Inefficient Nazis

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

One supposed silver lining of totalitarianism, Eric Falkenstein notes, is that dictators make the trains run on time:

That is, they are efficient. As Galbraith used to say, the Soviets never had involuntary unemployment! After the fall of the Iron Curtain and the revision of GDP data, this is rarely uttered much anymore.

Apparently though, those efficient German Nazis weren’t so efficient after all:

Historians have uncovered evidence leading to the estimation that the Nazis’ wartime confiscation of wealth from Europe’s Jews financed about 30 percent of the expenditure of the German armed forces during WWII.

But boy did the Gini coefficient decline from 1934 to 1945!, Falkenstein quips. He then cites Lew Rockwell on Nazi economic policy:

Proto-Keynesian socialist economist Joan Robinson wrote that “Hitler found a cure against unemployment before Keynes was finished explaining it.”

What were those economic policies? He suspended the gold standard, embarked on huge public works programs like Autobahns, protected industry from foreign competition, expanded credit, instituted jobs programs, bullied the private sector on prices and production decisions, vastly expanded the military, enforced capital controls, instituted family planning, penalized smoking, brought about national health care and unemployment insurance, imposed education standards, and eventually ran huge deficits. The Nazi interventionist program was essential to the regime’s rejection of the market economy and its embrace of socialism in one country.

Eric Falkenstein can honestly answer “almost all of it” to Jonah Goldberg’s question — but most modern liberals can’t:

If you leave out the parts about killing all the Jews and invading Poland, what specifically about the Nazi political platform do you disagree with?

(Hat tip to Aretae.)

On the meaning of the word optimism

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

Matt Ridley (The Rational Optimist) reminds us that the meaning of the word optimism has shifted over time:

[The Lisbon earthquake of 1755, in which up to 60,000 people died in quake, fire and tsunami] also led Voltaire to ridicule the philosophy of optimism, a word coined in 1737 to describe Gottfried Leibniz’s view that God had made this the best of all possible worlds (and, therefore, the future could be no better). In Voltaire’s novel Candide, or the Optimist, Dr. Pangloss remains blissfully confident — despite experiencing syphilis, shipwreck, earthquake, fire, hanging and slavery.

Yet the natural disasters of recent years have strongly vindicated optimism — not of Leibniz’s variety but of the modern, hopeful kind. The difference between Haiti’s death toll of up to 300,000 in January and Chile’s of about 500 a month later can be attributed in large part to the difference in their wealth. Likewise, Category 5 Hurricane Dean struck the well-prepared Yucatán in 2007 and killed no one, but when a similar storm struck impoverished and ill-prepared Burma the next year, it killed 200,000. Pakistan’s floods this year killed 1,800; Poland’s, less than 50. Java’s Mount Merapi has killed more than 200; Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull killed no one.

In short, prosperity buys survival. (The shocking thing about Hurricane Katrina was not that it killed so many people but that it did so in such a prosperous country.)

Biting Off More Than You Can Chew

Monday, November 15th, 2010

Tourist Martin Nyfeler of Kloten, Switzerland, saw a mother elephant and baby at the watering hole, in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park, and told the guide to stop, because it would make a cute picture.

Then the crocodile jumped out:

The elephants got away.

(Hat tip to Boing Boing.)

Resurrecting a Village by Buying Up Main Street

Monday, November 15th, 2010

Real-estate developer Greg O’Connell plans on resurrecting Mount Morris, New York by buying up Main Street:

His intentions became clear in the last year as he took control of more than a third of downtown and began chipping away at the building facades, renovating apartments and signing up tenants. Mr. O’Connell, 68, a big, shambling retired New York City detective, wants nothing less than to bring Mount Morris back from the dead and make it a western New York version of Red Hook, Brooklyn, where he made his name and millions.

He has snatched up 19 buildings, some at tax lien sales for $2,000, and has restored the historic look of a half-dozen storefronts, dusting off the tin ceilings and renovating the apartments on the second floor, where he has installed new bathrooms and oak floors. New businesses — an Italian restaurant, a barber shop, an antiques store and a gourmet food shop — are opening in long-vacant spaces, with leases from Mr. O’Connell that require the businesses to leave their lights on at night, stay open at least one evening a week and change their window displays at least four times a year.
Mr. O’Connell, who reckons he has spent $1 million on the 19 properties and plans to spend another $1 million on renovations, says he has had a soft spot for the area ever since he attended SUNY Geneseo. He moved to New York City after graduation to join the Police Department, and did not turn his attention to Red Hook until long after he retired, in 1981.

He bought waterfront land cheaply from the city and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and set about renovating dormant Civil War-era stone warehouses on the piers, where wild dogs and drug dealers roamed.

Today, his buildings house more than 150 small businesses and Fairway, the high-end grocery that has attracted patrons from all over Brooklyn.
Rents for Mr. O’Connell’s stores run about $5 a square foot, a paltry sum by New York City standards. Carol Huffman, who rents a store for her antiques and used-furniture business, Treasure Island, said she was also paying $300 a month for the cozy, exposed-brick apartment she rented upstairs from her store.

The ethically and morally correct nonviolent response

Monday, November 15th, 2010

What is the ethically and morally correct nonviolent response to a mentally ill attacker?, Ilkka asks:

Occasionally you see in Toronto Star these news articles about a cop gunning down a mentally ill person who was brandishing a gun or a knife and obviously ready to use it on others, and the article then chastises the police for not recognizing that the criminal was mentally ill, as if a police officer could somehow be expected to instantly peer into somebody’s brain, or as if bullets merely tickled when fired by a mentally ill person.

Logically, the mentally ill person being innately incapable or unwilling to respond to reason and orders and respect the lives of other people should be more justification for the use of force, not less.

Using a taser sure would have saved the day… but hey, wait a minute, weren’t tasers also evil and therefore most definitely should never be used by the police?

This is so confusing that I almost wish that some psychotic hulk attacked a Toronto Star reporter some day, so that instead of playing Captain Hindsight, he or she could just show us the ethically and morally correct nonviolent response.

Ilkka was surprised by the same bit of trivia that surprised me a few years ago: Taser is an acronym for the Thomas A. Swift Electric Rifle.

Brute Krulak

Monday, November 15th, 2010

Max Boot reviews Robert Coram’s Brute: The Life of Victor Krulak, which describes how a poor Jewish immigrant became an all-American Marine Corps general:

Krulak was born in Denver in 1913. His father, Morris (originally Moschku), had emigrated from Russia in 1890. His mother, Bessie Zalinsky, had arrived two years earlier. Yet by the time Krulak entered the Naval Academy in 1930, he was telling everyone, Robert Coram reports, “that his great-grandfather had served in the Confederate army, that his grandfather had moved from Louisiana to Colorado to homestead 640 acres, and that his father had been born in the Colorado capital.” He claimed to be an Episcopalian, associating himself with the most socially prestigious religious denomination. His children were raised as Episcopalians; two even became ministers. (Another son, Charles, became Marine Commandant in the 1990s.)

Krulak was so determined to put his past behind him that when he married the daughter of a Navy officer from “an old, genteel East Coast family,” he did not invite a single one of his relatives to the wedding, for fear that his Jewishness would be discovered. Nor did he tell anyone that he had been married once before. At 16, he had eloped with his girlfriend. The marriage was annulled after just nine days but, if discovered, it would have kept Krulak from entering the Academy, which barred students who had ever been married.

Krulak figured, no doubt rightly, that in the starchy, snobbish officer corps of his day, a Jew with a failed marriage would not have gotten far. There was nothing he could do to hide his other handicap—his tiny size. When he entered the Academy he was 5’4” and 116 pounds. On his first day, Mr. Coram writes, “a towering midshipman looked down at him, smirked and said: ‘Well, Brute.’ ” Thus was born the nickname that Krulak loved.

He was so small that he did not meet the Marine Corps’ minimum size requirements. To get his commission, he made use of high-level connections. At Annapolis he had cultivated Holland Smith, who would go on to become a famous World War II general nicknamed “Howlin’ Mad.” Smith and future commandant Lemuel Shepherd would turbo-charge Krulak’s ascent.

So, what were Brute’s contributions to the Corps?

In 1937, while stationed in Shanghai, Krulak observed Japan’s use of landing craft with “large, flat bows” that opened on a beach, “allowing the boats to disgorge vehicles and personnel on dry land.” At the time the U.S. had nothing comparable. Krulak was a prime mover in getting the Marine Corps to adopt similar boats made by an obscure shipyard (Higgins Industries of New Orleans). The Higgins boat would make possible all of the American amphibious assaults of World War II, from Normandy to Iwo Jima.

Having a major role in the development of the landing craft would, by itself, have been enough to secure Krulak’s place as a military innovator. But he further burnished his reputation when, immediately after World War II, he pushed the Marine Corps to adopt helicopters ahead of the other services. He realized their potential not only to evacuate wounded and move supplies but also to outflank the enemy in battle. Krulak, still only a colonel, also played a key behind-the-scenes role in rallying Congress to defeat President Truman’s efforts to severely trim the Marine Corps’ size and mission. This led to Truman’s famous complaint that the Marine Corps has a “propaganda machine that is almost equal to Stalin’s.”

Also, in 1967 he told President Johnson that if the US approach in Vietnam did not change, he would lose the war and the next election — which LBJ did not want to hear. Brute never got his fourth star, and he was forced to retire the next year.

Peter Thiel on Facebook, Technology, and the Higher-Education Bubble

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

Tim Cavanaugh interviews Peter Thiel on Facebook, technology, and the higher-education bubble:

The Beginning of Reality-Proof Morality

Friday, November 12th, 2010

Bruce Charlton presents the Abolition movement — which originated among English Quakers and spread to evangelicals, then to mass support in England — as a precursor to modern political correctness:

[T]he abolition movement was ruthless in its self-confidence, its desire to impose its reality globally: slavery was abolished everywhere in the world (except for some tiny, shrinking pockets in sub-Saharan Africa) in a long and dynamic (not to say ruthless) campaign stretching over many decades, and mostly by military coercion when the British Empire was at its height.

The passing of the acts of parliament to abolish the slave trade, then to abolish slavery in the Empire were merely the beginning of the process. The actual abolition of slavery everywhere had to be imposed by unrelenting, long-term political and military pressure, and backed-up by the guns of the Royal Navy which had a long reach.

In this respect the abolition movement was the antithesis of the feeble submissiveness of modern political correctness. Nonetheless, abolition shared the presumption of PC that ethics were susceptible of discovery and advancement — not by divine revelation, but by human social consensus.

Abolition showed that there might be an avant garde of elite opinion, and that the mass of the public might be brought around to views that they found initially incomprehesible, abhorrent or dangerous.

In particular, abolition was built on the “‘discovery” (initially by Nonconformist Protestants and Anglican evangelicals) that slavery was utterly unacceptable and must be stopped at any cost was a realization that entailed overthrowing 1800 years of Christian morality.

The “discovery” that Christianity ruled-out slavery entailed the assumption of moral progress, that modern abolitionists were more morally advanced than the ancient Greeks and Romans, than the Apostles, Saints and Holy Fathers and the greatest theologians of all previous eras.

Until the abolition movement, all societies in history had accepted slavery as a fact. Slavery was universal wherever it could be afforded.

It was only in England, among a small group of protestants in the late 1700s, that the discovery was made that slavery was intolerable, was indeed the worst of sins, and must be eradicated at any cost.

Abolition can thus be seen as an early example of progressivism — despite the contrast with PC that abolition was being advocated and implemented by muscular and militaristic Christians.

What was different about abolitionism was a fanaticism based on abstractness and universality of ethics.

Abolition was not primarily self-interested but was genuinely altruistic — in enforcing abolition upon the world the British Empire gave up a considerable amount of profitable enterprise, expended vast amounts of treasure in military action and in compensation of slave owners, expended prime manpower (and suffered heavy casualties) in the slave wars.

For instance the British military station in Sierra Leone, specifically for enforcing abolition, suffered a mortality rate of 50 percent per year due to tropical disease — a stunningly high number, such that to be stationed there was almost a death sentence — justifying its nickname of ‘the white man’s grave’.

And the costs were immense for many slaves, who were killed during these military actions, were slain by slavers and thrown overboard from ships to avoid incrimination, and who in many instances suffered death and extreme hardship following liberation .

So abolition has this dual face. In some ways it was the greatest altruistic moral achievement ever (in so far as costly altruism is supposedly the ultimate virtue for secular liberal morality.).

In other ways abolition was the beginning of reality-proof morality, the morality of designated “good acts” (regardless of ensuing consequences) and of the modern-style, prideful, hate-filled, self-gratifying justification-by-motivations — and therefore a precursor to political correctness.

(Hat tip to Foseti.)

I suppose most Americans have no idea that (a) the British ended the slave trade, not Abraham Lincoln, and (b) only a tiny fraction of African slaves ended up in North America.

The War Nerd’s Secret Identity

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

The War Nerd‘s alias, Gary Brecher, was obviously a fictional character. In an interview with Anti-War Radio host Scott Horton, Exiled writer John Dolan revealed that he is the War Nerd — and he lost his well-paying job teaching English at the American University of Iraq Sulaimaniya when his five-year-old piece on the Iran-Iraq War, The War Nobody Watched, came to their attention.

(Hat tip to Kalim Kassam.)

Seven Effective Forms of Ingratiation

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Professors Ithai Stern and James Westphal identified seven effective forms of ingratiation most likely to help executives win board seats:

First is to frame flattery as advice seeking — such as “How were you able to close that deal so successfully?”

Second, argue before accepting a manager’s opinion; do not agree immediately.

The researchers also recommend complimenting the manager to friends in his or her social network.

Fourth, frame flattery as likely to make the manager uncomfortable (e.g. “I don’t want to embarrass you but your presentation was really top-notch. Better than most I’ve seen.”).

Next, agree with the manager’s values before agreeing with his or her opinions.

Expressing agreement with those values to people in the manager’s social network is another effective form of ingratiation.

Finally, bring up potentially common affiliations with the manager, such as a religious organization or political party.

First Strike

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

John Noonan (@noonanjo) points out that the missile mystery is a great excuse to link to the famous — and short! — First Strike docu-drama from the late 1970s:

The documentary used actual Air Force personnel for actors, filmed at actual Air Force installations:

Specifically, the documentary used cameras on-board Strategic Air Command command planes out of Offutt Air Force Base and also shot footage inside NORAD.

The nuclear missile launch sequence seen in the film (and later in The Day After) was performed by actual Air Force officers stationed with the 742d Missile Squadron at Minot Air Force Base. The alert launch of B-52 bombers was performed by the 22nd Bombardment Wing at March Air Force Base, California. An additional scene provided by the United States Navy depicts the USS Francis Scott Key (SSBN-657) getting underway for a patrol.

None of the Air Force personnel were credited in the film, however the ICBM launch crew have visible name tags as “Lieutenant Krause” and “Captain Stanton”.

I wasn’t familiar with the original 1979 documentary film, but I was familiar with the dramatic 1983 TV film The Day After, which re-used plenty of footage.

Flash Mob Gone Wrong

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Tom Scott describes the hypothetical scenario of a flash mob gone wrong:

This example of a harmless hipster joke gone awry is quite different from the examples of flash mobs that have already gone wrong.

Convenience Store Diet

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

For 10 weeks, Mark Haub, a professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University, ate a convenience store diet of junk food — Twinkies, Little Debbie snack cakes, Doritos, Oreos, etc. — and lost 27 pounds:

For a class project, Haub limited himself to less than 1,800 calories a day. A man of Haub’s pre-dieting size usually consumes about 2,600 calories daily. So he followed a basic principle of weight loss: He consumed significantly fewer calories than he burned.

His body mass index went from 28.8, considered overweight, to 24.9, which is normal. He now weighs 174 pounds.

But you might expect other indicators of health would have suffered. Not so.

Haub’s “bad” cholesterol, or LDL, dropped 20 percent and his “good” cholesterol, or HDL, increased by 20 percent. He reduced the level of triglycerides, which are a form of fat, by 39 percent. [...] Haub’s body fat dropped from 33.4 to 24.9 percent.

Actually, only two-thirds of his total intake came from junk food:

He also took a multivitamin pill and drank a protein shake daily. And he ate vegetables, typically a can of green beans or three to four celery stalks.

Black Students Even Worse Than Expected

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

The relative performance of black students is even bleaker than generally known, the New York Times reports:

Only 12 percent of black fourth-grade boys are proficient in reading, compared with 38 percent of white boys, and only 12 percent of black eighth-grade boys are proficient in math, compared with 44 percent of white boys.

Poverty alone does not seem to explain the differences: poor white boys do just as well as African-American boys who do not live in poverty, measured by whether they qualify for subsidized school lunches.

The data was distilled from highly respected national math and reading tests, known as the National Assessment for Educational Progress, which are given to students in fourth and eighth grades, most recently in 2009. The report, “A Call for Change,” is to be released Tuesday by the Council of the Great City Schools, an advocacy group for urban public schools.

A call for change? A call to change what, exactly?

The report shows that black boys on average fall behind from their earliest years. Black mothers have a higher infant mortality rate and black children are twice as likely as whites to live in a home where no parent has a job. In high school, African-American boys drop out at nearly twice the rate of white boys, and their SAT scores are on average 104 points lower. In college, black men represented just 5 percent of students in 2008.
“There’s accumulating evidence that there are racial differences in what kids experience before the first day of kindergarten,” said Ronald Ferguson, director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard. “They have to do with a lot of sociological and historical forces. In order to address those, we have to be able to have conversations that people are unwilling to have.”

Those include “conversations about early childhood parenting practices,” Dr. Ferguson said. “The activities that parents conduct with their 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds. How much we talk to them, the ways we talk to them, the ways we enforce discipline, the ways we encourage them to think and develop a sense of autonomy.”

The report urges convening a White House conference, encouraging Congress to appropriate more money for schools and establishing networks of black mentors.

Clearly a lack of money and mentors is the problem.

The Fate of Western Civilization and Grade-School Soccer

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

It‘s something of a stretch to compare a soccer game among eleven-year-old boys with the fate of the democratic world, Barry Rubin admits, but he does it anyway:

My son is playing on a local soccer team which has lost every one of its games, often by humiliating scores. The coach is a nice guy, but seems an archetype of contemporary thinking: he tells the kids not to care about whether they win, puts players at any positions they want, and doesn’t listen to their suggestions.

He never criticizes a player or suggests how a player could do better. My son, bless him, once remarked to me: “How are you going to play better if nobody tells you what you’re doing wrong?” The coach just tells them how well they are playing. Even after an 8-0 defeat, he told them they’d played a great game.

And of course, the league gives trophies to everyone, whether their team finishes in first or last place.

I’d even seen an American television documentary about boys and sports which justified this approach, explaining that coaches were doing something terrible by deriding failure, urging competitiveness, and demanding victory. So were the kids really happier to be “relieved” of the strain of trying to win, “liberated” from feeling bad at the inequality of athletic talent?

Or am I right in thinking that sports should prepare children for life, competition, the desire to win, and an understanding that not every individual has the same level of skills? A central element in that world is rewarding those who do better, which also offers an incentive for them and others to strive, rather than thinking they merely need choose between becoming a government bureaucrat or dependent.

The playing field was perfectly even, but the boys were clearly miserable. They felt like losers, their behavior rejecting the claim that everything was just great, or that mediocrity was satisfactory as long as everyone was treated identically. They knew better than to think outcomes don’t matter. In a truly sad gesture, one boy had suggested before still another losing game that they form a circle, put their hands in, and cheer themselves: “Like the good teams do.” Halfway into the season, the kids had even chosen a nickname for the team that expressed their sense of being weak losers.

When the opportunity came to step in as coach for one game, I jumped at the chance to try an experiment. I’ve never coached a sport before, and am certainly no expert at soccer despite my son’s efforts. Still, I thought the next game could be won by simply placing players in the positions they merited, and motivating them to triumph.

For the starting line-up, I put the best players in and kept them in as long as they didn’t say they were tired or seem fatigued. Of course, I adhered to the league rule that everyone play at least half the game, but I didn’t interpret that to mean that everyone should play precisely the same amount of time.

I didn’t put terrible players in at forward or in the goal. It didn’t take any genius to do so, just basic sports common sense. You don’t need Ayn Rand to tell you which way the wind blows.

Before the game, I gave them a pep talk, with the key theme as follows:

Every week you’ve been told that the important thing is just to have a good time. Well, this week it’s going to be different. The number one goal is to win; the number two goal is to have a good time. But I assure you: if you win, you will have a much better time!

And that’s just what happened. They took a 1-0 lead and held it, in contrast to the previous week when it was scoreless at the half but turned into a 3-0 humiliation when someone ill-suited was made goalkeeper just because he wanted that job.

When kids with fewer skills didn’t want to play defense, I pointed out that these were critical positions, since winning required preventing the other team from scoring. At the end, they performed heroically, holding off repeated attacks on their goal.

I worried that the boys who played less of the game and were given seemingly less significant positions would be resentful. But quite the opposite proved true.

With the team ahead, they were thrilled. One shouted from the sidelines something I thought showed real character: “Don’t let the good players do all the work!” Instinctively, he recognized that some players are better, but he wanted to bring everyone’s level up rather than down. I’m tempted to say he was going against what he was being taught in school.

They played harder, with a bit more pressure and a less equal share of personal glory than they’d ever done before. But after the victory, they were glowing and appreciative, amazed that they had actually won a game. Yes, winning and being allowed to give their best effort as a team was far more exciting and rewarding for them than being told they had done wonderfully by just showing up, that everyone should be treated equal as if there were no difference in talents, and that the results didn’t matter.

(Hat tip to Aretae.)