Mailvox: applied reading

JB sends an update:

Perhaps you can recall the previous email I sent you requesting advice about staying in college or leaving? Just a brief update; I left the PhD program and got a regular job…best choice I’ve made so far. Thank you for your advice (and that of the Ilk). Also, after reading the blog for a while now, I’ve finally started contesting the atheists I know when the usual arguments pop up, (using your new slide show has been a huge boost to the discussion), and I can now see why the ilk are so entertained by the trolls who drop by the blog.

Welcome to the workforce! That’s a very smart move in this economy. It’s always good to see when the ongoing discourse here inspires people to step back, look at their situation, and actively think about what they’re doing. So much of life happens to people because they never stop to consider if the assumptions that put them on their present course still apply. Pursuing higher education was an excellent occupational choice 40 years ago, rather less so 20 years ago, and is arguably a terrible choice today thanks to the inexorable logic of supply and demand. Speaking of atheism, one result of the recent flood of the education bubble and the degree-selling it involved is that the irreligious are no longer much more highly educated than the norm; 21 percent of atheists have post-graduate degrees, which is a lower percentage than that of Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Unitarians. And, since atheists are such a tiny fraction of the population, there are 16 times more Protestant Christians with post-graduate degrees than atheists.

One thing you are quickly forced to recognize when maintaining a blog like this is how most people think in a completely unoriginal manner. They simply repeat arguments that they heard and half-understood at some point in the past. I don’t post even a tenth of the critical emails I receive; if I did most readers would quite reasonably assume I was constructing really retarded strawmen in order to make myself look better. What the slideshow does very well is to not only show the atheist that his arguments are incorrect, but that they are not even his arguments. It can’t prove the existence of God or the truth of the Christian faith, of course, but it completely undercuts the atheist’s claim to any rational or intellectual superiority. That’s why none of the atheists who have attempted to belittle the slideshow have dared to do more than nibble about the edges; they know they can’t successfully argue the substance. Of course, in the event that any of that nibbling should turn out to be correct, I’ll simply utilize their criticism to update and improve it.

I thought I saw it twitch

The officers were told they were to play the Red (U.S.) force in war games, a task they performed thoroughly and exceedingly well. This Red team of Japanese intelligence experts demonstrated in the game that Japan’s only hope was to achieve its conquests and consolidate them as early as possible, because the greater resources of the United States, once converted to full warmaking capacity, would surely deprive Japan of its war potential and force her surrender.
– Peter Perla, The Art of Wargaming, p. 48

Game in the 19th century

Men who seek to better understand the challenge posed by the dichotomy of female attraction could do far worse than to read the works of W. Somerset Maugham. Being of a certain orientation as well as an unusually ruthless observer of human behavior, he had the emotional distance necessary to note some of the unusual and contradictory aspects of female behavior that have confounded so many men over the centuries. His first novel, Liza of Lambeth, is little more than a straightforward portrayal of the instinctive feminine preference for the Alpha; the most desirable young woman on the street, the protagonist Liza, rejects her solid and eminently suitable young suitor, Tom, in favor of a secretive affair with brutish, bearded married man whose children are as old as she is. Tom’s proper and hesitant advances don’t arouse Liza half as much as Jim’s rough, unsolicited kisses; Jim provokes the consumation of their adultery with a punch in the stomach. Needless to say, it doesn’t end well for Liza, as she is physically beaten by Jim’s wife, gets pregnant, and dies of a miscarriage.

A similar, but more sophisticated theme is at work throughout Of Human Bondage, which is an excellent novel worth reading in any event. The unsavory object of Philip Carey’s unstinting devotion, the anemic waitress Mildred, throws him over in favor of a married German man before running off with his impoverished best friend at Carey’s expense. Whereas Tom is a beta by virtue of his youth, Carey is a downright gamma courtesy of his club foot and sensitive intelligence. Carey is a white knight who will not ‘take advantage’ of Mildred even after repeatedly rescuing her from starvation, ill health, and prostitution; she is openly contemptuous of him throughout their entire relationship before finally leaving him in a violent and destructive rage when, in his noble refusal to abuse his position as her rescuer, he resolutely refuses to take her to his bed. The story finally ends well for Carey, but only thanks to his class superiority providing him with sufficient perceived status to attract a handsome, loving, young quasi-peasant girl. And even with her, he comes very close to ruining his happy ending by his persistent gammaesque noblesse. To marry the girl in order to rescue her from social opprobation is a responsibility he willingly accepts, but he finds it very hard to accept the idea of marrying her simply because he wants to do so.

But Maugham’s prescient explication of Game is most explicit in The Magician, in which the beautiful fiance of a young and brilliant physician is seduced away from him by the grotesque figure of the Aleister Crowley character, Oliver Haddo.

Her contempt for him, her utter loathing, were alloyed with a feeling that aroused in her horror and dismay. She could not get the man out of her thoughts. All that he had said, all that she had seen, seemed, as though it possessed a power of material growth, unaccountably to absorb her. It was as if a rank weed were planted in her heart and slid long poisonous tentacles down every artery, so that each part of her body was enmeshed. Work could not distract her, conversation, exercise, art, left her listless; and between her and all the actions of life stood the flamboyant, bulky form of Oliver Haddo. She was terrified of him now as never before, but curiously had no longer the physical repulsion which hitherto had mastered all other feelings. Although she repeated to herself that she wanted never to see him again, Margaret could scarcely resist an overwhelming desire to go to him. Her will had been taken from her, and she was an automaton. She struggled, like a bird in the fowler’s net with useless beating of the wings; but at the bottom of her heart she was dimly conscious that she did not want to resist. If he had given her that address, it was because he knew she would use it. She did not know why she wanted to go to him; she had nothing to say to him; she knew only that it was necessary to go….

It seemed to her that a comparison was drawn for her attention between the narrow round which awaited her as Arthur’s wife and this fair, full existence. She shuddered to think of the dull house in Harley Street and the insignificance of its humdrum duties. But it was possible for her also to enjoy the wonder of the world. Her soul yearned for a beauty that the commonalty of men did not know. And what devil suggested, a warp as it were in the woof of Oliver’s speech, that her exquisite loveliness gave her the right to devote herself to the great art of living? She felt a sudden desire for perilous adventures. As though fire passed through her, she sprang to her feet and stood with panting bosom, her flashing eyes bright with the multi-coloured pictures that his magic presented. Oliver Haddo stood too, and they faced one another. Then, on a sudden, she knew what the passion was that consumed her. With a quick movement, his eyes more than ever strangely staring, he took her in his arms, and he kissed her lips. She surrendered herself to him voluptuously. Her whole body burned with the ecstasy of his embrace.

‘I think I love you,’ she said, hoarsely.

She looked at him. She did not feel ashamed.

Now, there are certainly women who master this primal urge for excitement, mystery and perception of male power, who exert their rational faculties and succeed in choosing their lovers utilizing at least some degree of reason rather than simply trusting to the vagaries of instinct. But that does not mean that the primal urge does not exist in them, or that it is not there to be appealed to by men who recognize it and knowingly manipulate it or by men whose natural behavior tends to stimulate it. Awareness of this dichotomy of female attraction is useful knowledge for men and women alike, since the woman who is aware of it is less likely to find herself being swept away unconsciously by it, and the man who is aware of it can either use it to avoid behaving in a manner that provokes instinctive disgust in women or to behave in a manner that permits manipulation of those instincts.

One thing I’m curious to know is how many women are fully cognizant of this call of the wild while simultaneously rejecting it. Do those who reject it tend to knowingly do so or is it more of an unconscious rejection that is the result of positive social conditioning? I’m really not interested in hearing what women who completely deny it exists and profess an instinctive preference for white knights and gammas have to say, since there isn’t much to be learned from the opinions of the self-deceptive.

How it looks from the other side

Chad the Elder has an interesting link to a WSJ article at the Fraters Libertas. He also notes that Obamacare has probably destroyed Mitt Romney’s chances at the 2012 nomination, the hapless denials of Captain Underoos notwithstanding. However, I found this comment following the article to be both illuminating and astounding in terms of how the lunatics on the Left regard the political fallout from the health care bill:

To all my Republican friends. They have met their Waterloo. The bill that was passed by the House on Sunday is not socialized medicine. It is so far from that agenda that the GOP overstated the case. To the public they were the party of NO.They will not repeal it and in November they will be slaughtered. Pelosi gave a young President a spine that he lacked. She encouraged him to invest all of his political capital to promote this bill. People all over the world were tuned in to the pre vote and vote on Sunday. Their impression was that the Tea Party people were a bunch of racist crazies. The whites in this country must accept the fact that in 10 years we will become a minority. President Obama was empowered by the stand he took. He reached out his hand to a reluctant GOP and they slapped him down in a racist and demeaning way. This vote in the House was more significiant than the vote in November 2008. This President is now empowered to be another FDR.

You see, there are many Americans who eagerly anticipate living in a Third World hellhole with a corrupt nomenklatura. They don’t want anything to do with liberty or the cultural traditions of the West. And those conservatives who are so foolish as to support immigration have been actively doing their work for them for the last 24 years. As for the political analysis, the only correct point is that Obama has been empowered by acting decisively. To gain popularity in the polls, you have to lead them, not follow them. While the Congressional Democrats will get destroyed in November, Obama may well come out of this very well. If the bill is perceived to have ruined the health care system, it’s Pelosi’s bill. If it is perceived to have been a success, he’ll take the credit.

And, if he has to work with a Republican House and Senate, he’ll work towards a magnificent bipartisan immigration reform, importing tens of millions of third-worlders. Remember, the economy is already toast, and he still has an out by sacrificing the bankers.

Debt has a body count

The truly shocking news here is that a bank actually dared to foreclose on a property. These days, they usually prefer to pretend that the loan is still performing.

The foreclosure crisis in Philadelphia is now becoming a matter of life and death. Eyewitness News has learned that in the past month, two homeowners took their own lives before sheriff’s deputies arrived to tell them that they were being evicted. On March 5, deputies arriving to post an eviction notice on Lynda Clark’s South Philadelphia home found she had hanged herself…. Less than three weeks later, owner Gregory Bellows shot and killed himself shortly before deputies arrived to evict him from his Roxborough home.

It seems unlikely that this violent despair is going to remain self-directed for long. A lot of people still believe the news; I have people tell me every day that they see this sign or that sign that the economy is recovering. The economists, meanwhile, cite the GDP and unemployment numbers. But the statistical mirage is entirely transparent to those who understand how the statistics are constructed and how they have been manipulated by the $2 trillion increase in debt-funded government spending over the last 18 months. Extend-and-pretend was a gambit, an entirely rational gamble for those who subscribe to Neo-Keynesian economic theory and thought that recovery was predicated on resparking the all-important animal spirits. Unfortunately, because it was based on a false premise, it failed.

I was interviewed on a radio station last night and the hosts seemed a little surprised when I told them in no uncertain terms that there is nothing to be done. But it’s not that hard to understand; what would you tell someone who makes $15k a year, spends $25k per year, and is $75k in debt? That’s only part of the problem, as you also have to keep in mind that 42% of reported bank assets are literally worthless.

Mailvox: Republican despair

JW writes of her loss of faith in the GOP:

Finally somebody has printed what I think. Not that I made it up first, but you’ve put clarity and the printed word to what is so patently obvious. I’ve been a Republican all my life (50 years) and it just makes me sick now. I’ve lost my enthusiasm and hope for the future. So many commentators in the last 24 hours are spouting “we’ll take it back!” or “they’ll listen to us now if we shout and fight!” blah blah blah.

Don’t they get it? Nobody is listening, except the choir.

My husband says retribution will occur in the next election. But even if they all get voted out, who do we have to replace them? McCain? Palin? The ones at the top of the heap don’t really amount to much. It’s the pile underneath that is either rock or sucking sand…

We own a small business. Since we are classified as a “mine”, even though all operations are above ground (and we don’t strip mine) we are subject to the whims of MSHA (the Federal Mine Safety Administration). Since the Sago disasters, MSHA has become a monstrosity and out of control. I could go on and on, but for one example- our company has received a safety award from this organization every year (we have no employee accidents) and at the same time, were fined over $[quantity] in 2009 for “violations”. On top of this, other federal and county taxes, fees, inspections, payroll taxes, etc. are putting us under. I warned my family almost two years ago that ‘universal’ healthcare would put us out of business and it needed to be worked against. Didn’t hear a word back from any of them. As far as I know, my entire family is Republican.

I communicate with my Senator and Representative. They heard my voice. I don’t know what else to do.

There is nothing else to do except to leave the country to its fate and look to provide for and protect your family. When the masses stampede into madness, there is no talking them out of it. Just get out of the way and let them run off the cliff. I’ve been telling people that it is too late for several years now; the election of George W. Bush sealed the deal that was in the works since Reagan failed to cut government spending as well as taxes. That failure, combined with the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, planted the seeds for the harvest now being reaped.

I am sure that most of the conservative media will be full of vigor and inspiring words this week. But you may wish to remember that I was one of the very few right-wing commentators to point out the total uselessness of the Tea Party movement. And, for all their signs and fury, they signified nothing when it came down to interrupting the political process and its long march towards American serfdom. The movement is irrelevant because it is a near certainty that even a full Republican House, Senate, and White House would not repeal Obamacare… after all, did they do anything about abortion, Social Security, Medicaid or Medicare when they were in power? No, they actually created a new entitlement program and invaded two countries that posed zero threat to the American people instead.

You cannot fix a problem by applying more of what helped cause it. America is no longer free. Get used to it. The absence of human liberty is, after all, very much the norm for the greater part of human history.

UPDATE: Republicans aren’t even going to try to repeal Obamacare. Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas) told HuffPo today that Republicans won’t run on an across-the-board repeal of new health-care laws. “There is non-controversial stuff here like the preexisting conditions exclusion and those sorts of things,” the Texas Republican said. “Now we are not interested in repealing that. And that is frankly a distraction.”

Put that in your tea and drink it….

The most importantest election EVER

Thomas Sowell rolls with a familiar Republican refrain:

Too many critics of the Obama administration have assumed that its arrogant disregard of the voting public will spell political suicide for congressional Democrats and for the president himself. But that is far from certain.

True, President Obama’s approval numbers in the polls have fallen below 50 percent, and that of Congress is down around 10 percent. But nobody votes for Congress as a whole, and the president will not be on the ballot until 2012.

They say that, in politics, overnight is a lifetime. Just last month, it was said that the election of Scott Brown to the Senate from Massachusetts doomed the health-care bill. Now some of the same people are saying that passing the health-care bill will doom the administration and the Democrats’ control of Congress. As an old song said, “It ain’t necessarily so.”

The voters will have had no experience with the actual, concrete effect of the government takeover of medical care at the time of either the 2010 congressional elections or the 2012 presidential election. All they will have will be conflicting rhetoric – and you can depend on the mainstream media to go along with the rhetoric of those who passed this medical-care bill….

The last opportunity that current American citizens may have to determine who will control Congress may well be the election in November of this year. Off-year elections don’t usually bring out as many voters as presidential election years. But the 2010 election may be the last chance to halt the dismantling of America. It can be the point of no return.

We haven’t heard that before, have we? Of course, as Pat Buchanan points out, electing Republicans to the House and Senate can’t possibly make any positive difference because they’re only going to import more Democrat-voting immigrants anyhow.

In other words, the point of no return has already been passed. Obamacare isn’t a warning sign, it is an exclamation point.

Book review: Makers of Modern Strategy

Makers of Ancient Strategy
Victor Davis Hanson, ed.
Rating: 8 of 10

Victor Davis Hanson is a political pundit and National Review contributor, but he is also a classicist and military historian. His punditry is better than most, but I happen to find his military histories rather more interesting than his political analysis. I very much enjoyed his Carnage and Culture as well as A War Like No Other. His latest book, Makers of Ancient Strategy, is an intriguing look at various aspects of ancient warfare that consists of essays from 10 historians which address everything from Greek fortifications to Roman frontier defense. The essays are loosely tied together by a theme that connects these ancient strategies with the challenges faced by modern strategists engaged in modern warfare, particularly as it relates to the American occupation of Iraq.

It should be understood that this is not, however, the misguided effort of a neocon occupation enthusiast to advocate world democratic revolution in a remarkably esoteric and inefficient manner. Rather, it is a continuation of the approach taken by two similarly named compilations published in the 20th century, both entitled Makers of Modern Strategy, that repeatedly warned how even the radical technological changes that took place during and after World War II had not fundamentally altered the basic nature of military conflict.

The three best essays are contributed by Donald Kagan, John W.I. Lee, and Hanson himself. Kagan’s essay, entitled “Pericles, Thucydides, and the Defense of Empire” is an apt warning of the intrinsic difficulty in maintaining a democratic empire even with the advantages of wealth, a talented ruling class, and military superiority. His conclusion, that empire is tenable so long as it is led by an extraordinary leader like Pericles, should chill the blood of anyone who has spent any time observing the Bush, Clinton, or Obama administrations, much less the House and Senate.

Lee’s essay, “Urban Warfare in the Classic Greek World” is a reminder that what we think we know often does not bear close scrutiny. While one tends to think of the Greek warfare as consisting of phalanxes of armored hoplites colliding together, Lee reminds us that two-thirds of the battles recorded by Thucydides actually took place inside various city walls. What is often described as 4th generation warfare and takes place in urban Iraq today has a surprisingly close relationship to ancient warfare circa 450 BC. Hanson’s essay, on the other hand, focuses on an individual, Epaminonides the Theban, who crushed Sparta in what could be seen as a precursor of 20th and 21st century wars of democratic liberation. I found “Epaminonides the Theban and the Doctrine of Preemptive War” to be much more convincing with regards to the Roman opinion of Epaminonides, who Plutarch ranked as a greater man than most of the Athenians and Spartans that we remember today, than as a coherent establishment of a preemptive doctrine. But Hanson’s perceptions are keen, as always, and he is careful to point out the inherent risks of Epaminonides’s preemptive war. He writes:

While successful preemptive war may result in an immediate strategic advantage, the dividends of such a risky enterprise are squandered if there is not a well-planned effort to incorporate military success into a larger political framework that results in some sort of advantageous peace. By its very definition, an optional preemptive war must be short, a sort of decapitation of enemy power that stuns it into paralysis and forces it to grat political concessions. In democratic states, sucha controversial gamble cannot garner continued domestic political support if the attack instead leads to a drawn-out, deracinating struggle, the very sort of quagmire that the preemption was originally intended to preclude. Like it or not, when successful and followed by a period of quiet, preemption is often ultimately considered moral, justified, and defensive; when costly and unsuccessful in securing peace, in hindsight it always looks optional, foolhardy, and aggressive.”

I also enjoyed Tom Holland’s essay on the Persian view of the fractious Greek city-states and Peter Heather’s essay on the approach to frontier defense in the later Roman empire. The only weak essay was Barry Holland’s “Slave Wars of Greece and Rome”, which didn’t go into much detail of any of the aforementioned slave wars, didn’t provide any useful statistics, and didn’t relate the ancient slave wars to modern insurgencies in any meaningful manner. Even so, it was interesting to read of the near-complete absence of any doctrine of abolitionism in the ancient world, barring one of the early Church Fathers, Gregory of Nyssa.

Makers of Ancient Strategy is well worth reading by any armchair historian with an interest in the Greco-Roman world, and wargamers in particular will find it five or six of the essays to be fascinating. And speaking as one of the commentators who drew upon the example of the Sicilian Expedition to criticize the Iraqi occupation, I have to admit that VDH provides an effective rebuttal to that analogy in this volume. Not necessarily a conclusive one, mind you, and perhaps even one that could be viewed as contradicting some of the lessons he draws in the Epaminonides essay. But it is certainly not one that the fair observer can reasonably ignore.

The essays are all well-sourced and in some cases the notes are nearly as interesting to read as the essays themselves. I highly recommend it for historically literate readers with an interest in Greco-Roman history, military history, or the politics of the current military occupations.

RGD: a rather good review

An academic economist reviews RGD:

The book is simply a brilliant masterpiece. It is written remarkably well and gets you to read more and more. It provides a balanced mix between telling a story and zooming in on the economic fundamentals. Right from the very beginning, it becomes perfectly clear to the cognoscenti that Vox is a member of a small, ultra-elite club that has figured out the fundamental flaws of our modern-day Keynesian economic dogma, as well as the finest points of the Austrian school that only few people in the world are familiar with and understand. As an Austrian myself, it is easy to see how sophisticated Vox is in the area.

I am a professor in Economics who has been trained in and disillusioned from the mainstream economics. As an economist, I was completely reborn when I became an Austrian 7-8 years ago. Ever since, I have been teaching economics and finance mostly as an Austrian. During the Spring semester of 2008, I was teaching a course on the Financial Crisis at the American University in Bulgaria. My biggest regret is that I did not have at that time available to use Vox’s book for my course. It would have been perfect. The book may be somewhat difficult for first year Econ 101, but it is absolutely perfect for juniors and seniors – it could well be the book that will make them rethink their mainstream economics foundations. For my course, I had to use Peter Schiff’s “Crash Proof” as the very best available at the time. If I had to do it today again, I would use “The Return of the Great Depression” as my primary book. When combined with “Crash Proof”, it provides a killer combination that would open the eyes to any student willing to read. My third choice would be, without doubt, “Meltdown” by Thomas Woods.

Enough praising Vox and his book. Do not hesitate to get your copy and read it – I guarantee that you would be glad you did it.

This is without a doubt the best book review I have ever received from Bulgaria. Possibly the most interesting thing about Dr. Petrov’s review is that I happen to know he does not agree with me on the most important question of the day, inflation vs deflation. But, as I have said many times in writing about the issue, including in RGD, there are very smart and informed individuals on both sides of the issue and it is only the less sophisticated observers who think that the issue is simple enough to be critical of the other side for the way they interpret the available evidence. While I think that evidence of the last fifteen months has tended to favor the deflationary scenario, I don’t regard the matter as settled. And I certainly don’t think any less of excellent economic observers such as Marc Faber, Jim Rogers, Peter Schiff, the Mogambo Guru, or Dr. Petrov due to their expectation of a Whiskey Zulu situation.

Economics is a complex science wherein the timing remains an art. This means everyone gets something wrong sooner or later; even when you have interpreted all the evidence correctly you can still get the timing fatally wrong. I very much appreciate Dr. Petrov’s review, as it is great to see academics who have opened their minds to Austrian School economic theory. But, to return to the inflation/deflation matter, this chart on the diminishing marginal utility of debt nicely illustrates why I fall on the deflationary side and why I am confident that we are still in the early stages of the Great Depression 2.0.

WND column

Blame Republicans

For the last three weeks, the conservative media and Republican Internet sites have been up in arms about the monstrosity that is the de facto nationalization of the American health-care system. It goes without saying that the Obama health-care bill is an ideological nightmare as well as a masterpiece of budgetary fiction, and there can be little doubt that it will significantly reduce both the quality and availability of health care while increasing its cost for the average American. Increased government intervention has never been the harbinger of either improved service or reduced expense.

A postscript to today’s column: It appears I was correct in assuming that Obamacare would pass. “On the cusp of succeeding where numerous past congresses and administrations have failed, jubilant House Democrats voted 219-212 late Sunday to send legislation to Obama that would extend coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans, reduce deficits and ban insurance company practices such as denying coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions.”

Welcome to Third World America. It is now upon you. I now wait with no little amusement for Republicans to clean up in the November elections, then, in the name of pragmatism, completely fail to repeal anything. And in an impromptu Mailvox, RC says we shouldn’t think too much of the past, but must instead figure out how to repeal what has become the law of the land:

“You make good points. However, Bush was pre-occupied with the attack on America and the wars pursuant–not trivial matters. Yes, I agree he was not strong enough on domestic policy. With regard the initial bailout–we were told world-wide financial collapse was in the offing. True, I did not like it–but–how could we take a risk that large? No. Never has such a huge bill been passed without the consent of the governed and on a partisan basis. Ron Paul was not in a position to carry the day. For now–we need ideas on reversing this legislation.”

In answer to his question, I replied that it is hardly risky to bet that politicians and bankers are lying when their solution to the world-wide financial collapse of which they are warning is to give those very same bankers billions of dollars. In like manner, you can’t expect the same Republican party that laid the foundation for this national debacle to be capable of fixing it.