THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 562 March 16 - 22, 2009
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March 16, 2009
John Derbyshire replies:
If we have indeed given up the Melting Pot -- if there is no American exceptionalism -- then Derbyshire is correct. I don't think it's yet too late. I believe we can go back to being American, and stop embracing diversity of language and culture. Note that the Melting Pot doesn't mean eliminating minorities, although that often happens. That is, there are still Italian Americans, Lebanese Americans, Irish Americans, but many of them have intermarried; and they are all Americans. As Bill Buckley observed not so many years ago, it is possible to study to become an American. You can't learn to be a Frenchman, or a Swiss; but you can learn to be an American. The American culture used to be taught in the schools and every child learned it. My classmates in first grade included Italian children, Irish, one Lebanese; all Americans.
But our schools seem now to reject the melting pot and the American culture. We are no longer encouraged to think of ourselves in the terms I was taught as a boy. I think we will all regret that.
There is mail relevant to this.
Julie Woodman sends this
Which is well worth your time. We'll have to wait for the real thing, but this is a pretty good description. And see mail
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|This week:||Tuesday, March
St. Patrick's Day
The wrath against the bonuses continues. In today's LA Times Jonah Goldberg argues strongly against this. There are contracts, there is a rules of law; we bought the company contracts and all, and we are obligated to honor those contracts now that we own AIG, no matter how bitter a taste that may leave.
The situation confirms my view -- it is getting to be stronger than a view -- that if a company becomes too large to fail, it should be broken up; it should not be allowed to exist. We had something like that in the old trust-busting activities. As I have observed before, David McCord Wright, an economist I have high regard for, has said that anti-trust is a major reason why Marx's prediction that capitalism would concentrate more and more wealth into fewer and fewer hands did not come true -- although when one sees monsters like AIG and the Super Banks, one wonders. Whatever else Karl Marx was, he was not a fool. We do see enormous concentrations of wealth as companies accumulate capital in order to buy out the opposition.
Of course Marx was concerned about ownership of "the means of production". It's not clear to me what he would have made of AIG and its financial products group, which bet the company on its own smarts in packaging credit asset swaps and other strange derivatives no one really understands. The financial products made enormous "profits" for a while, but whether those were "means of production" is arguable.
Clearly there are economies of scale in having ever larger companies; but if one factors in the possibility of enormous bailouts to keep these huge enterprises from failing, I doubt we benefit much from those economies of scale. I suspect we'd be better off with smaller companies, somewhat higher prices, and the freedom to let them go bankrupt if they are poorly managed. Instead we are sending hundreds of billions of (borrowed, we hope) taxpayer dollars into AIG, some of which will be paid as contracted bonuses to the financial products group who brought down the company that was too big to fail.
I do not think we should allow companies to become too big to fail.
Cut, copy, and paste; Landscape mode in most applications; peer to peer connectivity, allowing printing from the iPhone: these are said to be the new features of the upcoming iPhone software. Interesting.
Joseph Sobran on becoming an anarchist.
I had a brief correspondence with Murray Rothbard when I was Science Editor of Galaxy and writing A Step Farther Out.
Sobran says "Murray’s view of politics was shockingly blunt: the state was nothing but a criminal gang writ large. Much as I agreed with him in general, and fascinating though I found his arguments, I resisted this conclusion. I still wanted to believe in constitutional government."
Those were the days of the Cold War. I was also friends with Karl Wittfogel, and my fear was the establishment of Oriental Despotism throughout Western society; the end of the West.
Sobran also says "Somewhere, at the rainbow’s end, America would return to her founding principles. The Federal Government would be shrunk, laws would be few, taxes minimal. That was what I thought. Hoped, anyway. "
That was pretty much my thought during the Cold War. I also believed that a great increase in human resources, and the opening of a new frontier -- the space frontier -- would change the world.
Sobran's apologia is worth your time. More discussion another time.
And I have recently had occasion to read my essay on How To Get To Space. It's still worth reading.
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March 18, 2009
New brouhaha. Jay Leno is doing a show in Detroit. They gave away free tickets. Now some of those who got the free tickets have put them up for sale on Ebay -- and Leno wants that stopped. Whereupon Rush Limbaugh gets unhappy because Leno is being hostile to the free market.
Meanwhile the President of the United States will be on the Leno show. Heaven knows what those tickets would be worth!
I am a bit concerned about a coming Dark Age. We used to see the future as positive. We were going to space, and we would gain new resources, open a new frontier, and -- well, that's what I used to write about. Now I wonder if we will have the resources. Societies convert their output to structure. We are rapidly doing that. Whether we will leave enough room for the private space companies to get us to space -- NASA is already over-structured -- is no longer clear.
Will we in future even remember the way the future used to be? That is what a Dark Age is: not that one loses a capability, but that one loses the very memory that we ever had that capability.
The water recovery system on Space Station will be replaced. I recall back in the 50's working with some of the people involved in that. The standing joke was "How much of the keto-steriods and other organics do you have to remove?" The answer was "All of them if you care about your astronaut." I suppose that's not so funny now. At the time recycling urine and sweat was a fairly new thing to do; think of actually building a "stillsuit" from Dune...
The President is to go on the Leno Show. I worry: does he not yet realize that the election is over and he won? He need not campaign again. Perhaps he sees the Leno Show as a sort of modern equivalent of Roosevelt's Fireside Chats, a way to reassure the American people that all is well and we have time for humor? But is there not much to do in Washington?
For a PDF copy of A Step Farther Out:
March 19, 2009
I had a CAT scan of my jaw yesterday. I don't anticipate problems, but it is well to see what is going on there. Probably nothing. The result, though, is that I got a bunch of die dripped into my system, and that tired me out a bit. Recovering nicely, and we'll have interpretation soon enough. I suspect the real culprit is a bad tooth.
The more I look into it, the more I realize that a great deal of our financial problems originated with the Financial Products group of AIG. Because AIG would "insure" investment banks when they sold credit swaps, the banks could sell "insurance" to hedge funds so that the funds could bet on the collapse of the housing bubble. This meant that one could "insure" against that collapse -- meaning that it was "sage" to continue to push bad loans. After all, one could limit one's exposure on these bad loans. And the Financial Products, which now have junk ratings, were given AAA rating by Standard and Poor. Of course if S&P had valued these derivatives as anything less, AIG's Financial Products executives would have gone to a different ratings agency.
Anyone with any sense understood that the housing market bubble was a bubble, and that betting on its eventual collapse was a sure thing. Insuring against that collapse was a risky business, because it was a bet that the boom would continue, that there would be few defaults on the bad loans that fueled the housing bubble, and -- well, we all saw it coming. I've been writing about that for years. When older houses bought for $30,000 in the 1960's become worth $1.5 million and more, there's something wrong, and it can't last; and those whose business is speculation surely could see that it was getting time to hedge your bets on the boom.
So in essence the Financial Products group executives were getting commissions for betting the company on the continuation of the boom, and their services were so valuable that they had to be given contracts for retention bonuses (which are taxed differently from salaries). Meanwhile the ratings companies who certified that these financial products were perfectly safe investments continue to enjoy a legal monopoly. And here we are.
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March 20, 2009
Of course it will be labeled "Socialism", because that is a pretty fair description of the program. I once had the honor of spending an evening with Norman Thomas, perennial candidate for President on the Socialist ticket. In the 1950's he was known, with justice, as the only presidential candidate who kept all his campaign promises": namely those of his 1928 campaign for President. The entire program of the Socialist Party, the 1928 platform, were enacted by the Democrats over the next dozen or so years. American Socialism, unlike the British Socialists (particularly the Fabian Society) did not include nationalization of major industries. There is no longer a single spokesperson for American Socialism, and the term is often used as synonymous with Liberalism. Of course Liberalism and Socialism had different origins, and both underwent a sea change when imported to America; but surely there is no quarrel with saying that Europe continues in the Socialist tradition as opposed to the US?
and I recommend his article.
I completely agree with my correspondent: the continuous campaign is for an ambitious agenda to bring this country up to the level of civilization that Europe has achieved in the last 50 years. The question to be considered is where Europe has gone, and is that what the American people want to do? As Steyn points out, our 7% unemployment, the highest in 15 years, is lower than the lowest France has enjoyed during that period. and the EU routinely enjoys double-digit unemployment.
The hope of the intellectuals defending the transformation of the US is that when it's done we'll look a lot like Sweden rather than France.
Go read Steyn, and we can discuss this.
It was predictable in that something of the sort is inevitable, even from professional politicians. We all have odd quirks in our sense of humor, and sometimes they come out, even from professional politicians. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone...
NooRuz http://www.farsinet.com/norooz/ I do not know enough about modern Iran. President Obama presumably has the resources to research this more thoroughly, and recently sent a New Year Greeting to Iran on NooRuz, the New Year of the pre-Muslim Iranians. The Taliban, I believe, forbade celebration of NooRuz; what the Shiite Iranians do I don't know. I do know that the conquest of ancient Persia by the early Muslims involved severe persecution of the Zoroastrian Fire Worshippers (as Pratt says, you can find traces of this in the Arabian Nights). The Muslim New Year is based on the Hegira and since the Muslim (Lunar) year does not correspond to the solar year, the date varies from year to year. What date is the legal New Year in Iran I don't know, but again I presume that the State Department has competent people who know these things.
And if you have a couple of minutes for pure amusement, Eric Pobirs found this gem:
More on Google, Kindle, and Sony: see mail
I presume there is an easy way to go from epub to a Kindle-acceptable format?
March 21, 2009
The days will keep getting longer, which means that our Husky has stopped growing new undercoat, but the weather has been chilly so she hasn't started shedding. When she does we get enough fur to make another dog every day or so...
I took the day off.
March 22, 2009
I got a March 2009 Mailbag done for Chaos Manor Reviews. and that ought to be up in the next day or so.
We'll have a new discussion next week on Europe vs. US, productivity, and how we got into/get out of this mess.
I become more and more convinced that we ought not allow any institution to become too big to fail. Allowing such institutions guarantees Black Swans.
I will be at:
30th Annual Vintage Paperback Collectors Show & Sale
I'll be there in the afternoon. Note that there is an admission fee for this; it's not an ordinary book signing.
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