Saturday, December 27, 2008

Air mail special delivery

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I'm heading out of town for a few days; might do some light posting if I find an internet connection at my destination. Otherwise, see you back here after New Year.

Best wishes to you all for 2009.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Art's uncivilizing mission

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Steel roller bearing factory, XiangChun, China

Not really. This is a spanking new high school in Los Angeles, dedicated to the arts.

Inspiring, isn't it? Ugliness is truth, truth ugliness; that is all ye know in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and all thy students need to know.

Central High School no. 9 is a source of pride, the Los Angeles Times reports — "believed to be the second most expensive public high school ever built in the United States," and located in the state that is rattling the tin cup in the halls of Congress because it has never turned aside a money-gulping project.


And why should it? Californians know they are made of finer stuff than the common cloth, live in God's multi-cultural paradise. Steven Spielberg tells them so. Besides, Central High School no. 9 is a blockbuster. Literally: it will transform a seedy patch of downtown L.A. into a "campus" with star quality.
Few will question whether the campus itself is capable of fostering excellence. At a cost of $232 million, it is one of the crown jewels of the Los Angeles Unified School District. That's clear from the moment you pull into the multilevel, 300-car garage. Up a broad flight of stairs, the campus' main buildings offer three dance studios with sprung maple flooring. A professional-quality, 950-seat theater. Music classrooms with acoustic tiling and special whiteboards designed for musical notation. Floor-to-ceiling windows with motorized blackout shades. Ceiling-mounted projectors in every classroom, allowing teachers to display lessons from computers.

Track lighting in the hallways to illuminate student art. An outdoor atrium for firing Japanese raku pottery. And the school's centerpiece, a conical library whose dazzling interior swirls upward to an off-center skylight. All that, and a tower that looms over the 101 Freeway like a severed limb of the Iron Giant.
I don't know what the Iron Giant is (probably a reference to a character in the kind of movie I avoid), but by gum, I'm impressed. A 300-car garage. Track lighting. A library cone — will it have any books, or just DVDs? — with a kinky skylight. Kewl.

Imagine what Beethoven and Rembrandt might have accomplished with such lavish facilities at their disposal in their tender youth.

But, the United States being the United States, and L.A. being L.A., there's trouble in this "expensive social experiment," as the Times calls it. Everything is political. The school was designed as a plum for a "community … in which we have thousands of very talented students but who lack the social capital and the access to quality arts training," as a school superintendent says. Translated from sociological jargon, that means it was intended to draw its students from inner-city 'hoods and turn cinder-block-wall graffiti artists into canvas graffiti artists.

But some school board members think this gem of a school should have an outreach program to recruit students from less deprived areas. Others will have none of that.
"For 27, almost 30 years, these kids have had a 65% dropout rate, a very limited outlook for their future," said Maria Casillas, president of a nonprofit foundation that promotes parental involvement in schools and a member of an advisory board established to support the arts high school. "And I don't know that the cost of these buildings actually pays for the pain and suffering that we have created . . . for these kids."
Ms. Casillas, don't get me wrong, I know we can never make up for our failure to tax ourselves from here to the moon so we can provide welfare to these underserved communities, bestow citizenship on every cute little niño and niña born at public expense, treat the community for free in hospital emergency rooms, launch a hundred programs to persuade the youth of Aztlan to take up midnight basketball instead of gang banging, but … who is "we"? Have "we" run public service adverts on radio and TV, placed ads in buses, urging Jose and Estella to drop out of school? What exactly is the pain and suffering that "we" have created for them?

Anyway, here's your $232 million high school. It's a start. Try to find it in your heart to forgive us.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Why, Cleopatra, I hardly recognized you

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Love the new style — who's your hairdresser? I'll bet it's that fabulous GeeG in Islington! Nice tan, too, did you just get back from Ibiza? Whatever, I adore the look, so much more appealing than that bimbo in HBO's Rome or Liz with her pageboy-cum-limp dreadlocks. Your reconstructor has brought out the inner you, the genuine Josephine Baker! I always knew Julius and Marc, those slick dogs, couldn't have gone bonkers for an insipid Greek Ptummy … Ptolmey … whatever.

So glad you kissed off the cobalt eye shadow and the bangles and that Eye of Horace bit. Let's face it, dear, your PR director had been dropping the ball lately, but now she's positioning you as a diversity totem, you're back on the historical celebrity A List. You go, girl!

You'll want to get a Facebook entry straightaway — be sure and include me as a friend! And put that guesstimate about your ethnicity bang up front, it'll do wonders, trust me.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

No, Virginia

Last night on NPR's "Marketplace" program, Virginia McConnell of a think tank called Resources for the Future spanked us all for being happy about gas prices having re-entered the atmosphere, which to her is very bad news. We should pray for higher, much higher pump prices like they have in Europe.

Ms. McConnell said:

Now we are at a crossroads. Companies that survive this economic downturn must continue the transition toward greener vehicles. But this transition will be neither quick nor cheap. Recently passed fuel economy standards are a step in the right direction, but high gas prices are essential. They provide incentives to manufacturers to produce the new generation of vehicles, and for consumers to buy them. The recent run-up in oil prices showed us what a powerful force the market can be in influencing purchase decisions and spurring innovation. Now, with gasoline back to $1.50 a gallon, sales of hybrid vehicles are faltering.

So, let's stop expecting the car companies to protect us from ourselves. If we want less dependency on foreign oil and reduced greenhouse gases, we'll have to put policies in place to achieve this. If we do, the automakers, whichever ones remain, will figure out how to get us there.

The trouble with think tanks is that they don't think much, at least not outside their laser-like focus on the particular issue that makes their heart beat. It's called single-valued logic: you rivet yourself onto one goal, which might be good in itself, and the context and all competing goals melt into air, into thin air.

Virginia, pull your head out of the clouds for a moment and look around you. I know it's hard to take this aboard, with you having a no-doubt secure and well-paying foundation job, but quite a few of those slugs who need to be saved from themselves are going through a sticky patch. Many of them are not as well connected as you, hence they have no visible means of support at the moment. Lots of others will get no raise or bonus to spike the punch at the office party this year.

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There are also quite a number of poor working people in this country who depend on their cars to get to their employment sites, and for whom more expensive fuel could be a personal disaster.

For all of these lesser breeds without the environmental law, the merciful fall in gas prices is the only economic blessing they have to count.

But that's too good for those swine, in your enlightened view. They stand in the way of reaching the Promised Land where everyone will drive little kiddie cars or, better yet, be packed into sediment on public transportation. There's no way individuals or car manufacturers will do the right thing based on their own needs or good sense, so we've got to wheel up the Big Gun of the government and put it to their heads.

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You think it's a disaster that our government lacks the moral fiber to tax its citizens till they bleed from the ears and surrender to the supreme wisdom of the State. I happen to be proud of the fact that, at least for now, I have the privilege of mobility and can afford it. Incidentally, Ms. McConnell, even when gas was at a dollar and change a gallon before the big run-up, I bought a fuel-efficient car no larger than was practical for my needs.

You see the big picture — environment! With environmental needs so pressing, people can't be trusted with outdated ideas like liberty. Well, there's a bigger picture. It includes both the environment and (excuse the expression) the choices of individuals.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Congress debates Bernie Madoff bailout

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"I know the American people will not stand by
and let all my charities fail."

You read it here first.

UPDATE 12/16

Surely $50 billion makes him too big to fail.

Great line from a commenter at Marketwatch: "The market has nowhere to go but up. Everything, including the end of the world, has been 'priced in.'"

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

G'day, mates! Drop dead.

The state of Victoria in Australia is planning to enforce laws discriminating against white males.
DISCRIMINATION against dominant white males will soon be encouraged in a bid to boost the status of women, the disabled and cultural and religious minorities.

Such positive discrimination -- treating people differently in order to obtain equality for marginalised groups -- is set to be legalised under planned changes to the Equal Opportunity Act foreshadowed last week by state Attorney-General Rob Hulls.

You may have a chance, though, as long as you're a criminal. Not by being a white male, but by having committed a traditional criminal offense.

The laws are also expected to protect the rights of people with criminal records to get a job, as long as their past misdeeds are irrelevant to work being sought.
Of course, the state of Victoria might consider that having been born with a Y chromosome and a melanin shortfall is relevant to any kind of work going.

My image of the Aussie bloke is being sorely tested. They'll be weeping a bit, sensitively, down at the boozer. "Crocodile" Dundee will sort out the muggers. "That's not a mop." (Whips out Bowie mop.) "This is a mop."

Mates, you can hide out halfway across the flaming outback, but the long arm of positive discrimination will catch you up like a 'roo with itchy feet. Can't think what you could do about it.


The Clash: "White Riot"

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Tear it down

Brothers and sisters, you look like you need to cheer yourself up a bit. Time to call in the Old Crow Medicine Show.
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Friday, December 05, 2008

Canadian Marxmanship trophy

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Correctional Service of Canada logo

According to the Canadian Multiculturalism Act 2006–2007, "All federal institutions shall undertake projects or programs in respect of multiculturalism and carry on activities in a manner sensitive and responsive to the multicultural reality of Canada. Ministers of the Crown shall, in the execution of their respective mandates, take such measures as they consider appropriate to implement the multiculturalism policy of Canada."

We are in complete harmony with the Directive. As Director, Ethnocultural Services Section, Offender Programs and Reintegration Branch, I am pleased to present this submission by the Correctional Service. It is of course available in French and 49 other languages.
Q. 2.1 Does your institution's vision, mission, mandate and/or priorities statement(s) include reference to multiculturalism?
Yes, Commissar, a thousand times yes! Your vision is our vision! Consider, if you please, Commissioner's Directive 702 on Aboriginal Programming: "To ensure that Aboriginal Offenders are provided with an equitable opportunity to practice their culture and traditions without discrimination and with an opportunity to implement traditional Aboriginal healing practices."
Q. 2.3 Does your institution have programs related to multiculturalism?
Glad you asked me that, Sir! We consider these programs to be our core mission. Let me give you just a few examples.

"In Ontario, we have contracted with the Black Inmates and Friends Assembly to provide a variety of programs to Black inmates and other ethnocultural groups including the provision of ethnocultural programs and services to ten institutions as well as to provide contact between ethnocultural communities in the Ontario region and federal offenders indigenous to those communities to assist in their successful reintegration back into their respective communities. Specific activities include the provision of training to staff, meetings with ethnocultural groups, establishment of volunteer visiting programs, creation of a network of volunteers from the different communities to work with offenders in the community."


That's only one token of our ethnoculturally centred outcome-directed inclusiveness drive. Take another: "Five new positions will be created for the coordination of ethnocultural services in all regions." Or this: "Inuit Programs on substance abuse are being provided by an Inuk Elder." And people imagine that all we do is keep criminals from preying on them. In fact, I am putting in our budget request for the next fiscal year a proposal to fund a public educational program to increase awareness of how we are at the leading edge of Canada's multiethnic inclusive sensitivity initiative.
Q. 3.1 Did your institution undertake initiatives to foster a corporate culture that embraces diversity?
Does an Inuit club baby seals? Excuse me, that just slipped out. I meant of course, Commissar! I am proud of our proactive, multiethnic solutions-based actions. Let me just bring you up to speed on a few. If you'll turn to page 43, you'll see the following: "In order to encourage staff and recognize their efforts in increasing cross-cultural awareness and sensitivity toward ethnocultural diversity and improving race relations, a multiculturalism award has been created. The award consists of a citation signed by the Deputy Commissioner or Assistant Commissioner and the Deputy Minister of Canadian Heritage. It is awarded every year on March 21; International Day for the Elimination of Racism." Bingo!

Or — you'll pardon me if I swell with pride a little — how about this: "In Atlantic region Watoto an event organized to raise $27,000 to build a house in Africa. Many activities surrounding African-Canadian culture such as African Children's Choir were organized at Nova - prison for women in April 2007." Kind of takes your breath away, I know. But there's more: "Change of Seasons Gathering! Black History Month! Asian Heritage Month Events! Violence Against Women events! Human Rights Day Observance! Aboriginal Cultural Awareness Sessions/Forum!" And (I'm bound to admit to having had a hand in advancing this) "Talking Circles with Native Liaison Officer or Aboriginal Elder."
Q. 3.3 Did your institution undertake initiatives to celebrate Canada's cultural heritage with the general public?
In a word — yes! "Under New Employee Orientation Program, in some regions, staff are offered the opportunity to participate in sweat lodge ceremony in one of the Aboriginal communities."

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Steering committee, Multiethnicity Command Centre,
Correctional Service of Canada
Q. 4.1 Did your institution develop policies that took into consideration multiculturalism and diversity?
Sir, you can take that to the bank. I direct your attention to page 77: "Personal Effects policy now has added culturally sensitive items such as hair care products. Policies must align with a Diversity and Cultural Sensitivity Checklist."
Q. 5.1 Does the workforce in your institution reflect Canada's diversity?
Absolutely. Number of visible minority employees: 786!
Aboriginal employees: 1026!

I am in a position to assure you, Commissar, that a substantial number of these employees also meet guidelines for inclusiveness of women, differently abled, lesbian/gay/bi/transgendered warm and wonderful people. In reading the complete report, I am sure you will agree that we are fully meeting our responsibilities under the Multiculturalism Act. And we will continue to press for changes to the law mandating that ethnic and indigenous persons be incarcerated only in numbers that are exactly proportional to their representation in our great multicultural Canadian society.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Treasury island

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Hair shirt, popular with penitent
medieval monks, in updated model.

Martin Weiss, publisher of the investment newsletter Money and Markets, believes that the astounding amount of money banks worldwide have put into derivatives (a fancy word for leveraged bets) could bring down the whole system:
Unlike the Mafia, established stock and commodity exchanges, like the NYSE and the Chicago Board of Trade, are entirely legal. But like the Mafia, they understand these dangers and have strict enforcement procedures to prevent them. When you want to purchase 100 shares of Microsoft, for example, you never buy directly from the seller. You must always go through a brokerage firm, which, in turn is a member in good standing of the exchange. The brokerage firm must keep close tabs on all its customers, and the exchange keeps close track of all its member firms. …

For the most part, the global derivatives market has no brokerage, no exchange, and no equivalent enforcement mechanism. In fact, among the $181.2 trillion in derivative bets held by U.S. banks at mid-year 2008, only $8.2 trillion, or 4.5%, was regulated by an exchange. The balance — $173.9 trillion, or 95.5% — was bets placed directly between buyer and seller (called “over the counter”). And among the $596 trillion in global derivatives tracked by the BIS at year-end 2007, 100% were over the counter. No exchanges. No overarching enforcement mechanism.

This is not just a matter of weak or non-existent regulation. It’s far worse. It’s the equivalent of an undisciplined conglomeration of players gambling on the streets without even a casino to maintain order.

As usual, before we buckle at the knees, let's remind ourselves that in financial forecasting no one is objective. Vested interests are everywhere. This gentleman has a newsletter to sell, and extreme positions attract more attention (like this posting) and perhaps more subscribers than a more cautious and hedged outlook. I am not suggesting Weiss is writing anything other than his honest opinion, but even honest opinions can be influenced by a person's situation.

With that out of the way, let's follow his views further:
This is why super-investor Warren Buffett once called derivatives “financial weapons of mass destruction.” This is why the top leaders of the world’s richest countries panicked after Lehman Brothers failed, dumping their time-honored, hands-off policy like a hot potato, jumping in to buy up shares in the world’s largest banks, and transforming the world of banking literally overnight.

This is also why you must now do more than just find a strong bank.

You also must find a safe place that has the highest probability of being immune to these risks. The reason: As I warned at the outset, at some point in the not-too-distant future, governments around the world may have no other choice but to declare a global banking holiday — a shutdown of nearly every bank in the world, regardless of size, country, or financial condition.

Unlikely? Probably, but today's headlines are full of events that would have been beyond unlikely a couple of years ago. Anyway, Weiss thinks that the smart thing to do now is go into full defensive mode, protecting your capital — not just against market losses, however severe, but against the temporary crack-up of the financial structure.

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Under the latest Federal Reserve plan,
bank assets are to be moved to a secure location
in a disused mine in Nevada.

Even in what passes for normal times in the investment world, many renowned theoreticians (Benjamin Graham, Charles D. Ellis, John Bogle, and Burton Malkiel among them) have strongly argued that success comes not by trying to outsmart everyone else, which is impossible over the long run, but by avoiding big losses. (A lesson most of our banks have obviously never learned or have forgotten.)

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I've never been totally convinced by the "efficient market" hypothesis, which says that every investment is correctly priced on the basis of all known information — if that were true, what would be the point of buying or selling at all? But these are, obviously, not normal times. The risk-reward ratio for the short to medium term seems abysmal. Weiss is worth considering seriously when he argues that the imperative now is to avoid losing money. But how to do that, if you can't even count on a bank to preserve your cash and keep its liquidity (the ability to access your money and use it when you want)?

For capital conservation and liquidity, Weiss says, "the single investment in the world that’s at the top of the charts is short-term U.S. Treasury securities. These enjoy the best, most direct, and most reliable guarantee of the U.S. government, over and above any other guarantees or promises they may have made in the past, or will make in the future."

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He answers three key questions that skeptics might reasonably ask. The first is, "The FDIC is also backed by the U.S. government. So if I have money in an FDIC-guaranteed account at my bank, what’s the difference? Why should I accept a lower yield on a government-guaranteed 3-month Treasury bill when I can get a higher yield on a government-guaranteed 3-month CD?”

Weiss says:
Without realizing it, you’ve answered your own question. If the yield is higher on the bank CDs, that can mean only one thing — that, according to the collective wisdom of millions of investors and thousands of institutions in the market, the risk is also higher. Otherwise, why would the bank have to pay so much more to attract your money? Likewise, how can the U.S. Treasury get away with paying so much less and still have interested buyers for its securities?

It’s because the risk is higher for CDs, but much lower for Treasury securities. It’s because even within the realm of government guarantees, there’s a pecking order.

  • The first-priority guarantee: Maturing securities that were issued by the U.S. Treasury department itself.

  • The second-priority guarantee: Maturing securities that were issued by other government agencies, such as Ginnie Mae.

  • Third: The Treasury’s backing of the FDIC.

This is not to say the Treasury is not standing fully behind the FDIC. Rather my point is that, in the event of serious financial pressures on the government, the FDIC and FDIC guaranteed deposits will not be the first in line.

I won't review the other arguments; read his post if you're interested. (Weiss needs an editor; there's too much throat clearing and background filling at the beginning. You can scroll a third of the way down and still get the points.) Your comments here are, as always, welcome.

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Monday, December 01, 2008

Now what?

Further news, speculation, and disinformation from Mumbai seem to change the details but not the big picture.

Perhaps most surprising, the story is now that the killers may have been as few as a dozen. Hard to believe such a small number could have taken over two large hotels, held captives at the Jewish Center, caused havoc at the train station, and held off police and security forces for most of three days. I suppose with automatic rifles, grenades, and lots of ammunition, and a well-planned operation, it's possible. Equally possible, the official low body count is because some of the perps got away.

If the inventory of operatives is correct, it's more ominous than reassuring. It shows just how effective asymmetrical or "fourth generation" warfare can be. The insurgents don't have to tackle the state head-on; with a few strikes at key pressure points, designed as much for psychological
as tactical effect, they can cause both chaos and fear that conventional security and military defenses aren't equal to.

As to "who were the villains?" the preliminary analysis suggests the answer is nowhere near as simple as the alternatives I'd presented in the last posting. Islamic terrorist groups apparently exist in a fantastically complex, constantly changing kaleidoscope of splinter groups, ad hoc organizations, criminal networks, and sponsorship by cadres within states and military forces. Richard Fernandez's latest post at Belmont Club offers a picture.

His closing thought seems bang on target: "Perhaps the Mumbai operation is an intersection of several organizations. If so the specific name of the perpetrator may matter less than we think. Terrorism, crime and religious fanaticism have become a way of life in parts of the subcontinent. Maybe the real question is not who … but what now?"


Terrorism is morphing into new and dangerous forms, but counterterrorism strategy is also developing. We should worry. We should not despair.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

A bridge too far for the jihad?

At the time of the last posting, events were still sorting out and real information, as opposed to journalistic speculation, was thin on the ground. So I deliberately avoided any attempt to be a pundit (one of the many English words deriving from Indian languages, incidentally) about larger political meanings or probable consequences of the Mumbai terrorist assault. The events reinforced a belief I have not been shy about proclaiming before: that allowing Muslim immigration into the West in general, and the United States in particular, is sending out an urgent request for more trouble. And I stand by that.

A day later, what do we know? Officially, not much, other than the stomach-turning facts on the ground. So the following thoughts have to be tentative.

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It is reported that at least three of the (militants) (insurgents) (terrorists) -- take your choice of terminology -- have been captured alive. Given the huge number of (militants, etc.) involved, probably a few more than that have not yet collected their virgins in Paradise. How could the planners of this operation, which involved probably hundreds of (militants, etc.), have imagined that it would be otherwise? These people strike me as both clever and stupid.

The Indian security forces will not be interviewing the captives across a table with a lawyer present. It's safe to assume that within hours they will know everything the captives can tell them, and while the captives may have belonged to cells ignorant of one another, meta-analysis of the intel from various sources will probably soon present a coherent picture.

Indian security isn't necessarily going to reveal what they discover. Not to you and me. I'd guess they will whisper it into the ears of a few trusted friends in the CIA and MI-6.

Common sense suggests that this was at least in part an outside job. It required too much weaponry and ammunition, was too carefully organized to be purely a strike by mad dissidents from the villages where rapid transit is an energetic ox.

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The obvious question is, AQ or ISI (the Pakistani intelligence agency, widely acknowledged to be AQ running dogs)? Or a joint venture?

Let's say the Indians have proof positive that ISI or some other official level of the Pakistani government was calling the shots. (I doubt very much that what passes for the head of state in Pakistan was behind the Mumbai rumble; that would have been sheer lunacy as a risk-reward proposition.)

We can only guess at this point how it will play out. But I'll suggest one possibility.

This could be a game changer. The jihad johnnies have gotten used to dealing with Euro-weenies. Europe's dithering and appeasement have gone to their heads. But India is no longer one of the world's 98-pound weaklings. And it's fed up with having sand kicked in its face. Moreover, India hasn't feasted on the West's guilt trip: it was the colonized.

So maybe India has no political correctness running through its veins, a
nuked-up, world power with no compulsion to show its understanding and tolerance of its tormentor. Which means it can identify a target and blow it to buggery and then walk away -- delivering the message that "if you mess with us, you're going to pay big time and we're not going to hang around as an occupation force you can take your revenge on." That is, what our gormless Geo. W. Bush should have done to AQ in Afghanistan, had Geo. been a strategist instead of a neocon tool.

That's only a possibility. India's leaders may be, like ours, desperately anxious for the approval of a world containing many who hate it and want to see it part of the worldwide Caliphate. It could sink into Israel-like quicksand of an endless "heads you win, tails I lose" peace process.

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Speaking of Israel, the Indian counterterrorist authorities are no doubt going to take a lot of heat for refusing Israeli help in rescuing the hostages at the Jewish center, the hostages being killed during the Indian commando assault. Well, the Israelis are the best in the world for that kind of operation, but it's not clear what they could have done that the Indians could not. We'll never know.

But look, if there were a hostage situation in your city or town, how would you feel about handing it over to Canadians or French (assuming you are not in Canada or France)? I suppose Israeli forces could have been kitted up and flown to Mumbai in five or six hours; what if the terrorists got bored with the situation or figured there was no way out once the Israelis arrived, and killed their hostages in the meantime? If it was your call, try explaining that.

Anyway, pending further developments, it looks like the jihadists might have made a very bad play, their own bridge too far, out of fanaticism or desperation. We will see.

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

No holiday from terrorism

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Americans who take Thanksgiving Day seriously must be thankful that, with one great exception, we have been spared mass killings based on the fanaticism of members of a politico-religious group. That's no reason to be complacent. What has happened in Mumbai can happen here.

We should stop all Muslim immigration, now.

The great majority of Muslims do not condone acts like those of the Indian Mujahideen. I have no doubt that many Muslims abhor this madness. The fact remains that Islam is not a tolerant religion. It has no notion of religious freedom. Its adherents do not, cannot if they are "good" Muslims, accept living in peace with non-Muslims except as a temporary necessity. The Muslim world is divided in two: Dar-al-Islam, the House of Islam, and Dar-al-Harb, the House of War.

Muslim immigration will always include a certain percentage of terrorists and terrorist enablers. There is no way to sort out who is who before the fact. Face the reality, unpleasant though it is: Muslim immigration involves a component -- it doesn't matter how small -- that will make scenes of horror like those in Mumbai more likely to be enacted here.

Let's give thanks that we have achieved a society that, to an overwhelming degree, allows people to live peacefully with those of different beliefs. Such a situation is rare in history and rare in the world today. In return for all that we can be grateful for on this day of Thanksgiving, we have an obligation to do what we must to preserve domestic peace and protect the innocent.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Retroactive birth control?

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Yes, "any alterations invalidate this certificate."

An investigator named Ron Polarik has published a report in considerable technical detail contending that president-in-waiting Barack Obama's "birth certificate" — actually a long-after-the-fact document known as a "Certification of Live Birth" — is a forgery. (Tip of the hat: Terry Morris.) It ties in with rumors that Obama was actually born in Kenya, not Hawaii, and is therefore ineligible to be president under the terms of the Constitution.

I wish this issue had never arisen, that there was unquestionable proof that Obama is a U.S. citizen by birth. On political grounds, I abhor what I expect Obama will bring to the presidential office and expect to oppose him down the line. But it will be very bad all around if anti-Obama sentiment becomes associated with a "conspiracy theory" rather than his ideological positions. And as unthinkable as it seems now, should the federal judiciary get involved in this mess and declare there is a reasonable doubt about about Obama's citizenship — or find a "smoking gun" proving he is not eligible for the presidency — it could provoke the greatest constitutional crisis since the Civil War.

So, should we ignore the controversy and the evidence?

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We cannot. If the "conspiracy" is a fact — and I hope it is not — it must be brought to light, whatever the consequences. To openly cast aside a provision in the Constitution is one more step toward making that great document irrelevant, a historical artifact that can be re-interpreted according to politics or convenience. It would be a major advance toward a government that rules rather than legislates, for the presidency as a Roman emperor–like cult subject to no law, not even the very Constitution that is the basis of all law, including limits on the power of the government over the individual.

Whether Ron Polarik's report is valid in its conclusions or not, to suppress it will not make it go away. It will take on a life of its own that no amount of denial, even honest denial, can stop.

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Of course, the journalism industry that never gets tired of patting itself on the back for its "All the President's Men" moment of glory will be considerably less interested in pursuing this story, since the subject is its idol Barack Obama rather than its earlier ogre, Richard Nixon. That, too, would be a mistake. If it turns out that a cover-up has actually taken place, the news media will lose what little is left of their credibility.

I will read Polarik's report through, but I don't expect to end up with a firm opinion, since it is largely based on computer technology that I understand in a general way but not in depth. Readers of this blog who believe they are competent to judge the validity of Polarik's conclusions are welcome to comment.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

A modest contribution to helping a progressive save the world

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Dave Pollard.
He has questions, we have answers.

Under the heading "Dilemmas for Progressives" at the web site How to Save the World, Dave Pollard wants some comments about questions that are troubling his conscience. Dave, let me see if I can help.

Choosing Your Charities: There are a hundred good causes always asking for money, and hundreds of people on the streets asking for change, busking, washing your windshield, selling those 50 cent newspapers etc. How do you choose? Who do you give to, and when? Local or global? Health or social service? People you know raising money for luxuries or organized fundraisers supporting the really desperate? Cash or a good meal?
Dave, I don't know if I have any standing in your court of opinion, since I am not a progressive, but one of those conservatives whom you know are snorting hogs with both forefeet in the trough, just out to get all that can be got with no thought for the wretched of the earth. Still, I have occasionally pondered such issues myself.

Have you ever considered the difference between Charity (caritas) and charities? One is a condition of the soul you probably don't believe in, a channel through which an infinitely compassionate God works through people in the world of time. The other, charities, are businesses whose business is "making a difference" (in the worn cant phrase). There is a place for both, but in our culture we mostly have the second without the first.

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Your question implies that there is some formula to which all such questions can be referred, an approved template. Progressives as a rule don't much care for deciding ethical questions individually, preferring to subject them to an ideological litmus test. My advice, though, is to follow the old maxim: "You pays your money and you takes your choice." Since you can't support every organization doing good works, you go with the one that is closest to your heart, whether it's preserving the culture of the gypsy pickpockets, saving the endangered Kamchatka Snow Otter, or re-stocking the Amazon with tsetse flies. You might also consider which of the missions you consider is most practicable.
Government-Assisted & Centralized, or Community-Based: On the big-ticket issues where inequality is at critical levels, like education and health, most progressives like the idea of universal, free-for-all programs. But at the same time community-based unschooling programs, and community-run clinics that use volunteers to stretch dollars, have a lot of appeal and they're the antithesis of massive, state-run programs. And what is your position on voucher programs, that basically give people the money (or equivalent) and leave it up to them how to spend it (on food, on their choice of schools etc.)?
You've got one thing right: "Most progressives like the idea of universal, free-for-all programs." For all their talk of diversity, progressives distrust individual differences, among people or communities. Nothing less than universal will do. A progressive's dream is the whole universe, from here to Alpha Centauri and beyond, working as one, thinking as one, being indoctrinated (I mean, educated) as one. And all for free. Only there is no such thing as "free," only the question of who pays. But if everyone is equal in your Utopia, who can the money be extracted from for your "free" universal programs? Still, for progressives, the struggle to overcome inequality will always be an unfinished project, so you can soak the "privileged" to make everything "free" for the unprivileged.
Immigration Policy: At current rates of immigration, the US population will soar to one billion by 2100, and the Canadian population to 100 million. Many people believe we have no right to keep people out just because of where they had the misfortune to be born. But such populations will wipe out our last remaining wilderness, increase pollution proportionally to their numbers, and devastate our forests and farmlands. So do you opt for human kindness or ecological sustainability?
Dave, I have had the misfortune to be born with no sense of rhythm and no talent for translating dots on lined paper into sounds. But I will be glad to play the accordion at your next progressive fund raiser, for my professional fee, of course.

You deserve credit for at least admitting that that opening our country to everyone in the world who doesn't like it where he is might have its drawbacks, once we approach the population density of India. But the drawbacks, in your view, are all about the environment. The American and Canadian people don't matter to you. Their quality of life doesn't matter. Their traditions and culture don't matter. You're worried about forests and farmlands.

Not all of your progressive allies are principled when it comes to the natural environment. The corrupt Sierra Club refuses to take a stand against even illegal immigration, even though the Mexican invaders are trashing national wilderness areas in Arizona and around the border. The Sierra Club received a whopping cash donation from a progressive donor, on the condition that it not let out a peep about immigration or population size.
Stopping at Zero: Those who don't care about our environment, or don't know any better, have no compunction about having large families. What should we do about such people? Compensate by having none, or just one, of our own? Make it clear that we find their conduct irresponsible and reprehensible? Even if they're good in other ways, or the loved ones of our loved ones?
"Compensate by having none, or just one, of our own?" Dave, how can you suggest such idiocy? Keep the presumably responsible people reproducing minimally, while the riff-raff have your leave to breed like sturgeon and become a rapidly growing proportion of the population? Oh, sorry, I forgot -- you're a progressive, which means never having to admit that not everyone is equal in every way, including intelligence. "Make it clear that we find their conduct irresponsible and reprehensible?" Yes, my good man, a quiet word to the wise, a meeting of the minds. That should make the baby factories see the light.

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I have another suggestion. Sterilize everyone with an IQ below 100 after they've mothered or fathered two children. That offends your progressive notion of pretend-equality, that everyone has a "right" to whatever they want and hang the consequences to society. The difference is that my solution will work. Nothing you show any sign of agreeing to will.
Watch or Turn it Off: The news is mostly bad, and mostly unactionable, so there's a tendency to shut it off and not subject yourself to more grief -- you know what's happening, and don't need to be reminded. Or do you? Is there something in that news that is your undiscovered cause, something that you can do something about, something that you really need to know?
Do you really think you're going to get any serious ideas about helping suffering humanity by watching or reading the news? There is almost nothing "new" in the news. It's the same stories, repeating year after year, with different names. Besides which, the news isn't a window on the world as it really is; it's a made-up tale, written and edited to meet commercial and ideological constraints and trimmed to fit the time and space available.

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If you really want to find an "undiscovered cause" you first have to humbly acknowledge that there are no undiscovered causes, just ones that are undiscovered by you. There is no social or ethical issue that hasn't been considered and written about in the past by minds far better than yours. To find something "you really need to know," try reading more than superficially in the history of ideas, spiritual traditions, governments, philosophy, science.

The human condition has been probed far more incisively than you probably have any idea of. You don't need to -- in fact, shouldn't -- accept anyone else's ideas unless they ring true to you in connection with whatever else you know and learn. But you might find that some dilemmas for progressives are dilemmas only because of how progressives frame them.
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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Intermission

I will be away from home base this weekend. No postings till Monday at the earliest. As usual, I recommend you visit the sites on the blogroll.

Then again, you could use the time to read a book.

Au revoir pour maintenant.


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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Make history poverty

poverty
Guests arrive for Autumn Gala
at Shortage House, Newport.

As a reaction to the stock market's kamikaze-inspired trend, we have entered the era of conspicuous thrift, Bill Bonner tells us:
"No more fancy pants," is a headline at the New York Times. The gist of the accompanying article is that even expensive restaurants are now trying to look cheap. People who still have money to spend don't want to spend it... and when they do spend it, they don't want to look like they are spending it.

But styles change. Now, people are showing off by NOT spending money. Sound unbelievable? Well, maybe. But our guess is that people are going to find more subtle... and less expensive... ways to wink at each other. Heavy spending is going the way of heavy drinking. It will be seen as vulgar.
My aim for the duration of this crisis is to show my solidarity with those who have been undone by the fission of the Great Credit Bubble. Fortunately, I have had much practice in poverty. I can exemplify conspicuous non-consumption as one to the manner born.

The In Crowd
The toff with the stovepipe hat demonstrates unacceptable vulgarity.

I still have my old, odd-noises-making car: a 1997 Honda Civic. Not only has it been deprived of a good polish job in its lifetime, but has not seen the inside of a carwash in donkey's years. And dig that missing right-side external mirror! I have to confess to a wodge of pride in that. In short, this is a car to look fabulous, my dears, in the parking lot of any McDonald's.

From now on, no more Scotch and soda for me. Strictly Scotch and
water.

timex
My new fake Timex.

I will search the back of my closet tonight for those 1984 Nikes. The green mold makes a statement.

And — sniffle, sniffle — excuse me, but you'll notice I'm using only half a Kleenex; this unheated room has given me a case of consumption (inconspicuous, though!) like poor what's-her-name in La Traviata. Although Blogger does not charge me for using its service, I will look at the earliest opportunity for a less expensive blogging platform.

Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to lower your glasses in a toast to new times. Let's make history together.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Condi Rice, in her own (foolish) words

Just in case you're planning to feel nostalgic for the Bush administration — okay, okay, not you, at least until you're drafted into Obama's Civilian National Security Force — it's a good mental health practice to remember who W. selected to represent our defective, waste-of-space nation to the world.

Our outgoing Secretary of State, neocon pin-up Condoleeza Rice, has consented to share her worldview with The New York Times. Some choice specimens (Ms. Rice's words in italics, your blogger's in Roman):

Electing a black president says around the world that you can overcome old wounds. I’ve said in our case, We have a birth defect, but it can be overcome.

The second part of this has been pulverized by some real masters of invective, like Larry Auster, but don't tell me I can't pile on. So the candidate who was supposed to transcend race was elected, according to Ms. Rice, because only someone of his race could "overcome." We were a wounded country because of a melanin-challenged Oval Office. The United States had a birth defect, as though every other country in the world was perfect from the moment of founding. All the civil rights legislation, all the minority aid programs, all the affirmative action hiring, all the government contract set-asides, all the laws making blacks a "protected class," all the foundation grants for black enterprises, all the "hate crimes" legislation, all the speech codes — it all counts for nada until we get an affirmative action president.

I’ve seen too many peoples dismissed as not ready for self-government. First it was Asians, and then Latin Americans and Africans were there for a while. I know for a while black Americans were, too.

Really? Who was it, exactly, who said Asians and Latin Americans were not ready for self-government? In your own lifetime, Condi, please, not centuries ago. True, there were people who said Africans were not ready for self-government, but all those wicked people are gone or marginalized now. Anyone can look at Zimbabwe or South Africa and see how wrong they were.

I’ve seen it said, well, you know: They’re illiterate; how could they vote? And then you see in Afghanistan people line up for long, long lines. Because somehow they know that making a choice matters.

You've seen it said, well, like, you know. Democracy is just "making a choice," doesn't have anything to do with literacy and, well, like that. If you can line up, you're ready to decide questions of state.

These neocons can't wrap their heads around the idea that self-government demands more from a population than just checking boxes or voting for their own favorite warlord. To make the ballot more than elective tyranny or farce, a voting public must (among other things) have a basic agreement about fundamental principles, understanding of the rule of law, loyalty to something greater than their clan or even co-religionists, the ability to understand and discuss issues, and the ability to consider long-term consequences of acts. We aren't that good at it ourselves. We certainly can't inject it in a culture with values that are utterly different from ours.

I think that over the last several years, because of a more assertive American voice on this, there have been some real gains — like women in Kuwait voting or like Iraq, which is an imperfect and fragile and still-emerging democracy but one that is multiconfessional, multiethnic and in the center of the Arab world.

We've bankrupted ourselves six times over, sent four or five thousand of our and our allies' soldiers to be deconstructed into collections of body parts, crippled thousands of others for life, cut the response capability of our military to next to zero — but hey, stop being so negative, women in Kuwait are voting. We've spent citizens' lives to bring a "multiconfessional," "multiethnic" society to Iraq? Meaning what, Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish Muslims?

Perhaps she was out of the room when the briefing officer mentioned that all those "confessions" and ethnicities were in Iraq before our nation building cannon fodder dropped in. I suppose she really believes that Sunni and Shia are kind of like the First Baptists and the Free Will Baptists back in Alabama, goin' to different churches of a Sunday, but marchin' in the same parade and gettin' together for the picnic.
Equally, she must believe that in "multiconfessional" Iraq, after five years of carnage on all sides, Iraqis can choose to open a First Baptist Church in Baghdad.

I have no doubt that democracy is the best form of government. I’m very optimistic that it is one whose reach is increasing throughout the world. I would just urge all Americans to understand how our advice is taken. And to be careful how we offer advice.

Yes, people can take it the wrong way when you invade their country.

For many people in the world, they look at America, and they see an enormous country with an extraordinary amount of power. Pure power. And so they feel that asymmetry immediately as soon as they meet us.

Very telling. For Ms. Rice, the only meaning of America — aside from its birth defect and gaping wound — is power. Not constitutional government (something far more complex and subtle than the golden calf of democracy she worships). Not a careful balance of power among different branches of government and between the states and the federal government. Not individuals. Not their historic roots and local traditions.

No, America is just power — "pure power" — and that asymmetry isn't right. Not democratic. Not a birth defect maybe, but a moral outrage that must be atoned for by making every other country asymmetrically powerful. The only legitimate use of our power is bringing democracy to the world, and damn the cost in blood and money.


Whatever mischief the new Supreme Leader has planned for us, he'll have to work hard to outdo the legacy of his predecessors.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

The lamb vegetable

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Lamb vegetable of Tartary
Tip of the hat to Wunderkammer

I hope this isn't too much of a disappointment, but actually no such animal-plant exists. As far as anyone knows.

This posting's head and illustration are what they are because, if I had titled it "Revision to the blogroll," you would click away faster than you can say Jack Robinson. Admit it.

Nevertheless, I have made some changes to the blogroll, and a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that I should declare the causes which impel me to the action.

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Many bloggers apparently choose
early on in their blogging career some sidebar links that become, so to speak, fossils preserved in amber, and never add to or subtract from the blogroll. Others include links to, you have to suspect, almost every site where they ever read something they liked. The result looks sort of like the Yellow Pages for a small town.

Having -- quite frankly -- nothing worth saying on any of the Great Issues at the moment, I determined that the hour had come to take electronic saw and hammer and rebuild Reflecting Light's blogroll. I thought long and hard about the purpose of the blogroll, and concluded that I didn't know and couldn't think of any justification that I myself might not as easily argue against. In the end, I suppose, we bloggers include blogrolls because we want to.

You'll notice that the blogroll is now shorter -- which means that I can add to it now and then without it becoming bloated. Two exceptions aside, I've eliminated subject headings other than "Worth your time." Which itself is presumptuous, of course, since the sites referred to may or may not be worth your time. But to label them "Worth my time" is too self-important, as though I were royalty bestowing my grace and favor.

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The "Gold standard" heading remains. There are no changes in this category and I don't believe there ever have been, which suggests either that I chose well to begin with or am stuck. I'm also keeping the "Spirit/Psychical" heading because these sites are clearly specialty items.

A brief explanation about what is gone, and why.

All the "Ending the immigration madness" sites have been turfed out. It isn't because the subject is any less important, but because with very few exceptions, I have come to find them numbingly repetitious for anyone who is already aware of the severe damage that uncontrolled Third World immigration is doing to our society. Most of them -- VDare is a good example -- are not part of the solution, are not dedicated to strategy, and are content just to whinge endlessly about how awful the invasion is. They're right, but a complaint and a dollar will buy you a cup of coffee. We need action, not (only) more viewing with alarm.

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Some individual blogs have been tossed for no better reason than I don't like them much anymore. James Lileks is a sad case in point. In the months after 9/11, his "Daily Bleat" was energizing and eloquent. He still is a fine stylist, and I wish I could write as well as he does, but repeated visits to his site have left me cold. Lileks has little on his mind other than pop culture (he must know every B movie and TV show ever made) and nostalgia.

When I put together the original blogroll, Lucianne.com was relatively unknown, or I thought it was. By now, everybody who wants or needs it goes there and it needs no referral from me. The author of Photon Courier now mostly posts at Chicago Boyz. No longer included are ... are ... well, I've already forgotten what else I deleted, which is a good indication of why.

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A few months ago I booted out Gates of Vienna, mainly because some of its commenters were too distasteful. It still gives room to a few bloodthirsty types who like to fantasize about nuking the entire Muslim world. But the site's hosts, Baron Bodissey and Dymphna, are sensible, and they publish important writers like Fjordman and include information about militant Islam that the mainstream media downplay or ignore. So the link to Gates is back.

Respect for the opinions of mankind having been satisfied, I will leave this topic with a reminder that the Disclaimer applies. Including a site on the blogroll does not -- not, got it? -- mean that I necessarily agree with what is written there. Some of the bloggers on my list, incidentally, aren't too keen on one another. But I can turn to them in a reasonable expectation of finding something that will be illuminating, amusing, unexpected, or skillfully written. Which is to say, worth my time, and maybe yours.

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