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  • Archive for May, 2008

    Chicagoboyz Wildlife Series II

    Posted by Jonathan on 6th May 2008 (All posts by )

    Related posts: Chicagoboyz Wildlife Series I, III, IV

    Posted in Environment, Humor, Photos | 4 Comments »

    Official Stupidity

    Posted by Jonathan on 6th May 2008 (All posts by )

    Indian pols revert to Third World type:

    NEW YORK (MarketWatch) — India is reportedly considering a ban on futures trading in food commodities, as the government struggles to curb soaring inflation and the rising cost of food has become a major international concern.
    India’s finance minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said Monday that he was considering a blanket ban on trading in food futures, according to a report in The Financial Times.
    Chidambaram said that governments across Asia share his worries over speculation in the commodities markets, the FT reported.
    India is “facing a very grave crisis on the food front,” the minister said on the sidelines of the Asian Development Bank’s annual meeting in Madrid, according to the FT.
    India has already banned futures trading in rice and wheat. The latest remarks from India’s finance minister come as his government confronts growing pressure at home to curb rising inflation.
    On Friday, official data showed that India’s inflation hit a 42-month high of 7.57% in the week ending April 19.
    “It’s indicative of the fact that there’s a real issue here and governments are scrambling to find some kind of solution,” said Cameron Brandt, global markets analyst at EPFR Global, about India’s idea to ban trading in food futures.
    “I don’t think it’s a great idea especially given that their food futures market is fairly modest,” Brandt said. “If you take that away, you lose pretty important market signals. One thing the food futures market is telling us is plant more food.”

    There’s not much to say about this except that India still has a ways to go to become a first-rate country.

    Also, the ignorance about basic economics of many of the commenters on economics and finance websites never ceases to surprise me.

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Human Behavior, India, Markets and Trading | 7 Comments »

    The Clarity Clue

    Posted by David Foster on 6th May 2008 (All posts by )

    A clue to the future performance of a company may be found in the literary style of the CEO’s annual letter. That’s the opinion of Laura Rittenhouse, head of an investor relations consulting firm, who has studied this topic extensively.

    A study found that when the letters are analyzed for clarity versus jargon, shares of bottom-ranked companies lost more than 18 percent of their value in a two-year period ending in 2002, compared with a 12.7 percent drop for the top-ranked companies. More recently, another Rittenhouse study focused on newly-appointed CEOs and their content scores versus those of their predecessors. For the group with the highest gains in content scores, stock prices increased an average of of 28.4% (in the year after the new CEOs were named) versus an average decline of 10.5% for the ground with the greatest declines in content scores.

    The usual cautions about cause and effect analysis–correlation is not causation, the direction in which the arrow of causality is pointing is not always obvious–of course apply. Nevertheless, this is interesting.

    Here’s a presentation which provides a little bit of detail on the Rittenhouse analysis method. Ms Rittenhouse quotes Orwell:

    If thought can corrupt language, then language can corrupt thought

    …and offers her own version:

    If language determines actions and results, then corrupt language will lead to debilitating actions and unsatisfactory results.

    See also The Edifice Clue, The Harvard Indicator, and Readin’, Writin’, and the Business Shtick.

    See also this comparing writing at J P Morgan in 1933 and in 2006. (Although I thought Jamie Dimon’s letter in the recent annual report was pretty good–not sure what the Rittenhouse analysis process would have to say about it.)

    Posted in Business | 7 Comments »

    What is London to expect from its new Mayor?

    Posted by Helen on 6th May 2008 (All posts by )

    The dust has settled, former Mayor Livingstone has departed, his immediate staff have had to clear their desks and Boris Johnson, the new Mayor has been, if not exactly sworn in, as that is a rather old-fashioned idea, certainly signed in. In some quarters the bells are still ringing and hosannas are being sung but, elsewhere, it might be time to take a look as to what might be reasonably expected from the new Mayor.

    In the first place, it is worth examining what the position entails, where it is derived from and what controls there are on it. Until 2000 there was no Mayor of London. The reference one comes across in history and literature, particularly Shakespeare’s Chronicles, to the powerful individual, who owes that power to the fractious and difficult citizens of London, is to the Lord Mayor of the City of London, who still exists, still owes his (there has not been a woman so far) power to those who elect him and who managed to see off the upstart Mayor, Ken Livingstone, in short order.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Britain | 6 Comments »

    Oh, By the Way, No Worries: Academia’s Jihad Against Military History is not Succeeding

    Posted by Lexington Green on 5th May 2008 (All posts by )

    Zenpundit had a recent post critiquing the academic jihad against military history, and I responded, citing to an article by the excellent military historian Robert M. Citino. (I strongly suggest you read all his books, no kidding, especially this and <a href=”this and this and this. They are all superb.)

    Looked at from the perspective of what the academics are doing, it sure looks bleak. But that is only part of the picture. I believe it is an increasingly irrelevant part of the picture. In fact, I don’t know how much good it would do to have the current population of academia teaching this history. They may well do more harm than good. I got a kick out of the story of the history professor who knew only two things about the American role in World War II: The internment of the Japanese and the atomic bombings, both of course presented as American crimes. That would be funny if it were not nausea-inducing, and if my tax money weren’t paying for it. With friends like that, who needs enemies? Of course, academics are supposed to be a very superior breed of person, capable of appreciating subtlety and nuance and complexity and the tangled ambiguity of the world that poor stupid conservatives like me cannot grasp, yadda yadda — unless it is an opportunity to make the USA the villain of the drama. Then a boneheaded bit of simplistic propaganda will do the trick. Cutting a few factual corners to make sure the students get the proper indoctrination is all to the good in that universe.

    But let us turn our backs on this sorry scene, and look to two specific areas that seem far more hopeful.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, History, Military Affairs, Society, War and Peace | 45 Comments »

    New! – Chicagoboyz Wildlife Series

    Posted by Jonathan on 4th May 2008 (All posts by )

    Multi-Porpoise Room

    Related posts: Chicagoboyz Wildlife Series II, III, IV

    Posted in Environment, Humor, Photos | 1 Comment »

    Jimmy Hoffa in Chattanooga

    Posted by Jonathan on 4th May 2008 (All posts by )

    Great article in the Chattanooga Times Free Press about the trial in which Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa, after several mistrials on other charges, was found guilty of jury tampering in 1964. This trial was the beginning of the end for Hoffa, who was subsequently convicted again, for pension fraud, and imprisoned (and later pardoned by Nixon and disappeared, presumably murdered). The article discusses Hoffa’s background, includes audio interviews with the surviving juror and other trial participants, and brings up some differences of opinion about the trial and the government’s campaign to get Hoffa. Worth a look.

    Posted in Civil Society, Crime and Punishment, History, Politics, USA | Comments Off on Jimmy Hoffa in Chattanooga

    The Sun is Not Setting II: Unfurl the Old Banners …

    Posted by Lexington Green on 4th May 2008 (All posts by )

    In this earlier post, I should have linked to this piece by Fareed Zakaria, which is the first chapter of his new book. It is very much worth reading.

    I like this Zakaria piece because he seems to be in broad agreement with me. Ha. We all like it when that happens. Also, his little capsule summary of the British Empire as our predecessor is nicely done. However, as I have complained to anyone who will listen, even Zakaria fails to understand how different the British Empire was from all its land-based predecessors. The one current writer to who “gets it” on this issue is Walter Russell Mead. Mead, in his excellent recent book God and Gold: Britain, America and the Making of the Modern World discusses the “maritime order” founded in recent centuries by the Dutch, then handed off to the British, then the Trident was passed to the USA. This is exactly correct.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Americas, Anglosphere, Book Notes, Britain, Conservatism, Libertarianism, USA | 21 Comments »

    Havana’s Deco Ruins

    Posted by Jonathan on 4th May 2008 (All posts by )

    Cuba is such a tragedy – a prosperous and basically decent society, wrecked. The old buildings are like ancient ruins that provide hints of the accomplishment and promise that used to be.

    (via Babalu)

    Posted in Americas, Civil Society, Cuba, Latin America, Urban Issues, Video | 3 Comments »

    ChicagoBoyz Eatin’ Cheap Contest Winner

    Posted by Dan from Madison on 4th May 2008 (All posts by )

    This post generated a lot of interesting comments and great ideas not only for cheap foods, but for great ways to prepare your food and make it last longer. The pork shoulder (butt) was mentioned a few times and I will admit that I use those once in a while to eat cheap myself. Top Ramen was king with several people, and seems to have helped many survive their college days. Various ways to prepare chicken also garnered several comments as did PB and J sammiches. Some things I just can’t eat, like the roadkill mentioned or the Jose Ole burritos (3 for $1!). I have heard of people here in Wisconsin taking roadkilled deer and butchering them on the spot and taking the meat home for freezing. Out of so many good ideas I had to narrow it down, and I got it down to two.

    Our runner up is Ozmo, whose wife, using a combination of newspaper coupons and a loyalty card purchased food and toiletries for a total of $50, but in the end with the coupons and loyalty bonuses $13 was paid to HER.

    But our clear winner reminded me of myself back in my college days, where free food was my main draw. I will let John say it as he did in the comments:

    Margarita Mondays at Acapulcos. Go into the Cantina during happy hour and for $1 you get a margarita (cheap tequila, but it still works) and all you can eat buffet. I swear, for a while there in college that was the only fresh vegetables I was getting. They also had these great little taquitos. You just had to make sure to get out before the karaoke started (or if you had at least $5 you could be drunk enough to last through it).

    For this Eatin’ Cheap submission John, you are the man!

    *Special thanks to Jonathan for making this certificate, which will entitle John to great respect wherever he goes, as well as the best tables at America’s finest restaurants.

    Posted in Diversions, Economics & Finance, Humor | 2 Comments »

    Academia’s Jihad Against Military History: Further Thoughts

    Posted by Lexington Green on 3rd May 2008 (All posts by )

    Our colleague Zenpundit had a good recent post on this topic. I have not lived in the academic world for a long time, but everything I read indicates that he is right about this problem: The academic study and teaching of military history has been purged out of most colleges and universities.

    A good recent piece on this issue which Zen did not link to is Military Histories Old and New: A Reintroduction by the excellent military historian Robert M. Citino. Citino’s essay was published in the American Historical Review, the flagship journal of the American Historical Association, which modestly describes itself as the major historical journal in the United States. Hence, Citino’s article is a case for the defense, made by a very qualified military historian, in the main forum of the profession.

    Citino does not make a case for military history that Zen and his commenters made. He does not focus on the utility, in fact necessity, that policy-makers and even informed citizens possess a sound and accurate awareness of military history. That is the kind of argument no academic will be impressed by. Nor does he make the traditional case that military events, followed by major political events, are the key drivers of history. The major questions of our collective lives are and have always been determined by war, the ultimate extension of politics. Whether communities and individuals shall live at all, who shall live where, under what laws, in tyranny or freedom, in peace or in anarchy — war has decided these questions, and in many places it still does, and war, in whatever guise, will certainly continue to do so. But this is distasteful. To “privilege” military, or politico-military history in this way would be unacceptable to the tender souls in America’s history departments. But the founders of their profession, Herodotus and Thucydides, knew better.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, Education, History, Military Affairs, War and Peace | 14 Comments »

    Unclean! Unclean!

    Posted by Shannon Love on 3rd May 2008 (All posts by )

    Megan McArdle’s post on the resurgence of measles due to a lack of vaccinations prompted me to think about the modern moral and legal ramifications of someone choosing to go about unvaccinated.

    When a person becomes infected with a lethal contagious disease, the disease microbe turns their body into a biological warfare factory churning out billions of weapons which automatically seek out and attack other people. If a person infected themself on purpose and then went about their daily life, we would regard it as a form of lethal violence against everyone they came in contact with. How then should we regard those who fail to take simple, cheap and low-risk steps to prevent such an occurrence by accident?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Bioethics, Morality and Philosphy, Science, Society | 10 Comments »

    People Magazine or WSJ?

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 3rd May 2008 (All posts by )

    In Friday’s Wall Street Journal was an article titled “The Accidental Renters” with the subtitle “After Losing Homes to Foreclosure, Tight Rental Market Poses More Indignities”. The article ostensibly covers the difficulties that people who lost lost their homes face trying to rent.

    It is incomprehensible to me how the WSJ, which usually is a very well written newspaper, occasionally slips in an article so badly written, conceived and executed that I think I am reading People magazine. Isn’t that why they have editors? Let’s take this apart…

    The most typical flaw of mainstream journalism in my opinion is 1) “humanizing” a complex problem with a few interviews or out of context “examples” 2) not challenging basic flaws in logic in these “examples” 3) failing to add a knowledgeable and topic-based analysis of the facts at hand based on experience.

    Here are the examples in the article:

    “Ray and Trish Vangas recently found themselves contending with the indignities of renting. The couple lost their first home… after their adjustable rate mortgage reset and the bill jumped by about $900 a month, to $3300… the couple moved into a rented townhouse… almost immediately, they discovered problems, including a deck that wobbled, dead electrical outlets, missing smoke detectors, and bad plumbing. With the help of the town’s health department they moved out… paying $2250 a month. “I can’t believe I worked so hard for a house, only to lose it.”

    The interviewer never takes the Vangas to task for their obvious mistakes. They picked up an adjustable rate mortgage which was scheduled to reset to a level of payments that they could not afford. Why did they do this? And the odd part is that the mortgage didn’t reset very far – it moved from $2400 to $3300, a large but seemingly manageable increase. Were they living that close to the edge? The article doesn’t mention them losing a job or suffering any sort of financial crisis, so that doesn’t seem to be an explanation.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Economics & Finance, The Press | 9 Comments »

    Agflation Watch

    Posted by David Foster on 2nd May 2008 (All posts by )

    Financial Times (4/24) has an interesting article titled commodities boom drives up land values. In the UK, farmland prices have risen 40% over the past year. There is at least one UK investment fund dedicated to the purchase of farmland, and the operation of farms, on behalf of investors. In the Ukraine, prices for the best farmland are expected to double over the next year. And in Serbia, there’s an increase from of more than 40% over the past year. Farmland prices have been going up significantly in the US, too, although the FT article doesn’t mention any numbers.

    On the same page, FT has another article: EU warned over cut in number of pesticides. Excerpt:

    European Union plans to restrict chemical use by farmers in Europe could reduce harvests at a time of global food shortages, farmers, academics, regulators and pesticide makers warned on Wednesday.

    Crops such as apples and hops could no longer be grown on the continent if EU draft plans are not amended, they said. Wheat and potato yields could drop by almost a third, according to industry-sponsored research.


    Research commissioned from Italian consultancy Nomisma forecast drops in yields of about 30 per cent by 2012. The EU would lose its self-sufficiency in wheat, potatoes, wine and cereals.

    (Here’s a letter to the editor from someone who strongly disagrees with the thesis that these pesticide controls will be devastating to European agriculture.)

    Via the interesting site Gongol, here’s an article about the growing shortage of fertilizer, with comments by Norman Borlaug.

    As a counterpoint, both John Hussman and Anatole Kaletsky argue that the current commodities situation has some attributes of a bubble.

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Europe | 3 Comments »

    The Sun is not Setting

    Posted by Lexington Green on 2nd May 2008 (All posts by )

    A friend sent this article entitled “What Follows American Dominion?” by Richard N. Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations. Hence this may be taken as the voice of the “Establishment”.

    I may as well share my dashed-off punditry. I responded pretty much as follows:

    In a way, the whole thing is off-point since there never really was American “unipolarity”. That word implies a degree of autonomy and self-sufficiency no power has ever enjoyed. As I recall, the illusory concept of American “unipolarity” was first propounded in 1991 by Charles Krauthammer. He was wrong then in believing there existed a vast, unused capacity of the USA to leverage its military dominance to achieve the ideological ends he wants. Krauthammer was unwittingly the spiritual sibling of the contemptible Madeleine Albright, who famously asked Colin Powell “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about, if we can’t use it?” Perhaps a visit to Arlington National Cemetary, or the National Armed Forces Rehabilitation Center would help her understand the real gravity of her blasé question.

    However, putting aside the bogus and irresponsible notion of “unipolarity”, I suppose it is fair to say, in a taxonomic rather than invidious way, that America is the global hegemon. It is the primary provider of security, it is the primary determiner of the rules of the international game, etc.

    So let’s be charitable to Mr. Haass and say that he is really talking about the displacement of the USA as the global hegemon. He does mix up his terms and also refers to the end of U.S. “primacy” – a word he uses incorrectly as if were synonymous with “unipolarity”.

    The last global hegemon, Britain, was superseded by a much bigger entity, the good old USA. That transition process was ugly. It involved two world wars and a global depression.

    I see no entity that can fill the role of global hegemon in the place of the USA.

    The EU cannot do it. China cannot yet do it.

    Many players have a stake in the US-led world order, and whatever irritation American primacy may cause, they will prefer the devil they know and will not like to see the uncertainly and risk of a new one replacing it.

    International security is best guaranteed by one dominant power, not by a congeries of competing powers. Too many people fail to understand this. The balance of power does not work. It never did. The offshore balancer, Britain vis-a-vis Europe, the USA vis-a-vis the Eurasian world-island, predominates and keeps the peace. Such eras are marked by trade and prosperity. Challenges to the hegemon bring on eras of war.

    Nuclear weapons have rendered great power conflict virtually impossible. So that avenue to dislodge us is closed. More importantly, it seems that leaders of major foreign powers realize that a direct military confrontation is foreclosed as a viable means of dislodging the hegemon. Indirect means will be employed, which will probably have the virtue of not killing lots of people in the process.

    If we were to move to a truly multipolar world ala 1900-1914, we would see the breakdown of the globalized world economy and a return to 1930s conditions. Mr. Haass is right that such a world is more complicated. However, he seems to downplay that it is also potentially dangerous. War between the lesser powers could happen. More likely, beggar-thy-neighbor trade policies are regrettably likely. He may be right that the USA will consult its allies and trading partners more in the future. But we never really stopped doing that, and it is not clear we will do so more after Mr. Bush leaves town. The Democrat candidates’ enthusiasm to “tear up NAFTA” shows that gratuitously offending neighbors and trading partners is a nonpartisan vice. Moreover, Mr. Bush gets too little credit for his handling of relations with India and China, and too much criticism over the largely illusory rift with Europe.

    The USA is relatively weak right now primarily due to the temporary consequences of poor performance by Mr. Bush and his advisors in planning and executing the war and occupation in Iraq. This is not due to any remarkable waxing in the relative strength of other players. China and India are still more potential than actual world powers, though both are growing regional powers and may one day supplant us. We shall see.

    The USA will detach itself from the Iraqi tar baby soon enough. Then it will likely play a quieter and less brusque game in the future. This will be all to the good.

    I see no dislodgement of the American hegemon by anyone anytime soon.

    UPDATE: When I say we will detach ourselves from Iraq, I mean we will reduce our commitment, our troops will stop getting shot and blown up most of the time, the Iraqis will be the ones shooting our people, not our people, and we will forget about Iraq as a symbol of democracy, and we will let it become a pliant autocracy that cooperates with us, and which is capable of imposing order domestically, which is the best we can do in the region.

    UPDATE II: Thoughtful and accurate comments in response to this post from Right Wing News.

    UPDATE III: The Sun is not Setting: The Sequel

    Posted in International Affairs, Military Affairs, War and Peace | 11 Comments »

    All Scimitars, Sabers, Kopesh and Katana Are Now Illegal!

    Posted by James R. Rummel on 2nd May 2008 (All posts by )

    Back in January of 2007, a couple of detectives in England were in over their heads.

    They came across a gang of five guys who were breaking in to a house. The detectives identified themselves as police officers, and attempted to take the criminals into custody. But the perps figured out that the cops were unarmed, and the fight was on!

    Two unarmed detectives against five guys who had chains and hammers. Things looked grim, particularly when one of the gang became curious as to what the cops had eaten for breakfast and produced a knife to help him find out.

    But then help arrived in the form of a nondescript private citizen wielding a cheap samurai sword. “Leave him alone, he’s a police officer!” he yelled, and charged the gang single-handedly. He fought bravely, if not particularly well, and managed to inflict a minor wound on one of the burglars. Criminals being a cowardly and superstitious lot, the gang broke and ran. The detectives managed to tackle and bag one criminal each, but by the time they had subdued their respective catches the good Samaritan had slipped away.

    That guy had balls as big as churchbells, and I don’t just mean that because he went toe-to-toe with a swarm of ne’er-do-wells. While self defense is not illegal in England, or at least it isn’t technically illegal, it is against the law to use anything designed as a weapon to defend yourself. Local Detective Inspector Peter Bent stated “It needs to be said we cannot condone vigilantism or people running around with swords or weapons. It will be up to the Crown Prosecution Service whether they see his actions as justified or going beyond reasonable force.”

    He could charge straight at a gang of armed desperados without a moment’s hesitation, but the guy with the sword could see no other option than running and hiding after the dust settled and the cops were back on their feet. I don’t blame him one bit.

    The police launched a manhunt to see if they could smoke him out, and I have no idea if they ever managed to find out who had drawn steel to defend their lives on that day. Something tells me that the cops on the street, when told that they had to find an average Joe who had saved two of their own just so he could face the courts, merely went through the motions and really didn’t put too much effort into the search.

    I’m telling you this because I was over at Milo’s, who is a British fencing instructor, and he says that unregistered samurai swords are now illegal in England. You have to jump through a bunch of hoops to prove to the state that you have a “legitimate reason” to own one.

    Many American gunbloggers have noted that the media and other pro-gun control types become hysterical when discussing firearms. They like to imply that owning a gun is similar to petting a coiled cobra, as both will leap up and kill without warning when you least expect it.

    I leave you with this English news article which proves that the British are going through the same thing with knives. Notice how the focus of a newspaper is “preventing youngsters from getting involved in knife culture” by sponsoring a weapon amnesty program. People could turn in their infernal devices to the police without fear of arrest, and someone actually gave them a cheap samurai sword that was sharp!

    Judging by the extreme fear they show when confronted by a wall hanger with an edge, the police over there are having trouble recruiting anyone who doesn’t faint away when confronted with the very idea of a sharp piece of steel.

    Inspector Peter Knights, of Hartlepool Police, said: “I am delighted to see a weapon of this nature has been surrendered. All too often we see items such as this used and abused by people which leads invariably to serious injury or death.”

    Guys, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

    (Cross posted at Hell in a Handbasket.)

    Posted in Britain, Civil Society, Crime and Punishment, Law Enforcement, RKBA | 4 Comments »

    US inflation at lowest level since 2003!

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on 2nd May 2008 (All posts by )

    According to the Commerce Department, the US economy expanded by 0.6 percent in the first quarter of this year:

    The U.S. economy expanded at a 0.6 percent annual pace in the first quarter, reflecting an increase in inventories as consumers retrenched and companies cut investment.

    The gain in gross domestic product, the sum of all goods and services produced, was more than forecast and matched the rate of the previous three months, the Commerce Department reported today in Washington. …

    To get the 0.6 percent growth number, nominal GDP had to be adjusted for inflation (from the same article):

    The report’s price index increased at an annual rate of 2.6 percent, lower than forecast, compared with a 2.4 percent gain in the prior quarter.

    The Fed’s preferred inflation gauge, which is tied to consumer spending and strips out food and energy costs, rose at a 2.2 percent pace, down from 2.5 percent.

    The report´s 2.6 percent rate of inflation is especially interesting in comparison to the 2006 rate reported in January 2007:

    Last year, the nation’s inflation rate declined to its lowest level since 2003. But now, economists are wondering if the 2.6 percent rate may be about as low as it’s going to get for a while.

    So if the inflation rate in Q1 2008 still is 2.6 percent, it also means that, despite all the increases in the price of crude oil, gas, food and a whole range of other commodities, the rate also still is at its lowest level since 2003! Amazing!

    Just for example, the price for potash, a vital fertilizer, rose 29% in Q4 207 alone and it had no impact on inflation at all. Downright eerie!

    This is especially welcome news because if inflation had been any higher, GDP growth in Q1 2008 would have actually have been negative. Whew, I am so relieved!

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Humor, Photos, Society | 15 Comments »