Thursday, December 30, 2010

First post from the apple store

Thanks to Sarah I am on-line again! Look out World! 

True Disappointment

The movie true grit was a great disappointment, in part precisely because so much of it was so very good.

The dialogue from the original was captured and made credible in a way that I haven't heard since "Deadwood". Indeed, it was even more credible. The dialogue in Deadwood always seemed a bit too good. In the True Grit it doesn't seemed forced or contrived at all. The young heroine speaks in a biblical cadence while Rooster Cockburn speaks in a backwoods accent that is at once simple and majestic.

What is disappointing are the things added in and the things taken out.

What is added in is a brutal and callous bigotry on the part of the 'American' characters against the Indians. What is taken out is the morality of the novel. Portis' novel is a powerful statement against judicial formalism and in favor of realism.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Christopher Hitchens: 'You have to choose your future regrets' | interview | Books | The Observer

Christopher Hitchens: 'You have to choose your future regrets' | interview | Books | The Observer

Most interesting quote: Along the way, he says, "I learned that very often the most intolerant and narrow-minded people are the ones who congratulate themselves on their tolerance and open-mindedness. Amazing. My conservative friends look at me and say, 'Welcome to the club. What took you so long?' Well that's what it took and I think it's worth recording."

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Zombie » Gerrymandering 101

Zombie » Gerrymandering 101

Really nice post on Gerrymandering with a particularly good illustration of how it works and the magnitude of the effect it has had on our politics. He has a simple diagram showing how the minority can actually make itself the majority: something which, he argues, the Congressional Democrats appeared to have done for several decades.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Afghanistan and the Romans

While dealing with a revolt by the Franks he found that one of his supposed allies had betrayed the Romans and was complicit in the killing of many Romans. Caesar's soldiers wanted him to put the traitorous ally to death. But Caesar stopped them and ordered the rebellious tribal leader set free and even rewarded. For Caesar individual justice was a lesser good than that of the whole. He reasoned that whatever the truth of the matter was--and Caesar was in little doubt--the man was perceived as a friend of Rome. His aim was to advance the power and peace of Rome. And the most important principle in advancing the Pax Roma was that the enemies of Rome be seen to suffer and the friends of Rome be seen to prosper.

We in American have found a way to obey the opposite principle. In Afghanistan it has been our policy to benefit our enemies and harm our friends.

We have arrived at this unfortunate pass through good intentions, lack of imagination and bureaucratic inertia.

If one looks at the correlation between attacks on American soldiers and development aid it would be hard to avoid the conclusion that the best way to get American money is to spill American blood. Not that this is purely an American policy. Aid from other national governments and from international bodies follows largely the same pattern. The more violent an area is the more aid it gets. What is going on is the result not so much the result of explicit and conscious policy coordination as it is the result of common elite belief systems across the Western world. Call it the globalization of appeasement, of Chamberlainism. Violence is caused by poverty and deprivation. The perpetrators of violence are the victims of i. To stop their violence cure their deprivation. The problem is, the dog might bite you because he is hungry or because he has found a new way to get fed.

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Friday, July 30, 2010

The Plum Line - Obama to auto-workers: If GOP had had its way, your jobs would be gone

The Plum Line - Obama to auto-workers: If GOP had had its way, your jobs would be gone
Republican blows it. Obama touts the 80 billion he has squandered on the dino-jobs of the UAW and a Republican, Lamar Alexander, blows it. Alexander says that the government should get out of the business of propping up the lame 2 in order to protect jobs. Wrong! They are inefficient companies and they should go out of business. If the Republicans don't yet have the guts to say that the reason you don't prop up bad companies is not to protect the workers at the bad companies but to protect the consumers and investors now, when will they?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Jack Devine: The CIA Solution for Afghanistan -

Jack Devine: The CIA Solution for Afghanistan -

The CIA plan: let our friends hang, if they are lucky, that is. Our enemy's usual method of execution is not so humane.

The "plan" is to just let the country's democratic government take its chances and form relationships with whoever can help us out with Al Qaeda. One particularly noxious feature of this oped is the sanctimony it reeks of. He ends with a little flourish about advocates of covert action like himself having a special obligation to make it clear that they will not 'continence' such things as waterboarding. Three terrorists being water boarded is a great moral tragedy. A nation falling under the rule of monsters who make a public entertainment of beheading infidels is just being realistic.

Afghanistan's 'pristine jihad' draws in outsiders trained in Pakistan - Times Online

Afghanistan's 'pristine jihad' draws in outsiders trained in Pakistan - Times Online

Foreign fighters are increasing in Afghanistan. That means that if we walk away or lose it will be seen as a victory for the Islamists. That will be a disastrous outcome not only for the Afghans but for us.

Arizona Immigration Decision - Andy McCarthy - The Corner on National Review Online

Arizona Immigration Decision - Andy McCarthy - The Corner on National Review Online

McCarthy's analysis seems spot on to me. On thing that I really find interesting here is that some of the law's opponents think the judge has done them a favor in striking down the law. This is almost certainly not true. Our experience from the Roe v. Wade decision is that the court's intervention preempting normal law and policy making has the effect of mobilizing the losers far better than mere legislative opposition can. And remember, when the abortion laws of the states were struck down those laws were not all that popular and were seen as on the way out anyway (indeed, the fact that abortion prohibitions were on the wane across the states was actually used by the court as a reason the laws should be struck down!). Arizona's statute was supported by large and already mobilized blocks of voters.

Trip from 1701 N State St, Jackson, MS 39210-0001 to Quest Fitness, 1693 Bailey Ave, Jackson, MS 39203

Trip from 1701 N State St, Jackson, MS 39210-0001 to Quest Fitness, 1693 Bailey Ave, Jackson, MS 39203

My new martial arts class will be starting here soon.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Opinion: Sen. Jim Webb Uses His Privilege to Play Racial Politics

Opinion: Sen. Jim Webb Uses His Privilege to Play Racial Politics

Here is a reply to Webb's oped by Michael Arceneaux. His reply to Webb's argument that to the extent that affirmative action is justified by the need to compensate for past injustices suffered at the hands of white America is American imperialsim:

Webb says that immigrants from Asia, Africa and Latin America "did not suffer from discrimination from our government" the way black Americans did, but they nevertheless benefit from programs intended to rectify it. He doesn't address the prospect that American imperialism affected people of color in various parts of the world.
This seems a bit thin. American imperialism would seem to be a reasonable argument for American Indians, Philippines Islanders and perhaps even some Hispanics, but what could it possibly have to do with East Asians or South Asians?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Khmer Rouge Leader Convicted -

Khmer Rouge Leader Convicted -

Another farce of international law comes to an end with a Khmer Rouge leader being convicted and sentenced to 35 years, probably with time served as part of the sentence. If you object to mass murder being committed by a state the proper action to take is to go to war and stop mass murder by forcibly stopping the mass murderers.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


JammieWearingFool Reports on the contributions from BP to the Obama administration, another story the state run media are not interested in.

New Blood for Social Security — The American, A Magazine of Ideas

New Blood for Social Security — The American, A Magazine of Ideas

This article discusses a proposal for bringing government workers into the social security system. There is something about tyranny being defined by the rulers not living under the laws they make for others somewhere in political theory, isn't there? I think the new political divide will be between the people and the mandarinate, the people that have to make their living in the market and the people that get checks from the government. The new class warfare will be between citizens and the government payroll one way or the other.

For a lot of this century these issues have been deflected by painting government employees as self-sacrificing heroes, the operative synecdoches always being fire-fighters and police. But one of the ways to counteract this is by bringing up easily understood contrasts. Such a contrast is highlighted by reference to the simple principle that you have to live under the laws you make for others. The social security exemption is an obvious example. Government officials who don't send their kids to private schools is another. The coming of government health care is going to offer a target rich environment.

The charge that they rulers are not living under the laws they make for others was used to great effect by Gingrich in the early 90s. The fact that Congress had literally exempted itself from most of the hiring and safety regulations it had imposed on the rest of the country was of little practical import but tremendous symbolic power. The issues of government workers not living within the constraints of the welfare state they are pushing the rest of the country into is a huge potential issue.

White House backed release of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi | The Australian

White House backed release of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi | The Australian

So the Obama administration backed release of the Lockerbie bomber? Incredible. And more evidence that if you want to know anything you have to read the foreign papers. No use relying on the state run media here.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Breitbart: Sherrod "Sees Things Through Racial Prism" - CBS News Video

Breitbart: Sherrod "Sees Things Through Racial Prism" - CBS News Video

Breitbart makes some very good points and I agree with most of them. I really don't like the way he monopolizes the conversation even if he is right and even if he is getting slammed by the media which is distorting everything he says. I go back to Reagan. Reagan was vilified by the media but never felt the need to act like this in an interview. I can't stand people that can't make their points with pith and brevity. It is the Alinskyiazation of the right.

One thing that I think we could all benefit from is a definition of the terms "doctoring". The clip was not doctored. It was incomplete. Doctoring is taking something out of the middle of someones remarks. Taking an intact but incomplete clip is not doctoring. Taking one question and putting it with a different answer is doctoring. Incomplete may or may not be relevant, but is not doctoring.

Right now I am hearing Shiraz give her life story as a martyr. She is going to be the poster child for the administration and she really is a bit weird. Morris is the guy who made the key point, the administration now owns this woman and it is not clear that she is a bargain.

Breitbart: Sherrod "Sees Things Through Racial Prism" - CBS News Video

Breitbart: Sherrod "Sees Things Through Racial Prism" - CBS News Video

Breitbart makes some very good points and I agree with most of them. I really don't like the way he monopolizes the conversation even if he is right and even if he is getting slammed by the media which is distorting everything he says. I go back to Reagan. Reagan was vilified by the media but never felt the need to act like this in an interview. I can't stand people that can't make their points with pith and brevity. It is the Alinskyiazation of the right.

One thing that I think we could all benefit from is a definition of the terms "doctoring". The clip was not doctored. It was incomplete. Doctoring is taking something out of the middle of someones remarks. Taking an intact but incomplete clip is not doctoring. Taking one question and putting it with a different answer is doctoring. Incomplete may or may not be relevant, but is not doctoring.

Right now I am hearing Shiraz give her life story as a martyr. She is going to be the poster child for the administration and she really is a bit weird. Morris is the guy who made the key point, the administration now owns this woman and it is not clear that she is a bargain.

Breitbart: Sherrod "Sees Things Through Racial Prism" - CBS News Video

Breitbart: Sherrod "Sees Things Through Racial Prism" - CBS News Video

Breitbart makes some very good points and I agree with most of them. I really don't like the way he monopolizes the conversation even if he is right and even if he is getting slammed by the media which is distorting everything he says. I go back to Reagan. Reagan was vilified by the media but never felt the need to act like this in an interview. I can't stand people that can't make their points with pith and brevity. It is the Alinskyiazation of the right.

One thing that I think we could all benefit from is a definition of the terms "doctoring". The clip was not doctored. It was incomplete. Doctoring is taking something out of the middle of someones remarks. Taking an intact but incomplete clip is not doctoring. Taking one question and putting it with a different answer is doctoring. Incomplete may or may not be relevant, but is not doctoring.

Right now I am hearing Shiraz give her life story as a martyr. She is going to be the poster child for the administration and she really is a bit weird. Morris is the guy who made the key point, the administration now owns this woman and it is not clear that she is a bargain.

Classical Values :: Burglar? Or underground bartender?

Classical Values :: Burglar? Or underground bartender?

Why this is a kick-ass country.

The Volokh Conspiracy » Cultural Defense Accepted as to Nonconsensual Sex in New Jersey Trial Court, Rejected on Appeal

The Volokh Conspiracy » Cultural Defense Accepted as to Nonconsensual Sex in New Jersey Trial Court, Rejected on Appeal

As yes, the sweet smell of multi-culturalism. So raping a woman is ok if you don't think that you are raping a woman but acting under what your culture (the culture of the country you came from), you think you are just exercising your rights. Of course, not all cultures are according this privilege of super ceding the law of the land. Whoopi nods, it wasn't "rape" rape. It is not rape if the 14 year old's family wants the money and connections that come from selling their daughter off in marriage or letting your daughter be ravaged by a Hollywood producer if you think they are going to have a shot at getting a part in a big movie.

bad news

Soldiers kidnapped in Afghanistan. At least they went out shooting. Fox News said that they left their base in Kabul. I was just in Kabul a little over two weeks ago. Surely I was a softer target than soldiers in an 4-wheel drive.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Volokh Conspiracy » Obama Campaign Adviser Participated on JournoList

The Volokh Conspiracy » Obama Campaign Adviser Participated on JournoList

Here is the thing: the fact one of their guys is part of the liberal in-crowd with journalists is not news. But the fact is that coordination is against the campaign finance laws. Of course, as a matter of substance this is trivial: most what they did and talked about would surely have happened without the guy being on the list. The law is overly broadly drawn. But a bad law is still a law. What will happen is that the establishment will concede the law was technically violated but argue that substantively it didn't matter because they were all liberals anyway. That is a problem for two reasons. For one thing, it is a violation of law anyway. But more interestingly, the defense puts a lie to the claim that the "profession" of journalism is in some significant way to be accepted as a neutral authority.

It raises a number of fascinating questions, too. For instance, what is an "organization"? You are a member of journolist. What does that mean? Being on an address list makes you a member of something? That is scary considering some of the mailing lists I am a member of.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Breitbart and the clip

Breitbart says that he only received the edited clip. That seems a reasonable explanation but it only moves the misdeed back a step to whomever edited the clip to be obviously misleading.  Where are the demands that that person apologize and come forward. 

Breitbart's argument that was he was only trying to draw attention to the way the audience reacted.  Again, this is an interesting and reasonable point. I think the reaction of the crowd was a little disturbing. But the characterization the edited clip gave of Sherwood's thinking is just just unforgivable.  If it had been made clear at the outset that the story about discriminating against a white man was part of a larger story of how she learned that such behavior is wrong then the point about the audience's reaction to her statements before she had revealed that her views had changed might be defensible, but having the truth come out only after a person's reputation has been doesn't quite cut it.  After all this progress we have made we now have to fight the perception that every piece of video we release is part of a set up. The possible fact that Breitbart was not in on the set-up hardly undoes the damage.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Jules Crittenden » Race-Baitism

Jules Crittenden » Race-Baitism

Good post on the use of the racism charge. I have two things to add.

First, it should be called playing the racism card. That is the most sensible and accurate term. Why will no one listen to me?

Secondly, the incriminating emails from journo-list have been defended by Solon on the grounds that the tactics talked about do not appear to have been actually employed. But that misses the point. The media did act as if they had been on journ0-list and had employed their strategies. Rove and other conservatives were called racists for bringing it up and the main-stream press was remarkably incurious about Reverend Wright and Obama's connections to him. But the most damning piece of evidence is that the McCain campaign ignored the story. They did not want to be tagged as racists. The misdeed of intimidation is not lessened because the intimidation worked.

The value of the Journo-list revelations is not that we see the actual planning of the specific actions taken by that set of journalists but that we get to see the thinking of mainstream journalists whey they think no one is listening.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

George F. Will - The high price of American hubris

George F. Will - The high price of American hubris

Will mentions something that would be too perfect to believe if it were made up:

Wilson said, in effect, "Stop the world, America wants to get off." He actually said America would "in no circumstances consent to live in a world governed by intrigue and force." And so the next war came, on Sept. 1, 1939, when dignitaries were in Geneva, birthplace and cemetery of the League of Nations, unveiling a statue of Wilson.
We don't always get to choose our wars and our enemies, sometimes they choose us.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

U.S. and Afghanistan Debate More Village Forces -

U.S. and Afghanistan Debate More Village Forces -

Here is the problem: we disarmed the local populace and left them vulnerable to the Taliban on the theory that they needed a strong central government to protect them. When the strong central government never materialized the Taliban took advantage. And it was precisely the people that were most supportive of our side and were most likely to comply with the disarmament decrees that were hurt.

20 Highest Earning Cities in America - The Daily Beast

20 Highest Earning Cities in America - The Daily Beast

Richard Florida thinks his list shows the growing returns to knowledge and intelligence but note that the highest earning city is Washington, D.C.. Are they inventing a lot of new devices in D.C.? No, what is happening is that the returns to cultivating politicians are increasing faster than the returns to building businesses.

Mattis Named To Command U.S. Forces In Iraq, Afghan Wars - Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty © 2010

Mattis Named To Command U.S. Forces In Iraq, Afghan Wars - Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty © 2010

In 2005, Mattis was reprimanded by the Marine Corps for telling a conference in San Diego, California: "It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right up front with you, I like brawling."

"You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil," Mattis said during a panel discussion. "You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them."
Gates said on July 8 that appropriate action had been taken at the time. He added that "the subsequent five years have demonstrated that the lesson was learned.

Lesson learned? Meaning that it is not fun to shoot them or that it is not smart to admit it? I hope it is the latter. Nothing so well illustrates the problem our society faces in fighting a war than our horror at the idea that some of the men fighting the war might actually enjoy killing their enemies.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Thank you, America

On my first day in Kabul, Afghanistan, I visited the home of my college's student, Sabira.  Her Father was insisted on picking me up at the airport and hosted me for a long lunch.  These workmen were in the courtyard outside my student's house and, after seeing me through the window, asked to come in and meet me.

Here is the video on my YouTube page

They wanted to say 'Thank You' to America.

I have heard this before, though not as often as I hear disappointment. However, the disappointment is not from our killing civilians or failing to respect Muslim culture, it is from our failure to defeat the Taliban. This has been the main complaint during all my trips to Afghanistan.

Another thing that has been a common theme on this trip is frustration that the reconstruction aid all seems to go to the areas that are controlled by the Taliban and people that don't support America, while the people in areas that are happy to work with the US and want to have a modern, democratic country are left to fend for themselves.

It makes sense to try to give young men that are joining the Taliban an alternative to fighting, but we can end up spending all our effort on trying to make our enemies like us and failing to back our friends. Caesar's policy in Gaul was first and foremost to see to it that the enemies of Rome were seen to suffer and the friends of Rome were seen to prosper. Maybe we should start thinking a bit more like the Romans.

Who is Confused?

An interesting paragraph from a New Republic profile of Scott Brown, entitled "Mr. America":

Perhaps most intriguingly of all, Brown has sometimes exploited anxiety about jobs as a reason to oppose … jobs-related legislation. In doing so, he’s picked up on a paradox that defines the political zeitgeist: Even though Americans are more concerned about jobs than anything else, they don’t seem to appreciate the factors that help create them. In the same NBC poll in which voters overwhelmingly say jobs should be the government’s top priority, they also say, by nearly a two-to-one margin, that they’d prefer the government attend to the deficit even if it delays the economic recovery. So, according to the poll, voters care much more about jobs than the deficit, but much more about the deficit than the economy. Where exactly are the jobs supposed to come from?
Well, private investment? One can disagree with the conservative approach to economic growth, that by rewarding private investment (keeping taxes low and not crowding it out of the financial markets with excessive government borrowing) but note that the author here, Noam Scheiber, dismisses the possibility. If you think that reducing the deficit is conducive to or even just compatible with creating jobs you are simply confused. All of the smart people know that deficit spending by the government is the way to create jobs and if you disagree you are merely confused. "Mr. America" is used here as a way of saying 'not too bright.'

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sharia Law faculty, Kabul University: Girl Power!

I got to meet the director again who called in the younger (Who did not give me a card--I'll get his name later) to translate. This is the third time I have met him and he is less intimidating now that I have gotten to know him a bit. For some reason the first time I met him I had the impression that he was a giant but now he is just a bit taller than me.

the director had concerns about the sample. He said that you can't tell about a country from taking the soil from one place. I said that sometimes you can tell a lot about a river from just one glass of the water. He said that there are many rivers in this case. I was going to point out that there is only one river in Kabul but thought it better to pass. He seems to like using metaphors. we had one go round last year about learning about Islam from a waiter versus and expert.

The young professor took us to a class and I was quite surprised to find that it was an all girls' class. Mirwais had said that last year the girls were enthusiastic about the survey while the boys last year were initially suspicious. I certain found that the girls in this third year class were not shy about giving their opinions (what Afghans are?), but that they also made rather sharp and cogent arguments. Again, I found that people gave small speeches rather than engage in a shorter give and take. I don't know if this is a broader characteristic of the culture or just something that happens in academic settings though I my sense is that it is the former. Unfortunately it was apparently not "OK" to take pictures.

One young lady said that the human rights groups are always criticizing Afghanistan, saying, for instance, that we should not kill a murderer because it is a violation of human rights. But isn't endangering the community by letting a murderer go violating the human rights of the community as well as the victim?

Another young woman made an intriguing point about the NGOs and women's rights. I am not sure that I fully got her point, but she was critical of the women's rights NGOs. She made two points. First, that by constantly talking about "women's rights" rather than human rights, they create the sense that their is some set of rights that are peculiar to women and, by being specific to women, somehow inferior to general human rights. Second, she argued that by talking about the special rights of women they undermined the family. These two points seemed to me to be somewhat contradictory but I didn't really have the chance to probe the issue very deeply.

There does seem to be a tension in the Western Intellectual world that has not really been faced straightforwardly in that we talk about multiculturalism (treating all cultures as equal) and a universal set of human rights as if those two propositions were completely compatible if not interchangeable. But what if individuals in a culture does not want the rights we classify as universal? We can sometimes dismiss the refusal or some rights as being a product of ignorance or fear, but that hardly seems a tenable answer in the case of these rather impressive young women. Indeed, the young women in the Islamic Law class had more cogent arguments and every bit as much confidence as the rather more loquacious young men in the economics department.

The younger member of the Sharia Law faculty who had been charged with shepherding us around proved to be quite talkative once we were alone. In the presence of the Department chair he had been quite deferential, not venturing to give his own opinions. When we got a chance to talk to him alone he was very interesting. One thing that struck me was that as conservative as they are he hated the Taliban. Two things he mentioned stand out.

He had a friend at an NGO. She worked in Afghanistan for a few years but as the Taliban's terrorism got more and more extreme her movements were more and more restricted. He said that near the end she would send him emails asking him to come visit her in her 'prison'. Like most of the foreigners in Afghanistan she was being picked up in a dark-windowed SUV and kept in a "guest house" with the same NGO types. There is a list of 11 restaurants they can go to. Luckily for me I am expendable and can go wherever I want.

The other thing he mentioned was a student that he had in class. Something came up where they had to give the students a couple of days off. This student was so happy because he would have time to go back to his village and fight with the Taliban for a few days, doing his duty of Jihad. The professor was shocked that he had someone in his class that thought like this and that would declare it openly.

I asked him if he was afraid of the Taliban. I said that he was a conservative Muslim with a beard and a Pashtun, so he would be safe right? He looked at me as if he were dealing with a particularly slow child……

Small World

Hanging around Kateeb University

A man I had been introduced to but with whom I had not had a conversation came upon me as I was stretching my legs outside Mirwais' office and insisted I come into the office of his faculty (what we would call a department). He turned out to be on the economics faculty. One of the three fellows in the room spoke excellent English and I found out that he used Mankiw's text. He even had access to the website. The government office where he has his day job had a two year old legit copy (most people have photo-copies) with the code number for the website. No one had bothered to try it in the two years the book had been there so he was able to get access to all the exercises and supplementaries. Small world.

Open letter to the Intellectuals of the World

Babar's tomb

we were invited to Babour's tomb. Babour was the founder of the Mogul empire which ruled India from the 16th century till the 18th though the dynasty was kept as a figure head up until the Mutiny in 1857).

The tomb is really an extended garden. It has been rehabilitated a fair amount since out last visit a couple of years ago. The palace was closed at the time we went there but it has been restored and is open to the public on occasion. From the outside the palace was a rather modest building, though his main palace was in India proper apparently. The tomb is quite small and tastefully done in what I judged to be white marble. He certainly did not give the impression of being extravagant. One imagines a serious man who would have preferred to rule his empire from horseback.  I was happy to have along the two Sabiras--on the left a future high school exchange student and on the right 'our' Sabira, the pre-med student. (Here we are in the restaurant at the park.)

I had an nice conversation with our hosts. One, Mahmood Hakimi, was a newspaper editor who had been imprisoned for about 6 months before the Taliban were overthrown. We found ourselves in great agreement till economics came up.

It seemed to come into the conversation by my talking. He asked me about democracy and I said that it might be too early to introduce it in the countryside where the literacy rate is so low. I suggested that in Western countries democratic rights spread gradually from urban elites to the rest of the country. He said that I sounded like a communist.

As it turns out this was not necessarily a criticism from his point of view. For one thing, the communists were pretty good and keeping order and protecting the urban elites (like my newspaper editor friend, well, like all my friends in Kabul). For another, my friend turned out to be a great proponent of the planned economy.

He said that capitalism might be alright for a country that is already rich like the US but that in a country that is as poor as Afghanistan it was not fair. He gave the example of 10 taxi drivers put out of business by a rich man that buys a bus. I countered that the people riding the bus are saving money that can be spent on other goods and services, the provision of which, the 10 unemployed taxi drivers might eventually be employed. I also started in with the example of the horse and buggy makers displaced by the automobile in the first place but my friend was adamant about making a larger point that went on for some time without definite conclusion. (I thing the most direct answer to his argument would have been to ask why not replace the taxis with mule carts which would require ten times as much labor again to provide the same amount of transportation service)

In any case, our host, an older student at Kateeb named Asif Razi, soon produced several copies of a short letter which I quickly gathered had been the real reason for the invitation.

I have asked him to send me the document with an English translation which I will later post. Here is a rough and ready translation of his statement:

"The world is growing more interconnected. Therefore, what happens in one part of the globe cannot be kept separate from the rest of the globe, whether for good or ill.

Intellectuals are citizens of this globalizing world. Intellectuals are against ignorance and ignorance is a danger to intellectuals. What is dangerous to them is dangerous to the world.

People living around the Durand line are living in ignorance. They are ignorant because in a globalizing world they are killing their fellow human beings without due process.

Then you, intellectuals of the world, what do you intend to do? Since Afghanistan's intellectuals are in the first line facing this danger, what will you intellectuals of the world do to support us in our struggle?"

I answered by asking if he knew George Orwell. He said that he did, of course.

I said that Orwell once remarked that there are some ideas which are so obviously absurd that they could only be believed by intellectuals. The great danger in our world today comes from the barbarians in his country and the intellectuals in ours, who believe in the absurd notion that they can negotiate with barbarians.

Prince of Conquerers

Prince of Conquerers

Though he stands 5' 4" he gives no appearance of being self-conscious about his height. He exudes self-confidence. The only time Ali Reza is close to being embarrassed is when his friends and co-workers use his nickname in front of foreigners, even though it is used with an obvious combination of affection and respect. He tries reminding people to call him "Ali Reza" but usually gives up after a few tries and everyone reverts to using his regular name, "Cheng geez"--the Afghan pronunciation of Genghis Khan.

Ali Reza is an undergraduate student at two universities in Afghanistan--Kateb University and the American University of Afghanistan. But being a student is something he does in his spare time. His main job is as a businessman. At the age of 24 he is the founder and proprietor of the Star English Academy which has over 7,000 students at three branches. His most recent enterprise is dubbing foreign TV shows and selling them to Afghan TV. (If anyone wants to come to Afghanistan and try to enforce their copyright they are welcome to).

He began as a program officer for USAID a couple of years after the occupation. He did that for three years. He rose quickly in the ranks due to his industriousness and English language ability. But he didn't really like it. He found that he was spending 50% of his time writing reports to justify how they had spent the money. His experience illustrates a problem with foreign aid. The money that you can get applying for grants far outweighs the profits from actually doing something useful in many cases. At the American University the most popular courses are those that teach applying for grants and justifying how you spent the grants. The best and most talented people in the country are sucked into the most profitable activities around which, when the money is flowing, are those that involve getting money from foreigners. He decided that if he wanted to really do something to improve things he would have to go out on his own.

He started the Star English Academy with almost nothing, barely a wall to write on. he developed his own curriculum and started attracting students. His students were, like him, mostly Hazaras, the previously despised asiatic minority. The word "Hazara" means 10,000. The name comes from the story of the town in Herat, which was destroyed by Genghis Khan in the 13th century for attempting to revolt. The scourge of God reportedly made an example of town by killing all of its inhabitants and replacing them with Mongols, 10,000 of them, Hence, the name.

Since that time the Hazara have had a hard time in their own country. As the smallest minority, distinguish both by their racial features and their Shi'ia religion, they have been treated practically as slaves throughout much of their history in Afghanistan. But since the coming of the Americans academic achievement has come to the fore and the Hazarah have had something of a come back. this has been called the Rennaissaince of the Hazarah.

But this has not stopped the violence against them. the Pashtun nomads of Afghanistan have recently attacked the Hazarah in the province of Ghazni.

The nomads were supposed to be settled in fixed abodes as a matter of constitutional law. That has not happened.

The attack was one-sided. the Hazarahs had no guns. The ISAF, in its wisdom, had taken them away. The big plan, don't you see, we are going to make Afghanistan a modern, civilized country where the government provides security. The Hazarahs, having no interest in violence and very much wanting to live in a free, democratic society, complied. The nomads did not. Nor has the Taliban.

It is all part of our fundamental mistake of trying to impose solutions that make little sense in the institutional context of Afghanistan. We are trying to impose policies that treat everyone impartially by means of a bureaucracy that is thoroughly cooped by ethnic and clan networks as loyal to the Taliban and local warlords as they are to the state. The result is that we put those who are willing to follow the rules and give their loyalty to the new democratic order are the ones that are hurt by our policies.

Aid is another example. The thinking that drives our aid distribution is that if a province is supporting the Taliban it can only be because they are dissatisfied with the new order. By giving them aid we will remove the source of dissatisfaction and give them an incentive to join the new order. But at some point the aid becomes and incentive to continue the revolt. Given the weak institutional structures through which the aid is given the money mostly ends up benefiting corrupt officials rather than the true targets of the aid.

Worst of all, the provinces that are happy to accept a modern, democratic state are neglected. Schools are built in the Pashtoon areas only to be burnt down while the Hazarah areas build their own.

Ali Reza talks faster the madder he gets, without ever losing the precision of his language.

"The Karzai government has decided to call the Taliban "the dissatisfied brothers." So now we will say, "the dissatisfied brothers just hanged a seven year old boy for being a "spy". The dissatisfied brothers have just thrown acid in the face of two girls walking to school."

The counter insurgency strategy which we have adopted means economically developing the areas that are under Taliban influence. But the thing That I hear most often in here is not the anger of those that support the Taliban--such people are vanishingly rare in educated circles--but the disappointment of our natural allies in Afghanistan. We have worried so much about making our enemies like us that we have neglected our friends, a mistake no successful 'conquerer' can afford to make.

Beggar and future supermodel

I have a policy against giving out money to beggars that I have managed to keep to. But what policy could win against a face like this? She ran me down in Shar-e-Naw, literally, new town, my first week in Afghanistan. It is the only part of town where you really see beggars regularly as it is where most of the foreigners and most well-off Afghans are.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


One thing I don't get. If it is a violation of the Supremacy clause when a state enforces federal law, why is it not a violation when a city declares itself a sanctuary and refuses to allow the enforcement of federal law? Moreover, isn't the Arizona law simply a set of guidelines as to when the suspect is referred to the federal authorities? The decision to deport or what constitutes a deportable alien is still entirely in the hands of the federal authorities.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The other Afghanistan

We had a lunch for the faculty members of the various universities that participated in our study. We had members of Kabul University's Economics Department and the Sharia Law faculty, The American University's head librarian (most of the teachers are off there for summer vacation), and several members of the political science and sociology faculties from Kateeb University. We also had a representative of the American Embassy.

There has been an explosion in higher education activity in recent years but there are not many opportunities for faculty members to get together across disciplinary and institutional boundaries. My general impression was that they enjoyed it and were interested in increasing cooperation with one another.

I found that the one thing that united all the Afghan colleagues that I worked with was their willingness to work with people they didn't know. They want to be in touch with the rest of the world. I think the image we have of Afghanistan is dominated by the Taliban, the one group that virtually every Afghan I talk to hates. There is another Afghanistan, an Afghanistan worth fighting for.

Government Irrationality

Setting an inflexible rule without examining possibly trade-offs in different circumstances is an inherent shortcoming of government. It is truly appalling that the administration first refused Dutch help and then enforced an absurd rule.


There is something a little disturbing about the way some have reacted to the McCrystal replacement. Some of my fellow expats took a positive joy in how quickly and unceremoniously the general was dismissed. They seemed to derive enjoyment from the decisiveness of our president in asserting his prerogatives and batting down the insolent military leakers. 

Perhaps this was necessary but it disturbs me how little I have heard about the real question, was McCrystal the best man for the job or not?  That seems to be the most important question and the few expats that I have talked took a deliberate pleasure in dismissing that concern as irrelevant.  Civilian control of the military is the sacred point.

Even granting that that was the issue, it leaves me uneasy to dismiss the question of generalship so cavalierly.  Having the right general could easily mean the difference between victory and defeat in Afghanistan. 10 years from now no one will care if the President's entourage was given its due respect. Some one may care whether girls are able to walk to school without having acid thrown in their face.

It is a particularly striking example of how we use our foreign affairs as resources to play out our domestic political culture wars.  Has his oneness been disrespected? That is the question.  The nation of Afghanistan? Our soldiers lives? Mere details.

David Brooks has a great column on this. Also, check out the Churchill Centre's take.

More evidence that the real dividing line is between the public and the private sectors. I think these aggregate figures help get past the appearance that the relatively small number of direct federal employees creates of a relatively small public sector.  Add in all the subsidized and the sub-contractors and the public sector gets much larger.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Democracy and Globalization not necessarily to the West's advantage

From an article describing Turkey's embrace of Islamic causes and turn away from secularism, evidence that globalization cuts both ways:

"Hifa Gulru Caglar, a 21-year-old Turk studying in Romania, drove 12 hours to take part in the protest. A visitor asked what contributed to the pro-Palestinian fervor, which wasn't as evident in the past.

"Twenty years ago, there was no Internet," Caglar said. "We had no access" to information from Gaza."

Real Financial Reform

The Huffington Post's Simon Johnson has this approving analysis of Richard Fisher's (the Head of the Federal Reserve in Dallas) of the Obama administration's proposed reform and its failings. His main argument is that the gargantuan banks of our era are the result of the lack of market forces and that unless we restrict banks to a size small enough to fail we will never end the bailout syndrome.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

The Economist reports on the things that are actually blocked by the Gaza blockade and finds that there are some pretty harmless things that have been prohibited at one point or another. The blockade would appear to be aimed at more than just prohibiting weapons but also making life worse for the residents of Gaza. The fact that your blockade makes life uncomfortable is something that you should apologize for is a problem. The whole understanding of the situation is constructed in a way that makes most any action that Israel takes is going to be illegitimate. Israel is not allowed to fight a war against a government and territory that is waging war against it. I think the focus on the tactics employed or the things allowed in or not allowed in misses the point. The situation is constructed by so that fighting a war is itself illegitimate and as long as that is the case there is nothing that Israel can do that will allow it to defend herself and avoid criticism.

On the other hand there is a tactical point that must be made. The Israelis defend the blockade on the argument that the importation of weapons must be stopped. By stopping things that are not weapons and are hard to see how they could contribute to victory in a conflict blurs their point and exposes the fact that the Israelis, in addition to stopping the importation of weapons, are trying to give the people that voted for Hamas a little grief.  They are quite right to do so in my view, but as a matter of strategy it is probably not worth it.  They should publish the list of prohibited items and the list should be confined items of clear military use.  It is unfortunate that Israel is in a fight where the rules are unfair and the umpire is biased but lamenting the fact does not change it or the necessity for dealing with that fact.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Flotilla round up

Capital Strike

It turns out that when you make something more expensive people buy less of it. It even works for labor. Who knew

I was frankly surprised by the President's statement touting the increase in employment as an achievement in spite of the growth coming from the temporary hiring of census workers.  I was even more surprised that the press did not let him get away with it.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Athens on the Potomac — The American, A Magazine of Ideas

Athens on the Potomac — The American, A Magazine of Ideas

In some way our situation is worse than Greece: we have a lot more short term debt so we are going to be constantly on the market trying to issue more debt. All of that amazingly cheap credit may come back to bite us much sooner than we think.

Congratulations To SpaceX - Transterrestrial Musings

Congratulations To SpaceX - Transterrestrial Musings

A private space launch is successful. This is a vindication of the Obama administration's policy.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Opinio Juris » Blog Archive » Why Is Israel’s Blockade of Gaza Legal? (Updated)

Opinio Juris » Blog Archive » Why Is Israel’s Blockade of Gaza Legal? (Updated)

An example of the twisted and confused reasoning that lawyers get themselves into. The blockade is not illegal because Hamas is not a state, just a place where a bunch of guys that want to destroy their enemy by means of terrorism happen to live.

I answer that if there is not a category for that in the treaties Heller cites it is because the enemy has achieved a new standard of depravity and we to a new standard of cravenness. The enemy is allowed to shelter in the gap in the lawyers' cloud castle of categories, jumping to from one to the other when convenient.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Government Spending May Hurt the Private Sector - Business - The Atlantic

Government Spending May Hurt the Private Sector - Business - The Atlantic

This article takes advantage of the natural experiment provided by the ascension of a local member of Congress to the chairmanship of a spending committee. They find that the higher levels of earmark spending actually decrease private levels of R and D, investment and sales. There appears to be a resource curse even for government spending.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Pajamas Media » Fun with Numbers: GM ‘Payback’ of Taxpayer Loans

Pajamas Media » Fun with Numbers: GM ‘Payback’ of Taxpayer Loans

Apparently some people have a problem with the fact that GM is claiming to have repaid its loans while all it has really done is pay off one government loan with another. I don't see the problem, isn't that how social security works?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Obama covered up HHS report until after healthcare vote? | Washington Examiner

Obama covered up HHS report until after healthcare vote? | Washington Examiner

Here is a report from the HHS that Obama's health care reform will lead to increased costs. It was suppressed until after the vote was taken.

Imagine if it had been the Bush administration suppressing a document from the bureaucracy until after a major vote was taken: suppose that a CIA report that the Iraqi's did not have WMD had been held till after the authorization vote? What would the MSM be doing? Wouldn't there be calls for hearings?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

RealClearPolitics - Tea Partiers Racist? Not So Fast

RealClearPolitics - Tea Partiers Racist? Not So Fast

Here is an interesting article where the Tea Party is shown to be racist by the way it answers questions which ask the respondent to generalize about blacks. The linked article is a defense of the Tea Party respondents, but even the article concedes that the existence of racial stereotypes is disturbing. But is that really fair? The questions ask the respondent to generalize about different races. The respondents do so. That one is willing to have beliefs about the different averages for different groups of various traits is not, it seems to me, to be evidence of what we call having stereotypes. When we say someone has a stereotype it is not to say that they have a belief that one group, on average, varies from another on a particular trait. It is that they are unwilling to evaluate new evidence or are unwilling to examine individual level evidence. These two seem hardly the same thing. If asked how Asians, on average, compare with whites on math ability I would have little trouble saying that Asians on average have better math abilities. But that hardly means that I am unwilling to entertain the possibility that the person in front of me who happens to be Asian is not good at math, or that the white kid standing in front of or in my class might not be good at math. Still less does it meant that I would ignore evidence that the gap is closing, or be resistant to believing that a particular white kid is better at math than a particular Asian kid, or that my evaluation of their individual math skills would be influenced by my knowledge of their race (though this last assertion would seem to be irrational from a Bayesian point of view. Does that mean that a Bayesian who wishes to be fair to other races must not have prior beliefs about different means among races? Surely it cannot. The theory of rationality that implies Bayesian updating is one that requires a rational decision maker to take into account all evidence, including information about averages of different groups).

It is like asking one whether he thinks that men are taller than women and then, when he answers men are taller berating him for thinking about categories of individuals rather than individuals and ruling out of bounds any discussion of whether men are, in fact, on average, taller than women. Of course they are. And of course believing this general statement in no way obligates one or even makes it more likely for one to assume that any particular man is taller than any particular women. I should know. At 5' 6" I believe that men are taller than women but have no trouble understanding that there are plenty of individual exceptions--I find myself looking up at them all the time.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Future of an Illusion | The Weekly Standard

The Future of an Illusion | The Weekly Standard

Money graph:
Secretary Clinton told the giant AIPAC meeting, “Our credibility in this process depends in part on our willingness to praise both sides when they are courageous, and when we don’t agree, to say so, and say so unequivocally.” Several recent Palestinian actions, she said, were “provocations” that are “wrong and must be condemned.” That was nice, but saying it to a Jewish audience in a kiss-and-make-up session in Washington fools no one, not after her famous 43-minute telephone call to Netanyahu. These “provocations .  .  . that must be condemned” (note the passive voice) did not after all elicit a timely call to Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas condemning them, nor did she use the Quartet meeting in Moscow on March 19 for that purpose.

Only the our friends have to pay a real price for their actions. It might also be added that only the actions of our enemies involve killing people. Our friends "provocations" involve things like building houses.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sarah Palin's gun-imagery takes aim at political targets / The Christian Science Monitor -

Sarah Palin's gun-imagery takes aim at political targets / The Christian Science Monitor -

A terrible media furor has been set off by various acts of verbal incitement which has lead to a string of political violence. A former presidential candidate stated at a rally "If they bring a knife, you bring a gun." This lead to a string of acts ranging from the opposing candidates offices being trashed in Tennessee and a group of thugs assaulting a demonstrator and biting off his thumb in full view of a video camera, the scenes captured by which, immediately became the subject of virtual round the clock coverage.

Don't remember this? Neither do I. You see, the targets in all the above cases were conservatives.

A lot of conservatives seem to think they are the victim of a conspiracy on the part of the ruling Democrats and the Media. Myself--barely capable of concerted action on my own behalf--I am reluctant to believe my enemies up to mounting a conspiracy on behalf of their own. I subscribe to the view of Napoleon: Never attribute to design what mere incompetence is sufficient to explain.

It is true that the shared ideology of the media and the Democrats is an explanatory factor, but not because it is a plot to discredit republicans or conservatives. It is simple human cognitive limitations at work.

There are always biases and belief systems at work in our perceptions and memories. They determine what we notice, how we interpret it and what we remember. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, sometimes it is a symbol of some deeper truth, a hidden and suppressed intention. When the people speaking our our enemies we take what might otherwise be seen as innocent figures of speech become veiled threats and incitements to violence.

Liberal media are afraid of the Tea Party. It strikes them as a subversive, racist movement. In their universe the only reason that the 'people' rise up in protest are to demand protection from the powerful and that the government take their side against the rich and powerful to give them benefits. The idea of middle-class people who want nothing more from the government than to be let alone to take their chance at becoming rich or to suffer the consequences--good or bad--of their own decisions, in other words, to be free, is undreamt of in their philosophy. Therefore when they see a bunch of non-rich citizens acting like legitimate protestors the only category they have for them in their minds are dupes or racists. They have to assume they are deluded or acting from bad, undemocratic motives. Once this decision is made it is easy, indeed, almost impossible not to, see incitements to violence in any metaphor with martial overtones and to accord great salience to acts of violence or vandalism that would otherwise be dismissed as random noise.

Some of the fear mongering by Democrats is just funny. The Christian Science Monitor gravely warned Palin helped to harden the tenor as she played on the mythology of the gun in American culture to fire "the first salvo in a fight to elect people across the nation who will bring common sense to Washington."

The Monitor ran a picture of a smiling Sarah Palin posing with a hunting gun and reported that some Democratic Congressmen had been moved to ask for extra police protection in response to the threat. The image of Congressmen running for protection from the facebook one-liners of the menacing Caribou Barbie can hardly help the party of apology's credibility on national defense.

In fact the most striking fact about the tea party rallies is not just how civil they are compared to their leftist counter parts but how clean. There were 30 to 50 thousand people at a rally earlier this year on the Washington Mall that left the grounds cleaner than before the rally. Of course, the media couldn't report that without actually mentioning the existence of the rally so you didn't hear about that.

Conservatives now have to be their own news media. They have to be ready with counter examples to liberal stories of incitement and violence in any given conversation. The liberal media memory hole will have prevented the counter-examples from having reached the perception and memory of any but the most attentive conservative activists.

It is time conservatives started bringing their guns to these media knife fights--figuratively speaking, of course.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Adventures in Paradise: Ann Coulter gets a letter from Canada

Here is a link to a great story. The Canadian Human Rights Commission, in cooperation with a street Mob, has banned Ann Coulter from speaking in Canada. Mark Steyn explains--

Bienvenue au Canada - Mark Steyn - The Corner on National Review Online

Karl Rove: What Republicans Should Do Now -

Karl Rove: What Republicans Should Do Now -

There is a nice example of framing in this article:

"For example, changes in insurance regulations in 2011 and two new mandates in 2014 that force everyone to buy insurance and require everyone to be charged a similar price regardless of age or health will cause insurance premiums to rise more than they would have otherwise. The 10 million people who have a health savings account will also be hurt starting in 2011."

Whenever you hear the President talk about this it is a measure to prevent insurance companies from charging old people or sick people many times more what they charge young people or healthy people. This is perfectly true. It is also perfectly true to say that it is a measure to prevent young people or healthy people from purchasing insurance that reflects their actual risk of getting sick, or to buy insurance that represents their actual cost to the insurance company, to buy insurance without having to subsidize old people or sick people, to buy insurance that they can afford, to buy insurance at the free market cost, that is not several times what their actual cost is to the insurance company.

Which framing is correct is a function of what kind of policy change you want to make and your policy preferences. Both framings are equally accurate if not equally true (to borrow the formulation from the end of the film "Absence of Malice.")

Friday, February 26, 2010

Condescender in Chief

From the NYT's

"The president made it clear to Republicans that he would not scrap the health care bill, as the GOP leadership has been asking, and start fresh. At the same time, he also pleaded with them to find common ground.

"I'd like the Republicans to do a little soul-searching and find out are there some things that you'd be willing to embrace that get to this core problem of 30 million people without health insurance and dealing seriously with the pre-existing condition issue," Obama said."

I find this striking. The NYTs reports that the President is trying to find common ground and as support quotes him as saying they should examine their consciences and think about the victims of their intransigence. The assumption in Obama's comment is that the Republican's plans do not address the problems of the 30 million, that the only reason that they oppose the President's plans are their lack of concern for the 30 million, that they have put some base interest before the faint voice of their un-searched souls leaving them unwilling to embrace the problem of the 30 million and do something serious about the 30 million without health insurance. This is hardly fair. The Republican plans do do something about them. Indeed, they have already solved a third of the problem: Republican insistence that any benefits be limited to legal residents has already cut the number of "Americans" without health insurance from 45 million to 30 million.

Finding common ground would be mentioning things that they both agree on. His quote is implying that he cares about the people without health insurance and they don't. His plea is not lets work together but for them to recognize the moral superiority of his side. It is condescension, not compromise.

Of course, to the ears of someone in the intelligentsia fishbowl what Obama is saying sounds like a simple statement of the obvious. That is the problem with the ideological homogeneity of our elites, they can conceive of no principled objection to their plans, no other reasonable means to their ends. If one cares about the people without health insurance then one must be for government provision and price controls on insurance companies. That is something too obvious to be seen as requiring explanation, too settle to invite debate, too self-evident to be seen as a question at all, let alone one worth debating.

How do the Republican plans deal with the problems of those with pre-existing conditions and who are without health insurance? First, they lower the cost and then make health insurance portable by introducing real competition. The main Republican proposal costs nothing: make insurance purchasable across state lines--like practically every other thing you buy. Then, allow people to buy term health insurance the way they buy life insurance. You don't lose you life insurance when you change jobs, why should you lose your health insurance?

Isn't it odd the way we approach this question? Our health insurance and health care system in general is way out of wack with rampant inflation. Everything else that our economy produces gets steadily cheaper or at least doesn't go up with the exception of a few commodities that are under the political control of others (mainly oil). If health care behaves differently, wouldn't the natural place to start looking for solutions is in looking at how the laws governing health care differ from the laws governing other products?

From that starting point the first thing that is striking about health care is that you don't purchase it yourself, you don't get to take it with you, and you can't buy it from anyone outside your state. Can you think of any other product like that? No, just like you can't think of any other product which has anything like health care's problems of rampant inflation. Before we hand over 17% of our economy to the government, why don't we at least try what works in the computer market, the car market, the everything else 80% of our economy market, even the part of the medicine that is now part of the free market (lasic eye surgery, etc.), the market? Letting people spend their own money to make their own choices and, if they don't have enough money to do that, subsidizing the people, not the product (as we do in higher education)?

Look into your soul and give choice a chance.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Things worth reading

A thinking man's Glenn Beck (James Simpson at the American Thinker) describes how the strategy of using crisis to bring about socialism is at the heart of Obama's governing choices.

A TNR article on the amazing and agonizing history of Haiti. Another argument for imperialism?

Arnold King reviews the contending theories for why the current recession is so severe in terms of unemployment and concludes that there is a lot he and his fellow economists don't know.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Jon Stewart and John Yoo

Stewart apologizes for not nailing John Yoo on his program the previous night.

I think the apology is less apology and more humorous acknowledgment that this Yoo guy is pretty smart.

In general, I think that Stewart does a really good job in his interviews and you learn quite a lot from them. He doesn't take cheap shots and doesn't try to change the subject when he runs up against an argument that he doesn't have an answer for. I think he sets a better example for how to engage in public reasoning than most journalists.

Just because he did not have answers for the questions raised doesn't mean that Yoo is right, it just means that Yoo had raised an issue or consideration that Stewart hadn't thought through before. There is nothing wrong with not having an answer for an argument you have never heard before. I think that Stewart's program does a real service and I wish that conservatives were not so tacky in their references to him.

Stewart is obviously a liberal and makes no secret of the fact. That is useful to us. When he says something it has credibility outside of the conservative movement. It is true that he does his best material on conservatives, but that is inevitable. What drives comedy is the sense of contradiction, the fact that you are a liberal and that you detect contradictions most readily in the positions and speech of conservatives is not surprising: one is largely a result of the other.

We should also take these criticisms of ourselves to heart many times. He points out the ways in which we can improve our message. When he does a whole show on Glenn Beck's conspiracy theories he is telling us something worth knowing: that Glenn Beck is not someone to be too close to.

And he is an unnamed ally on many occasions of the conservative movement and even of Glenn Beck. When the MSM were ignoring the Acorn films and only Glenn Beck talked about them Stewart did one of the funniest segments I have ever seen. Stewart's presentation of the films was devastatingly funny and really cut to the heart of the matter far more than the grandiose conspiracy castles that Beck built upon the films. I was able to show the Jon Stewart show's version and it had a much greater impact on the (largely liberal class) than the Glenn Beck presentations would have. Moreover, they provided some validation for the Glenn Beck show's exhibiting of the films. That is, I think, a good guide to conservatives on how to approach Beck: use him when he has good, new information, and ridicule him when he goes off on his conspiracy theories.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

YouTube - Coakley Thug Roughs Up Reporter

YouTube - Coakley Thug Roughs Up Reporter

Watching the video it is actually much worse than I thought. I really found it a bit creepy. They guy keeps up the pretense of not being anyone and not trying to block his way while blocking his way. That a member of a political campaign for the Senate would go into a kind of West End thug playacting bit while muscling a guy around is just so unamerican. The American thing to do is have a bunch of security officers shielding your candidate from unpleasant questions by using polite official language.

Update: staffer issues creepy non-apology apology. He did not stop to make sure he was ok, he continued to shove him and hip check him from side to side with fake questions and oily fake politeness. And he "apologized for his part?" After all, it takes two to shove some guy to the ground, a guy to shove and a guy to get shoved. His pushing motion would have been perfectly harmless had the guy not been there in front of him. And lets not leave out gravity. I only pushed him a few inches. The great majority of his fall was due to gravity. There is nothing I can do about that.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Racy Harry

Poor harry is in such trouble over the use of the word "negro."

The word negro is an anachronism, not a slur. There is another slur that begins with the letter "n" that has always been recognized as a slur both by the people that used it and the people that it was used against (Rappers are somehow exempt from all this). The word negro has never to my knowledge been a slur, it is simply a word we don't use anymore.

There are no hard and fast rules. That is what makes these standards of "sensitivity" so useful. Every time someone transgresses one of the many unstated rules they get to pass judgment based on a "wholistic" assessment. That is, they have discretion over when the penalties will be extracted.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

This is a new thing I am trying with a Firefox add in called "Diigo".

Another thing to worry about

Michael Ledeen says he was totally immobilized by the naked man on the airplane. Good thing he turned out not to be a terrorist. Of course, he could still have been hiding a bomb.....oh, it doesn't bare thinking about. (Get it? "bare" thinking about? Come on people, do I have to do all the work?) Seriously, every time Al Qaeda finds a new place to hide a bomb we have to take something else off. We are one rectal bomber away from the end of air travel as we know it.

Random Thoughts

Watching Stargate Universe. I can't stand it but I am addicted anyway. At least it is not fattening.

Several permanent stars have died in this episode. That can only mean one thing: they are going to find a way to go back in time to save them. Time travel: it is like vampire movies. There are just things that you know will happen. I am too old to watch science fiction anymore. Everything is just another Start Trek re-run.

We have no heat in the political science building. The heater isn't working. I asked maintenance that I had no heat. They checked the heater and said it isn't working. Very helpful. Southern charm AND efficiency.

We got our Japanese exchange students here on Thursday. The campus was closed Thursday afternoon and Friday because of the cold emergency. It dropped below freezing. The radio explained what that means. It means that things will freeze. Things like water and a mysterious substance that falls silently from the sky called snow. It comes without warning, the silent killer. The Japanese kids flew in from Akita where they have about three feet of the deadly stuff on the ground right now.

A War of Ideas

The central difference between Reagan and the realist wing of the anti-communist movement was that Reagan saw the conflict as a war of ideas. This is the thesis of Mann's account of the end of the cold war. The conflict with the Jihadists is also a war of ideas, as Mark Styen argues again today.

Plea Bargains?

So we can still get information out of the Christmas bomber because we have the possibility of doing a plea bargain? That means that we will lighten his sentence in exchange for information in spite of having now all the evidence we could possibly need for a conviction on the charge of trying to murder 300 people. So we are now going to let a foreign intended terrorist murderer out early in order to get information that might lead to finding more intended terrorist murderers? Isn't there something odd about that? Would we let Reid out earlier if he had some information? KSM? Bin Laden? Does anyone else find this odd?

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Peaking Too Early

Dodd has dropped out and now Harry Reid has hit 33% approval. There is no sign of him dropping out but he is dangerously low in the polls and might loose a primary challenge. That is bad. As is the case with Dodd, he would be replaced by a Democrat without his baggage. In general, some of these retirements are a problem for Republicans. A new candidate with no individual connection to health care legislation or scandals would make things more difficult for the Republicans, not less. There is a danger of peaking too early.

Changing ourselves

There is something I don't get. Maybe I am just wrong or out of touch but I just don't have the righteous anger about these people crossing lines or getting in unauthorized areas that everyone else seems to have. The White House party crashers and the guy now at the airport who went in through the exit and shut down the airport seem to find themselves subject to a sort of populist (or at least talking head) outrage that I just don't feel.

making this a country where everyone is id'd before they go anywhere or there are draconian punishments for unauthorized entries strikes me as a much greater departure from our traditions than putting foreign terrorists in military prisons.

Reagan and the War on Terror

I am reading Mann's book on the end of the cold war. The thing that is really fascinating is the split between Reagan and the conservatives in the second term and Mann's description of the philosophical difference between Reagan and Nixon. Nixon viewed the cold war as permanent and a contest between two stable players. Reagan viewed it as a contest of ideas which would be won when the guys with the bad set of ideas (the Soviets) changed their ideas. Reagan's optimism that our system was universal and that he could convince the other side that they were wrong was the key underlying difference between them. For Reagan the other side was under the influence of evil ideas but that could be saved and could be reasoned with once they were convinced that they could not get what they wanted by force. I think this is similar to the disagreement that we are having about the War with the Islamist Radicals. The Realists want to write off the enemy's part of the world. They are just that way. There is nothing that can be done about them. They cannot change. All you can do is build a good fence with clear rules about which side is which. The NeoCons and Bush believe that the Islamic world can be brought to democracy. They are under the influence of evil ideas but once they are freed from those who would impose their ideas by force they will come around.

Christmas Bomber: Dots, Pictures and Meaning

I wrote most of this a couple of days ago but forgot to post it.

We seem to re argue the controversies of the past administration the same way generals are said to refight the last war.

For instance, everyone is talking about connecting the dots. Some things are not dots, they are pictures. You don't have to connect them, you just have to open your eyes.

The idea of connecting the dots is that there are facts which don't mean anything in themselves but are significant when they are viewed together. A guy walking into your embassy and telling you that his son has become a radical islamist and has dropped out of sight is not a dot, it is a picture, a picture telling you not to let this kid get on an airplane.

The idea of dots or putting the pieces together is that they don't reveal their true or deep meaning until after the fact. a guy buys a one way ticket or wants to learn how to fly a jet without learning how to land it is a dot. After the fact you see what each of these means. you don't have to wait till after the fact to see what it means when a boys father comes to the embassy and tells you that his son has become a radical jihadist. Its meaning is already obvious. His son has become a radical jihadist. You may not believe him but there is no mystery about the meaning. "What is he trying to say?" He is trying to say that his son has become a radical Jihadist. It means you don't let him on an airplane.

One third of all attempts occurred in 2009. some people have used this as an excuse for the obama administration, they have just had too much to deal with. but if we are having all of these terrorism attempts after all of Obama's bowing and browbeating of Israel and grand pronouncements to close Gitmo isn't that evidence that the Jihadists might have a different set of motivations that Obama had assumed? Perhaps they have a set of goals that are not going to be changed by addressing what we think are their grievances?

The President is right that we have had an intelligence failure, just not the kind he thinks.

Another sort of anachronism is the focus on the CIA. The CIA for once is not at fault. We seem to have focused on the CIA because they are thought to be the ones that deal with foreign threats. They are but that is incidental. they are in charge of breaking the law. the fact that we don't let them operate in the US itself is because we disapprove of people, especially government employees, breaking our laws. but we have to break the laws of other countries if we want to find out what they don't want us to know. That is the reason for having the CIA.

The CIA is at best peripheral to this story. The man first came to the State Department and was referred by them to the CIA after he had told the State Department representative about his son. In the 9/11 attack the CIA failed to tell the State Department about the bad guys trying to get into the US. Here there is no question of the CIA telling the State Department something, it was the State Department sending the "dot" to the CIA. Were they supposed to send the guy's father back down the hallway to remind them not to let his son into the country?

The meaning of dots includes the idea of something whose meaning is not clear until after fact.

The idea that we had a computer programing failure that didn't allow us to catch the guy because of a small spelling difference is also troubling. We will now spend another billion trying to do something that could be downloaded for free from the internet as a google widget. but when you have a small technical problem that could be solved for pennies that the government insists on throwing money at it is another sign that you have something else going on.

The underlying problem is our fear of appearing to discriminate against a disadvantaged group. We treat any sort of suspicion that falls upon anyone who is not provably connected to a particular crime in progress as a sort of crime against international human rights.

We do not have to alter american society, just who we give a visa to enter it. that is a return to the common sense of the FDR era, not an abandonment of our values but a return.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Seeing Avitar

Finally went to see Avitar. I must say I was impressed and that the 3D was really a plus.

The ham handed political references were more funny that annoying. the story was dances with wolves but the iraq war was brought in at every point with language. terror with terror, daisy cutter, shock and awe, savages. it amazes me that he said in an interview that people can see contemporary political parallels if they want to. He hardly gives them a choice.

the political viewpoint is standard and unremarkable. what is a bit offensive is the way that military men are viewed. they are all butt scratching, leering oafs (though the evil leader of the military wing is intelligent enough to make a good and impressive villain). they grin at the prospect of killing a bunch of women and children. they are brutish and inhuman, all except for the vaguely ethnic looking butch marine chick who seems almost cut and pasted from the character in aliens II. The parallels to current events are so tightly drawn to his propaganda purposes that the soldiers are made mercanaries rather that regular soldiers so that the Camarron can have his hero say that regular soldiers are somehow ok, but that corporate soldiers (read blackwater) are not.

the Navi are good because they are in harmony with nature. they have a pagan religion but unlike the religion of real indians this one is actually based on a scientific fact, that the tree roots on the entire planet are connected into a giant neural network that makes it into a giant intelligence that can coordinate the natural life on the planet to repel the invaders when the time comes.

It is nice that there is no false ending and everything drives toward a logical and exciting climax.

He borrows from Cooper making the Navi say a little prayer to the spirit of any animal they kill.

the Navi are good because they are unchanging. they have no interest in the sky people. their indifference to technology and progress is seen as admirable. the hero asks what do we have that they would want, "A light beer?" All of the scientific progress that we make is treated very shabbily by a man making so much money and, it must be admitted, doing such cool stuff with technological advances.

the sentimentalization of the indians is a key trope in modern liberal culture. we vicariously side with them against our own civilization and retell the story of our conquest of them with a new, imaginary character that we are to identify with from our civilization who eventually switches sides over to theirs. We do this with the indians precisely because their is no chance of it ever happening. If you told a contemporary story with the other side as the good guys then you would have a natural action implied by the story--join them. but that would be hard. it is no fun living like a nomadic aboriginal. we don't really want to do that. we just want to be able to pretend that we do. the fact that it is impossible to do is what makes such sentimental reality plays so much more attractive than covering real conflicts. The modern intellectual's sense of being superior to his own society is played out without the intellectual having to give up the modern society's comforts or really having to do anything at all but feel morally superior.

and that is why we have the story of the Navi instead of stories about Iraq from Hollywood. The combination of Iraq and the Indians as the sources of the story allows cammeron to avoid all the uncomfortable questions that would be brought about by actually dealing the the topic he insists on commenting on in so many ways. He can bring in Iraq parallels when he has the soldiers say things like "shock and awe" or calling them terrorists and using that to justify our own terrorism without having to confront the uncomfortable fact that the other side really are terrorists and that their main victims are other "navi". (In the film the different tribes of the planet get together to expel the invaders, something that would be hard to swallow in a movie about the real conflicts he alludes to, either with the indians who fought savagely among themselves and the Iraqis who, well, fight savagely among themselves.)

Sunday, January 03, 2010

You can be too rational

Here is the NYT's story about the attempt on the life of Kurt Westergaard. Here is the cartoon that caused so much controversy 5 years ago.

The Times story has him hiding in his safe room with his 5 year old grand daughter, but this report from the UK Telegraph has him in the room with the granddaughter on the sofa in another room. It has a quote from Westergaard explaining why he left her out there so I assume this is the correct version, even though most of the reports have the granddaughter in the safe room with him. He may be right about it having been the best decision--he is 74 after all--but it is still very disturbing. I think that is a bit more rational than I would like to be.

Another interesting part of the story is that two other guys that were arrested for plotting to kill Westergaard a couple of years ago but not prosecuted. In the end one was deported but the other just let free. You apparently have to work at it to get deported from Denmark. The attacker in this case is an asylum seeker. No wait, he actually has asylum. At the same time the Danish government had him under surveillance for other terrorist activities (i.e., not related to attacking Westergaard). We give him protection from political persecution at the same time we have him under surveillance for political terrorism?