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Saturday, April 27, 2002

Patrick Nielson Hayden of Electrolite took me to task (with the utmost forbearing kindliness) for my somewhat intemperate remarks yesterday. Indeed, it was late at night, and I was projecting onto him and Mr de Long a certain flippancy I've encountered in others, and then letting fly at them. Patrick, if you argue that Bush's Middle Eastern policy is incoherent because the boss is somewhat disengaged, you may just be right. It will be interesting to see how things work out.

And Frank Vannerson writes to say that de Long, though a partisan liberal Democrat, is an excellent economist.

For example, he just finished a survey piece in March on the US productivity outlook for the 2000s. It's a tour de force in many respects. He knows the literature backwards ard forwards, and he summarizes the main lines of reasoning very well. You can download it from his web site.

What's interesting is that his conclusion, which I strongly agree with, is the Democrat's worst nightmare. Basically, he concludes the productivity growth of the late 1990s was for real, there really is a "new economy" in the sense that information is maturing into a wave of general use technology comparable to steam (1800s) and electricity (early 1900s), and we can expect it to continue maturing (capital deepening, is his term) for many years.
In Patrick's honor I'll quote a bit of Patrick O'Brian, from The Nutmeg of Consolation
'If it's blood, I must put it in cold water this directly minute,' said Killick [Stephen's servant], who knew perfectly well that it was blood; the news that the Doctor had run a soldier through, had left him weltering in his gore, ruining the Governor's Bath-stoned steps, ruining the drawing-room carpet, worth a hundred guineas, causing his lady to faint away, had reached the Surprise before the barge, and it accounted for the particular consideration, esteem and gentleness with which he was handed up the side. But Killick liked to have it confirmed, to hear the very words.

'I suppose it is,' said Stephen, glancing at the skirt of his coat, upon which he had unconsciously wiped his sword, much as he wiped his instruments when operating...

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Watch what we do, not what we say ...

Thanks to Bill Quickfor this link ... a few excerpts from an interesting article

* The headquarters of the U.S. Third Army, formerly in Fort McPherson, Ga., has moved to Camp Doha in Kuwait. The Third Army is the Army’s component to Central Command, which groups ground, air, naval and other assets from all four U.S. military branches in the Persian Gulf region...

* The Air Force is finishing Combined Air Operations Center-X, known as CAOC-X, at al Ubeid Air Base in Qatar, creating an alternative to the U.S. facility at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia...

* Enormous stores of Air Force munitions and other equipment are being moved out of Saudi Arabia, too. One official said the Air Force believes it will have more flexibility to use the armaments if they are stored in Kuwait, Oman, the new base in Qatar and another in Jordan...

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Richard Bennett has lots of good things to say. I'm shamelessly lifting this one, (which is probably an urban legend, but very funny)

This is one of the best comeback lines of all time. It is a portion of a National Public Radio (NPR) interview between a female broadcaster and US Marine Corps General Reinwald who was about to sponsor a Boy Scout Troop visiting his military installation.
FEMALE INTERVIEWER: So, General Reinwald, what things are you going to teach these young boys when they visit your base?
GENERAL REINWALD: We're going to teach them climbing, canoeing, archery, and shooting.
FEMALE INTERVIEWER: Shooting! That's a bit irresponsible, isn't it?
GENERAL REINWALD: I don't see why, they'll be properly supervised on the rifle range.
FEMALE INTERVIEWER: Don't you admit that this is a terribly dangerous activity to be teaching children?
GENERAL REINWALD: I don't see how. We will be teaching them proper rifle discipline before they even touch a firearm.
FEMALE INTERVIEWER: But you're equipping them to become violent killers.
GENERAL REINWALD: Well, you're equipped to be a prostitute, but you're not one, are you?
The radio went silent and the interview ended.
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Friday, April 26, 2002

I found this shocking bit of thuggery at Electrolite

Addressing public schools that might be considering accepting donated PCs, Microsoft's face writhes, its tongue forks, and this comes out:
It is a legal requirement that pre-installed operating systems remain with a machine for the life of the machine. If a company or individual donates a machine to your school, it must be donated with the operating system that was installed on the PC.
As Cory Doctorow points out, this is a shameless lie, designed to frighten the vulnerable.
Of course it's a lie. If you own a computer you can ran any OS you like. Or turn the thing into an aquarium or a cookie jar. Sure shows just how those coarse creatures of Redmond think. And what the slimesucking toads would do if they had the power. Capitalism at its worst.

I generally like Electrolite, but in the post just below that he quotes another sort of twisty liar with approval:
J. Bradford de Long quietly points out what ten platoons of synchronized neoconservative intellectuals can't handwave away:
Defenders of Bush say that the fact that he is a slow study with a weak general knowledge base who doesn't crack the books too hard and doesn't think too fast doesn't matter. Why not? Because Bush has smart people to do his thinking for him: Condi Rice, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, et cetera.
Now if this de Long had said that Bush was stupid, he would just be repeating leftish drivel. But no no, he claims "defenders of Bush" are saying it! As if it were an agreed-upon truth. That's a shameless lie. Defenders of Bush all like to point out that not only is Bush a very smart guy, he did much better in school than Al Gore did. Gore dropped out and Bush got an MBA. (And far from being "synchronized," they pay Bush the compliment of often criticizing him -- I do it myself.)

I suggest that certain Liberal Arts Majors who derive their self-esteem from their obvious superiority over people from Texas just hike on down to a textbook shop that serves a business school. Find some of the MBA Program textbooks. (Hint: look for titles like Managerial Accounting, or Macroeconomics.) Riffle through a few pages. Confusing? What? Surely you can't have forgotten your calculus aready? OK, here's the deal. If you can imagine yourself studying those books and getting passing grades in those classes, then you can call George W. Bush stupid.

It's good to keep in mind, when you hear Saudis go on and on about their deep compassion for their Palestinian Brothers, that, although Arabia has millions of "guest workers", Moslems from places like the Philipines and Pakistan, they allow almost no Palestinians to enter the Kingdom. They consider them troublemakers.

That reminds me of a joke that Americans in Saudi like to tell: An American, a German and a Saudi are discussing the question. "Is sex fun, or work?"
The American says, "Oh man, it's fun! I can't think of anything more fun.
The German says, "I work so hard all day, and then I come home and there's more that I have to do. Sex is work."
The Saudi ponders the question for a while, then says, "Sex must be fun. If it were work I would have a Pakistani do it."
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The only rich people deserving of malice are rich liberals who
express bemusement at the non-rich's desire for a tax cut.

--Ann Coulter

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P. Krugman
#4, by that secret cabal of avenging economists! (Even I don't know their names...)

Today’s column (04/26/02) by Paul Krugman entitled “Bad Air Day” would be better titled “Much Ado About Nothing.” An inconvenient fact-of-life for environmental regulators is that air quality in the US has been improving for as long as records have been kept. Not only does the improvement predate the establishment of the EPA, but also the rate of improvement has remained about the same since its establishment. In other words, the best thing that can be said about the EPA is that it has been a waste of money. It is probably a serious drag on the economy, but the extend has not been determined.

Since most people have been conditioned to believe the EPA is an indispensable adjunct to the quality of life, this seems surprising. But it should not be. Like most things in our lives, air quality improvement is driven by technology, not by regulations. Nobody likes dirty air, so as technological advances occur they make the improvements people want, including cleaner air, more cost effective. This also explains why underdeveloped countries have more pollution. They are using older technology. Here, too, regulations are futile and upgrading technology is the only effective answer.

Having ignored these facts-of-life on air quality, what are Krugman’s basic complaints? As it turns out, they are very few (and very weak). His claim that air quality improvements have been delayed because “corporations poured money into existing power plants and factories, expanding their capacity” is patent nonsense and is not supported by trends in air quality data. Moreover, the cap-and-trade solution to grand fathering these older technologies (which Krugman advocates) is also a part of the Bush Administration’s Clean Skies initiative. It is true the Bush proposal does not include carbon dioxide among the demonic gases (sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury, lead etc.) to be reduced. But this is because carbon dioxide is not a pollutant and has nothing to do with clean air. It is a hot button issue for global warming fanatics, but that’s another subject

Next, Krugman is upset that the Bush Administration has not pushed its Clean Skies legislation soon enough and fast enough. Once again this ignores the fact-of-life that air quality improvement does not depend on more and more legislation.

Finally Krugman points out that many EPA staffers (Carol Browner era holdovers) are leaving in frustration. He sees this as evidence of demoralization in the EPA.
We say,
a) what would you expect?
b) good riddance.

What is really amazing about air quality in the last century is how much actual pollution has been reduced while potential pollution sources (car mileage, industrial production, etc.) have dramatically increased. This is entirely due to technological advance. The EPA has been a bystander during this process and should be closed due simply to ineffectiveness.

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Things heard on the radio... Charlene heard this ... You may remember that there was a flap a while back because some addlepate lack-wit thought niggardly was a racist slur! It's happened again! Now the cruel lacerating word is buffoon, (possibly because of some imagined conflation with coon?)
And I heard Rush say, "If Americans weren't so badly educated in economics, there wouldn't even be an argument about tax cuts..." That's so true. People are just so witless on the subject, they not only lack answers, they can't even comprehend the questions.

And, switching to another venue, Charlene's two partners were in trial, and reported this gem. Opposing counsel: "Your Honor, that evidence should not have been admitted." Judge: "You should have made an objection at the time. In this court, justice is invoked, not dispensed."
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Thursday, April 25, 2002

Some very funny stuff, (via Asparagirl) of the best sort -- bitter, sharp, savage... by Larry Miller, in The Weekly Standard: Whosoever Blesses Them, The Intifada and its Defenders

I WAS WATCHING Greta Van Facelift on Fox the other night, and she and her guests made me talk back to the TV. Shout back, actually. ..

Her guests were (INSERT INDISTINGUISHABLE ARAB NAME), from Hamas, and their attorney, Stanley Cohen. No, that's not a joke. Would that it were. Stanley Cohen, the attorney for Hamas. Check that handle again: Stanley Cohen. I mean, if you tried to make up a better name than that, you couldn't do it. Let's give it a shot, though, shall we? Irving Lefkowitz. Nah, too obvious. Lew Fishman. No, no, sounds like a carpet salesman. Isaac Bashevis Singer? Now I'm reaching. Nope, you just can't beat good ol' Stan Cohen...

...My point is, if American TV calls up and wants to put these philanthropists on, who could blame them for saying, "Sure!" I can just see them bursting out laughing and slapping each other on the back. ("They're going to put us on Fox TV! I told you terror works! And I'll bet their Green Room beats the snot out of Al Jazeera. I mean, please, how many olives can you eat?") If we're stupid enough to do that, I don't blame them for taking us up on it. All they have to do is take a few minutes away from packing rusty nails around the C4, pick one of their guys who looks, relatively, the least like a vicious scumbag, borrow a suit, and send him forth to smile for the cameras. With Stanley Cohen...

...The Palestinians want their own country. There's just one thing about that: There are no Palestinians. It's a made up word. Israel was called Palestine for two thousand years. Like "Wiccan," "Palestinian" sounds ancient but is really a modern invention. Before the Israelis won the land in war, Gaza was owned by Egypt, and there were no "Palestinians" then, and the West Bank was owned by Jordan, and there were no "Palestinians" then. As soon as the Jews took over and started growing oranges as big as basketballs, what do you know, say hello to the "Palestinians," weeping for their deep bond with their lost "land" and "nation." So for the sake of honesty, let's not use the word "Palestinian" any more to describe these delightful folks, who dance for joy at our deaths until someone points out they're being taped. Instead, let's call them what they are: "Other Arabs From The Same General Area Who Are In Deep Denial About Never Being Able To Accomplish Anything In Life And Would Rather Wrap Themselves In The Seductive Melodrama Of Eternal Struggle And Death." I know that's a bit unwieldy to expect to see on CNN. How about this, then: "Adjacent Jew-Haters."

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I downloaded a copy of the web browser OPERA. It is indeed very fast, but it totally mucks up the type and display of Random Jottings. Ugh.

I'm afraid the RJ World Wide Whatchamacallit Committee is forced to declare that OPERA is a Non-RJ-Compliant browser. We deprecate it. Any copies in your possession should be destroyed immediately.
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The United States in World War One #6

It's a commonplace that war can bring rapid promotion to men whose military careers have languished in the sleepy peace-time forces. The problem is how to be ready after long years of inaction. This was especially a problem in the tiny US Army. Serious combat was rare, promotion was desperately slow, and many of the colonels and generals who should have led the suddenly-huge army were old and mentally asleep.

One who wasn't asleep was Hunter Liggett. After graduating from West Point in 1879, he spent the next 30 years in humdrum infantry soldiering. The only breaks were service in the Geronimo Campaign, staff work in the brief Spanish-American War, and a spell chasing Moros in the Philippines. At the age of 52 he was only a Major.

He was a warm-hearted fat man. But he liked to say, There's no fat above my collar ! He was very intelligent, but more importantly, he was a reader. He delved deep into military history both ancient and modern. He was said to have neglected his West Point studies in favor of literature. His career didn't start to move until 1906, when he attended the newly-formed Army War College. He was asked to join the faculty, and after three years was appointed President of the College. There were no divisions or corps to practice war with, but he introduced staff rides to study how large formations were handled in the Civil War. This was not bad preparation; the Civil War had much in common with WWI, including a grim trench-war stalemate around Richmond in the final year.

When war came in 1917, he was ready. Few commanders have been asked to rise so fast. He was given a Division in January, 1918, and by October was commanding an Army! Liddell Hart called him: Professor of war -- and human nature. He wrote: And with both these "pleasant old gentlemen" [ Liggett and British General Plumer ] their troops also learned that this sympathy took the very practical form of an infinite care to safeguard the lives and well-being of the men in the fighting line. Hunter Liggett did better than most, though he could seldom escape from the requirement that he fling his men against machine guns and barbed wire, armed with rifles and courage, but rarely with what they really needed, which was tanks.

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Dan Bricklin has posted a very interesting article (with lots of pictures) on riding the Segway.

... As a 50-year old, I experienced the Segway as I experienced getting reading glasses: A way to augment my body back to a healthy youth. I can carry heavy loads that would hurt my now-sensitive back. If my knees or heart get worse, I can still run or go distances on a hike with younger loved ones. This will be a very big hit with the 45 and over crowd. If somebody bumps into Grandpa with it, it will be Grandma, and she votes. For younger people, the Segway opens up new areas that are now within "walking distance", for older people it restores old areas that are missed. People with all sorts of disabilities (MS, Parkinson's, knee injuries, etc.) are begging the Segway company for units. They know it will change their lives, restoring some normalcy...

Tuesday, April 23, 2002

P. Krugman

The 4/23/02 column by Paul Krugman, “Angry People,” is devoid of economics so there is little for us to comment on specifically. We do find it amusing that Krugman, one of the angrier people on the planet, has decided that angry people already run this country. He seems draw comfort from the fact that in a parliamentary system, such as that in France, the fringe e.g., Jean-Marie Le Pen, never actually “wins.” But in the U.S., to his horror, the right fringe, by focusing their anger, can take over an entire political party (the GOP) and actually come to power.

What delusional poppycock.

We thought the Wall Street Journal editorial said it best. “Sunday’s results show that even the French are fed up with continuing decline under governments run by a gaggle of Socialists, Communists and Greens”.

Monday, April 22, 2002

Reader Frank Vannerson sends an interesting query:

Isn't that view by Solzhenitsyn also the philosophical underpinning of the moral ambivalence within European and American elites that drives everyone crazy in a concrete situation that calls for action, i.e., the war on terrorism?
Somehow they have made a transition from people being neither all good nor bad, to political ideas and activities having the same standard.
Well, I don't think so. Solzhenitsyn was a Christian, and one of the most basic beliefs of Christianity is that we cannot, by our own efforts, free ourselves of sin. We are inextricably entangled with it, and can only escape by God's grace. I suspect this is what underlies Solzhenitsyn's statement. Odd though it may seem, people who believe this do not become ambivalent to evil, far from it. Solzhenitsyn certainly wasn't.

The ambivalence of those elites comes, I believe, because they have accepted the doctrines of the Left. (Why have they done so? Because the Leftist program is based on rule by elites!) They believe that governments, run by elites, can solve social problems. (Or they cynically pretend to believe it.)

They HATE anything that suggests that human problems cannot be solved by the state. They hate Christianity for the exact same reason they hate genetics; because these both imply problems that can't be dealt with by government programs. They don't want to believe there is such a thing as evil -- only social maladjustments that can be solved by therapy, or by re-education camps. And they probably don't believe the corollary of what he said; that goodness too might well be found in anyone, and cannot be eradicated by evil ...

"But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being..."

If the battleground is every human heart, then where does that leave the elites?

(Don't imagine that all this high-falutin' talk means I'm some sort of resolute moral philosopher -- I'm more a muddle-along-somehow guy. But I admire giants like Aleksandr Isaevich.)
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I just checked Dawson's 'log after a few days away. Real Life has caught up with him in its usual calamitous ways, and he won't be posting for a while. Our loss. I noticed he had this quote on his sidebar:

"If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"

~Alexander Solzhenitsyn

I read that decades ago, and still think it is one of the best and truest things I've ever read. I'm very glad to encounter it again. (Of course I could have Googled it, but that never even occurred to me!) I think it comes from The Gulag Archipelago. My memory may betray me, but Solzhenitsyn was writing about his dismay upon discovering that one of his sergeants from the war, a man he considered truly good and decent, had become a KGB man. The man explained his choice as being just a job.

Sunday, April 21, 2002

Today's error message Haiku:

First snow, then silence.
This thousand dollar screen dies
so beautifully.

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P. Krugman
A new series, by a secret cabal of avenging economists! #2

Readers of The New York Times are not getting their money’s worth from Paul Krugman these days. Even leftist Democrats may feel cheated. He is writing his columns more and more by formulas. “Wealth versus Health” (4/19/02) is a good example. Now Danielle Steele and Robert Ludlum can get away with this technique, used for saving time and thought, because they are writing 500 page books and the formulas are not so obvious. Krugman has only 800 words per column so the “shortcuts” become transparent pretty fast.

This is the way a formula works (he has several). Krugman finds a popular entitlement program that is in some sort of budgetary difficulty. He then concocts a crisis that he associates with the entitlement. Finally, he connects the dots from the crisis to the ultimate “cause” of the whole thing, the “irresponsible Bush tax cut for the rich” that robs “working” Americans of their hard earned money. Like all good formulas, this one has generality. The term “worker” can be replaced by any other constituency of the Democratic core that is victimized by the entitlement/crisis under discussion. For example, it could be the disabled, the elderly, the working poor, etc. In today’s column “Wealth versus Health”, the entitlement crisis is in Medicare and the victims of the Bush tax cut are seniors.

Now one may well wonder whether or not it matters that the Medicare problems predate the Bush tax cut, or, that the first, small installment of the tax cut is barely six months old and hasn’t really effected anything yet. The answer is No. It does not matter. The objective of this application of the Krugman formula was to scare seniors back into the Democratic fold. With “Wealth versus Health” the mission was accomplished.

The tragedy in all this is that there are serious issues with Medicare that need to be addressed and solved. Krugman, in effect, trivializes these larger issues by casting the entire subject in a formula motivated by partisan political gain.

What are some of these larger Medicare issues? One big problem is fraud and corruption. It is reported that New York State spent $80 million last year on Viagra alone. What was that all about? There are suspicions that many of the pills were sold back to the pharmacies for cash. In any case, the financial controls and administration of Medicare are a disgrace.

Another problem is healthcare rationing. This is a biggie! What we refer to is the following: If the government is going to sponsor the delivery of expensive health services through Medicare at prices substantially below the providers’ costs then either the government must fund the difference, or providers will engage in some form of non-price rationing, e.g., refusing to offer services or turning patients away. The financial capacity of the government to do the former is in serious question. This is not just a matter of changing a few percentage points in marginal tax rates. As Krugman points out, the numbers here are bigger than the defense budget. The top tax rate could be raised to 100 percent and still be a drop in the bucket.

So the answer probably requires a consensus on some form of non-price rationing. What this means, in plain English, is that some Medicare patients, under some circumstances will not receive treatments that might conceivably benefit them because they cost too much. More precisely, the cost/benefit ratio of those services given the state of a patient’s health is judged to be too high. This is tough stuff. The decision making process behind such judgements is a subject no politician wants to even hear about, let alone discuss. But somehow people of goodwill, hopefully people with hard heads but soft hearts, must face and resolve them.

If Krugman could forget for a couple of days that he is an attack dog for the Democrats, and remember that not long ago he was a pretty good economist, he might contribute to the dialog.

His readership should insist on it!