Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Totalitarian bargain

Liberal Fascism on National Review Online: Debates about economics these days generally enjoy a climate of bipartisan asininity. Democrats want to "rein in" corporations, while Republicans claim to be "pro-business." The problem is that being "pro-business" is hardly the same thing as being pro–free market, while "reining in" corporations breeds precisely the climate liberals decry as fascistic.

The fascist bargain goes something like this. The state says to the industrialist, "You may stay in business and own your factories. In the spirit of cooperation and unity, we will even guarantee you profits and a lack of serious competition. In exchange, we expect you to agree with—and help implement—our political agenda." The moral and economic content of the agenda depends on the nature of the regime. The left looked at German business's support for the Nazi war machine and leaped to the conclusion that business always supports war. They did the same with American business after World War I, arguing that because arms manufacturers benefited from the war, the armaments industry was therefore responsible for it.

It's fine to say that incestuous relationships between corporations and governments are fascistic. In fact, I'm saying it right now. The problem comes when you claim that such arrangements are inherently right-wing. If the collusion of big business and government is rightwing, then FDR was a right-winger. If corporatism and propagandistic militarism are fascist, then Woodrow Wilson was a fascist and so were the New Dealers. If you understand the right-wing or conservative position to be that of those who argue for free markets, competition, property rights, and the other political values inscribed in the original intent of the American founding fathers, then big business in Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and New Deal America was not rightwing; it was left-wing, and it was fascistic. What's more, it still is.

An Unusual Review of Liberal Fascism that the author actually read Liberal Fascism before writing the review.

American Thinker: The Liberals' Mommy Fascism: "Liberals would say that 'liberal fascism' is an oxymoron, and a hateful one at that. How could liberals have anything to do with right-wing fascism? But sixty years ago Hayek in The Road to Serfdom had already made the connection. He quoted Peter Drucker: 'Fascism is the stage reached after communism has proved an illusion.' Communists and fascists, Hayek continues, 'compete for the same type of mind and reserve for each other the hatred of the heretic.'

Goldberg does not say that American liberals are street-fighting revolutionaries like Hitler and Mussolini. He means that they belong to the same nostalgic tradition as the communists and fascists. They want to use political power to reestablish in the alienated modern city the lost innocence of community and kinship of the pre-modern village."

Bush's Legacy

Michael Gerson - Compassionate to the End - "Bush has received little attention or thanks for his compassionate reforms. This is less a reflection on him than on the political challenge of compassionate conservatism. The conservative movement gives the president no credit because it views all these priorities -- foreign assistance, a federal role in education, the expansion of an entitlement -- as heresies, worthy of the stake. Liberals and Democrats offer no praise because a desire to help dying Africans, minority students and low-income seniors does not fit the image of Bush's cruelty that they wish to cultivate."

Read the whole thing. But I'll say, he includes this graf:

This leaves critics of the Bush administration with a "besides" problem. Bush is a heartless and callous conservative, "besides" the 1.4 million men, women and children who are alive because of treatment received through his AIDS initiative . . . "besides" the unquestioned gains of African American and Hispanic students in math and reading . . . "besides" 32 million seniors getting help to afford prescription drugs, including 10 million low-income seniors who get their medicine pretty much free. Iraq may have overshadowed these achievements; it does not eliminate them.

I don't think he goes far enough: he should have said "...besides Iraq and Afghanistan, where he ended two fascistic regimes actively attacking the US and freeing 50 million men, women, and children to make their own choices about their government."

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Did I mention they rust?

If I don't get a Bristol, I was thinking of one of these. A 1962 Alfa Giulia Berlina 1600. Cheaper than the Bristol (initial capital costs only, he was careful to add) and more available in the US, at least theoretically. There supposedly is a dentist on Mercer Island just outside Seattle with a barn full of these and other postwar Alfa Romeos.

What began as Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili has a glorious history, one of invention or early adoption of those technical innovations – like overhead cams, aluminum heads, fuel injection – that would one day be standard on most vehicles. There is a famous and almost certainly apocryphal story that Henry Ford would doff his cap whenever an Alfa drove by. In pre-WWII years, they could be surprisingly big. After WWII, all that changed. Smaller, lighter, monocoque bodies, more economical. But the quality of the steel was often not the best and the rear wheel arches and rocker panels lasted about as long as a typical mid-60s Italian government. Same with the A and B pillars and the cowling. Same with the heater blower motor. But when everything is running right, you can pretend you are Tazio Nuvolari or Juan Manuel Fangio as you drive to the Post Office and the supermarket. And the cute girl is included with the car, or so I'm told.

Image: Museo Storico Alfa Romeo.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The crazy years

So, I'm out browsing the conservative blogs after yesterday's primaries, and the hostility towards McCain is astonishing. It's like the Harriet Miers/Dubai Ports World/Immigration fiascos all over again. Nothing has made me more pessimistic about Republican chances in 2008 than this intemperate response. They sound like the Daily Kos, except the posters there hate McCain because he's fiscally conservative. It is at times like this that I really wish that Bush could offer a bit of leadership to the party and sprinkle some oil on the troubled waters. And truly, I don't understand the sanctification of Reagan vis a vis McCain. Reagan had his accomplishments, but I remember the enormous debts he left us with because he wasn't willing to deal with entitlements while cutting taxes. I don't think he could be counted a fiscal conservative/small government man in the way that I understand the term.

So, let us hope that Hillary and Obama inflict fatal wounds on each other in the identity group catfight over on the Democratic side. Then, after the Republican commentariat goes home with their big conservative balls, we can call in Dr. Kevorkian and volunteer the bunch for a better life in the hereafter. A few years absent the continual squalling of these children would be a blessing.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Science Marches On

Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories - One Hundred Percent EDIBLE Googly Eyes!

Ron Paul and Lew Rockwell

The BIDINOTTO BLOG: "Cong. Paul now disavows authorship of this material, most or all of which was ghostwritten, and says it doesn't represent his actual views. But even though these screeds were published under his own name for decades, he claims not to have been aware of their content -- a claim that many, me included, find to be transparently unbelievable. It is impossible to read this garbage and not come to one of two conclusions. Either Ron Paul does not believe this repugnant nonsense, but nonetheless allowed it to go out under his name -- as a cynical ploy to sell newsletters by means of scaremongering, collectivist race-baiting, and homosexual-bashing -- or he actually does believe this stuff. You can decide for yourself which alternative is more disgusting and alarming."

Are Conservatives on the Right?

Philosoblog: "'Right' is a vacuous term properly used only in the speech act of calling one's fellow socialists to the task of opposing an enemy. It's a demented term, and for conservatives to continue to use it impairs their ability to reason about political matters. Left and right are, by inalienable senses of the English terms, progressivistic. They signify motion away from the existing frame of reference. Inevitably, if you say that you are on the right, you connote the notion that you have some cockamamie plan for taking our society and moving it away from its existing values to somewhere else, somewhere to the 'right.'"

So far, these posts are the most interesting commentary on Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism I've seen.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Who has children?

This AP medical writer helps us understand:
Experts believe there is a mix of reasons: a decline in contraceptive use, a drop in access to abortion, poor education and poverty.
Yep. Folks who have children are either poor, uneducated, too stupid to use contraceptives, or unable to find an abortion. There you have it. Oh, and some folks just like children for cultural reasons. This may be the case with the backward cultures of the Hispanics and middle Americans. A few people even think an increase in the birth rate might be a good thing. But they are mistaken.
But the higher fertility rate isn't all good. Last month, the CDC reported that America's teen birth rate rose for the first time in 15 years.
I blame Bush.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Comparison

The total vote for President in New Hampshire in 2004 was 677,738, with Kerry getting 340,511, Bush getting 331,237 and the rest scattered. Total turnout for the 2008 primary as a percentage of the 2004 Presidential race was 78% with the Democrats coming in at 84% and the Republicans at 72%. "Unprecedented" is the proper word to describe the turnout. So much for 2008 being a low intensity political year.

The Democrat turnout is particularly remarkable considering that the 2004 primary turnout was 65% of the 2004 Presidential election Democrat turnout and the 2000 primary turnout was 58% of the 2000 Presidential election Democrat turnout. The Kerry-Dean New Hampshire contest in 2004 was a pretty tough fight with both candidates being well known due to their home states proximity to New Hampshire yet it appears that 2008 may leave it in the dust.

On the Republican side the eye catching numbers regard John McCain. He hasn't exactly strengthened as a candidate with the passage of time. Romney was certainly more popular in New Hampshire in 2008 than was Bush in 2000 but that does not account for all of the 23% drop in support for McCain. South Carolina may be the end of the road for McCain for the second time.

What an entertaining election.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Can Genius Be Taught?

Susan Polgar's father believed so.

Here she is explaining her thoughts to Seattleites at the Univ. of Washington Wednesday night.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Thursday Movie Review: Atonement

by Alistair


There is a scene about two thirds into Atonement that ranks as one of the most spectacular and awesome feats that cinema has ever offered. It is a vision of the nearly vanquished British army, now stuck on a French beach, having retreated all the way to the sea and awaiting its encroaching doom in the early days of World War II. The Brits have found a deserted carnival on the beach and—since they have nothing else to do while they wait to die—several of them have begun to play on it. This scene is revealed in a single brilliant tracking shot that weaves between the soldiers rushing into formation and those cooking under parasols before passing by a man who methodically shoots his horses. The camera then turns and encircles a group of forlorn men who stare out to sea while singing a melancholic dirge, it follows the path of a merry-go-round crowded with boisterous, drunken soldiers, and, finally, pulls back to reveal a Ferris wheel in the background framed against a beautiful setting sun and a smoke-filled sky. At one point we see a single soldier grab on to one of the Ferris wheel’s carriages. As the carriage rises he dangles by just one arm; we keep expecting him to fall off, but as the carriage reaches its apex and begins its descent he remains, still clinging. For some reason this struck me as a microcosm of the whole, a scene as beautiful as it is hellish, a beautifully choreographed and perfectly captured nightmare.

While the Dunkirk scene is astonishingly breathtaking it is hardly novel. Since at least the days of Catch-22 authors have mixed the horrors of war with chaotic surrealism to produce this sort of hauntingly beautiful effect. It is a trick that has been pulled quite a few times. Nor is it anything new to film, as Spielberg created something very similar (also set on a beach in France) just after the first battle in Saving Private Ryan. Nor is this even the first time we’ve seen something like this in a recent film, as the horrendously scripted Children of Men secured itself a spot as a decent film by using a couple of inspired single take tracking shots through wartime action. But what Atonement loses in originality it makes up for in professionalism. And up until this scene—which is the film’s high point—that is exactly what Atonement is: a good solid professional film. Not the year’s best, nothing groundbreaking, not the work of a true master, but a very well-executed movie sure to pick up a couple of Oscars.

Unfortunately the film then proceeds to falter (although its Oscar chances are still alive and well). It moves its scope, as it inevitably must, away from the compelling narrative of a soldier and his love to the titular act.

While the crime which requires atonement—the very skillfully set-up subject of the film’s first act—is a veritable joy to watch, the act of atonement that follows it is very weak by comparison. Surely the act of atonement is one of the deepest and most complex facets of our humanity, consequently providing practically limitless philosophical potential, and, when this act is engaged correctly, it produces the unequaled best in our literature. Consider Crime and Punishment and The Stranger for example. It is, however, very difficult to do well and this particular go-round seems satisfied merely to acknowledge that the act exists, without making any profound comments about it.
This is of course fine by me, and if the film had ended with the story of how Briony Tallis, the character indirectly responsible for the above-mentioned soldier-in-love’s fate as a soldier, atoned, then it would be a very strong movie, stopping just short of brilliant. The trouble is the film decides that it wants to make a deep comment about atonement after all, without having a clue as to what real atonement is or what it really wants to say about it.

Right before we reach what would under normal circumstances be the film’s climax, we are snapped out of the story and placed on the set of a television show in the present day. Briony Tallis is being interviewed about her new book, Atonement, and she reveals to the interviewer that some of the events depicted in her book (those we have just finished watching) did not actually occur. No doubt the makers of the film congratulate themselves for their betrayal of narrative expectation. No doubt this works in the novel. But it fails miserably here. The reason is simple: the expected outcome of a narrative serves a purpose, it satisfies the audience. It is a gift that should only be forfeited if something greater is to be gained in its stead. Betraying our narrative expectations in No Country for Old Men succeeded because that film is concerned with free will, fate, and determinism. By challenging what they bring you to expect, the Coen brothers are able to deepen their film’s philosophy by adding to it a few layers. This is far from the case with Atonement, a film that eschews the satisfaction that comes with a completed story in order to make a sloppy, semi-incoherent point about atonement. And in doing so it breaks one of narrative’s golden rules, in a meek attempt to justify itself: show don’t tell! You have to be an absolute master with a deep understanding of why these rules are in place before you can hope to disregard them. And for all of their professionalism, the makers of Atonement are not even close to being masters.

I have purposefully omitted the plot of Atonement because watching it unfold was one of the greatest pleasures last year’s cinema had to offer. Although it is mostly unoriginal and somewhat predictable, it is so well paced and so craftily revealed that you won’t care at all. The first two-thirds of this movie prove that it’s the singer that matters and not the tune. Unfortunately the film’s end, which resembles the kind of arrhythmic and cacophonous free jazz of a cat crossing a piano, reminds us that once you start a tune, it's important to keep singing.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Final NH Polling

I'll update with results for comparison later. Right now I'm entranced with a vision of legs projecting from under a house dropped by a tornado.

UPDATE: Unfortunately, the legs belonged to polling companies. I'm surprised that Obama supporters haven't filed suit this morning in New Hampshire. Doesn't deviation from polling results constitute prima facie evidence of election fraud?

No polling company beat the "average" prediction. I rank the rest as follows: Fox, Zogby, Rasmussen, Marist, Suffolk, CNN, ARG. CNN and ARG really do stink up the place. I'm a little surprised at Rasmussen. His diversification may be interfering with the acuity with which he generally tunes his models. Or perhaps people are even lying to robo polls concerning their probability of voting for blacks or Mormons?

Saturday, January 05, 2008

So should I buy one?

A Bristol 410. Made in the 60s by what remains as one of the last independent British car makers. Very rare, even rarer in America. Cheap, as exotics go - less than many mid-priced sedans today. With the freight over here, it is more or less a wash. Some people think they are, well, frumpy, but I think otherwise. And the saving grace (I tell myself) is a mid 60s Chrysler V8, like the Jensen Interceptor and a few other European cars of the period. I almost bought a Bristol in London about ten years ago, until blocked by a sudden unaccustomed rush of common sense. Lately, these cars have seen a mild resurgence of popularity on British TV. You can even hum an appropriate song as you drive. And yes, I can envision nothing but headaches and poking around under the hood with skinned knuckles and cursing Lucas, the Prince of Darkness and waiting for DHL packages from England and scrounging around in junkyards for old Chrysler parts and endless hours in the garage and one of our two "real cars" parked outside in the rain and the consequent exasperation of Mrs. Skookumchuk. Oh, and zero collector's value or appreciation.

But I’m crazy in love, you see.

People Paid For These?

The percentages reflect difference between prediction and outcome for each polling outfit in their last poll before the Iowa caucus. I didn't do an examination of each poll but based upon sample size the MOEs should have been around 4-4.5%. All the polling companies blew the turnout models pretty badly. It's not the end of the world - so did the Romney and Clinton campaigns, with Clinton blowing it worse than Romney.

How did Obama get under the Clinton radar? I understand Romney missing Huckabee's use of the informal church social network to clobber him but Obama just took the Dean/Kerry appeal to first timers and ran it better than either one did in '04. Clinton got sandbagged - good for Obama.

CNN has the absolute worst performance with ARG coming second and Strategic Vision third. The Des Moines Register did best and Zogby and Insider Advantage were mediocre.

Rasmussen was wise to stay out of this one.

I think I'll do this again after New Hampshire to see if there's an improvement.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Is Iowa The Beginning Of The End Of The Clintons?

Since last night, I have had a hunch that the result in Iowa's democratic caucuses has chrystalized a series of problems with the theretofore "inevitability" of the Junior Senator from New York.

I now want to get on the record a hunch I had watching last night's coverage while live commenting on JOM, which elaborates on a comment I made on Q&O:

My question is when will Hillary!’s "surrogates" drop "the big one" on Barack Obama?

It had better be soon, because he is off to the races, and is inside Hillary!’s OODA loop. Her machine is not lean enough to respond. Her battle techniques are stale and too well-known to exploit the element of surprise.

Further, her claxon call is no longer an appeal to the youth/withit vote. From her, it still sounds like a call to the boomer generation which rapidly is turning into the geezer generation.

And whereas Barack sounds new and exciting, Hillary! sounds liks a fishwife on steroids — even when trying to deliver the same message that from Barack sounds fresh and new.

Charisma comes from within. Teddy had it, FDR had it, Ike had it, JFK had it, Reagan had it, and to some extent, Bill Clinton had it. Hillary! does not have it.

More exposure will just magnify these differences.

I may be wrong, but I have a hunch we saw the passing of the Clinton generation last evening in that nearly empty ballroom in Iowa.

Just a feeling, mind you; but real nevertheless.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

And kids think math doesn't have real-world applications

For 10 pts:
If Ling-Ling is wearing a short skirt, and Bao Yu is sitting 160cms from her,
then how long must her skirt be to prevent a Britney Spears moment from developing?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Weekly Links

The year in robots.

The shrinking of the Chinese economy.

Why knots are so common.

The rebirth of Timisoara.

Fashions of the future, as seen from the '30's.

Outsourcing birth to India.

Gizmodo's greatest hits of 2007.

The underground Chinese church.

Censoring the Internet in the name of helping children.

Effort is the secret of intelligence.

N.B. I will no longer be providing the Weekly Links feature on a regular weekly basis. In future, the Links column, when it appears, will continue to be published on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays.