Wednesday, February 26, 2003

At the IETF, I officially work on authoring and instant messaging protocols. I've also been getting interested in some of the more general notification (including instant messaging and presence notification) architecture challenges. Instant messaging and presence are so useful in themselves that people are willing to have an account on a buddy list server, start a separate client and hold open a connection to the server. However, there are many other kinds of notifications users might be interested in getting on their computer or on various devices, and it's not going to be feasible to do them all with new client software, new protocols, new servers and services, and still be managable.
I have finally documented some of the notification architecture issues in a requirements draft for server-to-server notification aggregation.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Brian pointed out this gem of a quote from Ashcroft (ref):
"Quite simply, the illegal drug paraphernalia industry has invaded the homes of families across the country without their knowledge."
Were you worried about an invasion by the drug paraphernalia industry? I wasn't. The article goes on:
"Organizations advocating the legalization of marijuana accused Ashcroft of grandstanding."
I don't think you have to be pro-marijuana to find that grandstanding. Last quote:
"Surely he has something better to do with his time."
Like, have a smoke, and relax, Ashcroft.

Friday, February 21, 2003

Today's NYTimes editorial by Kenneth M. Pollack scares me.
Saddam Hussein believes that once he has acquired nuclear weapons it is the United States that will be deterred. He apparently believes that America will be so terrified of getting into a nuclear confrontation that it would not dare to stop him should he decide to invade, threaten or blackmail his neighbors.

America has never encountered a country that saw nuclear weapons as a tool for aggression. During the cold war we feared that the Russians thought this way, but we eventually learned that they were far more conservative. [...] Only Saddam Hussein sees these weapons as offensive — as enabling aggression.

It's the uncertainty that's so difficult. What's really going on? Does Saddam truly threaten my life and the lives of those like me in Western countries? Are we in greater or less danger if US invades Iraq? What are the costs in human lives on both sides if US does invade Iraq? With so many lives hanging in the balance, it's depressing that we either do not have experts that know the answers, or they're not getting through. So many reasonable-sounding people have such divergent opinions.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

One last post for today's prolific blogging: my polygeek percentage. I think my stupid alliteration in the previous post should count extra points for geekistry, but oh well.
You are 50% geek
You are a geek liaison, which means you go both ways. You can hang out with normal people or you can hang out with geeks which means you often have geeks as friends and/or have a job where you have to mediate between geeks and normal people. This is an important role and one of which you should be proud. In fact, you can make a good deal of money as a translator.

Normal: Tell our geek we need him to work this weekend.

You [to Geek]: We need more than that, Scotty. You'll have to stay until you can squeeze more outta them engines!

Geek [to You]: I'm givin' her all she's got, Captain, but we need more dilithium crystals!

You [to Normal]: He wants to know if he gets overtime.

Take the Polygeek Quiz at

One big X-factor in the different outlook towards US invasion of Iraq, among people I've discussed it with, is the prognoses for US soldiers and Iraqi civilians (few people mention Iraqi conscripts). On the one hand, we've got articles calling an invasion a "cakewalk". On the other side, articles predicting a million deaths. I wonder about cause and effect, too. Do people's preferences for peace affect the pessimism of their prognoses? Or does opting for an offensive arise from optimism toward the outcome?
Microsoft is shipping a new IM product called Threedegrees (link via Ditherati). The name alone, not to mention some of its functionality, reminds me of the six degrees of separation web site based on the sociological theory of the same name outlined for one in the movie of the same name and related to the game of the same name (and there's even six degrees of "blogeration"). Does anybody else remember the six degrees site? A bunch of my friends entered their info into that site about five years ago, it linked us all together and to some people we didn't know, it didn't do anything useful for us, and it seems to have died.

Anyway, MS threedegrees uses peer-to-peer and IM to get people together online together more. It comes from a team developing products "aimed at the "Net generation," or young people between the ages of about 13 and 24". I'm hurt. I'd like to think I'm the Net generation but I'm not in that range (one guess which end). I was BBSing in 1988, wasn't I? I had my own personal Web page in 1992. I mudded extensively in 1991. I know the Net, damnit! Ok, end rant. Fine, so there's a generation with statistically noticable comfort levels using the Net for more communication. Apparently "the computing habits of the age group [...] is radically different from people who did not grow up with the Internet". Pretty interesting.

The Straight Dope message board has a thread on "shrinklits" of movies. OK, well they're not rhyming like the original and excellent shrinklets. But they can still be funny.

IMHO, the shorter the better. Here's one of the shorter ones:


HE: I'm going to drink myself to death.
SHE: Okay.

The End.
And another:
American Pie

High School Senior Guys: Hey, we should all try to get laid before graduation!

*guys get laid*

So true.
Dan Simon posts a very complex blog entry today on anti-Israel feelings linked to anti-Iraq-war. Today's NYT editorials has Amos Oz on the same subject: "My objection to the war on Iraq is severely tested each time I hear these loathsome voices."

There are a lot of pro-peace activists who take reasoned positions. But those who do not (not just the ones who link in anti-Israel positions but also ANSWER) really make the movement look bad.

Saturday, February 15, 2003

Drezner's blog entry on French and German attempts to dominate the EU foreign policy goes farther than I did. Drezner wonders whether their aggressive behaviour will destroy the EU.

Friday, February 14, 2003

Drezner summarizes the arguments that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) doesn't know how to do economics. That's important, because their predictions on global output are an important part of their calculations of global warming to 2100.

Thursday, February 13, 2003

Actually, I'm finding Knowledge Problem has a wealth of links and information about oil and the war, including sources from Tech Central Station to Asian Times to Canada's National Post. I like it.
This table from the Concise Encyclopedia of Economics is pretty amazing.

World Reserves and Cumulative Production of Selected Minerals: 1950-1980
(millions of metric tons of metal content)

Mineral1950 ReservesProduction 1950-19801980 Reserves

Aluminum1,4001,346 5,200
Copper100 156494
Lead4085 127
SOURCE: Repetto, p. 23.

So that's what "known reserves" means, huh? That we have no clue how much aluminum, copper, iron and lead really exists? I wonder about oil?
So which countries' positions on the war are "all about oil"?
It would, of course, be nice to have Germany and France and Russia and China with us. But these nations have their own interests, and we certainly shouldn't give them a veto over U.S. policy. It's telling that anti-warniks who are so ready to infer dark U.S. motives in our clash with Saddam -- oil! -- don't mention the real interests that might explain the German and French stands. Oil and other lucrative contracts -- yes, weapons deals -- as well as their large Islamic populations.
This pieceis from David Reinhard, in The Oregonian. Link via Knowledge Problem.
Steve Mallet posted an interesting piece on the limits of community: <=150 people. I played around with this number, wondering what relationship it might have to the well-known six degrees of separation. If I know 150 people and each of those know another 100 that I don't know, and so on, does that "explain" six degrees of separation?

Of course, these are stupid silly numbers, but I calculated that if about 62% of my contacts' contacts are people not already on my contact list, then within six degrees of separation I've got the whole world covered.

BBC World News last night mentioned briefly that US congress members were calling for various punishments against France and Germany, such as boycotting the Paris air show, in revenge for those countries leadership not supporting the US position.

I'd already noticed a bunch of bloggers and others showing their displeasure by not buying French wine or cheese (1, 2, 3 and 4, for example). That's freedom of choice, or expressing your freedom of speech through consumer decisions. It even seems reasonable to me for one individual boycotter to suggest to others to boycott as well. But it seems childish, peevish and petulant for US lawmakers to call for sanctions on French water or wine. Shouldn't it be OK for your allies to disagree with you? When I invite friends over for dinner and they disagree with my views on religion or politics, I don't withhold dessert.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Today's Friedman NYTimes editorial claims that if the US invades Iraq, US must remain to clean it up.
Let's start with the Bush hawks. The first rule of any Iraq invasion is the pottery store rule: You break it, you own it. We break Iraq, we own Iraq — and we own the primary responsibility for rebuilding a country of 23 million people that has more in common with Yugoslavia than with any other Arab nation. I am among those who believe this is a job worth doing, both for what it could do to liberate Iraqis from a terrible tyranny and to stimulate reform elsewhere in the Arab world. But it is worth doing only if we can do it right. And the only way we can do it right is if we can see it through, which will take years. And the only way we can see it through is if we have the maximum allies and U.N. legitimacy.
Why is this necessarily so? Why not take a large job and split it up according to an efficient and effective division of labor, among volunteers who have different skills and assets? Invading a country, stabilizing it and rebuilding it are very different tasks. The US Marines and Air Force may be best at the first, but not at the second or third. In fact, the best people to rebuild Iraq are more likely to be non-American than American. Iraqis themselves probably distrust the US more than, for example, Canada or Britain. It's a good cop, bad cop routine.

I'm a big fan of full follow-through, if there must be a war in Iraq. However, if this is indeed an international effort, then other countries besides the US must be involved in the follow-through. To be fair, Friedman's article is all about gathering a broad coalition to rebuild Iraq. I only question the assumption that rebuilding must be "owned" by US.

Fox News published an article by Wendy McElroy (link via Rob). The article is also published on McElroy implies most other feminist groups are apologists for Saddam Hussein. Three groups are mentioned: the Feminist Majority, the National Organization for Women (NOW), and Women's ENews.

It's a little hypocritical to ignore a set of outrages because it isn't convenient for your political position, but that doesn't make Feminist Majority into apologists for Saddam. It seems they have a button for "Help Afghan Women" because they have resources in Afghanistan, several programs in place to rebuild there. That's not wrong. It's true they have 6 articles on Afghanistan in recent global news and one article covering an anti-war mission to Iraq -- nowhere mentioning the rights of women in Iraq. But just because a group decries one crime doesn't mean they condone another. It may be hypocritical, but not evil.

On the other hand, I have a harder time forgiving NOW for this press release:

A U.S. invasion of Iraq will likely entail similar dangers to the safety and rights of Iraqi women—who currently enjoy more rights and freedoms than women in other Gulf nations, such as Saudi Arabia.
But I will point out that's four months old -- the Fox anti-feminist article should have dug up recent material or given up. The more recent press releases from NOW are somewhat more sane, opposing war because of domestic economic costs, for fear it will increase terrorism, and fearing "devastation of cities, towns, villages in Iraq, the loss of lives, the effect on the environment" (this is from their only press release press release since Jan 1 mentioning Iraq). It seems enough information has come out in the last four months about women in Iraq so that groups are no longer claiming they're better where they are

The third group criticized by McElroy was Women's ENews for publishing this article by Yasmine Bahrani. It's much more balanced than McElroy lets on. E.g.

"Thus, while many Iraqi women long for the basic rights that are denied them under Saddam, they have reason to be wary of the future as well... Iraqi women's concerns about the future regime are not theoretical. In fact, they have reason to mistrust Iraq's "opposition" movements, such as the Iraqi National Congress, because they have failed to include women members in key positions."
Really, it seems to me McElroy's article was written last November or December (only one article referenced was written after Oct 31 and none after Dec 31 2002), and held back until now. Perhaps McElroy waited until support for the war had grown enough to make this article seem reasonable?

To be clear, I'm happy to take potshots at both sides here. Both McElroy and the NOW press releases in particular paint the world in exaggerated black and white.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

I'm not the only one who thinks Germany and France incompetently managed their opposition to US involvement in Iraq. John Bono (link via Instapundit) points out that they've even alienated Greece. The numbers in Spain suggest that if Germany and France had made Aznar feel loved, he might have gone along with them and with his own people in opposing US intervention. Instead, Germany and France made Spanish leaders feel irrelevant, with predictable results.
Spain's leaders may be on the side of the US in going to war on Iraq, but the Spanish people, or at least 74% of them, are not. I looked this up wondering what general public opinion was like in Europe, given that the EU country leaders differ so greatly. I also tried to look up polls of Italians, but couldn't find numbers.

Monday, February 10, 2003

There's no way Germany should have been surprised that other Euro nations weren't following their anti-American-intervention lead. It's natural for any regime to most fear the country that most threatens their sovereignty:
  • Clearly Germany and France (G/F) fear US imperialism as the force that most threatens their influence and power. They don't fear each other greatly today, because of the potential to cooperate and magnify their power (particularly if they can speak for the EU). Furthermore, neither country is so much bigger than the other that one can dominate the other.
  • Smaller Euro countries don't fear American intervention in Iraq as much as G/F do. Instead, these smaller Euro countries are more likely to fear G/F because the foreign policy sovereignty of each of these small countries is threatened most by G/F attempting to speak for the European Union.
  • China unsurprisingly does fear US intervention in Iraq at least as much as G/F (more so since China can realistically fear that it may one day be invaded to liberate downtrodden subjects). G/F should have looked to China as an anti-American ally, rather than being embarrassed by attempting to speak for other Euros.
  • We can even look on Germany's opposition as a "regime", one whose power is most threatened, obviously, by Schröder's party. No wonder Angela Merkel is more annoyed at Schröder's party speaking for all Germans, than by US threat (see linked editorial for quote by Merkel). Again, Germany's ruling party should not have been surprised.

Update: Steve sees even more in this - EU leaders jockeying for position ruling the EU eventually.

Sunday, February 09, 2003

From a guy looking for work in IT:
The quick assessment from the agency was: Personality OK, Technical skills, Not. But that’s OK right? I work in IT where the majority of the job involves explaining a missed deadline to a client and to do that you need people skills not technical skills!
Hmm. Perhaps his willingness to miss deadlines as long as he can explain them is part of his joblessness.
I was talking with my Mom about US vs China. In China, naturally, US is seen as having imperialist aspirations to dominate more and more of the world -- to have US-approved regimes worldwide. That led to a discussion of how US is damned if it does, damned if it doesn't, because worldwide criticism of US doesn't seem to depend on what US does. America is either aggressive or isolationist. Isolationism is mostly thought of as a phenomenon from between the two world wars, but not uniquely.
  • Remember there was some fear Bush would be isolationist?
    Oh, I thought you meant some band. The Taliban in Afghanistan! Absolutely. Represssive. --GW Bush
    European scholars tsk'ed at the 2000 election and its lack of foreign policy issues (although this particular paper goes on to explain that the American people are not as isolationist as the American Congress and foreign media believe). Stephen Brooks marked "neo-isolationism", which he explained rather as public indifference rather than an active desire to disengage, from the end of the Vietnam War.
  • Remember right after September 11, 2001? Newspaper articles were published about the fear that this would push US into a new isolationism.

  • Remember the World Criminal Court? In 1998 European media characterized the US as isolationist, pure and simple -- over the World Criminal Court issue as well as treaties such as land mine restrictions.
  • Just a few years earlier, in 1995, Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot were pushing isolationism.

Both "isolationist" and "imperialist" are code for "the US is not consulting our opinion". One is applied to action, one to non-action, but what really stings is to be ignored.

Friday, February 07, 2003

This wide-ranging interview with Christopher Hitchens is pretty interesting. The interviewer says "[Hitchen's] scorn for lowest common denominator thinking, whether from the left or the right, is as entertaining as it is jarring." Hey, that's what I aspire to as well. Some excerpts:
There are several arguments for attacking Iraq. One is the violation of the convention against genocide. If you sign the genocide convention, you have to punish people who commit genocide, and Saddam certainly has done that. I think the strongest case is the responsibility to rescue the Iraqi people from a bastard regime.

A decent respectful hypocrisy and diplomacy means you can’t say we’re doing this to put the Saudis back in that box, teach them a lesson, to change the ways of the Middle East. So they do have to come up with arguments that aren’t as good. I just hope they don’t start believing their own propaganda.

People say, “I think Jesus is my best friend.” No one responds as they should to that, which is to say, “You should be locked up, that’s utter crap.”

Al Gore had allowed himself to become a humble, hollowed-out, humiliated figure. I didn’t want a zombie to be the president of the United States.

And now Gore and wife say that Bush is picking a fight with Iraq? Fuck them. I really mean it. I have nothing but contempt for them. We are risking people’s lives, and all they can be is flippant.

Do unto others? Last night, as I went to bed, after hearing some UN debate on NPR, reading so many blog entries on justifying war, and Virginia Postrel's book discussing what "natural" rights might be, I found myself questioning why I might it justifiable to overturn the leader of another country. I heard Chinese and Russian representatives to the UN defending sovereignty. What business of ours is it to "free" a people from the leadership that grew out of their own culture?

I do find it hard to simply declare things as "wrong" and go out to right those wrongs, even though I'm not a moral relativist. This is trite, but I guess I fall back on the golden rule. Do I want to be left alone by the UN and other countries, no matter what my country of residence does to me? No. If I was jailed for criticizing government policies or for marijuana possession, I would want other countries to pressure my jailors effectively to behave better. If the country I reside in forced me to wear a chador or leave my job, I would want real help from the international community to assert my rights. That doesn't even cover the proven danger Iraq poses to others besides its own citizens. The golden rule doesn't always make it clear what action to take, but in this case doesn't it suggest some effective action beyond proven ineffective UN resolutions?

Sunday, February 02, 2003

Yesterday I accidentally stumbled into an anti-war rally in Palo Alto. I didn't wade in but I still noticed how quirky it was. I'm not the only one: the Mercury News reported on it.
  • "Palo Alto neighbors Marcia Croft and Margaret Schmidt, both in their late 50s, said they haven't done this since college."
  • "An organic espresso bus parked cater-cornered from the plaza sold several hundred cups of organic macchiatos, lattes and cappuccinos made with soy milk."
  • "People carried balloon animals twisted into circular peace signs. Children scribbled peace slogans on the pavement with chalk."
The Merc also says "The suburban rally had a diverse turnout, indicating anti-war sentiment is resonating with an audience much broader than activists living in large cities." Maybe so, but there could be another reason: this was as much picnic and street festival as rally. It looked fun to me.
Holy Cow! A British socialist, wrote a Guardian article in favour of war on Iraq! (link via Insta)

It's a good article, by Julie Birchill. She is much harder on the "it's all about oil" argument than I am:

"It's all about oil!" Like hyperactive brats who get hold of one phrase and repeat it endlessly, this naive and prissy mantra is enough to drive to the point of madness any person who actually attempts to think beyond the clichés. Like "Whatever!" it is one of the few ways in which the dull-minded think they can have the last word in any argument. So what if it is about oil, in part? Are you prepared to give up your car and central heating and go back to the Dark Ages? If not, don't be such a hypocrite. The fact is that this war is about freedom, justice - and oil. It's called multitasking. Get used to it!
My other favourite quote is a concise explanation of why a socialist may be in favour of this particular war:
If you really think it's better for more people to die over decades under a tyrannical regime than for fewer people to die during a brief attack by an outside power, you're really weird and nationalistic and not any sort of socialist that I recognise.
You might think by now I'm in favour of the war. I'm not sure, actually -- it depends on the follow-through. I'm only certain that a lot of the arguments made about it are stupid. I applaud Julie Birchill for combatting that stupidity.

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