high, you're unlikely to save enough to cover it all. So the college will just take all the money you've saved, no matter how much or little, and then make up the difference in financial aid.)

This also makes for an odd situation where a large percentage of students are insulated from any tuition increase, since their family is already paying its computed maximum donation. So a 10% tuition increase won't actually increase tuition revenue by 10%. It might only increase it by 5%, if half the students are already receiving financial aid. Private universities (which is this whole discussion really concerns) have gotten themselves to the point of diminishing returns. The more they raise tuition, the more students need financial aid, and the less revenue increase is provided by any additional tuition increase. I'd bet this explains why tuition has been rising faster than the inflation rate. The financial aid system also insulate many students from a cost decrease, as well, so there's also less incentive (or competitive advantage) to lowering tuition rates.

A second reason for rising costs is the increasing overhead of the administration at universities. This is the natural growth of bureaucracy in any organization. Since the administrators set the budgets, they always exclude themselves from belt-tightening while taking their cut of any revenue increase. So the number of administrators is a monotonically increasing function of time. To take an example from my personal experience, my father joined the faculty of the University of Illinois in the late 1960's. At that time, there was a single building which housed the university administration. When I went there for grad school there were 6 or 7 buildings housing the administration, with a couple more being built. So in 30 years, the size of the administration had increased by several hundred percent, while the student body had remained constant. That's a pretty huge overhead load that needs to be paid for somehow, and one answer is to jack up tuition rates.

The preceding discussion is really (for the most part) only applies to private universities. For public schools, I think the dominant factor explaining tuition increases is the continuing cuts in the public funding for those universities. Public funding continues to make up less and less of the operating budget of public universities, and the shortfalls caused by these cuts and funding freezes needs to be made up somehow, hence tuition increases.

So that's my speculations. I'd be curious to see any actual studies or budget numbers that looks at tuition revenue streams and college costs--how much money are they taking in and where is it all going? Pontificating is much more enjoyable than library research, though, so I haven't really looked for any. If anyone has any links to some numbers, please send them in.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 7:21 AM

Thursday, February 21, 2002
Dick Cheney, liar

He seems very competant, but this is just very stupid. Kudos to Andrew Sullivan and the NRO for being unbiased enough to call him on it. It's getting harder to believe there isn't something he wants to hide about the Energy Commission.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 2:33 PM

Good profile of Robert Kaplan

It's in today's Washington Post. It's a pretty nice story. Kaplan is one of the most interesting writers around, and one of the few journalists and thinkers who's really seriously engaged some of the problems facing third world nations. I'd highly recommend The Ends of the Earth, which in my opinion is his best and most relevant book, although all of them are interesting. I disagree with a lot of his theories and predictions, but his books will challenge the way you think, which is a great service. And just the simple details of his travels are worth reading about--the reporting alone makes them worth reading, regardless of your opinions about his analysis.

Anyway, the article contained the following rather frightening quote:

With his third book, however, things began to change. He had started writing "Balkan Ghosts" in 1988, but it acquired a larger identity even before it was published. In June 1991, the Atlantic excerpted a 10,000-word chapter on Macedonia.

"That article had quite an impact," says John Fox, then a Balkan affairs specialist for the State Department. Fox says Kaplan made the case that resulted in the first and only preventive deployment of U.N. peacekeepers in the former Yugoslavia. "We had received a CIA report in the fall of 1990 telling us Yugoslavia was coming apart, but the department was in a state of denial . . . until Kaplan's article came along."

The deployment of a mere 1,500 or so peacekeepers to Macedonia prevented the violence there that broke out later in Bosnia, Fox says. Had similar deployments been made elsewhere, the whole Balkan crisis might have been averted.

So what the heck was the State Department doing? They had a CIA report, but they just decided to ignore it? They didn't follow up, or do any poking around of their own? It took an article by a loose cannon free-lance journalist in The Atlantic to get them off their butts and start paying attention? I thought the State Department was supposed to be paying attention to regions of conflict and flashpoints routinely--isn't that a big part of their job? And it's not like there was anything in 1990 that was a higher priority for State than the emerging regimes in Eastern Europe. Maybe they couldn't have predicted that the Civil War would be quite as savage as it was, but this bit paints a picture of really remarkable incompetance.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 1:49 PM

A good rant ruined

You know, I'd gottten myself all worked up to deliver a long complaint about the way Game Theory is so often invoked at the beginning of columns to give a patina of scientific legitimacy to analysis, only to be followed by an utterly conventional foreign policy write up that contains not a whiff of game theory in it. Robert Wright is the master of this, with his regular bows towards the altar of von Neumann to make his columns seem more interesting or authoritative, without going to the trouble of actually doing any Game Theory to justify his pretensions. And the disease seems to be spreading--I've seen similar tactics on several websites, which claim that what they are doing is "from a Game Theoretic perspective" or some such.

But now Steven Den Beste has gone and ruined the whole thing by posting a series of excellent articles on international relations, capitalism, and the tragedy of the commons that really do use Game Theory reasoning to good effect. Anyway, check them out--it's some nice stuff.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 10:00 AM

Last word on campaign finance reform

The time for argument has basically passed, and all we can do is wait and see how the bill actually works in practice. But Andrew Sullivan has a nice piece on the bill at his site, which neatly sums up my own feelings on the topic.

People understandably believe – and the legislative process lends credence to the notion – that their representatives are bought and paid for. Not literally, in every case. I don’t buy the idea that every corporate donation corrupts everyone who receives it. But structurally, the corruption is clear, and loaded against ordinary citizens and in favor of unions and corporations. This cannot be good for the polity. I’m not exactly thrilled by the bill.
But I second Mickey Kaus’s belief that change itself is good thing – it disorients settled patterns of corruption; it blocks fixed channels of sleaze; it will make our political parties less like extensions of corporate lobbying budgets; it will make a Denise Rich or a David Geffen less influential in national party politics.

An additional thought occurred to me recently. At some point a few years ago I read an article, I think in the New Republic, the suggested the best way to reform campaing finance would not be to try to monitor and limit the flow of money, but rather to require all contributiuons to campaigns and related organizations to be anonymous.

I'm sure there are some issues with implementing this, but there are with everything. But it seems like this has the potential to really be a silver bullet solution. You can still support a cadidate and get your free speech rights in that way, but by making donations anonymous it cuts the causal cord between donations and legislative action. If you don't know where your money is coming from, then it makes it much harder to pander to or be corrupted by the donations. You'd be much more likely to restore the desired situation, where contributions are given as a result of a candidates' action, rather than the reverse, where action is delivered as a repayment for previous contributions.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 9:51 AM

Now, now, let's not do anything rash and unilateral

Apparently, Europeans are OK with violent military reactions, as long as it involves something important. Like speed skating.

"It's absurd that the Korean was disqualified," raged Italy's Fabio Carta, his blond locks flouncing. "We should use a rifle on Ohno."

Now, now, Fabio, the international tribunal has ruled in the case. Show some respect for these vital multilateral institutions.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 8:28 AM

War between the Blogs!

Rich Hailey over at Shots Across the Bow has responded to my reply on the root causes of the Civil War. It seems like we more or less agree on the history, but differ in the relative weights we put on the proximate cause of slavery and the underlying context of the battle for sovereignity between states and the federal government.

However, in accident analysis, the proximate and contributing causes are secondary to the root cause. Correcting either of the first two will not prevent further accidents, although it may mask them. You have to address the root cause. In the case of secession, the root cause was the continuing battle between State Sovereignty vs. the role of the Federal government. This conflict was the dominant force shaping the first one hundred years of our history.

I'm not completely sold on this and I still think, even if you accept this root cause explanation, that it's not accurate to say the Civil War was fought about States Rights. That is making it too abstract. I would still say it was fought over slavery, which was an example of the conflict betweens states rights and federal power. And the Civil War pretty much ended this battle, with victory for the Federal Government. I would also contend that, without slavery, there would have been no Civil War or secession, and the states rights struggle would have continued only at a low level, eventually probably being decided still in favor of the Federal Government. That's why I'm uncomfortable with the above phrasing--it implies that as long as the root cause--the tension between state and federal power--remained, that a Civil War to decide the issue was inevitable.

I think the claim that the Civil war was really about States Rights is often an ex post facto attempt to enoble the Southern cause and make it more sympathetic, by trying to sanitize the struggle and purge it of the unpleasant proximate cause. The South was, in fact, fighting to preserve slavery. You can place it in the states rights context and argue about the constitutionality of secession and other issues, but I think in doing so it's important not to lose sight of the vital importance of slavery in the struggle, particualrly from the Southern viewpoint. Actually, I think you can make a better case that Lincoln was fighting the war for the more abstract reason of asserting federal power over the states, but for the South it was less philosophical and more immediate. "They want to take away our slaves!"

While we may have some disagreement on this issue, I can handle that. I'm just glad I don't want to date one of his daughters.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 8:23 AM

Wednesday, February 20, 2002
Now I know, and knowing is half the battle

Tim Blair answers the question of the times, why do they hate us? If you've read him before, you know the answer isn't what you're expecting. Now go there, and in his words, "Put on disco music and dance for the killing!"

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 1:37 PM

Quick post on Evolution

Ran across this post over at Louder Fenn (via the JunkYardBlog.) He says that:

It is very important that something is understood: Evolutionism does not come from any factual evidence. You don't look at a bunch of fossils -- or even a bunch of finches -- and say: "Holy smoke! Man evolved from lower life-forms!" No. Those who reject creation by God do so because they have philosophically rejected creation by God. Evolutionism is not the consequence of empirical observation; it is the consequence of a philosophy.
Do not accept it when an Evolutionist says: "I am only being scientific." He says this, of course, to shut you up. One, after all, cannot argue with science. And in a sense, one cannot. True facts are true facts; and it is the job of science to establish the true facts of the material world. But the Evolutionist is not first a scientist. He is first a philosopher. The "facts" he gathers are to support his philosophy.

Where to start? First, the essence of science is that it rejects supernatural explanations. If you say that invisible, immaterial spirits did something, that is not a scientific explanation, in that it can not be tested, measured, or disproven. So he's drawing a completely false dichotomy here between science and materialism. Science is materialistic; that is its nature. It doesn't mean that every scientist muct beleive in pure materialism, but in his job as scientist he must.

This whole argument is a common canard, that somehow the evil secular humanists only dreamt up evolution as part of their goal of destroying God and rejecting religion. It's a rhetorical trick to try and set up a false dichotomy between religion and evolution in order to force people to choose. Since for most, religion is a central part of their life while evolution is pretty much irrelevant, it's a winning trick for anti-evolutionists. But it's still just a trick.

Second, and more importantly, he is simply wrong when he claims that evolution is not based on an examination of the facts. There is an overwhelming mass of evidence in favor of evolution from every subfield of biology. First, the fossils that Louder Fenn refers to prove what is sometimes called the "fact" of evolution: that species have changed over time. There are different animals alive now than there were 100 million years ago. This is incontrovertable, and very few people even try to argue against it anymore.

What they argue about is the theory of evolution, the idea that the diversity of life we see is the result of mutations and natural selection, the idea that we all are descended from a common ancestor, that species evolve from those that existed previously. This theory also has a tremendous mass of evidence in support of it, from all sorts of fields. For those really interested, check this file at the Talk.Origins archive for an excellent, readable overview. The wider site also has tons of information on all sorts of things, from lists of transitional fossils to direct refutations of many popular creationist lines of argument.

A few lines of evidence for the theory of evolution: commonalities in DNA and biochemistry among all species; the observed gradual change of species over time in the fossil record; the agreement of ancestral trees determined from the fossil record with those independantly determined by DNA analysis; similarities in underlying structures among related species, adapted to widely differing functions--that the same skeletal design and bone structure are found in the human hand and arm, the horse's leg and hoof, and the whale's flipper; imperfections in existing organs and designs suggesting ad hoc adaptation rather than itelligent design (the classic example is the blind spot in the human eye); observed instances of mutation and natural selection, for example antibiotic resistance; observed instances of speciaition in fruitflies and some other creatures; biogeography--the observed geographic distribution of species on the planet, and the way unusual species like giants and dwarves tend to be found on islands; and commonalities in the fetal development of related species.

The theory of evolution is strongly supported by all facts that have been gathered. It is not based on a philosophical prejudice, it is based on the experimental facts that are known.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 10:47 AM

Propaganda update

The JunkYardBlog has a good post on the subject that I hadn't read before posting my piece. As he points out, in the modern world it's a lot tougher to get away with lies, which makes propoganda more difficult than it was during WWII. This makes the job tougher, and is even more incentive to be upfront about issues and maintain your credibility.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 10:16 AM

Hey, thanks!

I don't actually check my site that much; I think it's a bit ugly but haven't had the time to learn any HTML and spruce it up. So, like the dust bunnies underneath my bed, I prefer to simply ignore it rather than be reminded of my laziness. Anyway, I just now noticed that someone had bought off the ad on the top. But a belated thanks to my benefactor, whoever you are.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 9:59 AM

Not all academics are anti-war activists

While this should be no surprise to anyone with a shred of sense, it probably will be new information to a disturbingly large group of people, judging from some of the rhetoric I've seen. One of the less pleasant aspects of warblogging and commentary since September 11th has been the many attacks on universities as supposed havens for those evil, nefarious, liberals; the university is corrupted and full of idiotic post-modernists who can't think clearly and are a pox on our society. (Leaving aside the equally annoying and ludicrous assumption that all liberals are brain dead Chomskyite zombie protesters, which also seems to be a distressingly standard knee jerk.) Just to show that this is not true, here's an article on the US and Iraq,also from Technology Review, written by a Berkeley Professor.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 8:44 AM

Very good article on Blogging

It can be found in this month's Technology Review.

What will happen to democracy in the current media environment, where power is concentrated in the hands of a few publishers and networks? Media scholar Robert McChesney warns that the range of voices in policy debates will become constrained. The University of Chicago Law School’s Cass Sunstein worries that fragmentation of the Web is apt to result in the loss of the shared values and common culture that democracy requires. As consumers, we experience these dual tensions: turn on the TV and it feels like the same programs are on all the channels; turn to the Web and it’s impossible to distinguish the good stuff from the noise. Bloggers respond to both extremes, expanding the range of perspectives and, if they’re clever, creating order from the informational chaos.
Ultimately, our media future could depend on the kind of uneasy truce that gets brokered between commercial media and these grass-roots intermediaries. Imagine a world where there are two kinds of media power: one comes through media concentration, where any message gains authority simply by being broadcast on network television; the other comes through grass-roots intermediaries, where a message gains visibility only if it is deemed relevant to a loose network of diverse publics. Broadcasting will place issues on the national agenda and define core values; bloggers will reframe those issues for different publics and ensure that everyone has a chance to be heard.

I think this second paragraph really gets it right. While blogs are very interesting, they consist largely of scribblings in the margins, of glosses on exisiting texts. As such, they will never oust or eliminate media from its primary place. The reporters at the papers and less, on TV, are still the ones creating the new knowledge and reports, setting the agenda--bloggers fill the role of commentators, analysts, and perhaps most important, editors.

As anyone running a blog knows, one key to hits is "getting linked." If a big blogger like Instapundit picks something up as interesting, his selection and link right away refers thousands more people to that article or commentary. Alternately, it can go bottom up, with something interesting noted by a few people and then slowly picked up in larger and larger spheres of circulation. But in both cases, it is this selective, editorial aspect of blogging that helps to shape and direct discourse. (I think it was Virginia Postrel that first made this point, but I could be remembering wrong.)

Of course, there is more to it than that, and bloggers also provide a lot of interesting ideas and analysis of their own. (Which is what I enjoy reading and what I try to bring here.) That will continue to be important, but I think it's less likely to fundamentally change things. There's a whistleblower, fact-checking side that could be influential, but as for analysis and editorials, the blog world is competing against the print op-ed pages and Sunday pundit shows, which provide similar services (although lower quality in many cases) with a much bigger audience. And people don't have enough time to surf too many wordy sites like this one--it's easier to flit around using the "link plus one sentence reaction" paradigm.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 8:34 AM

Be careful with your trash talking

An amazing bit in this Washington Post story on the US air war in Afghanistan. As was widely reported, the Northern Alliance and Taliban/al Qaeda forces would communicate via radio, taunting the opposition and trying to convince them to change sides. Apparently, some of the Taliban weren't so bright in how they did this. From the article:

Many Afghan Taliban and Northern Alliance soldiers were friends who had found themselves drafted into opposing armies. They would communicate over rudimentary radios, sometimes taunting each other in the heat of battle.

"Your bomb missed us," one would say, recalled members of Team 555.

"Where did it land?" a Northern Alliance officer would respond with some coaching from the Americans.

Five hundred meters to the north, would come the answer. Or 1,000 meters to the south. The combat controller would immediately recalculate the coordinates and pass them to the nearest aircraft, which could restrike the target within minutes. Team 555 members said that in a week, they killed many Taliban commanders this way and destroyed much of their communications network.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 7:14 AM

Propaganda effort

There's an interesting article in the Washington Post today about military efforts to set up a new "information warfare" command to manage propaganda efforts. My feelings are mixed. I think a strong propaganda effort is important, both in countries where we fight and also in other countries to try and influence public opinion so the military won't have to intervene. But I'm less sure about putting it all under a military command. First, the military already has a credibility problem and are mistrusted by many in the US and abroad. There's the potential for a viscious circle here, where the propaganda is less effective because of lack of trust of the military, which then makes people trust the military even less, etc. I'd say these sorts of campaigns are best worked behind the scenes, as intelligence operations.

The article also focuses on a turf war for the dissemination of information to the domestic press. This also would be bad--I think the military needs to speak through one, unified public relations arm, not through both that and a second "Office of Strategic Influence."

A final interesting point is touched on in passing, concerning the war in Afghanistan:

Myers did not elaborate on those missed opportunities, but others in the Air Force were surprised that the media placed so much emphasis on civilian casualties caused by bombing mistakes. The military was especially surprised by that emphasis because Air Force planners believed that they were operating under unprecedented constraints designed to minimize civilian injuries. They complained to top commanders that, because of those limits, they frequently missed hitting al Qaeda leaders, especially in the first three weeks of the Afghan campaign, which began on Oct. 7.

This is an important lesson, which is that those who wish to be critical of US war efforts will be so no matter what. Never mind that the military is doing its very best to minimize civilian casualties in an incredibly difficult environment. What few civilian casualties there are will be pumped up by those opposed the action. To put it another way, the propaganda payoff from these restrictive guidelines on the use of force don't seem to jusitfy the lost military opportunities.

I wouldn't be surprised if, in following conflicts, the rules of engagement are relaxed to allow the military more freedom to engage targets of opportunity. This will involve more civilian casualties, but will also make the military more effective. This could be a clear case where the critics, by crying wolf, may exacerbate the problem of civilian casualites. If you aren't going to give the military any credit for efforts to avoid casualties, then there's no incentive for them to do so.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 7:09 AM

Tuesday, February 19, 2002

I think Robert Kaplan is stealing my stuff. I wrote:

Terrorism is better understood as being in line with the numerous revolutions that are almost always the reaction against the great upheavals caused by the impact of the modern world, capitalism, and industrialization on traditional societies.

Now, Kaplan responding to Andrew Sullivan today: is not poverty that causes terrorism and violent upheaval so much as it is development. The French, Mexican, and other revolutions were preceded by social and economic change more than by stagnation. It is precisely the dramatic economic growth and modernization in places such as Indonesia, Nigeria, China, Pakistan, and so on that we have witnessed in recent decades that will cause political upheavals - some violent - in the years to come.

Hmmm, quite a coincidence, don't you think? Actually, considering that they're discussing a book of Kaplan's that was released almost a year ago, maybe not. And Sullivan goes on to recognize that both of us, at least in part, nicked the idea from de Tocqueville. So if you didn't believe me, maybe these arguments from authority will sway you...

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 3:00 PM

So he's a savage. Isn't that the point of boxing?

So it looks like DC is going to allow Mike Tyson to fight here, after he was refused a license in 5 other states and several foreign countries. This is something I just can't get worked up about. Sure, Tyson is a raving lunatic and is unfit for society, but he's being paid to beat the living crap out of another person. What do you want? If people are willing to pay to see him fight, and someone else is willing to get in the ring with him, then go right ahead. If it pays for the filling of a few potholes oir a few schoolbooks, then DC will come out ahead.

Besides, it's not like DC could possibly hurt their public image. We're talking the home of Congress, the murder capitol of the world, and the city that re-elected Marion Berry here. Heck, inviting Mike Tyson might actually improve DC's approval ratings.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 2:35 PM

A couple of links

Here's an interesting letter on the impact (or lack thereof) of school structural reform on the actual teaching that gets done in calssrooms. Although I'm a little skeptical of an educational researcher diagnosing the problem as requiring more educational research (if all you have is a hammer...), he does raise the interesting point that we know relatively little about how kids actually learn any subjects. So that teaching is more of an art than a science, and as a result it is difficult to improve teacher performance since there is no clear methodology that we know for teaching effectively.

Also, a while back I complained about the lack of coverage of Japan's economic problems in the mainstream press. I don't know if it counts as mainstream, but has a scary look at the current situation and the problems it could cause for the world economy.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 9:43 AM

Catching up

Apologies for the lack of posts this weekend. It was a combination of my being out of town most of the time and having computer problems when I was here. Hopefully it won't happen again; my goal is to contribute at least one substantive post per day, along with one or two of the standard blog "links plus commentary."

Anyway, while I was gone, the discussion of a war on Iraq has largely settled down. Both Steven Den Beste and Sgt. Stryker had good summing up posts of the various issues. Sgt. Stryker makes the point that, if a few of us armchair strategists in blogland have realized that Saddam could makes things a bitch for us by fighting in cities, then you can be sure that military planners have come to the same conclusions and are adjusting our actions accordingly. Everyone has known for years that a second war with Iraq was possible, so the conflict has been extensively wargamed.

A comment to his post mentions a wrinkle which had occurred to me--what if we just bypassed the Iraqi cities and siezed control of their oilfields. Then Saddam and his army are isolated in the cities, can no longer get any gasoline or ammunition, and most importantly, Saddam will not have any money with which to pay his troops. It seems to me that this approach could be a good way to provoke a coup. At the very least, occupying much of the country would mostly defang Saddam and would give us access to any potential WMD sites which aren't in the major cities. The downside is that it would be slow; like any siege approach it will take weeks or months to work, and this might not be desirable for domestic or international political reasons.

Meanwhile, Den Beste has some interesting ideas about how to smoke enemy troops out of a city if they're intent on hiding there. He suggests the posibility of either flooding them out or stinking them out, by dropping stink bombs/gas over the city, both of which are intriguing ideas. I know that stink bombs are considered for use on a smaller scale, in getting people out of individual buildings. I'm not sure about the practicality of using it over a wide area, however.

Isntapundit also has a good overview of the various blog discussions and suggests that a future US infantry weapon, the Objective Individual Combat Weapon would, in the future, break the stalemate and give US forces a big advantage, even in a city. I disagree.

The biggest advantage he cites is that the OICW has a longer range than existing infantry weapons, so you can engage the enemy before he can engage you, reducing the friendly casualties. But this is just the problem in Urban Warfare--you can't engage the enemy at long range. The buildings bring your horizon down from thousands of yards to dozens of yards. It's a rare place in a city where the exisitng M16 range isn't enough to cover all possible approaches to your position. Or, to put it another way, you could fire the M16 in any direction, 360 degrees, and the bullet will hit a wall before it hits the ground. So being able to fire farther is not an overwhelming advantage in urban fighting.

The other advantage is the ability to fire explosive 20mm rounds which you can fire through a window and have it explode inside the room, blowing out enough shrapnel to hopefully disable or kill the sniper in the window. This is nice, and with the laser ranger it makes the shot easier, but the grenade launchers on many (I forget how many, but several per squad is standard, I think) M16's now provide essentially the same capability. The advanced features of the OICW would certainly be an advantage, but I don't think it would be as overwhelming as Isntapundit does.

On a final note on Iraq, the NRO is publishing what looks to be a very good, 5-part series on the current state of Iraq and possible US strategies to oust Saddam from power. The first article was a very good overview of the nature of Saddam's regime, how he wields power and what his sources of power are.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 9:37 AM

Monday, February 18, 2002

The phrase "Islamo-Fascists" has been coined to refer to the Islamicist fundamentalists in Afghansitan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere, and President Bush linked their repressive ideology to those of the 20th century: Fascism and Communism. But it occurs to me that a better parallel might be the French Revolution, as what they are attempting to achieve is sort of the French Revolution in reverse.

The French Revolution, first and foremost, was an attempt to overthrow God, represented on earth by the Kings ruling by Divine Right, and to replace His rule with the will of the people, as celebrated and elevated by Rosseau. This will is by definition infallible, and since the Assembly is its interpreter, then any opposition to the Assembly is treason. This idea rests upon the natural goodness of man, such that a government formed in accordance with the will of the people must be a Republic of Virtue, and must be in accordance with Reason. In this very fundamental revolution, the French overthrew the Ancien Regime and initiated the modern world.

The Islamicists, on the other hand, react against the modern world, and seek to restore God to His pedestal as the ultimate authority and justification for rule. Now the mullahs become the interpreters of the Divine will, which cannot be questioned. Their government also becomes a Theocracy of Virtue, where any dissent is both treason and blasphemy.

The logic of both of these positions leads to totalitarianism. Once the truth is known in its finality, and the shape of the ideal society is determined, then the world needs to be brought into accordance with that vision. Any methods are acceptable, since the rulers have already determined that their way is the way of Virtue. In the ideal world, people recognize virtue, and once they have seen the truth, then they conform to the ideal vision and society becomes a utopia. But like all utopias, this is a false dream, since people do not agree on proper ends. As Camus puts it, "To ensure the adoration of a theorem for any length of time, faith is not enough; a police force is needed as well."

Utopias can be described in books, but they are unstable equilibria, because people refuse to conform to the philosophers' dreams of them. They cannot and will not agree on one right Truth. Factions are inevitable, and utopias do not recognize factions as legitimate. If it is a true utopia, then everyone should agree. Hence, all attempts at utopia, at achieving God's Rule here on earth, inevitably slide into Terror and tyranny.

Despite this, utopias continue to fascinate men and draw them in, and these ideas retain their power to motivate. It is the power of the utopian dream that makes the Islamicists so dangerous, since it gives the idea strength and evangelical power. There are hostile regimes that may be more powerful than the terrorists which in a way could be seen as more dangerous. But they do not represent a real challenge to the western world and the US, since they exist on no other basis than the will to power, which cannot be exported and doesn't move men to join it.

So China may be a rival, but it is a hobbled one, since even its leaders no longer believe in the universalistic pretensions of communism. The regimes in Iraq and North Korea have no higher calling than their own preservation and the lust for power. This makes them dangerous, but on a different level from the Islamicists, who despite the clear examples of tyranny that result from their teachings, can still convince people to follow them, in the same way that the Communists continued to inspire fellow travelers in the West long after it was clear that communism in practice was nothing more than totalitarianism.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 12:21 PM

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