Progress

February 8th, 2015

You can read Ruth Marcus’s column in a negative way if you like. We don’t. (For perspective, here’s Jonah Goldberg on the other side.) Marcus’s column means that comparative religion and comparative violence are now legitimate subjects in places like the WaPo newsroom and editorial offices. Fine. It means we’re all finally past the time of George Bush’s inanity of 9/17/01. That’s progress.

Bill Evans

February 6th, 2015

Good piece on Bill Evans in the WSJ by Doug Ramsey. He’s been dead for 35 years? Who knew? We saw Bill Evans at a club, somewhere on lower Broadway if memory serves. It was probably in 1976 or 1977. He asked for requests at some point and we suggested Never Let Me Go. He said he never performed that outside of the studio session that appeared on Alone. We have no idea if that’s true.

The point is that he believed it

February 5th, 2015

Peace for our time:

I want to thank the British people for what they have done and next I want to say that the settlement of the Czechoslovakian problem which has now been achieved, is in my view only the prelude to a larger settlement in which all Europe may find peace. This morning I had another talk with the German Chancellor Herr Hitler, and here is the paper which bears his name upon it, as well as mine. Some of you perhaps have already heard what it contains, but I would just like to read it to you. We the German Fuehrer and Chancellor and the British Prime Minister have had a further meeting today, and I agree in recognising that the question of Anglo-German relations is of the first importance for the two countries and for Europe. We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German naval agreement as symbolic of the desire of our two countries never to go to war with one another again. We are resolved that the method of consultation shall be the method adopted to deal with any other questions that may concern our two countries and we are determined to continue out efforts to remove possible sources of difference and thus to contribute to assure the peace of Europe…My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Go home and get a nice quiet sleep

VDH

The appeasing party is not always the weaker one. In 1938, Combined British and French military power was greater than that of the Third Reich. President Jimmy Carter had far more military options than did the Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran during the 1979-80 hostage crisis. Instead, stronger democratic nations feel that they can continue to enjoy short-term calm and peace of mind — and let others worry about any long-term likelihood of aggression. Maybe by treating jihad, terrorism and radical Islam as taboo words, radical Muslim terrorists will respond and become less threatening. In truth, appeasement, not deterrence, is the more reckless path. With serial concessions, democratic leaders convince aggressors that they must be stronger than they actually are.

It was only 11 months after Chamberlain spoke those words that WWII began. 11 months! He clearly believed what he was saying and less than a year later WWII began. Remind you of anyone or anything?

Very unusual, and so forth

February 4th, 2015

Strong words from the Gallup CEO on the ridicuoulsly low labor force participation rate. Guy’s not with the program. What’s up with that? And the UN reports more horror from ISIS. Finally, China cut reserve requirements. That’s it. Things along the line of the UN report are so awful that words fail.

Mumps, measles, chicken pox, polio, and other diseases

February 3rd, 2015

LAT:

Gunmen shot and killed four health workers carrying out a polio vaccination drive Wednesday in the capital of Pakistan’s restive Baluchistan province, police officials said. The deadly shooting was the latest to target polio workers — whom Islamist militants accuse of conducting espionage in the guise of vaccination campaigns — in Pakistan, one of three countries where the disease has not been eradicated…Workers administering oral polio drops to the children are frequently attacked across Pakistan, particularly in Baluchistan, the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the port city of Karachi and the northeastern tribal areas. Gunmen shot at a polio worker outside Peshawar on Monday when he was visiting houses to administer the vaccine. Jamaat ul Ahrar, a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack. The group later released a “policy statement” on polio saying that the vaccine is “dangerous to health and against Islam.”

AS:

it is absolutely true that I reject a notion that somehow that creates a religious war because the overwhelming majority of Muslims reject that interpretation of Islam. They don’t even recognize it as being Islam, and I think that for us to be successful in fighting this scourge, it’s very important for us to align ourselves with the 99.9 percent of Muslims who are looking for the same thing we’re looking for — order, peace, prosperity.

So vaccines are now controversial in the US as well as Pakistan? People are freaking out over 100 cases of measles? What a world! As a veteran of mumps, measles, chicken pox, German measles and similar things, our recollection is that they were no big deal, a few days off from school. We understand that there are rare acute problems, but those are the exception. Contrast that with polio, a devastating disease all of the time. The quality of a society can be measured by how well it deals with deadly or debilitating diseases. So far the US is not doing well.

Bonus fun: the cheap (and highly profitable) correlation between CO2 increases and a couple of degrees F is having significant problems. We need more witch doctors for more new things to frighten the great unwashed.

Odds and ends

February 2nd, 2015

What day is it today? Oh, yeah. Scroll down for the final Jeopardy answer. Bjorn Lomborg talks some common sense. And finally, talk about a halftime show!

Lots of roads diverged in the yellow wood

February 1st, 2015

We came across this book recommendation while reading an interesting piece by a certain James Long. Here’s the PCL-R test that goes along with the piece. Fascinating; we may actually know one or two of these birds — it’s a very distressing thing! Anyhow, that’s the reading for today.

(Alternative reading: (a) everyone is angrier than ever and this can’t end well; and (b) it’s just so tedious to go over the same obvious things again and again.)

Game changer?

January 31st, 2015

In our view, Microsoft hasn’t had a good idea since Office 97. Now we hear from Leo Laporte that tech reviewers whom he trusts say that HoloLens is great. Here’s some more info from Vox and Forbes and HBR. We don’t get it quite yet, but give us time. More interesting to think about than the low lifes stinking up the country.

More bad news for the euro?

January 30th, 2015

We discussed the comments of the ECB head earlier. We weren’t the only ones who noticed. Reuters:

Italy should consider leaving the single currency and reintroducing the lira, Welfare Minister Roberto Maroni said in a newspaper interview on Friday. Maroni, a member of the euro-skeptical Northern League party, told the Repubblica daily Italy should hold a referendum to decide whether to return to the lira, at least temporarily. He also said European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet was one of those chiefly responsible for the “disaster of the euro.”

The euro “has proved inadequate in the face of the economic slowdown, the loss of competitiveness and the job crisis,” Maroni said. In this situation, the answer is to give the government greater power to defend national industry from foreign competition and “to give control over the exchange rate back to the government.”

The euro is crumbling faster than anyone thought. Oh, wait, the story above is 10 years old. Sorry, we’re just trying to be funny; actually we do think the euro is toast.

For another good laugh, check out Wretchard today. Ummm, maybe not so funny.

Another series of impressively depressing writings

January 29th, 2015

WRM. VDH. Spectator. Had enough?

Fast

January 28th, 2015

Reuters

The company sold 74.5 million iPhones in its fiscal first quarter ended Dec. 27, while many analysts had expected fewer than 70 million. Revenue rose to $74.6 billion from $57.6 billion a year earlier.

Profit of $18 billion was the biggest ever reported by a public company, worldwide, according to S&P analyst Howard Silverblatt. Apple’s cash pile is now $178 billion, enough to buy IBM or the equivalent to $556 for every American.

Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook said the Cupertino, California-based company would release its next product, the Apple Watch, in April.

The iPhone did not exist a decade ago. We wonder if official measures of productivity are way off today, much less than is actually happening. The instantaneousness of everything has its large downsides, but we think that historians may find that this current period of economic downturn and dislocation would have been far worse without the vast power and speed of these tiny talking computers.

Of course productivity is roughly defined as an increase in output when inputs remain constant. Most of the uses of the tiny computers in supply chain reductions, energy conservation and optimization, shorter and more accurate decision algorithms, etc. have yet to be discovered or implemented. Therefore, even with the ridiculousness of loons at the EPA etc., the economy might actually do well.

The 24 hour and 50 year forecasts predict catastrophe!!!

January 27th, 2015

HuffPo:

forecasters have projected a record snowstorm for the Northeast in the coming hours, which isn’t exactly the sort of thing that makes people think about global warming. But in declaring a state of emergency on Monday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) noted that this type of monster storm is “part of the changing climate.”

“I’ve only been governor four years. I believe I’ve gone through more emergency disasters in four years than any governor in history has gone through,” said Cuomo. “There is a pattern of extreme weather that we have never seen before.” Cuomo cited Superstorm Sandy in 2012, which hit New York and New Jersey particularly hard, as well as the 7 feet of snow that fell on Buffalo this past November. “It’s something we have to adjust to, it’s something that’s very costly, and it’s also something that’s very dangerous,” said the governor.

Climate change deniers are gonna deny, but there is increasing evidence that ties atmospheric warming trends to heavier snowfall events.

It’s the argon dammit!!! The argon that’s the problem. All our problems will be over (except for some tiny ones) if we can just get rid of the argon.

Glavin!

January 26th, 2015

We’re not taking sides on this, but we did enjoy the sheer nerdiness of this piece.

The way some people talked 95 years ago

January 25th, 2015

From someone in 1920:

Some people like Jews and some do not; but no thoughtful man can doubt the fact that they are beyond all question the most formidable and the most remarkable race which has ever appeared in the world. Disraeli, the Jew Prime Minister of England, and Leader of the Conservative Party, who was always true to his race and proud of his origin, said on a well-known occasion: “The Lord deals with the nations as the nations deal with the Jews.” Certainly when we look at the miserable state of Russia, where of all countries in the world the Jews were the most cruelly treated, and contrast it with the fortunes of our own country, which seems to have been so providentially preserved amid the awful perils of these times, we must admit that nothing that has since happened in the history of the world has falsified the truth of Disraeli’s confident assertion.

The conflict between good and evil which proceeds unceasingly in the breast of man nowhere reaches such an intensity as in the Jewish race. The dual nature of mankind is nowhere more strongly or more terribly exemplified. We owe to the Jews in the Christian revelation a system of ethics which, even if it were entirely separated from the supernatural, would be incomparably the most precious possession of mankind, worth in fact the fruits of all other wisdom and learning put together. On that system and by that faith there has been built out of the wreck of the Roman Empire the whole of our existing civilization.

And it may well be that this same astounding race may at the present time be in the actual process of producing another system of morals and philosophy, as malevolent as Christianity was benevolent, which, if not arrested, would shatter irretrievably all that Christianity has rendered possible. It would almost seem as if the gospel of Christ and the gospel of Antichrist were destined to originate among the same people; and that this mystic and mysterious race had been chosen for the supreme manifestations, both of the divine and the diabolical.

There can be no greater mistake than to attribute to each individual a recognizable share in the qualities which make up the national character. There are all sorts of men — good, bad and, for the most part, indifferent — in every country, and in every race. Nothing is more wrong than to deny to an individual, on account of race or origin, his right to be judged on his personal merits and conduct. In a people of peculiar genius like the Jews, contrasts are more vivid, the extremes are more widely separated, the resulting consequences are more decisive.

At the present fateful period there are three main lines of political conception among the Jews. two of which are helpful and hopeful in a very high degree to humanity, and the third absolutely destructive.

First there are the Jews who, dwelling in every country throughout the world, identify themselves with that country, enter into its national life and, while adhering faithfully to their own religion, regard themselves as citizens in the fullest sense of the State which has received them. Such a Jew living in England would say, “I am an English man practising the Jewish faith.” This is a worthy conception, and useful in the highest degree. We in Great Britain well know that during the great struggle the influence of what may be called the “National Jews” in many lands was cast preponderatingly on the side of the Allies; and in our own Army Jewish soldiers have played a most distinguished part, some rising to the command of armies, others winning the Victoria Cross for valour.

The National Russian Jews, in spite of the disabilities under which they have suffered, have managed to play an honorable and useful part in the national life even of Russia. As bankers and industrialists they have strenuously promoted the development of Russia’s economic resources, and they were foremost in the creation of those remarkable organizations, the Russian Co-operative Societies. In politics their support has been given, for the most part, to liberal and progressive movements, and they have been among the staunchest upholder of friendship with France and Great Britain.

In violent opposition to all this sphere of Jewish effort rise the schemes of the International Jews. The adherents of this sinister confederacy are mostly men reared up among the unhappy populations of countries where Jews are persecuted on account of their race. Most, if not all, of them have forsaken the faith of their forefathers, and divorced from their minds all spiritual hopes of the next world. This movement among the Jews is not new. From the days of Spartacus-Weishaupt to those of Karl Marx, and down to Trotsky (Russia), Bela Kun (Hungary), Rosa Luxembourg (Germany), and Emma Goldman (United States), this world-wide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilization and for the reconstitution of society on the basis of arrested development, of envious malevolence, and impossible equality, has been steadily growing.

Did you guess who? We had been unaware of this writing until Scott Johnson pointed it out.

Chill out

January 24th, 2015

The problem with consultants:

As he considers a third presidential campaign, Mitt Romney said Wednesday night that one of the country’s biggest challenges is climate change and that global solutions are needed to combat it. “I’m one of those Republicans who thinks we are getting warmer and that we contribute to that,” he said.

Argon, dammit! But it’s all too complicated, and the media, and the low infos, etc., so just go with the flow. Consultants, Grrr!

On the lighter side, an episode of Dick van Dyke had J. Pat O’Malley, and brother, did that guy work for a living. (Speaking of living, the ads on the program tell the viewer that he is seriously in the wrong demographic. Grrr again!)

Today’s depressing news

January 23rd, 2015

Krauthammer:

For the Saudis and the other Gulf Arabs, this is a nightmare. They’re engaged in a titanic regional struggle with Iran. And they are losing — losing Yemen, losing Lebanon, losing Syria, and watching post-U.S.-withdrawal Iraq come under increasing Iranian domination. The nightmare would be hugely compounded by Iran going nuclear. The Saudis were already stupefied that the U.S. conducted secret negotiations with Tehran behind their backs. And they can see where the current talks are headed

Now look at this chart, and remember how old the hostilities are. Is there any way for this to end well?

EQ test

January 22nd, 2015

George Friedman:

The plan is an attempt to spur economic activity in Europe by increasing the amount of money available. It calls for governments to increase their borrowing for various projects designed to increase growth and decrease unemployment. Rather than selling the bonds on the open market, a move that would trigger a rise in interest rates, the bonds are sold to the central banks of eurozone member states, which have the ability to print new money. The money is then sent to the treasury. With more money flowing through the system, recessions driven by a lack of capital are relieved. This is why the measure is called quantitative easing.

The United States did this in 2008. In addition to government debt, the Federal Reserve also bought corporate debt. The hyperinflation that some had feared would result from the move never materialized, and the U.S. economy hit a 5 percent growth rate in the third quarter of last year. The Europeans chose not to pursue this route, and as a result, the European economy is, at best, languishing. Now the Europeans will begin such a program – several years after the Americans did – in the hopes of moving things forward again.

The European strategy is vitally different, however. The Federal Reserve printed the money and bought the cash. The European Central Bank will also print the money, but each eurozone country’s individual national bank will do the purchasing, and each will be allowed only to buy the debt of its own government. The reason for this decision reveals much about Europe’s real crisis, which is not so much economic (although it is certainly economic) as it is political and social – and ultimately cultural and moral.

The recent leaks have made it clear the European Central Bank is implementing quantitative easing in this way because many eurozone governments are unable to pay their sovereign debt. European countries do not want to cover each other’s shortfalls, either directly or by exposing the central bank to losses, a move that would make all members liable. In particular, Berlin does not want to be in a position where a series of defaults could cripple Europe as a whole and therefore cripple Germany. This is why the country has resisted quantitative easing, even in the face of depressions in Southern Europe, recessions elsewhere and contractions in demand for German products that have driven German economic growth downward. Berlin preferred those outcomes to the risk of becoming liable for the defaults of other countries.

The major negotiation over this shift took place between European Central Bank head Mario Draghi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Draghi realized that if quantitative easing was not done, Europe’s economy could crumble. While Merkel is responsible for the fate of Germany, not Europe, she also needs a viable free trade zone in Europe because Germany exports more than 50 percent of its gross domestic product. The country cannot stand to lose free access to Europe’s markets because of plunging demand, but it will not underwrite Europe’s debt. The two leaders compromised by agreeing to have the central bank print the money and give it to the national banks on a formula that has yet to be determined – and then it is every man for himself.

The European Central Bank is providing the mechanism for stimulating Europe’s economy, while the eurozone member states will assume the responsibility for stimulating it – and living with the consequences of failure. It is as if the Federal Reserve were to print money and give some to each state so that New York could buy its own debt and not become exposed to California’s casual ways.

Economist:

When the European Central Bank’s (ECB) governing council meets on January 22nd, it will take a historic decision. Among the main central banks, the ECB alone has abstained from a big programme of quantitative easing involving the creation of money to buy sovereign bonds with the aim of spurring growth and inflation. The economic case for QE in the euro area is overwhelming: the feeble economic recovery that has followed Europe’s double-dip recession is faltering; headline inflation has turned negative and longer-term inflation expectations have also declined to a worrying extent. Mario Draghi, the ECB’s president, seems determined to adopt QE in some form, but he will have to compromise on the way that the risks are shared among the euro-zone national central banks in order to get the policy through.

Insiders expect a programme of sovereign-bond purchases of around €500 billion ($580 billion) to be announced on Thursday. Anything less would be likely to disappoint markets that have already been anticipating a move by the ECB to adopt QE, causing, for example, the euro to weaken. The need to purchase government bonds arises from the scale with which the ECB needs to intervene. The central bank wants to raise the balance-sheet of the Eurosystem (the ECB along with the euro zone’s 19 national central banks) from €2.2 trillion to €3 trillion. Since late last year it has been conducting a form of QE by buying private assets, mainly covered bonds, a particularly safe form of debt issued by banks, and also some asset-backed securities. Such purchases may reach around €200 billion over a year. But the amount of eligible and available covered bonds, of around €1 trillion, is dwarfed by the value of sovereign bonds, of over €6 trillion. At one time it seemed that the ECB might buy conventional corporate bonds, but it seems to have decided that the market is too illiquid for it to operate in at scale.

But a big bond-buying programme is tricky in a monetary union where there is not one federal government but 19 national ones, of widely varying creditworthiness, ranging from triple-A for Germany’s to junk for Greece’s. The indications are that Mr Draghi will have to bow to stipulations set by Jens Weidmann, head of the German Bundesbank, if he is to get QE approved. Most notably, purchases of sovereign debt will not be made under the usual risk-sharing arrangements at the ECB, whereby the 19 national central banks of the euro zone share any losses in rough proportion to the size of their economies. The Bundesbank would normally expect to shoulder a quarter of any losses incurred by the ECB. But in this instance, each central bank is likely to be largely responsible for buying the bonds of its own country and will have to bear any losses on them on its own.

That is a good deal for the Bundesbank, because German bonds are so safe. But it marks a big break in precedent and will be seen as unsatisfactory by many members of the governing council. The compromise is necessary because on this occasion Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, is backing Mr Weidmann. That is in sharp contrast with the previous clash between Mr Weidmann and Mr Draghi, in 2012, over the (unused) policy of “outright monetary transactions”, a conditional commitment to buy bonds of countries under siege in the markets, which gave teeth to Mr Draghi’s pledge to do “whatever it takes” to save the euro. Mrs Merkel fears that QE will allow laggard governments, including those of Italy and France, to further delay indispensable structural reforms. The chancellor also worries that purchases made through the usual risk-sharing approach would in effect create by the backdoor “Eurobonds”, jointly issued bonds with the risk mutually shared among member states, to which she is strongly opposed.

Some way will also have to be found to deal with the problem of Greece, which in elections on January 25th may choose a new government that seeks some form of debt relief and tries to backtrack on reforms. One possible solution might be to stipulate that junk-rated sovereign bonds will be bought only if the country concerned is abiding by the terms of a euro-zone bail-out programme (Greece’s is due to expire at the end of February).

Markets may shrug off these messy details in their elation that QE is at long last under way, injecting money into the euro-zone economy and signalling the ECB’s commitment to arrest the fall in inflation. Most members of the ECB’s council will grudgingly take the view that it is better to get a big amount of QE along these lines than a much smaller dose with the usual risk-sharing arrangements. The effect of the QE that the council undertakes may also be stronger if, as is now expected, the bonds purchased will be held to maturity. But a package along these lines will set an unfortunate precedent, for it will embody the very fragmentation within the euro area that the ECB has been seeking to combat. That will add to the danger that the long-awaited QE programme may be coming too late to arrest the slide into a deflationary mindset.

WSJ:

In order to appease those who are worried that taxpayers across the Eurozone will end up carrying the can if one country defaults, the majority, if not all, of these purchases are likely to be undertaken by the national central banks. These will buy their own government’s debt in proportion to the size of the economy and will be limited to a maximum of about a quarter of outstanding debt. The ECB will provide the money for the purchases.

Man, this is hard to understand. It looks like the ECB will give Euros to the 19 other central banks, and those banks will buy their governments’ debt from banks and other institutions, up to 25% of that debt, which varies all over the place, depending on the fiscal discipline in the 19. Total sovereign debt is 6+ trillion Euros, so the program could be as large as 1.5 trillion Euros if all participated. Then the theory is that banks will lend the extra money and institutions will also invest or lend. Uh-huh.

We won’t bother quoting from the negative piece in the Telegraph on this, but this all doesn’t make too much sense to us. Aren’t the low-productivity countries with high debt just getting another kick at the can, another reason to spread more money around without any structural changes? It’s hard to see how this ends well.

Near term result, via WSJ: “Euro Slides to 11-Year Low Against Dollar.”

Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck

January 21st, 2015

Re SOTU. Why would you watch the Mickey Mouse Club without the humor, the music, the Hardy Boys, Annette, Spin and Marty, etc. (The club’s history is actually a very interesting story in itself.) Apparently the current version of the Mickey Mouse Club that aired the other night, sans humor and music, featured someone named Ernst in the role of Donald. The club sings “Mickey Mouse” and then Donald says “Donald Duck” and the show goes on. Did we miss anything? Umlikely.

Glittering Jewel

January 20th, 2015

Eugene Robinson in WaPo:

scientists have had their debate. It’s over. Among climate scientists, there is consensus approaching unanimity that climate change is being driven by the rapidly increasing concentration of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which, in turn, is being caused by the burning of fossil fuels. It is known through direct observation that carbon dioxide levels have risen an astounding 40 percent since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The rise began after human society began burning coal and petroleum products on an unprecedented scale…”Hottest Year On Record” is a headline that encourages sanity on climate change.

Let’s regulate the methane of those parping cattle. And argon while we’re at it. Lord, what fools these mortals be!

Good reading

January 19th, 2015

Rather remarkable in fact.