Friday, December 20, 2002

A war story to break your heart
The New York Times reports on a woman in Afghanistan who by chance met the daughter she had given to an orphanage during the Afghan-Soviet war.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

The Krugmanization of Brad DeLong
Brad DeLong is still angry that Bush beat his candidate, and it is affecting his ability to do economic analysis. Attacking the growing budget deficit, DeLong writes:
In a normal place, a normal economist would say:
Demand curves slope down.
A government budget deficit increases the quantity supplied of bonds.
Because demand curves slope down, a rise in the quantity supplied of bonds reduces the price of bonds.
The interest rate is inversely related to the price of bonds.
End of story.
It is certainly possible for a demand curve not to slope down. But that happens only one time in a thousand--and nobody has advanced any sound reason why bond prices and interest rates should be that one time in a thousand.
Given the strength of the case against, only analytically weak and excessively partisan economists will back the Bush administration on this one.
How scholarly. Anyone disagreeing with me is either incompetent or a pawn of the enemy. Analytically, the issue is much more complex than DeLong's simplistic comments suggest. Two points.
First, DeLong does not ask which demand curve he is talking about. When I first moved to Ireland, my wife sold baked goods to a local shop until she found a teaching job. Then she stopped. Her stopping caused no discernable effect on the price of biscuits, because she was too small a part of the market: she was, as economists put it, a price taker. Even though the demand curve for biscuits is probably downward sloping, the demand curve she faced was not downward sloping, because the alternative to her biscuits was someone else's biscuits. Even if the demand curve for bonds is downward sloping, it does not follow that any individual seller of bonds faces a downward sloping demand curve for bonds. The US government is large borrower, but there is a world wide market for bonds. It is not analytically obvious that the US government is not a price taker.
Second, DeLong does not ask whether the demand curve is stable. If the US government issues bonds, it must also raise taxes to pay for those bonds at some future date. Faced with an increased tax liability, taxpayers have a greater incentive to save, which means the demand for bonds may increase along with the supply, leaving bond prices unchanged.
Note that I said may. Whether bond price fall when the US government issues more of them is an empirical question. I have no views on the empirical issues, because I have exactly zero professional interest in bond prices. But DeLong does not say the evidence supports his view. He denounces anyone deviating from his incomplete analysis as either incompetent or dishonest. DeLong is a talented economist, whose work in economic history is superb. His writings on politics are often weird, but now he is letting his political views affect the quality of his analysis. It is sad to watch his Krugmanization.
Brad DeLong loses it
This is embarrassing. Brad DeLong has posted on his site this bit from another site:
As for the Waterloo of South Carolina, most of the facts are well-known, and among this group of Republicans, what happened has taken on the air of an unsolved crime, a cold case, with Karl Rove being the prime suspect. Bush loyalists, maybe working for the campaign, maybe just representing its interests, claimed in parking-lot handouts and telephone "push polls" and whisper campaigns that McCain’s wife, Cindy, was a drug addict, that McCain might be mentally unstable from his captivity in Vietnam, and that the senator had fathered a black child with a prostitute.
Brad DeLong has joined the ranks of the "Hillary had Vince Foster bumped off" crowd. No evidence is provided that Karl Rove or George Bush was involved. No evidence is provided that the South Carolina Republican Party was involved. Just the claim that Bush was helped by an attack on McCain. Brad DeLong has joined the John Birch Society.
Apartheid, courtesy of liberal Ireland
Do you want to find rabid hostility to Israel? Denounciations of Israel as an apartheid state? Come to Ireland. But now the Independent reports that Galway County Council has its own version.
Galway County Council, the local authority, has approved a ban on house-building by people who cannot speak the Irish language.

The ban, the first of its kind in Ireland, applies to a 60-mile stretch of scenic Connemara coastline where plots of building land are sought for holiday homes and by commuters from Galway city.

Pol O Foighil, the councillor who spearheaded the move, said: "It is the only hope of stopping the flood of English-speaking families coming in."
Where is the outrage from all the Irish academics who gave their backing to Mona Baker? My quick survey of my colleagues found none. I have known some of these people for a long time, and I do not think they are raving anti-Semites. But if Israel were doing this sort of thing, they would be outraged. Last month, Eugene Volokh disputed the idea that "anti-Semitic in effect" had meaning, a point I took issue with. This sort of stunt confirms my belief that "anti-Semitic in effect" is meaningful and useful.
Sowell on Lott
Thomas Sowell takes on the Trent Lott affair in the Washington Times.
The actual choice facing Republicans is whether they want Mr. Lott to be out front as the face of their party when they confront future political battles over judicial nominees, national security and the rest of the Bush administration agenda.
Any judge who has ever ruled against any claim — however outrageous — by any organization that calls itself a civil rights group is likely to be hit with charges of "racism" when he or she is nominated for an appellate court appointment and is up for confirmation in the Senate. Who is going to go on nationwide television and reassure the public that the nominee is not a racist? Mr. Lott?
. . .
No wonder some Democrats want Mr. Lott to stay front and center. He can be a living red herring. Long after the current furor has died down, this episode can be resurrected for political encores.
Meanwhile, Republicans will have to tiptoe around racial issues and even kowtow to the likes of Mr. Sharpton. This can only disgust and demoralize the Republicans' own supporters.
. . .
But, make no mistake, the Republicans have already paid a price, and it is only the down payment. That Mr. Lott did not step aside himself is a greater disqualification for leadership than anything that he said.
Ever since I read Sowell's Knowledge and Decisions, I have been a great admirer of his capacity to focus on the problems of real choices, not the hypothetical choices we might prefer. So here he gets to the point. Does the left have a racist agenda? In many ways yes. Are the Democrats hypocrites for making a fuss about Lott while sucking up to racists such as Jackson and Sharpton? Yes. Does any of this change the real choices facing Republicans? No. So get to work, guys.
World's smallest violin
John Lee Malvo, the Washington area sniper suspect, is unhappy about the meals he is getting.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Fisk watch
Robert Fisk has crawled out from under his rock again to complain in the Independent about attacks on the integrity of journalists.
I will tell you. Journalists are being attacked for telling the truth, for trying to tell it how it is. American journalists especially.
This must be a huge relief to journalists imprisoned around the world who thought journalism was safer in the US. Who is at fault for this? Did you guess either Israel or its supporters? Big surprise, you would be right. The amusing part is this. Fisk attacks Israel Asper, the chairman of Canwest, which owns Canada's National Post, of making false accusations against Phil Reeves, an Independent reporter.
Mr Asper, for example, claims that my colleague Phil Reeves compared the Israeli killings in Jenin earlier this year – which included a goodly few war crimes (the crushing to death of a man in a wheelchair, for example) – to the "killing fields of Pol Pot". Now Mr Reeves has never mentioned Pol Pot. But Mr Asper wrongly claims that he did.
In two stories from Jenin this year, on April 15th and April 16th, Reeves referred to the "killing fields" of Jenin. So Fisk is right. Reeves does not mention Pol Pot. But this is a slight of hand game. Describing Jenin as "killing fields" is a comparison to Pol Pot in exactly the same way as describing a place as a concentration camp is a comparison to Nazism and describing a place as a gulag is a comparison to communism.
Bureaucrats, and why we hate them
David Aaronovitch in the Independent picks up the story of the Edinburgh's (Scotland) council banning the filming of school plays without the written consent of all parents.
Although the council argues that the rule is "common sense", it is actually the opposite. One senior councillor has commented that "we have heard of cases in Scotland and England where paedophiles are found with video footage taken at school plays". Maybe. Those same paedophiles are likely also to possess images of children shot on beaches, out skate-boarding, at the swimming-pool, walking around shopping centres and begging on street corners in South American shanty towns. In fact any images of children will do. There are "boy love" sites dedicated to early photographs of Princes William and Harry, to boy movie stars (Harry Potter has almost certainly been a big hit with the child-abusing fraternity), and Lolita sites that feature girl actors.

Actually "common sense" tells us to maintain our own idea of what constitutes acceptable behaviour, and not to have it defined for us by perverts. As the expert treater of paedophiles, Ray Wyre, has said: "People who offend should not be deciding how we should behave." The reproduction of non-sexual, non-exploitative images of children should be regarded as not just normal, but as a desirable part of our enjoyment of our children. To have this normality inverted, as Edinburgh has done, is profoundly wrong and – I think – psychically damaging.
Silly professor watch
Remember Antonio Negri, the Red Brigade member now locked up in an Italian prison? He wrote Empire with Michael Hardt, an English professor at Duke. The combination of a Red Brigade terrorist and a Duke English professor suggested to me a book not worth my time, so I took the reviews pretty much at face value. In today's Guardian, Hardt rants about US imperialism. It is a charming mix of silliness and bad writing:
Many political and economic elites around the world, however, do not favour the creation of a new US imperialism. One common view is that European political leaders generally oppose US unilateralism because it excludes them and prefer instead multilateral political and military solutions. What are most significant, however, are not the conflicting interests that separate US elites from others, but rather their common interests.

The common interests of the global elites are most visible in the economic sphere. Business leaders around the globe recognise that imperialism is bad for business because it sets up barriers that hinder global flows. The potential profits of capitalist globalisation, which whet the appetites of business elites everywhere only a few years ago, depend on open systems of production and exchange. This is equally true for the captains of capital in the US. Even for the US industrialists drunk on oil, their real interests lie in the potential profits of capitalist globalisation.
I have the comfort of knowing I made good use of my time by taking a pass on Empire.

Monday, December 16, 2002

InstaPundit theology
InstaPundit has gone a little overboard on the subject of Christmas. The Daily Telegraph reported that the Bishop of Lichfield, the Rt Rev Keith Sutton (an Anglican bishop) was hard on sentimental views of Christmas. I do not understand why this upsets InstaPundit. The bishop noted correctly that the birth of Jesus was scandalous because Mary became pregnant before marriage. There is an important point here about the sacrifice that Joseph, a respectable carpenter, made. The bishop noted correctly that shepherds were rough men on the margins of their society. Again, there is an important point here about disassociating Jesus from any connection with power and authority in this world. The three wise men were unwitting pawns in an effort by Kind Herod to eliminate a potential rival. The Gospel of Matthew (2:12) claims that the wise men were warned of Herod's plan in a dream, and this sent Jesus and family into exile. The Telegraph story says the bishop described the wise men as part of Herod's plot, but the actual letter shows the Telegraph reported the letter incorrectly. The theological point of the Herod story is at least partly to emphasize the difference between heaven and earth. The wise men said a king had been born, and Herod interpreted that (incorrectly) as a king on earth, not the king of heaven. This is a rebuke to the "pray that you win the big lottery" people. There is nothing in the story that says anything about a Jewish conspiracy; King Herod was probably Jewish, but was an appointee of the Roman emperor, and his career was noted for killing potential rivals. The letter itself strikes me as quite sensible.
But look a little harder into the biblical account of Christmas and you get a different story.

It's a story of a baby born to an unmarried mother from a religious family - with all the cultural and social pressures you can imagine. A pregnant mother who had to travel big distances in the final stage of pregnancy, on the most uncomfortable form of transport available. The shepherds, far from being the lovable characters played by youngsters in nativity plays, were actually then on the fringes of society. And the wise men, arriving with gifts primarily to worship him, were unwittingly being used by Herod to discover the whereabouts of the baby Jesus so he could be killed. Mary and Joseph were forced to flee as refugees seeking asylum in Egypt as Herod oversaw the slaughter of innocent babies in an attempt to ensure the Christ-child was killed.

So how can all this be described as Love coming down? The Love of Christmas is the act of God sending his Son into the world knowing what type of world he would be coming into, and knowing the cruel and painful death that he would face.
Anglican clerics have been saying some odd things, but InstaPundit is way overwrought describing this as even remotely anti-Semitic.
UPDATE: Kathryn Jean Lopez over at the Corner got the story wrong too, again by just reading the Telegrpah and not the bishop's letter.
Economic growth or punishing children? Economics is about both
At Slate, Steven Landsburg, the author of The Armchair Economist, applies economic theory to the question of which parents spank their children, taking as his text "An Incentive Model of the Effect of Parental Income on Children" by Bruce Weinberg, from the April 2001 issue of the Journal of Political Economy. The basic argument is a fairly simple one. With more income, there are more things you can take away from your kids. If your income is low, what do you take away? Breakfast? With fewer options, you use corporal punishment. I note Landsburg article for those who get their economics from Brad DeLong's page. When DeLong is writing about economics, he can be very good, but you might get the impression that economics is primarily about growth and inflation and unemployment. DeLong does that sort of thing, which is okay, but the focus of economics is on everything people do. Looking for a job, punishing children, having sex, building airplanes: they are all game for the economist's toolkit.