understockedFrom xkcd

As one comedian observed, “Alcohol doesn’t resolve racial incidents, alcohol starts racial incidents.”

The Privilege Card

I worked my way through college as a security guard for a company that specialized in security for the campus area of a major flagship university. The area was simply stuffed with the children of the wealthy and connected, most of whom belonged to sororities and fraternities. Most of the security and police work revolved around controlling the excesses of the frats. I got to see how the police had to deal with people quick to claim immunity because of their membership or parentage. I saw how irritated the police got every time they had to talk to one of those little snots.

So, when I read the police report on the Gates incident I understood immediately that Gates’s mistake wasn’t  “being a black man in America,” it was this:

I then overheard Gates asking the person on the other end of his telephone call to “get the chief” and “what’s the chief’s name?” … Gates then turned to me and told me that I had no idea who I was “messing” with and I had not heard the last of it.

I can only imagine how many hundreds of times the Cambridge police have heard some arrogant little snot of a Harvard frat boy utter variants on that same claim to privilege. The Cambridge police also well know that frats only claim privilege when they know they’re in the wrong and they need to weasel out the consequences. When Gates played the privilege card like a frat snot, Officer Crowley immediately suspected that Gates was up to something and was trying to intimidate the officer into backing off and not investigating further.

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What Defines a Man?

While reading this articlee [h/t Instapundit] a thought gelled that had been forming in my mind throughout the Gates affair.

It appears that for leftists in America today, Obama is still more defined by being black than he is by being the President of the United States. They seem to assume that we all should see him as a black man before we see him in any other role. What more can a person possibly accomplish before others see him as just an individual defined by his accomplishments? He has attained the highest office in the most powerful country the world has ever seen, yet they still see his skin color first and foremost.

Sadly, Obama seems to see himself that way too.

We still have a lot of work to do.

Words Matter

Owen D Young, who served as president and chairman of GE from 1922-1939, told a story on himself (quoted in the Ida Tarbell biography) about his days as a young lawyer working for Stone & Webster. His assignment was to obtain streetcar franchises for the company in various cities, and he was particularly proud of the contract he negotiated with El Paso…it explicitly gave S&W the right to run trolley tracks “in every street, present and future of the city.”

Shortly after Young left El Paso, though, another guy–a real operator named Theodore Barnsdall–visited the city, and after paying $25000 to the owner of a tiny, mule-powered street railway (which Young had viewed as having no value other than the $50 that the mule was worth) got introduced to the city council. He also obtained a contract from the city–identical to Young’s except for the words “in the middle of every street, present and future.”

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Book Review: The Bloody White Baron

The Bloody White Baron: The Extraordinary Story of the Russian Nobleman Who Became the Last Khan of Mongolia by James Palmer

Special note: It was Lexington Green who brought this book to my attention.

The 20th Century was remarkable for its voluminous bloodshed and civilizational upheaval yet for inhuman cruelty and sheer weirdness, Baron Roman Nikolai Maximilian Ungern von Sternberg manages to stand out in a historical field crowded with dictators, terrorists, guerrillas, revolutionaries, fascists and warlords of the worst description. Biographer James Palmer has brought to life in The Bloody White Baron an enigmatic, elusive, monster of the Russian Civil War who is more easily compared to great villains of fiction than real life war criminals. Palmer’s bloodthirsty Mad Baron comes across like a militaristic version of Judge Holden from Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian or perhaps more like Hannibal Lecter with a Mongol Horde.

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The USA/China Relationship: Obama’s Conflict of Interest

For years we’ve been selling China a lot of our bonds. We need the money and they want a safe place to put their money. Some people said that we were at their mercy, but really we had them by the balls. A big borrower always has leverage against his main creditor, because creditors want their money back and are reluctant to do anything that might interfere with the big borrower’s earning ability.

Since our government is increasing its spending substantially, and borrowing to cover much of the new spending, we need China more than we used to. If we can’t sell more bonds we will have to print even more money or raise tax rates even higher than is already planned. Either course of action would eventually be politically costly, perhaps ruinous, for the Obama adminstration. So Treasury Secretary Geithner has been spending a lot of time trying to persuade the Chinese to buy more US bonds.

I think it’s reasonable to ask what price our country will pay in exchange for Chinese financial cooperation (we are asking them to take more risk, after all), and whether the Obama administration has a conflict of interest. Obama can do things to benefit the Chinese government — such as by muting actions that we might otherwise take in response to China’s military expansion or its hostile behavior toward our ally Taiwan or its human-rights abuses or its lack of cooperation on North Korea — that will be costly for us but whose costs will not be obvious for years. Obama has a strong political incentive to get his expensive programs passed. Could his personal political interest be allowed to trump the national interest? It might if the rest of us don’t pay attention.

(BTW, we’ve also been selling a lot of our bonds to Gulf oil states. Might there be some worrisome quid pro quos there as well?)



In October 2004, I visited the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC. One of the exhibits there is a Minuteman III ballistic missile. It’s not a very impressive-looking object, and I hadn’t paid much attention to it on previous visits. But this time, I stopped in front of it for a while.

It was only about a month since the terrorist attack on a school in Russia, in which 186 children were murdered. And it struck me that had this missile ever flown, it would quite possibly have killed thousands of Russian children very much like those who were murdered by the terrorists.

I am not a pacifist or a nuclear disarmer, and I am not making a moral equivalence argument here; not in any way suggesting that American missileers are somehow similar to child-murdering terrorists. At the dawn of the age of strategic airpower, George Orwell summed up the situation: “If someone drops a bomb on your mother, go and drop two bombs on his mother.”

While the argument that the only defense against air attack was retaliation proved to be somewhat overstated during WWII, in which radar-directed fighters and AA guns did provide some meaningful defense against bombing, the argument was quite true throughout most of the Cold War era, given the existence of unstoppable ballistic missiles. I think that as a country we did the right thing in building and deploying Minuteman–and Atlas, and Polaris, and Trident, and the rest of them. But we must never forget that these things are the instruments of nightmares, and words like “deterrence” and “nuclear umbrella” and “massive retaliation” should never be allowed to hide the underlying realities.

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Xenophon Roundtable: Revised Schedule


The revised schedule is for our roundtable on Xenophon’s Anabasis of Cyrus is as follows:

Week of September 13, 2009: Posts re: Books I, II, III and IV
Week of September 20, 2009: Posts re: Books V, VI and VII
Week of September 27, 2009: “Wrap up” Posts: Opinions, Analysis, Conclusions.

Late in August I will post the list of contributors.

I am starting to think about what I am going to write, having recently finished my first read-through of the Anabasis.

I have been looking at two books on background, which I am finding of interest: Xenophon’s Retreat: Greece, Persia, and the End of the Golden Age by Robin Waterfield, and Xenophon and the Art of Command by Godfrey Hutchinson. I also hope to read at least some portions of Xenophon’s The Education of Cyrus, also translated by Prof. Wayne Ambler.

(I linked earlier to this review of the Anabasis from Military Review. StrategyPage has a positive review of the Ambler translation here (though it manages to get his translation methodology precisely backward)).

ALSO: A “distant early warning” for our readers. The current thinking is that we will have roundtable discussion of The Federalist Papers in the Winter of 2010, and we will have a roundtable discussion of selections from the Arthashastra of Kautilya (The Clausewitz, Sun Tzu and Machiavelli of India all in one) in the Fall of 2010.

Two good articles about Kautilya’s Arthashastra.

Book Review — Part 2 of 2 — Nisbett, Intelligence and How to Get It

Return to part 1/2

Chapter 8

(Advantage Asia?) is a 180 degree turn from the previous chapters. The author switches from looking at kids facing the toughest of odds in getting effective education and a supportive environment for the enhancement of IQ, to the racial group most identified with brilliance in modern US education. Talking about Asian cognition is also a return to Nisbett’s scientific specialty as a cognitive/social psychologist.

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Book Review — Part 1 of 2 — Nisbett, Intelligence and How to Get It

Nisbett, R.E., Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count, Norton, 2009. 304 pp.

[The publisher kindly provided a copy of this title for review]

Jump to part 2/2

Warning: 10,000+ words.

One of my side-interests is cognitive psychology, particularly cognitive biases in medical decision-making. Back in 2006, I stumbled over some research on how Asians and Westerners place very different emphases on objects when evaluating the world. The material was intriguing enough that I bought and cb reviewed) a copy of U Michigan social psychologist Richard Nisbett’s The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently…And Why (2003). Since then I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the history of science in East and West, and I found “Geography” very useful as a basis for thinking about past and future trends in global scientific culture. The subject showed up again indirectly in a cb review of Shutting Out the Sun.

My purchase of “Geography” earned me a pre-publication nudge from Amazon on the Professor’s latest book, which is different in subject matter from his earlier publication. Intelligence is a cognitive/social psychologist’s look at the educational and social environment leading to success in current American culture. It appears to be a plain-language summary of his NIH/NSF-sponsored research work on IQ/race and education. A less sexed-up title for the book might therefore be “The Role of Environment in American IQ and Accomplishment.”

Needless to say, the topic is massive so Intelligence spends a great deal of time recounting earlier research on the topic of IQ and race, academic achievement, career accomplishment, and the success of American secondary educational programs. In its academic variant, my guess is that the material was larded with footnotes and statistical detail. In Intelligence, the author take pity on the reader and adjusts the book’s content to describe research in plain English, and the impact or influence of potential activities on IQ scores in terms in of SD (standard deviation) or percentiles of student achievement. Appendices handle statistical definitions, a professional-level discussion of race and IQ, and a consideration of multivariate analysis. As noted, however, the book covers at lot of territory so my goal in this review is to mention the book’s topics (to tweak reader interest) rather than try to reiterate the author’s careful summaries and lucid assessments of the scientific literature. In other words, don’t take my word for it when it comes to the subtleties of research on particular subjects. Read the original, and the underlying articles.

The challenge, as with all social science research, is identifying the “confounding factors” that can muddy the results of research on IQ and subsequent individual success. The effective use of “controls” in a research program will improve confidence in the results. Otherwise, scientists are comparing apples and oranges without reaching any useful conclusions. Nisbett goes out of his way to give a sense of whether the research he reviews is misguided, inadequate, or merely suggestive without sufficient followup.

The Acknowledgements section of the book mentions John Brockman and Katinka Matson. This is a very good sign.Those two individuals are literary representatives for a stellar cast of scientists currently writing for the general public. Intelligence, despite being an overview of a vast amount of social science research, is very well written and edited. You’ll not find a better use of introductory, summary and concluding materials in each chapter to keep the reader oriented and motivated.

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Our Continuing Sad Problem With Hate Crimes

Via Instapundit comes a story of a hate crime against a black family in Austin, Tx:

The brick, thrown through a 4-year-old boy’s bedroom window, read “Keep Westside White. Keep Westside Strong.”
The homeowner, Barbara Frische, who is black, said she has lived in the home for 10 years.
“It’s the first time anything like this has ever happened to me,” she said.
Police have not classified this incident as a hate crime, said Austin Police Sgt. Richard Stresing, because hate crimes target an individual specifically because of an identifying characteristic, like race. Police say the incident has been classified as criminal mischief and deadly conduct.

Honestly, every time I think we’ve made progress in Texas on race relations, something like this comes along to prove me wrong. How can the police not see this as a hate crime? You have a message advocating racial segregation tossed through the window of a black family who had the temerity to move into a historically all-white area of the city.

This is why African Americans have such a hard time believing that hate-crime laws will be fairly enforced and aren’t just some kind of legal fiction intended to single them out for punishment and to stigmatize them as a group. This is especially true when you consider that many people in the law and academia hold to the belief that racism and therefore hate crimes are attributes solely of African American culture. When you have such an intellectual framework, how can African Americans trust that hate-crime laws will be enforced fairly?

Clearly, America still has a lot of work to do.

[Update: It’s pointed out to me that I may have made a typo or two when I copied the quote from the original article. I’ll fix it later but in the meantime make sure to read the original before commenting.]

Turtle Skeleton, Florida Everglades

Turtle Skeleton, Florida Everglades

Penumbra Obliterated

I’ve got a question for any of our readers that happen to be lawyers.

Free access to abortion services appears to be a shibboleth of the Left that they hold particularly dear. That, at least, is the unmistakable conclusion one must draw when considering the actions of the Democrats.

For example, the abortion question was at the forefront of the news all during the Bush administration. Just about every time the President nominated a jurist to fill a vacancy on a court bench, it seems that the Democrats wanted to spend most of their time during the confirmation hearings endlessly grilling the potential judge on their views concerning abortion. If memory serves, it started with Priscilla Owen, who had to wait through four years of wrangling and filibuster before her nomination ever came to a vote! In fact, she would probably still be stuck in confirmation hearing limbo if it wasn’t for the so-called Gang of 14.

There were other issues that got the Dem’s fur up, but it seemed to me that the abortion issue certainly took center stage more often than any other.

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You heard it here first.

How soon until the news media starts investigating, harassing and ridiculing Police Sergeant James Crowley, and his wife and family?

Obama’s media allies defend him by trying to impose personal misery, and if possible, professional destruction, on anyone who crosses him.

Obama chose to get involved in this, so it is about him now.

Sgt. Crowley and his family are next.


UPDATE: While some of the facts are not yet in — statements from other witnesses for example, which I have not seen, though they may be on the Net somewhere — it appears for now that the police officer was doing his job and that Prof. Gates was out of line to the point that he was within the scope of the Massachusetts disorderly conduct statute. I base this on the police report, in large part, as well as the known facts, i.e. that there was a report of an attempted break-in, that there had been break-ins in the neighborhood, that Gates was locked out and trying to get into his own house, that the police arrived to investigate, and (some speculation) that Gates was probably in a foul mood, sensitive to real or imaginary racial slights, and failed to exercise self-control. Do cops lie on police reports? Yes, some do, from time to time. Do cops act abusively, or condescendingly or blusteringly? Of course, we have all seen this from time to time. Do we have any basis to say this officer did anything wrong or inappropriate? Only if you accept what Gates says and discount the police report to zero. I am inclined to see the conflicting stories as at best a wash, with Gates’ story making less sense overall. Were there witnesses to this episode? Yes, apparently there were. Can they confirm or rebut what was in the police report versus what Gates says happened? Maybe. Will this investigation continue? Apparently not formally. Will the news media keep it alive as a controversy? Likely. Will we get more clarity, or only heat and not light? Too soon to say. I am open to contrary facts, but I am not seeing them yet. So far, I see no basis to assume that Sgt. Crowley was (1) racist, (2) stupid, or (3) abusing his authority.

My point is that since Obama inserted himself into this, I predict his allies will rally to him and use all available means to smear and intimidate and harass someone who has found himself adverse to Obama.

UPDATE II: Mr. Gates lives in a city with a black mayor, a state with a black governor and a country with a black President.

Be Afraid

Many Unhappy Returns, by Charles Rossotti, is the story of Rossotti’s experiences as IRS Commissioner, which position he held from 1997-2002–having previously spent his career in the private sector and been cofounder & chairman of American Management Systems Inc. I picked the book up for a dollar at a library book sale, thinking it might offer an interesting case study on the challenges of managing and improving a very large bureaucratic organization.

And I’m sure it does. On the very first pages of the book, though, are some stories which are very relevant to our current political situation.

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A Parable of Health Care “Reform”

Writing on the health care policy debate, Megan McArdle observes [h/t Instapundit]:

Still, I think you have to establish a sort of minimal cutoff below which it’s better to wait for a better opportunity than do something NOW!!!

By coincidence, this morning some anonymous coward using a remailer sent me the following rant:

Your latest post is vacuous and says nothing. In fact you misconstrue, as do so many, what the health plan on the table in Congress is all about. In fairness, at least be objective in what it says…Innuendo is but an Italian suppository, and the nay saying continues, endlessly. Say something positive for a change. Offer a program, an idea, a proposal rather than simply sniping like a kid in an elementary school playground. [emp added]

Leftists very commonly assert that that non-leftists have to offer a fully fleshed-out alternative to the status quo before they can offer criticisms of the current faddish idea of the Left. When you try to explain to them that the validity of an idea has nothing to do with the validity of any competing ideas, they stare at you blankly. Therefore, to try and explain matters to leftists, I offer the following parable.

Three friends, Bob, Lefty and Righty are standing on the edge of a dam’s overflow channel watching the swirling, churning water flowing out of the dam in the concrete channel 30ft below.

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Why Gratitude Is Appropriate

Humility and gratitude ground us. These, of course, are feelings unfamiliar to revolutionaries – those who would destroy the institutions of the past, who see in them nothing of value, in their heroes nothing to be esteemed, in their rituals and duties nothing to be respected. Listening to Obama drone on tonight, my husband and I found ourselves wandering around the house, too jumpy to sit.

But gratitude grounds – and is often an appropriate feeling, even as we renovate. I’ve seldom liked my doctors. And, sure, I figure they do more tests than they need. But I’m grateful, nonetheless. They do those tests because they can, because they may be sued, because they are paid, but most often because they want to know what’s wrong, what’s working. The whole world rides on the rails our procedures, machines, drugs, knowledge lay for them. Newt Gingrich speaks of potential cures for Alzheimer’s. As more of us have aged, we see such a cure would save incredible heart break but also incredible costs. And it would increase productivity from those with a life time of experience and thought. But Gingrich speaks with that zest, that optimism that characterizes the self-reliant, the libertarian right. And it isn’t that we can’t see huge changes in a short time as disease after disease has lost some of its power.

Without gratitude, we don’t have the context for a buoyant “I can.” In Obama’s mouth the sentiment seems thin. In the mouth of a doer, it resonates. Instead of standing with a leader’s pride in his country – its past and its people – he speaks of leveling and of the choices of others that are better. Sure, medicine, indeed about everything in our society, could stand improvement. And comparison with others is useful, sensible. But if we don’t acknowledge what is good than how are we going to pare away what is bad? Destroying both the institutions of the church and of the state didn’t lead to all that idyllic a life under Napoleon.

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Unions Are Grounded in Violence

This story about French union members threatening to blow up their factory if their demands are not met [h/t Instapundit] lays bare the ugly truth about unions. The French union members are simply reminding the French people of where their union’s true power springs from. The power of unions does not come from warm and fuzzy class solidarity and negotiation but rather from the willingness of union members to destroy and kill in order to further their own economic self-interest.

Back in the 1930s the government took over the role of forcing union demands on everyone else, so we have forgotten the ugly, violent, racist roots of union power. We’ve allowed the unions to sell us a mythology about unions being little people fighting the big and powerful.

In reality, unions function by hurting everyone outside the union, especially the poor and powerless.

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The Midas Touch

Some months ago, back when it seemed that he might actually matter in some small way, I was talking to a Ron Paul supporter. He angrily demanded to know why I was amused that anyone would take Dr. Paul seriously.

I said that one of the many, many crazy plans Dr. Paul had for this country was to move us back to the gold standard, and I pointed out that China mined more gold every year than the US. While the US was in the top three, Russia was not that far behind. Did anyone in their right mind want to simply hand that kind of power to Russia and China? What happened if they cut back on production, and the gold supply dried up?

Since that conversation, China has moved into first place so far as gold production. I never thought Dr. Paul had even the ghost of a chance, but it is certainly a good thing he didn’t.

But remember how I said that the reason why it was a bad idea was because China and Russia might collude to squeeze off the gold supply? Looks like Obama’s policies might be doing something similar.

Follow that last link and read how a gold investor thinks that confiscation is now possible. Hey, it happened under FDR!

Hillary vs the Industrial Revolution

Saw a snippet of an interview last night in which Secretary Clinton was saying that: When America (and also Europe, presumably) built all those coal plants and other fossil-fuel-based infrastructure, we just didn’t know what a bad thing pollution was. With the pretty obvious implied mesage to India being: YOU, on the other hand, have no excuse.

Set aside for the moment the second part of the above and focus on the first part. Suppose that, beginning around 1800, we had known everything that we know now (and think we know) about pollution, the possible effects of CO2, etc. What does she think we should have done?

As factories began to emerge, should we have restricted them to those locations in which they could have been powered directly by waterwheels, in order to avoid the use of coal-burning steam engines?

Should we have similarly restricted the use of electricity to areas in which waterpower was feasible? (Bear in mind that during the great age of electrification there were no photovoltaic cells available for solar power generation…also, of course, may environmentalists are almost as opposed to large-scale hydro projects as they are to coal plants.)

Should we have continued to rely on the horse and the mule for transportation? (Remember, without a robust electrical grid, electric cars are not an option…indeed, without fossil-fuel-based power, even electric streetcars would have been out of the question in most places.)

For an individual with Hillary’s wealth and connections, of course, things wouldn’t have been too bad under this scenario. Even if clothing cost 5X what it does today, for instance, she would surely have been able to afford everything she needs. And I imagine that even if fossil-fuel-generated electricity had been banned for the masses, people like Clinton and Gore would have been able to get special permits for coal-fired generators for their homes. (At least if people like them were running the government.

But a large and affluent middle class–on which the Democrats say they place such value–would never have come into existence.