Not exactly the new generation

Gwin Ifil’s phrase “not exactly the new generation” is as good a description as any for the appointment of Roland Burris to become Illinois’ junior Senator.

While I’m skeptical of symbolic appointments in the first place, there’s no question that the choice of Burris is particularly bad. Burris harkens back to the sort of race-based campaign that many people voted for Obama to banish. Further, a figure of the past, Burris is yet another “back to the future” candidate.

A better choice would have been Tammy Duckworth.


While as a Republican I of course favor a statewide election in Illinois (which would give my party some chance to win the seat), Duckworth is an Iraq War veteran and like Obama has a gripping personal story. This post is not an endorsement of Duckworth’s policies or positions. Rather, it is a statement of my regret that once against the Democratic Party has let itself be maneuvered into the politics of the past rather than building a bridge to the future.

No More Saudi Arabia of Oil Consumption?

America is the United States of oil consumption. Just as oil revenues my legitimate governments in much of the gap of the global economy end up supporting terrorism, oil expenditures by the United States has the effect of powering the Taliban, fueling Putin’s armies, and financing Chavez’s destabilizing schemes in Venezuela.

One way to create a better future is a gas tax.

Hybrid Cars: Gas tax gaining momentum, or at least air
A gas tax is an idea that has been floated around this blog many times over the last few years. My gas tax – really an oil tax – was always a way to help fund credits for more fuel efficient vehicles. Likewise, the tax helps drive investment in non-oil fuels and technologies, while also changing consumer behavior.

Lately, the drumbeat behind a new gas tax has been increasing. MotorTrend, the LATimes, and the New York Times, for instance, have each covered the idea in the last few days.

There are other ways of weakening oil producers and the wars, terrorists, and schemes they fund. We can plusing-up the Strategic Petroleum Reserve by simultaneously buying oil and moving to a flex-fuel fleet. We can create tax-breaks for hybrid cars and looking at biojetfuel.

President Bush should be praised for the advances in alternate fuel technologies that took place on his watch. Let’s hope Barack Obama will be even better for breaking the power of oil!

The Third UAW Bailout of 2008

The first was for $25 billion.
The second was for $17 billion.

And now, as predicted, GM and Chrysler (cash-conduits for the UAW) are back for more. The only surprise is that they managed to squeeze the third one into 2008.

As Treasury Bails Out GMAC, Is It Overdrawing Federal Bailout Funds? – BusinessWeek
GMAC might not be the end of it for auto financiers and manufacturers: Within a couple days, a Treasury official says, the agency will post guidelines for loans to auto companies generally. No word yet on how broad eligibility might be.

The federal government’s latest bailouts of GM and GMAC will be the Third (of 3) Detroit Bailouts in UAW, as opposed ot the First (of who knows how many) Detroit Bailouts in 2009:

In another curious twist, the GMAC bailout appears to include a loan to let General Motors increase its stake in GMAC — even as Federal Reserve banking rules appear to require it to shed ownership.

Of the $6 billion announced tonight, $5 billion goes to purchase preferred shares in GMAC (with an 8% coupon for the government, a nice bump up from the 5% banks are paying).

But the remainder, of up to $1 billion, is a loan to General Motors — a loan that allows GM to participate in a rights offering from GMAC. That rights offering, of course, is being presented as part of a make-or-break strategy by GMAC to refashion itself into a bank holding company and avoid bankruptcy. The Federal Reserve approved GMAC’s application to become a bank holding company on Christmas Eve — but GM, and co-owner Cerberus, has to give up control of of the lender to comply with bank ownership rules.

You won’t buy the products the UAW builds… so they’ll be taking your money anyway.

Multiculturalism v. Free Speech

I don’t think anyone in an academic institution would be surprised to hear that leftist/multiculturalists are an organized, imminent, and active threat to free speech in higher education. IUPUI’s discipline (without a hearing) against a student for reading Notre Dame v. The Klan is an extreme example of this trend (h/t Weekly Standard):

The IUPUI AAO seems to have been renamed the IUPUI OEO, but unfortunately it appears to still exist in some form. More on this scandal is available from Reason.

I would be interested in knowing more about this case. In particular, the allegation that the instigator of this scandal is now the Assistant Director of IUPUI OEO is disturbing, to say the least.

Sunni Desert Oasis (and sidewalk storefront) Salesmen

Catholicgauze has an excellent and informative post on the merchants of Iraq. From comment greetings like “Hello my friend!” “Yes, yes, yes,” and, “Please come in,” Catholicgauze continues to describe merchants from the common Iraqi, traveling merchants, high-tech DVD hackers of the computer era, and high-margin Turks.

Read the whole thing, and also check out a related photo series from Getty Images.


Bush’s Alternate Energy Legacy

While more recently making strange deals with Congressional Democrats to bail out the UAW, one of George Bush’s most important legacies may be his dedication to alternative fuels and sources of energy:

Domestic Fuel » Archives » US Now Tops in Wind Energy
A record-setting year for American wind power keeps getting better as the United States has become the world’s top wind energy producer.

This story from Environment News Service cites an American Wind Energy Association year-end report that says steady growth has helped the Americans surpass their German counterparts

When Bush took office, hybrids like the Toyota Prius were a novelty, E85 and biodiesel hardly existed, and the U.S. was languishing far behind leaders in alternative energy. Now, that is no longer true.

The work that the U.S. has done under Bush has been impressive. Indeed, it may have played a role in popping the oil bubble, as technologies like ethanol made peak-oil irrelevant.

Besides the direct benefits that wind, E85, and biodiesel have for us, they also strengthen new productive economies like China and India, while weakening parasitical fossil-fuel exporters like Venezuela and Russia.

Presidents cannot do everything, but even if their role is to stand out of the way… President Bush still deserves thanks for how America’s alternative energy technologies advanced during his term.

Historical Markers

While the Cross-Straight Times has an excellent integrative post on piracy, Communist-KMT ties, and the democratic movement , the New York Times presents this vignette of the past, and the future:


China’s Navy to Join Pirate Patrols –
Commander Xie Zengling, chief of the special forces unit, told Xinhua that he expects to have firefights with pirates. He noted that one Chinese special forces soldier could handle several enemies with his bare hands.

China has not sent warships out of its region since the 15th century, under the Chinese Muslim admiral Zheng He.

China’s integration with the world is happening as fast as Russia’s decoupling. Since the coup against “Russia’s Deng Xiaoping” that saw Vladimir Putin rise to power, Russia’s economic, diplomatic, and human capital positions have eroded substantially.

Indeed, Russia’s position is so bad that recently a prominent Russian apologist with a blog compared Russia’s invasion of Georgia to 9/11 — and concluded that because the world did not punish Saudi Arabia, it should not punish Russia! (I could not decide whether to respond by saying that earlier supporters of Russia called such comparisons hysterical, or that punishment is besides the point, or that I did not believe that a murderous cell of anti-Kremlin zealots were behind the invasion of Georgia… so I decided that there was no serious response to make, anyway.)

To conclude this post, I want to point readers to two others: “Deep Throat’s coup d’etat and “The Deep Throat Dilemma.” Both posts focus on the extralegal maneuvers the FBI took to get rid of President Nixon. But in a broader perspective, both posts discuss the historical markers laid down by President Nixon.

The greatest of these was the opening of China, that set the stage for decades of friendship and, increasingly, economic interdependence and strategic alliance. The rise of Chins is as epochal as the decline of Russia.

And the world will be better for it.

Merry Christmas


The Birth of Jesus:

The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.

While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus—’God saves’—because he will save his people from their sins.” This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term:

Watch for this—a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son;
They will name him Immanuel (Hebrew for “God is with us”).

Then Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream: He married Mary. But he did not consummate the marriage until she had the baby. He named the baby Jesus.

Matthew 2:18-25.

Competing Views of Education

Tom Friedman:

My fellow Americans, we can’t continue in this mode of “Dumb as we wanna be.” We’ve indulged ourselves for too long with tax cuts that we can’t afford, bailouts of auto companies that have become giant wealth-destruction machines, energy prices that do not encourage investment in 21st-century renewable power systems or efficient cars, public schools with no national standards to prevent illiterates from graduating and immigration policies that have our colleges educating the world’s best scientists and engineers and then, when these foreigners graduate, instead of stapling green cards to their diplomas, we order them to go home and start companies to compete against ours.

To top it off, we’ve fallen into a trend of diverting and rewarding the best of our collective I.Q. to people doing financial engineering rather than real engineering. These rocket scientists and engineers were designing complex financial instruments to make money out of money — rather than designing cars, phones, computers, teaching tools, Internet programs and medical equipment that could improve the lives and productivity of millions.

Tom Barnett:

1) obsessing over PhD stats is useless, because “even if China spends a fortune to train more scientists, it cannot prevent America from capitalizing on their inventions with better business models.”

2) the commercialization, diffusion and use of inventions is more valuable to companies and economies than the original act of invention (hmm, I believe we call that the “Microsoft effect”), so more MBAs than PhDs

I prefer T.F. to T.B. here, though as I am a PhD student married to an engineer, I may be biased!

Razib’s take was written before the Toms’, but I think it a good coda here:

First, scientifically trained people are very common in quantitative finance. Second, history would probably have helped us see what was going to go down; the idea that property values were always going to go up was the latest tulip mania, though the idea was buttressed by “rigorous models.”

The way scientists can help the economy is simple: keep doing science & engineering and increase economic productivity through the generation of new techniques and technologies. That’s the real engine of growth & wealth. I think we’ve really hit the era of diminishing marginal returns when it comes to increasing efficiency through more intelligent capital allocation. Perhaps the lost luster of hedge funds and the financial sector more generally will mean that those trained in the mathematical sciences will remain in those fields. The argument in Knowledge and Wealth of Nations the modern affluence is the product of spillover effects from technological innovation should make it clear what the most optimal allocation of cognitive power is, at least when it comes to aggregate social utility.

So should our education system concentrate on a ‘next generation’ of scientists and engineers, lawyers and MBAs, critical theorists and community activists, or something else?