Tired of filing paper statements for checking accounts, I logged onto my bank’s website to see how to sign up for electronic-only statements (a service the bank has been pushing heavily). Here is what they say:

Your electronic statements are exactly the same as your paper statements. Each month you will receive an email informing you when your statement is available online. Your statements will remain online for 24 months on our secure web site and may be downloaded or printed for permanent retention.

But this is a lie. Electronic statements are not exactly the same as paper ones. Paper statements don’t disappear after two years in my filing cabinet. (There have been instances when I needed transaction information that was more than 2 years old.) So if I go electronic I will have to do even more work, printing statements myself, if I want to continue keeping records as I do now. I can see why the bank likes this arrangement but what’s in it for me?

Banks are so stupid. If they promised to keep my statements on their computers indefinitely I would sign up to go paperless in a second. They would still come out ahead. Can anyone imagine that it costs them less to print and mail twelve statements a year — plus credit-card and loan solicitations, privacy policies, etc. — than to store my data for the same period on their hard drives? What a bunch of dopes. Of course these are the same people who always jump, lemming like, into whatever lending sector is currently overdone and therefore fraught with hidden risk. And then they get burned and become irrationally risk-averse until the next business fad comes along.

UPDATE: Another bank makes the electronic statements available in perpetuity, but requires me to request them a day before it will show them to me online. That’s better, but why can’t they simply make all statements readily available all of the time?

PC Backup Problems Bleg

For the past few years I’ve successfully used xxcopy to backup data to portable hard drives. However, a few days ago, while I was copying the contents of one portable HD to another, with both HDs connected to the same computer via USB 2.0 connections, something happened in the middle of a backup and the source HD became corrupted. (The first symptom of a problem was that the backup stopped and a Windows message balloon appeared indicating that a particular source file could not be read and that I should run CHKDSK on the source HD.)

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Moralism as a Response to a Free-Rider Problem

From the perspective of evolutionary game theory, moralism presents something of a dilemma.

Evolutionary game theory is a branch of mathematics that seeks to explain the behavior of animals and humans based on the assumption that all behavior ultimately must arise from the imperatives imposed by natural selection. From this perspective, human behavior originates largely in selfish motives and true altruism becomes the most difficult behavior of all to evoke.

Moralists exist in all cultures and in all cultures the moralist seeks to persuade or coerce other members of the culture into obeying the moral codes of the culture. Moralists concentrate on suppressing behaviors that do not cause immediate harm to others. Indeed, most moralists target self-destructive behaviors. Both individuals and societies spend a great deal of time and energy moralizing.

The evolutionary game theorist is forced to ask: Why bother? What is in it for the moralist?

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A Jeremiad Against the Establishment

My friend Bruce Kesler sent me an article by Dr. Angelo Codevilla, “American Statecraft and the Iraq War“, a senior scholar at The Army War College, that appeared under the aegis of The Claremont Institute. The critique offered by Codevilla is scathing; in many places his argument is quite insightful and in others, his heavily state-centric approach to international affairs shares the blindness of the elite he criticizes. An excerpt:

“The occupation was unnecessary to any rational American purpose. As President George W. Bush spoke on April 30, 2003, under the banner “Mission Accomplished,” representatives of the State and Defense Departments in Iraq were putting the finishing touches on the provisional government to which they were to devolve the country’s affairs two weeks later. There was to be no occupation. Iraqis would sort out their own bloody quarrels. The victorious U.S. armed forces, having turned Saddam Hussein’s regime over to its enemies, would challenge the Middle East’s remaining terror regimes to adjust their behavior or suffer the same fate. But even as Bush seemed to be recruiting a sovereign Iraqi government, he was interviewing the disastrous Paul “Jerry” Bremer to be Iraq’s viceroy and preparing United Nations resolution 1483 to “legitimize” the occupation. The Bush team then declared that occupying Iraq was necessary to transform it into a peaceful, united, liberal democracy, whose existence would coax nasty neighboring regimes to be nice. Bush had acceded to the private pleadings of then-Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, as well as of British Prime Minister Tony Blair-whose advice reflected the unanimous wishes of Arab governments. While the administration’s newly minted mission was abstract and inherently beyond accomplishment, the Arab agendas-which had nothing in common with Bush’s-were intensely practical. And they prevailed.

The occupation of Iraq should go down in history as a set of negative lessons about war, the relationship between ends and means, the need for unity of purpose and command, and dealing with the world as it is rather than as one imagines it to be. The occupation, a confection of the U.S. foreign policy establishment’s hoariest recipes, is yet more evidence of that establishment’s bankruptcy. Media myth notwithstanding, the administration’s neoconservative component was sidelined as the occupation began. Bremer’s political advisor was the realist Robert Blackwill of the Council on Foreign Relations, and his military advisor was Walter Slocombe, a liberal internationalist from the Carter and Clinton Administrations. By 2007 the occupation’s military policy was being shaped by Stephen Biddle, another Kissingerian realist from the Council, for whom success means persuading somebody to accept America’s surrender. Bush confused statecraft, the pursuit of the country’s interests, with administrative politics-the consensus of constituencies in the bureaucracies (and their contractors), the prestige media, and the academy. As the disaster became undeniable, no one in the establishment dared to try to measure the occupation of Iraq against the standards of statecraft. “

Codevilla skewers the ideological assumptions of Washington officials and intellectuals from the Neocon Right, to the Liberal internationalist Left, to those of Realist scholars and diplomats. Kesler, in a post at Democracy Project, incisively interprets Codevilla’s philosophical approach to foreign policy analysis:

Codevilla is a student of Machiavelli, who described the rules of the game of power. The rules may be used for good or ill, but to negate the ends accomplished by the necessary means is to create weakness and allow the field to those willing to use the rules for ill ends.

“a prince … cannot observe all of those virtues for which men are reputed good, because it is often necessary to act against mercy, against faith, against humanity, against frankness, against religion, in order to preserve the state.”

Codevilla takes the US severely to task for its failure to follow the rules in Iraq and the broader Middle East. His critique should be read in full. It’s not what most, either conservative or liberal, neocon or realist or defeatist, are accustomed to hearing. But, it cuts to the heart of our bleeding for four years, and the limited best outcomes we face. Codevilla has been consistently opposed to our entering Iraq, seeing bigger game afoot, and the confusion of our aims. He’s been proven correct, so far. His forecast, therefore, should be taken seriously. Most important, his indictment of our befuddled policy class requires a new realism in Washington.”

A weakness in Codevilla’s analysis is that while he correctly identifies the culpability of regional Arab states and Iran in sponsoring and tolerating terrorist groups and argues for meaningful penalties to be applied to such regimes, he overestimates the competency and resiliency of these states and simply dismisses the extent to which globalization has made non-state actors functionally independent of state patrons, who are quite helpful operationally but are no longer the existential requirement they once were in the 1970’s. Economics and network-theory are entirely absent from Codevilla’s analytical framework and while Islamic religious identity is admirably included, it is considered a primarily reactive (even understandably so) phenomenon, which even a casual study of the 120 year evolution of Islamist ideology would refute. States still rule all, in Codevilla’s vision, an assumption that deserves careful reexamination.

Nevertheless, a worthwhile and thought-provoking critique.

Cross-posted at Zenpundit

Household Armies

My curiosity was piqued by Zenpundit’s post on the psychology of the Warlord, since a lot of my interest in China centers on the Republican period, otherwise known as the Warlord Era. That nomenclature is not without justification – at one point in 1936 the Warlord Chang  Hsüeh-liang  felt empowered enough to arrest Republican President Chiang Kai Shek and order him to stop fighting the Communists and focus on the Japanese what became known to history as the Xi’an Incident. As an aside to the recent comments on this site about the length of historical memory and the importance of the Glorious Revolution to our Founders and the Civil War to our grandfathers, Chang (or more properly Zhang: 張學良)  Hsüeh-liang remained under house arrest in Taiwan until 1990. He was freed upon the death of Chiang Kai-Shek’s son and successor, and died in Hawaii in 2001. This period is indeed still vivid in the living memories of Taiwan’s and China’s elites. And, as I will get to later in this post, Chang’s living memory included encounters with major actors in the Taiping Rebellion. 

Certainly some of my interest in this time period is personal – my father-in-law was a teenage GMD soldier of that era. However, the rest of my interest centers on the post-nation-state character of Warlord conflicts. It is not out of the realm of possibility that China could degenerate once again into regionalism in our lifetimes.

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Post WW2 Occupation Slides

As of late I have been not only discouraged, but pissed off by the level of decorum on a lot of sites and blogs that I visit. It seems that people can’t make informed opinions about anything remotely related to politics, current events or anything even the slightest bit controversial without being greeted by swarms of ideologues, sycophants, and idiots.

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Stocks in November


I run three trust funds for my nephews and nieces that are old enough to understand the concept of saving, investing and stock selections that are documented at the site I don’t mind directing people over there because there are no ads and it just describes what the funds are about, our selections, and our returns. Here is a post with more background on the topic.


For anyone who has been following the markets this year, it has been a roller coaster ride. The US stock indices were up for the year with some decent gains but have recently given up almost all of those gains and seem to be in a state of flux right now. High oil prices, the falling dollar, the credit freeze, housing woes, and finally massive write-offs in the financial sector have taken their toll.

Another important element that is coming to light is that profits for US companies are down significantly; per Barron’s the Q3 EPS for companies reporting are down 8.5% from the prior year – this is a big downturn, comparable to the quarters right before prior recessions (1989 and 2000). Without profit improvements, hiring and capital spending tend to fall in a bad spiral.

One term to keep in mind when investing is “negative covariance” – in layman’s terms this means that “bad things tend to occur at the same time”. Thus everything is fine, and then it’s not. For instance, the housing market goes down, liquidity evaporates, banks make huge write-downs, and then the companies that guarantee or eat these debt instruments struggle to understand the damage. These items were all related, and while models may value the probabilities of each individually, they all work together (in a bad way).

The stock markets recently went down about 10% – this is now officially a “correction”. No one knows if this is the start of a long swoon or a “buy on the dips” opportunity.

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The American Gift of Forgetfulness

Presuming the residual antipathies Lex quoted in I see no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot to be characteristic of UK media figures, we have one more reason to regard tasteless American ahistoricity as a feature rather than a bug, because endocrine-system reactions to “Roman Catholic” are, I believe, just about inconceivable here, and certainly not because we’ve all translated into a higher plane of flawlessly nontheistic rationality.

I was going to make this a comment on Lex’s post but then realized that I wanted to pile on the links, which would choke the comment-spam filter faster than a Greenpeace activist on a tour of a nuclear power plant. So away I go with a barrage of autobiographical details, which is the price of a post written by me that’s anything other than hopelessly abstract. Gosh, you’re thinking, I can’t wait to see this!

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Nuclear Radiation? Not So Bad After All.

From Der Spiegel comes a story about the findings of scientists investigating the results of real-world cases of exposure to man-made nuclear radiation.

Their surprising conclusion? Turns out that radiation exposure from real-world events isn’t anywhere near as lethal as commonly thought.

Wow! Who knew?

Well, I did, as did anyone who actually objectively read the 70+ years of research on the matter of radiation exposure.

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I see no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot

And it won’t be. As this writer tells it, “what gets my adrenalin flowing is the words Roman Catholic.”

For us English, hostility sprang from ancient politics. The little history I learned at school taught me of Mary Tudor, the bigot whose five-year reign saw some 300 Protestants put to death; of papal efforts to unthrone the queen of England, her successor Elizabeth I; of Catholic Spain and its Armada; of Catholic Guy Fawkes plotting to blow up Parliament; of James II trying to reinstate his Catholicism in a country that had rejected it. Why all this should matter 300 or 400 years later I did not ask.

All this despite having “no perceptible faith”, yet he still has his “childhood prejudices”.

I don’t think this visceral hostility is sensible, let alone in an unbeliever. No one is trying to ram Catholicism down my throat. Yet, however little it may affect my actions, my prejudice is a fact—after 60-odd years, in a man reasonably educated, still tolerably intelligent, in a largely secular society, in the 21st century.

Some years ago the German ambassador to the UK complained that the British had made World War II the “core of their national identity”. But he was wrong. Anti-Catholicism is the core of British national identity, despite being a post-Christian, non-believing, non-church-going country.

The author concludes:

There are warnings in this for people like me who see human reason and conscience as better guides to modern life than are ancient scriptures, however admirable. First, that we too may be leopards. Second, that if our gut feelings are that durable, we are unwise if we discount the strength of other people’s.

That should be uncontroversial. The Sunnis and Shia, to pick one example, are not going to start liking each other any time soon.

But as to Merry Old England, the problem may have a solution. The recent fumbling around about defining its national identity has been interesting. The Labor Government is unlikely to celebrate the burning of the Pope in effigy as a “core value”. Yet there really is a lot in its history and contemporary culture which has value. By rediscovering its heritage of freedom and individualism and enterprise, they would do themselves a lot of good. I can suggest some books.

Why the “Surge” Isn’t Working

In studying military history, two truisms always leap out: victorious generals always refight the last war and the general public never understands the course of the war as it happens.

In 1942 and for several years afterward, the general public believed that Army B-17s bombing from high altitude destroyed the Japanese carriers at Midway. In 1968, the American public believed that the Tet offensive demonstrated that the Viet Cong was an effective and widely supported pro-communist organization in South Vietnam. Many still think that way even though conclusive evidence exists that the Tet offensive destroyed the Viet Cong and demonstrated their near complete lack of popular support.

Likewise, most in the general public believe that the tactic of the “The Surge,” i.e., saturating different regions of Iraq with overwhelming force, has itself improved the situation in Iraq. It hasn’t. The Surge represents merely the most visible portion of a long-term strategy that has finally began to bear fruit.

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CTA At Work… Not

On Saturday morning I was out meeting some friends for lunch and we walked by Bed Bath and Beyond to pick up a housewarming gift. Out front of the building at State and Grand was a CTA truck parked halfway up on the sidewalk, with its usual lack of respect for the city or pedestrians.

And why barge up on the curb and park your truck? To take a nap, of course. This hard at work CTA employee was sleeping on the bench in the Bed Bath and Beyond lobby… it wasn’t just a quick nap, either – he was down there when we went upstairs, selected our gift, paid for it, and came back down. In this picture you can see the reflection of his truck on the corner – usually the glare from store glass hurts the photo but in this rare case it worked in my favor.

Cross Posted at LITGM

Reading the 2nd Amendment

The meaning of words evolves over the centuries. This evolution causes confusion when contemporary readers try to understand the original meaning of old writing.

The verb “resent” for example, once meant to express emotion, good or bad, in response to the actions of others. In the 17th Century, a person might write honestly to a friend, “I deeply resent the wonderful box of chocolates you sent me.” A modern reader could easily misunderstand the meaning of “resent” in that sentence and believe that the writer felt angry at his friend.[1]

I think this same problem bedevils contemporary discussions of the 2nd Amendment. The meaning of key words and phrases in the passage evolved over the last two centuries. Applying modern definitions of these words obscures the original clear meaning of the amendment.

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ChicagoBoyz Physical Fitness Series, Continued…

I have mentioned before that my primary method of staying in shape (and hobby) is Muay Thai kickboxing. I picked it up originally to compliment my biking, but it has pretty much taken over my life and everything I do now compliments my Muay Thai.

After our Muay Thai lessons at the gym, we have always done conditioning, whether it be running outside, ab work, cardio kicks, pushups, or a combination of all of the above. As of late, we have been doing circuits. They look something like this.

Of course the guy in the video is a professional, training for a professional fight. Our circuits are not as long and not as many (in the video, you are supposed to do each exercise for one minute, then go on to the next exercise for a total of a five minute circuit and then to 2-5 circuits), but the idea is the same. Different exercises to the point of exhaustion, short rest, then do it all over again. It almost sounds something like what Zenpundit posted the other day. Maybe this is a fad. I like it though. And after 45 minutes of Muay Thai training, and then doing several circuits, I guarantee you that you will get in shape. I don’t know much about Crossfit, but from the way Zen was describing what was going on in his gym, it seems like perhaps it is an extreme form of circuit training.

Will Amazon Kindle Your Interest ?

I’m very intrigued by Amazon’s new Kindle device.

Dave Davison, IT venture capitalist and visualization maven, is very high on the potential of Kindle:

Amazon “kindles” a new fire in electronic book reading. This 6 minute video shows how you will use this new portable, 10.3ounce, paperback size device. Download your reading library via a wireless connection just like calling on your cell phone. This device and the kindle service will revolutionize the book, magazine,newspaper and blog publishing media space.”

Count me as an avid reader and collector of books but if Amazon has truly solved the ” reading online” problem that causes me to print out anything longer than a handful of pages, with a vision-friendly, virtual-paper screen, then I’d be keen to own a Kindle. Just putting all of my magazines on it to reduce clutter or using it to read on the treadmill instead of lugging books in my gym bag, would be worth it. I would also speculate that, if you buy an absurdly large number of books annually, as I do, a kindl could allow you to purchase strategically; some in dead-tree version and some virtual form, and accumulate a considerable cost savings.

I would also expect that, as a platform, the uses for Kindle are only going to grow.

Cross-posted at Zenpundit

Thanksgiving and Temporal Bigotry

(This is a rerun of a 2003 post at Photon Courier. New links added at the end.)

Stuart Buck encountered a teacher who said “Kids learn so much these days. Did you know that today a schoolchild learns more between the freshman and senior years of high school than our grandparents learned in their entire lives?” (“She said this as if she had read it in some authoritative source”, Stuart comments.)

She probably had read it in some supposedly-authoritative source, but it’s an idiotic statement nevertheless. What, precisely, is this wonderful knowledge that high-school seniors have today and which the 40-year-olds of 1840 or 1900 were lacking?

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Valuing Your “Stuff”… Near Zero

One trend in housing is the ever-increasing size of the average American house. A drive through any city or suburb will show that new houses are growing larger, right up to the lot lines, and buyers perceive total square feet to be an important amenity. If you took the typical suburban family and put them in the house that they originally grew up in they’d generally shudder – only one bathroom for all those people, sharing a bedroom, and hardly any closets! Closets are viewed as a key amenity, with the ability to store racks and racks of shoes and clothes for all seasons is a virtual requirement.

In parallel with this is the growth in off site storage. When I was growing up it seemed that few people I knew had off site storage, but it seems much more prevalent today. Storage for furniture, hobbies, collectibles and everything else that people can’t bear to throw out.

While houses are getting larger and in particular storage elements & off-site storage is a growth industry, a different trend is going the OTHER way. Deflation, or chronic price reduction, is occurring with most of the “stuff” that people are storing.

Here is one example – my new “blog” camera with a small footprint (it is pretty slim although the lends does pop out when you turn it on) was only $212 and it has 7 megapixels and a bunch of cool features, like when you tilt the camera 90 degrees the photos switch from landscape to portrait in “view” mode. This camera blows the doors off previous digital cameras that I paid over 600 dollars for just a few years ago.

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