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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Out-of-touch unions

by Gil Weinreich

Time was when it was understood that a government job offered generous benefits and job safety, even if wages were lower. The reality is that the government in most instances pays its workers far more than comparable jobs in the private sector, in addition to superior benefits. Government workers have become a politically protected constituency whose interests are at odds with taxpayers -- in the (high) pay and benefits they receive and the (low) level of service they provide.
While private sector employees are facing steep layoffs, politically protected workers resist even moderate concessions, as in New York where Governor Paterson plans to lay off 8,900 state workers because the stubborn union wouldn't accept delaying a 3 percent pay increase.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Guided tour of Pashupati Nath

When visiting Nepal's Pashupati Nath temple area, as a non-Hindu, you may not go into the temple but can see its exterior and ancillary buildings, as well as the cremations on the Bagmati river bank. For a knowledgeable and amiable guide to the area, I recommend Himiiaya (center, in white shirt; I will link to his email here if possible; UPDATE: email him or call him in Nepal at 9841498917).



And here is some of what you will see:

Cremations, performed by sons of the deceased with help from professionals.




Sadhus, Hindu holy men.




A mirror-like effect of multiple arches.


I will post more photos and recommendations about Nepal in due course.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sikh temple, Delhi

At the Sikh temple in Delhi with appropriate headgear. The spokesman there was very helpful and informative, even if our conversation got off to a slightly disjointed start; as I heard it:

Sikh: Do you smoke cigarettes? [He actually said: Do you know about Sikhism?]
Me: No, I don't smoke.
Sikh: What would you like to know about cigarettes?
Me: What would I like to know about cigarettes?
My wife: Sikhism.
Sikh: Yes, we talk about Sikhism now, not cigarettes.
Me: Oh, Sikhism. I don't know much about it.

Tibetan prayer wheels

At the Norbulingka Institute, an outstanding organization dedicated to preserving Tibetan culture, located a 1.5-km walk from our excellent hotel, Club Mahindra Kangra Valley.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Hindu temple, northern India


A visit to the Bhagsunath Temple in Mcleodganj, Dharamshala.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Shameless

by Gil Weinreich

Time and again Washington's Congressrogues put their crass personal intersts ahead of the public weal. Exhibit A from the new $410 billion federal spending package is the pork destined for Massachusetts, where more than one out of five dollars is going to preserve the Kennedy family legacy. Will a new Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the Senate cure what ails the Bay State? Is it appropriate to honor a still living politician whose legacy is very much debatable? Are there not conflicts of interest in lavishly funding a monument to a still powerful policitian? Given all the dishonor associated with the Kennedy name -- the disgraces are too numerous to name, but Chappaquiddick would top any list -- it does make political sense that rewriting the Kennedy legacy would be a legislative priority for Massachusetts' ailing senator and his allies.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Donutonomics

I happened to be eating a donut when I went to see to a left-liberal-vegetarian-health-fanatic friend recently, and this gave me an opportunity to present the one negative metaphor about Obama's economic program that my friend just might find at all persuasive: It's like this donut -- it gives a brief burst of energy, but the longer-term effects include calcification of the arteries.

For better explanations of the deepening economic sclerosis, I recommend these (related) pieces by Will Wilkinson and Jim Manzi.

Only the little people pay taxes

By Gil Weinreich

President Obama's pick for U.S. Trade Representative, Ron Kirk, will need to amend his tax returns to pay some $10,000 in additional tax on income he did not report. This comes on the heels of other Obama nominees Tim Geithner (Secretary of the Treasury); Tom Daschle (who withdrew his candidacy for HHS Secretary); and Nancy Killefer (who was to be our chief performance officer). It seems reasonable to estimate that this sample is indicative of a wider phenomenon among the Washington power elite. (Remember Eleanor Holmes Norton, who hadn't paid taxes for 11 years before becoming the District of Columbia's representative in Congress?) And yet this same set of wretched politicians blithely hike taxes on the little people. We need a transparent and public mechanism to ensure compliance with tax laws among all elected officials. If they had more skin in the game, they might show more restraint in their revenue decisions.

New Jersey 2009

Meanwhile in New Jersey.

Connecticut 2010

Chris Dodd, Connecticut senator and expert on obtaining favorable mortgage terms, is up for reelection in 2010 and his once safe-seeming seat is vulnerable, with one possible challenger being Larry Kudlow. Could it be that the right has already hit bottom?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Dumb Valkyrie pan

As I've noted before, Valkyrie has inspired some lamebrained reviews. Like one from New Zealand that says:

Their first attempt failed when the bomb did not go off. So, enter Cruise, playing Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, to do the job.

Quite why an American pretty boy, Botox-fresh in his facial lines, had to play this crucial role is not explained. Cruise looks like a boy doing a grizzly veteran’s job.

But Cruise really looks like Stauffenberg. And as for not being "grizzly" enough, Stauffenberg was 36, whereas Cruise is 46.

Most everything else in the review is stupid as well.

Betwixt and between

I'm a big fan of moderation and limited-but-competent government. But there isn't going to be much of a center-right coalition if the center talks about the right like this (from David Brooks):
Moderates now find themselves betwixt and between. On the left, there is a president who appears to be, as Crook says, “a conviction politician, a bold progressive liberal.” On the right, there are the Rush Limbaugh brigades. The only thing more scary than Obama’s experiment is the thought that it might fail and the political power will swing over to a Republican Party that is currently unfit to wield it.
Granted, the way the right talks about the center is no better. But if center and right can't find some common ground in the current situation, they never will. And America will suffer for it.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Silver turmoil

Here's my latest from Research magazine, about "The Silver Crisis" of 1980. Excerpt:

This is a story of speculative excess and backlash. It involves commodity prices surging and then plunging, risks spreading through interconnected markets, and financial institutions taking on unexpected exposures and scrambling into mergers to survive.

So it is that the silver crisis of 1980 echoes into the troubled financial present with historical parallels and precedents. The crisis stemmed from an effort by the billionaire Hunt brothers of Texas and collaborators to dominate the world silver market. This effort encountered resistance from public and private players alike, and when it failed it largely wiped out some Texas-sized fortunes.

Moreover, the crisis put at risk a major investment firm, Bache, impelling its acquisition by Prudential and setting off a wave of consolidations in the financial sector. The era of the “financial supermarket,” to which Citigroup’s recent travails arguably signal an approaching end, took shape in significant part as a consequence of silver’s wild swings nearly three decades ago.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Cylon updates

Well, I may have been wrong in my view that Boomer will turn out to be the heroine of Battlestar Galactica; she sure looked pretty villainous last episode. But that won't stop me from speculating that the piano player is the hitherto unseen Cylon named Daniel.

UPDATE: Something along these lines is more obvious than I'd realized. I failed to notice that the piano player isn't there when Tigh and the others show up in response to the song.

Relevant right history

I've mentioned these books before, and I note them again because they have a great deal of relevance to the present day: The Conservative Century: From Reaction to Revolution by Gregory Schneider and Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan by Kim Phillips-Fein. Schneider's book shows how conservatism has a profound ability to reinvent itself without losing continuity with its past (a point I tried to make at the recent future-of-the-right debate) and Phillips-Fein shows how conservative intellectualism grew stronger in the very hostile environment of the Depression.