Archive for July, 2008

Jo Stafford

Saturday, July 19th, 2008

Jo Stafford

I grew up in the 1940s and that was the end of the big band era. When I was in high school, we had several of them play at high school proms as they were in decline at the time. I remember listening to records of the female vocalists, especially Margaret Whiting and Jo Stafford. Jo Stafford began in the 1930s as a band singer, at first with Frank Sinatra, and was hugely popular all through the war. Her albums kept coming out when I was in college and my favorite still is Ski Trails. That was the first of the “theme albums” and she and her husband Paul Weston thought it up and brought it out. She died this weekend at 90 and was interviewed two years ago about her career. She had a perfect voice and a great personality to match. Her voice is part of my youth.

Thanks, Joe

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

Senator Obama is now saying that Afghanistan is the central front in the war of radical Islam (He didn’t say that last part) but how does he know ? When they held hearings on Afghanistan, he wasn’t there, and that was even before he started running for president.

For a guy who says that’s where the war should be, he doesn’t show up much. How do we now? Joe Biden told us.

But since joining Foreign Relations, Obama has missed three meetings on a “new strategy” in Afghanistan, a country he has never visited.

Obama was absent from a January 31 meeting this year, and also was not present for a hearing on Sept. 21, 2006. He did attend a March 8, 2007 hearing on a new Afghanistan strategy.

On Feb. 15, 2007, Obama also missed a committee hearing on U.S. ambassadors to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Well, he just knows these things. Lesser mortals have to study and listen to experts.

The consequences of a gun ban.

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

This article from the Daily Telegraph describes the process by which the British were stripped of the right to self defense.

Self defence, wrote William Blackstone, the 18th-century jurist, is a “natural right that no government can deprive people of, since no government can protect the individual in his moment of need”.

What changed ?

For almost 500 years, until 1954, England and Wales enjoyed a declining rate of violent crime. In the last years of the 19th century, when there were no restrictions on guns, there was just one handgun homicide a year in a population of 30 million people. In 1904 there were only four armed robberies in London, then the largest city in the world.

We still remember this reputation of Britain as a peaceable kingdom. The Lord of the Rings trilogy contrasted the peaceful Shire, inhabited by hobbits who were more concerned with warm hobbit holes, good food and smoking tobacco than with politics, with the harsh outside world. The books have been interpreted as allegorical comparison with Nazi Germany. What has happened since Tolkein wrote them ?

The practical removal of the right to self defence began with Britain’s 1920 Firearms Act, the first serious limitation on privately-owned firearms. It was motivated by fear of a Bolshevik-type revolution rather than concerns about householders defending themselves against robbers. Anyone wanting to keep a firearm had to get a certificate from his local police chief certifying that he was a suitable person to own a weapon and had a good reason to have it. The definition of “good reason”, left to the police, was gradually narrowed until, in 1969, the Home Office decided “it should never be necessary for anyone to possess a firearm for the protection of his house or person”.

Thus, crime was never the problem that led to the disarming of the population. Once guns were banned, the principle was extended to any potential weapon.

The 1953 Prevention of Crime Act made it illegal to carry in a public place any article “made, adapted or intended” for an offensive purpose “without lawful authority or reasonable excuse”. Any item carried for defence was, by definition, an “offensive” weapon.

Thus, it became illegal to defend yourself. The rule became to wait for the police to defend you. What if they didn’t arrive ?

Rather than permitting people to protect themselves, the authorities’ response to the recent series of brutal attacks on home-owners has been to advise people to get more locks and, in case of a break-in, retreat to a secure room – presumably the bathroom – to call the police. They are not to keep any weapon for protection or approach the intruder. Someone might get hurt. If that someone is the intruder the resident will be sued by the burglar and vigorously prosecuted by the state.

What was the result of this policy ?

At the same time as government demanded sole responsibility for protecting individuals, it adopted a more lenient approach toward offenders. Sentences were sharply reduced, few offenders served more than a third or a half of their term, and fewer offenders were incarcerated. Further, they were to be protected from their victims. Tony Martin, the Norfolk farmer jailed for killing one burglar and wounding another, was denied parole because he posed a danger to other burglars.

The “more guns, less crime” argument has been attacked in America as flawed research and the author of several of these studies has been vilified. What about the experience in Britain, far from the National Rifle Association?

This trade-off of rights for security has been disastrous for both. Crime has rocketed. A UN study in 2002 of 18 developed countries placed England and Wales at the top of the Western world’s crime league. Five years after the sweeping 1998 ban on handguns, handgun crime had doubled. As was forecast at the time, the effect of outlawing handguns has been that only outlaws have handguns.

The recent Heller decision has stimulated this debate once again. We will hear more about this issue in the months and years to come. Here is a Glenn Reynolds law review article on the future course of gun law litigation.

UPDATE: The original plaintiff, Heller, had his application denied today. The bureaucrats don’t give up that easily.

Science ignorance and the press

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

John Derbyshire today has yet another example of people writing about science who don’t understand it, even a little bit. I have a lovely daughter who has an honors degree in Anthropology. Unfortunately, she got indoctrinated in the “Blank Slate” theory of child psychology, as promoted by “Mismeasure of Man” author, Stephen Jay Gould. The blank slate advocates are enthused about molding children’s minds and include behavioral psychologists as well some rather scary characters from Stalin’s USSR who were going to invent a “New Soviet Man.” This is all about politics, you see.

Steven Pinker actually wrote a book called “ The Blank Slate, which should have debunked much of the behavioral nonsense. I tried to get my daughter to read it when we were on a trip together but she refused. Pinker shows from identical twin studies that much behavior is inherited. We can argue about nature vs nurture all day but to assume that behavior is all one or the other is to risk being shown a fool. Unfortunately, the nurture assumption has gotten involved in politics and that skews the debate.

Then along came The Bell Curve, which makes one point that low IQ people seem to be having more children than high IQ people and scared everybody into thinking it was racist. In fact, it was nothing of the sort but facts are less important than rumors in some political circles. I was at Dartmouth when it came out and it was hilarious to see people, who would not be seen buying the book in the Dartmouth Bookstore, quietly asked me to borrow it when I finished.

David Brooks seems to be in that category as Derbyshire quotes him:

Prof. Eric Turkheimer of the University of Virginia, conducted research showing that growing up in an impoverished environment harms I.Q.

Lysenko would be proud of Brooks for that howler. Turkheimer actually didn’t say that but Brooks confuses low income and intelligence of parents who have low income and intelligence children with environmental influence.

Children reared in low-SES (socio-economic status) households, therefore,
may differ from more affluent children both environmentally and genetically
(Gottesman, 1968), and the models we employed in this
study do not allow us to determine which aspect of SES is responsible
for the interactions we observed.

It’s only a step from that to say that environmental influences will affect inherited characteristics like IQ. That is at the root of Gould’s theory of the Blank Slate. The child is like every other child, capable of responding to environment or parental influence to become more intelligent or more aggressive or passive. It’s only a step to the New Soviet Man.

Central to Lysenko’s tenets was the concept of the inheritability of acquired characteristics.

There seems to be a general feeling, as a Hastings Center working group put it, that “behavioral genetics will never explain as much of human behavior as was once promised.”

No. Feeling it may be but it is not true. Do some reading.

How about an IQ test for reporters and columnists ?

What does the Fannie Mae collapse have to do with 9/11 ?

Monday, July 14th, 2008

UPDATE #2: The Wall Street Journal also offers a suggestion on what to do now. Place them in receivership and restructure the management. That is another way of saying to get the politicians out of the boardroom and executive suite. Run them like businesses. Combined with the energy crisis, and considering who has been controlling them, this could be another issue for the GOP in the fall. If they can work up the right narrative. And that’s a big if.

UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal comments on Why Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were immune to critics even back in the Reagan Administration.

Mr. Wallison, who went on to become White House counsel, decided to devote himself to exposing the potential risks posed by the mortgage giants after he retired from law practice and joined the conservative American Enterprise Institute in 1999.

Almost immediately, he said, he experienced political pressure of the sort that—until now—has made Fannie Mae largely invulnerable to new legislative oversight and left it under the supervision of a weak financial regulator.

At the time, he sat on the board of a mortgage-insurance company that did extensive business with Fannie Mae. When the company’s officials noticed that they weren’t being chosen to insure some mortgage pools, Fannie officials told them it was because of Mr. Wallison’s new project at AEI, he said.

The original WSJ article is behind the subscription wall.

We are seeing a meltdown in the mortgage market as it was reconstituted after the S&L crisis of the 1980s. One of the two huge “market makers” for home mortgages is Fannie Mae or Federal National Mortgage Association. It was originally founded in the Depression to assist in increasing home ownership and decreasing foreclosures, many of which involved people who had little debt on their homes but no income to pay the interest. In 1968, it was rechartered and began to buy “conforming” mortgages from originating banks and S&Ls, then bundle them into bonds containing many mortgages, and sell them in a secondary market that gradually grew.

In 1969, when I bought my first home for $36,000. The minimum down payment was 20%. The loan was made by Home Savings and Loan at an interest rate of 4% and my house payment was $204/ month. The seller, who had already bought another house, was willing to take back a 10% second TD of $3500, on which I paid $35/month until I paid it off two years later. The primary trust deed was held by Home S&L in their own portfolio so they had an interest in determining that I was a good risk. In those days, the S&Ls loaned money at 4% or so and borrowed it from depositors at 2.5 to 3%. It was considered a safe, although rather dull, business. The profit was the difference and they were bared from riskier investments.

Then came Jimmy Carter and interest rates of 18%. At first, inflation took off as spending was high and the economy was stuck in what was called “stagflation.” The bear market of 1974 halved the value of the stock market. The 1960s bull market was over. People who had their savings in S&L accounts watched as inflation ate them up. They were collecting interest of 3% and inflation was 12%. They did the rational thing and withdrew their savings. They found unusual investments for them. My partner and I invested our pension account funds in second trust deeds that were steered to us by a real estate broker we knew and who made sure that we only bought good loans. These paid as much as 18% for two or three years. I also bought Treasury bonds that paid 16% coupon rate and I bought them at a discount so the real return was 18%. That was good money.

Others bought gold although it was still illegal until 1974. The inflation led to a flurry of decisions to avoid the dollar including buying antiques and crystal art pieces. It also led to the first inflation of home prices. The S&Ls were in serious trouble but it all came to a head when, in 1980, Fernand St. Germain, chairman of the House Banking Committee, lit the match that burned the S&Ls down.

One night in 1980, Representative Fernand St Germain (D-Rhode Island), whose $10,000-to-$20,000-a-year restaurant and bar tab was paid for by the S&L industry’s chief lobbyist, proposed raising federal insurance on S&L savings accounts from $40,000 to $100,000- even though the average size of an S&L account was $6,000. He waited until after midnight, when only eleven representatives were still on the floor of the House; they approved his proposal unanimously.

But St Germain was just getting warmed up. In 1982, he cosponsored a bill that removed all controls on what S&Ls could charge for interest and released them from their century-old reliance on home mortgages.
Around the same time, the Reagan administration ended the requirement that S&Ls lend money only in their own communities, allowed them to offer 100% financing (i.e. no down payments), let real estate developers own their own S&Ls, and permitted S&L owners to lend money to themselves.

These changes were like taping a sign to the S&Ls’ backs that read, “Defraud me.” In fact, it’s widely rumored that Mafia lawyers and accountants carefully monitored the progress of this bill as it worked its way through Congress, ready to pounce the moment it became law.

I don’t agree with the conspiracy theory here but the facts are correct and the reader can draw his or her own conclusion.

The result was disaster by 1985. My ex-wife worked for the Resolution Trust Commission managing bankrupt S&Ls and selling off their assets. She had a background in mortgage banking and told me some amazing stories. The self dealing and criminal behavior was astonishing.

The recovery of the housing market was nursed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, both of which restructured the entire mortgage industry. No longer did local banks and S&Ls loan their own money to worthy borrowers, collecting the payments and amortizing the loan over 20 or 30 years. They “packaged” the loan and resold it to one of the big national bundlers like Fannie Mae. Sometimes the loans were sold to private investors.

Things did not begin to heat up again until the end of the Clinton Administration. The internet stock bubble left a lot of people with money to invest but few good opportunities. Many had taken their money out of the stock market after making plenty of money. Secondly, after 9/11, the Bush Administration was determined to avoid a recession brought on by the huge capital loss of the WTC collapse. The Panic of 1907 was precipitated by the San Francisco Earthquake and the huge losses to insurance companies. The Great Depression was partly a reaction to the default of war loans from World War I and the reparations demanded of Germany. There was fear that another severe financial panic would follow 9/11. In fact, that may have been a large part of the plan by Osama bin Laden. As a result, the banks had a lot of money to lend and they soon ran out of worthy borrowers. What to do ? Lend it to people with less than sterling credit. After all, houses were going to keep going up in price, weren’t they ?

Enter the chislers and scammers. Some of whom were former Clinton Administration members who got themselves appointed to the boards of the two big mortgage lenders. Did they have a broad background in mortgage banking ? No. They were politicians, like Jim Johnson who recently left the Obama campaign where he had been serving as the co-chair to vet potential VP nominees. What was his background ? Politics, not finance.

James A. Johnson is a United States Democratic Party political figure. He was the campaign manager for Walter Mondale’s failed 1984 presidential bid and chaired the vice presidential selection process for the presidential campaign of John Kerry. In the 2008 election, he is a member of the vice-presidential selection process for the presumptive Democratic nominee, Senator Barack Obama.

From 1991 to 1998, he served as chairman and chief executive officer of the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae), the quasi-public organization that guarantees mortgages for millions of American homeowners. Previously, he was vice chairman of Fannie Mae (1990-1991) and a managing director with Lehman Brothers (1985-1990).

Franklin Raines at least had some financial background. His tenure at Fannie Mae, however, did not inspire confidence. For a while it looked like he might be indicted. Then the Democrats took over Congress and all was forgiven.

Jamie Gorelick, former Clinton Deputy Attorney General, however, had no background in finance. She is a lawyer. She did very well for herself, though. Now we are at the next big crisis and Fannie Mae is in trouble. Where is Gorelick ? Back at her law firm. What is the connection between Fannie Mae and 9/11 ? The link is Jamie Gorelick. What a career !

She helped bring the attack on 9/11 by blinding the intelligence agencies, then she profits from the easy money that follows the attack. She still has a few fingers in the pot, as you will seen in the Volkh piece. You can tell it’s all politics because the defenders are out already. Thank God for Mickey Kaus.

Not Guantanamo

Monday, July 14th, 2008

Two Afghan women awaiting execution

The political left, and the usual European-based scolds, are constantly complaining about the “awful” captivity of suspected terrorists in the Guantanamo Bay naval base. I see few complaints however, about this sort of thing. The Associated Press, source of anti-American diatribes almost on a daily basis, has an “embedded” reporter with the Taliban. On July 12, he provided the AP with a “snuff film” of the execution of two Afghan women accused of prostitution. I am still waiting to see the outraged reaction from Amnesty International or the other usual suspects who accuse us of torture.

Obama rewrites history

Monday, July 14th, 2008

UPDATE: To complete the transformation, Obama’s website has been scrubbed clean of his earlier comments about the surge. Down the memory hole as they say in 1984.

One would never know from this op-ed today in the NY Times, that Obama stated that the surge would never work and “would in fact make things worse.” He does serve one useful purpose. I’m sure that he scares the serious Iraqis who want a successful self-government into working faster to get ready for the day when Obama cuts out on them. In Januray, 2007, Obama said I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.

Now he says In the 18 months since President Bush announced the surge, our troops have performed heroically in bringing down the level of violence. New tactics have protected the Iraqi population, and the Sunni tribes have rejected Al Qaeda — greatly weakening its effectiveness.

What say ?

But the same factors that led me to oppose the surge still hold true. The strain on our military has grown, the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated and we’ve spent nearly $200 billion more in Iraq than we had budgeted. Iraq’s leaders have failed to invest tens of billions of dollars in oil revenues in rebuilding their own country, and they have not reached the political accommodation that was the stated purpose of the surge.

This, of course, is a lie. He opposed the surge because he thought it wouldn’t work. Or, he was lying then. Or maybe he is lying both times.

Of course it took some rewriting of history to get his career going.

It’s a lengthy record filled with core liberal issues. But what’s interesting, and almost never discussed, is that he built his entire legislative record in Illinois in a single year.

Republicans controlled the Illinois General Assembly for six years of Obama’s seven-year tenure. Each session, Obama backed legislation that went nowhere; bill after bill died in committee. During those six years, Obama, too, would have had difficulty naming any legislative ­achievements.

Then, in 2002, dissatisfaction with President Bush and Republicans on the national and local levels led to a Democratic sweep of nearly every lever of Illinois state government. For the first time in 26 years, Illinois Democrats controlled the governor’s office as well as both legislative chambers.

The white, race-baiting, hard-right Republican Illinois Senate Majority Leader James “Pate” Philip was replaced by Emil Jones Jr., a gravel-voiced, dark-skinned African-American known for chain-smoking cigarettes on the Senate floor.

Jones had served in the Illinois Legislature for three decades. He represented a district on the Chicago South Side not far from Obama’s. He became Obama’s ­kingmaker.

Several months before Obama announced his U.S. Senate bid, Jones called his old friend Cliff Kelley, a former Chicago alderman who now hosts the city’s most popular black call-in radio ­program.

I called Kelley last week and he recollected the private conversation as follows:

“He said, ‘Cliff, I’m gonna make me a U.S. Senator.'”

“Oh, you are? Who might that be?”

“Barack Obama.”

Read the rest. It’s interesting. He is a made man in the truest sense of the term. Also, the 2002 event that changed Illinois politics was the drivers’ license scandal that drove the governor from office.

Truth and politics

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

Those two terms are not mutually exclusive but it sometimes seems that way. This week, Phil Gramm got his tit in a wringer for saying that the economy is not in recession. It doesn’t matter that his statement is true. George Will commented on that feature of politics today on This Week. Amity Schlaes, whose book on the Great Depression should be required reading for all politicians, weighs in on the subject today. The Democrats are following a successful playbook, however. George Mitchell, Senate majority leader at the time, managed to produce and prolong the 1991 recession by filibustering capital gains tax cuts, long enough to win the 1992 election for Bill Clinton.

Why I am an NRA Life Member

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

Take a look at this video and tell me the police can be trusted to protect us.

In the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles in 1992, Korean store owners stationed themselves on the roofs of their businesses with rifles to protect them. The seven-day waiting period for gun purchase kept many from obtaining protection. At least the LAPD did not confiscate weapons.

Michael DeBakey dies at 99

Saturday, July 12th, 2008

–Houston Chronicle, ‘Dr. Michael DeBakey: 1908-2008 — ‘Greatest surgeon of the 20th century’ dies’: ‘Dr. Michael Ellis DeBakey, internationally acclaimed as the father of modern cardiovascular surgery – and considered by many to be the greatest surgeon ever – died Friday night at The Methodist Hospital in Houston. He was 99. Methodist officials said DeBakey died of natural causes. They gave no additional details.

‘Medical statesman, chancellor emeritus of Baylor College of Medicine, and a surgeon at The Methodist Hospital since 1949, DeBakey trained thousands of surgeons over several generations, achieving legendary status decades before his death. During his career, he estimated he had performed more than 60,000 operations. His patients included the famous – Russian President Boris Yeltsin and movie actress Marlene Dietrich among them – and the uncelebrated.’

DeBakey was an amazing pioneer in surgery. In 1938, he and his mentor, Alton Ochsner, published an article on the drainage of subphrenic abscess, a surgical plague in the days before antibiotics. Patients with perforated appendicitis were kept in the hospital for weeks in “Fowler’s position,” to avoid the dreaded complication of subphrenic abscess. Fowler’s position, inadequately explained in that Wikipedia article, was a seated position in bed to allow pus to drain into the pelvis where it could be drained through the rectum or, in females, through the vagina. Before DeBakey’s and Ochner’s article, the approach to a subphrenic abscess, above the liver and below the diaphragm, was extremely dangerous. It was also common because lying flat in bed tended to allow pus to flow up to the space above the liver. They found that the space could be drained through an approach through the 11th rib. It was easy and effective in the days before antibiotics made subphrenic abscess rare. He should be famous for that alone. The rest of his career will be covered extensively by others but I fear his first great contribution may be ignored. He was a great man.