Movie Recommendations

I signed up for Netflix a short time ago and am having a good experience with it so far. There seems to be only a two-day turnaround to send/receive a DVD, which makes it possible to see quite a few movies in a month (I can have three out at a time). Also, although I’d heard that there was an availability problem now, I haven’t experienced it. Maybe I’m just not asking for the most popular ones.

If anybody has some movies that they think I might enjoy and might not have seen (I’m not sure how you’d know either of those things), feel free to post a list (along with a short description of why you liked each) in the comments or in an email to me.


Winning The War

Steven Den Beste has another interesting post today. The part that caught my attention was this:

The war we’re in has already included two major battles, and will involve ongoing military operations of various kinds and intensities for a long time. But we won’t win with guns and tanks and bombs. It won’t be won with big events, things that make headlines.

The real struggle, the one which will win the war, is not like that. The critical battle in the war is being fought in a billion locations: the minds of a billion Muslims. Each such battle is separate, and we’ll win some of them and lose some of them. If we win enough of them, we’ll win the war, but it isn’t possible to describe how many is “enough”.

I think he’s right.

It’s not enough, or even possible, to continue to try to snuff out every threat that arises. If they continue to multiply then the process will be futile. For us to be relatively secure from these threats, people everywhere must understand that there are better ways to live, and leave terrorists no place where they can be confident of local support.

John Kerry is Getting Fucking Desperate

According to the New York Post, Kerry is quoted in a Rolling Stone interview as saying:

“I voted for what I thought was best for the country. Did I expect Howard Dean to go off to the left and say, ‘I’m against everything’? Sure. Did I expect George Bush to f – – – it up as badly as he did? I don’t think anybody did,”

I’m not offended at all by the word, but it seems unlikely to increase the number of voters who think he’s the best man to represent the U.S. in the world.

I think the article is wrong to call this language “X-rated”, though. It’s R-rated, isn’t it?

The Medicare Drug Benefit

I’m trying very hard to think optimistically about this, but I’m having a lot of trouble.

At first glance, it seems like a disaster. And things like this worry me a great deal. It seems like the best Republicans, those who take the rhetoric about limited government seriously, are being punished by the unprincipled politicians (including Bush) who are more concerned about their next election than the general welfare.

Ok, here’s my most optimistic theory about what the Republicans are thinking, but not saying:

It’s vital to the national interest (security, economy, judiciary, etc.) for Republicans to maintain power for the next four years. Passing this bill, while bad, is necessary to help make that happen because it takes the issue away from the Democrats. And, if the Democrats do manage to gain power, they would surely pass a much worse bill. So, of the only two feasible possibilities this is the better one.

Does that make any sense?

I guess another possibile consideration is that they delayed the benefits until 2006 so that they might have time to declare that it turns out to just be too expensive and repeal it before that becomes nearly impossible. But, I think I’m really dreaming with that one.

Good Economic News

I realize that I haven’t been blogging very much lately, and most of it has been negative. So, here’s some good news about the recent soaring economic indicators in the U.S.

It’s interesting that a 6% unemployment rate used to be considered full-employment, and yet Bush’s critics are still managing to call this a “jobless recovery”. Actually, just today it was announced that the rate for November is down to 5.9%.

The bottom line is that nobody can honestly say that the tax cuts did not help the economy.

We should have more tax cuts, and less government spending.

Howard Dean

Howard Dean seems to have a lot of people confused. Some have bought into his self-proclaimed fiscal conservative record in Vermont, but it isn’t true (see here and here). I can understand the desire to flee from Bush’s disasterous fiscal record toward a divided government (Republican congress, Democrat president). Then we could have some gridlock. But Dean is the wrong choice. He’s much further to the left than Clinton was, and he would do more damage; even with a Republican congress.

Andrew Sullivan takes Dean to task for this gaffe on Chris Mathews’ Hardball:

Iran is a more complex problem because the problem support as clearly verifiable as it is in North Korea. Also, we have less-fewer levers much the key, I believe, to Iran is pressure through the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union is supplying much of the equipment that Iran, I believe, most likely is using to set itself along the path of developing nuclear weapons. We need to use that leverage with the Soviet Union and it may require us to buying the equipment the Soviet Union was ultimately going to sell to Iran to prevent Iran from them developing nuclear weapons.

Ok, he did call Russia the Soviet Union four (not three) times. But, to be fair, I can imagine myself slipping into calling it that while trying to focus on another issue. And, he did call it the former Soviet Union earlier in the interview. So, he just misspoke (although Sullivan is right that if Bush had said this, the press would have a field day with it). Thus, I disagree with Sullivan that this reveals why he is unqualified to be president.

No, that came earlier (pardon the poor transcription):

MATTHEWS: There are so many things that have been deregulated. Is that wrong trend and would you reverse it?

DEAN: I would reverse in some areas.

First of all, 11 companies in this country control 90 percent of what ordinary people are able to read and watch on their television. That’s wrong. We need to have a wide variety of opinions in every community. We don’t have that because of Michael Powell and what George Bush has tried to do to the FCC.

MATTHEWS: Would you break up Fox?


MATTHEWS: I’m serious.

DEAN: I’m keeping a…

MATTHEWS: Would you break it up? Rupert Murdoch has “The eekly
Standard.” It has got a lot of other interests. It has got “The New York Post.” Would you break it up?

DEAN: On ideological grounds, absolutely yes, but…


MATTHEWS: No, seriously. As a public policy, would you bring industrial policy to bear and break up these conglomerations of power?

DEAN: I don’t want to answer whether I would break up Fox or not,

because, obviously


MATTHEWS: Well, how about large media enterprises?

DEAN: Let me-yes, let me get…


DEAN: The answer to that is yes.

I would say that there is too much penetration by single corporations in media markets all over this country. We need locally-owned radio stations. There are only two or three radio stations left in the state of Vermont where you can get local news anymore. The rest of it is read and ripped from the AP.

MATTHEWS: So what are you going to do about it? You’re going to be president of the United States, what are you going to do?

DEAN: What I’m going to do is appoint people to the FCC that believe democracy depends on getting information from all portions of the political spectrum, not just one.

MATTHEWS: Well, would you break up GE?


DEAN: I can’t-you…

MATTHEWS: GE just buys Universal. Would you do something there about that? Would you stop that from happening?

DEAN: You can’t say-you can’t ask me right now and get an answer, would I break up X corp…

MATTHEWS: We’ve got to do it now, because now is the only chance we can ask you, because, once you are in, we have got to live with you.



MATTHEWS: So, if you are going to do it, you have got to tell us now.


MATTHEWS: Are you going to break up the giant media enterprises in this country?

DEAN: Yes, we’re going to break up giant media enterprises. That doesn’t mean we’re going to break up all of GE.

What we’re going to do is say that media enterprises can’t be as big as they are today. I don’t think we actually have to break them up, which Teddy Roosevelt had to do with the leftovers from the McKinley administration.


MATTHEWS: … regulate them.

DEAN: You have got to say that there has to be a limit as to how-if the state has an interest, which it does, in preserving democracy, then there has to be a limitation on how deeply the media companies can penetrate every single community. To the extent of even having two or three or four outlets in a single community, that kind of information
control is not compatible with democracy.

MATTHEWS: How-how far would you go in terms of public policy?


MATTHEWS: This is not-what you describe is not laissez-faire.

It’s not capitalism.

DEAN: It is capitalism.

MATTHEWS: How would you-what would you call it?

DEAN: I am absolutely a capitalist. Capitalism is the greatest system that people have ever invented, because it takes advantage of bad traits, as well as our good traits, and turns them into productivity.

But the essence of capitalism, which the right-wing never understands

” it always baffles me-is, you got to have some rules. Imagine a hockey game with no rules.”

This all bothers me a great deal because the president does have a great deal of power to affect regulation of the economy and Dean seems like a dangerous man in this area.

The impression that I have of Dean, and many leftists, is that they think they know how resources should be allocated and are willing to use the force of government to make that happen. I suggest that if they think that there’s an unmet demand for more media companies (for example) then there’s a great option for them to choose: they can enter the marketplace (or invest in entrants) and make a fortune while improving the competitive landscape. But they don’t want to do that; they’d prefer to tear down people who have succeeded in the market. They claim to have great concern for the poor and powerless, but they seem more preoccupied with attacking the successful than with helping the unsuccessful. It’s not the same thing.

President Dean would be a disaster for America.


Richard Dawkins is a great scientist and communicator. His The Selfish Gene, and The Blind Watchmaker were both very important to my intellectual development. I’ve seen him speak a few times on television and have always been impressed. I have also appreciated his unreserved criticisms of religious thinking.

But, it appears that he is a moral and political idiot.

Take a look his letter to President Bush (fourth one down). I’d consider fisking it, but The World has already done an excellent job of that.

It’s very sad when an intellectual hero disappoints so dramatically.


I think the concept of risk, and how we manage it, has received far less attention (outside of economics) than it deserves.

Steven DenBeste has a good (though long) post about this here. I encourage you to read it. While I think he over-generalizes the U.S. vs. EU differences, there is an element of this difference reflected in recent policies.

Extreme risk aversion is an irrational over-valuing the expected costs and under-valuing the expected benefits of proposed actions (or inactions) of our own, and of events beyond our control. In the long run, extreme risk aversion will definitely lead to less success.

Most of us are risk averse to some extent in some areas. That’s why good financial planners assess an investor’s tolerance for risk before devising an appropriate plan for him. Psychological comfort is important, and it often makes sense for us, individually, to pursue a plan that might be sub-optimal, theoretically, but will make us happier given our hard-to-change psychological tendencies.

That’s also one of the reasons that I think it’s wrong to dictate to (and impose on) others what level of risk they should accept for themselves in their personal lives.

However, in the area of government policymaking I think it’s wrong, often disastrously so, to allow extreme risk aversion to guide policy. We should be understanding of those citizens with the worst risk aversion problems, but we should not let them dictate policy and impose massive costs on the rest of us.

One problem I noticed immediately with Rawls’ A Theory Of Justice (and later learned that many others observed this too) is that his person in the Original Position was extremely risk averse; fanatically focusing on the worst-case scenario (via his difference principle).

I think Virginia Postrel is right to suggest that the distinction, politically, between liberals and conservatives is less important than the difference between those who try to impose an irrational resistance to the risks of change on us (stasists), and those who embrace changes and suggest managing the risks rationally (dynamists). These groups do not correspond to liberals vs. conservatives (e.g. Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan united against international trade).

Whether DenBeste recognizes it or not, we’ve got many stasists in America; and much of the government is involved in enacting their agenda.

There’s a lot more to say about these things. But, if I try do it all at once, I might never post anything.