Wednesday, December 31, 2008


by McCleary

The Washington Times reports today on a RNC sponsored resolution accusing President Bush and Republican leader of embracing socialism. About seven years too late to be truly helpful, but I do approve of the gesture.

Still, this line (the Times', not the RNCs') is a bit laughable:

"If enacted, the resolution would put the party on record opposing the $700 billion bailout of the financial sector, which passed Congress with Republican support and was signed by Mr. Bush..."

My advice for Republicans looking to come in from the wilderness: If you really wanted to be "the party on record opposing the $700 billion bailout," maybe your Sens and Reps shouldn't have voted for the bailout, maybe your presidential candidate shouldn't have suspended his campaign to work on its passage, and maybe your President shouldn't have signed it.

Happy New Year

And incidentally, this is an absorbingly weird movie, just rebroadcast on SciFi.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Monday, December 29, 2008

Surfing too far

A journalist named Travis F. Smith (you can Google him here) contemplates the limits of Internet sleuthing/stalking after a woman he just met blocks him on Facebook.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Tax swap

Bob Inglis and Arthur B. Laffer sketch out "An Emissions Plan Conservatives Could Warm To," which would combine a carbon tax with a cut in payroll and/or income taxes. As they correctly see, there are many reasons -- environmental, national-security, economic -- to take such an approach, regardless of how alarmed or not you are about global warming.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Roosevelt and Hamilton

Max Boot contines to defend, rightly, Theodore Roosevelt against "T.R.-was-no-conservative"-type attacks such as the latest by a Prof. Ronald Prestito. Prestito's WSJ op-ed at least takes the novel approach of contrasting Roosevelt with Alexander Hamilton, contrary to any number of conservative critiques that see both as dangerous deviationists from free-market orthodoxy. Both T.R. and Hamilton were defenders of limited government. Both favored some degree of government activism at times when government was much, much smaller than it is today. Both were examples, moreover, of government competence. A major problem with activist government is that the people in charge of it aren't usually as talented as a T.R. or Hamilton, because that kind of talent doesn't show up regularly or on demand.

UPDATE: Jonathan Adler goes negative on T.R. (and Boot) here, the gist being that various state interventions Roosevelt called for are no longer in favor. I'm not very impressed by Adler's response. For one thing, it's not true that the idea of government ownership of resources such as timber has been utterly rejected; there's no great push for privatizing national forests, though I know some have called for that. Nor is there much momentum for getting rid of all antitrust, which would be the "complete repudiation" Adler claims has befallen T.R.'s antitrust policies. And even if that were so, it would tell us only so much about whether Roosevelt's policies were appropriate for the economy of his time, in which power was concentrated in big companies in a way hard to imagine now.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Tango steps

Some advice on how to do things if you're going to dance a tango in Argentina, including how to maneuver on a crowded dance floor.

A big advantage of taking tango lessons, though, is that, outside of Argentina, you'll likely have a fairly uncrowded dance floor once a tango starts. And your performance, if it's like mine, will impress people in the same way as Samuel Johnson's dog "walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all."

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The universe and George Will

A Christmas Eve thought: I wonder when George F. Will became an agnostic? I was surprised to find him on the blogroll of Secular Right, and after some quick Googling, to find that he declared himself an agnostic on the Colbert Report. Almost a decade ago, I wrote an article for Reason about weak conservative arguments for religion based on the strong anthropic principle. One of those I took to task was George F. Will, who had opined in Newsweek that certain physics findings were "theologically suggestive." I recall that I sent the piece to Will when it was published. Could it be that my riposte to him was so devastating that it pushed him away from adducing dubious scientific evidence for religion? Probably not, but if there's a multiverse, that might have happened in a universe somewhere.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Neocon split?

Jacob Heilbrunn has an interesting piece on "Where Have All the Neocons Gone?" His bottom line is that the Obama administration, with Hillary at State, is going to have considerable appeal to one branch of neoconservatives (particularly those based in Washington) while another branch (mainly in New York) embraces a hard-right Republicanism/Palinism. I don't know if that's correct, but it's plausible. And while I'm more libertarian than either of these putative factions, if I had to choose, I'd go with the center-right over the hard right (and would, incidentally, expect them to be more influential as well).

Monday, December 22, 2008

Apollo 8 anniversary

My piece about Apollo 8 four decades later is now up at Scientific American Online as part of an in-depth report.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

No safe havens

by McCleary

When I tell people I work at the business school of private university (Duke), there is always the assumption that I'm at the one place where business is still good. After all, applications to daytime MBA programs are frequently countercyclical, and indeed, Fuqua, like many b-schools, is experiencing an increase in both quality and quantity of applications.

But as the Raleigh News & Observer reported Friday, Duke University's endowment has dropped 19%. The article also mentions other top-tier universities with similar declines: Yale at a reported 25% and Harvard at 22%. As bad as these numbers look, the real story is probably far worse. Most schools have a decent stake in private equity investments, the losses of which are extremely difficult to estimate. So when the dust clears, look for a significant downward revision of endowment losses. For schools relying on endowment income for operations, this will likely mean hiring freezes, salary freezes, and layoffs.

Space stuff

CNN is now posting space photos every week. If you like them, also keep an eye on APOD (Astronomy Picture of the Day).

Forty years ago today, Apollo 8 got started. Scientific American Online will soon have some coverage relevant to that mission, including a piece by yours truly.

Friday, December 19, 2008


Posting may be light in the near future, unless the guest bloggers show up.

UPDATE: One of my guest bloggers tells me his access has expired, which is news to me and doesn't show up on my side. I will try to fix this, somehow.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ponzi history

Since a Ponzi scheme is much in the news these days, here's some historical background on the original Ponzi, from my recent piece on Boston financial history:

Charles Ponzi , born in Italy in 1882, arrived in Boston in 1903. Then he went to Canada , where he spent some time in prison for forging a check. Not wanting to tell his mother about this, he wrote to her that he’d gotten a job as “special assistant” to a prison warden.
Ponzi returned to Boston in 1917. Two years later, he got a letter from Spain with an international postal reply coupon for mailing a catalog Ponzi was proposing to publish. With that, he came upon the idea of investing in these postal coupons, and making profits from differences in international postage rates.
He started his own firm, the Security Exchange Corporation (not to be confused with the then nonexistent Securities and Exchange Commission) and encountered enormous interest among investors. Unfortunately, Ponzi’s business plan, though legal, was unworkable, involving multiple currency exchanges and postal bureaucracies.
Still, Ponzi promised a 50 percent return on investment in 45 days, and for a while he kept his word. The trouble is that he was paying investors merely by giving them money from later investors. Such deceitful dealing would come to be known as a Ponzi scheme.
More here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Another writer named Silber* explains how he manipulates human minds** at a podcast here.

*- my brother
** - writes marketing copy

Financial radio

I'm slated to be on the Gabe Wisdom Show tonight at 7 pm ET to discuss how a great deal of financial history was made in Boston.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Pro and khan

We rented Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan, which presented the conqueror in a fairly favorable light, at least as far as it goes through the early stages of his career. This inspired me to reread parts of books I'd read long ago: On the Other Side: a Journey Through Soviet Central Asia, by Geoffrey Moorhouse, which looks at ruins left by the Mongols and sees aggression stemming from evil, and Khubilai Khan: His Life and Times, by Morris Rossabi, which depicts the Mongols, including the title subject's grandfather Genghis, as surprisingly tolerant and benevolent rulers, albeit granted they were aggressive when resisted.

Moreover, the second book gives impersonal reasons, including some of climate change, for why the Mongols expanded, whereas the first sees it as pivoting on one man who wanted to take revenge upon the world for his father's death and his clan's betrayal. Where the truth lies I will not guess, but I was fascinated by Rossabi's passing comment that one consequence of the Mongol expansion was to elicit interest in Europe in trade with Asia, thus spurring Europe's age of exploration.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Multiverse cryonics

I tend to think it's a mistake to be influenced in a personal decision by the possibility that there are multiple copies of yourself scattered throughout the universe or other universes, given the enormous and incalculable uncertainties involved. However, if the decision you're making is whether to get your head frozen for possible future resurrection, then I suppose something being highly speculative isn't necessarily going to deter you anyway.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Exceedingly dim

The Spitzer telescope has found the dimmest stars ever, or dimmest brown dwarfs to be precise. There's an evocative artist's conception here, and Bad Astronomy has some comments here.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Crisis causation

Peter Wallison has an analysis of the causes of the financial crisis, with an emphasis on government policies. (Via David Frum.) As I found in working on an upcoming article for Research magazine, Wallison also was quite prescient in warning there would be a crisis. Here's a New York Times piece from 1999 on government-sponsored enterprises embracing subprime:
In moving, even tentatively, into this new area of lending, Fannie Mae is taking on significantly more risk, which may not pose any difficulties during flush economic times. But the government-subsidized corporation may run into trouble in an economic downturn, prompting a government rescue similar to that of the savings and loan industry in the 1980's.
''From the perspective of many people, including me, this is another thrift industry growing up around us,'' said Peter Wallison a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. ''If they fail, the government will have to step up and bail them out the way it stepped up and bailed out the thrift industry.''

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A crisis perspective

I attended a timely lecture tonight at the Museum of American Finance on "the descent of money" by Niall Ferguson, author of The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World. His basic question for the lecture was whether the financial crisis means a "post-American world" or "fall of the American empire." His basic answer: No. Because, ultimately, the U.S. can afford massive expenditures to get through the crisis. And because other nations, from Europe to Mideast oil exporters to the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China) will be harder hit by the calamity than the U.S. will be, notwithstanding that the crisis was, in large part, created in the U.S. "Life is unfair," he added.

Asked what he would do if he were "car czar," Ferguson said that as "automobile autocrat" or "vehicle viceroy," he would put the U.S.-owned auto industry in a "hospice" to make its demise more comfortable. The carmakers, in his view, are a distraction from the more crucial question of bank solvency. He rejected (a bit too cavalierly, I think) thinking in terms of a dichotomy between market and state, noting that government has always had a role in the economy but also that much 1970s-era regulation was harmful and needed to be gotten rid of. As for what government should spend money on, he made, to my mind, pretty good sense: "Growth does not come from leveraged consumption. Growth comes from productivity-enhancing technological innovation."

Rational madness

Jennifer Rubin wonders whether Blagojevich might be just plain crazy. I wonder whether sounding like a nut on the phone was cooly deliberate preparation for an insanity defense.

Joe the Plumber returns

A passionate statement of political principle or a desperate bid to stay in the limelight? You decide.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

More libertarian disputations

I found a great deal to disagree with from all three participants in this PJTV discussion about libertarianism. I disagreed with Katherine Mangu-Ward's encapsulation of libertarianism as "sex, drugs and property rights" (do you have to love drugs or is it enough to dislike drug laws? And what exactly is the position on sex?); Will Wilkinson's statement that the most important libertarian issue is peace (does it matter what kind of peace it is or how it's attained?): and Todd Seavey's inclination toward anarchocapitalism and seeming lack of interest in even the possibility that some functions of government may be necessary (and that anarchism may be what's kept libertarianism in its marginal condition thus far). But I recommend the segment for people who are interested in this kind of thing, which is, I suspect, not that many people.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Good thinking

This just arrived in the mail: When Good Thinking Goes Bad: How Your Brain Can Have a Mind of Its Own. Looks interesting. Wish my brain had time to read it.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Anti-left gibberish

Via Maggie's Farm, I came across the essay "The Religion of the Left" by Gerard Van der Leun. I think it's awful, and that its awfulness takes multiple forms: The accusation that the left is all about "the self," as if collectivism and egalitarianism were not leftist tendencies. The unbacked assertion that since there are mysteries at the frontiers of cosmology and quantum physics, therefore we are impelled toward a traditional theism. The conflation of the material world and meaninglessness, as in the phrase "purposeless matter hovering in the dark," without any sense of the differences between, say, a human brain and a cloud of debris. The confusion of political and metaphysical disagreements, as if there were no religious leftists or secular rightists. Smug pseudoprofundity has no fixed position on the political spectrum, as Van der Leun proves.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Look what's happened to Andrew Sullivan

Horrifically, Andrew Sullivan is still on the case of whether Sarah Palin faked her own pregnancy. Michelle Malkin debunks such lunatic conspiracism here, and some of her readers joke that it's "Rosemary's baby." I propose Sullivan investigate further by watching, multiple times, the little-known 1976 TV movie Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby, in which the kid gets to college age, finds out he's Satan's spawn, and is understandably upset. So he runs away but the coven keeps coming after him, malevolent and obsessed. Much like Andrew Sullivan.

Libertarian disputations

If you want to read some libertarians debating, with some irritation, what libertarianism means, and not conforming with each other's views on social conformity, this thread has what you want.

Supernova remnant

Spitzer -- the infrared telescope, not Slate's latest columnist -- got a nice view of the cloud left behind by the Tycho supernova of over four centuries ago.

Not so depressed

Virginia Postrel has an entertaining post about "Depression Lust, and Depression Porn."

As much of my work is freelance, I'm noticing this is a boom time for freelancers.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Carbon tax hindsight

Ronald Bailey:
After advocating a carbon tax as the least bad alternative, I have been persuaded that it's politically impossible. People are not going to vote for a politician who promises to significantly boost what they pay at the pump and pay for power.
I almost agree with him, but not quite. The uproar over high energy prices in the past year or so has convinced me that, under most circumstances, a carbon tax is politically impossible. However, there are times when this would be different. Imagine if George W. Bush, right after 9/11, had said that, as a matter of national security as well as environmental protection, we'll be phasing in a carbon tax and an oil import fee, while reducing various income and payroll taxes. I think that would have passed, and been a great accomplishment. Too late now.

Meanwhile in the Himalayas

In case you're wondering where John McCain is right now: Bhutan.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Anything for the party

Will Wilkinson has an incisive post about the video below from Truth Through Action, a group that creates "edgy" content to support the Democratic Party. Oh, it's edgy all right, and hilarious in a way that only grotesque propaganda can be.

Right religion history

At The Corner, Jonah Goldberg argues that, contrary to complaints from secular conservatives, "In many respects religion is less central to intellectual conservatism than it was 40 years ago." (Emphasis in original.) As evidence, he cites debates between Brent Bozell, Stanton Evans and Frank Meyer in which all seemed to have "a sincere desire to know God's will." I have my doubts about Goldberg's argument. For one thing, Meyer converted to Catholicism shortly before his death (although granted, I'm not sure at what point he actually abandoned the atheism he'd imbibed as a Communist).

But a better indicator, it seems to me, is the Sharon Statement, drafted by Evans and adopted by young conservatives in 1960 at William F. Buckley's Connecticut estate. It was only by a close vote (44-40) that these conservatives decided to put the word "God" in the statement, and when they did it was to say: "That foremost among the transcendent values is the individual's use of his God-given free will, whence derives his right to be free from the restrictions of arbitrary force." The manifesto was, as Glenn Reynolds might put it, religious but not too much.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Armchair Keynesianism

Some well-timed sarcasm from a cigar-waving Fred Thompson. "This holiday season, spend more than you can possibly afford."

(Via Jennifer Rubin.)

UPDATE: Lest my headline give the impression that I'm hostile to everything Keynesian, I'll say that it's really "vulgar Keynesianism" -- which translates to "let's spend a lot of money" -- that's at issue here. How much Keynesian theory tells us about macroeconomics is a subject on which the jury is still out, in my opinion; Greg Mankiw has an interesting post on such matters here.

Programmed for bad journalism

"For decades, Americans have been effectively programmed to shop." That's the New York Times, displaying a profound incomprehension of the concept of individual responsibility. It's in a story about the trampling at Wal-Mart, which as Ed Driscoll notes, the headline ludicrously labels a "Shopping Guernica."

Monday, December 1, 2008

Shape of things to come

by Gil Weinreich

Thanks again to Ken for allowing me to post on his blog. Last week he humbly acknowledged that Obama's retaining Gates was not a ploy. However, I believe hiring Gates is lamentable nevertheless -- for the same reason his mentions of Republicans like Chuck Hagel and Dick Lugar are also worrisome. These Republicans are perfect "useful idiots" for the canny Obama administration. Obama is way too smart to put the hard leftists in spotlight positions; they will have lower-key advisory roles.

Gates will earn plaudits from the MSM as he continues his moderate and statesmanlike weakening of the United States.Don't forget that he, with Baker and Hamilton, was a member of the Iraq Study Group whose report advocated an orderly retreat from Iraq (unlike McCain, and afterwards Bush, who pushed for the successful surge). Under Gates' leadership, Iran is ever closer to its nukes; and remember Russia's invasion of Georgia? Gates did nothing to anticipate it and nothing to reverse it -- that's been handed off to the tigers in the EU. Gates' defense strategy report spoke of collaboration with Russia and China. With his genial and dignified bearing, he will help Obama rein in American power and appease our enemies.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Radio note

I'm slated to be on the Gabe Wisdom Show on Monday, Dec. 1 at 7 pm ET to discuss my article on Hollywood's portrayals of financial advisors, "Brokers and Other Monsters."

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Dynamism in Peru

Virginia Postrel's The Future and Its Enemiesgets praise from Juan José Garrido Koechlin, a columnist in Peru, who upholds its emphasis on decentralized progress against calls for more government intervention in response to economic crisis. The original column in Spanish is here. An excerpt, translated by me with a little help from Babelfish:
The economic crisis has awakened the most passionate desires for more intervention. In the collective imagination, more regulation and supervision by the state would secure economic growth without traveling the painful route of the crisis. Those who bet on the intuitive statist remedy forget, lamentably, that we have arrived at a level of development thanks to the creativity, curiosity and perserverance of chaotic systems; that is to say, thanks to the lack of the constructivism that -- now -- they promote so much.
Whether there's a better translation of constructivismo than constructivism, I leave to a better translator.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Secular rightism

Secular Right, a site for conservatives who are either not religious or not inclined to mix religion and politics, now features contributions from Walter Olson, who was writing cogently about the right's increasing religiosity long before "oogedy boogedy" entered the political lexicon.

India views

Some links of interest related to the Mumbai attacks:

From the India Times, a report on the U.S., U.K. and Israel providing intelligence help in response.

Some interesting background about Jews in India and Chabad Lubavitch from Ron Coleman and Mike Licht.

David Frum calls for Obama to go to India and make India relations a high priority.

Gordon Chang points out that, pace Fareed Zakaria, these are not "remarkably peaceful times."

Prosecute these people

Here are photos of the crowd at Walmart that trampled an employee to death in their rush for bargains. I sincerely hope some negligent-homicide convictions will result.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Battlestar preview

It's been too long. Here's the Battlestar Galactica Season 4.5 promo:

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Gates to stay

Back in July, I thought the idea of a Pres. Obama keeping Robert Gates on as SecDef was a "cheap, easy and meaningless" diversion. I'm pleased to learn I was wrong.

The End of An Era

By McCleary

On, Michael Lewis pokes the corpse of Wall Street with a stick to try to figure out what happened. I have very limited knowledge of finance, and I still don't understand credit-default swaps, but Lewis is able to keep me turning the pages. Much as he did with Liar's Poker and Moneyball.

Indefensible graphing

The graph here, which Andrew Sullivan obtusely titles "How the Pentagon Bankrupts America," actually tells the story of how the Pentagon's budget has stayed fairly stable, in constant dollars, even as the economy overall has expanded dramatically over decades. A graph here, showing defense spending as a percentage of gross domestic product, makes that clear. And here's a site where Sullivan can get some of the graph-reading skills he lacks.

Tiny flying robots

I wrote about micro air vehicles over a decade ago, when they didn't exist. They still don't exist, as far as I can tell, but they're evidently getting closer to reality.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Beantown banking

My Research magazine article on Boston's financial history is now online. Excerpt:

The need for a real bank in Boston had been evident for a while. Back in the 1760s, a merchant named Nathaniel Wainwright had acted in effect as banker for shopkeepers and others in the city. He accepted deposits and issued interest-bearing personal notes, which circulated like currency. Unfortunately, he went bankrupt in 1765, causing a panic.

The Bank of Massachusetts, also known simply as the Massachusetts Bank, financed the first U.S. trade mission to China , in 1786, and five years later funded the first U.S. voyage to Argentina . It was renamed the Massachusetts National Bank in 1864, and in 1903 merged with First National Bank of Boston to become the Bank of Boston, which merged with BayBank in 1996 to become BankBoston, which was acquired three years later by Fleet Bank, which in 2005 was merged into Bank of America.

And thus Bank of America can now trace part of its ancestry back to the 1780s, and the institution holds some historic documents to prove it (which have been displayed in recent years at its Charlotte headquarters). These include ledgers containing the accounts of, among others, Hancock, Sam Adams and Paul Revere, and a 1784 register of the bank’s original 105 shareholders, of whom, incidentally, 15 were women.

Anti-modern unwisdom

Creepy essay of the day: a call for "a new conservative political philosophy that is purged of modernism and that draws upon the Bible and the wisdom of the ancients." The "modernist" villains in the piece include everyone from Kant to Nietzsche to utilitarians to Ayn Rand to Muslim jihadists. Pretty vague as to who the "ancients" we should revere are; I suspect on closer inspection, we'd also have to purge Democritus, Lucretius, Aristarchus and others for being interested in atoms and astronomy and such.

GOP reinvention watch

Clive Crook in the Financial Times has some worthwhile ideas about "How to Reinvent the Republican Party." Excerpt:
In my view, the challenge for the party is not, as many argue, to decide whether it is a movement of social conservatives, of fiscal conservatives, or of soft libertarians. To win elections, the Republican party has to gather support from all of those groups. If any one faction comes to dominate the party – as social conservatives have lately threatened to – its prospects are diminished. To get along with each other, never mind with the independents and uncommitted liberals whose votes the party needs, Republicans first need to develop their capacity for tolerance.
Social conservatives are suspected, often with reason, of wishing to impose their values on everyone else. For the sake of their own electoral prospects and to build alliances with other segments of opinion, they need to quell that instinct, insisting only that others do not try to impose their values on them. “Live and let live”, together with a lively scepticism about government-imposed solutions, is the watchword that can bring the strands of Republicanism together. It is a distinctively American creed, as well. This centre-right nation still resonates to it.
Sounds good to me. If it's broken, fix it.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Meanwhile up north

Found via Mike B., some dramatic footage of a meteor lighting up the night sky over Canada.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Leaf blowing

I bought an Echo PB-251 leaf blower but apparently you need a doctorate in plasma physics to get the thing to start.

UPDATE: It worked later. Flooding the engine seems to have been the problem.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Father and sons

By Dan Summer

My wife and I saw All My Sons on Wednesday night, an Arthur Miller play. It made me think about the secrets we all have in our families as well as guilt and shame (some more than others) and how it transcends to the family system. Basically, the patriarch of the family sold cracked cylinder heads resulting in the death of 21 american soldiers. This ultimately leads to the patriarchs son getting money to invest into his own company. The stages of grief, and denial are powerful in this and Katie Holmes isn't bad either. When I think about the ideas of this play, I think about men, and how power and greed can possibly lead to ones downfall. This might sound obvious, but this performance definitely transcends to modern day.

Manhattan right

The New York Observer has an interesting profile of the Manhattan Institute. The piece, by Jason Horowitz, has a bit of that anthropologist-among-the-natives tone with which non-right journalists often write about conservatives, including descriptions of what the interviewees are wearing ("pin-striped blazer...", "blouse and gray skirt...") and it blurs some ideological distinctions (is someone who posts about "Why I Am a Social Conservative" really part of the "culturally agnostic wing" of the Republican Party?). Still, it's noteworthy that people seem optimistic at the Manhattan Institute, and that Bobby Jindal is evidently listening to them.

Health care premonition

James Pethokoukis has some gloomy thoughts on "How Tom Daschle Might Kill Conservatism." The upshot is that a coming expansion of government domination of the health care system will be impossible to undo, creating a vast class of people determined to protect their new benefits. Maybe. Though it seems to me that this assumes the system is going to work reasonably adequately, which I suspect won't be true. Not that a crummy new system causing a massive backlash is the most cheerful prospect, either.

Conservatives and science

David Frum received a letter from engineering professor James Charles Wilson castigating conservatives for being anti-science, and then posted some negative replies here and here. I think the original letter was a bit overstated, but the counterargument that the left-does-it-too is not very inspiring.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Let them fly coach

It's easy to underestimate how much symbolism and theatrics affect political debates. Newt Gingrich lost much of the momentum of the 1994 "revolution" by complaining that he'd been required to use the back door of Air Force One. And now the CEOs of the cash-hemorrhaging Big Three automakers opted to fly in their luxury private jets to DC to ask for a handout.

UPDATE 6PM: "We do not have the votes."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Nepal prospects

Well, this could be interesting, for those of us planning a trip to Nepal in the not-distant future:

Nepal's Maoists, Split on Ideology, Chart Path of Revolution

By Jay Shankar

Nov. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Nepal's Maoists, who won power this year after a decade-long civil war, meet today to chart the path of their revolution with leaders ideologically split over whether to maintain a free market or impose state control.

Puspa Kamal Dahal, the Maoist leader and prime minister, has pledged to remove barriers to foreign investment and wants the Himalayan nation to remain a multiparty democracy. Hardliners are pushing for single-party rule and a state-controlled economy.

Then again, for single-party rule and a state-controlled economy, I could just stay in the U.S.

Indians vs. pirates

India, recent recipient of a belated phone call from President-elect Obama, does yeoman's work of blowing up a pirate ship.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Space battles

Space enthusiasts are arguing about the hows, whys and wheres of going into space. See here, here and here. My views in a very small nutshell: make it as private-sector as possible; there are legitimate things to do out there that aren't scientific; the moon is probably more interesting than the Lagrangian points, and people to Mars, realistically, isn't happening anytime soon.

Nozick at 70

Some reminiscences about philosopher Robert Nozick, who would have turned 70 this weekend, are here and here. To me, a great merit of Nozick is that he took anarchism seriously enough to point out some of what's wrong with it. In brief, the private police forces turn into governments anyway.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Science party

In Britain, the Conservatives are making an effort to become the scientifically literate party. The Republicans here would be wise to follow suit. It isn't enough to sit back and assume the likes of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. will establish the Democrats as the party of pseudoscientific gibberish.

Neediest cases

I'm old enough to remember when poverty did not mean owning a $600,000 house.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Jindal and India

It seems a bit premature but a columnist at The Times of India is getting excited at the prospect of Bobby Jindal becoming president of the United States.

To return to the issue posed at the start of this column, when could an Indian American become US president? It could be as soon as four years from now. Piyush ‘Bobby’ Jindal, governor of Louisiana, is a hot tip for becoming the Republican candidate in 2012. He has the youth and charisma that McCain lacks. The Republican Party needs a fresh new face to challenge Obama. Jindal is not white, yet that seems not to matter at all, not even in a party long associated with notions of white superiority. Obama’s victory has truly sent the US over the racial threshold..
I think "party long associated with white superiority" is a pretty misleading description of the Republican Party, but I do like the name of the column: Swaminomics. And now that President-elect Obama has omitted India, by accident or design, from his early phone calls, it would be good to have a president who could hardly fail to be aware of that strategically important relationship

Friday, November 14, 2008

How much are business schools worth?

By McCleary

Or, better stated, how much is it worth to hang your name on a school?

I work at a business school, and last year I had a discussion with colleagues at Chicago GBS and Columbia Business School about how large a gift would be necessary for any of the unnamed top tier schools (Harvard, Chicago, Stanford, Columbia) to change their names. They guessed somewhere between $250m and $500m. Turns out they were right.

Meet the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Price: $300m.

Five years ago, Stephen Ross paid $100m to Michigan.

In retrospect, John Anderson (UCLA, $15m), J.B. Fuqua (Duke, $10m), and John Kellogg (Northwestern, $10m) got into the game at bargain prices.

Half-baked reasoning

I'm often impressed by the ability of Reason magazine these days to express ideas that I largely agree with--and make me think maybe I was wrong, since so much of the magazine is so facile and lame. A case in point is this piece by Anthony Randazzo on "The Third Way":
A new conservative movement that takes libertarian ideas seriously could use the inertia created by the nation's new progressivism to slingshot itself into the future on a platform of reduced government, lower taxes, and limited interventionism, while also respecting climate change (adjusting the tax code to encourage green reform without any expense to taxpayers) and reforming the immigration system (opening the borders as the market demands labor without sacrificing security).
Some problems with the article (not an exhaustive list):

1. Randazzo praises "the small government, Goldwater-style GOP of old" and also states that the GOP has never been "a party of small government based on classical liberal principles," without clarifying what if any distinction he has in mind to reconcile these divergent descriptions.
2. He writes that "If the Ron Paul movement tells us anything, it's that the Republican Party can be more than a party of old white guys with bad hair cuts," but fails to note any difference between Ron Paul's anti-immigration fear-mongering and Randazzo's pro-immigration stance.
3. Randazzo presents his ideas as an electoral winner for the GOP without showing the slightest awareness that many of these ideas are deeply unpopular; e.g. a carbon tax. To wit, point 4:
4. He suggests having a carbon tax "without any expense to taxpayers." But even a revenue-neutral carbon tax will shift burdens from some taxpayers to others, exacerbating its deep unpopularity regardless of its plausible merits on environmental and security grounds.
5. His "limited interventionism," if it's anything like Ron Paul's, would damage remaining Republican credibility on national security, and blur distinctions between Republicans and Democrats on foreign policy. Isn't his whole thrust that Republicans shouldn't be a watered-down version of Democrats, or is that OK if we're talking about foreign policy?
6. Randazzo argues against "moving toward the political center" without noting that many of his positions (a carbon tax, open the borders) are not associated with an unyielding conservatism.

I too think the Republican Party should become more libertarian. But libertarianism, like other ideologies, is not immune to wishful thinking and mediocre arguments.

Celestial resemblance

Isn't it odd that this extrasolar planetary system looks like the Eye of Sauron?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Space irony

I'm trying to watch a broadcast on NASA TV about Apollo 8, the mission that sent humans around the moon for the first time almost 40 years ago, a remarkable feat of determination and technological virtuosity. And all I'm getting is the audio.

Artistic freedom

Thanks to guest bloggers for getting started. A couple more may be on the way (and that may be it, lest the thing degenerate into massive confusion). And while we're on the subject of freedom and the arts, I agree with Ann Althouse that hounding a theater director out of his job because he voted against gay marriage is not a good way to affirm the high importance of tolerance.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Moving to Russia

By Dan Summer

I would also like to thank Ken for having me as a guest publisher.

As a creative arts therapist and artist, I have become growingly disappointed with the arts being cut in the school as well as publicly. Several of my friends have encouraged me to debate how art can heal the world. Though I am not sure it fully can, it does have its benefits. Unfortunately with right people and left people complaining, censoring, or disallowing art, the power of creativity has become more diminished, and now one has to be a private collector to view even erotic art! So I decided the best thing for artists to do, who care about artistic freedom, and lack of censorship should move to Russia, and try to get the Kandinsky award. (not sure how to do the link thing!) and you can see Putin naked on a couch with Hilary, but also express yourself any which way you want.

Libertarians getting their wish?

By Mitch Johnson

Thanks to Ken for letting me chime in.

I read Dan McCleary's entry, and he might be happy to know that at least one fancy opera house that he eschews in favor of his favorite rock venues could be in trouble for lack of government funding.

This past week, the foo-foo frenchy music director, Gerard Mortier, dumped his impending directorship of the New York City Opera because he didn't have enough government money to play with. At his current gig, the state-sponsored Paris National Opera, the operating budget is $160 million. The City Opera, facing a $15 million deficit, is struggling to come up with a promised $36 million operating budget for next year and meanwhile has cancelled most of it's current season. The entire 2008 budget for the National Endowment for the Arts was $145 million.

While some readers might think any federal funding of the fine arts is outrageous, it should be noted that the US is nowhere as extreme as Europe. As an opera lover myself, I hate to see this "people's opera" facing such hard times but acknowledge that cutting arts funding from the federal budget may be warranted, especially with government spending reaching sickening levels. Love opera, love Paris, hate European entitlements and the entitled. It's a hard time to be an opera fan and a libertarian.

Bin Laden hunt

I've criticized, and expect to continue to criticize, Barack Obama on various grounds. Therefore, it's only fair that I should point out some of the positions and policies of his with which I agree, and a major example is his statement that "We will kill bin Laden. We will crush al Qaeda. That has to be our biggest national security priority." It may be that Obama underestimates the relevance of destroying Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia as part of that objective, but annihilating the overall organization that attacked us on September 11 is as crucial a priority as there is.

Of Palin and Libertarianism

By Gil Weinreich
With gratitude to Ken for opening up his blog, I will add my thoughts on the current discussion of Palin and libertarianism. As much as a lightening rod as she has been, it bears noting that she is not the leader of the GOP or primary opposition to the Democrats for the foreseeable future. The only force that stands between responsible government and "creeping socialism" right now is Mitch McConnell, a shrewd legislative strategist and the Senate Minority Leader. Well, perhaps I should add Rahm Emanuel, whose duty as Obama's chief of staff will be to keep the Democratic extremists from derailing the Obama Administration's more "moderate" legislative agenda.

As for the future of the GOP, count me as a strong supporter of Palin. Libertarians like to attack social conservatives as threats to their liberty, but the cultural and political barriers to change are so enormous that even Ronald Reagan accomplished very little on the social/cultural front.

The true threat to liberty is not social conservatism, but rather the continuing erosion of societal values. To take one recent example, look at the civil rights ballot measures champtioned by Ward Connerly in Colorado and Nebraska. In formerly solid-red-state Colorado, the initiative narrowly lost. In Nebraska it passsed with 58% of the vote, meaning that in the one of the most conservative, wholesome corners of the Midwest and America, as many as 42% of the people supported politically correct but discrimatory affirmative action.

Not every issue goes as close to the heart of equality under the law as this one, but on a range of issues -- whether it be the freedom to own guns or affirmations of the religious values (all those "bitter" people out there) on which this country was founded -- social conservatives are the last ones holding the fort. My perception is that few do so with determination because they know how our culture of political correctness filters their beliefs as divisive, bitter, intolerant, etc.

Maybe it will take a plain-talking Alaskan with innate political talent and an appealing persona, who has not spent time in elite educational insitutions, to make American bedrock values "cool" again. To paraphrase the late William F. Buckley, I'd rather be governed by Sarah Palin than all the folks on the Harvard Law faculty, or even at Reason magazine.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Palin, counter-Palin

CNN's Jack Cafferty, whose questions to his viewers seem to emanate from a bottomless chasm of cluelessness, asks "Why is there still so much interest in Gov. Palin?" I'll give him the answer: it's because the attacks on her have continued even after the election, and have maintained the same viciousness that's characterized so much of the criticism of her since she was nominated.

Sarah Palin's greatest asset is her enemies. The smug, false and idiotic attacks on her have overwhelmed the reasonable concerns about her becoming vice president. I am not a wholehearted fan of Sarah Palin; she underperformed at crucial moments, overstated some of her rhetoric, and is more socially conservative than I'd prefer. But hearing her noxious critics -- not just on the left but also anonymous has-beens in the McCain camp -- makes me hope she will stick around on the national stage as a counterpoint to such knee-jerk cultural snobbery.

Robert A. George, never a Palin fan, has an insightful post about the latest attacks.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Libertarian leanings

By McCleary

Thanks to Ken for the invitation to post.

Intro: I was a teenage punk rocker in DC in the early eighties. One night after a Minor Threat show in Arlington, Va., I was driving home along Rock Creek Parkway, under the cantilevered balcony of the Kennedy Center. I had worked a summer job in DC, and I thought to myself, "why do my tax dollars support an arts center for rich people, while DC punks are watching Minor Threat at Woodlawn High School?"

Though certainly liberal with regard to social issues, I developed an overly simplistic economic philosophy that boiled down to "the government shouldn't spend my money on anything." It took me at least fifteen years to realize that I was probably a libertarian.


Guest bloggers

I've asked several individuals, of diverse viewpoints and areas of expertise, to consider doing some guest blogging for this site. Guest blogging could commence at any time. Moreover, this blog is now immunized against any possible federal action under a revival of the Fairness Doctrine.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Compulsory service watch

Advocacy of compulsory national service for students appeared and then disappeared on the president-elect's website. I'm losing my skepticism about the merits of libertarian civil disobedience.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Leftist alienation

Noah Pollak: "Leftist alienation with Obama is already setting in, and it is hilarious."

Or maybe it's a brilliant ploy to give Obama some centrist credibility....

Libertarians vs classical liberals

One more note about ideological labels and then I may give that subject a rest for a while. Here's Todd Seavey:
[Will] Wilkinson also sounded a sympathetic note about the idea of a social safety net, saying he sometimes feels ideologically "lonely" when he tells friends that he likes the positions of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman—including their sympathy for policies such as a guaranteed minimum income. Wilkinson's friends on the left denounce him as "a market fundamentalist," but the libertarians can be almost as negative: "They tell me I'm not a libertarian at all."
Brown University political science professor John Tomasi offered a plan for bringing together such feuding factions. Theatrically arranging three cups in front of himself on the podium, Tomasi encouraged libertarians (and liberals) to drink three metaphorical cups of potentially strange-tasting philosophical ideas: (1) Accept that there is a real distinction between classical liberals (who share a somewhat flexible bundle of ideas such as democracy, constitutionalism, and individual rights) and libertarians, adherents of a strict version of property rights that "not many people believe;" (2) accept that some version of "social justice" will seem intuitively appealing to most political thinkers and must be part of our agenda; and (3) recognize that once 1 and 2 are accepted, a friendly empirical conversation about economic policies can proceed.
It seems to me that "libertarian" as defined above ought to be called something like "absolutist propertarian" and ought to exclude not just Hayek and Friedman but anyone who's inadvertently breathed on someone else without a signed contract. But be that as it may, if any such "strict version" becomes the broadly accepted meaning, count me out. And while I've never much liked the term "classical liberal" (it seems a little nostalgic and musty), the "somewhat flexible bundle of ideas" described above is something I would sign onto rather readily.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Conservatarian thoughts

"Can libertarians and conservatives still be friends?" The trouble with the question is it assumes a purely binary relationship between libertarianism and conservatism. But in reality there is a great deal of overlap between the two, and there are many variants of each, and the relationship is more like a Möbius strip. (Well, maybe.) I'd choose "libertarian" over "conservative" as a label, if I had to choose (though arguably libertarianism is best understood as a form of conservatism anyway). Both self-identified groups, unfortunately, can be quick to write people out of the ranks if they don't meet some rather narrow ideological purity standards. And I agree with Ilya Somin that finding some common ground is a very good idea right about now.

Barr closing

With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Bob Barr has 490,644 votes, which CNN helpfully rounds down to a big fat zero percent. So maybe he won't get a talk-radio gig after all. But he's welcome to stop by at Lolita Bar anytime.

UPDATE: This would be a good time to point out that the electorate has been growing, and therefore comparing absolute numbers of Libertarian votes now versus previous years is misleading. Over 110 million votes were cast in the 2008 presidential election, compared to 86 million in 1980. Thus, Barr having "the second-best Libertarian presidential performance of all time," albeit "well behind Ed Clark's 921,128 votes in 1980," is actually a bit pathetic.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Where things stand

A few items worth contemplating:

-- Jeff Flake charts a limited-government "way out of the wilderness." (Link thanks to Mike B.)

-- Jim Lindgren notes that the prospective chief of staff favors "universal citizen service."

-- Jason Zengerle points out that Robert F. Kennedy Jr., now being touted for EPA or Interior, is an exponent of anti-vaccine pseudoscience.

The latter two items should raise a few concerns among freedom- and science-loving liberals who voted for Obama. Right?

Conservative reinvention TK

A big political story of the next couple of years will be how conservatism reinvents itself in response to the new Democratic era. I, for one, hope conservatism moves in a decidedly more libertarian direction, without embracing the extremes of conspiracism and anarchism that have characterized (too) much libertarianism in recent years. It's a subject I plan to follow and, in some small way contribute to, on this blog. And it's the sort of thing that I expect will be under discussion at tonight's Lolita Bar event: "Yesterday Was the Election: What's Next?"

Note on headline: TK is an editor's term for "to come."

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Congratulations to Barack Obama, who by all indications is about to become president-elect.

And also to Bob Barr, who's probably getting just enough votes for a talk-radio gig somewhere.

Election night

Breaking out the Lagavulin. In keeping with the earlier theme of unpredictability, I haven't decided if I'll weigh in on election returns tonight, or even if I'll be sober.

Nature of things

Happy Election Day. And in case there are any surprises tonight, here is Lucretius making an early attempt to understand the nature of human unpredictability:
Thou must admit, besides all blows and weight,
Some other cause of motion, whence derives
This power in us inborn, of some free act.-
Since naught from nothing can become, we see.
For weight prevents all things should come to pass
Through blows, as 'twere, by some external force;
But that man's mind itself in all it does
Hath not a fixed necessity within,
Nor is not, like a conquered thing, compelled
To bear and suffer,- this state comes to man
From that slight swervement of the elements
In no fixed line of space, in no fixed time.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Business International radical?

I worked at Business International starting in the late 1980s, a few years after Barack Obama worked there. As I've written, I think Obama glamorized things considerably in his description of the organization, making it sound like some lucrative fast track he turned his back on to be a community organizer, when in reality it was a rundown operation rife with ill-paying, dead-end jobs. However, I'm rather puzzled -- and unimpressed -- to see assertions now that Business International had a connection to the leftist Students for a Democratic Society in the 1960s. Whatever their contacts may have been, the idea that BI was some kind of hotbed of radicalism is even more preposterous than the idea it was some high-powered corporate gravy train.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Who has the better argument?

David Frum makes a 10-point case for McCain.

Peruvian shamans express their preference for Obama.


Widespread rumors of gang initiation activities occurring on Halloween were, fortunately, false.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Powerful endorsement

IowaHawk offers the most compelling statement from an Obamacon I've yet read. (Via Instapundit.)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Meanwhile in orbit

The Hubble Space Telescope has been partially restored after a glitch, and got a nice shot of galactic pair Arp 147.

Threats and overreactions

Brink Lindsey finds Obama the "clearly superior alternative" in foreign policy. Why?
Iraq today is a complicated mess, and how best to extricate ourselves is a tough problem. I don't know how well Barack Obama would handle that problem, but at least he sees it clearly: His goal is to get us out of there. John McCain's goal, on the other hand, is to keep us there as long as possible. That fundamental difference is reason enough in my mind to root for Obama.

Me: First of all, McCain's spoken about getting most troops out by 2013, which is not "as long as possible." Secondly, how clearly did Obama see Iraq when he opposed the surge, which he much later acknowledged worked much better than anyone (meaning he) had dreamed? Did he see clearly the genocide that may well have occurred there following a fast U.S. pullout?

More from Lindsey:

The Iraq fiasco was just one consequence of a deeper misjudgment: a panicky overreaction to 9/11 that inflated the real and serious threat of terrorism into an apocalyptic fantasy of World War IV. Delusions of "existential" danger lay behind the Bush administration's resort to torture and its mad claims of absolute executive power as well as its blundering botch job in Iraq. I myself suffered from such delusions in the first years after 9/11, but the accumulation of countervailing evidence eventually freed me from them. Bush, of course, has proved incurable. And McCain's case of 1938-itis is, if possible, even worse.
Me: There's some truth to that. The Iraq War likely would not have happened if there had been no 9/11, and rhetoric along the lines of "World War IV" does seem overblown. But isn't there a danger now of overreacting to the Iraq War, by downplaying threats from hostile nations and terrorist groups, and wouldn't such insularity set a tone of weakness that would make future wars more likely? And if McCain is such a warmonger ("1938-itis"), please explain that part where he led the renormalization of relations with the nation where he was tortured.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Distant landscape

This is not a picture of McCain trying to drum up some last-minute votes.

Government banking

Barry Goldwater, in his famous 1964 convention speech, said it is "the cause of Republicanism to resist concentrations of power, private or public." (Note the inclusion of "private," which suggests that Goldwater was not as far removed from the Theodore Roosevelt/John McCain tradition as some believe.)

Fast forward to the present: a tremendous concentration of power has emerged in the banking sector, now that government is a shareholder in the biggest banks. This concentration of power is both public and private; it's a nexus of the two, and it offers untold opportunities for corruption, abuse, and politically directed financing decisions. Creating it may have been a needed measure in the midst of crisis (though it should have been done in a more market-oriented way) but, as David Frum rightly notes, a major reason to vote for McCain is that he, unlike Barack Obama, wants to get government out of the banking business as soon as possible.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Libertarians and the GOP

In Reason magazine, Ryan Sager asks: Have libertarians been driven out of the GOP? His answer: Yes.
Two years ago, I wrote a book imploring the Republican Party not to follow its worst elements off a cliff—not to evolve, in short, into an insular party with little-to-no appeal outside of the rural, the southern, the Evangelical. As the McCain campaign flames out in a ball of Rovian disgrace, scorching the center in an attempt to fire up the base, it's difficult to reach any other conclusion than that the battle for the soul of the Republican Party has been lost.
I think it's more complicated than that. The soul of libertarianism has been deeply damaged in 2008. That's the result of the Ron Paul phenomenon -- socially conservative and conspiracy-minded -- which was touted, far more than not, by Reason magazine (and deplored by Sager). Now, Ryan falls back on the definition of libertarianism as "fiscally conservative and socially liberal." But that's a dwindling segment of what passes for libertarianism these days. Ron Paul and Bob Barr, whatever their fallings out, are libertarianism's most prominent figures now.

So, I'm not an admirer of the Rovian politics and social conservatism that Sager decries. But if libertarians are no longer at home in the GOP, then I (who have long called myself a libertarian and still wear the label, however uncomfortably, now) say that has a lot to do with where libertarianism has been going, and not just where the GOP has gone.

Science pork swaps

There was a time, over a decade ago, when opposition to science earmarks -- research spending dictated by individual legislators and not subject to scientific peer review -- was a cause celebre among scientists and defenders of science. But apparently, for some people, such as Christopher Hitchens, if Sarah Palin is opposed to earmarks, then earmarks must be science at its best. Yuval Levin points out this absurdity. Another recent example of misguided pro-earmark sentiment is here.

UPDATE 11AM: Via Instapundit, the DC Examiner has more on the trouble with earmarks.

Hollywood brokers and investment classics

My Research magazine article on how Hollywood has portrayed financial advisors over the decades,"Brokers and Other Monsters," is now available online. Also, my recent radio interview on the Gabe Wisdom Show about the investment classics of Graham, Dodd and Fisher is now available here.

Post-election at Lolita Bar

Here's something to attend one day into the dawning one-party left-liberal ascendancy (or, alternatively, after a wildly overblown premature political bubble has burst just in time):

Wednesday, Nov. 5, 8pm: “Yesterday Was the Election: What Now?”

Featuring (1) Abe Greenwald, blogger at Commentary, (2) Ben Geyerhahn, advisor to the 2004 Kerry campaign, and finally (3) funnyman Marty Beckerman, author of the fantastic Dumbocracy (and the earlier Generation S.L.U.T.), to say a pox on both your houses.

Hosted by Todd Seavey and moderated by Michel Evanchik.

Free admission, cash bar. The debates, usually pitting two opponents against each other (in a civil and often humorous fashion), take place on the basement level of Lolita Bar at 266 Broome St. at the corner of Allen St. on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, one block south and three west of the Delancey St. F, J, M, Z subway stop.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Defending Teddy Roosevelt

Max Boot rightly dismisses the insipid Edmund Morris op-ed in today's Times that conjures an imaginary and bogus interview with Theodore Roosevelt based on out-of-context quotes. Boot also points to a valuable article he wrote that affirms T.R. as a reformist conservative, and not the big-government hack that many knee-jerk antistatists nowadays perceive him to be.

Shades of rightness

Ross Douthat has some thoughts on being a right-of-center Republican who disagrees with Rush Limbaugh about lots of things but still has zero interest in jumping ship to the Barack Obama cause. I can attest, it's not all that hard.

Obama's constitutional flaw

The last time a noted figure said the Constitution was profoundly flawed, without making clear what the flaw is, it was Kurt Godel. Somebody should ask Barack Obama what he was talking about in a 2001 interview here. In particular, what "fundamental flaw" is it that (unlike, say the three-fifths doctrine) "continues to this day"? Does he still hold this view, and if so, how would he seek to rectify said flaw?

Mea culpa on Biden

I was definitely wrong about one thing: my previously relatively high opinion of Joe Biden. I welcomed his veep nomination, and considered him the Democrat I would've preferred among those running in the primaries this year. But he can't open his mouth without causing an international embarrassment, and now has shown he's flustered and incompetent in handling tough questions. If Obama wins, it will be despite his running mate, and a Vice President Biden will probably be spending a lot of time attending funerals in obscure parts of the world.

Libertarians vs energy independence

The standard libertarian position on energy independence is that it's undesirable, infeasible, a form of autarky that makes no more sense than wanting "coffee independence." If "energy independence" is literally taken to mean no imports of any kind of energy from anybody, then yes, it is an ill-conceived goal. But what its advocates really want, I think, is energy security, which would mean a diversified set of energy sources and a diminution of revenues to the anti-American dictators that control a large share of the oil supply. I have yet to hear a compelling argument, libertarian or otherwise, against such energy security.

Axis of illness

First Kim Jong Il and now Ahmadinejad are ill or "exhausted." It looks like President Obama's no-preconditions world tour may be lacking for interlocutors for a while. At least, Hugo Chavez seems to be well, if not entirely happy with oil prices right now.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Palin unreserved

Gov. Palin has reportedly gone "off the reservation," rejecting the advice of handlers and setting her own tone. This seems like a good idea, especially since "the reservation," i.e. the campaign, has been so poorly run. A small consolation of what's happened is that the "not-about-the-issues" campaign strategy is being discredited.


I've placed a poll to the right. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to accept votes unless you're signed in to Blogger or something, which will depress turnout considerably. The one negative [actually positive now] vote already cast is my own.

UPDATE: Actually, the thing seems to be completely screwy. I'm not sure if it will correctly count votes at all. But I'll leave it there for now, as a cautionary tale about the limits of democracy.

UPDATE2: It might be working now.

UPDATE 11/5/08: The poll is now closed. Results:

Keep it going. It's a much-needed intellectual compass in these turbulent times: 62%.

Shut it down. It's a pathetic puerile profusion of pointless pixelated procrastination: 0%.

Change it completely. Take the opposite of your positions because you're wrong about everything: 12%.

Whatever, dude: 25%.

Unfortunately, the poll didn't work consistently, such that a significant segment of the electorate may have been disenfranchised. The recorded vote total was 8 million, minus 6 orders of magnitude.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Free Joe Biden!

This oppression must not stand.

Dating on Mars

It's gotten easier, according to

An endorsement

Charles Krauthammer is right.

Scotch preferably

Well, it's not entirely untrue:
"The typical Republican is happy coming home to a 62-inch television, pulling out a fine bottle of cognac or Scotch, putting his feet on the table and enjoying the fruits of his labor...."
That reminds me, I should get some Lagavulin 16 for election night.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Bob Barr too busy

Extremely minor candidates Chuck Baldwin and Ralph Nader are debating tonight.

UPDATE 10:30 PM: I watched some of it on C-SPAN2, including the closing line: "When Chuck Baldwin becomes President of the United States, this New World Order comes crashing down." Inane.

Anti-fusion jump-start

A preview of a political battle of the future: Greenpeace vs. nuclear fusion. Note that the Greenpeace spokespeople show no sign of knowing what they're talking about.

Poll snapshot

Some interesting poll numbers from IBD/TIPP. Bear in mind that "not sure" (chosen by 12.3 percent) is not an option explicitly given when you're in the voting booth.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Palin reader

Recommended reading: The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. I've read it, and Sarah Palin's reading it, too.

Not that that's likely to stop critics from accusing her of not being a reader. After all, she gives press conferences, but the critics still complain she doesn't give press conferences.

Pennsylvania tossup?

An interesting behind-the-scenes glimpse of the Obama campaign's polling.

International crisis likelihood

For the record, I agree with Joe Biden.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Polling limits

For those who've been looking at polls lately, here's a cogent primer on how margins of error work.

Libertarian purism watch

There's a debate going on about whether the financial crisis means "The End of Libertarianism," as Jacob Weisberg argued. I agree with many of the criticisms directed against Weisberg (see here and here). The crisis was caused in large part--nobody honestly knows how large--by government actions that libertarians thoroughly disapproved of from the get-go.

However, I must admit I am underwhelmed by this response piece from Jeffrey Miron, which argues that zero percent of the problem stemmed from free markets, and that indeed America has had nothing resembling free markets since (cue villainous music) "a brief moment before Alexander Hamilton engineered the first U.S. bailout of financial markets." What about the unregulated derivatives that spread bad mortgage liabilities far and wide? Apparently, to Miron, that doesn't count as a free market because it didn't exist in a purely free-market economy (the kind, I guess, where you can wall in your neighbor and starve him to death).

It seems to me that a counterargument such as Miron's plays into the stereotype of libertarians as dogmatists whose ideas have no applicability to the real world. Sadly, there's some truth to that stereotype.

UPDATE 4PM: By the way, I wonder exactly what financial markets prior to Hamilton's intervention Miron would characterize as free. Bank of the United States scrip? U.S. treasuries?

Obamacon hackery

In 1983, there was a minor uproar because Ken Adelman, a 36-year-old whose background included much Shakespeare, was appointed to be director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. He performed well in the job, showing that his critics' narrow credentialism was wrong. And now this same Ken Adelman, endorsing Obama, has the nerve to apply the same kind of credentialism against Sarah Palin, and even to say "I would not have hired her for even a mid-level post in the arms-control agency." Feh. Retract your own appointment, Mr. Cakewalk.

Narrow tax base

Both McCain and Obama's tax plans would increase the percentage of people who pay zero income tax. What incentive will these people have not to want to expand the government?

We need to replace the income tax with a system that's broad-based and visible.

Palin's press availability

Readers who rely on Slate or the Atlantic for information might be surprised by this.

Radio note

I'm slated to be on Gabe Wisdom's show tonight at 7PM ET discussing the investment classics.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Independent desires

There's an astute article in the Wall Street Journal by Manhattan Institute fellow John P. Avlon on "What Independent Voters Want." Excerpt:
For Americans who've grown accustomed to hundreds of cable channels and unlimited choices on the Internet, politics is the last place people are expected to be satisfied with a choice between Brand A and Brand B.

Professional partisans in Washington try to ignore this shift, perpetuating the myth that the independent movement is a chaotic grab bag. In fact, the movement has a coherent set of underlying beliefs: Independents tend to be fiscally conservative, socially progressive and strong on national security. They believe in putting patriotism over partisanship and the national interest over special interests.

It should be obvious soon, if it's not already, what folly it is for Republicans to pursue a base strategy rather than reach out to the center. I heard Larry Kudlow (whom I tend to like) on the radio this weekend saying the minimum requirements for a Republican candidate are: pro-life; supply-side tax cuts; and strong on national defense. I'll go along with strong-on-defense as non-negotiable, but pushing to outlaw abortion nationwide, as opposed to emphasizing persuasion and federalism, is a recipe for electoral defeat. And mindless tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts, regardless of the fiscal situation and without an interest in broader tax reform, is the same.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Space benefits

Alan Boyle has an interesting interview with Ben Bova, who makes this valid point:
People can watch the Olympics live from Beijing, and wonder what has space ever done for us? They don’t realize they’re seeing signals relayed by satellites. I live in Florida. We watch the weather satellites very, very closely, especially this time of year, when the hurricanes are brewing. Space technology has helped to produce the computer revolution, helped to change our lives. If you’re using a GPS system, if you’re unfortunate enough to have to be in an intensive-care unit in a hospital, if you’d like to go scuba diving, you are using technology derived from space.
There's much more, including on space solar power.

Powell and beyond

It turns out that one of the reasons Colin Powell opted to endorse Obama was because of a noxious remark by some Republican congresswoman from Minnesota (whom hardly anyone has ever heard of) that the press should be "investigating" lawmakers to see if they're "pro-American." This makes me wonder, though, how much weight Powell gave to (a) comments from Obama supporters, such as Rep. John Lewis, and (b) whether a McCain defeat really would promote the center-right wing of the Republican Party, which I earlier argued it would not. More likely we'll just see a lot of internecine fighting, which has indeed already begun.

On the other hand, if Obama wins (as his Intrade contract currently gives an 83 percent probability) it will be an interesting time to be a center-right writer, as there will be plenty of material to cover during the new left-liberal ascendancy (including about whether the right is mounting productive responses). So, as someone whose politics were shaped in no small part by reaction against the Jimmy Carter era, I at least have a certain sense of professional anticipation.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Who's Gordon Brown?

If CNN has "the best political team on television," you have to wonder why it has one of the least informed audiences.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Powell's choice

Not that Colin Powell's been known to read this blog, but I would say to him that if he wants the tradition of center-right Republicanism to remain alive, and have a chance at thriving, then a speculated-upon endorsement of Obama would not be the way to do it. If McCain loses, and loses big, which becomes yet more plausible if Powell backs the Democrat, then the never-compromise, never-rethink-anything element of the Republican Party will become more dominant within the party than it ever has been. That also means the party will have a decent chance of never winning a presidential election again, and going the way of the Federalists.

If, by the way, Powell surprises the pundits by endorsing McCain, then we have a whole different story. Whether McCain wins or not--and his chances of winning would significantly increase--being backed by Powell would be a message that the Republican Party genuinely is, as it used to be called, a "big tent" with a conservative core but room for a healthy range of political views. This would also help prevent a stultifying dominance by a Democratic Party in which the Clintons are now suspiciously centrist. Just a thought.

UPDATE 10/19, 10:40 AM: Sadly, I couldn't persuade him.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

How far could it go?

The potential impact of Joe the Plumber, that is.

UPDATE 10/17, 11:45 AM: Pretty far, I think, if the left keeps attacking him.

The youth vote today

Here's something for the dumb-as-bricks* file:

"I'll probably vote for Obama,'' said a 20-year-old student, Baron Remeisen, from Fort Lauderdale, who will cast his first vote in a presidential election. "I was thinking of voting for Bob Barr (the Libertarian candidate) but because of pressure from my family, and Bob Barr probably won't win, I'll vote for Obama.

"I really don't have a good reason not to vote for McCain,'' he said. "I guess the Democrats are more popular right now.''
* - see here.

"The only involvement I've had with ACORN..."

It seems to me that, with all the attention on ACORN, for Obama to misstate his relationship with them is pretty bad.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Debate ending

Almost over. McCain closes with an eloquent appeal to choice and competition in education.

Overall, I'd say McCain had the edge in this debate, not in articulateness but in having something interesting to say. In a few minutes, it'll be hard to remember anything Obama said.

Sen. Government

McCain just referred to his opponent as "Senator Government," before correcting to "Senator Obama." But was he really wrong?

Debate note

A little more than halfway through. Obama, I think, is successfully pursuing his strategy of being so boring that most people can't imagine he would do any real harm as president. McCain got in a few zingers but mostly is his usual not-very-articulate self. But you never know what people will like or dislike.

A bargain at 18? (redux)

I took down an earlier post that linked to the Intrade contract for McCain to win (it was trading around 18, which I thought might be an opportunity for value investors), because the link caused some browser problems when clicked. If interested, you can find the contract via the Intrade home page.

Best line of the year

A woman in a focus group: "Well, I don't know much about this terrorist group Barack used to be in with that Weather guy but I'm sick of paying for health insurance at work and that's why I'm supporting Barack."

Perhaps not the least thing she got wrong is, McCain is the one who wants to separate health insurance from employment.

Space art

There are a lot of nice pictures in this book: NASA/ART: 50 Years of Exploration. A related gallery is here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Thanks, Jesse

This should help McCain win Florida:

PREPARE for a new America: That's the message that the Rev. Jesse Jackson conveyed to participants in the first World Policy Forum, held at this French lakeside resort last week.

He promised "fundamental changes" in US foreign policy - saying America must "heal wounds" it has caused to other nations, revive its alliances and apologize for the "arrogance of the Bush administration."

The most important change would occur in the Middle East, where "decades of putting Israel's interests first" would end.

Jackson believes that, although "Zionists who have controlled American policy for decades" remain strong, they'll lose a great deal of their clout when Barack Obama enters the White House.