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  • Archive for April, 2009

    Obama and the Dictators

    Posted by David Foster on 30th April 2009 (All posts by )

    Daniel Henninger:

    In New York this week, I asked a former Eastern European dissident who spent time in prison under the Communists: “If you were sitting in a cell in Cuba, Iran or Syria and saw this photo of a smiling American president shaking hands with a smiling Hugo Chávez, what would you think?”

    He said: “I would think that I was losing ground.”
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Cuba, Israel, Judaism, Latin America, Politics | 19 Comments »

    You’ve Just Been Punked by the City of Washington D.C.

    Posted by Shannon Love on 29th April 2009 (All posts by )

    The city of Washington D.C. is ticketing people for parking in their own driveways!

    It turns out that D.C. has an odd, obscure law stating that the land between the front of your house and the street, otherwise known as your driveway and front yard, falls under a bizarre classification known as “private property set aside for public use.” Essentially, though owners have to pay for its maintenance and upkeep (they can be fined if they don’t), it’s considered public property. Which apparently means that, technically, you can’t park your car on it. The city recently dusted off the law, and began writing parking tickets if any part of a resident’s car is parked between the front facade of their house and the street, even if it’s parked in the driveway.

    When Anderson complained, one D.C. official told her that if she wanted, she could pay the city to lease the land between the front of her house and the street, which would allow her to park her car there legally. [emp added]

    Upon hearing about this my spouse commented, “No wonder they don’t want citizens to have guns.”

    Certainly sounds like a, “Woman! Fetch my Gun!” type of situation. 

    If some city official had told me I could lease my own driveway back from the city, I would have been looking around for the hidden cameras. Seriously, this is so bad it’s funny. 

    Posted in Leftism | 25 Comments »

    Seriously Pathetic

    Posted by David Foster on 29th April 2009 (All posts by )

    From a letter to the editor in today’s WSJ:

    A few years after retirement I had a chat with an eager young fellow a month away from his MBA in finance at the Wharton School. I asked what appealed to him about finance. “It is so scientific,” he replied. I then asked him what he thought about Long-Term Capital Management. “Never heard of it,” was his answer.

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance, Education | 6 Comments »

    Book Review — Marchant, Decoding the Heavens

    Posted by James McCormick on 28th April 2009 (All posts by )

    Marchant, Jo, Decoding the Heavens: A 2,000-Year-Old Computer–and the Century-Long Search to Discover Its Secrets, Da Capo Press, 2009, 328 pp.

    Defining the Word “Anachronism”

    In the latter half of the nineteenth century, the sponge divers of Greece lived through a technical revolution … the appearance of the diving helmet. After many centuries of free diving to harvest local sponges, the new equipment suddenly allowed access to much more of the Mediterranean sea floor and previously unexploited sponge beds. The industry boomed. Inadvertently, the diving helmet also led to the discovery of a shipwreck off the coast of the small island of Antikythera. Amidst the spectacular bronze and marble statues at the wreck site was a strange lunch box-sized lump, covered in a limestone coating from centuries of immersion and distorted by the effects of decomposition and corrosion. Here and there were visible bits of wood and corroded bronze, faint inscriptions of ancient Greek and what appeared to be thin loops or gears.

    Compared to the glamorous artworks it was found with, the “lump” was rather unprepossessing and, indeed, it spent most of the 20th century in obscurity. Not knowing what it was, the curators made little effort to preserve the object, and increasingly, it broke into a more and more fragments in the storage rooms of the Athens’ National Archaeological Museum. The early 20th century descriptions made their way into the hands of a physicist and historian of science named Derek De Solla Price. In the 1950s, he made serious efforts to fully explain what it was, culminating in a 1974 book Gears From the Greeks. And it was partly through his efforts that people as diverse as Arthur C. Clarke, Jacques Cousteau, and Richard Feynman took an interest in the enigmatic archaeological find.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, History | 12 Comments »

    Waking Up Sleepy Teenagers

    Posted by Shannon Love on 28th April 2009 (All posts by )

    Have a teenager that has trouble going to sleep at night and who can’t be gotten out of bed in the morning by any means short of explosives? They might have ”delayed sleep phase syndrome” and a simple therapy using special sun glasses and blue colored lights might be the key. 

    My son has this pattern. He becomes very active around 9pm and then cannot sleep until 2am or so. Needless to say, he doesn’t want to get out of bed in the morning.  I did the same thing when I was his age. 

    I wonder if this is related to artificial lighting? It has been long known that artificial lighting alters the human body in unexpected ways, e.g., causing puberty in girls to start sooner, and this might be another “lightbulb” related phenomenon.

    I’m going to give this a whirl with my son using the sunglasses. I’ll let you know if it works.  

    Posted in Human Behavior, Personal Narrative | 10 Comments »

    Statistical Fuzz

    Posted by Shannon Love on 27th April 2009 (All posts by )

    So the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy does a study saying that universal health insurance, i.e., socialized medicine, would save 18,000 lives a year. A former Clinton health care advisor says that it would save at most 9,000 lives a year and probably none. Who’s right and how could we tell?

    Well, we can’t. The U.S. total annual death rate is 8.28/1000 which comes to 2,484,000 deaths a year. 18,000 is 0.72% of 2,484,000. That means a change in the death rate from 8.28 to 8.34. That means that both estimates of lives saved are so minor compared to the overall death rate that the differences are completely lost in statistical fuzz. Both parties are wildly irresponsible to even pretend that they can estimate such an impact. 

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Politics, Science | 10 Comments »

    Book Review – Ship of Ghosts

    Posted by Dan from Madison on 27th April 2009 (All posts by )

    A few years ago I read “The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors” by James Hornfischer. That book is about the battle off of Samar, part of the larger battle of Leyte Gulf. Leyte Gulf was one of the largest naval battles in history.

    The courage of those men on the “Tin Cans” blows me away. These little destroyers charged headlong into the teeth of much larger Japanese warships. Many paid the ultimate price. But I don’t want to give too much away. “Tin Can Sailors” is one of my favorite all time books.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, History, War and Peace | 4 Comments »

    Petitions are not a sign of democracy

    Posted by Helen on 27th April 2009 (All posts by )

    For the nth time this morning I received an e-mail this morning, asking me to sign a Number 10 petition that demands Gordon Brown’s resignation. This time I wrote back to say that there will be an election next year and this is called democracy.

    I understand the petition is being promoted by Guido Fawkes but he does not need any links from me. The whole story shows how little even people who apparently exist within the political circle understand the workings of a state, a government or a body politic, namely this country’s.

    Demanding that the elected Prime Minister resign through petition is on the level of saying that because 1 million people of whatever provenance marched against the war in Iraq, Tony Blair and his Cabinet should have changed their foreign policy.

    People have every right to march and proclaim their point of view; they have the right to say that a war is not done “in their name”, whatever that might mean. But an elected government has the right to ignore that and, in any case, many of us can say that they were not marching in our name.

    There is, furthermore, something distasteful from the point of view of a liberal constitutional democracy (of the kind we do not really have in Britain but would like to have) that political changes should be pleaded for in a petition to the strong man at the top.

    While we are on the subject of elected government, let me deal with another canard, that Gordon Brown was not elected to be Prime Minister of this country. No he was not and neither is anybody ever. We do not have a presidential system and elect parties. The leader of the party with a majority (or, if there is a hung parliament, which there might be next year, the one that can form a majority) is asked by the Monarch to form the government. It is up to the party to decide who that leader is and, inevitably, we the voters have to take into account whether we like their choice or not.

    If a Prime Minister resigns between elections the party in power chooses another leader who then becomes PM. If Gordon Brown is not the rightfully elected Prime Minister of this country then neither were Winston Churchill in 1940, Anthony Eden in 1955, Harold Macmillan in 1957, Alec Douglas Home in 1963, James Callaghan in 1976 or John Major in 1991.

    It was, admittedly, very foolish of the Labour Party to bow to Brown’s paranoia and nominate him as leader without an internal party election. That was, however, an internal problem and, I have no doubt, the party will pay for it. As things stand, Labour is on track to losing the next election and I predict an extremely bloody civil war afterwards. The silencing of all opposition to Gordon will, undoubtedly, be brought up.

    So what have we got? A highly unpopular government that did none of the good things it promised to do back in 1997 and managed to destroy the country’s economy, oppressing the wealth-creating private sector and increasing the bloated leach-like public sector. The mess is now so horrendous that even if the Conservative leadership were considerably more intelligent and talented than it is, one doubts they would be able to deal with it.

    Gordon Brown goes from one messy situation to another, one disaster to another, one scandal to another. The Government is flailing around, exhibiting all the signs of a dying political entity.

    If it goes on like this, it will most certainly die at the next General Election, which will be, as we predicted over and over again on EUReferendum, next May. Brown was not going to the country at any one of those dates helpful political pundits proposed – he was going to go to the wire and that is what he will do.

    It doesn’t matter how many people sign that petition – the only thing that matters is how many people will put a cross against the various Labour candidates’ names and how many will put a cross against other candidates’ names.

    This is called democracy. Live with it. And stop pestering people to sign stupid petitions.

    Cross-posted from Your Freedom and Ours

    Posted in Britain, Elections, Politics | 10 Comments »

    At Least They Caught Them

    Posted by James R. Rummel on 27th April 2009 (All posts by )

    Strategypage reports that someone was caught trying to sell nuclear material….

    “Ukrainian police arrested three men trying to sell eight pounds of plutonium, for $10 million. It turned out that they did not have plutonium, but the less radioactive (and not suitable for nuclear weapons) Americium (which could be used for a dirty bomb). The three arrested (a politician and two businessmen from Western Ukraine) had obtained the radioactive material (which was originally produced inside Russia) from someone outside Ukraine.”

    Seems this happens on a fairly regular basis.

    The essay goes on to discuss how much nuclear material is floating around out there. It is unlikely that terrorists could cobble together a nuclear bomb, but a dirty bomb is certainly something within their capabilities.

    Just thought I’d brighten up your Monday.

    Posted in Crime and Punishment, Law Enforcement, Terrorism | 7 Comments »

    Swine Flu Shows How We Live In Good Times

    Posted by Shannon Love on 26th April 2009 (All posts by )

    BBC via Instapundit:

    Readers in Mexico have been emailing the BBC describing the sense of fear gripping the country as a result of a flu virus outbreak, which has so far claimed more than 80 lives.

    Well, that’s from Mexico so the number might be anything from 8 to 800 but still isn’t it a marvel that we live in age when we even deign to notice a mere 80 deaths in a place a couple of thousand miles away? 

    Being able to fret about just one serious communicable disease is a luxury beyond price. 

    Scientific and technological history is a passion of mine, so I’ve read a lot about medical history. Well up until WWII and the development of antibiotics and mass vaccinations, our forbearers suffered through plague after plague of such scale that they make even AIDS look trivial by comparison. 

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in History, Science | 18 Comments »

    Political AIDS: the First Symptom is Pirates

    Posted by Shannon Love on 26th April 2009 (All posts by )

    The thing that strikes me most about the Somali pirate problem is the shear trivial nature of the physical threat. Via Instantpundit comes this report which says:

    Separately Sunday, the captain of an Italian cruise ship said his security staff fought off a pirate attack in the region Saturday with pistols and a water hose. 

    Wow, who knew that the combination of pistols and water hoses created such a fearsome weapon! The navies of the world’s developed nations should look into obtaining this fearsome combination because apparently they cannot defeat these awesome pirates with the ships, aircraft, missiles, radar, satellites and all the other multi-billion dollar weapons they currently have. 

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Crime and Punishment, Military Affairs, Politics | 17 Comments »

    Natural Gas Wins… by Default

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 26th April 2009 (All posts by )

    In the April 27, 2009 issue of Barron’s magazine is an article titled “An Alternative to Alternative Fuels” by Mike Hogan. Barron’s is an offshoot of the WSJ and generally offers pithy and to-the-point articles, although sometimes even they go off the reservation.

    The byline in italics does a pretty good job of summing up the REALITY (not the fiction, by both Democrats and Republicans) of our energy policy:

    When you see more wind turbines and solar farms built, your first thoughts should turn to gas

    Doesn’t that sound counter-intuitive? But the article does a decent job of explaining why.

    Gue just returned form the US Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) annual conference, where he was puzzled by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu’s focus on renewables – with scant mention of oil, gas, coal or nuclear power: “This is striking to me because these four sources account for nearly 93% of U.S. primary energy consumption: and, according to the EIA’s own estimates, will still make up more than 90% of the total in 2030.”

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Energy & Power Generation | 25 Comments »

    Jump

    Posted by Jonathan on 26th April 2009 (All posts by )

    jumping into canal

    UPDATE: Related post.

    Posted in Photos | Comments Off

    Commercial Real Estate Woes

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 25th April 2009 (All posts by )

    As I walk to work in the morning I pass right by the headquarters of General Growth. General Growth is a corporation that owns over 200 shopping malls throughout the United States, along with other commercial properties. General Growth recently declared bankruptcy, stating that this filing will not impact operations at its properties. From their press release:

    The decision to pursue reorganization under chapter 11 came after extensive efforts to refinance or extend maturing debt outside of chapter 11. Over many months, the Company has endeavored to negotiate with its unsecured and secured creditors to obtain the time needed to develop a long-term solution to the credit crisis facing the Company. Unable to reach an out-of-court consensus, the Company reluctantly concluded that restructuring under the protection of the bankruptcy court was necessary. During the chapter 11 cases, the Company will continue to explore strategic alternatives and search the markets for available sources of capital. The Company intends to pursue a plan of reorganization that extends mortgage maturities and reduces its corporate debt and overall leverage. This will establish a sustainable, long-term capital structure for the Company.

    I am not an expert on the commercial property industry but am starting to learn more about it since it has an integral impact on the skyline of Chicago and many other cities around the country. Essentially the commercial property industry purchases properties mainly with debt, puts in a bit of equity, runs the properties, and then plans to sell them at a profit to another commercial property company. With low interest rates, easy lending terms, and many buyers, there has been an immense run up in commercial property, and companies like General Growth were flying high. GGP’s stock traded near $80 over the last couple of years, before collapsing near zero as the debt markets seized up.

    The downfall of the commercial property industry, however, is the fact that many of the loans need to be “rolled over” every few years. On your home, for instance, you may have a 30 year mortgage. The debt on the commercial property industry, on the other hand, rolls over usually within 5 years. Given that a typical company has many projects, in the next 12-18 months many of these sorts of companies are finding loans coming due and they have no way to raise the money (except at punitively high interest rates, if they can find money at all), so they are all starting to go bankrupt and fall like dominoes. It doesn’t help that many of these enterprises bought properties in the go-go years of 2005-8, when prices were rising all the time and there were bidding wars – it is likely most / all of those properties today are worth less than they were purchased for which makes obtaining new financing even more difficult (try to refinance your home loan for more than the current market value of your home… it isn’t happening).
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Chicagoania, Real Estate | 2 Comments »

    Neko Case, You Belong To Me (live)

    Posted by Lexington Green on 25th April 2009 (All posts by )


    Posted in Music, Video | Comments Off

    South Park Foreign Policy

    Posted by Shannon Love on 25th April 2009 (All posts by )

    Via Instapundit comes this report on the U.S. struggle to deal with Somali pirates:

    Gen. David Petraeus, who came to the Capitol to talk about a wide variety of issues, told a House committee Friday that just trying to outrun or block pirates from boarding cargo ships isn’t enough to deter sea bandits off the Somali coast who are becoming more aggressive. The Pentagon is starting to study how to better protect merchant shipping, but hasn’t yet come up with a formal plan.

    They should just ask the writers of South Park:


    Of course, we should shoot all pirates regards of race, ethnicity or creed. A pirate is a pirate. 

    Posted in Military Affairs, Video | 1 Comment »

    Monkeywrenching socialism – Introduction

    Posted by TM Lutas on 24th April 2009 (All posts by )

    I always thought that if we every got within shouting distance of a tipping point where we would become a socialist country somebody would start up an extended discussion on monkeywrenching socialism. Nobody else seems to have done so (feel free to educate me on other efforts in comments) so I thought I’d put in my two bits with a blog post series.

    Let me be clear as to what I am talking about. This is not about felonious conduct. It’s not a mirror image of left-wing monkeywrenching. It’s about exploiting a simple fact of life, that socialism doesn’t work and the socialist ideology makes headway only when the long-term effects are hidden or obfuscated. Monkeywrenching socialism is about improving society across the board from politics to economics to culture by introducing moments of clarity and insisting that there is no moral or ethical high ground for a wrong system that has caused as much damage in the world.

    Peacefully adopted socialism depends on people feeling a misplaced sense of loyalty to the corpse of the system that socialism is usurping. People know that something is wrong but they ‘play fair’ long after the socialists have started their long march through the institutions and played dirty pool to tear the guts out of the old order before anybody notices.

    More soon.

    Posted in Blogging, Civil Society, Economics & Finance, Education, USA | 36 Comments »

    Mis Speak or Think?

    Posted by Ginny on 24th April 2009 (All posts by )

    As my family converged this week, Alena got used to being called Sarah and Sarah Tessie. Their mother doesn’t really confuse them – well, I hope I don’t. And Bush, well, he had trouble with words. Still, does anyone feel a little worried that Napolitano’s problems are not “misspeaks” but “misthinks.” That is, does she believe terrorism doesn’t exist? That we should be more worried about returning vets than those who would have destroyed, say, Brooklyn Bridge? Is she capable (and I would think for someone in her position it would be important to do so) of distinguishing between actions covered in civil and criminal courts, between actions that enforce laws on the books and political actions? Lemuel Shaw (father-in-law to Melville) was hung in effigy after the Sims trial. He knew politics, he knew his beliefs – he was an abolitionist; but he also recognized the law. I’d just as soon we didn’t have good people enforcing bad laws. But laws can be adjusted; precedence can’t – laws should be seen as, well, laws.

    Perhaps I simply haven’t enough context or knowledge; perhaps she isn’t as bad as this seems. I’m not always impressed by the level of CNN’s interviews. Nonetheless, although I’m less critical than some on this blog of illegal immigration, I fear this hints at further, deeper troubles ahead.

    Here is a CNN interview; transcript from Hot Air.

    KING: A lot of Democrats in Congress want to you investigate [Joe Arpaio]. They think he is over the line. He says he is just enforcing the law and the problem is the federal government.
     
    NAPOLITANO: Well, you know, Sheriff Joe, he is being very political in that statement, because he knows that there aren’t enough law enforcement officers, courtrooms or jail cells in the world to do what he is saying.
     
    What we have to do is target the real evil-doers in this business, the employers who consistently hire illegal labor, the human traffickers who are exploiting human misery.
     
    And yes, when we find illegal workers, yes, appropriate action, some of which is criminal, most of that is civil, because crossing the border is not a crime per se. It is civil. But anyway, going after those as well.

    Posted in Immigration, Politics | 6 Comments »

    Decaying in Front of Our Eyes

    Posted by John Jay on 24th April 2009 (All posts by )

    I have stumbled across a couple of musings on the MSM from different perspectives that throw into sharp relief a lot of the problems with our present media that we regularly discuss on this site. First, from my friend Jim Wright comes an insider’s view of the biggest Alaska story to hit since Sarah Palin: “Alaskan Middle School Students Scare Moose to Death“. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Business, Internet, Media | 5 Comments »

    Municipal bond troubles ahead

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 24th April 2009 (All posts by )

    The municipal bond market is a critical source of funding for states and local government in the United States. These bonds are traditionally free of Federal taxes (assuming they meet some criteria, which most of them do) which allows them to raise money about 25% cheaper than equivalent taxable bonds of the same credit quality, all else being equal. Bonds are also often exempt from state taxes in the state that originated them, a concept that required a 2008 supreme court ruling because of allegations that it violated interstate commerce rights.

    In general, municipal bonds have lower default rates than other equivalent bonds based on prior history, and the recovery rates for those bonds which DO default is higher, as well. As a result of these historical trends, municipalities are generally able to issue debt at lower interest rates and find buyers.

    While history is important, I would be wary of the market right now. As you can see in this article, the governor of California is starting to request that the Federal government provide a backstop for their bonds. In a prior article, I noted that the entire issuance of an Illinois bond sale went to a single purchaser, who just happened to be a big bank receiving large amounts of Federal funds (it helps sometimes to have lots of people from Illinois in the White House, I guess).
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Investment Journal | 2 Comments »

    Cool Retrotech

    Posted by David Foster on 24th April 2009 (All posts by )

    At this blog we have lots of smart Chicago Boyz and Chicago Grrlz and Readerz…but is anyone here as smart as a certain Chinese official from 1000 BC…or maybe even earlier?

    Imagine that you are the official in charge of caravans and messengers. Some of these travelers need to cross an unmarked plain, which is subject to sandstorms, thick cloud layers, and heavy fogs…and they have frequently been getting lost. You need something that will aways point south. Problem: the magnetic compass has not yet been invented.

    Can you think of a way–without using magnetic principles or other technology that wasn’t likely to be available in 1000 BC…to solve this problem? Think about it for a few minutes before reading further.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in China, History, Tech | Comments Off

    Announcing ChicagoBoyz Roundtable, Fall 2009

    Posted by Lexington Green on 24th April 2009 (All posts by )

    Anabasis

    Xenophon’s Anabasis.

    Posted in Announcements, Book Notes, Middle East, Military Affairs, Xenophon Roundtable | 2 Comments »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Jonathan on 23rd April 2009 (All posts by )

    I think there has been an excessive granting of credit.

    -Congressman Barney Frank, discussing the credit-card industry with Larry Kudlow.

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Humor, Politics, Quotations | 2 Comments »

    We Are So Boned

    Posted by Shannon Love on 23rd April 2009 (All posts by )

    Bad news, Obama’s Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Jon Wellinghoff, is bad at math

    No new nuclear or coal plants may ever be needed in the United States, the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said today.
     
    “We may not need any, ever,” Jon Wellinghoff told reporters at a U.S. Energy Association forum.
     
    Wellinghoff said renewables like wind, solar and biomass will provide enough energy to meet baseload capacity and future energy demands. Nuclear and coal plants are too expensive, he added.

    Okay, let’s look at the numbers, shall we?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Energy & Power Generation, Leftism | 24 Comments »

    Automotive Revisionism

    Posted by David Foster on 23rd April 2009 (All posts by )

    In 2007, Time magazine did a feature on the 50 worst cars of all time. One of the cars named–along with the 1958 Ford Edsel and the 1970 AMC Gremlin–was the 1909 Model T.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Entrepreneurship, History, USA | 6 Comments »