Archive for the 'EU' Category

So much remains to be learned

Thursday, August 8th, 2013


During the most recent ice age, milk was essentially a toxin to adults because — unlike children — they could not produce the lactase enzyme required to break down lactose, the main sugar in milk. But as farming started to replace hunting and gathering in the Middle East around 11,000 years ago, cattle herders learned how to reduce lactose in dairy products to tolerable levels by fermenting milk to make cheese or yogurt. Several thousand years later, a genetic mutation spread through Europe that gave people the ability to produce lactase — and drink milk — throughout their lives. That adaptation opened up a rich new source of nutrition that could have sustained communities when harvests failed…

Most people who retain the ability to digest milk can trace their ancestry to Europe, where the trait seems to be linked to a single nucleotide in which the DNA base cytosine changed to thymine in a genomic region not far from the lactase gene. There are other pockets of lactase persistence in West Africa, the Middle East and south Asia that seem to be linked to separate mutations. The single-nucleotide switch in Europe happened relatively recently. Thomas and his colleagues estimated the timing by looking at genetic variations in modern populations and running computer simulations of how the related genetic mutation might have spread through ancient populations. They proposed that the trait of lactase persistence, dubbed the LP allele, emerged about 7,500 years ago in the broad, fertile plains of Hungary…

Looking back through the archaeological literature, Bogucki found other examples of ancient perforated pottery. “They were so unusual — people would almost always include them in publications,” says Bogucki, now at Princeton…The mystery potsherds sat in storage until 2011, when Mélanie Roffet-Salque pulled them out and analysed fatty residues preserved in the clay. Roffet-Salque, a geochemist at the University of Bristol, UK, found signatures of abundant milk fats — evidence that the early farmers had used the pottery as sieves to separate fatty milk solids from liquid whey. That makes the Polish relics the oldest known evidence of cheese-making in the world

Well, that’s an upbeat tale, as opposed to this scary one.

It’s worse than you thought

Monday, July 15th, 2013


Undergraduates who went up to Oxford to read modern history in the mid-1970s found themselves examined in their first term on four historical classics: Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; Macaulay’s History of England, Alexis de Tocqueville’s L’Ancien Régime et la Revolution and the Weltgeschichtliche Betrachtungen (“Reflections on World History”) by Nietzsche’s Swiss friend and mentor, Jacob Burckhardt. These texts suited the taste of the Regius Professor, Hugh Trevor-Roper, himself a great historian both of the 17th and 20th centuries…Today his chair, Froude’s chair, is occupied by Lyndal Roper, an Australian specialist on witchcraft in early modern Germany…

history in general has retreated into the ivory tower, or lies rolling in the gutter…the first minister for a generation to care enough about history to wish to restore it to the privileged place in the nation’s intellectual life that it once enjoyed, has encountered bitter opposition, not from philistines and barbarians, but from the historians themselves.

Western history includes hard won and bitter battles to make rationality trump superstition. Now no one remembers the past, but it’s even worse than that. Apparently the historians themselves do not care about or do not believe in the broad narrative of the West’s remarkable triumphs of the last millennium.

Three Days of the Gondorff

Sunday, July 7th, 2013

The NYT reports on 1800 requests, zero denials, and all in secret:

the FISA court hears from only one side in the case — the government — and its findings are almost never made public. A Court of Review is empaneled to hear appeals, but that is known to have happened only a handful of times in the court’s history, and no case has ever been taken to the Supreme Court. In fact, it is not clear in all circumstances whether Internet and phone companies that are turning over the reams of data even have the right to appear before the FISA court.

Created by Congress in 1978 as a check against wiretapping abuses by the government, the court meets in a secure, nondescript room in the federal courthouse in Washington. All of the current 11 judges, who serve seven-year terms, were appointed to the special court by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., and 10 of them were nominated to the bench by Republican presidents. Most hail from districts outside the capital and come in rotating shifts to hear surveillance applications; a single judge signs most surveillance orders, which totaled nearly 1,800 last year. None of the requests from the intelligence agencies was denied…

The officials said one central concept connects a number of the court’s opinions. The judges have concluded that the mere collection of enormous volumes of “metadata” — facts like the time of phone calls and the numbers dialed, but not the content of conversations — does not violate the Fourth Amendment, as long as the government establishes a valid reason under national security regulations before taking the next step of actually examining the contents of an American’s communications.

This concept is rooted partly in the “special needs” provision the court has embraced. “The basic idea is that it’s O.K. to create this huge pond of data,” a third official said, “but you have to establish a reason to stick your pole in the water and start fishing.”

Under the new procedures passed by Congress in 2008 in the FISA Amendments Act, even the collection of metadata must be considered “relevant” to a terrorism investigation or other intelligence activities. The court has indicated that while individual pieces of data may not appear “relevant” to a terrorism investigation, the total picture that the bits of data create may in fact be relevant, according to the officials with knowledge of the decisions.

Let’s see. All your internet information, all your phone calls, credit card charges, and your locations at the time, and all the same information about your counterparties, including secret, shared email accounts that serve as dropboxes for private communications. That’s how they got the goods on Petraeus and his girlfriend. It’s the Chicago Way after all, and think of what they have on reporters and editors, congressman and senators, businessmen and union heads, and everyone on both sides thinking about running in 2016. You doubt this? Come on.

It’s a good plot for a movie. Sort of Three Days of the Condor, apparently without the murders. But there’s something missing. Most of the commentary on potential abuse of the NSA’s comprehensive database has focused on political corruption. It’s a big story and a good story, and no doubt it is going on. But there’s a bigger and better plotline as well. Money. Imagine every hedge fund senior staff getting the scrutiny that Stevie Cohen and his crew get. The senior Wall Street types, every Fortune 500 CEO and BOD, the Silicon Valley VC’s, the PE moguls, etc. And oh yes, here’s where the international reach of the NSA comes in.

The NSA’s surveillance captures international corporate communications, those of the global Forbes 400, and places like Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, etc where insider trading and market manipulation are perhaps more the rule rather than the exception. Imagine knowing in advance that an investor was going to break the pound. Imagine knowing in advance what OPEC or the oil manipulators of 2008 were going to do. Or knowing about the bear raids on banks in 2007-2009 just before they happened. Do you keep the information or sell it to your unsavory friends? Who knows? We haven’t written the script yet, but we have a working title: Three Days of the Gondorff.

Fickle, expensive, noisy, and deadly

Saturday, June 29th, 2013

Daily Mail:

There had been only eight recorded sightings of the white-throated needletail in the UK since 1846…The last sighting of a white-throated needletail was 22 years ago. A relative of the common swift, it is said to be capable of flying at an astonishing 106mph…A group of 40 enthusiasts dashed to the Hebrides to catch a glimpse of the brown, black and blue bird, which breeds in Asia and winters in Australasia…John Marchant, 62, who had made the trip all the way from Norfolk, said: ‘We were absolutely over the moon to see the bird. We watched it for nearly two hours. ‘But while we were watching it suddenly got a bit close to the turbine and then the blades hit it. ‘We all rushed up to the turbine, which took about five minutes, hoping the bird had just been knocked out the sky but was okay. ‘Unfortunately it had taken a blow to the head and was stone dead.

The turbines operate at 24% of capacity, cost 9x more than creating power from gas, and have to be backed up at all times by fuel burning generators in case the wind dies down. And if you’re a white-throated needletail, they can ruin your whole day.

Drone on

Saturday, June 1st, 2013


more than 75 countries have remote piloted aircraft. More than 50 nations are building a total of nearly a thousand types. At its last display at a trade show in Beijing, China showed off 25 different unmanned aerial vehicles.

The MQ-9, pictured above, is a serious aircraft. New versions will have 1K thrust engines, 88 foot wings, 12,000 pounds GTOW, and up to 42 hours of non-stop ISR flying. They can carry 14 Hellfire missiles or 4 of those plus two 500LB laser guided bombs. The technology is advancing very quickly in this arena, and soon there will be thousands of them flying globally. The current US order book is less than 500, but that will no doubt increase substantially. Oddly enough, we don’t recall ever hearing of the company that makes these aircraft before now. From the Google car to this, a brave new world.

Those dangerous tweets

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

Christopher Hitchens noted the deterioration in England back in 2007, and things have not improved. Going back a little further, to the days of the Cartoon Riots, we note Wretchard’s excellent piece on the perils of appeasement.

And here we are again today. The media and the police in England have joined forces to suppress free speech in the wake of the horrific slaughter of that soldier the other day. We suppose they’re afraid of the soccer hooligans acting up, though evidence for that is scarce. So they’re going after tweets of all things. This can’t end well.

Why stop with free speech? The logic of this appeasement ends in burning books and shuttering museums. Time to get a head start.

Notice a pattern?

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

A newspaper in Sweden:

while the Stockholm riots keep spreading and intensifying, Swedish police have adopted a tactic of non-interference. ”Our ambition is really to do as little as possible,” Stockholm Chief of Police Mats Löfving explained to the Swedish newspaper Expressen on Tuesday. “We go to the crime scenes, but when we get there we stand and wait,” elaborated Lars Byström, the media relations officer of the Stockholm Police Department. ”If we see a burning car, we let it burn if there is no risk of the fire spreading to other cars or buildings nearby. By doing so we minimize the risk of having rocks thrown at us.” Swedish parking laws, however, continue to be rigidly enforced

It’s all senseless violence, don’t you know? Steyn has some additional observations on how very strange the West has become — not that any of this is new; the “youths” have been rioting for years and no one seems to know why

Bureaucracies continue to argue for their own destruction

Monday, May 20th, 2013


The small glass jugs filled with green or gold coloured extra virgin olive oil are familiar and traditional for restaurant goers across Europe but they will be banned from 1 January 2014…The use of classic, refillable glass jugs or glazed terracotta dipping bowls and the choice of a restaurateur to buy olive oil from a small artisan producer or family business will be outlawed…The European Commissions justification for the ban, under special Common Agriculture Policy regulations, is “hygiene” and to protect the “image of olive oil”…”It will seem bonkers that olive oil jugs must go while vinegar bottles or refillable wine jugs can stay.”

At least they’re fiddling with olive oil. It could be a lot worse.

60% now

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

Pioneer Press:

more than six out of 10 women who give birth in their early 20s are unmarried. That is census data, from census demographers, from the very government that then becomes responsible for many, if not most, of those unmarried women and children. If that isn’t an astonishing statistic, it should be.

From bad to worse. Melanie Phillips has more.

The masses are revolting

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013


the French political system is terminally sick. The historical background certainly confirms this. For more than 30 years, every French government has lost every election. With a single exception, you have to be over 50 today to have voted in the last election, in 1978, when the incumbent majority held on to power: Nicolas Sarkozy managed to get a conservative majority re-elected in 2007 only because he profiled himself, dishonestly, as a new broom and as a rebel against the roi fainéant, his former mentor Jacques Chirac. Add to this the fact that in 2005 the referendum on the European constitution produced a ‘no ‘vote — that is, a disavowal of the entire political establishment — and you are confronted with a bitter reality: the French electorate hates its politicians and takes every chance to vote against them. François Hollande’s election last May was therefore not a victory but only his predecessor’s defeat. He was elected with 48 per cent of the votes, if you include spoilt and invalid ballots, and 39 per cent of the registered voters. His election was especially unimpressive considering the widespread revulsion at Sarkozy’s personal bling and at his betrayal of his own voters. But even so, Hollande’s catastrophic poll rating has broken all records. When in March he became the most unpopular president after ten months in office, his rating stood at 31 per cent. Now it is 26 per cent.

With unemployment nearing 11%, what do you expect?

A mere 62.5% haircut

Saturday, March 30th, 2013


Major depositors in Cyprus’s biggest bank will lose around 60 percent of savings over 100,000 euros, its central bank confirmed…the official decree published on Saturday confirmed a Reuters report a day earlier that the bank would give depositors shares worth just 37.5 percent of savings over 100,000 euros…At Bank of Cyprus, about 22.5 percent of deposits over 100,000 euros will attract no interest. The remaining 40 percent will continue to attract interest, but will not be repaid unless the bank does well…Cypriots and foreigners are allowed to take only up to 1,000 euros in cash when they leave the island

So the Germans have raided the bank accounts of the Russians. Who knows how this will play out? Guardian: “Angela Merkel – who speaks fluent Russian and grew up in communist east Germany – did not have the same rapport with Putin as her predecessor. Her aides recall how during one meeting in Sochi, Putin deliberately let his dog sniff the chancellor’s legs; Merkel has a well-known aversion to dogs. ‘Typical KGB,’ one of the chancellor’s aides complained.”

Is it 1930 again?

Monday, March 25th, 2013

Bloomberg on Cyprus, where large bank depositors are finding out that 30% of their money is gone:

the plan will spare the Mediterranean island a financial catastrophe by winding down the largely state-owned Popular Bank of Cyprus, also known as Laiki, and shifting deposits below 100,000 euros to the Bank of Cyprus to create a “good bank”. Deposits above 100,000 euros in both banks, which are not guaranteed under EU law, will be frozen and used to resolve Laiki’s debts and recapitalize Bank of Cyprus…

Christos Stylianides said: “We averted a disorderly bankruptcy which would have led to an exit of Cyprus from the euro zone with unforeseeable consequences.” Asked about the level of losses on uninsured depositors in Bank of Cyprus, he told state radio: “The assessment is that it will be under or around 30 percent.”

Of course this is not as bad as things were in 1930, when the large Fed member, the Bank of the United States, was allowed to fail, and deposit withdrawals spread far and wide. But why would anyone, or any company, now keep any significant deposits in a bank in the PIIGS, or in other countries in Europe, and then, and then…… We’ll see.

One night in London, one night in Paris, three weeks in Washington

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

To stay one night in London, the VP booked approximately 136 hotel rooms for 893 room nights at a hotel. The bill for the hotel alone was $459K (his hotel bill for one night in Paris was almost $600K):

Picture 1-1

When Winston Churchill came to America in late 1941, he stayed at the White House for three weeks and the bill was $0. What passes for normal today is surreal, bizarre, but no one seems to notice.

The weary north

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013


The decision to expropriate Cypriot savers – even the poorest – was imposed by Germany, Holland, Finland, Austria, and Slovakia, whose only care at this stage is to assuage bail-out fatigue at home and avoid their own political crises.

For the only amusing part of the Cyprus situation, there’s this.

“The slow death of the European Project”?

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

The former head of the Central Bank of Cypress (video here):

What we have seen in the last few days is a very serious blunder by the European governments that are essentially blackmailing the government of Cyprus to confiscate the money that belongs rightfully to the depositors in the banking system in Cyprus

Not a wealth tax. A surprise, ex post facto asset tax, that, had it been announced in advance as an upcoming policy, would have raised essentially zero revenue. Another word for this sort of asset tax might be “confiscation.” Robert Tracinski explains. It is hard to overstate how incredibly stupid this is, and we’ll be surprised if it takes effect. But it tells you what you need to know about politicians and bureaucrats.

It seems that the Higgs Boson has indeed been identified

Friday, March 15th, 2013

Last July it looked as if the Large Hadron Collider had identified the Higgs Boson. BBC says that further measurements have now confirmed this. Let’s go back to the time of the tentative identification last year. Reuters:

Scientists at Europe’s CERN research centre have found a new subatomic particle, a basic building block of the universe, which appears to be the boson imagined and named half a century ago by theoretical physicist Peter Higgs. “We have reached a milestone in our understanding of nature,” CERN director general Rolf Heuer told a gathering of scientists and the world’s media near Geneva on Wednesday. “The discovery of a particle consistent with the Higgs boson opens the way to more detailed studies, requiring larger statistics, which will pin down the new particle’s properties, and is likely to shed light on other mysteries of our universe.” Two independent studies of data produced by smashing proton particles together at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider produced a convergent near-certainty on the existence of the new particle. It is unclear whether it is exactly the boson Higgs described…

Higgs, now 83, from Edinburgh University was among six theorists who in the early 1960s proposed the existence of a mechanism by which matter in the universe gained mass. Higgs himself argued that if there were an invisible field responsible for the process, it must be made up of particles. He and some of the others were at CERN to welcome news of what, to the embarrassment of many scientists, some commentators have labeled the “God particle”, for its role in turning the Big Bang into a living universe. Clearly overwhelmed, his eyes welling up, Higgs told the symposium of fellow researchers: “It is an incredible thing that it has happened in my lifetime.”

Here is a picture of the machine that looked for the boson:

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) began operating in 2008 to test the validity and limitations of the Standard Model. (Among the questions: Where has all the anti-matter gone? Does the Higgs boson exist?) The collider is cooled to an operating temperature of 1.9K, which is pretty darn cold. Here are some other great pictures of this huge, awesome machine, located in Switzerland and France.

The music video above by science writer Kate McAlpine tries to put the LHC’s mission into layman’s terms. Discussion of the Higgs boson begins at about 2:40. The LHC is a fantastic machine, at least as long as it doesn’t destroy the universe. (HT’s: LGF, LHC Blog)

For more on the Higgs boson, watch this.

Life of Gérard

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013


Loose money, tight credit

Saturday, January 19th, 2013

Weekly Standard:

According to the latest semi-annual report issued by the Bank for International Settlements, the gross market value of outstanding over-the-counter derivatives is $25.4 trillion​—​yes, trillion​—​with 75 percent of the contracts linked to interest rates: forward rate agreements, swaps, options. In June 2008, shortly before the crash, the gross market value of outstanding OTC derivatives was $20.4 trillion, with 46 percent linked to interest rates.

So what has actually changed since the precrisis financial situation? Instead of tamping down speculative betting on interest rates in favor of rational market pricing of loanable funds, the Fed’s monetary policies are stimulating it. No wonder traditional financial intermediation​—​the kind that used to channel depositor funds toward promising new businesses​—​is now oriented toward gaming various hunches about the Fed’s next move. Even smaller banks are learning to churn their Treasury holdings rather than make loans to private-sector borrowers​—​especially since federal regulators are evaluating their portfolios.

Productive economic activity requires a commitment of resources based on faith in the future; it’s inherently risky, but that’s the nature and genius of capitalism. Unfortunately, the Fed’s tactics for suppressing interest rates have brought about conditions antithetical to entrepreneurial capitalism: loose money, tight credit.

At Bretton Woods, 44 countries voted to make the dollar the world’s reserve currency. Any chance they’d re-up on that today? HT: PL

News from the eurozone

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013


the ECB professes itself helpless in the face of 11.8pc unemployment, a post-EMU record and rising each month…Italian and Spanish companies still pay twice as much to borrow as German rivals. The North-South gap is becoming hard-wired into the system. He calculates that a string of states need drastic rate cuts this year under the classic `Taylor Rule’ or shortfall in potential output: 150 basis points for France, 230 for Holland, 240 for Ireland, 330 for Portugal, 350 for Spain, and 400 for Italy. For Greece, theoretically 1100, “no amount of easing would appear sufficient. You cannot cut below zero. That is why you do quantitative easing, a crude proxy.

Meanwhile, the Fed sees no current danger of excessive inflation from QE4 or whatever it is. Dreary times. HT: KD

How do you carve the roast beef and turkey?

Friday, December 28th, 2012

Following up on a recent post, we look in on the BBC and knife research:

The research is published in the British Medical Journal. The researchers said there was no reason for long pointed knives to be publicly available at all. They consulted 10 top chefs from around the UK, and found such knives have little practical value in the kitchen. None of the chefs felt such knives were essential, since the point of a short blade was just as useful when a sharp end was needed…The researchers say legislation to ban the sale of long pointed knives would be a key step in the fight against violent crime. “The Home Office is looking for ways to reduce knife crime. We suggest that banning the sale of long pointed knives is a sensible and practical measure that would have this effect.”

How do these chefs deal with the prime rib? (We suppose the answer is that you can still have a long knife, but it has to be rounded at the end — but then can’t you still slash with its long sharp edge?) Very strange world we have. HT: FPM