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  1. Recession Snows Tahoe Under
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  6. Ideological Inconsistencies
  7. Anyone Wanna Repeal the 19th Amendment?
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Politics, Economics, Education

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Recession Snows Tahoe Under
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Our get-out-of-Seattle-in-winter effort is into its final phases. That is, we're in the Lake Tahoe area for Nancy's annual ski week. I never skiied much and quit before I bailed out of Albany, NY to return to the Seattle area. So she skis and I try to keep busy doing other things. Today those "other things" involved driving down to South Lake Tahoe/Stateline to buy a few needed groceries. While there, I checked out the commercial scene. Two or three years ago, the place was doing well, if appearance was any guide. Now, that same casual yardstick suggests that times are hard. In the "village" by the big Marriott on the main drag, something like half the retail spaces are vacant. Nearby, things don't look so bad, but vacancies seem greater than last year which was worse than pre-recession. I then drove over to Harrah's and did a walk-through of the four big casinos on the Nevada side of the state line. Two of them -- the Montbleu and the Horizon -- didn't look healthy. Some restaurants were closed "for the season" or otherwise simply shuttered. The slot machine zone of one casino struck me as sparsely populated -- by machines as well as gamblers. Harrah's and its sister (brother?) casino Harvey's seemed in better shape. Perhaps that might be due to the comparatively deep pockets of the Harrah organization. Even so, a small Harrah casino for non-smokers called Bill's was closed (it never struck me as very busy in past years). Skiing is an expensive hobby, so it stands to reason that it would be affected by the current recession which is lengthy as well as deep. Had the recession been shorter, perhaps more tourist-related businesses would have survived. For what it's worth, what I've been seeing here is the strongest evidence of the recession that I've experienced thus far. On the other hand, I haven't visited Detroit and similar places since before the 2008 crash. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 26, 2010 | perma-link | (1) comments

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Shifting Sands of Isolationism
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The concept of America avoiding foreign entanglements goes back to the 18th century when such avoidance was comparatively easy to do. But Barbary pirates, Napoleonic wars and other inconveniences intruded even in the early years of the republic. Improved travel and communications (steam-powered ships, transoceanic telegraph cables) along with increasing population and economic power resulted in a 19th century drift from the Monroe Doctrine to a war with Spain that spanned nearly half the globe. Disgust with the Great War and the focus on dealing with the Great Depression led to the America First isolationist movement as Europe began showing signs of a new war. Isolationists tended to be Republicans, perhaps in part because Franklin Roosevelt (by the end of the 30s) began to support the cause of Britain and France, something that held the potential to leading the U.S. into war. The Pearl Harbor attack and American participation in World War 2 stifled isolationism and the advent of the Cold War and the efforts of Senator Arthur Vandenberg brought an era of "bipartisan" foreign policy that lasted for about 20 years. Since the late 1960s, the mantle of isolationism has drifted to the Democrat side of the political aisle. As with 1930s isolationism, some of this was a matter of partisan opposition. Part, at the fringe, was an actual favoring of military defeat for the United States. This is where matters stand today, broadly speaking. There remain some isolationists who claim to hold true to 18th century no entanglements doctrine and get upset because Congress has not explicitly declared war at any time since 1941 despite all the warfare the USA experienced over the last 60 years. Like all else in politics, the number of pure cases is probably small. But notable political figures who have isolationist tendencies include the increasingly marginal commentator Patrick Buchanan and the 2008 Libertarian presidential candidate Ron Paul. My take, for what little it's worth, is that Isolationism was never a practical policy in its pristine form; compromises with reality are unavoidable. And the requirement that Congress declare war also has never been a practical absolute in this nation's history. But ideas can have long lives and experience more than one fashion cycle. So we still have isolationists of various intensity and motivation in our midst. Some are ordinary citizens who see foreign relations as simply a big bother that ought to be ignored. Then there are the far leftists who criticize American involvement in wars they don't like, urging that troops be brought home while at the same time hoping to turn U.S. foreign policy over to the United Nations. (And much else: countries are such messy, nasty things, so world government would stop warfare forever.) Classical isolationists patiently keep restating their cause while bypassing the problem of defending the country in the presumed absence of overseas bases and foreign alliances (we'd have to get rid of those, wouldn't we?). Coupling that with the "requirement" for Congressional... posted by Donald at January 3, 2010 | perma-link | (19) comments

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Conspiracy Theory Analyzed
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A couple of years ago I posted about large-scale conspiracies (including their unlikelihood) and about conspiracy theories. The 19 December Weekend Section of the Wall Street Journal had an article on the subject by "David Aaronovitch [who] is a columnist for The Times of London. This essay was adapted from 'Voodoo Histories: the Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History,' due out from Riverhead next February." In case the link goes bad, key paragraphs are quoted below: I've only rarely come across a modern conspiracy theory that doesn't seek to establish supposed historical precedents for whatever the conspiracy is—arguing that since it has happened before, there is nothing unnatural about it happening again. Sometimes the history can be voluminous; I was present at one large 9/11 Truth meeting in London in 2005, which began with the revelation that the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 was an inside job (James I's chief minister Robert Cecil, if you want to know) and progressed through the Reichstag fire, the Gulf of Tonkin and the '60s assassinations, before making the devilish administration's attack on its own cities seem like an almost inevitable progression. The second characteristic is the implication that the theorist and his co-believers are part of a brave insurgency against a corrupt elite or a stifling orthodoxy. It is of course, an ironic pleasure to witness a West Coast academic tell an audience of Danish professionals at the Copenhagen Central Library with regard to 9/11, that "members of the elite of our society may not think that the truth should be revealed." By contrast, he seemed to be suggesting, belief in the conspiracy makes you part of a genuinely heroic anti-elite elite group who can see past an official version propagated for the benefit of the lazy or inert mass of people by the powers that be. Now, you have to admit, to be such a rebel while risking so little is cool. Cool too is the special quality of thought required to appreciate the existence of the conspiracy. If the conspiracists have cracked the code, it is not least because of their possession of an unusual and perceptive way of looking at things. Those who cannot or will not see the now-revealed truth are variously described as robots or, latterly, as sheep—citizens who shuffle half-awake through their conventional lives. Erich Von Daniken, propagator of the theory that aliens built the pyramids, commended his own courage for writing his books in the teeth of the "reactionary flood" and his readers for their courage in reading them. The authors of "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail," the "non-fiction"book that lay behind "The Da Vinci Code," argued that they had developed a new form of scholarship which allowed them to see connections invisible to stuffy old academics. And then there is the violent innocence of much conspiracism, in which the theorist is "only asking questions" about the official version of the truth, and doesn't go so... posted by Donald at December 26, 2009 | perma-link | (33) comments

Saturday, December 5, 2009

"New Right" Rumblings
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- For your weekend contemplation, below are some thoughts on politics by Zdeno. First let me strap on my Kevlar flak jacket to do a CYA: My post that Zdeno mentions at the top was a link to a statement by someone who actually did raise the question of women voting; in the main text I simply added that, absent female franchise, U.S. politics likely would have been less liberal (probably a valid conclusion given polling data). Just for the heck of it, all this brings to mind science fiction writer Robert Heinlein who, in one of his novels, allowed multiple votes to citizens who had various qualifications such as having served in the military. Hmm. I served a hitch in the Army. Heinlein's notion is beginning to have a strange appeal ... :-) * * * * * Donald recently asked: Should women have the right to vote? Obviously this question is completely and unquestionably beyond the limes of respectable thought and thus should not be discussed. But here’s the problem: By the standards of a Libertarian or Conservative, women are unarguably worse at voting than men are. Or is it a problem? I suppose not, if one regards democracy as the only legitimate form of government, and that a person’s vote is no less fundamental of a human right as their life, liberty, pursuit of XBOX 360’s etc. However if, like me, you regard Democracy as a means to an end, a useful tool that has produced decent, if not spectacular government in Europe and North America for a half century and counting, the worst form of government except for all the others – well then, yes we have a problem. Because it seems that, as great as Democracy is, it can be improved upon! We can have all the benefits of Democracy, but with a significantly more Conservative voting pool! And why stop there? The quality of public policy would be even more improved by a property-ownership restriction, an IQ test, or the disenfranchisement of everyone employed in the public sector. Once you start limiting suffrage to those who are (according to your personal political leanings) "good" at voting, the implications quickly become unpalatable. This line of reasoning can be similarly dangerous to Progressives. How can one justify insisting on the suffrage of Caucasian, middle-class suburbanites, who remain obstreperously defiant in the face of American Progress? Sure, Democracy has proven quite amenable to the goals of Progressives over the past century or two, but Progress can always progress a little bit faster, no? Fortunately, Progressives have an answer to this: Democracy is a Human Right! Says so right here! “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.” (Interestingly, that is a direct copy-paste from,... posted by Donald at December 5, 2009 | perma-link | (54) comments

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Brilliance Revealed
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I don't watch Fox News on TV -- or any other TV save the occasional football game, for that matter. So I must have been reading too many of those slimy right-wing web sites run by fascist, Hitler-loving Jooooos such as John Podhoretz, Scott Johnson and William Kristol or Rightist goons such as Michelle Malkin and Glenn Reynolds. At any rate, I had this silly notion that Barack Obama's administration has been unsuccessful and losing popularity. Now I have been set straight. The scales have fallen from my eyes and I see the world in a new light. Roger Kimball has done me the great service of calling my attention to this article by Jacob Weisberg over at the Slate site. Weisberg informs us that, in fact, Obama has been a smashing success as president. And if just a few major bills make it from Congress to his desk for signing, his administration will be off to one of the most successful starts in presidential history. Now it's time for me to do my part. Perhaps I'll start by looking for a slightly used Obama poster on Ebay. And seems to me that someone had come up with an "O" for Obama salute a year or so ago ... gotta start practicing that to be With It in the paradise that is being brilliantly created by Our Masters. NOTE: This post was written in light of certain commenters who assert that I hide my opinions by quoting or referencing material written by others whose ideas I happen to agree with. This means they can be be certain that Weisberg precisely mirrors my political point of view. Obviously (from their point of view), the Iron Law of Blogging holds that bloggers must cite only sources they totally agree with. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 1, 2009 | perma-link | (1) comments

Friday, November 27, 2009

Ideological Inconsistencies
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Before moving on to topics less explicitly political, here's Zdeno on ideological inconsistency. * * * * * Earlier, I wondered about the origin for our political and ideological beliefs. Today I’d like to explore the topic of ideology and where it comes from a bit more. Today’s question is: What opinions do you hold that are exceptional for a person of your general ideological leanings? Are you a tax-hating, hippie-stomping gun nut - who happens to be rabidly pro-choice? Do you worship at the temple of Obama - but think every last homosexual should be shot behind a barn? What are the political beliefs that you would reveal in a conversation with like-minded individuals if your goal was shock and awe? For extra credit, take a stab at explaining why it is your views on those questions are out of line with the rest of your thinking. I’ll kick things off: I would describe myself as equal parts Conservative and Libertarian. While wearing my “Conservative” hat, I hold wacky, exceptional opinions such as support for gay rights and drug legalization. If I want to piss off my Libertarian friends I can talk about my preference for effective law enforcement over civil liberties, ask why eminent domain is such a big deal, and wonder aloud that we might want to think twice before adopting completely open borders. I can’t think of any specific policies in which my thinking deviates from the Libertarian-Conservative party line, but I suspect my values could be described as vaguely Progressive. Also, my persona and lifestyle are very much SWPLish. So, Blowhards: What’s your exceptional belief? Why are your feelings different on that one (or two, or three) question(s)? Why are the rest of your ideological brethren off base here and here alone? * * * * * Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 27, 2009 | perma-link | (43) comments

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Anyone Wanna Repeal the 19th Amendment?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A Faithful Reader passed along the following quote: I would venture to say women can’t be true conservatives because conservatism is a male thing. One will find time and again, for example, from talking to them, hearing them on TV, reading what they write, and watching how they vote, that women can’t conceive of the things men know as countries, nation-states, and so on. They just cannot perceive their existence, and therefore of course can’t see what steps must be taken to protect and preserve such entities. Another problem is they are too socially liberal as a natural, inborn quality (or rather, defect). As Chamfort said, “elles possèdent une case de moins dans le cerveau et une fibre de plus dans le coeur”—they have a compartment less in the brain and a fiber more in the heart (than men). Women, incidentally, look at political liberalism in a man as irresistibly sexually attractive and conservatism as absolutely sexually repulsive. (Yes, yes, it goes without saying there are tons of exceptions, and happy wives with children tend far less to fall in this category than other women.) Women see Marxist revolutionaries like Ché Guévara as Christ-like figures whom they’d love to sleep with, and one can be sure the majority of college-age young men who go around sporting Ché T-shirts are after the sexual opportunities they hope might “rub off onto them,” more than the ideology. (I said the majority, not all. Obviously, there’s no lack of true hard-core Marxists running around.) Roger Daltrey if I’m not mistaken, John Bon Jovi, and many other rock-and-roll stars said they first ventured into R-n-R bands primarily in order to get girls and sex, not primarily in order to sing or play music. Well, there’s no doubt whatsoever but that many men who are in reality fundamentally apolitical go into left-liberal politics for the same reason: women and sex will be showered upon them. They are not disappointed: those of them who aren’t completely physically repulsive will be surrounded by throngs of groupies like a rock star. Anyone who wants to find one possible plausible explanation for the way the world seems to be going down the left-liberal tubes must have a frank look at something rarely brought up in this regard: the nation-killing extension of the franchise to women. (Switzerland held out until 1972, then caved. Worst mistake they ever made.) It is part of a comment to this book review. Brave man, that commenter. I wonder if he's married. Despite a whiff of misinterpretation, dashes of exaggeration, etc., there is the nugget of truth that women voters tend to be more swayed by appeals to sympathy and other varieties of that area of emotion than men. (Guys tend to heat up over appeals such as "To the barricades!" or "Kill the bastards!!" and even "What a stupid, expensive idea!") At least that's how public opinion polling shows it -- the "compassionate" left agenda favored by higher percentages... posted by Donald at November 24, 2009 | perma-link | (51) comments

Friday, November 20, 2009

Intelligent Presidents
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Conventional wisdom holds that, for real-world dealings, it's better for a leader/manager to be pretty smart, but not a genius. Geniuses belonging in Physics departments at universities, presumably. Coming to this practical point of view can take a while for many folks up there in the top two or three percent of the IQ curve. After all, smart school age kids often receive praise from parents, kin and teachers for being bright. Although my IQ is south of 140 (based on Army testing), I was bright enough to get some of that kind of praise. It was almost as if intelligence was an accomplishment rather than an attribute. And it took some life-experience for me to fully appreciate the difference. Unfortunately, there are people who, regardless of their own life-experience, seem to think that raw intelligence somehow is a great thing for leaders to possess -- something transcending other characteristics. I suppose you have encountered news articles, opinion columns, remarks on TV show, etc. where President X is dismissed as a dummy and President Y shines by the light of his own genius. I recently came across this post on the Commentary web site by John Steele Gordon in which he muses about presidential smarts. A long-ish excerpt is below. (For his take on the current president, Read The Whole Thing.) But being “supersmart” is not only no help; it is, I think, often a hindrance. Six future presidents were elected to Phi Beta Kappa as college undergraduates: John Quincy Adams, Chester Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. Of those six, only Roosevelt could be considered a great president. Three of them, Adams, Taft, and Bush, were defeated for re-election, and Arthur couldn’t even get nominated for a second term. (His presidential reputation has been improving of late, however.) And intellectuals, of course, are all too capable of thinking themselves into disaster. Remember George Orwell’s famous crack about “an idea so stupid only an intellectual could have conceived it.” One might think that engineers, trained to deal with real-world forces, might make better presidents. But the only two engineers to reach the White House were Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter, both terrible presidents. So what makes for successful presidencies? It might be fruitful to compare what the two greatest presidents of the 20th century, Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, had in common. Neither were intellectuals (Roosevelt hardly ever read a book as an adult), but both were very “savvy,” not the same thing as smart. Both were master politicians, able to assemble and maintain coalitions. Both had immense charm. Both were first-class orators. Both had a great sense of humor and loved to tell jokes. Both were comfortable in their own skins and not given to introspection. Both had an abundance of self-confidence but no trace of arrogance. In both, the inner man was inaccessible, and no one felt he really knew what made either man tick. And... posted by Donald at November 20, 2009 | perma-link | (23) comments

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Zdeno on Core Principles
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Inspired by a recent post post on Libertarianism, Zdeno offers (along with his comments to the linked post) the following thoughts. * * * * Political beliefs have a tendency to cluster. What connection is there between abortion, gun control, welfare and the war in Iraq? On the surface, there is none – but get an average person tell me how he feels about any one of these issues, and I’ll bet even odds I can predict his position on the others. Even among the 2Blowhards readership, a free-thinking and unconventional group if there ever was one, most of us have no trouble self-identifying as broadly Progressive, Conservative, or Libertarian. The observation that people in each of these camps tend to agree with each other an awful lot indicates that there must be some defining belief, set of values, or method of looking at and interpreting the world, that sets them apart from each other. My question today: What are the core principles and beliefs that lead you to whatever ideology you subscribe to? If you’re a Libertarian, tell us about the core principles of Libertarianism, if you’re a Progressive etc. Let’s do some introspection, and try to come up with a unified theory of each of the major (or non-major) belief systems in existence today. I’ll kick things off with some broad strokes, and hopefully we can refine things as we go: 1) “Pure” Libertarianism is based on the normative judgement that every human has a natural right of ownership to their body, the fruits of their labour, and the right to enter into binding contracts which may not subsequently be broken. Pragmatic Libertarianism is based on the positive belief that a society which adheres closely to the above values will be optimal from a utilitarian perspective. 2) Ideological Conservatism is based on the belief that traditions and institutions that currently exist have stood the test of time for a reason, and that we should be extremely cautious about meddling with them. Attempts to change societies and create a more “just” political structure and distribution of wealth are generally undertaken by self-interested parties whose efforts almost inevitably do more harm than good. Practically, many Conservatives are simply people who are doing well for themselves in the present order of society, and would prefer it not be tinkered with. * * * * My two cents are that few people fit solidly into a cluster. For instance, my wife regularly votes Republican but is strongly pro-abortion. I am basically conservative but, like many other conservatives, agree with libertarians on the desirability of small government. On foreign policy, I'm (sorry folks) essentially neocon to the extent that I'd rather fight a small war first rather than let matters drift to the point that a huge, disastrous war eventually occurs (think World War 2) -- though it's necessary to pick and choose where/when to fight small wars. I say this as an army veteran who sweated... posted by Donald at November 14, 2009 | perma-link | (36) comments

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Limits to Libertarianism
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I tend to agree with a concept encountered years ago while reading Crane Brinton's account of the French Revolution. It has to do with tipping points of ideology-driven political movements. In particular, the point where a drive to ideological purity forces out real-world practicality. Where movement members judged not pure enough are ejected or otherwise eliminated. And the movement spirals away to irrelevance or even self-destruction. I admit not having intimate knowledge of libertarianism (and Libertarianism in the political party sense). I never made time to read any of the works of Ayn Rand. Nor have I paid much attention to Libertarian Party platforms and candidates. My interest and knowledge levels can best be described as casual. Libertarianism appeals to me in its quest for limited government. But it seems less persuasive otherwise because its doctrine (as I understand it) of radical individualism has within it the seeds of the situation described by Brinton. In other words, doctrinal purity can be the enemy of attaining and exercising political power. This is a risk for any party that is strongly idea-based. There are plenty of "libertarians" and "Libertarians" (capital "L" for those who identify with the party) here in the 2Blowhards neighborhood, so I figure this is an opportunity to find out a few things. For instance: The quest for individual liberty/freedom, taken to its extreme, seems to lead to anarchism. Are there differences between libertarianism and anarchism that prevent libertarianism from drifting into anarchism? Can there be such a thing as "big-tent Libertarianism?" Or is there a need for ideological purity that severely constrains Libertarian expansion to major party status? To what degree do libertarianism and isolationism overlap? I would think that the questions just posed are fairly common and that there are standard answers to them. Nevertheless, I (and perhaps some readers) remain ignorant and need to be set straight regarding these and similar matters. Libertarian (and non- or anti-libertarian) comments are appreciated. However, flame-wars are not; please try to stick to ideas and issues. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 11, 2009 | perma-link | (32) comments

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Does Obama Actually Like America?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Given all the nasty things his for-20-years pastor, Rev. Wright, has said about this country, given that he has gone out of his way on numerous occasions to apologize for the history of the United States and given his effort to transform America into something it has never been (a European-style socialist state), I'm pretty sure President Obama is no fan of his own country. Of course, a number of folks agree with his position. One of them seems to be his wife. This is not to say one has to like everything about one's own country -- how many people are there who do that? But wanting a major transformation against the grain of the past is a different order of magnitude. In effect, this is creating a new, fundamentally different country; might as well change the name while he's at it. It's possible I'm mistaken and that Obama is a super-ultra-hyper-times-twenty Patriot of the First Rank. So feel free to have at me in Comments. Extra points for creative use of the 1930s slogan "Communism is 20th century Americanism." Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 4, 2009 | perma-link | (65) comments

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Limbaugh on Third Parties
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The last "third party" to win the presidency was the Republican party in 1860 with nominee Abraham Lincoln; that was just about 150 years ago. Since then, parties such as the Bull Moose (1912) and Dixicrats (1948) have won states in presidential elections, but not nearly enough to claim the office. There are always enough people dissatisfied by or frustrated with the two major political parties to form new parties or support existing small parties. Some such parties are odd, single-issue groups while others operate on the belief that they actually can some day supplant one or the other of the major ones. As this is written, there is a Congressional election in far upstate New York where the Republicans nominated an extremely liberal candidate which resulted in a conservative Republican entering the fray under the banner of New York's Conservative Party. This has inspired a number of people to wonder if now is finally the time for the Republican Party to be replaced by something different for whatever reasons. Like him or not, Rush Limbaugh is a shrewd, well-connected political observer and I thought readers might be interested in learning his current take on the matter of third parties. The full transcript of the subject segment of his 27 October 2009 broadcast is here. It includes more background information on the New York 23rd Congressional District race. Here are excerpts that strike me as being most relevant: Let me see if I can explain this. NY-23 is a special election. There was no primary. Doug Hoffman would have challenged Scozzafava in the Republican primary had there been one. He would have had the backing of New York's Conservative Party as is often the case there. You have to understand that the Conservative Party does not look at themselves as a third party. Only do they get in gear when the Republicans nominate some liberal. Ronald Reagan opposed third party-races because he believed that conservatives needed to take back the Republican Party and not surrender it to liberals. He told the liberals, "Go your own way." He didn't go his own way and form a [replacement for the] Republican Party. It took a while. He narrowly lost to Gerald Ford in '76. He was the most popular Republican emerging from that convention, but Ford, the establishment Republican, the fix was in. Reagan didn't slink away and start a third party. He began to take over the Republican Party. Third parties lose. Speaking personally, I am not interested in creating another Reform Party like Perot did, like Buchanan did. It's a losing proposition. I want to defeat what's going on. ... I know the temptation for a third party is tempting, but right now conservatism is on the ascendancy, it's actually good to be a conservative, and this is the time to reassert control over the Republican Party. It's not going to be easy but the Democrats, the far left didn't go out and form... posted by Donald at October 29, 2009 | perma-link | (36) comments

Friday, October 23, 2009

Wretchard's Four Rules of Lying
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Inspired by the squabble between the Associated Press and Shepard Fairey, creator of the iconic three-color (pale blue, light red-orange, white) poster of Obama, Richard Fernandez ("Wretchard") muses about the issue at hand and the general matter of lying here. You might well wish to read the whole piece, but below I extract Wretchard's four rules for public lying. 1. The first and most important thing is for the impostor to claim the motivation of revolutionary impulses. That way even those who know he is lying will think he is lying in a “good” cause. If the last refuge of scoundrels is the flag, the ultimate protective banner is the Red Flag. Hannah Arendt once wrote “Lies are often much more plausible, more appealing to reason, than reality, since the liar has the great advantage of knowing beforehand what the audience wishes or expects to hear.” Find the hole in your audience’s brain and drive your truck of manure through it. 2. The second rule is to put forward the most extravagant claims. Don’t be half-assed about lying. The more extravagant the fib the better. A sufficiently resourceful fraud clears his path of unbelievers by sheer audacity alone. Tell a big enough lie and no one would believe you could be so bold. As the fictional Rudolf Rassendyl proved in the Prisoner of Zenda that it is better to pass yourself off as King of Ruritania rather than a minor noble. A minor noble may be questioned, but the King will not be. It is all or nothing. And given that no one wants to tug at the Royal Robe to see if it is real ermine, the fraudster often gets it “all”. 3. The third rule is that when questioned, destroy the questioner. When impersonating the King be determined to have everyone who doubts your identity thrown in the tower for treason. Once you succeed in beheading the first challenger there will be no second challenges. 4. The fourth rule is the most important. Avoid trying to bluff those who are too big to be faced down. What undid both Fairey and Ward Churchill was that they didn’t know when to stop their imposture. They finally took it too far. Fairey, who had been successful up to that point tried to bluff his way past a major news organization and failed. Ward Churchill was already a professor when he made his “little Eichmanns” speech after 9/11 unleashed a tide of outrage he couldn’t outface. If Fairey had not launched his poster and Churchill had not made his “little Eichmanns” speech, they might still be intellectuals in good standing. Most lying is small-scale, which might be what makes Wretchard's thoughts interesting: we seldom think about huge lies and the liars that speak them. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 23, 2009 | perma-link | (15) comments

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Something Rotten
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Today's guest blogger is "Zdeno" which, translated, means "like Michael Blowhard, this writer needs cover for job-related reasons." Here is his report: * * * * * For almost half a decade, my life was a Johnny Cash song. I would drink to the point of blacking out four nights a week, sleep past noon every day, and devote most of my waking hours to chasing loose women and an altered state of mind. I exaggerate only slightly when I say that I accomplished, learned and produced nothing of value throughout this entire dark age of my life. Was I a bum? A liquor-soaked storefront panhandler? A toothless vagrant, shuffling up and down the streets of Baltimore, peddling handjobs for crack-cocaine? Not quite. I was a student at one of our continent’s better Universities. And my experience was hardly unique. If I learned one thing over those years, it’s that the modern University is anything but an institution of higher learning, and trust me: Unless you are still inside the beast, or so fresh from the rear of her digestive system that the smell still lingers, you do not fully understand how completely and utterly ridiculous the contemporary higher-education system has become. Let’s think about this from the perspective of a historian from the distant future, parsing through the delicate, yellowing, primary sources of 2009: What will he make of the present situation? How will he explain North American Universities to his colleagues and students? He’ll start with the positive, I’m sure, as a matter of courtesy. So what positive traits do our Universities exhibit? First, Universities are filled with the best and the brightest in our society. Exceptions exist, but the general principle is: If an eighteen year old in 2009 is smart and ambitious, he goes to University. If he is really smart and ambitious, he stays there for a second and maybe even a third degree. As a result of this pattern, Universities are overflowing with intelligent and driven people. Also, Going to University is generally a good idea. The vast majority of good jobs that are not called “starting a successful business” require some sort of accreditation. In addition to the direct benefits to students’ careers, Universities also serve as an ideal opportunity for the future leaders of society to form exclusive social and professional networks, and perhaps track down a high-status, high-earning spouse. As a friend of mine puts it, half the girls in her Med program are just there for their M.R.S. degree. Perhaps most importantly, going to University is fun. The vast majority of University alumni look back on their University days fondly, and an entire sub-genre of films aimed at young adults is based on idealization of the college years. I certainly had a blast, and my impression is that I wasn’t unique in this regard. As a result of these qualities, everyone in 2009 agrees with the vague notion that University is a good thing.... posted by Donald at October 22, 2009 | perma-link | (17) comments

Friday, October 16, 2009

Replacing California
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I recently wrote that California's time as national lodestar might have passed. If that assessment is correct, then what areas might replace California as America's goto place (figuratively and maybe even literally)? Perhaps there's no single replacement area. As observers such as Terry Teachout have been noting, culture in the USA is becoming increasingly decentralized. (It's possible that American culture was never as centralized as it might have retrospectively seemed. For example, during the first third or so of the 20th century there were many "regional" novelists (Sinclair Lewis, William Faulkner, Booth Tarkington and so forth), artists (Grant Wood, John Steuart Curry and Thomas Hart Benton) and even radio networks (Yankee network, Don Lee network). This is an interesting topic we might revisit another time.) On the other hand, there are parts of the country that consistently tend to rate highly as places to live. One might think that such areas eventually would attract a "critical mass" of cultural and intellectual talent to create cultural vanguard locales. Examples that come to my mind are the Seattle and Portland areas on the west coast along with the Denver, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Austin, Texas areas elsewhere. But I could be wrong. Any other suggestions? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 16, 2009 | perma-link | (9) comments

Saturday, October 10, 2009

California: Fading Lodestar
Donald Pitttenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'll be off to California at the end of the month, looking for signs of damage. Trouble is, the best way to spot economic and social damage is to examine reliable statistical time-series and comparisons. When I lived in upstate New York in the early 70s, we knew the Utica area was lagging behind a state already showing signs of economic decline. Yet when visiting the city, I saw a number of stores and new fast-food joints that seemed to be doing just fine. This suggests that California will probably appear pretty much as it has in recent years, the most striking negative visual marker along Interstate 5 being the emptiness of the reservoir behind Shasta Dam. When I was young, California was The Place To Be -- if you weren't totally into national politics (Washington, DC) or culture and mass media (New York City). In high school I idly considering going on to attend the Art Center School, then located in Los Angeles, or UCLA. Later on, I made unsuccessful stabs at getting a job in the Bay Area. I was not alone. Aside from gold rushes -- which are lousy indicators of long-term desirability of an area (think Klondike) -- America's fascination with California as a place to live and emulate began around 1900, picked up steam in the 1920s and 30s, and went full-blast during World War 2 and after. One of my minor hobbies is assigning dates when places start going to hell. In California's case, I say it was around 1960, just as it was about to overtake New York as the country's most populous state. After that, the Sixties literally and figuratively kicked in, with California bearing the brunt. By 1990 I lost my desire to live there. (Well, if I had gobs of money, I can think of a few places such as Carmel and Santa Barbara that I might find tolerable.) The movie and television industries remain and no doubt influence the country with California sensibility. Nevertheless, by almost any standard, the state has indeed gone to hell -- aside from its climate, of course. And I suspect that most Americans have come to understand that. Does this mean that California is no longer the bellwether for the nation? That California trends will fizzle a few miles beyond its borders? I hope so. But it's still too soon to tell. Some worry that California's political/governmental dysfunction is a preview of this country's fate under one-party dominance of the Left. Still, political and economic actions often create reactions, and it might take five or more years to determine if such reactions have truly taken hold. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 10, 2009 | perma-link | (11) comments

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Avoiding Nemesis
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Victor Davis Hanson writes here about the Greek goddess Nemesis and how she seems to be doing what she does best with regard to Barack Obama (Hanson references some other presidents as well). This brings to mind the matter of whether there were any people who attained pinnacles in politics or government who avoided her retribution. One example might be George Washington. But as best I can tell, he never reached the hubris, let alone atê (destructive behavior) stage that triggers a Nemesis reaction. Washington was modest (he took plenty of knocks fighting the British) and his refusals to become king or serve more than two presidential terms were important factors in making the United States as we have known it. Then there is France's Louis XIV, an absolute monarch. Although he allowed splendor to surround him, accounts I have read suggest that he has a hard-working, fairly unassuming man, given his circumstances. He was a good ruler for much of his reign, but allowed France to get embroiled in a long, costly war in its later years. If Nemesis appeared, it might have been in the form of two hellish, pre-anesthesia operations he endured late in life. Churchill had his wilderness years and a defeat by Attlee in 1945. Reagan took a bullet in the chest in the opening months of his first term. No Nemesis here because they weren't very lordly and bounced back from these crises. Question for today: Who in history really deserved a visit from Nemesis yet beat the rap? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 8, 2009 | perma-link | (8) comments

Monday, October 5, 2009

Nickname the Presidents
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- There were Frederick the Great, Ivan the Terrible, Charles the Bald, John Lackland (or Jean Sans-Terre if you are French), Edward the Confessor and a host of other rulers who acquired nicknames that are better known than their formal names. For some reason, that hasn't been true for U.S. presidents.* That oversight can be corrected!! Corrected by none other than the 2Blowhards "community" (assuming we rate such a distinction). Just for fun, if you are feeling creative and clever, post a comment suggesting nicknames for American presidents. For example, "Chester the Replacement" for Chester A. Arthur who became president following the death of James A. Garfield. I hope you'll come up with better ideas than I just did. But be warned: I won't post vile, dirty, slanderous nicknames. Well, if they are incredibly funny I just might, but don't count on it. It will help if the monikers are historically apt and reflect the appearance, personality and character of the victim -- er, president. Have at it. Later, Donald * Though yesterday George Will noted in passing "Honest Abe and "Tricky Dick" with reference to Lincoln and Nixon. There are a few other presidential nicknames lurking here and there (such as "Old Hickory"), but in no instance has the moniker superseded the man's name. I'm not counting those short name replacements headline writers like to use -- Ike, FDR, JFK, LBJ and the like.... posted by Donald at October 5, 2009 | perma-link | (13) comments

Monday, September 14, 2009

American Masculinity Redeemed
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, On more than one occasion, watching the public do, er, nothing as the financial masters of the universe demonstrate over and over again who really calls the shots in this country, the thought has crawled across my reluctant mind that maybe we've got the financial services industry and the political class we deserve. An attitude of amoral greed, get-yours-while-the-getting-is-good and the-devil-take-the-hindmost seems to characterize the investing public (who maintain a deafening political silence while frantically piling back into the stock market so as not to miss the rally) no less than it describes the professional card dealers on Wall Street carefully palming a fifth and sixth ace or the professional politicos with their gerrymandered safe seats in Washington, happily selling votes for campaign contributions and future employment. Apparently no one in America minds a rigged game as long as it’s rigged in their favor. The real question, I suppose, is that why – given my grey hairs and almost six decades of experience in this country’s daily life – any of this should surprise me. The best I can do by way of explanation is that while I never thought Americans were exceptionally moral, I did think they had, at a minimum, more self-esteem, more vanity, than this. Doesn’t anybody even aspire to playing the role of John Wayne in this Western? Well, apparently, just when I thought the entire country was going to slink off into the shadows and let the gang wearing the black hats rape the schoolmarm and plunder the Farmer's & Mechanic's Bank at will, a righteous badass has stepped forth. (Stark but stirring theme music plays in the background). Today I read of his manly exploits in the NY Times: Giving voice to the anger and frustration of many ordinary Americans, Judge Jed S. Rakoff issued a scathing ruling on one of the watershed moments of the financial crisis: the star-crossed takeover of Merrill Lynch by the now-struggling Bank of America. Judge Rakoff voided a $33 million settlement that Bank of America had reached with the Securities and Exchange Commission over whether the bank had adequately disclosed the bonuses that were paid by Merrill before the merger, which was completed in January at regulators’ behest as Merrill foundered. He accused the S.E.C. of failing in its role as Wall Street’s top cop by going too easy on one of the biggest banks it regulates. And he accused executives of the Bank of America of failing to take responsibility for actions that blindsided its shareholders, and the taxpayers who bailed out the bank at the height of the crisis. The sharply worded ruling, which invoked justice and morality, seemed to speak not only to the controversial deal, but also to the anger across the nation over the excesses that led to the financial crisis, and the lax regulation in Washington that permitted those excesses to flourish. You can read the full text of Judge Rakoff's decision here. Damn, this guy... posted by Friedrich at September 14, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Verdict on Churchill
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Winston Churchill: Towering Savior of Western Civ? Or, as Ralph Raico would have it, power-mad warmonger and statist who -- OK, sure -- managed nonetheless to perform effectively for a few months? Back here, visitors shared opinions about Abraham Lincoln. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 3, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments

Solution or Problem?
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, People who are not happy with the current course of politics seem to almost instinctively turn to the idea of a new political party that won't be so in thrall to established special interests. This, of course, just boots the problem to the next level, because of course the American political system, with its winner-take-all structure of elections (and other structural design elements) is very inhospitable to third parties. But I've begun to wonder if this isn't the wrong way to think about developing a form of politics that is more truly responsive to the electorate and less easily captured by limited groups of rent-seekers. To speak more bluntly, isn't it possible that political parties, at least in the form they exist in the U.S., are actually more the problem than the solution? That they exist chiefly to, ahem, sell out? To distract their own members with a 'clean' ideological image while actually running no-tell-motels where eager-to-be-corrupted politicians and the special interests who love them (temporarily, anyway) hook up? This line of thinking was reinforced by some remarks on the public discussion of health care reform of journalist Matt Taibbi on his Taibblog: I’ve been getting phone calls from some folks in DC with some ugly stories about how the Democrats have systematically sandbagged the progressive opposition, with the White House pulling strings and levering the funding for various nonprofit groups in order to prevent them from airing ads attacking the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. I suspect in the end this is going to be the main story of the health care reform effort, how the Democrats (and some progressive groups) sold out their constituents in exchange for financial contributions from the relevant industries. Please bear in mind, I'm NOT making a point here about healthcare reform, or about Matt Taibbi's politics which you, of course, may find distasteful, etc. What I'm getting at is structural: what does it mean that the supposedly left-of-center Democratic Party would be covertly working on behalf on entrenched business interests at what would appear to be the expense of the members of their own party? If you want an example from across the aisle, why would the Republicans be so eager to violate their oft-professed devotion to free markets in order to rescue the nation's largest banks, already the recipients of so many decades of corporatist non-level-playing-field government support? Do political parties exist chiefly to provide some kind of faux-ideological camoulflage for rent-seekers? Should people who would like to see some different energy in politics should be thinking along very different lines than starting a third party, or supporting any party at all? What do you guys think? Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 3, 2009 | perma-link | (12) comments

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Gently Admitting Your Political Position
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- There is a good deal of wisdom in that old admonition that one shouldn't discuss religion and politics in social situations. I live inside the Seattle city limits, a place that is overwhelmingly liberal. Given my "elite" educational background, folks around here are likely to assume that their politics are my politics. A few days ago we happened to get an impromptu tour of a new house in the neighborhood. As we walked in, I noticed Keith Olbermann sternly staring from the television screen; clearly we had entered a strongly liberal place. Anyhow, the four of us had a jolly 20 minutes on the tour. The other couple discovered my educational and professional background, and I found out something of theirs. Now that I have finally learned to pretty well keep my mouth shut in such situations, they didn't learn that I am an apostate, seduced by The Dark Force. If the social relationship we established continues, a tiny bit of the truth will likely emerge by happenstance. Even so, I'll probably only hint at it and then try to change the subject. Perhaps my best tactic is to mention that I cast my first vote for John F. Kennedy and then mumble something about the Democratic Party drifting away from where it was in the early 1960s (the truth). Nevertheless, it's a tricky matter if you don't want to ruin your social life. Speaking of tricky, things are really dicey when you don't know where other people stand politically. While avoidance of political subjects remains the best policy, I do pay attention to possible clues and adjust my conversation accordingly. Of course a liberal would face similar problems if living in a conservative enclave. I'm pretty sure that many readers are a lot more experienced in dealing with politics in social settings than I am. So I'm curious what you do. Do you avoid the subject? Do you pretend that you agree with the people you are with? Or do you have effective ways of communicating your position without ruffling feathers? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 29, 2009 | perma-link | (80) comments

Thursday, August 27, 2009

More Conservative Than Liberal
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- An interesting new poll from Gallup has found that -- despite the number of Dems currently in political office -- more Americans self-identify as conservative than as liberal in all 50 states. A not-suprising conclusion: "While Americans' party identification and political ideology are related, they are by no means one and the same." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 27, 2009 | perma-link | (20) comments

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Seattle Bags Bag-Tax
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Seattle "played against character" in yesterday's vote on a referendum regarding a proposed 20 cents per bag tax on paper and plastic bags of the sort your groceries are placed in. Seattle is a very liberal place. Its city council system is set up so that candidates are voted on by the entire city, not solely by residents of individual council districts. So if the electorate is pretty liberal, its city council has been distilled to be even more so. (Note to commenters: there's a fair chance righties would set up a similar mechanism were they in power, politicians being what they are.) Earlier this year the council stopped worrying about parks, police, sanitation and other trivia and decided to Save The Planet. So they voted on the bag tax mentioned above. (If they were serious about saving trees by reducing reliance on paper products, they also might have applied a massive tax on the paper used to print the Seattle Times. Oh well, maybe they planned to get to that matter next year.) Citizens were not happy, so a petition was quickly circulated and received more than enough valid signatures to place the council's ordnance on the August 18th ballot as a referendum. As of late last evening, with half the ballots counted, Seattle voters were turning down the bag tax 58 percent to 42. No doubt bag tax supporters will whine about "outside" money being spent to defeat their pet issue. But heavy spenders don't always buy elections; voters are not totally unthinking. Besides, the pro-tax arguments in the official voters' pamphlet and elsewhere stressed all the idealistic issues one would expect a well-educated, liberal electorate to embrace. I doubt that Seattle is on its way to becoming a cesspool of reaction. Besides, many grocery stores sell reusable grocery bags and I see quite a few shoppers using them. But all this is voluntary, not coercive. What a concept. Even in Seattle. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 19, 2009 | perma-link | (39) comments

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

More Econ Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Nicolas Gelinas offers an enlightening history of the "too big to fail" doctrine. * Dermot Quinn thinks that we could use a little help from Wilhelm Ropke (FWIW, my own favorite economist). * Readers Digest is filing for bankruptcy. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 18, 2009 | perma-link | (1) comments

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Econ Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Guy Sorman introduces Rama Cont, who argues that traditional economics fails to grasp the complexity and dynamic nature of financial markets. Interesting passage: While the mainstream view [of recent troubles] explains the crisis by a lack of regulation, Cont believes that misguided regulations, often applied by not-too-smart regulators, were also a major factor ... The regulation seemed clverly designed, Cont says, but proved useless in a real-life situation. * Robert Samuelson offers a reader's guide to the recession. * Whole Foods CEO John Mackey offers an alternative to Obamacare. * Obamacare and illegal immigrantion is turning into a minor issue. One angle I haven't seen much discussed where this topic is concerned is a favorite of mine. Let's say that, under the new system, illegal immigrants wind up covered. Won't we in effect be saying to all residents of Mexico, "Hey, if you can make it over the border, not only will we not chase you down and deport you, we'll give you a public education and free health insurance. Come one, come all!" * Meet Madoff's mistress. * Nassim ("Black Swan") Taleb and Nouriel ("Dr. Doom") Roubini, interviewed on CNBC: Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 16, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Health Care Reform and the Golden Rule
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, I happen to be in the process of reading Thomas Ferguson’s">Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Party Competition and the Logic of Money-Driven Political Systems (1995, University of Chicago Press). The title’s a mouthful, I grant, but it’s a pretty interesting book. But as a consequence, when I picked up the L.A. Times today, and my eye fell on a column discussing healthcare reform (“Healthcare debate framed by fear-mongering ads” by David Lazarus), my recent reading of Mr. Ferguson sent off a few sparks. Mr. Lazarus in the L.A. Times says: …a key problem here is that most of us aren’t taking the time to understand the various parts of this admittedly complex equation. Instead, we’re leaving it to interest groups to call the shots, and the debate has devolved into a pathetic shouting match between partisan camps. This certainly struck a chord with what I had very recently read in Golden Rule. To briefly summarize, Mr. Ferguson begins his discussion of the 'investment theory' of politics by quoting Anthony Downs on the prohibitively high cost of gathering the information necessary for the ordinary voter to meaningfully participate in the political process: “The expense of political awareness is so great that no citizen can afford to bear it in every policy area, even if by doing so he could discover places where his intervention would reap large profits.” Mr. Ferguson then goes on to argue that: …in a political system like that of the United States, where even highly motivated voters face comparatively enormous costs when they attempt to acquire, evaluate, and act upon political information, effective electoral control of the government process by voters becomes most unlikely. He continues by asking: …if ordinary voters can’t afford to invest [the necessary large sums required to first understand what's at stake and then to influence] American political parties, then who can? And by virtue of their unique status, do not these “big ticket” investors automatically become the real masters of the political system? Mr. Ferguson explains that such big ticket investors normally amount to businessmen who can draw on corporate resources to pay for political activity and who have a large financial stake in the outcome that justifies the expenditure (unlike the Average Joe). This ‘mastery’ of the political system by large investors does not, of course, imply that voters are irrelevant. But according to Mr. Ferguson: …in situations where information is costly, abstention is possible, and entry into politics through either new parties or existing organizations is expensive and often dangerous…large investors try to assemble the votes they need by making very limited appeals to particular segments of the potential electorate. If it pays some other bloc of major investors to advertise and mobilize, these appeals [will] be vigorously contested… Gee, that “vigorously contested” sounds a lot like, um, what’s been going on in Florida. It has dawned on me that it would be of nice to have a detailed explanation of who... posted by Friedrich at August 9, 2009 | perma-link | (23) comments

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Anybody Complaining?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm on the road, so this will be brief. Driving up along the Columbia River where it forms the Washington-Oregon border, I've been noticing a number of power generation windmill farms. They definitely interfere with the scenic views of nature. Perhaps the worst visual polluting farms that I've come across are those near Altamont Pass east of the Bay Area and along Interstate 10 approaching the Palm Springs area from the west. Even though I think they're aesthetically awful, I can't recall much complaining about them in the mainstream press. Political (or ecological) correctness is suspected. Am I missing something? Do people actually complain about wind farms and see their complaints get a wide airing? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 4, 2009 | perma-link | (41) comments

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Political Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Jewcy's David Kelsey thinks that Jews ought to oppose hate crime laws. He writes a good blogposting about Jews and mass immigration here. * Steve Sailer wonders what we're up to in Puerto Rico. Re the Skip Gates case, Steve coins a good term I look forward to using: "Affirmative Actionocracy." * The Republicans suck. Oh, and the Democrats suck too. * Matt Taibbi traces some of the ways that Goldman Sachs has screwed you and me. James Kunstler thinks that the time has come for Obama to fire the Goldman Sachs alumni that he has on staff. * Chris Dillow thinks that economists will never be able to predict the future -- and that that's OK. * Time to end the mortgage-interest deduction? Learn more here. * Randall Parker asks some good questions about Europe and its immigration policies. * MBlowhard Rewind: I shared a few thoughts about inequality and the rich, and pointed out that one easy way to mitigate inequality would be to get strict about immigration. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 2, 2009 | perma-link | (6) comments

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Age and Political Awareness
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The old saw about one never ceasing to learn isn't actually a universal truth, but it works well enough in practice. It's also true that the greatest surge in learning begins in infancy and tapers off after ... when? puberty? ... whatever developmental psychologists say will do for now. Eventually, if all goes well, raw input becomes categorized, correlated and tested against an increasing body of life experience and distills into something we call "wisdom." This has everything to do with politics. There was a presidential election when I was five years old and it totally escaped me. Four years later, I knew who the nominees were and who I favored (the one my father did), but was basically clueless about issues. At age 13 I knew many of the issues, but my understanding was bumper sticker thin (though I don't think bumper stickers had come on the scene yet); basically, I was simply parroting slogans. When I was 17, I was able to articulate issues in more depth, but that election (the second Ike-Adlai match-up) had a foregone conclusion and issues didn't much matter. I turned 21 just in time to cast my first vote and was in the heat of youthful certainty that I was part of a crusade to make the world a better place. And so on and so on. How old was I when enough "wisdom" had sunk in that my understanding of politics went beyond the superficial? It might have been when I was 33 and finally voted for a candidate of the party I hadn't voted for previously in presidential races. Certainly it was by the time I was 41 and had definitely changed parties. For me, this benchmark seems appropriate because party change usually requires a good deal of thought about issues and how the world works as well as self-examination of core beliefs. Habits and inertia had to be broken. Folks who never experienced a party switch would have to use some other criterion to mark political maturity. At any rate, my "deep" understanding of politics with reference to issues clicked in when I was in my thirties. When I was younger, I of course thought that I understood. But I really didn't. I've always felt that I was a slow-to-mature person, so it could well be that my political maturity came later than it did for most others. On the other hand, the timing of outside events such as wars, recessions and exposures of corruption might be a factor for others as they were for me. For those of you who believe you have mature political awareness, let us know in Comments how old you were and, perhaps, what event or events brought you to that state. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 26, 2009 | perma-link | (59) comments

Recession Note
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The economic downturn hits the New York City Ballet. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 26, 2009 | perma-link | (9) comments

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Skip Gates Case
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I figure that most visitors are 'way ahead of me where following the Skip Gates case goes. But maybe you haven't yet run across this blogposting by FeministX. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 25, 2009 | perma-link | (19) comments

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Two Humorous Items from the Financial Crisis
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, Our ongoing economic troubles have yielded me a good deal of pain, anguish and indignation, but not as I recall too much humor. Nonetheless, I recently came across two very funny items. The first is from Mike Shedlock, and concerns Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Kohn’s attempts to ward off the Congressional (and therefore citizen and taxpayer) scrutiny of his very secretive agency…or private sector organization…or whatever it is that just happens to control the money supply of the United States of America. This attempt is of course being pushed by former presidential candidate and Representative Ron Paul and a host of fellow legislative sponsors. You should know that Mish, as Mr. Shedlock is known, calls openly for the abolition of the Fed on the grounds that neither its governors nor anyone else in the world knows the correct level of short term interest rates. In any event, he makes his sympathies pretty clear by some slight impositions on the text of a Washington Post article. The second is a column from Jonathan Weil of Bloomberg (“Goldman Sachs Loses Grip on its Doomsday Machine”) on the recent dust-up over the Russian former employee of Goldman Sachs who stole some of their proprietary trading software. The incredibly speedy response by our law enforcement officials to this existential threat to Goldman’s profits (contrast this, if you like, to the response you got if you've ever reported your TV stolen to the cops) is also discussed in a pretty funny video here. Cheers and laughter, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at July 11, 2009 | perma-link | (2) comments

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

In The Times ...
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Time to generate even more debt, or to fret about the debt we've already created? * Hard to believe, but the people who make porno movies are once again throwing out storylines and plots. * It's Google vs. Microsoft. * Designers and builders continue indulging their bizarre obsession with glass. I bitched back here about how sicko it is, the way architects over-do the glass. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 8, 2009 | perma-link | (18) comments

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Trouble with Theories and Plans
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- On the occasion of the death of Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense under Kennedy and Johnson, and president at different times of Ford Motor Company and the World Bank, The Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens penned this column for today's edition. As is my practice, I'm posting some excerpts below, just in case the link disappears. Dwight D. Eisenhower famously said that "in preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable." Robert S. McNamara, who spent many years thinking about the Vietnam War, first as an architect and then as a critic (and getting it wrong on both ends), was a man who believed mainly in plans. ... A recurring pattern played itself out over the 20 years McNamara spent at the Pentagon and the Bank. Giant troves of quantitative data were collected, analyzed, disaggregated and reassembled. Plans -- typically on a five-year timetable -- were conceived and then, presumably, executed. He once called the Bank "an innovative, problem-solving mechanism . . . to help fashion a better life for mankind." Nobel Prizes in economics would later be awarded for disproving this mechanistic notion of institutions. But no Nobel was required to understand that rationalism isn't a synonym for reason, much less common sense, or that a planned solution was a workable or desirable solution, or that war or poverty were "problems" in the same sense as, say, a deficit. There was also a human element, which -- depending on whom you believe -- McNamara either didn't get or didn't have. ... Now that's old history. But the mentality of the planner remains alive and well in Washington today, along with the aura of cool intellectual certainty. Barack Obama might take a close look at McNamara's obituaries and note that he, too, is the whiz kid of his day. Having survived the Ivy League Ph.D. grind only to leave campus for the real (business) and semi-real (government) worlds, this matter of theory and practice is a subject dear to my heart. In the Sociology grad schools I attended in the mid-late 1960s, Theory was worshiped by many professors and students. Since Theory was in the air and because I have a weakness for ideas, it took me literally decades to wean myself of it and deal with the world as it is. Ideas, hypotheses and, yes, even theories have a legitimate place in life. It's just that they're a part of the picture, often a small part. One danger is that theories, due to their clarity, simplicity and whatever other characteristics theories possess, is that they can become more real than reality to theory-lovers. Planning is usually based on some sort of idea structure, often one or more theories. People who love theories are often sympathetic to the concept of planning. After all, isn't it rational to plan things rather than simply "muddle through?" -- this concept itself being something of a theory. A danger here is... posted by Donald at July 7, 2009 | perma-link | (15) comments

Monday, July 6, 2009

Politics and Econ Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * From the right ... John Medaille makes a lot of good points in this critique of capitalism. Medaille, a very interesting guy, blogs regularly at the "reactionary-radical" website Front Porch Republic. * From the left ... Alexander Cockburn thinks that Obama resembles JFK in a number of unfortunate ways. * F. Roger Devlin introduces conservationist and immigration restrictionist Madison Grant. * Martin Regnan makes a good stab at summarizing the worldview of Mencius Moldbug. * Whiskey argues that the ad business is strongly anti-white-male. * Hey, Betaboyz -- there's still time to join the Church of David Alexander. (Link thanks to * As a fan of both the economist Wilhelm Ropke and the financial journalist James Grant, I was pleased to read in this 1996 interview with Grant that he learned a lot from Ropke. * Randall Parker assesses the likelihood of immigration amnesty under Obama. * Thanks to Bryan, who turned up these witty WWIII posters. * People, eh? I confess that I have moments when I sympathize deeply with anti-humanism ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 6, 2009 | perma-link | (20) comments

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Bubbles, McMansions
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * What role did the ventromedial prefrontal cortex play in causing the current economic crisis? * Have Americans fallen out of love with McMansions? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 1, 2009 | perma-link | (30) comments

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Secession Talk, Cont.
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- This guy writes that he can think of little that's more un-American than discussing secession. Meanwhile, Patri Friedman and conspirators are celebrating July 4 with a series of "Secession Week" postings. They seem to think that there's little that's more American than serious consideration of secession. Secession, eh? Was it an issue that you saw coming from long ago? I certainly didn't. The gang at the Volokh conspiracy treat themselves to a fun yakfest about the topic. The most interesting person I've read on the topic is the Emory University prof and Hume specialist Donald Livingston. His take on American history generally is really startling -- I found it downright eye-opening. Here's a small collection of Livingston's writings. Here's a collection of talks that he's given. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 30, 2009 | perma-link | (62) comments

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

From the WSJ
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A couple of good pieces from the Wall Street Journal: * Paul Starobin takes stock of secessionist rumblings, and wonders what a devolved U.S. might look like. * Paul Berkowitz argues that, if poli-sci departments can spare resources to teach feminist and postmodern political theory, they ought to do a better job of teaching the history of conservativism. * MBlowhard Rewind: I confessed that I've gotten a lot out of wrestling with rightie thought. * Bonus links: Don't miss our interview with the brilliant traditionalist conservative Jim Kalb: Part One, Part Two, Part Three. Buy Jim's fab book here. Best, Michael UPDATE: Rick Darby volunteers some smart reactions to Paul Starobin's secession piece.... posted by Michael at June 16, 2009 | perma-link | (7) comments

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

What's Up With the Left?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Why has the Euro left been doing so badly with the Euro working class lately? Not to give too much away, but ... Some of it's down to i-m-m-i-g-r-a-t-i-o-n. * Dean Baker thinks that the U.S. needs a healthy manufacturing sector. * Michael Hastings wonders why the left isn't more upset about Obama's war plans. * Is it time for anarchists to cut themselves off from the left? Jason McQuinn thinks so. Nice passage: If we want to avoid being taken down with the wreckage of leftism as it crumbles, we need to fully, consciously and explicitly dissociate ourselves from its manifold failures—and especially from the invalid presuppositions of leftism which led to these failures. Best, Michael UPDATE: The Kvetcher wonders why more people aren't asking why the BNP did as well as it did.... posted by Michael at June 9, 2009 | perma-link | (18) comments

Political Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Does it now make more sense to rent rather than buy? * Her car needs work, so Awake in Rochester has been taking the bus lately. She isn't very happy about it. * Why has train travel in the U.S. gotten slower? * Ramesh gives the local-currency thing some thought. * This colorful guy thinks it's only getting worse. (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin) * There's a lot to chew on in this brief Lew Rockwell posting about the Fed. * A great line from Jack Hunter: "American secession is no more crazy than American socialism." * Dennis Mangan takes stock of how our shadow government -- namely Goldman Sachs -- is faring under Obama. * MBlowhard Rewind: Should Turkey be welcomed into the European Union? I bounced off that question to wonder about a Gaspar Noe film and a Bertrand Blier film. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 9, 2009 | perma-link | (7) comments

Sunday, June 7, 2009

What We've Come To ...
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I wonder if we're entering into a great era for political satire. Link thanks to Charlton Griffin. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 7, 2009 | perma-link | (9) comments

Friday, June 5, 2009

Economics Today
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Finally, a little economic justice. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 5, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Tyler, Steve, Razib
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Tyler Cowen ventures some thoughts about Steve Sailer. Though the Steve-o-sphere is largely up in arms about the posting, I think that Tyler deserves a lot of credit for admitting that he has read Steve. How many mainstream people have the guts to do that? GNXP's David Kane responds. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 3, 2009 | perma-link | (19) comments

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Why Financial Instruments of Mass Destruction Still Walk the Earth
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, I don’t know about you, but the Great Recession is forcing me to use most of my limited mental firepower to run my small business under, shall we say, challenging conditions. Nonetheless, out of some perverse habit, I keep reading and stashing items on my hard drive about the continuing closeness between Washington and Wall Street. Or, as Satyajit Das, the risk management consultant who presciently warned against the impending problems associated with unregulated financial derivatives in a 2006 book, calls it, The Finance-Government Complex. Despite the ubiquity of calls for greater regulatory oversight of this wondrous public-private nexus in which the profits are all private while the losses are passed on to the taxpayer, the American government in its majesty has chosen, at least so far, to implement no changes whatever to its regulation of Wall Street. Derivatives, to take one egregious example, remain almost completely unregulated, despite their central role in the $180 billion taxpayer bailout of AIG (sums that have, in turn, been passed through to its counterparties on Wall Street and around the world.) Now I suppose asking Congress to both think and act diligently on any topic, whatever the seriousness, is wildly optimistic, but I would note that we’re closing in on the second anniversary of this latest little externality the Street has inflicted on the rest of the world while lining its own pockets. You’ve got to wonder how even Congress could be so impossible derelict in its duty, right? I mean, the AIG bailout alone is equivalent to the cost of a year or two for the Iraq War, which Congress at least feels required to take an annual vote to prolong. Well, I think the answer can be found, among many other places, in the June 1 edition of the NY Times. Here we learn that “Even in Crisis, Banks Dig in for Fight Against Rules”: The nine biggest participants in the derivatives market -- including JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and Bank of America -- created a lobbying organization, the CDS Dealers Consortium, on Nov. 13, a month after five of its members accepted federal bailout money. To oversee the consortium’s push, lobbying records show, the banks hired a longtime Washington power broker who previously helped fend off derivatives regulation: Edward J. Rosen, a partner at the law firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton. A confidential memo Mr. Rosen drafted and shared with the Treasury Department and leaders on Capitol Hill has, politicians and market participants say, played a pivotal role in shaping the debate over derivatives regulation. Today, just as the bankers anticipated, a battle over derivatives has been joined, in what promises to be a replay of a confrontation in Washington that Wall Street won a decade ago. Since then, derivatives trading has become one of the most profitable businesses for the nation’s big banks. Golly, you wouldn’t think that the recipients of such public largesse would still have much clout after the... posted by Friedrich at June 2, 2009 | perma-link | (42) comments

Monday, June 1, 2009

Matt and Derb
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Back here, Big Hollywood's Matt Patterson talked to me about conservatives and the arts. Today Matt explores the same topic with John Derbyshire. Best, Michael UPDATE: TownHall's Ned Rice profiles Big Hollywood's Andrew Breitbart.... posted by Michael at June 1, 2009 | perma-link | (11) comments

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Those who are now over 40 have lived through a doubling -- or more -- of the world's human population. Source. Some previous yakfests about population sizes, breeding, not-breeding, etc: here, here, and here. Woohoo -- people get really touchy about these questions! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 30, 2009 | perma-link | (22) comments

Monday, May 25, 2009

Big Is - or Was - British
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The huge, new Airbus 380 has been in service for a few months now. It has two full decks for passenger seating, unlike the Boeing 747 which has one main deck plus a smaller upper-deck area available for seating or other uses. I recall my first 747 flight: Christmas Eve, 1970, from Chicago to San Francisco on American Airlines. The plane struck me as huge (747s still do). Although the cabin floor is flat, there was for me the optical illusion that it curved upward ahead of me and behind. I was half-amazed when the plane actually flew. Although many people are shocked by large airplanes, large oil tankers, large container ships and large cruise liners, size does make economic sense provided that lots of passengers or other cargoes are lined up ready to be transported. Monster aircraft are nothing new. The German firm Dornier created the Do X in 1929. It was a flying boat powered by 12 (!) motors of 610 horsepower each. Three were built and some did operate in commercial service. Dornier Do X The Do X emerged during the awkward age of aircraft design where the goal was often simply to get something to fly and perform certain tasks. This is why the aircraft has the look of a Jules Verne era contraption. Refinements related to efficiency and task performance came later, and refinement is why I find the two planes I'm about to discuss to be of more interest. In other words, I'm more interested in things resulting from an effort to make them function well as opposed to efforts directed toward making them function at all. As it happened, it was post-World War 2 Britain where giant, essentially modern passenger transport planes were created. (Some "large," if not "giant," transports that appeared around 1940 were the Boeing 314, and the Latécoère 522 and 631 -- the latter approached the size of the subjects of this posting). During the war, in late 1942, Lord Brabazon (having been forced out of his position as Minister of Aircraft Production) set up a committee of government and airline officials with the task of planning post-war transport aircraft (information on the Brabizon Committee can be found here). One of the proposed airliner types was a transatlantic airliner actualized in the form of the Bristol Brabazon. Bristol Brabazon The Brabazon was powered by eight Bristol Centaurus (18 cylinders, sleeve-valved) motors of 2,190 horsepower each. The motors were paired into four nacelles, each with contra-rotating propellers. It was anticipated that later Brabazons would be powered by turbine engines. The project required construction of a new "assembly hall" (as Bristol termed it) because existing factory structures were too small to house the aircraft. Also too small was the runway at the Filton facility, so it was extended by around 50 per cent; casualties of the construction were a newly-built highway by-pass and the hamlet of Charlton. After significant delays, a Brabazon was built and flown... posted by Michael at May 25, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Political Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Roger Scruton takes stock of what's becoming of free speech in Europe. * How much does free speech really count at the ACLU? * It turns out that home-ownership is something the federal government has often promoted. According to Steven Malanga, the policy always comes to a bad end. (Link thanks to ALD) * Razib wonders what's to become of free will as the Blank Slate thesis continues to crumble. * Bill Kauffman has some good words to say for American anarchism. * 2Blowhards Rewind: We did a five-part interview with Bill Kauffman. Access all of it from this posting. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 9, 2009 | perma-link | (9) comments

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Taking Secession Seriously
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Most lefties appear to be either angered or puzzled by the recent talk about secession. Bioregionalist lefty Kirkpatrick Sale isn't one of them. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 2, 2009 | perma-link | (16) comments

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Obama in Popular Culture
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Has there been a political figure since JFK who has had Pres. Obama's impact on pop culture iconography? Che, maybe? In New York City, Obama's face sometimes seems to be everywhere. You can buy a Warholesque framed portrait from an art gallery: Or you can keep it real, man, and make your Obama purchases on the street: Feeling a little sour? Freshen your breath with an Obamamint: My favorite recent Obama appearance, though, was on the over of a New Age/Yoga giveaway magazine. New Life editor Mark Becker said this in his editor's note: I want to thank my dear friend Peter Max for creating and donating his portrait of President Obama, who I affectionately call Om-Bama, to adorn our cover ... We are living in very exciting time since we finally have a president who realizes what is broken and is willing to go out on a limb and step up to the plate to make these changes to create the America that our forefathers dreamed of. "Om-baba" -- talk about hopeful! Meanwhile, back in the real world, Pres. Obama seems to be carrying on as you'd expect any well-connected, know-it-all, Ivy Keynesian to behave. Here's how financial blogger Doug Henwood -- a lefty who favors nationalizing banks, so don't look at me that way -- evaluates Obama's performance: So far, the Obama administration’s notion of change, when it comes to this bailout, is to replace the Goldman Sachs alum at the top of the Tarp apparatus with a Merrill Lynch alum. Wow, that’s change we can all believe in, eh? Henwood is always worth a read, I find. While I can't get on board with the solutions he favors, his criticisms and observations often strike me as smart and informed. What does Obama represent to some people? Best, Michael UPDATE: A good passage from anti-globalist lefty Naomi Klein: Wall Street funded Obama’s campaign. They funded his Inauguration. They paid huge speaking and consulting fees to some of his closest advisers. What I am calling corruption is better understood as “crony capitalism.” It’s the systematic trading of favors between corporate and political elites to secure wealth and power. And the truth is, most of the time the trading of favors doesn’t even need to be explicit. It’s more that this corporate-political nexus creates an impenetrable culture in Washington, so the hedge-fund managers and bank CEOs are the ones who are in the ears of the Washington policy makers — they are their constituency, their community, the ones saying whether or not a given policy will work. And, of course, the problem is that the voices of regular people are left out.... posted by Michael at April 29, 2009 | perma-link | (32) comments

Living in Small, Weak Countries
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- For as long as I can remember, the United States has been a large, strong country. At the time of World War 2 our major enemies, in combination, outnumbered us in terms of population if not in productivity. And of course we had allies. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union also had the demographic advantage even without factoring in China. Again, we had productivity and allies to redress the balance. But for the last 20 years or so, we have been supreme. In some respects, living in the USA is similar to what it was like in the heydays of Imperial China, and the Roman and British empires -- though we are not an empire of the classical 19th century variety, nor of the Roman or Chinese kinds. I find that being an American is just fine, thank you; we are indeed fortunate. But what about the rest of the world? What is the psychology of being a citizen of a country that isn't top dog? I haven't the slightest idea. To simplify, I'll set aside flyspeck island countries or tiny continental states such as Andorra, Lichtenstein and San Marino. Ditto African hell-holes and banana republics. What if you're a citizen of the likes of Uruguay, Lithuania, Greece, Belgium or Nepal? Your country isn't nothing, but larger and (at times) hostile neighbors are always present, implicit threats to your country's existence. So how do you view your country and the world around you? Probably not like an American would. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 29, 2009 | perma-link | (28) comments

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- 48% of Texas Republicans think Texas would be better off if it seceded from the U.S. Source. FWIW, yours truly isn't all that interested in a discussion about whether Texas seceding from the union is a good or a bad idea. Boring. A far more appealing-to-me line of thought might be one that went roughly this way: Wow. How weird that secession is being spoken about so openly these days. Didn't see that one coming. In fact, I can't remember the topic being spoken about like this in my entire lifetime. Bizarre and remarkable. How to account for this development? What might it mean or indicate? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 26, 2009 | perma-link | (38) comments

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Whatever Happened to Geopolitics?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Remember Geopolitics? Probably not unless you're, say, 60 and older or have delved fairly deeply into early 20th century history. A pretty good summary can be found on Wikipedia here. What I'll call "Classical Geopolitics" from the period 1920-1950 contended that whoever controlled or was based in an ill-defined area that included part of historic Russia and a chunk of north-central Asia extending from the Urals east three or four thousand miles had the potential for world dominance. This area was termed the Heartland by British geographer Halford John Mackinder who originated the idea of Geopolitics. By controlling this area it (the nation, imperial power, whatever kind of political entity might apply) could then control or dominate the surrounding belt of territory (different geopolitical theorists differed as to what constituted this belt or rim) and enough resources that would allow domination of peripheral lands. This line of thinking had some popularity in Germany thanks to thinkers such as Karl Haushofer, and might have been a factor in Hitler's decision to attack Russia in June, 1941. I should add that Hitler had been thinking of lebensraum and a drang nach osten (the Germanification of Poland, White Russia and the Ukraine) for years, both concepts having no necessary connection to Geopolitics. But Geopolitics was definitely in the air when he was formulating his ideas. As an impressionable kid during the first decade of the Cold War who had heard of Geopolitics, it was a bit scary to see all sorts of maps where Communist nations were painted in a swath of bright red extending from central Germany to the Bering Strait and down through China. Might the West be doomed by virtue of its geography? As the link to Mackinder indicates, his concept of Geopolitics was more subtle than pure determinism. Nevertheless, a deterministic interpretation could be easy to make, especially if one were a general such as Haushofer who would appreciate its relationship to the military concept of interior lines of communication. This is the presumed advantage a country has if it is fighting on more than one front; it can quickly move troops and other military resources from one front to another whereas its enemies, operating on exterior lines, are forced to make redeployments in a roundabout manner. I admit that I haven't studied Geopolitics more than superficially. Having said that, I'll assert that the theory has yet to prove itself. It is clear to me that geography indeed affects the fate of nations. Think of Germany and Poland with little in the way of defensible boundaries to their east and west. Or of Russia, whose vast land area has made it virtually impervious to outside subjugation since it became a unified state. But this does not validate Classical Geopolitics. In fact, most successful powers in modern times (say, since the Renaissance) have tended to be peripheral or island powers whose extraterritorial might was based on sea power. Examples include Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal,... posted by Donald at April 25, 2009 | perma-link | (11) comments

Friday, April 17, 2009

Thoughts from the Battleship Missouri
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, I just got back from a vacation to Hawaii, where my wife and I took my young son over to see the Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor. A couple days later we went on the tour of the battleship Missouri, mostly because nearly half a century ago my dad took me to see various fighting ships parked around America. In the early 1960s, the battleships I toured seemed emblematic of America's righteous might, wreaking havoc on our evil foes. Not only were they impressive in themselves, but they symbolized a power that to all appearances could be counted on forever. Today, touring the battleship struck me almost as an exercise in ancient history, embalmed in amber; one's vision of this enormous vessel is distorted by a kind of astronomical red-shift effect, as if the whole experience of World War II is accelerating ever faster away from us like a distant galaxy. Still, as I walked around the ship, I couldn't help but ponder the giant shadow that World War II had cast not only over my boyhood, but even over my adulthood, though I rarely consciously noted it. It constantly floated in the middle distance, a religious crusade that justified not only the mysteries of the Cold War but somehow also sanctifying all the details, however dubious on their face, of American society. In fact, I think it's fair to say that not only for me, but for the entire nation, the whole second half of the 20th century existed in a sort of post-New-Deal, post-World War II haze, so pervasive that the full dimensions of it weren't entirely evident even during, say, the 1960s. (In fact, it's interesting to think how much of the intellectual underpinnings of the Sixties, even it's anti-Americanism, still rested on New Deal, World War II, and American Century intellectual foundations.) Of course all that just made it even more clear to me as I paced the deck where MacArthur took the Japanese surrender, how much that haze is now blowing away in a cold wind. I think I've mentioned several times in the past five years or so that it feels to me as if we've clearly left The American Century behind and are into something entirely new, although it appears that most of our population hasn't caught on, exactly. The rise of China and India, the de-industrialization of our economy, our massive trade deficits and dependence on foreign sources of capital, our equally massive levels of immigration, and the sense of many, many chickens coming home to roost has gradually signalled a great shift in eras for me. Sadly, the short term thinking of the past three decades, including the lack of truly fundamental technical innovations (face it, the Internet doesn't exactly match up to electrication or the Model T as a productivity enhancer), the long decline of our savings rate, the stall-out of income growth for most of the population, our financial reliance on stock and... posted by Friedrich at April 17, 2009 | perma-link | (17) comments

Political Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * The wonders of globalization, cont. * Is there any reason at all for the U.S. to keep playing a role in NATO? Some fun facts: "America accounts for more than half of the world’s defense expenditures. Iran’s defense budget is less than one percent of ours. The defense budgets of Russia and China are no more than a tenth of ours." * The Congressional Budget Office's estimate of how much deficit spending Obama has pledged us to do over the next decade: $9.3 trillion. * The talk about secession is growing more public with every passing day. * Has Wilhelm Ropke's moment come? Forgive a little gloating: You've been reading about Ropke for years at 2Blowhards. Two excellent intros to Ropke and his thought: here and here. Matthew Redard's blog is heavily influenced by Ropke. * Quote for the day comes from Roger Scruton: I don't know whether anything that economists say is true. For almost all of them argue as though it were not human beings who are the subject of their discipline, but "profit maximizers," acting according to the principles of cost and benefit, and never troubling to make the distinction between real and unreal products, between right and wrong ways of behaving, and between responsible and irresponsible attitudes to future generations. * Read an interview with the brilliant and provocative Scruton. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 17, 2009 | perma-link | (9) comments

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

G-Spots; Bailouts
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * You know that long-running controversy over vaginal orgasms? The way some women say that they have 'em, some women report that they don't, and some extremist women claim that no such thing is even possible? (The nuttier feminists have long wanted to establish it as indisputable fact that the penis can play no role in a woman's pleasure.) Here's a study that may begin to explain a major reason why there's a controversy at all: Some women seem to have G-spots and others don't. Makes sense to me: During my catting-around years I ran across huuuuuge variations in women's sensitivity and responsiveness. Comments, stories, and opinions from female visitors to 2Blowhards are hereby officially encouraged. Dudes: Be respectful. Everyone: Take advantage of the fact that you're using a pseudonym. * This Newsweek article by Michael Hirsh explores the origins of Obama's bailout strategy. But it also provides an excellent glimpse at the way Wall Street and D.C. don't just overlap these days, they blend totally. Best, Michael UPDATE: Lifetime for Men. (Link thanks to JV.) UPDATE 2: Meet Japan's 75-year-old porn star. He went into the business when he was 59. UPDATE 3: The tools they use to measure sexual arousal.... posted by Michael at April 15, 2009 | perma-link | (36) comments

Monday, April 13, 2009

Political Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Lovely. * Fred Reed thinks that it's about time the U.S.'s rulers learned a thing or two about Latin America. * Anne Thompson asks: Who would you cast as Monica Lewinsky? * Given that so many of the people who created our current financial mess went to the same bunch of business schools, Business Insider wants to know: Have our business schools disgraced themselves? And will they suffer for it? (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin). * One more consequence of the economic crisis: We're now blazing new legal paths. * Matt Mullenix proposes "neighborhood secession." * Are England's Tories going crunchy con? * Why are people talking so much recently about returning to a gold standard? * Fitness guru and brilliant economist Arthur De Vany lays out some of the reasons why turning health care into a universal entitlement can be a bad idea. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 13, 2009 | perma-link | (32) comments

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Reinventing College
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Several times a year I get solicitations to donate to one alma mater or the other. And every time I get one I toss it in the waste basket. It's easier for the University of Washington's pitch because a certain percentage of the sales tax I have to pay gets pipelined there, so I consider that I'm doing my bit for The Cause whether I want to or not. The matter of Dear Old Penn is more ambiguous because it's a private university (though a lot of state and federal dollars flow into it). My problem is ideological. I read news items about what goes on at the universities and this is reinforced by the alumni magazines I receive. Most of what I see is left-wing, politically correct activities that I'm supposed to understand as being "academic" and worthy of my support. Since I am no longer a Lefty and never ever bought into political correctness, I figure that any donations I might make would help fuel the goals of my political enemies. So no sale. All of which brings to mind the question of how present-day youth who don't want to have a significant part of their college classroom time subverted by unwanted political indoctrination can manage to become educated and land jobs that don't intrinsically require a college or university degree. (I'm thinking law, medicine and other fields that are vocationally oriented as opposed to jobs than can be held by general-purpose, liberal-artsy type majors. Engineering is not much at issue because its core is technical rather than political -- though political courses might intrude now and then.) I recognize that there are private vocation-driven evening or part-time colleges that potentially offer a politics-free environment. I further recognize that many people, myself included, do a good deal of learning on their own following graduation. But jobs in bureaucracy-dominated organizations such as governments and perhaps some larger businesses specify credentials for their various job slots, and self-education and perhaps some evening colleges don't meet the stipulated standards. Then there is the matter of accreditation. Suppose someone established a Right-leaning college (in practice, just as most colleges today are, in practice, left-leaning). The left-leaning academia probably dominates the accreditation bodies and therein lies the possibility that a de facto Righty college would be denied accreditation and thereby be shunned by potential students having limited time and money resources for getting their educational tickets punched. Therefore, much as I would like to see a return to the largely a-political college environment I experienced many years ago, I see no easy way to circumvent the present situation. Students will have to run the risk of being brainwashed for the next few decades and I will have to hope that eventually the higher education system will correct itself -- though I'm not sure how. Thoughts on the perceived (by me, anyway) politics infestation of colleges and universities and possible cures are welcome in Comments. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 7, 2009 | perma-link | (46) comments

Saturday, April 4, 2009

"Change," My Foot
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Nice to see that a few people in the press (and even of the left-ish persuasion) are starting to catch on. Doug Henwood, of the Left Business Observer, has taken to mocking Obama as "Pres. Yeswecan." Best, Michael UDPATE: Decoding Barack.... posted by Michael at April 4, 2009 | perma-link | (46) comments

Friday, April 3, 2009

Women (and Men) Today
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Are today's women liberated, confused -- or just out shopping? (And why are British women journalists so much more likely to write freewheeling and irreverent pieces about the "women" question than American women journalists are?) Bonus link: How did six-pack abs become such a big focus of erotic attention? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 3, 2009 | perma-link | (42) comments

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bill Kauffman on Arts Subsidies
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Radical reactionary Bill Kauffman is against governmental arts subsidies -- for the good of the arts. I'm with him on that. Look at it this way: If you support the NEA, don't you need to convince us that American culture has been better since the NEA began than it was in the pre-NEA era? In other words, don't you need to argue that the NEA has actually accomplished something worthwhile? Quick reminder: Without any help from the NEA, the U.S. somehow came up with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Julia Morgan, Louis Armstrong, Mahalia Jackson, James Thurber, Dashiell Hammett, Mad magazine, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Howard Hawks, Barbara Stanwyck, Jack Teagarden, John Philip Sousa, Chuck Berry, Bugs Bunny, Ma Rainey, Stephen Foster, Jackie Wilson, Mark Twain, Dorothy Parker, Henry Miller, Cass Gilbert, Bessie Smith, Ruth Draper, and Louis Comfort Tiffany. Thanks to the NEA's efforts, we can brag of ... Any takers? Start reading our week-long interview with Bill Kauffman here and here. Bill and some fellow class-act cranks (Caleb Stegall, Russell Arben Fox, others) are now blogging here. Bonus links: Bill Kauffman writes a beautiful short appreciation of the eco-anarchist, novelist, essayist, and legend Edward Abbey. I'm a huge Edward Abbey fan myself. Start with "Desert Solitaire." I enjoyed Stewart Lundy's musings about art, conservatism, and grace. Allan Carlson, one of Kauffman's conspirators at Front Porch Republic, has written a solid essay about Wilhelm Ropke, my favorite economist. Read it here. Back here I wrote about what a glorious mess American culture is. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 25, 2009 | perma-link | (66) comments

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Secession: One of the Year's Political Themes?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * More secession rumblings. * Macho rightie action star Chuck Norris wants Texas to secede. * Granola-munching academic hipsters in Vermonters are calling for secession too. * Here's a secessionism primer. Just to clarify: My point here isn't to argue for or against secession, though please feel free to go right ahead with such gabfests. My point is simply to notice that secession is being talked about out loud, and to wonder, "What might this mean? And what might explain why this is happening now?" BTW, if you think that the emergence of the topic of secession into the realm of public discourse has no significance, please say so -- but please also give reasons why you think that's the case. Bonus links: * Raw milk continues to be an issue too. Is there a connection between the raw milk movement and the various secession movements? I sure think there might be. * Ropke and Schumacher fan Matthew Redard discovers the Slow Money movement. (Hey, I've blogged approvingly about Ropke, Schumacher, and the Slow movement myself.) Best, Michael UPDATE: Shouting Thomas wants to secede from Woodstock. But will Woodstock let him go?... posted by Michael at March 24, 2009 | perma-link | (41) comments

Friday, March 20, 2009

Teleprompter Tells All
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The economy isn't doing well, but it isn't hard to find humor -- and I don't mean just the gallows variety. No doubt many of you have heard about this Web site already, but I'll pass it along, just in case. It's called Barack Obama's Teleprompter's Blog. It chronicles the daily activities and musings of our beloved President's constant and essential companion. "TOTUS," by the way, is an acronym for Telepromper Of The United States, a riff on POTUS, President Of The United States. So far as I know, the real writer hasn't been identified, but it might be someone like Jim Treacher or Rob Long. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 20, 2009 | perma-link | (2) comments

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

America 2050
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here's a weird one: an organization that, unlike many on the PC/multiculti side, is completely upfront about where PC, multiculturalism, and current immigration policies are steering us in a demographic sense. From their "Goal" page: By 2050, one out of five Americans will be foreign born. Latino communities will triple in size and the percentage of Asian communities will increase significantly. There will be no clear racial or ethnic majority. Only 47% of Americans will be classified as white. The American population will drastically shift. New faces, new foods, new languages, and different skin colors will influence our everyday experiences. What appears ‘foreign’ will challenge how Americans see the world and how Americans identify themselves. Not that my opinion really matters ... But, me, I look at that first paragraph and think, "Holy crap, that's a recipe for a lot of wrenching and possibly disastrous changes." I wonder why this is happening to us, and who has been forcing it on us. And, in response, I tend to think in terms of "What can be done to minimize and maybe even reverse the damage?" America 2050, though, thinks these changes are just great. All that's needed for us to successfully adjust, apparently, is a lot of "candid conversations around race, immigration, and identity." So what is America 2050 doing to encourage these "candid conversations"? Take a look at this posting on American 2050's blog. As far as I can tell, America 2050's basic strategy isn't to sponsor candid, searching, open discussions at all. Instead, it's to demonize and discredit anyone who disagrees with them about how groovy all these changes are gonna prove to be. Question For the Day: Does America 2050 really want candid conversations, or is it dedicated instead to rigging important public discussions in ways that suit them? Don't ask me why, but I suspect that what we have here is an example of "Hey, let's play a game! My rules. My field. My ball. And I get to be umpire too." Ah, those who love being on the side of the angels, eh? It can be dangerous to the health to get in their way. Now, excuse me while I go discard everything that the Village Voice has ever published -- and while I throw mud on everyone who has ever written for that publication -- because it has had dogmatic socialists, freaky feminists, and outright revolutionaries on its staff. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 18, 2009 | perma-link | (121) comments

Political / Econ Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Has the Israel Lobby finally overplayed its hand? * Nathan explains why it can be helpful to think of conservatism and capitalism as two very different forces. * What are some of the advantages of gold? * Maybe more credit isn't what the economy needs. Maybe what the economy needs is more savings. * Does Keynesian economics deserve to be called a science? * Will today's financial travails make economists more modest about their powers? * Sheldon Richman argues that government should be doing much, much less than it has been doing to solve the financial crisis. * Better to rip the band-aid off the banking system in one go, or do it bit by bit? * Or maybe it's time for a mercy killing. * MBlowhard Rewind: I wrote about how much I've learned from wrestling with rightieness. Main point: I'm amazed by how little most urban lefties know about conservatism. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 18, 2009 | perma-link | (7) comments

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

More on Game
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I was pleased with a comment I made on a recent posting about Game, so in the hopes of keeping the conversation rolling I'm promoting it to a posting of its own: No one wants to take up the line of thinking / observing that sN and I propose? Namely, avoiding the quarrel over the content of Game (which mainly strikes me as a hiphop version of traditional "be a man / treat her like a woman" courtship rules), and speculating instead about what it represents in a more general cultural sense? Anyone? Why should such a thing, in this kind of form, come about? What does it signify that it has? FWIW, quarreling with the content of Game, while fun, strikes me as something akin to being around in 1965 and quarreling with the content of the hippie vision. A lot of the hippies' arguments and points were pretty silly, after all. But the main thing at the time was that there were suddenly a lot of hippies around, no? And trying to figure out what that was all about. As for beating up on the youngdudez ... Always tempting, of course. They probably even need it. But at the same time ... It ain't their fault that they were born when they were. Hyper-feminized upbringings ... Glittery and exhibitionistic (but also hyperbossy and aggressive) girls ... Plentiful electronic temptations ... Waking up out of this, getting a bit of a bead on it, and discovering that it's OK to be a guy in the trad sense seems to be part of what Game represents. That may look funny to us oldguyz -- but isn't that simply because "feeling entitled to being a guy" was never an issue for us? After all, we grew up pre-'70s feminism, and especially pre-'90s establishment PC. If today's youngdudez need to act out, break a few windows, and write some manifestos, it strikes me as fine and understandable -- even a heartening spectacle. They're learning for the very first time what it is to really be a guy. Beats never connecting with what it is to be a guy, no? To take it a step further: What if what Game represents is the beginnings of a mass, populist revolt against PC? If so, then that's really something major, given what PC is and how long it's been around. It's a little like the birth of Solidarity over in Poland -- the opening-up of a major chasm between the PC-lovin' elites and the mass of real people who just want to get on with decently satisfying lives. Funny that the flag that's being waved belongs to an underground school of How to Pick Up Girls, but life can be funny. And why should it surprise us that the main thing that's on the minds of youngdudez is sex? Besides, for youngdudez sex can be a door that opens onto much else. It can be The Door that leads... posted by Michael at March 17, 2009 | perma-link | (153) comments

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Still Time for Gold?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Newsweek's Lisa Miller visits with a few people who have been stocking up on gold. * According to Swiss banker Ferdinand Lips, gold is the money of the real people, where fiat money (ie., paper and credit backed by nothing) is the money that know-it-all, self-serving elites prefer to impose on the rest of us. Fascinating quote from this 2004 interview, concerning the decision governments made in the early '70s to decouple money from gold: Imagine a foreign company under contract to produce locomotives for export to the U.S. that doesn’t know what the dollar conversion will be when it finally ships its goods. That’s why industry and banks created derivatives and other financial tools. That was the birth of this industry and it has become -- because of the ingenuity of mathematicians –- almost like an atomic bomb. It is so dangerous. It is unregulated and nobody really knows what’s going on. It could be the most dangerous development in history if things get out of hand. Hmmm ... Things do seem to have gotten rather out of hand recently ... A fun fact from Lips about the impact of the Federal Reserve, which was created in 1913: "The dollar's purchasing power is now around 5% of its 1913 value." His conclusion: "I think central banks are detrimental to society." * Why doesn't the financial press do a better job? More. More. More. Vaguely related: What to make of Chuck Norris? Here and here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 14, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments

Monday, March 9, 2009

Political Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Maybe we should blame it all on Harvard. (Link thanks to Matthew Redard.) * John Stossel asks some good questions about how much credit politicians do and don't deserve. * Is California close to declaring bankruptcy? * Are there more reasons to worry about water than about petroleum? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 9, 2009 | perma-link | (21) comments

Wealth Creation (?!) via Financial Engineering
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, Thank goodness that by a careful application of incentive pay, we have attracted the best and the brightest to their highest and best uses, throughout our economy. Bloomberg’s story, “Making $34 Million at Merrill Means No Bonus Escapes Subpoenas,” just brings one more piece of evidence from the world of finance to light: Andrea Orcel’s reported $33.8 million compensation for 2008, a year when his employer, Merrill Lynch & Co., had net losses of $27 billion, doesn’t come without a price. Orcel, 45, Merrill’s top investment banker, has been subpoenaed to testify by New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who’s looking into the firm’s decision to pay $3.6 billion in bonuses to 700 employees just before it was swallowed by Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America Corp. on Jan. 1. […] Last year, Orcel advised Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc on its $19 billion acquisition of Dutch Bank ABN Amro Holding NV, which was completed in April. Royal Bank of Scotland, once the second-biggest U.K. bank by market value, is now controlled by the government after reporting the biggest loss in the country’s history. […] “ABN Amro and Royal Bank of Scotland are [today] both bankrupt and their leaders are disgraced, but the investment banker who put it together walks off with $30 million,” Paul Volcker, a former chairman of the Federal Reserve and now head of President Barack Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, said at a conference at New York University’s Stern School of Business last week. “There’s something the matter with that system.” Thank goodness for principal-agent conflicts! Where would our economy be without them! Where would the entire New Class expert-ocracy be without them! Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at March 9, 2009 | perma-link | (2) comments

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A quarter of the kids in the U.S.'s kindergartens are Hispanic. Source. Get ready for it: By 2023, more than half of America's children will be non-white. For more cheery predictions, why not cut to a video? More. So maybe the time has come to go on vacation ... Maybe even do a little dance on the rubble of civilization ... Hit it, El-man: Best, if feeling a little overwhelmed by the changes we're witnessing, Michael... posted by Michael at March 7, 2009 | perma-link | (86) comments

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Conservatism: Yacht Club to the Rescue!
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Thanks to the persistence of Dave Burge who, patriotically, temporarily set aside his mission of locating the hottest set of Hemi overhead cams in the Midwest, we now have a valuable inside look as to what ails the conservative movement and the cure. The source of this information is über-patrician T. Coddington Van Voorhees VII, Editor, the National Topsider whose commentary can be found here. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 5, 2009 | perma-link | (2) comments

Market Vs. Culture?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Do the activities of the free market undermine the cultural matrix the free market depends on for its existence? More. More. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 5, 2009 | perma-link | (2) comments

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Zmirak on Defence
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- John Zmirak offers seven reasons why the U.S. should cut back dramatically on defence spending. My favorite is # 7: If you knew a family that had more guns than all its neighbors put together, but was living on credit cards and cadging loans from people who hated them, what advice would you give them? Sums up a lot about our present condition, doesn't it? I liked Zmirak's book about Wilhelm Ropke a lot. Ropke -- who never failed to emphasize the cultural matrix the economy is part of and depends on -- is my favorite economist. Here's a terrific short intro to Ropke by Zmirak. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 1, 2009 | perma-link | (12) comments

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In 1999, the U.S. government's total outlays were smaller than this year's deficit is expected to be. Source. Bonus link: "The President does not understand that consumption is made possible by production and that credit is made possible by savings," writes Peter Schiff. George Reisman argues that stimulus packages always reduce real available capital. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 28, 2009 | perma-link | (3) comments

Friday, February 27, 2009

Scary Sentence of the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- From Newsweek's Michael Hirsh and Evan Thomas comes this: The president has assembled a team of Harvard and Yale types whose SAT scores have not been equaled since perhaps the Kennedy administration. And didn't the best and the brightest acquit themselves just beautifully back in the '60s? Hey, a posting that I should probably get around to pulling together sometime would be my little contribution to the insights-and-guesses-about-Obama's-character genre. I'd argue this: An important aspect of his personality that has been underemphasized is that he's the product of a prep-school / prestigious-college formation. Your truly is too. (And, like Obama, I didn't enter this pipeline with a ruling-class, let alone prosperous, background.) When I look at Obama, what I mainly see is a generic example of a kid like many hundreds that I went through school with. Even his racial crises, dreams, and conflicts look to me like standard examples of the ones routinely experienced by the black kids who are fed into this system. Given that I may never manage to pull something semi-coherent together, I'll venture a few scattershot musings now: For many people from this kind of background, a belief in dial-twisting, "inspirational," top-down rule-by-the-right-people comes pretty darned easy. Your real dream as such a person? To install and lead a team that includes your buddies, mentors, classmates, connections, and favorite professors. Because, like you, they're the best. It's just an established fact. I mean, we all got accepted by, and flourished in, the "best" schools, didn't we? Bonus link: Thanks to Greg Ransom for pointing out this CNBC doc about our current economic travails. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 27, 2009 | perma-link | (34) comments

Monday, February 23, 2009

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Thanks to JV, who turned up this promising-looking collection of academic lectures-on-video. * Toby Young takes some nicely-judged jabs at David Denby. * Time for the west to stop throwing money at Africa? (Link thanks to Bryan.) * Copyright law tends to baffle those who haven't looked into it, but fascinate those who dare to take a peak. Daniel Grant evaluates some provocative recent art-world cases. * But will copyright be finito in a couple of years anyway? * Chief neocon denies existence of neocons! Philip Weiss takes note. * The crisis in the media business has led some former journalists to accept jobs with a new employer. * Damn, I shoulda been a cop. * Peter Schiff thinks it would be best for everyone if our foreign creditors would stop lending us money. And how about all those people who are attacking Schiff? * Taki is certain that bringing Turkey into the EU is a majorly stupid idea. * Frequent 2Blowhards visitor Peter has moved his blog. He's now recording thoughts, exercise routines, and Long Island Railroad observations on a very handsome WordPress theme. Check it out. Peter's Links list is a valuable resource too. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 23, 2009 | perma-link | (8) comments

Sunday, February 22, 2009

More Mendacity on Nationalizing the Too-Big-To-Fail Banks
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, According to unnamed "officials" of the Obama Administration, we will shortly hear the new new plan to save the “too big to fail” banks. From a Sunday CNBC story, "Crafting a Bank Plan...No 'Lehman Weekends,' we get this choice tidbit: Officials would not rule out increased or even outright government ownership of large banks at the end of the process, but they say their intent is to avoid that outcome and that it is anything but certain. They say the government does not want to be running these companies. If the banks end up in government hands, officials say, the intent would be to get them into private hands quickly and do so in a way that is not much different from how the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. currently resolves bank insolvencies, which typically take place over the weekend. The extent of government ownership, they say, will depend on the size of the losses at the banks, the access of banks to private capital and how the recession plays out. Said one high-level official, “I think the market is missing that the whole intent of this process is to show that the banks have enough capital for even worse outcomes than we currently envision and to show there’s a program in place to give banks access to that capital if they need it.” [emphasis added] I hope you noticed the odd slip there, which is public admission that the so-called bank "stress tests" are not designed to actually find out anything. Rather, their purpose is to serve as propaganda, informing the U.S. taxpayer and stock market investors of the predetermined outcome that everything with the banks is hunky dory and handing over many more billions to them is in no way sending good money after bad. What sounded like the most (only?) valuable part of Secretary Geithner’s plan – that is to say, a pulling aside of the information iron curtain that has prevented the U.S. taxpayer from being able to get any accurate view of what condition the balance sheets of these extremely peculiar, must-be-bailed-out-no-matter-what-the-cost banks are – has now been revealed as bunkum. Actually, Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism back on February 17 had already pegged the impossibility of performing such stress tests meaningfully in the time span discussed by the Administration. You should read the whole discussion, "William Black:There Are No Real Stress Tests Going On." Mr. Black, a former high bank regulator, goes into far more detail, but in capsule, as I understand it, the issues preventing such an appraisal include: 1) You can’t perform a stress test on securitized loans (representing hundreds of billions of dollars on the too-big-to-fail banks’ balance sheets) unless you have access to all the paperwork of the original loans, and it is very unlikely that it is available to regulators. In fact, Mr. Black has dark suspicions that much of it (especially for loans originated by hundreds of now-bankrupt mortgage mills) may no longer... posted by Friedrich at February 22, 2009 | perma-link | (6) comments

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Pat Condell on the Geert Wilders Affair
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The British government preventing Geert Wilders from entering the country? Pat Condell has a few words about that decision: Let me put off debate about the subject matter of Condell's video for just a second in order to ask: Is that man a great ranter or what? Articulate, funny, impassioned yet under sly control ... What a virtuoso. OK, now back to the substance of it ... Possibly related? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 17, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments

Sunday, February 15, 2009

What Would Andrew Jackson Do?
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, Simon Johnson was formerly the chief economist at the IMF. As a consequence, he’s had experience with governments all over the world, including many that are basically run by small groups of wealthy oligarchs. Having turned blogger, Mr. Johnson recently wrote a posting, High Noon: Geithner v. The American Oligarchs, in which he points out that the way the U.S. government is responding to the banking crisis is looking awfully Third-World-ish. Mr. Johnson was interviewed by Bill Moyers on PBS. You can read the transcript or listen to the interview here. Below are some portions of the interview that highlight for me exactly how critical the current situation will be in determining what kind of country we want to have going forward: BILL MOYERS: Oligarchy is an un-American term, as you know. It means a government by a small number of people. We don't like to think of ourselves that way. …Are you saying that the banking industry trumps the president, the Congress and the American government when it comes to this issue so crucial to the survival of American democracy? SIMON JOHNSON: I don't know. I hope they don't trump it. But the signs that I see this week, the body language, the words, the op-eds, the testimony, the way they're treated by certain Congressional committees, it makes me feel very worried. […] BILL MOYERS: Geithner has hired as his chief-of-staff, the lobbyist from Goldman Sachs. The new deputy secretary of state was, until last year, a CEO of Citigroup. Another CFO from Citigroup is now assistant to the president, and deputy national security advisor for International Economic Affairs. And one of his deputies also came from Citigroup. One new member of the president's Economic Recovery Advisory Board comes from UBS, which is being investigated for helping rich clients evade taxes. SIMON JOHNSON: …I don't think you have enough time on your show to go through the full list of people and all the positions they've taken.… I think these [Wall Street] people think that they've won. They think it's over…They think that we're going to pay out ten or 20 percent of GDP to basically make them whole. It's astonishing. BILL MOYERS: Why wouldn't they believe that? I mean, when I watched the eight CEOs testify before Congress at the House Financial Services Committee earlier this week, I had just finished reading a report that almost every member of that Committee had received contributions from those banks last year. I mean in a way that's like paying the cop on the beat not to arrest you, right? SIMON JOHNSON: I called up one of my friends on Capitol Hill after that testimony, and that session. I said, "What happened? This was your moment. Why did they pull their punches like that?" And my friend said, "They, the Committee members, know the bankers too well." BILL MOYERS: Last year, the securities and investment industry made $146 million in campaign contributions. Commercial banks, another... posted by Friedrich at February 15, 2009 | perma-link | (33) comments

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Secession and the Fed
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Secession rumblings are getting louder. * So are near-secession rumblings. * Time to abolish the Fed? (FWIW, and in case it isn't obvious ... My own take on all this largely boils down to "How interesting that we live at a time when secession and whether or not to abolish the Fed are being openly discussed." Happy to admit to a well-defined "small is beautiful" personal taste-set. But what strikes me as far more interesting than my boring opinion is the simple fact that topics like these are coming up these days.) Best, Michael UPDATE: In further "funny (and expensive) world we're living in" news ...... posted by Michael at February 12, 2009 | perma-link | (13) comments

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

End of an Era? Sign of the Times?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Muzak files for bankruptcy. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 11, 2009 | perma-link | (12) comments

Now They’re Really Scaring Me
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, Given Mr. Geithner’s track record to date in devising financial system solutions that are remarkably favorable to Wall Street, I was prepared to dislike his bank rescue plan. I was not prepared to find that he has no plan at all. A look at Mr. Geithner’s biography suggests that he has been seen as a star pupil of a variety of very powerful mentors. Well, the star pupil just got a “D-“ on his first big exam. Did anybody like this plan? The stock market certainly didn’t. And how about the blogosphere? Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism sums of a series of reactions, here. The Financial Times surveys another set of reactions, here. Reading these, I'm not feeling the love anywhere for Mr. Geithner and his mad leadership skills. For my money, two commentators get most to the heart of the matter. Martin Wolf, the Financial Times columnist, points out that Mr. Geithner is struggling to solve a problem while putting too many constraints on possible solutions: [The Obama Administration] seems [to have] set itself the wrong question. It has not asked what needs to be done to be sure of a solution. It has asked itself, instead, what is the best it can do given three arbitrary, self-imposed constraints: no nationalization [of Wall Street banks]; no losses for bondholders [of these same banks]; and no more money from Congress. Yet why does a new administration, confronting a huge crisis, not try to change the terms of debate? This timidity is depressing. You can read Mr. Wolf’s entire column here. I think James Hamilton of Econbrowser in his post, The Treasury's Financial Stability Plan, gives us some insight into why Geithner is being so timid: As I've argued before, there basically are five parties who might be asked to absorb the losses on existing assets, namely, stockholders, creditors, managers, employees, and the taxpayers. My favored concept is, we use player 5 [the taxpayers] to get as much leverage as possible out of the first 4. It appears that the Treasury's concept is instead a continuation of Plan A [the Paulsonian TARP], namely, hope that if we hold on tight and keep the ship from sinking long enough, everything will turn out OK. That is to say, at some point the Obama Administration, if they are serious about resolving this problem, will have to decide whose ox is going to get gored: either Wall Street and its investors, creditors and lavish campaign contributors or the taxpaying public. In other words, do you hurt the guys who finance your political campaigns, or do you hurt the voting public? Golly, that’s a tough one for any politician. Both the Bush Republicans and the Obama Democrats seem to have walked up to that one, and been unable to pull either lever. Much better to go on pretending that, as Mr. Hamilton remarks, “everything will turn out OK.” I think one reason the public hasn't freaked out more over... posted by Friedrich at February 11, 2009 | perma-link | (29) comments

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Banking Rescue - Secrets, Lies and Campaign Contributions
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, The biggest problem the U.S. has in politically fixing the problems of the banking system is that the taxpaying citizen has been carefully denied any real insight into the actual financial situation of the major banks. This makes it impossible to objectively discuss such questions as “what are bank assets worth today and under a variety of scenarios going forward?” This in turn makes it impossible to consider “how big would a bad bank have to be?” and “how much recapitalization would current institutions really require?” and “would it be cheaper to let the old banks go under and start new ones?” The political insiders have a total monopoly on such knowledge and they are quite carefully hoarding it. Perhaps the really disturbing thought here is that, given how much time they seem to spend confabbing with senior Wall Street bankers, it’s genuinely possible that what the Geithner-Bernanke team think they know comes entirely from what the eager bailoutees tell them. After all, remember that the US government appears to have felt that Citibank was well capitalized after the first round of TARP money and prior to its first emergency injection of additional capital until the bank management called them up and explained otherwise. Is it any wonder that anyone with a brain and a modicum of experience in the real world is, um, just a tad suspicious of getting seriously ripped off under the cover of this informational iron curtain? One particularly well informed observer, Roger Ehrenberg (former trader, former investment banker and currently a venture capitalist) calls a spade a spade in his posting YOU, the U.S. Taxpayer, Can't Handle the Truth at his blog Information Arbitrage: Consider this comment from Rep. Brad Miller, a Democrat from North Carolina and a member of the House Financial Services Committee: "If we had regulators go in an examine the books like we did at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac a great number of our systemically important financial institutions could be insolvent." And this is exactly what Mr. Miller and Treasury Secretary Geithner want to avoid; the transparency necessary to figure out exactly where the industry stands, in order that a proper prescriptive can be put in place to begin real healing, not some illusory band-aid that will only set us up for greater suffering down the road. For a member of the House Financial Services Committee to make a comment like this only highlights the disconnect between the politicians and the real problem: dealing with the systemic insolvency that threatens our country. Mr. Miller would have you believe that putting our collective heads in the sand is a better approach. He is just so wrong. He knows the problem is there, but is unwilling to face into the truth. He thinks we can't handle it. Reality is, we can handle the truth: it's he and his scared-out-of-their-minds Congresspeople that can't handle the truth. We need some different people making the big decisions. They appear... posted by Friedrich at February 8, 2009 | perma-link | (12) comments

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Presidential Resumes
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- In my judgment, Barack Obama entered the presidency with the weakest resumé of any entering president starting with the 20th century. How troublesome this proves to be will be demonstrated by his performance over his presidency. In any case, character, talent and luck also bear on presidential success. So, just for fun, I constructed a crude index of resumé strength and toss it out for your entertainment. (Please, Steve Sailer, don't hit me; I can think of many ways to refine it. This is just a blog post and not a Heritage or Brookings report.) Here are the variables I use and their weight (in parentheses): Governor of large [5+ million in 2000] state (2 points) Governor of other state (1 point) Significant executive experience if never a governor (1) Significant non-governor/legislator dealings with legislation (1) Served in Congress or Senate (1) Extensive foreign affairs experience (1) Served as Vice President (1) Other variables might have been included. And the weightings for the items above are indeed crude and fairly arbitrary. As can be seen, I consider experience as a large-state governor to be far more important than the others. This is because a governor has to be a leader and manager as well as being able to work with legislators -- doing all this well enough to merit attention as a potential president. In other words, governorship can be considered a mini-presidency (minus the foreign affairs aspect). Anyway, here's how my "system" quantifies presidential resumes starting with Theodore Roosevelt, the first "new" 20th century president. Total points are first, in brackets, and qualifying items from the list above are in parentheses. [3] T. Roosevelt (1, 7) [2] Taft (3, 4) [2] Wilson (1) [1] Harding (5) [3] Coolidge (1, 7) [3] Hoover (3, 4, 6) [2] F.D. Roosevelt (1) [3] Truman (3, 5, 7) [3] Eisenhower (3, 4, 6) [1] Kennedy (5) [2] Johnson (5, 7) [2] Nixon (5, 7) [2] Ford (5, 7) [2] Carter (1) [2] Reagan (1) [4] Bush 41 (3, 5, 6, 7) [1] Clinton (2) [2] Bush 43 (1) [1] Obama (5) I'm doing much of this from memory, so correct me if you think I made errors. Some might wonder about Eisenhower's score. Besides being a General (manager) he was Douglas MacArthur's key assistant when the general was Army chief of staff and head of the Philippine military. His Washington work under MacArthur involved many dealings with Congress. As commander of the European theater in WW2 and as NATO commander later, he dealt extensively in foreign affairs. In other words, Ike's background was stronger than many realize. The clunky weighting system I used probably works worst for item seven, the vice-presidency. For example, Nixon served eight years in that office whereas Truman was VP for only a few weeks and famously knew nothing about the atom bomb until he became president. Ford and Teddy Roosevelt also were VP short-timers while Coolidge and Johnson did not serve a... posted by Donald at February 7, 2009 | perma-link | (22) comments

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Time is Now
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, I was going to do an analysis of the Obama Administration bank bailout plan as revealed in this Washington Post story, Bank Rescue Would Entail Triage for Troubled Assets, but I looked around the web and decided that more articulate (and credible) voices than my own have spoken. I’ll limit myself to asking three questions. Question #1: will it work? Is the bank rescue plan likely to succeed or make our situation worse? Yves Smith, former investment banker and financial consultant, comments in her post, The Bad Bank Assets Proposal: Even Worse Than You Imagined: The Obama Administration, if the Washington Post's latest report is accurate, is about to embark on a hugely expensive "save the banking industry at all costs" experiment that: (1) Has nothing substantive in common with any of the "deemed as successful" financial crisis programs, (2) has key elements that studies of financial crises have recommended against, and (3) consumes considerable resources, thus competing with other, in many cases better, uses of fiscal firepower. […] Why is this a bad idea? Let's turn to a study by the IMF of 124 banking crises [warning, PDF]. Their conclusion: "Existing empirical research has shown that providing assistance to banks and their borrowers can be counterproductive, resulting in increased losses to banks, which often abuse forbearance to take unproductive risks at government expense. The typical result of forbearance is a deeper hole in the net worth of banks, crippling tax burdens to finance bank bailouts, and even more severe credit supply contraction and economic decline than would have occurred in the absence of forbearance." In case you had any doubts, propping up dud asset values is a form of forbearance. Japan had a different way of going about it, but the philosophy was similar, and the last 15 year illustrates how well that worked. Question #2: Who will this proposal benefit? Mike (“Mish”) Shedlock, investment adviser, sums that up in his post, Triage for Troubled Assets: Here's the deal. The government will buy the worst assets, dramatically overpay for them, stick taxpayers will the losses, and only reduce bonus pools of the banks by 40%. It's a great deal for those in the bonus pools. It's a horrid deal for everyone else. Per the Washington Post story, the Obama Administration is trying to pretty up the horrible optics of this rescue by imposing salary caps on financial institutions receiving extraordinary assistance under this plan. Mish has a blunt rejoinder to that one, too: For the record, I am not in favor of salary caps, especially caps imposed by the government. I am in favor of letting the free market work. What would happen under a free market approach is these executives would be out on their ass and their companies bankrupt and sold off in pieces. Question #3: What does this deal say about the current nature of the USA as a political entity? Yves Smith doesn’t mince too many words: The Obama... posted by Friedrich at February 4, 2009 | perma-link | (23) comments

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Political Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * I don't know about you but I'm certainly feeling much refreshed by all the "change" that I'm seeing in D.C. * Ron Paul thinks that, at least where foreign policy is concerned, Obama means more of the same. * Time to secede? * Or maybe New York State should break up? * Randall Parker wonders what's going to happen when other countries get tired of subsidizing our debt. * Justin Raimondo thinks that an easy way for the U.S. to save some major bucks would be for us to give up our empire. Writes Raimondo: "You'd be surprised how much of our military expenditures amount to maintaining our overseas empire and really have nothing to do with the defense of the continental United States." * Some retirees who played by the rules and saved their nickles are now in trouble, and are now having to look for jobs. Too bad there aren't any. Fun to live in a society where you get penalized for behaving sensibly and responsibly, isn't it? * Do libertarians really have to love Wal-Mart? * Heather Macdonald is pretty funny about the PC "gender" idiocies of the NYTimes' Natalie Angier. * Arnold Kling notices a pattern. * Remember the "digital divide"? A crisis! Something -- anything! -- desperately needed to be done! Well, it turns out that many of the people who don't have broadband ... don't want it. Yet more substantiation for The Official MBlowhard Guide to Political Action: Nine times out of ten, nothing really needs to be done. * Andrew Klavan enjoys Roger Simon's memoir about moving from left to right in Hollywood. * Edge's John Brockman poses a provocative question: What is going to change everything? A lot of excellent responses from a stable of high-powered brainiacs, 2Blowhards fave Gregory Cochran among them. Best, Michael UPDATE: Virginia Conservative takes the time to make a serious case for secession.... posted by Michael at February 3, 2009 | perma-link | (7) comments

Bad Guys, Good Guy, Austrians
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Meet 25 of the main people who got us into this mess. And make the acquaintance of Peter Schiff, who saw it coming. Me, I'm puzzled by something. Given that the downturn has taken shape in a way that seems right out of the Austrian school of economics playbook (Schiff is an Austrian), wouldn't you expect mainstream economists to be admitting that maybe the Austrians make some pretty good points? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 3, 2009 | perma-link | (23) comments

Monday, February 2, 2009

Stop the Super-Madoff
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, Today’s New York Times has an interesting column by Paul Krugman that perfectly encapsulates the amazing scam which the financial elite are, by all rumors, going to pull over on the citizenry of the good old USA. The scam, by the way, refers to the multi-trillion dollar bank rescue about to issue forth from our "meet the new boss, same as the old boss" Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. This is not only bad public policy, but a transfer of wealth from the innocent to the guilty that will make old Bernie Madoff look like a pisher. The piece is entitled “Bailouts for Bunglers”, and you should read it in its quite short entirety. The central point is as follows: “We have a financial system that is run by private shareholders, managed by private institutions, and we’d like to do our best to preserve that system,” says Timothy Geithner, the Treasury secretary — as he prepares to put taxpayers on the hook for that system’s immense losses. Meanwhile, a Washington Post report based on administration sources says that Mr. Geithner and Lawrence Summers, President Obama’s top economic adviser, “think governments make poor bank managers” — as opposed, presumably, to the private-sector geniuses who managed to lose more than a trillion dollars in the space of a few years. Once again: the question is not whether the U.S. needs a functioning banking system. It does. The question is whether the U.S. needs to spend whatever of your money it takes to make the CURRENT, DEEPLY COMPROMISED banking system (and all of its highly paid dependents) not merely functional, but happily profitable again. The alternative? It would seem well within the bounds of possibility to create a new banking sytem sufficient to handle our needs with the $350 billion we still have in hand; that is, the second half of the TARP money. Leveraged a conservative 10-to-1 that would create $3.5 trillion in new lending capacity. More than enough for the task, boys, particularly in a recession. The money could be put into new publicly owned banks (soon to be privatized) or into existing, but actually solvent banks. I certainly don’t care. Then we could say to the current set of “troubled,” too-big-to-fail institutions -- Citi, JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, all of whom are dead men walking, insolvent, kaput -- sayonara, adios amigos, see ya in FDIC receivership. Any still-valuable assets they possess will be sold, and the resulting losses will fall on their employee, shareholders, creditors (appropriately), and, of course, the taxpayer who will have to keep the ensured depositors and other guaranted parties whole (sadly, but necessarily). Not a free solution, but much, MUCH cheaper than the keep everybody-but-the-taxpayer happy solution Mr. Geithner contemplates. Why, you may ask, would such a strange scheme be seriously suggested by supposedly responsible government employees? The short and simple answer is that the zombie banks, and their employees, and their “dependents”... posted by Friedrich at February 2, 2009 | perma-link | (12) comments

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Steve Sailer is shrewd and funny about that Whittier, CA woman who just gave birth to octuplets: here and here. Fun fact: the hospital says it will spend around $3 million dollars on care for the eight babies. Best, Michael SEMI-RELATED UPDATE: Your bailout dollars at work. The AP's Frank Bass and Rita Beamish write: "The figures are significant because they show that the bailed-out banks, being kept afloat with U.S. taxpayer money, actively sought to hire foreign workers instead of American workers." Hey, whaddya say we just ship money directly from our bank accounts to random foreigners? Speaking of banks ... Time magazine's Stephen Gandel calculates that the U.S. government's annualized rate of return on the bailout money it has thrown at banks has so far been -1096%.... posted by Michael at February 1, 2009 | perma-link | (6) comments

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Too Big to Succeed?
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, One constant of this financial crisis is the way essentially political decisions keep getting presented to the public as if they were simple matters of pragmatism. One current example is the rumored plan of the Obama administration to rescue the banking system by creating a bad bank to buy distressed assets. This will of course presented as essential to our economy, our way of life, and presumably God, cherry pie and motherhood as well. This presentation, however, glosses over an inconvenient reality, which is that something like two thirds to three quarters of these bad assets sit on the balance sheets of a tiny number of enormous institutions...oddly, the very ones commonly spoken of as 'too big to fail.' It is apparently simply not possible in modern American politics to recognize reality, at least not where huge campaign contributors are concerned. The reality I'm alluding to is that letting such large financial institutions go into the tank, get broken up and be sold off to their smaller competitors in pieces would probably be the fastest and cheapest way out of our troubles. As a brilliant discussion over at Institutional Risk Analytics, "The Big Banks vs. America: A Roundtable with David Kotok and Josh Rosner" puts it: ...the Good Bank/Bad Bank debate is really a political battle between the large banks listed above [Citigroup, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo] plus Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley...vs. the rest of the [banking] industry and the US economy. Although the banking system is commonly discussed as if it were a single entity, there are banks and banks, so to speak. And the divisions within the ranks are growing: Remember that the entire banking industry stands in front of the taxpayers in terms of loss absorption at the FDIC [depositor insurance fund, paid for by contributions from the entire banking industry], so you can understand why the smaller banks in the industry are SERIOUSLY PISSED OFF at the large banks and their minions in the Obama Administration like Tim Geithner and Robert Rubin. Oh, and don't forget Chairman Ben Bernanke and the entire Fed board of governors. These leading officials are increasingly taking the side of the large banks in the battle over limited financial resources, a fact that is causing the community [i.e., smaller] bankers to rise in anger. Stay tuned. Sadly, I doubt that the small fry have the political muscle to prevail over their very well connected, if incompetent, larger competition. Still, check out the whole thing if you want to understand who is really doing what to whom under the covers. Cheers, Friedrich P.S. The malfunctioning link to the story in question is now working. My apologies to one and all.... posted by Friedrich at January 28, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The New New York
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * How bad is Madoff for the Jews? * Toby Young thinks that Tina Brown ought to consider taking the subway. * Some people are still trying to keep the party rolling. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 24, 2009 | perma-link | (11) comments

Friday, January 23, 2009

More Jim
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Jim Kalb has some ideas about how the American Right should remake itself. Buy a copy of Jim's brain-opening new book here. We interviewed Jim back here. Jim blogs here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 23, 2009 | perma-link | (10) comments

Monday, January 19, 2009

Podcast Recs 1
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Since I've spent some of the last month filling my iPod with podcasts and taking it with me on daily walks, I thought I'd pass along the highlights of my recent adventures in listening. First up: * Dan Ariely on behavioral economics. (To download the podcast, go here and do a Search on Ariely.) One of the hardest things to get used to where economics is concerned is the preference so many in the field have for constructing mathematical models. Shouldn't they be out in the world (or at least in the lab) investigating what people are like and how they tend to behave instead? Behavioral economics has brought a little realism back into the field. What built-in quirks do people tend to have? In what ways are they not "utility maximizers"? In this podcast, the behavioral economist Dan Ariely offers a lot of examples of ways in which people differ from pure-rationality automatons. The fun of the talk comes partly from the little shocks of recognition that Ariely's research delivers. Hey, life is what seems to be being discussed and described, not some geek's theory. But it also comes from Ariely's presentation style. In his scholarly way, Ariely is a real performer, with a hyperbolic-yet-droll, innocent-yet-canny tone that put me in mind of the Russian writer Sergei Dovlatov, an underknown literary writer of the 1980s. Buy a copy of Ariely's book here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 19, 2009 | perma-link | (0) comments

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Political Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Libertarian Thomas DiLorenzo ranks John Tyler as the greatest of American presidents, and Abe Lincoln dead last. * Texas Secession thinks that the U.S. is on the verge of falling apart. * Doug Bandow wonders if the U.S. wouldn't benefit from a little "disuniting." * Should Sean ("Milk") Penn apologize to gays for his political views? * Jim Kalb offers some thoughts about the future of conservatism. * Lester Hunt argues that, strictly speaking, Social Security doesn't qualify as a Ponzi scheme. * Peter Canellos thinks (as I do) that the 1965 Immigration Act has been a major -- and much under-recognized -- shaper of our country. * Re-read this whenever you find yourself becoming overly impressed by intellectuals and artists. * Here's an unexpected one: a Jewish case against gay marriage. * Thanks to The Rawness for turning up this great Thomas Sowell piece about educating minority and poor kids. * James Grant asks why we have economic policies that punish savers. * Dave Barry reviews 2008 in politics. (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin.) Funny line: Obama, following through on his promise to bring change to Washington, quickly begins assembling an administration consisting of a diverse group of renegade outsiders, ranging all the way from lawyers who attended Ivy League schools and then worked in the Clinton administration to lawyers who attended entirely different Ivy league schools and then worked in the Clinton administration. Shhh. Calm down. It's OK for Dave Barry to crack that joke precisely because he himself didn't go to an Ivy League college. Of course, had he attended Harvard instead of Haverford, Dave Barry would never have dared to crack such joke, and (needless to say) we'd never have dared to pass it along. Best, Michael UPDATE: Michael Lewis and David Einhorn assess the madness. It's a terrific piece that makes matters vivid and clear in plain English, and that (to my eyes and mind anyway) doesn't collapse into partisan-politics bickering. One nice passage among many: Rather than tackle the source of the problem, the people running the bailout desperately want to reinflate the credit bubble, prop up the stock market and head off a recession. Their efforts are clearly failing: 2008 was a historically bad year for the stock market, and we’ll be in recession for some time to come. Our leaders have framed the problem as a “crisis of confidence” but what they actually seem to mean is “please pay no attention to the problems we are failing to address.”... posted by Michael at January 3, 2009 | perma-link | (21) comments

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Strangelovian New Class on the Job, Blocking All The Exits
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism writes a damning critique of a current NY Times article on the intimate connection between U.S. trade imbalances of the past decade and our current economic woes. While her entire piece is well worth reading, this is the kernel: The article buys, hook, line and sinker, then- Fed-governor Ben Bernanke's depiction of so-called global imbalances (the US borrowing from abroad to fund overconsumption; Japan, China, Taiwan, and the Gulf States running significant, persistent trade surpluses and oversaving). Bernanke chose to position the problem as a "savings glut" which had the convenient effect of placing responsibility for the problem overseas, particularly on the Chinese, who kept the renminbi cheap via a hard peg to the dollar. …As far as I am concerned, this was rationalization of a clearly unstable and unsustainable pattern. But rather than try to find a way out, or at least keep it from becoming more pronounced, Bernanke recommended doing nothing. And it was NOT a market phenomenon, but the result (on the surface, at least) of China pegging the RMB at an artificially low level. Did we explore the possibility of WTO sanctions for the currency manipulation as an illegal trade subsidy? Apparently the US was acutely aware of this as a possibility, and took great care not to give private parties any grounds for using the RMB as the basis for a WTO action. …. So we knew we had the nuclear option in our hands, and there was no will to use it. One has to wonder if there were any threats made in private. My gut says no, given the history here…. And the New York Times buys…into the "gee, we really had no choice" party line… She also goes on at length to quote the dissenting economist Thomas Palley who pointed out (in real time, prior to the collapse) that the “Great Moderation” on which Bernanke & company spent so much time congratulating themselves (1) was unsustainable, (2) had been taken our of the hide of the US manufacturing sector and (3) had resulted in stagnant wages for the bulk of American workers. I, obviously, totally agree with Ms. Smith on the vast bulk of the substance of her piece. However, I would quibble with only one small point: she basically writes about this situation as a series of individual goofs or oversights made by the individuals involved: American economist-managers like Bernanke, our trade negotiators and the New York Times reporter of the piece, Mark Lander. I think there is a painfully clear connection here. Golly, what links Ben Bernanke, our trade negotiators and New York Times reporters? Well, let’s see. The author of the story, Mark Landler, according to the NY Times website: …began his career at The Times in 1987 as a copy boy and member of the Writing Program. He is a 1987 graduate of Georgetown University, and was a Reuter Fellow at Oxford in 1997. Mr. Bernanke’s background?... posted by Friedrich at December 26, 2008 | perma-link | (13) comments

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The "Diversity Recession"?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- When Steve Sailer argued that one of the causes of our current economic meltdown has been the federal government's promotion of minority homeownership -- which, in practice, often meant backing a lot of large loans to people without any means of paying them back -- he took a lot of predictable "you're blaming the victims!", do-goodin', "anti-racist," leftie heat. (As far as I could tell, Steve was criticizing the policy, not dumping on the ethnicities of the loan recipients.) Funny and gratifying then to see that The New York Times is now acknowledging, if a bit shyly, that Steve was making a valid point. No recognition extended to Steve, needless to say. Steve indulges in a wee bit of completely justifed gloating. What will the do-goodin', Times-lovin' lefties who dumped on Steve in this case work up their next frenzy of righteous outrage over? Any bets? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 23, 2008 | perma-link | (68) comments

Friday, December 19, 2008

Successful Dynasties
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- As I write this, no decision has been announced regarding the appointment of Caroline Kennedy as Hilary Clinton's replacement as a senator for New York. This raises yet again the matter of political dynasties in the United States. (When her father was President, there was a joke going around that JFK will hand it over to brother Bobby in 1968 who will pass the office to brother Teddy in 1976. After 8 years of Teddy, it'll be 1984!) There has been lots of U.S. political dynasty talk on the Web, and I won't add to it. Instead, why not back up a step and discuss dynasties in general. Any dynasty starts with an able person. "Able" in the sense that a skill set is present that is well-tuned to achieve a certain goal. The skills might not always be "nice" ones: Has anyone who came near cornering the gold market or conquering the known world been nice? The world of business offers a good empirical test of the persistence of merit across generations. Obviously, an offspring of the founder of a major, family-controlled business has a huge head start. So one measure of success might simply be keeping the concern going in a steady state even making modest gains. For instance, Frederick William Vanderbilt, a grandson of Cornelius, was able to increase the wealth he inherited (though his brothers didn't). A major legacy of Frederick is his mansion in Hyde Park, New York, a few miles north of Franklin Roosevelt's home. Typically, business success does not inherit well; consider the old saying: "From shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations." In practice, it might take more than three generations. The Ford Motor Company is on its fourth Ford generation, though William C. Ford, Jr., Executive Chairman, and the rest of the family have tended to let non-family members manage the company with usually light oversight since the death of Henry Ford II, founder Henry's grandson (though Bill, Jr. did assume an active role in recent years). The Ochs-Sulzberger clan that controlled The New York Times since 1896 has been successful until recently. The Rothschild banking family has been hanging in there for nearly 200 years. I haven't researched them, but wonder if primogeniture was generally applied by them in terms of who would run the various branches. Actually, I'm inclined to think not, given the long time span. (Informational comments welcome regarding this.) Let's turn back to politics, this time in the form of royalty. I'll set aside hereditary nobility because many noble families have lost most of their power and even wealth over the centuries. On the subject of setting things aside, we might as well do that for constitutional monarchies such as are found in Scandinavia, the Netherlands and Britain. If the monarch has no real power, his degree of competence matters little to the survival and prosperity of his country. Monarchies do have a way of hanging on, but some rejuvenation usually... posted by Donald at December 19, 2008 | perma-link | (12) comments

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Why should the bosses at places like Merrill Lynch get any end-of-year bonuses at all when they've done such terrible jobs? Fun fact: In 2006, Goldman Sachs paid more than $20 million apiece in bonuses to more than 50 people. Is it reasonable for us to expect the Goldman Sachs crowd to get us out of the troubles that they rewarded themselves so richly for getting us into? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 18, 2008 | perma-link | (26) comments

Monday, December 15, 2008

What to Buy After the Bailout
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- As I write this, the unending saga of a pre-Inauguaral, seriously temporary, only a few billions "invested in America's future" cash injection for General Motors and perhaps Chrysler still hasn't been resolved. But I won't let such uncertainty stop me. Gotta keep the content rolling, after all. Just for kicks, let's assume it's five or six months from now. Obama, Pelosi, Reid took the path of bailing out the domestic automobile industry. Let's posit that the plan voted by Congress and signed by the President imposes far fewer cost-cutting options than a Chapter 11 bankruptcy would. Finally, assume your faithful car is now running up repair bills that, annualized, are getting near what you might be spending on payments for a new car. That means you're ready to start shopping. What do you think you might do if the domestic car makers have been nationalized to some degree? Here are your main options: Buy a car from an American firm to help save the industry. Buy a car from a foreign-owned firm, but one assembled in the USA (or Canada) -- as a protest against government meddling. Buy a car from a foreign-owned firm that's not built here -- as an even stronger protest. Buy the car that best suits your needs and means regardless of who the maker is. I suppose that, at crunch time, I'd take option 4. But I'm no fan of government getting its fingers into the private sector and therefore can't rule out options 2 and 3 (with a preference for 2, depending on features/prices of what's on the market then). What would you do? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 15, 2008 | perma-link | (30) comments

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Scam and Fraud Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Will the financial world's collapse be bringing ever more high-flying crooks down along with it? (Links thanks to Charlton Griffin.) * Steve Sailer wonders if these scam-collapses will result in a more general kind of power-shift. * Steve also points out that China has its own decisive way of dealing with fraudsters. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 14, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm getting tired of Barak Obama. His picture is, like, just so everywhere! Bring on the next new thing. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 6, 2008 | perma-link | (29) comments

Thursday, December 4, 2008

What Caused the '60s?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A slightly dolled-up version of a comment I dropped on a Roissy blogposting. I was responding to Rick, another commenter, who had made what struck me as a naive reference to the supposed misery of Greatest Generation marriages: I’m not sure where Rick gets his ideas about the misery and unhappiness of ’50s marriages. I was around (if very young) in the ’50s and quite sentient in the ’60s, and my guess would be that most of the marriages of the WWII generation were happier and more solid than most of today’s marriages are. They were adult collaborations more than quests for self-fulfillment. The ’60s were a very interesting phenomenon, but the usual way they’re portrayed strikes me as whacky. There were loads of reasons the ’60s happened, and the supposed repressiveness of ’50s style marriage seems to me like a rather small one. Remember that Playboy, James Bond, and Marilyn Monroe were all ’50s phenomena — the '50s are where “swinging” started, not among '60s hippies. A much, much bigger reason for the ’60s was that Boomers were 1) hugely numerous, 2) prosperous in ways that had never before been witnessed, and 3) spoiled. Boomer kids were the first generation of genuinely self-centered, spoiled brats. They were also the first bunch of teens who grew up thinking of themselves as a specific generation of teens, and who were catered to as a market segment. The ’50s economy, in other words, made them feel like the center of the universe. A lot of the ’60s was simply about teens saying “I demand that things suit me, and speak to me in my way.” It was quite a surprise to a lot of adults that '60s teens actually got away with it. In previous decades, adolescent tantrums either weren’t taken seriously or were squashed instantly. Drugs also played a huge part in the ’60s. A big reason movies from the ’30s and ’40s feel different from movies of the ’60s and ’70s (and beyond) is because of a very basic change. Prior to 1960, the altered-consciousness of choice was booze — “good times” meant something like “getting drunk.” Often social, convivial, humorous. After 1960, “good times” more and more meant “getting wiped out, man, just like taking acid.” Movies became much more overwhelming, solipsistic, and hallucinatory. You can see it still in today’s big Hollywood epics. They’re wipe-you-out, mow-you-down, kill-you-with-effects-and-Dolby extravaganzas. That’s the legacy of the ’60s, and of the way the model of “good times” moved from booze to drugs. Watch a "Batman" movie, and it's like taking an acid trip. As for all those supposedly miserable marriages that broke up in the ’60s and ’70s … Well, an elderly shrink I know tells me that one of the most common things he ran across in the ’60s and ’70s was lives that had been shattered because marriages that didn’t need to break up had in fact broken up. Some people kinda gave up... posted by Michael at December 4, 2008 | perma-link | (53) comments

Monday, December 1, 2008

Ivy in High Places
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Joseph Epstein, University of Chicago graduate, former member of the Northwestern University faculty and for many years editor of American Scholar, holds forth in the Weekly Standard on Ivy League (and ilk) schools and the kind of students that breeze through them. His hook is a David Brooks column on the backgrounds of those in high offices in Washington. He isn't all that fond of 800-SAT kids who maintain straight A's by working the system -- psyching out what profs expect and delivering. That is, if he's a Marxist, spit that back or dish out Freudianism on the blue book if that's where the instructor is coming from. Epstein's concluding paragraphs: Harry S. Truman and Ronald Reagan were two of the greatest presidents of the twentieth century. Truman didn't go to college at all, and Reagan, one strains to remember, went to Eureka College in Eureka, Illinois. Each was his own man, each, in his different way, without the least trace of conformity or hostage to received opinion or conventional wisdom. Schooling, even what passes for the best schooling, would, one feels, have made either man less himself and thereby probably worse. The presence and continued flourishing of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, and the rest do perform a genuine service. They allow America to believe it has a meritocracy, even though there is no genuine known merit about it. Perhaps one has to have taught at or otherwise had a closer look at these institutions to realize how thin they are. I myself feel their thinness so keenly that, on more than one occasion, I have, by way of informing one friend or acquaintance about another, said, "He went to Princeton and then to the Harvard Law School, but, really, he is much better than that." Here in Blowhardland we happen to be Ivy covered at the undergraduate level (Michael and Friedrich) or via graduate school (me). We hope we survived the experience without too much damage and have made strong efforts ever since to become human again. Feel free to let us know when we fail our individual deprogramming efforts. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 1, 2008 | perma-link | (55) comments

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * At the suggestion of the super-smart yet ever-down-to-earth Moira Breen, I recently bought and read Eamonn Fingleton's "In Praise of Hard Industries." In part the book is a rant against reckless globalism and neoliberalism. But Fingleton moves beyond scares and negatives. He asserts that there's a lot to be said in favor of savings, investment, creating tangible objects, worrying about debts and deficits, and being wary about the reach of financiers. Squaresville stuff so far as the sophisticates are concerned, I suppose, yet convincing enough for caveman me. Fingleton's main point is that -- despite the arguments made by service-economy cheerleaders -- there's nothing inevitable, let alone desirable, about the kind of manufacturing hollowing-out that has been inflicted on the U.S. by its ruling classes in recent decades. Making and selling desirable and useful things isn't just for ambitious Third Worlders, Fingleton argues. There's a lot of profitable manufacturing that an advanced country can do successfully. He cites dozens of examples of high-investment, high-skills, high-profits, thing-making industries in Japan, Germany, Switzerland and other countries in support of this point. * Here's Eamonn Fingleton's website. Here's an interview with him. Here he has posted an excerpt from "In Praise of Hard Industries." It's a chapter entitled "Finance: A Cuckoo in the Economy's Nest," and it's about the way so much of our economy has been taken over by the finance class: Many of the financial sector's fastest-growing activities turn out to be utterly unproductive and even pos­itively destructive from the point of view of the general public good. As we will now see, much of what the financial sector has been doing in recent years has been feathering its own nest at the expense of the great investing public. * What Eamonn Fingleton is describing above is now apparently known as "financialization." It's an ugly word but -- since it has already become an accepted one -- I suppose we may as well get used to it. That's an informative Wikipedia article, by the way. * Investment-business legend John C. Bogle has recently been making points similar to Eamonn Fingleton's. The finance industry is necessary, says Bogle in many interviews. (Part One, Part Two.) But financiers have stopped helping their clients make money, and have turned instead to the business of using their clients' savings to enrich themselves no matter what the social consequences. It seems hard these days to argue with that assessment. Here's John Bogle's website. * Was it only a a month ago that Obama was promising "Change"? Leftie Robert Kuttner isn't seeing much of it. Kuttner -- who puts much of the blame for our current financial mess squarely on the shoulders of the Clinton administration, and more specifically on Robert Rubin -- is unhappy that so many familiar faces are showing up among Obama's appointments. Nice passage: What kind of magic does this man [Robert] Rubin have? He was one of the key Democratic architects of the extreme financial... posted by Michael at November 30, 2008 | perma-link | (13) comments

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Political Divisions
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * A Russian diplomacy prof is predicting that the U.S. will soon break up. * The Free State Observer offers a report from the recent North American Secessionist Convention. * Robert Lindsay gives some thought to ethnocentrism, and concludes that it's an inevitable and inescapable aspect of human life. Best, Michael UPDATE: Ramesh thinks that our wild ride isn't over yet. UPDATE 2: Greenland wants to secede from Denmark. Fact for the day: Greenland's population? 54,000 people. That's a lot of ice per person.... posted by Michael at November 27, 2008 | perma-link | (30) comments

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Federal Reserve lending last week was 1,900 times the weekly average for the three years before the current financial crisis. The source for this fact is Bloomberg, which estimates that the U.S. government has pledged almost $8 trillion to "rescue the financial system." "Most of the spending programs are run out of the New York Fed, whose president, Timothy Geithner, is said to be President-elect Barack Obama’s choice to be Treasury Secretary," write Mark Pittman and Bob Ivry. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 25, 2008 | perma-link | (0) comments

Monday, November 24, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Christopher Wood -- aka "the man who saw it coming" -- suspects that the gold standard may soon be making a return. (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin.) Fun facts: Under Chairman Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve balance sheet continues to expand at a frantic rate, as do commercial-bank total reserves in an effort to counter credit contraction. Thus, the Federal Reserve banks' total assets have increased by $1.28 trillion since early September to $2.19 trillion on Nov. 19. Likewise, the aggregate reserves of U.S. depository institutions have surged nearly 14-fold in the past two months to $653 billion in the week ended Nov. 19 from $47 billion at the beginning of September. A few questions for those smarter than I am? * How can these actions not result in tremendous inflation? * Why is deflation bad? * What's so bad about a gold standard? I have the impression that the Smart Set thinks that only rubes see virtues in a gold standard -- let's all have a laugh at the expense of "gold bugs" who see magical properties in gold, for instance. Yet I never run across explanations of why it's so rube-ish to favor a gold standard. * I'm under the impression that gold represents what people -- left to their own devices -- settle on as a basis for money. If this is so, why should anyone overrule people's expressed preferences where the question of what should back money is concerned? * Is it unfair to think of fiat money a representing a usurpation by the elites of control over money? * If so, what incentive is built into the system for our elites to behave responsibly where protecting the value of money is concerned? Do we really have nothing to depend on but our elites' expertise and goodness of heart? Ahahahahahaha. Sorry, I was just picturing my retirement savings going up in smoke. * What's the best way for a civilian to buy gold? Megan McArdle makes the case against a gold standard. A nice line from a Leonard Dickens comment on Megan's posting: "Fiat requires philosopher king-bankers. Commodity money requires mere humans." Best Michael... posted by Michael at November 24, 2008 | perma-link | (21) comments

Friday, November 21, 2008

Who is Richard Duncan?
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, I want to know if Richard Duncan has any good ideas right now. Who is Richard Duncan you may ask? I myself had no idea of his separate existence until last night, when I read a blog post that mentioned him. He turns out to be a financial analyst who in 1993 was one of the first people to warn of the impending collapse of the Thai economy and the Thai stock market (four years before it happened). Subsequently he worked for both the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Washington DC as a Financial Sector Specialist. But more to the point, he turned out to have one heckuva crystal ball, accurately laying out (in considerable detail) our current economic problems in his book,“The Dollar Crisis: Causes, Consequences, Cures.” You can order it here. What's remarkable about this is that the book was published back in 2003. That is, five years ago. And as the Financial Times points out here, Mr. Duncan’s predictive powers haven’t failed him; he also accurately predicted the course of current-day Fed policy (i.e., that the Fed would be forced to make massive loans to everyone and his brother) over a year ago. A little googling got me to this interview with him (presumably run around the time his book was published) that laid out his thesis. I would strongly advise reading it, as it accurately and pithily summarizes the financial problems we are seeing today in a simple, straightforward way. You can read it here. The key takeaway point is that the cause of our current financial and economic problems (if one ignores the hubris of our government and financial leaders who thought they knew what was going on but were really just being taken for a ride) was our persistent and immense trade deficit. (Which is, of course, in turn a symptom of a serious lack of US economic competitiveness and general malaise going back decades, despite what you read in the 1990s.) As Mr. Duncan said back around the time his book was published (in 2003): Many benefits are derived from trade between nations. However, the trade system that evolved following the collapse of the Bretton Woods System produces very serious side effects as well as benefits. In fact, the existing trade arrangements are destabilizing the global economy by creating economic bubbles, banking crises and deflationary pressures. These problems have arisen because international trade has become so unbalanced. The United States is buying $1 million a minutes more from the rest of the world than the rest of the world is buying from the US. Or put differently, last year the deficit was the equivalent of almost 2% of global GDP. To put that into perspective, global GDP grew by less than 2% last year. So, were it not for the US deficit, it is quite likely that the global economy would have actually contracted. The United States’ deficit makes the United States the world’s... posted by Friedrich at November 21, 2008 | perma-link | (20) comments

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Camille's Back
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In her latest column, Camille Paglia manages to praise both Pres. Obama and Sarah Palin. Gotta love Camille: She goes her own way; she's no partisan-politics party propagandist; and she always calls it as she sees it. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 20, 2008 | perma-link | (13) comments

Friday, November 14, 2008

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In 2000, there was $130 billion in subprime mortgage lending, with $55 billion of that repackaged as mortgage bonds. But in 2005, there was $625 billion in subprime mortgage loans, $507 billion of which found its way into mortgage bonds. The source is a Michael Lewis piece in Portfolio. (Link thanks to Steve Sailer.) I found Lewis very helpful. He brings a lot of perspective to bear, as well as a personal touch and a vivid writing style. Those with an aversion to math and technical language -- and who understand the world primarily via stories and people (that would include me) -- should enjoy his piece, even if Lewis does show a little too much fondness for the word "tranche." My grasp on details slipped away pretty quickly, but for a few seconds I really did have the impression that I understood what it means to short subprime mortgage-backed bonds. Lewis' main claim is that today's Wall Street culture is a continuation of what began in the leveraged-buyout '80s, and that the phenomenon is now cycling to its demise. Is he right, do you suppose? It has certainly been a weird stretch. Semi-related: A new report concludes that mass immigration has delivered no economic benefits for Britain, and has been hard on the working poor. Kneejerk immigration supporters respond with name-calling. Wow: doesn't that all come as a surprise. Semi-related 2: The Washington Post's ombudsman looks at the newspaper's campaign coverage and concludes that, yes, the WP did indeed show a marked pro-Obama bias. "Obama deserved tougher scrutiny than he got," she writes, "especially of his undergraduate years, his start in Chicago and his relationship with Antoin 'Tony' Rezko, who was convicted this year of influence-peddling in Chicago. The Post did nothing on Obama's acknowledged drug use as a teenager." Best, Michael UPDATE: Ron Paul takes questions from readers of the NYTimes' Freakonomics blog.... posted by Michael at November 14, 2008 | perma-link | (13) comments

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cutting Personal Spending
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- People with credible (beyond early childhood) memories of the Great Depression are now in their early eighties or older. The rest of us can only envision that period vicariously through books, old magazines, movies and so forth. I wonder what share of today's population has ever gone to the trouble of studying the Depression in either its economic sense or in terms of how ordinary folks coped with it. My guess is that most people have not; they most likely have a cartoon version of that era. I think it is useful to remind ourselves that the majority of members of the labor force did have jobs, that not everyone was on the dole or living in Hoovervilles. Money was spent. Automobiles were purchased, though not nearly as many as in 1928, say. Hollywood prospered because even folks on very tight budgets would spring for a little entertainment now and then. All of which is not to deny that we have been comparatively spoiled the last 40 or 50 years. For example, I too tend to treat many broken items as disposable that I would have had repaired when I was young. My mother used to darn our socks; nowadays I toss 'em when holed. Vibrations I get from recent shopping mall visits include smaller crowds and more sale offerings. Big-ticket items such as automobiles seem to be especially hard-hit and a current debate is whether the government should subsidize the car industry or let firms go bankrupt. This discussion is leading to the question of what you, Our Valued Readers, are doing to cope with the present economic situation. On the one hand, a rational response if one's income is threatened or actually terminated is to slam on the spending brake. On the other hand, reduced spending will lead to even more job losses and a self-reinforcing downward economic spiral. As for me, I'm retired and make significantly less than I did three years ago. I pretty much have to spend everything that comes in due to various fixed commitments such as insurance policies, so I can't economize much even if I wanted to. (Travel comes out of a family, not personal, budget and economies are planned there.) How are you coping (or plan to cope if things get worse for you)? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 13, 2008 | perma-link | (67) comments

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Down on Obama?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Peter Hitchens articulates the sourpuss's response to Obama's victory. Me, what I can't stop wondering about is how the truest of the True Believers -- and, while you may be a mature person / Obama supporter yourself, NYC is brimming with people who really do carry on as though he's the second coming -- will respond once he starts to screw up and disappoint. Because, y'know, all politicians screw up and disappoint. Best, Michael UPDATE: In announcing Obama's victory, the New York Times used a 96 point headline -- only the fourth time in its history that it has used 96 point type. Writes Joe Strupp: "Previously, only the resignation of Richard Nixon, the first man on the moon, and the Sept. 11 attacks sparked such a large Page One font for the paper." Link found thanks to Design Observer, which also points out this collection of Obama Wins headlines and front pages. Thanks as well to visitor michael for passing along a link to this hilarious Onion video: When in doubt about life in America, it's always best to check in with The Onion. UPDATE 2: Shelby Steele asks a lot of good questions about what Obama's victory means. Lisa thinks that Obama could use a "social adviser."... posted by Michael at November 9, 2008 | perma-link | (41) comments

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Are We Headed for Hyperinflation?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Peter Schiff seems to think that hyperinflation is worth a worry: And as for the car companies ... Best, and mighty concerned about his meager savings and fixed income, Michael... posted by Michael at November 8, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Friday, November 7, 2008

Obama, the Pastry
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Read about Zilly Rosen's Barack Obama cupcake project. If we're going to have to endure a lot of silly political euphoria, let more of it take the form of cupcakes. Slightly related: Bex wants to be the Obama family's puppydog. What was election night like where you live? In Greenwich Village it was Yanks-win-the-Series-style pandemonium. Men shouted, cars honked, women wept and hollered "I love you Obama!" ... There was a lot of "Change" -- whatever that means -- in the air. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 7, 2008 | perma-link | (12) comments

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Wrapping It Up, Onion-Style
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Onion offers the definitive word on last night's events. One of many funny and apt passages: Obama did especially well among women and young voters, who polls showed were particularly sensitive to the current climate of everything being fucked. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 5, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments

Political Elsewhere
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Steve Sailer looks at the exit polls. My two favorite facts: 1) 96% of blacks voted for Obama; 2) Obama took unmarried people by 65% to 33%. As far as I can tell, what that means is that the defining political division in the U.S. isn't between Dems and Repubs, let alone lefties and righties. It's between married people and single people. * Responding to the "well, everyone's just gonna have to work until later in life" solution for Social Security, Jenny makes an excellent point: "Not everyone ages well." I've known a lot of 70 year olds, and many of them weren't good for much beyond traveling, reminiscing, and worrying about inflation. Not a putdown, by the way: I like old people and consider them a much-underappreciated resource in youth-obsessed America. But they're a life-resource, not an economic resource. * Austin Bramwell proposes a "non-movement conservatism." * DailyBurkeman1 ventures some hilariously wry musings about local government. (For those who aren't aware of this: In conservative mythology, local solutions are nearly always to be preferred to national ones. That's my own preference, for what it's worth. Still: Local governments, eh?) Example: "Councilmen are like mini-senators, in that they know nothing about anything. Unlike senators, they are more than willing to admit this, in order to avoid responsibility of any kind." * Some political wisdom from Veronique de Rugy, in a piece reviewing the scandalously irresponsible spending habits of both parties: When it comes to out-of-control spending, conventional wisdom says the Democrats are most likely to bust open the coffers. That's why many fear an increased Democratic majority in Congress topped by a Democratic president. And we should be afraid. Democrats are indeed big spenders. Second only to the Republicans. * I don't find a lot to quarrel with in this recent Paul Craig Roberts rant, do you? * A fresh, brainy, independent, full-of-surprises political blog that I've just discovered: The Left Conservative. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 5, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Scary Graph and the X Factor
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, When Alan Greenspan said he miscalculated as regulator in chief of the banking system a few weeks ago, he was lying. If he had it to do over again, he would do everything the same way. This is not to praise old Alan as a particularly responsible, tough-minded, willing-to-take-the-heat-for-the-public-good individual. Clearly, he was never that. What I mean is, given that he wanted his good press, his reputation as a 'maestro' and Republican rule, he really had no choice but to keep interest rates low and mortgage lenders, however sleazy, unregulated. He needed the housing bubble. It was the only game in town. Take a look at this graph, which was originally published by John Mauldin and Barry Ritholtz in the December 29, 2006 edition of Thoughts from the Frontline, "Real Estate and the Post-Crash Economy" (registration required). It shows how important a factor Mortgage Equity Withdrawal (MEW) was to the economy from the late 1990s through 2006. The blue bars are the reported GDP growth numbers, which of course include the effects of people spending money they were extracting from their homes via refinancings and home equity lines of credit. The red bars are what the GDP growth numbers would have looked like without that juice from MEW. Pretty scary, huh? In that alternative but nearby universe where credit wasn’t kept excessively cheap and where mortgage lending was tightly regulated and option ARMs were outlawed, etc., etc., in other words, in a world without a housing bubble and consumption-boosting MEW, we would have seen five straight years of GDP “growth” at or below one percent. Given that two of those years would have seen negative GDP numbers, the average annual growth rate would have been 0.05%. That is to say, for that five year period, without relying on our real estate credit card to keep up its spending by consumers, the American economy would have stopped growing. It would have flatlined. Clearly George Bush wouldn’t have been re-elected in 2004. Alan Greenspan would not have gotten a fifth term as Fed Chairman in 2004. No one would have considered him to be the Maestro, or the greatest Fed Chairman ever. So Easy Al knew what he had to do, and he did it. And I’m betting, with no real regrets. I don’t have the figures to extend this graph for the past two years, but I’m guessing things didn’t exactly get a whole lot better. And as for MEW in recent months, well, it has cratered along with the fictitious housing prices that, in conjunction with greed-blinded lenders, let people use the 'equity' in their homes as an ATM. And, just about the time the MEW party ended, the whole economy slid into recession. Funny how that worked, isn’t it? But this raises a huge question, a question moreover that’s not getting a whole lot of airplay these days. What the heck happened to the American economy in the late 1990s or thereabouts... posted by Friedrich at November 4, 2008 | perma-link | (30) comments

Monday, November 3, 2008

Bonuses at the Banks
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I don't know about you, but whenever I pass an investment banker on the sidewalk, I just looooooooove handing him a big chunk of my paycheck. Because, you know, he's unhappy and he's suffering. And because he has selflessly done so much for me -- and for society generally -- recently. And thank god for the way the government is holding a gun to my head, making sure I make regular contributions to needy Wall Street execs! Because otherwise y'know, I'd behave like such an inhumane beast. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 3, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments

Sunday, November 2, 2008

What's So Liberal about Liberalism?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In a comments-thread a few postings ago, JV tossed me this fun challenge: Michael, you're taking the literal meaning of the word "liberal," taking it to its extreme and applying it to a political philosophy. Liberalism does not mean being tolerant and accepting of everything. It means, at least to me and the liberals I know, being tolerant and accepting of how people chose to live their lives (even if it differs from your own), while fighting hard for the things you believe in. It's a game of semantics when you call hypocrisy on a liberal for not being intolerant of something he/she feels is wrong. I was sort of pleased with my response and didn't like the idea of leaving it buried in comments, so I've dolled it up a bit and am reprinting it here: JV -- It can sometimes be worth making a distinction between informal and formal uses of words. Loosely speaking, you and your buds are liberal -- pretty loosey-goosey where much is concerned. BTW, so am I, and so's Shouting Thomas, who has lived a much wilder and looser life than most of the people who give him a hard time. He's "liberal" even where his own reactionary instincts and feelings are concerned -- which means that he's more liberal in the informal sense than most liberals are. But "liberal" is also a strand in political philosophy, with its own history of recurring debates, issues, conundra, etc. Positive vs. negative rights, for instance -- is it more "liberal" to let things fall where they will, or is it more "liberal" to make efforts to ensure equality? No one's ever been able to settle that one out, and yet it keeps popping up, over and over. That's because it's some kind of weak point (or sensitive point) in the very nature of liberalism. The "how can you be a liberal if you can't be liberal about your opponents?" question is another one that continues to come up. We saw it in 2001, for example. How can we make "tolerance" an overriding virtue if it turns out that some of the people we're being tolerant towards genuinely mean us ill? (The question is a worthwhile one independent of whether or not Muslims are like that, btw.) Yet once we start making exceptions, we lose some of our status as tolerant people, and "tolerance" itself loses its status as an overriding, organizing principle. Another one: If you put liberalism and tolerance (ie., personal freedom) above all other values -- and that's in a political-philosophy sense what liberalism is about, not just being a loosey-goosey person -- how can you ensure that society runs fairly smoothly? Dismantle traditional ways of doing things and maybe what you wind up with isn't liberation and fulfillment. Maybe it's chaos. When traditional norms don't hold people and cultures together any longer, they tend to get replaced by top-heavy, ever-more-explicit legalisms and bureaucacies. So things like an... posted by Michael at November 2, 2008 | perma-link | (38) comments

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Quote for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In the typhoon of commentary that's blown around the world a step behind the financial tsunami that's wrecking everything, two little words have been curiously absent: "fraud" and "swindle." But aren't they really at the core of what has happened? Wall Street took the whole world "for a ride" and now a handful of Wall Street's erstwhile princelings have shifted ceremoniously into US Government service to "fix" the problem with a "toolbox" containing a notional two trillion dollars. This strange exercise in financial kabuki theater will shut down sometime between the election and inauguration day, when the inaugurate finds himself president of the Economic Smoking Wreckage of the United States. What will happen? You may love him or you may hate him. But it's hard to deny that James Kunstler has his own hyper-vivid way of putting things. I suppose that, where judging Kunstler goes, it doesn't hurt that this time around the sky really does seem to be falling ... 2Blowhards visitor Ed From Malabar was wondering why we haven't heard more about angry retirees wreaking physical vengeance on disgraced financial honchos. Interesting to see -- in Kunstler's posting as well as in the comments on it -- that Ed From Malabar isn't the only person marveling about the restraint that so many of the screwed-over have shown. "How long before they go to the Hamptons with lethal intent?" writes one of Kunstler's commenters. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 1, 2008 | perma-link | (19) comments

More On Secession
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- This time from John Schwenkler for The American Conservative. Here's John's own blog. Semi-related: Jeff Fearnside interviews agrarian contrarian Wendell Berry, and libertarian luminary Lew Rockwell podcast-interviews lefty darling Naomi Wolf. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 1, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Steve on Barack
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Steve Sailer has been writing wonderfully informative and convincing articles and blog-postings about Barack Obama's story and character for many months now. Whatever you think about Obama politically, he's a fascinating creature, and Steve's musings about him have often reminded me of the kind of deep character explorations that great novels sometimes provide. It has been some of the most daring and stimulating writing that I've run across on the web in the last year. So I'm excited to see that Steve has pulled together his research and thoughts into a book. Download a pre-publication copy of it here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 30, 2008 | perma-link | (37) comments

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Newsweek runs a fun photo-feature about recent business admirals who have led their companies into ruin -- and the gigantic salaries and payouts that they received nevertheless. Wasn't it commenter Dearieme who wrote that what these CEOs should have done was to apologize to their families and to society at large, and then commit hara-kiri? Among the bastards, who's your fave bastard? Mine is Alan Fishman of Washington Mutual, who had been on the job for only 13 days when the feds shut his company down. Fishman's compensation for his brief tenure? Nearly $13 million -- a million smackeroos a day. And people complain about how much movie stars and sports heroes are paid ... Somewhat related: As the world economy caves in around us, the collapse in late 2001 of the Enron Corporation is starting to look a little unimpressive in retrospect. Still, it was a Very Big Event at the time. One of the biggest corporate failures in history, Enron's demise also brought down the Arthur Andersen accounting firm, and it left more than 20,000 employees out of work, many of them with their retirement accounts devastated. This is just a quick note to recommend the documentary "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," directed by Alex Gibney and based on a book by Fortune reporters Bethany McLean and Peter Elkin. The general story is well told, though for details about how the many bookkeeping stunts and shell-games were performed you'll need to go to the book. Movies aren't great for delivering accounts about accounting fraud, after all. But what makes the movie special is two things: Its portraits of some of Enron's swindling execs (Jeff Skilling -- what a character!); and the many, many instances of video and audio showing what creeps many at Enron were. Andy Fastow's pitch to Merrill Lynch is a gem, and a number of smug and triumphant phone conversations between Enron traders as they manipulated and swindled the people of California (remember the California energy shortage?) make you want to wring throats. I sometimes think of myself as a seen-too-much cynic, but the naked, fuck-everyone-else greed that's revealed in closeup by this film made me feel like an easily-shocked baby all over again. My god, there really are people in this world who have nothing but money on their minds, and who will do almost anything to get ever more of it! But I'm in the mood to end this blogposting on a positive note. So, because we could all use some silliness and high spirits in the midst of what feels like a dark and rocky season, here's Joey Dee and the Starliters shaking to "Peppermint Twist": Dance! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 29, 2008 | perma-link | (11) comments

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The U.S. is the only industrialized country where youths are less likely than their parents to earn a high school diploma. Source. Possibly related: According to one source, "hostility toward academic achievers is even higher among Hispanics than among blacks." Mark Cromer points out that in eight hours of televised presidential-wannabe and v.p.-wannabe debates, the onscreen m.c.'s "allowed the candidates to avoid even a single tough question about immigration policy." What a good job our political system does of offering us meaningful choices! And how terrific our free press is at holding politicians' feet to the fire! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 28, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Ron Paul Clip for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Opinions please: Is Ron Paul a crackpot? Or is he someone who's doing a good job of describing the world as it actually is? Bonus point: The Independent wonders if the derivatives market is going to take the world economy down. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 28, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments

His Opponents Are Stupid
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Timothy Egan has a column on the 26 October New York Times web site (I'm not sure if it's in the print edition) titled "The Party of Yesterday" in which he takes the position that Republicans and, by extension, conservatives are largely stupid and Democrats are smarter. The link is here, but might not be available for long, so below are some extracts that deal with the stupidity/intelligence parts of his argument (tactical and political points are left out because such details are tangential to my subject today and the copyright must be honored). Here are some snippets: Brainy cities have low divorce rates, low crime, high job creation, ethnic diversity and creative capitalism. They’re places like Pittsburgh, with its top-notch universities; Albuquerque, with its surging Latino middle class; and Denver, with its outdoor-loving young people. They grow good people in the smart cities. But in the politically suicidal greenhouse that Republicans have constructed for themselves, these cities are not welcome. They are disparaged as nests of latte-sipping weenies, alt-lifestyle types and “other” Americans, somehow inauthentic. If that’s what Republicans want, they are doomed to be the party of yesterday. . . . . . ... John McCain made a fatal error in turning his campaign over to the audience of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. In so doing, he chose the unbearable lightness of being Sarah Palin, trotted out Paris Hilton and labeled Obama a socialist who associates with terrorists. . . . . . Here in Seattle, it’s become a one-party city, with a congressman for life and nodding-head liberals who seldom challenge a tax-loving city government. It would be nice, just to keep the philosophical debate sharp, if there were a few thoughtful Republicans around. That won’t happen so long as Republicans continue to be the party of yesterday. They’ve written the cities off. Fake Americans don’t count, but this Election Day, for once, they will not feel left out. It's possible that McCain or Palin made a speech explicitly telling the world that folks in Denver were all effete bicyclists, but then I don't pay much attention to more than a few major speeches or appearances by any of the candidates and might have missed it. Conservatives do make fun of effete, egg-headed liberals but are perfectly happy for every urban vote they can get. Liberals trash Wall Street, yet Wall Streeters are heavy contributors to Obama (who indeed disparaged flyover country voters while making informal remarks in San Francisco). This is just politics, and the intelligent folks Egan discusses probably see through campaign verbage. I live in the Seattle he mentions and am not bothered when some talk show host gets going about over-educated, guilt-ridden issues-emotional college-town elites. I know perfectly well the subject is a bunch of my neighbors and not me. Seattle has that congressman-for-life "Baghdad Jim" McDermott who owes his safe seat to district boundary-drawers who take advantage of the fact that the city of Seattle... posted by Donald at October 28, 2008 | perma-link | (78) comments

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Political Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Anna Schwartz thinks that there are good reasons to let large firms fail. (Link thanks to Marginal Revolution.) * The Rawness demonstrates how to handle a condescending European. * Arnold Kling isn't impressed by the macroeconomists. "Macroeconomics can tell us nothing useful about the current policy environment," he writes. "All we know for sure about what is taking place is that there has been a massive shift of power to Washington, with much more likely ahead." * The rich may like McCain, but the super-rich will be voting for Obama. * Those glossy and iconic new buildings in Dubai are being built on the backs of near-slave laborers. * Bryan Appleyard meets with art critic John Berger, who is now 82 years old. Berger, a hard-core lefty, was a very big deal when Friedrich von Blowhard and I were back in college in the mid-'70s. Interesting to learn that Berger's still a true believer. Some people just can't let go of the dream, I guess. * Richard Ebeling writes a nice appreciation of a personal fave of mine, the German economist Wilhelm Ropke. * Modern Forager interviews Jennifer McLagan, author of "Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient." Nice quote: "All good chefs know the power of butter to add and carry flavour in a dish as well as deliver great mouth feel." * Steve Sailer points out that by 2006 more than 40% of first-time homebuyers in California were making their purchase with no money down. * And -- because politics is at best an unfortunate necessity while art can be a longlasting joy -- here's my music video find for the day: A sweetly cheery track by the brilliant Congolese soukous star Diblo Dibala. Listen to that guitar! Learn a bit about Diblo Dibala here. Here's another hard-to-resist track. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 26, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Jim Kalb's Book Is Now Buyable
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've raved about the traditionalist conservative Jim Kalb many times. Finally I have the pleasure of pointing out that his book can now be bought. (Or buy it at Amazon.) Read Jim's blog here. Read my interview with Jim here. Taki's magazine runs an excerpt from Jim's book here. Best, MIchael... posted by Michael at October 25, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

Quote for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- "When the Fed insists it has no choice but to print up hundreds of billions of new dollars and when the keepers of accounting standards bend in the face of criticism that market prices hurt, what they are really saying is the that financial truth is too awful to bear," writes the ultra-prudent James Grant. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 25, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Political Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Radley Balko wants his fellow righties to vote for Obama. * The Northern Agrarian thinks that real conservatives should vote for Ralph Nader. * Nathancontramundi spends a few minutes with Ron Paul. Hey, a thought? Given what we've seen of (and learned about) Obama and McCain over the last few months, are we still pleased that it was Ron Paul who received a campaign-ending tar-and-feathering? Of these three guys, which one is the cleanest politician? Any opinions about whether it's a pure coincidence that the cleanest pol was the one who was driven out of the race? Hmmmm .... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 25, 2008 | perma-link | (16) comments

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Finally, An Iraq Plan I Can Get Behind
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Where foreign policy is concerned, maybe we ought to rely more on that other Clinton approach: Found here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 21, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Monday, October 20, 2008

Henry Cisneros, Housing Expert
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Steve Sailer turns up a fun NYTimes visit with Clinton-administration housing honcho Henry Cisneros. A dryly amusing passage: As the Clinton administration’s top housing official in the mid-1990s, Mr. Cisneros loosened mortgage restrictions so first-time buyers could qualify for loans they could never get before. Then, capitalizing on a housing expansion he helped unleash, he joined the boards of a major builder, KB Home, and the largest mortgage lender in the nation, Countrywide Financial — two companies that rode the housing boom, drawing criticism along the way for abusive business practices. And ain't that the way the game is too often played? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 20, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Saturday, October 18, 2008

AWOL Campaign Issues
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm not a total political junkie. Honest. And I do try to focus my posting on arts and cultural matters along with whiffs of how I experienced life in the distant past (so that younger readers might get a sense of those times). Nevertheless, it's a presidential election year and November isn't far off, so indulge me this observation. A year ago and perhaps even six months ago the Iraq war was a major subject of political controversy. Now it borders on being secondary except when candidates occasionally feel the need to burnish their ties to their bases or jab at their opponent's presumed flaws. This would have been surprising to junkiedom a year and a half ago. Here's what's even more surprising. Well, it is to me. Maybe I don't read the better blogs or pay as much attention to political debates as I should, but I haven't heard as much about Global Warming and other environmental issues as I had expected. Some of this probably has to do with $4 per gallon gasoline prices. Hard-core environmentalists doubtless stuck to their plan to save the planet regardless of human costs. But even Democrat politicians seem reluctant to push those issues hard when the general population is unhappy about the cost of transportation and heating houses. Then there are statistics indicating that the earth essentially hasn't warmed since the end of the century. Plus the cooler weather most people have experienced the last two years or so. These too might have dampened public willingness to buy into the notion that world catastrophe is right around the corner. Yes, McCain mentions now and then that he plans to do something or other. And Obama when in Berlin said something about lowering the oceans or maybe parting the Red Sea. But I've heard little about Kyoto Treaties, carbon footprints and all that. I suspect this lull is temporary. We'll be hearing far more about such things than I want to after the election if the vote goes according to current polling data. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 18, 2008 | perma-link | (31) comments

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Un-PC Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards-- * The unstoppable Fjordman lists 10 reasons why the European Union should be gotten rid of. * Some interesting sentences and observations from respectable intellectual Ian Buruma, writing about the rise of the far right in Europe: The biggest resentment among supporters of the right-wing parties in Europe these days is reserved not so much for immigrants as for political elites that, in the opinion of many, have been governing for too long in cozy coalitions, which appear to exist chiefly to protect vested interests ... Expressions of nationalism in postwar European democracies were always tolerated in soccer stadiums, but not in public life, by these leaders. Skepticism about European unity was routinely denounced as bigotry or even a form of racism. * What kind of sense does it make to be importing refugees who can't even begin to contend with modern life? * Peter Schiff predicts that inflation will be at 20-30% by this time next year. "We need to replenish our savings, and the government is not letting us do that. The government is force-feeding spending down our throat," Schiff says. * Fun facts for the day come from Heather Mac Donald: Though second- and third-generation Hispanics make some progress over their first-generation parents, that progress starts from an extremely low base and stalls out at high school completion. High school drop-out rates -- around 50 percent -- remain steady across generations. Latinos’ grades and test scores are at the bottom of the bell curve. The very low share of college degrees earned by Latinos has not changed for more than two decades. Currently only one in ten Latinos has a college degree. * Joseph Sobran wonders what it means to be conservative in America. It's a very good piece that I think even lefties would learn from. Well, open-minded lefties anyway. * Thomas Woods interviews "reactionary radical" Bill Kauffman. * "It is time for the government to do the one thing it does well: nothing at all," writes economist Jeffrey Miron. My own basic conviction about politics, FWIW: Nine times out of ten, nothing really needs to be done. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 14, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments

Monday, October 13, 2008

Localism, Bad, Good, and Foodie
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Burkeman1 has been having a nightmarish wrestle with his local government. * Local authorities are often bunglers, god knows. But sometimes they commit just the right bungle. * Food writer and localism buff Michael Pollan has some ideas for the next Prez. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 13, 2008 | perma-link | (29) comments

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Race and More
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I notice that a bunch of you have been having a good time yakking about race, race-baiting, and such. Here's some more high-quality fodder for you: free-thinking black intellectual Gerald Early gets frank and personal about the racism industry (link thanks to ALD); and the adventurous, funny, shrewd, and supersmart black guy T. (of The Rawness) muses about blacks and IQ, here, here, and here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 9, 2008 | perma-link | (52) comments

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

My House: 2 Residents, 6 Registered Voters
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few days ago I answered the doorbell for a neighbor lady who said she was checking the voter registration list for the neighborhood. I probably should have asked who she was doing this for, but didn't; instead I simply provided information. Listed at our address were me, my wife and four others. Only my wife and I actually live here. One of the other names belonged to a former renter. That's understandable; it isn't ideal, but it's true that some names remain long after the person moved to another precinct. Another name was that of Nancy's daughter-in-law who lives in California. Another was Nancy's former husband (they divorced around 25 years ago) who lives in Oregon. Yet another was my former wife who lives 70 miles away. None of the last three ever lived at my address. From time to time we get junk mail addressed to former renters and spouses. This makes me wonder if a commercial mailing list was used to fatten up the voter registration roles. (Or maybe a commercial list was extracted from a fattened registration list. I don't know how this list stuff is done.) Seattle is solidly Democratic. In the race for governor four years ago, every time the Republican candidate pulled ahead, a few thousand votes for his opposition (the current governess) appeared as if by magic from someplace or other in Seattle. Now I'm about as far as one can get from being a conspiracy theorist, but those continual injections of votes from Seattle in late stages of the vote count gave me pause. It will be interesting to find out if those four extra "residents" at our place will be voting early and often in our precinct come November 4th. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 8, 2008 | perma-link | (23) comments

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Financial Mess
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Ramesh ventures a general theory of the financial mess: Part One, Part Two. * Charlton volunteers some links: here, here, here, here. * When in doubt, appoint someone from Goldman, Sachs. * Peter Brimelow thinks that we may need a new Pujo Committee. * Wirkman Netizen thinks that the time has come to prepare for the worst. (Link thanks to Dave Lull.) Wirkman offers a pithy summary of our quandary: Democrat: Pretends to be for the “little guy” and against dem nasty corporations, but at first panic will give billions and billions to subsidize rich men’s failures. Republican: Pretends to be for the “free market,” but always ready to buckle under to demands for subsidy from crony capitalists. Average American: Knows nothing about economics, history, or politics, but still thinks our country is great, even after allowing sellout upon sellout. * Western Confucian lists some postings in which he discusses the great, underknown Austrian economist Wilhelm Ropke. Nice to know there are a few other Ropke fans out there. * Tom Wolfe has a fun theory: The whole thing, starting with the subprime, is the fault of the computer. I was just talking to a banker the other day, and not that long ago, 20 years ago, an investment banking house, let’s say, Lehman Brothers, when it got a package of mortgages, they would go through every mortgage, every single one, and they’d throw out the ones that just seemed absurd, they just wouldn’t accept them. Things used to arrive on paper. Today things arrive on a screen, and a screen is back lit, and one of the biggest pains in the neck is trying to read something dully written and complicated on a computer screen. It will drive you nuts—I mean, try it sometime. Now they say, ‘Oh, to hell with it,’ and they just accept the whole package. And if it hadn’t been for that, they’d be going over each loan. What’s happened is the backward march of technology. (Link thanks to JV.) * Mencius offers an offbeat-yet-Austrian take on the mess. * Was Alexander Hamilton the grandfather of today's crony capitalism? * Perhaps the time has come to take the S word seriously, or at least semi-seriously. Why not attend the Third North American Secessionist Convention? It's happening November 14-16 in Manchester, NH. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 6, 2008 | perma-link | (30) comments

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Workers Needed
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In case your job in banking just evaporated and you're looking for a new field to conquer: Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 4, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Solution
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Fringe non-candidate and general annoying / amusing guy Sparrow proposes a sensible solution to the immigration quandary. I also liked a bumper sticker that Sparrow has created: Fun to encounter political POV's you can really get behind, isn't it? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 2, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Jim Kalb's Book Is Almost Available
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Traditionalist conservative Jim Kalb's new book "The Tyranny of Liberalism" goes on sale soon. Read an interview with Jim about the book here. I've long been a fan of Jim's. His thinking strikes me as deep, his writing as helpful and clear, and his manner as both calm and patient. He makes a great and humane case for traditionalism both in what he says and how he says it. This ain't Fox News conservatism, to put it mildly. Jim's blog is here. Long ago, I interviewed Jim at some length. You can get to all three parts of the interview from this posting. I urge you to give the q&a a read: provocations and surprises (of a gentle but trenchant sort) are guaranteed. Don't skip the very interesting commentsthreads that follow the postings. Jim writes eloquently in praise of nostalgia here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 1, 2008 | perma-link | (17) comments

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

It's Hank's Fault
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, Well, the Mother of All Bailouts went down to defeat yesterday in the House, to the obvious consternation of bankers and stock markets everywhere. Many have assigned blame to Republican politicians who took a look at the strongly negative response to the bill from the public and, facing very dicey outcomes in next month's elections, decided to surf a populist wave. While the Republicans are, indeed, in big trouble and like the desperate men and women they deserve to be (having blindly followed the lead of the most feckless president in history), they are probably feeling reckless. None the less, I think this explanation overlooks the real issue. Bryan Caplan examines the three national polls taken on the subject by Rasmussen Reports, USA Today/Gallup, and Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times. He concludes that they all tell roughly the same tale: The LA Times survey has the best-crafted responses - at least it mentions the main arguments for each side. But the USA Today poll, which gives an intermediate choice, probably tells us more about what the American public is thinking. Namely: They want government to do a lot, just not this. [emphasis added] I believe that it would have been trivial to pass a variety of bailouts, certainly a Swedish-style bank nationalization bill and probably a number of others as well. The public doesn't want the benefits of a functioning financial system to go away; they however (IMO correctly) don't want the current people who have profited immensely by steering that system into the tarpits to be further rewarded or protected from the consequences of their own actions. Unlike many 'pragmatists' the public may actually think that this would not only be annoying in the here-and-now, but a very dangerous precedent for the future. Is that really so astonishing or short-sighted? In other words, blame Hank Paulson for devising, and utterly refusing to part with, a bailout that is entirely painless for the bailees, or at least the bailees that Hank happens to like. He could have, with a little common sense, had a perfectly functional bailout bill passed by a unanimous vote already if that's all he wanted. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 30, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Puzzler
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here's something that has long puzzled me. Polite Society (ie., our elites) does something ambitious. Something like, say, opening immigration policies insanely 'way up. Society at large (ie., many of the rest of us) reacts to this development by protesting, perhaps even strongly. Polite Society then looks at how the rest of us are carrying on and ... blames the whole problem on us for failing to behave well. They cause the problem; we protest; and somehow the fault winds up lying with us for being uncouth. Isn't this a little like stabbing someone, and then blaming the whole bloody mess on the shrieking of the victim? Best, Michael UPDATE: A hard-hitting posting from Robert Wenzel includes these nice passages: [The power elite] always take advantage of crisis to make a [power and money] grab ... Taking advantage of crisis and making things complex is how the elite play. The current crisis is the mortgage crisis ... We are in the midst of one of the greatest power and money grabs in the history of the world. I am stunned by the Russian style oligarch aggressiveness and boldness of the moves made this weekend, led by Paulson. Pierre Lemieux has a laugh at the idea that the current financial crisis is proof that capitalism doesn't work: The financial crisis opened last year with the meltdown of the American subprime mortgage market. At that time, half of the residential mortgages in the United States were already held or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two so-called "government sponsored enterprises" (GSE). Over the past year, the two GSEs have financed four out of five mortgages. Fannie Mae was created in the wake of the Great Depression by Franklin D. Roosevelt; Freddie Mac by Congress in 1970. Private investors happily bought securities issued by the two GSEs because they knew the federal government would never let these companies fail — which proved true last week when they were entirely taken over by Washington. Before the crisis started, the American mortgage market was a paragon of socialism, unparalleled in any other Western country ... The present financial turmoil is really a failure of global statism. Socialism has failed once again. Let's try capitalism.... posted by Michael at September 28, 2008 | perma-link | (21) comments

Saturday, September 27, 2008

All the Bailout with None of the Corruption
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, In a recent post, I made a suggestion that we consider creating new lending channels to funnel publicly supplied credit to real economy borrowers, thus obviating the need to bail out Wall Street in order to ‘save’ Main Street (supposedly the goal of the exercise). In making such a suggestion I was trying to highlight the unbelievably corrupting precedent that that would be set by bailing out such once-profitable and still politically connected firms without wiping out their shareholders and management. However, I see via Barry Ritholz at The Big Picture that I am not alone in proposing such a scheme. Intriguingly, this proposal (far much more detailed than mine, or, for that matter, the Paulson plan) is based largely on concerns of efficiency and the need for the financial sector to evolve past the failed model of the past fifteen years. The scheme is the brainchild of Bill King of M. Ramsey Securities Inc. Mr. King begins with several trenchant observations, including: - The Paulsen-Bernanke Bailout Plan does not insure that those banks and brokers that receive bailout aid will increase lending. The reality is the market is hoarding liquidity and these banks are likely to do the same. More importantly consumer lending has been a small, often insignificant part of their business. They made money by trading and through securitization of debt. - It is necessary to create a new system parallel with the existing dysfunctional system in order to mitigate the inevitable economic and financial damage and to facilitate, as seamless as possible, the transition to a functioning financial system or new model of credit and banking. - The Wall Street model, securitization and extreme leverage, is obsolete. […] - Hank and Ben assert that it is paramount to keep credit flowing to consumers; the bail out is a necessary adjunct. Some of the basics of the King Report Bailout Plan: - Directly recapitalize banks by the US government allocating $500B into a plan for community-type banks to increase their capital in partnership with the government. - The government would match existing or some percentage of existing bank capital. If it would be better, a separate bank could be created. Place a limit of say $1B per bank. - This would create $5 trillion of credit at conservative 10 to 1 leverage. This is more than the entire private mortgage market. It is a much better use of capital instead of absorbing $700B of losses with no means to discern [or reasonably anticipate] resultant credit creation. - Give the banks a tax rate of 15% on consumer and commercial lending for 5 years and the right to buy out the government share of the operation at some premium. There is more, read about it here. Will something like this get implemented? I doubt it, but even if it doesn’t, such proposals should serve to highlight a key point: an unstated consequence of the Paulson/Bernanke plan is to keep the current system,... posted by Friedrich at September 27, 2008 | perma-link | (35) comments

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Independence Day?
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, A great quote about the bailout comes from (of all places) the Wall Street Journal: David Ader, government-bond strategist at RBS Greenwich Capital, notes that it is a politically difficult sell to go to voters and tell them you’re proud to have kept employed "many of the same firms that created the mess and paying more for their crappy securities than they themselves would be willing to pay. Vote for me." [emphasis original] One question: in debating this bailout, nobody seems to even consider a possibility that leaped out at me. If the troubles on Wall Street are preventing Main Street from getting responsibly extended, reasonably priced credit, why can’t we just end-run Wall Street? Take the $700 billion Mr. Paulson is asking for and start up, say, 10 new banks with it. Guarantee the deposits publicly with a better guarantee than the FDIC. They’ll have no difficulty attracting deposits. Then have them lend out money at conservative leverage (say, 10 to 1, much less than Citibank) and generate $7 trillion in new credit. Hire a staff from among the recently laid off, and management from, say, Japan, and pay them so that they only need to make 10 percent ROE (thus making a nice return for the taxpayers) and their bonuses only get paid out when it’s clear that the loans have actually been repaid. No derivatives, no fancy stuff, just plain vanilla lending. Main Street is saved, and the rest of us can find entertainment and moral improvement in watching Wall Street implode and disappear. Let me point out where this wild fantasy comes from. To whit, everyone, including Mr. Bernanke, says that the ‘real economy’ will suffer without credit. Credit is apparently like, say, electricity and water -- a health and safety issue for the economy. We have 'utilities' in electricity and water -- so why not in credit? Some of those utilities are privately owned but heavily regulated; some of those utilities are publicly owned, at the local, state and federal level. And you know what? The publicly owned ones work just fine. In Los Angeles, I’m currently a customer of the private Southern California Edison, but previously I got my juice from Los Angeles Department of Water & Power. The bottom line: power from LADWP was half the price. I'd love for somebody explain why it is apparently unthinkable for America’s taxpayers and borrowers to declare their independence from the current crop of moronic incompetents now masquerading as financiers. Remember, this is the same group of guys who misallocated credit (their supposedly core competency) on a scale unknown in human history. How exactly did these bozos get to be so indispensable? Isn't this indispensability entirely in the minds of Bernanke and Paulson? And doesn't that make them, in the most polite terms imaginable, captured regulators? Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 24, 2008 | perma-link | (31) comments

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The S Word
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- There's that word again. (Link thanks to Dave Lull and Charlton Griffin.) Great passage: According to a Zogby poll conducted in July, more than 20% of U.S. adults -- one in five, about the same number of American Colonists who supported revolt against England in 1775 -- agreed that "any state or region has the right to peaceably secede from the United States and become an independent republic." Some 18% "would support a secessionist effort in my state." The motivation of these quiet revolutionaries? As many as 44% of those polled agreed that "the United States' system is broken and cannot be fixed by traditional two-party politics and elections." Put this in stark terms: In a scientific, random sample poll of all Americans, almost half considered the current political system to be in terminal disorder. One-fifth would countenance a dissolution of the bond. There may be something in the air. Earlier ... Best, Michael UPDATE: Vanishing American gives secessionism -- and Bill Kauffman -- a lot of intelligent thought.... posted by Michael at September 23, 2008 | perma-link | (20) comments

Monday, September 22, 2008

Buy it, Henry!
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, If you need some comic relief at the prospect of our Secretary of the Treasury, Hank Paulson, using your tax dollars to buy ‘distressed assets’ from financial professionals who make lots more money than you ever will, check out Buy My Shitpile, Henry. (Hat tip to Barry Ritholtz.) With our economy in crisis, the US Government is scrambling to rescue our banks by purchasing their "distressed assets", i.e., assets that no one else wants to buy from them. We figured that instead of protesting this plan, we'd give regular Americans the same opportunity to sell their bad assets to the government. Don’t hold back! Don’t be modest. Your ‘distressed assets’ are just as good as theirs are…in fact, probably a whole lot better! Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 22, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Quote of the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- My Saying-A-Lot-With-A-Little Award of the day goes to Nathancontramundi for this gem: Why American “liberals” fail consistently to recognize the connection between the welfare state and the warfare and corporate states, I cannot comprehend. More here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 22, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Ideology and the Public Trough
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, I’ve noticed one thing about the Paulson bailout; disaffection with it seems quite similar on both sides of the political aisle, at least among people who quaintly have notions of actually believing in what they say they believe in. (Obviously this group includes neither professional politicians, Wall Street tycoons and other, um, porcine pragmatists.) If this seems excessive, check out this posting by Matt Yglesias: I’m blogging under the influence, so perhaps things aren’t quite as dramatic as they seem to me right now, but the bailout plan on the table right now seems to me like something of a crisis point for American liberalism. The plan is bad. But bad policies get enacted all the time. But we’re at a point now where congress is, allegedly, in the hands of progressive leadership. Simply put, if congressional Democrats manage to acquiesce in a plan that spends $700 billion on a bailout while doing nothing for average working people and giving the taxpayer virtually no upside in a way that guarantees that even electoral victory would give an Obama administration no resources with which to implement a progressive domestic agenda in 2009 then everyone’s going to have to give serious consideration to becoming a pretty hard-core libertarian. It’d be one thing for a bunch of conservative politicians to ram a terrible policy through. Then we could say “well, if some progressives win the next election things will be different.” But if this comes through an allegedly progressive congress then the whole enterprise starts looking pretty hollow. Well, this is just a liberal thing, right? I mean, those guys aren't going to like anything a Republican administration does, right? As it turns out, there are pretty similar stirrings on the right also. The Cunning Realist, who describes himself as a lifelong conservative, remarks in a post: On economic matters, conservatism has largely been taken over by what I call Daiquiri Destructionists: self-avowed Schumpeter acolytes who mutter darkly in beach houses about government intervention in free markets, until things threaten to get a bit too free. Except for the meager shelter under Ron Paul's umbrella, true fiscal and monetary conservatives have no real-world haven right now. Well, I hate to say I told you so, but I recall making the point that politics in America is pretty much a sham—a matter of differing strategies for enlisting the enthusiasm of the voting masses. Ordinarily, the professional politicians, Wall Street tycoons and others will go along with the dumb show for the yahoos, but occasionally the matter is too serious and the mask slips in public. For an interesting view of exactly what the pragmatists are up to...lining up for the starting bell of the 50 yard dash to the public trough...check out this article. I guess there’s not much chance of a truth in politics law, huh? Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 21, 2008 | perma-link | (11) comments

Oppose This Bailout
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, The Paulson plan for bailing out the financial sector is extremely dubious. The prospect that it will get rubber-stamped into legislation by a panicked Congress within the week is a distressing, but sadly real, possibility. I strongly urge you to oppose passage of this proposal without – at a minimum – a full and thorough airing of the issues involved. Rushing through a proposal of this magnitude, especially just prior to an election, is foolhardy. I would detail the weak aspects of this bill, but others have done my work for me. As David Merkel explains: The current proposal is proactive. Proactive solutions are expensive, and do not fairly distribute the losses to those who caused them through their shoddy lending practices. The owners of bad assets should risk their equity before taxpayers put up one red cent. The government should not try to prevent financial failure, but prevent financial failure from spreading as a contagion. Common and preferred stockholders of failed institutions should be wiped out. Subordinated debtholders should take a haircut. But depositors and senior debtholders should be guaranteed, in order to protect other financial institutions that invest in those instruments, thus avoiding contagion effects. Second, the proposed bill is vague, and offers the Treasury a “blank check” to do pretty much what it wants. Section 8 states: “Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.” Who are we kidding here? I don’t care how great the emergency may be, the other branches of government should be able to act as needed. Third, there is nothing to assure that fair market value will be paid for assets. If an investment manager is hired, who could tell if he plays favorites or not? Clever investment firms will take advantage of the government and its agents, and only sell overpriced assets to the government. Fourth, there is no easily identifiable upside for taxpayers here. If we bail out a firm, it should be painful, as it was for the GSEs and AIG, where most of the equity gets handed over to the government in exchange for a senior loan guarantee. Fifth, though the name of the Resolution Trust Corporation has been invoked here, this is nothing like the RTC. The RTC only dealt with insolvent S&Ls. It did not try to keep existing S&Ls afloat. This proposal is an expensive boondoggle and should be opposed by all. As one bit of evidence here, how many noticed that mortgage rates went up on the day the deal was announced? Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism offers her criticisms: First, let's focus on the aspect that should get the proposal dinged (or renegotiated) regardless of any possible merit, namely, that it gives the Treasury imperial power with respect to a simply huge amount of funds. $700 billion is comparable to the hard cost... posted by Friedrich at September 21, 2008 | perma-link | (29) comments

Monday, September 15, 2008

Quote for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In a comment on a posting at The Art of the Possible, Kevin Carson writes: Both the liberal and conservative establishments have a vested interest in pretending that the great trusts emerged from “laissez-faire,” that the economy was largely a “free market” until the turn of the 20th century, and that only state action can prevent the natural tendency of a free market to give rise to domination by big business. The conservative establishment has an interest in fostering this myth because it justifies the present wealth and power of the giant corporations as the result of superior competitive virtue in our marvelous “free enterprise system.” The liberal establishment has in interest in fostering it, as well, because it implies that a regulatory/welfare state (run by them, of course) is the only thing protecting us from domination by big business. The central fact of American history since the late 19th century has been the mutual support and coalescence of big government with big business, rather than mutual hostility. And the central function of the publik skools is to churn out docile and obedient human resources with sufficient skills to do their jobs but lacking in the historical perspective or critical thinking ability to undermine their loyalty to the corporate state. I have no problems with any of this. Do you? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 15, 2008 | perma-link | (38) comments

Monday, September 8, 2008

Andrew Bacevich, Reluctant Obamacon
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Catholic conservative, West Point guy, and Vietnam vet Andrew Bacevich says that he will vote, if reluctantly, for Obama. "We ought not be in the business of invading and occupying other countries," Bacevich says. "That's not going to address the threat. It is, on the other hand, going to bankrupt the country and break the military." More from Bacevich here, here and here. Nice passage: There was a time, seventy, eighty, a hundred years ago, that we Americans sat here in the western hemisphere, and puzzled over why British imperialists went to places like Iraq and Afghanistan. We viewed that sort of imperial adventurism with disdain. But, it's really become part of what we do. Amy Goodman asks Bacevich "Who benefits?" Bacevich: "From the war? There are obviously corporations, contractors who benefit, and I would not—never want to dismiss that, but I don’t really think that that provides us an adequate explanation of how we got into this fix. I think who really benefits or what benefits is the political status quo." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 8, 2008 | perma-link | (32) comments

The Rawness
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Rawness is one smart, fresh, and funny writer. Read here about how to have fun tormenting hipster "music Nazis," and here about some of the books that turned The Rawness into the raw kind of conservative that he is. This posting about ghetto black males struck me as really brilliant. Great passage: Even though they are doing their best to be supernigga, they still do things in a feminine way because feminine influences are most of what they know. Most of their role models and involved family members are women, and the few men in their lives were likely raised by only women too. And it shows in how they handle conflict: grudges are held forever, they never know how to let anything slide, they think primarily with emotion and are prone to outbursts, drama and confrontation and most importantly, they don’t know how to choose their battles. True male behavior isn’t being a drama queen, being highly prone to emotional outbursts and holding onto grudges; true male behavior is picking your battles, knowing when to fight and when to let things slide, analyzing things calmly and logically and having discipline over your moods and emotions and exercising emotional restraint. These are things that a true alpha male influence teaches you, and such influences have almost disappeared completely from the hood. That "these guys are modeling female behaviors" bit is an angle that I'd never given a single thought to before. Some of The Rawness' other postings about black issues can be gotten to here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 8, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Political Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Paul Farrell declares that the U.S. has a "war economy," and tries to figure out why we put up with it. * Charles Whelan explains some of the reasons why GWBush isn't a conservative. Nice line: "We're spending like drunken sailors, but we're not even getting the hookers and booze." * Libertarian Robert Higgs finds that he can agree with some of leftie Thomas Franks' complaints. It's only after the complaining is over that the differences kick in. * Paul Craig Roberts offers a different take on Franks' book. A nice bit: Why does Frank think that conservatives or liberals rule? Neither rule. America is ruled by organized interest groups with money to elect candidates who serve their interests. * Karen De Coster wants people to stop conceiving of their houses as "investments" and start thinking of them as "durable consumer goods" instead. * I enjoyed Justin Raimondo's funny and offbeat piece about HGTV. Raimondo makes the case that the home-and-lifestyle channel is TV's only real conservative outlet. "I’d much rather watch a few episodes of 'My Parents Home' than read, say, National Review," he writes. * Stephan looks at who's on the panel of the (government-sponsored, of course) National Cholesterol Education Program, and discovers that eight out of nine of them might fairly be described as statin-industry shills. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 8, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Friday, September 5, 2008

Quote for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- From the Washington Post's Robert J. Samuelson: For most Americans, living standards are increasing, albeit slowly, over any meaningful period. But rising health spending is eroding take-home pay, and immigrants are boosting both poverty and the lack of health insurance. Unless we control health spending and immigration, the economic report card will continue to disappoint. Unfortunately, neither Obama nor McCain seriously addresses these problems. Fun fact from Samuelson's very interesting column: "Since 1990, Hispanics numerically account for all the increase in the number of officially poor." More here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 5, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments

Un-PC Reading 3: Secession
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Tyler Cowen raises a charged topic: secession. Commenters pitch in zestily. No idea why, but I've been thinking about secession myself recently. For no particular reason -- election season, maybe? -- I've found myself wondering, If the U.S. should break up, would I grieve? If Vermont, say, were to secede, would it bug me? Would I object? I don't think I would. And I say this as someone who's very fond of the U.S. The question, of course, is: Which U.S.? As that bard of Western NY Bill Kauffman says: "I love the old republic, and I hate the American Empire." The America of McCain and Obama can fall into a million pieces as far as I'm concerned. It's the people and communities that I care about -- and they might well do better for themselves by leaving the Empire. Bonus points: Here's the website of the American Secession Movement. Robert Higgs thinks that the historians who makes lists of Great Presidents get it all wrong. Thomas DiLorenzo thinks it's past time that people wake up to the damage that Abe Lincoln did. I asked visitors for guidance about Lincoln. Buy a copy of Bill Kauffman's wonderful Western NY classic "Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette" here. Bill calls Gore Vidal "the last Republican." By "Republican," I don't think he means that Vidal votes Republican ... I read some of Vidal's American history novels and blogged about them here. I interviewed Bill Kauffman. Get to all five parts from this page. Read about a genuine contemporary Vermont secessionist movement, the Second Vermont Republic. The blog No Treason is sympathetic to secessionism. Eco-leftie Kirkpatrick Sale talks to the New York Times about secession. Sale makes a bioregionalist case for secession here. Get to know a YouTube channel devoted to secessionism. As far as I've been able to tell, the dean of secessionism is the Emory philosophy professor Donald Livingston, who presents history as a story of the centralizers vs. the decentralizers. If it matters: I've listened to a number of Livingston podcasts and I've read a number of his essays, and I find his accounts convincing and his arguments compelling. In any case: well worth a wrestle. Sample Livingston's podcasts here. As for essays, try here and here. A nice passage from one of them: Talk about secession makes Americans nervous. For many it evokes images of the Civil War, and is emotionally (if not logically) tied to slavery, war, and anarchy. That the word “secession” is laden with these negative connotations should be surprising since America was born in an act of secession. The Declaration of Independence is a secession document justifying an act whereby "one people...dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another." George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson were secessionists. Americans should be the last people in the world embarrassed by the thought of secession. Previous installments in this Un-PC Reading series are here, here, and here. Thanks to Dave... posted by Michael at September 5, 2008 | perma-link | (53) comments

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Third-party Voting
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- [Yawn] Quiet week. Gotta pack for a trip to the Northeast and Canada. Peck away on that book chapter. Not much news. The Democrats nominated somebody or other for President last week and maybe the Republicans will do the same this week. Or next. Whatever. [Yawn] I'm bored. Oughtta stir things up around here. But that's what Michael's good at, not me. Oh, hell. Why not? Wave a red cape at that bull. Give the ant hill a good kick. Lotsa libertarians hereabouts, so why not talk about third parties and voting for them versus voting for one of the bigs. Lacking in imagination, I've never seriously considered voting for a third party candidate at any level above the local. To me, it's a case of damage control; if you vote for a third-party candidate instead of a guy you aren't too fond of, you increase the odds of winning for somebody whose politics you definitely don't like. Others disagree. I already know some of their likely arguments, but won't steal any thunder. It's a fact that no third party has advanced to top-tier status in this country in around 150 years. In the 20th century, there were maybe five halfway important outsider runs at the presidency, none of which captured more than a few states and none of which resulted in a new party that can be seriously considered to have endured. In chronological order, we have Teddy Roosevelt's 1912 Bull Moose Party, Eugene Debbs' 1904-1920 presidential runs under the Socialist banner, Strom Thurmond's Dixiecrat effort of 1948, George Wallace's American Independent Party of 1968 and Ross Perot's 1992 run. It can be argued that TR's campaign prevented Taft from winning a second term and that Perot did the same to the elder George Bush. But the Dixiecrats did not prevent Truman from prevailing. It has been said that minor parties have the effect of feeding ideas to major parties. I haven't studied this matter and won't pass judgment on that claim. What I do know is that major parties can be transformed internally due to generational change -- the recruitment of new adherents while older activists pass from the scene. For example, the Republican party was transformed over the 40 years between 1940 and 1980 from being isolationist to internationalist-interventionist while the Democratic party was going the opposite direction. Note that other aspects of the two parties changed less. So here we go. Is it worth voting for a third party in presidential elections? If so, why? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 3, 2008 | perma-link | (18) comments

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Meet the GOP's biggest donor. (Link now updated and functioning.) * Steve Sailer lifts the lid on the way the game is played in Chicago. Obama makes a few appearances. One especially nice passage: Contract set-asides for minorities provide a lucrative opening for crooks like [now-jailed Obama backer, Syrian immigrant Tony] Rezko. The demand for "diversity" provides an excuse for a thumb on the scales, a justification for diverting the contract from the lowest bidder to a political ally who employs a minority frontman. Most of America's pundit class hasn't figured this out yet, but Rezko grasped how "diversity" works soon after getting off the plane. * While most Republicans are standing up for their girl Sarah Polin, rightie Heather Mac Donald writes that McCain's choice was a disgraceful "diversity ploy." Where's Preston Sturges when you need him? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 2, 2008 | perma-link | (20) comments

Monday, September 1, 2008

Great Depression Alt-Hist
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Hey history buffs! It's alternative history time again at 2Blowhards!! This time, the subject won't be war. Instead, suppose the Great Depression of the 1930s had simply been a nasty recession lasting two or maybe three years instead of grinding on for nearly a decade in the United States. To set the stage, some economists contend that the bad economic times were as severe as they were and continued far longer than normal because of a reactive imposition of protective tariffs by the United States and other economic powers. Let's assume this contention was true and that, instead, tariffs were not altered, resulting in a shorter, less-painful downturn. I am not an economist, though I brushed elbows with them professionally for most of my working career. So please do not assume that I necessarily believe that the collapse of world trade was a factor in how the Depression played out. The explanation superficially makes sense, but I'll leave it to Lex Green, his Chicago Boyz buddies and other knowledgeables to discuss that. Do keep in mind that our present wealth of economic data didn't exist in 1929 or 1930, so the actors at the time as well as current researchers have a lot less to work with when studying economic events of that era. Regardless, the hypothetical I'd like us to play with is a shorter, gentler depression or whatever it might be called. Now for my two cents. If the United States was clearly on the economic upswing by the start of 1932, Herbert Hoover might have remained in the White House. And even if Franklin Roosevelt or another Democrat had won that fall's election, the likelihood that the New Deal would have happened would be nil. I suppose a few programs might have made their way into law, but not the whole thing. Today's politics and economics would be considerably different, absent the New Deal push to big government. I'm less sure of the impact in Europe. France, if I understand correctly, was a little late to the Depression. So an early end to it might have allowed that country to skate through without a lot of damage. The Popular Front might never have happened or happened in a different way. As for Germany, Hitler's assumption of power was one of those near-run things. Given a recovering economy in the fall of 1932, there's a good chance he would not have been able to make his bid in 1933. Whether he might have been able to pull it off later is impossible to say, though I'm inclined to doubt it. Finally, it's likely that the Auburn, Pierce-Arrow and Reo automobile companies would have been introducing their 1940 models in the late summer of 1939. And what is your alternative version of history without a Great Depression? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 1, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Friday, August 29, 2008

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The country most afflicted by spam is Switzerland, where 84.2 percent of all email is spam. (The percentage in the U.S. is 79.8.) Source. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 29, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Ideal Speech Length
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It's political convention time and, for some strange reason, I got to thinking about the length of speeches. As I write this, Obama has yet to deliver his acceptance speech. But the speechifying at the Democrat convention is nearly over and I'm pleased to report that most of the ones I heard were blessedly brief. Even Bill Clinton who, given ten minutes, went on for only around 20, discounting applause. That's a big improvement over his State of the Union speeches that seemed to soak up an hour or so. I suppose the ideal speech length is equivalent to Abraham Lincoln's (well, he's the guy I 've heard it linked to) quip that one's legs should be long enough to reach the floor. In other words, it should be long enough to do the job, but no longer. That, and the speaker should leave 'em wanting more. Nevertheless, I hark back to the monthly army "training" sessions I had to endure while stationed at Fort Meade, Maryland. Part of the drill was a "character guidance" segment given by one of the chaplains. The best of that lot was Father Nosser. He'd walk into the room. light up a non-filtered Camel cigarette, droop himself over the lectern and start talking. Eight or so minutes later, when the cigarette was about 3/8ths of an inch long, he'd grind it out and stop his lecture. Smart guy, that Father Nosser. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 28, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Ropke Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- An underknown giant in economic thought -- or so it seems to me -- is the German "ordoliberal" Wilhelm Ropke ). An advocate of the free market, Ropke nonetheless spent much of his career gnawing over the question: "What if the activities of the free market undermine the social conditions that the existence of a free market depends on?" Many who argue that a society isn't just a marketplace turn out to be either boring ol' leftists or boring ol' rightists, of course. Considerably Crunchy (localism, federalism, respect for small farms and businesses) yet much preoccupied with the basics (soundness of currency, noninterference, ease of trading), Ropke seems to me to offer a refreshing alternative to the two-teams-and-only-two-teams shootout that we're used to (dogmatic "freemarketers" vs. top-down, dial-twisting Keynesians). He was anything but a True Believer, disliking Socialism and statist capitalism equally. "Good man!", sez I. There aren't many Ropke resources on the web at this point -- the fate, perhaps, of those who don't play along with the usual version of the usual story. But some of them are awfully good. * John Zmirak's short intro to Ropke makes a punchy and likable starting point. Zmirak's longer essay introduces some depth and complexity into the picture. * Zmirak's book-length intro to Ropke is a clear and fast read. (John Attarian writes a very informative review of the book here.) Zmirak himself is a very interesting guy in his own right, provided that your tolerance for being-interested-in- and-amused-by Catholicism is pretty high. He makes regular appearances at Taki's magazine. * Shawn Ritenour's article-length biography of Ropke fills in much of the personal story. * Note where these links lead: Vdare ... The Mises Institute ... Weird, isn't it, the way that someone as Small-Is-Beautiful and Crunchy -- someone as downright liberal -- as Ropke has these days become the property of what's currently thought of as the fringe Right? How to explain this? * Alan Carlson's brainy and handy-dandy intro includes this concise passage: Röpke once declared: "It is the precept of ethical and humane behaviour, no less than of political wisdom, to adapt economic policy to man, not man to economic policy." He was a fierce foe of both state socialism and uncontrolled capitalism. He advocated a market-friendly but socially responsible free enterprise economy based on widespread ownership of property and economic enterprises. Fun to see Carlson making a connection between Ropke and the New Urbanism. * Ropke may be one of those cases where you're better-off sticking with the secondary material. Though a magnificent thinker -- and nothing if not clear in his presentation of his perceptions, ideas, and arguments -- Ropke was a sadly boring writer, ponderous-old-Swiss-professor division. His "A Humane Society," "The German Question," and "The Economics of a Free Society" are great books, but if you're like superficial me and like prose that has some tang, zip, and spin in it, you may spend a lot of time in... posted by Michael at August 28, 2008 | perma-link | (16) comments

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Did you know that the Census Bureau has revised its estimate of how many Hispanics will be living in the U.S. in 2050 twice in the last decade? Upwards in both cases, as if you didn't know. Current best guess: In 2050, the U.S. will be home to 133 million Hispanics. That's an increase of 100 million in just 50 years. Steve Sailer asks a wonderfully blunt, Steve-esque set of questions: Is adding 100 million Latinos to the U.S. population a good idea? Will it "form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity"? (That’s the first sentence of something called the "U.S. Constitution"—a once-celebrated document put together way back when by a bunch of long-dead white guys, some of whom were slave-owners.) We the people are supposed to have a say in such things. But how can we have a say when we're not supposed to talk about it? * Mexico is opening a full-scale consulate in Anchorage, Alaska. * The Irish Independant's Kevin Myers continues pointing out uncomfortable facts. For example: "Contrary to almost all predictions about the impact of immigrants upon an economy, a majority of Nigerians [in Ireland] are not economically active at all." He also continues asking hard questions: Why are so many people, from a country to which we have no moral or legal or historical obligations, living off this state? Why are they being allowed through immigration, if they have no jobs to go to? Why are they choosing to come to Ireland, when 20 countries or more lie between their homeland and ourselves? And finally, and perhaps most important of all, why is no one else asking why? * A round of applause, please, for Hibernia Girl, who's retiring from the blogosphere to return to school. Immigration restrictionists and skeptics are usually portrayed by the establishment as knuckle-draggers, haters, and (inevitably) racists. Ever cheerful, generous, and clear-eyed, Hibernia Girl didn't just supply regular shots of information and common sense, she showed that resistance to the establishment's immigration plans can be a humane and sophisticated stance. A fun fact that she passed along recently: 59% of Irish voters want "much stricter limits" on immigration to Ireland. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 24, 2008 | perma-link | (47) comments

Monday, August 18, 2008

Political Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * It's almost enough to rekindle my faith in humanity: The percentage of people who think Congress is doing a good job recently dipped into the single digits. * Meet the Libertarian Party's presidential candidate, Bob Barr. Link thanks to the smart and interesting Nathancontramundi, who also reprints a great passage from one of my faves, Wilhelm Ropke: "The welfare state itself takes care of a sort of comfortable stall-feeding of the domesticated masses. Is this not bound to work to the benefit precisely of existing large firms?" * Dave Lull wonders if Peggy Noonan has taken to channeling Bill Kauffman. Hey, team: Politics in America isn't just a matter of Dems vs. Repubs, it also has to do with our rootless, centralizing elites vs. the rest of us. Nice passage from Peggy: OK, quick, close your eyes. Where is Barack Obama from? He's from Young. He's from the town of Smooth in the state of Well Educated. He's from TV. John McCain? He's from Military. He's from Vietnam Township in the Sunbelt state. Chicago? That's where Mr. Obama wound up. * Lester Hunt examines what sounds like a kooky new idea: the tragedy of the anticommons. * Agnostic wonders if porn really has gone mainstream. Don't skip the comments. Postmodern Conservative responds. * Randall Parker isn't thrilled by the way honor killings have begun showing up in American crime stats. * Orthodox Agrarian feels inspired by the folk culture of the Scandinavian peasantry. * Is what really drives many liberals a crusading, even zealous desire to achieve one world? * Thomas Fleming explains some of the cultural differences between the U.S. and Mexico. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 18, 2008 | perma-link | (11) comments

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In Iraq, Al-Qaeda leaders have attempted to prevent women from buying cucumbers. Source. Still, there's no getting around it: A woman handling a cucumber can be a suggestive thing. My suggestion: How about we enjoy the moment and maintain a decent amount of self-control at the same time? Hey, how about we experience that combo -- arousal, humor, and dignity -- as sexily worthwhile in its own right? Enlighten me please: What is it that fundamentalists find so threatening about contrasts, dissonances, multiple levels, ironies, paradoxes, provocations, and flirtations? I pretty much live for 'em myself. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 18, 2008 | perma-link | (81) comments

Friday, August 15, 2008

Demographics, Politics, Discourse, Frankness
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Census Bureau now predicts that whites will be in the minority in the U.S. by 2042. As a disliker of rapid population growth, I'll issue a semi-related groan over the fact that by 2042 the U.S. will likely have almost three times as many inhabitants as it had when I was born. Some subversive thoughts on the general topic come from Elizabeth Wright: What will be the consequence of other cultures dominating this formerly Anglo land? Will it matter ... if Asian groups, led by the Chinese and east Indians, displace the leading whites? (In the end, a century from now, regardless of the size of the Hispanic/Latino population, the Chinese and east Indians probably will have navigated their way to the national leadership positions.) As the Anglo-Euro population diminishes, why would people from these alien cultures subscribe to the prescriptions of a Thomas Jefferson, or care about the legacy of Magna Carta? When would the squabbling between the various ethnics begin over whose law is wisest and best fit to rule in the new, predominantly colored America? Punchline: The woman behind these words is anything but a white triumphalist, let alone a white nationalist. In fact, she's black. As I've tried to suggest in some previous postings on immigration policy, one of the things I dislike most about our current practices is that they're an insult and a disservice to the U.S.'s black population. A fun quote comes from Salon's Glenn Greenwald: One of the most striking aspects of our political discourse, particularly during election time, is how efficiently certain views that deviate from the elite consensus are banished from sight -- simply prohibited -- even when those views are held by the vast majority of citizens. I'll say. Greenwald is mainly writing about attitudes towards the mideast, but much same thing might be said about attitudes towards immigration policy. In polls, the percentage of Americans who feel that our policies are too liberal, if not downright nutty, runs from 60-80%. There are few political topics that many Americans feel as strongly about. Yet how openly -- and how regularly -- is the immigration issue discussed in our mainstream media, let alone by our most important candidates? The very smart, provocative, and rewarding Elizabeth Wright blogs here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 15, 2008 | perma-link | (27) comments

Monday, August 11, 2008

Which Conservatism?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Jack Kerwick thinks that neoconservatives don't deserve to be called conservative at all. * Bill Kauffman recounts some of the history of anti-war conservatism. Buy Bill's book on the topic here. Thomas Woods reviews the book. Bill wrote about Ron Paul here. 2Blowhards interviewed Bill Kauffman. Access all five parts from this posting. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 11, 2008 | perma-link | (13) comments

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Presidential "Race"
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- In the last few weeks a lot of ink and pixels have been spilled regarding the injection of race ("playing the race card") into the current presidential campaign. Here is one blog post I pulled off the Web documenting that there's an issue out there. It mentions that New York Times columnist Bob Herbert is upset that a John McCain video ad featured two white celebrity women and phallic symbolism as racist smearing of Barak Obama. (Apparently juxtaposing images of white women and a black man sends a racist signal.) I, your obedient servant, was aghast. Those racist RepubliKKKans are at it again! So I quickly polished my carefully honed Ivy League Ph.D.-in-Sociology research skills in an attempt to determine if this ghastly practice has spread beyond the confines of the usual right-wing fever swamps. And I discovered that it has!!! Gallery Rolling Stone - 20 March 2008 Jann Wenner has been known to stoop to publishing controversial items; anyone remember the "plaster casters" from the early days of the mag? The cover shown above has an image of Barak Obama that clearly suggests that the man might possibly be black/African-American. Time - 23 October 2006 Even mainstream news magazines have been in the process of inciting foul, mouth-breathing Klansmen to stagger away from their moonshine stills to vote their despicable prejudices. Observe that, one again, Barak Obama is portrayed as having somewhat dark skin color. Was some minor Time staffer playing around with Photo Shop or were senior editors involved in this smear? Newsweek, no date It was Newsweek that out-did the racism from the McCain gang. The vile video simply began with images of the white women before cutting to views of Obama. The cover shown above actually portrays Obama and a white woman together!!! Just what do you think those inbred rednecks will think of that? Oh, and note the not-so-subtle featuring of the word "Race" in the headline. Obviously the 2008 presidential campaign has turned viciously racist. I blame the mainstream news media. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 7, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Quote for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- What explains the fantastic amount of resources that Americans have thrown into combating a nonexistent Muslim threat to the United States, while acquiescing to decades-long encroachment by illegal aliens? Source. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 31, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The largest private-sector employer in Africa is ... Coca-Cola. Source. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 27, 2008 | perma-link | (0) comments

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Un-PC Reading 2.5
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Back here I linked to a bravely un-PC column by Kevin Myers asking why the West bothers trying to save Africa. Hibernia Girl points out that Myers has written a followup column, and another, both of them as un-PC as the original column. * Don't miss Hibernia Girl's shrewd musings about why some societies require their women to cover their hair. * Back here I wrote about how much I value the work of the journalist Steve Sailer, who is so un-PC that he barely registers on the MSM's radar screen. I'm pleased to notice that Steve got a substantial mention in a recent CNN article about Barack Obama. As I wrote on Steve's blog, "I've long suspected that many in the MSM read Steve Sailer. Here's hoping that more of them will start to come out of the closet." * Back here I linked to some un-PC essays about current relations between the sexes by F. Roger Devlin. The smart and funny Roissy has picked up on Devlin and has written a provocative blog posting about the essays. Don't miss the commentsthread on Roissy's posting -- or for that matter the commentsthread on this brief warmup posting: It's Thursday vs. Clio. Perhaps F. Roger Devlin's ideas are on their way to becoming full-fledged memes. Here's Devlin's latest. Thanks once again to 2Blowhards commenter "anon," who introduced us to Devlin's writing. * More on dating, singlehood, pairing-up, women, and men. (Link thanks to Cheryl Miller.) * The Rawness attempts to explain why some women have a hard time getting hitched, part one. The Rawness is always a rockin' read. * How will Obama win over the elderly Jews? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 24, 2008 | perma-link | (19) comments

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Political Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Obama, the brand. * Bill Kauffman thinks that John McCain's Town Meetings have been farces. (Link thanks to fellow Kauffman fan Dave Lull.) * Crazy immigration policies in England have led to rising housing prices and declining services. Now who could ever have forseen such a development? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 20, 2008 | perma-link | (11) comments

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It must be an election year. I'm noticing more references to "greed" than usual. Greed seems to be a perennial topic with emphasis on it ebbing and flowing, but never coming close to being absent. I recall acquaintances bemoaning greed at one point during the Reagan years, and they were tying greed to Administration attitudes and policies. This is typical. People on the left have a strong tendency to see greed as being either a right-wing or an AmeriKKKan phenomenon or both. Presumably non-righties and non-Americans are exempt from greed. Me? I've always assumed that greed is a human constant. Unless we're Hindus, we only live one life, right? So why not make the most of what circumstances hand us? Not all people are in a Go For It mode, but apparently enough have been so over time that there was hand-wringing over greed long before there were RepubliKKKans or AmeriKKKa. Does that make greed good? Not necessarily. But critics do need to calm down and realize that it's part of human nature. Or maybe they know that already and are using greed as a club to score political points while they ponder buying one Cadillac Escalade versus three Priuses this fall. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 17, 2008 | perma-link | (19) comments

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Un-PC Reading 1: Kevin Myers
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'd be curious to hear how visitors respond to three decidedly un-PC articles that I've run across recently. To spill my own reaction to all three: Wowee -- not sure I can go all the way there myself, but what a lot of interesting points and provocative arguments have been made. Today's non-PC reading: Kevin Myers in the Irish Times writes that Africa ought to be recognized as a lost cause. A few questions to kick the conversation off. Ever felt that way yourself? Do you experience a strong sense of moral obligation to solve Africa's problems? Myers makes numerous points. Which have some validity? Which don't? Me, I confess that I don't fully understand the "We must save Africa" stance. Seems to me like a lot of moral grandstanding goes into it, though that may be unjust of me. I wish Africa well, of course, and if you feel like contributing money or efforts I urge you to go right ahead. But why this sense that the entire world must, simply must, make a cause out of Africa? What's your own response to Myers' nothing-if-not-provocative editorial? Nose-holding and name-calling are hereby discouraged, though the futility of that injunction is also hereby noted. Related: Kenyan economist James Shikwati wishes that rich countries would stop sending aid to Africa. Perhaps our do-goodism has helped turn the continent into a professional charity case? Hibernia Girl comments here and here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 16, 2008 | perma-link | (25) comments

Monday, July 14, 2008

Travel Advisory
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In their quest to make airline travel ever more pleasant and civilized, American Airlines charges transcontinental coach passengers 10 bucks for a lousy sandwich. Plus we now have this recent innovation to savor: It's almost as though the airlines want the government to re-commit to a sensible national train system, isn't it? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 14, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Too Good
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- More economic wisdom than we probably deserve, courtesy of The Onion. (Link thanks to FvB.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 14, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

Monday, July 7, 2008

More Toulmin
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The LA Times profiles an inspiring, tough-love-style English teacher. (Link thanks to Dave Lull.) Fun to see that he's influenced by the philosopher Stephen Toulmin, who I raved about back here. For the life of me I can't figure out why Toulmin isn't a zillion times better-known than he is. You can learn a lot about Toulmin and his ideas from this excellent Teaching Company lecture series. Unless you have money to burn, though, don't buy the series until it's offered on sale, when the cost will be less than half what it currently is. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 7, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- It seems that even the Brits -- the Brits! legendary for coldness towards children! -- are now making too damn much anxious / selfish fuss over their kids, and are producing a cohort of overentitled brats. Funny new word for the day: "kindergarchy," defined as "an affluent new world order in which children rule." Scary! But, my, isn't there a lot of evidence around for it? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 2, 2008 | perma-link | (73) comments

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Reading Journal: "Gross National Happiness"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Arthur C. Brooks' book is a survey of happiness studies, combined with political-policy suggestions. Did Brooks write the book as a response to Richard Layard's "Happiness"? Where the British Layard -- a Labour life peer in the House of Lords -- uses happiness studies to bolster up a traditional social-democratic agenda, Brooks looks at the same (or similar) data and reaches mostly conservative conclusions: Economic opportunity raises people's happiness levels, where social-welfare taxing-and-spending lowers them. So let's promote opportunity and be wary of government programs. But Brooks isn't dogmatic, and he's responsive to the evidence. If marriage, family, and religion matter to happiness, so do job-satisfaction, professional success, charitable giving, and volunteer work. Short version: There's a lot to be said for solid values, and for living 'em. This is a pleasing point-of-view to me. But in the case of both books, I enjoyed the well-done happiness-studies surveys far more than the op-ed arguments. The main reason is dopily basic: I'm simply hyper-skeptical of using happiness studies as a basis for setting policy. I mean, happiness? Talk about a soft, still young, and easy-to-interpret-in-a-zillion-ways social so-called "science." Although I do think that "if a policy is clearly making us miserable, then why are we pursuing it?" isn't a bad argument. And I do celebrate the fact that economists are studying happiness. Anything that introduces a bit of humanity into the field, eh? Softness isn't just squishiness. It's also a big part of life, and well worth our attention. FWIW, although Layard's book is much the more fluent read, Brooks' book -- despite being a bit plodding and earnest -- strikes me as subtler, fresher, and more original. One especially nice passage comes in the midst of a look at the fact that, in the U.S., political conservatives are, as a bunch, markedly happier than political liberals. Why should this be the case? The American left has occupied itself for decades with the plight of victims -- victims of discrimination, of class, of circumstance, and of exploitation -- who lack control over their fate. In many cases, such as during the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, this focus was not only justifiable, but noble and important for America, and instrumental in giving victims more control over their lives. Bu inasmuch as the American left is now a coalition of groups that define themselves as victims of social and economic forces, and inasmuch as liberals encourage these feelings of victimization in order to mobilize votes, liberal leaders inevitably make themselves and their constituents unhappy. Not a bad shot at an explanation. Semi-related: Friedrich von Blowhard expressed reservations about happiness studies here. I mused at length about free-marketeers and happiness studies here. Richard Layard talks to -- inevitably -- the Guardian. Here's a video interview with Arthur C. Brooks; here's a text interview with him. Buy a copy of "Gross National Happiness" here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 26, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Friday, June 20, 2008

Obama Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Is Obama an alternative to the usual thing or just more of the same? * Randall Parker wonders how big a spender Obama will prove to be -- and will be able to be. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 20, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sticker It To 'Em
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few months ago I posted about a set of political bumper stickers I noticed in the neighborhood. I am pleased to report that Your Obedient Servant is still on the case, Seattle and its University of Washington environs being a hotbed of printed paper and adhesives. While I really, truly would like to get photos of a car smeared with non-leftie stickers, alas I have thus far failed. But I'll keep my eyes peeled and digital camera hooked on my belt should I spot that prey. Meanwhile, here are two examples of citizens doing their best to educate passersby. Gallery I took this photo today, but see the decorated Prius often because it's usually parked near a street I drive every few days. The black and yellow sticker near the tail light says "Send our kids to college not Iraq!" I find this truly enlightening because I hadn't realized that college and Iraq was an either-or situation. Although this goes beyond the content of the sticker, it raised the question of the possibility that BusHitler might be sending press gangs to shanghai college students for shipment to Mosul and Basra. The owner of the Prius was kind enough to offer readers the remedy of voting for Obama. After all, criticism without proposing a solution is pretty vacuous. Oh wait! There even another solution. Over on the left I read the word "Impeach" in big letters. Wonder if that applies to Bush or if he's getting geared up for Obama; sadly, the sticker offers no clue. This vehicle hangs out a lot at the University Village shopping center, an upscale retailing paradise down the hill from the UW's Greek Row. These pictures were taken during the winter. The yellow sticker above the license plate reads "Killing one person is murder. Killing thousands is domestic policy. Investigate 9/11." That seems to set the scene. Close-ups follow. Okay, I misled you. It is a close-up, but of a sign inside a side-window. And this was one of the signs inside the rear window. The images are Photoshpped pictures of Adminstration officials upon whose heads are placed old photos of hats, probably mostly those of World War 2 Wehrmacht officers who, by the way, weren't necessarily members of the National Socialist German Workers Party. Anyway, that's Bush at the top left, and Condi Rice is at the center of the lower row. I spotted the vehicle recently and noticed that this sign had been removed. I don't know why, but will speculate that it suddenly dawned on the owner that here in fascist AmeriKKKa, he was running a serious risk of hearing a 3 a.m. knock on the door and being swept off to one of the many concentration camps the Administration surely has established. No sign of an Obama sticker, so it's unclear if this patriot has a solution in mind other than a trial under undetermined auspices. I'll be on the alert and will report... posted by Donald at June 15, 2008 | perma-link | (24) comments

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Immigration Restriction Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Randall Parker points out that immigration reduction has the side benefit of reducing overall population growth. (Link thanks to FvBlowhard.) * Hibernia Girl dares anyone to call her a racist, and notices a study reporting that righties have more sex than lefties do. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 11, 2008 | perma-link | (24) comments

Thursday, June 5, 2008

"Foundations of Western Civilization"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Thomas F.X. Noble's lecture series is a topnotch Teaching Company offering. It's a great intro to Western Civ -- the one you probably should have taken as a Freshman but skipped, or that you did take as a Freshman and that wasn't very good, or that was perfectly OK but that you didn't pay enough attention to. Guiding the listener from pre-history to the 1600s, Noble delivers both the classical basics as well as a lot in the way of more open, searching, and complex material. His virtues as a presenter and summarizer are many. He's good at reminding us that people in, say, 1400 had no idea what their actions would lead to. He's modest about what's known, and about what can be known. He's informative about disputes and controversies. He regularly reminds us that women were part of the Western Civ story, and he doesn't fall for the idea that history consists of nothing but Great Men and their battles -- though he doesn't forget about them either. And, though the material is crisp, focused, and well-rehearsed, his voice and mind are alive. He never drones; he's full of fervor, humor, and enthusiasm. (A small technical note: I'm awestruck by the way Noble moves back and forth between the big picture and the closeup, and knows exactly when the audience needs such a shift.) Two small misgivings. 1) I wish that Noble made more use of genetics and linguistics. 2) I'm always more curious than historians seem to be about how people paid their bills. But these are just minor quibbles. Noble's series is so good that it made me wonder why such a class should need to be delivered ever again. Can anyone do better? FWIW, my main idiot reaction was, "Wow, that medieval period was really interesting!" You can buy Noble's series here, though I suggest waiting until The Teaching Company puts it on sale, when it'll cost about 1/3 its list price. For more Teaching Company recommendations (from visitors as well as from me), type "Teaching Company" into the Search box in the left-hand column of this blog. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 5, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

More on Immigration
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * It's a "demographic revolution" in Australia: 24% of the population in Australia is foreign-born, twice the proportion as in the U.S., and triple as in England and Wales. Well, why shouldn't Aussies share in the unwanted fun too, eh? * How are those millions of Mexicans assimilating into U.S. society? Not very well, says a new Russell Sage Foundation study that followed its subjects for nearly 40 years. Money quote: "Unlike the descendants of European immigrants to the United States, Mexican Americans have not fully integrated by the third and fourth generation." (Link thanks to visitor Scott.) * Learn more about the "Mexican family values" that our leaders are so enamored of. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 20, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Oil Depletion Blog
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Anyone whose interest was Piqued by recent Peak Oil discussions on this blog should check out Scott's OilDepletionDebate blog. Scads of facts, thoughts, and links. Scroll down to the bottom of the current page and you'll find ways to watch and listen to talks by all kinds of experts and authorities. There's more than enough fodder at Scott's blog to keep the conversation churning for a very long time. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 17, 2008 | perma-link | (24) comments

Thursday, May 15, 2008

McCain's Prediction
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Well, that's certainly a relief! But what if he's being optimistic? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 15, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Peak Oil, Simmons, Kunstler
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Those curious about the Peak Oil theory but perhaps a little tired of James Kunstler may enjoy this interview with investment banker, conservative dude, and Peak Oil believer Matthew Simmons. It would be hard to turn up a clearer, more concise presentation of the thesis than this one. If you haven't had your fill of Kunstler, here's an interview in which he brings together nearly all his themes. One especially nice passage: The ideas issuing from the highest circles of architectural education today are patent absurdities, such as the idea that novelty ought to trump the public interest, or the idea that ‘creativity’ (so-called) is a superior method than the emulation of forms that have already proven successful (meaning problems already solved). Personally, I view some of the leading architects of our time as being among the wickedest people in the world ... The record of their ideology in the cities and towns of America is there for anyone to see: abandonment, ruin, and the dishonour of the public realm. I know less than nothing about Peak Oil. But where Kunstler's evaluation of the high-end architecture establishment and its work goes, I'm with him all the way. Best, Michael UPDATE: Thanks to BIOH, who points out a blog that takes quite a different view of Peak Oil.... posted by Michael at May 15, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Question for our Presidential Candidates
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, The blogger Hellasious raises an interesting point I haven't heard dicussed much by any of our presidential candidates: …at $120 per barrel, revenue from exporting crude oil and its products comes to over $1.85 trillion per year. The Middle East alone gets nearly a trillion and the former Soviet Union $300 billion - and that's before including natural gas. At current oil prices, this is by far the largest capital recycling and concentration pump in the entire history of the world. A dollar may not buy as much as it used to, but a trillion every year still buys plenty…Very plenty, in fact: [it buys] US and European banks, other resource companies like ore and coal miners, shipping and port operators, electricity, water and telecom providers and a host of other essential businesses. That's where all the SWF [sovereign wealth fund] and private oil money is going, most commonly channelled through secretive private equity funds. Obviously, the oil exporters are furiously planning for their post-Peak Oil future: sensibly, they don't want to ride camels again. And if this goes on much longer, by the time their oil wells start to decline they will own everything that matters and will be sitting - literally - atop all the money in the world. What are the rest of us - Americans and Europeans alike - doing to plan our post-peak future? Next to nothing, is the painful answer. If a few EU nations like Germany, Denmark and Spain are attempting to face the alternative energy challenge, the US as the largest oil consumer is making a momentous mistake by its absence. Stubborn reliance on imported oil is rapidly impoverishing the nation. That sucking sound we all hear in our pockets is money vacuumed out by the oil exporters, only to come back as foreign equity ownership of everything. I think a detailed policy response to this situation would be kind of reassuring from our future leaders, don't you? Cheers, Friedrich P.S. Is it just me, or is this whole campaign the most surreally irrelevant and, ahem, beside the point exercise you can remember? Surely somebody -- somebody at the DoD perhaps -- must be thinking hard about what the new world heralds and what we might do about it. Or is everybody just asleep at the switch?... posted by Friedrich at May 14, 2008 | perma-link | (17) comments

Friday, May 9, 2008

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Nearly twenty five percent of Los Angeles County’s welfare and food stamp benefits goes directly to the children of illegal aliens, at a cost of $36 million a month. (My emphasis.) Source. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 9, 2008 | perma-link | (19) comments

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

McCain on Hispanics
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- John McCain, setting out to appeal to a certain much-coveted voting bloc, says: "Everything about our Hispanic voters is tailor-made to the Republican message … I know their patriotism, I know the respect for the family, the advocacy for pro-life, I know the small business aspect of our Hispanic voters.” Vdare's Marcus Epstein takes a look at the actual facts: * Only 34% of Hispanics eligible for US citizenship choose to take the necessary steps to take it -- less than any other immigrant group. Of that group, only a third of Hispanics who are American citizens consider themselves Americans first. * Respect for the Family: Half of Hispanic births in the US are out of wedlock. * Pro Life: Hispanics are 2.7 times more likely to have an abortion than whites. * Small Business: Hispanics make up 15% of the population and only 6.6 percent of all businesses. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 6, 2008 | perma-link | (30) comments

Another Helping of Raw Milk
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Raw milk: telltale issue of our time? (Link thanks to visitor Steve.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 6, 2008 | perma-link | (0) comments

Iraq War Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * The embassy that the U.S. is currently constructing in Baghdad covers 104 acres and consists of 21 buildings. It's the largest U.S. embassy in the world. When complete, it will have cost $740 million. It'll cost $1 billion a year to run. Just a hunch, but it sounds to me like we aren't in Iraq for a short visit. (Link thanks to Randall Parker.) * What could you buy for the cost of the Iraq War? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 6, 2008 | perma-link | (11) comments

Monday, May 5, 2008

Education Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Pres. Bush's Reading First program: a big bust that has had zero impact on kids' reading scores. The cost? A mere billion a year. * Since 1986, the price of public education has been rising faster than the price of gasoline. * Busing may be coming to an end in Milwaukee. It has accomplished little, and at a cost of $57 million a year, according to officials. * Charles Murray and Steve Sailer point out a basic fact that educators seem to have a hard time grasping: Half of all kids are sub-average in academic terms. Me, I think that Americans over-obsess about college, and under-acknowledge the value of vocational training. * MBlowhard Rewind: I argued that writing teachers make too much of the "show, don't tell" command. Best, Michael UPDATE: Mike -- whose wife works in special ed -- comments.... posted by Michael at May 5, 2008 | perma-link | (29) comments

The Personal Is Political?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Alice Walker: lousy mom? “My mother is very ideologically based, and her ideology is much more important in many ways than her personal relationships,” says daughter Rebecca Walker, who is no longer in touch with Alice. Another nice passage from Rebecca: Her circle were questioning power relationships and whether a mother had any more knowledge than a child. Some friends of hers were living on communes. I know those kids and they’re totally screwed up. Some were sexually abused, all kinds of bad stuff happened, but even those who survived intact don’t want to create communes for their children. They didn’t want to be raised by 10 different parents — again, it was this ideological thing trumping the maternal instinct ... I keep telling people feminism is an experiment. And just like in science, you have to assess the outcome of the experiment and adjust according to your results, but my mother and her friends, they see it as truth; they don’t see it as an experiment. So that creates quite a problem. You’ve got young women saying, ‘That didn’t really work for me’ and the older ones saying, ‘Tough, because that’s how it should be’. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 5, 2008 | perma-link | (22) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Is political correctness hobbling the fight against AIDS in Africa? Fact for the day: "In Africa, the incidence of HIV infection is highest in the richest households and the richest countries." More. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 5, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Friday, May 2, 2008

Service Charges
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Daniel Flynn snarls at Ticketmasters' absurd "service charges." Daniel is the author of the new "A Conservative History of the American Left." He's interviewed by FrontPage magazine's Jamie Glazov here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 2, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

Another Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The top 50 hedge fund managers earned a combined $29 billion in 2007. Source. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 2, 2008 | perma-link | (0) comments

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Global population is expected to rise 33% in the next 40 years. Source. Semi-related: I marveled at the way that population growth has been forgotten as a political-ecological-sociological-whatever concern: here, here, here. Patrick Burns puts together a couple of population-growth animations that show that the human race isn't in any immediate danger of going extinct. In fact, if I live to be a hundred, I'll have watched world population rise by 350%, and the U.S.'s population go from 150 million to over 400 million. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 2, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Thursday, May 1, 2008

A Couple of Incarceration Links
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Heather Mac Donald looks at the figures and concludes that the reason so many American jail prisoners are black isn't racism, it's that so many crimes are committed by black people. Sad fact: "From 1976 to 2005, blacks [13% of the population] committed more than 52% of all murders in America." * The Washington Post reports that an overwhelming number of prisoners in French jails are Muslim. Molly Moore visits the Lille-Sequedin Detention Center and writes: "This prison is majority Muslim -- as is virtually every house of incarceration in France. About 60 to 70 percent of all inmates in the country's prison system are Muslim ... though Muslims make up only about 12 percent of the country's population." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 1, 2008 | perma-link | (17) comments

Biz and Travel Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Michael Wade compresses a lot of wisdom about the virtues of quick-and-dirty into this short posting. * Did you know that the cubicle-style office was born of utopian theorizing? * Alan Little returns from a business trip to India. * As the Olympics approach, Welmer recalls what Beijing was like when he was there in the late '90s: here and here. * The dollar is taking a serious dive, of course. (A guy I chatted with last night does business with China. He told me that big-box shoppers -- who have been used to bargains on China-made goods for some years now -- are in for some serious price shocks come the end of 2008.) But how secure is the Euro? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 1, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Monday, April 28, 2008

Immigration on Video
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Learn some of the basics about our current immigration mess from Vdare's Ed Rubenstein: Part One, Part Two. An arresting fact from Ed's presentation: Immigrants and their children will account for 80% of U.S. population growth through mid-century. Heather Mac Donald spells out some further costs. A standout fact from Heather's talk: Since 1989, over 70% of the growth of the health-care uninsured in the U.S. comes from immigrants and their children. George Borjas goes into the topic in considerable depth here. Fun fact from George's talk: Nearly 15% of the American workforce is now foreign-born. In 1970, that figure was less than 5%. How about California's workforce? It's now over one-third foreign-born. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 28, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Friday, April 25, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A couple of amazing facts for the day: Despite high oil prices that have most of the world's oil outfits rolling in cash, Pemex, Mexico's state-run oil company, is managing to lose money. Mexico is rapidly running out of oil -- and oil revenues supply one-third of Mexico's federal budget. Finding more reserves will require Xtreme offshore engineering and drilling stunts, and Mexico isn't technologically up to the challenge. Source. We're talkin', apparently, about the possibility that the Mexican government will collapse, and rather soon. Am I the only person who reads this article and thinks, "Oh, dear. As if Mexicans don't already have enough reasons to try to make it across the border into the U.S...."? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 25, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Rightie Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Daniel McCarthy doesn't think the neocons are going away anytime soon. * Ultra-rightie Lew Rockwell considers John McCain, and bemoans what has become of the right. * "Environmentalism is the quintessential conservative cause," argues Roger Scruton. * Jim Kalb teases out the difference between the cool cat and the gentleman. (Link thanks to visitor William.) * Inflation is back again, of course. But is it always such a bad thing? The Independent Institute's Robert Higgs points out that even activist government-lover J.M. Keynes considered inflation to be a disaster. Nice passage from Keynes: By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens. By this method they not only confiscate, but they confiscate arbitrarily; and, while the process impoverishes many, it actually enriches some. * Rick Darby riffles through some of California's daffier government agencies. Which reminds me: What I really want to hear from candidates is a list of things they'll refuse to do, of laws and regulations that they'll toss or fix, and of government agencies and functions that they'll close down. I'm soooo tired of dynamic and exciting new government initiatives ... Don't the words "already" and "overextended" mean anything to these people? * Dennis Mangan does a good job with the Absolut vodka ad that handed the western U.S. over to Mexico. * Simon Heffer celebrates Enoch Powell. * Steve Sailer tries to puzzle out the economics of polygamy. * Rod Dreher wonders when it's OK for a crunchy-localism fan to go to Starbucks. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 24, 2008 | perma-link | (11) comments

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Eternal Recurrence, American Style
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, I’ve been reading Sean Wilentz’s “The Rise of American Democracy,” a political and social history of antebellum America. I’m enjoying it immensely. I’m not done with it – I’m only up to Jackson or so – but I can make two observations: (1) American political and economic life seems to have certain patterns that repeat over and over again. It’s as though America is an instrument that only vibrates at certain pre-set frequencies. Sometimes we vibrate on one frequency, sometimes on another, but there’s a very small fixed number of notes that we can sustain for any length of time. (2) The way these apparently fixed patterns played out a couple centuries ago was, by and large, more entertaining than in our contemporary America. To see an example of this American ‘eternal recurrence’, take a look at the similiarities between our current economic impasse and the Panic of 1819. According to Wilentz: Under the financial stresses of [the War of 1812], state-chartered banks had suspended specie payments, which meant they could issue the equivalent of paper money in bank notes to borrowers without regard to the amount of gold or silver coin the banks actually held in their vaults. The suspension continued after peace returned, allowing established banks to make large dividends by extending loans and note issues far in excess of their specie reserves, and permitting new private banks to open with only tiny amounts of borrowed specie on hand and indulge in profligate lending of their own notes. Gee, it sounds a lot like modern day financial innovation to me! For the last decade or so, banks in modern-day America have made record profits by using tricks -- oops, I mean sophisticated financial techniques -- like securitization and off-balance sheet entities that allow them to do much more lending with much less capital. (And those new banks starting up in the latter 1810s and jumping into the game are clearly the forerunners of today's hedge funds.) In the 1810s, banks kept their capital in the form of gold and silver (i.e., 'specie'), and made their loans in the form of bank notes, essentially paper money. Today's banks no longer need to worry about keeping enough gold or silver in the vault but via financial innovation they've gotten us to exactly the same place -- an excessive expansion of lending which has escaped any prudent relationship with the bank's underlying capital, leading inevitably to borrowers indulging in wild speculative buying and selling of assets at ever increasing prices. Just like in 1817: With so much bank paper of dubious value forced into general circulation, the nation’s economic health was threatened by a large and growing bubble of speculation. Hey, it sounds like sub-prime mortgages and CDOs all over again! Wait a minute, I guess it's the other way around. Anyway, this orgy of speculation took place against the increasing global trade that sprang up at the end of the Napoleonic Wars: Britain’s warehouses... posted by Friedrich at April 22, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- As L.A. goes ... In Los Angeles, immigrants make up half of the city's workforce. Most of these workers are unskilled; as many as 60% of them speak little English. A local official of some hard-to-determine sort asks an apt question: "The question is: Are we going to be a 21st century city with shared prosperity, or a Third World city with an elite group on top and the majority at poverty or near poverty wages?" Source. Steve Sailer notices a study trying to sort out the implications of the above facts. A nicely-understated quote from a news report about the study: "The looming mismatch in the skills employers need and those workers offer could jeopardize the future economic vitality of California and the nation, experts say." As Steve likes to say, "The first thing to do when you find yourself in a hole is -- stop digging." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 22, 2008 | perma-link | (11) comments

Friday, April 18, 2008

You Can't Say That !
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- It's quite amazing that in some modern countries it's not just impolite but against the law to say unappreciative or critical things about various racial and/or ethnic groups. Why, you'd almost think that some powers-that-be are doing what they can to prevent certain key debates from occurring, wouldn't you? Reason's Jacob Sullum explains how the game works in Canada. In a nice touch, Sullum refers to Canada's "human rights commission" martinets as "kindly inquisitors." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 18, 2008 | perma-link | (16) comments

Time for a More Nuanced View?
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, When the professors at our Lousy Ivy University taught me about the wonderful benefits of free trade in their discussion of two countries trading two products, I don’t remember them addressing a number of points which now seem rather striking to me. Like, for example, the impact of free trade on where R&D activities will occur. The following is from a post in February by The Angry Bear: Where is R&D going? China, of course. Take a gander at the following article. Some highlights: Sixty-two percent of global companies ranked China first "as the most attractive location for prospective R&D." Multinationals have set up 1,160 research institutions by the end of 2007. Total revenue of the hi-tech industry (foreign companies) exceeded 706 billion U.S. dollars. Patent applications as of 2006 put China fourth in the world. And here is the kicker: 40% of those applications came from foreign companies. Yes, yes, globalization will raise all boats. The only boats I see rising are the foreign companies in China. Nor do I remember any discussions of free trade and national security like this one by Emmanuel at the International Political Economy Zone on the bid by Chinese telecom manufacturer Huawei and Bain Capital for U.S. defense contractor 3Com: …the only way to avoid furriners buying ever larger chunks of America is to get US finances in order. With $170 billion giveaway packages to further fund the US jihad on fiscal sanity (and whose proceeds probably end up in China anyway), nobody is counting on that to happen soon. US deficits from here to Chongqing will only see to it that more and more of America is sold off. Enough with this protectionist nonsense. This is free trade, pal: if the US wants more borrowed time, it had better be prepared to give up this "national security" jive talking. The real owners of the US are in the PRC. Deal with it. Or any discussions of how free trade with a government-run economy might turn out, like this one by Brad Setser on the World Bank’s China Quarterly report: The [World] Bank wasn’t able to find much evidence of a real rebalancing of China’s economy. Investment growth continues to outpace consumption growth. Industrial production continues to grow faster than services. So investment and industry are continuing to rise as a share of China’s GDP…The Bank also highlights another key point - for all the talk of the strong growth in Chinese consumption, consumption is still falling relative to GDP. Or exactly how currency manipulation generally might impact 'free' trade, as from this post by Macroman on the economic communiqué issued at the recent G7 meeting: Macro Man has long thought that the endgame for the current dollar downtrend will be a commitment from the relevant authorities to act to turn it around. However, it's far from clear that the G7 are the relevant authorities; after all, it's not Japan or Germany or the UK that is... posted by Friedrich at April 18, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In 1980, federal and state facilities held fewer than 9,000 criminal aliens. By the end of 2004, about 267,000 noncitizens were incarcerated in U.S. correctional facilities. Source. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 8, 2008 | perma-link | (29) comments

Friday, April 4, 2008

Critiques of the Imperial Status Quo
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Steve Sailer wonders why NATO is expanding. * Tom Piatak is tired of dogmatic, wet-behind-the-ears "free traders." * Allan Wall reports that Mexicans are rooting for Hillary. (UPDATE: Thanks to Bryan for pointing out this amazing L.A. Times story.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 4, 2008 | perma-link | (37) comments

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Two New Group Blogs
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * From the right: a new group blog by contributors to The American Conservative, edited by Daniel McCarthy. * From whatever side of the spectrum it is that libertarians inhabit: a new group blog from the Independent Institute. Best, Michael UPDATE: Thanks to TGGP, who points out another rewarding new group blog, The Art of the Possible, where the excellent Kevin Carson posts frequently.... posted by Michael at April 3, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Economics California-Style
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards Edwin Rubenstein thinks that, without illegal immigration to contend with, California would be able to balance its budget. Philip Romero writes that mass immigration is hurting California in other ways too. Key passage: The dirty secret of too many of our industries is that they have been able to avoid modernizing -- finding ways to be more productive, usually by substituting machines for labor -- because they have been able to exploit cheap labor. In the short run, this keeps costs, and therefore prices, low. In the long run, their failure to update will cause them to lose the productivity race to foreign competitors. So turning a blind eye to illegal immigration is undermining the competitiveness of many American industries, and will cost Americans jobs in the future. Link thanks to FvBlowhard. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 3, 2008 | perma-link | (0) comments

Doing Some Figuring
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, I’ve been doing some figuring lately. I thought the results were interesting enough to share. I wanted to look at U.S. economic growth independent of two factors that often distort it: inflation and population growth. After all, any economy can appear to grow if you distort the measuring stick (inflation) or add production inputs (people). The question is, how well is the economy doing at the job of creatively utilizing its productive inputs? I took the real U.S. GDP (that is, adjusted for inflation, all numbers in FY2000 dollars) at 1940, 1950, 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2007, and divided each number by the official population of the country the same year, thus coming up with the real GDP per capita for that year. I then calculated the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for that decade. Of course, I used a 7-year "decade" instead of a 10-year decade for the current period. Obviously, the long-term trend is down. It seems to me that this graph suggests a good deal about the political life of our country over the past 70 years or so. Obviously during the 1940s, the 1950s and the 1960s, things were looking pretty good to the average citizen . Life and the paycheck were getting better. The New Deal consensus about how to run our country was firmly in place, and the extension of that New Deal, Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs, were a logical next step. The 1970s were obviously a big blow to this optimism. What could have gone wrong? The 1980s and the 1990s were perceived as rebounds from that horrible decade. The general consensus was that the economy had been rejuvenated by the impulse toward deregulation. The glories of the free market were trumpeted. The numbers suggest, however, that this widespread perception was a myth, at least economically: the rebound decades were actually less impressive than the so-called horrible decade. This misperception suggests to me that there is a bias in the media, and possibly in our national life, which is not liberal or conservative, exactly. It's a bias that focuses attention on the fortunes of the people at the top. If they’re doing well, then the country is doing well. And the people at the top have done very well over the past 27 years, although unfortunately not as a result of their incredibly successful economic management of the general economy. This graph also makes it pretty clear why there is a disjunction between elite opinion and mass opinion on currently high levels of immigration. If your compensation correlates with total GDP growth (and thus with asset values like stock prices) rather than per-capita GDP growth, you’d tend to support the notion that the antidote to slowing per person growth is, um, more people. Of course, if you’re just one of these people, you might prefer a different strategy, since what you’re seeing is a continually slowing rate of improvement in your lot (maybe none... posted by Friedrich at April 3, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments

Monday, March 31, 2008

No Help at All
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Tony Blair inflicted a decade of unprecedentedly high immigration on Britain. The results? Massive social unrest, and -- as a parliamentary report now makes clear -- absolutely zero economic gains for the country. Dramatic new social initiatives resulting in lasting pain and no benefits whatsoever -- now that's great governance. (Hence my own preferred political philosophy: First do no harm.) Link thanks to Peter Brimelow, whose "Alien Nation" is one seriously eye-opening book. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 31, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Arms Dealers
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Not to be missed: Steve Sailer and the Steve Squad are doing a phenomenal job of figuring out who and what's behind a current arms-supply scandal. The story they're unearthing is pure high comedy, if in the wasteful / painful genre. I especially loved learning that Hasidic Jews qualify for affirmative action -- and that it was the Reagan administration that declared them disadvantaged. Here, here, here, here, here, here. A couple of lessons to take away from the mess, or so it seems to me: As fun as it can be to dream up "things the government should be doing," it also doesn't hurt to remember that every new ambitious government program opens up big opportunities for corruption and abuse. That goes for war, too. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 31, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Fred Reed -- who has lived in Mexico for the last five years -- writes with a lot of brains and authority about some of the reasons why allowing mass immigration from Mexico is a very, very bad idea for the U.S. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 27, 2008 | perma-link | (15) comments

Monday, March 24, 2008

A Real Campus Rape, Part Two
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Yesterday I introduced “Hannah,” a professional woman who, as a college coed in the 1970s, was the victim of a stranger-rape. In that installment of our two-part interview with her, Hannah told us about the rape and the investigation. Today, in Part Two, Hannah takes us through the trial, ventures some reflections, and fields a lot of questions from me about distinctions between different kinds of bad sex. A warning: In this part of the interview I talk too much. Apologies in advance for that. Luckily, Hannah handles my garrulousness with grace. *** 2Blowhards: Tell me about the actual trial. Hannah: The county prosecutor was young, energetic, humorous, and easy to work with. He met with me once, and called me several times to prepare the case. Preparation consisted of him telling me the questions he would ask me on the stand, and me replying. He told me what the courtroom would look like, who would be sitting where. We probably spent a total of 2 hours on prep. The jury was a mix of race and sex. All of them seemed my parents' age or older. I wore what was for me a dressy outfit: woolen slacks, sweater, and scarf. When it came time for my testimony, I was sworn in and the prosecutor started asking me to describe what happened on the night of whatever it was. This was different from grand jury in that I had to describe what happened, and he couldn't ask leading questions. Was your rapist present? At the end of my testimony, the prosecutor asked me to look around the courtroom and see if I could identify my attacker anywhere. He had told me beforehand where Albert, my rapist, would be sitting, but I had no problem spotting Albert and pointing to him. I didn't make eye contact with Albert at anytime, and I tried to pretend in my mind that he wasn't there. We broke for lunch, and Winnie, Ryan, and I went to a nearby coffeehouse. We didn't stay, though, because Albert's family was in there eating. We went somewhere else. Did the defense attorney then have at you? Yes. After lunch I was cross-examined. I remember the defense attorney as a sleazy, short, fat, gray-haired man, sloppy-looking. I'm not sure if this was accurate, or if it's me demonizing him. He asked me to repeat things from my testimony over and over. He tried to catch me up on questions, for the most part unsuccessfully. One thing I did blow. He asked me if Albert had helped me up, and I said no. He then had them put something in as an exhibit, and showed me a copy of my written statement from the police station where I said that Albert had helped me up. He asked me how I explained the discrepancy, and I said it had been a year and a half, and I had forgotten that detail. He tried to trip... posted by Michael at March 24, 2008 | perma-link | (30) comments

A Real Campus Rape, Part One
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few weeks ago, Blowhards and visitors compared notes about what seemed to many like a particularly absurd case of is-it-rape-or-isn't-it? on a Northwestern college campus. Soon after I was contacted by a woman who actually was raped while in college in the mid-1970s -- raped in the traditional sense, if I can be allowed to put it that way. I asked her if I could interview her about the experience. She kindly agreed, then gave me a remarkably frank and open interview. I think that you'll find her descriptions and reflections very interesting and thought-provoking. I should add that I also suspect that you'll find her evocations of the era enjoyable and informative. She's very eloquent and direct. Have I mentioned recently how much I love the way that blogging has made the mini-memoir such a vital and accessible form? Life as it's actually lived, baby -- gotta love that. In this interview/memoir, you'll make the acquaintance of a smart, thoughtful, and soulful woman. A quick word to the uptight: “Hannah” and I use some earthy language. If you aren’t in the mood for uninhibited talk, please surf off now to another blog. We link to a lot of good ones in the left-hand column. To everyone else: “Hannah” has agreed to field questions and to participate in any conversations that might crop up in the comments. So please feel free to make observations and ask questions. She’ll be dropping by today for Part One, and for Part 2 tomorrow. Today, Part One: The Rape, and the Investigation *** 2Blowhards: Maybe first we should set some context up. What was your background? Hannah: Middle class, middle of the road. Culturally Jewish. We celebrated the holidays and kept the traditions, but I had no religious training, and only went to temple for the high holy days. My parents were sexually conservative. I'm sure they expected me to be a virgin when I married. How about politics? My family was politically moderate to liberal. My dad did not want me to apply to Harvard. He thought it was too radical (but he had no problem with Columbia -- funny). I wasn't particularly political myself. But if you think about what was going on then, I was a lot more political than the average kid today. While I was in high school, we went through Vietnam, Cambodia, Kent State, the first Earth Day, the Pentagon Papers -- how could you not be a little political? That was unbelievable stuff. What kind of person were you as a girl-slash-young-woman? 35 years ago, I would have told you I was strong, capable, practical, and competitive. Sexually neither wild nor conservative, but somewhere around the middle. Anti-war but not particularly political. I thought I was more of an intellectual than I was. Was that an accurate self-assessment? Looking back, I see that I was very naive and idealistic. I trusted people. I came from a typical small public high... posted by Michael at March 24, 2008 | perma-link | (20) comments

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Archetypical Robert Rubin
Dear Blowhards, A week ago or so Dean Baker was a bit peeved at Robert Rubin. According to Mr. Baker’s post of March 14, “Robert Rubin Still Doesn't Know that People Warned About the Bubble”: Former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin was at a session at the Brookings Institution this morning at which [he] said that "few, if any" people anticipated the sort of meltdown that we are seeing in the credit markets at present. This should be newsworthy. Mr. Rubin is not only a former Treasury Secretary, he is in the top management at Citigroup and he is one of the top Democratic policy advisers. The failure to recognize the housing bubble and the danger it posed was an act of extraordinary negligence that would get people fired in most lines of work. The fact that he still doesn't recognize the enormity of this oversight even after the fact (economists did recognize the housing bubble and the dangers its collapse would pose to the financial system) is remarkable. In case you didn’t guess, Mr. Baker was one of the economists who not only recognized a housing bubble when he saw it, but also warned of the dangers its collapse would pose for the financial system. If you like, you can check out Mr. Baker’s prescience in two articles, “After the Housing Bubble Bursts” and “The Menace of an Unchecked Housing Bubble”, both from 2006. Mr. Baker’s remarks got me to thinking about Mr. Rubin’s very interesting career in finance, government and politics. It’s so interesting, in fact, I thought I would make him a case study of my “theory of everything.” As some of you may recall from my post of that name,I’ve suggested that the most important trend in American life of the past century -- political, economic and cultural -- is the profound alliance between the government and members of the New Middle Class, the New Class for short. These people are the technocratic-administrative elite of our society: financiers, professionals (lawyers, doctors, accountants, etc.) senior government and corporate manager-bureaucrats, university professors, etc. They occupy well-paid or highly prestigious positions but do not owe their status or wealth to personal risk taking, making them rather anomalous in what is often termed a capitalist economy. As I said in my post, these people are able to float above the standard risk-reward curve that governs the rest of American society due to their ability to bend the power of government to their will: The New Class control of government occurs through three channels: first through campaign contributions to, and lobbying of, elected governmental officials (who are often New Class members themselves), a process that was invented in its modern form by the New Class; second through capturing regulatory and administrative policy and turning it to their own benefit, another New Class specialty; and third through the revolving door between government and private-sector New Class occupations. The nexus of the risk-averse New Class with the coercive power of the state has proven... posted by Friedrich at March 22, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments

Friday, March 21, 2008

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In the past ten years the birth rate among unmarried Latinas in the U.S. has risen from 89 to 100 per 1,000. It is now much higher than the rate among black or white women. Source. A striking further fact: Last year, for the first time, half of all Hispanic children born in the U.S. were born out of wedlock. Best, Michael UPDATE: As for Ireland ... Hibernia Girl points out a study indicating that "by 2050, Ireland's population will consist of a multicultural and multiethnic mix in which the indigenous Irish will form a minority." Should the Irish be thanking their leaders for pursuing policies that lead to such results?... posted by Michael at March 21, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

The Uncomfortable Position of Civilians in Wartime
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, I came across a very interesting blog posting, "You Weren’t Meant to Have a Boss" (courtesy of Yves Smith at Naked Capital). It’s by Paul Graham, who is an essayist, programmer, programming language designer and a venture capitalist: A few days ago I was sitting in a cafe in Palo Alto and a group of programmers came in on some kind of scavenger hunt. It was obviously one of those corporate "team-building" exercises. They looked familiar. I spend nearly all my time working with programmers in their twenties and early thirties. But something seemed wrong about these. There was something missing… I think...that there's something missing in the lives of employees. I think [entrepreneurs who start companies,] though statistically outliers, are actually living in a way that's more natural for humans. I was in Africa last year and saw a lot of animals in the wild that I'd only seen in zoos before. It was remarkable how different they seemed. Particularly lions. Lions in the wild seem about ten times more alive. They're like different animals. And seeing those guys on their scavenger hunt was like seeing lions in a zoo after spending several years watching them in the wild. […] Watching employees get transformed into [entrepreneurs] makes it clear that the difference between the two is due mostly to environment -- and in particular that the environment in big companies is toxic to programmers. In the first couple weeks of working on their own startup they seem to come to life, because finally they're working the way people are meant to. As a small business owner, this is pretty much exactly my point of view on the world. Or, as I’ve put it occasionally, talking to other business owners: Capitalism is war. Employees are civilians. Being a civilian in a war zone ain't too comfortable. Cheers, Friedrich von Blowhard... posted by Friedrich at March 21, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Political Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I was dreading a dull, dull election campaign. If politicians can't even deliver some entertainment value for our tax dollars, then what use are they? But the gloves are finally coming off, aren't they? * Steve Sailer deserves lots of credit; he has been asking probing questions about Barack Obama, and about Jeremiah Wright -- Obama's zany black-nationalist preacher -- for months now. Here's Steve's latest Barack posting. Here's Wright in action. Funny to think that a few bad-taste remarks in long-ago newsletters got Ron Paul in such trouble that his campaign was effectively killed, isn't it? * Camille Paglia returns to Salon with a lot of smart and vivid observations about Hillary and Obama, as well as some bitching and moaning on the theme of "why has sex in America become so pushy yet unerotic?" I've treated myself to some similar rants. * The excellent Cristina Hoff Sommers reports the unnnerving, maybe even alarming news that institutionalized Boomer feminists are bringing Title IX-style pressures to bear on the worlds of math and science. Just what America needs: diversity officers running math departments and research centers. * Prof emeritus Anne Barbour Gardner says that the biggest influence on academic literary studies in recent years hasn't been deconstruction, it has been feminist criticism. A laugh from The Onion may be a propos here ... * Does anybody want dollars any longer? * Secessionism buff Bill Kauffman tells the story of the people who would like to create a new state out of southern Oregon and Northern California. I'm looking forward to Bill's new book, which goes on sale soon. * Good to see that someone has finally figured out how to make money on the web! * Too keep the insanity in perspective, how about a little something that offers real pleasures and satisfactions? How about a little Sam Cooke? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 15, 2008 | perma-link | (29) comments

Friday, March 14, 2008

Quote for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- From Dean Baker: Why wouldn’t we want the [U.S.] banks to be forced to come clean and eat their losses? This is always the policy that the economists advocate when the parties in question are not the big New York banks. Does anyone remember the East Asian financial crisis when the media was full of condemnations of crony capitalism and the IMF insisted imposed stringent conditions on South Korea, Thailand, and Indonesia as a condition of getting bailed out? At that time, everyone insisted on transparency. Aren’t there any economists who still have this perspective? If so, why aren’t their views appearing anywhere in the news? But it's soooooo much more fun to put the other guy on a diet than it is to lose a little weight yourself ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 14, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- "Since 1999, annual oil revenues for OPEC countries have more than quadrupled, to an estimated $670 billion in 2007." Source. Further: Since 1999, China's oil use has almost doubled. World oil use is up 13%; U.S. oil use is up 7%. "To some extent, we are paying for past shortsightedness," writes Robert J. Samuelson, perhaps understating matters by a tad. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 14, 2008 | perma-link | (0) comments

Something is Rotten…
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, Just after absorbing the news on the NY Fed’s bailout of Bear Stearns, I noticed this little item by Shobhana Chandra on Bloomberg: March 14 (Bloomberg) -- Consumer prices in the U.S. were unexpectedly unchanged in February, making it easier for Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke to cut interest rates by as much as three-quarters of a percentage point. The figure followed a 0.4 percent gain in January, the Labor Department said today in Washington. So-called core prices, which exclude food and energy, also showed no change, the first time they didn't increase since November 2006. Since the core prices are flat, and food is up, we can conclude that energy costs are down? With oil at a record high, and natural gas up? WTF?! I’m glad to see I wasn’t the only person left scratching his head. Carl Gutierrez of Forbes seems to share my puzzlement in “Flat CPE Brings Sighs of Relief”: Despite the positive reaction in the bond and equity markets, some analysts were skeptical about the figures. "It is kind of bizarre," Robert MacIntosh, chief economist with Eaton Vance Management in Boston, told Reuters. "I don't know why you don't see inflation here. It must be a faulty measurement system -- it makes no sense whatsoever. How could energy have fallen 0.5%? Do you think energy-related costs are down? I bet that the market is just going to disregard this and move on." And, of course, in Europe where the ECB is stubbornly keeping interest rates higher than in the U.S. (generally an inflation-containing strategy) they weren’t nearly as ‘lucky’ as we were. Ms. Chandra remarks: The report from the U.S. contrasts with figures from overseas also issued today. European consumer prices and wages rose more than economists forecast, leaving the European Central Bank with little room to lower interest rates as economic growth slows. It's probably nothing but my terminally cynical nature that prompts me to wonder if the "faulty measurement system" mentioned by Mr. MacIntosh of Eaton Vance is perhaps not so much faulty as one suffering from a thumb on the scale by government statisticians. The Bloomberg story goes on to quote Stephen Gallagher, chief U.S. economist at Societe Generale SA in New York, who points out that with such low inflation, "The Fed certainly has more room to cut rates next week." So inflation numbers join unemployment numbers in my list of indicators to pay less attention to. Well, do you believe that this is credible? Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at March 14, 2008 | perma-link | (19) comments

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Mamet Reads Sowell
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Playwright David Mamet takes stock of life as he has experienced it, scrutinizes his actual beliefs, reads some Thomas Sowell and Shelby Steele -- and finds that he's no longer the true-believin' leftie he once was. (Link thanks to the Tory Anarchist.) Nice passage: What about the role of government? Well, in the abstract, coming from my time and background, I thought it was a rather good thing, but tallying up the ledger in those things which affect me and in those things I observe, I am hard-pressed to see an instance where the intervention of the government led to much beyond sorrow. But if the government is not to intervene, how will we, mere human beings, work it all out? I wondered and read, and it occurred to me that I knew the answer, and here it is: We just seem to. How do I know? From experience. I referred to my own -- take away the director from the staged play and what do you get? Usually a diminution of strife, a shorter rehearsal period, and a better production. * MBlowhard Rewind: I described my own adventures in rightie thought, and discussed the history of the director. (Scroll down a bit.) Theater productions didn't always have directors, you know. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 13, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Spitzer Bits
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few stray things that have caught my attention during the Client 9 -- er, the Eliot Spitzer -- scandals: * I don't personally know why prostitution is illegal, and I think Americans make far too much of it when public people are caught straying. Gosh: Ambitious, power-driven men tend to have strong sex drives and a taste for conquering women -- now who could have imagined that? All that said, the whole "crusading moralist caught with his own pants down" thing makes for a pretty irresistable news story. * Until his resignation, the NY Post was referring to Spitzer as the "governor erect." * Alex Tabarrook thinks that it's worth thinking about Spitzer's actions in terms of trade-offs. * Kirsten Mortensen figures out how much Spitzer owes in sales taxes. * Mark Brener, the man who allegedly ran the online callgirl ring that Spitzer patronized, once worked as a tax preparer. Brener, who is 62, dyes his hair black and when arrested was living with a 23-year-old woman. * Cindy Adams has some almost European-style advice for Spitzer's wife. It's startling to find this kind of thing in an American newspaper, isn't it?: I want to tell her -- so what. She may no longer be New York's first lady, but a husband hooking up with a hooker is not reason enough to no longer be a married lady. Sex, a primal need, outpoints fear, hunger and love as mankind's No. 1 driving force. Unless you're a pig or a monk, many an able-bodied -- and I use that term deliberately -- 48-year-old husband of 21 years has grazed. I'm not advocating it. I'm merely saying, so what? It's like takeout food. Less work for mother. * The Daily News reports that many guys have been with prostitutes. "Variety is sweet," says one of them. * Married 50-something Philip Weiss confesses that he feels sympathy for Spitzer's need to stray, and marvels at Spitzer's hooker-of-choice's "amazing rack." She's a cutie, that's for sure. * Read more about Ashley -- who wants to be a singer -- here. Ashley's mom says that she was “shell-shocked” when her daughter called mid-last week and told her she had been working as an escort and was now in trouble with the law. I'll bet she was. "Hi, Mom. Um, you know those headlines you've been seeing about Eliot Spitzer being caught spending time with a hooker? Well ..." * Tameka Lewis, who may have booked the Spitzer-Ashley assignation, is described by her family as "a church-going honor student who graduated from a prestigious school." * Steve Sailer guesses that NY's new First Lady will soon be getting a raise. * Steve Malanga reports that New York State has a $4 billion deficit, that nine of the U.S.'s ten most heavily-taxed counties are in New York, and that during Spitzer's brief tenure "the state's budget grew sharply." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 13, 2008 | perma-link | (15) comments

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Financial Innovation
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: [Editorial Note: I wrote this last night, before news of coordinated activity by the Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, the Bank of Canada and the Swiss National Bank had come out. As far as I can tell from a quick overview, none of that changes the overall conclusions of this post.] Dear Blowhards, As those of you who are following the financial news are no doubt aware, the ongoing saga of the credit crisis has taken another turn for the worse. Now that the banks have taken nearly $200 billion worldwide in write-downs, another domino is apparently falling: hedge funds. Many of these institutions use money borrowed from banks to help fund their investments, a practice known as lending (or borrowing) on margin. Unfortunately, the value of some hedge fund investment portfolios -- which are apparently in mortgage-related bonds -- has fallen, and the banks are demanding that a number of hedge funds reduce their margin loans now. If this is impossible, as the amount of money needed is very large, the banks will seize the hedge funds' bonds (as they have the legal right to do) and sell them off to raise cash. This, however, is a bit trickier than it looks. Right now, there aren’t many people willing to buy these mortgage-backed bonds – at least not without demanding a serious discount. In a market with very few buyers, sales such as these drive the price of the seized bonds down. Gillian Tett of the Financial Times in a story "Vicious Spiral Haunts Debt Markets" points out that this is a catch-22 situation. The quickest way to end the current crisis in financial markets is for the prices of assets, like for example those bonds owned by hedge funds and banks, to be driven down to the point where they actually look cheap to investors. At the moment, the investors are currently sitting around with their hands in their pockets, hording their dough. Why? Because the investors figure that even though much of these bonds are being offered at a discount, it will likely be offered at a still-larger discount next week or next month. Back in the S&L crisis of the late 1980s, the government helped resolve a similar problem by staging auctions of the assets of failed thrifts; as soon as investors saw people buying those assets at fire sale prices they figured the bottom had been reached and felt confident that anything they bought today was likely to retain its value in the future. Investors started reaching for their wallets and life in the financial markets went back to normal. However, Ms. Tett points out a key difference between then and now; in the late 1980s banks didn't have to reflect the market value of their own assets in evaluating their financial condition. Today they do; this is known as 'mark to market accounting.' And banks hold a lot of bonds very similar to the ones that they are forcing... posted by Friedrich at March 11, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Political Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Hibernia Girl wonders why our elites so hate the idea of monocultural societies. * Lester Hunt confesses that he's basically an anarchist, and is hilarious on the topic of contemporary political moderates. * Fred Reed gives a talk to a gathering of the American Renaissance gang, and finds the experience not all that unpleasant. * As nuts as he has been about the mideast war, Victor Davis Hanson nonetheless does a great job of spelling out the basics where immigration issues in the US and Europe go. * It's one of the most taken-for-granted demographic/political assumptions around: that, because of the large number of soon-to-retire Boomers, the country simply couldn't go on without scads of immigrants. Well, it's also untrue. Dean Baker explains why. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 5, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Hopes for Barack; Worries About Barack
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Software genius Marc Andreessen meets Barack Obama and comes away with a good feeling about him. Steve Sailer worries that an Obama presidency will mean a lot more involvement in baffling Kenyan politics than we have now. Best, Michael UPDATE: FWIW, my feelings about day-to-day-style American politics: All politicians are guilty until proven innocent, which never happens. Nine out of ten times, nothing really needs to be done. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and take it for granted that you'll be amazed, appalled, and horrified anyway. Here's a posting where I summed up my thoughts about American politics circa 2004. I can't see that a lot has changed since. UPDATE 2: Charlotte Allen wonders what makes women scream for and swoon over Barack.... posted by Michael at March 4, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Maybe there's a cheaper way...
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, I noticed that on Bloomberg there's a story on Joseph Stiglitz, who has written a book on the cost of the Iraq war: March 1 (Bloomberg) -- Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz, author of a new book that claims the Iraq war will cost the U.S. more than $3 trillion, said the final tally is likely to climb much higher than that. "It's much more like five trillion," Stiglitz said yesterday in an interview with Bloomberg Radio. "We were trying to make Americans understand how expensive this war was so we didn't want to quibble about a dime here or a dime there." I guess I'm getting numb to bad news or something, as that didn't even get my pulse racing. No, what actually registered with me was a bit in the next paragraph of the same story, in which we got a justification for the cost that should go into the record books: The 2001 Nobel winner's initial estimate of $3 trillion drew criticism from Republican Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, who said that the number ignores the price the U.S. would pay if Iraq became a terrorist state. Hmm, let's see if I understand Senator Brownback’s logic. Assuming that any predominantly Islamic country is at risk of becoming a terrorist state, I checked Wikipedia and found this article that considers some 30-40 countries to be majority Moslem. If we invade each it’s gonna cost us, at the lower of Mr. Stiglitz’s estimates for the Iraq contest, between $90 to $120 trillion. But at least we'll be safe from terrorist states. Of course, sadly, this may underestimate the cost, as not all Moslems live in Islamic-majority countries. To come up with a more realistic estimate of our upcoming Brownbackian military expenditures, we need to consider the cost of pacifying the entire Moslem population, world-wide. Assuming the lower of Mr. Stiglitz's numbers, we have committed ourselves to spending around $109,000 per Iraqi man, woman and child to safeguard ourselves for the past five years. Of course, since only about a third of the Iraqi population could physically qualify as serious menaces, the number is actually more like $330,000 per adult male Iraqi--um, I mean, potential terrorist. (And if one assumes that only one adult male Iraqi in 10 is actually what you'd call an insurgent, the number we've committed to spending climbs to over three million dollars per serious antagonist. Gosh, we could have bribed them all with fully-paid-off houses in nice L.A. neighborhoods for a third that price. Well, fairly nice L.A. neighborhoods, anway.) Anyway, according to the same Wikipedia article, the number of Moslems worldwide may be as large as 1.8 billion. That means we might have to spend $196 trillion to keep ourselves safe from the threat of Islamic terrorism -- at least by our remarkably expensive military invasion methods. Safe for a few years, anyway. Of course, there are other threats as well that military invasion might not be the... posted by Friedrich at March 2, 2008 | perma-link | (51) comments

Thursday, February 28, 2008

How Things Really Are?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Barry Ritholtz gives expression to the words Ben Bernanke dares not speak. Short version: "The credit crunch is unprecedented, far worse than the S&L collapse and Long Term Capital Management -- combined." (Link thanks to FvBlowhard.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 28, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Your Opinion Wanted
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Everyone -- As a followup to my previous posting: Rape? Or just messy college sex? (Link thanks to Cheryl Miller, who comments on Heather Mac Donald's piece here.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 27, 2008 | perma-link | (50) comments

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Campuses and Rapes
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Heather Mac Donald reviews the status of Ivy League rape centers. Her article also functions as a review of just how nutso sexual matters became in the early '90s. Nice quote: The campus rape industry's central tenet is that one-quarter of all college girls will be raped or be the targets of attempted rape by the end of their college years. This claim, first published in Ms. magazine in 1987, took the universities by storm. By the early 1990s, campus rape centers and 24-hour hotlines were opening across the country, aided by tens of millions of dollars of federal funding. [Sorry -- couldn't resist highlighting that passage. Ed.] Victimhood rituals sprang up: first the Take Back the Night rallies, in which alleged rape victims reveal their stories to gathered crowds of candle-holding supporters; then the Clothesline Project, in which T-shirts made by self-proclaimed rape survivors are strung on campus, while recorded sounds of gongs and drums mark minute-by-minute casualties of the "rape culture." A special rhetoric emerged: victims’ family and friends were "co-survivors"; "survivors" existed in a larger "community of survivors." An army of salesmen took to the road, selling advice to administrators on how to structure sexual-assault procedures, and lecturing freshmen on the "undetected rapists" in their midst. Rape bureaucrats exchanged notes at such gatherings as the Inter Ivy Sexual Assault Conferences and the New England College Sexual Assault Network. Organizations like One in Four and Men Can Stop Rape tried to persuade college boys to redefine their masculinity away from the "rape culture."... None of this crisis response occurs, of course -- because the crisis doesn't exist. During the 1980s, feminist researchers committed to the rape-culture theory had discovered that asking women directly if they had been raped yielded disappointing results -- very few women said that they had been. So Ms. commissioned University of Arizona public health professor Mary Koss to develop a different way of measuring the prevalence of rape. Rather than asking female students about rape per se, Koss asked them if they had experienced actions that she then classified as rape. Koss’s method produced the 25 percent rate, which Ms. then published. It's funny, isn't it, the way some people claim that Political Correctness (or Sexual Correctness) never existed, isn't it? Of course it did. I'm reminded of the way some people, when thinking back to (or remembering) '70s-style feminism, say, "Oh, it wasn't so bad." Sure it was. I compiled some examples of how loony things got in this posting. Here's Mary Koss's page at the U. of Arizona's website. Christina Hoff Sommers reviews feminists' claims about rape. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 26, 2008 | perma-link | (33) comments

Monday, February 25, 2008

Late Boomers
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Steve Sailer writes an enlightening posting about late Boomers -- people who are technically Boomers, but who were born too late to enjoy trashing the campuses, snagging the groovy jobs, and helping themselves to the cultural reins: the younger siblings of the crowd usually thought of as "the Boomers," basically. I wrote about the same group -- the gang FvBlowhard and I happen to belong to -- back here. Best Michael... posted by Michael at February 25, 2008 | perma-link | (11) comments

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Bailouts, Part II
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, The competition for "most revealing anecdote about how the U.S. political economy really works today" is fierce, but this story in the New York Times may be the winner. Edmund L. Andrews writes: WASHINGTON — Over the last two decades, few industries have lobbied more ferociously or effectively than banks to get the government out of its business and to obtain freer rein for “financial innovation.” But as losses from bad mortgages and mortgage-backed securities climb past $200 billion, talk among banking executives for an epic government rescue plan is suddenly coming into fashion. A confidential proposal that Bank of America circulated to members of Congress this month provides a stunning glimpse of how quickly the industry has reversed its laissez-faire disdain for second-guessing by the government — now that it is in trouble. The proposal warns that up to $739 billion in mortgages are at “moderate to high risk” of defaulting over the next five years and that millions of families could lose their homes. The essence of the proposal is that Bank of America -- which, as you recall, just voluntarily increased its exposure to the home mortgage market by buying the nation’s largest mortgage lender, Countrywide -- wants the U.S. government to step in and buy some fraction, or possibly all, of these loans, thus providing the banking industry and securitized mortgage-backed bond holders with a sort of re-insurance stop-loss agreement. The industry and the investors would agree to take a modest hit today in order to get a much larger potential problem off their books. This would, of course, be a very, very good thing for the financial services industry and for its investors; perhaps not such a good deal for the rest of the nation’s taxpayers. (I was quite surprised not to see any mention of the banks and their employees voluntarily disgorging the salaries and profits they’ve made on originating and securitizing such potentially troubled loans as they pass them off to the government, but maybe that’s down in the fine print somewhere. And if Bank of America is really worried about "millions of families losing their homes" in any sense other than how that would impact Bank of America’s balance sheet, it could, you know, just decide not to foreclose on those families, but I didn’t see that option discussed in the story, either.) This proposal is supported by what the story calls "community advocacy activists" such as John Taylor, president of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition. I checked Mr. Taylor’s group out and found that it describes its mission thusly: NCRC creates, implements, and supports long-term solutions and strategies that build community and promote individual economic well-being. Through information, research, programs, training and service, we ensure that people in traditionally underserved communities are treated fairly and justly when applying for credit, opening a bank account, getting a mortgage, a loan, or other financial product or service. NCRC ensures that banks, mortgage lenders, and the financial community... posted by Friedrich at February 23, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Friday, February 15, 2008

Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards: I just came across a very funny short posting by Michael “Mish” Shedlock. The portions that caught my eye were as follows: The list of those wanting a government bailout and/or bigger bailout than they have received so far keeps growing...Ambac (ABK) and MBIA (MBI) are both pleading for bailouts...MBIA wants cash, Ambac is blaming the rating agencies and wants guarantees of an AAA rating it does not deserve...The banking community is also looking for handouts, straight from taxpayers...Let's call it for what it is: A request for taxpayer funds to bail out lenders making stupid loan decisions...The national Association of Homebuilders recently announced that they have stopped all Congressional bribes…Obviously the NAHB was expecting a bigger bailout than it has seen so far for the bribes it has paid out. That first sentence made me laugh out loud. (Okay, so I'm easily amused.) This got me thinking that the term "bailout" (and all it signifies, including earlier ill-advised risk taking) is pretty much the meat of the problem of our contemporary political and economic life. This whole syndrome has been described by Martin Wolf, chief economic columnist of the Financial Times, and others as “privatizing the gains [of the economy] and socializing the losses.” If this seems unfair, just remind yourself how much money the credit insurers like Ambac and MBIA, the bankers, and the homebuilders have been making over the past decade or so, and notice how they respond to adversity caused chiefly by their own piggish greed and stupidity. (The little economic crisis we're going through has one major upside: it's a golden opportunity to see how things really work in contemporary America. The situation has gotten so screwed up right now that the government, a relatively slow moving and stupid beast, can’t keep up with all the requests to socialize losses in real time. A year or two ago when everything seemed right with the world all this was much less visible.) Why are we in this situation? Well, it’s more or less inevitable as a result of our political-economic system, which I would describe as "democratic Fascism." Sorry to use the F-word right out in the open like that, but it’s the correct one, at least according to the rubric they taught me in junior high school: "Fascism is public control and private ownership." (You know, in the sense that "Capitalism is private control and private ownership" and "Socialism is public control and public ownership.") The widely repeated notion that the U.S. is a capitalist country is hard to understand, when you consider the extent to which government controls all the commanding heights of the economy, certainly including Wall Street. (Note how much of the business press actually covers the activities of one level or another of government.) But that just pushes the issue up a level. The obvious follow-up question, although oddly obscured most of the time by people on both the left and the right, is "So... posted by Friedrich at February 15, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments

Monday, February 11, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Pew Center predicts that by 2050 ... The population of the U.S. will pass 430 million people. That's almost three times the number of people the US had when I was born. Nothing like cramming 'em in, eh? White people will be in the minority. That's a dramatic development. It might also prove to be a dangerous one. People who are fans of this kind of thing: Please tell me how many times in history ethnic upheavals on this scale have occurred with good results. A reminder: All this is unecessary. It's happening entirely because of the zany 1965 Immigration Act, and because of lax enforcement of what immigration law we do have. Unprecedented levels of crowding ... Unwanted and potentially dangerous ethnic turnabouts ... That's quite a legacy Ted Kennedy will be leaving us. No doubt he had the noblest of intentions, though. Steve Sailer asks a good question: "How is affirmative action going to work when the beneficiaries outnumber the benefactors?" The New York Times Sam Roberts takes a look at the study's numbers. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 11, 2008 | perma-link | (23) comments

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Senators as Presidents: Oh Dear!
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Back in the late 60s and early 70s, political conventional wisdom had it that the route to the presidency was through the Senate. In recent years, that road is supposed to go through a governor's mansion. In the first case, it was assumed that foreign policy was the most important presidential task, and that was the one thing governors didn't get to deal with. Nowadays, the theory is that management is the key task; governors have to administrate, assemble budgets, deal with legislatures, and so forth. Senators only have relatively small staffs to run (and have an administrator to handle that task, in any case). Guess what? Barring an Act of God, the next president will be a former senator. What does that portend? I dunno. Nor am I sure that history is a great guide. Nevertheless, why not take a stab at it. Here are the presidents, since 100 years ago today, listed by their highest elected office, not counting Vice President -- according to John Nance Garner "Not worth a bucket of warm sh*t." Senators Harding Truman Nixon Kennedy Johhnson Governors T. Roosevelt Wilson Coolidge F.D. Roosevelt Carter Reagan Clinton G.W. Bush Congressmen Ford G.H.W. Bush No significant elective office Taft Hoover Eisenhower And who were the most consequential and/or most effective presidents from this list? Every so often surveys of historians are taken, and the results are skewed according to whether the panel has a left or right bias. Let's forget about the presidents who served since Reagan to avoid injecting any more partisan bias than necessary. So drop Clinton and the two Bushes. Most surveys that I recall place the two Roosevelts at or near the top. Reagan seems to on his way there. Truman, highly unpopular when he left office, is now generally thought of as being one of the better ones. Eisenhower also is looking stronger than originally. Kennedy is starting to slip, and may drop further once historians who loved him pass on to the Great Library Stacks in the Sky. Among righties, Coolidge seems pretty good. And lefties are still high on Wilson. So if those surveys are meaningful, governors indeed tend to do better than senators. What do you think? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at February 10, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Gold Standards
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Can anyone explain to me why putting the money supply on a gold standard is a bad idea? I'm aware that all right-thinking people know that the gold standard is laughable, and that anyone who expresses enthusiasm for it is a rube -- a "gold bug." But why is this what the smart set believes? And why do they believe it's so smart? I'm naught but an idiot, of course. But as far as I've been able to tell, the appeal of taking money off the gold standard is that doing so gives the expertise class near-infinite freedom to mess around with matters financial and monetary. Upside: Perhaps the experts know what they're doing. Downsides: Self-interest; temptation ("print more money"); rigging the game; stupidity; arrogance; outright mistakes; and "corrections" that only make things worse ... Paul Krugman sneers at gold-standard fans. This video from the Mises Institute makes the case for a gold standard. Plain English please -- and above all no math or charts. Well, except maybe those nice charts that show a squiggly line heading either up or down. I kind of like looking at those. Tks and best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 7, 2008 | perma-link | (26) comments

Finance Highs and Lows
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * The NYTimes' Jenny Anderson writes an article about studies showing that finance-biz-style wheeling and dealing can deliver a lot of drug-style excitement. Here's the, er, money quote: A small group of scientists ... say they are starting to discover what many Wall Street professionals have long suspected -- that people are hard-wired for money. The human brain, these researchers say, responds to high-stakes trading just as it does to the lure of sex. And the riskier the trades get, the more the brain craves them. Finance guys get happily high when they gamble irresponsibly with your retirement, in other words. And don't you feel good about paying with your money to support their habit? * FvBlowhard passes along a hilarious mock-disclaimer originally posted by Barry Ritholz: WARNING: THESE BONDS HAVE BEEN RATED AAA BY A MAJOR RATING FIRM. THESE RATING FIRMS HAVE PROVEN THEMSELVES TO BE CLUELESS, MONEY-LOSING INCOMPETENTS IN EXCESS OF A TRILLION DOLLARS IN LOSSES. THEY WERE PAID HANDSOMELY BY THE BOND UNDERWRITER, AND ARE HOPELESSLY COMPROMISED. PURCHASERS OF THESE BONDS ARE ADVISED TO IMMEDIATELY KILL THEMSELVES, THUS SPARING THEIR LOVED ONES EMBARRASSMENT IN THE FUTURE. ALSO, THESE BONDS MAY LOSE VALUE. I JUST WET MYSELF MERELY THINKING ABOUT THIS PAPER. WHILE PAST PERFORMANCE IS NOT INDICATIVE OF FUTURE RETURNS, YOU SHOULD BE AWARE THAT PAST PERFORMANCE ALSO SUCKED. DONT BLAME US IF YOU LOSE ANY MONEY, AS WE HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THE F$#@ WE ARE DOING ANYWAY. REALLY, YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 7, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Monday, February 4, 2008

Faded Flaming
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A while ago I wrote here about my one experience with political bumper stickers. I've been meaning to write about bumper stickers I see on other peoples' cars. Especially about cars that are plastered with the things. That's easy to do because I live about three miles from the University of Washington, and I suspect that students, faculty/teaching staff and college-town groupies are more prone to festooning their cars with stickers than the rest of us. I know I seldom see political bumper stickers when I'm traveling on rural freeways and streets in smaller cities and towns. Even in a large, liberal place like Seattle I normally see cars sporting only a single die-hard Kerry/Edwards sticker from 2004 or perhaps a sparkling new Obama one. I said Seattle was liberal, so maybe that's why virtually all cars I notice having lots of stickers have lefty slogans. Only a few times a year do I spot heavy-duty right-wing sticker plastering. Could this be because righties are, uh, more conservative in their temperament and behavior? Anyway, from time to time I'd like to post pictures of cars I come across bearing lots and lots of stickers. Here are some shots of a car I recently spotted. The stickers are pretty faded, so perhaps the owner is satisfied his binge doesn't need up-dating. Gallery This is the rear of the car. Some of the stickers on the bumper are kind of hard to see, so the next two pictures have closer views. I tend to see some of the best examples of sticker covered cars when I've driving around and photography is impossible. But I'll keep my eyes peeled and camera ready in the hope of getting fresher, or at least more massive, displays of mobile political discourse. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at February 4, 2008 | perma-link | (34) comments

Friday, February 1, 2008

Ron, Bill, and Dan
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Thanks to Dan McCarthy for letting me know that 2Blowhards fave -- well, fave of this Blowhard, anyway -- Bill Kauffman has endorsed Ron Paul for President. Bill and Dan and some other wonderful cranks and curmudgeons blogged together for a time last year as the Reactionary Radicals. Bill's next book can be pre-ordered here. Dan blogs at his own blog as well as at the Ron Paul blog, and he also works as a contributing editor for The American Conservative. Here's a fun Ron Paul video. Writing for that leftie rag The Nation, Nicholas Van Hoffman says "There are times when Congressman Paul says things that are worth listening to." Ain't that the truth. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 1, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Lincoln and More
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've been exploring audio presentations from the Mises Institute in recent weeks. There's nothing quite like wrestling with the arguments of anarcho-libertarians to blow the cobwebs off your mind. (I suspect that Mencius would agree with this judgment.) Plus -- as the work of anarcho-libertarians should be -- it's all free, free, free! Go to this page and download to your heart's content. Using the Search box is highly recommended. * Lincoln buffs should relish -- as in "be provoked, or outraged, or delighted by" -- Thomas DiLorenzo's talks about Father Abraham. For DiLorenzo, Lincoln was an unqualified disaster: brilliant as a politician and a rhetorician, of course, but in practice a warmonger, a gross violater of the Constitution, and a lackey of Northern business interests. He wasn't, in other words, a mysterious divinity who saved the sacred integrity of the nation; instead he was a power-driven demon who ended the good Republic and jump-started the evil Empire. (One of DiLorenzo's talks is entitled "The Lincoln Cult.") Back here, I confessed to being of many minds about Lincoln; visitors chimed in with ideas, instruction, info, and opinions. * I've also enjoyed a talk by Bill Kauffman, who sets out in his florid, humorous, and big-hearted way to rehabilitate the tradition of literary support for American isolationism. Did you know that Melville, Hawthorne, and Emerson were OK with letting the Confederate states secede? And that e.e. cummings, Sinclair Lewis, Theodore Dreiser, Edmund Wilson, and Edgar Lee Masters were all against entering WWII? * Audio fans might also want to pay a visit to the WhiskyPrajer blog. Darrell has been exploring freebie podcasts from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and he says that some of them are as good as anything the Teaching Company sells. * R.J. Stove argues that 1) Western classical music created post-1945 has been a disaster, and 2) said disaster was caused by government funding. Visitors contribute many fun, opinionated, and informative comments. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 30, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments

Immigration Update
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Hibernia Girl turns up a remarkable statistic from Frankfurt. * Randall Parker spells out how hard our immigration regime is on American blacks. * A startling demographic projection from Vdare's Edwin Rubenstein: "If white births continue shrinking and minority births growing at the present rate, minorities will account for more than half of all births by 2011. By 2021 more than 60 percent of births will be to minorities." Nothing against "minorities," of course. Wish 'em well. Yet how often in history has drastic ethnic change proven to be a desirable -- as in peace-and-prosperity- promotin' -- development? So how did this risky (and largely disliked) state of affairs come about? Rubinstein: "This shift is essentially all caused by public policy -- specifically, the Immigration Act of 1965 and the simultaneous collapse of law enforcement against illegal immigration." * My small point: You can't really understand America today without recognizing and acknowledging the importance (and the impact) of the 1965 Immigration Act. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 30, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments

Monday, January 28, 2008

Election-Year Attitudes
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Committed non-voter Colin Ward reminds us of a great old anarchist slogan: "If voting changed anything they'd make it illegal." OK, it's a little flip. But you do know what it means. Buy a copy of Colin Ward's wonderful intro, "Anarchy in Action," here. Architecture buffs might enjoy a few anarchism-influenced books about buildings and cities and towns: Colin Ward's "Talking to Architects," John Turner's "Housing by People," and Paul and Percival Goodman's "Communitas." Here's a John Judis introduction to Paul Goodman. Best, Michael UPDATE: Conservative or radical? Prairie Mary sorts out which word better applies to her. Funny how "conservative" radical can seem, and how "radical" conservative can turn out to be, isn't it? (And then there's my man Michael "I'm a conservative in politics because I'm a radical in everything else" Oakeshott ...) It's great to see that Mary's biography of her sculptor-husband Robert Scriver is now available for pre-order. I expect the book to be a corker -- anyone who has visited Mary's blog or who has read her comments on this blog knows what a smart, powerful, and expressive writer she is.... posted by Michael at January 28, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Philip Weiss thinks that Jacob Heilbrunn has written 2/3rds of an important and interesting book about the neocons. Philip blogs here. Heilbrunn himself recently analyzed what drives the influential and combative neocon honcho Norman Podhoretz. Nice passage: The United States, Podhoretz says, has only fired the opening shots in a lengthy campaign that should include attacks on Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Syria in turn, wiping out their regimes and creating the conditions for democracy in the Middle East. Podhoretz never pauses to discuss the feasibility of carrying out such measures; to him it is self-evident that the U.S. must exercise moral and military leadership, heedless of any financial or human costs, for the stakes are nothing less than survival or annihilation. Timothy Noah reviews Heilbrunn's book here. Podhoretz makes his own case here. Steven LaTulippe, a former Air Force officer, extols the virtues of isolationism. Bill Kauffman points out the similarities between anarchism and conservatism. (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin.) We interviewed the nothing-if-not-provocative Bill Kauffman not long ago: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five. Here's my intro to the series. Best, Michael UPDATE: I notice that Bill Kauffman has a new book coming out soon entitled "Ain't My America: The Long, Noble History of Anti-War Conservatism and Middle-American Anti-Imperialism." Pre-order a copy of it here. Fun to see that the book has been blurbed by both George McGovern and Ron Paul.... posted by Michael at January 24, 2008 | perma-link | (0) comments

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The New Class and Its Government Nexus, Part I
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, Almost a year ago I wrote a post, Risk, Reward & The New Class, in which I asked the question: “What permits the New Class to float above the risk-reward curve that the rest of us are tied to?” For those of you who haven’t read that immortal screed, the New Middle Class or, for brevity, the New Class, consists of financiers, senior corporate and government bureaucrats, and professionals (doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc.), all of whom collect high incomes without being required to put their own money at risk. These people make up most of the people in the top 10% of the income distribution, and a very high percentage indeed of people in the top 1% of the income distribution. (Another, much smaller chunk, of the people in the top 10% and the top 1% are entrepreneurs, who are assuredly not members of the New Class; they are economic experimenters and risk takers, as their high bankruptcy rate demonstrates.) Now, as any economics textbook will remind you, the risk-reward curve represents the definitional relationship of a capitalist society—that is, if you want big returns you’ve generally got to take big risks with your capital. No upside without a possible downside. Contrawise, if you refuse to put your capital at risk, you are likely not going to end up rolling in dough. And yet we find that there is this unusual group, the New Class, which mysteriously doesn’t live by the same rules as the blue-collar worker or the entrepreneur. Hence, my question above: what gives? If we live in a capitalist society, as our editorial pages and our elected leaders and our economics professors assure us daily that we do, why is it that so much of the economic pie ends up in the mouths of people who are neither capitalists nor laborers, exactly? This question is rarely asked in this fashion (which might possibly have something to do with the fact that people who tend to ask questions like these, otherwise known as economists, are themselves charter members of the New Class.) However, lots of people ask a closely related question: why is the top 10% of the income distribution (as we have seen, heavily populated by the New Class) doing so well relative to the rest of the population? To take one example out of a myriad, in "Income Cap is Widening" of March 29, 2007 David Cay Johnson of the New York Times sets the stage by reporting that: Income inequality grew significantly in 2005 [the last year for which data is available], with the top 1 percent of Americans…receiving their largest share of national income since 1928, analysis of newly released data shows. The top 10 percent, roughly those earning more than $100,000, also reached a level of income share not seen since the Depression…average income for those in the bottom 90 percent dipped slightly compared with the year before, dropping $172 or 0.6 percent. Mr. Johnston then inquires... posted by Friedrich at January 23, 2008 | perma-link | (19) comments

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A major reason to be grateful for living in a First World country, IMHO: More than 65% of India's rural population defecates in the open, along roadsides, railway tracks and fields ... And about 70% of India's billion-plus population live in its rural areas. Wow, almost a half a billion Indians crap in the open every day ... Me, I say: "Praise the heavens for modern plumbing." Source. Link found thanks to Vdare. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 16, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments

Monday, January 14, 2008

More Ron-ness
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some red meat for those fascinated by the Ron Paul story. Lester Hunt -- who has followed Ron Paul's career for many years and who has met the man too -- has published some shrewd and tough-minded musings. Steve Sailer shines a light on the "Bizarro World" vision that drives New Republic editor-in-chief Martin Peretz, the man who published Jamie Kirchick's article about Ron Paul's newsletters. Steve also reminds us of the average age of the New Republic's know-it-all political-news staffers. Me, I never fail to use the term "wet behind the ears" when referring to The New Republic. Nothing quite like taking the opinions of Ivy brats who are barely out of their teens seriously, is there? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 14, 2008 | perma-link | (38) comments

When Political Conventions Mattered
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I don't maintain a database about this, but it seems like nearly every U.S. presidential election cycle hits a pre-convention stretch where one party or the other finds itself with no clear frontrunner and speculation surfaces that this situation will pravail at convention time. As of the time this is being written (14 January, from high above Lake Tahoe), lack of a frontrunner seems to be the case for both parties. A few weeks from now, the situation might well have changed. At any rate, I've seen references on the Internet that the Republicans might find still themselves with no frontrunner this summer when their convention starts, but if there has been similar speculation regarding the Democrats, I've missed it so far. History tells us that the last conventions where presidential voting went beyond the first ballot took place in 1952, when it took Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson three ballots each to win nomination. Over the 56 years since then, national political conventions have evolved into public-relations packages intended to showcase the presumed (until balloting) nominee, unify and excite party members, showcase the party's platform and election talking points to a national audience and other assorted missions. It's pretty boring stuff. The 1952 conventions were exciting. I know, because I watched them on television. Let me quality that. The conventions were the occasion when Seattle was finally linked to national live TV via a system of coaxial cables and microwave relays up the coast from San Francisco. Before that, we had to rely on film flown up the coast or west from Chicago or New York. So live TV from anyplace besides the KING-TV studio (the only station in town at the time) was a big deal in itself. Also, I was three or four months shy of my 13th birthday and just becoming aware of politics. At that age, boys can easily get swept up in the crusading side of politics. In my case, I was a big Eisenhower fan. I really, really wanted him to be president, so I was keyed up for most of the duration of the Republican convention, my adrenaline fed by the uncertainty of it all. There were fewer primary elections in those days, so delegate collecting was a mixture of winning primaries, getting caucus votes and getting political bosses to, in some cases, deliver the delegate votes of entire states. Once the convention was underway, state delegations would caucus between ballots. Depending on rules, an entire sate (winner take all) might shift, otherwise the vote distribution for a state could change in one direction or another. This shifting process could take quite a few ballots (more than 100 in one case) as politicians and campaign operatives would scurry around making pitches, issuing promises, hinting at threats -- whatever it might take to influence even a handful of votes. I mentioned that the conventions were televised. But TV coverage in those days was far different from what... posted by Donald at January 14, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Thursday, January 3, 2008

A Few Small Beefs with Paul Cantor: Part One
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few days ago I recommended a free, downloadable audio lecture series by Paul Cantor about culture and the market. Today and tomorrow I'm treating myself to a few quibbles with Cantor. Let me say first that this is entirely unfair of me. Cantor is (IMHO) helpful, brilliant, accurate, healthy, and entertaining. He's undogmatic, streetwise, and (especially for a prof) amazingly respectful of actual experience. He's also sophisticated, nuanced, and appreciative -- of art itself and of life's many ironies. Besides, Cantor's point in his lecture series isn't to provide a Compleat Account of art and culture but rather to help culturefans cast off their usual anti-commercial bias. He means his lectures to be a corrective to the usual nonsense, and he achieves his goal wonderfully. But I'm going to treat myself to a few quibbles anyway. Please understand though that I'm not really quarreling with Cantor. I'm on the same team as he is. I'm taking issue with him only for the sake of making my writing challenge a little easier. In reality, I'm just adding my own two cents to the conversation. The first of my points: The art history thing. Cantor gives a fresh and realistic account of art history, one that's infinitely more true to the facts than is the one usually sold by schools and by the media. Bravo, excellent, superb, etc. My quibble: The "art history" that Cantor discusses strikes me as very narrowly defined. He accepts the usual list of greats, as well as much of the storytelling that connects the dots between them. In painting, for instance, the conventional art-history story goes: Renaissance- Baroque- Neoclassical- Romantic- Impressionist- Cubist-Surrealist-AbEx, etc etc. Cantor's evidently OK with that story; he just wants it told in a truer-to-life-than-usual way. Me, I'm not OK with it. I mean, there "art history" is, and that's OK with me, of course. But I'm also struck by the fact that there's so much more to the story of "visuals" than the "art history" version of it. In fact, the more I awaken to the actual facts of visual culture, the more I lose interest in the conventional "art history" part of it. Art history (in the usual sense) is a fine topic, but it's no more than one small chapter in the very large book that contains the record of how humans have decorated themselves and their world, have expressed themselves in visual terms, and have made life more lively and rewarding in visual ways. A few examples of what you don't often run across in "art history": erotic photography, food packaging, jewelry, typography, television graphics, greeting cards, automobile design, book jackets, movie posters, sports visuals, clothing, lingerie, computer graphics, glamor lighting, magazine design, makeup ... Not to mention how individuals decorate their homes, dress themselves, do their hair, etc. Did I mention lingerie? Oh, I see that I did. Well, I hereby mention it again. The people who design, manufacture, and promote lingerie... posted by Michael at January 3, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Borjas on Immigration
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Harvard economist George Borjas discusses the immigration situation with Vdare's Peter Brimelow: part one, part two. Borjas, who has reviewed all the studies, believes that our current immigration policies are at best economically neutral in their effect, and that they certainly hurt our local less-well-off. Which means, as Peter Brimelow has often written, that we're putting ourselves through a wrenching and unwanted cultural transformation all for nothing. Nice to see too that -- unlike the more rabid libertarians and the more narrowminded GDP-obsessed types -- Borjas is comfortable with the concept of "cultural costs." After all, even if our kooky immigration policies do result in income going up 0.1%, why should we care if they also mean dramatic increases in crowdedness, ethnic tensions, and economic polarization? Hard to imagine that a crumbling sense of national identity and a feeling on the part of most Americans that they're being screwed is going to do life in this country a lot of good. George Borjas blogs here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 3, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments

Thursday, December 20, 2007

For Whose Benefit?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Why do our rulers and bureaucrats devote so much energy to benefitting foreigners? Steve Sailer cites the example of Southern California, a warm and beautiful region which immigrants keep piling into and natives keep fleeing. Whose good is being worked for here? England seems to be a similar case. This is apparently the way it works in England these days: You elect a leader because he has promised to create jobs. He does indeed create jobs. Then he imports a lot of foreigners to fill them. (See also here.) Now, aren't you glad that matters have worked out so well? Protest your leader's schizo policies, and not only do you get labeled a racist, you get your entire political career destroyed. Donate to Steve Sailer's fund-raising drive here. I've derived more knowledge, information, provocation, and entertainment from reading Steve in recent years than I have from looking at the NYTimes and The New Yorker combined. Let's keep Steve hard at work. Hibernia Girl asks some substantial questions. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 20, 2007 | perma-link | (58) comments

Raw Milk: Telltale Issue of Our Time?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm finding it fascinating that raw milk has become a flash-point issue -- one of those possibly-unresolvable conundra that many establishment people wish would just go away, yet that permit some underlying feelings and convictions to show themselves off in more glory than they often have a chance to. A little background: In most states, it's against the law to sell or buy raw (ie., unpasteurized and unhomogenized, straight-from-the-cow-or-goat) milk because of fears of contamination. Yet some people feel that raw milk isn't just ultra-tasty (having tried raw milk, I agree wholeheartedly with this verdict), it also benefits their health. So: Perhaps the sale of raw milk should be strictly prevented on public-health grounds -- public-health grounds that we're justifiably proud of, and that we should be completely unyielding about. After all, in pre-pasteurization days, tons and tons of people used to get sick because of milk-borne infections. On the other hand, why shouldn't freedom and liberty prevail whenever possible? Provided that the public is made aware of the risks, why shouldn't people be allowed to conduct business as they see fit? After all, if we permit the sale of cigarettes ... The controversy seems to be emerging as a newsworthy one. (Here, here.) An informal coalition of hippies, home-schoolers, health buffs, libertarians, local-farming fans, and foodies are pushing the freedom-and-raw-milk cause, while governments are cracking down so hard on the raw-milk scene that they're beginning to make some people think, "Good lord, it's Waco all over again." And editors and policymakers are beginning, if reluctantly, to take note. Whee! It's also fun that, as with many up-to-date issues -- immigration policy is another example -- traditional notions of "left" and "right" have zero relevance to any of this. After all, what kind of guidance can you derive on the raw-milk issue from saying, "I'm a Democrat"? Is Ohio the state that's toughest on raw milk producers? Ron Paul seems to be the candidate most sympathetic to the raw-milk cause. (Tyler Cowen and many commenters are interesting on Ron Paul here.) Here's raw milk central. Nina Planck, whose book "Real Food" I liked very much, is a raw-milk fan. Here she manages to make the case for raw milk and for Gary Taubes' book "Good Calories, Bad Calories." On the third hand, this can't have been fun to endure. And here are some reasons why you might want to avoid raw milk. How deeply should our governments be involving themselves in public-health matters anyway? If we're OK with our rulers and bureaucrats swinging into action when a plague threatens, how about flus? Smoking? Obesity? Trans-fats? ... School meals? ... Raw milk? Not that my opinion matters (or should matter) one iota, but I certainly can't see why people who want to buy and drink raw milk shouldn't be allowed to. Tens of thousands are injured and killed every year because of cars ... Leafy greens and salad bars sicken many more people than raw... posted by Michael at December 20, 2007 | perma-link | (26) comments

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Back Then
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Rick Darby -- who was there -- watched a recent History Channel documentary about 1968. Great passage: That's the liberal mentality for you: people can't be trusted to make their own judgments and draw their own conclusions. They are racists to the bone, ready to run amok unless the information they receive is carefully filtered by their betters in the media. Gerard Vanderleun -- who was there too -- points out that Bill 'n' Hill were, er, co-habiting nearby. Funny passage: If the Clintons, during their first prolonged cohabitation, were at all "normal" for the time their evenings at home would have consisted of rolling a fat doobie, probably three or four; whipping up some chicken curry smoking a fat doobie; getting some dim candles going along with a stick of incense putting on a tried and true series of records; and hopping into bed and, as we said then, "balling" until they passed out. That was pretty much the standard evening's entertainment in the summer of 1971 in Berkeley. Why doesn't anyone use the term "balling" these days? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 19, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

John Stossel Interviews Ron Paul
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- What to make of the fact that ABC's execs won't be broadcasting an interview that John Stossel has done with Ron Paul on TV, but will release it on the web only? Have they made a wise, considered, and responsible news judgment? Or are they demonstrating once again what enemies of freedom they truly are? Watch the first part of the interview here; read an opinion about what seems to be turning into a controversy here. Links thanks to Andrew Sullivan. Best, Michael UPDATE: I, Squub thinks Ron Paul is great -- but maybe only in theory.... posted by Michael at December 12, 2007 | perma-link | (14) comments

History Dud
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Big fan though I am of the Teaching Company, I haven't had a lot of luck with their history series. Exceptions: the fiery, brilliant Alan Charles Kors and the terse, super-organized Kenneth Harl, both of whom are among my Teaching Company faves. Oh, and the expansive, urbane, and amusing Patrick Allitt. He's great too. Hmm, that's three good history profs ... Whatever my disappointments with the Teaching Company, I've still had a better batting average with them than I had at the fancy and overpriced university I attended. In any case, my latest Teaching Company history-series let-down is Peter Stearns' "A Brief History of the World." I really thought this would be a course for me. As much as I've enjoyed a number of western-civ-centric Histories of Everything, I've always yearned to be marched through all of history from a decentered point of view. Gimme the big picture, baby! Or make that the big pictures, plural! And in his throat-clearing -- er, introductory -- lecture, Stearns announces explicitly that that's what he'll be doing. But I rapidly lost heart, and I put the series aside after only seven lectures. This is one of those cases where what a lecture series plants in your brain isn't the subject matter it purports to be presenting but the professional field that it's part of. To make my point a little more clearly: As I listened to the series, my brain didn't fill with History -- with images of and information about invasions, migrations, rulers, everyday people, etc. Instead, what filled my mind was a picture of the faculty meetings where the field called "World History" was hashed-out. (In this, I was reminded of another lousy Teaching Company series. While you might think that a series entitled "Peoples and Cultures of the World" would survey, y'know, some of the world's peoples and cultures, what the course delivers instead is an introduction to the professional field of academic anthropology. You learn far more about the history of this field -- about what anthro professors do, and about the positions profs and researchers have staked out -- than you do about, say, the Masai.) I have a seat-of-the-pants theory that the worth of a professor can be judged by the number of times he / she uses such words as "of course," "significantly," "obviously," "frankly" and "clearly." I think of these words as "pontificators"; they're words that profs use to puff themselves up in front of their colleagues and to lord it over their students. The more these words are put to use, the worse the course being presented is. Stearns? Well, he gives every one of these words a workout, sometimes cramming several of them together into the same sentence. But the real problem with the course is how general it is. Even granting that an 18-hour lecture series on world history needs to move like the wind, this one is still amazingly vague. It includes what must be... posted by Michael at December 12, 2007 | perma-link | (19) comments

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Facts for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Immigration makes the news: Immigration into the U.S. over the last seven years was the highest in any seven-year period ever. Over 10 million new immigrants have settled in the U.S. since 2000. More than half of them are illegal immigrants. The majority of immigrants during this period came from Mexico and Central America. There are now 38 million immigrants living in the U.S. In the U.S., one in eight people is an immigrant. One third of immigrant families receive public assistance. Over the last 15 years, immigrant families have accounted for three-quarters of the increase in those without health insurance. 31 percent of immigrants over 25 years old, both legal and illegal, have not completed high school, compared with 8.4 percent of American citizens. Among adult Hispanic immigrants, nearly 51 percent do not have high school diplomas. Source. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 29, 2007 | perma-link | (82) comments

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Back to the Seventies?
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, I’ve been doing a little light surfing this morning, and have to say that the overall impression is that we’re heading back to those good old days of the 1970s. Not only do we have an unpopular war dragging on in the Third World, but the economy seems to be headed into an unpleasant combination of recession, prolonged slow growth and higher inflation. Remember "stagflation"? Well, don’t take my word for it. Let’s start with The Economist’s story from November 15, 2007, "America’s vulnerable economy": More timely signs suggest that the economy could stall in this quarter. By early next year, output and jobs could be shrinking. The main cause is the imploding housing market. Experts said that house prices could never fall nationwide. But fall they have, by 5% in the past 12 months. Residential investment has collapsed, but a glut of unsold homes means that prices have much further to drop. Americans' spending is likely to be dented much more by a fall in house prices than it was in 2001 by the stockmarket's collapse. Then follows a Bloomberg story by Kabir Chibber on November 16, “Goldman Sees Subprime Cutting $2 Trillion in Lending”: The slump in global credit markets may force banks, brokerages and hedge funds to cut lending by $2 trillion and trigger a "substantial recession" in the U.S., according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Losses related to record home foreclosures using a "back- of-the-envelope" calculation may be as high as $400 billion for financial companies, Jan Hatzius, chief U.S. economist at Goldman in New York wrote in a report dated yesterday. The effects may be amplified tenfold as companies that borrowed to finance their investments scale back lending, the report said. "The likely mortgage credit losses pose a significantly bigger macroeconomic risk than generally recognized," Hatzius wrote. "It is easy to see how such a shock could produce a substantial recession" or "a long period of very sluggish growth," he wrote. Chiming in, we have Nouriel Roubini (admittedly, a long-time proponent of the hard-landing school of thought) on November 16 on his blog: But the evidence is now building that an ugly recession is inevitable. Thus, the repeated statements by Fed officials that they may be done with cutting the Fed Funds rate are both hollow and utterly disingenuous. The Fed Funds rate will be down to 4% by January and below 3% by the end of 2008. I suspect that Mr. Roubini is correct, but if so the inflation rate is likely to rise to unpleasantly high levels. In fact, inflation already seems to have gotten a bit of a head start on our Federal Reserve inflation hawks, oops, I mean, interest rate cutters. Barry Ritholtz, author of The Big Picture blog, has been a long-time skeptic of official inflation data. On November 14th, he questioned the official line that the Producer Price Index was a benign 0.1 percent in October: 0.1% PPI ? Not according to the... posted by Friedrich at November 17, 2007 | perma-link | (13) comments

Friday, November 16, 2007

Spitzer Listens
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The system works. Of course, why the system keeps generating so many politicians determined not just to defy the preferences of the general population but to smear us for holding the opinions we do is a bit of a mystery. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 16, 2007 | perma-link | (24) comments

Thursday, November 15, 2007

School Board Platform
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Seattle is still a fine place to live for most residents. But the politics can be pretty weird for mindless right-wingers such as me -- especially within the city limits. I imagine San Francisco is even farther out, as might be student voter dominated places such as Berkeley and Santa Cruz, California. Just for the heck of it, consider the District No. 3 race for the Seattle School District board ("District No. 3" is practically meaningless, as all voters in the school district area get to vote for candidates in each "district.") The following is the candidate statement for David Blomstrom as it appears in the voters' pamphlet. The link is here, but I don't know how long it will be active. America is being destroyed by corporate corruption, and we must fight back. Yet how can we bring George W. Bush and Bill Gates to justice if we can’t even reform our own local school board? In other news, did you know this may be Seattle’s LAST school board election? The media, public officials and school board candidates are complicit in their stunning silence on this issue. A former Seattle Schools employee turned whistle-blower (see “The Olchefske Files” online), I’ve advocated an authentic audit of the district since my first campaign in 1999. (Our new superintendent hasn’t earned $250K!) Let’s replace the Seattle Education Association with a real union (e.g. the Wobblies) and ban the WASL, a tool used by corporations to keep children down. I also advocate socialism - not Soviet-style, but more in line with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’ vision. The oil industry should be nationalized, and money spent on weapons used to murder civilians in Iraqistan would be better used to fund free medical care. (By the way, as a children’s advocate, I cannot support the troops who have slaughtered so many children in foreign lands. Shame on them.) Our schools should similarly be un-privatized, and the Alliance for Education given the boot. (How many schools have been ruined or closed since Bill Gates began “donating” money to the Seattle School District?) I say screw Seattle civility, and embrace children and democracy instead. Even if your only concern is rising property taxes, you ignore Seattle’s Education Mafia at your peril. Beware candidates who proclaim themselves “national education consultants” and avoid the issues yet are endorsed by our corrupt media. (Remember: The Seattle Times endorsed president AWOL.) (Continued at; Bonus: My adventure with the privatized U.S. Postal Service!) Candidate David Blomstrom I assume Blomstrom's statement is not satire. And how did he fare when the November 6th votes were counted? As of yesterday, he had 24,785 votes, 22.85% of the total. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 15, 2007 | perma-link | (17) comments

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Wishful Projections
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Fairly often I come across the assertion that "homophobes" are actually repressed homosexuals. I'm inclined to doubt that the claim is generally true, though there's no reason to doubt that it might be true for some individuals. But for the moment let's assume that it is true. Now let's generalize and posit that anyone with a strong dislike of some form of human behavior secretly harbors such behavior himself. Seems perfectly reasonable, right? Surely the case of attitudes regarding homosexuality can't be unique. Therefore, it would be perfectly correct to assert that people who hate Republicans are really repressed GOPers. I knew you would agree. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 6, 2007 | perma-link | (35) comments

Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, In a recent posting, Auctionocracy, I provided a very brief overview of money in politics and argued the thesis that we've adopted a system of public policy that's openly for sale to the highest bidder. I wanted to follow that post up with several showing examples of how an industry's cash spent on campaign contributions and lobbying has paid off handsomely for that industry, but perhaps hasn't worked out quite so well for American society at large. In the first of these follow-up postings, I want to consider the healthcare industry. To recapitulate, I would remind you of a piece of information from my first posting, to wit that healthcare providers were the second-most prodigal political spenders, having forked out $420 million in contributions during the 1998-2006 campaign cycles, and $2,043 million in lobbying during the years 1998-2006. (These figures were compiled from data at, which I wholeheartedly advise you to visit here.) In their generosity, the healthcare providers were only exceeded by the plutocrats of the financial services industry and they come in well ahead of the "political" donors, who scraped along in third place. I also wanted to re-emphasize that in my numbers above I left out the $255 million in campaign contributions and lobbying expenses of the HMO industry because their economic agenda at least occasionally calls for restricting healthcare spending. This of course differentiates them from the hardcore healthcare providers (doctors, dentists, nurses, chiropractors, hospitals and nursing homes, pharmaceutical companies, medical supplies and equipment providers, dietary and nutritional supplement manufacturers) who are all united by a heartfelt and unambiguous desire for more healthcare spending, and whose campaign contributions and lobbying dollars are spent to bring that glorious consummation about. Simply talking about dollar aggregates may not suggest how much effort that the health care industry puts into its political arm twisting; this piece by Maureen Glabman from 2002 may provide a clearer impression. After noting that in that year there were 17,800 registered Washington lobbyists, she points out that: An estimated 40 percent of those 17,800 lobbyists promote health care agendas, according to James Albertine, president of the Alexandria, Va.-based American League of Lobbyists. To put it another way, there are 13 health care lobbyists for each of the 535 members of Congress. Well, what has the healthcare industry gotten in return for its campaign contributions and its fleet of lobbyists? I am delighted to announce on behalf of those never-say-die influence peddlers that their hard work and determination has paid off better than hitting the Trifecta. The healthcare industry receives a gusher, a veritable Niagara of public subsidies, luxurious enough even to make the farm lobby or the military-industrial complex speechless with envy. As Maggie Mahar reports here, (based on figures from 2004): [T]taxpayers bankroll [i.e., subsidize] 51 percent of the nation's $2 trillion health care bill: this includes paying for private insurance for public employees (accounting for 6 percent of total health care spending), Medicare (17 percent... posted by Friedrich at November 6, 2007 | perma-link | (9) comments

Watson, Population Groups, Etc
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Like many people, I've read the news reports about James Watson's comments about Africa and brainpower, and the other news reports about condemnations of Watson, about Watson's apology, about his dismissal from the institution he founded. Main reactions, not that my reactions deserve paying-attention-to: I'm as scandalized as many are by the spectacle of Watson being crucified. At the same time, I think you have to be a bit of a social-political retard not to realize that topics of the kind that Watson touched on and statements of the kind that Watson made carry a charge. You can't realistically say the kind of thing that Watson said and expect the world at large to act deferential and grateful towards you. Prick the giant monster that is political correctness and you will have a serious fight on your hands. Given that, once what was said was said ... Well, in the case of James Watson as in the case of Larry Summers, I felt let down. Both men tested a taboo -- yay to that -- and then both men backed down. (Boo, hiss.) Lordy, what wusses. To be fair, perhaps neither guy had any idea how badly he'd taunted the monster. Perhaps both men were taken by surprise by the reactions they provoked. Even so, once the fray was underway I'm sorry that Summers and Watson didn't grow a pair, find their inner "300" Spartan warrior, and put up a serious fight. Why? For a simple and practical reason. Some people I've met who work in the genetics field have assured me that tons of information about biological-genetic differences between the races is going to be emerging over the next few decades. Given that fact, it seems to me of the utmost importance that numerous discussions about how we're going to handle this kind of information get underway, and pronto. We seem already 'way past the point where denial, self-righteousness, and attempts to control the conversation will prove productive in anything but the shortest run. So far as getting started with these conversations go, Steve Sailer and GNXP's Jason Malloy have seemed to me to have a lot to contribute, agree with them or not. They also command about a thousand-trillion times the knowledge and information that I do. (Jason here, Steve here and here.) I also enjoyed scrolling through the comments on Jason and Steve's postings. The world is full of so many brainy, interesting people ... But, but ... Well, there are two things that emerge sometimes from the rightie side of the table that baffle me. #1. Some righties seem to feel that the West made a suicidal mistake when it let itself say, "All cultures are equally valuable." According to this crowd, the person who thinks that all cultures are interesting and valuable ensures that all values crumble. The culture that agrees that other cultures are nifty too succeeds only at paralyzing its own will and undermining its own self-preservation... posted by Michael at November 6, 2007 | perma-link | (62) comments

Friday, November 2, 2007

Stiglitz on Globalization
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Nobelist (and former Clinton advisor) Joseph Stiglitz is bracingly frank about the failings of globalization in this talk to a Google audience. Despite a booming China and an on-the-make India, growth has been slower than expected in much of the rest of the world. Globalization was expected to lead to greater worldwide stablity. What it has resulted in instead has been dozens of financial crises. Globalization was supposed to encourage money to flow from the rich world to the poor one. In fact, money has been flowing in the opposite direction. Globalization was expected to be an equalizer of incomes. As things have played out, though, inequality has increased dramatically not only between countries but within countries. The income of the U.S.'s lower classes, for instance, has actually decreased over the last 30 years. Stiglitz is also more worldly than most professorial types are about the way that special interests warp arrangements to their own advantage. Despite all these admissions, though, Stiglitz still thinks that globalization can be made to work. How? Well, somehow "we" have got to get our incentives straight, for our political classes as well as for our trade-agreement set. I haven't yet found the passage where he names the planet on which such a thing might possibly be made to happen. Forgive me for suspecting that what he really means is, "I believe. I see the shortcomings, yes. But I can't give up my belief." Here's an AlterNet interview with Stiglitz. Stiglitz's books about globalization are buyable here and here. Am I wrong in thinking that part of what "opening world trade up" often means in practice is "giving greater license to the shrewd, the connected, and the powerful to take unscrupulous advantage of the rest of us"? I say this as a most-places / most-times fan of free trade, by the way. It's just that ... Well, how can "free trade" be made to happen at the global level? Who, after all, are we going to find who'll be able to officiate the game in a disengaged, fair-minded way? A Martian? Or perhaps ... Joseph Stiglitz? Don't miss FvBlowhard's recent analysis of lobbying and campaign-contribution money. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 2, 2007 | perma-link | (14) comments

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, All our teachers taught us that we live in a democracy, or, perhaps more precisely, in a republic. In either case ultimate sovereignty derives from The People. And (eventually, at least) the Will of The People cannot be denied, because their votes call the shots. Right? Well, as we edge closer to an election year, I would have to say I've got my doubts about all that. Because, the way I see it, it's distinctly possible that we actually live in something more akin to an "auctionocracy" where people who want political influence write checks to purchase it. My guess is that dollar bills donated to campaigns or devoted to lobbying, rather than votes cast for candidates, constitutes the real action in terms of how America is governed and how Americans live. I did a little research on the total dollars donated at the Federal level on Congressional and Presidential elections, as well as those dollars spent on lobbying, at can - and should - check them out here.) I totaled up all the contributions and lobbying expenditures for the years 1998 to 2006 (or the 1998 - 2006 election cycles). I excluded the 2007 numbers because they are still fragmentary. I excluded data on campaign contributions from before the 1998 election cycle because there is no corresponding data on lobbying. A drumroll please...the following are the leading sources of political money in modern America: #1. The finance industry, including commercial and investment banks, savings & loans, private equity firms and insurers (other than health insurers) made $933 million in campaign contributions and spent $2,077 million on lobbying, giving them a grand total of $2,941 million. #2. Health care providers, including medical professionals, hospitals, nursing homes and the pharmaceutical industry, made $420 million in campaign contributions and spent $2,043 million on lobbying, giving them a grand total of $2,463 million. #3. Ideological donors, single-issue donors and retirement-focused donors made $1,259 in campaign contributions and spent $848 million on lobbying, giving them a grand total of $2,107 million. #4. Agribusiness made $229 million in campaign contributions and spent $694 million on lobbying, giving them a grand total of $923 million. #5. The real estate industry including mortgage bankers made $358 million in campaign contributions and spent $549 million on lobbying, giving them a grand total of $906 million. #6. Electric utilities made $84 million in campaign contributions and spent $793 million on lobbying, giving them a grand total of $877 million. #7. Lawyers and lobbyists made $670 million in campaign contributions and spent $188 million on lobbying, giving them a grand total of $857 million. #8. The defense industry made $75 million in campaign contributions and spent $716 million on lobbying, giving them a grand total of $791 million. #9. The computer/Internet industries gave $124 million in campaign contributions and spent $625 million lobbying, giving them a grand total of $749 million. #10. The education industry gave $93 million in campaign contributions and spent... posted by Friedrich at November 1, 2007 | perma-link | (22) comments

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Numbers and Tastes
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Steve Sailer points out that part of what explains catastrophic Southern California wildfires is booming population growth. * Terrierman makes the case that part of what's driving increases in atmospheric CO2 is ... booming population growth. Terrierman -- who I discovered thanks to those brainy backpackers at Querencia -- strikes me as a real find, as well as one of the most substantial bloggers out there. Terrierman's overt subject may be working dogs -- and he's great on that topic. But his brain and his writing also set off all kinds of meaty, non-dog-related thoughts. Here's a characteristically vigorous and unsentimental example. Here's another. And a real beauty. Reid Farmer points out this extra-special posting, and I'm thrilled to see that Terrierman approves of Cesar "Dog Whisperer" Millan. The Wife and I love watching "The Dog Whisperer" -- which, like the Terrierman blog, ain't just about dogs. You can buy Terrierman's book about working terriers here. Fun to see that the go-it-his-own-way Terrierman has made use of the self-publishing outfit, which I've praised in numerous postings. Irascible and curmudgeonly people often seem to stumble across the same resources, don't they? (And speaking of population levels ... Querencia host Steve Bodio points out this report about mountain snowpack. Although ocean levels may be rising, the quantity of fresh water in America's snowpack is currently at its lowest level in 20 years. Is it wise to be stuffing -- er, inviting -- ever more people into our Southwest when supplies of fresh water there are actually on the decrease?) As a leftover '70s-style eco-buff myself, I find it weird that such questions as "How crowded with humans do we want the world to be?" and "How crowded with humans do we want our country to be?" are so seldom raised these days. You don't suppose that sanctimoniousness about multiculturalism and touchiness about immigration policies might have anything to do with this, do you? Hey, a visual that I'm fond of: Incidentally, if anyone should be in a combative mood: That's great, I look forward to your thoughts. But please take into account the fact that I haven't asked how many people the planet (or country) is capable of holding, but how many we'd like it to have. That's a conversation that strikes me as much too rarely raised. It's also one during which the question of preferences will inevitably come up -- and matters of preference inevitably connect to the slippery question of tastes. Where do tastes come from? How do they arise? Do they need to be justified, or are they just what they are? If that's the case, how can they be discussed? Is it even possible to win an argument where tastes are concerned? And if not, on what basis can policies that include a "tastes and preferences" component be made? As much as some people like to think (and argue) that the question of taste can be bypassed or dismissed,... posted by Michael at October 24, 2007 | perma-link | (21) comments

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

And They Have the Nerve to Call This Free
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, I saw this little item from October 18 while surfing the web last night; it is Dan Steinbock's "Multinationals Fear US-China trade wars.” (You can read the whole item here.) The part that caught my attention was: Some 119 leading multinational companies...including Boeing, Citigroup, General Motors, and Microsoft...have called on Congress to reject protectionist legislation against China, arguing that "imposing unfair barriers to trade in the name of currency valuation or product safety is not a solution to the underlying concerns". It was "a vote for free trade", reported the state-owned China Daily, which, as so many other Chinese observers do, argues that rising protectionism among some US lawmakers "seriously threatens the interests of China, the United States itself and the world at large". The story goes on to reference Wall Street's, er, I mean, our Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's view on this issue: During the past few weeks, US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has repeatedly warned Congress against making legislation aimed at punishing China over its economic policies. "When we look at taking unilateral actions aimed at another nation, this can have enormous repercussions to our economic well-being," Paulson said. "You know, we're playing with fire." Well, if we’re playing with fire, it just might be because we’ve already been burned. I had an especially hard time stomaching the notion that the U.S.-China trade status quo has anything to do with that venerable concept, free trade. My distaste for the way this buzzword is thrown around in current debates was reinforced by an item I noted on Brad Setser’s blog. Mr. Setser is no mere blowhard, opining on matters well beyond his competency. He actually worked for the US Treasury from 1997 to 2001 on international financial architecture, sovereign debt restructurings, and was the acting director of the US Treasury''s Office of International Monetary and Financial Policy. In a post from October 23, 2007, he discusses the very different responses we’re seeing from the "developed world" and the "emerging world" to the fall of the U.S. dollar and the consequent rise of other currencies, chiefly the Euro and the Australian dollar. (This revaluation is making exporters from Europe and Australia worried that their exports may get priced out of the market.) From Mr. Setser: The FT notes, in today’s leader, that the G-7 hasn’t been able to agree on the massive, co-ordinated intervention needed up hold the dollar up against the euro...The funny thing is that the emerging world has been able to muster support for massive, global intervention needed to hold the dollar up... He explains how the Asian developing countries have managed such unanimity without any formal organization, like the G-7 talks, to promote such cooperation. The chief element of this discipline appears to be fear of China’s export machine, powered in large part by a severely undervalued currency: long as China resists allowing its currency to appreciate--a policy that requires that China buy tons of dollars in the foreign... posted by Friedrich at October 23, 2007 | perma-link | (11) comments

Facts for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Hillary Clinton, who as a candidate has promised "a return to transparency," hasn't encouraged much in the way of transparency at the Clinton Library, where only one half of one percent of the 78 million pages of documents that are stored there have been made available to the public. One half of one percent! (Source.) * The U.S. trade deficit in 1991: $31 billion. The U.S. trade deficit in 2006: $759 billion. $759 billion! But there's a sunny side to the news: the 2007 trade deficit looks to be down a bit. (Source.) * Nutty immigration policies and high birth rates among immigrants mean that the U.K.'s population may hit 77 million by 2051. 77 million! That's already one crowded island-nation. Do you suppose that most natives would vote for this development -- assuming they were, y'know, ever consulted about their preferences in such matters? * Another consequence of the U.K.'s current immigration scheme: The nonwhite population of the U.K. will grow by more than 300% during this stretch. 300%! In just a little over 40 years!! That means wrenching changes ahead, to put it mildly. Hey, elites: Haven't you ever heard of avoiding forseeable problems? (Source.) * Even Britain's chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, has called for an end to multiculturalism, which he finds "inexorably divisive." (Source, thanks to Steve Sailer.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 23, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Pleasures of the Cusp
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- This item by the incomparable Mark Steyn is linked by Instapundit and probably others. Relevant section: As John [O'Sullivan] put it, societies in the early stages of decline can be very agreeable - and often more agreeable than societries [sic] trying to cope with prosperity and rapid growth. ... Precisely because the first stages of decline are so agreeable, it's very hard to accept it as such. Part of the problem in Europe is that, when chaps like yours truly shriek "Run for your lives! The powder keg's about to go up!", etc, the bon vivant enjoying his Dubonnet at the sidewalk cafe thinks: Are you crazy? Life's never been better. Civilized decline can be so charming you don't notice it's about to accelerate into uncivilized decline. Interesting concept. But difficult or impossible to quantify, leaving us to fall back on anecdote and conjecture. Complicating things is that no society of any size is homogeneous economically. For instance, late-Victorian and Edwardian England as well as France in the Belle Époque era could be cited as examples of agreeable life at the cusp and beyond. Yet other observers might immediately jump in and cite heartbreaking tales of impoverished peasants and exploited factory workers from the same times. Then there is the fact that, given a clear disaster or collapse, the period immediately before it must have been better, for some people, at least: we're talking comparisons, right? Enough quibbling. Let's have some fun. Assume O'Sullivan/Steyn are correct. What twilight good-times can we identify? In addition to the ones mentioned above, I can pile on some other obvious cases: The Roaring Twenties, Vienna in that same Belle Époque and Rome in the first decades after it became Imperial. And on a smaller scale, what about cities other than Vienna? A while ago I wrote about the point when I thought New York City tipped into the death spiral of the 70s and 80s. But our shiny new search engine doesn't think 2Blowards ever used the words "New York," so I can't link to that post. Anyhow, for my non-childhood lifetime, I say New York City noticeably hit the skids around 1965. So the ten or 20 years before that might count as a golden twilight. Ditto that for San Francisco -- same dates, but 'Frisco (I know locals hate that name, but so what?) is still on the skids. Go to Market Street near the theatre district some evening and you'll get the picture. Which makes me wonder about Seattle. Living here is about as pleasant as can be (aside from last week's windstorm and power outage, and possibly the occasional earthquake and volcano eruption). The town votes Democrat overwhelmingly and the mayor and city council scare this particular warmongering Neanderthal with their (unintended? ... or not?) drive to turn the place into yet another NYC or SFO. Enough of me. What do you think? Please comment. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 20, 2007 | perma-link | (15) comments

Thursday, October 11, 2007

From Visitors 1: WWI Recommendations
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Back in this posting, I asked for recommendations for sources about World War One. Given how much erudite advice came flooding in, I thought I'd be missing the chance to do a real public service if I didn't take the tips and put them into a posting of their own. Charlton Griffin points out that Wikipedia's entry on the war is very well done. Charlton himself has produced an audiobook of Garrett and Godfrey's "Europe Since 1815," and he says it's a good introduction to the era. (I do love a good introduction ...) "Mud, Blood, and Poppycock" by Gordon Corrigan gets thumbs-up from Alex, Dearieme, and others. Lexington Green recommends "The Swordbearers" by Correlli Barnett; Lex has also written some substantial postings himself about the War: here, here, here. Alex and tschafer put in a good word for the military historian John Terraine; Tschafer and Narr think Niall Ferguson's "The Pity of War" has a lot going for it; Narr also likes John Mosier's "The Myth of the Great War." William Suddeth is a fan of G.J. Meyer's "A World Undone: The Story of the Great War" (a mere 800 pages), and Ned recommends Sir Basil Liddell Hart's "The Real War." That ought to keep me in reading material for the next quarter-century or so. Many thanks to all. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 11, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Rose-Colored Glasses and Economists
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, I noticed a current (October 10, 2007) story posted on the website by Joe Richter and Alex Tanzi, "U.S. Economy to Avoid Recession as Housing Sinks, Survey Shows." As the story leads off: The U.S. economy will skirt recession even as the housing slump takes a bigger bite from growth, according to a survey of economists. The economy will grow at an annual rate of 1.8 percent in the fourth quarter, 0.4 percentage point less than forecast last month, according to the median of 71 analysts participating in Bloomberg News's monthly survey. Estimates for the first six months of next year were also reduced. Well, that's not fabulous, exactly, but it sounds like we're going to dodge the bullet, right? Unfortunately, maybe not. My recent reading of economics bloggers has tipped me off to a painful truth: economists are notoriously bad predictors of recessions. Indeed, they seem to have a systemic bias for what might be termed rose-colored glasses. Nouriel Roubini, a Serious Economist (see his Wikipedia profile), brought this up in a post (which you can read here) from a year ago in which he defended his call that the U.S. would see a recession in 2007: These days I get asked daily in interviews and talks: "How do you explain that the market consensus is still so far from your recession call for 2007? Why does almost everyone on Wall Street believe that there will be no recession? What do you know that they do not?" Actually I do not know anything that they do not; we use the same public information and, of course, I have no inside information. My explanation of the consensus view about a "soft landing" is that there is a massive and systematic bias in forecasting recessions. Take the following telling example: in March 2001 in a survey 95% of US economic forecasters predicted that there would not be a recession in 2001; 95% of them! Too bad that the recession had already started exactly in March of that year!....This even after the tech and investment bubble had totally busted in 2000; even after the 2000 Chrismas sales were a disaster and growth was already crawling down to zero by the end of 2000; this even after the Fed went into a panic mode on January 2nd 2001 and cut the Fed Funds rate in between FOMC meetings because of the collapse of Chrismas sales and the collapse of the NASDAQ that day was clearly signaling a coming recession. There was systematic delusional bullish bias among forecasters, among investors and in the Fed. [emphasis original] Dr. Roubini also linked to a IMF Working Paper by Prakash Loungani, , "How Accurate are Private Sector Forecasts? Cross-Country Evidence From Consensus Forecasts of Output Growth" from April 2000. This study systematically examined forecasts for 63 countries for the period from 1989-2000. One of its conclusions: How well do forecasters predict recessions? The simple answer is: "Not very well." Only... posted by Friedrich at October 10, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Child of a Pundit
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- What's it like to grow up the child of a famous right-wing pundit? John Leo's daughter Alex recollects. Rebelling against her beloved dad, Alex decided to attend Wesleyan. Sheesh: Did she need to go to that extreme? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 9, 2007 | perma-link | (13) comments

Friday, October 5, 2007

Populatin' and Propagatin' 3 -- The Anti-Death Party?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The awaited-by-no one final episode in my trilogy on questions of population and propagating. Episode one can be read here; episode two is here. Here's a short version. Episode one: Why the hostility between breeders and non-breeders? We're all in this together, no? Episode two: Why so much anxiety about birth rates among certain crowds? The world's population is currently growing every year by more than the population of France. (That's an increase of over 200,000 people every goshdarned day.) And though it will level off sooner or later, that will be -- by my standards, anyway -- at a very high level indeed. What? 9 billion people isn't enough for you? In this final episode I'm going to pick on the crowd over at Rod Dreher's Crunchy Con blog. Incidentally, this is a little ungallant of me. I like Dreher's work, I'm fairly Crunchy myself, and I recommend regular visits to Crunchy Con, the blog. So please let's understand that I'm not putting anything or anyone down. Instead, I'm scratching my head over a phenomenon that I encounter at Rod's joint from time to time. Here's the puzzling tendency I sometimes run across: people who have kids carrying on as though they're doing their kid-having and kid-raising in the face of considerable opposition. They portray having and raising kids as a defiant and heroic adventure, a stirring war story in which every small success is accomplished despite overwhelming and hostile forces arrayed against them. These people can get downright urgent and teary about what they seem to see as their noble crusade, namely childraising. It's all ... for the kids! Cue weeping and sobbing, blackslaps and high-fives, and intense frenzies of self-righteousness ... I don't think I'm exaggerating, by the way. Check out the comments on this posting, for one example among many. This attitude requires an enemy, of course. And by god, these people have one. They call it "the Party of Death." (Or sometimes "the Culture of Death.") They really do. I'm often unsure what's being indicated by this name. Sometimes the Party of Death seems to consist of aggressive secularists, sometimes of aggressive Muslims, sometimes of aggressive people who don't do everything in their power to keep population growth booming, sometimes of aggressive DINKs -- because those of us without kids spend our days, y'know, swilling cocktails, snorting cocaine, attending orgies, and making fun of breeders. Sometimes the Party of Death seems to include anyone who ventures the slightest bit of irreverence about the whole sacred having-and-raising-kids thang. Whatever the case, these wet-eyed child-raising devotees share a fervent conviction that there are Lots of People Out There who don't, just don't, want them to propagate. You have got to understand!!!! Now, in fact I do understand a few things about this position. For one thing, I understand that raising kids can be a struggle. For another, I certainly understand that most parents feel anxiety and concern about their kids. If... posted by Michael at October 5, 2007 | perma-link | (46) comments

Keegan and His Zigzags
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few questions for the history buffs among you? I'm making my way through the early pages of John Keegan's "The First World War." Despite Keegan's rep as Our Greatest Historian of War, and despite the book's generally good reviews, I'm not liking it much. It seems all over the place, even half-baked. Keegan seems to me to be riffing as he makes his way through a lot of not-very-well organized notes -- "OK, here's my pile of 'what led to the war' index cards, now let's get through that ..." He's breezing his way along as he connects some dot or other to another dot or other, doing what he can to give the impression that he's building towards saying something significant. But he never actually gets around to putting the significance into words. I recall having the same "this could really be better organized" reaction to his work when I went through his "A History of Warfare." But for some reason I had less trouble with the approach there. Maybe that was because that book was attempting something impossible ... Zig-zagging didn't seem like an unsensible approach when what he was taking on was all of human history. But here, with one finite subject ... Well, I find this book exhausting, bewildering, and off-putting. It seems accessible, and word-to-word it's certainly an easy read. But as the pages pile up it's feeling more and more like a jumble. I'd have thought that the book -- given its title and its easy language -- would be a good solid intro to the history of WWI, and I picked it up in the hope that that's what it would be. But it's coming across as a lotta chitchat about WWI for those who already know the story of WWI. So, three questions. 1) Is this an unfair appraisal of Keegan's work generally? Is he better than I'm making him out to be? 2) Should I plug away at the book anyway? Will the effort pay off? 3) Can anyone recommend a better, more to-the-point intro to the history of WWI? Hmm, I wonder if the Teaching Company offers a lecture series on the topic ... UPDATE: They do, though it isn't currently on sale. (Tip for those who want to make use of the Teaching Company's often-excellent products: Buy 'em only when they go on sale, and sooner or later they all go on sale.) In any case, has anyone been through it? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 5, 2007 | perma-link | (23) comments

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

More from Mexico
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Mexico's ruling party holds a convention in Los Angeles -- now that gives you a warm feeling, doesn't it? One of the get-together's themes was, as you might have guessed, how the U.S. ought to take in even more Mexicans than it currently does. A nice quote from Allan Wall, an American living in Mexico: This is utter hypocrisy. As I've pointed out many times, Mexico's own immigration policy is highly selective, ruthlessly and arbitrarily enforced, and absolutely not open to foreign meddling. * Speaking somewhat of which ... I just learned that California's population is now 50% larger than it was when I spent a year out there as a grad student in 1977; that it's more than 300% larger than it was in 1950; and that it's expected to reach 60 million by 2050. California is growing by around a half-million people per year, and water resources are under stress. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 3, 2007 | perma-link | (28) comments

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Econ Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Randall Parker wonders why more and more people are feeling like have-nots these days. * Left-leaning Dean Baker thinks that the Clinton / Rubin team deserve as much blame for our ballooning trade deficits as GWBush does. UPDATE: On the other hand ... * What to make of Radiohead asking listeners to pay what they please? * More likably geeky laughs from Yoram Bauman, the world's only standup economist. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 2, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Friday, September 28, 2007

Cochran on Iraq
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Those who enjoyed wrestling with our recent two-part interview with Gregory Cochran about the U.S.'s mideast adventures (here and here) won't want to miss Cochran's cover story in the current American Conservative about how we should leave Iraq. (Answer: Quickly.) It's as bold and smart as you could want a piece to be. History prof. Paul Schroeder's accompanying essay offers a lot of perspective. Nice passage from Schroeder: "The war never went wrong; it always was wrong, in specific, basic ways." Gary "War Nerd" Brecher does a pretty funny demolition job on a new biography of Dick Cheney. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 28, 2007 | perma-link | (11) comments

Thursday, September 20, 2007

How Virtuous Was Our Virtuous Cycle?
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, As the captain of a small business boat trying to paddle through today's stormy economic seas, I have been spending a lot of time over the last month or so reading financial news online. This has led to my becoming acquainted with some interesting economic blogs. If you have an interest in such matters, you might find Econobrowser, The Big Picture, Calculated Risk, Alphaville and Naked Capitalism entertaining reads. You would even find some wit, I think; for example, Barry Ritholtz of The Big Picture had this to say in the wake of the Fed's recent 50 basis point (0.5% ) rate cut: The Fed now has a third problem to deal with: They have become Wall Street's bitch. They may find that's a difficult condition to wriggle out from . . .[emphasis original] The whole posting was entitled 'Bernanke Blinks' and you can read it here. But mostly I'd like to call your attention to a point that I didn't appreciate about our current economic situation. To wit, that our various economic crises are all closely intertwined. Although from the press coverage one would think that our main problem is a credit crunch caused by loose lending in subprime mortgages, I suspect it would be just as accurate to describe our problem as stemming from our tendency to import a whole lot more than we import, i.e., that we have a large negative current account balance. Okay, okay, I'm sure all you economic sophisticates already knew that, and I am obviously many years late to the party. Better late than never, I hope; I can only say that I woke up abruptly to the interconnectedness of things when I looked at a graph I discovered that compared the increase in mortgage debt outstanding (basically, the amount of new money loaned against real estate) with our trade deficit. Note the similarity in the two trends? You can say all you want about correlation not being causation, but I think it's safe to say that people have been using home equity loans and refinancings to treat their houses as ATM machines, and spending the money they take out of them on goodies, a significant and stable fraction of which are imported. This graph comes to you courtesy of Calculated Risk; you can read the whole posting from March 2005 here. (See what I mean about being years late to the party? Sigh.) The unity of our economic issues is explained quite a bit more eloquently than I could by Calculated Risk in another posting from September 18, 2007 called Fed Funds Rate Cut: Watch Long Rates. The money quote of this insightful piece is as follows: Lower interest rates led to an increase in housing prices. And those higher housing prices led to ever increasing mortgage equity withdrawal (MEW) by homeowners. A large percentage of this equity withdrawal flowed to consumption, increasing both GDP and imports during the boom years. There is a strong correlation... posted by Friedrich at September 20, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments

Monday, September 10, 2007

Q&A With Gregory Cochran, Part 2
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Today we continue with the second and final part of our q&a with Gregory Cochran. Part One, which includes an introduction to Cochran and his work, is here. *** A Q&A With Gregory Cochran, Part Two 2Blowhards: So you don't think democracy and Iraq are made for each other? Cochran: I thought the "democracy push" in the Middle East was funny. Push for elections and you get Hamas and the Moslem Brotherhood. I knew that would happen before we tried it -- why didn't Condi? Why didn't the White House? I could go on, but I think you get the picture. 2B: How important is it that we track down Bin Laden? Why haven't we been able to do so? Cochran: We should certainly kill him. It sets an important precedent. As to why we haven't, I think finding someone in the Northwest Provinces of Pakistan is probably hard, and we're worried about upsetting the applecart there -- and I think we didn't want to, not much. Look at the resources committed. Judge them by their fruits. 2B: How could the USA more effectively protect itself from the danger of Islamic terrorists than it's currently doing? Cochran: Stop trying to get Arabs to become jihadists. Leave Iraq, for example. It's not that big a threat in any event. We could imagine appointing people with brains and some knowledge of the Moslem world to key positions in the FBI and CIA and such, but that seems to be utterly against the spirit of the times. Certainly against the spirit of Washington. I mean there's been no move in that direction, and nobody really minds. Except me of course and I'm probably just irritable. 2B: Speaking of terrorism more generally, how much danger is there of nuclear terrorism? And what if anything should be done about it? Cochran: Not much. No one is going to hand out nukes to terrorists and they can't build their own from scratch, that's for sure. Here I have to get technical. First, the first high hurdle in making a nuclear weapon is obtaining the fissionable materials. No terrorist group can make those materials -- it's a major industrial/scientific effort. Second, you have to make a bomb out of the fissionables, which are for all practical purposes either highly enriched uranium (with the percentage of U-235 increased from the natural 0.7% to something over 90%) or Plutonium-239. Making a Pu-239 bomb is difficult and no terrorist can do it: India took seven tries. Making a bomb out of highly enriched uranium (HEU) is relatively easy -- we didn't even bother to test the Hiroshima bomb -- and terrorists might be able to do it. Modern nuclear weapons themselves have so many inbuilt safeguards that the thieves would have to take one apart and build a new bomb from the innards -- they couldn't get it to go off if they wanted to, unless the maker gave them the code sequences. All... posted by Michael at September 10, 2007 | perma-link | (69) comments

And Now a Word from Our Leaders
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards: After the invigorating plain speaking of Part I of Michael Blowhard's interview with Gregory Cochran on Iraq and related topics, which you should absolutely read, I thought I'd see what officialdom had to say on the subject. A little googling got me the text of General Petraeus' testimony to Congress. Reading his "Report to Congress on the Situation in Iraq," I couldn't help but be struck by the utter absence of any discussion of what the U.S. has at stake in this conflict. No discussion of what benefits we hope to obtain in Iraq nor any discussion of what dangers we are struggling to avoid by being in Iraq. If you think I am exaggerating, note his remarks (quoted in full) under the heading "The Nature of the Conflict": The fundamental source of the conflict in Iraq is competition among ethnic and sectarian communities for power and resources. This competition will take place, and its resolution is key to producing long-term stability in the new Iraq. The question is whether the competition takes place more--or less--violently. This chart shows the security challenges in Iraq. Foreign and home-grown terrorists, insurgents, militia extremists, and criminals all push the ethno-sectarian competition toward violence. Malign actions by Syria and, especially, by Iran fuel that violence. Lack of adequate governmental capacity, lingering sectarian mistrust, and various forms of corruption add to Iraq's challenges. [emphasis original] I have read that paragraph a number of times and I do not see the words United States, America, or even American anywhere. Likewise, zilch on the nature of American interests in this conflict, dangers to the U.S. from this conflict, benefits to America from this conflict, threats to key allies from this conflict, etc. He goes on to magnify the oddity of this omission with a later remark: My recommendations also took into account a number of strategic considerations: - political progress will take place only if sufficient security exists; - long-term US ground force viability will benefit from force reductions as the surge runs its course; - regional, global, and cyberspace initiatives are critical to success; and - Iraqi leaders understandably want to assume greater sovereignty in their country, although, as they recently announced, they do desire continued presence of coalition forces in Iraq in 2008 under a new UN Security Council Resolution and, following that, they want to negotiate a long term security agreement with the United States and other nations. [emphasis original] What he terms strategic considerations do not look, um, all that strategic to me. Just to check, I looked up strategy and found this on Wikipedia: A strategy is a long term plan of action designed to achieve a particular goal, most often "winning". Noticing the link on "goal", I clicked it and got: An objective or goal is a personal or organizational desired end point in development. It is usually endeavoured to be reached in finite time by setting deadlines. By golly, the General has managed to... posted by Friedrich at September 10, 2007 | perma-link | (16) comments

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Q&A With Gregory Cochran, Part One
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In the commentsfest on a recent Friedrich von Blowhard posting, a certain Gregory Cochran made some sharp and wittily-put points. I was tickled to see Cochran show up and to read his thoughts because -- in my hyper-amateurish and spotty way -- I've been aware of him and of his very impressive work for some years now. Some visitors might not have realized who we were hearing from, though. A professor at the University of Utah, Cochran is a physicist, an anthropologist, and a genetics researcher and theorist. He's well known for his belief that many ailments that we now think of as genetic might well be of pathogenic origin instead. With Henry Harpending and Jason Hardy, he authored a paper suggesting that the high average IQ of Ashkenazi Jews -- as well as their pattern of genetic diseases -- might be an evolutionary consequence of their history of persecution and their emphasis on jobs involving lots of brainpower. The paper received extensive coverage in The Economist and The New York Times. Cochran has worked in defence and aerospace; he has speculated that homosexuality might be caused by an infection; he has written a number of articles for the American Conservative scornful of the Bush administration; and he shows up periodically at Gene Expression. Cochran is a formidable heterodox intellectual, in other words: not only legendarily smart and fearless, but blessed with a remarkable memory -- he was once a College Bowl contestant. The Economist called him "a noted scientific iconoclast." GNXP's Razib says of Cochran, "Information technology is a deadly weapon in this man's hands. Greg Cochran is a genius, and he's got the 'fuck you' money to prove it." Steve Sailer has written of Cochran: "I stay in touch with some quite smart people, but even among them, Gregory Cochran is legendary for the ferocity of his scientific originality ... I can attest that, although a physicist by education and the leading theorist of evolutionary medicine by avocation, Cochran also has memorized almost the entire political and military history of the human race ... When I'm reviewing a historical film such as 'Master and Commander' or 'Hero' and I need to pretend to actually know something about the Age of Nelson or China's Warring States era, a call to Cochran will not only fill me in on what happened, but, more importantly, why it happened." Not irrelevant to all this is the fact that Cochran has been right about Iraq. He knew Iraq hadn't been involved in 9-11, and didn't have the resources to build anything nuclear; he knew not just that the war would become a mess but precisely which kind of mess; he saw through the delusions of those who thought we could bring democracy to the mideast ... It's eerie how right his predictions have been, and it's impressive that he arrived at them not from some uninformed political point of view but from a practical, fact-driven, and down-to-earth... posted by Michael at September 9, 2007 | perma-link | (96) comments

Bringing Children to Work
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It happens every spring. Yes, it's not even Fall, but it can't be too early to begin pondering the matter. What I'm referring to is Bring Your Child to Work Day. Originally, this was a Feminist thing and the word "Daughter" was used instead of "Child." Perhaps "Daughter" is still the operative word in some settings. But in the government agency where I used to work, it became "Child," probably because some leaders were afraid "Daughter" was too discriminatory. Whatever word is used, I think the concept is not a good one, on balance. In the first place, children are removed from school for a day. In the second place, it's a distraction for the organization hosting the event. In the third place, a whole day -- or even half a day -- is too much for the attention spans of the grade-schoolers who tend to show up at these things. Net result: a lot of effort for little result. The people who planned the event for my agency (the state budget office, an adjunct to the governor's office) were reduced to scheduling an ice cream party as one of the activities to keep the kids occupied. That was probably because what we did was mostly either (1) work at computers or (2) sit in on meetings. As I write this, I can almost visualize the kiddies' eyes glazing when confronting such excitement. Non-office jobs would be more interesting for children to see, but not necessarily interesting for long. That's because many kinds of work are basically repetitive with only small variations in detail from repetition to repetition. (Think waitress. Think delivery truck driver. Think assembly line worker.) I hope someday folks will wise up and get rid of this idealistic, but mostly ineffectual, event. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 9, 2007 | perma-link | (15) comments

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Thomas Sowell
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Have you read any books written by the economist Thomas Sowell? I've read seven or eight of them, have found nearly all of them rewarding, and suspect that many people who haven't given Sowell a try would find him worth their time too. If you know Sowell only through his work as a syndicated op-ed writer, though, you might not feel inclined to cut him much slack. While I've enjoyed and admired some of his columns, he's unquestionably a combative debater, as well as far more of a Republican hack, er, cheerleader than seems necessary. But his work as an economist and a book-writer is quite different. When he isn't quarreling over what current policies should be but is instead organizing data, examining details, and analyzing processes and results, he's substantial, calm, and impressive. I've found his books -- which tend to focus on economics, ethnic questions, and immigration-and-migration matters -- to be thoughtful, info-packed, and open to the evidence. They aren't thrilling in a literary sense or mind-bending in a visionary sense. Instead, they're solid and informative -- driven, it seems, not by a passion for political battle but for straight facts and clear understanding. In the books, at least, political conclusions (if any) follow the evidence, and not vice versa. My mind is on his work because I've just finished reading another one of his books, the 1984 "Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality?" 20 years after the Civil Rights Act and 30 years after Brown v. Board of Education, how did matters stand? It's a short book -- yay to that -- and I found it a very helpful and interesting one as well: super-organized, and pushed along by a lowkey, rumbling, and unstoppable energy. As a book-writer, Sowell is whatever the positive opposite of "glib" is -- patient and methodical, able to herd huge numbers of facts without letting them overwhelm his narrative or his argument. He's even capable of the occasional touch of quiet and droll humor. He jokes about one proposed law, for example, that it was so badly written that it should have been called "the lawyers' full employment act." Sowell is sometimes known as a black conservative, though he himself says he's far more libertarian than conservative. (He's often grouped with Walter Williams, Shelby Steele, and John McWhorter.) He has been a controversial figure, as you might suspect, with some lefties and some in the race industry labeling him a traitor to his race and a dishonest scholar. Quite amazing how quick the racially sensitive can be to resort to name-calling, isn't it? (I haven't run across criticism of the factual content of his work that seemed to amount to anything.) In any case, where racial matters go, Sowell is both firm about the injustices that blacks were subjected to in America's past and pleasingly reluctant to play the racism card in the present tense. In this book, the main questions he wrestles with are "How did... posted by Michael at August 29, 2007 | perma-link | (45) comments

Monday, August 20, 2007

Life in a Politically Driven Economy
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, It feels good to realize that I'm not the only person who is closely parsing the words of the Federal Reserve (as I did in my recent posting Information, Please). In the L.A. Times of August 18 I read a front page article, "Fed Gets Message, Lowers Key Rate," by Peter G. Gosselin which makes it clear that interpreting Fed-speak is a hobby of many on Wall Street: The central bank used uncharacteristically unambiguous language, saying a credit crunch stemming from the sub-prime mortgage meltdown "appreciably" increased the risk of a further slowdown in the economy. "In Fed-speak, things are either 'slightly' or 'somewhat,' " said Jan Hatzius, chief U.S. economist with investment bank Goldman Sachs Group Inc. "Saying that the risks have increased 'appreciably' is a pretty strong statement for them." In fact, Wall Street is as interested in what the Fed doesn't say as in what it does say, as the same article makes clear: And in some artful wording, Fed officials did not completely throw in the towel on their concern about inflation or fully concede that financial market trouble actually was slowing growth...It simply didn't mention its concern about inflation and only discussed the possibility that financial market turmoil could cause a slowdown. "It was an unusually skillful commentary," said Allen Sinai of Decision Economics. The only analog I could think of to this rapt attention paid to both spoken and omitted language was back when U.S. Kremlinologists used to microscopically parse the utterances of the leaders of the Soviet Union. Pondering the similarities, it struck me: the Fed has become, over the past few decades, the Politburo of the U.S. economy. Which in turn highlights a few home truths that appear in sharp relief in the middle of crises like this one: First home truth: Despite its Olympian stance, the Fed's decisions are political, not merely technocratic. The Fed may not be elected, but it sho'nuff allocates pain and profit via its influence over debt markets, and there are real-world winners and losers from any change in Fed policy. (By some strange coincidence, many of those winners work on Wall Street, where they make very substantial campaign contributions and hire lots and lots of lobbyists.) Lest we forget, the U.S. economy is not, or at least is not primarily, a capitalist economy; it is a mixed economy, as they used to say in my freshman economics textbook. (If this euphemistic term doesn't appeal, you could call it a fascist economy or a corporatist economy, but let's not get bogged down in petty details.) What that means is that while we have a fair amount of capitalism going on around the edges, the center of our economy is politically driven, not market driven. Certainly, the palpable longing of Wall Street to be rescued by the Federal Reserve, made explicit in television pundit Jim Cramer's recent, um, demand that the Fed take action, leaves one in no doubt about who the... posted by Friedrich at August 20, 2007 | perma-link | (21) comments

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Information, please
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, I am just an ignorant small business owner who is many decades past his college economics courses. I am looking for information and instruction regarding the current credit markets flap set off by the problems in subprime mortgages. Nearly a week ago I read articles that discussed the injection of liquidity by various central banks. These stories are full of statements like: In a statement on Friday morning, the Federal Reserve said it was "providing liquidity to facilitate the orderly functioning of financial markets" and offered to provide reserves "as necessary" to promote a federal funds rate close to its target rate of 5.25 per cent. And It follows concerted action from central banks in North America and Asia to inject liquidity to calm fears of a credit crunch and allow borrowers to meet short-term lending needs. These particular quotes, by the way, is from a Financial Times article of August 10, which you can read here. These statements and others like them, repeated endlessly in the popular and financial press, strike me as Orwellian in their weirdly impersonal tone; they communicate almost nothing to me except that apparently I am not supposed to understand and I am not supposed to ask questions. Questions I would like to ask would include the following: (1) What, in concrete terms that even an idiot like myself can understand, in the present context, is meant by facilitating the orderly functioning of financial markets? (2) Exactly what types of transactions are we talking about? (3) What does orderly mean in this context? What would a disorderly functioning of credit markets look like? Why should I (Friedrich von Blowhard) care? (4) Who at this precise moment in time has their tail caught in a crack as a result of the failure of markets to function in an orderly fashion? (If possible, I would like specific names here.) (5) Who will profit from or be prevented from losing money by this injection of liquidity? (Again, names if you can manage it.) (6) Is it possible that these people are actually in trouble for reasons having little to do with orderly markets, and perhaps more to do with imprudent investments or unfortunate contractual commitments? Am I just being paranoid? (7) Whose interests are being served by the decision of the Federal Reserve to talk in this weird, imprecise, vague, euphemistic manner? (8) Most euphemisms are intended to cover for distasteful or troubling subject matter. Is something distasteful or troubling going on here? Please keep all explanations very concrete and simple; obviously, I am not smart enough to talk Fedspeak. Cheers, Friedrich P.S. In an update on this continuing saga, I read today (Friday, August 17) that the Fed made a half-percentage point cut in its discount rate on loans to banks. The Fed explained itself thusly: Financial market conditions have deteriorated, and tighter credit conditions and increased uncertainty have the potential to restrain economic growth going forward. In these circumstances, although... posted by Friedrich at August 16, 2007 | perma-link | (28) comments

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Inside the Beltway Humor
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I just read an article in the New York Times which caused me to laugh so hard that I fell off the couch. It's on the new lobbying rules, which are attempts to stem the flood tide of organized corruption that passes as governance in this country. Fat chance of course, but the spectacle of politicians trying to persuade the rest of us that they are reforming themselves is always amusing. The best line was the following: "All those people who grew up in the system - who arent evil-doers, just good people - used to be able to entertain and have fun," lamented Jim Ervin, a veteran military industry lobbyist. As if a veteran military industry lobbyist could distinguish between good and evil! What a knee slapper! You can read the rest of this article, which really outshines anything in The Onion, here. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 7, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Monday, August 6, 2007

Migration Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Chinese immigration to Italy -- much of it illegal -- is causing tensions. So it isn't just Americans who dislike badly-run border policies ... * High levels of Mexican immigration to the U.S. are creating tensions between Latinos and blacks, reports The Economist. Now who could have forseen that? Many blacks think Latinos are taking jobs and neighborhoods from them; South L.A.'s Compton, for instance, is now 58% Latino. Many Latinos meanwhile view blacks contemptuously. Stresses are of course worst in the poorest neighborhoods -- as if our worst-off countrymen need more stresses to contend with. "Fifteen years ago such prejudices hardly existed," The Economist writes. That's quite an admission to come from one of the most fervently open-borders publications around. * Another consequence of our nutty immigration policies: American courts are encountering difficulties in finding translators for defendants who not only don't speak English but don't speak the commoner foreign languages. In some cases, immigrants accused of serious crimes have had their cases dismissed simply because translators of micro-languages couldn't be located. I suppose the more-bureaucracy-is-always-better crowd must think that the problem should be addressed by creating a bigger translator class. Me, I look at this kind of problem and wonder why we let it arise in the first place. * At the reunion I recently attended, I ran into an old chum who now works as a doc at a large Houston hospital. According to him, 80% of the kids delivered at that hospital are born to illegal-immigrant parents. Of course, every single one of those kids (10,000 a year, he told me) automatically becomes an American citizen, thanks to our awful birthright-citizen (ie., "anchor-baby") law. Allan Wall writes a good introduction to the "anchor baby" mess here. * Steve Sailer asks one of those so-basic-it's-brilliant questions he has such a gift for. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 6, 2007 | perma-link | (23) comments

Monday, July 23, 2007

Childraising Universals?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Arts and Letters Daily links to a fascinating article about the devotion that many middle-class and upper-middle-class American parents have to playing with their children. Is it always and everywhere a good thing? It turns out that in most cultures throughout most of history, parents haven't played with their kids. Kids played, of course, but parents didn't get involved. "American-style parent-child play is a distinct feature of wealthy developed countries -- a recent byproduct of the pressure to get kids ready for the information-age economy," writes Christopher Shea. A funny passage from Shea's good piece: One inspiration for the article, Lancey [the study's article] says, was that he kept coming across accounts of parents who felt guilty that they did not enjoy playing with their children. The psychologist Daniel Kahneman and the economist Alan Krueger, both at Princeton, have found that parents routinely claim that playing with their kids is among their favorite activities, but when you ask them to record their state of mind, hour by hour, they rate time spent with their children as being about as much fun as housework. And here's an arresting article from the Telegraph about how the French raise their kids. (Sorry, I forget who alerted me to this piece. Was it Dave Lull? Thanks Dave!) While Americans fuss anxiously about their kids' feelings and always put the kids' needs and desires at the center of family decision-making, French parents treat the kids as little animals in bad need of civilizing, and make them conform to an adult-centric life. Janine di Giovanni writes: One of the toughest things I have had to get used to in an otherwise idyllic Paris is the huge gap between Anglo-Saxon (or Italian American in my case) parenting and parenting French style. The French are certainly stricter. They shout more. They slap more. And they enforce manners. But as a result, you find beautifully brought up children, and many of my French friends who are parents will argue endlessly that instilling discipline and setting boundaries is the way of showing the utmost love. Dr Caroline Thompson, a French child psychologist and family therapist, ... points out that in Anglo-Saxon cultures, certainly in American culture, children are generally thought of as being the centre of the world, whereas in France, they are most certainly not. My point in this posting isn't to endorse the French way. While I love a lot of French cultural creations, I'm not crazy about France or the French generally. But the fact that the French get under the skin of Americans is fascinating, non? As well as worth poking-around in. What I want to do here is to play anthropologist -- to highlight the fact that the usual cluster of American assumptions about how to raise and interact with kids is specific to America. For example: Many Americans assume that it's imperative to vacation someplace where the kids will be happy or "enriched." Traveling someplace the parents want... posted by Michael at July 23, 2007 | perma-link | (47) comments

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Propagatin' and Populatin' 1: To Have or Not To Have?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In a comment on a posting not long ago, Peter made an apt joke: Read enough blogs and you'll think that most people vote for the Libertarian Party, homeschool their children, and have no cultural interests other than sci-fi and fantasy. And ain't that the case? Another impression that spending too much time online can leave you with is that most people are obsessed with questions about propagatin' and populatin'. I felt the same sense of surprise on discovering this as I did finding out how many online people are fans of Ayn Rand's. "Where'd this come from?" I wondered. In my non-online life, I almost never run into anyone who wants to talk about Ayn Rand. Similarly, I go about my non-online day assuming that most intelligent, rich-world people think that 1) it's lovely that we're able to live a life that gives us some freedom over whether or not to propagate; and that 2) 6 billion people -- actually a little closer to 7 billion than to 6 billion these days -- is a lot of people. (The earth's human population has more than doubled in the short time I've been around.) But here they are online: scads of people bursting with urgent feelings about propagating or not-propagating, and about whether populations are declining or booming. I've noticed three main forms these conversations and monologues tend to take. Here's my description of and reactions to the first of them. Apologies for the lack of links this time around -- I haven't had the presence of mind to collect evidence so I'm going to rely on vague impressions instead. Here's hoping I don't commit too many injustices. BREEDERS VS. NON-BREEDERS MBlowhard description: Why is this argument so prone to break out online, and why is it so prone to become so vicious? You'd think that it would be easy for breeders and non-breeders to wish each other well. We're all sharing the earth; we're all in this crazy thing called life together, etc. Why view each other as members of antagonistic teams, particularly where breeding is concerned? Whenever I stumble across this particular debate, it always seems both well-scripted and long-underway. I feel like I'm coming in on it at a very late stage -- like I often feel when I tune into NPR: "People are still arguing about this crap? Weren't they done with it in 1980?" I choose 1980 because I assume that the breeder-vs.-nonbreeder squabble has its roots in '60s and '70s eco discussions. But I could certainly be wrong about this, and am, as ever, eager to learn better. (By the way: I once interviewed for a job as a producer at NPR. When I toured the place, many of its employees seemed to me to be exactly what you'd imagine from listening to NPR -- a bunch of entrenched and self-righteous old hippies. Had I been offered the job, I probably would have turned it down: Imagine trying... posted by Michael at July 17, 2007 | perma-link | (51) comments

Monday, July 16, 2007

Steve on the North American Union
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Should we dismiss the possibility that our rulers are trying to fuse Canada, the U.S., and Mexico into a single North American Union just because some zany people are obsessed by the idea? I don't think we should. Evidence is everywhere around us, from the recent, underhanded Kennedy-Bush attempt to fold tens of millions of Mexicans into the U.S. to the North American SuperCorridor Coalition. Here's a well-organized PowerPoint-style presentation that may not be the final word on the subject but that is well worth a ponder nonetheless. In his new Vdare column, Steve Sailer traces and evaluates some of the connections (and generously includes a link to 2Blowhards -- thanks, Steve!). A great Steve quote: Who could imagine that the powers-that-be in Washington would ever try to fundamentally alter America behind closed doors and then ram it down our throats in a rush? (Oh, wait; they just did try that with amnesty, didn't they? Never mind.) Steve volunteers a point that I hadn't given enough thought to about the practical consequences of fusing together countries that don't share a common language: The language problems are fundamental. A single language unifies a country into a shared "information sphere." When citizens can understand each other, they can monitor politics across their society and intelligently participate in debates. In contrast, multiple languages make political awareness difficult for the non-elites. In the EU, power tends to drift into the hands of the self-perpetuating Eurocrats of Brussels, professional Europeans who are either multilingual or can afford translators. Are these power-grabs being adequately taken-note-of by the traditional media? Are the likely outcomes of these schemes anything that the rest of us find desirable? Why aren't more people holding our self-serving elites to better account? And ... well ... mightn't it be worthwhile reminding them whose compliance their cushy status in life depends on? Hint: That'd be us. Hey, these are the same questions that I like to ask about the activities and agendas of our architectural, literary, and critical establishments. Funny how these things work ... I linked to a few more resources in this posting. Patrick Cleburne points out that the righties who were right about GWBush all along were the -- surprise, surprise -- iconoclastic, non-establishment righties. Funny how these things work too. Joe Guzzardi reports that some black people are starting to wake up to what's being put over on them. Best, Michael UPDATE: Thanks to Yahmdallah, who points out a very a-propos Salon interview with Jerome Corsi.... posted by Michael at July 16, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

California Update
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * California's government expects the state's population to hit 60 million by 2050, reports the LATimes. Experts also say that Hispanics will become a majority in Cailfornia in 2042 -- in fact, 60-80% of all growth in California over the next three decades is expected to be Hispanic. One USC prof says it could all work out for the best, provided only that the California government spend many billions and do a bang-up job with its responsibilities. Otherwise, she says, the result of all this growth will be a state divided between the super-well-off and the barely-getting-by. Which is pretty much what Steve Sailer has been predicting for a while now, not that anyone is offering Steve a cushy position at USC. A handful of figures to give these developments some context: In 1970, when I began visiting California, the state's inhabitants numbered not quite 20 million, and Hispanics were 12% of that total. Have I mentioned that some prosperous Californians I know are making plans to move to Mexico? After all, what with all those Mexicans moving to California, life will soon be not just cheaper, but also more spacious and less disruptive in Mexico than it will be in California. Sometimes I wonder why Mexico's population and the U.S.'s don't just swap geographical locations and be done with it. * California is awash in lawyers but suffers from a shortage of nurses. So what does the state's legislature vote to do? Why, create a new law school, what else? Yup: Now that's a government that addresses its challenges head-on. * Meanwhile, in New York City, parking spots in covered garages are going for $225,000. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 11, 2007 | perma-link | (12) comments

Friday, July 6, 2007

Fact for the Day -- Music-Biz Income
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A mere seven years ago, musicians derived 2/3 of their income from pre-recorded music, with the rest of their money coming from touring, merchandise, and endorsements. Today, according to The Economist, those proportions have completely reversed. Musicians now receive the majority of their income from touring, merchandise, etc., while recordings largely function as marketing tools for T-shirts and concert tickets. Writes The Economist: The logical conclusion is for artists to give away their music as a promotional tool. Some are doing just that. This week Prince announced that his new album, "Planet Earth," will be given away in Britain for free with the Mail on Sunday, a national newspaper, on July 15th. (For years Prince has made far more money from live performances than from album sales; he was the industry's top earner in 2004.) Source. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 6, 2007 | perma-link | (15) comments

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Global Eats
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Wal-Mart, General Mills, and Kellogg's are importing ever-more food from China. Interesting facts for the day: In 2000, China accounted for 1 million pounds, or less than 1%, of all U.S. fresh garlic imports. By 2005, China dominated that market, exporting 112 million pounds, or 73%, of the total garlic import market. The same goes for strawberries: China exported just 1.5 million pounds in 2000 and now exports 33 million pounds to the U.S. "China's record with food imports isn't reassuring," continues BusinessWeek. "Just last month, 107 food imports from China were detained by the Food & Drug Administration at U.S. ports, according to The Washington Post. Among them were dried apples preserved with a cancer-causing chemical and mushrooms laced with illegal pesticides." Best, Michael UPDATE: It isn't a foodstuff exactly, but cough syrup from China has been blamed in the recent deaths of at least 83 people in Panama.... posted by Michael at July 5, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Nanny-State Facts for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * When Tony Blair entered office, there were a couple of thousand surveillance cameras in the U.K. As he leaves office, there are now five million such devices. (Fact thanks to Brendan O'Neill in Reason magazine.) * Not content with banning cigarette smoking inside restaurants, Beverly Hills has now moved to prohibit smoking even at restaurants' outdoor tables. (Link thanks to Reid Farmer.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 30, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments

Friday, June 29, 2007

Bill Kauffman on Secessionism
Michael Blowhard writes: Daer Blowhards -- Radical-reactionary eco-regionalist lyrical-crank / hometown-boy Bill Kauffman writes a beauty of an essay for Orion magazine. His subject is secessionism, and the American tradition of secessionism. Great (and typical Bill Kauffman) passage: The stream of secession is fed by many American springs: the participatory democracy dreams of the New Left, the small-is-beautiful ethos of the greens, the traditional conservative suspicion (fading fast under the Bush eraser) of big government and remote bureaucracy, and that old-fashioned American blend of don't-tread-on-me libertarianism with I'll-give-you-the-shirt-off-my-back communalism. Reveling in variety and contradiction -- I like that. Even for someone fond of America, it's hard not to fantasize about secession these days, isn't it? Hillary, Bloomberg, Romney ... Could we do any worse? Bill Kauffman makes a distinction that I find very useful: between the inhuman America of Empire (Bush, Hillary, Viacom, Halliburton, etc), and the human-scale real America (you, me, our friends, our communities). Since it makes perfect sense to me to love the latter while wishing ill to the former, I do sometimes find myself wondering: Well, why not just detach from the bastards? 2Blowhards did a five-part interview with Bill Kauffman not so long ago. Here's my intro to his work; here's Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five. I urge you to give 'em a read -- Bill is nothing if not big-hearted, super-smart, and fearlessly provocative. Orion, the magazine running Bill's current piece, is a funny publication -- it's home to earnest eco-bores and brilliant whackjobs both. But it's well worth exploring. I notice that Orion features a page of short videos in which James Kunstler (another firebrand fave of mine) explains his view that we're about to hit the wall where oil is concerned. Kunstler blogs here, and makes irresistable fun of trendy-ludicrous architecture here. Some more along these lines: Here's The Vermont Commons, a newspaper devoted to the secession movement. Kirkpatrick Sale spells out the appeal of decentralism here. Clark Stooksbury blogs from a Reactionary Radical point of view here. Here's an interview with the legendary curmudgeon, writer, and eco-anarchist Edward Abbey. Here's a terrific Shawn Ritenour introduction to the green-friendly free-market economist Wilhelm Ropke, a special favorite of mine. I did some Small is Beautiful linkage here; wrote an introduction to Jane Jacobs here; blogged here about how various the eco-worlds are; and praised Nina Planck's book "Real Food" here. Bill Kauffman's latest book is the very moving and interesting "Look Homeward, America." Best, Michael UPDATE: Clark Stooksbury reviews Bill McKibben's "Deep Economy" here. Luke Lea's thoughts often run along these lines too.... posted by Michael at June 29, 2007 | perma-link | (14) comments

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Creativity and Personal Politics
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- [Kicks self mercilessly] A few weeks ago during my daily tour of favorite web sites I followed a link to an item that proclaimed that major creative people historically have been "liberal." Names of artists, writers, scientists, etc. were named. I should have bookmarked the piece, but [Sob] didn't. Today I played with search features on some of sites, but couldn't locate the link. Which means you'll have to take my word that it existed. I don't doubt that the majority of "creatives" in the USA nowadays are in the liberal end of the political spectrum -- publicly, at least. Part of this might have to do with life-cycle stage. Much of the rest might simply be because of a desire to go along with the herd or to conform with what they heard as children at the dinner table or in college or art school from faculty. And of course there are some who have given political matters a good deal of thought and are ideologically committed based on their studies. But you can only push the "liberalism" concept a limited distance back in history. Most readers should know that "liberal" meant something quite different in the 19th century than is does in 21st century America. So let me substitute "leftist" for "liberal" to clarify matters. Even so, leftism as we understand it emerged in the 19 century, which suggests that claims about the modern-sense politics of Da Vinci or Velázquez don't carry much meaning. (I realize I'm trodding on Friedrich's turf at this point. So please comment, Herr von Blowhard, to clarify and error-correct my ramblings.) The thrust of the "missing link" [Har, har] was that conservatives were and are uncreative boobs who have done nothing to advance science, art, literature and such. I can contend that this idea is nonsense by simply citing the fact that most people aren't consistent when dealing with the world. For example, it's not hard to find folks who vote left, yet are quite traditional in their approach to family life, their profession, personal finances and so forth. Not convinced? Consider the original Impressionist painters. I just finished reading a biography of Paul Durand-Ruel, the art dealer who promoted and subsidized the Impressionists written by Pierre Assouline. Assouline makes it clear that Durand was a monarchist, a strong Catholic, anti-Semitic and anti-Dreyfusard. Yet he championed a radical art movement and supported artists with quite different political views including Camille Pissarro, a quasi-anarchist Jew from the Caribbean colonies. In the last chapter of the book, pages 253-54, Assouline characterizes the politics of the artists in reference to the l'Affaire Dreyfus. "Pissarro and Monet were supporters of Dreyfus ... as were Signac and Mary Cassatt. But that was all." "On the opposite side were those whose latent or declared anti-Semitism had been radicalized, notably Renoir, Puvis de Chavannes, Rodin, Forain, Cézanne, and above all Degas." Presumably none of the latter group were "creative." Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 28, 2007 | perma-link | (37) comments

Two Sobering Articles on Immigration Reform
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, I came across two recent items that I thought cogently summed up two strong reasons for opposing the comprehensive immigration reform legislation currently being considered in the U. S. Senate. The first is a discussion by Roger Simon of a key reason the current legislation will not stop new illegal immigration. You can read this here. For those who may not have time to read the whole thing, you should notice at least the following remarks by Mr. Simon: This Sunday on a talk show, I made some comments about the need for real work-site enforcement to make immigration work. On Monday, I got an e-mail from an aide to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), one of the chief sponsors of the immigration bill, that said: "Not sure where you got your facts that the immigration bill doesn't have a lot on work-site enforcement, it certainly does, including a sweeping new employee verification system." Sweeping? New? Maybe. But it is also nonexistent. It can never be created in time to meet the provisions of the law, and it will have glaring holes when and if it ever does exist. The bill requires that within 18 months of enactment all newly hired employees must be checked by something called the Electronic Eligibility Verification System (EEVS), and within three years every employer in the United States must check every employee in the United States using it. But there are 150 million people in the U.S. workforce and some 60 million people who change jobs every year. And this system -- which does not currently exist and has to be up and running in 18 months and completed in three years -- is going to make sure everyone in the workforce is here legally? Not a chance.[emphasis added] The entire article, which I urge you to read, explains exactly why without serious workplace enforcement, a current impossibility, illegal immigration will continue and probably grow under the proposed legislation, given that it is being coupled with another round of amnesty for everyone who has managed to sneak in. The second is a discussion by George Borjas of who benefits and loses economically from large scale, low skill, low wage immigrant labor. This can be read here. The "money quote" from Professor Borjas' critique of the President's Council of Economic Advisors' study claiming that immigration results in a net $30 billion benefit is the following: The same model that generates the $30 billion net gain implies that [native] workers suffered a substantial wage loss. In fact, the total wage loss suffered by native workers is given by this other formula (p. 8 of my 1995 paper): Wage loss as fraction of GDP = - "labor's share of income" times "wage elasticity" times "fraction of workforce that is foreign-born" times "fraction of workforce that is native-born" Let's stick in numbers: Wage loss = -0.7 times -0.3 times 0.15 times 0.85 which equals 0.0268, or 2.7% of GDP. Since GDP is... posted by Friedrich at June 28, 2007 | perma-link | (20) comments

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Frum on Losing the Faith, Plus Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Former Bush speechwriter David Frum started off a dewy-eyed neocon, enthusiastic about our no-enforcement approach to immigration policy. The more the better! And who cares who they are! Then real life started to intrude on his fantasies. He writes here about how he finally lost the no-borders faith. Nice passage: I ... began to learn that you could hardly name a social problem without discovering that immigration was aggravating it to the point of unsolvability. Health insurance? Immigrants accounted for about one-quarter of the uninsured in the early 1990s, and about one-third of the increase in the uninsured population at that time. Social spending? The Urban Institute estimated in 1994 that educating the children of illegal aliens cost the State of California almost $1.5 billion per year. Wage pressure on the less-skilled? The wages of less-skilled Americans had come under ferocious pressure since 1970. How could you even begin to think about this issue without recognizing the huge immigration-driven increase in the supply of unskilled labor over the same period? Competitiveness? How could the U.S. remain the world's most productive nation while simultaneously remixing its population to increase dramatically the proportion of poorly educated people within it? Good for Frum. Of course, the question does arise: Why do we have so many puffed-up, wet-behind-the-ears, know-it-all brats like Frum in positions of government and media authority in the first place? Steve Sailer pokes some well-deserved fun at David Frum. Frum responds. Mickey Kaus wonders why more lefties aren't protesting against the current (and still kicking) immigration proposal. Isn't the left supposed to stand up for the lower-class American workingperson? A Rasmussen poll finds that only 15% of Americans approve of Bush's handling of immigration questions -- yet still he presses ahead. What drives that man? Screenwriter "David Kahane" offers some humorous perspective on the immigration follies from L.A.: Go ahead and take care of our lawns, just don't start undercutting our screenwriting wages. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 19, 2007 | perma-link | (51) comments

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

To Aid? Or Not to Aid?
MIchael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Kenyan economist James Shikwati wishes that rich countries would stop sending aid to Africa. (Link thanks to David Fleck.) "Why do we get these mountains of [donated] clothes?" Shikwati asks. "No one is freezing here. Instead, our tailors lose their livlihoods. They're in the same position as our farmers. No one in the low-wage world of Africa can be cost-efficient enough to keep pace with donated products." I have no first-hand knowledge here, so I'll shut up except to recall a woman I know who spent a few years working for an aid organization in Africa. Although she's about as earnest-lefty as can be, she returned from her time there convinced that Western aid does Africa more harm than good. "They lose their ability to take care of themselves," she said to me. "They stop raising crops and looking after goats. Instead, their lives start to revolve around waiting for the aid truck to make a delivery." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 12, 2007 | perma-link | (15) comments

Thursday, June 7, 2007

More Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * For those who enjoy being reminded what a filthy game politics generally is, this David Kirkpatrick piece should fit the bill. Alaska's absurd Sen. Don Young -- responsible recently for the infamous $200 million "bridge to nowhere" -- is now earmarking $10 million for a Florida road that no one in its neighborhood even wants. No one, that is, aside from Daniel J. Aronoff, a real-estate investor with Florida holdings that will explode in value thanks to the road. Aronoff happens to have contributed to heavily to Young's campaign. * A fun fact from Heather Mac Donald: "Welfare use actually increases between the second and third generation of Mexican-Americans -- to 31 percent of all third-generation Mexican-American households." (Link thanks to Steve Sailer.) * Where our immigration policies are concerned, bleeding-heart types might want to consider the fact that, according to Business Week, even the legendary Keynesian economist Paul Samuelson thinks that Wealthier Americans tend to benefit from the current wave of immigration while poorer Americans tend to suffer. A farmer in California may benefit from the inexpensive labor of illegal immigrants, while a construction worker in Texas sees fewer jobs and lower pay. A well-off suburban family may get lower-priced house cleaning or lawn care, while an engineering student has fewer companies offering positions. Let's not forget Nick Lowe's song "Cruel to Be Kind," eh? Link thanks to George Borjas. * And The Times of London reports a milestone in the making: "Muhammad is now second only to Jack as the most popular name for baby boys in Britain and is likely to rise to No 1 by next year." * Clark Stooksbury reviews Bill McKibben's new book. * Agnostic has some thoughts about boys who fancy "exotic" girls. * DVD Spin Doctor reports that MGM's new "Sergio Leone Anthology" is a classily-done production. * Scott Kirsner wonders how fast digital downloading is going to replace DVDs as many people's movie-harvesting mechanism of choice. Is the porn industry -- once again -- showing the rest of us the way? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 7, 2007 | perma-link | (10) comments

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Lincoln Guidance Wanted
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here's a little email exchange I just enjoyed with Friedrich Von Blowhard. Me: Historical coaching needed. I just finished reading (OK, going through a severely-abridged audiobook of) Gore Vidal's novel "Lincoln," and it has me puzzling over Lincoln. I have no idea what to make of the guy, and the few sources I've looked at haven't been much help. I read one of the big fat bios of him maybe 10 years back and found it unenlightening. People seem to want to make such a big deal of the guy: freer of the slaves, savior of the nation, etc. The hero-worshipping gets overwhelming even when they admit to a few flaws, like, OK, he didn't actually like black people much. And then there's a tiny minority of guys who think Lincoln was awful -- had no right to try to keep the South from seceding, killed hundreds of thousands unnecessarily, arrogated powers to the federal government that it never ought to have had, etc. I find this view of Lincoln much more convincing, but 1) I hate politicians, and 2) the proponents of this view are so damn rabid ... Anyway, I'm suspicious of it too. So, as far as I can tell, there's the social-studies/civil rights crowd, who hero-worship Lincoln, and then there's the small-government types who despise him. Is that it? From the novel I'm not entirely sure what Vidal's take on Lincoln is -- Vidal seems pretty clear-eyed about Lincoln's power drive but he seems to feel that there was something noble about him too. I do hate it when I stumble into topics like this -- topics that are genuinely interesting, but that I'll never devote enough time to to make sense of to my own satisfaction. What's your p-o-v on Lincoln? Friedrich von Blowhard: Personally, I'm kind of fond of Lincoln, but of course that's only as an imaginary person I've encountered in books. God knows what the real guy was like. What do I like/admire about Lincoln? Well, he was obviously amazingly bright, although I'll grant you being intelligent is not exactly a moral character trait. He really did have less than one year of formal education and he really did write the Gettysburg address, not to mention that letter to the woman who had all five of her sons killed in battle that was read aloud twice in "Saving Private Ryan" and was more eloquent than anything a modern day Hollywood screenwriter could pen. Lincoln also did teach himself high school mathematics in his forties just for the hell of it, which has got to count for something. I also like, or at least respect, the fact that he seems to have been a pretty good power politician. All the people in Washington who thought they would push him around ended up getting theirs. I believe his law partner made the remark that anyone who took Lincoln to be the country bumpkin he presented himself to be... posted by Michael at June 6, 2007 | perma-link | (23) comments

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Immigration Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Democrat Glen Hurowitz thinks his fellow libs should be more wary of the Bush-Kennedy immigration proposal than they are. * Steve Sailer dissects the polls and concludes that a majority -- a big majority -- of Americans want immigration levels reduced, and the US-Mexican border enforced. * Which prompts the question: If this is in fact what most Americans want, why on earth are our elites so determined to defy our preferences? (If anyone wants to claim that it's because our elites know better than we do -- well, let me indulge in a hearty laugh.) The usual answer to this puzzle is that Democratic pols want votes and Republican pols want cheap labor. In a recent commentsthread, Moira Breen reminded me of a startling piece (PDF alert) in which Fredo Arias-King argues that another factor is involved too. King -- who worked for a time as an assistant to Mexico's Vincente Fox, and who interacted with many American legislators -- argues that what's really behind the U.S. political class's love of high immigration levels is a more straightforward lunge for power. The political class, he says, feels hamstrung by the rights the rest of us wield as citizens. The politicos want more of the country in their own hands, dammit; importing a lot of meek and grateful immigrants is a way of attaining that goal. It will negate the power of us citizens via dilution -- and via creating a lot of government clients -- and thereby allow the pols to have their own way. Yet another good reason to do what we can to block their plans, as far as I'm concerned. * William S. Lind thinks that the dogma of multiculturalism may be the death of the nation-state. BTW, he thinks that this would be a bad thing. * The Heritage Foundation's Robert Rector says that the proposed Bush-Kennedy immigration bill may well prove to be "the most expensive bill the U.S. taxpayer has ever seen." We're talkin' trillions here, folks -- and all for what? * George Borjas catches New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg being an idiot. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 31, 2007 | perma-link | (20) comments

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Borjas is Blogging
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Harvard economist George Borjas, who has spent a lot of time looking at our current immigration policy's effects on wages, has just started blogging. (Link thanks to Tyler Cowen.) His evaluation of the Bush-Kennedy proposal: "No bill is better than this bill. To paraphrase Woody Allen, this bill is 'a travesty of a mockery of a sham'." And a nice line about Teddy Kennedy's disgraceful record: "In the private sector, this kind of track record would probably make Senator Kennedy an inviting target for all kinds of malpractice lawsuits." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 22, 2007 | perma-link | (0) comments

Immigration Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Some wise words from traditionalist conservative Jim Kalb, prompted by our current immigration disaster-in-the-making: The reasons for the difference of outlook [between the people and their rulers on immigration] are evident ... The people value the ties that make them a people and believe the country should be run for their benefit. Ruling elites in contrast are concerned with the power and efficiency of governing institutions, the status and security of those who run them, and maintenance of the liberal principles that support and justify their rule. It is in their interest to expand the human resources available to them, even at the expense of those who are already citizens, and weaken the ties that make it possible for the people to resist rational management and act somewhat independently. Also, they prefer cooperating with members of the ruling class in other countries to representing the interests of their constituents. * The leftist publication Mother Jones calls the Kennedy-Bush immigration bill "a turkey." (Link thanks to Kirsten Mortensen.) * Paleocon Steve Sailer quotes some more wise words, these from Harvard immigration specialist George Borjas. * It takes progressive leftie Dean Baker all of two sentences to destroy the claim that we need high levels of immigration in order to fill low-skill jobs. Dean: "If we have a labor shortage, then we should see rising wages. In fact, in most of the jobs where the country supposedly has labor shortages, wages are stagnant or falling." * Rightie Thomas Sowell offers some perspective. Unfortunately, what perspective alerts us to is anything but good news. OK, can we please now be done with thinking of our immigration question as a left-right issue? Best, Michael UPDATE: Rod Dreher says a lot in the following passage: It is clear to me that neither the Democratic nor the Republican party has the will or the intention to enforce the immigration laws as they exist. It does seem that the system is stacked against homeowners, who are effectively powerless. And for whom can they vote to change matters? Nobody. Nobody now, anyway. All you can do is pick up and move, severing bonds of community and friendship, all because business interests and ethnic activists and the government don't give a rat's rear end. This is not going to end pretty, I fear. You cannot tell people that they have to be prepared to abandon their homes because the government is unwilling or unable to enforce the law against illegal immigration, and expect them to sit back and take it forever.... posted by Michael at May 22, 2007 | perma-link | (31) comments

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Money-Grubbing Surveys
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I can't remember if I ranted about this sort of thing before. But I don't care: I'm steamin'. What I'm unhappy with is an item I recently got in the mail. Above the address window were the words "CENSUS DOCUMENT CN-1217 RECIPIENT." Huh? Ain't no Federal census till 2010 -- that's one memory from my demographer days that hasn't totally faded. Inside the envelope were two items, one a four-page cover letter, the other a folded four-page "Free Speech Census" survey form tacked together by a "security seal" that's supposed to indicate whether or not the "census schedule" had been tampered with (the horror!). At the upper-right corner of the form was a bloc "CN USE ONLY" with fill-in lines for "Date Rec," "Rec by" and "Auth Code." Authorization code? -- who are they kidding? It's eyewash intended to make naiïve readers think this is a Big Deal. Below that it another bloc containing a "Registration #" and "Voting District Code." The latter was PMCC507, which strikes me as being arbitrary; it doesn't correspond to any geographical coding system I'm aware of. The next item down was the following statement, typographical format as shown: This official census is registered in the name above and is protected under seal. All census documents must be accounted for upon completion of this crucial project. If you choose not to participate in this survey, please return this document in the enclosed envelope at once. If your security tab was altered in any way, please make that indication in the box in the upper left-hand corner of this page. Good grief. The BS is overflowing my computer and soiling the rug. A census is an attempt to get a complete count of something. This is no census. As best I can tell, I got it because a magazine I subscribe to probably rented its mailing list. And I have no idea what's meant by the word "official" -- it's manifestly not governmental because the organization behind it is something called College Network, Inc. The survey items are largely "push" questions intended to get the respondent fired up over issues rather than to actually get information. Here are a few "questions"; 7. Professor Ward Churchill claims that those murdered in the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks were not innocent victims. Do you agree or disagree with Churchill's statement. 15. Did you know that vandals routinely destroy entire print runs of conservative publications on campuses across the country? 19. Do you agree with the following statement? As stewards of freedom, we must stop America's university system from being overrun by politically correct professors who stifle free speech and ridicule the values of the Founding Fathers. 20. Will you help CN protect free speech and open debate on campus? Aha! Item 20 exposes all -- even to most of those who fell for the act up to that point. On the next page is a small bloc of optional "demographic" items intended... posted by Donald at May 20, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Our absurd, irresponsible, and answerable-only-to-themselves elites are once again doing their best to defy the popular will and transform our country in ways that promise, at the least, vastly increased population figures and fresh new forms of racial tension. This time they might very well succeed. Steve Sailer explains how this new outrage is being put over on us. Nice Steve passage: What we are witnessing is perhaps the most irresponsible and shameless attempt to hustle a pig in a poke past the public in recent memory. Of course, that's the whole point of the exercise -- to not let us simple citizens in on the process of deciding who our fellow citizens will be. It's only a modest exaggeration to call this an attempted coup against the American people. The New York Times thinks that the Kennedy / Bush immigration proposal doesn't go far enough. How has it come to pass that we're being led by people who are eager to kiss the nation they're ruling goodbye? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 20, 2007 | perma-link | (55) comments

Friday, May 18, 2007

Multiculturalism Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Is multiculturalism a huge and destructive social experiment that's being forced on us by irresponsible elites? Fjordman certainly thinks it is. * Coming your way soon: some perhaps not-very-welcome new housing and sheltering patterns. * The number of illegal immigrants arriving in the European Union every year may be as high as 500,000. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 18, 2007 | perma-link | (16) comments

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Poverty: Inevitable by Definition?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The minister of a liberal church I wrote about not long ago seems obsessive about poverty. In a sermon he criticized "hard-core capitalists" (his words) for believing that poverty was inevitable. Apparently he thinks it should (and, presumably, can) be abolished, and world-wide at that. This brings us to the matter of how poverty is defined. Hard-core capitalist -- well, make that capitalist tool -- that I am, I take poverty to be a relative condition as opposed to some kind of absolute. Consider someplace in eastern Africa. Manolo owns ten cattle whereas Jimmy has but two. Manolo considers Jimmy poor and Jimmy thinks Monolo is rich. But to most people in developed countries, both Manolo and Jimmy seem poor. Relative reigns. As for abolishing poverty, as that minister mentioned above desires, the only solution I can think of is the establishment of a "classless" society. That would neatly take care of poverty as a relative condition. All we need to do is sally forth and stir up the peasants and proletariat, then Bingo! the age of human perfection dawns -- right? (By the way: can the concept of poverty as an absolute be made operational? My formal training in economics is sketchy, so I'm curious if any readers can supply examples.) Later, Donald... posted by Donald at May 15, 2007 | perma-link | (47) comments

Friday, May 11, 2007

Unconventional Conservatism Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Jim Kalb offers a thoughtful response to my recent posting about Chesterton. Jim is a reliably eye-opening and helpful thinker whose brain more people should get to know. I interviewed him a couple of years ago about traditionalist conservatism: Part One, Part Two, Part Three. * Daniel McCarthy reminds us that there are many different conservatisms -- not all of which love foreign adventures, corporate gigantism, and open borders. Not long ago, I interviewed one such out-of-the-mainstream dissident, Bill Kauffman: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five. I think of Bill as a ripsnorting, poetical, anarcho-Green isolationist. And cheers to that combo. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 11, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Amazing chutzpah!
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, Notice this story never mentions the role the New York Times itself played in smearing the reputation of Duke's lacrosse team. (To cite a few examples of journalistic piling on, let me recommend this, or this, or this, or this). Neither does it apologize in any way. Apparently it was some other New York Times that was so irresponsible! Cheers, FvB... posted by Friedrich at May 11, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Skepticism About Multiculturalism
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- It's quite amazing how quickly it has become acceptable to denounce multiculturalism in Britain, isn't it? Ignore what's said in this Norman Tebbit piece for The Guardian and focus instead on the fact that this is a respectable public figure talking openly about the failings of multiculturalism. You don't see or hear that yet in the States. But maybe the dam has finally burst, and perhaps the public discussion in the U.S. will soon be opening up. Link thanks to GNXP commenter Omar Khan, who points out that when elite attitudes flip, they usually flip super-quickly. On Monday, no one acknowledges the existence of a given topic. On Tuesday, all the smart set thinks of it as urgent, and shares the same urgent opinion about it. How does this happen? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 9, 2007 | perma-link | (13) comments

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Many Different Eco-Crowds
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Donald's recent posting has got me thinking about eco-matters, as well as recalling time I've spent on the eco-fringes. I don't have a lot to add to the general global-warming discussion -- I'm completely unqualified to say much about it. To be completely honest, it strikes me as a dull topic that someone somewhere generated entirely for media-promotional reasons. Which, if I looked into it further, I might or might not respect. But, having spent a lot of personal time exploring the eco-world, I do feel I have one much-more-general contribution to make. To do so, I'm cleaning up, knitting together, and reprinting here some comments that I dropped on Donald's posting: One thing I'd add is that it's a goof to talk about environmentalists as though they're one big homogeneous group. They aren't. I've spent bunches of time exploring the eco-world, and I can testify that eco-people and eco-orgs come in all kinds of flavors. There are people who really like ducks and trees lots better than humans, for instance. (I feel that way myself sometimes.) There are one-issue people -- people who are doing what they can to protect manatees, or coral, or local forests. (God bless 'em.) There are far-out radicals who want the midwest to be declared a grass-and-buffalo preserve, and who argue that we need to create nature-corridors to reconnect the "natural" parts of the country. (They make remarkably convincing arguments for this, IMHO. Plus I often simply like the bioregional eco-anarchy people a whole lot.) And there are people like Bjorn Lomborg, who's eco but realistic. (I think he's great too, if not the final word on anything.) The Sierra Club / Gore squad is the most visible of the eco-worlds because they're the best-funded and most aggressively political part of the enviro world. But they aren't the entire eco-world by a long shot. Believe me, there are a lot of eco-people who despise or at least resent the "Inconvenient Truth" crowd. Small -- but to me important -- point here: You can be eco and dislike the Sierra Club / Gore crowd. You can be Xtremely green -- as in 'way-beyond-Al-Gore green -- and not be obsessed by topics like recycling and / or global warming. I personally buy most of the criticisms people make of the Gore-Sierra Club crowd -- that they're basically a bought-and-paid-for branch of the Democratic Party, and that they have sold out entirely to them. (You don't hear the Sierra Club talking much about population growth these days, do you? Guess why.) Which doesn't automatically mean that they aren't right about a few things ... Speaking only for myself, I dislike the Gore / Sierra Club axis (while liking some of the individuals, of course) for being such determinedly political people. Speaking for fringey ecopeople I've known who dislike the Sierra / Gore-ites more generally ... Their reasons tend to boil down to: The "Inconvenient Truth" crowd is too political -- their... posted by Michael at May 2, 2007 | perma-link | (16) comments

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Fact for the Day: Teens and Financial Expectations
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- From news story in the Contra Costa Times: American teens believe ... that when they get older they will be earning an average annual salary of $145,500. Interestingly, boys expect to earn an average $173,000 a year and girls $114,200 ... The fact is, only about 14 percent of U.S. households have incomes between $100,000 and $200,000, reports the U.S. Census Bureau. The median household income in the United States is actually $46,326. Gotta love the big dreams and expectations of the American adolescent ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 29, 2007 | perma-link | (16) comments

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Putting Duke in Perspective
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here's an appalling recent crime that puts the Duke brouhaha in perspective. How strange that the media establishment should devote oceans of coverage to something that never actually happened while pretty much ignoring an atrocity as horrifying as this one. Hey, here's another awful crime that also didn't get nationwide -- let alone Duke-scale -- attention. How to explain what strikes me at least as a really perplexing lack of perspective? I guess the general respectable-society feeling is along the lines of "black people do this kind of thing all the time, so it isn't 'newsworthy,' and besides we have decided as a society to cut black people a lot of slack, at least so far as how we talk about them goes, so mainstream people should simply ignore these kinds of crimes," or something. Given what a dramatic role the web and blogs have played in opening up certain discussions that were looooooong overdue for opening-up -- immigration policy, how full-of-it much contempo art is, etc. -- I find it bizarre that the "black people commit 'way too much of the violent crime that gets committed in the U.S." discussion is still under wraps. Don't you? So far the topic seems largely confined to white-nationalist sites, where hosts and visitors often wish black people ill. Yucko to that. I wonder why the topic is so danced-around by respectable people. Is it really that much more dicey a topic than all others? Perhaps it is. Perhaps as a society we've made "a concern for the feelings and self-esteem of black people" symbolic of "good intentions" generally. Perhaps we've talked ourselves into believing that saying something like "Good lord, did you know that a black American is 39 times more likely to physically harm a white American than vice versa?" isn't a statement of humane concern but is instead a sign that the speaker is a miserable and undeserving human being. (Here are some more startling broken-down-by-race American crime facts. Be warned: This document is lodged at a white-nationalist site. Two quick points about that: 1) To my knowledge, the facts contained in this document have never been seriously challenged. And 2) There's no place else where one can find these facts out. This is because respectable organizations -- the government, the foundations, the press -- simply refuse to examine and present these numbers. Which makes me at least wonder: If those who are curious about such facts wind up poking around sites they'd otherwise avoid, isn't this really the fault of the establishment that has suppressed the facts in the first place?) If it's true that we have collectively decided that it's a mark of decency to avoid these topics ... Well, it seems to me like such a bad convention / expectation / policy. As well as a destructive one. It's a terrible disservice to the facts of the matter, as well as an insult to well-meaning people of all races. How is... posted by Michael at April 24, 2007 | perma-link | (91) comments

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Mencius Vision
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Like many people who visit these parts, I've been fascinated and amused by the comments-fest contributions of the visitor who calls himself Mencius. What a buzzy brain! What a cheery -- if cheerily bleak -- spirit! Threading my way through his comments, I feel both bewildered and exhilarated, a little like I do when I read the offbeat sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick. When someone's on this kind of high, why not find out a bit more about him? So I contacted Mencius and coaxed out of him first some personal info, and then a blog-contribution. The personal details first: He goes by the complete handle Mencius Moldbug. Having made a score in a recent dot-com boom -- though "I only made out like a thief, not like a bandit," he writes -- he has been treating himself to a sabbatical, reading, thinking, and writing. He confesses that his monthly book bill is around $500. In his own words: Mencius Moldbug lives in San Francisco, where he is temporarily retired from the software industry. His principal occupations are feeding ravens, reading old books, and working on his programming language, which will be done any year now. You can contact him at And what a distinctive point of view Mencius has cooked up for himself. Neither right nor left, it's its own out-of-the-mainstream thing. Everything seems to connect and make sense. Yet it's sense of such a -- to me, anyway -- unfamiliar kind. I recognize a lot of Ludwig von Mises in there. And -- since I happen to have read a bit of the actual Mencius, a big star in the Confucian tradition -- I assume that there's some concern-for-social-order Confucianism a-boil in the background too. But as for the rest ... I asked Mencius if he'd like to spell his point of view out a bit more clearly for me and for our interested audience. Bingo. He responded very generously. By popular demand, here's Mencius: A Formalist Manifesto The other day I was tinkering around in my garage and I decided to build a new ideology. What? I mean, am I crazy or something? First of all, you can't just build an ideology. They're handed down across the centuries, like lasagna recipes. They need to age, like bourbon. You can't just drink it straight out of the radiator. And look what happens if you try. What causes all the problems of the world? Ideology, that's what. What do Bush and Osama have in common? They're both ideological nutcases. We're supposed to need more of this? Furthermore, it's simply not possible to build a new ideology. People have been talking about ideology since Jesus was a little boy. At least! And I'm supposedly going to improve on this? Some random person on the Internet, who flunked out of grad school, who doesn't know Greek or Latin? Who do I think I am, Wallace Shawn? All excellent objections. Let's answer them and then... posted by Michael at April 22, 2007 | perma-link | (52) comments

Friday, April 20, 2007

Left? Or Right?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Dept. of It's a Funny World: According to Christopher Hitchens, many of France's Communist Party members have defected -- straight over to Jean-Marie Le Pen's extreme right-wing National Front party. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 20, 2007 | perma-link | (9) comments

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

England R.I.P.?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Steve Sailer reviews a new Bryan Sykes book that -- using genetic evidence -- claims that the British Isles have been far more racially homogeneous than is usually thought, and for at least 6000 years. * It appears that 85% of London's gun-crime suspects are black. * Meanwhile, a recent study shows that nearly half of all black children in England are now being raised by single parents. * Tony Blair has gotten people in a tizzy because he has blamed a lot of crime on aspects of black culture. According to the Guardian, Blair "said people had to drop their political correctness and recognise that the violence would not be stopped 'by pretending it is not young black kids doing it'." * Is the England of Olde already dead? John Derbyshire and Rick Darby both think so. My own musing: When will our silly, trendy elites finally learn that "diversity" isn't everywhere, always, and automatically a good thing? Incidentally, I like the fact that the world is a racially / ethnically / whateverly diverse place. Cool! Fun! I also like living in a diverse neck of the woods myself, a lot of bother though it often is. But I can't for the life of me understand why any of that should mean that all our micro-institutions and micro-places should be put under moral and political pressure to be as racially diverse as the world itself is. Boring! Not to mention "granting far much too much credence and authority to the diversity-crats." Besides, wouldn't such a policy pursued to its conclusion in fact ensure homogeneity, not diversity? Should Tibet, for example, be made as "diverse" as England's elites seem to want England to be? If the diversity crowd had their way, no matter where you'd go you'd find the same humanity-slush. So what I finally find myself wondering is: Do the propagandists for diversity in fact want to destroy real diversity? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 17, 2007 | perma-link | (61) comments

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Duke / Imus
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Imus ... The Duke case ... There's something that's just too damn coincidental about it all, isn't there? Fred Wickham solves the mystery. Doug Anderson brings a distinctive p-o-v to bear on the Imus brouhaha. Fine passage: I am raising a black son with my black significant other. I would hope that if, 11 or 12 years from now, he is a football player for a college ball team and some radio jock calls his team "a bunch of nappy-headed pimps" I would hope that my son would not go on national television, weepy and mournful, and saying that the comments will hurt and scar him for the rest of his life. I would feel like a failure as a father. I would hope that my son would laugh at the stupid shock-jock and scold his listeners for emulating such a jerk to a place of prominence in American media life. I think Doug may mean "elevating" instead of "emulating," but he's still making a great point. Interesting to learn from the AP that some legal experts think that the wrongfully-accused Duke lacrosse players may be allowed to bring suit against asshole Durham County DA Mike Nifong. Best, Michael UPDATE: Michelle Malkin compares Imus' faux pas with the lyrics of today's three top rap songs.... posted by Michael at April 15, 2007 | perma-link | (14) comments

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Prairie Mary lays out some of the differences between "print on demand" and "publishing on demand." You can buy Mary's wonderful POD book "12 Blackfeet Stories" here. Mary recently read and enjoyed Darrell Riemer's POD book "Youthful Desires" too. You know Darrell as the blogger Whiskeyprajer. One of these days Mary will learn how to create links at her blog ... * Chris Dillow wonders what economics might have to tell us about anorexia and obesity. * Hustle over to Megan and Murray's blog to enjoy visuals of "Channelbone," their latest video installation. * Too bad more movie reviews aren't in this one's class. (Link thanks to Bryan.) * Glen Abel writes a loving appreciation of Kurosawa's "Throne of Blood" and "Ran," and brings the welcome news that a new DVD edition of Robert Rossen's "The Hustler" -- a special favorite of mine -- will be going on sale in June. * BLDGBLOG interviews the legendary film editor / philosopher-of-perception Walter Murch. (Link thanks to Dave Lull.) * Scully has a pottymouth. * Lester Hunt shows that it's possible to be a philosopher yet keep your feet planted firmly on common ground. * Razib may sneer at the evolutionist David Sloan Wilson (son of the novelist who wrote "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit," btw). But much of what Wilson says makes a lot of sense to me. * CyndiF and the hubster celebrate the big day in the right way. There's no fear of food-pleasure in that family! (This last link thanks to Dave Lull.) * Russell Celyn Jones enumerates some of the absurdities of America's creative-writing industry. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 11, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Roberts and Easterbrook
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've been taking a break from audiobooks and indulging in some podcast-listening instead. God, how I love a good interview. Say what you will about the Library of Economics' Russ Roberts as an interviewer (and I have, perhaps overemphatically), but he talks regularly with very interesting people, and at generous length. Here he chats with Marginal Revolution's Tyler Cowen, who proves to be as thoughtful, respectful, and open when he speaks as he is in his blogging. And, good god, is Tyler Cowen one heroic culture-consumer. In this interview, Roberts and Greg Easterbrook yak about the sunny side of economic developments: about how life has gotten better in many ways in terms of health, pollution, money, etc. Easterbrook -- the author of "The Progress Paradox" -- is a suave, articulate, and loose interviewee who has equipped himself with a lot of interesting facts. On pollution, for example: All forms of pollution except greenhouse gases have been in decline since the 1970s. Roberts has hold of some great facts of his own. For example: How much richer are we now than Americans 100 years ago were? (OK, OK: It's impossible to make an exact comparison. But why not try the experiment and see what comes of it?) Roberts reports that, when he asks his students to guesstimate, they generally figure we're 50% richer than Americans were in 1907. In actual fact -- and depending on how you shuffle the numbers, of course -- we're somewhere between 700% and 3000% richer than our great-grandparents were. Easterbrook responds with a few illustrations. In the 1950s, the average new American house was 1100 square feet. It contained 4.5 residents and one black and white TV. (Hey, that's a description of how my family lived in the 1950s.) The average new American house these days is 2300 square feet. It's inhabited by 2.5 residents and four color TVs. In the midst of the usual flurry of sky-is-falling headlines, it can be restorative to be reminded of these kinds of facts. I want to highlight two things from the interview. One is Easterbrook's evocation of how filthy, painful, and hungry life often was in the past, even in America, and even as recently as a century ago. A passage from Easterbrook's book is read by Roberts: In the first decade of the 20th century, city air in the United States was thick with choking smoke from unrestricted coal-burning; pigs roamed the streets of New York City and Philadelphia eating garbage that was thrown out of windows; there were three million horses drawing carts within city limits of American cities, meaning horse manure was everywhere. In Chicago, elevated trains pulled by steam engines rained sparks and cinders on pedestrians. In pleasantly pastoral small towns, only two percent of dwellings had running water, causing many women to be little more than serfs to the carrying of water or doing of laundry. Which reminds me to link to this piece about what a... posted by Michael at April 10, 2007 | perma-link | (27) comments

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Fact for the Day: L.A.'s Illegals
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- 12 percent of the 10.2 million residents of Los Angeles County are illegal immigrants. Thirty percent of the county's public health patients are illegal immigrants. Source. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 5, 2007 | perma-link | (16) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Laugh as we will at the French -- and why not? But they sure know how to build and run a TGV (train a grande vitesse). Some previous postings about France and the French: here, here, here, here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 5, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Tony Blair's government has created 3000 new criminal offences in just ten years. Source. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 4, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Clinton's Gifts
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- When you've got the knack, why not exercise it? According to the WashPost, in the last six years Bill Clinton has earned nearly $40 million as a speechifier. A cousin of mine -- as Republican as can be, by the way -- attended one of these talks and reports that Clinton's charisma is quite amazing. "It's like he radiates a force field. You can almost see it coming off him," says my cuz. A nice quote from the Post: On one particularly good day in Canada, Clinton made $475,000 for two speeches, more than double his annual salary as president. And a fun snapshot of How The World Really Works: Many of Bill Clinton's six-figure speeches have been made to companies whose employees and political action committees have been among Hillary Clinton's top backers in her Senate campaigns. The New York investment giant Goldman Sachs paid him $650,000 for four speeches in recent years. Its employees and PAC have given her $270,000 since 2000 -- putting it second on the list of her most generous political patrons. The banking firm Citigroup, whose employees and PAC have been Hillary Clinton's top source of campaign donations, with more than $320,000, paid her husband $250,000 for a speech in France in 2004. Last year, it committed $5.5 million for Clinton's Global Initiative to help encourage entrepreneurship and financial education among the poor. Here's a Google Maps view of many of Clinton's gigs and how they paid. I'm looking forward to FvBlowhard's next installment in his series on The New Class. Episode one can be read here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 28, 2007 | perma-link | (37) comments

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The New Slums
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- What an evocative description of some appalling South American desert slums David Kelly has written! Half-naked children toddle barefoot through mud and filth while packs of feral dogs prowl piles of garbage nearby. Thick smoke from mountains of burning trash drifts through broken windows. People -- sometimes 30 or more -- are crammed into trailers with no heat, no air-conditioning, undrinkable water, flickering power and plumbing that breaks down for weeks or months at a time. Too bad anyone has to live like that, eh? Thank god our own country has managed to pull itself out of such miseries. Let's hope that poor countries improve their conditions too, and the sooner the better. Oh, whoops: wrong. Actually, these desert slums aren't in South America at all, they're in California. And they're ours to deal with now thanks to our nutty immigration policies. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 27, 2007 | perma-link | (10) comments

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In 2004, more than 55 percent of the children born in Brussels were born to immigrant parents. Source: Walter Laqueur's new book, "The Last Days of Europe." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 27, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Monday, March 26, 2007

Politicized Religion, Retail Version
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards-- Although the U.S. Constitution prohibits an established religion, it doesn't prevent politics and religion from mixing. My impression is that Establishment Media have a tendency to cast evangelical Christian churches as hotbeds of right-wing politics where preachers send hordes of zombie-like members to the polls to vote as they have been ordered. The rightie blogosphere, on the other hand, is quick to point out the foibles of Mainstream Protestant churches at the national organization level -- their liturgical changes, consecration of certain bishops, divestment of funds in Israeli-based companies and so forth. Those are what I'll term "wholesale" views of the religion-politics picture. But what about the local scale? -- "retail," if you will. I can't offer a comprehensive answer. However, I'll toss out a few examples based on personal experience. One of my husbandly duties is to accompany my wife to church most Sundays. I have no problem with religion in the abstract sense. Yet I've never, ever liked going to church; nevertheless, I go to please her. My wife, being of Scandinavian descent, is partial to the Lutherans. In California she attended a church with a small congregation where the pastor steered clear of politics. Seattle is different. We have been attending the church where she was confirmed as a teenager. It's two blocks from the University of Washington. Here are items in the program booklet from March 25th. The Service of Confession and Absolution includes the following: In a world where poverty abounds, we confess our pride that makes us think that we can possess or consume whatever we desire. We confess our fear that compels us to spend more on preparation for war than on the feeding of those who are hungry or housing those who are homeless. We confess our greed that convinces us that we can possess more than we need to sustain our lives. We confess our anxiety that causes us to store up treasures on earth beyond the end of our days. We confess our guilt that prevents us from being moved by God's Spirit to respond to this global impoverishment. None of the above was said in the California church. The Seattle pastor spent most of his latest sermon dwelling on poverty (an apparent obsession of his, if the above confessions and the church's community outreach programs are any clue) and at one point ridiculed "hard-core capitalists" (his exact words). In the announcements section of the program booklet was this item: BANG POTS AND PANS FOR PEACE in honor of columnist Molly Ivins at noon today on 45th St, NE outside of University Congregational UCC. Bring your own signs, pots and lids! Join members of U. Congregational who want peace. Plan to be noisy for 15 minutes or so. Farther down the page in an events-of-the-week table was a 5:30 p.m. Monday meeting of the Freedom Socialist Party. In the room where post-service coffee was being served I noticed an activist bulletin board that had, among... posted by Donald at March 26, 2007 | perma-link | (48) comments

Thursday, March 22, 2007

More on Mortgages
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * FvBlowhard points out a hilarious website called The Mortgage Lender Implode-O-Meter. * Alex Tabarrok attacks the "credit snobs." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 22, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Say hello to chagas, a recent immigrant from Latin America that's currently causing alarm in L.A. * Tucson Weekly's Leo Banks spends some time exploring where and how illegals make their way into this country, and provides some remarkable snapshots of how absurd border matters have become. (Link thanks to Todd Fletcher.) * Steve Sailer wonders what's so great about diversity. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 20, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Housing Goes Bust?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- James Kunstler does the math and concludes that, where housing is concerned, Mr. and Mrs. Average American are screwed. Well, what Kunstler actually wrote was "fucked," not "screwed." But we don't use words like "fucked" at this blog. We're just too fucking respectable for that kind of thing. The New York Times reports that hundreds of thousands of people who bought homes in the last few years have already lost them. (Link thanks to Dean Baker, who has done a great job of hound-dogging the housing-market follies.) Best, Michael UPDATE: Thanks to Bill for pointing out The Housing Bubble Blog. UPDATE 2: Kirsten volunteers some "I been there" testimony: Having once paired my fortunes with a person of questionable financial priorities (to put it nicely) I've had first-hand experience with the world of sub-prime mortgage lenders, and I can tell you, it's a bizarre place. There is (or was ;-)) an army of salesmen out there whose mode of operation is a perfectly legal bait-and-switch. Legal because in theory you *can* get a mortgage for a 1/2 million dollar home for only $600 a month. So they dangle the possibility of these wonderful deals in front of you. Then when you get down to the actual numbers, they begin introducing reality -- not all at once, they don't want to scare you off -- but a little at a time. The low interest rates they mentioned creep up a point or two. The monthly payment is a bit higher every time they talk to you. Fixed rate 30 year deals morph slowly into ARMs or shorter-term loans with balloon payments waiting at the end. They aren't switching, technically -- they're just moving from theory to reality as you provide documentable information about your financial circumstances. But before you know it, the deal that started out looking so sweet is a deal that puts you just as far behind as you were before. Because these guys are making their money by closing deals, they swarm all over anyone who has a relatively high rate mortgage or an ARM -- they know that the best customer is the person who has already swallowed the subprime bait. Of course what they don't point out is that every time you refinance -- which they position quite honestly as helping you take advantage of the low-interest-rate d'jour -- your closing costs gobble up a bit more of your equity. If you even have any equity -- also left unmentioned is the fact that the appraisers these lenders work with are referred by . . . the lenders. It doesn't take a genius to realize that if an appraiser doesn't consistently estimate homes' values such that a subprime mortgage will work out (on paper), the referrals will dry up. So the appraisers are invariably "generous" when they document your home value -- they know that the home's loan-to-value ratio is critical to setting your interest rate. An obviously inflated appraisal... posted by Michael at March 20, 2007 | perma-link | (17) comments

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Short Introduction to Modern American Libertarianism
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few days ago, I pointed out a Max Goss interview with George Nash that provides a good, fast introduction to modern American conservatism. Today I'm pointing out a Daniel McCarthy review of a new Brian Doherty book that's a good, fast introduction to the history of modern American libertarianism. Nice quote: American students and admirers of Mises such as Murray Rothbard, a Columbia University graduate student, extended the work of their mentor and converted others, so that today the Austrian tradition flourishes in the United States, with strongholds at George Mason University and the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama -- though even now, warns George Mason's Peter Boettke, "You get involved in it and you're like in the 'X-Files' of academics." Daniel McCarthy blogs here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 14, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

DeLong on Friedman
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Brad DeLong writes a lovely, short appreciation of Milton Friedman. (PDF alert. Link thanks to Marginal Revolution.) It's informative, elegant -- and an instructive contrast with Paul Krugman's recent New York Review of Books essay about Friedman, which I highlighted and had a wrangle with here. Krugman and DeLong are similarly brilliant and have semi-similar political points of view. In their pieces, both include much in the way of acknowledgment of Friedman's contributions and importance. Yet, once all that has been said, what a difference between them. In his piece, Krugman shows his usual inability to disagree without personalizing. When Krugman differs with someone, he seems to consider it a moral imperative to attack the character of his opponent. He and Friedman didn't differ; no, Friedman was "intellectually dishonest." (I've read a lot about Milton Friedman, including many bitter criticisms of him. Krugman is the only writer I've ever encountered to accuse Friedman of intellectual dishonesty.) Going aggressively on the personal attack is such a compulsive reflex for Krugman that I'm tempted to overdramatize and use the word "pathological" to describe it. In his piece, DeLong provides helpful information, sincere appreciation, and a few nudges to his companions on the Democratic neolibby-left. "Hey," says DeLong, "it's genuinely worth wrestling with this Friedman guy, much as you may think of him as a devil figure. If you let yourself confront the Friedman phenomenon directly instead of dismissing it out of hand, you'll wind up at the least a better and a smarter Democrat." But DeLong also doesn't hold back. He leaves you in no doubt about his disagreements with Friedman, which seem as substantial as Krugman's. He's also specific and direct about where he thinks Friedman's thinking comes up short. His piece is at least as forceful as Krugman's. Friedman and DeLong were opponents, after all. Yet DeLong, by contrast to Krugman, presents his differences with Friedman in a self-posssesed and urbane way. There isn't a word of personal attack in his piece, let alone any attempts at character assassination. He keeps the discussion on the plane of intellectual debate. Incidentally, two quick points in an attempt to forstall potential detours. First, my quarrel isn't and wasn't with Krugman's politics or economics, which I have some sympathy for, but with his manner, which I find appalling. Second: I rather enjoy the popular, pro-wrestling side of politics. Michael Moore vs. Anne Coulter? Give 'em both bazookas and let's relish what follows. It's trashy spectacle, and (occasionally) good entertainment of a junky kind. Besides, I'm almost always happy when the political class disgraces itself. But aren't we -- 99% of the time, anyway -- entitled to expect civilized behavior from our public intellectuals? Here's Brad DeLong's blog. Hmm, what to make of the fact that, at the top of his blog, he declares himself to be "A Fair and Balanced Economist Member of the Reality Based Community"? Is describing yourself in this way useful? Or kind of... posted by Michael at March 13, 2007 | perma-link | (9) comments

Monday, March 12, 2007

A Short History of Modern American Conservatism
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- If you want to acquire an in-depth familiarity with how modern American conservatism became the thing that it is today, George Nash's "The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945" is the book to read. (It's buyable here.) But if what you want to do is sketch in the basics, you couldn't do better than Maxwell Goss' Right Reason interview with Nash: Part One, Part Two. A while back (here), I wrote about how much I've gotten out of wrestling with rightie thought. And I interviewed Jim Kalb, who provided readers with an eye-opening explication of traditionalist conservatism: Part One, Part Two, Part Three. Jim blogs here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 12, 2007 | perma-link | (0) comments

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Reactionary Radicals, The Conference
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A one-day conference on a classic reactionary-radical theme -- "Liberty, Community, and Place in the American Tradition" -- will take place in Charlotteville, Virginia on Saturday, March 24. It'll even be chaired by Mr. Reactionary Radical himself, Bill Kauffman. If you haven't done so already, please treat yourself to a read of 2Blowhards' interview with Kauffman, who is nothing if not a fun and big-hearted provocateur: Intro, Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five. Link thanks to Clark Stooksbury, who keeps a tasty variety of the Reactionary Radical thing simmering at his own blog. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 20, 2007 | perma-link | (0) comments

Friday, February 16, 2007

Risk, Reward and the New Class
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards-- As you know, I am a small businessman. As a result of what I do I spend time talking with investment bankers and bankruptcy lawyers. In the process I have learned a little (okay, very little) about finance. I want to talk about one of the concepts I stumbled across in finance that seems to make a lot of sense. That is the notion of a general and positive correlation between risk and reward. This is a pretty basic concept; the Wikipedia article on risk (which you can read here ) puts it this way: A fundamental idea in finance is the relationship between risk and return. The greater the amount of risk that an investor is willing to take on, the greater the potential return. The reason for this is that investors need to be compensated for taking on additional risk. This certainly resonated with my personal experience. As the owner of (and sole investor in) a small business, I had the potential to make more money than I had in a previous career as a salaried employee, but I had to take considerably more risk to get it. And this seems true of small businesses as a class. It appears from reasonably careful studies (such as those quoted in this story) that around half of all small businesses close in the first five years of operation. That implies a roughly a 13% annual failure rate. That number apparently rises to two-thirds in a decade, which would imply that in the second five years the failure rate drops to around 7% annually. Although the story implies, no doubt accurately, that some business closures are not complete crash-and-burns, I know from personal experience that the vast majority of such terminations are fraught with emotional and financial loses. Pondering the notion that increased risk ought to imply increased reward, I was struck by the notion that society might see a lot more entrepreneurship if it adjusted income taxes for the downside risk associated with a given level of earnings. It seemed unfair to tax a small businessman who earned a $100,000 profit by betting his own money exactly as if he was collecting a $100,000 salary from an employer who was absorbing the associated downside risks. After all, if the skill or luck of a small businessman turns bad, he might make no money at all the next year, or more to the point, he might not just lose his livelihood, but his savings and his house as well. I can remember in my first decade in business the peculiar sensation of being required to personally guarantee the debts of my business, something I do not remember ever being required to do as an employee. The Risk-Reward Curve and Its Outliers Playing with this notion, I even constructed a rough risk-reward curve for society as a whole. Well, the axes lacked numbers, but as I recall the same was true of the graphs in my... posted by Friedrich at February 16, 2007 | perma-link | (45) comments

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Migration Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Hispanic public-school enrollment in Texas is up 46.5% to over 2 million in just the past decade. Hispanics now make up 45.3% of students in Texas public schools. * All those Eastern Europeans who have migrated to France and Britain to work as plumbers and construction workers? Eastern European countries now wish they'd come home. It's evidently hard to live without your workmen and service people. "If you want some repairs in your apartment, you can't find anyone," says one Lithuanian. "It's ridiculous. Lines in the grocery stores are longer. When I used to need a taxi, it was always three minutes. Now it's 'In an hour'." Why do I suspect that the response of the Open Borders crowd to these developments will be, "Open the borders yet more!" Ain't that often the way political people work? Create a problem; then, in order to cure what you've caused, prescribe more of the same ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 15, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Our Changing Federal Budget
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In a good column, the WashPost's Robert Samuelson drives home how dramatically the makeup of the Federal budget has changed in the last 50 years. In 1956, defense spending and interest on the federal debt made up 67% of the budget, while Social Security accounted for 22%. Today, payouts to individuals (ie., Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) and interest on the federal debt together make up 68.5% of Federal spending, while defense spending now accounts for 20%. We've done a total 180. A nicely-balanced passage from Samuelson: The welfare state has made budgeting an exercise in futility. Both liberals and conservatives, in their own ways, peddle phony solutions. Cut waste, say conservatives. Well, network news reports of $20 million federal programs that don't work may seem -- and be -- scandalous, but like Amtrak they're usually mere blips in the total budget. For its 2008 budget, the Bush administration brags it would end or sharply reduce 141 programs. But most are microscopic; total savings would be $12 billion, or 0.4 percent of spending. Worse, Congress has previously rejected some of these cuts. Liberals have their own cures. Cut defense, some say. Okay. In 2006, military spending (including the war in Iraq) totaled $520 billion, slightly less than Social Security. If it had been halved, the savings would have just covered the deficit ($248 billion). Little would be left for new programs. Raise taxes on the richest 1 percent, say some. Okay. The richest 1 percent pay about a quarter of all federal taxes. In 2006, that was about $600 billion. To cover the deficit would require about a 40 percent tax increase. Needless to say, neither proposal is politically plausible. Annual budget debates are sterile -- long on rhetoric, short on action -- because each side blames the other for a situation that neither chooses to change. To cut spending significantly, conservatives would have to go after popular welfare programs, including Social Security and Medicare. To raise taxes significantly, liberals would have to go after the upper middle class, a constituency they covet (two-thirds of all federal taxes come from the richest fifth). Deficits persist, because neither side risks its popularity, and, indeed, both sides pursue popularity with new spending programs and tax breaks. Samuelson isn't cheery about the possibility of this logjam breaking up either. Mark Thoma criticizes Samuelson for wanting us to call Social Security and such "welfare" programs. For Mark, these are "insurance" programs. Mark also sees a nefarious rightwing agenda in Samuelson's column that I fail utterly to discern. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 14, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

Friday, February 9, 2007

Women's Mags, Men's Mags
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Back in 2004, the smart and funny Cathy Seipp wrote a piece for NRO about working as a freelancer for men's magazines. I just caught up with it and found it informative and entertaining. What made me laugh loudest, though, was a description not of working for Penthouse but of what it's like to write for women's magazines: To proper feminists who ask how I can work for a magazine that exploits women, my answer is always, go write for a women's magazine before you talk to me about exploited women. Lured by the prospect of what, ludicrously, always seems like easy money, I have occasionally over the years done just that. But after endless, snippy, sorority slambook-style negotiations-- "And FYI, the editor said, why does she think she should get that much?" -- and torturous rewriting until the correct women's mag tone (perky, smarmy, know-it-all, generic) is achieved, that fatally tempting $2 a word shrinks to something like $2 an hour. I've known many women who have published pieces in glossy women's magazines, and their descriptions of the experience match and confirm Seipp's. "There's always one more meeting to be had about your piece," one of them said to me. "Women editors will just committee you into exhaustion." Cathy Seipp herself is currently slogging through a rough round of chemo. Go here and send her best wishes. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 9, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments

Thursday, February 8, 2007

The North American Union?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Fun numbers for the day come from Arizona: In [Arizona in] 2005, more Latina teens got pregnant than all other racial and ethnic groups combined ...Latina teens are three and a half times more likely than White teens to become pregnant in Arizona and are about one-third more likely to get pregnant than Hispanics nationwide. This has helped keep Arizona's teen pregnancy rate one of the highest in the nation. And Arizona taxpayers are increasingly picking up the tab: 82 percent of all teen births in 2005 were paid for by the state's Medicaid program, up from 71 percent a decade earlier. Which makes me wonder: How much is there to the whole "our elites want to merge Mexico, the U.S., and Canada into one gigantic unit" thing? Given the populace-defying way our elites carry on, it certainly sounds plausible. Wikipedia even has an entry on the North American Union. And here's the Wikipedia entry on Robert Pastor, said by some to be the plan's mastermind. Doesn't he seem like a creepy figure? And here's the entry on the ominous-sounding North American SuperCorridor Coalition. But thinking about all this makes me feel like I'm in a '70s conspiracy thriller. So maybe these are just the ravings of paranoid maniacs. Still, a conspiracy or near-conspiracy would certainly explain a lot. So why isn't more noise made about it? And how would you feel if it turned out to be true that our elites are erasing the boundaries between Mexico, the U.S., and Canada after all? Best, Michael UPDATE: Rick Darby turns up some key evidence. Nice Rick quote: This is what "the government of the people, by the people, and for the people" has come to in our time: a multi-national group of appointed officials and corporate heavyweights meeting secretly to plan ways to continually slice off bits of national sovereignty while keeping the chumps, er, citizens in the dark.... posted by Michael at February 8, 2007 | perma-link | (16) comments

Dirty China
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- China's rapid industrialization has been very impressive. So has its record as the world's most heedless polluter, reports Der Spiegel. Some unappetizing facts: The country is home to 16 of the world's 20 dirtiest cities. The country's factories and power plants emit more sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide than Europe does. In a few years the country will surpass the United States to become the world's biggest carbon dioxide producer. The amount by which China increased its power production last year is greater than Britain's entire capacity. China uses more coal than the U.S., the EU, and Japan combined. Every seven days a new coal-fired plant comes on line. It's estimated that 400,000 Chinese die from air pollution every year. Particulates from China are causing sore throats in Japan. Link thanks to the Distributist Review. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 8, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Future Literacy Rates
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- If we continue on our merry way where immigration and illegal immigration are concerned, we'll soon wind up with a less literate population, reports the Christian Science Monitor's Amanda Paulsen. Key quote: "There is no time that I can tell you in the last hundred years" where literacy and numeracy have declined, says Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston and one of the report's authors. "But if you don't change outcomes for a wide variety of groups, this is the future we face." An expanding, increasingly illiterate and innumerate population -- now that's the way to solve our Social Security and Medicaid challenges. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 7, 2007 | perma-link | (14) comments

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

The Krugman Show
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm normally pretty good about avoiding Paul Krugman, who is obviously a brilliant guy but who's also a grandstanding egomaniac. Life's too short, why not keep the blood pressure under control, etc. Occasionally, though, I do slip up. Intrigued by the idea of Paul Krugman writing about the recently-deceased Milton Friedman, for instance, I read this New York Review of Books piece. (Link thanks to ALD.) Could Krugman -- a Clinton-style Democrat -- really have found it in himself to write an appreciation of a legendary free-marketer? Maybe so, I thought. During a previous bout of weakness, I listened to a long interview on Radio Economics with Krugman and was surprised to discern some gentlemanliness in his conduct and language. Not that the usual compulsive showing-off was in short supply, you understand. But it was enough to let me think he might deserve another try. So I bit. Verdict: both sides of Krugman are on display. He does indeed frame his piece as a tribute and an appreciation, and he does acknowledge Friedman's importance and contributions: "By the century's end, classical economics had regained much though by no means all of its former dominion, and Friedman deserves much of the credit ... I regard him as a great economist and a great man." Generous! If a bit pompous: "I regard him ..." indeed. The world was waiting for Paul Krugman to deliver that opinion. Yet ... Well, let's just say that, although the corpse of Milton Friedman hasn't yet cooled, Krugman can't leave matters there. The usual thing in this kind of piece -- the kind one combatant writes about a worthy opponent -- is to slip a few reservations in along the way but let the whole thing stand as tribute. It's all a big debate, why not root for people who make great cases, etc. But that's not for Krugman, who doesn't just note down a few reservations, he turns the essay into something really poisonous. The signs are apparent early on. For instance: "This essay argues that Friedman was wrong on some issues, and sometimes seemed less than honest with his readers." That "less than honest" bit is going to bloom in the course of the essay. The portents quickly grow darker and stormier: "questionable logic ... serious questions about his intellectual honesty ... a bit slippery ..." Finally, the accusation itself: "Over time, Friedman's presentation of the story [ie., free-marketism] grew cruder, not subtler, and eventually began to seem -- there's no other way to say this -- intellectually dishonest." Gotta love that "there's no other way to say this" bit. Krugman isn't peddling mere opinion or disagreement. No, he's speaking because the gods and the fates have chosen him to deliver their judgment. What could Krugman possibly have in mind, I wondered. I've read many criticisms of Friedman's work and thought but I can't remember a one that accused him of intellectual dishonesty. I focused in on the piece... posted by Michael at February 6, 2007 | perma-link | (61) comments

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Quotas, Preferences, Scores, Admissions
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Heather Mac Donald tells a tale of diversity follies in California. Steve Sailer's recent musings about anti-discrimination laws and quotas struck me as brilliant and sensible (a nice, all-too-rare combo). Anyone interested in California and / or education will want to read Steve's latest piece for Vdare. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 31, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Political Dynasties?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Now that the 2008 presidential election is almost upon us ... What? It's the better part of two years away? Judging by the media coverage, I never woulda guessed that. Regardless, now we're starting to see a number of items noting that Bill Clinton's presidency was sandwiched between Bush presidencies and the whole string could be bookended by Hillary, should she win. Even Michael Barone has weighed in. I recognize that a seemingly endless Bush-Clinton chain is possible. But I'm not at all sure it's likely. I say this [adjusts gray beard] because I remember that the same sort of thing was being said about the Kennedy clan. After Jack will come Bobby and after Bobby it'll be Teddy's turn. That soaks up 24 years while the next generation matures to take over. (Some wags noted that after 24 years of Kennedys, it would be 1984 -- shudder.) Didn't happen. John and Robert were destroyed by others and Ted destroyed himself. Later generations seem to have lost whatever political magic ol' Joe's boys might have possessed. Granted, a "brand name" can be helpful, especially at the start of a presidential marathon. But voters, like consumers in general, often seem to get tired of the old and seek out something new. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 31, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

FvB on Foreign Adventurism
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Lots of fun comments on my recent posting about the Iraq War, where I asked "How do we get into these messes?" Nothing quite like a political posting to up the comments numbers! Curious about what Friedrich von Blowhard's answer to my posting's question might be, I wrote him this note: The two things I'd raise where "why do we make these messes?" goes are a bit different than the usual, I guess. I'd tend to say 1) Foreign affairs (aka "swinging your dick around") seems to be more glamorous and appealing to many politicians than dreary ol' taking care of the chores at home is; and 2) There seems to be something in Americans that makes them think that we can either run the world or convert the world to being like us. We gotta go proselytize! Maybe that's part of America's famous religious enthusiasm. In any case, my own theory about why we stumble into these messes is that (2) makes us vulnerable to (1). What's your hunch about this? I was hoping to elicit some history and some thinking. Bingo! Here's what FvB responded with: Our involvement with foreign affairs stems from exactly the same moment in time that progressivism arose: the mid-1890s. During that decade there was a lot of social tension from industrialization, the creation of a single national market through the railroad revolution (and the exposure of agriculture to global markets), and from massive immigration. In 1896 W. J. Bryan, the Populist / Democratic candidate, ran against McKinley, who won big because he mobilized a lot of corporate-big business money and because people were scared by the possibility of radical social upheaval. Right at that moment, when left and right were fighting themselves into exhaustion, we find the upsurge of what is termed "the new middle class." (The old middle class being the American bourgeoisie, the small business owners.) The NMC were professionals (doctors, lawyers, journalists, social workers, teachers, college professors, government bureaucrats) and managers of corporations -- this was the moment when the huge businesses that had been thrown together over the previous quarter-century started trying to run themselves rationally. The politics of the NMC were weirdly off the continuum of the traditional spectrum from traditional left (populist, labor, farmer) to right (small businessmen, industrialists.) The progressives / NMCs (the two are virtually synonomous) very rapidly became more politically potent than either the traditional left or traditional right, in part because they also introduced modern-day lobbying to our system of government. They essentially embraced fascism (before it was ever named), that is, the governmental regulation/control of privately owned industry (with, of course, the NMC controlling the government). They quickly dispatched the small-is-beautiful thinking behind the Sherman anti-trust act, because they saw how useful big business was ... to them. They instituted social controls over the immigrant masses (see my old post on the development of the high school and of the use of the education system to... posted by Michael at January 31, 2007 | perma-link | (20) comments

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Price of Muscle-Flexing
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- We're now spending money on the Iraq war faster than we ever spent money in Vietnam. The final cost of the debacle might well come to $700 billion; if I remember right, the Pentagon guesstimated early on that we'd get away with spending $50 billion. Off by a mere 1000% -- oopsie! Too bad about all those deaths too. Can anyone even remember any longer what our purpose in Iraq was meant to be? Who are the bad guys? Who are we fighting for? As far as I can tell, the only goal we're clinging to now is to continue pretending that we have a goal. Nonpartisan question (let's not forget that LBJ was to Vietnam what GWB is to Iraq): Why do we keep getting ourselves into these messes? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 30, 2007 | perma-link | (50) comments

Monday, January 29, 2007

Musings About Civilization By One of Da Boyz
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It's out there. It's huge. And Instapundit already linked to it. There's everything from a Japanese colonel riffing on the third-generation problem to the persistence of barbarian habits to what to consider when civilization unravels. If you haven't seen it already and have 15 minutes to spare, click here to read what's on John Jay's mind. He's one of the Chicago Boyz, and fellow-Boy and Blowhards commenter Lexington Green says he plans to print it out and give it a read. Truckloads of food for thought, a lot of which gets high scores on my plausibility meter. My only advice is to skip the first paragraph, which is more of a distraction than an introduction Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 29, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Political Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Some great lines from Dean Baker: Why do reporters feel the need to constantly tell us about the philosophy of politicians? Isn't it obvious that the job of politicians is to get elected? This means making deals with the people who can give you the money and the political support to get elected. They don't get elected by writing great tracts on political philosophy. * Matthew Yglesias wrestles with the "anti-anti-Semites." A Jewish liberal musing about left / right, intra-Jewish feuds over the mideast ... I think I'll just play observer on this one. (Link thanks to Steve Sailer.) More. Yet more. * This Peter Brimelow speech is an excellent quick intro to why immigration policy is one of the most pressing political topics around. * Taser'd for smoking. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 25, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Murray on Education
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I found Charles Murray's three-parter (one, two, three) for the WSJ about America and education realistic, sensible, and humane. Of course this may simply mean that I agree with him and I like his writing style. (Link thanks to ALD.) In any case ... Murray 1) reminds us gently that half of all children will always be of below-average intelligence; 2) contends that we fetishize college, and that too many American kids are in college with no good reason for being there; and 3) argues that our especially-gifted kids need to learn humility and wisdom. I can't disagree with him on any of that. My favorite passage from the series: Like it or not, g exists, is grounded in the architecture and neural functioning of the brain, and is the raw material for academic performance. If you do not have a lot of g when you enter kindergarten, you are never going to have a lot of it. No change in the educational system will change that hard fact. That says nothing about the quality of the lives that should be open to everyone across the range of ability. I am among the most emphatic of those who think that the importance of IQ in living a good life is vastly overrated. No, wait, maybe my favorite passage is this one instead: The spread of wealth at the top of American society has created an explosive increase in the demand for craftsmen. Finding a good lawyer or physician is easy. Finding a good carpenter, painter, electrician, plumber, glazier, mason -- the list goes on and on -- is difficult, and it is a seller's market. Journeymen craftsmen routinely make incomes in the top half of the income distribution while master craftsmen can make six figures. They have work even in a soft economy. Their jobs cannot be outsourced to India. And the craftsman's job provides wonderful intrinsic rewards that come from mastery of a challenging skill that produces tangible results. How many white-collar jobs provide nearly as much satisfaction? Though god knows that I'm grateful for my cozy white-collar job, I've often wished that I'd developed a hands-on, sellable craft instead ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 18, 2007 | perma-link | (35) comments

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In 1900, more American women were interested in the temperance drive than in getting the vote. (Source: Patrick Allitt's excellent lecture series "The American Identity.") Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 14, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

Friday, January 12, 2007

Jim and Wilhelm
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Traditionalist conservative Jim Kalb has a wrestle with Wilhelm Ropke's "A Humane Economy." The underknown Ropke -- one of my favorite economists -- is someone who I imagine those who resonate to the Small is Beautiful thang would enjoy getting to know. His central theme is this: "OK, a free-ish economy seems to be the goose that lays the golden egg, and economic wealth and economic growth are both Good and Important things. But the processes of the free-ish economy often seem to erode and undermine the social and environmental bases that make the free-ish economy possible in the first place. What, if anything, to do about this?" I'm not sure that all of Ropke's suggestions would translate well to the U.S.'s circumstances. But I got a lot out of accompanying his mind as he thought his way through the facts and the implications anyway. Here's an excellent Shawn Ritenour introduction to Ropke, and an equally-excellent John Zmirak essay about him. I enjoyed Zmirak's book about Ropke too. A while back, 2Blowhards did a three-part interview with Jim Kalb about traditionalist conservatism: here, here, and here. It's a terrific (and eye-opening) interview if I do say so myself. Jim is one of the best explicators imaginable. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 12, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Buffalo, Shuffling Off
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Let me think... Yes, it was just about 50 years ago when... Splat!!! [City hits wall] When I was young, Buffalo, New York was Important. Not "major league" in the narrow sense of having a major baseball franchise, mind you, but Important nevertheless. It was the country's most populous state's second largest city -- a major manufacturing and transportation center. I first visited the Buffalo area in June, 1956. We bounced off the suburbs on our way from Detroit (via Canada) to Syracuse and points east, but I had no doubt that the place was large. And prosperous. Part of that prosperity had to do with construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway. When it was completed, the Seaway killed Buffalo. Let's look at some numbers. Because political boundaries of cities usually bear little relationship to the "economic" or "organic" city -- defined as the labor market area or the "built-up" area, I'll use Erie and Niagara counties (the Niagara Frontier region) to approximate Buffalo as an entity. The table below shows Niagara Frontier census populations (in thousands) from 1920 through 2000 plus a 2005 estimate taken from a state government Web page. Also included is the Niagara Frontier's share of the U.S. population (from 1960 on, the national population includes Alaska and Hawaii). Population share change is a simple, yet fairly reliable measure of how well an area is doing economically. Year Population % USA 1920 753.4 0.71 1930 911.7 0.74 1940 958.5 0.73 1950 1,089.2 0.72 1960 1,307.0 0.73 1970 1,349.2 0.66 1980 1,242.9 0.55 1990 1,189.3 0.48 2000 1,170.2 0.42 2005 1,147.7 0.39 As you can see, population peaked at a point near 1970 and has fallen (on a decade basis) ever since. But population share fell considerably during the 1960s -- right after the Seaway opened in 1959. Before then, the Buffalo region's population share was fairly stable, in the low seven tenths of a percent range. The Seaway took away Buffalo's rôle as a transportation center. Formerly, Great Lakes shipping on its way to the Atlantic terminated at Buffalo for trans-shipment to railroads or the state barge canal (originally the Erie Canal). I recall looking at the Buffalo harbor area in the mid-70s and seeing only a few pilings rising out of the lake where docks used to stand. Post-1959, shipping reached the Atlantic via the Seaway and the St. Lawrence River. And Buffalo's industrial heritage? During most of the first third of the 20th century it hosted Pierce-Arrow, maker of luxury automobiles along with Brunn, the custom-body builder. From around the time of the Great War until the 60s, Buffalo was an important aviation industry center; at various times Consolidated, Bell and Curtiss-Wright were based there. Nowadays -- and for the last several decades -- Buffalo has become a branch-plant town. And that's its fundamental problem. Companies headquartered in an area will tend to take good care of that area. Contrast the Niagara Frontier with the nearby Rochester area.... posted by Donald at January 11, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments

Small May Still Be Beautiful
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Going on sale soon: "Small is Still Beautiful," a book about the economist E.F. ("Small is Beautiful") Schumacher by Joseph Pearce. Here's an interview with Pearce. Martin Hodgson evaluates the impact of Schumacher here. Odd that Schumacher -- who, back in the '70s, was a hero to eco-hippies (I was fond of him myself) -- should be championed by a conservative these days, isn't it? Things go on and evolve, I guess. A preference for modesty in governance, a feeling that economies should serve people rather than vice versa, a respect for established folkways -- how to assign a single political label to this bundle of leanings? ... Oh, it's so bewilderingly Crunchy Con, isn't it? But then maybe not. And when did it all take on such a lot of earnest-Catholic (and to my mind dreary) coloring? Pearce and some co-conspirators (including the excellent Clark Stooksbury) will be blogging for a time here. Here's the Schumacher Society. Here's Schumacher's most famous piece, "Buddhist Economics." The most Schumacherian publication I know of is Orion Magazine, which regularly publishes New Urbanist (and Peak Oil) firebrand James Kunstler. Here's a recent interview with Kunstler. Given what a fan I am of Kunstler and of the New Urbanism, and given how useful I've found Rod Dreher's idea of Crunchy Cons, maybe it all makes a kind of sense ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 11, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

Rightie Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Dartmouth's true-blue Jeffrey Hart has been expressing displeasure with Bushie Republicans lately. The New Criterion's James Panero tells the story. * Dennis Dale considers the case of the British ballerina who is a member of the BNP. Great line: "Her behavior, apparently racially tolerant in her personal life but willing to consider the consequences of race, ethnicity and immigration on the macrocosmic level, is common and rational." * Jim Kalb distills the last 60 years of American conservatism down into five cogent paragraphs. * Jim points out this wonderfully grouchy it's-all-coming-to-an-end piece by the late paleoconservative John Attarian. Nice line: "Barring unforeseeable developments, American conservatism will go down in history as a failure, a crass and clueless movement that never really understood its mission, nor ever grasped reality." * NZConservative muses about the way that political discourse has grown so ill-tempered even though there aren't that many differences between political parties. Shrewd insight: "Political correctness is one possible reason why politics has got so personal and abusive. Many people are afraid to say what they really think and so prefer to vent their frustrations through personal attacks rather than by explaining why they are opposed to particular policies." * Tyler Cowen thinks that a universal 401K plan might make a positive difference. * I Was A Young Republican! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 11, 2007 | perma-link | (9) comments

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Diversity Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Meet -- and perhaps curse -- the woman who invented "diversity training." * Is there really a plan afoot to abolish the U.S. and replace it with a North American Union? * And why is the globalist World Bank lying about the facts and figures it uses in order to promote its globalist agenda? * Paul Theroux fondly remembers the days when the U.S. had half the population it does now. * Derb looks at multiculturalism, immigration madness, prosperity, etc, and wonders if the U.S. might not fall apart sometime soon. * In only the last five years, Spain (pop. 45 million) has taken in 4 million immigrants. According to the BBC, "immigration has become the main concern [in Spain], ahead of terrorism and unemployment." Wikipedia notes "noticeable social tensions [and] ... downward pressure on the wages of Spanish born workers ... at a time of booming residential prices and rising rents." Now who could have foreseen any of that? * Steve Sailer asks one of his patented so-sensible-they're-shocking questions: What if "diversity" doesn't make anything better? What if, in fact, diversity makes life worse? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 10, 2007 | perma-link | (10) comments

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Private Pleasure, Public Vulgarity
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few visuals to kick this posting off: And something I wish I had a visual for but, well, it would have been awkward: Over the holidays, I noticed two pre-adolescent girls who -- in the company of adults giving every indication of being their parents -- were wearing stretchy-glittery terry workout clothes. Victoria's Secret leisure-wear, basically. Across the butt of one girl was stitched the word "Juicy." Across the butt of the other girl was stitched the word "Pink." (Note to oldies not in the fashion know: I'm pretty sure that "Juicy" refers to a popular girls' fashion outfit called Juicy Couture. It also, of course, suggests "ripe and appetizing." Note to youngsters who didn't live through the '70s and '80s: the word "Pink" can make oldies give a start because the word was once used to signify hardcore, or near-hardcore, pornography. An extreme sex magazine didn't show pictures of girls who were just naked. It "showed pink" -- ie., it displayed images of exposed vaginas and anuses.) Looking at these two girls, I had -- I confess it -- a brief moment when I found myself thinking about their pre-pubescent butts in sexual terms. Which is bizarre, because I've never had the slightest sexual interest in pre-pubescent girls. But with all those hotsy signifiers a-glow -- St. Tropez fabrics, look-at-me buttpatches, provocative words -- perhaps it wasn't really that bizarre. With "Juicy" and "Pink" twinkling at me, how could the carnal part of my mind not switch on? Repeat after me: What were their parents thinking? Speaking of which ... The New York Times' Lawrence Downes recently attended a middle-school talent show. (Link thanks to Rod Dreher.) And what Downes found himself witnessing were 6th, 7th, and 8th grade girls doing half-clad, gyrating, booty-shaking imitations of the lascivious dancers in rock videos. Downes writes: What surprised me, though, was how completely parents of even younger girls seem to have gotten in step with society's march toward eroticized adolescence -- either willingly or through abject surrender. And if parents give up, what can a school do? The discussion topic I'm proposing is obvious, I hope: What do we make of how trashy, flashy, and vulgar popular culture has become these days? My own first contribution is a qualifier. I often enjoy vulgarity and funkiness. Back in his brief heyday, for instance, I was a fan and a defender of Andrew Dice Clay. I also like more in the way of flirtatiousness and mischief than many Americans seem comfortable with. What can I say? Affable sexual banter gives the day a sparkle, and it puts me in a good mood. My general attitude: Why not enjoy whatever it is life has to offer in the way of pleasure and delight? I mean, so long as it doesn't lead to personal collapse and social decay. So what makes me wince in the examples I provide above isn't the earthiness, the carnality, or the provocation. I'm... posted by Michael at January 4, 2007 | perma-link | (26) comments

Financial Tsunami
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, As I understand it, the first moment you can directly observe the arrival of a tsunami is when the water along the beach is sucked out to sea. This is the prelude to the imminent arrival of the killer wave, and signals the moment when sensible people run like hell for higher ground. Well, a tsunami of sorts is headed for American public finances. According to a story from last May which you can read here: Taxpayers owe more than a half million dollars per household for financial promises made by government, mostly to cover the cost of retirement benefits for baby boomers, a USA TODAY analysis shows. [emphasis added] The same story notes that these liabilities increased a mighty 20% over the past two years alone. Because government provides more than half the funding for the health care sector, a medical-demographic tidal wave of red ink is going to wash over public sector budgets during the next three decades. But this all sounds so abstract and remote, so much like the perpetual refrain of death and taxes, that it is hard to take it seriously. It seems like worrying about a tsunami on a calm sunny day at the shore. However, by looking closely (at the public sector) we can begin to see the water running out to sea right under our feet. The same story continues, rather understatedly: Pension and retiree medical benefits for civil servants and military personnel are more generous than those for private sector workers. But government has not set aside as much money as private companies to pay the costs. [emphasis added] Say what? I read several newspapers every day and my impression was that private companies (at least some big unionized ones like GM, Ford and a bunch of utilities) have created a serious risk that they will need to be bailed out by the Feds by seriously underfunding their retirement plans over the past 15 years. I confess I had never given much thought to what the public sector was up to in this regard. The notion that the public sector as a whole was not up to private sector standards was rather unnerving. But hey, who takes what USA Today says seriously, right? But six months later I almost spit my morning Diet Coke out when I read a story on this same topic in my home town rag, the San Fernando Valley Daily News. Apparently, those zany accountants who oversee Generally Accepted Accounting Principles have thrown a monkey wrench into the otherwise smooth-running machinery of public borrowing. They have put in a nasty new financial reporting requirement for government bodies. To wit, that such organizations have to estimate and report the size of their unfunded liabilities for employee retirement pensions and health care benefits. The results, according to the Daily News on December 18, 2006, will not be very pretty, at least in California: SACRAMENTO - Already grappling with spiraling annual health costs, some... posted by Friedrich at January 4, 2007 | perma-link | (17) comments

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Immigration Elsewhere
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * "People should know that the border has been taken hostage by the cartels," says a Texas police officer. "So many officials try to cover up what's going on. Why? I guess they don't want the public to know the truth." Meanwhile, Mexican drug cartels are fighting each other for control of sections of the border with bazookas, grenades, and torture. "Silver or lead," says a man at a hotel bar in Laredo. "That's the code in Mexico. Either you pay up or you're killed." * One of the benefits we're reaping from our current immigration policies: a dramatic uptick in drunken driving. Try Googling "drunk driving" and "illegal immigrant" (or variations on same), and you'll find a wealth of articles like these. Would anyone care to explain to the relatives and friends of the people killed by these drunken illegals what the immense and urgent benefits of our current immigration policies are? Lower strawberry prices and lawncare costs? * Poor black Americans seem to be taking much of the brunt of our current immigration policies. And won't that help them get over their feelings of bitterness and alienation about how America treats black people ... Best, Michael UPDATE: "Illegal immigrants planning to cross the desert and enter the US on foot are to be given hand-held satellite devices by the Mexican authorities to ensure they arrive safely," reports the Telegraph.... posted by Michael at January 3, 2007 | perma-link | (17) comments

Monday, January 1, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- GNXP's Razib interviews Heather Mac Donald -- clear thinker, tough gal, brainiac, and (IMHO) major cutiepie. One thing that makes Heather my kind of intellectual is her willingness to admit that she doesn't know everything, let alone have all the answers. Isn't that a refreshing change from the usual? Incidentally: What a coup for GNXP. And take that, mainstream media outlets. Don't you wish real-live magazines and newspapers would do things like gab with Heather Mac Donald? I wonder why they don't. Are the conventional media terrified of ideas? Are they just completely unresourceful? Once again, thank heavens for entrepreneurial bloggers. Journalism may need Razib more than science does. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 1, 2007 | perma-link | (10) comments

Sunday, December 31, 2006

D.A. Justice
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- About time! Steve Sailer notes a, er, peculiar gap in Slate's list of the 10 Most Outrageous Civil Liberties Violations of 2006. James Fulford links to a satisfyingly droll Mary Katherine Ham video about the Duke case. Hey, why not donate a few bucks (or, even better, some serious cash) to the Steve Sailer writing fund? In the last five years Steve has done approximately a thousand times more in the way of groundbreaking journalism than the entire staff of the New York Times has. He doesn't have a mainstream post to rely on, though, and can use some financial help. Let's help keep those Sailer articles coming. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 31, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Military Funds Go Poof!
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Anyone whose blood-pressure is in need of a boost should benefit from this brief CBS report about the American military's inability to keep tabs on its own funds. Grabber fact: $2.3 trillion is, essentially, MIA. $2.3 trillion! That kind of money could pay for a lot of holiday iPod cheer. Best, Michael UPDATE: Tim Worstall shows that it isn't just the U.S.'s government that knows how to throw away taxpayer money.... posted by Michael at December 14, 2006 | perma-link | (7) comments

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

British Frankness
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Tony Blair announces that multiculturalism is finito in Britain. Why are the British elites so much faster and franker than we are in acknowledging what a big issue the combo of high immigration rates and obsessive multiculturalism has become? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 13, 2006 | perma-link | (18) comments

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

More on Kid-Centricity
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've noted a few times before my impression that the U.S. is amazingly kid-centric. Although (at least where middle-class people are concerned) some of our big cities are places where narcissistic singles indulge in endless rounds of Ecstasy-gobbling self-pleasure, the rest of the country amazes me by the degree to which life there is arranged around children. Choices in housing and activities, recreation, and travel are often dictated by the kids, or by what the parents imagine would be good for the kids. Schools, playdates (whatever "playdates" are), and coaching sessions take precedence over adult activities and pursuits. To this big-city boy, Life Out There often looks like one big day-care center. My own experience with other countries and cultures is modest, and visitors have informed me that India is at least as kid-centric as the U.S. is. So I guess I can't say that the U.S. is "uniquely" kid-centric. Still, the degree to which many here arrange their lives around their kids is striking. How far back in time does this let-the-kids-show-the-way tendency go? I'm no history buff, to say the least. But I've suspected Americans of kid-centricity for at least a few decades. When I spent a teenaged year in France in the early '70s, for instance, I was shocked by how non-kid-centric France was. Most people raised children, of course, and perpetuating the population was generally thought to be a good thing. But it wouldn't have occurred to the adults I encountered to organize their lives around their kids. Kids were instead expected to fit into adults' lives. No one went on vacation to any place like Disneyland, and camps, soccer leagues, and music lessons didn't dictate family decisions for anyone. Kids may have had their own entertainments -- their own books, music, and tv. But parents made no effort to share them. Come to think of it, French parents didn't show any urge whatsoever to use their kids as vehicles for re-living their own childhoods. Childhood, once lived through, was left behind. Kids weren't seen as the be-all and end-all of life, in other words, as they often are in much of America. Kids also weren't felt to be a boundless source of deep wisdom, let alone the redemption of anything. Adult life had its own allures, and adults treated themselves to the food, travel, and art that suited them. They did this even during their kids' infant years, a time when many American parents seem to consider it a sacred obligation to set aside all personal pleasure. Still, historical perspective that relies on evidence rather than dim impressions is appreciated too. I discussed an Edward Shorter book about medieval European attitudes towards children here. But how about America's long-term history with kids? Were our attitudes always as distinctive as they are today? Recently, I scribbled down an a propos passage from an excellent Patrick Allitt American history lecture series from the Teaching Company. Here it is: European visitors to... posted by Michael at December 6, 2006 | perma-link | (23) comments

Monday, December 4, 2006

Blogging and Economics
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- How helpful is economics so far as explaining the blogosphere goes? Here's a flourishing, socially-significant field of activity that's undertaken by most of its participants without any expectation of remuneration. Many of them do their blogging and commenting under, ahem, fake names, thereby making not just money scarce but real-life recognition nonexistent. The question isn't just, "Where's the money?" It's also, "Where's the self-interest?" and "What are the incentives?" (Incidentally, and for what little it's worth: I think economists might very well be able to give an interesting economic account of blogging, I just have my doubts about how well that account would stand up as an explanation.) These questions occured to me yet again on reading this LATimes piece about how some economist-bloggers are becoming blogosphere stars. You'd think that this phenomenon -- economists becoming stars in a field that's anything but money-driven -- would have at least a few of them taking fresh looks at some of their pet theories, wouldn't you? "Good lord! What to make of this!" -- why aren't more of them asking themselves this question? A nicely relevant passage from Steve Sailer: "A common theme here at iSteve is how intellectually Aspergery so many economists are. The thinking of a lot of famous economists seems to be vaguely autistic in the sense that they seem disconnected from so many obvious facts about human nature." Such as, I'd suggest, the pleasures of self-expression, connecting with other people, and perpetrating some completely-useless mischief. I won't speak for other blog-denizens, but when I write postings or cruise other blogs, I'm pitching in because it's fun and rewarding to meet interesting people and to take part in freewheeling conversations. Part of the fun, I'd argue, comes from the fact that it's all so defiantly un-sensible in economic terms. I suppose I like to think that I'm doing my little bit for opening the general culture-conversation up and providing a place where culture-hounds can hang out and compare notes. But mainly I prowl the blog-world because I find it fun and rewarding. And I find it fun and rewarding because ... Well, I don't know really. It just is. So there. Another point about blogging: What does the blogging-thang say about how much we love our jobs? According to usage and stats tables, approximately 150% of blogging activity takes place during what are usually considered to be "work hours." Which a non-economist might take to suggest a few things, such as 1) A lot of people are underemployed, 2) A lot of people feel that they aren't able to contribute much of what they have to offer at the workplace, and 3) A lot of people find blogging more rewarding than job-style working. I know that standard economic theory doesn't exactly say that the way things shake out money-and-job-wise is perfect -- just that markets do a pretty good job of suiting people and products to prices and availability, etc. But maybe we... posted by Michael at December 4, 2006 | perma-link | (25) comments

Friday, December 1, 2006

Population Panic
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Europe ... Low birth-rates ... Etc., etc. Is this topic a source of much concern to you? I can't say I lose much sleep over over whether Italian women are averaging one or three births per. I often do, however, feel a little surprise at the number of people who look at Euro birth rates and feel some combo of "it's a disaster"; "it's the fault of the collapse of Christianity"; and "something -- and something political -- has got to be done." This line of thinking, feeling, and bullying (or what strikes me as bullying) seems to me to make some huge and bizarre assumptions. For example: 1) constantly rising populations are always and everywhere a good thing; 2) people are being forced into their current reproductive behavior against their will and against their own best interests; and 3) if there is indeed a problem, the best policy isn't to let people respond on their own, it's to force them to behave properly. I don't know about you, but I look at each one of these assumptions and think, "Sez who?" As I wrote in a comment over at GNXP: It seems to me that, where the whole European birth rate thing is concerned, a few points get overlooked. Maybe a reason why many people start to have fewer kids at a certain income level is because that's how they choose and prefer to live. They're educated, they're prosperous, and they're behaving freely. This is a problem? Maybe another reason they have fewer kids is that they've made a kind of semi-conscious consensus decision that they're happy with the population level where it is. Maybe they'd even like it to be a little lower. Maybe they don't want to live in a country that's more crowded than it already is. Do we not respect this freely-expressed preference? Do we feel entitled to tell them that they're wrong? On what basis? And I marvel a bit at the usual "something's gotta be done" concern. I mean, people could start breeding faster tomorrow, and entirely without bossing, policy changes, or coercion of any kind. Let's be wary of assuming that people tomorrow will be behaving exactly as people today are. Back in 1970, "overpopulation" was a huge concern. Weirdly, people all on their own started having fewer kids. Now "depopulation" seems to be a worry. Why not trust people to respond to this as they choose? I mean, who's to say that tomorrow's 22 year olds won't start popping kids out like little bunnies? I thought most of y'all are vaguely libertarian. They why not root for letting things take their own course? But I see this all as a subset of a more general pattern: letting experts highlight a trend and label it a problem; letting them work us into a panic about the pressing urgency of this supposed problem; and finally letting them get away with the leap from "it's a problem" to... posted by Michael at December 1, 2006 | perma-link | (34) comments

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Timothy Taylor on Sale
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I notice that Timothy Taylor's lecture series about Economics for the Teaching Company are currently on sale. I've listened to them all, and I've found them all to be superb: clear, enthusiastic, and hyper-informative. Taylor seems to see economics not as a hard science full of immutable and unbendable truths so much as an ongoing, open-ended conversation. He's no Aspergery fundamentalist, but he's no relativist either; in the course of the Econ discussion, a lot of smart, useful, and helpful things have been said. That's a view of econ I can get with. This is human behavior -- and not the properties of minerals and asteroids -- that's being observed, described, and analyzed after all. Economics as he presents it isn't physics. It's more like a blend of psychology, philosophy, and sociology -- only with far more reality checks than those fields sometimes permit themselves. Bless his heart, Taylor also presents his subject in non-techie terms. (Let's hear it for that underused resource, namely plain and vivid English.) Which means that his lectures are an excellent way for the math-phobic among us to crack this annoying but essential and finally fascinating subject. My humble suggestion: Start with his Legacies of the Great Economists. It's a fun history-of-thought survey that'll give you an overview of the terrain. Then move on to Economics for the real content. History of the American Economy in the 20th Century will bring you up to the present here at home, and Contemporary Economic Issues will help you make sense of the headlines. Back here, a bunch of us traded tips about a lot of intro-to-econ resources that we've found useful. Best, Michael UPDATE: Tyler Cowen points out an article that attempts to explain why most people don't get economics.... posted by Michael at November 30, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

Friday, November 24, 2006

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've been enjoying the Terry Jones TV series "Barbarian Lives," currently in rotation on the History International cable network. It's a multipart look at the people whom the Romans regarded as uncivilized barbarians: the Goths, the Germans, the Celts ... Jones, a former Monty Python team-member, wrote the shows and hosts them, and he's a terrific presenter of intellectual entertainment. He travels to spots that were important to the barbarians, and he prowls around Rome. He yaks with historians and archaeologists, and he makes superb use of maps and graphics. And he goofs and mugs in ways that I find both respectful of the material and entertainingly endearing. Highly recommended. The gist of the series is that we've been the victims of very effective Roman (and pro-Roman) propaganda. Jones wants us to see that the barbarians were much more civilized than we've been led to believe and that the Romans were much more barbaric. Being anything but a scholar of ancient history, I have nothing to add to what Jones says, and no way to judge how valid his argument is. Is the case he's making a worthwhile corrective to the usual? Or is he trying to put one over on the unsuspecting among us? In any case, I'm certainly looking forward to the episodes I haven't yet gotten around to. What the series has mainly left me musing about, though, is the question: How much is the U.S. like the Roman Empire? Or, more usefully asked, I hope: In what ways does the U.S. resemble the Roman Empire? In what ways are we different? In what ways is the comparison enlightening and helpful, and in what ways does it mislead? How legit is the comparison at all? I'm obviously the zillionth person to be struck by similarities between Rome and the U.S., and it's quite possible that Jones is doing what he can to plant the question in the viewer's mind. Maybe he has an agenda, and maybe I'm a rube to fall for it. Still: our preference for engineering over aesthetics ... Our unstoppable, too-often-unquestioned commercial drive ... Our love of bread and circuses ... The way we debate noble and stirring ideals while our leaders actually attend to raw power grabs ... Our bully-baby touchiness ... Our assumption that everyone really ought to be, or at least wants to be, an American ... Our conviction that we're the center of the world ... It isn't as though it's strange for the question to arise in a person's mind, is it? So: America equals Rome? Yes? No? An enlightening comparison to think about? A question not really worth asking? Friedrich von Blowhard volunteered some substantial thinking about Rome here. I'm looking forward to getting around to this lecture series about Rome and the barbarians from the Teaching Company's excellent Kenneth Harl. (Wait for the package to go on sale before clicking the buy button. On sale, its price will be about 1/3... posted by Michael at November 24, 2006 | perma-link | (17) comments

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Milton Friedman
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Milton Friedman has died at the age of 94. Alex and Tyler celebrate the achievements of Mr. Free to Choose. You can get a taste of Friedman's brains and thoughts at Google Video. Go there, type his name into the search box, and enjoy a few hours' worth of interviews with him. It's free, EZ, and convenient -- Friedman himself would approve. Best Michael... posted by Michael at November 16, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

Out of Wedlock Birth Rates
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Are we importing a lot of what we don't need? Heather Mac Donald points out that "nearly half of the children born to Hispanic mothers in the U.S. are born out of wedlock ... Hispanic women have the highest unmarried birthrate in the country -- over three times that of whites and Asians, and nearly one and a half times that of black women." Mac Donald's conclusion: Given what psychologists and sociologists now know about the much higher likelihood of social pathology among those who grow up in single-mother households, the Hispanic baby boom is certain to produce more juvenile delinquents, more school failure, more welfare use, and more teen pregnancy in the future. Why are we so determined to create problems where none are necessary? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 16, 2006 | perma-link | (9) comments

Monday, November 13, 2006

Choice or Not?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Donald's recent posting about Wal-Mart has got me wondering about a question I often chew on. To what extent is what Donald aptly called the "freewayscape" life a product of people making choices? And to what extent are the people living freewayscape lives simply accepting what the government and the corporations are handing out? On the one hand: Nobody who inhabits a McMansion, who shops at a big-box store, or who spends hours a day on the freeway is doing so because a gun is being held to his head. On the other hand, in many parts of the country it isn't as though alternatives to the freewayscape life are handily available. A person who might prefer to live in a walkable urban- or town-like situation might very well be unable to find such an option. Similar questions seem to hold with food, don't they? To what extent are the food processors, distributors, and retailers serving wants and desires, and to what extent are they forcing crap on a herdlike and captive populace? After all, no one is being obliged to shop at any given store, let alone choose any given product. Yet isn't it beyond-naive to think that the food companies aren't doing their awe-inspiring best to get us to contribute to their bottom line, our health and our pleasure be damned? Sweeteners are one way to focus the question. Americans buy scads of sweetened foods. Sweet tastes good! Yet consuming too many sweets isn't, healthwise, the finest thing. Do we buy so many sweetened products because we're totally-free, well-informed people asserting our Real Preferences? Or are we, to some extent, a busy, distracted people letting corporations (and their government lackeys) take advantage of our biologically-programmed weaknesses? And what to make of the very awkward fact that corn-sweetener production in America is subsidized by the federal government? Here's a passage from an article by Eric ("Fast Food Nation") Schlosser that illustrates how messy these questions can become: Despite a fondness for free-market rhetoric, the country's large food companies -- ConAgra, Archer Daniels Midland, McDonald's, Kraft -- have benefited enormously from the absence of real competition. They receive, directly and indirectly, huge subsidies from the federal government. About half of the annual income earned by U.S. corn farmers now comes from government crop-support programs. Cheap corn is turned into cheap fats, oils, sweeteners, and animal feed. Nearly three-quarters of the corn grown in the United States is fed to livestock, providing taxpayer support for inexpensive hamburgers and chicken nuggets. On the other hand, farmers who grow fresh fruits and vegetables receive few direct subsidies. Emphases mine, mine, all mine! BTW, if you don't have time to read "Fast Food Nation" -- and it is, IMHO, a good and interesting book if, sigh, far too long -- this article is a swell intro to Schlosser's point of view and information. Are the food corporations a bunch of nice, hard-working people playing by the rules as... posted by Michael at November 13, 2006 | perma-link | (31) comments

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Does Helping the Struggling Also Ruin Them?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- What to do, what to do? When poor Africans struggle, we often send them food. But when we send them food, they often not only become dependent on our largesse, they quickly forget the basics of how to feed themselves. A friend who spent a couple of years working for Oxfam in Africa told me stories similar to the ones in the linked BBC article. When I asked her what policy would be best, she (an earnest-lefty bleeding-heart if ever there was one) said that in her opinion we should simply cut off aid to struggling Africans. Otherwise they'll never learn how to look after themselves. Harsh, and I'm not sure I agree -- but, y'know, she's been there and I haven't. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 8, 2006 | perma-link | (9) comments

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Clark on Rod
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Clark Stooksbury surveys the political scene and stakes out his own position: Rod Dreher Is Bad. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 7, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

Duke vs. Long Beach
Michael Blowhard writes; Dear Blowhards -- Funny how much national coverage the Duke "rape" case has received, isn't it? After all, no crime appears to have been committed. Meanwhile, this horrifying case in Long Beach, California -- which involved three young women being beaten by a crowd of 30-40 people -- has received little but local coverage. Now, I wonder what might explain the dramatic difference in the press's attitude towards these two stories ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 7, 2006 | perma-link | (21) comments

Bolivia's Resourcefulness
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Poor Bolivia, caught in a classic double-bind: eager to take part in the legitimate trading-and-bargaining of the modern world, yet cursed by the fact that the product in which they have their strongest comparative advantage is the coca leaf. Did David Ricardo anticipate this particular conundrum? So it's good to read Newsweek's Jimmy Langman reporting that Bolivian scientists and entrepreneurs have been busy figuring out fresh uses for the coca leaf. Interesting passage: In Bolivia, industrial production of coca tea began in the 1980s, and since 2000, small companies have put out some 30 different products -- coca bread and pastas, toothpaste and shampoo, ointments, candies, liquors. The Morales government recently set aside $1 million to further develop legal coca products. One company now has a soft drink called "Evo Cola" in the works. I wonder if we'll be importing Evo Cola any time soon. It sounds like a refreshing, indeed downright energizing, beverage. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 7, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments

Immigration and Britain
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Britain is experiencing the highest levels of immigration in its history. Nearly five times as many people are immigrating per year now than when Labour took office in 1997. Meanwhile, large numbers of Britons are leaving their native country to move elsewhere. Coincidence? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 7, 2006 | perma-link | (7) comments

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Patrick Allitt's "The American Identity"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I wrote back here about how much I enjoyed Patrick Allitt's Teaching Company lecture series "American Religious History." It's a wild and eye-opening tale that Allitt delivers in a beguilingly calm yet amused way. I've just finished another one of his Teaching Company courses, "The American Identity," and I'm happy to report that I enjoyed it just as much. This is another zesty and offbeat cruise through American history. The course consists of 48 30-minute lectures. All but a couple of them are self-contained biographies of various American figures, beginning with John Smith in the 1600s and ending in the present day with Jesse Jackson. The subjects are deliberately all over the map. They range from textbook standards like Thomas Jefferson and Frederick Douglass to less familiar figures like Edwin Ruffin (a defender of slavery) and Mother Anne Lee, an early religious leader. Small warning: I'm anything but a history nut, let alone the kind of he-man who who plows through fat yellowing tomes like a hungry prisoner through a banquet. If you want deep-think from substantial people, let me recommend the postings of my co-blogger Friedrich von Blowhard (use the Search box in the left-hand column of this blog), as well as many postings on ChicagoBoyz. James McCormick especially has a gift for heavy lifting. Me, I'm a happy lightweight. I can seldom understand why history books run as long as they do, and I don't retain a tremendous number of facts -- facts, pshaw, who cares about facts? And if a provocative point isn't being made, or if the material isn't interesting on a direct human level, or if the language starts to drag, I'm the first person in the room to start snoozing off. Yet I'm interested -- to a point -- in a lot of subjects. I just happen to be a 500-page-long book's worth of interested in very few of them. So Allitt's bouquet of mini-biographies hits the spot. At 30 minutes each, they're longer -- and far more engagingly presented -- than an encylopedia entry, but they're lots shorter than a fullscale biography. I can't imagine why this shouldn't make many people very happy. Be honest with yourself: Are you ever going to get around to going through a complete biography of William Mulholland? If you buy one one, it'll sit on your shelf unread. Yet Mulholland was a fascinating and influential guy: the water czar of Los Angeles, as well as a man who figured in "Chinatown." Allitt delivers more than enough to both satisfy and tantalize the curiosity. How lovely too that Allitt's mini-bios aren't primary-color, EZ tales for the kiddies. Instead, they're unapologetically adult -- each one a small miracle of concision, insight, and sympathy. Allitt is extraordinarily good at setting his subjects in perspective, at using them to illuminate larger trends and events, and at seeing life from the point of view of different times. He also makes few harsh judgments and indulges in... posted by Michael at November 2, 2006 | perma-link | (8) comments

Friday, October 27, 2006

Federal Aid for the Arts?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In his 1990 report on government aid for the arts, Bill Kauffman makes numerous points that, to my mind, are seldom sufficiently stressed. A few of them: 1) America's pre-NEA cultural life was dynamic and awe-inspiring. Somehow, despite the lack of federal funds, the U.S. managed to come up with Louis Jordan and Patsy Cline; Bessie Smith and Herman Melville; William Faulkner and Louisa May Alcott; the Lindy Hop and the Charleston; Frank Furness and Julia Morgan; Little Egypt and the Nicholas Brothers; Sister Rosetta Tharpe (again) and the Mediterranean Revival; Margaret Mitchell and James Thurber; Krazy Kat and hot rods; Billie Holiday and Bing Crosby; soul food and hardboiled fiction; the Wild West show and the Cord car; the Bakersfield Sound and Fanny Brice; the Chrysler Building and the shotgun shack; Mae West and W.C. Fields; "Trouble in Paradise" and the Harlem Globetrotters; and -- oh yeah -- jazz, "Mildred Pierce," Hollywood, Fats Waller, and Mad magazine. Can anyone reasonably ask for a richer, more kick-ass culture than that? And how well have we done since? Hmmmm: Conceptual art ... Post-modernism ... Deconstruction ... 2) Even at the time that government support for the arts was being debated, many artists and intellectuals -- including some of a progressive persuasion -- were opposed. Kauffman cites Paul Goodman, John Sloan, Larry Rivers, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Why did they look on federal handouts askance? Because they didn't want the arts to be co-opted by those in power. In fact, the people most in favor of handing out dough to artists were the politicians, not the artists. An example was Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who wrote to JFK: Federal subsidy of the arts "can strengthen the connections between the Administration and the intellectual and artistic community ... something not to be dismissed when victory or defeat next fall will probably depend on who carries New York, Pennsylvania, California, Illinois and Michigan." Schlesinger and JFK weren't interested in the good of the arts. They wanted the prestige the arts could confer for themselves. A nice quote from Kauffman: Elite museums in this country were founded and thrived on the patronage of well-heeled philanthropists. The rich, to use a biblical inversion, will always be with us; so will philanthropy. A populist museum, by definition, will attract an audience large enough to make subsidy unnecessary. Museums celebrating regional or particularistic culture are, properly, the concern of local communities and governments. Where, pray tell, does the NEA fit in? A fast one that's often pulled in day to day arts/political firefights is to argue that anyone in favor of the arts must, simply must, favor government aid to the arts. It's assumed to follow automatically. Baloney to that, of course. What do you say we pull a faster one right back at 'em? Let's argue that anyone who truly cheers for the arts should root for the arts to cut themselves entirely free from federal handouts. I wrote about something I called... posted by Michael at October 27, 2006 | perma-link | (25) comments

Monday, October 23, 2006

Armies on the Rampage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Everyone knows that conquering soldiers often go a little wild as they advance. But how wild is wild? Anthony Beevor estimates that more than two million German women were raped by Soviet troops during the closing days of World War II. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 23, 2006 | perma-link | (48) comments

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Redesigning the U.S. Map
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A long-established American minor-league sport is bitching about political boundaries -- sometimes those of counties, but more often state boundaries. The matter came up recently thanks to Michael's interview with Bill Kauffman. In Comments, I chipped in with the following: I suppose I have no strong cred to be butting into the western NYS mystique thing -- I only lived in Albany for 4+ years, but also had to forecast the population for all of the state's counties and traveled the area as part of my duties. Personalities and subcultures aside, western New York is Great Lakes. Great Lakes is a sub-species of Midlle West. Buffalo is far more akin to Cleveland than to Albany, methinks, if you posit "geography as destiny." Redesigning state boundaries is a seductive idea I blow hot and cold over. Lots of regional "minorities" get screwed because a in-state regional "majority" crams legislation down their throats. But a lot of homogeneity theoretically can mean less national cohesion and could lead to a break-up at some indefinite future date. All that aside, I agree that it makes sense to chop NYS in two at a point somewhere near Bear Mountain. California can be separated along the mountains north of the LA basin. Eastern Washington and Oregon plus the Idaho panhandle might be merged. And there is that old, putative state of Jefferson that would take in southwest Oregon and California north of Shasta Dam. And that's only the start... That state of Jefferson I mentioned was a gleam in some peoples' minds many decades ago. It was already an old cause when I first heard about it back in the late 40s or early 50s. But I hadn't noticed anything about it in quite a while, so I assumed the ardor finally fizzled. I was wrong. Last Friday as I was driving north on Interstate 5 nearing the Oregon border I saw roadside signs touting the state of Jefferson. One even mentioned a Web site for the cause. And by golly there is indeed a web site: click here. The site includes a map showing one possible collection of Oregon and California counties that might comprise a future Jefferson. The example takes in Roseburg to the north and points below Red Bluff to the south. I'm not so sure that even Redding fits well into the Jefferson scheme. I suspect those southerly counties were included to boost the population, because otherwise Jefferson might not even hit a million people -- rather small for a state. (No I haven't checked the data because I'm traveling, so let me know in Comments if you think I'm wrong.) Enough on Jefferson: Let me elaborate on what I discussed earlier. No matter how how small you slice the political map, there'll always be a "minority" or another that will feel shafted, so that issue can never be eliminated. Nevertheless, many states seem to make little economic sense. Western Washington and Oregon differ greatly in... posted by Donald at October 22, 2006 | perma-link | (41) comments

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Quantities and Overlords
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Dean Baker thinks that fears of slowing population growth are misguided. Nice line: It is silly to talk of threats of declining populations due to voluntary decisions by people not to have children. Any impact of rising dependency ratios on living standards can be easily offset by productivity growth. I like Dean's emphasis on the voluntary-ness of those decisions. By letting our overlords scare us into thinking that we're doing something that needs fixing, aren't we in effect letting them do what they so love to do -- top-downishly dictate our destinies? Why on earth should we let them get away with such a blatant power-grab? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 21, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Advertising to Kids
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A New York Times piece about a study indicating that junk-food and fast-food advertising is all over programming for children, even on PBS, has got me mulling over a poli-sci puzzler -- or maybe just a practical-politics question -- that has long interested me. Namely: What to do (if anything) about regulating advertising that's aimed at kids? I find the topic fascinating because I find myself endorsing both sides of the debate. They both make a lot of good points. On the one hand, my anti-nanny-state, less-interference-is-better, wary-of-slippery-slopes temperament is always inclined to let chips fall as they may. I'm deeply convinced that, where government action is concerned, the best policy 90% of the time is to do nothing. I'm on the look-out for candidates who will un-do and deep-six bad laws and regulations, not heap up new ones. Not only that, kids need to get used to life in a rough and dynamic market society. How are they going to make their way if they don't develop instincts and toughness? It's good for kids not to be over-coddled, dammit. Besides, we have a long history in this country of crafting expensive regulations and establishing expensive regulatory bodies, then watching system after system be captured by the industries they're meant to regulate. How many times do we want to watch this disheartening process occur? And how much money are we eager to chuck down black holes? On the other hand ... Well, kids aren't yet complete human beings. They're manipulable, dependent, unformed, and vulnerable (qualities that help explain why advertisers love 'em so). For that reason we give children protection of many kinds. So it isn't as though we don't already, and uncontroversially, put a lot of guard rails around childhood. And, practically speaking, young people these days, eh? I run into tons of young adults whose brains seem to contain nothing but TV cliches and TV catch-phrases. Spending childhood years in front of the boob tube really does seem to addle and jangle, if not actually destroy, the ability to think clearly and independently. It also clearly promotes a topsy-turvy value system, one in which advertising values reign philosophically supreme, and one that leaves the kids who internalize this attitude judging real life from the point of view of the world portrayed in TV ads. "What's wrong with real life," they seem to wonder, "that it isn't as shiney, poppy, clever, and energized as a TV ad?" They really can't figure this one out, and the last thing they'd consider doing is abandoning their much-loved TV-ad value-system. After all, it provides so much in the way of excitement, temptation, beauty, and stimulation! As far as they're concerned, the TV-ad value-system isn't the problem, and their own devotion to it isn't either. Life is the problem; life needs fixing. This isn't just a bizarre attitude. It's an alarming one. So I'm not sure where I come down on the question (hence my fascination with... posted by Michael at October 21, 2006 | perma-link | (15) comments

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Weight-Loss As Will and Idea
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Dieters and exercisers: Do you find yourself occasionally lacking the will to persevere? This promising new regimen may have something to offer you. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 12, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Diversity Notes
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Is pursuing "diversity" a policy that will automatically lead (as so many seem to think) to an egalitarian, everything's-cool utopia? Or are the real-life consequences of pursuing "diversity" a little more, er, complex than that? GNXP's Dobeln cites a new Robert Putnam study showing that "the more diverse a community is, the less likely its inhabitants are to trust anyone -- from their next-door neighbour to the mayor." Just what America needs: less trust. A fun commentsfest ensues. * The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that "diversity"-mania continues to rage on America's college campuses. "Nearly every university, it seems," writes Ben Gose, "is racing to appoint a chief diversity officer." * As we pass 300 million, our current immigration policies ensure two things about our future: continued, rapid population growth -- and ever-increasing "diversity." Nothing quite like a noble-sounding, demonstrably counter-productive policy for transfixing the academic / political imagination, eh? Related: Rick Darby thinks that Mark Steyn is all wet where population questions are concerned. Steve Sailer and his readers muse on the Robert Putnam diversity study. (Also here and here.) Laurence Auster comments too. Best, Michael UPDATE: Those unsure whether "diversity" has become an entrenched interest as well as a prospering business might want to eyeball this diversity-biz trade magazine. UPDATE 2: Steve Sailer points out a WashPost article taking note of the fact that some of D.C.'s most diverse (and "vibrant") neighborhoods are also surprisingly crime-riddled.... posted by Michael at October 11, 2006 | perma-link | (16) comments

The Troubles
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- 2500 police have been injured in France this year, and a police trade union leader says of the situation: "We are in a state of civil war, orchestrated by radical Islamists. This is not a question of urban violence any more, it is an intifada, with stones and Molotov cocktails." Randall Parker reports that as many as 70% of the people in French jails are Muslims. Meanwhile, guess who's preventing polio from being stamped out in India? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 11, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

Thursday, October 5, 2006

How Significant Is It?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- An excellent San Fran Chronicle article by Carolyn Lochhead sets out some of the basic current-immigration-policy facts in high relief. 10 percent of Mexico's population of 107 million is now living in the United States. 15 percent of Mexico's labor force is working in the United States. One in every seven Mexican workers migrates to the United States. Is this a favor we're doing Mexico? A proud instance of our generosity and humanity? Perhaps not as much as some might hope. For one thing, so long as we provide an escape valve, the Mexican elites have no need to reform. "Every day, thousands of Mexico's most industrious people leave their families behind," says one of her sources, "leading many to wonder why Mexico's political class is not capable of creating economic opportunity for its citizens in a land rich in mineral wealth, hydrocarbons, agricultural potential and human capital." Another non-favor we're doing our neighbors: "Migration is profoundly altering Mexico and Central America. Entire rural communities are nearly bereft of working-age men. The town of Tendeparacua, in the Mexican state of Michoacan, had 6,000 residents in 1985, and now has 600, according to news reports." How big is the movement from there to here, really? I mean, in broad-view historical context? Lochhead consults with the experts, who tell her that it's "One of the largest diasporas in modern history." Not a minor matter! Meanwhile, the U.S.'s population is on track to pass 300 million sometime later this month ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 5, 2006 | perma-link | (10) comments

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

India? Brazil?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Lex could use recommendations for some trustworthy and substantial books about Brazil and India. Go here to pass along suggestions. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 4, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Teaching America
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Rod Dreher writes a good column about teachers and parents, and receives in response many fascinating reports from the field. Related: Friedrich von Blowhard did a q&a with a Midwestern public-school teacher: Part One, Part Two. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 3, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Sunday, October 1, 2006

I'm Sorry. Why Aren't You?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Amusingly-exasperated quote for the day comes from a former president of Spain, Jose Maria Aznar. "What is the reason ... we, the West, always should be apologiz(ing) and they never should apologize?" he said to The Hudson Intitute. "It's absurd! They occupied Spain for eight centuries!" Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 1, 2006 | perma-link | (14) comments

Thursday, September 28, 2006

More on Immigration and Poverty
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I linked yesterday to a Steve Sailer article about a new George Borjas study linking immigration and economic inequality. Today's immigration and poverty facts come from a recent column by Robert Samuelson: The inflow of poor Hispanic immigrants, along with their (often) American-born children, has increased poverty. From 1995 to 2005, the rise in the number of Hispanics in poverty -- by 794,000 -- more than accounted for the entire increase in America's poverty population. Poverty among blacks, though still high, declined. Among non-Hispanic whites, it held roughly steady. Health-insurance coverage has also been affected. Since 1995, Hispanics account for about 78% of the increase in the uninsured ... [People] who support lax immigration policies across our Southern border should understand that these policies deepen American inequality. Call me blockheaded, call me unsophisticated, tell me I just don't get it. But I remain convinced that one of the easiest steps we could take to reduce both our poverty problems and our un-health-insured problems would be to reduce illegal immigration. Best, Michael UPDATE: From a new report by the Center for Immigration Studies: Between 2000 and 2005, the number of young (16 to 34) native-born men who were employed declined by 1.7 million; at the same time, the number of new male immigrant workers increased by 1.9 million ... It appears that employers are substituting new immigrant workers for young native-born workers ... The increased hiring of new immigrant workers also has been accompanied by important changes in the structure of labor markets and employer-employee relationships. Fewer new workers, especially private-sector wage and salary workers, are ending up on the formal payrolls of employers, where they would be covered by unemployment insurance, health insurance, and worker protections.... posted by Michael at September 28, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Friday, September 22, 2006

Thought Police Strike Again
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Is Ilkka, of the now-defunct blog 16 Volts, in need of some serious re-education? His academic employers seem to think so. Steve Sailer tells the story. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 22, 2006 | perma-link | (35) comments

Friday, September 15, 2006

Case Studies in State Formation, Part II: Athens
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, As I mentioned in a previous post, I have become interested in the topic of state formation. I have been putting together a series of case studies on the topic; this is the second. (You can read the first, on Sparta, here.) According to tradition, in 753 BCE Attica, the territory of the city-state Athens, replaced its line of kings with a power-sharing coalition of some sixty aristocratic clans. The heads of these clans jointly selected three magistrates, or archons. Each archon, after their one-year term of office, joined a council that took overall responsibility for affairs of state. This Council was known as the Areopagus, after the hill on which it met in Athens. However, despite their monopoly on public affairs, the Areopagian clan-leaders of the archaic period were not a particularly powerful aristocracy. Stanford professor Ian Morris, in his paper "Military and political participation in archaic-classical Greece" (which you can read here) contrasts them with the elites of other ancient civilizations: Iron Age Near Eastern rulers claimed to have special access to the gods (or, in Egypt, to be gods), controlled vast financial resources, and led armed forces with expensive cavalry, chariots, and fortifications. Archaic Greek aristocrats failed to master any of these sources of power. The separation between secular and sacred authority in Greece was remarkable... While the Athenian aristocrats could not claim religious sanction for their leadership, did not lead vast high-tech armies and were not even outlandishly rich, they were able to utilize their position in government and their relative wealth to oppress their fellow citizens. Apparently the very poor could fall into such a degree of debt to their betters that they could end up as slaves and be sold abroad. Even more prosperous commoners were obligated to make a yearly payment to the local clan boss in return for protection, presumably in the Mafia sense. As Charles Freeman points out in his book "Egypt, Greece and Rome: Civilizations of the Ancient Mediterranean," this protection payment was deeply resented. Economic pressures resulting from very rapid population growth doubtlessly stoked this resentment. Although by Greek standards Attica was an enormous city state (it was the size of Rhode Island, some 2,500 sq. kilometers), its agricultural resources were hard put to sustain what archeological studies suggest was a 10-fold increase in population between 800 and 400 BCE. Modern estimates of the carrying capacity of ancient Attica suggest it could support no more than 42 people per square kilometer (or a total population of 105,000). If this is true, Athens likely outgrew its internal food production capacity as early as 600 BCE. This estimate correlates well with the date that Athens began founding colonies around the Black Sea, an excellent region for growing cereal grains. As the Attic population continued to grow, reaching a peak of perhaps 350,000 in 430 BCE, the city state became increasingly dependent on grain imports from the Black Sea region and elsewhere. Eventually, Athens imported a... posted by Friedrich at September 15, 2006 | perma-link | (9) comments

Saturday, September 9, 2006

Case Studies in State Formation - Sparta
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards-- I have recently become intrigued by a division of historical studies that I had not previously been aware of: state formation. Professor Walter Scheidel in a web page for a graduate seminar on Ancient State Formation at Stanford offers the following description of the field: State formation is a major field in world history, and cross-cultural comparative studies flourish among historical sociologists, political scientists, economists, and prehistorians. Their core questions vary. Some ask why humanity moved away from egalitarian communities toward stratified ones; others, why centralized power has taken the particular forms it has in different parts of the world; others still, how individual agency and structural constraints interact in the centralization of power. Every dimension of the human experience is implicated, from evolutionary theory and economics to crosscultural encounters and gender ideologies. State theorists regularly claim that they are explaining the motor of history. That last sentence is obviously not written with an entirely straight face, but I think it is fair to say that people study state formation in order to at least try to answer some of the why questions of history. For example, everybody knows that the ancient Near Eastern empires from the Sumerian to the Persian were big and centralized, while the city states of Classical Greece were tiny and rarely cooperated. Why were they so different? During the Early Modern era the very advanced Italian city-states, despite their wealth, were easy prey for the Spanish monarchy, while the equally dynamic cities of the North Netherlands managed to not only win their independence from the same Hapsburg Empire but also to wrest away its domination of world trade. Why were these confrontations between these two sets of mercantile cities and the same multinational empire so different? Professor Seidel also points out that state formation is not entirely of, um, academic interest: Recent geopolitical trends have heightened public and scholarly interest in imperialism and state formation. In this seminar we aim to explore the ways that developments in the comparative social sciences across the last twenty years can help us understand ancient state formation, and how ancient state formation can shed new light on some of the biggest questions in contemporary social theory. Well, for better or worse I have been pondering many of these issues, especially the links between imperial adventures and domestic politics. I thought I would try to present some things I had learned in the form of some case studies. To begin with, I chose some city states of ancient Greece and Italy. Eventually, perhaps, when I have assembled enough case studies (which will hopefully include some modern examples as well) I will try my hand at suggesting some overarching patterns. But whether you find my eventual theories fascinating or laughable, I think the episodes I am discussing are rather interesting in their own right. So here goes, with a bit of an explanatory forward. Some Background In the eighth century BCE, aristocrats played a key... posted by Friedrich at September 9, 2006 | perma-link | (17) comments

Saturday, August 26, 2006

In Further Immigration News
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In other immigration developments: The LA Times profiles an illegal family with ten kids -- every one of them, by dint of our crazy "anchor baby" policy, now a fully-fledged, and fully-entitled U.S. citizen. None of the kids speak English well, and the family is making resourceful use of our social services. Nice passage: All the youngsters have had their healthcare bills covered by Medi-Cal, the state and federal healthcare program for the poor. Alfredo Jr. had been hospitalized all his life until recently. He's had three state-funded brain operations and will require several more, the family said. The couple receive $700 in monthly Social Security payments to help with his medical needs. "I thank this country that they gave me Medi-Cal," Magdaleno said. "There's nothing like that in Mexico." Steve Sailer comments. North Carolina jails are being "stressed to the limits" by DUI illegal immigrants. It seems that driving while smashed is a commonplace practice in Mexico. Are we wise to be importing the habit? I've argued before that, in allowing mass immigration from Latin America, the U.S. is doing a huge injustice to our black population. Now a new black organization has been formed to protest current immigration policies. Nice line from their homepage: Mass illegal immigration has been the single greatest impediment to black advancement in this country over the past 25 years. Blacks, in particular, have lost economic opportunities, seen their kids' schools flooded with non-English speaking students, and felt the socio-economic damage of illegal immigration more acutely than any other group. Hey, kids! Whaddya say we create a lot of unnecessary, and completely avoidable, ethnic tension? Hispanic family values? Arizona may have to spend $60 million to clean up the trash that illegals leave behind as they break into the U.S. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 26, 2006 | perma-link | (13) comments

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Immigration and England
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The London Times reports that "Foreign settlement is three times the rate it was when Tony Blair entered Downing Street, and the number soared by almost 30 per cent last year." The Times also reports that 3/4ths of Englanders think that their country's immigration laws ought to be more restrictive than they are. A point and a question: * One reason that economic arguments shouldn't determine immigration policy is that they don't take a lot into account. Large-scale immigration can create disruptions, resentments, and hostilities. Where do these factors show up on the economists' charts? * Is there a topic on which our political elites' policies and the preferences of everyday folk differ more dramatically than they do on immigration? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 23, 2006 | perma-link | (15) comments

Monday, August 14, 2006

More on Migrations
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Benjamin Hemric recommends two articles in the current City Journal about immigration. One is by Heather Mac Donald, the other is by Steven Malanga, and both are first-rate eye-openers. Here's a shorter version of Mac Donald's piece. * Guess which ethnicity, er, population group's birth rate far outstrips all other groups' in the American Southeast. (Answer: Hispanics, and Mexicans especially.) And guess how this amazing birth rate is being paid for. (Answer: Your tax dollars.) * Please please please, can we break ourselves of the habit of picturing the immigration issue as a conventional Dem/Repub one? Many prosperous Western countries are waking up to how disruptive the predicaments that they have created for themselves really are. * Our managerial elites sure do know their stuff, don't they? In England, Tony Blair predicted that 13,000 immigrants from Eastern Europe would take advantage of his policies. In fact, more than 350,000 did. Which means, by my careful calculations, that he was off by a trillion percent. Attaway to run a country! Some of the consequences: British working-class people, schools, and health-care providers are feeling considerable strain. Attention Dems: Even Labour has begun to question the wisdom of importing scads of foreigners. As one econ prof says: "Most people coming into the country have a good reason: they're either running from somewhere or they want a job. You can't but be sympathetic and it's a natural reaction to think 'let's let them all in'. The difficulty is that there is such a gigantic supply that it's not a practical policy. The government has, however, been in denial that there is any need for a debate." Enough with denial! I'm rooting for a robust debate (and a minimum of name-calling) myself. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 14, 2006 | perma-link | (34) comments

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Kids All Over
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * So spoiling-the-kids-while-pushing-them-too-hard has gone worldwide. Thanks to Prairie Mary for pointing out this Telegraph article about the child-raising habits of upper-middle-class English parents. * More babies are entering the world already overweight. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 12, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Thursday, August 10, 2006

More Kids
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Speaking about kids, families, and kid-centricity ... Thanks to Dave Lull, who points out a thoughtful and amusing Joseph Epstein essay in the Wall Street Journal. Epstein wonders about something that has struck many of us too: When was it first decided that children had to perform brilliantly at school and right out of the gate, that everything was riding on it, that not taking that physics course AP could affect one in a decisive and adverse way? He toys with a couple of possible answers to his question, then settles on one: Perhaps it set in with a vengeance when America became the insanely child-centered country it is. And child-centered we indubitably are, like no other people at no other time in history. A major enticement for parents to move, for example, is good schools. Private schools, meanwhile, flourish as never before, heavy though the expense usually is. Parents slavishly follow their children around to their every game: soccer, little league, tennis. Camcorders whirl; digital cameras click. Any child who has not been either to Disneyland or Disney World by the age of seven is considered deprived. Serious phone calls are interrupted because Jen or Tyler needs Mom or Dad now ... It's in the air, the culture: Children, in America, now rule. I admire the way Epstein allows himself to assert something as grand as "child-centered we indubitably are, like no other people at no other time in history." No scholarship, no evidence -- nothing behind what he says but a lot of impressions and confidence. That's how I like to write too! I'm especially eager to hear the reactions of our Desi visitors to Epstein's piece. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 10, 2006 | perma-link | (19) comments

Friday, August 4, 2006

Time Off at the Office
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- An AOL/ survey reveals that American office workers spend an average of 2.09 hours a day slacking. Their number one distraction? Surfing the web. Older employees goof off less than younger ones. Gals and guys slack equally. People in insurance offices take it easiest; employees in Shipping and Receiving are busiest. Missouri is the goofingest-off state, South Carolina (!) the least. Nice line in the report: If you are guilty of wasting a little time at work, and reading this far may indicate that you are ... No information in the study about how many of these millions of slacked-off hours are devoted to blogging and blog-surfing. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 4, 2006 | perma-link | (16) comments

Thursday, August 3, 2006

Immigration and America's Working Class
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few postings ago, I wrote about how much I enjoyed Dean Baker's "The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer." Today I've been thinking about immigration. Here's an interesting and a propos passage from Dean's book: From 1980 to 2005 the [American] economy grew by more than 120 percent. Productivity ... rose by almost 70 percent. Yet the wages for a typical worker changed little over this period, after adjusting for inflation. Furthermore, workers had far less security at the end of this period than the beginning, as access to health insurance and pension coverage dwindled, and layoffs and downsizing became standard practices. In short, most workers saw few gains from a quarter century of economic growth. Got that? 25 years of perky economic growth have resulted in few benefits for America's working class. How to explain this fact? Dean cites a number of factors. One of the major ones turns out to be, surprise surprise, our zany immigration policies: Immigration has been an important tool to depress the wages of a substantial segment of the workforce ... Meatpacking is an obvious example of an industry that did offer relatively high-paying jobs that were widely sought after by native-born workers, even though no one would be very happy to work in a slaughterhouse. This is less true today than in the past, because the meatpacking industry has taken advantage of the availability of immigrant workers to depress wages and working conditions in the industry. As a result, immigrant workers are now a very large share of the workforce in the meatpacking industry. Dean's view of developments in the meatpacking biz is confirmed by Eric Schlosser in "Fast Food Nation," btw. I summarized Schlosser's tales and facts about fast food, meatpacking, and immigration here. The principle is pure Econ 101: If we increase the supply (in this case of low-skilled workers), then prices (ie. salaries, wages and benefits) will decline. Why on earth would we wish lower salaries on our fellow citizens, especially on our working class neighbors? As Dean asks elsewhere in his book: If we're going to permit big waves of immigration, why not invite in droves of high-skilled workers instead of low-skilled ones? That'd depress some wages -- doctors', lawyers' -- that could use some depressing. Inequality would be reduced, social tension might be relaxed a bit, and all of us would be saved serious dough when we visit a doctor or lawyer. Instead, we -- or at least our elites -- put the screws to our less well-off neighbors. On what basis can such behavior be defended? In short: One of the best (as well as easiest) things we could do to reduce inequality as well as to benefit our own working class would be to run a more modest and careful immigration regime. Instead we seem determined to hand out benefits to 1) politicians who'll win the votes of Latin American... posted by Michael at August 3, 2006 | perma-link | (19) comments

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Retail Slaughter
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'll grudgingly admit that there are at least a few advantages to being a graybeard. Most folks past age 45 or 50 have been around long enough to see trends start and end, intellectual or policy fads that come and go and then come 'round again, etc. Can give one a bit of wisdom, if one bothers to think about the pattern. Something that has struck me over the years is how a new, "killer" concept in retail can come on the scene and seem to be in the process of utterly destroying older kinds of retail. Such destruction seldom is complete, though much damage to storeowners or stockholders (not to mention employees) is done. Then, at some point, another killer retail concept materializes to blow the previous killer into the ditch. What's interesting (among other things) is that during the time a concept is dominant, it is hard for folks to imagine that it will wane; we tend to take it as "forever." Here are some examples. Once upon a time -- up to the mid-60s or thereabouts -- discounting was seen as being a bit sinful. People were supposed to pay the posted price, look for the union label, be sure the product was "Made in USA" and so forth. Then along came EJ Korvette. Korvette was an New York area retailer specializing in soft goods that aggressively discounted. It was riding high in the mid-late 1960s when I often came up to NYC from Philadelphia where I was a student. I even bought a few things there and began to shed the idea of discounting being sinful. Then Korevette hit the wall a few years later. Another killer was the suburban shopping mall. By the 1980s malls were being built at a furious pace: Who could stand in their way? Today malls are wounded, seeking rejuvenation by tacking on outdoor "shopping villages" to attract folks jaded or turned off by the mall experience. Then there was Toys "R" Us. A reincarnation of the White Front discount chain, by the late 70s Toys was on a roll. My kids were young in the early-mid 80s and I spent a lot of time in Toys "R" Us. I liked the concept of huge selection and low prices; how could it ever fail? Nowadays, Wal-Mart and Target are wiping the floor with Toys. Apparently, extra-low prices on key items trumped wide selection. Current killers include Big Box stores, village malls, and aforementioned Wal-Mart and Target. They'll last forever, surely. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 1, 2006 | perma-link | (11) comments

Monday, July 31, 2006

A Prediction That Panned Out
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Most long-term forecasts are wrong if they're about non-trivial subjects. But once in a while, you can stumble across a reasonably correct prediction, as I recently did. Predicting is difficult for a number of reasons, some more obvious than others. It boils down to the fact that the human world is a complicated place. When asked to forecast or predict, most folks tend to extrapolate trends that are currently in place. (Economists have the saying, "the trend is your friend"' -- but that mostly applies to short-run forecasting.) Yet adults have lived long enough to see some trends end, so they make such extrapolations with a sense of unease if they have the sophistication to do so. Bold predictions involve both a change in trend and its timing, so they are risky propositions; that's why the term "bold" is used. I mentioned that I found a pretty good prediction. It happened last weekend while I was sorting through my stash of old magazines, making keep-toss decisions. I came across Part 2, "The Next 50 Years," of the "Golden Anniversary Issue" of Saturday Review World from 1974. The cover headline was "2024 A.D.: A probe into the future by ..." followed by a list of names of notables who contributed their predictions. ( Saturday Review -- originally, The Saturday Review of Literature -- expired 20 years ago. In its prime, and certainly when I was in high school, it was a respected magazine for upper-middle brow readers. By the time the 50th anniversary issue came out it was well on the skids, having tacked the word "World" to Saturday Review. I was never more than an occasional reader. I suppose I bought the issue partly because I was in the forecasting racket and partly because I'm a sucker for anniversary issues of magazines.) The prediction -- actually a set of predictions -- was made by Milovan Djilas, famously a Yugoslav dissident in the days of Tito, on page 25 in a piece titled "A World Atlas for 2024" which contained contributions by Djilas and three others. Djilas wrote For the world as a whole, the most significant change in the next 50 years will be the disintegration of the Soviet empire... [T]he crucial factors will be the domestic ferment and the pressure from China, and in this connection we cannot rule out either war between China and the U.S.S.R. or uprisings in Eastern Europe. China will annex Outer Mongolia and will occupy the territories east of Lake Baikal and the River Lena. The territories east of the Caspian Sea (Turkistan, Uzbekistan, Kirghiz, and Tadzhikistan) will secede into separate national states under Chinese influence. The Baltic states and the Ukraine will secede from European Russia and will form independent states. The Caucasian nations (Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan) will probably secede and form, at least initially, an independent federation. Belorussia will remain in federation with Russia... With the collapse of the Soviet empire, the Eastern European countries... posted by Donald at July 31, 2006 | perma-link | (19) comments

Thursday, July 27, 2006

"The Conservative Nanny State"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I just finished Dean Baker's new book, "The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer," and recommend it enthusiastically. It's full of well-informed analyses of dubious government programs and policies and well-presented challenges to them. (My only quarrel is with Dean's use of the word "conservative" when what he's really talking about is a certain class of fat-cat Republicans. Hey, world: There's nothing conservative about a lot of Republicans.) Whether you're of a right-ish or a left-ish persuasion, you'll find plenty in the book to work up a good head of indignant steam about. Generously, Dean makes the book available as a free download. Let's see more of that kind of publishing. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 27, 2006 | perma-link | (6) comments

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

To Live Near Your Work
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- People ought to live near to where they work. So say planners, university professors and other folks who are far more intelligent and better-informed than I. (When I get around to it, I really must let such people dictate every detail of my life: it's the right thing to do.) This notion was kicking around the Seattle area recently, as Sound Politics, an indispensable blog for Puget Sound region political junkies, relates here and here. Blog honcho Stefan Sharkansky ("The Shark") slyly mentions that some of those urging us to live near work do not live very close to where they work. In the abstract, it indeed would be a good thing (in most cases) if people lived not far from their jobs. I happen to live less than two air miles from work, but the drive is closer to three or four miles. Yet I must confess that when I selected my apartment I was more concerned about safety and the quality of fellow residents than I was with commute distance. (Apartment-hunting tip: try to avoid places that have ratty cars.) In olden times as well as not-so-olden times in large cities such as New York, many shopkeepers lived behind or above their shops. Margaret Thatcher lived above her greengrocer father's store in Grantham; when I saw the place, the grocery had been replaced by a real estate office. My main problem with the notion that people should live near their jobs is that it often simply isn't practical. Buying a house and moving (or even renting a new apartment and moving) are not trivial tasks. Many folks, once settled into a house and neighborhood, are not very interested in moving again until life-cycle events demand it. Also, nowadays people tend to change jobs several times over their working career, unlike in the days when one might spend his entire career with one firm. Even when working for one company, job locations can change. In the Puget Sound area, a Boeing employee might find himself being transferred from Everett to Kent to Renton to Boeing Field and then back to Everett over a few decades. And he or his wife or his kids might strongly resist moving each time his place of work changes. What this boils down to is that planners, professors and editorial board writers seem to have a naive view of how we poor working slobs tend to deal with our lives in this era of fluid careers. As is so often the case, the theory is wonderful and gets ruined by all that nasty reality. Nevertheless, I wouldn't be totally surprised if one day someone tries to legislate commuting distance. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 26, 2006 | perma-link | (20) comments

Why Can't the Dems Win?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Given what a loopily-incompetent bunch the current Republican administration has shown itself to be, why haven't the Democrats done better? Come to think of it, given what an unpromising candidate GWBush was in both recent presidential elections, why couldn't the Democrats defeat him? My preferred explanation: Most everyday Americans simply don't think of the Dems as being on their side. Further, most everyday American just don't like the Dems. Why not? The usual Democratic explanation is that everyday Americans are stupid, or else they're racist, or probably both. After all, the Dems are right about so many things -- why are so many Americans so incapable of seeing this? It can only come down to racism and stupidity. My own preferred explanation: The Dems don't actually want to be liked by a majority of everyday Americans. (They also seem incapable of understanding that there's a big difference between winning an argument and winning an election.) Proof: If the Dems did want to be liked by most everyday Americans, they'd quit accusing them of stupidity and racism. How exactly is blasting the people whose affection you need going to win you their votes? And the Dems call everyone else stupid ... In the new American Conservative, Steve Sailer goes considerably deeper into the "Why haven't the Dems done better?" question than I do. Nice passage: Imagine two cousins, one with a graduate degree making $50,000 per year in a creative industry, living alone in a small apartment in a "vibrant" (i.e., dangerous and expensive) metropolis. The other with a bachelor's degree earns the same income in an unglamorous business and lives with a spouse and children in a home on a quarter acre lot in a "boring" (i.e., safe and moderately-priced) suburb. Which one is more likely to vote Democratic? James Pinkerton adds some thoughts. Bill Kauffman contributes historical perspective. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 26, 2006 | perma-link | (67) comments

10 for Charles Murray
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- GNXP's Matt McIntosh interviews the social scientist and libertarian Charles Murray. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 26, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments

Friday, July 21, 2006

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- No more dodgeball? No more tag? What kind of adults are these kids going to grow up to be? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 21, 2006 | perma-link | (21) comments

Monday, July 17, 2006

Hey Gang! ... Let's Invent a Society!
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Sixties are about to return!! So is the pious/nostalgic hope I see expressed from time to time in various left-hand corners of the Internet and elsewhere. As for me, I hope and pray that the Sixties (circa 1964-75) are dead and gone forever. One trek through that wilderness was enough for my lifetime. A salient characteristic of the Sixties was dissatisfaction with society as it existed. Often this dissatisfaction was expressed by adopting a Bohemian lifestyle or other kinds of youthful rebellion. But not always. If one was on a college campus (as I was from late 1964 into 1970) there also was an intellectualized component. One vignette stands out in my mind. It was during the 1969-70 school year and I was cooling my heels at the Husky Den cafeteria in the University of Washington student union building. A few tables away was a group of students busily discussing something. What first caught my eye was a really beautiful girl in the group; the others ranged in looks and dress from average to scruffy (for the guys). Then I started to listen in on their conversation. They were hashing over plans for a utopian society, perhaps one of only commune-scale. Now, I don't know if this activity was a class assignment from a sociology/philosophy/political science professor or whether the group had to do with some sort of radical political organization. The impression I carry is that it was more likely the latter than the former. It doesn't really matter. At the time I thought their enterprise was rather silly, and nothing since has led me to change my opinion. As a matter of fact, I'm even more convinced that "designed societies" -- be they tiny communes based in a single house or entire countries -- are doomed to fail to live up to expectations. Actually they are doomed, period. This is because detailed, "rational" criteria for all-encompassing organizational structure and the behavior of members do not and cannot deal adequately with what is loosely termed "human nature." My impression is that social designers simply do not believe human nature exists. They tend (or tended, in those days) to take the tabula rasa view of humans; we are born as blank slates that are shaped by culture, Skinnerian Operant Conditioning or a combination thereof. So what a society designer has to do is come up with a rational organizational plan that includes a foolproof means of "socializing" (sociology jargon for training or conditioning) children or other entrants. A fundamental problem with this is that such "designs" are based on a narrow range of Big Ideas, maybe even just one Big Idea buttressed by a cluster of lesser ideas. Examples of such ideas include "equality," "each according to his abilities/needs" and radical "individualism." Such ideas are too confining for human temperaments and life-requirements. Which is why the plans never really work out. And when designed societies do fail, proponents tend to blame outside forces... posted by Donald at July 17, 2006 | perma-link | (79) comments

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Rod Dreher points out a couple of good pieces by the late Christopher ("Culture of Narcissism") Lasch. Here Lasch explains what's wrong with the left. Here he dumps on the right. Eviscerate 'em both -- now that's political commentating I can get behind. Great passage: The left, which until recently has regarded itself as the voice of the "forgotten man," has lost the common touch. Failing to create a popular consensus in favor of its policies, the left has relied on the courts, the federal bureaucracy, and the media to achieve its goals of racial integration, affirmative action, and economic equality. Ever since World War II, it has used essentially undemocratic means to achieve democratic ends, and it has paid the price for this evasive strategy in the loss of public confidence and support. Increasingly isolated from popular opinion, liberals and social democrats attempt to explain away opposition to economic equality as "working class authoritarianism," status anxiety, resentment, "white racism," male chauvinism, and proto-fascism. The left sees nothing but bigotry and superstition in the popular defense of the family or in popular attitudes regarding abortion, crime, busing, and the school curriculum. The left no longer stands for common sense, as it did in the days of Tom Paine. It has come to regard common sense -- the traditional wisdom and folkways of the community -- as an obstacle to progress and enlightenment. Because it equates tradition with prejudice, it finds itself increasingly unable to converse with ordinary people in their common language. Increasingly it speaks its own jargon, the therapeutic jargon of social science and the service professions that seems to serve mostly to deny what everybody knows. My own favorite Lasch book is this one. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 15, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Thursday, July 13, 2006

More Egg on Harvard's Face
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Tyler Cowen links to an in-depth, now-it-can-be-told Boston Magazine account of the Harvard/Lawrence Summers mess. This morning's WSJ (not online as far as I can tell) reports that Summers' resignation has had a big impact on the school's fund-raising attempts. So far, $390 million dollars in promised donations have been withheld by Summers-supporting fatcats. My own take on the whole affair has been to dodge the usual men/women/science debate and to let fly with a great big Yippee! Any time Harvard makes itself looks foolish, it's good for the nation. Best, Michael BTW, for anyone who was in the slightest doubt that the Ivies are, shall we say, overrepresented in the big-city media world ...... posted by Michael at July 13, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

India? Brazil?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Lex is looking for a good, David Hackett Fischer-ish intro to India, and one to Brazil as well. I'll second him and add: I'd like good, short Fischer-ish intros to both countries. Oh, and it'd be nice if they were available as audiobooks. Abridged editions would suit me fine. And preferably read by Charlton Griffin. Can anyone offer recommendations? Those who enjoy ChicagoBoyz shouldn't overlook Lex's other web hangout, Albion's Seedlings. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 13, 2006 | perma-link | (8) comments

Saturday, July 8, 2006

Faith and Politics
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Rod Dreher was much-struck by a recent Barack Obama speech about faith. Obama was apparently intelligent and respectful. He seemed sincere. Might he prove to be the politician who will mend the left/right wound over religion and politics? Rod wrote a touching and thoughtful posting about Obama; many visitors pitched in with thoughtful comments of their own. I didn't see, hear, or read the speech, but I couldn't resist popping up in the commentsfest with the following: I dunno, I take a different view of the politics thing than the bunch of you do, I guess. Probably a more facile-y cynical one, but it works for me. It goes this way. They're all (all the pols, all the parties) gaming us. They're all basically driven by a love of power -- why else would they politicians? (Let us not be children about this!) And 90%-110% of what they do consists of gratifying their own egos, putting the screws to us, and sewing up their own careers and statures. Nonetheless, they're constrained by the knowledge that every now and then enough of us get riled up about their misbehavior and abuse to throw 'em out of office. And that keeps them in a little better line than they'd stay in otherwise. Their well-rewarded job is to run or pretend to run the political side of our country, and so long as they don't mess it up too bad, we tend to let them get away with a lot. After all, we have lives to lead. It seems to me childish to spend too much time on the search for that one true sincere earnest politician who really isn't like that. I mean, how much heartbreak can you take? And how long can you cling to your naivete, no matter how sweet? It's important to remember that every now and then a worthwhile political person or two comes along and a worthwhile political thing or two happens. But they're soooooo much the exception to the rule that living day to day in the hope of them is like wasting all your energy *trying* to be happy instead of just living your life and relishing the happiness when it does come along. It's self-defeating. Chase happiness and you'll seldom catch it. Stop worrying about happiness, lead life pretty fully, and happiness will likely happen along from time to time. JFK: power-driven megalomaniac. Cuomo: power-driven megalomaniac. Bush family: I don't know what, exactly, but I don't like them any better. Maybe Obama is the real thing, maybe not. But why spend too much psychic energy hoping for the best? Even if he's a "good man," the system's liable to crush that out of him anyway. Maybe not! But meanwhile I'll choose to get on with life. Politics is a kind of fun spectacle to check in on from time to time -- but why waste energy cheering one would-be "hero" after another? Unless that amuses you, of course... posted by Michael at July 8, 2006 | perma-link | (24) comments

Thursday, July 6, 2006

Political Divisions
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Citing Christopher Lasch, Caleb Stegall wonders if the key political division these days is really between Democrats and Republicans. Perhaps instead it's between "our self-interested and arrogant elites" and "the rest of us." I'm on board with that. It's the main reason why, in fact, I'm such a monomaniac about featuring the immigration issue on this blog -- it throws the "elites vs. us" question into dramatic relief. Link thanks to Rod Dreher. Caleb Stegall edits The New Pantagruel. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 6, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

A Boy Problem at School?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- An interesting Rizurkhen posting at GNXP prompted a few lines from me that I'm feeling pleased about. The topic was, "Is there really a boy problem in education today?", because, y'know, girls -- although in PC myth supposedly discriminated-against -- are outperforming boys in nearly every sense in schools these days. If vulgar language makes you turn your nose up, then I suggest you skip the following. Anyway, my response: I always thought school was for girls anyway (and I'm an oldie, so I'm going back to the pre-feminist '50s and '60s for my grammar school and junior high memories). School wasn't easy for boys. Sit still ... Behave well ... Be quiet ... Pay attention ... Read boring, well-meaning books ... Do homework ... Turn it in on time ... This was all stuff girls seemed by nature to do well, while boys loved being physical, irreverent, and flashy, and (of course) crashing into walls and going down in flames. Imagine my surprise when the feminists came along and announced that school was a conspiracy against girls! If anything in life seemed to me to favor girls, it was school. Feminizing school yet further seemed like the last thing anyone really needed. I still think the feminists were nuts on this point. I also think that if we were to be serious about providing good schooling for boys, it would include 1) lots more male teachers, 2) lots more opportunities to be physical, 3) lots more in the way of reading and media material of the kind boys tend to prefer (why not more comic books, for example?), 3) and lots more opportunities to build shit and blow shit up. As an old fart who's been working in the same field for far too long, and who has seen the generations come and go, I can report that the current youngsters are a special breed. By contrast to the politicize-everything Boomer-divas and the spiteful Xers, they're very sweet, nice, and untroubled. (They also seem to be completely uneducated, except in computers and careerizing. Perhaps ignorance really is bliss!) But the young women are sooooo much more cocksure and confident than the guys ... It's really striking. They're dynamos: bright, competent, fit, pulled-together, going places, always with keys, waterbottle, and cellphone in hand. The guys by contrast look hangdog. They wear their shirttails out, are physically slack (or overbulked-up in a stupid-gym-rat way), have bedhead, and specialize in sheepish expressions and bitchy asides. I get the impression of a generation of dudes who have had the "guy" knocked out of them, who have no idea how to be men, who assume that the gals are automatically the stars, and who lurk around the sidelines hoping they'll score some nooky every now and then because -- after all and thank god -- most chicks still want boyfriends. School: Did it strike you as suiting girls or boys better? And what do today's 23-year-olds seem like... posted by Michael at July 6, 2006 | perma-link | (24) comments

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Collaborate, Resist or ...
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- If you had been a Frenchman during the period June 1940 (when France fell to Germany) and June 1944 (the Normandy invasion), what would you have done with respect to the Germans and their Occupation? For many years following the end of World War 2 the French were cast (much of the time by their intellectual elite) into a cartoonish dichotomy. On the one hand were the noble, fearless members of the Resistance. On the other were evil collaborationists. The rest of the population was shrugged off, perhaps being sadly regarded as morally lacking for failing to be in the Resistance. During the weeks and months following the Liberation, many collaborationists were publicly humiliated (women fraternizing with German soldiers were stripped naked, had their heads shaved and were paraded through the streets) or were tried and, in some cases, executed. Some of this was pure public reaction. But both the Communists and the Gaullists had a large stake in claiming Resistance credibility in the early post-Liberation days as part of their maneuvering for power. So I wonder how much the anti-collaborationist spasm was political theatre. In reality, the French people formed a continuum. At the Resistance extreme were those who participated in guerilla warfare, blowing up German equipment or assassinating officers. Others didn't fight, but provided various kinds of support. Albert Camus, for example, edited the underground newspaper Combat while continuing his regular writing. Jean-Paul Sartre, after release from a German PoW camp, spent the war in Paris' literary circles though he did write articles for Combat in amongst his book-writing and teaching activities. The most extreme collaborationists were members of fascist organizations dedicated to the support of the Occupation. Not far removed were citizens who ratted on Jews. And then there were Frenchwomen who had German lovers. I'm not sure one can call this "collaboration" if nothing was done to materially support the Occupation. Coco Chanel falls into this group. She was spared public humiliation because she "had friends in high places" and moved to Switzerland for several years to lower her profile. As for the prostitutes who entertained German troops, I have to assume their interest was largely monetary. The extremes probably represented a small part of the population. The bulk of the French mostly hunkered down and coped as best they could. Robert Gildea wrote a book titled "Marianne in Chains" a few years ago that featured residents of the Loire Valley and their ways of dealing with the Occupation. I bought a copy of the book because I was interested in the subject. But I found it tedious reading and set it aside. Absent Gildea, I'll just have to resort to speculation based on what I've read elsewhere plus my take on human psychology. Resistance members who did physical harm to the Occupation tended to be young and idealistic. Many were committed Communists who followed Moscow's dictates; before Russia was invaded, the Occupation was tolerated, and thereafter force was necessary.... posted by Donald at July 5, 2006 | perma-link | (14) comments

300 Million
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- 2006 is the year the U.S.'s population will reach 300 million -- with population growth due almost entirely to Hispanic immigration. A couple of amazing/sad (by my lights, anyway) facts: "In 1967, there were fewer than 10 million people in the U.S. who were born in other countries; that was not even one in 20. Today, there are 36 million immigrants, about one in eight." Since the original Earth Day, our population has increased by nearly 50%. I marveled here about the way most major environmental groups are dodging the immigration question, as well as avoiding the sheer-numbers issue. Hey, say hello to the new racial politics. I won't be surprised if we see a lot more of this kind of thing too. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 5, 2006 | perma-link | (21) comments

Sunday, July 2, 2006

The Disappearing Middle?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Middle-class neighborhoods in urban and even suburban areas are shrinking at a very rapid rate. A Brookings Instition study "found that as a share of all urban and suburban neighborhoods, middle-income neighborhoods in the nation's 100 largest metro areas have declined from 58 percent in 1970 to 41 percent in 2000." More and more, neighborhoods are tipping either rich or poor. The most hollowed-out metro region in the country is Los Angeles, where "the share of poor neighborhoods is up 10 percent, rich neighborhoods are up 14 percent and middle-income areas are down by 24 percent." (Source.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 2, 2006 | perma-link | (27) comments

Friday, June 30, 2006

Roger Scruton and Oikophobia
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards Thanks to Right Reason's Steve Burton for calling attention to this brilliant Roger Scruton speech. Scruton explores the touchiness of our ruling elites where the topics of immigration and integration are concerned: For a long time now the European political class has been in denial about the problems posed by the large-scale immigration of people who do not enter into our European way of life. It has turned angrily on those who have warned against the disruption that might follow, or who have affirmed the right of indigenous communities to refuse admission to people who cannot or will not assimilate. And one of the weapons that the elite has used, in order to ensure that it is never troubled by the truth