The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Thursday, May 25, 2006


As before, Kevin Drum's usual powers of reasoning desert him when the subject turns to CAFE standards:
The CAFE fuel economy standards passed in 1975 have worked great: average fuel efficiency increased dramatically between 1974 and 1985, cutting U.S. oil consumption by about a billion barrels per year. Unfortunately, CAFE standards haven't been tightened since then, which means fuel efficiency has stagnated since the mid-80s.
According to this view, a decrease in gasoline consumption during a period spanning the two worst oil shocks in history was caused by a new government regulation. The halting of that trend during a decade of easy oil was caused, naturally enough, by no new government regulation.

This kind of blindness to the obvious can only be willful. I would further maintain that it is symptomatic of a mindset which overestimates the puissance and efficacy of government. This mindset would also explain why the left blogosphere is genuinely upset over aggressive intelligence gathering by the government, in a way that they are not when corporations undertake the same kind of data mining: they truly believe in the power and purpose of Government.

[Cross-posted to Chequer-Board.]

Friday, May 12, 2006

Bennett in 2004

In December 2004, James C. Bennett released "Dreaming Europe in a Wide-Awake World", reviewing several strands of thought about Europe's role in the world, and its eventual fate. This essay is by necessity very general, but has several valuable segments.

His critique of Jeremy Rifkin's The European Dream is particularly pungent:

Thus, Rifkin's is a two-level critique of America contrasted with virtuous Europe. First, he asserts that Europe is surpassing America on the conventional criteria of prosperity. But he then adds that where economic success is absent in Europe, that's okay too, because progress is bad for you anyway.

Rifkin, therefore, requires critiquing on both levels... The case for the coming European triumph over America is quickly refuted. Gersemann, himself a German financial journalist, convincingly refutes all of the prevailing Euro-legends about America, from the supposedly collapsing middle class to medical care to income inequality. He likewise documents the growing structural and demographic crisis of a Europe that has created more unfunded obligations than it can fulfill--while producing too few children to pay the bills their parents are racking up.

Immigration, which is now hoped to be able to fill the demographic gap, remains problematic. It is exactly the postmodernist multicultural narrative so praised by Rifkin that has created an unassimilated immigrant underclass. This underclass is a poor candidate for stepping up to the greater taxes needed to fund the lavish pensions now coming due. Young, mostly Muslim families struggling under ever-increasing payroll taxes will hear calls from ethnic-based politicians to repudiate the checks that old rich white Europeans had written to themselves....

At this point one must turn to the underlying level of Rifkin's critique, that of the entire complex of ideas of autonomous individuals with enforceable constitutional rights. In essence, Rifkin is saying "Okay, perhaps United Europe will after all be poor and strife-ridden. But at least you will lose your freedom and individualism in the bargain."

He then turns to praise of Timothy "Pierre Menard" Garton Ash:
His attempt at explaining the actions of the United States since September 11, 2001 from the American point of view for the benefit of Europeans is fascinating to read. If it had been written by any literate American other than a convinced internationalist, it would seem like an unremarkable statement of reality. In fact, it represents a stupendous feat of imaginative reconstruction on Ash's part...

Most importantly, later Mr. Bennett sketches the dynamics which could drive the emergence of "Eurabia":
At present, the costs of being in the [Anglosphere-Japan] coalition would probably include making major and painful structural adjustments to their economies. Domestic European electorates might therefore be tempted by the alternative of a Euro-Islamic alliance, in which Middle Eastern oil states would prop up unreformed European economies in return for international support, high-tech weaponry and open access to Europe for Islamic economic migrants. The growing "Eurabian" bloc of Islamic voters would thus combine with anti-reform pensioners to veto any other political alignment, driving politics in the direction of the Euro-Islamic solution.

Thus, in this brief overview, Mr. Bennett provides a valuable summary of what is now being decided.

[Hat tip: Joe Katzman.]

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

No to Contempt Religion

To relax in the sun after the long Anglo-Saxon winter, my wife and I took the Good Little Capitalists to Egypt. We visited Cairo and then Sharm-el-Shaykh. Being unrepentant running dogs, we stayed in four-star resorts.

Egypt has "tourist police", separate from the regular police forces. The presence of three or four armed guards at the entrance to every major hotel is disconcerting at first. Rampant ethnic profiling, however, means that Caucasian visitors are generally waved through (though bags are often X-rayed). Some of our guides were old enough to remember the Luxor massacre of 1997; though they consistently referred to it as "the Luxor accident". They are slightly inconvenienced by the tourist police, but seem resigned to it, probably aware of the effect on their own livelihoods of another such attack.

The October Sixth elevated highway winds over the center of the Old City of Cairo for about three miles. As such, it is by far the most important through road in the city. Its name celebrates the initiation of the Yom Kippur War, and the few days of Arab success therein. [As Wikipedia has it: "The Arab world, which had been humiliated by the lopsided defeat of the Egyptian-Syrian-Jordanian alliance during the Six-Day War, felt psychologically vindicated by its string of victories early in the conflict."]

The Land of Teeth
The name of the Sin'ai peninsula is allegedly derived from the Semitic word for "tooth". This is an apt description -- the predominant geological form is metamorphosed sediments, tectonically lifted to angles around 45 degrees and weathered to small, asymmetric, triangular mounts. [Some pictures are here.] The intervening valleys have gradually filled with sand, which only serves to make the little water than runs off the hillsides harder to find. The occasional scrawny tree is like a flag pointing to some small hidden reservoir. Walking or riding in this area, even in the cool of evening, begets respect for those who have managed to subsist there.

No to Contempt Religion
In Sharm-el-Shaykh, the permanent shops (as opposed to tents and mobile hawkers) are run, I assume, by the town's leading citizens. The great majority of them, perhaps 80%, displayed a single Xeroxed page somewhere in their front window; the Sinai equivalent, I suppose, of the unobtrusive American flags one would find in the South or Midwest. Printed in landscape mode, they say along the top half "No to Contempt Religion" and below, in a smaller font, "We love Muhammad". Presumably this is a reference to the little-seen cartoons.

The Sinai peninsula supports almost no life; it is given over to perhaps 15,000 Bedouins and their camels. Everything required by the Red Sea resorts must be imported, even the staff. To economize on air travel, those staff work every day for 50 days, then depart (probably for 20 days) to their homes and families. The water in Sharm-el-Shaykh is obtained by chemical desalination of seawater and is not drinkable even by the natives. Thus bottled water (outside the resorts) is very cheap, since the buyers are not exclusively tourists.

The Muezzin
The call to prayer was traditionally shouted from the minarets by the muezzin. However, the spread of technology has replaced him with the playing of a recording. In Dahab, we heard the call to prayer broadcast at maximum volume over damaged speakers; the resulting clipping and distortion made it the shrieking of a desperate madman.

[Cross-posted at Chequer-Board.]