Archive for the 'social science' Category

Uncommon insight

The Saddest Lede on the Internet Today.
Says Ric Locke on his new blog.   And what was the lede?     “Americans believe that the normal state of things is not-violence.”

Do you suppose that’s true? That that’s why we have such absurdities as people climbing in zoo cages to cuddle the animals? It would explain a lot of things.

The blog article he links goes on to make some sort of argument that the normal state of capitalism is violence and that people should think about why we put up with it…. or something like that.

It’s shocking to me, even though I’m used to the notion, that people do not realize that violence and war are the normal state of things and that civilization is what we impose upon the natural state. (And yes, there are people who seem not to realize that the cuddly animals really will not act all loving and peaceful because they have an uncorrupted ability to tell that you don’t mean harm.)

I think that sometimes libertarians are too convinced that they aren’t talking about imposing order and miss the truth of it, (or at least those opposed to libertarian ideas are convinced that libertarians oppose the imposing of order.)     That’s not the difference between libertarian ideas and those ideologies that consider themselves more caring.    The difference with libertarian ideas and with capitalism is that those things work as much as possible with the reality of human nature while recognizing what human nature is.    Which is violent… just like the rest of nature is violent and unforgiving.

Viewing capitalism as the source of unfairness, vice and violence ignores the truth.    Failing to understand the truth of nature and human nature, to face it squarely, means that the proposed cure for social ills will invariably make them far worse.     As Ric says:

It would explain, for instance, why the writer of that article is able to regurgitate a century and a half of Socialist propaganda and get commenters calling it “insightful”. Two centuries of modern capitalism have resulted in such ease, such comfort, such near-total safety and security, that Americans (at least, some Americans) don’t just take it for granted but consider it the normal state of affairs, so much so that they are ready and willing to smash the structures that created it, in the confident “knowledge” that the safety and prosperity will remain because they are “normal”.

He’s a smart guy. Check out his blog.

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Twitter as a Story Telling Medium

Twitter is the social media website that allows users to share updates on their life with others who choose to follow their updates. It’s proved useful for friends to quickly keep in touch, politicians to keep constituents updated on their activities, bands to interact with fans,  place for famous people to be regular Joes and much more.

Well one interesting use that I had not thought of before appears to be play out out right now, partially started by the recent Swine/H1N1/Mexico Flu outbreak. I jokingly that I was going to start calling it “Captain Trips” and that got me added by one . From there I (and others) discovered the stories of Stephen King (namely The Stand and The Dark Tower) unfolding across our very twitter pages. As a fan, this excites me, as an observer it fascinates me.

This presents a very new and unique way for players (actors?) to perform before an audience of millions. Free form, adjustable, personal and interactive, it’s really fun to watch unfold. Each character with an account, interacting with their tweets to create a story. Could we see this move from an homage now, to something more purposeful in the future? A production of actors using twitter accounts as characters to tell their own story or to give, in essence, a twitter-play? Only Ka will tell. Long days and pleasant nights to you.

edit: Also, in talking about story telling on twitter, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention and his on going tale.

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Eichmann Endures

Jerry Burger at Santa Clara University, has succeeded in partially replicating Stanley Milgram’s famous social obedience experiment, whereby test subjects torture strangers with electrical shocks when told to do so. Depressingly, mankind appears to remain as obedient to evil as he did during the Miligram experiment in 1961. In Burger’s new study, test subjects followed orders to inflict pain at maximum voltage 70% of the time.

Miligram’s original intent in devising his experiment was to test whether or not Adolf Eichmann’s defense –that he was only following orders as anyone else would– was credible. It was one of the more terrifying discoveries of the twentieth century that in his defense, Eichmann was at least speaking for the majority. Miligram argued in his agentic state theory, that the essential transformation Eichmann made was to perceive himself as an exclusive instrument to serve the wishes of another. Once he had done that, he was genuinely mystified how anyone could consider him responsible for his actions.

It’s always been even more troubling for me personally, that such high percentages of compliance could be achieved in the United States, using American test subjects. Historically, Americans tend to revere personal rebellion and individualism more than most cultures on Earth. If you achieve 70% obedience here, you should be able to achieve total social control elsewhere. It may be that man has not yet been visited by his worst and perfect despot.

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A New Age of Female Masturbation

Lesbian feminist Lily Tomlin once joked that the only reason cretinous men walked upright was to free their hands for masturbation. Fair enough, but the posture of the lady might soon lack for any better purpose. According to a new survey, 92% of British women between 18-30 now masturbate regularly. That’s up from 62% in 1953. And regularity is the key word. Today 2/3rds of British women masturbate more than four times a week. That’s quite a lot.

I suppose you could interpret these results as further evidence of a liberated femininity and/or behavioral equilibration between the genders. Or of course if you’re a social conservative sexually repressed prude, you could lament the finding as evidence of the corrosion of internal moral self-restraint.

But one might also suggest that it is an adaptive reaction to a newly hyper-sexualized external society. As Westerners we’ve already voted to live in a constitutionally protected, sexually intoxicated media environment. One which is thoroughly permeated with permissive sexual suggestion at almost all levels. Men and women are being bombarded with sexually stimulating media on a permanent basis, even for the purpose of advertising something as unstimulating as cheeseburgers. Living in this environment could only be expected to enhance the collective desire on the part of people, to achieve sexual gratification more frequently. One might even suggest that immersion in this environment mandates it for a young and largely unmarried demographic group.

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Playmates during crisis

Does the object of our desire tend to change during tough times?

Yes, according to this paper on men’s preferences when it comes to Playboy’s models:

Consistent with Environmental Security Hypothesis predictions, when social and economic conditions were difficult, older, heavier, taller Playboy Playmates of the Year with larger waists, smaller eyes, larger waist-to-hip ratios, smaller bust-to-waist ratios, and smaller body mass index values were selected. These results suggest that environmental security may influence perceptions and preferences for women with certain body and facial features.

For those wishing to do their own analysis you can download the data here. Tyler Cowen notes that the hypothesis is not fully supported by 2008’s selection.

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George Lakoff: Neo-Syndicalist

Syndicalism Over the weekend I read with fascination William Saletan’s review of the new offering from George Lakoff, “The Political Mind,” and was struck by the remarkable similarities between it and the revolutionary syndicalism espoused during the prior fin de siècle.

In particular, Saletan summarizes Lakoff’s principal idea as the need for progressives to recapture the and reformulate the social myth that drives the political decisions of the masses:

Lakoff blames “neoliberals” and their “Old Enlightenment” mentality for the Democratic Party’s weakness. They think they can win elections by citing facts and offering programs that serve voters’ interests. When they lose, they conclude that they need to move farther to the right, where the voters are.

This is all wrong, Lakoff explains. Neuroscience shows that pure facts are a myth and that self-interest is a conservative idea. In a “New Enlightenment,” progressives will exploit these discoveries. They’ll present frames instead of raw facts. They’ll train the public to think less about self-interest and more about serving others. It’s not the platform that needs to be changed. It’s the voters.

Lakoff’s concept is not new, although his explanation as to why myth-making is important may be. (more…)

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Tibet Simmers

Tibet seems to be ill at ease with the Chinese again. With good reason—the last five decades can be called nothing short of cultural rape. Some of this was partially sparked by an ill-timed outburst from Björk, of all people, who called for Tibetan freedom at a concert she performed in Shanghai.

Agitating for Tibetan freedom is one of those causes that bother me, but not for the reasons you might think. Sure, it sounds nice—and the Han Chinese brutality against the Tibetans is unquestioned, and absolutely immoral—but it also smacks of empty self-righteousness: most of the protesters we see in the media, in general, are white people holding signs in English. It does nothing to address the concerns of values of the Han themselves, the vast majority of whom truly believe they have the right to conquer Tibetan lands. That many couch this in terms of a moral equivalence with our own Manifest Destiny is immaterial: that, too, was a brutal act of cultural genocide, and were it happening today, I hope I would be man enough to resist that as well.

Moving beyond that, the actual question of to whom Tibet belongs also lends itself to obfuscation. True, over the past thousand years “ownership” has passed back and forth between the Han and the Lamas… with one crucial difference: all the previous Han attempts at suzerainty were executed under the banner of a common religion. Tibet existed as a separate land before the Mongol conquest of 700 AD. When the Mongolian Empire fell apart in the 14th century, Tibet again became an independent country, but was conquered by the Manchu Empire in 1720, only again becoming independent during the Republican Revolution in 1912. All of these transfers of sovereignty, however, existed under the common banner of Buddhism, and the deification of the Lamas was accepted in Beijing as much as in Lampo. The modern day Han Chinese government soundly rejects Buddhism, and especially the special status accorded the Lamas (the childhood abduction of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the supposed next Panchen Lama, which happened thirteen years ago next month, is a particularly grievous abuse, and his continued detention is one of the many reasons I was stunned and dismayed the State Department removed China from its list of human rights abusers this year).


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One Day at a Time


One of the most depressing, pessimistic, negative and plain old unappealing books I have ever read is Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed. Ms. Ehrenreich goes “undercover” as an entry level worker, and reports how incredibly difficult it is for people at the lower rungs to get by.

While I would never argue that people who earn hourly wages at Wal-Mart, fill orders at Wendy’s or clean rooms at Hampton Inn don’t have serious struggles, Ms. Ehrenreich’s book was a joke. Part of her undercover stint took place in my hometown, Minneapolis. Thus, it was easy to see that the author didn’t really want to be successful. She never tried to improve her positions, get superior housing, bargain for better anything at all. She was surly and rude to most with whom she met – be it co-workers, superiors or clerks where she was trying to find decent but inexpensive housing. Worst of all – she didn’t like pet birds! Can you imagine…

In any case, today I read the flip side of this embodiment of suffering: Homeless in South Carolina. Here, a young man tries an experiment of starting out with virtually nothing; $25 and the clothes on his body. Yet, despite having almost nothing whatsoever, this young man tells a story of hard work and hope, resulting in vindication, success and savings.

During his first 70 days in Charleston, Shepard lived in a shelter and received food stamps. He also made new friends, finding work as a day laborer, which led to a steady job with a moving company.

Ten months into the experiment, he decided to quit after learning of an illness in his family. But by then he had moved into an apartment, bought a pickup truck, and had saved close to $5,000.

The effort, he says, was inspired after reading “Nickel and Dimed,” in which author Barbara Ehrenreich takes on a series of low-paying jobs. Unlike Ms. Ehrenreich, who chronicled the difficulty of advancing beyond the ranks of the working poor, Shepard found he was able to successfully climb out of his self-imposed poverty.

He tells his story in “Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream.” The book, he says, is a testament to what ordinary Americans can achieve.

People who get “Nickel and Dimed” should burn it as being dangerous. Instead, they should read these words:

Would your project have changed if you’d had child-care payments or been required to report to a probation officer? Wouldn’t that have made it much harder?

The question isn’t whether I would have been able to succeed. I think it’s the attitude that I take in: “I’ve got child care. I’ve got a probation officer. I’ve got all these bills. Now what am I going to do? Am I going to continue to go out to eat and put rims on my Cadillac? Or am I going to make some things happen in my life…?” One guy, who arrived [at the shelter] on a Tuesday had been hit by a car on [the previous] Friday by a drunk driver. He was in a wheelchair. He was totally out of it. He was at the shelter. And I said, “Dude, your life is completely changed.” And he said, “Yeah, you’re right, but I’m getting the heck out of here.” Then there was this other guy who could walk and everything was good in his life, but he was just kind of bumming around, begging on the street corner. To see the attitudes along the way, that is what my story is about.

You made it out of the shelter, got a job, and opened a bank account. Did you meet other people who had similar experiences?

Oh, absolutely. We don’t need “Scratch Beginnings” to know that millions of Americans are creating a life for themselves from nothing…. Just as millions of Americans are not getting by. There are both ends of the spectrum.

To meet that guy [in the wheelchair] at the shelter, [makes you wonder] ‘Can he get out and go to college and become a doctor?’ Maybe, maybe not. I think he can set goals….. You can use your talents. That’s why, from the beginning, I set very realistic goals: $2,500, a job, car. This isn’t a “rags-to-riches million-dollar” story. This is very realistic. I truly believe, based on what I saw at the shelter …that anyone can do that.

Success is achieved by doing what you need to do to be successful – and by believing that you can achieve and do better. It is achieved by doing as well as you can, one day at a time.

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Assasination and Democracy

The Bayesian Heresy tipped me to a profile of economist Ben Olken, who has published a couple of papers on the effect of political leaders on economic and political development:

Olken wonders whether economic devel­opment and the path to democratization are shaped more by broad historical forces or by the actions of specific leaders—be they demo­cratically elected prime ministers or thuggish authoritarians. With the assistance of his fre­quent research partner Ben Jones, an economist at Northwestern, Olken has challenged broadly held assumptions by publishing a pair of papers asking how heads of state affect economic out­comes and democracy.

In “Hit or Miss? The Effect of Assassinations on Institutions and War,” Olken and Jones looked at the effects of political assassination, using a strict empirical methodology that takes into account economic conditions at the time of the killing and what Olken calls a “novel data set” of assas­sination attempts, successful and unsuccessful, between 1875 and 2004.

Olken and Jones discovered that a country was “more likely to see democratization follow­ing the assassination of an autocratic leader,” but found no substantial “effect following assassinations—or assassination attempts—on democratic leaders.” They concluded that “on average, successful assassinations of autocrats produce sustained moves toward democracy.” The researchers also found that assassinations have no effect on the inauguration of wars, a result that “suggests that World War I might have begun regardless of whether or not the attempt on the life of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 had succeeded or failed.”

Needless to say that kind of outcome is not likely to comfort those who believe that stability of leaders, negotiation and other foreign policy establishment tropes are the path of wisdom in dealing with autocrats. I find it both oft putting and unsurprising. Please don’t shoot the messenger for inconvenient and unpalatable evidence.

In “Do Leaders Matter? National Leadership and Growth since World War II,” Olken and Jones explored whether “individual political leaders make a difference in economic growth.” This is tricky business for the researcher because, as Olken explains, a country’s economic situa­tion can affect the election of a leader: when the economic outlook is good, for instance, presi­dents are more likely to be reelected. So Olken and Jones looked at 57 leaders who died in office from accidents or natural causes and “found big changes in growth when autocratic leaders die in office—both positive and negative,” but no sub­stantial change when democratic leaders died in office. “The results suggest,” they write, “that individual leaders can play crucial roles in shap­ing the growth of nations,” provided they are ruling with minimal or nonexistent checks and balances to their power (think Augusto Pinochet or Robert Mugabe).

I think this dovetails rather well with Tyler Cowens recent piece on the likely economic impact of our next election as well.

Olken has research on many other areas relevant to development which are worth perusing as well, especially on corruption, so read the whole thing.

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“You grew up in freedom, and you can spit on freedom, because you don’t know what it is not to have it.”

For your viewing pleasure, watch Ayaan Hirsi Ali effortlessly dismantle the typical leftist tropes thrown at her in an interview with Avi Lewis (Naomi Klein’s husband). The quote serving as the title comes across as venomously pointed when read, but when Ali delivers it towards the end of the interview it sounds perfectly reasonable and just.

Enjoy (via Copious Dissent):

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Sociology of Love

Yes, from the bird’s eye view, there is a “love market” and you are just a love widget. But let’s take the symbolic interactionist perspective. Relationships are highly customizable. Once you bond with a person, you can make the relationship highly unique and hard to substitute. Even if two people are similar, they can form very different relationships with different histories. If you’ve done that, then you’ve created a fairly unique thing that’s hard to replace. By yourself you might be generic, but in a relationship you can be very special.Translating back into econo-talk, people in loving relationships differentiate their “love product.” A person in a couple with a special history knows that there will never be another person who has lived the same life with them. That knowledge makes them stick it out. If you can do that in a way that improves both parties, then you won’t contribute to the optimal divorce rate.

More here.

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People are People

Bad Are you a liberal who foams at the mouth about the immorality of big business?  Are you a conservative who rails about giving ten cents to government employees who will waste it or steal it?

Turns out you are all right!

Let’s face it.  People are people.  Some of us rise to the occasion magnificently.  Some of us are utter low lives.  Most of us are in the middle; we basically live a decent life, but have our moments of acting poorly.

No matter where each of us falls, however, the bottom line is that government and the private sector has its share of bad apples.

The study, released yesterday by the nonprofit Ethics Resource Center, found that nearly 60 percent of government employees at all levels — federal, state and local — had witnessed violations of ethical standards, policy or laws in their workplaces within the last year.

Observed misconduct was lowest at the federal level, with 52 percent of federal workers surveyed saying they had witnessed problems such as conflicts of interest, abusive behavior, alterations of documents and financial records and lying to employees, vendors or the public within the last year. . . .

The sooner we all recognize this simple fact, the more rapidly we can get to superior solutions to lowering the ill effects of such activity.

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African wages, high and sticky?

Hat tip: Tyler.

Chris Blattman has a conjecture, possibly high wages in Africa are holding back growth:

One thing that has always struck me in the African countries I have worked is that the real wages (i.e. wages adjusted for the cost of living) of African formal sector workers seem to be incredibly high, at least compared to that of workers in China or India. Given that firms in China and India seem to be more productive than their African counterparts, it creates a double disadvantage for African workers, and raises the question of why the situation continues. Why don’t manufacturing wages fall in Africa, stimulating more jobs for more people at wages still higher than those available in agriculture or informal business?

Why, when I run a survey in rural Uganda, do youth with the same education and experience expect a wage three to four times higher than the youth I worked with in India? I don’t begrudge anyone anywhere a living wage. It’s the relative differential that puzzles me, and that could be keeping Africa from doing business globally.

There are probably lots of plausible reasons. Perhaps we ought to consider (and get data on) the informal sector in Africa, which could be larger and have more moderate wages than the formal sector ones. It may be that all my notions and data about African wages are erroneous.

Another possibility, however, is that the largest employers of skilled workers in most African countries are international NGOs and the local government. They are competing, in many cases, for the same pool of skilled and semi-skilled workers as the manufacturers and service sector firms. Neither the government or NGOs, moreover, seem to set wages according to the local market or local conditions, and it requires little imagination to wonder whether they set their wages higher than the market would normally do.

Bonus, Tyler has now introduced me to Chris’ great blog, which I haven’t read before. Given my and Lee’s interest in the Dark Continent, I am putting it on the blogroll.

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Labour regulations in China and India: Economic Freedom in Relief

This is a stunning statistic:

…the annual expansion in China’s trade has been larger than India’s total annual trade during last several years.

Tyler Cowen hones in on this point, amongst a bounty of good points:

The most important factor that still holds back large [Indian] firms from entering these products is a set of draconian labour laws in India. Under these laws, it is virtually impossible for a firm with 100 or more employees to fire the workers even in the face of bankruptcy. It is equally difficult for the firms to reassign the workers from one task to another. These provisions impose very low worker productivity or a high real cost of labour. Large-scale capital-intensive sectors such as automobiles, where labour costs are a tiny proportion of the total costs, can profitably operate in such an environment. But the same is not true of large-scale labour-intensive sectors labour. Few foreign manufacturers are willing to enter India outside of a small subset of capital- and skilled-labour intensive sectors.

These kinds of rules damage economies around the world, but countries with the enormous poverty present in India are the least able to afford the luxury of such self inflicted wounds. Which goes to the point of the first chapter of the latest Index of Economic Freedom report.

Economic Fluidity: A Crucial Dimension of Economic Freedom

This essay argues that whether the economic infrastructure is “successful” or “perverse” and whether the “reward structure” is conducive to innovation and entrepreneurship rests on the degree of economic fluidity. Without constant mixing across boundaries, without the creation and testing of ideas, and without learning and adaptation, the specific character of the institutional structure matters little. Fluidity determines whether or not the structure will be successful in facilitating growth.

It isn’t capital, natural resources or education, it is the opportunity for all of those things to be deployed and redeployed. Entrepreneurial activity.

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Nigerian Virgins Wanted

Nigerian orange girls
(photo: enric/baldiri)

Nigerian magazine editor Madam Adunni Adediran, is appalled by the decline of traditional moral conduct in her country. In particular she’s concerned about rampant promiscuity and abortions among young women. To combat the trends she’s helped organize a ceremonial celebration called “Nigerian Virgin Girls” this month in Lagos. Prizes for participation include certificates of virtue, gold jewelry and university scholarships, if the girls can establish they’ve had no carnal knowledge of a man.

Well, remembering college life quite well, it seems to me that if you want to keep women virgins, sending them to college might not be the wisest idea in the world.

Not to make too much light of the problem of youthful promiscuity in Nigeria or the commendable effort to promote chastity against it. Even though the HIV epidemic in Africa is substantially less serious in Nigeria, in 2005 it was estimated there were 2,900,000 people living with the disease there. A sobering figure. And while group celebrations of a rather private matter such as sexual indulgence might seem peculiar in the West (even though it happens), it’s far easier to accept within the communal traditions of Africa.

There was also this peculiar remark from Madame Adediran:

“Last year October was when I got the initiative. I found out that men use the blood, pure blood from virgins for money rituals But if a girl is being disvirgined by her husband, it’s a pride for the family, and respect for the family members.”

While that’s new to me (and would tend to suggest an advantage for losing one’s virginity), there’s also the horrifying problem of a common belief among many Nigerian men that sleeping with a young virgin can cure HIV and other diseases. Prostitution and international sex slavery are also among the many hurdles young Nigerian women face.

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“Apparently, in France, demand curves do not slope downwards”

Megan McArdle comments on a piece in The Economist regarding the appalling state of economics education in France and Germany:

When the 35 hour work week was proposed, I was talking to someone in the French consulate who did economics and trade. “Aren’t you worried that this will raise employer’s costs and lead to business failures or higher unemployment?” I asked.

“That’s just Anglo-saxon economics” was his rather stunning reply.

Text books

The Economist article quotes (but mis-links) another article by Stefan Theil in Foreign Policy, which examined how French and German children are being misinformed:

Millions of children are being raised on prejudice and disinformation. Educated in schools that teach a skewed ideology, they are exposed to a dogma that runs counter to core beliefs shared by many other Western countries. They study from textbooks filled with a doctrine of dissent, which they learn to recite as they prepare to attend many of the better universities in the world. Extracting these children from the jaws of bias could mean the difference between world prosperity and menacing global rifts. And doing so will not be easy. But not because these children are found in the madrasas of Pakistan or the state-controlled schools of Saudi Arabia. They are not. Rather, they live in two of the world’s great democracies—France and Germany….

Just as schools teach a historical narrative, they also pass on “truths” about capitalism, the welfare state, and other economic principles that a society considers self-evident. In both France and Germany, for instance, schools have helped ingrain a serious aversion to capitalism. In one 2005 poll, just 36 percent of French citizens said they supported the free-enterprise system, the only one of 22 countries polled that showed minority support for this cornerstone of global commerce. In Germany, meanwhile, support for socialist ideals is running at all-time highs—47 percent in 2007 versus 36 percent in 1991.

Theil goes on to quote some German and French textbooks that contain jaw-dropping in accuracies and propaganda, such as the following from a French economics text:

“Economic growth imposes a hectic form of life, producing overwork, stress, nervous depression, cardiovascular disease and, according to some, even the development of cancer,” asserts the three-volume Histoire du XXe siècle, a set of texts memorized by countless French high school students as they prepare for entrance exams to Sciences Po and other prestigious French universities. The past 20 years have “doubled wealth, doubled unemployment, poverty, and exclusion, whose ill effects constitute the background for a profound social malaise,” the text continues. Because the 21st century begins with “an awareness of the limits to growth and the risks posed to humanity [by economic growth],” any future prosperity “depends on the regulation of capitalism on a planetary scale.” Capitalism itself is described at various points in the text as “brutal,” “savage,” “neoliberal,” and “American.” This agitprop was published in 2005, not in 1972….

Only one third of the course is about companies and markets, and even those bits include extensive sections on unions, government economic policy, the limits of markets, and the dangers of growth. The overall message is that economic activity has countless undesirable effects from which citizens must be protected.

No wonder, then, that the French default attitude is to be suspicious of market forces and private entrepreneurship, not to mention any policies that would strengthen them. Start-ups, Histoire du XXe siècle tells its students, are “audacious enterprises” with “ill-defined prospects.” Then it links entrepreneurs with the tech bubble, the Nasdaq crash, and mass layoffs across the economy. (Think “creative destruction” without the “creative.”)

Indeed, it shouldn’t be any wonder. If all one ever hears about “the market” and “privatisation” is that they are malevolent forces from which people need protection, how is it possible to comprehend the concept that people working to better their own lives, and incidentally the lives of those around them, comprise “the market”? Ideas such as the invisible hand in wealth creation providing opportunity and benefit for all must surely come across as about as realistic as the Tooth Fairy leaving money for your used teeth sounds to a twelve year old.

Germany’s students are not faring any better with their economics education:

Germans teach their young people a similar economic narrative, with a slightly different emphasis. The focus is on instilling the corporatist and collectivist traditions of the German system. Although each of Germany’s 16 states sets its own education requirements, nearly all teach through the lens of workplace conflict between employer and employee, the central battle being over wages and work rules. If there’s one unifying characteristic of German textbooks, it’s the tremendous emphasis on group interests, the traditional social-democratic division of the universe into capital and labor, employer and employee, boss and worker. Textbooks teach the minutiae of employer-employee relations, workplace conflict, collective bargaining, unions, strikes, and worker protection. Even a cursory look at the country’s textbooks shows that many are written from the perspective of a future employee with a union contract. Bosses and company owners show up in caricatures and illustrations as idle, cigar-smoking plutocrats, sometimes linked to child labor, Internet fraud, cell-phone addiction, alcoholism, and, of course, undeserved layoffs. The successful, modern entrepreneur is virtually nowhere to be found.

German students will be well-versed in many subjects upon graduation; one topic they will know particularly well is their rights as welfare recipients. One 10th-grade social studies text titled FAKT has a chapter on “What to do against unemployment.” Instead of describing how companies might create jobs, the section explains how those without jobs can organize into self-help groups and join weekly anti-reform protests “in the tradition of the East German Monday demonstrations” (which in 1989 helped topple the communist dictatorship). The not-so-subtle subtext? Jobs are a right to be demanded from the government. The same chapter also details various welfare programs, explains how employers use the threat of layoffs as a tactic to cut pay, and concludes with a long excerpt from the platform of the German Union Federation, including the 30-hour work week, retirement at age 60, and redistribution of the work pie by splitting full-time into part-time jobs. No market alternative is taught. When fakt presents the reasons for unemployment, it blames computers and robots. In fact, this is a recurring theme in German textbooks—the Internet will turn workers into “anonymous code” and kill off interpersonal communication.

In short, it sounds as if Germany is teaching its students how to negotiate its sclerotic bureaucracy rather than anything of historic or scientific value. As The Economist comments:

We rightly deplore the politicisation of the curriculum when it comes to “intelligent design” crackpottery. We should deplore politicised psuedoscience all the more when it so directly threatens the material well-being of a country’s people. If this is all as Mr Theil says it is, then the Germans and French really ought to be ashamed by the failure of their educational system to teach anything remotely approximating decent social science. These texts sounds so profoundly ignorant that, again, I truly hope that Mr Theil is overselling their importance.

Indeed. RTWT.

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New Dynamic This Election??

Michael Barone notices a pattern which may be in play this election season. I think he’s a little off in his characterization of the median-age voter, as I am one of them. But then maybe my remembering the tail-end of Vietnam, Watergate, the oil-embargoes, stagflation, and the Carter presidency, isn’t usual for those in my group. I wouldn’t say I “missed out” on “the economic disasters and foreign policy reverses of the 1970s.” I didn’t participate politically in them, and they only affected me, as much as it affected my family growing up.

But, I’m a big believer in the generational cycling of history. So, seeing some numbers to back up assumptions I’ve had is a good thing.

Voters make pretty much the same decisions time and again for 14 years. Then in the 16th year decide they are disgusted with the results.

Why 16 years? Political scientists like to come up with generalizations about voting behavior for all time. The problem is that we don’t have the same electorate over time. Political scientists have developed rules for predicting presidential elections based on macroeconomic trends at a time when most voters remembered the trauma of the Great Depression. Most voters today don’t and those rules no longer work.

One such rule predicted that Al Gore would get 56% of the vote in 2000, which was 8% off. Your barber or hairdresser could have come closer.

My thought is that, over a period of 16 years, there is enough turnover in the electorate to stimulate an itch that produces a willingness to take a chance on something new.

The median-age voter in 2008 was born around 1963, so he or she missed out on the culture wars of the ’60s, and on the economic disasters and foreign policy reverses of the 1970s. These voters have experienced low-inflation economic growth something like 95% of their adult lives–something true of no other generation in history. They are weary of the cultural polarization of our politics, relatively unconcerned about the downside risks of big government programs, and largely unaware of America’s historic foreign policy successes. They are ready, it seems, to take a chance on an outside-the-system candidate.

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The paradox of choice

An interesting TED talk on how to many choices are making us miserable. I’ve been seeing more and more people referring to these talks. Everyone I’ve sat through has been interesting in some way.

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Milton Friedman vs. Naomi Klein

Happy New Year! To start off the year right, let’s have a look at a mock-up of a debate between Naomi Klein, reporter-activist extraordinaire, and Milton Friedman, king of economic liberty (via Instapundit).

This video was put together by Devil’s Advocate at Copious Dissent, where you can find the others in this series.

This is the fifth, and possibly final, compilation of videos that I titled, “Naomi Klein: Shockingly Ignorant.”

Since she loves to distort what Milton Friedman stood for, I thought I would let Milton debate her in his own words. He makes her look like a fool.

Good stuff, and highly recommended.

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News Brief, Cake Parade Edition

Cross-posted to The Conjecturer.

Defense & The War

  • What, they’re accused of only murdered 14 people? Let’s see if the White Rabbit can break his weeks-long silence to defend them this time.
  • Well, at least they’ve finally joined the war.
  • Oh great. With friends like these… who says we’ll ever fix Iraq?
  • Max Boot has a problem, and the only prescription is more FSOs confined to the Green Zone. Antonius Block has other essential thoughts on this half-baked essay. Much like my thoughts on Krauthammer… how do these guys still get paid to write on this stuff?
  • More failing upwards in the military.

Around the World

  • A Swiss group is offering anal for crips, and I don’t mean the gang. Possibly related, millions of us now have chlamydia. Gonorrhea and syphillis are on the rise as well. So let’s not have quite as much sex as before, ok? Who am I kidding, just double-bag that sh1t.
  • So sometimes U.S. pressure can have positive effects. Just not in Uzbekistan.
  • LOL! This is like when the Kazakh National Bank misspelled “bank.” But please—no Borat jokes, please.
  • Interesting: Porsche makes more money from options than from selling cars. So does that mean they could sell their cars for less? Obviously not. But it’s nice to dream.
  • Looking at Musharraf’s Ides of March.
  • Péter Marton has another update on the Baghlan bombing.
  • Don’t forget the simmering problem of Nagorno-Karabagh.

Back at Home

  • Wonkette and Red State, united in fury against… Ron Paul? That’s reason enough to support him.
  • This is a compelling reason to support the writer’s strike.
  • Oh, so the weak dollar is why pot is so expensive these days? Actually, my friends tell me it really isn’t, at least around DC—and it’s gotten better in quality. Maybe they don’t have those Canadians supplying the ganj. But I wouldn’t know—I’ve never looked into pot smuggling supply chain management.
  • The recording industry is trying to use federal money to blackmail universities for the behavior of their students. How appalling.
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Oh, To Be a Fat Cat

The New York Times has a nice piece on the latest health research on the impact of weight on health. Of course, like most nutrition and weight related research we should approach it with some caution as John Tierney has discussed at great length (or breadth?)

I actually enjoy the social history in it the best. Somewhere in all my study of history I missed this little tidbit:

Dr. Brown is among those social scientists who say that being thin really isn’t about health, anyway, but about social class and control.

When food was scarce and expensive, they say, only the rich could afford to be fat. Thus, in the 19th century, well-do-do men with paunches joined Fat Men’s Clubs, which gave rise to the term “fat cat.”

I also found this amusing:

Dr. Brown, the Emory anthropologist, related how in the 1950s, white South African public health officials tried to warn people in a Zulu community about the dangers of obesity. They put up two posters.

One showed a fat woman standing next to an overloaded truck with a flat tire. “Both carry too much weight,” the poster said. The other showed a thin woman sweeping up dirt under a table while a fat woman stood nearby, leaning on the table for support. “Who do you want to look like,” the poster asked.

The Zulus thought the first poster showed a fortunate woman, so rich that she was fat and with so many possessions that her truck was overloaded. As for the second poster, they thought the thin woman was the servant, working for the obviously affluent fat woman.

Well, if fat is not as big a problem as previously thought, then I am in the right state.  Plenty of overweight people and food that makes you not care. I think that means Gumbo for lunch.

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You are slower than the other guy

Have you ever noticed that it often seems as of you are moving slower than the cars in the next lane? Feel as if you would be better off changing lanes? Here is why you feel that way, you are moving slower! Really, the other cars are moving faster than you. You should change lanes. I know, you think I am being sarcastic.

I am not, I really am not. I promise. See, no humor tag up there. I am completely serious.

Just read this if you don’t believe me.

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News Brief, Looks Just Like the Sun Edition

Seen first on The Conjecturer

Defense & The War

  • Mountain Runner has an excellent post up on how Congress is shirking its duties to rein in the private military corporations the administration will not. But since when has duty or public interest motivated either branch? Indeed, while it’s great there are laws on paper that handle contractor misconduct, there aren’t any enforcement means, nor is there appropriate opprobrium for the lazy agencies that hired them.
  • Taking a peek at how NATO struggles to define itself. Much like a teenager—whose parents just don’t get it.
  • The Marine Corps and I have something in common.
  • Bob Gates gets it, finally. I’ll take better late than never. At least he shows a willingness to examine the world around him, in stark contrast to his predecessor. All is not lost. Now all he has to do is reflect his newfound realization that insurgencies matter into a workable budget, realizing the USAF will piss and moan we’re not fighting enough Great Powers for the fighter jocks to feel useful.

Around the World

  • Robert Mugabe might have accidentally said something true. Woops!
  • So we all know Iran is sticking its finger into Iraq. But how much chaos is it causing? Not as much as it could, according to Matt Dupuis. I mostly agree with him—Iran is clearly acting as a spoiler, not as a conqueror, and while that is bad, it’s not like we’ve never done the same (cough cough, Afghanistan).
  • The always-readable Nitin talks about the least bad option for Pakistan. I’m with him—it’s not good enough to be worth endorsing.
  • In Kazakhstan, oil companies are still reeling from the sudden extraction setbacks thanks to the Eni scandal in the Kashagan field. Meanwhile, democrats would like to maybe see the democracy they were promised.
  • Turkey has recalled its ambassador to the U.S. over a House resolution calling the murder and deportation of 1.5 million Armenians in 1916 “genocide.” They consider it an insult to Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern day Turkey. Also in response to being associated with Genocide 91 years ago, Turkey is threatening to kill all Kurds. Now, there is an adult way to go about this—which would be for the House to let the matter die without a vote. That way the message is sent, and we don’t escalate the problem any further (the situation among the Kurds in the north is delicate, to say the least, and does not need pious Congressmen exacerbating things at inopportune times).
  • Don’t forget about the growing Touareg rebellion in the uranium-producing regions of Niger.
  • Ismail Khan is writing for the NYT? For reals? Sure not this one, right?

Back at Home

  • This seems deeply strange to me. Not the idea of hunters being charitable, or of using game meat to feed the poor. Both are great ideas. But considering how much overstock food we have in this country, it’s crazy the surplus—which farmers are paid to destroy by the USDA—doesn’t go toward feeding the poor.
  • Now I feel like such a sucker for actually doing more work at home than at the office. Then again, not having the work/personal line as sharply defined has noticeable downsides, such as more constant stress.
  • Oooh, I can blame my disastrously high blood pressure on a bad relationship, rather than overwork and stress. Now all I need is a bad relationship. Any takers?
  • Speaking of which—isn’t this particularly brazen?
  • So, when a patent attorney thinks the patent system is broken, might it really be time for a change?
  • quickly moved me to tears, but not of joy. I consider myself of above average eloquence… and I’m near-certain there exist not words to describe that.
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Housing and the Red State-Blue State Divide

A Tale of two Townhouses


Virginia Postrel makes a point I will be exploring in more detail over the next few months in her latest essay at The Atlantic, the reasons behind the vast disparities in housing prices in our country. More interestingly she notices something I hadn’t really considered, at least not in the way she does. The cultural and political impact on the country of the divide such a situation creates. That impact is surprising, but seems true. I can’t recommend it highly enough.


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News Brief, Tales of Taboo Edition

Cross-posted on The Conjecturer.

Defense & The War

  • Finally, after years of occupying their country, we’ve liberated Iraq from the burden of living in fear for collaborating with us.
  • P.W. Singer (again) on the devil’s bargain of PMCs. I like how he wonders how a force can be cost effective when it’s more expensive and so detrimental to the overall mission. Worth thinking about, but too many of the administration are in the industry’s pocket—in a very real sense of the term. More thoughts here. And look who’s throwing around the “M” word.
  • Abu Muqawama asks: “how badly do you have to screw up before you don’t get offered a fellowship at Georgetown or Stanford or Harvard? …these people need to do penance emptying bed pans at Walter Reed for a few years before they’re allowed to take poetry classes and ‘recapture’ their lives.” He’s referring to Meghan O’Sullivan, one of the primary architects of the Iraq War in the White House, and how she’s retiring to pursue more relaxing pursuits and teach undergrads about security issues at an elite university. It’s like when Georgetown hired Doug Feith—can these people take “failing upward” to a more ludicrous degree? And I really hope these universities are only hiring these people for their connections, rather than their capabilities, knowledge, or experience.
  • Does the missile shield actually work? Color me skeptical—IRL, you don’t have advance warning of the launch location and timing of a missile attack. Similarly, the countermeasures defeating system hasn’t been meaningfully tested (and probably never will be, as ensuring China and Russia could still punch through was a big part of Bush’s promise not to “counter” them when he withdrew from the ABM treaty in 2002). That article also notes that, despite five successful test launches since 1999, there have been 3 failures—the true usefulness of a hyper-expensive defense system with a 40% failure rate seems to have escaped them. Shoddy reporting on DailyTech’s part.
  • I had written a blurb here about historical revisionism among the war supporters, but it was long so I turned it into its own post.

Around the World

  • I express skepticism about the conservative crowing over the sham re-election of Pervez Musharraf, the backward logic of our campaign in Afghanistan, and a statement of support for Craig Murray in his battle not to be silenced by a wealthy Uzbek industrialist—in London. All this and more, over at
  • Afghanistanica throws some water on the idea of Hazara riots over The Kite Runner. Good on him—he’s a good counterweight to the just ignorant posting on Afghanistan you’ll find at the Instapundit (whose logic would imply we are at war with the Hazara, instead of just in serious need of the ability to be empathetic to a culture with different pressure points as we occupy their country).
  • Who needs electricity to navigate a series of tubes?
  • The Burma junta knows how to persuade. Word is they’re now seizing UN computers with information on Burmese dissidents.
  • Turkey is playing hardball with the unfortunate reality of the Armenian genocide. As with 2003, they have us by the balls over Iraq, though I don’t think they’re quite ready to invade Kurdistan, not just yet. Reports like , even apart from the excellent reporting on the region by Michael Totten, would make for a PR disaster for Turkey.
  • Villagers in Laos still face the prospect of unexploded U.S. ordinance from the Vietnam War. Hell, farmers in Alsace still face the prospect of unexploded ordinance from World War I. Modern wars have long lasting consequences, which is why they should be fought as an absolute last resort resort.

Back at Home

  • Google is a tricky monkey. Good luck getting cell phone users to buy adware.
  • Eww, drafting Peter Pace for the Senate? Really? Do people just hate this country?
  • Assuming it’s ever legal for me to adopt children in this hateful, expensive state (or jointly own a house, or anything else the Legislature outlawed in the name of Jesus), I’m so going to teach my children that credit cards are like infinite money. You know, to support the GWOT.
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Cities of Men

I have not touched on the subject of the often hostile turn our culture has taken towards men, especially when it comes to their relationships with children. It is not that I don’t agree that that is a concern, in fact quite the opposite. I have in deeply personal ways been effected by this cultural distrust. I have had employment denied specifically because I was male and the position involved being around children, I have had to run a business involving children under the constant worry of accusations or potential client discomfort. Thus this short post at Instapundit hit home. Here is the quote from Slate:

My younger, 13-year-old sister is having a slumber party for her birthday, and invited three or so of her 13- to 14-year-old girlfriends to our house. Shortly after, “Sara’s” mother suggested that my sister’s party should be held at “Tammy’s” house. Why? Because Tammy has a single mother. Sara’s mother is concerned that my father will be in his house during the festivities. There is no reason to be concerned about my father doing anything inappropriate to any of the girls (all the parents have met each other), but she is just uncomfortable about the idea of her daughter sleeping in the same house with another nonfamily man. She has also convinced the other parents that a change of venue would be a good idea. Although Tammy’s mother is willing to host the event, my family is offended that the situation has come to this. Since when is it a crime to have a happy two-parent household?

Been there, done that. Dr. Helen has had numerous posts on the topic, with this post being particularly relevant and her request worth considering:

The psychological damage to children of not having men around to interact with because of these scare tactics is never mentioned but something that should be considered by the Virginia Department of Health when they develop such ads. Surely, they can come up with something creative that would help make people aware of sexual predators but would not demonize men in general, most of whom are innocent.

Yes we are. I suffer from a particularly damaging affliction. I love children. I also am a very “physical” person. I am affectionate. I hug, pick them up, kiss, the whole bit. Not to be immodest, but kids like me. Teenagers, middle schoolers, toddlers. They like me. I have been able to get by in life while refusing to have to refrain from being myself, for doing things that a woman is admired for, but from a man are looked at with suspicion. Those traits are part of what I believe made me effective in my former career. I was a male figure who was able to be confidently male, and yet had the courage and position to be empathetic and even affectionate. Still, I had to be careful. While I have a few incidents I could relate, and may yet at some future date, and the issue is not unrelated to my eventual decision to change my career, others have covered that ground fairly well.

What I do think is that some aspects of how we have gotten to this point are somewhat unacknowledged, or rarely remarked upon for they are not born of hostility to men or some other easily identified grievance, but from attempts, often misguided, to accomplish other goals. One is the way modern schooling divorces children from the wider world around them, a world of adults and most specifically men, in favor of a milieu dominated by hundreds of children their own age (and is one reason I chose to home school my own children, to expand their social experience.) It goes beyond schooling however into the entire way in which we make space for children in our society in general. Like many aspects of studying modern life one of the first to really note this was Jane Jacobs in her seminal work from 1961, The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

This work, one which every social reformer and policy maker should come to grips with, but few do except to use to justify what they want to do anyway, examines the particulars of city life and how the planning and social theories of the time were foundering upon the actual way that cities and their residents behave. One neglected observation appears on pages 83 and 84 of this great book:

Play on lively, diversified sidewalks differs from virtually all other daily incidental play offered American children today: It is play not conducted in a matriarchy.

Most city architectural designers and planners are men. Curiously, they design and plan to exclude men as part of normal daytime life wherever people live. In planning residential life, they aim at filling the presumed daily needs of impossibly vacuous housewives and preschool tots. They plan, in short, strictly for matriarchal societies.

The Ideal of a matriarchy inevitably accompanies all planning in which residences are isolated from other parts of life. It accompanies all planning for children in which their incidental play is set apart in its own preserves. Whatever adult society does accompany the daily life of children affected by such planning has to be a matriarchy…All housing projects are.

Men are not an abstraction. They are either around, in person, or they are not…men who are part of normal daily life, as opposed to men who put in an occasional playground appearance while they substitute for women or imitate the occupations of women.

The opportunity…of playing and growing up in a daily world composed of both men and women is possible and usual for children who play on lively, diversified city sidewalks. I cannot understand why this arrangement should be discouraged by planning and by zoning.

It is a shame that in all the discussion of this great work so little of it has been focused on this observation. Jacob’s was arguing against the tendency of reformers and planners to emphasize public spaces and parks, or in modern parlance, “green spaces” as opposed to the actual streets and homes in which children grew up. These public spaces, un-patrolled by people with any personal stake or ownership in the space were typically the most dangerous places in a city. Often denigrated, “the streets” were actually safer. Those streets were owned or supervised by the men who owned the establishments along them. By removing them, and their businesses, in favor of projects filled with parks and other commonly owned spaces amongst the residences, neighborhoods suffered from higher crime and removal of men from the lives of children.

Of course Jacobs’ work deals with cities, not suburbs or smaller towns. And Jacob’s missed emphasizing, as she should have, that it was the sense of ownership of the particular areas of the street which made such an arrangement work, not the mere presence of businesses. The breakdown in the sense that proprietors could say who and who could not occupy the spaces on those sidewalks rendered Jacobs’ observations less relevant. The point about our divorce from men as a regular part of children’s lives is important though. Field trips and mentoring cannot replace it. She describes in detail the shuffling off of children, in ways that are as applicable to suburbs today as they were then, to controlled activities. Scripted play, arts and crafts, athletics, libraries and assorted other activities developed top down to deal with youth that not only destroy much unscripted play, but are dominated by women and the values of women. Things which are more likely to appeal to boys, or involve being around men, are severely restricted. The kind of unscripted play, in the kind of places, which boys are likely to engage in are given the least room. Thus the popularity of The Dangerous Book for Boys. We all recognize this. What we don’t acknowledge is the loss from having the world of children so divorced from the world in which most men live, the world of work and business, in the first place.

I have no grand recommendation to make to fix this, such as reinstating apprenticeship or other traditional forms of workforce training, nor do I wish to encourage such social engineering. Many of the benefits of present arrangements should not be dismissed without thought. Yet the cordoning off of children has a cost, and as her point I put in bold above implicitly warned of, we have made men an abstraction, and it shouldn’t surprise us that it is a scary one.

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Iraq – A Tale of Two Wars

I’m at a loss for explaining these vastly different views. Is it mere political partisanship? Or is it something more fundamental, like having hope and optimism, or dare I say it, faith? How are these views biasing the coverage in the media?

A majority of Americans – 54% – believe the United States has not lost the war in Iraq, but there is dramatic disagreement on the question between Democrats and Republicans, a new UPI/Zogby Interactive poll shows. While two in three Democrats (66%) said the war effort has already failed, just 9% of Republicans say the same.

The poll comes ahead of a September report to Congress by David Petraeus, commander of the multi-national force in Iraq, on the progress of the so-called surge in quelling attacks by insurgents and creating an atmosphere where the new Iraqi government can develop.

This strong skepticism of success in Iraq among Democrats echoes the position of some party leaders, most strongly worded by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who said in April that he believed that “this war is lost and that the surge is not accomplishing anything.” This latest UPI/Zogby poll shows Americans are divided on the success of the U.S. troop surge in Iraq – while 49% believe it is not working, nearly as many (45%) said the surge has been effective. The vast majority of Democrats (86%) don’t believe the surge is working, compared to just 11% of Republicans.

(H/T HotAir)

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Katrina’s Wake – A Tale of Two Cities – Part II

Thanks Michael for putting that up for me. This site (along with many of my other favorite blogs,) was on the banned list here at work for a while, and we don’t have the internet hooked up at home, having just moved.

The money quote for me is:

“We believe that when you rely on someone else, you’re at their mercy”

One can use New Orleans, and Katrina (or any calamity for that matter,) as a mirror into ones views of life. Here we have two vastly different outcomes and outlooks on life. One positive and the other negative. As they say, “What goes around comes around.” You can blame others for failures in your life, but that doesn’t divorce you from the choices you make.

There is something to be said for that good “old fashioned” American value of self-reliance. Of course, too many progressive/liberal/leftist/democrats, that means one is left all alone, disconnected from anyone else, and must only rely on ones own means. It seems odd that they would depend on faceless,far-away bureaucrats, before they would ask their neighbors for help, or even help their neighbors without any personal gain. To many others, self-reliance is not depending on handouts and being in charge of your own destiny. Asking family, friends, and your community for help, or pooling your resources together, as this Vietnamese community has done, is the perfect example of self-reliance.

The lesson, you can sit around waiting (and complaining) for help to arrive, or you can make do with what you have, and help yourself and others.

With the hurricane season getting into gear, and tornadoes popping up across the midwest, laying in supplies for a couple of days (or weeks if you have the budget and room,) is just the prudent thing to do.

And emergency supplies don’t have to cost a lot.

Popular Mechanics has some good info on this topic.

And surprise, surprise the government even has some good info on preparing yourself, your family, and even your community for disasters. has been available since 2002

Two quotes on self-reliance that I try to live by are:

“Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst” and “Prior planning prevents poor performance and panic.”

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Capitalist Genes (Updated)

Is it possible that a proclivity for capitalism is genetic, and therefore hereditary? At first blush the idea seems preposterous. How can an idea be hereditary? And how can capitalism, which rewards innovation, risk-taking, and creativity, no matter who you are or where you come from be an inherited trait? Well Gregory Clark, author of a “Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World“, makes an interesting case (HT: Ace):

The Industrial Revolution is the great event of world history. Before this, from the Stone Age to 1800, there was no gain in average living conditions. Now incomes rise steadily.

It is attributed to political stability and free markets in 18th-century England. But this is the convenient fantasy of modern economists. Medieval England was much more pro-market than even Thatcherite England – the average government tax rate then was less than 1 per cent – yet achieved no growth.

Instead, the Industrial Revolution is more plausibly linked to a Darwinian process of “survival of the richest” that operated from at least 1250. Capitalist attitudes and economic growth triumphed in England because those with such attitudes came to predominate in the population by biological means. The modern English are the descendants of the upper classes of the preindustrial world, those who prospered economically. The poor disappeared. This process was most likely cultural, but we cannot exclude the possibility that the English may even be genetically capitalist.

Because the poor led such short miserable lives, and the comparatively richer were able to better provide for their progeny, those most inclined towards capitalist endeavors eventually out-bred the lesser beings. Or at least that’s how this story of Social Darwinism goes. Of course, this would require that one believe capitalism to be based upon some sort of skill as opposed to simply controlling the means of production and oppressing the working classes. Otherwise, how could the capitalists breed out the workers? Who would they exploit?

Moving on:

The English were rich in 1788 compared with most countries. The Japanese, for example, had an even more limited diet. They could afford only rice, little meat or alcohol and were consequently shorter: 5ft 3in on average for males. What trapped preindustrial societies at a subsistence wage was was that the slow technological advance that created better living conditions simply resulted in population growth, declining land space per person and a return to subsistence.

The comparative wealth of England in the years before 1800 was not the result of superiorities in legal, political or economic systems. The English were just lucky to be a filthy people who squatted happily above their own faeces, stored in basement cesspits, in cities such as London. Samuel Pepys noted in the ten years of his diaries the one bath that his wife took. He himself never indulged in such frivolity. But the Japanese had a highly developed sense of cleanliness. They bathed daily, and disposed of human waste carefully. Consequently Japan’s population grew until there was a miserable level of material comforts.

So more filth equals less people to share in the scarce “material comforts” thus England was “richer” in comparison to others. Color me skeptical on that one.

Even less convincing is the bolded sentence above. How does Clark know that is not the case; that is, England was not more prosperous because of its legal, political and/or economic systems? First of all, isn’t Clark making the case that capitalism, being hereditary, made England better off over time? That would seem to undercut his offhand contention that England’s economic system played no part. And how does Clark’s theory square with Hernando De Soto’s conclusions in “The Mystery of Capitalism”? Isn’t it at least conceivable that the system of property rights, first enshrined in the reforms under Henry II “Curtmantle” and soon thereafter in the Magna Carta, had something to do with the steady improvement in the welfare of all Britons? I think Clark was bit too flippant here.

After explaining how “the superabundant children of the rich had to, on average, move down the social hierarchy to find work,” Clark ponders a theory of which Jared Diamond would approve.

But why did this process advance faster in England than elsewhere? One advantage of England was how dull most English history is – there are plenty of villages where nothing of significance happened between 1200 and 1800. The reproductive success of the rich was not disrupted by invasions, social upheavals and catastrophes. The second advantage just seems to be an accident of English demographics. In both preindustrial Japan and China the rich had more children than the poor, but in a more modest way. Thus there was not the same cascade of children from the educated classes down the social scale. The samurai in Japan in the Tokugawa era (1603-1868), for example, were former warriors given ample hereditary revenues through positions in the state bureaucracy. Despite their wealth they produced on average little more than one son per father. Their children were thus mainly accommodated within the bureaucracy.

Frankly, this is an anti-septic reading of British history. Between 1200 and 1800, England saw much war on the continent with France, the Crusades in the Middle East, and several internecine conflicts such as the War of the Roses and the English Civil War. It is true that, other than internal conflicts, the island did not experience much in the way of an invasion (the Spanish Armada was repelled in 1588). But all of those conflicts took a great toll on everyone’s reproductive success, even the landed gentry. Indeed, it wasn’t just Joe Serf’s issue who went off to fight the Crusades, or who achieved victory at Agincourt. Knights and soldiers came from all walks of life.

More importantly, how does Clark’s thesis account for the vast success of the former British colonies? America is by far the most successful, and I suppose Clark could argue that it was the capitalist genes of the her founders that makes its so. But what about Australia, which started as an island of misfits? Or India and Hong Kong, whose successes certainly owe more to the legal, political and economic systems implemented by the British colonizers than to any sort of capitalist breeding?

To be fair, I haven’t read Clark’s book, in which he may answer all of these questions I’ve posed, and more. However, judging from his article, I have serious doubts that capitalism is anymore hereditary than liking ice cream or sunny days.

MORE: Tyle Cowen is conducting a comprehensive review of Clark’s book, starting with pages 1-112. Arnold Kling chimes in as well. [Nod to Lance for both]

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News Brief, Pizazz We’re Gonna Give It To You* Edition

Would much rather be back at The Original Conjecturer.


  • How to make an EFP.
  • The difficulty of sea mines.
  • These two takes on the SCO exercises (covered in sometimes much greater depth here, at, and Bonnie Boyd’s Central Asia blog) have some interesting tidbits: the PLA has never performed a distance deployment before, and it’s a lot of hoopla over nothing, since they didn’t mean much and didn’t accomplish much by our standards. Our standards. Our standards are pretty high—a decade ago we were air-dropping battalions from Missouri to Shymkent non-stop—and not matching such incredible capability doesn’t matter very much. The real purpose of this exercise was coordination, and a sort of show-of-force: proving other countries can organize outside of NATO and the UNSC. That being said, the irrational hostility toward the Chinese is beyond tiresome at this point. China has no real expeditionary capability to speak of, and could never sustain any sort of foreign deployment without significant foreign support (the Chinese troops in Lebanon and Darfur are supported by UN logistics, for example). What’s more, not since invading Vietnam in 1979 have they deployed troops beyond their borders without UN sanction—a milestone we have yet to match. China is also hypersensitive to world opinion and its foreign relations in a way I wish we could be, which gives them a great deal of gravitas (if you will) when dealing with collective security issues. So I chalk the SCO exercises up to a big-time win for China… and a medium win for Russia, and all the other SCO countries. And of course, a big smack on the nose to the U.S.—perhaps not coincidentally just as Ms. Boyd did. These sorts of wargames are never (I should say rarely) about war itself or the militaries involved, they about the politics of the individual nations, and the nations at which they are directed.

Around the World

  • Tons going on in China, which has enough spare cash to buy the market capitalization of every publicly traded company in Africa should it choose (which says a lot about both the side of China’s currency reserves and the miserable state of the African economy, that an incredibly resource-rich continent cannot muster a trillion dollar market). Their investments in various African countries have apparently spurred them on to slightly higher levels of development (though it is of course unevenly distributed), but there is a dark side: neo-colonialism. I don’t mean the traditional European sense of the word, but of an economic sense, like breeding dependency. Meanwhile, China’s economic rise has given India and Japan such pause they’re forging their own economic collaboration, which they hope will emerge as a counterweight to Chinese influence. Of course, any time Japan does anything mildly aggressive, you can rely on Beijing to freak, so I suppose stay tuned for that (Nitin rightly sees this as ultimately about power relationships, but I sense it is even more complex). It will be interesting to see how China’s growth might allow more of this sort of dissent, which, while encouraging the western ears (surely his intended target anyway), concern the Chinese leadership, who seem to value unity more than they do liberty or choice. Until any of that can happen, however, Beijing needs to decide what to do about the horrible pollution that, no matter what they try, just won’t go away.
  • The Chinese reversal on the Shenyang Six, on the other hand, is a total surprise. They had faced no consequences for breaking the treaties they signed when repatriating Northern refugees; that they reversed course this time is certainly worth celebrating.
  • Things with North Korea, however, are not really improving. Now the UN is realizing a whistleblower who exposed abuses and rules violations at the UN Development Program in Pyongyang faced severe reprisals. Because disloyalty to the UN is a bigger crime than pointing out it’s not cool to defraud the already desperately poor, I suppose.
  • Hugo Chavez, if you didn’t already realize, is batshit crazy. I mean, if he didn’t exist, and the only hilariously dangerous crazy out there was Kim Jong-il and Turkmenbashi, I’m not sure we could invent something like that. It takes real talent to combine fear and inanity in such a taut, Goron-like package. (As an example, dig the Chavez-emblazoned cans of tuna, which may or may not also also be chicken.)
  • Hah! I’m in ur socialized healthcare system, killing you with cancer. Actually, that’s not funny. And anyone who thinks the NHS is utopia has clearly never used it.
  • European countries like Sweden often allow their workers well over a month’s vacation per year, as well as limits on the number of hours per week they can legally be forced to work. Of course, such a system is unsustainable. But when you’ve been going strong for almost a year of looooong week just to get a few days off (which may or may not be granted due to lame internal office politics), it sure does hold a lot of appeal.
  • Is it me, or did the Soviet Union of the 1950’s resemble an outsized, inhuman, real life version of Metropolis? It sure looks that way, right down to the mad scientist/ruler falling of his own arrogance…
  • Surreal afternoon tune of the day was definitely “,” by Flight of the Concords. Excellent. I had more than one class like that.

Back at Home

  • Charleston, WV has decided to grant gays and lesbians the right not to be for being homosexual; they also classify hate crimes as hate crimes. I am ambivalent about hate crimes (I think crime is crime and should be punished equally), but it is telling that now cities in West Virginia—a state normally mocked in my home state of Virginia for being full of backwoods rednecks— is now more protective of my rights. Progressive, liberal Northern Virginia still hasn’t yet cut it.
  • Wonkette says something darkly true about the pathetic space program: “Space experts applauded the mission, which as usual consisted of nothing more than sending the thing up into low Earth orbit, desperately trying to fix it during a number of frantic “spacewalks,” and praying to whatever nearby space god to please let the thing land again without blowing up another teacher. Earlier generations of Americans actually traveled to the Moon and had ambitious plans to colonize distant planets.” Well, yes.
  • If you haven’t properly accessorized the internationally humiliating presidential election yet, now is the time to buy the Hilary Clinton nutcracker from the hot lady.

*Title’s hilariously gay explanation .

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Asking The Wrong Question

“Is government the answer?”

That’s probably not a question unfamiliar to most readers of ASHC, and it’s not the “wrong question” referred to in the title. In fact, I routinely present my arguments with that question as the implied premise. Unfortunately, it’s not the question asked, either explicitly or implicitly, by those who set policy for most institutions. And that is despite the fact that the problems with government meddling in broad areas of public policy are well known amongst the meddlers themselves:

Consider a set of policy interventions targeted on a loosely-defined set of market imperfections that are rarely observed directly, implemented by bureaucrats who have little capacity to identify where the imperfections are or how large they may be, and overseen by politicians who are prone to corruption and rent-seeking by powerful groups and lobbies. What would your policy recommendations be?

The quote above is from Dani Rodrik’s paper (pdf) for the World Bank’s Commission on Growth and Development. Rodrik goes on (emphasis added):

You might be excused for thinking that I am referring to industrial policy and if you react by saying “these are all reasons why governments should stay away from industrial policy.” But in fact what I have in mind are some of the traditional, long-standing areas of government intervention such as education, health, social insurance, and macroeconomic stabilization. All of these policy areas share the features described in the previous paragraph. Yet, curiously in light of the skepticism that attaches to industrial policy, almost no-one questions whether they properly belong in the government’s arsenal.

… All these shortcomings notwithstanding, the debates in these policy areas are rarely ever about whether the government should be involved; they are about how the government should go about running its policies. It’s not about whether, but about how.

Yes, that is curious. Alex Tabarrok responds to Rodrick’s analysis of the problems with government intervention, referring to Rodrik’s ultimate conclusion:

Absolutely correct. The obvious conclusion? Industrial policy is a good idea. I kid you not.

I understand the impulse of policy-makers to want to tinker. After all, they do tend to understand the minutiae of how the cogs work together, even if they can’t accurately predict all the results. Or as the saying goes, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. But when they can identify with that same precision of understanding the insurmountable roadblocks that undermine all their fine-tuning, why is it that they never ask the right question? Said another way, if they see that not every problem is a nail, and can identify that many are screws, and that some are even paperclips, why insist on using the hammer?

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I am so enlightened

See, I am too with the new progressive era!

You Are 90% Feminist

You are a total feminist. This doesn’t mean you’re a man hater (in fact, you may be a man).
You just think that men and women should be treated equally. It’s a simple idea but somehow complicated for the world to put into action.
Are You a Feminist?

Dr. Helen tipped me off to this little survey and she has some interesting things to say. I wonder if the fact my first response to the award was the babe with the boxing gloves is smoking hot counts against me, as well as pointing out my problem with question #5:

Women should accept their bodies as they are. Women should not have to conform to wacky beauty ideals.

They obviously found it a good idea to put up a woman who fits a pretty stiff…uh, concept of beauty.

Of course the quiz is silly, and comes from a place with all kind of “non-feminist” quizzes as well. Still, this question does reflect a general issue I have with many feminists who peddle this theme. I answered not sure, but as with all polls my reasons are obscured.

It seems to me women should do what they want. If they want to get as close to smoking hot as possible, it isn’t a “wacky” ideal, though it may be discouraging. Let me say I am all in favor of it. On the other hand, if it isn’t important to them my eyes will be a bit disappointed that having another scoop of Ben and Jerry’s is more important than delighting my senses, but it is their choice. Some feminists act as if it is somehow wrong to care about being attractive, or that not being attractive is a virtue. We have lots of characteristics that I value as human beings, I don’t know why physical beauty need be cordoned off from the list. The same of course goes for men.

There is a notion out there that such superficial matters should be irrelevant, but that is just plain silly. Most things we like about people are shallow. Intelligence? Why is that any less of a shallow trait. Does it make one a better person? Two of my favorite students were frankly not well endowed upstairs (slow was the term parents used, learning disabled the diagnosis of the specialists. Slow was more accurate.) They were however endowed with wonderful character and temperament (and also quite physically beautiful to boot.) Everybody loved them. Conversely I know many an intelligent jerk who attracts many a man/woman. Shallow, but understandable, though personally I think less understandable or praiseworthy than being attracted to a smoking hot model with boxing gloves.

A sense of humor? Talk about shallow, though invariably I hear it listed as what women say they are looking for. Once again, give me smoking hot and don’t pretend either is especially “deep.”

Then let us look at question #1, which is also a staple of much feminist rhetoric:

Women should be economically and socially independent. They shouldn’t rely on men to take care of them.

Uh, why not? Once again, isn’t that what freedom of choice is about? How is looking down on women who make this choice (or men for that matter, I would make it in a second if my wife would let me and made enough money for the lifestyle she wishes to lead. Yes, her lifestyle, not mine. I am pathetic) empowering or showing respect? It also is a bit jarring in light of question #7:

Women should have the right to choose any path in life – from being a stay at home mom to a Fortune 500 CEO.

Cognitive dissonance anyone? Which of course can be dismissed by pointing out that it is a stupid quiz, but in fact I hear both arguments all the time, and often from the same people. I agreed wholeheartedly with #7 by the way.

Or take #4, another silly thing I hear from “feminists” quite often:

Women should take an equal role in dating. Women should ask out people they are interested in and take their turn in paying.

Why? Once again, people should do what they want. Yes, the quiz is silly, but it no sillier than much of what passes itself off as feminism. My main problem with feminism as it is described by activists of course is its claim that left wing based economics is feminist, and so I am glad the quiz didn’t ask about nonsense such as comparable worth. It would have lowered my admirably high score (only one point less than Dr. Helen!)

As my favorite professor, Philosophy and happiness scholar Neera Badhwar, once said when asked if she was a feminist, “Yes, as long as I am not around any.” That pretty much sums up the way I feel about environmentalists, gay rights advocates and anti-poverty activists as well. Sigh.

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News Brief, Everything Is Everything Edition

Cross-posted on The Conjecturer.


  • A look at the operations in Baquba, with entire blocks of booby-trapped houses wired to explode for the troops. These kinds of delays are just what happen in warfare. But it speaks to how the insurgents are once again switching tactics: is this a new scorched earth-type policy?
  • Related to this is David Kilcullen’s explanation of the intent and strategy behind the surge-in-a-surge. And it is a good idea: even taking into account reports that local security forces aren’t doing their jobs, this is a radical and much-welcomed departure from the previous doctrines behind the Iraqi war. But it’s the reliability of the locals that remains the achilles heel here: if they can’t be relied on (and, it too many cases, they can’t be), then we’re stuck with the same problem as before—too many jobs for not enough troops. And Kilcullen is mature enough to see that this isn’t guaranteed success (which is beyond what many war supporters have offered up).
  • Related to that is this interview with John Robb on system shocks like terrorism and how they’re a problem to be managed, not an organized enemy to destroy. I have come to agree with him. Just like the French!
  • I may have figured out why there are Iranian weapons in Afghanistan. Maybe.
  • SBINet, the hilariously impossible “virtual fence” along our souther border, is so impossible it will never be built.
  • Upgrading the Yak to resist IEDs is a great idea. But we need to focus more on why insurgents use them, rather than jumping into a never-ending arms race we really can’t win—unless maybe they decide to actually implement the ionized force fields under development to thwart RPGs. Since the EFPs use shaped charges as well, the plasma jets should respond to the same ionization effect and dissipate around, rather than penetrate through, the vehicle.

Around the World

  • So, Indian politics are kind of corrupt. This we already knew, though it’s not usually publicized in the States. Luckily, Nitin, whom I have come to rely on for keeping me informed on the country (along with the piddling 15 minutes of SouthAsia Newsline on MHz), is flippin’ mad. From what I’m reading, he’s right to be.
  • It makes for an interesting contrast: Australians are harassing their aborigines for possessing porn and booze, while Sweden grants a prisoner his inalienable right to possess porn. Then again, Scandanavian attitudes toward sex have always amused me—from a distance. To kind of see what I mean, check this years-old post at the much missed Beautiful Atrocities, Anal for Trees.
  • I’ve speculated at length that Iran probably does need nuclear energy, if only because it is far cheaper than modernizing and updating its dilapidated oil infrastructure. That one of the world’s most oil-rich nations is so incapable of producing the gunk it resorts to fuel rationing is, sadly, not unexpected (a few months back, the DOE predicted that by 2015 Iran will have decayed to the point where it would need to become a net importer). The rioting, however, took me by surprise. I don’t recall hearing of gas riots here during the 1973 oil embargo, though that was also eight years before my birth. If all it takes is a line at the gas station to prompt rioting, what other pressure points might exist in Iranian society?
  • Clearly, the one thing that has been holding Zimbabwe in 8000% inflation is not having enough nationalized companies.
  • Well, China will remain a one party dictatorship for the time being. It’s a pity—they make such great laptops.
  • It’s interesting to read about the plight of Christians in the Middle East—from Baghdad to Gaza, to Jedda, Christians are harassed, threatened, assaulted, tortured, and executed. For the crime of not being Muslim.
  • Celebrating 10 years of not-war in Tajikistan, which is more of a truce anniversary than a cessation of conflict.
  • An incredible series of drawings of Kandahar.

Back at Home

  • Oh look: Instapundit linked to a cool story on outsourcing one’s own job and pocketing the difference like it’s something new. Trick is, that story is from 2004. And if your employer ever found out you were doing that, he’d fire you and keep the Indian guy coding at $12k a year.
  • Jezebel hits on why I hate the Edwards: “SHOOT US NOW. The Edwardses just made us defend Ann Coulter on grounds of FEMINISM.” There’s more.
  • Three cheers for counter suing the RIAA for malicious prosecution. May we have more of them.
  • Ooooh, Henry Farrell, of the GW, has created a repository of sorts for political science papers “for a general audience.” I’m not really sure how he’s defining that, as 90% of the polisci papers I read are boring, dry, and poorly written—and that’s coming from a guy who enjoys the subject and wants to read them. Unfortunately, instead of a broad look at the practice of political science in general, so far it seems to be just “oooh! oooh! read this journal!” So, I don’t get it. Polisci professors already read the journals in question; people like me who are not professors but have maintained an interest in the subject still read the theory books and essay collections. Who is he appealing to? And will that blog turn in to anything other than a collection of abstracts?
  • It’s funny, to see how often Kevin Drum writes things like “if you hire people who hate the government, you’ll get bad government” while complaining about the horribly inefficient Postal Service. He wants fully socialized healthcare (and is a fan of Sicko, which is, umm, sick). So he hates the Post Office, but thinks if the government takes over his medical care, it won’t be run in a similarly slapdash fashion? I don’t get it.
  • We also find out Christie Todd Whitman actually resigned from the EPA in protest over Dick Cheney meddling in the administration’s environmental affairs. For a legislative official, he sure does have a lot of influence in the executive, doesn’t he?
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News Brief, I’m A Wheel Edition


  • Did you know we have to confirm Czars? The Russians would be a bit taken back. Anyway, Bush’s new redundant War Czar says Iraq is a big mess, so clearly the way to fix it is to distort the chain of command and add another layer of bureaucracy.
  • Did the Air Force really just give up on electronic warfare?
  • Ms. Hillhouse, still kicking ass for kicking DNI’s ass.
  • Great—David Axe gets paid to go report on Afghanistan (which hopefully will involve more than parroting the often-questionable statements of US and NATO officials) for a few weeks, while I scratch my head at how to secure funding for an eventual research trip.
  • Tricky security questions surrounding Putin’s proposed BMD compromise in Azerbaijan. I need to dig into this more.

Around the World

  • But it was meant for spring! Passport is now pushing the “summer offensive” line, because I guess they realized that June is a bit late to be talking of the spring offensive. But more here.
  • Sanjaya is going to jail! No, that’s not a joke, but read the link to see why.
  • More protests against Musharraf.
  • Poland and Romania were so eager to befriend the U.S., they courted their horrendous communist pasts by hosting American secret torture facilities. We repaid them by jacking our visa procedures and harassing their tourists when they travel here. From missile defense to this prison deal to the visa rules, we have seriously dicked over Poland.
  • The hilarious consequence of a truly ignorant populace.
  • FLASH: World shocked, saddened, at news of UN agencies’ massive fraud and complicity with mass murderers.
  • How the swamp boys hold Nigeria hostage.
  • This makes for an interesting contrast: a positive, upbeat propaganda piece by Uncle Nazzy, and an actual side-by-side of socio-economic indicators in Kazakhstan. I just wish the comparison of indicators under socialism and now had included rates of change over time on a finer scale—all post-Soviet economies tanked in the 90’s, but Kazakhstan and Russia have been showing strong improvement and growth in the 21st century. That would make for some fun number crunching (yes, I made that statement).

Back at Home

  • CNN demonstrates why Barrack Obama will never become President.
  • Qubad Talabani, the next Ahmed Chalabi (though with fewer arrest warrants).
  • Speaking of which, maybe our cops could try raiding the right fracking house once in a while, and maybe not physically abusing the actually innocent people when they do.
  • Why is the FTC regulating competition among luxury good providers? Oh yeah, and 3/4 of all organic products are sold by regular grocery stores… So what are they trying to protect?
  • President Bush’s best (and one of the precious few) good foreign policy legacies: kicking the knees out from the anti-globalization movement by funding AIDS and poverty programs in Africa and Asia.
  • Making the case for revoking Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
  • From the OMG So Wrong But Hilarious Department: BurqaBarn, the sister store to Dress Barn!
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News Brief, Eany Meany Edition

Cross-posted at The Conjecturer.


  • Is al-Hurra, the Arabic-language Voice of America satellite channel, nothing more than an al-Jazeera clone? Hardly. One of the reasons Voice of America is as respected as it is was its willingness to broadcast news damaging to the U.S. (same with the “Radio Free” stations). It was this self-criticism that generated sympathy in the Soviet Union: surely it was telling the truth if it would criticize its own government! This adherence to the truth, even unpleasant or embarrassing truth, is what will gain us friends and sympathy. More than anything else, people everywhere appreciate honesty.
  • I found this defense of the FCS system limp. The problem isn’t with “modernizing” the Army, the problem is how that is being done: many FCS unit requirements are already hopelessly outdated, or unworkable, or unnecessary, or wholly reliant on undesigned and basically impossible vehicles. This is a program worth saving?
  • On the other hand, here’s something that kind of blows my mind a bit: about three minutes into this video, you can see what looks like a U.S. special forces guy wearing what looks like adaptive camouflage scurry across the field of view and jump onto the tank. Meaning, he has armor that changes color according to his surroundings, making it damned hard to spot him. If that is the case and the video is not doctored, that’s way cool.
  • The Estonian cyberwar was not a coordinated attack, but a globally distributed attempt to deny access, and not destroy data. Still, this has big time implications for the future of information infrastructure, calling into doubt statements about resilience and protection. Placed into the context of the ongoing war between hackers and the MPAA over HD-DVD encryption, it bodes poorly for government to survive a bout of mass unpopularity among computer-savvy opponents.
  • Google Maps shows how our National Guard has been depleted by the Iraq War.

Around the World

  • Who’d'a thunkit that I’d be getting all into the complexities of counternarcotics? Also, I caught another blogger blatantly ripping off my stuff at, which I guess is flattering but also annoying. Oh well. Meanwhile, SecDef Gates shows again why we should not be ignoring Afghanistan, as there remains a very real chance of success (though his optimism is a bit off kilter, given the recent wave of anger over civilian deaths and the collapse of a few development projects).
  • US troops barely have control of less than half of Baghdad.
  • The Birthmark criticizes American Empire (I suppose he’s no fan of neo-colonialism and forgot to mention Russia’s own neo-imperialism in its Near Abroad). In light of Putin threatening to turn his missiles back to Europe, I don’t think we can be singled out for criticism, though we deserve plenty.
  • A US warship shelled Puntland for several hours this weekend, indicating that it wasn’t a fast-move high-priority target, but rather support for an already ongoing operation. Puntland has traditionally been seen as a relatively stable (if still unbelievably poor) area; whether the artillery support was for US or Ethiopian troops isn’t at all clear yet (I doubt we’d shell like that in support of the regional government, which isn’t even recognized internationally as it has claimed independence from Somalia). I also see some disturbing shades of Beirut in 1983—our involvement in the civil war then was limited to mostly shelling from the sea, yet still resulted in the catastrophic attack on the Marine barracks in retaliation. I hope we don’t see (or rather, that we can actually manage) the blowback from this op. For further context, here is a fascinating comparison of Puntland to Northern Iraq.
  • Know what was missing from the Israeli Palesine conflict? A flood of Palestinians into Jerusalem before the wall goes up. That’s just rad.
  • The Taliban’s first best friend, power-monger Benazir Bhutto, thinks she can wrest some of Musharraf’s power away from him to form her own circle of government in Islamabad. She has good bad company in Nawaz Sharif, as they both proved to be feckless leaders. What Pakistan needs is an open and free election, not backroom power sharing deals.
  • More drinking the Chavez kool-aid by an AP reporter. Wonder why their coverage is so biased?
  • But I don’t get why all the neocons are hating on The Economist and accusing it of Bush Derangement Syndrome (as if opposition to a politician were evidence of psychosis). So they didn’t cover local elections with enough depth. And they’re not sufficiently enthusiastic about Bush, after endorsing him in 2004. And? I don’t get it. There’s no “case” against them, in the same way there can be a case against the professionalism of the BBC or Fox News.

Back at Home

  • Good news to take from the “Muslim Americans” Pew survey, from Irshad Manji. She brings it down to a fundamental American comfort with assimilating other cultures… Something I worry may be changed for the next generation by the horrid immigration debates.
  • The Washingtonienne, my favorite semen-fueled media whore, giver of brilliant one-liners (”A man who tries to !* you in the a$$ when you are sober does not love you”), has declared bankruptcy. How she burned through a $300k advance and Playboy “handling fee” in under three years, I don’t know, but she did live in Manhattan for a time.
  • Dave Kopel rightly defends Boulder High school and notes something I have wondered about for a long time—the almost or actual criminal invasions of privacy and property Bill O’Reilly’s producers subject their victims to.
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News Briefs, Ghost in You Edition

Cross-posted at The Conjecturer. I am not posting the rest of the week, as I will be traveling.


  • I really like thinking the best of our guys in uniform. But the demon spawn of our rightwing radio hosts seem determined to make that incredibly difficult. Best line: “Dr. Laura has been curiously silent about her son’s bravery.” Indeed.
  • Doug Bandow takes a look at what Ron Paul said, what Paul Wolfowitz said, and offers this: “Doing so does not mean that Americans are “to blame” for terrorism. Or that the victims of 9/11 “deserved” what they got. Talking about the issue doesn’t necessarily even mean that the United States should change what it is doing. But the first step to design good policy is to recognize the consequences — all of them, including the ugly, unexpected, and painful ones — of alternative strategies.” He notes that 9/11 short-circuited the debate, and he’s right. Sometimes, it’s difficult for me to discuss, too, if only for the very personal losses that resulted.

Around the World

  • Andrei Lugovoi has been charged with the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. The trick? Russia’s constitution forbids extradiction, in addition to the Kremlin’s desire to shelter Putin’s contract murderers. Lugovoi was discovered to have had extensive contact with Polonium-210 before his meeting with Litvinenko, with samples found on an airplane he rode and the hotel at which he stayed. He protests his innocence.
  • And no, Russian still haven’t figured out a tasteful way to spend their oil money.
  • Anne Applebaum takes an excellent look at whether and how NATO should respond to Russia’s cyberwar against Estonia. Such cyberwarfare doesn’t work against Russia’s other side thorn, Georgia: there, they’ve relied on their continuing row with the EU to slowly bleed off Saakashvili’s supporters, I assume for the ultimate cause of annexing liberating South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
  • The Mark Seidenfeld case grows dark—and the prospects for a fair trial or equitable outcome look bleak.
  • China’s protest season (I have no idea if there is an actual season, like in Boulder) kicks off with a bang, as the enforcement campaign for the One Child policy prompts massive riots in Gunagxi. China routinely faces between fifty and ninety thousand protest marches each year in reaction to various inefficiencies and poor planning.
  • David Axe got to sit down with Afghan Ambassador Said Jawad. The snippets are encouraging: he shares many of my frustrations with how things are proceeding, along with a guarded hope that it just might work out. In stark contrast to some other, unnamed American projects, Afghanistan still has a very real chance of success.
  • Meanwhile, Germany is back to wringing its hands and gazing at its navel over a soldier’s death in Afghanistan. But it is at least a debate, with a majority still seeing the value of cleaning up the mess.
  • While I can see the geopolitik reasoning behind the assumption that Iran is responsible for the new missiles being found in Afghanistan, does anyone in their right mind think Tehran would suddenly reverse more than a decade of opposition to the Taliban, just to score a few western bodies? It was opposition to the Taliban that garnered a surprising collaboration between Tehran and Washington in 2001 and 2002, and the Shi’a in charge of Afghanistan’s western neighbor do not want to deal with a newly emboldened Mullah Omar setting up shop in Kandahar again, or even with a NATO withdrawal spurred by excessive chaos.
  • Daniel Ortega, apparently not of the salsa fame, totes luvs the Kim Jong-il.
  • Is our healthcare and welfare making us short? Color me skeptical—while the correlation between childhood nutrition (and by extension, overall societal wealth) and adult height is strong, I can’t imagine how researchers could control for all the variables associated with childhood development to establish a causative relationship. From what I know, a more logical cause of the height difference would be an interplay of two things: different rates of immigration (immigrants introduce difficult externalities into population studies), and food quality. I would imagine the amount of steroids and hormones we inject into our food products, as well as the pervasiveness of a corn monoculture, play a bigger role in adult height variance than whether or not we provide adequate social security to our elderly.

Back at Home

  • Annoying as it is, the DC area isn’t that bad a place—so long as you avoid Leesburg, Ashburn, South Riding… Hell, any of the children-of-the-corn “planned” communities governed by HOAs so fascist and obsessed with uniformity they’d make the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly proud. Anycrap, so there are other annoying bits as well, like Clarendon’s new reputation as a dumping ground for the recently bereaved, or development turf wars that feature lines like, “On the other side, Reed Fawell, a project supporter, compared the block where the proposed project would be to a “Third World country,” albeit one within walking distance of a Williams-Sonoma.” Yes, people say things like that with a straight face. Luckily, I’m in Reston, which does me the courtesy of being too expensive to live while also having nothing to do. Thanks, Virginia! At least we’re not third-world DC with starving fly babies!
  • Democrats announce economic illiteracy, power of instincts.
  • The Instapundit hates the Economist for being unfair. No, he thinks it is unfair to America. Yes, I realize how silly that sounds.
  • Meanwhile, the Supreme Court hates your freedom to sleep at night without fear of… well, let’s let Radley Balko explain: “the police can break into your home, rouse you from sleep, hold you naked at gunpoint, and—even if you’re completely innocent—[and] you have no recourse, so long as the warrant was valid.” In other words, we live in a police state.
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News Brief, My Sundown Edition

Cross-posted on The Conjecturer


  • Are we losing the info war? I think we are, and attacks on al-Hurra for not being propagandistic enough when the channel already faces criticism for exactly that certainly don’t help. We could maybe start by renouncing torture, given that we lecture other countries on their use of it.
  • The constant back-and-forth over whether Iraq is an insurgency or civil war are a bit academic at this point: many civil wars are fought as insurgencies, and that is the dynamic I see at play here (I also dislike the over-simplification of the nature of the parties in the conflict). It is a struggle for the control of Iraq, and insurgency is one side’s strategy. That being said, it hasn’t been a traditional insurgency, but has rather been highly adaptive in tactics, technology, and even ideology—leading to a fractured network of competing factions, all vying for their various spheres of control. That makes me think that, despite General Petraeus’ many skills in handling traditional insurgencies, he still might not be what’s needed to properly address the conflict.
  • This UK report on the fighting seems to confirm that we need a radical departure in tactics and strategy (or, more simply and cheaply, a withdrawal) to have any kind of positive impact.
  • Hey, whaddya know, paying contractors to run acquisition programs isn’t a very good idea. At last, some constraints on the unbelievable amounts of waste in Defense contracting.

Around the World

  • How cell phones affect the price of fish, or how cell phones solve global poverty (a recurring meme here, in case you haven’t noticed). Other great poverty news is the $30 stove/refrigerator/generator, which has tremendous potential in improving the condition of the BoP crowd.
  • Maybe it really is a state-to-state guerilla war? Estonia has faced a weeks-long wave of cyber attacks on its information infrastructure, primarily from Russia. Estonia gained a lot of praise from the IT world for its Tiger Leap program, which essentially declared Internet access a human right and has since worked aggressively to wire all parts and population segments of the country. Interesting to see how that is now being used against them. Also, stupid Russia.
  • Is the train a sign of thawing relations? Or further evidence of Pyongyang’s penchant for empty, meaningless gestures in pursuit of a larger goal? I vote for the latter, especially if it turns out North Korea really did test its “new” missile in Iran.
  • Benazir Bhutto, of course, is clearly a selfless democrat clearly uninterested in wresting the reins of power away from Musharraf and ruling over her rightful fiefdom.
  • Meanwhile, Pakistan and Iran are preparing to deport thousands of Afghan refugees back to Afghanistan. If millions of homeless Afghans suddenly flood into the south, as these expulsions portend, the result will be disaster, even if marginally mitigated by SAARC membership (the most recent meeting of which yielded no appreciably gainful policies).
  • Russia is not just arming Burma’s horridly violent military dictatorship; it is now helping them build nuclear power plants. There’s been a spate of Burma stuff lately, from letters by 59 heads of state to a pair—here, and here—of travel posts by the venerable James Fallows (must be nice to tour Asia like that), to the recently-Flickr’d Smithsonian archive, to (tangentially) former Myanmar Times and Business Review reporter and current Reason editor Kerry Howley’s oddly-compelling campaign for organ markets.

Back at Home

  • I don’t see the sovereignty concerns with the UN Sea treaty, especially as they are no more onerous or expansive than the concessions we demand other countries make through the IMF, World Bank, and sometimes UNSC. We should ratify it.
  • Want to help Hillarity Clinton choose her campaign theme song? They allow write-ins! I vote for “Stupid Girl” by Garbage; it seems appropriate on several levels.
  • A depressing look at what kind of house you can get in this area for $300,000. Now, of course, if you work out in the suburbs somewhere (say, Reston, or McLean, or Rockville, and so on) it’s not always a smart move to eat an hour-long commute for a cheap townhouse in NE. Ugh. I think I’ve consigned myself to living in hovels until I become a millionaire. Oh yeah, and also whoever designed 66 in the Gainesville area was retarded.
  • Lesson: Dick Cheney looks 90% like Dick Cheney.” God I love Wonkette.
  • Here’s a sad but also uplifting story about the plight of homeless gay youth, a group far larger than most people realize (yes, we still do face sometimes violent discimination in society). I dated a guy in Denver who used to work at one of these shelters; he said many of the children are forced by their parents to the streets, which then forces the children into hustling (i.e. prostitution), which then almost always results in getting HIV. A depressingly large number of these kids come from Christian homes, too.
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News Brief, Brave New World Edition

Cross-posted on The Conjecturer.

The Pentagon

  • Ellen Tauscher wants to create a commission to assess the strategic posture of the U.S. This is a good thing, as I’m not really sure why we need thousands of warheads—the Pentagon’s scare mongering rings hollow considering our success in conventional battle, and I’m not sure how ICBMs would deter suicide terrorists.
  • The DoD is blocking YouTube and Myspace. I, for one, am disappointed I won’t get to see any more videos of shirtless Marines prancing about camp. But here’s the best part: “Massive bandwidth-sucking PowerPoint briefings are naturally still allowed.” Heh. Indeed.
  • The Stasi had innovated a unique method of state-terror: a human scent system. They would collect scent samples from citizens, store them in jars, and then use those samples to send their attack dogs on hapless victims. Now, DARPA wants in on the fun.
  • Holy crap: the Army is so worried about officer retention it’s offering hefty bonuses and free grad school to keep ‘em in. This is hand-in-glove with the mess of the Future Combat System—a huge expenditure with an uncertain payoff. Par for the course with the DoD these days.

Around the World

  • The beautiful Mediterranean town of Izmir, over 1 million Turks marched for a secular society.
  • Mullah Dadullah, the scary man with the zany name, is dead. So, what now? Despite my optimism for the country, we face enormous obstacles, and while a military victory is nice we are in danger of focusing way too hard on security to the exclusion of meaningful development. Afghanistanica has more on why Dadullah’s loss is so bad for the Taliban.
  • How the SEC is impacting insider trading in China.
  • The EU is badly split over how to handle an increasingly aggressive Russia. It is, as one would expect, between Old Europe and New Europe, to borrow the Rumsfeld’s term.
  • How our embarrassingly bungling of the Agreed Framework 2.0 is undermining the global war on terrorist assets.
  • Jew-hating Mickey Mouse clone still on HAMAS TV. I dunno, man. Battling Israel is one thing. Can HAMAS survive a battle with Disney?
  • Paul Bremer hates George Tenet, and thinks it was brilliant foresight to create a power vacuum after the initial invasion of Iraq. Meanwhile, a collection of “experts” thinks we’re damned if we do or don’t in Iraq, something I believe as well. But I could be wrong, just as wrong as I was when I thought invading was a good idea, so I won’t press the issue too much, beyond noting this deeply moving story of a soldier’s death. And in the midst of it all, we can’t be bothered to handle any of the millions of refugees we’ve created.
  • Google discovers that not being evil is bad for business. If being party to oppression, torture, and murder is good for the bottom line, then so be it, I suppose. It’s worth noting that Google had distinguished itself by not being like Yahoo and deliberately selling out its users to oppressive regimes like China. That may be changing as China dangles too much money for morals to play a role in business.
  • Mobile phones not only solve poverty, they do so at a profit. Of a similar tack is Nabuur, a peer-to-peer knowledge sharing service.
  • New Eurasia is posting some pretty cool sounding blogger jobs. Yes, jobs. Great stuff.
  • Afghanistanica, who covers the place better than I can, has begun posting a lot. I guess the semester is over? Regardless, there’s a ton of great stuff up there, like the airlift of evil. Go, read.

Back at Home

  • The trial of Jose Padilla, the U.S. citizen who was unconstitutionally imprisoned for years without charges, goes to trial today.
  • Congressional Democrats apparently think all citizens are lobbyists (true) and that therefore their speech must be tightly regulated (umm…). Didn’t we have a Bill of Rights about political speech or something a few years ago?
  • Apparently the State Department has no sense of irony, self, or reality. Actually, that’s not a surprise.
  • Oooh, a private company has bought up Chrysler, worrying unionists. Good. Maybe they’ll restructure it so it won’t churn out unreliable crap, or maybe mercifully put it to death like it deserved so long ago.
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The real problem with “Special Interests” is that they really are not all the special

Bryan Caplan makes an argument which in addition to his explicit points, also goes to part of my rationale for opposing most campaign finance reforms and many other “good government” initiatives. They don’t attack the real problem. The Hat tip goes to Alex Tabarrok, who also begins his post with Mencken. I’ll take that suggestion:

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.
-H.L. Mencken (more…)

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News Brief, Weekend Blurby Edition

Cross-posted at The Conjecturer.

The Pentagon

  • It’s funny, these kinds of scare stories about personnel shortages at the country’s spy agencies used to frustrate me. I tried for a long time to get into the CIA, but twice was I unceremoniously declined. The DIA didn’t even have the courtesy to tell me no. But I’ve adopted a different attitude of late: bemusement. After all, it’s damned tough to hire smart, skilled, motivated college grads when you start them in the mid 30’s… and at Booz-Allen Hamilton, SAIC, BAE, Northrop, Lockheed or any number subcontractors you can quickly have double that by 30. The government could reverse this trend by maybe changing the incentive structure: instead of relying on patriotism to get people to accept lower-paying jobs than they can have elsewhere, they could just pay people more. Or make the hiring process not such a nightmare (one of the rejection letters I got was four months after an interview, which itself was about six months after my initial application). Intelligence is one of those things where you really do want to have smart, well paid, well satisfied employees… And where it’s not a crime for the government to pick up the tab.
  • Meanwhile, the Pentagon continues its loser PR campaign by harshly restricting Congressional testimony. I swear, it’s like they hate the idea of the DoD being a trusted institution. You think the recent ex-post facto indictment of Salim Ahmed Hamdan is related?

Around the World

  • Clearly, those Russians living in Estonia were rioting for their ethnic pride. At the Armani store.
  • China is still forcibly relocating Tibetans to the countryside. A Chinese friend of mine once compared their treatment of Tibet with our treatment of the natives here during Manifest Destiny… And even claimed that the Chinese never forced Tibetans into the indignity of a reservation system. That may well be true, but we also weren’t deporting and slaughtering American Indians by the tens of thousand under Reagan; the Chinese were. I would like to think we as a species have evolved since the Trail of Tears (we also bother to show remorse for our shameful history of ethnic cleansing, something which the Han might want to try sometime).
  • What’s even funnier than nostalgic Russians rampaging one of their former colonies for daring to be decolonized? The UN General Assembly electing Zimbabwe to head the agency on sustainable development. Robert Mugabe, remember, murdered or deported the white people in his country, created a famine, and for the last year or so has seen quadruple-digit inflation. There is, of course, some resistance from Western countries, but the UN is a joke. A bad joke. No one should be surprised it treats development the same way it treats human rights and refugees.
  • Oh, and nearby DR Congo remains the horrifying meat grinder it’s been for years. I think part of the reason I hate thinking about Africa is because, even more so than the Middle East, I simply do not find hope there. I know I should, and I know it exists in many places. But it is difficult to look at how horrible that place is and find comfort.
  • There are indeed a million moderate Muslims on the march—actually, many million. We’ve discussed both Turkey and Pakistan in this space, but suffice it to say, the nimrods who crow about how there aren’t any “moderate Muslims” out there obviously don’t know any. I would say it’s much harder to find an extremist Muslim than a moderate one… Unless, that is, choosing to wear a headscarf has suddenly come to indicate extremism. In that case, I suppose nuns are as extremist, too, and equally deserving of scorn.
  • What is the relationship between power, economic rights, and development in rural Pakistan? Fascinating.
  • European justice: starve poor countries of aid just to spite Wolfowitz. My opinion of his case has changed, and I now feel he’s been unfairly treated… Especially in light of things like this.
  • Should I mention that the Iraqis want us to leave? Or is that too much like admitting defeat?
  • I missed this report on a possible deal between Kazakhstan and Russia concerning both oil and gas transit rights. I have to dig into this further, because I don’t think I like it.

Back at Home

  • Consider the source, but Richard Perle notes yet more fabricated or badly mis-remembered bits from Tenet’s memoir. Much of that piece is the same sort of ass-covering we’ve come to expect from Bush’s friends, but this bit, about how miserably the CIA has failed (and, in my view, continues to), is undeniably true: “the greatest intelligence failure of the past two decades was the CIA’s failure to understand and sound an alarm at the rise of jihadist fundamentalism.” Having recently finished Ghost Wars by Steve Coll, which notes the late creation of a bin Laden unit by Langley, and its derision by the rest of the agency until 9/11, that is absolutely the case. And, not to drive a point home, preventing people like me from joining—who have specialized area and language experience, analytical and technical skills, and deep motivation—is not how you create the conditions for success. The CIA is broken, in other words. Horribly, horribly broken.
  • Heaven help me if I don’t love Wonkette’s relentless Star Wars references.
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Is Income Inequality such a bad thing?

Gary Becker and Kevin Murphy:

Income inequality in China substantially wid­ened, particularly between households in the city and the countryside, after China began its rapid rate of economic development around 1980. The aver­age urban resident now makes 3.2 times as much as the average rural resident, and among city dwellers alone, the top 10 percent makes 9.2 times as much as the bottom 10 percent.[1] But at the same time that inequality rose, the number of Chinese who live in poverty fell—from 260 million in 1978 to 42 mil­lion in 1998.[2] Despite the widening gap in incomes, rapid economic development dra­matically improved the lives of China’s poor.


This brings us to our punch line. Should an increase in earnings inequality due primarily to higher rates of return on education and other skills be considered a favorable rather than an unfavor­able development? We think so. Higher rates of return on capital are a sign of greater productivity in the economy, and that inference is fully applica­ble to human capital as well as to physical capital. The initial impact of higher returns to human cap­ital is wider inequality in earnings (the same as the initial effect of higher returns on physical capital), but that impact becomes more muted and may be reversed over time as young men and women invest more in their human capital.

Read the whole thing.

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News Brief Is Beyond Thunderdome Today

Cross-posted on The Conjecturer.

The Pentagon

  • Remember that time the DoD freaked out over secret Canadian radio tracking coins? Turns out some contractors were spooked by the image of a flower, and their concerns were sent without review or criticism to the entire defense industry. How embarrassing.
  • Iraq and Afghanistan are wearing down the airfleet. This could maybe be related to the fact that none of our combat aircraft were ever designed for desert combat, as we continue to prefer the cleaner (”more European,” one could say) environs of the Cold War or China when planning the next $34 billion paperweight.

Around the World

  • Cambodia can’t decide how to remember.
  • Shattering the lines between business and philanthropy: the philanthropreneur.
  • Amnesty International claims Russia and China have violated the UN arms embargo on the Sudanese government. Any wonder, then, that China is anxious to separate the 2008 games from Darfur by aggressively lobbying members of Congress?
  • Uzbekistan is fortifying its border with Kyrgyzstan. In 2005, people fleeing the slaughter in Andijan ran across the border to or near Osh. But the two actions can’t possibly be related, right?
  • Wait, which is it: is Somalia the biggest refugee crisis in the world, or is Iraq? Half a million displaced from Mogadishu or four million fleeing Iraq? I suppose it’s severity—there are at least marginal provisions for the Iraq refugees, whereas the Somalis are dying from diseases that should be extinct, like cholera.
  • I wonder: was it really an accident? Oh yeah, and Poland better be careful, lest its ambassador be assaulted for the crime of moving a statue dedicated to its former Imperial overlords.
  • Whoever is in charge of strategy in Afghanistan sure likes making it difficult for us to succeed. For one, eradication is a losing battle. For another, being explicitly casual about removing the Taliban communicates unseriousness and lack of concern. Yikes.
  • Using Google Earth to solve bird flu.
  • In case you thought my contempt for the current status of idiotic digital laws was confined to the U.S., I can safely say now that the BBC hates consumers, too. Though readers here probably already thought that. The level of contempt for innovation, the possibilities of sharing, and just plain idiocy boggles the mind… especially after the BBC gave voice to such promising goals as DRM-free content (and slapping DRM on public record classical music? WTF for reals!). I guess the Luddites are in charge, now, across the pond. At least we’re not alone.

Back at Home

  • And on the off chance you think I’m laying off American idiot companies today… well, no. Verizon now thinks “petitioning the government” like the first amendment says should also mean “handing over customer data to the NSA without a warrant,” because, of course, they love their customers so much they want them data mined by a broken intel agency.
  • George Tenet as a war profiteer is hardly new or surprising. But what irks me is how Georgetown seems to snatch up every ex-Cabinet head it can, regardless of their efficacy or legacy. Surely there is a point of diminishing returns, yes?
  • QEII gives Dubya a look when he accidentally calls her older than dirt. “Boy grandma, I bet you were pretty scared when they invented the train!”
  • You know, the entire morning briefing of Wonkette today was gold.
  • And who else can connect Mitt Romney with pon farr? Clearly, Wonkette can.
  • Seriously, I’m not a Wonkette whore. But this was brilliant as well. Maybe I’m a bit of a whore.
  • If I had kids, I would buy them this new Gap line.
Sphere: Related Content

News Brief, Ship The Majestic Suffix Edition

Cross-posted at The Conjecturer.

The Pentagon

  • Unintended consequences: up-armored Humvees can trap soldiers inside during attacks.
  • Already the cost of the war has ballooned far beyond the original $50 billion price tag President Bush suggested in 2002. Where does it end? At what point does the cost become simply too much, as we spend my generation into a dark, dark hole and maim an unacceptable number of my peers for none of the original reasons on which we were sold?
  • Soldiers tend to support torture, and also increased deployment leads to increased rates of mental illness. Why again are those lengthened deployments supposed to ‘reduce stress?’
  • Al-Qaeda is thrilled at Bush’s veto—they like the idea of more time to kill U.S. troops.

Around the World

  • Sarko wins. France has hope. An 85% turnout! We should be ashamed that we’re happy to get half that much.
  • The Tamil Tigers, which have come to be known as something of a think tank for terrorist insurgencies, have established their own air force. How long until the tactic moves on to al-Qaeda, or the Taliban?
  • The Afghan media is facing controls as the Taliban resurgence gathers steam. Luckily, the government is seeing protests over it. Even a hostile but free media is better than a friendly but unfree one.
  • The US and EU are teaming up against Russia over Kosovo. Few things a) Serbia needs to be consulted before violating its territory; b) Kosovo’s own crimes must be brought into account; and c) why do EU countries get separate votes in the UNSC if they vote as a bloc?
  • Meanwhile, the EU is threatening to sink Russia’s WTO bid if they don’t stop manipulating their neighbors. Estonia and Russia have come to an uneasy truce over the atrocious behavior of Russia over Estonia’s relocation of that old Soviet monument.
  • The tragedy of the sentence of Umida Niazova, sentenced to seven years of hell in Uzbekistan for the horrid crime of requesting Islam Karimov stop oppressing his people. Read about it here.
  • Rambo is apparently not returning to Afghanistan. I certainly went into mourning.
  • Is the world flat or not? I personally find Friedman’s breathless globalism insufferable, if only because it is totally ahistorical and blind to the very real forces building against globalization. What do you guys think?
  • Rancid North Korean faux-beer? Maybe not. But it’s not the first time the North has tried to foist its horrid quaff: they also make acorn-flavored cordials! Umm… is it off-color to make a chipmunk joke?
  • Oh, Mahmoud. whore.

Back at Home

  • Is this America? I certainly don’t think so. Guantanamo is our deep shame.
  • Well the idiotic “property rights” assigned to CDs has finally become a bit more coherent as the government steps up its war on consumers to include used record shops. It’s not fair, but at least it’s consistent. (A less charitable reader would think the states are passing laws that forbid secondary markets to better suit their corporate masters.)
Sphere: Related Content

News Brief, I Would Have Posted This Yesterday But Was At The Hospital Edition

Cross-posted on The Conjecturer.

The Pentagon

  • Tony Snow declared the milblogging scandal overreported, but then admitted he didn’t know what he was talking about. See for yourself if such a major change in OPSEC rules was over-done.
  • Lockheed Martin builds a so-called sniper targeting pod, a device that can be attached to fixed-wing aircraft and used from even greater standoff distances than the current generation LANTIRN system—50,000 instead of 25,000 feet. It is not, as the name may suggest, a device for targeting snipers. Anyway, it was originally made to be placed on small fighter and strike aircraft, like the F-16, F-15, or F-18, but Inside the Pentagon reported yesterday that it is going to be installed on a wing of six B-1B bombers on their way to Iraq. Since the article was light on details, I would assume this is to allow the bombers to loiter at higher altitudes while maintaining a precision strike capability, though I doubt its full utility in a crowded urban environment like Baghdad.
  • The House Armed Services Committee is making some good moves to kill the Trident Conventional Strike weapon, slow down the Reliable Replacement Warhead program, and de-fund missile defense.
  • There are some neat rumours about the i-GPS system being developed by Boeing, which would combine Iridium and GPS-III signals to form a global, satellite-based data network.
  • The U.S. Court of Federal Claims has backed the Pentagon’s decision to cancel the A-12 radar evading plane… in 1991. The sixteen year case shows how damned powerful the big contractors are, the uphill battles any kind of fiscal reformer faces at the DoD, and how lame it is to have to fight to de-fund an overbudget and past due weapon system.

Around the World

  • I knew Mein Kampf was a best-seller in the Middle East, but I didn’t know they were so damned proud of it. Small wonder there is murderous anti-Semitism in the Muslim world.
  • Big Blue has big plans for the poorest of the planet. Awesome.
  • Plan Colombia was a total bust. Luckily, one of the main guys involved, William Wood, is being moved from Colombia to Afghanistan to help make heroin even cheaper and more widely available.
  • Why is Hassan Hasrullah praising Israel?
  • You know how a lot of troops complain that the good news from Iraq—news schools and the like—is buried behind a biased media that thinks suicide bombs, chlorine attacks, and mass executions are more newsworthy? Well, some of those new schools came with built-in explosives. Great.
  • A brief look at the increasing ties between the Caspian Basin and East Asia.
  • The inimitable Ms. Boyd on the forgotten past of Uzbekistan’s glorious SSR. Makes me want to dig out a central asian folk art book I found in Kazakhstan.
  • I’m only a bit ashamed to say that I went crazy on, posting about an assassination and a teetering US military policy in Afghanistan, the changing face of warfare in Afghanistan, the role Turkey may or may not play in Afghanistan, and a brief look at the challenges facing the national army of—you guessed it—Afghanistan. Oh, I also pontificated on the efficacy of sanctions against Uzbekistan, and whether and how more focused engagement could possible improve things there. So, get readin’.

Back at Home

  • YouTube is going to monetize its content, at least initially. So my dreams of creating an independent foreign news channel can finally come to fruition, assuming I ever get the equipment, talent, inclination, and exposure.
  • Wolfowitz looks less and less like the bad guy the more details emerge, especially how he was forced into determining Riza’s compensation package by the Bank’s top ethics officer, who still thinks he violated rules anyway.
  • I like how Congress doesn’t even bother pretending to not be doing the bidding of Big Media, which has purchased access to horrendous laws. They’re like that with Big Telecom as well, the creeps.
Sphere: Related Content

News Brief, Planet Unicorn Heyyy Edition

Cross-posted at The Conjecturer, where you’ll find an explanation for the edition name. I’m sorry.

The Pentagon

  • I think Lance should have highlighted Blackfive’s major point about the stupid restrictions on war blogs: the Pentagon has already lost the information war in the public arena. The supreme importance of competing narratives was chillingly highlighted in the 2004 (!) documentary Control Room. These rules are admitting failure, in a way, yet another way the DoD has failed to adapt.
  • But major lulz at the AP for being such retards. Gee, I wonder how selective enforcement of OPSEC rules will pan out? Could it even, I don’t know, undercut the reason for OPSEC rules in the first place, if they’re turned into just another tool of coercion by the chain of command?
  • The Small Business Fairness in Contracting Act was supposed to remove the dumb contract bundling tradition in military acquisitions. But it doesn’t, and it does nothing to end the rampant fraud and abuse of small business set-asides in defense contracting. But it also lowered the proportion of contract dollars handed out to small businesses. So the whole system remains a tangled mess.
  • Meanwhile, after losing $1 billion, Veterans Affairs awarded its top executives the largest bonuses in the entire federal government.
  • In the newest DefenseTech, a look at the rapidly growing global market for diesel submarines, which we no longer build. They also have a good run down of the current angst over replacing or upgrading cargo lifters. On a purely stylistic note, I adore that NextBook format, and immediately vastly prefer it to PDF.

Around the World

  • The Russian drive to force its imperial legacy on its victims came to something of a head yesterday, when an angry mob attacked the ambassadors of Sweden and Estonia in Moscow. In addition, the rail line between Estonia and Russia, on which travels mucho oil shipments, has been mysteriously closed. European officials were naturally protesting in strong language, but if you think this will prompt any moves to reduce their dependence on Russian oil, encourage more adult behavior from Russia, or perhaps develop a European-wide policy on foreign interference in member states’ affairs, you’re kidding yourself. Europe is officially the worst country in the world.
  • A deeper look at the spurious allegations against American businessman Mark Seidenfeld, awaiting trial in Kazakhstan.
  • Hamid Karzai says dozens of civilian casualties are not understandable anymore, and he’s right to. While it’s nice and easy to drop precision bombs during combat, when it’s a messy insurgency and guerilla war in the midst of a civilian population, they are just not effective, especially when massive collateral damage greatly harms your ultimate objective.
  • The new Taliban in Nigeria? Hardly. Misusing the term “Taliban” is a bad idea, especially when the actual Taliban have moved beyond their original definition of “pious religious students.”
  • Oh look, AQ Khan is still busy proliferating nuclear weapons. It’s a good thing we’re totally okay with Pervez Musharraf placing him under house arrest and not allowing Americans to speak with him for years. Now that we are giving Uncle Pervy $600 million a year, we get a single interview. Let’s hope Turkey’s diplomatic efforts will prove more fruitful.
  • Yes, it’s nice that Australia can use beer to make clean water, but since when is it an environmental plus to have “renewable, non-polluting carbon dioxide?” More precisely, since when is carbon dioxide considered non-polluting?
  • What walking pace says about cities, health, and time management.
  • First they sold me on Kabul, now they’ve sold me on Vilnius. Who’s up for a vaca?

Back at Home

  • Chicanery over the role of al-Qaeda in Iraq, including the plea that we must stay in Iraq to defeat Osama bin Laden, who happens to be in northwestern Pakistan. It’s true the Commander guy is in charge of the troops, but Congress has the constitutional authority to fund or defund the war as it sees fit (it also has egregiously punted the declaration clause, something that makes me deeply unhappy). If the Congress disagrees with the war, de-fund it. The time table is a lame sidestep.
  • The invaluable EFF has more on the case, and how it is actually not a copyright issue, but an intellectual property issue, despite the credulous linking of the Instapundit.
  • Can a big drop in productivity be explained by the housing slump? I share Drum’s skepticism here.
  • My stab at the Wonkette cover contest, identifying Time’s most influential people. I’ll be starting top left and going counter-clockwise: B. Hussein Obama, Steve Book of Job, Tyra Banks, Leonardo DiCarpaccio or something, some coach no one cares about, The shadow foreign secretary, the fat guy who is super serial about global warming, QUE2 before she’s traumatized by looking at Richmond, Sauruman Khameini, Galadriel, some Moonie, and a turtle. Ugh. Time Magazine, even though you made me Person of the Year last year, you and I are through. DONE. Finito. Or something.
  • Thomas Sewell, writing for National Review Online: “the only thing that can save this country is a military coup.”
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Racist Referees?

I haven’t read the paper, just the article, the executive summary, the discussion on the radio, at Matthew Yglesias’ and at Marginal Revolution. So maybe these points have been covered in the full paper in a satisfactory manner.

I also do not mean to imply I doubt that there are disparities in how referees call games, and that it may reflect racism. I only ask these questions in the spirit of curiosity and general doubts about such research to prove what they claim as opposed to the truth of the claim.

1. Despite the explanation of controlling for these factors I am dubious:

The economists accounted for a wide range of factors: that centers, who tend to draw more fouls, were disproportionately white; that veteran players and All-Stars tended to draw foul calls at different rates than rookies and non-stars; whether the players were at home or on the road, as officials can be influenced by crowd noise; particular coaches on the sidelines; the players’ assertiveness on the court, as defined by their established rates of assists, steals, turnovers and other statistics; and more subtle factors like how some substitute players enter games specifically to commit fouls.

Many of these factors cannot be so easily reduced to statistical analysis. Most importantly, it seems that they have not allowed for a rather obvious objection. That even given all those factors, do black players deserve to have more fouls called upon them once those factors are accounted for? It is important to understand that a more aggressive posture (which they claim they control for, but it can only be, and given the way they seem to define assertiveness, indirectly accounted for) when it comes to play is not a criticism, it can have benefits as well as costs. Certainly black players are often considered more physical in their playing styles than white players, and that disparity is more often remarked upon at levels lower than the NBA (where one might see a narrowing of the difference if it in fact exists.) This common perception may be racist in and of itself (though it is often said as a pejorative against whites, and is made most prominently against white European players.) Given the cultural differences between the white and black populations in the NBA, especially with the influx of European players, would it be surprising to see such a difference?

2. If that is the case, in assessing the impact of the disparity (which is quite small as a practical matter) have they controlled for the benefits of playing that more physical style as well as the costs? One would guess no, since the possibility that black players do foul more is not the explanation.

3. It seems the disparity is driven not by a difference in the way white and black referees treat black players as opposed to a difference in the way they treat white players. There is a statistical difference between the way white and black referees treat white players. I am curious, how is it proven that the difference is driven by white racism versus black racism? Of course, if white players in fact commit just as many fouls as blacks contra potential objection #1, then obviously the issue is white referees favoring white players.

4. What if in fact both white and black referees discriminate against white players (not all that unlikely in my opinion) but black referees treat them even worse?

Once again, intuitively I find their results quite unexceptional and the conclusions reasonable, but are they proven? Thoughts encouraged, especially from those who have the time to read the paper.

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News Brief, Ordinary World Edition

Cross-posted on The Conjecturer.

The Pentagon

  • The Post today slams Bush for his “rush to failure” in deploying missile defense to Europe—rightfully so, as the system is far from useable, and needlessly expensive and provocative. Here’s the best part, though: A Democrat, Ellen Tauscher, wants to give the Pentagon, not the White House, control of when and whether a defensive system is deployed. How radical!
  • They hate us for our freedom! Noah Shachtman has been all over the Army’s new regulations that require authorization for and heavily restrict email & blogs, and even pizza. They also classify “media” in with other domestic threats, like al-Qaeda or foreign spies. The regulations, though marked FOUO and kept behind the Army’s firewall, are stated to apply not just to soldiers, but to their families, friends, civilians, and contractors. So, if these regulations apply to you, but you can’t legally access them to see how, is that legal, or fair? Going meta, is it possible for the Army to become any more of a joke about its itself? It’s like these regs are being written by a Sterling Hayden who is very with the purity of our essence.
  • Speaking of which: the Pentagon has a nasty habit of giving police departments free military equipment, even if they’re in the midst of corruption charges stemming from the wanton murder of an old woman. The ever-angry Radley Balko explains why this is so dangerous.

Around the World

  • The worst sweatshops on Earth are in, surprise of surprises, North Korea, where a worker is considered very well paid and privileged if they work in the Kaesong Economic “Free Zone” and make $2 per month. But hey, at least they can get their hands on fresh crystal meth (”Philopon” is such a better name that the embarrassingly faggy “Tina”)—hell, if I had to be a famished slave in North Korea, a meth binge wouldn’t be out of the question either.
  • Luckily, though, we’re still giving the NoKos more time to shut down their rusted old Yongbyon reactor, even though KJI pinky-swore he’d do it eighteen days ago. But really, who’s counting days when diplomacy is at work?
  • Victory Day in Russia will be marked by yet more violent riots by spoiled brat Russians in Estonia, angry the monuments to their imperialism and murder are being removed. Estonia also accused the Duma of meddling in its own matters. But Estonia is not the only country dealing with de-Sovietization. Lithuania has a harsh law on former communist officials, especially ex-KGB: they cannot work in a wide range of public and private sector jobs for 10 years. That being said, I think it’s overkill: only those who actually committed atrocities as agents should be held accountable in such a way 18 years after the USSR fell. Then again, I’ve never had to recover from such oppression, so I can’t even pretend to understand the underlying emotions and craving for justice.
  • Bad times for democracy in Turkey: the Supreme Court has invalidated the election, clearing the way for yet another military coup. Turkey seems to have these every 25 years or so, so I suppose they’re overdue. Nevertheless, PM Erdogan has certainly been a surprisingly effective leader—elected by Islamists, yet stringently secular in outlook, and his aggressive courting of Europe must be considered when thinking of the impact of Islamist parties. This is a mistake, and it will have profound consequences throughout the Middle East.
  • Oh look—I’ve aroused Robert Templer’s righteous anger yet again by expressing skepticism of a UN human rights mission to Central Asia. And no one picked up on the Hemmingway reference, which should have added irony to the discussion, but didn’t.
  • Speaking of human rights, I’m deeply intrigued by this documentary about women’s rights in Kyrgyzstan, a land where it is not uncommon for a girl to be kidnapped and married to strange men (Borat wasn’t entirely inaccurate in his attempt to stuff Pamela Anderson into a marriage sack).
  • It’s a precedent, to be sure: the ICC has issued its first arrest warrants for Sudanese officials who are implicated in the Darfur atrocity. But is the precedent good or bad? Who may legally execute the warrant? What of the other thousands of people who have participated in the wanton slaughter? What of national sovereignty, so inconvenient here but so zealously guarded by the West?

Back at Home

  • Big Media hates you: a poorly designed anti-copying measure embedded into HD-DVDs doesn’t allow legally purchased HD-DVDs to be played on some players, so a frustrated user posted the hexadecimal code on Digg… which promptly went about deleting user accounts that referenced it. They did this because of a rightful fear of entertainment lawyers, who scored a victory seven years ago when frustrated Linux users did the same thing and published DeCSS, the anti-copying measure in regular DVDs, because thankfully-deceased Jack Valenti’s MPAA refused to license the algorithm to Linux players. That being said, it’s ridiculous that broken technology is protected by ruinous legal precedent… and as far as I’m concerned justifies my absolute contempt for the current state of Intellectual Property law in this country. If they sell us broken devices and legally bar us from fixing them, why should we bother to purchase them in the first place? This is a big motivating factor in file-sharing, and why all sectors of the entertainment industry are in decline. We just want to buy your products—legally—and have them work, without installing spyware, breaking standard operating system components, or requiring ludicrous usage restrictions that didn’t exist in 1997. It’s not hard.
  • Big Telecom hates you too. The FCC is useless as well. This is because these large telecoms have purchased the laws they want at the expense of their customers, we who are saddled with an increasingly underperforming IT infrastructure compared to every other developed country on the planet. More here.
  • Bush has only vetoed two things in his six short years as Lord and Master of This Domain: a bill requiring an exit from a war he never should have started, and a bill funding research he refuses to ban. He no longer strikes me as a principled man. He once did.
  • I always figured I was slowly killing myself by living in the Virginia suburbs of the DC. Now I know for certain: at least according to public records, emissions here shot up nearly 19% between 2001 and 2005, well over double the national average. Is it the feverish attempt to bulldoze every last stand of tree to build strip malls filled with Paneras, Starbucks, and World Markets? The turgid demand for $900,000 houses squeezed onto quarter-acre pips of land, jumbled upon the hillsides on clogged, narrow roads never built to handle the hundreds of thousands of people who have flocked to the area and forced high school students into trailers because their schools are too small? The relentless parade of Range Rovers, exotic sports coupes, German luxury sedans, and heavy duty pickup trucks driven by the immigrant landscapers? I can’t really say. But even someone like me, who finds not just utility but moral value in economic growth, can see its limits, at least in terms of rate. Too much growth too fast can be just as bad, demoralizing, and dehumanizing as no growth at all, or even shrinkage. We here in the over-monied ‘burbs need to slow things down, just a teeny tiny bit.
  • The Hitch on how the Left’s heroes are all religious, and the Right’s are almost all anti-religious. Of course, given the body of philosophical thought he draws on for inspiration, which has its roots in European religious schools, his assignation of all religion as “intellectually reprehensible” is idiotic. Similarly, his refusal to recognize that the greatest atrocities of the last few centuries were all done in the name of areligious or anti-religious ideologies (including his once-prized socialism), indicates how thoroughly dishonest his arguments for atheism are.
  • On a personal note, I feel I must remark again on how ludicrously vicious blog arguments can turn. Lately, at, I have expressed deep skepticism that the tour of Central Asia undertaken by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, will amount to anything. In response I’ve been called an ignorant, fact-free writer, who knows nothing of the UN, the office, or the political situation in those countries. I of course take dispute with all assertions, but I am okay with being called out when I get something wrong—if it is actually wrong. My ears may burn in mild embarrassment, but I accept the lesson and move on. The personal vitriol is what I don’t understand, especially when it is over what I would consider perfectly natural and quite healthy skepticism of the UN’s efficacy in resolving human rights abuses. The only illuminating insight I can think of is that such people, especially knowing their positions, would never behave so in real life; if they do, they are contemptible and unworthy of further attention, and if they don’t, then they are overreacting and frivolous. In either case, I think I shall devote no more energy to such disputes, as they are fruitless and needlessly degrading to all involved.
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News Brief, I’ve Seen It All Edition

Cross-posted at The Conjecturer.

The Pentagon

  • I’ve reread Lt. Col. Yingling’s essay on the failures of the generalship several times at this point. This morning, while I was pondering the flag announcements, which are the lists of people being submitted to have stars attached to their rank (i.e. generals and admirals), it hit me: we have more flag officers now than we did during World War II. That kind of top-heavy bureaucracy has to have a negative effect on overall effectiveness, no matter the supposed caliber of these administrators-come-leaders.
  • Meanwhile, notice the White House scaling back talk of progress in Iraq? But I thought Anbar was coming along nicely? Buried in that story, too, is the realization (that should have been obvious) that troops will have to stay a lot longer than anyone has been willing to say.
  • Inside the Air Force has a silly story about the Air Force trying to use a “show of force” strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan, as if flying combat aircraft within range of RPGs and other short range anti-aircraft weaponry will disincentivize the fighters. This is especially foolish in Afghanistan, which has demonstrated for several decades that aircraft don’t scare the mujahideen.
  • They also report that Air Force Chief of Staff Michael Moseley says the key to dealing with China’s ASAT weapons is… “situational awareness.” Was situational awareness not a distinguishing feature of the Air Force’s Network-Centric and “Transformational” philosophy over the past decade?
  • Oh, and remember how I’ve been railing against the F-22 as a pathetic waste of time and money (see here and here)? Well, it seems the plane is little more than a deeply unfunny joke. And don’t think we could ever recoup some of the $20 billion we wasted on it, either, as it is simply not for sale even to our closest allies. Waste, waste, waste, fighting a war that hasn’t been on the horizon for sixteen years.

Around the World

  • Oooh, NATO launched an offensive against the Taliban! What, after only six months? Maybe the Brits can do better than the American raid that whoops killed six civilians, including a woman and a teenager. These things, along with the brainless poppy eradication campaign, don’t help us distinguish ourselves from the Taliban, which are still easy to kill, if not easy to uproot.
  • AFRICOM is going to secure Africa, except probably Somalia and Darfur. Those would be hard to fix.
  • 500,000 march on Istanbul, demanding a secular society, as fears rise of a yet another Army intervention in Turkey’s political process.
  • Continued protests over a Soviet memorial, in .
  • A look at the North Korean Air Force, courtesy Google Earth.
  • Kyrgyzstan will not able to vote for the daughter of its deposed President. Scandalous!
  • Oh, and reform is stillborn in Turkmenistan, much to no one’s surprise (but much to my disappointment). I lay part of the blame on George W. Bush, who has resolutely ignored our long-term strategic interests in the Caspian basin.
  • Yet another U.S. oil bribe conviction over Kazakhstan. Baker-Hughes paid $4 million in bribes to develop the massive Karachaganak natural gas field in the North Caspian. It is still small potatoes compared to the reported $78 million James Giffen paid out to Kazakh officials on behalf of several oil companies in the early 2000’s. The moral outrage here shouldn’t really stem from the bribery, which is, to be honest, SOP in much of the developing world. It is really how our courts, which handle these convictions, expect American companies to operate overseas when they can’t grease the gears. It’s not a moral judgment (bribery and corruption are clearly bad things, and if they can be eliminated, Paul Wolfowitz, they should), but a business one—American companies will not be able to compete if they can’t play on the same playing field.

Back at Home

  • We are either in a war, or we are not in a war. In a war, failures have consequences. Our own military’s refusal to take its leaders to task for inexcusable failure (Abu Ghraib, among many others) tells me they don’t really think we’re in a war. Same with Congress, which not only refuses to declare war anymore (as should be necessary before sending our troops into battle), but refuses to behave as if it is a war. In other words, I guess, despite all the rhetoric, we’re not really in a war, then? Put another way, our entire leadership, not just the generals I carp about above, are at fault for the current mess.
  • And the “War Czar”… talk about leadership failure. If NSA Steve Hadley can’t handle the wars his President started, then perhaps, rather than appointing yet another layer of bureaucracy to sit between him and the President (perhaps as a buffer or scapegoat?) he could try recommending we redeploy to better support the wars. Understaffing is the theme of war fighting with the Bush administration—assuming our fancy network-centric forces, which were designed post-Cold War to fight an advanced enemy that doesn’t exist anywhere on the globe, can jump into messy guerilla urban combat in a culture they never studied with 1/5 the number of troops their own generals say we need. From the top down, it is a fundamental failure of leadership.
  • A major blow for abstinence (lol!): Randall Tobias, head of Bush’s foreign aid programs and a staunch and vocal proponent of abstinence-only AIDS education abroad, has been caught cavorting with a bunch of whores. Kind of like Dick Morris, or anyone else who takes extremist views on sex as a cover for his own sexual mismanagement. Funny how they seem to be dropping like flies lately.
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News Brief, Pitseleh Edition

Cross-posted at The Conjecturer.

The Pentagon

  • When START stops, what happens to Prompt Global Strike? Let’s think of this question in the context of Volodiya scrapping arms control accords with Europe.
  • Rumors that the 15-month extension was a bad joke, and that soldiers are now being told to expect deployments of 16-18 months—for reducing stress, remember.
  • Secrets=fun. But we have no idea how many contractors get to have fun. It’s, err… classified.
  • Inside the Pentagon is reporting that the UnderSecDef’s plan to scrap TALON caught them by surprise. Who cancels bloated, ineffective programs at the DoD anymore?
  • My take on a nerdy argument over what constitutes the magical 5th Generation Fighter, and whether it’s even a worthwhile distinction.

Around the World

  • At is a brief exploration of what the macro-indicators of Afghanistan might… umm, indicate, and whether or not it matters.
  • Doug Bandow has a shocking idea: “to better fight terrorism we must leave Iraq.” He sees our interventionist foreign policy, almost exclusively in Muslim-majority countries, as primarily to blame for the reason most Muslims think the U.S. is attacking all of Islam. We know this to be so silly as to be barely worth responding to; as an isolationist, Bandow is inclined to advocate non-intervention. What I find more important is that perceptions matter; if so many Muslims around the world don’t see our battle as against a narrow slice of hyper-violent extremists but against their entire faith, then we are facing a fundamental failure of policy and execution. Leaving Iraq can be step one in fixing that.
  • But Petraeus says pulling out would increase violence. The problem with his approach is, the Americans there act as a unifying agent for the insurgents: the one thing Sunnis and Shia can agreed on is the utility of killing Americans. We make their job easier by staying, in other words. I don’t think there is any way to avoid bloodshed save a troop surge a good deal less pathetic than what we have now (on the order of several hundred thousand troops). We overreached in Iraq. We should fess up and do something more constructive than just dragging out American casualties until the next President withdraws anyway. Moreover, the Iraqis are certainly capable of defending themselves when they can’t go running to Momma (i.e. America).
  • An army Lt. Colonel, unfortunately named Yingling (mmmm), is accusing the general staff of lying to Congress and misleading the country when they describe Iraq. Does he mean the revelation that the military doesn’t include car bombs when it brags of “declining violence?” No—he means on a more fundamental level, beyond the kind of fact-fudging you find at any other bureaucracy (right, Lance?)… With the small distinction that when the Department of Education lies about metro vouchers, thousands of people aren’t violently murdered, and then lied about.
  • Meanwhile, I agree that the Middle East is a strategic backwater, and we are best never talking to it again. Let the dictators rise and fall as they might, let the people there determine their own futures without Westerners telling them how to settle their borders and resolve conflict.
  • We’re bickering with Azaerbaijan over the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, the site of a brutal, horrendous war with Armenia (which currently occupies the territory) in the early 90s.
  • A neat look at the decline of corruption in India.
  • Moscow and Talinn are squaring off over the status of a Soviet-era memorial (though the comparison to Bamiyan is deeply offensive for too many reasons to count). The Estonians hate Russia, and Russia hates Estonia. Don’t expect it to end pretty, though I can only hope the eventual invasion will involve this.
  • Ethiopia’s quagmire is one we actively encouraged (SOCOM has been training and collaborating with the Ethiopian military for years). It doesn’t look set to improve anytime soon. See also Roger Williams’ info-rich exploration of Somalia.
  • Depressing is the current state of imprisonment around the world. Especially when the U.S. has the highest percentage of incarcerated people, thanks to our liberty-hating drug war that treats non-violent marijuana possession the same as rape. Still doesn’t compare to Pakistan’s claim to fame: 1/3 of the 24,000 people around the world awaiting execution. I’m assuming that statistic doesn’t include the 500,000 locked away forever in North Korea’s prison camps, which is the same as a death sentence, if by starvation instead of quicker means like hanging.

Back at Home

  • Wonkette says it all in the headline: “George Tenet’s Book Absolved George Tenet.” Their summary is good too.
  • Lazy science at the FCC over violence on the teevee.
  • Related: I feel a deep pang of guilt for feeling relief that Jack Valenti is no longer alive to curb our civil rights and cripple our technological innovation in the name of a Big Media no one likes anyway. Jesse Walker has a far kinder obit, though not by much.
  • Justice, perhaps: the police officers who murdered an old woman on a bad raid have finally been charged. Radley Balko, ever true to form, still sees a way for them avoiding the punishment they deserve. On a personal note, I have to confess my opinion of our men in blue has dropped considerably over the last year as I have grown to know a number of cops. They think it’s great and/or funny that a) they can do whatever the hell they want, as their friends handle enforcement; b) it’s hilarious when teenagers are beaten with sticks; and c) it’s perfectly fine to do traffic enforcement instead of breaking up drug rings if the gangs fight back. Serve and protect went out the window a long time ago, perhaps when they began murdering innocent people for gambling on college football.
  • Don’t tell Ron Moore: someone built a flying motorcycle.
  • All girls should purchase this solar powered bikini at once. Hrm. Maybe not all girls.
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News Brief, Do The Whirlwind Edition

Cross-posted at The Conjecturer. 

The Pentagon

  • DARPA wants American snipers to have fool proof sniper scopes that are accurate out to 2000 meters. It also wants to expand its Boomerang sniper-detection system from simple location (which is itself a big achievement) to preemption. That’s cool, and both promise to dramatically improve the 4GW battlespace.
  • The Air Force continues to make its case for skarking all UAV duty from the other branches. Why, I’m not sure. Strikes me as a power grab—an especially lame one given all the Network Centric Warfare jimjaw they spew.
  • Lockheed insists it has the right product strategy, despite mismanaging its LCS program so badly their portion of it was canceled. Luckily, the Pentagon is considering a shift toward more fixed-price contracts instead of the current cost-plus contracts, a move that would force the defense contractors to shoulder more of the financial risk of research and development. To wit: fixed-price acquisition is why EDS has almost gone bankrupt over their hilariously over-cost NMCI. And they deserve it, for deliberately underbidding by several billion dollars and expecting the DoN to make up the difference. We need more of that, to force these companies into at least a semblance of responsibility.
  • A bipartisan panel has also recommended some much needed contracting reform. Finally!

Around the World

  • Rebiya Kadeer, whom I supported this year for the Nobel Peace Prize, is possibly the most hated women within the Chinese government. Her work in exposing the horrendous abuses of Uyghurs in Xinjiang have earned her Beijing’s wrath, wrath which now apparently extends to her children. To destroy her children for the crimes of their mother is beyond reprehensible. It is, to put it kindly, very North Korean of them.
  • The International Business Leaders Forum has released a How-To guide for combining the needs of the poor with growth markets. Much of it is common sense (like knowing the market you’re either catering to or trying to create), but it’s good to have it laid out. The poorest 5 billion people of the world represent a huge opportunity for business. It is high time we develop it.
  • Related: Microrate has released a report highly critical (pdf) of the role of IFIs in microfinance. Basically, the big financial institutions, eager to get in on the growing BoP market, have essentially crowded out private investors, which are then forced into much riskier loan arrangements. Now it’s not yet clear that public IFIs are better suited to risky loans (or that those loans are worth such risk), but the idea of crowding out a groundswell of private financial support for third world entrepreneurship is a troubling one.
  • Bonnie Boyd on how the treatment of journalists is a good gauge of the general human rights environment. She also has a good backgrounder on the show trial of American businessman Mark Seidenfeld on trumped up charges in Kazakhstan, and what that can also say about a country’s rights.
  • She also got a thread started on Tajikistan’s regulatory environment. It harkens me back to a post on PSD about the very same thing, and how such an ungainly regulatory environment unnecessarily strangles economic development.
  • Steve Levitt looks like he might be turning his methodologically challenged mind to tackling the incentive structures of queue discipline.
  • The PM of Somalia wants to declare victory and go home. Woops, he already is home, though the rest of his government is still locked up in Baidoa. Maybe he meant the more than 340,000 people who fled Mogadishu to escape the brutal fighting, martial law, and tank shellings could now come home, despite the continued fighting. I don’t really know what he’s saying.
  • Meanwhile, the Somali conflict spilled over into occupying Ethiopia and resulted in the shocking slaughter of 74 oil workers, some of whom were Chinese.
  • Azar Nafisi, whose book Reading Lolita in Tehran is one of my favorite memoirs, sees her homeland as deep in crisis. Assuming she’s right, we have little to fear from Tehran—its people appreciate both their newfound respect, their lack of basic dignities, and their independence. Direct intervention by Washington could upset this delicate balance that is slowly tipping the country toward eventual reform.
  • Pakistan looks set to compete with China in terms of building dams that swamp ancient Buddhist artifacts. Because they love history.

Back at Home

  • Someone should tell Al Gore and his gang of private jet environmentalists that carbon credits are worthless. Passport had more a bit back on the naivete of assuming carbon markets behave like regular markets, or are useful in any real way toward alleviating pollution.
  • So is it a scandal that federal employees are taking their subsidized metro credits and selling them on eBay? Well, yes. Though I’m ordinarily all about creating new markets to bump up value, I’m also all about not lying. These federal employees declared their intention to use public transit, then simply pocketed the money. That is probably theft. It is definitely dishonest. What’s worse, the federal agencies, themselves rather opaque to most forms of audit, can’t be bothered to even make sure the people they hand metrochecks out to work for them. Your tax dollars at work.
  • Today is the 400th anniversary of the first modern European landing in the New World, when English colonists landed at Cape Henry at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. My fine, frustrating state has quite a bit of history, for America.
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