At Large

At Large

These Amazing Olympics

By 2.12.14

The Olympics are supposed to be a joyous time of patriotic celebration, coupled with the exotic trappings of faux international cooperation, peppered with the excitement of possible infection from foreign bacteria — and Sochi has not disappointed.

American athletes have excelled at the “extreme sports,” which, frankly, require a uniquely American obliviousness to massive internal injury. Vladimir Putin has taken only underhanded swipes at Barack Obama. Bob Costas has taken to drinking his host country’s signature libation on-air as a direct result of a double eye infection.

At Large

Mexico Every Way But Loose

By 2.10.14

There was a time when Morelia, the capital of Michoacán State, would be a tourist destination for anyone visiting Mexico City just over 300 miles away. Morelia was the still preserved colonial city of quaint shops and fruit stalls — all dominated by the town’s rose-colored baroque cathedral. This was the quiet and quaint Mexican city that the tourism ministry wanted all foreigners to perceive as representing true Mexico. Today this beleaguered town may still represent Mexico, but in a very different manner.

The physical charm of Michoacán remains the same with its Pacific coastline matched against alternating rocky heights and green fields. The verdant fertility of the countryside often carried the perfume of citrus groves and avocado crops. Now the same green fields dominate but also hold rivaling stretches of marijuana planting and hidden meth labs. It’s definitely not a good tourist destination: Every inch is being fought over by the large landowners and the dueling drug traffickers who have raped the countryside.

At Large

Another North Korean Crossroad

By 2.3.14

There has been a well-defined pattern to negotiations pursued over the decades by North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea — DPRK). It may be wishful thinking, but that pattern appears to have just changed and it looks like the Obama White House and John Kerry’s State Department have either missed it or chose to ignore the alteration.

The South Korean president, Ms. Park Geun-hye, sensing something different in the diplomatic climate, took the necessary first step in reconciliation on January 6, 2014 by again offering the possibility of resuming the reunion of relatives from North and South suspended since 2010. After a pro forma rejection Pyongyang quickly shifted ground in a few days and returned the same offer. The possibility of the effectively mutual gesture long had been available, but the timing now was right. The reason for the change in the position of the DPRK is what is most important.

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Corruption Haunting China

By 1.26.14

There is a practice in China that has been going on for many generations, but most prominently since the expansion of trade with the West in the 1800s. It has become accepted that whenever an advantageous exchange occurs a material or monetary “grateful thanks” will be offered. This is called a cumshaw, a foreign bastardization of the Mandarin, and it can be anything from a hotel gratuity to some special “additionality” to a multi-million dollar industrial deal. Under recent communist governments officials at all levels, including generals, have become rich by receiving cumshaws after approving certain civilian contracts and military purchases. What originally was a custom expressing thanks to an impoverished servant has led to high-level corruption — and China’s new president wants it rooted out.

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Fact-Free Liberals: Part IV

By 1.24.14

One of the things that attracted me to the political left, as a young man, was a belief that leftists were for "the people." Fortunately, I was also very interested in the history of ideas -- and years of research in that field repeatedly brought out the inescapable fact that many leading thinkers on the left had only contempt for "the people."

That has been true from the 18th century to the present moment. Even more surprising, I discovered over the years that leading thinkers on the opposite side of the ideological spectrum had more respect for ordinary people than people on the left who spoke in their name.

Leftists like Rousseau, Condorcet or William Godwin in the 18th century, Karl Marx in the 19th century or Fabian socialists like George Bernard Shaw in England and American Progressives in the 20th century saw the people in a role much like that of sheep, and saw themselves as their shepherds.

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Fact-Free Liberals: Part III

By 1.23.14

Since this year will mark the 50th anniversary of the "war on poverty," we can expect many comments and commemorations of this landmark legislation in the development of the American welfare state.

The actual signing of the "war on poverty" legislation took place in August 1964, so the 50th anniversary is some months away. But there have already been statements in the media and in politics proclaiming that this vast and costly array of anti-poverty programs "worked."

Of course everything "works" by sufficiently low standards, and everything "fails" by sufficiently high standards. The real question is: What did the "war on poverty" set out to do -- and how well did it do it, if at all?

Without some idea of what a person or a program is trying to do, there is no way to know whether what actually happened represented a success or a failure. When the hard facts show that a policy has failed, nothing is easier for its defenders than to make up a new set of criteria, by which it can be said to have succeeded.

That has in fact been what happened with the "war on poverty."

At Large

Fact-Free Liberals: Part II

By 1.22.14

Words seem to carry far more weight than facts among those liberals who argue as if rent control laws actually control rents and gun control laws actually control guns. It does no good to point out to them that the two American cities where rent control laws have existed longest and strongest -- New York and San Francisco -- are also the two cities with the highest average rents.

Nor does it make a dent on them when you point out evidence, from both sides of the Atlantic, that tightening gun control laws does not reduce gun crimes, including murder. It is not uncommon for gun crimes to rise when gun control laws are tightened. Apparently armed criminals prefer unarmed victims.

Minimum wage laws are another issue where the words seem to carry great weight, leading to the fact-free assumption that such laws will cause wages to rise to the legally specified minimum. Various studies going back for decades indicate that minimum wage laws create unemployment, especially among the younger, less experienced and less skilled workers.

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Fact-Free Liberals

By 1.21.14

Someone summarized Barack Obama in three words -- "educated," "smart" and "ignorant." Unfortunately, those same three words would describe all too many of the people who come out of our most prestigious colleges and universities today.

President Obama seems completely unaware of how many of the policies he is trying to impose have been tried before, in many times and places around the world, and have failed time and again. Economic equality? That was tried in the 19th century, in communities set up by Robert Owen, the man who coined the term "socialism." Those communities all collapsed.

It was tried even earlier, in 18th century Georgia, when that was a British colony. People in Georgia ended up fleeing to other colonies, as many other people would vote with their feet in the 20th century, by fleeing many other societies around the world that were established in the name of economic equality.

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The Real Meaning of Al Qaeda

By 1.20.14

It is impossible to refer to a more terrifyingly accurate comment on terrorism than that which reportedly was made by a captured Thugee murderer in India in the days of the British Raj: “Let any man taste of that sugar of the sacrifice, and he will be a Thug, though he knows all the trades and has all the wealth in the world.” Osama bin Laden meant for all accepted members of al Qaeda to carry the same spirit as the Thugee of the past, for killing and dying is their modus vivendi. In this sense any group having terror as their principal tool can be considered linked to the Kali-worshiping killers of the Thugee or al Qaeda.

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Child-Man in the Promised Land

By 1.19.14

Israel is a place I lived for ten out of the thirteen years between October 1981 and August 1994, between age 23 and 36. I accomplished so much here during those years and enjoyed a wide range of priceless experiences. I studied a lot and I mentored others; so many people reached out to give me a hand in acclimating to the vagaries of life in a foreign land. Eventually I mastered the language and learned to navigate the business practices and the government bureaucracies and the social mores and the cultural norms. Just when I really felt that I fit in… I left.