Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Economic News Isn't All Bleak

We may be in for a long slide. But there are also reasons to think the economy could rebound quickly

The recent economic news has been dismal, and it's now almost universally assumed things will get worse before they get better. Conventional wisdom also dictates that this recession will be longer, deeper and cause more long-term pain than any financial crisis since the Great Depression. Yet, less than two years ago, conventional wisdom dictated that the housing bubble would be painful but that global economic growth would remain stable. That assertion was proved dramatically incorrect. Why then is there so much conviction in today's forecasts of a dire future?

Predictions about the rate of unemployment by the end of 2009 are based on how high that rate went during and after other recessions, and how steep those recessions were compared to today. Forecasts of GDP growth are grounded in the nature of past contractions and how long it took the system to begin expanding again. But none of these past patterns are necessarily a useful guide to the circumstances of today. The way events have unfolded over the past few months simply has no precedent.

It's common to hear comparisons to the Great Depression, when economies around the globe shrank precipitously, or to the 1970s, when an oil shock gave way to steep contraction of GDP growth in the developed world and a concomitant collapse in energy prices. But those occurred over the course of years. What happened since the collapse of Lehman on Sept. 15 was a global, synchronous cessation of all but nondiscretionary economic activity in the wake of the near-collapse of global credit markets. And it happened over the course of weeks, not years. Data from October and November show shrinkage of 10%, 20% and often considerably more in corporate earnings, car sales, home prices, commodities and a host of other areas. But analysts and strategists now take this as the "new normal" and are projecting into 2009 and beyond as if it were.

True, this global halt is the dark side of the information technologies and globalization that have created so much wealth and generated so much activity in the past 20 years. The frictionless, instantaneous flow of capital is possible only because of the Internet and electronic exchanges. The supply chain for industrial metals, from copper to iron ore, has gone from being regional and fragmented to global and unified. Semiconductors have become one global industry with pricing and inventories determined based on aggregate world-wide demand. Few industries are local, and almost everything is linked. In good times, that meant credit expanded and activity magnified geometrically. China for one has undergone more transformation in 20 years than most countries have seen in 100. But when the system was infected with toxic assets, the effects spread everywhere and fast. The collapse of Lehman led to fewer cars being sold in China in a matter of weeks, and the decline of Dubai real-estate prices to boot.

And yet, if things came to a halt more quickly than ever before, they could also restart more quickly than ever before. This is not to say they will, only that the possibility is more than marginal. And there are signs things are not everywhere as bad as conventional wisdom suggests. First, we haven't seen war, revolution, the collapse of states and governments or massive demonstrations sweeping the globe. Crowds have demonstrated in China, Greece and Thailand -- for reasons sometimes related to the economic crunch and sometimes not. Pakistan is teetering for multiple reasons -- of which economics is only one. But major economic crises in the 20th century almost always led to those types of major breaks, especially during the 1930s. While no one can say whether they will come in the months ahead, for the time being we should be remarking on how relatively stable things are in light of what has happened.

Second, consumers in many parts of the world are in relatively good shape. That statement might strike many as absurd, given the mantra of "consumers have been living beyond their means." But it's not just the third of American households that have no mortgage, or the 50% savings rate in China, or the still massive wealth accumulation in the Gulf region, Brazil and Russia. It's that the credit system, even at its most promiscuous, didn't allow consumers to take on the obscene leverage that financial institutions did. Millions of people who shouldn't have been lent money were, either in mortgages or through credit cards. But they couldn't be levered 40-to-1 as investment banks and funds were.

People have also reacted swiftly to the current problems, paying down debt and paring back purchases out of prudence or necessity. That's a short-term drag on economic activity, but it will leave consumer balance sheets in good shape going forward. Low energy prices and zero inflation will boost spending power. Even if unemployment reaches 9% or more, consumer reserves in the U.S. and world-wide are deeper than commentary would suggest. Household net worth in the U.S. is down from its highs but is still about $45 trillion. As the credit system eases, historically low interest rates also augur debt refinancing and constructive access to credit for those with good histories and for small business creation in the year ahead. Entrepreneurs often thrive when the system is cracking.

In addition, corporations generally have very clean balance sheets with little debt and lots of cash, unlike the downturns in 2002 and in the 1980s. And government has more creative ways to spend, which both the current Federal Reserve and the incoming Obama administration intend to do.

The last months of 2008 will go down as one of the most severe economic reversals to date, and on a global scale. But it is foolish to assume that this period provides a viable guide to what lies ahead. The rush to declare the future bleak has obscured the fact that no one knows the outcome of an unprecedented event. No one. The worst course in the face of uncertainty is blind faith in conventional wisdom and past patterns. The best is to stay humble in the face of the unknown, creative and unideological about solutions, and open to the possibility that as quickly as things turned sour they can reverse.




Hate-filled Leftist dies: "Nobel Prize-winning British playwright Harold Pinter, one of theatre's biggest names for nearly half a century, has died aged 78, his wife Lady Antonia Fraser and agent said Thursday. Pinter , who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005, had been suffering from cancer. Fraser told the Guardian newspaper: "He was a great, and it was a privilege to live with him for over 33 years. He will never be forgotten." Pinter's plays included "The Birthday Party", "The Dumb Waiter" and "The Homecoming". His first play, "The Room," appeared in 1957 and his breakthrough came with "The Caretaker" in 1960. They often featured the slang language of his native east London as well as his trademark menacing pauses. The adjective "Pinteresque", referring to such characteristics, is included in the Oxford English Dictionary.... In Pinter's Nobel acceptance speech, he launched a lengthy and strong attack on US foreign policy, particularly over the Iraq war. "The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them," he said. [He must have been stone deaf!!] "You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It's a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis." [More political background here]

Democrat attack on criticism of government in Oklahoma: "Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson recently told supporters that he plans to run for Governor in 2010. So voters might be interested in how the AG has treated critics of government while serving as the state's top law enforcer. The case of Paul Jacob is instructive. A veteran political activist, Mr. Jacob is the former head of U.S. Term Limits and the current head of Citizens in Charge. A year ago, he and two fellow grassroots organizers, Rick Carpenter and Susan Johnson, were indicted on criminal conspiracy charges. Mr. Edmondson's office alleges that they attempted to defraud the state by hiring people from out of Oklahoma to gather signatures for a ballot initiative that would impose spending limits on lawmakers. If convicted, the "Oklahoma Three" face 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine. But a conviction is unlikely given that last week the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down as unconstitutional Oklahoma's law that bans nonresidents from circulating petitions. Despite the ruling, Mr. Edmondson has refused to drop the case and says he will appeal... Furthermore, the judges noted that the circulation of ballot petitions is "core political speech" that deserves the highest level of First Amendment protection."

Donor Disclosure Has Its Downsides: "How would you like elections without secret ballots? To most people, this would be absurd. We have secret balloting for obvious reasons. Politics frequently generates hot tempers. People can put up yard signs or wear political buttons if they want. But not everyone feels comfortable making his or her positions public -- many worry that their choice might offend or anger someone else. They fear losing their jobs or facing boycotts of their businesses. And yet the mandatory public disclosure of financial donations to political campaigns in almost every state and at the federal level renders people's fears and vulnerability all too real. Proposition 8 -- California's recently passed constitutional amendment to outlaw gay marriage by ensuring that marriage in that state remains between a man and a woman -- is a dramatic case in point. Its passage has generated retaliation against those who supported it, once their financial support was made public and put online. For example, when it was discovered that Scott Eckern, director of the nonprofit California Musical Theater in Sacramento, had given $1,000 to Yes on 8, the theater was deluged with criticism from prominent artists. Mr. Eckern was forced to resign. Richard Raddon, the director of the L.A. Film Festival, donated $1,500 to Yes on 8. A threatened boycott and picketing of the next festival forced him to resign. Alan Stock, the chief executive of the Cinemark theater chain, gave $9,999. Cinemark is facing a boycott, and so is the gay-friendly Sundance Film Festival because it uses a Cinemark theater to screen some of its films... These are just a few instances that have come to light, and the ramifications are still occurring over a month after the election. The larger point of this spectacle is its implications for the future: to intimidate people who donate to controversial campaigns."

Ford CAN still make good cars -- in England (No UAW there): "Take a bow, the Ford Fiesta – our Car Of The Year. I presented the gong to Ford’s UK boss Roelant De Waard and in an outstanding year for new models it was always going to be an extra-special car that won Sun Motors’ Top Award – and that’s what the new Fiesta is. The Fiesta has become part of the British motoring scene but this version takes small cars to a new level of sophistication. It’s the car that proves great things can come in small packages. Its sensational looks are backed up by an even more dramatic interior, with quality levels and equipment you’d expect on cars a class above. And, best of all, the Fiesta delivers a first-class driving experience, making the Ford a great all-round package. The public clearly agree because more than 11,500 have been sold since the car hit showrooms in October, despite the launch coinciding with the biggest sales slump in 15 years."


List of backup or "mirror" sites here or here -- for readers in China or for everyone when blogspot is "down" or failing to update. Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here or here or here


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)


Friday, December 26, 2008

Maybe Obama really is a centrist

CAN YOU HEAR the grumbling over in what Howard Dean used to call "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party?" The tolerance-and-diversity crowd is upset with Barack Obama; it seems the president-elect has been bringing people into his circle who don't agree with them on every single issue.

President-elect Barack Obama introduces his national security team on Dec. 1. Nominees L to R: Eric Holder (Attorney General), Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (Secretary of Homeland Security), US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates who is to continue in his position, Vice President-elect Joseph Biden, Sen. Hillary Clinton (Secretary of State), retired US Marine Gen. James Jones (National Security Adviser), and Susan Rice (ambassador to the UN).

The consternation on the left began with the naming of Obama's national security team -- Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, Robert Gates to continue as secretary of defense, and retired four-star General James Jones as national security adviser. "Barack Obama's Kettle of Hawks," they were promptly dubbed in the Guardian by the left-wing journalist Jeremy Scahill, "with a proven track record of support for the Iraq war [and] militaristic interventionism." How could Obama possibly keep his campaign promise "to end the mindset that got us into war," asked The Nation, when none of his top foreign policy/national security picks had opposed the war?

There was even more distress in progressive precincts after Obama's economic team was announced. Lawrence Summers, who will chair the National Economic Council, "opposed regulating the newfangled financial instruments that greased the way to the subprime meltdown," wrote David Corn, the Washington bureau chief of Mother Jones magazine, in a column for the Washington Post. Obama's choice for Treasury secretary, New York Fed president Timothy Geithner, "helped oversee the financial system as it collapsed." Both of them, lamented Corn, are close to Robert Rubin, "a director of bailed-out Citigroup and a poster boy for . . . Big Finance." In the plaintive title of Corn's essay, "This Wasn't Quite the Change We Pictured."

Add to those the passel of former Clinton operatives who have returned to play key roles in the Obama transition, including Rahm Emanuel, John Podesta, and Greg Craig, and Obama Girl herself could be forgiven for feeling disillusioned. Whatever happened to the fresh, progressive candidate who promised an escape from Clinton-era Democratic politics?

As if all that weren't enough to give a fervent liberal agita, Obama has asked the Rev. Rick Warren, the evangelical pastor of Saddleback Church, to deliver the invocation at his inauguration. From many on the left, where Warren's staunch opposition to same-sex marriage is reason enough to loathe him, responses have ranged from dismay to fury. Barney Frank labeled the pastor's views "very offensive" and pronounced himself "very disappointed" that Obama would invite him. The blog Liberal Rapture was more pungent: "Obama throws another middle finger to liberals." ...

Still, Obama is hardly in danger of turning into anything resembling a right-winger. With his trillion-dollar "stimulus" proposal, he is inviting comparisons to FDR. And with committed liberals like Tom Daschle as Health and Human Services secretary, Carol Browner as energy czar, and Eric Holder as attorney general, the Obama administration is never going to be accused of harboring Republican tendencies.

More here

Whichever way you look at it, Obama sure is a champion con-man. Amusing that it seems to be mainly the Leftist big-shots that he has conned, however. Like other psychopaths -- such as Bill Clinton -- Obama believes in nothing other than what will benefit him personally. And he rightly perceives that if he wants a second term, he has to be a centrist. There is an article here which argues that centrism is the rule of politics. I can remember only as far back as Ike but as far as I can see, with one exception, all American presidents have been centrists -- the exception being, of course, Ronald Reagan. But as Nancy once said: "When they made Ronnie, they broke the mould". Ronnie actually moved the centre for a while but it has drifted back


List of backup or "mirror" sites here or here -- for readers in China or for everyone when blogspot is "down" or failing to update. Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here or here or here


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)


Thursday, December 25, 2008


Posting on my various blogs may be a bit reduced over the Christmas period


Jews: Is survival enough?

I must be a crazy man to continue writing on this topic. To mix metaphors, I am both skating on thin ice and pissing into the wind. And if you can imagine that at least I have given you a laugh!

But I just want to make a brief comment on something that every single Jew who has written to me on the topic has said. They say: "We have survived them all so far and we will survive the present lot of SOBs too" (I paraphrase).

What that overlooks is what Winston Churchill originally said in 1934 (he said much the same later too). I briefly alluded to it earlier:
For nearly a thousand years England has not seen the campfires of an invader. The stormy sea and our Royal navy have been our sure defense. Not only have we preserved our life and freedom through the centuries, but gradually we have come to be the heart and center of an empire which surrounds the globe.

Churchill went on to warn (rightly) that the sea barrier was not alone enough and that Britain was nonetheless in dire peril. But what I want to draw attention to is that the English have survived for a long time too but have done so in style. They have had relative peace and prosperity (not a single woman raped by foreign troops in nearly a thousand years and very few civilian deaths from hostile foreign action) and have made their culture one of the world's most influential and made their language the common language of the world. English is even the language most widely spoken by Jews. Compared to that success, the Jewish achievement of mere survival amid horrendous losses is a very poor second prize.

I am sorry if that is a harsh way to put it but my more "fudged" British way of putting it previously obviously failed to communicate effectively in at least some cases.

So what I was doing in both my prior posts on this matter was to analyse what the English got right and what Jews got wrong. My conclusion is of course only my own opinion but I hope that the arguments I have made in support of it are persuasive. And my principal focus was of course on just one of the things that have kept Britain safe and thriving: Their unremitting emphasis on the importance of allies. Britain was invaded many times before the Norman conquest in 1066 but the Normans brought to Britain a wider continental awareness and engagement. And that system has continued in one way or another to this day.

And my (pissing into the wind) hope is that I might get more Jews to value allies highly too, now that some chances for allies have opened up. I have been a partisan for Israel since my early teens and I want it to survive in peace and prosperity, not amid more horrendous losses. So I say what little I can that might assist that.

This is not meant to be a stand-alone post. It is meant to be read as just a footnote to my two previous posts. See here and here.


Something to worry about when Christmas is over

A post recycled from one of America's military men

The economy is in the dumps. However the incoming Obama administration wants to save this capitalist economy with a dose of big-government socialism.

I have just begun reading the new book "The End of Prosperity" by Arthur Laffer, Stephen Moore, and Peter Tanous. In the very first chapter titled "The Gathering Economic Storm", the authors point out that the U.S. economy encountered "Four Killers of Prosperity" during the two tumultuous periods during the 1930s and 1970s. Those 'Four Killers' are:

- Trade Protectionism
- Tax Increases and profligate Govt Spending
- New Regulations and increased Gov't intervention in the economy
- Monetary policy mistakes

Unfortunately, a couple of those killers have already struck, and Obama isn't even in office yet. However, very soon all of those killers will be paroled, and sold to the public as the cure to economic ills. Lets run through those Killers again...

- Trade Protectionism - Check! Colomba can kiss its trade pact goodbye, and when the newly empowered Unions get their way, NAFTA will be the next big target

- Tax Increases and profligate Govt Spending - Check! Obama has paid lip service to delaying Income Tax increases, but there are many other ways to raise taxes, or if you live in California, "fees". Also, if you think that the Dems won't continue spending gov't oney like drunken sailors, now that the GOP has been kicked out of the budgetary bar, you must be high....

- New Regulations and increased Gov't intervention in the economy - Check! Since the new Dem bogeyman for a lot of this fiscal mess is "de-regulation", you certainly know what will be coming soon to a bureaucracy near you....more rules!! Welcome to the Nanny State...make yourself at home, just don't sit on the furniture.

- Monetary policy mistakes - Check! Already taken care of by the current administration. All Obama has to do is mind the store, and not advocate for a strong dollar.

Laffer, Moore, and Tanous may call them the Four Killers, but I think they will be refered to in the future as the Four Horsemen of the Obacalypse...



Some realism about bureaucracy

I read your blog on a daily basis and I've noted your skepticism about the monstrous bailout package being considered by the incoming Obama administration. In reading all of the econblogs I can find, I'm struck by the lack of practical knowledge both there and within the circle of advisers Obama has assembled.

I work for the DoD and when the Department of Homeland Security was established,we helped them with many things, not the least of which was contracting. To make a long story short, you cannot juice up a government agency's budget by tens of billions (or in the case of the stimulus package, hundreds of billions) and expect them to be able to process the paperwork to contract it out, much less oversee the projects or even choose them with any kind of hope for success. It's like trying to feed a Pomeranian a 25 lb turkey. It's madness.

It was years before DHS got the situation under control and between the start and when they finally assembled a sufficiently capable team of lawyers, contracting officials, technical experts and resource managers, most of the money was totally wasted. Now take the DHS situation and multiply it by 20 and you've got the Obama stimulus package. Even if they hand the money to existing governmental agencies, the situation will be the same. Those existing agencies are working full time administering the
budgets they have. They can't just add a zero at the end of each contract and be done with it.

Lastly, I've seen no business case analysis for this investment. I've seen lots of people referring to models and charts and graphs and history, but I've seen no analysis indicating that any of this will give you even a modest ROI....

Stop looking at models and equations and theoretical constructs for a while and look at the practical considerations of the stimulus package. I've been doing this sort of thing for quite a while and I'm convinced it's doomed from the start. If they feel the need to blast a trillion dollars into confetti, then tax cuts would make the most sense. Even if the public used the money to pay down debt, that would be a good thing as it would transfer the debt burden from the consumer to the government making the consumer feel a little bit like spending again.



List of backup or "mirror" sites here or here -- for readers in China or for everyone when blogspot is "down" or failing to update. Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here or here or here


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)


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The First Noel
The First Noel, the Angels did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay
In fields where they lay keeping their sheep
On a cold winter's night that was so deep.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

So much Christian music celebrates Israel that I fail to see how anybody brought up in the Christian tradition can be anything other than Pro-Israel. But there are even many Jews who are either indifferent to or antagonistic in various ways to Israel so I suppose I should not be surprised at people who can sing one thing in Church and say very differently out of church. There are even whole Christian denominations that are anti-Israel, including one Methodist outfit, if I remember rightly.


An interesting little bit of dialogue via a black friend of Blagojevich:
As I was leaving, this brother comes up and says to me, "Willie Brown, even with the housing market and the economy, this has been a really great year for black people."

"Why?" I asked.

"Because we got Obama."

Then he said, "But you know, come to think of it, it was a good year for white people, too."

"Why's that?" I asked.

"Because they finally got O.J."


Only whites want a multiple murderer to be jailed? There is no doubt that there is still a huge pool of racism in America: Among blacks.


Conservative Snobs Are Wrong About Palin


Being listed in fourth place for Time magazine's "Person of the Year," as Sarah Palin was for 2008, sounds a little like being awarded the Order of Purity (Fourth Class). But it testifies to something important. Though regularly pronounced sick, dying, dead, cremated and scattered at sea, Mrs. Palin is still amazingly around. She has survived more media assassination attempts than Fidel Castro has survived real ones (Cuban official figure: 638). In her case, one particular method of assassination is especially popular -- namely, the desperate assertion that, in addition to her other handicaps, she is "no Margaret Thatcher."

Very few express this view in a calm or considered manner. Some employ profanity. Most claim to be conservative admirers of Mrs. Thatcher. Others admit they had always disliked the former British prime minister until someone compared her to "Sarracuda" -- at which point they suddenly realized Mrs. Thatcher must have been absolutely brilliant (at least by comparison). Inevitably, Lloyd Bentsen's famous put-down of Dan Quayle in the 1988 vice-presidential debate is resurrected, such as by Paul Waugh (in the London Evening Standard) and Marie Cocco (in the Washington Post): "Newsflash! Governor, You're No Maggie Thatcher," sneered Mr. Waugh. Added Ms. Coco, "now we know Sarah Palin is no Margaret Thatcher -- and no Dan Quayle either!"

Jolly, rib-tickling stuff. But, as it happens, I know Margaret Thatcher. Margaret Thatcher is a friend of mine. And as a matter of fact, Margaret Thatcher and Sarah Palin have a great deal in common. They are far from identical; they rose in different political systems requiring different skills. As a parliamentarian, Mrs. Thatcher needed forensic and debating skills which her training in Oxford politics and as a tax lawyer gave her. Mrs. Palin is a good speaker, but she needs to hone her debating tactics if she is to match those of the Iron Lady.

On the other hand, Mrs. Palin rose in state politics to jobs requiring executive ability. Her successful conduct of the negotiations with Canada, Canadian provinces and American states over the Alaska pipeline was a larger executive task than anything handled by Mrs. Thatcher until she entered the Cabinet and, arguably, until she became prime minister. Mrs. Thatcher's most senior position until then had been education secretary in the government of Edward Heath where, as she conceded in her memoirs, she lacked real executive power. Her political influence within that government was so small that it took 17 months for her to get an interview with him. Even then, a considerate civil servant assured Heath that others would be present to make the meeting less "boring." Her main political legacy from that job was the vitriolic slogan, "Margaret Thatcher, Milk-Snatcher," thrown at her by the left because of a budgetary decision she had opposed to charge some children for school meals and milk. It was the single most famous thing about her when she defeated Heath for the Tory leadership in 1975.

At this point she became almost as "controversial" as Sarah Palin. Heath, for example, made it plain privately that he would not serve under her. And Sir Ian Gilmour, an intellectual leader of the Tory "wets," privately dismissed her as a "Daily Telegraph woman." There is no precise equivalent in American English, but "narrow, repressed suburbanite" catches the sense. Mrs. Thatcher attracted such abuse for two reasons. First, she was seen by the chattering classes as representing a blend of provincial conservative values and market economics -- Middle England as it has come to be called -- against their own metropolitan liberalism. They thought this blend was an economic dead-end in a modern complex society and a political retreat into futile nostalgia. Of course, they failed to notice that their modern complex society was splintering under their statist burdens even as they denounced her extremism.

Second, Margaret Thatcher was not yet Margaret Thatcher. She had not won the 1979 election, recovered the Falklands, reformed trade union law, defeated the miners, and helped destroy Soviet communism peacefully. Things like that change your mind about a girl. But they also take time, during which she had to turn her instinctive beliefs into intellectually coherent policies against opposition inside and outside her own party. Like Mrs. Palin this year, Mrs. Thatcher knew there were serious gaps in her knowledge, especially of foreign affairs. She recruited experts who shared her general outlook (such as Robert Conquest and Hugh Thomas) to tutor her on these things. Even so she often seemed very alone in the Tory high command.

As a parliamentary sketch writer for the Daily Telegraph (and a not very repressed suburbanite), I watched Mrs. Thatcher's progress as opposition leader. She had been a good performer in less exalted positions. But initially she faltered. Against the smooth, condescending Prime Minister James Callaghan in particular she had a hard time. In contrast to his chuckling baritone she sounded shrill when she attacked. But she lowered her tone (vocally not morally), took lessons in presentation from (among others) Laurence Olivier, and prepared diligently for every debate and Question Time. I can still recall her breakthrough performance in a July 1977 debate on the Labour government's collapsing economy. She dominated the House of Commons so wittily that the next day the Daily Mail's acerbic correspondent, Andrew Alexander, began his report: "If Mrs. Thatcher were a racehorse, she would have been tested for drugs yesterday." She was now on the way to becoming the world-historical figure who today is the gold standard of conservative statesmanship.

Mrs. Palin has a long way to go to match this. Circumstances may never give her the chance to do so. Even if she gets that chance, she may lack Mrs. Thatcher's depths of courage, firmness and stamina -- we only ever know such things in retrospect. But she has plenty of time, probably eight years, to analyze America's problems, recruit her own expert advice, and develop conservative solutions to them. She has obvious intelligence, drive, serious moral character, and a Reaganesque likability. Her likely Republican rivals such as Bobby Jindal and Mitt Romney, not to mention Barack Obama, have most of these same qualities too. But she shares with Mrs. Thatcher a very rare charisma. As Ronnie Millar, the latter's speechwriter and a successful playwright, used to say in theatrical tones: She may be depressed, ill-dressed and having a bad hair day, but when the curtain rises, out onto the stage she steps looking like a billion dollars. That's the mark of a star, dear boy. They rise to the big occasions.

Mrs. Palin had four big occasions in the late, doomed Republican campaign: her introduction by John McCain in Ohio, her speech at the GOP convention, her vice-presidential debate with Sen. Joe Biden, and her appearance on Saturday Night Live. With minimal preparation, she rose to all four of them. That's the mark of star. If conservative intellectuals, Republican operatives and McCain "handlers" can't see it, then so much the worse for them.




The Fort Dix plotters are convicted: "The Fort Dix plotters were convicted Monday of conspiracy to murder members of the U.S. military, a charge that could send the five Islamists to jail for the rest of their lives. The jury's verdict is notable because media coverage of the plotters' arrest and trial traveled a familiar arc: After a round of stories noting that a terrorist plot had been rolled up, the media followed up with skepticism and suggestions that the suspects were small-timers or just messing around. The word even went out that, in effect, the government's man on the inside had put them up to it. The implication, as with the Lackawanna Six and Jose Padilla, is always the same: The Bush Administration was advertising phantom threats to justify the trampling of civil liberties and to create a "climate of fear." Lest we forget, the Fort Dix plotters were finally arrested last year after they moved to buy AK-47s and fully automatic M-16s -- not exactly the stuff of innocent imaginings and idle chatter. Every plotter is an amateur until he pulls off a spectacular attack. This has created a permanent PR problem for the fight against domestic terror plots: If you move too soon, the conventional wisdom comes to doubt that anything serious was averted. But of course, waiting too long means running the risk of another attack on American soil, something we have avoided since 9/11."

I can't help thinking that there should be more of this: "As a prank, students from local high schools have been taking advantage of the county's Speed Camera Program in order to exact revenge on people who they believe have wronged them in the past, including other students and even teachers. Students from Richard Montgomery High School dubbed the prank the Speed Camera "Pimping" game, according to a parent of a student enrolled at one of the high schools. Originating from Wootton High School, the parent said, students duplicate the license plates by printing plate numbers on glossy photo paper, using fonts from certain websites that "mimic" those on Maryland license plates. They tape the duplicate plate over the existing plate on the back of their car and purposefully speed through a speed camera, the parent said. The victim then receives a citation in the mail days later. Students are even obtaining vehicles from their friends that are similar or identical to the make and model of the car owned by the targeted victim, according to the parent. The parent said that "our civil rights are exploited," and the entire premise behind the Speed Camera Program is called into question as a result of the growing this fad among students."

All hail Princess Caroline, for she hails taxis!: "Bloomberg columnist Albert R. Hunt makes the case for why Basil Paterson's son should appoint John F. Kennedy's daughter to replace Bill Clinton's wife in the Senate: "[Caroline Kennedy] has all the qualities--intellectual curiosity; a friendly, at times pointed, sense of humor, and a deferential manner (she hails her own cabs)--that are the stuff of a good legislator". She hails her own cabs! This is what passes for a common touch these days? Lots of New Yorkers can't even afford cabs and ride the subway instead. When we read this, our first thought was: We hail our own cabs, too. We deserve that Senate seat."

The destructive British welfare state: "To most people, I imagine, welfare seems an obviously good thing. But in fact the corrosive and iniquitous side of welfare has been evident for many decades. It's only now that people are poking their heads out of the trench and daring to say so. You can see the devastating effects of welfare in Britain, for example, in the exponential rise in single motherhood. The figures are astonishing. In the 1950s almost all children in Britain were brought up by their natural parents. Today, only around half the children in Britain are brought up by their natural parents. Half! To see why that happened, let me paint you a picture. In the 1950s, the typical working man and his wife In Britain lived in an income-tax free existence. They kept every penny they earned. For an unmarried teenager, there was no council flat (the `projects' I think you call them), no rent rebate, no rate rebate, no housing benefit or anything else. The burden of looking after her and the child fell on her family, friends or charity. Parents who discovered their daughters were pregnant were understandably furious - because they had to pick up the tab. That's why Dad stomped round to the family of the boy responsible, to call him to account. They boy's family understood the full economic implications of making babies and came down on him like a ton of bricks. From the real economic relationships there arose a real moral code - the value and the cost of things were clear. The growth of welfare benefits has been huge since that time. And within that system a pregnant girl gets special treatment (top of the state housing list etc). The fear has gone. The old idea, "Don't, for heaven's sake, get pregnant. It would be a disaster" has gone."


List of backup or "mirror" sites here or here -- for readers in China or for everyone when blogspot is "down" or failing to update. Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here or here or here


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)


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The fate of the Jews -- continued

I trod on thin ice recently in my reflections about the history and fate of Jews. But despite my reflections getting a couple of thousand hits, I got only one really hostile response -- so I am encouraged to continue the discussion. I am however going to let one of my regular Jewish readers do most of the work initially. I reproduce his email in full below:
A few disagreements or notes on what you wrote about Jews:

What would our numbers be without 6 million murdered..and of the remainder that survived Europe, how many were yet again dysfunctional, would not have children, committed suicide later on? Ok, we'd still be small in number, but not QUITE so small, given the one or two generations that would have survived and possibly thrived.

Religious Jews, the most "stiff-necked" of the bunch in terms of holding onto their Judaism, (and the most politically conservative), are the ones with big families. The problem is that the base is so small, that the overall numbers remain low, but in percentage terms, the one group of Jews growing is the Orthodox.

It is difficult to compare Britain, an island nation, with the stateless-until-a-short-time-ago "nation" of Israel. We were and remain an anomaly in history, a people that were interspersed among the nations. That made us the "stranger", always, and we were often forced into professions that were not looked upon in a god light, e.g. moneylending. We certainly see right now that financiers are heroes when times are flush, but even the honest ones are anathema when times go bad. And we certainly had no nation to hold onto, remained the great scapegoat of the nations. Was that because we were politically stupid?

NO. That's because we were weak and easy targets, and yes, we refused to fit in and go along with the rest of the population. We refused the easy terms of Christianity, so were reviled by Christians. We refused the paganism of Rome and Greece, and suffered accordingly. We refused to go along with the insane Mohammed, and now our no. 1 enemy in the world is Islam. Ok, so yes, we're stiffnecked, but to say it's because we were politically stupid....or should we just given in and lost our identity, should we have become Christians or pagans or Muslims, and just let Judaism go by the wayside of history?

So yes, our numbers are puny. But we outlasted the Third Reich, Stalin's Soviet Union, Torquemada's Inquisition Spain, ancient Rome and Greece, ancient Egypt..and all others who've tried to destroy us.

Now, I would agree that in the current day, and maybe ever since the Enlightenment, when we decided to "reform" and not be SO weird and stiff-necked, when we tried to blend in...we've become more and more leftist, and that HAS resulted in terrible problems for us. We don't even need to worry about Iran as we are fading away on our own, as the less stiff-necked amongst us don't care if their kids leave Judaism and marry others, or cheapen the religion in any number of ways; right now, I would agree that leftism is our dominant "religion" and it drives me crazy, as you know. It has caused us much grief and we are committing, I would also agree, our own suicide. But it is the strange people in the black hats, and the rabid "settlers' on the West Bank, and the families with the 10 kids, and those who worry about the picayune and strange rules of Halakhah, the religous, Orthodox "form" of Judaism, the form that is derived from the Rabbinic Judaism, that has the only real chance of keeping Judaism alive. THAT is not a new phenomenon, and was always thus.

Allies? Who should we have made allies with, without losing who we were? It's a valid question, but the answer is that we had no one to ally with. We had nothing or little to lands, no titles...occasionally money and know-how to make money, for which we became court Jews and influential...but money, as it is wont to do, as often corrupted these Jews, as it does most people. Should we have allied with those who blamed us for killing their Lord, and who blamed us for poisoning the wells of Europe to bring about the Black Plague, which we often missed because of our rules of sanitation? Should we have allied with the Muslims who gave us dhimmi status at best, if not actively persecuting us for our lack of intelligence to convert to Islam?

I WILL be willing to grant we are not always smart as we are given credit for. I know a lot of Jews that irritate the hell out of me, and that I don't find so bright...but what percentage of science Nobels (not the meaningless and political ones like "peace" or "literature") are from Jews? That's another story and I know you know it.

So being alone and defenseless and insular and is a blessing and a curse. I'm well aware of the curse, but more need to understand the blessing. And what hurdles we've had to face. That we've overcome them is the miracle we'll celebrate, in part, tonight, the first night of Chanukkah. It is the anti-assimilation holiday, totally perverted by the reformed Jews, but the holiday is purely about maintaining our identity, our stiff-necked and crazy and insular persona, even in the face of hate and abuse.

And so it is 65 years since my grandparents were murdered by the animals, the Nazis, in Auschwitz. My 2 kids are religious, my sister's 5 kids and 7 grandchildren (I'm the slow one of the two!) are all religious or being raised religious. We haven't disappeared yet. But Hitler and his henchmen are gone, the Reich is gone. Yes, new enemies have arisen, and anti-Semitism doesn't go out-of-fashion, and yes, we can be total idiots...but we persevere, because we believe in what we are and who we are...not better than anyone, but maintaining who we are and what we do is important, EVEN IF WE DON'T EVEN ALWAYS UNDERSTAND WHY...: we are the group that gave the world the premier book about theodicy, the book of Job. It is who we are. We maintain faith though at times it seems absurd to do so. It is not always or maybe it is NEVER rational. But we've outlasted all the other folks who tried to do us in, and we believe that we'll outlast the Iranis and Hamas and Islam and all the rest of the murderers.

Said with proper passion.

He misses my point a bit, however and I admit that I should have spelled it out more. The thrust of my remarks was not at all that Jews should always have sought allies. I agree that allies would have been rarely available. My point is that Jews should be cultivating their allies NOW -- while such allies (American fundamentalist Christians) are available. Fundamentalist Christians are strong people in the face of the hostility of the world and have therefore remained supportive of Israel despite the scornful attitude that many Jews seem to have towards them -- but changing churches is an American tradition and church doctrines themselves have undergone a lot of changes even in my lifetime. My old Presbyterian church is still an oasis for the old gospel but many other churches are not. So nobody should take fundamentalist Christians for granted. Their support might not always be available. Note that already outside America fundamentalist Christians are often little focused on Israel. So from a British perspective it is stupid of Jews not to value, support and encourage American fundamentalist Christians.

And the reason I mentioned Britain was to point out that even a great and powerful nation has always seen a pressing need for allies. So if the Brits have always thought that they needed allies, might not people who are in a much weaker position also need them?

My comments on the Biblical description of Jews as "stiff-necked" as an explanation for Jewish political folly could probably also be expanded. I did note that I myself probably deserve that description. My point, however, was that obstinacy and defiance has both strengths and weaknesses. And I think that Jews are a good example of that. It gives Jews an independence of mind but also generates hostility towards them. Even The Lord himself did not like it! And I have NO expectation that it will ever change much. If Moses and the Hebrew prophets could not change it, who could?

Again, however, I think the British offer a safer example -- a way of handling others that any target of hostility should find thought-provoking. The Brits are experts at deflecting hostility. They don't succeed entirely at it of course but their historic civility and their ability to find allies shows that they are pretty good at it nonetheless. And their way is what outsiders often condemn as "British hypocrisy". But it is not really hypocrisy. It is just an attempt to respect the sensitivities of others. And the tools for doing that are compromise and the "fudge". You almost have to be British to understand what a fudge is and probably the best way of finding out is to Google "British fudge" and read some examples of it. It it is basically a partial retreat or concession that is disguised as not being a retreat or a concession. So it means something like "an evasive compromise", "handling a dilemma by vagueness" or "concealing what is really going on by vague or misleading words". It might not be too unkind to describe the whole of British politics as one big fudge. I doubt that the word is capable of precise definition but precision is, after all, anathema to it. There are some good examples of it here (Scroll down a little).

And I did make the point that the relatively small population of Jews in the world is essentially the result of persecution. That was really my starting point. I went on to ask WHY Jews have been so persecuted. And given their present demonstrable unwisdom politically, I suspect that they have always lacked political wisdom -- with "stiff-neckedness" being a major fount of that unwisdom. But my British heritage means that I speak as someone who not only respects compromise but also understands the "fudge". Nobody respects the "fudge" -- but they do it rather than perpetuate hostility.

A fudge that modern-day Jews could use would be to declare that Christian fundamentalists are after all just another Jewish sect. It is only partially true but it would warm relationships.


BrookesNews Update

The US economy is sinking in an ocean of newly-created money: In response to the crisis the fed forced the fed funds rate down from 1 per cent to between 0 per cent to 0.25 per cent. The real funds rate is now negative and yet the US economy continues to tank. Clearly, Mr Bernanke and the economic commentariat are at a complete loss as to what is really happening
The economic punditry displays its ignoranceas the economy sinks: It was the economic folly of central bankers and their reckless monetary policies that generated the global crisis. And as is always the case, the market gets the blame. Equally expected is the fact that central bankers have not learnt a damn thing from the results of their dangerous meddling. For September-October period M1 grew at an annual rate of about 18 per cent
US deficits and government spending - more fallacies: Reckless government spending is the enemy, not deficits, of prosperity and economic stability and it is time for this fact to be continuously and emphatically repeated, regardless of what economic illiterates in politics and the so-called mainstream media argue
Hugo Chavez's Red Terror on hold : In a brazen attempt to strengthen his grip on Venezuela Chavez abolished the separation of powers. Judges and prosecutors will be required to collaborate with the newly-decreed secret police. He his in the process of setting up Castro-style "Community Councils" whose function will be to continually monitor the activities of their neighbours and report enemies of the state to the secret policy
The Fed's two trillion dollar scam makes Madoff look like a piker: Congress has put two trillion dollars, about 15 percent of GDP, under the control of one man, with no checks and no accountability, and we don't know where the money went, or to whom. It then tells the American public that it has no right to know who has been getting the loot. Madoff's $50 billion fraud is a penny ante affair compared to what this bunch have been doing
Insiders still own Illinois' Senate seat: The Democrats are still up to their old tricks. When thy realised they had jeopardized political strength in their callous attempt to avoid the fallout of the Blagojevich scandal, they immediately hid behind these minor technical concerns as an excuse to deny the people a voice in the process and keep power in the hands of the political class that has created this crisis to begin with and who now control Washington. What a lousy example to the rest of the world
Obama faces swift challenge from Latin America leftists: South American leftists who hugged and applauded the cowardly and murderous Raul Castro see only weakness in Obama
Why Slumdog Millionaire is a cinematic masterpiece: The way to pay homage to Mumbai, a city that has one foot in the Third World and another in the First, is not to sanitize or glorify its poverty, nor to denounce globalization. The way to expose cruelty and exploitation - those time-honored human institutions overly present in any country where the rule of law is weak - is not to create Platonic stereotypes. The way to do it is to tell an honest story and to tell it well


List of backup or "mirror" sites here or here -- for readers in China or for everyone when blogspot is "down" or failing to update. Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here or here or here


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)


Monday, December 22, 2008

The mysterious ways of Google again

If you search for "John Ray" on most search engines, you get a heap of links about some old geezer from a couple of hundred years back and only at the end of the search results might you get a link to something by me. With Google, by contrast, both DISSECTING LEFTISM and GREENIE WATCH are given on the first page of the search results. So I am pretty pleased about that. And my lead post here from yesterday is already being returned in Google searches too. So if you will forgive my childish glee: Long live Google and its market dominance!

The excellent Pamela Geller, on the other hand, says that Google has delisted most of her work. Yet if I do one of the searches she suggests I get her article on the second page of the search results! See here. So don't ask me what's going on.

I fully accept that I may be too lowly a worm to be censored and that Pamela is big-time but it's puzzling that I CAN find her work through Google. Maybe they have reinstated her after her latest complaint, I guess. Nobody will squash her, of that I am sure.


A clear example of what happens when people vote for feelgood emptyheads

A new law intended to prevent deaths and injuries caused by dangerous drains in pools and spas became effective Friday. As an unintended side effect, pools nationwide have been forced to close indefinitely.

The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission said there were 74 suction-related incidents reported from 1997 to 2007, including nine deaths and 63 injuries, according to a news report out of Wisconsin today. That amounts to fewer than two deaths and seven injuries per year being attributed to dangerous drains in pools and spas. Nevertheless, the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act became effective yesterday, forcing pools nationwide - including one frequented by members of my family - to close indefinitely due to their inability to comply with the ridiculous law [See the CPSC news release about the new law here.] The first paragraph of a news release issued yesterday by the city of St. Peters, Mo., site of the Rec-Plex Natatorium where my wife and children swim, explains the situation:
Due to circumstances beyond the City's control, and under the threat of civil and criminal penalties, the swimming pool at the St. Peters Rec-Plex closed last night at midnight. We are doing this because we are complying with new federal regulations under the Virginia Graeme Baker Pools and Spa Safety Act that require the installation of pool drain covers that meet new federal specifications. Pools at recreation centers across our region and nationally are faced with the challenge of meeting these new requirements and are facing shutdown."

What exactly is the challenge? The second paragraph of the news release covers that:
"St. Peters staff has been thoroughly investigating any possible options that would allow us to comply with this new federal regulation. Despite our best efforts, there is currently no equipment available for purchase that allows our pool to meet these new requirements. The equipment simply does not exist that would allow us to retrofit our Rec-Plex pools to meet these requirements."

In a second news release issued the same day, the City of St. Peters outlined how St. Peters Mayor Len Pagano has sent letters to President George W. Bush and to members of Missouri's Congressional delegation, asking them to intervene and suspend new federal requirements impacting hundreds of thousands of municipal and recreational pools across the United States. Key portions of that news release appear below:
St. Peters staff has been thoroughly investigating any possible options that would allow us to comply with this new federal regulation," Mayor Pagano said. "Despite our best efforts, there is currently no equipment available for purchase that allows our pool to meet these new requirements. The equipment simply does not exist that would allow us to retrofit our Rec-Plex pools to meet these requirements."

"Pool officials, trade organizations and engineering experts have been working all year to develop solutions that would fulfill the new requirement. At the same time, we have been asking the Consumer Product Safety Commission to fulfill these requirements." "At this time, because the deadline came today and there is no waiver from the CPSC, we have no alternative other than closing our pools," added Mayor Pagano.

Did you catch the key point? People around the nation have worked ALL YEAR to develop a solution that would enable them to comply with the law, but none exists. The impact of this legislation is widespread as evidenced by stories from Huntington, West Va., El Paso, Texas and Albany, N.Y. In St. Charles, the county in which St. Peters is located, the impact is huge. Senior citizens and others who came to the city's Rec-Plex pool early Friday morning for their workouts and water aerobics classes had to be turned away. A major high school swim meet had to be canceled this weekend. Left with no place to train or hold competitions are the following:

One of the state's largest club swimming programs;

Eight local high school swim teams; and

Lindenwood University's swim team.

I'm all for safety, but legislation like the Baker Act goes beyond what is necessary by any standard. If you're as disgusted as I am about this abuse of power by Congress and the Consumer Products Safety Commission, CONTACT YOUR ELECTED OFFICIALS in Washington, D.C., and give them a piece of your mind. Threaten them with your vote. Say whatever it takes to convince them to rescind - or at least postpone - this legislation.



BOOK REVIEW of Karl Brandt: The Nazi Doctor: Medicine and Power in the Third Reich. Review by Ulf Schmidt

It is well known that the Nazis' "mercy killing" program was a stepping stone to the Final Solution; less known are the doctors who designed and let it. In Karl Brandt: The Nazi Doctor, Ult Schmidt, a professor of modern history at the University of Kent, explores the life and legacy of Karl Brandt, Hitler's personal physician, who was appointed head of the T-4 Euthanasia program, which forcibly took the lives of seventy to a hundred thousand disabled people from 1939 to 1941. Later, he presided over brutal and horrifying medical experiments on helpless victims, for which he was prosecuted and hanged after the war. His upbringing and education gave no indication he was headed for a life of evil. How such an intelligent and gifted young physician could betray everything that medicine - not to mention Western civilization - stood for, is the main theme of Schmidt's spellbinding book.

Interestingly, Brandt, like many other Nazis, was a man of the left, who was heavily influenced by Friedrich Neumann, a nineteenth century socialist pastor, who had declared: "As politicians we are national socialists, and as Christians we are searching for an evangelism which is true and alive." Brandt's "search" for relevance beyond the traditional gospel ended with his embrace Hitler's murderous Weltanschauung, though, perversely, Brandt always saw himself as a minister of compassion. "I do not feel that I am incriminated," he said defiantly at his post-War trial. "I am convinced that I bear the responsibility for what I did in this connection before my conscience. I was motivated by absolutely humane feelings. I never had any other intention."

Although Schmidt's book is historical and cannot be classified as part of the modern-day "culture wars," its conclusion carries a powerful lesson for medical ethics in our own time: "Whatever may be said by a saturated public, complacent politicians, and a cynical media industry to turn our attention to new and more exciting shores lurking beyond the virtual horizon, we cannot all this history to be ignored, because we cannot survive its repetition."

First Things, Jan. 2009, issue. No. 189



Sex differences in mental abilities start from infancy: "Men tend to perform better than women at tasks that require rotating an object mentally, studies have indicated. Now, developmental psychologists at Pitzer College and UCLA have discovered that this type of spatial skill is present in infancy and can be found in boys as young as 5 months old. While women tend to be stronger verbally than men, many studies have shown that adult men have an advantage in the ability to imagine complex objects visually and to mentally rotate them. Does this advantage go back to infancy? "We found the answer is yes," said Scott P. Johnson, a UCLA professor of psychology and an expert in infant perception, brain development, cognition and learning. "Infants as young as 5 months can perform the skill, but only boys - at least in our study."

Denial of New Trial in $54 Million Pants Lawsuit only partial justice: "The following statement from Lisa Rickard, president of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR), is a response the D.C. Court of Appeals' rejection of a new trial for Roy Pearson against a Washington, D.C., dry cleaner. "We hope the rejection of Roy Pearson's request for a new trial marks the last chapter of this frivolous legal saga over a misplaced pair of pants. Unfortunately for Jin and Soo Chung, this victory is more bitter than sweet. Though they continue to `win' in court, their case has cost them emotionally and financially, resulting in the loss of two of their three dry cleaning locations. Those who say that the Chungs' victory in this case proves that our civil justice system works are ignoring the facts."

Obama is not on your side: "Every person and every segment of the economy felt the effects as Gas edged north of $4 per gallon. Everyone was hoping for a big change to help them out. So you would think that a politician that won with a campaign of Hope & Change would want his administration to help continue the current trend of dropping gas prices. Unfortunately, as pointed out by The Foundry blog over at Heritage Foundation, Mr. Obama's selections for Secretary of Energy actually wouldn't mind seeing Gas priced much higher than it was this summer. "Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe." So says Dr Steven Chu, Obama's selection for the Energy post. So, what do Europe's Gas prices look like? Well, in July, when average U.S. prices were topping off at $4.34, Gas in the Netherlands was $10.64. The cheapest of the big European countries cost almost $9 per gallon. Right now the average prices in the U.S. stand at $1.97, whereas the average across Europe is about $5.50. For the math impaired, that is nearly 3 times the cost that we pay. The funny thing is, the actual base cost of the gasoline isn't that much different in Europe than it is in the U.S. It is just that European countries tack on taxes such that taxes make up 65-70+% of the price."

The Bush bailout of the automakers: "It is somehow fitting that George W. Bush should end his Presidency with an act so damaging, so mindless, so anathematic to the principles on which he asked for our votes that he will for all time be remembered in the harshest of lights. But the Bush treachery puts in stark relief some facts citizens and politicians should note. It is very telling and could serve as a guide in the near term.First, the ease with which Bush purports to simply take money from the $700 billion fund administered by the Treasury for the bailout of the financial system is startling. Wasn't the whole reason Congress authorized that money was to stabilize the nation's financial system, to unclog the chocked off credit markets? Guess that job is done and we had a few dozen billion left over. Bush's looting of this fund, TARP, makes it clear that there never was a plan or any thought to how to use the $700 billion. It is a slush fund for the elite to buy their buddies out of trouble. Nothing more. For the future, we need to always demand to see the plan, spelled out in black and white. And double check the fine print... And finally, President Bush, by scamming the TARP fund to bailout the UAW union and the over-paid failures in the executive suites, has shown us all something too. He has reminded us that people who don't stand strongly for something will fall for anything."


List of backup or "mirror" sites here or here -- for readers in China or for everyone when blogspot is "down" or failing to update. Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here or here or here


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)


Sunday, December 21, 2008

When will psychologists ever learn?

Artifactual relationships, absent sampling and invalid measuring instruments still abound in research into the psychology of politics

Rather to my surprise I recently read in the popular press a rather good article which points out that "phobias" and prejudice are very different. It was written by a young psychology professor named Nicholas Haslam at the University of Melbourne. I have myself for some time been protesting the misapplication of the word "phobia" to just about anything that Leftists disagree with: Homophobia, Islamophobia, xenophobia, etc. As the article will cease to be available on the newspaper site after a while, I have reposted it on POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH today.

To keep his article within the bounds of political correctness, however, Haslam also had to say that "Prejudice flourishes among people who are cold, callous, inflexible, closed-minded and conventional". So you are still a pretty bad egg if you distrust Muslims or regard homosexuality as wrong or unhealthy.

What he said there is a conventional belief among psychologists but the evidence for its truth is very weak. In the 60 years that psychologists have been subjecting such theories to experimental test, just about the only proof for such theories that they have found has been derived from handing out to their students a bunch of questionnaires and seeing if the students who didn't like (say) blacks also expressed views that psychologists regard as close-minded etc. And from what their students say, psychologists generalize to all mankind.

From almost any point of view that is a ludicrous procedure. Not only do they base their research on a non-sample -- meaning that no generalizations can be drawn from it anyhow -- but college students are even a group of people who are KNOWN to be unrepresentative of the general population in all sorts of ways. And even if students were representative, relying on what they say would be most incautious. Students are very good at giving their professors the answers that they think their professors want. So many of the answers given will not be what the students really think.

So for all of those reasons, I was only slightly surprised when, in one of the earliest pieces of research I ever did, I found a correlation of .808 (a very high correlation) between two variables among students but when I repeated the survey on a more representative population, the correlation dropped to around .10, which is negligible. For the rest of my research career. I did almost all my research on proper samples of the general population and almost always ended up getting very different results from my student-using colleagues.

So I was curious to see if Haslam was just mouthing conventional and unsubstantiated platitudes or if he really had some basis for his generalizations. He replied that he was relying on a big review article on the subject by Sibley and Duckitt in Personality and Social Psychology Review titled "Personality and Prejudice: A Meta-Analysis and Theoretical Review". In a very restrained academic way it ploughs the old furrow that racially prejudiced people are sick in the head and anti-racists are just wonderful lovely people. Negative racial views are very common (if rarely acknowledged publicly these days) so there must be a lot of sick people around.

I have debated in the journal literature with Duckitt before so expected him to be less naive and assumption-prone than are most writers in the field -- and so it was. He shows a rare and commendable awareness that alleged correlations between attitudes and personality can arise because the alleged measures of personality are in fact measures of attitudes, for instance. He does not take that awareness as far as he might, however. He seems, for instance, to take correlations between racism and social dominance quite seriously despite the fact that the social dominance questionnaire contains such items as "Inferior groups should stay in their place", "Superior groups should dominate inferior groups" and "Some groups of people are just more worthy than others". Races are of course groups so is it any surprise that such statements correlate with other expressions of racism? All Duckitt has shown is that some expressions of racism correlate with one-another. He has shown nothing about personality at all.

So the finding of a relationship between social dominance and racism is what is called in science a "methodological artifact" -- generally a source of shame among serious scientists, but something that has long been common in this research field. Duckitt himself points out some other examples of it. Psychological research is in general still a profoundly amateur enterprise.

I might mention that the folly that I have just pointed out is not really the fault of Duckitt. His article is simply a summary of what other researchers have found and none of them seemed to see any problem with their measure of social dominance either. So it is psychologists as a whole that my criticism principally applies to. I never cease to be staggered by how blind psychology academics can be. They must never look at the questions they ask people.

Duckitt DOES show an awareness of the sampling problem I have mentioned but does not seem to take it seriously. He claims he has some real samples in his data but he does not identify them and combines them with the student data. There is no repetition of all his analyses on student and non-student data. So the generalizability of his findings is simply unknown.

But the problems with the Sibley & Duckitt article do not end there. Duckitt says very little about the measures of racism that he uses. He concedes that they were only poorly comparable and that some were more narrowly focused than others but he seems to take no account of that in his major analyses. Yet this is a vital point. In my research, I repeatedly found some shared variance betweeen attitudes to different racial groups but not much (about 20% on average). In other words, there were many people who didn't like (say) blacks but who did respect (say) Jews. So in most of the general population, there is essentially no such thing as racism. If there were, knowing a person's attitude to one minority would tell you all you need to know about that person's view of all minorities. But it is not so. Undoubtedly, there are some individuals who dislike all outgroups but that is not generally so. So the concept of racism is close to being an irrelevant concept. The concept it embodies is misleading. Many white people may be wary of blacks but have no firm views on race in general. So Duckitt makes a basic assumption that has very little correspondence with reality. There is ample room for attitudes to different races to have different correlates but Duckitt treats them as all the same. He has thoroughly scrambled Humpty Dumpty.

What I have just challenged is what psychologists call the "validity" of the racism measures. Do they index what they purport to measure? And the pervasive Leftist orientation among psychologists seems to make them very poor at composing valid questionnaires to measure racism, conservatism. authoritarianism etc. If you want to find out what people really believe you have to present them with statements that express that and not statements that are utterly loony. But psychologists tend to think that anything to do with conservastism etc is loony so it is common for them to compose questionnaires that contain way-out statements rather than normal expressions of conservatism etc.

And that shows on the rare occasions when the validity of such a questionnaire becomes testable. Do answers to a psychology questionnaire about conservatism predict a conservative vote in national elections for instance? From the McClosky and Adorno questionnaires to the Altemeyer questionnaire, they dont, or do so very weakly. So some of the measures of conservatism most frequently used by psychologists are demonstrably not valid.

And that IS the fault of the person who devised the questionnaire. I am more a libertarian than a conservative but I do have some conservative sympathies and the questionaire measures of conservatism that I compose correlate with general population vote up to the level of .50, which is not high in any absolute sense but which is very high by the standard of what is normally found in psychological research. It is certainly much higher than what is found in general population samples with the McClosky, Adorno and Altemeyer measures that other psychologists use. And the difference is that my conservatism questionnaires contain examples of what conservatives really say rather than what psychologists think they say. And it is amazing how profoundly wrong the conventional psychological conception of conservatism can be. See here. When psychologists research conservatism, they usually research a caricature of it.

And what is true of conservatism measures used by psychologists is also true of measures of prejudice. And so validation of such measures against real-life behaviour is rarely attempted. Does a "racist" person according to psychologists actually tend to vote for political candidates who are critical of affirmative action or uncontrolled Hispanic immigration, for instance? Psychologists normally seem game to test that only among their students.

So you see why I gave up psychological research around 1990. I felt that I was in a dialogue with mere game-players rather than serious scientists. What they say reflects their prejudices, not the results of any serious research.

The games psychologists play can be dangerous however. The sort of utterance that I quoted from Haslam above has the tendency to dehumanize those it describes and that view of "racists" and others has certainly passed from psychologists into the popular culture. Note here where a NY film critic quite literally questions the humanity of "racists". When one notes how many people -- even critics of illegal immigration -- are routinely denounced by Leftists as "racists", we see that such dehumanization could hit a lot of people. How ironic that the Leftist psychologists who would denounce the dehumanization practiced by the likes of Hitler go on to do a pretty neat job of dehumanization themselves. And just as Hitler based his dehumanizations on fake science, so do modern-day academic psychologists.

Substantiation for the various points I have made above about research findings can be found here.



Marathon Pundit is your headquarters for Blagovich updates.

Democrats Are the New Ethics Story: "A note to all those visitors who will soon flood Washington for the inauguration: Be careful of the "swamp." That would be the swamp Speaker Nancy Pelosi vowed to drain when she led her party to victory in 2006. The GOP had been rocked by scandal, and Mrs. Pelosi and Democrats won, in part, by promising to clean up the "culture of corruption" that pervaded Washington. Instead, Democrats now have an image problem. The real issue isn't so much Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's Senate-seat auction, as it is the focus that his scandal has directed toward a wider assortment of Democratic troubles. This isn't great timing for Barack Obama, who campaigned on cleaner government. The Blagojevich drama is titillating enough, and local Democrats' dithering over how to fill Mr. Obama's seat guarantees it will remain a storyline longer than is comfortable. But the Illinois drama has also thrust new light on the ongoing ethical controversies of House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel. At the rate the House Ethics Committee is receiving complaints -- over Mr. Rangel's real-estate problems, tax problems, his privately sponsored trips to the Caribbean, and donations to his center in New York -- this too will make headlines for a while. Meanwhile, the Chicago Tribune published a new story about Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who racked up $420,000 through a series of suspicious real-estate deals. Texas Rep. Silvestre Reyes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, came under scrutiny this fall for questionable earmarking. West Virginia Rep. Alan Mollohan has been under investigation for a separate earmarking mess. And then there's Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, who has yet to answer questions about the sweetheart mortgage deal he received from Countrywide... There are more."

Thatcher Wouldn't Have Gone Wobbly on Detroit: "The government must do something, and something fairly big, to jump-start the economy, an economist friend told me. ... I disagree with this whole line of thought. It reminds me of the open letter that 364 economists addressed to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1981, condemning her for daring to cut public borrowing in the midst of a recession, which was contrary to the Keynesian orthodoxy at the time. They did not accept Mrs. Thatcher's reasoning that too much public-sector borrowing and government-directed investment could only crowd out private-sector borrowing and risk-taking. They also implicitly rejected Mrs. Thatcher's strongly held belief that both governments and individuals must be guided by fundamental rules of common sense and frugality, in good times and bad. The economists described her thinking on this score as naive. Mrs. Thatcher spurned the collective wisdom of the 364 economists, seeing their advice as just more of the same failed interventionist policy prescriptions which the country had followed for over three decades. When she came to power in May 1979, the British economy, by every measure, was in worse shape than the U.S. economy is today. Inflation was out of control. Unemployment was high and rising rapidly. Job creation had been at a total standstill for almost a decade and a half. Yet by sticking to her policies of lightened regulation, reduced trade barriers, privatization of a raft of publicly owned companies, reduced taxation, and the adoption of laws to prevent abuses of union power, Mrs. Thatcher achieved something few if any of today's economists have begun to consider. She achieved a genuine, productivity-led recovery that transformed Britain from perennial basket case into the Europe's most improved and vibrant economy."


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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)