Online Land Registry

June 30, 2004

Ever since I read about Hernando De Soto’s work years ago, I’ve been saying that the a major remedy for third world economic problems would be online land registries. Now, BusinessWeek reoprts that its happenning in India! Photon Courier notes

Why is this a big deal? you may ask. Previously, the deeds were controlled by “powerful village accountants.” They typically charged large fees to the poor farmers who needed copies of their deeds–and a farmer might need such copies 2 or 3 times a year when asking for loans (to buy fertilizer, for instance). And sometimes accountants would collude with upper-caste landlords to steal the land by altering the deeds.

In the state of Karnataka, 20 million deeds have been digitized over the past 5 years, and 200 kiosks have been deployed across the state. It now costs the equivalent of 30 cents to get a copy of one’s records–the previous fees from the local accountants were in the range of $2.00 to $20.00.

I would have implemented India’s system differently, but YAY anyway.


If you want to stop more terrorism, kill more terrorists

June 28, 2004

Charles Krauthammer details Israel’s victory over the Intifada

While no one was looking, something historic happened in the Middle East. The Palestinian intifada is over, and the Palestinians have lost.
[…]
The end of the intifada does not mean the end of terrorism. There was terrorism before the intifada and there will be terrorism to come. What has happened, however, is an end to systematic, regular, debilitating, unstoppable terror — terror as a reliable weapon. At the height of the intifada, there were nine suicide attacks in Israel killing 85 Israelis in just one month (March 2002). In the past three months there have been none.
[…]
Israel targeted terrorist leaders — attacks so hypocritically denounced by Westerners who, at the same time, cheer the hunt for, and demand the head of, Osama bin Laden. The top echelon of Hamas and other terrorist groups has been either arrested, killed or driven underground. The others are now so afraid of Israeli precision and intelligence — the last Hamas operative to be killed by missile was riding a motorcycle — that they are forced to devote much of their time and energy to self-protection and concealment.

He also thinks the fence was important. I think the apparent success of the fence is more an artifact of attacking the terrorists. Hopefully, the US will continue to follow suit. Do Kerry supporters out there believe he will or that, instead, he would go more for a defensive law enforcement model?


Hermann Goering vs Franklin Delano Roosevelt

June 28, 2004

Duing the run up to the war in Iraq, various anti-war and pacifists folks kept quoting Hermann Goering’s comment at the Nuremberg trials about going to war:

“Of course the people don’t want war. But after all, it’s the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it’s always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it’s a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger.”

Today Andrew Sullivan provided this great riposte from Franklin Delano Roosevelt, May 26 1940

But there is an added technique for weakening a nation at its very roots … The method is simple. It is first, a dissemination of discord. A group – not too large – a group that may be sectional or racial or political – is encouraged to exploit its prejudices through false slogans and emotional appeals. The aim of those who deliberately egg on these groups is to create confusion of counsel, public indecision, political paralysis and, eventually, a state of panic. Sound national policies come to be viewed with a new and unreasoning skepticism … As a result of these techniques, armament programs may be dangerously delayed. Singleness of national purpose may be undermined. . . . The unity of the state can be so sapped that its strength is destroyed. All this is no idle dream. It has happened time after time, in nation after nation, during the last two years.

Sullivan connects this quotation with Michael Moore. I would say it applies equally well to much of the liberal media establishment.

In any case, the contrast between the quotations represents well the value and danger of democracy and freedom of the press. Goering assumes the leaders control of the media so all they have to do is tell people things. In contrast, here the leaders are held to a higher standard where leaders must show the people they are in danger in the face of a free press that may be actively hostile to the leadership and its agenda and that does not have the same level of security responsibilities as that leadership. The question FDR opens is whether the questioning of leadership claims by the free press can become pathological enough to cause major damage. I would like to believe that the check on the free press comes from an intelligent and educated citizenry, but my observations of the Ivy League educated readership of the NYTimes, the Washington Post, etc. leaves me dubious.

How do we balance the dangers of overreaching by dictatorship against the dangers of pacifist stupor induced by a free press?


Saddam sought uranium from Niger

June 27, 2004

Via Belgravia Dispatch, perhaps the Finanial Times would be the honest liberal alternative to the NYTimes.

Intelligence officers learned between 1999 and 2001 that uranium smugglers planned to sell illicitly mined Nigerien uranium ore, or refined ore called yellow cake, to Iran, Libya, China, North Korea and Iraq.

These claims support the assertion made in the British government dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programme in September 2002 that Iraq had sought to buy uranium from an African country, confirmed later as Niger. George W. Bush, US president, referred to the issue in his State of the Union address in January 2003.


Is there a good alternative to the NYTimes?

June 27, 2004

Andrew McCarthy and Captain Edi do a good job of dissecting the NYTimes recent effort to mislead its readers into believing that there were no connections between Saddam and Al Queada, when in fact it knew that they had a cooperative relationship.

Robert and others argue that this administration faces a credibility problem. Fault for this credibility problem lies at the feet of the major media like the NYTimes that keep misreporting both what the Administration has said and the facts on the ground that may corroborate Administration conclusions.

In describing Michael Moore’s newest movie, Jeff Jarvis observes:

He’s no longer just ridiculing the powerful; he’s no longer turning them into punchlines; he’s now trying to convince us that these particular powerful people — Bush et al — are evil, venal, corrupt, incompetent co-conspirators out to ruin our world. If you’re going to try to convince us of that, then you have a different obligation of fact and argument than if you’re just trying to make fun of somebody. You should give us legitimate facts and arm us with arguments by showing both sides of an issue and beating down the other side. If you don’t do that, you’re only shrieking. You’re weakening your own argument by ignoring the other side. You’re insulting the intelligence of your audience by not giving them both sides. You’re just seething. That’s what Moore is like now. He wants to convince us he’s telling the truth but he’s afraid to tell the whole truth.

“All the News That’s Fit to Print” is falling into the same category. Unfortunately, unlike Moor’s movie, the NYTimes is, by far, the dominant news source for many people I know. And, they don’t feel insulted by its dishonest behavior, they feel relieved, and will leap to its defense. I don’t know what NYTime lie would be so outrageous so as to cause doubt. I think the solution is to find a news source that would serve the NYTimes’ audience better than it itself does. The NYSun attempts to provide a conservative alternative to the NYTimes but I think that misses the mark. What I am looking for is an honest news source for a liberal readership. Any recomendations?

Update: See also lying by the Kerry campaign.


Is death an option?

June 27, 2004

Transhumanists argue that technology can make accidental death obsolete. They further argue that:

If some people would still choose death, that’s a choice that is of course to be regretted, but nevertheless this choice must be respected. The transhumanist position on the ethics of death is crystal clear: death should be voluntary. This means that everybody should be free to extend their lives and to arrange for cryonic suspension of their deanimated bodies. It also means that voluntary euthanasia, under conditions of informed consent, is a basic human right.

This position is hugely problematic.

  • As persuasive technologies improve
    and as we learn more about our cognitive biases, we are discovering how weak the concept of “informed consent” really is.

  • Worse, they are now requiring the creation of a system to adjudicate whether informed consent was really given or not on a per-individual basis. Right now, the procedural costs of executing someone who has received the Death Penalty exceed the costs of a life in prison. Who would pay those costs for someone to execute themselves?
  • Worse still, any system adjudicating informed consent is guaranteed to make mistakes. It will have to balance the risk of some people being “unfairly” kept alive with the risk of murder. To me, the presumption should be against murder. Such a presumption would imply simply banning suicide.
  • More subtly, if the decision to extend life or not is also the outcome of informed consent, do we now have to subject the use of any life-extension technology to the “informed consent” bureacracy? How do we know that someone isn’t being unfairly pressured into being kept-alive?

The Transhumanists need to acknowledge that the creation of these technologies effectively will impose longer lives on people whether they like it or not?


Are anti-Bush folks making accusations of lying because they concede the war has been a success?

June 25, 2004

Just a random thought this morning. I mean at this point we know that Saddam was involved with Al Queada and perhaps other terrorist groups. Saddam had WMD and was developing more, Saddam was an evil man that should be eliminated, that Iraqis prefer their new government to Saddam, that Iraq llooks to become a democracy soon, Iraq is even getting a working stock exchange.

Does anyone at this point seriously believe it would have been better to leave Saddam in power?