Ruski Responses

March 3rd, 2017

We proposed one response to the silly viciousness of a media working overtime to create scandal ex nihilo, but we didn’t go nearly far enough. Here are other answers for Mr. Sessions and others: (1) “Tweedledum and Tweedledee Agreed to have a battle; For Tweedledum said Tweedledee Had spoiled his nice new rattle.” (2) “One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more. And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.” (3) “Hogamus, Higamus,” no better not. (4) “Willoughby walliby woo, An elephant sat on you.” Yes, singing, that’s the ticket. Imagine the media freak-out when your response to the next faux pompous Russia Treason question is Second Verse, Same as the First.

Fakes

March 2nd, 2017

Snap. News. “News“. We wish the targets of “news” stories would respond, not in hushed tones and seriousness, but respond to the “questioner”: you’re a silly billy and that’s the nut-nut-nuttiest thing I’ve ever heard.

Tulipmania!

March 1st, 2017

So Snap is worth $24 billion, eh? That’s pretty good for a weird company that’s losing $500MM on revenues of $400MM. Its balance sheet in the S-1 (page F-20) shows around $100MM in total PP&E, of which $23MM is computer stuff and the rest is real estate and furniture, presumably all that beachfront property in Venice, CA. Oh, yes, an acquaintance of ours said his broker could get him $500K of the stock but wanted a 10% commission. Tulipmania!

Fiercely — and then some

February 28th, 2017

WSJ:

on Jan. 25, staffers at Harvard University’s endowment streamed into the boardroom on the 14th floor of its offices in the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s building. In back-to-back sessions, endowment executives told them big changes were coming to Harvard’s investment strategy, and that half the firm’s 230-person staff would be laid off. Harvard was once the envy of the endowment world. From 1990 to 2005, the endowment returned an average of more than 14% a year.

At that time, then-chief Jack Meyer built an in-house hedge fund and embraced investing in outside hedge funds and private-equity funds, early compared with most endowments. Harvard’s endowment was one of the first to make a major play in timber, investing in swaths of forestland in the early 2000s in New Zealand.

Mr. Meyer and a crew of traders left in 2005 following criticism from some faculty and alumni that they were paid too much. They were among the highest paid university employees in the 2000s. In 2003, bond traders David Mittelman and Maurice Samuels earned more than $34 million apiece. Then-Harvard President Lawrence Summers made less than $1 million, according to a tax filing.

Harvard posted a 27% loss during the financial crisis, the worst in the Ivy League, and sold stakes in private-equity funds at losses. The endowment’s annualized gains of 5.7% over the 10 years ended June 30, 2016 are the second-lowest in the Ivy League and below the comparable 8.1% returns of Yale University and Columbia University.

We turn things over to Tom Lehrer for fun and laughs. Frankly, we have nothing we’d care to add about the idiotic and boring Civil War. Idiotic and boring, yes, but even more: disgusting.

Theater and nuttiness

February 27th, 2017

1.7 million downloads of theater. Nuttiness here. Really hilarious nuttiness in the first lines here. We can’t keep up. Bonus: brief sanity from Steyn.

Nearer the end than the beginning

February 26th, 2017

WSJ

on the cusp of going public, Snapchat parent company Snap Inc. is reinventing itself. The hottest new social network in years, with 158 million daily active users, wants to be known as a camera company. To that end, Snap has acquired a series of companies that specialize in computer vision and augmented reality. And in November, it introduced its first physical camera, embedded in sunglasses called Spectacles.

Snap’s metamorphosis reflects a growing need among social-media firms to be more than just networks of friends. Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook Inc., Snap’s biggest competitor, last week outlined in a 6,000-word manifesto his ambition to turn the 13-year-old social network into the backbone of a new “social infrastructure” so it can address some of the world’s biggest problems, like terrorism, disease and climate change. Facebook has also invested in virtual reality, betting it will be the next major computing platform.

At the nearby grocery store, there’s a bulletin board where people post things, like Help Wanted, Lost Dog, local news, family announcements, etc. It always struck us (as a bystander, not a user) that Facebook was a really high speed bulletin board, with the unusual feature that you could be 12,000 miles away and still see it. Facebook also has the advantage of being the largest in its space, so it just has to copy the ideas of the start-ups to stay ahead. Not bad, but not worth $400 billion and a P/E of 40x. Is it really worth 50% more than General Electric, the 5th largest company in America? Right. Not. It’s nuts to think so.

Perhaps as a recognition of the 2000 era nuttiness of internet valuations, now we’re amused to see that Snapchat, which we’ve also never used, is trying to position itself as a real company with real stuff. Cameras! A $20 billion valuation for a business whose 330 employees make pictures disappear? We’re nearer to the end than the beginning of these crazy valuations.

What’s happening in China?

February 25th, 2017

WSJ:

the sector now is dealing with issues that could pose greater systemic risks, many analysts and investors say. In particular, Chinese banks have become more creative in hiding risks and dressing up their books in a bid to continue to expand.

Much of the recent credit has flowed into housing and speculative assets, resulting in bubbles the government is now trying to contain. For instance, home mortgages hit a record 5 trillion yuan ($729 billion) last year, making up nearly 40% of total new loans, according to official data.

Banks also have become more intertwined with so-called shadow lenders. Often banks, especially small and midsize ones, team up with brokerages and other financial institutions to move risky loans off balance sheets by repackaging them as high-yielding investments. Largely as a result of that, economists at Swiss bank UBS Group AG estimate that as much as 22 trillion yuan were “missing” from the broadest measurement of credit disclosed by China’s central bank last year, up from 16.5 trillion yuan in 2015.

Chinese banks also increasingly rely on short-term capital borrowed from other banks, as opposed to using deposits that tend to be more stable, to fund those loans shifted off books. Some analysts, including those at Moody’s Corp., have likened these trends to the deals made popular by U.S. banks during the housing boom that eventually triggered the 2008-2009 global financial turmoil.

BTW, the “hiding” totals a couple of trillion dollars. We remember back when the problems were a fraction of what they are now.

More stuff from a Star Trek parody

February 24th, 2017

We remember Kirk, Spock and Bones doing time travel. That said, if you beamed back to 1996 and said this is the reality 20 years later, you might have been a candidate for an asylum:

“Right now in the state of North Carolina we have children — Dear God, children! — who are being imperiled, who face the prospect of being bullied as a consequence of politicians using them as political pawns while we talk about bathrooms,” said the NAACP’s national president Cornell Brooks. The Rev. William Barber, who leads the state’s NAACP chapter, proposed the boycott late last year after a deal fell apart to repeal the North Carolina law known best for requiring transgender people to use restrooms in many public buildings corresponding to the sex on their birth certificate.

It’s very odd to obsess over accommodating almost zero people, at least 40% of whom are suicidal. Much better to spend resources on deep psychological counseling than on accommodating their fantasies. Say, what do pediatricians think?

Birds of a feather

February 23rd, 2017

BBC:

Justice Ginsburg reiterated the importance of the free press. “I read the Washington Post and the New York Times every day, and I think that the reporters are trying to tell the public the way things are,” she said.

Indeed.

You think Oprah knows diet tricks?

February 22nd, 2017

UPI:

Venezuela’s Living Conditions Survey found that nearly 75 percent of the population lost an average of at least 19 pounds in 2016 due to a lack of proper nutrition amid an economic crisis. Venezuela’s gross domestic product will decrease 4 percent in 2017, while the International Monetary Fund estimates inflation will increase 1,600 percent. The food crisis has also created an education crisis, as more than 1 million children no longer attend school, mostly due to hunger

Oprah can increase her diet tricks from 5 to 6: move to Venezuela.

School daze, plus something enjoyable

February 21st, 2017

Daze one, Daze two, Daze three, Daze four. Next, ah yes, the space race of sputnik and the 1960’s, the Good Old Daze. Finally, speaking of those days, even though Pete Seeger wrote If I had a Hammer, we sure could use the spirit in Trini Lopez’s optimistic version again.

Bonus: Will a jolly man make a jolly visitor? How terribly poor the frail paper boy looks. John gave his girl a candy heart. Huh?

Hilarious part of the freakout continues

February 19th, 2017

WaPo and NYT. And an absolutely cuckoooo piece in the Daily News. The third president and others weigh in as well. If all of this was in a novel, you’d put it down thinking that this level of insanity is impossible in real life. More nuttiness here.

The swamp does not wish to be drained

February 18th, 2017

WFB:

civil servants at the EPA are lobbying Congress to reject Donald Trump’s nominee to run the agency. Is it because Scott Pruitt lacks qualifications? No. Is it because he is ethically compromised? Sorry. The reason for the opposition is that Pruitt is a critic of the way the EPA was run during the presidency of Barack Obama. He has a policy difference with the men and women who are soon to be his employees. Up until, oh, this month, the normal course of action was for civil servants to follow the direction of the political appointees who serve as proxies for the elected president.

How quaint. These days an architect of the overreaching and anti-democratic Waters of the U.S. regulation worries that her work will be overturned so she undertakes extraordinary means to defeat her potential boss. But a change in policy is a risk of democratic politics. Nowhere does it say in the Constitution that the decisions of government employees are to be unquestioned and preserved forever. Yet that is precisely the implication of this unprecedented protest. “I can’t think of any other time when people in the bureaucracy have done this,” a professor of government tells the paper. That sentence does not leave me feeling reassured.

Opposition to this president takes many forms. Senate Democrats have slowed confirmations to the most sluggish pace since George Washington. Much of the New York and Beltway media does really function as a sort of opposition party, to the degree that reporters celebrated the sacking of Flynn as a partisan victory for journalism. Discontent manifests itself in direct actions such as the Women’s March.

But here’s the difference. Legislative roadblocks, adversarial journalists, and public marches are typical of a constitutional democracy. They are spelled out in our founding documents: the Senate and its rules, and the rights to speech, a free press, and assembly. Where in those documents is it written that regulators have the right not to be questioned, opposed, overturned, or indeed fired, that intelligence analysts can just call up David Ignatius and spill the beans whenever they feel like it?

The last few weeks have confirmed that there are two systems of government in the United States. The first is the system of government outlined in the U.S. Constitution—its checks, its balances, its dispersion of power, its protection of individual rights. Donald Trump was elected to serve four years as the chief executive of this system. Whether you like it or not.

The second system is comprised of those elements not expressly addressed by the Founders. This is the permanent government, the so-called administrative state of bureaucracies, agencies, quasi-public organizations, and regulatory bodies and commissions, of rule-writers and the byzantine network of administrative law courts. This is the government of unelected judges with lifetime appointments who, far from comprising the “least dangerous branch,” now presume to think they know more about America’s national security interests than the man elected as commander in chief.

For some time, especially during Democratic presidencies, the second system of government was able to live with the first one. But that time has ended. The two systems are now in competition. And the contest is all the more vicious and frightening because more than offices are at stake. This fight is not about policy. It is about wealth, status, the privileges of an exclusive class.

“In our time, as in Jackson’s, the ruling classes claim a monopoly not just on the economy and society but also on the legitimate authority to regulate and restrain it, and even on the language in which such matters are discussed,” writes Christopher Caldwell

The swamp does not wish to be drained: that is the theme of the last few weeks. After all, as we have said, the skim is the scam and $7 trillion is a lot to skim from, not to mention the accompanying power and prestige. These are very bad people, and the worst of it is that they cloak themselves in moral superiority in order to justify to themselves the unethical and illegal things they do to hold and advance their power. Now for the first time, we’re noticing their names: Brennan, Yates, etc., as well as the depravity of their courtiers in the absurd and dishonest media. HT: AT

Yes comrade

February 18th, 2017

A:

Both criminal and civil corporate investigations should focus on individuals from the inception of the investigation. Both criminal and civil attorneys should focus on individual wrongdoing from the very beginning of any investigation of corporate misconduct. By focusing on building cases against individual wrongdoers from the inception of an investigation, we accomplish multiple goals. First, we maximize our ability to ferret out the full extent of corporate misconduct. Because a corporation only acts through individuals, investigating the conduct of individuals is the most efficient and effective way to determine the facts and extent of any corporate misconduct. Second, by focusing our investigation on individuals, we can increase the likelihood that individuals with knowledge of the corporate misconduct will cooperate with the investigation and provide information against individuals higher up the corporate hierarchy.

B:

Fortunately, my company had the money to fight back. Our day in court finally came in February 2016. The four-week trial ended with not-guilty verdicts on all charges, without our calling a single witness in our defense. Following the trial, one juror emailed me: “What the federal government did to you, your company and your employees is nothing short of criminal.”

Thus, unaccountable twerps with a $30 billion budget can force a company to spend $25MM on lawyers with the result B above. Fortunately, the author of A above got herself fired recently.

Huh?

February 18th, 2017

Pope:

you have committed yourselves to fight for social justice, to defend our Sister Mother Earth and to stand alongside migrants. I want to reaffirm your choice and share two reflections in this regard.

First, the ecological crisis is real. “A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system.” Science is not the only form of knowledge, it is true. It is also true that science is not necessarily “neutral”—many times it conceals ideological views or economic interests. However, we also know what happens when we deny science and disregard the voice of Nature. I make my own everything that concerns us as Catholics. Let us not fall into denial. Time is running out. Let us act.

The other is a reflection that I shared at our most recent World Meeting of Popular Movements, and I feel is important to say it again: no people is criminal and no religion is terrorist. Christian terrorism does not exist, Jewish terrorism does not exist, and Muslim terrorism does not exist. They do not exist.

No people is criminal or drug-trafficking or violent. “The poor and the poorer peoples are accused of violence yet, without equal opportunities, the different forms of aggression and conflict will find a fertile terrain for growth and will eventually explode.” There are fundamentalist and violent individuals in all peoples and religions—and with intolerant generalizations they become stronger because they feed on hate and xenophobia. By confronting terror with love, we work for peace.

Memo to the College of Cardinals: avoid Argentina.

Gus Hall?

February 17th, 2017

Q1: Our enemy is not “terrorism” because terrorism is but a tactic. Our enemy is not “terror” because terror is a state of mind and as Americans we refuse to live in fear. Nor do we describe our enemy as “jihadists” or “Islamists” because jihad is a holy struggle. Q2: When CIA analysts look for deeper causes of this rising instability, they find nationalistic, sectarian, and technological factors that are eroding the structure of the international system. They also see socioeconomic trends, the impact of climate change, and other elements that are cause for concern. Last year was the warmest on record, and this year is on track to be even warmer. Q3: So if back in 1980, John Brennan was allowed to say, ‘I voted for the Communist Party with Gus Hall’ and still got through, rest assured that your rights and your expressions and your freedom of speech as Americans is something that’s not going to be disqualifying of you as you pursue a career in government. Q4: I think Mr. Trump has to understand that absolving Russia of various actions it has taken in the past number of years is a road that he needs to be very, very careful about moving down.

Ah yes, Russia is one thing, very bad, the USSR is entirely something else, and vastly superior for that matter. Got it. BTW, the speaker above, the honorable John Brennan, is also speculated to be a leaker in chief on Trump metters. Surprised? Serious question: how did a loon like this become the head of the CIA?

We’re serious, we really want to know, since in a reasonably rational country this guy would have been consigned to the trashbag at a very early date. Something doesn’t make sense here. Unless…and the Unless is far more troubling than just this joker.

Stupid with a capital S

February 16th, 2017

DC:

Oakland schools partnered with the environmental group Friends of the Earth (FOE) to fight global warming by making student lunches climate-friendly. FOE gave kids a lunch menu designed to eliminate foods it says are “unsustainable for our planet.” The new menu features far less meat and more plant-based food. Any meat or cheese the school did use came from “pastured, organic dairy cows.” The student’s lunch menu went from beef hot dogs and pepperoni pizza to vegan stir fry tofu and vegan tostadas. The new FOE-approved menu served meat and cheese-less frequently and reduced the portion sizes.

“This is a landmark moment for school food,” Jennifer LeBarre, head of nutrition services for Oakland Unified School District, said in a FOE press statement. “We were so excited to see how the data showed that we could reduce our carbon and water footprint by serving healthy, delicious food –– like the vegetarian tostadas with fresh made in-house salsa, that kids absolutely love –– all while saving money.”

The district and FOE claimed the lunch program was healthier than before, but only on the basis that food from plants is typically healthier than meat. The study justifies its health claims by stating average poultry consumption fell. FOE did not undertake an actual study into whether or not the lunches improved student health.

FOE says total carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the school lunch program declined by 14 percent. The total change is equivalent to taking roughly 127 cars off the road for a year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) official calculator. The activists also claim lunch program costs fell 1 percent.

FOE says it partnered with the school to provide a “roadmap for change” to encourage other schools to fight global warming via student lunches. The green group hopes Oakland’s example will encourage numerous other school districts to switch to a similar menu. If every school district in the U.S. followed Oakland, the reduced CO2 emissions would be equal to removing 150,000 cars from the roads, according to FOE.

127 cars off the road, fantastic! If they could repeat that just 10,000,000 times, they’d be getting somewhere. HT: MF (Bonus fun: fake with a capital F)

Interception!

February 15th, 2017

Interception. Interception. Interception. Interception. Interception, with alleged transcript. We hadn’t really thought much about this, but apparently everything is bugged now, perhaps par for the course in the age of iPhone. If so, wouldn’t Ironclad Rule #1 be: assume that anything you say is being recorded, and hence be circumspect in all conversations. Why would someone break that rule? Moreover, the policy motives ascribed to the buggers make little sense to us. If the buggers’ backers plan is just to create a little chaos every day and see what happens, that at least makes some sense, though it seems to us a losing strategy. Very creepy however. HT: PL

Bonus unfun: there’s much worse to follow if a broadening of the NSA’s powers in the last month is any indication.

Nothing to add

February 14th, 2017

We’ve entered some form of Bizarro world combined with an extra strange edition of Mad Magazine, with a long form Spy vs. Spy vs. Spy. We’ll just link to Link to Lifson and Spengler, and let them try to sort things out. Things have gone from entertaining to scary.

Rename everything

February 13th, 2017

WSJ

During a conference-call press briefing Saturday, and throughout the documents related to the Calhoun decision, officials have been careful to stress that the university operates with a “strong presumption against” renaming things. Because they do not seek to “erase history,” the officials insist, renaming things for ideological reasons would be “exceptionally rare.”

When you study the four principles Mr. Salovey’s committee came up with to justify a renaming, you can see why it took so long. The task, it seems clear, was to find a way to wipe away Calhoun College while simultaneously immunizing other institutions at Yale from politicized rebaptism. Did the principal legacy of the honored person “fundamentally conflict” with the university’s mission? Was that legacy “contested” within the person’s lifetime? Were the reasons that the university honored him at odds with Yale’s mission? Does the named building or program play a substantial role in “forming community at Yale”? Readers who savor tortuous verbal legerdemain will want to acquaint themselves with the “Letter of the Advisory Group on the Renaming of Calhoun College,” which is available online. It is a masterpiece of the genre. Is it also convincing?

I think the best way to answer that is to fill out the historical picture a bit. Nearly every Yale official who spoke at Saturday’s press briefing had to describe John Calhoun (1782-1850) as a “white supremacist.” Question: Who among whites at the time was not? Take your time. Calhoun owned slaves. But so did Timothy Dwight, Calhoun’s mentor at Yale, who has a college named in his honor. So did Benjamin Silliman, who also gives his name to a residential college, and whose mother was the largest slave owner in Fairfield County, Conn. So did Ezra Stiles,John Davenport and even Jonathan Edwards, all of whom have colleges named in their honor at Yale.

Writing in these pages last summer, I suggested that Yale table the question of John Calhoun and tackle some figures even more obnoxious to contemporary sensitivities. One example was Elihu Yale, the American-born British merchant who, as an administrator in India, was an active participant in the slave trade. President Salovey’s letter announcing that Calhoun College would be renamed argues that “unlike Elihu Yale, who made a gift that supported the founding of our university Calhoun has no similarly strong association with our campus.” What can that mean? Calhoun graduated valedictorian from Yale College in 1804. Is that not a “strong association”?

(Grace Hopper held two advanced degrees from the university but had no association with the undergraduate Yale College.) As far as I have been able to determine, Elihu Yale never set foot in New Haven. His benefaction of some books and goods worth £800 helped found Yale College, not Yale University. And whereas the 11th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica praises Calhoun for his “just and kind” treatment of slaves and the “stainless integrity” of his character, Elihu Yale had slaves flogged, hanged a stable boy for stealing a horse

No doubt if they look hard enough they’ll find something to disqualify this Hopper. Perhaps better simply to name colleges after celebrities or fictional characters: Paul or Hedda Hopper, Perry Mason college, etc. (Of course things could be worse, e.g. Brady college.)