Friday, 31 December 2004

Michael Scheuer or Anonymous

I’ve been seeing Michael Scheuer, or Anonymous, author of Imperial Hubris, all over the place recently—apparently his resignation from the CIA has released the muzzle somewhat—and I don’t quite know what to make of him. I would venture to say that he’s one of the more inscrutable people in the news these days, with Kerry being in retirement and all.

Depending on who is quoting him—or if he’s doing the writing—he is either opposed to President Bush’s policy in the Middle East or thinks it needs to be ratcheted up; thinks we are losing our soft power or will have to resolve to do more of the dirty work ourselves. He’s referenced in the former capacity in an FT article that could have been written by Brad DeLong:

The self-serving fallacies of the they-hate-us-for-our-freedoms industry have been criticised in recent books from, for example, the former CIA official in charge of pursuing Osama bin Laden, Michael Scheuer (Imperial Hubris), and the Palestinian-American historian Rashid Khalidi (Resurrecting Empire). Both argue it is the policies of the US and its allies that have ignited such rage in the Arab and Muslim world.
He wrote a column for the Washington Times that advocates a unilateral approach to the war on terror that requires a great deal more killing on the part of the U.S.:
Simply put, the thinking that expects others to do our dirty — and very bloody — work should have died with the fall of the Berlin Wall. If America is to win its worldwide battle with Islamist insurgents and terrorists, it will have to do its own dirty work whenever it has a chance to do so, even at the cost of heavier human casualties than we have suffered to date. This is not to say we do not need allies, for we surely do. What we need, however, is a consistently commonsense perspective that sees that no two nations have identical national interests; that no country will ever do all we want; and that to survive we must act with U.S. military and CIA assets whenever a chance arises, even if supporting intelligence is not perfect. This modus operandi will take a steady application of moral courage at a level unseen in Washington for 15 years.

In weighing the foregoing, readers might ask themselves two questions: 1) How can it be that Pakistan’s military has suffered far more casualties than U.S. forces in the war on bin Laden?; and 2) Whatever happened to the “Major 2004 Afghan Spring Offensive” that the Pentagon’s multi-starred general-bureaucrats leaked news of to the media back in January 2004? At least one answer to each question is that our governing elites are still desperate to find others to do our dirty work.

I don’t understand this guy and reading additional articles either by or about him are of no help. The views don’t seem entirely irreconcilable—I’ve always viewed saying that the Islamists “hate our freedom” as shorthand for them being opposed to our values, which they are—and we could stand to disengage from much of the Middle East, though I wouldn’t favor abandoning Israel or Iraq. Anyone care to square this circle?

Why are we allies with these f*cking guys? Even nominally?

Good article from the WaPo on the threat of nuclear terror. The first two paragraphs alone are infuriating:

Of all the clues that Osama bin Laden is after a nuclear weapon, perhaps the most significant came in intelligence reports indicating that he received fresh approval last year from a Saudi cleric for the use of a doomsday bomb against the United States.

For bin Laden, the religious ruling was a milestone in a long quest for an atomic weapon. For U.S. officials and others, it was a frightening reminder of what many consider the ultimate mass-casualty threat posed by modern terrorists. Even a small nuclear weapon detonated in a major American population center would be among history’s most lethal acts of war, potentially rivaling the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I can’t stand the Saudis. It’s a bizarre world when we are supposedly allied with these monsters. It’s also a bizarre world that allows the Saudis to stay off the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

The closing paragraphs provide a good case for regime change in Saudi Arabia:

Al Qaeda has been on the run since the United States deprived it of a haven in Afghanistan, making it more difficult for the group to operate on such an ambitious scale.

“At this moment, they are less capable of carrying out an operation like this because it would require so many different experts and operatives,” Benjamin said. “But even a depleted group could do it if they got the right breaks.”

The Saudis are in need of the Afghanistan treatment. We don’t have the resources to do it at the moment, and maybe it won’t be necessary, but it should remain an option. At a minimum they should go on the list of state sponsors of terror.

(þ: Winds of Change)

Thursday, 30 December 2004

If we're pissing them off we must be doing something right

Another sentiment borrowed from Spoons, though he said it in relation to Muslim countries. I would say it applies to theocrats and other tyrants equally well, including Stalinists:

North Korea on Friday threatened to cut off diplomatic contact with Japan amid a controversy over the communist state’s abduction of Japanese citizens.

Tension between the two countries has increased since Japanese officials alleged that purported human remains of two kidnapping victims recently returned by the North were proven by DNA tests to belong to other people. Some Japanese politicians have called for sanctions against Pyongyang, a move that North Korea has warned would be tantamount to a declaration of war.

North Korea has insisted the remains are authentic and repeated its call Friday for their return, and has alleged the controversy was manufactured by right-wing Japanese politicians.

“Now that it has become clear that the Japanese government has openly joined the ultra-right forces in their moves against the DPRK it no longer feels that any DPRK-Japan inter-governmental contact is meaningful,” an unnamed spokesman from North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said, referring to the country by the abbreviation for its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Of course, this is followed by the obligatory threat of force by the DPRK against Japan. This is one area where President Bush has perfromed admirably: the six-way talks. As long as the five parties engaged with North Korea remain unified, it will give the North less wiggle room. All of the parties have a stake in seeing North Korea collapse or give up its nukes. Hopefully it will happen soon, but whatever we do we shouldn’t let North Korea snooker us into bilateral talks that undermine the six-way talks.

Wednesday, 29 December 2004

No democracy for brown people

Title stolen shamelessly from Spoons. He objects to reserving positions for Sunnis, as does Kris. I’m not as concerned with it at the moment because it is just another interim government which will draft a permanent constitution.

Over the longer run, they have a point, though I suspect Kris would disagree with me; maybe Spoons too. Iraq seems like a country that screams out for federalism. In their case, establishing states (or provinces) to act as a counterbalance to the central government. If they created a Senate that represented these provinces it would insure de facto representation for the Shias, Sunnis and Kurds at the federal level.

As for permanently setting aside “Sunni” positions in the executive? Seems like a bad idea, though giving them equal representation in the Senate is a good idea—after they’ve ceased the violence and allowed elections to proceed in their area.

Creative destruction

Apparently Norm Mineta can’t figure out why the legacy airlines are in such big trouble. (þ Brian J. Noggle)

He could save us taxpayers a bit of money by just reading Virginia Postrel’s weblog. More succinctly: U.S. Airways sucks monkey balls, and they’re tightwad scum too.

Keeping up with the Majors

Belhaven College wants to upgrade its home football field, which it shares with Jackson Public Schools, to have better facilities and artificial turf.

Left unmentioned is that Belhaven’s generous offer to pay for most of the renovations might have something to do with field envy for the new surface at Harper Davis Field a few hundred yards west. It’s gotta stick in those Presbyterians’ craws that us Methodists have ourselves a better football field.

Broken when I'm lonesome

I apparently have a love-hate relationship with my students; in my mailbox at work today were a Christmas card from a student and my abysmal (at least by Millsaps standards) course evaluations. Four students in my intro class apparently thought it would be amusing to give me the lowest possible ranking on all 19 questions, even such procedural items as “gives clear directions” and “presents [material] in a clear sequence.” Ah well, at least I “demonstrate knowledge” of what I’m teaching…

My response to all this, of course, was to finish my SPSA paper on voting in recent presidential elections and continue getting organized for my trip to Florida tomorrow.

Why not just have governors appoint judges?

I’ve never understood the fascination with electing judges. I’m a political junkie and I usually leave the ballot space for judges blank simply because I don’t know enough about them to make an informed decision. More reason to have governors appoint judges ($):

Nine out of ten American judges stand for election. The theory is admirably democratic: if the people who make laws are elected, why shouldn’t those who interpret them be too? But that theory is increasingly coming into conflict with the idea that judges should be impartial.

Until recently, judicial candidates were usually prevented from saying much, on the basis that it could later raise questions about the courts’ independence. Conservatives have long fumed that such curbs have let “activist judges” hide their views on subjects such as abortion; the restrictions, they add, infringe free speech. In 2002 the Supreme Court agreed: in Republican Party of Minnesota v White, it struck down Minnesota’s “announce clause” prohibiting judicial candidates from airing their views on disputed issues.

Dead Again (Again)

Allow me another plug for the one, the only, Dead Pool 2005… and tell ’em we sent you. It’s all in good fun, and there’s no fee to enter, although Lair may get testy with you if you don’t have a blog. All you have to do is pick the 15 semi-famous people you think are gonna die in 2005. So, in the immortal (or at least immoral) words of Gwen Stefani, ”what you waitin’ for?”

Britain's older poll tax

Jane Galt is amazed to discover Britain’s television police, responsible for ensuring the BBC gets its £121 a year from TV-watching Britons—even if they never watch the BBC. From the article:

The fee is very much a part of British life. It is a criminal offense for anyone with a television set not to pay it, whether they watch the BBC or not. Fee-evasion cases make up 12 percent of the caseload in magistrates’ courts. Although most evaders are fined, 20 people were imprisoned for nonpayment last year.

The BBC took in £3.9 billion ($7.5 billion) from the fee in 1993, but 5.7 percent of television owners still failed to pay. TV Licensing regularly carries out campaigns to warn them about the consequences of inaction that say, for instance, “Get one or get done” – “getting done” being slang for getting caught.

Enforcement officers visit homes and businesses about three million times a year. They have a variety of weapons at hand, including a law that requires retailers to notify the government whenever someone buys a television; a database with TV-owning information about 28 million Britons; and specially equipped vans and hand-held devices that can detect unlawful television-watching.

The predecessor of the TV licence, the radio licence, went away in 1971. For more details, visit the TV Licensing website, where you can learn about the TV licence in 12 different languages.

Tuesday, 28 December 2004

All Kerry needs are 416 more recounts and the election is his.

Happy Birthday, Linus!

Today is the 35th birthday of Linus Torvalds, principal author of the Linux kernel.

The Long War

We finally have a new title for the war on terror: The Long War. The term comes from General John Abizaid and is passed along via David Ignatius. Here’s a clip of Ignatius’s column:

Gen. John Abizaid probably commands the most potent military force in history. The troops of his Central Command are arrayed across the jagged crescent of the Middle East, from Egypt to Pakistan, in an overwhelming projection of U.S. power. He travels with his own mini-government: a top State Department officer to manage diplomacy; a senior CIA officer to oversee intelligence; a retinue of generals and admirals to supervise operations and logistics. If there is a modern Imperium Americanum, Abizaid is its field general.

I traveled this month with Abizaid as he visited Iraq and other areas of his command. Over several days, I heard him discuss his strategy for what he calls the “Long War” to contain Islamic extremism in Centcom’s turbulent theater of operations. We talked about the current front in Iraq, and the longer-term process of change in the Middle East, which Abizaid views as the ultimate strategic challenge.

“We control the air, the sea and the ground militarily,” Abizaid told one audience, and in conventional terms, he’s unquestionably right. From its headquarters near the huge new U.S. airbase in Qatar, Centcom’s military reach stretches in every direction: To the west, the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet has its base in Bahrain; to the north, the aircraft carrier USS Harry Truman and its task force are steaming on patrol in the Persian Gulf; to the east, more than 17,000 troops are working to stabilize postwar Afghanistan; to the south, about 1,000 troops are keeping a lid on the Horn of Africa. And to the northwest lies the bloody battlefield of Iraq, where nearly 150,000 of Abizaid’s soldiers are fighting a determined insurgency.

For all of America’s military might, the Long War that has begun in the Middle East poses some tough strategic questions. What is the nature of the enemy? If the United States is so powerful, why is it having such difficulty in Iraq? What will victory look like, in Iraq and elsewhere in the Islamic world? And how long will the conflict take?

Sometimes I find Ignatius irritating, but he’s always enlightening. He probably intends it that way. In any case, I never question which side he’s on and always respect him for his candor.

Over the long term, what we are trying to do is alter a culture. To marginalize the radical Islamists, in the same way that Nazis have been marginalized, and show the moderate Muslims of the Middle East that they can practice their religion peacefully and that modernity isn’t something to be afraid of. As the earlier link explains, it won’t be easy. The Muslim culture in the Middle East doesn’t recognize the seperation of church and state and the only way the leaders in the Middle East have succeeded in the past is through despotism. Of course, this served their own ends as well, so I’m not convinced that despotism is the only way to govern in the ME.

A couple of years ago an economist, Alan Krueger of Princeton, ran a test to see if terrorism is tied to poverty, which is a fairly common claim. The answer he got was no. Instead, he found that it’s tied to political repression. Winning The Long War will require undoing the repression of the Middle East and convincing the people that they can live in an open society.

Not a small task, not one that will be won through the military alone and not one that will end any time soon.

Monday, 27 December 2004

Intelligent Design

I’ve mentioned this before, and I favor evolution over ID, but I thought I would address one of The Evangelical Outpost’s commenters, Mr. Ed:

Why is it that simple? It seems you are making ‘science’ an arbitrary label. What is it that makes ID antithetical to science. And what is so different about the set of deductions that leads to a theory of evolutions and the set of deductions that leads to a theory of ID?
Answer: ID is based on what is not known, whereas evolution is based on what is known, i.e. can be proven.

You know, it occurs to me that there is a solution to the teaching of ID in schools: have school vouchers.

Geography lessons

Here’s a bit of a doozy from

Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama has been chosen by the United States Soccer Federation for the first home qualifier in March when the national team will face Guatemala.

It will be the third time Birmingham, home of Auburn University, will host the national team, but it is the first World Cup qualifier for the stadium. In March of 2002, the U.S. beat Ecuador 1–0 on an Eddie Lewis goal – but the stakes will be much, much bigger on March 31st.

Aside from the minor geographic problem with the article, though, it also appears they got the date wrong, which means I’ll be watching on ESPN2 (since I teach Wednesdays) instead of going to Birmingham for the game.

Rule 1: You don't talk about Poll Club

A Kansas sports page editor is inviting a visit from the media neutrality goons:

The Associated Press is the largest news-gathering agency in the world. In this country, it hasn’t had any real competition since United Press International went belly-up about a quarter-center ago. The AP’s mantra, like all media, is to report the news.

At the same time, however, the AP manufactures news. That’s what a poll is. Manufactured news. Polls are released Mondays or Tuesdays because those are the traditionally slow news days, and the polls fills air space on radio and TV and columns in newspapers.

Basically an AP poll is a bunch of media-types—in this case sports writers and sportscasters—who band together to produce news that isn’t really news in order to sell more newspapers and lure more listeners and viewers. There’s nothing wrong with that in a business sense, but more and more, newspapers, in particular, are beginning to sense they’re sending the wrong message.

The media engaging in agenda setting and making up news? Never!


My cousin Melvin Ely’s most recent book, Israel on the Appomattox: A Southern Experiment in Black Freedom from the 1790s Through the Civil War continues to draw rave reviews; the latest is from James A. Miller in Sunday’s Boston Globe.

Update: Joe Gandelman uncovered the article on his own and has some interesting thoughts (and discussion) on the matter. Comments of my own below the fold.

Sunday, 26 December 2004

The Aviator

In spite of a good deal of trivial knowledge on other subjects, I went into The Aviator knowing almost nothing about Howard Hughes other than he was involved in both movies and airplanes, and little more. Knowing a good deal more now, having seen the movie and read a bit on him, he seems like a fascinating figure with most of the qualities one expects from someone that accomplished so much.

He was eccentric, to put it mildly. He had an apparent mental disorder and he’s remarkably like the typical Scorsese protagonist. He’s tormented, he treats women like objects—though he needs them horribly to stay balanced, and his life becomes increasingly unbearable as he distances himself from them—but he doesn’t descend into violence (at least in the movie), unlike Travis Bickle or Jake LaMotta.

I’m surprised to say that this movie is better than Gangs of New York, but not by much. It took me a while to forget that Leonardo DiCaprio was playing Hughes, but after thirty minutes or so I had accepted it. DiCaprio did a really good job, but it’s hard for him to age as a character. He still has a boyish quality. Oddly, though, in spite of this, he got better as the movie progressed because the movie works well. In spite of its length (almost three hours), I never looked at my watch, which I did about twenty minutes into Ocean’s Twelve.

It’s a fascinating movie and, if you like Scorsese movies, you will love this one. Surprisingly little violence, almost no nudity (typical) but some bizarre dementia, like obsessively peeing in bottles and becoming reclusive.

[I said I would see it a couple of weeks ago, but obviously didn't since it only went into wide release yesterday.]

Saturday, 25 December 2004

Desperately in need of an Enlightenment, or Reformation

What follows is a rather long excerpt and it is excellent, but the entire essay is worth a thorough read. David Brooks has done well on his first set of Hookies (to clarify, the column is linked to by Mr. Brooks and is written by Mr. Dalrymple of City Journal):

Anyone who lives in a city like mine and interests himself in the fate of the world cannot help wondering whether, deeper than this immediate cultural desperation, there is anything intrinsic to Islam—beyond the devout Muslim’s instinctive understanding that secularization, once it starts, is like an unstoppable chain reaction—that renders it unable to adapt itself comfortably to the modern world. Is there an essential element that condemns the Dar al-Islam to permanent backwardness with regard to the Dar al-Harb, a backwardness that is felt as a deep humiliation, and is exemplified, though not proved, by the fact that the whole of the Arab world, minus its oil, matters less to the rest of the world economically than the Nokia telephone company of Finland?

I think the answer is yes, and that the problem begins with Islam’s failure to make a distinction between church and state. Unlike Christianity, which had to spend its first centuries developing institutions clandestinely and so from the outset clearly had to separate church from state, Islam was from its inception both church and state, one and indivisible, with no possible distinction between temporal and religious authority. Muhammad’s power was seamlessly spiritual and secular (although the latter grew ultimately out of the former), and he bequeathed this model to his followers. Since he was, by Islamic definition, the last prophet of God upon earth, his was a political model whose perfection could not be challenged or questioned without the total abandonment of the pretensions of the entire religion.

But his model left Islam with two intractable problems. One was political. Muhammad unfortunately bequeathed no institutional arrangements by which his successors in the role of omnicompetent ruler could be chosen (and, of course, a schism occurred immediately after the Prophet’s death, with some—today’s Sunnites—following his father-in-law, and some—today’s Shi’ites—his son-in-law). Compounding this difficulty, the legitimacy of temporal power could always be challenged by those who, citing Muhammad’s spiritual role, claimed greater religious purity or authority; the fanatic in Islam is always at a moral advantage vis-à-vis the moderate. Moreover, Islam—in which the mosque is a meetinghouse, not an institutional church—has no established, anointed ecclesiastical hierarchy to decide such claims authoritatively. With political power constantly liable to challenge from the pious, or the allegedly pious, tyranny becomes the only guarantor of stability, and assassination the only means of reform. Hence the Saudi time bomb: sooner or later, religious revolt will depose a dynasty founded upon its supposed piety but long since corrupted by the ways of the world.

The second problem is intellectual. In the West, the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment, acting upon the space that had always existed, at least potentially, in Christianity between church and state, liberated individual men to think for themselves, and thus set in motion an unprecedented and still unstoppable material advancement. Islam, with no separate, secular sphere where inquiry could flourish free from the claims of religion, if only for technical purposes, was hopelessly left behind: as, several centuries later, it still is.

The indivisibility of any aspect of life from any other in Islam is a source of strength, but also of fragility and weakness, for individuals as well as for polities. Where all conduct, all custom, has a religious sanction and justification, any change is a threat to the whole system of belief. Certainty that their way of life is the right one thus coexists with fear that the whole edifice—intellectual and political—will come tumbling down if it is tampered with in any way. Intransigence is a defense against doubt and makes living on terms of true equality with others who do not share the creed impossible.

I’ve just quoted a major block, but perhaps the best sentence in the whole article is this:
In my experience, devout Muslims expect and demand a freedom to criticize, often with perspicacity, the doctrines and customs of others, while demanding an exaggerated degree of respect and freedom from criticism for their own doctrines and customs.
Given the amazing silence as their religion is tarnished—beheadings, suicide bombings, forced inbred marriages, do I really need a fourth?—I suspect that the propensity for violence against those that are apostate has a profound chilling effect on any Muslims that favor modernity. The endless sense of entitlement among the apologists for the radicals is something I still don’t understand.

Mr. Dalrymple has written an excellent essay. He points out, correctly in my estimation, that over the long run the radical Islamists will lose and modernity will win. Eventually they will have created so much misery, and will have fallen so far behind the rest of the world, that “winning” will be impossible. In the mean time, the people that are trapped by the radicals will live in misery and others will live less secure lives than they otherwise might.

At a time when multiculturalism is being touted as a virtue in and of itself, without regard to the nature of other cultures, I am thankful that we are not paralyzed to inaction. My hope is that our current actions in Iraq will make the long run much shorter.

Update: Brock makes a good point in the comments: Mr. Dalrymple is focusing on the broader Muslim culture and I'm conflating the broader culture with the radicals. See the comments for more discussion.

The lesser known "I Have A Scream" speech

Tim Blair is doing the heavy lifting on Christmas and has compiled a number of quotes, broken down by month, from the past year. One of his commenters did a spin on the “I Have A Scream” speech by Howard Dean, which is hilarious:

And you know something? You know something? Not only are we going to Space Mountain, we’re going to the tea cups and Mr. Toads Wild Ride and the Pirates of the Carribbean and the Jungle Adventure and the Matterhorn! We’re going to the Haunted Mansion and Main Street and It’s a Small World! And we’re going to the Tiki Room and the Coutry Bear Jamboree and the Luau and a character breakfast! And then we’re going to the Electric Light Parade. To take back Cinderella’s Castle! YEEEAAARGH!!
Tim has several posts; just keep scrolling.

Right-wing sociopaths

If you begin your discourse with the notion that your political opponents are sociopaths, you’re not off to a good start. Apparently Barbara O’Brien does precisely that. Steven Taylor provides a good response to her claim that people on the right are “sociopaths” (I followed the link from Chris’s post that wonders whether we here at Signifying Nothing are indeed “right wing”).

Since Steven has already addressed her in some detail, I want to address a more narrow topic: her forgiveness of Lew Rockwell and his fetishists simply because they oppose the Iraqi war. This I find simply amazing. My disdain for Rockwell is known (look here) and I should add that I have a similar disdain for his contemporaries, Paul Craig Roberts and Jude Wanniski. They all fit under the labels “paleo-con” or “paleo-libertarian” and I find them all equally reprehensible. Each time one of them publishes, the sum of human knowledge is diminished.

I’ve gone into my own views with regard to natural liberty just recently and I don’t want to rehash it again. I do want to mention that, at a quick glance, my views might seem similar to those of Rockwell, et. al. They’re not.

The Rockwell fetishists are using their opposition to the Iraqi war as a means of giving greater exposure to some views—such as homophobia and xenophobia—that I find intolerable. They’ve been apologists for Jim Crow as well, which you won’t find me doing.

Why, when they throw the far left a bone, such as opposition to the Iraqi war, do purportedly rational and “reality-based” leftists overlook numerous flaws? Is it because they find America and its supposed “world hegemony” more appalling than the very real views of these idiots? I don’t know why, but it’s there for everyone to see:

Now, a rightie reading this might be saying, you are stereotyping righties. Well, no, I don’t think so. There are conservatives who write with reason and factual support, but they don’t tend to be part of the rightie pack. A good example is the libertarian Lew Rockwell site, which features a lot of articles with which I do not necessarily agree, but to which the authors have applied some independent reasoning and factual support.

But then, as Mr. Rockwell does think for himself and considers facts, he is not a big George Bush supporter.

The bald truth is that to be a Bush supporter means that you are (a) ignorant of what’s going on; (b) suffering massive cognitive dissonance; or© are a soulless sociopathic bastard.

Apparently, these days, all you have to do is hate George Bush passionately to avoid being a “sociopath”. Ms. O’Brien’s ravings are beyond parody, which makes me glad that I haven’t read her site in the past—and will not see it in the future.

Mongolia Considered

The NYT has a fascinating, for me, article on the free market leanings of Mongolia. Given its geography—it’s landlocked between Russia and China—I find it kind of surprising that they have such strong pro-market and pro-democracy leanings. Their current PM is apparently a student of Hayek and Friedman:

In the army, he was so diligent in running a Revolutionary Youth unit that he won a scholarship to study Marxism, Leninism and journalism in the Ukrainian city of Lvov. Now, his Liberty Center foundation, which promotes political and legal reform, is overseeing translations into Mongolian of the works of Milton Friedman and Friedrich A. Hayek.

The turning point for Mr. Elbegdorj came in 1989, when the Soviet grip began to weaken. He quit a comfortable job as a reporter for a military newspaper to found Mongolia’s first independent newspaper, called Democracy. Soon, he was a charter member of a group that is now revered as the 13 First Democrats, and took the lead in the protests that toppled the country’s Communist government after a 70-year rule.

This is certainly heartening given their location. Admittedly, Mongolia is quite small (about 2.5 million residents) but they see continued ties to the U.S. as important, making them somewhat unique these days:
For protection in the neighborhood, Mongolia is counting on close ties with the United States. To encourage that, it has sent 180 soldiers to Iraq, dropped visa requirements for American tourists and made clear its desire to sign a free trade pact. It regularly unrolls the red carpet for visiting American officials, most recently Adm. Thomas B. Fargo, the commander of United States forces in the Pacific.

Asked if Mongolia would continue to send soldiers to Iraq, the prime minister’s face clouded.

“If America asks us to send a fourth contingent,” he started. Then, noticing a telepathic elbow in the ribs from an aide across the dinner table, he brightened and said with the ambiguity of a seasoned politician, “We would discuss it in the cabinet.”

Mongolia an oasis in a pretty crappy part of the world? Maybe. If they want a free trade agreement -- according to the article they do -- then we should give it to them.

Bowling for Ramallah?

One for the News of the Weird file: the Palestinian Authority’s investments included, until this week, a $3.1 million stake in a chain of bowling alleys in the Northeast Corridor.

Clarifications and amplifications

Alan Henderson has generously added us to his blogroll, but thinks I’m an “evil law prof”; actually, I’m an evil political science prof who teaches con law because the other evil political science prof has better things to do, and he’s the chair—so what can I do?

Heidi Bond clarifies that Mac OS X isn’t Linux, which probably explains why I could never figure out how to configure anything important that wasn’t in Preferences. She also links Gus, who started a few Internet eons ago and whose creation helps keep Signifying Nothing on the air… our real hostname is

Steven Taylor calls Signifying Nothing a “righty blog,” although I’m not sure any of us make particularly good right-wingers… though if you, like me, visit west Jackson or Orange Mound (substitute your favorite inner-city slum) and the first thought in your head is “40 years of failed social policy” instead of “residual racism,” I suppose that might be evidence of “rightiness.”

Friday, 24 December 2004

Review of Ocean's Twelve in five words or less

Too clever by half.*

Thursday, 23 December 2004

Linux, libertarians, and lust

Will Baude asks:

Does anybody find libertarian Linux-users sexy?

Heidi Bond responds that at least the Linux-using part may increase perceived sexiness, but also adds that ”[t]here are plenty of people who run Linux who I wouldn’t date.”

Undoubtably this is a pressing question for our time—not to mention our blog. Presumably Brock’s wife finds him sexy, although I don’t know that Brock would consider himself a libertarian; if pressed to judge, I’d say Brock is tall and handsome, and thus probably considered “sexy” by women, but neither of those attributes derive from his politics or his choice of operating system.

Robert runs Mac OS X, as does Heidi Bond’s boyfriend, which may count as “Linux usage” for sufficiently vague definitions of “Linux” (i.e. operating systems that use a lot of GNU software and use a kernel patterned after that of the Unix operating system). I have no idea whether Robert is sexy, since I’ve never met him and don’t generally judge the sexiness of other guys (not that there’s anything wrong with that), my assessment of Brock notwithstanding.

Nobody has called me sexy lately, but for the most part I haven’t gone to great lengths to advertise either my libertarianness or my Linux usage in the “real world”; there may be individuals who think I’m sexy, but they haven’t told me that or otherwise indicated they think I’m sexy in an unambiguous manner—defined in my world as “not made blatantly obvious,” so I could be oblivious to such matters.

So, Mr. Baude’s question is now in order. Let the debate commence.

I am not an evil con law prof

The next time a student complains about a con law exam, I think I’ll assign them this question. Then again, I did give them this one on my second exam (open book, take-home, and optional):

In United States v. Lopez, while the Supreme Court did not overturn Wickard v. Filburn outright, the Court clearly staked out some limitations to Congress’s use of its power to regulate interstate commerce. With that precedent in mind, consider the upcoming Supreme Court case Ashcroft v. Raich, in which the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals argued that federal regulation of the noncommercial cultivation and distribution of marijuana exceeded Congress’s commerce clause powers. You should consider the following questions: Does Raich meet the standard for interstate commerce outlined in the Lopez test? How does Raich differ from Wickard—or, aside from the crops at issue, does it not differ at all?

I also gave this one on my first exam:

In 2007, the Supreme Court will hear the case Lewis v. Boulder County School District, in which perennial Pledge of Allegiance challenger Michael Newdow represents Sally Lewis, a 16-year-old atheist and high school student in Boulder who objects to the use of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, added to the pledge by Congress in 1954 (codified at 4 USC 4). Lewis advances essentially the same argument on the merits advanced by Newdow in Newdow v. Elk Grove Unified School District (2004); however, Lewis’ parents, English professors at the University of Colorado at Boulder, fully support her challenge to the law and have permitted Newdow to represent her in her case against the school district.

In the meantime, Congress has passed the Pledge Protection Act of 2005, which was signed into law by President Lieberman.* The Pledge Protection Act provides that no court created by Congress shall have original jurisdiction in any challenge to the Pledge of Allegiance, nor shall the Supreme Court have appellate jurisdiction.

How should the Supreme Court decide the case at hand? Consider the issues of jurisdiction and standing, as well as the decision on “the merits.” In particular:

  • Does Lewis have standing to sue?
  • Is the Pledge Protection Act of 2005 constitutional?
  • Is the inclusion of “under God” in the pledge an unconstitutional establishment of religion?

Consider the court’s precedents on standing and jurisdiction, as well as the political circumstances that gave rise to the Court’s decision in Ex parte McCardle. Your response will be fortified by reference to the legal and attitudinal approaches to judicial interpretation outlined in Chapter 1 of the [Epstein and Walker].

Ok, maybe I am an evil con law prof after all.

Global Warming? Hot Air.

George Will on Michael Crichton's State of Fear:
"State of Fear," with a first printing of 1.5 million copies, resembles Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" -- about 6 million copies sold since 1957 -- as a political broadside woven into an entertaining story. But whereas Rand had only an idea -- a good one (capitalism is splendid), but only one -- Crichton has information. "State of Fear" is the world's first page turner that people will want to read in one gulp (a long gulp: 600 pages, counting appendices) even though it has lots of real scientific graphs, and footnotes citing journals such as Progress in Physical Geography and Transactions -- American Geophysical Union.

Crichton’s subject is today’s fear that global warming will cause catastrophic climate change, a belief now so conventional that it seems to require no supporting data. Crichton’s subject is also how conventional wisdom is manufactured in a credulous and media-drenched society.


Climate-change forecasts, Harvey writes, are like financial forecasts but involve a vastly more complex array of variables. The climate forecasts, based on computer models analyzing the past, tell us that we do not know how much warming is occurring, whether it is a transitory episode or how much warming is dangerous—or perhaps beneficial.

One of the good guys in “State of Fear” cites Montaigne’s axiom: “Nothing is so firmly believed as that which least is known.” Which is why 30 years ago the fashionable panic was about global cooling. The New York Times (Aug. 14, 1975) reported “many signs” that “Earth may be heading for another ice age.” Science magazine (Dec. 10, 1976) warned about “extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation.” “Continued rapid cooling of the Earth” (Global Ecology, 1971) could herald “a full-blown 10,000-year ice age” (Science, March 1, 1975). The Christian Science Monitor reported (Aug. 27, 1974) that Nebraska’s armadillos were retreating south from the cooling.

My feelings on Crichton’s book are mixed. I was pretty bothered by the movie The Day After Tomorrow and its attempt to influence people with hysterical claims about global warming. If Crichton’s book is more factual, for a fiction book, then it might be useful. Even so, I’m not crazy about the blurring of actual science and fiction.

Update: Crichton's name corrected in post.

Wednesday, 22 December 2004

Entitlement reform

Once again I find myself in agreement with Joe Lieberman:

A rejoinder to this rejoinder is now being beta-tested by Sen. Byron Dorgan: Republicans exaggerate the “crisis” of Social Security, which can be fixed with a few modest tax hikes. Uh huh, in the sense that a bankrupt man might still be able to manage his car payments . . . if you ignore the fact that he owes house payments too.

House payments, in this case, are the unfunded liabilities of Medicare, which vastly outstrip even the unfunded liabilities of Social Security, by a margin of $62 trillion to $10 trillion. For several years, the nonpartisan board of Social Security and Medicare Trustees has flagged these figures, which everyone ignored. Joe Lieberman last year introduced a Senate bill to recognize these obligations in the federal budget. He was ignored.

Yet since Mr. Bush introduced the subject of Social Security reform at his party’s September jamboree, public debate has surged ahead of the White House and its Democratic sparring partners. USA Today, to give the underrated McPaper its due, produced a report in October forcing Medicare into the picture, noting it would take $53 trillion invested today to cover the $200 trillion in shortfalls the program is expected to generate just over the lifetimes of today’s youngest workers. By Monday night, even Peter Jennings of ABC News had decided there’s a story here.

Adding the unfunded liabilities of entitlements to the federal budget would be a great idea and would go a long way towards getting rid of the notion that there’s a trust fund, or that these benefits are “free”. It’s a good idea, so it naturally get’s dumped.

More gmail tribbles

If anyone is interested, I have some Gmail invites and have already inundated my family, friends and acquaintances with the past ones. If you want one send me an email; you can find the address by holding your cursor over my name below the post.

Gay marriage and Democrats

The GayPatriot thinks that pro-gay-rights advocates have “red state” demographics working against them (þ: InstaPundit). They may also have some problems in their base—in states “blue” and “red” alike. Here’s some numbers among self-identified Democrats from the exit poll we did in Jackson (estimated margin of error ±3.6%, α=0.05):

Race Supports same-sex marriage ban Opposes same-sex marriage ban
Black 79.5% 20.5%
White 39.9% 60.1%

Now, I would expect Jackson voters (black or white) to be more socially conservative than those in the nation at large, but I don’t think that 40-point margin between black and white Democrats would be that much smaller in, say, Oakland or Boston.

Of course, turning this into a working cross-cutting cleavage for Republicans is going to be hard work as long as the GOP can’t keep its semi-regular bigot eruptions under control.

On Natural Liberty Again

Earlier I mentioned, however briefly, my preference for natural liberty—and being left alone in the process. The Professor has a piece over at his MSNBC site that captures my thought pretty well:

My criticism of the United Nations continues to generate hostile email along the lines of “you just don’t like the U.N. because it stands in the way of world hegemony by the Evil Bushitler and his Likudnik neo-con cabal.”

Uh, no. In fact, I’m not a fan of U.S. “world hegemony” at all. Being the world’s preeminent military and economic power has its pluses, but not many. Countries with little else to boast of may draw great solace from military power—the old Soviet Union did that, and many older Russians are still nostalgic—but American don’t care about such things nearly as much. We have better things to do, and most of us, or our ancestors, came here to escape the problems of the rest of the world. We’d much rather someone else dealt with them, and left us alone—though when we express such sentiments we are then accused of “isolationism,” often by the same people who are otherwise complaining about American “imperialism.”

This pretty well describes my attitude. On Iraq, I favor seeing the job through and helping them get as close to liberal democracy as possible. Beyond that, I’m not all that concerned with what the rest of the world thinks or wants. Provided they don’t pose a threat to us, let them live their own history and we’ll live ours.

Brad DeLong, whom I like much better as an economist, has a couple of posts that drive my point home. One, which is unintentionally galling, I think, has a discussion of some Republican congressmen going to India to find—horror of horrors—that they don’t care about us. Boo hoo. India has done nothing to help us—they don’t agree with our approach to Iraq and the war on terror—and I’m having a hard time understanding why we should care.

As India sees it, the coming century is a race between them and China for global dominance. Nevermind that it’s only been a couple of decades since India solved their starvation problem and they have yet to dismantle the leftovers of feudalism. Even if they become an economic powerhouse, I don’t see how we lose anything. The only thing they really have to offer us is trade and I think we should take it. Trade with them. End of story.

India becoming a major power shouldn’t be viewed as a threat to us. China could possibly pose a threat to us, in a military sense, but I’m not sure what, if anything, can be done about it. We will continue spending a good deal more on defense than the rest of the world and it will take decades for China to pose a threat to us, outside of nuclear weapons. On that, they would be insane to attack us because our nuclear arsenal is going nowhere unless we launch it against someone. I don’t think they want that, so, again, I’m not sure how we lose anything.

Then Brad has a rather cute post on the reaction of the right to the possibility of torture in Iraq and elsewhere. He ends it with the following statement:

I would say it’s at least nine months past time for the intellectuals of the right to start “speaking more loudly about these worrisome trends.”
Of course, if you read the post he provides no evidence to support this assertion. He’s reffering to Abu Ghraib, but he offers no justification for the flood-the-zone coverage that Abu Ghraib received. Nor does he offer any proof that Abu Ghraib was known to be part of a systemic attempt to mistreat prisoners. He simply offers assertion. It’s not proof.

If you wonder why I prefer a “natural liberty” approach to the rest of the world, this helps explain why. Thanks to the internet, I’ve been reading foreign newspapers for a few years now and it hasn’t “furthered my understanding” in the sense that most multiculturists yearn for. On the contrary, it’s convinced me that we should stay out of their affairs and involve ourselves with them as little as possible outside of commerce. Brad’s writings on politics are a good example of this, but it gets worse when you read foreign newspapers. They’re very quick to blame America when things go wrong and slow to accept responsibility for their own problems.

I might have more to say about this later, but I’ve got a couple of other things to do. I'll close with a Jefferson quote that seems more apt with each passing year:

"Peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations--entangling alliances with none, I deem [one of] the essential principles of our government, and consequently [one of] those which ought to shape its administration." --Thomas Jefferson: 1st Inaugural Address, 1801. ME 3:321


Michael Jennings has further thoughts on the Millau Viaduct and bridge design more generally, in response to this thread at Brian Micklethwait’s Culture Blog.

Cable-stayed designs are definitely in vogue on this side of the Atlantic; recent examples include the asymmetric Leonard Zakim bridge built as part of the “Big Dig” in Boston, the William H. Natcher Bridge over the Ohio River; closer to home, there’s the I-310 Hale Boggs Memorial Bridge crossing the Mississippi River just west of New Orleans, and in the future there’s the Greenville Bridge under construction on U.S. 82 and the proposed Charles W. Dean Great River Bridge on future I-69 and U.S. 278, both crossing the Mississippi River between Arkansas and Mississippi.

(I previously mentioned the viaduct here.)

Press Pulls Pigskin Poll

As Steven Taylor at PoliBlog notes, the Associated Press has decided to stop allowing the Bowl Championship Series from using its poll to determine the national title matchup. Ivan Maisel at has additional details that shed some light on the AP’s decision:

By pulling out of the formula, the AP has come full circle. In 1998, a sufficient number of AP members didn’t want their college football writers to be responsible for voting teams into the national championship game that the Division I-A commissioners developed the Bowl Championship Series formula to determine the standings used to pick teams for the BCS games.

AP members, worried about making the news instead of reporting it, felt better that their poll was only indirectly responsible for which teams received the eight-figure payout (this season: $14.4 million). ...

An AP voter in Alabama, Paul Gattis of the Huntsville Times, was chastised for voting Auburn No. 3 by the editor of his paper—in print. Three AP voters in Texas drew attention when they moved Texas ahead of California in the final poll, helping the Longhorns qualify for a BCS berth in the Rose Bowl instead of the Golden Bears.

This AP report gives the AP spin on the decision:

“By stating that the AP poll is one of the three components used by BCS to establish its rankings, BCS conveys the impression that AP condones or otherwise participates in the BCS system,” the letter [from the AP to the BCS] said. “Furthermore, to the extent that the public does not fully understand the relationship between BCS and AP, any animosity toward BCS may get transferred to AP. And to the extent that the public has equated or comes to equate the AP poll with the BCS rankings, the independent reputation of the AP poll is lost.”

On the other hand, the weak-mindedness that gave Tom Osborne and Nebraska a split national title from the coaches a few years back seems to have spread to the writers in the person of Neal McCready of the Mobile Register (þ: Big XII Fanblog), too:

I’m used to [my ballot] being publicized and scrutinized. In the past week, after the Austin American-Statesman published every ballot, I received hundreds of e-mails from irate Texas fans upset that I had the Longhorns No. 9 on my last week’s ballot. When they say “Don’t mess with Texas,” they mean it. Most of the e-mails received from the Texas faithful were profanity-laced and less than a stellar reflection on a university and its fan base. For the record, I’m not gay or Communist. I don’t live in a trailer and I still have all my teeth. Those that were diplomatic presented a strong case and after studying the numbers, I agree. I had Texas too low. I fixed it today, moving the Longhorns to No. 5. Please leave me alone now; you’re scaring my wife.

McCready previously had Texas (whose sole loss was to undefeated Oklahoma) ranked behind Louisville, whose only claim to fame was a close loss to 8–3 Miami in an otherwise weak schedule. Mack Brown lobbying or no Mack Brown lobbying, McCready clearly wasn’t paying attention to what he was doing.

Now, if only the Associated Press would go one step further and acknowledge that the act of producing a poll in and of itself undermines the independence of the AP from the sport it is covering, I might be able to respect this decision. But the AP’s choice to distance itself from a controversial system without also taking stock of the reality that the AP’s football and basketball polls are key determinants of the attention given to, and thus the profitability of, all college “revenue” sports—not just the BCS championship game, but also regular-season matchups and, via the NCAA selection committees, the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments—smacks of hypocrisy.

Ivan Maisel has more today on what the BCS does next in the wake of the AP’s decision.

This is my entry in today’s OTB Traffic Jam.

New England angst

New England fans are getting a bit antsy after the loss last night. A bit of a shocker, but probably a wake-up call. I hope the near miss for the Steelers acts as a wake-up call as well. The writer below suggests that the Steelers would “only” be 10–4 without Jermoe Bettis’s reemergence and he may be right. Even so, how difficult is the AFC when you look down on a team that’s 10–4?

As President Bush would say, New England misunderestimated its opponent. The Patriots went into Monday’s game with the same mindset that the 2001 St. Louis Rams entered Super Bowl XXXVI. But then again, the Greatest Show on Turf was a 14-point favorite. Heading into the season’s stretch run, and the playoffs, the Patriots should remember that before the celebration must come motivation.

Next, an assessment of the Steelers. To twist a Mark Twain quote, reports of Pittsburgh’s dominance have been greatly exaggerated. In their most recent performance, the Steelers barely won a game against a hapless New York Giants team (5–9). Their defense, which entered the game ranked first in the NFL, surrendered 30 points in that game. Meanwhile, their quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, throws an interception on nearly every other play; he threw two against Big Blue. Were it not for the resurgence of Jerome Bettis, Pittsburgh would be 10–4 or so.

The Mosul Incident

An excellent first-person account of the killings in Mosul yesterday from an Army chaplain. Quite moving.

(þ: Blackfive)

Tuesday, 21 December 2004

Stress Positions Versus Torture

I saw this yesterday at Jeralyn’s place and meant to blog about it then, but didn’t. There’s a good discussion about this very issue going on over at QandO and I agree with Dale and Jon: we shouldn’t be doing, or condoning, this kind of behavior. I don’t know the difference between stress positions and torture, and if the perpetrators don’t know, they shouldn’t be applying stress positions either.

This sort of thing is exactly what endangers our soldiers and builds public support in the Middle East for killing them. That part of the world is already conspiracy minded as it is; no need to be feeding the fire with actual events.

Lawyers will have to sort out the legalities here, but in the mean time a good rule of thumb is to default to doing nothing when you don’t know how you’re behavior might be spun. I should add, though I shouldn’t have to, that it’s wrong as well. For that reason alone we shouldn’t be doing it.

Greg Djerejian has more support for the "do nothing" hypothesis. He says it's a training problem, among other things.

Wait a second

I thought the blue states were where all of the smart people hung out?

(þ: The Professor)

Merry Christmas

By popular command…

Great Googly Moogly

Today would have been the 64th birthday of Frank Zappa.

Some take the bible
For what it’s worth
When it says that the meek
Shall inherit the Earth
Well, I heard that some sheik
Has bought New Jersey last week
‘N you suckers ain’t gettin’ nothin’

“The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing,” from You Are What You Is.


Happy Anniversary University of Roches

When you're buying a list of addresses to send junk mail to, you really should make sure that the address field holds more than twenty characters. Otherwise you end up looking very silly.
Dear Carl,
I would like to congratulate University of Roches on its upcoming 15th Anniversary. Few companies reach this important milestone. Promoting your experience and success is the number one way to generate new business and reinforce existing relationships. That's why it's important to promote your anniversary with our Foil Embossed Anniversary Seals.

Junk Mail Side 1Junk Mail Side 2


I’ve added Dean Edwards’ IE7 hack to the blog on a quasi-experimental basis; the good news is that it fixes a lot of Internet Explorer’s rendering bugs, while the bad news is that it seems to introduce some quirks of its own and exposes IE’s lousy fallback behavior for missing Unicode characters. My general advice for IE users is to download and use Mozilla Firefox instead.

Arms and the man

Apologies for the light blogging; I found out Monday I have a “second degree” separated left AC joint, which is doctor-speak for a separated left shoulder. I’ve been spending most of the past 24 hours in a sling, with a bit of physical therapy added. Allegedly I’ll be mended by the week after New Year’s.

Apparently I'm Jacksonian (or Scotch-Irish)

Great book review by Virginia Postrel. The author of the book, David Hackett Fischer, is apparently hostile to any individualist notions of liberty:

New England Puritans pursued ’‘ordered liberty,’’ or community self-government, which could impose substantial restrictions on individual freedom of action or conscience. Southern cavaliers believed in ’‘hegemonic liberty,’’ a status system in which liberty was a jealously guarded aristocratic privilege that entitled some men to rule the lives of others. By contrast, Delaware Valley Quakers subscribed to ’‘reciprocal liberty,’’ in which every person was recognized as a fellow child of God, entitled to self-determination and freedom of conscience. Finally, the largest group of immigrants, the borderlanders often called Scotch-Irish, adhered to ’‘natural liberty,’’ a visceral, sometimes violent defense of self and clan. In foreign policy, Fischer’s ’‘natural liberty’’ maps directly to the ’‘Jacksonian America’’ outlined by the political scientist Walter Russell Mead—isolationist by preference but relentlessly violent when attacked.

’‘Liberty and Freedom’’ expands greatly on that earlier book’s discussion, adding other ethnic influences, particularly that of German refugees who sought ’‘a freedom that would allow them to establish their own way of life in security and peace.’’ For German-Americans, the icons of freedom were the fig tree and vine, alluding to the biblical prophecy that ’‘they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid.’’ This dream, Fischer observes, ’‘was an image of a world without violence, very different from the bellicose ways of British borderers but similar in a desire to be left alone by government.’’

Yep, natural liberty is certainly the way for me and it describes a lot of my feelings, particularly after 9/11. Virgnia concludes her review:
Its goal, one government official said, was ’‘to re-establish the common ground of all Americans’’ and ’‘to blend our various groups into one American family.’’ Fischer visited the train as a child in Baltimore, and it made a lasting impression: ’‘The train itself and its streamlined cars were emblems of modernity, and its big locomotive (number 1776) was a symbol of American power. By contrast, the documents seemed old and fragile. They were symbols not of power but of right, and their condition made clear their need to be protected in a dangerous world. Altogether the Freedom Train expressed the material strength and moral resolve of a united people.’’

Ah, the good old days. The closer the book gets to the present, the less it discusses popular culture or visual symbolism. It loses its early, charming tone and becomes instead a dutiful, sometimes cranky march through the political movements of the late 20th century. Cliffs Notes versions of ideas and individuals appear, but iconography and material culture almost entirely disappear. Fischer doesn’t mention the Adam Smith neckties conservative activists adopted in the late 1970’s or explain how triangles and rainbows came to symbolize gay liberation. He has room for a mention of Shulamith Firestone’s radical, intellectual feminism but none for Marlo Thomas’s popular record and television special, ’‘Free to Be You and Me.’’ He provides a dumbed-down version of Friedrich Hayek’s classical liberalism but doesn’t mention Ayn Rand’s blockbuster novels. He devotes pages to Stokely Carmichael but says nothing about Afros, dreadlocks or cornrows. He misses the chance to consider California as a symbol of freedom across the political spectrum. In short, once the apparent uniformity of World War II dissolves, ’‘Liberty and Freedom’’ loses interest in popular culture. This absence may reflect the author’s fatigue as the book moves beyond its 500th page. Or perhaps it is simply harder for Fischer to take a sympathetic interest in the mental and material lives of those contemporaries with whom he disagrees. He seems to resent all these contentious people (except for consensus civil rights heroes) who insist on disturbing established institutions and ideas with their demands for liberty and freedom.

Indeed, he implies that they’re downright dangerous. ’‘If a free society is ever destroyed in America, it will be done in the name of one particular vision of liberty and freedom,’’ he concludes. But not, of course, his own.

Count me among those that will be in other peoples’ faces demanding my own version of liberty.

(þ: Knowledge Problem)

Monday, 20 December 2004

Taking one for the troops

Rachel Lucas offers a rather amazing photo of Kirsten Dunst; she’s quite grown up from her Interview with the Vampire days. Wow.

European Union Again

Professor Bainbridge has a lengthy post where he dissects the EU triumphalists. I went into this at some length the other day and won’t do so again.

What I will do is note that I agree with Professor Bainbridge—we referenced the same Economist article for Europe’s median age problem—though I don’t find the EU quite as bothersome as he seems to. The EU is a declining power for the time being and will continue that way just due to demographics. Even if they were economically ascendant, I wouldn’t find it all that troublesome since economics isn’t zero-sum (they would have to undo their labor market rigidities and limit their fiscal burdensand would still have a hard time growing as fast as the U.S. in the coming decades). On foreign policy, they won’t spend what’s necessary to build a military so there’s no threat there. The only problem I’m aware of is their recent decision to start selling weapons to China. More than a little troubling ($).

You know that the EU ascendancy meme has jumped the shark—along with that phrase—though when Jeremy Rifkin and others start getting worked up over it ($):

Eurocrats are understandably flattered by this unusual American praise for the grand European project; Mr Rifkin’s book has gone down well in Brussels. But the mood of real “builders of Europe” is often decidedly more pessimistic. This week European leaders are likely to take a big step towards admitting Turkey to the EU, a decision about which many of them have deep misgivings. Mr Reid’s argument that there is an inexorable historical logic driving forward European unity is often made by Brussels federalists too. But these same people are also well aware of the fragility of a process of political integration that has very shallow popular support.

Then there is the economy. Europe’s economic growth continues to lag that of the United States, let alone China and India. And Europe’s population is ageing and shrinking. Two-thirds of the way into his book, Mr Rifkin interrupts his dream to note that “the sad truth is that without a massive increase in non-EU immigration in the next several decades, Europe is likely to wither and die.” This looks like a fairly big qualification to the book’s general mood of sunny optimism. But no matter: within a few pages we are back to the “politics of empathy”.

Awareness of the depth of the political and economic challenges that lie ahead accounts for the fact that many European officials are more inclined to troubled pessimism than to Rifkinesque optimism. This European willingness to be self-critical is, as it happens, a genuine strength. Unfortunately, there is a lot to be self-critical about.

When Rifkin starts pimping an idea, you know it’s time to write it off.

(þ: The Professor)

Market Fundamentalism

Brad DeLong has a great entry on Adam Smith. One of the many interesting points is when he mentions “market fundamentalism”. It reminded me of this Cannan edition of Wealth that is annotated, just like a Bible. You can quote it chapter and verse.

What still strikes me about Smith is how broadly he saw things: he didn’t just write a book on economics, he drew a very broad picture that encompassed both the morality and the funtionality of the marketplace. Contrary to one of the commenters, I think Smith would be quite pleased with what he would see today. Is it perfect? No, but it’s a far shout from where he was in his day and much of the progress since then is due to him (and Cantillon).

(þ: Marginal Revolution)

A little blogosphere triumphalism

The blogosphere’s own LaShawn Barber has a column in NRO about the smaller corners of the blogosphere that haven’t gotten the attention of Power Line and LGF. They deserve the attention and she talks about a couple of my favorites: The Shape of Days, run by a fellow Macophile Jeff Harrell, and Cassandra, now of Villainous Company. Jeff has a good post on why he prefers Macs and it has to do with the concept of “kerning” (big issue in RatherGate). LaShawn apparently missed Cass’s departure from Jet Noise, but be sure to check out her new digs.

(þ: The Professor)

Another diplomatic success story

Raise your hand if you didn’t see this one coming:

Iran has drawn up secret plans to make large quantities of a gas that can be used to produce highly enriched uranium, despite promises to suspend enrichment activities.

Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, Iran’s atomic energy chief, has authorised construction of a plant to make Anhydrous Hydrogen Fluoride (AHF), a gas that has many uses, from petrochemical processing to uranium enrichment.

Cash money says the latter use is far more likely than the former. Ugh. (þ: memorandum).

Mississippi blogger directory in progress

Fellow Jacksonian Shawn Lea is compiling a directory of Mississippi bloggers and blogs about Mississippi.

Sunday, 19 December 2004

Homeland Insecurity

Steven Taylor’s latest print column looks at the new frontier of municipal pork: Birmingham suburb Hoover’s addition of a new “Department of Homeland Security and Immigration,” complete with a $110,000-a-year director’s job. They’ve gotta protect the SEC baseball tournament from terrorists, after all… (þ: PoliBlog, of course.)

How can 60 million people† be so wrong?

Blatant fabrications by their leading media outlets might be part of the explanation. (þ: OxBlog)

Home field advantage

The Steelers pulled out a nail-biter yesterday and the Boston Globe is writing about the significance of home-field advantage in the playoffs. The Patriot fans are apparently quite concerned about this, but it doesn’t seem to matter:

Since the inauguration of the cap, home-field advantage in the conference championship games has been of little or no statistical importance. Since 1992, when the cap went into effect, there have been 24 conference championship games. In the AFC, half have been won by the visiting team. In the NFC, five of the 12 games have been won by the visiting team. Thus, in a statistical sense, at least, the advantage of home field as it relates to a Steelers-Patriots showdown would be minimal.

Since the dawn of the new millennium, it’s been the same story. The visitors have won a trip to the Super Bowl in half of the eight conference title games, including the last two in the NFC. Perhaps more significant, the Steelers are a lowly 1–3 in AFC title games since 1992, despite hosting the game four times—1994 (lost to San Diego), ‘95 (beat Indianapolis), ‘97 (lost to Denver), and 2001 (lost to Patriots).

What is clear is that home-field advantage throughout the playoffs meant a lot more in the conference title games prior to the advent of the salary cap, hinting that increased parity has changed considerably the disparity of talent between top teams.

From the first year of the AFL-NFL merger to the final year without the cap (1978–91), home teams dominated the 28 conference title games. In the AFC, the home team was 11–3, the only losses coming in 1980 when the Raiders beat the Chargers in San Diego, 1985 when Raymond Berry’s Patriots upset the Dolphins in Miami, and in 1986 when the Broncos needed a 98-yard John Elway-led drive to beat the Cleveland Browns as time was running out in old Cleveland Stadium.

FWIW, I think Eli Manning did well yesterday and it was nice to see him have a kind of “coming out party”; if he hadn’t been playing the Steelers, I probably wouldn’t have seen it.

Statistically it might not matter who has home field advantage in the playoffs, but the Steelers team that the Patriots faced in 2001 lacked the confidence, I think, that the current team has. The game against the Giants should serve as a wake-up call—they’re not unbeatable.

On an unrelated subject, Cass has started blogging again at Villainous Company. I’ve been remiss in not blogrolling her and bookmarking her. That has now been fixed.

Extend this

Cool Mozilla Firefox extension of the day (at least for Windows): ForecastFox. Under Linux, the GNOME Weather applet is more generally useful, although ForecastFox has the advantage of taking up otherwise-useless space in the Firefox status bar.

Michael Kinsley, revise and resubmit

Apparently the blogosphere has gotten the better of Michael Kinsley, in this round anyway. He plans a more detailed response for next week’s WaPo, but this week is simply a concession that some bloggers got the better of him, i.e. made him think twice about dissing Social Security privatization. Here’s a quote:

That conference was the last straw. Last week, to vent my frustration, I sent an e-mail to some economists and privatizing buffs saying, look, either show me my mistake or drop this issue. Refute me or salute me. Disprove it or move it. Or words to that effect.

As an afterthought, I sent copies to a couple of blogs ( and What happened next was unnerving.

A few days later, most of the big shots hadn’t replied. But overnight I had dozens of responses from the blogosphere. They’re still pouring in. And that’s just direct e-mail to me. Within hours, there were discussions going on in a dozen blogs, all hyperlinking to one another like rabbits.

Just so I don’t sound too naive: I am familiar with the blog phenomenon, and I worked at a Web site for eight years. Some of my best friends are bloggers. Still, it’s different when you purposely drop an idea into this bubbling cauldron and watch the reaction. What floored me was not just the volume and speed of the feedback but its seriousness and sophistication. Sure, there were some simpletons and some name-calling nasties echoing rote-learned propaganda. But we get those in letters to the editor. What we don’t get, nearly as much, is smart and sincere intellectual engagement—mostly from people who are not intellectuals by profession—with obscure and tedious, but important, issues.

I always thought Kinsley was fundamentally decent, and regardless of what he has to say about SS privatization, I’ll probably continue to think so. Welcome to instant fact checking, Mr. Kinsley.

On a somewhat related note, I thought I remembered a quote by JFK, about the WaPo no less, regarding getting in a fight with people that buy ink by the barrel. Turns out it was Clinton:

Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.
Kinsley has a similar statement in his column:
You can send your views electronically to a blog in less time than it takes to find a stamp, let alone type a letter.
It’s a good column. RTWT, and I’ll be looking forward to next week’s installment.

Saturday, 18 December 2004

Arianna "Shit for brains" Huffington

Apparently, in Arianna’s world, a guy that creates a company from scratch in his dorm room—enriching millions in the process—is a demon when it becomes economical to offshore 3000 jobs to India:


Name: Michael S. Dell
Company: Dell Computers
Title: Chairman and Former CEO (Chairman and CEO until July, 2004)
Crime Against America: Dell’s Bangalore and Hyderabad, India, facilities employ close to 3,000 people.
Partner in Crime: Dell has contributed $3,000 to the Bush campaign in 2003 and 2004, plus an additional $25,000 the Republican National Committee, and $10,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee. Dell CFO James M. Schneider is a $25,000 contributor to the RNC.

Even more unpardonable: he donated to Republicans. Arianna supposedly has an economics degree, though it appears that anything she learned has long since disappeared. She still has mastery of the Populism 101 material, though.

Markets in everything, Signifying Nothing version

Tyler Cowen has been beating the drum against social security privatization for a good while, and it has finally sunken in with me. After thinking about it enough, it appears that he is right: we will end up with two programs if we transition to private accounts and it won’t reduce the unfunded liability, which is the central problem. Presumably, when the actuaries refer to an unfunded liability they are referring to an excess in the present value of all cash outflows versus the present value of all inflows. If the first number exceeds the second, you have a liability. We’ve promised to pay too much and benefits will have to be reduced, or taxes raised, to bring the system into balance.

Private accounts alone won’t change the unfunded liability. However, Tyler offers an intriguing solution to part of that problem: auction off the right to leave the system. An auction provides a great mechanism to separate those that are risk averse from those that are not; those with financial savvy from those with none. It also creates a logical break point to show where they have left the system and have acknowledged that the system owes them nothing, though they have paid into it. They should similarly understand that they will need to save enough for their own retirement and will have to keep working without enough savings.

There would be an initial inflow of money that could be used to retire debt—thereby enabling future borrowing for the government to cover shortfalls—and presumably an increase in savings from those that leave the system; no more payroll taxes, higher disposable income. The system could then transform into a poverty program for the elderly, which should be far [Ed.: got a little carried away.] smaller than in its current setup.

I’m sure the details would need to be hammered out by actuaries—how many people would pay to leave the system, how much would they pay (meaning how much current debt could we retire) and how much would the unfunded liability would be reduced. Even with these questions, it seems like a sounder suggestion than getting people into a forced savings program where the government still implicitly takes responsibility for everyone’s retirement and the unfunded liability is unchanged.

Cass has more here.

Is there a political methodologist in the house?

I’ve seen this poll in a number of places, but Volokh conspirator Orin Kerr is the first I’ve seen that really dissects the results. Do 44% of Americans really want to curtail the civil liberties of Muslims in America? It doesn’t sound like it.

Big doings in Texas

On Thursday, the Texas Transportation Commission announced a private contract to build a 316-mile toll road parallel to the congested I-35 corridor. Spanish toll road builder and operator Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte will pay the $6 billion construction cost and an additional $1.2 billion in concession fees to the state of Texas for improvements to other highways; in exchange, Cintra will collect tolls on the route for 50 years.

In North America, Cintra is one of the investment partners in the 407 ETR bypass of Toronto and recently made an agreement to operate the Chicago Skyway toll road (a section of I-90 connecting downtown Chicago to the Indiana Toll Road) for the next 99 years. TxDOT has an overview of the statewide Trans Texas Corridor plan; more details on this particular project are here and here if you can read Spanish.

Those who fail to read Downs

Christie Todd Whitman gets it:

A clear and present danger Republicans face today is that the party will now move so far to the right that it ends up alienating centrist voters and marginalizing itself.

On the other hand, the eternally vapid Kathryn Jean Lopez proves her need to stick to pimping subscriptions (☣) rather than attempting to make political commentary, while the new-to-me Ed Driscoll apparently also needs to make the steep investment in a copy of Downs. Barring such expenditure, at the very least they should realize that telling moderate Republicans to go fuck themselves until their votes are next needed in November 2006 is a bit rude. (þ: memeorandum)

Friday, 17 December 2004

I, Robot

I just watched I, Robot (DVD, Book) and have a couple of questions for you sci-fi buffs out there. Not surprisingly, the movie is no better on its second viewing than on the first. However, it did make me want to read the book—which is one of my holiday to-do items—and it’s not bad as pure entertainment.

Having me question sci-fi logic is about as useful as watching a Hollywood movie discuss economics, which this one does—badly. Even so, I have a question: why not just modify Asimov’s first law to say that a robot shall not harm the life or liberty of a human? Because it might ruin the potential for future books pondering this dilemma?

Next question: one of the reviews of the copy of I, Robot (the book) says Asimov is part of the “ABCs” of sci-fi, with the others being Bradbury and Clarke. Why not extend it by one letter and have “D”, as in Dick, Philip K.? Is he not as respected as the other three? If not, why not?

Dead again

Sign up for the one, the only Dead Pool 2005, and tell Lair we sent you—we’re currently tied for second in the referral contest, so every roster counts!

Incurable ignorance?

Greg Goelzhauser has returned from haïtus at Crescat Sententia with some thoughts in response to Dan Herzog on whether or not the public is “incurably ignorant” about politics. My general thought on such matters, oft-repeated here, is that any democratic society in which it might be rational for the public at large* to not be ignorant about anything beyond the most trivial of political matters would be incredibly unstable politically.

That said, Greg’s point about social norms is well-taken; knowing things about politics is excellent fodder for cocktail-party discussion, even if the details don’t matter for voting behavior one whit.† Clearly the answer, then, is to invite more people to attend cocktail parties, a program I’d fully support.

The lew rockwell fetishists strike again

I hate these f*cking guys. They’re as bad as Illinois Nazis. Not only do they use opposition to the Iraqi war—which can be done in a principled fashion, as it is by many—as a means for bringing, Trojan-horse-like, xenophobia to mainstream outlets that would otherwise be revulsed by it; now, it’s come to include homophobia.

To begin with, I’ve had run-ins with these idiots before. They worship Rockwell—whom I despise, it’s no secret—and lose all sense of proportion when his views are challenged. They’ve been big supporters of, and have used it as a means of pushing rather radical notions: every attempt to support democracy abroad is seen as interference; every foreign supporter is a neocon stooge, or quisling. Even Pat Tillman, who died with the idea of protecting his country in mind, is fodder for their ends. It’s disgusting.

I would write more, but this is getting me a bit angry. Plus, it’s getting late; I was hoping for a peaceful cruise across the blogosphere before bed. Tom has more here and here. Read the comments; follow the links.

(þ: Volokh)

Currently listening to: Dio

Thursday, 16 December 2004

Bin Laden's Diminished Dream

Jon Henke and Wretchard get snaps for noticing this:
One year ago, Al Qaeda believed they should work against the United States, rather than working to destabilize the Arab regimes. One year ago, Al Qaeda was focusing outward, rather than inward. One year ago, Al Qaeda believed in coexistence with the House of Saud.

One year ago, Al Qaeda believed the Caliphate could best be established by detente with the House of Saud, and War against the United States.

Today, Al Qaeda seeks detente with the US, and war against the House of Saud.

Excellent catch. I’m still not Gizmodo. Er, whatever.

(þ: The Professor)

Habeas corpus

It may seem that we’ve been riding the Samizdata coattails recently, and maybe we have, but they’ve been on a roll and Britain is dealing with many of the same issues that the U.S. faces. Among these is habeas corpus. Our constitution provides us with guidance on the matter, thankfully, and it really hasn’t been as big of an issue as it might otherwise be.

The constitution allows Congress—some would say the President as well, during times of war (I disagree)—to place limits on habeas corpus, but in general it’s understood that the government may not violate it and must follow Congress’s will on the matter. In fact, the most notable, and contentious, example I can think of is the case of Yasser Hamdi. Even then, once it was established that Hamdi was born in the U.S.—and had a claim to U.S. citizenship—he was removed from Gitmo and brought to a U.S. prison where he stayed until released earlier this year, after renouncing his U.S. citizenship. Presumably, if caught in terrorist activities in the future, he won’t be given this kind of consideration.

Without getting too far into the difficulties around Gitmo, it seems to me that President Bush could have avoided that whole controversy by establishing military tribunals for the Gitmo inmates from the beginning, rather than asserting that they could be detained indefinitely with no judicial review at all. Perhaps a reader that is also a lawyer could provide some details and additional perspective.

My point in all of this—and I’ve definitely taken the long way around the barn getting there—is that habeas corpus is an essential barrier between us and a despotic government. Britain is dealing with that very issue now with regard to their own citizens:

I said that the power of detention [without charge or trial] is at present confined to foreigners and I would not like to give the impression that all that was necessary was to extend the power to United Kingdom citizens as well. In my opinion, such a power in any form is not compatible with our constitution. The real threat to the life of the nation, in the sense of a people living in accordance with its traditional laws and political values, comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these. That is the true measure of what terrorism may achieve. It is for Parliament to decide whether to give the terrorists such a victory.
In the U.S. people can be detained for some period of time (a couple of days for citizens, more for foreigners) and it isn’t really in dispute. Nor should it be. Congress can increase the length of detention without charge if they think it necessary (which I believe they did after 9/11) but it’s not indefinite, the Hamdi case notwithstanding (his citizenship was a point of dispute). It also seems to me that Jefferson had this one right:
“The Habeas Corpus secures every man here, alien or citizen, against everything which is not law, whatever shape it may assume.”—Thomas Jefferson to A. H. Rowan, 1798. ME 10:61
As a rule we should respect habeas corpus, and only limit it by exception, such as times of rebellion, as the constitution stipulates. See Article 1, Section 9, Clause 2:
The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.
Otherwise it should apply to all Americans in their dealings with the U.S. government wherever they are in the world, and should apply to foreigners while on U.S. soil, as stated in the law.


A new wonder

Brian Micklethwait at Samizdata has a post on the Millau Viaduct, the final link in the Paris-Barcelona autoroute, which opens today in southern France. More information on this long cable-stayed span—which cost €394 million ($530 million) for a 2.5 km (1.6 mile) span—is available here.

Wednesday, 15 December 2004

Knotty but nice

A brief peek inside the “fourth wall” of my life:

  • I had a really good birthday yesterday, including dinner at Old Venice and a DVD-watching session† with my good friends Chad, Kamilla, and Kelly* at the humble abode.
  • My dad got me one of these for my birthday, which has already been something of a conversation-piece and satisfies some of my cravings for Blinkenlights. Plus it looks festive next to my holiday penguins and facstaff party door-prize poinsettia.
  • Normally I don’t blog about students, but one of my students from this semester has an interesting piece up at the Jackson Free Press website; I don’t necessarily agree with the all of its politics, but it’s thought-provoking nonetheless.

On commenting

I haven’t been responding to a lot of comments lately, and please don’t take it personally.

The only reason I’ve had any time to blog is because exams ended last week, though my work did not. Christmas is a lot like a stay of execution in grad school; I still have a lot of shortcomings to address, knowledge-wise, and it will probably take me until next summer to handle them to my satisfaction. So, during the day I address deficiencies and in the evening have been able to blog a bit.

It doesn’t leave much time for responding to comments, though I do read them all.


People blog about their obsessions, and one of mine is Martin Scorsese movies. He has a new movie coming out tomorrow, The Aviator, and it will probably cut into my blogging time.

Here’s an excerpt from a NYT interview with Scorsese:

With “The Aviator,” the pressure is on, because assignments should be hits, to enable quixotic auteurs to win backing for the movies they really want to make. Mr. Scorsese’s labors of love – movies like “The Age of Innocence” (1993), “Kundun” (1997) and “The Last Temptation of Christ” (1988) – aren’t the kinds of projects studios line up for. His most recent film, “Gangs of New York,” released two years ago, was a 25-year labor of love whose box office returns weren’t overwhelming in relation to its $100 million budget.

Jay Cocks, a screenwriter who is Mr. Scorsese’s friend and sometime collaborator (on “The Age of Innocence” and “Gangs of New York”) explained the difference for audiences: “Movies like ‘Age of Innocence’ are what my wife calls eat-your-spinach movies. ‘The Aviator’ is not an eat-your-spinach movie. This is dessert.”

At least that’s the hope. As Hughes, Leonardo DiCaprio is meant to supply the sugar rush for the young moviegoers who make films into blockbusters. Mr. DiCaprio has been the driving force behind “The Aviator.” He is the reason it was made and the reason Mr. Scorsese, who directed him in “Gangs,” was offered the picture when Michael Mann decided not to direct.

I was apparently one of a few that really admired Gangs of New York and I’ve generally liked everything Scorsese has done, with the exceptions of The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun. Yes, I liked The Age of Innocence, too.

My personal favorites are the troika: Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas, but as I said above, I like pretty much everything he’s done, with the noted exceptions taken into account.

Russia's backsliding

Anne Applebaum is one of my favorite columnists because she’s willing to take on just about anyone, including the left, though she’s an editor at the WaPo. She also wrote what is probably the definitive book on the Soviet gulags. And she’s a babe, from the looks of things—and I wasn’t influenced by the song Jet City Woman, which I just happen to be listening to at the moment. [Yeah, I realize that’s a “stream of consciousness”-type comment.]

Given her experience covering the collapse of communism in the early 90s, she’s a good person to look to for the state of affairs in Russia at the moment. It ain’t pretty:

She had just turned 18. She was a freshman at a small American college. In flawless English, she explained that she was home for Christmas, visiting her family in Moscow. We spoke about how much her city had changed in the past decade, about the new shops, about how many Muscovites now travel abroad. Then, because we were stuck in Moscow traffic and had run out of small talk, I asked her what she thought about recent events in Ukraine. “We’re really upset about it,” she said. At first I thought she meant that she and her family were upset because the Russian government had helped the Ukrainian government try to steal the election. But in fact, they were upset because they thought Ukraine might leave Russia’s sphere of influence. “If all of these countries around us join NATO and the European Union, Russia will be isolated,” she said. “We must prevent that from happening.”

These were casual comments, and they came from someone who was in no way a typical Russian. But that was precisely the oddness of it: A young woman, educated in the West, felt affronted because Russia’s neighbors want to join Western institutions. And compared with the views of some others, who are not educated in the West, hers are relatively mild. A few days later, at a seminar for high school teachers on “civic education,” I was angrily asked why the U.S. government funds Chechen terrorism and why the American government wants to destroy Russia. Certainly not everyone in Moscow labors under the belief, which my companion in the car also expressed, that Russia will never—can never—join any Western institutions, or that Russia must make a “last stand” against Western encroachment, or that Russia must, at all costs, defend the last redoubt of its empire. Last weekend, at a somewhat ramshackle congress of Russian democratic and human rights activists, I listened to a handful of them argue passionately about the nature of Russian xenophobia and how to stop it.

RTWT, and weep. It seems to me that the Russians should be focusing more attention on commerce and internal liberalization; less on any pretense of empire and the goings-on of their neighbors.

Applebaum’s old employer, The Economist, lead with Russian decline this week as well:

THE drama playing out in the streets of Ukraine in recent weeks has been gripping in its own terms. But its bigger significance for the West lies north-east of Kiev, in Russia. As the tide moves towards a presidential election victory for the opposition leader, Victor Yushchenko, on December 26th, the efforts of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, to thwart him have looked ever more cack-handed. But they have also depressed those who still hoped that Mr Putin’s Russia might move, slowly and tortuously, on to a path leading to political liberalism—and that he might prove an ally not a foe of the West.

As if Russia’s intervention in Ukraine were not enough, the Kremlin’s anti-western rhetoric has also risen. In an excess of hypocrisy even by Soviet standards, Mr Putin and his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, have accused the West of meddling in Ukraine in order to destabilise the region (see article). This week Mr Lavrov attacked the Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe, whose monitors declared the Ukrainian election fraudulent three weeks ago. Mr Putin then widened the field of assault by criticising Iraq’s interim government and its plans to hold elections next month.

Of course, none of this bodes well for Russia’s future—and it doesn’t even include the news that Russia will develop a new class of nuclear weapon designed to evade missile defense. It seems that President Bush’s look into Putin’s soul wasn’t quite thorough enough. It also appears that Russia will be a long-term opponent of the U.S. unless things change. It’s a shame, really. China and India are pretty good examples of countries that can embrace economic reform and fix their situations at home rather than being distracted by the workings of other countries. Russia could do the same.

Update: Dale Franks has more. He also reminded of Churchill's quote on Russia:

Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.
That's still true as far as I can tell. Completely inscrutable and untrustworthy.

Dealing with the Norks

I’ve actually been an admirer of how the Bush Administration has dealt with North Korea. It was one of the areas that Kerry tried to use to distinguish himself from Bush on foreign policy and ended up further alienating me in the process. I never really believed he would abandon the six-way talks and deal with the Norks directly—up to, and including, re-negotiating the armistice of 1953—but was trying to draw a distinction between himself and Bush.

I said at the time that I was opposed to anything that marginalizes China, since they are the only country that has any real pull with the Norks, outside of the threat of force. Apparently we will deal with them directly on a limited basis:

The Bush administration is willing to hold limited face-to-face talks with North Korea and will continue to help feed the country, but will not sweeten a proposed trade of economic concessions for a halt in development of nuclear weapons, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea said Wednesday.

Maintaining a tough line, Ambassador Christopher Hill said, “They have to come to the table and respond to the proposal,” which includes guarantees the United States will not invade North Korea.

Hill also stressed that any direct negotiations with North Korea would be conducted only under the umbrella of the six-country format the Bush administration set up, in contrast to the Clinton administration’s one-on-one negotiations.

“We are prepared to talk to North Korea as part of the six-party process,” Hill said at the Asia Society. “But we are not prepared to undermine the six-party process” that includes China, South Korea, Japan and Russia in the talks.

I’ll be keeping an eye on this—I’m quite serious about thinking it’s a dumb idea to deal with them directly in a substantive way since that’s precisely what they want—and I think, based on the news recently, that we’re closer to a collapse of the DPRK that at any time. Their starvation has become obvious—so much so that it has stunted their physical growth—and the number of refugees has increased in recent years. Likewise, Japan has taken a more hostile approach to the Norks just in the past few days.

We’ll see. I think this limited offer is just to keep the DPRK from walking away altogether.

Since this as close to a win against Ole Miss as I'm likely to get....

...I'll take it:
They’ve said the proper things all week, praising Eli Manning’s arm strength and reminding that nothing is given on a football field, even when a team on an 11-game winning streak meets one on a six-game losing streak.

But the closer the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense gets to facing No. 1 draft pick Manning, the more excited they get. They see the hesitancy in his eyes and the tentativeness of his throws, and they can’t wait to get at him.

While none of the Steelers wants to provide bulletin board material for the slumbering New York Giants by saying they erred by drafting Manning, it’s obvious they don’t feel he’s on the same plane as their own rookie quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger.

To them, Roethlisberger has never seemed nervous or intimidated, or exactly how they expect Manning to be when the Steelers (12–1) play the Giants (5–8) Saturday at Giants Stadium.

Of course, if the Giants win this weekend I’ll have this post for people to throw back at me, but so be it. I’ll be watching if it comes on in the Patch.

Boo-F*cking Hoo

I’m really with Volokh conspirator Orin Kerr on this one: it’s hard to throw a pity party for a professor who has to “endure” Kerry / Edwards bumper stickers and a left-leaning faculty. His biggest gripe—horror of horrors—is that some faculty members will skip the RNC. Hardly evidence of oppression. Here’s “William Pilger’s” take:

My new tenure-track digs include a large office in a historic building with leaded-pane windows, sills deep enough to stack files on, and shelves on three walls filled with my own books, departmental gems, and junk from years past.

All the signs point to it: I’m finally a bona-fide member of academe.

Yet I’m gradually coming to realize that my membership card should read “in but not of”—something the 2004 presidential election set in stark relief. Maybe I should have seen it coming all along.

I was just finishing up the requisite two-year temporary appointment last spring—at my alma mater, of all places—when a relatively small group of conservative students asserted itself more publicly than the administration wished. Their claim: A leftist bias emanating from the college administration and faculty stifled discussion and real thinking in the classroom.

I had reached the same conclusion when I was a student there. During an “Introduction to Political Science” class, for example, I was required to write paper on how to solve global warming. My paper suggested that perhaps there was no reason to, since the scientific evidence was inconclusive. I got a D.

On the paper, I’m not sure what to say other than his paper was off-topic. He could have easily written on the virtues of carbon sinks and “the Geritol solution” if he were required to write about global warming as if it were real. Admittedly, it’s open to dispute and it’s an odd topic for a “political” science class, but it seems within bounds.

A reader's guide to Signifying Nothing

It occurs to me that some of the ongoing conventions of our little weblog may be unfamiliar to new visitors… so here are a few peculiarities that may be helpful to know.

Baseball and the separation of powers

The Mad Hibernian, Off Wing Opinion and James Joyner react to reports that the D.C. Council has approved a financing plan for the relocation of the Montréal Expos to Washington that doesn’t comport with MLB’s wishes. The Hibernian writes:

I’m sympathetic to the argument that D.C. taxpayers shouldn’t get stuck with the whole tab for a new stadium, but the City Council should honor the city’s original agreement with MLB.

It seems to me, on the other hand, that the city council as a whole is under no obligation to honor an agreement made with MLB by the mayor and a couple of city councilmen. If Mayor Williams wanted an agreement that would stick, he should have secured the backing of the council in the first place, rather than striking a deal independently and hoping a lame duck city council would treat it as a fait accompli.

Who is Margaret Cho, anyway?

And why is she quoting Vaclav Havel about orientals?

Erickson out, Orgeron in

Fresh off reports that 49ers coach Dennis Erickson was the leading candidate to replace David Cutcliffe, the Clarion-Ledger is now reporting that Erickson has withdrawn his name from consideration, yet school officials still claim they will make a deal sometime this afternoon.

In other Ole Miss-related news, David Cutcliffe’s former “prevent offense” sidekick John Latina has taken a demotion in the coaching ranks from offensive coordinator to coach the offensive line at Notre Dame, after initially agreeing to work for Steve Spurrier at South Carolina; reports that Cutcliffe will be joining the Irish as well, taking the role of offensive coordinator. John Hunt is Latina’s replacement at Carolina.

Update: Michael Wallace reports that the Rebels have hired Ed Orgeron, the current assistant head coach and defensive coordinator of the University of Southern California Trojans; the official introduction is scheduled for tomorrow morning at the Oxford campus in the indoor practice facility.

Also, this is my entry in today’s OTB Traffic Jam; bigjim has more.

Tuesday, 14 December 2004

Losing a good one

Sgt. Hook, as a gesture towards his men, is retiring from blogging. I’ve been reading him for the last 18 months or so—swapped a few emails as well—and he’ll be sorely missed. He’s a credit to his country.

Social democracy an inevitability?

John Quiggin has a post on an article by Milton Friedman that discusses the demise of socialism in recent decades, and a similar increase in "welfare" spending (the article is for subscribers, so I have to take his word for it).

Quiggin is a social democrat so, naturally, he sees the recent gains in capitalism (neoliberalism in his lingo) as just making the sectors where capitalism succeeds smaller and making the increase of government interference an inevitability due to capitalism’s own successes. For instance, he lists agriculture and manufacturing as areas that are appropriate to capitalism, but healthcare and education, not so much.

Europe will get increasingly economically weak for the next several decades and almost all of it can be accounted for in their demographics, not their philosophy. If their philosophy stays exactly the same, they will see much more government. That's not a philosophy that's ascendant; rather, one that is stuck in its own demographic constraints.

Like Quiggin, I’m influenced by my own views and disagree with his. He sees increased government interference, and he’s probably right about most of the rest of the world, but the U.S. is still an open question as I see it. Europe will be experiencing dramatically increasing median age, which will propel its welfare states even higher than they are now as a percentage of GDP (typically around 50%, as opposed to 32% for the U.S.). The only real hope they have for immigration is from the Middle East, from a culture largely untouched by the Enlightenment. In my opinion, it’s far more likely that we’ll be seeing a Europe in the future that’s far more illiberal (in the classical sense) if they accept new immigrants, and economically so even if they don’t.

The Economist has an excellent population survey from a couple of years ago that sheds a bit of light on the situation:

For 50 years, America and the nations of Western Europe have been lumped together as rich countries, sharing the same basic demographic features: stable populations, low and declining fertility, increasing numbers of old people. For much of that period, this was true. But in the 1980s, the two sides began to diverge. The effect was muted at first, because demographic change is slow. But it is also remorseless, and is now beginning to show up.

America’s census in 2000 contained a shock. The population turned out to be rising faster than anyone had expected when the 1990 census was taken. There are disputes about exactly why this was (more on that shortly). What is not in doubt is that a gap is beginning to open with Europe. America’s fertility rate is rising. Europe’s is falling. America’s immigration outstrips Europe’s and its immigrant population is reproducing faster than native-born Americans. America’s population will soon be getting younger. Europe’s is ageing.

Unless things change substantially, these trends will accelerate over coming decades, driving the two sides of the Atlantic farther apart. By 2040, and possibly earlier, America will overtake Europe in population and will come to look remarkably (and, in many ways, worryingly) different from the Old World.

In 1950, Western Europe was exactly twice as populous as the United States: 304m against 152m. (This article uses the US Census Bureau’s definition of “Europe”, which includes all countries that were not communist during the cold war. The 15 countries that make up the European Union are a slightly smaller sample: they had a population of 296m in 1950.) Both sides of the Atlantic saw their populations surge during the baby boom, then grow more slowly until the mid-1980s. Even now, Europe’s population remains more than 100m larger than America’s.

In the 1980s, however, something curious began to happen. American fertility rates—the average number of children a woman can expect to bear in her lifetime—suddenly began to reverse their decline. Between 1960 and 1985, the American fertility rate had fallen faster than Europe’s, to 1.8, slightly below European levels and far below the “replacement level” of 2.1 (the rate required to keep the population steady). By the 1990s American fertility had rebounded, rising back to just below the 2.1 mark.

They go on to list the details of the change in median age, which are simply astounding:
According to Bill Frey, a demographer at the University of Michigan, the median age in America in 2050 will be 36.2. In Europe it will be 52.7. That is a stunning difference, accounted for almost entirely by the dramatic ageing of the European population. At the moment, the median age is 35.5 in America and 37.7 in Europe. In other words, the difference in the median age is likely to rise from two to 17 years by 2050.
Read the last sentence again: “the difference in the median age is likely to rise from two to 17 years by 2050”. Europe will get increasingly economically weak for the next several decades and almost all of it can be accounted for in their demographics, not their philosophy. If their philosophy stays exactly the same, they will see much more government. That's not a philosophy that's ascendant; rather, one that is stuck in its own demographic constraints.

The U.S. is not settled by a long shot. First, we had a chance to follow Europe towards social democracy in the 1970s. Instead, we elected Reagan and enacted tax cuts—very steep ones which were partially repealed in the coming years. We’ve done something similar with President Bush who has been characteristically headstrong in his refusal to raise taxes as the boomers start to retire. He’s pushing for reform of social security and has already implemented MSAs on a limited basis. He’s right to do it, as well. I would far rather experience some short-term pain—even excruciating pain—rather than suffer slow decline, which will surely happen with the expansion of government that Quiggin envisions.

He’s an Australian and I’ll wish him well in his country’s little adventure. I just don’t want us to follow them.

I hate British Nazis

Perry is on a bit of a roll. It appears that the UK is need of an ACLU, and perhaps a First Amendment as well. The UK apparently has a semi-funtioning Nazi Party whose members are getting arrested for “thought crimes”.

As Perry notes in his title, Nazis are pretty easy pickings. Totalitarians routinely go after easy targets—other totalitarians they oppose, pornographers and the like—to establish a precedent for broader moves against freedom. The UK is looking increasingly hostile to free speech—the canary in the coalmine for freedom, you might say.

Update: In a later comment to the same post, Perry, correctly in my estimation, says that imams, as well as their opponents, should be allowed to say whatever hateful things they wish to say. Fellow Brits should likewise be able to call them morons for saying as much. It's the exchange of ideas, however repugnant.

Another Update: Surprisingly, I managed to forget to include this quote from Jefferson, which seems wholly appropriate:

"It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself. Subject opinion to coercion: whom will you make your inquisitors?" - Thomas Jefferson

Misogyny day in the blogosphere

For the first time in two weeks I was able to both get a good night’s sleep and get up at a reasonable hour. And, after spending a little time around the blogosphere, a theme began to emerge: misogyny. Much of it was done in good humor, like this excerpt from Steve:

No woman has ever forgiven any man for anything, since the dawn of time. And the things we’re least likely to be forgiven for are the things THEY did or caused. Example: you dropped your girlfriend because she refused to stop stabbing you. This makes you a touchy bastard who can’t tell sincere violence from her special way of telling you she feels neglected. Example: you dropped your girlfriend because you kept finding her at Motel 6 under guys who liked telling her what to do. This makes you a resentful wuss who watches too many reruns of “Maude.”
That was laugh-out-loud funny. And this little nugget from Allah in a subsequent post from Steve:
Look on the bright side, though: It’s much better to be an unattractive man than an unattractive woman. Ugly guys like me are just one lottery ticket away from being sex symbols. But an ugly gal? Bottoms up on the Drano, honey.
Quite bitter. If only it were true. What’s even better is watching another woman, in this instance “kelly”, clawing at the corpse of Helen Thomas by suggesting she need’s a “back-waxing”!

Michele does an excellent summary of this as follows:

Men like sex. They like football and basketball but they like sex more. Women don’t like sex as much. Their version of porn is home improvement shows. They get off on Trading Spaces. Women like shiny metal kitchen appliances. Men like power tools. You can take away a man’s football as long as you replace it with some p*ssy, but don’t take away a woman’s decorating show, because not even a ten inch d*ck will be able to replace that.
Finally, Ann Althouse pings a couple of academics for their conclusions regarding men and subordinate women.

Not that this is related, but Rachel Lucas is back in the saddle as the Blue-Eyed Infidel. She doesn’t have her picture up this time, but if memory serves she’s quite the babe. Misogynistic of me? Maybe. BTW, Allah might want to reconsider that lottery win.

(þ: The Professor.)

From Gulf War 1

“While you are away, movie stars are taking your women, Robert Redford is dating your girlfriend, Tom Selleck is kissing your lady, Bart Simpson is making love to your wife.”
—Baghdad Betty, Iraqi radio announcer to Gulf War troops.

Monday, 13 December 2004

Who just saw some titties?

I just got back from seeing Garden State (brought to Jackson by the Crossroads Film Society) with some friends. It’s a great film with lots of laughs and a bit of pathos. If you can see it on a real movie screen, do; otherwise, it’s out on DVD in two weeks.

Free speech is alive and well in America

Perry de Havilland on freedom of speech in the UK:

Making insulting remarks about any religion is like shooting fish in a barrel but the right to say what you will is vastly more important than some imaginary right to not [...] be offended. Without freedom of speech the whole damaged edifice of liberty really is in the gravest peril and if not enough British people realise that then we are in serious, serious trouble.
Despite Ashcroft’s crushing of dissent [rimshot!!], free speech is alive and well in America; anyone that saw the last campaign can testify as much.

Perry is absolutely right, though: I found Michael Moore’s speech quite offensive, yet I never thought he should be silenced. It’s also why I oppose “hate crimes” legislation: it’s an attack on thought, pure and simple. I’m reminded of SCOTUS Justice Brandeis’s statement from Olmstead v. United States:

“Experience should teach us to be on our guard to protect liberty when Government’s purpose are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment of men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding.”

Poll this

As promised, here’s the exit poll report, hot off the presses. There are not enough pretty graphs yet, but you get the idea.

Sunday, 12 December 2004

Locke out

Steven Taylor attempts to remind Kevin Drum that a belief in natural rights, such as that of Clarence Thomas, is hardly a right-wing radical (or reactionary?) notion; indeed, it was a bedrock principle that this nation was founded on, explicitly discussed in the Declaration of Independence and inherent in the Constitution—the “Blessings of Liberty” referred to in the preamble didn’t just emerge from thin air.

Update: Note that there is nothing inherently Christian in the Jeffersonian natural rights doctrine; as Jon Rowe points out, Jefferson and most of the key thinkers behind the Founding and the Constitution were not really Christians.

Hammers, nails, and bias

Stephen Bainbridge is outraged (yes, outraged) to discover bias in an exam question on the presidency:

In a five-page, double spaced paper in a 12-point font, write a memo to President Bush on how to assure that in his second term he become known as a persident who unites rather than divides the American people. In your memo you should concentrate particularly on the models past presidents provide for success as uniters. You might also point out the mistakes made by past presidents that President Bush ought to avoid.


Write a memo on the actions President George W. Bush ought to take in the first one hundred days of his second term to deliver on the promises he made during the election AND to build a strong legacy for his presidency overall.

In your essay you should be mindful of the following observations made by seasoned pundits David Gergen and William Schneider:

”[The Bush Administration] has already shown ominous signs of ‘group-think’ in its handling of Iraq and tha nation’s finances. By closing down dissent and centralizing power in a few hands, he is acting as if he truly believes that he and his team have a perfect track record, that they know best, and that they don’t need any infusion of new heavyweights. He has every right to take this course, but as he knows from his Bible, pride goeth before…” (David Gergen, “The Power of One,” The New York Times, Nov. 19, 2004).

“Rallying his conservative base paid off for Bush. But he did it by running on divisive social issues, such as same-sex marriage, embryonic stem-cell research, and a ban on late-term abortions. His strategy will make it harder to heal the painful divisions created by the 2004 campaign. Just wait for Bush’s first Supreme Court nomination.” (William Schneider, “Exploiting the Rifts, ” National Journal, Nov. 6, 2004).

“The post-election Times/CBS News poll asked whether, in the next four years, Bush’s presidency will bring Americans together or divide them. The results were closely divided but tilted toward pessimism: 48 percent said Bush will divide the country, while 40 percent predicted that he will bring America together. In other words, the country remains divided-even over whether Bush will continue to divide the country.” (William Schneider, “Divided We Stand,” National Journal, Dec. 4, 2004.)

Except for the problem that both options essentially ask the same question (which, er, makes the inclusion of this option pretty stupid—pick one and stick with it), I’m a bit at a loss as to how these questions demonstrate bias, although I suppose the Gergen and Schneider quotes might stack the deck a little. I am curious what examples of “uniters” the question’s author has in mind, though; I can’t think of any post-Washington examples of presidents who managed to please most people, although I suppose there were presidents who managed to unite vast majorities of people in opposition to them (Andrew Johnson and Richard Nixon spring to mind).

There is more to SEC schools than football (maybe)

My first thought on reading the headline NASA Chief Said to Be Top Contender for L.S.U. Job” was “What does NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe know about coaching college football?”

Omitted caveats

Jeff Licquia writes of a lesson he learned after some problems (thankfully resolved) with tires he bought at Sam’s Club:

Nevertheless, as a lesson hard won, it bears repeating: do not buy anything from club stores that you foresee needing ongoing customer support for, including automotive parts, computers and other electronics, or anything else where warranty support is important to you.

It seems to me that he omits the caveat “if you don’t plan on keeping your membership through the warranty period.” Given the extremely generous Costco and Sam’s return policies on most goods, maintaining one’s membership would seem to be a relatively inexpensive insurance policy.

The rectal chapeau brigade

George Will has a good column on the problems that face the Democratic Party these days:

The reason that Moore is hostile to U.S. power is that he despises the American people from whom the power arises. Moore’s assertion that America “is known for bringing sadness and misery to places around the globe” is a corollary of Kuttnerism, the doctrine that “middle America” is viciously ignorant.

Beinart is bravely trying to do for liberalism what another magazine editor—the National Review’s William Buckley—did for conservatism by excommunicating the Birchers from the conservative movement. But Buckley’s task was easier than Beinart’s will be because the Birchers were never remotely as central to the Republican base as the Moore-MoveOn faction is to the Democratic base.

The nation needs a 1947 liberalism—anti-totalitarian but without what Beinart calls the Bush administration’s “near-theological faith in the transformative capacity of U.S. military might.” Wish Beinart well.

Will is right, again. We need an opposition in this country that can make a credible argument against intervention, without resorting to the hysteria of the asshats at You can argue that Iraq was a strategic error—that it won’t make us safer—or that it’s not worth the loss of life, or that the military could be better used elsewhere, but it’s a hard argument to make when you actually hate your country and think it exports misery. That is Michael Moore’s legacy, and oddly he plans a sequel for 2007.

The Democrats could take a principled stand against totalitarianism, as in 1947, but I doubt they will: the lure of opportunism is too strong these days. For evidence, look at McQ's post on this Chicago obituary. Absolutely laughable: died of a broken heart due to the election. Yeah.

BTW, I still don’t like Will’s use of the word liberalism, but I think my quixotic quest to change that has run its course. For now, anyway.

Spelling follies

Will Baude and Heidi Bond are considering the difficulty of spelling various words correctly. Baude and Bond suggest “necessary, privilege and judgment” are difficult, as is “license.”

The latter two are perhaps difficult because the Commonwealth spellings “judgement” and “licence” are similar (but invalid in Standard American Written English).

Personally, I only seem to have trouble with “tendency”... which I managed to misspell on the American government exam I gave today, and is confusingly different from words like “attendance” that are pronounced the same. The moral of this story: flyspell-mode is your friend.

China's ascendancy

China seems to be all the rage these days. I’ve seen the issue of China’s ascendancy in at least one textbook and one test in recent months. The question is generally asked as a comparative advantage question, such as “If China has an absolute advantage in producing all products (meaning it can produce each of them with fewer inputs per unit of output) against the U.S., will China still choose to trade with us?”. The answer is a modern spin on Ricardo’s “wine and wool” scenario between Britain and Portugal.

I would be interested to hear a contrary answer, provided it doesn’t contain overheated rhetoric about “predation” and so forth.

The answer, of course, is “yes”, China would continue to trade with us because it’s too expensive for them not to. Even if they have an absolute advantage in everything, they will still be internally better at producing some good and there’s an opportunity cost associated with their production choices. So it behooves us to not respond to their ascendancy with quotas or tariffs, but rather to continue trading with them. Monetary theory adds some additional difficulty but the answer should be the same (I would be interested to hear a contrary answer, provided it doesn’t contain overheated rhetoric about “predation” and so forth). Business Week has a good article on the economic history of the U.S. and Europe that provides a present-day lesson:

The close links between the U.S. and Europe fostered growth in both regions then, but how is trade affecting the U.S. today? Just as Europe prospered in the 1800s despite the rise of America, the U.S. is faring relatively well now, in a world where manufacturing jobs are moving in droves to China and white-collar jobs are outsourced to India. GDP per person in the U.S., adjusted for inflation, is up 6% since 2000 despite a recession, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and a massive trade deficit that is subtracted from GDP.

Surprisingly, real wages are up as well, as inexpensive goods from China hold down inflation and help paychecks go further. According to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, real wages of private-sector workers are up 3.3% since 2000. At the high end, real wages rose 5.1% for managers and 3.1% for professionals despite the recession and pressure from information-technology jobs transferring out of the country. At the less-skilled end, over the past four years there has been a 4.1% real wage increase for clerical and administrative support workers, a 3.2% gain for less-skilled blue-collar workers, and a 6.7% jump for traditionally low-paid health-care workers. These are solid improvements, even compared with the boom years of 1996 to 2000, when private-sector wages showed a 5.4% increase.

As for innovation, the U.S. still has a comparative advantage in key areas such as biotechnology and finance. Biotech, which many believe could fuel the next global boom, is still concentrated in the U.S. And the American financial system, far deeper and more robust than its fragile Chinese counterpart, is much better suited to be the global financial hub.

But as history shows, in periods of political, economic, or military turmoil, the free flow of goods, capital, and ideas can get choked off. And some countries feel the pain more than others. Europe found that out during World War I and the Great Depression. While America was developing mass production and a domestic automobile industry, “Europe was distracted by wars and interwar economic chaos,” writes economist Robert J. Gordon of Northwestern University. The result: The U.S. grew while Europe stagnated. From 1913 to 1950, U.S. GDP per person rose 1.6% per year—as fast as in the previous 100 years—while Europe struggled with a meager 0.8% annual gain.

This evening I had dinner with a buddy and he and I discussed how the U.S. is pretty unique among the nations of the world. For most of them history is a story of war, poverty and short lives. Thomas Sowell put it very well in his Fourth of July column this year:
When you have learned of the bitter oppressions that so many people have suffered under, in despotic countries around the world, have you ever wondered why Americans have been spared?

Have scenes of government-sponsored carnage and lethal mob violence in countries like Rwanda or in the Balkans ever made you wonder why such horrifying scenes are not found on the streets of America?

Nothing is easier than to take for granted what we are used to, and to imagine that it is more or less natural, so that it requires no explanation. Instead, many Americans demand explanations of why things are not even better and express indignation that they are not.

Some people think the issue is whether the glass is half empty or half full. More fundamentally, the question is whether the glass started out empty or started out full.

Those who are constantly looking for the “root causes” of poverty, of crime, and of other national and international problems act as if prosperity and law-abiding behavior were so natural that it is their absence that has to be explained. But a casual glance around the world today, or back through history, would dispel any notion that good things just happen naturally, much less inevitably.

If we have enough sense to listen to our own history, we’ll know that China, assuming they don’t have a banking crisis due to the currency peg, will not grow at our expense, but to our advantage. They’ll produce some things better than us and we’ll benefit from trade with them. Really, given their population, it’s surprising that it’s taken them so long to outgrow us in aggregate—except for the fact that they were economic communists until the 1970s.

There will be challenges due to China’s growth—and those that see economics as an extension of their penises will probably feel threatened by it—and we’ll have to address them through education, job retraining and income assistance. Even so, we’ll end up better off and, assuming they pose no military threat to us, we shouldn’t feel threatened by another country throwing off poverty and developing a middle class.

Via the still-valuable-even-though-the-election’s-over Real Clear Politics.

All I want for Christmas is an answer to this question

Finals are now mercifully over. Unfortunately, I forgot to use my Professorial Powers of Evil to ask my tuned-into-the-Zeitgeist students the question that’s been bothering me for the past two weeks: what’s the deal with Lindsay Lohan? No, really, I mean it. Anyone?

Saturday, 11 December 2004

Then again, maybe he just grew up in Love Canal

To the shock of virtually no one, the New York Times reports that Ukranian opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko was poisoned with dioxin. It’s still not entirely clear who was responsible, but the smart money is either on the Russian FSB—the organization formerly known as the KGB—or its Ukranian equivalent (þ: PoliBlog).

Institutional inertia

With exams over less than twelve hours, I wasn’t planning on doing much thinking—who knows, after reading this you might conclude that I haven’t been doing much thinking—but this is an issue I care about. So I blog.

I read a proposal in the WSJ earlier this year, which has apparently come up again, about ending the tax deductibility of health benefits and was struck by how simple it is. I wish I still had the archive from my old site so I could find the original article.

Anyway, making benefits exempt from taxable income causes people to over-consume and employers will opt for more elaborate plans for more expensive workers. They’re the ones with the bargaining power. Will eliminating this distortion, by treating different forms of income equally, cause employers to abandon health insurance as a benefit? I suspect not for two reasons.

First is institutional inertia. Employees have come to expect employers to offer some sort of health benefit and it’s one of the first things employees think about when evaluating jobs. Employers will likely continue to offer health benefits simply because employees expect the benefits.

Another reason employers will continue to offer health benefits, even without the tax benefit, is because it’s something that they can offer relatively cheaply, as opposed to having employees get their own insurance. This won’t be true in every case, to be sure, but in general employers will be able to buy insurance at a lower rate than employees can alone, therefore adding more value to a compensation package from the employee’s perpective at a relatively low cost to the employer.

Will the benefit of eliminating the propensity to over-consume that’s built into the tax code outweigh the costs of disintermediation and other considerations? I don’t know, but on its face it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to treat one form of income as preferable to another.

More on this issue can be found here and here.

Update: click through the "here" links if you want to see actual numbers.

Friday, 10 December 2004

Woot!, Part 2

Exams are officially over!

Thursday, 9 December 2004


He would get my vote, if I lived PA:
Former Steelers great Lynn Swann is reportedly considering running for governor on the Republican ticket in 2006.

Spoiling your host

With various holidays approaching, what better way could there be to show your appreciation for Signifying Nothing than by getting Chris something he wants for his birthday and/or Christmas?

God, I feel like K-Lo (☣). Someone shoot me.

Wednesday, 8 December 2004

Nuking one's nads

The BBC helpfully informs us that using your laptop on your lap may have negative effects on male fertility.

However, someone will have to explain to me later why health researchers are allowed to make inferences about the entire human male population from a study of just 29 subjects. They’d shoot me if I tried that. (þ: memeorandum)

All about the Benjamins

Hei Lun of Begging to Differ explains why we won’t be seeing a playoff in college football (at least, not one bigger than the “plus-one” four-team format) any time soon. But he omits one other aspect of the “money” side of the equation: the way that bowl revenues are divvied up.

The teams (except independents, which today means—in practice—Notre Dame) don’t keep all of the payout from a bowl appearance; instead, they get about half, and the rest is divided equally around their conference, with perhaps a share also going to the league office. So every SEC school will get about a million dollars in shared bowl revenue this winter, in addition to any bowl payout shares (Auburn will get the biggest chunk of change, while every school will at least break even—travel expenses for the team and the band come out of the payout, obviously, so the headline payout number can be misleading at smaller bowls). In a playoff, these guaranteed revenues would essentially go away for conferences that don’t get anyone in the bracket—and the big schools depend on this money to fund their “non-revenue” sports (i.e. the sports other than football, men’s basketball, and [depending on the school] women’s basketball), and, by extension, deter Title IX lawsuits.

More importantly for this equation, any playoff would almost certainly fall under NCAA auspices and probably either give every playoff participant a slice of the pie (as outlined above) or every I-A school a slice of the pie; either option would essentially take money—and control—from the 5½ major conferences. And, given that a slight majority of I-A programs are in the majors (a figure likely to increase once the new I-A actual attendence requirements start to erode the Sun Belt and other minors), the status quo works just fine for a majority of the programs out there.

More on towers manufactured with elephant tusk substitute

If the new Left2Right blog’s contributors want to understand “Red America” (gag), it occurs to me an excellent place to start might be by asking their conservative colleagues how to better understand, and communicate with, the unwashed masses, rather than by starting a weblog. Readers are cordially invited to point out any flaws in my thinking.

One might also point the blog’s contributors to, say, any of the empirical research on the public opinion formation process, which suggests that by far the worst way to convince anyone to change their opinions is to wrap one’s self in ideological and partisan colors opposite of those of the people one is trying to convince. Try here and here for starters.

Double not-so-secret probation

The fun in Hattiesburg never ends; the Hattiesburg American reports that Southern Miss was put on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, its accreditation body (and the accreditor for most of the colleges and universities in the southeastern United States, including Millsaps). The issues leading to the decision include problems with the “assessment of institutional effectiveness, assessment of distance-learning effectiveness and strategic planning in academic units..”

In other SACS news, Auburn’s probation was lifted ($) on Tuesday.

As the coaching carousel turns

Not much seems to have changed from yesterday’s account by Robert Knodell at the SEC Fanblog, although today’s Clarion-Ledger reports that USC (that’d be the one in California, not the one in the Carolinas) assistant Ed Orgeron really wants the job, and notes the latest salvo in the Bobby Petrino–Pete Boone pissing contest.

Tuesday, 7 December 2004

The ivory tower

Brian Weatherson of Crooked Timber links to a new group blog, called Left2Right, which allegedly is designed for “blue state” professors to understand “Red America” (excuse me while I projectile-vomit). According to Weatherson:

The contributors so far include Elizabeth Anderson, Kwame Appiah, Josh Cohen, Stephen Darwall, Gerald Dworkin, David Estlund, Don Herzog, Jeff McMahan, Seana Shiffrin, and David Velleman. Wowsa. And many other names you may have heard of, from Peter Railton to Richard Rorty, are listed as being part of the team. This should be worth following.

Do I have to turn in my cap and gown if I declare that I haven’t actually heard of any of these people? (þ: Orin Kerr)

Monday, 6 December 2004

A terrorist futility index?

Professor Becker’s first post is online and here’s the last graf:

Moreover, the degree of certainty required before preventive actions are justified has been considerably reduced below what it was in the past because the destructive power of weaponry has enormously increased. Perhaps most worrisome, the power of weapons continues to grow, and to become more easily accessible. Critics of preventive wars and other preventive actions against rogue states and terrorist groups ignore these major changes in weaponry and their availability. Democratic governments have to recognize that they no longer have the luxury of waiting to respond until they are attacked.
I agree with everything he says in this paragraph. I’m not as crazy about the earlier analogy with criminal behavior, mostly because I think it’s too limiting. This would no doubt set off his commenters that thought attacking Iraq for speculative reasons was a mistake, but I think it’s true. The state has a much higher burden of proof in moving against (potential) criminals than it does in dealing with other states. One reason is that states deal with one another via both war and diplomacy. Hopefully not in that order, but it’s in the nature of sovereignty.

Another commenter brought up an intriguing [update: I rarely re-read posts, but if this post hadn't been up for a few hours already I would edit it and use the word inane, not intriguing] point about box cutters: more people have been killed in the U.S. by terrorists with box cutters than by nuclear weapons. Why aren’t we attacking nations that manufacture box cutters? The commenter misses the whole point of any notion of preventive war: we don’t want to be attacked with nuclear weapons in the first place. September 11th was simply a wake-up call to something that had been building since the Iranian hostage crisis, and it took a disaster to get us out of our slumber. I don’t want to have to wait for yet another disaster to wake us again. There’s an argument to be made against preventive war, but that ain’t it.

As for the title of the post? One of the commenters mentioned that we are creating additional terrorists by attacking Iraq. This is almost certainly true. The questions is, I suppose, are we arresting / killing them faster than we create them? Are we being made less safe for having gone into Iraq? I don’t know, but there’s an upper bound on the number of new terrorists—really, pent up terrorism is more accurate—and I would like to think we’re getting rid of them faster than they’re being created.

Groceries and the regulatory state

I somehow managed to purchase two frozen pizzas (“Dano’s Gourmet”—I always trust pizza from a company named after a character on Hawaii Five-O) at Winn-Dixie last week, and, upon cooking the first, I discovered to my horror that in lieu of actual mozzarella cheese, one of the toppings on the pizza is called “mozzarella cheese substitute blend.”

My question: should I be annoyed at the regulatory state for its failure to ban fake cheese from the frozen pizza market (i.e. its failure to act in the Carolene Products vein), or should I be annoyed at the regulatory state for its lulling me into a false sense of security—a belief that I wouldn’t be sold a pizza with fake cheese on it—which led me not to check the ingredients until I got home?

Or, should I be annoyed at Winn-Dixie for stocking this crap and take my grocery business to Kroger or Brookshire’s or McDade’s or Super Wal-Mart? (I’d add New Deal to this list, but I’m leery of any supermarket whose primary selling point in its weekly ads is that ”$19.99 feeds your family meat for a week.” Plus, I generally make it a matter of principle to avoid stores named after government programs…)

Sunday, 5 December 2004

Into the blogroll they go

Saturday, 4 December 2004

Another reason to hope for North Korea's collapse

This is what Stalinism does for you. Maybe North Korea will collapse so their people can eat:

Sixty years of North Korean communism have had a grim and unexpected impact on its citizens: it has paralysed their growth.

While their cousins in the south have thrived physiologically, thanks to the comforts of capitalism, North Koreans remain as stunted in stature as they were after the Second World War. Adolescents look like children, adults like young teenagers. Nor is the height difference a slight one. After studying more than 2,300 refugees who have fled the north over the past four years, anthropologist Sunyoung Pak has found that the average young northern male is 5.9cm (2.32in) shorter than his southern contemporary. The difference for women is 4.1cm (roughly 1.62in).

‘North Koreans are clearly suffering from chronic growth retardation,’ said Pak, of Seoul National University in South Korea. Her studies, to be published in the international journal, Economics and Human Biology, this month, suggest that North Koreans must have suffered severe malnutrition problems virtually since Korea split into two states in 1948.

Her research shows that the only ages at which the average North Korean in her sample and the average South Korean share about the same height is from 50 to 69 years. Since height is determined during the early teenage years, this suggests that North Korea began to suffer food shortages at least by the 1960s.

There may be hope, yet. I had read in recent years that the non-military portion of the population was getting by on 600 calories a day, while the military gets 1000. Neither number is good and maybe things will get bad enough that someone high up in Mr. Kim’s government will pop him.

Amazon citations

Amazon has a new "citations" feature for academic books. If the book is one for which "Search inside this book" is enabled, Amazon will tell you what other books are cited by the given book, and also what other books (with "Search inside" enabled) cite the given book.

For example, take the Amazon page for one of my favorite philosophy books, On the Plurality of Worlds, by David Lewis. In the citations section, we see that this book cites 29 other books in Amazon's catalog, including The Shape of Space, by Graham Nerlich, and Science without Numbers, by Hartry Field. There are 120 books in the Amazon catalog that cite Plurality, such as Supervenience and Mind, by Jaegwon Kim. There are even links to images of the pages where the citations occur.

It's trackback for books!

Brad DeLong.)

Friday, 3 December 2004

Unrest in the forest?

Tucked into the omnibus appropriations bill passed a few weekends ago, there was a little noticed provision designating the oak as America’s national tree.

It would have been the maple, but I understand that one’s already taken.

Free Credit Report

A recent amendment to the Fair Credit Reporting Act requires that all three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) provide you with a free copy of your credit report, upon your request, once per year.

To prevent them from being overwhelmed with requests, the free reports are being phased in over a nine month period, from Dec. 1, 2004 to Sept. 1, 2005, depending on your state of residence.

For more information, visit the FTC‘s page, or go to (No link provided, since that web server rejects requests with a HTTP_REFERER header from any site other than,,, or, presumably to thwart phishing attacks.)

Again on the leftward tilt of universities

Chris just commented on this extensively, but this topic seems to be all over the place (and I mentioned it earlier this week, however briefly). The Economist has an article as well by their “Lexington” on this issue of ideological bias in the universities. A quote:

This is profoundly unhealthy per se. Debating chambers are becoming echo chambers. Students hear only one side of the story on everything from abortion (good) to the rise of the West (bad). It is notable that the surveys show far more conservatives in the more rigorous disciplines such as economics than in the vaguer 1960s “ologies”. Yet, as George Will pointed out in the Washington Post this week, this monotheism is also limiting universities’ ability to influence the wider intellectual culture. In John Kennedy’s day, there were so many profs in Washington that it was said the waters of the Charles flowed into the Potomac. These days, academia is marginalised in the capital—unless, of course, you count all the Straussian conservative intellectuals in think-tanks who left academia because they thought it was rigged against them.

Bias in universities is hard to correct because it is usually not overt: it has to do with prejudice about which topics are worth studying and what values are worth holding. Stephen Balch, the president of the conservative National Association of Scholars, argues that university faculties suffer from the same political problems as the “small republics” described in Federalist 10: a motivated majority within the faculty finds it easy to monopolise decision-making and squeeze out minorities.

The more indeterminate the discipline, the more it tilts left.

Of course, I like the quote because it adds to one of my own pet theories: the more indeterminate the discipline, the more it tilts left.

There are some on the right that rather loudly oppose affirmative action in all its forms, except in academia, where they want some form of preferences for the right. This seems like a bad idea to me, and Chris said it better than I can below: “Replacing liberal ideologues who can’t keep their lectures and their leftism separate with right-wingers with similar faults is no solution.”

It’s not as much of a threat in my discipline, economics, as it is in other fields. As my Thought professor has pointed out at great length, the economic discipline has created a “little box” which it defines as theory. The box is supposedly used as a means of keeping ideas that aren’t fully explainable out of the body of theory. There’s also a nearly complete positive correlation in favor of those ideas that can be expressed using math. Again leading to my theory about how indeterminate a discipline is sets its leftward tilt.

Back to the academic bias well

Greg Ransom and Glenn Reynolds are among those linking to Jeff Jacoby’s Boston Globe column on a survey conducted on behalf of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni that indicates that students perceive bias in the classroom environment at elite liberal arts colleges and universities; a similar perspective appears today at

Is political bias a problem in American college classrooms? If so, am I part of the problem?

Among the findings of the ACTA survey:

* 48% report campus presentations on political issues that “seem totally one-sided.”
* 46% say professors “use the classroom to present their personal political views.”
* 42% of students fault reading assignments for presenting only one side of a controversial issue.

The survey also indicates that political comments are consistently partisan. The survey, which was conducted just before and after the American presidential election, found that 68% of the students reported negative remarks in class about Pres. George Bush while 62% said professors praised Sen. John Kerry. ...

74% of students said professors made positive remarks about liberals while 47% reported negative comments about conservatives.

One wonders, somewhat, about issues of question wording (for example, if we invite a third-party presidential candidate to speak on campus, does that constitute a “totally one-sided” presentation?) and selection (what percentage of students said professors made negative remarks about Kerry or praise of Bush?). The lack of a straightforward report on the survey on the website is troublesome, to say the least, and I’m not sure you can infer much based on an average of 12 or 13 interviews per college, particularly without knowing the mode of interview or how interviewees were selected.

Nonetheless, there are a few noteworthy issues here worth discussing; first, course readers like the one I use for my introductory American government class rarely include articles supporting both sides of a particular issue, and I can’t assign a “conservative” reading on campaign finance reform if the only one in the book is from The Nation. Nor, for that matter, can I assign a “liberal” reading on homeland security, since the ones in the book are both from The Economist. Should I include a reading from David Duke to offset the pro-civil rights articles? At some point, balance becomes silly.

Second, the perception that the “job” of the liberal arts college professor is to indoctrinate students in political liberalism, rather than guiding students to knowledge through justified true belief and promoting the ability to think critically about conflicting ideas and values, is distressingly common on college and university campuses. A friend (and fellow Ph.D. student) and I once talked about the problem inherent when people who teach political science don’t even consider the political views of one of the two major parties to be legitimate.

All that said, I’m damned if I know what the solution is. Replacing liberal ideologues who can’t keep their lectures and their leftism separate with right-wingers with similar faults is no solution. Nor is a witch hunt against professors who, after all, are human and—over the course of 100+ hours of lecturing a semester—are probably going to say at least a couple of things that reflect something other than the objective material of the class. I like to think I do a good job balancing these things (one of the best compliments I’ve ever received teaching was from a bright student who “couldn’t figure out” what I was), but I also know I don’t always succeed.

The unkindest Cut

Mark the Pundit advances a theory about David Cutcliffe’s hiring-and-firing that has at least a minor whiff of plausibility (þ James Joyner):

A theory on the rise and fall of David Cutcliffe at Ole Miss.

I wonder if Ole Miss hired Cutcliffe for the sole reason that they knew that it was a good chance he could land Eli Manning? After all, Cutcliffe recruited and coached brother Peyton at Tennessee, and Peyton does think highly of Cutcliffe. Now, when Peyton was recruited he signaled he would not sign with Ole Miss since his father Archie played there and Peyton did not want the extra pressure of playing where Pop did. However, if Eli had any such reservations, I did not hear about them. In fact, I think Eli was probably more reluctant to follow Peyton’s footsteps at Tennessee. So what does Ole Miss do? They lure away Cutcliffe from Tennessee as a way to show Eli that Ole Miss’s program was going to take a direction that could land him in the pros just like his brother. Ole Miss needed a coach at the time, so why not hire a man who could land one of the most sought after recruits in the country? Apparently it worked. Eli has a God-like stature at Ole Miss, and he is now a multimillionaire playing for the New York Giants. Coach Cutcliffe delivered the goods, but in the eyes of Ole Miss he outlived his usefullness.

I certainly think the Eli situation was a factor that helped Cutcliffe win the job, but I’m not sure it explains the firing so much as Pete Boone’s apparent antipathy toward Cutcliffe and his desire to get his “own guy” in the job. Plus, anyone who’s followed the last six years of Ole Miss football has to wonder about the annual November slump and inexplicable losses to middling teams over the past few years, like unidimensional Texas Tech, limited-talent Memphis, and whatever the hell happened to the team at Wyoming, not to mention the Music City Bowl fiasco against West Virginia. Inexplicably, my dubbing of Cutcliffe as the “master of the prevent offense” never seemed to catch on, but it certainly characterized much of the play under every QB.

(All that said, I still am not at all convinced the firing made a lot of sense, unless there’s stuff we don’t know coming down the pike, as Kornheiser mentioned yesterday as a possible caveat before he and Wilbon went on a tear insulting the decision by Boone and Robert Khayat.)

Mark also reminds me why I wasn’t all that broken up when the whole Petrino thing was going down at Auburn. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy… (The annoying part is that I think the AP will give Tubby half the national title just because the sportswriters like complaining about the BCS—and what better way to show it’s broken than to put their thumb on the scale a bit?)

Byrd plays curriculum designer

U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) apparently added a rider ($) to the FY2005 appropriations bill requiring any educational institution receiving federal aid to have some sort of “instructional program on the U.S. Constitution” every September 17, according to today’s Chronicle of Higher Education daily update. (Here’s a link for people not blowing $85/year on the Chronicle.)

Perhaps we political scientists (who, doubtless, will be the individuals subject to this unfunded mandate) should also devote another day—say, December 3—to teaching about the practice of including non-germane provisions in conference reports, thus circumventing the committee system and the rest of the ordinary legislative process. I feel the need for a “teach-in” already.

Pete Boone opens up the phone book

The Clarion-Ledger and Commercial Appeal both report that Ole Miss AD Pete Boone is looking at ousted Florida coach Ron Zook and ex-Notre Dame coach Ty Willingham as candidates to replace fired head coach David Cutcliffe, while speculation north of the state line also has current Memphis coach Tommy West on the short list, the Biloxi Sun-Herald adds Darrell Dickey of North Texas and Butch Davis to the mix, and the Gainesville Sun has Bobby Petrino and Rick Neuheisel as candidates for the Ole Miss job. (In other words, most everyone is just blindly speculating who Boone is after at this point.)

In other Rebel football news, Boone had a rather heated meeting with about sixty players on the Ole Miss football team that sort of captures the whole week in a nutshell. And who says the Rebels don’t turn out smart kids?

“People are mad,” [junior defensive tackle McKinley] Boykin said. “For a coach to have a good year and be the coach of the year, and have a bad year and then fire him, that's pretty messed up. Whatever coach comes in, I hope he knows what he's getting into.”

I have no doubt about that, at least…

Bonds was juiced, news at 11

In what has to be about the most unsurprising other-shoe-drop since the Michael Jackson child abuse allegations, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (via that San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds (unknowingly, he alleges) used performance-enhancing drugs supplied to him by his trainer, according to sealed grand jury testimony leaked by prosecutors obtained by the newspaper. Coupled with Jason and Jeremy Giambi’s admissions that they used steroids supplied by Bonds’ trainer, things aren’t looking good for baseball’s image.

A larger issue here, pointed out by David Pinto, is that these leaks are likely to undermine the grand jury system—not just in this case, but in a lot of other cases too. Given that the Justice Department is not only responsible for prosecuting this case, but investigating grand jury leaks (which, pretty much by definition, can only come from prosecutors, as no other parties have unrestricted access to the transcripts), the “fox guarding the henhouse” aspect of these leak investigations does not fill one with much confidence about the integrity of the grand jury system.

Update: Steven Taylor questions the sanity of Bonds’ reported decision to use unknown substances (steroids or not) obtained from a guy who lived in his car. No kidding. David Pinto recommends reading the whole thing for a glimpse into Bonds’ mindset, and asks the $64,000 question—what does Bud Selig do about these revelations?

More on the dollar

Talk about the dollar has been all the rage these days. The Economist is leading with it as an issue this week. Seeing the dollar fall this much is bothersome—and may be very bad news, for all I know—but it still seems to be about forcing China to break that peg. As for The Economist’s suggestion that we focus on the budget deficit, as long as it’s confined to spending restraint, I agree. The tax cuts, though, need to stay in place to force the issue of entitlement reform. Future tax increases—and there will be future tax increases—should be implemented once that’s been accomplished. Here’s what The Economist had to say:

In a free market, without the massive support of Asian central banks, the dollar would be far weaker. In any case, such support has its limits, and the dollar now seems likely to fall further. How harmful will the economic consequences be? Will it really undermine the dollar’s reserve-currency status?

Periods of dollar decline have often been unhappy for the world economy. The breakdown of Bretton Woods that led to a weaker dollar in the early 1970s was painful for all, contributing to rising inflation and recession. In the late 1980s, the falling dollar had few ill-effects on America’s economy, but it played a big role in inflating a bubble in Japan by forcing Japanese authorities to slash interest rates.

This time round, it is a bad sign that everybody is trying to point the finger of blame at somebody else. America says its external deficit is mainly due to sluggish growth in Europe and Japan, and to the fact that China is pegging its exchange rate too low. Europe, alarmed at the “brutal” rise in the euro, says that America’s high public borrowing and low household saving are the real culprits.

There is something to both these claims. China and other Asian economies should indeed let their currencies rise, relieving pressure on the euro. It is also true that Asia is partly to blame for America’s consumer binge: its central banks’ large purchases of Treasury bonds have depressed bond yields, encouraging households in the United States to take out bigger mortgages and spend the cash. And Europe needs to accept, as it is unwilling to, that a weaker dollar will be a good thing if it helps to shrink America’s deficit and curb the risk of a future crisis. At the same time, Europe is also right: most of the blame for America’s deficit lies at home. America needs to cut its budget deficit. It is not a question of either do this or do that: a cheaper dollar and higher American saving are both needed if a crunch is to be avoided.

We’ve been here before, as they note, in the 1980s. It wasn’t disastrous then, unless you happened to live in Japan, and it needn’t be disastrous this time either. China could start by breaking that peg and we could start by getting spending under control. Entitlement reform would be nice as well. Given that the unfunded liabilities for them are in the tens of trillions of dollars, they’re a far bigger long term problem.

Sold (subject to contract)

God willing, I will be out from under my house in Oxford (and its absurd $44.40/month water bill—thanks Bell Utilities of Mississippi!) by Christmas. Woo-hoo!

Thursday, 2 December 2004

Memphis Blogger Bash III

Summaries of last night’s Blogger Bash have been posted by Len, Abby, Eric, Mick, and Aaron. Topics of discussion included Japanese horror movies and Vietnamese restaurants.

Abby has pictures.

Mick says I look like Matt Drudge. You decide: me, Drudge.

One can hope.

As a guy who dislikes the UN intensely, this report provides some hope:

In this environment, the prospects for UN reform are clouded. Structural changes like those in the report require the backing of two-thirds of the delegates in the General Assembly, further ratification by two-thirds of the governments at home, and no veto by the Security Council’s permanent members. America is in a foul mood about the world body. Why bother reforming something hopelessly ineffective and even corrupt, many there ask? Despite universal agreement that the UN is in a bad way, the case for reform faces an uphill struggle.
As I said, one can hope. I wouldn’t mourn the UN’s passing, either.

Wednesday, 1 December 2004

Cutcliffe axed

BigJim passes on word that David Cutcliffe has been fired as coach at Ole Miss after his first losing season in 6 years with the Rebels. I’m not at all convinced it was the right decision, and the statements from AD Pete Boone and Chancellor Robert Khayat don’t make a lot of sense, in particular this bit from Khayat:

I’ll give you an example. When we hired a new Dean of the School of Education, the provost and I talked about expectations. It’s up to the Dean of School of Education to figure out how to meet those expectations. For me to say who they should hire and what kinds of programs they should implement is wrong. What I can say to him, is “there is a teacher shortage in Mississippi and there is a shortage of well-trained administrators. We need to meet the needs of this state. As Dean of the School of Education, Dean Burrow, we are expecting you to develop a way to do that and we want to see how you are going to do that. It’s not that different than athletics. Organizational rules are transferable from teams to corporations to families. What Pete was asking for was entirely reasonable. David’s response felt right to him and we respect that.

Nor, mind you, does this account square well with accounts I’ve heard of Khayat’s leadership style in other arenas.

BigJim suggests that the Rebels should go for Ty Willingham or Mike Price, both of whom would be great choices. In particular, my inner feelings of karmic justice would be fulfilled by having 2/3 of the black coaches in Division I-A at schools in Mississippi, a point in favor of Willingham. (I’ve also mentioned Memphis coach Tommy West as a strong candidate for the job.)

More at the SEC Fanblog and from Ron Higgins in the CA.

Free at last

Well, that was a fun semester. Let’s just hope that I get to do a few more of these before I have to move elsewhere.

American education

The Economist has a good article on the American school system that makes a number of good points on its failings:

ONE reason that America’s public schools do badly in international rankings, despite getting more money, is that nobody is really accountable for them. The schools are certainly not run by Washington: the federal government pays only 8% of their costs. Most of their money comes from state and local government, but often responsibility for them lies with school boards. And within the schools themselves, head teachers usually have little power either to sack bad teachers or to expel rowdy pupils.

Until recently, the main villains of the piece had seemed to be the teachers’ unions, who have opposed any sort of reform or accountability. Now they face competition from an unexpectedly pernicious force: the courts. Fifty years ago, it was the judges who forced the schools to desegregate through Brown v Board of Education (1954). Now the courts have moved from broad principles to micromanagement, telling schools how much money to spend and where—right down to the correct computer or textbook

Not much to disagree with in the entire article.