Man Without Qualities

Friday, May 30, 2003


The erosion of New York Times credibility now appears to be complete - the washing away of its last clod signaled by Herr Doktorprofessor Krugman quoting twice in a week what he terms the "normally staid Financial Times" in lieu of his own employer: Stating the Obvious, (May 27 - arguing that the recent federal tax cut is too big) and Waggy Dog Stories (May 30 - asserting that the President lied when saying that he believed Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction). In each case Herr Doktorprofessor cites only to the Financial Times - although his employer, the New York Times, had editorialized and reported its own fulsome condemnations of the president's tax cuts (May 22), followed that with more fulminations (May 30), and offered its own condemnatory ponderings on the issue of WMD (May 26) - in each case in plenty of time for Herr Doktorprofessor to have cited the homegrown version. So why does Herr Doktorprofessor feel he has to look all the way to some London-based competitor? Of course, Herr Doktorprofessor's characterization of the paper he does cite as the "normally staid Financial Times" is itself at least misleading, since the London papers - including the Financial Times - are substantially more colorful, less "staid" and - in the opinion of most of the more reliable factions of the newspaper industry, less accurate and less careful - than their American counterparts, at one time including the pre-Howell Raines/Jayson Blair/Rick Bragg New York Times.. Indeed, in many respects Herr Doktorprofessor's column is now something that would be more at home in London than New York - so perhaps he is signaling interest and/or negotiations on his own part by fawning over the FT? Herr Doktorprofessor's fondness for the FT lapsed when it came to its May 26 item (subscription required) arguing that inflation is a bigger danger than deflation - contrary to the current Krugmania line that the risks of deflation "look uncomfortably high." Unsurprisingly, Herr Doktorprofessor seems to view the "normally staid Financial Times" as authoritative only when it suits his purposes. Could one seriously ask, "Who knew?"

The Waggy Dog Stories column is particularly revealing of Herr Doktorprofessor's own eroding intellectual and journalistic capabilities. The column crudely compares the Bush Administration with the 1997 movie "Wag the Dog" - but omits any mention that such a comparison was widely and far more accurately made about certain actions of the Clinton Administration. Generic 1998 example from the Scripps Howard News Service: President Clinton's double-barreled strike at terrorists in Afghanistan and Sudan on Thursday triggered instant comparisons to the movie "Wag the Dog," in which a president caught having sex with a young girl deflects public attention by pretending to attack a small foreign country.

But even more curious is Herr Doktorprofessor's criteria in his Waggy Dog Stories column for ascribing actual, policy or personal intent to the Administration, and even the President himself, for all kinds of things incurring Krugmaniacal ire: It's now also clear that George W. Bush had no intention of reaching a diplomatic solution. It's couldn't be just that the President didn't believe a diplomatic solution was possible from his own assessment of Saddam Hussein. No, no - the Krugmaniacal analysis tells us that something much more sinister was going on inside Mr. Bush. And, to Herr Doktorprofessor: The failure to find W.M.D.'s has been described as an "intelligence failure," but this ignores the fact that intense pressure was placed on intelligence agencies to tell the Bush and Blair administrations what they wanted to hear. Excuse me, but has there ever been a case in which a national intelligence service did not feel "intense pressure" to tell its administration "what they wanted to hear?" Are we suppose to think that the intelligence services were not aware that there is a huge downside risk to anyone who did invent such intelligence, especially where it is completely predictable that in such a case the relevant administration and legislature would be looking for post-war scapegoats? Are the people in the intelligence services babes in the woods of national politics? And was Tony Blair unaware that rigging the intelligence - thereby pointlessly risking the lives of many British soldiers and sending at least some to death - might destroy his entire career? Of course not. What the heck is supposed to be the big pay-off to Mr. Blair in falsifying intelligence, or maliciously "pressuring" his intelligence services, anyway?

If there were mistakes in pre-war intelligence, they were almost certainly just that: mistakes best laid to Sadam Hussein's refusal to cooperate with inspectors or abide by international law. But the simple fact is that there almost certainly were WMD in Iraq, and Tony Blair continues to deny vigorously all allegations that exceptional or improper pressure was placed on the intelligence services or that the weapons will not be found. One could profitably go on sifting through this column for the evidence it provides of the erosion that afflicts Paul Krugman's analytical abilities, ethics, journalistic competence, mental health and even his reason itself. Don Luskin does his customary excellent job. Somehow the mere possibility of error "proves" to Herr Doktorprofessor that: Meanwhile, the administration has just derived considerable political advantage from a war waged on false premises. At best, that sets a very bad precedent. At worst. . . . "You want to win this election, you better change the subject. You wanna change this subject, you better have a war," explains Robert DeNiro's political operative in "Wag the Dog." "It's show business."

Which brings us back to the other Blair in the news: Jayson Blair. Evidence of that Blair's malfeasance had accumulated for years around the Times - reportedly even to the point of having been expressly brought to the attention of Messrs. Raines, Sulzberger and Boyd. If the Krugmania standards of implying policy or deliberate intent from bad results are applied to the Jayson Blair case, one would be forced to conclude that Messrs. Raines, Sulzberger and Boyd all intended the plagiarism and lies that resulted. And if these same Krugmania evidentiary standards are again applied to this ineluctable deduction from his Waggy Dog Stories column, we are required to conclude that Paul Krugman actually intends to, and does, accuse Messrs. Raines, Sulzberger and Boyd of perpetrating all that plagiarism and all of those lies.

So it makes sense that Herr Doktorprofessor may be signaling an interest on his part in that position at the Financial Times.

Or, at least, he should be.


(0) comments

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

The Depths! The Mysteries!

It certainly comes as no surprise to any reasonable, even non-genius, observor of United Nations propensities that:

United Nations officials looked the other way as Saddam Hussein's regime skimmed $2 billion to $3 billion in bribes and kickbacks from the U.N. Oil-for-Food Program, said U.N. officials who told ABCNEWS they were powerless to stop the massive graft.

Of course, George Soros did nothing to monitor or prevent any of that United Nations misbehavior - nor did he have any obligation to do so. But any financial genius, especially a genius uber-trader such as Mr. Soros, knows that timing is everything! So it surely is an inscrutable act of GENIUS on the GREAT MAN'S part that, only hours ago:

Soros told a news conference that his Open Society Institute would set up a unit called Iraqi Revenue Watch to monitor the use of Iraq's oil exports to finance reconstruction projects approved by the US-led occupying forces. "There is a widespread belief that the war was fought for oil and that it was fought to benefit the Halliburtons and the Bechtels of this world," he said.

Yes, indeed. How much more the world needs to be protected from the Halliburtons and the Bechtels than from the Saddam Husseins and the wayward types at the United Nations who were supposed to be watching out for the integrity of the "Food For Peace" program - none of which appears to have either required or received monitoring from the Open Society Institute's Iraqi Revenue Watch!

Ah, the depths and mysteries of genius!

(1) comments

The Taxing Mister Buffett

Warren Buffett is again ranting - a trademarked, folksy, pseudo-populist, Middle Western rant, of course - against the President's proposed tax reforms. Specifically, Mr. Buffett argues against the President's proposed reform of the federal income tax on dividends:

Suppose this measure goes through and the directors of Berkshire Hathaway (which does not now pay a dividend) therefore decide to pay $1 billion in dividends next year. Owning 31 percent of Berkshire, I would receive $310 million in additional income, owe not another dime in federal tax, and see my tax rate plunge to 3 percent. And our receptionist? She'd still be paying about 30 percent, ...

Mr. Buffett's argument would make some sense if there were no federal corporate income tax. [Although Don Luskin does a wonderful job of deflating Mr. Buffett's approach even on its own terms.] But Berkshire Hathaway is already exposed to federal corporate income taxes at a rate of over 30%. The dividend income Mr. Buffett receives as owner of 31% of Berkshire Hathaway stock is already after [corporate] tax income. In contrast, his receptionist's income is taxed only once. Mr. Buffett's begin his tax argument only at the point of dividend distribution, and ignores the fact the federal government has already had a chance to devour over 30% of Berkshire Hathaway's own income out of which those dividends are paid. That style of argument really is what he condemns as "Enron-style accounting." Mr. Buffett's op-ed piece is really an argument for repeal of the corporate income tax in drag. That repeal would be a very good idea - even better than eliminating the tax on dividends as the President proposes.

Mr. Buffett's article also fails to articulate a rather substantial conflict of interest he has in making this argument: he would rather that Berkshire Hathaway retain its earnings so he can have the use of those funds than pay them in dividends to all of its shareholders. He admits - as he must - that Berkshire Hathaway does not now pay dividends. That decision not to pay dividends can be largely justified by the existence of a tax code that imposes full, economically irrational double taxation of dividends. He does not say what his (and therefore Berkshire Hathaway's) position on dividends will be once double taxation of dividends is eliminated. Indeed, he has of late made various public pronouncements to the effect that Berkshire Hathaway will likely not be able to resume its prior track-record of high growth. The Berkshire Hathaway annual report often points out that the company depends on retained earnings. If, as Mr. Buffett has now several times publicly admitted, Berkshire Hathaway can't use its retained earnings as effectively as it once did, then to that extent pressure on Berkshire Hathaway to dividend out its retained earnings increases. Double taxation of dividends insulates Berkshire Hathaway from this effect. Further, Berkshire Hathaway will likely feel this pressure to pay dividends even more than most public companies exactly because most of its stock is held by insiders. If Berkshire Hathaway's board - which is controlled by insiders representing the majority shareholders - continues to refuse to pay dividends, the minority shareholders will have good reason to ask whether such retention of earnings is intended only to benefit the Berkshire Hathaway insiders, especially Mr. Buffett. Such insider/public shareholder conflicts may not be enough to support legal action against the insiders for breach of fiduciary duty - but the markets will have their say when pricing Berkshire Hathaway stock. Mr. Buffett's failure to disclose in this article that the President's tax program will remove a major justification for Berkshire Hathaway to hold onto its retained earnings - retention that provides Mr. Buffett with his piggybank - represents yet more bad faith on his part.

Since Mr. Buffett has made - and apparently intends to continue to make - a big, public deal out of his personal taxes, it is only right that he actually tell the public how much he personally has actually paid in taxes for each of the past, say, ten, years. Perhaps Mr. Buffett has released his tax returns - but I have not been able to find a report of such an act on the Internet, although my searches have turned up lots of Mr. Buffett's preaching on tax matters - many of them invoking his own undisclosed tax position. One of the very curious aspects of the American tax system is that it allows - quite legally - very rich people to pay very little in taxes. Is Mr. Buffett one of those? If he is, then his whole argument would appear to stink of the worst kind of hypocrisy.

It is also interesting to note that George Soros - Mr. Buffett's sometimes ally in opposing President Bush's tax reforms, especially elimination of the federal death tax - did not join with Mr. Buffett in his most recent effort. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that double taxation of dividends does not apply to most private companies - including all those hedge funds that Mr. Soros runs and has run. Modern private companies, including almost all hedge funds, are almost always structured as off-shore and/or "tax transparent" entities - such as limited partnerships or limited liability companies or even "S-corporations." Those entities pay no corporate taxes, but still give their owners the benefit of limited liability.

For the most part, in the modern world, only public companies have to pay taxes. And public companies are generally the only companies in which "the little people" - as Leona Helmsley termed them with her characteristic charm - have the chance to invest.

Buffett and Soros and Helmsley. On so many tax matters, birds of a feather.

(0) comments

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Idiots Savantes Running The New York Times!

In an interview that is reportedly to appear in the New York Observor today (May 21), Jayson Blair says:

"I know I shouldn’t be saying this - I fooled some of the most brilliant people in journalism ... They’re all so smart, but I was sitting right under their nose fooling them.” ... While ridiculing what he called "idiot" editors at the Times, he also said it was "kind of unfair" to blame Raines and Managing Editor Gerald Boyd for his misconduct. He said Boyd, the paper’s highest-ranking black editor, tried to block his promotion to the national staff.

Some of the most brilliant people in journalism are idiot editors at the Times? Yes, indeed. So says Jayson Blair - star reporter! I can't wait for his book!

(0) comments

Saturday, May 17, 2003

Relationships Past Their Prime

Most of the mainstream media coverage of the the Jayson Blair crisis implicitly seems to treat Arthur ("Pinch") Sulzberger as having the last word and a secure position at the New York Times. (Washington Post sample: Raines said: "My plan is to have this job and perform it with every fiber in my body as long as this man next to me," Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., allowed it. At that point, Sulzberger declared: "If he were to offer his resignation, I would not accept it.") From a working journalist’s standpoint that may be correct enough. But ultimately it isn't true at all. Pinch must be badly burned by his handling of affirmative action within the Times, which has recently had a shrinking circulation. No interested person should think that the most important Times meeting regarding Jayson Blair was the one in the theater behind the Times headquarters with the newsroom staff as the audience and Howell and Pinch and Gerald gavotting on stage. No. The meeting that counts will be - or has already been - the much smaller meeting of Times shareholders. Some of those family shareholders had deep reservations about elevating Pinch to his leadership of the Times in the first place, and the current disaster is very much the kind of possibility they were reported to have had in mind at that time. So it is passing strange to the Man Without Qualities that Alex Jones, a former Times reporter and author, with Susan Tifft, of The Trust, a history of the Sulzberger family, would share with the Financial Times the opinion that "I think this family would be very reluctant to second-guess Arthur." True, a summary decapitation is unlikely - although there seems to be some serious speculation brewing about the more immediate consequences to African-American Gerald Boyd. But Mr. Sulzberger's medium term prospects are not exactly rosy at the moment.

All of which makes especially curious the tone of an op-ed item by Samuel G. Freedman appearing in today's New York Times, an item that contemplates all that had gone wrong in the special relationship between blacks and Jews. Mr. Freedman predictably dwells on such matters as continuing fallout from the Crown Heights disaster and affirmative action, especially the Michigan case now pending before the Supreme Court. He seems to view the support of affirmative action found in some parts of the Jewish community as a sign that Jewish Americans no longer need to depend much on "merit" - and can therefore relax their historical support of the concept. The prominent expression of this peculiar view (at least peculiar to my eyes) in the Times during this time of the Jayson Blair crisis creates an intriguing resonance with some thoughts of Ann Coulter:

Suppose the owner of a big company sends his kid to learn the business and tells low-level managers to treat him just like anyone else. The managers curry favor with the boss by reporting that his son is doing great and is a natural genius for this business. So the kid keeps getting praised and promoted, until one day he is actually put in charge of something he has no ability to run. That is cruel. And it's the story of Pinch Sulzberger, isn't it?

Given "Pinch's" particular history and capacities and the evident current exposure of Gerald Boyd, it is not difficult to find added significance in many of Mr. Freedman's words, such as his suggestion that the black-Jewish era, in many ways, is over. It can be studied and celebrated. But for reasons of demography and politics and the mere passage of time, it should be retired to the realm of history or mythology.

Why here? Why now?

The implied reason for the appearance of Mr. Freedman's essay is that a federal jury found Lemrick Nelson guilty of violating Yankel Rosenbaum's civil rights in the course of killing him. Mr. Freedman says of the verdict: One can feel satisfaction that justice was finally done ... Really? Mr. Freedman is "satisfied" even though another article in the same edition of the Times purports to "answer" a lingering question about the mixed verdict: How could the jury have found Mr. Nelson guilty on Wednesday of violating Mr. Rosenbaum's civil rights by stabbing him during the 1991 racial disturbance in Brooklyn, but not guilty of causing the death itself? It seems that the jury forewoman "explained" that the murder exoneration was caused by "everybody" on the jury knowing that Mr. Rosenbaum's family had sued the hospital in which he had actually died for negligence in the death even though [t]he jury was not allowed to hear testimony about the hospital's mistreatment of Mr. Rosenbaum because the judge had deemed it legally irrelevant.

The Times quotes the forewoman as cheerfully explaining: "How can you sue Kings County Hospital for negligence and at the same time tell people this guy stabbed him to death? How could you blame two persons for the same death?"

Now, in addition to contemplating the jury's reported reliance on excluded evidence not even introduced at trial, one might also note that no sensible, unbiased person could doubt that a murder victim can also be the victim of subsequent medical malpractice. Mr. Rosenbaum bled to death from the slice left in his body by Mr. Nelson's knife - that some doctor at Kings County Hospital may have been subsequently negligent (although that has not been proved, even in the pending civil case) treating the wound doesn't mean Mr. Nelson didn't cause the death or commit murder. The Times is very matter-of-fact in its coverage, and also reports:

The forewoman, an administrator and part-time anatomy instructor who lives in Brooklyn, said that she wanted to clear up another misconception. The jurors, she said, did not believe that Mr. Nelson had directly violated Mr. Rosenbaum's rights, because they did not think he had stabbed the man because of his religion (he was Jewish) or because he was using the public street, the two main prongs of the federal civil rights law. ... The forewoman said that she used to work at Kings County Hospital and knew about the doctors' mistake through her job, but she said she did not share this information with the other jurors. Although the forewoman's account seems to imply that the jurors violated their oath, Yale Kamisar, a law professor and expert in criminal procedure at the University of San Diego, said there was little chance the verdict could be overturned.

It is on these facts that Mr. Freedman's op-ed item expresses his "satisfaction" - without so much as even mentioning the jury's exoneration of Mr. Nelson on the murder count or the report that the jurors did not believe that Mr. Nelson had directly violated Mr. Rosenbaum's rights.

Yes, strange it all was. Passing strange.

Somehow I just don't have the feeling that race relations at the New York Times have reached an equilibrium state just yet.

UPDATE: David Warsh does a nice job explaining just how vunerable Pinch may be - link thanks to Kausfiles, also coming to understand that the problems at the Times likely come from Pinch.

Can scales cling to the eyes of the family shareholders indefinitely?

FURTHER UPDATE: And now Times columnist Bill Herbert seems to say that the Times newsroom is still hostile towards and biased against African Americans, who he says are still grossly under represented there, anyway.

(0) comments

Monday, May 12, 2003

Whose Debt?

Americans are widely thought to incur consumer debt more freely than people in other countries, especially countries with supposedly high savings rates - such as Germany. But the relationships among consumer and mortgage debt, supposed national character traits and economic optimism (or pessimism) are tricky things - and new information coming from Europe suggests that a good deal less is understood about these variables than is widely thought to be the case. For example, the F.A.Z. reports:

[C]onsumer indebtedness in Germany even exceeds that of the traditionally free-spending United States. ... And, according to experts, an estimated two million German households can no longer pay off their debt.

Even more interestingly, the German consumer's acceptance of such higher consumer debt is a recent phenomenon - that is, it is accelerating during a period of supposedly deepening economic anxiety - and this all seems to be happening at the same time the Germans maintain a high savings rate:

The OECD put total household debt in Germany at 112 percent of disposable income in 2001, compared to just 85 percent 10 years earlier. Debts of U.S. households, whose shopping spree is known to have helped bolster the flagging U.S. economy, stood at 109 percent of disposable income in 2001.

The OECD statistics also seem to confound the argument that the Germans are using most of their borrowings to buy their own house, while their U.S. peers consume on borrowed money: Mortgage loans account for an average 72 percent of disposable income in Germany, and for about 74 percent in the United States.

Yet the German savings ratio remains high in international comparison, at just under 10 percent of average disposable income in 2001. European Union statistics also put the Germans, together with the French, at the top of the European savings champions league. The Americans, for their part, put just about 3.7 percent of their disposable income aside for a rainy day.

Note: "consumer debt" does not normally include home equity loans - which are a form of mortgage.

(0) comments

Friday, May 09, 2003

Free Trade For Energy?

President Bush is reportedly proposing a "free trade" agreement among the Uniited States and countries in the Middle East within 10 years.

It's an interesting idea - but I'm not sure exactly what it would mean.

Most of what some Middle East countries (such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia and faithful Qatar) produce and sell to the United States is "energy": oil and gas. Of course, this is not true of Israel and Jordan, with which the United States already has free trade agreements. One continually hears calls - especially from certain types of environmentalists, some on the left (such as Al Gore) and even farm state representatives - for different types of "engergy taxes" specifically supported by arguments that such taxes would discourage American "dependency" on foreign (especially Middle Eastern) energy sources and encourage development and use of domestic energy sources, such as coal, wind, geothermal reserves, grain alchohol and even hydrogen. But a "free trade" agreement with any country doesn't mean much if the main products of that country (or the counsumption of such products) is subject to high taxes - if the stated point of the taxes is (or is allowed by the "free trade agreement" to be ) to free the United States from dependency on the products supplied by the nominal "free trade partner." And that is still true even if the taxes apply to all such products, not just those actually imported from that "free trade" partner. So, is the United States still to be allowed to tax all oil if the point of the tax is largely to shift American consumption away from "foreign energy sources" to, say, consumption of US-raised corn alcohol? Or US geothermal deposits? Or US-created hydrogen or coal?

Would a "free trade zone" with the Middle East end the possibility of "carbon taxes" and the like whose aim is to reduce American dependency on Middle East energy sources? Would such a "free trade zone" prohibit by federal treaty efforts by states to shift energy use away from Middle Eastern products towards US products with no envoronmental advantage such as alcohol or coal?


(0) comments

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Living Small

Democrats in Congress are making a big fuss over the costs of President Bush's jet landing on an aircraft carrier last week. Even with the most aggressive accounting assumptions, the Democrats can assert only the cost of the trip may have been as much as $1 million - although the actual costs are probably more like $100,000. It is a curious response, since it mostly - and very predictably - makes the Democrats look small and bitter. As liberal columnist Matt Miller correctly notes:

Every so often you come across evidence that a political party is losing its mind. Something like that is happening to Democrats over President Bush's fabulous "top gun" photo-op aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln. It's a case study in how Bush and Karl Rove have left so many Democrats undone.

To get some idea of how ineffectual and counterproductive the Democratic criticism will be, one might compare it to prior criticism of the cost of a Presidential trip. Specifically, President Clinton traveled to China in his first term for about 10 days - a trip that cost the American government about $45 million dollars and had few practical benefits to the United States. The Clinton China trip was more political grandstanding for Mr. Clinton than a justifiable, necessary or valuable action by the President. The trip and its costs were criticized - with no effect.

Hillary Clinton also traveled to China. She was not even a public official at the time. In 1995 Congressman Dan Burton from Indiana questioned why Hillary Clinton's trip to the women's conference in China had to cost 1.5 million dollars for air transportation alone (Congressman Dan Burton News Release, Sept. 13th, 1995, Indianapolis, IN.). Hillary Clinton was reportedly accompanied by 5 Air Force jets and a 125 member delegation. Hillary and her staff traveled in a C-137 and the White House dispatched at least three C-141 Starlifters and one C-130 Transport aircraft, which were said to be carrying cargo or luggage only. Burton also criticized the costs associated with the trip other than transportation costs. He said, "You have to take into account the advance teams, the Secret Service, the food and lodging expenses of the entire 125-person delegation and their staffs, the storage of official aircraft in China, the costs of motorcade vehicles, the salaries of everyone from pilots, to ground crews, to staffers who have been planning this trip for weeks. I think America would be astonished to hear whatever this staggering sum might be."

Representative Burton was probably right. But his comments being correct didn't make him look any better - and he certainly didn't do material harm to the Clintons with that sniping.

Mr. Bush's aircraft carrier celebration was vastly more justifiable - and vastly less expensive - than President Clinton's China hijinks. The aircraft carrier celebration was vastly less expensive than Hillary Clinton's China trip.

How can the Democrats engaged in this exercise in self-diminution not understand what the effect of their criticism will be?

UPDATE: Fritz Schranck and the Journal have interesting things to say about all this.

FURTHER UPDATE: The White House reaction to the Democratic sniping seems to be close to defiant jubilation. The Democrats and their sympathizers in the media who are engaged in this silliness might want to ask themselves why that is the case.

(0) comments

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Krugmania Goes To War!

Michael Dukakis (in)famously donned military garb and climbed into a United States army tank in his failing attempt to obtain the Presidency. Unfortunately, his opponent, George H. W. Bush, ran a highly effective campaign commercial making use of the fact that Mr. Dukakis looked like a ridiculous twerp during his tank ride. [To view the Bush commercial, find the picture on the bottom of the linked page with Mr. Dukakis in military garb.] The Bush commercial juxtaposed Mr. Dukakis's obvious lack of familiarity with, and discomfort in, that tank with his generally anti-defense positions.

Mr. Bush was criticized for running what many Democrats found to be an unfair commercial. But - at least to my knowledge - nobody, absolutely nobody was daft enough to suggest that because Mr. Dukakis and his campaign managers thought that he looked good in military garb astride a late 20th Century version of a military horse, that Mr. Dukakis' aspirations to the White House cast a scary shadow across American democracy. And nobody, absolutely nobody was daft enough to compare Mr. Dukakis with Georges Boulanger, a popular French general who flirted with accepting the dictatorship of France. Nobody, absolutely nobody was daft enough to do any of those things because anybody who tried it would have been universally considered a fool.

But that was all before Paul Krugman came on the scene.

The difference today is not that Herr Doktorprofessor Krugman should not or will not universally be considered a fool for suggesting in his most recent column that the current President's donning a Navy flight suit and piloting a Navy aircraft casts a scary shadow across the very existence of American democracy. No. Herr Doktorprofessor and his sound and fury proclaiming this threat to the Constitution will be seen for what they are. The difference today is that Paul Krugman is no longer deterred by that prospect - and that the New York Times sees fit to run columns by those such as he who are not so deterred.

He rushes in again and again. And the Times publishes the results.

UPDATE: Don Luskin has more - complete with another picture of an anti-defense Democrat who once wrote that he (or, maybe, some other "fine person") "loathed" the American military, constumed as a defense supporter. Priceless.

(0) comments

Friday, May 02, 2003

The Morals of Chess by Benjamin Franklin

The Founders of this country came up with all sorts of surprising insights. For example, Benjamin Franklin penned an interesting little essay on The Morals of Chess. Franklin extracts lots of interesting lessons from chess play, but there is one such lesson that I think deserves to be mentioned but is not clearly articulated by Franklin: Even the most important decisions must be made with only imperfect information, and the associated risks cheerfully accepted - caution and consideration must end at a reasonable point. In any event, Franklin was much smarter than I am, and his thoughts are always worth the penny:

The Game of Chess is not merely an idle amusement; several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired and strengthened by it, so as to become habits ready on all occasions; for life is a kind of Chess, in which we have often points to gain, and competitors or adversaries to contend with, and in which there is a vast variety of good and ill events, that are, in some degree, the effect of prudence, or the want of it. By playing at Chess then, we may learn:

1st, Foresight, which looks a little into futurity, and considers the consequences that may attend an action; for it is continually occurring to the player, "If I move this Piece, what will be the advantage or disadvantage of my new situation? What use can my adversary make of it to annoy me? What other moves can I make to support it, and to defend myself from his attacks?"

2d, Circumspection, which surveys the whole Chess-board, or scene of action: - the relation of the several Pieces, and their situations; the dangers they are repeatedly exposed to; the several possibilities of their aiding each other; the probabilities that the adversary may make this or that move, and attack this or that Piece; and what different means can be used to avoid his stroke, or turn its consequences against him.

3d, Caution, not to make our moves too hastily. This habit is best acquired by observing strictly the laws of the game; such as, if you touch a Piece, you must move it somewhere; if you set it down, you must let it stand.

Therefore, it would be the better way to observe these rules, as the game becomes thereby more the image of human life, and particularly of war; in which if you have incautiously put yourself into a bad and dangerous position, you cannot obtain your enemy's leave to withdraw your troops, and place them more securely, but you must abide by all the consequences of your rashness.

And lastly, We learn by Chess the habit of not being discouraged by present bad appearances in the state of our affairs; the habit of hoping for a favourable chance, and that of persevering in the search of resources. The game is so full of events, there is such a variety of turns init, the fortune of it is so subject to vicissitudes, and one so frequently, after contemplation, discovers the means of extricating one's self from a supposed insurmountable difficulty, that one is encouraged to continue the contest to the last, in hopes of victory from our skill; or, at least, from the negligence of our adversary: and whoever considers, what in Chess he often sees instances of, that success is apt to produce presumption and its consequent inattention, by which more is afterwards lost than was gained by the preceding advantage, while misfortunes produce more care and attention, by which the loss may be recovered, will learn not to be too much discouraged by any present successes of his adversary, nor to despair of final good fortune upon every little check he receives in the pursuit of it.

That we may therefore, be induced more frequently to choose this beneficial amusement in preference to others, which are not attended with the same advantages, every circumstance that may increase the pleasure of it should be regarded; and every action or word that is unfair, disrespectful, or that in any way may give uneasiness, should be avoided, as contrary to the immediate intention of both the parties, which is, to pass the time agreeable.

1st, Therefore, if it is agreed to play according to the strict rules, then those rules are to be strictly observed by both parties; and should not be insisted upon for one side, while deviated from by the other: for this is not equitable.

2d, If it is agreed not to observe the rules exactly, but one party demands indulgences, he should then be as willing to allow them to the other.

3d, No false move should ever be made to extricate yourself out of a difficulty, or to gain an advantage; for there can be no pleasure in playing with a man once detected in such unfair practice.

4th, If your adversary is long in playing, you ought not to hurry him, or express any uneasiness at his delay; not even by looking at your watch, or taking up a book to read: you should not sing, nor whistle, nor make a tapping with your feet on the floor, or with your fingers on the table, nor do anything that may distract his attention: for all these displease, and they do not prove your skill in playing, but your craftiness and your rudeness.

5th, You ought not to endeavour to amuse and deceive your adversary by pretending to have made bad moves; and saying you have now lost the game, in order to make him secure and careless, and inattentive to your schemes; for this is fraud and deceit, not skill in the game of Chess.

6th, You must not, when you have gained a victory, use any triumphing or insulting expressions, nor show too much of the pleasure you feel; but endeavour to console your adversary, and make him less dissatisfied with himself by every kind and civil expression that may be used with truth; such as, you understand the game better than I, but you are a little inattentive, or, you play too fast; or, you had the best of the game, but something happened to divert your thoughts, and that turned it in my favour.

7th, If you are a spectator, while others play, observe the most perfect silence: for if you give advice, you offend both the parties: him against whom you give it, because it may cause him to lose the game: him in whose favour you give it, because, though it be good, and he folllow it, he loses the pleasure he might have had, if you had permitted him to think till it occurred to himself. Even after a move or moves, you must not, by replacing the Pieces, show how they might have been placed better; for that displeases, and might occasion disputes or doubts about their true situation.

All talking to the players lessens or diverts their attention; and is, therefore, unpleasing; nor should you give the least hint to either party, by any kind of noise or motion; if you do, you are unworthy to be a spectator.

If you desire to exercise or show your judgment, do it in playing your own game, when you have an opportunity, not in criticising or meddling with, or counselling the play of others.

Lastly, If the game is not to be played rigorously, according to the rules before mentioned, then moderate your desire of victory over your adversary, and be pleased with one over yourself.

Snatch not eagerly at every advantage offered by his unskilfulness or inattention; but point out to him kindly, that by such a move he places or leaves a Piece en prise unsupported; that by another, he will put his King into a dangerous situation, &c.

By this general civility (so opposite to the unfairness before forbidden) you may happen indeed to lose the game; but you will win what is better, his esteem, his respect, and his affection; together with the silent approbation and the good will of the spectators.

When a vanquished player is guilty of an untruth to cover his disgrace, as "I have not played so long, - his method of opening the game confused me, - the men were of an unusual size," &c all such apologies, (to call them no worse) must lower him in a wise person's eyes, both as a man and a Chess-player; and who will not suspect that he who shelters himself under such untruths in trifling matters, is no very sturdy moralist in things of greater consequence, where his fame and honour are at stake? A man of proper pride would scorn to account for his being beaten by one of these excuses, even were it true; because they have all so much the appearance, at the moment, of being untrue.

(0) comments

Thursday, May 01, 2003

Bad Air Days In California

During the 2000 Presidential campaign and at many other times, Democrats, some self-annointed environmental activists and a good part of the liberal media have felt free to cite Texas' air pollution as evidence that Republicans and especially Geroge Bush are bad for the environment. Often, intimations of some form of "collusion" between the Republicans and "oil interests" or "energy interests" are implied.

So what does it say about Democratic and liberal environmental policies that the arch-liberal and arch-Democratic State of California consistently harbors the worst air pollution in the nation, with no fewer than four of the worst-offending cities? And will the liberal media be running articles suggesting "collusion" between some shadowy "energy interests" and the state's Democratic governor or the Democratic-controlled legislature?

Don't hold your breath.

Is there a connection between Democratic policies and bad air in California? Of course there is. A greatly disproportionate part of air pollution from automobiles is emitted by old cars and cars not properly maintained. Old cars and cars not properly maintained are, in turn, disproportionately owned and driven by people with less wealth - who tend to vote Democratic. If California air pollution laws required that all cars always be as non-polluting as new cars, air pollution in California would drop greatly and rapidly. But such a requirement would "disproportionately" burden core Democratic constituencies.

UPDATE: An astute reader writes:

[A] study for So Cal Edison on electric and hybrid cars and air quality... [examined] ... what percentage of large fleets should be required to be electric/hybrid in order to reach some required air quality level. The number turned out to be much higher than anyone ever expected it could be, and it would have been more expensive than buying everyone in LA who had a car built before 1982 a new Honda Civic, which would have achieved the air quality goal too.
(0) comments

Ancient History At The New York Times

The New York Times has unleashed apparently countless many items regarding what the paper has presented as an apparently countless many art objects looted from Iraq museums. In addition to its own sanctimonious, lachrymose editorializing, the Times has run repetitious, presumptuous and accusing articles by Frank Rich, and Maureen Dowd (predictably, more than once) and Bernard Weinraub and Adam Goodheart and Alberto Manguel and John Tierney and Constance Lowenthal and Stephen Urice and William J. vanden Heuvel and Sam Dillion and Douglas Jehl and Elizabeth Becker and many, many more.

Many of the riper items from the Times have appeared since April 17 - the date the Wall Street Journal informed its readers that reports of Iraq museum looting were being hugely exaggerated. The Journal and others have also warned that the finer vanished pieces may well have been taken by Iraq officials - and not as a result of the too-well-publicized looting.

Today, the Times "waddles in" with its own version:

Col. Matthew F. Bogdanos, a Marine reservist who is investigating the looting and is stationed at the museum, said museum officials had given him a list of 29 artifacts that were definitely missing. But since then, 4 items — ivory objects from the eighth century B.C. — had been traced. "Twenty-five pieces is not the same as 170,000," said Colonel Bogdanos, who in civilian life is an assistant Manhattan district attorney.

Thank goodness the Times found someone to clear that up. Has it taken the Times since April 17 to figure out that 25 is not 170,000?

(0) comments