Sunday, December 28, 2008

Armor plating a foot thick for Force Protection Cougars?

Color me skeptical. One inch thick plates would be plenty heavy. Two inch thick plates would really be something. Eleven and three-quarter inches? That has the ring of a mistake, though both The Marine Corps Times and are reporting the same thing.

Here's betting that the real number is one and three quarters inches, though it is practically inconceivable that both publications would allow a mistake like that to pass.

You keep using that word ...

Friday, December 26, 2008

Libertarian Free Will: Is a sufficient cause sufficient?

This is not meant as an "Is the Pope Catholic" type question.

The debate over free will, encompassing the disagreements between compatibilist (free will and causal determinism are compatible) and incompatibilist positions, offers many challenges to understanding. Many of those challenges result from the difficulty of expressing our beliefs and intuitions about free will (or the lack thereof) in terms free of ambiguity.

Where ambiguity occurs in an argument, we can easily fall into a fallacy of ambiguity.

Premise 1 If Ali licks Frazier then Ali will be world champion.
Premise 2 Ali licks Frazier.
Conclusion: Ali will be world champion.

If the first premise is understood as "defeats in a pugilistic contest" and the second premise is understood as making contact with one's tongue then the argument would pass as absurd. An argument like that above is formally valid (if both premisses are true then the conclusion must be true) using one sense of the word but invalid where the senses of the word differ. We do not expect that Ali could win a world championship by tonguing Frazier.

Over the past week, I noticed a key opportunity for a fallacy of ambiguity in the free will debate.

Robert Kane's libertarian free will concept of Ultimate Responsibility calls for a free agent to supply a sufficient reason for one decision over another.

LFW critic Galen Strawson suggests that a free agent must have UR for any sufficient reason resulting in a decision, and argues that an infinite regress invariably results from the attempt.

"Sufficient reason" may drift in meaning within philosophy, and I wonder if this might be such a case.

The "Principle of Sufficient Reason" is credited to G. W. Leibniz:
But in order to proceed from mathematics to natural philosophy, another principle is required, as I have observed in Theodicy; I mean the principle of sufficient reason, namely, that nothing happens without a reason why it should be so rather than otherwise.
Philosophers have noted that Leibniz was a bit ambiguous about his PSR, and the principle remains a minority view while persisting as a controversial issue. Notably, the LFW advocate Peter van Inwagen charged that the PSR results in fatalism.

In addition to the PSR, philosophy includes the related concept of a "sufficient cause." The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy duly notes the relationship between this type of sufficiency and the concept of causal determinism.

Modal logic has a similar concept, and Norman Swartz communicates it with his typical clarity:

Definition: A condition A is said to be sufficient for a condition B, if (and only if) the truth (/existence /occurrence) [as the case may be] of A guarantees (or brings about) the truth (/existence /occurrence) of B.
This definition also seems to accord with causal determinism, for we may suppose a deterministic model in which a subject A chooses option B based on causal factors (a,b,c,d,e,f) and can take no other course of action under the circumstances. The causes acting on subject A constitute a sufficient cause for B.

The ambiguity surrounding "sufficient" jumped out as an important issue as I was reading Strawson's LFW critique "Luck Swallows Everything." Given that Strawson conspicuouly grants the possibility of indeterminacy, how can he possibly mean to insist on a sufficient reason for every step of reasoning in a LFW model? I've yet to encounter a satisfying explanation for that question.

It seems clear that since any LFW model entails incompatibilism that therefore the model cannot assume causal determinism. As such, the question "Why did A choose B?" cannot be asked consistently as though the lack of an answer disrupts the model. Any would-be reductio ad absurdum must go beyond that question in order to smash the model.

Consequently, it also seems clear that any LFW model will need room for a type of causation beyond the sufficient cause. Where identical A's might cause B or ~B (B or not-B) A cannot be a sufficient cause for either outcome without a resulting contradiction. With tongue in cheek, I propose using the term "Barely Sufficient cause" to denote cases where the same cause serves to bring about differing outcomes under the same set of conditions.

The BS cause allows discussion of freely willed indeterministic causation minus the problem of begging the question.


Commenter "Jack" at the "Philosophy, et cetera" blog also notes the causation problem:
"No matter which direction I decide to turn, S1 is a (sufficient) cause of my so deciding."


Additional reading of Kane's views on LFW have assured me that he does not think solely in terms of sufficient causes when he develops his notion of Ultimate Responsibility. Isolated passages might offer the impression that Kane's UR is compatibilist in nature, because he asserts that sufficient reason might exist for a given free will decision and outcome. That scenario is deterministic on its face, but Kane stipulates that any such sufficient reason must in turn have its explanation in an indeterministic "Self-Forming Action" under the control of the agent. The latter highlights Strawson's problem with ambiguity that I pointed out in an earlier critique. Quoting Strawson, "When you act, you do what you do, in the situation in which you find yourself, because of the way you are."

Strawson's premise lends itself to an understanding at odds with Kane's description of UR, and as a result I judge it a failure in addressing Kane's view of LFW.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Dilemma true, dilemma false? A critical issue in the free will debate

One of the most common arguments against libertarian free will consists of the suggestion that a decision that was not causally determined must therefore be random and therefore not rationally decided. Carlos J. Moya expresses the gist of the argument well:

Ultimate control involves two aspects, namely ultimacy of source and rational cum volitional control. And it would seem that this condition is incompatible with either determinism or indeterminism. Determinism may allow for rational cum volitional control, but not for ultimacy of source, for, with the possible exception of a first, uncaused cause, there are no ultimate sources or origins in a deterministic world. Indeterminism, in turn, allows for events, such as choices, that, being undetermined, can play the role of fresh, ultimate origins or causes, but now it seems that these ultimate causes cannot be under the agent’s rational cum volitional control. If these events, say choices, are explained by previously existent reasons, they can be rational but hardly ultimate causes; and if they are not so explained, they can be ultimate but not rationally controlled causes.

("Belief and Moral Responsibility")

Frankly, I don't see the dilemma. I think it rests on false assumptions.

The main false assumption involves mistaking outcomes with a probabilistic or even random distribution as owing to chance. But that does not appear to remotely follow. LFW models predict probabilistic mapping of outcomes regardless of the degree of rationality for a given decision. For example, "Cindy" might choose any of Bresler's 33 flavors in a LFW scenario. If she picks each one an equal number of times during an infinite number of trials, the random distribution does not necessarily indicate that her choices were randomly caused. There is, after all, no ontological Luck entity. It simply indicates that Cindy's desire for particular ice cream flavors at a given moment map to a random distribution. And if her decision was always for vanilla in a LFW scenario neither would it establish that her decisions were causally determined, since correlation does not establish causation.

The second false assumption involves the notion that causal determinism serves as sort of tell-tale for rationality. Certainly not that determinism equates with rationality--we see enough stupid acts every day that the determinism=rationality hypothesis would be immediately falsified. So what accounts for the view expressed by Moya and held by others that "(d)eterminism may allow for rational cum volitional control"? I believe they tend to look at outcomes judged as rational in retrospect and grade the decision as rational on that basis--but is that a legitimate method?

I don't think it is. Compatibilists tend not to see the will (that is, consciousness) as the driving force behind decisions. They describe the will as an emergent phenomenon that has its origin in some particular alignment of matter, and the emergent phenomenon is logically after the alignment of matter. Many if not most compatibilists would think it fair to say that the will is caused by matter, and on that basis I would assert that it is a step in the causal chain that might as well be absent. There is no real need for consciousness in a deterministic world made up of matter alone. Rationality, then, is judged arbitrarily after the fact rather than serving as a principled tool of the emergent consciousness. By analogy, the unconscious tree does not move the rock by employing a wedge or a lever. It simply put down a root and the rock happened to move as a result.

This tack by compatibilists and LFW skeptics tries to turn the very goal of LFW models into a liability. Once outcomes are not causally determined, the skeptic may automatically proclaim them "chance" and therefore non-rational. LFW skeptic (philosopher) Galen Strawson at least acknowledges that the consistency of causally determined outcomes serves as no escape, but that results in making "chance" irrelevant to the discussion. Once luck has swallowed everything it loses any explanatory value. We either work on dividing luck up into useful categories or discard it from a discussion in which it no longer serves a purpose. I would suggest that the sure outcomes of a given scenario repeated endless times is a useful category of luck, and equally so an indeterministic outcome of 80/20.

Moya's paper provides another handy exemplar of the skeptical argument while discussing an example of a decision according to philosopher Robert Kane's "ultimate responsibility" framework:
(I)f the agent confronts the choice with a meta-criterion, her will is not unsettled and the choice cannot be truly self-forming.
Moya's reasoning appears to dismiss the fact that there are often multiple rational ways to arrive at decisions. If the subject chooses meta-criterion A 75 percent of the time and meta-criterion B 15 percent of the time, it simply does not follow that her will is unsettled in any relevant sense. Nor does it follow that either A or B is a non-rational course of action. With that outcome distribution the decision is indeterministic by definition and the choices are appropriately judged as to rationality not according to the distribution of outcomes but based on the reasoning they represent.

The LFW skeptic is not entitled to the assumption that a probabilistic distribution of outcomes equates with a non-rational process. Let him prove the point if he requires it for his overall argument.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Agence France-Press spins Iraq

The other day I posted a story about Iraq's energy minister announcing the expectation that Iraq would produce excess power by 2011.

Now I see AFP, the French state news source, announcing that the minister said that the power grid would not be "restored" until 2011.

That's a big difference, and at the bottom line the AFP story is not justified.

Iraq has been through three major wars in the last thirty years. Before that, in the 1970s, the power grid may have been in pretty good shape. During the long years of war against Iran, the power grid suffered because Iraq poured its resources overwhelmingly into its own defense. After a few years respite, Hussein invaded Kuwait and his country suffered extensive bombing aimed at infrastructure during the Gulf War.

Operation Iraqi Freedom also targeted infrastructure to prepare for the ground invasion.

It is ridiculous to imply that the electricity infrastructure in 2002 serves as the aim for 2011. It was a mess. In addition, energy demand has gone way up since 2002.

I note that Eli Lake of The New York Sun reports the story differently, saying that Baghdad in particular will be supplied at levels that approximate pre-war electrical service. That is at least a more realistic way to report the story than did AFP.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Electric light at the end of the tunnel

MUTHANNA / Aswat al-Iraq: Iraqi Minister of Electricity Kareem Waheed on Monday said the problem of electricity will be over once and for all by the year 2011, referring to contracts signed by his ministry recently to build power stations at combined capacity of 10,200 megawatt. “The country’s actual power needs are 12,000 megawatt and by 2011 there will be an energy surplus,” Waheed told Aswat al-Iraq on the sidelines of ceremonies to inaugurate the Samawa power station at a capacity of 60 mw in the presence of in the presence of Japanese State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Seiko Hashimoto, the deputy commander of the Multi-National Force – Iraq (MNF-I) and Muthanna province officials on Monday. Samawa, the capital city of Muthanna, lies 280 km south of Baghdad. The Electricity Ministry had signed last Monday a contract to import power stations from the U.S. giant General Electric at a capacity of 7,000 megawatt and a cost of $3 billion in a bid to enhance Iraq’s power grid. Yesterday the ministry signed another contract with Siemens to build more stations at a capacity of 3,300 megawatt.
(Aswat Aliraq)
This story from an Iraqi news source (associated with Reuters) indicates two things apart from the story itself. First, the energy picture in Iraq is improving. Second, Iraq is buying stuff from the United States--and that's a good thing. A nation with excess energy might buy more stuff later on, also.

Any evidence that Iraq would have taken a path akin to this under Saddam Hussein?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Galen Strawson out of luck

Galen Strawson, philosophy professor at Oxford, wrote an essay on free will and determinism in 1998 titled “Luck Swallows Everything.” The essay offers a skeptical account of libertarian free will, including a semi-formal critique. For that critique, Strawson channels LFW skeptics, calling them “Pessimists” and sets forth a nine-part objection to LFW.

The first of the nine consists of the proposition that people act because of who they are at any given moment of decision. This first would-be premise immediately reveals a nagging problem for Strawson’s essay: His writing carries a bit too much ambiguity. If “who they are” consists of the person prior to the decision, which seems likely given the words used, then Strawson may be guilty of assuming causal determinism from the outset with respect to human decisions. If “who they are” consists of the person and their decision then the statement is acceptable, but not particularly useful on its face since it does not distinguish between differing models of decision making.

The second of the nine relates the supposed LFW claim that “ultimate responsibility” is required for moral responsibility. Again, Strawson writes somewhat ambiguously, referring to “at least in certain respects” but those certain respects are not specified. That may be the fault of LFW advocates, though philosopher Robert Kane does offer a fairly detailed description.
The idea is this: to be ultimately responsible for an action, an agent must be responsible for anything that is a sufficient reason (condition, cause, or motive) for the occurrence of the action.
(Kane, “The Oxford Handbook of Free Will,” p. 407)
The third of the nine is set as a response to the second. The Pessimist asserts that one “can’t be ultimately responsible for the way you are in any respect at all” and therefore not ultimately responsible for what one does. Note that the Pessimist has drifted from Kane’s description by requiring the agent to be ultimately responsible for anything of sufficient reason for the occurrence of the action instead of simply responsible.

The fourth of the nine attempts to justify the third. Rather than justifying any difference between Kane’s version and the Pessimist version of the requirement, however, number four simply expands on what may be a straw man: “To be ultimately responsible for the way you are, you must have somehow intentionally brought it about that you are the way you are.” Kane’s position differs from this statement, saying that the agent must be merely "responsible" at least in part. Who is right? If Kane is correct then Strawson’s Pessimists have set upon a straw man, in effect.

With the fifth of the nine steps, Strawson’s Pessimists launch into an example. We are to suppose the existence of an agent which has brought about a mental state Z for which it is ultimately responsible.

With six of nine they object to the aforementioned agent. To be ultimately responsible for state Z, “You must already have had a certain mental nature Y, in the light of which you brought it about that you now have Z,” adding that the lack of a Y leading to Z indicates no mental state and thus no means of having responsibility for Z. Proposition six is unobjectionable on its face. With step seven, though, the Pessimists again differ with Kane’s model.

Step seven claims that in order have ultimate responsibility for state Z, the agent must also have ultimate responsibility for Y. The Pessimists obviously intend to suggest the problem of an infinite regress.

Steps eight and nine confirm the prediction:
(8) You must have brought it about that you had Y.
But then
(9) you must have existed already with a prior nature, X, in the light of which you brought it about that you had Y, in the light of which you brought it about that you now have Z.

Step eight as it stands is inoffensive, since it makes no questionable presumption about “ultimate responsibility.”Step nine, however, implicitly refers back to step six. Whereas in Kane’s scenario having prior nature X may be based on causal determinism, Strawson’s framework has stipulated that one must be somehow responsible for prior nature X.

Note how Scott Hall’s paraphrase of Kane’s model contrasts with Strawson’s modeling of LFW:

One way to understand the notion of UR is to think of it in terms of control. In order to be ultimately responsible for our actions, we must be in ultimate control of our actions. To have ultimate control over our actions means that we must have at least some control over the causes that are sufficient to move us to action, or must have had control over some action in the past that is now sufficient to move us to action. We need not have control over every action in order to be responsible. Suppose, for example, someone makes a decision and she is responsible for that decision. Assume that she had at least some control over the sufficient causes that moved her to action. Suppose further that making that decision is sufficient to cause the person to make some future decision. She would still be responsible for the future decision because she was responsible for the sufficient causes of that future decision.
("Kane, Alternate Possibilities, and Ultimate Responsibility")
Hall points out that no causally determined conditions prior to the conscious action of a given actor can manifest a state of control on the part of that actor. Thus, a causally determined universe CDUa will be sufficient to cause later state CDUz. The later state is predictable based on CDUa regardless of control. Kane’s model opens up the possibility of a Ua leading to a Uz where agents possessing control provide the reasons sufficient to lead to Uz where otherwise Uz would not occur. In the latter model, contrary to the first, the initial state never provides the ability to predict the later state.

Hall’s expression of Kane’s concept helps explain where Strawson goes awry, for Strawson never indicates an awareness of the link between control and sufficient reason. For Strawson, the LFW model must account for the actor’s initial state where the actor controls the initial state. Strawson does not justify his implicit stipulation with respect to a model like Kane’s.

Strawson goes on to assert the impossibility of a “self-origination” capable of supporting LFW, then goes on to present his preceding argument in “more natural” terms.
(A) One is the way one is, initially, as a result of heredity and early experience.
Indeed, and we can even discount experience if it implies mental states.
(B) These are clearly things for which one cannot be held to be in any way responsible (this might not be true if there were reincarnation, but this would just shift the problem backwards).
Again correct, though of course Kane’s model implies nothing different if understood without the intervention of straw men.
(C) One cannot at any later stage of one’s life hope to accede to ultimate responsibility for the way one is by trying to change the way one already is as a result of heredity and experience. For one may well try to change oneself,
Strawson’s (C) relies on a change in the definition of “ultimate responsibility” as described by Kane. As a result, Strawson can hardly be taken to refute Kane. For Kane, the non-determined decisions of an agent with control may provide sufficient reason for later mental states.
but (D) both the particular way in which one is moved to try to change oneself, and the degree of one’s success in one’s attempt at change, will be determined by how one already is as a result of heredity and experience.
Much more so than Strawson’s earlier expression of his argument, (D) implies causal determinism.

Consider again Hall’s expression of the Kane model in terms of control. If we make indeterminism a part of the scenario—and given that Kane is an explicit indeterminist we can hardly do otherwise without begging the question—it does not follow that the particular way one tries to change oneself nor the degree of success for the attempt to change oneself follow (causally) from the initial mental state based on heredity and experience. If they merely follow (indeterministically) in conjunction with the control of the acting agent then Kane appears to have produced something akin to the “certain mental respects” that Strawson has declared impossible.
And (E) any further changes that one can bring about only after one has brought about certain initial changes will in turn be determined, via the initial changes, by heredity and previous experience.
With (E), Strawson just makes more explicit his assumption of causal determinism. One simply doesn’t get from Ua to Uz based on Ua without the assumption of causal determinism. Even taking “previous experience” to refer to past mental states of the LFW agent (in an attempt to read Strawson charitably) fails to rehabilitate his claims, since wherever the past mental states were under the free control of the agent we again have a manifestation of a self-caused mental state “at least in certain respects.” With the introduction of indeterminism, it simply doesn’t follow that the subsequent mental states are sufficiently caused by the prior causally determined (as implied by Strawson) mental states. Strawson acknowledges this in (F) and (G).
(F) This may not be the whole story, for it may be that some changes in the way one is are traceable to the influence of indeterministic or random factors.

But (G) it is absurd to suppose that indeterministic or random factors, for which one is ex hypothesi in no way responsible, can in themselves contribute to one’s being truly or ultimately responsible for how one is.
Note what Strawson attempts with (G): He takes the traditional assertion of LFW, that being able to do otherwise is a key to personal responsibility, and in effect asserts exactly the reverse. Let us cheerfully admit that a “random” influence would be counter to personal responsibility. We need to remember that a “random” outcome is exactly what LFW would predict, since it is simply the converse of a causally determined outcome. It appears that Strawson commits a fallacy of ambiguity, here, for he is not entitled—at least not on the basis of his explicit argumentation—to categorize intentioned “random” outcomes along with those “influenced by random factors” where the latter cannot be the responsibility of a conscious actor by definition. In short, Strawson needs to explain that particular hypothesis in a way that justifies his assertion.

With his two arguments complete, Strawson moves to summarize:
The claim, then, is not that people cannot change the way they are. They can, in certain respects (which tend to be exaggerated by North Americans and underestimated, perhaps, by members of other cultures). The claim is only that people cannot be supposed to change themselves in such a way as to be or become ultimately responsible for the way they are, and hence for their actions. One can put the point by saying that in the final analysis the way you are is, in every last detail, a matter of luck - good or bad.
As Strawson has constructed an argument filled with loopholes born of dubious assumptions, it seems to fair to suppose that he has run out of luck.

By way of explanation, if we can simply be lucky enough that our indeterministic desires consistently correlate to desired outcomes, then luck has ceased to have meaning. "Luck" transforms into a tautology explaining nothing if it supposedly explains anything and everything.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Mid-month Iraq fatality update, December 2008

Once again it is time for the mid-month fatality update in Iraq. The graph numbers concern fatalities for coalition troops only, and as always please note that the figure for December is a mid-month average of fatalities per day. Thus, the sample size is roughly half that for the other months represented.

I've started keeping track of the accuracy of these projections. Last month's projection was .03 too high, which is a very accurate result for this method. We can call it luck, even though I've been intrepid enough to call these graphs somewhat useful in developing an expectation for end-of-the-month numbers.

As for December 2008, it has been the best month so far in terms of coalition casualties. The total number of deaths was a mere four through mid-month, with half of them (both from the UK) categorized as "non-hostile."

Because coalition troops are leaving daily operations increasingly to Iraqi security forces, this number is less reflective than usual with respect to the general picture of violence in Iraq. This month has been somewhat more violent than past months thus far, and the violence has fluctuated. The first couple of days, for example, featured a rash of attacks with civilian casualties followed by several days of relative calm.

Coalition fatalities are likely to stay low, but it will be hard to match the numbers projected for coalition troops simply because non-hostile deaths have occurred regularly in Iraq. Civilian deaths figure to go up for reasons already noted, such as removal of travel barriers in Baghdad. The increase will be small if Iraqi security forces are up to the task.

"That's what happens in free societies when people try to draw attention to themselves"

Ah, the liberal media.

What's that you say? What liberal media? I'm glad you asked. The McClatchy news service reported recently on a trip to Iraq by President Bush. During a joint press conference with Bush and Prime Minister al-Maliki, an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at Bush, after which he was detained and arrested. Hitting someone with your shoe is a grave insult in Muslim culture.

The McClatchy story played up the journalist's actions as "a reminder that many Iraqis see him not as a liberator who freed them from Saddam Hussein but as an occupier who pushed their country into chaos." Objective reporting? Based on what?

Now, the above is bad enough but the part that prompted me to write was the later use of a Bush quotation. Check this out:

Bush said the shoe-throwing incident didn't faze him. He tried to laugh about it, saying, "It didn't bother me, and if you want the facts it was a size 10 shoe he threw at me."

He continued with the press conference, taking a question from an Iraqi reporter and another from an American.

"That's what happens in free societies when people try to draw attention to themselves," he said.

From the context provided in the story, it isn't especially clear what Bush is talking about when he says "That's what happens." What is "(t)hat"? The first inclination might even lead to the conclusion that Bush is talking about how people get arrested when they try to draw attention to themselves, even though it is difficult to make sense of the comment in that context minus the premise that Bush has some bizarre notion of free society. I'll be interested to see the spin on this from the left.

I found a reasonably balanced account at Editor and Publisher, noting how another journalist was the first to take down the shoe-thrower and a mass of the journalists apologized for the action.

And here is the context of Bush's statement, via

Q (Inaudible.)

PRESIDENT BUSH: So what if a guy threw a shoe at me?

Q But you are also very (inaudible) about progress -- (inaudible). Do you consider this a victory lap?

PRESIDENT BUSH: No, I consider it a important step in -- on the road toward an Iraq that can sustain itself, govern itself and defend itself.

But let me talk about the guy throwing the shoe. It is one way to gain attention. It's like going to a political rally and having people yell at you. It's like driving down the street and have people not gesturing with all five fingers. It's a way for people to, you know, draw -- I don't know what the guy's cause is. But one thing is for certain -- he caused you to ask me a question about it. I didn't feel the least bit threatened by it. These journalists here were very apologetic, they were -- said, this doesn't represent the Iraqi people. But that's what happens in free societies, where people try to draw attention to themselves. And so I guess he was effected (effective--bw), because he caused you to say something about it.

Bush's explanation is far clearer than that of those who paraphase him, at least so far.

Pulling the quotation out of context created a misleading impression. Shame on McClatchy, along with writers Adam Ashton and Mohammed al Dulaimy.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Bucs fade in Atlanta, lose 13-10 in OT

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers came to Atlanta playing better defense than they did on Monday Night Football last week, but the result was still a loss that sank the Bucs to 9-5 on the season with their playoff hopes in peril.

Atlanta played pretty well. The Bucs played OK, especially on defense and special teams by forcing turnovers, but the offense simply did not deliver near the end when it counted.

And, yes, this one is a bitter pill to swallow because it was so close and because the officiating crew once again played a key role. Atlanta defensive ends lined up clearly offside at least three times, including on the play where Bucs center Jeff Faine was called for an illegal snap on third and short. Michael Turner's touchdown run in the first half featured a key block that was also a blatant hold (I might stylize a screen shot of that one to post for posterity), and if that penalty is called it is the type of thing that might turn a touchdown into a field goal. It wasn't all one-sided, though. Tampa Bay was also allowed to line up defensively while encroaching the neutral zone. It seemed the officials could only see illegal blocking while the kicking teams were on the field.

And the game announcers were horrible again, making ridiculous mistakes while trying to come up with something to say. "Matt Ryan carries for the first down," one of the announcers says. Next minute he's affirming that the Falcons are lining up for a second-and-one play (one full yard, not a few inches or a couple of feat). And Brian Griese started out the second half just like he left off the first half--only after a three-and-out had already taken place after the break.

The most painful thing about the game ended up the failure to score a touchdown after Brian Clark's punt block. Brian Griese played decent, but you just can't give up sacks like he did in the situations he did.

I like the quarterbacks on the team pretty well, but right now it's easy to imagine that a different guy might be able to combine the best of Griese (a pretty good deep ball, when he's willing to throw and has time) and Jeff Garcia (avoids interceptions and big losses on sacks).

Blumneconomics XI: the auto industry

Robyn "Blumnata" Blumner of The St. Petersburg Times has a record when it comes to columns that deal with economic issues.

The record is not good.

This week, Blumnata pontificated about the auto industry and rendered her obeisance to Barack Obama, aka "The One." The result does nothing to improve her record.

The column starts with the sad story of an electronics plant in Tampa that is expected to close because Mexicans can do the job more cheaply. Yes it's sad that Richard Neal might lose his job to Mexicans who do it for less. But if U.S. auto makers can't compete with foreign auto makers who utilize cheap labor then the former will continue to lose market share and Neal loses his job anyway.

So immediately we have the expected tip-off that Blumner blindly favors the U.S. worker on the basis of protectionism--one of the strategies that helped hollow out the bottom of the Great Depression.
If jobs — and the creation or retention of 2.5-million of them — is a major plank of an incoming Obama administration, then preventing good manufacturing jobs from leaking to other countries should be front and center.
Look, can't the man just finish his waffle?

Obama truly has his hands full with economic policy. His tax policies promised to tie up capital, so he promptly waffled on them in light of current economic conditions. Obama wants to increase corporate taxes--exactly the sort of thing that makes taking operations overseas more attractive. If he knows what he's doing then he can't make good on certain major planks, and I look forward to Blumner's reaction when the realization hits.

After another paragraph or two of Bush-bashing, Blumner prostrates herself again on the prayer rug:
But Barack Obama isn't so blithe toward this hemorrhaging of decent, middle-class jobs. In his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Obama vowed to: "Stop giving tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas" and "start giving them to companies that create good jobs right here in America." It was a campaign theme, but there hasn't been much meat on those bones as yet.
I'm not sure how much meat Blumner expects before January. It will take a substantial tax break to keep Detroit's Big Three competitive in the automaking world in addition to loan money unless the companies are allowed to compete on something resembling equal footing with foreign auto makers. I'd expect Blumner to howl in protest about corporate tax breaks or bailout money. Perhaps it's different if Obama does it as opposed to Bush. Perhaps the idea is for the tax breaks to get passed on to auto workers in the form of higher wages (which is in effect a federal subsidy of auto workers).
What I would like to see is a little good old-fashioned American job protection built into these massive bailouts we taxpayers are funding.
There it is in black and white. Blumnata thinks that protectionism is good. While there might be particular instances in which protectionism serves a useful purpose, the general idea of protectionism if flatly stupid during an international recession. It primarily accomplishes a reduction in the benefits nations receive from trade. And it wouldn't surprise me at all if Blumner knew absolutely nothing about the basic economics of guns and butter.

Bottom line: This leftish cheerleader wants policies that will worsen the economy.

And somebody lets her write a column at a major daily newspaper.

But let us return to the blather:
How about a new twist on the Buy American Act? That Depression-era legislation — now loophole ridden — requires that U.S.-produced products get preference when federal funds are expended.
Apparently it never dawned on Blumñata that the legislation occurring during the Great Depression was more than a coincidence. The protectionist policies of the Great Depression were begun under Herbert Hoover (Hawley-Smoot) and generally continued under Franklin Roosevelt. Unemployment never dipped below 14 percent under Roosevelt until World War II.

Talk about viewing the past through rose-colored glasses.

You want taxpayer money? Then don't buy additional parts from a factory built right over the border for the sole purpose of paying workers one-sixth what an American would make.

Yet, when Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, pointedly asked the CEOs of the Big Three if they would agree, going forward, not to purchase foreign-made auto supplies at levels any greater than before a rescue, they all refused.

The explanation is simple: They aren't that stupid.
Economic upheavals are times of terrible dislocation, but they also present opportunities. We know what happens when government's sole concern is the protection of capital and its free flow — we're living it. Now the pendulum has to swing back to where labor interests and job protection become part of the policy equation.
Labor Unions enjoyed considerable influence during the Depression years, as did protectionist policies. We don't want the pendulum to swing back to double-digit unemployment, do we?

If The St. Petersburg Times editorial board weren't the ideological equivalent of the Biodome (self-contained and free of outside contamination) then maybe somebody could stop Blumner from wearing her economic ignorance on her sleeve.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Navistar wins another order for MaxxPro Dash

Navistar International continues to establish an impressive record in vying for armored vehicle contracts. Up through the summer of '08 the company was a close second to BAE Systems (maker of the RG-33 and the Caiman).

Navistar's initiative in developing the lighter MaxxPro Dash paid off with an order for 822 of the vehicles. On Dec. 11 the military ordered another 400. Since this order is for roughly the same number of vehicles ordered from BAE in March earlier this year, Navistar has overtaken BAE in that department.

They're doing something right at Navistar.

Free will and determinism

For a long time the issue of free will and determinism has remained one of my favorite philosophical subjects. I greatly enjoy debating the issue.

I never accepted the arguments put forth in favor of a lack of human freedom based on foreknowledge, and over time I've learned to express those objections effectively, with a considerable debt to philosopher Norman Swartz.

So why write on a topic that most find as dry as moon dust?

I've written quite a bit on the topic, but it's spread all over the Internet. One post I produced for the CFI discussion forum summarized my argument in fairly tidy (formal) form.

The argument tries to address the contention that Libertarian Free Will is incoherent, along with the suggestion that free will is lost since we cannot change what we have done. The definition that leads off the post illustrates the bankruptcy of those arguments. "J" represents one making a choice and X represents an option. The symbol "~" means "not," so option "~X" represents any option or option that is not X.

LFW: J at time t is able to select X xor ~X, where the selection correlates to J’s intentions.

“Select” will be taken to automatically correlate with J’s intentions in the examples below.

Note: It may be argued that more is required to create a thorough distinction between LFW and CFW. I’ll consider that issue negotiable depending on the objections, but meanwhile I would argue that the ability to select X xor ~X is sufficient to distinguish the two while the correlation with intention suffices to equal CFW notions of control.

Remember that “xor” means one or the other but not both.

If J at time t is able to select X but not ~X, then J’s behavior is identical with causally determined behavior.

Behavior identical with causally determined behavior is causally determined behavior (principle of identity).

If J at time t is able to select X but not ~X, then J’s behavior is causally determined.

If J at time t is able to select X xor ~X, then LFW is possibly true in the example.

If J at time t is able to select X xor ~X is possibly true in the example, then causal determinism is not assumed in the example.
If J at time t is able to select X xor ~X is not possibly true in the example, then causal determinism is assumed in the example.

If J at time t is able to select X xor ~X, then X and ~X are accessible options at t.
If J at time t is able to select X xor ~X and J selects X, then ~X is an accessible option at t.
If J at time t is able to select X xor ~X and P selects ~X, then X is an accessible option at t.
If J at time t is able to select X xor ~X and P selects X xor ~X at t, then X and ~X are accessible options at t.

If one has understood the above statements, it should be clear that selecting one option over another does not inherently result in the inaccessibility nor impossibility of the option not selected.

Possible worlds representation

p(J selects X at t) and p(J selects ~X at t)
that is, worlds X and ~X could possibly exist, though the instantiation (actuality) of either is contingent on the selection of p at t. Causal determinism is not assumed, LFW is assumed for the sake of argument.

If J selects X at t then a(J selects X at t) is also p(J selects X at t)
(possibility is a necessary precondition of actuality, nothing impossible is actual; everything actual is also possible)

If J selects ~X at t then a(J selects ~X at t) is also p(J selects X at t).

In other words, if (possible world X) is actual then (possible world X) is both possible and actual.
It should go without saying that if possible world ~X is possible at t (necessary to avoid assuming causal determinism), then the possible world ~X remains possible at t even if possible world X is actual. The modal fallacy tends to lead to a misunderstanding of this point, as “possible” is misunderstood as “might in fact be the actual world” instead of merely understood as the definition of “possible” (could be actual). People mistakenly conclude that if X is actual then ~X is not possible.

Following the above, if J at time t selects X where J at time t is able to select X xor ~X, J has fulfilled all the reasonable expectations of a LFW choice. Nothing inherent in the selection process itself subtracts from LFW unless we count the prior assumption of causal determinism. Which would be cheating.

The argument is edited slightly from its original form to omit reference to those making opposing arguments on the CFI message board. I also finished changing each "X" to an "A"--something I thought I'd already done!

Criticism is welcome, and a visit to Norman Swartz's philosophy notes should help clear up questions about necessary, possible and actual worlds.

Friday, December 12, 2008

M-ATV dangling five test-vehicle contracts

Via Army Times:
The Monday request for proposals (RfP) indicates that contractors will be required to service and repair the MRAP All Terrain Vehicles (M-ATV) in theater to a greater degree than previous vehicle contracts have mandated. Builders will have to provide “battle damage repair” packages of parts that can repair 25 vehicles battered by roadside bombs and similar threats, and “sustainment support” packages of enough consumables, parts, and major subassemblies to keep 2,000 vehicles running for two years, the request said.
The story indicates that the weight of the M-ATV will be only about two tons less than the MRAP, and draws the reasonable inference that M-ATV will not serve as a replacement for the JLTV program.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The best way to respond to American "occupiers"?

I'm often struck by the stance of writers who blame the United States for deaths due to violence in Iraq. I point out again and again that insurgents are picking civilian targets. How does that supposedly strike a blow against the occupiers?

Perhaps the most plausible answer that makes the connection is that the insurgents strike at those who cooperate with Americans. But as often as not, maintaining that view requires some imagination.
KIRKUK / Aswat al-Iraq: Casualties from the explosion that ripped through northern Kirkuk city earlier today have increased further, reaching 47 dead and 100 wounded persons, according to a local police source. “A suicide bomber blew himself up inside a restaurant in northern Kirkuk, killing 47 persons and wounding 100 others,” the source told Aswat al-Iraq.
(Aswat Aliraq)
A later story suggested that the attack targeted Huweija council members.

I haven't found much background on "Huweija council." I would hazard a guess that it has to do with local security, perhaps as part of a local "Awakening" movement.

Just put the civilians caught in the blast down on the Americans' tab? It makes little sense to me.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Michael Martin and atheist ethics

The other day I spend considerable time in a bookstore. Atheist philosopher Michael Martin's "Atheism, Morality, and Meaning" was among the books I browsed, since as an amateur philosopher I'm quite interested in atheistic justifications for morality.

Martin's attempt to establish an objective system of morality made me laugh out loud. I was enthusiastic about writing my reaction to it, but it comes as little surprise that my thunder was stolen well in advance. Skeptic (I'm not sure if he currently counts himself strong/weak atheist or agnostic) Jeffrey Jay Lowder had a review posted at Internet Infidels that closely matched my impression.

A representative excerpt:
One doesn't have to be a philosopher in order to recognize that when Martin describes the "Ideal Observer," many people will think "God." Indeed, this is precisely what we find in the secondary literature. Many commentators on the IOT in general--and Martin's acceptance of it in particular--have remarked that the Ideal Observer (IO) sounds like another name for God.[16] In reply to such worries, Martin states, "the Ideal Observer is hypothetical--it does not exist" (p. 86). While this may be the case,[17] there does seem to be a certain oddity about an atheist affirming a moral theory based upon the reactions of a nonexistent person who is omniscient with respect to nonethical facts. Moreover, it seems to me Martin's reply simply trades one problem for a group of other problems. If the IOT is properly understood as being founded on the feelings of a nonexistent being, then such a view seems dubious.
Lowder goes on to mention three objections to Martin's IOT. The first completely matches a criticism I have made of some would-be atheistic objective moral systems. For while it is perfectly possible for an objective morality to exist in a godless universe, the proponent of such a view is saddled with a huge epistemic problem. That is, how does one know what is moral and what isn't even if the objective morality exists? Why should the mindless universe bother sharing that information with anyone, and why should we expect sentient beings to have any accurate perception of it?

Jeffrey Jay Lowder impressed me by acknowledging these problems while offering a strong critique of Martin's book.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Blagojevich arrested on corruption charges (Updated)

Another of Barack Obama's political pals has been pulled into the vortex of a corruption investigation and pending prosecution, namely Gov. Rod Blagojevich of Illinois.

The charges, as Scott Johnson of Power Line points out, are indeed mind-boggling in light of the recent focus on Blagojevich during Tony Rezko's trial Blagojevich is accused of trying to profit by naming Barack Obama's successor to the United States Senate.

With Michelle Malkin using the story to play "Name that Party," I decided to check it out at The St. Petersburg Times.

A the Times, it's "Find that Story" instead of "Name that Party."

Evidently a story about the governor of a distant state is not news in Florida, even if that governor is closely associated with Barack Obama (that president guy).
(See update below)

It's always hard to be absolutely sure whether a recent story appeared in the Times or not, however, since their in-house online search features are so pathetic. Certainly nothing about it appears on the list of stories for the day, and searching for "Blagojevich" brought up nothing related.

If the story never appears, then the Times can avoid that potentially embarrassing "Name that Party" stuff.


Shortly after I posted, I was able to locate the story at the Times' Web site by using the tabs near the top of the page (which incidentally helps confirm the worthlessness of the search feature). On the other hand, the Times simply provides material hosted by the Associated Press, so any updates done by the AP will automatically appear when the Times channels the AP content through their Web site. There's no reason for the Times to include the AP site in its searches, I suppose.

As for "Name that Party," the mention of party affiliation occurs in the third paragraph:
A 76-page FBI affidavit said the 51-year-old Democratic governor was intercepted on court-authorized wiretaps over the last month conspiring to sell or trade the vacant Senate seat for personal benefits for himself and his wife, Patti.

Stinkin' Panthers wallop Bucs on MNF

It's no secret. I hate the Panthers.

Carolina is the silver spoon expansion team in a group of dues-payers in the NFC South. Each of the other teams had an extended opportunity to play under the old expansion rules, rules that helped ensure that an expansion team was a long shot to achieve any type of NFL success.

Plus the Panther have proved a tough opponent for the Bucs. That fuels an excellent rivalry in which hatred of the other team has its place.

So this past Monday Night Football game does not sit well with me.

Carolina ran the ball extremely well against the Bucs. Yes, they were guilty of holding except in the eyes of the game officials, but that doesn't explain a game in which the Bucs gave up over 300 yards on the ground. Forced one punt. Allowed a third down conversion percentage that could pass for a respectable free throw average in the NBA.

The bottom line, as I see it: The teams are fairly evenly matched, as evidenced by a tight first half. Carolina's running backs are both very good, which led to an uncharacteristically poor tackling effort by Tampa Bay's defense. On offense the Bucs were able to move the ball and score reasonably well, except the running game was too inconsistent and too many passes were errant or dropped.

So a hat tip to the hated Carolina Panthers. You played better and earned the win.

And now a note on the officiating. You guys stunk. You had a terrible time marking the ball accurately, as the ESPN commentators noted on a number of occasion. You allowed Carolina to line up in the neutral zone almost as though the game was in Minnesota and you thought the Panthers were the Vikings. You changed the outcome of the game, though it's hard to know that Carolina needed any help with their offense humming like it did. Still, a holding penalty makes a big difference now and then. Just call it the same for both teams.

Oh, and one more thing. I support the illegal contact call against Ronde Barber. He stiff-armed Steve Smith off his route. That was a good call, and the announcers weren't clear enough in giving you credit after they saw the second replay. But that doesn't make up for calling Antonio Bryant down outside the two when he actually made it inside the one.

Next up, the Atlanta Falcons. This will be a good time to bounce back from a bad game.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Criswell predicts: Sanders to help forge progressive Mississippi

I stumbled across my long-lost copy of "Criswell Predicts" yesterday (it's easy to misplace a book amongst the thousands around here). Thus I start again on the long-neglected formerly regular feature where we examine various predictions made by The Amazing Criswell.

I predict that the riots of the long hot summers of 1966 and 1967 will not abate during the next five years (...).
I predict (...) the emergence of a powerful Negro leader named Sanders, who will appear in 1972.
Mississipi will become a model state--the most progressive in America, with the finest industry, schools, and hospitals.
(--The Amazing Criswell, from "Criswell Predicts," 1968)
Predictions like this set from Criswell's book make me think that the line from the Criswell character in the film "Ed Wood" was true to life. When director Wood asks Criswell how he knows a prediction he just made about Bela Lugosi will occur, Criswell cheerfully replies "It's b***s***. I made it up."

Too harsh a summary? Should I do an in-depth analysis of riot reports from the period in question? Theorize that Colonel Sanders was part black and appeared on the Mississippi scene in 1972? Reassure everyone that Mississippi may yet pace the nation with its industry and schools?

You have to admire a futurist who includes such detail in his predictions.

I was going to say that Criswell puts Nostradamus to shame, but this site has the latter making predictions about nuclear bombs. That's fairly impressive for a guy who made his predictions in the 16th century!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Blumneconomics X: Rehash

Robyn "Blumñata" Blumner's latest column essentially represents a repeat of her Nov. 2 column (see "Blumneconomics IX: election version").

She still provides no acknowledgment of the government's regulatory role in causing the housing bubble (forcing lower lending standards on banks). With a blind eye to one of the key causes of the sub-prime market meltdown, she apparently feels perfectly fine about recommending even more government regulation to fix what the government helped break in the first place. Where does it end? Total government control of the economy? Haven't we even started to learn that centralized control of the economy is a bad thing? Simply note the failure of a long line of Communist economies prior to Chinese experiments in capitalism.

Though Blumner has historically stopped short of opposing the government's "bailout" plan, she takes every opportunity to whine about its impact on the little guy/gal.

How is it that you got the very economists who wrote Ph.D. theses titled, Government Must Never, Ever Act To Head Off Any Financial Bubble, to suddenly demand blank government checks for all the Too Bigs, when your bubble burst?

In the Too Small world this is all beyond our ken.

Overlooking the lie (the government is purchasing shares in banks after initially proposing to buy up bad loans that held the potential for handsome returns well down the line, not simply giving the lenders money), it should be easy to see how the government was convinced to back the lenders: The economy will suffer badly, and the little guy/gal along with it, if credit gets frozen. The banks can only lend money if they have money to lend, and little guy/gal needs to borrow money for big ticket items. Even an editorial columnist with a lawyerly past might be expected to see that.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Hinderaker zings Congress

John Hinderaker, writing at Power Line, produced a delightful zinger aimed at Congress in the wake of their reception of representatives of the Big Three:
Congress has not taken anywhere near enough abuse for treating automobile company executives as morons because their expenses exceed their revenues. In truth, the auto companies made exactly the same mistake Congress did: they failed to anticipate the costs of the pension and health care benefits that they agreed to pay their retired workers.
That will leave a mark, albeit many in Congress are too numb above the neck to take much notice.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Quote of the Day

I don't really have a "Quote of the Day" feature, as the regular reader is no doubt aware.

But I ran across a quotation at the Center for Inquiry message board that somebody else crowned the quote of the day and I found reason to agree.

The conversation surrounded the Obama administration and the political character of its actions present and future. "Chris Crawford" contributed the following:
Despair not: a smart man with a smart team is automatically well to the left of the American public.
(bold emphasis added)
I don't recall any more outstanding example of liberal bumper-sticker wisdom couched in terms so easy to mistake for elitism. So much so that it reminded me of my very favorite Barack Obama campaign poster.

Granted, the poster was not created by the Obama campaign itself. At least not so far as I am aware.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Another Clintonian nugget from Obama

Barack Obama channels Bill Clinton with respect to Hillary Clinton. Joan Vennochi at sums it up succinctly:
During their showdown, he said, "What exactly is this foreign policy expertise? Was she negotiating treaties? Was she handling crises? The answer is no." Now he calls her "an American of tremendous stature who will have my complete confidence, who knows many of the world's leaders, who will command respect in her capital and who will clearly have the ability to advance our interests around the world."
While I agree with pundits who see Obama's appointments as a type of comfort for conservatives since it could have been so much worse, the appointments really do not mean much until it comes time to implement executive policy. Obama claims that he will set the policy, and his staff will apparently dutifully implement his wishes. While that remains to be seen, the one thing we can dependably learn about Obama is through comparison of his rhetoric with his actions.

Sen. Clinton has no real qualifications in terms of foreign policy, as per (campaign) Obama? No problem. Post-campaign Obama will appoint her Secretary of State and express the highest confidence in her abilities.

There is at least one way to reconcile the statements such that Obama isn't reasonably viewed as having a forked silver tongue on a par with Slick Willy's. Sen. Clinton, in spite of her lack of experience, can perform brilliantly in the office of Secretary of State by obeying the string-pulling of Obama.

That reading somewhat ignores Obama's notable lack of foreign policy experience, of course.

We'll see what January holds.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

India poised to cause more terrorism

Pardon the facetious headline, inspired by Robyn Blumner's apparent belief that the ill treatment of Gitmo detainees encourages terrorism.
Police hope to discover whether gunman Azam Amir Kasab came from Pakistan through the use of "narcoanalysis" – a practise banned in most democracies.
(The Times/UK)
Assuming that the use truth serum is viewed as ill treatment, this act by India should result in a number of violent terrorist attacks using the Blumner Rule Of Proportional Terrorism. Giving detainee treatment at Gitmo a baseline rating of 10, I figure that using truth serum on the Mumbai survivor rates at least a 4.

I'll have to drop Ms. Blumner a note and ask how we should rate the publication of cartoons disrespectful to Islam.

Another dispatch from Michael Yon applied to military hardware

Independent reporter Michael Yon, who may have spent more time embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan combined than any other reporter, has a new dispatch at his Web site.

The story deals with the means of wrapping up a winning war. Since my blog deals somewhat in armored vehicles and the like, I drew out a couple of paragraphs on that topic.

And so we rolled out of FOB Falcon in those giant MRAPs. It seems that most of the seriously experienced combat soldiers do not like MRAPs. Yes, MRAPs are great for the main roads and convoys, but they are too big and too cumbersome, and they get stuck in mud that you could peddle (sic) a bicycle through. MRAPs are not offensive vehicles.

(

Yon has also heartily praised the Stryker vehicle. I find his views at an interesting variance with those of Richard North, who writes the "Defence of the Realm" blog. North misses few opportunities to criticize British acquisition of vehicles that inadequately protect the occupants. But as Yon notes, thoroughly protected vehicles create a catch-22 situation. To carry that armor, the truck must stay on a good road. And the enemy will focus its IEDs on the good road as a result.

In light of this reality, I find it hard to question the UK order for Navistar utility trucks that do not feature a V-shaped hull. Even for non-combat vehicles, mobility counts no less than armor protections because it provides the means for potentially avoiding IED attacks instead of simply resisting them.

The eventual solution, I suppose, will involve equipping armies with a variety of vehicles. Some will feature heavy armor to take on the booby-trapped areas that simply cannot be avoided. Others will maximize mobility while taking advantage of any protections that do not significantly detract from strategic mobility.

No doubt the above represents the thinking behind the JLTV program. Come up with a family of vehicles that will fill all the needed roles beyond those that require a heavily armored truck like the Buffalo. For maximal mobility, use the base version. For areas thick with IED threats, use appropriate add-ons.

I think the Brits may have missed the boat by skipping out on the JLTV approach.

Time: Shiites think Obama is one of them

It's not just right-wing kooks in Middle America who believe Barack Obama is secretly a Muslim: conspiracy theorists across the Middle East have embraced the idea with the same fervor they bring to other bizarre notions. I am not a bit surprised when, later in the conversation, Mohammed assures me that Israel was responsible for the 9/11 attacks and that Saudi Arabia had agreed to bail out the U.S. economy in exchange for an American invasion of Iran.
Perhaps he also thinks the moon landings were faked.

Is the a testament to the effectiveness of the right-wing attack machine, or simply a reminder that people tend to believe some odd things?

Iraq violence update, December 2008

November proved a stable month in Iraq, though December is off to a rocky start. Hostile fatalities for coalition troops remained the same as last month, with non-hostile deaths up slightly.

I finally found a graphics tool to allow correction of the distortion I was getting with pasted Excel graph images. It takes a bit of time, since the process requires recreation of the image pretty much from scratch. But I'm satisfied with the initial results.

Casualties among Iraqi civilians and security forces are up slightly for November. Even taking three month averages together to smooth out the bumps a bit reveals a slight increase in the fatality trend, which is perhaps confirmed by the spate of violence that kicked off December. A message from insurgents to Barack Obama, reminding him to conduct a rapid withdrawal? That's hard to say, since a number of factors have simply made it easier for attacks to take place. First, Iraqi security is handling more and more security duties. Second, concrete barriers erected as part of the surge strategy have been removed in some areas, making it easier to employ car bombs and the like.

The story remains the same. Iraq has been won, but not irrevocably.