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Saturday, June 21, 2003

Chewing like termites at the fabric of civility and reason...

Charlene is reading the latest Dean Koontz thriller, which has an anarchist villain, and just read me this bit...
.... A society could seldom be brought down solely by acts of violence, however, and every thoughtful anarchist must be dedicated to his mission every minute of the day, wreaking havoc by actions both small and large.

Illiterate punks defacing public property with spray-painted graffiti, suicide bombers, semicoherent pop stars selling rage and nihilism set to an infectious beat, attorneys specializing in tort law and filing massive class-action suits with the express intention of destroying major corporations and age-old institutions, serial killers, drug dealers, crooked cops, corrupted corporate executives cooking the books and stealing from pension funds, faithless priests molesting children, politicians riding to reelection by the agitation of class envy: All these and numerous others, working at different levels, some as destructive as runaway freight trains hurtling off the tracks, others quietly chewing like termites at the fabric of civility and reason, were necessary to cause the current order to collapse into ruin...
Lucky for us it's only fiction
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Orrin Judd writes:

...The point of privatizing the FAA is in large part that the prime example statists always use when they want to show that we all depend on big government is: "Would you fly if there were no air traffic controllers?" [The other favorite is meat inspectors, with student loans and mortgages in a tie for third.] The belief that but for government actions there would be no air travel, safe meat, college attendance and home ownership is symptomatic of the way dependence on government has corrupted the American mind.

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to keep in mind ...

Archidamus notes:
Whatever my irritations with Berlin's recent policies vis-a-vis the Bushies, we shouldn't forget that German troops are contributing to the International Peace-keeping force in Afghanistan, which puts German soldiers in not-inconsiderable danger:
JALALABAD, Afghanistan, June 7 — A suspected suicide car bomber hit a military bus carrying German troops today in Kabul, killing at least 4 soldiers and wounding 29 in the most deadly attack on the international security force since its work began 18 months ago, officials said..

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It's Steyn, of course ...

...I can only report my own interaction with Iraq’s drinking supply. I crossed into the country from Jordan and stopped for lunch in the first town I came to — Rutba — and the first thing that happened was that the young slip of a lad plunked down on my table a grubby plastic Thermos of water with an encrusted spigot and a metal goblet. He seemed to be hanging around and I didn’t want him to think I was some sort of NGO nancy boy, so I filled up the goblet and drained me a skinful. Not as good as the stuff from my well in New Hampshire, but better than municipal water in Montreal .... But everywhere I went I drank the water and, aside from mild side-effects like feeling even more right-wing than before, I’m fine and dandy....

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Like a chom it voiks ...

I suddenly find myself inside the new version of BloggerPro. The publishing interface is much faster and smoother. However I'm not sure if that's because it is improved, or because it runs in Safari, and doesn't require me to use Internet Explorer, a lumpish foot-dragging creature, at least in its Mac version. (Which means I can now scrape the last clinging globules of Microsoft off the bottom of my chips. Yes!)

Maybe this is my magical reward for staying up 'til a horrid hour in quest of Harry Potter. The expedition was a big treat for my daughter, who is now curled up in bed with the book, while I swill coffee. And I found a good book myself, Eric Newby's A Small Place in Italy, which made the long wait in line much easier.

* Update: Our friend Andrew Cory was busy selling the book!

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P. Krugman
#104: His worst nightmare getting closer...closer...closer

Paul Krugman has come eyeball to eyeball with his worst nightmare, the prospect of a booming U.S. economy, and has opted to trash-talk it down. In Still Blowing Bubbles (06/20/03) he focuses most of his trash on the recent rise in the stock market, probably because it's an easier target for superficial analysis than the real economy. But ultimately when he does face the real economy he commits some grievous errors in logic. For example, he tries to simultaneously concede the possibility of a vigorous economic recovery but then argue that, even if one does occur, it will be choked off by competition for funds when businesses run up against "$400-billion-plus deficits as far as the eye can see." The error here is that the size of projected deficits are not independent of the state of the future economy. If a vigorous recovery does develop, tax revenues will rise and deficits decline in the future. This is pretty elementary economic analysis to just ignore.

What Krugman really believes, to the core of his being, is that a strong economy cannot possibly take place under Bush administration policies. No way, no how! But as more evidence gathers to the contrary it will be interesting to see the progression of his denials. Let the trash talking begin

[The Truth Squad is a group of economists who have long marveled at the writings of Paul Krugman. The Squad Reports are synopses of their discussions. ]

Friday, June 20, 2003

not accessible to 'social scientists...'

Mike Jackmin writes, about my earlier post below, on gay marriage:
I read your post, and while I thought you made a good point there was something about it that bothered me. I finally figured it out - it's from that fellow you quoted:

"Gay couples need their own myth if their unions are to be something other than and greater than friendships"

Rewrite that as follows, and you'll get my point instantly:

"Black couples need their own myth if their unions are to be something other than and greater than friendships"

The assumption here is that gay people can't tell the difference between friendship and committed love, or worse, that they are incapable of committed love with a gay partner. Perhaps this is what you were really getting at, or did I read too much into this?
I get the point, but I don't think there's an analogy, because our marriage myth is about children. And grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and families binding our society together over the generations. "Committed love" is just an added-on bit of Victorian wishful thinking.

We've already created an almost-meaningless modern parody-marriage, where a couple slips off by themselves and gets 'married,' with no plans for children, and the possibility of No-Fault Divorce kept in mind. By traditional standards that's not marriage at all, just some sort of irregular liaison. One reason that divorce was considered abhorrent until recently, was that it not only besmirched the couple involved, but also ancestors and descendants. The whole multi-generational project was called into question. Sex, on the other hand, in many Western cultures was a personal matter, as long as it didn't impinge on the family.

Actually I didn't mean to knock "committed love." That's become part of our myth now, and is part of what gives marriage its gravity. And if gays can make use of it, great. But marriage is a lot more, and my guess is that if gays try to adopt traditional marriage, rather than come up with their own version, it will always feel ersatz. (Of course to me a lot of modern life seems gimcrack and missing-the-pointish, but most people don't seem to notice or mind.)

Also, I don't feel being a conservative means not wanting anything to change. If you study a little history you can watch traditions evolve and adapt and improve. Did you know that marriage only became a Christian sacrament during the Middle Ages? And that traditionally in England, marriage ceremonies were performed at the porch of the church, not inside, because they were too profane for the church?

So if odd new marriage customs develop on Mars (which seems to be a Science-Fiction cliché) I'm open-minded. But if they are going to succeed they can't just be 'invented,' they will have to emerge slowly out of places in the soul that are not accessible to 'social scientists.'

VDH, spot-on again ...

...Fourth, for all the doom and gloom we are making amazing progress. If on the evening of September 11th, an outside observer had predicted that the following would transpire in two years, he would have been considered unhinged: Saddam Hussein gone with the wind; democratic birth pangs in Iraq; the Taliban finished and Mr. Karzai attempting to create constitutional government; Yasser Arafat ostracized by the American government and lord of a dilapidated compound; bin Laden either dead or leading a troglodyte existence; all troops slated to leave Saudi Arabia — and by our own volition, not theirs; Iran and Syria apprehensive rather than boastful about their own promotion of terror; and the Middle East worried that the United States is both unpredictable in its righteous anger and masterful in its use of arms, rather than customarily irresolute and reactive.

Finally, do not expect to read headlines like "85% of Baghdad's Power Restored," "Afghan Women Enroll in Schools by the Millions," or "Americans Put an End to Secret Police and Arbitrary Executions in Iraq." It is not the nature of the present generation of our elites — so unlike our own forefathers in postwar Japan or Germany — to express confidence in our culture, much less in the moral nature of our struggle to end the conditions that caused this war.

Between 1946 and today there are, after all, too many books, academic departments, careers, reporters, and anchormen who have institutionalized notions of moral equivalence, multiculturalism, and Western pathology from a safe and comfortable distance. But all that pessimism and self-doubt does not mean that we are failing, or that we should cease our present efforts. In fine, we are now engaged in one of the most ambitious, perilous, and radical undertakings in our history — and we are ever so slowly winning.
Winning. That's what certain people just hate.

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lotta nerve ...

From the Federalist Newsletter
...Asked about the issue last Sunday, Démo Sen. John "Ketchup" Kerry, whose support for action against Saddam extends way back into the Clinton years, said, "I think it would be irresponsible of me at this point to draw conclusions prior to all the evidence being on the table."

By Wednesday, his political handlers got to him a copy of the script and Kerry proclaimed, "[Bush] misled every one of us. That's one reason why I'm running to be president of the United States. I will not let him off the hook throughout this campaign with respect to America's credibility and credibility to me because if he lied he lied to me personally."

Thursday, June 19, 2003

study, the wedding canopy, and righteous deeds ...

Interesting stuff by Noah Millman of Gideon's Blog on 'Gay Marriage.'
...What, exactly, is marriage? It's not an arrangement cooked up by social engineers. It's not just a convinient way to enable multi-generational accumulation of capital. It's an institution that shapes the entirety of a human life, the dominant element in our private mythic universe. (I've been reading a bunch of Robertson Davies novels lately; can you tell?) When a Jewish boy is circumcised, one of the prayers recited is the hope that the boy will be reared to torah, huppah and ma'asim tovim - study, the wedding canopy, and righteous deeds. Our account of the Creation culminates first with the creation of male and female as natural and equal partners, and then retells the story of our creation specifically to illustrate how we are one flesh, working the myth of marriage into the very fabric of the universe. These myths are present at every wedding ceremony, and they are essential cement to help hold a marriage together through the inevitable tough times. As patriotic myth gives a young man something to inspire sacrifice (of, potentially, his life) for the nation, and thus become something greater than he was before (a soldier, maybe even a hero), so matrimonial myth gives him something to inspire sacrifice (of a portion of his freedom) for family, and thus become something greater than he was before (a husband, and hopefully a father).

What is the myth of homosexual union? What does gay marriage mean, finally? The primary myth of homosexual unions that I am aware of in Western literature comes from the Symposium, and it is not encouraging that the speech it is a part of is put by Plato in the mouth of Aristophanes. No culture can institutionalize a parody of its myths, and most same-sex commitment ceremony language I have seen that is not merely bland and meaningless is just that: parody...

...For some time, I've advocated some institutional equivalent to marriage designed particularly for homosexual couples. I think Jonathan Rauch's argument that the lack of such an institution (or, as he would prefer, the opening up of traditional marriage to gay couples) has fuelled the progressive legal deconstruction of traditional marriage - the granting of marriage-like rights and privileges to cohabiting couples, the encouragement of adoptions by unmarried individuals or couples, etc. is very strong...

...But there is essential cultural work to be done, and done in the gay community, to make such an institution work. Gay couples need their own myth if their unions are to be something other than and greater than friendships...

...Whether this cultural work can be done is not something I can confidently predict. Culture and nature alike continually surprise us with both their mutability and their resiliency in the face of efforts to remake them. But I would be more encouraged if an occasional advocate of gay marriage sounded less like a Millsian liberal and more like a Jungian.
Getting married, and (especially) having children, is a high-risk venture equivalent, perhaps, to moving to a frontier. It is like pushing most of your chips onto the table, with the possibility of big wins, and also crushing losses. Its essence is belief in the future.

I don't think it is any accident that certain regions of the Western world are suffering simultaneously from economic stagnation, declining birthrates, and a sort of nihilist pacifism that says that nothing is worth fighting for. They have lost the belief, which comes from Judaism and Christianity, (And Islam?) that every soul is important to God, including ones to be born centuries hence. Theorists, of whatever stripe, Socialist to Libertarian, can't provide that mysterious ingredient. (And this raises the interesting question: Are the long-term prospects for Democracy better in France or Iraq?)

They've also lost that flavor, or habit, of thought we call Conservative. The feeling that one is personally involved in a project that goes back centuries. The feeling that Burke, or Madison, or Jonathan Edwards are not portraits in a museum, but guys who added useful sticky-notes and pencilled annotations to our blueprints of the current project. a project that is presumed to extend centuries into the future...

Millman I think puts his finger on the problem--Gay Marriage as envisaged is a parody. A parody of something real. Something real with a mystical element that theories can't grasp. Anything that tends to turn marriage into just another rational arrangement should be considered poison.

On the positive side, if gays were to sign-on to that great and mysterious long-term project of life (as of course many have as individuals) rather than the short term what's-in-it-for-me project, than they ought to be able to evolve institutions of their own that would be valued by us all. The kicker is the word evolve. That implies doing things now that will help future generations. There's no selfish or rational reason for anyone doing that. Theorists may argue that that's a praiseworthy thing, but they can't provide any reason for me personally to give up my pleasures now to help someone who won't be born until after I'm dead. You just gotta believe...

* Update: I might add that among the thoughts floating in my head as I wrote this, is a gay couple, friends of ours, who sometimes lecture us on child raising and not spoiling our children! Also a book I read on the Berdache tradition among American Indians. A Berdache is a guy who opts out of the male role and wear women's clothing. Not exactly what we call gay, but similar. But what I found fascinating is that a berdache is considered especially suitable for educating the young.

Also, I've never quite figured out what a neo-con is. (I know what they were back in the 70's.) Millman makes the (to me) odd statement, about the debate in NRO on gay marriage: "To me, it's striking that all sides seem happy to debate this question entirely in terms of social science. No further proof should be required that NR has indeed been taken over by the neo-cons. I wonder if the term neo-con should be applied to those who are conservative out of theory, rather than bred-in-the-bone feeling?

* Noah e-mails: "...BTW, I think your definition of neo-con - someone who is a conservative out of theory rather than out of gut belief - is as good as any. One of the major charges by the paleos against the neo-cons is that while the former read literature, the latter read social science."

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Remember that chess-playing automaton with the midget inside?...

This is an even worse shock! (chapeau to Oxblog)

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groovin' ...

I was driving downtown on Market Street yesterday, and there was a guy breezing along on a Segway! Not on the sidewalk, but on the street, and moving at quite a clip. The way he was just standing, relaxed, smiling, in the bustle of traffic...well I was impressed! It was just too magic-carpet for words.

I have a feeling that once there are a few more of them around for people to see, the Segway is going to catch-on bigtime.

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What do I owe to my times, to my country,
to my neighbors, to my friends?
Such are the questions which a virtuous man
ought often to ask himself.


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One biter bit ...

Leftizoids of every stripe have been embarrassed because their predictions of disaster following the invasion of Iraq have not eventuated. No massive casualties, no war spreading across the Middle East, no Scuds with poison gas, no waves of recruits for the various terrorist groups, no increase in instability and danger...

If this were a just world, that crowd would now be squirming in the hot seat, trying to avoid answering questions on why they lied to us.

But here in Bizarro World, we see the flaky ones now claiming the moral high ground, and attacking Bush and Blair for fabricating the idea that Iraq might have WMD's, and might even, (preposterous of course) actually use them on human beings!

Well, at least one of the caterpillers is now wriggling under the hot lights. Remember Robin Cook? A teensy weensy little memo of his has surfaced...
...It was published when Mr Cook was Foreign Secretary five years ago — and warned Saddam could have an “offensive biological weapons capability” in weeks.

Mr Cook now argues we should never have gone to war because Saddam was no threat.

But the 1998 dossier warned Iraq could develop mustard gas almost immediately and nerve agents in months.

And it said Saddam may have Scud missiles which could kill thousands if armed with a VX nerve agent warhead.

The memo was used to justify Allied planes bombing Iraq in 1998.
Mr Cook was grilled on the document before the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday.

MPs pointed out he opposed the recent war because there was no second UN resolution — but backed bombing Iraq in 1998, even though that was not supported by the UN either...

Monday, June 16, 2003

Coming to a boil??

Don't miss Michael Ledeen's round-up of events in Iran, The Iranian Revolution, 2003
...The spooks and dips believe that democratic revolution in Iran is unlikely because the revolutionary forces have no charismatic leader — no Walesa, no Havel, no Robespierre, no Jefferson — and without revolutionary leaders, revolutions do not occur. Our deep thinkers fear that if we supported the rebels, we would risk a replay of the abortive uprisings in Poland and Hungary in the 1950s and 1960s.

But Iran today is not at all comparable to Central Europe half a century ago, or for that matter to revolutionary France or America in the 18th century, or Russia on the eve of the Bolshevik Revolution. In all those cases, the revolutionaries were a distinct minority, and only a combination of dynamic leadership and foreign support could bring down the regimes. In Iran today, the revolutionaries constitute the overwhelming majority of the population, while the tyrants only glean minimal support. Thus, the Iranian people hold their destiny in their own hands. They share a common dream of freedom, and need only transform it into a common mission to liberate themselves...
My head is spinning just thinking about all the things going on right now. What a time to be alive.

Just as a minor historical note, Jefferson was not a 'charismatic leader' of the Revolution. His fame came later, and he was always shy in public. Samuel Adams was the person comparable to Lech Walesa. In fact, when John Adams arrived in France, he had to disappoint people and tell them he wasn't his famous cousin.

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"Give me string bean, I'm a hungry man!"

My friend Dave Trowbridge linked to this alarming blog article, The Economic Limits of the Empire , wherein it is made crystal clear that America's collapse is near, and that our children will soon be poking through garbage dumps looking for scraps to eat.

I almost started to Google survivalist web sites, then hesitated. Something was fishy here. We subscribe to Forbes, and often pick up a WSJ. And I read a lot of books, including economics, and history. So how come I haven't a clue about the impending disaster?

As you know, the Age of Individualism in Blogging is over--it's all teamwork now. And luckily I have a powerful Economic Brain Trust to back me up. A member of the Krugman Truth Squad (Not to be confused with Mr Luskin's pick-up-team of the same name) sent me this:
This line of reasoning has a long and undistinguished track record. It got started in the depression, but became reborn in the 70s when the "Kondratieff Wave" theory became popular. This was a long-run, debt-crisis cycle theory named after a Russian economist prominent in the 1920s and 1930s, Nikolai Kondratieff. It later morphed into the "Elliot Wave" theory which you have probably heard of more recently.

I think of this as neo-mercantilism. The old mercantilists believed the wealth of nations came from piling up gold reserves faster than anyone else. Since buying things abroad would deplete gold they thought it should be discouraged! The debt crisis types have in common with the mercantilists that they see the world in terms of us versus them (foreigners). Imports, debt and U.S. assets owned by foreigners are bad because they somehow weaken us as a nation. What makes us strong, in their view, is self sufficient trade, low foreign debt and strong asset ownership by U.S. nationals. These people are closet protectionists and anti-globalizationists.

Regarding the Whiskey Bar essay specifically, the five bullet points on the first page are either flat-out wrong, are misinterpretations of the facts or are not the problems they are made out to be. There are, however, some major structural shifts going on in the world driven by globalization. For example, the world wage rate for unskilled and semi-skilled labor is increasingly set in Asia, specifically, in southern China. Nothing new about this, but the shift is picking up speed. If industries in the US employing this kind of labor want to compete they will have to pay the world wage. US workers in this category must either upgrade their skills or accept a lower standard of living, i.e., the world wage (again nothing new except the acceleration of the process). Inevitably these kind of industries will prosper more in Asia than in the US.

The second bullet point (that the US trade deficit growth is un-sustainable) is wrong. Not only is it sustainable, it is exactly what you would expect in a world where goods production is being out-sourced to China and the US is increasingly emphasizing knowledge based production. We are the knowledge capital of the world, kids come from all over to study here. We have 3 Turkish students from Princeton U interning with us this summer. When they complete their studies they will will most likely stay here and add to our capital stock in "knowledge technology." This, in turn, attracts massive amounts of foreign investment in knowledge based industries.

To the neo-mercs this is a weakness because it makes us "dependent" on foreign investment. But this is nonsense, because attracting foreign investment is a perfectly natural bi-product of an international division of labor. They are the brawn, we are the brains. The neo-mercs say "what if they stop investing here?"; but the flip side is "what if we stop buying their goods?" Are they assuming some sort of mutual suicide pact?

In addition to this there is the further question of the nationality of ownership. The neo-mercs imply foreign ownership is bad. I say, who cares? The investor class is increasingly international and they provide a much needed check on government shenanigans and misbehavior. What do we have to fear from investors of any nationality looking for a good return?

This is starting to make my hair hurt, but you get the idea. [My thanks to a busy economist who produced this almost instantly when I enquired.]
The title should have tipped me off. There are respectable arguments that America should not get entangled in the Evil World (or should not despoil the Innocent World.) But whenever you see the word Empire these days, you can guess you're not going to find Diogenes looking for an honest debate.

Sunday, June 15, 2003

A well-worn old tool ...

Recently considerable numbers of well-meaning people have been trying to raise the consciousness of dim sluggards like me by heaping scorn on Blogger and urging me to go to MT. Well, much of what they say is true...but there is one aspect of MT that's really crumbly. If you follow a link to an MT post, you only see that one single post. With Blogger, you see the whole week's (or month's) archive. It's an actual weblog you've stumbled into--you can scroll about and see the context of recent posts. And if this person is weblogging on a variety of interesting topics, you will notice that, and know you want to read more...

I recently posted this (it's the one about the Tiger Cruise):
Via Natalie, a very intersting series of posts by James R. Rummel ...
But if you click on the link you don't see the series, just one post.

* CORRECTION: I've got it wrong. Andrea writes:
...That's just because most people have their MT blogs set up on daily archive, not weekly. It is possible to set up the archives weekly so that linking to an individual post will bring up the entire week's posting on the same page. (The link just goes to the targeted post.) For instance, Susanna's page Cut on the Bias  is set up that way. I prefer the daily archiving myself, for a variety of reasons. But you can categorize MT blogs to separate posts into categories (a double-edged sword -- I think I have too many categories now), to bring up the entire month's postings (that's a default setting), and so on. It's just more flexible than Blogger.
Don't get me wrong, Blogger is great, but I think the main problem is that Blogspot is overloaded and so things start getting screwed up. Though I have noticed that Blogspot sites have been well-behaved lately. Maybe the problems are getting fixed, and people will stop fleeing the site. Getting your own server space does cost money after all... 
Actually, I have the paid versions of Blogger/Blogspot and haven't had many problems. (Unless some I-can't-believe-you're-using-blogger type tries to link to me. Then, of course, it breaks.)