Thursday, August 31, 2006

Daily Star Trek Quote Challenge, 8/31/2006

- Frankly, I think I can be quite an asset to Starfleet. With my extensive experience, I could skip the lower ranks entirely and begin my career as a commander. Uh, maybe you should suggest that in your letter! Tell them you'd be honored to serve under me.

- Do not play games with me. You have no desire to join Starfleet, do you.

- No, I'm afraid I don't.

- Then why all of this deception?

- Because lying is a skill like any other, and if you want to maintain a level of excellence, you have to practice constantly.

- Practice on someone else.

- Mister _____, you're no fun at all.

- Good!

Where's Perry?

The last couple of months have been so busy for me, yet they're nothing compared to the last few weeks. There's been a lot to do at work, and still more. I believe I've really put in hard, productive, smart and resourceful work, and though this isn't my motivation, let me say that I hope my boss agrees with me when we get bonuses and raises in December.

I must be getting old. Lately I've needed more sleep, and not just on weekends to catch up. Sometimes during the week I can't keep my eyes open past 11 p.m., when only several weeks ago I did Mondays through Fridays just fine on three or four hours. It's not advisable to sleep so little, but I never seem to have enough time for everything, and 20-30 minute naps on Metro-North to and from work would sustain me until the weekend. Then not long ago, I tried going back to my limited-sleep routine after sleeping very well for two nights in a row. My heart raced the entire day, though all I had were a couple of cups of black tea (not that much caffeine compared to coffee or stimulants), and I was afraid of having a heart attack.

So, my blogging has been a bit light, and I haven't even been doing the daily Trek quote challenge. In the next little while I'll try to organize my time better so I can blog more often, and also answer e-mails with better timeliness. Some of you e-mail me now and then, even regularly, and I apologize that I am not getting back to everybody.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Islamofascists and their apologists

Charles Evans asks "Who is the Fascist Here?" but is unqualified to answer his own question, as we'll see. Like most political science professors I've talked to or whose writings I've read, he either doesn't know what real fascism is or redefines it to suit his purpose. Let there be no mistake: his agenda as an apologist for "radical Islam" ("only" 10% of a billion-plus people who want to see the West go down in literal flames) is to paint George W. Bush as a fascist while whitewashing the religious tyranny of a major religion's "fringe element."

I'm far from a GWB apologist, but this retired professor just doesn't know what he's talking about. Let's take his claims one by one.

First, it is untrue that "Calling one's opponents unpleasant names is known in philosophy as an ad hominem argument, and it is recognized as a logical fallacy." Evans should know better, if he really is so acquainted with logical fallacies. He's making one himself, asserting a ludicrous absolute that because ad hominem arguments involve "unpleasant names," therefore all usage of "unpleasant names" are ad hominem. It would have been proper for him to say, "An ad hominem argument in philosophy includes calling one's opponents unpleasant names." By reversing the statement, Evans immediately discounts the possibility that an "unpleasant name" could be very true and appropriate. Is it ad hominem to call Hitler and Mussolini "fascists" despite the universal opinion that they were?

In fact, an ad hominem (literally "to the man" in Latin) argument is to refute someone's statement by personally attacking him and declaring that his statement therefore cannot be true. It is not necessarily ad hominem just because you happen to define someone with a term that happens to offend him. A perfect example is from a little while ago, when our friend Keith Burgess-Jackson called Brian Leiter's anonymous lackey a "jock-sniffer." While derisive, the term aptly described Leiter's sycophant, and moreover, KBJ did far more than attack the "jock-sniffer" personally. Similarly, if certain Muslims are indeed fascist in their beliefs and actions, then Bush, I and many others are perfectly proper to call them the "Islamofascist" neologism.

Of course, I'm calling Evans an "Islamofascism apologist," which I'm certain he'd find "unpleasant," and no doubt he and his supporters would accuse me of hypocrisy by making my own ad hominem attack. However, the difference is that calling him an "unpleasant name" is hardly the crux of my argument.

"Sound logic requires us to understand that bad people and bad ideas are not synonymous, and in the same way, good people do not always have sound ideas. But, bad logic often makes for good propaganda." A student of logic will see another fallacy here: an obviously true, extremely general statement near the end is insufficient to validate the preceding arguments. After all, to disagree with those two sentences is on par with opposing motherhood and favoring sin.

Evans' is already up to his third logical fallacy in the second paragraph. He makes an "appeal to authority" by referencing Georgie Ann Geyer, a noted liberal op-ed writer who has a anti-Republican (not necessarily anti-conservative) axe to grind. But how much can we regard Geyer's cited op-ed, when she waves off George W. Bush's use of "Islamic fascist" as merely "his way of signaling that any young Muslim who doesn't like him (or freedom, for goodness's sake) is almost certainly a fascist"? Geyer is making her own logical fallacy, a straw man argument, by distorting who Bush is calling an "Islamic fascist."

After rambling on about the "imprecise" definitions of fascism, Evans presents his own 14-point amalgam of two others' 14-point definitions of fascism. And who is to say that any of those three are correct? If anything, Old American Century's attempt to "prove" GWB is a fascist falls more than flat, and not just because it distorts news headlines and presents them out of context:

1. Nationalism is hardly a unique trait of fascism. "Mother Russia," anyone? And what is so wrong with having pride in your country, particularly this one with its traditions of freedom and self-determination?

2. "Disregard for human rights" is likewise not confined to fascism, as Lenin and his successors proved. Also, how is it violating anyone's "human rights" for the U.S. to oppose the International Criminal Court, which is deliberately anti-American and whose claimed authority violates our U.S. Constitution?

3. "Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause" is a logical fallacy. "Identification of Scapegoats" would have been correct about tyrants in general, but Britt refused to admit that an enemy can be very real. September 11, 2001, proved that we are fighting a very, very real enemy.

4. "Supremacy of the military." Military spending in the United States, as a percentage of GDP, is far less than historical fascist regimes. The characteristic of the federal government, as it has been for the last seven decades, is the supremacy of the welfare state. The forced redistribution of wealth at the hands of government is socialism, not fascism.

5. "Rampant sexism." Is sexism why GWB chose Condoleeza Rice for National Security Advisor and then Secretary of State? Is sexism the reason Cynthia McKinney was all but given a free pass by mainstream media when she shouted "Do you know who I am?" and struck a Capitol Hill police officer?

However, sexism has never been a historical characteristic of fascist regimes because it never really mattered. Women could be just as important to the state.

6. "Controlled mass media" is the stupidest claim of all these. Is GWB so in control of all mass media outlets that he allows them to spend most of their time attacking his administration, either directly (e.g. RatherGate) or by giving time to his opponents? There are a few links to allegations, but let's "get real" here: I'm not excusing any criminal wrongdoing now, but "dirty tricks" have been happening for decades under both Republicans and Democrats. If you're going to point the finger at Bush, let's also talk about how Clinton sicced the IRS on his enemies.

7. "Obsession with national security." So what about every Democratic candidate accusing Bush of not doing enough, or doing the wrong things, for "national security"? When the White House (not really Bush himself) approved the handover of six U.S. ports' administration to a company owned by the United Arab Emirates, Democrats were the first to accuse him of ignoring the potential threat to "national security." So just who is obsessed?

8. "Religion and government are intertwined." When Barack Obama made very pro-religion statements, did those make him a fascist? It's not ok for Republicans to appeal to a majority of their base, and it's not ok for a North Carolina lawmaker to propose allowing a preacher to talk about politics, but it's ok for Hillary to attend a black church and accuse Bush of running the White House "like a plantation"?

I'm a fundamentalist Christian, but I still have a problem with religious conservatives who use the force of government to impose their values on others. However, there are so many activist courts that nullify conservatives' endeavors, and in fact, the courts often tip things toward liberals.

9. "Corporate Power is Protected." This is wholly incorrect, because fascism seeks to exert its power through controlling business, while preventing business from wielding its own influence. I wrote "influence" because even the largest corporation has no inherent "power." Its only "power" is what customers give it through their patronage, and/or what government gives it via charters/monopolies and other preferential treatment.

10. Fascism suppresses labor no more than socialism and communism: whether a tyrant is fascist or socialist, he will try to destroy any form of organized resistance. What was Lech Wałęsa doing in Poland but organizing a trade union not permitted by the government?

And by the way, how is it bad that GWB "suppressed labor power" by removing their government-protected abilities to coerce campaign money from others? It's not just union members who disagree with their leadership, but the taxpayers who must indirectly hire union workers. If labor unions lose power because they cannot use government to coerce money from me, then that's too bad for them.

11. How is it "disdain for intellectuals and the arts" when government stops taking money from people to give to others? I think science and art are great, but I think it's immoral that money is taken from me to pay for others' enjoyment.

One of the links alleges conservatives' suppression of freedom of speech, but if you check the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, you'll see that the real threat is from the liberal PC crowd.

12. "Obsession with crime and punishment" is in what way restricted to fascism? Wasn't the USSR even more obsessed with definining as many crimes as possible so it could punish/banish dissidents to Siberia? Isn't the "People's Republic of China" still doing the same? Are they fascist?

13. Likewise, "cronyism and corruption" are not only a trademark of fascism, but any other regime based on absolutism. Ferdinand Marcos was not really a fascist, but his dictatorship in the Philippines was marked by "cronyism and corruption" -- then again, it wasn't to any further degree than the rest of Philippine politics.

14. Here we go again with the "fraudulent elections" schtick, which liberals haven't been able to shake since the 2000 presidential election. As usual, there are a lot of links to sites and people with only allegations, but nothing concrete. And there's no mention of Philadelphia, a Democratic stronghold, which reportedly received more ballots on Election Day 2004 than were registered voters.

Now let's play Evans' own game and go through his points.

1. "Tradition" is a hallmark of conservatism, which is often confused with fascism. But if you want to talk about a true "cult of tradition," most Muslim nations are far more steeped in their homogenous traditions (often at the point of a gun scimitar) than the extraordinarily heterogenous United States.

And if we're wrong to believe the U.S. is a great nation, the first to be founded directly on the principle of liberty, and that it deserves a special place in history, then who is right? Should we go the Noam Chomsky route and beat ourselves over the head, because we're so evil to be proud of the ideals and innovations we've brought to the rest of the world?

Score: Islamofascists 1, Bush 0.

2. "Fascist governments reject modernism and rationality, although they embrace the instrumentality of technology. Fascist regimes are marked by irrationality, anti-intellectualism, and emotion." How is George W. Bush "reject[ing] modernism and rationality," and is he "anti-intellectual" just because he disagrees with liberal intellectuals? I disagree with them too, so does that make me a fascist?

As a perfect example of how Islam has embraced intellectuals, look at what Muslim rulers did to suppress the great Muslim scholars and authors. While Europe languished in the Dark Ages, Muslim intellectuals advanced human knowledge of mathematics and science (especially algebra and astronomy) and produced wondrous literature. That reversed itself by the Renaissance.

Score: Islamofascists 2, Bush 0.

3. Here Evans is doing nothing more than redefining fascism to suit his own agenda. Fascist leaders have generally favored military conflict because they don't want peaceful solutions, but so have tyrants of all political persuasions. That is simply the nature of absolute rule.

Score: Islamofascists 2, Bush 0.

4. It's nothing new that Democrats and Republicans accuse each other of treason (with libertarians like me accusing both of them), but it's nothing new: the Federalists and Democrat-Republicans did the same to each other in the late 1700s. Fortunately, our Founding Fathers had the foresight to include a very narrow definition of "treason" in the Constitution. And unlike what occurs regularly in a true fascist regime, no one in the United States has yet to be convicted of treason during GWB's presidency. John Walker Lindh could easily have (and should have IMO) but wasn't.

Was George III a fascist? No, he was an absolute ruler but not a fascist, although it was certainly "treason" (and often punishable by death) to oppose him. So Evans is employing a logical fallacy again: fascists consider it "treason" to dissent, but a government that quashes dissent and considers it "treason" is not necessarily fascist.

On the other hand, try dissenting in "secular" Egypt or "moderate" Saudi Arabia, let alone Iran or Syria, and see where that gets you.

Score: Islamofascists 3, Bush 0.

5. GWB must have a strange brand of "fear of diversity or difference" that prompted him to appoint more minorities to prominent positions, and support a guest worker program. On the other hand, how well do Christians fare in "moderate" Saudi Arabia? How respected are their "differences"?

Score: Islamofascists 4, Bush 0.

6. Evans should have stopped at "social frustration of groups or classes of citizens." The rest could have been eliminated entirely, because it refers to everyone: internal, external, above or below. It's akin to saying, "The answer could be a positive number, a negative number, zero, or imaginary."

That said, Bush has no more drawn on voters' emotions than anyone else, whether American politicians or Muslim rulers. Are any particularly bad, though? Though GWB has led the United States into a war, I have yet to hear him call for wiping any nation off the map, unlike certain Muslim leaders. Now that is preying on a people's "social frustration" of others.

Score: Islamofascists 5, Bush 0.

7. Ah yes, there's such hyper-nationalism in the United States that Noam Chomsky was sent off to a concentration camp long ago, right? And Madman Mahmoud is rallying his entire nation against Israel for humanitarian purposes?

Score: Islamofascists 6, Bush 0.

8. This is nothing unique to fascist regimes. Look at Cuba or any other Third World nation that tried socialism. Look at the Muslim nations who attacked Israel three times, and each time got their asses kicked harder than the previous conflict.

Score: Islamofascists 7, Bush 0.

9. Finally Evans stated a somewhat true characteristic of fascism. Fascism views history as purely a struggle of the state, with the individual seen as but a small component. Also, war is not essential, but justified if necessary to preserve the state. Unfortunately for Evans, there just isn't anything in GWB's presidency to prove that he believes this, but the Islamofascists are all about jihad -- literally "struggle" -- to effect Muslim domination across the world.

Score: Islamofascists 8, Bush 0.

10. Politican "elitism" in the United States is not unique to GWB; it's the nature of American politics. However, cultural elitism is a major part of Islamofascism (see #9), and Arabs are well-known for disdain of anyone they perceive as "weak."

Score: Islamofascists 9, Bush 0.

11. Evans is really stretching it here. According to him, the Greeks were fascists? After all, they venerated their heroes and promoted the ideal. Are the people of New York fascist to mourn the loss of firefighters, recently as well as on 9/11, as "the passing of heroes"?

On the other hand, which culture promotes the glorious, heroic martyrdom of young men blowing themselves up to kill the infidels, with the promise of 72 virgins in paradise?

Score: Islamofascists 10, Bush 0.

12. Stretching it again, Evans ascribes qualities to fascism that aren't necessarily so. Nazi Germany was in fact noted for sexual depravities of its own, not counting the "experiments" that its doctors performed on women in concentration camps. Also, if fascism is so "conservative" in its sexual convictions, then why have so many fascist leaders had mistresses? Hint: Hitler didn't die with his wife.

Evans can't even get his list straight, throwing "chastity" in with homosexuality, abortion, promiscuity, and extramarital sex. He was probably rushing too much in making his stuff up.

As far as I'm aware, the United States doesn't execute people for these crimes. On the other hand, Allah help you if you're convicted of homosexuality in Saudi Arabia or Iran...

Score: Islamofascists 11, Bush 0.

13. So modern-day Germany is still fascist, because the children of foreigners born in Germany are themselves considered foreigners? On the other hand, the United States under any administration is very welcoming of virtually all peoples and cultures, regardless of who the President and Congress are. As stated before, Bush is the one pushing for a guest worker program (bucking his own party). Also, he's the one who has defended Islam as "a peaceful religion." When has Madman Mahmoud defended Judaism and Christianity as peaceful religions? And when are the people of these hardline Muslim countries ever permitted to live according to their own consciences?

Score: Islamofascists 12, Bush 0.

14. It would be nice if Evans gave specifics here, instead of making a blanket accusation. But if you want to talk about Newspeak, how about Madman Mahmoud claiming that Iran's nuclear program is for peaceful purposes? There are some terms that just don't belong together, especially "Muslim nation" and "nuclear capability."

Score: Islamofascists 13, Bush 0.

So in the end, by Evans' own standards, "Islamofascist" is a very appropriate term for these nations and their leaders, but Bush really isn't a fascist. Nonetheless, I have very serious problems with him and his administration, not the least of which is the unconstitutional, sans-warrant spying on American citizens. I personally am forgiving about Iraq, because war is unpredictable, and I think most Americans are too optimistic about how effective we -- even we -- can be in combat. Perhaps my biggest problem with GWB is his rubber-stamp on the biggest growth of government spending since LBJ, based on his modern liberal belief (uttered post-Katrina) that "When someone is hurting, government must move." That's the redistribution of wealth, i.e. socialism, and it can't be balanced out by any quantity of tax cuts.

Bush isn't (yet?) really authoritarian, despite his centralization and expansion of government police powers, and despite his trampling of individual rights for the sake of effecting greater "national security." (On the other hand, Rudy Giuliani and Rick Santorum are authoritarians.) Most fundamentally, Bush is a party man: he'll do whatever it takes to keep his party in power. I don't think he's inherently a fan of big government, but he'll (ab)use it if it will advance fellow Republicans. Either way, he's definitely not a "true" conservative, but most Republicans aren't either. The party began with big government traditions, so it's not a post-1994 phenomenon that they turned out to be "big-government conservatives." They adhere to some conservative values, but not to the core value of limited government. Just like the scripture says, "Having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof."

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Monday, August 28, 2006

It's Krugman's old anti-Semitic friend Mahathir

My blogfather Don Luskin never missed a chance to expose Paul Krugman's chummy relationship with Malaysia's ex-Prime Minister (and notorious anti-Semite) Mahathir Mohammad. Via Little Green Footballs, you can see a video of Mahathir's new bunk against both Israel and the United States. But let's ignore his sabre-rattling; I have an economic perspective that, without checking around the blogosphere, I believe is unique.

Like his buddy Paul, Mahathir lives in economic fantasyland. First, let's be clear about who owns U.S. debt. The United States government doesn't owe $14 trillion to anyone; Mahathir's claim isn't even true if we count all the Americans who hold Treasury bonds as part of "the world." As of August 24th, U.S. federal government debt is $8.5 trillion, and much of it we owe to ourselves. Only $2 trillion of U.S. debt is held by foreigners, led by Japan ($635 billion), China ($328 billion), the UK ($201 billion), Korea ($69 billion), Taiwan ($67 billion), and Caribbean banks ($60 billion). "Oil exporters" collectively hold $101 billion, which is a mere 4.8% of foreign-held U.S. debt, and not quite 1.2% of total U.S. debt. So Mahathir's claim is true that they hold "some" of U.S. debt, but his insinuation that they're significant holdings is a laughable one (as are most of the things he says anyway).

Per the Federal Reserve's flow of funds tables, Americans collectively owe about $27 trillion in debt, but again much of that is to ourselves, and meanwhile Americans own $66 trillion in assets as of Q1 2006. Some assets are in stock markets, some are in real estate, but remember that the values are because someone is willing to pay a certain price for them and has the money to pay. Let's say Peter and Paul are the only two members of an economy. Adjusting for inflation, if they collectively have $200 in assets, and $300 one year later, it shows how much wealthier they have become, that they're willing and able to pay more money. If this is bankruptcy, then give me more of it! By the way, Brad DeLong's lackeys can claim GWB has destroyed wealth (based on a stupid misunderstanding of what exchange rates mean), but the Fed's FoF analyses are a good measure of how well Americans have fared under George W. Bush's tax cut policies. And this expansion is far more sustainable than the 1990s' tech bubble. Instead of being based on generational phenomena, it's based on the time-honored principle that lower tax rates is an incentive for people to produce more.

Mahathir's next claim, that the U.S. is financing the war in Iraq "through the money that is rich countries, some of which are Muslim countries," is particularly idiotic. It would be accurate to say that the U.S. federal government borrows some money to finances all of its expenditures, including military operations in Iraq. Even so, assuming that John Murtha's figure of $8 billion a month is correct, $100 billion a year (I rounded up) is only 0.77% of the ~$13 trillion American economy. Putting aside the issues of whether we should have gone into Iraq and whether the federal government should borrow only for purely defensive wars, the U.S. is hardly dependent on foreign borrowing. It borrows because, for good or for ill (I say more for ill because it means Congress has more money to waste), foreigners are more than willing to lend the money at pretty low interest rates. We can have our cake and eat it too.

Many doomsayers from Krugman to Austrian economists warn about "when, not if" foreigners shift from dollars and stop buying U.S. Treasury bonds. But major U.S. debt holders don't want that: when Microsoft stock goes down, does Bill Gates sell off all his shares in an effort to preserve his net worth? For the same reason he wouldn't help push the share prices down even more, China especially won't allow the dollar to decline: its banking infrastructure depends on U.S. debt instruments as collateral, so it needs its U.S. debt holdings to retain value. And what about the threat of oil being sold in euros or anything but dollars? Well, Saddam tried that; didn't work. Iran threatened that; its market didn't even see opening day.

People like Soj at DailyKos don't understand that when no country has a commodity-backed economy (which isn't completely desirable since your economy then waxes and wanes with the commodity's production), the confidence of consumers and investors is the only factor. The American economy is the only major one that is expanding steadily and sustainably, thanks (or despite) its somewhat screwed-up free market system and rule of law. For whatever reason, foreigners know that the United States is the place to invest. I point to American workers' productivity surge, a factor transcending mere commodities, which Econopundit Steve Antler thinks is "the most important economic news of the decade."

It would be disaster for Europe and Asia if the dollar lost half its value. The French in particular have suffered in good part from a strong euro (although Italian wine exports aren't having that problem). The Bank of Japan is always selling yen for dollars to keep the yen weak, because Japan is heavily dependent on exports (the U.S. actually exports more as a percentage of GDP, but Japan needs exports because its domestic economy is still shaky). China's central bank similarly manipulates the yuan to keep it from gaining strength from natural trade forces (which would make Chinese exports less attractive), but also to buy the aforementioned U.S. Treasury bonds as collateral to keep China's banking infrastructure and currency from collapsing. None of them want the dollar getting any weaker, and China certainly would like a much stronger dollar. Since it pegs the yuan to the dollar, a stronger dollar and hence a stronger yuan would make dollar-denominated commodities (crude oil, most importantly) more affordable for the Chinese.

Economics as a weapon can be powerful, but the U.S. embargo against Cuba proves that it works only if most everyone else joins you. Furthermore, as the Hawley-Smoot Tariff and the resulting retaliatory tariffs showed, a nation tends to hurt itself at least as much as the target. For all these reasons, any nation following Mahathir's "vision" would find itself quite alone, and likely quite ruined. And after all history's warnings, it doesn't matter whether any Muslim leaders have "the will to change currency": besides the fact that the princes need American customers' dollars to live extravagantly, Muslim nations by themselves don't have the clout anyway. They're not major holders of U.S. debt, their oil sales aren't enough of the global economy to make them serious players, and they'd only hurt themselves in the process. The idea that they could seriously harm the United States, with its Strategic Petroleum Reserve and untapped reserves (a big supply shock like the 1970s would push Congress into opening up ANWR), goes hand-in-hand with their delusion of installing a caliphate in Washington, D.C.: they might hit us hard, but they'll knock themselves out with their own blow.

Thank God that Mahathir isn't anyone's chief economic advisor, otherwise he could bring a country to shambles as Robert Mugabe has done with Zimbabwe. If Krugman is correct that Mahathir is "as forward-looking a Muslim leader as we're likely to find," then there's no hope at all for the Muslim world.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

How to talk to socialists

Analysis of the socialist mindset
The intellectual bankruptcy of the left, part IV
Rumors of Wal-Mart's demise are greatly exaggerated

Well, our socialist visitor is back, though he said he was never coming back -- just like all those Hollywood liberals said they were leaving the U.S. if Bush were re-elected, but didn't.

He said:
External circumstances led me to look at your site again.
I see you have misrepresented all my points, set up a straw man, called me a socialist and then satisfied yourself that you have won the argument.
Translation: someone told him he was getting his ass flamed, and being a glutton for punishment, he just couldn't resist how bad.

My oh my, Bobby is a fine one to accuse others of misrepresentation and using straw men. It was his favorite anti-Wal-Mart blog that made a personal attack on me all that time ago, and it's Bobby who misrepresents himself by denying his socialism.

On a personal note, I never feel a need to "satisf[y] [my]self that [I] have won the argument" -- I let my words stand on their own merit. I will add, however, that it's not hard to defeat socialists, particularly ones like Bobby who repeat the same propaganda and can never refute your points.
I've never said anything about socialism, by which most people mean state ownership of the means of production. Government regulation of industry is not socialism. Collecting taxes is not socialism. Representative government is not socialism.
But Bobby doesn't want to stop at collecting taxes. He wants a government to make decisions for people. That's socialism: government having massive economic control. In its final, pure form, socialism is full state control over the means of production (I wonder if he had to look that up when I called him a socialist), but socialists are more than content to "creep" toward the goal.

Representative government can very well be socialism. When government taxes Peter to give to Paul, that's the redistribution of wealth. In other words, socialism. Moreover, democracy itself is completely undesirable, as the Founding Fathers often warned about. They called it "mobocracy" for a damned good reason: there's no protection for the individual rights to life, liberty and property. Woe unto you should you be one of the 49 in a population of 100, when the other 51 vote to take away your property. And if you're in the top 1% of income earners, the other 99% won't hesitate to seize a chunk of your wealth.

But wait a minute: "Government regulation of industry is not socialism"? I realize that most political science taught today is complete crap, but how damned stupid must someone be to think that regulation is not socialism? Marx discussed such socialism in his Communist Manifesto, actually criticizing it for not going far enough. But he still didn't deny that those who supported the regulation of industry, as part of achieving "egalitarian" social reformation, are socialists.
While you pray to your god Bastiat, it is worth noting that he is a marginal figure in the world of economics. In addition none of the ideas that you extol, such as the "free market" and laissez faire treatement of business has ever been put in place anywhere in the world.
Clearly Bobby has no idea what he's talking about, particularly since I most certainly don't pray to Bastiat, but I guess he thinks "economics" is the baloney that Krugman and DeLong throw out. Krugman doesn't have much support these days, anyway, as Don Luskin recently noted, and this is a guy who supposedly will win the Nobel Prize someday.

Economics isn't about trade flows, inflation and employment statistics. Real economics is fundamentally the science of human choice and its consequences, and Bastiat's astute insights are so legendary that I do not need to defend him as a great pioneer. The difference between Bastiat and Krugman is that had the Nobel Prize been around in Bastiat's time, he'd have won it repeatedly, but it would be like when Phil Collins won his Oscar: their brilliant accomplishments transcended any need for a mere award. So many of Bastiat's principles seem evident today, but do we think condescendingly of pre-medieval Arab mathematicians because their algebra is old hat to us? As Don Luskin once told me when we met for drinks, even Krugman wouldn't dare contradict the "broken window" fallacy.

Now, Bobby thinks that laissez-faire has never been put in place anywhere in the world. What parallel Earth does he live on? Whatever it is, it must be the most impoverished piece of cosmic rock ever imaginable. Even Bastiat in 1850 noted that the most prosperous societies are those where government stayed the most out of commerce. Look at the United States. Look at France and Germany. The U.S. prospers despite all the hindrances and obstacles government creates. France and Germany can't prosper no matter what the governments do.

As I've pointed out, we have had four supply-sider presidents: Calvin Coolidge, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Coolidge was especially known for a belief that government should not interfere with business, save when it commits force or fraud. That's not laissez-faire? Reagan made Goldwater's 1964 platform a reality and started us down the road of government deregulation (until Democrats and then Republicans brought us back up). Reagan wasn't following laissez-faire? Bush is only somewhat laissez-faire

How about laissez-faire with international trade? Hawley-Smoot Tariff of 1930, world trade collapses, and the Great Depression spreads globally. Free trade agreements (better than nothing) starting in the last part of the 20th century, and everybody prospers (especially poor countries who now can earn money from wealthier countries).

And what has Ireland been doing, but following laissez-faire policies? And what has it reaped, besides immense prosperity that places it at the head of Europe?
If your hope is that such a society can be achieved then you have proved my point about being hopeless utopians.
I never claimed to want a Utopia. I just want people to be free to make their own decisions, and let them determine their own destinies. You, on the other hand, are promoting more Utopian ideals by extolling the fallacial virtues of government deciding what's "best" for the people.

You don't appear to be a very well-educated person, because if you were, you'd know that "utopia" is the least appropriate word to apply to free marketers' belief of how the world should be.
PS. Just for the record I've probably made more money in the stock market that your entire clique combined, so I'm hardly a socialist.
What a laughable boast. I'd put money down and call for his 1099s, but I'd first bet he doesn't even know what those are. When I regularly played Ultima Online, I routinely met other players who claimed to be 6'2", 220 pounds in real life, bench-press 350, blah blah.

Talk is cheap. Staying true to your principles is not. Ask Nathan Hale in the afterlife: sometimes staying true to your principles is extremely expensive.

There's no reason socialists can't profit off a capitalist system, anyway. Socialists can be just as hypocritical as anyone, using tools that they themselves claim to loathe. Look at George Soros, who doesn't dare advocate actual socialism, but he promotes "interventionism," which is still socialism. Soros doesn't believe people can be left completely free to their peaceful, voluntary transactions, because too much "self-interest" causes problems. Yet it's his own self-interest that allowed him to earn billions. That's just like socialists: they'll use whatever they can to get to the front, and once they do, then they start talking about redistribution.
By the way you failed to respond to my questions about why you are so angry and have such a need to deny reality. Sorry, you failed to address any of my issues.
Socialists just don't understand that people don't like being stolen from. They just don't understand that people tend to have a sense of property, but the socialist few among us who want to feed off others' labor. The socialists know they can't achieve full-blown socialism, so instead they creep: Teddy Roosevelt's "progressivism," FDR's "New Deal" politics (including trying to stuff the Supreme Court), Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" and "War on Poverty" (which made society less great and more impoverished), GWB's "No Child Left Behind" and prescription drug bill, and 21st century Democrats' push for universal health care. Very few Americans would have supported universal health care 50 years ago, because they still had some sense of pulling your own weight. However, socialists condition each generation by telling 1000 truths and 1 lie, then 999 truths and 2 lies...

And isn't it amazing when you take socialists' stupidity apart, sentence by sentence, and they ignore that, fail to answer a single thing you said, then claim "you failed to address any of my issues"?

Note to Bobby: "issues" is a malapropos word. Try something better suited like "points" or even "assertions." Do yourself a favor and try to stop sounding eloquent; your command of the language isn't that hot. Maybe you're using Roget's, but next time, I recommend a decent copy, not a fake from the dollar store.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Cablevision's continued incompetence

My cable signal went out (again) last night around 10 p.m., the second time in two weeks. I called and got yet another shit-for-brains kid who wouldn't know an RCA plug from RF. Except for one occasion (setting up my new digital cable box per confusing instructions partially translated from Mandarin), I have found Cablevision's "technicians" incompetent and unfriendly. For $130 a month, I expect to speak to someone who at least knows which way is up, not some script-reading tech noob (scroll down through this for a doozy of a story).

Since I got Cablevision's service in January 2001, I've had numerous temporary "service disruptions": wait 3-4 hours, and suddenly it'll be back by itself. Once in a while it was a longer outage. So I've largely stopped calling them and instead would wait 3-4 hours, but I did call last night. My cable modem and cable box weren't receiving signals, and I sensed it was another neighborhood outage. The tech insisted I go through "troubleshooting procedures" on my cable box, and I told him point-blank, "I'm not going to waste my time fucking around back there." What good would it do to troubleshoot my cable box, like all the other times I sighed and complied when I had the same problem and bothered to call, when my cable modem showed it was a signal problem?

Then he asked me if I wanted a service call, but with the caveat that if it could have been resolved by troubleshooting, I'd get charged. First, I said I was tired of them "threatening me" with a service charge when it's always been their fault (including a staple driven through the coax by the installing technician). I also pointed out my previous histories of neighborhood outages and temporary ones that suddenly spring back. Then of all the stupidest things to say, he said, "So you're refusing a technician to come out." "Refusing?" I corrected. "Refusing would be if sending out a field tech would actually do some good. I am declining because it's pointless."

But the most boneheaded thing he did was directly accusing me of blaming them, excusing their accidental neighborhood outages because "That's not our problem." Not their problem? When I, the customer, am not getting a service that I've paid for, how is it not their problem? It might not be their fault, but it sure as hell is their problem to restore my service as fast as possible.

Rodrigo, whatever the hell his name was, could be some 19-year-old making $8 an hour for all I know and care. Well, I myself started out as a PC support phone, but the difference is that I was competent, and this kid has a lot to learn about simple logic. I couldn't begin to count how often I sought authorization from a "senior tech" to have an obviously defective part replaced, and the first thing the putz would ask was, "Did you boot to A:"? "No, you idiot, I didn't, and there's nothing that booting to A: is going to do for this hard drive!"

But Cablevision has no incentive to provide good service to retain customers. Government has given it a monopoly in my area, and similar monopolies to Comcast, TimeWarner and other cable companies in their respective regions -- just like the Crown used to grant charters giving a company exclusive "rights" to a business. All the resulting lack of competition does is screw over consumers. Satellite is hardly competition; it's merely an alternative. If other cable companies could start up, who cares if it's "market chaos"? Free commerce eventually sorts itself, and quite nicely without any need for government's "help." Cablevision would either learn to provide reliable service and decent phone support, or die out.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Daily Star Trek Quote Challenge, 8/21/2006

- That was the easiest lesson I've ever given.

- Then I have succeeded in learning how to dance?

- You seem to have...picked up the basics.

- Thank you, _____. I am now ready to dance at the wedding.

- Wedding?!

- _____'s wedding.

- But you never -- you didn't say it was for the wedding.

- Is that important?

- Well, yes. They don't do a lot of tap dancing at weddings.

It just came to me

I just remembered something I wanted to include on my entry about the French dinghies. The Lebanese in general must be wondering, "How the hell did they ever control our country for so long?"

Analysis of the socialist mindset

The intellectual bankruptcy of the left, part IV
Rumors of Wal-Mart's demise are greatly exaggerated

My analysis:

I'm continually amazed that middle class, educated, young people who, on the face of it, are among the most privileged on the planet develop such jealousy of others' wealth.

Was there some personal tragedy in their lives that colored their outlook? Or had they truly been brought up in an intellectually bankrupt environment and thus just repeat the prejudices instilled in them by their elders? Or do they have a personality which requires a pat "Let the government fix it!" answer to complex social issues and thus latch onto the first authority figure that they come across that provides this?

These days many have chosen Franklin Delano Roosevelt as the model for social and economic organization. Others have chosen Keynes to provide their moral framework, while others have picked Krugman to provide the foreign policy framework.

Clearly it is a result of having passed through the school system, which is a period where critical thinking is never taught. Whatever the reason, the results are predictable and tiresome. Thoughtless arguments, catch phrases in place of opinions, ad hominem attacks and stereotyping.

This is too bad, because these people are in charge of society, and their superficial understanding of how the world should work doesn't inspire hope that intelligent solutions will be forthcoming to society's continual problems.

"Tax the rich" is borne of nothing more than jealousy; it is pointless and thoughtless. Rather than blathering on like this, take some time and learn about the real world. Read some history and see how the themes of today have recurred many times in the past and that the only times the people (that means you, me and everyone else) came out ahead was when government was quashed.

Try the books of Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand for a start.

I have to admit something: every last italicized word was utterly vacuous tripe. So, it's a good thing that all I did was take what our socialist visitor posted the other day and replace a few words. If you look closely, you'll see that I also corrected verb conjugations and added a few necessary punctuation marks. In his meretricious claim to seek honest discussion, he demonstrated a less-than-complete command of the English language.

It's a testament to the intellectual bankruptcy of the left that their arguments are so generic, so vapid, that you need only change a few words to change their position completely. Remember Bill Clinton's cameo in "Contact"? That only demonstrated that the president can say anything, and it's so fundamentally meaningless that you can take a piece and apply it to whatever you want.

What single word in any of Bobby's arguments at all refuted what I had said? I'm still waiting for his proof that Wall Street is abandoning Wal-Mart, let alone his ridiculous notion that "traders and hedge funds" are the ones who control stock markets' direction. And like most other socialists, when persistently rebutted with actual fact, he said he's "done" with my blog after his rhetoric proved inadequate. Boo hoo, he's taking his marbles and going home. Hear that? That is the sound of the door hitting him on the way out.

"Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." Rejoin socialists' claims with sound logic, and they will flee. My warmest thanks to Billy, Mike and Shamus: when the day comes, I look forward to standing with you.

Why do socialists believe the way they do? It's an irrelevant question: for whatever reason, they've come to depend on and extol government as the solution. It comes down to the expression that "When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Government is the socialists' hammer: they cannot conceive of any solutions to society other a new government policy or program. Ironically, they claim believers in the free market, like me, give simplistic solutions, when as Don Boudreaux explained, "To recommend the market, in fact, is to recommend letting millions of creative people, each with different perspectives and different bits of knowledge and insights, each voluntarily contribute his own ideas and efforts toward dealing with the problem."

I critique the efficacy of government because if we, imperfect as individuals, cannot make the proper and best decisions for ourselves, then how can government be any more competent, discerning and successful, since it is comprised of us? There's nothing magical about going into public service that suddenly makes a person always seek the best for "the public good" (a concept I don't believe exists at all). James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock's contributions to public choice theory were especially important for revealing politicians and bureaucrats as self-interested when it comes to public policy as they were in the private sector.

I don't believe in Wal-Mart, or any business. I do believe in capitalism, which is predicated on the free market. The free market is simply where people are be free to reach their own agreements with each other, where no one has the right to force either party against their will. Liberals, though, believe that people are too stupid to make their own decisions, insisting that we need a government to "coordinate" our efforts, determine what is "fair," and keep us "safe." Again, though, government is comprised of people who are still imperfect beings.

Why should I defer my own decisions to another imperfect person who cannot possibly be more aware of my personal circumstances than I? Why should I trust someone who, as history proves time and time again, is hardly going to look out for me any more than he'll look out for himself and special interest groups? "Oh," the socialists counter, "but he is less imperfect than you. Elections are about determining who are the best among us, so that they may guide our collective efforts." Is that so? One look at Ted Kennedy makes me wonder just how imperfect every Massachusetts voter must be, and I don't know too many Utahns from my 14 years there who'd be much worse than Orrin Hatch.

As Bastiat, my patron saint, declared in The Law, "God has given to men all that is necessary for them to accomplish their destinies." The same God who gave us the unalienable rights to life, liberty and property also gave us sufficient faculties to recognize and use them at our own discretion. Bastiat declared at the end of The Law that "liberty is an acknowledgment of faith in God and His works," therefore you are denying God's wisdom if you give up your liberty so that others may govern your life. I, for one, would rather make my own mistakes instead of someone making potentially worse mistakes for me. And if I harm no one but myself, then like Christ's reply when Peter asked if John really wasn't going to die, "What is that to thee?"

But socialists like Bobby, as bastiat explained, want to play God with society: they form an idea of how things ought to be, then set about reforming society. They justify their intentions by pointing to the past and claiming their "liberal" policies have bettered society. Nothing could be further from the truth. Some time ago, I asked and answered the question, "What hath the free market wrought?" Well, what has it? Nothing that liberals accuse of it, i.e. child labor, slavery, pollution, the Great Depression. I will be charitable and excuse any liberal for ignorantly believing that the free market at all influenced the first three. However, I will forever say that any liberal is a damned fool if he believes the free market had anything to do with the Great Depression.

Just as the free market is not guilty of these accusations, "progressive" government policies are hardly responsible for any disappearances of child labor (which occurs only when societies prosper beyond a point where they starve if children don't help), the emergence of the 40-hour work week (again the natural result of a prosperous society that no longer must toil from sunrise to sunset), and things like insurance (partly because of how firms compete for employees, and partly because of government tax policies that make it cheaper to offer $5000 worth of insurance than another $5000 in pay). Liberals, though, are confused by the logical fallacy called cum hoc ergo propter hoc: they assume that because these things occured during the expansion of "progressive" government, these things occurred during that expansion. In fact, like the government-borne economic woes in South America that Paul Krugman foolishly blamed on the free market, these things occurred despite anything government did.

What about my job in corporate compliance? Am I not receiving pretty good pay only because government has reined in big business, requiring them to be responsible to their clients? Actually, think of how compliance analysts like me, or accountants, or lawyers, would have better jobs if the firm didn't have to employ so many of us in capacities that generate no revenue. My job would probably still exist in the same way, I think, since my firm prides itself on having the toughest ethics standards (far beyond what the SEC requires). Regardless, the firm's managers (and their subordinates) are more than capable of determining on their own, without a government body telling them, whether or not they need me. They can make determinations based not so much on what the owners (shareholders) say, but what our clients say. Or do, if they bring new business to us, or take their business elsewhere.

Similarly, I need no government to create a job for me, to determine what my "fair" wage is, to determine what is the most optimally nutritious food for me to eat, or anything else that involves me and just me. Do you?
Look at the entire world. Which countries contain the most peaceful, the most moral, and the happiest people? Those people are found in the countries where the law least interferes with private affairs; where government is least felt; where the individual has the greatest scope, and free opinion the greatest influence; where administrative powers are fewest and simplest; where taxes are lightest and most nearly equal, and popular discontent the least excited and the least justifiable; where individuals and groups most actively assume their responsibilities, and, consequently, where the morals of admittedly imperfect human beings are constantly improving; where trade, assemblies, and associations are the least restricted; where labor, capital, and populations suffer the fewest forced displacements; where mankind most nearly follows its own natural inclinations; where the inventions of men are most nearly in harmony with the laws of God; in short, the happiest, most moral, and most peaceful people are those who most nearly follow this principle: Although mankind is not perfect, still, all hope rests upon the free and voluntary actions of persons within the limits of right; law or force is to be used for nothing except the administration of universal justice.
What Bastiat wrote still holds true 156 years later, yet despite the decades of evidence of tyranny and fallen empires, many still cling to the idea that government can create prosperity by interference.

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

French combat strategy

The first French "peacekeeping" troops to arrive in Lebanon were a vanguard of...49...who arrived in...inflatable dinghies. At least they sailed for Lebanon via a warship, but then again, under their navy specifications that probably means anything over 20 feet. Well, maybe they plan to make Hezbollah laugh themselves to death.

Only the French could arrive with "We'll surrender!" all over their foreheads. Never mind the jokes about the Canadian navy -- nothing could have bolstered Hezbollah's confidence more than the sight of those frogs. How do you say, "More pathetic than 1940 and 1870 combined" in Arabic? Perhaps dinghies were all that the mighty French needed for transporting themselves and their smelly cheese equipment, but let's remember a particular characteristic about this enemy we're fighting. While Arabs respect strength, as do most cultures, they particularly despise weakness (like when Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip, and its capitulation in 1993 with the Oslo Accords). Similarly, in "Braveheart" when Edward Longshanks decided to send a negotiator to meet with Wallace, he mused that the appearance of his "gentle son" would only embolden the Scots.

There's probably an Arabic saying equivalent to "bringing a knife to a gunfight" (dagger against a scimitar?), and that's exactly what the French did. Ah well, it's not as if the UN "peacekeeping" force would ever be of any worth, anyway. The jihadists already knew that. They also know that if they can make we Westerners fight by "rules" while they do whatever it takes for them to win, they'll win. The UN "peacekeepers" will do no more than sit around pointing fingers at Israel, following Kofi's example, when in fact Israel is doing nothing more than cutting off the jihadists' supply lines. The jihadists meanwhile will continue fighting to achieve peace by winning, not by agreement.

Yahoo's news stories are especially prone to updates without notice. When I read the story on Saturday morning, it was the mention of "inflatable dinghies" that caught my eye. However, that AP story, on Yahoo and many other sites, no longer mentions the mode of transportation. For example, searching Google News yields many CBS News sites, with search results snippets still mentioning the dinghies, but the articles have been "updated" and no longer do. Maybe the AP editors realized it was too embarrassing for even the French? Forbes and the Guardian still mention it.

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Locating the X-Mansion

I was never into comic books, so I didn't know until I saw the first X-Men movie that the mansion is set in Westchester. The beginning of the second movie makes it more specific, mentioning "the Salem area" of "upstate New York" -- which technically isn't upstate, although a lot of city residents still consider "upstate" to be anything north of the boroughs (some might even say 125th Street). The movie's conclusion includes a shot of the plaque at the mansion gates, giving the official address of 1407 Graymalkin Lane, Salem Center, New York.

A while back, I edited the mansion's Wikipedia entry to clarify that Salem Center is part of North Salem, the town next to me. It's a good choice of location: the northwest corner of Westchester County has very affluent areas, and Salem Center in particular is more spread out and has large estate-type properties. I frequently drive through North Salem, and sometimes through Salem Center, like today on my way back from Connecticut. Ever since I saw the second movie, anytime I go through Salem Center, I've wondered where the mansion could fit. There's a stretch of Peach Lake Road, from Pietsch Gardens to Vail's Grove, on whose east side are patches of forest in which the mansion could hide. There's another area around the junction of Route 121 and 116, and another on the north side of the Titicus Reservoir near the North Salem town hall.

I recall that one of the X-Men games has a feature of exploring "downtown" Salem Center. The real world North Salem has several clusters of just a few shops each, and its only centralized commercial and civic location is around the post office. It's off the main road (Route 22) and not what most people would call "downtown," but it's not too far from the Salem Center portion of the town. Also, when Wolverine "borrows" Cyclops' motorcycle in the first movie and zooms down the road, that could quite plausibly be down Titicus Road to Route 22, then perhaps a bit down the equally winding Route 22, since Titicus Road itself isn't that long.

Oh yeah, about that train. A station announcer said something about a departure for Philadelphia, but that wouldn't be possible via the Metro-North railroad, which goes strictly to the city. The closest Amtrak station is in New Rochelle, but there's no direct Metro-North line to there from the Salem area. Either Rogue took Metro-North to a stop in lower Westchester, then a bus to New Rochelle (only possible from White Plains), or she went all the way to Penn Station. Maybe the latter is what happened, if we can ignore that the movie's suburban station looks nothing like Penn. And the reason it took Wolverine a while to get there was the %&#@ traffic along the Saw Mill Parkway on the way into Manhattan.

Am I overdoing it? Well, I'm not "nitpicking" so much as examining fiction with the real life locations where it takes place. I still happily suspend disbelief and have enjoyed the movies, the second more than the first, and the third most of all.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The intellectual bankruptcy of the left, part IV

See the comments at the end of my entry late last night.

I normally don't come down so hard on people. Well, ok, maybe I do more often than I think, but:

1. Liberals deserve no mercy.

2. They personally attacked me on their blog a while back, accusing me of being a Wal-Mart "sock puppet." I've meant to get around to it but kept forgetting.

3. Liberals deserve no mercy.

4. Did I mention that liberals deserve no mercy?

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Rumors of Wal-Mart's demise are greatly exaggerated

"Wal-Mart Posts 1st Profit Fall in Decade" proclaimed the Associated Press headline, in pure schadenfreude. "Wal-Mart Profit Falls 26%, Its First Drop in 10 Years" beamed Michael Barbaro, resident basher of big business at the New York Times.

Gee, you'd think it was the end of the world for Wal-Mart. Remember, though, that liberals love to make hay out of a short, cherry-picked period of time. They typically dismiss a quarter of economic growth, whether it's the U.S. during a Republican presidency or a major business built on capitalism, as either an aberration or no big deal -- even if the growth is consistently quarter after quarter. (And in the United States' case, after major tax policy changes were enacted and spur continuous growth.) On the other hand, they love to point to a single, isolated slowdown in one quarter as proof of structural failure.

So naturally, the liberal mainstream media ate it up when Wal-Mart's profits were down for just this last quarter. But note that Wal-Mart's profits still increased, though not as much as before. That was in large part related to the cost of pulling out of Germany (whose flat economic growth means the people have little money to spend anywhere) so it can focus on countries that are profitable. Were it not for the special charge of $863 million, the reported $2.08 billion profit would have been 4.7% greater than the $2.81 billion reported for the quarter one year ago. Furthermore, earnings were still in line with what its analysts said, excluding that one-time charge, so the situation is not as bad as mainstream media would have you believe.

Barbaro wrote that "Domestic sales rose by a modest 6.9 percent." In what kind of world is that considered "modest"? Having helped manage a business, albeit a small one, I can tell you that 6.9% growth in 12 months is still pretty damn good. That's around U.S. GDP growth after adjusting for inflation, so in other words, Wal-Mart's alleged downturn is still equal to robust American economic growth. What does that say about when Wal-Mart really sizzles? If, in an out-of-context quote, Wal-Mart's CEO admits that management is "disappointed" with sales, how high must their normal expectations be?

And then we find the real story: "Overall sales, from stores in the United States and abroad, rose 11.3 percent, to $84.5 billion from $75.9 billion." So where Wal-Mart can make a profit, it makes one hell of a killing. Also,
Bernard Sosnick, an analyst at Oppenheimer Securities, said he was impressed that Wal-Mart had met its earnings forecast from operations at a time when its customers, many earning less than $30,000 a year, were absorbing gasoline price increases and the company was investing heavily in store renovation. "This has been a worst-case scenario for Wal-Mart," Mr. Sosnick said.
In a worst-case scenario, Wal-Mart still makes a terrific profit.

Other liberals have disparaged Wal-Mart by saying its growth rate has been flat for the last few years: this one pegs Wal-Mart's growth at 4%. So does that make Barbaro's figure of 6.9% a boom for Wal-Mart? The former claims to go by Wal-Mart's annual sales reports, but then what figures is Barbaro using, but the same ones that Wal-Mart will put into its annual reports? Well, we really shouldn't be surprised that liberals, eager to bash capitalism in any way they can, will contradict each other. It doesn't matter to them, as long as they can deceive people in their anti-capitalist rants.

The truth is that in fiscal year 2006, Wal-Mart's net sales increased 9.5% to $312.4 billion, and its net income rose 9.4% to $11.2 billion. Those were straight from Wal-Mart's 2006 annual report. (Compare this to Target's recently reported net income of $609 million.) For any size of business, that's an incredibly tiny profit margin. Most could never survive on such a pittance, yet with that kind of growth coupled with unparalleled sales volume, Wal-Mart can succeed. It even uses the same "low profit margin, high sales volume" idea with its online music sales. Investors would balk at most companies with that kind of profit margin, but they're not scared of Wal-Mart's strategy. They're still looking at a predicted earnings per share of around $2.90 for calendar year 2006. The stock is down from its 52-week high, and it fell in Tuesday's trading after the "weak" profit news, but it was up slightly on Wednesday. So some investors panicked, while those who keep faith will be rewarded.

That "Is Walmart over" entry is full of bad economics, as if it were written by an EPI or CBPP lackey. The first clue is that the author can't get the company's name right. He claims that if a product manufacturer complains that Wal-Mart isn't paying enough, "Walmart will find another supplier and [the product manufacturer] will lose the business." This is ignorant baloney, as are most liberals' assertions about how businesses operate, and anyone with a lick of common sense can see why: it reverses cause and effect, which a while back I listed as an economic misconception to beware of. Competition is the fundamental principle behind economic growth, so you'll never see a real business "complaining" that it has to cut costs. A successful business, i.e. one that doesn't depend on protectionism (by definition always government-induced), will cut costs to get and retain someone's business, not because it's afraid of losing it. A manufacturer will move operations overseas not because Wal-Mart sets the price, but to outbid other competing manufacturers.

Remember that a price is set by both sides: if people are left free to compete, then no one has the power to dictate the terms of a transaction, including price. (Liberals have a very skewed concept of "competition," however. It boils down to giving certain people a "head start" instead of letting them compete on their own merits, but that's for another day.) If Jim can sell a proverbial widget to Wal-Mart for 90 cents, but he notices or even thinks that Bob can compete at 85 cents, then Jim will look for ways he can sell at 80 cents. Liberals' hearts bleed for the Bob types, especially the "mom & pop" stores that Wal-Mart tends to run out of business, but I rejoice at the disappearance of less efficient businesses. Why is striving for higher efficiency so wrong, especially when the consumer always wins in the end?

It's Wal-Mart's incredibly aggressive competition that is the key to its success. If Wal-Mart were really so rough in its negotiations, why are so many manufacturers knocking each other down to gain Wal-Mart's business? For the same reason that liberals, particularly unions that are powerless to intimidate Wal-Mart, accuse Wal-Mart of not paying enough, even though plenty of people still voluntarily accept low-end employment at Wal-Mart: it must not be that bad. If they disliked Wal-Mart so much, or if they couldn't sell the goods at the prices Wal-Mart is willing to pay, then the manufacturers would be turning to Target, or to "mom & pop" shops.

That brings us to another measure of success: maybe you're not running as fast as before, but what if everyone else has fallen even further behind? Start worrying about Wal-Mart when it moves into an area and doesn't drive others out of business. What if your competitors are so afraid of you that they get the referee to block you from entering the race? Earlier this year, White Plains (Westchester's county seat and main city) finally gave Wal-Mart the green light to open a store in the downtown shopping area. White Plains had to give Wal-Mart a "certificate of occupancy," and the state had to grant a license to sell groceries. The mayor had previously said he's afraid of "too much competition," which is pure horseshit. How much was he getting from Target, Stop & Shop and specialty stores, I wonder? How about Circuit City, Best Buy and CompUSA a few miles away? If Wal-Mart is in such trouble, why are they so afraid of it opening up next door?

The AP article quotes a couple of portfolio managers, including one for Thrivent Investment Management. According to the International Herald Tribune, Thrivent had 1.1 million shares as of March 31st, so about $51 million worth. But that's not even 1% of Thrivent's present $67.5 billion in assets, so far from a significant investment. The other portfolio manager is working with a mere 51,000 shares ($2.27 million) out of $8.2 billion in assets -- not even three hundredths of one percent. Also, if you do a little checking around, one almost wonders if this David Heupel fellow's job is providing soundbites (even to China's People's Daily propaganda) about why not to invest in Wal-Mart, rather than managing a portfolio.

I should note that liberals might think I'm a Wal-Mart cheerleader, but I personally don't invest in Wal-Mart, or any funds or other ventures that do. Nonetheless, I'd rather listen to fund managers who control more significant holdings of Wal-Mart stock, instead of people with axes to grind. Certain liberal morons would like big players like TIAA-CREF (the largest U.S. retirement fund) to drop their Wal-Mart investors, but thankfully there are managers who look out for their investors' best interests, instead of following some idiotic bleeding-heart philosophy. Norwegians might wish that, someday, when they find there's a high cost to putting the environment and "ethical business practices" first.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

And just what kind of a man was he?

I wasn't surprised at all when I read this article yesterday; in fact, I expected the critical omission. Emphasis added to the excerpts:
Man Pleads Not Guilty in Seattle Case

SEATTLE Aug 15, 2006 (AP)— A man accused of storming Seattle's Jewish Federation offices, killing one woman and wounding five others in a fit of rage over U.S. foreign policy, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to murder and other charges.

Naveed Afzal Haq, 30, had indicated in court last week that he wanted to plead guilty, but a judge continued his arraignment to give his lawyers time to determine whether their client was competent.

On Tuesday, defense attorneys said they had met with Haq for nine hours during the past week and found no indication that he would be incapable of assisting in his own defense.

Haq faces either life in prison or execution if convicted in the death of Pamela Waechter, 58, director of the Jewish charity's annual fundraising campaign. King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng has not yet announced whether he will seek the death penalty.

Haq pleaded not guilty to five counts of attempted first-degree murder in the July 28 shooting at the federation's downtown offices.

Five women were wounded by gunfire, including one who was 17 weeks pregnant and three who required lifesaving surgery.

Haq fired at the pregnant woman's abdomen, but the bullet hit her raised arm, Seattle Police Detective Dana Duffy said in a probable cause statement filed with charging documents. The woman crawled back to her desk and called 911, defying the gunman's warning that no one call authorities.

Haq eventually got on the phone with the 911 operator and said he was upset about the war in Iraq and U.S. support of Israel, and asked the operator to patch him through to CNN, Duffy said...
Whether it's al-Reuters or the Associated Press, this farce of news reporting goes beyond political correctness. What's the missing word? Muslim. What's the missing detail? As the Seattle Times reported, he said "I'm a Muslim American; I'm angry at Israel" before he started shooting. So much for the reports of his conversion to Christianity. He also said to a 911 operator (keep in mind that this was therefore recorded and can be debunked if not true), "These are Jews and I'm tired of getting pushed around and our people getting pushed around by the situation in the Middle East." And just who are his people?

However, a headline like "Muslim Arraigned for Slaying Jewish Woman" would actually tell us the truth about who the enemy really is. Via Professor Bainbridge, Professor Anthony Arend of Georgetown had a few thoughts on President Bush's increasingly frequent use of "Islamic fascism." And just what is wrong with that term, when that enemy makes no attempt to disguise its true nature, as I pointed out a few nights ago?

I'm not trying to speak for anyone here, but I suspect that more than a few Jews (especially in Seattle) now see, if they didn't before, that their real enemy isn't a certain guy who was born in upstate New York, raised in Australia for a time, and became a movie star and director. Their real enemy has men who tend to have first names like Abdul, Ahmed and Mahmoud, last names like Aziz, Hassan, Hussein, and who pray five times a day to some bloodthirsty deity that promises them virgins in Paradise for killing infidels.

Once I heard about the shooting, I thought, as did a lot of others, "Jews have far bigger problems to worry about than Mel Gibson." Gibson's story broke that morning, and the Seattle shooting occurred later in the day, I recall. For all I know, Gibson might actually be the biggest anti-Semite in the world, but he's not even burning Israel's flag, let alone shooting Jews or blowing himself up. Which is more inciteful: a movie that is allegedly anti-Semitic but in fact emphasizes the suffering of a religion's savior for the sake of all people's sins, or all the mosques in the U.S. and UK that recruit followers specifically for jihad? It's also more sobering once we remember, as Jeff Jacoby pointed out in his typically outstanding column on August 6th, that this is hardly the first time that a Muslim has gone on a shooting rampage.

It looks quite clear-cut that Haq committed premeditated murder, but note another thing I highlighted: he aimed at a woman's abdomen. If he couldn't kill her, he at least wanted to kill her baby. How more demented can someone be? The man should be drawn and quartered, but let's not put it past a jury that they'll believe that this Muslim murderer is merely insane. All the defense attorneys would need to do is object to anything that specifies the man's religion -- that is, his true religion. They'd love to bring up testimony from people at the Bible study he attended (which I personally dismiss as a smokescreen).

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Daily Star Trek Quote Challenge, 8/15/2006

- Then our first step will be to eradicate its population. It's the only way.

- You can't do that.

- Why not?

- Because a true victory is to make your enemy see that they were wrong to oppose you in the first force them to acknowledge your greatness.

- Then you kill them?

- Only if necessary.

- I had no idea.

- Perhaps the biggest disappointment in my life is that the Bajoran people still refuse to appreciate how lucky they were to have me as their liberator. I protected them in so many ways, cared for them as if they were my own children. But to this day, is there a single statue of me on Bajor?

- I would guess not.

- And you'd be right.

Whew, I've been busy at work before, but I have been positively swamped since Monday last week. Sorry for not stopping by, Lord Boner, to exchange greetings over morning tea.

With Israel and Hezbollah each claiming victory, and I think it's real defeat for Israel at Olmert's hands, I couldn't help but think of a certain Trek megalomaniac's definition of victory.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

How effective can a cease-fire be?

Someone else has probably come up with something similar, but with the upcoming cease-fire, I couldn't help but think of this. Here's a news article that might have appeared in an alternate universe:
U.S. Presses for European Cease-Fire
May 24, 1940

Washington, D.C. - President Roosevelt yesterday morning reiterated his call for a cease-fire between Germany and France, urging the two countries to renew diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict. League of Nations General Secretary Joseph Avenol issued a simultaneous statement from Geneva, calling upon both nations "to set an example for world peace."

As the Germany army continued its seemingly unstoppable drive toward Paris, French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud once again threatened to take "the Hitler regime" to the Permanent Court of International Justice for "this unjustifiable aggression." He also urged the League to strengthen the Disarmament Commission and deploy peacekeeping forces along Germany's borders with France and the Low Countries.
In that same universe, perhaps the betrayal of Czechoslovakia at Munich in 1938 was also hailed as a "cease-fire" in the best interest of world peace. Oh, pardon me, it basically was in this universe too: "peace for our time."

A cease-fire will not work if only one side will honor it; that much should be obvious enough, right? So what did Israel get in return for withdrawing from Gaza? When it receives the very same -- namely more of their civilians killed as the terrorists sign with one hand and backstab with other -- for this new "cease-fire," it will only prove the truth of George Santayana's observation about those who do not remember the past.

I cannot believe Israel bowed to "international pressure" and accepted the agreement. I am even more incredulous that United States officials, representing the country that is Israel's only true friend in the world, naively sought any cessation of hostilities. Israel will cease its attacks in about an hour from now, and he who thinks the terrorists will ever uphold their end is a fool. It has been said that "Ye shall know them by their fruits," so ask yourself: who have always deliberately and unrelentingly targetted Israeli civilians? They may not fight under the Hezbollah name after Monday morning, but you can safely bet a dinar that they'll never stop. Regardless of their name, they'll still be the same people, from the suicide bombers to the leaders.

With the last six decades to illustrate how trustworthy the Arab nations are in their dealings with Israel, how can any reasonable, intelligent people, especially those who are ostensibly "pro-Israel," push for this outright farce? We should have let Israel clean up once and for all, for in war, the only end you should want is through total victory. Total victory, meaning the complete destruction of the enemy's will to wage further war (think Hiroshima and Nagasaki), is the only option when the enemy cannot be trusted to honor an agreement.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Daily Star Trek Quote Challenge, 8/10/2006

- I agree. We're at war.

- There's been no formal declaration of war.

- Not from our side, but certainly from theirs. They've attacked us in every encounter we've had.

- They have declared war on our way of life. We are to be assimilated.

- Even in war, there are rules. You don't kill civilians indiscriminately.

- There are no civilians among the Borg.

I've been meaning to do this one for a couple of days now. Today made it a must.

There was great irony in the protest that "You don't kill civilians indiscriminately." The Borg themselves didn't care about killing indiscriminately. Also, just as there are no civilians among the Borg, the Borg do not see any civilians in the races they attack -- much like the jihadists' belief that there are no civilians among us Westerners.

Was this latest thwarted plot really no more than a small group of hooligans? Larry Kudlow says no, and I always shared the sentiment that this is a clash of cultures: one culture that loves freedom, and one culture that seeks religious tyranny for all. We are fighting extremists like Osama, Zawahiri and Zarqawi. Zarqawi's January 2006 audiotape proved that it's not "interference" in the Middle East that riled up jihadists, but jihadists' desire that Islam dominate the world. Worse, we are fighting so-called "mainstream" groups who share the same goal.

A little later in that Trek episode was another appropriate line: "It comes down to this: we are faced with an enemy that is determined to destroy us, and with whom we have no hope of negotiating peace. Unless that changes, we are justified in doing anything we can to survive." Yet the United States continues to refrain from using its full might: our military actions are planned so carefully to minimize civilian casualties, meaning our people sometimes die because we didn't automatically assume everyone's a terrorist.

On the flip side, it's easy to tell who the bad guys are. They're the ones who don't give a damn about civilians and in fact primarily target civilians. Contrary to what that putz Bill Maher claims, the bad guys are the ones flying airplanes into buildings so they can kill civilians. The bad guys are those who, just to kill a couple of good guys, blow themselves up in the middle of dozens of children (whose only crime is receiving candy). U.S. military personnel have killed civilians, but by accident or aberration. When the jihadists kill civilians, it's standard procedure.

My European history teacher in high school described World War II as the one war where the lines between good and evil were clearly delineated. But what is "evil"? The Declaration of Independence has a specific list of George III's abuses, which may not be on the level of sending six million innocent people to gas chambers, but George III was a tyrant, and all tyranny is evil. It must be. It's certainly not good, and there's no gray area here. One man held such power, such sway over politicians and military personnel and mercenaries, that he could subjugate colonies a few thousand miles away.

Our friend Billy Beck pushes the Cold War's start date back to the late 18th century, indicating a very protracted, mostly non-combative conflict between those who love freedom and those who worship the state. I personally wouldn't use "Cold War" to describe it, not because it isn't accurate, but because most people wouldn't understand that we've been fighting the dark forces for a long, long time.

I believe that if World War II had the clearest lines between the good guys and bad guys, we are witnessing the same today. This war is nearly 1400 years old, with such bitterness ripened over the last 500 years that there's still talk of retaking southern Spain. And if you ever had any doubt as to exactly what they want, look in the upper right corner:

That picture was taken this last July 18th, right outside the Israeli consulate in New York City. What hypocrisy that they will take advantage of a freedom that they deny to others when they can!

"We seek peaceful coexistence"? No, more like:

- Your culture will adapt to service ours.

- Impossible. My culture is based on freedom and self-determination.

- Freedom is irrelevant. Self-determination is irrelevant. You must comply.

- We would rather die.

- Death is irrelevant.

A Sandisk e250 problem - and a solution

My first experience with Sandisk was an e140 that I bought last December. It's a nice 1-gigabyte flash memory MP3 player, as I wrote in my review for Yahoo! shopping. What I really liked was its small size and light weight, the price ($108 at Circuit City at the time), and especially the fully customizable equalizer. Battery life was very respectable, rated at 12 hours and nearly that in practical use -- meaning my 192 kbps MP3s versus tinny 128 kbps rips, and my frequent volume adjustments that turn on the backlight.

Unfortunately, I cracked the LCD screen last month. Rushing out the door to catch my morning train, I threw it into my carrying bag, where it hit a sturdier bottle of cologne. The player still worked, although without a screen it essentially was reduced to the functionality of an iPod Shuffle. It was fine for a few weeks, sufficient that I didn't get around to a replacement.

The last couple of weeks at work have been very, very busy, and very, very draining. I decided to treat myself, finally, and yesterday evening went downtown after work to J&R. At Manhattan's technology Mecca, I bought a 2-gig Sandisk e250 for $150, which becomes $130 after a $20 mail-in rebate. So far, I really like it. Wal-Mart has a 4-gig Creative Zen for $138.54, which is a really good price for all that memory. The Sandisk is smaller, though, and also plays video clips. The screen is only 1.8" diagonally, so not as good as a video iPod's 2.5" screen, and Sandisk's conversion software (required for video and photos) splits video into 10-minute segments. Still, it was almost too cool to watch Starblazers (great 1970s anime I grew up watching) on the morning Metro-North ride to work, and my main use is music, anyway.

But I already had trouble with the Sandisk, dreading having to go all the way downtown again to exchange it. After I boarded my Westchester-bound train this evening, I turned it on and cursed under my breath when the screen stayed blank. The volume wheel's backlight came on (and in fact remained on), so there was power. However, the unit was frozen somehow: it didn't respond when I tried to turn it off, nor did it shut off automatically after five minutes. When I got home, I plugged it into my PC via Sandisk's proprietary USB cable, but Windows didn't recognize the device.

The only way I could turn it off was removing and reseating the Li-ion battery. That required using a #0 Phillips screwdriver on four tiny screws so I could remove the back plate (which end-users are meant to be able to do themselves). After that, my computer recognized the unit when it was plugged in, but the e250 still wouldn't turn on by itself. So I called Sandisk's tech support. After waiting on hold for 24 minutes, I got a tech who was very pleasant and very professional.

The first thing he checked was whether the battery was charged. I'd used it throughout the day, but the battery level was still over half. Besides, I'd had it plugged in for over an hour by the time I started talking to the tech. So the fellow led me through putting my e250 in recovery mode (flip the "Hold" switch to the "Hold" position, then hold down the Record button while connecting the unit to the computer) so we could upgrade the firmware. That didn't work. I laughed a little when he said, "That's...strange," explaining that I used to do tech support myself, I could tell by the tone of his voice that he'd never encountered this before. All he could suggest was returning it to the store.

Bleh, I thought, not wanting to spend another evening trekking downtown. But then I decided to pull out the battery again. This time I let it sit out for a minute before putting it back in, and this worked. As a courtesy to other customers, I called Sandisk's tech support back to tell them what happened. You never know when someone else will run into the same problem, which can be fixed with a little inconvenience, but less inconvenience than going back to the store. The second tech didn't sound as nice as the first, so I don't know if he'll e-mail the first guy as I asked him to.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Has American health care really failed?

Dana hanley sent a message earlier to the Life, Liberty, Property community's e-mail list: any of you have some nice posts on medical care? Something with a bit of research...and particularly anything about the cost of health care (ie., the real costs of socialized medicine as opposed to our system?) I don't know that much about it, but cannot imagine that the government runs it more cheaply. And I know what it is like to be treated in a socialized system such as Germany's or England's...(I sat bleeding profusely in a London ER listening to a 12 yo girl scream for hours. Finally I was told I was miscarrying and to go home. They couldn't do anything until Monday at the earliest (it was Friday night). I was advised to return to Germany because my doctor there would see me sooner.)

Our health care system apparently is evidence of the failure of our American way of doing things. I'm still trying to sort out how air proves that socialism is superior to individual rights/liberties. But that is a separate story.
My reply:

A few thoughts, dana. Lots of groups have done studies, from Cato and the Heritage Foundation to all the big left-wing (socialist) groups. However, all these groups have their own axes to grind, and there are difficulties anyway with doing precise, empirical analysis of entire health care systems.

Government intervention creates incentives but necessarily destroys others (typically to a greater magnitude than anything it creates). The effects can be widely dispersed and impossible to account for completely, so it's hard to calculate "real" costs as you would like. Think of it this hypothetical scenario: if there's an increase (relative to population increase) in consumer demand for oranges, how much could be attributed to a new tariff on imported bananas? How much came from a marketing blitz by orchard growers and Florida's state government? And that's an easy one. The Canadian and European models have high disincentives for health care providers, with high incentives for people to consume health care resources. The U.S. system has high incentives for some (i.e. subsidized) people to consume health care resources, which also price insurance beyond what others can afford (I believe Cato estimated that regulations make health insurance too expensive for 7 million americans), with a lot of regulations that both encourage and hinder providers.

The issue is more "how to allocate health care resources" than "how to provide health care resources." We already are producing an amazing amount of health care, just not in sufficient quantity to satisfy what everyone would like. So if there is a "problem" with American health care, I see it as no different than any other resource that's too limited and in relatively high demand.

Some proponents of socialized medicine claim the problem is that Americans pay more but get less, but is that really so? Here's where we can make the only real comparison, albeit a subjective one: where would you rather live? I will concede the failure of the American health care system (whatever the hell "health care system" means when ours is still private enough to involve an uncalculably vast web of individual transactions), and unequivocably support socialized medicine, once the following happen:

1. Fifteen thousand Americans, mostly elderly, die during a heat wave, in no small part because it's a traditional vacation month (as effected by law), leaving nursing homes and hospitals understaffed with doctors. Oh, should I add that air conditioning is rare in French nursing homes, because of crazy health laws? It's not the need in a mostly temperate climate, nor the expense.

2. Americans start traveling to Canada en masse for operations, because they might die while waiting many months in the United States.

3. Waiting times for elective surgery surgery in the U.S. degenerate to what they are in Europe.

4. Cancer survival rates in the U.S. degenerate to what they are in Europe.

Much could be improved with U.S. health care, namely that all governments should get out of the business. Yet I'll still unhesitatingly take our present system over socialized health care.

Under socialized medicine, you were told to just go home, or even leave the country! On the other hand, one of my friends received help at a hospital other than where she'll have her baby. With a few weeks left, she started dilating, and then there was a little bleeding. Her parents rushed her to the emergency room at the nearest hospital, where a doctor was able to see her. It turned out to be nothing serious, thank God, probably that this is her first pregnancy and her cervix is tender. The doctor didn't have ready access to her medical history, which was not a problem since my friend could supply relevant details. Similarly, my friend could supply her insurance information, so the doctor was able to bill her insurance company with no problem.

In a way, Americans do pay more for less -- less of an undesirable thing. I willingly pay money to get less of, for example, stains on my clothes, much like I'll visit a doctor to get a prescription for an antibiotic which will leave fewer germs in my body.

(Side note: some might nitpick my poor grammar in the last paragraph, but I used "less of" referring to stains so I could use the same phrasing as the previous sentence.)