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18 October 2009

Passing for Wisdom

Now thank God for the media
for saving the day
putting it all into perspective
in a responsible way.
(The Offspring, Stuff is Messed Up)

One always hopes that someone given a weekly column in a respected news magazine would be wise, or at least would aspire to wisdom. Alas, many of those who actually have such columns are more than happy to play stupid semantic games with their readers. Jon Meacham of Newsweek has shown that he is no exception. A recent column on bipartisanship actually starts off well.

That is why the sooner the political conversation takes into account the fact that there has never—never—been a golden age of bipartisanship, the better. There have been, it is true, eras in which there was more rather than less cooperation across party lines, but rival forces have always tried to destabilize one another.

One could argue that The Era of Good Feelings from 1817 to 1825, when there was only one viable national political party, was an exception, but even then there were important regional issues (four men fought fairly hard for the Democratic-Republican nomination in 1820, for example) and the issue of slavery was the cause of a great deal of political infighting. But I digress.

Alas, Meacham forgets that partisanship need not be a bad thing. In real life, partisanship, yea, even vociferous partisanship, is the only sane course of action.

Words have consequences, too. I wish that more liberals had appreciated this point during the George W. Bush years. It was wrong then to demonize the president, and it is wrong now....

I would argue that the 1980s were manageably mad in political terms. Liberals went crazy decrying Ronald Reagan, who was said to be a nuclear cowboy who hated the poor. Enough Americans, however, found Reagan to be a good man with whom they might disagree on particulars but whose essential character was worthy....

Reagan may or may not have been a "good man" but a huge number of his policies were borderline insane—his economic policies hobbled the federal government for a generation; his defense policies wasted hundreds of billions of dollars for absolutely useless missile defense systems; and his international policies included incredibly stupid and blatant violations of international law.

As for the first excerpt, when your administration treats prisoners in the way that the human monsters who ran the Inquisition in centuries past or the Soviet gulags in the last century would have treated them, then you certainly deserve the moniker demon. That the Bush administration is not seen by people like Meacham as morally repugnant says a lot about what opinion-makers in America are willing to overlook for the sake of cultivating sources and pleasing the powerful. Demons come in more than one form.

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Posted by Tim W at 10/18/2009 10:06:00 PM

16 October 2009

Blame It On Rio

Catching up on recent copies of The New Yorker brought out this flabbergasting fact from Jon Lee Anderson's article on the gangs of Rio de Janeiro.

Rio's police... kill more people than police anywhere else in the world; in 2008, they acknowledged killing eleven hundred and eighty-eight people who were "resisting arrest," or slightly more than three people a day. By comparison, American police killed three hundred and seventy-one people—classified as "justifiable homicides"—in the entire United States in the same period.

The population of the United States in 2008 was about 304 million. The population of Rio de Janeiro is either about 6 million or a bit over 14 million, depending on whether you mean the municipality or the metropolitan area. So, the homicide rate for Rio's cops is at least 63 times as those of American cops, whose gentleness and passivity is so well-known throughout the world.

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Posted by Tim W at 10/16/2009 10:33:00 PM

09 October 2009


The surprise news that Barack Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize resulted in at least one amusing juxtaposition.

Among the critics of the prize are both Obama's conservative critics ("[H]e's the first to win it without having accomplished anything" from National Review Online) and... the Taliban ("He has done nothing for peace in Afghanistan").

That's only amusing until you realize how much of the conservative movement in the United States would welcome theocracy.

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Posted by Tim W at 10/09/2009 09:36:00 AM

04 October 2009

Market Watch

If you have a 401(k) plan at work, you cannot help but notice the incessant cheerleading for equity investment from your 401(k) provider.

But over the last 10 years, how good an investment have equities been? The answer is not that hot, even though the last two quarters have been quite good. As I have done before, you can see here the actual returns for five Vanguard mutual funds—their S&P 500 fund, their total stock market index fund, their total international stock index fund, their total bond market index fund, and their money market fund.

The graph shows that the bond market fund has done the best by far over the last 10 years, with the international fund just beating out the money market fund for second place (its last 12 months have only somewhat regained its dramatic losses over the previous 12 months, whereas the money market fund has paid very low dividends recently). But, still, if you parked $10,000 of retirement money in the money market fund 10 years ago, you would have $13,652 now. If you had invested that in the S&P 500 fund, you would have lost money, not just before inflation, but overall, with a position of $9,776.

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Posted by Tim W at 10/04/2009 09:38:00 AM

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