Tuesday, December 02, 2008

More on the massacre at the Taj

The Taj Mahal Palace & Tower Hotel was built on a slight, when Jamsetji Tata was turned away from Watson's Hotel because he was not a white man. Last Wednesday the four Pakistani murderers who entered the hotel's ornate lobby were also motivated by a slight, but theirs was a burning, murderous sense of grievance. Their motives were pathetic - envy and resentment - masquerading as religious fire.

They murdered indiscriminately. They killed staff members and guests, Indians and foreigners, men and women, young and old, Muslim and Hindu. They killed at least 200 people at last count. Two of the gunmen started the killing at the nearby Leopold Cafe (where my wife and I dined last year, on the advice of our Qantas crew, while staying at the magnificent Taj Mahal Palace) before jogging the short distance to the hotel to join two other gunmen inside the hotel.

When it was all over, police did not just recover grenades, AK-47 rifles, pistols and mobile phones but, according to Indian reports, two bags of RDX high explosives, enough to do to the Taj hotel what had been done to another landmark hotel, the Marriott, in Pakistan's capital, just three months ago. And this is important to remember. This latest Mumbai massacre was not a de facto act of war by Pakistan against India. Pakistan has suffered more death and mayhem than India at the hands of the psychotics and sexual perverts who call themselves Islamic jihadists.

The attack on the Taj had many similarities to the bombing of the Marriott in Islamabad on September 20, when a truck filled with explosives and driven by a suicide bomber detonated in front of the hotel. The bomb killed 54, injured at least 266, and left a gaping hole in the front of the most prestigious hotel in the capital. Most of those murdered were locals, that is, Muslims....

It was no accident that all or most of the murderers were Pakistani, not Indian Muslims. Ever since India and Pakistan were partitioned by the British government in 1947, Pakistan has fallen further behind its great rival. While India has maintained 60 years of relatively stable, pluralist democracy and has recently emerged as an economic powerhouse, Pakistan's per capita wealth ranks a dismal 166th among the world's nations. Pakistan's politics has gone through 20 national emergencies in the past 60 years. Members of the Pakistani diaspora in Britain were responsible for the co-ordinated mass murders on the London Underground on July 7, 2005, and have been involved in numerous terrorist plots in Britain.

More here


Broken windows

I've always been interested in broken-windows theory, also known as zero tolerance, which holds that if people are forced to abide by social norms in small matters, such as fixing broken windows and not littering the footpath, they (and others) will be less likely to breach more important standards of behaviour. So if we fix broken windows there will be less vandalism, and if there's less vandalism there'll be less crime. Application of the theory is often credited with reducing the overall crime rate in New York in the 1990s by about a third. Despite this, the theory has always been highly controversial. But new research from Holland seems to suggest it does indeed have some basis in human behaviour.

It's always been an attractive idea for conservatives, because it seems to indicate that the neatness and civility of the past were not just matters of taste, but possessed profound practical and moral significance. And this is something many want to believe. (Apart from anything else, it lends weight to arguments with teenage children about cleaning their rooms.)

But even though broken-windows theory is regarded fondly by many, there have long been doubts about whether it really works. The glowing example of New York starts to fade when examined more closely. Writing for the Australian Institute of Criminology in 1999, P.N. Grabosky noted that New York's then recent crime decline (which also occurred in a lot of cities that did not apply the theory) was influenced by many other factors, such as the improved economy, the reduction of crack cocaine use, demographic changes and restricted access to handguns by teenagers. Other important changes to policing at the time included providing local patrol commanders with better intelligence and making them responsible for results. Indeed, so many other factors were involved that some people concluded that broken-windows theory didn't work at all.

Well, who is right? Until now there's been surprisingly little really solid research. So we turn with interest to a recent paper by Kees Keizer and colleagues from the faculty of behavioural and social sciences at the University of Groningen. They decided to look at exactly how people's behaviour changed when a modest amount of disorder was introduced into their surroundings. Their first experiments were conducted in an alley in their town used to park bicycles.

A flyer for a non-existent restaurant was attached by a rubber band to the handlebar of every bicycle parked there. The question was what the bicycle owner would do with the flyer once he or she returned to their machine. (The flyer had to be taken off to ride the bicycle away, and there was no litter bin in the alley.) Would they drop it on the ground, or take it with them?

The first experiment was conducted when the walls of the alley were clean, and again when they were liberally daubed with graffiti by the researchers. Broken-window theory predicts that the graffiti would induce some bike riders who might otherwise pocket the flyer to drop it on the ground. This is what happened. Where there was no graffiti, 33 per cent dropped the flyer. But when the graffiti was added, this number went up to 69 per cent.

In another study, the graffiti was replaced by fireworks being let off illegally in the distance. Once again, littering increased significantly, against the background of illegal activity. In other experiments, forbidden activity increased a lot when other people's bikes were illegally chained to a fence, and (this one in a car park) when supermarket trolleys were left standing around and not returned to the proper place. In each case, the existence of some form of disorder seemed to encourage a hefty proportion of people to breach standards of behaviour that would otherwise have been observed.

The final experiments involved leaving an envelope hanging out of a mailbox with a _5 note visible in the window where the address normally appears. When the mailbox was clean, 13 per cent of passers-by stole the envelope. When graffiti was applied to the box, this proportion went up to 27 per cent. When the graffiti was removed and litter placed around the box, the proportion of thefts was 25 per cent. The researchers conclude: "The most likely interpretation of these results is, as before, that one disorder (graffiti or littering) actually fostered a new disorder (stealing) by weakening the goal of acting appropriately."

More here


The Great Obama Depression?

Hoover and FDR turned a recession into the Great Depression. Obama is on the same track

Early in what became the Great Depression, John Maynard Keynes was asked if anything similar had ever happened. "Yes," he replied, "it was called the Dark Ages and it lasted 400 years." It did take 25 years, until November 1954, for the Dow to return to the peak it reached in September 1929. So caution is sensible concerning calls for a new New Deal.

The assumption is that the New Deal vanquished the Depression. Intelligent, informed people differ about why the Depression lasted so long. But people whose recipe for recovery today is another New Deal should remember that America's biggest industrial collapse occurred in 1937, eight years after the 1929 stock market crash and nearly five years into the New Deal. In 1939, after a decade of frantic federal spending -- President Herbert Hoover increased it more than 50 percent between 1929 and the inauguration of Franklin Roosevelt -- unemployment was 17.2 percent. "I say after eight years of this administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started," lamented Henry Morgenthau, FDR's Treasury secretary. Unemployment declined when America began selling materials to nations engaged in a war America would soon join.

In "The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression," Amity Shlaes of the Council on Foreign Relations and Bloomberg News argues that government policies, beyond the Federal Reserve's tight money, deepened and prolonged the Depression. The policies included encouraging strong unions and wages higher than lagging productivity justified, on the theory that workers' spending would be stimulative. Instead, corporate profits -- prerequisites for job-creating investments -- were excessively drained into labor expenses that left many workers priced out of the market.

Furthermore, Hoover's 1932 increase in the top income tax rate, from 25 percent to 63 percent, was unhelpful. And FDR's hyperkinetic New Deal created uncertainties that paralyzed private-sector decision-making. Which sounds familiar. Bear Stearns? Broker a merger. Lehman Brothers? Death sentence. The $700 billion is for cleaning up toxic assets? Maybe not. Writes Russell Roberts of George Mason University: "By acting without rhyme or reason, politicians have destroyed the rules of the game. There is no reason to invest, no reason to take risk, no reason to be prudent, no reason to look for buyers if your firm is failing. Everything is up in the air and as a result, the only prudent policy is to wait and see what the government will do next. The frenetic efforts of FDR had the same impact: Net investment was negative through much of the 1930s."

Barack Obama says the next stimulus should deliver a "jolt." His adviser Austan Goolsbee says it must be big enough to "startle the thing into submission." Their theory is that the crisis is largely psychological, requiring shock treatment. But shocks from government have been plentiful.

Unfortunately, one thing government can do quickly and efficiently -- distribute checks -- could fail to stimulate because Americans might do with the money what they have been rightly criticized for not doing nearly enough: save it. Because individual consumption is 70 percent of economic activity, St. Augustine's prayer ("Give me chastity and continence, but not yet") is echoed today: Make Americans thrifty, but not now.

Obama's "rescue plan for the middle class" includes a tax credit for businesses "for each new employee they hire" in America over the next two years. The assumption is that businesses will create jobs that would not have been created without the subsidy. If so, the subsidy will suffuse the economy with inefficiencies -- labor costs not justified by value added. Here we go again? A new New Deal would vindicate pessimists who say that history is not one damn thing after another, it is the same damn thing over and over.

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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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