Man Without Qualities

Saturday, December 28, 2002

The Two Ivory Towers

Deep within Ostelfenbeinturm Kraugaman settled into the comfy chair before his eerily glowing monitor and reviewed a few news items that caught his eye. Fodder. Fodder. Must find fodder. Oil futures were up! A thought crossed his mind, new to him. So Kraugaman brooded in his stronghold: "I hadn't thought about that!" It was December 26 and there was need for a December 27 column. So Kraugaman wrote:

Oil futures are already above $32 per barrel. Donald Rumsfeld assures us that we can fight two wars at once, but nobody seems to have thought about the state of oil markets if there is simultaneous turmoil in the Persian Gulf and Venezuela.

And Kraugaman thought: "This is good, so good. I hadn't thought about the state of oil markets if there is simultaneous turmoil in the Persian Gulf and Venezuela, and I am a genius. Rumsfeld and the rest of them are idiots. They won't have thought about it either." It was the holidays, after all, so little time for research and fact checking.

Meanwhile, days prior to Kraugaman's holiday offensive, - working from a Reuters item titled "UPDATE 1-Oil prices shoot higher on war and strike woes" and available to Kraugaman at the drop of a Google - had reported:

"The turmoil in Venezuela and the tension in Iraq is keeping traders at their desks over the Christmas week," said Lawrence Eagles at GNI Research. ... OPEC exporters sought to tame soaring prices on Saturday by pledging to fill any supply gap left by the strike in Venezuela or a possible war on Iraq. Ministers said they saw no signs of a real shortage on world markets yet, but they agreed to partially reverse a recently agreed output curb if prices stayed high. "Shortages, when determined, will be made up. We want to have no imbalances in the market," Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting of Arab oil ministers in Cairo.

The remainder of the column is an empty box. There is vague but apparently exaggerated moaning ('apparently" because it is so vague) about retail sales: "Retailers found lumps of coal in their stockings this Christmas; the holiday shopping season was disappointing." There is dwelling on unemployment - but no mention that the unemployment rate never got very high in the first place. That, in most people's books, is a cup of joy indeed - but here the recovery is "jobless" and "joyless," and no mention that jobless claims recently fell. There is an unfocused, elagaic mention that the stock market is down - but no mention why a decline from prior bubbled stock prices is necessarily a bad thing. There are musings over state deficits (and a short but nasty exploitation of children) - but no mention that those deficits are largely caused by massive, imprudent spending increases. Future state spending cuts are lamented - but there is no mention of the pernicious effects a constantly growing government encroachment on the economy would eventually have on overall efficiency and wealth production - and the welfare of children. Notice is taken that the Fed can't push interest rates much lower - "So don't expect Uncle Alan to bail us out anytime soon" - but no mention that "uncle Alan" and the Fed don't seem to think it necessary to push interest rates down further. There's a dig at the tentative Administration plan to eliminate double taxation on dividends - a modest proposal which most sensible economists support. Mickey Kaus even finds a bit of false humility in the admission that the prior Bush tax cuts have helped (despite Kraugaman's violent protests against them) and another admission of error in the past Kraugamanian predictions of imminent consumer spending collapse. But such flecks of intellectual honesty are very small compared to the huge intellectual house cleaning that's needed.

[Dec. 30 UPDATE: With respect to Kraugaman's "lumps of coal" - he gives no indication that he understands that retail dynamics have changed in recent years. For example, the week after Christmas is now as important as the week after Thanksgiving. And there has been a huge increase in the popularity of gift "certificates" and "cards", which are not accounted for until they are redeemed for merchandise. That all means that the holiday retail season now runs well into January. Nobody will know if there was a "lump of coal" left for the retailers this year until around February 1. And some major retailers, such as Penney's (which expects to beat estimates) and Walmart, seem to be doing rather well. But, heck, does one look to a full Princeton Professor of Economics for subtlety of analysis or an awareness of the relevant factors in making an economic projection?]

In short, the column is another incoherent, unscientific mess. It is apparently supposed to pass for a kind of prediction for the coming year - but the language is so deliberately vague and inconsistent that it's almost impossible to find anything that might be tested against future facts. The main prediction? "I hope I'm wrong, but this doesn't look like a happy new year." Jeane Dixon's visions were usually more testable and precise. Kraugaman seems to be taking lessons in style from Nostradamus.

Kraugaman's rejection of economic science and his embrace of the cargo cult superstitions of partisan advocacy had long been established beyond peradventure. Once considered by some to be a potentially significant economist, albeit one whose narrow expertise of international trade did not generalize easily - he now holds forth from his Ostelfenbeinturm near great ancient groves of academe, including the famous Institute Woods, groves which Kraugaman willfully plunders, casting entire branches of economic science to immolation to feed his hungry demons.

Yes, There is a union now! The Two Ivory Towers have joined forces! Has all hope forsaken these lands? The forces of Westelfenbeinturm will be angry now that Kraugaman has again burned so much of his own credibility for want of Googling. "Credibility"- for so long the only thing Kraugaman has to sell!

Yes, it is true that with each Kraugaman foray a fellowship of the ring of Kraugaman watchers sallies forth to flood the zone with Kraugaman-corrective critiques. But where is the powerful if slow moving leader to arouse the Ecs - the ancient shepherds of economic intellectual growth! Do they think this is not their battle?

What will it take to stir them to flood the zone at Ostelfenbeinturm as Treebeard led the Ents to flood the zone at Isengard!

Or will the Ecs hold off indefinitely? As one Ec remarked about an advocate of dangerous market and price regulation fulsomely praised by Kraugaman: "I think we have better things to do than beat up a straw man."


(0) comments

Succinct Lott

Most of the remainder of this Bill Keller Op-Ed is not to my liking, but he includes a wonderfully succinct replay of Trent Lott's stages of enlightenment:

I loved watching Senator Lott clamber up the remorse curve, from clueless (If you're so thin-skinned that you found my innocent remarks insulting, I feel sorry for you) to defensive (I'm sorry I gave you the erroneous impression that I'm a racist) to abject (I am one sorry bigot).

True, true. All so true.

Perhaps Mr. Keller would now care to scribe stages necessary for Senator Murray to attain her own form of enlightenment - and maybe some spiritual exercises to help get her through them?
(0) comments

If A Picture's Worth A Thousand Words...

... how about a great cartoon?

From Pejman Pundit

(0) comments

Friday, December 27, 2002

Standing Patty

Best of the Web makes a good case that media apologists for Senator Patty Murray's kooky bin Ladenisms - such as the Washington Post editorial discussed below - are not doing her any favors when it comes to re-election time.
(0) comments

Comments On: Subsidy By Another Name?

Astute reader KP writes from Tacoma, Washington:


You quote Peter Huber as saying: "Most of the time, it's a mistake to force companies to share reservation systems, power transmission lines, copper loops..."


I find his inclusion of 'copper loops' (and possibly transmission lines, though I'm less certain of the recent history there) quite inappropriate as example of the ill effects of forced sharing of resources. That's because in many cases, those loops were strung by regulated statutory or virtual monopolies, none of whom have fully transitioned to being fully competitive private companies. (It also begs the question of whether utility wiring, poles, and vaults, like surface streets, are not "natural monopolies" where the right way to provide real competition is a regulated infrastructure provider owning the loop with telcos competing for the service.)

Thanks for a very interesting site!
(0) comments

Learning From The Saudis?

InstaPundit writes:

[I]n countries where there's a substantial Islamic population ... the Saudi money is there year in and year out. The U.S. may come in and do things for a few years, but we get distracted and our interest dries up. The Saudis' interest doesn't. They build mosques, they build schools, they provide a lot of medium-influential folks with a secure livelihood and some money to spread around that lets them build up local patronage webs of their own. We could learn from that. Not only should we work to formulate a reputation for steadfastness instead of flightiness (which we'll have to do, over time, by actually being steadfast instead of flighty) but we should also seek to make the Saudi money less reliable by interdicting it -- either at the source, or somewhere along the line.

Professor Reynolds may be right - and his approach evidences his customary and admirable sifting of flawed ideas for whatever grains of gold they may contain. But it is far from clear to the Man Without Qualities that such a model of using American foreign aid money to "provide a lot of medium-influential folks with a secure livelihood and some money to spread around that lets them build up local patronage webs of their own" is itself a very good idea, or that the United States has much to learn from such a model - other than as mostly something to avoid.

Yes, Saudi money does build mosques and schools, as noted in this article from the Washington Times:

[F]or years Saudi petrodollars have financed thousands of madrassahs, the "schools" that have radicalized Islamic students by relentlessly preaching "jihad" (holy war) against Christian and Jewish "infidels." Saudi money has spread the hateful message of Wahhabism throughout Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. In fact, the vitriol that pollutes the Saudi landscape has even found its way to Saudi-sponsored Islamic schools in Virginia.

If this is the kind of "school" the Saudi's are building, it seems likely that the mosques also have a rather politicized and harsh aspect - and, indeed, there is no shortage of reports of radical Islamic clerics holding forth from Saudi-sponsored mosques around the world.

All of this Saudi activity is quite consistent with the current domestic Saudi uber-welfare state, and also quite consistent with Mickey Kaus' observation that such uber-welfare breads uber-terrorism - in France, the middle east and elsewhere. There is substantial agreement now that Saudi Arabia's actions are conducive to terrorism. In my opinion, that is largely structural - not just a matter of who one chooses to subsidize. In any event, creating and financing a large class of influential locals dependent on foreign (that is, United States) government handouts hardly seems a natural way of encouraging democratic capitalism.

Instead, it seems to the Man Without Qualities that the American focus should be on the development of private commercial interests in Third World countries through various free market friendly efforts. One of the most important of those efforts should be a termination of direct and indirect trade barriers and subsidies that impede exports from Third World countries to the developed world, obviously including the United States. Such goods are largely - but not exclusively - agricultural in nature. Everything from EU agricultural policies that irrationally subsidize European farmers to lingering efforts of former imperialist nations to cultivate relations with their old colonies to naked American protectionism - some of it promulgated by the current Administration - should go to the extent possible.

International terrorism strikes at the structures that support democratic capitalism and the efficient operation of its markets. Our reputation for steadfastness should be our reputation for steadfast commitment to allowing economies to exploit their comparative economic advantages, not a reputation for steadfastly being there to finance what seems like a nice project to some government or international agency. The medium-influential folks with a secure livelihood and some money to spread around that lets them build up local patronage webs of their own should be small and medium private businessmen engaging in efficient economic activity - not some crowd on a foreign aid dole. This is all only to state my opinion, and I do not pretend to have provided a full argument supporting that opinion, although I do believe that in large measure to state it is to prove it.

As for interdicting Saudi money - yes, of course. Another argument against the Saudi model is that it has not really worked to the benefit of the Saudi's. These massive Saudi expenditures have probably on the whole reduced Saudi security. Indeed, the Saudi's seems acutely aware that without American support - including military support - the Saudi government would soon reap the whirlwind they have been sowing so steadfastly. The United States should explore ways of using our leverage, Saudi dependency and common sense to argue within the Saudi government and to act through mechanisms outside or even opposed to the Saudi government, to stop that flow of money.

And more efforts should be made to open up the information markets in Third World countries - with private satellite news and the Internet being leading candidates. But China's remorseless efforts to contain and control such outlets are some indication of how hard this path will be.

But the most important American project should be cultivation of electoral democratic forms of government in Third World countries. Democracy is no cure-all and Twentieth Century political experience has shown fairly conclusively that sustainable democracy requires extensive, reliable individual property rights - and therefore some form of capitalism (if only of the attenuated Scandinavian variety). Russia, for example after a long bout of corrupt collectivism followed by a nasty jolt of kleptocracy, seems to have recently convinced itself of the necessity of such things. Government structure - as opposed to local economic and social policy - is something another government is more able to get more right.

(0) comments

Thursday, December 26, 2002

New Smarter Harper's

Excellent things for January 2003.
(0) comments

The Patty Murray Whitewash

Best of the Web today takes note of some of MWQ's Murraywork and provides lots more.
(0) comments

Subsidy By Another Name?

Consider two types of competitors:

Category One competitors are competitors that are well-run but inefficiently small. Suppose two of them want to merge. But antitrust regulators won't let them merge. If the competitors had merged, they would have been able to consolidate operations and compete profitably. Instead, each goes bankrupt.

Category Two competitors are competitors that are badly-run but their size is not a cause of their problems. Suppose two of them want to merge (or enter into a contractual combination) so that they can obtain market power and charge their customers more than the customers would have to pay in an efficient market. But antitrust regulators won't let them merge. If the competitors had merged, they would have been able to consolidate operations and compete profitably, subsidized by their market power. Instead, each goes bankrupt.

Peter Huber says that a lot of Category One competitors are being treated as if they were Category Two competitors:

Regulators and antitrust courts must come to grips with the economic realities of network industries. Huge economies of scope and scale mean that competition will inevitably involve small numbers of very large players. 'Cuisinart' policies that chop and dice networks, services and corporations into little pieces don't promote competition, they undercut it. Most of the time, it's a mistake to force companies to share reservation systems, power transmission lines, copper loops and other core assets, on terms minutely prescribed by regulators. Such meddling promotes a short-term illusion of competition, but not the long-term reality.

What Mr. Huber says certainly seems correct. And his general focus on the difficult and often perverse connections between bankruptcy and antitrust policies is wonderful - especially with regard to the effects on the markets of "walking zombies" who continue to compete after bankruptcy. Market competition theory depends on poor competitors actually failing - but modern bankruptcy law seriously complicates all of that. However, he also seems to suggest than some bankruptcies themselves are evidence of bad antitrust policy. But I don't see how a bankruptcy itself helps tell us whether the bankrupt competitor/debtor was Category One or Two.

(0) comments

Now That Everything Glows So Brightly VI

The Washington Post at least finds Senator Murray's comments worth reporting - if only on Christmas Day and only to be decked out with an all-forgiving apology.

But the Post's report of Senator Murray's comments is astonishing. The Post says:

What did Patty Murray actually say? According to the Columbian, she said that Osama bin Laden has "been out in these countries for decades, building schools, building roads, building infrastructure, building day-care facilities, building health care facilities, and the people are extremely grateful. . . . How would they look at us today if we had been there helping them with some of that rather than just being the people who are going to bomb in Iraq and go to Afghanistan?"

This seriously misquotes the Senator. What she actually said was:

[Ossama Bin Laden's] been out in these [third-world] countries for decades, building schools, building roads, building infrastructure, building day care facilities, building health care facilities, and the people are extremely grateful. We haven't done that ... How would they look at us today if we had been there helping them with some of that rather than just being the people who are going to bomb in Iraq and go to Afghanistan?"

In the eyes of the Washington Post, the denial by a United States Senator of the efforts of thousands of American aid workers and the expenditure of many billions of American aid dollars over many decades, is just a detail to suppress under some marks of ellipsis.

And that suppression allows the Post to present Senator Murray's bizarre rant as just the imperfect articulation of a new and perfectly useful idea: image management. Where Senator Murray just outright denied that the United States had provided infrastructure foreign aid, the Post erroneously recasts her comments as focusing on a mere need to get get the message of such good works out:

[I]t ought to be possible to discuss America's image in the Islamic world, and the kinds of mistakes the United States has made there. For decades, American governments have spent remarkable amounts of money in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, relatively little of which is visible on the ground. Yet if successive American administrations had identified the United States more closely with good works in the Middle East and had tried more assiduously to explain American values, then American relations with the Islamic world might look different today.

Contrary to the Post assertions, Senator Murray didn't say that our problems come from a public relations failure, she simply falsely denied that we have provided substantive foreign aid to build infrastructure. And the Post is also wrong to suggest that the differentiation of substantive aid from image management was "a deeper point that Sen. Murray, with extraordinary ineptitude, seemed to be trying to make." In fact, there is nothing in Senator Murray's remarks that suggests that she was thinking that the United States' (or al Qaeda's) doing good foreign aid work in some Third World country does not lead automatically to the people in that country understanding that the United States (or al Qaeda) has done the good.

The Post itself is remarkably obtuse for a media outlet in understanding the difficulty in making people understand the good the United States does when the paper editorializes "Yet if successive American administrations had identified the United States more closely with good works in the Middle East and had tried more assiduously to explain American values, then American relations with the Islamic world might look different today." Just how is the United States suppose to do all that in countries in which the media is largely state controlled and openlly hostile to American and Israeli interests, and in which the local government has every incentive to claim all of the good that comes of a project for itself, while blaming the neo-imperialist Americans for anything negative? Is the Post suggesting some large scale "Voice of America" type project accompany each World Bank and/or United States financed project in the Third World? If so, that's a lot to leave unsaid in the editorial. How would other members of the World Bank react to such behavior, for example? In fact, the difficulties in making the local population understand the benefits bestowed by foreign aid is one very good reason why most foreign aid is not an effective means of cultivating international good will.

But it gets weirder. The Post goes on to claim:

Sen. Murray got a few things very wrong. Osama bin Laden spent a lot more money on terrorist training camps than on day-care centers; the senator appears to have confused him with the fundamentalist charities that have won so much support for the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas on the West Bank.

So the Post seems to think that Senator Murray's big error was in thinking that it was Osama bin Laden who built all those day-care centers when it was really Islamic fundamentalist charities who built them. The Post thinks that Islamic fundamentalist charities build day-care centers. That's nice. As Best of the Web put it, an Islamic man and all four of his wives can then drive by the day-care center and drop off the kids on the way to work - perhaps as government officers striving to re-create the Islamic theocratic societies of the middle ages!

But, wait! This can't be right. As Maureen Dowd has pointed out - women aren't allowed to drive in a fundamentalist Islamic society.

Details, details. Nothing a few marks of ellipsis can't handle.

But this weird Washington Post squib gives the clearest evidence yet that the liberal Old Media are not coming down hard on Senator Murray for one basic reason: THEY LARGELY AGREE WITH HER. The agreement is with her larger premises and with her willingness to distort whatever facts it takes and can be gotten away with to support and advance those premises. They agree with her "deeper" belief that it was a failure on the part of the United States (not enough foreign aid in her case, image maintenance in the Post's) that should be the focus of our concern, that the military should not be a component of the measures taken to address terrorism, and, most importantly, that there is some low budget magical thinking that will allow the United States to have all the Pell Grants and other federally paid public programs it wants - while simultaneously inducing the the world's terrorists to love us on the cheap.
(0) comments

Snow On The Tracks!

Poor and Stupid says that when it comes to CSX's taxes, wheels aren't all that's spinning at the New York Times.

(0) comments

Wednesday, December 25, 2002

Now That Everything Glows So Brightly V:
The Universal Liberal Background Radiation, Or The Left's Music Of The Political Spheres

A prior post noted:

The constant racial "invention" of the liberal Old Media in their ordinary news coverage is a special case of the constant pro-liberal/anti-conservative invention in that same coverage. Failure to cover the Murray story adequately is just part of the constant liberal background radiation emitted by the liberal Old Media all the time.

As if on cue, Adam Nagourney of the New York Times now manages to write an entire article about Democrats challenging the Administration's terrorism policy, astonishingly without even mentioning Democratic Senator Patty Murray or her bizarre suggestion that the American approach to terrorism is flawed because Osama bin Laden has curried favor in Third World countries by building roads and other infrastructure where the United States has not.

The focus of this article is on what likely Democratic contenders for the 2004 presidential race are saying, which presumably provides the excuse for not mentioning Senator Murray. But Mr. Nagourney has no trouble quoting Florida Democratic Senator Bob Graham, outgoing chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, simply on the grounds that he says he is "considering" a presidential race. And, more to the point, Mr. Nagourney provides no explanation for his not expressly asking any of these supposed presidential contenders what they think of Democratic Senator Murray's public musings on the exact subject of possible flaws in the Administration's approach to terrorism.

Could there be a clearer example of the liberal background radiation emitted by the ordinary news coverage of old media like the New York Times?

As a risible aside, the Times quotes Senator Edwards as dismissing the significance of the creation of the Department of Homeland Security as a meaningless political trick - where only weeks ago the Democrats were aggressively arguing that it was their idea in the first place.

(0) comments

Reutersville As Spin City Amok

Reports on this year's Holiday sales are all over the map! One report is all doomy gloomy:

U.S. retailers, reeling from a lackluster holiday season that is forecast to be the weakest in more than 30 years, may ring in the new year with steep markdowns on clothing, accessories -- and profit forecasts. Analysts cut earnings estimates for retailers ranging from sector leader Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to upscale jeweler Tiffany & Co. Inc. on Tuesday, a day after major chain stores reported another week of tepid sales in what was supposed to be the biggest shopping period of the year.

That's pretty clear: Retail sales this year are less than for any of the last 30 years. A disaster.

But wait. Another reports says that Ho;liday sales are up compared to last year:

In a weekly report on Tuesday, the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishiand UBS Warburg forecast holiday sales in November and December would be up an anemic 1.5 percent over last year, the smallest gain since the banks began tracking weekly sales in 1970.


It's not easy to be sure, but it looks like its the annual rate of increase that's supposedly low.
(0) comments

Swiss or Greek?

Yesterday, Best of the Web commented on some odd behavior at the International Red Cross:

You may be wondering how an outfit called the Red Cross can be so skittish about Christianity. The "cross" in Red Cross is not actually a crucifix, but rather the Swiss battle standard (which appears on the Swiss flag as a white cross on a red background). On the Swiss cross, unlike the Christian one, both vertical arms are of the same length.

This doesn't really get the Red Cross off the hook. The "Swiss Cross" is just a version of the Greek Cross, which is every bit as Christian as the Latin Cross - which has one long arm.

The Greek Cross is so Christian that the original Bramante/Michelangelo plan for the reconstructed Saint Peter's in the Vatican was in this shape. That plan was accepted by the Pope, but later enlarged into a Latin Cross because more space was needed.
(0) comments

Now That Everything Glows So Brightly IV:
Insufficiently General?

Glenn Reynolds suggests another reason why the liberal mainstream media missed the Trent Lott story:

But that's the folks at Old Media: presented with real "racial insensitivity" -- as in Trent Lott's case -- they don't even recognize it until someone else points it out. That's because they're too used to it as an invented item to even think about the real thing.

It's worth keeping a couple of points in mind here.

I don't think it is completely accurate to write that "Old Media" missed the story so badly. The Wall Street Journal [OpinionJournal/Best of the Web] is "Old Media" - but recognized the story's significance early (although not as early as some bloggers). It seems to have been the liberal Old Media that really tripped up.

InstaPundit's observation that Old Media people are "too used to [racial bias] as an invented item to even think about the real thing" does not explain why bloggers and the Wall Street Journal, on one hand, and liberal Old Media, on the other hand, had different sensitivities to the topic. Everyone in this country- Old Media, bloggers, the kid waiting on the corner for his mom, you name it - is inundated with racial bias as an invented item. So why is it only "Old Media people" have become so numb that they can't "even think about the real thing?" Moreover, not every kind of media - new or old - "invents" racial bias at anything like the same rate. "Invention" of racial bias to discredit public figures or institutions can crop up anywhere, but in fact it is overwhelmingly a liberal and Democratic practice. For example, one does not see such invention on the editorial and op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal the way one does in the New York Times. So when one does see accusations of racial bias in the Journal one pays attention.

Put another way: The racial coverage in every media outlet does not glow with racial invention to the same degree - and it's much easier to see the real thing when it appears in an outlet that doesn't emit so much background radiation generally.

Nor does this InstaPundit explanation do much to explain the Old Media reaction to Senator Patty Murray's bizarre comments, even though many people - including InstaPundit - sense that the Lott and Murray situations have a fair amount in common. As InstaPundit puts it:

PATTY MURRAY'S REMARKS ON BIN LADEN are reportedly causing a "groundswell of anger" on talk radio and the Internet, while being ignored by major media. I wonder why? Of course, the Trent Lott story started out that way, too.

But the "major media" are not generally ignoring Senator Murray's comments. The liberal major media are ignoring it. The Wall Street Journal, which I think most people would consider "major" as well as "old" media, has covered the story (as far back as December 20), with Best of the Web even raising the same question and providing another partial explanation:

Murray's remarks have not brought anything like the national outcry that Lott's did. In part that's understandable, since Lott as majority leader was a more important figure than Murray, the outgoing chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (i.e., architect of her party's loss of the Senate). It's also probably bad news for the Democrats. Whereas the furor over Lott's comments forced the GOP to do the right thing and demote him, Murray's ode to Osama is likely to come back to haunt her in 2004, when she faces re-election. In a state that leans Democratic but not so far that it tips over, she ought to be beatable.

A search for "Murray" in the New York Times shows a rather different approach.

One problem here is that having focused on the media response to racial issues, the InstaPundit explanation of the Lott story does not generalize easily to explaining media response to non-racial issues such as Senator Murray's comments.

There is another explanation noted here and here and here, that does generalize in a way that helps one understand the Murray case: The constant racial "invention" of the liberal Old Media in their ordinary news coverage is a special case of the constant pro-liberal/anti-conservative invention in that same coverage. Failure to cover the Murray story adequately is just part of the constant liberal background radiation emitted by the liberal Old Media all the time.

(0) comments

Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Merry Christmas!

(0) comments

Context, Anyone?

It has been a while now since New York Times columnist Bob Herbert reported that Ward Connerly said on television that "Supporting segregation need not be racist .... One can believe in segregation and believe in equality of the races." Since then I have not seen a transcript of Mr. Connerly's interview, although I have no reason particular to doubt Mr. Herbert. So I will assume he is right.

In any event, I have only Mr. Herbert's excerpt and no close context for it. But with that caveat, I think it is worth pointing out that it is not that hard to give a perfectly reasonable and non-racist construction to Mr. Connerly's comment. Many groups - ethnic, religious, national and linguistic groups come to mind, but there are probably others - choose to live in high concentrations because this allows for services, experiences and contacts which would not be feasible otherwise. For example, if one speaks only Chinese and is new to the United States, one would probably be wise to reside in a Chinese-American community in which Chinese food, language, medicine, conversation, culture and ideas can be obtained easily and cheaply. There is no question that, even without a desire of the residents of such a community to exclude others, de facto segregation will often occur in such communities. It is not hard, for example, to find communities in and around Los Angeles with almost completely Asian populations, where this is the result of neither discrimination for or against Asians.

[It was not always so. Many deeds for older homes in Los Angeles (now unenforceable) provide that the property may be sold only to Caucasians - where the intent of the restriction was to prevent sales to Chinese, not African-Americans as is often incorrectly supposed.]

These Asian communities are segregated. Most Americans would say that these Asian newcomers have a perfect right - moral and legal - to do what they have done. Would Mr. Herbert consider that widespread acceptance of impulses that result in this segregation a sign of "deep seated racism," or is it a vindication and public accomodation of the individual's right to choose one's culture and religion? Most people would not consider segregation in this case and with this intent to be a problem. And these Los Angeles Asian communities are obviously but one example of a great many in a great many cities.

Would Mr. Herbert say that supporting this segregation is racist?

Or can one can believe in this example of segregation and still believe in equality of the races?

Again, I do not have the benefit of any context to Mr. Connerly's comments, and if such context were provided perhaps the above discussion would be revealed as inapposite.

But I also have to say that I find it more than passing strange that Mr. Herbert did not provide more context in his column. It suggests he is playing an inappropriate game where volleys can do real damage where none is warranted.

MORE: Pandagon, Hauser and MinuteMan

STILL MORE: David Frum gives a lot more context - and takes Mr. Herbert, game, set and match, although he comes at it from an angle rather different from the one presented above:

Could that be any clearer? Either Herbert failed to read the whole interview (which I can hardly believe) or else he willfully misconstrued it (which would be even worse). Connerly was a product of and victim of the segregated South. But with characteristic generosity, he is unwilling to condemn all the people implicated in segregation as racists and bigots. What Herbert is attacking Connerly for is Connerly's capacity for forgiveness. Pretty nasty.

And also pretty dumb. Because segregation has not vanished from the United States. As Connerly himself points out, every campus of the University of California now offers special blacks-only and Hispanics-only graduation ceremonies, some of them paid for with university (that is public) funds. Many universities have blacks-only and Hispanics-only dormitories or floors within dormitories.

Does Herbert regard these segregationist practices as racist? It would make him a more interesting columnist if he did - and would say so - but if he doesn't and won't, he is not well positioned to condemn Connerly for his Christmas-season words of charity.

Link from MinuteMan Update.
(0) comments

Internalizing The Abuse

It is not a seasonal sentiment to hope that an "internal e-mail" from one disgruntled Princeton student or junior faculty member to another accuse Paul Krugman of including smears in his column to deliberately, illegally and successfully manipulate the price of a particular publicly traded security - and that the accusing e-mail carry only as much support for its smear as Professor Krugman generally requires of his own published accusations and self promotional claims. It would be particularly unseasonal to hope that the accusing e-mail also claim that Professor Krugman's alleged crimes be the product of a shadowy conspiracy. Perhaps the memo could include a bald assertion that the sender had personally heard Professor Krugman confess to such an intent.

And I don't wish such things on Professor Krugman - although the temptation is great. And the hideous experience of having to disentangle himself from the tar baby of an accusing memo might actually help concentrate his mind when he cobbles together his own insinuations.

Market behavior is hard to understand. Professor Krugman, for example, has argued or insinuated that the recent California electricity market run up was caused by market manipulation. But specialists have testified before the California legislature that "manipulative" activities Professor Krugman cited as important and pernicious in this regard (“Fatboy,� etc) could have moved the market by, perhaps, five percent. A recent federal regulatory decision found that California had been overcharged by only a small fraction of what California authorities or Professor Krugman had asserted. He congratulates himself anyway.

Accusations of market manipulation are not vindicated by internal e-mails, which aren't even very good evidence of intent, despite - often because of - their often intense confessional appearance. Instead, that's the kind of thing one calls in a real economist to help to evaluate. It took a long time for antitrust enforcement officials to learn not to take seriously executives bragging of their intent to effect market dominance. There exists an extensive serious economics literature on the topic and the pitfalls of memo-dependency. But lazy, intellectually dishonest and/or simple minded people latch onto e-mails, memos, bragging conversations and the like because such people think that evidence of that type spares them from having to do their economics homework.

But it doesn't.

Economists don't think in terms of internal memos. They have other, better, harder things to do. But not Professor Krugman - who takes this opportunity to praise Eliot Spitzer, fresh from Mr. Spitzer's broadside assault on markets and paens to government regulation and price controls. In a world such as Professor Krugman's, in which conspiracies and old boy networks (only of politically incorrect casts, of course) are the dominant considerations, such scraps of paper and deleted e-mail files are everything.

In this column, Professor Krugman also leaves many other undeserved gifts under his own tree. His suggestion that someone has disserved the World Trade Center victim families by treating them as uppity and insignificant peasants ("Villeins ye are, and villeins ye shall remain.") appears to have exceeded even the Times tolerance for his slanders - and the person allegedly doing the disserving is not even identified - the entire Krugmanian smear being attempted in the elliptic! (He writes: Americans received many promises of reform. But once the political danger had passed, all those promises - even, incredibly, the promise that families of victims would get to choose one member of the Sept. 11 commission - became non-operational.) But he is simply too tedious, too wrong, too vague and too insubstantial to spend the time at this time of year unpacking all of his silly, self promotional claims.

(0) comments

Sunday, December 22, 2002

It's That Injunction Time Of The Year

That is, it's the time of year for injunctions against public religious displays, or against laws prohibiting public religious displays.

This Wall Street Jounal editorial gets the big picture right, but curiously describes Jefferson as the author of the Establishment Clause. A comment on the editorial asserts that Jefferson didn't write the Establishment Clause, if anyone did it was James Madison.

But Thomas Jefferson was neither the author of the "Establishment Clause" nor a mere bystander to James Madison's authorship.

Jefferson's relationship to the Establishment Clause is a little complicated, as I described in this prior post.

But he certainly wouldn't have approved of all this nasty, petty enjoining and couter-enjoining - or of the generally crabbed actions that are the targets of the injunctions.
(0) comments

Trent Lott

Still in denial. Somebody should sit Senator Lott down and convince him that there was no "trap" set for him.

He did it to himself.

True, his enemies fell upon him when his self-inflicted injury became apparent. But there was no "trap."
(0) comments

Homeless Crime

I'm not so sure why this article about the vicious attack on a woman by "homeless" men in New York has such an air of surprise in it.

For example, Santa Monica, for years one of the "homeless" capitals of the county, long ago went public with the fact that the great majority of sexual assaults in that citry were being perpetrated by "homeless" men.

It is as if some people have a determination to view "homeless" men solely as victims - not criminals. But they are often criminals. Serious, violent criminals.
(0) comments

Got To Hand It To The Aussies

There's just nobody who can keep up with them when they want to be direct and to the point.

Although one must admit that there's an occassional Canadian who can give them a run for their money (even if it's some commonwealth dollar or other).
(0) comments

Ze Franch And Iraq

The Man Without Qualities is a real Francophile. But to admire a people requires acknowledging their limitations. Many people have linked to articles suggesting that the French may join an invasion of Iraq. And that would be nice and help vindicate the peerless French contributions to democracy, universal human rights and may other great things.

But one must also acknowledge that as a United States incursion into Iraq looks more inevitable and more proximate, the French have an increasingly difficult commercial decision to make: Abstain from joining with the United States and risk considerable investment in Iraq and future commerical contacts once the Uited States takes over, or join with the United States at more or less the last minute to preserve future commerical relationships. So, as the United States action becomes more likely, one can expect that France will behave better and better.

Of course, these are the mirror images of the calculation the French have to make now, with a fairly obvious conclusion: Join with the United States now and, if the United States does not move into Iraq, risk losing the commercial advantage and relationships now held by the French.

Does this analysis seem cynical? Perhaps it is. Perhaps they are.

But I still love the French and France, anyway.
(0) comments

What "Crisis?" What "Inevitable?"

California Governor Gray Davis now admits that his State faces a $35 Billion budget shortfall, where it was running a $10 billion surplus when he entered office four years ago.

Davis blames the poor economy and a decline in tax revenue, due in part to the burst of the technology bubble and the subsequent fallout in the stock market.

But the problem really stems from the fact that the California legislature perpetrated a 35 percent increase in state spending since Davis took office - which almost exactly accounts for the huge deficit.

Davis also says that none of the "experts" saw California's problems coming. But the Governor's claim is preposterous since the recent decline in tax revenues is linked directly to the and technology collapse, as Mr. Davis admits, a collapse which a great many experts predicted was inevitable all along, which Mr. Davis denies.

But California is hardly alone among the states in its excess spending and overly optimistic predictions. Spending went up, now spending must come down California will hardly face a crisis by returning to spending levels pre-Davis spending levels. The population has increased during Mr. Davis' term, and there are arrearages in some needed state spending, such as transportation. But that's not enough to constitute or cause a "crisis."

There is a dead weight loss here: many people will have organized their lives and economic plans on the assumption that planned state spending would become actual state spending. Most of that misdirected activity will now have to be undone. It is not a small amount of damage that is occasioned here. Contractors and other firms that do business with the state will have retained employees and other resources that should have been let go. New plans must be made. State agencies that were required to conduct business as if the planned spending would materialize will experience especially large waste. In sum, this was a massive stupidity that will not be cheap to correct.

But it is not a crisis. The situation pales in comparison to what happened in the early 1990's - when, for example, McDonnell Douglas, then the state's largest private employer, laid off the great majority of its entire work force and residential property values on the West Side of Los Angeles declined by up to 70% (although the local mainstream media, such as the Los Angeles Times, seem to be in permanent deranged denial on this last point, which almost every real estate professional in the area acknowledges).

And, most importantly, contrary to the Governor's additional preposterous assertion: new state taxes are definitely not "inevitable". Indeed, they would be highly counterproductive. However, the spending cuts that are inevitable are going to be very painful for the politicians who have to put them through - including the Governor. And the Governor's actions to date look to increase that pain. For example, Mr. Davis just appointed Steve Peace, a former lawmaker and key architect of the state's failed electricity deregulation plan, as his top budget adviser.

Now, it is not all Mr. Peace's fault that the deregulation plan went awry. However, Mr. Peace's history has, shall we say, eroded his credibility as an economic forecaster.

During the height of the last real California financial crisis, Orange County went bankrupt (Chapter 9, actually). Howls of "inevitable" new taxes went up from the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, California Democrats and the rest of the usual suspects. The County was grimly warned that to close the huge gap in its finances by budget cuts alone would impair the County as a desirable place to live, ... which would likely create a downward spiral ... which might result in a DISASTER OF AN EVEN HUGER SCALE! [The County was told to think Appalachia-on-the-Pacific!]

Well, the usual suspects were ignored, the cuts were made but taxes were not raised substantially ... and Orange County did very well, thank you very much.

California could, too.

(0) comments