THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 560 March 2 - 8, 2009
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March 2, 2009
I think the problem here is deeper than it looks, although it's a pretty common problem in policy analysis. To many, the test of a policy is its intentions. If the intentions are good, then it's a good policy, and we all ought to want it to succeed. Others have a different criterion: they judge a policy on its actual results, or, if it's being proposed, then on the predictable results of that policy. Thus, if the intentions are good, it's shameful to wish for it to fail -- even if the predictable results are not what the policy is intended to accomplish, and may in fact be precisely the opposite of what the policy intends.
Obama means well for the country. His vision is not mine: I would suspect that his vision of The Good Society has a lot less freedom and a lot more Federal Government control over individual lives than I care for. That is his picture of The Good Society, and it is one that many have held over the centuries, even millennia; a society of peaceful inhabitants all well behaved, few imprisoned, with government insuring against mishaps and accidents and unemployment, government providing high quality health care to everyone, no one having to do without, no one hungry, few homeless. I could go on but surely the picture is clear? You can find it in many places. Start with various tracts of The Fabian Society.
Now: to Obama, success means building that society.
Do we want that? And even if we want it, is it possible? These are questions that used to be discussed in undergraduate bull sessions in every college and university in Western Civilization. There's nothing new about the bitterness these discussions generate, either; they often resulted in charges of "Fascist!" and "Communist!" and I would suppose they still do. Incidentally, the Fascists had good intentions, too, and until Hitler muddied up the waters and Mussolini joined the Axis Fascism had its respectable side. See any good history of the early days of World War II.
Fred Pohl in his wonderful autobiography The Way The Future Was tells the story of how a communist (Stalinist actually) friend invited him to toast the victory of the working classes when Hitler's troops were marching down The Avenue des Champs-Élysées after the fall of Paris in 1940. American Communists had good intentions, and the Party Line in those days took the Hitler/Stalin pact quite seriously. The Line changed after Hitler invaded Russia, but World War II began when Hitler and Stalin fell upon Poland and partitioned that nation between them -- Russia doing rather well out of the deal, actually, seizing the Baltic Republics and much of Finland. (Finland fought back -- see The Winter War -- but that's another story.)
So Obama and his allies have good intentions. (I am not sure I would extend that assumption to include all the architects of the stimulus package, but that's another discussion.) Does that mean we ought to wish them success?
All this is not a prelude to an endorsement of Rush Limbaugh.
It's pollen season, and our heads are stuffed up. There are many remedies, but eventually they all have problems. I have found that pumping out my head with the stuff that comes with the nose pump I use clears things up better than any pills or nose sprays. I recommended the pump, and the company got so many orders that they set up a link; if you order through the link I get a couple of bucks. That's not why I recommend it. This works, and the other day Roberta decided she had to try it again. She likes it. I like it. I think you will like it.
Here is where to order the nose pump I recommend:
I had a short squib on copyright and out of print works last Saturday that may lead to a longer discussion.
Meanwhile, I will have this up again with comments on Monday:
Alas, I am out of time; but if you didn't see this Saturday, I recommend it to your attention. Once again, we have a conflict of intentions and prudence.
I suspect there are few public school teachers who would not very nearly double their teaching effectiveness if they were given the power -- quite arbitrary power -- to banish two students from each class. In many classes there are a couple of students who make it impossible for anyone else to learn much; in particular they make it impossible for the bright kids to get much beyond the standard curriculum, while making it very nearly impossible for the normal kids to learn even that much.
Of course it will never happen. Our schools are caught in Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy, and there is no escape. The purpose of the schools is now to pay its employees and give them ever increasing benefits; and since the school system is the most powerful lobbying organization in the world, that will not change. Ah well.
|This week:||Tuesday, March
Michael was over this morning to help throw stuff out, and we got a good bit of junk out of the Great Hall. I am astonishingly exhausted by the effort. It's 1500 and I need to go upstairs and work on Mamelukes. I did about 1,000 words yesterday, which is not as much as I'd like, but getting something done every day is the key to finishing it.
It's pretty clear that the Administration doesn't know what to do about the economy and every attempt seems to bring a new crash. Unfortunately, the congressional leaders know precisely what they want to do, which makes the crashes worse. At some point we have to hit bottom, but when?
On the bright side, we have far better technology now than we did in the 1930's. Productivity is much greater. We're not going to starve. The Legions won't be abandoned. We won't have veterans camping on the Mall as a Bonus Army.
On the subject of success and failure:
This comment is fairly typical of one point of view, and I am not sure what to make of it. Is it disloyal to believe that socialism, which is rule by bureaucracy, no matter how well intended, doesn't work and attempts to install it make things worse, not better?
If by wishing the President success what is meant is a pious wish that the Dow would go above 10,000 again and preferably go above 12,000, then I don't suppose there is anyone who doesn't wish him success. The question is, are they putting policies in place that will make that happen? And if that doesn't happen, will we have the revenue to do everything we are committed to? And is it disloyal to wonder what happens if we don't have the revenue, but attempt all these grand plans?
But enough. I have to go work now. Query: is Google Evil?
March 4, 2009
I've been reflecting on this note:
The problem is that it would take several pages to answer this. One thing I should make clear: if anyone thinks I mindlessly defend the Republicans, either they haven't been reading much on this site, or I have been extraordinarily poor at explaining my position. I haven't had any real influence on the Executive branch of government since General Graham and I persuaded then VP Dan Quayle to fund the DC/X program from the SDI funds. When George H W Bush entered the White House he pretty well fired all the Reagan people and replaced them with his own. Few of them listened to me in any event, and my opposition to the First Gulf War pretty well ended their attentiveness. I remained an advisor and friend to Newt Gingrich while he was Minority Whip. When he became Speaker it was much more difficult to get his attention -- after all, everyone wanted his time -- but it was still possible.
Newt left office. The Republicans went mad, spending more than the Democrats. When I was a lad it was said that the Republicans were the party of depression, and the Democrats were the party of war. The post-Gingrich Republicans managed to be both. The inherently contradictory phrase "Big Government Conservatism" was born. Between the war and the crazy spending we were set on a course for recession -- but many of the seeds of that were sowed earlier on. Home ownership -- property ownership in general -- has ever been one of the stabilizing factors in a republic. Rule by the middle class -- those who possess the goods of fortune in moderation -- usually works pretty well. It's a good instinct to try to expand that base of home ownership. Alas, couple the pressures to make home loans to less and less qualified owners with the implied guarantee of those loans by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; then add the ability for those entities to sell mortgage packages and use the money obtained to make even more loans, and the crash was inevitable. There's plenty of room for assigning blame here; handing it all to either party makes no sense.
The question is whether the enormous spending bills crafted not by Obama, but by the Democratic Congress, is pouring water on the fire, or simply hosing it down with inflammables. I gather that the message above advises those of us who have doubts about the remedies to get out of the way and let the firemen do their work. I doubt any of us have any choice on that.
Would I like to see the United States rebuilt along classical European socialist lines? No. Why not? Because I don't think it would work. But if it does work, won't it be beautiful? I don't think it works.
At which point the discussion returns to loyalty. If a socialist society would work, wouldn't I love it? And once again, I have to ask, what do you mean by "work", and what happened to freedom? Adams once said that in the United States we consider each man the best judge of his own interest. That seems a statement of principle worth reflecting on; and I don't see how it squares with rule by bureaucrats, which is the basic principle of socialism: the experts are a better judge of people's interests than the people themselves. What we decree is right because it's what you'd choose if you were in your right mind.
In any event, we'll see. I don't see how the pressure in the fire hoses can get a lot higher.
March 5, 2009
You could say much the same about Rush Limbaugh, who hasn't until recently thought of himself as a thinker, but rather as the Pipe Major charged with doing a daily concert. Pretty well the same thing can be said of Sean Hannity. They're on public view all the time, and they have to have something to talk about that will keep their listeners not only listening but fired up, tuned in.
Russell Kirk knew better, which is one reason he gave up doing a regular column. If you don't have something to say, you may be tempted to just say something, because if you don't, people will forget you are there. I suppose the extreme case in point is Twitter, although I confess I have never seen a single Tweet; but from what I see in discussions of Twitter (some of them of course parodies) I can't imaging wanting to have a Twitter following. It's hard enough coming up daily with something I imagine may be interesting to readers. Alas, if I don't manage something, the subscriptions and renewals vanish -- just as, if The Heritage Foundation can't find something to publish, people stop donating to it.
But conservatism isn't an ideology. Sometimes, as in the Seventy Years War AKA the Cold War it was necessary to stir up emotions, and that was a very difficult thing to do: Containment was not an exciting strategy; it was, however, expensive, and we found it necessary to defend actions and practices that we hated. The Strategy of Technology, of being a step ahead in the Technological War at all times, of making certain that the Marshal of the USSR could never tell the Polit Bureau that if they launched the war next week, the USSR would be terribly damaged but there would be no remaining opposition to world communist rule -- explaining the importance of that wasn't so much difficult as a continuous requirement. Technological Warfare is constant, and it's not that hard to fall way behind a determined enemy. Alas, the Protracted Conflict (by Strausz-Hupe, Possony, and Kintner) required more than just technology. For containment to work, communist expansion had to be contained, because each new victory strengthened the expansionist elements in the USSR. The result was that conservatives had to make common cause with Cold Warriors who had other agendas -- who were, as it turned out, ideologues.
I recall being in a national TV debate with Allard Lowenstein and McGeorge Bundy: Allard said "Jerry, you want to win in Viet Nam and get out. I just want to get out. But your friends over there want to lose it and stay in. And they're running the war."
I had no reply to that. As it happened, by the time we abandoned Viet Nam in 1975 the Soviet State had begun its decline, and even misinterpreted their "victory" in Viet Nam to mean they now understood how to deal with such matters, and went into Afghanistan; with disastrous results. Ideologies make it very difficult to interpret world events. Seen through the lens of ideology, disaster often looks like victory for while. Yet sometimes conservatives have no choice but to choose sides with ideologues.
It is ever thus, and perhaps it must be.
I certainly would have been more comfortable with Fred Thompson, with Newt as Speaker, than I am now; but then I was more comfortable with Clinton as President and Newt as Speaker than I was during most of the Bush era.
Daily political messages get more attention than attempts to look at things in deeper perspective, and ideologies are always more popular than principles. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be per omnia secula seculorum.
On the daily political news: The newly appointed head of the FDIC tells us that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, one of the better products of the Roosevelt New Deal, is nearly broke. This predictably generates a great deal of commentary from the financial community (example).
It's not the first time, of course. The FDIC keeps getting nearly broke, and needs bailouts. It has happened before, and it will happen again. If there is one institution guaranteed a bailout, the FDIC is it.
March 6, 2009
I continue to grind on Mamelukes, which is coming along if a bit slower than I like. The President continues to act as if the campaign is not over, as the unemployment rate climbs.
I will be do the column over the weekend.
Meanwhile, there is mail, some amusing, some interesting.
From today's WSJ:
The Climate Change Lobby Has Regrets; Cap and trade is going to cost them.
March 7, 2009
I need to do the column, and I'm working on it.
Thanks to Dodi Stacey for sending me this:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJZEv5oRpcE which is hilarious.
March 8, 2009
We went to Wagner's Das Rheingold this afternoon, then to the cast party by the Wagner Society. Lauren McNeese, Wellgunde (one of the three Rhine Maidens) sat at our table. I remembered her as Zerlina in Don Giovanni. Her credits show she was La Ciesca, Marco's wife, in Gianni Schicchi, which we saw. She was charming. very nice, and ate like a normal human being when she wasn't being interrupted by questions and admiring comments.
Lauren is at left. Behind her is bass Morris Robinson who sang Fasolt (the giant who doesn't get either the girl or the ring). The chap in the center holding an "Oscar" is Arnold Bezuyen, who played Logi; the costume was apparently designed by someone who read The Mote in God's Eye because Logi has three arms, just like a Motie. He got a well deserved standing ovation. The "Oscar" story isn't mine to tell. On the right is the conductor Maestro James Conlon, who also got a very well deserved standing ovation. Because the production was done with the orchestra hidden under the stage, neither Conlon nor any of the orchestra dressed for the performance; it was odd to see the base player outside the opera house in gym clothes a minute or so after the final curtain.
This was the strangest production of Rheingold I ever saw or heard of, but I enjoyed every moment of it. Three hours without an intermission, and I enjoyed every second of it despite being unable to understand much of the staging. Some of the meaning of the staging became clear after more action; some never did. The music was magnificent, the English titles worked very well (I can understand some of the German, but I'm pretty rusty); in short, it all worked very well for me, and I like it.
Which is why I'll be a day or so late getting the column done. Apologies.
Meanwhile I posted a lot of mail on many topics; I'd be astounded if you didn't find a number of items to interest you.
This is a day book. It's not all that well edited. I try to keep this up daily, but sometimes I can't. I'll keep trying. See also the weekly COMPUTING AT CHAOS MANOR column, 8,000 - 12,000 words, depending. (Older columns here.) For more on what this page is about, please go to the VIEW PAGE. If you have never read the explanatory material on that page, please do so. If you got here through a link that didn't take you to the front page of this site, click here for a better explanation of what we're trying to do here. This site is run on the "public radio" model; see below.
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