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Jay Currie

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1/03/2004

The Israeli Baby Drought

In the Guardian Peter Beaumont outlines the demographic disaster which could lead to the end of Israel as a Jewish State.
Crucially, however, the figures show that despite financial incentives for couples who have more children, the population rose last year by 116,000, or 1.7 per cent - its lowest increase since 1990.

In the Nineties, annual immigration ranged from 70,000 to 200,000 as around a million Jews from the former Soviet Union - many of them more loosely defined as Jewish than some religious authorities would prefer - flocked to Israel.

At the heart of all this is simple mathematics. Forecasts from the United States' Population Reference Bureau show Israel's population doubling in 45 years, that of the West Bank in 21 years and that of Gaza in 15 years. In other words, Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, and Israeli Arabs will outnumber the Jewish population by 2020.
the guardian
It is likely worse than this as the couple having children would seem to include Israeli Arabs as well as Jewish couples.

Israel is a state explicitly founded upon a religious idea. A homeland for the Jews. It is, however, also a democratic nation and a nation in which individual rights matter. For Israel to survive it must, somehow, find a way to ensure that the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza have their own, separate, state or other arrangement sooner rather than later. But it also needs what amounts to a Jewish baby boom.

In fact, if the demographics begin to look like a situation in which the Arab population will overwhelm the Jewish one Israel does have the option of extending what amounts to non-resident citizenship to Jews worldwide - which, given the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe, may well be a good idea in any event. While this would be assailed as shifting the goal posts, it is well within the power of a sovereign state to extend its franchise to whomever it wants.

Israel is not alone in confronting radical demographic and therefore political change in the next fifty years. The Muslim immigrant populations in Holland, France and a number of other nations are rising much faster than the indigenous populations and with that population rise political calculations are shifting. Even where a Muslim population is far from attaining majority status, it can hold the key to electoral success by providing the critical votes for a party to win an election.

Writing about birthrates always leaves you open to charges of racism; however, in many Western nations the unwillingness of a generation to have enough children to replace itself and provide for growth - whether for the highest ecological or lowest practical reasons - is creating the basis for radical shifts in the politics of those nations.

Ignoring the various demographic elephants in the living rooms of Western nations simply means we will all be facing the Israeli dilemma sixty to a hundred years from now.

Her Worship the Mayor

Sharon Smith doffs the robes of office for a few candid shots live from the Mayor Chair - the Mayor as camgirl is, perhaps, a bit ahead of its time. (hattip: vancouverscrum)

0% Fed Funds

Here is an interesting note - irritatingly without a link to the paper:
Central bankers faced with a weakening economy and already low interest rates should act "pre-emptively and aggressively" to avoid a situation in which rates may have to be pushed to zero, two Federal Reserve officials argued in a paper released on Saturday.
In a paper on conducting monetary policy in a low-interest rate environment, Fed Governor Ben Bernanke and Vincent Reinhart said central banks have a variety of tools for boosting an economy even after rates reached their "lower bound."
reuters
A zero Fed funds rate would signal a fairly significant rate of deflation - however defined. It would also suggest that the Fed was willing to let the American economy continue to expand at the rather blistering rate of last quarter. At some point that expansion would create the price pressure which would begin a re-flation. The question would then be when the Fed thought that the expansion had gone on long enough. At a guess that would happen when asset pricing began to look frothy which could take several quarters given the overall health of the American economy and the relatively slow rate that this health is being reflected in the stock market. I am going to try to find the cite for the paper.

Fun from Edmonton

Pol:spy is filled with humour, a nasty knowing streak and the sort of design excellence you get when two photographers, one of whom is a sysadmin, collaborate. Best line "Sean recently started writing political commentary for Pol·Spy as he needed an outlet and his wife was tired of hearing about it." I wonder how many blogs are started from this premise. To the blogroll with them. (If F**King Blogger would reenable w.bloggar.)

Carnival of the Canucks

Jim Elve
hosts this week's Carnival of the Canucks. I am exhausted just reading the list much less all the really interesting Canadian blogs on it. Keep it bookmarked and graze. Blogging is becoming more and more popular in Canada. In many cases the blogs are much more interesting that the increasingly homogenized mainstream and duly predictable "alternative" media in Canada. Go read a few!

1/02/2004

Boing

Bouncing Bear...no, really

And Thank You Very Much

In Bam, American aid workers have generally received a warm welcome from Iranian doctors and quake victims, though one cleric was sharply critical Friday and said the American team should go home.

"We hate the arrogance of the Americans and we are sure that they haven't come for humanitarian reasons, but for other things like spying," said Abdullah Irani, a mullah from Qum, the main center for Shiite clerics in Iran.
abc news
Can't beat those mullahs for gratitude.

Steyn on 2004

You should feel humiliated. It is humiliating when you invest your pride in a total loser. The thing is: what are you going to do about it? Rise up in anger? I think not. It’s a safe bet that in 2004 the Arab street will remain as somnolent as it was in 2003 and 2002. That leaves two options: just more festering as usual, or doing something constructive. The big question in the year ahead is whether we’ll start to see forces emerge in the wider Arab world that have drawn the right conclusions from the humiliations of the last two years. You know what would humiliate me if I were a hotshot Egyptian intellectual like Mr Nassar? The Americans democratizing Iraq before Egyptians have managed to democratize Egypt. I predict a few interesting straws in the wind between now and next December.
mark steyn
Funny and right - it doesn't get better than Steyn.

The Bastards

My CCRA news service reports:
Canada Border Services Agency starts a dumping investigation into frozen self-rising pizza
Ottawa, January 2, 2004... The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) announced today the initiation of an investigation into the alleged injurious dumping of frozen self-rising pizza from the United States of America.

The CBSA started the investigation after receiving a complaint filed by McCain Foods Limited of Florenceville, New Brunswick. The company alleges that the dumping of the goods in question is harming Canadian production by causing price erosion, price suppression and lost sales.
canada customs and revenue agency
The Yankee imperialist running jackels are trying to sell their filthy rising crust pizza cheap. Culinary imperialism! I'm boycotting, organizing a march and putting up a website to encourage all right thinking Canadians, and you know who you are, to pay the extra couple of toonies and preserve the grand family business which is McCain rising crust pizza. We must not wait for government action, as Canadians we must immediately pay more for our pizza!

Hacker's Paradise

crimes of circumvention are only going to become more common in the United States as the government and industry begin widespread deployment of smart cards for everything from IDs to cash cards. A smart card is any card with a computer chip in it, and as JungleMike's case makes clear, satellite TV companies using such cards in their systems created quite the lucrative black market for circumvention devices. Over the next two years, Visa will be rolling out "wireless smart cards" that can be used for everything from subway fares to supermarket purchases. Next year the city of San Francisco will be putting smart card readers into parking meters so people can use their TransLink cards to pay for parking as well as bridge tolls.

To understand the vast potential for a black market in smart card hacks, we need only look to Europe, where smart cards have been in heavy use for the past decade. Ross Anderson, a computer scientist at Cambridge University, has written extensively about the security of smart cards. "Smart card hacking has been an established industry in Europe for almost ten years," he said via e-mail. "The widespread use of smart cards for satellite TV got it started, then the phone companies started using smart cards [in phones].... We're about to have smart card-based identity documents, which will create a serious criminal market, and smart card-based bank cards, which will motivate lots of people to learn about the technology."
sfbg.com
Interesting piece by Annalee Newitz on the whole question of anti-circumvention law and the DMCA. It is an interesting problem. After all, why shouldn't I be allowed to modify my Xbox to, a) watch movies I own, b) run Linux? The problem being that if I can do that I can also get it to run pirated games. Which would defeat the entire premise of Microsoft's Digital Rights Management strategy.

Smart card circumvention is more clearly wrong if only because it is difficult to imagine why you might need to reprogram you VISA card for "legitimate" purposes. But much the same skill set as is involved in hacking X-Boxes will be used to attack smart cards. Revenge of the geeks.

Spinning the UN

The New York Times is up to its old tricks in today's editorial on rehabilitating the United Nations:
Even after the U.N. was shoved aside over Iraq, it tried to play a constructive role in rebuilding that shattered country. The price it paid was the terrorist bombing of its Baghdad headquarters last August, perhaps the most costly blow the U.N. has ever endured. Its top diplomat in Iraq was killed, along with 21 others. Despite standing aside from the invasion and being excluded from the subsequent administration, the U.N. found itself a prime target of Iraqi guerrillas, and a particularly vulnerable one because relief and reconstruction work cannot be carried out from behind impregnable barriers. Since August, the U.N. has all but withdrawn from Iraq.
nyt et. seq
Of course the United Nations was not "shoved aside". Rather the Security Council refused to back its own resolutions regarding Iraqi co-operation with the weapons inspection regime. It did, however, superintend the rotten to the root "Oil for Food" scam which seems to have diverted billions into Saddam and his henchmen's pockets and palaces. No audit has been performed on the UN's stewardship and I expect this will be the first demand - no, second, the right to try Uncle Cuddles is #1 - when Iraq regains its sovereignty. Tragic as the deaths of the UN workers was, it was also very much in keeping with the nature of the now sputtering banditry which has characterized Baghdad. The UN mission knew it was a target and, principally for PR reasons, refused to take the basic precautions expected in bandit country.

"Relief and reconstruction work cannot be carried out from behind impregnable barriers." Rubbish. The administration of that work can and should be simply because the target is so rich. While field workers are, of necessity, exposed to danger, the administration has to take responsibility for its own security and safety. It was tragically dumb of the UN mission not to heed the advice they were given to fortify against bombing attacks.

Now the UN has all but gone. Which, frankly, shows exactly why the US and its allies are right to treat the UN with the contempt its actions so richly deserve. Humanitarian work can be dangerous. Security is not assured as the Americans, British, Australians, Spaniards, Italians, Japanese, Poles and a host of other countries - including Canada in Afghanistan - know. The United Nations seems to be as brave as its most cowardly member. So long as that is its posture it will not confer the international legitimacy the New York Times seems to think.

The U.N. needs to be involved, most immediately so it does not default on its responsibilities to the Iraqi people. By taking a strong role in shaping Iraq's return to the community of sovereign nations, the U.N. can also demonstrate that it is determined not to let its global influence be marginalized.
The UN has already defaulted on its responsibilities to the Iraqi people: first by failing to properly monitor the sanctions follow GWWI, second by failing to properly supervise the Oil for Food program to make sure the food actually got to the people who needed it, third by refusing to back its own Security Council's resolutions in the run up to the war, fourth by by running away. It really does not matter how "determined" the UN is: when the chips have been down the UN has run away - which has pushed the UN's global influence well beyond the margins.

Before trying to assert itself in Iraq, the UN needs to reinvent its mission and methods for a new and dangerous century. It should start at the top by removing the now utterly ineffectual Kofi Annan and the veto from France - at that point someone might begin to take it a bit seriously.

1/01/2004

There Go I

Kevin Michael Grace is, by his own account, "not a stupid man"; merely one who has been well and truly shafted. Go here, read the story, hit the tip button. You will be starting your year right, he will be grateful, I will be thankful.

On the Table

Victor Hanson Davis in Commentary,
What else might we do? To encourage triangulators like the Saudis and Yemenis to hunt down terrorists—as they have only recently begun to do, two years after September 11—we should remind them that America is not a neutral power, and not necessarily an ally. During the cold war, we accepted that so long as all of Eastern Europe lay under the thrall of Communism, the possibility of free trade, easy travel, or large-scale immigration was precluded. Similarly, so long as there is not yet a single democracy in the Arab Middle East, so long as many governments there pander to a virulent and hateful ideology of anti-Americanism, and so long as millions either ignore or abet the killers of Americans and Jews, why should our relations with these countries not lie under threat of severance by a new iron curtain?

In such a policy, everything would be on the table—all foreign aid, travel, commerce, immigration. Our ties with a great number of Middle Eastern regimes should be contingent precisely on their efforts to stop the implicit or explicit help they give to our enemies. With Syria and Iran, in particular, we are already in a death race to put an end to their murderous autocracies faster than they can prevent consensual government from emerging in Iraq. That country will never be truly free as long as there are thousands of terrorists in nearby Damascus and Tehran—something that President Assad and the mullahs seem to grasp far better than we.
commentary
Davis is really writing about the states which support terrorism directly; however, the willingness of the United States to punish Germany, France, Russian and a host of others including Canada for their lack of support of the invasion of Iraq is bearing its own fruit. Quickly, far more quickly than is apparent at the media level, the roll over is beginning. Debt forgiveness under the Baker plan is the best indicator. Germany, France, Russia and China have all capitulated without any fight at all. They know, and they know the americans know they know, how deeply implicated they were in the support of Iraq's regime...They are, I suspect, rather relieved to get the slap on the wrist the contract denial was. And more than happy to pass on a little debt collection on being assured that, for the moment, the Americans would keep the invoices under its hat. Fmr. Secretary Baker, no doubt, promised to do just that so long as the right sort of co-operation was forthcoming.

Al Qaeda strikes out

Belmont Club, which is both deeply insightful and beautifully written, posts:
The ending threads of 2003 are the frustrated Al Qaeda attack on America, the dual failed assassination attempts on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, the Libyan undertaking to dismantle its WMD programs and the capture of Saddam Hussein.

The first two are significant because they didn't happen and the last two because they did. By far the most important was the proof by contradiction that the AQ has failed to keep pace with the United States since September 11. The Belmont Club believed that the AQ must retaliate, if only haphazardly, against the War on Terror, to maintain credibility. The AQ itself had promised to turn the tables on the US, like Babe Ruth pointing at the stands. And they struck out. Not the attack on Los Angeles, or Las Vegas, or a British Airways jet, or the Vatican or the Queen Mary 2 materialized, though there is still New Year's Eve in the offing.
belmont club
New Years has come and gone with a few minor panics but not much else. (The thug/terrorist coalition in Baghdad managed to blow up a restaurant. Targets don't get softer than that.) Is Al Qaeda done? Here is Wretchard:
If reports that the AQ leadership are sheltering in Iran are true, then they have lost their quasi-supranational status. Neither the Pakistani northwestern frontier, North African deserts, Indonesian villages or the backpacker hotels in Thailand proved adequate substitutes for Afghanistan. The American counterstroke on Afghanistan may have wounded Al Qaeda mortally and they have crawled into a cave of vassaldom to die. But Jihadism's other factions still live, regrouping and plotting within Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan. Their hurts are grievous, but will heal once the balm of forgetfulness is applied, not to their wounds, but to Western memory.
op. cit.
While I agree, I am inclined to think that the wonderful sight of the craven, whipped looking Saddam crawling out of his hole having, to steal a line from Letterman, "Put up less of a fight than Michael Jackson." combined with the total impotence of the Palestinian Troll and Gadaffi's surrender, may well have take the heart out of jihad altogether. The Arab street, long accustomed to accusing the West of trying to humiliate the Arab world, now has something to be humiliated about.

I am not sanguine. Three jihadis with an aerosol of weapons grade anthrax and the right breeze could manage the mega-terror al Qaeda craves. And those guys could have been put in place long before 9/11. The fact that the sleeper cells in Canada, the United States, England and Europe have not struck means one of two thing: they don't actually exist or the command and control structure of al Qaeda has been so compromise that the sleepers will remain abed. I hope.

As Wretchard rightly points out, the biggest threat the West faces at the moment is that somehow we will forget 9/11 and the conditions which lead up to it. Will we? I doubt it. Despite the loony left and the Let's Blame America brigade, 9/11 remains a single, shocking reminder that Pax Americana is not yet established. It also reminds those of us who are not American that such a peace will have its own price: a willingness to help.

Science and Politics

I like beer and I like cigarettes - which means in Vancouver I can sit on an ill heated porch doing my journal. Ostensibly I am freezing so the wait staff will not be exposed to the health destroying effects of second hand smoke, in fact I am there because non-smokers have found a stick to beat smokers with. Not a scientific stick you understand, rather a blunt bit of political bullying based on no evidence whatsoever. Michael Crichton makes the point:
I believe the lesson was that with a catchy name, a strong policy position and an aggressive media campaign, nobody will dare to criticize the science, and in short order, a terminally weak thesis will be established as fact. After that, any criticism becomes beside the point. The war is already over without a shot being fired. That was the lesson, and we had a textbook application soon afterward, with second hand smoke.

In 1993, the EPA announced that second-hand smoke was "responsible for approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year in nonsmoking adults," and that it " impairs the respiratory health of hundreds of thousands of people." In a 1994 pamphlet the EPA said that the eleven studies it based its decision on were not by themselves conclusive, and that they collectively assigned second-hand smoke a risk factor of 1.19. (For reference, a risk factor below 3.0 is too small for action by the EPA. or for publication in the New England Journal of Medicine, for example.) Furthermore, since there was no statistical association at the 95% confidence limits, the EPA lowered the limit to 90%. They then classified second hand smoke as a Group A Carcinogen.
michael crichton
The best part of the smoking ban was in order for it to work every establishment had to go non-smoking which means that even in bars where 90% of the patrons and all the staff are smokers the ban was and is enforced. Majoritarian bullying of the worst sort.

New Year, New World

we live in an era of non-contiguous information streams. I believe one thing; someone else believes another – and the bedrock assumptions are utterly contradictory. This is what drives me nuts about discussing current events with some people. It’s like discussing the Apollo program with people who think it was all faked, or discussing archeology with those who believe the world is six thousand years old. I think the Iraq Campaign was part of a broad war against Islamicist fascism and the states that enable it; others think it’s all about oil and Halliburton jerking the strings of a Jeebus puppet. No. Middle. Ground.
lileks

Adult Supervision

Apparently the adults found out how silly the children and their lawyers were being over at the Liberal Party. The folks over at www.paulmartintime.ca had been threatened with legal action over their parody site. They issued a press release and the press stampeded:
Then, around midnight, a Canadian Press article (and a French version) hit the wires. The Toronto Star ran it the next morning, and everything went crazy. Dru and Rob were both set to leave that morning to go home for Christmas, but had to delay leaving to accomodate a neverending string of interviews with TV, radio, and press crews and journalists. By the end of the day, we had been covered by CBC Radio, CBC Newsworld, and Global Television nationally, and the Vancouver Province, Halifax Chronicle-Herald, the Coast, and urban news show Toronto Tonight. There are many missing from that list.
paulmartintime
In the face of this attention,
Once Canadians from coast-to-coast became aware of their new Prime Minister’s desire to censor his latest cyber-critics, it seemed like Martin had a change of heart. Perhaps acting in the spirit of the holiday season ? or in an attempt to swallow his dignity and cut his losses ? Paul Martin decided to drop the threatened lawsuit with us, and move on to more important things, such as privatization and corporate tax cuts, for instance.

Or has he? At least that is what the Prime Minister’s Office told a reporter for CTV, who enthusiastically relayed the information to me, mere hours before a scheduled appearance on Canada AM. We were ecstatic; victory was ours.
It still amazes me that the Martinites could have pulled such a lamer stunt. Clearly the webmaster and the law firm did not get the memo about "Gently, gently, don't rock the boat". Between this and the disturbing news from Victoria about some Martin organizers who may have some connection to a drug running ring, it has not been a grand start for Martin.

Another World

The Telegraph has an interview with the fired French journalist M Hertoghe.
M Hertoghe, the former assistant editor of La Croix's online edition, said the reasons for this failure were threefold.

He argued that, because three quarters of reports on Iraq were written from Paris, journalists were influenced by the national anti-American mood and above all hatred of President George W Bush.

Second, President Jacques Chirac's intransigence, coupled with the panache of his foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, produced a collective sense that France had recovered its position as an international heavyweight.

Third, journalists were swayed by a misguided fraternity with any Arab state or regime that opposed Mr Bush or Tony Blair. "They knew Saddam was a bad man, but at least he would teach the Americans a lesson," said M Hertoghe.

"Reading French dailies, you are under the impression that America, apart from a handful of admirable pacifists, is full of unpleasant brainless, selfish and violent 'patriots'," he wrote. Some editorials even put Mr Bush on a par with Saddam.
the telegraph
It has dawned on a few French commentators that #2 and #3 are pure fantasy and that #1 simply doesn't matter. If anything, the hatred of large sections of the French "elite" is a very good thing for an American President. But those commentators run into the monolith of received opinion and outright fear which runs through the French establishment. If "all the best people" agree Bush is a cowboy and an idiot surely he must be one. No revision permitted because to revise would be to admit the original propositions were incorrect. But the "best people" do not subscribe to incorrect propositions from which it follows the propositions must be true.

The fear is more subtle - the French establishment is aware of the degree to which French companies ignored the United Nations sanctions against Iraq. And they are aware that if this is exposed the "panache" of de Villepin would be exposed as the self serving tissue of lies it so obviously has been. Worse, that Establishment knows that the Americans and the British are rooting through the Baghdad archives to get the evidence. And even worse than this, they know that should Saddam come to trial he may very well base his defence, in part, on the encouragement and undertakings he may have received from Western nations including, er, France. Because Bush is such a big idiot, he and his cowboys will not be, shall we say, discrete. In fact, Bush is such a moron he might well say "Publish the lot and let the chips fall where they may." Mon Dieu!

12/31/2003

New to Roll

One of the great benefits of being a judge for Jim Elve's Canada Top Blogs is you get a great excuse to cruise around looking at great blogs. Three new to me Canadians this month.
The Owner's Manual:
Gary Cruse is funny and outraged at the same time. Rightish in a non-nutter sorta a way.

Let it Bleed:
"All the Left has to offer is hypocrisy and lies. We've got that PLUS good looks. Testify!" Bob Tarantino has, for all our sins offered to read and comment on the Toronto Star. This is a cross he should not have to bear alone so go read him.

Ratty's Ghost:
As quirky and smart as a blog can get. I am still trying to get a handle on this one. Funny, arty and sad in the best sort of way. Socar Myles does not blog so much as tell grand stories. One of the few blogs I've read which could be published as it stands.
By the way, the January Canada Top Blog list should be up Monday.

Quite a Year

Just before midnight this little site hit 20,000 uniques (I think, Site Meter is never all that clear). Which makes me happy. This month is over 3000 without any publication on the net to drive traffic. So keep coming and I'll keep blogging. Thanks to everyone who has come, linked, argued and decided I was not actually a nutter.

12/30/2003

Hanging onto Dust

Over at Tech Central Station James Pinkerton compares the current state of America's IP industries - music, movies, games, software - to the dreamworld of the rubber barons of Manaus, Brazil in the late 19th century. I commented as follows:

The Brazillian rubber barons failed to adapt. Bang, the boom was over.

Disney's idea of adaptation is to extend the copyright on Mickey Mouse unto the nth generation. In fact, the entire idea of copyright is rendered problematic by its ownership by theoretically deathless corporations. An author owns the copyright in his work for his lifetime plus a limited number of years. Not so a company.

Music, movies, games, software - everyone of these sectors is threatened not by the spector of piracy but rather by the fact the natural value of a Brittany Spears song, PageMaker 3.0, all but a handful of movies and every PC game naturally trends to zero over a decade or so. These are naturally ephemeral products and, as such, have no business enjoying effectively perpetual copyright protection.

Worse, the IP driven companies tend to value this quickly depreciating product as if it were the crown jewels. If you ever want to prove its not, go buy a second hand CD/video game/bit of software. Pennies on the dollar.

Tragically, the IP companies are missing a huge opportunity: by releasing pop music, B films, obselete software, last year's computer games to the public domain, perhaps under a Creative Commons style licence, they would create demand for this year's model.

Victor Davis Hanson

The so-called Arab street and its phony intellectuals sense that influential progressive Westerners will never censure Middle Eastern felonies if there is a chance to rage about Western misdemeanors. It is precisely this parasitic relationship between the foreign and domestic critics of the West that explains much of the strange confidence of those who planned September 11. It was the genius of bin Laden, after all, that he suspected after he had incinerated 3,000 Westerners an elite would be more likely to blame itself for the calamity ? searching for ?root causes? than marshalling its legions to defeat a tribe that embraced theocracy, autocracy, gender apartheid, polygamy, anti-Semitism, and religious intolerance. And why not after Lebanon, the first World Trade Center bombing, the embassies in Africa, murder in Saudi Arabia, and the USS Cole? It was the folly of bin Laden only that he assumed the United States was as far gone as Europe and that a minority of its ashamed elites had completely assumed control of American political, cultural, and spiritual life.

Hatred of Israel is the most striking symptom of the Western disease. On the face of it the dilemma there is a no-brainer for any classic liberal: A consensual government is besieged by fanatical suicide killers who are subsidized and cheered on by many dictators in the Arab world. The bombers share the same barbaric methods as Chechens, the 9/11 murderers, al Qaedists in Turkey, and what we now see in Iraq.

Indeed, the liberal Europeans should love Israel, whose social and cultural institutions ? universities, the fine arts, concern for the ?other? ? so reflect its own. Gays are in the Israeli military, whose soldiers rarely salute, but usually address each other by their first names and accept a gender equity that any feminist would love. And while Arabs once may have been exterminated by Syrians, gassed in Yemen by Egypt, ethnically cleansed in Kuwait, lynched without trial in Palestine, burned alive in Saudi Arabia, inside Israel proper they vote and enjoy human rights not found elsewhere in the Arab Middle East.
nro
Read the whole thing...no really, the whole thing.

Show Me the Money

In case anyone was wondering what happened to the Food for Oil funds which were supposed to buy medicine for those dead Iraqi babies,
Saddam Hussein has joined an elite group of kleptocrats with the admission that he stole as much as US$40-billion from Iraq's coffers.

A member of the Iraqi Governing Council said yesterday the former Iraqi strongman has confessed under interrogation to stealing the money and depositing it in Switzerland, Japan, Germany and other countries in the names of dummy companies.
national post

I'd Like to Make a Withdrawal

Seems like the Troll of RamallahTMhas taken the PA's money. All the PA's money. DebkaFile (add three heaping tablespoons of salt) reports:
Last weekend, Ahmed Qureia aka Abu Ala became the second Palestinian prime minister to warn Yasser Arafat he was about to resign. He determined to throw in the sponge after discovering that the Palestinian Authority’s coffers were bare. There was nothing left to meet the January 1 payroll for 80,000 public workers and security personnel. In fact the PA has no operating funds at all.

Arafat, according to DEBKAfile’s Palestinian sources, greeted the threat in stony silence.

If Abu Ala quits now, he will have lasted a month and-a-half, compared with the four months his processor survived on the job before being driven out. Abu Mazen now spends most of his time in Amman and rarely ventures into the West Bank.

Abu Ala accused Arafat of exploiting the attention focused on fruitless discussions about a truce for an underhand move to help himself to the PA’s funds and whisk its financial system out of the hands of the pro-American Palestinian finance minister, Salem Fayed.
debka
Forgive me, but ho,ho,ho.

If ever there was a chance of the one bullet solution working it is right now if this is true. And the best part is it will not be the Israelis who fire the bullet. It will be one of the 80,000 unpaid security forces personel. "But Yasser I have fourteen kids to feed, three of them ready to become shahids, and you took the money....Bang."

But spare a thought for Chris Patten, the EU Commissioner for foreign relations who has been defending the PA's use of EU funds:
After this scrupulous examination, I should tell the committee that we have found no evidence, I repeat, we have found no evidence of EU funds being used for purposes other than those agreed between the EU and the PA. The documents presented to us by Israel do not prove that EU funds have been misused, and, as I understand it, that is no longer the burden of the charge which is made. So there is no case for stating that EU money has financed terrorism, has financed the purchase of weapons, or any similar activities. In the documents provided to us there is no evidence that the PA budget as a whole provides funds for terror activities.
Statement to the Foreign Affairs Committee on EU budgetary assistance to the Palestinian Authority
Er, come again Chris.

12/29/2003

Shooting off his pinkie toe

No, the Martinites decision to threaten to sue a parody website, is not going to cost the Liberal Party the next election. It was just a remarkably dumb ass thing to do.

My sense is Martin is unbeatable so long as he makes no mistakes - shooting at a parody website is just the sort of pompous, bonehead, move which is a huge mistake.

Martin doesn't get the Internet and he doesn't get the people who get the Internet. A smart politician would keep that a secret until he was safe at 24 Sussex with a 300 seat majority.

Not too bright Paul. And, hey, checkout PaulMartinTimes (via Darren Barefoot, Boing Boing, slashdot, BlogsCanada and a host of others which shows just how lame the Martinites are appearing. Dumb.)

Update: I sent the following to the great man:
Prime Minister,

A sense of humour, while not a prerequisite for the Premiership, is a tremendous asset.

You have provided a great deal of unintentional mirth out on the Internet with your threat to sue the creators of www.paulmartintime.ca. A threat which has made you, your staff, your advisors and your party, and, frankly, my country, an Internet laughingstock.

Arguably Canada is a titch humour challenged because we export our funniest to the US. But it could be that we are so busy deferring to authority that we fail to see that a grown up country should have grown up politicians who can appreciate cleverness, wit and a, yes, a sense of humour.

So call off the dogs of law before you shoot yourself in your other foot.

Cheers,

Jay Currie

The Fate of the Beagle

go here

Fun with Families

The American Family Association is running an online poll about the legalization of homosexual marriage. They promise to present the results to Congress. I say vote early and vote often. At the moment Congress will hear that nearly 60% of the people responding are in favour of legalization....or will they? (via Daniel Drezner guest blogging at Andrew Sullivan)

Americans? We love'em

Kathy Shaidle writes a great piece in the Dallas Morning News about pro-american Canadians. (There is an irritating registration and you have to make up a US postal code if you are from Canada.) This resonates with me because a delightful reporter, Lisa Gutierrez, from the Kansas City Star got in touch with me via the Canadian Friends of America site, today. She wanted to write a piece on the whole "Blame Canada" routine which is accompaning the discovery that America's Mad Cow came from Canada. Here are her questions and my answers:
A Bit of Background, eh?

Up here in the snowy North, when a cold front is on its way it's called an Arctic airmass. Down there it's a "cold front sweeping in from Canada"

In so far as Americans think of Canada at all, it is usually when something - big or small - goes wrong. Mad Cow, blackouts, terrorists, and, hey, didn't Canada have something to do with the UN?

The more serious side are times like the preparations for the invasion of Iraq when the Canadian government - though not anywhere near a majority of her people - opposed the invasion without ever more UN resolutions. This irritated the Americans and didn't make many mainstream Canadians very pleased either.

In Canada, there is a significant stream of anti-Americanism. Remember, a good deal of our identity is tied up with defining ourselves as "not Americans". On the Left in Canada that translates to anti-globalization, anti-free trade, anti-war and, frankly, a remarkable smugness. (Lefty Canadians do smug even better than the French.)

But it is not just the Left. Remember that much of our largest province, Ontario, was settled by what you called Tories back in 1776 and we call United Empire Loyalists. The attitude of these people, a sort of friendly scepticism about America, has been a recurring theme in Canadian culture and politics for two hundred years.

Some of both those attitudes spills over the border - via the CBC and its affiliation with NPR - and can be mistaken by Americans as the actual Canadian position. It isn't. In fact, taking the CBC or much of the rest of the Canadian media as reflecting actual Canadian attitudes would be the rough equivalent of taking The Nation as the official voice of the American government.

Specifics

First question: Why does poor ol' Canada get so much blame, for everything from cold weather to mad cow disease? Is there some historical history to this "bad blood?"

We're convenient and, hey, that jet stream is our jet stream, and, it appears, that cow is our cow. Southpark, a sure indicator of American culture, got it right with the "Blame Canada" song.

The natural impulse of politicians confronted with a problem they can do little or nothing about is to blame it on somebody else. All the better if there is some basis in fact. But, like Southpark, no one takes it very seriously.

Historically there have been rough patches - Canadians of my parents' generation are never going to completely get over America's late entry into WWII - but no bad blood.

Recently, the Canadian government's decision to sit out the Iraq war has caused some more serious strains; but those are balanced by the goodwill we gained when, on 9/11, every airport in Canada was chock a block with Americans whose flights had been diverted, the quality of our snipers in Afghanistan and the commitment Canada has shown to the ongoing war on terrorism.

Second question: Do Canadians realize that they seem to suffer from some sort of identity crisis south of their border? How do they feel about getting "blamed" for all the adversity that strikes the United States?

A lot of Canadians are aware that what our government has been doing is not making us many friends in the States. Interestingly, the Prime Minister whose government seemed intent on becoming Chirac's poodle, (eds note: I was going to use Chirac's bitchTM but this is Kansas) has just been tossed out and replaced with a far more pro-American PM. Co-incidence, I think not.

In general Canadians are pretty indifferent to politicians "blaming us" for things like mad cow or the Northeastern blackout. We're pretty practical and once the politicians quit we know we'll work with you to fix the grid and test the cows. But the Canadian Cold Front is a sacred trust....we're just going to keep sending them your way.

Third question: Tell me about your group, what its purpose is, and whether this whole "let's be friends" issue is an issue for your members.

Canadian Friends of America is really just a website I set up last year when a lot of Canadian politicians were saying and doing remarkably silly things about America. We wanted to create a place where Canadians who supported the US, Britain and Australia in the invasion of Iraq could meet. And we wanted Americans to know that many Canadians completely supported the war specifically and America generally. It was a very busy site for four or five months and has gradually tapered off as the success in Iraq has quelled the critics in Canada.

Fourth question: How can we stop this incessant "let's-blame-the-Canadians" game?

We can't. Nor do we need to. From blackouts to terrorism, regular Canadians and Americans work beautifully together. We solve problems, enjoy each other's company, have far more which unites us than divides us and complain with equal gusto about the weather.

Politicians and pundits like to stir the pot. Blaming someone, anyone, is a handy substitute for action. Most people see the blame game for what it is, political theatre. And, Canadian or American, they see right through it.

12/28/2003

Wired Nation

When the Pew Internet and American Life Project began chronicling the online medium in March 2000, 52 million Americans logged onto the Internet each day. By this past August, that figure had swelled 27 percent, to 66 million.
nyt
The ease and simplicity of the net, aided by such useful devices as Google and broadband, makes the net critical to an increasing number of people. For me it's a livelihood, a reference library, entertainment, an atlas, a handy place to engage my three year old's sense of imagination, a substitute phone, a replacement for television and a pleasure to deal with. My sense is that the 'net is just beginning its real expansion. Not in terms of North Americans with access - I think that number will grow slowly - but rather what they do with that access.

My assumption is that if I need it - from movie times to a picture of Saturn's rings - it is available by Google search. It may take a couple of tries but it is usually out there somewhere. The net allows me to read three to five newspapers from all over the world every day. And, again with Google's help, drill down from a news story to get the background and the opinions which surround that story. Or, when Sam asks me how the World was made I can get everything from illustrated Genesis to Hubble shots of embryonic stars and cross sections of the Earth.

The hype has largely left the net. People have stopped trying to sell fifty pound bags of concrete using websites; but the idea that storehouses of well presented, deftly organized, accurate information are there for a couple of keystrokes and the cost of a broadband connection is astonishing and wonderful.

Update: Darren Barefoot, who has earned my undying esteem with this intro "Jay Currie, one of the few conservatives I've found on the Web who isn't a complete nutter," has posted a really interesting response to this entry. It is up in the comments but Darren has posted the untruncated version here. I am left wondering which parts are finished and which need a little work.

Serbia

Hard-line Serb nationalists led by a jailed war crimes suspect won a general election Sunday but failed to obtain the majority needed to form a government on their own, according to partial results.

The Radical Party of former paramilitary leader Vojislav Seselj received 27.7 percent of votes, according to a projection based on the results by a respected election monitoring agency.

Pro-reform parties that united to oust former president Slobodan Milosevic, now on trial for war crimes at an international tribunal at The Hague, had about 42 percent of the vote, it showed.

The Radical Party is not expected to assume power, but the revival of a party advocating a "Greater Serbia" has sparked deep concern in Western capitals and among Balkan neighbors still wary of Belgrade after the wars of the 1990s.
washington post
The roots of Serbian ultra nationalism, the sort of nationalism which leads to genocide and ethnic cleansing, drive back to the death of the Ottoman Empire and the fragile autocracy cobbled together by Tito. The critical element is the notion of a pan-Slavic past in which the Serbs were oppressed by the Ottoman Muslims. It is not, as most hyperethnicities are not, without some historic justification. The problem is that once again the wrongs committed three or thirteen or thirty generations ago are being revived and used to incite a paranoid fascism which, in turn, can create the context in which a Kosovo or Srebrenica seems to make complete sense. Little wonder the nationalist electoral success is sparking deep concern. The question, and it is a real question for the Europeans, is whether they have learned anything from their utter failure to act decisively when last the Serbs beat the tom-toms of ethnic hate.

On Intelligence, Hive Minds and the Internet

Steve denBeste has produced a long and thoughtful piece on the nature of intelligence and the prospects for super-intelligence/artificial intelligence within serial computer (not good), parallel computers (better), computer mediated human interaction (better still). It is a wonderful read and strikingly well informed.

Round about the middle of the piece den Beste discusses the idea of inductive reasoning's relation to intelligence and the perils of the "butterfly effect - that is
Digital simulations of analog systems always include small initial errors, and as digital calculations iterate ever more deeply, that error grows until the error swamps the signal, at which point the digital simulation will have no greater than a random chance of being the same as the analog system it is trying to simulate.
The interesting thing about inductive reasoning is that it is a learned skill. It is essentially the ability to take limited information and come to reasonable guesses as to its implications. Inherent in this process is error. Sometimes in the form of demonstrably false premises, more often tiny misperceptions of particular facts. In either case, humans learn - largely by experience - to work around the errors and to frame their conclusions to acknowledge and take account of the relative certainty of the premises.

For example, the horse betting strategy of always betting on the leading apprentice jockey to show is a good way of losing less money at the track. However, after making a few of these bets a person may begin to add additional rules. In the extreme, "except where the horse he is riding has three legs", more subtly "except where the odds are greater than xx:1. Inductive reasoning is a process rather than a fixed algorithm and, as such, is constantly being tweaked to make it conform to experience more closely.

The great hope of artificial intelligence in the 1970's was to create expert systems which would deduce rules from experience and apply them to new experience. It did not work very well. It was a perfectly good idea but it turned out that actual experts had a "feel" for problems which was not reducible to rules. Analogous to the race track regular's "I don't like the look of that horse." Capturing the subtle effects of that "feel" was beyond the AI programmers capacity.

What strikes me as more promising is the entire notion of genetic algorithms and evolutionary programming. The basic idea is that you specify a problem and let a set of programs lose each of which try to solve it. They run at the problem for a while and the best programs, the one which solve the problem most exactly or most quickly are found. These programs are then allowed to proceed to the next generation. However, parts of these programs are put together into new programs which are then set at the problem or a slight variation of the problem. Over time, a class of programs, in many cases only distantly related to the starting population, evolve to solve the set problem.

This process combined with very high speed, parallel processing, is potentially very promising when it comes to the creation of machine intelligence. It mimics "the getting of wisdom" which my three year old has as his full time occupation.

I suspect that genetic algorithms will tend to solve a cluster of problems which surround programming for inductive reasoning. Induction relies upon imperfect and incomplete information. By definition. So a strategy for creating ever more inductive systems genetically would be to have a variety of programs which attempted to extrapolate from incomplete data. The selection criteria, generation to generation, would be how well the programs in the population dealt with the incompleteness. While the quality of the extrapolations might be the primary criteria for success, the speed and robustness of the programs would matter as well. Moreover, a program for general induction would have to be challenged with a variety of incomplete data sets. A program which was very good at predicting the next number in a series might be hopeless at determining the next shape in a series.

In financial modelling - where genetic algorithms have been used since the early 1990s - one of the most basic issues is that the evolution of the algoritms can mean that the modelers begin to have less and less of an idea why the program is making the predictions it is. Legally this is problematic; but it is a foreseeable outcome of virtually any genetic algorithm. The fact is that the end product of an evolutionary programming project is not predictable. What is predictable is that machine intelligence is unlikely to evolve in a way which humans would expect unless the "think like a human" constraint is part of the selection criteria. (Which, of course, is to presume that we can specify "how humans think".)

Building induction into machines is, I suspect, the first step towards something which looks like machine intelligence; what is not clear is that machine intelligence and consciousness are more than tangentially related. While I would not be at all surprised to see machines which exhibited intelligence over the next few years, I would be astonished if a machine exhibited a genuine preference for a blue over a red marble - again, something my three year old is happy to do at the slightest provocation.

Update: Strangely enough, a column by David Brooks on the vital British philosopher Michael Oakeshott catches why expert systems could not be made to work:
In his 1947 essay, "Rationalism and Politics," he distinguished between technical and practical knowledge. Technical knowledge is the sort that can be put into words and written down in books. If you pick up a cookbook, you can read about the ingredients and proportions and techniques for preparing a meal.

But an excellent cook brings some other body of knowledge to the task, which cannot be articulated. This knowledge comes from experience. It can't be taught but must be acquired through doing, by entering into the intrinsic pattern of the activity.
nyt


Update #2: David Janes is sceptical about my faith in evolutionary computing and brings expertise to bear on the actual way in which vision works in people here. He sees the role of evolutionary computing as "a useful technique, but not framework for the "solution"." I think it is a piece of the solution and, because its randomness does, to a degree, mimic nature it may be a vital technique. A good piece all round.