The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Thursday, June 30, 2005


A non sequitur from the Telegraph:

Although the OAS is often described as a fascist group, sympathisers were drawn from many walks of French life...

What must the word "fascist" mean in order for this maundering to mean anything at all?

Colonialism 3.0

The United States and India have decided on increased military cooperation. Winds of Change discusses the "New Framework", and mentions its impact on China:

By now, I'm sure you're all asking where China fits in. Actually, India took great pains to avoid any semblance of targeting China with this agreement, and the USA is denying up and down that this has anything to do with China.

As Winds' summary of China's Geopolitical driver and issues notes, however, the competition is implicit. Both China dn India need resources to fuel their growing and industrializing economies. Both have sizable expatriate communities in Africa, which has a lot of mineral resources and is unstable enough to be open to influence. Both also need to ship oil from the Middle East, and both will be shipping it through the Indian Ocean and watching the Straits of Malacca as an economic lifeline. Hence India's giant new naval base INS Kadamba, near Pakistan's deep-water port of Gwadar (built with Chinese help). Neither party has any interest in provoking anything, but both know that having a stronger position will matter down the road, and will affect everybody's calculations.

It doesn't get much stronger than being a geopolitical strategic partner of the United States. China doesn't have to be challenged directly or even mentioned to have its options hemmed, and that's what just happened.

In an earlier post, I described one plausible scenario for Chinese aggression:

China could strengthen itself relative to its Southeast Asian neighbors (and thus profit economically at their expense) by impeding their access to raw materials. If this were done gradually enough, or if the United States became too dependent on Chinese loans and Chinese goods, the world's response might be mere protest.

One way to think about this is by analogy with 19th-century colonialism. The industrialized countries of Europe, seeking to open markets for their goods and obtain raw materials on favorable terms, competed for access to the populations and lands of the pre-industrial world.

In the 21st century, the fungibility of assets means that there is only one meaningful raw material: oil. More precisely, the "raw material" is the currency in which oil is denominated; but all G7 currencies are equivalent for our purpose. The industrialized countries of Asia, seeking to open markets and obtain currency on favorable terms, compete for access to the populations of the post-industrial world.

This analogy is imperfect but useful. While the G7 countries, whose prosperity largely depends on a stable flow of goods, will work to prevent overtly destructive competition (such as interdiction of a rival's shipping lanes), their powers of enforcement will wane. Also, the flow of goods from a single large supplier (such as China) will be economically indispensible, vitiating their will to enforce the current order.

The only reliable guarantee against such destabilization is a stable balance of power among the new industrial nations, which will deter this negative-sum behavior. Thus it is imperative that the U.S. act systematically to strengthen India in the long term.

As resource limits begin to more harshly constrain the growing Asian economies, the competition among them will necessarily intensify. Unless the post-industrial nations show a commitment to preserving the international order, and unless that commitment backed by a determination sufficient to stand against the raw need of the emerging Asian superpowers, then those superpowers will effectively rule the region.

Those too small to participate in the balance of power will be forced into alliances on the stronger party's terms. The most likely outcome is the emergence of two "co-prosperity spheres" backed by Chinese and Indian influence, respectively. Japan -- with both new powers standing between it and the Middle East's oil -- will need good relations with at least one, at essentially any cost.

[Hat tip: Instapundit.]

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Clinton in 1996 (Commentary)

The preceding post contains the text of President Clinton's December 1996 fireside chat on welfare reform. I have highlighted two of its most impressive features.

First, it is a collection of Republican talking points, talking about the "cycle of dependency", "trapped lives", and "the chance to work".

Even more amazingly, it is shot through with exhortations to communities, companies, and churches [sic] to rise to their "moral obligation" to give opportunities to those thus freed.

Imagine a conservative Republican attempting to give this speech. Imagine the cynicism which would greet this sentence:
We had a choice: we could have gone on as we had with a system that was failing, or start anew; to create a system that could give everyone who's able-bodied a chance to work and a chance to be independent.
As if welfare reform were motivated by the best interests of the recipients!

Imagine the derision at this:
But we have a moral obligation to do that through welfare reform, working together in our communities, our businesses, our churches and our schools. Every organization which employs people should consider hiring someone off welfare, and every state ought to give those organizations the incentives to do so, so that we can help families reclaim the right to know they can take care of themselves and their own obligations.
Having sloughed off its own duty to help the poor, he then attempts to place that duty on private individuals and companies. As if they wouldn't eagerly follow the government's heartless example!

Clinton, though, could say those things. By hating him so irrationally and vocally, the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy obliged the left to defend him, insulating him from any attack from that side and leaving him free to triangulate. Like a master sailor in a steady headwind, Clinton let his enemies propel him.

Clinton in 1996

After signing the 1996 welfare reform bill and cruising to re-election over Bob Dole, President Clinton addressed the nation by radio (from the Roosevelt Room, no less). Because of its length and relative coherence, I present it in full here, with commentary in a separate post. However, I have added emphasis to some points I wish to discuss.

Good morning. This week I had the honor of lighting both the national Christmas tree and the national menorah. Both are symbols of a time of year filled with joy, hope and expectation. A time, too, when we reflect on what we've done and what is left to do. A time to honor our obligations to family and community.

Last summer we made a new beginning on one of our nation's most vexing problems: the welfare system. When I signed the historic welfare reform law we set out to honor a moral obligation for our nation, to help many people in our national community to help themselves. This law dramatically changes the nation's welfare system so that no longer will it fail our people, trap so many families in a cycle of dependency, but instead will now help people to move from welfare to work. It will do so by requiring work of every able-bodied person, by protecting children, by promoting parental responsibility through tougher child support enforcement.

We've worked a long time to reform welfare. Change was demanded by all the American people, especially those on welfare who bore the brunt of the system's failure. For decades now, welfare has too often been a trap, consigning generation after generation to a cycle of dependency. The children of welfare are more likely to drop out of school, to run afoul of the law, to become teen parents, to raise their own children on welfare. That's a sad legacy we have the power to prevent. And now, we can.

I came to office determined to end welfare as we know it, to replace welfare checks with paychecks. Even before I signed the welfare reform bill we were working with states to test reform strategies, giving 43 states waivers from federal rules to experiment with reforms that required work, imposed time limits, and demanded personal responsibility. And we were toughening child support enforcement, increasing collections by 50 percent over the last four years. That's about $4 billion.

We were determined to move millions from welfare to work, and our strategy has worked. I am pleased to announce today that there are now 2.1 million fewer people on welfare than on the day I took the oath of office. That is the biggest drop in the welfare rolls in history.

Some of these reductions have been even more striking. The welfare rolls have dropped 41 percent in Wisconsin, 38 percent in Indiana -- two states where we granted landmark waivers to launch welfare reform experiments.

Throughout the country we're working to make responsibility a way of life, not an option. That means millions of people are on their way to building lives with the structure, purpose, meaning and dignity that work gives. And that is something to celebrate.

But this is just the beginning of welfare reform. We had a choice: we could have gone on as we had with a system that was failing, or start anew; to create a system that could give everyone who's able-bodied a chance to work and a chance to be independent. We chose the right way, first, working over the last four years with the states to reform their own systems; then passing a new welfare reform law requiring even more change in every state and every community.

But there is still much to do and it now falls to all of us to make sure this reform works. The next step is for the states to implement the new law by tailoring a reform plan that works for their communities. As required by the law, we have already certified new welfare reform plans for 14 states.

Today I'm pleased to announce we're certifying welfare for four more states -- California, Nebraska, South Dakota and Alabama. All their plans will require and reward work, impose time limits, increase child care payments, and demand personal responsibility. And across the board, as we give welfare funds back to the states, we will protect the guarantees of health care, nutrition and child care -- all of which are critical to helping families move from welfare to work.

And we'll continue to crack down on child support enforcement. Welfare as we knew it was a bad deal for everyone. We're determined to create a better deal. We want to say to every American, work pays. We raised the minimum wage; we expanded the earned income tax credit to allow the working poor to keep more of what they earn. Now we have to create a million jobs for people on welfare by giving businesses incentives to hire people off welfare and enlisting the private sector in a national effort to bring all Americans into the economic mainstream. We have to have help from the private sector. Together we can make the permanent underclass a thing of the past. But we have a moral obligation to do that through welfare reform, working together in our communities, our businesses, our churches and our schools. Every organization which employs people should consider hiring someone off welfare, and every state ought to give those organizations the incentives to do so, so that we can help families reclaim the right to know they can take care of themselves and their own obligations.

Our future does not have to be one with so many people living trapped lives. The door has now been opened to a new era of freedom and independence. And now it's up to us -- all of us -- to help all the people who need it through that door, one family at a time.

Thanks for listening.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005


Many closet opponents of the Iraq war have been criticized (sometimes excessively) for excessive criticisms which will be used as enemy propaganda. Does it follow that aggressively optimistic statements (like Dick Cheney's now-infamous "last throes" comment [via BD]) may be our own propaganda, and should be praised as such?


Greg Djerejian gives John Kerry a well-deserved thrashing for his otiose and wilfully obtuse editorial in the New Yokels' Times:
Again, a "detailed plan with clear milestones and deadlines for the transfer of military and police responsibilities" would be a roadmap to the insurgents. And all this so that Senatorial blowhards like Kerry can windbag on a few months hence when the "plan...shared with Congress" misses a "deadline" because the going was a bit rougher than expected.
... This is typical Kerry isn't it? Pretend you have a new idea when, in actuality, what you are proposing is actually already taking place. But dramatize the issue and, without thinking through all the consequences, make more 'robust' the policy recommendation so it sounds like you are offering up something new.
[In the comments, one p.lukasiak, apparently maddened with rage, airs the chickenhawk sophistry, thus proving that everyone now knows the Starship Troopers rebuttal.]

Kevin Drum uses the Vietnam analogy to argue that a Democratic-led withdrawal would be bad politics:
Once again, America will appear to have been humiliated by a ragtag army. And despite the fact that polls seemed to demonstrate support for withdrawal, the aftermath will sit poorly with the American public. What's more, they'll know who to blame: Democrats.
What this shows, I suppose, is that Bush's opponents count on his steadfastness. I think Mr. Drum's claim is very probably true, and that Mr. Kerry's advisors know it. But they trust George Bush not to drop the ball, and this confidence emboldens them to more vociferous attacks than they would otherwise make -- more, in fact, than they probably mean.


Kevin Drum has been busy and perceptive. Tucked in beside some gloating on Bush's apparent unpopularity, we get marketing perspective on Grokster:
Bottom line: as near as I can tell, all that the Grokster/StreamCast/BitTorrent nitwits need to do is quit yammering excitedly about how great their products are as a way of ripping off The Man. If they just enforce rigid message discipline emphasizing only the legal benefits of their goods, everything will be OK.
Nonpartisan analysis of war powers in practice:
One of the great travesties of the Iraq war is that Congress passed a "use of force" resolution in October 2002 and then passed the buck to the president to decide if and when its conditions for war had been met. Five months later we invaded Iraq without Congress doing anything further aside from approving some budgetary items. This allowed many members of Congress — mostly Democrats — to argue disingenuously that, sure, they approved the October resolution, but they didn't approve of the war as George Bush prosecuted it.
And an honest look at the Plame squib:
You either support the right of reporters to shield their sources or you don't, and your opinion shouldn't vary based on whether (a) you dislike the reporters in question or (b) you'd like the information they're hiding to become public because you think it would be embarrassing to George Bush.

I can't think of any valid reason not to read it all.

[Update 29 June: fixed Plame/Cooper/Miller link as noted by Tom Maguire.]
[Update 29 June: Welcome, fellow Tom Maguire fans! You might be interested in imperial China or the war of all against all.]

Monday, June 27, 2005


Lee Harris, usually eminently sensible, is apparently amplifying John Cornyn's infamous mutterings about anti-judicial violence. Glenn Reynolds, who slammed Mr. Cornyn, somehow fails to muster any outrage at Mr. Harris's far stronger statements.

Image Bomb

Try to find time to link here.

The Taste of Fears

In March, I wrote:

In the United States today, we have reached an unclean compromise. Setting aside the (rare) death penalty, the most cruel punishment is confinement in cells which are mandated to fairly high nominal standards of cleanliness and roominess -- so the State has the appearance of highly civilized mercy. Then, in practice, standards slip and the State turns a blind eye to prisoner abuse at the hands of other prisoners, so as a practical matter imprisonment is a mixture of bland inconvenience and brutal abuse.
Those who wish for harsher punishments ignore this problem because it has an effect they find desirable; those who wish for greater leniency might wish to change the situation, but their proposals tend to a nominal level of leniency which is completely unacceptable to society. We could reduce jailhouse brutality and prisoner rape, increase the deterrent effect of prison terms, reduce their value as a training ground for criminals, and simultaneously save money -- simply by isolating prisoners more in smaller cells, instead of giving them just enough "rights" to let them create jungle societies.

Our national hypocrisy about criminal prisoners is also coloring the debate over prisoner treatment at Guantanamo. Roger L. Simon writes:
Meanwhile, in the real world, we all know the obvious truth about prison in every country - it stinks! Jail is lousy for everyone from Tashkent to Talahassee - even Martha Stewart. And I'd take my chances in a US Military prison over virtually all of them and so would (I'd bet again - in this case my house) almost all their critics, from the editors of the New York Times to the head honchos of Amnesty International.
[Emphasis mine.] The idea that the worst feature of prison is risk is an outgrowth of the unclean compromise I spoke of. For comparison, naturally we turn first to Turkey, as reported by the Turkish Human Rights Association:
The dirt, airlesness, extreme heat and cold, diseases and noice are making the conditions more unhealthy. The general toilets, which are used collectively and are lacking in number, are unuseable because of lack of water and cleaning materials. mouses and insects are existing in the prisons because of disinfection and uncleaning, and are making the conditions more unhealthy. Drinking water and use water is insufficient in many places. There are very few prisons where water is available during all the day. In some prisons water is available two times for ten minutes in a day.
... The food given in prisons is insufficient both in amount and in quality... It is stated that sometimes insects are seen in the food. The reasons for the food being bad are that the daily cachet cost being too low, the lack of control and that this procedure being preferred consciously.
The risk of violence is present [the cited report mentions an increase in sexual abuse due to overcrowding] -- but it is far from the dominant hardship. We have chosen to ameliorate such hardships as those described, while allowing risk to flourish.

Thus we reach a situation where only 20% of Americans think the Guantanamo prisoners are being "treated unfairly", because they know those prisoners are under the watchful thumb of the U. S. Marine Corps. They suffer mild hardships in their incarceration, and more severe (sometimes excessive) hardships under interrogation, but they are not at risk in the way common criminals would be. A public hardened by the knowledge of what we have chosen for our prisons is not shocked by any of the reports from Guantanamo.

And every American adult is so hardened. The gentility are isolated from everyday roughness and violence, but they never doubt its reality. Argue that Guantanamo shows bad policies, carelessly applied, to the detriment of the American cause, and you can make a case for change. But the pretension that some new species of horror has been unearthed is just a pretension, an attempt to synthesize outrage beyond that merited. It shows contempt for the audience, forgetting that:
I have supped full with horrors;
Direness, familiar to my slaught'rous thoughts,
Cannot once start me.

The Wrong History

The Communist government of Berlin is erasing its mistakes.

[My title is from Robert Harris's Fatherland.]

Friday, June 24, 2005

The Big Casino

In venture capital, the "overhang" is the amount of money put into VC funds by investors which has not yet found a use in the economy. This overhang appears to have exceeded $50 billion in the U.S. alone. In other words, enough people believed that VC would make them rich that they put in more money than the world's startups could productively absorb -- by almost $200 per American.

Hedge funds, working with fungible assets, do not show a literal overhang. However, there is reason to believe that they are overinvested by a similar amount. [A too-large hedge fund cannot implement its profitable strategies without moving the market in the process; thus a portion of its money sits in low-risk passive assets, for which investors continue to pay a substantial management fee.] The investor psychology at work is the same as that in VC.

This appears to demonstrate negative risk aversion -- the VC firms are collectively saying that there are no opportunities worth pursuing, yet they have money thrust upon 'em by the investing public. Individual VC funds then have a choice: they can pocket a management fee (generally 1 to 1.5%) and sit on the cash "waiting for the right opportunity"; or they can gamble on a marginal (i.e., unattractive) startup.

Megan McArdle has noted that saving is a thing of the past, even with large tax incentives; this further shows that a substantial portion of what economists would classify as saving is really closer to gambling [in its motivations, not its economic effects].

Thursday, June 23, 2005


It is debatable whether the Democratic party, as a whole, insists on support for Roe v. Wade at a litmus test for prospective Supreme Court justices. Certainly an outspoken opponent of that decision would face a difficult confirmation fight.

I want a different litmus test. I want at least one Senator, preferably a Republican, to announce that he will not support any candidate who will not declare an intention to reverse Kelo. Who will do such a thing?

[The indispensable Dale Franks goes beyond the obvious assault on property rights to point out that this abomination will also increase government corruption.]


Greg Djerejian has launched a passionate rebuttal to James Lileks's torture-belittling screed. I am less passionate than Greg, but his call for idealism and honesty is correct in its essentials.

The chief difficulty in this debate is that most reports subscribe to a very broad definition of "torture". This is a deliberate strategy of administration critics, who want to state their case as strongly as possible. Thus exposure to loud music becomes "torture", which grabs headlines at the expense of cheapening the word every time it is used.

In response, apologists can pretend that all the torture is of this ilk. Then can even mix innocent-seeming methods in with the mere annoyances, thus cheapening them by association. An example is the practice of chaining prisoners to the floor. This doesn't sound awful -- we can imagine being chained to a floor without immediately cringing -- but being chained to a floor for days on end is a qualitatively different experience. You cannot straighten or stretch your limbs, and they inevitably cramp, one by one, and you can do nothing about it; and they remain cramped until the muscles are too exhausted to contract. Just as Tom Friedman ignores the reality of UN abuses, because he does not think behind the anodyne phrases used in the press to imagine the reality of a thirteen-year-old black girl sitting on a dirt floor crying between blow jobs, so Mr. Lileks has steered his own imagination away from reality.

As Mr. Djerejian notes, a blank check for torture, or even an indulgent wink at what has already occurred, should be outside the bounds of reasonable conservatism. But we must remain in an impure reality, with enemies whose goal is stealthy preparation for mass murder. We do not have the option of eschewing torture in its current, too-inclusive definition. What is needed is a statement of policy for treatment of illegal combatants, detailing the coercions to which they may and may not be subjected. It will be an ugly document, but it will improve what is now an ugly reality. By explicitly providing less protection than the Geneva Convention grants to uniformed combatants, we will preserve the Convention's incentives which help to protect civilians. By repudiating many forms of torture, we will better control what is done in our names. And a somewhat permissive document, which does not guarantee these killers an immunity from interrogation, could also be adopted as policy by allies whose human rights record falls far below our own, thus helping make a more humane world.

[Update 27 June: Mr. Djerejian is compiling, to unclear ends, a "conscience caucus" of those serious about torture-related issues.]

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Seen at Dulles

Imperial Rollers. Some background (and an apparently weaponized version) here.

Unskilled Doublespeak

This natural spring water is provided as a service to our guests.

That's the label Marriott Hotels puts on the 1-liter bottle of Poland Spring, for which it charges $4.50, in rooms without a minibar.

Vivreau water is produced as part of our commitment to reducing our impact on the environment.

It is not clear where the business plan falls in this chain of cause and effect. Would the impact not be further reduced by simply not bottling the water?

[Update 28 June: corrected Vivreau quote, which was worse than I remembered.]

Friday, June 17, 2005

Hitler in 1941

On December 11, 1941, Adolf Hitler spoke to the Reichstag on the just-signed declaration of war against the U.S. The speech is almost fantastically long (over 9500 words in the English translation; probably somewhat over an hour of rapid speech), and I am discussing only a small part of it here.

What caught my eye was Mr. Hitler's attack on Franklin Roosevelt. He begins:
And yet there is something in common between us. Roosevelt took over a State in a very poor economic condition, and I took over a Reich faced with complete ruin, also thanks to Democracy. In the U.S.A. there were 13,000,000 unemployed, and in Germany 7,000,000 part-time workers. The finances of both States were in a bad way, and ordinary economic life could scarcely be maintained. A development then started in the U.S.A. and in the German Reich which will make it easy for posterity to pass a verdict on the correctness of the theories.

Note that Germany was "faced with complete ruin", but at least it did not have "unemployed". Of course, we know whose recovery effort will be more praised:
While an unprecedented revival of economic life, culture and art took place in Germany under National Socialist leadership within the space of a few years, President Roosevelt did not succeed in bringing about even the slightest improvements in his own country. And yet this work must have been much easier in the U.S.A. where there live scarcely 15 persons on a square kilometer, as against 140 in Germany. If such a country does not succeed in assuring economic prosperity, this must be a result either of the bad faith of its leaders in power, or of a total inefficiency on the part of the leading men. In scarcely five years, economic problems had been solved in Germany and unemployment had been overcome. During the same period, President Roosevelt had increased the State Debt of his country to an enormous extent, had decreased the value of the dollar, had brought about a further disintegration of economic life, without diminishing the unemployment figures. All this is not surprising if one bears in mind that the men he had called to support him, or rather, the men who had called him, belonged to the Jewish element, whose interests are all for disintegration and never for order. While speculation was being fought in National Socialist Germany, it thrived astoundingly under the Roosevelt regime.

[Emphasis mine.] Notice the emphasis on population density, and the assumption that land is wealth, which fits with the lebensraum policy. I am curious as to whether the section in boldface was a rhetorical trick for emphasis, or a simple slip of the tongue -- accidental singlethink, so to speak. The criticism of Jews and of "speculation", to the extent that it has any meaning, is probably best interpreted as an accusation that the New Deal was too corrupt and too capitalistic.
Roosevelt's New Deal legislation was all wrong: it was actually the biggest failure ever experienced by one man. There can be no doubt that a continuation of this economic policy would have done [in] this President in peace time, in spite of all his dialectical skill. In a European State he would surely have come eventually before a State Court on a charge of deliberate waste of the national wealth; and he would have scarcely escaped at the hands of a Civil Court, on a charge of criminal business methods.
The characterization of the U.S. as a semi-criminal hinterland, explicit here, still informs the perceptions of many Europeans; even their ambassadors.
This fact was realized and fully appreciated also by many Americans including some of high standing. A threatening opposition was gathering over the head of this man. He guessed that the only salvation for him lay in diverting public attention from home to foreign policy. It is interesting to study in this connection the reports of the Polish Envoy in Washington, Potocki. He repeatedly points out that Roosevelt was fully aware of the danger threatening the card castle of his economic system with collapse, and that he was therefore urgently in need of a diversion in foreign policy. He was strengthened in this resolve by the Jews around him. Their Old Testament thirst for revenge thought to see in the U.S.A. an instrument for preparing a second "Purim" for the European nations which were becoming increasingly anti-Semitic. The full diabolical meanness of Jewry rallied round this man, and he stretched out his hands.
We often employ this kind of rhetoric ourselves, directed at today's Arab dictatorships. (Well, minus the bit about the Jews.) It is almost surreal to see the direction so strikingly reversed.
Thus began the increasing efforts of the American President to create conflicts, to do everything to prevent conflicts from being peacefully solved. For years this man harboured one desire -- that a conflict should break out somewhere in the world. The most convenient place would be in Europe, where American economy could be committed to the cause of one of the belligerents in such a way that a political interconnection of interests would arise calculated slowly to bring America nearer such a conflict. This would thereby divert public interest from bankrupt economic policy at home towards foreign problems.
Not just any war would do; it was necessary that England be "one of the belligerents." You would think the English would be rather upset with Mr. Roosevelt, who by this reasoning wasted their empire and their soldiery for domestic political gain. If only they had known who their real enemy was, they wouldn't have been so hard on Germany.

I have never been more glad that history is written by the winners.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Gulag Review

R. J. Rummel has a highly quantitative review of the history of the Gulag system, for those who feel insufficiently familiar with it.

Close Reading

[Contains spoilers for Jealousy, by Alain Robbe-Grillet. I have used the slightly stiff translation by Richard Howard.]

The mere fact that spoilers exist for a novel like Jealousy is itself a spoiler. Something does, in fact, happen in this novel notorious for its static, circular repetitions. [The "counting the banana trees" scene is particularly infamous: Amazon shows it (and its inevitable repetition) here.] Mr. Robbe-Grillet skillfully creates a feeling of foreboding, and of impending events and resolutions, without offering much of either directly.

Jealousy is notable for its narrator, who never speaks and is never seen or named; the book is a collection of his perceptions and recollections. He drifts silently about his house, sometimes looking out on his wife, A... [sic], and Franck, of whom he is jealous. As we come to understand Robbe-Grillet's method, the dawning understanding of events is chilling:

... But the slats of the blind are too sharply slanted to permit what is outside to be seen from the doorway.

It is only at a distance of less than a yard that the elements of a discontinuous landscape appear in the successive intervals, parallel chinks separated by the wider slats of gray wood: the turned wood balusters, the empty chair, the low table where a full glass is standing beside the tray holding the two bottles, and then the top part of the head of black hair, which at this moment turns toward the right...

The knot of A...'s hair, seen at such close range from behind, seems to be extremely complicated.

Anne Minor, whose essay A Note on Jealousy is included in the edition linked above [pp. 27-31], expresses the effect well:

Thus without knowing how, and despite the irritation provoked by a deliberately systematic, supposedly objective description in which distances, depth, shadows are defined in the terms of a geometrician, an architect, an engineer, or an agronomist, we share in fear, in the obsessive need to know. As in Van Gogh's last paintings, the images turn, circling in the reader's head as in the narrator's. The centipede, the extended hands, the motor breakdown, Christiane's absence, A's swaying gait in the courtyard, the morning of the return... the centipede... the hands...

We close the book, we know that after this anything can happen, that the narrator can kill Franck, or perhaps it is Franck who will kill him, or else nothing will happen -- the protagonists will remain the same, they will keep on sitting in their armchairs, arms and hands outstretched; the houseboy will serve the iced drinks; the banana groves will extend in front of the veranda with its trees planted in quincunxes...

In Ms. Minor's reading, the novel's building tension and the author's virtuosity make it an achievement, despite the absence of decisive events. She finishes:
... the author brings off his impossible demonstration: we have lived his anguish with him; we do not know, when we close this book, if the crime has been committed, or if each person is to return to his place, to act as if nothing had happened, while the narrator endlessly pursues his futile investigation.
[Note how Mr. Robbe-Grillet's style, virus-like, has infected Ms. Minor's writing, which even in the brief span of a five-page appreciative essay changes strikingly, its too-definite periods nearly obliterated under a vigorous new growth of commas and semicolons.]

At last we come to the punch line of this fine joke. On pp. 113-114 of the linked edition [about 3/4 of the way through the novel], we read:

Franck, without saying a word, stands up, wads his napkin into a ball as he cautiously approaches, and squashes the creature against the wall. Then, with his foot, he squashes it against the bedroom floor.

Then he comes back toward the bed and in passing hangs the towel on its metal rack near the washbowl.

The hand with the tapering fingers has clenched into a fist on the white sheet. The five widespread fingers have closed over the palm with such force that they have drawn the cloth with them: the latter shows five convergent creases.... But the mosquito-netting falls back all around the bed, interposing the opaque veil of its innumerable meshes where rectangular patches reinforce the torn places.

In his haste to reach his goal, Franck increases his speed. The jolts become more violent. Nevertheless he continues to drive faster. In the darkness, he has not seen the hole running halfway across the road. The car makes a leap, skids.... On this bad road the driver cannot straighten out in time. The blue sedan goes crashing into a roadside tree whose rigid foliage scarcely shivers under the impact, despite its violence.

The car immediately bursts into flames. The whole brush is illuminated by the crackling, spreading fire. It is the sound the centipede makes, motionless again on the wall, in the center of the panel.

This is the novel's irreversible center, the one set of observations which is never repeated; and Ms. Minor never noticed it. Having read chapters one, two and nine ("Now the shadow of the column", "Now the shadow of the southwest column" and "Now the shadow of the column" respectively), she felt qualified to comment on the structure. Nice work, if you can get it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005


Several posts lately, notably from Kevin Drum, have purported to show that the American economy prospers more under Democratic Presidents. This conclusion is based on about 50 data points, so we should not expect much significance, but it has been eagerly reported.

It occurred to me that, since the US economy does not exist in a vacuum, we could take a different look at GDP growth numbers by comparing US growth to that in other countries.

For the purpose, I used this data: it reaches back only to 1960, so my results are still less significant than Mr. Drum's. I use growth in per-capita GDP, rather than absolute GDP, which should make very little difference in the variation.

Here is the subset of Mr. Drum's data, showing total GDP growth over 1948-2001 as a function of the party of the president a few years before:

GDP Growth

3 Yrs

4 Yrs

5 Yrs





And here are the numbers I obtained, using GDP per capita over 1960-2003:

GDP Growth

3 Yrs

4 Yrs

5 Yrs


The advantage is still generally to Democrats, though it is somewhat weaker than Mr. Drum's showing. Next, I subtracted per-capita GDP growth in France. Thus, in the following chart, positive numbers show a tendency for the US economy to outperform the French:

Growth Diff

3 Yrs

4 Yrs

5 Yrs


It could be argued that France differs from the US in important ways, such as its heavy use of nuclear power and its presently unfavorable demographics. I repeated the computation, using Sweden instead of France:

Growth Diff

3 Yrs

4 Yrs

5 Yrs


These were the only countries for which I made this computation; readers are invited to repeat or expand it.

Let me make it clear that this is more gamesmanship than serious statistical analysis, due to the comical paucity of the data set. I do not think these data provide meaningful support for the hypothesis that Republican presidents help the US economy outperform the rest of the world. However, if Democratic partisans want to use data like these to show that Democratic presidents are somehow better for the economy, they must explain how it is that a Democratic president in the US can help the French and Swedish economies (at least) even more than our own.

[Added to Beltway Traffic Jam. Also at Outside the Beltway, James Joyner looks at causes, while Steve Verdon has a somewhat complex argument about the impact of recessions.]

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Busy Beavers

My, it's been a big day at Q&O.


Mark Steyn, in his inimitably entertaining manner, takes on the idea of a "Chinese Century" in the Telegraph. He maintains that the rise of China will be cut short by "the internal contradictions of Commie-capitalism", foremost among which is corruption among its nomenklatura:

The standard line of Sinologists is that, while still perfunctorily genuflecting to his embalmed corpse in Tiananmen Square, his successors have moved on... But Maoists with stock options are still Maoists - especially when they owe their robust portfolios to a privileged position within the state apparatus.

The internal contradictions of Commie-capitalism will, in the end, scupper the present arrangements in Beijing. China manufactures the products for some of the biggest brands in the world, but it's also the biggest thief of copyrights and patents of those same brands. It makes almost all Disney's official merchandising, yet it's also the country that defrauds Disney and pirates its movies. The new China's contempt for the concept of intellectual property arises from the old China's contempt for the concept of all private property: because most big Chinese businesses are (in one form or another) government-controlled, they've failed to understand the link between property rights and economic development.

Fair enough, and a good reason to doubt that China can continue its economic trajectory. But for an unsustainable system to collapse, its internal contradictions must come to affect its stakeholders. The tremendous growth (from a very low baseline) of the Chinese economy has kept the country stable despite naked corruption at every level, despite the ominous spread of AIDS, despite the obvious callousness of the Party's leaders to the people's wishes.

As long as this economic growth can be sustained, by any means, China can remain stable and increase in power. Mr. Steyn shows some obstacles to the current model of economic growth, but there are other models. In particular, China could strengthen itself relative to its Southeast Asian neighbors (and thus profit economically at their expense) by impeding their access to raw materials. If this were done gradually enough, or if the United States became too dependent on Chinese loans and Chinese goods, the world's response might be mere protest.

The whole point of Empire is to have your cake and eat your neighbor's, too: to support with external revenues an otherwise unsustainable domestic economic policy. War with China is unwarranted, but watchfulness to ensure that they play by the same economic rules as their smaller neighbors is justified.

Monday, June 13, 2005


In the famous Chapter XIII of Leviathan ["Of the Natural Condition of Mankind as Concerning Their Felicity and Misery"], Thomas Hobbes writes:
Again, men have no pleasure (but on the contrary a great deal of grief) in keeping company where there is no power able to overawe them all.
Yet nations, in general, manifestly have more profit than loss from keeping company; throughout history isolationism has been a recipe for decline. Of course nations are not people; but this difference is sufficiently stark to merit exploration.

Two primary differences seem immediately obvious: irresolution and immortality. Nations are by nature less resolute than the individuals who populate them, since all actions are ultimately undertaken by individuals. This multiplicity of impulses makes it easier to entangle a nation with the small mutual ties that encourage peace, and harder to summon the will to enter the negative-sum game of war. [I will attempt a follow-up post giving more detail on this.]

The second characteristic, immortality, might be better called durability. The salient characteristic is not a tendency to longevity (which I will call "weak immortality", but a great capacity to resist destruction. If, in the state of nature, I covet my neighbor's possessions, I may cut his throat in the night and avail myself thereof. But if on behalf of my nation I covet, say, some small islands of England's, this option is not open. Nations can be relied upon to endure, in the majority of circumstances, and thus to seek redress or revenge against their attackers.

These two conditions produce, between them, a state where no moral restraint is needed to prevent war between nations. By decreasing both the necessity for and the advantage of preemptive war, they make possible the condition colloquially known as "peace".

A great advance in the technological power of mankind has the power to change both of these conditions. Short of outright mind control or brainwashing, more invasive governments can increase their power over their citizens so as to effectively increase the resolution of their nation. The internet is seen as a tool for freedom, and thus for irresolution; but this only remains true as long as the innovations of freedom outpace those of control. And research into mind- and emotion-altering drugs, which may point to more direct forms of control, continues to progress.

Still more importantly, the immortality of nations can now be called into question. Wretchard's Conjectures at Belmont Club have discussed the possibility of the Islamic world's destruction by non-state actors. There can be no serious doubt that America has the technological capability to tailor deadly gene-linked diseases; and we may not be alone in this. Even beneficial changes, like the spread of information, bring the threat of permanent dissolution for nations that cannot win their citizens' affection or keep them imprisoned in ignorance.

It might seem that increased human longevity would counteract these destabilizing forces. But human longevity, even in Drexler's extreme vision, offers only weak immortality; there is little hope in the near turn that individuals will gain in durability. A long but fragile life may be defended even more fiercely than a shorter one.

The bounds on the conduct of nations are dissolving. The idea of a self-enforcing international law to which all will subscribe as a matter of course is a quaint fiction. One solution is American hegemony; the potential advocates of alternative feasible solutions are busy ignoring the problem.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Old, and Cold, and Weary

John le Carre's Smiley trilogy are fine spy novels, still considered the best in their field. But they were also products of the 1970's, when they were written, and they partook in the frustration and defeatism of the age.
This is not so visible in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy [published in 1974; the best of the three, despite its appalling title]. But it shows early and often in The Honourable Schoolboy [1977], set in the decimated Circus "after the fall" and in the corrupt chaos of Southeast Asia. Jerry Westerby, the Schoolboy, visits Thailand shortly before the fall of Saigon, and le Carre's portrayal of the corruption, chaos and cynicism is masterful. For example:

"The usual snafu," he went on. "Bad guys are too weak to take the towns, good guys are too crapped out to take the countryside, and nobody wants to fight except the Coms. Students ready to set fire to the place soon as they're no longer exempt from the war, food riots any day now, corruption like there was no tomorrow, no one can live on his salary, fortunes being made, and the place bleeding to death. Palace is unreal and the Embassy is a nut-house, more spooks than straight guys and all pretending they've got a secret. Want more?"

"How long do you give it?"

"A week. Ten years."

"How about the airlines?"

"Airlines is all we have. Mekong's good as dead, so's the roads. Airlines have the whole ballpark. We did a story on that. You see it? They ripped it to pieces. Jesus," he said to the girl. "Why do I have to give a rerun for the poms?"

"More," said Jerry, writing.

"Six months ago this town had five registered airlines. Last three months we got thirty-four new licensed issued and there's like another dozen in the pipeline. Going rate is three million riels to the Minister personally and two million spread around his people. Less if you pay gold, less still if you pay abroad. We're working route thirteen," he said to the girl. "Thought you'd like to take a look."

"Great," said the girl and pressed her knees together, entrapping Keller's good hand.

By the writing of Smiley's People [1979], le Carre was reporting the same debasement in Europe. In one sickeningly memorable scene, Smiley emerges from investigating the torture and murder of a German associate to find that the natives, who ignored the screams of the day before, have vandalized his car:

Smiley had the key in the ignition, but by the time he turned it, one of the boys had draped himself over the bonnet as languidly as a model at a motor show and the other was tapping politely at the window. Smiley lowered the window. "What do you want?" he asked.

The boy held out his palm. "Repairs," he explained. Your boot didn't shut properly. Time and materials. Overheads. Parking." He indicated his thumb-nail. "My colleague here hurt his hand. It could have been serious."

Smiley looked at the boy's face and saw no human instinct that he understood."You have repaired nothing. You have done damage. Ask your friend to get off the car."

The boys conferred, seeming to disagree. They did this under the full gaze of the crowd, in a reasoned manner, slowly pushing each other's shoulders and making rhetorical gestures that did not coincide with their words. They talked about nature and about politics, and their Platonic dialogue might have gone on indefinitely if the boy who was on the car had not stood up in order to make the best of a debating point. As he did so, he broke off a windscreen wiper as if it were a flower and handed it to the old man.

Le Carre sees the same rot in England, too, and reports it bitterly as well. To represent the defenders of the old way, he gives us Smiley's father-in-law:
At least I haven't got to talk about Communists to mad Harry, Smiley thought while he waited. At least I haven't got to hear how all the Chinese waiters in Penzance are standing by for the order from Peking to poison their customers. Or how the bloody strikers should be put up against a wall and shot -- where's their sense of service, for Christ's sake?
This defeatism; this feeling, stronger than mere knowledge, that there are no good guys anywhere; is the lasting legacy of that decade. At Smiley's parting from Ann, le Carre brings back the same Rupert Brooke line which he used as the epigraph for The Looking Glass War:
To turn as swimmers into cleanness leaping
Glad from a world grown old and cold and weary.
Yes, he thought glumly. That's me.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Opposite of Surprise

The fact that John Kerry is less than a genius has left the realm of partisan talking points and is now official news. Alex Whitlock has a good post on why this reasonably obvious truth emerged so slowly:
Or, perhaps, Democrats like to believe that those they nominate are or should be more intelligent while it's not a priority for Republicans or even is perhaps a negative. I suspect that the dumb Republican versus nerdy Democrat framing persists because neither side has a particular interest in busting it.
[Aside: Mr. Whitlock's line of reasoning, if true, shows an advantage for Republicans in the medium term. Voters are already familiar with the "He's a powerful rich boy, just pretending to be everyman," and it will hurt Democrats when they start to hear "Here's another one, dumber 'n a bag of hammers and saying how smart he is" directed at their candidates.]

Anyone who affects to be surprised by these revelations has simply not been paying attention. Even without information from Ann Althouse and Steve Sailer, the campaign itself told the truth. Bush's supporters quoted the President's speeches, at least on democracy and terrorism, enthusiastically. On the other hand, in October 2004, Kevin Drum mentioned Kerry 545 times. Excluding debate analysis, he quoted Kerry twice:
"We need an international effort to compete with radical madrassas," Kerry said in his Los Angeles speech.
First, here's what Kerry said: "General Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, told him [i.e., George Bush] he was going to need several hundred thousand [troops in Iraq]. And guess what? They retired General Shinseki for telling him that."
Neither of these is meant to inspire, or chosen for its brilliance. Kerry is known only by his words, and his words provided nothing his supporters desired. Thus the idea that Kerry was intelligent could be seen at the time to have no basis. This strongly supports Mr. Whitlock's theory, that the myth persisted because no one wanted to see it dispelled.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Vikings (II)

Yesterday I posted a brief history lesson on the Viking era. Some parallels with the present struggle against radical Islam are obvious, so we can expect parallels in the solutions as well.

The crucial point is the impact of the Scandinavian conversion. From this remove, it cannot be said whether Christian moral teaching significantly pacified the Vikings; more credit seems generally to be given to the cultural entanglements created by the conversion.

This is good, since the conversion of large swaths of the Islamic world is not a realistic possibility [and thinking on just how unrealistic it is illustrates how far we are from having an "American Taliban"]. Christianity has put aside the sword, and the governments of the West have put aside the cross. Our aim is to enmesh our enemies in cross-cultural exchanges; a thousand years ago, conversion was a means to this end, but there are others.

Viewed thus, the effect of oil wealth in creating these sociopaths in the community of nations becomes clearer. Raw materials are the only form of commerce involving no cultural ties; oil especially so. The parallel between OPEC price-fixing and danegeld is compelling.

These ties, to be effective, must be felt by the people of a country; thus they can never be formed through commerce with a totalitarian (or communist) nation. We can create peace in this manner only with capitalist democracies.

It is ironic that many supporters of the European project, who maintain that close commercial and cultural ties are a safeguard against European war, have been among the critics of the Bush administration's attempt to forge the same sort of ties in the Islamic world.

Orwell in 1946

Via the Daily Ablution, where Mr. Burgess appears refreshed and sharper than ever, we find Orwell's essay "Politics and the English Language."

I defy any American to read it without thinking of John Kerry.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Vikings (I)

In English history, the Viking era dates from 793, when the monastery at Lindisfarne was looted, to 1066, when the kings of England, Norway and Normandy battled for the English throne. Here is a brief introduction, emphasizing the economic aspect:

... the fight for control of England continued for centuries. The English were able to regain all lands lost to the Vikings by 954. During this time, the Scandinavian warriors terrorized England and demanded danegeld, payment to ensure peace.

[...] Suffering devastating Viking raids, Charles the Simple, a Frankish king, in desperation offered the Vikings a land grant north of his kingdom. This area became known as Normandy.

And this "Normandy" became an all-weather base for Viking attacks on the rest of the Frankish empire [the seas between France and Scandinavia had not permitted winter raiding].

Cambridge University Press has posted the introduction to Viking Empires by Forte, Oram and Pedersen. We turn there for an explanation of the start of this era:
The seventh and eighth centuries witnessed a simultaneous professionalisation of the military and a decreased military activity... The relative peacefulness safeguarded by the successful fortification of southern Scandinavia, combined with the improvements in the design of ships, allowed the Scandinavians to re-focus their attention overseas and become what we now call ‘Vikings’.
Scandinavia itself had reached a near equilibrium; its own towns were adequately protected by fortification and the credible threat of retaliation. The Vikings are precisely those Scandinavians who sought softer targets elsewhere.

The Vikings' paganism glorified violence and war
In Valhalla, the great hall of Odin in the afterworld, fallen warriors were rewarded with all the meat and drink they wanted, and they could do eternal battle but never die.
in what we might today call a death cult:
And they asked his slave girls: "Who wants to die with him?" One girl said yes, and I looked at her, and she looked completely confused. An old woman that was called the Angel of Death now forced the slave girl into the tent where her master lay. The men outside started beating their sticks on their shields so that the sound of her screaming would not be heard, lest the other girls be too frightened to seek death with their masters.

The conversion of Scandinavia to Christianity may or may not have been rapid, but it is certain that Harald Bluetooth of Denmark converted in 965 and Olof Skötkonung of Sweden around 995. Forte, Oram and Pedersen summarize the end of the Viking era:
... its end came about as a slow process of acculturation and integration of the Scandinavian kingdoms into the wider body politic of European Christendom. The Christianisation of Scandinavia in the tenth century brought the area to the attention of the Western Church and the Holy Roman Empire. The Scandinavian kingdoms were subject to the archdiocese of Hamburg-Bremen from the time of the earliest missions in the early ninth century. Therefore, tenth- and eleventh-century Scandinavian kings traditionally regarded as Vikings, such as Svein Forkbeard and his son Canute, both kings of England and Denmark/Norway, were major players in European politics and clearly saw themselves as such. They were not aware of themselves as Scandinavians; nor did they seek to impose specifically Scandinavian customs or institutions on the peoples they conquered.
In this view, the conversion of the Scandinavians to Christianity did not itself pacify them, but it enabled or accelerated the cultural assimilation which did. However, contemporaneous with the conversion was a change in the Vikings' methods, from raids and extortion of danegeld to more orthodox wars for territory.