Monday, March 31, 2008

- Anti-Hunting Bias? ...Search Me.

Have any of you ever heard of the company “Dove Environmental Education?” Me Neither. But a recent article in the Asbury Park Press has called them to my attention. It’s a NJ company founded by Diana Dove, and is run by her and her husband Mike, which according to them, “Teaches Children about the Environment”. And she’s awfully busy. She’s running seminars for kids all over the state, at public schools, county fairs, and other such gatherings; basically anywhere that a lot of kids are expected to turn up.

Ms Dove calls herself an “Environmentalist” or sometimes an “Environmental Educator”, but I have no idea how one develops those qualifications. As far as I’ve been able to tell, here is how Diana did it:

She started working in the Somerset county Parks system in 1975 as a “summer seasonal”, and was later made a “Senior Naturalist” whatever that means. (I’m assuming there is an initiation rite where she is anointed with sacred oils and somehow communes with the spirits of the four winds) She then took a job as the Environmental program Coordinator at a nursery school, and worked for the Morris Area girl scouts. One Bio of her that I found also says that she “established Environmental Programming for Weekday School Field Trips at their Jockey Hollow site” but to be honest, the only words I can make any sense out of in that blurb are “Environmental Programming”.

And that’s really the crux of my concern. I don’t know what Ms. Dove is teaching or trying to teach, but I do know that if you are teaching it to children, then in all likelihood it’s about indoctrination to a specific viewpoint. And that concerns me deeply. The far left has always focused on the early indoctrination of children, so I’m at least a little curious about Ms. Dove’s program. As a hunter, the environment is one of my first concerns, so it’s entirely possible that I’d agree with every word that she says. But to be perfectly honest, I’d find that hard to believe. To her credit, noticeably absent from her programs are any mention of the global warming hyperbole, or the evil impact of global capitalism. But the fact that she’s gotten permission from the public schools to deliver her viewpoint about the environment to thousands of New Jersey kids every year is cause enough for concern in my book.

As far as I’ve been able to tell, her program seems to be a fairly benign message about not littering, and being generally aware of mans impact on the environment. She teaches kids how to make clay pots, and shows them what animal tracks look like. I don’t know… maybe it’s her name, but she seems to be a fairly harmless child of the 60’s who’s making her way in the world playing with all the other kids and teaching them about butterflies while she waits for the Age of Aquarius to arrive. At the highest level, there doesn’t seem to be any specifically anti-hunting or anti-fishing tenants to her program, and it doesn’t seem particularly political… but I haven’t had a chance to look all that closely.

As for Diana, she doesn’t seem to be too vocally involved in the animal rights or “save the bears” movement. If you ask me "Animal Rights" is more proof of mental illness than a legitimate political viewpoint. So while she may attend all the meetings, if she does she keeps to the back and keeps her mouth shut when the reporters come by. As far as her business is concerned that’s a smart move, and if it’s the way that it’s playing out I commend her for it. She can feel anyway she likes about the politics of the environment of course, and I have no compliant so long as she keeps it out of her “Environmental Programming”. But if the New York Times can’t manage to keep their bias out of the things they say (and they can’t) then why should we expect Diana or anyone else to do the same?

I’m not actually looking to make trouble for this chick and her singing message to the 7 year olds of “don’t litter in the river”, I’m more wondering why we on the political right aren’t taking a page from the far left’s book? Why don’t we have people out there explaining to the kids about the benefits of hunting for the environment? Why aren’t we all running programs at the grammar schools around the state to talk about fly fishing or river stocking, and how different insect hatches effect fish feeding habits? Why aren’t we out there explaining how the free market has done more to protect the environment than all the well intentioned NGO brain trusts ever assembled?

And for that matter, why aren’t we taking it even further than that? Why aren’t we running seminars for the high school kids about firearms safety or teaching basic use of a bow? I mean, the Striped Bass Run alone is interesting enough for a 1 hour program if you ask me. (not to mention the surf casting field trips) The hunter safety class may be a bit intensive for many kids who aren’t specifically interested in the sport, but there is a lot of information in that program that would hold the attention of older kids. We should be pushing it more aggressively.

The thing that Ms. Dove and all the other flower children have always gotten is that if you teach things to kid when they’re young, they will simply accept it as a fact without question. So naturally I think it would be a great if a few of things the kids were being taught about the environment turned out to be actual facts later in life as well. An agricultural community communicates the actual facts of an environment better than our modern world where all the food comes from the supermarket. And because that’s so many children never really learn about nature. At the end of the day that means that it’s our viewpoint which needs to be more effectively spread to kids, and not the Kumbaya perfect worlder view.

Ted Nugent, in his totally unapologetic way, has started to bring out the excitement and thrill of hunting for kids. I think it’s worth our time and effort to try and develop ways to bring some of the other good news about our sport to them as well. Hunting is a great thing for the environment and the economy. It’s a freedom that has been treated in a very cavalier way by a state that thinks we’re subjects and not citizens. They believe that they are in charge, and we should shut up and do what we’re told. And if we don’t tell the next generation about it now, then sometime in the future that’s the way it’s going to be.

Ms Dove may or may not be wrong about the message, but she certainly right about the method. And since there is no beating the far left in the New Jersey Schools right now, we had better think very seriously about joining them.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

- A Total Non-Sequitur

I know the picture isn't great, but this is an Ad that I saw on a NJ transit train yesterday on my way home. I literally laughed out loud.

Friday, March 28, 2008

- Does McCain Read This Blog?

OK ...thats probably a real stretch. But the fact is, his policy looks very much like what I claim is the "right thing to do".

Thursday, March 27, 2008

- This Just in:
Citizens Smarter than Politicians



The Rest of the Data can be found at this link

- A Quant on the "Credit Crisis"

Some who haven’t worked with me might think it’s evasive the way I've avoided talking about the credit crisis. After all, I work on Wall Street so I must have some guilt by association”. And what’s worse, I'm a “quant” so there is better than average odds that I actually understand the problem… so why have I been so silent? Is it because I feel guilty about something? Is it that I'm just circling my wagon with my like minded brethren? Is it that I know that the right thing to do is to mercilessly punish those rich and greedy Wall Street guys but I don't want to attack my own? No, it’s none of those things.

More than anything else, the reason I've kept my mouth shut on the topic is because I find it all a little boring. After all, it was terribly obvious what the right thing to do was. But like most things that are right, it was also the hard thing to do, so it was also pretty certain that it wasn’t going to get done. And since our elected officials have now taken it upon themselves to react to the problem, it was also shamefully apparent that the people now in charge neither understand, nor are terribly interested in understanding the issue at all. They are only interested in how they can use it as an excuse to loot the taxpayer to their own benefit. So in my mind, what was there to talk about?

But it’s a big issue right now so for those of you who read this blog and don’t work on Wall Street, let me give you a quick run down of the issue.

At this point in time, the issue comes down to the cost benefit analysis of two things:

1. Securitization of loans.
2. Ham-fisted regulation.

In principle, securitization is a good thing and ham-fisted financial regulation is a bad thing, but since congress is now involved, we're probably going to get less of the former and more of the latter.

Securitization is when they take a bunch of loans and bundle them together in a way that let's some investors get only those loans where a payment is never going to be missed, while other investors get loans where a missed payment is almost a sure thing. This is good because the guys who never have a missed payment can have more confidence in those bonds and therefore put much more money into them even if they pay a lower rate. In the meantime other investors can deal with the risk of a missed payment because they’ll be getting such a higher rate, and that makes a missed payment worth the risk.

So investors can each decide what they want... either a reliable payment at a low rate, or a risky payment at a high rate... they can each decide how much risk they each want to absorb.

But what happened in the industry was that the people who generate the loans, people like mortgage brokers and primary lenders; got it in their head that securitization would keep them from having to worry about credit quality. They believed that the risky loans weren’t an issue because they would be able to sell them to investors no matter what. That was bad. Once that happened, speculation in real estate went crazy. There were websites like "condoflip.com" and such, which put people with less than ideal financial conditions in a condo just for speculation purposes etc. There were also new kinds of loans conceived which would only be affordable if the whole process continued to work… just like the dotcom boom.

The process very quickly got out of control just like with the dotcom bubble, and things eventually fell apart. The loans (like the dotcom companies) are not necessarily worth nothing, but they are certainly worth much less than everyone thought. And some of them, a very few…but some) really are worth close to nothing. But since the mortgage market is much bigger than the equity market, there is concern that the collapse of prices will have further economic impact. And what’s worse, it’s much easier to tell what a dotcom company with no future earnings is worth than it is to derive the fair value of a securitized loan.

So the fear has been heightened by the fact that the only guys out there who can figure out what the bonds are really worth are guys like me, and it can be credibly claimed that we were the very guys who got the prices wrong in the first place. Except for a few specific cases this isn't exactly true anymore than it was true during the dot.com bubble, but senior managers are hardly going to take my word for it. I think it would be no understatement to say that the confidence that America’s senior managers place in quantitative solutions has been substantially diminished in recent months.

Anyway, this is a very simplified explanation, but it is at the heart of the problem. People were buying loans which weren’t really worth what they thought, and only continuing to make money on them because other people were just as willing to suspend disbelief and make the same mistake after them. Like all bubbles, it was what we call an “information cascade”. A sort of pyramid scheme that only keeps working until the last guy shows up, and then down it goes. (I know I’m letting myself open for a bunch of guys to prove how smart they are by leaving comments about the re-insurance issue, or the credit swaps derived from securitization, but do me a favor and let it go. Take my word for it, I understand the issue, I just don’t see the need to go into all the tangential concerns. The central issue was an asset speculation bubble, so let’s all just leave it at that.)

So what should we do? Well that's easy. The fed should do its job and try to stabilize monetary policy and given the collapse of economic activity, that would mean several deep rate cuts… which they’ve done. Those industry players who have taken on too much risk (like Bear Stearns) should be allowed to fail, and those people who bought more house than they could afford or were busy flipping this condo, should get the chance to learn about US bankruptcy laws. They've all made choices they shouldn't have and they should have to bear the consequences of that. If someone lied to them to get them to make that choice, then that person should be prosecuted for fraud and sent to jail. Otherwise though, they should all lose out because they did something stupid.

But with that said, it ain’t gonna work that way.

Now that the government is involved they’ll come up with some way to insulate people from their own stupidity. They’ll use this crisis as an excuse to throw a bunch of money (other people’s money) at potential voters in a way that won't help the economy a bit but might help their chance of reelection. The candidates for president will try to extend the “emergency” enough so that they can outbid one another in that regard.

As for the fed giving assurance on the bailout of Bear Stearns, I’ve got to admit, it’s a grey area. The taxpayers aren’t actually bearing any cost of the deal, so I’m not concerned on that front but even if it doesn’t actually cross the line for the fed, it’s a step up to the line at least. Personally I think the deal would have been made without the fed assurance, but the devil is in the details so I guess they did what was necessary. And since the cost is almost certainly not going to fall on the taxpayers, I suppose I can live with a credit assurance by the fed.

As for the “economic stimulus package”, that’s just another shameful example of the congress using an emergency to loot the tax coffers. To me it looks the same as the looting during the LA riots. In the end they’re only hurting themselves and their community, but since I can see them running down the street with a TV under each arm, I know they don’t care. The same goes for all these plans to “freeze rates” and to suspend foreclosures etc. It’s all just the government trying to turn a problem for people who acted stupidly into a problem for everyone. And if you get a check from the government then you should thank your kids because they’re going to have to pay it back with interest and then some. And the bill will come due for them when they can certainly least afford it. But with the congress’s gun to our heads, there isn’t much we can do about it.

What should happen is that people who act stupidly should lose, people who act smartly should win, and people who steal or commit fraud should go to jail. Instead, thanks to the US government, some of the people who act stupidly will still win, all of the people who acted smartly will still lose, the people who committed fraud will get bailed out, and the people who do all the stealing will probably get reelected. But such is life in the modern social democracy.

If you think this is bad, just wait till the next crisis. This is nothing compared to the kind of wholesale theft that congress will get away with if a Hillary or Obama is in the hot seat. And in the meantime we’re trusting the future of our free market economy to the legislative prudence and self discipline of Chuck Schumer and Barney Frank, both of whom have sweeping new plans to use regulation to punish the “Wall Street” rich. That will probably shatter New York’s global competitiveness and end up making London the financial capital of the globe again.

But hey… “power to the people” right? If the jobs all end up going from NY to Londinistan then I guess I better learn how to say that in Arabic. But the only real question left is that old standard:

من هو يوحنا Galt؟


Salaam aleikum. y'all.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

- Look An Eagle!

The title quote of this entry has entered legendary joke status with my daughter. It refers to her favorite online commercial, the now famous John West Salmon ad where the fisherman dukes it out with the Bear over the “freshest salmon”. At a key moment in the conflict, after being thoroughly pounded by the Bear and it’s martial arts fighting skills, the fisherman points over the Bear’s shoulder and yells, “Look an Eagle! When the bear looks up to see the bird, the fisherman kicks him hard in the groin and snatches the salmon as the Bear falls to it’s knees in defeat.



The day after she had first seen it, she, my wife, and I were sitting down to dinner at the local TGI Fridays, and I pointed over my daughters shoulder and said “Look an Eagle!”. When she glanced up, I snatched a french fry off her plate slowly enough for her to catch me in the act, but too quickly for her to be able to stop me. Much giggling ensued. She has since used that line or something like it, to steal pickles from my burger, fries from my plate, and countless salt and pepper shakers and other condiment jars from the table. It’s become a real classic around our dinner table, and it’s even spread to my in-laws. Somehow it’s even funnier, when a gruff 70 year old Hungarian ex-foundryman points a kielbasa sized finger over his grandaughter’s shoulder into the Florida sunset and says “Look an Alligator” with a think Hungarian accent.

The last time he did that, much giggling ensued.

Anyway, Obama seems to be pulling the same line on the American public if you ask me. All this time he’s been touting himself as the non-black candidate. He and his team have been going to substantial lengths to avoid the issue entirely, pretending to the vast majority of Americans that for him his race was irrelevant. While in reality, he harbors much appreciation for the standard set of racial victimology gripes and a general support for the identity politics that has fostered them. What’s worse, he not only “feels their pain”, but he supports furthering the very ideas that brought those cultural problems on in the first place.

To economists there is really no mystery about the principle cause of the cultural crisis in the American black community... it’s fatherlessness. Children raised without a father in the home will spend a longer time in poverty, are more likely to be arrested, will have fewer years of education, are more likely to drop out of school, will have a higher drug and alcohol addiction rate, and are basically worse off on virtually every count than children who are raised with fathers who are present. And the high rate of children being born into homes without fathers in the black community is a product of the liberal welfare culture of the 60's and 70's where the state tried to tell women that they didn’t need a man, only the government.

Obama believes that the best thing for the black community would be for non-blacks to step up and take on more responsibility, but in fact, the opposite is true. Government programs which spent other people’s money in the inner city have always caused more problems than they’ve solved. In the meantime if you look at those black families which do have a father present and living up to his own responsibilities instead of counting on the government to take care of them for him, the results are just about what you get from the rest of America. There is still poverty and still alcoholism, but those rates of social ills and almost all of the others are basically no worse than they are in any other racial group. In other words, if black men step up and handle their own responsibilities, the issue of race all but disappears in real economic terms.

Of course, to those of us for whom race really isn’t an issue and aren’t trying to use it to score political points, all of that is obvious. After all, Americans care a lot more about making a buck then they do about race. So if racial discrimination really were the only issue, then someone would be out there making a buck off of it. If black men really did only make some tiny fraction of what white men make doing the same job, then I’d never hire another white man as long as I live, and neither would anyone else I know. And it’s not racist to believe that a level playing field is all any black man in America needs to get ahead.

But for liberals, race still is very much an issue in America. They don’t believe that a black man can make it on his own, and they feel that he’ll need the government to step in with money taken from successful people, to help him when he falters. Without that extra boost, they feel that a black man simply isn’t capable of competing in the “white” world. Of course, this is nonsense, but try and tell that to a liberal. Some of them believe it of course, but even if they don’t, when they see a chance to get a little more control over the lives of others, they’ll seize it, and they don’t care what the excuse for it is.

I can’t tell you what Obama actually believes about race, and so far, neither can anyone else. That’s just the way he wants it of course. And it may not be a totally fair comparison, but I can’t help but thinking back to the Dinkins Administration. David Dinkins was the Mayor of New York City after popular Ed Koch was forced from office because of term limits. Dinkins was certainly no race baiter like Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson, but like Barak Obama, he was “sympathetic to the anger” expressed by the black community. And whenever there was a question open regarding race; if a white officer shot a black criminal in the act of a felony, or a black man was accused by a white prosecutor of being a drug dealer, Dinkins always let race be the deciding factor for him. He always came down to giving the benefit of the doubt to whoever was black.

In no time at all the police and emergency service folks all began to see where the card lay, and started reacting to the “sensitivities” of their new black boss. Crime skyrocketed, and the standard of living plummeted. (I was one of those manhattan dwellers at the time, and was shot at in a tunnel at the 14th street subway station during the Dinkins years) And we were several years into the “no excuses” Giuliani administration before life began to improve again for New York City dwellers. In the end, it was the fact that he was a lousy administrator that spelled doom for his administration, but his views on race didn’t help anything.

So anyway, I think the Obama administration might have a similar tone to it. I think much benefit of the doubt will be given because of race, and I’ve seen how that works out. It does the black community no favors to treat them any differently than anyone else in America. And it doesn’t create justice to punish the successful for their success. It’s a shame we can’t live in an age when you are judged more for the content of your character than the color of your skin. But I guess Obama isn’t ready to face that idea yet. He’d rather punish those who handle their own responsibilities by making them also bear the load for those who won’t.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

What Do You Mean Obama is Black?!

It seems that the Democratic candidate who “Transcends Race” isn’t actually as transcendent as all that after all. It turns out in fact, that while Mr. Obama didn’t come right out and say he approves of the vitriolic hate filled racial message of his favorite pastor, he hardly dumped on the guy either. Instead he wandered about the rhetorical neighborhood, talking about how people of all races have legitimate beefs, and that we all basically need to make it an issue of class struggle if we’re going to put racial issues behind us.

My personal reaction to all this is, that you can stick a fork in him.

No political candidate in this country is so slippery that he’s going to be able to escape speaking in real terms about the issues of race for long if he’s going to use the excuses that Obama has. And if there is one thing Obama is trying to avoid, it’s speaking in real terms. That’s actually where his biggest weaknesses are. But in truth, it’s actually a weakness of the entire Democratic message of which Obama is only the latest messenger. Americans already know that class warfare doesn’t fly if you want a standard of living any higher than Romania circa 1975. And the last thing we need is one more candidate telling white America that they’ve failed to live up to their responsibilities to black people.

Id’ love to stand here and criticize Obama’s speech on it’s substance, but there was so little of it that I’m afraid this would be too short an essay. Besides, it’s the same old tripe we’ve heard a million times before and to be frank, I’m sick of repeating myself. The last time I gave any serious consideration to an ideology like that was in college, and since then, I’ve put away childish things. It was more or less at that point when the overwhelming weight of history came crashing down on the ideas of socialism, and it became clear to me that the government didn’t solve problems in people's lives nearly as well as it caused them. But Obama has yet to make that important discovery.

In his world the answer to all the issues of race are to reinforce the government’s control over it. More funding for the failed schools, more racial quotas, more politically defined justice that punishes the successful and rewards the well connected. According to him, the very things that caused the inner city collapse in the 60's and 70's should be given one more energetic go; all on someone else’s dime. A little black on white racism is justified according to him, because black people have so many legitimate reasons for anger.

Well I’m not buying, and I don’t think America will either. He might get past it today, but he won’t get past it forever. If he wins the nod (hardly a sure thing given the ambition and determination of his primary opponent) then he’s going to have to face this issue. He’s going to have to explain to me and all the people like me, why it is he feels that the problems of the inner city black community are our problem, and not the problems of the inner city black community.

He’s forsaken ownership of the problem, just like every black candidate who’s come before him. Jesse Jackson has turned racial blackmail into a multi-million dollar business by threatening to take racial complaints to corporate “sponsors”. And by explaining away the anger of his pastor, Obama has basically said that he agrees with that perspective. It will probably be a surprise to his supporters, but it turns out he’s a “black candidate” for president after all.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

- John Derbyshire Speaks

I wouldn’t presume so much as to call John Derbyshire a friend, but he has been to my gun club shooting, and has fired many of my guns. Handling a man's firearms is considerably less intimate than handling his wife, but it's not something you share with every stranger. He lives on the far side of New York City and because of the odd traffic patterns, it's easier to get to Boston than the other side of New York, but we correspond often by email, and we're trying to find a way to include him in the next pheasant shoot.

He’s a math guy, which makes him even more of my stripe, but the truth is, I don’t ever remember discussing it with him. We’ve talked religion, and politics, and pretty much all the other topics which lend themselves to controversy, but we’ve never discussed math. I suppose that’s probably because we would feel the same way on most issues, and where’s the fun in that?

Anyway, he often writes things which I find myself impressed with, but in the history of our acquaintance, I’ve never read anything of his with which I more energetically agree, than his assessment of Barak Obama in the NRO - Corner:

Red Diaper Kid [John Derbyshire]

Having slept on the matter, I am now going to come out of the closet and declare clearly and firmly that I don't like Barack Obama one little bit.

What kind of person would traduce his grandmother (who is still alive) to score a political point? Yesterday's speech, read through in the clear light of dawn, is worse than I thought: an ugly mish-mash of ancient socialist clichés and Gen-X spoiled-brat self-congratulation, all enveloped in clouds of flatulent Oprahnian rhetoric. Ugh!

Obama's just a red-diaper baby with a nice smile. I actually like Jeremiah Wright better than I like Obama. At least you know where you are with Wright. Obama, I wouldn't trust to mail a letter.



Well said John... well said.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

- Liberals and Voltaire

My good friend Bryan is a liberal, but he’s not one of the “Bush = Hitler, Cheney = Satan, Guantanamo = Auschwitz” delusional stripe of liberals who are so loud and noticeable these days. He’s not that childish. He’s a reasoned guy who unlike many of his fellow travelers has a fully functional adult brain. His brain functions better than most of the people I know; so well in fact, that I often accuse him of actually being a conservative who only calls himself a liberal. He responds to that by describing us both as moderates, although in America today I don’t imagine too many people other than him would call ME a moderate.

But in his thinking, I’m a moderate because I actually think about and can defend at great length, all the cause and effect for my political decision making. He imagines that on the political right there are a large number of people who get all their political views from their pastor without a moment of personal thought. He considers all those people “to the right” of me because he subscribes to the commonly taught wisdom that “reason” is something that comes from rising above the superstitions of society reinforced by religion. It’s the standard Voltaire version of the enlightenment that they teach in philosophy class.

And it would be no stretch to say that his experience with Christianity has left him wanting as well. He calls himself an Atheist, and says that anyone who believes without question, the metaphysics of Christianity, is simply a fool. “Christianity is bunk” he’s said to me on countless occasions, but the truth is, he doesn’t really mean it. It’s true that he doesn’t believe in an afterlife, or an all powerful bearded white guy who sits up in heaven looking down on us all and effecting our decisions. He won’t buy into transubstantiation, speaking in tongues, or any of the other mysticism surrounding the Christian faith.

But he does agree with me that there is more to Christianity than that. He will readily concede that the moral themes of Christianity are not only valid, but productive and will lead to a society where everyone has a comparatively good chance of happiness. We still have disagreements about methodology and specifics, but he’s admitted that compared to the other global religions (Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism) Christianity points to rules of behavior that for the most part work really well for a society. Of course, since he has fully embraced western society, it would be hypocritical for him to do otherwise. And that’s one thing he absolutely doesn’t have in common with the rest of the political left, my friend Bryan would never be hypocritical.

I have persuaded him into this position by arguing that Voltaire is essentially wrong about enlightenment. I claim that Voltaire’s vision is popular because, like so many of the other mistakes of the left, it provides a narrative that appeals to our egos. Voltaire’s vision tells a story that ends with saying something like “…so now that I’ve accomplished this mental trick I’ve “transcended” everyone else, so the normal rules don’t have to apply to me anymore.” If ever there was an idea that would be popular with liberals it would be one that ends like that.

Instead I argue, Christianity has been responsible for setting up the conditions that made that kind of thinking possible. I mean, if in America or Europe, you were to stroll into church and announce in front of the congregation that you no longer believe anything the preacher says… what exactly would happen to you? Well about the worst thing is that people might not invite you to dinner so quickly because you were so rude to the congregation, but that’s about it. Even that will diminish with time, and eventually people will take it all with a shrug. It’s Christianity that’s responsible for that kind of tolerant thinking because under Christianity, each man is responsible for his own salvation so people will largely leave you alone if you are quietly heretical. But if you were to do the same thing under Islam, the result would be anywhere from jail time, to confiscation of your property to you going one way and your head going another.

That’s an extreme example I admit, but I think it makes my point. Christianity is different than the other world religions because it embraces “reason” as a source of truth. Augustine of Hippo (St. Augustine) was a scholar of Aristotle and Plato, and in his writing (which defined Christian thought for 1500 years by the way) he took their ideas of reason and logic and made it clear that a Christian can determine “gods will” through the use of reason. In his view “god’s will” was another way of saying “the truth”, and that idea has stayed with Christianity and Christian society to this day. That simple transformation turned the culture that embraced it, into the dominant culture on the planet.

Because of that idea, Christians or people living in a Christian society have been responsible for virtually all of the technological, philosophical and scientific advancements of the last 1500 years. All of mankind’s great achievements in mathematics, physics, astronomy, and philosophy have come from the Christian west. All the greatest breakthroughs in engineering, chemistry, architecture, and medicine have all been from the west as well. All the great achievement in virtually any human endeavor where the goal is to expose the truth has been dominated by the west since the rise of Christianity. And all of this comes from the basic and exclusively Christian idea, that discovering a new fundamental truth is a morally good thing. Under Christian society a new discovery is a thing to be celebrated and encouraged, while under another religion like Islam, it’s considered a heresy.

Of course that isn’t to say that Voltaire is dead wrong. In essence, what I’m really calling Voltaire’s error isn’t really his at all. At the internal and personal level, it may very well be essential to discard the processes that lead to belief in superstition before one can embrace logic and reason. The mistake comes in believing that the only way that’s accomplished is by rejecting all of Christianity. The error is on the part of all the people who embrace Voltaire’s vision, not on Voltaire himself.

Conservatives believe that the collective wisdom of a society is valuable, while Liberals typically believe that they are smarter than that. Conservatives subscribe to the view that people will think of basically all the possible solutions to any problem and the ones which are adopted and repeated will be the ones which work the best. They think their personal contribution to that will be fairly small in total, and that they are unlikely to be so much smarter than everyone that came before them, that they should be the ones to define society’s rules.

Liberals see the worlds differently. Sometimes it only applies to a specific issue or cause, but usually, Liberals believe society would be better if it were rebuilt from the ground up using their personal vision as the model. That monumental ego and arrogance is the very thing that defines liberals, and Voltaire’s view plays right into that basic liberal character flaw. Contemporary socialists like Hitler and Mussolini, Lenin and countless professors in the literature departments of America’s universities, point to Voltaire as supporting the view that the state should be the religion. Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton seem to subscribe to this view as well.

Their supporters claim that a “true democracy” where right and wrong is defined by the government, will be somehow better than one like we’ve had in the west for 1500 years where moral authority and the authority as arbiter of force are divided into the church and government. Modern leftists don’t believe in that separation. They believe that the church and all its morality should be rejected in total as “superstition” and the state should then become the church. Then lawyers can be our priesthood, and right and wrong can be determined at the ballot box. In short, they believe that a mob would make a better moral guidepost than the College of Cardinals.

My friend doesn’t subscribe to such utter nonsense of course; he’s way too smart for that. But he is regrettably rare among liberals.

Friday, March 14, 2008

- The Left Misrepresents Itself ...Again

The politics of the left is often fraudulent at its core. Not everyone on the left is guilty of this of course, but there is a substantial element which makes its way through misrepresentation, deceit, and often, by outright lies. I’ve mentioned before that many organizations on the left name themselves to seem to be the exact opposite of the policies they represent. The most notable and laughable is the “People for the American Way” who are actually anything but.

There is another equally dishonest but lesser known group out there called “The Gun Guys”. (I won’t link their blog, but you can look it up if you really have to.) Basically it’s a blog dedicated to increasing government control, regulation, and restriction of the constitutionally protected individual right the keep and bear arms. They want to make it as difficult as possible for a law abiding citizen to obtain and carry a firearm, on the theory that this will somehow also affect criminals and therefore lower crime and violence.

The blog isn’t called “the anti-gun” guys even though their positions are explicitly against gun ownership for private citizens and heartily support whatever restrictions to freedoms that are most fashionable on the left. And they’ve clearly crafted and designed this blog to seem at every level, to be precisely what it isn’t. They describe themselves as “straight shooters”, and as “guys” even though none of their articles are signed and could very well all be written by women. Not that it would be a problem on the right, Sandra Froman the current President of the NRA is a woman. But on the left they view firearms issues as exclusively masculine, so they want to represent themselves in that light whether it’s the truth or not.

The “gun guys” blog is affiliated with (“owned by” in a translation from politico-speak) something called the “Freedom States Alliance” which again, is anything but. They say they are an organization dedicated to stopping gun violence, but even that is a dubious claim. In point of fact, the policies they support only have the effect of stopping gun ownership among the law abiding, and do nothing to disarm criminals or those who may use a gun in a crime. And they do this by encouraging government to restrict Americans freedom in every way they can rather than supporting freedom as their name suggests.

The really ironic thing is that if they wanted to actually stop gun violence instead of trying to stop gun ownership, there might be a way to do just that by encouraging freedom rather than trying to eliminate it. But it would involve the kind of logic and reason which too often escapes members of the political left. The thing to do though would be to have a look at the data concerning crime statistics, and attempt to honestly detail the cause and effect concerning gun ownership and gun crime.

Noted Economist John Lott has done that very thing, and argues at great length for the support of freedom as a way to reduce gun crime. He painstakingly details the evidence for this position in his book “The Bias Against Guns”. Of course anti-gun groups and their friends in the media have tossed out the usual spate of hollow objections to his work by calling it “controversial”, as if this implies that his data or analysis is somehow less reliable. And they put forth their standard bit of psychological projection by claiming that his work is driven by a political agenda as theirs typically is.

But to those of us familiar with the methodology he used, none of those complaints holds water. He very effectively demonstrates that by allowing more private firearms ownership, crime is reduced not increased, and the usual liberal nonsense about restricting the flow of guns is not only totally ineffective, but it actually gives criminals more of an advantage which they will exploit to the fullest. The data is fairly unambiguous, and the debate only continues because of the left’s propensity for ignoring facts. Not only do they try very hard to deceive us, they are also very busy trying to deceive themselves.

The reasons for this are also fairly straightforward. As in the example of the “gun guys”, the people who crafted that website believe that the common people are so stupid (particularly pro gun people) that if they just call themselves “The Gun Guys”, people will read their opinions and parrot them without thinking about what they mean. They believe that it won’t occur to a reader that the position he’s embracing is in direct opposition to the freedom he cherishes.

They believe that the only reason there is a pro-gun movement at all is because all we fools on the right are being manipulated by powerful organizations like the NRA who are working to control us behind the scenes. It never crosses their mind that we pro-gun voices might have our own opinions and that we might simply agree because the objective evidence supports our view. And that condescending view is consistent with the left’s position that the common people are too stupid and irresponsible to own a firearm in the first place. When they look at people like us, they think we are mindless drones, and that they are the ones who should be leading us rather than the NRA.

But I don’t really mind all that dishonesty and condescension. And the reason I don’t is that it says far more about them than it does about us. The fact that they can be so remarkably deluded about the thinking of such a large portion of America, may not say that they are stupid exactly but it does say that have only a passing acquaintance with logic and reason. It says that they don’t know the difference between objectively derived facts, and strongly held opinions. To them, the phrase “chocolate cake is nice” and “two plus two equals four”, both are equally true. They truly can’t see any difference between the two statements (unless of course they don’t like chocolate cake).

So when they look at the players in the gun debate, they see it as the powerful NRA saying a bunch of lies to the cannon fodder, and they see no reason why they can’t simply replace those lies with lies of their own. It never occurs to them that the NRA is saying “two plus two is four”, while they’re saying “chocolate cake is nice.” They think the phrase “everyone is entitled to an opinion means it’s OK for them to say things that are at their best no more than opinions, and at worst, demonstrably false statements. And they think it’s also OK for them to offer those statements as the truth, even though they are totally unsupported by the evidence.

And that also points to the real truth behind their argument. At the end of the day it’s power for themselves that they’re after; they want to be the people who make the rules that control all others. And a linchpin of that viewpoint is making sure the common people are disarmed. You can’t have absolute rule over a population that has the means to resist you, so knowing that, it’s on their short list of things to do. Of course if they were to come right out and say that, it would probably make the process a little tougher so they hide. They hide behind misrepresentation and distortion. And they hide behind phony names that laughingly try to misrepresent what they do. Thankfully, they are foolish enough to think that’s all they need to keep everyone misled.

As I’ve said before, there is something to be said for wishing incompetence on your opponents. And when it comes to incompetence, the anti-gun lobby has thankfully delivered in abundance. I’m a “gun-guy”. Many of my friends are “gun-guys”, and if you’re reading this, then you may very well be a “gun-guy” too. But the “gun-guys” blog… quite simply is not. And thankfully, they are incompetent enough to believe that they have us fooled.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

- I Wish I Had Thought of That:



An anti-union group in Washington, D.C., is asking for nominations for "The 10 Worst Teachers" in America, so that it can offer them $10,000 each to quit their careers.


A Link to the Fox News Story

(Like most things, learning a little about Labor Economics will shatter all your illusions)

- Ignoring The Issue of Race

I think it would be difficult to invent a presidential candidate who represents more of a hazard to America than Barack Obama. The man is a demagogue wannabe. He’s a self anointed savior from the church of politics. He’s decided that the only way we can be a moral people again is if we give him the power to make all of our decisions for us, and accept the sacrifices that he deems will be necessary for the greater good.

He’s not talking about sacrificing himself mind you; he’s talking about being given the authority to decide that others need to sacrifice. He won’t be reaching into his pocket to help the world. Like a common thief he’ll be reaching only into the pockets of others. His life and that of his family (and probably his friends) will still be a life of comfort and luxury. and that's because what he really thinks is that a moral America is one where the politicians get to pick all the winners and the losers in society. That is as dangerous an idea as any politician has ever had. Don’t believe me? Take a look at who’s had that very same idea before.

The best example, and probably the most similar in message, was Adolf Hitler. He talked endlessly through the 30’s about a new moral Germany, and how it was necessary for a few to sacrifice for the greater good of all. He talked about how some people had exploited the old corrupt system to their own profit, and that to be “fair” Germany needed to return to the ideals of an earlier time. Of course we know now that Hitler was talking about trying to wipe out the Jews and Barack probably means rich white people, but since Barack hasn’t spelled out any his plans yet, I’m not inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

This is the point where his supporters say “But Barack doesn’t want to destroy America… he wants to bring us together. He’s talking about saving America. He’s talking about recreating our feeling of public unity. He’s talking about the greater good.” Frankly, this is the reason I think it’s so dangerous to elect him. What he’s really talking about, is a sacrifice, and it’s a sacrifice where he gets to decide who bears it. That’s a man, with all the biases, opinions, whims, and moods of any other man, who wants to be vested to make wholesale decisions about who gets rewarded or not. He wants to be given the power to say to one man, “you will only get X no matter how hard you work”, and to another “you will always get Y no matter whether can you work or not”.

I can’t tell you what a profoundly dangerous idea that is. No, I mean I literally can’t. I’ve tried explaining the economic consequences of Obama rhetoric to his supporters in the past but it’s like trying to talk particle physics with a 5 year old. They just don’t get it. So let me put this is plainly as I can manage. If you take away the benefit that people get from working harder than everyone else, then you will utterly destroy this country. Unemployment will soar, the deficit will rise, and the dollar will crumble. Energy costs will skyrocket, and so will the cost of food, and other basic materials. It will only have negative effects. It doesn’t matter if you do it for what you believe to be a good cause. And it doesn’t matter what you actually do with the money, or who you give it to. If you let this man implement even a tiny fraction of his domestic policies, then the dream that was America will very likely be over. You’ll be allowing him to unweave the very fabric of our society.

“Well we’ll regain the respect of the world” say his fans. “People overseas will love us again, and want to be more like us”. I appreciate being liked as much as the next guy, but I have a hard truth for you. If Spain or Belgium or Argentina thinks highly of America, it doesn’t help a soul. If Finland admires us or hates us, it does less for the man on the street in New York than a change to the local tax code. You can’t eat goodwill. The affection of the world, while great if it’s available, doesn’t actually help anyone because those countries will still continue to act in their own best interests, whether they admire us or not. And they won’t be any more “there for us” under Obama than they were under Bush.

The thing that actually makes us the envy of the world is our freedom. That freedom has been the cause of our wealth, not the product of it. And if Obama is elected and gets to do what he wants to domestically, that freedom will be gone. And that’s all because the one basic freedom that has done more for America than any other, is the freedom to benefit from your labor. Take that away, as you would under the new Obama “unity” cult, and you will destroy this country utterly.

At this point his supporters usually respond with demonizing someone, “Are you saying that it will destroy America if some yuppie has to pay $100 more for his yacht? We’re only talking about a tiny change here… not redefining everything about America.” Ignoring the high school debating class childishness of this response, isn’t “redefining America” exactly what Obama is talking about? Isn’t it the big change that he wants to make? Isn’t that why people are supporting him?

But to speak to the broader point, I do think it will destroy America to punish one person for being productive and rewarding another for failing to. A world where the politicians get to pick the winners and losers isn’t more fair it’s less. A fair world is one where we each get to decide for ourselves how successful we want to be and the government stays out of it. A fair world is one where you can work harder, or longer, or smarter, and get more than I do for working less. That’s the dead opposite of the big change Obama wants to make. He wants to be the one to decide who gets what, no matter how hard everyone works.

“Well what about the person who can’t do any better?” say the members of the Obama cult. “What about them?” To this I have only a “particle physics” response so I’ll rely on Milton Friedman. “When like is compared to like, a system which allows more personal liberty will be more productive than one which allows less. And the poorest people in that society will be far better off under a system which allows economic freedom, than under a system which stifles it.” In short, that person will do better too because giving everyone economic freedom will drive down prices for him even if he earns exactly the same.

Of course… I’m going to be called racists for objecting to Obama. Some empty headed boob from some university somewhere will say that this essay is all code which really means that I don’t like black people. To him it doesn’t matter that my hero is black, or that I’ve written extensively that it’s racist for black people to be disarmed by statute at a rate much higher than white people, or that the gun control movement (which I’m firmly against) is on the whole still largely motivated by race. To liberals, in the end, it’s all about racial identity no matter what I actually say.

Well listen to this because it’s the last time I’ll say it. I’m through explaining away a sin I haven’t committed, so if you want to call me a racist for describing Obama as a demagogue wannabe, then so be it. I won’t argue the point anymore… fire away. I’ve been called worse things. And I’m not going to sit here and say nothing while others use liberal guilt to try and crush dissent. To his credit, Obama has largely ignored his own race in the campaign so far. I hope those who disagree with me will allow me to do the same.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

- Never a Hooker Around When You Need One

Personally I’m really jealous that across the river in New York it looks like they’ve found a way to get rid of their hack Democratic governor, Elliot Spitzer. I wonder how much we’d have to poke around in Jon Corzine’s personal life before we found a suitable skeleton. In case you’ve been trapped in a salt mine, Elliot Spitzer has been implicated in a federal prosecution of a high priced prostitution ring, and it’s probably going to end the vindictive little scum bag’s political career. It’s the kind of thing that makes me wish Jon Corzine were a little more randy or a little less discreet, or both.

Of course, the parallels are few. Spitzer is married, while Corzine is a bachelor. Spitzer is an ex prosecutor who started out in Brooklyn trying to destroy Wall Street, and Corzine was a billionaire who tried to use Wall Street to destroy everyone else. And Spitzer has been caught being in bed with a hooker, while Corzine has always admitted to being in bed with a government union chief. It’s not exactly the same kind of scenario.

There's another big difference too… after all Corzine is governor of New Jersey. New Jersey’s last elected governor had been “allegedly” implicated a bribery scandal, and was “allegedly” buggering the state head of homeland security, and was “allegedly” known as “the king of the highway restops” where he was “allegedly” engaging in anonymous homosexual sex acts….”allegedly”…. and no one really seemed to care all that much. He only left office “for being gay” when it looked like he really would end up in federal prison otherwise. But so long as he didn’t go and get rich or something really evil like that, many people in New Jersey were fully prepared to totally overlook his indiscretions. His wife might have had to move out of the governor’s mansion, but that would have been the end of it. It’s tough to offend voter’s morality in a place with standards like those.

Meanwhile, Spitzer has spent the bulk of his career as a public servant who made his bones trying to punish the rich for their success, so I don’t imagine he's ever had too much in the way of personal wealth. His time as a Brooklyn prosecutor was spent trying to demonize every person who has ever worked on Wall Street. I think his goal was to make securities regulations so twisted and complex that he could have pretty much anyone arrested anytime he liked on a whim. (The only real effect of his effort was raising the costs of legal compliance. That higher cost was managed by the big firms by passing it onto their customers and by the small firms by simply going out of business. All hail the effect of the class war.) And after spending a career beating on people with more money than him, I can see how he might have wanted to indulge in a little luxury.

Corzine, on the other hand, is a really wealthy guy. He has more than enough money so that many women would flock to him for free, so I guess the chances of him engaging a hooker are pretty slim. Besides, in a place like Trenton, what exactly is the point? To paraphrase Herman Melville “Who ain’t hooker I ask you?” He could probably get anything he wants just by offering political favor, and it won’t cost him a thin dime. And you know what they say in the Trenton statehouse, if there is no receipt, there is no crime.

If you ask me, I think it’s quite likely that Corzine is simply smarter than Spitzer (Their mutual affection for left leaning economics notwithstanding) and with Elliot still being slow roasted by the national media, it’s an easy point to make. I think the fact that Corzine made it to the top at Goldman Sachs may not prove that he’s smart, but it certainly proves that he’s careful. So I don’t think they’ll be finding any dead girls or live boys on this side of the Hudson. Still I think it would be great fun to get out the anal probe and take a good long look at his majesty’s personal life. No one who makes it so obvious that he thinks that laws are “just for the little people” can be totally squeaky clean.

As it stands though, I have absolutely no evidence whatsoever that Corzine has ever broken a law more serious than a traffic violation. And to tell the honest truth, I think it’s actually quite likely that the reason there is no evidence is because he hasn’t actually done anything. (There was the Carla Katz election fraud allegation, but in New Jersey I’ve come to believe that sort of thing is expected and taken with a shrug) He’s done lots of imperious things, and lots of politically stupid things, but none of those are a crime. He’s also done things which will have an unambiguously negative effect on the citizens of New Jersey which probably should be illegal, but since they aren’t at present, no crime there either.

No, Corzine has been a jerk, but to my knowledge he hasn’t done anything illegal; not yet anyway. Elliot Spitzer, on the other hand, has apparently done both. Is it a serious crime? Well on the surface, I don’t believe so no. As a libertarian I’m ambivalent (to say the least) about prostitution laws. But whether it’s a smart law or not isn’t the point, the fact is, it’s the law. He broke it and he deserves some consequences to that. Besides, the guy is well known for constantly engaging in prosecutorial blackmail, so you would think he’d know better than to take a chance like that. With a history like his he ought to have his career ended just for being that dumb.

And I know there will be serious consequences to his career, because I’ve read the media tea leaves. If he were going to walk with a wink and a shrug, then the media would be describing him as “Elliot Spitzer, the Democratic Governor of New York”, but instead they’re describing him as “Elliot Spitzer, New York Governor”. With Republicans of course the rules are opposite, there’s no need for party affiliation on small offenses but if it’s a career ender, then he’s touted in the Times as a “R-E-P-U-B-L-I-C-A-N”. (If they can figure a way, they’ll work in some reference to George Bush or Karl Rove too.)

Maybe if Hillary loses to Obama, she can be the next New York Governor. Actually, I still have to work in New York so maybe I should hold my tongue. (We’re so close to being rid of her that my wife and I have begun preparing for an Obama candidacy by changing the way we divide our laundry. Until the election we’ll be calling it a pile for whites and pile for “victims”.) But the good news is like that old joke about the disease which is fatal but not serious. Spitzer’s crime may have been victimless, at least it will be fatal for his career.

Friday, March 7, 2008

- From Wall Street to the State House

Now that I’ve had a chance to take a long hard look at how he makes decisions, I think I know the kind of man that Jon Corzine is. He’s very much a product of his environment, a product of Wall Street. And since that’s my domain too, I’m certain that he’s a kind of man that I understand.

I’ve worked on Wall Street for most of my adult life in what’s called “the Institutional” side of the business. It’s really no secret that the retail stock broker (or asset manager or private banker or whatever the marketing department calls him this week) who sells stock to individuals doesn’t really know anything more than he’s picked up by accident about making money in the markets. That person’s job is to get you to buy whatever stock or mutual fund he wants to unload whether it’s a good idea for you or not. That isn’t to say that they are all thieves, only that they don’t really know how the industry works.

The institutional side of the finance business is a little different. There are no Midwestern widows to educate in order to get them to buy 100 shared of ADM. The clients on the institutional side of the business know as much about finance as the people at the investment banks that they deal with; or at least they are supposed to. The clients are pension funds, regional banks, hedge funds and other large financial institutions, who you can deal with as your peers. And although they are focused on actually making money in the markets, the institutional side of the business has hardly bred saints either. And the people who work there fall into two general groups.

The first group, are people who make their way in the world by doing things that others can’t. They are the people responsible for innovation and creativity in all areas of the business. They come up with real solutions to problems or find ways for companies to do so, and then conceive of ways to profit by it. Or if they are on the operation side of the business, they may be the people who design systems that can be run by two people that will do the operational work of 20, and thus lower costs. Goal oriented people like this are in every department and every company, in every area of the industry.

People in this first group view themselves as “problem solvers”, and they get their sense of accomplishment from seeing the results of their labor. Their first thought isn’t what “can be done” but what “should be done”. When things work better today than they did yesterday; when profits are higher, or costs or lower, or things work more smoothly with less friction or displacement, this first kind of person gets a deep feeling of satisfaction. I’ve met hundreds of people like this in my nearly 20 years on Wall Street, in every area of the industry.

Then there is the second group of people. They don’t innovate because that would mean taking a risk. They would rather hang to the back when innovation is taking place so that they won’t be blamed if it doesn’t work out. Instead they build little corporate fiefdom’s inside an organization by offering favor to those who will be loyal to them, and tearing the legs out from those who won’t and “results be damned”. In fact, they aren’t focused on results at all, but on the process. And they elevate “process” above goals because it leaves them in the center of the chessboard regardless of the outcome, and that’s how they get their sense of accomplishment. They want to be seen as the puppet masters or mafia dons.

While the first groups is always worried about getting the best people involved in their projects, the second group would be perfectly happy letting every project be run by someone who is an utter incompetent so long as that incompetent is loyal to them. It’s “the process” after all that’s important, because that process shields them all from accountability. They don’t exactly mind if things work out well because it will let them take credit, but if the project fails they want to be able to say that they were “just following orders” or “sticking to the process”. These people can’t tell the difference between a good idea and a bad one, so they focus on the difference between a popular idea and an unpopular one. “If everyone hates it” their version of logic states, “It must be a bad idea.”

For the last 10 years I’ve been working at two multi-billion dollar hedge funds which perfectly illustrate these differences. One hedge fund was run by a man who I have frequently called the best macro-economic market strategist on the planet. He’s a driven, hyper successful billionaire who everyone in the industry knows. And the people that he’s hired to work under him are cut from the same goal oriented cloth. They are sharp as razors, and highly motivated to make their firm the most successful in the industry. They do this by hiring the best people they can get, providing them with motivation by paying them well, and then getting out of the way while they solve the problems they were hired to solve. Decision making is delegated to a pretty low level because the people actually doing the job know best how to do it. If they fail they are usually just let go, but on the whole there is a pretty low staffing turnover rate.

The other firm where I worked is also run by a hyper successful billionaire, but the people who work for him are the second type of person. And since they’ve focused on building fiefdoms instead accomplishing goals, the firm they’ve built is a model of inefficiency, and waste. They don’t make “problem solving” a priority because that would involve deviating from their processes, and that would result in weakening the fiefdoms. The authority to make even relatively small decisions is perpetually held in just a very few hands; usually at the very top. And no one is ever allowed to decide anything on their own even if they are the most knowledgeable in that area. There are lots of meetings to "build consensus" and to "get everyone's input" even if the best way to handle the issue has been settled business in the rest of the industry for decades. The best people they manage to hire usually quit as soon as they figure that out, so they have a pretty high turnover. But the worst people stay there forever because without any pressure to accomplish business goals, it’s an ideal place to be incompetent.

In that way, the second firm is sort of like the government. In government, no one really cares if a problem gets solved because you can always blame a lack of funding, or resistance from the opposition party or whatever. No one ever gets fired for incompetence, only for angering the wrong person or being indicted for something. And “sticking to the process” is of critical importance, because no one is really motivated to do anything but ingratiate themselves.

For a guy like Jon Corzine, making a move from Goldman Sachs to a senior job in government was like a duck moving from a pond to a lake. It’s just another place for him to splash around and defecate. He is clearly the second kind of person. He’s not concerned with what’s right or wrong, and he isn’t worried about what’s good or bad for the citizens of New Jersey, only what’s popular and unpopular with the insiders in Trenton. He only works on those policies which will give him broader control and increase his influence with "the people that matter".

In New Jersey, our government isn’t really controlled by the people; it’s controlled by the political insiders who skulk around Trenton. The union bosses, the party hacks, and the lobbyists are the ones who dictate policy, not the people of New Jersey. This is obvious because the policies which get enacted have so little in common with what the taxpayers actually need. And whenever Corzine has put together a policy on his own (like his plan to have the State to borrow money for poorly performing stem cell companies, or his much ridiculed six kazillion percent toll hike scheme) he’s looked around and decided that he would rather convince the voters that’s he’s smarter than they are, than try to face down the interest groups who are currently slopping at the public trough.

This was the synthesis of his now famous “when pigs fly” quote about seriously cutting expenses in the State government. He knows that the people who hold the reigns in Trenton have no intention of giving we common citizens our government back anytime soon, and he’d rather face the ridicule and insults of the people, than tell the insiders to quit lining their pockets. Part of that is because he’s been in bed with them (both literally and figuratively) but part of it is also because he’s the second type of person I mentioned above.

If I were to call the first kind of “goal oriented” people courageous, and the second type of “process oriented” people cowards I think that would probably be going just a little too far, but it would get to the heart of my argument. Goal oriented people are people like George Patton, Winston Churchill, and many of the founders of our country… John Adams and George Washington both come immediately to mind. Process oriented people are people who tend to take over after the hard part is finished, and then wheel and deal to stay in control. People like Ted Kennedy, Jesse Jackson, and almost any Secretary General of the UN would fall into that group.

Jon Corzine would be in that group too. He’s not a brave man or he’d stand up for the interests of the citizens and face down the Trenton insiders. He’s not a visionary man or he’d have good ideas that don’t involve taxing our great great grandchildren. And he’s not oriented toward goals or problem solving because he’d be talking about what “should be done” for the Taxpayers of New Jersey instead of what “can be done” to them. Instead he would rather expand his political fiefdom, like all the other people in New Jersey government.

Jon Corzine never claimed to care about “the little people”, so at least he hasn’t lied to us. But I think history will remember him as just one more party hack who was more a part of the problem than the solution. He’s a follower not a leader, and would rather tell the common folk to sod off than to say the same to the Trenton insiders. He’s nothing more than one more officious drone in a long line of cowards, philanderers, crooks, thieves, and scoundrels who have run New Jersey. And I think he’ll be remembered as nothing more than a place holder between whoever holds the office after him, and “That crazy gay guy” who held the office before him.

And that’s more a shame for us, than it is for him.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

- Grammar School Politics

Since my daughter is in the second grade, I’ve been surprised to learn what an important role identity politics plays in the education of seven year olds. When I was a kid, second grade was mostly about the basics… learning to read, write, and to do basic math. We were developing the basic skills we would need to build on later in our education. And while this was effective for the students, it was making things terribly dull for the teachers, so naturally the lesson plans had to change.

Last month was “black history month” where we celebrate those people in America who have managed to make the most of the fact that there was some ancient grievance visited upon their ancestors. There hasn’t been a slave in America in several generations, but apparently I’m supposed to feel guilty about it even though when the last slave’s chains were cut, my ancestors were barefoot (and probably drunk) in some mud hut in the Connemara hinterland. We were more likely to be slaves than own them. But that was then, and this is now.

This month is “women’s history month” in the New Jersey Public schools, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that next month is “gay transgender dwarf history month. That isn’t to say that the historic contribution of non-homosexual transgender dwarves has been over played; after all, you don’t hear all that much about them. But with every splinter victim group staking claim to its own slice of American history, I see no reason to limit it. We can’t even say that it’s only minorities who are getting their slice of time because women are in fact, a slight majority.

So anyway, since its women’s history month, all the second graders are putting together little projects about famous women in American history, and guess who my little darling was assigned to. That’s right… my beautiful and innocent 7 year old daughter has been assigned to do a report on Hillary Clinton, and her great contribution to American history. This represented more of a problem for my wife and I than you would guess at first glance.

I don’t have any real problem with the Clinton’s personally. I think Bill is probably a lot more fun than Hillary, but I certainly have my dour moments too so who am I to judge. Since they’re politicians, I think they’re probably of fairly poor character and are basically dishonest, but probably not a whole lot more or less than any other politician. In short, I think they are part of the problem rather than part of the solution, but I could hardly send my seven year old to school with a report that says so.

You see, my wife and I discussed it, and what we decided is that we’re not going to put our 7 year old daughter in a position to be subject of some teacher’s political wrath, just because we disagree with her politics. We’re going to raise our daughter to believe that effect is more important than intent, and that logic and reason are a better basis for social policy than self congratulation. And since we will raise her with these (and our other values) she will be highly unlikely to be a Liberal. But the vast majority of public school teachers are liberals.

So rather than tell our daughter the things we really believe are the truth about Mrs. Clinton, we struggled to find “true statements” that were less politically charged. For instance, one of the questions my daughter had to answer was, “How has your woman helped people.” We couldn’t very well send our second grader to school with a report that says, “Hillary Clinton helped America by being so unpopular that she failed to nationalize the entire medical industry.” Or “Hillary Clinton helped America by successfully trading in Cattle futures”. Or “Hillary Clinton helped America by being a Marxist in college.” These things wouldn’t fly.

Instead, my wife came up with the idea the she “helped America by being the first lady for 8 years”. It’s the kind of thing that’s more on a second grader’s level, and I don’t think she specifically hurt the country by being first lady (people voted for Bill afterall) so as far as the truth goes, I think that’s close enough. But it really illustrated what a terrible idea the whole “woman’s history month” is, and how ridiculous it is to let second graders do this kind of work in the first place.

You can’t explain to a second grader that Hillary Clinton represents the pinnacle of totalitarian and fascist sentiments and has only been successful at all through duplicity and deceit. You can’t say that she married for politics, and stayed married for political power. And the reason you can’t say these things is because it isn’t what the teacher wants to hear. And if we had sent her to school with a report that did say those things, then she wouldn’t understand why her teacher doesn’t like her anymore. Or why her grades always seem to be lower than everyone else’s no matter how she tries or whatever other petty malignant tactic the teacher might have for punishing our child for the beliefs of her parents.

I know we’re probably making too much of this. I’m sure my daughter’s teacher cares a lot more about her pension than she does about politics. But since it’s my daughter on the line, I don’t feel like I can take that chance. I’m happy to duke it out with anyone on any political topic they can conceive. I’ll even volunteer for debates if you can’t find someone to argue against the liberal position. But if the rules of the battle are that you hit my child once for every time I hit you, then I’m not interested.

The teachers of the New Jersey Public school system may be very good. But with a union like theirs in place, we’ll never know. What we do know, is that they have the power and authority to make things very tough on our kids if we don’t tow the line, and thanks to the NEA there is little we can do about it. We have no choice but to take it. You can catch a grammar school teacher in the act of sodomizing a 7 year old boy on his desk school, and that teacher will be suspended with pay.

What all this really means is that they can stuff our children’s heads full of whatever silly political nonsense they feel is appropriate, and there is nothing we can do about it. They are thoroughly shielded the Byzantine rules cobbled together by their union, at the expense of everyone but their members. And because of that, my second grader is trying to figure out what Hillary Clinton has done to help America, when half the people in the country couldn’t answer that question either.

I’m not going to pick a fight with someone who will only punish my child instead of me. But damn… I’d really like to.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

- My Dad would LOVE this....

Behold....even the Reds have given up on the 60's. This video is of The Leningrad Cowboys and the Red Army Choir telling off Neil Young by singing "Sweet Home Alabama".

Compliments of John Miller and the NRO "Corner".


Saturday, March 1, 2008

- The Hidden Truth of Conspiracy Theories

I finally got around to seeing that silly movie The Da Vinci Code on cable. It wasn’t all that bad, as contemporary Hollywood filmmaking goes. It had Tom Hanks and Ian McKellan, both of whom I think are pretty good actors, and some wholesomely attractive French girl who I didn’t know, but who was still nice to look at. No one would compare it to The Godfather or Gone With The Wind, but since I didn’t pay anything to see it, it was definitely worth the price.

The book, upon which the movie is based, has been particularly popular with a segment of America that seems to be growing rapidly in recent years. More and more the “conspiracy theorist” has become an expected fixture in any political, philosophical, or even scientific debate. Conspiracy theorists have always been there of course, but never before have their ideas been treated as if they held some degree legitimacy. And I believe that new treatment comes not from a change in them, but from a change in us.

As I’ve said before, I think everyone has the right to believe any damned nonsense they like, and I have the right (and really … the responsibility) to ridicule them for believing things that are demonstrably untrue. Not all views are equivalent, and just because someone fervently believes something doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t utter rubbish. And The Da Vinci Code is just rife with information presented as fact that has no basis in reality whatsoever.

For the record, that’s OK with me. Neither the book nor the movie has ever been presented as anything but a work of fiction. And since I can tell the difference between fantasy and reality, I’m perfectly willing to suspend disbelief for the sake of a little escapist entertainment. But the Da Vinci Code points to one of the oldest and longest running “conspiracies” in western history, and has been red meat for those “true believers” for hundreds of years. People have been accusing the Vatican of conspiracy since long before the first “evidence finding bus trip” to the grassy knoll. In fact I think the conspiracy highlighted in the Da Vinci Code documents all the things that are at the core of the conspiracy theorist mindset.

The center of the conspiracy theorist’s worldview is the belief that they are not actually in control of their lives. They believe that powerful people or institutions are working in the shadows to thwart all their efforts to free themselves from some unseen influence. Powerful oil companies buy up revolutionary new technology to keep it from the public; the defense department hides the absolute proof of aliens among us; food and drug companies destroy knowledge that could be used to end all hunger or disease; and secret societies collude to manipulate all manner of public events from environmental legislation, to wars, to the results of Olympic races.

To the conspiracy theorist, the powerful are always the most suspect and the most traditional institutions are most likely to be the culprits. And it’s only because their efforts at clandestine operation are successful, that the evidence is hard to come by. To the conspiracy theorist, it’s more likely that they are guilty and successfully hiding their guilt, than the organizations they suspect are in fact innocent of wrongdoing. And by that elusive criterion the Vatican is more or less ground zero for conspiracy theorists, and has been for centuries.

People have always looked to Rome to find the source of some conspiracy. I have an old friend, an orthodox Jew; who still insists that the Ark of the Covenant is in the Vatican basement along with all the jewels and treasures looted by the Romans from Herod’s temple. This was a man with an IQ in the 150 range, with an Ivy League education. Countless others have said that they believe the body of Jesus Christ is somewhere in the catacombs, and that the Pope has colluded with everyone from the Nazi’s and the Templar Knights, to Barbary pirates and the sons of the confederacy. When it comes to conspiracy theories, the Vatican has always been an easy mark.

But I think the thing that made “The Da Vinci Code” so popular was the way it took the current set of sophomoric deconstructionist pseudo –philosophy around Christianity and codified it into a conspiracy as well. It focused on the desire of the political left to selectively remove the moral guidelines of our society, and it did all that by centering the conspiracy around a combination of divinity, and sex.

The members of the political left, because of their unconstrained view of the world, always think that society’s institutions are causing more problems than they solve. And since they have given up on all the traditional beliefs, they usually need something else to replace it. What they seem to have settled on is a convoluted set of priorities and norms that elevate the orgasm into a singularly divine act. In a culture war where their position is that only imbeciles believe in Christianity, they have enshrined sexual gratification as the very center of their philosophical worldview.

Those practices that make sexual gratification easier and more worry free, like widespread availability (and government subsidized funding) of birth control, free abortion on demand and the constant relaxation of traditional social mores, have all gained status with the left as irrevocable primary rights which must be defended to the last. While those things which could be viewed as obstacles to unrestrained sexual gratification, like the choice to attend a traditional church, laws protecting the life of soon to be born children, and laws which support the rights of parents to influence their children’s lives over those of the state (like home schooling laws), are all described as examples of repression and bigotry. They feel these mores are part of a bygone era, and should now be shoved into the dustbin of history by a newly enlightened and sexually liberated public.

They support this worldview, not just with political pressure to change laws, but with a constant drumbeat of criticism, ridicule and insults from the mainstream media. Time and again Hollywood will depict the true Christian, or anyone else with a strong sense of morality, as either a mindless unthinking drone who does only what they are told or a viciously repressed borderline psychotic who is tortured by their detachment from their “true self”. In the meantime they elevate anyone who abandons the traditional view of sex roles under Christianity and celebrate them as heroes. A promiscuous woman or a gay man is always the hero, while the parent or some traditional authority figure is usually the secret villain. It’s a common theme that completely mischaracterizes the typical role of devout Christians, parents, and others who try to reinforce traditional moral guidelines in our society.

And in the Da Vinci Code, this basic philosophy is combined with a conspiracy theory and brought to its logical endgame by claiming that it was only a conspiracy of the Roman church which has prevented us from including the sex act as a part of our religious observance. The book and movie both claim that a “true faith” would include a female as well as a male deity and would more closely resemble the pagan cults of Rome which were replaced when Christianity started its rise in the west.

To ecclesiastical scholars and students of history, this is unfettered nonsense. The truth is that the primary reason that Christianity rose in popularity was because it provided a better set of answers for peoples concerns. The society which is built on the moral guidelines set down by Christianity is simply more successful than those set down by the cults which preceded it. Let’s not forget that it was Christian morality which was responsible for the motivation to end slavery worldwide. It was Christian morality that elevated women above the level of property in the west. And it was Christian thinking, with its devotion to reason as a path to truth, which led to virtually 100% of the scientific advancement the world has seen in the last 2000 years.

But those conspiracy theorists that believe the Da Vinci Code is (or at least points to) a true story would have us throw the baby out with the bath water. If it meant that they could pursue unrestricted sexual gratification without guilt, they’d happily chuck out all of modern society and live in a newly Roman “paradise”, free from the oppression that Christianity has brought us. Clean Water, cheap food and modern dentistry are the first things modern society has brought us that pop into my head, but they would all be undone by this sexually liberated new truth.

So what is it that leads such a ridiculous position, or for that matter any of the other popular conspiracy theories, to be taken seriously by anyone? Why is it that people will accept something which even the tiniest bit of logical thinking could dismiss as being nothing more than a silly bit of entertaining fiction?

Well I think the biggest part of the problem revolves around the liberalization of higher education in America and their desire to tear down the rules of society. Members of the Academy are so anxious to elevate their relative position in society that they will support the idea of tearing it all down if it means that they can be at the top of what is left in the wreckage.

But what about the conspiracy theorists; what is it that drives them to see a demon in every shadow, and to think that secrets abound? And why has the broader society come to accept such a preposterous view?

Well I can’t be sure, but I think it’s the way technology has changed. We have always had a tendency to put more faith in those stories provided to us through the media, because we assumed (the New York Times notwithstanding) that there was some sort filtering mechanism which would remove the patently untrue rumors and only provide us with something which resembled the truth.

Well in the modern media this simply isn’t so. I write these essays on a part time basis while I’m riding on the train to my paying job, and you get them from the same source as much of the “professional” media you read. Others can get themselves an inexpensive video camera, and with modern technology produce something that looks nearly as good (and is probably just as accurate) as anything CNN or CBS News produces.

In short, the filters of information for the public have been greatly reduced. There is far more of it reaching an audience, and in some ways that’s a good thing. More voices mean better clarity in some ways, and less opportunity for the homogenous view of the people producing the media to be embedded in the story. I like to think my essays shed light rather than hide it, but I’m sure there is some “Marxist true believer/Animal rights activist” out there who probably feels differently.

But more information also means that more of what reaches an audience is simply inaccurate. And the naive, the young and those who really never learned about logic or reason, might be swayed by the ranting of conspiracy theorists. Their views never make any sense, but like the man said, that doesn’t mean that they can't convince some of the people some of the time. Some liberals will always believe the new idea over the old; even when the new idea is totally irrational. How else do you explain the rise of socialism in the first place?

Anyway, I was raised Catholic but I’m hardly devout. And I like sex as much as the next guy, but I don’t think it should be codified into a religion. I don’t believe in UFO’s, and neither does anyone else who understands the numbers involved in physics and astronomy. I don’t believe the people in government are all that smart and they therefore aren’t capable of keeping any secret for very long. I know many of the key players in the energy industry, and I’ve even been in their basements. I looked around carefully… there were no perpetual motion machines or 9000 mile per gallon diesel engines.

If you were to ask me which was more likely, that the Ark of the covenant was hidden under the Pope’s bed, or that every conspiracy theorist had serious emotional problems, I’d have to bet on the latter. There are always big holes in their story, and the world just doesn’t work the way they believe. That won’t stop them from believing of course, and it doesn’t stop the Da Vinci Code from being entertaining. But we should all try to remember that there is a big difference between fact and fiction. And when we mistake the two like conspiracy theorists usually do, we’re really only hurting ourselves.