Monday, March 31, 2008

Self Defense and Innocents in War

The passage below struck me as being quite relevant to understanding the difficult, but necessary, approach that one has to adopt with regards to innocents in war – necessary that is, if one is to successfully defend oneself.
In the war against Japan, American naval commanders faced what might be called the prison ship problem. Submarines had little way of knowing which Japanese transport ships were carrying prisoners of war. In any case, “the U.S. Navy adopted a ruthless view,” Max Hastings writes. “Destruction of the enemy must take priority over any attempt to safeguard P.O.W. lives.” As a result, some 10,000 Allied prisoners were doomed (including more than twice as many Americans as have perished in Iraq). And if the Americans didn’t kill the P.O.W.’s, then the Japanese did.
I of course reject the modern idea of including adult civilians in enemy countries who tacitly support, or simply evade the need to evaluate, their governments as part of the "innocent", but even for the legitimately innocent such as children, hostages or POW's, as terrible as it is, one’s self-defense cannot be tempered by considering the harm they may come to. The moral blame for their fate falls squarely on the aggressor who makes the war necessary, and indeed the potential consequences to such innocents is a fundamental reason why any citizen must take the responsibility of opposing and denouncing the evil elements within his society -- before they can rise to power and wreak their havoc. If citizens fail to do this, they can not blame their government’s foreign victims for defending themselves with every possible means, including killing and even targeting civilians.

The rest of the book review presents additional interesting facts, but for a deeper moral analysis of our war with Japan, I once again urge everyone to read Dr. John Lewis' masterful essay. And for more on the issue of innocents in war, see Onkar's editorial.

Scary Stuff

Diana reports on the fundamentalist encroachment into the US military, and one man's attempt to forestall it. Says he quite insightfully:
"I am at war with those people who would create a fundamentalist Christian theocracy in the technologically most lethal organization ever created by our species, which is the United States armed forces,"

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Gold Certificates

Rob just sent me a link to this pretty cool "$10 bill", noting that "it's hard to believe it existed less than 100 years ago":

In reading up on the man pictured on the bill, I came across this:
Michael Hillegas was first called Treasurer of the United States on May 14, 1777. Hillegas continued as sole Treasurer of the United States and held that position throughout the remainder of the conflict of the American Revolution, using much of his own fortune to support the cause. (emphasis added)
I never can understand how people think, that if the populace agrees with and understands the nature and requirements of a free society, they won't contribute to it. This is just another example demolishing that notion.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


If you want to visually concretize the impact of Islamic Totalitarianism, watch this film. (And if you desire to stand with those who fight this monstrous attack on secular, Western values, pass the link on.) Note however, that I don't think the film makes any fundamental intellectual arguments, nor do I agree with many that it does make, for instance I don't think that the number of people from Muslim background who immigrate to Holland or Europe makes a whit of difference, they're volitional just as all men are, and what counts is what ideas they hold. Get rid of the West's ridiculous and perverse infatuation with multiculturalism -- and instead firmly and uncompromisingly advocate for reason and secular life, and they can be convinced just as people of any religion or cultural background can be.

Also, I think the quote at 8:02 "Fight them until there is no dissension" crystallizes the effect of following faith rather than reason. Without reason, the only way to resolve differences is through force, as the whole history of theocratic regimes (Christian, Muslim or otherwise) has proven.

HT Noodlefood

Credit Bubble - Summary

For those interested, T2 partners have put together a good powerpoint summary of the data underlying the current "mortgage crisis".

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

McCain on the Mortgage Bailout

Though I could never vote for a candidate who attacks freedom of speech the way McCain does, I'm glad he took this position:
“it is not the duty of government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly, whether they are big banks or small borrowers.”
“Some Americans bought homes they couldn’t afford, betting that rising prices would make it easier to refinance later at more affordable rates,” he said. Later he added that “any assistance must be temporary and must not reward people who were irresponsible at the expense of those who weren’t.”
As compared to Clinton who counters:
But his remarks drew a quick, pointed rebuke from Mrs. Clinton, who criticized Mr. McCain’s hands-off, market-oriented approach, saying it would lead to “a downward spiral that would cause tremendous economic pain and loss” for Americans.

“It sounds remarkably like Herbert Hoover, and I don’t think that’s good economic policy,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters in Greensburg, Pa. “The government has a number of tools at its disposal. I think that inaction has contributed to the problems we face today, and I believe further inaction would exacerbate those problems.”

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Last Lecture

Thanks to Gus Van Horn for posting this inspirational lecture. I have no knowledge of Randy Pausch other than the video, but from the passion he exudes in it, I have no doubt that he was a great teacher and a real lover of life.

I must say too that in addition to the message itself, I really enjoyed his presentation; including its logical structure, his deliberate care to concretize each point, and his understated wit (e.g. responding to someone asking him for the "secret" to his success, he deadpans: "Call me at the office any Friday night after 10:00 and I'll explain it to you").

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Fed vs the Market

In reading today's Mauldin letter (a follow-up on the Bear Stearns bailout/takeunder), I came across this typical and telling paragraph:
Now, if you were short going into Monday morning, you were not happy with the Fed, as they took money out of your pocket. But I can guarantee you that a forced sale that happened over 48 hours would not have come about unless the authorities were alarmed beyond what one can imagine. (emphasis added)
Ultimately, if the the market (i.e. the overall, and thereby best-informed, supply and demand of market participants) doesn't set prices, the only alternative is that it is someone's, or a group's, feelings that do. So if the Fed feels "fat, dumb and happy" they pour liquidity into the system at a breakneck pace; if they become "concerned" about inflation, they reduce liquidity; if they're "alarmed" they bailout companies who are making bets at 20:1 or 30:1 leverage. To the extent that these "policies" (if you can dignify emotional outbursts with such a term) deviate from market prices, it's all driven by feelings. And the (valid) lesson market participants take from this is that considered, rational judgment doesn't pay -- so instead of trying to forecast actual supply and demand, they're reduced to trying to guess (and then perhaps influence via lobbying) the emotional reactions of our economic czars.

This in itself is a tremendous tragedy and injustice, but it is compounded by the fact that these failures will be deemed "market failures" -- allegedly justifying yet more emotional input from our economic geniuses in Washington.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Independence and Integrity

Gus Van Horn highlights a set of very valuable and insightful observations from Caroline Glick. Don't miss them.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Bowden on Gun Control

I think Thomas Bowden has done an admirable job of succinctly laying out ARI's stance on gun control, particularly in highlighting the contextual nature of the position. In a few short paragraphs he effectively addresses the idea that in a civilized society men delegate the use of force to the government, yet they still must be able to defend themselves in those rare times of emergency when the government cannot respond in time -- and then he goes on to show how these facts must shape the law; both in facilitating self-defense and in setting its reasonable boundaries (e.g. prohibiting personal nuclear weapons).

Of course establishing where to draw the exact line is difficult, as it is in all such cases, and would require much legal and technical knowledge, but I think the guiding principles he proposes are sound. (Incidentally I think that similar issues would crop up throughout modern life, so that even in a perfect world, a vibrant but rational legal establishment would be a sine qua non of a properly functioning society.)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Spitzer and the Media

The WSJ published an editorial which I think rightly faults the media for failing to objectively evaluate Spitzer's actions and thereby enabled his thuggish stints as prosecutor and governor. Unfortunately the article implicitly grants the idea that justice is that which serves the "little guy" or the "underdog", but leaving that perversion aside, some of the observations they make are worthwhile (and scary if the examples are indicative of the state of the media in general):
Journalism has many functions, but perhaps the most important is keeping tabs on public officials. That duty is even more vital concerning government positions that are subject to few other checks and balances. Chief among those is the prosecutor, who can use his awesome state power to punish, even destroy, private citizens.
Time magazine bestowed upon Mr. Spitzer the title "Crusader of the Year," and likened him to Moses. Fortune dubbed him the "Enforcer." A fawning article in the Atlantic Monthly in 2004 explained he was "a rock star," and "the Democratic Party's future." In an uncritical 2006 biography, then Washington Post reporter Brooke Masters compared the attorney general to no less than Teddy Roosevelt. (personally, I dont' think that's a compliment - ed.)
What makes this more embarrassing for any self-respecting journalist is that Mr. Spitzer knew all this, and played the media like a Stradivarius. He knew what sort of storyline they'd be sympathetic to, and spun it. He knew, too, that as financial journalism has become more competitive, breaking news can make a career. He doled out scoops to favored reporters, who repaid him with allegiance. News organizations that dared to criticize him were cut off. After a time, few criticized anymore.

Instead, reporters felt obligated to run with whatever he handed them. Consider the report in the wake of a 2005 op-ed in this newspaper by John Whitehead. A respected Wall Street figure, Mr. Whitehead dared to criticize Mr. Spitzer for his unscrupulously zealous pursuit of Mr. Greenberg. Mr. Spitzer later threatened Mr. Whitehead, telling him in a phone call that "You will pay the price. This is only the beginning and you will pay dearly for what you have done." Some months later, after more Spitzer excesses, Mr. Whitehead had the temerity to write another op-ed describing what Mr. Spitzer had said.

Within a few days, the press was reporting (unsourced, of course) that Mr. Whitehead had defended Mr. Greenberg a few weeks after a Greenberg charity had given $25 million to the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation -- a group Mr. Whitehead chaired. So Mr. Whitehead's on-the-record views were met with an unsourced smear implying bad faith. The press ran with it anyway.

In 2005, Mr. Spitzer went on national television to suggest that Mr. Greenberg had engaged in criminal activity. It was front-page news. About six months later, on the eve of a Thanksgiving weekend, Mr. Spitzer quietly disclosed that he lacked the evidence to press criminal charges. That news was buried inside the papers.

What makes this history all the more unfortunate is that the warning signs about Mr. Spitzer were many and manifest. In the final days of Mr. Spitzer's run for attorney general in 1998, the news broke that he'd twisted campaign-finance laws so that his father could fund his unsuccessful 1994 run. Mr. Spitzer won anyway, and the story was largely forgotten.

New York Stock Exchange caretaker CEO John Reed suggested Mr. Spitzer hadn't told the truth when he said that it was Mr. Reed who wanted him to investigate Mr. Grasso's pay. The press never investigated.

Mr. Spitzer's main offense as a prosecutor is that he violated the basic rules of fairness and due process: Innocent until proven guilty; the right to your day in court. The Spitzer method was to target public companies and officials, leak allegations and out-of-context emails to a compliant press, watch the stock price fall, threaten a corporate indictment (a death sentence), and then move in for a quick settlement kill. There was rarely a trial, fair or unfair, involved.

On the substance, his court record speaks for itself. Most of Mr. Spitzer's high-profile charges have gone up in smoke. A New York state judge threw out his case against tax firm H&R Block. He lost his prosecution against Bank of America broker Ted Sihpol (whom Mr. Spitzer threatened to arrest in front of his child and pregnant wife). Mr. Spitzer was stopped by a federal judge from prying confidential information out of mortgage companies. Another New York judge blocked the heart of his suit against Mr. Grasso. Mr. Greenberg continues to fight his civil charges. The press was foursquare behind Mr. Spitzer in all these cases, and in a better world they'd share some of his humiliation.
On a related note, I was surprised by the number of relatively informed people whom I ran across in investment chat rooms and the like, who, even after the scandal broke, didn't know Sptizer's party affiliation. This page suggests that this is no accident, but that media bias is responsible. Personally I don't think that in this case it means much about the Democrats, after all Spitzer learned his tactics from Giuliani who's a Republican, but I think the bias is interesting nonetheless.

Friday, March 14, 2008

ARI Videos

ARI has begun uploading video clips to YouTube, starting with some excerpts from various Q&A's where the issue of Reason vs. Faith was discussed. You can find these, as well as track future offerings, via this link.

Wafa Sultan Video

Here is another excellent Wafa Sultan video which I learned of via the Undercurrent's blog. In addition to Undercurrent's comments, I'd note that the cleric on the show provides yet another example of how the West's appeasement (in this case of North Korea) is seen by our enemies: contrary to the claims of the peaceniks, our inaction and capitulation are not taken as a noble sign of our peaceful wishes, but as a sign of our fawning weakness -- a weakness which they believe can and should be exploited.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Paul Hsieh on Activism

There are quite a number of interesting ideas in Paul's activism post and the ensuing comments, but what really got me was this comic illustrating the mindset to avoid:

The John Galt Solution

Although I didn't think there was much substance to the arguments in this article, it is encouraging to see that Ayn Rand's thought has penetrated far enough into the culture to be used both in the title and in the exposition of such a widely distributed publication (John Mauldin has a distribution list of more than a million readers, most of whom are high net worth financial types). Here are the relevant parts of the article:
Galt's Solution

The following day, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke encouraged mortgage servicers to write down a portion of the principal on home loans, which would give owners some equity and discourage foreclosure. He advocated a bigger role for the Federal Housing Administration, a Depression-era agency that insures mortgages. Congress envisions an even larger role for the federal government.

Any day, I expect some government official to unveil the John Galt plan to save the economy.

Galt, the hero of Ayn Rand's magnum opus "Atlas Shrugged," stops the world by going on strike. He and the "men of the mind" literally withdraw from the world after watching their wealth confiscated by the looters (the government).

Toward the end of Rand's 1,000-plus page novel (or polemic), the economy is in shambles. Desperate, the looters kidnap Galt and prod him to "tell us what to do."

Galt refuses, or rather tells them "to get out of the way."

Road Is Cleared

You probably can sense where I'm going. Today's economic and financial crisis would resolve itself more quickly and efficiently if the government got out of the way. Yes, there would be pain. Some banks would fail. Others would clamp down on credit to atone for the years of lax lending standards. Homeowners-in-name-only would become renters. Housing prices would fall until speculators found value.

That's not going to happen. The bigger the mess, the more urgent the calls for a government solution, the more willing government is to oblige.

We want laissez-faire capitalism in good times and a government backstop against losses in bad times. It's a tough way to run an economy.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Client #9 - Busted

Eliot Spitzer, one of the most evil men in America, got busted today. Too bad it wasn't for his true crimes.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

School Vouchers in Sweden

Although I don't think government should be involved in education at all, it is interesting to see examples where at least some competition is allowed within a socialized system. And surprisingly Sweden offers us such an example.

A few telling excerpts from the article:
The second charge is that this funding system creates educational apartheid. If money follows pupils, won’t a socially damaging segregation between the best and worst schools be a natural consequence? Were it not for the evidence of the Swedish model, it would be easy to imagine any such proposal being still-born in this country. But there is now a mass of academic studies — one surveying 28,000 pupils — showing that such fears are unjustified. In education, a rising tide really does lift all boats. The older schools improve as they are galvanised by the pressure of the new: shape up, or lose pupils and money. It works.


‘There is a trade-off,’ says Ledin. ‘If we can’t find a school next to a playground, we make a deal with a nearby sports centre to use its facilities. If parents find that unacceptable, they don’t send their children to our schools. Simple.’ Kunskapsskolan’s speciality is what it calls personalised education. Each child starts the day with a tutor, and is set an individual timetable. Other schools offer a more traditional approach. This array of competing pedagogical styles is the main fruit of the Swedish approach. (emphasis added)


Yet there is one part of the Swedish system which is too openly capitalist even for the Tories: allowing schools to make a profit. In the Prime Minister’s Office in Stockholm’s old town, Mikael Sandström, a state secretary for the Moderate party administration, explains why the Tories are wrong. ‘If you’re a not-for-profit school, then the longer the waiting list the better,’ he says. ‘It’s a lot of trouble to expand, so they don’t. Also, profit-making schools have been shown to have less social segregation.’ And then he says something one would be surprised to hear in the White House, let alone the Rosenbad in Stockholm. ‘The question for me is whether we should abolish non-profit-making schools,’ Sandström says. I am not at all sure he was joking.

I visited another school which illustrates Sandström’s point. Engelska Skolan, which teaches primary children in English, had two founders who disagreed whether to seek profit. They went their separate ways. The original school still stands, on its own in a trust, six applicants for every place. The profit-making version is now a chain of eight English-speaking schools. If the waiting list grows big enough, they open another one.
HT Art De Vany

Monday, March 03, 2008

Texas vs. Ohio

It seems almost inconceivable to me that anyone can genuinely doubt either the beneficial effects of free trade or the detrimental effect of unions (at least those given preferential "rights" by our government) -- but for any such people, the WSJ has an interesting comparison between Ohio and Texas which once again illustrates these economic truisms.