Friday, July 30, 2004

I Want More

We're all greedy and we all know it if we're honest. We all want more than we can ever have. Even Bill Gates I suppose. That's why we have energy problems in this country. It's really very simple at heart: cheap energy = better life. Saudi Arabia has the cheapest energy around. That's why we're pulled into Middle Eastern quagmires. That's why we have an endless series of presidents and presidential candidates telling us they have a plan for energy independence, a plan which never quite seems to materialize. Dennis the Peasant, a poster on Roger Simon's blog, has captured the mentality better than I could ever express it. I can do no better but to quote him.

"If you are a C.P.A. in public practice long enough, you eventually end up with someone at your door complaining that "they always seem to be broke" (or some sort of variation on that theme) and they want you to go over their finances and find out what is "wrong". Invariably, and I do mean invariably, what you discover is that you have a new client who is not living within their means.

Now, the first time or two you get this type of client, you put in all sorts of effort detailing out where all the money goes, preparing a household budget, and listing out recommendations as to what needs to be done to bring spending in line with earning. Then you sit the client down in a formal meeting and show them all this wonderful stuff and go over everything in detail...it is all professional, by-the-book, high quality work.

What happens next is either (a) the client thanks you and you never see him again, or (b) the client tells you you are full of shit and fires you. This happens because people do not react well, ever, when you start talking to them about adopting a lifestyle that involves fewer goodies than the one they have now. They do not want you to give them analysis and budgets and advice. They want you to make it go away; "You're the accountant. Do something."

After the first couple of experiences with this type of client, what you do is collect your fee and show them the door. Permanently.

It really isn't up to the "government" to rationize our nation's energy policy...and none will because each and every choice available involves both unpleasantness and sacrifice. Period. Any U.S. administration that seriously proposed unpleasantness and sacrifice for energy self-sufficiency would soon be an ex-administration. People don't want energy self-sufficiency...they want "government" to make it all go away. You know, do something.

Ergo, I drive my two and half ton, 4.3 liter V-8 sport utility vehicle without a tinge of guilt...and I get irritable when I get the "SUVs are bad for the environment" thingee (ask Eric Deamer, he will verify that). It ain't about SUVs versus farty little Honda hybrids...it is about $5 a gallon gas, serious vehicle taxes, mandatory urban planning, mass transit, etc., etc., etc....and it is all, most assuredly, about oil.

John Kerry doesn't drive a tofu-powered SUV, and none of the Heinz estates are heated by mung beans. And windmills are not generating the light in the Fleet Center tonight."

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Danger, Danger

Iran is on the verge of going nuclear. What are we going to do about it?

Monday, July 26, 2004

The Sweet Smell of Victory

"The city of Barcelona -- Spain's second largest city -- recently announced it will be phasing out its current Windows NT infrastructure in favor of open source software, according to IBLNEWS and other prominent Spanish-language news outlets.

Barcelona's move comes after the German city of Munich took this same path more than a year ago, in a high-profile battle in which Microsoft executives personally visited city officials to make a counteroffer."
http://business.newsforge.com/business/04/07/23/2049248.shtml?tid=110&tid=132

Racism and the Mega-State

All right-thinking people are against racism. As a believer in the sanctity of the human spirit and of consciousness, I wholly support this dogma, dogma though it may be.

The problem is that the opposition to racism ignores some basic facts about human nature, nay, about the nature of life itself, to wit: individuals seek to propagate their genes. That is why the most basic unit of human society is the family. In difficult times, we know who our brothers and sisters are and we can trust them to help us long before we can trust any stranger. Even if we die, the survival of our genetically similar syblings offers a form of immortality. Some would contend that this is an exact calculus, with an individual perfectly willing to die to save two syblings, four cousins, etc. Whatever the truth of that proposition, it is undeniable that the desire to propagate ones genes is a fundamental part of life.

The most basic form of the state is the family, followed by the extended family and groups of allied and intermarried families--tribes. According to The Arab Mind, it is a fundamental characteristic of the Arabic belief system that all of Arabia is considered to be part of one big family, and that this awareness transcends any particular political state currently extant, which is considered to be ephemeral. There are other states, such as France, which are essentially abstract tribalisms based on linguistic qualifications. You're in the French tribe if and only if you speak French. Then there are imperial states like the United States or the old Soviet Union where membership is determined solely on the basis of abstract ideas.

Racism can only be held in check in the presence of a powerful imperial state.

Only when people are relatively secure and can afford to focus their attention on activities other than self-defense, only when there is the rule of law and not the rule of individual men, only when decisions are made based on the well-established rules and not who you know can ties to family and friends be dispensed with. Only a powerful universalist state like the United States or the Roman Empire can guarantee the degree of safety and fairness necessary to allow people to relax their natural tendency to trust only their family and friends. Only in such an environment can people truly be indifferent to the way other people look.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Heresy

It turns out that the story espoused in The Da Vinci Code is just a modern-day version of the Albigensian Heresy. If that isn't familiar, you might be familiar instead with the phrase "Kill them all, God will know his own" uttered by a French member of the Catholic Church concerning a town which was resisting said Church's attempt to root out Albigensians (also known as "Cathars"). In the original Latin this was "Neca eos omnes. Deus suos agnoscet.".

Here's one version of the story: 'In the 13th century under the authority of Pope Innocent III, it was ordered that France be cleansed of the Cathar heresy by a crusade. The town of Beziers was besieged, but the citizens of the town, 99% Catholic, refused to surrender the few Cathars amongst them. When the town fell, the leader of the crusader army asked advice from Arnaud-Armaury, the Abbot of Citeaux as to how to identify the heretics. He answered "Kill them all. God will know his own." All 20,000 residents of the town were slaughtered, including perhaps 200 Cathars.'

I don't want to go off at great length on this but the Cathars were, so far as I have been able to trace it, the original Puritans. They wanted to purify the earth. (Hence the connection to the word "catharsis".) They believed that the Catholic Church was Satanic. They had interesting ties to ancient non-European religious beliefs, probably including Zoroastrianism and possibly including some form of Hinduism. Their beliefs, on the one hand, are a continuation of Gnosticism in the Mediterranean region of Western Europe, apparently coming directly from the pre-Constantinian Christians, and on the other hand, led more or less directly to the Huguenots and the French Revolutionaries, with many of the former Cathari regions, villages, and families providing the leading members of these later religious movements. Or so at least is the judgement of Friedrich Heer.

Far from having died out, this underground religious belief seems to be alive and well today in the mind of Dan Brown. I thought I was the first to have this insight but it turns out through a quick Google search that there are many (I know, it's a shock, etc.). Here's one.
Lawyers and the Little Guy

The story of how John Edwards is a man of the people.
Traffic Control of the Future

This simulation shows how it will be possible in the future to dispense with traffic lights entirely. No crashes! The way it works is that each car is required to show down a few seconds as it approaches the intersection. The computer that communicates to each car then ensures a completely smooth flow of traffic without any stopping at all. (To start the simulation, click on the "Simulator" menu at the top left and select "Run".)
Power to the People

May the richest man win.

"Kerry by contrast is master and commander of no fewer than five lavish mansions, all large, and all on the priciest real estate, where property values boggle the mind: There is the $3.7 million mansion in Fox Chapel, Pa., on a 90-acre estate with a pool and a carriage house; the $6.9 million town house on Beacon Hill back in Boston; the $9.1 million waterfront house on Nantucket Island; and a $5 million ski chalet in Ketchum, Idaho, built from a 15th-century barn discovered in England that was then taken apart, shipped to America, and reassembled stone by stone. When they want to live simply, the Heinz Kerrys make do with a 23-room town house in Georgetown, almost three times the size of the one that the Kennedys lived in, and worth a mere $4.7 million. To go back and forth between all of these places, the Kerrys have the deluxe model of the Gulfstream V private jet, which retails for about $35 million."

Sometimes Others Say It Better

Well, let's be honest. Usually. Here's a post from TmjUtah from Roger L. Simon's blog.

"You can only bring two or more sides together if there is some sort of common goal. In the arena of foreign affairs our interest in not being killed by Islamofascist barbarians has been rejected as a reason for the leading lights of the old historical allies (excepting the U.K., Australia, and until recently, spain) to reassess their interests, which have historically manifested mainly as sustaining a predictable bunch of thugs for their own (and I mean own PERSONAL before national, ala Oil for Food and the Mitterand/Chirac kickback legacies) benefit. They also have been sliding down the slope to totalitarianism predicted by Burke as the end component to any utopic social agenda. Their envy has led them to sieze on the notion that they somehow improve their own stature by stabbing us in the back. Simplisime', and bogus. They may have a firm hand on the knife but yet they are still behind...

And the contention that we can't go alone is specious. If our focus weren't so much on winning the peaces following victories maybe the citizenry would finally realize exactly what 'superpower' really means. The jihadis are killing us not because we overtly threatened invasion. Our mere existence as a secular economic collasus will kill their cult if it were merely a question of coexistence.

...which brings us to the domestic front. In a perfect world we would have muddled out of the 2000 election fiasco and gotten on with the business of being Americans but the losing side decided that that wasn't going to happen. There was a two-week period there right after the 9/11 attack when I really thought we were united against a common foe. It became clear to me that the minority, once it was assured that the current administration had little interest in finding fault with the last administration's anti-terror record, decided that the burdens, risks, and challenges inherent to the war could be exploited for their own political ends.

Rich Lowry wrote an excellent article earlier this week touching on this subject. It's not what Bush has done - it's that whatever he does, it's automatically wrong. Too fast, too slow, too little, too much.

Now we've had three years to watch the show unfold. On one side we've got the president and his doctrine and the Americans who believe we are in a war for civilization. On the other side we've got the political minority, most of the media, enough Hollywood to save me a couple of hundred dollars a year on movie tickets, university intellectuals, and the traditional vote plantations of the Left who have shelved 9/11 back there someplace with Wounded Knee, snail darters, and laboratory testing of cosmetics on rabbits.

The other side doesn't get it. They won't get "it"...that we are targetted not because Bush is president or that we shuffled off smallpox tainted blankets to the Crow and Shoshone but because we exist as the embodiment of the liberal dream - a free people - because to accept that we face a foe with which compromise is not an option drives a stake through their utopic worldview. There is good and evil, right and wrong, and there are cultures that belong in history books but have no place among civilized communities.

We are fighting two wars. We have never had a perfect nation and we never will...but never, short of 1861, have we had such incompatible national agendas competing for power.

I don't see anything in Kerry's resume that hints at leadership. I most emphatically don't see character. I don't see anything in his base that suggests a willingness to confront and defeat the enemy before us. And the whole pack of them smell like September 10, 2000. For all the necromantic credentials attributed to Karl Rove I've seen nothing resembling a spin machine from this White House. What I do know is that Bush said what he was going to do when he was elected, and did it. He laid out his plans to respond after 9/11 and has done a better-than-fair job of going about that, so far. I've watched him be called a liar, be accused of everything from going to war for petty vengance to building a pipeline (that rumour turns to have begun as a Clinton era State Department ballon), to being somehow 'unilateral' beause our coalition fails to include the feckless sector or Eurabia or the thugs of the U.N.

Our people are dead. We know who did it, and we know why they did it. Of course, we can only take their word for it, and read the book. The only way to make sure it doesn't happen again (or at least eventually stops) is to go to where they live and remove cancer that breeds the murderers. Yes, we are paying a price in blood. At least most of our dead for the last couple of years were shooting back...and have freed two nations to date.

In the old days we would have killed cities. It might come to that...and I lean toward that outcome becoming more likely should we screw up and elect Kerry...but the simple fact is that Bush The Cowboy has put his bet down on the promise of freedom as the ultimate tool for ending despotism and it's accompanying misery, paranoia, and hate.

That's a tremendous vision. I hope we as a nation can scrape up enough guts to make it work."

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Wealth

We all know as we look around that some people have lots of money and some have little. Many people have the belief that there's only so much to go around, i.e., that wealth is static. If that's true then the only reason one person could have more than others is that they, or their parents perhaps, took it from those who have little. This sort of hypothetical plunder of the poor by the rich is a sort of thievery. Even if it is legal it is morally suspect.

But is this hypothesis, the static wealth hypothesis, really true? To answer that, we have to ask a more fundamental question: what is wealth really? Upon examination, it's not such an easy question to answer. Wealth is more than the simple possession of money. Once people did not have money but possessed other things. They still had wealth, but not in such an abstract form. And what's the value of money anyway? If I had oodles of Confederate notes stored up in my basement, would I be rich? Of course not, because nobody would take it. So it's not the money itself which really matters but rather the fact that I can use it to get other things that I want that makes me wealthy.

Thus we can define wealth, at least preliminarily, to mean the ability to command goods and services. Seen in this light, wealth is actually just another form of power. That is why modern economists are mistaken to claim that economics bears no relation to politics: politics is the study of power relations and wealth is itself a form of power. The Marxists have this part of it right. Nonetheless there is a qualitative difference between the sort of power that, say, being governor of Arkansas would give me with respect to women, and the sort of power thatcomes from having a hundred thousand dollars in the bank. In the latter case, the power I have comes only from the ability to explicitly trade my dollars for things which are legally tradeable.

Another thing that emerges from these considerations is that somehow wealth is tied to satisfaction, and satisfaction is very subjective. If everybody I know has blue jeans and blue jeans are all the rage and if one cannot be seen in decent society without blue jeans, and if I do not possess blue jeans, then I will consider blue jeans to be incredibly valuable and might come to envy greatly a man who owns a room full of blue jeans. I might gladly trade a year's salary for a pair. If I possess a room full of black slacks instead I will consider myself to be poor. Suppose though that fashions change and that black slacks are all the buzz. In that case suddenly I am wealthy and my erstwhile rival is poor. This is why corporations labor mightily to convince us that what they produce is a Good Thing. This is called "creating demand".

Now consider a hypothetical village where there are two men, each of whom possesses one object of possible value. Let's say one of them possesses a spear and the other a plow. Suppose the one who possesses a spear is a farmer and the other a hunter. Neither has what they want; both are poor. Now suppose they swap possessions. The farmer has the plow his heart desires, the hunter has the spear of his dreams, and the net wealth of the village has suddenly gone up tremendously. What seems to count then is not the total amount of possessions of the village but the distribution of those possessions relative to the desires of the populace. Wealth is subjective, at least to some extent. Also, wealth can be greatly increased by the ability to trade.

It follows, at least to some extent, that we can become wealthier just by "freeing our minds". If we want to be wealthier, and if we can convince ourselves that the possessions we have right now are more valuable than we thought, then suddenly we are wealthier. Magic. Of course this is harder to do in practice than in theory.

I say to some extent because we are after all tied by our physical and biological requirements into certain daily requirements. We have to eat, need shelter and clothing, etc. If I lack these then I am truly poor. Except that in India I observed people who lacked even these most basic goods, but sat on the curb nonetheless with beatific smiles upon their faces. They did not consider themselves poor. I suppose they truly had "freed their minds".

Still, in America today not having enough to eat is essentially unheard of, barring some bizarre social or cult situation. People don't think of poverty in those terms anymore. We're simply too rich. "Poverty" now means things like having an old car or an old computer that only runs Windows 98. The poorest Americans today are rich by any sort of historical standard. The poorest American today can easily command goods and services that were completely unavailable to the most powerful Roman emperor. He can fly through the air across a continent in a winged chariot in return for about 20 hours of labor, for example. Evidently, wealth which never existed before can be created. It is not static.

Wealth can likewise be destroyed. If I pull a dollar bill from my pocket and set it on fire, the world as a whole is unchanged. I am however a dollar poorer. Nobody else got that dollar from me. Nobody else gained, but I'm worse off. Wealth has been destroyed. If I blow up my car I'm poorer but nobody's wealthier in return. Come to think of it, it's quite easy to destroy wealth. This puts the lie, by the way, to the oft-held sentiment that war can make the economy better. Any destructive activity will only make the economy worse, considered as a whole, because there will simply be less wealth.

How exaclty does wealth get created? If I sit down and paint a picture and that picture has particular value to other people then I can sell that picture to someone who really wants it. In that case I have some money I didn't have before and the person who bought the picture has something beautiful on his or her wall which he or she didn't have before. The amount of dollars in the world is the same but the amount of beauty has increased by one picture. If the picture has real value and the sale wasn't a scam, then the picture can be resold if necessary by the new owner for an equivalent or even greater price. So the owner has lost nothing by the transaction and in truth has gained because--like the hypothetical villagers--he or she has traded something desired less for something desired more. I meanwhile am clearly better off to the tune of the dollars now in my pocket.

One can argue that wealth has not increased because I have traded my time for the dollars. It's true that I have traded my time for the dollars but it is not true that there is no gain. Time is not wealth, contrary to the popular saying. Time can indeed be converted to wealth, but only under certain rather stringent circumstances. If I cannot paint well and I try to sell my lousy paintings anyway then my time will not have been converted to wealth because no one will buy them. I will have simply wasted my time. The conversion of time into wealth via paintings is only available to those of us who possess that artistic skill.

Similarly, if I am a great writer or a great musician or a great inventor I may have the means to convert my time into wealth at hand. But even in the circumstances that I do possess some such remarkable talent, it does not automatically follow that I can actually convert my time into wealth. This is because my ability to convert depends not just on me but also on other people. Wealth is a social phenomenon. Imagine a musician with the skill of a Mozart living in the Dark Ages. He can play like the dickens but nobody wants to buy. Everybody's much too concerned with more basic things, like not being killed by the local sword-wielding bullies. The ability to create wealth depends, then, not just on my ability to supply, but also on other peoples' willingness to buy. What is called "demand" in economics. Our hypothetical Mozart of the Dark Ages is obligated to find another line of work pronto, or die.

This point is often lost, particularly on highly talented creative people. They know that they possess a great gift, one for which they have been greatly praised throughout their entire lives, and rightly so. But the demand for the creative arts is usually far less, in a highly developed civilization like ours, than the supply. Unlike any previous age, we have lots and lots of people with lots and lots of leisure time in which to improve their artistic skills. And with billions of people about, there are bound to be a number of folks with truly great gifts. So the potential supply of art is probably greater than at any time in history. The demand, on the other hand, usually isn't all that great. I only have so many walls and I only need so many paintings on them. I can put a cheap print of "The School of Athens" up and I don't really have a huge need to buy a piece of original art. Again, I can listen to a CD of Bach, Beethoven or the Beatles at hardly any cost and so have very little need to go out of my house to a local pub or town square to hear live musicians who are surely not up to the same refined level as Bach. A hundred years ago or so all music was live and rare and so the demand was higher.

These circumstances limit greatly the ability of the modern artist to trade his or her time for wealth and this tends to lead to a natural clash between those artists who try to make a living from their talent, whether the world wants it or not, and those more realistic people who have cultivated other skills in order to make a living, becoming CPAs for example. Not because it was their first love in life to be CPAs, but because they realized that the balance of supply and demand in that particular profession would provide a means by which they could trade their time effectively for great wealth.

There are other ways to increase wealth besides creating art. Imagine for example that I have a factory producing shoes. Imagine that I give the layout of the factory some thought and realize that by moving some of the machines around and putting them in a slightly different order that the people working in the factory can be more efficient. They can now produce, say, 105 shoes an hour instead of the previous 100. That's 40 extra shoes a day which, providing that there is demand for shoes, can be sold. The extra money thereby generated is extra wealth which didn't exist before, pure and simple. It can be paid to a number of people. The owner of the factory can keep it for himself as profit. Or wages can be raised by paying out that extra money to the employees in gratitude for their higher production. Or the price can be lowered to the shoe buyers. In this latter case, things could be managed so that the total amount made by selling the 840 shoes made in a day, the total revenue, is exactly the same as the revenue from only 800 shoes was before. In this case neither the workers nor the owners gain but the consumers are still wealthier without having to do a thing to achieve that wealth. That new wealth wasn't stolen from anyone--it's simply brand new wealth, the proverbial free lunch. In this scenario, because the shoes are now cheaper, the buyers can afford to buy them new more often and thus wear newer shoes than previous generations could achieve. Far from being hypothetical, the American economy produces these sorts of gains in wealth almost all the time. I'm typing this on a computer that has the power of a supercomputer from the early Nineties and would have cost millions but for which I paid only $700. That's a huge increase in wealth to me and all I had to do was wait. Manna from heaven indeed.

In the real world, because of various circumstances, the new wealth due to increased efficiency described in the previous paragaph is usually distributed in all three ways. Profits increase, salaries go up, and the price of consumer products goes down. Everybody is gaining. Everybody is getting richer. That's why the American peasant beats the Roman emperor of old. This doesn't usually happen in a uniform way. For some years, profits will rise, and then for some other years, wages will rise, and then at different times prices will fall. So over the course of a short time-period the changes aren't quite so obvious but over a longer scale they become dramatic. How much is the Internet worth to you? Cable television? DVDs? None of these existed in my youth.

In summary, we can see that wealth, far from being static and fixed, is quite dynamic. Good policies which allow both trade and the ability to profit from creation are liable to increase wealth; bad policies which restrict trade and creativity are liable to keep wealth fixed or even to decrease it. The United States and the other modern modified capitalist economies like Japan and Singapore have done a good job of implementing policies which increase wealth. The highly repressed Arab states which provide very little opportunity for creativity or change have done a very poor job of creating wealth, despite the presence of vast deposits of minerals of potentially great value lying beneath their sands. Countries, like those of the EU and to some extent Canada, which choose to restrict wealth-creating opportunities in the name of other socially desirable qualities are liable to see little wealth-creation relative to more dynamic countries like Singapore and Hong Kong. In the long run, they are going to stay more or less where they were when these policies were imposed while the US, Singapore, China, etc. are going to pass them by and leave them in the proverbial dust. In absolute terms, they won't be any worse off, of course, but in relative terms they'll be farther and farther behind. In my youth in the Sixties most families possessed only one car. Most European families will continue, then, to possess only one car while American households will routinely possess two or more. This will lead to jealosy. But the Europeans have chosen for their societies to be relatively poorer, as is their right, and it is the dynamism of wealth, rather than any greed inherent in Americans, which will lead to these disparate results.

Finally, it's interesting to note that the nature of wealth is changing. There is a tendency over time for wealth to become increasingly abstract. In ancient times wealth was measured using tangible and important possessions like cattle. To this day we have many words in the English language which derive from the ancient Latin word for cattle, pecus. The words cattle and capital come from the same root in fact. Cattle were an early form of money. Then a coin or a piece of paper was made to stand for an abstract cow and money was invented. Nowadays the world's richest men are rich solely because of their production of patterns of zeroes and ones which they have produced on a piece of plastic. For that's all that software is: a particular pattern of zeroes and ones. Abstract patterns have become, because of the existence of computers, the most important form of wealth in our society.
People Needing People

This may very well be the future of journalism. Lileks made the comment that the newspaper increasingly looks more like a group blog to him, a blog however which is not honest or explicit about its biases. Why do we need reporters anyway? The whole concept of journalism as a profession (i.e., fancy trade union) is highly questionable. Everybody knows that whenever they've seen a story in the newspaper, a story about which they had specific personal knowledge, the newspaper got it wrong. Screwed up the facts, screwed up the names, etc. Yet when we read what the newspaper has to tell us about things far away we tend to believe it as though it had just come down directly from Mt. Sinai. This strange phenomenon of human gullibility even has a name, Gell-Mann's Amnesia Effect. Why then do we need a bunch of professional experts who have no on-the-ground knowledge of events telling us what is happening? Their pretence at objectivity has long ago faded away for all who pay attention. As but one example, witness the way the New York Times chose to spin the Berger mess from a potentially lethal felonious breaking of the law on a scale worse than Watergate to simply some political posturing done by the Bush administration. Pravda on the Hudson. Who needs it? Why don't we have soldiers on the ground and Iraqis reporting on Iraq, Kansans on Kansas, Bostonians on Boston? Why not let the people report the news they know about?

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Department of Enough

Every time one of the Clintonites gets caught in yet another nefarious action we get all the usual excuses. Accident, didn't-mean-to, unimportant, vast right-wing conspiracy, depends on the meaning of "is". One wonders just how far they can carry their apparent crusade for the erosion of all sense of justice within the American republic. My God! Have they no decency, sir?

Of course all of this is reserved only for big, important, connected people like the Clintons. Laws still have to be obeyed by ordinary "little guys" like thee and me, as Megan McArdle explains.
Hammer and Crescent

Europe's continuing religious collapse due to the impending death of Christianity is creating a religious vacuum. Man is a religious animal and he abhors a religious vacuum. This vacuum was filled for a while by the secular Christianities of Communism and Socialism but those milquetoast religions will never fill that deep need which some crave. Particularly with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the appeal of a totalitarian police-state "for the workers" isn't what it once was. No, give me that old-time religion. There is thus an unsatisfied craving for something more, something real, something you can whip your back into a bloody pulp over. Enter Islam.

There's a natural alliance between the European secular Christians and the Euroislamists. They're both religious. They're both anti-Western. They're both anti-modern and anti-science. They're both anti-Israeli and/or anti-semitic.

Evidence for this alliance is continuing to accrue.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Not So Dark Department

Stephen Hawking claims to have solved the black-hole paradox. This means that information can sometimes flow back out of a black hole. The paradox has been that, on the one hand, quantum mechanics demands, roughly speaking, that on a very low level nothing can ever be completely absolute. Thus, even in a complete vacuum there has to be a certain low level of energy, with particles bubbling up out of nothing and disappearing again all the time. And even in a black hole there has to be a certain amount of information bubbling out. But, on the other hand, relativity theory, as heretofore understood, has implied that nothing but nothing ever comes out of a black hole once it had the misfortune to enter it. These can't both be right. This is yet another instance where the contradictions between the two best scientific theories known to mankind--relativity theory and quantum mechanics--come to the fore. One of the most salient frontiers in current research in Physics is the attempt to reconcile these.

By the way, check out the links on black holes at the bottom of the link. These include: 'Massive black holes common in early Universe', 'Giant black hole caught devouring star', and 'Black holes "detonating all over our Galaxy"'. It really doesn't get more dramatic than that.
Smelly

The Kerry/Berger scandal is looking mighty fishy. There's no proof at this point, but it certainly deserves some serious investigation.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Market Share

When I was a boy all the other children's families seemed to have cars from General Motors. My family, by contrast, drove Chryslers. Chrysler had only about 15% of the market, Ford only about 20%. American Motors also had a nugatory market share. Everyone else, about 2 in 3, drove GM cars, and were proud of it. The auto market was GM and GM was automobiles. People who drove Chryslers were looked on with some suspicion: all very nice and all that but why not just drive Hudsons or Packards? I found out later that my family's predilection for Chryslers arose because my mother had worked at GM and experienced a Michael Moore-esque reaction to that environment, and because Chrysler had given my father credit to buy a car when he returned from the War (WWII, "the" war). In an era when high-school students are routinely granted credit cards it's a little hard to imagine what that meant to my father, but the faith they showed in him engendered a lifelong loyalty nearly unimaginable today.

And that loyalty was not without a price. It was embarassing to be the family driving Chryslers. We were a poor family anyway, why did my parents need to add to the humiliation by buying these dorky clunkers? Why couldn't we just be like everybody else?

When I was a teenager a couple of the local professors' families bought Japanese cars. One family chose Toyota and the other Honda. They were funny-looking cars, tiny little boxy cars that were patently unsafe and matched in no way the American car-fashion of the day. Toyota seemed an astute choice of name--these little cars were indeed toys. They were ugly, but ugly in an interesting, almost cute way. They were cool. In a car-conscious town like Wichita they were the car-fashion equivalent of growing your hair long: unsafe, troublesome, and ugly, but COOL, or were so, at least, for the three people who opposed the Vietnam War at that time.

Most people thought the choice absurd. Although the cars were cheap and surprisingly well-put-together for the money, you got no room for big American bodies, no safety when colliding with big American cars, no power in the form of big American engines, and no beauty in the form of big American metallic curves. And there was something vaguely unpatriotic about them. A Japanese car? Buy a car from the same people who carried out the Bataan Death March? Why on earth would anybody buy such a thing? But the answer was obvious as soon as the question was asked: these cars were a fashion statement. The Vietnam War was in full swing and these professors were at the forefront of the anti-war movement. The Japanese car was a great big middle finger raised to the old-fashioned sensibilities of middle America.

While interesting as conversation pieces, no one outside the professoriate took them seriously. GM was still the car to buy. GM stock the stock to own. Nobody imagined that those toys would ever have any significant impact on the American car market.

Then the energy crisis came and suddenly everybody wanted a fuel-efficient car and wanted it now. People who owned the 8-mile-per-gallon gas-guzzlers of old couldn't give them away. A sort of panic set in. I remember pitying those people who owned those pathetic dinosaurs. They were spending an arm and a leg on gas just to get to work. They didn't have a future. The small, fuel-efficient, not to mention cheap and amazingly reliable cars were clearly the way to go. They became fashionable, not only with the professors, but with a significant, albeit small, avant garde. As the oil crises eased the Japanese car companies continued to step up to the plate, bringing a succession of cars to market which seemed to match current American taste perfectly, until they were indistinguishable in looks and gas mileage from the GM cars they had replaced. It became obvious to me by the late 1970s that it was just a matter of time till they ate GM's lunch. Nobody I knew would even consider buying an American car, any more than they would consider voting for Reagan or joining the Ku Klux Klan. I could not understand why GM didn't react. Didn't they see what was happening to them? But GM continued to be lulled by their large market share. It was shrinking, marginally, but there didn't seem to be any serious reason for worry, let alone panic. This attitude continued throughout the '80's. Even as late as the '90's I found myself arguing with an otherwise savvy Boca Raton investor that Toyota was an up-and-coming company to buy. He said that the Lexus was just a slight extension of the Camry and was essentially a toy not to be taken seriously.

Toyota is the GM of today. One can hardly be caught dead driving an American car. It's surely a sign of massive moral weakness, if not outright stupidity, and this attitude has been the attitude for quite some time. GM's market share continues to decline down to the erstwhile Chrysler levels.

The moral of the story is: it is the quality of the market share a company possesses, not the quantity, which makes the difference in the long run. And what holds true in the marketplace of cars holds true a fortiori in the marketplace of ideas. A dead idea may take a long time to expire but when it's time has come there's nothing that can be done to revive it.

That's why Christianity is dead today. Not literally dead. Like the GM of old, it still holds a commanding market share. Like the GM of old, the leaders fail to see any serious problem. But Christianity no longer counts among those who matter, among those who lead, those who set the trends. Christianity doesn't count there in the least. Christianity simply isn't cool. Worse, it's evil, it's the Source of All Evil. It's the Devil. It's important to see not only what exists in a society but where the energy is. It's not in Christianity. Christianity is being supplanted by the secular religions, the daughters of Christianity like Environmentalism. Or maybe Islam will fill the void.

It's always possible that Christianity will resurge, as it did in the Great Awakening. Possible but unlikely. As things currently stand, Christianity is as dead as a dead GM. It's just a matter of time till this becomes obvious to all.
It's Getting Hotter All the Time

Is the world getting warmer? If so, what is the cause? Is it the SUVs? [Favorite bumper sticker of the week seen on a Boulder SUV: "Daddy, where did all the trees go?".]

The truth is we don't know the answers to these questions. It would appear that the world is indeed getting hotter. This may be caused by increased carbon dioxide in the air. It seems pretty clear that there is increased carbon dioxide in the air. But isn't it at least a little daunting that an avowedly anti-scientific age is so willing to swallow whole an elaborate scientific theory, based on the authority of "scientists"?

It seems to me that the alternative hypothesis that the Sun is getting hotter is at least worthy of consideration by anyone who retains an open mind on the subject. (Is there any such person?)

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

All Your Base Are Belong to Us

This guy seems to have been prescient.

<< Seven years ago I published in American Arts Quarterly the following meditation on the earlier collapse of the agricultural and manufacturing economies:



". . . the third wave, the information age, is upon us, the golden dawn upon the economic horizon. However, . . . the same thing will happen to the information industries, presently ascendant, as happened to the farms and factories. There is no reason the technologies of data storage, management and retrieval should not perfect and miniaturize and cheapen and streamline themselves almost out of existence like their predecessors. If the historical analogy holds, employment, investment, and cultural commitment in the information industries will rise to about 90% of the given resources; at first huge fortunes will be made; then as the labor demand rises, economic equality will increase; there will follow the predictable collapse of the labor market as the information industries become more and more cost-efficient, smaller and smaller on the world's horizon, less and less labor-intensive, and finally less capital-hungry and less profitable, leaving a few cash cows providing all the world's needs. Eventually their operation will take up 2% of our money and our people. Hordes of information workers will be turned out on the streets, asking the employed if they can spare a dime. Moreover all this will happen much faster than the rise and decline of manufacturing, just as the manufacturing age happened faster than the agricultural age."
(American Arts Quarterly, Winter 1997)



At that time I predicted the emergence of a new economy that would succeed the information economy:



"Finally, we will be left with the irreducibly labor- and capital-intensive human industries of what we might call "charm": education, entertainment, adventure, religion, sport, fashion, history, movies, ritual, personal development, politics, the eternal soap opera of relationships. . . The world's largest industry today is not electronics, not automobiles, not oil, but tourism." >>

I think he's right. I think that's the future, al Qaida willing. People will increasingly spend money on experiential projects. As the difficulty of living continues to fall (cars are cheap, food is cheap, clothes are cheap) and it becomes less and less necessary to spend ones days working for a living, people will spend more and more time seeking new experiences. You only go around once in life; might as well make the most of it.
Got Chip?

Is there a Borg Collective in your future? Here are two articles which may be pointing the way.

Monday, July 12, 2004

By Any Other Name

What, praytell, is a "job"? Is it anything more than an agreement between a person, the employee, and another person or group of persons, the employer?

Why do people have jobs? Is it not because a) the employer has money, and b) the employee is willing to do something for the employer for the amount of money that the employer is willing to pay?

A "job" in other words, is not the same sort of thing as an apple. I can see, touch, and eat an apple. I can move it from one place to another. I can take it out of the country. None of these can be done to a "job". My job is an agreement between me and my employer. That can't be taken out of the country unless I'm taken out of the country and my employer agrees to pay me over there.

It is true that I can be fired and someone else in a foreign country can be hired to do for the employer substantially what I was doing before. Provided, that is, that there is someone in the foreign country capable of doing what I was doing before. In that case, my job hasn't been moved, it has ended. Someone else got their job, but they didn't get my job.

Which brings up another point. No single party to an agreement can own the agreement. I can't own my job. An agreement can be abrogated by either side at their leisure. When the State intervenes to prevent the ending of agreements, people will respond to this outrage by ceasing to enter agreements, or at least ceasing to do so in a manner which is subject to State control and intervention. Because nobody is going to do something which may be turned around and bite them later when they're not watching. The secret of all economic behavior is that everybody has to know the rules. If the rules are that contracts can be freely broken, fine. If the rules are that contracts can never be broken, also fine, but good luck finding anybody willing to enter one.

Some modern-day corporations have taken advantage of modern-day telecommunications to expand their potential labor pool, potentially lowering their costs. I say, bully for them. That's how wealth gets created. My task as an economic actor is to ensure that I have sufficient skills and can drum up sufficient demand for those skills that I can adequately meet my economic needs.

A few things become obvious from this analysis. First, during one of those times when panic is spreading across the country and people are pulling in their economic horns, many people are going to simultaneously decide that they don't need some things they were previously paying for and are going to quit paying for them until the smoke clears and the dust settles. They're going to abrogate some of the agreements that they previously had; some people are going to become unemployed. This will occur in waves because panic occurs in waves. It has absolutely nothing to do with what any president does or doesn't do.

There are certain options available to the government. To wit, it can make money loose or tight. In the aggregate, loose money will have a big impact on monetary panic, and so, after a course of time, often years, will have a big impact on the willingness potential employers might have to hire. Conversely, tight money will have a big impact over the course of years in the opposite direction: it will increase the money-panic. The federal government made the colossal mistake in the early 1930's of trying to contract the money supply at the very time that the panic was rising to a crescendo. The Great Depression remains the single worst case of government economic failure yet known. Besides manipulating the money supply, government has another option, one which is a favorite of socialists the world over. Namely, government can artificially create makework jobs which nobody really wants and which are done at a price far above the market demand for those jobs. This is probably a good option in extremely desperate times, but its application in the late 1930's did little or nothing to alleviate the continuing Depression. That's because the economically inefficient makework jobs of the WPA et al. relied on government taxing, borrowing, or money-printing in order to occur. Money-printing, as all survivors of the Carter years can recall, leads to high inflation and ends up taxing the citizenry in a different way. Borrowing is simply deferred taxes. So all of these methods come down to some sort of taxation, which is why they inevitably fail: for the economy to resurrect itself, individuals have to have the belief that there is some hope for them and that they can make money. If the State is robbing Peter to pay Paul, Peter isn't going to be in the mood to hire anybody.

On the other side, individuals are obligated to find some activity they can perform for which there is a market. No doubt we would appreciate the opportunity to be famous painters, thinkers, stars-of-the-screen, but for most of us the reality dawns early that we simply do not have the talent to make a living at such activities. The invisible hand thus leads us ever so gently into those economic activities which people actually want done and are willing to pay for. Things like getting their cars fixed, making sure the faucets isn't dripping, and making sure that the shelves are stocked at the grocery stores. There's nothing glamorous about any of that but it's what real jobs are made of.

It sometimes happens that a vast area of economic activity disappears; sometimes this occurs so quickly that it seems to happen overnight. We've witnessed this lately with the dot-com crash. One day everybody wanted to hire web developers and programmers of every conceivable stripe; the next there wasn't a single ad in the paper and trained technicians were being laid off by the hundreds. This is unquestionably an extremely unpleasant exercise for everyone involved. Everyone who becomes laid off in such a process is obligated to do some deep soul searching. The skill which had recently been learned and upon which one was counting for future riches suddenly has no demand. Well, a little demand. A few lucky sods will be allowed to continue in this field. Most everyone else will be obligated to find something new to do. There's really nothing that the government or anyone else can do about this state of affairs. Those jobs are simply gone. It's time to look elsewhere, find a new agreement with somebody who has some money and needs something done.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Damn Dogs

Apparently dogs are anathema in the new Iran.

"On the October 13, one of "Supreme Leader" Ali Khamenei's followers demanded that all dogs and their owners be arrested. This follows a June decree banning the sale of dogs, along with public dog walking, which was branded an immoral act and an offense to the sensitivities of all good Muslims. Makes one suspect that the mullahs' close relationship with the People's Republic of China has had a dramatic effect on Iranian cuisine, and the leaders are rounding up the dogs for the next banquet?"

When the Puritan impulse is set free, there's no telling where it will end up.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Reality Sets In

Whenever a new idea or technology obtrudes there is generally the same reaction. First enormous enthusiasm, which grows and grows until everyone who is remotely concerned is pulled in. Second, growing realization that perhaps this new idea is not the answer to all of life's problems after all. Third, disillusionment if not despair. Finally, a realization that the new idea has its place, and an accurate assessment of where that place might be. We've just witnessed the full cycle in the Internet boom and bust.

The last few years have seen a mini-boom in the idea that outsourcing American jobs, particularly technology jobs, is going to--once again--solve all of lifes problems. It would seem that the reaction has already set in.
Torch of Freedom

It would seem that the people of Hong Kong are not going to lie down quietly and let their rights be stripped away. I wish them luck.
We're Here to Help

This site certainly shines some perspective on our political debates. Death by government.