Madness of various sorts

December 1st, 2014


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.


November 30th, 2014


“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


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.


November 28th, 2014

Mark Steyn discussed this book today. We’re going to take a look and will report back. We’re pretty sceptical, in part because generalizations over centuries based on statistical analyses would seem to depend on problematic data. We’ll see.

Odds and ends

November 27th, 2014

College grads am not too smart. A little over the top but interesting. LM, then and now. What’s worse than heap big appalling? How about speaking with forked tongue? A little Steyn on Thanksgiving (you can tell it’s a holiday; twitterers are in a jolly mood). Finally, this George Will piece suggests that an 80% cut in government spending might be too generous. The rot is everywhere.


November 27th, 2014


American producers risk becoming victims of their own success. At today’s prices of just over $70 a barrel, drilling is close to becoming unprofitable for some explorers, Leonid Fedun, vice president and board member at OAO Lukoil (LKOD), said in an interview in London. “In 2016, when OPEC completes this objective of cleaning up the American marginal market, the oil price will start growing again,” said Fedun, who’s made a fortune of more than $4 billion in the oil business, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. “The shale boom is on a par with the dot-com boom. The strong players will remain, the weak ones will vanish.” Oil futures in New York plunged as much as 3.8 percent to $70.87 a barrel today, the lowest since August 2010. At the moment, some U.S. producers are surviving because they managed to hedge the prices they get for their oil at about $90 a barrel, Fedun said. When those arrangements expire, life will become much more difficult, he said.

So much for knocking conspiracies and grand strategies. Saudi Arabia is by far the global low cost producer of oil. In business there are two basic strategies; you can be the low cost producer or you can sell to a niche market. The low cost producer occasionally decides it’s a good time to wipe out pesky upstarts like shale and that appears to be part of what’s going on today. Also not good for Iran and Russia, as the NYT notes.

But the oil price plunge seems odd, does it not? Who would have predicted this a year or two ago (like so many other things!)? One of those unexpected discontinuities we think about from time to time. Such things tend to have unintended consequences, and in recent days “unintended consequences” have generally been bad. We’ll see…

Time for a new Great Awakening?

November 26th, 2014


Last weekend, my housemate and I were mugged at gunpoint while walking home from Dupont Circle…Washington, D.C., is ranked among the most unequal cities in the country, with the wealthiest 5 percent earning an estimated 54 times more than the poorest 20 percent. According to the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, just under 20 percent of D.C. residents live below the poverty line.

What has been most startling to me, even more so than the incident itself, have been the reactions I’ve gotten. I kept hearing “thugs,” “criminals” and “bad people.” While I understand why one might jump to that conclusion, I don’t think this is fair.

Not once did I consider our attackers to be “bad people.” I trust that they weren’t trying to hurt me. In fact, if they knew me, I bet they’d think I was okay. They wanted my stuff, not me. While I don’t know what exactly they needed the money for, I do know that I’ve never once had to think about going out on a Saturday night to mug people. I had never before seen a gun, let alone known where to get one. The fact that these two kids, who appeared younger than I, have even had to entertain these questions suggests their universes are light years away from mine…

Who am I to stand from my perch of privilege, surrounded by million-dollar homes and paying for a $60,000 education, to condemn these young men as “thugs?” It’s precisely this kind of “otherization” that fuels the problem…I’ve never had to decide whether or not to steal from people. We’re all capable of good and bad, but it’s a whole lot easier for me to choose good than it may be for them

Note the condescension of the last sentence; it empowers this egregious display. Roger Simon notes a similar parallelism here. In the America we were born into, the illegitimacy rate was 4%. Now it’s as high as 40-80% among different groups. A society that does not condemn the regular practice of children being born out of wedlock is doomed; it’s as simple as that.

No fathers at home translates into gangs and violence in the male teens, and other dysfunctions in the girls. (Worst part: the people affected may not even know that their views and behavior are aberrant.) As for going backwards to create a better tomorrow — whether such a thing is possible in the Age of Vulgarity and Twitter and PC Insanity is not known at this time.


November 25th, 2014

Really depressing. One of the great moral challenges of our time, and most in a position to pontificate or actually do some good merely look away.

Everything old is new again

November 24th, 2014


In the fifth year of the Peloponnesian war (427 BCE), Athens’ ally Corcyra fell victim to internal strife, a vicious struggle between the commons, allies of Athens, and the oligarchs, who were eager to enlist the support of the Spartans. The revolution began when Corinth, an ally of Sparta, released Corcyraean prisoners with the promise that the former prisoners would work to convince Corcyra to abandon its ally Athens and join the Peloponnesian side. These men brought Peithias, a pro-Athenian civic leader, to trial on charges of “enslaving Corcyra to Athens”. He was acquitted and took revenge by charging five of them in turn. However, these men burst in upon the senate and killed Peithias and sixty other people.

Shortly after this, skirmishes broke out in the city, between the commons, who enlisted the aid of the slaves, and the oligarchs, who hired mercenaries, which ended with the oligarchs being routed. The Athenian general, Nicostratus, tried to bring about a peaceful settlement and ensure an offensive and defensive alliance between Corcyra and Athens. Nicostratus agreed to leave five Athenian ships to defend Corcyra while five Corcyraean ships accompanied him. The commons tried to get their enemies to serve upon these ships that were departing with Nicostratus. Their enemies, fearing for their lives, seated themselves as suppliants to the goddess Hera, and eventually were convinced to stay on the island in front of the temple.

Four or five days after these events, Peloponnesian ships approached Corcyra and engaged the smaller number of Athenian vessels, while the Corcyraean vessels were ineffective due to disorganization. The Peloponnesians drove off the Athenian and Corcyraean ships, laid waste to the surrounding country, but chose not to attack the city itself . Disorder and panic were rampant through the city, as rumors reached the population.

The Peloponnesians eventual departed under fear of the approach of a larger Athenian fleet. The commons took this opportunity to slay as many of their enemies as they could get their hands upon. The managed to slay some of the men who had appealed to Hera as suppliants. The others committed suicide or killed each other. This was the beginning of the chaos in Corcyra and “the Corcyraeans were engaged in butchering those of their fellow-citizens whom they regarded as their enemies: and although the crime imputed was that of attempting to put down the democracy, some were slain also for private hatred, others by their debtors because of the monies owed to them.”

What’s up with this? Angelo Codevilla explains.

A mess then, a mess now, a mess until…

November 23rd, 2014

Clarice Feldman looks at the most recent immigration mess, created for no good reason, and possibly with counterproductive results, even if you think you’re in the business of creating Venezuela North, with a Silicon Valley offramp. What a mess! Of course, it’s been a mess for a long time; we only have to look back to 2007 when the bipartisan geniuses of the senate produced a bill with no effective enforcement mechanism. This is going to be a mess at least until there’s effective border fencing and a mechanism to immediately get rid of people who fly in and overstay their visas.

Hey, what the heck, let’s go all the way back to the early 1970′s.

That’s a nice country you’ve got there

November 22nd, 2014

Wretchard et al, with some minor edits:

No one knows if the administration will manage in the next five weeks to strike what many in the White House consider the most important foreign policy deal of all time: an accord with Iran that would forestall its ability to make a nuclear weapon. But the administration has made one significant decision: If agreement is reached, it will do everything in his power to avoid letting Congress vote on it. Sneak it in the back door and declare victory. Nothing warms the cockles of his heart more than “it is so ordered”. But that has been the pattern for the administration. It claimed al-Qaeda decimated, maintained the attack on the Benghazi consulate was caused by a video, swore that the mandates were not taxes, that you could keep your doctor or health plan; it celebrated the fresh wind of an Arab spring that blew through Libya, Egypt and Syria. It claimed the doorman Putin has been put in his place. Which of these is true? But there are many who still believe. Unfortunately they may be surprised one day when all the dreams of grand bargains, resets, pivots, springs and a World Without Nuclear Weapons don’t actually come true. The disappointment may be a bitter one.

That’s a nice country you’ve got there; be a pity if anything happened to it. Also, Roger Kimball is upset for some reason.

Fun with numbers

November 21st, 2014

SacBee on Cal public pensions:

their “unfunded liabilities” – the gap between assets and liabilities for current and future pensions – exploded from $6.3 billion in 2003 to $198.2 billion in 2013. Moreover, that startling number assumes that pension systems will see asset earnings of about 7.5 percent a year – a number that some are beginning to see as unattainable.

Los Angeles’ city pension system dropped its assumed earnings, called the “discount rate,” last week. The board of California’s second largest pension system, covering teachers, was told last month by a panel of experts that its 7.5 percent assumption is likely to be under 7 percent for the next decade.

If a 7.5 percent discount rate, which is also used by the giant California Public Employees’ Retirement System and many local systems, is too high, the current $198.2 billion debt in Chiang’s report is, in reality, much higher.

If we only stick the people who think thoughts like this with the bill….

Coming of age with Nichols and May

November 20th, 2014

As a young pup, we have a vivid first memory of Mike Nichols as a cab driver and Elaine May as the passenger. Whether it was from Omnibus or Tonight or Jack Paar or TW3 or elsewhere we can’t recall; we formed the impression they were married, and that they seemed very nice. (We can’t find that skit, but here’s the lake scene, and here’s the $65 funeral.) We saw Cronyn and Tandy in the Gin Game, before that the Graduate and Virginia Wolff of course, and long after that, one of our favorites, Primary Colors. Here are the LAT and NYT obits of Nichols. Here’s the famous skit from the 1959 Emmys. The young pup couldn’t have imagined the complexities within the cab driver and passenger. Pretty amazing. RIP.

Stranger than fiction

November 19th, 2014

City Journal:

your personal unhappiness stems from larger political forces—anything from the suffocating nuclear family, the institutionalized oppression of women, or the supposedly ineradicable racism of American society—and that only vast political change can solve your individual problems, has been the guiding principle of de Blasio’s administration. His campaign slogan was the “tale of two cities:” one poor and minority; one rich, white, and determined to oppress the other New York with a racist police force bent on harassing minority youths with stop-and-frisk tactics based on racial profiling. A de Blasio administration would end stop-and-frisk, the candidate promised. It would then uplift the poor New York by taxing the rich one to provide universal preschool, whose lack is a key reason ghetto kids don’t succeed, he contended, and to hand out welfare checks without requiring recipients to do work in return, since institutionalized racism is the reason they have no jobs in the first place.

How could anyone believe this fairy tale after 20 years of dramatic, concrete evidence to the contrary? Revolutionary policing tactics under mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg cut the murder rate to one-sixth of what it was in 1991, while reducing overall crime by two-thirds. The result was not only the renaissance of New York as a glittering world city, pulsing with opportunity, wealth, and vitality, but also the rebirth of ghetto neighborhoods where fear of crime had extinguished ordinary civic life. You can’t have a community when mothers are afraid to send their kids out for a loaf of bread, and where they put them to bed in the bathtub, to protect them from stray bullets.

De Blasio, his wife, and Noerdlinger believe the myth because, as I theorized earlier in this space, it gives them a way of dealing with their own troubled and damaging pasts. De Blasio’s prep-school and Ivy League-educated father, a war hero who lost part of a leg at Okinawa, later came under a McCarthyite investigation that cost him his government job. Though he went on to get even more prestigious posts, his sense of grievance drove him to alcoholism, divorce, and suicide. After not one but two name changes to distance himself from his failed and absent father, Warren Wilhelm, Jr. became Bill de Blasio and turned his anger and sense of abandonment first to Sandinista and Castroite radicalism and then to the racial grievance that he absorbed from his wife, Chirlane McCray, until then a lesbian, who, as the only black in her New England high school and one of but few at Wellesley, felt herself an “outsider” who “didn’t belong” and wished she could have been “cute and angry, instead of an evil, pouting mammy bitch.” Because de Blasio considers McCray “my most important adviser”—“Understand Chirlane and you’ll understand me,” the mayor once said—he decided that she needed a chief of staff, and a highly paid one at that.

Enter Noerdlinger, until then the flack for Al Sharpton, the cop-hating racial provocateur, whose nationwide trumpeting of teenager Tawana Brawley’s lie that she’d been raped and brutalized by a gang of whites, including a cop and a prosecutor, made him famous and brought hatred of the police to a boil in much of black America. Noerdlinger has her own tale of disorder and early sorrow. Adopted by a white couple with two children of their own, plus a child from the father’s first marriage and another adopted black kid, Noerdlinger “was this child of color in a family that didn’t look like me,” she said. And it must have been a troubled family, too, for the mother committed suicide, like de Blasio’s father. Perhaps to solve her identity problem by choosing what she considered “authentic” blackness, Noerdlinger moved in with a man seven years her junior, who’d been in trouble with the police ever since he got out of prison (first for killing a fellow teen and then for interstate drug dealing). One of his encounters included a traffic infraction in Noerdlinger’s Mercedes—reportedly with Noerdlinger, her teenaged son, Khari, and a bag of marijuana in the car. Now 17, Khari, a six-foot-one, 215-pound high school football player whose supposedly debilitating car-crash injuries are the reason Noerdlinger gave for getting permission to continue living in New Jersey rather than in New York, where City Hall staffers are supposed to live, got arrested over the weekend for trespassing while he was drinking with friends in the lobby of an upper Manhattan building. The publicity convinced Noerdlinger and the de Blasios that she had to go, under the face-saving rubric of an unpaid leave of absence.

To an enraged de Blasio, Noerdlinger’s forced exit results from “repulsive” personal press attacks, reminiscent, reports the New York Times, of McCarthyism—so there’s no need to wonder just what is the source of the mayor’s unquenchable anger that blazed into view at this moment. But if he is angry at the McCarthyism that began his father’s downfall, no one forced the elder Wilhelm to become a drunk and kill himself. Yes, he suffered injustice, but he made his own choices and could have made different ones. De Blasio, McCray, Noerdlinger: they all experienced painful childhoods that can only elicit sympathy. But they made their own choices about how to interpret their pasts and to live their lives, and where to place responsibility for their own fates. But if you bring up your child with a sense of victimhood and grievance and hatred of authority—and Khari Noerdlinger, who, like his mother’s convict boyfriend, also sends out cop-hating and racist tweets, including “All white people are the devil” and “Pigs always killing people,” has surely been brought up in just this way—what kind of choices can you expect him to make?

Self-righteousness and victimhood have always gone hand-in-hand, but it may have taken the media-academy establishment for snobbishness to be in the mix in the way it is today. What a world! Bonus fun: if you insist you are not a king or an emperor, what do you really think?

Worth a moment’s thought

November 18th, 2014

Brookings, 2006:

“You have already drawn some of the brightest minds from academia and policy circles, many of them I have stolen ideas from liberally…People ranging from Robert Gordon to Austan Goolsbee; Jon Gruber; my dear friend, Jim Wallis here, who can inform what are sometimes dry policy debates with a prophetic voice.”

Yes, it’s the one we don’t mention who is speaking, because, you know, words. But prophetic voice, what’s up with that? Can’t imagine using that phrase in a hundred years. Oops! We get it now.

Special fun bonus.

Everything old is new again

November 17th, 2014

So poor Peter Kassig apparently changed his name to Abdul Rahman, which did him no good in remaining capitated. Bizarro World immediately said that “ISIL’s actions represent no faith, least of all the Muslim faith which Abdul Rahman adopted as his own.” Well, what’s in a name? There was another Abdul Rahman a decade ago, and lo and behold, guess who was calling for him to be sent to the great beyond? BTW, even the NYT reported back than that our fine allies in Saudi Arabia did 100 or more cranial liberations a year for many offenses, particularly apostasy. We forget what apostasy means, something about getting a speeding ticket perhaps…

History, live and updated

November 16th, 2014


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday that the Americas were discovered by Muslims in the 12th century, nearly three centuries before Christopher Columbus set foot there. “Contacts between Latin America and Islam date back to the 12th century. Muslims discovered America in 1178, not Christopher Columbus,” the conservative president said in a televised speech during an Istanbul summit of Muslim leaders from Latin America. “Muslim sailors arrived in America from 1178. Columbus mentioned the existence of a mosque on a hill on the Cuban coast,” Erdogan said. Erdogan said that Ankara was even prepared to build a mosque at the site mentioned by the Genoese explorer. “I would like to talk about it to my Cuban brothers. A mosque would go perfectly on the hill today,” the Turkish leader said. History books say that Columbus set foot on the American continent in 1492 as he was seeking a new maritime route to India. A tiny minority of Muslim scholars have recently suggested a prior Muslim presence in the Americas, although no pre-Columbian ruin of an Islamic structure has ever been found.

Yeah, right, it was probably the Barbary Pirates. On the other hand, what is history? Just stuff and nonsense apparently. On the morning news they were celebrating a museum of Hello Kitty and Thomas the Tank Engine as a cultural wonder. Heck, those two probably discovered America.

The drips are dropping

November 15th, 2014

Rather than focus on the horrible (e.g., this and this), or the merry / silly but good, we’ll mention the pernicious but naive today. A fellow who was a year behind us in B school runs a very large company and has done very well for himself; he censored his media employees so they could not say politically inconvenient things, no doubt on many occasions (for which the BOD arguably should censure him). What’s up with that? No plausible deniability in case the worm turns (which it has)?

Opposite Day x 2922

November 14th, 2014

If you like your Goober, you can keep your Goober. (It will be interesting to see if MIT cans him.) The greatest threat is climate change. The Supreme Leader understands the concerns of Iranians. Some allies get this; other countries get this. Wretchard asked “how can you break down the borders of your own country and expect it to end well?” Answer: you don’t. What part of fundamentally transforming an adequately performing society don’t you understand?

Without a doubt the weirdest thing about this parallel universe is that these guys and their fellow travelers are completely convinced of their own superiority, even though they are wrong on most issues and have no problem lying boldly to advance their reactionary agenda.

Religion in these times

November 13th, 2014

Mother Jones:

we’re familiar with some of the scarier potential impacts of climate change: Floods, fires, stronger hurricanes, violent conflicts. Well, here’s a new one to add to your nightmares. Lightning strikes in the continental United States will increase roughly 12 percent for every degree Celsius of global warming, a study published today in Science finds. If warming continues unchecked, that could translate into a 50 percent increase in lightning by the end of the century — three strikes then for every two strikes now. there are currently about 25 million strikes per year…

the increase matters because lightning strikes are the principle cause of wildfires, which are already predicted to become more severe due to global warming. In one 24-hour period in August, lightning in Northern California started 34 wildfires. The study doesn’t make any specific predictions about wildfire activity, but knowing about future lightning conditions is an important part of that equation…

to get a sense of how lighting patterns will change in future climates, scientists have to rely on “proxies” — third-party forces they can model that have a known relationship to lightning. Early lightning studies in the 1990s, for example, made inferences based on how the heights of clouds — thought to be one contributor to lightning patterns — are expected to change with global warming, Del Genio said.

This study presents a new proxy for lightning…precipitation and “CAPE,” a standard measure of the kinetic energy clouds hold as they rise in the atmosphere. Lightning is the product of electrical charges caused by ice particles of different densities colliding in clouds, so Romps chose factors that would be necessary for lightning to occur: Enough precipitation to form ice, and enough upward energy to keep the ice suspended. Taken together, those proxies accurately predicted 77 percent of actual lightning strikes observed in the US in 2011 by a national web of electromagnetic sensors.

More silliness here. Also, Lindzen on religious and other myths that captivate some of our confreres.