Miscellany

May 22nd, 2015

Mosul, Ramadi, all downhill from here. CK has some thoughts. How depressing to be on an ivy league admissions committee. Ok, enough downers. One other thought on the Mad Men conclusion came from this AT piece. Coke and Atlanta. We recall going to Atlanta to meet with Trust Company of Georgia in 1984, to advise the company on its upcoming merger with Sun Banks. We met with Jimmy Williams; as soon as we were seated in his office, he offered us a Coke. Not coffee, a Coke. (In 2012 Trust Company sold most of the Coke stock it received for assisting in the company’s 1919 IPO.)

Hopefully, merely a grifter

May 21st, 2015

Some guy:

the challenge I want to focus on today, the urgent need to combat and adapt to climate change. I know there are still some folks back in Washington who refuse to admit that climate change is real. They’ll say, “You know, I’m not a scientist.” the best scientists in the world know that climate change is happening. Our analysts in the intelligence community know climate change is happening. Our military leaders — generals and admirals, active duty and retired — know it’s happening. Our homeland security professionals know it is happening.

The science is indisputable. The fossil fuels we burn release carbon dioxide, which traps heat. And the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are now higher than they have been in 800,000 years. The planet is getting warmer. Fourteen of the 15 hottest years on record have been in the past 15 years. Last year was the planet’s warmest year ever recorded.

Our scientists at NASA just reported that some of the sea ice around Antarctica is breaking up even faster than expected. The world’s glaciers are melting, pouring new water into the ocean. Over the past century, the world sea level rose by about eight inches. That was in the last century; by the end of this century, it’s projected to rise another one to four feet.

at the Academy, climate change — understanding the science and the consequences — is part of the curriculum, and rightly so, because it will affect everything that you do in your careers. Some of you have already served in Alaska and aboard icebreakers, and you know the effects. climate change is one of those most severe threats.

Climate change will impact every country on the planet. climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security. And make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country. And so we need to act — and we need to act now. confronting climate change is now a key pillar of American global leadership. When I meet with leaders around the world, it’s often at the top of our agenda — a core element of our diplomacy.

climate change increases the risk of instability and conflict. Rising seas are already swallowing low-lying lands, from Bangladesh to Pacific islands, forcing people from their homes. Caribbean islands and Central American coasts are vulnerable, as well. Globally, we could see a rise in climate change refugees. And I guarantee you the Coast Guard will have to respond. Elsewhere, more intense droughts will exacerbate shortages of water and food, increase competition for resources, and create the potential for mass migrations and new tensions. All of which is why the Pentagon calls climate change a “threat multiplier.”

severe drought helped to create the instability in Nigeria that was exploited by the terrorist group Boko Haram. It’s now believed that drought and crop failures and high food prices helped fuel the early unrest in Syria, which descended into civil war in the heart of the Middle East.

climate change will mean more extreme storms. Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines gave us a possible glimpse of things to come — one of the worst cyclones ever recorded; thousands killed, many more displaced, billions of dollars in damage, and a massive international relief effort that included the United States military and its Coast Guard. So more extreme storms will mean more humanitarian missions to deliver lifesaving help. Our forces will have to be ready.

climate change means Arctic sea ice is vanishing faster than ever. By the middle of this century, Arctic summers could be essentially ice free.

One hopes these are simply the words of a grifter looking to make a few bucks. Otherwise, help! (For comparison, here’s a different graduation speech.)

Coolidgean nostalgia?

May 20th, 2015

Pethokoukis.

Fast, slow, stop

May 18th, 2015

It took 14 months to build the Empire State Building, back when America knew how to do things. 26 months for the WTC to become the tallest building around. We were in Xiamen recently and we told that the airport is to be completely torn down and a much larger one built in 4 years. Question: given what you know about California’s $68+ billion high speed rail fantasy, how long might it take to replace tiny Santa Monica airport?

Name that sequel

May 17th, 2015

We liked the first couple of seasons of Mad Men, which series concludes today. For a good long while, we particularly liked one of the first episodes — punchline: it’s toasted. However, on reflection, it actually understated the power and ubiquity of all those cigarette ads, with jingles everywhere and everyone from Fred and Barney to Granny Clampett pitching Winstons (Winstons taste bad like the one I just had; no flavor, no taste, just a thirty cent waste). We didn’t much care for the Mad Men personal dramas of the characters as the narrative arc mimicked 1960’s dissolution, but the ad business was very interesting. Of course the carousel pitch is our favorite bit of great writing and great acting.

We moved to NYC in 1974 to be a banker trainee at First National City Bank, and rented a furnished fifth floor walk-up with a toilet in the hall and a tub in the kitchen, all for $169 a month. The offices in our 399 Park Avenue bank HQ looked like those in Mad Men; the building itself was non-descript. However, the other 3 corners at 53rd street were marvels: the Racquet Club, Lever House, and the Seagram Building, home to the iconic Four Seasons and the 24-hour Brasserie. Magnificent views of both NYC history and recent progress from our 12th floor cubicle. FNCB would shortly change its name to Citibank and spend $100MM to proliferate and popularize the ATM.

Our trainee class sounds like a parody. We had a proto feminist who was married to someone with a different last name, a dapper and on-the-prowl Asian American, a hip African American (who took us to the Cotton Club where Slappy White made us the center of his jokes), a cropped haired lesbian who did something nasty to the Asian, a Navy veteran who had been in Vietnam, and various other entertaining sorts, from muscle men to nerds. Our first boss was a gay Baker Scholar and nobody cared. How we ended up in the group is a story as well. As a recent college graduate who majored in the intellectual history of the middle ages and renaissance and who had read maybe two or three pages of a Business Week magazine, we were probably not the most qualified class member. However, a kind gentleman who was also a scion of a famous Philadelphia banking family introduced us to an SVP of FNCB at an alumni event; when we told him that FNCB had “lost” our résumé, he hurumphed “we’ll see about that.” We got the job.

1974 and following also has its appeals for a TV series. Hard to believe, but the WTC was only 4 years old then. In 1974 Watergate was in motion and Nixon would resign. Hilarity would ensue with Gerry Ford’s inane Whip Inflation Now campaign, soon to be followed by Ford to City: Drop Dead, and then the MAC, Felix Rohatyn, the blizzard of 78, the 444 day hostage crisis and so forth. Surely the mix of this with the Young Bankers from the previous paragraph could be made interesting for 100 episodes. If you know Matthew Weiner give him a call, and naming suggestions for the series would be appreciated.

So far so fast

May 16th, 2015

Sokal:

deep conceptual shifts within twentieth-century science have undermined Cartesian-Newtonian metaphysics; revisionist studies in the history and philosophy of science have cast further doubt on its credibility; and, most recently, feminist and poststructuralist critiques have demystified the substantive content of mainstream Western scientific practice, revealing the ideology of domination concealed behind the façade of “objectivity”.

It has thus become increasingly apparent that physical “reality”, no less than social “reality”, is at bottom a social and linguistic construct; that scientific “knowledge”, far from being objective, reflects and encodes the dominant ideologies and power relations of the culture that produced it

HT: JPod.

From bad to weird

May 15th, 2015

Bad, via Economist:

At the end of 2011, there were 3,082 prisoners on state and federal death rows in America. That year, 43 were executed. At the current rate (which is slowing) a condemned prisoner has a one-in-72 chance of being executed…the average time that elapses between sentence and execution has risen from six years in the mid-1980s to 16.5 years now.

Bad runs in the family BTW. Tis a pity the varmint is going to be around this long. Whatever happened to firing squads and hangings at dawn?

Change of pace: this piece has a lot of interesting information but winds up being weird.

A very bad version of The Godfather

May 14th, 2015

In retrospect, this is a particularly smarmy performance, using some nutty pronouncement by a marginal guy in order to ambush the frontrunner. But it’s par for the course. We’re living through a very bad version of The Godfather, with bad people on all sides BTW, just like the movie. So what Mitt should have said is What’s the Turk paying you?

O tempora o mores

May 13th, 2015

Don’t read Ovid. BTW, don’t read Cicero either — since really bad people quote him. It’s kind of funny that the universities have become the modern equivalent of monasteries, with screwy versions of vows of silence. Tragic too, since the kids have no idea of intellectual normalcy or what they are missing.

Good TV

May 11th, 2015

If you’re tired of watching reruns of L&O or My Friend Flicka, we recommend CNBC Asia. It’s tomorrow’s news today! Also particularly good on Sunday since it’s Monday morning in the PDT afternoon. Bernie Lo is excellent, as are many of his associates. Indeed, CNBC Asia is superior in many ways to the US broadcasts. On Sunday PDT they had Marc Faber as co-host, and he was well informed and periodically funny. He interviewed the head of BOC aircraft leasing (a subject near and dear to our heart), and we learned a lot. When was the last time you could say that about US TV?

Force, object, and you know the rest

May 10th, 2015

An author in Le Figaro:

Le supranationalisme est le résultat d’un dépassement de la pensée des Lumières dans le sens où il manifeste concrètement la croyance que des principes universels régissent la vie de l’homme. Le multiculturalisme, de son côté, vient de la perception romantique de l’Autre, envisagé comme fondamentalement bon et doté d’une identité immuable. Malgré leurs origines philosophiquement divergentes, ils ont le même effet: le démantèlement de l’État-nation. Et de façon étrange, ils semblent avoir fusionné pour s’arrêter sur la même vision de l’avenir: un monde sans frontières, sans distinction entre «nous» et «eux», sans nations, un monde pour l’Humanité…

le problème le plus profond avec l’islam, c’est la charia, une loi de compétence universelle et non-territoriale qui affronte donc frontalement la philosophie universaliste de l’UE et de la Cour européenne des droits de l’homme. Il est absolument urgent de réaffirmer devant les communautés islamiques l’importance de la loi territoriale séculaire. Et la seule façon de le faire est d’être d’une fermeté absolue en matière de loyauté nationale. Autant de choses qu’une administration bureaucratique et universelle comme l’UE ne pourra, par définition, jamais mettre en oeuvre. Les musulmans doivent faire passer la loi nationale avant les règles du Coran (un récent sondage en Hollande montre que 70% d’entre eux s’y refusent).

70% is a pretty big number. Tick tick tick, as we’ve often said. More better, more worse. Stay quiet and you’ll be okay. (BTW, the piece also uses a variant of oikophobia.)

First Prize awarded

May 9th, 2015

Here’s a candidate. Here are a couple more. Here’s a particularly outstanding candidate. Hey, here’s not one candidate but a whole self-aggrandizing bureaucracy. Fabulous! And expensive too! (Wonder who’s paying for all that.) Or how about the blatherer about Lucky 7? Or the cartoonist of college newspaper Bull Tales? Well, these are all outstanding candidates. Anyway, here’s today’s award winner, combining many of the best elements of all of the above.

Learning and not learning

May 8th, 2015

There’s an interesting Jeffrey Lord piece that, among other things, looks back 50 years. Then there’s one in TNR that also looks back 50 years. One piece is optimistic and one is not; one piece seems to have learned something in 50 years, and the other seems frozen in amber. Just sayin’

Be afraid, be very afraid!!!!

May 7th, 2015

HuffPo:

Average global levels of carbon dioxide stayed above 400 parts per million, or ppm, through all of March 2015 — the first time that has happened for an entire month since record keeping first began, according to data released this week by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Scientists with NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory have called the news a “significant milestone” in the growing scourge of man-made climate change. “This marks the fact that humans burning fossil fuels have caused global carbon dioxide concentrations to rise more than 120ppm since pre-industrial times,” Pieter Tans, lead scientist of NOAA’s greenhouse gas network, told The Guardian on Wednesday. “Half of that rise has occurred since 1980.”…this week’s news stands as an irrefutable reminder that our planet is going through a process that could eventually cause harm to countless numbers of people.

OK class, please repeat; at the 400 ppm the Huff Po is screaming about, air is 1950 parts nitrogen, 524 parts oxygen, 23 parts argon, and one itsy-bitsy teeny-weenie part CO2. Yawn.

The sun will come out, tomorrow!

May 6th, 2015

Hopefully, because it doesn’t seem to be out today. PS: the outgoing chairman of the JCS seems to agree.

Double down or change

May 5th, 2015

They were utopians in 1623 until they could have starved to death:

The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato’s and other ancients applauded by some of later times; that the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort.

For the young men, that were most able and fit for labour and service, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could…

no supply was heard of, neither knew they when they might expect any. So they began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery. At length, after much debate of things, the Governor (with the advice of the chiefest amongst them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves; in all other things to go on in the general way as before. And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number, for that end, only for present use (but made no division for inheritance) and ranged all boys and youth under some family.

This had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability

Double down or change. Starve or change course, that’s what it takes sometimes. As Thomas Kuhn said, about scientists no less, “the proponents of competing paradigms practice their trades in different worlds. The transfer of allegiance from paradigm to paradigm is a conversion experience.” Precisely. (We’ve noted that one of the strangest experiences we ever had was stepping into a voting booth on the West Side in 1980, and finding, against our will, that we were suddenly physically unable to pull the lever for JEC, even though that was our explicit intention until then.) For the moment, as Wretchard notes, change is still difficult for our misguided confrères, because there’s always “someone” to fall back on who will take care of things. We believe that time is coming to an end in each of the three areas we touched on in the Kuhn piece. How unpleasant or catastrophic this becomes remains to be seen.

That was then, this is now

May 4th, 2015

Several years into the era of hostile corporate takeover attempts, we attended a board meeting of US Steel, to make a presentation on that subject. It was in the GM Building. As compensation for the directors’ attendance, there were small stacks of $100 bills at each chair (though that may be another company, we can’t really recall). The meeting was a staid affair, at least until the chairman of our employer fell asleep during the meeting, which our CEO host thought was pretty darn funny. That was excitement in those days.

Today, it’s all a little livelier. On CNBC there was a famous investor, or stock-shorter, or something, calling out a company he described as the motherfracker. We don’t know the company or the quality of its management and accounting practices, but something about the presentation seemed over the top, particularly in the context of engineering and operating advances lowering production costs dramatically and fast. And that wasn’t the only investotainment featured on the program. No, not by a long shot. It’s a different world.

Paradigm shifts coming?

May 3rd, 2015

From Thomas Kuhn:

In a sense I am unable to explicate further, the proponents of competing paradigms practice their trades in different worlds…

The transfer of allegiance from paradigm to paradigm is a conversion experience that cannot be forced…

Darwin, in a particularly perceptive passage at the end of his Origin of Species, wrote: “Although I am fully convinced of the truth of the views given in this volume…I by no means expect to convince experienced naturalists whose minds are shocked with a multitude of facts all viewed, during a long course of years, from a point of view directly opposite to mine…but I look with confidence to the future, — to young and rising naturalists, who will be able to look at both sides of the question with impartiality.”

And Max Planck, surveying his own career in his Scientific Autobiography, sadly remarked that “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

(1) There’s the expensive silliness of CAGW, which China, India and much of the rest of the world won’t buy into, and the West can destroy itself if it wants. Will the young continue to go along with the foolish oldsters or will they eventually rebel? (2) How will the crisis of victocracy be settled? As an attitude, you’re either on the Mosby side or you’re not. There’s no middle ground, only doubling down. (Clarice notes an amusing tweet from Joan Walsh in that regard.) Make no mistake, this has to get settled, because we’re nearing the end of doubling down, as this sad piece illustrates. (3) And then there’s the longest war in history, dating back to a few years after 632. Things seem to be coming to a head there as well. Note in all cases which side our self-styled elites are on.

Fantasy Islands

May 2nd, 2015

A piece from the Pope’s science academy (gotta love the reference to Galileo, who was condemned 13 years after joining the group):

Human culture as we know it emerged through two great transformations, namely the Neolithic and the Industrial Revolution. The former was decisively favored by the exceptionally stable climatic conditions in the Holocene after the end of the last glacial period some 11,000 years ago. The development of agriculture, in turn, laid the foundation for rapid mechanization after 1750 that would not have happened, however, without the fortunate accessibility of fossil resources of exquisite energy density – mined in England first and on all continents later on. The overwhelming historic process of world-wide carbonization, which may be documented as the “c-story of humankind”, resulted not only in large-scale industrialization, but also helped to tap the immense human potential for creativity, discovery and progress for a better living.

It appears like a sheer success story at a first glance, and yet it is not an untroubled narrative. For this carbonization of the world led to a multitude of negative externalities (as the economists would call them), not least the potential destabilization of the benign Holocene climate through the significant alteration of atmospheric greenhouse gas levels. As the latest IPCC Assessment Report demonstrates, the global mean surface temperature could rise above pre-industrial values by more than 4°C by 2100 under a business-as-usual scenario (RCP 8.5, Meinshausen et al., 2011). As a consequence, our planet could be pushed into an uncomfortable realm, where many natural and cultural systems would be at risk of heavy stress, if not collapse.

Human culture? Ha Ha. And as someone who learned Latin at age 7, only to see them throw the baby out and keep that bathwater in 1965, we also recommend this book to everyone concerned. Also, and somewhat related, from Stratfor:

the Venezuelan government is planning a takeover of distribution networks belonging to Empresas Polar, the country’s largest private food production and distribution firm. Polar CEO Lorenzo Mendoza sent an open letter to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on April 30 saying the company was open to discussing Venezuela’s food supply problems as well as possible solutions. According to one report, the Venezuelan Food Ministry may be planning to seize Polar’s distribution networks, intending to redirect flows of food products to state-owned supermarkets, where such products are becoming increasingly scarce…

The scarcity of food and other products seriously affects the poorest segments of Venezuelan society, which have historically voted for the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela. The current food shortages have lasted several years, persisting in part because of price controls in the thriving black market and impacted by smuggling operations to Colombia. Public stores selling food at heavily discounted prices have experienced major shortages, and many Venezuelans have turned to the black market to buy provisions…

A month’s worth of food bought on the black market can be several times more expensive than supplies bought at a state-owned store. Rampant inflation continues to drive that differential up, which strains the ability of poor Venezuelans to purchase certain food items. This could hurt Maduro’s already low approval rating, which hovers between approximately 20 and 25 percent

Confused? Wretchard explained recently.

Mayday Mayday

May 1st, 2015

As they say, better to be thought a fool. Se we’ll bookmark this Mayday and review where we are in a year wrt the comprehensive, thorough and independent investigation in Baltimore. Gosh that was fast! Anyhow, like most people, we have some preliminary views, but they count for nothing. In a year, perhaps much will be clearer. BTW, we would like to know who is coordinating these sizeable evening events in places like Philadelphia and New York. When we go to a play, we like to know who wrote it and who the director is.