Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Note to Iran

Your nation is in the messy process of making an important choice. I don't know how long it will take you to do this but the choice must be made. I call it "go North or go South." The reference is to Korea, one people but two nations. One of these will be approximately the next phase of your development. There is a stark contrast.

North Korea is a giant prison. The best and the bravest of its children cannot realize their potential. They will wind up in the military or in a labor camp unless they can find a way to emigrate. This is a nation in which repression really works. It has isolated itself from the family of peace loving nations. It lacks a productive economy. The political "Dear Leader" is a puppet of the military and he would not last long if he were to deviate from his "army based" policies. North Korea has painted itself into a corner; it is a dead end.

South Korea is a democracy with a productive and rapidly developing economy. The people are free and the standard of living has improved over the years. It can accommodate controversy without major violence. It has both the productivity and the occasional economic disruptions of capitalism.

Iran differs from Korea in a few important details. South Korea must face a military threat from the North. Iran is a larger nation. Iran has oil; Korea does not. Also, Iran has Islam.

These differences should not be allowed to obscure the important choice which must be made. It is particularly urgent because some in the government decided, years ago, to "go North" without really thinking things through.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Future of Capitalism


Elections Made Really Simple

"CAIRO – Iran's top electoral body said Tuesday it found "no major fraud" and will not annul the results of the presidential election, closing the door to a do-over sought by angry opposition supporters alleging systematic vote-rigging." [KARIN LAUB, Associated Press Writer]

Iran's top electoral body is apparently very ignorant or is pretending to be very ignorant.

An "election" that is not fairly conducted and fairly counted is not an election at all; it is a mockery. When people are insulted by such a mockery, they may object strenuously, even when faced with batons, tear gas, water cannon and bullets.

Write that down 100 times and go sit in the corner, Khamenei.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Iran: The Face of Clerical Fascism

I have spent much of today watching the cable coverage of events in Iran. As an American, I normally watch the overseas news with considerable objectivity. Not this time.

Iran has been called a religious democracy. Perhaps that was the intent after the revolution. Now, I can see neither true religion nor democracy there. I see the face of clerical fascism.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei must be a very, very stupid man. As the leader of Iran, he has made it into an exporter of terror to other nations and a seeker of nuclear weapons - instead of joining the family of peaceful nations and building a real economy. Not content with that, he is also spitting in the faces of millions of his countrymen with a sham election to which he has given his seal of approval and is enforcing with the power of his state.

Consequently, our wonderful young brothers and sisters in Iran must now face extreme repression in the form of arbitrary arrests, bludgeons, tear gas, water cannon and bullets - because they cannot accept that insult. It is sickening and, if I were there, I would also be wearing a green headband.

One does not need a lot of fine detail to see that much. A short Biblical quote to Khamenei sums it up: the handwriting is on the wall, "you have been weighed in the balance and found wanting."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sham Elections

“He who rides a tiger is afraid to dismount.” [Chinese proverb]

The state of Iran is at a tipping point and the theocracy still has a choice. In one direction there are free and fair elections with the likelihood of gradual reform. In the other direction, there is a blood bath and a dictatorial theocracy which the brave people of Iran will have little choice but to fight, much as they fought the former Shah.

Was the recent reelection of the current president fair? Well, millions of Iranians don't seem to think so. I can add only one independent observation. It would be an unbelievable act of stupidity to give the people a fair election and also give them the impression that it was stolen! I am not one to deny the plausible stupidity of politicians; In the USA we have just lived through an 8 year sample of that and some of the leftover actors, now in opposition, do not seem to have learned much. Nevertheless, I do not believe that Iranian politicians can be even more out of touch than our own.

I am not Iranian nor of Iranian descent. I was once on a Pan Am flight that touched down at Teheran but I didn't step off the plane because the Iranians were rioting against the Shah at that time.

Why do I care about these far off events? Well, the world has gotten smaller, the population has grown, the climate is changing, natural resources are being stripped, the oceans are over-fished, clean water and good food will soon be in short supply, and we have not yet solved the problem of militaristic governments that lack the wit to grow a productive economy, to feed their people, or to save the natural environment. The Horsemen (plague, civil violence, hunger and war - not exactly those of Revelation) are ready to ride.

"Live free or die" is no longer just for the state of New Hampshire. It is for everyone.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Domestic Terrorism

There appears to be an increase in the incidence of assaults and murders related to extremist groups and outright hate groups within the USA. Laws against such things are a deterrent but there are those in whom the presence of pathological anger overwhelms common sense and common decency.

This is nothing new. Nut cults and even nuttier individuals have always existed on the fringes of civilized societies and they are likely to persist for some time. The problem lies with the human brain, which is a very complex organ and which can fail in numerous interesting ways for genetic, developmental, or environmental reasons.

In most human beings, the mind is open like a sponge. They can learn and adapt. In a few, the mind is closed like a tight fist. In the metaphor of computers, they are "wedged" or "in a tight loop" and frequently that cannot be remedied until they are powered down.

Some of the violent individuals can be helped by better education and mental health programs. For those who cannot be helped in that fashion I can see two options:

1. Get them off the streets.

2. Supervise them as well as possible and keep lethal weapons out of their hands.

These things are not so difficult as one might imagine, despite our constitutional guarantees of civil liberties. Most of the people who commit hate crimes are overcome with anger and obsessed by hate. These things are not so difficult to discern. It is not a matter of chilling freedom of speech but rather a matter of determining that some individuals present an imminent danger to the public. What has been lacking is the willingness to face the problem and to make the necessary investment.

A reasonable halfway measure would be to require a rigorous psychiatric evaluation for anyone who commits a violent crime before he/she is released.

I offer the following without further comment. Let the author speak for himself.

Also Sprach David Lane

David Lane

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Real Markets 101: Some serious views

For those of us who are not professionally involved in today's financial and investment infrastructures they represent opaque and sometimes threatening circumstances. A little light reading can alleviate this feeling although I cannot promise mastery of the subject. Here are a few selections, by way of internet links, that I have found helpful. First, an important quote attributed to Keynes.

"The market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent."

John Maynard Keynes

Deregulation, Free Markets and Econ 101

Notice that the following article was written in 2006, well before the financial meltdown.


Another major player:

Phil Gramm

When I was still a graduate student (long ago), I had an intelligent and seriously religious room mate who observed that "religion is an act of conscious blindness." I never knew how close politics is to religion until I found the following op-ed. Notice the date.

Phil Gramm Is Right

In all fairness, here is a conservative view from the Heritage Foundation.

Meltdowns and Myths

And here is an expert's video view of the facts, which I repeat.


To round out this introduction, I have included a current NY Times financial article.

Poking Holes in a Theory on Markets

My own view at this time is that the markets are not fully informed nor fair nor adequately regulated and that various advisory services manipulate their clients with mixtures of greed, fear, and inflated claims. The amateur is indeed a minnow among sharks. Caveat emptor! However it is possible to find Internet sites which present a variety of voices.

Although the markets bear little resemblance to the idealized markets, the ones with those wonderful invisible hands, they do resemble the ideal in at least one way: virtually everyone is trying, first and foremost, to feather his own nest. Under these conditions, like Yossarian in Catch 22, you would be a fool not to do the same. This requires of the non-professional an extreme defensive posture. I am reminded of the early cold war nuclear defensive posture: put your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye.

Draw your own conclusions.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Gay Marriage

Marriage represents a potpourri of arrangements, each made by a pair of individuals to share their lives in whatever lawful ways they find mutually suitable. Sometimes it falls pathetically short of their expectations in ways that are too numerous to mention, ranging from farcical to tragic. Nevertheless, each new generation likes to pursue happiness in this fashion.

Faux Pas

Easy to be Hard

In the USA, at least, the certificates of marriage issued by the states are not religious sacraments. The US government and the states are constitutionally prohibited from any form of establishment of religion. These certificates of marriage are really certificates of civil union that confer certain rights and privileges upon the couples. Of course, a couple may also have a religious ceremony in any church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or bar and grill of their choosing that is willing to offer one.

There are some inevitable problems resulting from leaving authority over the civil unions to the various states. Specifically, must the civil unions issued by one state be honored in all of the other states; must a divorce granted by one state be honored in all of the other states. I mention these problems only in passing to remind us that the legal ramifications are not so simple.

Today's primary question is that of "gay marriage", more specifically, the civil unions of homosexual couples. There are two difficulties here. First, there is the long tradition, in which nearly all of us have been raised, that strictly forbade such a thing. Second, there is the confusion introduced by use of the term "marriage" for what is a strictly secular arrangement.

For a long time, I was opposed to gay marriage simply because of the residual effects of my formative years. I have recognized this. I have also come to the view that our constitutionally promised equal protection of the laws requires that the states issue marriage certificates to homosexual couples. This requirement can be fudged by opponents, using the argument that any person can be married to a person of the opposite sex but I find that argument to be too strained to be acceptable.

Jerry Falwell once pointed out that "the plumbing is wrong." That is a matter of taste which is best left to the principals.

My compromise position was similar to Obama's: permit homosexual unions but don't call it "marriage." However, since marriage by the state is merely a civil union by another name, that is just a sophistry designed to placate the most repressive religious ideologues. It makes no sense unless you would prefer a constitution in which the majority can trample the rights of minorities to the one we have.

Consequently, I have concluded that gay marriage is the right policy.

Why is Obama's position different? Well, as a politician, he needs votes. In my relatively undistinguished position as a mere geezer, I prefer rationality. We are both true to our values.

Hugh Hefner apparently agrees with me.

Hef Speaks

He has always been a leader in the sexual revolution. You can't poo-poo Hugh. Many decades ago, the Playboy Philosophy assured me that I would not grow hair on my palms and I can gratefully testify that he was right.