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January 24, 2004

Cracker Barrel Culture

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Today is my birthday, and also that of my second son, Aidan. To celebrate (ok, to put off cleaning the house), we went to Cracker Barrel for brunch. While we ordered the food, the younger two boys were being a bit needy, so after we ordered, I took Griffin around the restaurant, showing him the various implements and portraits on the wall and telling him about them. (He was confused by the stuffed bass, but thought the plow and the gun were really interesting.)

I was thinking, as I ate, about what a hard life the pioneers had - even their children, in the 1920s and 1930s, were impoverished, and led a very rough existence by our standards, or even the standards of the coastal cities of their time. And it occurred to me that a big part of the difference between the culture of the fly-over states and the culture of the coasts is that the coasties, if they ever went to Cracker Barrel, would do so to laugh at the kitsch, or would imagine that we in the fly-over states somehow romanticize the pioneer past; while we in the fly-over states actually tend to look at that time as one where the people undertook almost heroic deeds, performing incredibly hard work without letup and under conditions of real poverty, to ensure that they could be their own masters and their children could have a better future than they themselves.

While I was thinking this, the waitress came up and told us that the couple at the next table, who had left several minutes before, had taken care of our check. For a six-person family, that is not a small amount of money, even at the reasonably-priced Cracker Barrel. I could not that that couple there, so I'd like to do it here. Thank you for your kindness and generosity. You brought a real joy to my family and myself, and we appreciate it deeply. It is a blessing to pass on, not to keep, and you can rest assured that we have already done so.

This event got me thinking of something my father did, when I was young. We had a trailer that converted into a tent that would sleep 6, and kept it in our back yard. We were living in a suburb of Oklahoma City at the time, and my father had a hobby of hunting coins with his metal detector. One day, he came home from the park with a family. The man and woman and their children (two if I remember correctly) had come upon some misfortune, the details of which I don't remember. As a result, they were homeless, and had set up a camp in the park while they tried to work their way out of their problem.

For a couple of weeks, my father housed that family in our tent trailer, had them eat with us, and helped the father of that family look for a job. After he got one, they were able to move out, and become independent again.

I know that there is a very distorted image of America peddled by the LA and NYC elites who largely control the images we see on television and at the movies and in the news. I cannot really blame people who have not been into America's heartland for not understanding the true generosity and character of this land's people. But this is the heart of America, the willingness to give of one's self to help a complete stranger, not necessarily because they need it, but because you can.


Comments

Jeff, that is the sort of story that ought to be told far more often, but which modesty inhibits most people from telling. And I have no doubt that similar stories could be told by many -- including many from our "heartless" cities.

Posted by: Francis W. Porretto on January 10, 2004 02:36 PM

That is an important part of the glue that holds middle america together. Thoughtful generosity. Thanks for the personal anecdote.

It sounded like something from the book, "Pay it Forward." It is always good to see it and hear about it in real life.

Posted by: RB on January 11, 2004 05:16 PM
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Talk About Corporate!

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So I'm currently on a contract in downtown Chicago, across from the Board of Trade, in an area with many large banks and the Federal Reserve. One of the banks in the area has a ticker that runs the time, temperature, and change in the DJIA from yesterday's close. For some reason that just cracked me up.


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Faster, Please

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Porphyrogenitus has commentary on a Spectator article which discusses the political backlash of the Iraq war on Tony Blair. While I agree with Porphyrogenitus that we in the US need to be very aware of this, there are two points that I'd like to take up that he did not.

1. The Spectator is anti-Blair, in much the same way as the New York Times is anti-Bush. Any policy backed by Blair can be assured of a thrashing in The Spectator. We do need to take these arguments seriously, and rebut them, so as to prevent them from becoming the evaluative lens through which the war is seen (thus hampering the wider war). On the other hand, we need to treat these arguments on the basis of where they are coming from. Had Maggie Thatcher been in charge and undertaken identical actions, I suspect The Spectator would have been effusive in praising her.

2. This is an argument for going faster in the wider war. We need to ensure that our opponents, the anti-war folks (and, let's face it, the anti-Enlightenment and pro-Islamist folks as well, who far outnumber the true anti-war folks), are kept off balance as much as our enemies. The reason for this is simple: we can be defeated from without only if we are defeated from within. In a sense, this has always been true. Abraham Lincoln, in his "Lyceum Address" of January, 1838, said:

This task of gratitude to our fathers, justice to ourselves, duty to posterity, and love for our species in general, all imperatively require us faithfully to perform.

How then shall we perform it?--At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it?-- Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never!--All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.

At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.


And there is a significant threat from within. It is the same threat that cost us the Viet Nam War: the combination of self-satisfied hubris on the part of pro-Enlightenment individualists and aggressive determination on the part of collectivists.

There are at least three ways to address this internal danger, and all must be followed:

1. The argument in favor of individualism must be continually made, on the basis of principle; and this principle must be the basis of our foreign and domestic policies, even at the cost of early electoral reverses. Protection of human rights, for example, is a fundamentally individualist notion, yet it has been hijacked by collectivists as a tool to beat down governments they oppose (such as the US and Israel) for trivial or imagined offenses, while being ignored when true offenses are committed by third-world or collectivist governments.

Without making individualism the focus of our policies, the collectivists can claim high moral ground without having to face the low moral consequences of their positions. Massive increases in the reach and power of government - always at the expense of individuals - must be fought down. This includes collectivized health care, extending the funding of the NEA, and other such "nanny state" provisions.

If this is not done on the basis of principle, loudly and consistently argued, it makes conservatives look mean. If we argue the principle of keeping power from those who would use it against us, we'll have a much better chance of convincing people of the reasons why it is necessary to prevent collectivist expansions of power in the first place.

At the same time, there are valid complaints that must be addressed. For example, we should not argue that Social Security be scrapped because it is ineffective, until we can fix the underlying problem Social Security is supposed to solve. If not for Social Security, how do we prevent the elderly from becoming impoverished? We must not focus on dismantling bad programs, but on replacing them with good programs, or eliminating the need for the bad programs. In some cases, we must simply declare victory and move on. In others, we must solve a problem and convince the undecideds that our solution is better than the collectivist solution imposed since the 1930s. It should go without saying that, in order to convince people of that, our solutions must actually be better than what they replace.

2. We must take the argument to mass culture. The primary methods of spreading the collectivist memes are through music, movies, books and the like. News media (which most bloggers and political geeks pay attention to) is pretty irrelevant in comparison: most people don't pay attention.

We need to create and disseminate works of fiction, both books and movies, which triumphantly proclaim individualist themes. This is not too difficult to figure out how to do, since it was the primary cultural ingredient prior to the late 1960s. We need to make movies about people whose individual actions cause good things to come about, and write books about freedom, and sing songs about how we are being controlled and manipulated and bought off with our own money.

We need to elevate and publically honor the virtues of achievement, politeness, respect, thrift, hard work, personal responsibility and the like.

3. We must keep our opponents and enemies on the defensive by controlling the agenda and pace. In terms of the war, this means that we must move on from fight to fight in a steady pace - at least one battle per year. The post-Afghanistan arguments had just begun to get heated when we started to go after Iraq. Now that the post-Iraq arguments are in full force, we need to invalidate them by going after al Qaeda in Pakistan, or after Hezbollah in Lebanon, or after Syria, or after Iran.

The argument needs to be on the grounds of individual freedom, liberty and safety. Legalistic arguments need to be shunted aside. Going to the UN on Iraq was a trap for the West not just because of the irrelevance of the UN, but also because it forced us to emphasise the least compelling arguments in favor of action.

We need to be in action again by the Autumn of 2004 (I'd prefer by the Spring of this year), or we will slowly began to lose traction to the counsels of fear and timidity, which are always more seductive than calls to duty and sacrifice.

This is true with the war, but not just with the war. A good example is the exploration and settlement of space. I applaud President Bush's attempts to refocus NASA, but I worry about the direction. As with the first President Bush, every possible program will be loaded on as somehow a part of the grand ideal of getting to the Moon and Mars. This is, in fact, how the space station survived to become the boondoggle it has. The combined cost will kill the program eventually. Either it will be starved of needed funding, or the funding will be distributed among worthless (in terms of the end goal) programs.

A much better solution would be to cut and run on the ISS; ground the shuttles permanently; and offer the money saved as prizes for getting to the Moon, getting to Mars, developing suborbital and orbital launchers and manned spacecraft, and the like. Force NASA back into the research role it's good at, and eliminate the regulatory burdens hampering private space initiatives. Force NASA to share its data and facilities with private individuals and companies, on reasonable terms.

This would not only be cheaper than a government effort, it would be more effective.

In each of these areas, political argument, cultural environment, and demonstrative action, the pro-Enlightenment West could significantly advance culture and civilization. Far better to aim for glory and miss, than to listen to the counsels of the craven and timid.


Comments

I'm thinking along the exact same lines, especially with regard to #2. The kinds of stories we tell about ourselves and the world we live within, whether in fiction, non-fiction, movies or whatever disseminates interpretive frameworks and exemplary models. You are absolutely right that we need to tell stories about individuals acting on their own initiative who improve society, solve problems, defend and expand liberty, and strive for the pinnacles of human potential in the arts, literature, science, technology and invention, the military, music, business, etc. The internet and weblogs in particular are providing a great service in this regard. But we need to also be making documentary and feature films; writing fiction, essays, literary journalism, history and finding other ways to promote what I believe is the greatest achievement of human civilization: the worldview that is conceived in liberty and dedicated to defending individuals from the depredations of power and the dangerous fantasies of collectivists.

Posted by: phil on February 1, 2004 08:38 AM
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January 23, 2004

Outsourcing

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Kim du Toit has a post in which he discusses the movement of jobs offshore, and suggests learning a trade as a counter to this tendency. A tradesman, in most cases, cannot be relocated overseas. While I don't take issue with his recommendation, it seems to me that Kim misses another possible way of surviving this transition.

I suspect that a lot of this outsourcing wave we're seeing right now is a part of an ongoing change that started in the 1980's, and that Kim hinted at in his post:

Let's be frank, here: the Corporation Man died in the 1980s, when layoffs and restructuring became common during corporate mergers and acquisitions. Now, in addition to all that, we are seeing functions exported.

You don't owe your company anything: not loyalty, not fealty, not anything. And you were not the one who broke this compact: they did it.


The starting point of the change was that the dominant work model was the "Company Man", and the end will be with the dominant work model being the "Free Agent".

When the large corporations broke the implied work contract of the post-war (WWII) years - do a good job and you're here until you retire, whereupon we'll take care of you until you die - they did not want the break to go both ways. That is, they wanted to be able to get rid of employees at will, while employees were expected to remain loyal and give up any amount of potential job improvement elsewhere until the company wanted them gone. This hybrid model actually held sway during the late-80's/early-90's, mostly as a result of inertia in the workforce, among those who hadn't been laid off.

But as the economy boomed in the mid-1990's, workers in knowledge industries and highly-trained work (such as computer systems administrators and paralegals) realized that they could advance much faster by job hopping. At the height of the tech boom, it was rare to retain a good admin for more than 18 months: companies would raise their pay fast enough to hold them. Once the company no longer owes you anything - and will replace you with a just-out-of-college tech at 1/2 the pay rate as soon as they can - why would you stay at a place for maybe 5-10% raises over a year or two, when you could go to the company across the street for a 25% immediate raise, and move to a third company a year later for another 25% raise?

The recession inhibited this activity, because it hit the tech industry particularly hard. However, there is a lot of pent up capital spending which is just starting to come out of companies, and it will likely be a banner year to be a good, experienced system admin or other high-end technical specialist. However, this is a problem for companies, because it means that their labor costs are going to start increasing again at a fast clip, probably in about 2 years from now.

It is largely for this reason that large companies are shipping as many jobs as they can overseas: why pay $60/hour plus benefits for a developer, when you can do it in India for $15/hour with much lower benefits? The $20/hour or so of frustration costs (co-ordination and management travel and the like) don't bring the cost back up to that of a skilled local worker.

Let's take a hypothetical software company. If all of the programmers are overseas and not employees of the company, a large chunk of management goes away. All that is left is sales and on-site service and support, and the financial and HR and management overhead for that. Well, the financial services and HR work can also be largely outsourced, and that leaves only the services portion and a small management cadre. The company has gotten smaller, and yet its sales and profits don't change. This cycle will continue until the company is optimized.

So what do the high-performing employees do with this situation? Increasingly, they become self-employed. Can't find a job at Microsoft? Compete with them, by starting a small software company. Can't find a job at Lockheed? Compete with them, by founding a small aerospace company. Too busy blogging to start a company? Learn to sell your writing to publications and for-pay websites. Or you can take a partnership approach: you pay me corp-to-corp to develop software for you, and your costs are lower. In the meantime, I can work at home, from anywhere, which lowers my cost of living to where I can compete with the cost of someone in India (once overhead is figured in), and I'm not exclusive to you so I can have several clients, and thus maintain my level of income. There is no reason that manufacturing cannot come back in this country: it just takes people to start small manufacturing companies and find a way to sell to the retailers.

What do the lower-performing employees do with this situation? Learn a trade, or go work for the government (it's a growth industry).

In any case, the end result will be that more and more people will be self-employed, and the economy will go on growing, and there will be changes in the job market, but not a huge increase in unemployment. Michael Moore can be counted on to spin it as a horrible thing, though (particularly because it will be the death-knell of unions).


Comments

Bravo, Jeff. Substantive and sensible. By the way, "Dilbert" cartoonist Scott Adams -- have you ever wondered which one of them draws the other? -- has called this "diversifying your employer."

This transition will, of course, not be without aches and pains, and every one of them will be used to justify some sort of government intervention. Given our current set-up, probably the most significant source of opposition to this wave of change will come from older employees -- 50s and 60s -- whose health, energy and mental flexibility have begun to fail, and who are the largest source of both current and looming costs to their employers. On the one hand, they'll be massively disinclined to accept the rigors and risks of self-employment. On the other, their high salaries and other accumulated perquisites will make them the logical targets for corporate belt tightening measures.

(I'm 52, by the way.)

Posted by: Francis W. Porretto on January 2, 2004 06:36 AM
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January 22, 2004

Intelligence and Assumption

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To me, the most worrisome part of our failure to find extensive WMD stocks, or at least active development programs, in Iraq after the war was that we had seemed so certain of our knowledge. In large part, this was corroborated by the fact that even those countries opposing our Iraq policies shared the view that Iraq had at least WMD programs; they simply didn't see that as a problem. The problem in all of this is that I did not see how we could be so far wrong and so certain we were right. And if that is the case, how could we trust our intelligence in future situations, where the reliability of that intelligence could decide whether or not to initiate a war?

Now, Kenneth Pollack looks at the intelligence picture, and what went wrong. Given Mr. Pollack's credentials, this is a very persuasive article.

What's interesting to me is how much of the intelligence picture was based on projections and assumptions. We know what was happening up to a certain time, and the Iraqi rhetoric has not changed, therefore we plotted a straight-line course for the WMD programs. Our allies and nominal allies all agreed with our assessment (some even went further), so that is confirmation that we are right. Saddam says he has the weapons, and he's had them before, and we can't think of why he'd give them up when he says he has them, so he must have them.

All of these are rational and reasonable conclusions. The problem is that they are in total so far off the mark. It seems to me that we need to begin addressing the problem sooner rather than later. One way to do this is to be scrupulously clear on what we know for sure, and what we infer. This has to be done both within the intelligence community, and within the political leadership. It might even make sense to separate intelligence gathering and intelligence analysis into different agencies. In any case, whatever the correct answers are to fix our intelligence analysis, we need to begin now, if we haven't already. The potential consequences of failure to reform are vast and unpleasant.


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January 21, 2004

Security????

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This is brazen.


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January 18, 2004

Expansion of the War on the Cheap

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It is fair to say that the war on terror is going to be expensive and long-lasting. Especially given the strategy as laid out by Paul Bremer: this will take decades. It's also fair to say that the US Army is stretched a bit thin. We have additional missions to perform, but not the troops to perform them, nor the apparent belief by the administration that the number of troops needs to be increased, though this is changing.

With this as background, take a look at this interesting post on uBlog. Michael Ubaldi quotes Reuel Marc Gerecht:

The Bush administration's embrace of odd, counterproductive notions is nowhere more evident than in its energetic pursuit of foreign Muslim troops for Iraq. The reasoning for these deployments - which probably won't happen unless the United States gets the consent of the French, Germans, and Russians at the U.N. - apparently is that Iraqi Muslims would respect foreign Muslim troops more than they respect American soldiers. Leaving aside why in the world the Bush administration would want to deploy Muslim soldiers from nondemocratic countries to Iraq, the Muslim-likes-Muslim sentiment behind this argument is a myth. Middle Eastern history teaches the opposite.

Michael then goes on to analyze this:
Emphasis is mine for the question I've been asking since the apparent White House reversal hit the news and people started chattering about "Muslim faces on the ground." Irrespective of the gap in equipment and professionalism between top-notch Anglo-Americans and Near Easterners, every nation bordering Iraq is not only opposed to the country's present course towards self-government but eager to carve it up into blocks of arable land and oil fields, too. And with Iraqi civilians topping the casualty lists for recent bombing attacks, no one can claim that insurgents discriminate West from East in their killings.

It is likely that our reconstruction will succeed, as it is becoming clear that the Iraqis want the US to stay for the long term. The thing is, though, that US generals in the position to ask for more troops claim they don't need more US troops. So, why have troops from countries opposed to the US effort? I can think of one good reason.

If they are under US command, and integrated with American troops at the level of individual patrols, these troops do swell the number of infantry-trained forces available to enforce order. With the US troops along, the chances of sabotage to our mission are slight. The risk of deploying such forces is therefore low.

On the other hand, what will these Arab forces see in Iraq? Freedom of the press. Freedom of religion. Freedom of speech and of association. The rule of law. The building of functioning representative institutions, with real accountability to the people. The coming of prosperity.

And when these troops return home - to see once again the state-controlled press, the restrictions on speech, the restriction of religious observance, the fear to associate with others not totally trusted, the abandonment of law for the whim of the powerful, and the total lack of political or economic opportunity - perhaps those soldiers will be a little disgruntled. And perhaps as the experience gets absorbed into the culture - and particularly into the military culture - those soldiers and others will ask why they are denied these things. And perhaps this will facilitate the long-term effect of making those countries not just more receptive of representative, free-market governance, but absolutely insistent upon it.

This may or may not be what the administration intends. I certainly don't think that the President intended the "flypaper" strategy when he decided to occupy Iraq. But we don't have to intend the effect to take advantage of it.


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January 17, 2004

A Reasonable Compromise on Abortion

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Bigwig has stated my precise position on abortion. Of course, he said this in June of 2003, and for some reason I left the post on "draft" instead of "publish", so it's just showing up now.


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January 16, 2004

Common Sense

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Which Founding Father Are You?

Yeah, that figures. Then again, pretty much any blogger has a better-than-even chance of getting this result, I'd think.

(Thanks to Michael Totten)


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Which Founding Father Are You?

Somebody shoot me. Hey, I was just kidding Aaron!

Posted by: Brian on January 29, 2004 03:40 PM
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January 15, 2004

Excellent

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I'm really tired of seeing people who can't win a political fight, even when fighting dirty, resort to the courts. It's good to see them lose there from time to time. Texas will finally get districts drawn by our elected legislature.


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England, Birthplace and Death Knell of Liberty

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First, we get the execrable miscarriage of justice and trampling of liberty that caused a British citizen to be jailed for life for defending his own home against invaders (after having significant amounts of his property stolen previously; it should be noted that he was eventually released from jail on parole, after much legal wrangling). Now we get this: a man required to get government permission to meditate on his own property. (hat tip: VodkaPundit)

A Buddhist has been told that he needs planning permission before he can meditate in woodland he owns.
[snip]
The Essex Wildlife Trust objected because it feared trees were being damaged, including the removal of "old and long-established ivy". A local resident expressed concern because several vehicles were turning up at the site with would-be meditators.
[snip]
"I was told I would need planning permission because it was a change of use from woodland to meditational woodland. I had to fill in the same forms that you would need to build a skyscraper."

His application for a change of use will be considered by Rochford district council planning committee tonight. Council officers have recommended that it be approved.

"Our only conditions are that no more than one vehicle be allowed in between sunset and sunrise and that there be a limit on the number of people who use the site so that residents will not be disturbed," a spokesman said.

Mr James said that, apart from the district council, Essex county council, English Nature and the Essex Wildlife Trust all had to be consulted over his application.


Pathetic.


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That is astonishingly pathetic. That's all I'm going to say.

Posted by: Sarah on January 7, 2004 10:27 AM
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Just What IS the Unemployment Rate Anyway?

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Pseudo-Random Thoughts points to an NRO article by Bruce Bartlett on how the two measures of unemployment are diverging. These two measures are the household survey, which asks people if they are working, and the payroll survey, which asks businesses how many people they employ. No one knows exactly why these two indices are diverging, with 8.5 million more people saying they have a job than businesses say they pay. Bartlett does make some suppositions:

Economists generally consider [the payroll survey] to be a more accurate measure of month-to-month changes in national employment. However, there is evidence that during cyclical upturns, such as we are in now, the payroll survey misses many new business startups, causing it to understate employment growth. Eventually, the Labor Department finds these businesses and adjusts its data upward...
[snip]
There are a number of technical reasons why the two surveys will always report different figures. Among these are that people with more than one job may be counted twice in the payroll survey, and that the self-employed are counted only by the household survey.

More interesting to me than that the measures differ is that they are diverging more and more. I suspect that I am a factor in this divergence. There are some people who will never be counted by the payroll survey: the self-employed or those working on a 1099 basis. This segment of the workforce is growing.


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Are They Made with Real Girl Scouts?

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The Girl Scouts came by today, selling cookies. We are going to be out of town when the cookies would arrive, so we declined to buy any for ourselves. However, they do have a program where you can cookies and have them sent to the troops deployed overseas in war zones. (All you have to do is circle the number of boxes you want.) Cookies on the way, guys.


Comments

do you have a link for doing this on-line?

Posted by: pedro on January 23, 2004 01:22 PM

I don't. I'm sure that you can find something on the girl scouts' web page, though.

Posted by: Jeff on January 24, 2004 11:34 AM
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January 14, 2004

Why Can't we Just Talk Like Grownups?

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Time to invoke Godwin's Law on both MoveOn and Ralph Peters. A pox on both their houses.


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I just want to yack with someone my age that I do not know....is that aq crime....I'm starting to think so!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: Debe on November 23, 2004 09:38 PM

I just want to yack with someone my age that I do not know....is that a crime....I'm starting to think so!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: on November 23, 2004 09:39 PM
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Education or Indoctrination?

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Bird Dog has a post over at Tacitus which lists some really outlandish examples of political indoctrination of high school students. The list is a bit partisan (only has Leftists listed), but still interesting and scary. Particularly the bit about preventing students from leaving:

Students say vulgar language and so called "Bush Bashing" were the reasons they walked out of two human rights sessions at Churchill High Thursday.

"Everyone was trying to get out and she kept telling us it wasn't over and she got all the teachers to go up by the door so we wouldn't leave," said sophomore Grayson Dahn. "They were cussing and saying the f-word a lot."



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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

I'll Help Dig

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Seriously, man, you don't even have to tell me the hooker was dead when you got there. Just tell me where to dig, and I'll help bury this abomination.

(If you don't want to follow the link, it's about postmodern literary theory losing some high-profile adherents.)


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

January 13, 2004

Why Iowahawk is a Democrat

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Before reading this, swallow anything in your mouth, move all liquids away from your computer, and don a surgical mask. Otherwise, I cannot be responsible for what gets onto your monitor while reading. My favorite bit:

I am a Democrat because I believe in helping those in need. All of us, you and I, have an obligation to those less fortunate. You go first, okay? I'm a little short this week.

But there's too much to excerpt, so read the whole thing.

OK, one more:

I am a Democrat because I believe in women's right to choose. I mean, not a church school or a tax shelter, or something like that, obviously. Let's be reasonable.


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

A Matter of Interest

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A necessary, but insufficient, condition of Liberty is the ownership of private property. If you cannot own property and dispose of it as you like, then you are unable to ever attain independence from others (the State, your boss or your lord or what have you). Without the independence to choose what you will do, without the possibility of your actions causing offense which offense in turn causes you to lose your livelihood, you are not free. You are not free, because you must constantly tailor your actions to not offend those who have power over you, by dint of being able to deprive you of your livelihood. And of course, once a person has that kind of power over you, it becomes terribly easy to offend them, because they don't have any incentive to not be offended, and every incentive (human nature being what it is) to exercise that power.

However, the mere ownership of property is not sufficient to Liberty. In order to be at liberty to do what you will, you have to be able to dispose of property as you will. That is, you need to be able to acquire, sell or give away, allow to lapse or in any other way manipulate your property. Otherwise, you are at the mercy of those who regulate the way in which your property can be used. They have the power to deprive you of your livelihood by depriving you of the ability to obtain wealth from your property. (Note: in a very real sense, your time is your property as well, and the labor you invest in can create wealth just as the improvement of land can.) Even barely-intrusive regulation has a chilling effect on Liberty, and the more intrusive the regulation the greater the effect.

From these simple observations arises the concept of the free market. A free market is one in which a person may take posession of (and in some cases create) property, use it, give it away, sell it or in any other way dispose of it, and in which no outside entity interferes as long as the transactions are between private individuals. The closer to this ideal a market is, the freer it is. The US once had an almost entirely free market domestically. This is no longer the case, but our market is still relatively free, even compared to Europe or Japan (which are much more regulated, but still freer than most of the world). History provides no example I can find of a country maintaining Liberty (or even representative government) without a relatively-free market; nor is there any country I can find which has had a mostly-free market (even at the level of China today) for 50 years which has not become a free country, with a representative government and respect for the rule of law.

This actually brings up both a long-term solution to the problem of terrorism, and a problem to be solved first. We talk continually, it seems, about bringing "democracy" (by which is usually meant some form of representative government) to the Arab/Muslim world, in order to remove the conditions that foster terrorism. But what we really want to bring is free markets. Without those markets, it will be impossible to sustain a truly free society, because eventually some group will begin to gain power over others, and that power will concentrate. Without a core of independent people who can resist the powerful without losing their livelihood, a society would eventually slide back into despotism of one form or another. With free markets, though, the ability of people alone or in groups to dominate a society and remove its people's liberties is much diminished. Bringing free markets to the Arab/Muslim world, then, is the long-term solution to the problem of terrorism.

But there is a problem with bringing these markets into being: Islam forbids usury, as Christianity once did. Without the ability to charge interest, many of the types of transactions necessary to a free market are simply impossible: you cannot borrow money to start a business or buy a house, for example. Assuming that the power of the religious authorities of Islam cannot be made to define usury as a high level of interest, rather than any interest at all, some solution has to be found which will allow the charging of interest in fact, if not in name, in Islamic societies.

I am insufficiently versed in economics and Islam to determine what that solution might look like, but it seems to me that we don't have a long-term solution to terrorism until we have a solution to charging interest in Islamic societies.


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Where there is no commercial lending, there can still be affectionate lending.

Vietnamese and Korean immigrants to the US have the charming concept of clan-based "money clubs," which function as informal banks to underwrite individuals' commercial ventures. Oriental families and clans are sufficiently strong to support this practice; can the same be said of Muslim families?

Posted by: Francis W. Porretto on January 2, 2004 02:27 PM

There are options and ways to circumvent the prohibitions. UK banking rules are currently being changed to facilitate some of the practices.

Posted by: yank_in_london on January 5, 2004 11:45 AM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

The Purpose of...

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Belmont Club has a post and a followup about a misguided analysis by The Guardian of international events. In the post, Wretchard writes:

The object of war is peace. If that sounds Orwellian, try this: the object of work is leisure. The object of saving is spending. The purpose of fighting is to stop fighting.

And in the followup, a reader suggests:
Is it not also true to say:

The object of war is victory
The object of saving is accumulation
The object of fighting is domination

If the object of war was peace, there would never be another war. If all saving was spent there would never be capital accumulation, and if all fighting was to stop fighting how would bullies ever get the idea that fighting was a winning strategy?

With all due respect to both, the object of war is peace without surrender; the object of work is leisure without destitution; the object of saving is spending without debt; and the purpose of fighting is to obtain what you want or require, when it is not available any other way.

If peace is more important to the citizens of a nation than liberty and self-determination, they will have peace at the cost of the loss of their liberty and right to self-determination - and possibly a much higher price - unless they are lucky enough to be protected from predation by a powerful patron. For the Canadians and the Europeans, and to some extent any westernized nation, they are fortunate to have the US around to fight for them. The alternative would be that they would have to give up the philosophical basis of their politics, or be conquered.


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It seems to me that the Europeans are being conquered from within, by procreative means. Non-assimilative immigrants to Europe are making themselves fruitful and multiplying. A reconquista via uterus.

The prime concern of the US in this matter is to try not to let highly destructive weapons fall into the hands of the enemies of western civilization. The fate of the Europeans themselves is secondary.

Posted by: RB on January 5, 2004 06:24 PM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Conspiring to Commit Acts of Wanton Unilateralism

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Frank J has a decent "In My World" up. Best line:

"Sources are still verifying whether it is actually George W. Bush on the tape," the anchorman said, "If true, this would prove that he is alive and well and probably hiding out in the D.C. area. Bush is known to be responsible for multiple terrorist bombings... sorry, make that 'bombing of terrorists.' He is also wanted for conspiring with many other countries to commit acts of wanton unilateralism."


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Ouch

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Remind me not to get on Wretchard's shit list.


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

January 11, 2004

Diseased to the Roots

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Amazing - just amazing. (link from Tacitus) I get two things from this article:

  1. Dr. Susan Block is at best an unserious thinker, careless and irresponsible in her choice of metaphors (particularly given her occupation as a sex therapist (assuming that means a psychologist who advises people with sexual or abuse issues, rather than being a thin veil over being a low-brow sex advice columnist - I know nothing about her other than what is in the article).
  2. The Muslim culture is diseased to the roots, taking a misunderstanding (or bad translation) of a badly formed argument, and turning it (without apparent reflection or fact-checking) into a reason to kill one's self and others.

Just amazing.

UPDATE: Via ZenPundit, we have an excellent description of the disease, promulgated by the disease agent itself. I believe that you could define a moderate Muslim simply be reference to this document: repudiation would be a condition of moderation.


Comments

Jeff,

Just think what scary things we could post about if we could just read Arabic !

Thanks for the nod !

Posted by: mark safranski on January 6, 2004 11:19 PM

I've thought of learning Arabic, but every time I think about it, I think of what source material I'd have to read through to learn the flavor of the language, and what history I'd have to learn to get the cultural allusions (very much heavier in Arabic than English, German or even Welsh).

Then I just put it back on the back burner.

Posted by: Jeff on January 7, 2004 11:19 AM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Weirder Than Them

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John Hawkins of Right Wing News has a reader with a conundrum:

I received an email from 15 year high school student named Sam Burke who is a bit perplexed about how to counter the arguments of moonbats he runs into in high school. He describes some of the things they debate and then goes on to say,

So by now we're insulting each other's parties, pointing out the evils of each other, until those dreaded words escape my enemy's lips: "Well...Bush is some communist Nazi bent on conquering the world for his own evil schemes!"

Remember how I mentioned the quotes that leave me paralyzed in silence?

Well, this is one of them.

...Anyway, all I request is a good comeback to these random bursts of ignorance, something just as good - no, better! - To leave THEM silent instead, not from stupidity either -- but silent from the truth.


Hawkins notes that you can't use logic to convince someone away from an illogical position (or they would have come away from that position on their own), but asks for advice on how to convince someone in such a situation. Much good advice is given in the comments. (In particular, if a person is capable of logic, the Socratic method is an excellent choice.)

Here's mine:

Resort to being weirder than they are. For example:

"Well...Bush is some communist Nazi bent on conquering the world for his own evil schemes!"

Yes, of course. But they're my evil schemes, too, and now that you're on to us I'll have to bring your name up at the next planning session. (adopt a cheerful voice) Watch your back. (smile in as sinister a way as you can, then walk away)

or...

Did you know how easy it is for us Conservatives to have to have someone killed? I don't have any real reason for asking.

With any luck, you can drive them over the edge into incoherency.


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You're a sick, sick man. Now to find someone to try that on...

Posted by: Brian on January 15, 2004 02:18 PM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Dennis Miller, Ladies and Gentlemen

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Dennis Miller, in a NY Times interview:

Mr. Miller is also not a traditional conservative. "I've always been a pragmatist," he said. "If two gay guys want to get married, it's none of my business. I could care less. More power to them. I'm happy when people fall in love. But if some idiot foreign terrorist wants to blow up their wedding to make a political statement, I would rather kill him before he can do it, or have my country kill him before he can do it, instead of having him do it and punishing him after the fact. If that makes me a right-wing fanatic, I will bask in that assignation."

Mr. Miller said he remained socially liberal. "I think abortion's wrong, but it's none of my business to tell somebody what's wrong," he said. "So I'm pro-choice. I want to keep my nose out of other people's personal business. I guess I fall into conservative when it comes to protecting the United States in a world where a lot of people hate the United States."


Yep. Agree 100%.


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

January 10, 2004

Three Way Struggle

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Steven Den Beste discusses the three factions in the current war, which I have written about before, both directly and indirectly (see the list under the MORE... link). You should really read this, as it lays out the current conflict really well.

Note that there were originally four factions in this conflict. In addition to the West's internal conflict between what Den Beste calls the realists and the idealists, there was an internal conflict in the Arab/Muslim world between the islamists and the pan-Arab nationalists. These two sets of competing factions were pitted against each other by the attack of September 11. While pan-Arab nationalism was already in serious decline, I don't think that it's an exaggeration to say that the US destroyed that philosophy as a factor when we invaded and conquered Iraq. (Hopefully, we can have as devastating an effect on islamism by conquering Iran, which will be necessary within the next few years, I suspect.)

My posts on this topic include:


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

With us or Against Us

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Belmont Club, consistently one of the best blogs on the web for analysis of international affairs, has a short post that makes an interesting point: with the publication of Osama bin Laden's most recent tape:

The words "you are either for us or against us" have now been uttered in both English and Arabic.

It will be interesting to see how much both we and al Qaeda will force the nations of the Middle East to choose sides, and which side they will choose.


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Feedback

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The Democrats have a web form where they are gathering information about how President Bush's policies have affected "the real state of America's working families." Here's my contribution:

President Bush's policies have had a direct effect on my family and myself.

Since President Bush came into office, the tax cuts he has put through have come at very opportune times, allowing me to pay bills that I otherwise would have had to struggle to afford. In addition, the increased refunds caused by these tax changes have helped in paying down my debts, incurred during the prior administration.

Further, the economic growth helped - possibly caused - by the tax changes has allowed me to resume contracting, which has increased my income substantially.

Since I left my permanent job, I have been able to procure health insurance better tailored to my needs, and at a lower total cost to me (when you consider the lower salary I was making to pay for corporate benefits).


Feel free to share your contributions.

Thanks to IMAO for the link.


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Actually, mine was much less positive. It was something to the effect that President Bush's policies led directly to me losing my job and my home, the death of my two sons, and a nasty case of lice.

I gave my name as "S.H."

Posted by: Ryan on January 13, 2004 03:35 PM

That's great. You might have also mentioned that your future employment was greatly imperilled, and that you were jailed just for opposing President Bush's policies...

Posted by: Jeff Medcalf on January 13, 2004 05:23 PM

I don't know, Bush might get credit for improving his health care. The Dems won't like that part.

Posted by: Mark L on January 13, 2004 07:08 PM

I'm sure he had his patriotism questioned at some point, and his home unilaterally invaded also.

Posted by: Brian on January 15, 2004 02:08 PM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

The Right Message - from an Unexpected Messenger

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I've always had very mixed feelings about Bill Clinton. I've never trusted him, and often felt he was putting partisan needs above national needs. That said, until he committed perjury, I felt that his overall record was more good than bad. Once he committed perjury, he had shown that he placed himself above the rule of law, and lost any (admittedly lukewarm) support I had for him previously.

That said, Clinton seems to be doing the right thing, now. Ralph Peters writes about a speech given by Clinton before an Arab audience. It was apparently filled with the kind of message that the Arabs/Muslims will need to both hear and absorb before they can reform and become successful, which will be necessary (though not entirely sufficient) to an end to the war on terrorism.

He didn't pander. He made America's case and made it well. Beginning with a sometimes-rueful look at the progress his administration had failed to make and noting that the wars that plague the world are begun by men his own age or older, but paid for in blood by the young, he refused to direct one syllable of blame at the Bush administration. Accepted as a citizen of the world, he spoke as a convinced American.

Asked by an eager-to-Bush-bash delegate if he, Bill Clinton, would have behaved differently after 9/11, our former president said he would have followed an identical course, pursuing our enemies into Afghanistan and beyond. Queried about his position on Iraq, he stated that any disagreements he might have would be most appropriately expressed at home in the U.S., not before a foreign audience.

He could have made an easy score. Instead, he did the right thing. Clinton has become the perfect statesman.

Pulling no punches, he made it clear that Yasser Arafat was responsible for the failure to secure a Palestinian state. He refused to trash Israel. While admitting - calculatedly - that the United States remains imperfect, he used rational self-criticism as a starting point to tell his Middle Eastern listeners they needed to look more critically at themselves.

With art and ardor, he scolded the crowd that blaming others for their own failings was useless and destructive - warning that even when others truly are at fault for our misfortunes, wallowing in blame only paralyzes us. Actions, not accusations, change the world.


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That's the most amazing thing I think I've read in months. Clinton backed Bush's handling of 9-11 and refused to criticize him on foreign soil?

Maybe he'll do better out of office than he did in office.

(It's a dream, at least)

Posted by: Mark L on January 20, 2004 02:36 PM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

What Leftist Media?

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Pejman catches partisanship at the New York Times - not that that's difficult, but it was an artful catch nonetheless.


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Lies, Damned Lies and Polls

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Steven Den Beste has a fine article on how polls can be so, well, wrong. The book he mentions, How to Lie with Statistics, should be read by anyone who ever tries to understand not just polling, but also medical prescription claims and environmental claims, and for that matter any claim that relies on statistical evidence instead of actual enumeration.


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Resquiat in Pacem, Virginia Medcalf

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My aunt, Virgie Medcalf, passed away this last weekend, of complications from a particularly aggressive cancer. I just found out this morning, and not long after I found out, read this. Virgie was that kind of person, selfless in the extreme, and generous and kind and funny. I will miss her.

I love my monkey tribe: it's produced some fine individuals.


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What happened with you then? :)

Seriously, though, you have all our sympathies.

Posted by: Mark L on January 30, 2004 12:33 PM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

January 9, 2004

You Can't Make These Things Up

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Let me get this straight: Belgium's Minister of Defense is criticizing the US military for inefficiency:

According to Flahaut: "The Americans throw so much money at their army that it simply can no longer act efficiently. If they have to get fifteen men from point A to point B, they will use three planes to be certain that it succeeds. We would send one plane, or even betterl [sic]: first examine if we cannot fly along with an ally'', says the minister.

Minister, Minister, what you fail to realize is that we don't just move 15 men (which is what? the entire strength of Belgium's deployable force?); we move 15000 - for a medium-sized deployment - and we then fight at the other end. It may not be efficient, but it is effective.

It must be nice to live in a country where the only threat you face is from yourself, since you have a large, powerful ally that protects you from the world, while you debase yourself in pointless criticism of irrelevant concerns.

Not that I'm bitter.

OK, maybe a little bitter.


Comments

Sorry about the typo in the translation. I fixed it...

Posted by: Maarten Schenk on January 30, 2004 09:45 AM

Belgium would send one plane, because that's all they have!

And is he telling us the Belgiums car pool to war?

But hey, the Belgiums do know about efficiancy in war. The Germans rolled through in what - a week?

Posted by: Brian on February 2, 2004 01:48 PM

My God, stupidity rules here enormously! Do Americans really believe that they are the ones who protect Belgium and other "allied" countries from "evil"? If tomorrow they find oil in Belgium, Bush will immediately declare war and invade. Of course he will justify this with reports of mass destruction biological weapons found in Brussels (expired meat in McDonalds?). He asks Blair to support him and offers him a mansion in Texas. And later on request an audit about the misleading information he received. To cover his ass. In the meantime Haliburton is building oil rigs in Belgium.

Anyhow I personally think that the Belgian army is more cost efficient than the American army. And Belgians have a much lower casualty score in friendly fires.

Posted by: Joe on February 3, 2004 09:07 AM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack