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Belmont Club

The Perils of Trust

November 1st, 2014 - 3:18 pm

Mother Jones has an interesting article on the fall of a Canadian radio star to charges of cruelty to women.  In trying explain why it took so long for this behavior to come to light, Tasneem Raja explains that nobody would have suspected such a politically correct man of such incorrectness:

It just doesn’t make sense that this beloved, artsy, liberal, talented public radio star with the Flock of Seagulls haircut and the cool jeans allegedly has a weird thing going on involving a teddy bear and punching women in the face till their ears ring and forcing his cock into their mouths until they nearly vomit.

And in a reference to events south of the border Raja adds, “just like it doesn’t make sense that the beloved fatherly comedian who reminds you of sweaters and pudding pops has been accused over and over of drugging women and sexually assaulting them. Or that the beloved all-American champion football coach is a serial child molester. And so on, and so on.”

But actually it makes perfect sense. There’s a connection, believe it or not, between abuse of trust and yesterday’s post on the rise of private money in response to to the debasement of the public tender.  Back in the Great Depression, when people lost trust in their institutions, they began to work with each other and issue local scrip.

It’s all about trust. The point of scrip and self-help in general is not to have too much of it.

This reflects itself in the way we network with people. The most important tool of libertarians is the P2P or peer-to-peer network. This is how Napster used to work and that is how Bitcoin works. “Peer-to-peer (P2P) computing or networking is a distributed application architecture that partitions tasks or work loads between peers. Peers are equally privileged, equipotent participants in the application.”

Nobody has a privileged position.  Nobody has all the trust.

By contrast, the “liberal” or leftist world and the entertainment industry work on the opposite principle. With socialism there’s the Vanguard and the Masses. With Hollywood there’s the Star and there’s the Audience.  The whole purpose of these systems is to build hierarchies of power. One side has the monopoly of money, force and trust.  The other side has the need to trust.

This basic asymmetry means that, under socialism government is not ‘another word for things we choose to do together’. It is another word for something that tells you what to do.

All hierarchs can use the royal “we”. Now modern leaders try to hide this fact, but sometimes the pose slips. For example, president Obama recently said: “and sometimes someone, usually mom, leaves the workplace to stay at home with the kids, which then leaves her earning a lower wage for the rest of her life as a result. That’s not a choice we want Americans to make.” The ‘we’ in the last sentence is the royal ‘we’.

You can’t retort: “who are you anyway?” Because the implicit reply is: “I’m the president”.


Lemon Tree

October 31st, 2014 - 3:42 pm

Even though the Republican party is on track to take both the Senate and increase its hold the House, not many believe government will subsequently improve. Expectations for both parties are low. “Faith in the president, and in government, is slip-sliding away,” writes the Chicago Tribune.  Gallup, reviewing responses over nearly 2 decades, concludes that it’s been declining for some time.

None of this is news.  Bureaucrats aren’t even bothering to pretend they’re faithful public servants. They’re more interested in shopping. NBC says that bureaucrats have been giving themselves taxpayer-funded credit cards to buy what they please. One investigation alone showed that $20 billion had been spent in this way.

Thousands of federal workers are issued taxpayer-funded credit cards, and as long as they buy items that cost less than $3,000 — or “micropurchases” — they can simply swipe and buy and it’s possible no one outside of some agency bookkeepers will ever know what they bought.

Lois Lerner is the face of the new mandarin. She has “so what” written all over her.   What really matters is the drapery allowance and the perks. The Washington Post relates that president Obama lied (or misspoke) on camera to CSPAN about plans to renovate the Oval Office.  He was all humble on camera even though plans were afoot for an expensive make-over. When caught out, Obama simply tried to suppress it.

As Attkisson tells the story, C-SPAN eminence Brian Lamb interviewed President Obama on Aug. 12, 2010, for a documentary on the White House. In the session, Lamb asks Obama about the Oval Office: “What have you changed in this room?”

The president responds, “We have not yet redecorated this room . . . Given that we are in the midst of some very difficult economic times, we decided to hold off last year in terms of making some changes.”

Two weeks later, reports Attkisson in the book, a White House official contacts C-SPAN to say, “the Washington Post will be breaking the story of the President’s reported multi-million dollar renovation of the Oval Office,” reads “Stonewalled.” According to the author, the White House official, then-TV liaison Dag Vega, wanted to “make sure” that C-SPAN didn’t run its Obama interview snippet after the story in The Post surfaced. …

On Aug. 31, 2010, The Post drops its story on the Oval Office makeover, much of which took place while the Obama family had been on vacation (between the time of the Lamb interview and the story in The Post).

C-SPAN blows off the White House fussiness and publishes its interview. That very night, Josh Earnest, then the White House deputy press secretary, sends a tough e-mail to C-SPAN accusing the outlet of “being egregiously unethical and of violating terms of the interview. Though there’s no evidence of the existence of any prior agreement, he continues to insist the White House would not and did not agree to an interview with the president without specifying the terms under which it would air,” writes Attkisson, adding that the White House official threatened to “withhold future access.”

You don’t have to know. You don’t wanna know.

Between rigged voting machines and implicitly exhorting illegal aliens to vote, to redacting the news in real time, it seems that government doesn’t care about appearances any more. It’s all Happy Days are Here Again. Some may fatalistically reply: so what? In their minds government misbehavior is like the weather: everybody talks about it but no one can change it.

But that has never been true. Historically people have circumvented failing government by establishing parallel systems. Take money. To the present generation, money is something only Obama can print. During the Great Depression local communities printed their own money because they didn’t trust or couldn’t get the regular kind. Even though it could be spent only within an affinity group, this quasi-money or scrip had the virtue of being more honest than the banknote. Nor was the practice limited to America, as illustrated by the contemporaneous Worgl experiment, where an Austrian town did the same thing.


The Man I Used To Be

October 30th, 2014 - 2:56 pm

They’ve downsized the news.  A glance shows what used to be called the big news has dropped below the fold. It is easy to see why.  As Daniel Henninger wrote in the Wall Street Journal, big news is bad for the president. So up with the little news. The major ticket item are all poison.

Want to know how to really scare a Democratic candidate for Congress on Halloween? Forget the Sarah Palin mask. Don’t say “Boo!” Just slip up behind them and whisper, “national security.” They’ll jump from here into next week’s election. In New Hampshire, North Carolina, Arkansas, Iowa and Colorado, Republican challengers are spooking Democratic Senate campaigns by yelling, “Islamic State” and “Ebola.”

Since people can’t quite be persuaded to stop talking about Ebola, the next best thing is to tabloidize it so that the conversation focuses on a nurse in Maine who wants to ride her bicycle in despite the quarantine state officials want her to observe.

Ditto for the international news. Seventy people were decapitated by ISIS. Six hundred prisoners were machine-gunned in a ditch. Mali is in a new uproar. But in keeping with the tabloid theme, the hot headline is? As Iowahawk Tweets:

Vegas line on the anonymous WH foreign policy genius who called Bibi “chickenshit”.

Kerry 3:2
Biden 3:1
Ben Rhodes 4:1

David Berstein takes up his pen in the Washington Post to explain what the “chickenshit” scandal is all about. Never mind that someone has apparently tried to blow the Iranian heavy water supplies or that the administration is now considered to be in “detente” with Teheran.  If you’re not talking about chickenshit, you’re not with it. Basically the story is that someone in the administration double-dog dared Israel to commit political suicide but Netanyahu didn’t bite.  Hence he’s a coward. Consequently someone (see Las Vegas odds above about ‘who’)  said  ”nyah, nyah, yer chickenhit.”


Pink Elephant Repellent

October 29th, 2014 - 4:26 pm

A highly regarded doctor of medicine sent me a link to an article in the Atlantic, The 21 Days, which was an extended interview between Dr. James Hamblin, MD, the magazine’s senior health editor and Steven Hatfill, who readers will recall was a defense contractor in the field of biological warfare who was falsely accused of engineering the anthrax attacks of 2001.  The note along with the link said: “in the absence of a vaccine or available therapy, how are how health care workers going to W. Africa from here helping beat Ebola there?”

The gist of the Hatfill interview is that Ebola is theoretically far more serious than the CDC ever took it.

Hamblin: So what led to us treating it with such relative casualness? The CDC not having experience with Ebola in the U.S.?

Hatfill: [Thomas Frieden, CDC director] has become a political animal, in my opinion. And when you’re dealing with this type of agent with no cure, no real vaccine, you must always err on the side of caution. They ignored a lot of published data. We’ve known for years now that the skin is a site of viral replication. The Langerhans cells, the antigen-presenting cells in the skin, are major targets for Ebola. The strains we know of.

Hamblin: The idea of a travel ban has been so controversial.

Hatfill: Not to other countries.

Not to the US military either. US soldiers are being quarantined in Italy after returning from their humanitarian mission in West Africa. And yet there is a definite sense in the public narrative that the Ebola crisis is on the wane. The WHO says all signs point to the epidemic beginning to slow at least in Liberia.

Virtually everyone in Liberia agrees on a new, stunning fact: Ebola cases in Liberia are dropping.

“New case numbers are going down. Admissions into ETUs [Ebola treatment units] are going down…. The amount of bodies being picked up is going down,” says James Dorbor Jallah, the deputy incident manager at the National Ebola Command Center in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia.

Data analysts, body removal teams, ETU managers and other health officials confirmed Jallah’s assessment. And any Liberian you pass on the increasingly busy streets of Monrovia will say they notice that the shrill peal of ambulance sirens cuts through the humidity much less often than it did two or three months ago, when Liberia’s caseload was exploding.

Back then, symptomatic patients might sit for hours outside an Ebola ward, waiting for a bed. Today, 50% of the beds in those wards are empty.

So does that mean that the dangers of the outbreak were overblown? One prediction,  the PLOS epidemic modeler predicted  tracked the Ebola numbers perfectly, but most importantly, it predicted that the epidemic would start to burn itself out in December of 2014.


Stand By For Launch

October 28th, 2014 - 8:36 pm

Rockets have a lot of chemical energy stored in them. They are the nearest thing to a nuke.

Antares at Wallops Island.


Three Portraits

October 28th, 2014 - 7:40 pm

When Chou En Lai was asked what he thought of the French Revolution he allegedly replied “it’s too early to say”. However others are willing to make a judgment on history. Chinese artists Dai Dudu, Li Tiezi, and Zhang An painted a fascinating panorama of 103 persons in 2006  they considered famous.  The selection reflects their point of view. It contains many more Chinese and Asian figures than might figure in an American choice. It is understandably a Sinocentric view of the world; where Hitler strikes an indifferent pose but it is Hideki Tojo who is singled out for torment.  Movie stars and sports stars have more prominence than would be expected. It’s cavalcade of fame as seen from the international news pages.

Since the painting was done in 2006 there is one conspicuous omission. Is it a fatal shortcoming?  And have the artists failed to anticipate the most significant historical figure of all?

103 Greats

103 Greats

Maybe “it’s too early to say”, but the auguries are not good. Historian Max Hastings says that the campaign in Afghanistan, Obama’s ‘war of necessity’, is coming to an ignominious-looking end.  ”That we can’t even leave a memorial behind says everything,” Hastings writes.

All over the world, from Vimy Ridge and El Alamein to Rangoon and Rorke’s Drift, stand memorials to British war dead, most of them places of pilgrimage for descendants and tourists.

Future travellers, however, will find no such proud relic at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan. When the Army lowered the Union flag there on Sunday, our memorial — etched with hundreds of names of the fallen — had been dismantled and flown home.

Had it remained in war-torn Helmand province, it seemed certain to face desecration and destruction. There could be no more vivid manifestation of the failure of Britain’s Afghan mission.

Hastings is a man whose profession is memory.  The Brits like to remember everything, and recall their defeats with even more fondness than their victories. As for itself, the Obama administration is stealing away as quietly as it can. The last US Marines out of Helmand said. “‘It was surreal,’ said Marine communications officer Captain Anthony Nguyen, 33, of Houston, Texas.”  There were no parades, no big flybys of massed aircraft over fleets of ships in Tokyo Bay.  Just an urge to get out there as fast as prudence allowed.

“We’re not refugees or anything, but it kind of reminding me of scenes of Vietnam, of people running to the helicopters … just this mad dash to the aircraft,” added Nguyen, who is Vietnamese-American.


No Better Enemy, No Worse Friend

October 27th, 2014 - 3:52 pm

Back in 1968, Henry Kissinger once observed that “it may be dangerous to be America’s enemy, but to be America’s friend is fatal”. Everything was subordinated to domestic politics according to which Washington’s first instinct was to coerce its allies and attract its foes.  In contrast to the Marine’s well known slogan, the motto of the some diplomats was “no worse friend, no better enemy”.

In the intervening half century Kissinger’s ironic adage appears to have become even truer. According to the Business Insider, “ISIS Is Making An Absurd Amount Of Money On Ransom Payments And Black-Market Oil Sales”.

ISIS earns about $US1 million each day in oil sales alone, said David Cohen, the Treasury Department’s under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence. He also said the group has netted approximately $US20 million in ransom payments this year. Additionally, Cohen said ISIS has raised funds through local extortion and crime, like robbing banks.

By contrast, Kurdish oil tankers are sailing in circles in search of a port because Washington has blocked its oil sales anywhere in order to avoid offending Iraq. The New York Times explains:

Roughly two dozen huge oil tankers are idly turning figure eights around the Mediterranean or on the high seas, loaded with oil pumped from wells in Iraqi Kurdistan but with nowhere to legally offload it.

The oil fleet is a costly gamble, to the tune of millions in fees each month, by Kurdish officials who are desperately trying to sell the oil abroad, even as the Iraqi government and the United States are blocking their attempts.

To Iraqi officials, the tankers are carrying contraband — oil that by law should be marketed only by the Iraqi Oil Ministry, with the profits split: 83 percent for the Baghdad government, 17 percent for the Kurdish autonomous government in the north.

Perhaps the secret to ISIS’ recent success can be summed up in one phrase.  They punish their enemies, the administration punishes its friends. China has just surprised Western analysts by deploying an SSN — for the first time — into the Indian Ocean.  The torpedoes it carries will be aimed at Western ships.


Rear Window

October 26th, 2014 - 2:10 am

If you stand on a street corner long enough, something extraordinary is bound to turn up. Local municipal officials had a poster up not long ago showing that a shocking number of pedestrians had been run over within a kilometer’s radius of the corner where it was posted. One might think that “nothing happens” in ordinary life, but on the contrary, everything that is extraordinary comes to the ordinary. A car comes barreling up the sidewalk, or a bus takes a turn too wide and …

You can just be sitting in your living room and have the cops knock on your door. It happened once. They asked if I had seen my neighbor lately. Not that I noticed, I said. Well, thanks, said the cops — and left. The neighbor had evidently died of something and the cops were responding to a relative’s request to see why he wasn’t answering his phone. I watched the mortuary vehicle drive away, wondering, wondering.

Or the time a kind of keening voice came from beyond the hedge, which turned out to be another neighbor, an elderly lady, who had come home drunk from a party, fallen and broken her arm. I found her husband and he carried her off. In fact, if you sit out on the verandah with a pair of binoculars you will probably feel like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window,  overwhelmed with enough clues to start dozens of stories but not enough to finish a single one.

So when a big ambulance pulled up at another house a few months back and the techs carried a man into the house, my curiosity was naturally piqued. The mystery deepened when a number of delivery vans showed up the next day unloading what looked like invalid furniture — the gizmos you put on toilets, the handrails you bolt to walls, etc.

I went over the next day and rang the bell. An elderly man of Eastern European provenance in a wheelchair and his similarly aged girlfriend opened the door. He was missing a leg. I introduced myself as living across the way offering any help I might provide, and the lady volunteered  the most extraordinary story.

My neighbor, despite his years, had up until then enjoyed a robust good health. “He liked to go out every day,” she said. “And then two weeks ago he noticed a slight cut in his toe which he ignored. Can you imagine — it went gangrenous and they had to amputate it in the hospital!”

The man was disconsolate. “It’s a nightmare,” he said. I reiterated my offer to help, should he need it, and walked back home. But the drama wasn’t over. I had expected to see him hobble out and had even sent him a catalog of scooters designed for stumps, but he never did come out. It all went wrong somehow.

What came out instead were possessions. First the books such as an intelligent man might read; books obviously acquired over a lifetime. And then clothes. Jackets of quality, shoes. Then office things. All of them were marked: “Take them if you wish. Charity will come for what you do not want.”

My wife went over and spoke to the old lady and asked about the Eastern European man. The girlfriend just shook her head, and went back in the door.


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When Tuesday Comes

October 24th, 2014 - 2:59 pm

Two countries made the economic news recently.  The first was Venezuela, which began food rationing.  You need a biometric measurement, your fingerprint, to buy food, making it the first but perhaps not the last, country in the world to require more ID to purchase beans than is required to vote in the US.

Caracas has announced “it had taken over warehouses around Venezuela crammed with medical goods and food that ‘bourgeois criminals’ were hoarding for speculation and contraband.”  Things are only going to get worse, as oil prices plummet, sending Caracas (as well as Tehran and Riyadh) into a blue funk. “The slump in oil prices comes as Harvard University economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff warned this week that Venezuela is almost certain to default on its foreign-currency bonds. Deepening concern the South American country will renege on its debt payments triggered a selloff in its $4 billion benchmark bonds due 2027.”

The second country in the economic headlines was Britain. The UK has been told by the EU to pay an extra 1.7 billion pounds into the superstate’s coffers because ‘the economy has performed better than expected in recent years’.  France on the other hand, will be awarded 790 million pounds because its economy is struggling.  What message does this send to those who succeed?  EU president Jose Manuel Barroso put it succinctly: the UK still has friends in EU. But ‘please keep them’”.

Welcome to the world of ‘shared prosperity’.  Recently Labor Secretary Thomas Perez explained what that means. “Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said President Barack Obama will take ‘aggressive executive action’ on immigration, which Perez said will bring about more ‘shared prosperity.’”

Contrary to what you may think, shared prosperity doesn’t mean ‘pass around the joint’, but apparently conveys the sense that if you spread around money, more money will come to you. “The pie is getting bigger. American workers helped bake it, but they’re not getting a bigger slice … in private-sector job growth,” Perez said. “Shared prosperity is not a fringe concept. … and it’s a lynchpin of a thriving middle class.”


The Strong Hearse

October 23rd, 2014 - 3:04 pm

Lee Smith tries to explain why teenage girls in Western Europe are joining ISIS. “Because they want the same things that teenage boys want: a strong sense of meaning and purpose.” It’s happening even in Tunisia, the poster country for the Arab Spring. The NYT writes:

Nearly four years after the Arab Spring revolt, Tunisia remains its lone success as chaos engulfs much of the region. But that is not its only distinction: Tunisia has sent more foreign fighters than any other country to Iraq and Syria to join the extremist group that calls itself the Islamic State. Although Tunisia’s steps toward democracy have enabled young people to express their dissident views, impatience and skepticism have evidently led a disgruntled minority to embrace the Islamic State’s radically theocratic alternative. Tunisian officials say that at least 2,400 Tunisians have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the group — other studies say as many as 3,000 — while thousands more have been blocked in the attempt.

The Washington Post thinks there’s a new strong horse in town: Military success has bred popular support for the Islamic State. People like a winner. A talker and a promiser, not so much. Islam now has an “aura”.

Even more disturbing are signs that the Islamic State has the sympathy of many noncombatants in the region. In the Lebanese port of Tripoli, a longtime stronghold of radical Sunni groups, murals of the group’s black flags are painted on buildings in the center of the city, according to the Wall Street Journal. In Turkey, pro-Islamic State students at Istanbul University have triggered a series of fights on campus, according to the Associated Press. In Jordan, a recent poll showed that only 62 percent of respondents considered the Islamic State terrorist, according to David Schenker of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Such popular sentiment explains why leaders such as Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan have been reluctant participants in the anti-Islamic State coalition.