June 22, 2011

Iraq 2011: Jet skiing the Triangle of Death, listening to Bee Gee songs--and pondering what comes next

Emma Sky

The taxi driver to Beirut airport tells me that yom al-qiyama (the day of judgment) is approaching. There will be a big explosion soon -- a very big explosion. The revolutions sweeping the Arab World are not good. Islamic parties will come to power everywhere. There will be no more Christians left in the Middle East. Believe me, believe me, he insists. In anticipation, he will make the Hajj to Mecca this year, inshallah. I tell him that I am traveling to Iraq as a tourist. The look he gives me in the rear view mirror says it all: He thinks I am crazy.

I am heading back to Iraq nine months after I left my job as Political Advisor to the Commanding General of U.S. Forces Iraq. Earlier this year, a Sheikh emailed me from his iPad, "Miss Emma we miss you. You must come visit us as a guest. You will stay with me. And you will have no power!" I am excited and nervous. The plane is about a third full. I am the only foreigner. I look around at my fellow passengers. I wonder who they are and whether they bear a grudge for something we might have done.

The flight is one and a half hours long. I read and doze. As we approach Iraq, I look out of the window. The sky is full of sand and visibility is poor. But I can make out the Euphrates below. Land of the two rivers, I am coming back.

I do not have an Iraqi visa. Visas issued in Iraqi Embassies abroad are not recognized by Baghdad airport. I have a letter from an Iraqi General in the Ministry of Interior, complete with a signature and stamp. In the airport, I present my passport and letter, fill out a form, pay $80, and receive a visa within 15 minutes. I collect my bag. I am through. I want to reach down and touch the ground, this land that has soaked up so much blood over the years -- ours and theirs.

Posted by jez at 5:25 AM

May 21, 2011

Henry Kissinger talks to Simon Schama

Simon Schama:

Not so much, though, as to get in the way of treating China as an indispensable element in any stabilisation of perilous situations in Korea and Afghanistan. Without China's active participation, any attempts to immunise Afghanistan against terrorism would be futile. This may be a tall order, since the Russians and the Chinese are getting a "free ride" on US engagement, which contains the jihadism which in central Asia and Xinjiang threatens their own security. So was it, in retrospect, a good idea for Barack Obama to have announced that this coming July will see the beginning of a military drawdown? The question triggers a Vietnam flashback. "I know from personal experience that once you start a drawdown, the road from there is inexorable. I never found an answer when Le Duc Tho was taunting me in the negotiations that if you could not handle Vietnam with half-a-million people, what makes you think you can end it with progressively fewer? We found ourselves in a position where to maintain ... a free choice for the population in South Vietnam ... we had to keep withdrawing troops, thereby reducing the incentive for the very negotiations in which I was engaged. We will find the same challenge in Afghanistan. I wrote a memorandum to Nixon which said that in the beginning of the withdrawal it will be like salted peanuts; the more you eat, the more you want."

Posted by jez at 9:07 PM

Investing, Risk, Politics & Taxes: Global Central Bank Leverage



Source: Grant's Interest Rate Observer, 5/20/2011 edition. Worth considering for financial & risk planning.

Related: Britannica: Central Banks and currency.

Basell III details: Clusty.com and Blekko.

Posted by jez at 7:31 PM

May 17, 2011

Former Fed Vice Chair: Kohn 'regrets' pain of millions in financial crisis

Chris Giles:

The former vice-chairman of the Federal Reserve has said he "deeply regretted" the pain caused to millions of people around the world from the financial crisis, admitting that "the cops weren't on the beat".

Don Kohn's apology for the actions of Federal Reserve in the run-up to the financial and economic crisis goes significantly further than the limited responsibility taken by his former boss, Alan Greenspan.

Speaking to British MPs at a confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Mr Kohn nevertheless said his experience would be valuable for the Bank of England, where he has been appointed to a new committee with powers to guide UK financial stability.

"I believe I will not make the same mistake twice," he said.

Mr Kohn has been appointed to the Bank's new Financial Policy Committee, which will soon have powers to change system-wide UK financial regulations and even limit borrowing by households and companies if it thinks there are threats to financial stability.

Having been a strong advocate of the Greenspan doctrine not to burst asset bubbles but to mop up any mess after a crash, Mr Kohn recanted much of his previous view in front of MPs. He said he had "learnt quite a few lessons - unfortunately" from the financial crisis, including that people in markets can get excessively relaxed about risk, that risks are not distributed evenly throughout the financial system, that incentives matter even more than he thought and transparency is more important than he thought.

Posted by jez at 4:15 PM

May 13, 2011

The Mini

Ed Wallace:

Every generation seems to produce some high-profile individual who mourns to the masses that there was once a simpler and better time in America. You know the drill: People knew their neighbors, morality reigned and most everyone knew right from wrong. These elegies always end with the premise that somehow we as a nation have lost our way. Of course the simpler times that everyone seems to think we've gotten away from are nothing more than our childhood memories. As children, we perceived and remembered everything far more simplistically - without the freight of context surrounding situations we encounter as adults.

Still, it's those wistful thoughts of innocent bygone days that drive the automotive styling designs we know today as retro-cars. The BMW-designed and British-built Mini is a perfect example. This modern automobile seems made to bring back fond memories of the British Invasion and the Swinging 60s. It seems to exemplify the days when Carnaby Street, the Stones, Donovan, the Beatles, Twiggy, white plastic go-go boots and all other things British were new and groovy.

Of course the original Mini was far more and much less than that. Introduced in 1959, the Mini was the British Motor Corporation's answer to the long and successful sales career of the Volkswagen Beetle.

What is less well remembered is that the Mini's creation in the late 50s was a direct response to a major oil crisis for the Brits. What caused it? England's foolish war against Egypt's Gamal Nasser, in which England tried and failed to regain control of the Suez Canal.

Posted by jez at 8:58 PM

April 28, 2011

Obituary: The man who gave the world CDs

Michiyo Nakamoto:

Norio Ohga, who was instrumental in bringing the world the compact disc and the PlayStation and is credited with building Sony into a global electronics and entertainment group, has died of organ failure aged 81.

"It is no exaggeration to attribute Sony's evolution beyond audio and video products into music, movies and games, and subsequent transformation into a global entertainment leader to Ohga-san's foresight and vision," Howard Stringer, Sony's chairman and chief executive, said in a statement.

"By redefining Sony as a company encompassing both hardware and software, Ohga-san succeeded where other Japanese companies failed," Mr Stringer said.

A musician by training, who was a close friend of Austrian conductor, Herbert von Karayan, Mr Ohga led Sony during perhaps its most successful years, as president from 1982 until 1995, when the Japanese electronics maker became one of the most admired companies in the world.

It was under Mr Ohga that the name Sony came to symbolise Japanese manufacturing excellence and to define what was "cool" in the world of electronics - an image encapsulated in the catchphrase, "It's a Sony."

Posted by jez at 1:18 AM

April 26, 2011

Lonely Planet's Ambassador

Amy Yee:

Tony Wheeler, co-founder of Lonely Planet, sits in the lobby of an austere five-star hotel here. Soft-spoken and down-to-earth, the 64-year-old wears a gray dress shirt with dark-blue trousers. He has trimmed gray hair and silver glasses, but his amiable face still hints of the youthful, long-haired traveler featured in photos from the 1970s.

Mr. Wheeler doesn't need to stay in budget hostels anymore. When traveling to big cities, he checks into luxury hotels. And why not? He founded Lonely Planet travel guides with his wife, Maureen, nearly four decades ago. Since its launch in 1973, Lonely Planet has sold more than 100 million guidebooks to far-off lands, from Antarctica to Zambia and everywhere in between. And this past February the Wheelers sold their remaining 25% stake in the company to BBC Worldwide for £42.1 million (about $69.5 million) after selling 75% in 2007 to the same buyer for £88.1 million. The Wheelers don't have official roles in the company but will continue as de facto ambassadors for Lonely Planet.

Posted by jez at 7:45 AM

April 22, 2011

Oil: We're Being Had Again

Ed Wallace:

No matter how many of his Fed presidents claim they are not to blame for the high price of oil, the real problem starts with Ben Bernanke. The fact is that when you flood the market with far too much liquidity and at virtually no interest, funny things happen in commodities and equities. It was true in the 1920s, it was true in the last decade, and it's still true today.

Richard Fisher, president of the Dallas Federal Reserve, spoke in Germany in late March. Reuters quoted him as saying, "We are seeing speculative activity that may be exacerbating price rises in commodities such as oil." He added that he was seeing the signs of the same speculative trading that fueled the first financial meltdown reappearing.
Here Fisher is in good company. Kansas City Fed President Thomas Hoening, who has been a vocal critic of the current Fed policy of zero interest and high liquidity, has suggested that markets don't function correctly under those circumstances. And David Stockman, Ronald Reagan's Budget Director, recently wrote a scathing article for MarketWatch, titled "Federal Reserve's Path of Destruction," in which he criticizes current Fed policy even more pointedly. Stockman wrote, "This destruction is, namely, the exploitation of middle class savers; the current severe food and energy squeeze on lower income households ... and the next round of bursting bubbles building up among the risk asset classes."

Posted by jez at 9:53 PM

April 18, 2011

Is Facebook geared to dullards?

Nicholas Carr:

Are you ashamed that you find Facebook boring? Are you angst-ridden by your weak social-networking skills? Do you look with envy on those whose friend-count dwarfs your own? Buck up, my friend. The traits you consider signs of failure may actually be marks of intellectual vigor, according to a new study appearing in the May issue of Computers in Human Behavior.

The study, by Bu Zhong and Marie Hardin at Penn State and Tao Sun at the University of Vermont, is one of the first to examine the personalities of social networkers. The researchers looked in particular at connections between social-network use and the personality trait that psychologists refer to as "need for cognition," or NFC. NFC, as Professor Zhong explained in an email to me, "is a recognized indicator for deep or shallow thinking." People who like to challenge their minds have high NFC, while those who avoid deep thinking have low NFC. Whereas, according to the authors, "high NFC individuals possess an intrinsic motivation to think, having a natural motivation to seek knowledge," those with low NFC don't like to grapple with complexity and tend to content themselves with superficial assessments, particularly when faced with difficult intellectual challenges.

The researchers surveyed 436 college students during 2010. Each participant completed a standard psychological assessment measuring NFC as well as a questionnaire measuring social network use. (Given what we know about college students' social networking in 2010, it can be assumed that the bulk of the activity consisted of Facebook use.) The study revealed a significant negative correlation between social network site (SNS) activity and NFC scores. "The key finding," the authors write, "is that NFC played an important role in SNS use. Specifically, high NFC individuals tended to use SNS less often than low NFC people, suggesting that effortful thinking may be associated with less social networking among young people." Moreover, "high NFC participants were significantly less likely to add new friends to their SNS accounts than low or medium NFC individuals."

To put it in layman's terms, the study suggests that if you want to be a big success on Facebook, it helps to be a dullard.

Posted by jez at 8:08 PM

April 15, 2011

The Real Housewives of Wall Street: Why is the Federal Reserve forking over $220 million in bailout money to the wives of two Morgan Stanley bigwigs?

America has two national budgets, one official, one unofficial. The official budget is public record and hotly debated: Money comes in as taxes and goes out as jet fighters, DEA agents, wheat subsidies and Medicare, plus pensions and bennies for that great untamed socialist menace called a unionized public-sector workforce that Republicans are always complaining about. According to popular legend, we're broke and in so much debt that 40 years from now our granddaughters will still be hooking on weekends to pay the medical bills of this year's retirees from the IRS, the SEC and the Department of Energy.

Why Isn't Wall Street in Jail?

Most Americans know about that budget. What they don't know is that there is another budget of roughly equal heft, traditionally maintained in complete secrecy. After the financial crash of 2008, it grew to monstrous dimensions, as the government attempted to unfreeze the credit markets by handing out trillions to banks and hedge funds. And thanks to a whole galaxy of obscure, acronym-laden bailout programs, it eventually rivaled the "official" budget in size -- a huge roaring river of cash flowing out of the Federal Reserve to destinations neither chosen by the president nor reviewed by Congress, but instead handed out by fiat by unelected Fed officials using a seemingly nonsensical and apparently unknowable methodology.

Now, following an act of Congress that has forced the Fed to open its books from the bailout era, this unofficial budget is for the first time becoming at least partially a matter of public record. Staffers in the Senate and the House, whose queries about Fed spending have been rebuffed for nearly a century, are now poring over 21,000 transactions and discovering a host of outrages and lunacies in the "other" budget. It is as though someone sat down and made a list of every individual on earth who actually did not need emergency financial assistance from the United States government, and then handed them the keys to the public treasure. The Fed sent billions in bailout aid to banks in places like Mexico, Bahrain and Bavaria, billions more to a spate of Japanese car companies, more than $2 trillion in loans each to Citigroup and Morgan Stanley, and billions more to a string of lesser millionaires and billionaires with Cayman Islands addresses. "Our jaws are literally dropping as we're reading this," says Warren Gunnels, an aide to Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. "Every one of these transactions is outrageous."

Posted by jez at 9:35 AM

April 8, 2011

You Call This Global Leadership?

Suddent Debt:

The US government is about to be shut down in the next 24 hours over the federal budget impasse. Here are the only numbers you need:

Federal spending is approx. $3.7 trillion, the deficit this year alone is projected at $1.4 trillion - and the politicians are squabbling over spending cuts amounting to $33-40 billion; that's 1% of spending and 2.9% of the deficit. You gotta be joking, right?

Related:

Posted by jez at 9:29 AM

March 28, 2011

Consumers have a beef with Fed over inflation

Food riots, deposed Middle Eastern despots and now this? Last week, a Texas man brandishing an assault rifle was involved in a three-hour shoot-out with police and had to be subdued with tear gas after ordering seven Beefy Crunch Burritos at a Taco Bell drive-through and being informed that their price had risen from 99 cents to $1.49.

Late night comedians and serious pundits alike had a field day with the story, opining on issues like fast-food culture, obesity (the seven burritos contain 3,600 calories, double the recommended daily intake) and gun control.

With his petty gripe, the gunman, Ricardo Jones, is no Muhammad al Bouazizi, the self-immolating Tunisian fruit seller who inspired millions across the region to throw off the yoke of tyranny, but 50 per cent is 50 per cent in San'a or San Antonio. Food inflation is a global phenomenon.

Posted by jez at 10:41 AM

March 21, 2011

Dynamist Blog: The Chart Every Journalist Covering the Fukushima Plant Should Read

Virginia Postrel:

For the past week, I've been complaining that journalists covering possible radiation dangers from Fukushima plant have abandoned the old convention of putting radiation exposures in context (usually by comparing them to chest x-rays). The result is that all "radiation" sounds equally dangerous, and people in Plano, Texas, start stocking up on potassium iodine.

Posted by jez at 9:11 AM

March 15, 2011

Video from Japan's Tsunami Zone

Matt Allard & Dan Chung

Both Matt and myself have been covering the tragic events surrounding the Tsunami in Japan. I have left Japan now but Matt is still there and headed back into the disaster zone to do more reports. I'm sure both of us will talk more about what it was like later on, but for now the story is the priority.

Posted by jez at 10:26 PM

March 13, 2011

How we lost our voice

Harry Eyres:

Like everyone, I have been gripped and stirred by the events unfolding in the Maghreb and Middle East. Unlike some admirable and astute commentators, I didn't feel primarily moved to try to "make sense" of what was happening in Tahrir Square, or to speculate on what the millions of Egyptians not in the square were thinking. Such speculation seemed and still seems to me beside the point and actually rather odd. I didn't hear a comparable call at the time of the demise of Salazar and Franco and the Greek colonels, or the fall of communism and the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, to try to "make sense" of those events, or to wonder what all those not celebrating and tearing down chunks of concrete were up to.

People, not everyone to be sure, but an overwhelming mass including the bravest and best and most articulate spirits, no longer wanted to live in police states or kleptocracies. They no longer wanted to be tortured or murdered by goons or spied on by spooks and kept under surveillance by their neighbours. They wanted free and transparent elections. They wanted the greater measure of control over their lives that they imagined to be a function of democratic government. No doubt they also wanted a better chance of prosperity. None of this, as we watched it unfolding in Tunisia and Egypt and Libya and other places, seemed to me to need to be teased out by some subtle process of reasoning. The primary sense of it was overwhelmingly clear.

Posted by jez at 9:46 PM

Bond king's Lear-like Treasuries renunciation

Michael Mackenzie

At the end of June, the Federal Reserve will no longer be the biggest buyer of US Treasuries. But one notable investor has already said Hasta la vista.

Pimco's flagship $237bn total return fund, managed by Bill Gross, whose status as bond king has been synonymous with the 25-year bull market in Treasury debt, pulled the plug on holding US government related securities in February, it emerged this week. Last month his fund eschewed holding US government related debt, having had 12 per cent of the fund's portfolio in Treasuries in January.

Given the record of Mr Gross, one cannot ignore the decision. Since the total return fund began in 1987, it has generated an average annual return of 8.42 per cent versus the 7.27 per cent gain in its benchmark, the Barclays Capital US Aggregate index.

The move is a bold one. Given that the Barclays Aggregate has a Treasury weighting of 40 per cent, the decision by Mr Gross to exclude government holdings means he is seriously underweight his benchmark, or "bogey".

Posted by jez at 9:01 AM

February 20, 2011

Saturday Afternoon Ice Fishing Panorama: Madison



Panoramas and photos from Saturday's Pro-union & Tea Party rallies at the Capitol can be seen here.

Posted by jez at 8:21 PM

February 10, 2011

How the crisis catapulted us into the future

Martin Wolf:

Did the financial crisis change very much? That was my question as I went to the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos last week. The answer is: yes. Above all, it has accelerated the arrival of our future. Even for the winners, this is quite a shock.

It is three and a half years since the financial crisis began and a little more than two years since it reached its worst. Bob Diamond, chief executive of Barclays, gave the financial sector's thanks to governments for the rescue. Now the mood is one of wary optimism. According to the International Monetary Fund's World Economic Outlook update, global output grew in 2010 by 5 per cent, at purchasing power parity, and 3.9 per cent, at market exchange rates. This contrasts with declines of 0.6 per cent and 2.1 per cent, respectively, in 2009. The IMF expects growth to slow only slightly to 4.4 per cent at PPP and 3.5 per cent at market exchange rates, in 2011. Optimism continues to reign.

With the crisis fading into memory, how will historians assess its legacy? Journalists do not have the luxury of distance. So here are my guesses. I will start with possible turnrounds.

The crisis was neither the beginning of a depression nor the end of capitalism. But it has caused a tightening of financial regulation, particularly of banks, though this has occurred within the pre-existing intellectual and institutional framework. After three decades of deregulation, movement is in the opposite direction, though not without resistance.

Posted by jez at 9:23 PM

February 9, 2011

Angela in Wunderland: What Germany's got right, and what it hasn't

The Economist:

THE West has rightly marvelled at China's economic miracle. Less noticed is a minor miracle in its own midst. It is time to pay attention to Germany's new Wirtschaftswunder.

Germany had a savage recession as manufacturing orders dried up, but its economy has since bounced back strongly, expanding by 3.6% last year, far faster than most other rich economies. For sure, this was partly a "bungee effect" after a particularly deep downturn, but it is no one-year wonder. By several measures, including keeping unemployment down (it is at its lowest since 1992) and the prosperity reflected in the growth of GDP per head, Germany was the star performer among the rich G7 countries over the past ten years (see article). Germans entered 2011 in their most optimistic mood since 2000, according to Allensbach's polls. Business confidence is at its highest since the Ifo institute began tracking it 20 years ago.

What's Germany's secret? It helps that the country did not experience a property or credit bubble, and that it has kept its public finances admirably under control. But above all Germany's success has been export-driven: unlike most other big rich economies it has maintained its share of world exports over the past decade, even as China has risen.

Posted by jez at 10:01 PM

February 4, 2011

Aung San Suu Kyi

The night before I am due to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, I take a battered taxi to the ancient Shwedagon Pagoda where it all began. It was here on an August morning in 1988 that the daughter of General Aung San, Burma's independence hero, gave her first big speech, an address that was to plunge her into the cauldron of Burmese politics.

Although she was naturally reserved and the crowd was extraordinarily large - anything between 300,000 and 1m people - she spoke without apparent fear. Behind her was a portrait of her father, the Bogyoke, or "big leader", assassinated at the age of 32, only months before his dream of Burmese independence was realised.

"Reverend monks and people," Suu Kyi, then 43, began, asking for a minute's silence for the 3,000 democracy protesters gunned down or hacked to death in that momentous month of revolution and suppression. "I could not, as my father's daughter, remain indifferent to all that is going on," she said, launching what she called "the second struggle for national independence". Although she sought reconciliation over conflict, the underlying message was clear. Her father had liberated Burma from the British. She would help liberate it from Burma's own generals.

Posted by jez at 4:06 PM

January 24, 2011

The Grounds of Courage: Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Alan Wolfe:

Early in January 1939, the precocious German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, age thirty-two, learned that all males in his age cohort had been ordered to register with the military. A dedicated opponent of the Nazi regime, he might have responded by declaring himself a conscientious objector, but there were two problems with such a course of action. The first was that Bonhoeffer, although pacifist by inclination, was not opposed to violence under all conditions; and he would later play an active role in the conspiracy led by German generals to assassinate Hitler. The second was that his fame in the Confessing Church (more on this below) might encourage other religious leaders critical of the regime to do the same, thereby bringing them under greater suspicion and undermining their efforts to prove that Nazi policies, and especially their rapidly intensifying Jew-hatred, were contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

The solution was provided by America's most illustrious theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr. Nine years earlier, Bonhoeffer had spent a year in the United States as a free-floating exchange student at Union Theological Seminary, arriving not long after Niebuhr had moved there from Detroit. He had made such a positive impression on Union's faculty that Niebuhr jumped at the opportunity to bring him back. If we fail to offer him a job, he told Union's president, Henry Sloane Coffin, Bonhoeffer will wind up in a concentration camp. This was not the stuff of run-of-the-mill letters of recommendation. Union extended the offer. Grateful to have a way out of his dilemma, Bonhoeffer booked passage, and in June 1939 found himself safe in America.

Posted by jez at 9:44 PM

January 21, 2011

Avoiding a U.S.-China cold war

Henry Kissinger:

America's exceptionalism finds it natural to condition its conduct toward other societies on their acceptance of American values. Most Chinese see their country's rise not as a challenge to America but as heralding a return to the normal state of affairs when China was preeminent. In the Chinese view, it is the past 200 years of relative weakness - not China's current resurgence - that represent an abnormality.

America historically has acted as if it could participate in or withdraw from international affairs at will. In the Chinese perception of itself as the Middle Kingdom, the idea of the sovereign equality of states was unknown. Until the end of the 19th century, China treated foreign countries as various categories of vassals. China never encountered a country of comparable magnitude until European armies imposed an end to its seclusion. A foreign ministry was not established until 1861, and then primarily for dealing with colonialist invaders.

America has found most problems it recognized as soluble. China, in its history of millennia, came to believe that few problems have ultimate solutions. America has a problem-solving approach; China is comfortable managing contradictions without assuming they are resolvable.

American diplomacy pursues specific outcomes with single-minded determination. Chinese negotiators are more likely to view the process as combining political, economic and strategic elements and to seek outcomes via an extended process. American negotiators become restless and impatient with deadlocks; Chinese negotiators consider them the inevitable mechanism of negotiation. American negotiators represent a society that has never suffered national catastrophe - except the Civil War, which is not viewed as an international experience. Chinese negotiators cannot forget the century of humiliation when foreign armies exacted tribute from a prostrate China. Chinese leaders are extremely sensitive to the slightest implication of condescension and are apt to translate American insistence as lack of respect.

Posted by jez at 7:41 AM

January 15, 2011

Panorama: Lingotto Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli @ Turin



Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli:

In a fascinating space designed by the architect Renzo Piano inside the historic industrial complex of the Lingotto in Turin, the Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli permanently houses 25 masterpieces from Giovanni and Marella Agnelli private collection.

Opened on September 20th, 2002, the gallery marks the final step in the twenty-year-long restructuring process of the whole Lingotto site.

The structure that today hosts the picture gallery of the Giovanni and Marella Agnelli Foundation in the "Scrigno" (literally, jewel box or treasure chest, an extraordinary container that dominates the roof-top test track), is the result of a long historical and architectural process of development that begins at the turn of the twentieth century. After this huge conversion process, the 90 years old building maintains the architectural power and freshness of the car factory designed by Giacomo Mattè Trucco, and wends its way effortlessly to the Lingotto designed by Renzo Piano.

A stunning place, particularly the roof top race track on the old Fiat factory.

View the full screen panorama here.

Posted by jez at 8:10 PM

When China Ruled the World Or why the "China Century" will be the shortest on record

Thomas P.M. Barnett:

I'm here to tell you that America plunged its fingertips into the Middle Kingdom's body politic across the 1970s, beginning with Nixon going to China in 1972 and culminating with Jimmy Carter's normalization of relations in 1979. The first embrace allowed aged Mao Tse-tung to extinguish his nonstop internal purge known as the Cultural Revolution by firewalling his fears of Soviet antagonism. The second cemented China's wary-but-increasingly-warm relationship with the United States and allowed Deng Xiaoping, who narrowly survived Mao's insanities, to dismantle the dead emperor's dysfunctional socialist model, quietly burying Marx with the most revolutionary of eulogies -- to get rich is glorious!

Deng chose wisely: Reversing Mikhail Gorbachev's subsequent logic, he focused on the economics while putting off the politics. This decision later earned him the sobriquet "the butcher of Tiananmen" when, in 1989, the political expectations of students quickly outpaced the Party's willingness for self-examination. But it likewise locked China onto a historical pathway from which it cannot escape, or what I call the five D's of the dragon's decline from world-beater to world-benefactor: demographics, decrepitude, dependency, defensiveness, and -- most disabling of all -- democratization.

Let us begin this journey right where Deng did, with a focus on the family.

Posted by jez at 1:53 AM

December 29, 2010

In the life of the Foxconn young workers

Jordan Pouille:

Under the Christmas tree, some of us will hopefully find a great Iphone 4 32G, an amazing 9.7 inch Ipad 3G, a Dell netbook, a Sony PSP® or a Nokia N8 smartphone. On the user manual, it shall be written how to handle it but certainly not how it has been made. Today, La Vie French magazine publishes a long story (including side boxes here and here) about life at Foxconn, main Apple's supplier. Sorry, it's only in French but let me propose you my comment in English.

Despite tragic suicides (14 officially - one last November, yet much lower than in others fims like France Telecom but when it comes to very young people in such a guarded area, it raises questions) and several promises for pay rises, Foxconn is still compared by Hong-kong ngo Sacom, as a "labour camp". How come?

So I went there in May and then back again lately, to check what really changed during this 6 months period of time. Salary is now high, better than any other factory around, but happiness is still not here, whatever swimming pool or tennis court you might have seen on tv, owing to Foxconn p.r. Is it due to Foxconn's military discipline (typically taiwanese, i have been told) ? to a rather hostile environnement (huge dorms, huge factory) that doesn't match with young workers expectations?

Posted by jez at 1:30 AM

December 24, 2010

Fred Hargesheimer, World War 2 pilot who repaid his rescuers, dies age 94

The Telegraph:

Fred Hargesheimer, a World War II Army pilot whose rescue by Pacific islanders led to a life of giving back as a builder of schools and teacher of children, died on Thursday morning. He was 94.

Richard Hargesheimer said his father had been in poor health and passed away in Lincoln, Nebraska.

On June 5, 1943, Hargesheimer, a P-38 pilot with the 8th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron, was shot down by a Japanese fighter while on a mission over the Japanese-held island of New Britain in the southwest Pacific. He parachuted into the trackless jungle, where he barely survived for 31 days until found by local hunters.

They took him to their coastal village and for seven months hid him from Japanese patrols, fed him and nursed him back to health from two illnesses. In February 1944, with the help of Australian commandos working behind Japanese lines, he was picked up by a U.S. submarine off a New Britain beach.

With Christmas upon us, I've been reflecting on two things Jesus said here:
"'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
I have been frequently amazed at people who exhibit such selflessness, as exhibited by Fred Hargesheimer.

Posted by jez at 2:55 PM

When Analysts Look Over Their Shoulders

Brian Deagan:

Scott Cleland is one tough Google (GOOG) critic.

From his office in McLean, Va., as founder and president of research firm Precursor, Cleland routinely fires off pages of analysis whenever news on Google's market dominance hits the media.

Cleland's words have irked Google, which is engaging in an unusual behind-the-scenes effort to counter Cleland's views. The case is spotlighting the issue of how companies should deal with critics on the public stage.

Posted by jez at 11:02 AM

December 2, 2010

Wall Street owes its survival to the Fed

Sebastian Mallaby

For a brief, surreal moment, the prevailing narrative in Washington was that the 2008-09 bail-outs were not really so bad. In September, Treasury secretary Tim Geithner called the government's troubled asset relief programme "one of the most effective emergency programmes in financial history", claiming that the final cost to taxpayers would be less than $50bn.

Steven Rattner, the Wall Street banker who oversaw the Obama administration's rescue of the auto sector, wrote in the Financial Times in October that "without exaggeration, this legislation [establishing Tarp] did more to keep America's financial system - and therefore its economy - functioning than any passed since the 1930s".

But Wednesday's document dump from the Federal Reserve - a congressionally ordered "WikiLeak moment" - puts this bargain-bail-out patter in a new perspective. The post-Lehman rescues were far broader than Tarp, and far riskier for taxpayers, even if the alternative of a systemic meltdown would have been worse.

Posted by jez at 7:47 PM

December 1, 2010

Moral Hazard, Thy Price Is $3.3 Trillion

David Reilly & Rolfe Winkler

Sunshine doesn't hurt after all. Bank shares leapt Wednesday despite the Federal Reserve's detailed disclosure of who got $3.3 trillion of emergency lending during the crisis. That is hardly what investors might have envisaged, given dark warnings from the Fed that such disclosure could endanger financial institutions. The central bank released the data only because of a provision in the Dodd-Frank financial-overhaul bill.

True, it will take time for investors to comb through all the gory details of about 21,000 transactions by multiple emergency Fed lending facilities. And some details may leave firms with egg on their face: Goldman Sachs, which insisted it would have survived the crisis without government assistance, tapped one special Fed facility 84 times to borrow nearly $600 billion in overnight money. Morgan Stanley tapped the facilities more than 200 times.

Even if individual details of the programs aren't that surprising, the breadth of companies that accessed them is notable. The disclosure shows how far the Fed went in attempting to prop up just about every part of the financial markets, with users ranging from the biggest U.S. and international banks to small firms that peddled complex and often toxic securities, as well as industrial companies such as General Electric, Harley-Davidson and Verizon.

Posted by jez at 10:23 PM

In search of a lightning bolt of rational thought.

Peter M. De Lorenzo

In the midst of the biggest green car push in automotive history - what with Chevrolet touting its extended-range electric Volt as the greatest thing since sliced bread while crossing green swords with Nissan, which is shouting similar missives from the rooftops about its all-electric Leaf - it has become readily apparent that the vast majority of the American consumer public couldn't be bothered. As in they couldn't care less. That is unless someone - i.e., Washington - is throwing money at them to care.

Hybrid sales in this market are going to finish the year down again, which will mark three straight years of decline, and this includes the $4.00+ per gallon spike in the late spring-summer of 2008, when fuel economy hysteria took hold in the U.S. for four solid months. It seems that the Shiny Happy Green Sensibilities Act - or whatever you want to call the ongoing "shove-it-down-the-American-consumer-public's-throats-and-they-will-learn-to-lilke-it" mentality that pollutes the political brainiacs/stumblebums in Washington and Northern California - is going nowhere.

As a matter of fact our illustrious leaders in Washington used a considerable chunk of money from the 2009 economic stimulus package to buy up hybrids from various auto manufacturers to prop-up hybrid vehicle sales, couching it as a noble attempt at improving the overall fuel-efficiency of the government fleet, when in fact the real reason was to not only - hopefully - jump-start American consumer thinking into accepting these vehicles as being mainstream choices, but to help the vehicle manufacturers who were battered and bullied to build the vehicles in the first place to keep the production lines going.

But alas, this is the pattern we find ourselves in as a nation at the moment. A minority of the citizenry in an absolute lather about climate change - aided and abetted by maliciously clueless politicos with an axe to grind and an agenda that has more to do with their personal ambitions than it does with such quaint ideas as "being good for the country" - dictating to the majority of the American public how it's going to be.

Posted by jez at 8:29 AM

November 17, 2010

A New $5 Day?

John Landry

Back in 1914 Henry Ford had the crazy idea of giving his factory workers a huge raise. He doubled the standard wage from $2.50 to a whopping $5. The business press excoriated him for his "five dollar day," but it turned out to be a brilliant move.

He had two reasons. The first, which he gave publicly, was that his new assembly-line system enabled him to produce far more cars than ever before. But after all that efficiency a Model T still cost $500, beyond the reach of most employees at Ford and elsewhere. With the huge raise he hoped to spark a movement to enable American workers to buy a car.

The other reason was that he was having a terrible time staffing his wonderful assembly line. Turnover was enormous as people reacted to the new kind of stress of working on a continually moving line. High pay would make them think twice about leaving, or joining a union.

Posted by jez at 9:46 AM

October 31, 2010

Theodore Roosevelt Island Photos



More here. Clusty search: Theodore Roosevelt Island.

Posted by jez at 7:56 PM

October 25, 2010

On China's Renminbi

Michael Pettis
As my reference to the Japanese yen might suggest, I am pretty skeptical about the likelihood of this happening, at least with some of the more excited predictions. So, by the way, is the ADB, whose recent report (“The Future Global Reserve System — An Asian Perspective”), suggests that by 2035, the RMB may comprise about 3 to 12 per cent of international reserves. This is a pretty reasonable prediction, in my opinion, and far from the more feverish claims we see reported almost daily.

If the renminbi ever becomes a major trading or reserve currency, it is going to take a long time for this to happen and will require a radical transformation of the Chinese economy and the role of the government. This may seem like a surprising statement. After all nearly every week we see reports about a new breakthrough for the renminbi, and almost every day someone important somewhere speculates publicly about what the world will be like when (never if) the renminbi displaces the dollar.

But away from all “qualitative” arguments about why this is unlikely, and there are many, I think there is a problem with the arithmetic of reserve currency accumulation. If the rest of the world is going to use the renminbi as a reserve or trading currency, clearly it needs a mechanism by which to accumulate renminbi. This is something on which a surprisingly large share of people who talk about the future of reserve currencies don’t seem to focus.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:54 PM

October 5, 2010

Condoleezza Rice on German Reunification

In a SPIEGEL interview, former United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice discusses America's fight for German reunification, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's woes at the time, Chancellor Helmut Kohl's merits and the later mistakes of his successor, Gerhard Schröder.

SPIEGEL: Madame Secretary, when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, European nations like Great Britain and France were very worried about the prospect of German unification. America was the only country that didn't appear to be concerned. Why not?

Condoleezza Rice: The United States -- and President George H.W. Bush -- recognized that Germany had gone through a long democratic transition. It had been a good friend, it was a member of NATO. Any issues that had existed in 1945, it seemed perfectly reasonable to lay them to rest. For us, the question wasn't should Germany unify? It was how and under what circumstances? We had no concern about a resurgent Germany, unlike the British or French.

SPIEGEL: Because a unified German was in America's strategic interest?

Rice: If you were going to have a Europe that was whole and free, you couldn't have a Germany that was divided. So, with the possibility that Soviet power was going to be receding from Europe, it made perfectly good sense to try to achieve reunification on terms that nobody would have thought thinkable, even four or five years before.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:30 PM

September 28, 2010

Currencies clash in new age of beggar-my-neighbour

Martin Wolf
“We’re in the midst of an international currency war, a general weakening of currency. This threatens us because it takes away our competitiveness.” This complaint by Guido Mantega, Brazil’s finance minister, is entirely understandable. In an era of deficient demand, issuers of reserve currencies adopt monetary expansion and non-issuers respond with currency intervention. Those, like Brazil, who are not among the former and prefer not to copy the latter, find their currencies soaring. They fear the results.

This is not the first time for such currency conflicts. In September 1985, now 25 years ago, the governments of France, West Germany, Japan, the US and the UK met at the Plaza Hotel in New York and agreed to push for depreciation of the US dollar. Earlier still, in August 1971, the US president Richard Nixon imposed the “Nixon shock”, levying a 10 per cent import surcharge and ending dollar convertibility into gold. Both events reflected the US desire to depreciate the dollar. It has the same desire today. But this time is different: the focus of attention is not a compliant ally, such as Japan, but the world’s next superpower: China. When such elephants fight, bystanders are likely to be trampled.

Here there are three facts, relevant to today’s currency wars.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:05 PM

September 27, 2010

Bärbel Bohley, artist and toppler of the Berlin Wall, died on September 11th, aged 65

The Economist
COURAGE rarely failed Bärbel Bohley. Others quailed at the hands of the East German secret police, the Stasi. Frail but steely, she mocked them: an eye for the absurd, she said, helped to keep her mental distance from those “brutal, cold, murderous, contemptuous people”. “I will get out of here; you won’t,” she once snapped at an interrogator.

She was right. Born in the ruins of Berlin in 1945, her early life was shaped by the post-war division of her country into western (soon West) Germany, and a Soviet-occupied zone that claimed to be the “German Democratic Republic”. But in the end it was not the bullying communists who shaped the wiry little painter. It was she who shaped them—and their downfall.

Her life as an artist started in her 30s, after unhappy early stints in industry and teaching. Her métier was brightly coloured pictures with dark angry lines, part abstract, part-figurative. Her inspiration, she said, came from Käthe Kollwitz, the great radical pacifist painter and print-maker of the Weimar years, venerated in post-war East Germany. The regime liked that, and her work: she won prizes, including a trip to the Soviet Union. But the promised Utopia turned out to be shockingly grim and grey. In 1980 the idealistic socialist convictions of her youth, long undermined by the regime’s hypocrisy, finally crystallised into ardent opposition.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:12 AM

September 24, 2010

What Did We Do Pre-iPhone, Part III?



Brian S Hall certainly tells us about the post iPhone world.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:58 PM

September 3, 2010

The enduring solitude of combat vets

Retired Army Special Forces Sgt. Maj. Alan Farrell
Retired Army Special Forces Sgt. Maj. Alan Farrell is one of the more interesting people in this country nowadays, a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War who teaches French at VMI, reviews films and writes poetry. Just your typical sergeant major/brigadier general with a Ph.D. in French and a fistful of other degrees.

This is a speech that he gave to vets at the Harvard Business School last Veterans' Day. I know it is long but a lot of you can't go outside anyway because of the hurricane:

--------

"Ladies and Gentlemens:

Kurt Vonnegut -- Corporal Vonnegut -- famously told an assembly like this one that his wife had begged him to "bring light into their tunnels" that night. "Can't do that," said Vonnegut, since, according to him, the audience would at once sense his duplicity, his mendacity, his insincerity... and have yet another reason for despair. I'll not likely have much light to bring into any tunnels this night, either.

The remarks I'm about to make to you I've made before... in essence at least. I dare to make them again because other veterans seem to approve. I speak mostly to veterans. I don't have much to say to them, the others, civilians, real people. These remarks, I offer you for the reaction I got from one of them, though, a prison shrink. I speak in prisons a lot. Because some of our buddies wind up in there. Because their service was a Golden Moment in a life gone sour. Because... because no one else will.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:35 PM

August 31, 2010

A Conversation with Jay Rosen on "The Problem With News Media in America Today"

The Economist
What is the biggest problem with the news media in America today?

Mr Rosen: The cost of changing settled routines seems too high, but the cost of not changing is, in the long term, even higher. A good example is the predicament of the newspaper press: the print edition provides most of the revenues, but it cannot provide a future. I know of no evidence to show that young people are picking up the print habit. So if the cost of abandoning print is too high, the cost of sticking with it may be even higher, though slower to reveal itself. That's a problem.

Another example is the decline of trust. In the mid-1970s over 70% of Americans told Gallup they had a great deal or fair amount of confidence in the press. Today: 47%. Clearly, something isn't working. But revisions to the code of conduct that has led to this decline would be seen by most journalists as increasing the risk of mistrust. I've tried to argue that the View from Nowhere—also called objectivity—should be replaced by "here's where we're coming from." That strikes most people in the American press as dangerous and unworkable. But the current course is unsustainable: trust continues to decline, with a big acceleration after 2003. When I mention this to journalists, they say: "Trust in all big institutions has declined, Jay." Which is true (except for the military). But is that really an answer? You're supposed to be the watchdogs over dubious actors. Why aren't you an exception?

I could go on, but I think you see the pattern. Change is too expensive; the status quo is unsustainable.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:08 AM

August 29, 2010

A Tale of Two Cities

Ed Wallace
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness ..."
-- Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, 1859

For the past 120 days I have pored over economic reports, commerce data, home sales across America, stats on inflationary trends and sales tax reports by state (when they can be found). I've sorted the data by date published, then prioritized it by importance to the economy, and looked for correlations positive or negative. But no matter how many times I read over the data, I can come to only one solid conclusion: We have now finished changing into a two-tiered economy.

This change didn't start with the downturn of the past two and a half years; instead, the completion of our segregation into two financial classes is what directly caused the downturn. No longer is the belief that "there's the 20 percent of the population that live in poverty and then there's the rest" a comfortably distant concept.

The discomfort line now divides those who "feel afraid" that they live in poverty-like circumstances, or soon will - even if they are gainfully employed - from "the rest." And instead of a 20/80 split, have-nots to haves, today it may well be 60/40.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:53 AM

August 24, 2010

What Did We Do Pre-iPhone?




Posted by James Zellmer at 9:10 PM

August 23, 2010

Cold War History



The Nuclear Museum.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:55 PM

Changing Times, From this.....



to this....


Posted by James Zellmer at 8:46 PM

August 20, 2010

Predatory Habits How Wall Street Transformed Work in America

Etay Zwick
More than a century ago, Thorstein Veblen—American economist, sociologist and social critic—warned that the United States had developed a bizarre and debilitating network of social habits and economic institutions. Ascendant financial practices benefited a limited group at the expense of the greater society; yet paradoxically Americans deemed these practices necessary, even commendable. Far from lambasting the financiers plundering the nation’s resources, we lauded them as the finest members of society. Their instincts, wisdom and savoir faire were idealized, their avarice and chicanery promoted under the banners of patriotism and virtue.

Veblen, an inveterate reader of ethnographies, noticed a historical pattern that could illuminate America’s peculiar relationship with its economic institutions. Societies everywhere fall between two extremes. First, there are societies in which every person works, and no one is demeaned by his or her toil. In these societies, individuals pride themselves on their workmanship, and they exhibit a natural concern for the welfare of their entire community. As examples of such “productive” societies, Veblen mentions Native Americans, the Ainus of Japan, the Todas of the Nilgiri hills and the bushmen of Australia. Second, there are “barbarian” societies, in which a single dominant class (usually of warriors) seizes the wealth and produce of others through force or fraud—think ancient Vikings, Japanese shoguns and Polynesian tribesmen. Farmers labor for their livelihood and warriors expropriate the fruits of that labor. Exploitative elites take no part in the actual production of wealth; they live off the toil of others. Yet far from being judged criminal or indolent, they are revered by the rest of the community. In barbarian societies, nothing is as manly, as venerated, as envied, as the lives of warriors. Their every trait—their predatory practices, their dress, their sport, their gait, their speech—is held in high esteem by all. Our world falls into the latter form. There remains a class that pillages, seizes and exploits in broad daylight—and with our envious approval. Who are the barbarian warriors today? According to Veblen, the modern barbarians live on Wall Street. They are the financiers summarily praised for their versatility, intelligence and courage in the face of an increasingly mysterious economy. Today a growing number of Americans feel at risk of economic despair; in a world of unsatisfying professional options and constant financial insecurity, the image of Wall Street life offers a sort of relief. It symbolizes the success possible in the modern world.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:34 PM

July 4, 2010

The Energy Future

Ed Wallace:
The winter of 1979 in southern California reminded people why they had migrated to LA over the decades. The daytime temperatures were in the mid-70s, and the LA basin's summer smog had disappeared, revealing the snowcapped San Gabriel Mountains.

At Neonex Leisure that day, we were brainstorming the recreational vehicle of the future. At the time we built America's largest RV, the Arctic Sun, a combination van/pickup truck pulling a 55-foot-long 5th-wheel trailer. Now Neonex Canada had put our California division in charge of designing the company's next Class A Motorhome.

Each of the other five U.S. managers gave their impressions of the future of the recreational vehicle, disclosing visions of startling grandeur. I was more flippant: "I bet it's a Honda with a Coleman tent." Three months later the Second Energy Crisis hit. We shut down our RV plant in two days flat, and I was back in Texas in five.

My point is that, if you had asked every energy or automotive issues guru what the future would hold for automobiles just before the winter of 1978 - 79, the answer would have been completely different if you'd asked them the same thing just 12 months later. That's what an energy crisis can do.

My joke about a Honda with a Coleman tent was weirdly prophetic. But my fellow managers' visions of million-dollar motorhomes would also turn out to be spot on -- 20 years later.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:47 PM

Michael Hastings of Rolling Stone on the Story that Brought Down Gen. McChrystal and Exposed Widening Disputes Behind the U.S. Debacle in Afghanistan

Democracy Now:
In a rare extended interview, we speak to Michael Hastings, whose article in Rolling Stone magazine led to the firing of General Stanley McChrystal. Hastings’ piece quoted McChrystal and his aides making disparaging remarks about top administration officials, and exposed long-standing disagreements between civilian and military officials over the conduct of the war. The Senate confirmed General David Petraues as McChrystal’s replacement on Wednesday, one day after McChrystal announced his retirement from the military on Tuesday after a 34-year career.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:18 PM

July 3, 2010

Happy Independence Day!



US Constitution, Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.

We have so much to be thankful for.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:33 PM

June 30, 2010

RBS tells clients to prepare for 'monster' money-printing by the Federal Reserve

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard:
As recovery starts to stall in the US and Europe with echoes of mid-1931, bond experts are once again dusting off a speech by Ben Bernanke given eight years ago as a freshman governor at the Federal Reserve.

Entitled "Deflation: Making Sure It Doesn’t Happen Here", it is a warfare manual for defeating economic slumps by use of extreme monetary stimulus once interest rates have dropped to zero, and implicitly once governments have spent themselves to near bankruptcy. The speech is best known for its irreverent one-liner: "The US government has a technology, called a printing press, that allows it to produce as many US dollars as it wishes at essentially no cost."

Bernanke began putting the script into action after the credit system seized up in 2008, purchasing $1.75 trillion of Treasuries, mortgage securities, and agency bonds to shore up the US credit system. He stopped far short of the $5 trillion balance sheet quietly pencilled in by the Fed Board as the upper limit for quantitative easing (QE).

Investors basking in Wall Street's V-shaped rally had assumed that this bizarre episode was over. So did the Fed, which has been shutting liquidity spigots one by one. But the latest batch of data is disturbing.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:51 AM

June 28, 2010

Vintage Trek Bike



Posted by James Zellmer at 10:39 PM

June 26, 2010

"Forgotten Places" - Native American Mounds at Madison's Elmside Park



iPhone / iPad and iPod users click here.

Worldwide Panorama is collecting panoramic scenes with the theme "Forgotten Places". Nancy suggested Madison's Elmside Park. Here it is.

From Native American Mounds in Madison and Dane County (A Madison Heritage Publication):
At the corner of Lakeland Avenue and Maple Avenue overlooking Lake Monona are two well-preserved Late Woodland animal effigies now referred to as a lynx and a bear. These mounds were originally part of a dense and extensive cluster of mounds that extended along the north shore of Lake Monona. Once part of the Simeon Mills farm, this site was still a favored Winnebago campground as late as the late 19th century. Most of the mound cluster, which included a bird effigy with a reported wingspan of 568 feet, was destroyed by turn-of-the-century residential development. Nearby, the beautiful sculpture, entitled "Let the Great Spirits Soar," was carved by Harry Whitehorse, a Winnebago whose ancestors have lived in the Four Lakes area for hundreds of years. The sculpture was carved from a storm-damaged hackberry tree and honors his Indian ancestors and the effigy mound builders.
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:42 PM

June 22, 2010

"The Time We Have is Growing Short"

Paul Volcker:
If we need any further illustration of the potential threats to our own economy from uncontrolled borrowing, we have only to look to the struggle to maintain the common European currency, to rebalance the European economy, and to sustain the political cohesion of Europe. Amounts approaching a trillion dollars have been marshaled from national and international resources to deal with those challenges. Financing can buy time, but not indefinite time. The underlying hard fiscal and economic adjustments are necessary.

As we look to that European experience, let’s consider our own situation. We are not a small country highly vulnerable to speculative attack. In an uncertain world, our currency and credit are well established. But there are serious questions, most immediately about the sustainability of our commitment to growing entitlement programs. Looking only a little further ahead, there are even larger questions of critical importance for those of less advanced age than I. The need to achieve a consensus for effective action against global warming, for energy independence, and for protecting the environment is not going to go away. Are we really prepared to meet those problems, and the related fiscal implications? If not, today’s concerns may soon become tomorrow’s existential crises.

I referred at the start of these remarks to my sense five years ago of intractable problems, resisting solutions. Little has happened to allay my concerns. But, of course, it is not true that our economic problems are intractable beyond our ability to react, to make the necessary adjustments to more fully realize the enormous potential for improving our well-being. Permit me a note of optimism.

A few days ago, I spent a little time in Ireland. It’s a small country, with few resources and, to put it mildly, a troubled history. In the last twenty years, it took a great leap forward, escaping from its economic lethargy and its internal conflicts. Responding to the potential of free and open markets and the stable European currency, standards of living have bounded higher, close to the general European level. Instead of emigration, there has been an influx of workers from abroad.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:49 AM

June 20, 2010

Strolling Through 19th Century London Today

Brian Barrett:
Augmented reality might be the future, but my favorite application of it yet transports you far into past. StreetMuseum—an iPhone app from the Museum of London—overlays four hundred years of historic images on today's city streets.

StreetMuseum makes creative use of Google Maps and geo-tagging to show users how London used to look. You can use it to check out pictures and info about nearby historic locations, which is has more of a straightforward walking tour feel. But the fun starts when you're actually standing in front of a location in the database. That's when the AR "3D view" kicks in, with views that may look something like this:
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:26 PM

May 31, 2010

Google has mapped every WiFi network in Britain

Duncan Gardham:
Google has mapped every wireless network in Britain in order to use the information for commercial purposes, it has emerged.

Every WiFi wireless router – the device that links most computer owners to the internet - in every home has been entered into a Google database.

The information was collected by radio aerials on their Street View cars, which have now photographed almost every home in the country.

The data is then used on Google's Maps for Mobile application to locate mobile phones such as iPhones in order for users to access information relevant to the area such as restaurants, cinemas, theatres, shops and hotels.

The project had remained secret until an inquiry in Germany earlier this month in which Google was forced to admit that it “mistakenly” downloaded emails and other data from unsecured wireless networks where they we
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:40 PM

May 28, 2010

The Tragic Race to be First to the South Pole

Betsy Mason:
In 1910, two men set out to be the first to reach the South Pole in a race that would be both heroic and tragic. The men had different reasons for their journeys, took different routes and made different decisions that would ultimately seal their respective fates, and those of their teams.

The American Museum of Natural History delves into this storied event to bring visitors as close as possible to this historic event and the people involved in their new exhibit, “Race to the End of the Earth,” starting May 29. Artifacts, photographs, replicas and models give life to the two rivals and their treacherous 1,800-mile marches to the center of Antarctica.

Robert Falcon Scott set off from Wales on July 15, 1910 on what was originally intended to be a primarily scientific expedition, but which quickly morphed into a quest to make history on behalf of the British Empire.

Meanwhile, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, whose plan to reach the North Pole first had been thwarted by both Frederik Cook and Robert Peary, had secretly turned his sights on the South Pole. He left Oslo in June 3, 1910 with the intent of beating Scott to his goal.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:35 PM

May 12, 2010

Understanding the Greek Aftershocks

Mahamed El-Erian:
Given the tragic events in Greece and the financial contamination of other eurozone peripheral countries, most people now recognize that sovereign risk matters and it matters a great deal. Unfortunately, the recognition lag has already caused significant damage, including forcing the current approach to European integration to an historical juncture.

What is less well understood at this stage is that the externalities, negative and positive, are not limited to Europe. It is only a matter of time when this issue, too, becomes a driver of policies and market valuations and correlations.

The general context is critical here, and should never be forgotten. As argued in my March 11 FT commentary, the sovereign debt explosion in industrial countries involves a regime shift with consequential long-lasting effects. And what is happening in Europe is yet another illustration how, in our highly interconnected world, previously unthinkable phenomena can become reality in a surprising and highly disruptive manner.

Rather than just observe, other countries are well advised to understand the debt dynamics at play. They should draw the appropriate policy implications given their own debt burdens, maturity profiles and funding sources.

They must also go well beyond this.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:51 AM

May 5, 2010

This Time Its Different

Financial Times:
800 years of financial crises - Carmen Reinhart, co-author of This Time is Different, talks about the history of financial crises and their patterns
Video.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:40 PM

April 21, 2010

The decline of the Great Writ: The sad history of habeas corpus

The Economist:
Habeas Corpus: From England to Empire. By Paul Halliday. Harvard University Press; 502 pages; $39.95 and £29.95. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk

WHEN discussing habeas corpus or the “Great Writ of Liberty”, as the most revered legal device of the Anglophone world is often known, jurists and civil libertarians tend to become misty-eyed. In 1777 Charles James Fox, a radical British politician, described habeas corpus during a parliamentary debate on its suspension as “the great palladium of the liberties of the subject” and deplored the “insolence and temerity” of those “who could thus dare to snatch it from the people”.

Nearly 230 years later, in an impassioned attack from the Senate floor on the Bush administration’s bill to suspend habeas corpus for anyone determined to be an “unlawful enemy combatant”, Barack Obama declared: “I do not want to hear that this is a new kind of world in which we face a new kind of enemy.” Another senator, Arlen Specter, roared: “The right of habeas corpus was established in the Magna Carta in 1215…what the bill seeks to do is set back basic rights by some 900 years.” In Britain, Lord Hoffmann, a law lord reviewing government “control orders” to detain terrorist suspects in 2007, thundered: “Such is the revulsion against detention without charge or trial, such is this country’s attachment to habeas corpus, that the right to liberty ordinarily trumps even the interests of national security.”
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:06 AM

April 11, 2010

Prayers for Poland, Again



Poland's Embassy in Prague; June, 2009. The banner celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Wall coming down.

Many links on the tragic plane crash in Smolensk. Clusty Search: Katyn film and Solidarity Poland.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:47 PM

April 7, 2010

The Europe roundup: Iceland, from the financial crisis to open data

Antonella Napolitino:
Iceland | From the financial crisis to open data
In 2008 in Iceland the financial system imploded. "Not surprisingly, this has led to a demand for more transparency, more access to public data and more effective communication by the government. All of a sudden Open Data is seen as a high priority among various lobby groups, branches of government and in restoration planning" says Hjalmar Gislason, an open data activist and member of the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Working Group on EU Open Data. In a long and detailed post, Gislason explains how this is not just part of the "momentum" open data is gaining in Europe, but a further step in a path that started in late '90s.
The Icelandic Modern Media Initiative and the presence of Wikileaks surely have a positive impact on the whole scenario and there is no doubt they will help boosting any future open data bill. The effects will be seen soon: "In December a rare cross-party parliamentary proposal (the first step in passing new legislation) was made, proposing a “default open” strategy for any public sector data. The Prime Minister’s Office has formed a committee that is to propose changes and improvements in legislation and suggest how to define the boundaries between data that is to be open and data that shall remain closed."
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:06 AM

March 26, 2010

Hiroshima, Nagasaki: You Are There. A talk by Seymour Abrahamson



Seymour Abrahamson spoke at a recent meeting of the Madison Literary Club.

17.9MB PDF Handout
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:06 PM

March 15, 2010

Earthquake in Chile

The Big Picture:
At 3:34 am local time, today, February 27th, a devastating magnitude 8.8 earthquake struck Chile, one of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded. According to Chilean authorities, over 400 people are now known to have been killed. The earthquake also triggered a Tsunami which is right now propagating across the Pacific Ocean, due to arrive in Hawaii in hours (around 11:00 am local time). The severity of the Tsunami is still not known, but alerts are being issued across the Pacific. (Entry updated four times, now 45 photos total)
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:22 PM

February 25, 2010

Fabulous: Health Care Video Stream with Campaign Contributions...



The Sunlight Foundation provides a great service here.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:42 PM

February 19, 2010

If Our Grandparents Could See Us Now

Ed Wallace:
"The OECD rates Canada's banks as the safest in the world - the United States comes in fortieth, two places behind Botswana."

-- From I.O.U., by John Lanchester

There's always a pile of new books near my desk; currently, most of them deal with the history of the financial crisis. When time allows I open a couple more, read them and mark key points with highlighters for easier reference. It's always gratifying to find a passage in which a well-regarded economics writer makes the same points I have in my work, but I like books even better when they teach me things I did not already know.

An example: Barry Rithholtz, a market commentator, put the total cost of the current bailout in terms that most anyone can understand. It is now more than the nation spent for "The Marshall Plan, the Louisiana Purchase, the Apollo moon landings (and all costs of NASA's space flights), the Korean War, the Vietnam War, FDR's New Deal, the Invasion of Iraq and the 1980s Savings and Loan Scandal, combined and adjusted for inflation."

That statement alone should have the public up in arms, demanding smart actions that will make sure it never happens again.

The books I've been reading lately also cover the fundamental economic theories of both John Maynard Keynes and Milton Friedman. Keynes is known for promoting government deficit spending in hard times, while Friedman believes in deregulating and privatizing everything. What I now find interesting is that nobody carrying the banner of either of these two economic giants seems to get Keynes' or Friedman's fundamental economic viewpoints entirely right.
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:08 PM

February 17, 2010

Why the Technology Sector Should Care About Google Books

Gary Reback @ TechCrunch:
Antitrust lawyer and Open Book Alliance leader Gary Reback has been called the “antitrust champion” and the “protector of the marketplace” by the National Law Journal, and has been at the forefront of many of the most important antitrust cases of the last three decades. He is one of the most vocal opponents of the Google Books settlement. I interviewed Reback a few months ago, and Google Books was one of the topics we discussed. In the column below, Reback discusses Google Books and its ties to Google search.

This Thursday leaders of the international publishing industry will watch with bated breath as a federal judge in New York hears arguments over whether to approve the Google Book Settlement.

More a complicated joint venture among Google and five big New York publishers than the resolution of pending litigation, the proposed settlement once promised unprecedented access to millions of out-of-print books through digital sales to consumers and online research subscriptions for libraries. But with the passage of time and the ability to examine the deal more closely, the promises proved illusory. The big publishers, as it turns out, have reserved the right to negotiate secret deals with Google for the books they claim through the settlement (pdf).

Meanwhile, torrents of outrage rained down on the New York court – from authors whose ownership rights will be appropriated through the settlement’s procedures, from librarians fearful of price exploitation by Google, from privacy advocates worried that Google will monitor the reading habits of library patrons, from libertarians incensed over the use of a legal procedure to effect the widespread appropriation of property, from digital booksellers concerned about Google’s unfair advantage in the marketplace.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:24 AM

February 14, 2010

Cham Ruins: My Son Panorama - Another View



This Cham Ruins panorama (click to view) was captured in My Son, Vietnam during the month of April, 2007 by Jim Zellmer

Another panoramic scene.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:42 PM

February 12, 2010

The Legacy of Billy Tauzin: The White House-PhRMA Deal

Paul Blumenthal:
More than a million spectators gathered before the Capitol on a frosty January afternoon to witness the inauguration of Barack Obama, who promised in his campaign to change Washington’s mercenary culture of lobbyists, special interest influence and backroom deals. But within a few months of being sworn in, the President and his top aides were sitting down with leaders from the pharmaceutical industry to hash out a deal that they thought would make health care reform possible.

Over the following months, pharmaceutical industry lobbyists and executives met with top White House aides dozens of times to hammer out a deal that would secure industry support for the administration’s health care reform agenda in exchange for the White House abandoning key elements of the president’s promises to reform the pharmaceutical industry. They flooded Congress with campaign contributions, and hired dozens of former Capitol Hill insiders to push their case. How they did it—pieced together from news accounts, disclosure forms including lobbying reports and Federal Election Commission records, White House visitor logs and the schedule Sen. Max Baucus releases voluntarily—is a testament to how ingrained the grip of special interests remains in Washington.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:30 PM

February 11, 2010

Panorama - Cham Ruins: My Son, Vietnam



This Cham Ruins panorama (click to view) was captured in My Son, Vietnam during the month of April, 2007 by Jim Zellmer

Another panoramic scene.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:58 PM

February 8, 2010

Temple of Literature Panorama: Hanoi, Vietnam



Click to view the panoramic image. Enjoy a full screen view by clicking the panorama icon in the lower right. Clusty Search: Temple of Literature.

Another Temple of Literature panorama can bee seen here.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:49 PM

February 7, 2010

Trouble Down South for US Republicans

Ryan Bowman and Andrew K. Woods:
At first glance, McLeod’s Tyre Shop in Lucedale, Mississippi, seems an unlikely venue for a political salon. It is a large, spare room, its contents pushed to the corners as if by an invisible centrifugal force, or maybe the weak wind of the ceiling fan. To the right of the entrance, four tyres stand on tiny podiums like sculptures in an art gallery. In the far right-hand corner of the room, a large 1920s stove slumbers beneath a Mississippi State football flag, which Doug McLeod hung to taunt his rivals from Ole Miss – the University of Mississippi. And in the far left-hand corner, a long counter is crowded with well-thumbed copies of every newspaper (local, state and national) from the past two weeks – kindling for starting and settling scores.

“A Mississippi lady once asked me where I went to church. I told her Sacred Heart and she said, ‘Well, we all have to worship somewhere, don’t we?’”

We walk in at the tail end of an argument between four men, just in time for McLeod to jam his finger into one of the newspapers and say, with an air of finality, “And that’s why they should raise interest rates.” McLeod has owned this tyre shop for more than 30 years, and in that time he has established himself as a local character and the shop as a destination: a place where he and others can hold forth. The scene is both chaotic and relaxed, with high-energy McLeod spinning like a top while visitors sit or lean, idling on about all subjects but their tyres.

The men assembled here, in one of the most Republican counties in the American deep south, are conservative. In fact, the latest demographics say they – southern, white males aged over 35 – are the Republican party. Despite differences on many subjects – football, Ford trucks, fiscal policy – they all agree that their interests are not represented in Washington, not by Barack Obama and the Democrats and not even by their own party.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:50 PM

February 4, 2010

Google to enlist NSA to help it ward off cyberattacks

Ellen Nakashima:
The world's largest Internet search company and the world's most powerful electronic surveillance organization are teaming up in the name of cybersecurity. Under an agreement that is still being finalized, the National Security Agency would help Google analyze a major corporate espionage attack that the firm said originated in China and targeted its computer networks, according to cybersecurity experts familiar with the matter. The objective is to better defend Google -- and its users -- from future attack.

Google and the NSA declined to comment on the partnership. But sources with knowledge of the arrangement, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the alliance is being designed to allow the two organizations to share critical information without violating Google's policies or laws that protect the privacy of Americans' online communications. The sources said the deal does not mean the NSA will be viewing users' searches or e-mail accounts or that Google will be sharing proprietary data.

The partnership strikes at the core of one of the most sensitive issues for the government and private industry in the evolving world of cybersecurity: how to balance privacy and national security interests. On Tuesday, Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair called the Google attacks, which the company acknowledged in January, a "wake-up call." Cyberspace cannot be protected, he said, without a "collaborative effort that incorporates both the U.S. private sector and our international partners."
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:21 AM

A fight over freedom at Apple’s core

Jonathan Zittrain:
In 1977, a 21-year-old Steve Jobs unveiled something the world had never seen before: a ready-to-program personal computer. After powering the machine up, proud Apple II owners were confronted with a cryptic blinking cursor, awaiting instructions.

The Apple II was a clean slate, a device built – boldly – with no specific tasks in mind. Yet, despite the cursor, you did not have to know how to write programs. Instead, with a few keystrokes you could run software acquired from anyone, anywhere. The Apple II was generative. After the launch, Apple had no clue what would happen next, which meant that what happened was not limited by Mr Jobs’ hunches. Within two years, Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston had released VisiCalc, the first digital spreadsheet, which ran on the Apple II. Suddenly businesses around the world craved machines previously marketed only to hobbyists. Apple IIs flew off the shelves. The company had to conduct research to figure out why.

Thirty years later Apple gave us the iPhone. It was easy to use, elegant and cool – and had lots of applications right out of the box. But the company quietly dropped a fundamental feature, one signalled by the dropping of “Computer” from Apple Computer’s name: the iPhone could not be programmed by outsiders. “We define everything that is on the phone,” said Mr Jobs. “You don’t want your phone to be like a PC. The last thing you want is to have loaded three apps on your phone and then you go to make a call and it doesn’t work any more.”

The openness on which Apple had built its original empire had been completely reversed – but the spirit was still there among users. Hackers vied to “jailbreak” the iPhone, running new apps on it despite Apple’s desire to keep it closed. Apple threatened to disable any phone that had been jailbroken, but then appeared to relent: a year after the iPhone’s introduction, it launched the App Store. Now outsiders could write software for the iPhone, setting the stage for a new round of revolutionary VisiCalcs – not to mention tens of thousands of simple apps such as iPhone Harmonica or the short-lived I Am Rich, which for $999.99 displayed a picture of a gem, just to show that the iPhone owner could afford the software.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:06 AM

January 24, 2010

Lunch With FW de Klerk

Alec Russell:
The last white president of South Africa is deep into his reminiscences on the dying days of apartheid when a fruit fly, no doubt overcome by the day’s intense 35°C heat, dives into my glass of crisp Cape Sauvignon. Unconsciously, I fish it out and make to have another sip. FW de Klerk is having none of it. He abandons the story of his once fraught relationship with Nelson Mandela, raises his hand and attracts the attention of the waitress.

For a moment, seen from afar, it could have been the quintessential apartheid tableau: black servant summoned by Afrikaner patriarch. But this is 21st-century Cape Town and, apart from on remote farms on the veld, that relationship is of the past. The waitress confidently looks de Klerk in the eye. There is none of the pre-emptive cringing that once marked such inter-racial encounters . It is, I reflect over a replacement glass of Sauvignon, a reminder of the revolutionary changes that my lunch guest set in motion almost exactly 20 years ago.

History is moving rather fast in South Africa. In June the country hosts football’s World Cup, as if in ultimate endorsement of its post-apartheid progress. Yet on February 2 1990, when the recently inaugurated state President de Klerk stood up to deliver the annual opening address to the white-dominated parliament, such a prospect was unthinkable. The townships were in ferment; many apartheid laws were still on the books; and expectations of the balding, supposedly cautious Afrikaner were low.
Fascinating.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:25 AM

December 29, 2009

Neda Soltan: Person of the Year

Times of London:
Every few years a man, or a woman, whose name is often familiar to few beyond the circle of their family and friends, is ambling through a more or less anonymous life when they find themselves ambushed by history. For many of these people, their life changes forever. Frequently, tragically, it ends; leaving behind an image that haunts the world long after they themselves have gone.

Neda Soltan was such a person, a young beautiful woman who had studied philosophy, was now an aspiring singer, who found herself abruptly catapulted from the crowds of Tehran to become the face of protest against Iran’s repressive rulers; a symbol of rebellion against the fraudulent election that had just returned Mahmoud Ahmedinejad to power.

Like the nameless student who taunted that tank in Tiananmen Square, like Jan Palach, the Czech student who died after setting himself alight in Wenceslas Square in January 1969 to protest against the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia, Neda Soltan became the icon for the mutiny against Iran’s brutish regime as images of her face, and amateur footage of her murder by a sniper from the pro-government Basij militia, sprinted around the world. Like the photograph taken in South Vietnam of a bewildered young girl, the victim of a napalm attack, running naked down a road; and like the images of those skin-and-bones internees, standing semi-naked in the prison camp run by Bosnian Serb forces in Omarska in 1992, their ribs as prominent as xylophone keys, the image of Neda Soltan lying bleeding on a Tehran street has become the shorthand for the horrors of a conflict. With their beseeching eyes such images become, as the war photographer Don McCullin has pointed out, our modern versions of religious icons.
Certainly a superior choice to the Political Class bank's CEO: Goldman's Lloyd Blankein.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:15 AM

December 14, 2009

Goldman's Collateral Damage

Tracy Alloway:

Cast your mind back to that SigTarp report, published last month.

Readers will recall there’s been a persistent stink over whether the efforts of the Federal Reserve and the US Treasury to prop up AIG had the effect of bailing out Goldman Sachs — its largest trading partner. Goldman Sachs always denied that idea, saying its exposure to AIG was collateralised and hedged against the mega-insurers’ fall. Others, were not so sure.

Last week the Wall Street Journal continued that particular line of thought with an article titled “Goldman fueled AIG gambles“, which examined GS’s role in acting as a middleman between the insurer and other banks. In short, Goldman offered banks protection on some of their investments (for instance on CDOs of home loans), which it in turn hedged with AIG in the form of CDS.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:49 AM

Berlin's Class War

Feargus O'Sullivan:
Twenty years after it was toppled, the area around the Berlin Wall is becoming a battle­ground again. In the streets neighbouring Berlin’s Todesstreifen – the once heavily guarded “death strip” on the east side – a new conflict is brewing. This time, it is between wealthy newcomers to the German capital’s regenerated core, and less monied residents, who fear being displaced.

Silvia Kollitz, an anti-development activist, is a resident of Prenzlauer Berg, a once dilapidated but now chic district of east Berlin. She feels her local area, with its pretty, tree-lined streets and sleek cafés, is being turned into a refuge for the rich. “The new buildings being put up are just for people with lots of money – who don’t use state schools and look at the rest of us as ‘local colour’ from behind their locked gates and high walls,” she says.

While Kollitz and fellow activists are seeking to halt these changes, they are fighting a strong tide. For the first time since the second world war, Berlin is attracting the international wealthy. Shaking off its gloomy cold war past, the city’s rebuilt centre is now packed with designer emporia, five-star hotels – Berlin has more than New York – and restaurants, sandwiched between Prussian palaces and new ministry buildings.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:46 AM

December 6, 2009

Will Big Business Save the Earth?

Jared Diamond:
THERE is a widespread view, particularly among environmentalists and liberals, that big businesses are environmentally destructive, greedy, evil and driven by short-term profits. I know — because I used to share that view.

But today I have more nuanced feelings. Over the years I’ve joined the boards of two environmental groups, the World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International, serving alongside many business executives.

As part of my board work, I have been asked to assess the environments in oil fields, and have had frank discussions with oil company employees at all levels. I’ve also worked with executives of mining, retail, logging and financial services companies. I’ve discovered that while some businesses are indeed as destructive as many suspect, others are among the world’s strongest positive forces for environmental sustainability.

The embrace of environmental concerns by chief executives has accelerated recently for several reasons. Lower consumption of environmental resources saves money in the short run. Maintaining sustainable resource levels and not polluting saves money in the long run. And a clean image — one attained by, say, avoiding oil spills and other environmental disasters — reduces criticism from employees, consumers and government.
Much more on Jared Diamond here.
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:02 PM

November 29, 2009

St. Stephen's Cathedral Panorama - Budapest



Wikipedia entry on St. Stephen's, or Szent István Bazilika in Hungarian.

Our trip was made possible through the incredible generosity of my parents. We are truly blessed!
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:43 PM

November 27, 2009

The Berlin Wall: 20 Years Gone


The Big Picture:
Twenty years ago, on the night of November 9, 1989, following weeks of pro-democracy protests, East German authorities suddenly opened their border to West Germany. After 28 years as prisoners of their own country, euphoric East Germans streamed to checkpoints and rushed past bewildered guards, many falling tearfully into the arms of West Germans welcoming them on the other side. Thousands of Germans and world leaders gathered in Berlin yesterday to celebrate the "Mauerfall" - the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and German reunification - and to remember the approximately 100-200 who died attempting to cross the border over the years. Collected here are photographs both historic and recent, from the fall of the Berlin Wall. Be sure to pause on photos 12 - 15, and click them to see a fade effect from before to after. (38 photos total)
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:25 AM

November 25, 2009

Playing with fire Forget China, the US Federal Reserve is the world's biggest currency manipulator

Andy Xie:
As US President Barack Obama glided through China, a chorus erupted in New York and Washington: the problem with the global economy is China's exchange-rate policy, and Obama's No 1 job is to slay it. It's sad that these people actually believe what they are saying: the same "logic" got the world into the current mess. In the feverish hallucination of salvation, they think that moving China's currency policy would right all wrongs.

The US Federal Reserve is the biggest currency manipulator in the world. Not only does it keep the short-term interest rate at zero through its vast purchase programme for mortgage-backed securities, it also keeps credit spreads and bond yields artificially low. Its manipulation stops money, bond and credit markets from pricing either the Fed's policy or the US economic plight. All the firepower is packed into the currency market, giving speculators a sure bet on a weaker dollar and everything else rising. Here comes the biggest carry trade ever: the Fed is promising no downside for shorting the dollar.

The US Treasury writes an annual report, judging if other countries are manipulating their exchange rates. It should look in the mirror. Even though the Fed is not directly intervening in the currency market per se, its manipulation is equivalent to pushing down the dollar by non-market means.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:08 AM

November 19, 2009

Playing with fire Forget China, the US Federal Reserve is the world's biggest currency manipulator

Andy Xie:
As US President Barack Obama glided through China, a chorus erupted in New York and Washington: the problem with the global economy is China's exchange-rate policy, and Obama's No 1 job is to slay it. It's sad that these people actually believe what they are saying: the same "logic" got the world into the current mess. In the feverish hallucination of salvation, they think that moving China's currency policy would right all wrongs.

The US Federal Reserve is the biggest currency manipulator in the world. Not only does it keep the short-term interest rate at zero through its vast purchase programme for mortgage-backed securities, it also keeps credit spreads and bond yields artificially low. Its manipulation stops money, bond and credit markets from pricing either the Fed's policy or the US economic plight. All the firepower is packed into the currency market, giving speculators a sure bet on a weaker dollar and everything else rising. Here comes the biggest carry trade ever: the Fed is promising no downside for shorting the dollar.

The US Treasury writes an annual report, judging if other countries are manipulating their exchange rates. It should look in the mirror. Even though the Fed is not directly intervening in the currency market per se, its manipulation is equivalent to pushing down the dollar by non-market means.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:00 PM

November 17, 2009

Goldman apologises for role in crisis

Francesco Guerrera, Justin Baer and Tom Braithwaite :
Goldman Sachs apologised for its role in the financial crisis on Tuesday and pledged $500m over five years – or about 2.3 per cent of its estimated bonus and salary pool for 2009 – to help 10,000 US small businesses recover from the ­recession. The moves come as the bank tries to defuse a political and public backlash over its plans to share billions of dollars among top dealmakers after rebounding sharply from the turmoil and earning record profits in the first nine months of the year.

Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman’s chief executive, told a corporate conference in New York that the bank regretted taking part in the cheap credit boom that had fuelled the pre-crisis bubble. “We participated in things that were clearly wrong and have reason to regret,” said Mr Blankfein. “We apologise.”

Mr Blankfein also told the conference he wished he had not told the UK’s Sunday Times newspaper that Goldman did “God’s work” – a remark that was seized upon by the bank’s critics – and said it had been meant as a joke.

Mr Blankfein spoke hours before Goldman revealed plans to invest $500m over five years in business education, technical assistance and venture capital to help 10,000 small businesses across the US. The yearly amount of about $100m to be spent on the initiative – which will be overseen by a panel co-chaired by Warren Buffett, a Goldman investor – is equivalent to a good trading day at Goldman. In the third quarter, the bank had 36 days in which traders made more than $100m.

Mr Buffett told the Financial Times that the small business programme was not a response by the bank to recent criticism. “This is a big initiative,” he said. “This is not a one-day or one-year wonder. It’s a continuous programme.”
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:57 PM

November 4, 2009

German Chancellor Angela Merkel Address to Joint Meeting of Congress

cspan.org:

Twenty-years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed a joint meeting of Congress to discuss issues around the world including Afghanistan, climate change and int'l financial regulation.

Posted by jimz at 9:41 PM

October 31, 2009

'Puzzlers' reassemble shredded Stasi files, bit by bit

Kate Connolly:

East German documents provide a crucial piece of history, supporters of the project say, but putting them back together could take hundreds of years. A computerized system would help, but it's costly.

Reporting from Berlin and Zirndorf, Germany, - Martina Metzler peers at the piles of paper strips spread across four desks in her office. Seeing two jagged edges that match, her eyes light up and she tapes them together.

"Another join, another small success," she says with a wry smile -- even though at least two-thirds of the sheet is still missing.

Metzler, 45, is a "puzzler," one of a team of eight government workers that has attempted for the last 14 years to manually restore documents hurriedly shredded by East Germany's secret police, or Stasi, in the dying days of one of the Soviet bloc's most repressive regimes.

Two decades after the heady days when crowds danced atop the Berlin Wall, Germany has reunited and many of its people have moved on. But historians say it is important to establish the truth of the Communist era, and the work of the puzzlers has unmasked prominent figures in the former East Germany as Stasi agents. In addition, about 100,000 people annually apply to see their own files.

Posted by jimz at 10:39 PM

October 14, 2009

A credibility problem for Goldman

John Gapper:
It will be business as usual for Goldman Sachs this morning. The bank will annoy a lot of people.

Goldman, the institution that came through last year’s financial crisis best – arguably the only pure investment bank left standing – will say how much money it made in the third quarter (a lot) and how many billions it has stored for bonuses (about $5.5bn towards a likely 2009 bonus pool of $23bn).

For believers in Goldman’s ethical standards and way of doing business, these are difficult times. Although it avoided the mistakes that brought down Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, forced Merrill Lynch into Bank of America’s arms, and prodded Morgan Stanley further into lower-risk retail broking, Goldman has become a whipping boy.

There is outrage that, having taken government money to survive the crash, Goldman is in such rude health that it will hand out billions in bonuses. Matt Taibbi, a Rolling Stone writer, caught the mood memorably by describing Goldman as “a giant vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity”.

Such is Goldman’s importance to Wall Street and regulation that I am devoting a pair of columns to it. Today, I will discuss the Goldman problem (different and less egregious to what Mr Taibbi believes, but still a problem). Next week, I will suggest what should be done about it by regulators and the bank itself.

Goldman executives were wounded by how seriously Mr Taibbi’s piece was taken despite their riposte that vampire squids are small creatures that present no danger to humanity. He accused it of profiting from bubbles such as the US internet and housing booms, and of repeatedly “selling investments they know are crap” to retail investors.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:35 PM

October 11, 2009

Loma Prieta Plus 20 Years

Carl Nolte:
An earthquake that began beneath an obscure mountain in Santa Cruz County called Loma Prieta struck terror into Northern California 20 years ago this week on a beautiful fall afternoon, just as a World Series game was about to begin in San Francisco.

The quake lasted only 15 seconds, but it killed 67 people, smashed downtown Santa Cruz, wrecked San Francisco's Marina district, broke the Bay Bridge - and changed much of the Bay Area.

Loma Prieta was one of those watershed events; in some ways, the disaster was a blessing in disguise. Out of it came a brand new San Francisco waterfront, the revival of a rundown neighborhood in Hayes Valley, major upgrades of classic buildings in downtown Oakland, and new laws on unreinforced old buildings. One of these years, a new eastern half of the Bay Bridge will open.
More notes and links on Loma Prieta, including my recollection(s) and that of Brian Zimdars.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:02 AM

October 10, 2009

How banks will get customers to cover a round of big losses

John Dizard:
This, they toss off with the certainty of wine-fuelled genius, also explains the rise in the gold price.

Actually, I do not think that is how the bank risk paradox will play out.

There are going to be much larger write-offs and reserves taken at all the big banks, with the peak in reported bad news probably coming next year. However, the taxpayer will not be asked for more capital, and the Federal Reserve and Treasury will gradually dismantle the temporary support structures, just as they say.

How is this possible? Because the public will pay through usury, not taxation. There is a big difference, of course. Usury is less visible, and you cannot effectively vote against it.

Blood will flow, but it will do so not as a catastrophic bath for the banks, but as a gradual transfusion to them from their customers.

There will be headline risk for the banks' management and public securities, which is why I think that their CDS protection is too cheap at the moment.

One source of headline risk is the spectre of Federal Government reform of the financial system. God knows there is a good case to be made for de-cartelising the industry, but that is not going to happen.
Bank spreads are at record levels. Their cost of funds is nearly 0, while they lend it out at 4.99% or (much) greater. Plus, the fees.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:09 PM

October 3, 2009

One Year Later, Little Has Changed

Ed Wallace:
"By buying U.S. Treasuries and mortgages to increase the monetary base by $1 trillion, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke didn’t put money directly into the stock market, but he didn’t have to. With nowhere else to go, except maybe commodities, inflows into the stock market have been on a tear. The dollars he cranked out didn’t go into the hard economy, but instead into tradable assets."

— "The Bernanke Market," Wall Street Journal, July 15, 2009

"In the last week alone, the European Central Bank allocated the record sum of $619 billion to 1,1,00 financial institutions – at a paltry 1 percent interest rate. And yet the money is not going where the central banks want it to go, namely into the pockets of businesses and consumers – at least not at reasonable interest rates."

— "How German Banks are Cashing In on the Financial Crisis," Der Spiegel, July 1, 2009

Two weeks ago, in meetings with their North Texas dealers, both Toyota and Honda voiced concern about how the economic recovery was going to hold up over the next few quarters. It wasn’t public news yet in the States, but Japanese executives already knew that their imports and exports had fallen sharply through the summer. And, while our business media were cheerleading because the Dow Jones was once again flirting with 10,000, in Japan their exports had just fallen 36 percent; metal shipments to the U.S. were down by more than 80 percent, automobile shipments by 50 percent. This was a problem here, too: In August America’s dealers seriously needed Japanese vehicles to restock their depleted inventories.

Toyota and Honda took different tacks for the fourth quarter. Toyota said it will spend $1 billion in advertising to move the retail market. Honda, always more cautious in difficult times, said it would spend nothing during the same period. Honda added that it will keep dealer inventories at a 30-day supply of unsold vehicles, half the inventory considered normal.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:50 PM

September 13, 2009

The Ghost Fleet of the Recession

Simon Parry:

The biggest and most secretive gathering of ships in maritime history lies at anchor east of Singapore. Never before photographed, it is bigger than the U.S. and British navies combined but has no crew, no cargo and no destination - and is why your Christmas stocking may be on the light side this year.

The tropical waters that lap the jungle shores of southern Malaysia could not be described as a paradisical shimmering turquoise. They are more of a dark, soupy green. They also carry a suspicious smell. Not that this is of any concern to the lone Indian face that has just peeped anxiously down at me from the rusting deck of a towering container ship; he is more disturbed by the fact that I may be a pirate, which, right now, on top of everything else, is the last thing he needs.
His appearance, in a peaked cap and uniform, seems rather odd; an officer without a crew. But there is something slightly odder about the vast distance between my jolly boat and his lofty position, which I can't immediately put my finger on.
Then I have it - his 750ft-long merchant vessel is standing absurdly high in the water. The low waves don't even bother the lowest mark on its Plimsoll line. It's the same with all the ships parked here, and there are a lot of them. Close to 500. An armada of freighters with no cargo, no crew, and without a destination between them.

Posted by jimz at 7:51 PM

September 11, 2009

An Interesting Look at France & Great Britain During as the Wall Came Down...

James Blitz:
The tensions that rocked the British government following the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 are revealed in a series of Whitehall documents published today.

The papers throw fresh light on the struggle between Margaret Thatcher, prime minister at the time, and senior Foreign Office figures over German reunification.

As the Financial Times revealed yesterday, the documents show that Mrs (now Lady) Thatcher and François Mitterrand, the late French president, harboured fears that a united Germany would threaten Europe. They display the degree to which Mrs Thatcher clashed with Douglas Hurd, then foreign secretary, and Sir Christopher Mallaby, then ambassador to Bonn, who felt reunification was inevitable.

After Helmut Kohl, the West German chancellor, announced a 10-point plan for reunification on November 28, 1989, Mrs Thatcher expressed her opposition.

She told Mr Mitterrand in talks on December 8 that Mr Kohl had "no conception of the sensitivities of others in Europe, and seemed to have forgotten that the division of Germany was the result of a war which Germany had started".

A separate memorandum by Charles Powell, her foreign policy adviser, underscores her opposition. "We do not want to wake up one morning and find that. . . German reunification is to all intents and purposes on us," he wrote.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:17 PM

September 3, 2009

Documenting the decline of two US industries



Claire Holland:
Eirik Johnson’s quietly theatrical photographs carry the sense of a way of life and work that is on the cusp of slipping away. For four years, Seattle-born Johnson travelled through Oregon, Washington and northern California, around the former boomtowns that were built on the now-declining salmon and timber industries.

He describes the resulting series, published as Sawdust Mountain, as “a melancholy love letter of sorts, my own personal ramblings”. Many of Johnson’s works are informed by the epic, picturesque 19th-century landscapes of Carleton Watkins, who took some of the earliest known images of the region. In others, his use of space and colour pays homage to several living photographers.

Johnson’s images are rendered all the more intense by his palette, through which he uses the region’s faded light to emphasise the down-at-heel tones of the man-made environment. His muted colours are a counterpoint to William Eggleston’s photographs of the American south, whose “harsh bright light and colours … seemed like the mirror opposite of what I saw present in the northwest,” says Johnson.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:02 PM

August 31, 2009

The Iraqi who saved Norway from oil

Martin Sandbu:
When he boarded his flight from London to Oslo, Farouk al-Kasim, a young Iraqi geologist, knew his life would never again be the same. Norway was a country about as different as it was possible to imagine from his home, the Iraqi port city of Basra. He had no job to go to, and no idea of how he would make a living in the far north. It was May 1968 and al-Kasim had just resigned from his post at the Iraq Petroleum Company. To do so, he had had to come to the UK, where the consortium of western companies that still controlled most of his country’s oil production had its headquarters.

For all its uncertainties, al-Kasim’s journey to Norway had a clear purpose: he and his Norwegian wife, Solfrid, had decided that their youngest son, born with cerebral palsy, could only receive the care he needed there. But it meant turning their backs on a world of comforts. Al-Kasim’s successful career had afforded them the prosperous lifestyle of Basra’s upper-middle class. Now they would live with Solfrid’s family until he could find work, though he had little hope of finding a job as rewarding as the one he had left behind. He was not aware that oil exploration was under way on the Norwegian continental shelf, and even if he had known, it wouldn’t have been much cause for hope: after five years of searching, still no oil had been found.

But al-Kasim’s most immediate problem on arriving in Oslo that morning was how to fill the day: his train to Solfrid’s home town did not depart until 6.30pm. “I thought what I am going to do in these hours?” he says. “So I decided to go to the Ministry of Industry and ask them if they knew of any oil companies coming to Norway.”
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:35 AM

August 22, 2009

A Not Positive Outlook on Land's End Parent Sears Holdings

Jonathan Laing:
For many investors, the ultimate value of Sears resides in its liquidation value rather than the cash flow it can generate as a going concern. Much hidden value is seen in its valuable brands, like Kenmore, Land's End, Craftsman and DieHard, and the 73% interest in Sears Canada. A major holder "conservatively" estimates the retailer's breakup value at about $75 to $100 a share. (A confession: In an Oct. 22, 2007, article in Barron's, I surmised that there might be more than $300 a share in hidden value in Sears stock.)

Given the recent performance of the company and the agonies of the U.S. consumer and credit markets, these sum-of-the-parts estimates have plummeted. In a May report, Morgan Stanley's Greg Melich came up with a value of $33 a share. Last week, he said that the new value would be somewhat but not dramatically higher when he releases his latest calculations in the next few weeks.

Nonetheless, the entire exercise is somewhat academic, according to Melich. Sears, for example, couldn't dump all its 250 million square feet of retail space without destroying the values of retailing properties for years to come. Likewise, who knows when shell-shocked mall-owning real-estate investment trusts and once-expansion-minded rivals like Target, Kohl's and Lowe's will be buying again, particularly with the current glut of space on the market and the drying up of mortgage financing. And the Kenmore, DieHard and Craftsman brands (but not Land's End) are so closely identified with Sears that it's difficult to ascribe much value to them if they are offered independent of Sears.
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:03 PM

July 31, 2009

Lunch with Rory Stewart

Emily Stokes:
I was thinking we should do questions first and chat later,” says Rory Stewart, 36 and director of the Carr Centre for Human Rights at Harvard’s Kennedy School. I ask if the distinction is absolutely necessary; we are, after all, settling down for lunch, not preparing for a seminar.

“There might”, he says, “be a holistic theory that there’s no real distinction between interview and personal chat, just like there’s a theory that there’s no distinction between development, state-building and counter-insurgency, but I like to see things in categories.” He pauses to gauge whether I’m still following: “It’s like my belief that counter-terrorism is completely different from development.”

It is perhaps not surprising Stewart has no time for small talk. He has walked 6,000 miles across Asia; written a bestselling travel book at 28, and last year was chosen as one of Esquire magazine’s 75 most influential people of the 21st century.

Upon accepting the position at Harvard, he bought a huge house in Cambridge, where he now lives alone, filling it with furniture from his family home in the Scottish Highlands – evidence, perhaps, that he had renounced the life of an adventurer and charity director in Asia to settle down.

The restaurant where we meet is certainly sedate. Harvest specialises in New England cuisine (stews and seafood). Jazz plays in the background, and the napkins are shaped into concertinas. Stewart greets me with a toothy smile, sits down and, after a brief tutorial on the difference between counter-terrorism and development, opens a menu. He has, he says, had clam chowder for breakfast, and, undaunted by the prospect of yet more soupy seafood, orders mussels, followed by bouillabaisse. “Oh yes, I’m very New England,” he says.

Stewart has a detached way of speaking, in perfect paragraphs, without hesitation. He once told a former colleague that he added “um”s and “er”s to his speech at school because he was scaring the other children. You can tell when he is excited by a topic because his speech seems less scripted, and he surprises me by becoming more animated when I ask him about whether he feels at home in Cambridge – even though he answers my question by talking about Afghanistan: “There, I wake up looking at a mud courtyard with peacocks prancing on the grass; I go down to the old city…”

Since arriving at Harvard in June last year, he has been consultant to several members of Barack Obama’s administration, including Hillary Clinton, and is a member of Richard Holbrooke’s special committee for Afghanistan and Pakistan policy. “I do a lot of work with policymakers, but how much effect am I having?” he asks, pronging a mussel out of its shell.

“It’s like they’re coming in and saying to you, ‘I’m going to drive my car off a cliff. Should I or should I not wear a seatbelt?’ And you say, ‘I don’t think you should drive your car off the cliff.’ And they say, ‘No, no, that bit’s already been decided – the question is whether to wear a seatbelt.’ And you say, ‘Well, you might as well wear a seatbelt.’ And then they say, ‘We’ve consulted with policy expert Rory Stewart and he says ...’”
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:42 PM

July 19, 2009

The Devil is in The Retail

Edwin Heathcote:
The only way these big developments have been able to get planning permission is for a local authority to parcel together a big tract of land (usually formerly industrial or railway land, often formerly publicly owned) and to give over the whole thing to a developer who is charged with driving the “regeneration” that the public sector has largely lost the ability to conceive. Consequently, rather than the network of public streets interspersed with public spaces, private blocks and semi-private but accessible courtyards that forms the fabric of the traditionally complex city centre, we get the pseudo-civic space of the mall without walls. Protest in these spaces is banned, as is public gathering, distribution of leaflets, drinking, sleeping and, of course, photography. Yet there has been no outcry.

Particularly in the UK, we have become so inured to the smooth transition of public assets into private ownership that even the loss of our public spaces seems to us quite natural. I have been asked to stop taking photos of new office buildings from the public street outside, I have been stopped in malls, in piazzas and by canals. I have even been asked to stop taking notes. What Debord was calling for was a city in which what was important was not the way it looked or how many new shops it had but the multiplicity of ways in which it could be used. His way of subverting the structure of a Paris that had been conceived by Baron Haussmann, with wide avenues to enable an army swiftly to quell a revolution, was to walk across it on an aimless walk – the famous dérive – in which the flâneur concentrates on the mundane and the banal and does not allow his gaze to be directed to the formal or the ceremonial.

. . .

The Guatamalan architect Teddy Cruz, who works in the strange hinterlands between the wealth of San Diego and the poverty of Tijuana just across the border in Mexico, has called for a new system of measuring the success of a city – one based not on density of population or on the value of turnover and rent but on the frequency of social transactions. It represents a radical departure. The idea of regeneration that has emerged over the past couple of decades has been based solely on the generation of money. Big, retail-led and commercial schemes are encouraged, even subsidised, planning controls are loosened to accommodate them and civic democracy and local objections are overridden as the objectives of rising property prices, increased local taxes and the presence of “flagship” and “anchor” stores and brands becomes a planning Xanadu.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:41 PM

July 12, 2009

Global Banking Economist Warned of Coming Crisis

Beat Balzli and Michaela Schiessl:
William White predicted the approaching financial crisis years before 2007's subprime meltdown. But central bankers preferred to listen to his great rival Alan Greenspan instead, with devastating consequences for the global economy.

William White had a pretty clear idea of what he wanted to do with his life after shedding his pinstriped suit and entering retirement.

White, a Canadian, worked for various central banks for 39 years, most recently serving as chief economist for the central bank for all central bankers, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), headquartered in Basel, Switzerland.

Then, after 15 years in the world's most secretive gentlemen's club, White decided it was time to step down. The 66-year-old approached retirement in his adopted country the way a true Swiss national would. He took his money to the local bank, bought a piece of property in the Bernese Highlands and began building a chalet. There, in the mountains between cow pastures and ski resorts, he and his wife planned to relax and enjoy their retirement, and to live a peaceful existence punctuated only by the occasional vacation trip. That was the plan in June 2008.
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:13 PM

July 9, 1958: Surf’s Up, as 1,700-Foot Wave Scours Alaskan Bay

Tony Long:
1958: The tallest wave ever recorded — splashing nearly 500 feet taller than the Empire State Building — explodes down Lituya Bay in the Gulf of Alaska.

Lituya Bay is a T-shaped fjord on the coast of the Alaskan Panhandle, west of Glacier Bay and about 120 miles west-northwest of Juneau. It measures 7 miles long by 2 miles at its widest point and has a narrow mouth (roughly 1,600 feet wide) that makes navigation difficult during high tides. Once inside, however, vessels (mostly fishing boats) find a snug anchorage among the coves lining the shore. Water from three glaciers empties into Lituya Bay, which is over 700 feet deep in places.

This topography was a major ingredient in the formation of the tsunami. (Or, more informally, megatsunami, a word used to describe a wave in excess of 100 meters, or 328 feet).
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:02 PM

July 6, 2009

Change You Won't Believe

Ed Wallace:
I don’t mean to slight Michael Jackson’s once-formidable talent, nor do I dismiss his troubled personal life. But have we become so frivolous as a nation that any entertainer’s tragic and untimely death warranted more news coverage — day after day after day — than the real issues that will confront each of us now and in the all-too-near future? Apparently so. Most of us know more about the last two days of Jackson’s life than we know about the negotiations in which Washington forced GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy. You certainly know more about Jackson’s death that the names on the list of the 25 individuals who destroyed the world’s financial system. Of course, none of the 25 has died; they still work at the same jobs.

Let Them Eat Cowboys?

Not to be overly dramatic, but this should remind any thinking person of the declining days of the Roman Empire. Its citizens refused to deal with the decay and legitimate problems of their cities and empire, instead demanding more and more coliseums be built for their personal entertainment.

Well, we do have a new billion-dollar stadium for the Cowboys. And it has certainly received far more press coverage than the recently passed House Bill that proponents claim will save the planet from global warming. Yes, forces are gathering to reverse our 100-year history of citizens’ free travel to work and for leisure – and of that freedom’s benefits to our economy.
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:14 PM

The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City By Greg Grandin

Brian Ladd:
We revere Henry Ford: the inventor of modern mass production; the man who put Americans on wheels; the stolid Midwesterner whose ingenuity, common sense and hard work built an empire. Yet this same man was a bundle of contradictions: a pacifist who built tanks and warplanes, and who unleashed frightful brutality against his own striking workers; a hardheaded tycoon who strove to restore a sentimental vision of small-town life. He was, in short, the quintessential American: a hero and a fool.

"Fordism" also became a beacon for the world. Lenin's Russia, Hitler's Germany and many poor countries looked to the magic of mass production - and the magic of automobiles - to catapult their way to prosperity. Still, it's a little surprising that Greg Grandin wants to explain Henry Ford's America by taking us up the Amazon, where an old-fashioned water tower rises out of the jungle, hinting at a lost utopia.

Grandin, author of "Ford-landia," has rediscovered one of Ford's most ambitious but least known ventures. In 1927, Ford obtained a Connecticut-size chunk of the Brazilian jungle. His immediate goal was to establish a rubber plantation to supply his factories' insatiable demand for tires and gaskets, but he also saw an opportunity to bring Brazil the same blessings that he prided himself on bringing to his Michigan workers: good wages, plus the standards of middle-class propriety that spelled the difference between civilization and chaos.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:53 AM

July 4, 2009

Fireworks

Monona, WI:

Posted by James Zellmer at 11:26 PM

Independence Day USA

I had the opportunity to recently visit Budapest's House of Terror Museum. The museum is housed in a former security services building and provides a powerful reminder of the forces of tyranny. This photo features victim images above a Soviet era tank.



An appropriate reminder of the price of freedom, today, the Fourth of July, 2009.

An a more pleasant note, Jeff Sullivan posted a gorgeous Yosemite image set here.

It is hard to go wrong at stunning Yosemite! God Bless America.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:23 AM

July 2, 2009

Washington Post Sells Access to Lobbyists

Politico:
For $25,000 to $250,000, The Washington Post is offering lobbyists and association executives off-the-record, nonconfrontational access to "those powerful few" — Obama administration officials, members of Congress, and the paper’s own reporters and editors.

The astonishing offer is detailed in a flier circulated Wednesday to a health care lobbyist, who provided it to a reporter because the lobbyist said he feels it’s a conflict for the paper to charge for access to, as the flier says, its “health care reporting and editorial staff."

The offer — which essentially turns a news organization into a facilitator for private lobbyist-official encounters — is a new sign of the lengths to which news organizations will go to find revenue at a time when most newspapers are struggling for survival.

And it's a turn of the times that a lobbyist is scolding The Washington Post for its ethical practices.

"Underwriting Opportunity: An evening with the right people can alter the debate," says the one-page flier. "Underwrite and participate in this intimate and exclusive Washington Post Salon, an off-the-record dinner and discussion at the home of CEO and Publisher Katharine Weymouth. ... Bring your organization’s CEO or executive director literally to the table. Interact with key Obama administration and congressional leaders …

“Spirited? Yes. Confrontational? No. The relaxed setting in the home of Katharine Weymouth assures it. What is guaranteed is a collegial evening, with Obama administration officials, Congress members, business leaders, advocacy leaders and other select minds typically on the guest list of 20 or less. …

Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0709/24441.html#ixzz0K6yNKyHp&C
Related: Helen Thomas.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:16 AM

June 30, 2009

US vs. Japan: Residential Internet Service Pricing

Chiehyu Li:
The following chart lists the price, download and upload speeds of residential Internet services in the U.S. and Japan.
NTT (Nippon Telegraph and Telephone) is the major incumbent telephone operator in Japan. NTT has focused on fiber-optic business while Yahoo! BB (a subsidiary of SoftBank Telecom Corp.) has had first-mover advantage for DSL Internet. Due to unbundling requirements, Yahoo! BB and @nifty provide DSL service by renting NTT’s telephone lines at low prices.

Cable/DSL service In the U.S., the price for cable or DSL (1Mbps-7 Mbps) ranges from roughly $20-45/month. Comcast has higher speed Internet, 15Mbps-50Mbps, and costs $43-$140 per month.
In Japan, the typical Internet speed is higher than the U.S. (8Mbps-50Mbps), and costs $30-60 per month. J:COM, a large cable Internet provider, has cable Internet up to 160Mbps, costs $63 ($0.4 per megabit).
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:29 AM

June 17, 2009

Who Switched the Playbooks

Jack Perkowski:
When I was starting up in China, many experts cautioned me on what I would encounter. “It’s not a free market and there’s no rule of law, they told me. “The government controls the courts, the companies and the banks. Central planners in Beijing, not the marketplace, decide what goods to produce and which companies should produce them.”

“Decisions are made for political, not economic reasons,” they went on to explain. “The heads of China’s state-owned enterprises serve at the pleasure of the Party, the banks are told what loans to make, and making a profit is secondary to ensuring employment. That’s the reason why China’s banks are a mess and full of non-performing loans.”

Occasionally, I would push back, noting the economic progress that China had made since Deng Xiaoping opened the economy in 1978. “You don’t believe the government’s numbers, do you?” they would ask incredulously. “Everyone knows they’re manufactured to convey whatever message the government wants. And, when it comes to financial statements, forget it. Chinese companies have at least three sets of books, and you can’t believe any of them.”
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:17 AM

May 26, 2009

Spy Fired Shot That Changed West Germany

Nicholas Kulish:
It was called “the shot that changed the republic.”

The killing in 1967 of an unarmed demonstrator by a police officer in West Berlin set off a left-wing protest movement and put conservative West Germany on course to evolve into the progressive country it has become today.

Now a discovery in the archives of the East German secret police, known as the Stasi, has upended Germany’s perception of its postwar history. The killer, Karl-Heinz Kurras, though working for the West Berlin police, was at the time also acting as a Stasi spy for East Germany.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:26 PM

On Manufacturing in China

The Economist:
HE recent scandals about poisoned baby milk, contaminated pet food and dangerous toys from China have raised questions about manufacturing standards in the country that has become factory to the world. In China’s defence, it was probably inevitable that as production grew so would the problems associated with it, at least in the short term. Similarly, it could be argued that China is going through the same quality cycle that occurred during Japan’s post-war development or America’s manufacturing boom in the late 19th century—but in an environment with infinitely more scrutiny.

A response to both these observations can be found in “Poorly Made in China” by Paul Midler, a fluent Chinese speaker who in 2001 moved to China to work as a consultant to the growing numbers of Western companies now replacing factories in Europe and America with subcontracting relationships in the emerging industrial zone surrounding Guangzhou. It was the perfect period to arrive. The normal problems of starting a business, such as getting clients or providing a value proposition, do not hinder Mr Midler, who had the benefit of being in the right place at the right time.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:26 PM

May 17, 2009

U.S. Blues

Andrew Bary:
The bear market in Treasuries will worsen, because of a glut of government bonds. Instead, consider high-yielding mortgage securities and certain munis. (Video)

We're talking about U.S. Treasury securities, not housing. At the end of 2008, risk-averse investors poured into Treasuries, driving down yields to the lowest levels in decades. The 30-year Treasury bond fetched less than 3%, and short-term T-bills carried yields of zero.

Since then, the economy has shown signs of bottoming, the credit markets are functioning more normally, and the stock market has roared back from its March lows. Treasuries now are in a bear market, while bullish enthusiasm has taken hold in other parts of the credit market, including corporate bonds, municipals and mortgage securities, all of which had fallen from favor late last year. The 30-year Treasury, for instance, has risen to a yield of 4.10% from 2.82% at the end of 2008, cutting its price by 20%.

Barron's called a top in Treasuries and a bottom in the rest of the bond market in an early 2009 cover story ("Get Out Now!" Jan. 5). We weren't alone in recognizing some of the nutty year-end developments. Warren Buffett highlighted the sale in late 2008 by his Berkshire Hathaway of a Treasury bill for a negative yield. Buffett wrote in Berkshire's annual letter in February that when "the financial history of this decade is written...the Treasury-bond bubble of late 2008" may rank up there with the housing bubble of the early to middle part of the decade. - How does the market look now? Treasuries still look unappealing for several reasons. Yields are very low by historical standards, the government is issuing huge amounts of debt to fund record budget deficits, and the massive federal stimulus program ultimately may lead to much higher inflation.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:10 PM

May 7, 2009

The Americans in Pyongyang

Isaac Stone Fish:
The first thing our guide Mr. Li said to the people whom he knew had inflicted untold suffering onto his country was “Welcome. I hope you had a good flight.” Then he paused. "We call you the U.S. Imperialists, since you came in and divided our homeland. When some Korean calls you U.S. Bastards or U.S. Imperialists, I will just translate that. I hope that’s okay, I’m just doing my job.”

a Mr. Li was one of the guides on a tour of Pyongyang in October of 2008, the last month that American tourists were allowed access to the city. I visited as part of a group of 25 Americans, mostly young professionals and students; many said they wanted to see the country before it collapsed under the weight of its own obsolescence. We knew beforehand that our movements would be strictly controlled throughout the tour, and that we were not allowed to wander freely. Our guides showed us the parts of Pyongyang that we were supposed to see. Their filtering the trip was a very valuable way to process information in a place so radically different from anything resembling our definition of normality.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:09 PM

May 1, 2009

The Political Elite.....

Woody Hochswender:
That is why it was all the more bewildering to have Sen. Dodd come to the gymnasium of the Cornwall Consolidated School on a beautiful spring afternoon for two hours and somehow manage not to utter a single word about the controversies surrounding his role as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.

These are not exactly state secrets. There was the widely reported sweetheart or VIP mortgage loan from Countrywide Financial to the senator as well as the six-figure campaign contributions from the American Insurance Group whose executives, according to language Sen. Dodd wrote into a bailout bill, were entitled to large bonuses paid for with our tax dollars.

The organizer and moderator of Saturday's forum, Harriet Dorsen, a member of the local Democratic Party committee, told the Lakeville Journal newspaper last week, "I think there are going to be a lot of tough questions."

There weren't. They were all softballs. Instead of the usual give and take, with citizens speaking their minds, all the questions had to be written out in advance on index cards and then submitted to the moderators. A contingent from the Lakeville Journal (including my wife, Cynthia, who is the newspaper's executive editor) was on hand, armed with probing questions.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:48 AM

April 26, 2009

On China's Flying Culture

PT Black via Jim Fallows:
My trip was significantly less copacetic - due to "fog" (read: noxious pollution) at Pudong no planes were landing. Our evening flight was cancelled, and the the next day's flight delayed three or four hours. We ended up circling in Shanghai, landing in Hangzhou first, deplaning, and only later flying back to Shanghai. Total trip time: 23 hours.

I observed in my flight mates a similar kind of resignation that you saw - but I don't think it is due to any sort of calmness. Instead I saw a powerlessness in front of authority. Again and again people on the plane turned to me and asked me to call my embassy - saying "they will pay attention to you. But they don't care about us Chinese". One passenger (shanghainese) demanded that they hurry us to Shanghai because we had so many foreigners on the plane, and it was a major loss of face for China. The awareness and sensitivity to the poor treatment of local travelers reached a fever pitch when the biscuits and water came to us as we cooled our heels in Hangzhou. One passenger erupted in fury "Where did that Japanese tour group go? Have you given them better food? Have you given them *noodles*? How dare you!"

(The gate attendant's response is a topic for a whole other post. She, a young and pretty woman with trendy heavy glasses and a bejeweled mobile phone, turned to the angry passenger and said "of course we haven't given the Japanese noodles! We will never forget the Nanjing Massacre!"....)
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:09 AM

April 24, 2009

East Germany, Up Close and Personal

Karlheinz Jardner:
When a West German photographer set off on a trip to the East German island of Rügen just after the Wall fell in the spring of 1990, he captured a world that would soon disappear forever. Twenty years after the epochal event, he looks back on his journey in a first-person account.

I remembered the painting from art class in school: The Chalk Cliffs on Rügen, by Caspar David Friedrich. It seemed legendary to me. On the one hand, I was fascinated by the colors, the pinks, the grays, the greens, and the shimmering blue of the water contrasting with the luminous white chalkstone. On the other hand, I was convinced that although I could always see the painting, I would never be able to contemplate the same scenery in reality. I wondered whether the landscape on the island of Rügen truly resembled the painting. It was a mystery to me.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:50 PM

April 11, 2009

McCain in Hong Kong & Vietnam

Greg Torode:
His performance in Vietnam was particularly intriguing. He knows the country well and is treated almost as a celebrity - a reflection of both the quirks of history, and his moral and political courage, qualities that helped propel his White House run.

Senator McCain spent five years as a prisoner of war in Hanoi at the height of the Vietnam conflict, having been shot down and crashing his jet fighter into a lake on the edge of the capital. His vivid descriptions of being tortured - he refused offers of early release as the son of a leading admiral - did not stop his efforts years later. He not only returned to enemy territory but, as a prominent and hawkish Republican, played a key role through the late 1980s and 1990s in America's long delayed reconciliation and normalisation with its victorious opponent.

In his political twilight, Senator McCain could be forgiven for resting easy during his first return to the Vietnamese capital in five years. Despite political and social differences, the two countries are open to trade and investment, and have taken the first steps to a military relationship - a pipe dream just a decade ago.

He remains restless, however. In a speech to the country's diplomatic academy, he passionately urged both nations to get even closer. "Today, the hardest work of normalisation is behind us. The time has come, I believe, for us to move from the normalisation of our ties commensurate with Vietnam's rising status in the region and the world. We should not simply rest on our laurels and allow the relationship to plateau. It is time to take the next step."
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:40 AM

April 9, 2009

Pirates and the CIA: What would Thomas Jefferson have done?

Ken Silverstein:
“It was the sixth such attack this week and one of 66 this year by Somali pirates, a collection of shrewd businessmen and daring opportunists who have pulled off a series of spectacular seizures using high- and low-tech gear, from satellite phones and rocket-propelled grenades to battered wooden skiffs and rickety ladders,” the Washington Post reported today about the attack on a U.S.-operated container ship. “In the past year, their booty has included the MV Faina, a Ukrainian ship loaded with tanks and antiaircraft guns, and the MV Sirius Star, a 300,000-ton, 1,000-foot-long Saudi oil tanker that is the largest ship to be seized in history.”

For months, a former senior CIA officer has been telling me that pirate activity off Somalia was a problem that needed to be aggressively dealt with. By chance, I had a meeting with him yesterday as the Maersk Alabama hijacking was unfolding. Here’s what he had to say (he updated his remarks today):

The American response to date has been incredibly naïve and woefully ineffective. Now, predictably, you have an American taken hostage. All of which should have been prevented. You’ve got a failed state in Somalia and pirates operating in an area of ocean that is larger than the state of Texas but we’ve been trying to deal with this from the ocean side, by sending the navy and with a limited application of technology, such as satellites and drones. We can’t afford to patrol that big a piece of the ocean; it’s too expensive to leave a naval task force out there.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:31 PM

March 27, 2009

The Quiet Coup

Simon Johnson:
The crash has laid bare many unpleasant truths about the United States. One of the most alarming, says a former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, is that the finance industry has effectively captured our government—a state of affairs that more typically describes emerging markets, and is at the center of many emerging-market crises. If the IMF's staff could speak freely about the U.S., it would tell us what it tells all countries in this situation: recovery will fail unless we break the financial oligarchy that is blocking essential reform. And if we are to prevent a true depression, we're running out of time.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:32 AM

March 24, 2009

Fed & Treasury: Putting off Hard Choices with Easy Money (and Probable Chaos)

John Hussman:
Brief remark - from early reports regarding the toxic assets plan, it appears that the Treasury envisions allowing private investors to bid for toxic mortgage securities, but only to put up about 7% of the purchase price, with the TARP matching that amount - the remainder being "non-recourse" financing from the Fed and FDIC. This essentially implies that the government would grant bidders a put option against 86% of whatever price is bid. This is not only an invitation for rampant moral hazard, as it would allow the financing of largely speculative and inefficently priced bids with the public bearing the cost of losses, but of much greater concern, it is a likely recipe for the insolvency of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and represents a major end-run around Congress by unelected bureaucrats.

---

Last week, the Federal Reserve announced its intention to purchase a trillion dollars worth of Treasury debt by creating the little pieces of paper in your pocket that have “Federal Reserve Note” inscribed at the top. In effect, the Fed intends to monetize the Treasury debt in an amount that exceeds the entire pre-2008 monetary base of the United States.

Apparently, the Fed believes that absorbing part of the massively expanding government debt and maybe lowering long-term rates by a fraction of a percentage point will increase the capacity and incentive of the markets to purchase risky and toxic debt. Bernanke evidently believes that the choice between a default-free investment and one that is entirely open to principal loss comes down to a few basis points in interest. Even now, the expansion of federal spending as a fraction of GDP has clear inflationary implications looking a few years out, so any expectation that long-term Treasury yields will fall in response to the Fed's buying must be coupled with the belief that investors will ignore those inflation risks.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:56 AM

March 18, 2009

How Rich Countries Die

Philip Greenspun:
This is a book report on The Rise and Decline of Nations: Economic Growth, Stagflation, and Social Rigidities, by Mancur Olson. There isn’t a whole lot about how nations pulled themselves out of their medieval stagnation (see A Farewell to Alms for that), so a better title for this still-in-print book from 1982 would be “How Rich Countries Die.”

Table 1.1 shows annual rates of growth in per-capita GDP for each of three decades, the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, in a range of rich countries. Contrary to our perception of the U.S. as a growth dynamo and the Europeans as sclerotic, France and Germany tremendously outperformed the U.S., as did most of the other countries. If we have grown larger it is because our population has expanded much faster than the European countries.

Chapter 2 summarizes Olson’s groundbreaking work on how interest groups work to reduce a society’s efficiency and GDP. Some of this work seems obvious in retrospect and indeed Adam Smith noted that businessmen rarely met without conspiring against the public interest. There are a handful of automobile producers and millions of automobile consumers. It makes sense for an automobile company, acting individually, to lobby Congress for tariffs. The company will reap 20-40 percent of the benefits of the tariff. It doesn’t make sense for an individual consumer, however, to lobby Congress. It will cost him millions of dollars to lobby against Congress and preventing the tariff will save him only a few thousand dollars on his next car purchase. The economy suffers because some resources that would have been put to productive use are instead hanging around Washington and because cars are more expensive than they should be.
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:27 PM

Slaughtering sacred cows: it's the turn of the unsecured creditors now

Willem Buiter:
Why are the unsecured creditors of banks and quasi-banks like AIG deemed too precious to take a hit or a haircut since Lehman Brothers went down? From the point of view of fairness they ought to have their heads on the block. It was they who funded the excessive leverage and risk-taking of banks and shadow banks. From the point of view of minimizing moral hazard - incentives for future excessive risk taking - it is essential that they pay the price for their past bad lending and investment decisions. We are playing a repeated game. Reputation matters.

Three arguments for saving the unworthy hides of the unsecured creditors are commonly presented:
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:18 PM

March 10, 2009

Buffett Speaks Against the Obama Splurge

Mickey Kaus:
BUFFETT: ...And, Joe, it--if you're in a war, and we really are on an economic war, there's a obligation to the majority to behave in ways that don't go around inflaming the minority. If on December 8th when--maybe it's December 7th, when Roosevelt convened Congress to have a vote on the war, he didn't say, `I'm throwing in about 10 of my pet projects ... [snip] ... JOE: Yeah, but you might--might not have fixed...
BUFFETT: But I say...

JOE: You might not--you might not have fixed global warming the day after--the day after D-Day, Warren.
BUFFETT: Absolutely. And I think that the--I think that the Republicans have an obligation to regard this as an economic war and to realize you need one leader and, in general, support of that. But I think that the--I think that the Democrats--and I voted for Obama and I strongly support him, and I think he's the right guy--but I think they should not use this--when they're calling for unity on a question this important, they should not use it to roll the Republicans all.
More from Shailagh Murray.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:19 AM

March 9, 2009

SNL on Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:55 AM

March 7, 2009

The Fed's moral hazard maximising strategy

Willem Buiter:
The reports on the evidence given by the Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, Don Kohn, to the Senate Banking Committee about the Fed's role in the government's rescue of AIG, have left me speechless and weak with rage. AIG wrote CDS, that is, it sold credit default swaps that provided the buyer of the CDS (including some of the world's largest banks) with insurance against default on bonds and other credit instruments they held. Of course the insurance was only as good as the creditworthiness of the party writing the CDS. When it was uncovered during the late summer of 2008, that AIG had nurtured a little rogue, unregulated investment banking unit in its bosom, and that the level of the credit risk it had insured was well beyond its means, the AIG counterparties, that is, the buyers of the CDS, were caught with their pants down.

Instead of saying, "how sad, too bad" to these counterparties, the Fed decided (in the words of the Wall Street Journal), to unwind ".. some AIG contracts that were weighing down the insurance giant by paying off the trading partners at the full value they expected to realize in the long term, even though short-term values had tumbled."

An LSE colleague has shown me an earlier report in the Wall Street Journal (in December 2008), citing a confidential document and people familiar with the matter, which estimated that about $19 billion of the payouts went to two dozen counterparties between the government bailout of AIG in mid-September and early November 2008. According to this Wall Street Journal report, nearly three-quarters was reported to have gone to a group of banks, including Société Générale SA ($4.8 billion), Goldman Sachs Group ($2.9 billion), Deutsche Bank AG ($2.9 billion), Credit Agricole SA's Calyon investment-banking unit ($1.8 billion), and Merrill Lynch & Co. ($1.3 billion). With the US government (Fed, FDIC and Treasury) now at risk for about $160 bn in AIG, a mere $19 bn may seem like small beer. But it is outrageous. It is unfair, deeply distortionary and unnecessary for the maintenance of financial stability.

Don Kohn ackowledged that the aid contributed to "moral hazard" - incentives for future reckless lending by AIG's counterparties - it "will reduce their incentive to be careful in the future." But, here as in all instances were the weak-kneed guardians of the common wealth (or what's left of it) cave in to the special pleadings of the captains of finance, this bail-out of the undeserving was painted as the unavoidable price of maintaining, defending or restoring financial stability. What would have happened if the Fed had decided to leave the AIG counterparties with their near-worthless CDS protection?

The organised lobbying bulldozer of Wall Street sweeps the floor with the US tax payer anytime. The modalities of the bailout by the Fed of the AIG counterparties is a textbook example of the logic of collective action at work. It is scandalous: unfair, inefficient, expensive and unnecessary.
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:33 PM

March 4, 2009

Wall Street on the Tundra

Michael Lewis:
celand’s de facto bankruptcy—its currency (the krona) is kaput, its debt is 850 percent of G.D.P., its people are hoarding food and cash and blowing up their new Range Rovers for the insurance—resulted from a stunning collective madness. What led a tiny fishing nation, population 300,000, to decide, around 2003, to re-invent itself as a global financial power? In Reykjavík, where men are men, and the women seem to have completely given up on them, the author follows the peculiarly Icelandic logic behind the meltdown. by MICHAEL LEWIS April 2009

Just after October 6, 2008, when Iceland effectively went bust, I spoke to a man at the International Monetary Fund who had been flown in to Reykjavík to determine if money might responsibly be lent to such a spectacularly bankrupt nation. He’d never been to Iceland, knew nothing about the place, and said he needed a map to find it. He has spent his life dealing with famously distressed countries, usually in Africa, perpetually in one kind of financial trouble or another. Iceland was entirely new to his experience: a nation of extremely well-to-do (No. 1 in the United Nations’ 2008 Human Development Index), well-educated, historically rational human beings who had organized themselves to commit one of the single greatest acts of madness in financial history. “You have to understand,” he told me, “Iceland is no longer a country. It is a hedge fund.”
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:12 AM

March 3, 2009

Uwe Reinhardt on the health of the economy and the economics of health

Willem Buiter:
My friend professor Uwe E. Reinhardt of Princeton University presented ECONOMIC TRENDS IN U.S HEALTH CARE: Implications for Investors, at J.P. Morgan's annual healthcare conference on Tuesday, January 13 2009. The first half of the presentation (46 slides!) deals with macroeconomic and financial issues in Uwe's inimitable style - equal portions of wit and insight. The second half deals with the embarrassing mess known as health care in the US.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:27 PM

March 2, 2009

VR Scene: The Statue of Liberty on Madison's Lake Mendota



The Statue of Liberty reappeared on Lake Mendota recently, celebrating the 30th anniversary of its first visit. Visit via this full screen vr scene. More about the first visit, sponsored by the "Pail & Shovel Party".
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:35 PM

For Some Taxi Drivers, a Different Kind of Traffic

Marc Lacey:
The tour guide’s voice dropped to a whisper as he pointed out the left side of his open-air taxi and said conspiratorially: “See that house? It belongs to Chapo.”

At the spot, where Mr. Félix's brother Ramón was killed in 2002, in an infamous murder.

The State Department warns tourists about the drug wars. The guide recovered his normal tone around the corner, well out of earshot of anyone who might be inside what he claimed was one of the beachfront hideaways of Mexico’s most wanted drug trafficker, Joaquín Guzmán Loera, who is known universally by the nickname El Chapo, or Shorty.

Although Mazatlán markets itself as a seaside paradise in which the roughest things one might encounter are ocean swells, it is a beach resort with a dark side — one that many enterprising taxi drivers are exploiting with unauthorized “narco-tours.”

Mexicans are fed up with their country’s unprecedented level of bloodshed as rival drug cartels clash with the authorities and among themselves. But the outrage is tinged by a fascination with the colorful lives of the outlaws.
I visited Mazatlan many years ago, during college.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:26 PM

March 1, 2009

Visualization of the Credit Crisis


The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:14 PM

February 7, 2009

Chuck Taylor

Joanne Von Alroth:
Charles Hollis "Chuck" Taylor looked down at his shoes and saw opportunity.

His Spaulding basketball sneakers were killing his feet.

Tired of the pain, the player hobbled into Converse Rubber Co. in 1921 and told owner Marquis Converse what he wanted — a sneaker with a higher ankle and a patch for better support, and a rubber sole with treads that made for a better grip for faster running and breaks.

Converse agreed to cobble one together. The upgraded All-Star shoe was born.

Over the next half-century, Taylor almost single-handedly established the Converse All-Star as the most popular athletic shoe ever.

Known as Chucks in tribute to Taylor, the shoes sold 750 million pairs before Converse was bought by Nike in 2003.

Taylor didn't just build a brand. He also changed the face of basketball through integration, boosted the careers of some of the game's most legendary coaches and helped make roundball one of the most popular sports in the world, notes Abraham Aamidor, author of "Chuck Taylor: Converse All Star."
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:26 AM

January 22, 2009

Our Tax Dollars Supporting Goldman Sach's Latest Acquisition



Bill Perkins is at it again in the New York Times. More Bill Perkins activism on the bailout/splurge, here.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:44 PM

January 18, 2009

Refugees Abandoned on the High Seas

South China Morning Post
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:52 PM

January 5, 2009

Can the US economy afford a Keynesian stimulus?

Willem Buiter:
Economic policy is based on a collection of half-truths. The nature of these half-truths changes occasionally. Economics as a scholarly discipline consists in the periodic rediscovery and refinement of old half-truths. Little progress has been made in the past century or so towards understanding how economic policy, rules, legislation and regulation influence economic fluctuations, financial stability, growth, poverty or inequality. We know that a few extreme approaches that have been tried yield lousy results - central planning, self-regulating financial markets - but we don't know much that is constructive beyond that.

The main uses of economics as a scholarly discipline are therefore negative or destructive - pointing out that certain things don't make sense and won't deliver the promised results. This blog post falls into that category.

Much bad policy advice derives from a misunderstanding of the short-run and long-run impacts of events and policies. Too often for comfort I hear variations on the following statements: "The long run is just a sequence of short runs, so if we make sure things always make sense in the short run, the long run will take care of itself." This fallacy, which I shall, unfairly, label the Keynesian fallacy, compounds three errors.
Via Yves Smith.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:34 AM

January 4, 2009

Samuel Huntington Obituary

The Economist:
IN THE early 1990s America’s opinion-makers competed to outdo each other in triumphalism. Economists argued that the “Washington consensus” would spread peace and prosperity around the world. Politicians debated whether the “peace dividend” should be used to create universal health care or be allowed to fructify in the pockets of the people or quite possibly both. Francis Fukuyama took the optimists’ garland by declaring, in 1992, “the end of history” and the universal triumph of Western liberalism.

Samuel Huntington thought that all this was bunk. In “The Clash of Civilisations?” he presented a darker view. He argued that the old ideological divisions of the Cold War would be replaced not by universal harmony but by even older cultural divisions. The world was deeply divided between different civilisations. And far from being drawn together by globalisation, these different cultures were being drawn into conflict.

Huntington added another barb to his argument by suggesting that Western civilisation was in relative decline: the American power-mongers who thought that they were the architects of a new world order were more likely to find themselves the victims of cultural forces that they did not even know existed. The future was being forged in the mosques of Tehran and the planning commissions of Beijing rather than the cafés of Harvard Square. His original 1993 article, in Foreign Affairs, was translated into 26 languages and expanded into a best-selling book.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:42 PM

November 25, 2008

Protesters Force Bangkok's Airport to Suspend Takeoffs



AP:
Anti-government demonstrators swarmed Bangkok's international airport late Tuesday -- halting departing flights -- as opponents and supporters of Thailand's government fought running battles in the streets of the city.

Minutes after outbound flights at Suvarnabhumi International Airport were suspended, hundreds of demonstrators -- some masked and armed with metal rods -- broke through police lines and spilled into the passenger terminal.

The road to Suvarnabhumi.

Thomas Fuller has more.

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:53 AM

November 11, 2008

Veteran's Day: The Allied Advance, 1916



The Economist:
WHEN the Germans launched, five months ago, that terrific onslaught on Verdun, which has been sustained by the French with such incomparable heroism, the enemy's offensive was welcomed by our Press, as certain to cost him sacrifices in men greater than his gain in territory. Nevertheless, the same newspapers which have called for, and now enthusiastically welcome, the Franco-British offensive, seem hardly to have realised what that advance has already meant to thousands of their readers and to many more thousands of stricken heroes in terms of human suffering. Let us neither minimise nor exaggerate the success so far gained. Everyone is discussing it, now that a halt is called. Intense pride we must all feel in the superb courage shown by our officers and men under this ordeal; but that pride should not blind us to the cost. We do not know what are the casualties incurred in the week's fighting that started last Saturday morning; but we do know that heavy sacrifices of life and limb must be made at every "push," and that a town must be depopulated of its young men for every village gained. That is the experience of this war; for every previous attempt at an advance, whether on our own part or on that of the Germans, during the general deadlock of the last 18 months, has only served to prove, the truth of the contention of M. de Bloch, set out in the Economist of January 1st. The Polish writer foretold what trench warfare would mean between conscript armies. “Battles,” he says, “will last for days, and at the end it is very doubtful whether any decisive victory can be gained.” The decision, he predicted, supposing diplomacy to be excluded, would come through famine, not through fighting.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:13 AM

November 9, 2008

The Crisis Last Time

Richard Parker:
For writers who seek to influence public affairs, timing plays a paramount role. And few writers have had better timing than Adolf Augustus Berle.

In the summer of 1932, with America trapped in the greatest financial crisis in its history, Berle published “The Modern Corporation and Private Property,” a scholarly yet readable analysis of America’s largest companies and their managers. Berle is largely forgotten today, yet with that book he succeeded in persuading Americans to see their economic system in a new way — and helped set the stage for the most fundamental realignment of power since abolition.

The stock market had plunged vertiginously three years earlier, and by 1932 Americans were desperate to reverse the much wider collapse that had ensued — and to make sure it wouldn’t happen again. The New Republic was soon hailing “The Modern Corporation” as the book of the year, while The New York Herald Tribune pronounced it “the most important work bearing on American statecraft” since the Federalist Papers. Louis Brandeis would cite its arguments in a major Supreme Court ruling on corporate power. Running for president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt recruited Berle — a Republican Wall Street lawyer who had supported Hoover — to join his “brain trust,” and that fall entrusted him with drafting what became the most important speech of the campaign. After the election, Berle remained in New York, yet his connection to the president he audaciously addressed as “Dear Caesar” was such that Time would characterize “The Modern Corporation” as “the economic bible of the Roosevelt administration.”
Fascinating.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:02 PM

November 5, 2008

Destroying Oil as a Strategic Commodity

Joe Francica:
A Summary of Remarks by Former CIA Director Jim Woolsey at the GEOINT Symposium

At the GEOINT Symposium in Nashville, Tennessee, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Jim Woolsey gave a chilling account of the implications for national security related to the United States' dependence on foreign oil. He described the vulnerabilities of a resource located far from our shores, highlighting how consumer habits could have dramatic geopolitical consequences. He then offered a solution to the crisis by suggesting a way to remove oil as a strategic commodity.

Woolsey's assessment of the problem is similar to what we have heard from T. Boone Pickens, the oil businessman-turned wind power advocate. We spend in the range of $350 - $700 billion per year for oil, depending on the price per barrel. The reality is that the U.S. and other oil importers like China and India are engaging in the biggest transfer of wealth in history. The result is that the U.S. is either directly or indirectly providing funds to support countries that may not have our best interests at heart. "Oil tends to be produced by countries that are either run by autocrats or dictators. (One exception: Norway). So, one of the things we are doing with this money is contributing to the support of dictators. Putin [Russia] and Chavez [Venezuela] are a bit quieter with oil at $65 per barrel," said Woolsey. "[However], a national energy policy that depends on oil is probably one of the stupider policies ever done. Even at $65 per barrel, we still have one of the biggest transfers of wealth the world has ever seen."
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:52 PM

November 4, 2008

6:45a.m. Election Queue - Madison



11/4/2008
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:57 AM

November 2, 2008

Flughafen Tempelhof Closes: VR Scene



Tempelhof Central Airport (52.482088 13.389716), home of the Cold War era Berlin Airlift closed recently. I had an opportunity to visit in August, 2007 and shot this VR scene.

Flight Global posted a useful link roundup.



A few more photos: Tempelhof entrance, nearby Berlin Airlift Memorial and a closer look (photo from the Memorial's 1951 unveiling).

Berlin Airports: Tempelhof - from the beginning till today. "An important chapter in the history of German aviation draws to a close":
Tempelhof is justifiably regarded as the cradle of aviation. The name Tempelhof is closely connected to the beginning of engine-powered aviation. On 4 September 1909, an engine-powered flight took off for a few minutes for the first time in Germany. With his plane, American Orville Wright ushered in the age of engine-powered aviation in Germany on the Tempelhof airfield. Aeronautical engineering continued to develop at a rapid pace: on 8 October 1923, Tempelhof was granted the status of "Berlin Airport". The central airport Tempelhof developed into the biggest hub in Europe. Tempelhof became the home of Deutsche Lufthansa AG, which was founded on 6 January 1926 in Berlin. 1936 saw the start of construction of a completely new airport of epic proportions. The construction of the largest airport building in the world catered for both Hitler's penchant for monumental constructions and the expected 6 million passengers. During World War II, civilian air traffic increasingly dwindled. After a brief occupation by the Soviet army, the Americans took over the airport in July 1945.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:14 AM

October 20, 2008

A Fascinating Video Obituary on Jorg Haider

The Economist:

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:19 AM

September 21, 2008

A Fascinating Look At Iraq

Dexter Filkins:

At first, I didn't recognize the place.

On Karada Mariam, a street that runs over the Tigris River toward the Green Zone, the Serwan and the Zamboor, two kebab places blown up by suicide bombers in 2006, were crammed with customers. Farther up the street was Pizza Napoli, the Italian place shut down in 2006; it, too, was open for business. And I'd forgotten altogether about Abu Nashwan's Wine Shop, boarded up when the black-suited militiamen of the Mahdi Army had threatened to kill its owners. There it was, flung open to the world.

Two years ago, when I last stayed in Baghdad, Karada Mariam was like the whole of the city: shuttered, shattered, broken and dead.

Abu Nawas Park -- I didn't recognize that, either. By the time I had left the country in August 2006, the two-mile stretch of riverside park was a grim, spooky, deserted place, a symbol for the dying city that Baghdad had become.

Filkins is the author of: "The Forever War".

Posted by jez at 10:22 PM

August 18, 2008

Ancient Midwest



Keith Mulvihill:

THE earthworks left behind by the long vanished civilizations of the Midwest are harder to spot than the pueblos and kivas of Arizona and New Mexico. For a long time many of them were hidden in plain sight or dismissed as little more than heaps of soil. But the more today's archaeologists learn about the Midwestern mounds, the more intriguing is the picture that emerges from 1,000 or more years ago: a city with thousands of people just a few miles from present-day St. Louis, a 1,348-foot earthen serpent that points to the summer solstice, artifacts made of materials that could only have arrived over lengthy trade routes.
Looks like a fascinating drive.

Posted by jez at 10:23 AM

The new age of authoritarianism

Chrystia Freeland:

In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell, democracy was on the march and we declared the End of History. Nearly two decades later, a neo-imperialist Russia is at war with Georgia, Communist China is proudly hosting the Olympics, and we find that, instead, we have entered the Age of Authoritarianism.

It is worth recalling how different we thought the future would be in the immediate, happy aftermath of the end of the cold war. Remember Francis Fukuyama's ringing assertion: "The triumph of the west, of the western idea, is evident first of all in the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to western liberalism."

Even in the heady days of 1989, that declaration of universal - and possibly eternal - ideological victory seemed a little hubristic to Professor Fukuyama's many critics. Yet his essay made such an impact because it captured the scale, and the enormous benefits, of the change sweeping through the world. Not only was the stifling Soviet - which was really the Russian - suzerainty over central and eastern Europe and central Asia coming to an end but, even more importantly, the very idea of a one-party state, ruthlessly presiding over a centrally planned economy, seemed to be discredited, if not forever, then surely for our lifetimes.

Posted by jez at 9:37 AM

July 24, 2008

Many Glacier Hotel



Glacier National Park, Montana. Clusty Search.

48.796716 -113.656107

Posted by jez at 8:08 AM

July 15, 2008

Flight's 100 Greatest

Flight Global:

It is always a slightly nerve-racking moment for an editor to commission a reader’s poll. Quite simply, what happens if so few people participate that the exercise becomes a farce?

It very quickly became apparent that no such ignominy awaited the 100 Greatest exercise marking Flightglobal.com's print edition, Flight International’s centenary. Votes poured in for your choices in the fields of most influential Civil Aircraft, Military Aircraft, Person, Engine and Moment.

By the time the poll closed on 20 June, no fewer than 18,000 of you had voted – thank you for having taken the trouble to do so and making this a more than worthwhile exercise.

Space is always limited in any publication, so the temptation to write mini-articles on every entry in our list had to be resisted. To those of you whose favourite personality or piece of machinery does not receive the words you feel he, she or it derived, our apologies.

#1: Apollo 11 Moon Landing

#2: Boeing 747

#3: The Wright Brothers

Posted by jez at 3:49 PM

June 3, 2008

Recent Book: Retribution

Is a worthwhile read, particularly for the history of our relations with mainland China. Jonathan Beard posted a brief review:

When Max Hastings chose “Retribution” as the title for his overview of the last two years of World War II in Asia, it is obvious that he had Japan in mind. This is the story of Japan reaping the whirlwind for the winds it had sown since 1937 in China, and since Pearl Harbor in 1941. But retribution also means a distribution of rewards and punishments, and it is here that Hastings stands out: this is the most judgmental work of military history I have ever read. Hastings passes out a little praise–he greatly admires William Slim for his generalship in Burma, and has kind words for Chester Nimitz–but his forte is denunciations. The most consistent target of his wrath is Douglas MacArthur, but his condemnation of William Halsey for his performance at Leyte Gulf is harsh as well. He also devotes an entire (short) chapter to condemning the Australian people, military, labor movement and leadership for their performance in the last stages of the war. But these are just the controversial denunciations. He reserves most of his anger for Japan, especially its leaders, from Hirohito down to individual officers, accusing most of them of combining casual cruelty with moral cowardice. But the Japanese are not alone: Hastings condemns all the Western powers for their patronizing, racist treatment of Asian allies, and, on the other side, sees both Chiang Kai-Shek and Mao Zedong as tyrants lacking human feelings for their own people.

Posted by jez at 2:45 PM

May 16, 2008

VR Scenes from China's Earthquake

The Washington Post has published several VR scenes from Central China.

Posted by jez at 1:32 PM

May 15, 2008

On Burma

The Atlantic posted a 1958 Supplement on Burma here.

Posted by jez at 9:51 AM

May 1, 2008

A Tip of the Hat to Jason Shepard

Grad student and former NYC teacher Jason Shepard has set the standard for investigative reporting over the past few years. His Isthmus expose of the 911 problems in Zimmerman's recent murder is just the latest in a string of substantive works on the local scene.

Shepard has done an exemplary job diving deep into a number of subjects, particularly our $367,806,712 school district.

A link to many of Jason's articles.

Posted by jez at 9:59 PM

April 22, 2008

Manzanar

Bob Lefsetz's latest on Manzanar brought back memories of a drive down the Eastern Sierra via 395 many years ago. My email to Bob:

Great right turn, one I made in 1990, when I left San Francisco and drove east to a new job in my fun MR2. I took some time on Frost's "Road not Taken" - which indeed made all the difference.

395 has some great history, including Manzanar and The LA Department of Water & Power's Owens Valley H2O grab. I drove East to Tahoe, then South, stopping again for a Mono Lake Sunset. Continuing on past Mammoth, I made the Manzanar stop. No one was around (this was before the National Park Service took over). Somewhere, I have some photos - I'll have to look them up.

Driving further south, I recall the dust, where Owens Lake used to host an extensive habitat, before the water was sent to the lawns of LA.

Some vr scenes:

Virtual Guidebooks

VRMag virtual tour links

Clusty on Manzanar.

Posted by jez at 9:46 AM

April 16, 2008

VR Scene: Toronto's Bata Shoe Museum

Click to view the full screen vr scene. Place your mouse inside the photo, click and pan left, right, up or down..

Bata Shoe Museum website:

Sonja Bata was born in Switzerland, where she studied architecture. In 1946 she married Thomas J. Bata, the son of a well-known Czechoslovakian shoe manufacturer who had emigrated to Canada at the beginning of World War II. His family enterprise in Czechoslovakia had been nationalized under the Communist occupation. From the beginning, Sonja Bata shared her husbandfs determination to rebuild the organization and took an active interest in what was to become a global footwear business.

Over the years, she grew increasingly fascinated by shoes, their history and the reasons why specific shapes and decorative treatments had developed in different cultures. During her travels, she realized that some traditional forms were being replaced with western shoes, reflecting changing lifestyles to some extent influenced by the production of the spreading Bata factories serving local markets.

Since the 1940s, Sonja Bata has scoured the world for footwear of every description, from the most ordinary to the most extraordinary. Her combined interest in design and shoes has led to a very personal collection, with examples from many cultures and historic periods.

This hand held vr scene was taken a few months ago while "stuck" in Toronto during a snowstorm.

Posted by jez at 3:46 PM

April 13, 2008

News Musuem VR Gallery

Washington Post.

Posted by jez at 1:39 PM

Clues to the Disappearance of Antoine de Saint-Exupery

John Taglibue:

After the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, the demise of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry on a reconnaissance mission in World War II has long ranked as one of aviation’s great mysteries. Now, thanks to the tenacity and luck of a two amateur archaeologists, the final pieces of the puzzle seem to have been filled in.

The story that emerged about the disappearance of Saint-Exupéry, the French aviator, author and émigré from Vichy France, proved to contain several narratives, a complexity that would likely have pleased the author of several adventure books on flying and the charming tale “The Little Prince,” about a little interstellar traveler, which was also a profound statement of faith.

On July 31, 1944, Saint-Exupéry took off from the island of Corsica in a Lockheed Lightning P-38 reconnaissance plane, one of numerous French pilots who assisted the Allied war effort. Saint-Exupéry never returned, and over the years numerous theories arose: that he had been shot down, lost control of his plane, even that he committed suicide.

The first clue surfaced in September 1998, when fishermen off this Mediterranean port city dragged up a silver bracelet with their nets. It bore the names of Saint-Exupéry and his New York publisher. Further searches by divers turned up the badly damaged remains of his plane, though the body of the pilot was never found.

I've read (Le Petit Prince) "The Little Prince" to our children any number of times. Clusty Search: Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

Posted by jez at 3:11 AM

March 30, 2008

Dith Pran, ‘Killing Fields’ Photographer, Dies at 65

Douglas Martin:

Dith Pran, a photojournalist for The New York Times whose gruesome ordeal in the killing fields of Cambodia was re-created in a 1984 movie that gave him an eminence he tenaciously used to press for his people’s rights, died in New Brunswick, N.J., on Sunday. He was 65 and lived in Woodbridge, N.J.

The cause was pancreatic cancer, which had spread, said his friend Sydney H. Schanberg.

Mr. Dith saw his country descend into a living hell as he scraped and scrambled to survive the barbarous revolutionary regime of the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979, when as many as two million Cambodians — a third of the population — were killed, experts estimate. Mr. Dith survived through nimbleness, guile and sheer desperation.

He had been a journalistic partner of Mr. Schanberg, a Times correspondent assigned to Southeast Asia. He translated, took notes and pictures, and helped Mr. Schanberg maneuver in a fast-changing milieu. With the fall of Phnom Penh in 1975, Mr. Schanberg was forced from the country, and Mr. Dith became a prisoner of the Khmer Rouge, the Cambodian Communists.

Check the impressive video out here.

Posted by jez at 8:22 AM

March 25, 2008

Out of East Germany via Bulgaria

Nicholas Kulish:

Two dangling strands of barbed wire have haunted Olaf Hetze for over a quarter century, since his failed attempt to escape from the Communist bloc, not by going over the Berlin Wall but around it by a little-known route through Bulgaria.

Mr. Hetze still believes that he and his girlfriend, Barbara Hille, might have made it if he had managed to cover their tracks better, trimming the loose ends after cutting the top wire of a border fence. If he had, Mr. Hetze said in an interview at his home in Munich earlier this year, he might never have seen the shooting stars of tracer bullets arcing across the night sky, or had to watch his girlfriend twist in the air and fall to the ground, blood rushing out of a life-threatening wound to her shoulder.

But the dangling wire was far from the only reason they failed.

Thanks to the work of a dedicated German researcher, the full extent of the escape attempts through Bulgaria, and the danger, is just now coming to light. At least 4,500 people tried to escape over the Bulgarian border during the cold war, estimated the researcher, Stefan Appelius, a professor of political science at Oldenburg University. Of those, he believes that at least 100 were killed, but no official investigation has ever been undertaken.

Posted by jez at 8:59 PM

March 14, 2008

Tibet: Fire on the Roof

The Economist:

THE Chinese authorities had been fearing trouble, but nothing on this scale. An orgy of anti-Chinese rioting convulsed the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, on Friday March 14th, leaving security forces uncertain how to respond. For many hours mobs controlled the streets, burning and looting as they pleased.

The approach of Beijing’s Olympic games in August is seen by many of Lhasa’s residents as an opportunity to put their contempt for Chinese rule on display to the outside world. China’s desire to ensure the games are not marred by calls for boycotts is tying its hands as it considers how to respond.

Your correspondent, the only foreign journalist with official permission to be in Lhasa when the violence erupted, saw crowds hurling chunks of concrete at the numerous small shops run by ethnic Chinese lining the streets of the city’s old Tibetan quarter. They threw them too at those Chinese caught on the streets—a boy on a bicycle, taxis (whose drivers are often Chinese) and even a bus. Most Chinese fled the area as quickly as they could, leaving their shops shuttered.

Posted by jez at 7:57 PM

March 7, 2008

Agent Zigzag

Just finished this excellent book by Ben Macintyre. Joseph Kanon digs in:

It’s rare that a single war story inspires two books in the same season. But even by World War II standards, the exploits of Eddie Chapman, a professional Soho criminal turned double agent for the Germans and the British, are extraordinary. His is a spy drama in the classic manner, complete with secret codes, invisible ink and parachute drops, cyanide capsules, sexy blondes (named Dagmar, no less) and a dashing hero. One of his girlfriends thought Eddie looked like Errol Flynn; certainly Flynn could have played him. He was an adventurer with a smile. Ben Macintyre says he could look you “straight in the eye” while he picked your pocket.

Chapman has surfaced before. In 1954 he published “The Eddie Chapman Story,” memoirs so eviscerated by the Official Secrets Act that his work for MI5 is not even mentioned (a gap that led some readers to conclude he had been only a German spy). A 1966 update, “The Real Eddie Chapman Story,” tells more, but guardedly. This book led, in turn, to a dim 1967 film, “Triple Cross.” And during the postwar years, readers of the London press could follow the wealthy “gentleman crook” through a series of escapades.

By the time of his death in 1997, however, Chapman’s notoriety had faded. Then, in 2001, MI5 declassified his file, with more than 1,700 pages of interrogation transcripts, internal memorandums and radio intercepts — a trove of detailed information, catnip to anyone interested in wartime espionage. To Ben Macintyre and Nicholas Booth, both seasoned London journalists, the chance to tell the full Eddie Chapman story at last proved irresistible. Here were all the makings of a popular book. Or, as it happened, two.

Posted by jez at 8:29 AM

February 19, 2008

Winter Sunrise Photos

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A beautiful, yet cold morning for Wisconsin's spring primary election. While the endless winter continues, it is great to see the sun. Note the large icycles on these homes. Inevitably, spring will arrive.

Posted by jez at 9:15 AM

February 13, 2008

Herb Kohl's Office on FISA

I phoned Senator Kohl's Washington office [(202) 224-5653] regarding his vote against the Dodd/Feingold telco immunity amendment yesterday. The telephone operator said that Senator Kohl supported an amendment that would have the government (we taxpayers) defend the telcos in court and that these cases should be heard in a court where intelligence information could be shared. John McCain voted with Senator Kohl, while Barack Obama voted with Russ Feingold and Hillary Clinton did not vote. David Isenberg has more as does Dave Farber. The Electronic Frontier Foundation posted a summery here.

Posted by jez at 9:38 AM

February 12, 2008

The List: The World’s Best Places to Be an Immigrant

Foreign Policy:

Throughout the developed world, countries are tightening up border security, building fences, and raising citizenship requirements. But there are still a few places left that are willing to say: “Give us your huddled masses.”

Posted by jez at 9:27 AM

February 11, 2008

Microsoft will pay high price for failing to learn history lessons

John Naughton:

It's the metaphors and similes that get me. It's a shotgun marriage, declared one commentator, 'with Google holding the gun'. Putting Microsoft and Yahoo together, said another, was like trying to produce an eagle from an alliance of two turkeys.

T his is unfair. Microsoft isn't a turkey, but a profitable, boring mastodon that entertains fantasies about being able to fly. Yahoo, for its part, is an ageing hippy who invented hang- gliding but aspired to fly 747s and then discovered that he wasn't very good at it. The mastodon hopes that by employing the hippy it will learn to hang-glide. The hippy's feelings about the whole deal are plain for all to see.

Microsoft's $44.6bn offer of cash plus shares for Yahoo has got everyone in a spin, partly because of its sheer size but mostly because they fondly imagine it heralds an exciting future. At last, they think - something that might stop the inexorable advance of Google toward world domination! If that's what they're hoping for, then this ain't it, alas. This isn't the opening of a new chapter in the history of the computing business, but - as John Markoff observed in the New York Times - 'the final shot of yesterday's war'. And even if the merger does take place in a reasonable timescale - and if it can be made to work - it won't make much of a dent in Google.

Posted by jez at 8:35 AM

January 21, 2008

Oil Demand, the Climate and the Energy Ladder

Jad Mouawad:

Energy demand is expected to grow in coming decades. Jeroen van der Veer, 60, Royal Dutch Shell’s chief executive, recently offered his views on the energy challenge facing the world and the challenge posed by global warming. He spoke of the need for governments to set limits on carbon emissions. He also lifted the veil on Shell’s latest long-term energy scenarios, titled Scramble and Blueprints, which he will make public next week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Following are excerpts from the interview:

Q. What are the main findings of Shell’s two scenarios?

A. Scramble is where key actors, like governments, make it their primary focus to do a good job for their own country. So they look after their self-interest and try to optimize within their own boundaries what they try to do. Blueprints is basically all the international initiatives, like Kyoto, like Bali, or like a future Copenhagen. They start very slowly but before not too long they become relatively successful. This is a model of international cooperation.

Posted by jez at 7:22 PM

January 19, 2008

How Brazil outfarmed the American farmer

Susanna Hecht & Charles Mann:

Phil Corzine is not abandoning Illinois. A longtime soybean farmer in Assumption, a small town east of Springfield, he is firmly loyal to his state - he once ran the Illinois Soybean Checkoff Board, a program in which Illinois farmers promote Illinois soybeans. But the 1,300 acres Corzine planted in 2007 are not in Illinois, or even in the Midwest. They're in central Brazil, in the state of Tocantins, part of a big swath of soy-producing lands that stretch between the Andes and the Atlantic forest and from northern Argentina to the southern flanks of the Amazon basin. Soylandia, as this immense region might be called, is almost entirely unknown to Americans. But it may well be the future of one of the world's most important industries: grain agriculture.

Mainly out of curiosity, Corzine visited Brazil in 1998. Like most U.S. soy producers, he'd noted Brazil's rapid rise in the trade - from amateur to global power in the space of a couple of decades. Its scale of operations, however, stunned him. A big farm in Illinois may cover 3,000 acres; spreads in Soylandia are routinely ten times bigger. Conditions there were primitive, Corzine thought, but Soylandia was going to expand in a way that was no longer possible in the U.S. With three partners he raised $1.3 million from more than 90 investors, mostly Midwestern farmers. In Illinois, he says, that kind of money "can't even buy the equipment, let alone the land." In Brazil it was enough for Corzine's group to acquire 3,500 acres in 2004. Since then, the land has almost doubled in value as other American investors clamored to get into Brazilian soy. This year Corzine, now 49, raised another $400,000. "We feel like what's going on is long-term positive," he says with Midwestern understatement.

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:15 AM

January 14, 2008

Sir Edmund Hillary: A Life in Pictures



National Geographic:

Edmund Hillary (left) and Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay approach 28,000 feet (8,534 meters) on Mount Everest on May 28, 1953. The next day Hillary would become the first human to stand atop the world's highest mountain, with Tenzing joining him seconds later.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:21 AM

January 9, 2008

Satellites build a picture of the past

Jacqui Hayes:

Gone are the days of a fearless Indiana Jones battling through the jungle in search of ancient treasures. Today's archaeologists are using high-tech tools - from NASA satellites to Google Earth - to do the hard work for them.

If they haven't been destroyed or dismantled, many ancient structures were long ago enveloped by soil, water, sand, volcanic ash, or thick vegetation. Though they might not be obvious to the naked eye, archaeologists are learning how to spot them.

Since the World War I, aerial photography from low-flying aircraft has been widely used. These images can help to pick out relics betrayed by unusual mounds, lines or disjointed landscapes. In other places, buried structures are completely invisible to the naked eye. But they still reveal clues to their whereabouts - just not with visible light.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:52 AM

January 3, 2008

FBI Revives Search for "DB Cooper"

David Kaminski-Morrow:

Federal Bureau of Investigation agents are attempting again to solve the 36-year-old mystery of a Northwest Orient Boeing 727 hijacking during which the perpetrator parachuted from the aircraft and vanished with $200,000 in stolen cash.

The FBI is renewing efforts to close the case, centred on Northwest flight 305 from Portland to Seattle on 24 November 1971, which erroneously immortalised the name ‘DB Cooper’ in the files of air piracy.

“We’ve run down thousands of leads and considered all sorts of scenarios,” says the FBI. “And amateur sleuths have put forward plenty of their own theories. Yet the case remains unsolved. Would we still like to get our man? Absolutely.”

Clusty Search: DB Cooper.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:58 AM

December 18, 2007

Cyberwar Comes of Age

Adam Elkus:

The digitized specter of cyberwar is haunting the boardrooms, barracks, and law offices of America. China’s audacious September 2007 infiltration of secure Pentagon networks and government servers in several other nations has powerfully demonstrated that cyberwar’s moment has arrived. Cybersecurity analysts have estimated that 120 different nations are working to evolve cyberwar capabilities. Most of today’s current cyberwar operations involve hackers probing civilian and military networks for vulnerabilities and restricted information, operations that focus less on disruption than recon and surveillance.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

December 17, 2007

Venti Capitalists

PJ O'Rourke:
Taylor Clark ought to know how Starbucks got its roc-like wingspan. That’s the tale by which we want to be spellbound. Clark quotes a 1997 Larry King interview with Howard Schultz, the company’s chairman, where Schultz outlines what should have been the plot of Clark’s book:

“People weren’t drinking coffee. ... So the question is, How could a company create retail stores where coffee was not previously sold, ... charge three times more for it than the local doughnut shop, put Italian names on it that no one can pronounce, and then have six million customers a week coming through the stores?”
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:15 PM

December 10, 2007

Requiem for a Station Wagon



Andrew Dederer:

One of the rare examples of altruism in pistonheads concerns the (nearly extinct) American station wagon. They passionately defend the one automotive genre that the vast majority of American consumers wouldn’t be caught dead in (excepting a hearse). Why so much love for a car shape that’s been fading from the American scene for the best part of 25 years? The passion comes from recognition. The reality we’ll have to blame on Darwin and his stupid birds.

Wagons increase a car’s cargo space without altering the donor car’s fundament shape. They’re a bit heavier and generally a little shakier than their sedan sibling, but still offer car-like driving dynamics. This is important to enthusiasts, who value driving dynamics sur tout. Ironically, pistonheads hate compromises; generally speaking, they don’t buy wagons. But they recommend them to others– especially SUV owners– based on the combination of handling and hauling.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:03 AM

November 18, 2007

Sarkozy's Speech to Congress

French President Nicholas Sarkozy [8.5MB mp3 Audio File]:

From the very beginning, the American dream meant proving to all mankind that freedom, justice, human rights and democracy were no utopia but were rather the most realistic policy there is and the most likely to improve the fate of each and every person.

America did not tell the millions of men and women who came from every country in the world and who--with their hands, their intelligence and their heart--built the greatest nation in the world: "Come, and everything will be given to you." She said: "Come, and the only limits to what you'll be able to achieve will be your own courage and your own talent." America embodies this extraordinary ability to grant each and every person a second chance.

Here, both the humblest and most illustrious citizens alike know that nothing is owed to them and that everything has to be earned. That's what constitutes the moral value of America. America did not teach men the idea of freedom; she taught them how to practice it. And she fought for this freedom whenever she felt it to be threatened somewhere in the world. It was by watching America grow that men and women understood that freedom was possible.

What made America great was her ability to transform her own dream into hope for all mankind.

C-SPAN Video.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:10 AM

November 5, 2007

Built Flint Tough

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Much more on Flint, MI here.

Chevy Blazer.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:13 PM

November 2, 2007

Hanoi: Temple of Literature



More photos and links here.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:56 PM

October 22, 2007

Russia's Space City Frozen in Time

Mansur Mirovalev:

Rockets still pierce the heavens in a halo of smoke during launches, and engineers and military men still crack open bottles of vodka to celebrate a successful launch. What has changed are the passengers. Nowadays Baikonur embraces the world, from wealthy space tourists to the world's first Malaysian cosmonaut, Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, who blasted off for the international space station on Oct. 10.

The city itself is a rusting relic of the golden age of Russian rocketry, yet if anything, its place in the space industry is heading toward expansion. For at least four years after the space shuttle program ends in 2010, the U.S. will completely depend on Russia - and Baikonur - to send its crews to the international space station.

Facilities and equipment are workable but old. Remnants of demolished buildings and pieces of rusty metal dot the landscape along the roads to the launchpads. Dozens of apartment blocks that were abandoned after the 1991 Soviet collapse stand in rows like tombstones, their windows bricked up.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:00 AM

October 12, 2007

Photo Detective

Alexandra Alter:

Maureen Taylor has dated a photograph to 1913 by studying the size and shape of a Lion touring car's headlamps. Armed with her collection of 19th-century fashion magazines, she can pinpoint the brief period when Victorian women wore their bangs in tight curls rather than swept back. Using a technique borrowed from the CIA, she identified a photo of Jesse James by examining the shape of his right ear.

With millions of Americans obsessively tracing their roots, Ms. Taylor has emerged as the nation's foremost historical photo detective. During a recent meeting of the Maine Genealogical Society, attendees lined up a dozen deep as she handled their images with a cotton glove and peered at the details through a photographer's loupe. One man offered a portrait photo and asked if it could be of his great grandmother, who died in 1890. "It's not," Ms. Taylor said after about 15 seconds; she'd dated the hairstyle and billowy blouse to the early 20th century. When another attendee asked why her great-great-grandfather was wearing small hoops in his ears in a portrait, Ms. Taylor explained, "He was in the maritime trade."

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:44 AM

October 4, 2007

Sputnik 50: A talk with the BBC's Reg Turnhill

Rob Coppinger:

Reg Turnill was working for the BBC in 1957 when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the World's first orbiting artifical satellite.

Turnill went on to cover the space race and travelled to the Soviet Union for the press conference following cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's orbital flight and eventually was based in the US to cover NASA's Moon programme.

He got to know the German rocket engineer Werner von Braun, who had developed the Nazi V-2 weapon, and also came to know many of the US astronauts.

Video

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:12 AM

September 28, 2007

Film: Sophie Scholl

Well worth watching:

The true story of Germany's most famous anti-Nazi heroine is brought to thrilling life in the multi-award winning drama SOPHIE SCHOLL-THE FINAL DAYS. Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film of 2005, SOPHIE SCHOLL stars Julia Jentsch in a luminous performance as the young coed-turned-fearless activist. Armed with long-buried historical records of her incarceration, director Marc Rothemund expertly re-creates the last six days of Sophie Scholl's life: a heart-stopping journey from arrest to interrogation, trial and sentence.

In 1943, as Hitler continues to wage war across Europe, a group of college students mount an underground resistance movement in Munich. Dedicated expressly to the downfall of the monolithic Third Reich war machine, they call themselves the White Rose. One of its few female members, Sophie Scholl is captured during a dangerous mission to distribute pamphlets on campus with her brother Hans. Unwavering in her convictions and loyalty to the White Rose, her cross-examination by the Gestapo quickly escalates into a searing test of wills as Scholl delivers a passionate call to freedom and personal responsibility that is both haunting and timeless.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:17 PM

September 5, 2007

The Flop Heard Round the World

Peter Carlson:

Fifty years ago today, Don Mazzella skipped out of school to see the hot new car that everybody was talking about, the hot new car that almost nobody had actually seen.

Ford Motor Co. had proclaimed it "E-Day," and Mazzella and two buddies sneaked out of East Side High School in Newark, N.J., and hiked 13 blocks to Foley Ford so they could cast their gaze upon the much-ballyhooed new car that had been kept secret from the American public until its release that day.

It was called the Edsel.

"The line was around the block," recalls Mazzella, now 66 and an executive in a New Jersey consulting firm. "People were coming from all over to see this car. You couldn't see it from the street. The only way you could see it was to walk into the showroom and look behind a curtain."

Mazzella and his truant friends waited their turn, thrilled to be there. "Back then for teenagers, cars were the be-all and end-all," he explains. They'd read countless articles about the Edsel and seen countless ads that touted it as the car of the future. But they hadn't seen the car. Ford kept it secret, building excitement by coyly withholding it from sight, like a strip-tease dancer.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:05 AM

August 22, 2007

Dollar Diplomacy: How much did the Marshall Plan really matter?

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Berlin Airlift Memorial at Tempelhof Airport U-Bahn Platz der Luftbrucke 52.484141 13.387412

Niall Ferguson:

t was “the most generous act of any people, anytime, anywhere, to another people,” its chief administrator declared. It was “among the most noble experiences in human affairs,” its representative in Europe said. It was “the most staggering and portentous experiment in the entire history of our foreign policy,” the young Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who served on its staff, wrote. Foreigners concurred. It was “like a lifeline to sinking men,” according to the British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin. It “saved us from catastrophe,” a manager at Europe’s largest tire factory declared. Sixty years after Secretary of State George C. Marshall outlined the need for economic aid to stimulate European recovery, in a speech at Harvard University’s commencement on June 5, 1947, the plan named after him continues to be fondly remembered in donor and recipient countries alike. In our own time, liberal internationalists have periodically called for new Marshall Plans. After the collapse of Communism, some economists maintained that the former Soviet Union was in need of one. More recently, there has been desultory talk of Marshall Plans for Afghanistan, Iraq, and even the West Bank and Gaza. When critics lament the allegedly modest sums currently spent by the American government on foreign aid, they often draw an unfavorable contrast with the late nineteen-forties. Yet some people, at the time of its inception and since, have questioned both the Marshall Plan’s motivation and its efficacy. Was it really so altruistic? And did it really avert a calamity

Posted by James Zellmer at 1:05 AM

August 3, 2007

Wisconsin Congressional Earmarks: Spending our Children's Money via a Bloated Defense Bill

Taxpayers for Common Sense posted a very useful and in some ways surprising look at $3,000,000,000 in Congressional Earmarks attached to a $459,600,000,000 defense appropriation bill (not the entire defense budget). This amount is $40,000,000,000 more than last year's authorization (nice). Wisconsin congressional earmarks are lead by long time incumbent David Obey with $42,000,000, who also conveniently serves as Chair of the House Appropriations Committee. Obey's earmark methods have been criticized recently: John Solomon & Jeffrey Birnbaum writing in the Washington Post:

Democrats had complained bitterly in recent years that Republicans routinely slipped multimillion-dollar pet projects into spending bills at the end of the legislative process, preventing any chance for serious public scrutiny. Now Democrats are poised to do the same.

"I don't give a damn if people criticize me or not," Obey said.

Obey's spokeswoman, Kirstin Brost, said his intention is not to keep the projects secret. Rather, she said, so many requests for spending were made to the appropriations panel -- more than 30,000 this year -- that its staff has been unable to study them and decide their validity.

Here's a list of all earmarks (.xls file) attached to this defense bill. Wisconsin delegation earmarks:
  1. David Obey 42,000,000 (Unique ID Column 837, 854, 874, 921, 947, 1053, 1093, 1165)
  2. Tammy Baldwin $7,500,000 (Unique Id Column 56, 740, 1334)
  3. Steve Kagen $5,000,000 (Unique ID 496, 561, 562)
  4. Ron Kind $4,000,000 (Unique Id 1033 and 1083)
  5. Tom Petri $4,000,000 (Unique Id 782)
  6. Gwen Moore $2,000,000 (Unique Id 575, 898, 978 and 1151)
  7. Paul Ryan $0.00
  8. Jim Sensenbrenner $0.00 (shocking)
HouseDefenseEarmarks.xls. Congress's approval ratings (3%) are far below the President's (24%), which isn't saying much (Zogby Poll)

Much more on local earmarks, here [RSS Feed on earmarks]

Posted by James Zellmer at 11:00 PM

July 15, 2007

Vietnam Faces

This is an interesting image, taken from a slow boat on the Thu Bon River, just south of Hoi An, during a recent trip to Vietnam.

Australians, Americans? What might be on their minds - the War, friends, travel? Their faces seem to imply many, many words. A few more notes and links on Vietnam can be found here.

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:08 PM

July 14, 2007

China's Online Population Explosion

Deborah Fallows:

There are now an estimated 137 million internet users in China, second in number only to the United States, where estimates of the current internet population range from 165 million to 210 million. The growth rate of China's internet user population has been outpacing that of the U.S., and China is projected to overtake the U.S. in the total number of users within a few years.

The influx of tens of millions of new online participants each year can be expected to have far-reaching consequences for the Chinese population, for China itself and for the larger world. At the very least, the internet will offer ever greater numbers of Chinese a much more sophisticated information and communications world than the one they currently inhabit. And because the Chinese share a single written language, despite the multiplicity of spoken tongues, it could have a unifying effect on the country's widely dispersed citizenry. An expanding internet population might also increase domestic tensions that could spill over into China's relations with the U.S. and other countries while the difference between Chinese and Western approaches to the internet could create additional sore points over human rights and problems with restrictions on non-Chinese companies.

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:40 PM

July 5, 2007

July 4th Note to a Soldier

Tom Peters:

A friend is heading home on leave from Iraq today. I thought I'd write him a note—then I decided to publish it here:
Dear _____, I am at an uncharacteristic loss for words. Hence, I don't know what to say other than "Thank you." As we both know, the war is a contentious issue here in the Homeland. Many think we must indeed stay the course; at least as many think the war is a reckless, counterproductive disaster.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:34 AM

June 15, 2007

Rory Stewart in Kabul

Paul Kvinta:
Stewart, who now heads a nongovernmental organization called the Turquoise Mountain Foundation (TMF), had come into Aziz's good graces by way of his ongoing efforts to save the Old City from imminent destruction. One could be forgiven for assuming that, in Afghanistan, such a threat might be related to Taliban missiles or suicide bombers. But in counterintuitive fact, the culprit is a real estate boom. Everywhere in Kabul, bulldozers are flattening whole city blocks of traditional Afghan mud architecture to make room for modern glass-and-concrete buildings, fueled by billions of dollars in aid money and opium profits.

Stewart and I had spent the morning slogging through the mucky, trash-strewn lanes of the Old City, specifically a quarter called Murad Khane on the north bank of the Kabul River. Initially I had a hard time appreciating exactly what it is that's worth saving. Murad Khane is a warren of boxy, flat-topped, one- and two-story mud buildings laced with winding passageways so packed with decades of uncollected garbage that street levels had risen seven feet (two meters) in some areas, forcing residents to contort themselves to enter their front doors. There was no plumbing, no sewage system, no electricity. Residents relieved themselves in the open. Loitering men smoked hashish.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:27 PM

June 4, 2007

Hong Kong Tiananmen Square Commemoration


Anita Chang:

In Hong Kong on Monday _ the only place in China where a large, public commemoration is allowed _ tens of thousands gathered to mourn the dead at a candlelight vigil. In Beijing's Tiananmen Square, there were no immediate reports of protests and only tourists gathered to watch a daily flag-raising ceremony amid tight security.

Ding, co-founder of the Tiananmen Mothers, a group that represents families of those who died, said police did not try to stop her Sunday night, though plainclothes agents may have been observing the vigil.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:35 PM

April 30, 2007

Shattering the Bell Cure: The Power Law Rules

David Shaywitz:
Life isn't fair. Many of the most coveted spoils--wealth, fame, links on the Web--are concentrated among the few. If such a distribution doesn't sound like the familiar bell-shaped curve, you're right.

Along the hilly slopes of the bell curve, most values--the data points that track whatever is being measured--are clustered around the middle. The average value is also the most common value. The points along the far extremes of the curve contribute very little statistically. If 100 random people gather in a room and the world's tallest man walks in, the average height doesn't change much. But if Bill Gates walks in, the average net worth rises dramatically. Height follows the bell curve in its distribution. Wealth does not: It follows an asymmetric, L-shaped pattern known as a "power law," where most values are below average and a few far above. In the realm of the power law, rare and extreme events dominate the action.

For Nassim Taleb, irrepressible quant-jock and the author of "Fooled by Randomness" (2001), the contrast between the two distributions is not an amusing statistical exercise but something more profound: It highlights the fundamental difference between life as we imagine it and life as it really is. In "The Black Swan"--a kind of cri de coeur--Mr. Taleb struggles to free us from our misguided allegiance to the bell-curve mindset and awaken us to the dominance of the power law.
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:06 PM

April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut Dead at 84

Dinitia Smith

Wikipedia

Vonnegut's website.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:54 AM

March 10, 2007

Wake-up Call

Niall Ferguson:
AT AGE 42, NIALL FERGUSON HAS BECOME one of the world's most famous and provocative historians, with high-profile posts ranging from Harvard to Oxford to Stanford University's Hoover Institution. Born in Scotland and educated at Oxford, he is not only a prolific author of books, including Colossus (2004), an examination of American empire, and The War of the World (2006), a study of World War II, but a media star with a weekly newspaper column and numerous television projects. Ferguson also has developed a growing fan club on Wall Street and in British financial circles, where he has stressed in speeches that investors are too complacent about geopolitical risk, notably growing instability in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Geopolitical issues and economic history are Ferguson's specialty, and he approaches both with uncommon intelligence, style and vigor. His rightward-leaning views have been embraced by those who believe that the American empire can and should be a force for good in the world. Some on the left have attacked him, perhaps unfairly, as an apologist for imperialism -- Britain's in days of old, and the American strain that critics charge has mired the U.S. in Iraq. In a recent column, reprinted in the Chicago Tribune, Ferguson berated Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama, "with his melting-pot roots and his molten-hot rhetoric," for calling for a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq by March 2008, in the misguided notion it would hasten a peaceful solution to that nation's "internecine conflict."

Amplifying this theme, Ferguson told Barron's that America's speedy departure likely would transform Iraq into "as violent and unstable a place as Central Africa was in the 1990s." An ardent supporter of Britain's former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, he is about to be named an adviser to Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

FERGUSON IS FASCINATED by what he calls the "paradox of diminishing risk in an apparently dangerous world." By that, he means ebullient global stock markets and record-tight yield spreads between risk-free U.S. Treasuries and junk bonds and emerging-market debt. He also cites declining volatility in stock, bond and foreign-exchange markets, and an abiding faith in the ability of the Federal Reserve and other central banks to rescue the investment community from any potential financial crisis. Although the global stock-market selloff two weeks ago wasn't spurred by geopolitical events, it validated his concern that investors have willingly downplayed risk.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:48 AM

March 8, 2007

2 States Opt out of Real Id; Where's Wisconsin?

Jay Stanley:
Idaho opted out of Real ID today, becoming the second state to say "no thanks," along with Maine. And there are a lot of other states moving in the same direction (we have a map that tracks them online at http://www.realnightmare.org/news/105/).
Senator's Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl supported the National ID (Real ID) legislation. Related: Nathan Cochrane on becoming an unperson. Bruce Schneier has more.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:32 PM

March 3, 2007

Stewart on Afghan Policy

Rory Stewart:
The international community’s policy in Afghanistan is based on the claim that Afghans are willing partners in the creation of a liberal democratic state. Senator John McCain finished a recent speech on Afghanistan by saying, “Billions of people around the world now embrace the ideals of political, economic and social liberty, conceived in the West, as their own.”

In Afghanistan in January, Tony Blair thanked Afghans by saying “we’re all in this together” and placing them in “the group of people who want to live in peace and harmony with each other, whatever your race or your background or your religion.”

Such language is inaccurate, misleading and dangerous.

Afghans, like Americans, do not want to be abducted and tortured. They want a say in who governs them, and they want to feed their families. But reducing their needs to broad concepts like “human rights,” “democracy” and “development” is unhelpful.
Stewart wrote the excellent: "The Places in Between" on his walk across Afghanistan.
>For many Afghans, sharia law is central. Others welcome freedom from torture, but not free media or freedom of religion; majority rule, but not minority rights; full employment, but not free-market reforms. “Warlords” retain considerable power. Millions believe that alcohol should be forbidden and apostates killed, that women should be allowed in public only in burqas. Many Pusthu clearly prefer the Taliban to foreign troops.

Yet, senior officials with long experience with Afghanistan often deny this reality. They insist that Taliban fighters have next to no local support and are purely Pakistani agents. The U.N. argues that “warlords” have little power and that the tribal areas can rapidly be brought under central control. The British defense secretary predicted last summer that British troops in Helmand Province could return “without a bullet fired.” Afghan cabinet ministers insist that narcotics growth and corruption can be ended and the economy can wean itself off foreign aid in five years. None of this is true. And most of them half-know it.

It is not only politicians who misrepresent the facts. Nonprofit groups endorse the fashionable jargon of state-building and civil society, partly to win grants. Military officers are reluctant to admit their mission is impossible. Journalists were initially surprisingly optimistic about transforming Afghanistan. No one wants to seem to endorse a status quo dominated by the Taliban and drugs. Humankind cannot bear very much reality, particularly in Afghanistan.

Does it matter? Most people see our misrepresentations as an unappealing but necessary part of international politics. The problem is that we act on the basis of our own lies. British soldiers were killed because they were not prepared for the Helmand insurgency. In the same province, the coalition recommended a Western-friendly technocrat as governor; he was so isolated and threatened he could barely leave his office. Hundreds of millions of dollars invested in anticorruption efforts, and the police and the counternarcotics ministry, has been wasted on Afghans with no interest in our missions. Other programs are perceived as a threat to local culture and have bred anger and resentment.

Still others have raised expectations we cannot fulfill, betraying our friends. I experienced this in Iraq, where I encouraged two friends to start gender and civil society programs; we were unable to protect them, and both were killed. Even when we fail, instead of recognizing the errors of the initial assessment and the mission, we blame problems in implementation and repeat false and illogical claims in order to acquire more money and troops.

The time has come to be honest about the limits of our power and the Afghan reality. This is not to counsel despair. There is no fighting in the streets of Kabul, the Hazara in the center of the country are more secure and prosperous than at almost any time in their history, and the economy grew last year by 18 percent. These are major achievements. With luck and the right kind of international support, Afghanistan can become more humane, prosperous and stable.

But progress will be slow. Real change can come only from within, and we have less power in Afghanistan than we claim. We must speak truthfully about this situation. Our lies betray Afghans and ultimately ourselves. And the cost in lives, opportunities and reputation is unbearable.

Rory Stewart’s latest book is the “The Prince of the Marshes and Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq.” He runs the Turquoise Mountain Foundation in Kabul and is a guest columnist this month.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:24 PM

February 23, 2007

Specter's Letter from Moscow

Michael Specter:
The murder of Anna Politkovskaya was at once unbelievable and utterly expected. She had been hunted and attacked before. I 2001, she fled to Vienna after receiving e-mailed threats claiming that a special-services police officer whom she had accused o committing atrocities against civilians (and who was eventually convicted of the crimes) was bent on revenge. While she was abroad a woman who looked very much like her was shot and killed in front of Politkovskaya’s Moscow apartment building. Polic investigators believe the bullet was meant for Politkovskaya. In 2004, she became violently ill after drinking tea on a flight to Beslan in North Ossetia, where, at the request of Chechen leaders, she was to negotiate with terrorists who had seized a school and take more than eleven hundred hostages, most of them children. The Russian Army, which had bungled its response to the siege, did no want her there. Upon landing in Rostov, she was rushed to the hospital; the next day, she was flown by private jet to Moscow fo treatment. By the time she arrived, her blood-test results and other medical records had somehow disappeared. She survived, only t be called a “midwife to terror.” The threats became continuous: calls in the middle of the night, letters, e-mails, all ominous, al promising the worst. “Anna knew the risks only too well,’’ her sister told me. Politkovskaya was born in New York while her fathe was serving at the United Nations, in 1958; not long ago, her family persuaded her to obtain an American passport. “But that was a far as she would go,” Kudimova said. “We all begged her to stop. We begged. My parents. Her editors. Her children. But she alway answered the same way: ‘How could I live with myself if I didn’t write the truth?’
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:39 PM

February 4, 2007

The Age of Perpetual Conflict

Gabriel Kolko:
Blind men and women have been the motor of modern history and the source of endless misery and destruction. Aspiring leaders of great powers can neither understand nor admit the fact that their strategies are extremely dangerous because statecraft by its very nature always calculates the ability of a nation's military and economic resources to overcome whatever challenges it confronts. To reject such traditional reasoning, and to question the value of conventional wisdom and react to international crises realistically on the basis of past failures would make them unsuited to command. The result is that politicians succeed in terms of their personal careers, states make monumental errors, and people suffer. The great nations of Europe and Japan put such illusions into practice repeatedly before 1945.

At the beginning of the 21st century only the U.S. has the will to maintain a global foreign policy and to intervene everywhere it believes necessary. Today and in the near future, America will make the decisions that will lead to war or peace, and the fate of much of the world is largely in its hands. It thinks it possesses the arms and a spectrum of military strategies all predicated on a triumphant activist role for itself. It believes that its economy can afford interventionism, and that the American public will support whatever actions necessary to set the affairs of some country or region on the political path it deems essential. This grandiose ambition is bipartisan and, details notwithstanding, both parties have always shared a consensus on it.
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:59 PM

February 2, 2007

On Russ Feingold & Iraq

Kimberley Strassel:
The Senate is teeming with courageous souls these days, most of them Republicans who have taken that brave step of following the opinion polls and abandoning their president in a time of war. Meanwhile, one of the few senators showing some backbone in the Iraq debate is being shunned as the skunk at the war critics' party.

Sen. Russ Feingold held a hearing this week on Congress's constitutional power to shut off funds for the Iraq war, and followed it up a day later with legislation that would do just that. The Wisconsin pacifist might not understand the importance of winning in Iraq--or the cost of losing--but at least there's an element of principle to his actions. He's opposed the war from the start and his proposal to cut off money after six months would certainly end it. It also happens to be Congress's one legitimate means of stopping a war.

Mr. Feingold's reward for honesty was to preside over what might have been the least-attended hearing so far in the Iraq debate. And those of his Senate colleagues who did bother to show up looked like they couldn't wait to hit an exit door. "If Congress doesn't stop this war, it's not because it doesn't have the power. It's because it doesn't have the will," declared Mr. Feingold. Ted Kennedy--one of two Democrats who put in an appearance--could be seen shifting uncomfortably in his seat.

That's because Sen. Feingold is coming uncomfortably close to unmasking the political charade playing on the Senate stage. Critics of President Bush want an unhappy public to see them taking action on the war.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:09 PM

January 27, 2007

The Sarajevo Moment

The Economist:
A PROPOS the Sarajevo moment, which might bring to an end this latest of age of globalisation.

It wouldn't be a political killing, I imagine, since there is no one figure whose death at the hands of a deranged assassin would turn the great powers against one another. But a terrorist strike against a cluster of essential Saudi oil installations might have the necessary economic and geopolitical repercussions.

Whatever the Sarajevo moment might be, everyone seems to be talking about it. As if we know in our hearts that these asset prices are too good.
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:47 AM

January 13, 2007

A Traveler's Look at Russia, Via its Airports

The Economist:
WORKING as a journalist in Russia, with its eleven time zones, its endless steppe and perpetual taiga, means spending a lot of time in the air. It involves flying in planes so creaky that landing in one piece is a pleasant surprise —then disembarking in airports so inhospitable that some visitors may want to take off again immediately.

But, if he has the strength, beyond the whine of the Tupolev engines and the cracked runways, a frequent flyer can find in Russia's airports a useful encapsulation of the country's problems and oddities. In their family resemblances, Russia's airports show how far the Soviet system squeezed the variety from the vast Russian continent; in their idiosyncrasies, they suggest how far it failed to. They illustrate how much of that system, and the mindset it created, live on, 15 years after the old empire nominally collapsed. Russia's awful, grimy, gaudy airports reveal how much hasn't changed in the world's biggest country—but also, on closer inspection, how much is beginning to.
Traveling in Mexico many years ago, I remember purchasing a ticket at an airport for an AeroMexico flight to the Pacific Coast city of Mazatlan. Walking away from the counter, I glanced at my paper ticket and noticed that there was no seat assignment. I quickly turned around and inquired as to where I might be sitting. The flight (horribly delayed) was sold out. I asked why he sold me a ticket? "There might be another flight...". And, there was, 10 hours later.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:12 PM

The Art of Conversation



An excellent article from the Economist:
The Brown and Levinson model says, roughly speaking, that Person A probably does not want to be rude to Person B, but in the way of things, life may sometimes require Person A to contradict or intrude on Person B, and when that happens, Person A has a range of “politeness strategies” to draw on. There are four main possibilities, given in ascending order of politeness. The first is a “bald, on-record” approach: “I'm going to shut the window.” The second is positive politeness, or a show of respect: “I'm going to shut the window, is that OK?” The third is negative politeness, which presumes that the request will be an intrusion or an inconvenience: “I'm sorry to disturb you, but I want to shut the window.” The fourth is an indirect strategy which does not insist on a course of action at all: “Gosh, it's cold in here.”
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:01 PM

December 28, 2006

Guns to Caviar Index

Daniel Gross:
Reading the news, it's easy to get the sense that the world is at war: strife in Afghanistan, chaos in Iraq, genocide in Darfur, upheaval in Lebanon, and a variety of insurgencies and border squabbles around the globe. Reading the news, it's also easy to get the sense that the world is in the midst of a golden age of peaceful prosperity. Each year, tens of millions of Indians and Chinese join the middle class. Latin America and South America, previously dominated by authoritarian regimes and civil wars, are now generally democratic and enjoying steady growth.

So, which is it? Is the world more peaceful or more warlike? Since Americans are doing the lion's share of the fighting and military policing, it's difficult for us to answer the question objectively. Fortunately, there is an unbiased global economic indicator that sheds some light on the question: the Guns-to-Caviar Index.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:20 PM

December 23, 2006

A History of Information Processing

Jeremy Norman:
TO FIND A SITUATION COMPARABLE TO THE PRESENT WE NEED TO REVISIT THE LAST GREAT INFORMATION REVOLUTION WHICH TOOK PLACE MORE THAN FIVE HUNDRED YEARS AGO.

This timeline is revised and expanded from the timeline available in the printed edition of From Gutenberg to the Internet, and widened greatly in scope. It is a work in progress, continuing the research which I began in the printed book. This is one of an untold number of timelines on the web. Even so, the approach that I am taking in building this growing timeline is, as far as I know, unique, at least for now. Thus some explanation may be in order. These introductory remarks, which I began writing in December 2005, first concern From Gutenberg to the Internet and then address issues involved with studying the history of information recorded in physical form in relationship to the history of information in digital form. They are a result of my continuing studies since the book was published, and they are evolving into another book. Your comments would be appreciated.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:30 PM

December 9, 2006

Iraq Update

"Fabius Maximus":
To some, defeat implies a victor. North Vietnam and its allies in the South defeated us thirty years ago. Nothing like that has occurred in Iraq. The collapse of Iraq has no obvious victors. Even Iran might suffer if the instability spreads across the Middle East’s porous borders.

But there are other ways to lose. We’ve found one.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:27 PM

December 7, 2006

Pearl Harbor Revisited


Here, 64 years late, is the full text of Robert Trumbull's 15,000-word, six-part series on the salvage effort at Pearl Harbor.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:18 PM

November 28, 2006

Revive Care Packages?

Lessig:
I may spend too much time thinking about this, but how is it one reverses the hatred of a people after war? WWII was no doubt very different. But interestingly, Germans talk about this a lot — about the brilliance in the American strategy after the war to rebuild (what we weirdly call) “friendship” between the German and American people.

That strategy had a government component (2% of the GDP spent on the Marshall Plan) and a private component. The private component came largely through the delivery of “CARE Packages.” As described on CARE’s website, these packages were originally surplus food packs initially prepared to support a US invasion of Japan. Americans were invited to send these packages to victims of the War. Eventually, over 100,000,000 packages were sent by Americans over the next two decades, first in Europe, then throughout the world.

A German friend this afternoon was recounting this story to me — he too is obsessed with how to reduce Iraqi anger. But the part he emphasized that I had missed originally was how significant it was to Germans to know that these packages were sent by ordinary Americans. It wasn’t the government sending government aid; it was American volunteers taking time to personalize an act of giving.
A good idea.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:04 AM

November 26, 2006

A Few Words With Jerry Brown

Deborah Solomon:
Then how would you describe yourself politically?

I’m very independent. There’s a great line from Friedrich Nietzsche: A thinking man can never be a party man.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:58 PM

November 19, 2006

Feingold on the Long War

Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold addressed the Madison Civics Club yesterday. His speech addressed the Long War. Adam Malecek was there:
Feingold said that Africa also presents a number of critical issues related to terrorism, and that it is a growing haven for many terrorist operatives. He noted that terrorists blew up American embassies in Africa, not in Afghanistan or Iraq, and that the culprits went to South Africa to hide.

He said even though he was well-educated and studied abroad, at 39 years old he didn't know anything about Africa -- and he was on the Foreign Relations committee.

"And I spent 15 years since learning about (Africa). But I offer that as a commentary on how prepared this country was on 9/11," he said.

Feingold pointed out the fact that the northern part of Africa is only about 20 miles from the Middle East.

"But we don't think of them that way. We think of them as separate," he said, adding that the United States needs to work on determining the complicated interrelationships between various nations and terrorist groups.
Useful sites on the Long War:Andy Hall has more as does Douglas Schuette.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:14 PM

November 5, 2006

The Prince

Reviewed by David Ignatius:
When historians search for a paradigmatic figure who embodied America's old, pre-9/11 relationship with the Arab world, an obvious candidate will be Saudi Arabia's swaggering ambassador to Washington from 1983 to 2005, Prince Bandar bin Sultan. He was the Gatsby of foreign affairs: entertaining Washington's elite at his mansion overlooking the Potomac; exchanging secret favors with a string of presidents from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush; lobbying for Saudi weapons purchases so effectively that he trounced even AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby group; operating as a deniable arm of the CIA in covert operations around the world.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:24 AM

October 22, 2006

Doonesbury's War

Gene Weingarten:
It's hard to know what to say to a grievously injured person, and it's easy to be wrong . You could do what I did, for example. Scrounging for the positive, I cheerfully informed a young man who had lost both legs and his left forearm that at least he's lucky he's a righty. Then he wordlessly showed me his right hand, which is missing fingertips and has limited motion -- an articulated claw. That shut things right up, for both of us, and it would have stayed that way, except the cartoonist showed up.

Garry Trudeau, the creator of "Doonesbury," hunkered right down in front of the soldier, eye to eye, introduced himself and proceeded to ignore every single diplomatic nicety.

"So, when were you hit?" he asked.

"October 23."

Trudeau pivoted his body. "So you took the blast on, what . . . this side?"
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:51 PM

October 14, 2006

British Gentry, Fiddling While the Abyss Looms

Charles Isherwood:
The time will soon be ripe for fresh political leadership. With a presidential election just a couple of years away, we need to start looking for viable new candidates, fellows with those outside-the-Beltway views voters are said to cherish.

I’d like to suggest the American electorate consider the merits of Captain Shotover, the straight-talking old salt currently and eternally presiding over “Heartbreak House,” George Bernard Shaw’s comedy about British gentry waltzing toward the apocalypse.

Qualifications? He has military experience and fresh ideas. And he’s not beholden to big business types, whom he colorfully refers to as “those hogs to whom the universe is nothing but a machine for greasing their bristles and filling their snouts.” Which reminds me: He already has a crack speechwriter on staff.

True, the candidate has a few glaring liabilities. The rumors about his alcohol consumption are well founded. But there’s always rehab. The attention span is a little short, but is that such a problem in politics these days? Of course he’s a fictional character too. Considered from all angles, though, that may not be a drawback. Imaginary people can’t send instant messages.
A timely, well done presentation of George Bernard Shaw's Heartbreak House. Free ebook. Now playing at New York's Roundabout Theatre. Thanks to the Rep's Rick Corley for suggesting this play.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:04 PM

October 13, 2006

Philanthropy from the Heart of America

David Leonhardt:
In the last five years, though, something utterly unexpected has happened. The decline has stopped. More people are moving to Ord, the county seat, than leaving, and the county’s population is likely to show its first increase this decade since the 1920’s.

The economics of rural America have not really changed. If anything, the advantages that Chicago, Dallas, New York and other big cities have over Nebraska have only continued to grow. But Ord has finally figured out how to fight back.

It has hired a “business coach” to help teach local stores how to sell their goods over the Internet and to match up retiring shop owners with aspiring ones. Schoolchildren learn how to start their own little businesses — like the sixth-grade girl who made a video of the town’s history and sells it at school reunions — so they will not grow up to think the only job opportunities are at big companies in Omaha or St. Louis. Graduates of Ord High School who have moved elsewhere receive mailings telling them about job opportunities back in town.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:56 AM

September 25, 2006

GM Janesville Plant History

GM's FYI Blog:
GM’s Janesville, Wisc., Assembly plant has produced more than half a million trucks capable of running on corn-based E-85 ethanol. But back in 1919, farmers counted on the Janesville plant for another reason: Samson Model M tractors.

The Model M cost $445 and used a four-cylinder Northway engine with a disc-type clutch. Moving parts were enclosed and self-oiling, making them low maintenance. The Model M was advertised to be so simple that the toolbox only contained three wrenches.
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:15 PM

September 6, 2006

On Ford

Ed Wallace:
"The production of the new Ford tractor would not involve stockholders, directors, absentee owners or parasites.” — Henry Ford, quoted by the Dearborn Independent, 1915
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:44 PM

August 1, 2006

Back to the Future: The Suez Crisis

The Economist publishes a timely look back at the Suez Crisis:
The Suez crisis, as the events of the following months came to be called, marked the humiliating end of imperial influence for two European countries, Britain and France. It cost the British prime minister, Anthony Eden, his job and, by showing up the shortcomings of the Fourth Republic in France, hastened the arrival of the Fifth Republic under Charles de Gaulle. It made unambiguous, even to the most nostalgic blimps, America's supremacy over its Western allies. It thereby strengthened the resolve of many Europeans to create what is now the European Union. It promoted pan-Arab nationalism and completed the transformation of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute into an Israeli-Arab one. And it provided a distraction that encouraged the Soviet Union to put down an uprising in Hungary in the same year.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:54 PM

June 23, 2006

McCurrencies

The Economist:
Happy 20th birthday to our Big Mac index.

WHEN our economics editor invented the Big Mac index in 1986 as a light-hearted introduction to exchange-rate theory, little did she think that 20 years later she would still be munching her way, a little less sylph-like, around the world. As burgernomics enters its third decade, the Big Mac index is widely used and abused around the globe. It is time to take stock of what burgers do and do not tell you about exchange rates.

The Economist's Big Mac index is based on one of the oldest concepts in international economics: the theory of purchasing-power parity (PPP), which argues that in the long run, exchange rates should move towards levels that would equalise the prices of an identical basket of goods and services in any two countries. Our “basket” is a McDonald's Big Mac, produced in around 120 countries. The Big Mac PPP is the exchange rate that would leave burgers costing the same in America as elsewhere. Thus a Big Mac in China costs 10.5 yuan, against an average price in four American cities of $3.10 (see the first column of the table). To make the two prices equal would require an exchange rate of 3.39 yuan to the dollar, compared with a market rate of 8.03. In other words, the yuan is 58% “undervalued” against the dollar. To put it another way, converted into dollars at market rates the Chinese burger is the cheapest in the table.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:48 PM

May 27, 2006

The First Action Hero

Bryan Myrkle:
I once read that a person with experience caring for horses knows more about what it meant to be a human in the last thousand years than anyone without. Similarly, anyone who’s driven a Model T knows more about what it felt like to be an American in the first half of the 20th Century than anyone who hasn’t. History records the Model T as a two-fold blessing: it created the American working class and it put them behind the wheel. Again, the map is not the territory. To fully appreciate the Model T’s impact on American psychology, you have to get behind the wheel.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:27 AM

May 12, 2006

A Conversation with Galbraith

Harry Kreisler:
Welcome to a conversation with UC Berkeley's 1986 Alumnus of the Year, John Kenneth Galbraith: Ph.D. in Agricultural Economics in 1934; Professor of Economics at Harvard for more than fifty years; writer and author of more than 20 books, including The New Industrial State and The Affluent Society, and one novel, The Triumph; price czar during World War II; Project Director in the strategic bombing studies after World War II; editor at Fortune magazine; advisor to President Kennedy; U.S. Ambassador to India during the Kennedy administration; a leader in the antiwar movement during the Vietnam War; past president of the American Economics Association.
I met Galbraith ever so briefly years ago.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:47 AM

April 16, 2006

A City of Great Magnitude

Janis Cooke Newman:
In April 1906, 70 years before my own first visit, Enrico Caruso also thought he was lucky to be here. The famed Italian tenor was supposed to be in Naples, but Mt. Vesuvius had erupted two weeks before, and Caruso thought he would be safer in San Francisco , where, after all, there are no volcanoes. "God has sent me here," the singer declared before he went to bed the night of April 17. When he was shaken from that bed the following dawn, Caruso changed his opinion of the Almighty's intent. "We are all doomed to die!" he shouted at his valet.
Jeanne Cooper chronicles the great quakes from 1906 to 2006.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:05 PM

Easter

Wikipedia on Easter. Google News
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:47 PM

April 9, 2006

The Great Quake - 1906 to 2006

Carl Nolte:
San Francisco, the 'Paris of America,' was booming with industry and culture — a Gold Rush city built in an instant. It was also a calamity waiting to happen.

This is the first of a 10-part retelling of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake — and its aftermath.

Samuel Dickson was 17 years old, almost a man, that April night in San Francisco 100 years ago. He and a friend had gotten standing-room tickets for the opera and heard the great Caruso sing.

The night was clear and beautiful, so after the opera they went to the top of Telegraph Hill to look at the city -- the lights of the Barbary Coast, the steeple of Old St. Mary's Church on California Street, the rounded domes of Temple Emanu-El on Sutter, the alleys of Chinatown and the distant gilded dome of City Hall.
Somewhat related: I wrote about my Loma Prieta (The "Pretty Big One") experience here.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:49 AM

March 3, 2006

America's Most Dangerous Enemies

Fabius Maximus:
Chapter three in a series of articles about Grand Strategy in a 4GW Era

Threat definition is the key phase when developing a grand strategy. Especially today, as America faces many dangerous enemies.
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:16 PM

February 3, 2006

The Last Telegram

AP:
For more than 150 years, messages of joy, sorrow and success came in signature yellow envelopes hand delivered by a courier. Now the Western Union telegram is officially a thing of the past.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:53 PM

January 17, 2006

Archives Help Businesses Learn From Past Mistakes

NPR:
The documents, products and records a company keeps in its archive help it to create institutional memories -- good and bad. Nike turns to shoes in its archives to be reminded of past successes and failures.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:09 AM

January 16, 2006

"The Origins of the Great War of 2007"

Niall Ferguson:
With every passing year after the turn of the century, the instability of the Gulf region grew. By the beginning of 2006, nearly all the combustible ingredients for a conflict - far bigger in its scale and scope than the wars of 1991 or 2003 - were in place.

The first underlying cause of the war was the increase in the region's relative importance as a source of petroleum. On the one hand, the rest of the world's oil reserves were being rapidly exhausted. On the other, the breakneck growth of the Asian economies had caused a huge surge in global demand for energy. It is hard to believe today, but for most of the 1990s the price of oil had averaged less than $20 a barrel.
Sort of a bolt of lightning as I've been reading Shirer's the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. I'm now entering 1939 in this amazing 1960 work. The look back with respect to opportunities missed is simply astonishing. I hope Ferguson is dead wrong, but one can see the seeds of war...
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:30 AM

"I have a Dream"

MP3 and Text of Martin Luther King's Speech.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:19 AM

December 15, 2005

Dave's New Orleans Photos

Dave Winer posts some pix from his trip to New Orleans. My 2002 photos are here.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:02 AM

November 11, 2005

RIP: Peter Drucker

Many links. Mark Baker has more.
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:52 PM

November 2, 2005

Gingrich on WWII vs the Four Years since 9/11

Newt Gingrich raises some useful points in comparing WWII's four years vs. the four since 9/11 [pdf]:
I appreciate the opportunity to testify today about the nation’s intelligence system and the absolute imperative for effective ongoing reform.

It is now four years and one month since the 9/11 attack on America.

The comparable date for World War II would have been January 19, 1946. By that point the United States was largely demobilizing its forces after a victorious global war. During the comparable length of time that we have been responding to the 9/11 attacks on America, the World War II generation of Americans had rebounded from the attack on Pearl Harbor and defeated Germany, Japan and Italy, built a worldwide military and intelligence capability, built the atomic bomb, massed and organized industrial power, and laid the foundation for the worldwide network of alliances that has stabilized the world for the last sixty years.

This difference in energy, intensity, and resolve should worry all of us.
This is a fascinating topic. One thing that strikes me is how different our national awareness of the globe must have been in 1946, given millions of Americans stationed overseas. This is much different, today, I think.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:04 AM

October 21, 2005

T.E. Lawrence's Middle East Vision

Deborah Amos:
One of the most popular books among American military officers serving in Iraq is Seven Pillars of Wisdom -- the accounts of T. E. Lawrence, the British colonel who rallied Arab tribal leaders during World War I. Lawrence wrote about unconventional warfare and the people of the region.

A new exhibition at London's Imperial War Museum features a long-lost map of the Middle East drafted by Lawrence and presented to the British cabinet in 1918. It provides an alternative to present-day borders in the region, taking into account local Arab sensibilities rather than the European colonial considerations that were dominant at the time.
Fascinating stuff, particularly his map. More photos later.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:03 AM

September 10, 2005

A Bit of Cold War Reading from the CIA: Tolkachev

Barry G. Royden:
On 20 September 1985, international wire service reports carried a statement distributed by the official Soviet news agency TASS that one A. G. Tolkachev, whom it described as a staff member at one of Moscow’s research institutes, had been arrested the previous June trying to pass secret materials of a defensive nature to the United States. Subsequent news stories said Tolkachev was an electronics expert at a military aviation institute in Moscow who was compromised by former CIA officer Edward Lee Howard.

In October 1985, The Washington Post ran a story that described Tolkachev as “one of CIA’s most valuable human assets in the Soviet Union.” According to FBI affidavits related to the Howard espionage case that were made public, Tolkachev had provided information on Soviet avionics, cruise missiles, and other technologies. The Soviets subsequently publicly confirmed that they had executed Tolkachev in 1986 for “high treason.”
Fascinating and well worth reading.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:00 PM

September 1, 2005

Before and After New Orleans Satellite Photos

Don Park has posted satellite photos before and after Hurricane Katrina, via GlobeXplorer.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:19 PM

July 2, 2005

The Price

Looking forward to July 4th, I came across this article by James H. Warner, a Marine Corps Officer who spent five years and five months in a North Vietnamese prisoner of war camp:

the first of June, I was put in a cement box with a steel door, which sat out in the tropical summer sun. There, I was put in leg irons which were then wired to a small stool. In this position I could neither sit nor stand comfortably. Within 10 days, every muscle in my body was in pain (here began a shoulder injury which is now inoperable). The heat was almost beyond bearing. My feet had swollen, literally, to the size of footballs. I cannot describe the pain. When they took the leg irons off, they had to actually dig them out of the swollen flesh. It was five days before I could walk, because the weight of the leg irons on my Achilles tendons had paralyzed them and hamstrung me. I stayed in the box from June 1 until Nov. 10, 1969. While in the box, I lost at least 30 pounds.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

May 30, 2005

New USPS Stamps: Famous Scientists


USPS:

Four American Scientists-Thermodynamicist Josiah Willard Gibbs, geneticist Barbara McClintock, mathematician John von Neumann and physicist Richard P. Feynman-were honored with postage stamps dedicated in a special ceremony today at Henry R. Luce Hall, Yale University, New Haven, CT.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

May 16, 2005

Las Vegas Centenary - in Pictures


The BBC commemorates Las Vegas Centenary, in pictures.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

May 14, 2005

Lind: 17th Century Spain = 21st Century USA?

William S. Lind:

When people ask me what to read to find an historical parallel with America’s situation today, I usually recommend J. H. Elliott’s splendid history of Spain in the first half of the 17th century, The Count-Duke of Olivares: A Statesman in an Age of Decline. One of the features of the Spanish court in that period was its increasing disconnection with reality. At one point, Spain was trying to establish a Baltic fleet while the Dutch navy controlled the Straits of Gibraltar.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

May 9, 2005

WW2 Landmarks: VR panoramic scenes

Mickael Therer announced an impressive collection of Quicktime VR WWII European landmark scenes. Beautiful work.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

May 6, 2005

Hackworth is Dead

Col. David H. Hackworth, a legendary US Army Guerrilla Fighter & Champion of the Ordinary Soldier is dead. NY Times Obiturary. Hackworth.com.

Hackworth wrote several books, including About Face, which is a must.

Follow the conversation via technorati.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:38 AM

May 1, 2005

West Coast Volcano Threats - USGS


USGS 2005-1164: A look at US volcano early warning systems:
The United States has abundant volcanoes, and over the past 25 years the Nation has experienced a diverse range of the destructive phenomena that volcanoes can produce. Hazardous volcanic activity will continue to occur, and – because of increasing population, increasing development, and expanding national and international air traffic over volcanic regions – the exposure of human life and enterprise to volcano hazards is increasing. Fortunately, volcanoes exhibit precursory unrest that if detected and analyzed in time allows eruptions to be anticipated and communities at risk to be forewarned with reliable information in sufficient time to implement response plans and mitigation measures.
Keay Davidson takes a look at California's three most dangerous volcanoes.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:44 AM

April 28, 2005

Newspapers & The Tipping Point: Memories of My Paper Route Days


I remember the first day of my Milwaukee Sentinel paper route. It was March, 5:00A.M. The 32 papers were dropped on a corner near my home. I drove my bike, picked up and counted the papers, placed them in my paper "bag" and slid up the hill while it was snowing that cold morning years ago.

I delivered them, biked home and enjoyed a warm breakfast.

I also remember my dad driving me around once each week (early!) with the extra large Sunday edition packed high in our station wagon's back seat. 132 copies on Sunday.

I also learned about selling newspaper subscriptions and collecting money. The subscription game was, in hindsight rather classic. Give some young kids a prize ("whomever sells the most at tonight's sales rally, gets a football"). The memory of that evening is clear. I won the football. I had to sell rather hard to get that last sale - the local sales manager drove me to a friend of my grandparents to make that last sale. It's interesting to think about these things today, 30 years later, in 2005, the internet era.

At the time, I did not grasp the far reaching implications of that last minute sale that gave me a football. Paid circulation was everything. The football was a cheap bonus to motivate the kids in the field. Today, the newspapers offer deals via direct mail, if at all. They've lost the family ties (I don't know how to get it back and I don't think it's coming back).

Years later, it seems that few young kids are delivering papers any longer. That income earning opportunity may have left years ago, gone to those old enough to drive cars (and cover a larger area faster than a kid on a bike). I wonder if this loss of a classic early job with its family/community ties (Sunday's heavy paper required a parent's support via a car) was one of the many 1000 cuts that is laying the newspaper gently down to die, as Jay Rosen says.
Paper Route links at clusty. Paper Boy Blues The Tipping Point

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

More on Desert One: The Crisis

Jim Greer sent along a followup to my link to David Hackworth's comments on Desert One. Greer suggests reading "The Crisis" - views of the rise of militant islam in Iran from the Carter Administration.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

April 26, 2005

Hackworth: Desert One, a Watershed Event

David Hackworth:
April 24 and 25 marked the 25th anniversary of “Operation Eagle Claw,” Jimmy Carter’s ill-fated attempt to salvage his presidency by rescuing 53 Americans held hostage in Tehran by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. It’s also the date of one of the U.S. military's worst self-inflicted public humiliations.

By the time the joint mission was canceled, eight American warriors – five from the Air Force, three from the Marines – had been killed, and dozens were wounded.
Hackworth also discloses the apparent "real" reason the mission was aborted.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:57 AM

April 20, 2005

John Muir's Letters Online

The Wisconsin Historical Society has posted 100 original letters written by John Muir on their website. Via Ryan Foley.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:30 AM

April 17, 2005

The Legacy of Jules Verne

Brian Taves:

Jules Verne died 100 years ago this spring. We'll talk about his legacy to literature and science, and take a look at two research projects he might have appreciated: drilling to the center of the Earth and finding the right place to live on the Moon.
audio

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

January 2, 2005

Tsunami First Person Account

Evelyn Rodriguez has been blogging about tsunami her experiences in Thailand.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

How long will our ascendancy last? Jared Diamond on US Power

Very useful reading:
Jared Diamond, who won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction for "Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies," is the author of the forthcoming "Collapse: How Societies Choose or Fail to Succeed." His article, The Ends of the World as We Know Them was published January 1, 2005:

History also teaches us two deeper lessons about what separates successful societies from those heading toward failure. A society contains a built-in blueprint for failure if the elite insulates itself from the consequences of its actions. That's why Maya kings, Norse Greenlanders and Easter Island chiefs made choices that eventually undermined their societies. They themselves did not begin to feel deprived until they had irreversibly destroyed their landscape.

Could this happen in the United States? It's a thought that often occurs to me here in Los Angeles, when I drive by gated communities, guarded by private security patrols, and filled with people who drink bottled water, depend on private pensions, and send their children to private schools. By doing these things, they lose the motivation to support the police force, the municipal water supply, Social Security and public schools. If conditions deteriorate too much for poorer people, gates will not keep the rioters out. Rioters eventually burned the palaces of Maya kings and tore down the statues of Easter Island chiefs; they have also already threatened wealthy districts in Los Angeles twice in recent decades.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

December 28, 2004

Cronkite Remembers the Battle of the Bulge


Walter Cronkite remembers 1944's Battle of the Bulge:

Sixty years ago this holiday season, the German army tried to push the Allies back one last time, as World War II neared its end in Europe. Earlier in 1944, the Allied army fought its way ashore at Normandy.

But in December, German leader Adolf Hitler surprised the Allies with an offensive across Belgium and Luxembourg. By Christmas Eve, German forces had pushed the American defense line back 60 miles and trapped the 101st Airborne Division at Bastogne.

Audio

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

December 27, 2004

Eyewitness Tsunami Account from Sri Lanka

Michael Dobbs was on the beach in Sri Lanka when "Something strange happened with the sea". Fascinating reading.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

December 12, 2004

1906 San Francisco Aerial Photographs

Chicago's George R. Lawrence used his captive airship to take aerial photographs of San Francisco just after the 1906 earthquake. Take a look at these fascinating photographs here. More on Lawrence.

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:56 AM

November 10, 2004

The Berlin Wall Came Down 15 Years ago Today...


Berlin Wall timeline

Wolfgang Ischinger, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to the USA recorded a message of gratitude to commemorate the day. Quicktime Video

Great example of the use of multimedia (Vlog?) on the web.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

October 21, 2004

Loma Prieta +15 Years, Continued

Anchor Banker Brian Zimdars (give them a call) read my post and passed along his recollections from that day (Brian lived and worked in the Bay Area at the time:
I read your story about the earthquakes that hit SF fifteen years ago. It brought back memories. Linda and I were also living in CA at the time, I was working in Palo Alto and Linda was in San Mateo. We lived down in the Almaden Valley in San Jose. I remember my drive home lasting close to three hours, there were massive buckles in the road on 280 which really slowed down traffic. As I made my way down to San Jose it was eerie, all of the power was out in San Jose. What an amazing sight, seeing (or not seeing) more than one million people without power. We did not have any damage to our home. Seeing the devastation to 880 up in Oakland, the damage to the Bay Bridge (I traveled these roads frequently during business trips) and downed housing with fires in San Francisco was amazing. I felt lucky to be in the office that day and not out on the road conducting business. Thanks for the story.
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:02 AM

October 17, 2004

Loma Prieta +15 Years


Fifteen years ago today, the "pretty big one" shook the San Francisco Bay Area. I lived just above Lake Merced then, and was at work in South San Francisco (north of the Airport) when the 6.9 temblor hit. (Fortunately, buildings in that area are built on solid rock, unlike other parts of the bay area, such as San Francisco's Marina and the land south of SFO. Many recall the cancelled World Series game and the flattened I-880 in the East Bay (I remember some discussion of Dan Rather pulling up to the 880 scene in a limo with a fruit bucket. He stepped out in his best outdoor gear, ready to broadcast from "San Francisco" -it was actually in Oakland).

There are some lesser known events, a few of which I will share with you now:

  • Patience:
    The Drive home from work (Loma Prieta shook us at 5:04p.m. on 10.17.1989) was an eye opener. The traffic lights did not work as the power system was down (some areas longer than others). I remember being amazed and pleased that everyone was respectful, courteous and patient at every intersection.

  • Dinner I arrived at my home (rented room in a townhouse)
    and found that a neighbor invited everyone over as her planned dinner guests from the East Bay would not be making the trip that night. She prepared a very large salmon dinner. We enjoyed one of the most beautiful pacific sunsets I've seen that night.
  • Phones (mostly) worked.
    Give Pacific Bell (now part of the SBC conglomerate) credit. The phone system was overloaded, but after a few tries, I did get through to my folks later that night. I wonder how today's cell and VOIP systems will perform during the next earthquake?
  • Humorous Circumstances
    A friend from Denver was a top IBM salesperson at the time. Part of his compensation included a trip to the World Series. The game was of course cancelled, so he made his way back to a South Airport Hotel (built on fill - I've since stayed there a few times). The guests were allowed inside in groups for 15 minutes to retreive their personal items. Cots were setup outside, on the grass, along with a free open bar. My friend took full advantage of the free drinks and finally passed out around 2:30a.m. At 3:30a.m., the lawn sprinklers turned on (Power!) and woke everyone up!

    He tried to call me throughout the night to rescue him from the cot, finally getting through around 6:00a.m. I picked him up and took him to my athletic club to get a good shower and start the recovery process.

  • Lights Out
    That night (the 18th), we drove through the City (Hwy 1 through the Presidio) and across the Golden Gate Bridge (the Bay Bridge was closed) to Tiburon where we enjoyed a great dinner and a view of a half illuminated San Francisco. T-Shirts proclaiming "I Survived..." were of course for sale that evening.
Links: Alltheweb | Clusty | Google | Teoma | Wikipedia | Yahoo

John King discusses San Francisco's architectural changes following Loma Prieta. One of the biggest is the dismantling of the eyesore that was the Embarcadero Freeway (photos).

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:32 AM