Not making a difference since 2006. Blog motto: Always be sincere whether you mean it or not.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

I was wrong

There is a folk tale from my neck of the woods.* A car gets a flat in front of a State Hospital. The driver gets out to fix it. He jacks it up and takes off the bolts. Accidentally, he kicks over the hubcap where he has placed the bolts and they roll down the sewer. He yells out in despair. One of the inmates comes over to the fence and inquires to the problem. He then says to the driver, "Why don't you take a bolt from each of the other tires and put it on the spare and that will get you to where you can buy new bolts." The driver says, "Gee, that's a good idea. What is somebody as smart as you doing in a place like that." The inmate answered, I may be crazy, but I'm not stupid."

So, what's the point. I just want to cover myself. A few posts ago, I made the point that W is not stupid. I stand by that point. John Kerry is stupid and has given another example to prove it. I am not certain W is sane. If he bombs Iran, it will either prove him crazy or his advisors. I have nothing against the insane, but if their actions will bring harm to the interests of my country and myself, I have a problem.

I hope William S. Lind's column of October 31, 2006 is wrong about the administration's intentions, but if it is not, the consequences he outlines are sure to happen. Steve Sailer says that there is not much to the Iranian military. He is probably right in that they do not have all the spiffy gear our troops possess. They don't need it to cause a lot of trouble for us. Iran does not have to have an up to date military to just disrupt oil supplies from the Gulf. Maybe I am just a nervous nellie, but that scares me, a lot.

Therefore, I am changing my tune from my last post. The dems are still primitives, but some of them could prove useful. Any dem who promises to agitate for impeachment and trial should receive your vote. In the unlikely event a GOPer promises it, vote for him. I don't care if the pres is kicked out of office at the end of the day, as Cheney is no prize. I just want to cause maximum distraction for the remainder of the term. Of course, in the one party state I come from, however I vote changes nothing. I will still be able to safely vote for neither the Cargo Cult nor the other gang of charlatans.

Oh, that state nuthouse of the folk tale. It is closed. some of those places deserved to be shut. Unfortunately, closing them all was a mistake. Ralph Peters has proved that complete de-institutionalization of the insane was a big mistake. Of course, sometimes you can't tell the players from the spectators in that sport and he may have a marketable treatment and a book out of his idea of "therapeutic violence."

*You may have the same folk tale, but I claim we had it first.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Don't be a primitive

Udolpho's post Eight reasons not to vote for the Republicans… is dead on. Unless your rep is truly deserving of your vote (someone like Ron Paul) a vote for a Republican is a vote for nothingness, a void. The current Republican party is Dorothy Parker's "there is no there there."

The Democrat Party is another thing altogether. It is a cargo cult masquerading as a political association. It promises everything to everybody. To be a member of a cargo cult is to mark yourself as a primitive. Vote for the Natural Law Party before you vote Democrat!

In fact, I always support the Natural Law Party's presidential candidate. After all anyone who cannot only run the country, but can also serve as his own Airforce One deserves every citizen's consideration.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Quintilius Varus, give me back my legions

{Blogging is not as easy as it looks. I started a couple of times and never got too far so, as I play for time, here is something from the past. This was originally published September, 2002. There were rumblings of the we need a draft sort and I think my original idea was to set forth some reasons why that was not on. As I am probably in need of some medication, but would forget to take it even if prescribed, things started to ramble.

I was wrong on the course that the occupation has taken. I thought the resistance would not arise for long while. After all we are dealing with a people who have a proverb that goes, "You must kiss the hand you cannot bite." I thought they would suck us dry while taking our measure before they started shooting at our troops.}

"Quintilius Varus, give me back my legions"

I think I was about eight years old when I first read those lines. Not at all a precocious child, I'd heard some older family members talk about the Roman Empire and went to the local branch library to ask if there was something I could read. The two lovely women who ran the place always got excited if a kid showed some interest in books. Though they did not have a budding scholar on their hands, they did find me a book that began with Aeneas and ended with Odovacer.

The Roman defeat and loss of three legions at the Teutoburger Wald in A.D. 9 are the origin of the words of the title. Augustus screamed them as he would beat his head against the door posts. It was a disaster for Rome that could not have happened. Heretofore hapless German tribes caught the legions of Rome in a giant ambush on ground unfavorable and annihilated them.

A tribal leader, Arminius, had been watching the Romans for quite awhile. He studied their tactics, he studied their leaders and he was ready when his opportunity came.

So what? There were many military defeats in history. Why is this one so important? After all, Rome herself had suffered much worse and she would continue on for a few hundred years more as a going enterprise.

It was serious because Rome was never able to raise those legions again and this may have implications for us as well. Augustus had been trying to establish a stable frontier in the north. He had made great progress toward the goal under the able generals, his stepsons, Drusus and Tiberius. At Teutoberger Wald, the able generals were not there. Instead, as it was, or seemed, peaceful enough, the region was left in the care of Varus, a political appointee. Military historian J.F.C Fuller called him a "camp attorney." Of course no such animal could ever infest our military.

When Augustus learned of the debacle, he did beat his head against the wall, but he also set to work. To bring Roman forces back to strength, he set to calling up the available men of military age. According to the historian Dio, "when no men of military age showed a willingness to be enrolled, he made them draw lots, depriving of his property and disenfranchising every fifth man of those still under thirty-five and every tenth man amongst those who had passed that age. Finally, as a great many paid no heed to him even then, he put some to death." All this to little avail.

Thus ended the democratic and patriotic army of Rome. In the future, it would be an army of mercenaries. Oh, Roman citizens would still man the legions for a long time, but they would be of the under classes (as they had mostly been since Marius) and of naturalized peoples from many nations. Most who enlist for twenty plus years are thinking more of the reward for service and less duty, honor and country, even if they do have an affection for such sentiments. Or so it has been my observation.

So why implications for us? 911 has given us an outpouring of patriotic fervor not seen in my lifetime. Everyone seems to have a flag in front of their house and a window decal or a "These colors don't run" bumper sticker. However this has not translated in a rush to the colors, understandable in that Admiral Bin Laden did not launch his attack with a carrier fleet and an expeditionary force and did not seize Puerto Rico preparatory to an assault on Little Havana. Still, if President Bush had gone on television the night of the attack and had said, "I am therefore asking Americans of military age to join the armed forces of this country that we might defeat this most grave challenge," does anyone believe that the call would have been answered? Certainly, there would be some small increase in enlistments, but the US Army is sold as an opportunity for self fulfillment. The recruiting ad slogans were, "Be all that you can be," and are now, "An army of one." Of course, "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" would not sell even if our young people knew what it meant. The smell of battle will not bring an avalanche of recruits.

From the Civil War to World War II, during wartime, we had a democratic army. By that, I mean there was general participation with a lot of enlistments and, other than a few Civil War draft riots, the rest made up with conscription that was not resisted. During a rare moment of lucidity while pretending to be a college student, I remember a professor talking about Helmuth von Moltke. This Prussian general had come to the United States to observe the American Civil War. The lecturer mentioned how von Moltke had observed the railroads in America and went home to invest and make a killing in German trains. Von Moltke also had another observation. He contradicted any idea that the spread of democracy would lead to a more peaceful world. Rather, democracy would lead to mass armies as the whole nation needed to be involved in the war effort and the people propagandized for the national crusade.

Time has dulled my memory, so I do not claim to have the general's thoughts right. I have searched half heartedly to find his writings on the subject and failed. Even so, I think World Wars I and II prove the point sufficiently.

We were able to keep our democratic military through Korea and part of the Vietnam war. As the Vietnam war progressed (or didn't), one portion of the age group subjected to conscription revolted. This seems a bit surprising in that if you were a college student at the time, you were exempt and I knew almost no one who had to serve even after graduation. If you could not find some excuse or physician to ease you out of harm's way, your parents had wasted the tuition. Notice how a lot of today's cheerleaders (Cheney, Bennett, Wolfowitz et al) never went. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Nevertheless, as more American youth are co-opted into the maw of the education industry, they seem to feel they are part of an elite even if they are majoring in bowling science at Pepperidge Farm Junior College. They may condescend to "volunteer" in the Freedom Corps* if the stipend is ample, the honor great and the burden light, but military service is something they will avoid like the plague and short of Augustus coming back to execute the recalcitrant, will fight any attempt at a draft.

Alas, it is doubtful that we shall suffer a defeat on the scale of the Teutoburger Wald. It may be possible that a small team of terrorists could place a mine that would be able to sink a navy vessel with significant loss of life, but such an event would take immense skill and even greater luck. What is more likely is that we'll be bled over time. No matter. Our Teutoberger Wald really was the Viet Nam war. Our Varus was the "Camp Attorney" Westmoreland.

Today, only the underclass serves as enlisted men in the combat arms. The implications of this are many. As the section of the population that has received the least of the benefits of our prosperity, they will have the greatest tendency to be mercenary about their service. Any loyalty will be first and foremost to their fellow soldiers who share the same burdens. As time goes on, these feelings can only intensify.

One would also suspect that we would see a deterioration in Reserve and the National Guard reenlistments. You saw all those lads and lassies at the airport or some other facility during what everyone understood was an emergency. Well if we are going to constantly call up units for overseas and other duty, something has to give. It is one thing to have a claim on you for the big event, quite another thing to be subjected to mobilization after mobilization in a force used for international adventure as opposed to national defense.

How all this is to develop over time can only be rank speculation. I assure everyone that had I any confidence in my own abilities as a seer, I would take them to the stock market or Foxwoods and with the results, hire a staff to help my screed appear more polished. Still, I aver my abilities are no worse than the average blogger. So let us go forth.

While the civilian defense establishment gets bolder, the actual military brass will get more timorous. We see this happening already. From Colin Powell being (rightly) appalled by Madeline Albright's remark on what good is it if you can't beat up someone to the generals' reaction to all the DoD staff yelling to get Saddam. One set gets to play chess and the other, twister. The boys with toys are saying they don't have enough and the warmongers are claiming Hussein has just about everything one could want in the way of WMDs and has cleverly hid them under every mattress in Mesopotamia.

I suspect that a squad of PX managers could probably defeat Iraq. According to David Hackworth, whom I heard commenting on a local talk show, we only needed a third of what we sent to Gulf Storm** and I doubt, considering all the problems he has had that Saddam has been able to rebuild his forces such that we need worry. Also, I doubt anyone really wants to stay long in the field in his service. Surely, a heck of a lot of Iraqis are looking forward to our reign. These are a people with a long history of cynicism of big government. Heck, they invented both big government and the cynicism thereof. No doubt they are audibly salivating on how they can manipulate our occupation forces who will be staying a long time if they get there. After all, the only successful "exit strategy" we have ever executed was at the end of the Viet Nam War. Maybe I'm wrong and Iraq will give us a black eye before succumbing and the warmongers will be chastened, though I doubt it.

The Iraq adventure should be popular and everyone should enjoy the spectacle. Adam Smith explained it thus:

"In great empires the people who live in the capital, and in the provinces remote from the scene of action, feel, many of them scarce any inconveniency from the war; but enjoy, at their ease, the amusement of reading in the newspapers the exploits of their own fleets and armies. To them this amusement compensates the small difference between the taxes which they pay on account of the war, and those which they have been accustomed to pay in time of peace. They are commonly dissatisfied with the return of peace, which puts an end to their amusement, and to a thousand visionary hopes of conquest and national glory, from a longer continuance of the war."

In the absence of a draft, it should all be great fun to watch.

Of course over time, it should get expensive, if only for Flyover Nation. Foreign adventure, whether one calls it imperialism, colonialism or benevolent hegemony, always has a constituency. Conquistadors or patroons, some crucial class wants something and has the influence to get it, while the rest of the country gets little but expense. In our case, being a nobody from nowhere, I can't say who exactly is pushing what in what proportion. Still, there are many well connected. There are a number of centers of power that would benefit from our world mission. From oil companies to military contractors to some deputy something who dreams of his own bureaucratic mini empire as well as allies who need a favor. Of course, when the contractors who build Camp Babylon are about to be paid, it is not likely they will request a reduction in their stipend as their part in the War on Terror. In the next several years we can expect to see a lot of profits privatized and costs socialized.

Is there anything that could stop the trend as it is now developing. It does not look so. President Bush said at West Point that we're the good guys and we have the right to get the bad guys anywhere anytime, and, by jingo, we can do it. True, the polls show that people don't think we are winning, but that probably does not translate into a lot of dissent. An occasional scare on US soil can allow the government to justify support for taking the war to the terrorists. No, things should continue on the same way until it collapses naturally.

It matters not what you call it, the old Marxist "correlation of forces" or the alignment of the planets, things should continue to go forward no matter the administration (I remember conservatives moaning that there had been more deployments in the Clinton administration than in......). Could anything stop it? Well yes, say we alienate enough Afghanis such that they go after us as they did the Russians. Say the rebels are successful in Columbia such that only US troops could prop up the regime and we took the bait. If both groups could bleed us enough such that we had to make ever larger commitments of troops, maybe a reassessment would be possible. My guess is that our "best and brightest" are smart enough to devise a strategy of an acceptable level of mayhem such that the bleeding won't be noticeable until the last drop has drained away. Our army will change, our nation will change until Odovacer drags Romulus Augustulus out of the Oval Office.

* Freedom Corps as I vaguely remember it was in the wake of 911 a briefly proposed new children's crusade outfit.

**Of course on the same talk show, Hack hailed the capture of Padilla as a great intel coup even though a former deputy director in State's office of counterterrorism said he "couldn't make a dirty burrito, never mind a dirty bomb."

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Sorry, his mistake

One of our country's most self beloved chickenhawks has admitted the Iraq war was a mistake. Jonah can't tell us the truth outright and just say I was absolutely wrong about this. No, to him it was a worthy mistake.

Of course, how worthy a mistake it was is a question we are not able to put to the soldiers who are now beyond answering, but so what? Jonah was happy to cheerlead, but while ever ready to sit down to the keyboard, was never one to step up to the plate, I mean recruiting office. He gave as his excuse "I'm 35 years old, my family couldn't afford the lost income, I have a baby daughter, my a** is, er, sorry". He later had to apologize for this, as it was well pointed out to him that there were 35 year olds with kids and non lush financial circumstances who were humpin in the Mesopotamian field, but fortunately, he does not long agonize over his mistakes. A strength we can all envy.

I'm sorry, I was against this war from the beginning. I knew it was a fraud from well before day one. How you may ask could a nobody from a backwater know such a thing. I was born and raised in a state unexcelled for its culture of corruption. Politicians from Louisiana could learn a few tricks. A lot of it is done without any bribery. No, it is done much more smoothly. first, someone starts mentioning un met needs. Then, the newspapers have articles that morph the un met need into a crisis. State reps and senators start using phrases like " we need to do it for the children" and "the kids are our future." Soon enough there is a new state agency and cronies are being hired all over the place.

It was a little bit different with the war drumbeat. First, we have Iraq mentioned as part of the Axis of Evil. Then, do we remember the Anthrax scare? I do. I remember pundits hot for action, for others of course. As I live up on a hill, I can get Boston stations on the car radio. One talk show host, Jay Severin was shilling for the war big time. One afternoon he breathlessly intoned that it was reported that the anthrax involved in the letters had the footprint of an Iraqi lab and that if it did have that footprint, then, "We are at war with Iraq." Cut to a break.

The anthrax scare faded away but the drumbeat continued. I remember some peacenik type acquaintances talking about going down to New York for a march and hearing them hopeful about stopping the juggernaut. I remember telling them that the people who want the war, can have the war and that is that. Of course that was discounted, but that is life. If common sense had ever prevailed in this country, the slogan would have been, Forget the Maine. Contriving a war has a history here.

Some of the propaganda was so obviously stupid that it embarrasses me as an American to think it was said and quoted. Condoleeza Rice's remark about the smoking gun turning out to be a mushroom cloud was, maybe, the worst. A few unfortunates might have believed that Iraq was somewhat near the bomb, but no one suggested they had any inkling of a delivery system. So, Condi, how were they to get it to a target? "Quick Achmed, get it on to the donkey cart, we will get it on a cargo ship as part of a shipment of dates and when it gets to New York Harbor, it gets set off. I volunteer you, Achmed, for this important mission."

Let me admit, I am for cutting and running. Jonah is not. In one of the dumbest analogies ever he writes, A doctor will warn that if you see a man stabbed in the chest, you shouldn’t rush to pull the knife out. So, Jonah probably feels that if you wander into a burning house, you should make yourself a cup of tea, sit down and drink it while reading the paper rather than rushing out. Of course Jonah forgets to mention that stabbing was a self inflicted wound.

There is no winning in Iraq. We don't have an enemy from whom we can take the surrender ala the Japanese on the Missouri, or Lee at Appomattox. We don't even have an enemy we could surrender to if we wanted to. So, we are going to leave eventually. If anyone reading thinks staying in an unwinnable war is worth it, maybe you will volunteer to explain it to the next of kin of the men who will be killed until we finally say au revoir. Heck, explain it to me. No, cutting and running is the plan, now or later, whether under Bush, President Hillary or President McCain.

Of course, Jonah has a plan.

"According to the conventional script, if I’m not saying “bug out” of Iraq, I’m supposed to say “stay the course.” But there’s a third option, and, funnily enough, I found it in an old column of mine (journalistic taboos be damned!). I think we should ask the Iraqis to vote on whether U.S. troops should stay.

Polling suggests that they want us to go. But polling absent consequences is a form of protest. With accountability, minds may change and appreciation for the U.S. presence might grow.

If Iraqis voted “stay,” we’d have a mandate to do what’s necessary to win, and our ideals would be reaffirmed. If they voted “go,” our values would also be reaffirmed, and we could leave with honor. And pretty much everyone would have to accept democracy as the only legitimate expression of national will.

Finishing the job is better than leaving a mess. And if we can finish the job, the war won’t be remembered as a mistake."

Okay, so they vote and say stay and we fight it out for twenty years and thousands of casualties. So, how will the war not be remembered as a mistake. They can vote now by universal support for our mission if they wanted to, but they don't, or not enough of them do.

No, cut and run. Tell Jonah admitting denial is the first step (it is, isn't it?).

Is there no other way. Well, there is one other way. Mind you, I don't endorse it. Still, I believe it recognizes the reality of Iraq. The land between the Tigris and Euphrates is where big government was invented, not to mention cynicism regarding big government. These people will never buy the we are here for you, let's spread democracy, by the way are there sufficient women in your graduate petro engineering classes silliness. They know what works and we are spreading something else.

Before we invaded Iraq was either a perfectly good dysfunctional country or a horribly bad functional country. There was reasonable freedom of religion and hospitals and schools functioned. Our sanctions distorted the economy, but at least there was an economy. It is not a good model, but in some form or other it is what works there.

I know what you're thinking. Yes, I know he has had a rest and is bored with the trial, but no. Saddam can suffer whatever court structure they have there can hand him. We are not going to help him no matter how many times he shows that picture with his buddy Don Rumsfeld.

What we need to do is find the smartest, toughest guy in the country. I would throw one other criterion into the mix. I would want us to look for the most decent smartest, toughest guy in the country. It should be made clear to him he has a country to run and all we ask is he just run it. We would like to buy some gas when he has cowed the country into some semblance of order, but he needs fear nothing as long as he does not bother us.

Actually, we should just bug out. We'll screw up this selection process as well.

No matter what the boy thinks, it was not a "worthy mistake." It was just a dumb war and it won't get any smarter.

A couple of posts worth reading here and here.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Primitive Religion in a Complex World

George Orwell wrote the following in his As I Please column that appeared December 27, 1946.

"SOMEWHERE or other—I think it is in the preface to Saint Joan—Bernard Shaw remarks that we are more gullible and superstitious today than we were in the Middle Ages, and as an example of modern credulity he cites the widespread belief that the earth is round. The average man, says Shaw, can advance not a single reason for thinking that the earth is round. He merely swallows this theory because there is something about it that appeals to the twentieth-century mentality."

Orwell then went on to prove the point that he himself had no reason to believe the world was round even though he accepted that it was. Of course we who are living now can point to pictures from space and all that, but we have to admit that few of us have made a study of it and are taking it more or less on faith. His closing paragraph sums it up:

"It will be seen that my reasons for thinking that the earth is round are rather precarious ones. Yet this is an exceptionally elementary piece of information. On most other questions I should have to fall back on the expert much earlier, and would be less able to test his pronouncements. And much the greater part of our knowledge is at this level. It does not rest on reasoning or on experiment, but on authority. And how can it be otherwise, when the range of knowledge is so vast that the expert himself is an ignoramous as soon as he strays away from his own speciality? Most people, if asked to prove that the earth is round, would not even bother to produce the rather weak arguments I have outlined above. They would start off by saying that ’everyone knows’ the earth to be round, and if pressed further, would become angry. In a way Shaw is right. This is a credulous age, and the burden of knowledge which we now have to carry is partly responsible."

So what do we do in the modern age? Do we go to the guy with the Harvard Med diploma on the wall or the Brazilian psychic surgeon? And if we go to the Harvard man, what do we think about the pigheadedness of his profession in instances such as the discovery of the real cause of ulcers? They missed it in the New England Journal of Medicine but presented it in the prestigious National Enquirer. O Tempora! O Mores!

So, what is the point. A week ago, I was in a meeting with about twenty people. The women chairing the event is efficient in keeping everyone on track, but is not a meeting nazi so there is occasional digression. At one point in the discussion someone mentioned in a voice laced with contempt that there were still people who did not believe that global warming is real. A chorus of approval erupted from the group except moi. The tone was not without arrogance.

I am always taken aback when this happens. There were no climatologists in the room. One of the attendees, a newspaper editor, might have a broad knowledge of the issues, but no deep scientific grasp. Everyone else had only the opinion of others to rely on. So, in that pool of true believers there was only one agnostic on the subject. Again, c'est moi. Had I mentioned that there was some doubt, I would not have heard a detailed analysis, but probably that any opposition was bought and paid for by "special interests." If I had countered that the denizens of academia and government agencies are no less special interests, the subject would have been changed and heresy noted.

I enjoy the company of these people and work well with them on the subject of the meeting. Choosing my spots, say with my editor friend, I could probably get an admission that it there are two sides and that he accepts that pro warming is happening because he has made a leap of faith in whom to trust, as he has to trust someone. To approach some of the other participants would be sure to bring out an angry response and not much else. It is not a happy thing to admit we are as primitive in our beliefs as our ancestors who trusted the shamans interpretation on the cause of thunder. Thus all the efforts to build up our self esteem are fraudulent and we really don't deserve much.

Is there much we can know or understand? Some things are hard to argue with, like Gresham's law. I can't say that I have a deep understanding of evolution, but it seems so self explanatory that I would be shocked if it were not true. I believe that a fundamentalist would admit its probability if, for sake of argument, he allowed the absence of the deity. There is so much more we can't know.

Normally, it works out well enough. I am doing much better since the shoulder operation I had done by a board certified specialist instead of a faith healer. That Boeing jet takes off and lands without my understanding in any detail the process. I must emphasize, I am not saying global warming is not happening, just that I don't possess sufficient faith in either set of authorities. Still, that so many of my countrymen could be so easily persuaded to want action on a subject they are vastly ignorant of scares me no end as I reflect, what can't we be persuaded of?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Facism Watch

This blog is new, does not have that many viewers, so it is probably time to offend someone.

I do not see myself as a crusader of any kind. I was a bit of a screamer when young and have many reasons to regret thoughts and actions. There are only a few that I would be proud of if humility were not my major characteristic. So, I am reticent to speak ex cathedra.

There are a few times I'll go of my own reservation and do some small thing. This is one.

There is a fellow, Paul Belien, out of Brussells who has an interesting newsite called the Brussells Journal. Though I find his website well written and his arguments well reasoned, it is a bit too neoconnish for me to endorse 100%. Under those conditions, I would not normally bother mentioning him at all.

So, why? The Belgian state appears to have him in its sights. They cite the usual justification, but as always it boils down to the crime of political incorrectness. There is no one who does not know we are not one big happy family, just no one is supposed to say it. I doubt Belgium has free speech safeguards like our First Amendment.

I have a hunch that much of the free speech goes on in the world because of our anachronistic First Amendment. Government and Supreme Court have not yet found a way to deep six it. Oh, they nibble at the edges, but haven't been able to take a deep bite out of it. If we did not have that in place, I suspect other, so called free, countries would be more likely to suppress speech. As it is, there is a standard they might not like, but are hesitant to be seen denying.

It is not from a grand sense of generosity that I do this. Sure, I wish Mr. Belien well. In a selfish sense, I hate to see free speech censored anywhere, as someday it may hit home.

So from today, we are linking. The Belgian state is under scrutiny. Behave yourself!

We shall do our best to unleash Facism Watch infrequently, but to effect.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Winter Camp

The other night, on the way home, I listened to the Sixty Minutes segment on The Duke University fiasco on the car radio. This has been much in the news lately and though I am of the opinion that the DA is trying to railroad these boys, they certainly have nothing to be proud of. Even that is not what motivates me to post.

The college system is, for the most part, a fraud and a waste of time. That does not mean there is no larger purpose to going on the four year trip to Winter Camp or to what, for some, is voke ed.

In prosecuting the indictment, Let me bring before the court as Exhibit A, one of the most egregious examples, moi. No great student in high school but a fairly quick study with a retentive mind, I punched above my weight class on the SATs to make up for grades that did not make the admissions office hearts' quiver. The only extra curricular activity I participated in was debating. The one college that accepted me was a power in that field and I guess that put me over the top.

As the Summer before college started, a reading list arrived. Amongst the books was The Idea of a University by John Henry Cardinal Newman. I have no standing to critique the book, other than to say that even though my reading of it was not deep, it came as no great epiphany for me to realize that there was a vast discrepancy between what a college student should be and what I intended to accomplish (or, not accomplish) in attending. An honorable young gentleman would have withdrawn his acceptance and decided to pursue one of the blue collar opportunities available in the area. September saw me on my way to school.

Many of my classmates were generally more serious than I was in that they were there to get a sheepskin that would lead either out of the working class or to continued existence in the prosperous middle. As to true seekers of knowledge for its own sake, I would estimate there might have been between five and ten true scholars in my class. Did I establish that I was not one of them?

All this was a shame as there were many fine professors who loved their subjects and were happy to impart knowledge. The one academic subject I ever liked was history.* Almost all the professors were fine speakers and the one who wasn't still gave classes with excellent content. I remember one of our professors who specialized in Medieval History describing a guest speaker as a "consummate artist as a lecturer" and thinking that was an apt description of himself.

Such artistry was wasted on almost all of the student body. They were either interested in enjoying themselves (my segment) or studying merely for its resume value. From the description of the Duke Team, I suspect that they were not great scholars. They did well enough for the resume (one was on his way to Wall Street), but they were there to play ball first and enjoy the college experience as did the jocks in "I am Charlotte Simmons" at Duke, I mean Dupont. Mr. Nifong's case is a sieve and only extreme ideologues even pretend to believe it. Still, I cannot help but wondering as to the cultural changes that have occurred since the stone age when I was an undergraduate. I was involved in numerous stunts and almost all of them could have been described as mischievous. A couple could have been dangerous to mostly myself, but might have caused damage to others such that I regret them to this day. Generally, I knew enough to step back from the brink and stop.
One thing I know for certain is that I would never have been part of a group that would hire a stripper. It is possible, in my not so sober travels, I might have ended up at a party where one arrived (it never actually happened to me), but I would never have planned to. Why? Because I had some modicum of decency? Unfortunately, no. My fear would have been that my parents would have found out. There is not too much they could have done except stop sending tuition which held no real terror as worry about being kicked out never made me study. No, my fear would be that they would think I had no character (too close to the truth, actually). They held a great moral power over me and still do to this day though one has passed on and the other will very soon. Their influence is greater now in that I have more respect for, than fear of them and what they stood for.

One of the lads in the interview admitted it was a wrong thing they did. I suspect he has had a lot of time to think about it. If the two dancers had just performed and left he would never have had that moment of introspection. He would have gone on with his life , playing Lacrosse, going to class, getting fair marks and partying. On and on this would go with parents ponying up for the party and never giving thought to any purpose other than just that you go.

But that is only part of the circus. Much of the faculty at Duke made fools of themselves. They acted out a wish. A wish for the guilt of the class enemy. President Brodhead's letter of April 5, 2006 appears the act of a man who fears angry children and hopes to appease them or worse, is a true believer. If the Neville Chamberlain award is to be given out for 2006, there is an obvious frontrunner.

All this would be bad enough, but there are horrible costs due to our national educational follies. Now, I am not saying in all cases is it an error to shovel out cash so the kids can matriculate. There are some wonderful benefits to going to an Ivy League school. Les enfants will network with people who will slot in to important positions and that rolodex will be a prize in itself. If little Brooke takes Women's Studies at Princeton, that's a ticket to a secure future. If Crystal takes it at State, she better make sure her telemarketing skills are good. Majoring in sociology at Pepperidge Farm College will probably not provide an adequate return. That millions of parents and children are paying tuition and taking out loans for such a dubious investment is tragic.

There are also societal costs. In a system where, as the Dodo said, “Everybody has won, and all must have prizes,.” we are telling a very big lie. The fact that anyone with a near detectable pulse can, after sufficient attendance, refer to him or herself as bachelor and the equivalent of any other bachelor's degree holder in the land is a fraud that most people know about, but probably not all. Certainly, all the fashionably caring who attend the candlelight marches to protest privilege at Duke know it and ratify it. What is the purpose of going to the Harvard of the South, investing time and treasure if there is no privilege at the end. The administration knows it, no matter how many unctuous statements they release. What is the purpose of being Duke or Dartmouth or Smith other than privilege?** .If President Brodhead wanted to do something real, he would announce that from today North Carolina Central University would be amalgamated with Duke and all would be awarded Duke diplomas. Anybody see the cows come home?

So why does this system continue? I have two theories, neither which I vouch for nor did I expend any effort over. Theory 1: We do not really have much for people to do. We shall have less as automation continues. Keeping young folks diverted for four years keeps them out of the job market and helps to keep down unemployment figures.

Theory 2: Now this is based on observation as a subject and also as a dorm resident director at an undistinguished institution. I drank an ocean of beer in four years as an undergraduate. During my tenure as dorm dad, I observed trash barrels filled with beer cans daily and overflowing on weekends. My wife and I took the job to save money for a house and we were successful. If I had taken the cans and turned them in for the deposit, I would be blogging now from our villa in Provence.

So stop wasting time and get to the theory. Virtually all of the cans thrown away where we were in charge were red and white in color, as were the cans that held the liquid I consumed. The second theory posits that the greatest beneficiary of widespread collegiate attendance is Budweiser. If college were only for true scholars, the King of Beers would be dethroned and sent to the guillotine in no time at all. I don't know how they did it, but it is the most brilliant stroke of marketing genius in history. Yes, Budweiser is conspiring to keep this game going.

So, what is to be done. The voice of humility would feel derelict if he did not suggest a solution. Let us recognize the problem as it is. We have three classes of students, scholars, voke ed types and party animals. How do we accommodate them all honestly. First, we stop the denial and admit the truth. Then we can redesign the institutions to work for all.

Let's take two representative institutions and change the names. We shall call them Ivy University and Generic State University. Ivy and State will continue to have departments of Philosophy and Physics and other true academic areas of study with professors.

Some of the more obviously job oriented departments are to be transferred to Generic State's School of Vocational Education. Students who wished to study Accounting, Exercise Science, Hospitality and Tourism Management Science and other such "trades" would be accepted into the School of Voke Ed. As the guy who taught shop was not called professor, neither must we so call our voke ed teachers. We can save mom and dad some money here on salaries. Ivy will not have a vocational division as they could never admit they were doing training.

Now for the real savings. There will be a place for that vast population of kiddos in school because they had no idea what else to do. Both Ivy and Gen. State will have winter camps. They don't have to call them that but that will be the reality as it is now. They can still go to watch athletic performances on Saturday and even play if they qualify. They can even sneak out of camp curfew and hit last call. We just will not demand anything of a real academic nature. Let us admit, that what they want is amusement and give it to them. They will not need professors, we can hire counselors from summer camps, paying far less than for tenured professors in academic disciplines who currently are forced to look out over a sea of blank faces. We will be able to cut costs on salaries to the bone.

Now, please don't think I am trying to set up a class of underpaid serfs. The corps of counselors will do very well. They will get to redeem the deposits on the cans.

*In spite of my near spotless record of not studying during my secondary school sojourn, I read a lot of history. Indeed, I can honestly claim that in high school history classes, I always knew more than my teachers. The problem was being a history nerd had all the drawbacks and none of the benefits of being a techie nerd. No matter how goofy they looked, there was gainful employment, if not great wealth waiting for them. My type of nerd has no sure road to wealth as all the rewards to reading history tend to be non monetary. Also, being a history nerd is one sure way to flunk socially. Wax poetic about the past and the best you might get is a bemused look, more probably, eyes will glaze over, but never will a babe's chest heave with passion as you describe what a disaster for Athens the expedition to Syracuse was.

I could console myself with the words of Cicero that "the person who does not know of events before his own time remains ever a child,". except for the fact that I had a very long run as an adolescent and did my best to defer growing up as long as possible.

**It is well observed here in Nova Anglia that if you are an Ivy, but not hereditarily so, within a minute of meeting someone you will have let out the fact. Once in my town a school committee candidate was soliciting my vote and going on about her plans. Very early on she just happened to mention, "And I went to Wellesley." I was not really talking with her to any purpose, she was obviously the smartest candidate. My only question was would she do more or less harm because of that fact. After awhile, for what reason I have no recollection, I asked her for the definition of education. She mumbled something irrelevant and to prove what a horrible fellow I am, I pressed her until she admitted ignorance. Four years for what she had no clue, and neither do most of us.

***Of course beer was not the only substance our charges were partaking of.. On weekends the kids would be doing so much (un)controlled substance the dorm got high enough that if we had been in a war zone, it would have drawn anti aircraft fire.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Libertarianism takes a hit

Libertarianism took it on the chin yesterday from Dennis Mangan. He was responding to another one of Bryan Caplan's passionate screeds for more immigrants so Bryan can have better waiters and service people at his beck and call. Bryan is an easy target as he is insulated as a tenured professor while Effie Mae who needs the work to keep things together in the trailer will lose out to the newcomer who has an even smaller cost of living. Bryan has absolutely no sympathy for Effie, just economic efficiency. Dennis does have some fun and though I am most of the way a libertarian, I can concede a point when necessary.

So, lets do a different thought experiment than Dennis.' Choose from the items below who you want for a provider, government or market:

Schools. We homeschool so you know where we stand.

Military. Mercenaries have a bad rap and I am ambivalent on the subject, but your government is okay with them. They have hired contractors such as Blackwater and Erinsys to fight our countries battles in Iraq.

Post Office. I use the USPS, but if there were not subsidies they would have a lot less customers.

War on Drugs. A true lib would be against the WoD at the outset. The fact that the program has not diminshed supply in its long operation should give even the most devout statist pause.

I believe the examples above are obvious. We can get into arguments about socialized medicine, which I think would be a disaster, but someone could say their cousin in Canada loves it and we would just be trading anecdotes.

Dennis' examples were very good. They were a fair indictment of anarchy, but not of minarchy. His comment that, "The comments to Caplan's post, currently numbering over a hundred, offer a window into the mind of the libertarian, showing on the one hand why they never get elected, and on the other why libertarians are merely leftists who like money." is over the top and unfair. Some of the Reason crowd has gone astray and are very afraid of sounding un PC and do seem to snipe from the left especially Nick Gillespie. I could not come up with a bigger caricature of someone trying to be a cool guy libertarian. In one of his Hit & Run entries he, with high purpose, attacked Prince Albert of Monaco. And what evidence did the man use to bludgeon His Highness. He quoted from Tatum O'Neil's memoir which he admits to reading. Well, I wish I had as serious a life.

My sympathies are Libertarian. As mentioned in a previous post, I believe there are only three civil rights: Life, Liberty and Property. Anything else is the attempt of one group to secure privileges at the expense of another group or society itself. Of the three above, Property is the most important. If the individual's property is secure, there is little reason for anyone to take his life or liberty.

But, of course, nothing is perfect. We are not all ready to be Libertarian because the word is divided into cognitive classes:

Class 1, People who know enough to come in out of the rain.

Class 2, People who don't.

If this were not bad enough, there is another class.

Class 3, People who know enough to come in out of the rain but want someone else to get them in.

Class 3 is adept at getting its way in democracies because they can find the ballot box and there are more of them than Class 1.

I am not the Randroid type who wants Class 2 to be cast off, but I don't think the state does a very good job of watching over them. The problem is Class 3 all too often votes its own benefits in the name of Class 2.

I don't see it changing anytime soon.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The true value of religion

Over on Half Sigma the site's owner posted an article titled A tax on being secular. His thesis is that the exemption on religious entities is essentially a tax on the non believer. Of course the exemption is an exemption and not a tax on someone else, but why quibble. It is the fairness that is at question.

Well, Mr. Half Sigma and all the anti theists are right, and wrong. Right in the sense that it is truly an injustice to be made to pay for that which one does not believe in and wrong if they claim to receive nothing in value.

I am living proof of the kind of value you get every day from the existence of religion, This is going to take a minute, so bear with me.

I am part of the boomer generation who left the inner city for the burbs. Getting there just in time to be enrolled in public school, I spent the first year in the care of the state. My parents were not impressed. The next year it was off to the tender mercies of the nuns.

Thus began eight years of struggle. I was a jerk. Whenever I could get away with it, I gave the nuns a hard time. Finally, in the eighth grade, they told my mother that I might be happier in the public junior high. What was unsaid was that they would be happier with me gone.

Public school was a change. The sisters had drilled and drilled and kept me after school so many days that I did almost no studying and still had no trouble keeping afloat. The culture of students was predatory, however, if you survived the nuns, you were prepared for a lot.

So how does my experience benefit the secularist. I believe that had the parochial school not been there, I would be homeless today. There was no public school teacher who I could not get over on, and had that been my fate, I would have drifted through all the grades, I would have drifted through and out into a life of drifting.

So think about, I am not unbathed and afflicting you demanding "Could I borrow some money for some Mad Dog, I mean medicine." I am not infesting emergency wards with numerous medical crises. You all benefit.

Still, I agree, no one should have to pay for something from which they do not benefit. If that were true a lot of public schools would be sending out rebate checks.

For good or ill, the nuns are gone. The schools they left behind are as politically correct as any in the land. So, tax 'em. That'll solve all our problems.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Go down Moses and tell ol' Chris to knock it off!

Bryan Caplan at Econlog has gone after Christopher Columbus for participating in the Transatlantic slave trade. Mr. Caplan has started something here and it should be taken to its logical conclusion. If I remember correctly, Aristotle had a number of slaves that he hired out to the brutality of the silver mines of Lauris. So, we can chuck Western Civ completely. Now to find a culture that did not have slavery at all.

I hope the Professor, if he has infant children at home, will let his wife bathe them as I suspect that she will be wondering where the baby went after the water has been disposed of.

Slavery really started dying as markets and technology advanced. Machinery and labor saving devices are our slaves. It is so universal that even the descendants of slaves own their own slaves in that form. If all machinery disappeared, we'd be eyeing each other thinking very different thought about who would be master and who would serve. I suspect a lot of heavy hitter economists would be writing papers justifying service to be imposed on different classes, other than economists.

Hat tip to Dennis Mangan.

That North Korea Bomb Thingy and how not to do foreign policy

So Kim says he lit the big one.* And, we are going to do what about this? Squat. Yeah, diddily. One, of course, hopes that if anyone chances by these words, they are intelligent enough to have realized we were never going to do anything anyway. I reveal no great truths.

Of course, our pres who I defended a few posts ago, told us he would not tolerate Kimmy possessing the nukes. What is George II going to do, hold his nose until he turns blue?

Okay, a little history here. A few state of the union speeches ago after throwing Osama down the memory hole, your man told us there was an Axis of Evil and we better do something about it. The intelligence division of the voice of humility has verified the existence of the "Axis." We had proof that the three nations were attempting to be in constant contact in order to coordinate their joint plans. Unfortunately, due to its inability to print up enough counterfeit US money and thus suffering a shortage of funds, North Korea ran out of string somewhere in the Himalayas and anyway they could not decide whether to give the can for the other end to Iraq or Iran.

Still, Iran and North Korea got the message. Being in the sights of a hyperpower concentrates the mind.. What to do. Why not buy, say a half dozen carrier groups and, oh, maybe a thousand fighter jets to forestall an adventure by a coalition.**

Of course, the abovementioned scenario is not on. What do you do if you have decided not to roll over. Saddam did not get it. Anyway, we knew he had no nukes and was going to be no problem. If we really thought he had nukes, we would have given him the North Korea treatment. Iran, a little more savvy about it, but the neocons still have Persia in their sights.

North Korea has played us like a violin. We can't do too much as we have to take China, South Korea, Japan and Russia into consideration. About all we can do is talk about how Kim is crazy. Then again, that is how we generally talk about our enemy du jour. I remember, as a boy, how we described Mao and Chou as madmen. If someone is not considered crazy, he is called another Hitler. Our opponents may be vicious and vile, but to mistake a desire to survive and even win as insanity only puts ours in doubt.

Our post war foreign policy has seen us in several wars, one big which we tied and one, a major loss. Our only unequivocal victories were Panama and Grenada. To Paraphrase Dickens, If this is how the US treats its Foreign Policy, it does not deserve to have one.***

*Washington Times says US intelligence doubts it was the real thing. They speak on condition of anonymity, of course. Not a bad face saver I guess. Still, maybe Kim just shoved a few tons of cherry bombs in a cave as part of his keep running 'em in circles strategy.
**I suspect our next coalition is going to consist of San Marino, Andorra, and Monaco.
***I am not suggesting that NK would not seek a bomb no matter what, nor do I suggest Clinton's policy was any better. Here is a better strategy at Winds of Change. Also Thrasymachus is worth reading on the subject.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Short Dictionary of Politics

Please note, this is not exhaustive list. Readers are invited to submit suggestions for further installments.

Also, there are no claims to originality. I do not want to be part of the company of Ambrose and Kearns-Goodwin (non sum dignus), so some of the ideas I assimilated (e.g. the civil rights entry), I just don't remember from where.

Assisted Suicide: The ultimate reform of the Social Security System. If senior citizens utilize assisted suicide en masse, the system's solvency can be greatly enhanced.

Bombing: Diplomatic method preferred by US Government policy makers pioneered during the Clinton administration.

British Royal Family: Founder of the family, William, started out as Capo di Tutti Capi of Norman Mafia. Descendants and others built the organization into a successful franchise over centuries, despite family infighting. Today, family has no real role as they have been kicked upstairs to mainly ceremonial positions. Currently undergoing branding crisis as members are not terribly appealing as celebrity material. Family should consider new ways of appealing to public. Should seek the assistance of Mr. Frank McCourt who turned a stupid and unappealing childhood into an industry.

Civil Rights: In truth, there can only be three: Life, Liberty and Property. Anything else is the attempt of one group to secure privileges at the expense of another group or society itself. Of the three above, Property is the most important. If the individual's property is secure, there is little reason for anyone to take his life or liberty.

Communism: Natural religious progression wherein lower caste man is made into his own god and enslaved in his own name. Lasted far longer than could possibly have been expected. Still claims believers in the professorate.

Democratic Party: American cargo cult masquerading as a political association.

Demagogue: Person who appeals to the emotions to gain power or fame. See also: Politician.

Department of Education: American cabinet secretariat responsible for extracting money from the public while convincing them that the decline in public education is being arrested. Judging from the department's growth amidst continuing school failure, policy is an unmitigated success.

Equality: In nature, an impossibility among the human species, which despite evidence is almost universally desired.

Feminism: Formerly a movement to secure women rights to opportunities not generally open to them. Today, the movement exists to secure power for women who attend highly selective institutions. Practical effect has been disastrous for less highly placed women who now have access to the same stupid and boring occupations men have had to do for eons. Current philosophy is heavy on misandry. The religious aspect of the cult has one sacrament.

Green Party: So far, only significant role has been vehicle for Ralph Nader, Ross Perot of the left.

Her Majesty's Government: Political wing of the British Army.

Nazi: Common smoke screen name for National Socialist German Workers Party, the German variant of socialism. The success of this party in bringing ruin to most of Europe, its own population, as well as racial enemies cannot be gainsaid. Its accomplishment was so complete that the whole enterprise collapsed after only thirteen years of operation, whereas the Soviet version started decades earlier and met its demise several decades later. Impresario of German Socialism was Adolph Hitler, a man with the soul of a ward boss who nevertheless was able to foist his program on a nation with near universal literacy and a very high degree of advanced education. The success of the program, along with golf, argues against the continued progress of evolution. Despite the socialist nature of the ideology, other socialists have had amazing success in making sure National Socialism is not identified as the philosophical soul brother it is.

Political Correctness: A fear of knowledge. Under the regime of political correctness as practiced in the United States and some other nations, any evidence disproving accepted doctrine must be denied, if not suppressed. (via Steve Sailer)

Politician: In the American democracy, generally a person who lies in seeking election to public office because there is ample evidence of little profit in speaking the truth (e.g. would Woodrow Wilson have been reelected if his slogan had been "He's hasn't got us into war yet, but, he intends to"?). See also demagogue.

Populist: Highest form of demagogue.

Reform: Word has no real meaning yet is impossible to oppose. The question, "Are you against x reform?" can never be answered negatively without destroying politically one who so answers no matter the actual value of the reform proposed. The word's greatest value is that it is as an accurate marker for poseurs (e.g. John McCain).

Republican Party: American political association with no other permanent purpose than to secure executive positions, legislative posts and patronage emoluments.

Reverend: 1. Title marking certain persons who after serious study and piety are ordained as suitable to lead and instruct the faithful. 2. Honorific applied to certain class of charlatans (examples: Rev. Paisley, Rev. Sharpton, Rev. Jackson)

Revolution: A method by which one elite manipulates the masses to transfer power from another elite due to real or perceived oppression. The success or failure of the revolutionary party, once the ancien regime is overthrown, depends on how well they manage their transition from belief in ideology to practical management of the entity they have stolen.

The Iron Law of government: Everything eventually reduces to its absurd. If this is an actual law of physics that exists in nature is not known. In politics and government, it cannot be denied. Whereas in business a company can go bankrupt (unless it is publicly favored), in the realm of government, if (actually, when is more appropriate) a program attains absolute failure, it becomes a candidate for increased funding (e.g. DARE,).

Social Security: The perfection of a system discovered by a Signor Ponzi wherein early "investors" are paid off by the subscriptions of later participants. System requires ever more contributors to stave off inevitable collapse. Due to the default of Ponzi's path breaking enterprise, he eventually suffered incarceration. Managers of our Social Security system expect no such problems as they have tools to deal with eventualities such as invisible default (i.e. one can start collecting at age 105) or monetization.

Soviet Union: Several countries that were controlled by an apparatus known as the Communist Party. For approximately seven decades said apparatus was able to rob the people in their own name. Went out of business when there was no more to rob.

tolerance: 1. Old, permitting free expression of views one does not share. 2. New, suppression of thought, or speech found uncomfortable by favored groups.

Transgender operations: Current form of approved ritual mutilation.

University - public: A public university is mainly a large scale day care provider. Most do some practical scientific research.

University - private: Private universities are generally smaller scale day care providers. Certain very selective establishments exist mainly to mark the children of a certain class or wealth as members of an elite.

War on Drugs: Growth industry whose constituency is well served by the government regulations that propel it.

War on Terrorism: Campaign that will utilize all the lessons of the drug war while also inventing its own.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Dirty Little Secret is ....Dubya is a lot smarter than you think! Probably smarter than you.

No, he is no genius, but so what. De Tocqueville made the point that it is the second rate men (and now women) who go into politcs anyway. No, George is just smarter than anyone thinks he is. Now, I didn't vote for the man. I disagree with his foreign policy and most of his domestic agenda. So why am I on a crusade to defend his intellectual prowess?

I am not so much standing up for the man as observing the blindness of those who belittle his mind, which is just about everybody in the country who voted against him and thinks they are far brighter than he. Which is just about everyone in the country who voted against him. In fact, a lot of the people who voted for him figure they could give him a queen and two rooks and beat him in three moves.

Typical of the feelings of superiority expressed is this ancient entry in the old gnxp blogspot from 2002 by a very smart man who calls himself Godless Capitalist and is a scientist to boot:

"Not only is he inarticulate, he is neither well read nor curious to find out what he's missing. The man quoted "Jesus" as his favorite philosopher. Jesus! Now, perhaps my atheist bias may be showing, but I doubt that Bush would have been able to fill spots two through five on that list of the all time philosophical greats. Whether you believe that Jesus was really Bush's favorite philosopher or not, such a remark is equivalent to answering "E=mc^2" to "what's your favorite equation?" or "Einstein" to "who's your favorite scientist?". It's not that it's impossible that these are indeed the favorite equation or scientist, but rather that there is immediate doubt as to whether the questioned individual has any knowledge of science beyond popular culture."

Of course, he was referring to el Presidente and he was logically proving your man to be a babbling idiot. Certainly, his logic was complete. Christ never opined on the problems of existence in the manner of a philospher. Bush has never given any indication he is conversant with the tenets of any school of philosophy.

Sorry, but Monsieur Godless was wrong as are all of you who laughed your heads off. Bush gave the right answer. Yeah, all you geniuses, GWB was dead on. It may have been the wrong answer if it had been given in an oral exam for honors students majoring in philosophy, though the question of favorite lover of wisdom would not have been asked in such a test. It was certainly the smart choice in a nationally televised debate when the question was asked by some smarmy little inquisitor who was hoping the candidate would fall flat on his face.

Just what would go through your head when asked who your fave wise man is before a nation who would decide between you and another pol they would be stuck with for four years. Would you have thought, "Let me dazzle them. I wrote a great paper on Kant and the categorical imperative* sophmore year and if I can expound on it for two minutes the American people will be so taken with me that the election will be called off and even Gore will support my elevation." In the words of one of my favorite philosphers, Jon Lovitz, "Yeah, that's the ticket."

Now I know this is tough, but let us assume something did go on in the then governor's mind when the question was asked. Let us assume, from a political point of view, that it was as follows, "What kind of question is this? The people don't know from Aristotle to Wittgenstein and neither do I. Okay, what is my best choice, assuming the prejudices of the American people?"

Good job, George. If you had named any philospher, there would have been constant analysis all night of what a fool you were for your choice. The fact that the commentators couldn't say anything more than, "Of course Jesus was not actually a philosopher," was all to your advantage. Your born again base loved it and it did not hurt you at all with the three dozen Latinos and seven African American who actually voted for you.

Now let us contrast dumb ol' George with a man everyone in my home state acclaimed as a stone genius. Michael Stanley Dukakis. In his first gubernatorial campaign, the bumper stickers read "Mike Dukakis Should Be Governor." He was thought of as a messiah (even so, GW was smart enough not to choose him). Everybody respected the brain power of Dukakis.

How did he show it off when he had the big question tossed at him? Time has not been kind to my memory, but I believe it was Bernard Shaw who asked how he would react if his wife had been raped and murdered as he had the squishy liberal rep on the subject of crime. Well, our governor did reflect on the question and a national audience was treated to his reflection. And, it was treated to some more of his reflection. And, then a little more. Sleep eze sales had to suffer.

The Duke's answer was honest and stupid. He did not get it that he was talking to real people out there. What I don't get is how he stayed alive. Most married men who had answered the way he did and had gone home would have had a frosty reception. The wife would be thinking along these lines, "Oh, so I get raped and murdered and all he can think about is understanding the perp." Me, I'd stay up all night figuring I did not want to take a chance on being stabbed in my sleep. Maybe Mike spent the night in the famous tank.

The correct answer, had he really wanted the presidency, should have started with, "If someone did that to my wife I would want to cut off their balls and watch them bleed to death." The desire for revenge is a natural emotion and being so philosophic about everything tells people Dukakis was (still is, probably) on another planet and could care less about their very real concerns.

Bush the Father was easily able to triumph over Dukakis with "read my lips, no new taxes." Dad would get his comeuppance when he exposed himself as a liar on the subject. I am no admirer of the American electorate and it hardly makes us all out to be geniuses that when we turned our back on someone who so blatantly lied to us, we elected twice a man who never told us the truth, but the Old Man did get what was coming to him.

His son led us into a war we did not need and his "Compassionate Conservatism" is little more than social democracy lite (albeit an expensive sd lite). With gas prices starting to skyrocket before the last election, I thought he would lose. Is his maladministration going to take his party down in flames in November? Who knows? Still, on one night he beat the world. Whether he did because he was smart or lucky is no matter. He did it and the people who make fun of his intellect don't get it.

*Full disclosure, I was required to take four semesters of philosophy. Like our president, I took the gentleman's C. However, as I was not to the manor born and was doing it at a backwater papist college, it was a foolish thing. My method of attaining a C grade was to ask a friend majoring in philosophy, the minimum I needed to study to attain my goal. It worked, and there is not much at this late date I can tell you about the Categorical Imperative.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Everything is a Crisis, James Howard Kuntsler and the Recurring End of the World

Below is a review of The Long Emergency ,Surviving the Converging Catatstrophes of the Twenty First Century by James Howard Kunstler. It was originally published in a small newspaper and as I believe it was not copyrighted, I have revised it a bit and am reposting it here at the very least to fill up space..

When George Carlin was young and undiscovered and therefore somewhat humorous, he had a routine in which he played a character called “The Hippy Dippy Weatherman.” In the only sketch I remember, he is looking at the “Hippy Dippy Weather Radar,” wherein he sees brutal thunderstorms that he describes in chilling detail. After he illustrates the horrors about to affect the viewing area, he off handedly mentions that “however our hippy dippy weather radar also detects a line of Soviet Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles headed this way so I wouldn’t sweat the thunderstorms.” If James Howard Kunstler is correct, the impact on our lives from the normal crises of everyday life to Peak Oil as he depicts it, will be similar to the comparison of thunderstorms with nuclear missiles.

Just who is this fellow anyway and why is he predicting disaster? I have been aware of JHK (as he is oft referred to and as I shall in the interest of brevity) for quite awhile now. his website,, is interesting, especially the vignettes of memoirs he has written. Every week he writes a column on the “converging catastrophes.” Though it is worth reading, I cannot provide its title in a family blog.

So what is the big disaster he is talking about? Though he writes of more than just the depletion of oil, that is the big change that will drive the others. The term that has become popular is “peak oil.” What peak oil means is that sometime soon, if it hasn’t already happened, we shall have extracted half of all the oil that was ever created. We are at that point at the “peak” of production on a bell curve. It does not take a genius to understand the implication of these facts. In a world where the majority of Americans want to live in the burbs and commute far away and the Chinese worker thinks of “The Great Leap Forward” no longer in Maoist terms, but rather as four cylinders of bliss, something has got to give.

But that is not all, as the sub title of converging catastrophes evidences. JHK treats a lot, the economy, disease, the environment as well as peak oil. As to the general theory of peak oil, It is, in and of itself, not controversial. Only a few, marginalized folks believe there is an unlimited amount of Texas Tea. Even the people who disagree with peak happening now, don’t argue that it is more than a few decades away. So where is the controversy?

The nature of the controversy is what will life be like when we wake up to the fact that peak has arrived. Will it be 1973 all over again with long lines at gas stations? Will suburban McMansions go for a fraction of original cost as people try desperately to get closer to a more survivable venue? JHK does not shy away from the questions and he is unequivocal that it will not be easy. The range of possibilities goes from a dieoff of a majority of our species to a very local, agriculturally based existence. His focus on the return to a more local mode of existence leads him to compliment organic agriculture for among other things preserving traditional knowledge.

Though JHK is known for his criticism of Suburbia, his stark representation of an urban aspect of the coming crisis says it all:

“What will happen to the water pipes in a sixty story residential building
in Chicago if the regional natural gas pipeline goes down in February for
six hours? What will happen is that the pipes will burst and every
apartment will become uninhabitable. What will happen when the gas
pipelines are repressurized and pilot lights don’t automatically restart in
some buildings? It is a recipe for gas explosions.”

Keep in mind, this is a man who does not think the burbs have a future. The future he posits will not be a one time event while we just do the workarounds. Energy shortages will be the norm because we are short of energy.

So, will it really work out that way? Y2K got our paranoia juices flowing and then fizzled. Is this just another scare. Maybe, maybe not.

There really was a y2k emergency. Fortunately, the wakeup call came soon enough and there were sufficient resources to make the new years eve transition uneventful. Have we received the wakeup call in time and are the resources there to avoid the long emergency? To paraphrase a saying au courant during the Viet Nam war, “What if they gave a Long Emergency and nobody noticed.” By that I mean, yes, constant price increases in fuel and related commodities, but not so steep that they destroy the economy. Tight fuel supplies, but no gas lines a la 1973.

On the face of it, it does not look good for the scenario just mentioned above. JHK in his analyses of the alternative fuels is not optimistic. It is true that none of the alternatives are ready to step in today to take over from petroleum. However, the Long Emergency does not argue the end of oil, but the decline, albeit a pretty stiff decline. Is there a fuel or technology out there that can alleviate the inevitable?

There is a method of converting coal to oil that JHK mentions and more or less dismisses, unless we become desperate enough and are forced to turn to it. That method is the Fischer-Tropf used by Germany in World War II to keep its air and mechanized forces moving even when they had no access to petroleum. It was also used by South Africa during the old regime. We should note that the apartheid regime did not end because cars could not get fuel.

Why should one think such an old technique could be an answer now. Well for one thing, the Sasol plant in South Africa never stopped running even though the pariah regime is gone and SA can get what ever it needs on the open market. Second, the price is right, the only question investors ask is, will it stay right? Third, it is already happening.

China is deciding between Royal Dutch/Shell Group and the above mentioned Sasol who is to build them two plants. Planning for nine plants worldwide has been underway since 2004 and three coal gasification plants are proposed in Illinois.

So is this feasible. The biggest thing preventing this has always been that crude was always cheaper to get and easier to crack. If that is changing forever (and is that not the point) then it is certainly is possible. My guess is you could put one of these things up as quickly as you could a Walmart. It was not so long ago that I’d never seen a Walmart, now you can’t avoid them.

There are environmental problems with synfuels. Fischer-Tropsch fuels burn cleanly, but there is a lot of CO2 generated in the cracking process. Can that be sequestered? Because it can be mixed with some types of crude oil, making it more fluid, CO2 from a synfuels plant in North Dakota is being piped to a past peak oil field in Saskatchewan and injected into the wells. The injection has already raised production to more than 2/3 of the former peak.

This is not in anyway evidence we have have the problem licked. It won’t be one thing anyway and there is probably no “solution” to the forever riddle of how our species deals with its environment and the materials of that realm. Still, we may just tweak it here and there such that people perceive they have to be a bit more sparing of the resources, but adjust well enough that it soon does not seem an “emergency.” You have probably heard of the question, “did the people living in the dark ages know they were living in the dark ages?”

Of course, many things could go wrong such that JHK is forever viewed as a prophet. An Iranian adventure just might work that magic.

This is a readable book. His organization of the chapters is well done. It does suffer from the lack of an index and bibliography. I do have some problems. In the chapter “Running on Fumes,” he makes a point of mentioning the effect of the Fordney -McCumber Tariff of 1922 yet completely ignores Smoot-Hawley, the most devastating tariff ever passed and arguably a direct cause of the depression. Missing the latter and not the former is, to say the least, interesting. Still, the book is worth it, if only for the section on LTCM (Long Term Capital Management), a group of certified geniuses who nearly cratered the world economy. Mommas don’t let yer boys grow up to be hedge fund managers, let’m be organic farmers instead.”

If you have not been reading about, peak oil and don’t want to get into a lot of geology and want a more global view of all the problems that are, as JHK would put it, converging, you could do a lot worse than this book.

Since I wrote that review, I've become a bit more skeptical of Mr. Kunstler. I refer to the quote below:

"People will consequently suffer. I don’t know how much. Some people may lose their lives - but more likely at the hands of a disabled medical establishment than because of civil disorder, loss of power, starvation, bad water, or other projected horrors (though these, too, are possible). Some will suffer the loss of fortunes, some of any income whatsoever, and many of something in between. Quite a few will find themselves suddenly without an occupation, and few ideas about how to make themselves useful to other people (without occupations themselves). Many will suffer a loss of comfort and modern convenience, and if that goes on any longer than a week, it may escalate into serious problems of public sanitation and infectious disease."

Of course the opening line to the above paragraph is:

"...Y2K is real. Y2K is going to rock our world."

He was spouting all the same stuff about the need to re-localize just a few years ago.

The man is snake oil with a great style. If we do end up with an energy crisis it will be caused by the usual culprit, politics.

You may want to trust me on this one. I suspect I am a lot older than you. Just out of the Army, in the early 70's, I sat in line at the gas station during the first oil crisis and we know that wage and price controls had a lot to do with that. Of course, I can probably rustle up a WIN button if I need to.

For a more exhaustive take on JHK you may want to visit Peak Oil Debunked.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Don't try this at home. No really, run with scissors, but don' try this.

Got this originally from Dennis Mangan's The Deep Value Investor blog and then went to the story at the sight freemoney finance freemoney finance to read the article "Money Saving Tip: Cut Your Own Hair and Save a Bundle". Being the voice of humility and proud of it, I would never go out on a limb and make a ruling ex cathedra in a cavalier manner. Here I am on solid ground. This is a stupid idea. No, really, this is a stupid idea. Dennis and freemoney finance state the guy netted out $64,000 from doing this over the years. I assume it is the net of investing the savings, but we shall never know as the original source blog link to Uncle Jack is gone. I am assuming Uncle Jack finally looked in the mirror and never regained consciousness.

The freemoney finance blogger crows that as he shaves his head, he is already doing this. Okay, if you shave your head you are saving the dough and building up your retirement nestegg. Making a virtue of necessity is not something we humilitarians sneer at, and if one suffers from male pattern baldness, it is an ill wind that blows no good. Of course your man claims he does it because he likes the style and I would too if I were him, as humility does not preclude the horrible fault of vanity.

The first entry in the comments section says it all:

"8 - Total number of times I've tried cutting my own hair.

2 - Times I put large bald-spots on my head by accident while cutting my own hair.

4 - Times I've had to visit the barber to fix a bad haircut I gave myself.

1 - Number of times I gave myself a semi-decent haircut.

1 - Number of times I've had to take off all my hair because I messed up so bad.

Moral of story: Make sure you're expert with scissors and trimmers and extraordinarily coordinated before cutting your own hair!

Thanks to the miracle of blog anonymity, I am now able to deal with the horrible abuse that went on in my family. My mother cut my hair. Of course, you say, the childhood cannot have been all that bad if this was the worst thing that ever happened to you. It is true, mom never locked me in the closet with a radio locked on the oldies station (true, I'm old enough to be from a time when there were no oldies stations). I was an annoying kid and tried her patience no end and if this was the worst thing she ever tried, she probably deserves the posthumous nobel prize for forbearance.

Yeah, well you never went under her clippers. Al, the barber I had been going to up the street, would get you into the chair and out before you knew it and you never felt a thing. In fact, he was so fast, you were a bit upset that you were called to the chair so quickly and had to put down the slightly racy magazine you were reading (it was there I first learned the word, hermaphrodite). Of course this was a time before American men went to salons and no one ever considered getting a hair style like Japanese Prime Minister Koziumi.

Then mom got the bright idea to save money by cutting my dad's hair and mine. She never even suggested my sisters because I'm sure she knew that the Department of Social Services would descend on her immediately once my siblings were seen at large. A near bald son is one thing, two sisters with no hair in the late 50s would have been quite another.

My father could take anything and he would sit in the chair and patiently endure the unendurable (in the words of Emperor Hirohito) without a word. then I would be called to the chair, told to hold the sheet tight and sit still. I swear, I could have jumped up and down with Al and he would never have noticed enough to interrupt his lecture on politics to one of the adult customers. Move a nanometer with my mother and you would have her indicting you for a war crime.

And the itch. Al would put the sheet around you and fasten a clip and never a hair would get under it. Mom had no clip and by the time you were done, you had accumulated enough hair to make any medieval monk jealous because he had it too easy with his hair shirt.

Now, I mentioned that Al was speedy with the clippers. Well, mom wasn't It took forever and when I finally darted out of the chair and ran out, to feel itchy for the rest of the day I can still remember her last words, "It wouldn't have taken so long if you would sit still."

When I was earning money and could pay far the cutting, that torture ended. I think my mother's feelings were hurt by my disloyalty. I have a guilty conscience, as I did disregard the feelings of others as a child, but in this matter, nope. Memories of all the many wonderful things mom did, especially the exquisite meals she cooked are with me a lot, but those days of torture in an uncomfortable stool are the more indelible, even though I know she suffered with arthritic hands and it was no picnic for her. Even the knowledge that her thrift put three kids through college and provided us with a comfortable, if not opulent, childhood does not dim the small spirited memories of an ungrateful son.

My one consolation is that, unlike my sisters, she never made any of my clothes. It was common practice in those days of the near universal stay at home mom to buy fabric and patterns and sew their daughters dresses. The one boy I knew whose mom made his shirts suffered no end of what were, to be polite, adverse comments.

So fair warning, if you are ever reported for your kids' bad haircuts and brought to the bar of justice, I stand ready to testify as an expert witness, and not for the defense.

I am going to monitor freemoney as I am sure eventually to see tips like, "Be your own undertaker and direct your own and family members' funerals."