Wednesday, February 24, 2010
I think his table manners are better than mine.
In 2005, a Navy Seal team dropped into Afghanistan encountered goat herders who clearly intended to inform the Taliban of their whereabouts. The team leader ordered them released, against his better military judgment, because of his worries about the media and political attacks that would follow.I would have difficulty expressing how angry that sequence of events makes me, so I won't try to express it. I'll note only that our military's consideration in such circumstances wins us no respect or fear or gratitude from our enemies. Those brave Americans lost their lives for less than nothing.
In less than an hour, more than 80 Taliban fighters attacked and killed all but one member of the Seal team and 16 Americans on a helicopter rescue mission.
I know that "auto-antonym" (or "contranym" or "antagonym") means "a word that can be its own antonym." (List; "sanction" is probably the best-known; one missing from the list is "possessed." [Later: "trail" is missing too.]) Is there a term for a pair of words, neither of them auto-antonymous, that can be either synonyms or antonyms—for instance, "retiring" and "outgoing"? Probably not. I can't imagine anyone wasting time contemplating such a pointless subject. (Author slinks away hoping not to be noticed.)
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Most of the economics is far beyond me, but I like what I understand of John Cochrane's observations in this interview by John Cassidy (via Stephen Spruiell).
All science is, to some extent, conservative. You find one butterfly that looks weird, you don’t say, “Oh, Darwin was wrong after all.” We have a similar centuries-long experience that markets work tolerably well, and governments running things works pretty disastrously. We have got to think hard before we throw all of that out.
* * *
A central bank, a lender of last resort, deposit insurances with the supervision that comes with it—these are reasonable regulations. If you just say regulation versus no regulation that becomes an undergraduate 2 A.M. bulls**t fest. Talking about “regulation” vs. “deregulation” in the abstract is pointless. We have to talk about specifics if we want to get anywhere. Stuff like, Do you think credit default swaps should be forced on to exchanges? It’s all very boring to your readers, but unless you are specific you don’t get anywhere.
* * *
In the United States, we’ve had two massive speculative bubbles in ten years. How can that be consistent with the efficient markets hypothesis?
Great, so now you know how to define “bubbles” for me. I’ve been looking for that for twenty years.
* * *
When house prices are high relative to rents, when stock prices are high relative to earnings—that seems to signal a period of low returns. When prices are high relative to earnings, it’s not going to be a great time to invest over the next seven to ten years. That’s a fact. It took us ten years to figure it out, but that’s what (Robert) Shiller’s volatility stuff was about; it is what Gene (Fama)’s regressions in the nineteen-eighties were about. That was a stunning new fact. Before, we would have guessed that prices high relative to earnings means we are going to see great growth in earnings. It turned out to be the opposite. We all agree on the fact. If prices are high relative to earnings that means this is going to be a bad ten years for stocks. It doesn’t reliably predict a crash, just a period of low returns, which sometimes includes a crash, but sometimes not.
* * *
Look, evaluating economic models is a lot harder than just staring out the window and saying, “This is going on. Keynes was right.” Nothing in the incoming data has removed the inconsistencies that plagued Keynesian economics for forty years until it was thrown out. I mean, we threw it out for a reason. It didn’t work in the data. When inflation came in the nineteen-seventies that was a major failure of Keynesian economics. It was logically incoherent.
What happened is the government wanted to spend a lot of money. They said “Keynesian stimulus” and people got excited. What event, what data says we’ve got to go back to Keynesianism? Again, I’m going to throw it back on you. What about it other than that Paul Krugman thinks we need another stimulus tells us that this is an idea to be rehabilitated?
* * *
I’m going to be the government, I’m going to borrow from you, and I’m going to spend it. So over here, that’s more output. But you were going to do something with that dollar, which is now invested in government debt. Now, what else were you going to do with it? Well, you were going to buy a mortgage backed security; you might have bought a car. You were going to do something with that money. So, on basic dollar accounting, if I take that money that’s a dollar more demand, but you have a dollar less demand.
* * *
The other reason I’ve been against the stimulus: it’s pretty clear what the problem with the economy was. For once, we know why stock prices went down, we know why we had a recession. We had a panic. We had a freeze of short-term debt. If somebody falls down with a heart attack, you know he has a clogged artery. A shot of cappuccino is not what he needs right now. What he needs is to unclog the artery. And the Fed was doing some remarkably interesting things about unclogging arteries. Even if (the stimulus) was the solution, it’s the solution to the wrong problem.
* * *
Think about an unemployed accountant in New Jersey, fired from a big bank. How is going to build a road in Montana going to help him? Keynes thought of a world in the nineteen-thirties where labor was more amorphous labor. If you hired people to dig ditches, that would solve the unemployment line in the car industry. We have very specialized labor, and just hiring people doesn’t resolve the problem. Somebody who lost their job in a bank—building more roads is not going to help them.
It’s a long logical leap from the fact of unemployed resources to the proposition that the federal government borrowing another trillion dollars and spending on pork is going to make those resources employed again.
So what should the government response have been?
Not making so many mistakes. First rule: do no harm. What we experienced was a fairly classic bank run, panic, whatever. There were good things the government did. The Fed intervened very creatively, in sort of a classic lender of the last resort way. We also did a lot of stuff—lots of bailouts—that didn’t need to be done. I think the TARP was silly. The equity injections were silly. Lender of the last resort—get frozen markets going again, and get out of the way—is probably plenty.
And don’t cause more panic. There was lots of confusion and uncertainty about: What’s the government going to do? When is it going to do it? Who is going to get bailed out? Who isn’t going to get bailed out? That doesn’t help.
* * *
Where should we go from here? If you were hired as head of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, what would you tell the President?
I’d get fired in about five minutes. I’d start with a broad deregulatory approach to health care reform. There, I just got fired.
* * *
Let’s go back to Bear Stearns. Here we had a proprietary trading group married to a brokerage. We discovered you could have runs on brokerage accounts—that was the systemic thing. So what I thought would happen after that is that Wall Street would say, “Oh wow, we’ve got a problem!” Marrying proprietary trading to brokerage is like managing gambling to bank deposits. What I thought Wall Street would say is: “We’ve got to separate these things. Customers want to know that their brokerage isn’t going to get dragged down by the proprietary trading desk, and we want to separate them fast so that Washington doesn’t come in and regulate us.” Unfortunately, that’s not what happened. What happened is that everybody said, “Aha, the Fed is going to bail us all out. We can keep this game going forever.”
So what I would like to see is a strong (statement): “You guys have got to set this us so it can go bankrupt next time around. And we are going to set it up so we don’t even have the legal authority to bail you out, so you’d better get cracking.”
Sunday, February 21, 2010
Friday, February 19, 2010
Daniel Pipes praises Lee Smith's new book on the Muslim world:
Smith takes as his prooftext Osama bin Laden’s comment in 2001, “When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse.” What Smith calls the strong-horse principle contains two banal elements: Seize power and then maintain it. . . .
Smith argues that the strong-horse principle, not Western imperialism or Zionism, “has determined the fundamental character of the Arabic-speaking Middle East.” The Islamic religion itself both fits into the ancient pattern of strong-horse assertiveness and actively promulgates it. Muhammad, the Islamic prophet, was a strongman as well as a religious figure. . . .
Smith’s prism offers insights into modern Middle East history. He presents Pan-Arab nationalism as an effort to transform the mini-horses of the national states into a single super-horse and Islamism as an effort to make Muslims powerful again. . . . In a strong-horse environment, militias appeal more than do elections. Lacking a strong horse, Arab liberals make little headway. The United States being the most powerful non-Arab and non-Muslim state makes anti-Americanism both inevitable and endemic.
Which brings us to the policies of non-Arab actors: Unless they are forceful and show true staying power, Smith stresses, they lose. Being nice — say, withdrawing unilaterally from southern Lebanon and Gaza — leads to inevitable failure. . . .
Walid Jumblatt, a Lebanese leader, has half-seriously suggested that Washington “send car bombs to Damascus” to get its message across and signal its understanding of Arab ways.
Smith’s simple and near-universal principle provides a tool to comprehend the Arabs’ cult of death, honor killings, terrorist attacks, despotism, warfare, and much else. He acknowledges that the strong-horse principle may strike Westerners as ineffably crude, but he correctly insists on its being a cold reality that outsiders must recognize, take into account, and respond to.
Some critics are like chimney-sweepers, they put out the fire below, or frighten the swallows from their nests above; they scrape a long time in the chimney, cover themselves with soot, and bring nothing away but a bag of cinders, and then sing from the top of the house as if they had built it.— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Thursday, February 18, 2010
Anthony Daniels (no free link) in the 2/8 National Review:
My experiences of Latin American revolutionary movements also led me to conclude that people rarely take to violence for the sake of freedom. Power is much more attractive to them than freedom, which necessitates the difficult discipline of toleration; liberation movements, so called, fight for the freedom to boss other people about because they know what is right for them. They are about the replacement of one elite by another, not infrequently worse because even more self-righteous.And:
All in all, I am skeptical of the prospects before Iran. The Iranian revolution of 1979 enjoyed support not because it promised freedom, at least in any form that we know it. And even if the current government committed electoral fraud, it was not on such a massive scale as to imply a population near-unanimously in favor of the government’s overthrow, let alone its violent overthrow, or a regime that commands absolutely no popular support. It is far from certain that a regime of the kind that the opposition would like to install would enjoy majority support, being based as it would be on an unrepresentative educated elite, in which case the possibilities for extremely violent conflict would be strong. It is very rare in history that freedom has emerged from such violence, and rarer still in countries like Iran; those who claim to fight for freedom have often been all too ready to resort to extreme force to defend their own power. I hope that I am wrong.
Monday, February 15, 2010
Sunday, February 14, 2010
A comment on this enraging post (via Instapundit), about a woman who abandoned her husband while he was stationed in Iraq (first sentence: "You'd be surprised how easy it is to leave a soldier on deployment"), hints at one reason the military is right to ban gays from its ranks:
Getting Dear John Letters suck. I’m a Marine and got one when I was in El Sal in the late 80’s. If you’re in a line unit and getting some trigger time it tends to eff up your focus cuz in 100 plus degree heat, triple canopy jungle on patrol your mind wanders off and before you know it you’re thinking about the witch and not paying attention to the business.I've never served, so I can only guess at how charged the atmosphere is among troops far from home. But I know that in civilian work environments, which I presume are far less stressful, sexuality can cause serious problems, and not only for the parties directly involved. Sexual jealousy is especially corrosive. Should the military introduce into the life-and-death circumstance of deployment such complicated and complicating emotions? Couldn't these emotions weaken and possibly destroy the mutual trust soldiers need in order to perform effectively, and even survive? I imagine they easily could.
Screw that dirty bitch I hope she get V warts from her hippie boyfriend.
I defer to the military's judgment here. If they decide that admitting gays is better than prohibiting them, I'll gladly accept that I've been wrong. But that path seems to me perilous.
John Derbyshire strikes a Dalrymplean note:
The probity and integrity of Britain's major social systems are being destroyed by the "diversity" cult. The end point of this will be a Middle Eastern bazaar culture, where system-gamers run the show and people who adhere to old-fashioned British standards of honorable and public-spirited behavior will be regarded as fools and losers.
Commenting on Rep. Paul Ryan's proposal for governmental reform, Ramesh Ponnuru makes points applicable to political change in general:
Many Republicans have complained that President Obama's agenda is too ambitious: that it attempts to do too many things at once, indeed to transform America. Conservatives have said that health-care reform should take the form of modest steps that reduce our problems with cost, access, and portability rather than an attempt to have Congress rationalize the entire system. Rep. Ryan's plan is the mirror image of Obama's agenda. It attempts to move America in a free-market rather than social-democratic direction, and I support that goal; but it is just as transformational, just as ambitious, just as immodest. I don't think that the public, or the political system, can bear this type of comprehensive change. Nor do I believe the public really wants our politicians to offer a complete 100-year solution to making entitlements solvent; I suspect it would need them to prove first that they are equipped to make headway against the problem before it would trust anything so sweeping.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Praise for two books on the violence and oppression inherent in Islam. From one, by Wafa Sultan:
No one can be a true Muslim and a true American simultaneously. Islam is both a religion and a state, and to be a true Muslim you must believe in Islam as both religion and state. A true Muslim does not acknowledge the U.S. Constitution, and his willingness to live under that constitution is, as far as he is concerned, nothing more than an unavoidable step on the way to the constitution’s replacement by Islamic Sharia law.
Friday, February 12, 2010
Mark Steyn on some leftist reasoning:
[T]he Supreme Court of Canada has denounced the use of sleep deprivation techniques on KSM’s fellow Gitmo poster boy, Omar Khadr. . . .Also:
There are many reasons why Canadians might be appalled by the Khadr family’s story. They might be mad at Immigration Canada for letting ’em in and giving ’em citizenship in the first place. They might be furious at Jean Chrétien for personally intervening to get ol’ Pop Khadr sprung from jail in Pakistan so he could resume his, ahem, “charity work.” Canadians might reasonably be steamed at this magazine for peddling the same old sob-sister hooey as the other media eunuchs in the politically correct harem: “Caught in a muddle: an arrested aid worker appeals for Chrétien’s help” (Maclean’s, Jan. 9, 1996). They might be ever so slightly peeved at young Omar’s brother, paralyzed in a firefight in Pakistan and not fancying a prison hospital in Peshawar, flying “home” to Toronto to enjoy the benefits of Ontario health care.
They might raise an ever so slightly quizzical eyebrow at M. Chrétien for telling another of Omar’s brothers, a mere weapons purchaser for al-Qaeda, that “once I was a son of a farmer, and I became prime minister. Maybe one day you will become one.” Indeed.
But instead Canadians reserve their rage and fury for Omar Khadr’s capture and detention by the Americans. In less enlightened times, he would have been regarded as a traitor. Today, he’s the Billy Bishop of the new war, a hero to all the usual campaigners for “justice,” the ones who managed to maintain a scrupulous indifference to the fates of Omar’s fellow Canadians Bill Sampson, tortured by the Saudis, and Zahra Kazemi, questioned to death by the Iranian authorities.
By the standards applied to Iraq, the Kosovo campaign was not only illegal, it was so illegal Blair and Clinton didn’t even bother to try to make it look legal. No attempt at UN resolutions there. They just cried “Bombs away!” and got on with it. And nobody minds.
Why? Because, for an advanced Western nation in the 21st century, war is only legitimate if you have no conceivable national interest in whatever war you’re waging. Kosovo meets that definition: no one remembers why we went in, who were the good guys, or what the hell the point of it was. Which is the point: the principal rationale was that there was no rationale. The Clinton/Blair argument boiled down to: the fact that we have no reason to get into it justifies our getting into it. Whereas Afghanistan and Iraq are morally dubious if not outright illegal precisely because Britain and America behaved as nation states acting in their national interest. And we’re not meant to do that anymore.
Erik V. Kuehnelt-Leddihn, 1965:
Americans are by nature generous and quickly forget insults and injuries. Europeans, on the other hand, not only have long memories but, their comparative lack of generosity often makes them spiteful and even envious. Envy is Europe's most widespread and terrible disease. After a great upheaval Americans will ask themselves “Where do we go from here?” whereas Europeans, their gaze always fixed on the past, will continue to act under the influence of past experiences, memories, and grievances. (In this respect the Latin American is very much like the European; events that took place 400 years ago have not in the least been effaced from historic memory.)
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Obama’s national security team is like the Iran and Iraq war: I keep looking for somebody to root for, and just find more villains. . . . You would call them the gang that can’t shoot straight, except that their aim seems to magically improve once the target is somebody pointing out the administration’s failures.
Monday, February 8, 2010
Theodore Dalrymple, reflecting on British and American culture in general and Tony Blair in particular:
The manner with which something is said has come to be more important than what is said. Saying nothing, but with sufficient emotional vehemence or appearance of sincerity, has become the mark of the serious man.
Sunday, February 7, 2010
Thursday, February 4, 2010
Theodore Dalrymple receives a parking fine:
[T]here was something almost indecent in the haste with which I received the ticket, by comparison with what would have happened, say, if my car had been broken into and I had reported it to the police. . . .
One would have no cause for complaint or grounds for suspicion if other and more important aspects of the rules were applied with similar rigour and efficiency, but of course this is not so. . . . My working-class patients used to tell me regularly that the police refused to entertain their complaints that their houses had been burgled. This, of course, was only natural: the police have the task not of reducing crime, but of reducing the crime figures, and by far the easiest and most efficient way of doing that is to manipulate them.
[L]ook at these two pictures: First, the Cairo University class of 1978, with every woman bare-headed; second, the Cairo University class of 2004, hijabed to the hilt.
Whenever I give a speech on Islam, some or other complacenik always says, "Oh, but they haven't had time to Westernize. Just you wait and see. Give it another 20 years, and the siren song of Westernization will work its magic." This argument isn't merely speculative, it's already been proved wrong by what's happened over the last 20 years. Compare the Cairo University class of 1959 with those of the 21st century. . . . The idea that social progress is like the wheel or the internal combustion engine — once invented, it can never be uninvented — is one of the laziest assumptions of the Western Left.
Question: what do the 9/11 killers, the Shoebomber, the Heathrow plotters, the Pantybomber, the London Tube bombers, the doctors who drove a flaming SUV through the concourse of Glasgow Airport and the would-be killers of Danish cartoonists all have in common? Answer: they’re Muslim. Sometimes they’re Muslims with box cutters, sometimes they’re Muslims with flaming shoes, sometimes they’re Muslims with liquids and gels, sometimes they’re Muslims with fully loaded underwear. But the Muslim bit is a constant. What we used to call a fact. But America’s leaders cannot state that simple fact, and so the TSA is obliged to pretend that all seven billion inhabitants of this planet represent an equal threat.
There is no point today in Republicans’ continuing to try to win over the average black voter by acting like imitation Democrats. Those who like what the Democrats are doing are going to vote for real Democrats.
But not all black voters are the same, any more than all white voters are the same. Those black voters that Republicans have any realistic chance of winning over are people who share similar values and concerns.
They want their children to get a decent education, which they are unlikely to get so long as public schools are a monopoly run for the benefit of the teachers’ unions, instead of for the education of the children. . . .
But when have you ever heard a Republican candidate get up and hammer the teachers’ unions for blocking every attempt to give parents — black or white — the choice of where to send their children? . . .
Blacks have been lied to so much that straight talk can gain their respect, even if they don’t agree with everything you say. Republicans need all the credibility they can get. When they try to be imitation Democrats, all they do is forfeit credibility.
Jay Nordlinger quotes Paul Johnson:
Before the advent of Political Correctness — the system of censorship which has settled over the English-speaking world like a dense cloud of phosgene gas — clever people were unashamed of being eccentric. This applied particularly to dons. I am reminded of this by browsing through a gigantic book, Magdalen College, Oxford: A History, edited by L.W.B. Brockliss. How lucky I was to go to that magical place when the people who ran it were still totally self-confident, and not afraid, as Belloc put it, ‘to shout the absolute across the hall’. [. . .]Nordlinger adds, "And how sorry am I to have gone to college — and other schools — in this wretched Age of Political Correctness."
Valiant US Marines had spent months pacifying parts of Helmand Province; they believed they were making progress -- then, in a blink, the local people turned.
All it took was a bogus rumor that our troops had desecrated a Koran. Thousands of furious Afghans rioted in the Garmsir bazaar, a commercial hub. Their confrontation with Afghan security forces turned deadly. Eight rioters gave their lives because they believed a Koran had been abused.
The locals had never staged a protest over the lack of jobs or the need for aid. But they were willing to die for their holy book.
Shouldn't that tell us something about how Afghans think?
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Instapundit points to this story at the New York Post's site:
Never mind, stupid question.
A city Department of Correction Muslim chaplain who served 14 years in prison for murder and robbery was arrested today for carrying three utility blades and a pair of scissors into a lower Manhattan jail — the latest in a series of black eyes for that facility, authorities said.Here's how AP tells it (at the New York Times's site):
The attorney of a jails chaplain charged with trying to smuggle three razor blades and a pair of scissors into a lockup said Wednesday there's ''absolutely no reason to believe'' his client knew the items were in his bag. . . .The AP account nowhere mentions that the chaplain is Muslim; "a Muslim skullcap" is as close as it gets. Its first sentence emphasizes not the suspect's alleged crime, but his defense. And the final paragraph is masterful: a bar mitzvah—that's as serious as smuggling in deadly weapons, isn't it? Plus it's Jewish, so there's a nice balance. And not specifying the religion of the "different chaplain" who helped arrange it—who knows, maybe it was the Muslim chaplain then too. Incidentally, the Times's 6/11/09 article on the investigation into the bar mitzvah identifies one performer there as "a popular Orthodox singer." So his faith is relevant, but not that of the chaplain arrested today?
An officer discovered the contraband inside the bag and Abdu-Shahid was taken into custody wearing long, blue robes and a Muslim skullcap, the DOI said. . . .
In 2009, a different chaplain assigned to the same jail resigned after being linked to a lavish, catered bar mitzvah that was organized for the son of an inmate at the lockup. Three other jail officials also were disciplined, including the warden and the head of the city's jail chaplains, over their roles in allowing the bash.
Never mind, stupid question.