A tale of two cities, Godfather II, and more

December 18th, 2014

Hanoi, via Michael J. Totten:

Vietnam’s Communist Party figured out that communist economics were bankrupt even before the Berlin Wall fell, a mere ten years after winning the war and conquering the south, and in 1986 it implemented the reforms known as Doi Moi. Decades later, the result is an extraordinary explosion of new prosperity that nullifies nearly everything the party did and said when it first came to power…

Vietnam developed what some have called “street front capitalism” where microbusinesses proliferated. You’ll still see them all over Vietnam now. Women sell fresh produce and baked goods from baskets. Men grill meat and sell it to passersby who sit on little stools and eat at tiny tables right on the sidewalk. Everything you can imagine is sold from little stalls in the night markets.

Nowhere in the world have I seen so many boutiques, from cafes and pubs to clothing and electronics stores. I can’t say with this with certainty, but I suspect, due to the sheer number of Vietnamese involved in one kind of small business another, that more people in Vietnam understand the basics of business and capitalism than people in the United States. And that’s in the north, which still lags behind the south. “When the communist leadership decided in the mid-1980s to put Karl Marx and Adam Smith into a blender and see what came out,” David Lamb wrote…

When Vietnam was still economically Marxist it was one of the world’s poorest countries. “Ninety percent of the roads were unpaved; farmers in the most impoverished provinces got by on the equivalent of perhaps five dollars per month; nationally, bicycles outnumbered cars forty-to-one…Personal freedoms had vanished for all but the communist elite. Food was rationed. A pair of shoes was beyond the means of most families, unless they were prominent Party members”…

“The results of Doi Moi over the first eight or nine years were dazzling,” Lamb wrote. “The annual inflation rate fell to single digits from 700 percent. Farmers, freed from collectivization, transformed Vietnam from a rice importer into the world’s second-largest rice exporter after Thailand. The gross domestic product grew by nearly nine percent a year. Thirty-five thousand small businesses started up in the private sector.”

Havana, etc. via Michael J. Totten:

the waiter at the restaurant where I had lunch handed me a card indicating the establishment has a page up on Trip Advisor in case I felt like writing a review once I got home. The Internet scarcely exists in Cuba. It’s banned in private homes. No Cubans surf Trip Advisor when they wonder where they should go out to lunch. Who can afford to go out to lunch? The government imposes a Maximum Wage of twenty dollars a month.

These people have been crushed into poverty and are kept there by force. The restaurant is strictly for foreigners from nations with minimum wages rather than maximum wages. The staff have probably never seen their own Web site. And yet, they have 157 reviews. You might think, if you looked it up on the Internet, that eating out and vacationing in Cuba is no stranger than doing so in Puerto Rico or Aruba or anywhere else in the Caribbean. Yet Cuba is little different from East Germany when it was still cut off from West Berlin by the Wall…

Police officers pull over cars and search the trunk for meat, lobsters, and shrimp. They also search passenger bags on city busses in Havana. Dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez wrote about it sarcastically in her book, Havana Real. “Buses are stopped in the middle of the street and bags inspected to see if we are carrying some cheese, a lobster, or some dangerous shrimp hidden among our personal belongings.” If they find a side of beef in the trunk, so I’m told, you’ll go to prison for five years if you tell the police where you got it and ten years if you don’t…

Beef is reserved for the elite and those who get tips from tourists or remittances from abroad. A Cuban who kills a cow is supposedly in big trouble. “You’ll be charged with murder,” one person told me. I’m not sure what that means, exactly, and the closest I can come to verifying it is an article in The Economist published in 2008. “In a place that before 1959 boasted as many cattle as people, meat is such a scarce luxury that it is a crime to kill and eat a cow.” Another person told me that farmers will sometimes push a cow onto the road around a blind corner when they hear a car coming. That way the animal (though possibly also the driver) will be killed “naturally” and can be eaten without the threat of a prison sentence.

We have friends in South Florida whose families became refugees and whose small businesses were confiscated and destroyed by Castro and his thugs; we understand where Marco Rubio is coming from. However, it’s not obvious to us that flooding Cuba with US tourists and their connectivity demands, as well as some US investment, is a bad thing, even if it is proposed by the US branch of Hasta la Victoria Siempre LLC.

Is an alternate ending for Godfather II not possible? The Castros are now Batista. When Hyman Roth and Michael Corleone went to Havana in December of 1958, they had no idea that the Batista regime would fold the next month. Maybe tens of thousands of mini-Roths, and refugee relatives from Miami, New Jersey, etc. would make it easier for the current thugocracy to remain in power, but maybe not. Could a lot of new people and new money undermine a “maximum wage”? Police states appear often very strong until suddenly they’re not. Is there a Hanoi under the surface of Havana? And what becomes the next stage for Hanoi, BTW? We don’t have the answers to the questions above, but don’t predict stability in inherently unstable conditions.

Hey man, lighten up!!

December 17th, 2014

Elliott Abrams is getting all bent out of shape about Castro and Cuba and Iran and silly things like that. Hey man, lighten up. Leave a guy alone, especially when he’s just tryin’ to get his next job.

It’s all so much easier when the world we see is the world we want to see.

A little light reading

December 16th, 2014

Is it just us, or does VDH seem to be writing the same column over and over again? Meanwhile another good piece on Burnham. Over and out!

Promotion, flagellation — lather, rinse, repeat

December 15th, 2014

SMH:

How should we feel for the perpetrator so far witnessed and his family? While we do not know his story or his motivation, we know he was once someone just like those people whose lives he has now treated with such disdain. He must have loved ones, too. Forgiving him will be very difficult, and it will take time. Without forgiveness, though, we have to live with destructive hate. The next test is to ensure we see this sad event for what it is – and what it is not. While there were a number of instances on Monday when Sydneysiders and the media jumped to conclusions about the link between this event and other incidents around the city, in most cases people were rightfully reluctant to jump to conclusions about the motivations of the gunman or the extent of his plans. Nonetheless, a temptation lingers in the community to catastrophise about such criminal behaviour; to believe that because we have endured one siege from at least one deranged individual, we are at risk of many more. Rationally, that is highly unlikely. The Martin Place siege may well be an isolated criminal action in a city whose crime rate has fallen for the first time in decades. A very small minority of people feel compelled to commit acts of deplorable violence, whether they be linked to terrorist groups or drugs syndicates

We wondered what was up with the instantaneous worldwide promotion of a criminal event in far away Sydney. The answer of course is that the gaudy coverage is good for ratings, but in our unprecedented Age of Foolishness, you have to be seen as pretending that things are not as obvious as they really are.

Everything old is new again….and worse

December 14th, 2014

Some commentary on an old thing:

I was a clerk/typist for the US Navy at the Naval Underwater Systems Center (NUSC) in Newport RI for my summer job in 1971 when I was in college. I note the following with regard to the Killian memos:

1) Tom Mortensen is absolutely correct. Variable type was used only for special printing jobs, like official pamphlets. These documents are forgeries, and not even good ones. Someone could have at least found an old pre-Selectric IBM (introduced around 1962). Actually, I believe we were using IBM Model C’s at the time, which was the precursor to the Selectric.

2) I also used a Variype machine in 1971. I fooled around with it in my spare time. It was incredibly difficult to set up and use. It was also extremely hard to correct mistakes on the machine. Most small letters used two spaces. Capital letters generally used three spaces. I think letters like “i” may have used one space. Anyway, you can see that this type of machine was piloted by an expert, and it would NEVER be used for a routine memo. A Lt. Colonel would not be able to identify a Varitype machine, let alone use it.

3) US Navy paper at the time was not 8 1/2 x 11. It was 8 x 10 1/2. I believe this was the same throughout the military, but someone will have to check on that. This should show up in the Xeroxing, which should have lines running along the sides of the Xerox copy.

4) I am amused by the way “147 th Ftr.Intrcp Gp.” appears in the August 1, 1972 document. It may have been written that way in non-forged documents, but as somone who worked for ComCruDesLant, I know the military liked to bunch things together. I find “147 th” suspicious looking. 147th looks better to me, but the problem with Microsoft Word is that it keeps turning the “th” tiny if it is connected to a number like 147. And finally……

5) Finally: I had neglected even to look at the August 18, 1973 memo to file. This forger was a fool. This fake document actually does have the tiny “th” in “187th” and there is simply no way this could have occurred in 1973. There are no keys on any typewriter in common use in 1973 which could produce a tiny “th.” The forger got careless after creating the August 1, 1972 document and slipped up big-time.

In summary, the variable type reveals the Killian memos to be crude forgeries, the tiny “th” confirms it in the 8/18/73 memo, and I offer my other points as icing on the cake.

The Rathergate memos were fakes of course, pathetic fakes at that (but accurate?). And now pretty much everything is worse now. The mildly amusing now creates a hostile environment for the sissies in so-called higher education. As the worthies of the day say: “To let fact-checking define the narrative would be a huge mistake.” We’re going down the tubes, as Spengler and Steyn note. Here’s a tip for starters: fire any university professor or president who says things like this: “I want you to know that I have heard you, and that your words have enkindled this message.” (HT’s: PL, CF, HC)

Is it April?

December 13th, 2014

This is a bit hard to believe.

One thing leads to another, sometimes in strange ways — Fibonacci???

December 12th, 2014

From an E&P CEO:

the Saudis want to chill investment in new oil supply to help protect OPEC’s future. In round numbers we have had about 5 MBOPD increase in world oil demand over the last 5 or 6 years. Over the same time period US oil production has grown from nearly 4 MBOPD (from 5 to 9 MBOPD) — 80% of the increase in WORLD demand!

This is NOT good for OPEC. I suspect that we will have ugly oil prices ($60 – $75) for around a year as that is long enough to stop many current oil supply investments and, more importantly, serve to chill the appetite for future large investments in oil supply growth (deep water, arctic, marginal shale, marginal tar sands, etc) which is the Saudi goal in my opinion. I do not believe that the current price ($65) is a sustainable price going forward. It would not encourage enough new supply

This seems plausible enough, and if true, might have seemed even elegant in the planning, since it kills or wounds three birds with one stone (Iran needs $136 oil to balance its budget, Russia $100). But that was then and this is now, and things seem to have spun out of control. All of which led us to Cramer’s discussion of what the charts are telling us about the future price of oil.

Suddenly a word appeared that we had not heard in a long time — Cramer said that trading often forms Fibonacci sequences. Fibonacci? Huh? Suddenly it’s everywhere. We couldn’t find our copy of Vincent Scully’s book, but sure enough, the Golden ratio is right there at the Parthenon. Jeepers. (Ancient Greeks? — watch out AS!)

Something worth reading

December 11th, 2014

What movies do you like? Blah Blah Blah fired! Too many laws, yes we know. Eating Goober peas, or something. And finally, something worthwhile from the BBC of all places on the lovely people out and about in the world.

We weren’t kidding about 1970

December 10th, 2014

YAM documents our quote from the other day:

David Hilliard took the podium before 4,500 to 5,000 students in Ingalls Rink and proceeded to advocate murdering cops: “Everybody knows that pigs are depraved traducers that violate the lives of human beings, and that there ain’t nothing wrong with taking the life of a motherfucking pig.” The audience started booing. Hilliard called them racists and dared anyone to come up front and stab or shoot him…a light-skinned man—later found to be a harmless Lebanese architecture student with mental problems—stumbled toward the stage, Hilliard’s Panther bodyguards tore into him with kicks and punches. The crowd started booing again. Hilliard left the stage with a parting message to the Yalies: “Fuck you! All power to all those except those who want to act like a bunch of goddamn racists”…

“Not only will we burn buildings,” Hilliard vowed, “we will take lives.” He implored the white students to join the effort. “If you want to break windows, if you want to kill a pig, if you want to burn the courthouse, you would be moving against the symbols of oppression.”

The most amazing thing about May Day is that the faculty essentially voted for a student strike. Classes were cancelled and exams became somewhat optional (pass/fail). Sound familiar? Roger Kimball has some thoughts.

If only there were a draft, it’d be 1970 all over again

December 9th, 2014

As we heard at Ingalls rink in 1970: “you got to seize the time, you got to follow that pig, and when the time is right, you off that pig, you know what I mean, you kill that pig.” Actual quote. Ah, college life!

Numbers, as if they mattered

December 8th, 2014

We won’t go through the numbers, which everyone with a brain to know already knows. Jack Kelly does the heavy lifting on this farce. Meanwhile, Carl Cannon asks a question regarding journalistic practice and malpractice which we paraphrase thusly: hasn’t Erdely watched even one of the 350 episodes of SVU? Finally, Heather MacDonald explains that it’s back to the future in Fun City, at least for a while.

Their trajectory and ours

December 7th, 2014

On our flight to Hong Kong today, there was no internet, so what’s today’s American going to do? Read? Pshaw! We watched TV. One show was called Shades of Life, the Winter’s Fairy-tale episode. It’s a Horatio Alger story of a guy with a very tough childhood becoming a successful entrepreneur. He sure knows how to clean a toilet and polish an office; fortunately his wife (whose family seems to hate this guy at first) knows ppt and accounting and through pluck and luck and a number of bad rejections and false starts he creates a big building maintenance company. We also watched the film Two States. It’s about an MBA guy from Delhi and an MBA girl from Chennai who want to get married, but his Punjabi family can’t stand her Tamil Brahmin family and vice versa. They’re both intractable, and most of the film is about how to create enough peace so that there can be a wedding. At the end, enough problems are resolved so that an extraordinarily elaborate wedding takes place, and the flash forward at the end is about playing with the beautiful babies. (There were other entertainments that covered similar ground to these two productions.)

What struck us is that the TV show and the movie were, among other things, sermons; that’s a little strong but you catch the drift. The point of the Hong Kong story is that: life’s tough, and if you want to succeed, suck it up and keep trying. Indeed, at one point, the young wife, after yet another setback for hubby, actually says in English “Tomorrow is Another Day.” Hard to miss the point of that! The happy ending involves riches and a fabulous home and grounds. As for the Indian movie, well forget Murphy Brown — these guys refuse to even elope. The family issues absolutely have to be ironed out and there will be no wedding until that happens, and the notion that there might be kids on the side simply does not exist.

In contemporary America, would we be likely to often see a Horatio Alger story without a Hollywood sneer at an ending such as this one has? And as for the Indian movie, first click the Murphy Brown link above and let’s talk. 40-80% illegitimacy rates are insane because they lead to gangs, youth crime and violence for the boys and different but comparable disasters for the girls. But if you’ve watched CNN lately, it’s unlikely you’ve seen these important issues discussed. Much safer for one and all to wallow in the fetid swamps of victimhood than deal with the profound problem which is driving a stake into the heart of both personal and political self-governance.

It’s easy to imagine plentiful American versions of the Hong Kong and Indian shows in US theaters as well as prime time radio and TV 50-75 years ago. Are they still around much today? There’s more than one reason for that of course, and they doesn’t bode well for the future.

Perfection!

December 6th, 2014

Just the other day we noted Wretchard’s comment that American politics has become radically divided in two, in part due to an almost psychotic media-reality split, and voilà, we’ve found a glittering gemstone. Consider this magnificent tune. We’d wager that most of its apparent target audience would find it either irrelevant or offensive, while we can easily imagine a conference room of media consultants recommending it with straight faces. Media-reality split. But wait, there’s more!

It’s hard to know whether this Rolling Stone piece on the song is meant as a positive description or subversion. Subversion would be our guess. It’s easy to imagine the high-paid media consultants chortling as they thought: wait til Elizabeth Warren’s people get a load of this. But then again, it’s just as easy to see the consultants thinking that the rubes will really go for this — or maybe both thoughts at the same time. Whatever. We just hope everyone got a good payday out of this masterwork, particularly the graphics guy who helpfully inserted the word ‘cuz at three minutes into the song.

For future reference

December 5th, 2014

The New New Republic announces a restructuring and, without apparent irony, calls the departing editor “the beating heart of this brand”:

we are re-imagining The New Republic as a vertically integrated digital media company. Gabriel is ideally suited to bridge traditional journalism and digital media. He is committed – as am I – to The New Republic’s mission of impact, influence and persuasion, but understands that fulfilling that mission in today’s media landscape requires new forms.

He truly reflects the “straddle generation” of journalists and editors who remain deeply rooted in the qualities of traditional journalism – having worked with brands such as the New York Observer and The Atlantic – but also understands what it takes to create content that will travel across all platforms. We believe he is the right person to help us to maintain the core DNA of The New Republic, while propelling us forward…

we will be making significant investments in creating a more effective and efficient newsroom as well as improved products across all platforms. This will require a recalibration of our resources in order to deliver the best product possible. In order to do so, we’ve made the decision to reduce the frequency of our print publication from 20 to 10 issues a year and will be making improvements to the magazine itself. Given the frequency reduction, we will also be making some changes to staff structure.

Maybe things will work out for the 30 year old who bought the magazine 2 years ago. Stranger things have happened we suppose. Certainly the writing style and word selection of the “straddle generation” make a strong impact.

All of this reminds us of the so-called Twitter Revolution, which worked out so well as you recall. We’ll watch and see what happens in this case. Tick. Tick. Tick.

UPDATE: Tock. Well, that didn’t take long!

Been there, done that

December 4th, 2014

Marketwatch (slightly edited):

It’s official: America is now No. 2…China will this year produce $17.6 trillion — compared with $17.4 trillion for the U.S.A. As recently as 2000, we produced nearly three times as much as the Chinese. To put the numbers slightly differently, China now accounts for 16.5% of the global economy when measured in terms of purchasing-power parity (PPP)

PPP? Where have we seen that before? Ah yes, we considered it at length a decade ago. (China has grown spectacularly in the last decade of course, but PPP is a little exaggerated compared to other measures.)

PS: doesn’t the reporter seem kind of happy about the story and headline?

What’s the end game for the theater?

December 3rd, 2014

Wretchard says American politics has seemed to split in two, and it’s hard to argue with that. Right now the mobile cameras of CNN are cruising the streets of NYC with seemingly thousands of people in what appear to be highly organized protests. The CNN commentary is exactly what you’d expect. It’s the narrative at work that we were talking about the other day. Obviously the merits of each of these incidents will vary all over the place, but it seems like a sure thing, unless the ratings drop into the toilet, that a new and long-running reality TV show has been born. Our question is: what’s the end game? Unless the country has really lost its marbles, a new policy of police-duck-and-cover and crooks-do-what-you-want cannot end well for its proponents. Insane policies have a history of not ending well. So what’s the end game here after incident 50 or 75?

Update: media insanity unbounded.

Stranger and Stranger Still

December 2nd, 2014

We recall the big fraud that Duke Lacrosse turned out to be. More and more we see stories where narrative seems to be the most important feature of the piece. Bret Stephens has a meditation on more recent stories, and Tom Maguire has lots more on the UVa story. For our part, we note the weirdness of it all — the narrative has taken on a strange religious quality that demands fealty. But it also seems very brittle. What the heck is going on?

Madness of various sorts

December 1st, 2014

ZH:

total outstanding US public debt just hit a new historic level which probably would be better associated with a red color: as of the last work day of November, total US public debt just surpassed $18 trillion for the first time, or $18,005,549,328,561.45 to be precise, of which debt held by the public rose to $12,922,681,725,432.94… total US debt to nominal GDP as of Sept 30, which was $17.555 trillion, is now 103%.

If you think that’s bad, get a load of this.

Incredible

November 30th, 2014

Bloomberg:

“If the governments aren’t able to spend to keep the kids off the streets they will go back to the streets, and we could start to see political disruption and upheaval,” said Paul Stevens, distinguished fellow for energy, environment and resources at Chatham House in London, a U.K. policy group. “The majority of members of OPEC need well over $100 a barrel to balance their budgets. If they start cutting expenditure, this is likely to cause problems.”

Oil has dropped 37 percent this year and, in theory, production can continue to flow until prices fall below the day-to-day costs at existing wells. Stevens said some U.S. shale producers may break even at $40 a barrel or less. The International Energy Agency estimates most drilling in the Bakken formation — the shale producers that OPEC seeks to drive out of business — return cash at $42 a barrel.

“Right now we’re seeing a price shock coming out of the meeting and it will be a couple of weeks until we see where the price really falls,” said Yergin. Officials “have to figure out where the new price range is, and that’s the drama that’s going to play out in the weeks ahead.” Brent crude finished last week around $70, and New York oil near $66. Brent is now at its lowest since the financial crisis — when it bottomed around $36.

Fadel Gheit: “fracking is like a virus and it’s going to proliferate and it will eventually spread even to Russia and Saudi Arabia.” Shale, it’s the future. Wow.

Never say never

November 29th, 2014

2000:

An embarrassed US Airways is promising it will never again allow barnyard animals onto its flights after a 300-pound hog accompanied 200 human passengers on a six-hour flight from Philadelphia to Seattle on Oct. 17…Sources familiar with the incident told the Philadelphia Daily News for Friday’s editions that the pig’s owners convinced the airline that the animal was a “therapeutic companion pet,” like a guide dog for the blind.

The pig was traveling with two unidentified women, one in her 30s, the other a senior citizen. An internal US Airways incident report said the owners claimed they had a doctor’s note that allowed them to fly with the animal.

US Airways and Federal Aviation Administration rules allow passengers to fly with service animals. “According to Philadelphia agent who talked to passenger over phone … passenger described pig as being 13 pounds, so based on this info, authorization was given,” the report stated. Passengers on the flight told the Daily News the pig actually weighed several hundred pounds.

The pig, which spent the flight in the first row of first class, went ape when the aircraft taxied into Seattle, according to the report. It reportedly ran loose through the aircraft, squealing loudly, and even tried to enter the cockpit. “Many people on board the aircraft were quite upset that there was a large uncontrollable pig on board, especially those in the first-class cabin,” the incident report stated.

The pig made it off the plane but continued to squeal in the Seattle airport. “Once the pig was off aircraft, another passenger had to push while the two women pulled to get it in the elevator. The whole time, the pig was squealing so loudly everyone in the terminal heard it,” according to the report…

“We can confirm that the pig traveled, and we can confirm that it will never happen again,” US Airways spokesman David Castelveter said. “Let me stress that. It will never happen again.”

Oh yeah? 2014:

Jonathan Skolnik, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a passenger on the flight, told ABC News today he thought the woman with the pig was carrying a duffel bag when she got on the plane and headed straight for the empty seat next to him. “But it turns out it wasn’t a duffel bag. We could smell it and it was a pig on a leash,” he said. “She tethered it to the arm rest next to me and started to deal with her stuff, but the pig was walking back and forth. I was terrified, because I was thinking I’m gonna be on the plane with the pig,” Snolnik added, saying he guesses the pig weighed between 50 and 70 pounds…American Airlines, the parent company of US Airways, confirmed to ABC News that a passenger brought the pig aboard as an emotional support animal.

Picture of 2014 pig here. 2000 NYT story headline: Pig Had Right to Fly First Class, F.A.A. Says.

So things have not improved in the last 14 years, so what? So this: we never imagined, even in the choom-smog on the Old Campus with Allen Ginsburg reciting Howl in 1970 that someday the SDS would be running the country. Imagine that.