Saturday, February 18, 2006

Wilsonizer on Short Hiatus

Alas, dear readers, my full time job as a soldier is once again getting in the way of my many hobbies and personal undertakings.

My unit is going on a short training deployment this week, and I will not likely be able to get my hands on an internet-capable computer during the trip; therefore, Wilsonizer will be on a short (+/- 2 week) hiatus, pending my return.

Hopefully no news will happen between now and then, ha ha.

I look forward to getting back in March. Until then, stay in the fight!

Thought Police, Online in China


Jingjing and Chacha, cute little thought police of the PRC!

Here is a disturbing article about Chinese (thought)policing of the internet in their country. A highlight of the type of control measures the PRC has in place to monitor speech and stifle dissent:

In a demonstration at the Surveillance Centre, part of an internet division that has seen its staff more than double to 100 in less than a year, officer Xu Qian shows how the Jingjing icon[ which represents the communist authority's monitor system in place online] keeps pace whenever a user of a local discussion website scrolls down a page.

“He is just like a policeman, interactively moving along with you. Wherever you go, he is watching you,” Mr Xu says[emph added].
Absolutely Orwellian, don't you think? The cuteness of the icons representing government monitors is particularly sinister.

The Internet and Freedom, Pt II




Here is an interview with Rep Tom Lantos, who helmed the committee hearings on U.S. Internet companies doing business in China.

Representative Lantos, a Holocaust survivor, makes a strong case against internet companies who have been complicit in enabling the Chinese police state. Here, he talks about the callousness with which the various companies presented themselves during the hearings:

They [the Internet companies] were unprepared to admit to any mistake, to any shame, to any responsibilities for what their behavior had brought. For instance, one of the very simple questions I asked was, have they been in touch with the families of people who, as we speak, are in prison because of their actions. Of course not.

I asked [the internet companies doing business in China] if there is any shame attached to having the prime purveyors of information simultaneously serve as blockages to information in repressive regimes. There was really no decent, honest, candid answer to that. I thought their performance was appalling.
Also, when asked if internet companies are being asked to operate on a double standard, providing the U.S. government here with information upon subpoena while being condemned for doing the same in the Peoples Republic of China, Lantos had this to say:

Oh, I don’t think you can make a comparison here. I think that’s absurd. The U.S. government is not the Chinese government. The Chinese government is an oppressive police state. We are a political democracy.
Read the whole article.

Also, here is an article claiming hypocrisy of a different sort: why condemn just the internet companies while US importers of Chinese manufacturers, whose workers toil in sweat shop conditions, are off the hook? That is a bit of a stretch, in my opinion. First of all, the author of this little position statement would have to provide some data on the working conditions found in China; while it is certain that U.S. internet companies have provided information on Chinese citizens leading to their arrests or suppression of speech, the plight of Chinese workers is a subject not in the forefront of Western consciousness at this particular moment. Second, I believe the two issues are unrelated anyway, so there is no hypocrisy involved.

The author linked above compares companies importing from supposed sweat shops in China with companies who are suppressing freedom of speech, or giving information on dissident bloggers using the internet companies' services, which leads to arrests. While the behaviour of both groups is appalling, only one is directly enabling the apparatus of the police state.


Friday, February 17, 2006

Internet Companies and Freedom of Expression

Congress conducted hearings on internet companies doing business in China this week, a story that was overlooked probably due to all the attention given to a certain fateful quail hunting trip. . .

There is a good article summarizing some of the testimony here.

Members of the committee made many strong points on the ethics of firms providing technologies that enhance a totalitarian regime's control of information. Congressman Tom Lantos made a particularly strong point after a Microsoft executive stated that there was nothing to be ashamed of when complying with Chinese Laws requiring censorship:

"Well, IBM complied with legal orders when they cooperated with Nazi Germany. Those were legal orders under the Nazi German system... Do you think that IBM during that period had something to be ashamed of?"
Indeed, this is a particularly strong analogy. IBM has been accused of providing technology that enhanced the Third Reich's abilityto logistically manage the Holocaust. While no American based internet corporation has been accused of doing anything so sinister in their dealings with the PRC, their eagerness to enter the lucrative Chinese market overrode many of the American values that allowed these companies to succeed in the first place.

I doubt that any of the legislation proposed as a result of these hearings will ever see the light of day, or that it would help to make the PRC freer even if it did. If companies like Yahoo or search engine Google were not allowed to filter Chinese web content, the PRC would find a technology company willing to do their bidding.

But it is good that the past and present activities of these companies are coming to light. Mutual funds, pension plans, and private investors will have to make decisions whether or not to invest their money in companies that are enabling totalitarianism. Consumers will have to do the same.

And yes, the technology platform of this blog (Blogger) is built and managed by Google. I thought about pulling up stakes on the Wilsonizer last month when I first read about Google's China antics. I stayed for three reasons: Google is not profiting from my use of their platform, since I don't pay them a cent for blogger services; I don't want to lose my small but loyal following of readers I've developed over the last three months; and finally, I am not so tech savvy that I could easily re-locate somewhere else and produce this blog so easily as Blogger makes it. That last one is a bit of a copout, but there you have it.

But that's just it. Blogger is easy! Google's blogger platform makes it simple to express ideas and opinions and exchange information. I find it hard to believe the company that can make it so easy to express one's self would be so complicit in censoring information and restricting freedom of expression elswehere.

In the long run, though, I think the censors will ultimately fail, in China and elsewhere. The technology to find loopholes through the iron curtain will outpace the ability of the totalitarian system to maintain it. I am sure the people in China who eventually throw off the yoke of government repression will long remember the technology companies who enabled that repression, too.







Monday, February 13, 2006

Vice President Cheney and Gun Safety



Yesterday Afternoon the Drudge Report had its little red and blue police siren blazing at the top of the page, declaring that Vice President Cheney had accidentally shot his friend while hunting quail in Texas.

There are a bunch of angles developing on this story. There are questions about the timing of the announcement of the accident, musings on etiquette when accidents take place involving White House Personnel, and of course, a litany of anti gun commentary stemming from the serendipity of a staunch firearms advocate having a gun accident.

All of this is to be expected of course (although the administration could have been faster with news release of the incident and largely avoided the criticism of witholding information from the public ; I don't see what benefit there was in delaying the release of this embarassing news). However, there was one take on the incident that I believe is worth additional comment here.

Junkyard Blog (here, and also found on Michelle Malkin's site), while analyzing all the issues arising from this accident, stated the following:

It may well be the [man who was hunting with Vice President Cheney's] fault. When you’re out hunting and you get shot, it’s usually because you were unclear about your intented movements or because you snuck up on somebody who was amped up looking for the quarry.

I vehemently disagree with that comment.

I am a combat arms soldier as well as a hunter. I have spent the greater part of the last fifteen years working with and around firearms, and I feel more than qualified to make a few comments about weapons safety.

I have seen more than my fair share of firearms accidents during my time in the Army, as well as one traumatic hunting accident. In every single case, the fault of the accident rested on the man or woman pulling the trigger. If the shooter had followed all safety procedures while handling and operating the weapon, the incident would never have taken place. I have seen people wounded and even killed in the Army due to negligent handling of weapons. More often than not, I have watched people professionally embarassed and reprimanded within the service because they mishandled a weapon and fired it, although no one was hurt.


I have never seen a firearms mishap occur because of negligence on the part of the wounded man, as stated as possibility by Junkyard. That wounded person may make act recklessly and with a disregard to his or her own safety, but the bottom line is the person with the finger on the trigger is exercising ultimate judgement about the situation.

Last winter, I went on a guided pheasant hunt with a group of friends in Kansas. One of my friends shot at a hen flying away at a low angle, and failed to ensure nothing was in the direction of fire. He accidentally shot one of the guide's beautiful (and well trained) golden retrievers. Luckily, the dog survived, no thanks to the judgement of the careless hunter.

My experience has always been that the individual pulling the trigger has to be absolutely prepared to destroy whatever the muzzle of the weapon is aimed at; if there is any uncertainty to the target whatsoever, then it is always prudent to keep your finger off the trigger. Vice President Cheney learned this lesson the hard way; hopefully his accident will be more than spin and fodder for late night jokes, and will encourage people to have more presence of mind whenever they are handling weapons.


Saturday, February 11, 2006

More on Current TV (I am NOT Snarky!)

A reader accused me of being "snarky" in my criticism of Current TV yesterday, so I felt compelled to do a little soul searching this afternoon. I tuned in to channel 126 (current tv from my time warner cable provider), and watched numerous pods for about one hour.

I found some of the pods to be highly informative; a mini-documentary about child soldiers in sub-saharan Africa was particularly well made. Nonetheless I switched off the channel (to a fascinating rerun of NYPD Blue, by the way) and made the following two conclusions:

1. The Channel, with its young hosts and producers, has the feel of MTV in the early '90s; I keep waiting for Conor Knighton to tell me that Jenny McCarthy and Singled Out are coming up next.

2. While some of the Pods are excellent, others are not; worse still, some of the excellent ones don't interest me. Why should people care? Because this type of programming, as unique as it is, has a major weakness: it is haphazard, and unlike orthodox television formatting, viewers have to be patient and hopeful for content to come up that interests them. To me, it is akin to sitting next to a person who is surfing the web; you have to hope the guy is going to websites you are interested in, as you have no control. Right now, the only control that people have when they are watching Current is to change the channel. Apparently, many people are doing just that.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Current TV, Leaking Bias on the Airwaves



Do you ever skip past Current TV en route to the Home and Garden channel, or syndicated CSI episodes? I have paused on Current TV a few times, although the format has never been able to hold my interest for more than a few seconds. In no time at all I am a few channels up, and Current TV slips from my mind.

Today I saw something on Al Gore's channel that caught my interest, though. Michelle Malkin's site links into a hack job done to her recently on the underwhelming cable channel. Apparently, Michelle was a high ranking search on google recently, due to her outstanding blogging of the Danish Cartoon controversy (for more info on this, go ahead and check out some of my previous posts). The Current TV host, Conor Knighton, describing Ms Malkin, states that " the general consensus is that Michelle Malkin says and writes absurd stuff".

What I found so profound about this spot (which probably was seen by about 4500 viewers worldwide, by the way) was the way it packed dismissive bias into what is purported to be an informative piece. Where did Conor Knighton go to identify the consensus on Ms Malkin, the Daily Kos message boards?

Describing her as conservative, or maybe controversial, would have been an accurate or at least fair description of the blogger and author, but absurd? Words mean things, so here is a definition for everyone out there (courtesy of dictionary.com):

ab·surd Pronunciation Key (b-sûrd, -zûrd)
adj.

1. Ridiculously incongruous or unreasonable. See Synonyms at foolish.
2. Of, relating to, or manifesting the view that there is no order or value in human life or in the universe.
3. Of or relating to absurdism or the absurd.


n.

The condition or state in which humans exist in a meaningless, irrational universe wherein people's lives have no purpose or meaning.



Whether one agrees with Ms Malkin's views or not, there is little doubt that she attempts to state an opinion (conservative as it may be), and backs it up with solid observations and facts. This is the process of arguing with
logic, and is the opposite of absurdity. On the other hand, Mr Knighton's failure to back up his so called consensus of Ms Malkin with facts, measurements, or observations could arguably be called absurd. A better adjective, however, would be inane.

There are a plethora of opinions out there in all the media, old and new. But it is more important than ever to get out there and read and decide for yourself. I know I won't let a would-be host of a would-be cable channel shape my perceptions. I hope that Current TV's 4499 other viewers will do likewise.

PS: Here is a dead-on description of current tv from slate.com.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Cartoonifada Continues

The uproar over cartoon caricatures of Mohammad continues unabated; in the Muslim World, there is death, violence, and destruction, while in the West, we wring our hands and question the limits of press freedoms, and the reticence bordering on fearfulness of many American press outlets (barely any major newspaper has published the cartoons so far in the US).

Many in the West, however, fall back to the patrimonial habit of looking inward, and blaming our own society for the outrageious response in the Muslim world to these cartoons. A classic example of this is Canada's own Antonia Zerbisias who recently wrote an editorial where she wondered

"who the real hate-mongers are: those [muslims in the developing world] who are cut off from modern communications technology and are more easily subject to the machinations of ignorant clerics — or those that should know better and who claim to be morally superior."

Human beings made a choice to riot and to destroy property in response to an idea they disagreed with, and yet it is the fault of those who put pen to paper? This is the "Did you see the way she was dressed, she was askin' for it" logic, which is no logic at all.

Meanwhile, more European magazines are now reprinting the fabled cartoons, so the story will continue to arch for a little while longer.


Sunday, February 05, 2006

Cartoons and the Clash of Civilizations


The Blogosphere has been abuzz this weekend over massive violence, stemming from cartoon caricatures of the prophet Mohammad published in Denmark last year(?!). Bloggers like Michelle Malkin, Powerline, Gateway Pundit, and LGF have provided great coverage (faster on target than main stream media and more insightful, I might add).

I followed the coverage loosely, checking in from time to time on the sites described above; about an hour ago I found this editorial on the Financial Times website that stated, among other things, that

"Because we in the west are convinced of the superiority of our own political system, we tend to explain the refusal of some to adopt or adapt to it by way of their beliefs. Muslims cannot assimilate into European society because of their “creed”; the Middle East must be “taught” democracy. . . What this illustrates is the repeated failure to think of culture other than in ethnocentric terms. While happy to assume our values are universal, we are loath to accept that others differ. We explain disagreement as deviance: when these people understand our principles, they will agree.

Such presuppositions are dangerous because they lead to the type of rigid reductionism – people who disagree hold the wrong beliefs – that makes misunderstanding and violence more likely. "


The distorted logic behind this point of view is astounding, but will likely be seen more in social commentary in the coming days: Western Society, due in large part to arrogant ethnocentrism, failed to understand Islamic "society" in the Middle East (in the case of the cartoons published in European newspapers last fall[?!]); therefore, the West, in its failure to appreciate and understand a different culture, is responsible for the wanton violence and destruction on display in these societies.

I beg to differ.

A great myth foisted on the liberal democratic societies of the West is the fable of moral or cultural relativism: that differences in one culture over another do not imply superiority or lack thereof.

A person can gauge a great deal in a society's reaction to an idea or thought, especially an unpopular one. Hence, a Piss Christ in Western Society (United States) causes religious conservatives in that society to question government funding of the artist in question; meawhile, a series of cartoons offensive to Muslims cause regional anarchy and destruction in Middle Eastern societies. Which society is likely to advance, to continue to increase its overall level of human capital (ie, the number of engineers, scientists, PhD's, patents on new ideas, et al), and which society is going to continue to decline into irrelevance? YOU make the call.

For my part, I am not going to try to search for moral equivalence in a society that answers an unpopular thought with a closed fist, or a molotov cocktail.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Iran; the Narrative Picks Up Speed

Current Headlines Running Across Drudge:

IAEA Reports Iran Nuke Program to U.N. Security Council...
Ahmadinejad orders resumption of uranium enrichment...
Paper: Tehran launched secret rocket test in January...
GERMANY'S MERKEL LIKENS THREAT TO NAZI ERA...

For most Americans, Iran is mainly a periphery issue right now, in the conscious mind as a mere footnote compared to the "louder" media stories of NSA Wiretaps, Jack Abramoff, and the like. I don't see a chance of a diplomatic breakthrough with the Iranian government on the issue of Uranium enrichment, which means that Iran will likely be on
everyone's mind in the coming weeks. . .

2006 Quadrennial Defense Review Report

The 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review Report (QDR) is now available. You can access it right here. I just downloaded my copy of the PDF file and will read it shortly, so expect comments to follow. . . .

Reactions to SOTU Energy Proposals

National Review Online is hostile to any government-sponsored energy initiatives:

Bush’s new Advanced Energy Initiative, which is charged with developing better batteries for electric cars and figuring out how to make fuel from wood chips, is redolent of all the past federal initiatives to find alternatives to oil and to gas-powered cars. Who can forget the glories of President Nixon’s Project Independence? Or Carter’s Synthetic Fuels Corporation? Or the first Bush’s U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium? Or Clinton’s Partnership for New Generation Vehicles? They all failed.

Conversely, The Christian Science Monitor posits that President Bush identified the linkage between national security and an oil-based economy:

As the world's largest oil user, the US must reduce oil consumption so that an Iran cannot easily wield an oil card to get a nuclear weapon. Or so a Saudi Arabia cannot allow oil profits to filter to terrorists. Or so a Venezuela can't throw oil money at anti-US regimes. Or so a Russia cannot cut off petroleum exports in a strategic dispute. Or, for that matter, so a hurricane like Katrina can't create an oil price spike.

The CSM editorial contains other tidbits that help illustrate why many conservatives cringe at the thought of government involvement in oil alternatives:

But to replace oil in the US energy mix, [the Federal]government needs to make sure the price of oil products remains high enough, or taxed enough, to help pay for oil alternatives. The switch to other sources will be expensive, and today's oil users must pay for it. They could, for instance, pay higher prices for more fuel-efficient vehicles, such as those running on hydrogen or electricity, or pay higher gas taxes on gasoline to fund nonoil subsidies (emphasis added).

Cynicism on the part of conservatives is understandable, especially when they can point to numerous energy initiatives that have failed miserably over the past three decades. One could argue that the affordability of oil during most of the last thirty years was the nail in the coffin of these undertakings, however.

One thing is clear, regardless of the ideology involved: our entire economic system is currently dependent upon the availability of petroleum products; a disruption of one or more suppliers could rapidly derail our economy faster than market forces could self-correct and adapt to a more affordable energy system. Therefore, the government must provide leadership when it comes to energy policy.




Thursday, February 02, 2006

Back and Forth on Energy Independence

According to this article, the Bush Administration is already backpedaling on the President's SOTU energy proposals:

[President Bush] pledged to ``move beyond a petroleum-based economy and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past.''

Not exactly, though, it turns out.

''This was purely an example,'' Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said.

He said the broad goal was to displace foreign oil imports, from anywhere, with domestic alternatives. He acknowledged that oil is a freely traded commodity bought and sold globally by private firms. Consequently, it would be very difficult to reduce imports from any single region, especially the most oil-rich region on Earth.

Asked why the president used the words ''the Middle East'' when he didn't really mean them, one administration official said Bush wanted to dramatize the issue in a way that ''every American sitting out there listening to the speech understands.'' The official spoke only on condition of anonymity because he feared that his remarks might get him in trouble.

Wow, that was fast! There was barely any time for political commentators to disregard his energy proposals as unfeasible.

Reducing the entire American socioeconomic system's dependence on oil is, I believe, a critical requirement this country is going to have to deal with in the coming decades. It seems likely that both parties are going to ignore enrgy policyi n the next two election cycles, though. The administration already has lackeys out toning down the President's stated energy goals, before ink on the first round of SOTU editorials has dried, for goodness sake.

The politicians and business leaders of America are not going to act on energy until it's too late. By too late, I mean when a global supplier of crude is disrupted due to terror, war, belligerent governments, et al., and there are lines of angry drivers queuing to pump gas into their vehicles at $5.80 a gallon, inflation is rampant due to cascading energy costs, interest rates have been hiked up to control said inflation, and the economy is on the absolute skids. Only then will the average American start researching things like ethanol, or hydrogen economy.

But bloggers can keep energy policy ideas alive in the blogosphere, and perform the role of connectors, mavens and salespeople, compelling discussion towards a solution to a serious problem that no one wants to acknowledge.

Update: Here is an example of a nation that could potentially disrupt the world oil market and cause the crisis described above. Hugo Chavez is a major backer of Iran, by the way, and could add to the oil disruption mayhem if he so chose.





Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Achieving Energy Independence



I watched the State of the Union last night. I found the speech satisfactory, although little of what President Bush said could be considered groundbreaking. The one part of the speech that intrigued me was the President's reference to petroleum:

"Breakthroughs on [gasoline substitutes] and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025. By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy, and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past."

At first I was quite pleased with the President's proposal, but now that I have read the SOTU text, I realize this is a rather modest goal. The United States actually imports only a small portion of its oil from the Middle East, receiving the lion's share from countries like Canada, Mexico, Nigeria, Venezuela and elsewhere, as illustrated in this table here. Therefore, reducing the imports of crude originating in the Middle East would not have a major impact on our economy. Furthermore, any disruption in the supply of Middle Eastern oil would still have a major impact on the worldwide price of crude (since other industrialized nations would be forced to seek oil imports elsewhere, increasing demand and driving up prices), thus negating any benefit to the President's proposal. Jerry Taylor of the Cato institute came to the same conclusion more eloquently in his analysis of energy policies in the State of the Union Address. I realize now that what I wanted to hear the President say was something along the line of:

"Breakthrough technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports by 2025. By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy, and make our dependence on the foreign oil market a thing of the past."

Oil Independence is the type of policy goal that should find immense bipartisan support in America. Oil is a common denominator that systemically links numerous issues that Liberals and Conservatives strive to address. For liberals, dependence from oil would decrease environmental degradation (from both extracting as well as consuming oil) and ease the burden on the economically disadvantaged (who are subject to fluctuations in the price of petroleum products required for everyday living); for conservatives, American oil independence would take cold hard cash out of the hands of dictators, extremists, and otherwise belligerent governments (think Chavez, Ahmadinejad, et al), who use oil dollars to prop themselves up with a state security apparatus and threaten the West with with weapons and unrest. Also, decreasing energy costs will increase the revered bottom line in most business endeavors, increasing the wealth of shareholders and impacting down the line within our interconnected global economy.

So after a momentary feeling of excitement, I feel empty due to the tepid energy goals advanced in this year's SOTU. I remain hopeful that a politician somewhere, ANYWHERE, will make energy independence a key platform when running for office, or introduce earth shattering energy legislation sometime soon.

And yes, I want to do my part to achieve independence from foreign oil markets as well. I plan to continually blog about energy-related issues here, and attempt to keep people thinking, writing, and talking about it. More importantly, however, I am going to educate myself about energy policy. A confession is due at this point: I am fairly ignorant on matters relating to energy, and at this time I have no idea whatsoever how to reduce America's reliance on foreign oil. So for now I am going to do a little research and report my findings in a later posting.

I've identified two books to read so far: The End of Oil, by Paul Roberts; and Power Down, by Richard Heindberg.

And here is where a little help is in order, too. If you happen to pass by this blog and have some insight on energy issues, how about posting some comments and sharing them with my immense readership (thirteen unique individuals as of today!!!) If enough people exchange ideas here on this one particular issue, maybe this could achieve the effect of the butterfly flapping its wings. . .

Update: For more on energy, read Hooked on Oil, by Victor Davis Hanson.