The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny

From a Singapore Airlines poster ad:
Australia throws up all sorts of unusual things.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Significance Revisited

Jacob Weisberg, writing in Slate, has reintroduced the slightly silly game of regressing economic statistics against the party controlling the Presidency or Congress. The same pastime enjoyed a bust of popularity last spring, leading me to point out that the performance of the U.S. economy relative to others in the world shows entirely different (and equally insignificant) patterns. My conclusion stands unaltered:
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.

[Hat tip: Stephen Green.]

Friday, February 17, 2006

Argument by Capitulation

At Cato Unbound, Charles Kupchan responds -- or attempts to -- to Theodore Dalrymple's essay on European decline, Is "Old Europe" Doomed? However, the points made by Mr. Kupchan prove on closer examination to be a strange mash of evasions, non sequiturs, and outright capitulation to pessimism; at the end, we are left with only an unsupported assertion of faith, like a thumbs-up from Ozymandias.

Mr. Kupchan comes out swinging:
Dr. Dalrymple trenchantly identifies some of the pressing challenges facing Europe. But he ultimately errs by allowing hyperbole to triumph over analysis, leaving us with an essay that, albeit elegant, is essentially a Europhobic rant.
He then summarizes the case against Europe, by way of introduction. Next, we have:
Dalrymple portrays the EU as an economic basket case, but its aggregate wealth now rivals that of the United States. The EU represents a single market of over 450 million consumers, compared with a U.S. population of roughly 300 million. Due to a low fertility rate, Europe’s population is poised to shrink in the decades ahead, while America’s will continue to grow. Nonetheless, Europe’s population will be considerably larger than that of the United States for at least the next four decades.

That passage rewards careful reading. Europe, with half again America's population, has not greater, or even equal, but commensurate aggregate wealth. No one would say that America's aggregate wealth "rivals" Europe's. Within four decades, Mr. Kupchan agrees, Europe's population relative to America's will decline by a third.

Next Mr. Kupchan extends his peculiar brand of optimism to Europe's economy:
Much of the growth differential between the two sides of the Atlantic stems from two factors: Europe’s population has been stagnant while America’s has continued to grow; and Europeans tend to work fifteen percent fewer hours per year than their U.S. counterparts. If Europe had more warm bodies and they were willing to work longer hours, growth rates within the EU would pick up accordingly.
The "fifteen percent fewer hours" is a pure non sequitur, apparently based on a confusion between rate of production and rate of growth. If working hours are part of Europe's relative decline, it can only be because European hours are becoming even shorter relative to Americans'. This is plausible, but hardly a harbinger of European resurgence.

The second assertion, while logically true, is an attempt to evade the problem with wishful thinking. Europe has no good way to obtain "warm bodies", and there is no credible expectation that they will work longer hours; so what would come to pass in such a dream world is not relevant.

After a brief digression to grant some more of Mr. Dalrymple's points, Mr. Kupchan turns to politics:
But Europe’s left is in disarray, in part due to the pressures and dislocations of globalization. Germany’s new chancellor, Angela Merkel, may be hemmed in by her coalition with the Social Democrats, but she appears intent on bringing down the non-wage costs of labor which continue to fuel unemployment and dampen growth.
One cannot help being reminded of the wonderful Mark Steyn quote about European government: "You can turn it all the way from 'left' to 'right' and it doesn't make any difference." Europe's democracy deficit does not depend on what the party in power is called, and there have been no signs of change anywhere in Old Europe. In electing Silvio Berlusconi, for example, the Italian people may have believed they were voting for change: but no change was made.

More of the justly neglected rhetorical device of argument by capitulation:
The enterprise of economic and political union is not, as he would have it, little more than a therapeutic illusion that “helps Germans to forget that they are Germans,” and that “acts as a potential fortress against the winds of competition that are now blowing from all over the world.” Quite the contrary. The EU enables Germans to be comfortable with their nationhood even as they help construct a pan-European political project.
If the German people are made more "comfortable" with a nationhood which has not itself changed, how is that anything other than a "therapeutic illusion"? Also, note that the "pan-European" project is presented as a good in itself; the EU is now its own only justification.

[In fairness to Mr. Kupchan, his related point that "far from being a protective device intended to insulate Europeans from globalization, economic integration within Europe provides impetus for liberalization" is largely true; though it must be noted that intra-European liberalization has been staunchly resisted with overt nationalism and racism, and that Europe has used its unified power to keep world trade illiberal.]

Mr. Kupchan concludes by capitulating again, with a clear summary of the problems of demographics and Islamic integration:
Although most of Dalrymple’s essay vastly exaggerates Europe’s woes, in one respect it considerably underestimates them: the challenge of integrating Muslim immigrants into European society.... In light of Europe’s looming demographic crisis, the problem promises to get worse, not better. France, for example, has one of Europe’s highest fertility rates—about 1.9 children per woman—as compare
with a rate of only 1.3 in Germany, Italy, and Spain... Simply put, the EU needs immigrants to replenish its shrinking work force and keep its pensions solvent. With fertility rates in Central and Eastern Europe also lagging, many of these immigrants will of necessity come from Turkey and Muslim countries in North Africa and the Middle East...
In conclusion, we are asked to forget everything we know or have just learned:
Dalrymple concludes that Europe “is sleep-walking to further relative decline.” Perhaps it will end up there. But for now, the EU remains a vital center of economic power and its continuing enlargement to the east is extending markets, democracy, and its political sway to Eurasia’s strategic heartland. Not bad for a group of nations that only six decades ago were trying to destroy each other.
One is forced to wonder if the author read his own essay. I would speculate that the conclusion was written before the body, and then died by the thousand cuts above, leaving the corpse of its optimism in this grotesque display.

[Cross-posted to Chequer-Board.]

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Incomprehensible Aliens

On John Scalzi, David Brin, and religion. Cheque it out.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

House of Hopes and Dreams

Thanks to the generosity of Pejman Yousefzadeh, I am for the present posting at

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Sauce for the Goose

Going forward, there is a chance that the creation of images of Mohammed (or, more precisely, of Mohammed-themed figures) will be an important as well as an entertaining pastime. However, lest Islam or its practitioners be singled out for contumely, some ground rules are needed.

First, the images must be based on images originated by the Islamic press. For example, a caricature of Ariel Sharon eating a baby could be photoshopped to show a Mohammed-themed figure eating its own children -- but this would be unfair, as it would hold the Moslems of the world responsible for the excesses of the Independent and fellow-traveling Westerners. Or an original image could be composed -- but this would also be unfair, as it would apply the West's centuries of accumulated expertise in free expression.

Second, the images must be circulated together with the originals on which they are based. In this way, Moslems viewing the images are less likely to perceive a crusade against themselves.

Finally, images should actually show Mohammed-themed figures. Several of the Jyllands-Posten cartoons actually depict the cartoonist, caught in the act of defrauding his employer by accepting a commission to draw Mohammed and then actually drawing himself in the act of drawing Mohammed... oh, so brave!