Sunday, February 28, 2010

Econbrowser has an interesting post on media slant. It highlights a new study by University of Chicago professors Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro that utilizes a new method of measuring media bias, where they analyze the congressional record for phrases preferred by members of each party. They then analyze the reporting by a number of newspapers, looking for the likelihood of using partisan phrases. The paper focuses on explaining slant, noting that paper slant reflects that of it's audience, and not of its owner. Perhaps the most interesting result though, is the magnitude highlighted by their methodology. Of the papers surveyed, only one, the Daily Oklahoman, showed a Republican bias. Neigher the WSJ nor the Washington leaned Republican by this measure.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Some corrections on food production myths:
Lie#1: Meat production wastes crop resources by requiring 16 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of meat. Fact: That estimate assumes beef cattle are fed grain completely from birth to market weight when in reality an average of 2.6 pounds of grain is used to produce 1 pound of meat in developed countries and 0.3 pound of grain in developing countries.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Sunday, February 21, 2010

An ugly American environmentalist.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Mark Bowden on the dark art of Interrogation.
Steve Coll discusses the ongoing offensive in Marja the Taliban's strategic withdrawal:
Of course, in the name of counterinsurgency strategy, the American commander, General Stanley McChrystal, deliberately encouraged the Taliban to withdraw by publicly signaling his plans. If the bulk of the Taliban pulled out before the Marines arrived, the thinking went, that would reduce casualties and damage to civilian property during the seizure of Marja..

I think that he has it wrong here. The reason that this offensive was so widely announced ahead of time, was to make coalition successes, and the Afghan government's presence, seem inevitable. He continues:
I’m no military strategist, but it remains unclear to me why surging U.S. forces continue to invest their efforts and their numbers so heavily in Helmand. The axis of Taliban power, guerrilla infiltration, and money flows in southern Afghanistan lies somewhat to the East, along the routes between Kandahar and the Pakistani cities of Quetta and Karachi, which serve as sanctuaries for senior Taliban leadership.

An essential part of a clear and hold strategy is, well, the hold part. The current Afghan government is in no shape to go into the heart of Taliban country and provide an accepted, stable government. Meanwhile, the concept of strategic withdrawal only works if your opponent is unable to maintain the objective over the long term. The offensive in Marja, while about connecting Kabul with the western part of the country, is as much about achieving successes on the hold part of the operation. Fundamental war-fighting strategy says to go after your opponents centers of gravity. For conventional warfare this may be his capital or his logistics network. But an insurgent's center of gravity is the people. Marja is a far more realistic objective for the classical nation-building part of a counterinsurgency strategy. What General McChrystal is doing is announcing his intentions ahead of time, achieving his objectives, and making the success of the government look like an inevitability. This weighs on the minds of the local populations far more than the success of any individual offensive.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Is al Qaeda Bankrupt?
Jared Diamond on why democracy doesn't exist in the Arab world (pdf):
If the problem is not economic level, maybe it is economic structure. Of the sixteen Arab countries, eleven are “rentier” states in the sense that they depend heavily on oil and gas rents (in essence, unearned in- come) to keep their states afloat. These eleven states derive more than 70 percent (in some cases more than 90 percent) of their export earn- ings from oil and gas. Most are so awash in cash that they do not need to tax their own citizens. And that is part of the problem—they fail to develop the organic expectations of accountability that emerge when states make citizens pay taxes...

Oil states are not merely big—they are heavily centralized too, since oil wealth accrues to the central state. They are usually also intensely policed, since there is plenty of money to lavish on a huge and active state-security apparatus. They are profoundly corrupt, because the money pours into central-state coffers as rents, and it is really “no- body’s money” (certainly no one’s tax money), so it is—in a warped normative sense—“free” for the taking. In these systems, the state is large, centralized, and repressive. It may support any number of bloated bureaucracies as de facto jobs programs meant to buy political peace with government paychecks. Civil society is weak and coopted. And what passes for the market economy is severely distorted. Real entre- preneurship is scarcely evident, since most people in “business” service the state or its oil sector, or otherwise feed off government contracts or represent foreign companies.

A very tempting analysis, but how does it explain those Arab countries which have no oil wealth, yet still remain highly autocratic (Egypt, Jordan or Morocco)?
Since 1975, U.S. “development” assistance to Egypt has totaled more than $28 billion, not including the nearly $50 billion that has flowed to that country in uncondi- tional military aid since the 1978 Camp David Peace Accords. Less well known is the huge flow of U.S. economic and military aid to the much less populous state of Jordan, which has taken in an average of $650 million per year since 2001. “Western aid makes possible the regime’s key politi- cal strategy of spending massively on public jobs without imposing steep taxes. From 2001 through 2006, the foreign assistance that Jordan raked in accounted for 27 percent of all domestic revenues.”21

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Jim Hoagland at the Washington Post:
But they also detect an air of ambivalence blowing their way from Washington -- and are reacting by hedging against a quick U.S. pullout from Afghanistan that would bring greater U.S. reliance on China and Pakistan, at India's expense.

Romanced by the Bush administration to balance China's inexorable rise in military and economic power, India finds itself out of sync with the Obama administration on some key issues. There is no open conflict. But neither is there the air of excitement and innovation about the U.S. relationship that I found on my last trip here 18 months ago.

The Power Line Blog, in attempting to read into this, provides this possible defense:
There are, to be sure, less damning explanations. Obama likely sees a need to stay on Pakistan's good side for purposes of the war on terror.

But, this remains highly unconvincing. There has been a significant de-escalation in India-Pakistan relations in recent years, largely because of the Bush administration's very significant focus on India. The US pressure on India to back down allowed Pakistan to redeploy a significant number of troops from their eastern, Indian borders, to the northwest. But, the current administration, which loudly touted the benefits of engagement before coming into office, seems surprisingly reluctant to engage with countries that might actually prove useful.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Megan McArdle:

[T]he entire private financial industry bailout is ultimately expected to cost less than $30 billion; of the $99 billion that the CBO expects we will ultimately lose on TARP, half of the loss comes not from helping the "banksters", but from the Obama administration's decision to bail out the automakers...

By contrast, the nationalization of [Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac] is expected to cost the Federal government $64 billion between 2011 and 2020, on top of the $110 billion we've already spent.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The racist roots of gun control.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I have always been struck by the phrase "network neutrality", and how Orwellian it really sounds. Network neutrality is the concept that ISPs should be prevented from prioritizing some traffic over that of others on their networks. Sounds good, right? Ars Technica has an article today that unwittingly shows how horrendous of an idea it really is:
Such caps are common around the world, but Australian ISPs take the idea one step further by setting up partnerships with entertainment services and music download companies. Any data usage directed at one of these favored services doesn't count against the monthly bandwidth cap...

Part of Australia's problem is that many desirable websites exist outside the country (often in the US or Europe), and transit costs over trans-Pacific cables can quickly become ruinous. Obviously, there are neutral [sic] ways to handle this situation. Straight data caps (with no exemption for partnered services) would be one. Another might be the model seen in South Africa, where ISP Imagine faces the same issue and solves it by offering a two-tier cap: the first 2GB of data can be national or international; after that, the remaining 28GB of data on a 30GB/month plan must all be national. International traffic is hardcapped.

As a consumer, I have no clue how the supposedly "neutral" alternative of blanket caps and the accompanying extravagant overage charges are in any way preferable to the idea of setting up partnerships with content providers who can serve data locally. The article states that the Australian service iiNet has a partnership with the iTunes Music Store, who presumably serves data locally in Australia, yet still provides full access to Apple competitors such as YouTube, Hulu or Netflix. This seems to be an elegant solution to a very expensive network engineering problem.

But the underlying point here has very little to do with Australia. Net neutrality activists in the US are looking to implement, for the first time ever, significant government regulation of the internet. The proposed regulations are aimed explicitly at restricting network operators' abilities to manage their networks. From bandwidth shaping on shared links to port 25 blocking to prevent spam, the "filtering" of content is an important service ISPs provide to minimize costs and improve the level of service to consumers. Getting the FCC involved in how companies manage their own networks will only slow the rate of innovation for internet providers.

The real story of network neutrality is that it would take many of the decisions of network design and move them to bureaucrats and lobbyists in Washington. What is happening here is that many upstream providers, such as Google, want to be able to restrict local ISPs ability to provide services that may have superior performance, like AT&T's U-verse. Do we really want politicians deciding what service is superior, YouTube or U-Verse? Such an idea is silly. As silly as the notion that AT&T would be able to sell a service that blocks access to YouTube.

In the past, there has been much discussion of municipal monopolies on telecoms services. In the old days of cable and telephone, that was somewhat true. But in recent years, this area has become increasingly competitive. Between cable, DSL, FTTP, 3G and upcoming WiMax services, consumers have ever increasing options for internet access. The last thing we need to do now is to saddle this industry with heavy regulation. With Obama proclaiming recently that he is a "big believer in net neutrality", this will likely be the single most significant expansion of government regulation in recent memory. Getting politicians and lobbyists involved in picking technological winners and losers is hardly a neutral position.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Hitchens on North Korea's racist ideology. He links a good snapshot of the result:
Foreign Policy points out that Ciudad Juarez notwithstanding, the crime rate in Mexico isn't nearly as out of control as news reports over the last year have made it out to be.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Patrick Keefe over at Wired's Danger Room makes a very interesting point about the recent successes of the DEA. In the past few years, the agency as brought to justice two arms traffikers, Monzer al-Kassar and Viktor Bout. He also makes the claim that in certain countries the DEA has larger networks of informants that the CIA, an argument that seems logical on reflection. This shows a somewhat surprising effectiveness against transnational criminal organizations that have only passing involvement with traditional drug enforcement, which yields interesting implications for counter-terror policy.
Michael Totten has a good overview of the options with Syria, and Israel's recent threat of regime change:
There are good reasons to feel squeamish about the aftermath of regime change, whether it comes at the hands of Israelis or not. The same sectarian monster that stalks Lebanon and Iraq lives just under the floorboards in Syria. The majority of Syria’s people are Sunni Arabs, but 30 percent or so are Christians, Druze, Alawites, or Kurds. Assad himself is an Alawite, as are most of the elite in the ruling Baath Party, the secret police, and the military. Their very survival depends on keeping Syria’s sectarianism suppressed. The country could easily come apart without Assad’s government enforcing domestic peace at the point of a gun. This is a serious problem...

I’d love to see Assad get his just desserts after what he’s done to his neighbors and his countrymen. It will be terrific if his Arab Socialist Baath Party regime is replaced with something more moderate and civilized. The odds of a smooth transition and a happy ending, though, are not great. Syria has no grassroots movement demanding democratic change right now as Iran does. The Israelis are right to be cautious.

But they’re also right to threaten to pull Assad’s plug if he doesn’t back off. He’s a lot less likely even to start the next war if he knows he’ll be held accountable. The fact that he can suppress sectarian violence at home isn’t worth much if he won’t stop exporting it everywhere else.
The New York Times hits the nail right on the head:
Recycling may be the most wasteful activity in modern America: a waste of time and money, a waste of human and natural resources...

We're a wicked throwaway society. Plastic packaging and fast-food containers may seem wasteful, but they actually save resources and reduce trash. The typical household in Mexico City buys fewer packaged goods than an American household, but it produces one-third more garbage, chiefly because Mexicans buy fresh foods in bulk and throw away large portions that are unused, spoiled or stale. Those apples in Dittersdorf's slide, protected by plastic wrap and foam, are less likely to spoil. The lightweight plastic packaging requires much less energy to manufacture and transport than traditional alternatives like cardboard or paper. Food companies have switched to plastic packaging because they make money by using resources efficiently. A typical McDonald's discards less than two ounces of garbage for each customer served -- less than what's generated by a typical meal at home.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The FP Passport blog reports that Islamic militias and piracy in Somalia are linked. I'm not sure why they think this is an odd idea, as militant ideological movements have regularly been quick to sacrifice their values in attempts to grab power. It is not a good idea to romanticize these groups.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I'm not sure what the Egyptians did to turn Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, but his recent contributions can't be understated.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Pakistan Offers to Train Afghan Soldiers. This may be significant, as it is important to get Pakistani buy-in for the current Afghan regime.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Copyright © Swing Right Rudie
A notebook to myself