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.