Archive for July, 2012

Daily Glimpse July 9, 2012

Daily Links From Glimpse From a Height

  • The Muslim Brotherhood Owns Egypt
    Commentary reviews the history: Since then, at each turn of the road, as the Muslim Brotherhood gradually hijacked the Egyptian transition, commentators told us there was no need to worry. The Muslim Brotherhood would only contest a small number of seats (they did not); they would not have a candidate of their own for the presidency (they did); and their […]
  • Israel in NATO and the EU?
    Bulgaria’s former foreign minister in the Times of Israel: Israel should more assertively seek to join NATO and the European Union, Bulgaria’s former foreign minister has told The Times of Israel. If anybody is qualified to give Israel such advice, it’s likely Solomon Passy, who spearheaded the former Warsaw Pact member state’s successful membership bids […]
  • Why Germany Just Got More Nervous About The Prospect Of The UK Leaving The EU
    We can work it out: “It won’t be easy, but arguably, the Germans have more to fear from being left isolated within the eurozone than they do from a new bargain with Britain. If the choice is between the UK leaving or getting some EU powers back, Berlin may – after a lot of posturing, […]
  • Looking Back From a Better Place
    From an old oleh in the Times of Israel: I don’t have to worry that my next bus journey could be my last or think about where I am physically sitting in a café or restaurant, or even whether to risk going to the café or restaurant altogether. Today, I cannot ignore the suffering of […]
  • Get the UN’s Hands Off the Internet
    From the Mercatus Center: While a greater role for the UN is still a long way from it “taking over the Internet” as some fear, this is just the beginning. If this year’s meeting is successful, the countries that get their ideas adopted in the treaty will be even bolder at meetings already planned for […]
  • Bleeding Heart Libertarians Bottom Line on Worker Freedom
    BHL explain where they’re coming from on worker freedom: We BHLs are for the most part not hard, deontological libertarians. We are liberals who think that a major part of the justification for property rights and market institutions has to do with their expected consequences for all decent, conscientious people. We think that in the […]
  • No troop reduction in Jammu and Kashmir: Army
    From the Times of India: Observing that security situation has improved in Jammu and Kashmir, Army on Monday said there was no move to reduce the number of troops deployed in the state as it might lead to problems for security forces engaged in counter terrorist operations for over two decades. “No, there is no such proposal… […]
  • Chemical engineers use lasers to put new spin in computing
    Perhaps some advances in quantum computing: “Quantum computing is one of the holy grails of science and engineering,” says Reimer. “In conventional computing, we use the charge of electrons, either positive or negative, to encode either a zero or one. That’s a ‘bit,’ the basic building block of digital calculations. We can also encode a […]
  • Track Record In China Sets Cisco’s “TOS” Scandal In A More Sinister Light
    TechCrunch on a controversy involving home routers and Cisco’s Terms of Service: Ars Technica’s Jon Brodkin experiencedthe issue himself after buying a Cisco Linksys EA3500 dual-band wireless router. Soon after installing it, he was notified of a firmware update. A sign up page appeared for Cisco Connect Cloud when he tried to access the browser’s internal administrative Web […]
  • UK Judge says Galaxy Tab ‘not as cool’ as iPad, awards Samsung win in design suit
    Your product is so uncool, you couldn’t possibly have stolen it from Apple, an we’re not sure why Apple would want to claim it, anyway: A judge in the UK handed a win to Samsung in anintellectual property dispute, calling the Galaxy Tab “not as cool” as the iPad, and therefore not likely to get […]
  • No Vote Fraud? New Twist in Rangel “Win”
    From Commentary: At a time when Democrats around the country, including Attorney General Eric Holder, have been vociferously claiming there is no such thing as voter fraud in the United States and that efforts to uphold the integrity of elections are a form of racism, the senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus appears to […]
  • Goldfinger’s Dictum and the Democrats
    From John Steele Gordon at Commentary: How about 17 times?  That’s the number of states that elected Republican governors in 2010, thanks to Tea Party demands for fiscal conservatism. And as Breitbart reports today, 17 is the number of those states that have seen a drop in unemployment since January 2011. While the national unemployment rate has dropped […]
  • How Romney Can Win: The GOP candidate should stand for free markets—and align himself with the vast majority of Americans.
    Luigi Zingales at the City Journal: A recent New York Times op-ed by Bill Scher, “How Liberals Win,” must be commended for its honesty. Scher presents a compelling historical narrative of how Democrats are happy to ally themselves with big business in a Faustian pact to foster anti-market policies. … In fact, by inverting Scher’s argument, one […]
  • Global warming will expand forests over what are now grasslands.
    Via Ann Althouse: These burgeoning forests will then rather neatly lock up in the biosphere all that extra carbon that we have been releasing into the atmosphere. Or some of it. But the major point of this paper is that far from climate change being a threat to the tropical forests, it looks as if […]
  • Seizing home loans through eminent domain: more like grand theft mortgage than a silver bullet
    The American Enterprise Institute comments on California’s latest scheme to “jump-start” the housing market” With billions of dollars at stake, the plan’s legality will be challenged by bond holders resulting in a multi-year legal battle. We are already 6 years into the crisis. This will only further delay the clearing of markets. The question is […]
  • Higgs Boson May Be An Imposter, Say Particle Physicists
    From God Particle to Fraud Particle? Today, Ian Low at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois and a couple of buddies comb through the data in an attempt to throw some light on this question. Their conclusion is that the data is consistent with at least two other particles that are not the standard Higgs boson. […]
  • Volcano House for Sale
    In Vegas, of course: Initially the house was commissioned by Vard Wallace, an engineer who built a business selling drafting machines and airplane parts to the likes of Lockheed & Co. during World War II. Wallace, also an inventor who patented the first “skateboard” (a plank with wheels and a short pole for steering), picked […]
  • MoveOn.Org Apologizes For Condemning Racist Anti-Semite Candidate
    Reports MoveOn had written an e-mail to its members that Barron was “unfit to serve” because he has spent his career “specializing in divisive, offensive, and just plain outrageous statements and behavior.” Now, in an amazing twist, MoveOn e-mailed an apology  – for its condemnation of Barron — to its members, according to the New […]

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Grey Eminence

by Aldous Huxley

Most people know Cardinal Richelieu as the architect of France’s foreign policy during the reign of Louis XIII and the Thirty Years’ War.  Less well-known is his right-hand man, Father Joseph du Tremblay, the subject of Aldous Huxley’s biography Grey Eminence, which has been called the “best book on the intelligence operations of the French state” of that period.

Father Joseph was a Capuchin monk, and even before entering politics, a serious mystic, whose successful evangelism seemed merely to take time from his efforts to achieve union with the Godhead.  His piety was not a pose; he would continue to honor his vow of poverty to the point of rigorous self-denial, right to the end of his life. In their personal lives, Richelieu lived in luxury, while Joseph lived the Church teachings.

The question that fascinates Huxley is how a fellow mystic, so loyal to the Church and its divine mission, could devote his public life to the perpetuation of what amounted to a war of extermination in Germany.  It was a question that Fr. Joseph’s contemporaries asked, and one that marred his reputation almost from the time he took office.  It would follow him even to his funeral.

To fully understand what’s at stake, one needs to understand the position that the Thirty Years’ War holds in German history.  The war’s destructiveness was unmatched for its time, killing about half the German population, reducing the rest to utter poverty and starvation.  Armies, foreign and domestic, pillaged what food their was, and destroyed urban production.

It was the conscious policy of France – both Richelieu and Joseph – to extend it as long as possible, precisely to inflict this damage on France’s most dangerous continental rival.

For Richelieu, the motivation is easy to see.  But when Father Joseph took a position as Richelieu’s right-hand diplomat, the motivations were a little more subtle.  Joseph identified France’s interests with God’s.  He seems to have truly believed that a strong France would advance the Church’s interests in the world.  More than anything, he wanted another Crusade against the Turks, to recover Constantinople and the Holy Land.  (Constantinople had only been Ottoman for about 150 years; Christian rule there wasn’t a living memory, but it also wasn’t terribly distant, and much if not most of the city’s population remained Orthodox.)

Spain had actually expressed interest in the enterprise, but wanted overall leadership.  To Joseph, anything other than French leadership was unimaginable.  In order to accomplish a French-led Crusade, France would not only have to turn Germany into a highway for Catholic troops, it would also have to break the power of the encircling Hapsburgs, who sat on the thrones of both Spain and Austria.  Thus France’s support for the Dutch resistance to Spanish rule, and the strategic support of the Lutheran Swedes against the Austrians, using Germany as their battlefield.  Catholic France’s support for Protestant armies against other Catholic powers only fed the cynicism about its motives.

That such cynicism existed at all was a result of the mixture of religious and political roles, and of religious and nationalistic motives.  The Peace of Westphalia has been seen as establishing a secular international order.  But such an order was only possible because governments – even diplomats who had Church titles – had been pursuing a nationalistic foreign policy for decades beforehand.  Only such a worldview can explain France’s actively promoting German bloodshed almost as an end unto itself, and delaying a crusade until France could lead it.

David Goldman, a.k.a. Spengler, flatly states that our position with respect to the Muslim world is roughly that of France of the early 1600s to the rest of Europe.  Still the main power to be reckoned with, we should pattern our Middle East policy on France’s: divide and weaken, intervening only directly when absolutely necessary.  And just as France became the dominant European land power for over 200 years after the War, so we can manipulate the Sunni-Shia divide to our advantage.

And yet, Huxley, in a somewhat mystical moment, notes simply that violent actions rarely if ever have salutary results. Germany remembered.  Germany rose to challenge France, and Germany never really forgot the horrors that French diplomacy had visited upon it.  It was a vengeance that was fueled by a moral indignation, as well, that France had posed as a religiously-motivated power, even as it reduced Germany to cannibalism.

Huxley answers his central question by concluding that Father Joseph simply bargained away, piece by piece, the practical tenets of his mystical faith in pursuit of his more concrete policy goals.  At a personal level, his extreme piety convinced him that God would forgive whatever compromises he had to make to ensure France’s success.

We too have our ideals, that such a purely realpolitik foreign policy would betray.  And years down the line, some future Huxley might also find that, in pursuit of national interests, we had, little by little, allowed ourselves to completely bargain them away.

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Amortize This!

In Pension accounting, the amortization period is how long it would take to pay off the current unfunded liability, based on current contributions, and current employees.

Typically, pensions try to keep that time at about 30 years, or a normal, long career.  That does a pretty good job of matching contributions to liabilities.

The amortization period for PERA’s school fund is now 59 years.

PERA’s retirement age is 58.

Retirees who haven’t even been born yet are having their benefits amortized by current contributions.

Sleep well.

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Devouring the School Budget From Within

PERA’s problems don’t stop with the state.  While the Colorado government has consistently shorted PERA on its Annual Contribution (theoretical) Requirement, local school districts have less flexibility in kicking the can down the road.  As a result, their PERA contributions have increased rapidly, in some cases very rapidly, over the last decade or so.  Here are the compound annual growth rates for four of the largest school districts from 2003 – 2011 (except for Cherry Creek, for which data was only available starting in 2006).

These numbers include all PERA contributions, both to the School Trust Fund and to the Health Care Trust Fund HCTF).

What does this mean for school budgets?  Well, taking the Schedule 4 disclosures in the Statistical sections, we can derive the annual operating expenditures.  For the government funds, we take the total expenses, subtract out the CapEx and the Debt Service, and then divide that number into the annual PERA contribution (described three years rolling in the Financial Section Notes).

The result?  Not pretty:

The role of debt service in school finance is another matter well worth examining, but in this case, adding it in would just alter the level, not the trend.  But consider that in JeffCo, 1 in every 9 dollars goes to PERA. In Cherry Creek and Aurora, it’s 1 in 10 dollars.

It’s not that school spending isn’t rising.  It’s that PERA contributions are skyrocketing.  And school budgets are starting to feel the pressure.

UPDATE: A typo in the Cherry Creek numbers prior to 2009 exaggerated the rate of increase, and created a “knee” in the data between 2008 and 2009.  The 2006-2008 contributions were actually higher than I had reported.  I’ve corrected the charts.

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Memory and History, Jews and the 4th

George Washington’s letter to the Newport Synagogue is justly celebrated as one of the first official descriptions of what Free Exercise and Non-establishment meant in the United States, although the Bill of Rights wouldn’t become officially part of the Constitution for over a year.  What’s less well-known is the letter of congratulation written by Moses Seixas to Washington, as the new President visited Newport as part of a tour of the country.  Here are the two letters:

From Moses Seixas to George Washington, August 17, 1790

To the President of the United States of America.

Permit the children of the stock of Abraham to approach you with the most cordial affection and esteem for your person and merits — and to join with our fellow citizens in welcoming you to NewPort.

With pleasure we reflect on those days — those days of difficulty, and danger, when the God of Israel, who delivered David from the peril of the sword, — shielded Your head in the day of battle: — and we rejoice to think, that the same Spirit, who rested in the Bosom of the greatly beloved Daniel enabling him to preside over the Provinces of the Babylonish Empire, rests and ever will rest, upon you, enabling you to discharge the arduous duties of Chief Magistrate in these States.

Deprived as we heretofore have been of the invaluable rights of free Citizens, we now with a deep sense of gratitude to the Almighty disposer of all events behold a Government, erected by the Majesty of the People — a Government, which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance — but generously affording to all Liberty of conscience, and immunities of Citizenship: — deeming every one, of whatever Nation, tongue, or language equal parts of the great governmental Machine: — This so ample and extensive Federal Union whose basis is Philanthropy, Mutual confidence and Public Virtue, we cannot but acknowledge to be the work of the Great God, who ruleth in the Armies of Heaven, and among the Inhabitants of the Earth, doing whatever seemeth him good.

For all these Blessings of civil and religious liberty which we enjoy under an equal benign administration, we desire to send up our thanks to the Ancient of Days, the great preserver of Men — beseeching him, that the Angel who conducted our forefathers through the wilderness into the promised Land, may graciously conduct you through all the difficulties and dangers of this mortal life: — And, when, like Joshua full of days and full of honour, you are gathered to your Fathers, may you be admitted into the Heavenly Paradise to partake of the water of life, and the tree of immortality.

Done and Signed by order of the Hebrew Congregation in NewPort, Rhode Island August 17th 1790.

Moses Seixas, Warden

From George Washington

To the Hebrew Congregation in Newport Rhode Island.


While I receive, with much satisfaction, your Address replete with expressions of affection and esteem; I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you, that I shall always retain a grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced in my visit to Newport, from all classes of Citizens.

The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet, from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security. If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good Government, to become a great and happy people.

The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent national gifts. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my Administration, and fervent wishes for my felicity. May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy.

G. Washington

Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, in his short book, Zachor, makes the claim that Jews, up until the Enlightenment and its rationalist influences, had essentially given up recording history, instead seeing events through a shared cultural memory.  While history happens to someone else, your memories can only be of things that happened to you.  As a result, almost all Jewish recordings of contemporary events are in a voice that either echoes Biblical events, or analogizes to Biblical personages.  Instances where local kings intervene to prevent massacres are recorded in scrolls that mimic Megillat Esther (the Book of Esther), for example.  This has the effect of providing a context for everything, but it also prevented Jews from seeing anything as actually new.

Western civilization, on the other hand, studies history as events that may have happened to others, but from which we can learn.  That historical accounts are not treated as entertaining stories, but as a description of how we got where we are, doesn’t change the fact that they’re written with the distance of time.

These two views of history are on full display in the two letters.  Seixas makes no fewer than four scriptural analogies.  The whole tone of his letter is one that is trying to shoehorn current events into ancient paradigms.  Washington’s letter is more familiar to our way of thinking.  His history – with which he was personally fully conversant – is implied, rather than stated, and his Biblical reference is a blessing, not an event.

Washington was President of a Constitutional Convention filled with men who studied the Greeks, the Romans, and other republics in-between, and put their lessons to use in designing our own government.  Seixas was struggling to describe his awe that he had the privilege to live in a time when a new concept of citizenship had been born and put into practice.

And yet, each realizes that this country is something new under the sun.  It’s not just that bigotry gets no sanction, it’s that “tolerance,” which implies that (in this case) the Jews have their rights by sufferance of the majority, isn’t the operative principle here.  Full citizenship and participation in the government are completely unconditional on one’s faith or religion.

Which is why, as Jews, we ought to celebrate Independence Day with a special fervor and gratitude, and why we have a special obligation to help preserve that order,

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