Wednesday, December 28, 2005

What laws effecting media / libraries to expect

Ars has a decent roundup of laws that congress will be taking up next year effecting technology.

Network neutrality is one of the biggest since SBC announced that they would hinder the performance of competing VOIP services over their lines. The network neutrality law would prevent such practices. It is likely to pass since cable is moving into voice and telcos are moving into video; there will be less lobbying to stop it.

Patent reform is touched on and the problems Research in Motion is having. The US patent system is severly broken on several fronts. Patents are granted for obvious improvements. Patents are granted when prior art is already on the market. The ability to get injunctions preventing the sale of products that contain parts that are in dispute often drives small companies out of business.

The current system favors the practice of large companies with huge stables of patents to hagel with other companies that have a patent they may infiringe in exchange for allowing them to infringe. There are already law firms that buy up patents from failed IPOs so they can sue people later. Ideally software should not be patented, by its very nature most innovations are obvious or incorporate prior art. Patent terms sould be shortened to a maximum of 15 years and a minimum of 2 years, and terms should be applied in a case by case basis.

Science education is also touched on. The US is doing a horrible job educating kids in science and education in general. With No Child Left Behind teachers are required to teach to a test which obviously means that if successful than the children will be able to pass the test. However, this is a bad way to teach critical thinking and real world problem solving techniques which are vital to science education. The funding of schools is antiquarian to say the least but as Gov. Rendell (PA) found out people are all for lowering property tax but raising funds for schools in another way is hard to do.

The hard truth is that people may love their children but part of that love is to see their children do well even if they have to drag your child's education down to do it. For some the education of their child takes a back seat to the culture wars and a misguided attempt to increase faith in America. The proponents of such psuedo-science undermine the very nature of scientific inquiry by suggesting that since evolution is "only" a theory any holes in it discount it totally and instead of filling the holes through tests and inquiry just pull the "God did it" card.
I wonder when they'll get around to dismissing gravity since it is "only" a theory, after all, the "God did it" card would explain why scientists can't find gravitons. Most of scientific education is theory there are very few laws.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Meme: victory in Iraq

The current president of the United States made his second of four planned speeches to try and bring up his poll numbers and those for support of the war. The problem he is facing is that making speeches won't bring "victory" in Iraq but redefining what victory is will. When the war first began an idea of what victory would look like was clear in a "squint your eyes as you look at the haze rising off the tarmac" kind of way. Kill or capture Saddam, remove the weapons of mass destruction and Iraq would quickly become a beacon of democracy in the Arab world.

The problem is we've captured Saddam but there were no WMD and Iraq with it's corruption, ethnic tension, and crime is serving more as an example of what not to do than anything else. The thinking going in and why Neo-Cons were so sure Iraq was the key to the Middle East is that Iraq is a secular society with large oil reserves so it should have quickly become a secular democracy as soon as the murderous dictator was removed. The reality besides the daily bombings is that what progress is being made towards democracy is taking Iraq closer to the Iranians and towards a civil war. The steady drumbeat rising against the war has less to do with these "inside baseball" issues and more to do with the fact that it has been two years and over 2000 Americans have died.

The Bush administration has been successful in the past by setting up a false dichotemy of either pulling the troops out right now and conceding defeat or staying the course which will lead to eventual victory. The problems with the dichotemy is that it misses the nuance inherent in an ancient society and modern warfare. The real options that have been expressed are to start drawing down troops six months from now and base them close by outside the country in order to pressure the Iraqi forces to step up and for civil society to stabilize, this is favored by Murtha and Pelosi. Set a flexible timeline with milestones for the Iraqis to meet militarily and politically with an eye to full withdrawal anywhere from late next year to the start of 2007, which is where most of the other Democrats are at. Have milestones with no timeline tentative or otherwise which is where most of the Republican party is at. Stay until total victory is acheived, which is the president's position.

What is total victory? That is a question that isn't really asked but the answer to the hypothetical question has clearly changed. Victory has gone from a Jefforsonian democracy with close ties to the US and Isreal to a military capable of fighting local resistence. The meaning of victory is critical to paraphrase Sun Tzu "you have to know what victory will look like in order to know how to reach it." The problem is not just semantic but also demographic. With so many redeployments it is only a matter of time - around the midterm elections - that large portions of the forces will be on their 3rd or 4th tour. It could be alleviated with a draft but that would be political suicide. The whole Jeffersonian democracy thing takes time, even in America it was only after a civil war and the civil rights movement that we have come close to a true democracy. The military preparedness is easier to predict and control.

In the end it comes down to a choice for the current president does he shoot for the history books and the enduring legacy by ignoring his national agenda and focusing exclusively on Iraq in order to steer it through the minefield of corruption and civil unrest towards that beacon. The downside is that his base will likely turn against him for the financial strain it will put onto the deficit and the much sought after fruits of an ownership society (personal retirement vs. social security, personal healthcare vs. medicare/medicaid etc.) left to rot on the vine. In that scenario the Republican majority in the House and Senate would most assuredly be lost and the whole endeavor may be for nought since the effort would stretch into another president's term or terms.

The other victory vision is a successful redefinition to military preparedness and a quick exit around the time of the next election. This has a higher likelihood of getting Republican incumbents elected and plausible deniability is afforded by placing the onous on the military leadership for the "decision." This also gives the current president the opportunity to push for the ownership society as a lasting legacy. The downside is that it is hardly a play for the history books since the war is most likely to be the lead item in his biography unless his ownership society has as lasting an influence as the New Deal. It can also go pretty poorly if al Qaeda either attacks anywhere shortly after we leave or boasts of kicking us out. It can also backfire if civil war breaks out but from a real politik standpoint most Americans who are his base could be convinced it could not be helped. I can see the talking points about Guy Fawkes and King Louis XVI. This would be a convenient retelling of history similar to the stories about the Nazi Werewolf which the right wing ran with.

I was not and am not a supporter of the war partly because I know quite a few people who went over there and came back in flag draped coffins. That is not the only reason I did not and do not support the war, however. The fact that the motivations given to the American people were baseless is one but if I could see through them before we even moved troops into the area then the people who are suddenly shocked at being lied to are guilty themselves of willful deception or ignorance of the facts.

The main reason I was against the war is something that is bearing out right now, Americans have too short an attention span for a sustained war measured in decades. Iraq was not the center of terror before the invasion but it is now and the once metaphysical war Bin Ladin had against the West punctuated at times by attacks killing a few hundred or a few thousand at a time is now a daily ritual. By going into Iraq to force Middle East transformation we put ourselves in a position to lose more than we can reasonably gain. We set up a situation where if Iraq does not become a secular democracy then we have lost the war of idealogy. We must not just win militarily but also idealogically. Al Qaeda and similar groups do not need to defeat us militarily as long as they create disruptions or can spread their message. In short "victory" necessarily means the Jeffersonian thing but in national political terms that isn't going to happen since it would take so long. The only real guaranteed winners are going to be Iran because they will gain influence in Iraq and through out the Middle East since they are the agent of stability for the Iraqi government and al Qaeda who is using the war as a recruiting tool through out the Middle East and Europe.

As for Bush's speech Juan Cole tears him a new one, pointing out all the little half-truths and mistatements of fact. So while Bush, who started the war is looking for a way to gracefully exit, I someone who opposed it from the start am arguing we have to stay quagmire or no.