Glenn A Knight

Glenn A Knight
In my study

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Default! Default!

Here's a philosophical principle from Immanuel Kant:

"Act so that the maxim of thy will can always at the same time hold good as a principle of universal legislation." (Critique of Practical Reason)

That sounds really fancy, as translations from the German often do, but it can be reduced to the proverbial mother's question: "What would happen if everybody did that?"

In other words, it's a bad idea to lie to other people, because if everybody lies to everybody else, society cannot function.

So, bankers and financiers are appalled, yes, appalled, that people are walking away from mortgages when they go "under water," i.e., when the value of the house is less than the value of mortgage. The borrowers feel that they shouldn't make $500,000 payments on a $200,000 house. And this behavior is something that violates Kant's principle (known as the "Categorical Imperative"). If, after all, everyone just defaulted on their obligations, your boss could just decide not to send out your paycheck next week, and then where would you be?

So, this article by Daniel Gross is about how common this terrible behavior is on the part of big corporations.

Are you appalled?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Old Passeth Away

Ferguson, Niall. The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World. New York: The Penguin Press, 2008. 442 pages. Acknowledgements. Notes. List of Illustration. Index. $29.95. ISBN: 0-793-67093-4. Read 19 September-15 October 2009.

I reviewed this book back on November 7. It's a good book, and I'm sure it's out there in paperback now for your reading pleasure.

Since I finished it in October, and posted the review six weeks ago, I think it's time to remove it from the Current Reading list.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Flight to Freedom ...

There are some old lines that express the notion that people may do the right thing for the wrong reasons. There was a Chad Mitchell Trio song about the John Birch Society - "Fighting for the right to fight the right fight for the Right."

There is among historians a general feeling that the revolutions of 1848, which starred patriots like Kossuth, were uprisings against imperial governments which were preventing landowning classes (the Magyars, for example) from oppressing their Slavic peasants.

And there's the U.S. Civil War, a fight for the freedom to prevent people from being free.

This article by Daniel Gross is about something similar, if much less profound; it is about banks returning huge amounts of money to the U.S. Treasury, in order to have the right to waste their shareholders' money as they wish. I own stock in Citigroup, and when I consider that my company's management chose to give back billions of dollars, which they could be using to make profits and to straighten out their business, in order to get rid of government criticism of the amounts they pay themselves.

The next stockholders' meeting, I vote to remove the entire board, to cancel the executive compensation plan, and to put Ralph Nader in charge.

More on the Reading List

I spent some time this morning working on the Current Reading list. I added one book - Jester Leaps In by Alan Gordon, and I added some information to a number of others. The list now includes all of the books I finished in October, November, or December 2009, and the books I am now actively reading.

I plan to delete the books finished in October this weekend, and then I'll delete the books finished in November, and then we'll be into January.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Ignatius Urges Focus on Pakistan

David Ignatius is a columnist for the Washington Post. He makes some useful points in this column about Pakistan's need to gain control (Ignatius likes the term "sovereignty") over its own territory.

The problems with controlling the Pashtun on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border brings me back to the idea, bruited here some time ago, of creating a Pashtunistan, and then treating it as a separate country.

I said the other day that Afghanistan is a country without a nation. Like Belgium, where everyone except the king is either a Fleming or a Walloon, Afghanistan has no Afghans. Everyone is something else, and that something else is related to a population beyond the border. Pakistan is a little more coherent, but there are a lot more Punjabis, Sindis, Baluchis, and Pashtuns than there are Pakistanis.

The question I would have about controlling the NWFP (Northwest Frontier Province) and the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) is this: If it were possible for Pakistan to control these areas and integrate them into the national polity, would it be necessary? Or, conversely, if they need to make such an effort, are they capable of it?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Is Anti-Carbon also Anti-Human?

Anne Applebaum has gone all the way to Copenhagen to write an article about the downside of obsessing about climate change.

Robinson on Palin on Climate Change

Did you know that Sarah Palin used to believe in climate change? Yes, and that she thought that government action was needed to deal with it.

This article by Eugene Robinson provides a nice look at Palin then, vs. Palin now.

Well, as somebody once said, where you stand depends on where you sit.

If This Consensus Emerges - Watch Out!

This is a nice article about conservative strategy. I don't think that Mr. Guariglia's vision will work, though, because I don't think the social conservatives will tone down their interventionism. Why? Because they are not conservatives. They are authoritarians, maybe totalitarians, with a laundry list of goals labelled "conservative." And that's good, because I don't really want a reprise of the Reagan era.

Optimism on the Employment Front

Daniel Gross is at it again. One could argue that Mr. Gross's reasoning is flawed: he is extrapolating from recent trends to reach his conclusions. But he's tentative enough that we can give him that one. If he is right, then the underlying trend to re-employment may be stronger than the published figures indicate. After all, the figures keep being revised upward, don't they?

I believe that I previously flagged this article over at my Facebook account; if it seems familiar, maybe you saw it there.

In any event, I hope this article provides you and yours with some Christmas cheer.

Hanson's End of Year Assessment - or Is It the End of Civilization

Greetings, all. A happy Saturday to you, and I hope it's a good one.

Victor Davis Hanson blogs, writes for neocon magazines like Commentary, and, apparently, worries a lot about the state of America here at the end of 2009. At least, in this column , Hanson seems concerned that we're worse off under Obama than we were under George W. Bush. Calm, cool, competent, and charismatic - that's the W we all remember, right?

Anyway, there's a catalog of woes here, and Mr. Hanson is right about one thing: If we don't see some of these things turning in a favorable direction by midsummer 2010, the Democrats and the Obama administration could be in real trouble. Everybody who wants Mitch McConnell to be the Senate's next Majority Leader raise your hands! I didn't think so.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Glenn's Reading Notes: Kingdom of Shadows

I've spent most of my reading time today on Kingdom of Shadows, a spy novel set in 1938 and 1939. The author, Alan Furst, does a very nice job of evoking the war fever of 1938, and the way in which the British avoided war by sacrificing the Czechs to Hitler.

As always, the choice of viewpoint character is critical, and Furst's protagonist is Nicholas Morath, a Hungarian aristocrat living in Paris and carrying a Hungarian diplomatic passport. I would have to go back and re-read Somerset Maugham's Ashenden stories, but I think that Furst manages some of the same atmosphere. This is a rather episodic novel, in which each of the four sections could almost stand on its own, but there is a definite trend of increasing tension through the entire work.

One of the keys here is that Hungary was going to enter the war as an ally of Germany, so that Morath is viewed in France as a potential enemy alien, when he detests Hitler and opposes the fascist Arrow Cross group in Hungary. I've been enjoying this book, and I'm going to be sorry to see it end. But that won't stop me from finishing it tonight, if I can just stay awake.

Updating the Current Reading List


I just realized this morning how out-of-date my Current Reading list was. I removed a number of books which had been listed there for months, all of them long since read and, where appropriate, returned to the library.

I have added a few books that I am now reading. On this trip I have finished two thrillers by John Sandford: Dark of the Moon and The Hanged Man's Song. I am in the middle of those now listed in the Current Reading section on the right side of the blog space.

As always, your comments on any of these books that you have read, and suggestions for other books to be read, are welcomed.


Glenn A. Knight

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Path Out of the Desert - Some Comments

I recently posted a few words about Kenneth Pollack's A Path Out of the Desert on my Facebook page.

A Path out of the Desert. Terrific book on grand strategy for the U.S. in the Middle East. The author is Kenneth Pollack. This is one of the few books I've read that suggest to me that I really need my own copy. Pollack is way beyond military solutions for the problems of the Arab Muslim world, and, based on my experience, he's right on about the need to reform education.

Bibliographical note: Pollack, Kenneth M. A Path Out of the Desert: A Grand Strategy for America in the Middle East. New York: Random House, 2008. xlvii + 539 pages.

One of the strengths of this book is that it delivers most of what it promises. When most people, like the retired colonels and generals on various TV networks, talk about "strategy," they don't really mean strategy. Sometimes they're addressing tactical questions, sometimes they're addressing theater problems, but those aren't matters of strategic scope. A real strategic principle, like the "Anaconda" strategy of the American Civil War, or containment of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, takes into account the broad political and economic features of the situation, and the interaction of initiatives and challenges on various fronts.

For example, it makes no sense to speak of a "strategy" for Afghanistan. For our efforts in Afghanistan to succeed, we need a strategy for dealing with Islamic extremism throughout the Muslim world. We need principles to work in Iran, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kirghizia, Pakistan, and India, as well as in Afghanistan itself. We need to integrate our Afghanistan policy into our general strategy. The problem at the moment is that we don't seem to have a grand strategy.

Although Pollack confines himself to the Arab Middle East, with some references to Turkey and Iran, the general principles he enunciates, as well as his prescriptions for action, are applicable from Morocco to Indonesia, from Somalia to Bosnia, wherever the Islamist ideology is opposed to American interests.

Read this book! Then we can discuss it.

More later,

Glenn A. Knight

Best-Laid Plans

August was a low point for this blog, at least in terms of the number of posts. I posted three items in August, after a whopping seven in July. I have excuses. We traveled to Tennessee in July, and we toured parts of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico in August and September. But nobody wants to hear excuses. (By the way, if you want to see pictures from those trips, you can go to and look me up.)

So here's another excuse. I had posted 12 pieces in November when, just before Thanksgiving, our computer stopped displaying anything on the monitor. The computer might have been working, but we couldn't see any product. After trying a few things, we took the computer to Staples, and it's been there ever since. Well, the day before Thanksgiving we authorized them to send it to a subcontractor. They said it would ship on the Friday, but it didn't ship until the Monday. They said the subcontractor worked on weekends, but they don't. They said the subcontractor would provide updates; they haven't. And it wasn't back by December 10, so we flew off to Florida not knowing if our computer liveth.

Now I'm in Florida, using my mother-in-law's computer - Windows 98 and a dial-up connection. I have managed to get through my e-mail, and even send a few e-mails to people. I have visited my Facebook account and used the messaging service there, as well as commenting and posting some items. Now, I'm going to see if I can successfully post to my blog from here.


Glenn A. Knight