THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 605 January 11 - 17, 2010
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January 11, 2010
.We have to get up early Monday morning and take Sable to the vet. I'll probably be late. I finished the column last night. It needs a final polish and should be up tomorrow. More when I know more.
Sable is home. She has a ligament problem in her left hind knee. The recommendation is for surgery to repair it. That would be expensive but that's not the primary consideration. I worry about weeks of recovery including more than a week wearing that cone. She doesn't seem to be in pain and sometimes she's downright frisky on both legs, but she does favor that left rear leg especially in the mornings. She insists on her daily walk, and she's active, and she doesn't whimper about it.
When I was a kid maybe half my friends had "arithmetic dogs" -- put down three and carry one. There was no such thing as rebuilding a knee, and most of those dogs lived to a healthy doggy old age and went on hikes with us and generally behaved normally. We have decisions to make and Roberta is looking into it. Meanwhile Sable is home. She had to be anesthetized, and she's not supposed to eat or drink until after dinner tonight, meaning she's locked in the house because she drinks from the pool. Not a happy Husky just now.
The January column is up at Chaos Manor Reviews
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January 12, 2010
.We're taking Sable out for her walk. The January (year end) column is up at Chaos Manor Reviews, with the Chaos Manor User's Choice awards and the Orchids and Onions parade.
President Obama's approval rating is below 50% according to the NY Times (it has been below that in other polls for a couple of months). I believe even Jimmy Carter did better than that in his first year. Next fall is crucial to the Republic: it is a time to restore some balance in Washington. My fear is that the Republicans will manage to "win" but like the Bourbons returning after Napoleon, prove to have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. More on this after our walk.
Meanwhile, have we not had quite enough of this nonsense? Obama is light skinned and has no Negro dialect (accent) unless he wants to; he is clean and articulate; and he has a job approval of 46% according to the New York Times. Is there anything to argue about in any of those statements? Of those facts, which is the more relevant?
If you haven't had enough of the Harry Reid story, Jonah Goldberg says about all that needs saying in today's op ed piece in the LA Times "Playing the Race Card Gotcha". Actually he says more than needs saying, and the theme is taken up in spades with big casino by David Greenberg on "feigned outrage". Between them they pretty well fill the LA Times op-ed page. There's more on the editorial page, and the Wall Street Journal seems taken by the theme. Haven't we got more important things to discuss? I certainly have.
Remember the heady days of the end of history? Liberal democracy would run riot throughout the world, and there would be no more need for "history". Hegel was correct, and Marx was close, there is an inevitable social evolution and it will end when -- well, exactly what ends it isn't so clear after all. Fukuyama and the extremists among those who unaccountably called themselves neo-conservatives (except for opposition to Communism and the Soviet Union there wasn't much I could discern that was conservative about them) thought the end of history would be liberal democracy, and that was now inevitable.
It didn't work out that way, as any real student of history could have told them. It never could, because liberal democracy isn't stable, and never has been. The first thing liberal democracy gets rid of is the liberal part where liberal retains much connection to the notion of "liberty". Once liberal democracy is established you may bid goodbye to most economic liberties, including the freedom to be rich and remain independent from government interference in your everyday life. Liberalism, it seems, doesn't really want to liberate you, it wants to regulate you. That leads to dissolution of the notion of actual popular control over government policies; the intellectual leaders know what's best for you, and you'll get what's good for you good and hard. In the twenty years since the heyday of "the end of history" we've seen that everywhere; the crumbling of both freedom and democracy has been visible everywhere.
CNN today reports on the Freedom House report on a "Freedom Recession", and
In general Freedom House, like the WSJ editorial board, tends to equate democracy with freedom. Few seem aware of the opinion of the Framers of the US Constitution. John Adams said it best: "Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide." Simon Bolivar had great regard for democracy but thought it impossible: "He who seeks to plant democracy in my homeland [Venezuela] plows the sea." Cicero was quite sanguine on the subject. Democracy couldn't last. As to the Snopes-Denounced quote about democracy being stable only so long as the voters are unaware that they can vote themselves largess from the public treasury, I really don't care who first phrased the sentiment that way: history pretty well shows it to be true, and political philosophers from Aristotle forward believed that, as did the Framers of the US Constitution. Democracy is not stable, and there is eventually a rush to give largess from the public treasury to the supporters of the government, followed by moves to take the actual political power away from the actual populace and put it in the hands of party leaders, after -- well, the progression is known. Those who want to know more about it are referred to C. Northcote Parkinson's Evolution of Political Thought. In my teaching days I used Parkinson's book as one of the texts for my seminar on political theory, and I have yet to find a better work on the subject. Of course it is long out of print. It steps on almost everyone's political sacred cow.
Freedom is not free, and democracy is not stable. Those who have been following, zum Beispiel, the fortunes of Brazil, Venezuela, and the development of the Fourth Reich AKA the European Union should not be astonished.
History has not ended. This fall will be an important election in the history of these United States, and as I said above, we have an opportunity to turn away from the disastrous course we have set out on, and back toward the notion of limited government, transparency, and subsidiarity. Whether we will do that or not depends entirely on the willingness of a concerned and educated citizenry to take back their control of the political parties. That's both parties. We need to restore the rule of the political center. That can be done.
Transparency and subsidiarity. Stop looking for national perfection and allow local communities control over their own affairs. Adopt the goal of liberty rather than equality. It could happen.
Regarding the Parkinson book, I have found http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=3479199 which appears to have the entire book. I haven't mastered navigation and apparently one must sign up for the Questia Library to read the book, nor do I have any idea of copyright permission status. I expect one of my readers will be able to tell me more. I do recommend the book, although I don't entirely endorse Parkinson's final conclusions; but I do note their similarity to Pareto's observations on political morality. Mostly Parkinson is a refreshing and relatively painless remedy to the utter lack of historical education in these United States. Incidentally, Parkinson classifies the USSR (in 1959 when he wrote the book) as a theocracy. In fact it proved to be a theocratic bureaucracy, but it retained nearly all the accoutrements of a theology even as it became more and more difficult to find anyone who believed in the theology. Gorbachev apparently did believe in it, and when his attempt to restore the True Belief failed, the entire enterprise collapsed, as one would predict.
Alan Blinder, no enemy to government regulation in principle, has an interesting op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal: "When greed is not good." It is a good accompaniment to the theme on freedom and liberty. As I have always said, unregulated laissez faire capitalism swiftly leads to the sale of human flesh in the market. It also leads to the use of lead paint in children's toys, melamine in baby milk powder, etc.
One remedy to contamination of products is very strict enforcement of truth in labeling and advertisements. I don't so much object to people selling snake oil as a nasal remedy as I insist that the snake oil contain oil squeezed from snakes, and not a melamine-enhanced fake.
Any study of the current crash will conclude that most of the problem came about when the government insisted that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac inject more and more money into the housing market in the hopes of increasing the numbers of people who owned their homes, and thus, in theory, become members of the middle class. It was fuzzily thought out, but the result was predictable and predicted: letting more people bid on houses drove the housing prices up and up, creating a bubble. The feds then exempted the Credit Default Swaps, which were a form of insurance, from state insurance regulations while allowing Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to treat bad mortgages as capital assets, not liabilities. The result was predictable and predicted. That doesn't negate Blinder's article, which is worth your attention.
Next Fall's election is crucial.
January 13, 2010
As I write this, Haiti has had 14 > 5.0 aftershocks after the ~ 7.0 main quake. Casualties are high including the apparently the Cardinal Archbishop. The US Navy is going in, and the Red Cross in Los Angeles (I would presume in many other places as well) is gathering volunteers to go to the rescue.
I presume that potential volunteers are being warned that it is customary in Haiti to kidnap Americans for ransoms that can be at low as $100; the motives aren't political, they simply need the money, and they're pretty sure Americans will pay it. The United States has spent considerable sums trying to bail Haiti out and establish democracy there. We intervened to impose a Marxist former priest as president because he was "legitimately elected" or was the closest thing to a legitimately elected president. He didn't work out very well.
The traditional form of government in Haiti since the end of the colonial period has been despotism. Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones was set in a mythical Haiti. Henri Cristophe, the first President and then self-proclaimed King, has provided many colorful legends and stories. Conversion of the state from Monarchy to Republic to "democracy" hasn't changed things much since: the history of Haiti is mostly a history of despots. Some of the despots have been more benevolent than others. All have had difficulty establishing simple public order. One of the despoties employed a security force that had the colloquial name of the TonTon Macoutes (translates to Uncle Knapsack, which in Haiti means the Bogey Man).
After the emergency aid is finished and the earthquake forgotten the Caribbean powers will still be faced with the Haiti problem. As I write this I am listening to more stories of disorder and mayhem: an abandoned orphanage, and when three American missionaries broke into the building to find abandoned babies, some dead of neglect and no adults anywhere on the premises, they were arrested and fined by the police for breaking and entering. Of course the police needed the money from the fines.
There is no end to the misery and corruption in Haiti. Political philosophers wax eloquent about the virtues of life in a state of nature, of places where there is no government to interfere. That was modified by American Progressives to reflect what intrepid anthropologists were finding, that the state of nature could be grim, and government was needed to allow people to develop their natural virtues. Only through good government -- usually that means direct universal franchise democracy -- can true virtue be achieved. Alas, every time the experiment has been tried the result has tended to present a choice between anarchy and the TonTon Macoutes, but perhaps next time it will be different.
I won't be following this story, nor should I be since I have no facilities for doing so. We will all contribute to the relief fund, as we should. When we do, contemplate that the ancients believed that government was a gift from the gods, a working government was a blessing, and good government a rare blessing beyond price.
I think I have told before the story of how Mr. Disney paid us at Pepperdine to look into the means of establishing a real Experimental Project Community of Tomorrow which would be a residential research center with all employees living on campus; its purpose would be research and it would be supported by tourist income. Disney intended it to be his present to the world, his greatest legacy. Alas, the concept didn't survive his death, and EPCOT was soon converted into another theme park with the only residual research being a small pool of crabs and manta rays. That still existed when I visited EPCOT decades ago, but it has long since vanished.
As I write this a mean spirited talk show host is making fun of DisneyLand where everyone is clean and good looking, and people call themselves cast members. "But you're not a cast member, you're a janitor. You're a fry cook. That's what you are!" Somehow that seems appropriate. We wouldn't want Haiti to look like DisneyWorld.
January 14, 2010
The simplest solution to the problem of health care costs is morphine as the only publicly paid for treatment for those 75 years of age and older. I haven't actually worked the numbers, but from the generalities I have heard on costs of care in the last year of life, that would allow the present health care system to work fairly well. Older people who could afford it might opt for real insurance that they pay for, or pay for their own expenses while their expectant relatives fumed at the expenses -- it would make for some good detective stories. The resultant savings -- some 35% and more of Medicaid expenses are paid out in the last year of life -- would pay for a lot of the health care dilemma.
Of course once that was established the pressure would be on to provide more services and expand the program; it's hard to predict which direction things would go in. Toward restricting treatment at lower and lower ages while expanding benefits for those younger? Toward raising the age at which treatment would be restricted to morphine? Is it a path toward Logan's Run? Or a geruntocracy?
Clearly I am being whimsical, but it's still an interesting thought experiment. Just how much expensive longevity are the young expected to pay for? And if we cannot pay for the latest and greatest treatments for all (and new ones are discovered all the time, and they don't seem to get cheaper), how do we decide who gets the benefits and who gets the morphine (or nothing at all)?
Fortunately the Dominican Republic seems to be in better shape. At one time Haiti conquered the Spanish speaking eastern half of the island, but in 1844 an uprising followed by a number of defeats of invading Haitian armies divided the Island into two unequal pieces. Haitian officials fled, but Haiti continued to claim the right to rule the entire island until the Spanish speaking eastern inhabitants offered to become a Spanish colony again to escape that fate. That failed largely due to US opposition (Monroe Doctrine, anyone?) but mutual loathing is one good description of the relationship of the two nations on Hispaniola ever since.
Of course the Haitians had made a deal with the devil in 1791. This isn't generally known outside Haiti, but seems to be very widely believed in Haiti itself. The rebels in 1791 in a solemn ceremony promised to serve the local gods -- demons in the estimation of the Roman Catholic Church which the rebels repudiated -- for two hundred years if His Satanic Majesty and his demonic legions (including Baron Samedi) would assist in throwing out the French. The revolution was successful.
Haiti was ruled by a series of despots. One dynasty employed security agents known as the TonTons Macoutes, which translates as The Bogeymen. No one was surprised. They had, after all, made a deal with the devil.
The Haitian deal with the devil expired not long after President Clinton used the US Marines to restore Aristide (a defrocked Catholic priest) to power after Aristide's subjects revolted. That was supposed to be the last payment on the debt to the devil.
The current earthquake has reduced the western half of the island to rubble. It never did have any kind of economy: Haiti's despots have been less successful in building infrastructure than those who operated in the Dominican Republic. Apparently His Satanic Majesty found a new clause in the contract, and continues to operate in Haiti.
Western reporters are mostly staying in the Dominican Republic, not a wealthy place but certainly more developed than Haiti. The Dominican Republic was a US protectorate during the early part of the 20th Century; the US Navy ran their customs houses and collected their taxes until we tired of that, but when we tried to leave there were riots and insurrections and we returned in force in 1916. Harding decided to get us back out of there. A few years we left there was a terrible hurricane. Recovery efforts were led by the US trained Rafael Trujillo, former head of the Dominican National Guard. He was very popular and probably won the election as president. Over time he won more elections and in effect became president for life until he was assassinated and a new period of chaos began in 1961. He was a typical Latin caudillo despot, who at one time ordered the expulsion and massacre of any Haitian found on the Dominican side of the border, which was set fairly far west. A century before Haiti had been offered a border with more equal distribution of the island, but refused, claiming to own the entire island. Thus are the sins of one generation of despots visited on the children of later generations.
After Trujillo's assassination I proposed -- not entirely whimsically -- that the simplest solution to the governance problem there would be to declare Trujillo's son King, with the extensive family property thus becoming Crown Property; then institute parliamentary government, with the King able to pardon and protect the security forces and political allies who had kept his father in power. Of course no such thing was tried. The US was concerned that a Communist regime would be installed. Various US factions insisted on "free and fair elections." Various caudillos gained and lost power. Economic development went by fits and starts over the next decades.
Unlike Haiti, The Dominican Republic never did go entirely into chaos. It is periodically hit by hurricanes. It doesn't seem to be so affected by earthquakes, but that may be because they have had enough functioning government to enforce minimal building codes.
I bring all this up, not to argue against immediate rescue and charitable aid to Haiti, but to point out that the earthquake is only the latest disaster in the history of the problems of Haiti and the island of Santo Domingo. In one sense the entire history of the island has been a disaster. Of course there are places that have had a long history of disaster, then changed courses and moved toward progress. It's also rare, and Venezuela shows that being on the path to progress is hardly permanent.
Good government is a rare blessing. Fixing a working government often does more harm than good. It is a lesson the Framers knew well, and one we seem to be trying to forget.
If I can't use it, then by God you won't either. Justice.
Historically, this kind of thing has not led to happy endings, but this time all will be well, and everyone will be glad of it. Surely.
January 5, 2009
When I was in graduate school I had a friend and colleague from Haiti. He was on a scholarship paid by the Duvalier government, and he was studying resource management. His family was middle class and he was destined for an important post in the government. He had no use for Devalier -- and no idea of what might replace him. The government was corrupt, the important political officials lived like kings, but they were interested wanting at least the illusion of progress. They weren't as smart as Franco, who managed to keep a politically strong authoritarian government with the highest economic growth rate in the world. My friend really had no solution to the problem of government in Haiti. He didn't trust me or anyone else to be candid about Duvaliaer -- the reach of the security forces probably didn't extend to Seattle, but you never knew -- but it was pretty clear to me that if he'd had his way, Haiti would be government by technocrats, and have a moratorium on politics. Given his social class it was no surprise that he had little faith in popular movements. "Plebescitory democracy in a country with 90% illiteracy isn't going to work well," he used to say.
Of course we were young then, graduate students and conscious of our status.
I've thought about that situation for a long time since then. I don't have a solution. Over the years I have come more and more to appreciate the sentiments of the ancients: good government is a rare gift from the gods, and it is easier to lose it than to acquire it.
We are likely to have a new Senator from the Witch Trial State, and one who would have been quite at home when hanging witches (and pressing uncooperative witnesses to death) was the practice in Salem. For details see Dorothy Rabinowitz "Martha Coakley's Convictions", about Coakley's zeal for punishing witches. Lest Californians feel too smug, we had our own witch trials back when our scientific professional psychologists were saying that children couldn't be making up stories about sexual abuse, to the point where archeologists were digging up a schoolground trying to find the buried dead horse that one of the teachers had put there in full view of the entire nursery school class, and inquiring about how the children were bussed to Forest Lawn where they witnessed robed priests burying a child. This nonsense was introduced as evidence and learned scientists told of how the children couldn't be making it up, and could never be coaxed into giving that kind of false testimony. There was a serious search of the school for secret passages, and the prosecution tried hard to explain how a child was murdered and taken to Forest Lawn along with the entire class without anyone reporting a missing or dead child or Forest Lawn somehow overlooking an entire nursery school coming out and digging an unrecorded grave. According to the testimony in court, the children were forced to dig up coffins.
We had similar "Satanic child abuse" cases in a dozen other states, and in many of them juries convicted people of crimes when there was absolutely no physical evidence of a crime, only the reports of well coached** children who were questioned until they told the prosecutors what they assumed the prosecutor wanted to hear. We can have some sympathy for the children who couldn't resist being hounded into swearing others' lives away and who have to live with what they did now that they have grown up; but do we really need to reward one such adult with a seat in the Senate of the United States?
On the other hand, having someone who would fit in very well at a renewed Salem Witch Trial in the Senate might be a good idea, given -- but no, I shouldn't say such things. I resisted the temptation to fill Hell with the reputation-hungry prosecutors of the American witch trial era -- but I confess that was mostly because they weren't dead yet, and I didn't want the complications of putting living persons in Hell.
Note that I don't say there have not been many cases of child abuse. I do say they don't seem to have found much physical evidence for the imaginative stories of children tied to trees in the schoolyard, or children being forced to dig up coffins -- all of which was seriously presented by prosecutors and in some cases actually accepted by juries, just as "spectral evidence" was accepted at the Salem trials. One expects a US Senator to be able to distinguish real abuse from nonsense -- and to care about the difference. This candidate clearly doesn't have those qualities.
** By September 1985, and well over a year into the preliminary hearing, some members of the prosecution's own team began to express doubts about the case. One prosecutor was quoted as saying, "Kee MacFarlane could make a sixth month old baby say he was molested."
Leaving out whether we want a witchhunter in the Senate, this coming Senatorial election in Massachusetts is important.
January 16, 2010
.I took the day off.
January 17, 2010
The former Minister of Defense of Haiti is on TV complaining that Haiti does not need soldiers, and the US is sending soldiers rather than actual aid. Last night on TV we saw that a Belgian medical team abandoned a hospital because there was no security. We have seen that any attempt to distribute aid results in food riots, shots are fired at the helicopters or at others who were first in line. The former Minister of Defense wants the US to hand over the aid to Haiti -- he'll be willing to take charge if we will only restore his party to power -- and accuses the US of imperialism. The world press finds that newsworthy.
Apparently the US is not doing enough and not doing it right. We have taken over the airport and now we are turning away airplanes with medical equipment in order to land airplanes with soldiers. We are dumping food off the ramps, and not distributing things properly. The United States is all at fault according to the international press. A Mexican airplane with vital supplies was sent back. (Of course it arrived unannounced at one of the busiest times). It's all the fault of the imperialist Americans.
There has been a UN force in Haiti for years, but it does not seem to have established any order at the airport after the earthquake despite being the only organized military force in the country at the time; it took a US expedition to do that. Order will be established now that our Legions have arrived. Aid arrives and the airplanes are not rushed and looted. Slowly food and supplies and water are coming in. The water crisis remains -- at the moment water bottles are the only real currency -- but when the Navy gets the water makers going that will slowly be relieved. Eventually trucks will be able to move more than a few hundred yards from the airport. Slowly the crisis will simmer down.
God knows what happens after that. The United States will get little credit for this, of course, just as you hear little about what the Navy did in Indonesia and in other disaster areas.
God bless the Legions.
I note that an Israeli IDF team worked all night rescuing a man from the fallen tax headquarters building. I hadn't heard that the IDF had managed to get a rescue team into Haiti. Given Hezbollah's rockets, it's hardly astonishing that the IDF has soldiers trained in pulling people from collapsed buildings.
At some point we have a decision to make: how much of the Western Hemisphere are we responsible for, and just what responsibilities do we have? One answer is none: "We are the friends of liberty everywhere, but we are the guardians only of our own." Our responsibility it to preserve liberty here. Of course I have been saying this for a long time. See my 2002 essay on public policy: .
I have friends and correspondents who wonder if we should not use the Haiti disaster to demonstrate how well we can run a colony and show the world the glories of American exceptionalism, much as Rome did for Briton. As my friend Mike Flynn has pointed out, the Romans did such a good job of civilizing the Britons that after Rome left the Britons were able to civilize wave after wave of Saxon invaders. The effect continued long after. See Ivanhoe...
Venezuela says the US is occupying Haiti under cover.
BBC and CNN are now saying that kicking food out of the helicopter is "sparking a riot". One might suppose that not throwing out the food would not be so good either. How does one feed starving people who do not have the tradition of women and children first? I don't doubt that our Legions would do it, but the Birkenhead Drill really is a damn tough bullet to chew. ***
In a search for something else I found that I was once said to have said I had more information at my disposal than anyone else in the world. I couldn't recall saying that, but I found where it originated. The bookmark is for the day; the story is a couple of screens down. It's actually an interesting point from the days before the Internet existed, and "blogging" had not been invented, and is part of my claim to have been the first blogger...
The Gods of
the Copybook Headings
Thanks to Rod McFadden for reminding me. I post this every few years... See also The Old Issue
*** To take your
chance in the thick of a rush, with firing all about,
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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