Moulton Lava

Moultonic Musings

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Location: New England, United States

Thursday, December 29, 2005

RIAA and Economic Rape Under the Color of Law

Elsewhere, I'm having a dialogue with a young woman who is studying law.

We were talking about the RIAA case, in which a large number of lawsuits were instigated against people whom the RIAA [Recording Industry Association of America] accuses of illegally downloading music via P2P file sharing services.

One of the lawsuits names a woman who has been dead for several years. The dead woman failed to appear in court to answer the summons. She is now in danger of being cited for contempt of court and possibly imprisoned for the rest of her natural life, which is -2 years.

Another RIAA lawsuit named the single mother of 6, because RIAA traced an IP number to her ex-husband. The judge says this woman is so computer illiterate, she doesn't know a KaZaA from a Kazoo. Nonetheless the RIAA proceeded with their economic rape of this struggling family. So far she's out $24,000 in legal fees and her case hasn't even been scheduled yet for trial.

My correspondent — the young woman studying law — believes this economic rape and ruin of a family of six is fully justified treatment under the law.

In Physics, an object whose gravity is all out of proportion to its size is called a Black Hole. They do exist (there is one at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy), but they are rare. The gravity from a Black Hole the size of a grain of sand would suck in everything near it and reduce it to pulsating plasma.

The law, as practiced by the RIAA, is operating like a Black Hole, reducing everything in its path to utter ruin.

I fear that those practicing law will never understand why infinitely powerful destructive forces like Black Holes have no place in a well-regulated gravitational system.

But they have a definite place in highly dramatic cataclysms, for those who are into the rapturous thrill of apocalyptic traumas.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Alienation of Arnie

Arnold Schwarzenegger, the embattled Governor of California, has become alienated from his hometown of Graz in Austria, after approving the execution of Stanley Tookie Williams, the controversial founder of an inner city youth gang known as the Crips.

In politics, honor and dishonor are often in play, where a single controversial act can dramatically reverse the fortunes of a rising political star.

Schwarzenegger, evidently stung by hometown critics, impetuously withdrew permission for the town of Graz to use his name on their sports stadium. The town complied, and also expunged their civic websites from any laudatory references to their native son.

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Calculus of Ideas

The process of defining, organizing, and executing projects embodies a variety of important skills. At the intellectual heart of the matter is a kind of thinking that I like to call The Calculus of Ideas.

The Calculus of Ideas subsumes a discipline that ought to be a central thread in any college curriculum.

The first stage of the Calculus of Ideas is to identify Values. One can spend a semester constructing a Value System, which is really a topic in Philosophy.

Given a System of Values, the second stage is to derive Goals.

A Goal is a Future State of Affairs which is Feasible, Desirable, and Reachable.

Feasible means that the Goal State is not a physical impossibility. It doesn't violate the Laws of Physics, or any other inviolable constraints.

Desirable means that within the Value System, the Goal State is preferable to the current state of affairs.

Reachable means that the Goal State can be attained with available resources of time, energy, and materiel.

Given a Goal, the third stage is to develop a Plan for reaching the Goal State from the Present State of Affairs.

A Plan is a Course of Action. Planning begins with Ideas. An Idea is a Possibility for Changing the State of Affairs.

Most of the work in Planning is in discovering and evaluating Ideas, to find those that provide the best Strategy.

One can evaluate Candidate Ideas many ways, but in the Calculus of Ideas, we tend to focus on Model-Based Reasoning. In Model-Based Reasoning, we consider the likely consequences of each candidate idea. Oftentimes, this work requires technical analysis, simulation, or experimentation.

Once a Strategy is selected and reduced to a Plan, the actual work can be broken down into Tasks.

A Task is a discrete unit of work that can be assigned to an individual or team. The various Tasks often comprise a lot of grunt work. The motivation to do all this grunt work comes from the compensation or expected payoff for completing the Plan and reaching the Goal.

To carry off an entire project, you need Sponsors who are Values Oriented, Directors who are Goal Oriented, Creative Problem Solvers who are Idea Oriented, Decision Makers who are Plan Oriented, and Workers who are Task Oriented.

(Bureaucrats, who are Rule-Oriented should be dispensed with, and replaced by computers.)

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Sheesh and Oy Vey: The Geshrais Sublime

Expressions of lament are interesting exhalations of breath.

In the Sophoclean Greek tragedy, Ajax cries "Ai ai ai!"

In Yiddish, the same interjection comes out "Oy oy oy!"

Americans, however, are more likely to say, "Sheesh!" or "Jeez!" (both of which are clearly variations on "Jesus", whose name (Yeshua/Joshua) means 'rescuer' or 'saviour').

Calls for help or relief are perhaps among the oldest cries to the unreliable gods who solemnly promise to protect us from disaster.

I was thinking about "Oy Vey!" when it occurred to me that this timeless Yiddish variant of the geshrai (cry for help) is remarkably close to the Divine Name of the Hebrew God of the Old Testament of Moses. No one knows how to pronounce YHVH, but "Yai Vei" comes to mind. After all, what better occasion to call upon the deity when in times of trouble and woe? And so the sound of the cry becomes the name of the first responder.

After all, calling upon the Divine Name when one is truly in distress is hardly taking the name in vain.

In the Myst franchise, the good child of Atrus and Catherine is named Yeesha, which in the D'ni language means 'laughter'.

Hah! The Redemptive Saviour — laughter, joy, and glee — has arrived.

Hallelujah!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Prince of War

Donald Rumsfeld is playing Santa in Iraq. He told the troops not to be discouraged by peace rhetoric at home. He urged the soldiers to listen to the Administration's pro-war rhetoric at this Christmas season. And then he served up some Meals Ready to Eat.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Apostasy

We live in troubled times, where it's hard to know who or what to believe any more. From nonexistent WMDs in Iraq to nonexistent stem cell lines in South Korea, the heroic authority figures of our time are revealed to be purveyors of fraudulent and unsupportable claims.

Turning away from some broadly held political, cultural, religious, or scientific belief is rapidly becoming an everyday occurrence.

And so we have dissidents, infidels, nonbelievers, critics, antagonists, detractors, deniers, iconoclasts, free thinkers, rebels, sceptics, debunkers, heretics, whistleblowers, and apostates, all of whom depart and turn away from some widely held belief.

I've never met anybody who both understood Taoism and then turned away from it. I suppose if that ever happened, they'd write a best seller called The Pooh of Tao.

I'm rather fond of the theological notion of Apostasy, as the term lends a certain dignity to the process of turning away from a previous belief.

Turning away from a popular belief is an unpopular move, which is probably why erroneous beliefs remain popular long beyond the point where their falsehood has become manifestly apparent to those who bother to critically examine their blithe presuppositions.

If there is an Intelligent Designer, I wish he would make an appearance this holiday season and nudge people in the direction of designing more reliable belief systems.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Intelligent Design

Creation Science is back in the news, but this time the label on the old wine bottle reads "Intelligent Design."

Actually, I'm all in favor of designing things intelligently. That's why I took up a career in Systems Engineering. The whole point of Systems Engineering is to craft intelligently designed systems.

While most of my professional life focused on the intelligent design of technology systems (principally our telecommunications infrastructure), I'm intrigued by the design principles to be found in the natural world. Many of the design principles employed in Systems Engineering are adapted or inspired by Nature's solutions to analogous problems.

So while airplanes don't flap feathery wings, they do borrow many principles of aerodynamic engineering from flying critters ranging from insects to pterodactyls and from tumbleweeds to maple seeds.

If the courts mandate the teaching of Intelligent Design, I hope it will spark a resurgence in teaching the principles of Systems Engineering, with due acknowledgement for the inspiration that comes from the study of complex living systems and other natural systems with interesting emergent properties.

Among the newest such studies are those to be found in the burgeoning science of molecular biology. Simulation models of molecular dynamics are yielding remarkable insights into how relatively modest organic molecules assemble themselves out of simpler building blocks, which in turn give rise to a rich array of growth processes that emerge as organic life. The versatility of carbon cannot be denied, especially when it teams up with nitrogren and water. Most amino acids are strung together out of just four elements: carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and hydrogen. An occasional sulfur atom adds a little extra zest to the soup.

Intelligent Design might someday allow molecular biologists to speed up evolution by identifying viable pathways and weeding out losing propositions in the art of breeding for desirable traits. Then again, others might be aghast at the notion of humans engaging in the creative art of intelligent design of complex systems.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Emunah

Emunah is a Hebrew word. It's sometimes translated as Faith, but the meaning is closer to Trust than Faith.

When one makes an agreement, one expects the parties to the agreement to keep their word. Emunah is the kind of faith or trust one invests in such a covenantal agreement. We are more likely to use the phrase Good Faith to distinguish this kind of trust from religious faith, where one adopts an unproven belief on spiritual grounds.

I bring up these nuanced notions of hope, faith, and trust because they are very much in the air these days, at all levels of society, from the personal to the political.

George Bush is scrambling like mad to preserve what little faith and trust his constituency still invest in his tottering judgment and leadership.

The turning point for loss of faith and trust in self-styled leaders is some liminal moment of disappointment, when one's expectations fall below the ground floor, below which only the hopelessly deluded would cheerfully go on.

I've never actually seen an ostrich stick its head in the sand, but the metaphor is apt.

Even an ostrich eventually sees the light of day if the shifting sand beneath its ruffled feathers erodes fast enough.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

A Covenant Worthy of Trust

In his controversial new book, Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine, Yale University's towering literary critic, Harold Bloom, expresses despair over the Covenant of Moses — an agreement between the God of Moses and his erstwhile followers, the long-suffering Jewish people.

Bloom grimly observes that neither side could be trusted to keep their half of the bargain.

Nowhere is this disappointment more starkly expressed than in this poetic lament in the wake of the Nazi Holocaust:

"At Sinai we received the Torah, and at Auschwitz we gave it back."

Bloom closes his slim volume with this wistful muse:

"Will [God] yet make a covenant with us that he both can and will keep?"

If our most revered deities cannot be trusted to jointly craft durable covenants with us pathetically slip-sliding carbon units, how shall we ever craft intra-species covenants that we can confidently rely upon?

Life and politics is rife with broken promises and bitter disappointments. Now Harold Bloom observes that we can't even trust God to keep his sacred promise to those who pledged to have faith in his guidance.

Perhaps it's time to replace the Pledge of Allegiance with the Dithyramb of Doubt.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Innumeracy

Somewhere in my library is a book on Innumeracy by John Allen Paulos. It's been ages since I read it, and I tend to forget the author's staggering lament — that a depressing number of people are woefully incapable of thinking with numbers.

Recent dialogues have reminded me of the dispiriting ubiquity of innumeracy and dysfunctionality that pervades our culture.

Innumeracy now appears to be far worse than I had previously appreciated. It's more than just a failure at quantitative reasoning. The problem is much deeper and far more ominous than that. For the National Science Foundation, the problem of innumeracy expands into a grave educational crisis in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).

The Internet was conceived, designed, and constructed by people who were uncommonly strong in STEM disciplines. And for the first 15 years of its life, the Internet was populated almost exclusively by the kind of people who created it.

Those demographics changed about 10 years ago, when the Internet came of age and became available to the rest of the public, without regard for their grounding in the STEM disciplines that gave birth to the system.

It's been a profoundly dispiriting journey, to discover just how pervasive and insoluble is the innumeracy and dysfunctionality of the general public who have negligible training in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

At times the problem seems downright hopeless.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Letting It All Hwang Out

First there was Piltdown Man. Then there were Puthoff & Targ (ESP) and Pons & Fleischman (Cold Fusion).

Now there is Hwang and his South Korean co-researchers, who are wrangling over whether their pioneering research into Stem Cells and Cloning are valid or fraudulent.

There are only a few areas of human endeavor where doubt is miniminized. One is Literary Fiction, where we are assured the stories are entirely made up out of whole cloth. The other is Math, Science, Engineering, and Technology where precision accuracy is the key to success.

So it's disheartening when hoaxes, frauds, and self-delusion creep into the world of Science, Math, Engineering, and Technology.

The good news is that Hwang's co-authors blew the whistle on themselves, as soon as they learned there were unexplained irregularities in the accounts of their research.

If only our politicians were half so honest and forthright.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Seething Heartbreak

I've written a few pieces recently about the neurohormone, Oxytocin.

It's a remarkable neuropeptide, barely nine amino acids long, yet implicated in multiple roles from true love to mother-infant bonding and nurturing.

The heartbreaking stories of atrocious CIA gulags and torture camps yielded this remarkable quote from one of the torture victims, a Canadian who had been sent to Syria:

The pain was so unbearable, he said, that "you forget the milk that you have been fed from the breast of your mother."

I was arrested by that expression (which is idiomatic in Arabic culture).

In Judaism, there is complex set of dietary laws called Kashrut that are observed by those who keep Kosher. The main rule is that meat and dairy are not served at the same meal.

This stricture comes from a strangely worded commandment:

Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother's milk.

Mother's milk is full of Oxytocin, the aromatic neuropeptide that warms the cockles of the heart and mediates the bond between mother and child. Oxytocin plays a signaling role in turning on the spigot for breast feeding.

Were a kid to be seethed in its mother's milk, the aromas would be apparent to the mama goat, who would be heartbroken at the news of the airborne chemical messenger.

Carnation used to advertise its brand of condensed milk as "Milk From Contented Cows." A distraught animal becomes gamey from the stress hormones released at the moment of slaughter. That's another reason that Kashrut calls for swift and humane methods of slaughter. A traumatized animal is full of stress hormones.

And a discontented mother doesn't lactate very well.

Seething a kid in its mother's milk is a surefire way to shut down the Oxytocin production, which is gonna traumatize the remaining kids in the goatyard.

And they can forget about their mother's milk.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Cybernetic Systems

A correspondent asks:

If you had the task of reinventing the legal system, what would you propose?

I would replace it with a functional regulatory structure.

When I say 'functional' I mean that in a technical, mathematical sense, not in a rhetorical sense.

If you are a student of literature, you may be aware of the writings of Harold Bloom. He is the Yale University academic who has written extensively about the characters in Shakespeare. He also wrote a book analyzing the canon of western literature. He divides the canon into four chronological ages: Theocratic, Aristocratic, Democratic, and Chaotic. One might ask what comes after the Chaotic Age?

I would nominate the Fifth Age as 'Cybernetic'.

Cybernetic Systems are found both in nature and in high technology.

In living systems, Cybernetics explains how organisms regulate themselves through subtle feedback control processes.

In technology systems, Cybernetics explain how complex nonliving systems maintain self-regulation through carefully designed feedback control processes.

The mathematical modeling process that characterizes Cybernetic Systems is the same process in either case.

In a functional feedback control process, the component in the feedback loop cannot be chosen arbitrarily. The feedback unit is obliged to model the mathematical inverse of the main system.

In the analysis of feedback control, legal systems operate as primitive Zeroeth Order Controllers. There are very few systems that can be effectively regulated with a simple Zeroeth Order Controller.

The next most sophisticated feedback controller is called a First Order Controller, or Differential Controller. In a First Order Differential Controller, the feedback unit models the mathematical inverse of the First Derivative of the System Model. This is often simplified to a linear proportional controller. In economics, this corresponds to a fixed unit price for the consumption of a rare commodity. In a salad bar, you can pile as much salad on your plate as you like, and then you pay by the ounce. The optimal price to charge is the price that is neither too low nor too high; the salad bar runs out of salad just as the last customer is being served (supply exactly balances demand at the optimal price).

Higher Order Controllers fold higher order derivatives of the System Model into the solution, and are thus more graceful. Zeroeth Order Controllers are either altogether dysfunctional, or herky jerky, see-saw.

First Order Differential Controllers are smoother, but not altogether graceful. Think of an elevator that travels at a constant speed between floors and jerks to a stop. That's typical of a First Order Differential Controller. If you want your elevator to gently slow down as it arrives at a floor, you need at least a Second Order Controller.

Nature is full of feedback loops, some of which are more graceful than others. Buffered Aspirin is a Second Order Pain Controller. Regular Aspirin is First Order. Shooting the horse with a broken leg is a Zeroeth Order Pain Killer.

Hammurabi hardly knew anything about mathematics, system modeling, feedback control processes, and the like. He introduced a Zeroeth Order Control Structure and admonished us to put our faith in it. It was a mathematical mistake. I call it Hammurabi's Original Logic Error. Theologians call it Original Sin. There are very few systems which can be successfully managed with a Zeroeth Order Regulator. Human society is not one of them.

We need at least a Second Order Regulator, which means we have to wrap our brains around some serious system models of human socio-cultural dynamics and some serious calculus for solving those models for the optimal regulatory structure.

The Law, as defined by the disciples of Hammurabi, cannot possibly rise to the challenge, since it never rises above Zeroeth Order Control Architectures.

My correspondent continues:

Is there any type of existing prototype or model of this system (second order regulator) as it relates to human interaction (or the law)?

Yes, there are several alternative models. The oldest known alternatives to Hammurabism were proposed by the founders of the world's great religions. Figures like Moses, Buddha, Confucious, Lao Tsu, and Jesus recommended radically different practices from those contemplated by Hammurabi and his adherents.

Similar ideas can be found in Secular Humanism and Ethics. If you study Lawrence Kohlberg's model, he outlines six stages of moral development. His student, Carol Gilligan, proposes a seventh stage, which she calls the Ethics of Care.

In the 20th Century, figures like Gandi, King, Mandela, Thich Nhat Hanh, and the Dalai Lama helped bridge the gap between traditional religious teachings and secular teachings on ethical methods for solving the problems of conflict, violence, oppression, injustice, corruption, poverty, ignorance, alienation, suffering, and terrorism.

In the meantime, the Humanities were contributing to the challenge of modeling human characters and human socio-cultural dynamics. Shakespeare and Dostoevsky both made major contributions to the art of modeling human systems.

Sociologist Victor Turner made seminal contributions to this process as well, with his pathbreaking notions of Communitas and Liminal Social Drama.

René Girard extracted an insightful model of human socio-cultural dynamics through his insightful analysis of Dostoevsky's novels.

If you solve Girard's System Model for the optimal strategy, you get practices remarkably similar to the teachings of the founders of the world's great religions. But it's not grounded on faith. It's grounded in analytical system modeling, with scientifically valid models of human socio-cultural dynamics.

Is this a realistic possibility?

In theory, yes. But it will take a major paradigm shift in our beliefs and practices. We're gonna have to let go of some long-standing mythologies and dysfunctional practices — a transformation that carbon units have not demonstrated much ability to achieve, with the notable exception of a few rare individuals.

Probably the only way such a paradigm shift can ever take place is through the medium of storycraft. Our core beliefs are those which we embed in the stories we tell ourselves. Every culture and every age has its characteristic myths — the stories we tell ourselves to define our beliefs and practices. That's why dramatists like Sophocles, Homer, Cervantes, Shakespeare, and Dostoevsky are so important. They reflect the cutting edge in the crafting of stories through which we define ourselves.

I studied Engineering, so I'm not a storymaker; I don't have that talent. But I recognize that the tragedies which bring us together are recurring tragedies because we have failed to capture them in a compelling story.

My favorite modern storymaker is JK Rowling. Her heroes are highly functional adolescents. And among the adults in their storybook lives, only Dumbledore appreciates that in order for them to solve the problems in a functional manner, they must necessarily break every rule in the book. Were Harry Potter and his friends to obey the rules, they would be utterly dysfunctional and ineffective.

In the Harry Potter stories, magic is a metaphor for functional solutions. Arthur C. Clarke said it best: "Any technology, sufficiently advanced, is indistinguishable from magic."

Were humankind able to evolve into the Age of Functionality, it would be a magical transformation.

If this model has been explored, why do you think it has not been accepted? And do you think that will ever change?

Not that many people are aware of it. I estimate that fewer than one person in 500 knows about these system models at all, and even fewer have digested them. Keep in mind that most people have never heard of Systems Theory, let alone any specific system model.

I expect it will change ever so slowly. Look how long it took for the Copernican model of the Solar System to overthrow the Ptolemaic Model, or for Newton's model of gravitational mechanics to take root. Similarly, it's been a century since Einstein published his Theory of Relativity. And while almost everyone has heard of it, almost no lay person understands it. Even though Einstein's iconic formula is widely recognized, few people can explain what it really means.

I've always believed that the study of history is necessary to prevent society from repeating past mistakes. I don't quite see the connection with story telling — and how that relates to implementing a new legal system. How do you connect the two?

History is His+Story. Stories are how we understand sequences of events and discern the underlying cause and effect linkages that renders a story coherent. Until modern times, almost all cultural learning was mediated by stories.

The story of the Hammurabic Method of Social Regulation is a woeful tragedy in slow motion. The story has been slowly unfolding for nearly four millenia.

I was born in 1945, the year the Second World War ended, and the year the world first began to learn of the horrors of the Holocaust, during which time the Nazis were incinerating Jews at the rate of 2 million a year.

I long thought the Holocaust was an abberation. But then I looked at the statistics for genocide and political violence for the entire 20th Century. During the 20th Century, the governments of the world killed some 200 million people. That's an average of 2 million people a year, year in and year out. That's the price humankind is paying for our lust for political power and our belief in the rule of law. If that's not a tragedy, I dunno what is.

And yet the oldest story in the canon of western literature — the story of Adam and Eve and the Apple — predicted that very outcome. It's a story everyone knows and almost no one appreciates for its insightful prediction.

What that tells me is that carbon units are woefully learning disabled.

Nor do I know a functional solution to that problem.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Death and Dishonor

Ted Westhusing was a Professor of Philosophy at West Point Academy. He taught Ethics to the cadets.

To ensure that he wasn't just lecturing from the Ivory Tower, he decided to volunteer for a tour in Iraq, to help ground his subject.

Instead of putting Westhusing in charge of an activity involving enlisted soldiers, he was assigned to a unit that oversaw commercial operators to whom the Pentagon had awarded contracts for reconstruction projects.

The amount of corruption in these outsourced contracts was so extensive that Westhusing became profoundly dispirited.

He felt sullied and dishonored by the scandalous combination of corruption and abuses that characterized the fiasco in Iraq.

Last June, Westhusing committed suicide.

His biographer likened his case to the Sophoclean tragedy of Ajax. In that play, Ajax is an honor-driven character who commits suicide early in the play. Then, for the rest of the play, the remaining cast of characters go about their 'business as usual' as the body of Ajax lies unattended on the the stage.

Iraq, like Ajax, symbolizes the death of honor as an American value.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Worldwide Gulag of Protein Rendering Plants

Yesterday's gory testimony at Saddam's trial told of a meat-grinder in Dujail.

And on the same day, we learned of another newspeak expression, Extraordinary Rendition. That's the CIA's antiseptic phrase for shipping suspects to the worldwide gulag of detention centers, where Condoleezza Rice assures us that torture is not used whilst interrogating them.

It's odd that the CIA adopts the arcane term, rendition. The word is connected to surrender, but sounds more like rendering.

Saddam's meat-grinder evokes images of the Gulag Rendering Plant, the protein equivalent of the Demo Derby depicted in Steven Spielberg's AI.

If it's all the same to you, I think I'd prefer to identify with something other than carbon.

The behavior of carbon systems is frankly atrocious.

Ramsey Clark and Dysfunctional Judicial Processes

"If every form of participation in the judicial process is not protected, the judicial system will fail and be destroyed." —Ramsey Clark, speaking today to the Iraqi tribunal.
Ramsey Clark is the former US Attorney General (under Lyndon Johnson) who has taken up controversial positions in a number of cases where the integrity of the legal process was on the line.

I happen to believe the judicial process is fatally flawed and beyond redemption, Ramsey Clark notwithstanding.

Fundamentally, the judicial process can only render two outcomes: Either the defendant is found guilty of commiting a crime, or not. If the defendant is found guilty, the judicial system is obliged to adminster some prescribed punishment.

Imagine if this method were applied to your automobile. Something goes haywire with your car. You take it to a judge who decides if the car is guilty of violating its performance specifications. If the car is found guilty, some prescribed damage is inflicted upon it.

The absurdity of this practice is manifest. If a machine is broken, we are obliged to diagnose and repair it, or declare it beyond repair. We then downgrade its functionality to something less than a fully functioning transportation vehicle. Perhaps we cannibalize it for parts to repair other ailing vehicles.

The medical/repair model makes sense to me. The judging/punishment model does not.

There is no doubt in my mind that figures like Napoleon, Stalin, Hitler, and Saddam are monsters in the annals of politics and government. And yet there is no shortage of candidates who would jump at the chance to follow in their footsteps.

The question in my mind isn't so much what to do with characters like Saddam, but what to do with a culture that produces so many tyrants. The history of human affairs is the history of tyrants.

And what is a tyrant? Someone who has the power and authority to decree the law.

It's hard to envision a more dysfunctional regulatory structure.

Shall we fix it? Or punish it?

Friday, December 02, 2005

Milestones in the Culture of Death

The US reached another milestone in the burgeoning culture of death this week with the thousandth execution since the resumption of the death penalty.

Earlier this year, the war in Iraq crossed the threshold of 2000 deaths of American soldiers in that sorrowful conflict.

Every year, worldwide, some two million people die prematurely from political violence and state-sponsored violence, under the color of law.

The color of law is the color of dried blood and tears of woe.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

What is the name of the enemy?

Yesterday, Donald Rumsfeld reported an 'epiphany' regarding the name of the enemy.

He's decided not to call them 'the resistance' or 'insurgents' because that gives them too much dignity and legitimacy for his comfort.

Several years ago, the administration adopted the label 'terrorists' over the more noble sounding 'freedom fighters'.

The term 'enemy' seems too stark for me. I prefer 'foe'.

In a contest, the contestants are 'competitors' or 'contenders' or 'opponents' or 'adversaries' or 'antagonists'.

The Greek word satana means 'adversary' — someone who 'bedevils' us.

The is no shortage of agony in our highly competitive culture, and a distressing shortage of ecstacy associated with the achievement of shared goals.

The name of my enemy is 'agony'.