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  • Archive for July, 2012

    The Smallest Hive

    Posted by Ginny on 20th July 2012 (All posts by )

    My friend plays bridge; she tells me the Soviets banned it. Ah, I thought, bridge is mysterious; why, I asked. But it wasn’t bridge – it was the four or eight or twelve – it was community, sharing an interest, and then companionship. It wasn’t as big as the God the party banned or as intimate as the family nor as public as deadened ideas in factory and academy. But it was one of those pillars Charles Murray describes in Coming Apart whose fall disorganizes and diminishes our lives – and our society. Our desire for them is strong; alienation requires strong dominance, perhaps murder – random and targeted, mass and individual. At first we don’t miss them; now and here, we can choose. We often don’t weight our choices as if they are consequential. But they are.

    Government has intruded more in the last four years – will in the next four if Iowatrades has it right. But a half century ago we boomers loftily decided connections were oppressive. Above our water beds, posters quoted Emerson – Whim, yes, that was it. Well that’s part of growing up. Eschewing those conventions, consideration of “others” was hazy. We thought, in Haidt’s terms, with our chimp minds. And that’s pretty much adolescence – chimpdom. Spurning connections – religious love, familial love, communal love, and selfless passion for vocation/avocation – we devalued the hive. And the smallest, the first, hive is family.

    Why the large “marriage gap” between Obama and Romney? They share one quality neither is always credited with – consistency of vision. If we see a part we can understand the whole. What they don’t share, of course, are definitions of success or family, government or power, integrity or responsibility. Those multi-generation pictures of the Romneys contrast with Obama’s disinterest even in his half-siblings. He may have a broader definition of community, but it isn’t because he has built on a smaller one. Remember how he described his grandmother – family less a marker than race.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Society, Human Behavior, Obama, Politics | 5 Comments »

    Did the government really build that?

    Posted by TM Lutas on 19th July 2012 (All posts by )

    Recently, President Obama opined that businesses depend on infrastructure built by the government. Roads, bridges, “you didn’t build that”. So the businessman writing the big check for taxes? His money sent to government doesn’t mean that he built it. Fair enough, but why is President Obama’s check privileged over the businessman’s check? The guy with the backhoe, the flagger, the asphalt plant, chances are that all of them are private industry. In all justice what makes it the government’s road?

    Posted in Big Government, Obama, Rhetoric | 10 Comments »

    The Spectacle of Wrecks on the Internet Superhighway

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 19th July 2012 (All posts by )

    I am not one of those people who thrive on discord – which may be one of the reasons that I gave up posting on Open Salon yea these many months ago. I am at heart a rather peaceful and well-mannered person who does not actively seek out confrontation, on the internet or in real life … no really, stop laughing! I merely present myself as someone who doesn’t suffer fools lightly, and who will not hesitate to squash them, which has the pleasing result of not being very much bothered by fools. It’s called ‘presence’… and has worked out pretty well, actually online and in real life. I can easily count the number of fools I have squashed … only a dozen or so that I remember. And none of them came back for seconds.

    I don’t deliberately slow down to gawk at epic highway pileups either … except that in real life, everyone ahead of you has slowed down anyway, and the full spectrum of destruction is spread before you. And as for epic internet crackups … one can go for months without being made particularly aware of them, but this week my attention was caught by news of the mother-in-law-of all internet crack-ups to do with books. This one I must pay some attention to, as books are my vocation. It’s a more appalling spectacle than the Great Books And Pals/Jacqueline Howett Review Crackup of 2011, which should have served as an object lesson in how an author should not respond to a mildly critical review. This fresh slice of internet literary hell is what I am dubbing the Great Stop the Goodreads Bullies Cluster of 2012.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Civil Society, Human Behavior, Just Unbelievable, Lit Crit, Personal Narrative | 15 Comments »

    Jousting with a Phantom

    Posted by David Foster on 19th July 2012 (All posts by )

    Those people who call themselves “progressives” are talking a lot about equality and inequality these days. And conservatives/libertarians, in response, attempt to explain why “equality of outcomes” is infeasible and unwise.

    To a substantial degree, though, they/we are jousting with a phantom. Because leading “progressives” don’t really believe in anything resembling equality—indeed, quite the contrary.

    Consider, for example: Many people in “progressive” leadership positions are graduates of the Harvard Law School. Do you think these people want to see a society in which the career, status, and income prospects for an HLS grad are no better than those for a graduate of a lesser-known, lower-status (but still very good) law school? C’mon.

    Quite a few “progressive” leaders are members of prominent families. Do you think Teddy Kennedy would have liked to see an environment in which he and certain other members of his family would have had to answer for their actions in the criminal courts in the same way that ordinary individuals would, without benefit from connections, media influence, and expensive lawyers?

    The prevalence of “progressivism” among tenured professors is quite high. How many of these professors would be eager to agree to employment conditions in which their job security and employee benefits were no better than those enjoyed by average Americans? How many of them would take a salary cut in order to provide higher incomes for the poorly-paid adjunct professors at their universities? How many would like to see PhD requirements eliminated so that a wider pool of talented and knowledgeable individuals can participate in university teaching?

    There are a lot of “progressives” among the graduates of Ivy League universities. How many of them would be in favor of legally eliminating alumni preferences and the influence of “contributions” and have their children considered for admission–or not–on the same basis as everyone else’s kids? Yet an alumni preference is an intergenerational asset in the same way that a small businessman’s store or factory is.

    The reality is that “progressivism” is not in any way about equality, it is rather about shifting the distribution of power and wealth in a way that benefits those with certain kinds of educational credentials and certain kinds of connections. And remember, power and connections are always transmutable into wealth. Sometimes that wealth is directly dollar-denominated, as in the millions of dollars that former president Bill Clinton was paid in speaking fees last year, or the money made by a former government official who leverages his contacts into an executive job with a “green” energy company–even though he may have minimal knowledge of either energy or business. And sometimes the wealth takes the form of in-kind benefits, like a university president’s mansion. (Those who lived in the old Soviet Union and Eastern Europe can tell you all about in-kind benefits for nominally low-paid officials.) And, almost always, today’s “progressivism” is about the transfer of power from individuals to credentialed “experts” who will coerce or “nudge” people to do with those experts have decided would be best.

    To a very substantial extent, the talk about “equality” is a smokescreen, conscious or unconscious, behind which “progressives” pursue their own economic, status, and ego agendas.

    Writing in 1969, Peter Drucker–who was born in Austria and had lived in several European countries–wrote about what he saw as a key American economic advantage: the much less-dominant role played by “elite” educational institutions:

    One thing it (modern society) cannot afford in education is the “elite institution” which has a monopoly on social standing, on prestige, and on the command positions in society and economy. Oxford and Cambridge are important reasons for the English brain drain. A main reason for the technology gap is the Grande Ecole such as the Ecole Polytechnique or the Ecole Normale. These elite institutions may do a magnificent job of education, but only their graduates normally get into the command positions. Only their faculties “matter.” This restricts and impoverishes the whole society…The Harvard Law School might like to be a Grande Ecole and to claim for its graduates a preferential position. But American society has never been willing to accept this claim…
It is almost impossible to explain to a European that the strength of American higher education lies in this absence of schools for leaders and schools for followers.

    The “unwillingness of American society to accept this claim”…the claim of elite education as the primary gateway to power and wealth…has been greatly undercut since Drucker wrote. And “progressives” have been among the main under-cutters and the leading advocates for further movement in that direction.

    Related: Paying higher taxes can be very profitable.

    Posted in Academia, Civil Society, Education, Political Philosophy, USA | 12 Comments »

    That’s it in a nutshell!

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 18th July 2012 (All posts by )

    If you arrived here without reading part I of this post — Are science and religion both standing on thin air? — you may want to go read it first. But not necessarily. It’s about whether we can reason about God, or maybe Nothing, as the origin of all things — or whether the universe just popped up of its own accord.

    Obviously, different people have different opinions about all that, and if they’re argumentative types, they argue.

    What I want to do here is to avoid the argument completely, and ask you how you feel.

    **

    I am going to offer you three quotes, by three well-known writers, each of them saying in effect, “that’s it in a nutshell”.

    One of them is a medieval Catholic mystic, one a poet from the transitional period between the medieval-religious and secular-contemporary worldviews, and the third hopefully somewhat representative of contemporary secular thought.

    First, the mystic Julian of Norwich:

    In this vision he showed me a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, and it was round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and thought “What may this be?” And it was generally answered thus: “It is all that is made.” I marvelled how it might last, for it seemed it might suddenly have sunk into nothing because of its littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: “It lasts and ever shall, because God loves it.”

    As you read this post, I would like you to get a sense of how free you feel to breathe. Does it feel constricting, with its religious terminology, its “vision” and its God”? Does it feel liberating, with its sense of another, visionary world, beyond or behind the one that presents itself to our senses?

    And then, hey, there’s the poet William Blake:

    To see a world in a grain of sand,
    And a heaven in a wild flower,
    Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
    And eternity in an hour.

    Does that let you slip past the constraints of religiosity, while retaining a sense of poetry, of mystery perhaps? Or does it still seem a bit fey, more fantastic than real, just, let’s be honest about this, not entirely practical?

    And hoo boy, do I have a third quote for you.

    This one’s from an interview the science fiction author JG Ballard gave to The Paris Review. I’ve dropped out a question from the interviewer, because it would have made for a clunkier read — but I think Ballard, whose The Crystal World I very much admire, comes across “clean and clear” here:

    I would say that I quite consciously rely on my obsessions in all my work, that I deliberately set up an obsessional frame of mind. In a paradoxical way, this leaves one free of the subject of the obsession. It’s like picking up an ashtray and staring so hard at it that one becomes obsessed by its contours, angles, texture, et cetera, and forgets that it is an ashtray — a glass dish for stubbing out cigarettes. … Yes, so the unity of the enterprise is forever there. A whole universe can be bounded in a nutshell. Of course, why one chooses certain topics as the subject for one’s obsessions is a different matter. Why was I obsessed by car crashes? It’s such a peculiar idea.

    How’s that for dystopia?

    **

    And so, my question:

    As you read those three quotations, each of them centering on a universe in a nutshell, so to speak — which one gives you a sense of freedom? which one sits well on your shoulders? Which world do you live in? Which do you prefer?

    Do all three fall under the general rubric of Fantasy and Science Fiction, perhaps?

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Religion | 3 Comments »

    Are science and religion both standing on thin air?

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 18th July 2012 (All posts by )

    We can argue the pros and cons of religion all we like, but I’m not sure it will tell us much more than what our own basic hunches are.

    This is part I of a two part post.

    Look, there have been a couple of books out recently that suggest something — the universe or universe of universes — might just have come out of nothing, without nothing having to have come out of anywhere special itself.

    And there have been a couple of reviews of those books that I’ve read recently, and they don’t think that “it’s nothings, nothings all the way down” is any better than “it’s turtles, turtles all the way down”.

    If you’re interested in that discussion, the next two chunks will be of interest to you — but if not, you can skip them and go right to my follow up post — That’s it in a nutshell! — with its three short quotes and a question.

    So here are the two chunks — gobbits, if you’re a literary type — that I thought might be of interest.

    **

    The first comes from David Albert‘s review of A Universe From Nothing by Lawrence M. Krauss. Albert is a philosopher at Columbia and the author of Quantum Mechanics and Experience:

    It happens that ever since the scientific revolution of the 17th century, what physics has given us in the way of candidates for the fundamental laws of nature have as a general rule simply taken it for granted that there is, at the bottom of everything, some basic, elementary, eternally persisting, concrete, physical stuff. Newton, for example, took that elementary stuff to consist of material particles. And physicists at the end of the 19th century took that elementary stuff to consist of both material particles and electro-magnetic fields. And so on. And what the fundamental laws of nature are about, and all the fundamental laws of nature are about, and all there is for the fundamental laws of nature to be about, insofar as physics has ever been able to imagine, is how that elementary stuff is arranged. The fundamental laws of nature generally take the form of rules concerning which arrangements of that stuff are physically possible and which aren’t, or rules connecting the arrangements of that elementary stuff at later times to its arrangement at earlier times, or something like that. But the laws have no bearing whatsoever on questions of where the elementary stuff came from, or of why the world should have consisted of the particular elementary stuff it does, as opposed to something else, or to nothing at all.
    .
    The fundamental physical laws that Krauss is talking about in “A Universe From Nothing” — the laws of relativistic quantum field theories — are no exception to this. The particular, eternally persisting, elementary physical stuff of the world, according to the standard presentations of relativistic quantum field theories, consists (unsurprisingly) of relativistic quantum fields. And the fundamental laws of this theory take the form of rules concerning which arrangements of those fields are physically possible and which aren’t, and rules connecting the arrangements of those fields at later times to their arrangements at earlier times, and so on — and they have nothing whatsoever to say on the subject of where those fields came from, or of why the world should have consisted of the particular kinds of fields it does, or of why it should have consisted of fields at all, or of why there should have been a world in the first place. Period. Case closed. End of story.

    **

    The second comes from Kathryn Schulz‘s review of Jim Holt’s Why Does the World Exist? Schulz is the book critic for New York Magazine:

    You can say A because B, B because C, C because D—but what explains D? If you say A, your explanation is circular. If you say because E because F because G (H, I, J, K … ), your explanation is an infinite regress: a taller stack of turtles. You might, instead, argue that D is explained by X, where X is some kind of necessary truth, a logical deduction or physical law. But this presents an interesting question: How, exactly, do you get a material universe out of a necessary truth? “Are the laws of physics somehow to inform the Abyss that it is pregnant with Being?” Holt asks. “If so, where do the laws themselves live? Do they hover over the world like the mind of God? … How do they reach out and make a world? How do they force events to obey them?”
    .
    Got me. Got everybody. Try as we might, we can’t find a way to tell a sound causal story about the origins of the universe. The absence of an explanation is one thing, but the absence of any imaginable form that an explanation could take is something else, and it has caused many cosmologists to throw up their hands.

    **

    So my general impression is that both religion and science are treading on thin air. And I don’t mind if you call it God, or Nothing, or Mystery.

    I like it. No, make that: I love it.

    But that’s me. Hopefully, you’re ready now for part II

    Posted in Religion, Science | 5 Comments »

    Song Suggestions for Block Party Band

    Posted by Lexington Green on 18th July 2012 (All posts by )

    In Oak Park the tradition is to have a block party on each block over the course of the Summer. A sub-tradition, which occasionally happens, is live musical performances by denizens of the block. My friend Ed is a keyboard player in addition to his many other accomplishments. He performed with a block party band that had him, two guitars, bass, drums, and FOUR girl singers (OK, grown-up women), one of whom played harmonica. They were way better than I expected them to be. Soon after the performance I compiled a lengthy email suggesting songs they might perform at future performances. The email with videos is below the fold, for anyone who might be interested.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Music, Video | 8 Comments »

    “What is seen and what is not seen”

    Posted by Jonathan on 18th July 2012 (All posts by )

    Tom Smith on Obama’s recent comments about business:

    Much could be said about how stupid was President { }'s recent comments about business founders not really having built their businesses by themselves, but rather owing them in large part to things others, especially the government, did for them. You drove on a public road to meet your 457th potential angel investor. Your third grade public school teacher taught you always to say please. And so government gets a lot of the credit for the thing you sweated blood to create. Big surprize. If you build anything, you can absolutely bet people will line up for the credit, like Al Gores for the internet. Failure, you can keep the credit for that.
     
    But here's the question to ask — how many more successful businesses, inventions, products, services, toys, tools, insights, and just plain fun would there be, if government did not in the first place make it so ridiculously difficult to start a business and keep it going? I don't see our young president taking credit on behalf of the state for all the failures it help cause, all the ideas that never got off the ground because the regulatory hurdles were so high, or all the established companies that never had to face competition because they had managed to get their rents written into law. This is part of the seen and not seen insight of Bastiat. What you see is a successful business when it manages to survive, and then people run up, the same people who taxed and regulated it nearly to death, and say I helped! I helped! What you don't see are all the businesses that perished or never got started because of the heavy hand of the state. And it's a very heavy hand.

    Read the whole thing.

    Posted in Big Government, Business, Economics & Finance, Libertarianism, Obama, Personal Narrative, Quotations | 8 Comments »

    Stormy Sky

    Posted by Jonathan on 18th July 2012 (All posts by )

    A dramatic sky of dark rain clouds contrasts with colorful houses and green fields near Ingraham Highway in Homestead, Florida. (© 2012 Jonathan Gewirtz / jonathan@gewirtz.net)

     
    (More info at Jonathan’s Photoblog.)
     

    Posted in Photos | 3 Comments »

    We Really Need to Get Out More

    Posted by Margaret on 17th July 2012 (All posts by )

    My husband is presently attempting to wind down his software business and is suddenly discovering vast chunks of free time. Recently he heard that the Blanton Museum, at UT Austin, was looking for volunteer docents. So he volunteered, took the sample tour, blew through the training materials over the weekend, and went over there today expecting to pass the test and get assigned hours.

    He didn’t get as far as the test.

    First there was another tour, composed (I think) entirely of volunteer docents, who were encouraged to ask intelligent questions and add to the discussion.

    Well, they’re having an exhibition of Western art right now. So they’re looking at a picture of a buffalo, and somebody says, “Didn’t we exterminate the buffalo in order to deprive the Indians of food?” and the official docent says yes, yes, that’s right. And Steve pipes up and says there are a few other factors to be considered, such as the fact that the Comanche horse herds seriously overgrazed Texas and deprived the buffalo herds of food.

    Come the end of the tour, a snippy Museum Lady takes Steve aside and essentially tells him not to bother taking the test, they don’t need his kind around there.

    Steve came home saying, “I don’t get it. What did I do?”

    See, he’s spent the last 30 years buried in map label placement and gridding algorithms, and had not been exposed to the total smothering effect of extreme Political Correctness. He knows not to say anything bad about Obama at neighborhood get-togethers, but that’s about it.

    I had to explain to him: “You said something negative. About American Indians. At an art museum. On a college campus!”

    Posted in Uncategorized | 15 Comments »

    A brief introduction

    Posted by Margaret on 17th July 2012 (All posts by )

    My name is Margaret Ball, and I’ve been invited to blog here through an old high school friend, David Foster, who made the highly debatable assumption that having had a number of novels published demonstrates writing ability. We’ll see how that turns out.

    My husband’s name is Steve Zoraster, and we’re both semi-retired; living in a very liberal neighborhood of a very liberal city; and making bets on how soon our Romney sign is going to be yanked out of the front yard.

    Posted in Blogging, Personal Narrative | 16 Comments »

    Getting It Backwards

    Posted by James R. Rummel on 17th July 2012 (All posts by )

    Our esteemed President sticks his foot in it once again

    “… -look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own.”

    (snip)

    “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business. you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. “

    The idea President Obama is clearly trying to communicate is that success in the private sector is only possible because of the infrastructure built by the government. How he got it wrong is that the only way all that infrastructure could get built was if there were successful businesses already established to provide the tax money needed to fund the government projects!
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Entrepreneurship, Obama, Politics | 17 Comments »

    Laying By

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 17th July 2012 (All posts by )


    A neighbor of ours has a fig tree – an insanely prolific fig tree, to which we have been going regularly and with permission – to harvest the bounty. And a bounty there is; so much that we came and took about six or seven pounds yesterday morning and today when we went past their house with the dogs on morning walkies, the senior lady of the house called out to us, and said that we should come by and pick some figs. There is a point in fruit-tree production, when energetic picking of the ripe barely makes a dent. I learned this early on, when we had an orange tree at Hilltop House, an orange tree which produced and produced and produced so much that the ground underneath it was redolent with the smell of rotting oranges. One very hot and dry summer, my sister and I quixotically decided that we ought not to let all of this go to waste, so we went up one morning, picked several large brown paper shopping bags of those that were ripe (and that was barely a fraction of the fruit on the darned thing!) and worked until nearly midday, halving and squeezing the oranges … which gave us too many gallons of orange juice to fit into the freezer.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Diversions, Personal Narrative, Photos, Recipes, Uncategorized, USA | 12 Comments »

    Can This Company Be Reenergized?

    Posted by David Foster on 17th July 2012 (All posts by )

    What should Marissa Mayer do with Yahoo?

    Posted in Business, Management, Tech | 14 Comments »

    Two Men, One Pizza

    Posted by Jonathan on 16th July 2012 (All posts by )

    Jay Manifold and I got together this past Saturday as he passed through South Florida on his way back from Haiti, which he has visited several times in recent years. Jay has some interesting and quite positive reports from his trip and perhaps will share them here.

    Chicagoboy, scholar and raconteur extraordinaire

    Rocco’s Pizza on Hollywood Beach is an official pizza service provider of the Chicagoboyz blog.

    pizza

    Posted in Diversions | 5 Comments »

    Mis-Pricing Risk

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 15th July 2012 (All posts by )

    Mis-pricing Risk in the US Real Estate and Lending Markets

    Back before the housing bust in the early 2000’s we were in the process of purchasing a new condo and wanted to put down a substantial amount of money, over 50% of the purchase price. The response from lenders at the time was a full cavity search of all assets we had across all dimensions, and we never could seem to satisfy them (i.e. after we had given them everything, there were even more questions).

    Meanwhile, people were getting “liar loans” with virtually nothing down or “balloon loans” with floating interest rates that were extremely risky, and they were paying roughly the same interest rate that we were receiving, even though the bank stood almost no risk of default with us since we were willing to put down 50% as equity. In order to lose money, the price of our real estate would have to lose 50% before the bank was at risk at all.

    How this SHOULD have been accomplished is that someone borrowing money and putting down very little equity would have to pay a substantially higher interest rate than someone putting down substantial amounts of equity, since the real risk to the bank was far lower. Instead, the lender went through a spurious cavity search of me and then let the other guy do a liar-loan at virtually the same rates. This seemed ridiculous to me at the time and you can see how that all turned out for everyone.

    Today, this problem has been “fixed” in a different way – instead of varying the interest rate based upon the inherent risk of the project, people with good credit receive loans at very low interest rates and people with poor credit are effectively frozen out of the market entirely. They have no access to credit at all, in the first place. We have de-facto rebuilt redlining, albeit based on creditworthiness, with no “slope” for those with poorer credit. This same process works with businesses – banks are willing to lend to those types of businesses that essentially don’t need the money (strong cash flows, limited debt) and won’t even consider riskier companies and start ups, at any price.

    Mis-Pricing Emerging Country Debt Risk:

    Today the world is hungry for “yield” or interest / dividend income, a consequence of the “zero rate interest policy” or ZIRP that is effectively employed in most of the developed economies today.

    Mexico is currently able to issue debt at a rate of 5.43%. The Mexican finance officials see that there is a hunger for their debt and are moving to respond to it by issuing 10 and 20 year debt.

    Several analysts saw the increase in long-term bond issuance as a response to the recent strong demand for the paper, which has pushed secondary-market yields down sharply in the past month.

    While Mexico has financially been running a sound ship, with a reasonable deficit, there are profound risks in buying ten and twenty year debt at under 6%. The first major risk is the Mexican currency, which has depreciated many times in the past. The second major risk is crime.

    A recent (highly recommended, albeit terrifying) article called “The Kingpins” in the New Yorker describes the intense drug wars currently engulfing Mexico, which lays out the following facts:

    1) over 50,000 soldiers have deserted the army while fighting the drug war
    2) it only costs 1000 pesos ($80 USD) to have someone assassinated in Mexico
    3) over 98% of violent crime goes unpunished
    4) drug lords are now tapping right into the pipelines of PEMEX, the oil monopoly and cash cow for the government, in order to steal fuel

    The article follows the drug gang battles between various factions, the powerlessness and corrupt nature of the governmental bodies, and the civilians caught in the cross fire. These drug battles are so epic that they would better be described as military campaigns, and the entire situation is close to that of a civil war. Other than the use of massive heavy weapons (tanks, artillery) and targeting by ethic group (rather than gang alliances), the situation is likely not far from the Syria civil war in terms of total casualties and deaths.

    HOW does it make sense to buy 20 year Mexican debt at a rate near 6%? To the extent that you believe the Mexican currency will do better than your currency and want to earn 6% during the interim, I guess that makes sense. But in general I cannot see that 6% interest rates in a country engulfed in a virtual civil war with widespread lawlessness and epic corruption making sense as fairly pricing that risk.

    Likely the outcome of lending money in local currency to countries with severe domestic problems and a history of devaluations will turn out as well as our policy of granting loans to home buyers with virtually no equity and without verifying their earnings in the first place.

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance | 4 Comments »

    When It Was Natural for Parents to Bury Their Children

    Posted by Ginny on 15th July 2012 (All posts by )

    History gives us breadth: people in action on a grand stage, consequential ideas with great if unforeseen consequences; the demographer’s statistics and tables distil huge movements into tables we can wrap our minds around. But literature, whether consciously or unconsciously, whether reporting or reflecting, chooses a smaller stage. But it also catches that universal in a distilled moment – in the feelings of a narrator, a character. It may be anecdotal but it’s anecdotal accessible to our sympathy. How much have we changed between 1650 and 2012? In some ways, a lot. Fogel’s charts demonstrate that. In some ways, not so much. We remain human.

    Puritan poets are not everyone’s cup of tea – the plain style helps them age more slowly, but they are still the product of a culture remarkably different from ours – a frontier, theocentric if not theocratic. But a death in the family is always shattering & love for a mate is timeless. I’ll put up the Bradstreet love poems next week, but for today, let’s look at the consolations poets found in their art & their beliefs with the death of children and a spouse. (And the brevity of these children’s lives may help us better understand how large and intimate the changes Fogel describes have been.) Even if their experiences would be uncommon today, parents may still bury children and we find we understand the poet’s feelings (in hearts we recognize at once) and to a lesser degree how they thought (in minds we enter with more difficulty).
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Biography, Christianity, Lit Crit, Poetry, Religion | 11 Comments »

    Shut Up and Play the Hits – One Day Only (July 18)

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 15th July 2012 (All posts by )

    The band LCD Soundsystem, led by James Murphy, recently broke up. They are releasing a DVD of their final live shows along with a release in theaters FOR ONE DAY ONLY ON Wednesday, July 18. Look for “Shut Up and Play the Hits” near you and I recommend going. Here is a web site with the trailer and a list of theaters.

    I saw LCD Soundsystem three times – they are (were?) one of my favorite bands. The first time was at Lollapalooza in 2007 – they played right before the headliner, who was Daft Punk (in their amazing triangle light show) and after LCD’s set was done James Murphy just pointed over to the Daft Punk stage and said go. “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” (celebrating the release of their album with a big party) was one of LCD Soundsystem’s big hits off their first record, so it was a great coincidence that they were playing back to back on nearby stages. I remember how hard their drummer worked the entire show and that he was up front (often drummers are in the back) – I thought he might pass out in the heat.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Music | Comments Off on Shut Up and Play the Hits – One Day Only (July 18)

    Sad and Disturbing, but Not Surprising

    Posted by David Foster on 15th July 2012 (All posts by )

    A couple of weeks ago, there was a growing forest fire in northwestern Nevada. Fortunately, the Washoe County sheriff’s department had aloft in the area a fire-fighting helicopter tanked up with 323 gallons of water.

    Unfortunately, it wasn’t clear whether the Federal land on which the fire was burning was under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management or under the jurisdiction of the Forest Service. If the former, then the chopper had approval to legally drop the water, if the latter, then it did not. So the team in the helicopter did nothing. More than 200 acres burned.

    There have been a lot of stories like this lately. The thicket of rules governing life in America today has become so thick, and belief in the importance of adhering to these rules even in defiance of common sense has become so strong, that the default for many people has become the belief that inaction is safer than action.

    In 1805, Lord Nelson said:

    When I am without orders and unexpected occurrences arrive I shall always act as I think the honour and glory of my King and Country demand. But in case signals can neither be seen or perfectly understood, no captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of the enemy.

    “Unexpected occurrences” occur quite frequently, whether they take the form of a forest fire in a jurisdictionally-ambiguous area, a kid in school having an asthma attack, or a transatlantic flight losing its airspeed indication capabilities. Human beings need to be ready and empowered to use their judgment and intelligence in such situations, not constrained to act like rigidly-programmed computers.

    A couple of years ago, I would have posted this story under the “Just Unbelievable” category. Sadly, that category no longer applies, because stories of rule-driven bureaucratic rigidity have become a commonplace of American life.

    In 1797, a Spanish naval official named Don Domingo Perez de Grandallana wrote about the reasons his country tended to lose naval engagements with the British. One of his points:

    An Englishman enters a naval action with the firm conviction that his duty is to hurt his enemies and help his friends and allies without looking out for directions in the midst of the fight; and while he thus clears his mind of all subsidiary distractions, he rests in confidence on the certainty that his comrades, actuated by the same principles as himself, will be bound by the sacred and priceless principle of mutual support.

    Accordingly, both he and his fellows fix their minds on acting with zeal and judgement upon the spur of the moment, and with the certainty that they will not be deserted. Experience shows, on the contrary, that a Frenchman or a Spaniard, working under a system which leans to formality and strict order being maintained in battle, has no feeling for mutual support, and goes into battle with hesitation, preoccupied with the anxiety of seeing or hearing the commander-in-chief’s signals for such and such manoeuvres…

    In my 2007 post on Don Domingo’s comments, I linked a Washington Post article on “the increasing propensity of Americans to be driven by rules and procedures, rather than doing what makes sense” and noted that “there are certainly trends in our society which, if not reversed, will make us increasingly similar to the (French / Spanish) Combined Fleet of 1805, rather than Nelson’s victorious fleet.” Over the last 4 years, I am afraid that we have traveled much further down that road.

    Posted in Anglosphere, Britain, Civil Society, History, Management, USA | 14 Comments »

    Bastille Day

    Posted by Lexington Green on 14th July 2012 (All posts by )

    Vive la Resistance.
    Vive la République.
    Vive la France.

    Posted in France, History, Holidays | 30 Comments »

    Urban Garden

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 13th July 2012 (All posts by )

    Below is a cool view of an urban garden in the new east side. The Aon building (formerly Standard Oil) is on the left and the Aqua on the right.

    The clouds look interesting.

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Chicagoania, Photos | Comments Off on Urban Garden

    The Southern Belle With the Spine of Steel

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 13th July 2012 (All posts by )

    Stephen Vincent Benet nailed down the type, in his poem epic John Brown’s Body, in a phrase that has resonated with me ever since I read it so long ago that I don’t recall when I read it – the quintessential southern belle, who propped up the South on a swansdown fan:

    Mary Lou Wingate, as slightly made
    And as hard to break as a rapier-blade.
    Bristol’s daughter and Wingate’s bride,
    Never well since the last child died
    But staring at pain with courteous eyes.

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    Posted in Americas, Biography, History, Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

    What Libertarianism Is Not

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 12th July 2012 (All posts by )

    A short list, and not intended to be exhaustive. Read to the end for a special announcement.

    • A Gold Standard – I could have put one of the others first, but this is the one that gets mixed up with libertarianism the most often, presumably as a result of FDR’s seizure of gold in 1933. All libertarianism requires is free banking, and how the competing currencies are backed is the banks’ problem. I suppose some would attempt a commodity standard, and a few might even try to do it with gold, absurd as that is in an age of e-currencies. Attempting to predefine it for the entire financial industry ahead of time is … not wise.
    • Pacifism – This is really my one-word epithet for the mentality that blames the US for most of the world’s problems, and asserts that every conflict we find ourselves in is ultimately an unforced error on our part. Most of it can be traced to Stalinist and Maoist propaganda of the early Cold War period, not a great thing to base one’s libertarianism on. “It takes but one foe to breed a war, not two.” – JRR Tolkien
    • Anarchism – I would prefer to think that an entirely stateless civil society is possible. But I do not know, and neither does anyone else. Insisting on it as a precondition of libertarianism pretends to knowledge that we do not have.
    • Minarchism – The logical complement of the above, left as an exercise for the reader.
    • Sectarianism – Speaking from my own background, all political advice in the New Testament adds up to “stay out of trouble.” Attempts to ineluctably tie libertarianism to other belief systems, including ostensible non-belief systems, are no better. To be sure, I think a Biblical value system at least implies a concern for human freedom and tends to nudge a population adhering to it in the direction of greater liberty. But this is not the same as asserting that it is directly prescriptive.
    • Conspiracy Theorizing – Leave the Birtherism and Trutherism to others. And if something like that is the reason you self-identify as libertarian, the question is obvious: would you still be fighting for freedom if you learned your theory wasn’t true?
    • Scapegoating – The general case of conspiracy theorizing, indulged in by many more people. The current classic example is the OWSers’ “1%.” Nice that they only want to expropriate or murder 3 million Americans, I suppose, not that anybody who’s been paying attention should think they would stop there. But far too many supposed libertarians are prone to ranting about “banksters,” et al, in language that, to borrow a phrase, sounded better in the original German. Or perhaps Russian.

    OK, The Announcement: I am about to be in South Florida for about 18 hours, from midday Saturday to early Sunday. Contact Jonathan for info on a possible meetup, which as I write this is an idea without a plan; I will be calling him after deplaning at FLL.

    Posted in Announcements, Anti-Americanism, Libertarianism, Political Philosophy, USA | 17 Comments »

    The Apocalypse – the fear we always have – and Fogel – the cheer we might consider

    Posted by Ginny on 12th July 2012 (All posts by )

    Well the apocalypse may be near. But our generation has been lucky. Maybe we’ve taken from the next – but time and space aren’t zero sum either – we can explore both, fill both.

    I haven’t digested Robert William Fogel’s Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100 (his tables alone are beyond me – besides much else). Still, reading him, I pause in delight and gratitude. The very concepts of “premature death,” “wasting,” and “stunting” open windows – time becomes different much as Amerians in the mid-nineeenth century saw their horizons recede & enlarge. It stretched their limbs & imaginations: leaving from St. Louis, they knew some of that land would be theirs – earned by sweat as it never could be in the still feudal worlds some came from. Space liberated them. Fogel describes an enlargement of time – time for us, time with and for our children. He also describes productivity, consciousness – the energy to live fully in that time we’re given (the image of French peasants hibernating in the winters to save food doesn’t leave my mind).

    Time is a recurrent literary theme, its fleeting nature the tension of carpe diem. Man’s time countered by redeemed time permeates Eliot’s Quartet, is a mystery in Wallace Stevens and an ache in Frost. Foolishly, we think we can endlessly revise, all is revocable – this permeates Prufrock’s rather inadequate approach. Franklin tells us time is the stuff life is made of – use it. Well, yes, but did he mean what we do? Is it that disconnect that leads us to fragmented training? Dalrymple notes a shallow approach to time (and history) creates a different art.

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    Posted in Book Notes, Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, History, Lit Crit, Tradeoffs | 3 Comments »

    Tearing it all Down

    Posted by David Foster on 12th July 2012 (All posts by )

    The fact that some environmental groups want to destroy existing dams, in the name of returning rivers to their natural states, is of course old news. Now, though, they have moved beyond the tearing down of dams and want to destroy bridges as well.

    And, in the case of the historic Stoneman Bridge in Yosemite National Park, it appears that they may well get their way.

    Environmentalists claim to have great respect for the works of nature. (Though–given the number of cars I see with environmentalist bumper stickers and the windows rolled up tight on beautiful days–it seems that quite a few of them want to minimize their actual contact with the natural environment.) But, all too often, they seems to have no respect at all for the work of human minds and hands.

    Related: Frankly, my dear, I do need a dam

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, Environment, Politics | 6 Comments »