Old dog, new tricks?

April 24th, 2014

Here’s an ad. Here’s another ad. By contrast, here’s the old insurgency, at least in one unfortunate incarnation. Finally, here’s a guy who seeks common ground with normally belligerent opponents; an excellent development, but only available to a (permanent?) outsider. As RLS notes, the guys who control the normal flow of stupid for the stupid party have to be done with. Can it happen in this period of enormous opportunity? (Unlikely, but possible, probably take a crisis, since you don’t get to the top of this group by being an independent thinker.)

Two little things

April 23rd, 2014

IBD asks a little question out loud, which is maybe a little notable. The other thing of the day is this Piketty business (here and here). Question: aren’t the places that do what he suggests the places that businesses and their owners avoid? And as for the portraits of the last and next 150 years, who’s he kidding?

Maybe just a coincidence, but…

April 22nd, 2014

National Post:

A Chinese court has ordered the seizure of a Japanese ship as compensation for the loss of two ships leased from a Chinese company before the two countries went to war in 1937. The 226,434-ton Baosteel Emotion, owned by Mitsui OSK Lines Ltd., was impounded on April 19 as part of a legal dispute that began in 1964, the Shanghai Maritime Court and Mitsui OSK said in notices on their websites. The move is the first time a Chinese court has ordered the seizure of Japanese assets connected to World War II…

The legal dispute over the ship comes as Japan and China spar over islands both countries claim in the East China Sea, and over Japan’s wartime aggression. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent an offering to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, following the visits this month of two cabinet ministers to the site that honours Japan’s war dead, including World War II criminals.

We saw massive Chinese anti-Japan demonstrations a decade ago based in large measure on WWII, so in one sense there is not much to see here. But you can’t help wondering whether this seizing of assets also reflects in part Ukraine syndrome, which also seemed to be on display in Chuck Hagel’s recent visit to China.

Science and the academy today

April 21st, 2014

The head of NAS:

diversity, of course, is nearly unheard of in the academy itself, where a hardened orthodoxy is enforced with increasing determination. The enforcement itself tells a story. No one has to enforce an orthodoxy on plate tectonics, quantum theory, or Andrew Wile’s proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem. All of these were once controversial. Wile’s original proof was shown to be defective. He fixed it. The theories advanced by the accumulation of hard evidence and the rigor of the analysis.

In my own field, anthropology, I have lived through the replacement of “consensus” on the idea that the makers of the so-called Clovis spear points, which go back 13,500 years, were the first Native Americans. The “Clovis First” theory always had doubters but it dominated from the 1930s until 1999, when archaeologists in large numbers accepted the evidence of older populations. Likewise, there was a long-established consensus that Neanderthal and modern Homo Sapiens did not successfully interbreed–though here too there were always some dissenters. We now know for a certainty (based on the successful sequencing of the Neanderthal genome) that our species did indeed mix, and modern Europeans carry a percent or two of Neanderthal genes. In time, scientific controversies get resolved, often by the emergence of new kinds of evidence that no one originally imagined…

when the “anthropogenic global warming” (AGW) folks insist that they command a “consensus” of climate scientists, they fully understand that they are engaged in a political act. They intend to summon the social and political dynamics that will create a “consensus,” by defining the skeptics as a disreputable minority that need not even be counted. It is a big gamble since a substantial number of the skeptics are themselves well-established and highly respected scientists, such as MIT’s Richard Lindzen, Princeton’s Will Happer, and Institute of Advanced Studies’ Freeman Dyson. But conjuring a new “paradigm” out of highly ambiguous data run through simulation computer models is tricky business and isn’t likely to produce a “consensus” all on its own. What’s needed is the stamp of authority. And if that doesn’t work, just keep stamping. Or stomping…

There will be no end to this sort of thing because, as the French social theorist Pascal Bruckner has put it, sustainability is a secular salvation cult with a “seductive attraction to disaster.” It cannot give up on its apocalyptic narrative

And here’s a rather amazing story along a parallel track.

Tenured knaves and fools

April 20th, 2014

A government sinecure is a lot like tenure. And oh! the outrageous things you get to do. Kevin Williamson explores some in a macabre story. Steyn has a special Easter story that covers some similar ground in the overreach department. Gibson guitar has a similar, never-ending tale of woe. Park Service, BLM, and on and on and on. And yet people for the most part seem to shrug their shoulders and move along. The widening gyre….

Stratfor’s prediction from years ago

April 19th, 2014

Stratfor’s Friedman in 2010 via Noonan:

“Russia had its guts carved out after the collapse of communism. St. Petersburg, its jewel, was about a thousand miles away from NATO troops in 1989. Now it is less than one hundred miles away. In 1989, Moscow was twelve hundred miles from the limits of Russian power. Now it is about two hundred miles.” Russia does not feel it has to “conquer the world,” but that it must “regain and hold its buffers—essentially the boundaries of the old Soviet Union”…

“It is only a matter of time before Russian influence will overwhelm Kiev,” Mr. Friedman wrote. The Russians “must dominate Belarus and Ukraine for their basic national security. . . . Ukraine and Belarus are everything to the Russians. If they are to fall into the enemy’s hands—for example, join NATO—Russia would be in mortal danger.” Reabsorbing Belarus and Ukraine “into the Russian sphere of influence is a given in the next five years.”

The flashpoint after that will be the Baltics—Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania—all former parts of the old Soviet Union, all members of NATO. Russia will attempt to neutralize them. All of this will be not a sudden confrontation but an extended one. The tools the Russians will use will be covert (financing and energizing local Russian minorities), economic (cutting or threatening to cut the flow of natural gas) and military pressure (stationing troops near borders).

At first, Mr. Friedman wrote, the U.S. will underestimate Russia. Then it will be obsessed with Russia.

And then there are Wretchard’s takes on the fiasco in progress, all of which makes for good reading but bad living.

Meanwhile…..

April 18th, 2014

We have been very busy on business and other matters so these days we mostly just link to the thoughts of others who opine and write for a living these days. After all, in matters of religious wars, catastrophic AGW, China’s economy, US foreign policy, and the way you organize the US to maximize GDP growth, we have engaged many sides of the arguments and are now, after much research and discussion, pretty settled in our views. Doesn’t mean we can’t be wrong; hence doesn’t mean we won’t change our views. We’ve been doing this for 12 years, and seen stories come and go. But it’s boring the way the HCL (hard core left) have become so obviously rigid and reactionary (as Roger Simon describes them). Dialogue and debate, which seemed attractive a decade ago, are passé. So now it is very idiosyncratic what appeals on a current day: e.g., we saw the sad Everest news and it reminded us of Jim Whittaker’s talk at the 1964 Boy Scout Jamboree in Valley Forge (at which Lady Baden-Powell also spoke). Probably not much of interest to the broader world. We read Krauthammer and Will and also the smart fellows at Powerline and so forth, but what’s the point of ditto-ing these things? We’re all apparently “immoral, unethical, and despicable” in the eyes of our betters. Why bother responding? Perhaps better to take the advice of Thomas Kuhn, Charles Darwin and Max Planck, and just wait out the fools……

The 100%ers

April 17th, 2014

You’ve heard of the 1%, the 99% and the 47% of course. Now there are the 100%ers too. A fellow wrote an amusing and sad piece about intolerance and the death of free speech. It claimed that unless you toed the party line on 100% of all issues of the day, you were excommunicated as a heretic, banned for life, and told to shut up. An atheist PETA supporter said he liked the piece. Guess what happened to him.

Some bads and a good

April 16th, 2014

The faculty lounge and its allies have been in a long-term losing battle with reality on subject after subject, and it’s beginning to wear on them. Therefore, they would like you kindly to shut up and sit down. It’s the sign of weakness and a losing hand, but these folks can cause a lot more damage before common sense and a decent regard for our ancient human nature adequately reassert themselves over the current cultural rot. On the other hand, consider the tardigrade, a remarkable creature that for some reason suggests to us that the probability of life elsewhere in the universe has a near 100% probability.

Ad fontes

April 15th, 2014

Terry Teachout on TCM’s 20th anniversary in the WSJ:

On Monday it will be showing, among other things, “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” “Casablanca,” “Citizen Kane,” “Gaslight,” “Gone With the Wind,” “It Happened One Night,” “The Maltese Falcon” and “Singin’ in the Rain.” You couldn’t ask for a more representative sampling of the best of studio-era Hollywood…Ever since its launch, the audience for TCM has consisted primarily of people who want to watch studio-era movies. While the channel has diversified its offerings over the years, it remains committed to accommodating the conservative tastes of its regular viewers, which is why it steers clear of the franker films that Hollywood started to release around 1970. Look at the schedule for the month of April and you’ll find just 20 films made after 1970, most of them forgettable mediocrities.

If you believe, as I do, that American film entered a new period of artistic maturity in the 1970s, you’ll find little to confirm that belief. Where are “Apocalypse Now,” “Cabaret,” “Chinatown,” “The Deer Hunter,” “The Godfather,” “The Last Picture Show,” “Network,” “Patton” and “Taxi Driver”? Not on TCM. Nor do its potential problems stop there. With under-30 moviegoers reflexively tuning out black-and-white films because they look old fashioned, how can a channel that specializes in the oeuvre of Gary Cooper, Katharine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart hope to eventually replace its aging viewers

The Renaissance was marked by a return ad fontes, to the texts of Greek and Roman classics, and indeed the Reformation featured a return to an ancient text. Things can get lost for hundreds of years, like perspective in art, and then get rediscovered, to the great benefit of civilization.

TCM is not just entertainment; it is a course in American history. Unique in that it is the first time in history we have the voices and pictures of human beings of yesteryear speaking to us directly. In important cultural ways, the America shown on TCM is superior to that of the 70′s and thereafter — the 40-80% illegitimacy trend of the last four decades is a cultural disaster of the first order.

TCM should stick to its knitting, and not worry that kids might currently prefer 3D to B&W. Niche marketing is fine. More importantly, kids can grow up and perhaps discover that BS and malarkey aren’t a viable path to rewarding lives. In that sense, TCM isn’t just a view of the past frozen in amber, but a reminder that a better future culture is possible.

(Incidentally, both Scott Johnson and Mark Steyn would be excellent fill-ins for Robert Osborne, but TCM’s chairman emeritus might object.)

Worth reading today

April 13th, 2014

Kevin Williamson has a very amusing piece on the life in the Beltway. Many of Mark Steyn’s readers are also pretty good writers. Some anniversaries arriving: it’s ten years since Kill Bill (Sheriff Earl Parks and Esteban Vihaio are the same guy), and coming up on ten years in August since the forging of the Rathergate memos. Finally, we can report that from seeing college age kids talk that George Will’s statement on TV today is true, as political correctness morphs into absurdity (not that it was such a long trip).

Strange and getting stranger

April 12th, 2014

Ali, Steyn, Steyn, McCarthy, and Simon on the Brandeis debacle. (BTW, does Steyn have a twin brother? He seems to be writing at light speed these days.) And what about the incredibly weird BLM story from Nevada? Finally, can’t the MSM even photoshop competently? Good night and good luck.

Way too much time on their hands

April 11th, 2014

According to CNBC, the DOJ and FBI are investigating Herbalife, an MLM company, so, knowing that, you’re already forewarned as an investor. The company’s auditor is PWC, which we’ve used and found to be straightforward and highly professional. And we’re also a decade removed from Enron and Arthur Andersen, so one presumes the toleration of shoddy accounting practices in controversial companies is not common in what were once the Big 8. Finally, storied investors are on all sides of the Herbalife trade.

We were introduced to cash flow and revenue recognition problems in the ancient case of Stirling Homex‘s bankruptcy, which featured something called “unbilled long-term receivables.” Points for creativity, Mr. Stirling! In the case of Herbalife, it would be very interesting to know the length of the cash cycle from product creation to payment by the final consumer of the product, not just one or two L’s in the MLM. (Herbalife’s auditor is a successor to that of Stirling Homex.) So there is plenty of history to such issues and plenty of real experts on the case; hence it seemed an odd use of time for additional federal employees. Then again. Hmmmm.

Shoe, meet other foot please

April 10th, 2014

WSJ: in a column about the 77 cents rubbish, we learn that 92% of work-related deaths are men. But it’s hazardous being a lady, particularly if you might get an honorary degree or join the board of a public company. (We’ve previously commented on both ladies here and here.) Question: what’s missing from these stories that we’d be hearing about nonstop if the shoe was on the other foot?

The musical fruit that kills……..

April 9th, 2014

Daily Mail:

Lord Simon said: ‘In a programme some months ago on the BBC it was stated that this country has the largest production of baked beans and the largest consumption of baked beans in the world.’ He asked Lady Verma: ‘Could you say whether this affects the calculation of global warming by the Government as a result of the smelly emission resulting therefrom?’ Lady Verma described his question as ‘so different’ but she appeared to suggest that people should think twice about over-indulging in baked beans or any food which causes flatulence. She added: ‘You do actually raise a very important point, which is we do need to moderate our behaviour.’

Hey, give up burgers too. HT: DC

Today’s silliness

April 8th, 2014

Here’s some silliness. Here’s commentary on the silliness. Here’s another thimble full of silliness. What’s the deal? How come when problems have largely disappeared or affect an extremely small number of people the shouts and indignation become louder than ever? (Hysteria is part of the explanation — things are supposed to be perfect now, and reality isn’t behaving properly, therefore: eek! a mouse!)

Protean man, again?

April 7th, 2014

The strange myth that human nature is malleable by force of will is here again, and boy howdy! How tiresome. Here are some alternatives to Firefox, BTW (some add-ons too). If we had to guess, we’d say that the recent extreme and authoritarian developments of the anti-free-speech movement signal that we are closer to an end than a beginning, but we don’t have much confidence in that guesstimate. The source of our hunch is that, despite the brave face the media put on things, dreary reality can’t be abolished from the millions whose experience is the exact opposite of the approved media story line. We’ll just have to see what happens. Meanwhile, we’ve bought a dozen handbaskets just in case.

Miscellany

April 6th, 2014

Smith and Wesson has a market cap of less than a billion dollars. Meanwhile, the maker of this game just went public in an IPO with a valuation of over $7 billion. Go figure.

In other news, Wretchard explores the increasingly strange world of banned v. compulsory, which we noted in passing the other day (that’s the 1790′s BTW.) Chubby Checker has some thoughts on the subject.

Final point from the shameless plug department: Liz Smith wrote a fabulous review of this forthcoming book authored by a friend of ours. Buy it! (Janet Maslin is not a fan of his, so perhaps that’s an additional reason to buy it.)

GrubHub and Uber versus the ACA

April 5th, 2014

Funny thing. We read the S-1 for the GrubHub IPO and we saw no reference to the difficult management task of supervising all the delivery guys. How can they be managed without a large central authority? And what about Uber? They’re likely to do an IPO, we’re told. But how can a company like this function without a big Taxi and Limousine Commission bureaucracy to scrub their every move? (France tried, unsuccessfully.)

Oh wait. In the case of GrubHub, the (mostly family owned) restaurants already have ways and relationships to do delivery; they’re just getting better use from them. And in the case of Uber, customer feedback is instantaneous; you don’t need Jack Welch to get rid of the bottom 10% of drivers, let alone some government bureaucracy. We thought the crew doing the ACA characterized themselves as hip and youth oriented; instead, they’re so old and outdated, with a 1917 model of economic organization.

Scenes from the nineties

April 4th, 2014

A company says it

believes both in equality and freedom of speech. Equality is necessary for meaningful speech. And you need free speech to fight for equality. Figuring out how to stand for both at the same time can be hard.

A guy mentioned by Roger Simon:

If the spring of popular government in time of peace is virtue, the springs of popular government in revolution are at once virtue and terror: virtue, without which terror is fatal; terror, without which virtue is powerless. Terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible; it is therefore an emanation of virtue

There certainly are a lot of angry people in the upper crust today. There are many reasons to dislike corporations, government, and crowds of all sorts.