Saturday, December 6, 2014

"A man over forty is either a fool or a physician"

In the spirit of Montaigne, that "a man over forty is either a fool or a physician," here are my heath tips:
Exercise matters, in the sense that some is much more important than none, but a lot provides not much more benefit than some.
Don't eat too many carbs, eat meat, fish, and greens, drink a glass of wine with dinner, and walk when you can. You won't live forever, but you will be happier and less of a health bore than the people who try.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

My aims for Israel

My positions:
1. Generosity toward the Palestinians, but no prisoner releases without an armistice and no territorial concessions except as part of a final peace settlement. Jews who wish to remain under Palestinian rule and live in peace must be allowed to remain.
2. Capital punishment for terrorist and criminal murderers.
3. Municipal control of policing. Broken windows policing focusing on public safety and violent crime.
4. Municipal control of planning.
5. Liberalization of land use throughout the country. Break up the ILA into several competing entities.
6. Focus on excellence in education.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Impeach Obama, for pity's sake

What else is Obama going to have in his Presidential Library? killed bin Laden, Obamacare failed and repealed, killed bin Laden, ended Iraq war before I started it again, brought chaos to Libya, killed bin Laden, set race relations in the US back sixty years, killed bin Laden, undermined rule of law and made the US another tinpot dictatorship, killed bin Laden. The House should impeach out of pity. And don't forget that I killed bin Laden.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

No Pay No Pray

[Dr. Franklin.]
Mr. President
The small progress we have made after 4 or five weeks close attendance & continual reasonings with each other — our different sentiments on almost every question, several of the last producing as many noes as ays, is methinks a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the Human Understanding. We indeed seem to feel our own want of political wisdom, since we have been running about in search of it. We have gone back to ancient history for models of Government, and examined the different forms of those Republics which having been formed with the seeds of their own dissolution now no longer exist. And we have viewed Modern States all round Europe, but find none of their Constitutions suitable to our circumstances.
In this situation of this Assembly, groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the Contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection. — Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance? I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that “except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human Wisdom and leave it to chance, war and conquest.
I therefore beg leave to move — that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that service —
Mr. Sharman seconded the motion.
Mr. Hamilton & several others expressed their apprehensions that however proper such a resolution might have been at the beginning of the convention, it might at this late day, 1. bring on it some disagreeable animadversions. & 2. lead the public to believe that the embarrassments and dissentions within the convention, had suggested this measure. It was answered by Docr. F. Mr. Sherman & others, that the past omission of a duty could not justify a further omission — that the rejection of such a proposition would expose the Convention to more unpleasant animadversions than the adoption of it: and that the alarm out of doors that might be excited for the state of things within. would at least be as likely to do good as ill.
Mr. Williamson, observed that the true cause of the omission could not be mistaken. The Convention had no funds.
--Philadelphia, the Constitutional Convention, 28 June 1787.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Election Day 2014, response to Matthew Peterson and commentators on Republican prospects

1. McCain lost because things weren't going too well either at home or abroad. Romney lost because he was the guy who hired the guy who fired you. Lots of stuff has changed since 2012 (Obamacare flat-tired "roll-out"; Isis, anybody?) and so I don't think these things are really all that relevant now.

2. The social justice warriors control the Democratic Party, partly because the public sector unions provide the cadres and a big chunk of the money, partly because Soros, who has made his money shorting freedom, back them to the hilt.

3. A lot of Latino citizens are coming around to the Sonny Bono/Yakov Smirnoff position on illegal immigration -- the collapse of public order in Mexico is helping to drive this. A Republican who goes for amnesty loses his base, and cannot gain much in general against the social justice warriors.

4. In the next two years we will see a Christian Minister going to jail for refusing to perform a homosexual "marriage." That is going to push a lot of Black church ladies away from the Democratic party.

5. Two more years of nastiness between Congress and the President is bad for the country and the world. Democratic control of Congress from 2006-2010 got us where we are today on the economy and Iraq. A Presidential system isn't all roses...

Friday, August 8, 2014

Jonah Goldberg: "Box-Checking as Leadership"

The Goldberg File
By Jonah Goldberg
August 8, 2014
Dear Reader (and the millionth monkey who randomly typed out an identical "news"letter on his own — except for typing "Darth Rayburn" instead of "Dear Reader" and for that weird 5,000-word stretch that just says "Banana, Banana, Banana" over and over again),
The other night Mike Barnicle tweeted "Make Dick Cheney read this." The "this" was a link to an article in the Washington Post about the plight of the Yazidis, trapped on a mountaintop.
Now lest you take me for the sort of person who follows Mike Barnicle on Twitter, let me explain that I saw the tweet because Paul Begala thought it was sufficiently perspicacious to warrant retweeting. Now, lest you think I am the sort of person who follows Paul Begala on Twitter, let me say in my defense that I find it useful to monitor some enemy broadcasts, as it were.
 Anyway, the tweet was simply part of a whole plague of prattle from an army of argle-barglers that seem to think they're taking a bold moral stance by aiming all of their attention on people with no power to make any decisions. Trapped on a mountaintop by savages who make the Thuggees seem civilized, watching their children die of thirst, presented with the choice of renouncing their faith (and being condemned to Hell by doing so) or execution (for the men; slavery for the women), no doubt the Yazidis were deeply gratified when they got word that Mike Barnicle had taken to Twitter to hold accountable a man who can do nothing for them. Nothing takes the pain out of slow death, genocide, and seeing your wives and daughters carried off into slavery more than the firm knowledge that fingers are being pointed thousands of miles away at men who've been in retirement for five years.
Heaven forbid Barnicle tweet "Make Barack Obama read this" or even "Make Joe Biden read this" (which would require his drawing in the margins of the Washington Post article pictures of flying saucers shooting each other. "Pew-pew! Boom! Good article."). After all, Obama is the actual president of the United States. He could actually do something to help the Yazidis.
Let us stipulate — at least for the sake of argument — that the First Cause of Iraq's unraveling was the Iraq War. That doesn't change the fact that the second, third, fourth, fifth, and nth causes of the chaos are the result, directly or indirectly, of President Obama's decisions (or indecisions). Obama chose to pull troops out of Iraq as quickly as possible. Obama chose to dismiss ISIS as the "jayvee squad"this year. Obama chose to issue a "red line" ultimatum, then chose to say "never mind." The guy has been president for five years. And yet to listen to him and his defenders he's been utterly powerless to undo his predecessors' mistakes, real or alleged. It's like these people think the twice-elected president of the United States is still new to the job.
Life, the Movie
But all of that is irrelevant, too, at least when it comes to the question of what to do now. And bear in mind, Barnicle was tweeting this hairball when Obama had done and said nothing to indicate that the U.S. would actually do anything to help the Yazidis (just as Obama has done little to nothing to help the slaughtered Shiites and Christians of Iraq, the rebels in Syria, the sovereign government in Ukraine, et al). The vital priority for Barnicle (and Begala) was to unleash the full gale of Barnicle's moral authority and righteous indignation (which is like talking about the raging tempest let loose upon the land by a mouse fart) against a retired guy in Wyoming. Never mind that the retired guy in Wyoming wanted to keep U.S. forces in Iraq so as to prevent anything like what we're seeing from happening!
Now that events in Iraq have descended from "urgent" to"Hieronymus Bosch," Obama has finally acted, and I am glad for it. Let us send as much aid as we can to the Yazidis; if in the process, we kill a lot of ISIS fighters, that'll be a nice bonus.
But there's a common theme to Obama's foreign policy and Barnicle's rodent flatulence. They both work on the assumption that global events are things that happen out there. "The world stage" used to be a platform for U.S. leadership. For Obama, the world stage is more like, well, astage where other nations put on a show for our benefit. There are plenty of good arguments for America to be more circumspect internationally (and plenty of bad ones). But I don't think Obama and his supporters fully recognize that when the lead actor on the world stage decides to walk off and sit in the audience, it changes the performance and the roles of the other performers.
Box-Checking as Leadership
I will confess I never really appreciated the perfidy of the phrase "leading from behind" until Wednesday's presidential press conference.
Earlier that day, the secretary of defense, who has been kept away from the press lest the cameras remove all doubt about his incompetence, announced that 20,000 Russians were massing on the Ukrainian border in what seemed like preparation for an invasion.
(I often hear this would be the first instance of a European nation invading another since 1939. I'm not sure that's exactly true from, say, the Georgian or Hungarian perspective. But that's quibbling. Such a crime would be, in the parlance of international-relations scholars, a huge frick'n deal.)
At the press conference, the president made no mention of this in his prepared remarks about the Africa summit, which he read aloud with all of the passion of a DMV bureaucrat explaining the different methods of payment for a parking ticket. He then took questions. Chris Jansing of NBC asked whether the sanctions against Russia were working. With his customary logic-chopping defensiveness, the president responded that the sanctions were doing what they were intended to do, but it was unclear whether they were actually working. This is like explaining that the pepper spray did everything it was supposed to do but the bear is eating your face anyway.
It's also perfectly Obamaesque. I did exactly what I set out to do. If it's not working, it's only because someone else isn't responding the way they're supposed to. I gave a speech telling the oceans to stop rising, damn it! I even said "let me be clear."
The point of the sanctions isn't to prove that sanctions can cause "economic pain." The point is to deter Vladimir Putin. And on that score, they clearly aren't working at all. It's amazing to me how much Obama thinks and talks like a bureaucrat. I've checked my box! I did my job! I've fulfilled my responsibilities. If the bear is eating your face, it must be the fault of Jones in accounting. Hate that guy.
This has been Obama's standard response to problems around the globe. He did what he was "supposed to do," and whenever the consequences of his actions create problems, it's because others didn't do what they were supposed to do. I pulled troops out of Iraq. I reneged on missile defense in Eastern Europe. I "reset" with Russia. I intervened in Libya. I didn't intervene in Syria. I told Leon Panetta to deal with Benghazi. I took the blue pill. The fact that the Iraqi pullout was destabilizing, that Putin saw his moves as weakness, that Islamists took over Libya, that Assad stayed in power, that the Matrix revealed itself anyway: These all reflect someone else's failures.
He was then asked if the 20,000 troops massed on the Ukrainian border might lead him to "reconsider" sending lethal military aid to the Ukrainians. After prattling on about how Ukraine doesn't need aid to beat the separatists, Obama added, "Now if you start seeing an invasion by Russia, that's obviously a different set of questions. We're not there yet."
Now, I don't want to go to war to defend Ukraine. I don't want Obama to say we would go to war to defend Ukraine —and not because I think that such a statement would necessarily be irresponsible if it came from a different president. But I don't think Barack Obama would go to war to defend Ukraine even if he said he would. As with his "red line" debacle, the worst thing a president can do is vow to take a hardline and then not take it. But would it be too much to ask the president of the United States to characterize a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine as outrageous?
Keep in mind that "outrageous" is safer than "unacceptable." The problem is that his use of "unacceptable" is almost entirely ironic. He uses it like a theater critic saying a cast change is "unacceptable" when it is obvious the critics' acceptance is irrelevant. His use of "unacceptable" has been more promiscuous than Vizzini's use of "inconceivable" in The Princess Bride. (How long has it been since Putin's annexation of the Crimea was "unacceptable"?)
Leading from the Sidelines
In the best sense, "leading from behind" sounds like something a football coach does. He can't be out on the field, but he coordinates, instructs, and inspires from the sidelines. Among the myriad problems with this analogy is the simple fact that international affairs isn't like a football game, where the coach can bench players for failing to follow instructions or execute the plays. In Obama's version of leading from behind, he's more like a football handicapper who has no control of events and merely watches from the virtual sidelines as events transpire, adjusting the odds as they unfold. This analogy fails, too, of course because thepresident of the United States isn't an observer.Obama is open to sending lethal aid — it seems — only if Ukraine is invaded. But refusing to send lethal aid makes invasion all the more likely. I understand that the president thinks he's very clever by seeing the guiding principle of his foreign policy as "don't do stupid sh*t." But the real-world consequence of that principle is to let events unfold and then whine about being neck-deep in sh*t you think you can blame on others. It's not leading from behind, it's failing from behind.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Showing off Israel

RE:  Michael Totten, "Israel is not going anywhere."

My late colleague Gideon Doron once told me the following story: Doron was, c. 1996, briefly head of the policy planning staff of Israel's Foreign Ministry, under David Levy. He invited his counterpart in the Palestinian Authority to spend a day together so he could show how Israelis live. Gideon showed the Palestinian official his beautiful house in Omer, shopping malls, beaches, cafes, etc. Gideon concluded by telling the fellow, "and you could have all this, if you wanted, by concentrating on building for yourselves instead of trying to destroy us." The Palestinian official, according to Gideon, was convinced; he want back to Ramallah and started preaching to his colleagues.
A few days later Gideon called the Palestinian official and asked when he was going to reciprocate by inviting him to Ramallah. The PA guy said: you brainwashed me, and I repeated your line to my colleagues, and they told me that if I didn't shut up, or if I continued to meet with you, I would be fired.
Gideon from this point could not get any PA officials to take his phone calls, so after seven weeks he had no choice but to resign from the Foreign Ministry.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Go ahead and send your kid to the Ivy League

Comments on William Deresiewicz, "Don't send your kid to the Ivy League."

Count me as "not persuaded." After a research appointment at Princeton in 02-03, I taught at Yale in 2003-4, during the Deresiewicz years, and my youngest sister Beth is Yale '07.

1. My sister and her friends went to grad school in science or tech jobs, not Wall Street.

2. Plenty of my students were fascinated by electoral politics, and one of them was even the campaign manager for a (longshot) New Haven mayoral candidate.

3. Two of my wife's nephews, the sons of a very successful physician, went to Ohio State to study engineering. They certainly could have gone to fancier schools.

At Princeton the engineering students were third-rate compared to the engineering students at major public engineering schools, because the curriculum is exactly the same across schools and the public schools are cheaper (and many of the public schools offer much better networking opportunities for engineers than Princeton).

4. A good liberal, Deresiewicz refuses to recognizes that elite higher education has become more caste-based because it has successfully sorted out a cognitive elite, and intelligence is inherited to the same degree as height.

5 .What is true is that the competition to get in is so stiff that it leaves high school kids no slack for self-exploration, which means that the "winners" don't really know what they want from life. Perhaps they are more vulnerable to the temptations of Wall Street than they were in my time (I am Harvard '89) for this reason.

6. I am a big believer in noblesse oblige. So as a former "entitled little shit" I have no problem bringing up my children and educating my students to be aware of their status (or station) and its duties.

7. It is true that because liberal religion died and was replaced by the religion of liberalism, because most elite colleges have internationalized and so have lost their patriotism, and because today's elite high school students are busy cramming their resumes to grow up even a little, American elite schools aren't as successful at instilling the service ethic as they once were. There are things they can do to mitigate this, and they are doing some of them (e.g. ROTC is back in administration favor at Harvard).