Thursday, June 28, 2012

Service interruption

I will be away on a brief trip through Sunday. See you after that.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The assisted suicide of Western nations

The pressure is on to preserve a make-believe currency, but since nothing else has worked, the limousine class is ready to call in an air strike on European countries' independence. Der Spiegel Online says:  
'States Must Sacrifice Sovereignty to Save Euro'
German media commentators have drawn some comfort from a blueprint for a radical revamp of the euro zone's architecture presented this week by the "gang of four" European presidents: European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, Euro Group President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Central Bank President Mario Draghi.
The ideas would entail a dramatic loss of national sovereignty through the establishment of a central authority with power to demand changes in individual members' national budgets, as well as a "medium term" move towards euro bonds, as well as a banking union with a single authority that would insure banking deposits and have the power to shut or recapitalize banks directly, with help from Europe's permanent bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism.
"The gang of four" -- that has echoes. Presumably meant as a joking reference to the leaders of the Communist Chinese Great Cultural Revolution. Non-elite Europeans aren't laughing.

Only members of an economic mafia, living in an alternative universe from ordinary men and women, could call a "dramatic loss of national sovereignty" a change of "architecture," as though it entailed building a new deck overlooking the backyard.

You will love Big Euro!

Make no mistake. This isn't about saving those gaily colored euro notes -- that's just the excuse du jour. It's really the thin end of the wedge that will end citizenship in European countries and make every former French, Italian, Dutch, what-have-you national a serf toiling for the Lords of Brussels. That, or a welfare class dependent on Germany. Germany needs economic Lebensraum.

Back in Old Gloryland, the gang of nine (political appointees in black robes, whose Word is Law, from which there is no appeal) has told Arizona that it cannot uphold immigration laws that the federal government does not want enforced. Killers, drug traffickers, trespassers, welfare recipients, anchor baby factories ... Arizona cops can only ask them about their citizenship.

"No habla Ingles."

 "Americano?" "I no know no-thing."

"I'm going to have to report you to the federal authorities." "Oh, Cisco!"

"Oh, Pancho!"

Arizona reports Pancho to the federal immigration enforcer simulators. "Oh, that old guy again? Listen, I'm sorry, but Janet Napoletano says we can't arrest 'em or ask their age. That way they're clean, they're youths, and eligible for Obamnesty."

So population replacement goes on, and on, and on, until one Fourth of July in the near future you will look around and see what used to be the United States of America, now a mere geographical expression, linked with Mexico and Latin America in an amero currency and political union.

The only thing holding back a complete America del Norte y Centro is that the Canadians can't stand us. They'll hold out, long after U.S. citizens have consented to become ciphers in Latin America.


Monday, June 25, 2012


I don't suppose the debate about faith versus reason ever entered the human mind before Christianity. No primitive culture that I know of thought in those terms. The Greeks would not have understood the concept of "faith"; the pre-Christian Romans, no more so. Jews (and later, Mohammedans) had no use for faith. The truth had been given to them, the law was the law, and all it took to be a worthy person was to obey the law.

Almost from the beginning of Christianity, it was an issue. The Greco-Roman love of logic and dialectic couldn't be erased so easily even after the officially sweeping victory of Christian faith. Reading about the early history of the Church, you get the impression that the hierarchy had to spend half its time dueling heresies, some of which amounted to the idea that the doctrine made no sense to mankind's reasoning faculty: for instance, the Arian doctrine, which couldn't see how the "son" of God had existed eternally with the "God the father."


Thomas Aquinas committed his great intellect to showing that faith did not contradict reason, but his answer satisfied thinkers for a historically short period -- the Protestant revolution ("pro" faith) and  the Age of Enlightenment ("contra" faith) tested it again.

But the question had "bubbled under" even during the Middle Ages. Take Peter Abelard of the 12th century. He began his career as an ecclesiastical rock star, magnetizing students with his lectures. Abelard is remembered today mainly for his affair with his intellectual and sensual admirer Heloise. But despite their personal tragedy, Abelard continued his teaching which was -- by the standards of the time -- amazingly rationalistic. Although he never specifically denied Church doctrine, his attitude was not unlike that of one of Plato's students trying to justify it in logic.


Of course Abelard flirted with charges of heresy, arousing in particular the ire of St. Bernard of Clairvaux. Bernard, like other churchmen, feared that Abelard's call to reason would undermine the foundations of the faith. Abelard was eventually condemned for heresy by a Church council.

It's unlikely that anybody, save a few Catholic theologians of the old school, would defend faith as opposed to reason in today's world. I wouldn't; I don't believe in the idea of heresy; no institution should have the power to dictate belief. For all that, Abelard wasn't entirely right, and Bernard and his co-believers weren't entirely wrong.


Abelard wanted to square the circle, by taking the mystery of God and turning it into a series of propositions. Nine hundred years ago, he believed what is now almost unquestioned among the bien-pensants, that reason is the only valid form of knowledge. God can be understood, if at all -- if He exists -- by thinking about Him. St. Bernard was probably a narrow-minded cuss, but his objections were based on a more profound insight than ever seems to have visited Abelard: that there is a higher knowledge than the rational mind can comprehend. 

Reason has an important place. Despite all mankind's follies, it has made life materially better for almost everyone. But it has brought us not a bit closer to transcendent reality. Never has, never will.

That doesn't mean transcendent reality is a fantasy, only that reason is the wrong instrument for finding it. Spiritual discipline, of whatever sort is appropriate to the individual, is the right instrument in my view. But the path of spirit takes so long for most of us, so long, so long. Faith stops by. One gets the point of it.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Don't jump! The priest is on his way


I'm starting to feel protective toward this bloke. How would you like to fire up your computer, day after living day, and see a message on every other site that language professors hate you? 

Granted, language professors make up, oh, 0.0000017 percent of the population, but still ... it could do your head in after a while, you don't think?

Sir, I want to assure you that regardless of language professors' hatred you are as dear to me as anyone I've never heard of. Cheer yourself up. By the way, can you make me fluent in Greek in the next 10 days? 

What do you mean, there's nothing left of the Greek language except the word for "bailout"?


Monday, June 18, 2012

The Greek spring

Spring has about one more day to run. The Greek election settlement might last that long. Or not.

As The Telegraph's astute Ambrose Evans-Pritchard says, "Greece’s new leaders have a mandate from Hell. Almost 52pc of the popular vote went to parties that opposed the bail-out Memorandum in one way or another. There is no national acceptance of the Troika’s austerity policies whatsoever." [The "Troika" is, apparently, new slang for the European Union, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund -- Greece's moneylenders and dictators.]

The Troika wants to keep the aid drip feed open while demanding Greeks live in a dead economy created by imposed austerity. Greeks reject the imposed austerity but want to keep the drip feed open. Irresistible force. Immovable object. 

This problem is insoluble in the terms that the EU potentates can't think outside of -- keeping disparate economies and national cultures in an economic union and a common currency. They're the continental version of One Worlders and open borders libertarians. Their ideology is based on single-valued logic that ignores every real-world factor that won't fit. 

For now, the EU overlords have the upper hand: the law, the money, the power. For now. The Bourbons and aristocracy of France had all that in 1785. Much good it did them, a few years on, when their heads looked around and noticed they were inside a basket.

The "who-whom" dichotomy can carry on quite a while. Most of mankind does go quietly when meeting irresistible force. Sooner or later, though, the "whom" become the immovable object.


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Stalin lives


The mask is off, the cover blown. Josef "Barack" Stalin, the former star hope-and-change salesman, stands revealed as the political bandit he always has been. Constitution? He don't have to show you no stinkin' Constitution.

He announced yesterday: "Over the next few months, eligible individuals who do not present a risk to national security or public safety will be able to request temporary relief from deportation proceedings and apply for work authorization.” Says who? Says him. 

Arrogance drips from every word. "Temporary"? Who believes that? "Relief" -- from the laws of the United States. Who will decide which "eligible individuals" present no risk? Probably a blanket authorization from Janet Napolitano. They're young, haven't had much time to get into trouble yet. ¡No problemo!


"Apply for work authorization"? Does that mean some of them will be turned down? Hah. We have an official unemployment rate of 8 percent and change, a real unemployment rate of more like 15 percent (after a certain period of being out of work, they're just not counted anymore -- nonpersons). Why not flood the zone with 800,000 low-wage illegals/Barack-says-they're-legals?

The captive mainstream media will try to position J.B. Stalin's unilateral amnesty as just another campaign strategy, like posing for the photographers while eating pierogi in Chicago's Polish neighborhood. No. It's not just pandering to the ever-growing illegal voter population, either. It's his "I am the law" statement, in a direct line of descent from the famous boss of Jersey City, Frank Hague.

J.B. Stalin no longer bothers with the surreptitious political ju-jitsu strategies of the Rules for Radicals. He's the rule for radicals.

If I had a son, he'd look like Obama.

Don't count on the Republicans to turn him inside out on this affront to the tattered remains of our Republic. Oh, sure, they'll moan a little, maybe indulge in some meaningless threats of lawsuits but the truth is they will counter-pander. Our Supreme Soviet, I mean, Congress treads lightly on immigration. You might not get the vote (legal or illegal) of a Hispanic ... but hey, you never know.

If the Republicans were genuinely an opposition party, their flag bearer would have used this occasion of J.B. Stalin's open defiance of law and precedent, his siding with his notion of elevated lawbreakers, to blast a verbal hole in the White House wall rat. Forget it. Romney's response was, "An executive order is of course just a short-term matter -- it can be reversed by subsequent presidents. I'd like to see legislation that deals with this issue." He's a law-and-order man. Amnesty should come about by law.

Yes, I'd vote for the Republican candidate in November even if the GOP nominated a worm (maybe they have). There is bad politics, and there is Stalinism; bad politics is the necessary choice this time around. Will any of us live to see a third option?


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Who uses Expedia, and why?

MarketWatch has a story today with a bullish take on Expedia, as well as other online travel sites -- Priceline and TripAdvisor. (Oddly, it doesn't mention Expedia's main competitor, Travelocity, or the dozens of similar sites.)

It's a superficial analysis, comparing the profit potential of automated travel booking to that of owning casino stock.  I see no analogy that makes sense. Anybody who acquires Expedia shares on the basis of this piece might do better at the roulette table.

A more relevant alternative question is: who buys airline tickets and hotel rooms through Expedia (or Travelocity)? A lot of people, apparently, but it's hard to reckon why.


I'm a thorough vacation planner, and do check out the prices on Expedia and similar, but it's been years since I've found any deals there that beat what you can get directly from the supplier. Recently, putting together a modest upcoming vacation -- a long weekend, really -- I looked at hotel prices in our destination city. TripAdvisor will open up windows for all the so-called discounters (unless you uncheck boxes to opt out); in every case, a hotel room cost the same, to the penny, on the "cheap" sites as on the site of the hotel itself.

I'd walk a camel for a mile.

Ten or 15 years ago, when online booking was relatively new and most people got rooms and flights through a travel agent, Expedia and other discount brokers could offer the suppliers a mostly upscale clientele who knew how to work the 'Net. So the Expedia rake-off might have been worth it to hotel chains and airlines. Nowadays, with everybody's dog buying everything online, why would anybody lower their rates for Expedia?

Priceline, of course, is a different kind of critter ... if you bid for your hotel. (Priceline, too, offers fixed-price hotel rooms that cost the same as on every other site.)


I've gotten some good deals through Priceline, but you have to be very careful in trying to "name your own price." Go to the site Bidding for Travel and check out what hotels have been offered in each "star" category on Priceline. Above all -- know the areas that Priceline divides the city into. If you aren't familiar with the city at all, I wouldn't take a chance on a blind bid at Priceline.

TripAdvisor actually is a value-added app. Not because you can get anything cheaper on it, but because reading the customer reviews of hotels people have stayed at is a good way to get a multi-angulated view of the properties. I've even written a few reviews for TripAdvisor myself -- my handle is Trippist Monk.


It's best to read the reviews in small doses. Too many at a time can send you crazy. And individual reviews can cancel each other out -- one says the place treated him like a Maharajah, you could eat off the floors they were so clean, and they changed the views from the windows along with the sheets every day. Another says the staff was rude, crooked, couldn't be bothered; the plumbing was naff; the room looked out on an alley frequented by dope dealers.

You pays your money and you takes your choice.


Monday, June 11, 2012

Known but to God

I've always had mixed feelings about the U.S. military. I want it to be the most lethal fighting force on earth, comprising terrifyingly efficient killers and destroyers like the Roman Legions. I also want it firmly shackled by civilian control. And, especially after the past decade, I want its mission to be a combination of deterrence and defense.

That's all. Not an armed priesthood bringing the gospel of Americanism to eagerly waiting Third World mud villages. Not a social engineering unit for putting uniforms on transsexuals. Above all, not a plaything for politicians' war games.


That said -- one thing I unequivocally like is military ceremonies. They proudly flaunt their tradition and gravitas. Intellectually the idea of people drilled to act in unison, in precise patterns, might be distasteful; but it is an aesthetic pleasure. Watching a disciplined group in ritual motion, whether it's a military drill team or dancers in a Balanchine ballet, produces an archetypal thrill.

Even those newsreel shots of Nazi or Soviet troops in the thousands goose stepping past the reviewing stand, while morally disgusting, tug at the emotions. That's what they were designed to do.


Military ceremonies are almost the last survival in our practical, bureaucratic world of the splendor attached to public life in times past. Every formal occasion was an opportunity to dazzle onlookers (yes, the impression created had a political purpose, but it was also the outpouring of confident elegance).

The opening of Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August offers a glimpse of what they were like at their most extravagant:
So gorgeous was the spectacle on the May morning of 1910 when nine kings rode in the funeral of Edward VII of England that the crowd, waiting in hushed black-clad awe, could not keep back gasps of admiration. In scarlet and blue and green and purple, three by three the sovereigns rode through the palace gates, with plumed helmets, gold braid, crimson sashes, and jeweled orders flashing in the sun.   
Even ordinary parades and festivals were glorious displays of color and pomp. What few celebrations of civic pride we can muster today have degenerated into assemblies of souvenir and ice cream vendors, displays of bad amateur paintings, balloons for the kids, and maybe a few "antique" (i.e., pre-1980s) cars.

The armies of the world held onto their style, sometimes stupidly: less than a hundred years ago, at the outset of the Great War, French soldiers marched to their muddy deaths wearing dress uniforms with red-striped trousers. (The French and Italians still have a taste for cutting a good figure in uniform; I've watched delightedly as traffic cops in Rome stopped cars -- they have some kind of wand they arc toward the curb, unlike American police who crudely point -- snapped to attention and saluted the driver.)


Full-dress occasions are rare in the armed services today, but when they honor someone, it is a grand sight.

The high-voltage blogger Ann Barnhardt recently wrote about the changing of the guard at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery (dated May 28; I can't figure out any way to link to individual postings on her site). She said:
The soldiers are in full dress uniform, meticulously turned-out and maintained. They are not in combat gear that soldiers would use to walk a patrol in Afghanistan. The Tomb guards are doing something DIFFERENT, and thus their uniforms reflect that. Really, what the ceremonies surrounding the Tomb are is the highest form of ART. It is living ART, not consisting of a mere two-dimensional representation, not consisting of inanimate objects, but ART consisting of human beings in action. The uniforms, the gait, the precise rubrics, words, gestures and movements - these all combine into a perpetual work of art that not only moves and inspires the people who witness it, but also accomplishes the goal of making tangible a RESPECT for and a REMEMBRANCE of all of the fallen unknown soldiers. The Tomb Guards walk their patrol whether anyone is there to see them do it or not. It isn't a show. It is a service. It is a liturgy.
Barnhardt provides this video of the guard changing. Its technical quality is eh, probably put on YouTube by a tourist, but the essence and meaning shines through. If you can watch this without blinking back a furtive tear, something is wrong with you.


Thursday, June 07, 2012

The fourth revolution

The New Criterion is a valuable publication, mainly for its arts commentary, which holds the fort for traditionalism even after the surrender. Someone posted an article from the June issue at today. By James Piereson, it's called "Future tense, X: The fourth revolution." Subhead: "On the possibility of a forthcoming political revolution."

Pretty heady stuff from a stately, intellectually reactionary magazine. "... What the United States is now facing is not a gradual decline but a political upheaval that will reshape its politics, policies, and institutions for a generation or two to come," Piereson says.

Most of the article is not very original, especially his rubber-stamped description of the economic debacle of the past dozen years. And who doesn't look at the political and social landscape of the United States today and see gaping differences of ideology and an out-of-control financial system?

Still, Piereson offers an interesting observation about the United States:
Notwithstanding its reputation for stability and continuity, the U.S. political system seems to resolve its deepest problems in relatively brief periods of intense and potentially destabilizing conflict. These events are what some historians have called our “surrogates for revolution” because, rather than overthrowing the constitutional order, they adjust it to developing circumstances.
He believes the first three destabilizing and transforming events in American history were the Jeffersonian "revolution" (his word), the War Between the States (or "Civil War," his term), and the New Deal. Calling Jeffersonian politics a revolution seems exaggerated, but I am no specialist in the history of that era. For that matter, I don't profess to be an expert about the 1861-65 war (whatever you call it); but it can hardly be described as a "surrogate" for revolution; it was a revolution, just like the one that created the United States, and -- this is simply a statement of fact, not a value judgment -- it was repressed with savage brutality.

As to FDR's third revolution, or surrogate revolution:
The Democratic Party has gradually evolved into a “public sector party” that finds its votes and organizational strength in public sector unions, government employees and contractors, and beneficiaries of government programs.
The New Criterion cultivates an above-the-battle, anti-emotional writing style -- like The New Yorker and many English writers once did -- which is often a virtue, but this is simply too genteel. Piereson makes it sound like the Democrats' strategy has been little more than offering a helping hand to The People -- "beneficiaries of government programs." It is silent about one of the central results of a decadent, post-New Deal welfare state: the creation of a large population segment whose relationship to society is purely one of taking and being supported, while including a large out-of-control criminal element. America has never before had a purely dysfunctional class, resentful (especially in racial terms) and contemptuous of  its benefactors. That was obviously not the aim of the New Dealers, but it is part of their legacy.

Piereson is clear-sighted enough to admit that Republicans in power haven't seriously tried to reverse the federal-government-as-father-mother-and-nanny principle: "Republican governors and mayors, like their Democratic counterparts, continue to make their pilgrimages to Washington in search of grant money and subsidies for their states and cities, just as members of Congress from both parties run for reelection by pointing to the federal funds they have brought back to their states and districts."

But we've reached the two-minute warning. That game is about up, he says, and while hardly a new insight, he is almost surely correct. 
The regime of public spending has at last drawn so many groups into the public arena in search of public dollars that it has paralyzed the political process and driven governments to the edge of bankruptcy. These groups are widely varied: trade associations, educational lobbies, public employee unions, government contractors, ideological and advocacy organizations, health-care providers, hospital associations that earn revenues from Medicare and Medicaid programs, and the like. These are what economists call rent-seeking groups because they are concerned with the distribution of resources rather than with the creation of wealth. 
The skimming class is, or will soon be, without the traditional bottomless pitcher of the federal government to draw from. A longstanding way of life for millions is disappearing. What surrogate revolution gathers its arrows? Piereson maintains "there is every chance that the United States will emerge from this crisis with new momentum to develop its economy and provide leadership for the world," but perhaps wisely offers no details about how. He spends the last part of his article dive-bombing Obama. As much as I despise Buraq, he didn't invent The System, merely tried to game and expand it to its "inevitable" triumph. By precipitating instead its demise, he may -- after an unpleasant fourth revolution -- turn out to have done us a favor.


Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Lawrence Summers: The Business of America is borrowing

Here's a startling headline for you:

It is time for governments to borrow more

Our loan salesman is Larry Summers, whose CV includes a stint as Buraq's director of the White House National Economic Council.

His argument can be summed up as: interest rates are so low you need a microscope to see them; governments, especially the United States government, should take advantage of it by -- wait for it -- continuing their borrowing binge. (Our current national debt is -- well, I can't give you a precise figure, because its continuous increase outruns my ability to type, but call it $15.79 trillion, or $138,000 per taxpayer.)

Summers writes:
These low rates on even long maturities mean that markets are offering the opportunity to lock in low long-term borrowing costs. In the United States, for example, the government could commit to borrowing five-year money in five years at a nominal cost of about 2.5 percent and at a real cost very close to zero.
No, the real cost may be close to zero in the cloud-cuckoo land of the economists, but the real real cost is another step toward fiscal apocalypse. He wants the government to emulate the sucker who gets a new credit card at an ultra-low teaser rate and runs up a new batch of debt after he's maxed out the other cards. 

Ah, but the difference is, the government can issue its own credit cards to itself at a very attractive rate, and as many as it wants, at least till the whole house of credit cards collapses.

Summers seems to concede that minuscule interest rates have not motivated business to do much that would benefit the economy, like hiring people. So governments should use borrowed money for projects that money-grubbing capitalists don't believe are profitable.
Rather than focusing on lowering already epically low rates, governments that enjoy such low borrowing costs can improve their creditworthiness by borrowing more, not less, and investing in improving their future fiscal position, even assuming no positive demand stimulus effects of a kind likely to materialize with negative real rates. They should accelerate any necessary maintenance projects — issuing debt leaves the state richer not poorer, assuming that maintenance costs rise at or above the general inflation rate.
 Let's see. In the Through the Looking Glass world, borrowing more increases creditworthiness (as long as you're a government). It improves a country's future fiscal position, even assuming no positive demand materializes. Issuing debt leaves the state richer not poorer. 
Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things."

"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
What will this credit-improving borrowing be in aid of? Maintenance. Shovel-ready projects -- where have we heard that before? "Expanding the economy’s capacity or its ability to innovate." The last borrowed-money dump on the economy, the stimulus packages, got the machine firing on all one half cylinder. Hey, Joe, where you goin' with that gun in your hand? Here's a few billion bucks, go back to your garage and innovate!

Who, by the way, will buy this el cheapo debt? Not me, for a return of 0.001 percent. Probably not you. Suicidal financial institutions. Other countries, especially the ones like Greece and Spain that are being measured for the coffin. Let me introduce you to Uncle Sam, the loan shark.

Prosperity isn't just around the corner. It's ahead. Dead ahead.


Saturday, June 02, 2012

I'm like woh!

Hey, y'know, I'm a fuckin' baby boomer, takin' all the money they're entitled to, just 'cause I've had jobs and I can collect like Social Security, y'know, even still workin' after I oughta be laid off so young persons, especially Persons of Color, can get aboard.

Y'know, it's fuckin' true, I mostly work with people pushin' it, like around my age, we oughta all be like dead, we're holdin' back the future, y'know what I'm sayin'? So I don't have too much goin' with the compassionate generation, Y or Z or whatever we're down to now, the ones who want me and my fuckin' colleagues to like die or something.

Once in a while when I do hear 'em, though, it's like a real shock, y'know? I've got used to, y'know, the ones with the 25 stickers on their cars, like Obama '08 The Messiah Is Here and Coexist With Islam Which Is Just a Social Construct and Fuck for Peace, y'know? But I hear 'em talk and I'm like woh!

Old waste of space I am, I've kinda got used to the girls, I mean womyn, with their "uptalk," y'know, ending every sentence on an upnote, y'know what I mean? I mean, like, "It's about social justice?" and "We've gotta do something?" and "They need to hear us?"

But it's the guys, y'know, the like 20-somethings, well fuck, I call 'em guys, y'know, as a how do you say it, horrific, honorific, whatever, y'know, that really make me like wanna hurl

It's not just the like, what d'you call 'em, words they use, all 50 of 'em, but the sound they make. Like produced way back in the throat, y'know? Like, they're gay (not that there's anything wrong with that). And these gays, sorry, guys, I mean, like, they do the uptalk thing too. They talk like, y'know, womyn. Everything that comes out of their throats, like way back, has a sort of tentative sound, like "I'm just sayin', y'know, but if a Person of Color is offended, hey, y'know, I didn't really mean it."

The old generation really like sucks. That's getting to be me, y'know?