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[ 0 ] March 11, 2009 |

Yeah, I think it’s safe to say that Wells Fargo will be giving back their bailout money on the same day that Mr. and Dr. Instapundit “go Galt.” Coincidentally. this will be the same day that I win “America’s Next Top Model.”

The Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan

[ 0 ] March 11, 2009 |

Alex Harrowell has a couple of interesting posts on the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, one at Fistful of Euros and the other at Yorkshire Ranter. The point is essentially this; the Soviets executed the withdrawal more competently that just about any other aspect of the war, and it worked out really well for them. The government that they left in place survived for another three years, and only collapsed when Soviet support ended in 1992.

In fact, the withdrawal was about the best idea the Soviets had in Afghanistan. Having decided to go, they pursued a policy of building up the Afghan government, changing the military strategy to one based on defending the bulk of the population and leaving the mountain wilds to the enemy, pouring in aid of all kinds, negotiation with those who were willing, and leaving a strong advisory mission in place.

I recall at the time that predictions of the survival of the Soviet-sponsored Afghan government were measured in weeks or in months, but it turned out that the opposition split, foreign support for the rebels vanished, and the regime was able to win several crucial military victories. Nobody talked much about this after 1989, because nobody really cared much about Afghanistan. I’m thinking that the United States and Europe could do much, much worse than what the Soviets managed; Harrowell thinks (perhaps only half-jokingly) that the Soviet general who managed the post-withdrawal advisory mission should be tracked down and consulted on the future of the NATO mission. A Soviet style operation would concede certain facts about Afghanistan; the central government will never have much control over the hinterland, and a liberal democratic regime is unlikely to exist in any thing but name, but it may be past time to think about such concessions.

Cross-posted to TAPPED.

Outsourcing II

[ 0 ] March 11, 2009 |

Edroso on Paglia:

I see Salon is still publishing Camille Paglia. Why, I wonder? It can’t be respect for her prose, which reads like yammerings that a cranked-up MFA candidate might read into a digital recorder for her overdue thesis as she speed-walks around the quad. The only sane reason I can imagine they do it is to throw Republican yahoos some pointy-head bait, as the Times does with David Brooks and John Tierney, to get themselves links from rightwing blogs. Don’t they realize they could get Ann Althouse to do the same thing for much less money?

If I understand correctly, Salon is still asking people for money. Yeah, good luck with that as long as any percentage of a prospective fee might go to the somewhat more pretentious and even dumber Maureen Dowd…

…at least her latest column makes it clear why she likes Sarah Palin so much: they both seem to share the eccentric conviction that being criticized violates your First Amendment rights.


[ 0 ] March 11, 2009 |

Adam discusses Maureen Dowd’s lunacy so that — this time at least — I don’t have to.


[ 0 ] March 11, 2009 |

Seems like a good choice. Certainly, among Washington state politicians I always preferred him to Gary Locke...

Reading the entrails

[ 0 ] March 11, 2009 |

CNBC stock “analyst” Jim Cramer is getting lots of well-deserved mockery for giving some spectacularly bad investment advice, and then compounding his mistakes by denying them.

Yglesias points out that the whole business Cramer and his ilk are involved in is a contemporary version of entrail reading. Take this wholly typical “20 stocks to buy now” column. Consider what needs to be assumed to make taking this guy’s advice worthwhile.

(1) All the information and analysis performed by the stock picker isn’t already imputed in the stock’s current price; and

(2) The stock picker knowledge of the various industries and firms he’s analyzing is deep enough to allow his speculations to add value to the analysis already being done by hundreds and thousands of people who dedicate their lives to studying these industries and firms on an industry-specific and firm-specific basis; and

(3) This added value is greater than the transaction costs that must be incurred in order to take advantage of it.

Now how likely is this? How likely is it that there’s a single person on this earth who knows enough about the contemporary technological and economic challenges of superconductor production, and about the complexities of commercial railroad transportation in America today, and about the Brazilian banking industry in the context of the current state of Latin American finance, and (repeat for 17 more industries) to be giving advice about 20 stocks that, collectively, actually has investment value? And how likely is it that, if this paragon actually exists, you just happen to have stumbled onto his wisdom by googling “20 Stocks To Buy Now?”

Beyond that, the notion put forth in the linked column and in a thousand similar ones, that individual investors should “do their own research” in order to “identify good companies” is both practically and theoretically preposterous.

Bad Analogies of the Day

[ 0 ] March 11, 2009 |

William Saletan.

I take it that for most our audience the analogy between Obama repealing Bush’s ban on stem-cell research (or, at least, defending this policy in terms Saletan does not approve of) and Dick Cheney’s policy of arbitrary torture is so specious that to restate it is to refute it. But perhaps Saletan may wish to conisder one rather obvious difference: opponents of torture actually favor categorical bans on torture, whereas Bush and most of his supporters thought that stem-call research should be perfectly legal but that some forms of this research should be denied state funding. Or may he shouldn’t consider it, such most of his writing on these issues ceding the moral high ground to people who don’t even take their own purported ideas seriously.

The annals of self-immolation

[ 0 ] March 11, 2009 |


I’ve always been amazed by bizarre and/or offensive and/or illegal interview behavior, having witnessed an abundance of it over the years during faculty searches. But I’ve never really considered the potential weirdness involved with grad school interviews (and here, I’m not counting the time in 1994 when an aspiring American Studies grad student clogged the toilet in my apartment so ferociously that I was forced to summon building maintenance to clear the offending debris. The fellow eventually opted for film school.)

There’s a great degree of irritating grad school conduct that can be chalked up to some combination of youthful exuberance and insufficient professional socialization. But then again, some people are just assholes.

Personal To Jim Cramer

[ 0 ] March 11, 2009 |

No, really, quit while you’re behind.

Brian Barry, RIP

[ 1 ] March 11, 2009 |

I see via Harry Brighouse that Brian Barry has died. I’m not a good candidate to offer an evaluation or overview of his work. He’s an engaging and enjoyable writer with a voice that made him particularly pleasurable to read when you agree with him, and somewhat maddening when you don’t–he was an impressive wordsmith in a way that few political theorists are. I endorse Why Social Justice Matters with few reservations, but on the subject of Culture and Equality I’m afraid I have to wholeheartedly endorse Jacob Levy’s critical review.

Barry’s writing possessed a dry wit and some delicious snark. I’m somewhat hesitant to highlight a book review, given his career’s worth of substantive work, but as a fan of the genre of devastating reviews of deserving targets, I can’t resist taking this opportunity to excerpt from his review of Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia:

Finally the intellectual texture is of a sort of cuteness that would be wearing in a graduate student and seems to me quite indecent in someone who, from the lofty heights of a professorial chair, is proposing to starve or humiliate ten percent or so of his fellow citizens (if he recognizes the word) by eliminating all transfer payments through the state, leaving the sick, the old, the disabled, the mothers with young children and no breadwinner, and so on, to the tender mercies of private charity, given at the whim and pleasure of the donors and on any terms that they choose to impose. This is, no doubt, an emotional response, but there are, I believe, occasions when an emotional response is the only intellectually honest one. The concept of a “free fire zone,” for example, could appropriately be the subject of black comedy or bitter invective but not dispassionate analysis. Similarly, a book whose argument would entail the repeal of even the Elizabethan Poor Law must either be regarded as a huge joke or as a case of trahison des clercs, giving spurious intellectual respectability to the reactionary backlash that is already visible in other ways in the United States. My own personal inclination would be to treat the book as a joke, but since it is only too clear that others are prepared to take It seriously, I shall do so as well…..
Nozick’s vision of “utopia” as a situation in which the advantaged reinforce their advantages by moving into independent jurisdictions, leaving the poor and disadvantaged to fend for themselves, could be regarded as the work of a master satirist, since it is in fact merely the logical extension of pathologically divisive processes already well-established in the United States: the flight of the middle classes to the suburbs while the inner city decays from lack of resources, and the growth of “planned communities” for the wealthy aged and other specially selected groups who are able to shed much of the usual social overhead. Unfortunately, there is no sign that Nozick, jokiness personified in other respects, sees this particular joke, but, thanks to the direction given to public policy by Nixon and Ford and their Supreme Court, the American people have an increasing opportunity to enjoy the joke personally.

Not the Rules

[ 0 ] March 11, 2009 |

Aye. Not the rules, but rather the policies that the rules enabled. Important distinction.

"The mother of the last KC-135 pilot has not yet been born."

[ 0 ] March 10, 2009 |

I couldn’t care less about the next generation bomber, and keeping the F-22 line open was probably to be expected. I’d do some additional F-35 trimming, as well. However, while I can understand why no one wants to step back into the aerial tanker mess, the KC-135 is really, really old. Old enough that it’s maintenance costs are growing, and old enough that one or more of them is going to fall from the sky before long. And as Christian notes, saying that we’ll delay the program for five years really means that we’ll be delaying it for at least ten. Trimble has a slightly different view.