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Saturday, May 18, 2002

The PatioPundit writes:

I think you missed the point in your "past lives" post. You said:
If they only tell us things about the past that we already know or guess, they are LIARS ! And if they tell us things that are part of that tiny subset of history known to popular culture and Hollywood (Pharoahs, gladiators, guillotines, Richard-the-Lion-Heart) then they are LAZY LIARS.

So, when the Hollywood starlet tells you she was Cleopatra's handmaid in a past life, ask her to say something in Greek...
Uhh, no. If you ever get into that situation, you should realize that there is only one way that the conversation should go:

Gorgeous actress: I was Cleopatra's handmaid in a previous life.

You: Really? You know, I get that about you. What was your name?

Gorgeous actress: I'm not sure - Nefrititi I think.

You: Amazing. Are you sure?

Gorgeous actress: Yes, I think so.

You: I think you're right. What a coincidence -- I was Nasgul!

Gorgeous actress: Nazgul?

You: Yes, we were lovers. Oh how I've missed you. Can you feel the tension between us?

I love to quote Moira, she writes so nicely

...My nine-year-old has reached the interesting age where she is beginning to ask thorny questions, not sex. She's already been all over that for years. She's on to much tougher stuff - the mystery of consciousness. That is, she's reached the age of wondering, well, where exactly is the "self" located? Apparently she's been thinking about this for a while, and is at present quite the adamant dualist. "But our bodies are not us. They're just robots, mom. We are intertwined [yes, that's her exact terminology] with our brains, and make our brains tell our robots what to do."

You might be surprised at how much fun it is to debate Cartesian theaters with a jesuitical little nine-year-old. The downside is that it's a sharp reminder that mama hasn't kept up with the latest advances in neuroscience...
Explaining things to children can certainly stretch the mental fibers. You can explain about the wave-particle duality of light. Or why Japan would have lost the war even if they'd won the Battle of Midway...

Jesuitical, how true. I often remember a line from Walt Kelly: If you don't stop being sharper nor a serpent's tooth, you ain't gonna be a spankless child. Who remembers Walt Kelly now? When I was about the age of Moira's daughter, POGO seared my brain like a lightning bolt. The power of the penwork, the sly and lunatic wordplay ... a revelation to me!

Friday, May 17, 2002

Peggy Noonan told me I'm wrong about President Bush, and wrote her latest column by way of a reposte. (Actually, she doesn't even know I exist, but it's fun to pretend)

...Mr. Bush is doing the same thing. He is accepting what he thinks he has to accept (pork, a bad trade bill) in order to keep or expand the power balance he has in Washington, and in order to keep from angering or offending your basic, normal, politically nonobsessed citizen.

If Mr. Bush's popularity falls, his party's popularity suffers. The congressional elections six months from now could produce a Democratic House and a more heavily Democratic Senate. Mr. Bush will do almost anything to keep that from happening. Because if it happens his ability to prosecute the war will be weakened, perhaps fatally. Power would shift and his opposition, no longer fearing his popularity, would go for his throat. The war effort, such as it is, would be compromised. He has to keep his popularity high.

So Mr. Bush is doing an FDR, and angering only a base that will forgive him...
Well, winning the war is certainly the most important thing. I probably underestimate the fragility of his position, perhaps because I can't really believe that Democrats would sabotage the war for partisan ends. But, logic and experience say that they are scoundrelly enough to do just that.

The War on Terrorism is the Queen on this chessboard, worth losing some pawns for. If the world remains stable, economic growth and Globalization will just roll right over a lot of our problems, and squash them flat. Pray for Bush. Pray for a Republican House and Senate.
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P. Krugman
#11, contra-commissar

In “America’s Poor Standards” (05/17/02), Paul Krugman informs us that federal accounting standards need a drastic overhaul. What has him upset is that Standard and Poor’s, the private bond-rating agency, has decided to revise the way it analyzes corporate earnings based on discussions with industry analysts, portfolio managers and academic researchers–in other words, based on discussions in the private sector.

Apparently, to Krugman, this is difficult to comprehend. He asks the first question that would pop into the head of an East German commissar 20 years ago.

“And if such an overhaul is needed, why doesn’t the government do it?
Why does S.&P. think it must do the job itself?”
Yes, that’s an exact quote!

It does not take much of a libertarian to see that Krugman has things exactly backwards. There is nothing drastic about the current situation, there is a fundamental difference between disclosures of financial information (we need more and better) and federally imposed accounting standards (we need fewer), and the private sector is precisely where the responsibility and expertise for designing and monitoring disclosure practices lies.

One example will make the point–SEC audit requirements. These embody accounting standards that are actually worse than worthless. Plus they give the accounting profession a captive market, they offer no incentives for companies themselves to create more imaginative disclosure methods and they give investors the false impression that they have less responsibility for their investments (raising moral hazard issues) and that if they lose money it may be someone else’s fault.

S.&P. should be congratulated for its initiative. We note that other private sector groups have begun similar undertakings. Does that mean they will all agree? Of course not! The issue is not about set standards for handling every tricky issue, say, stock options, it is about having all the relevant information fully disclosed for analysis.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Peter Pribik is such a saint. He observed Jimmy Carter's recent antics, and he was moved to compassion!

...The public should not allow this to happen. Let's help these people retain a thread of dignity. I propose that we expand the Disabilities Act to cover public have-beens with compulsive headline-grubbing syndrome (CHGS). In fact, I would like to go further: we need to create a Model United Nations Program for Retired Politicians (MUNREPO) for our venerable ex-leaders.

You might say that we already have the real UN. But it’s too lackluster and not elite enough. We need a bunch of entertainment execs to run a network of sanatoria in renowned locations around the world, each with its own theme and mascot. We could have the Durham Race, Gender, Class, and Sexuality Center with Desi Tutu, The Universal Rights Pavilion in The Hague with Mary Robinson, The Cold War Convention in Geneva with Gorby, the Riosphere with Al Gore. A twenty-four hour cable station would provide patients with exclusive coverage of their activities. Occasionally they could take a break from it all and flee to an apolitical refuge replete with beaches, swamis, and hookers to repair their tattered nerves.

Sure this would cost money. But consider the costs we are incurring now. An entire generation is growing up having to distrust its parents. Mom and dad talk about inspiring figures from the past that look like boring, dusty, dribbling idiots on television. The Rolling Stones are an innocuous affectation in comparison...

Thursday, May 16, 2002

Most of the time, in American politics, you can't change much. The contending forces are too evenly balanced, and whoever favors inertia has the advantage. Therefore, when an opportunity to break the logjam arises, it should be seized. It must be seized. It's like some rare conjunction of planets that just demands a space mission.

I remember the queasy feeling I had when Bush senior was president, and he had those sky-high approval ratings after the Gulf War ... and then ... nothing happened. He could have thrown his weight into solving something, achieving some reform or improvement. Something. But ... nothing. We were betrayed, and he deserved to be a one-term President.

In a way I am far more bitter about Bush senior than I am about Clinton. Bush knew better. He made all those speeches with all the usual Republican stuff, against big government and high taxes, for freedom and personal responsibility and traditional values ... Didn't he? Perhaps I disremember. Perhaps he said, "Vote for me, I'm a competent administrator and chair warmer."

And now I have the same unhappy feeling in my gut. Right now George W. Bush could pull off something splendid. Or at least try. He knows the need and he's shown he has the ability. I can't remember a more perfect political coup than those first weeks in office. There was so much controversy about the election that everyone thought he would be in a position of total weakness. But he just started right in setting the agenda, boldly asking for a tax cut, and the Democrats were suddenly on the defensive and scrambling in confusion. It was just the completest thing, as Jack Aubrey would say.

But now, now, with the country, the whole world, still in a serious mood, when long-established socialist institutions are showing cracks and fissures, when a new millennium seems to just beg for new beginnings, when bold leadership might really change the rules of the game ... we get ... nothing.

Of course there are compromises in politics. We expect them. But it's one thing to compromise lesser points because you are putting all your strength into the greater ones. What we have now is a lot of pawns being thrown away (CFR, steel, Farm Supports, Arafat still breathing) with no apparent attempt to put any king in check.

Perhaps I'm wrong. I sure hope so, but I have such misgivings.

Oh well. My heart's been broken before.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Frank Vannerson writes (re: Krugman Truth Squad #10): Check the Wall St Journal editorial today on corporations leaving the U.S. for tax reasons. They point out that foreign aquisition is actually the most efficient "loophole" since it puts the aquired company in a non-U.S. tax jurisdiction immediately. Indeed, the aquisition route has been the trend. They note poignantly that the U.S. Tax Code is the reason "Daimler" comes first in DaimlerChrysler.

I wonder if Krugman would call this tax "evasion", and who would be the villians? The shareholders for selling to foreign interests? Sounds positively French!

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

I clicked a wandering path from Dawson to Renata in Brazil (charmin' gal) to Gil in Israel, who quoted something interesting by an American:

Eric Hoffer was an American social philosopher. He was born in 1902 and died in 1983, after writing nine books and winning the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His first book, “The True Believer”, published in 1951, was widely recognized as a classic.

By Eric Hoffer (LA Times 5/26/68)

The Jews are a peculiar people : things permitted to other nations are forbidden to the Jews. Other nations drive out thousands, even millions of people and there is no refugee problem. Russia did it, Poland and Czechoslovakia did it, Turkey threw out a million Greeks, and Algeria a million Frenchman. Indonesia threw out heaven knows how many Chinese - and no one says a word about refugees.

But in the case of Israel the displaced Arabs have become eternal refugees. Everyone insists that Israel must take back every single Arab. Arnold Toynbee calls the displacement of the Arabs an atrocity greater than any committed by the Nazis.

Other nations when victorious on the battlefield dictate peace terms. But when Israel is victorious it must sue for peace. Everyone expects the Jews to be the only real Christians in this world.

Other nations when they are defeated survive and recover, but should Israel be defeated it would be destroyed. Had Nasser triumphed last June he would have wiped Israel off the map, and no one would have lifted a finger to save the Jews.

No commitment to the Jews by any government, including our own, is worth the paper it is written on. There is a cry of outrage all over the world when people die in Vietnam or when two Negroes are executed in Rhodesia. But when Hitler slaughtered Jews no one remonstrated with him.

The Swedes, who are ready to break off diplomatic relations with America because of what we do in Vietnam, did not let out a peep when Hitler was slaughtering Jews. They sent Hitler choice iron ore, and ball bearings, and serviced his troop trains to Norway.

The Jews are alone in the world. If Israel survives, it will be solely because of Jewish efforts and Jewish resources.

Yet at this moment Israel is our only reliable and unconditional ally. We can rely more on Israel than Israel can rely on us. And one has only to imagine what would have happened last summer had the Arabs and their Russian backers won the war, to realize how vital the survival of Israel is to America and the West in general.

I have a premonition that will not leave me: as it goes with Israel so will it go with all of us. Should Israel perish the holocaust will be upon us.
Hoffer was self-educated, and worked for many years as a longshoreman in San Francisco. He was never part of the academy, which may explain why he could see the obvious.
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All societies must be governed in some way or other. The less they may have stringent state government, the more they must have individual self-government.... Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled either by a power within them, or by a power without them....
--Robert C. Winthrop

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Inspired by that same article in the Weekly Standard, A Nation Like Ours by David Gelernter, that I mentioned on 5/11, Dave Trowbridge writes:

I wonder: a hundred years or so from now, will the raison d'etre of Israel be as apparent? Perhaps as the irritating bit of democratic grit that at last, and at great cost, created a pearl of great price: a vibrant, democratic Middle East, with Arabs at last freed from the dead hand of a mis-remembered past?
Dave also writes about a virus that is just a meme ... it's just an e-mail telling you to remove a dangerous virus that is actually part of your software.
> Here's how to check for the virus and how to get rid of it:
> 1. Go to Start, Find or Search Option.
> 2. In the Files/Folder Option, write the name jdbgmgr.exe
> 3. Be sure you search your C-drive.
> 4. Click "find now:
> 5. The virus has a teddy bear icon with the name jdbgmgr.exe
> 6. Right click and delete it. It will then go to the Recycle Bin
> 7. Go to the Recycle Bin and delete it there as well.

> If you find the virus, you must contact all the people in your address
book so they can eradicate it in their own address books. Sorry about this.
I just found out about it. It was easy to delete.
JDBGMGR.EXE is actually a Java debugger manager that is a standard part of the Windows system

Tuesday, May 14, 2002

This is a reprint of an earlier post -- I was in the mood to say something about the WTC

I've never been a fan of blocky skyscrapers. If we must have skyscrapers, I'd prefer something like the Woolworth Building. But the WORLD TRADE CENTER was a marvel of engineering. It was much more than a run-of-the-mill big building. I find it very moving to ponder its construction. It was an exemplar of what Western Civilization can achieve (And socialist slime-rabble can tear down.)

One example. The site was so close to the river, and the soil so porous, that it was almost as if they had to build in the water. It was necessary to start the project by building a wall down to bedrock, 70 feet below, just to dry out the 13-block site. Traditionally this is done by building a cofferdam first; but there wasn't room for a cofferdam, and the expense would have been prohibitive.

An Italian firm had the answer. A 3 foot wide trench was begun around the entire 13-block area. The trench was filled with a slurry of Bentonite (the same lightweight clay used to make kitty-litter.) The slurry provided enough pressure to keep water out and prevent the trench from collapsing. Digging machinery worked through the slurry to continue excavating down to bedrock. Then rebar cages were lowered into the slurry, and concrete was pumped into the bottom of the trench. As the concrete rose, the slurry was pumped off of the top.

Once the concrete had hardened, they had their wall, and could proceed to excavate.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

P. Krugman
#10 in the relentless pursuit of the Orc of Obfuscation

In “The Great Evasion” (05/14/02) Paul Krugman takes on a very interesting topic–the future of corporate taxation in an era of globalization. To no one’s surprise, the bad guys in the column are corporations moving out of the U.S to “evade taxes.” The news event that set Krugman off was about Stanley Works, the Connecticut toolmaker, whose shareholders voted to move to Bermuda.

Unlike Krugman we believe competition between tax jurisdictions is a good thing because it keeps corporate taxes globally in check. The fact that 20 out of 30 OECD countries since 1996 have reduced their top corporate tax rates is a significant development. However, during this same time period, the top rate in the U.S. has remained unchanged. So the pressure is on to relocate, and it will no doubt increase further. The Treasury Department is perfectly right to suggest that it may be time to rethink tax rules written 30 years ago.

Beyond this, most economists would agree that taxing corporations at all is a bad idea. First, corporate taxes represents double taxation, second, the incidence of the tax is never born by corporations themselves, but is shifted ultimately to individuals (through higher prices, lower wages, reduced earnings, etc.) and finally there are allocative distortions on corporate choices due to taxes that range from organizational structure to debt vs. equity decisions.

But what makes the U.S. corporate tax particularly burdensome is that it applies to world income, not just to income earned in the U.S. Thus a U.S. company doing business in a low tax environment, say Ireland at 10%, will pay the Irish corporate tax to Ireland and then pay the tax differential between the U.S. and Ireland, another 25%, to the U.S. Needless to say, this makes it difficult for U.S. companies to compete globally with companies that are not taxed on world income.

Krugman makes some unsubstantiated assertions that competition is not the real issue and that U.S. companies are using foreign jurisdictions, combined with fancy footwork, to avoid taxes altogether. We doubt that he can document these claims except in isolated cases. As far as Stanley Works is concerned, since they will still have sales in the U.S., they will still pay U.S. tax on earnings in the U.S. It is only their foreign source income that will no longer be taxed by the U.S.

Until the U.S. reduces corporate taxes to meet global competition, corporations will continue to vote with their feet. It’s a free world isn’t it?

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Via Dawson Q. Dawson, a luminous photo (click for the larger version) of the Staten Island Ferry passing in front of the World Trade Center, by blogger Vincent Ferrari
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

The Prime Minister of Israel sits down with Arafat at the beginning of negotiations regarding the resolution of the conflict.

The Prime Minister requests that he be allowed to begin with a story. Arafat replies, "Of course."

The Prime Minister begins his story: "Years before the Israelites came to the Promised Land and settled here, Moses led them for 40 years through the desert.

The Israelites began complaining that they were thirsty, and lo, a miracle occurred and a stream appeared before them. They drank their fill and then decided to take advantage of the stream to do some bathing -- including Moses.

When Moses came out of the water, he found that his clothes were missing.

"Who took my clothes?" Moses asked those around him.

"It was the Palestinians," replied the Israelites--"

"Wait a minute," objected Arafat immediately, "there were no Palestinians during the time of Moses!"

"All right," replies the Prime Minister, "Now that we've got that settled, let's begin our negotiations."

Monday, May 13, 2002

Via DAWSON, an Open Letter about the riot at SFSU, which is only about a mile from where we live. (The title says Program, I'm sure they meant Pogrom.)

I think Glenn Reynolds said what needed to be said:

Don't get scared. Get mad. If I were on the SFSU faculty, they'd be hearing from me. Come to think of it, they are anyway. But the proper response is to turn out with a bigger march. And video cameras. And hey, if the Administration won't provide security, provide your own. The iron rule of pogroms is that as long as the victims don't defend themselves it's not a threat to public order. Once they stick up for themselves, it suddenly gets noticed and the pogrom is stopped.
Having got past my initial outrage at this sort of bullying, I keep thinking, what a lot of malarky. I mean peace demonstations on campus. When, in all of history, has that ever done anybody any good? Wearing T-shirts that say Peace in 3 different languages. Gee, that's really gonna make a difference in the world. Phooey. I just hope some of these students LEARN SOMETHING from this.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

In 1996, Britain banned handguns; since then, gun crimes have risen by 40%. ... Australia also passed severe gun restrictions in 1996 and made it a crime to use a gun defensively. In the subsequent four years, armed robberies rose 51%, unarmed robberies by 37%, assaults by 24% and kidnappings by 43%. ... The problem with these harsh gun laws, experts say, is that they take guns away from law-abiding citizens, while would-be criminals ignore them, leaving potential victims defenseless. The U.S. has shown that making guns more available is actually a better formula for law and order. ... In the U.S., 33 states have right-to-carry laws. In those states, deaths and injuries from multiple-victim public shootings fell on average by 78%." --National Center for Policy Analysis
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

One thing about history that most people don't realize is that we don't know what happened in the past. Or rather, we don't know 99.99% of it. We know what Caesar chose to tell us about the Gallic Wars. But there were millions of other people involved whose stories have vanished utterly. Along with their songs, their jokes, their crazy new hair styles...

Another example: Scholars argue endlessly about what the theaters of Shakespeare's time were like. How high was the stage above the groundlings? How deep, how wide? We don't know. The locals just took them for granted; only a few foreign tourists made sketches.

What practical value does this have for you? Well, if someone claims to remember their past lives, you can verify that. They should be able to tell us things that historians would kill to find out. They should be able to decipher ancient inscriptions, or tell the archaeologists where to dig, or that the Globe Theater's stage was 6' high.

If they only tell us things about the past that we already know or guess, they are LIARS ! And if they tell us things that are part of that tiny subset of history known to popular culture and Hollywood (Pharoahs, gladiators, guillotines, Richard-the-Lion-Heart) then they are LAZY LIARS.

So, when the Hollywood starlet tells you she was Cleopatra's handmaid in a past life, ask her to say something in Greek...

Sunday, May 12, 2002

I got an e-mail from a farmer about my post about American Soil Products:.

Mr. Weidner, If one farms, soil=dirt, rocks=bad. I do understand what you are saying, but it depends on where you're standing. I'd like to see that place though. Dirt is fascinating stuff. I keep telling myself I'll take a trip to the Willamette Valley, you know,that place in Oregon. They have topsoil that is in some places 16' deep. Mine is maybe 3"...
My background is horticulture, parents on both sides in the nursery business.

Soil was something we made, sort of like baking bread. Sand, peat moss, Perlite, various fertilizers and minerals. Mixed in a cement mixer and dumped onto big carts with fold-down sides that became potting benches. The soil was steamed in the carts, sort of Pasteurized. Not only was it not dirt, it was never allowed to touch the ground. Nor the plants or pots.

I also got a comment from Doctor Weevil
I just want to say that you may be unfair to the guy who "couldn't" rent you a videotape because the computer said there were none in inventory even when you had a copy in your hand. It's quite possible that the computer program was written in such a way that it was in fact impossible to override the "zero in inventory" status...
That's right of course; even the smartest of us end up staring at a screen and thinking, "I'm sure there's a way to do this, I just can't think what..." The Anti-Entropic device I'm working on may solve this, but until then we will all occasionally reduced to imbecility by our gadgets.