Sunday, November 13, 2011

Great thoughts from a fellow deep thinker, Gene Simons. But why does he have to bring fat people into it?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Quote for the day

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. -- John Stuart Mill

Found among the personal possessions of a US soldier who died in Iraq. The original post is here

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Anne Waldrop

Anne Waldrop talks about being the first successful applicant for a Rotary Scholarship from Millsaps in a decade.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Conservatives are Racists

It is official: everything proves Conservatives are racists. The proposition is now formally un-refutable. There is no conceivable fact that could possibly refute the proposition that conservatives are racists.

Here is the proof. Matt Sullivan argues in the New York Times Magazine today that the reason conservatives are supporting Cain is in order to prove that they are not racists. Of course, their desire to prove that they are not racists is proof that they are racists. By defending yourself against the charge of racism you are proving that you are a racist.

Now, it is not normally thought that defending yourself against an accusation is proof of the accusation so why is it in this case? Because, according to Mr. Sullivan, no one has charged them with being racists. Now, this is a rather curious premise on which to base an argument intended to show that a group of people are racists, which is, after all, accusing people of being racists. How is this rather obvious difficulty circumvented? By subtly switching from the implied premise that no one is accusing conservatives of being racists to the premise that President Obama does not accuse them of being racists. This move allows Mr. Sullivan to rightly point out that Mr. Obama seldom makes the charge that those who oppose him are racists.

It is true Mr. Obama doesn't often make the charge himself. For one thing, whenever he has he has found that it has worked against him. But more importantly, he doesn't have to. The charge is made constantly on the left. Mr. Sullivan himself is exhibit A. What does the left and the establishment press do with the fact that a black man has come from behind to lead the polls and finds himself the darling of the most conservative elements in the Republican party? Write articles about how it all proves that conservatives are racists. Of course it does. Everything does. And if Cain falls in the polls or eventually does not get the nomination it will also prove that conservatives are racists. Whatever happens we can rest assured and comfortably in the knowledge that it will prove that conservatives are racists.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Sensitivity U

The university stands for the free exchange of ideas and thought. It marks itself out as the place where transgressive thoughts are given a fair hearing. And yet, is there any place in modern American life where one must be more careful about what one says and above all the way in which one says it?

We talk all the time about being sensitive. but what we should really be worried about is being insensitive in the nineteenth century sense of not letting ourselves be succumb to pain and discomfort, of not allowing ourselves to be offended and, when offended, not allowing ourselves to show it or make a great deal of it.

Trying to talk about serious issues without ever offending anyone is a fool's errand. You can't do it. If you are talking about anything important, if you are talking about anything important and taking a position that is different from the position that most people around you take, you are bound to offend someone. You can't help but hurt someone's feelings.

After all, what do people care about but the things that are important to them. If you are telling someone that they are wrong about something that they think is very important and vital to the course of the future you are going to have to challenge a deeply held belief and, almost inevitably, offend someone.

We train our students to follow a carefully worked out set of guidelines that allow them to talk about important issues--within boundaries--without offending anyone, or at least the members of the groups whose sensibilities are considered especially important by the choice and master spirits of the age. If you say something that offends heterosexual males or is generally disparaging of southerners you needn't worry so much. I say that last bit not because I think that those groups deserve sympathy or are treated unfairly but to point out that I wish we could treat all groups with such similar lack of concern for their feelings.

I think that such insensitivity would be to their benefit. People who will be honest with you about your own shortcomings do you a favor, though it may not be one that is very pleasant to receive.

And just as we should be less concerned about being offended for our own good, we should be less careful about offending others for our own good. The reason you should take care to avoid as much as possible putting a thought in a way that hurts someone's feelings or transgresses against their cherished beliefs is that they will be less receptive to your argument. Thus, you should be sensitive out for entirely selfish reasons. When you really want to help someone is precisely when you should put concerns about being sensitive aside.

Nurse Jackie and Contagion

Laid up for a final weekend I acquired a "Nurse Jackie" addiction. It has a few too many contrived moments but the actors are just great. One thing I really like are the surprises and how intelligent the characters are. There is a scene at the end of the second season where you see an intervention set up and you are lead along just to the edge of a standard come to Jesus moment where the addict breaks down and admits she is an addict but instead she turns it around and goes on the attack, battling back through overwhelming evidence to make it all their fault. People are never so intelligent and resourceful as when they are in the wrong and know it.

Also saw Contagion. It seems to be a story about a virus that attacks really good looking people. I felt safe myself. Still it was very good. I really liked how it departed from the usual storyline. Not only was virus created by some nefarious corporation or the result of some terrible defense department experiment gone wrong I the character that usually turns out to be the hero, the crusading outcast blogger (blogging described as graffiti with punctuation but I don't that is necessarily true because I have seen so many blogger that they don't know about how to use punctuation at least in my opinion) turns out to be the bad guy. Or not even that. Just a bad guy. There is no one overall plot. It is one of those films where a bunch of story lines go through intersecting on surprising occasions. The main purpose seems to be to imagine what would really happen with a new virus and to imagine the consequences as realistically as possible. I personally think they did an unusually good job of it, even down to the overly-cautious and profoundly conscientious military officers.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The bipartisan softsoap we deserve

I was invited by Warren Strain of local NBC affiliate WLBT

to attend the gubernatorial debate and comment on it afterwards. I somehow envisioned myself sitting there like a baseball commentator, giving an extended running critique. As it turns out they were filming for a report at 10:00; I will be lucky to get 8 seconds air time. As it turned out Warren did a nice little segment structured around my comments and I was quite flattered.

The debate is in a small way historic. Dupree, the Mayor of Hattiesburg, is the first African American candidate for statewide office since Reconstruction. That is not simple suppression of the black vote; race relations are more amicable here than in Chicago by a long shot. There is no shortage of blacks in the state house. One of them, Senator Eric Powell, represents a majority white district. Still, the last time the Democrats nominated a black candidate for statewide office the lightbulb had not been invented and the automobile had not left Europe.

The debate between Lt. Governor Bryant and Mayor Dupree was one of the most friendly and amicable debates in political history. It was also one of the least informative.

The candidates were so concerned to not be seen arguing that they avoided coming out and openly disagreeing with one another. Unfortunately, as unpleasant as disagreement is it is the only way that the issues come out.

We first saw them chatting amiably in the hallway outside the debate hall at MC Law. They looked like they knew each other well and liked each other. That is interesting because even the Republicans don't really like Bryant, they just have him. On the other hand, Dupree is someone that his worst enemies seem to like. The focus on comity surely benefits Bryant.

Bryant faces a big problem in having a black opponent. He can't appear to be negative or mean. Bryant is in danger of appearing that way at any time so the emphasis on comity relives him of a dangerous duty.

It was a debate about the things they agree about rather than the things they disagree about. In other words, it was not really a debate.

Warren Strain, the NBC reporter who was kind enough to invite me to do the piece, was very good about taking my comments and editing them in a way that did not distort their meaning and summarized them in his own reporting very fairly. I would quibble with one thing that he said. At the very end he said that I agreed with the main reporter that the debate stayed on the issues. I agree that it was on the issues in the sense that it was not about the candidates. Neither challenged the other's character or ability. And it was on the issues in that they talked about their goals for Mississippi and the things they wanted to have happen. But it was on the issues in the wrong sense. In the language of political scientists it was all about valance issues, issue that everyone agrees on. It was not about making the real choices, the trade-offs, necessary to get there.

I think that the public is just wrong. The public thinks that the problem is those people in Washington are bickering about a bunch of things that just don't really matter and that there is a simple common sense solution to our budget problems that most people would agree on if those bitter bickerers in Washington would just stop all the nonsense and enact those policies. People think that we can close a 40% hole in our budget by cutting foreign aid (at most 1% of our budget) or taxing the rich (possibly as much as 4 or 5% of the hole closed but at a progressively greater cost in economic growth the more those such taxes are relied upon). The reason that we don't get serious proposals to close the deficit is that no one wants to be the one to tell the American people that if they can't have all the things they want at the price they are apparently willing to pay. Blaming it all on partisan bickering and the tone in Washington is a way of allowing the American people to ignore the unpleasant facts by pretending that it is all the fault of partisan politicians who won't listen to the people. The problem is just the opposite. The American people have spoken loudly and clearly that they don't want to face the facts and the politicians, by going along with the "its all the fault of those bickering Washington insiders" story are giving the people what they want.

A people get the politicians they deserve. What did Mencken say? That democracy is the theory that "The people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard." I think we have gotten it good and soft, but we have certainly deserved it.

car wreck

Sorry about the light blogging. I was hit by a car Monday. I had a bit of back pain that kept me out of the Paul Lacoste thing for a couple of weeks and it took ages to get a rental car, mainly because of the Jackson police department. But I am back now. I apologize to all the people that I have been late in getting back to.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Sitting Silent

President Obama has really made a great deal out of this one fool booing the gay soldier at the last Republic debate and not being denounced by former Senator Rick Santorum. He has taken on quite a self-righteous tone and made it a central theme of his campaign speeches on the basis of some rather ambiguous facts. If Santorum's silence after one momentary incident is damning for the entire Republican party what are we to make of the years the future President spent silently listening to, allowing his children to be educated by and dedicating his book to this man?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Cain defeats Perry

Cain has defeated Perry. Byron York explains that it was Cain's oratory that "sealed the deal."

Thank heavens! We were this close to nominating another swaggering Texan governor. Instead we are going to elect a black guy that can make a really good speech. Oh wait....

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Deep Questions about Rationality

All the time I was in Afghanistan I never used a seat belt nor did I ever see anyone else use a seat belt. Now the driving conditions in Afghanistan and the habits of Afghan drivers make one's chances of getting in a wreck several times higher than one's chance in the US. And yet just as I would never think of not wearing a seat belt in the US I never once seriously considered wearing one in Afghanistan.

Now I don't know why this is the case. There are two possible answers presented by theory. One is that we make decisions based not the absolute level of risk but on the proportional level of risk. The risk of driving around in Afghanistan, indeed of being in Afghanistan at all, is perceived as so high that the marginal increase in risk from not wearing a seat belt is simply not large enough to justify a behavioral response such as wearing seat belts.

The other hypothesis that I can think of is a social norm explanation. No one wears a seat belt in Afghanistan because no one wears a seat belt in Afghanistan. You just want to do what everyone else is doing.

Ideas? Any economists want to weigh in? Sociologists? Humans?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Rachel Maddow

Watching Rachel Maddow right now. She is reporting on the problem people getting killed by giant snakes. People are getting killed by snakes. She reports that the problem is people importing exotic snakes. The people that get killed by snakes are the people that have the job of capturing the escaped exotic snakes. But why do we capture the snakes? Why not kill the snakes. Capturing a snake is difficult. Killing a snake is quite simple. It is a poisonous snake. A snake that can kill people. Kill it. People before snakes!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Mere Civilization

One of the foundations of civilized relations among nations is the sanctity of embassies. When Genghis Khan's diplomatic representatives were killed and mutilated by a minor central asian Khanate it led to the Mongol Horde's conquest of the world. It was offensive to the morals of Genghis Khan. Now the pro-democracy crowd has over-run the Israeli Embassy in Cairo. So much for civilization. Of course when they do it it is only evidence of the weight of their grievances against Israel as an utterly unembarrassed Egyptian professor explains:
"This action shows the state of anger and frustration the young Egyptian revolutionaries feel against Israel especially after the recent Israeli attacks on the Egyptian borders that led to the killing of Egyptian soldiers," Egyptian political analyst Nabil Abdel Fattah said.
There will be no consequences. The anger of those that our intelligentsia judged to be part of the aggrieved class excuses anything. The most basic rules of civilization do not apply to these people.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Thoughts on Obama's speech in real time--with the help of some beer!

Strange things about the Obama speech.

The president talks about getting things done that both parties should agree to but he has not told anyone what he wants to do. "You should pass this bill right away!' --err, I mean as soon as I write it. I suppose it makes sense. The president announces he will announce a major new jobs policy to meet the unemployment emergency--err, just as soon as I get back from vacation and demands that Congress then pass this urgent and utterly unobjectionable piece of legislation as soon as he writes it. Makes perfect sense. If the crisis answering policy can wait till after his vacation why should his denunciations of the Congress for not passing his bill have to wait on the bill actually being written?

Why do we need to focus on repairing bridges when we just borrowed 800 billion for infrastructure spending and "shovel ready projects"? Ok, that was small minded. There was only about $100 billion for infrastructure in the last $800 billion stimulus.

The implicit assumption behind every argument--no, explicit--was that the only reason anyone could possibly have is to oppose this was partisan self-interest.

Rachel Maddau is the real kicker. She says that Obama is being nice by saying to Republicans saying, "You are better than this." That you know that the policies you advocate are not really good and the policies of mine that you oppose are not really bad. You are not really bad people but you just succumbing to the temptation of denouncing everything I propose for partisan gain, but I forgive you.

The strange thing is that Rachel thinks this is a way of reaching out. She really doesn't know how condescending she sounds. She really doesn't imagine that anyone could have principled reasons for not favoring these proposals.

She contrasts the President to Harry Truman who just says that Republicans are bastards who don't care about the poor. Speaking as one of those Republicans I would much prefer just being called a bastard than Obama condescension. My God, there is no intellectual reason to oppose Obama's proposals? No one actually disagrees with him, there are just some people that have let their own political self-interest but get in the way of what they know is right. The condescension is so thick it is disgusting.

It is noteworthy and laudable that the President said we would have to have some "adjustments" in Medicare and Medicaid--i.e., cuts. That does take some courage and is a real contribution to the debate.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Riaz Hohammad Khan: "simplistic"

So I am watching CSPAN and the former Ambassador is talking about US Pakistan relations and in response to a question about Pakistan's involvement in terrorism and their responsibility for attacks on the India and Afghanistan he says that the accusation is "simplistic." "Simplistic." That is a really interesting choice of words. "Did your intelligence service help Pakistani nationals stage an attack on a hospital in Kabul?" "Did your country's government stage an attack on Mumbai Hotel?" These are accusations that are true or untrue. "Simplistic?" You either angrily deny the accusation or you don't. The fact that the question is dismissed as simplistic is all you really need to know about this "county"--at the risk of being simplistic.

Friday, July 15, 2011

More Steyn on Multiculturalism

Check out this photograph from a Toronto public school:

Boys in front, Girls in back, and Girls that are menstruating in back of them. Steyn has a lot of fun with the contradictions of multiculturalism that insists on feminist principles but tosses them aside when a more entitled--or potentially violent--minority is at issue.

Now I find it strange that I defending the Afghanistan war I am defending a lot of people that would approve of such an arrangement. The same people I am in favor of defending with the lives of American soldiers are the same people I would probably oppose tooth and nail if they were on my local school board. This is not a contradiction. What we are defending in Afghanistan is not a state we would particularly like to live in or have our children educated in, but it is one that is civilized.

I sit every day with people that I could never agree with if they were on my local school board but whom I would ask young Americans to give their lives defending. It is not that I minimize the differences between us but that I do not underestimate the differences between them and the Taleban.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mark Steyn gets you thinking

Here is a link to a Mark Steyn column from 10 years ago on the Euro. Inside, this:

"In the normal course of events, monetary union follows political union, as it did in the US, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, and so on. In this instance, uniquely, monetary union is in itself an act of political binding. What's important on Tuesday is not the introduction of the new currency but the abolition of the old ones - not the symbolic bridges on the back of the new notes, but the burning of the bridges represented by the discarded currencies."

The European method has been to put constructivist theory into practice. Academics have long pushed the view that our words and symbols shape and determine reality. This is the doctrine that drives so much of the politically correct obsession with using just the right words to describe matters touching on the interests of minority groups. The European Union has sought to create political reality but first creating symbols of political unity, like a currency. Unfortunately, as powerful as symbolism is, it cannot overcome the failure to make certain essential hard choices. We are seeing the consequences of that failure in the Euro-zone now.

Another point he makes is one that I am embarrassed to say I was unfamiliar with:

"The new pan-European jurisdictional authority is also in marked contrast to the US, where New Hampshire won't extradite you to Vermont for actions that are illegal in the latter but not the former. Three years ago, Norman Lamont fretted that Britain would be reduced to the status of Delaware, to which I replied in these pages: you should be so lucky. That ship has sailed: on justice, taxation and much else, Britain is already reduced to well below Delaware."

Something to keep in mind.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

My Dinner with Mr. Cheng giz

Mr. Cheng giz took me, Mirwais and the professors of the Jemea institute to dinner. Mr. Cheng giz's brother Hussein came too.

It might be helpful to know that "Cheng giz" is the Persian pronunciation of "Genghis Khan." Mr. Cheng giz's real name is Ali Reza but everyone affectionately calls him Mr. Cheng giz because of his command of the family business empire. He stands a little over 5'. He is about 30 though he is just now finishing his undergraduate degree. Not that it has held him back: he has built a string of English schools and other businesses.

They were in a very good mode. Later Mr. Ershod, former head of the political science department at Kateeb, came. He was now at Ibn senau, the school that had been formed the the first president run off by the head of Kateeb.

I have learned more about Kateeb in this conversation. It came out that the founder of Kateeb was a Mujahadin commander and that he had made his money as a warlord more than as a businessman. He was now in parliament. His name is Kazam. [I should get an interview with this guy]

He had fired the staff once before. They were able to form their own school, Ibn Senau, and they are doing fine. The current group that just got fired and which forms the core of the Jemea think tank under Mr. Salihi was pushed out at the end of the last semester.

The assembled Kateeb refugees are unanimous in their agreement that their former school is surviving on its reputation from the past (short though that past is) and is able to attract students. This is the second time of which I am aware that there has been a mass exodus from Kateeb. In general I feel that Afghans don't compromise very well and people always seem to be splitting off into factions. That this has not happened to any of Mr. Cheng giz's organizations (or at least that I know of) is part of what makes him unusual here.

Mr. Cheng giz talked about the time he was in the USAID office of capacity building. He was in charge of getting provincial officials to come to the workshops they had on democracy. He said that the only thing the directors cared about was getting numbers that would look good to their bosses. Running up the number of people that had gone through their workshops was the only thing that mattered to them, regardless of whether they got anything out of those workshops.

The people that attended the workshops, locally elected officials, would ask for their stipend immediately after the workshop was over without asking any questions or doing any sort of follow up. The only questions he ever got about the workshops was what kind of food they would get there. Often, they would lose people after the lunch had been served. Cheng giz said, "And these are the good people, the ones that believe in democracy. You can imagine how it is with the bad ones."

All of his suggestions to his superiors were dismissed. Cheng giz is convinced that they were only interested in proposals that would increase their numbers. Proposals that might increase effectiveness were at best irrelevant and, if they implied decreasing numbers, dangerous.

I asked Mr. Zeki (a first rate sociologist who had just returned from a USAID sponsored study tour of the US averring that America "is the paradise on the Earth) how this might play out with the workshops for moderate Mullahs for which he was presently writing a grant proposal. He nodded thoughtfully for a moment and said that it was always a possibility.

The conversation then turned to the current political situation in the country. Mr. Cheng giz does most of the talking but on this subject at least seems to have the full support of the group.

The Taliban are systematically killing off the heads of the other ethnic groups. When they killed General Davood they announced that they had a list and now two more of the people on the list have been killed.

(Earlier, the normally forgiving and moderate Mirwais had confided in me that he thought President Karzai had a plan to assassinate the leaders of the other ethnic groups.)

(my notes give the impression that Cheng giz does all the talking. That true to a certain extent, though the effect is exaggerated in English. When the conversation slips back to Farsi there is a lot more give and take. Also, along with his disquisitions on current affairs he intersperses eloquent praises of his teachers. At one point I rib him by asking "Who is the teacher and who is the student?" getting a laugh from him and his three largely silent professors. He retorts, "Well, you know, we have a saying that if you want to know how good a teacher is you should not to to him but to his students. So, I am doing my duty to my teachers by showing you all that I have learned from them.")

I bring up what he had told me on my last trip, that the money is all spent in the provinces where there is fighting and the people that are on our side are ignored.

He said that that is true. He once brought this up to a Japanese employee of the International NGO [nail down what organization this was], saying that in the areas where people support democracy they get no help. He replied, "But you are no threat to us!"

In [I can't remember which province, one of the central highlands? Daikondi?] there had been no violence and there was no PRT (Provincial Reconstruction Team). In other words, no violence no reconstruction money.

Mr. Zeki said that he thought they (meaning, I assumed, the Americans) thought that poverty was the reason for the violence and that therefore they should send money to the places where people are violent.

Mr. Cheng giz then returns to one of his favorite themes, Pashtun domination of the government and of Afghanistan's contact with the outside world. "One of the problems is the Pashtun domination of the international community's contact with Afghanistan. At one point the government unilaterally decreased its estimate of the Hazara proportion of the population from 20% to under 10%. In the offices of USAID or the embassy all of the local employees that one sees are Pashtuns. I didn't see a single one that was not a Pashtun." [I remember the fellow that I met with Jeffrey Ellis in the information office was an Hazara--not much of a sample, of course. The one time I went to the Embassy was on a Friday and the local staff were off so I didn't get much of a sense. All the security staff I saw were Philippine contractors].

The discussion turns to AUA (American University of Afghanistan). The faculty is dominated by Pashtuns. I was treated to some discussion of the political rants that Pashtun professors had made in class (Cheng giz had been a student there before transferring to Kateeb and his brother Hussein was about a semester away from graduating). I brought up that I had met some progressive Pashtuns. "What about Dr. Faiez?" Murmurs went around the room (Faiez is the founder of the association of private colleges in Afghanistan and one of the founders of the AUA). It was universally consented that he was a good man, "a modern man." I also mentioned a professor at Kabul university in the law faculty [Wahdi?] and this also met with approval.

(this all dovetailed nicely with my earlier discussion of the AUA at Horazmi where the young economics professor mentioned that AUA gets the most politically influential students. Is that us getting the best students or the most politically influential students getting our resources?)


Mr. Cheng giz talks at length, though the rest of the party are obviously in full agreement:

"The us government came up with a wonderful idea [I don't know if it was the US government but it was supported by the US government] to pacify Afghanistan by getting people to turn in their guns. Of course, the Hazara are fully supporting [sic] the US government and democracy. One of our own leaders [Khalili?] was put in charge of it. I can still remember seeing him with his two American body guards standing next to him and him telling us how the government would now protect us. They went around the Hazara villages and got all the guns. People gave them up willingly.

Of course, there is one group that is exempted, exempted in the Constitution, the Kuchi (the nomads). They have a unique way of life that requires them to go around and move through different districts. They have to be able to keep their weapons.

So, now they have raided the Hazara villages [he gives the name of a village in Ghazni] and killed a lot of people including this great leader [when he mentions the name the people around the table actually seem to bow their heads]. The Kuchi had weapons that the government doesn't even have. And many members of the ANA fired at the people trying to defend their homes! Can't they make a distinction between the people trying to defend themselves and armed raiders on horseback?

[The law, in its majestic equality, forbids both rich and poor sleeping under bridges. The same thing could be going on here, where you have a rule against violence in general and you are ordering people to lay down their arms. If they don't you have to shoot them if you see them disobeying. You don't want to take sides, after all. That is the essence of the rule of law. Of course, at a minimum, the guy standing in front of his house trying to defend it will always be a better target than the guy riding by on horseback trying to burn it down.]

Of course they burned down the school and beheaded some people. This was the school that the Ghazni had built themselves so there will be no help from the international community in rebuilding it. They only build schools for the people that won't build them themselves and who only want to burn them down once they are built.

Of course because Ghazni is so peaceful there are no coalition forces around to protect anyone.

The Uzbeks and Tajiks never went along with this disarmament program and are relatively safe. Of course the Pashtuns are openly at war with us. Now of course the Tajiks and the Uzbeks never went along with it. They are fine, or at least they don't have to worry about raids from the Kuchi."

I interjected my own thoughts. Yesterday, when I first arrived Mr. Zeki had told me about his trip to America and how he had seen a small community college with a few Muslims and how the school had made a prayer room available for them. He put his hand on his heart and said, "I love American multiculturalism." I now said to him that the problem the Hazara face in Ghazni at the hands of the Kuchi is in a way a consequence of the same multiculturalism he so admired. The reason they don't disarm the Kuchi is that it would be denying the legitimacy of their culture. Multiculturalism is the idea that no one culture is better than another. Taken to its logical extreme it means that we can't go to the Kuchi and say that your way of life, your culture, of being nomadic raiders is not as good as that of the settled and law abiding villagers. We have to be neutral.

Mr. Zeki nodded thoughtfully. He often nods thoughtfully.

Hotel Attack

Here is a link to the Guardian's report on the Hotel attack the other night.

I am late in writing anything about it because of the trouble I have been having getting an internet connection.

I was up all night anyway with some kind of food poisoning. You just have to lose at least one day to a new microbe when you are in a country like this. (The next day my friend Mr. Cheng giz almost tried to carry me to the German Clinic.) But I doubt I would have been able to sleep anyway. I was 2 km away--a little over a mile. If I had not been so sick I suppose I would have been able to see quite a show from my roof. As it was I heard a lot of helicopters going over head and the explosions which I later learned were rocket propelled grenades.

I have been to the Hotel Intercontinental before. It has a really nice buffet, but it is the kind of place that could be anywhere. But for the layers of security and road obstacles outside you wouldn't really know you were in Afghanistan so what is the point of going there? And it is expensive. Still, I have been taken there a few times by Afghans who think that is what I, as a foreigner, would like.

It was odd lying there in the basement hearing all this mayhem. I really did start to think that an army was invading the city. But somehow I wasn't scared, or at least no scared enough to get up and see what was going on. I suppose the most important thing was that if I had been in immediate danger Mirwai--my research colleague and general minder--would have come and got me.

It is a good thing that I didn't decide to go to Mirwais' room and see what he thought because I would have found his room empty. As it turns out Mirwais was concerned enough to go over toward the hotel to see what was going on. Now once he gets there the police try to arrest him. Of course he talked himself out of it--Mirwais could talk himself out of a sunburn--but it kept him there a good bit of the night.

In the morning I talked to some students and I kept getting confused by their account. They told me 17 had been killed but then when they gave their subtotals of the various types of people killed the number would come out in the 20s. When I asked they said, "But Sir, of course we don't count the terrorists among the people killed." A bit of sound moral accounting there.

I feel that the city of Kabul gets a bad rap. The various reports have said that security is only nominally under the control of the Afghan police and that the attack represents a major embarrassment for them. I disagree.

First, on security, I have seen nothing but Afghan police this time around. This is the first time I have not seen a single foreign military vehicle in town. All of the checkpoints are manned by Afghans. I have walked all around the city and have had the occasional pleasant chat with Afghan police and have found them invariably efficient and affable. I don't know what would happen if I needed them for something really important or if as a foreigner I am not subject to requests for bribes, but I certainly don't recognize the marauders that I read about in press reports in the police I meet.

The failure to stop five to nine men with small arms from entering a city of some 3 million is hardly a surprise. Could we keep out 10 men with small arms day in, day out from a city the size of Chicago? I rather doubt it. The Taliban speak the language, take hostages, kill you and your wife and children if you don't cooperate, and are suicidal. What police force could keep a city absolutely free of such a force. JKF said that the President can always be killed by a man willing to trade his own life for the president's. Any structure can be shot up pretty well by 10 men bent on exploding themselves.

What is being portrayed as a major failure of the Afghan police, it seems to me, tells us less about them and more about their (and our) enemy. If you are decided to die and don't care who you kill you will surely manage to kill someone. The fact that almost half the people they killed were unarmed, and that even with suicide vests they only managed to kill just under twice their own number, is really rather remarkable. And yet we talk about handing a portion of power in the government to the people that launched these suicidal mass murders? Who praised them as heros for gunning down people who were attending a wedding reception? My God, if we are willing to treat with these fanatics on the strength of such a showing, what country is safe? There are 35,000 Taliban with the support of under 10% of the population. Negotiating a power sharing agreement with them is admitting a monstrous principle--that for commanding a relative handful of fanatics and a depraved contempt for human life you can be rewarded with a share in power for a democracy. It is as if the Congress had decided to award seats to the Klu Klux Klan.

Anyway, as for my own personal safety, I had it figured on a spreadsheet once that I faced a higher chance of falling victim to homicide in Chicago than in Afghanistan. When a get a better connection I will try to update this post with those figures. But in any case, I am sure I am in greater danger here in Kabul from the street vendors than from the Taliban.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Dubai Airport never sleeps

In Dubai

I don't know what people like about Dubai. It is an artificial city. It is the strangest thing. You have all these people around but you never see a citizen of Dubai. They are all tourists or guest workers. The only actual citizens of Dubai you might see are at the customs desk.

We talk about the exploitation of the Global South (what people my age used to call the third world) by the developed world and former colonial powers, but what about the exploitation carried on by local elites? The history of British colonialism surely offers few examples to compare to the exploitation on exhibit in Dubai of "southerns" by "southerners."

The British colonial masters did at least do some work. The phrase 'mad dogs and Englishmen' came from the saying that the only people that would work through mid-day without taking a nap in these parts were the English. They did something. Citizens of Dubai make a show of not working from what I can tell, the male citizens wearing ostentatiously white flowing robes, practical for no other purpose than to stroll around (their wives padding along behind in their black bags). It seems designed to show that they don't engage in labor.

Here is an interesting item on that other form of exploitation, the exploitation of women by men, here is a nice item about the newly formed and government sanctioned "Obedient Wives Club." In their own words:

"Disobedient wives are the cause for upheaval in this world," the club's vice president and co-founder, Dr. Rohayah Mohamad, told told the Associated Press
. She blames the country's rising divorce rate—as well as incidents ofprostitution
, rape, and even incest—on wives who have neglected to keep their husbands satisfied in bed.

"When husbands come home, wives do not welcome their husbands with warm alluring smiles and sexy dressing ... That is the reality today," she said. "A good wife is a good sex worker to her husband."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Put them to work

Ann Althouse posts on the fact that in other societies young children work and that it might be good for them. She focuses on the long hours of sitting and mentions a new study that finds sitting almost as bad for your health as smoking.

I don't know about that, but it did put me in mind of something that I heard from a friend just the other day. She said that since her six year old daughter has had to take care of my friend's bed ridden Mother she has become very responsible. It has apparently been a huge change.

I think it is not so much the physical activity (though having 7 year olds sit for 7 hours a day is surely neither good for them or very natural) as the responsibility that has the effect. There is something that matters, something that will go wrong if they don't do their jobs. It is an unnatural state for human beings to not matter. For most of its existence the human race's living standard was so low and its means of sustain itself so precarious as to make it obvious to all how their contribution mattered. We have gained something, but we have also lost something.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Who destroyed this city? Oh, I did!

The tefelon teleprompter president does an ad lib: Those shovel ready jobs were not as shovel ready as we thought. What? He was president, no? His party wrote the law. Why is he still allowed to talk about the government that he leads and the laws of which are written by the party he leads as if they are something he observes and comments upon as if he were a bemused third party? For a president to joke about how 800 billion dollars was spent on false pretenses--the pretenses of his administration and party--and to little good effect without a hint that he is in some way responsible is a new low. He is the chief magistrate. It is his job to see that the laws be faithfully executed. To laugh about the execution of laws that he is not only responsible for executing but also wrote, and to do so without a hint of censure from the press, is a sad milestone on the road of decline that has been traveled by both our politicians and our press.

Saying goodbye for the Summer

One of the people I will miss the most this summer. J. R. West of the West Hapkido academy.

Last week he came to my class and talked about his experiences in Vietnam with the students in my Terrorism Through Film class. They had just seen the film the quiet American and he held them in a state that could only be described as spellbound for one and a half hours. We closed the Pizza Shack.

I was recoding the interview on my iPod with the microphone I just bought, the 'Blue' from Mikey. Unfortunately my iPod ran out of space and I only recorded the first 15 minutes. Well, at least I have learned of a few potential pitfalls which I will now be able to avoid when I am in Afghanistan and do-overs are less of a possibility.

Here is my other teacher, Ms. Alexander.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

News from North Korea

The report points out that 1% of the population is in the massive labor camps and between 5 and 10% of those in the camps do not survive their stay. How does that compare to the US? We do have a large percentage of our population in prison and prison is a very dangerous place. Also, with mandatory sentencing laws there are more and more prisoners dying of old age so that, along with the violence of prison life, might bring the percentage of those who do not survive their stay up to the 1% range I would imagine, though I would be shocked if it was anywhere near 5%. Anyone have any figures on this?

The prevaricator-and-cheif

In Matt Welch's essay remarking on the contrast to the amount of attention the media have given the release of emails from Palin's time as governor of Alaska and the inattention they have given to President Obama's questionable statements we have this worthy observation:

[The President] said, both presumptively and inaccurately, that "we're making sure America can out-build, out-innovate, and out-compete the rest of the world." And he gave the distinct -- and distinctly false -- impression that Chrysler has repaid every dime of what it owes American taxpayers, mostly by saying "Chrysler has repaid every dime and more of what it owes American taxpayers for their support during my presidency -- and it repaid that money six years ahead of schedule."

Glenn Kessler, who writes "The Fact Checker" blog for the Washington Post website, described Obama's address as "one of the most misleading collections of assertions we have seen in a short presidential speech. Virtually every claim by the president regarding the auto industry needs an asterisk."

That is the problem. He never actually lies, just uses words in equivocal and tendentious senses. I hope people are catching on. This is what a Harvard trained lawyer does, I suppose.


Friedman talks about changes in the economy and the difficulties created for businesses by uncertainty about federal policy. He frames it a bit differently from the way that a Conservative would, focusing on the standoff between the two major parties on dealing with the budget problems rather than the intrusions of regulators. Still, recognition of the problem and a refusal to even consider the conspiracy theory explanation of the capital strike is welcome coming from Friedman's corner.

The other Hitchens

Peter Hitchens takes on the Archbishop of Canterbury. Blessed are the spongers, for they--if you can get enough of them on the suck--shall outvote the people that work for a living.

Here is his story of how he re-found Christianity.

Friday, June 10, 2011

What happens when experts and regulators mandate choices

"crony capitalism with a touch of green."


And why does the Department of Education need to buy shotguns?

A Confederacy of Dunces

Well, more like a limited liability partnership--limited for them, not for us. The Bush administration's idiotic (really no other word will do) to sign into law a bill requiring 40% of corn grown in the US to go to ethanol is now doing real damage. The bill was backed by a coalition of farmers and environmentalists for the purposes of protecting America's small farmers and the environment. Now we have only 2 weeks supply of corn at present usage rates (the last time that happened was in the 1930s) and we are facing the possibility of importing corn.

The Dilemma of Imprisoned Capital

I have heard the complaint that businesses and banks have money but they just aren't investing it. Sometimes this is portrayed as selfishness on the part of the capitalists. Sometimes there is a conspiracy hinted at: greedy and heartless big business wants to sabotage President Obama's re-election and so is sitting on its money to keep the unemployment rate up. I only wish business were so public spirited.

It is precisely because they are greedy and heartless that the conspiracy theory is not credible. Imagine that there are profitable investments to be made that would create jobs and that businesses are forgoing in order to prevent Obama's re-election. Now each business would know that the jobs that it, as one business, would be able to create would not be enough to improve Obama's chances. So each business would calculate that by creating jobs it would be making money for itself and yet would still enjoy the benefits that come with Obama being a one term president. And, since each business faces the same incentive to defect from the project of undermining Obama, each would do what is in its own best interest and make investments that it judges to be profitable. The temptation to free ride would be overwhelming. Since the benefits of Obama's failure to win re-election would be enjoyed by those who had cooperated with the strike and those who had not alike, there would be no way to hold the coalition together. In other words, such a collective project would result in a prisoner's dilemma in which the only equilibrium would be defection by all parties.

Of course, in the real world people do overcome collective action problems so the conspiracy theory cannot be ruled out. But there are other facts that do not fit with it very well. We would expect that the businesses in Red states which are most opposed to Obama would be the most ardent cooperators with the strike. We would expect those in blue states to be doing the opposite. In fact, however, it is the blue states where jobs are not being created and the red states where they are.

In fact since the beginning of the recession one state, Texas, has created over a third of all new jobs. It is one of four states that has more jobs than when the recession began. Whatever else Texas is, Obama country it is not. Two of the other states, North Dakota and Alaska, are, like Texas, low regulation, low tax states. Jobs are created when those who have capital to invest believe they can make a profit. If taxes are constantly going up, state government is continually borrowing and living beyond its means, regulations are constantly being created and altered, businesses and banks will not invest in risky ventures. Capital will, in effect, go on strike. Capital is voting with its "feet" to go where it is well treated, allowed to keep the fruits of its labor and doesn't have to worry about constantly changing rules.

Taxes in Texas are famously low. But there are aspects to its business friendly climate that are just as important. Rules do now change as quickly there. For one thing, the legislature only meets every other year. More important are the kinds of rules they make, which are both clear, unambiguous and encourage individual responsibility. For instance, instead of a complicated regime of disclosure requirements and minute decisions about what types of loans are allowed Texas--in the wake of the S and L debacle of the late 80s--made a simple rule: you can only borrow 80% of a home's value for a mortgage. No exceptions, not obscure and changing definitions. It is a somewhat harsh rule, that in the first instance makes it difficult for many young families to buy a home, but the long run benefit is substantial. There was no wild run up in housing prices in Texas and so not nearly so much of a crash. And because there was no borrowing fueled speculative frenzy, Texas overall had a very affordable housing market.

That is, if it is allowed a "vote." Some capital is compelled and forcibly relocated. Remember there are four places where jobs have seen a net increase. The three I have mentioned are red states. The fourth is Washington D.C. The job creating capital that has taken up residence there was not persuaded but compelled. The one thing that the Obama administration indisputably managed to increase is the number of people working for the government.

On the issue of cartels, Megan McArdle has an interesting post on the possibility of a cartel in underwriting IPOs. It appears that some businesses are able to solve their collective action problem. Real estate agents have been able to pressure their fellow members to charge the same commissions to everyone through a system of informal pressure that has lasted decades and is only now unraveling in the face of pressure from the internet.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Public Spirited Government Workers

Some public employee union members decided that a special olympics event would be a good place to protest Governor Walker. Stay classy, guys!

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Murky Laws and Powerful Prosecutors

John Edwards is being prosecuted under a very broad interpretation of the campaign finance laws. The problem is that campaign finance laws require any expenditure that might benefit a candidate to be counted and reported to the federal government. Since the money from a wealthy friend that was keeping his mistress from publicly talking about their affair was of some obvious benefit to the campaign. That makes it a campaign contribution.

What is the point of this, though? He is not running for anything. Do we have an epidemic of hush money to mistresses that is distorting our political system? Was this at all what Congress was thinking of when it passed the campaign finance laws? Isn't what we are worried about with campaign finance one candidate being able to buy up so much airtime and publicity that the public's decision making will be distorted? It seems to me that broadening the law to such an extent will give ambitious prosecutors all kinds of license to attack prominent politicians in the future. Who is to say that money A spends does not somehow make B look better to the public and thus, indirectly, constitute a campaign contribution?

What is really distressing is the commentary on this. It is all from lawyers and is framed as an inside baseball question of whether the prosecutor can get a conviction. It is all about the oh-so-entertaining contest between lawyers and the implications for their respective careers and reputations. How this further expansion of the law into politics will benefit the republic is a question that is never raised.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

40 cents a day

Pretentious and sanctimonious Hollywood intellectuals strike again...and again, and again....

Just saw the "public service" announcement with the moral examplares of the entertainment industry telling us what they bought for 40 cents. All of the examples are uniformly trivial and frivolous, naturally. The point is that $0.4 is supposedly the cost of the drugs that can keep an AIDs patient alive for a day, the implication being that it is our duty to send money to some organization or advocate for more government funding for whatever program is supposedly supplying these drugs, or face the moral censure of our betters for putting our own trivial desires above a human life.

Where to begin?

Is it the cost? It is the cost in the same way that the cost of the electricity that is required to download the latest iTunes version of a U2 song or Selma Hayak's latest movie is the cost of their "art." The $0.4 is the marginal cost, the cost of the chemicals and the manufacturing. It excludes the years of research, the thousands of failures, the years of trials and bureaucratic hurdles that were the real necessary condition of producing the drug that can be manufactured for forty cents a day. All of these sanctimonious ignoramuses are "artists," and they owe their fortunes to a product that can be manufactured at near zero marginal cost. The same rules that they advocate being applied to the pharmaceutical industry would, if applied to them, would turn them into minimum wage workers at best.

Here is a lecture from a group of people that are known for massive consumerism, the consumption of ostentatiously trivial and wasteful goods on a grand scale, lecturing us on the sorts of things we are liable to spend 40 cents on, fabric softener, lipstick, a paper bag. The kicker is Bono, who ends the segment by telling us what we should really be spending our money on. This is a man that paid for a first class air ticket to have his favorite pair of sunglasses delivered to him in time for a concert.

The old celebrities approached the public as equals to whom they owed a debt of gratitude. whatever their private attitudes or behavior were, their public posture was that they are very lucky to get paid so much to have the privilege of entertaining you. Now we are treated to lectures from people who get paid exorbitant sums to do something that is intrinsically fun and frivolous and ostentatiously spend the proceeds of their occupation on their own well being on the importance of not putting our own petty concerns between those of the poor of Africa.

And of all the uses that money sent to Africa could be put to use to is the care of AIDs victims? People dying of poor water quality? lack of mosquito nets? Mal-nutrition? Sanitation? Basic literacy? This is the one disease that you can avoid by changing your personal behavior. Even in the case of women that are the victims, essentially, of philandering husbands, their is something within the individual's control that could be done to avoid the disease. Whatever the degree to which a person's choices play a role in their getting the disease, it is surely more than is the case in almost any other malady.

The priority here is not the needs of Africans, but the moral pretensions of our intellectual elites. In their world, the great moral conflict is between traditional morality and the sanctity of alternative lifestyles. The 'AIDs in Africa' cause allows them to pose as the champions of gays and the poor against cruel capitalists while pocketing the fruits of their own intellectual property rights. Moral superiority on the cheap. AIDs victims in Africa are only a prop.

Friday, June 03, 2011


It seems that half of the meager 62,000 jobs created in the last month were from one employer--MacDonalds! Yeah, Recovery Summer! Oh wait, last summer was recovery summer. We will have to think of a new term to capture the joy and gratitude we feel for our great leader.

Remember that we have to keep creating more jobs just to keep up with population growth, formerly discouraged workers returning to the employment market and the normal layoffs that go on in the economy, so we are actually losing ground on the unemployment rate even as the absolute number of jobs goes up. So while we have more total jobs the unemployment rate has risen back over 9% to 9.1%.

Government that works

I am in New Orleans getting my passport replaced. I have to admit that the people helping me have been as nice as they can be and quite efficient. They are having work done on the lobby and so they were only taking people that had emergencies. They had to bend a few rules to get me in under the guidelines for having an emergency. They were only doing passports for people that were leaving the country in the nest few days but since I have to get a visa from the Afghan embassy in Washington within 11 days it is, considering the efficiency of the embassy, practically up against the drop dead day already.

I will miss that passport. I have been to a lot of pretty cool countries. I can't imagine where it is. I have looked everywhere. On the other hand my room is as clean as it has been since my Mom was able to make me clean it.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Interesting Question

If the Tea Party are a bunch of racists why are they moving to support Cain?

Of course, there is no conceivable evidence that could convince a true believer. If the Tea Party supports a black man for president it is only to divert attention from their racism. I had to vote for this black guy to make you think I am not a racist. I had to burn this village to save it (oh wait, I agree with that one!).

Wednesday, June 01, 2011


Weiner tries to get past the scandal by drawing an analogy with a heckler yelling from the back of the room. In that case would he spend the rest of the speech responding to the heckler? But the analogy does not hold. In his base analogy there is no doubt about the fact that the heckler is someone else, not the congressman. But in the case the question under dispute is whether the heckler and the congressman are not, in fact, the same person.

Monday, May 30, 2011


This is no "he-said-she-said," the truth is there on the parties' computer, according to Kaus, who points out that Representative Wiener can end the scandal by simply having a neutral third party examine the computer. If the account was hacked it will be evident. Conversely, if the Congressman does not make his computer and account available for such an examination it should be taken as evidence that he is lying about the hacker, no?

But isn't the important thing that the scandal go on? I mean, really, any scandal that lends itself to the name "Wienergate" should be given a fair chance to live.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


I don't normally take much interest in sex scandals but in these circumstances I feel I have no choice. I am only human. A member of Congress sending a picture of his (underwear clad) member to a 21 year old college student is difficult enough to pass up on its own, add to that he is a member of the party I don't like and is very prominent one at that it becomes practically irresistible, but that the guy's name is "Weiner"? We are in sign from God territory. I declare it the solemn duty of all God-fearing Republicans to pursue the truth in its every trivial detail beyond all bounds of common sense or taste with all the self-righteousness and sarcasm they can muster or risk divine retribution. Let Weinergate begin!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The relentless pursuit of the obvious

In a economical matched pair design, a social scientist has demonstrated that personal attractiveness among young women is associated with a greater willingness on the part of merchants and operators of various public conveyances to offer their goods or services gratis. In laymen's terms pretty girls get free stuff. Where would we be without social science?

An example of the costs of not solving collective action problems: the return of measles. This is one place where economics supports a strong government role.

The great books explained in under 20 minutes.

And, for those who need a little more terrorism in their weekend, an interesting article about the increasing mismatch between our practices on targeted killing and international and domestic law.

Mark Steyn on Cass Sunstein. I happen to have met Sunstein a couple of times and of course knew a lot of people that were quite well acquainted with him and I must say that he is a very nice and capable man. Still, I think that Steyn's criticisms are on target and, as always, very funny.

Friday, May 27, 2011

what are you more worried about?

The Republicans are accused of being irresponsible for refusing to raise the debt ceiling. But the only meaning of the debt ceiling is the signal it sends to our creditors about our intention and ability to repay them. What is more worrisome to a creditor, your willingness to apply for another credit card or your willingness to reign in your spending? Would a bank be relieved if you walked into a credit negotiation with a handful of newly filled out credit card applications? Or would they rather see you cut the credit cards up and see that you had traded in your expensive car that you were still making payments on for a beater you had paid cash for? Who is really being responsible? Who is really the one that is risking the full faith and credit of the US? The people that want us to send in the application for a new home equity loan or the people that want us to stop eating out and shut off the cable?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Punish your enemies, reward your friends

Michael Barone mentions,

'In a Univision radio interview during the 2010 election cycle, Barack Obama urged Latinos not "to sit out the election instead of saying, 'We're going to punish our enemies and we're going to reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us.'"

I wish he would take that attitude in foreign policy, particularly in the conduct of the war in Afghanistan. Kill an American and you get a bunch of advisors showing up to build power stations and roads to get you to like us. Welcome the Americans and they ignore you because everything is fine where you are.

Of course, doing this in domestic society where the rule of law is established is the worse sin of a political leader. But in a situation where not the rule of law, but rule itself, the monopoly on violence that is the prerequisite for any government, then punishing your enemies and rewarding your friends is not only forgivable, it is imperative.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Courts are sacrilegious. They presume to deliver judgement. That is wrong. Only God can judge.

Now many of the people that support the killing of bin Laden support this argument on the argument that bin Laden was evil. I am a supporter of killing him but I do not presume to know that he was evil. His actions were evil, but I, since I am not God, do not know and have no way of knowing that he was evil. Who knows? If I had been raised in the same society and milieu as he was, perhaps I would have ended up thinking the same things he did and doing the same things. I am not particularly committed to the proposition that he wasn't a bad guy, he probably was. But the larger point remains that all through history we have seen people do things that to us seem unquestionably evil but that to them and the societies they were a part of were seen as necessary or even virtuous.

I only know that his continued existence on this Earth was dangerous to innocent people, not only for the further evil actions he was in all likelihood planning but for the example that he set to the world of being able to publicly gloat and boast of defying the US and inflicting a grievous and humiliating defeat on the most powerful nation on the face of the Earth.

But that is a prudential argument, not a moral catharsis argument. I regard the pleasure and pride with which most Americans greeted the death of bin Laden at the hands of our brave soldiers at the direction of our able president as justifiable and innocent. Still, justice, if it is to be done, will be done by God. We cannot inflict enough pain to expiate the pain caused by his crimes nor claim the moral standing to judge him as an individual human being.

But the fact is that his acts were evil. His acts put him beyond the protection of any human laws. Weather he deserved to be punished in the deepest, moral sense it is beyond my power to judge, but that his death was necessary and useful is beyond anyone's power to seriously question.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"Israel is not what is wrong with Middle East, Israel is what is right with the Middle East

Well received speech by the Israeli Prime Minister.

I don't agree that Israel needs unique security arrangements, I think that smaller states living within the security constraints set by larger states is routine in the international world. The only thing that makes the security arrangements unique is that the one demanding constraints is the smaller country.

I don't agree that "peace cannot be imposed, it can only be negotiated." It may be true that the UN's attempts to impose peace will fail but that is only because the UN is not really interested in peace. But peace is imposed all the time. We didn't come to an agreement with the Nazis. More to the point, Israel is attempting to impose a peace on the Palestinian--quite rightly in my view, but imposing nonetheless.

It is nice to see someone who can really give a speech for a change. How can people watch Obama in his robotic, pedantic drone and gush about what a great speaker he is? How can you watch the Prime Minister of Israel give a speech and then sit through the anointed one thinking, "There is a guy who can talk?"

Monday, May 23, 2011


I never much cared for Pawlenty but I am impressed that he is telling Iowans he is against the ethanol subsidy and is apparently set to go to Florida to advocate for a fundamental overhall of social security and medicare. These are long over due and, in the case of Social Security and Medicare, absolutely vital to our continued prosperity and vitality as a country. Maybe there is hope after all. On the other had, I have to say that I found his saccarine campaign roll-out radio ad a bit embarrassing.

One of the basic problems in our democracy is that we don't realize that rent-seeking is damaging and wrong because of the amount of value it destroys in the economy, not the incomes of the people that are receiving the funds. The payoff can be a million dollars to one guy or a dollar a piece to a million guys, the damage to the economy is the same. Many of the most politically successful programs are massive rent-seeking schemes that are politically successful precisely because they give relatively small amounts of money to very large numbers of people. These people don't think of themselves as exploiting the system because their total incomes are not particularly large. But that doesn't matter. If a large number of people are taking a relatively small amount of money the deadweight loss can be just as large or larger than with the sort of payoff that we usually think of as corruption.

Teutonic Shift

This piece mentions the President's "Teutonic shift" slip of the tongue which was cleaned up in the written version of the President's remarks later distributed to reporters and un-commented upon by same. If only Bush had made this error we could be having some good fun with it.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

War of Choice

this is an odd phrase, "war of choice." Is a war of no choice better? WWII was not a war of choice. Is that a good model to follow? We were attacked. We had no choice. Does that make us right? Or does it make us foolish?

There was nothing surprising about the Japanese attack. In many ways it was inevitable from 1937 onward. From that point on we made it clear that we would not accept their expansion into China. We asked for war and then gave them four more years to prepare for it. Was that smart?

Churchill called WWII the unnecessary war. Why? Because it could have been prevented if the British and their allies had confronted Hitler before back in 1936 when he re-occupied the Rhineland in clear contravention of the Treaty of Versalles. He is undoubtably right, but following his advice, as with confronting the Japanese earlier in the Pacific, would have surely constituted a war of choice.

The idea that a war of choice is a bad thing is a corollary of our idea that war is unnatural, an indication that we have mistreated an enemy or that there is a misunderstanding of some sort that should have been resolved. The Romans had no such idea. They expected war. War was in the nature of man. All of their wars were in some sense a war of choice. Waiting till you had no choice was an indication of failure, not turpitude.

The most open administration in history

Isn't it a bit odd that the same administration that wants to see what political campaign contributions corporations have made before deciding on giving them government contracts refuses to disclose what campaign contributions were made by the companies to which it is granting waivers for its new health care law?

I am officially worried

Mitch Daniels is out of the race. I have always dismissed talk about not having good candidates but now I have to admit to being worried.

1949 or 1967?

The link goes to reactions in Congress to the Administration's insistence on going back to the 1967 lines.

Why are they always referred to as the 1967 borders? They might as accurately be referred to as the 1949 borders. They are the borders that were set at the time of the armistice in 1949 after the first Arab attempt to destroy Israel. There is nothing special about 1967 but that the Arabs attempted to destroy Israel again in that year.

There would be some legitimacy to the demand from the Arabs that the Israelis go back to the 1967 lines if the Arabs had ever recognized those lines either formally or in practice. Since the only thing that the Arabs ever did was attack across those lines there seems little moral force in their demand that they now be respected.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Against Abortion? Have the Government Fund It

This is a nice introduction to the argument for voucherizing medicare. It is a video with some helpful graphics on the size of Medicare in relation to other programs.

The most interesting contribution is the evidence for the effectiveness of markets in holding down healthcare costs. He cites two examples which are pretty well known (though he again accompanies them with very useful graphics): Lasik eye surgery and cosmetic surgery (elective). Since these are both entirely (or almost entirely) paid for by the consumer they have both actually gotten cheaper relative not just to other medical prices but also to inflation in the rest of the economy.

But the most interesting piece of evidence he introduces comes from abortion provision. It turns out that this has gotten cheaper over the years, too.

This is quite a remarkable piece of evidence. One of the first things that you hear when you point out to people that cosmetic surgery has gotten cheaper is that, "people don't really need it so they can afford to shop around." Of course, one can always use the economist's argument that people also need money and so do, in fact, find ways to shop around anyway, but the argument that cosmetic surgery and lasik might somehow be a special case and that the lessons learned from those fields might not apply to the rest of the medical field strikes most people as being sensible.

That is one of the reasons that the evidence of the price of abortions is such a handy thing for advocates of the free market in health care. Broadly speaking advocates for greater involvement in health care and the advocates of abortion rights tend to be on the same side. They can hardly say that abortions are not necessary. At least rhetorically they are committed to the idea that the typical seeker of an abortion is a poor mother facing serious health risks from carrying a pregnancy to term. The fact that these consumers are able to control health care costs more effectively than expert allocation should carry weight with people holding such views.

It also poses a question for conservatives (or at least those that are not libertarians and are against abortion and socialized provision of health care): if government provision of is so inefficient then wouldn't, in the long run, a more effective way of reducing abortions be to put government in charge of paying for them?

If the price of abortions had been going up along with the rest of our healthcare system then even with the government picking up 80% of the cost the out-of-pocket costs to the patient would be more than the entire cost of the procedure at present.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Narcissism in Pop music

Mark Steyn makes this interesting observation in a discussion of entitlements:

"I was interested to discover recently that Nathan DeWall of the University of Kentucky has conducted a survey of “linguistic markers of psychological traits and emotions” in popular music from 1980 to 2007, and concluded that we are in (to use the book title of two of his co-authors) a narcissism epidemic. Once upon a time, love songs were about other people: “Me, Myself, and I (Are All in Love with You)” — Billie Holiday, 1937. Seventy-odd years later, Fergie sings in unconscious echo that she needs more time to be with herself; Beyonce sings about how hot she looks when she’s dancing; and, on the increasingly rare occasions when a vocalist directs her attention to an object of her affection other than herself, it sounds more like self-esteem boosterism than a love ballad. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Pink’s current blockbuster hit, “F**kin’ Perfect”:

Pretty, pretty please
Don’t you ever, ever feel
Like you’re less than
F**kin’ Perfect."

This is one of those things that you never notice until it is pointed out to you. It is amazing and disturbing how many love songs are praises of oneself.

The fine print

This is something I really didn't know.

"Under today's Medicare, seniors are subject to an individual mandate more subtle but just as coercive as ObamaCare's. By regulation, seniors must enroll in Medicare or forgo their Social Security checks. By law, they are denied the right to go outside of Medicare and buy the kind of private insurance they prefer. They are thus trapped within a single-payer government monopoly. Add budget pressures to the mix, and you have the perfect conditions for rationing."

That really does seem remarkable to me. So remarkable that I suspect it is not true, or some important fact is being left out.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Showing Nixon a Little Respect

Ok, let's be fair to Nixon. Sure, he had an enemies list, but he had the good sense to at least try to keep it secret. Actually, being able to tell your friends from your enemies is an important presidential skill, but you should know better than to talk about it and calmly explain why it is a good idea. Explaining why reporters you don't like aren't invited to the press poll a White House spokesman said, “I tend to consider the degree to which papers have demonstrated to covering the White House regularly and fairly in determining local pool reporters.”

Now doing it is bad enough but not having the respect for the intelligence of the American people to not think of a decent lie to cover for it is inexcusable. Let's give Nixon a little credit.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Advice for Newt

Note to Newt: Before you throw someone under the bus check to make sure your bus is moving. Paul Ryan just finds himself under a bus that is not moving and says, "Hey, why am I under this bus?" and gets up and brushes himself off and strolls off. Newt can think outside of the box. He has to learn to think outside of his mouth.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Common bared from White House

The link is to the youtube video of Common's objectionable appearance.

This is from the NBC story:

Their objection stems from a 2007 YouTube video of Common flagged by The Daily Caller. In the video, Common says "tell the law, my Uzi weighs a ton" as well as "Burn a Bush cos' for peace he no push no button."

Leaving aside the affront he poses to Police officers, he is a clear and present danger to the English language.

It is hard to write a hard and fast rule, sometimes one set of considerations may outweigh what would normally put someone beyond the pale. Ronald Reagan was sheepish when chided for inviting Frank Sinatra to the White House. You wouldn't normally invite someone with well-known ties to organized crime to the White House but for a truly great artist (that your wife happens to be sweet on). Could you say anything about Common that couldn't be said about someone who had been invited at some point to the white house? I suppose not.

But still, we are entitled to question the President's judgment. The White House is not his pad, it is the people's house and the people invited there to take a prominent role in public events should be people that all Americans can, broadly speaking, think are admirable and not offensive. Could someone watch the youtube video linked to and say that about Common?

Bob Dylan has been brought up as a counter example, someone who had defended someone convicted of murder. But Dylan thought that the guy did not do it. That is not Common's point.

"This is someone who fought for my freedom." She fought for his freedom by killing this cop--that is her point, no? Surely that is a bit different? Is it bad enough to keep someone out of the White House? Well, I think so. The president is the chief law enforcement officer in our country. It is, oddly enough, National Police appreciation week or something. It just isn't done.

We know that Reverend Write or Bill Ayers will never be invited to the White House because his association with them had become a problem in the election campaign leading the Obama operation to throw them under the bus. Once you are under the bus you don't come back. Having them to the White House would now just be too inconvenient.

Ask yourself, if Common had become a problem during the campaign is there any doubt that he would have found himself under the bus as well? Can you watch this Common fellow and then listen to another sermon on racial tolerance from Obama?

NBC says that Common was on his best behavior:

It ended with "one King's dream, he was able to Barack us."

Sanctimonious and insipid. Whether treating Common as a respectable figure is acceptable, treating him as a poet is genuinely appalling.

It is only news when Jews do it

The Turks killed 12 trying to cross their border yesterday. Nothing to see here folks, keep moving. It is only a human rights issue when Israel does it.

Of course, the Turks have every right to kill people trying to cross their border. That is what it means to be a state, to have the right to decide when to use violence to defend your sovereignty. Your borders are your sovereignty. If you don't decide who comes in here you are no longer a state.

And of course that is precisely the point. Israel's defense of its borders is treated as a human rights issue by much of the human rights community precisely in order to undermine its continued existence as a state.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Huckaboob not running

I am happy that Huckabee is not running. I just never liked him and always thought he was a phony. My early impression was formed in the last election cycle when he wrote what I thought was a cynical and foolish article published in Foreign Affairs arguing that we should take a more humble, apologetic approach toward dealing with Iran. Event quickly forced him to back away and I suppose that we should not be terribly surprised or upset when American governors running for president find that their ideas on foreign policy modified during political campaigns, but Huckabee struck me as an especially egregious example of a huckster. His rhetorical approach of casting himself as just a simple man, I don't understand all these fancy words these Washington type people, but I do know.... and then spout off some entirely anodyne populist proposal. I couldn't stand the guy. Where is H. L. Mencken when you need him?

You could hear some of his pompos piety in his statement that he would not run. “I am a believer and follower of Jesus Christ and that relationship is far more important to me than any political office," began a sentence explaining his decision not to run. Good grief. He is doing this because of his relationship with the lord, well, well. Are the other candidates not quite right with the man upstairs? Is that why they are running? As a Christian, I find his use of religion for the most pedestrian of political purposes offensive and ill-considered. His departure is a healthy development.

Read more:

I am suddenly happy about the Republican field with the departure of a bad candidate who would have had a good chance to win the nomination and the probable entry of a very good candidate with a good chance of winning--Mitch Daniels.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Why is Coffee so expensive in Moscow

Interesting BBC item on the reason a cup of coffee will set you back 7 dollars in Moscow. The main culprit is official corruption and regulatory red tape, so much so that, "defective institutions are responsible for up to 30% of property prices, 15% of the cost of retail goods and 10% of communication services prices." The article links to some interesting cross-national measures of institutional effectiveness and corruption.

Mitch Daniels

This piece in the New Republic warns the faithful not to be fooled by Mitch Daniel's seeming moderation by listing the scary right-wing things he has done. With press like this Daniels may have a shot at the Republican nomination after all.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Real Scandal

The real scandal is not that bin Laden was not given a trial but that he was not interrogated. We went in to kill him because we knew that if we had him there would be too much pressure to give him a trial. We could have gotten a lot of useful information out of him even if he had been uncooperative and we had confined ourselves to the Army Field Manual rules. Once again, Churchill had the right idea--draw up a list of modest length (now, now, Joe, don't get greedy), find them and kill them.

Hitchens on Chomsky

Hitchens dissects a Chomsky post on the killing of bin Laden.

Here is the original Chomsky post.

One thing I would differ with Hitchens on. Chomsky states that the US naming an aircraft "The Apache" is like the Nazis naming one of their weapons "The Jew" or "The Gypsy".

Now I have given up being ruffled by the left's admonitions to never make a Hitler analogy (unless it is about the US), but the point being made here is just wrong I believe. The salient fact about the Jews is that they were not allowed to fight, that they were overwhelming murdered as civilians. The salient fact about the Apaches is that they not only fought they fought extremely well. They were admired and hated for their fighting abilities and forced the US Army to drastically alter its tactics and ultimate reform parts of itself in their enemy's image.

This is not to dismiss or minimize the killing of Apache civilians (or of US or white civilians) but the Apaches thought of themselves as warriors, not victims. It is the left that wants to transform them into victims above all. That is why the controversies about American Indian (or Native American) sports mascots often leads to controversy between the Advocates and the "Advocatees" on many occasions. The Native Americans seem on the whole to favor the team names taken from Indian tribes. These are taken out of admiration for the fighting qualities the tribes exhibited in the fact of overwhelming odds.

The correct analogy, if one insists on using the Nazis, would be the Nazis naming a plane the "RAF" or the US Marines, no?

Bad Faith

The link is to a discussion of the new regulations to be applied to Fracking, the longstanding but newly controversial practice of fracturing the walls and using pressure to get more oil and natural gas deposites out of old wells. This would seem to be as about an environmentally friendly way of getting fossil fuels as one can imagine, given that the well is already there. But it is being held up and stymied nonetheless by the Obama administration. There are two reasons. First, it is because they can. Since the new operation requires a new permit it offers and opportunity to block something by relying on the bureaucracy and without going to the legislature. More fundamentally it is about discouraging the use of fossil fuels. The ideologues in the administration want to shift the country long term from fossil fuels to alternative sources (as long as they aren't nuclear, of course). One way to do this is to make fossil fuels more expensive. Anything that restricts the supply of fossil fuels, even clean fuels like natural gas, is work on the side of the angels. One of the underlying problems in Washington is that there are some groups that will not admit to their real objectives and preferences. You cannot come to a reasonable agreement on how to do something safely if the other side is not really interested in safety but in getting right with the Gia.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Lazy Assumptions

So here is a nice discussion of San Francisco's idiotic rent control law. It points out that in addition to the normal outcome of ultimately higher rents and fewer apartments being built that San Francisco has gone so far as to produce an even more perverse outcome: people with existing apartments opting to keep them off the market altogether. It is one thing to discourage people from building new apartments, it is quite another to discourage people to, in effect, destroy them.

One of the things that drives this the lazy assumption that the landlords are the oppressor class and the renters are the disadvantaged. It is probably true to a first approximation that those who own rental properties are more wealthy on average than those who simply rent them, but there is a lot more to the story and a large part of the groups concerned that do not fall into that picture.

Landlords are often working class people that have pulled themselves up by their own hard work. A large proportion of them are first and second generation immigrants. It is one of the few ways that a person with limited credentials and language abilities but lots of practical wisdom and willingness to work can get ahead and own something. A significant part of renters are young professionals who have a comparative advantage in manipulating rules and legal systems. What we reflexively assume is a contest between a white rich guy and a poor suffering worker's family are often the reverse, a first generation working family trying to get ahead by taking risks to reclaim urban areas through sweat equity being exploited by well-connected yuppies.

I think that is especially true of San Francisco.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

An answer to the pro-torture argument ab bin Laden

Fried and Fried make the argument against torture in the Washington Post:

“Those who defend the use of torture and who are using bin Laden’s killing to prove their point prove just the opposite. However vile, bin Laden was not the armed-nuclear-bomb-hidden-in-downtown-L.A. scenario of Jack Bauer’s “24.” The point is that once you are willing to cross the line of absolutely wrong, you must answer impossible questions: How many people must be endangered; how certain must we be of the danger; how sure must we be that this is the person who can lead us to the bomb and that the torture will work on him? What if the terrorist who planted the bomb is immune to torture or beyond our reach, but his young child is not? May we torture the child if that will make the terrorist talk? And how certain must we be that that will work?”

Now these are all good arguments. This is the most creative and impressive case I have seen so far.

One thing that must be said is that it is not the argument the Obama administration is making and that even if the argument holds it still doesn’t address the political argument: How can Obama take credit for something that came only as the result of things he has outlawed? Moreover, has Obama really made us safer? If we got bin Laden because of things that Obama has now made impossible what are we thanking him for? He has only made the same decision that any president (presumably) would make and now takes away from future presidents and future Americans the possibility of protecting themselves with the same degree of effectiveness.

Obama is taking victory laps for getting bin Laden. He cannot at the same time admit that he is dismantling the policy that made it possible for him to do it. He has to go into the election saying that he will keep us safe. If it is true that torture lead to finding bin Laden and Obama is ending torture then it is a problem.

They say that torture involves us in impossible choices, a series of which they proceed to name. The problem with their argument is that even if these things are impossible they are impossible in somewhat different ways.

One source of impossibility is in making value trade offs, another is in making probability judgments that are impossible to make precisely but are no different from the sorts of judgements that all uses of force, whether in the criminal justice system or on the field of battle require us to make. The third source of impossibility is one that involves a logical impossibility that shows, I think, where the thinking of academics and the thinking of most other people, diverge.

The first part of their argument puts a lot of emphasis on the slippery slope argument. This seems out of place. Of course there is a sense of proportion and of course people will disagree on where the line is but that doesn’t mean that we will inevitably slip into a torture regime for bicycle thieves. All of the things we do to criminals are in some way inhuman. Putting someone in prison is inhuman. Locking them up in a cage for years on end is inhuman. Is the fact that we admit putting people in cages for the rest of their lives is admitted in some cases and we cannot a priori tell exactly what it is that separates the cases where such a punishment is admitted from those where it is not automatically going to lead to a slippery slope where every crime will be punish with life in prison?

The real problem in their argument I think is the child, and this is where the academic debate gets off track with the way that most non-philosophers and lawyers think about these things. The philosopher assumes the case for torture is utilitarian: preventing an immanent loss of life might justify torturing a person that has the information. And if torturing that one person is justified by preventing the harm then torturing another person such as his child would also be justified. And since we know that (or seem to feel that) torturing the child of a terrorist is wrong then torturing the terrorist is wrong too. And so, if we make a utilitarian calculation, balancing up the suffering of the terrorist’s victims against the suffering of the people that we torture to get the information is always going to lead us to some horrible moral absurdity the only solution is to not make the consequentialist move at all.

And here is where they get away from the way that most people think about this. I don’t think there is a simply utilitarian calculation. I think there is a moral calculation in the minds of those who advocate for torture. The terrorist has placed himself outside the protections of civilization by using the protections of civilization to destroy civilization. He has put himself outside the protections of civilization making himself hostis humanitas, and has no claim on civilization’s protections.

The child of the terrorist has done no such thing and that is why I think that most people would see the move from torturing the terrorist to torturing his child as not a move down a slippery slope but a jump across and chasm.

The terrorist is the enemy of civilization. He is not like the ordinary criminal who uses force and violence to break the law. The terrorist uses the law itself, the characteristics of a society that make it civilized, to destroy it. It is for that very reason that he is far worse than an ordinary criminal and is entitled to none of the protections and rights generally accorded ordinary criminals.

The examples they go on to cite of Lincoln’s code prohibiting cruelty are irrelevant. For instance, they quote Hallack’s admonition to his troops to not roast the Indians just because they have roasted some of ours. But that is irrelevant to this case. No one is proposing roasting bin Laden or inflicting pain on him for our amusement nor even to punish him. The torture regime that was, after all, only used on three high value targets (the number goes up to a hundred or so if you include all the prisoners held in secret prisons abroad who were subjected to mistreatment falling short of water-boarding) were not tortured for entertainment. And they could have avoided most or all of this by cooperating and giving up the information they had.

I am just not sure why I would be a better person if I put not torturing Osama bin Laden above the life of an innocent person in my own society. I am deeply skeptical that it is the right trade-off when the life sacrificed is one from outside my own society, as I think is the case in most of the cases we deal with.

How would you face God? I thought that it was important that I not subject one of your creatures to torture even though it necessitated another one of your creatures dying? Is that the answer God wants to hear? Are we so sure that God wouldn’t be disappointed? What if he says, “So what if everybody did that? The world will be ruled by those willing to commit terrorism because those that are against terrorism don’t want to get their hands dirty? That is what you do with the world I give you? That is how you protect the people that depend on you, for whom you have been given the responsibility to protect, by letting them be killed because you would not subject the killers to torture?” And let us be clear as long as we are talking about God, can we be sure he will be as horrified by water boarding as a couple of law professors from Cambridge? You have to remember that he has a much broader experience. In his major word are plenty of treatments that would make water boarding look pretty tame--many that were sent by the Old Man himself.

They accuse the people that are using the successful detection and killing of bin Laden as an argument for the harsh interrogation techniques the Bush administration used against some of the detainees of tarnishing President Obama and our military’s triumph. “Now, the same apologists who applauded President George W. Bush’s authorization of torture — and make no mistake, waterboarding is torture — are working to stain this great triumph

But if the detection of bin Laden came about by torture then the triumph is already stained. The question is, what are we to make of this fact. If it is a fact then we should face it squarely and own up to it. If, as Fried and Fried would have it, we cannot know whether this came about in part because of torture then it is already to late; we must admit that the triumph has been gotten by immoral means. Those who point this out, those who point out the role of torture in making this feat of arms possible are doing us a favor, they are speaking the truth to us, they are giving us a chance to redeem ourselves. They should be applauded, not excoriated. Surely, if it had been during the Bush administration that we got him Fried and Fried would be among the first to be pointing out how the victory is tarnished by this association, by these unanswered questions. Shouldn’t they be the ones asking if this great triumph is stained by torture rather than dismissing the question as “indecent” by saying that we can never know what role torture had in this accomplishment “because there is no way of knowing whether it is true, and any attempt to prove or disprove it must reveal intelligence that our security requires remain secret.”