Mittwoch, Dezember 28, 2005

Small Break...

As if you haven't noticed, there will be a small break here: but I'll be back on the 3rd with continuation of the Culture of Deception...

Best wishes to all for a great 2006.

Donnerstag, Dezember 22, 2005

Culture of Deception V

As usual, Dr. Sanity says it better than I can.


Delusional Projection.





The critical point for me is that we're not dealing merely with people with problems, but more fundamentally with a denial of truth, denial of reality, of insistence on "that's just your opinion", of sophistry, all based on some sort of ill-defined, sophmoristic relative epistomology, where the insane ravings of a certified loony have, fundamentally, the same weight, the same inherent truth value of any other statement on the subject, whether it be opinion or facts.

Dr. Sanity also makes the point above that this sort of stance is common among children before they begin maturing.  She brings the excellent point that for children (and those within the culture of deception) view reason as a creative process, independent of thinking or perception. It is very closely tied to using their emotions as perceptual tools: let's keep that phrase in mind.

Artists, good ones, are skilled in intertwining their cognitive abilities and their emotions to create their art, to create the emotions that they want to in their viewers. It's part of the skill and the talent: a painting with extraordinary technique but which has no "soul" is an interesting exercise for the art critic, but add the true artist's ability to get the viewer to emote, to experience an emotion by merely viewing the picture, and you've got something that will propel an artist into greatness.

But what happens when all you have is emotion? Then you have a failed artist (and we all know about failed artists: that disgusting Austrian corporal was one) and a political activist.

On previous posts, I've touched on the role that deliberate deception plays in Hollywood. What Dr. Sanity touches on is the abandonment of the cognitive aspect of acting - think of the brilliant and electrically charged performances by, say, Bogart and Bacall, where the sexual attraction is not so much physical as intellectual - for the purely emotive aspect of acting that we see in today's actors.

And. of course, the killer point is this: by claiming that everything is relative - which is self-contradictory, since the sentence itself is an absolute - then the members of the Culture of Deception cannot claim to have the truth behind them, unless they understand truth literally as only emotional truth: of feelings.

Of feeling that something is true.

Not merely this: actively placing emotions at the same level as facts, of subjective opinion at the same level as objective reality.

Fiction writers need "emotional truth", actors need it. Without it artists can't create the emotions that they want to.

But the danger, the critical danger, is when it is elevated to the same epistemological level as objective facts.

Why does this happen? Well, it's fairly simple: the facts are too complex.

I was in Germany during the Nato Double-Track Agreement (move Pershing IIs to Europe to counter SS-20 and offer to scrap them if the Soviets scrapped theirs). I was involved with a German girl at the time and we went to a lecture given by a German professor in Chinese History on what it all meant.

The lecture was so full of inaccuracies as to be absurd, and I, in my ignorance, stood up and pointed out several to the Prof (one of the better bad career moves I've made in my life) when he asked for questions. I had the facts on my side (yes, the US does do EMP testing on nuclear systems and spends a lot of money to ensure that an EMP doesn't cripple communications and weapons), which the Prof acknowledged, but he felt that it didn't make any difference.

My girlfriend of the time (she dumped me shortly therafter: her worst career move, according to my wife) took my back to her apartment that she shared with 4 other students and we all sat and had some wine and talked about the lecture.

And they didn't understand anything about escalation scenarios, about the calculus of deterrence, about the weapons and what they meant. I spent something like 4 hours that evening trying to explain to them the simplest, basic elements of deterrence.

They didn't like it. They felt that the whole thing was just awful. I pointed out that I didn't like it much either, but that it was keeping the peace and was working. They thought that was awful as well.

But all they were doing was emoting and not thinking. And we're talking about two psychology grad students, a PhD candidate in Biology (the girlfriend of the time), and a strange guy who switched from doing a PhD in Philosophy to a MA in political science, economics and philosophy (me).

But back to the Prof. One thing that strikes me now is that he was a damn good Chinese History prof (I still have my class notes and reviewed them while I was reading that recent biography of Mao, and he was pretty good) and knew nothing of what he was talking about, but he felt that it was important to do so. He didn't have the facts, but was using his position to preach. Further, not knowing the facts didn't make any difference : he felt that it was important to protest against the Nato Double-Track decision.

This sort of emotional truth is indeed self-delusion.

Dr. Sanity says it better than I can:

When you live in a world where objective reality is unacknowledged, is it any wonder that from your perspective noone can every prove that what you feel is true, isn't really true? That is why the same distortions and creative fabrications resurface time after time in political discussions these days.

This is critical. Feeling that something is true doesn't make it true, unless, of course, you value, like Mapes does, your emotions, your feeling that something is true, more than reality itself, i.e. self-delusion.

And to bring this back to the Culture of Deception: film makers love this, especially left-wing film makers.

Read this by Ebert. Films aren't about truth, especially Michael Moore "documentaries." Films are about emotions, and Moore's films are agit-prop. I remember seeing Roger & Me and thought that as a film-maker, Moore was brilliant. The problem is that it's not a documentary, but rather agit-prop, and successful agit-prop, since it creates emotions that Moore deliberately wants to inculcate for his own political reasons.

But that's all part of the game of the Culture of Deception: it's not just about deceiving others - the useful idiots of Lenin - but is also about deceiving themselves - the left in the US today - about the world we live in and what it all means.

Montag, Dezember 19, 2005

Culture of Deception - Part IV

The Culture of Deception in modern politics has complex roots. It's actually quite simple, but the roots, of understanding where it comes from and why it has become the culture of the left,, are not so easily understood.

We've seen that Marxism and its illegitimate bastard children (Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism etc) are based on deception: the proletariat doesn't understand its own true nature (false consciousness); without a revolutionary vanguard the masses are too stupid and downtrodden to actually do anything; the revolutionary vanguard must deceive most of its followers and the general public about its true nature in order to take power, which is the only thing that matters.

The political situation in the US, of a mainstream party going off the deep end, is the culmination of decades of slow shifting and turning of political culture from a culture of consensus to a culture of deception. I am, perforce, simplifying all of this to make the point: after all, this is a blog and not a doctoral thesis (and I am increasingly seeing blogging as the first draft of oral history, just as the MSM sees itself as the first draft of history).

Deception has become part and parcel of the political process, but really only on one side of the equation. Why?

Let's take a look at a current issue: Alito.

If you take a look at this, you can see that the issues don't really matter to the left here, as manifested in the judicial activist groups that aim to block his nomination.

The key is that the goal of these activists is to make Alito look like SuperBork, but not based on his actual writings and decisions, but rather based on their need to defeat him for their own political interests. These groups have been spectacularly unsuccessful in the last several years, despite massive fundraising efforts, and they must now prove to their constituency that they can actually do today what they did to Bork in 1987.

I was in DC in 1987, and remember listening to the Bork hearings and following it in the Washington Post. Rarely have so many lies been told in pursuit of so little.

But this is just a smalll example of the Culture of Deception as practiced by the left.

Fundamentally, what the Democrats are doing doesn't make sense to the mainstream. In the middle of a war, call for defeat. In the middle of increasing prosperity and economic growth, call for tax increases. In the middle of the greatest freedoms ever experienced, call freedom threatened. When hard choices must be made - social security reform is a must, people, if you don't want the US to end up like Germany - there are instead insistences that everything is ok.

The Democrats have become, fundamentally, the party of negation.

It's because the Democrats that we all knew and loved aren't there any more. They died with Carter and Mondale. The New Democrats began with Bill Clinton: his point was to get elected, come hell or high water. Clinton's moral problems - which would have made him unelectable if he had been a Republican -  were well known to the party before nomination and election: it didn't matter. It didn't matter to the party if he couldn't control his base instincts (a sure indicator in my book for not being able to properly prioritize his life) because he did well in the polls: it didn't matter, in office, if he perjured himself, used the powers of his office to benefit his friends (TravelGate) and was otherwise fairly corrupt: he was a Democratic President, and for the party he could do no wrong. Clinton, the man, has been one of the worst presidents ever.

And this has been devestating for the body politic. On the one hand you've got political operatives who now know that anything goes. On the other hand you've got a populace that is increasingly appalled by politicians' behavior. These two mean nothing less than an increasing alienation between the political process and the populace as a whole.

Which is logical, given the culture of deception on the left. The left doesn't want to get elected and do good things in office: they want to get elected and never give the power back .

This is the core of Democratic rage against President Bush and the Republicans, the core of the hate that boils from people that compare him to Hitler, de-humanize him (McChimpy), who are reduced to abusive language when they talk - nay, rant - of politics. They were in power so long that they think that it is their fundamental right to execute it, to use it, to perpetuate their hold on society.

Donnerstag, Dezember 15, 2005


This is so mind-boggling good that I had to share it.

The retired Israeli General Moshe Yaalon is right, but let me expand briefly.

Iran is doing not merely Israel a favor, he's actually going to do everyone a favor: he is actually saying what politicians in the Middle East (excluding Israel) actually think, without dissemblement and without hiding, without deception.

It's part of the Culture of Deception that on the one hand has been endemnic to Arab culture for time immemorial, and on the other hand has been inculcated in the training that all of these countries and politicians received, directly or indirectly, from the SovUnion during the cold wars: deception as an art form, of hiding behind civility and statesmanship whilst plundering and exploiting their own countries, as well as funding terrorism, indeed of creating terrorism in order to permanently bedevil Israel and the United States.

Don't think that the Soviets didn't create terrorism? They knew the ultimate uses of terror, subjugation and virtual enslavement. Why do you think that Stalin is so admired in the Arab world? It's not because of his moustache.

We now know today that East Germany was a haven for terrorists during the Cold War, not merely the purely European versions like Red Army Faction and Red Brigades, but also significant training for many middle-eastern terror groups, not the least of which was Carlos. East Germany provided Libya with the logistics to bomb that night club in Berlin: it was all designed to weaken the west.

And the end to the Culture of Deception is starting to take place: the Iraqi election being held today is more monumental than we can imagine for the region.

Mittwoch, Dezember 14, 2005

Iran and Catastrophe

We've all read what Ahmadineschad, the leader of Iran, has said about Israel, not only that it should be eliminated from the map, but also that Israelis should be relocated to Europe.

Let's step back a moment to understand what is going on.

First: Iran was, is, and probably will be the local regional power. It's the largest player in the region. It also has a long history of imperial glory, one that has been abstracted nowadays to a sense of resentment that things are not today as they once were. This is a key problem not only in Iran, but elsewhere as well.

Iran wants to be handled as an equal, it wants to be taken seriously as a business partner, as a regional power, as a political power.

But what does this mean? It means that Iran should take the same place in the political world as, say, France or Germany takes; that it no longer be considered a developing country, but rather a mature country that other countries listen to out of respect, because what it says is important. That its politicall views have as much importance as, say, France or Germany, or for that matter Portugal.

This is what Iran wants, it's been an undercurrent of Iranian politics for the last several years. What Iran wants is for the West to cease to ignore it's desires - eliminating Israel as the core problem in the Middle East  - and to give Iran its due as a country with a long cultural history that is the regional power.

Of course, there's very, very little chance of this happening. Iran for the West (and by this I mean Europe) right now is a convenient source of oil and a place to sell goods.

What are the implications of these issues?

Simple. First, Iran wants nuclear weapons. As far as they are concerned, they are the only reason that Iran will gain respect from the West: not so much as their ability to build them (that's a technical problem, one not to be discounted, but nonetheless "merely" an engineering problem) as far more the ability to use them. Not that they necessarily will: after all, neither Pakistan nor India have used their nuclear weapons, despite conflicts, since both know that nuclear weapons are political weapons and sometimes more of a hindrance than help.

And today (this post has been incubating for the last two days) we see that Iran is now calling for a investigation into the Holocaust.

This is what will be the norm when Iran has nuclear weapons: of demanding to be heard and demanding to be listened to regardless of what it is they are saying. I remember a university colleague when I was working towards my philosophy doctorate in Germany from Iran with whom I had a number of, shall we say, interesting discussions. He was intelligent, was an excellent debater. But we ceased being able to have discussions once he returned from a vacation in Iran and had gotten religion: from that point on, he viewed me as a tool of Satan for not being one of the true believers. He was not merely annoying, but downright insulting about it: how can anyone intelligent, according to him, not be a Muslim? I'd had enough of similiar discussions where I did my undergraduate degree in philosophy from the theists, the worst of whom was a converted atheist who found Aquinas and converted to Roman-Catholic with a vengeance, ultimately divorcing his wife and abandoning his children to become a priest.

This is what we will have to listen to if Iran gets the bomb: the absurd theories and speculations about the world and everything that comes from intelligence unguided by logic and empiricism. And we'll have to listen to it, since they've will insist that we do so: that is the point of the rhetoric coming out of Teheran.

And he seems to be getting the attention that he wants. The problem is that he will find that the attention he will be getting is not the attention that he wants: it will, rather, be the attention paid to a snarling dog.

One of the basic tenets of diplomacy is that sometimes diplomacy fails: in that case, diplomacy is the art of saying "Nice doggie" while feeling around for a big stick.

It's gonna take a big stick for this one.

Culture of Deception - Part III

Let's take a look at this quote (from here):

'There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.'

While this sounds like the beginning of a sophmore or junior paper on metaphysics or the sophists, it isn't: it's, of course, Pinter in his Nobel Prize speech. What is more important is this from the same source:

Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.

This is where the opinion becomes pathological. Here is where the madness begins.

First of all, I agree with Pinter: politicians are interested in power.

But that is not the entirety of the situation. Politicians, good ones, do things with their power: bad ones merely revel in it, horrible ones become consumed with it.

The "truth" that Pinter speaks of here has no objective or empirical basis: it morphs directly into his opinion, consistenly Marxist in its theme, that postulates that only by keeping the population ignorant and deluded, denied the fundamental nature of their existence, can politicians remain in power. That is, after all, the Leninist goal in developing the communist society.

Which means that if they are in power, they are as Pinter postulates. Per definition: there is no other way. But Pinter and the Marxists/Leninists/Maoists/whateverists are projecting their own culture of deception to subsume all other possible uses of power.

The Culture of Deception is not merely deliberate misleading: it is more fundamentally pathological when it becomes a way of life, of a sort of reverse false consciousness. This is how it becomes a culture, how it becomes, as it were, the manifestation of a poltical/social group.

Let's take a look, as I have briefly touched on in a previous post, of one of the core problems in the Culture of Deception: the use of disbelief in creating beliefs. While this sounds at first contradictory, it makes sense, just as taking something apart to see how it works makes sense.

This is where the Culture of Deception takes its fundamental form: the arts. Any work of art is the expression of an artist's perception of reality. As such, the greater the degree of abstraction, the greater the role of the artist in getting their perception across to you, the viewer: truly great artists achieve this transparently, i.e. you don't need to have a Master of Fine Arts degree to understand Picasso's Guernica. His message, visceral message, comes to the viewer and bangs them upside their heads. Other artists are more subtle, others more devious. But in any case any work of art, as a representation of a perception, of a perceived world, requires an act of disbelief, implicitly, in the viewer, that the work of art is, as it were, the reality of the artist, rather than merely a technical representation of an object. Thus a perception, an image, being it inchoate or otherwise, becomes "real".

Not as the thing itself, but as the work of art.

This is especially true, of course, of movies. Movies, moving pictures, are just that: individual images are flashed to the screen so quickly that the eye is fooled, the eye is deceived into thinking that it is seeing actual movement. When watching a movie, a good movie, you are drawn into the experience, the message of the film. I remember a seminal event in understanding what makes a good movie when I saw Die Hard (the first one) with my friend Joan in New York one hot summer day a long time ago. We went to see it in Times Square, largely because it was so damn hot and we both love movies.

The crowd was the usual New York Times Square mixture: about as mixed a bag as you will ever see. I don't need to discuss the dynamics and plot of the movie, I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader. But there is a scene at the end of the movie where a terrorist (made harmless, of course, as a common thief with extravagant trappings) apparently rises from the dead and is about to deal death and mayhem, but is shot by the cop who has had troubles ever since he shot someone in the line of duty. The crowd went wild: they were so involved in the "reality" of the film that there was a physical reaction to this denouement, to this crowning and redemption of a troubled soul by conquering evil.

Of course, it's just a film. But to create such a "reality", where the mind play along with the movie, requires a suspension of belief, or rather disbelief. We "know" that what is up there on the silver screen isn't reality, but we choose to suspend our critical facilties and "get into" the movie. If anything, this is what makes a great movie: the ability of the moviemaker to get you to believe, for instance, that Wookies exist, that laser swords go "hmmmmm" when activated and that spaceships make sounds when they fly by.

But there is something wrong in Hollywood: the act of disbelief has spilled over into reality.

Edward Jay Epstein knows his Hollywood. Especially this Hollywood. This is not what Hollywood wants you to see, nor does it want you to understand that Hollywood is first and foremost about business, the business of deception.

Here, for me, is the money quote(s):

Since Hollywood is an industry dedicated to perpetrating illusion, its leaders often assume they have license to take liberties with the factual elements that support the movies they make. This practice is euphemistically described by marketing executives as "pushing the reality envelope."
The way in which Hollywood crosses the boundary between the make-believe and the real world takes myriad forms. It can range from a studio creating a fake corporate web site, as Paramount did with the Manchurian Global Corporation for its remake of The Manchurian Candidate, to counterfeiting a film critic, as Sony Pictures did with the non-existent "David Manning." It's a given that studios will alter the off-screen lives of stars, as in the case of the unmarried actor Raymond Burr, whose official biography included two imaginary dead wives and a dead child. There's also the common practice of scripting fake anecdotes for stars to recite on talk show, as, for example, Lucy Liu's vivid description of her co-actress Drew Barrymore clinging to the hood of a speeding car going about 35 miles an hour without a safety cord during the making of Charlie's' Angels: Full Throttle.

The industry, after all, derives much of its wealth and power from its ability to get audiences to suspend their disbelief in movies and television programs—even so-called "reality" shows. Further, to realize their full profitability, these illusions must be convincing enough to be sustained in other products—such as videos, theme park rides, games, and toys—for years, if not decades. So pushing the reality envelope is seen by the entertainment press and the players themselves as just part of show biz. It's second nature, so to speak.

The key is the assumption to have license to take liberties with the factual elements. In other words, in order to make a successful movie, or even better yet a successful movie franchise, it's okay to deceive. Not only is it okay, it's second nature: it is the culture of deception.

And this is where the crossover into politics occurs.

This underscores the increasing nature of Hollywood mythology: the demonization of the banal, of the everyday. The Root-Of-All-Evil corporation has become Ming The Merciless because Hollywood panders to their liberal causes and doesn't want to offend anyone. That's why about the only safe bad guy is the businessman:

For sci-fi and horror movies, there are always invaders from alien universes and zombies from another dimension, but for politico-thrillers the safest remaining characters are lily-white, impeccably dressed American corporate executives. They are especially useful as evildoers in foreign-based thrillers since their demonization does not run the risk of gratuitously offending officials in countries either hosting the filming or supplying tax or production subsidies. The "Mission Impossible" franchise replaced the Russian and Chinese heavies that populated the TV series with, in Mission Impossible 2, a Waspish-looking financier who controlled a pharmaceutical company that unleashed a horrific virus on the world in the hope of cashing in on the antidote. Here, as in other movies in this genre, businessmen's killings are not just figurative. Unlike other stereotype-challenged groups, CEOs and financiers, lacking a connection with the studios' outreach programs, have become an essential part of Hollywood's new version of the axis of evil.

This means, of course, that this resonates in the public image as meme, as theme. It might not be quite conscious (there is no such thing as the sub-conscious or the "unconscious": consciousness is always consciousness of something, as Descartes so ably showed: there is only thematic and non-thematic consciousness, where non-thematic consciousness is where you're not really paying attention.)

It is this manipulation of reality, of turning that which you think you are getting into its opposite (the eytomology of deception, of di ceptere) that
is the manifestation of the Culture of Deception.

And its influence on politics is greater than we think. And definitely greater than we fear.

Dienstag, Dezember 13, 2005

Culture of Deception - Part II

But back to the point in question: the culture of deception.

Looking at what passes for the left nowadays, there is one red thread which is visible throughout left politics, polemics and punditing: deception. Not only do the left view politics from the center and the right as being deceptive ( i.e. policies are not designed to achieve goals, but rather are the tools of capitalism, etc.), but the fundamental thrust of left-wing politics is that centrist and rightist politicians are being deceptive. The entire "Bush lied, Blair lied" meme is based on the idea that politicians are actively misleading, actively lying and being deceptive to the voters in order to reach some nefarious goals, be it Halliburton's profits or some sort of political glory.

It's now reached the point where it's no longer simply a political tool to attack opponents: the very core of the leftist critique of modern civilization is based on the premise that the elected politicians are lying to us, can only lie to us, and must lie to us in order to achieve their goals. Deception for leftist critics is the core of conservative thought, conservatives cannot "be" any other way than deceptive.

Of course, this is projection. Dr. Sanity has a great blogspot: here is where she clearly makes a convincing case that the behavior of the left is tantamount to a pathological defense mechanism. Let's not get into the details, since that's now what I want to handle here, but suffice to say that pathological defense mechanisms are motivated by past needs, include a severe distortion of reality, and impedes and distorts emotions, rather than channelling them constructively.

Like Dr. Sanity, I want to try to understand what is motivating the visceral hatred that the left displays, since I cannot for the life of me understand their version of reality, so far removed from my perception of the world. Not that I am necessarily the benchmark for understanding the world - far from it - but I cannot see their "reality". Again, Dr. Sanity points out the fundamental problem here : while she and I see President Bush as a perfectly normal guy, almost the epitome of normality, the left goes berserk just by mentioning his name. I've seen this in colleagues at work; I've seen this on innumerable blogs; I've seen this with acquaintances and friends (and have had friendships end because of it), and it's a huge problem with relatives here in Germany, in Austria and in the US. There's even a term for it: Bush Derangement Syndrome or BDS.

But that's peripheral to the Culture of Deception. What do I mean by the Culture of Deception?

Simple: the left is a Culture of Deception. Marxist ideology is a culture of deception; left-wing environmentalism is a culture of deception; the Democratic Party today, with Dr. Dean in the DNC, is a culture of deception. And this culture of deception cuts two ways: not only are these poeple decieving about what their political goals are, but more fundamentally they are deceiving themselves, not only politically, but morally and ethically as well.

I don't want to say that people on the left are doing this deliberately: many are, but I postulate here that we are facing as well a fascinating and also disturbing development of what can only be viewed as a massive manifestation of pathological behavior.

Now, just like Dr. Sanity, I am not saying that anyone who disagrees with me must show pathological behavior: the more opinions in politics, the better it is for a country. But where the pathology develops is when opinions and speculation - for the politically active, after all, political opinions must manifest themselves in speculation as to the nature of things, much as metaphysics enthralled the educated in the medieval period, with long and heated discussions on philosophical positions about the nature of things - are mistaken for truth and facts.

And not merely mistaken, but pathological when the opinions and the beliefs that underlie them replace the empirical reality.

And the core of the problem is not merely that the left are deliberately deceiving the public: they are, more fundamentally, and this makes it pathological, deceiving themselves.

Like I said, projection: the fact that the left is based on deception has led, logically, to the left believing its own deceptions.

But more in Part III

Montag, Dezember 12, 2005

Culture of Deception - Part I

It's been quiet here not merely because I'm busy with work (which I am), but also because of some writing that is taking longer than I had hoped.

So I'm going to break this down into several parts.

There is a Culture of Deception in the West. Not only in the US, but in Europe - if anything vastly more so - as well.

What is the Culture of Deception?

It is the deliberate use of deception, of active deceiving, as a fundamental part of cultural life. Not only political culture - where it is perhaps the most destructive - but in virtually all aspects of cultural life.

Let's start with what deception is. It is the use of deceit, the fact or state of being deceived. It is a misleading falsehood, an illusory feat. Latin roots: de cipere, is, of course, an i-stem third conjugation verb which is rooted in capio, which means to take or capture, and the de- prefix means to remove. Now this sounds like a contradiction: that which is taken is removed. But that is exactly the point: what deception entails is the act of removing that which you think you are taking, much like the slapstick routine of having someone pull a package from under the arm of someone who has just received it. The poor sap is oblivious because he is being distracted and realizes that his package is missing far too late and ends up buying the package from the person who took it from him a second time, setting up the punch line of it being stolen one more time at the end of the skit.

Eytomology of the word besides, deception is of course closely related to the act of misleading; of ambush; of betrayal; of disloyalty; of boasting; of lying; of tricking; of pretense and of appearance (in the sense of camouflage). And one of the synonyms is sophism.

I think it should be clear now what I mean by deception: it is, as is so many english words, multivalent, i.e. has multiple meanings within a range of definitions that ultimately point to the same act.

Deceit, so closely related, is also relevant: it is deliberate and misleading concealment, false declaration, artifice, it has the quality of being fraudulent, a misleading falsehood. Deceit more often than not relies on collusion.

So what is the Culture of Deception? Culture is what now must be understood. The first definition that you run across is that it is the totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, belief systems and all other products of human work or thought. That is not what I mean, since this is for the word culture alone, not in a compound word. It is rather the predominanting attitudes and behavior that charachterize a group or organization.

The Culture of Deception won't, here, have simply one meaning: there are too many aspects of this Culture that need to be analyzed.

First of all, there is a Culture of Deception deeply rooted in Marxism and its analysis of the world. Second, there is a Culture of Deception deeply rooted in political life. Third, there is a Culture of Deception deeply rooted in the Arts. Fourth, there is a Culture of Deception that we see today. This last Culture of Deception is the critical one, since it undermines and is actively destroying Western Culture, and we, like the frogs in the cooking pot, aren't aware of it until we're well on the way to being cooked.

This is the first part: the Culture of Deception deeply rooted in Marxism.

The core here is the Marxist "analysis" of false consciousness, of human delusion, basically, of people betraying their class by failing to understand the true nature of their existence. You can describe it this way: that material and institutional process delude the proletariat to the true nature of capitalism, driven largely by a commodity fetish: social relationships are reduced to value relations between things, i.e. that money and goods can have an inherent value unconnected to the people involved and that this results in the people involved - usually some nonsense about exploited workers and exploiters - are ignorant of their true relationships and therefore alienated from their actual social relationships.

I put that "analysis" in scare quotes because it really isn't analysis, but instead a blatant attempt to seperate reality from empirical experience. One of the core elements of Marxism is its belief that things are not as they appear, but rather people are kept enslaved by social conventions and outdated concepts like family and nation, and that reality is actively hidden from us, the downtrodden, by those interested in keeping power over us.

I'm not a Marxist, far, far from it, and have massive disagreements with this concept. But that's not the point.

The point is that Marxist thought is based on deception. First: that the proletariat is too stupid to know that they are being oppressed; second: that the revolutionary vanguard (OK, this is Leninism, but that's hairsplitting...) must need be deceive the bourgoisie from the true revolutionary goals of the vanguards' politics so as to be manouevered into positions where they lose their ability to withstand the revolutionary vanguard; third: the developing socialist society after the revolution may be deceived in the name of pursuing the goals of the revolution and fourth that deception and duplicity are not merely useful, but rather are fundamental tools of the revolutionary vanguard to achieve their goal, which is, of course, the attainment of complete and total power to be used ruthlessly to keep said power.

The Soviets were experts, if not masters, of the art of deception. One way to get some one to spy for you is to make him believe that he's not spying for you, but rather for someone else: false flagging in the jargon. False flagging was used extensively in Europe for agents of influence, and included many journalists who didn't think they were talking with trained KGB specialists, but rather Ivan from the Trade commission who is just trying to understand why we think the Soviets were so evil. But it wasn't simply about false flagging and misleading people to get them to do what you want them to do: the KGB were experts in betrayal.

Betrayal is a difficult theme. Betrayal, like Judas betraying Jesus, means not merely lying or telling the cops on someone. It is the deliberate negation of a loved one, be it a country or a person. When you betray someone, you know that you're doing wrong, but you have an overriding reason for doing so that reflects a deep, deep inner conflict that cannot be resolved. This is not merely true for people who betray their lovers, who betray their country in the West for money or misplaced ideology, but also for Soviet defectors to the West. I've known several during my days in DC (long story that one) and while they were convinced they were doing the right thing, it was really hard for them: betrayal is not undertaken lightly (not even betrayal of a loved one), but is a sign of how human we are, by choosing to negate something in order to save other values. Betrayal comes when an ethical situation comes up where the decision maker sees only zero-sum games ( i.e. things become black and white) and employs an ethical calculus, internalized and non-thematically, to resolve the inner conflict.

But it breaks with the past. A partner betrayed cannot trust the betrayer; a defector will ultimately not be trusted by those to whom he defects (see what happened to Philby after he absconded); a politician in abandoning a party and joining another one may not retrace his steps. Betrayal is not reversible.

The point here is one that I don't think too many will disagree on: the fundamental tool of Marxism in dealing with non-marxists is deception, of deliberately misleading outsiders as to the goals of Marxism. Not merely as a mean to an end, but as a reflection of the fundamental nature of Marxism in dealing with non-Marxists.

More soon...

Mittwoch, Dezember 07, 2005

Charming, but naive...

In today's Handelsblatt there is an article about Airbus' deal with China for 150 A320s. The deal is unique because Airbus makes the commitment to do the final assembly in China, not in Europe. McDonnel Douglas tried this in the 1980s and failed, since the Chinese partner (Shanghai Aviation Industrial Corporation) wasn't able to provide the quality that McDonnell Douglas needed. But the real fear is technology transfer and the loss of jobs.

According to the paper, Gustav Humbert, the boss of Airbus, discounts these problems. He insists that it won't be a problem, since Airbus will retain control of their technology: Airbus will set up a new company in China for this purpose and will retain a controlling interest to avoid reverse engineering and the creation of a Chinese competitor, that last from Noel Forgeard from EADS, the parent company of Airbus.

After all, the Germans are protecting against technology transfer as well: the sale of 60 ICE-3 trains with end assembly in China is protected as well, since the train's software will still come from Germany.

Charming, but naive. Incredibly naive. Mind-boggling naive.

All that these companies are doing is CYA for when the shareholders come in 10 years' time and ask "Who the hell sold the Chinese this technology? My investment is now worthless! Who can I sue?"

When the Chinese reverse engineer the software for the ICE-3, they'll probably rewrite it so that there are fewer bugs. Maybe then the airconditioning will actually work in the summer.

Dienstag, Dezember 06, 2005

Caught In A Time Trap...

If this is real, and I don't think there is any reason why it isn't, then the Democrats have two major problems.

1) The party is now completely beholden to historical revisionism. When the Democratic Congress bowed - not to public opinion, but rather to their left-wing who was claiming to make that public opinion - out of financing the South Vietnamese, in the middle of the largest armored assault since the Battle of Kursk in WW2, they abrogated the responsibility that the US held to South Vietnam. Those are the historical facts. To claim that Iraq is the same as Vietnam is to ignore the massive differences, not the least of which is the lack of a heavily financed sanctuary for the OpFor. If anything, the ONLY similiarity between the two is that US forces are there fighting: not even the forces are the same (draft vs. volunteer), and that US troops are dying.

2) The attempt to create historical parallels between Nixon and Bush. There are parallels? Nixon, let us remember, left office one step ahead of an impeachment because he authorized his political operatives to break into the Democratic National Committee offices in the Watergate complex in order to dig up dirt he could use against the Democrats and to learn their strategy before they took it public. Is Dean accusing Bush of doing this? No: he is accusing Bush of not telling the truth and when it did, of tellling it selectively in order to go to war. I don't have the time or the inclination to tell y'all how wrong this is: suffice to say that this is hairsplitting at the very best and designed not to find out the truth of the matter, but rather to abdicate responsibility for their actions.

Why are these problems?

Because the Democrats are caught in a time trap. Their formative years, the cognitive parameters that they operate within, is focused almost exclusively on Vietnam and Watergate. They have become victims of their own mythology, propogated so long over time that there is no critical thought left within the party. They are nothing without these two events: that is why they cannot but return to their own mythology about both eras.

And the key point is that the Democrats - and I speak here of the party as a whole, not individual 'crats - are worse than irresponsible: they are actively and deliberately abdicating their responsibility for their actions by claiming that they would've could've should've instead of bearing their responsibility. It is the abdication of an entire political party for their actions in the past.

And it fits into the pattern of the abandonment of the South Vietnamese in the face of a massive attack from the North. And to do what Dean wants to do is nothing less than the abdication of the responsibility of the US to give the Iraqis the chance to get out of the hell that was Iraq for the last 30 years. That is the responsibility that the US took on when it toppled the former regime.

And abdicating that responsibility would make it impossible for anyone in the region, if not the world, to take the US seriously. If that is what the Democrats want: let them say it . But instead they will simply try to attempt to recreate their mythology instead

All I hear is crickets.

Sonntag, Dezember 04, 2005

If Wishes Were Fishes...

While nothing much has been posted here recently, it doesn't mean nothing is happening.

Unfortunately, I'm in the middle of a forecasting round, which saps all energy, intelligence and will to life from any sensible person. Add to that an impenetrable head cold and pounding sinuses (sinusii?), and that's why I'm spending my time on Mitrokhin, interdependencies and sleep.

But watch this space for more on the culture of deception and just what the blazes is happening in the world...

Mittwoch, November 30, 2005

And They Wonder Why No One Trusts Them...

Ever wonder why the EU Constitution was really rejected? Why there were those who were so steadfastly against it?

On the face of it, European unity sounds great. After the two great wars, enough of squabbling that leads to enmity that leads to antagonism that leads to conflict that leads to war.

So what went wrong?

Well, there is this.

After 11 years, the EU may actually have a budget that normal people can understand and actually make sense of.

Right now, vast monies are off-budget and are controlled by bureaucratic whim. The new nobility - the EU bureaucrats - has a grand total of €105 bn to play with.

Of that €105bn, €43.6bn goes for CAP, the Common Agricultural Policy. Of that, 37% cannot currently be audited. In other words, no one really knows what is going on with over €16bn.

No one.

And for the structural measures, i.e. subsidies for structural change, let me quote the report:

...a high incidence of errors of legality and regularity was detected in the Member States' declarations leading to payments by the Commission.

This on €34.2bn...

And this, again quoting directly:

In the case of internal policies (€7.3 billion euro), despite progress made in certain areas, the Court found weaknesses in supervisory and control systems and a material incidence of error in underlying transactions at beneficiary level. It is likely that the risk of errors will persist unless the legal framework is changed so as to simplify cost reimbursement systems and clarify the procedures and instructions governing the different programmes.

In terms of external actions (€4.6 billion euro), the improvements in the Commission's supervisory and control systems have not yet had an impact at implementing organisation level - NGOs, recipient government , international organisations - where a relatively high incidence of errors at the level of payments was detected. This was linked to poor internal controls in these organisations, and underlines the necessity for the Commission to have a comprehensive approach to their supervision, control and audit.

In other words, of around €105bn, ca €80bn is being spent without controls and without supervision.

Which means that the real problem with the EU is institutionalized corruption.
Duh. After all, the EU Commission has already seen one round of mass resignation because of corruption.

That is what is going wrong with the EU: it's not a political question, but more fundamentally a moral one. The politicians who campaigned AGAINST the EU Constitution are probably the last few non-corrupt politicians around. While I'm willing to stipulate that not all politicians are corrupt, directly taking bribes etc., I am also willing to stipulate that the EU, as it currently is organized, acquiesces to institutionalized political corruption for whatever reasons.

What I repeatedly find amazing is that there are no politicians out there who see how they can use this to gain power and political momentum: even worse, there is no popular backlash against corrupt parties and politics.

I guess that's the American in me, expecting that a populace who bears a heavy tax burden would insist on accountability from their politicians.

From what I can see, however, this institutionalized political corruption is so deep and so widespread that no one with a stake in political and economic development can even think of the repercussions from actually making this open and obvious, since it would mean the collapse of western European poltical culture as we know it. The press isn't interested, no political party is interested (they both live off subsidies and corruption), and the populace is numb.

And that is why the EU Constitution failed: there was too little transparency, no promise of actually improving anything, and people, rightfully, saw it as nothing less than a power grab by bureaucrats to make their position unassailable and permanent.

It's tragic: there is so much human potential being fundamentally wasted in the EU. Why go through the effort of higher education and work like crazy to set up your own business or get that great career when it's a lot easier to play along within a corrupt system and live off the fat of the land?

European political culture is thus severely undermined when politics and commerce combine to further each other's aims at the cost of everyone else.

But no one seems to care. And that is the real tragedy of Europe: not the wars of the 20th century, not the demographic problems, not the economic problems. But rather that the body politic is so corrupt and incapable of change that it will require tragedy before anything can change.

A Culture of Deception...

This is a great post by someone who really knows what he is talking about. Edward Jay Epstein is incredibly knowledgeable about how Hollywood really works, down to the secrets of Cheap German Money and its demise.

He refers to the Culture of Deception of Hollywood. Let me step back a moment and lay this out a bit different than Epstein does.

First of all, all movies require suspension of disbelief. What we see up there on the silver screen is a carefully orchestrated illusion, designed ultimately to do one thing and one thing only: to separate you from your money. There's no greater reward for Hollywood people than for people to pay and pay and pay to see the product, and a really good film, let alone a film franchise like Star Wars or Batman, can finance literally hundreds of careers.

All living off the production of illusion.

Now, as Epstein points out brilliantly, Hollywood marketing doesn't simply limit itself to pushing a film. Rather, Hollywood has to create and continue memes of belief that help it sell films. Epstein reports how, for instance, Hollywood pushes the idea of Area 51 and the belief that the government has aliens it is studying in order to sell movies and TV series: Stargate, which I dearly love to watch, is one of the products of this meme. A few seasons ago they simply started talking about Area 51, and they didn't need to explain what they meant. Not one word, which means that this meme is firmly emplaced in the American, if not the World's, psyche as a fixed idea: the government is lying to us about this.

In other words, Hollywood has a vested interest in certain ideas being a fixed part of at least the American experience: a) the Government is controlled by interests that we don't know about and who do not have our interests at heart; b) you can't trust the government; c) the government is willing to do evil.

Of course, the real problem is that while you can certainly make the case that people in the US know better than to believe Hollywood, since they experience local government as not corrupt and local politicians as people who are out there trying to do a good job, as well as the massive holes in logic and reality that most Hollywood films show that requires a suspension of disbelief in order to remain believable, this isn't necessarily the case for foreigners watching the films.

A suspension of disbelief means that you as spectator know full well that Godzilla can't move the way he does because in reality, he'd need legs five times the size that he has just to stand, let alone move. It means that you accept that a general declares martial law and suspends habeaus corpus, even though you know that he'd be relieved of duty within a few minutes and that no officer would execute his orders, knowing that they are unlawful. It means that you accept soldiers behaving like automatons, carrying obviously illegal orders out, although you know that US soldiers are highly trained to act on their own and to question and refuse unlawful orders.

But someone in Germany or Austria might well not know that. No, let me put it more bluntly: someone in Tunisia won't know that. He or she isn't watching the movie with the suspension of disbelief, but rather as reality.

And this is where the problems really begin.

Hollywood, with its culture of deception, isn't merely entertaining us: it is also telling a story overseas that is decieving audiences overseas as to the nature of reality. It is the culture of deception that is helping to create problems, since you get people reacting and acting not to the reality of a situation, but rather their perception of the situation.

More on this when I come up for air from the latest forecasting round...

Dienstag, November 29, 2005

Not Really Surprising...

This doesn't really surprise me much.

Europeans have been infamous in the past for playing games with import regulations. There was a time when each and every videorecorder imported into France was unpacked, plugged in and then a series of tests were run on it; this all in a small customs office in the middle of France.

The goal is generally to stop imports from coming in without making it really obvious that artificial constraints are being set up. From what I can gather, this is aimed directly at the independent auto importer, invariably someone who imports US cars for auto freaks looking for that special car that simply isn't available via official import channels.

But why US cars in this manner?

It probably boils down to a bureaucrat who has decided that he is going to close what few loopholes are left in import laws (some of these include not paying duty on goods when you move to Europe, as they are used household goods, as well as special import waivers for vintage cars and the like that cannot meet modern safety regulations, but are imported on the basis of their collectability and not directly on their basis of usability as a daily means of transportation.

And re-reading the story, it has to do with the cars imported not meeting "European culture" standards. Oh, and I see now who is behind it: Renaat Landuyt, the Belgian Minister of Mobility.

The Minister of Mobility? Ok, Minister of Mobility and Transport. Still: having a Minister of Mobility in a country that is suffering from a total lack of political mobility is nothing less than...ironic. See this for what happens to people who dare to question the status quo and who dare to be sceptical. Play the game or be banned for life.

This is what the guy looks like. Here is where you can get in touch with him.

And this tells you all you need to know about him: his interest in politics was "awakened" on 11 Sep 1973 when he saw the picture of Allende with a weapon in his hand refusing to surrender.

I wonder if he knows that Allende was in the pay of the KGB at the time and had been for some while?

And looking back once again, it's obvious. We have a political decision that is indefensible if it were to come up under the GATT: a minister deciding, arbitrarily, that a particular kind of car isn't appropriate for his country and simply stopping their imports by putting up all sorts of red tape.

Ignoring international trade agreements. Ignoring consumer demand. Ignoring free trade principles.

But the Europeans are soooo much more enlightened than Americans, you know. Who cares what the people want! We know better. And we don't need to go through any sort of law-making procedure (that get nasty when someone reads them...), and we don't need to get the courts involved either. We, the royal We of European Socialism, simply decide that it is so, and it is so.

I think Belgian chocolate is about the best in the world. But that's the last time I eat Belgian chocolate until this changes.

Montag, November 28, 2005

A Modest Proposal

Germany, as we all know, is in the doldrums and has been for the last several years.

A modest proposal, based on this.

Germany's problem is the tax burden: the real return on investments is, after taxes, too small. This is not only true for companies, but for private households as well. If I get taxed at the highest marginal rate, any significant increase in my pay is eaten largely up by taxes, reducing my marginal inclination to invest more time and energy to move ahead in a job or with a company. After reaching a certain level of income, the returns on further investment of time are too small for them to be worthwhile, since leisure time, always at a premium, can't be banked for future periods.

Germany recently gave up an excellent macroeconomic tool: the investment tax credit, since recent code had been so poorly written that instead of German investors getting a tax break by investing in German films, they got a tax break by investing in films anywhere. Instead of getting a tax write-off for ships built in Germany, they got one for ships built anywhere. Given the high cost of manufacturing in Germany, there wasn't much surprise when people realized they could just as easily invest in ships built in China as those made in Germany and get quite a better return on their investment as a result. At the end of the day, the investment tax credit ended up making things worse rather than better, since fund initiators provided relatively elegant and simple investment tools for an investor looking for an easy way to get some tax relief fast.

So investment tax credits were virtually eliminated and in at least one case led to the bankruptcy of closed fund initiators who didn't think that the law would change so drastically and were caught overextended and underfunded.

So here is the modest proposal: reinstate the investment tax credit and have a government team of economists make the decision where these indirect subsidies should go. Not to support aging and dying industries, but rather to open up new ones: how about an investment tax credit for Nanotechnology funds where an investor gets to write off 150% of his investment in the first year for any sum over €25 0000? The subsidy for €25 000 invested would be, at the top marginal rate, something like €15 000, which at first sounds like a lousy deal for the government. But limit these investments to closed funds, where the capital is not fungible for at least 10 years, ensuring that an investor can't yank his money out quickly, and the net effect should be positive, based on income tax from new jobs, corporate tax from new companies and tax income on dividends paid over time. Make it a requirement to have a clear and clean entry and exit for an average investor, and you've created an investment instrument that allows the government to decide which areas it wants private investors to finance, rather than direct government money.

Make this council of economists permanent with 11 members, 1 of whom makes the decision at the end of the day, with a rotating membership of 3 years, with 3 government economists, 3 private industry economists, 3 institutional economists and 2 foreign, non German-born economists. Investment recommendation by majority only, with a "White Book of Industrial Development" published every three years that covers a) success stories and why and b) failure and why. The chairman, who makes the decisions at the end of the day, may not be a government economist. The only allowable investment instrument is closed funds, 10 years with clear entry and exit procedures (i.e. at the end of 10 years, investors know how much they should be getting back, ceteris paribus), and no secondary markets. Investment tax credit of between 100% and no upper limit in the first year, providing investors with a massive incentive to invest. But at the same time these funds are limited to the areas chosen and there must be an approved business plan for the fund that shows a real return on capital over time, at the very latest 10 years. No black box here, but rather business plans that fit into a standardized template for comparability. Limit funds to total subscription of no more than €1000 mn, minimum of €10 000 entry, no single investor with more than 30% of total funds equity.

And eliminate all other subsidies. If companies want to gain access to this kind of long-term risk capital, then they have to enter into competition with new technologies and new ideas in order to get access too this kind of money.

Freitag, November 25, 2005

Is It Something In The Water????

I came across this today.

Is there something in the water in Canada?

Or do they all watch Stargate and think it's reality? That that is where McGyver ended up? After all, they talk about Area 51 on that show as well...

On the other hand, the guy was defense minister under Trudeau, and that, I think, pretty much explains it all.

If he keeps it up, he will probably be made an honorary member of the Democratic Party, Moonbat division, and will be rejuvenated as a reward for his efforts when the aliens land.

Seriously: this is also what happens when people are willing to believe anything because they don't really believe in anything.

And another victory, as it were, for sophistry...

Donnerstag, November 24, 2005

And Yet Another Perception Into Perceptions...

See what I mean by the perceptions abroad being critical?

This bit over at PowerLine is exactly on the money, but they need to follow on through.

This is the key quote:

Our enemies gambled that the American people are soft and are not fully committed to the war against terror. They thought that the American people don't have the patience or the understanding of the stakes involved required to take casualties, especially over a prolonged period of time. They believed that if they simply remained active in Iraq, even at a low level, domestic American politics would, before long, swing against the war.

What if their perception wasn't the result of wishful thinking on their part, but rather was clearly supported by the sort of hysterical squabbling that we've seen over the last several years? I can well imagine someone like Saddam Hussein thinking "They'll never invade when a million people march against the idea and the polls are against them: after all, all the President of the US does is to watch polls."

In other words, by deliberate fostering of the appearance of massive dissent (when in reality it's not really serious dissent, but rather was rather ineffectual and in many cases not very serious), the anti-war people emboldened dictators abroad in taking a hard line position that led to war instead of helping to defuse the situation.

To be fair, the above link finishes the quoted paragraph with:

The awful possibility, which seems more likely with every passing day, is that the terrorists correctly judged the American people.

I'd re-word that.

The awful possibility, which seems more likely with every passing day, is that the terrorists correctly judged what the left wanted them to think about the American people. The problem is that the Left was the party of appeasement and apology, and knew not the American people.Thus the collapse of the Democratic party in the elections of 2006 and 2008.

I think that is the more likely outcome.

The Problem with Chavez...

Yesterday's post points out how problematic private diplomacy can be.

Today's link points out why being buddies with Chavez is not really a very good idea.

He's financing revolution in Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Dominican Republic and Columbia. He's Castro with money and more years to live, spreading chaos and destruction in the name of justice and social equality, achieving neither and ultimately enriching himself at the cost of millions of people who will die if his ideas become reality. After all, his favorite politcian, after Castro, is Mao.

History repeating itself is farce. But this is farce of the blackest kind, since things are not going to get better for people who believe in his Bolivarist nonsense, but will get much, much worse.

And regarding yesterday's second post: why should the poor and impoverished masses in Venezuala - and indeed they remain so, despite oil wealth, which increasingly disappears into Chavez' pocket - subsidize US home owners living a life of comparative luxury?

But since when did something like that matter to a Kennedy...

Mittwoch, November 23, 2005

And the fun begins...

In the last post I pointed out how Democrats are trying to do an end-run around the US government in dealing with the rest of the world.

In perusing the world, I ran across this and this.

This is exactly what I am talking about.

Chavez is a crypto-communist/neo-fascist thug who has suborned the democratic process in Venezuala in order to gain wealth and pursue his own agenda of political aggrandization and who wants to make things worse in his corner of the world in order to gain power. He vilifies the US and works closely with those who actively work against US interests in the region, and makes no secret of his desire to exert his influence in most of South America.

So who cooperates with him in order to further their own, domestic agenda?

Joseph P. Kennedy II. Democrat
William Delahunt, Democrat
Jose Serrano, Democrat

This is nothing less than political grandstanding, undermining US diplomacy.

And it sets terrible precedence. Not happy with US policy? Go out there and make your own.

No matter if it hurts the interests of the US, as long as it serves your own interests. Who cares about the long-term effects if you can use short-term benefits for your own personal political utility?

This is getting closer and closer to treason than I have ever seen before. There are laws against this.

Specifically the Logan Act, embodied in US Law under the Federal Rules of Criminal Procdure, Title 18, Part I, Chapter 45, paragraph 953:

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

This section shall not abridge the right of a citizen to apply, himself or his agent, to any foreign government or the agents thereof for redress of any injury which he may have sustained from such government or any of its agents or subjects.

The key word here: any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government ... to defeat the measures of the United States

This means that if you, as a private person, get in touch with a foreign government to try to subvert any sort of US government policy, you are breaking the law. If you get the OK of the US government to do so, then you are not.

Simple, plain, and yet neither Kennedy, Delahunt or Serrano will probably ever be charged with violating the Logan Act.

Why? Because the Logan Act has never been used, for one, although it is the law of the land, and second, no sitting Congressman can be charged with the Logan Act, since it is indeed the right of Congresscritters to have contacts with foreign governments without having to get State Department approval.

But the above links don't show talking: Kennedy, Delahunt and Serrano are actively involved not in talks, but in aiding a foreign government to suborn the policies of the United States.

And that is new.

Some might say: so what? What's the point?

The point is that by allowing private diplomacy of this kind, it encourages other countries to suborn US policy. By thinking they are able to do so, such countries will make serious mistakes in their own policy (convinced, for instance, that "their" people in the US will prevent the US government to act) that may well lead to war.

By accepting subsidized heating oil, Kennedy, Delahunt and Serrano will gain short-term political advantage in their districts. But by doing so in the manner that they have, they will have made the likelihood that Chavez and his people will make the wrong decisions more likely, worsening the political environment in South America.

And by doing so, if this worsening results in violence (either via war, terrorism or externally instigated revolutions), then Kennedy, Delahunt and Serrano will have sacrificed long-term US interestes in political stability and peaceful change for bloody violence in order to get nice polling numbers.

Postscript, added later the same day:

Delahunt has been at this for a while, since 2002:

...he inaugurated a series of unofficial talks aimed at ending the acrimony between the Venezuelan government and the political opposition.

The idea, Delahunt said, was to get conflicting parties into a private, secluded place where they would talk to one another personally and participate in recreational activities together.

The group, which called itself ''Grupo de Boston," met in 2002 and 2003 on Cape Cod. Participants often engaged in heated political talks in the mornings (one session needed an intervention to stop a fistfight).

They also went whale-watching and played intramural baseball in the afternoons, with mixed teams and a bipartisan group of legislators as umpires.

Bottles of Scotch were in the guest rooms, and all had been consumed by the end of the session, a Delahunt spokesman said.

The Grupo de Boston members continue to meet informally in Venezuela, and Álvarez said the initiative has eased tensions.

The issue is a tad clouded because Citgo, providing the oil, is of course a US company, but wholely owned by the Venezualan government; however, the deal was worked out directly by Delahunt, who is now apparently running his own private diplomatic missions without the sanction of the State Department. And acting as an apologist for Chavez and Castro.

Blinders, or How Domestic Squabbles Are Read Abroad...

Haven't been posting much lately due to the fact I'm in the middle of an extended forecasting round for the fourth quarter...and it's a hard forecasting round because of major European economic problems that aren't so much showing up on the usage side of the economy (i.e. consumption and the like), but definitely are becoming apparent on the supply side (i.e. who is adding value to the economic process). I'll make a long story short: things in Europe are much, much worse than anyone in the US really understands. And the converse, of course, is that the US economy, for all its warts and wrinkles, is doing pretty damn good. But enough of that.

This link should tell you everything, if you can understand what is being said. And what is being said is critical: it's the Mayor of Tokyo who is failing to understand what has really been said and is drawing very wrong conclusions that are probably widespread, not so much in Japan but China and elsewhere. He's outspoken and brash in many ways, but he has a multiplier effect above and beyond the Japanese borders. There are a couple of themes going on here before considering an analysis:

First: there is a major asymmetry in infomation between the US and the rest of the world (ROW). Even the more enlightened and internationally oriented folks in the US tend to completely and totally ignore the fact that there are plenty of people overseas who try to follow what goes on in the US with as much interest as they would events in their own country, if not more.

Think of that: when Congress and the President squabble in public, you've got an unprecedented number of people listening who 1) don't understand exactly what is being sqabbled about; 2) don't understand how the US government works; 3) in trying to understand apply local logic and compare with local developments and 4) do this in a foreign language.

That last point shouldn't be ignored: I work day in day out in German, not in English, and even then it's not that easy. When I see my colleagues whose native tongue isn't English make all sorts of interpretation errors because they have a smattering of English, and then think of what the average German knows of English, then the nuances and subtleties of some of the political discourse in the US are completely and totally lost. And that means that you have an increasing number of people who think they understand what is going on in the US and yet no little or nothing of what is actually going on.

Second: very few Americans are aware of this vast and quietly listening group of people. International news in the US, as we all know, is something on page 12 - maybe - or doesn't get into the paper at all, since local events dominate (if any news channel ignores local events, then either they are heavily subsidized or will go bankrupt within a short period of time: people want to know local news before anything else).

Third: traditional American political discourse has always been robust and healthy, but there has been a sea change since the 1980s of demonizing your opponent. Some of this demonization has been appropriate  - Teddy Kennedy doesn't deserve to be in Congress, but should be ending instead his sentence for manslaughter :-) - but the existence of increasing polarization in US civil society has had a strongly negative effect on civil discourse.

Fourth (from a consistent theme in this blog): the distinction between truth and perception is largely lost in the maelstrom of modern communications overload and hyperbole masquerading as fact.

So what do you have?

Increasing levels of misunderstanding, coupled with almost chiliastic commitment to perception rather than truth.

Which means that the effects of poltiical punditry in the US - be it Limbaugh or be it Franken (actually a bad comparison, since Limbaugh is much more of a pundit than Franken can ever hope to be) - is vastly stronger outside of the US than it is inside of it.

So the incessant squabbling of the left about Bush lying - don't get me started on how wrong that is - that is designed for domestic consumption, of rallying the party faithful to work for the election of the unelectable, is having undesired side effects abroad: the message that people abroad are getting is that the US President isn't any better than a local warlord, who has no scruples about lying in order to further his agenda.

And while there are plenty of people in the US who believe this as well, they're wrong. But that's not my point here.

My point is that the hyperbole of the left in the US is causing the poor standing of the US internationally. It's one thing to clean your laundry in public, it's another thing to go hysterical about it.

But the left doesn't care: two Democratic ex-presidents have spoken overseas about how they percieve Bush is doing a bad job. There used to be an unwritten rule that criticism of the US President stopped at the shores. It no longer does. What is worse: it's done in the name of short-term partisan political advantage. It is the end of civil discourse as we have known it.

The Democrats have transitioned from the usual political disagreement to open political hostility that deserves serious analysis (might get around to it one of these days, but it's not something that Democrats would like to hear....). But because of their political blinders, I think the case can be made that excessive spin (spin will never be eliminated, but it really is excessive nowadays) from the Democrats are increasingly read by those abroad as something that it isn't.

The US is increasingly portrayed as a society that is unwilling to sacrifice, unwilling to make a commitment, unwilling to live up to its word. This started with the US Congress' craven abandonment of the Vietnamese in 1974 and continues today: the Democrats are calling for the same kind of craven abandonment that can only damage the standing of the US in international affairs.

And that I can't understand. And that is something that I cannot forgive the Democrats for. Their hysterical internal squabbling with the sitting US President resonates abroad in ways that they can't even imagine, nor would they want if they would bother to understand what they are doing.

Which appears to me to be nothing less than the dismantling of US leadership in world affairs.

One of the reasons that Iraq was invaded, after all, was that Saddam Hussein believed that the US was bluffing when it announced the intention of regime change, if necessary with force. He was convinced, wrongly, that the US wouldn't invade, supported in that belief by US lawmakers going to Iraq on their own and trying to run their own foreign policy. As a result, he didn't comply with the UN resolutions, trusting instead that the whole thing would blow over. After all, all of his visitors were saying, directly and indirectly, that an invasion would never happen.

Having someone go to a crisis area on their own and try to do their own foreign policy (Democrats all) is not merely stupid, it's downright dangerous. It sets up terrible precedents and fosters the belief that the US is divided, incapable of makign decisions and is nothing more than a paper tiger, unable to make true its threats.

It'll be just great if China decides that the US won't risk Los Angeles for Taiwan, or that sinking a US carrier task force would be a price that a US President would be more than willing to make in order to avoid a greater war.

International politics is more about perception than it is about reality: fostering the wrong perception is dangerous, doubly so when the perception being fostered is for short-term political gain. I see too much dismantling of US credibility abroad not by US actions, but by fostered perceptions by those wearing blinders and ignorant of the effects they are having.

Sonntag, November 13, 2005

This is how my weekend went...

I loved the Batman Begins and am looking forward to getting the DVD. Great movie.

Of course, when I ran across this "quiz", this result would come out...

You scored as Batman, the Dark Knight. As the Dark Knight of Gotham, Batman is a vigilante who deals out his own brand of justice to the criminals and corrupt of the city. He follows his own code and is often misunderstood. He has few friends or allies, but finds comfort in his cause.

Batman, the Dark Knight


James Bond, Agent 007


Neo, the "One"




Lara Croft


Indiana Jones


Captain Jack Sparrow


The Amazing Spider-Man


William Wallace


The Terminator


El Zorro


Which Action Hero Would You Be? v. 2.0
created with

Actually, I had a great weekend after a very trying week. Spent time with the girls, had a long walk in great weather with my wife, and I didn't do much besides that.

Life resumes tomorrow...

Montag, November 07, 2005

Just a note...

Patience, everyone. :-)

I'm about to leave for a two-day conference, I've got a customer then in the shop for two days, I'm backing up a ridiculous amount of data (close to 750 GB) at home which has eaten up all my time otherwise, and I've been very creative with making sure some data makes sense for another 34 sectors for the Austrian economy.

Hence: posting will be, at best, moderate-to-none for the week. Friday I come up for air and can then tell everyone fascinating tales of the world economy, of nuclear policy and of killer recipes for pork roast...

Mittwoch, November 02, 2005

Now Isn't That Ironic...

Greenpeace decides to go see how badly coral is doing as a result of global warming.

Not only do they find that where they were looking, it's doing fine, but they themselves are then responsible for damaging a coral reef because they ran aground.

But the best part is this:

...Greenpeace divers on the Tubbataha expedition had found that healthy coral and no evidence of bleaching, believed to be caused by warming sea temperatures.

...the healthy state of the Tubbataha Reefs did not disprove the theory of global warming, which he described as an "extremely complicated science."

So let me get this right:

Greenpeace went a'diving as a publicity stunt to show how badly the coral is doing.

The coral is doing fine, with no evidence of global warmth.

And their ship then damages the coral.

And all of a sudden global warming is "extremely complicated science".

Now isn't that ironic.

Sorry, I just couldn't resist...

Dienstag, November 01, 2005

What Economists Don't Know...

I ran across this (hat tip: Marginal Revolution) today and it reminded me of a conversation I had with the Head of IT at work.

He's not an economist, but works in a building filled with economists and financial people, and is always asking questions to see if there is something we, collectively, don't know.

He asks the questions because he rarely finds a topic that we don't know something about.

But this is a glaring example that even a nobel prize winner in economics doesn't know everything.

Permissive Action Links or PAL don't work the way that Schelling thinks they do. They are not some magic failsafe device that allows turning off all US nuclear weapons via radio, which is what he clearly states here:

U.S. weapons, for example, have "permissive action links"— a radio signal code that arms weapons but that will also automatically disarm them it if launched at an unauthorized target.

Sorry, that's not how it works. That'd be much too dangerous: imagine if an enemy were to gain access to that code, allowing them to disarm US nuclear weapons at will. Bad, bad idea. Really bad idea. There's no way you can't be sure that the code hasn't been compromised, and Basic Cryptography 101 tells you that if you can't be certain that your code isn't compromised, then that code is worthless.

PALs take the form of an interlock that doesn't allow the weapon to be used unless the proper code is input: make one mistake, and you'll need to take it back to the manufacturer for it to be replaced. You can read more here.

Schelling's basic idea is correct: if a rogue nation is making nukes, we should hope that they make them so that if a mob takes over one, they can't detonate without some sort of safeguards. And these kinds of safeguards are what make a stolen nuke from the US or the former SovUnion more or less useless as a nuclear weapon: you have to rebuild them in order to use them, and that is, mildly, a non-trivial task.

But once the weapon is armed, i.e. once the weapon's PAL has been correctly activated, you cannot disarm it. You can't disarm them with a radio code signal: you can tell bombers carrying them to return to base, but that doesn't disarm the weapons. If a missile is fired, then it will, ceteris paribus, be detonated; you can't disarm missiles with a magic code. The same is true for cruise missiles, sea-based missiles and any weapon where a human is no longer in the loop.

Which is why the US continues to have bombers and why bombers would be, in push comes to shove, probably the weapon of choice if you want to maintain positive control over the usage of nuclear weapons until very briefly before detonation.

Which makes Iran's development of missiles that much more disturbing: they apparently aren't concerned about maintaining control, but want to use them.

Or that they really don't understand the world that they appear to want to enter.

Which makes making sure that they don't get them that much more important.

And if anything, we should be sure that India and Pakistan use PALs.

And there is a reason for countries like Iran not to have nuclear weapons: they are irresponsible. For them, nukes are the key to being able to attack Israel with impunity: the Israeli deterrence, even though officially non-existent, does work. Remove that and all bets are off.

And given Iranian rhetoric, don't think they wouldn't be used. For them, it's the whole point of developing them: to destroy Israel first and to prevent the US from retaliating second.

And with nuclear weapons comes great responsibility. That's why none have been used since WW2. That's why the cold war never turned hot. Once you have nuclear weapons, you become a rational player, if and only if you are responsible enough to understand that they can't be used. But give them to a madman, or a religious fanatic desperate for the tool for destruction of a real or imagined enemy, i.e. someone who does not play according to the rules of the game, and all bets are off.

Montag, Oktober 31, 2005

Bernanke and Targets...

Jeffrey Garten in today's FT gave me the impetus to write this. He correctly points out that Bernanke will have not merely the usual challenges in filling Greenspan's shoes - a tough enough challenge as is - but that he's gonna be faced with unknown challenges that will really put pressure on him to perform, but without the decades of experience in financial markets that Greenspan has. And that this is the real challenge for whoever is the Fed chairman.

We've had an enormously effective Chairman of the Fed over the last 18 years. Why has he been so successful?

Two reasons: first, Greenspan understood how the markets work, which is 75% psychology and 25% fundamentals. Second, he clearly states his policies in extremely careful wording to let the markets know what his concerns are, but has never stated any explicit goal.

Why has this been successdul? I think it's mostly the latter reason: never stating an explicit goal. He's never said "inflation should be at n%", he's never said "M2 should grow by n%". He's been criticized for this: lots and lots of people have been severely frustrated because they can't second-guess him. And they haven't been able to second-guess him because Greenspan is deliberately vague about his explicit goals.

Greenspan has been so successful because he doesn't tell everyone what he is doing: he leaves his options open. He's like the CEO of a company that refuses to tell analysts that growth for a company should be 10% for the next year. Telling analysts that you're going to have 10% growth means that you are setting yourself up for a fall when growth comes in at 9.2%: your stock will plummet because it hasn't met analysts' expectations.

And now we are getting a whiz kid who is more than happy to tell people what his goals will be: he will start setting inflation targets.

While this will make plenty of pundits happy, giving them something to write about. But it also means that the Fed will be held accountable for its explicit inflation targets, regardless of the reasons for making them and missing them. And he will miss them.

This is why I'm increasingly mistrustful of explicit targets. The ECB has had them and as a result has been subservient to them, forcing it to take actions that have led to poor economic growth in Europe in order to meet its targets.

And that's the cart driving the horse.

Bernanke will face huge challenges. He's a gifited academic and knows the Fed, having been a member of the board.

But why give up one of the most useful tools in managing the world economy? By being deliberately vague, Greenspan left himself all the tools of his trade open to make the adjustments necessary, but kept the actual process to himself.

This is a good thing: by making the process transparent, you open yourself up to massive punditry, very little of it competent, and you then are captive to the psychology of the market, rather than the other way around. It's a question of priorities: did you make analysts and pundits happy, or do you keep your powder dry and not listen - or at least not too closely - to the kind of speculation that drives the markets today?

Giving in to the latter means that you're giving in to the pressures of the market. And that's a bad idea as well: when markets call for massive increases in liquidity in order to avoid a market correction, for instance, it might make short-term sense to give in, but at significant long-term costs in terms of market expectations. In other words, helping markets avoid a downturn today may well mean that they will take an even greater downturn in 6 months' time, since the imbalances that have led to the downturn will not have been addressed, but rather merely postponed. Even worse, if the market believes that the Fed will behave in a certain manner, then there will be those who will try to leverage financial engineering to take advantage of lags in the market before the Fed can intervene, allowing massive profits at the cost of all players who don't play the same game plan, because the Fed has become predictable.

And that is why inflation targets are an abysmally bad idea.

The Fed needs to be predictable, but leave everyone guessing as to what it exactly plans to do. The decisions of the Fed need to be clear, but not with hard facts: this is the failure of the ECB. It can be predictable, but only in the sense that everyone knows that if the Fed thinks that growth is too low, it will reduce interest rates or adjust reserve requirements or use whatever tools it has too solve the problem.

Explicit inflation targets means that the Fed will have to pander to the markets: it will lose flexibility to proactively take measures.

And worse: the playing field willl be leveled. Now every pundit and wannabe will be able to state their case for believing or not believing what the Fed now explicitly states. That means that you'll have those out there who can claim to be better at guessing how markets and interest rates will move than the Fed, undermining the Fed's believability if the Fed doesn't get everything perfect.

Which it won't.

I don't like the move at all, and I think that Bernanke may well not go down in history as a worthy successor to Greenspan for the reasons enumerated here.