Sunday, December 30, 2012

The lightness of our age Outland: Sean Connery, Peter Boyle, Frances Sternhagen, James Sikking: Amazon Instant Video: What a disappointment. The movie is consciously patterned after High Noon.  There is a clock in the background showing the time of the space shuttle's arrival that is supposed to build tension. But what a terrible missed opportunity. What a dispiriting lack of imagination! Most of the original movie was devoted to the Marshall's unsuccessful efforts to get the towns' people to help him. This involves mainly speeches that are full of complicated, sophisticated and specious arguments that are rich and full of overtones for contemporary politics without being in distractingly obvious or partisan. This is almost completely ignored in the Sean Connery version. He merely walks into a dinning hall and says dejectedly "I could use some help." No one answers and he says, "I thought so." As he is walking out someone says, "That's your job, what about your men?" He says, "My men? My men are shit."

That is all. That is all the entire middle of the movie, the heart of the dramatic action is distilled down to. Almost cretinized down to. None of the complicated rationalizations the towns people give. None of the great moral questions vigorously defended on both sides. Nothing. Just a corporate conspiracy. The entire movie is motivated by the fact that it looks really cool when people are exposed to the vacum of space. They clearly spent a lot more time worrying about this special effect. That was my main motivation for seeing it when I was 14. A culture aimed at 14 year olds.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Britain's approach to self defense

File under the decline of civilization:

It Was the Kitchen Knife in the Parlor with Professor Plum… or was it Professor Plum in the Parlor with the Kitchen Knife? | The Gun Tutor: "“The BBC offers this advice for anyone in Britain who is attacked on the street: You are permitted to protect yourself with a briefcase, a handbag, or keys. You should shout ‘Call the Police’ rather than ‘Help.’ Bystanders are not to help. They have been taught to leave such matters to the professionals. If you manage to knock your attacker down, you must not hit him again or you risk being charged with assault.” (3)"

The citizen as bunny. Don't defend yourself; don't come to someone else's defense. Meekly wait for the adults, for the state, to come to your rescue. Are these the same people that fought the Nazi Empire alone for more than a year and a half?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Statistical bias from specification error

ANN COULTER: We know how to stop school shootings | The Daily Caller:

Coulter takes on a study of mass shootings carried out by Mother Jones Magazine that claims to demonstrate that armed citizens never stop mass shootings. The reason, as Coulter makes clear, is that the study's definition of a mass shooting is one that excludes any mass shooting that was successfully stopped by an armed citizen (or armed anyone, for that matter). The Mother Jones study defines mass shootings as cases where four or more people were killed. As it turns out, there are several cases where the assailant clearing intended to kill large numbers of people but was successfully stopped by armed citizens, often merely by pointing the gun at the perpetrator.

Statistical bias from specification error

ANN COULTER: We know how to stop school shootings | The Daily Caller:

Coulter takes on a study of mass shootings carried out by Mother Jones Magazine that claims to demonstrate that armed citizens never stop mass shootings. The reason, as Coulter makes clear, is that the study's definition of a mass shooting is one that excludes any mass shooting that was successfully stopped by an armed citizen (or armed anyone, for that matter). The Mother Jones study defines mass shootings as cases where four or more people were killed. As it turns out, there are several cases where the assailant clearing intended to kill large numbers of people but was successfully stopped by armed citizens, often merely by pointing the gun at the perpetrator.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Jack Klugman’s secret-Why not make us all Orphans?

Jack Klugman’s secret, lifesaving legacy in the Washington Post details how Klugman used his celebrity as Dr. Quincy to pressure Congress into passing the Orphan Drugs Act which, by lowering the regulatory burden and lowering the cost of clinical trials led to many drugs coming to market including AZT. The story is cast with the Democrats as good guys and a lone Republican Senator, Orrin Hatch, as the bad guy. But the question the article never asks  is why, if it is such a good idea to lower regulatory burdens in the case of small market drugs, isn't it a good idea for all drugs? The FDA is focused solely on the dangers of new drugs and never tallies the cost in drugs that are not developed in the first place because of the regulatory burdens they the agency, empowered by its mainly Democratic allies and supporters in Congress, create. How much progress is snuffed out by the FDA's insistence on proof of effectiveness instead of simply safety and the blocking of the use of patient data from real world use by the privacy rules imposed on the use of patient data? If it was such a good idea to get the FDA out of the way in the case of rare diseases why not try it for more common and more deadly diseases? There would be a real lifesaving legacy.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Proof that Concealed Carry permit holders live in a dream world?

Proof that Concealed Carry permit holders live in a dream world-at least according to the producers at ABC's 20/20.

In fact the experiment they set up is biased toward the result they want the experiment to produce and even at that still doesn't really prove their point.

The producers argue that having concealed carry permit holders will do nothing to stop mass shootings. But part one of their expose does not support their case.

The analysis below is written on the assumption that the read has viewed the segment linked to in the post.

To test the proposition that ordinary citizens will not be able to respond effectively to a mass shooting the producers put 5 ordinary people through a short training course with fire arms. The producers point out that even this is more training than most concealed carry permit holders get (though formal training is not the only thing that might make a difference in how one responds to a mass shooting). They are then put into a classroom where they are told there will be more training but where, in fact, a mass shooting will be staged.

A first question to ask of such experiments is how well they reproduce the actual conditions, the actual causes and effects we are trying to understand. Here the cause is at two causes, mass shootings and the presence of a civilian with minimal training and a concealed weapon, and one effect, the results of mass shootings. In particular, we want to know if the outcomes of mass shootings are better when there is an armed civilian present. Are more innocent people likely to get hurt? Is the shooter more likely to be stopped and apprehended?

Against this we should compare the likely outcomes of doing what the authorities recommend--not confronting the shooter, doing what he says (I am not aware of any female perpetrated mass shootings, though their may be some),   and hiding or playing dead.

The first independent variable, the mass shooting, is hard to replicate. Is it really possible to replicate the terror of a mass shooting? No matter how realistic the acting is the person in the experiment must know at some level that they are not really going to be killed. So, even if the person reacts well in the experiment we still cannot be sure that they would have done as well in a real mass shooting. On the other hand, if they fail in the simulation they would presumably, all other things being equal, do even worse in the real event.

On the other hand, there is the possibility that factors might be introduced that would bias the experiment in the other direction, make it less like the real event in ways that make it less likely for the armed citizen to improve the outcome. Here there seem to be several things about the set up that make it seem, well, like a set up.

For one thing, the subjects in the experiment are all put in clothes that seem both unusual and likely to make effective response less likely. They are supposedly in a classroom where they are being taught something about emergency response that involves putting on gloves and a full helmet/face-mask apparatus of some sort. Also, all of the subjects are apparently made to wear a tee-shirt that is both unusually long and tight fitting so that it must be pulled up in order to make the gun available. The gloved hand and the obstructive tee-shirt make drawing the gun rather more difficult. The helmet is also a problem. In addition to being quite unusual--I can't imagine a situation in which college students would be wearing helmets and face-masks in a college classroom--it reinforces what the program later explains is one of the primary reasons untrained citizens are unlikely to be effective in responding to mass-shootings: the tendency of the brain to impose on our perception a kind of tunnel vision in the midsts of crisises. The tunnel vision blinds us to things outside of the threat itself that would otherwise be caught by our peripheral vision. Such as, presumably, innocent bystanders. I have not been able to find part two of the series where the last two subjects are put through the experiment but I am willing to wager that one or both of them ends up hitting an innocent bystander.

But there is another thing that might cut off our peripheral vision--a head covering helmet that has a plastic mask in front for us to see out of. Whether this plays an actual role in the outcome I do not not but if it has any effect at all it could nothing other than to decrease peripheral vision, reinforcing one of the very effects that is said to call for trained professionals only to carry firearms and to make untrained or minimally trained civilians ineffectual or dangerous in a crisis. Given that the only possible effect of the helmets could have would be to bias the experiment in the direction of the results the experimenters are seeking, the introduction of this unusual and unnecessary factor into the experiment can only raise doubts about the competence if not the integrity of the designers of the experiment.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Debate on Marriage

Here is a debate on the government's role in promoting marriage from the Economist. It seems as if the pro-marriage side is losing ground.

A Teachable Moment on the Nature of the UN

Crovitz reports in the WSJ on the victory of internet censorship in the UN. National governments have now won UN sanction, by a strong majority vote, to control the internet and censor it within their own countries. Of course, they had that authority already, but now it will be made easier with the technical support and moral sanction of the UN. A coalition of Authoritarian states led by Russia and China with unanimous backing of the Arabs and other dictatorships easily defeated the free nations of the world.

This calls to mind an argument that I have had many times over the years with my liberal friends who see the UN as a force for human freedom and progress that represents the conscience of mankind. It does not. It represents the governments of mankind and a solid majority of those governments see freedom as a threat, not a goal. The UN is a danger to freedom, not a support. Perhaps this intrusion by the dictator-dominated international bureaucracy into something that young people really understand and value, the free internet, will open the eyes of some.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

What Can We Do to Stop Massacres? - Jeffrey Goldberg - The Atlantic

What Can We Do to Stop Massacres? - Jeffrey Goldberg - The Atlantic: "To talk about eradicating guns, especially given what the Supreme Court has said about the individual right to gun-ownership, is futile."

It is a rather minor point in all of this, but I find it dispiriting when ever someone speaks of a constitutional right this way, that we have it because the Supreme Court says we have it. We have it because the Constitution says we have it. We are so willing to give up our rights to the sufferance of elites and their interpretations. We do not have the right because of their interpretation of the text, but because of the text.

Strange days

In the days of the Founding Fathers it was thought natural that citizens should be armed but the state defenseless. Now we seem to hold the opposite opinion. Citizens are to be defenseless while the smallest city's police force should be able to produce paramilitaries at a moment's notice. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Pizza Shack - Jackson, MS

Pizza Shack - Jackson, MS: This is the Yelp page for the Old Canton Road location. So far my favorite restaurant has a good reputation.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

and a belated congratulations to general filth...

It wasn't just the mud and snow that defeated Napoleon in Russia. It was also lice. The state of the Russian countryside was so backward and filthy that the soldiers and pack animals fell victim to the diseases and disorders of poor hygiene.

The effect of high taxes

Here is why we should worry about taxing the rich:

Entrepreneurship is much lower in Europe, suggesting that high tax rates and poorly designed regulation discourage new business creation. The Economist reports that between 1976 and 2007 only one continental European startup, Norway's Renewable Energy Corporation, achieved a level of success comparable to that of Microsoft, Apple and other U.S. giants making the Financial Times Index of the world's 500 largest companies.

But the article also goes on to note that we are taxing ordinary consumption and labor at near European levels and may soon have European levels of work effort as a consequence. We are also depressing productivity by protecting inefficient producers.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Sex differences innate?

I never doubted it, but here is more evidence in an informatively titled article by Christina Hoff Summers, "You Can Give a Boy a Doll, but You Can't Make Him Play With It."

One of my favorite bits:

The female preference for nurturing play and the male propensity for rough-and-tumble hold cross-culturally and even cross-species (with a few exceptions—female spotted hyenas seem to be at least as aggressive as males). 
I think that is interesting. The exceptions seem to be animals that we instinctively do not like, that we are inclined to see as reflecting some morally blameworthy quality. Of course, my impression of hyenas may be as distorted by inaccurate stereotypes as some maintain our culture's view of sexual differences are, and it may even not make sense to speak of animals as having moral behavior at all, but we associate hyenas with selfishness, opportunism, disloyalty and even cowardice. Is it, perhaps, no accident? If hyenas really are amoral creatures, really do have those character traits which popular myth ascribes to them, then I speculate that this amorality is related to their lack of sexual differences. Social animals that have no differences in abilities or inclinations have little to bind them together. They have little reason to for them to form long term bonds. They have few 'gains of trade' in Becker's sense. In a species where the sexes are no different from one another, the sexes are not bound to one another. In a species where the members are not bound to one another, there is little occasion for the qualities of self-sacrifice and loyalty that are the starting point for the qualities we call "moral". 

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Churchill's Neatness

Something I did not know.

The short article remarks on his sartorial neatness, which might be mainly a function of having a butler, but it also talks about how he keeps his desk neat, which I think might reflect something deeper. The great productivity of Churchill's life seems to have been due to great powers of concentration and the ability to focus on only one task at a time. The ability to do that seems to have a great deal to do with reducing clutter so that other things and matters are not continually intruding on whatever task is one's main focus at the moment. If so, compulsively straightening the papers on one's desk might be part of a larger pattern of behavior that helps one to concentrate and tune out superfluous matters. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Global crisis: Obama imitates losers

Here is a chart showing that the economic crisis of 2008 was 1) global and 2) worse in other countries than in ours. Megan McArdle argues that this shows that blaming Bush or Obama for the terrible economy of the last four years doesn't make a lot of sense. However, it is worth pointing out that almost every major policy change of the Obama years has made our policies more like Europe's. If we did better than they in the global economic crisis, why is the Obama administration using the crisis as an excuse to move our economy in their direction? If the economies with more controls, welfare spending and regulations did worse during the crisis isn't that an argument against those policies? 

Opposing Tax Increases on the Rich

It has been argued that the Republicans are foolish and obstinate to oppose tax increases on the rich in the face of substantial majorities supporting the idea. The thing that such arguments over look is that this will not be the last time. The entitlement state is growing far faster than tax revenues, far faster than inflation. This will not be the last crisis. This is one in a series of 'crisises' that will continue, that will not, in fact, be crisises but which will inevitably become the standard order of business as we do nothing about a welfare state that metastasizes out of control. The state is permanently brooke, brooke by design. Tax increases on the investments and investors that create jobs and growth will make the desease worse, which will only lead to more calls for sacrifice from those who can most afford it to deal with the lastest 'temporary' emergency.

The question is not the proportion of spending cuts to tax or revenue increases, it is whether the spending 'cuts' (which I put in scare quotes as such cuts are almost always simply reductions in the rate of increase) solve the underlying problem: the permanent tendency of the welfare state's outlays to grow faster than our means of paying for them. Until that is dealt with in a permanent way we will only lurch from one crisis to the next with the latest emergency calling for shared sacrifice from those best able to bear the burden. Until the problem of stable financing of the welfare state is permanently solved every concession on taxes is simply another step down the steepening incline toward a sclerotic welfare state, stagnant and divided by envy, hate and despair.  

Saturday, November 24, 2012


Danish physicist Niels Bohr: “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.”
Harold Meyerson explains why the growth Democratic party is the true party of the maker by redefining welfare and wealth redistribution as 'investment'.

"Racial minorities, the young, single women — the groups whose share of the electorate is rising — all believe that government has a role to play in increasing opportunity and enlarging the rewards of work." 

Yes, even as the handout state increases unabated and brazenly calls out to more and more of the population to get on the such it is still ashamed of itself at some level. It feels obligated to cloak re-distribution of income from those who have earned it to those who have not as some sort of human capital investment regime.

"That doesn’t make them “takers,” however, unless you believe that public spending on schools and on a retirement fund to which American workers contribute constitutes an illegitimate drain on private resources." 

Just because you don't want the Mafia to control vending machines and garbage collection doesn't mean that you don't believe in vending machines and garbage collection. The modern redistributionist state has learned the trick the mafia learned a long time ago--marks don't like thinking of themselves as marks. The Don could save both himself and his customers money if he just came round and took a flat payment, but he knows his prey prefers to think of itself as supporting a slightly over-priced local business rather than as paying extortion money. So the tax eaters get their end in the form of padded payrolls, outsize pensions and the provision un-needed services rather than a simple cash payment for votes, allowing the mark--the tax payers--to maintain their self-respect. They are suckers, they are simply more civic minded than their neighbors. 

"While the level of labor-force participation for non-Hispanic whites was 64.6 percent, as measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics from 2010 data, the level for Asians was 64.7 percent and for Latinos, 67.5 percent. So which group has more “takers” and which more workers?" 

The three percent difference in labor force participation does not tell us very much about the proportion of takers. There may be more people in the other groups in education. A man who goes through 8 years of higher education is more of a taker than one who drops out of high school to take a low paying job by this logic. The white population may be significantly older than the latino population and thus have more retirees. There may be more stay at home spouses. All of this would increase the proportion of "takers" by Meyer's definition but tell us little about a population's self-reliance. 

And you can work and take. What about the number of people that work and take food stamps? Also, people on unemployment benefits are 'in' the labor force, though they are strictly speaking, taking, not making. 

"...asked voters whether government should promote growth by spending more on education and infrastructure or should lower taxes on businesses and individuals. The groups that constitute the growing elements of the electorate all favored the spending option — 61 percent of Latinos favored it, 62 percent of blacks, 63 percent of voters under 30 and 64 percent of single women. White voters, however, preferred the lower-taxes option 52 percent to 42 percent."

Yes, the growing elements of the electorate would prefer their handouts be called 'investments,' that is very clear. That may seem cynical but it is a more comforting thought to me than to contemplate that there are still people there who think that the road to general prosperity is to funnel more money into services and good produced by public sector unions. Is it possible to believe that we don't have enough roads? Or that the reason our road system is not better is because we don't pay enough taxes to the government? The 800 billion dollar stimulas was enough to build over 1,600 Hoover Dams. Where did the money go? The suck. The great network of insiders, the players in the public sector mafia, from the big time former legislators now serving as consultants to the low level pensioners and union workers, all who get more for their labor and services through the coerced payments to the government than they could ever get from the freely volunteered payments of the open market, the great suck that drains the forces of energy and innovation that drive voluntary cooperation and enterprise and the creation of wealth. 

Meyerson then incredibly cites the example of California as an example to be emulated. The rise of minorities in that state's electorate has allowed them to finally outvote the white population that favored low taxes and approve, by referendum, increases in taxes on the those with incomes over 250,000, all to pay for increased 'investments' in roads and education. What Meyerson overlooks is that California is going broke and that rich people and business creators are leaving. 

"Median household income is shrinking as the share of company revenue going to wages descends and the share going to profits increases."

Yes, as you mandate more and more benefits per worker, businesses respond rationally by hiring fewer workers, which just proves that they are mean and that the government should mandate more benefits per worker. 

Meyer concludes, "If more private-sector workers were able to bargain collectively for wage increases, they would be less dependent on governmental income supplements and the safety net for rudimentary economic security." 

Ah yes, if only keep running the liquor and gambling he wouldn't have had to raise the prices on garbage. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Argo thoughts

I just saw the movie Argo last night and here are my initial thoughts:

Is the Canadian-American connection a model of international cooperation? It is an example of the basic decency of the peoples of the English speaking world. That is how is should be remembered, not as a matter of international law but as an example of the solidarity of two political communities based on the same institutions. It is an example of friendship, not law. 

The actual role of the Canadians is much greater, they play an active role in the rescue of the Americans. 

The original Wired article tells a different story. There was less bickering and panicking among the Americans. The Americans worked with the Iranians that were applying for visas to make an escape plan and the Iranians resourcefully contributed at key points. 

America has a bad habit of underplaying the contributions of its friends and allies. The British have been treated to a particularly cruel and gratuitous insult in this film. The movie says the escaping Americans were turned down for asylum by the British. There is no mention of this in the article. I seem to remember one marine making to the British embassy, but I certainly can’t believe that the British would have turned down Americans trying to escape the Iranian mob. 

Update: the British not only didn't turn us down but actually took us in and when the Iranian secret police had gotten suspicious helped our people to get to the Canadian Embassy. Here is the original Wired article 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Property Rights to the Rescue

Why did fracking arise in the US instead of somewhere else? Property rights, federalism and open access.

In the US mineral rights belong to the surface landowner. In other countries they belong to the government. This made possible experimentation that has not happened in other countries where all decisions about how to exploit under ground resources are made by the government.

The federal structure of regulation also made possible experimentation that was later adopted by other states.

Finally, the open access structure of our pipeline system also facilitated the use of the same network for different fuels.

Merrill also notes that fracking has been good for the environment and is one of the main reasons that the US, without the help of the Kyoto treaty, has actually reduced its carbon emissions while Europe's have remained flat and Asia's have increased. Gas is a threat to renewables but it is a great threat to Coal, which is the main source of greenhouse gasses.

More speculatively, the drop in prices from fracking may make the economically correct thing to do--the imposition of a carbon tax--politically feasible as well.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Surprise! Another Surprise!

The USDA released the figures for food stamp enrollment 9 days late until after the election. Almost 500,000 people went on food stamps last month, more than twice as many as got jobs.

I think this post should be expanded as we get more 'surprises' from the most open administration in history. The Petraeus resignation and the Iranian attack on our drone are obvious examples.

Update: Investor's Business Daily has an editorial cataloging the 'surprises' we have since the election. Average hourly earnings down by 2%, poverty up by 800,000 in a revision of the pre-election report, Food stamps being used by 15% of the population compared to just 7% a decade ago, 353 coal plants to close as a result of Obama environmental regulations, inflation up to 2.2% and thousands of small banks to be killed by Dodd-Frank.

The BLS jobs numbers are so out of sorts that many economists are claiming they can't be used for projections.

He is also taking 1.6 million acres out of oil shale extraction--wonder what effect that would have had in Colorado had the voters had known?

There are also the surprises written into law. President Obama asked sarcastically during the debates why Mitt Romney was not telling everyone the details of his plan now instead of waiting till after the election. He said, if I recall correctly, "If the details are so wonderful then why is he waiting?" The same could be said of the President's policies, though, no?

What about Obama care going into effect after the election. If it is so wonderful why not implement it now? Could we not stand to be so happy? Or would it be a bit too obvious that 'nothing in this bill says you can't keep your doctor' does not mean you won't be forced to change your doctor.

Dodd Frank regulations don't take effect till after the election (though this appears to be in part because the regulations are so complicated that they haven't been written yet--a whole other area of complaint).

"Tell Vladimir I'll have more flexibility after the election"

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Close election

Obama won with 50.4% of the vote and becomes the first president in history to win reelection by a smaller margin than that by which he first won election. Well, as a man whom I greatly admire might have said, he may have won with a small majority, but he won all of the presidency. The House, with its gerrymandered districts, is ill positioned to claim that they are the more authentic voice of the people.

Playing golf while Staten Islanders freeze

Imagine if it were Bush playing golf while Hurricane victims were freezing and homeless; the press would be seething with outrage. Add to the mouchers and Mandarins the suckers--working poor who voted for this guy.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Constitution Suspended?

I know the Obama campaign--excuse me--I meant the press corps, was never really interested in the story of Staten Island getting out, but it is shocking to hear reports of FEMA officials preventing the residents of their shelters from contacting the outside world and not allowing the press in the compounds. Is that even remotely constitutional? Is there anything that can rouse the press to outrage?

Where is Mr. Burns when you need him?

Here Mark Tapscott argues that in order to get a big deal done on the budget the parties should be forced to negotiate in public.

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

One always hears this ouch-less bandaid drivel about openness and sunshine and public negotiations from pundits and confused citizens when the country can't seem to come to a decision on a big issue. It is the aspirin the do-gooder's medicine chest, beneficial for many ailments and if not a cure at least something that does no harm. And when it is found to be largely useless the cure is always more openness.

This could not be more wrong. Nothing kills the possibility of finding real agreement on seriously contentious subjects like openness. If the public is presented with an agreement that requires all to sacrifice their own, narrow interests to some overall package to save the country there is at least some hope of getting all to go along. But is the public is presented with a series of hypothetical cuts to their own particular interests they will be called to mobilize in defense of each of these particular benefits or concessions as they occur. And as there will be no one on the other side to push against them politicians will forced to back away from every serious proposal as it is brought up. Nay, they will back down preemptively by not proposing such sacrifices in the first place.                                 

Negotiations held in public will be no negotiations at all.

Of course there will be private negotiations. They will simply be held before or during or after the public ones.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Media Bias

Here is a cite dedicated to exposing liberal bias in the media; here is the best known liberal counter-part

Some strong arguments against the "liberal media" theory

A Pew study that supports the "liberal media" theory

Polling indicates that distrust of the media is at an all time high

Misplaced cries of media bias: the “nattering nabobs of negativism,” are no longer have a choke point of three news networks. 

Maybe the real problem is horse-race bias


Stuff I would like to link to

The Grumpy Economist's post election predictions

Cool graphs on election outcomes

More cool graphs

Ballot measures break for marijuana and, in a break with a long pattern, for gay marriage

Where did the White people go?

Landslide Lyndon--tell us how you do it!

It turns out that a Philidelphia precinct that illegally threw out Republican poll watchers had a 99.5% vote for Obama and a 90% turn out rate. This, of course, has not attracted the attention of professional journalists but it has come to the notice of certain admirers of the late Lyndon Johnson, or, as he was known during his first couple of years in the Senate (before everyone was too scared of him to address him as anything other than "Sir"), Landslide Lyndon.


Well, it seems that his first term in the Senate came about as the result of an election that he won by 128 votes. Not exactly a Texas sized margin. But what is truly remarkable, and what gives the whole story a certain sense of style, is the votes materialized only after all of the other results in the state had been reported and it had turned out that Johnson was behind by less than 100 votes. Moreover--and this is the master touch--the 128 illiterate Mexican voters were found to have managed to rare lexicographical feat of vote in alphabetical order.

And that is what is so disappointing about the Philidelphia episode. Why bother to steal and election before you have first found out whether you are winning? It is just piling on. No Chicago ward boss, let alone a master politician like Lyndon Johnson, would profane our sacred election processes just to pad his totals. It is third-world dictator behavior. Less Landslide Lyndon than Dear Leader. I should think even "Dragon Bone" Obama is, if not embarrassed at least disappointed.

States' rights for beginners

Conservatives are rightly engaged in soul-searching about how to broaden their appeal. Inevitably many social conservatives are being fingered, mainly by social liberals, naturally. But before we start compromising our principles we should at least fully explore the possibilities for ways in which our principles might appeal to new groups. One such group might be socially liberal young people.

One thing that conservatives could do to increase their appeal to young people is highlight ways in which the conservative agenda might benefit social liberals. An excellent example is the wave of states legalizing marijuana in some form or other. Colorado has just put pot on the same legal level as liquor. They will get harassment from the Feds. Conservatives should defend the states that choose this path on states rights grounds.

Nothing makes the tent bigger than a correct understanding of the Constitution's enumerated powers, giving the Federal government limited, specific powers and leaving to the states unlimited, broad powers. Most of the conflict between libertarians and traditional conservatives can be made to simply disappear by simply saying, "It is a state matter." Sending issues back to the states, leaving them where they always belonged in the first place, dissipates conflict by allowing more people to live under laws that they agree with. But more importantly, it is inherently conservative and mild. The state cannot borrow money or print money and so a break is put on the more grandios schemes of government and central planners. And the rules it enforces are always limited by the power of people to vote with their feet; if they really don't like a law they can not only move, they can visit. 

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Revenge of the mandarines and moochers

From Michael Walsh:

"In the end, though, Mitt lost because he and his team were incapable of grasping one simple, terrible fact: Far too many Americans today don’t want a job, they want — again, to use Obama’s term — revenge.
They just got it. "

In the end that is it, perhaps. The sneering at Romney's mentioning that his wife drives two Cadillacs, for instance, or the sneers at his car elevator or just the sheer fact of his wealth, all of this was somehow an indictment. No matter that he earned the money, the mere fact that he had it was enough to make him an object of hatred. Rock stars, Rappers and sports figures can blow money on all sorts of nonsense without the slightest price in public esteem but a man who has earned a fortune through hard work and led a morally exemplary life can be sneered at. Why? Simple revenge. It is sad and hateful. 

By the way, Obama won 8 of the 10 richest counties in the country. The moocher/mandarine axis lives on. 


The concept of dignity is the dividing line.

One conception of dignity is the free market conception. It is defined by owing nothing to another man. To live by no man's leave under the law. To stand up on one's own. To having nothing that one has not earned, and 'earned' meaning providing something, some good or service, that others are willing to pay for un-coerced. To have nothing that one has not earned.

The other conception of dignity is the government conception. It is defined by having as much as other men. To give your political loyalty in exchange for favors. To be lifted up by the government. To get what one deserves, and 'deserves' meaning being treated equally, and being equally entitled to roughly what others have, to have one's labor valued by the judgement of its value to society rather than the relative scarcity of the services you are able to provide. 

Government helps the insiders

Government's efforts to help the little guy always end up helping the insiders.

They try to help the little guy with deposite insurance and shoring up the banking system and who profits? The bank executives.

They try to help students get higher education and who makes out? The universities and colleges.

They try to help out the poor and the elderly with Medicare and Medicaid and who makes out? The health care industry.

They try to help people buy homes and who makes out? The people that already had homes.

Young people voting for the Democratic party should look at the GM bailout to get an idea of what the future holds for them. The deal rescuing the un-payable pensions of the current work force were restored by public money, but the younger workers that have since been hired don't get those benefits. The people already working there are insiders. The ones that have not been hired yet are outsiders. Think about it, generation sucker.

Government goes into these markets driving up demand and instead of increasing consumption of the good merely drives up the price. And once the price is driven up government help becomes all the more essential. It becomes terrifying to think of trying to buy these goods without government help. Government's failure perpetuates its failure.

Government: the cause of the disease it claims to cure.

The doctor that gives you the sickness you pay him to treat you for.

Government, by 'helping' the little guy, only grinds him down more.

Good news for libertarians

It appears that several Ron Paul backed candidates did well. 

Postion on birth control?

It appears that one reason women favored Obama was Romney's position on birth control. Birth control? Did he have one?

Well, yes, he took (or at least did not vigorously deny) the conservative position that the Constitution says nothing about birth control and therefore a state could, if the majority of its representatives wanted it to, ban birth control. But that is not the same thing as being against birth control or even having a position on the issue of birth control itself.

Is there anything in the Constitution that says a state cannot ban automobiles? Surely not. Does that mean that the Constitution is anti-automobile? Does that mean that a politician who says the Constitution says nothing about automobiles is anti-automobile? Isn't that ridiculous? But of course the press always treats the issue of privacy rights and Griswold v. Connecticut as an issue about birth control. How is a meaningful interpretation of the Constitution to survive is silence means opposition, if believe (really, simple recognition) that the Constitution is silent on some matter is taken to mean support for whatever those who support the 'living' Constitution wish to use it to ban, and opposition to whatever they wish to support?

Does anyone think the Constitution prevents states from banning trans-fats or Big Gulps? Does anyone think that this implies being against trans-fats or Big Gulps? (I am not sure what trans-fats are but I am sure that, as in the case of Big Gulps, I consume more than my share.)

We are allowed to vote on less and less. More and more is decided by judicial decree. And the odd thing is, it is precisely the people that evince the most concern about the right of the people to vote who are the same people that deny them the right to vote on more and more. More and more people voting on less and less. More people must be allowed to vote and fewer issues may be put to a vote. You take away a man's right to vote by judicial fiat as surely as you do by poll taxes, literacy tests and voter ID laws. 

Maybe he meant it

When President Obama said, "Voting is the best revenge," he may have just been connecting with his base. Here is a post from Jim Lindgren explaining his paper showing that those who support economic redistribution are far more likely to be angry and to plot revenge. 

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Mencken's law

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard. 
Read more at 

Quick study

As I walked into the MPB studio they "reminded" me that I was going to be talking about local races. I had thought that I was supposed to talk about the Presidential race. I had to learn as much as I could in five minutes but I really had to vamp. Fortunately there are no returns yet and not even any exit polls for me to be familiar with since they are only doing exit polls in the swing states and are ignoring the states which, like Mississippi, were never going to be in doubt. 

Take the Exit Polls with a dose of skepticism

The exit polls overstated Obama's vote share by 4.7% in 2008. If Romney is tied in the exit polls that may mean good news for the Republicans. Here is an short explanation. 

Michael Barone

Romney outperforming McCain by not necessarily by enough.

"Very close race." But he is saying that all the states look close. Can't say anything until the exit polls have been calibrated with the actual results in the precincts where the exit polls were done.

Candy Crowley

Candy Crowley just reported that Romney campaign's internals had him down 5 points in Ohio on Sunday. That might be another reason that Romney was in Pennsylvania campaigning--he needed another way to get to 270.

Another disturbing report from Virginia with only 21% of voters identifying themselves as White evangelicals. It was 28% in 2008. Could there really have been a problem with Romney's religion?

CNN reports that black turnout in Virginia is above 2008 levels according to the Obama campaign's internals. 

Leading indicators

Some of the leading indicators to watch for (reporting Mississippi time):

6:00: Romney losing Virginia: bad, 13 electoral votes

6:00: Margin in Indiana

7:00: Romney losing Florida: worse, 29 electoral votes.

7:15: Early voting in Ohio. 150,000 to 200,000 for Obama augers well for him. Less, bad.

Exit Polls

CNN reports that Democrats are 37%, Republicans 34% of the electorate. This is provisional and will change but they are much lower then the numbers that were assumed by most of the published polls, most of which assumed an at least 5 and some as much as 11 percent advantage for the Democrats.

They report 73% white voters, which is a problem for Romney, who (according to David Gergen, at least) needs 74% or more to have a good chance to win. Here is a discussion of why that is important. 

Just Remember

Just remember that the news media always reports the most favorable information possible for the Democratic Candidate. Think of Carter and Reagan in 1980.

2000: They reported an Al Gore victory in Florida before the polls had closed in the West of the state, discouraging many Bush voters in the Pan Handle.

2004: the early exit polls reported a Kerry win.

The 2008 polls and exist polls were reported as having a lead 4 points greater than he turned out to have gotten when the final vote was counted. Don't

First Exit Polls

CNN exit polls have 60% answering the economy is the most important issue and 17% naming the deficit. This should be good news for Romney, but only 51% say Romney is the better candidate to handle the economy, a number which I find surprisingly low. 

Republicans win in voter registration

In a first in the history of polling, the first time ever since 1936, registered Republicans outnumber registered Democrats in the electorate. This from exceptionally large samples from Rasmussen and Gallup. 

Not those Polls

Had a great experience talking to the students as a Polish University (the other 'Poles', you might say) where a former Millsaps student, Joseph Muller, is teaching English on a Fulbright Scholarship. They were the English Philology students at the University of Silesia at Katowice.

One interesting thing a student said in relation to the election was that though he, the student, was personally a Democrat, he was very impressed with Romney and pleasantly surprised by the good impression. He also noted that his visit was largely regarded by the Poles as a success.

It is a good indication of the influence press. We see that people get a very skewed view of events due to the influence of the liberal bias of the press.

I don't know what they thought of my answers but damn, they could sure speak English.


Moderate turnout at my nominally pro-Obama voting place. One ambiguous data point.

Rise of the Romney

Here is a good article explaining the rise of the quants. The main thing that is going on with Nate Silver and others is that they are combining information from several polls and doing meta-analysis with Baysian statistics. These models predict an easy Obama victory but combining information from several state level polls.

The reason I still disagree with them is that they are vulnerable to polls that are all making one systematic error: over-estimating the turnout among Democrats. I still think that is what is going on and combining information from a lot of polls that are making the same error simply re-enforces the error rather than corrects for it.

I still think that looking at the internals of these polls shows that Romney has strong leads among independents and that with anything like normal (i.e., non-2008 turnout levels) among Democrats and the increased enthusiasm among Republicans will lead to a Romney victory. 

Friday, November 02, 2012

Tea Partiers sabotage attempts at deficit reduction by insisting on deficit reduction!

This article reports on a poll showing a majority agreeing that Romney would be better able to end Washington gridlock. It mentions in passing that doing so will be important because, "And tea partyers who stymied efforts to reach a deficit-reduction deal seem certain to remain a substantial presence." 

--Yes, those darn Tea Partiers, who stymied efforts to reach a deficit reduction deal by insisting on deficit reduction! That is the problem! If not for those crazies from outside Washington the pros could have quickly converged its usual consensus on increasing spending a bit more slowly and increasing taxes a bit more quickly. 

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Economist Endorses Obama

I find it so strange when economists and people trained in economics endorse Obama. Here is the Economist's Leader doing the deed.

The article is very strange. It lays out the case against Obama admirably and then endorses him saying at least he staved off catastrophe.

The case against Romney is that he has tacked to the right in the primaries. He was a good, centrist, compromise seeking governor of Massachusetts but he has since taken no new tax pledges and must be considered likely to continue appeasing right-wingers in his party, the "head-bangers" as the Economist calls them. He is also guilty of appeasing the right wing on social causes and is pledged to nominate judges that would overturn Roe v. Wade. He is against new taxes, vague on what loopholes he would eliminate in order to lower the rates, will keep defense spending at 4% instead of letting it drift down to 3% of GDP and will generally give in to the parties increasingly "Southern Fried" style of social policy allowing more decisions to flow back to the states. The paper says that it longs for an open, tolerant Ronald Reagan like conservative.

And that is what is so bizarre. For the litany the Economist rolls out is a very good description of a Ronald Reagan conservative.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Technology and Benghazi

David Ignatius says in regard to the failure to give air support to the defenders of the Benghazi Consulate and CIA annes that "it may indeed have been wise not to bomb targets in Libya that night."

Maybe someone should explain to David Ignatius (and President Obama) that they have these things called laser guided bombs and laser targeting devices. Tyrone Woods died with one in his hand, fixed on the mortar that killed him, waiting for the help that never came.

He continues, "U.S. officials needed better intelligence. That’s the toughest problem to address, but the most important." No. They need more guts. And it is the simplest problem to address. Plan on addressing it next Tuesday. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Ok, once and for all, it is not whether or not President Obama said the word, "terror," it is whether he admitted that it was a pre-planned attack or a protest over over a you tube video. Both of these could be called an act of "terror," though there is a tendency to use the word to apply more the former. The fact is that the Obama administration has lied. They tried for almost two weeks to tell a story of a demonstration getting out of hand when in fact an al Qaeda affiliated terrorist group planned an attack to coincide with the anniversary of their greatest victory and in retaliation for the drone attacks that have, to President Obama's credit, have taken out many of the top leaders of al Qaeda.

Monday, October 15, 2012

You don't have to believe in conspiracy theories to disbelieve the September jobs report. 
An economist's defense of pirates--well, who else would defend pirates. I mean, if there were a defense of pirates it would be the economists that find it. But the interesting thing is that the defense if not economic but political. Professor Leeson finds that pirates governed themselves democratically in a world ruled by absolute monarchies. Who knew? 
The Romer's (remember that Christina Romer was the head of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisors) have a paper out that shows much higher wealth destroying, "contractionary" effects for tax increases than economists had previously estimated. Most of the effect comes from declines in investment. This is particularly important both because it is a particularly good paper by leading economists and because it is an "admission against interest," in other words it is an argument that supports the policy preferences of the right though it comes from researchers on the left.

The debate about higher taxes on the rich should not be about whether we can raise more tax revenues by lowering tax rates so much as whether we will be a wealthier society by lowering tax rates.

Berkeley Economist Christina Romer

The Charity of the Mandarins

Here is a link to an analysis of Romney's income, taxes and charitable giving. It has been widely remarked that Romney's tax rate was just under 15%, a fact which is supposed to show how greedy and selfish Romney is. But part of the reason that his taxes were so low is that he gave away so much of his income. If you combine taxes and charitable giving the Romneys gave away over half their income to others. Of course, in the eyes of the Mandarinate (our governing class, that is) the 30% given to charity doesn't count. It is only charity if the governing class gets to decide how the money is spent. 


I frankly don't care much for these demands for apologies that are continually being batted about in political discourse, but there does seem to be one due Governor Romney for the three days of infamy to which he was subjected over his criticism of the Cairo Embassy's tweets the night of September 11.

You will recall that just before midnight on that same night, Romney called these apologies, issued by our embassy in Cario both before and after the protests and attacks sparked by the now infamous youtube clips, outrageous. (A good summary of the facts can be found here) Subsequently, an attack on the Libyan consulate in Benghazi was launched, killing our ambassador and three other Americans (the only three Americans) who were guarding him. As it appeared that the Benghazi attacks were part of the same wave of protests that had begun in Cairo, Egypt, Romney was then criticized for attacking the administration in the midst of a crisis and making political hay out of a tragedy. He was, it was said, being an opportunist.

Later the next day the Administration distanced itself from the Embassy's tweets, to some degree at least vindicating Romney's earlier criticism of the same. But given the chance to say that he would not have made the criticism had he known of the Benghazi attacks Romney doubled down, saying that his criticisms of the Cario Embassy's 'appeasement' was still valid. Romney's comments and his refusal to withdraw them was the main political focus of the media for the next few days. The consensus was that Romney had hurt himself by trying to exploit a national tragedy before all the facts were in and had shown himself to be a political opportunist.

However, it now seems that Romney was right. The two events were separate, the Benghazi attack having been 1) a coordinated and planned attack in retaliation for the US drone attacks on al Qaeda commanders in the Somali and Pakistan, and 2) launched by an al Qaeda affiliated group in Libya. If the Benghazi attack was, as the administration after almost two weeks of denying it now admits, unrelated to the Cairo protests against the YouTube video there is no reason that Romney should be restrained in his criticism of the Embassy's tweets. It will indeed strike many Americans as outrageous that a mob should attack the sovereign territory of the United States, burning our flag and hoisting in its place a black flag reminiscent of al Qaeda's banner, and that the first reaction of our nation's representatives in that country should be not to express outrage, but to apologize that one of our citizens may have offended them.

But even more serious questions are raised by the Administration's efforts to pass the whole incident off as being a reaction to a YouTube video that got out of hand. Since it has become clear that the attacks were planned terrorist assaults the administration has explained their repeated assertions that the cartoons were to blame as being the result of relying on early, inaccurate reports. The Administration claims to have been mislead by reports from the State Department and the intelligence community. However, both the Career officials at the State Department and the career intelligence officers involved have broken with the administration, claiming that they knew either from the beginning or at the latest within 24 hours that the Benghazi attacks were terrorism and were unrelated to the YouTube videos. These denials have come not just in the form of press leaks but in sworn testimony before televised Congressional hearings.

Though the administration has finally owned that the attacks were terrorism it still insists that they were misled, most recently restating that position through the Vice President during the Vice Presidential Debates. The combination of such high profile back-pedaling on a story and finger pointing has made the story one that can no longer be ignored by the press--usually so serviceable to the Obama administration. Very serious questions are raised.

There are first, what would appear to be simple management questions. Why were the requests for more security and the concerns of the Ambassador and his staff--made so painfully public in their own writings recovered from the site of their murders--refused? There is also the simple question of public integrity: why would the administration say something that they knew to be untrue?

But there is a larger question that the whole incident raises about the Obama administration's foreign policy. The Obama administration premised their foreign policy reset on the notion that President Obama would, by presenting a kinder and more understanding face to the Muslim world and ending or at least winding down our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, make us more liked there and, thus, more secure. The administration's focus on destroying al Qaeda through drone strikes free of the distractions of neo-con nation building, democracy spreading fantasies would destroy the terrorists and, thus, keep us safer. It does not appear to have worked out that way.

It is bad enough that our embassies across the Middle East are in flames on the anniversary of al Qaeda's attacks on the World Trade Center, and that the US is less well-liked in the Muslim world than when Obama took office. One could maintain that it was a minor set back, that is takes time for perceptions to change. But what about the Benghazi attack?

The Benghazi terrorist attack shows that fighting from off-shore with unmanned drones is not enough to defeat al Qaeda. It is a real blow to the Obama administration's narrative of itself and its policies. That is why the administration kept with the YouTube-did-it story. Because the resurgence of al Qaeda in many of the very places where we assisted in bringing down a dictator is a direct challenge to the entire foreign policy of the administration.

It is not just that the administration was poor at managing by not giving enough security to the Benghazi mission, it was that they were deluded by their own ideology. They thought that the presence of American security personell would be aggravating to the Libyans. They thought of US military personell as part of the problem. Much like the generals in the early part of the Iraq war thought that minimizing the visibility of our soldiers was key to gaining the trust and not exciting the hatred of the Iraqis, the administration here thought that the fewer soldiers and security personell that were visible the safer the mission would be. They pushed the YouTube story because is was the only one that saved their foreign policy from blame. The story made the attack something beyond their control, something that they could not have anticipated, something unrelated to the warnings they had received repeatedly about the danger of al Qaeda and other radical groups taking over territory and launching attacks against us in Libya.

And what of the charge of political opportunism? If Romney calling out a bad embassy tweet is opportunism in the middle of the night and not retracting his criticism after the death of an ambassador, what are we to say of an entire administration, from the Secretary of State, to our Ambassador to the UN to the President himself telling the United Nations General Assembly that of his personal friend, Ambassador Chris Sullivan, was due to protests against a YouTube video? How is that for using tragedy for political gain? How is that for political opportunism.

It is not just Mitt Romney, or even our country, that is owed an apology. It is the family of Chris Sullivan and the three other Americans who died trying to protect his life. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Here is a post from Megan McArdle about the IPAB. In the piece, she explains why the administration's argument that the board will not ration services does not make economic sense. The board will determine what the government will agree to pay for certain services. If the board says it will not pay for service the administration argues that the services and being rationed, is simply "cutting payments to providers." But to imagine that providers will go on providing the same service while getting paid less is hard to believe. Indeed, if the board is going to create serious cost savings, it will have to stop providing payment for certain services altogether. To say that your doctors breach provided test or treatment as long as he doesn't desire to be paid for is surely tantamount to saying that the treatment will no longer be provided. And that is surely why the board does not go into effect until after the election.

It reminds me of a shark, the president made during the first debate. He set of Romney's plan to pay for lowering the rates by cutting loopholes that it was a bit of a swindle. Romney is telling you about the good news and not telling you the bad news. He asked – and I'm paraphrasing here – why doesn't he tell you the details? Why are they keeping all the stuff secretive so wonderful?

We might say the same thing about Obama. Why do so many of the provisions of his healthcare not kick in until after the election? Is it because these provisions are so wonderful? IF THE INDEPENDENT PAYMENT ADVISORY BOARD is so wonderful why not put into effect before the election?
From Megan McArdle's analysis of the vice president debates:

"People will be much more scared of us than they are of you" might have worked in 2004.  But by 2012, I think the electorate is pretty tired of the "peace through strength" approach.' 

Unfortunately, what the electorate is in the mood for and what the world requires are not always the same thing.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Dubai Airport

My posts will be out of chronological order because of my internet access.

They just announced my flight for Kabul is boarding. I am in the Dubai Airport, Terminal I, where it is always $9 beer night! Alas, where I am going a beer could cost you much more than that. It is amazing, though, how quickly you don't miss alcohol.

I'll post some photos of the the terminal. It is an amazing place. Dubai happens to be placed so that by transferring here you can get to every major population center in the world with one transfer. The catch is the flights are so long that the transfer will usually be in the middle of the night. It is 2:30 AM and the place is busier than it was in morning when I arrived. It is also the best way to get from Asia and Africa to the Western world and one of the only free trade zones in the third world so just sitting and watching people go by is like seeing a random sample of all the people on the planet go by every 15 minutes.

Back to Afghanistan!

I am going back to Afghanistan for the fourth wave of our survey. I will try to update everyday but my internet access is a bit spotty at times.

The trip this time was arranged on the fly as visa problems kept me from buying my ticket till the last minute. Once the flight started we were delayed leaving Atlanta for four hours which necessitated a re-routing of the whole flight through Paris and on to Emirates Airline, which, I am both happy and relieved to report, does offer alcohol on its international flights.

I got to see the Paris Airport for a second time. Coming all the way to Paris and only seeing the airport is a tad depressing. However, it did remind me how beautiful the facility is. Also, nothing blew up this time; last trip a bomb was found that the authorities had to detonate in the airport.

The airport is really beautiful, even though it is all done in a ultra modern style that I don't usually like. There are no parts that are not meant to be aesthetically pleasing. Even the back stairways are meant to be pleasing to the eye.

This trip I scheduled 2 nights in Dubai before the final leg of the trip to Afghanistan. This turns out to have been a good move given the delay I encountered on the Jackson-Dubai part of the trip. I have slept for 10 hours in my hotel room.

It proved impossible to arrange transport from the airport to the Hotel from the Hotwire website. As it turned out the taxi (or, rather, the guy that has a car and speaks English) that I found was cheaper than the rate the Hotel was going to charge me anyway.

I would like post some photos but I can't get them from the iPhone to the Blogspot website. I was so clever to buy Apple, the brand famous for its ability to get apps to work together, as long as none of those apps were foolish enough to be designed or sold by someone other than APPLE!!!!!

Thanks, Steve!

Friday, March 16, 2012


Here is a quote from the L.A. Times:
That said, the violence — in which more Afghans than Americans have been killed — is an ominous reminder of the fragility of the relationship between the United States and its allies on the one hand, and an Afghan populace wearied by a decade of Western occupation on the other. Especially shocking was the execution-style murder of two U.S. service members assigned to the supposedly secure precincts of the Interior Ministry. The gunman, who is still at large, is suspected of being an Afghan police intelligence officer. Afterward, U.S. commanders withdrew Western military advisors from various Afghan ministries as a precaution. The symbolism was stark: Americans couldn't trust their Afghan allies.
I agree the symbolism is stark: succeed in getting one spy in and our entire team of advisors can be run off. Our readiness to attribute the actions of a handful of fanatics to the entire Afghan people mirrors the willingness of so many Afghans to attribute the actions of one deranged man to the entire American people. We are allowing terrorist with the support of a small fraction of the population to defeat us. It is a tragedy for Afghanistan and an ominous precedent for our foreign policy and alliances in an age of terror. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

It is always capitalism and America

I am watching a movie called the whistle blower. It is about the UN Mission in Bosnia and shows how the UN employees used controlled the human trafficking rings. The amazing thing is that mainly through casting they make it seem like the problem is the Americans. None of the peace-keepers are Americans, all the really bad guys with guns are Americans. Even though the ultimate villain was the US, even though it was a UN operation. Somehow all the really bad guys have to have American accents. Can't be a problem with the UN, it has to be a problem with the UN and private contractors corrupting the UN. Still, it is something.

At the end of the movie, which is a true story, it says that many of the guilty parties were sent home to be prosecuted by their home governments and that the US state department continues to do business with private contractors like the one depicted in the movie. Now this is nice. The "home countries" are never mentioned by name. The implication is that their countries are Western and probably America but, as I recall, in fact most of the contractors came from non-Western countries.  And they imply that the problem is the private contractor company. They never show that the company is making money on this or that the UN bureaucracy is trying to clean things up. It is all shoe horned into the narrative of America-->private contractors-->trafficking. The UN is the victim. All the really idealistic people are UN professionals. The bad guys are military (always US) and the Americans who work for private contractors. There is never any suggestion that the people who work for private contractors in UN operations are most often not Americans but are from non-Western countries. They manage to make a UN scandal into an indictment of America.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Idiots of a Feather

I am listening to Lou Dobbs talk to Bill O'Reilly about the evils of oil speculation. This is truly painful.

Dobbs points out that the supply is greater than demand right now so that it must be the fault of oil speculators. Morons!

If you had something that you knew was 6 months from now going to be worth twice as much as it is now would you sell it for the price it is going for now or would you hold on to it for six months and sell it then? Of course you would wait. And if someone wanted to buy it now how much more would they have to pay for it to get you to part with it now instead of waiting till the price went up? Probably something close to the price you expect it to be six months from now.

That is how the futures market drives up prices in the present. Because people are not idiots, unlike O'Reilly and Dobbs.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

My friend has a curious ritual in the mornings. I have to put things in my pockets. He has to take things out of his pockets. He takes everything out of his pockets that comes from the 20th century. He is in particular careful that he has no pieces of paper on them with writing on them. He is an official in Afghanistan. His way home includes roads that have Taliban roadblocks at random points. They stop all cars and search all occupants. If any piece of paper is found that has writing on it the person is taken away and decapitated.

"The Taliban can't read so they assume anything that has writing on it is proof that you work for the government."

I have heard this story from many people. In my five years of traveling to Afghanistan to study the attitudes and values of university students and professors there I have heard versions of this story in many variants. One student witnessed a man being taken away by the Taliban for having a bank card. Another for having a piece of paper which advertised the opening of a grocery store. The words civilized and barbaric are liable to be applied with too much ease. They are liable to be dismissed as terms of propaganda, the sort of words that are so loaded that one scarcely credits them. But here we have a set of facts to which they can be justly applied. Indeed, from throwing acid in girls faces for the crime of learning to read to murdering school teachers the word 'barbarism', in its original sense opposition to reading, settling differences amicably and the rule of law and living in a fixed abode, in short, civilization, is the only word that captures the issue of contention in this conflict.

We are now negotiating peace with the leaders of the Taliban. This is called progress. It is if you are a man and have no interest in say, reading books or being able to shave or wear blue jeans or make any of the thousands of decisions great and small that we take for granted as being the birthright of a free human being.

There is a groaning feeling among Americans of all political persuasions that this sort of backwards, medieval fanaticism is representative of the Afghan people. All that Americans see of Afghans are the relatively small but extremely violent crowds that mount attacks against outside our airforce base or against Afghan police and that our press insists on calling “protestors”. Once you throw a grenade surely you are no longer a group of protestors but insurgents using our tolerance and felt obligation to respect freedom of assembly to provide cover.

And so the fact that the Taliban are proving hard to finally defeat because they are supported by the people of Afghanistan. Such an opinion is quite unfounded. In the five years I have been traveling to study the opinions of university students there is no group that is rated lower in esteem than the Taliban save one: al Qaeda. This is not an artifact of the fact that I am studying an uncharacteristic and relatively privileged population (if you can call studying in a university that often lacks electricity and where you must hide your school books and destroy anything you have written if you travel outside the security perimeter of the capital city privilege). In fact, all of the survey data we have shows the the Taliban is deeply unpopular and that the ISAF war against them is widely popular. The complaint that Afghans  whom I have talked to is that we are not dealing roughly enough with the Taliban.

The thing that I have heard most often over the five years I have been traveling to Afghanistan and talking to university students at all universities is that the Americans are pretending to not be able to defeat the Taliban. To the extent I have encountered anger it is at what they perceive as the reluctance we have shown in killing the Taliban. When in am there I constantly hear stories about the Americans or ISAF letting the Taliban go, failing to pursue or even actively supporting the Taliban. On closer inspection these stories are seen to an American to be instances of our legal strictures and applying rules like innocent until proven guilty or not taking risks unless you are absolutely sure or arresting people instead of killing them.

But these legalist rules often make little sense to the Afghans. For the US and its allies the fact that the war has changed from being a war against a foreign enemy and the Taliban being members of a foreign army to being a civil war or internal conflict and the Taliban being citizens accused of crimes and having due process rights. The fact that the Taliban were fighting in uniforms meant they could be killed on sight. The fact that they are now often dressed as civilians means that they often have to be allowed to walk away. This makes sense in terms of international law but it means little to Afghans. They see us destroying the the Taliban wholesale in 2001 when they are 60,000 and we are a few hundred and being bogged down and talking about negotiating when they are perhaps 30,000 and we are 120,000. When bin Laden was killed and many Americans were fretting about the lack of a trial the Afghans were fretting and complaining as well, but to the opposite point. One friend said to me, “If you can kill bin Laden so simply why can’t you take the same sort of decisive action here?”

Once we called the Taliban enemies of humanity and America. We have decided that we would rather not be there so Now we call them partners for peace. Perhaps the Afghan war is un-winnable, at least under the  constraints we have set ourselves. But let us not say that the problem is the Afghans don’t want us and their democratically elected government to win. It is we who are undecided.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Apple One to One service

This blog post brought to you by: Chris from the Apple store.
In all seriousness the Apple One to One service is one of the best investments I have ever made. It is like having a bunch of computer geek friends who never get tired of helping you. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

In Praise of Vultures

In praise of vultures.

There has been a great deal of criticism of Mitt Romney because the firm where he made his millions apparently closed down some firms. This is viewed as morally questionable and at the very least supposedly goes against his claim that he is a job creator. Romney has responded by saying that sometimes bad things happen and pointing to all the companies that expanded employment under his guidance or the guidance of his firm. But this is the wrong defense. He should be proud of all the jobs he eliminated. Vultures are more important to capitalism than breeders.

People have got it all wrong. The great virtue of capitalism is not that it allows people to invest and create new firms. That is the easy part. Getting rid of jobs is where the other systems fall down. Any fool can create jobs, it is getting rid of them that is tricky.

The reason that capitalism creates wealth is that all available resources are used in the most efficient way possible. Each factor of production--whether physical or human--is employed in the way that creates the most possible value.

This very often involves getting rid of firms. The whole reason that a vulture capitalist can make money by breaking up a company and selling off its parts is that the the product of the company is worth less than the factors of production the company is employing to produce the product. Vultures only attack the dead. If a vulture buys a company that is not worth less than the sum of its parts, after all, it is the vulture capitalist that loses money.

Try being a vulture capitalist with a good company. Want to break up Micro-soft or Apple? Go ahead. You have some buildings and a lot of people that can walk into some better jobs elsewhere. The reason that GM is a bad investment is that the pieces of the company are almost surely worth more than the company as is.

There is something immoral about beating employees out of their pension benefits, but the employees themselves are not always blameless. Part of the reason that GM and Chrysler are so unprofitable is that they spend far more on employee retirement benefits than they do on employees, i.e., the people that actually make something. That is part of the reason why the Obama administration stepped to stop the normal course of bankruptcy: the pension and health care schemes would never have survived a court ordered bankruptcy and the Obama administration was determined to protect its political allies in the auto unions. Now the public is saddled with unprofitable enterprises that tie up billions in capital that could be going to supporting profitable business. A vulture would have sold the pieces of the company that made sense to someone that would have put those resources to better, more profitable, use.

The vultures didn’t fire those people that worked at unprofitable companies, their customers did. Vultures don’t kill companies, customers do. By their willingness to pay more for products from another use of the carcass company’s assets they are telling the world that the company in its existing form is not the most efficient use of these resources, that more wealth could be created by breaking the company up. The ‘vulture’ is just the messenger.

Of course this is no fun for the people that get fired. Which brings us to the other great sin supposedly committed by Romney, saying that he “enjoy[s] firing people.” Of course, what he was referring to is not the actual act of telling people they no longer have a job. He was not literally talking about firing people at all, but being able to tell ‘people’--meaning a a company that produces a good or service that he doesn’t like--that he is ‘firing’ them by taking his money elsewhere.

And so he should. Who doesn’t? Just as who doesn’t hate not being able to fire the provider of an inferior good or service? Who has never felt the frustration that comes with dealing with an incompetent government employee and realizing that there is nothing you can do? The only way that goods and services get better is the constant threat of being “fired” by your customers. I like being able to fire people and make no apologies for it. The vultures of this world do us a great service and are the reason for our prosperity. We could use a few in government.