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Archive for December, 2008

Opposite Day

I…agree…with…Justice Thomas.  I will now light myself on fire.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/16/business/16bizcourt.html

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More Madoff

Hard to tell who the bad guys are in this story.  Not sure the guy realizes that his wife’s family – the folks who think they lost $30mm – are the persons who gained from the scam.  The “entire family had been in the fund for decades and lived well off the returns” – those were other people’s “investments” that funded the lifestyle.  And, ultimately, Robert’s:
http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1866398,00.html?xid=feed-yahoo-biztech

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Two thoughts on the Iraqi shoe sideshow
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OM3Z_Kskl_U
http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2008/12/15/news/ML-Bush-Arab-Anger-Analysis.php

1) If Bush had said “who throws a shoe…” and gone into the Austin Powers routine, my laughter would likely have made me forget the disaster of the last eight years.  It would have been that easy for Dubya.  Luckily, he said something about the shoe being a size ten and I can carry on hating him.

2) This is yet another example of the complete incompetence of the Secret Service.  You fly the President into a war zone.  Everyone is waiting for something to happen.  Al Qaeda killed Ahmad Shah Massoud by pretending to be a camera crew and setting off a bomb.  The room is tiny.  A guy stands up and moves toward the president while screaming.  This would be a good time for someone to at least get in the guy’s line to the President.  He throws what seems to be a shoe at the President.  All right, guns drawn, we’re after him, right?  What, you let him throw another shoe?  At this point, three full seconds have passed, surely…wait, the first guy to make contact with him is another reporter (seated, in leather jacket)?  NFL quarterbacks act more quickly.  Well, except Kurt Warner…but seriously, that is some slow-ass reaction time.

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Cuba

In a country full of incoherent and inexplicable policies, our approach to Cuba has to be among our nuttiest.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/07/magazine/07cuba-t.html

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Economy

Reasonably serious economic perspective, if more bearish than most:
http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2008/12/deflation-has-become-inevitable.html

Nutty guy, but probably right on this:
http://www.reuters.com/article/InvestmentOutlook09/idUSTRE4BA5CO20081211

I missed this at the time, but if it stands, it would be terrifying: essentially MA is looking to nullify some subprime loans.  Barring the loans going forward could be a reasonable decision, but retroactively voiding them seems to miss the point that the borrower got a house.  I would have expected better from a blue state.  Pray this gets overturned before CA/FL/NV governments begin thinking about the votes to be had.
http://www.bostonherald.com/business/general/view/2008_12_10_High_court_hits_subprime_lenders/srvc=business&position=recent_bullet

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Precious Bodily Fluids

Good article in the Times about something that won’t happen: reforming the Department of Agriculture.
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/11/opinion/11kristof.html

Speaking of things that won’t happen, one powerful change that would only require Congressional approval would be the removal of the 1911 cap of the House of Representatives at 435 members (the House was originally 120 and had grown until then).  Since every state gets at least one Representative, you end up with some districts – Wyoming at-large, for example – with many fewer people than a “standard” district.  The Wyoming Rule (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wyoming_Rule) would set the size of the house as the population of the country divided by the population of the least-populous state.  For a big state such as CA, it makes a difference – the state goes from 53 to 73 congressmen as the House goes from 435 to 569.

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House arrest?  Wow, way to crack down.  They must be really mad.
http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20081211/wl_nm/us_india_mumbai_85

Extraditing him would show serious cooperation.  Killing him would show practicality – in an Indian prison, LeT’s long history of working with the Pakistani government in Kashmir is going to come out – but still show some amount of course correction.  But telling the guy he can’t leave his house for a little while?

This moment, by the way, is why Pakistan protects Osama so carefully, and why we will never catch him until we accept offending them.  If Osama were dead and gone, we would not be trying to hunt for terrorists in western Pakistan (there would still be terrorists, we just wouldn’t be looking for them).  If we were not looking for Osama, we wouldn’t really care whether Pakistan’s army was on its eastern or western frontier.  If we didn’t care where Pakistan deployed its army, there would be no one to object to India mobilizing its forces along the Line of Control/Radcliffe Line.  As the significantly larger force, India could always mobilize and wait, forcing Pakistan to either mobilize in return, exhausting its economy, or stand down and risk India picking off Pakistani Kashmir or whatever else it wanted…

Our government seems to miss the nuance that Pakistan wants the religious nutters, because they provide a force multiplier in Kashmir and keep us petrified that the Pakistani government will fall and they will rule the show.  At some point, then, we need to ask ourselves what we would do if Al Qaeda had a state.  Because it does.

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The Bomb

Astonishing and almost impossible to believe:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/09/science/09bomb.html

Rumor has it that when the clock in the town square of Prague was finished, the city leaders had the clockmaker’s eyes gouged out to prevent him from building something so beautiful for anyone else (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prague_Astronomical_Clock).  I doubt we would have done that to our victorious scientists in any event, but I wonder if their confidence that it could easily be replicated did not create the very conditions – loose restrictions on scientists – that actually allowed the design to spread.  At the very least, we might do a better job of making sure hobbyists don’t publish blueprints (http://www.newyorker.com/online/2008/12/15/slideshow_081215_atomicbomb), but since we never even killed Klaus Fuchs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klaus_Fuchs), our weakness on the subject has been clear since the beginning.

In The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Richard Rhodes has the brilliant Niels Bohr plead with the simple-minded Roosevelt and Truman that the bomb design should be shared with Stalin; reverse-engineering it will be trivial, and think of all the good will you would generate by giving it to Joe.  Nobel Prize or not, that proved to be massively incorrect.

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Wow

Good Lord:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20081209/ap_on_re_us/blagojevich_corruption_probe

Two observations:

  • Given the impeccable logic of Rod’s thoughts on the value of a Senate seat, why discuss selling it at all?  That’s like selling the family silver; Rod gets some money but remains stuck in Springfield while whoever gets appointed has the national post, corporate contacts, role for the wife, etc.  Dick Durbin is 64 and might be in the Senate for another twenty years – this was Rod’s only shot.  Take it.
  • I can’t believe this is going to be the Senate appointment scandal instead of the looming Caroline Kennedy nomination, which is truly preposterous.  15% of the Senate has an immediate family member who was/is in the Senate, but even by our loose standards, nominating someone because she was the daughter of a famous President (who died when she was six) and niece of two other famous people is pretty ridiculous.  Bad enough that NY is stuck with only two Senators for such a huge population; they at least deserve two people who have actually done something for NY.

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Drugs

When I was in high school and college, I was sure I was one of the only kids who would ever have to deal with a 21 year-old drinking age.  The drinking age had been 18 in Connecticut when I got there, and it only moved up under Reagan Administration pressure.  I had a middle school teacher who told us about being a legal drinker for a couple of years and sitting in a bar on New Year’s Eve when he went back to being an illegal drinker.

The logic of 21 always seemed a little flawed: if the issue is drunk driving, why not enforce drunk driving laws?  Build all cars with breathalyzers in the ignition procedure.  For that matter, if it is a larger matter of road safety, why not move the driving age to 18 and begin mandatory field tests for renewal after 65 (because parents are fed up with driving their kids all over the place and old people don’t like losing their wheels).  Anyway, the Reagan Administration wanted 21 for drinking and a continuation of the 55mph national speed limit, and it was a Republican administration, so it actually got what it wanted.  Surely someone, someday, would realize how dumb the rules were.

Sure enough, politicians eventually got wise to the silliness of 55mph.  I suspect most of them have/had the common sense to realize that the vestige of Prohibition is pretty ridiculous, too, but they also know that very few 18-21 year olds vote, so it isn’t worth ticking off MADD.

What is even crazier and more destructive, however, is our quixotic struggle against illegal drugs.  The best that can be said for the effort is that on the principles – thou shalt not be sedated – we have given up.  We have Big Pharma analogues for most illegal drugs:
http://www.slate.com/id/2175730/entry/2175732/ (Section 2)

Unfortunately, we have not taken the obvious approach and legalized the original drugs.  In general, I am in favor of simply ignoring laws that do not continue to make sense (the Second Amendment, for example) instead of going through the societal brain damage of trying to repeal them.  But continuing Prohibition long after giving up belief in the reasons for it just means that there continues to be a preposterous amount of money in illegal drugs, and violence defending the illegal money:
http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/asiapcf/12/08/afghan.taliban/index.html
http://www.forbes.com/business/forbes/2008/1222/073.html

We shouldn’t have to rely on Republicans for this, especially the endangered species of libertarian Republicans:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122843683581681375.html

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