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  • Archive for August, 2007

    Blogrolled! – The Chicagoboyz Authors

    Posted by Jonathan on 31st August 2007 (All posts by )

    There’s now a list of this blog’s recent contributors, including the mysterious In-Cog-Nito, in the right sidebar. Click on a contributor’s name to display his posts.

    (And let me know if you would prefer not to be listed.)

    Posted in Announcements | 10 Comments »

    Sharansky Still Gets It

    Posted by Jonathan on 31st August 2007 (All posts by )

    Few western public officials understand the current geopolitical situation, and especially the rationale for promoting democracy in the Muslim world, as well as Sharansky does. Of those who do understand, I don’t think any can explain things as clearly as he can.

    There’s a quite good interview with him now in the Jerusalem Post:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in International Affairs, Iraq, Israel, Middle East, Political Philosophy, Terrorism, USA, War and Peace | 6 Comments »

    Photo

    Posted by Jonathan on 30th August 2007 (All posts by )

    ramps

    Highway interchange near FLL airport.



    (Click the image to display a large version.)
     

    Posted in Photos | 3 Comments »

    The Simple Things

    Posted by Dan from Madison on 30th August 2007 (All posts by )

    I run a relatively simple business. I am a middle man, in wholesale distribution of heating, ventilation and air conditioning parts and equipment. We sell exclusively to tradesmen and facilities. It is a very competitive business (aren’t they all?) but I do pretty well all things considered. My vendors expect certain things out of me (market share, paying my bills on time) and I expect certain things out of them (good delivery, good pricing, leads, etc.). It really is a two way street. They need distribution, and I need their goods to mark up and make money on.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business | 22 Comments »

    We’re Number One! We’re Number One! We’re Number One!

    Posted by James R. Rummel on 29th August 2007 (All posts by )

    It seems that the United States has 90 guns for every 100 people, making it the most heavily armed civilian population in the world!

    Yemen comes in at second place, with a pitiful 61 guns for every 100 people. Pikers!

    Of course, the statistics are rather misleading. Most of the people involved in the shooting sports here in the United States have more than one gun, which skews things a bit. I think this is an indication of wealth, since people here can afford to buy more than one of these really expensive precision instruments, just as they can afford to take part in more than one firearm related sport.

    The director of the Small Arms Survey said as much himself.

    “Weapons ownership may be correlated with rising levels of wealth, and that means we need to think about future demand in parts of the world where economic growth is giving people larger disposable income,”

    Anyway, I think it is just great that the United States leads the world yet again.

    (Hat tip to Dave of The Nix Guy fame for giving us a heads up to the article. I also cross posted this essay over at Hell in a Handbasket.)

    Posted in Human Behavior, Libertarianism, RKBA, USA | 16 Comments »

    A Reflection on Watching Krauthammer

    Posted by Jonathan on 28th August 2007 (All posts by )

    The USA sent Canada its draft dodgers. In exchange, Canada sends us physicians, successful entrepreneurs and other highly productive people. I’d say we have gotten the better of this exchange.

    Posted in Anti-Americanism, Entrepreneurship, Immigration, Leftism, North America, Political Philosophy, Society, USA, Vietnam | 16 Comments »

    Awaiting the Day

    Posted by Jonathan on 28th August 2007 (All posts by )

    My friend Robert has a thoughtful post about how the Miami Cuban-American community will greet news of Castro’s death.

    Posted in Americas, Cuba, Predictions | Comments Off

    Business Fiction

    Posted by David Foster on 28th August 2007 (All posts by )

    …and no, I’m not talking about pro-forma income statements, but about actual novels.

    Howard Davis, writing in Financial Times (8/22) says:

    It is often said, with some justification, that there is no current British novelist who shows an interest in, and understanding of business life to match, say, Tom Wolfe. I can think of no fictional representation of the flora and fauna of London’s financial markets to rival The Bonfire of the Vanities. Nor can I imagine a British novelist who could write a magnificent novel about an estate agent, like Richard Ford’s recent The Lay of the Land.

    Actually, it seems to me that serious recent novels that deal with business are pretty scarce on both sides of the Atlantic. Right off, I can think of a couple:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Business | 6 Comments »

    Review of Perfume:The Story of a Murderer

    Posted by James R. Rummel on 27th August 2007 (All posts by )

    It was about twenty years ago that I first realized that not everyone had a sense of smell that was as keen as my own.

    A young lady I was sweet on was strolling with me through a mall, and she wanted to go in to one of those stores that sell fripperies for your bed-and-bath. I had always avoided those places because I dislike strong smells, but this time around there was a girl urging me on. Which one of my male readers hasn’t done something against their natures when a woman is involved?

    The interior of the store was just as you would expect. There were sachets, jars of potpourri, perfumed soap, body oils, body washes, shampoos, and various bath oils. The odors had all percolated, mixed together, and produced an overpowering miasma that filled every corner of the store. If there is a hell where bad flowers go when they die, then that store was a portal to that particular perdition.

    But I noticed something curious while I was in there. I kept running into people! I would turn or take a step back, absolutely sure that there was no one to trip me up, and I would end up stepping on some poor sap’s foot. What the hell was going on?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes | 4 Comments »

    Photo

    Posted by Jonathan on 27th August 2007 (All posts by )


    Biscayne Bay Sunset


    (Click here to see a larger version of the photo. Or click here to see a giant version in a new window.)
     

    Posted in Photos | 5 Comments »

    Nuclear Power and The Chicago Tribune

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 26th August 2007 (All posts by )

    On the editorial page of the Chicago Tribune they recently wrote an article titled “Restored Faith In Nuclear Power”. This article summarizes the recent earthquake in Japan and the fact that it occurred right under a nuclear plant. Even though the plant wasn’t rated to support an earthquake, it withstood a 6.8 magnitude earthquake with only minor damage and no radiation leakage.

    Next, the article talks about the fact that there is some nuclear construction occurring in the US. They cite the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the fact that they restarted the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in mid-May 2007 after a $1.8 billion effort, which took 5 years. Other nuclear plants on the drawing board are supposedly reducing the licensing frame to four years and construction to three years, meaning that nuclear plants could come online in seven years.

    The article also mentions that the UN report on global warming mentioned that nuclear power had to be part of the mix alongside wind and renewable resources to reduce global warming. Thus, they conclude, the US can have faith in nuclear power, and left the feeling that in fact more nuclear power is on the way.

    While I personally believe that nuclear power IS an essential part of our energy portfolio and that encouraging nuclear power is good for the country and our balance of trade, I think that this editorial is way too optimistic and there in fact is little hope of a nuclear power revival in the US.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Chicagoania, Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, Management, The Press | 5 Comments »

    Muni Bonds and Garbled Journalism

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 26th August 2007 (All posts by )

    One of the best financial periodicals available is the Wall Street Journal and I read it daily. I find their standards, overall, to be quite high. Occasionally, however, they write a garbled piece which brings me back to my opinion that “generalist” journalists should go the way of the Dodo. The article in question is titled “Exodus from Muni Bonds Could Yield Opportunities” from Saturday, August 25th.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Blogging, Economics & Finance, Markets and Trading, The Press | 3 Comments »

    The Left and Sex

    Posted by Shannon Love on 24th August 2007 (All posts by )

    Some time ago, I made a humorous throwaway observation that Democrats didn’t believe in individual freedom of choice except in matters pertaining to sexuality.

    At the time, I thought the statement a mere comedic exaggeration. As a libertarian, I consider each political ideology a mixed bag. Each political group gives freedom with one hand and takes it away with the other. I assumed that a little honest examination of all the Left’s policy positions would quickly reveal many areas completely unrelated to sex in which the Left advocated letting individuals make the decisions about what or what not to do.

    However, to my disquiet, I cannot think of a single one! I honestly cannot think of a single non-sexual area in which the contemporary Left advocates letting individuals decide what or what not to do.

    Can anyone else? I’m really serious about this. If you can think of an area please say so. If you can’t, ask around your leftist friends and contact me at shannonlove-at-chicagoboyz.net.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Leftism, Political Philosophy, Politics | 50 Comments »

    New! – Your Investigative Reporting (first in a series)

    Posted by Jonathan on 24th August 2007 (All posts by )


    Closing the gap between blogs and conventional journalism, Chicagoboyz goes undercover to document the harsh realities facing one of our nation’s most beleaguered at-risk communities. In this exclusive hidden-camera image, desperate Cuban-coffee addicts congregate in broad daylight in the Miami “shooting gallery” where they get their daily fix.

     

    Posted in Humor, Photos | 7 Comments »

    Kennedy and the Wind Farm

    Posted by David Foster on 23rd August 2007 (All posts by )

    I’m not usually a fan of Greenpeace, but this is pretty funny.

    One thing that does need to be pointed out, though…
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Environment, Politics | 9 Comments »

    Jimmy Madison Teaches Centuries Later

    Posted by Ginny on 22nd August 2007 (All posts by )

    During the Constitutional Convention, James Madison kept copious notes – fairly describing the strengths of others’ arguments and the movement of thought in the discussion while still engaged in speaking himself, making his own strong arguments. Few of us would have the energy, intelligence, analytic ability, and, frankly, character to wear those two hats. Of course, we can be grateful to people like Madison who thought in that way. Not that many even among these giants could reach such a height. Jefferson was awed when he returned from France and read this summary.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Civil Society | 2 Comments »

    Marc Enters This World

    Posted by Ginny on 21st August 2007 (All posts by )

    While this may not be a personal blog, events like this are nice to share.  Here is my son-in-law’s e-mail:

     To his utter astonishment your grandson was born on August 19 at 4:16 p.m. He weighed in at 7 lb 4 oz and passed the Apgar test with flying colors, reaping the benefits of more than nine months of assiduous preparation. He is already happy to demonstrate his command of German umlauts by regularly reciting “rabäh, rabäh,” a perennial infant favorite the world over. Mother and child are exhausted but resting happily at home.

    Besides, of course, being born to a beautiful and loving mother, he is also lucky to have a father who captures that look upon his son’s face – the “utter astonishment” at entering this loud, bright, and exciting world.

    Posted in Announcements | 12 Comments »

    Judgment Day

    Posted by Zenpundit on 20th August 2007 (All posts by )

    I’m re-posting this here as I know the links may be of interest to certain parties.

    An interesting confluence of information has crossed my computer screen in the last 24 hours.

    Fabius Maximus was kind enough to send me a PDF, “Cognitive biases potentially affecting judgment of global risks” by Eliezer Yudkowsky, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence. It’s a very interesting paper on analytical thinking – or is even though a number of the points made by Yudkowsky I have seen previously made elsewhere ( the blogosphere revels in hyperactive disconfirmation biases). Their central cognitive philosophy – “….the one whom you must watch above all is yourself”, is spot on.

    Secondly, over at Kent’s Imperative, one of the Kentians, let’s call them “Most Formal Prose Kent” had a highly congruent post to the Yudkowsky paper, “The sins of analytic methodologists “:

    There is an increasingly common conceit that reliance on the analyst – subject to, cognitive bias, information overload, and human fallibility – can be engineered out of the process of doing intelligence. Instead, certain methodologists would substitute organizational structures, workflow re-organization, and the introduction of supposedly superior quantitative metrics in order to create a new standard for “answers”. The underlying thrust of these efforts is to reform intelligence activities towards a more “repeatable” process, often described by industrial or scientific metaphors such “foundry” or “lab”. These typically originate from the engineering and technical intelligence disciplines, and are usually directed as criticism of typical all source efforts – particularly those grounded in social science fields or qualitative methodology.

    …The fundamental flaw in many of these methodologists’ efforts is that they are essentially reductionist attempts to force the difficult and oft-times messy art of intelligence entirely into the narrow box of its scientific side. While there is a place for scientific approaches, particularly in the grounding and validation of assessment, the inherently creative, non-linear, and even non-rational elements of the profession can never be completely discarded. Most recent intelligence failures have occurred, not due to a lack of precision in judgment, but from a lack of imagination in identifying, describing, and forecasting the uncertain dynamics and emerging complexities of fast-changing accounts.”

    Sagely described.

    Clear thinking is difficult. Few of us begin by adequately checking our premises or, sadly, our facts. Even in the domain of concrete and verifiable factual information, so much rides on our implicit opinion of what exactly, in terms of data points, constitutes a ” fact”, that we are usually off-base before we begin. Even if we are cognizant of these variables from the inception of forming a question, we might be horrified to discover, with some dogged investigation of the finer details, how fuzzy at the margins that even our peer-reviewed, “valid and reliable”, facts can be – much less the breezy assertions delivered by the MSM.

    Then, more to the point of the KI post, there is the hasty selection of particular, reductionist analytical tools that a priori blind us to the nature of the emergent unknown that we are trying to understand. We become prisoners of our chosen perspective. One problem with human perception is that there is no guarantee, having recognized the existence of a novel dynamic phenomena, that our perception represents the most significant aspect of it. Much like conceptualizing an Elephant in motion from blind contact with its eyelashes. Or its feces.

    Human nature is a perpetual rush to judgment. We must rise above that.

    Posted in Academia, Human Behavior, National Security, Predictions | 6 Comments »

    Photo

    Posted by Jonathan on 20th August 2007 (All posts by )


    No comment.

     

    Posted in Humor, Photos | 5 Comments »

    Brian Wesbury’s Definitive Take on the Subprime Crisis

    Posted by Jonathan on 20th August 2007 (All posts by )

    The real problem with the financial markets is that extreme leverage and extreme uncertainty have met in the subprime loan market. No one knows how many loans will go bad, who owns these mortgages and what leverage they have applied. We do know that subprime lending is just 9% of the $10.4 trillion dollar mortgage market, and delinquencies are running at about 18%. The Alt-A market is about 8% of all mortgages and about 5% of this debt is delinquent.
     
    As an example, let’s take a very low probability event and assume that losses triple from here. Let’s assume that 54% of all subprime loans and 15% of all Alt-A loans actually move to foreclosure. Then, assume that lenders are able to recover 50% of the value of their loans. In this scenario, total losses in the subprime market would be 27%, while total losses in Alt-A would be 7.5%.
     
    From this we can estimate a price for the securitized pools of these assets. Without doing any actual adjustment for yields, or for different tranches of this debt, the raw value of the underlying assets would be 73 cents on the dollar for subprime pools and 92.5 cents for the Alt-A pools. Getting a bid on this stuff should be easy, right? After all, the market prices risky assets every day.
     
    But this is the rub. A hedge fund, or financial institution, that uses leverage of 4:1 or more, would be wiped out if it sold subprime bonds at those levels. A 27% loss on Main Street turns into a 100% loss on Wall Street very easily. But because hedge funds can slow down redemptions, at least for awhile, and because they are trying desperately not to implode, they hold back from the market. At the same time, those with cash smell blood in the water, patiently wait, and put low-ball bids on risky bonds. The result: No market clearing price in the leveraged, asset-backed marketplace.
     
    Additional Fed liquidity can’t fix this problem. An old phrase from the 1970s comes to mind — “pushing on a string.” In the 1970s, no matter how much money the Fed pushed into the system, it could not create a sustainable economic recovery that did not include a surge in inflation because high tax rates and significant government interference in the economy prevented true gains in productivity.
     
    There is a lesson here. Populism is in the air these days, and the threat from tax hikes, trade protectionism and more government involvement in the economy, is rising. This reduces the desire to take risk. Congress is working on a legislative response to current mortgage market woes as well. And as with the savings and loan industry (forcing S&Ls to sell junk bonds at fire-sale prices), and Sarbanes-Oxley, the legislative response almost always compounds the problems.
     
    The interaction of an uncertain regulatory and tax environment with a highly leveraged, illiquid market for risky mortgage debt creates conditions that look just like an economy-wide liquidity crisis. But it’s not. A few rate cuts will not help.
     
    What can help is more certainty. Tax cuts, or at least a promise not to raise taxes, and immunity — or at least a safe harbor from criminal prosecution for above-board institutions in the mortgage business — could help loosen up a rigid market in a more permanent way than sending out the helicopters to dump cash in the marketplace.
     
    The best the Fed can do is to stand at the ready to contain the damage. In this vein, their decision to cut the discount rate and allow a broad list of assets to be used as collateral for loans to banks, was a brilliant maneuver. It increases confidence that the Fed has liquidity at the ready, but does not create more inflationary pressures. It was a helping hand, not a bailout.

    Read the whole thing… (subscription required)

    Posted in Economics & Finance | 10 Comments »

    “Cry ‘God for Harry! England and Saint George!’”

    Posted by Helen on 19th August 2007 (All posts by )

    London’s National Film Theatre, one of the most useful institutions in this city (when it does not fill its entire programme with gay and lesbian films from Outer Mongolia) is running a Lawrence Olivier season in August and September. Naturally, the four Shakesperian films are shown and “Henry V” has been given pride of place with a certain number of disclaimers by critics who, over the years, have had to acknowledge with pursed lips that, despite its heroism and emphasis on patriotism, the film is superb. Some of us might think that contrariwise, the heroism and patriotism add to the quality of the film but that is probably why we are not film critics.

    Made during the war, with Olivier taking time out from his service with Fleet Air Arm, it does emphasise patriotic ideals, in particular ideals of England. As it happens, none of that was invented by the film-makers – the lines, the images, the concepts are there in Shakespeare’s play, which is what makes them so interesting.

    Cinematically the film is mesmerizing, beginning and ending with a panorama shot of Elizabethan London, carefully recreated from contemporary prints. Famously, Olivier accepted and incorporated into the film the sheer theatricality of the play. We start with a raucous performance of “The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fift with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France”, during which the Chorus, played by Leslie Banks, urges us to expand the play in our imagination to take in England and France, and opens out first into the Boar’s Head Inn, where Falstaff is dying, then the two courts, the armies and the battles themselves. William Walton’s music spreads through the film.

    The opened up scenes are not particularly realistic though the battle and the sight of the dead afterwards affect one with melancholy about the horrors of war, no matter what modern critics might say. But it is all artificial, with scenery, costumes, group shots based quite clearly and enchantingly on late mediaeval miniatures. The film was shot in Technicolour, another thing the programme notes see fit to apologize for (it did seem amazing to those unsophisticated audiences in the forties, honest) and the artificial look of it adds to the splendour of the film and makes it a more consistent work of art than Kenneth Branagh’s “gritty and realistic” version made forty-odd years later. Of the two, it was Olivier who served in Fleet Air Arm, having returned to Britain in 1941 from Hollywood, and there have even been stories of him having been recruited into the Special Operations Executive (SOE) to build up support for Britain in the United States while it was still a neutral country.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Britain, Film | 8 Comments »

    The Awakening

    Posted by Ginny on 18th August 2007 (All posts by )

    Still I’m here
    And still confused
    But I can finally see how much I stand to lose

    from “All These Years” by Mac McAnally;
    performed by Sawyer Brown

    9/11 woke us up – as attacks do. But I think it also made us rethink the assumptions that had little to do with Islamic terrorism or even the fragility of our society. We stopped and took an accounting. And, like the woman in bed with her lover, we began to realize how much we had to lose. We’d liked some adventure – the frisson we feel as we near the abyss, a daring easier when our lives are secure. “Yes, isn’t that interesting,” we’d say, tempted by the pyrotechnics of the post-modernists, by the fun of contradictory abstractions. But here the similarity with the song disappears, because the adventure was in our minds – we’d left history, human nature, our bodies behind.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Iraq | 2 Comments »

    Sometimes, You Need a King

    Posted by Shannon Love on 18th August 2007 (All posts by )

    Over at Pajamas Media, Bill Toddler writes about the new Thai constitution, and in giving background on the military coup that overthrew the previous nominally elected government observes:

    Thaksin’s real mistake might have been drawing the ire of the King. No Thai official before him had received so many public rebukes from His Royal Highness.

    It is interesting, I think, to see how a monarch or other type of unelected authority often acts to moderate the extreme actions of government leaders, elected or otherwise.

    In many countries only such a figure as a hereditary ruler can evade being co-opted or killed by the government du jour. It seems that only such a ruler can provide any real form of checks and balances. A monarch often seems to bring a type of inertia to the political system, that serves the same purpose as common law, precedence and distributed government do in the West.

    I think the key attribute of such rulers is that they have significant moral authority but little actual political power. They cause things to happen by suggestion rather than command.

    Thailand isn’t a paradise by Western standards but looking at many of its immediate neighbors it is easy to see that it could have been much worse. A lot of the credit for that goes to the Thai royal family.

    Posted in Civil Society, Political Philosophy | 10 Comments »

    Ten Percent of the Home Owners… Now and Potential… Gone

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 18th August 2007 (All posts by )

    I used to have a few co-workers who lived in Boston in the 80′s. In the 80′s Boston had a massive real estate boom that ended in a bust. Two stories stood out in my mind:

    1) when the first guy sold his condo, he had to bring actual cash to the closing because the sales price wasn’t enough to cover the mortgage debt
    2) the second story was more complex. A woman’s parents lived in a small house in an affluent area near Boston. The couple was up to date on their mortgage payments. However, the value of the house plummeted to a point where the mortgage was significantly higher than the value of the underlying house. As such, the bank had the right to “call” in the mortgage even though her parents were current on their payments. Since they didn’t have enough money to refinance, they lost their home

    Now the real estate boom is collapsing, but not due to plummeting housing values (like the Boston crisis, above) but due to a liquidity crisis. Existing buyers who put little or no equity into their homes are going to find that they can’t refinance – per this article (which is consistent with what I have seen elsewhere) deals aren’t getting done unless the buyer has a solid credit score and is willing to put down 10% of the value in a down payment. New buyers also face this 10% down hurdle which will effectively shut them out of the market for more expensive homes.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Economics & Finance | 9 Comments »

    Heavyweight Reading

    Posted by John Jay on 17th August 2007 (All posts by )

    Rob the Bouncer’s book is out. He’s pretty funny in person, and did a damn fine job at his very first signing on Wednesday. Congratulations, Rob.

    I highly recommend it as a good read from a first-time novelist. It’s a pretty good illustration of why I have my doubts about the universal franchise. It’s also a pretty good way to scare your kids out of the club scene.

    Posted in Book Notes, Humor, Morality and Philosphy | Comments Off