Strategic Skill

Smart Diplomacy:

You know, today we're just going to quote the editorial board of the New York Times.

The Israelis have refused to stop all building. The Palestinians say that they won’t talk to the Israelis until they do, and President Mahmoud Abbas is so despondent he has threatened to quit. Arab states are refusing to do anything.

Mr. Obama’s own credibility is so diminished (his approval rating in Israel is 4 percent) that serious negotiations may be farther off than ever.

Peacemaking takes strategic skill. But we see no sign that President Obama and Mr. Mitchell were thinking more than one move down the board.
Well, you know, you voted for him. You knew he'd never had a real job, let alone a serious executive position. Remember how charming it was when his campaign cited his campaign as proof that he knew how to be executive for a nationwide organization?

When your supporters start fielding chess metaphors against you, you may be in trouble. It'd be worse if they were poker metaphors, though, because diplomacy and intelligence are much more like poker than they are like chess. That's just a writer's convention, though; the Times couldn't see three moves down a chessboard any more than it could tell you, based on the fourth card showing, whether it was possible that someone at the table might be holding a flush.

At least, that's how they've always struck me. But I do play poker, and chess in a playful manner.

Wow - FT Hood

FT Hood and PC:

Mark Steyn has a remarkable piece outlining just how extremely open the FT Hood jihadist was about his intentions. As the cowboy Charlie Waite says in Open Range, a man will often tell you the evil he means to do. It's amazing to read just how often, and how loudly, this particular man said it -- in the US Army -- with no one to stop him.

Aside from that, though, there's another thing I hadn't known. opposition MP mused on whether it wouldn’t have been better to prohibit the publication of Mein Kampf.

“That analysis sounds as if it ought to be right,” I replied. “But the problem with it is that the Weimar Republic—Germany for the 12 years before the Nazi party came to power—had its own version of Section 13 and equivalent laws. It was very much a kind of proto-Canada in its hate speech laws. The Nazi party had 200 prosecutions brought against it for anti-Semitic speech. At one point the state of Bavaria issued an order banning Hitler from giving public speeches.”
I had no idea that was the case. The history as I inherited it from various teachers was that the Nazis got away with it because people were angry, and looking for a scapegoat. That there was sustained opposition on the point, with the force of the law, was never related.

Of course the only effective opposition to the Nazis came not from the law; the law failed to bind them, but was ready enough to serve them when they became the ruling party. No, the opposition that stopped them came from men: Russians, Americans, and the Brits.

And on the subject of Brits who fought the Nazis, and have no use for political correctness, this piece:
Curious about his grandmother's generation and what they did in the war, he decided three years ago to send letters to local newspapers across the country asking for those who lived through the war to write to him with their experiences.

He rounded off his request with this question: 'Are you happy with how your country has turned out? What do you think your fallen comrades would have made of life in 21st-century Britain?'

What is extraordinary about the 150 replies he received, which he has now published as a book, is their vehement insistence that those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the war would now be turning in their graves.

There is the occasional bright spot - one veteran describes Britain as 'still the best country in the world' - but the overall tone is one of profound disillusionment.

'I sing no song for the once-proud country that spawned me,' wrote a sailor who fought the Japanese in the Far East, 'and I wonder why I ever tried.'

'My patriotism has gone out of the window,' said another ex-serviceman.

In the Mail this week, Gordon Brown wrote about 'our debt of dignity to the war generation'.

But the truth that emerges from these letters is that the survivors of that war generation have nothing but contempt for his government.

They feel, in a word that leaps out time and time again, 'betrayed'.
Mark that down, if you're keeping score.

On Pro-Woman Politics

On Pro-Woman Politics:

I was reading one of Elise's favorite bloggers, Reclusive Leftist, who cited the Roman emperor Diocletian as a desirable model. Desirable, that is, in the sense that he could completely dispose of the existing system and replace it with another that he thought was better.

Probably everyone has that impulse at times, although doubtless over different issues; obviously the Stupak amendment doesn't cause me to doubt the system as much as the bill it was attached to in the first place. For me, it's the regulation of every facet of everyday life that sometimes makes me wonder if we can really fix the system we have. I remain devoted to the system, and the Constitution, but I certainly understand moments of frustration.

What interested me was her concept that women ought to create a party -- 'the National Womens' Party' or something like that -- because they were not well served by either of the existing parties. She has a list of things that a pro-woman party would support: abortion (though failure to be pro-choice would not be disqualifying, she says, if you supported the rest); perhaps something like an equal rights amendment; single-payer health care.

What she aspires to, I gather, is a model in which the government takes care of women. If a woman gets sick, her health care is covered by the government. If a woman wants to have a child, there will be financial assistance from the government if she needs it so she can stay home with the child; or, if she would prefer to work, the government would provide her with child care. If she doesn't want to have a child, she is free to dispose of him or her. If she wants to try something and people don't think she should, the government will be there with laws and lawyers to force them to give her access to whatever field of endeavor she'd like to try.

The irony, of course, is that there is a word to describe this form of government: "Paternalistic."

Yet it's not really the father that the government is replacing here: it's the husband. This model of government would replace the husband-and-father-of-your-children. The equality it really creates is an equality between happily married women and unmarried ones. It gives them the access to health care that they might have to give up if they were unmarried and wanted to quit work to raise a child; a husband would have provided it in the traditional system. It gives them a basic level of income even if they don't work, as being married would. It hires someone to care for their children if they'd rather work than spend time with them. It stands up for them and fights for them against bullies, yet -- like the perfect husband -- it is completely deferential to their wishes even on the most crucial of matters, such as whether their child lives or dies. The husband or father might want to have a say in that; but the government bows to its wife's will.

In the fashion that women who joined a nunnery became "Brides of Christ," this model of government would essentially make them "Brides of the State."

I would think that would be a terrifying model, and I don't understand why it isn't. In the fantasy, the government that can't be convinced even to avoid the Stupak Amendment is perfectly behaved. In reality, giving the government that much of a working partnership in your life means that you would be totally controlled by it. Every single critique that early feminism reared about the dependence of women on their husbands would be directly applicable to such a state. And while a woman can leave a bad husband for another one, or for no husband at all, you're pretty much stuck with the State. You can try to change it, but whereas a woman has a direct and personal opportunity to try and change her husband, she'd be but one voice among millions of women in the National Womens' Party; and that party would not be the only party in government.

On the other hand, I am certainly pro-woman. I like women, respect the women in my life, and want women to feel happy and fulfilled as members of our society. It seems to me that there are two alternatives to this paternalistic vision of government that are at least as objectively pro-woman, one conservative and one libertarian.

The conservative version is to reinforce marriage: to try to rebuild it as an inviolable contract, so that women are provided those advantages by their husbands instead of the State. This would include trying to teach young men how to be good husbands. This vision is exposed to all the early-feminism critiques of marriage, but no more than the Statist vision: and the woman has a lot more leverage with her individual husband than she has with the massive State, with its armies and police and its trillions to force her to obey. In a marriage, a woman has an opportunity at real equality with her partner; and if there is not real equality, it's just as likely that she will be the domineering partner as her husband. That is more about intelligence and force of will than about physical size.

There's no doubt that being a member of a successful marriage is of tremendous advantage to both partners -- and to society! We were talking the other day about how married couples pay 75% of all income taxes. The "top ten percent" of income earners pay 71% of income taxes; married couples are 40% of filers. That means there is almost a perfect identity between "married couples" and "the top ten percent," but that the 30% of filers who are married-but-not-in-the-top-ten-percent are still overpaying their share.

In addition, the married couple is paying the lions share of the costs of raising its children. Furthermore, their children will be more successful, as study after study shows that children from two-parent families outperform other children on average in every field.

So, a conservative answer: a stronger system of marriage, with a focus on raising young men fit to be good husbands, is the single best thing that you can do for women and their children. This system is unlikely to admit to abortion as a "right," but even many women are deeply opposed to it. It is, after all, the killing of innocent children for personal advantage.

A libertarian answer is also possible to imagine. This would be more state-oriented than the conservative model, which would rely chiefly on the family instead of the government. However, it is substantially less-statist than the Leftist model.

In the libertarian model, the government's role would be to provide women with opportunities, rather than guarantees. For example, it would float them student loans at generous rates. It would help them start small businesses. It would help them find child care by helping establish those small businesses, and by providing some oversight to ensure that they were of high quality.

It might try to handle those in need of catastrophic health care according to something like the non-coercive model Elise and I were debating the other day:

A non-coercive approach that might be worth considering: the government runs a catastrophic plan that manages voluntary, tax-deductible donations, only to care for those too foolish to buy their own care. However, when the donations run out, the plan is done for the year.

That would leave us in a situation much like the blood supply: there would need to be regular drives for support, but nobody is pinned to the table and forced to donate blood. The blood supply seems to work, and it treats the same kind of 'unexpected emergency' problems that you're considering here.

If you allowed 'in kind' donations from doctors and nurses, on a tax-deductible basis, I'd say you could probably arrange a substantially effective model without having to force anyone to do anything. Right now, doctors are essentially forced to absorb much of the costs of treating the people without insurance; if they were allowed to deduct those costs from their taxes, many of them would probably gladly donate a set amount of time for providing such care.
This model has the advantage, for all adults including women, of not forcing them into a position of dependence on the state. They are independent in the literal sense: if they take the student loan, they have to pay it back. If they take the help starting the small business, they have to run it and make it successful. If they want the system to have money for catastrophic care, they have to chip in when they are able; but no one forces them to do so. You could even address the free-rider problem by refusing to allow people into the system who don't choose to contribute as they are able; but that would be a decision for debate.

Abortion would be more of an open question to the libertarians, who tend to be in favor of letting people do what they want. However, even libertarians might like to note that the woman is not the only one who ought to have a vote on the issue of an abortion: the father might deserve a voice in whether his child lives or dies; and the child herself should have some rights to be considered.

These are thumbnail sketches, as Reclusive Leftist's own post was. What I hope that they illustrate is that it is possible to approach issues of pro-woman politics without Statism. The truth is that the State is not your friend; it is at best a dangerous servant, and more likely to be the slavemaster that Socrates considered it to be. He considered it a largely benevolent master, but felt that "citizens" were really slaves who owed the state their lives. Most states through history have felt so also; and even among the free, it is a constant struggle to restrain the concentrated power that every government builds over time. The defense of liberty is an eternal fight.

That refusal to submit does not mean that women are not important to me, though; it doesn't mean that I don't care about them. I do my best to be the kind of good husband that frees and liberates at least one woman to live the life she's always imagined. I wish I could do more. I can do that much, though, and I do.

It seems to me that a woman who wanted to see herself as my genuine equal might reply that she would be responsible for herself, and would not need a husband to help her with her dreams. I've no objection to her being personally independent and strong; but especially with children, it is important to have a companion and partner. You're better off chosing your own, and carefully, than having the State force its way into your bed.

Late Hit

A Late Hit On Thanksgiving Day:

Preach -> Meddle

Done Gone from Preachin' to Meddlin':

Never my very favorite people, PETA continues to amaze. This time, though, they are honestly just wasting their breath.

PETA suggests Georgia could use a robot dog or a costumed mascot instead of the white English bulldogs that have represented the school at football games since 1956.

Last week, bulldog mascot Uga VII died at the age of 4, apparently of a heart ailment.

Desiree Acholla of PETA says bulldogs are prone to heart problems and other medical issues because of inbreeding.
So, the preferred alternative is to move the breed into extinction, replaced by unfeeling robots? I suppose in some absolute sense that might reduce suffering, since all life entails some suffering, and zero must necessarily be less than anything.

On the other hand, Uga VII, as all of his predecessors, enjoyed a life filled with the adoration of tens of thousands. But what is love next to... well, there's no indication he suffered, really, just that he died young.

"Better never to have lived and loved, than to have lived at all."

Happy Turnkey Day

From me to you:

(Click to enlarge. The picture is Mr. Lockit from The Beggar's Opera.)

Thanksgiving 2009

Thanksgiving At Home:

I've spent the last two Thanksgivings in Iraq, where Bill is still again this year. It will be interesting to see how a real Thanksgiving dinner compares to the Army's!

It's good to be home this year, but I hope you'll keep the deployed in your thoughts at times today. For some of you that will be all too easy, as someone you cannot help but think of is absent from your table today; for others, please make a moment or two.

TGTBTU on YouTube

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly:

Apparently, YouTube has decided to offer the full version of Sergio Leone's classic for free, until the end of the month. Most likely you have a copy or two on your shelf already, but if not, enjoy.

A Speech

A Speech:

One of you sent me an email about the USS Constitution. I wondered if the story was at all true, so I looked around a bit. I can't verify it, but I can now point to a source: US Marine General Jim Jones.

Let me begin by sharing a bit of history with you about our nation’s oldest warship, the USS Constitution. My good friend General Jim Jones used to tell this account. I can’t vouch for its historical accuracy, but believe it’s a pretty good story all the same:

On 23 August 1779, the USS Constitution set sail from Boston loaded with: 475 officers and men… 48,600 gallons of water… 74,000 pounds of cannon shot… 11,500 pounds of black powder… and 79,400 gallons of rum.

Her mission: to destroy and harass English shipping.

On 6 October, she made Jamaica, took on 826 pounds of flour… and 68,300 gallons of rum.

Three weeks later, the Constitution reached the Azores, where she provisioned with 550 pounds of beef and… 6,300 gallons of Portuguese wine.

On 18 November, she set sail for England where her crew captured and scuttled 12 English merchant vessels and… took aboard their rum.

By this time, the Constitution had run out of shot. Nevertheless, she made her way unarmed up the Firth of Clyde for a night raid. Here, her landing party captured a whiskey distillery, transferred 40,000 gallons aboard and headed for home.

On 20 February 1780, the Constitution arrived in Boston with… no cannon shot… no food… no powder… no rum… and no whiskey. She did, however, still carry her crew of 475 officers and men and… 48,600 gallons of water.
I'm pretty sure they used water for cooking or something.



A post on LTC West, on the occasion of the SEAL story from yesterday.

I have great sympathy for the military lawyer, who must enforce the law even when he doesn't think it's right. It was probably worth making that point to troops leaving for Iraq: even if he thought you were right, he'd still have to prosecute you. There's probably an interesting moral argument to be made on the subject of a commander choosing personal legal consequences to putting his soldiers at greater physical risk; or on the duty of a man, and an officer, to obey the law versus the duty of a commander to his men.

The SEALs plainly decided that they preferred to fight rather than accept what felt like injustice out of the law. I don't know what the result of the procedure will be, but I can see that LTC West is -- if anything -- liberated to fight even harder. I hope that, whatever comes of the SEALs' case, they are able to continue to serve the Republic according to their conscience.

Fight Club

Fight Club Prophecy:

I didn't catch Fight Club back in 1999. In fact, I caught it for the first time earlier this fall, about ten years late. Man, is it wild in how well it predicted the world of our age. With one exception: in the movie, we were meant to be fighting on the other side.

Four people have been arrested in Peru on suspicion of killing dozens of people in order to sell their fat and tissue for cosmetic uses in Europe.

The gang allegedly targeted people on remote roads, luring them with fake job offers before killing them and extracting their fat.

The liquidised product fetched $15,000 (£9,000) a litre and police suspect it was sold on to companies in Europe.
That's not us. That's criminal gangs. Fight Club wondered whether we'd be the ones leading the charge to unmake the world.

Did you want to hold it together? We've, most of us, given ourselves to the task: we've sworn oaths to uphold the Constitution and try to preserve it. When I was a boy I used to wonder, reading the lives of Wyatt Earp and others of his kind, whether they knew that they were destroying themselves. If they built a final peace, who would need Wyatt Earp?

In Lonesome Dove, Texas Ranger Captain Gus McCrae asks the question explictly:
Woodrow Call: [riding in San Antonio] Things sure have changed since the last time I was here. It's all growed up.

Gus McCrae: Of course it's growed up, Woodrow. We killed all the Indians and bandits so the bankers could move in.

Woodrow Call: Only a fool would want the Indians back.

Gus McCrae: Has it ever occurred to you, Woodrow, that all the work we done was for the bankers?
It's an odd position to be in. The wages of victory are slander and the hatred of the protected, who believe in their clean hands. The wages of defeat are a world in which we are needed and valued.

Yet we are men of honor, and therefore we must try for a world that neither needs nor wants us. We must, because our wives and children will be safe there.

Until our sons try to become men, that is.


From Japanese Death Poems, ed. Yoel Hoffmann:
In 1582 the samurai leader Oda Nobunaga (1534-82) captured a company of over a hundred Buddhist monks who were allies of his enemy. He ordered his men to pile dry branches around the prisoners and set fire to them all.... With flames licking at his body, Kaisen responded, "If you have vanquished your selfhood, coolness will rise even from the fire."
If you have seen the movie, confer with the scene captured here, of Tyler Durden looking on during the beating of the narrator:



Yes, You Can Change. If You Must.

Spiked has a pretty good article on the subject of change, and how it distracts.

Present educational fads are based on the premise that because we live in a new, digitally driven society, the intellectual legacy of the past and the experience of grown-ups have little significance for the schooling of children.

The implicit assumption that adults have little to teach children is rarely made explicit. But there is a growing tendency to flatter children through suggesting that their values are more enlightened than those of their elders because they are more tuned in to the present. So children are often represented as digital natives who are way ahead of their text-bound and backward-looking parents.
Well, people look backwards with their minds for the same reason they look in three dimensions with their eyes: because that's the only way the organ works.

A useful English Lit project would be to grab up the Louis L'amour novels and run through them for the literary references; and then make a class that required students to read those books he cites. (And to read them in the manner he recommends: for example, to read Plutarch's 'lives' at least three times.) Ivanhoe. Shakespeare. Blackstone's legal commentaries. So many others!

A useful philosophy project would be to grab up those same novels by the man, and have the students read L'amour directly. What did he mean to say about life? About manhood? About duty? About honor? About the right way to live, and how best to learn?

I looked for his books in the local public library. Even in rural Georgia, there were only two of them in the collection.

It's OK, though: the truck stop down the road sells a neverending supply. Truckers have a lot of time to think, like cowboys riding trail. When the rest of it falls apart, they'll still be there.

Psalm 109

Psalm 109:

JarHead Dad wrote the other day to mention a new bumper sticker seen up around Pigeon Forge: "Pray for Obama: Psalm 109:8." Being the sort of folks who have a Bible on the dashboard, they quickly discovered that it was a joke:

"Let his days be few; and let another take his office."
As usual with political jokes, a lot of people aren't finding it funny. Here's one of them:
Among the world's top Google searches today are phrases that contain the words "Psalms 109 8", and "Psalm 109 8 prayer for Obama". For those of you who may not know that particular verse, it reads "May his days be few, may another take over his position." And before anyone excuses this toxic use of scripture as nothing more than the wish that President Obama not be re-elected to a second term of office, the next verse in the psalm reads, "May his children be orphans and his wife a widow".

In fact, the entire chapter is about the prayed for death of an evil person. Not to mention that anyone who knows enough Bible to have thought about this verse in particular, surely knows the entire chapter and appreciates its message. Pretty scary stuff.

All this is especially upsetting in light of the last weeks' events at Fort Hood.
That last line gave me whiplash. Even granting that the broader passage is quite unkind to the wicked person, there's surely a difference between praying for God to punish the wicked, and deciding to kill a bunch of people yourself. Deuteronomy has God advise those who might wish to seek vengeance to leave it in his hands:
"To me belongeth vengeance and recompence; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste."
The early Christian book of Romans re-emphasizes the point:
"Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord."
The Christian vision is to forgive; but for those who cannot forgive, to give the wish for vengeance to God. This is much in line with the early Church's position on sex, which is: abstain; but for those who cannot abstain, marry. In both cases, there is a perfect way, but there is then also a humane exception that allows the exercise of the vital power in a way that channels its harmful qualities in useful directions. Anger is a natural part of mankind, and a just response to wickedness. Lust is a natural part of mankind, and the normal response of youth to beauty.

The vengeful may pray to God, and the lustful may take wives. Thus there are not murderers but prayerful men, and not predators but husbands.

In this way, the Bible's response is the opposite of the call to Jihad. It is meant to contain the wrath, mitigate it, channel it where it does good rather than harm. It is not a call to murder, but to give your wrath to God and trust his disposition of it.

Economic Collapse

Collapse Through Debt:

The Wall Street Journal reports:

President Barack Obama took office promising to lead from the center and solve big problems. He has exerted enormous political energy attempting to reform the nation's health-care system. But the biggest economic problem facing the nation is not health care. It's the deficit. Recently, the White House signaled that it will get serious about reducing the deficit next year—after it locks into place massive new health-care entitlements. This is a recipe for disaster, as it will create a new appetite for increased spending and yet another powerful interest group to oppose deficit-reduction measures.

Our fiscal situation has deteriorated rapidly in just the past few years. The federal government ran a 2009 deficit of $1.4 trillion—the highest since World War II—as spending reached nearly 25% of GDP and total revenues fell below 15% of GDP. Shortfalls like these have not been seen in more than 50 years.
It's not just an American problem, as the UK Telegraph notes:
Governments have already shot their fiscal bolts. Even without fresh spending, public debt would explode within two years to 105pc of GDP in the UK, 125pc in the US and the eurozone, and 270pc in Japan. Worldwide state debt would reach $45 trillion, up two-and-a-half times in a decade.

(UK figures look low because debt started from a low base. Mr Ferman said the UK would converge with Europe at 130pc of GDP by 2015 under the bear case).

The underlying debt burden is greater than it was after the Second World War, when nominal levels looked similar. Ageing populations will make it harder to erode debt through growth. "High public debt looks entirely unsustainable in the long run. We have almost reached a point of no return for government debt," it said.

Inflating debt away might be seen by some governments as a lesser of evils.

If so, gold would go "up, and up, and up" as the only safe haven from fiat paper money. Private debt is also crippling. Even if the US savings rate stabilises at 7pc, and all of it is used to pay down debt, it will still take nine years for households to reduce debt/income ratios to the safe levels of the 1980s.

The bank said the current crisis displays "compelling similarities" with Japan during its Lost Decade (or two), with a big difference: Japan was able to stay afloat by exporting into a robust global economy and by letting the yen fall. It is not possible for half the world to pursue this strategy at the same time.
The other half of the world isn't going to do that well either: China and the developing world are likewise dependent on investment from the First World, and sales to that world's economies.

Brad DeLong, meanwhile, seasons his praise of a Paul Krugman piece with this warning:
The long Treasury market is thinner than many people think: it is not completely implausible to argue that it is giving us the wrong read on what market expectations really are because long Treasuries right now are held by (a) price-insensitive actors like the PBoC and (b) highly-leveraged risk lovers borrowing at close to zero and collecting coupons as they try to pick up nickles in front of the steamroller. And to the extent that the prices at which businesses can borrow are set by a market that keys off the Treasury market, an unwinding of this "carry trade"--if it really exists--could produce bizarre outcomes.

Bear in mind that this whole story requires that the demand curve slope the wrong way for a while--that if the prices for Treasury bonds fall carry traders lose their shirts and exit the market, and so a small fall in Treasury bond prices turns into a crash until someone else steps in to hold the stock...

This is something to think really hard about....
"Picking up nickles in front of the steamroller" is an expression that doesn't really capture the nature of what is being done. The metaphor suggests that these guys are aware of the steamroller, but are risking their necks to try to collect up the free money that's lying around before it gets here. The truth is that the bad actors on the private side of the equation are actively fueling the "steamroller," as through predatory lending to unqualified buyers in advance of the housing crisis. They're urging people to stand in front of the steamroller, and charging admission for the right.

The bad actors on the government side are simply ignoring the existence of the steamroller. That is clear from the vast scale of these new expenses, while doing nothing to deal with the existing crises in Medicare, Social Security and public pensions.