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Archive for January, 2012

He Got the Rocks, But They Got Him

Posted by heyrandy on January 23, 2012

Lord Elgin and the Marbles, William St.Clair, 1983 2nd edition

This is the record of what happens when someone tries to do too much with too little for too many who did not care. Tomas Bruce, Seventh Earl of Elgin and Eleventh of Kincardine, was appointed the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. This fulfilled his ambition for status, but would because of his ambition to improve the artistic taste of Britain, lead to his fall.

Elgin’s life in Turkey was not an easy one. Dealing  with the Turks was tedious. Everything done at court took forever. Lavish gifts were involve (Elgin received many), elaborate protocols were followed, and the overall culture was alien. There was also the Levant Company. It was a crown chartered company with enormous business interests in the Empire. Two principals resented Elgin’s presence and tried to get him recalled. While they waited the did all they could  do to thwart his mission.

The Turks were difficult, but Elgin did have some success. But it is the marbles, the marbles of Greece, that  would be the cause of Elgin’s troubles.

The Ottomans controlled Greece. Elgin sought and obtained permission (through official channels and with the help of bribes) of the court to remove the carved marbles and send them to England. The Turks, Muslims, thought the Greeks, Christians, were little better than infidels and the ancient marbles pagan images. The Greeks did not seem to care. The Greeks got paid to do the removal work.

Elgin financed the entire operation out of his own funds. This would sink him. Once the marbles got to England, professional jealousy took over. The Greek carvings were condemned sight unseen as being mere Roman. The artists who saw them were stunned at their beauty, but the critics of Elgin dismissed the statues as second-rate.

Elgin eventually sold the statues to the British government for about half of the nearly 80,000 pounds it cost him to obtain the works.

The book records all the intrigues, machinations, and venality that went into getting the statues. The vicissitudes of the court would be enough to defeat a less determined man.

The marbles were a major success, for a while. The magnificence  of the marbles was constant, eternal even; but their effect was ephemeral. Elgin lived to learn that the two new houses of parliament would be built in the Gothic style, not Greek. All that work of cutting up the Parthenon, what did it accomplish?

The book ends with the demands of the Greek government to return the marbles. The author concludes that the British have a strong title to the works. The real question is What is the right thing to do? The Greeks contend, in addition to their claim that Elgin stole the marbles, that the works can only be fully appreciated in the context of the bright sunlight of Greece. The author leaves us to find our own answer.

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Occupy upon Others at Their Expense

Posted by heyrandy on January 19, 2012

The Occupy (place-name here) movement has inflicted itself upon my town. Occupiers have pitched their tents in a city park. The city government, acting on orders from the Department of Homeland Security, has once expelled the camper from the park. The park needed “cleaning” was the excuse. The movement, originally called Occupy Wall Street, has spread to many cities. The original idea of the movement was to address what the movement called disparity in wealth distribution. This perceived disparity is expressed in the 1% verses the 99%. These percentages referred to the movement’s claim that 1% of Americans hold most of the country’s wealth. Those in the movement believe that the 1% hold this wealth in detriment to the 99%.

When the movement spread from Wall Street to other areas, the movement’s demands became broader. The movement never said how to redress what it considered an unfair imbalance of wealth, but the movement did begin to make issue of what they considered other injustices. Their demands We Want. This theme is not unique to them, but the Occupiers have a list of specific items. The list includes free health care, free tuition, free student-loan debt payoffs, and free mortgages. This is a free lunch.

The Occupiers are so far unsuccessful, but they remain undaunted. The Occupiers seem to have no obvious plan on how to get the free stuff. So far the movement has been a minor nuisance and a petty public health problem. The movement has been mostly peaceful. The lack of violence is to their credit. The Wall Street Occupiers did one time make some employees of some Wall Street firms late for work, but there was no riot.

The problem with the movement is its lack of understanding of how an economy works. Beneath all the demands is the presupposition that everyone is equal in all areas. The communists tried this (in theory) before. Its results were disastrous. Even if we disregard massive killings in Eastern Europe and China, the misery of state enforced equality in those areas was horrible. The Occupiers do not show any understanding of this history.

Occupy is also built on the envy principle. It is a case of “If I can’t have what you have, neither can you.” This does not lead to wealth for the poor. It only leads to poverty for the less politically connected. Making the rich poor has never made the poor rich. Occupy forgets that money is portable, and the rich are willing to travel. What would you do?

The Occupiers forget that America, and the West in general, is middle class. This is the group that will most suffer. There is irony here. The Occupiers are mostly middle class. You can tell by their stuff. The latest high-tech gizmos are very prevalent among the campers. To make their message heard, the movement uses this technology. They fail to see the obvious.

They also fail on the personal responsibility front. The outrage at the bailouts for the bankrupt mortgage bankers is just, but the other part of that is the personal responsibility of those who took out the loans. There were plenty of naïve people, but no one signed under duress. A share of the responsibility goes to those advocacy groups that militated for mortgage loans for those people who were obviously unqualified. Do you get a pass if you were only trying to help?

Where is the Occupy the Federal Reserve? The easy money policy of the Federal Reserve made possible all those bad mortgage loans. Here is where the movement could do real good. Focus upon the Federal Reserve. It is the source of much of the monetary problems we have. The Federal Reserve has been given carte blanche since its 1913 creation.

The Occupy movement is naïve. It lacks focus, has unobtainable goals, is wrong-headed. It espouses the tried-and-failed socialism that made many suffer but made a few powerful. Until the movement offers a coherent, obtainable agenda; until it understands the problem and not just the obvious symptoms of the problem, and until abandons its core tenet of free everything for everyone, its only hope is for martyrdom through heavy-handedness by the local authorities. That and a mild winter.

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Posted by heyrandy on January 11, 2012

Suicide of a Superpower Will America Survive to 2025? Patrick Buchanan 2011

America is rapid becoming a fractured state divided along the lines of ethnic identity. This is Buchanan’s thesis. Identity politics, as it is called, will turn us against each other. He cites many examples of what is dividing us. It is mostly about who gets what from whom. This is not in dispute nor is it new.

The Balkanization of America is a real problem. A lot of very stupid government enforced policies are fueling it. Buchanan criticizes all the usual offenders. The difficulty is the expectation culture that has grown up because of the attempts to make us equal with each other.

The author points out that equality is a new idea, that it is impossible, and that it only leads to bitter divisions. It is also totally unenforceable. This is not going to stop its proponents from averring its merits. Buchanan does us service by showing that there are no merits to artificial equality.

Buchanan has his list of fixes. They are as bad as the problem. “Congress should enact a constitutional amendment…making English the official language of the United States.” (p422) Define English. Who makes whom the judges of English?

Other fixes rely upon statistics for enactment. Whose statistics? We have learned that the government’s numbers are politically derived. Privately generated numbers are always disputed.

Buchanan has good objections to many of the social evils that beset us, but he offers no adequate solutions. He fails entirely to think outside of the Government-can-do-it box. He wants a small government, but doesn’t realize that he is also calling for a larger government. Buchanan is a right of center statist. He wants a free market but protective tariffs. He wants freedom but government to control what he doesn’t like. He wants low-skill manufacturing jobs that pay high wages. These contradictions make the book little more than a complaint. Buchanan comes across as petulant.

I did not spend a lot of time reading this book. I just skimmed it. I recommend you stop with this review. America will survive well beyond 2025 even if this book does not.

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What He Knew and Why They Did Not

Posted by heyrandy on January 7, 2012

The Final Secret of Pearl Harbor Robert Theobald, 1954.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise to the Hawaiian commanders, Admiral Kimmel and General Short, but others in the military knew it was coming. Theobald, a subordinate of Kimmel at the time of the attack, argues that President Roosevelt knew that the Japanese planned to attack the United States. The United States knew this because of United States’ ability to read the coded Japanese communications. This vital information was not shared with the men in Hawaii, but the President and the Secretaries of State, War and Navy knew it.

Why were Hawaiian commanders not told? This is the big question. The author’s answer: FDR wanted the Japanese to attack so the Germans would declare war on the U.S. pursuant to the Tripartite Pact. This would enable the U.S. to come openly to the aid of the British. Before you dismiss this as a paranoid conspiracy, consider what the U.S. had done to Japan.

Extended financial and military aid to China

Stopped Philippine exports to Japan

Froze Japanese assets

Blunt statements to Ambassador Nomura

Termination of the Washington conference

There are other troubling questions. The British were given copies of decoding machines the U.S. developed to read Magic and Purple Japanese codes. Why was Britain given these machines when Britain was not yet at war with Japan? Why was the U.S. forces at the Manila headquarters given the Magic and Purple decoding machines when Pearl Harbor did not get them? Possession of the machines allowed the Manila commanders to have vital intelligence as soon as it was available. Why did the War (Army) Department not correct General Short’s wrong interpretation of the confusing Department directive? Short took action to prevent sabotage and report these efforts to the Army. General Marshall, Army Chief of Staff and Short’s superior, never explained why he did not tell Short he got the directive wrong. Admiral Stark, Chief of Naval Operations, said he did not tell Kimmel because he was following orders. Orders from whom? The only one superior to Stark (and General Marshall) was the President. The department Secretaries were administrative figures without command authority.

Theobald also reviews the eight Pearl Harbor investigations. These affairs did little to reveal any truth. Investigators badgered witnesses into changing their testimony. Testimony by obfuscation by senior officers was widespread. Evidence was buried in massive volumes of paper. Temporizing was common. It is telling that neither Kimmel nor Short were ever given a court-martial. This would allow them to vigorously cross-examine witness, and more importantly, subpoena documents. This could not be allowed to happen.

The book is easy to read. It provides a concise introduction to the Pearl Harbor fiasco.  My only objection to the book is the title. There is yet more to be revealed about Pearl Harbor. If you want to know more, start here.

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Wild Things With Eyes

Posted by heyrandy on January 4, 2012

I have feral potatoes. A few years ago I bought some blue potatoes. I was planting spuds, and when I bought seed potatoes at the local supply store I saw the blue ones. I bought a few to plant. I usually buy Yukon Golds, but a few blues would be a nice color combination.

The blues produced as potatoes are wont to do. I could not tell any difference in the taste from a regular potato. A few of the blues were left over and forgotten. When spring came I found the left over blues. They had all sprouted long roots out of their eyes. What to do? I did not want to just toss them on the compost pile. They were too shrunken to eat and too small to use as ammunition. I decided to plant them around the house. Decorative tubers: the next big trend.

They all sprouted. I left them alone. They said thanks, I think. I don’t speak any of the spud dialects, but I could see it in their eyes. When fall came I did not dig them up. I want to see what would happen. I did not hear if they said anything. Potatoes, I have learned, are a quiet bunch when you can’t see their eyes.

I am going to let them all grow without control. Think of it as a return to nature. It will be every potato for itself. Unless they form gangs. I am hoping that free range potatoes will soon make it into the expensive section of the produce aisle at the nation’s grocery stores. I have to recover my investment. I will know I have been successful when I see factory produced potato products with “Made with free-range-like potatoes” on the label. When this happens, those blues will be gold.

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Where Have All the Babies Gone?

Posted by heyrandy on January 2, 2012

How Civilizations Die (and Why Islam is Dying Too), Daniel Goldman 2011

Are you future oriented or present oriented? This is the crucial issue for modern society. How you regard the future is affecting that future. Goldman’s thesis is that modern societies are very present oriented. This orientation has caused a reduction in the birth rate that is below replacement levels. Western civilizations are dying as a result. Faith in the future became faith in the present. Children lost their value.

It is not just the West that is in decline. Japan is facing catastrophe. Its population’s average age is rapidly increasing, but its birth rate is barely above one child per woman. This means that there will be a small producing generation taking care of a very large elderly generation.

China is worse. Its one child policy has given it a 14% to 17% men to women differential. A large population of men who will never marry and have children will bring revolution. China is doomed.

The Muslim world reflects the same trend (hence the subtitle of the book.). Iran is in such decline that the current Iranian President has publicly call for an increase in the birthrate. The public responded by increasing the use of contraception.

The only bright spot is America. Here the birthrate is just above the 2.1 child per woman necessary for a stable population. This is largely due the evangelical wing of Christianity. The old “Mainline” denominations are shrinking. Most of their members are either moving to evangelical churches or just not going anywhere. But the evangelical churches are growing by evangelism and child birth.

The mainline problem is also a problem for the Roman Catholics. Birthrates and church attendance have collapsed in such former Catholic strongholds a Quebec, Canada and Ireland.

Why is all this happening? Using United Nation’s statistics as well as those of the World Bank and other groups, the author sees women’s education as the primary cause. The more education a woman has the fewer children. Time is school delays marriage and shortens a woman’s effective child-bearing years. Education also changes one’s outlook on life and circumstances. Modern life in the city has replaced traditional life of the village. Modern life is very present oriented. However, education indicates future orientation. Education has costs in time, effort, and money. Education is a sacrifice now to get a later reward. I think the women’s education hypothesis does not explain all the problem.

This dearth of children is not a new phenomenon. Goldman cites ancient Greece and Rome. Both empires collapsed because they ran out of military age men. The were no armies to repel the invaders. Women’s education was not a factor in these ancient cultures. These cultures lost faith in the future. If there is no future, why have kids?

The West has developed a Now philosophy of time. We are the Me Generation. Technological advances have helped foster this Me-Now view. The effect is population decline.

While this is all bad news for many traditional groups, the future is not all gloom. Wars, famines, and plagues have reduced populations. Populations have rebounded. “The Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse,” as the author calls the birth dearth, will not destroy the world. Civilizations die. They all have. New civilizations are born to take their place. Those with large families look forward to a future they will rule. Now you know what to do to rule the world ten generations from now.

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