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  • Archive for March, 2010

    Now This is Art!

    Posted by Shannon Love on 18th March 2010 (All posts by )

    Funny Baby Photos - Anyone Got a Stepstool?
    see more

    I’ve been to more than my fair share of art galleries but I’ve never seen any artsy photo that has packed as much pathos as this one.

    I mean, we’ve all been there, at least metaphorically and isn’t that what great art is all about?

    Posted in Humor, Photos | 2 Comments »

    Sleeping with the Enemy–Update

    Posted by David Foster on 18th March 2010 (All posts by )

    My post of a couple of weeks ago, Sleeping with the Enemy, (which expanded on an old novel by Arthur Koestler) has drawn some extensive and thoughtful remarks from Shrinkwrapped…definitely worth reading.

    Also, it is possible to discern a slight relationship between the woman called “Jihad Jane,” an American accused of terrorist activities, and Koestler’s protagonist Hydie Anderson. But as I noted in the post

    today’s Hydies are unlikely to share the educational and religious depth of the woman Koestler imagined

    To put it mildly, judging from appearances in this case. Looks like I called that one right!

    Posted in Anti-Americanism, Book Notes, Christianity, Civil Society, France, Philosophy, Political Philosophy | Comments Off on Sleeping with the Enemy–Update

    Powering Down

    Posted by David Foster on 17th March 2010 (All posts by )

    The California Water Resources Board has ruled that 19 natural gas power plants, located in coastal areas, are in violation of the Clean Water Act for using a technique called “once-through cooling.” According to this article, it appears that this ruling will result in the shutdown of most of these plants.

    (Once-through cooling, which has been used since the days of James Watt, means simply that water is used to condense steam and is thence returned to the source from whence it came. The cooling water is not polluted, but is warmed up a bit. IIRC, the returned cooling water is somewhere in the range of 85-90 degrees F, i.e., less than the temperature of the typical hot tub.)

    The state of California has taken other actions which make it difficult for the capacity of these 19 plants to be replaced. California has a moratorium on new nuclear power plants and coal plants. New natural gas plants, which are less polluting than coal plants (and emit less CO2, for those who care about this issue) are also banned in much of California.

    A project to build large-scale solar plants in the Mojave Desert is encountering opposition from environmentalists who object to the construction of transmission lines to carry the power to San Diego. And California Senator Dianne Feinstein is apparently also opposed to this solar project on grounds that it threatens a species of turtle. There is also environmentalist objection to wind turbines because of the danger they pose to birds and bats.

    If you live in California, expect your electricity bills to rise significantly. If you run an energy-intensive business located in that state, you probably need to think about alternative locations.

    Although unfortunately, these California polities are merely the currently-most-extreme version of the policies that the Democratic Party, in its war on energy, wants to impose on the country as a whole.

    The only possibility we as a nation have to overcome our very serious debt problems and to restore anything like full employment is to grow our way out of the problem. The Democrats’ war on energy is one of the primary threats to such growth.

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, Politics | 39 Comments »

    What Started the Fight in Finnegan’s Wake?

    Posted by Shannon Love on 17th March 2010 (All posts by )

    So, I’m listening to the Dropkick Murphy’s version of Finnegan’s Wake (best version ever) and it struck me that I really don’t understand what triggers the fight that spills the whiskey on Finnegan.

    The relevant lines are:

    His friends assembled at the wake
    And Mrs. Finnegan called for lunch,
    First they brought in tea and cake
    Then pipes, tobacco and whiskey punch.
    Biddy O’Brien began to cry
    “Such a nice clean corpse, did you ever see?
    “Arrah, Tim, mavourneen, why did you die?”
    “Ah, shut your gob” said Paddy McGee!
    Then Maggy O’Connor took up the job
    “O Biddy,” says she, “You’re wrong, I’m sure”:
    Biddy gave her a belt in the gob
    And left her sprawlin’ on the floor.
    And then the war did soon engage
    ‘Twas woman to woman and man to man,
    Shillelagh law was all the rage
    And the row and the ruction soon began.

    Is Biddy O’Brien saying that Finnegan doesn’t look dead and Paddy McGee takes offense at the raising of false hope? (Back in the day, it wasn’t always evident that people were dead. Typhoid in particular produced a paralysis that could be mistaken for death.)

    Does Biddy O’Brien punch Maggy O’Connor just because O’Connor gainsaid her or is there some subtle insult implied?

    I know we Irish are quick to fight but I think there is more to the story. Anybody know?

    Posted in Arts & Letters | 8 Comments »

    Thinking of Changing Jobs

    Posted by James R. Rummel on 17th March 2010 (All posts by )

    Via Ace comes a totally bewildering news story from Great Britain. The official government policy concerning burglary has just been changed. Burglars are not to be jailed unless they cause harm to persons or property.

    No matter how much they steal, no matter if it is irreplaceable family heirlooms, the criminal walks. They get “community punishment”, which I suppose is the same as “community service” is here in the United States.

    And we know that the felons will show up to fulfill their obligation to society because they are such stand up guys. Hardly like criminals at all. Right?

    My favorite part…

    The recommendations to let burglars walk free come as, for the first time in several years, burglaries are increasing.”

    So refusing to lock the burglars up where they can’t ply their vile trade will cause the number of break-ins to decline?

    I keep rereading the news report, and I just can’t believe it. It slides off of my comprehension like claws on glass.

    Is this some sort of April Fools joke done early?

    In the spirit of full disclosure, there was a similar problem in the United States dating from the late 1980’s through the 1990’s. Space in our prisons was at a premium, the crowding so severe that courts were ordering a certain percentage to be released early to thin out the press.

    Eventually the money was found and more prisons were built. And, please note, the felons got at least some jail time.

    (Cross posted in a similar form over at Hell in a Handbasket.)

    Posted in Britain, Crime and Punishment | 10 Comments »

    Puffin Movies

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 17th March 2010 (All posts by )

    I went on a trip to Machias Seal Island where there is an Atlantic Puffin colony off the coast of Maine and nearby Canada in 2007. I stayed at a Canadian island near New Brunswick called Grand Manan Island and took a charter boat from a guide to get to the puffin colony.

    For an hour I was in a small blind bird watching. There was no light inside the blind so we could see out but (supposedly) the birds couldn’t see inside. However, I am sure that the Atlantic Puffins knew we were there because they kept walking right up to the rocks in front of the blind just a foot or two away and eyeballing us, which was great.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Humor, Photos | 1 Comment »

    “What people need to know is that Obama’s plan evades health care’s major problems and would worsen the budget outlook. It’s a big new spending program when government hasn’t paid for the spending programs it already has.”

    Posted by onparkstreet on 16th March 2010 (All posts by )

    – From this Robert J. Samuelson article in the Washington Post (via Instapundit).

    Many CB readers likely have read the above article, which does a nice job challenging certain aspects of the intellectual and policy “group-think” at the heart of ObamaCare. But never fear – I’m sure the same political class that sends its children to private schools in D.C. will cheerfully take its place in line with the rest of us should the “reform” fail to live up to expectation.

    Update: Ezra Klein interviews Rep. Paul Ryan.

    Posted in Health Care | 9 Comments »

    Mini-Book Review — Groopman — How Doctors Think

    Posted by James McCormick on 15th March 2010 (All posts by )

    Groopman, Jerome, How Doctors Think, Houghton Mifflin, 2007.

    This book is several years old but deals with timeless subject matter that might be of interest to cb readers. In the past decade or two, a major initiative called evidence-based medicine (EBM) has tried to improve how medical research is conducted and how it is used in everyday clinical practice. It’s the application of the scientific method (with all its strengths and weaknesses) to confirming how we know what we know about medical practice. Some examples of such efforts “organized improvement” were covered in a book I reviewed earlier on cb called Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande. Like Dr. Gawande, Dr. Groopman writes extensively for the New Yorker. The resulting quality and clarity of his writing in How Doctors Think stands out. Either he or his editors are very good.

    In How Doctors Think, the author looks at a very different avenue of medical improvement. Deductive, evidence-based, medicine necessarily involves many patients and the careful collection of information about how a treatment works for large numbers of people. This is the foundation for proving the efficacy of particular treatments for particular populations, and winnowing out cases where doctors are “fooling themselves” about their treatment. Not fooling ourselves, as physicist Richard Feynman once pointed out, is one of the great challenges of science. The folks doing EBM research always give themselves a good laugh by evaluating the mathematical and statistical skills of the average GP. Interpreting the scientific medical literature is a real skill. One that needs to be taught and reinforced. As a baseline, we can aspire for a medical profession that can dependably read, critique, and interpret its own research.

    The inductive process of forming a diagnosis and executing treatment with a specific patient benefits mightily from the disciplined research of EBM, but it by no means replaces the services of skilled physicians. Checklists or AI applications in medicine can reduce egregious errors, but human judgment, matched with experience and rigorous thinking, are necessary components of health care. And that’s the focus of Groopman’s book.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Health Care, Medicine, Science | 7 Comments »

    Coming Into Focus

    Posted by James R. Rummel on 15th March 2010 (All posts by )

    I posted an essay last month, discussing how the Obama administration took a stance concerning the Falkland Islands that was sure to annoy Great Britain.

    The reason as I see it for this strange move, which is almost certainly going to very slightly erode the special relationship that the United States enjoys with the UK without gaining anything in return, is due to Obama’s overall foreign policy vision.

    It would seem that he is pursuing a Jeffersonian strategy, where commitments beyond our borders are seen as messy and dangerous. An added bonus to divesting the US of allies is that military spending can be cut in favor of domestic budgets, as there will be few reasons to project power across the globe if we don’t have any friends.

    Two items that Glenn linked to yesterday support my conclusions.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anglosphere, Britain, International Affairs, Israel, Military Affairs, Obama, Politics | 6 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading and Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 14th March 2010 (All posts by )

    (Every week or so, I post a collection of interesting links at Photon Courier under the above heading. There’s so much interesting stuff this week I thought I’d post it here as well)

    Erin O’Connor on California’s universities and their role in the state’s economic debacle.

    Climategate: it was an academic disaster waiting to happen. Interesting and contrarian thoughts about the role of peer review.

    Richard Fernandez wonders if World War III has already started…without many people even noticing. (via Isegoria)

    Solar arbitrage in Germany. (via Maggie’s Farm) It’s hard to believe he will really get away with this, but still pretty funny. See also this related post from Evolving Excellence: Better Call the Waaaahmulance!

    AnoukAnge writes about ambition. (One of the great literary works that deals with this subject is Goethe’s Faust…memo to self: a blog post on the treatment of ambition within Faust could be very interesting)

    AnoukAnge also has a nice photographic essay on color…including the psychological connotations and cultural-symbolic meanings of various colors.

    Speaking of color, this year’s winning images have been chosen for GE’s In Cell Analyzer photography contest. The In Cell system used used by scientists for better understanding disease processes and for drug development; as it happens, it also produces images which are appealing and even beautiful, in a psychedelic sort of way. There’s a nice video, with music, at the bottom of GE’s post about the contest.

    One more photography-related link: British industry in the 1950s and 1960s. (via Brian Gongol)

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Economics & Finance, Education, Environment, Science | 1 Comment »

    American Archetypes: Power & Humility

    Posted by Ginny on 14th March 2010 (All posts by )

    I’ve always been a sucker for the great Jungian archetypes. When Jammie-Wearing-Fool pointed this out, the Times’ image reverberated. But not in a completely pleasant way. The Hitler meme may be tired, but my instinctive memory was of Triumph of the Will, which taught me how much images evoked even when they are countered by reason and knowledge.

    A Reynolds’ reader points out the cross isn’t appropriate for the leader of the most powerful nation on earth; he’s more a Herod/Caeser/Pilate. And perhaps Lent isn’t a great time to blaspheme. But, then, does the Times even know the meaning that gives power to the symbols they manipulate? They swim through a world whose history is rich with such symbols, but they don’t understand the richness within an image. Of course, they do cherish that frisson of edgy sentiment. And they know enough to know that they lose power if the images are of chocolates and the Easter Bunny. (Unless, of course, like the New Yorker, they crucify the bunny.) The Times doesn’t seem campy – over-the-top, perhaps, but not ironic.

    But I’m not so easily seduced – indeed, something else strikes me. This picture doesn’t have American heroism, doesn’t have the power of the great American archetypes. American history is of humility linked with grandeur: our presidents are large not because the White House is in their shadow, but rather because they are in its. Neither larger than the office nor wiser than the Constitution, their heroism comes because they reverence those ideas, losing their selves in them. Enlarged by the White House, they are well aware of the distinction between their private selves and the public office they hold but for a term or two.

    Our presidents have needed a sureness of touch, a confidence that orders men into battle. But they also needed humility. George Washington handing over his sword, George Washington handing over his office – these are symbols of heroism. Many a man has been a general; few have had the self-respect, the pride in country and history (minimal as that history was for that early, role-defining president), the humility before not the founders but the founders’ ideas. Such humility gives backbone; it comes from a large, simple and even ego-less pride.

    We haven’t been seeing much humility lately. But that is what moves us; it structures the archetypes Americans catch their breath over, indeed, the ones that mist our eyes.

    Posted in Obama, Photos | 9 Comments »

    Muse and the Concert Experience

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 14th March 2010 (All posts by )

    Muse is a British band that is huge overseas but starting to get more of a following in the states. I recently saw them at the United Center (I saw them at Lollapalooza in the rain two years ago, a great show) and it was a very entertaining concert. Their set list from the show is here with links to the songs; someone updated this set list minutes after the show had ended.

    I have seen a lot of concerts and the effects on the Muse show were top-rate. I have seen the band Tool which uses intense visuals & who put a lot of effort into their show and I did not see U2 but their last tour obviously looked state-of-the-art, as well.

    Recently I saw a comedy special by Nick Swardson, who played “Terry” the roller-skating gay prostitute on the sadly canceled Reno 911! show. In this unlikeliest of places I heard something that made me think… the comedian was talking about how blase we are today, about the special effects for a movie like “Transformers”. He said that if people from the 1950’s saw that movie their heads would explode while today in the 21st century we just take it for granted.

    As I watched the effects and sound on the Muse show I thought about how much the sound quality, visual effects and stage quality (the stage components rose and fell independently in synch with all the laser and light effects) and how they would just blow away anything from the 60’s – 80’s. If you brought in the top shows from those years the artists and fans would just stand there, mouth agape as they watched something like Muse, with their integrated lights / effects / and sounds.

    As some people (generally baby boomers) talk about how rock music was better in different eras they obviously aren’t considering how much vastly improved the concert experience has been made by modern technology, when properly done. Not only are the visual effects better, but the performers have better microphones and monitors and supporting technicians on hand. The effects in those eras probably only were effective if you provided your own chemicals in the brain as enhancements.

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Chicagoania, Music | 10 Comments »

    An odd and jittery performance on Charlie Rose

    Posted by onparkstreet on 12th March 2010 (All posts by )

    By the Speaker of the House of Representatives, that is. Did you see the interview with the good Speaker Pelosi? The normally placid environment (that solid wooden table!) is not so placid with said guest visiting. Petty to note, perhaps, but I felt as if I were watching a performance, and the performer was a nervous and jittery one.

    Anyway, judge the quality of the interview for yourselves. Here are a few choice excerpts from the transcript at Real Clear Politics:

    Pelosi: “People are more optimistic outside of Washington D.C. than they are inside of Washington. They want to — they want to be sure that we stick to our path which is to take us out of this economic challenge and not be afraid to do so” – What?

    Pelosi: “When the president began and he said that he called for swift, bold action now. And the public responded to it in a very positive way. And he said in a very shall we say professorial way, but also inspirational way, we will harness the sun and the wind and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories, and we’ll invest in science, have better healthcare innovation and schools for the 21st century.” – What?

    Pelosi: “Universal healthcare. It’s a place where we are recognizing the damage to our planet by decision that said we have made that we need to reverse. It’s a place where we have to go — we had the industrial revolution, we have the technological revolution. Now we have to have a green revolution.” – What?

    Pelosi: “I think there is a realization among all people that all the things we want to do, we need to think in public private — public, public, all different kinds of different combinations on how we get them done, so we can leverage our dollars in a safe way, but leverage our dollars so we get more than just the appropriate dollars.” – What does that even mean?

    I could go on and on. What do you suppose she’s saying?

    SUPER-DUPER MASSIVE AND IMPORTANT UPDATE: I screwed up – the link is to the 2010 Rose interview that I recently watched, while the excerpts are from the 2009 interview. I honestly did not pick up on that while reading the transcript, obviously. In my defense, here’s an excerpt from the correct transcript:

    “It’s so historic. It’s so exhilarating to be part of
    history that each one of us in the Congress is on the brink of making
    history. This is Social Security, Medicare, health care for all Americans.
    So it is its own — it has its own encouragement to it. ”

    “It has its own encouragment to it.” Well, there you go. Make fun of me and my faulty memory, and her statement, in the comments. Or just me. Whatever.

    Posted in Environment, Health Care, Human Behavior, Media | 20 Comments »

    Subsidy Farming

    Posted by Jonathan on 11th March 2010 (All posts by )

    This is the kind of thing that happens when governments distort market incentives.

    The above-market prices, called feed-in tariffs because panel owners feed power into the grid at premium prices guaranteed for decades, are high enough in Italy to generate average revenue of 35 euros ($48) a day for a 100-square-meter (1,076-square-foot) roof, according to Bloomberg calculations.
     
    “The feed-in tariff drives our business plan and profitability,” said de Vergnies, whose plans include two photovoltaic plants in southern Italy that will generate enough electricity for 25,000 homes.

    The gist:

    The solar industry is “built on subsidies,” said James Britland, an alternative energy analyst at Allianz RCM in London. “This is a non-competitive industry that has to be subsidized.”

    The investment capital that’s diverted by taxes into subsidies for politically-correct tech fads, and by investors themselves in response to the distorted incentives created by such subsidies, is capital that doesn’t get invested in productive ventures in biotech, medical devices, etc., etc. Keep this fact in mind the next time you or someone you know needs advanced medical treatment. Those chemotherapy agents and other wonder drugs don’t invent themselves. Fewer of them get invented to the extent we allow our reckless political class to divert precious capital to unproductive solar-energy schemes and other financial sinkholes.

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, Markets and Trading, Politics | 8 Comments »

    The Sacred Fools of the Market Economy

    Posted by Shannon Love on 11th March 2010 (All posts by )

    Tim Cavanaugh at Reason, observes that the peak of the dot-dom bubble was reached ten years ago today. The dot-com bubble and other technology bubbles are often held out as examples of the irrational nature of market economies by those who think they could do a better job of running the planetary economy than the rest of us can.

    This is myth. Booms and busts represent two equal and necessary phases of technological development. A bust looks ugly but so does the birth of child. The busts are every bit as necessary as the booms and every bit as good for the general society and economy.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Entrepreneurship, Tech | 13 Comments »

    “Why Is That Gargoyle Smiling?”

    Posted by David Foster on 11th March 2010 (All posts by )

    Since we seem to have quite a few poetry lovers here…check out this unlikely and beautiful poem by Jeff Sypeck.

    Posted in Architecture, History, Poetry | 3 Comments »

    “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?” Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt

    Posted by onparkstreet on 10th March 2010 (All posts by )

    Zooey Deschanel has a kind of classic Thirties, Old Hollywood, comedic actress vibe – that is still, somehow, very modern….
     
    This is a sweet video and song.
     
     


     

    Posted in Music, Video | 5 Comments »

    Book Review: Between Silk and Cyanide, by Leo Marks

    Posted by David Foster on 9th March 2010 (All posts by )

    We have a little time left
    The wise doctor said
    Unless there’s a miracle
    Which is another man’s trade

    Selfish as always
    I’ve started missing you now
    Want to say so
    Don’t know how
    Want to hug you
    Don’t know if I should
    Hope you understand
    I’d take your place if I could

    In 1942, at the age of 22, Leo Marks joined the secret British agency known as Special Operations Executive, and soon became the organization’s Codemaster, responsible for the security of communications with SOE’s resistance and sabotage agents in occupied Europe. He usually briefed these agents…soon-to-be-legendary individuals like Violette Szabo and Forest Yeo-Thomas…before their departures and they all left indelible impressions on him. His memoir is a very emotional book: frequently heartbreaking, sometimes very funny. There is a lot about the technical aspects of cryptography, but these sections can be skipped or skimmed by those who are primarily interested in the powerful human story. Poetry, much of it written by Marks himself, played an important part in SOE’s cryptographic operations and hence plays an important role in this book.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Britain, France, History, Poetry, War and Peace | 16 Comments »

    Racist Is As Racist Does

    Posted by James R. Rummel on 7th March 2010 (All posts by )

    Glenn linked to this post at the Amazon.com food blog.

    The author was shocked (shocked!) to find out that the tuna she has been using wasn’t from Italy, even though it has a vaguely Italian-sounding name. In fact, the tuna is caught in the middle of the ocean, and packaged by an American company.

    So what does she do? The author swears off that particular brand of tuna! It was perfectly good when she thought it was from Italy, but it isn’t worthy enough to pass her lips now that she knows that a company based in the US is involved. Only tuna caught in the waters off Sicily, and packaged in that country, will be used from now on.

    Most of the comments at the post accuse the author of being a snob, which certainly seems to be obvious. But I think it shows a much darker and vile tendency than simple snobbery. Isn’t the author exhibiting blatant racism?

    Turn it around. If someone refused to use perfectly acceptable tuna from Sicily, just because it came from Sicily, they would be accused of being racist. How could they not? There isn’t anything wrong with the product, after all. They just can’t stomach the idea that those people touched the food.

    So isn’t it racist to do the same thing, just because the tuna is sold by an American company?

    As of this writing, the author hasn’t bothered to respond to the criticism. I doubt she will. Racists usually have a lack of backbone, after all.

    Posted in Anti-Americanism, Blogging, Recipes | 19 Comments »

    How Can This Be An Issue?

    Posted by James R. Rummel on 7th March 2010 (All posts by )

    A measure put to the vote recently in Switzerland was to give abused animals their own lawyers. It was handily defeated.

    I’m at a loss here. How did this get on the ballot? Isn’t there a global economic crises going on right now? So, of course, money has to be spent on expanding another bureaucracy. There are already laws on the Swiss books to protect animals, so why not hire lawyers to represent them in court?

    Yeah, yeah, I know. I hate the helpless little furry children, and want to see them suffer. The reality is rather different.

    Special interest groups will drain us all. Luckily the voters in Switzerland told them to get lost.

    Posted in Crime and Punishment, Europe, Law | 5 Comments »

    2010 IKC Chicago Dog Show

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 5th March 2010 (All posts by )

    Recently I went to the dog show at McCormick place in Chicago. I highly recommend it – a lot of fun, especially if you bring kids. The fun isn’t the judging or the agility contests (which are cool) but involves walking around looking at all the breeds as they are being groomed.

    Many of the dogs were in curlers of some sort as they prepared for the show but this one seemed particularly sad.

    These two cracked me up – it was the “before and after” as the dogs prepared for the show. You wouldn’t believe the attention and effort that the owners lavished on these animals.

    Here is a movie I made with all of my photos. If you can’t see the movie a link is here.
     
     


     
     
    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Chicagoania, Video | 5 Comments »

    Seizing the Opportunity to Destroy Western Civilization

    Posted by Joseph Fouche on 4th March 2010 (All posts by )

    A fable agreed upon

    A fable agreed upon

    Nassim Nicholas Taleb defines black swans as events that:

    1. Are totally unpredictable by mortal minds.
    2. Have a disproportionately large impact.
    3. Have retroactive predictability imposed on them through the foresight of 20/20 hindsight.

    Taleb frequently points to the outbreak of World War I as an example of a black swan. He scoffs at historical accounts that present the outbreak as the result of trends that built up over the preceding decades, dismissing them as manifestations of the narrative fallacy:

    Narrative fallacy: our need to fit a story or pattern to a series of connected or disconnected facts.

    As evidence of the narrative fallacy in histories of World War I, Taleb cites Niall Ferguson’s The Pity Of War on the failure of bond investors to price the possibility of war into their trades right before the war broke out. Ferguson now returns the favor in Complexity and Collapse, citing Taleb in his excoriation of historians who peddle epic theories of social collapse likeGiambattista Vico, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Karl Marx, Oswald Spengler, Arnold Toynbee, Paul Kennedy, and Jared Diamond. After any major historical event, Ferguson complains:

    …historians arrive on the scene. They are the scholars who specialize in the study of “fat tail” events—the low-frequency, high-impact moments that inhabit the tails of probability distributions, such as wars, revolutions, financial crashes, and imperial collapses. But historians often misunderstand complexity in decoding these events. They are trained to explain calamity in terms of long-term causes, often dating back decades. This is what Nassim Taleb rightly condemned in The Black Swan as “the narrative fallacy”: the construction of psychologically satisfying stories on the principle of post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

    Drawing casual inferences about causation is an age-old habit. Take World War I. A huge war breaks out in the summer of 1914, to the great surprise of nearly everyone. Before long, historians have devised a story line commensurate with the disaster: a treaty governing the neutrality of Belgium that was signed in 1839, the waning of Ottoman power in the Balkans dating back to the 1870s, and malevolent Germans and the navy they began building in 1897. A contemporary version of this fallacy traces the 9/11 attacks back to the Egyptian government’s 1966 execution of Sayyid Qutb, the Islamist writer who inspired the Muslim Brotherhood. Most recently, the financial crisis that began in 2007 has been attributed to measures of financial deregulation taken in the United States in the 1980s.

    Ferguson proclaims that the real truth is found in the opposite direction:

    In reality, the proximate triggers of a crisis are often sufficient to explain the sudden shift from a good equilibrium to a bad mess. Thus, World War I was actually caused by a series of diplomatic miscalculations in the summer of 1914, the real origins of 9/11 lie in the politics of Saudi Arabia in the 1990s, and the financial crisis was principally due to errors in monetary policy by the U.S. Federal Reserve and to China’s rapid accumulation of dollar reserves after 2001. Most of the fat-tail phenomena that historians study are not the climaxes of prolonged and deterministic story lines; instead, they represent perturbations, and sometimes the complete breakdowns, of complex systems.

    I’m going to quibble with the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History here.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Germany, History, Military Affairs, Personal Narrative, War and Peace | 39 Comments »

    We’re the Second City (part of the Second State)

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 4th March 2010 (All posts by )

    Whoo hoo! We are definitely the Second City, or maybe I should say, the second state, according to this Bloomberg article:

    ILLINOIS, the second-lowest-rated U.S. state after California, will take bids on March 11 from banks seeking to underwrite $300 million of Build America Bonds and $56 million of non-subsidized taxable notes. The deal will finance school construction, according to John Sinsheimer, director of capital markets for Illinois. The state, which last sold Build America Bonds in a $1 billion deal on Jan. 28, is rated A2 by Moody’s, A+ by S&P and A by Fitch. A statutory requirement calls for 25 percent of all state debt to be bid competitively, Sinsheimer said. Banks led by William Blair & Co. will negotiate the sale of an additional $700 million in Build America securities in mid-March, he said. (Added March 2)

    Not only is Illinois poorly rated from a credit perspective, we often don’t do a good job of selling the debt. This post described how a Chicago government entity issued bonds and sold them for an uncompetitive price, generating instant profits from the purchasers of that debt. You’d think that since the state of Illinois issues so much debt, at least we’d be good at it, but perhaps not.

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Chicagoania, Economics & Finance | 3 Comments »

    Follow the House they all say….

    Posted by onparkstreet on 4th March 2010 (All posts by )

    1. It’s worth reiterating something Rich and Jeff Anderson have pointed out: The focus on reconciliation in the past few days confuses things a bit. The question in the health-care debate at the moment is whether Nancy Pelosi can get enough of her members to vote for the version of Obamacare that passed the Senate late last year. If the House passes that bill, it will have passed both houses, will go to the president, and will become law.Yuval Levin, NRO

    2. So if, in the end, this process works as the White House wants it to work, it will do so because of core Democratic and liberal beliefs. Republicans and conservatives need to understand that; the political horror faced by every Democrat who does not have an entirely safe seat can be mitigated in part by the belief that there may be enough Democrats who can live their lives proud to have brought this measure to fruition.John Podhoretz, Commentary

    Posted in Health Care | 5 Comments »

    The Machiavellians: Principle II

    Posted by Joseph Fouche on 4th March 2010 (All posts by )

    The struggle for power

    The struggle for power

    The second principle outlined in James Burnham’s 1943 political science classic The Machiavellians is the fundamental truth about politics:

    2. The primary subject-matter of political science is the struggle for social power in its diverse open and concealed forms.

    (Contrary views hold that political thought deals with the general welfare, the common good, and other such entities that are from time to time invented by the theorists.)

    To paraphrase Clausewitz:

    [Politics] is nothing but a duel on a large scale. Countless duels go to make up [politics], but a picture of the whole can be formed by imagining a pair of wrestlers. Each tries…to compel the other to do his will; his immediate aim is to throw his opponent in order to make him incapable of further resistance.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Political Philosophy, Politics | 2 Comments »