Wednesday, April 30, 2008

New Poll

I am thinking about eliminating the blog archive in the right hand column. I find it a bit aesthetically unpleasing, but if it is useful I won't remove it.

Thanks,
-FLG

DC gets a bowl game

SI:
The new bowl games for next season will be the Congressional Bowl in the nation's capital and the St. Petersburg Bowl.


Wouldn't the teams rather play some place warm in December? DC is a bad idea.

Summer Class

I really wish I could take either of these classes at Georgetown Summer School:
Al-Qaeda
Scheuer

This course is specifically designed to enable the student to understand, think, plan and react like al-Qaeda's leaders. In studying Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, the course will make an attempt to put them, and the threat they and their allies pose, into the context of contemporary international affairs, Islamic history, the traditional tenets of U.S. foreign policy and the nature of war. In short, the non-traditional national security threat posed by al-Qaeda will be examined as if it were not that different than a traditional national security threat from a nation-state. All students must have written approval from the SSP. Students who fail to obtain written approval will not be registered.

International Arms Trade
Goldring

This course examines the historical evolution of the international arms trade, focusing on the economics of international arms transfers since the end of the Cold War and on the trials and tribulations of international efforts to control arms trafficking. The international trade in conventional weapons has changed in important ways since the end of the Cold War. The existence of large inventories of weapons and the perpetuation of large production capacities in the West, the former Soviet bloc, and many other countries has generated a barrage of activity that is largely beyond international control. Arms are plentiful and cheap, and this has had devastating consequences in many parts of the world. This course analyzes these important issues in detail. All students must have written approval from the SSP. Students who fail to obtain written approval will not be registered.


Why do I want to take these two classes. The first I simply find intriguing, and Michael Scheuer is a really interesting guy. When I see him on campus I always have to hold back from running over to ask him a million questions. I am pretty good at holding back because I have never talked to him.

The second would be crucial to my career goals. I would like to get joint MA in International Relations/MBA to become a James Bond Supervillian-esque character. As far I can tell from the movies, arms dealing will look good on my resume when I apply to SPECTRE.

Journalists, Voters, and Policy

I wrote:
Voters like to say that they want to hear about issues. But in reality this serious discussion is comprised of bromides. They want to hear, "I am going to fix X." To be followed by generalities. Voters don't want a real discussion of how the candidate will fix the problem because the Devil is in the details. Yet, the details are really boring. Therefore, the press covers the election like a horserace.

Also, math is hard. I contend that is the real problem. Journalists, by and large, are writers, not math people, and policy analysis requires big numbers and regressions. It makes their heads hurt. So, in reality, the problem is that journalists are bad at math.


Andrew Sullivan links to Ezra Klein and David Corn saying the same thing here. I tell you, these so-called important bloggers are so last week.

Begining of the End of Communist Controlled China

BBC:
The Chinese authorities are due to ban smoking in most public buildings in the capital Beijing, starting on Thursday.

The move is an attempt to discourage some of China's 350 million smokers and also part of wider efforts to clean up the city in the run up to the Olympics.

For every three cigarettes lit worldwide, one is smoked in China. Almost 25% of the Chinese smoke.

Smoking is also contributing to a rapid rise of cancer and heart disease in the world's most populous country.


I have no problem with smoking bans. However, a lot of Chinese smoke. This type of ban is going to be the government's undoing if i's permanent. Just for the Olympics, okay. Permanent, and its doomsville for the Communist Party. MARK MY WORDS! It won't happen immediately, but it will be the high water mark of sorts for Communist China.

High-Speed Rail

I have posted on high-speed rail on this blog several times. Ryan over at The Bellows posts about Argentina building a new high-speed railway, and says it is time for the US to get on board. It is long past time.

Amtrak has two fundamental problems. First, it is a quasi-government organization. This leads to political hanky-panky when funding comes up. A rail line from Omaha to Wichita is probably not economically viable, but don't tel that to the representatives from Kansas and Nebraska. Second, because it is a quasi-government organization it has dominion over nationwide passenger rail service. This is a mistake.

What we need are regional rail services. Rail will never compete on cross-country routes with airlines. However, trips in the Boston-NYC-Philly-DC region on a high-speed train would certainly be more convenient, cost effective, and probably cheaper than air. A would guess that a SF-LA-SD route on the west coast and a Florida high-speed network would also be competitive. What we need is regional rail authorities building high-speed rail, and the Federal government could chip in with financing.

Furthermore, these high-speed rail networks should be built using existing, proven technology, even if it is foreign. I like the French TGV, but a Japanese bullet train or any other existing technology will do. We shouldn't reinvent the wheel on this one when we can just buy the wheel.

New tracks will have to be built, and that is where the state and Federal governments come in. They need to finance the tracks, and to push through the inevitable eminent domain and housing prices issues. It is going to be tough, but this is what things like eminent domain are for.

Unless we get serious about regional high-speed rail, we are not going to get off foreign oil or resolve any of our other traffic related problems. One train can remove multiple NYC-DC shuttle flights, which would free up our air corridors and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It will also lessen traffic on I-95 and the NJ Turnpike. I realize it will take a while to get it built and operating, but we need a long term strategy starting now.

Home Prices

CNN:
New home sales fell in March to the lowest level in more than 16 years, according to a key government report on the battered housing market released Wednesday.


I have known that home prices were vastly overinflated for years, going back to when I worked in a mortgage company. I ignored all the economic indicators of demand because I knew they were inaccurate.

When both Mrs. FLG and I were working we were the perfect first-time home buyers. We both made good money, but we would have had to take a crazy mortgage to afford a house. If a young couple, making decent money has to rely on an exotic loan to buy a house something is wrong with the market.

Many people assumed that housing prices would keep rising and they would be priced out of the market. I saw a lot of couples like Mrs. FLG and I taking out loans that we would not have agreed to. Given that housing prices are ultimately based on first-time homebuyers, it was clear that something was wrong. Housing prices had to fall eventually.

Now that they are falling everybody is like, "shit!," or "Oh, yeah. Why didn't I see that coming?" Low interest rates began the boom, and exotic mortgages kept it going long past a sustainable level. It sucks that people are getting burned, but it was inevitable. We didn't buy a house precisely because the fundamentals in the market were so shaky.

Tablighi Jamaat

The Corner has a post about Tablighi Jamaat, which they call a separatist group.

A separatist Muslim group, Tablighi Jamaat, is building Europe's biggest mosque in London, near the site of the 2012 Olympics. As described by the Times of London:

Tablighi Jamaat, the Islamic missionary group behind the £75 million Abbey Mills mosque, opposes inter-faith dialogue and preaches that non-Muslims are an evil and corrupting influence. One of its British advocates has said that it aims to rescue Muslims from the culture and civilisation of Jews and Christians by creating “such hatred for their ways as human beings have for urine and excreta”.

A Tablighi Jamaat spokesman, meanwhile, complained to the Times that the group's allegedly separatist rhetoric had been — you'll never guess — taken out of context. "They may seem to be separatist, but what we’re trying to discuss is distancing ourselves from beliefs which move us away from belief in God and which take us into things we consider to be a sin." Well, that certainly explains it.


First, their separation is not so much simply from Jews and Christians, but rather from the modern world. While not a perfect analogy, they are a lot like the Amish. They attempt to live as if it were the time of the Prophet, even when they live in cities. Now, this rejection of the modern world results in people becoming Jihadists. Jose Padilla, Richard Reid and John Walker Lindh, for example, were all involved with the Tablighi movement before becoming militant.

Sorta, kinda the Tablighis are like Amish, except some of them go nuts and want to manifest the world they want to live in. So, yes, they are a separatist group, but I don't think in the way The Corner understands it to be separatist.

China's Growth

Fortune:
You have 7 years to learn Mandarin

Back in 2001 when the International Olympic Committee chose Beijing as the site of this summer's games, the event was meant to mark China's debut as a player on the global economic stage. But a recent study by the economist Angus Maddison projects that China will become the world's dominant economic superpower much sooner than expected - not in 2050, but in 2015.

Angus Maddison's forecast (which uses purchasing power parity) isn't built on outlandish assumptions. He assumes China's growth will slow way down year by year, and America's will average about 2.6% annually, which seems reasonable. But because
China has grown so stupendously during the past decade, it should still be able to take the crown in just seven more years.

If that happens, America will close out a 125-year run as the No. 1 economy. We assumed the title in 1890 from - guess who. Britain? France? No. The world's largest economy until 1890 was China's. That's why Maddison says he expects China to "resume its natural role as the world's largest economy by 2015." That scenario makes sense.


If they really think China will be the world's largest economy, and that level is sustainable, by 2015, I think their assumptions are outlandish. Furthermore, I think far too much of their supposed growth is simply pouring concrete to meet output quotas.

The article's recommendations for using the next seven years to adapt:
For companies: Focus on getting better at your highest-value activities. Just because the Chinese will be fighting you in the same industries doesn't mean you'll lose.

For individuals: You can avoid competition with Chinese workers by doing place-based work, which ranges in value from highly skilled (emergency-room surgery) to menial (pouring concrete). But the many people who do information-based work, which is most subject to competition, will have to get dramatically better to be worth what they cost.

For government leaders: Improve U.S. education above all.


The Stolper-Samuelson theorem tells us that returns in a country that trades freely goes to the sectors in which it is relatively abundant. For the US this means capital and high-skilled labor. For China it means low-skilled labor.

From this perspective we have some good and dumb advice here. Good advice is for companies to focus on high-value activities. They presumably utilize lots of capital and high-skilled labor. However, a lot of labor can make up for capital. One needs to determine whether an army of cheap workers or machines and robots will be more effective. That is the crucial thing. If you process can be done by a lot of cheap labor, even if you do it with machines and highly-skilled labor currently, you have to think hard about how to compete with the cheap low-skill labor.

For individuals, the place-related work I think is a dumb idea. Telling people to go into concrete pouring because it is immune from Chinese competition is idiotic. However, the information-based work advice is spot on. High-skilled versus low-skilled labor is a relative term. High skilled today is average skilled in the future. So, US based technology people have to continue to keep their skills up.

On the government policy point, I agree we need to improve education. But it has to be at the K-12 level. Higher education is not the problem, but when people talk about competition they usually focus on getting more engineers graduated from college. Bad, bad idea. We need to ensure that our high school graduates are prepared to study engineering if they so desire. The high starting salaries of engineering graduates provides enough incentive for people to pursue engineering as a subject.

Friedman on Energy Policy

NYTimes:
It is great to see that we finally have some national unity on energy policy. Unfortunately, the unifying idea is so ridiculous, so unworthy of the people aspiring to lead our nation, it takes your breath away. Hillary Clinton has decided to line up with John McCain in pushing to suspend the federal excise tax on gasoline, 18.4 cents a gallon, for this summer’s travel season. This is not an energy policy. This is money laundering: we borrow money from China and ship it to Saudi Arabia and take a little cut for ourselves as it goes through our gas tanks. What a way to build our country.

When the summer is over, we will have increased our debt to China, increased our transfer of wealth to Saudi Arabia and increased our contribution to global warming for our kids to inherit.

No, no, no, we’ll just get the money by taxing Big Oil, says Mrs. Clinton. Even if you could do that, what a terrible way to spend precious tax dollars — burning it up on the way to the beach rather than on innovation?


First, lower the taxes on gas, and the price will just go back up. Second, I fear that a windfall tax will raise the price of gas anyway because of tax incidence. Oil companies will increase their margins. It is not like oil demand is price elastic right now.

Few Americans know it, but for almost a year now, Congress has been bickering over whether and how to renew the investment tax credit to stimulate investment in solar energy and the production tax credit to encourage investment in wind energy.


Friedman is big on the tax credits. I disagree. This is picking winners. If you want less carbon, tax it. If institute a carbon tax it will allow the market to determine which low or no carbon technologies are best. This will raise the price of high carbon technologies, thereby making low carbon technologies more competitive.
In an economic sense, subsidies produce less dead weight loss than the tax, but I don't think anybody has enough information regarding how these technologies will develop to know which is effective. Sure, we can subsidize wind and solar because they sound like the best alternatives. But I still think it would be better to make carbon more expensive and produce incentives to develop alternative forms of energy rather than picking ones we think are best now.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Waste of Money

Since February 12th, I have received 21 emails almost identical to this one:

Dear FLG,

Graduation will be here before you know it! Pick up your graduation announcements before they're gone!

These very attractive announcements are printed on quality stock and include a schedule to tell your guests when and where commencement events will take place. As soon as these have been picked up, we can give out the extras.

Hours of pick-up are between 9:00 and 5:00, Monday through Friday.


Uh, maybe somebody should reconsider either the amount printed or even printing them at all next year. It appears the supply greatly surpassed demand, and I paid for these with my tuition bill.

Lesbians want their name back

Telegraph:
Residents of the Greek island of Lesbos launched a legal action yesterday against a homosexual group, insisting that only islanders had the right to call themselves lesbians.

The inhabitants of the island said they were attempting to ban the Greek Gay and Lesbian Union (Olke) from bearing the name "lesbian".


Talk about identity politics, but this part is the kicker:
Residents of Lesbos now suffer "psychological and moral rape" from the "seizure" of their island's name by gays, according to the complaint by Dimitris Lambrou, a local activist. He has set out his argument in "The Misfortune of Being Lesbian", published on his website.


I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried. Priceless.

Obama speech



Ok, from this video I see two things. He is either really pissed or disappointed at Rev. Wright. I figure it was a mixture of the two. I think the Philly speech, in which Obama said some good things about Wright, was a kind way of telling Rev. Wright to shut up and keep a low profile. Wright, a narcissist, heard the words as attacking him. So, he went out to clear his name and get back at Obama.

I accept Obama's explanation, but there is a reasonable doubt about whether he had not heard this stuff before. Nevertheless, the whole issue is fine with me. Wright blew is 15 minutes with the media too because every op-ed in the country is calling him a wacko.

I remain skeptical of Obama's policies, but I like his temperament far more than the other alternatives.

Partisanship and the Right

Kathryn Jean Lopez:
Sorry, how is anything that Wright said yesterday worse than what he's said in the past? He should not get a pass.


I am relatively conservative, but Ms. Lopez represents everything that is wrong with the conservative movement. Well, politics in general because this is certainly not limited to the right. There are a long list of lefties who have the same concept of politics.

Namely, a cynical, zero-sum, take no prisoners, concede no point, think the worst of the other side's motivations type of view that poisons the political atmosphere.

I probably should have provided examples of specific instances when she has displayed this type of behavior, and maybe I will next week, but for now my statement stands.

Bachelor's Degree

Via Instapundit an article about how a BA is America's most overrated product.

I understand the frustration people have with college costs. Many students also flunk or drop-out and don't finish for many years or ever. They leave saddled with debt. (FLG feels their pain.)

There are two issues I have with the pooh-pooh-ing college stuff. First, implicit in much of it is: "When I went to college we actually learned stuff, unlike now where kids are idiots taught by research-oriented professors and it costs too much money." I doubt the Boomers, as a group, studied any harder than kids today. Second, I propose this thought experiment:

How much money would the people who argue that college isn't worth the cost take in return for allowing me to erase both any evidence of their college degree, including any subsequent degrees, and all of the knowledge they received during their college education from their minds?

I bet you it would be a damn far sight higher than $200,000 to take that deal.

Newspapers and New Media

Yglesias:
The newspaper, as an institution, is an odd one -- an enormous bundle of disparate kinds of content whose rationale for existing has to do with the economics of printing and distributing cheap paper and ink on a daily basis. In an online world, the economics are different and argue in favor of specialization and niches. And this is also almost certainly better for editorial quality. It would be extremely odd for one person to be well-qualified to supervise coverage of all the different things The New York Times tries to cover. Why not get political news from a political news outlet, movie reviews from a place that specializes in movies, and local news from an organization that's really passionate about covering its community rather than viewing it as a JV form of journalism to be endured before moving on to something bigger? And in the future, we will.


I don't think newspapers are going to go away. They will, at the very least, remain as online publications. For example, I don't expect NYtimes.com and WashingtonPost.com disappear anytime soon.

The current problem is that both online commentators and newspapers see each other in an adversarial relationship. Many bloggers want to give the MSM what's coming to it, and the MSM is afraid of change. Both, and especially MSM, need to realize that new media is a complementary product to established media. Bloggers provide analysis, some good and much terrible, but the good bloggers direct a ton of traffic to MSM articles that they are analyzing. And bloggers need to realize that the economies of scale related to information gathering require established news organizations.

When will we know this is happening? When online versions of op-eds at the NYTimes and WaPo start including useful hyperlinks both to other news agencies and bloggers. This will mark the acceptance, rather than fear, of new media by established media, and will endear the MSM to many bloggers.

Vouchers

WaPo comes out in favor of more voucher funding. Hopefully, the opponents of vouchers finally wake up and realize they are on the wrong side of both the political debate and the best interest of students.

We would hope that Congress would recognize certain truths. First, that the time for a rhetorical debate about this program has passed. There are 1,900 children enrolled -- quite happily -- in the program. What's at stake is not a political point of honor but the opportunity for children to go to schools that work for them. Second, it's a program that is supported by District leaders and embraced by their constituents. A measure of its popularity is how demand for the scholarships outstrips capacity. It's encouraging that the House subcommittee on financial services and general government, which will hold the hearing, is chaired by Rep. Jose E. Serrano (D-N.Y.), a true believer in the importance of home rule.

Of all the arguments against vouchers, the most pernicious is that they hurt public schools. Never mind that D.C. public schools benefit financially from the funding formula. Public schools failed long before vouchers were even conceived of, and no less an authority than D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee dismisses that argument out of hand. As she told the Wall Street Journal, "I would never, as long as I am in this role, do anything to limit another parent's ability to make a choice for their child. Ever." Let's hope Congress feels that same compunction.

Educational Customization

UD's alter ego SOS rips into the the new president of University of Toledo's proposal for educational customization.

Extreme student centeredness founded on the principles of mass customization is the single best strategy for higher education and for the persistence of an educated and participative populace in America. Extreme student centeredness constitutes the best single tactic to implement the chancellor’s strategic plan.

Degree completion requirements for every student with an associate’s degree will be custom-made; each student will understand the shortest, most frugal path from where he or she is to their desired goal. Computer-assisted instruction and peer instruction [When they get tired of staring at screens, make other students teach them.] will become widespread and automated as evidence continues to accumulate that many students learn best where those tools are utilized. [If I were a professor at Toledo, I’d be asking myself questions at this point about how we came to utilize one particular tool.]


Mass customization of education is a bad idea for a few reasons. First, students, especially 18 year-old undergraduate students, lack the knowledge to choose the best form of education. Indeed, we allow academics to choose the core curriculum precisely because we presume they have insight as to what the best method and topics for education are. Second, individualized education precludes the development of a common set of intellectual, cultural, and academic reference points, which are necessary for an in-depth discussion about common problems that affect society. One cannot discuss Plato, Hemingway, or any notable author of your choice, if the other person has not read them. Third, the entire concept of treating education as a commodity product that produces some strictly economic returns offends my sensibilities regarding education.

A good education is about forcing the student to confront their beliefs and opinions in a serious manner within the context of the existing thought on the subjects in question. Allowing students to narrowly tailor their education using technology is completely contradictory to this principle.

Yet, the new president believes this represents commodification of education:
What’s the problem? We are victims of our successes. Colleges and universities, particularly the state institutions, have mass-produced the middle class. They have, for the first two and most formative years especially, unwittingly and unknowingly, borrowed from Henry Ford’s assembly line technology and built an educational assembly line. Note the evidence of that: a lock-step curriculum, including remedial course work so that everyone may get on the conveyor at the same point, prerequisites for many upper-level classes, and an absolutely hidebound sequence of grade school, high school, college and professional school, which is broken only with occasional “special programs,” which are strongly resisted by administrators and faculty alike.


I feel sorry for the University of Toledo. They have hired a business-focused president who is enamored with the application of business and technological processes to education. Sadly, his perception of a core curriculum as a commodity inverts the issue. A well designed core curriculum is precisely what makes education not a commodity. It affects each student differently, but the student also emerges with a shared base of cultural and intellectual knowledge that allows them to explain these differences. Allowing each student to progress at their own pace, studying subjects of their choosing will result in education becoming just another product.

You, sir just do not get it, and the University of Toledo will rue the day it hired you.

Dude...

Telegraph:
One of Australia’s most senior conservative politicians broke down today as he tearfully admitted sniffing the chair of a female colleague shortly after she vacated it.

Troy Buswell, the leader of the opposition Liberal Party in Western Australia, was under intense pressure to resign over the incident, which happened in 2005.

He dismissed allegations on 13 different occasions that he had sniffed the seat, before finally admitting yesterday that it had in fact taken place.

College Admissions

A student quoted on an NYTimes blog today:
You hear the phrase “Oh, it will look good on a college application” so much in high school that people end up doing stuff just so it looks good for college.


I wrote recently:
Ok, so what is the problem with kids doing everything right getting into elite universities? Nothing, accept nobody does everything perfect. To get all of this stuff done you have to cut corners somewhere. One simply cannot get a 4.0, 1600 on their SATs, be captain of the chess team, swim team, and president of the international relations club without doing stuff half-assed at some point. But that is what we are encouraging. We encourage people to create the facade of success so that they can be successful. When they get in a position to be successful, ie after being accepted to Harvard, the habituation of half-assed-ness is ingrained.

So, we end up with people who are concerned with accomplishing as many objective goals with the least effort possible per goal. This is not a way to encourage our society. We need people to be passionate about what they are doing, not doggedly pursuing everything that can make them look good on paper.

Islamic Terrorism

Julia over at mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful offers a quotation from Leon Wieseltier's review of Martin Amis's newest book, The Second Plane.

The masculinist account of terrorism brings to mind the feminist account of nuclear weapons, according to which all you need to know about the origin of the danger is the shape of the missile. The genital theory of history may be novelistically useful, but it is analytically silly. In this case, it reduces decades and centuries of philosophies and cultures and religions and tribes and classes and nations and movements and states and empires to the Levantine crotch. Surely we must be able to imagine, not only for the sake of our literature but also for the sake of our security, that there are sexually satisfied enemies of decency and modernity. And enough about those patient virgins in the sky: the threat from suicide bombing, and from the political cultures that prize it, is founded on deformations more worldly and more substantial than a harem fantasy.


As I am currently writing a paper on Islam's response to modernity I am in the position to respond to this somewhat intelligently. The Islamic world had negotiated a compromise with politics throughout most of its history. Political institutions had their role and shari'a law had its sphere. Colonialization, the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and the subsequent emergence of Islamic nation-states disturbed this balance. The nation-state has a larger role in private life than the previous forms of government, and it trespasses into areas which were previously the sphere of shari'a influence.

Broadly, there are three responses to the difficulties presented by the nation-state to Islam. First, Islam can retreat into the private and spiritual sphere and cede authority in areas that were traditionally its domain. Secondly, Muslims can enthrone shari'a law as the sole source authority, and thereby subjugate political authority. Third, Islam can endeavor a new compromise between state and religion.

There are a few movements that chose the first option. Iran and al-Qaeda chose the second option. (Turkey chose the converse of the second option and enthroned secular political power and attempted to eliminate shari'a law's authority.) I am actually writing my paper on the third option. There is a lot of writing from classical Islamic tradition that can support each of these options.

However, the deformation that led to al-Qaeda is most definitely worldly. It is a utopian vision of returning to a more pure time. Indeed, I would say that theologically and intellectually it is a modern response to the problems posed by the modern world to Islam. I am in no way justifying it, and I hate utopian ideologies, but there is an intellectual and theological path that led to their conclusions, which is also distinctly modern.

Finally, in response to "there are sexually satisfied enemies of decency and modernity." Maybe so, but these terrorists getting laid more often, not just once and then they blame it on the West's corruption of their culture and themselves, but rather multiple times, would reduce the terrorist threat by a huge percentage. Believe me these guys are sexually frustrated.

Again, visualizing world peace involves hot chicks.

Monday, April 28, 2008

UN Security Council v. Pirates

BBC:
France and the US have introduced a draft resolution at the UN Security Council that would allow states to arrest pirates in Somalia's waters.

The document gives nations a six-month mandate to use "all necessary means" to fight piracy.

But it says that countries taking such action should be co-operating with Somalia's embattled interim government.


I guess the UN mandate gives it international authority.

But, oh how I long for the good ol' days when the naval aristocracy of Rhodes would just take care of these things.

Sure, the US Marines could add a new line to their hymn by resolving this, but they are busy at the moment. Also, "..from the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of the Horn of Africa" doesn't have the same ring.

I still think Europe should become the top pirate fighting force. Isn't the Charles de Gaulle capable of taking down some pirates? The French did it just the other day. Europe could get its integrated military force into gear by doing some good ol' fashioned pirate hunting.

Sometimes I don't like economic analysis

FreeExchange:
I don’t believe post secondary education should only be intended for the elite few. Rather, certain university degrees have limited economic value. US universities often emphasise a liberal arts curriculum. The skills from this sort of education may not be useful for a large fraction of the population. In order for more people to benefit from education, be it completing high school or post secondary education, schools need to supply students with the skills the market rewards. This may mean a greater emphasis on quantitative subjects or more vocational training.


A liberal arts education offers benefits to the recipient and positive externalities to society that are difficult to quantify. It is certainly not for everybody, and I don't disagree with offering more programs that offer more practical training. However, analyzing education by discounting future income derived from the education is too narrow of a criteria. In fact, I would argue that it perverts the educational choices of far too many people. For example, a degree in finance is lucrative, but does the technocratic ability to analyze a financial statement provide more benefit to the student or society than thinking about their role as a person and citizen? I don't think so.

Don't get me wrong. I love economics. I studied economics, international financial markets, international banking, etc. I found these courses intruding, and this knowledge will probably have higher monetary returns than my class in Political and Social Thought or classical history. They will almost certainly have higher monetary returns than my class in Witches, but these non-lucrative classes matter more to me personally and to society in general because they have forced me to think deeply about the type of person I am. Furthermore, I learned how to think and write about abstract concepts in a coherent and lucid manner. Most quantitative classes teach the student how to manipulate formulas, or at worst simply plugging numbers into pre-derived formulas. These are useful skills, but they do not require the student to answer fundamental questions about themselves and the world.

Reading the Herodotus, John Stuart Mill, or even the Malleus Mallificarum will never translate directly into economic returns, but this does not mean that it was worthless.

Madison & Heidegger

I haven't read Heidegger either recently or enough to intelligently respond to Withywindle's post. I have, however, read some of the Federalist Papers recently, and I don't like the sound of this:

Political pluralism requires our character to become more rhetorical, requires us to become aware of ourselves as shifting masks, persona, no one any more or less authentic than any other.


There is something here derived from Kierkegaard's subjective truth stuff that concerns me. Nevertheless, I am far too ignorant of the German philosophers including Heidegger. That's something to rectify after my papers and finals.

I will have to return to this topic later when I have more time to think on it. I am certainly missing something from Withy's comparison.

Future American Military

My paper writing and a recent conversation with GEC reminded me of this video. It's approximately 25 minutes long, but it is really entertaining and he provides a new framework for the United States Military.

Thomas Barnett: The Pentagon's new map for war and peace

Robot Overlords Continued

MSNBC:
Israel's newest soldier can see at night, never nods off on sentry duty and can carry 660 pounds without complaining.

The Guardium, an unmanned ground vehicle commissioned by the Israeli military and shown to The Associated Press on Monday, is essentially a robotic soldier, among the first in the world to be operational. It can replace human soldiers in dangerous roles, cutting casualty rates.

Like the pilotless drones that have become a mainstay of air forces in Israel, the U.S. and elsewhere, the four-wheeled Guardium is operated from a command room that can be far from the front line. It can be mounted with cameras, night-vision equipment and sensors, as well as more lethal tools like machine guns.


The article didn't have a picture. So, FLG, as always, did the leg work google image search.

Bloggin' Update

FLG will not be reading or responding to comments until Monday. He will continue to post sporadically, but he really needs to buckle down and get some paper writing done.

An analysis of the Syrian reactor

Armscontrolwonk:
Despite early press reports that the fuel channels atop the Al Kibar reactor core were identical to Yongbyon, I and others — including Geoff Forden, Cheryl Rofer and Richard Wendland — see some pretty significant differences that suggest Al Kibar might have been quite a bit smaller than its North Korean cousin.

To be clear, I don’t doubt that Al Kibar was a reactor and, although I think the evidence of North Korean involvement is less impressive than early press reports suggested, that’s my working hypothesis too.

But I don’t understand the claim that Al Kibar is a copy of Yongbyon in the strict sense — in particular, I don’t understand how the IC concluded that Al Kibar is the same size as Yongbyon.

If you model the core of a reactor as a sphere, the volume (and hence capacity) of Al Kibar would be about one-fifth that of Yongbyon — sixty percent cubed.

The implication of a smaller reactor is smaller plutonium production — roughly, while Yongbyon could produce 5-7 kg of plutonium per year, Al Kibar could only produce about 1 kilogram of plutonium per year.


They have details, which were too numerous to summarize with excerpts. They are convinced it was a reactor, but question whether it was an exact copy of Yongbyon. Nevertheless, they don't dismiss N Korean assistance with the design and construction.

Correspondence

I received a few emails about the Austrian Dungeon Case. Rather than respond to each of them, I will just post this:

I saw a report on either Saturday or yesterday, I can't remember. I decided not to post anything about it. It's too horrific for words.

-FLG

al-Sadr and al-Qaeda

PJM:
A few days ago, there were two suspiciously coordinated statements emerging from Iraq. Muqtada al-Sadr made open-war threats followed immediately by a similar threat from al-Qaeda.

Respected Iraqi writer and lawyer Suleiman Hakim (a prominent writer regularly published on the leading Iraqi politics and culture website Kitabat ) reported on April 11 — more than a week before Sadr and Abu Ayyub made their threats — about serious negotiations taking place between Sadr’s movement and a leader of the Islamic army group.

The meetings, Hakim believes, are taking place in Syria and Lebanon and are sponsored by a special Syrian security apparatus specialized in Iraqi affairs.


This sounds preposterous to me.

The fact that this story was written almost days before both al-Qaeda leaders sent in a wave of audio recordings and Muqtada threatened open war gives them increased credibility.

True, the idea of the Islamic army cooperating with Mahdi army sounds as peculiar as it always has. Not because of the sectarian difference, because the two groups did cooperate and sent reinforcements to each other back in 2004 during the battles of Fallujah and Najaf.


Still sound preposterous. Has anybody ever read what al-Qaeda says and thinks about Shi'ites? It ain't nice. They pretty much hate Shi'ites as much as the Great Satan and the Zionist entity.

This is one piece of news I want to see corroborated, and I don't even like al-Sadr.

Jawdropping

Telegraph:
An overweight inmate is suing jail authorities after he lost more than seven stone, alleging he is “being starved to death” by an inadequate prison diet.

In his complaint, the prisoner asserts that “on several occasions I have started to do some exercising and my vision went blurry and I felt like I was going to pass out. About an hour after each meal my stomach starts to hurt and growl. I feel hungry again.”

McCain

I like John McCain. He seems like an honorable and upstanding citizen and public servant. However, his recent gaffes on foreign policy, such as stating that al-Qaeda and Iran cooperate, as well as his inconsistent foreign and economics policy proposals.

Fareed Zakaria has a great analysis about McCain's March 26th speech.

I have selected the two points from the speech that Zakaria pointed out, which most disturb me.

We should start by ensuring that the G-8, the group of eight highly industrialized states, becomes again a club of leading market democracies: it should include Brazil and India but exclude Russia.


Is it really a good idea to antagonize Russia by kicking it out of a largely symbolic and ineffective group? I mean who cares? It will piss them off simply to piss them off.

We have to strengthen our global alliances as the core of a new global compact -- a League of Democracies -- that can harness the vast influence of the more than one hundred democratic nations around the world to advance our values and defend our shared interests.


Who wants another ineffective multinational organization? I understand the sentiment. Dictatorships and authoritarian governments are what make the UN ineffective. So, let's form a new organization that only includes democracies. By excluding non-democracies and attempting to derive authority from this new democracy-oriented organization this will alienate China and Russia. From a simple, realistic, practical perspective, we cannot eliminate China and Russia from the decision making of the international economic order because we dislike their policies and forms of government. It just won't work. Moreover, who decides who is a democracy and who is not?

I am thoroughly convinced that McCain is smart, nice, honorable guy acting like a fighter pilot. He flies by the seat of his pants and makes decisions based on gut reaction. However, I am not sure I want a fighter pilot as president. I want somebody more pensive, and not intuitively reacting.

Given this and the Wright issue I am not sure who I am going to vote for.

Bookishness

Irish Elk's theme for yesterday's post was bookish. He linked to a picture of Shakespeare & Co in Paris, which happens to be my favorite bookstore in the world. Only problem is the cats. I'm allergic.

Why Undergraduates Suck

Yes, yes, I'm an undergraduate. I know.

IHT:
In its old, mustily glorious quarters in the British Museum, the British Library's main reading room was as exclusive as it was glamorous, a club rich with tradition whose distinguished alumni included Karl Marx, Virginia Woolf, W.B. Yeats and George Bernard Shaw.

But in 1998, the library moved to a modern red-brick building on Euston Road, and four years ago, it liberalized its admission policy. It opened its new reading rooms not only to writers and academics who depend on material from its singular collection, but also to "anyone who has a relevant research need," a spokeswoman said.

Which is all fine. But "anyone" includes college undergraduates, and the problem with them, at least in the eyes of the older researchers, is that they tend to behave like the teenagers that many of them are.

Hunt, the historian and professor, in referring to students with iPods, said: "They're sitting next to me with their Walkmen on, and I tell them to turn it off. I've become like a granddad, and I'm only 33."


First point, nobody has called them Walkmen since probably '87. Second, I feel their pain when I am at the library.

Speaking of which, the Georgetown library is the worst thing about the school. The building is aesthetically unpleasing, the other students chat too much, and its selection is inadequate.

I am really jealous of Balko

He writes:
Memphis was a lot of fun. I took a few of your suggestions. We had dry-rub ribs at Rendezvous


As I said before, those would be part of my last meal.

Income Smoothing

I found this point interesting in the Chatham House paper.

On one accepted measure, EU member states experience four times less income-smoothing from this source as the United States. But such benefits are much more crucial in the euro area, with no federal government to smooth shocks, and far lower labour mobility.


Income smoothing usually refers to the concept that rational individuals attempt to spend the same amount of money throughout their lives. Meaning a person will project what their income will be in the future, and spend that much relatively consistently. They therefore borrow money when they are younger with low income, pay off the debt and save during their peak earning years, and then spend their savings in retirement. All the while, spending approximately the same amount in real terms.

I think what they are saying in this case is if hypothetically California has a glut of savings it transfers it to New York, which needs lending, four times better than Paris to Berlin or Madrid. This exacerbates the domestic shocks in the EU even though they have the same currency. Money does not get allocated efficiently to where it is needed.

Out of Context



This ad has McCain saying two words taken completely out of context and portrays them as if he would like to be fighting a war for a century in Iraq. That is not at all what he was saying.

What upsets me about this ad is that there have been several misstatements and contradictory proposals from McCain on foreign policy, supposedly his strong suit, and the Democrats chose to pick two words and misportray them.

PoMoCon on Iran and Iraq

He writes:
The circular logic that says a meddlesome Iran keeps us in Iraq is not bad because it's circular. It's bad because it's not in our stated strategic interest to obey it. The good news is that staying out of war with Iran is not only strategically desirable but also possible. The bad news is that using diplomacy to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear capability is almost certainly not possible. And the mixed news is that Iranian meddling really does provide us with a serious new tactical reason to stay in Iraq, while simultaneously pushing our tactics out of step with our grand strategy.

The problem is serious. Our task is not simply to reject the circular logic of fending off Iran in Iraq, but to accept that it holds and refuse to follow it. Can we restore strategy to primacy over tactics? If we can, that would be the ironically best sign that we're starting to actually win the war. Bottom line in practice, this means: Iranian military influence is unacceptable; Iranian political influence is inevitable. If any negotiating is to be done, this is the baseline to do it from. Won't prevent nuclear armament, though.


He is dead right that trying to contain Iran by staying in Iraq is not in American national interests. That said, one must not confuse the Iraq issue and the Iran issue. They are two separate, but albeit geographically related issues. Iran meddling in Iraq is inevitable because of the proximity and the Shi'a populations of the two countries.

My main point on this is that we have to be careful not to create a new justification to stay in Iraq. The idea of containing Iran will appeal to realists in a way that building a stable, peaceful state in Iraq never did or will. However, the United States is more than capable of containing Iran from its bases in the region and its carriers in the Gulf. Indeed, the United States military's presence in Iraq is not only unnecessary to accomplish this goal, but also counterproductive as resources are being spent in Iraq that could be used to contain Iran. Nonetheless, the United States military is capable of doing both. So, the nuclear issue in Iran does not make a pull out from Iraq and any more or less desirable.

Also, I am not at all sanguine about the prospects for diplomacy with Iran. We have two problems on that score. First, they are afraid we will invade them, and the lesson Iran took away from North Korea is that a bomb prevents invasion. Second, and most importantly, Iran's nationalist and historical culture believes that it is wrongly denied great power status. The heirs to Persia should be a great power, and to be a great power they need the bomb. This second point is more important because many people would like to believe that US foreign policy is the only reason Iran wants a bomb. This is sorely mistaken.

Inflation

I have been saying for a while that inflation will pick up and the Fed will have to raise rates to stamp it out between June and September. I guess that is not going to happen according to the implied probabilities of the markets. Nevertheless, I think this is a huge mistake. If and when inflation gets really out of control, I will be very sad to have been correct. Prepare for higher oil and food prices. Also, look for an even lower dollar because the ECB, as I mentioned yesterday, might start raising rates.

West Virginia MBA

I have been following the story for a few days that WVU gave the Governor's daughter an MBA without her actually completing the requirements. The provost has quit.

NYTimes:
The administrators who awarded the degree lacked documentation to prove her claims that she had finished her final semester with work experience credits, relying too heavily on oral assertions and caving to political pressure — whether real or perceived, the panel said.

“I am very sorry that my one action in ratifying a dean’s decision in a single situation has had a negative impact on the institution,” Mr. Lang wrote. “I love this place and would never intentionally take an action that would reflect negatively upon it.”


First, I never liked the idea that credit should be given for work experience. If somebody was a marketing manager for years and they want credit, then they should have to pass a test of some sort to get those credits, not simply awarded them because of their job. I have seen too many people in their jobs for too many years who know absolutely nada about their jobs.

Second, I can't believe the provost is putting the blame on the dean. Both him and the dean should resign. If somebody signs off on something, even if somebody else also had to sign off, in this case a dean, that does not eliminate his responsibility. There is a reason the provost had to sign off. It is not supposed to be a rubber stamp. So, he made a poor decision, maybe it was only one poor decision, but the denial leads me to believe that he has rubber stamped other poor decisions as well.

Morning reading

When I wake up I will be reading this paper about market risks and the EU economy from Chatham House.

A preview:
Recent events, in other words, have stress-tested regulators, and the results seem troubling. The first line of responsibility, of course, is with the management of financial institutions, some of which have paid a penalty, as have their shareholders. But one is forced to ask also whether regulators and other policy-makers failed to learn the lessons of history.

More specifically, there are questions as to whether easy macroeconomic policies allowed problems to build up in the capital market system, which are now coming home to roost. Should regulators have taken more account of macroprudential risks when evaluating bank activities, during a period when monetary and fiscal policy settings were easy and when credit was growing rapidly? Or are we asking the impossible of regulators – given the incentives that exist in a world of swiftly adjusting financial markets, sticky prices and wages, and public guarantees of the banking industry?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Election Update

Yesterday, I posted about Nauru's election. Well, it's over. I wish ours were that fast.

BBC:
The government of the tiny Pacific island of Nauru has said it won early elections aimed at ending months of political deadlock.

Although the world's smallest republic has no political parties, all nine members of President Marcus Stephen's government have been re-elected.

Dollar will probably be falling more

Le Monde:
On est rarement déçu avec la Banque centrale européenne (BCE). Qu'on lui reproche son orthodoxie, et elle prend un malin plaisir à en rajouter, à se lancer dans une surenchère monétariste. On pourrait lui appliquer la formule que Karl-Otto Pöhl avait trouvée à propos de la Bundesbank, qu'il présidait : "La Bundesbank, c'est comme la crème fouettée, plus on la bat, plus elle devient dure."

Alors que de nombreux économistes implorent la BCE de baisser ses taux directeurs pour stimuler une croissance vacillante, plusieurs de ses dirigeants ont évoqué récemment la possibilité d'une hausse pour lutter contre les pressions inflationnistes."Le grand problème, c'est d'assurer que l'inflation revienne sous les 2 % l'année prochaine", a déclaré, mardi 22 avril, Christian Noyer, gouverneur de la Banque de France. "Nous ferons ce qu'il faudra pour ça, (...) s'il le faut, nous bougerons les taux d'intérêt. Pour l'instant nous maintenons les taux d'intérêt à 4 % parce que ça nous paraît le niveau approprié", a-t-il poursuivi.



Rough Translation:
One is rarely disappointed by the European Central Bank. When its orthodoxy is reproached, it takes sadistic pleasure in adding to it, by going even further monetarily. One can apply Karl-Otto Pohl's adage about the Bundesbank, which he chaired: "The Bundesbank, it's like whip cream, the more you beat it, the harder it becomes."

Whereas a number of economists are imploring the ECB to lower interest rates to stimulate wavering growth, several directors recently evoked the possibility of raising rates to combat inflationary pressures. "The big problem, is to assure that inflation returns to less than 2% next year," declared Christian Noyer, Governor of the Bank of France. "We will do what is required for that, ... if need be, we will move interest rates. For the moment we are maintaining the interest rate at 4% because that appears to us to be the appropriate level," he continued.

A Good, Upstanding Logo

Telegraph:
The logo, for the Office of Government Commerce, was intended to signify a bold commitment to the body’s aim of “improving value for money by driving up standards and capability in procurement”.


Seems like a reasonable logo:








Until you rotate it:

Attention Ladies!

Telegraph:
One hundred and fifty women will eat chocolate every day for a year in the name of science.

The bars will be handed out as part of a research study into the health benefits of cocoa.

Confusing

A reader, who shall remain nameless, *cough* Alan, writes:
I assume little about al Sadr. I merely read the descriptions of his actions and statements in the press. When I can gather Pitt-level empathy for Iraqis, I see al Sadr as a patriot. I no not what else to call him.


But about the government about the United States writes:
First, do not trust your government under the best conditions. Second, do not trust this government under any conditions.


So, said writer takes al-Sadr at face value, but questions everything his own government does. And, on a slightly unrelated, but important note, believes Hillary Clinton to be truthful. He wrote about SniperGate:
It is quite possible that she is confusing events at different locations during the same tour.


Please reconcile these statements for me. al-Sadr is a patriot? Bush is a liar? Hillary is truthful, but confused? Also, do you now concede Hillary flat-out lied?

Thanks,
FLG

Courtesy of Gmail's sponsored links...

I now know where to find the "#1 Cougar dating community on the net."

Having seen links for sites that pair beautiful gold-digging women with millionaires, this doesn't really surprise me. The thing I don't get is who would post profiles on either sort of site?

Probably the sort of mystery I don't want to solve.


Green war




In all seriousness, I actually believe the US Military will be what gets us off oil. First, they realize that fighting wars using and over oil is not in the United States' long-term national interest. Second, they have the purchasing power to bring economies of scale to the production of alternative powered vehicles. To this end, they are researching fuel cells.

GPS, while not a perfect example, is a good model. The military paid the fixed costs of putting up the satellites, and then began installing big, expensive receivers in their ships, tanks, and aircraft. A few years later we have personal GPS systems the size of iPods and installed in many new cars. If the military develops an alternative fuel, such as fuel cells, then we should expect the benefits to trickle down.

Certainly, we can't have nuclear powered cars like the Navy has ships. But a fuel cell powered tank and Humvee would probably be in American cars within 10 years after it is developed. Perhaps less. I would find it very ironic if the environmental movement got a big leg up in accomplishing their goals from an institution that many environmentalist loathe.

Conceiving

I have been reading Cheryl's new blog over at New Atlantis. It covers fertility issues and treatments.

I only want to make one point about all of this. I will stay away from the morality debates over IVF, etc. I will also remain silent on any social, cultural, or gender issues related to these.

However, the one thing that I don't think gets enough attention is the effect on the kids. A quotation from one of Cheryl's posts:
“I’ll be in a department store and some stranger will say something like, ‘Boy, your kids look just like you.’ And I’ll say, ‘Well good, because I don’t know what the father looks like,’ ” she says with a laugh.


I realize women want to have children and a variety of factors may prevent some from finding a partner to raise a child with, but is it funny that a child has no idea who their father is? It is beautiful to bring a child into this world, but there is also something very selfish about having a child as a single parent. I'm conflicted on the issue.

I hope these mothers try to conceive of their future childrens' feelings regarding unknown paternity before they decide to conceive a child.

Response to Alan

He wrote:
US accusations regarding Iraqi WMD programs proved false. US claims in 2002 regarding N. Korea weapons programs proved over-stated. US concerns regarding Iranian nuclear ambitions opposed by its own National Intelligence Estimate. US allegations of a conflict in the Strait of Hormuz proved embarrassingly incorrect. US assertions of an al Qaeda-Iraqi collusion found to be unsubstantiated. And so on and on and on. US position on Syria and N. Korea, released eight months after the attack and now under examination, is credible? First, do not trust your government under the best conditions. Second, do not trust this government under any conditions. They are reliably wrong, and we suffer for it. Reagan's admonition to trust but verify never proved more in need than with this administration. But here, we can no longer trust. They are suspect in all cases.


Let's look at what the WaPo said today:
Experts pointed out that the U.S. disclosures, including pictures from inside the reactor, did not include evidence that Syria had obtained fuel or built the reprocessing facility that would be needed to convert plutonium from the reactor into bomb material. But Syria's failure to report the reactor's existence to the International Atomic Energy Agency, as required by the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and its quick demolition and burial of the reactor's remains after the attack require explanation -- and in its absence, sanction.


I am no nuclear expert, but the video evidence seemed pretty compelling to me. Sure looked like a reactor, and Syria didn't make much of a fuss at all. They literally buried it. So, whether one trusts or does not trust the Bush administration is almost irrelevant. The Syrians have been and are acting shady about the entire thing.

This Week

FLG has to write three term papers by Thursday. On Thursday he leaves for Denver. So, blogging will be lighter than normal, and will mostly consist of things he finds really funny or really piss him off.

Friday through Sunday will be filled with the prose stylings of our graduate education correspondent.

Environmentalism

I agree with the goal of the environmental movement. However, far too often it is governed by people that are motivated by two emotional reactions. 1) Nature is good, humans bad. 2) Humans bad, corporations evil.

These assumptions lead the environmental movement to counterproductive, and quite frankly, ill-informed policy ideas. Case in point -- genetically modified food. GM offers a way to protect large areas of land while simultaneously producing more food. Yet, because it is created by corporations, it must be evil.

Guardian:
It is a point stressed by crop experts such as Professor Chris Pollack of the University of Wales. 'To stop widespread starvation, we will either have to plough up the planet's last wild places to grow more food or improve crop yields. GM technology allows farmers to do the latter - without digging up rainforests. It is therefore perverse to rule out that technology for no good reason. Yet it still seems some people are willing to do so. That picture of transgenic papaya plants on Nature's cover shows how wrong they are.'

The trouble is that GM crops represent everything that the environment movement has come to hate, though it was not the technology itself that originally made greenies froth at the mouth. It was its promotion and marketing by international conglomerates such as Monsanto a decade ago that raised the hackles. As a result, GM crops have become a lightning rod for protests about globalisation. 'GM technology permits companies to ensure that everything we eat is owned by them,' claimed campaigner George Monbiot.

Perhaps he is right. However, it is questionable to go one step further and insist, as some campaigners do, that because GM technology has been misused by biotechnology conglomerates, it is therefore justifiable to ignore its usefulness completely. The science can still help feed the world, particularly through the introduction of drought and disease resistance to staple crops such as potatoes and rice. 'Britain and Europe have isolated themselves from the rest of the world over transgenic crops,' says Bill McKelvey, principal of the Scottish Agricultural College, in Edinburgh. 'We have decided the technology, for no good reason, is dangerous. The rest of the world doesn't thinks so and has got on with using it.

Trade

NYTimes has a pretty good editorial on trade.

NYTimes:
The candidates also need to remind workers of trade’s benefits. Trade gives companies and consumers access to cheap imports and accelerates the spread of new technologies; exporters gain access to foreign markets; foreign competition spurs innovation. According to economists at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, increased trade since World War II has added about 10 percent to American national income.


Right. But then there is this:
There is also no question that life for many American workers has gotten tougher since the 1970s. Paychecks have failed to keep pace with productivity as most of the spoils of growth have gone to a tiny elite.


The 70's were terrible. However, focusing on paychecks is not the whole picture. Inflation has been way lower since the 70's. So, income doesn't have to go up as much to be a benefit. Just focusing on paychecks misses the point that what matters is the stuff it allows people to buy. Increased productivity means stuff is cheaper.

Whenever you hear, "workers' income increases have slowed and not kept pace with productivity growth," just remember that the point of an income is the ability to purchase stuff. If stuff is cheaper, it does not really matter, except psychologically, that incomes are flat. You are making more money in real terms.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Profile of Robert Kagan

This one is for you, Alan.

Guardian:
For while shares in neoconservatism are doing worse than a sub-prime encumbered bank, Kagan's reputation in the wider world continues to go from strength to strength. In large part - agree with him or not - it is powered by his lucid, simple prose and an attachment to the pared-down, classical skills of essay writing.

By the assessment of his harshest critics, Kagan's latest statement on global politics, outlined in an extract in the New Republic magazine, is a recipe for further unilateral US embattlement and belligerence. In truth, what Kagan has so far outlined is more sophisticated than that. His thesis is essentially a rebuttal not only of Francis Fukuyama's notion - in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union - that 'no serious ideological competitors [exist] to liberal democracy' - but also of a number of recent books that have argued that increasing wealth, in the short term, leads to democracy.

The Kagan view, instead, is that the wealth of China and Russia is fuelling the rise of new autocracies in competition to the democratic world: the creation of new geopolitical faultlines. It is this that has already led some of Kagan's critics to suggest that following the failure of the neocon project, he has simply picked it up, brushed it down and found new enemies to confront.

Blockquote

I have tweaked the blockquote settings, which I think are an improvement over simple italics. I found the italics made the quotations harder to read.

I feel bad for these kids

NYTimes:
SEOUL, South Korea — It is 10:30 p.m. and students at the elite Daewon prep school here are cramming in a study hall that ends a 15-hour school day. A window is propped open so the evening chill can keep them awake. One teenager studies standing upright at his desk to keep from dozing.

“I can’t let myself waste even a second,” said Ms. Kim, who dreams of attending Harvard, Yale or another brand-name American college. And she has a good shot. This spring, as in previous years, all but a few of the 133 graduates from Daewon Foreign Language High School who applied to selective American universities won admission.

Daewon has one major Korean rival, the Minjok Leadership Academy, three hours’ drive east of Seoul, which also has a spectacular record of admission to Ivy League colleges.

How do they do it? Their formula is relatively simple. They take South Korea’s top-scoring middle school students, put those who aspire to an American university in English-language classes, taught by Korean and highly paid American and other foreign teachers, emphasize composition and other skills key to success on the SATs and college admissions essays, and — especially this — urge them on to unceasing study.


First, Americans who are afraid that foreigners are going to outpace us economically do not need to worry about these kids. They are a small elite. America's strength is the availability of world-class higher education for average students. (We do need to work on K-12 though.) Super-motivated, extremely disciplined, overeducated automatons do not concern me about the future of the American economy.

Second, this just isn't right. Getting into Harvard, while a great accomplishment, should not be this distorting to a child's life. It just isn't healthy, and I think the administrators, teachers, and parents of these children should really re-think their pressure on these kids. They are going to burnout.

Lost On the Road

During the last episode of Lost, Ben used a passport with the name Dean Moriarty, which is the pseudonym for Neal Cassady in On the Road by Jack Kerouac.

I laughed.

Resolutions

FLG has decided to quit smoking and drinking immediately.

Besides the obvious detrimental effects of smoking on his health, FLG dislikes the nuisance it causes for other people. Furthermore, he views smoking as a character flaw, which he would like to remedy.

Drinking is a different, but related issue. FLG is strongly pro-beer. However, the combination of a few beers and the unfortunate fact that smoking is permitted in Virginia bars produces an internal and external environment which is not conducive to remaining smoke-free. Therefore, FLG will have to give up drinking in bars.

Alan is a proponent of the 48 ounces rule. Whereby, one limits oneself to 48 ounces of beer. This sounds good in theory, but is difficult for FLG to accomplish when he is having a good time at a bar. After more than 48 ounces the pull of smoking rears its ugly head.

This will also take care of another of FLG's resolutions -- no drinking and blogging or commenting.

So, FLG will have to find alternative ways to spend his Friday nights.

Intriguing Post

over at Athens & Jerusalem about power and violence.

In case you didn't know: Nauru is holding elections

BBC:
Elections aimed at ending months of political paralysis are under way in the tiny South Pacific island of Nauru.

The snap poll was called by President Marcus Stephen amid intractable divisions in the 18-member parliament.

The government has the support of nine MPs, as does the opposition, leaving a stalemate and stalled decision-making.

Phosphate mining once made Nauru, the world's smallest republic, one of the richest places on earth, but it is now labouring under a mountain of debt.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Why Philosophy Professors Should Stick to Epistemology

Well, maybe not all of them. I know a few genuinely wise ones. So I must mean Mark Lance

FLG suggested I write something about him. I'm not even going to try to explain all the ways that his latest article makes me cringe. But it did remind me of one thing that always bothers me about Marxist and post-Marxist political and cultural analysis: Nobody in particular actually moves history, and yet, as if by some magic trick of motivational psychology, for some reason young people should nevertheless undertake some heroic, faceless struggle to overturn all injustice. By Lance's understanding, heroism means nothing more and less than expressing solidarity and working for social justice, but it's never something an individual earns. We're both totally bound by our socio-economic structure, and also, if we can break the chains, remain somehow perfectly free to fix ourselves, to heal the world. 

In Lance's utopia, it's never about you or me. It's always about us, the movement. Lance tells us this "we" must fight, "above all, against authoritarianism in all its guises." But quests for real justice, that most nebulous form of equality in "social justice," all require an assumption we already know what's best for society. He concludes by suggesting we'll learn who we really are - our authentic selves - only through this struggle. I take that to mean I'll become more me if I give myself up to the cause, and less so if I pursue my own petty ends. 

Every time I read essays of this mental cast, I'm reminded of Whittaker Chambers' comments on Atlas Shrugged. Near the end of that devastating review, he wrote:

... resistance to the Message cannot be tolerated because disagreement can never be merely honest, prudent, or just humanly fallible. Dissent from revelation so final (because, the author would say, so reasonable) can only be willfully wicked. There are ways of dealing with such wickedness, and, in fact, right reason itself enjoins them. From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: "To a gas chamber — go!"

The ends differ, but the thought remains the same. 

Syrian nuke bullshit?

Phillip Giraldi writes:
The few people in US intelligence circles who were actually allowed to review the evidence provided by the Israelis regarding the alleged Syrian nuclear facility have called it “bullshit.”


In my opinion, Syria's relatively weak reaction to what would be an unprovoked act of war if it wasn't a nuclear reactor lends credence to the White House's assertion. The motivations regarding the timing of the release of the video, ie to pressure North Korea, are almost irrelevant vis-a-vis the truth or falsity of the claim.

So, I have trouble believing it is bullshit.

Porn attack

KOB:
A woman is accused of chasing her boyfriend with a knife after thinking he was an actor in a pornographic movie they were watching together.

The victim says it all started when he and his girlfriend were inside his southwest Albuquerque home watching a pornographic movie at 10:30 Wednesday morning.

That’s when the victim called 911 saying his girlfriend, 20-year-old Amanda Montoya, had a knife.

“She almost shanked me and everything. She put the (expletive) knife right under my throat," the victim told a 911 operator.


This would only happen to a couple that watches porn at 10:30 am on a Wednesday.

Hat Tip: Ace of Spades HQ

Pure Genius

I can't get over this video. There is something so genius about The Ramones on a ukulele.



Here is the original, in case you don't know the song.


Hat tip: Boing Boing

An open letter to the guy who lives in my apartment complex and owns the Aston Martin

Dear Sir:

Your car is freakin' beautiful. Its lines are perfect. The convertible top must be fantastic on nice days. The engine purrs like a lion. I love the damn thing.

However, why would somebody who can afford a car that expensive be living in my apartment complex for over a year? I just don't understand the logic.

Sincerely,
FLG

Possible reason we are having problems in Afghanistan

Afghan troops are baked to the bejeezus.



Hat tip: Boing Boing

Tyson

I am not the slimmest guy in the whole world, but holy crap has Mike Tyson ballooned. I don't like to talk about people's weight, but it is just so dramatic when you think back to when he was a 90 second knock-out machine, ie back when Mike Tyson's Punch Out was cool.

Ahhh...Glass Joe...Von Kaiser...Piston Honda...Don Flamenco...King Hippo...Great Tiger...Bald Bull...the inexplicable reappearance of Piston Honda...Soda Popinski...Don Flamenco again after he developed a completely different strategy...Mr. Sandman...Super Macho Man...and the almost unbeatable Mike Tyson.

Tyson's uppercuts were unblockable and you had to keep ducking side to side in perfect timing or you would get TKO'd.

Again, these guys are supposedly patriots?

My ass.

BBC:
Insurgent groups in Iraq are recruiting children as suicide bombers, according to a United Nations official.

The findings of the UN special representative for children and armed conflict echo concerns expressed by the US military about insurgent tactics.

Last month, the US released footage of what it said was al-Qaeda propaganda showing children being trained.

The US says children are being taught how to use guns and carry out kidnappings in addition to other terrorist activities.



One can obviously make distinctions between the forces fighting Americans in Iraq, al-Qaeda versus al-Sadr, for example. But if the word patriot comes up one more time in the comments on this blog it had better explain in detail why that particular action is somehow patriotic, not simply asserting that opposition to occupation is per se patriotic.

Student loans

Despite the astronomical amount of education debt I have racked up, given the current student loan market I am glad I took out those loans when I did.

The debt sucks, but at least I had the option.

Stanley Fish on deconstruction

NYtimes:
But the lesson that we are always dealing with and living within constructions is once again too general to be powerfully helpful. What is required if criticism of a settled authority is to be effective is a demonstration that the construction on which it rests is pernicious; demonstrating that it is a construction will not do the job, because as I said in my first column, you can’t criticize something for being socially constructed if everything is. As a general thesis about knowledge, deconstruction doesn’t do any work. It may be an invitation to work, but the work, if done, could well reveal that the challengeable assumptions underlying a conservative political position are ones you are inclined to embrace. I stand by my assertion that deconstruction does not and could not have a politics.

I agree with everything up until the last point. Deconstruction will always have a progressive politics. This is not because deconstruction is inherently political, but rather because those who would like to tear down the established order or ideas will always find deconstruction appealing. Those who accept and defend the established order or ideas will always find deconstruction unappealing.

However, the full piece is worth a read.

South Korean Chaebols

In case you don't know chaebols are big, family owned conglomerates. Samsung is one of them.

Saw this headline in le Monde:
L'affaire Samsung illustre le poids des 'chaebols' en Corée du Sud et divise l'opinion

Translation:
The Samsung affair illustrates the weight of the chaebols in South Korea and divides opininon.

It goes on to talk about some things that have occured in South Korea, but that is not really important. What is important? Godzilla is attacking South Korea!

Take a look at his face.

Great idea!

Guardian:
Jérôme Kerviel, the French rogue trader accused of causing €4.9bn (£3.8bn) losses at the bank Société Générale, has got a new job as a computer expert.

Sure, let's hire him to represent our firm.

I actually saw this yesterday. There was a longer piece in le Monde about it, but I was too lazy to translate. That seems to happen a lot lately. Anybody want to volunteer as my official French->English translator? I thought not.

Iran

BBC:
A ship contracted by the US Navy has fired warning shots in the direction of two small Iranian boats, according to US military officials.

The incident took place in the Gulf, in international waters dozens of miles from the Iranian coast, the US said.


As much as Alan and I disagree, I do agree with him that it matters who shuts down the Strait of Hormuz.

Fight al-Sadr = grand bargain ?

NYTimes:
The Sunni leaders said they were still working out the details of their return, an indication that the deal could still fall through. But such a return would represent a major political victory for Mr. Maliki in the midst of a military operation that has at times been criticized as poorly planned and fraught with risk. The principal group his security forces have been confronting is the Mahdi Army, a powerful militia led by Moktada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric. Even though Mr. Maliki’s American-backed offensive against elements of the Mahdi Army has frequently stalled and has led to bitter complaints of civilian casualties, the Sunni leaders said that the government had done enough to address their concerns that they had decided to end their boycott.

A report from the IHT seems to imply the al-Sadr is in a weak position:

Under pressure from Iraqi government troops and the American military, Moktada al-Sadr called on his followers to stop the bloodshed, unite with all Iraqis and focus their firepower on driving out the "occupation forces," meaning the United States military and its foreign allies.

The statement, read at Friday prayers, appeared to be part of a carefully calibrated political strategy of reaching out to his "Iraqi brothers" while threatening any Iraqis who work with the occupying forces.


They can't let al-Sadr slink off into the shadows with his guns. He has to be confronted and either surrender or be defeated. Suing for peace in the short-term will result in long-term instability and conflict. al-Sadr must relent before this can move forward.
 
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