Hanley Moves Yet Again

In case anyone strolls down this dusty ghost-town street looking for me, I can now be found at my new solo blog, The Bawdy House Provisions, http://bawdyhouse.wordpress.com/.

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In Which We Merge with the League of Ordinary Gentlemen

Jon Rowe, D.A. Ridgely, and I have accepted an invitation to merge with The League of Ordinary Gentlemen. I suppose that means we’ll all be part of The One Best League of Ordinary Gentlemen, but for simplicity, we’ll just keep their name. Fortunately, our combined shares of the blog market are small enough that the Department of Justice has not opposed our merger.

I’m not sure when we’ll have the last post here at TOBW. I think we’re to be introduced one-by-one at the League, so there may be some residual posting here. We will keep this site up, though, for an archive of our posts here.

I hope that our favorite commenters will join us there. They have some other fine minds and good writers there, not necessarily ordinary at all, that I think you will enjoy.

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Science, Not Woo Woo

I recently blogged about a theory of human psychology (I honestly don’t know what to call it) that I hope slowly unfolds on my blogs over the next few years.

I hesitate to discuss this because, as far as I have gleaned, most popularizers of bits and pieces of this truth have something about them that poisons their well, as I see it. (I know poisoning the well and appeal to authority are both logical fallacies; so me appealing to, for instance, Deepak Chopra’s “authority” would be as much of a logical fallacy as you writing him off as a crackpot if I try to cite a point of his that I think is valid.)

These popularizers usually take this truth discovery and add in some unprovable quasi or overtly religious “woo woo,” as Michael Shermer has put it when discussing his problems with Deepak Chopra. Continue reading

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Goodbye, Dubai

Back home, after twenty hours of traveling. Modern jet travel or not, it’s still a big world.  Final thoughts from the trip.

  • The hotel restaurant in Damascus offered a dish of “fried smashed meat.”  With marketing like that it’s no wonder their GDP per capita is 150th in the world.
  • The menu of one of the restaurants I ate at in Dubai promised only fresh vegetables, “no industrious canned vegetables.”   I kinda admire those hard-working canned veggies, myself.
  • Dubai has countless gents and ladies hair “saloons.”  English may become the global language, but the globe is going to reshape it interesting ways.
  • There’s been much talk about how Dubai has been hit hard by the global recession, but one local observer said to me, “it hasn’t actually hurt us, it’s just slowed our growth down to more realistic levels.”
  • The Dubai Metro, which was non-existent when I was there two years ago, is excellent.  It’s fully automated, runs very smoothly, and is very heavily used. You can go from the airport to the Bur Dubai area, which is chock full of hotels, and on to the financial district, the Dubai Mall/Burj Khalifa, the Mall of the Emirates, and beyond.  There’s a stop right outside the doors of the American University in Dubai, too, not that any of their students would probably ever be caught dead on public transit.
  • The fountain show at the Dubai Mall, with Burj Khalifa in the background, is pretty phenomenal.  You can find various videos on Youtube.
  • The Burj Khalifa (nee Burj Dubai*) is a beautiful building, but at almost half again as tall as either the Willis (nee Sears) Tower or the Petronas Twin Towers, it doesn’t send the message Dubai’s ruler wants to send.  He wants to demonstrate that Dubai is a world class city, but the developed world has pretty much opted out of the tallest building in the world business these days.  It’s just not efficient, particularly in a place like Dubai, where the massive amounts of glass act to heat up the building, and requires extra energy spent on air conditioning.  And Jim Krane, in his fascinating book Dubai: The Fastest City in the World cites a critic who points out that it doesn’t make a lot of sense to pump water half a mile up simply to flush the toilet.
  • Dubai, for all its oil, is struggling to produce enough energy.  It’s looking to coal, from some of the same Asian countries to which, ironically, it exports oil.  And it plans to produce 20% of its future power needs from nuclear energy.
  • I saw more of Dubai than last time I was there, and have a better sense of the city now (although only what you can gain in a total of 6 days visiting time).  It’s famous for it’s phenomenal wealth, and last time I was there I stayed in, and saw a lot of, it’s very old souks, but this time I saw more of its middle class area, as I would tentatively call the Bur Dubai area, as well as more of the Deira area.  Critics of Dubai always ask whether it’s sustainable once the oil runs out.  Yes, as a city it’s definitely sustainable, because it has such a variety of economic activities going on.  The government’s investments of its oil profits in infrastructure and its welcoming of just about any productive economic activity has resulted in more of a real city than the haughty journalists seem to see.  (To boast a bit, I spent upwards of 12 hours walking through different neighborhoods, in the three days I was there, and I doubt most fly-through journalists bother to do so.)  It’s energy use may not be sustainable, but it’s attraction of the super-wealthy is probably sustainable for the foreseeable future.  But most importantly, there’s just a lot of people making money doing a lot of things.   Dubai will outlive the end of its oil, hands down.
  • If you want a fun city in the Middle East, go to Beirut.  If you want an inexpensive place to visit, that’s still fun, go to Damascus.  If you want to understand the future of the world, go to Dubai.

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* “Burj” is Arabic for “tower,” and Khalifa is a masculine given name.  The tower was re-named upon its opening.  According to Wikipedia, for Emirates president , Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.  However I believe Khalid is also the name of the Dubai ruler’s uncle, the brother of the former ruler who made Dubai what it is, so perhaps there’s a double meaning.

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Greetings from Sharjah

Departed Syria yesterday, and am at the moment in the library of the American University in Sharjah, where, although it is a university built by a non-democratic Arab ruler, you can find Hannah Arendt on the shelves. I find myself more and more attracted to her writings–even in disagreement she provokes thought.

Syria is a great place for a traveler with limited funds to visit. It’s cheap and fascinating. Damascus is still offensively dirty, but less so than when I was here just two years ago. For whatever reason, people seem to use the public trash bins more and the sidewalks less for disposing of trash like the wrappings from street food. It’s probably a matter of ruthless enforcement, but hopefully it becomes cultural. And it’s a great city for street food. Don’t worry about what it is, just point to it and enjoy it. There are countless shawarma shops, where a filling meal may cost all of two or three dollars. Rumor is that you can get camel kabobs, if you go to the right place, but to my regret I didn’t find them.

Syria’s economic development is picking up steam. My Syrian colleague was shocked at the changes two years ago, having been absent for five years at that time, and we were both shocked this time, after only an additional two years. There were no ATMs at all seven years ago, and only two (I think) banks, both state run. Two years ago there were several foreign banks and a bare number of ATMS, none of which I saw being used, and none of which seemed to be hooked into the cirrus, plus, star systems. Now it looks like any other big city in the number of banks, almost all of which have ATMs outside them, almost all of which are hooked into that system. And I saw non-tourists using them. That’s a big change for a country where the people have traditionally been very distrustful of banks. I would assume the plethora of banks also means there’s an upswing in the availability of credit, which the country sorely needs.

In general, Syria is liberalizing its economy in real structural ways, not just rhetorically. When I was last here they were starting to shut down money-losing state-run businesses (the ruling Ba’ath Party historically emphasized a combination of Arabic nationalism and socialism–although they’re still emphasizing the former, they’re giving up on the latter), and they were allowing more people to open small shops. Now they are creating free trade zones, and have free trade agreements with Turkey. Turkey has been the main financial beneficiary, but Syria is benefiting from the development of greater technical and quality control skills (sorely needed in a country where it’s common to see cinder-block construction going on with blocks that are broken and have holes in them, and with lines that don’t even pretend toward a Platonic approximation of level). They also have lots of written agreements with Iran, but that’s more theory than substance, as Iran can’t offer the type of quality goods Turkey can. In fact despite nominal sanctions, Syria imports more from the U.S. than from Iran.

The Syrian-Lebanese border was interesting. The line of trucks crossing from Syria into Lebanon was several miles long, and was standing stock still. My taxi driver said that the border guards check each truck’s manifest and load diligently, trying to prevent weapons from being smuggled across the border. They were far less concerned with me. An American crossing from Lebanon into Syria has little problem at all, as long as they’ve properly applied for the visa in advance. I heard a story, though, of two American tourists who, crossing into Syria from Jordan, had failed to get their visa beforehand and were politely given a visa free of charge. Syria’s disagreements with the U.S. government are not extended into official hassling of U.S. citizens.

Getting out of the country by airplane entails bureaucratic foolishness suitable for a Monty Python sketch. I had to show my passport no less than 4 times, including at the entryway 10 feet beyond the immigration control counter. At the last check prior to boarding (where they checked again), the soldier merely flipped my passport open, then flipped it closed again; he wasn’t even on the right page to see my exit stamp and obviously didn’t care. Talk about your Ministry of Silly Walks. Whomever’s in charge of this rigmarole needs to take some classes in organization theory/public administration from a western university. They might learn that the more redundant your processes are, the less seriously your staff will administer them. But I suspect the actual security aspect is less important than the symbolic aspect of demonstrating the authority of the government at every spot and in every way possible. Still, it’s not wise to forget that behind that symbolism, the power is both real, and really arbitrary.

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I Get Hate Mail-Hate Comments

Not very often. In fact, almost never. (Scrupulously avoiding the ad hominem goes a long way here.)

So when I see one, I pay attention. From the following post entitled, Three Misuses of the American Founding & Religion For Political Purposes, commenter Kari writes: Continue reading

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Allan Bloom on Firing Line

I’ve waited a long time for this. The first 5 minutes is on YouTube. I’ll look and see if I can find the whole thing.

You can buy the DVD of the program for $10 here.

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Comic Book Art is Real Art

That and some other things from the following that I recorded in 2007.

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Is it Just Me?

Or is my categorization correct in an objective sense?

Most notable artists, even talented soul filled ones, wouldn’t dare try to do “Georgia” and still be taken seriously (that is, not thought of as a glorified Wedding Singer).

Richard Manuel is the only person of which I am aware who not only could pull it off, but out soul Ray Charles. And he’s white. But then again Stevie Ray did this to Hendrix.

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On John Boehner and Agenda-Setting

On my post about right-wingers, my brother commented on John Boehner’s “The President sets the agenda” nonsense.” I’d like to add a correction, clarification, and agreement.

Boehner’s comment is not entirely nonsense. Woodrow Wilson’s famous doctoral dissertation (albeit famous only after he became president) was a condemnation of congressional government as effectively creating a leaderless state. Someone has to set the agenda, and he argued that the president was the only one institutionally situated to do it, both because he was a sole actor in his position in a way that no-one in Congress is, and because he was the only person who was an elected representative of the whole country; the only person whose electorate was congruent with the whole American public.

And presidents are the most effective agenda-setters in the U.S. government. They are a sort of executive director of Congress. And agenda-setting is a tremendously important sort of political power.

That said, Boehner’s comment is entirely self-serving. Congressmembers do compete with the president to set the agenda; he just has particular advantages none of them have. They love it when the president selects their issue to be one of his, because that more than doubles the odds that their preferred agenda will be favored, but if he doesn’t choose theirs, they don’t suddenly quit trying.

And it’s particularly self-serving for Boehner to say that immediately following the election because the Republican candidates ran on a platform of what agenda they would set. Now Boehner’s sending the message, “Don’t expect us to actually accomplish that or to even give it the old college try. Instead, we’re just going to sit back and do jack shit for two years except blame the president.”

I’m pretty sure that’s what my brother meant in his comment, and I agree. Boehner knows his party can’t pursue an effective agenda while controlling only one half of half the political branches.

And he may be reluctant to try to get presidential buy-in to achieve his goals lest the president get credit. Republicans learned that lesson with welfare reform in 1996. They got the plan they wanted, but Bill Clinton got the credit. Boehner and his fellow experienced Republicans (unlike the freshman yahoos elected this week*) might be willing to play a waiting game for two years, hoping they can win the presidency and the Senate in two years.

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* For an introduction into how clueless freshman lawmakers could be, see Richard Fenno’s Learning to Govern: An Institutional View of the 104th Congress, a quick, entertaining, and enlightening read. He note how the big 1994 Republican freshman class in the House celebrated madly when they passed elements of the Contract with America, apparently not realizing that they had only accomplished the easiest part of the job, as they were working in the chamber where the minority has no power, and they had achieved nothing like a veto-proof majority. Ultimately only one portion of one item in the contract was ever passed into law. One older Republican House member commented that he wished some of the yahoos had ever taken a civics course.

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