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  • Archive for December, 2010

    Interesting Metaphor

    Posted by David Foster on 14th December 2010 (All posts by )

    The political class as copper thieves

    (via Instapundit)

    Posted in Politics, USA | Comments Off on Interesting Metaphor

    A Plague of Sticky Governors?

    Posted by David Foster on 12th December 2010 (All posts by )

    governor

    The object shown is a governor for an engine. This device was invented by James Watt for use with his steam engine, and has been applied, in one form or another, ever since. It allowed the engine’s use in applications where precise speed control was essential, notably textile manufacturing, and was an invention of great economic and conceptual importance.

    It strikes me that the role played by the legal profession and the financial industry is analogous to the role of an engine governor. Like the governor, law and finance are control systems; they are essential enablers and regulators of the activities of the rest of the economy. But also like the governor, the percentage of total system resources that they themselves consume should be reasonably small.

    What would we think of a governor that scarfed up 30% of the horsepower of the engine that it was serving? Most likely, we would conclude that it was either poorly designed or inadequately maintained, or both.

    There is no question that the legal and financial industries are both vital. Contracts must be drafted, disputes must be adjudicated, and capital must be allocated effectively. But the numbers of people in these industries, and the share of national income devoted to their compensation–along with related expenses such as buildings and computer systems–is perhaps excessive.

    For discussion:

    1)Would you agree that the legal and finance industries presently represent a more-than-optimal share of the overall economy?

    2)If so, what factors have led to this situation? In particular, to what extent is it a function of market failure versus a result of unwise government policy?

    3)What, if anything, should be done to correct the situation?

    Posted in Business, Civil Society, Economics & Finance, Law, Politics, USA | 11 Comments »

    Best and Highest Purpose

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 12th December 2010 (All posts by )

    On my Direct TV there is a channel called “Palladium” which has music videos and concerts in high-definition and from time to time I’ll pass through and see something that catches my eye. They had a concert from the band “Buckcherry” that I recorded and watched because “Lit Up” is one of the best party songs ever recorded and they had some other good ones including “Crazy Bitch” which brought the band back to life (they were on hiatus without much of a future but that song immediately catapulted them back into the spotlight).

    As for their front man, Josh Todd, when I see him it reminds me of philosophical discussions usually at late night bars of why people, generally girls, are making terrible choices or acting in a reckless manner. My answer usually is that “Plan B for them wasn’t to become a rocket scientist”, basically saying that they are reaching for the stars in their own manner.

    As for this guy, is there ANY other higher purpose for him except to be a rock and roll singer? He is skinny, an ex-addict, and covered from head to toe with tattoos. He LIVES the rock and roll lifestyle, at least from the perspective of someone that just sees him up on stage.

    The problem is that there are about 5 or so spots that can support a decent lifestyle and about 1 million people trying to attain one of those spots. I need to quote from my favorite source for actually-pretty-true-news, The Onion:

    Alternate-Universe James Hetfield Named Taco Bell Employee Of The Month

    You can’t really top that. According to Taleb (in a book review I need to write up someday) probably no one has gotten luckier than Hetfield; in a million other universes he ends up (at best) as employee of the month at Taco Bell; remember that this guy was an insane alcoholic for decades and only in the Rock and Roll business is that tolerated for so long.

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Humor, Music | 4 Comments »

    Yearly Religious Memory Dump

    Posted by Dan from Madison on 12th December 2010 (All posts by )

    Warning – long, rambling personal narrative follows.

    Last night I went to the Christmas program at the school that my kids attend. They attend a Catholic school. My family is not Catholic.

    The kids, especially my older one, have been asking if they can turn Catholic. This is natural, being immersed in that environment and it is fine with me. My wife may turn Catholic as well. I told her I was good with it as long as they don’t mind that she is married to a non Catholic person – I have no intention to ever be Catholic.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Education, Personal Narrative, Religion | 31 Comments »

    Contemporary Leftism Nailed

    Posted by Shannon Love on 11th December 2010 (All posts by )

    AndrewX, commenting on this Ed Driscoll post [h/t Instapundit] about the runaway emotional rage of the left, characterizes the contemporary left as:

    Hawkeye Pierce became Frank Burns, and the stick up his hindquarters seems even bigger then it was back in the day.

    That just nails it. Today’s left are have all of Frank Burns’s attributes: they are arrogant moral scolds and hypocrites of the highest order.

    Just remember, lefties: political and cultural suicide is painless.

    Posted in Leftism | 13 Comments »

    The power of network visualization

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 11th December 2010 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit ]

    We’ve been having an intriguing discussion recently in the comments on Zenpundit about mapping / modeling complex situations in a way that leaves us humans more liable to come to nuanced understandings and less liable to unintended consequences, and one point that keeps on cropping up is the need to pare down the number of nodes in our mapping without losing sight of the subtleties…

    I was thus delighted to find, as I was doing my morning trawl of usual and unusual news sources, that Glenn Beck had come out with his estimate of how many Muslim terrorists there are in the world (10% of the global Muslim population, ie 157 million), Fareed Zakaria had refuted him — and there was even a helpful Silobreaker network diagram to show me how the relevant nodes under discussion fit together:

    Beck Muslims and Brewery

    I was delighted to see that (Mormon) Glenn Beck is more closely associated with (Muslim) Rep. Keith Ellison than he is with terrorists, and sorry to note that Beck’s Brewery and Islam are somehow linked… But naturally, once I had seen this much I wanted to drill down even deeper — so I entered the appropriate keywords at Silobreaker and found this:

    silobreaker beck islam

    You’ll see that Beck’s link with Al Qaeda is, thankfully, a weak one. And I think you’ll agree with me that even shifting from a six node to an eight node graph considerably ups the sophistication of analysis required to fully comprehend the issues portrayed.

    *

    In any case, I thought it might be appropriate to post Silobuster’s more detailed map of the current situation with WikiLeaks here:

    Wikileaks Silobreaker

    All becomes clear, eh?

    I particularly like the node labeled “Gland” (it’s almost hidden but not quite, you’ll find it lower right, between PayPal and Twitter)– that might be the one I’d zero in on to get a fuller appreciation of the complexities of the situation.

    And for the record, this post is an example of British “humor” — or as we prefer to call it, “dry wit”.

    Posted in Beck-O-Lanche, Britain, Diversions, Humor, Islam, Miscellaneous, Terrorism, That's NOT Funny | 3 Comments »

    The crisis of the intellectual

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 11th December 2010 (All posts by )

    I was directed to an excellent post by Walter Russell Mead today. It is on the subject of the American social model and the coming era of tumultuous social unrest as the old welfare state model collapses. Europe is already seeing this collapse as nations like Greece face bankruptcy and England deals with the consequences of severe cutbacks in social spending to avoid it.

    The US is facing similar economic consequences if the level of spending is not addressed soon. The 2010 elections show that the people recognize the crisis but the “political class” seems less concerned.

    “It’s telling to note that while 65% of mainstream voters believe cutting spending is more important, 72% of the Political Class say the primary emphasis should be on deficit reduction,” Rasmussen said.

    “Deficit reduction” is code for raising taxes. Spending is heavily embedded in the culture of the political class.

    Mead is concerned that the intellectual demographic, those with advanced degrees and careers denominated by thinking rather than doing, is unable to cope with the new situation.

    There’s a lot of work ahead to enable the United States to meet the coming challenges. I’m reasonably confident that we remain the best placed large society on earth to make the right moves. Our culture of enterprise and risk-taking is still strong; a critical mass of Americans still have the values and the characteristics that helped us overcome the challenges of the last two hundred years.

    But when I look at the problems we face, I worry. It’s not just that some of our cultural strengths are eroding as both the financial and intellectual elites rush to shed many of the values that made the country great. And it’s not the deficit: we can and will deal with that if we get our policies and politics right. And it’s certainly not the international competition: our geopolitical advantages remain overwhelming and China, India and the EU all face challenges even more daunting than ours and they lack our long tradition of successful, radical but peaceful reform and renewal.

    No, what worries me most today is the state of the people who should be the natural leaders of the next American transformation: our intellectuals and professionals. Not all of them, I hasten to say: the United States is still rich in great scholars and daring thinkers. A few of them even blog.

    His concern is that the intellectuals seem caught in a mind set that goes back to the 19th century and the Progressive Era.

    Since the late nineteenth century most intellectuals have identified progress with the advance of the bureaucratic, redistributionist and administrative state. The government, guided by credentialed intellectuals with scientific training and values, would lead society through the economic and political perils of the day. An ever more powerful state would play an ever larger role in achieving ever greater degrees of affluence and stability for the population at large, redistributing wealth to provide basic sustenance and justice to the poor. The social mission of intellectuals was to build political support for the development of the new order, to provide enlightened guidance based on rational and scientific thought to policymakers, to administer the state through a merit based civil service, and to train new generations of managers and administrators.

    It’s interesting that one of the comments, a lengthy one, exactly restates this issue but supports this model and argues with Mead that it is still superior.

    Second, there are the related questions of interest and class. Most intellectuals today still live in a guild economy. The learned professions – lawyers, doctors, university professors, the clergy of most mainline denominations, and (aspirationally anyway) school teachers and journalists – are organized in modern day versions of the medieval guilds. Membership in the guilds is restricted, and the self-regulated guilds do their best to uphold an ideal of service and fairness and also to defend the economic interests of the members. The culture and structure of the learned professions shape the world view of most American intellectuals today, but high on the list of necessary changes our society must make is the restructuring and in many cases the destruction of the guilds. Just as the industrial revolution broke up the manufacturing guilds, the information revolution today is breaking up the knowledge guilds.

    He goes on to criticize medicine as a guild but I think he is unaware of the rapid changes going on in medicine today. The image of the family GP is quickly shifting to the multispecialty group with primary care provided by nurse practitioners and physician assistants. Those who want a personal relationship with a primary care physician, or even a favored specialist, will increasingly be required to pay cash for the privilege as many doctors who want to continue this model of practice are dropping out of insurance and Medicare contracts because of the micromanagement and poor reimbursement.

    In most of our learned professions and knowledge guilds today, promotion is linked to the needs and aspirations of the guild rather than to society at large. Promotion in the academy is almost universally linked to the production of ever more specialized, theory-rich (and, outside the natural sciences, too often application-poor) texts, pulling the discourse in one discipline after another into increasingly self-referential black holes. We suffer from ‘runaway guilds’: costs skyrocket in medicine, the civil service, education and the law in part because the imperatives of the guilds and the interests of their members too often triumph over the needs and interests of the wider society.

    Almost everywhere one looks in American intellectual institutions there is a hypertrophy of the theoretical, galloping credentialism and a withering of the real. In literature, critics and theoreticians erect increasingly complex structures of interpretation and reflection – while the general audience for good literature diminishes from year to year. We are moving towards a society in which a tiny but very well credentialed minority obsessively produces arcane and self referential (but carefully peer reviewed) theory about texts that nobody reads.

    Once again, costs in medicine are a subject by themselves but the solution does not lie in controlling doctors’ incomes. With respect to the academic institutions, I have personal experience here and will describe some of it. The Humanities have been hollowed out by a trend to both politicize and to leave the subject behind as “critical thinking” goes on to analysis that has little to do with it. The Sokol Hoax is but one example.

    The Sokal affair (also known as Sokal’s hoax) was a publishing hoax perpetrated by Alan Sokal, a physics professor at New York University. In 1996, Sokal submitted an article to Social Text, an academic journal of postmodern cultural studies. The submission was an experiment to test the magazine’s intellectual rigor and, specifically, to learn if such a journal would “publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if it (a) sounded good and (b) flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions.”[1]

    The hoax precipitated a furor but did not result in much improvement in such publications. My daughter had personal experience when her freshman courses in English Composition and American History Since 1877 both contained numerous examples of political and “social justice” alteration of the subject matter. For example, she was taught that the pioneers in the west survived by “learning to live like the Native Americans.” The fact is that the pioneers were mostly farmers and ranchers and the Native American tribes of the southwest were hunter gatherer societies who did not use agriculture or animal husbandry. She was also taught that the “Silent Majority” of the 1960s were white people who rejected the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Thus they were racists. Even Wikipedia, no conservative source, disagrees:

    The term was popularized (though not first used) by U.S. President Richard Nixon in a November 3, 1969, speech in which he said, “And so tonight—to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans—I ask for your support.”[1] In this usage it referred to those Americans who did not join in the large demonstrations against the Vietnam War at the time, who did not join in the counterculture, and who did not participate in public discourse. Nixon along with many others saw this group as being overshadowed in the media by the more vocal minority.

    She has since transferred to another college.

    The foundational assumptions of American intellectuals as a group are firmly based on the assumptions of the progressive state and the Blue Social Model. Those who run our government agencies, our universities, our foundations, our mainstream media outlets and other key institutions cannot at this point look the future in the face. The world is moving in ways so opposed to their most hallowed assumptions that they simply cannot make sense of it. They resist blindly and uncreatively and, unable to appreciate the extraordinary prospects for human liberation that this change can bring, they are incapable of creative and innovative response.

    I think this is the source of the “media bias” so prominently referred to by the Right and by many who are not politically focused. This is why talk radio and Fox News have been such huge successes to the consternation of the political class and their supporters. Charles Krauthammer famously said, “Rupert Murdoch (owner of Fox News) found a niche market that contained 50% of the population.”

    The Tea Parties are another manifestation of the frustration of the general population with the political class but also with the intellectual class that seems to be wedded to the first. The university community is, at least in the non-science segment of it, increasingly isolated from the concerns of the society that supports them. CalTech has for many years had a Humanities program to expose science and engineering students to culture. Unfortunately, a student in a large university will find much less culture and much more politics in Humanities departments these days.

    A couple of other blog posts are worth reading on this subject. One is here and the other is here. They are both worth reading in full.

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Big Government, Civil Society, Economics & Finance, Education, Entrepreneurship, Health Care, Libertarianism, Medicine, Political Philosophy, Politics, Society | 14 Comments »

    Anhinga Trail

    Posted by Jonathan on 11th December 2010 (All posts by )

    My cousin was visiting and wanted to see the Everglades, so we drove to the southern entrance of Everglades National Park and walked on the Anhinga Trail. Nice place — easy to get to and the scenery and wildlife are always interesting.

    The weather was unusually cold and wet but sometimes cold and wet is OK (you don’t need bug repellent or sunscreen). Additional photos follow below the “Read the rest” link…

    anhinga

    Anhinga Double-crested Cormorant

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Diversions, Environment, Photos | 8 Comments »

    FIFA And the Greens

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 10th December 2010 (All posts by )

    FIFA is the international body that selects the host city for the Football (Soccer, to us) World Cup. Recently they made the decision to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.

    Soccer is huge in Europe, as are Green mandates and an obsession with global warming among the intellectual class. Nuclear and coal plants are routinely pilloried in the press and there is a large investment in alternative energy as well as the purchase of carbon offsets.

    In reviewing the Russian award, from wikipedia:

    “The Russian bid proposes 13 host cities and 16 stadiums, thus exceeding FIFA’s minimum requirement. Three of the 16 stadiums would be renovated, and 13 would be newly constructed.”

    Let’s think about the vast amounts of resources and construction that will be needed to build these soccer stadiums, especially since they aren’t needed today (they have obviously gotten along fine without them for decades) when there are a multitude of stadiums that already exist that could be used throughout the rest of Europe. All of this construction represents a waste and you’d think that the recycling collectors and global warming zealots would raise a stink about this.

    Even worse is the 2022 bid award to Qatar. While Qatar recognizes that these permanent stadiums aren’t needed and plans to donate portions of the five stadiums being built to other countries after the game, the stadiums will be built with some sort of outdoor air-conditioning technology needed in order to bring down the daytime temperature into something that spectators can stand. I can’t imagine how outdoor air-conditioning on this scale can be remotely environmentally friendly, and that additional power generation capacity will be needed in order to meet this need.

    It would seem that the best way to conserve resources would be to utilize existing capacity rather than to build new capacity, from scratch. Or maybe that just applies to things less important than soccer.

    Posted in Europe, Sports | 5 Comments »

    Books by Bloggers

    Posted by David Foster on 10th December 2010 (All posts by )

    Celia Hayes, who blogs as Sgt Mom, has a new book coming out in April: Daughter of Texas, which she describes as: A drama of a woman’s life in Texas, before the cattle drives, before the Alamo, before the legends were born!.

    She’s running a special promotion: From now until January 1, 2011, anyone who buys a copy of any of her other books will be eligible for a drawing to win a free advance copy of Daughter of Texas.

    Previous Books by Bloggers post

    Posted in Book Notes, History, USA | Comments Off on Books by Bloggers

    WikiLeaks: Critical Foreign Dependencies

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 9th December 2010 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit ]

    The most interesting part of the WikiLeaks-posted State Department Request for Information: Critical Foreign Dependencies, it seems to me, is the part that ties in with Zen’s recent post Simplification for Strategic Leverage.

    Zen referenced Eric Berlow‘s recent TED talk to the effect that sometimes a complex network can be made effectively simple by reducing it to the graph of nodes and links within one, two or three degrees of the node you care about and wish to influence.

    “Simplicity often lies on the other side of complexity”, Dr Berlow says, and “The more you step back, embrace complexity, the better chance you have of finding simple answers, and it’s often different than the simple answer that you started with.”

    *

    This resonates neatly with a few things I’ve been thinking and talking about for some time now.

    1. There’s the need for visualization tools that don’t operate with as many nodes as there are data points in a database like Starlight — I’ve been wanting to reduce the conceptual “load” that analysts or journos face from thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of nodes, to the five, seven, maybe ten or twelve nodes that the human mind can comfortably work with:

    What I’m aiming for is a way of presenting the conflicting human feelings and understandings present in a single individual, or regarding a given topic in a small group, in a conceptual map format, with few enough nodes that the human mind can fairly easily see the major parallelisms and disjunctions, as an alternative to the linear format, always driving to its conclusion, that the white paper represents. Not as big as a book, therefore, let alone as vast as an enormous database that requires complex software like Starlight to graphically represent it, and not solely quantitative… but something you could sketch out on a napkin, showing nodes and connections, in a way that would be easily grasped and get some of the human and contextual side of an issue across.

    2. There’s the fact that the cause is typically non-obvious from the effect. In the words of Jay Forrester, the father of stocks and flows modeling:

    From all normal personal experience, one learns that cause and effect are closely related in time and space. A difficulty or failure of the simple system is observed at once. The cause is obvious and immediately precedes the consequence. But in complex systems, all of these facts become fallacies. Cause and effect are not related in either time or space… the complex system is far more devious and diabolical than merely being different from the simple systems with which we have experience. Though it is truly different, it appears to be the same. In a situation where coincident symptoms appear to be causes, a person acts to dispel the symptoms. But the underlying causes remain. The treatment is either ineffective or actually detrimental. With a high degree of confidence we can say that the intuitive solutions to the problems of complex social systems will be wrong most of the time.

    3. There’s the need to map the critical dependencies of the world, which became glaringly obvious to me when we were trying to figure out the likely ripple effects that a major Y2K rollover glitch – or panic – might cause.

    Don Beck of the National Values Center / Spiral Dynamics Group captured the possibility nicely when he characterized Y2K as “like a lightening bolt: when it strikes and lights up the sky, we will see the contours of our social systems.” Well, the lightning struck and failed to strike, a team from the Mitre Corporation produced a voluminous report on what the material and social connectivity of the world boded in case of significant Y2K computer failures, we got our first major glimpse of the world weave, and very few of the possible cascading effects actually came to pass.

    I still think there was a great deal to be gleaned there — as I’m quoted as saying here, I’m of the opinion that: “a Y2K lessons learned might be a very valuable project, and even more that we could benefit from some sort of grand map of global interdependencies” – and agree with Tom Barnett, who wrote in The Pentagon’s New Map:

    Whether Y2K turned out to be nothing or a complete disaster was less important, research-wise, than the thinking we pursued as we tried to imagine – in advance – what a terrible shock to the system would do to the United States and the world in this day and age.

    4. That such a mapping will necessarily criss-cross back and forth across the so-called cartesian divide between body & mind (materiel and morale, wars and rumors of wars, banks and panics):

    You will find I favor quotes and anecdotes as nodes in my personal style of mapping — which lacks the benefits of quantitative modeling, the precision with which feedback loops can be tracked, but more than compensates in my view, since it includes emotion, human identification, tone of voice.

    The grand map I envision skitters across the so-styled “Cartesian divide” between mind and brain. It is not and cannot be limited to the “external” world, it is not and cannot be limited to the quantifiable, it locates powerful tugs on behavior within imagination and powerful tugs on vision within hard, solid fact.

    Doubts in the mind and runs on the market may correlate closely across the divide, and we ignore the impacts of hope, fear, anger and insight at our peril.

    *

    Getting back to the now celebrated WikiLeak, which even al-Qaida has noticed, here’s the bit — it’s really just an aside –that fascinates me:

    Although they are important issues, Department is not/not seeking information at this time on second-order effects (e.g., public morale and confidence, and interdependency effects that might cascade from a disruption).

    It seems to me that the complex models which Starlight provides, and Eric Berlow pillories, overshoot on one side of the problem – but avoiding all second-order effects?

    One cause, one effect, no unintended consequences?

    What was it that Dr Berlow just said? “if you focus only on that link, and then you black box the rest, it’s actually less predictable than if you step back, consider the entire system”…

    Avoid all second-order effects?

    If you ask me, that’s overshooting on the other side.

    Posted in International Affairs, Internet, National Security, Tech, USA | Comments Off on WikiLeaks: Critical Foreign Dependencies

    Book Review — Wolff — Tibet Unconquered

    Posted by James McCormick on 9th December 2010 (All posts by )

    Wolff, Diane, Tibet Unconquered: An Epic Struggle for Freedom, Palgrave McMillan, New York, 2009, 248pp. Foreword by Robert Thurman.

    The publisher kindly provided a copy of this book for review.

    A year ago, my Holiday 2009 Book Roundup on chicagoboyz here recommended Christopher Beckwith’s Empires of the Silk Road as an outstanding overview of Central Asian culture from prehistory to the present day. Complementing that title is Diane Wolff’s new and approachable overview of Tibet’s relationship with China.

    It’s hard to imagine an extended American family that doesn’t have at least one member who’s been fascinated by Tibetan Buddhism in some way. The Dalai Lama remains as one of the few religious leaders given wide respect in the Western world. His recent emphasis on the preservation of Tibet’s environment (which forms the headwaters of five major Asian river systems) gives him even more popularity with Greens. As Wolff notes, Buddhism has been the default “cool” religion in Hollywood for many years apart from the recent and occasional forays into Jewish Kabbalah by the Malibu crowd. In turn, Tibetan Buddhism also appeals to adolescents looking for a way to peeve their parents … without getting kicked out of the house.

    A book that tries to give a general reader a solid historical understanding of Chinese-Tibetan relations is welcome. It’s a tangled and tragic piece of history, one fraught with opportunities missed on both sides and historical trends that have largely worked against Tibetan culture. We have a vivid “virtual Tibet” (in Orville Schell’s phrasing) but will we still have a Tibetan culture in 2050? Wolff offers a heart-felt and practical solution to the current style of Han occupation of Tibet. She’s also realistic enough to understand that the current generation of Chinese leaders may not be suited to making the adjustments and compromises necessary to pull a Tibetan thorn from the Chinese paw. A Fifth Generation of Chinese Communist Party leaders may be needed.

    Wolff’s book is written for the non-specialist. It requires close reading (because she often approaches subjects thematically with a certain amount of bouncing back and forth between time periods) but Tibet Unconquered is pitched for mortal readers, without a forest of footnotes.

    An intelligent high school student can easily make their way through this book, with profit. So if you’ve suddenly found your kids flying Tibetan prayer flags in your backyard, Diane Wolff’s book definitely belongs on your 2010 holiday book buying list. You can bask in some of that reflected “cool” yourself. It’s a very affordable, useful introduction to a fascinating subject. It works fine as a springboard to the specialist literature for motivated readers. Those interested in China’s capacity to adapt to a world demanding more transparency, more honesty and more credible self-reflection could hardly find a better ongoing touchstone than Tibet. Educating yourself about how things got the way they did in Tibet (and China) is therefore well worth the time. The Han Chinese have plenty of challenges facing them. Tibet is where the world proclaims they are most “uncivilized.” That’s a slur the Han cannot, cannot bear after a millennium ruled largely by northern barbarians and more recent humiliations by industrial nations. So the Roof of the World is where the Han must come to a successful solution without losing face. For them, let alone the poor Tibetans, the stakes couldn’t be higher. It’s a situation worth watching.

    Even better for those of you racing into the e-book world, Amazon offers an even more affordable Tibet Unconquered. Consider this title as a gift or for a thought-provoking bit of holiday reading.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, China, History, India, Politics | 4 Comments »

    Is Wikileaks tailoring their releases to avoid treason charges for Assange?

    Posted by TM Lutas on 8th December 2010 (All posts by )

    Wikileaks randy revolutionary, Julian Assange, cannot be a traitor to the US, we are told, because he is an Australian citizen. This leaves him with a vulnerability in releasing documents that involve the Australian government.

    Since it is highly unlikely that in the 250,000 cables there are none that involve the government of Australia there is no doubt a legal team examining Australian law for the proper way to proceed when Mr. Assange’s traveling roadshow comes to Canberra. So how many Australian related State Department cables have been released? So far as I can tell, exactly zero. That’s very nice for Mr. Assange but doesn’t do so much for Wikileaks’ reputation as an honest broker or any of Wikileaks’ non-Australian collaborators who do not get that little legal benefit.

    Update: The Guardian newspaper, who has all the cables, has a CSV file which includes cable metadata from Canberra, the US’ embassy in Australia. It also has a nice cable source graphic. Australia is one of the few countries not listed as having any cables from there. This is passing strange.

    Posted in Anti-Americanism, Crime and Punishment, International Affairs, Law Enforcement, Leftism, National Security | 6 Comments »

    Hoisted By Their Own Petard

    Posted by Shannon Love on 8th December 2010 (All posts by )

    A petard was an early gunpowder weapon, usually an iron cooking pot filled with black power, that was manually placed against a wall or gate in order to blow a hole in the obstacle. Today, we would call it a breaching charge.

    Given the inconstancies of pre-industrial gunpowder and fuses, placing and lighting a petard was a risky business for the combat engineers of the era. Many times, they found themselves “hoisted” into the air and eternity by a prematurely detonating petard. That is why the phrase, “Hoisted by one’s own petard,” entered the language to mean being undone by one’s own weapon or actions.

    This is why I find it incredibly funny that the current leftwing hero du jour has been arrested for violating a ridiculously broad definition of rape that rabidly misandrogynistic leftists foisted upon Sweden.

    I mean it is seriously funny. I don’t even think there is an Internet acronym to express how karmically hilarious I find this situation.

    Why can’t leftists understand that the violence-based power of the state is a blunt and dangerous instrument? Leftists always seek to invest power in the state in order to dominate and control their self-perceived cultural, social and political competitors. Why do they never learn that eventually that power will be turned against leftists themselves?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anti-Americanism, Civil Society, Crime and Punishment, Leftism, National Security, Terrorism | 8 Comments »

    WikiLeaks: Counterpoint at the State Department?

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 8th December 2010 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit ]

    [ note: all links are to youtube videos ]

    The pianist Glenn Gould is celebrated for his ability to bring the different and at times positively oppositional voices in a fugue by Bach to our attention, so that we follow each one separately while hearing all at the same time as a single whole. What is less known is that he liked to sit at a table in a truck stop and listen to the different conversations at the other tables and booths, mentally braiding their pale or brightly colored threads of human together into an analogous tapestry — one voice harmonizing with or conflicting against another, here a new subject introduced, there an echo of an earlier idea heard in a fresh context, with the murmurings of waitresses punctuated by the kaching! of the cash register, the hydraulic hiss of a door closing — conversation as counterpoint.

    Organizations and individual alike, we all have different and at times dissonant voices, and strive to bring them to some kind of resolution. The many stakeholders debating an issue in town halls, blogs or letters to the editor, the many drives within each one of us, idealistic, hopeful, defeated, paralytic, angry, evasive, sluggish, vengeful, curious, alert, defiant, all have voices, all constitute an experience of polyphony, a “music of many voices”, in point counter point.

    One of my interests is to find a way to score these many fugues, these musics of meaning.

    My DoubleQuotes, then, can be considered as two-part inventions, attempts to show the multiple tracking of the mind — whether of a single individual, as in this case, or of a group, a community, a world divided – so that something of the music begins to be visible, and some of the dissonances can move towards necessary resolution.

    *

    QUOwikileaks

    *

    I believe there is unresolved irony between these two statements, made on the same day by Philip J Crowley, the US State Department’s Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs – but each has its reasons, and there are arguments to be made for both transparency and opacity, diplomacy and publicity, secrets and revelations.

    Between them lies the possibility I think of as a virtual music of ideas.

    *

    Bach published a series of two-part inventions, BWV 772–801, and wrote of them that he intended to offer them as an honest method

    by which the amateurs of the keyboard – especially, however, those desirous of learning – are shown a clear way not only (1) to learn to play cleanly in two parts, but also, after further progress, (2) to handle three obligate parts correctly and well; and along with this not only to obtain good inventions (ideas) but to develop the same well; above all, however, to achieve a cantabile style in playing and at the same time acquire a strong foretaste of composition…

    Later comes the Art of Fugue.

    Posted in Civil Liberties, International Affairs, Internet, Law, Libertarianism, Morality and Philosphy, Music, National Security, Quotations, Rhetoric, The Press | Comments Off on WikiLeaks: Counterpoint at the State Department?

    Purple Hearts

    Posted by Joseph Fouche on 7th December 2010 (All posts by )

    From Wikipedia:

    During World War II, nearly 500,000 Purple Heart medals were manufactured in anticipation of the estimated casualties resulting from the planned Allied invasion of Japan. To the present date, all the American military casualties of the sixty-five years following the end of World War II — including the Korean and Vietnam Wars — have not exceeded that number. In 2003, there were still 120,000 of these Purple Heart medals in stock.[2] There are so many in surplus that combat units in Iraq and Afghanistan are able to keep Purple Hearts on-hand for immediate award to wounded soldiers in the field.[2]

    Good job, atom bomb.

    Good Boy!

    Good Boy!

    Posted in History, War and Peace | 3 Comments »

    The Attack on Taranto

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 7th December 2010 (All posts by )

    As history buffs know prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the British attacked the Italian fleet at their forward base in Taranto in 1940, sinking one battleship and severely damaging two others.  While the other two battleships were later repaired, the real impact was that the major Italian warships were withdrawn from the forward base at Taranto where they severely threatened Allied convoys to Malta to bases further up the peninsula where they were less of an immediate threat.

    The book “The Attack on Taranto” (Blueprint for Pearl Harbor) is by Thomas Lowry and John Wellham and is highly recommended for anyone wanting to learn more about this gallant attack by British naval pilots in their slow and elderly (yet still effective) Swordfish aircraft.  While there are significant differences between the attack on Pearl Harbor and the British attack at Taranto (notably that Britain and Italy were already at war when the attack occurred), this type of attack should have put the Americans on higher alert and was studied by the Japanese in their plans for the Pearl Harbor attack.  In any case I highly recommend the book, especially for history buffs.

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Book Notes, History, War and Peace | 5 Comments »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Mitch Townsend on 7th December 2010 (All posts by )

    [Officer] Chalifoux said, “When I asked him to recite the alphabet from A to Z, he said, ‘I can’t do that.’ When I asked him why, he stated, ‘No one could do that. From A to Z? Come on. That’s crazy.’ ” From the Boston Herald

    Posted in Crime and Punishment, Humor, Law Enforcement, That's NOT Funny | 1 Comment »

    Obama Meltdown?

    Posted by Lexington Green on 7th December 2010 (All posts by )

    I had lunch with a friend who voted for Obama and said he would never vote for a Democratic again as long as he lived. I found myself in the incredibly weird posture of trying to argue that political parties can change out of all recognition over years and decades, so don’t make it some kind of blood-oath … .

    But, no. He told me that I had Obama pegged in 2008, and that he had been chumped.

    I had zero I-told-you-so feeling about any of this. I felt a little nauseous.

    This Obama guy is simply not up to it, and we are all stuck with him.

    Then I see that Obama’s press conference today was a debacle.

    I am not cheered by any of this.

    It looks like we will see little or nothing of value from the current President as we all endure two more years of domestic and global crisis. Mr. Obama appears to have exhausted his playbook. He is just randomly making stuff up at this point, tossing out grudging compromises, then vilifying the Republicans, and sniping at his own outraged supporters.

    We are in one of the worst messes in our history, and Captain Queeg is on the bridge. Obama is not in full meltdown mode yet. Johnson melted down, Nixon melted down. It is not good when the president melts down.

    Maybe Mr. Obama will shock me to my core by adapting, triangulating, taking ownership of the new situation, like Bill Clinton did.

    I just don’t think he is up to it.

    (Will some Democrat step up and give Obama a primary challenge? I do hope that happens, for everyone’s good, including Mr. Obama’s. Hillary looks genuinely tired. So, who?)

    I suppose there is no prospect of this guy riding up:

    reagan_horse

    … with the Theme from the Magnificent Seven playing in the background?

    Nope.

    (Photo from this site.)

    Posted in Obama, Politics, USA | 23 Comments »

    First School Pulls the Trigger

    Posted by Bruno Behrend on 7th December 2010 (All posts by )

    The Heartland Institute is “trigger happy” today.  They’ve been one of the few free-market think tanks really promoting the concept of parent empowerment.  That’s why today’s news is so promising.

    The first school has pulled the trigger, and is working to convert “government/education complex” infrastructure over to independent infrastructure.  This is a good thing.

    For more information on how the Parent Trigger changes the dynamic on education reform, check out these links.

    Heartland’s Parent Trigger page.

    Wall Street Journal op-ed.

    __

    For purposes of full disclosure, yes, I am the director of the Center for School reform at The Heartland Institute.

    Posted in Education | Comments Off on First School Pulls the Trigger

    Michelle Rhee punts on Unions

    Posted by Bruno Behrend on 7th December 2010 (All posts by )

    As someone involved in the education reform movement, I hate to criticize Michelle Rhee.  That said, if you want to bring about a better education system, you have to know the source of the problem.  That’s the only way you can develop a solution.

    Rhee’s article is an lesson in problem avoidance.  It makes the point that education reform is a political battle.  So far, so good.  It’s high time that high profile people started talking like this, though I suspect much of that can be attributed to Chris Christie’s surviving the campaign of lies put out by the teachers unions and bloated bureaucracy.

    Where the article fails is her failure to take on the 800 lb. gorilla in the education debate.  After being successfully targeted for destruction by these engines of greed and mediocrity, Rhee turns tail and opines the this is what unions are supposed to do.  This is a travesty.

    What I’ve Learned
    We can’t keep politics out of school reform. Why I’m launching a national movement to transform education.

    The teachers’ unions get the blame for much of this. Elected officials, parents, and administrators implore them to “embrace change” and “accept reform.” But I don’t think the unions can or should change. The purpose of the teachers’ union is to protect the privileges, priorities, and pay of their members. And they’re doing a great job of that.

    What next, Michelle?  “Kim Jong Il’s role is to turn millions of North Koreans into brainwashed, undernourished midgets building bombs to terrorize neighboring nations, and he’s doing a great job of doing that.”
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Education | 5 Comments »

    7 December 1941

    Posted by Jonathan on 7th December 2010 (All posts by )

    Remember Pearl Harbor. Somebody has to.

    Note that, as usual, Google ignores the anniversary as it routinely ignores other US patriotic commemorations. You can’t say they don’t understand the importance of remembrance, since they seem to remember everything else. But for some memories they look the other way. What is that about? Whatever their intent, the conspicuous non-observance outlines that which isn’t acknowledged, much as black holes reveal themselves by distorting the space around them. Google’s odd behavior has been noted so often that Microsoft’s Bing.com makes a point of showing a photo of the USS Arizona memorial every December 7.

    So, screw Google. Remember.

    Posted in History, USA, War and Peace | 4 Comments »

    Israeli fires: the blame game

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 6th December 2010 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit ]

    QUOIsraelFires

    If it were me, I’d pray for rain.

    Posted in Islam, Israel, Judaism, Middle East, Morality and Philosphy, Religion | 9 Comments »

    The Left and conspiracy theories

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 5th December 2010 (All posts by )

    Cross posted on my own blog

    Fifty years ago, a book was written about political conspiracy theories. It was called “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” It was written in 1964 and has been a staple of the left ever since. Its theme was the paranoia of the political right that was looking for communists in the State Department and harassing Hollywood actors and writers. It was specifically directed at Senator Barry Goldwater who was the Republican nominee that year. It is still in print with new material contributed by Sean Wilentz, an Obama supporter and leftist professor of history.

    It has been an article of faith on the left that conservatives are paranoid about such subjects as communists (Although defenders of Alger Hiss were disappointed to find him in Soviet archives as a spy) and foreign threats like the Soviet Union and militant Islam. The left now says that they knew all along that the USSR would collapse and Reagan had nothing to do with it. Fortunately for them, You Tube was not around in those days to record speeches to the contrary. The threat of militant Islam is the latest example of a threat dismissed by the left. President Obama has embodied this concept in his “reaching out” to Iran and Syria. Nancy Pelosi even conducted her own diplomacy while Bush was president by visiting Syria to convince them we were a friend. The left does not seem to be discouraged by failure to respond.

    Recently, especially since Obama has been president, the conspiracy forces seem to be stronger on the left. The “9/11 truthers” are represented even in the administration. Jones, of course, was too nutty to represent a serious threat but it is suggestive.

    Jones’s genius as an ideological entrepreneur was to mine white liberal anxiety — they are quite aware of their own NIMBY hypocrisy — by selling them the “green jobs” shtick to reconcile class/racial guilt with environmental enthusiasm, thus making them feel better about themselves.

    That’s why Jones rose so far. That’s why he was such a “progressive” star. That’s why, as top Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett put it, “we’ve been watching him” and were so eager to recruit him to the White House.

    In the White House no more. Why? He’s gone for one reason and one reason only. You can’t sign a petition demanding not one but four investigations of the charge that the Bush administration deliberately allowed Sept. 11, 2001 — i.e., collaborated in the worst massacre ever perpetrated on American soil — and be permitted in polite society, let alone have a high-level job in the White House.

    He was “outed” and recently had a free lance reporter expelled from a “open to the public” meeting he was holding.

    I read leftist blogs to find out what the other side is thinking. Here are some recent examples. In a post about the current struggle over the Bush tax rates, Steve Benen says:

    There’s a reasonable case to be made that we’re looking at a cumulative effect. For much of the left, the concessions, many of which seemed wholly unnecessary, are just becoming intolerable. The party’s messaging, tactics, and inability to compromise effectively are just exasperating, and the apparent fact that Republicans will get an extension of a failed tax policy has led some to throw up their arms in disgust and proclaim, “I’ve had it.”

    I get that. It’s a sentiment that obviously makes sense.

    The Democrats are committed to static analysis of tax effects. A tax cut loses revenue while a tax increase adds revenue. Now why are the Democrats, who have large majorities in both houses of Congress, unable to block this Republican effort to keep tax rates the same? It can’t be good economic policy because Steve Benen said so. What could they do to convince Republicans the Democrat position is the better choice ? Here are some theories.

    You’re sending the message the richest of the rich actually control this country, and in order to get a few crumbs for the common man, the rich need to be paid off with borrowed money – money that the common man (and woman), and their children, will be obligated to pay back, with interest. That does not bode well for the future of America.

    Posted by: delNorte

    So the rich and the corporations control the country. That is probably the most widely accepted conspiracy theory in the country. It is accepted by the left and many independents.

    I think it’s a confluence of reasons: 1) It’s a simple issue with little to no nuance. There is no good reason to extend the cuts to the rich (outside of politics). 2) OTOH, the bank bailout and the fin reg are/were very complex issues which did not satisfy anyone’s sense of justice for holding responsible those to blame for the mess we’re in.

    Posted by: You Don’t Say

    Now, there is another theory. There is no reason to keep the tax rates the same for those with incomes over $250,000 except politics. Here is a person who does not believe that small business creates jobs. I doubt he would be impressed by this video. That business owner makes $300,000 and employes about ten people. Raise his taxes and what happens ? Who cares ?

    There is absolutely NO convincing case that extending tax breaks for the super-wealthy is good for the nation; quite the reverse — it signals that the unabated looting of America is now in full swing;

    Here’s more the same from another commenter.

    What strikes me is there is no discussion of economics and how the economy works. OK. “Trickle Down” doesn’t work. “Tax cuts for the rich” doesn’t work. What does work ? Silence.

    This morning, the This Week program on ABC, in its new incarnation with Christiane Amanpour, spent the entire show on DADT. They said not a word about the economy. DADT will not be repealed so why spend an hour on it two days after the unemployment rate went up again to 9/8% ? The political left is bored by economics and the national economy. They are far more interested in social issues like DADT or gay marriage. I can understand this because so many of them are government employees, or academic institution employees or low level employees of private organizations who have nothing to do with managing the business. They don’t know how private business is managed, they have never signed the front of a paycheck, and have no idea how people make decisions about investing because, aside from 401ks, they have no contact with it.

    There was an amusing exchange about passports yesterday. It began with this:

    Mayor Mike Bloomberg, leader of the Bloomberg faction of the Bloomberg party, was interviewed en route to China, where he was seeking to open diplomatic ties between Cathay and the colorful principality he governs. A quote: “If you look at the U.S., you look at who we’re electing to Congress, to the Senate — they can’t read. I’ll bet you a bunch of these people don’t have passports.”

    Imagine that ! People who don’t have passports ! Anyway, the funniest part was a comment that the writer was being interviewed about tea parties by a German journalist. She asked him if he had a passport and he told her that he had lived in Germany as a child. I can’t find the link now and I wish he had asked her if she had ever owned a share of stock. Economic ignorance seems to be requirement for leftist credentials. Not only ignorance but disinterest.

    Posted in Business, Conservatism, Economics & Finance, Entrepreneurship, Leftism, Political Philosophy, Politics, Taxes | 15 Comments »

    A draft of what’s on my mind lately

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 5th December 2010 (All posts by )

    I’ve been thinking…

    *

    Reports, overstatements and underestimates

    There are factual reports of violence and threats of violence, which are within the proper province of journalism and intelligence gathering.

    There are also overstatements of such reports, generally resulting from paranoia, hatred, recruitment, or the desire to increase sales of advertising or munitions.

    And there are understatements of such reports, generally resulting from sheer ignorance or a desire to be diplomatic.

    *

    Religious sanctions for violence

    Similarly, there are factual reports of sanctions for violence in the scriptures, hagiographies and histories of various religions.

    There are also overstatements of such reports, attributing to entire religions the beliefs and or activities of a significant subsection or outlier group of that religion

    And there are understatements of such reports, avoiding the attribution of violence to religious beliefs regardless of whether the religious correlation is a “cover” for other motives or a sanction powerfully affecting the actions of those who respond to it.

    *

    Proportional and disproportionate responses

    There are actions which represent a balanced and proportional response to threats or acts of violence, whether they be made at home or abroad, by the military or law enforcement, for reasons of just war or of security.

    There are actions which present an unbalanced and disproportionate heightened response to acts of violence, into which category I would place both over-reactive military responses and over-reactive domestic security measures.

    And there are inactions which are no less unbalanced as responses to acts or threats of violence, as with political wool-gathering or appeasement, bureaucratic failures to implement realistic information sharing and dot-connection within the IC, or public aversion to factual news or intelligent, nuanced analysis.

    *

    Ideals, kumbaya and skepticism

    There are honest statements of aspiration for peaceable outcomes to current and future conflicts.

    There are versions of such aspirations which naively overlook the very real correlations between religious sanctions and violence.

    And there are skeptical aversions to such aspirations, which no less naively overlook the very real differences which are present between the most angry, the most terrified, the most politically driven, the most financially interested and the most generous members of any and every religious and irreligious viewpoint.

    *

    Let’s talk…

    It is useful to bear these distinctions of category in mind, and to make accurate appraisals of one’s information inputs in terms of which categories they fall under, and how much trust one should therefore place in them.

    There: it was on my mind and I have said it.

    This is, as my title indicates, a first draft. I hope it will spark some interesting conversations, and lead to further insight and refinement…

    Posted in Human Behavior, International Affairs, Miscellaneous, National Security, Religion, Rhetoric, Terrorism, The Press | 2 Comments »