Saturday, May 30, 2009

Borderlands, Nepal

Another memorable Nepal moment: crossing this old bridge, near the Tibetan border.

The villagers do it all the time, though.

We stayed nearby at Borderlands, an excellent resort and rafting place.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Royal Bengal tiger, Chitwan

Since we've been on the subject of cats, the above is one of the high points of our recent trip to Nepal: seeing a Royal Bengal tiger in Chitwan National Park. We were very lucky to get such a close-up sighting (the pics were taken from atop elephants); tigers are both endangered and elusive.

UPDATE: I should add that we stayed at Tiger Tops Tented Camp and then briefly at Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge. I recommend them highly, and the Tiger Mountain company in general.

Kitty litter robot

I'll be more impressed with predictions that AI is about to replace humanity after someone invents an automated cat litter box that's less messy and malfunctional than our LitterMaid Elite.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Frum v Levin

An absorbing exchange between David Frum and Mark R. Levin. Frum's been arguing for quite some time that conservatism needs to change, having become (especially in its talk-radio form) prone to insular, small-minded obnoxiousness. Levin is now helping make that case.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Logic terminator

h+ magazine: "Is a Terminator scenario possible?" (Found via Instapundit.) Interesting, but I'm left nonplussed by this statement from J. Storrs Hall of the Foresight Institute:

...if all you mean is are the robots going to take over, it's more or less inevitable, and not a moment too soon. Humans are really too stupid, venal, gullible, mendacious, and self-deceiving to be put in charge of important things like the Earth (much less the rest of the Solar System). I strongly support putting AIs in charge because I'm dead certain we can build ones that are not only smarter than human but more moral as well.

Leaving aside the one-dimensional view of humanity and the nastiness of wanting our species to be enslaved, isn't there a problem of logic here? If humans are so venal, gullible, mendacious, and self-deceiving, how can we trust ourselves not to build robots that are just as bad (or worse)?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Radio note

I'm slated to be in the Gabe Wisdom Show on Tuesday, May 26 at 7 pm ET to talk about "Character Counts," my piece on 1930s stock market swindler Richard Whitney.

UPDATE: The audio is currently available here.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Japan's lost decades

My latest piece for Research magazine, "Japan's Stock Market History Offers U.S. a Cautionary Tale," is now available online. Excerpt:

On December 29, 1989, Japan’s Nikkei 225 stock index closed out a triumphant decade at 38,916. The Nikkei had begun the 1980s below 7,000 and had pushed above 10,000 in August 1984. It had nearly quadrupled in just five years.

But the Nikkei slid back below 30,000 barely seven months later, and would spend most of the 1990s below the 20,000 line. In the first few years of the 21st century, it often traded below 10,000. A rebound from 2003 to 2007 brought hopes that Japan had moved beyond its “lost decade.” But by late 2008, the Nikkei was back in the four-digit range, and in March 2009 it hit its lowest point since October 1982.

The Nikkei’s rise and fall exemplifies the building and bursting of an asset bubble. It also indicates that cleaning up the mess in the aftermath of a busted “bubble economy” can be a lengthy process indeed. The story takes on particular resonance amid the current U.S. economic crisis, with Japan’s 1990s economic policymaking often cited, albeit with varying interpretations, as a case study in what not to do.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Smarter conservatism needed

This statement from Brink Lindsey is not only true but obvious, and that it sounds controversial only underscores the calamitous anti-intellectualism of the current-day right: "In order to make gains for the cause of limited government, we need to convince smart people that we are right."

Meanwhile, the right's supposed leader, Rush Limbaugh, has just weighed in on biology: "We now officially came from a monkey, 47 million years ago. Well, that’s how it’s being presented here. It’s settled science. You know, this is all BS, as far as I’m concerned. Cross species evolution, I don’t think anybody’s ever proven that." Start here, Rush.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Rumsfeld reading

Recommended reading: "And He Shall Be Judged," by Robert Draper in GQ, a notably negative piece about Donald Rumsfeld. Also, "Rumsfeld: The Reckoning," by David Frum at New Majority. And note the curiously narrow nature of Rumsfeld's rebuttal to the GQ piece.

UPDATE 5-20: And note how The Corner and the Weekly Standard blog have found nothing much to say about the article, other than to rehearse Rumsfeld's rebuttal.

Cap and reward

A Financial Times editorial gives a good overview of just what's wrong with the cap-and-trade-and-reward-the-politically-connected carbon bill now oozing its way through Congress.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Non-Paul libertarianism

One of the unfortunate aspects of our current political scene is that many people now associate libertarianism with Ron Paul, whose small-government ideas come larded with conspiracism and know-nothingism. So I can sympathize with Lindsey Graham's saying Paul is not the leader of the Republican Party, though not with Graham's broader I'm-not-a-libertarian rant.

There are alternatives, however, including the man who just said this: "I've been accused of being a libertarian and I wear it as a badge of honor."

UPDATE 5-19: And now I've learned something new about Mark Sanford: he's a supporter of "intelligent design," who offered incredibly fatuous comments about evolution ("The idea of there being a, you know, a little mud hole and two mosquitoes get together and the next thing you know you have a human being") in a TV interview.

Destiny Disrupted review

I've now finished Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World through Islamic Eyes, about which I made some provisional comments earlier. I recommend it highly. It's a bit sobering to realize how little so many of us in the West know about the history of Islam. (For instance, I've been surprised to find that Islam's age is a matter of confusion even to some generally well-informed people, with assumptions that it's older than Christianity, or alternatively that it's only 600 or so years old.) I certainly learned a great deal.

Among other things, the book gives a strong sense of just how multifarious Islam is, with multiple and often mutually antagonistic strands that are now playing out, with consequences for the entire world. There's no trace in the book of anything like an apologia for the Taliban, Al Qaeda or Ayatollah Khomeini. But one does get a much better sense of where they and their premodern antecedents came from, which is something we in the West need to know more about.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Cirque wheeling

No, it's not a metaphor for conservatives trying to regain political momentum. It's just that we saw Kooza last night and enjoyed it greatly, particularly the Wheel of Death:

Note: The rendition we saw at Randall's Island was slightly different from this.
Note 2: If you want to do this for a living, they're taking applications.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Carbon contest

Jeff Flake, one of the most libertarian-leaning Republicans in Congress, is pressing a good idea: "Republican lawmakers back carbon tax (yes, that's right)." It would involve cutting payroll taxes simultaneously.

Before long, we may be seeing a political confrontation between legislators who want to reduce carbon emissions as efficiently as possible with a carbon tax, and those who want to reward their political contributors as efficiently as possible with a cap-and-trade system.

Just something to think about

"Could all particles be mini-black holes?"

Some 70s non-nostalgia

Ed Rollins provides some needed historical perspective amid a crescendo of death-of-the-GOP reports:

In very short order after my arrival in Washington in January 1973, the Nixon administration came apart at the seams with a daily soap opera of criminal charges, congressional hearings, federal indictments and the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew for bribe taking, followed 10 months later by the resignation of Richard Nixon who was about to be impeached by the Congress....

In the aftermath of all this, Republicans got slaughtered in the midterm elections of 1974, losing 48 House seats and five Senate seats. Republicans had only 144 House members in the 94th Congress.

Two years later, Jimmy Carter was elected president and I was convinced Republicans would be in the wilderness the rest of my political life. After the first 100 days, President Carter's approval rating was 69 percent -- higher than President Obama's.

And then things changed. I made some similar points in my has-the-right-hit-bottom debate with Ryan Sager last February (though admittedly, I'd now have to say the right had not quite hit bottom as of then).

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Libertarian kettle

Over at Hit & Run, Michael C. Moynihan makes fun of The Corner for its pile-on against Jerry Taylor when he criticized Limbaugh and Hannity. But (as I alluded to in the comments) does Reason really have a leg to stand on when criticizing ideological conformity?

Strictly ballroom

Some incisive thoughts on the balance a couple must strike when ballroom dancing.

The man must ... learn to lead. He must learn his steps, think about what steps he is going to do next when dancing, and learn how to communicate his intent through movements in his upper body. The woman, on the other hand, has to learn to follow. She must learn her steps, and also learn not to lead and not to anticipate. Instead she must try to enter into a Zen-like “mind of no mind” so that she can respond instantly to changes in her partner’s shoulder, arm, and hand movements. (The arms of trained ballroom dancers form a “frame,” and maintaining muscular firmness in this frame allows the woman to sense which direction the man is moving. This won’t work if either partner lets their arms go limp: the dreaded “spaghetti arms.”)

It can be done, but it's about as hard as this makes it sound.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Carmaking concepts

"You don't need banks and bondholders to make cars." It's a statement that's worth remembering any time someone talks about the Obama administration's supposed intellectual sophistication. Because the mercifully anonymous administration official revealed not only a willful ignorance about economics but also a philosophical naivete about the reality of social constructs.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Destiny Disrupted recommended

Recently I mentioned that I'm reading Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World through Islamic Eyes, by Tamim Ansary. Things have been busy and any extended comments on my part will have to wait (especially until I finish reading the book), but here's a San Francisco Chronicle review that points out Ansary's nice blend of erudite substance and conversational tone.

UPDATE 5-18: More here.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Reversing Hamilton

When Alexander Hamilton was Treasury Secretary, he made some crucial decisions about the nation's debt. One, and above all, he decided the federal government should repay it (including debt taken on by the states). Two, he rejected calls for the government to favor certain creditors (the original bondholders) over others (those to whom the first holders had sold the bonds). These decisions set crucial precedents that the U.S. government will not rewrite contracts and renege on commitments in order to reward political constituencies. Thus was laid a crucial foundation for American capitalism.

Fast forward to Obama's Chrysler haircut and watch that foundation start to disintegrate.

Democrats' NJ strategy

A bit of news for those Republicans who think that being hard-right is the path to electoral success: New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine wants to help you succeed. (Found via Jennifer Rubin.)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Misused Chrysler

Business news site Clusterstock's John Carney, my onetime debate opponent, is closely following the Obama administration's dubious Chrysler dealings. Also, an annoyed hedge-fund manager speaks out.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Animal rights questions

Though I'm hoping to attend this Wednesday's Debate at Lolita, "Should Humans Radically Decrease Their Exploitation of Animals?," a tight schedule this week makes that uncertain. Also uncertain is which way I'd vote. In any event, I hope the debaters (particularly the yes debater) will address the question of what (if anything) would justify some exploitation of animals. In speaking to vegan friends, I find they often resort to arguments that some or another use of animals carries no significant benefits (that animal research is unreliable for developing cures for humans; that meat is unnecessary or undesirable as part of a human diet). That makes me wonder: Are they implicitly conceding that if, say, some experiments on rats would save numerous children with leukemia, the experiments would be justified? Or do they think (as I suspect many vegans do) that the experiments would be reprehensible regardless of results? And is the opposition to eating meat dependent on the supposition that meat has no health benefits (and should the fact that people enjoy eating meat carry any weight in the calculus)?

Jack Kemp (1935-2009)

Jack Kemp was a conservative who knew how to reach out to people who'd never voted for, or perhaps even met, a conservative. Would that we had a few more conservative politicians with that ability today. Robert A. George has some thoughtful comments about the late quarterback-Congressman-HUD secretary-VP candidate.

UPDATE: I also recommend Rick Brookhiser's take.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Nepal trouble

You don't hear much about it in our media, but there's political turmoil in Nepal.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Silber on silver on radio

Radio note: I'm slated to be on the Gabe Wisdom Show on Monday, May 4 at 7pm ET to talk about "The Silver Crisis," when the Hunt brothers tried to dominate the world silver market in 1980.

UPDATE: Audio is currently available here.

UPDATE 5-18: It's now also available, along with other Research magazine podcasts, here.

Misrepresented stardust

I occasionally Google "Fred Hoyle" because I'm interested in the frequent, and often stupid, invocations of the late scientist (about whose career I wrote here). Often, the dumber ones come from creationists, but here's one that purports to show there once was a scientific consensus that the Earth faces a new Ice Age (and by extension, that scientists' warnings about global warming today should not be taken seriously). Bruce Walker in The American Thinker:

Sir Fred Hoyle is one of the leading cosmologists in human history. No scientist today can claim greater intellectual stature than Hoyle, particularly about our planet in the universe. In 1981, Hoyle published a book, Ice: How the New Ice Age will Come and How We Can Prevent It, in which this brilliant giant of natural sciences warned of the next ice age. The consequences, Hoyle warned, would be disastrous.
The trouble is, there was never nearly as much scientific consensus about global cooling as there now is about global warming. And Hoyle, moreover, was known for his controversial and unorthodox ideas, on a wide range of subjects including climate, so to present him as an an exemplar of the scientific mainstream reflects ignorance, at best, on the writer's part. As does the vague and obscurantist description of Hoyle as a leading expert on "our planet in the universe," when his prestigious work was focused on the universe overall, not on our planet.