Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ted Kennedy died.

Like many people, I remember vividly the moment when I first heard about JFK's assassination. As a teenager, I was impressed by JFK, and terribly saddened. I lost my enthusiasm for this family very fast.
Now Ted Kennedy, which I was never a fan of, died, and I stumbled upon this long profile of his, by Michael Kelly, published in 1990.
Perhaps this seems unfair. From all available evidence, God created our elected officials to drink and screw around. Arrogance, too, is common. So is sexual recklessness (witness Gary Hart, Robert Bauman and Barney Frank); power dements as well as corrupts. But Kennedy’s behavior stands out.
(Bold is mine).
Eye opening article, written by a Liberal, not a political rival.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Obama to nominate Bernanke.

Obama to nominate Bernanke for second term as Fed chairman. This is only natural. It's true, Bernanke is a Republican, and was nominated for his job by President G.W. Bush, but he is a RINO (republican in name only). I mean - if you didn't know his party affiliation you would never guess it from his policies. He fits like hand in glove with the Democratic credo of "print baby, print" more money.
Bernanke also did some succesful campaigning with his speech that said, modestly: "I, single handedly, killed the worst depression since the Great one". I think Ron Paul was more on the mark with this remark:
“The Federal Reserve, in collaboration with the giant banks, has created the greatest financial crisis the world has ever seen,” Representative Ron Paul, Republican of Texas, said at a House hearing last week in which Mr. Bernanke testified about the state of the economy.
Republican lawmakers portray the Fed as the embodiment of heavy-handed big government, and have called for scaling back the central bank’s regulatory powers.
Exactly. Bernanke's policies are the same as the ones recommended by Paul Krugman, the rabidly liberal (lefty) columnist of the NY Times. So, there's no wonder Obama renominated him. There are other reasons too: you don't change horses in mid race, and if anything goes wrong (which is sure to happen) you have a handy fall man.
While many, including the doom prophet Nuriel Roubini, praise Bernanke for indeed saving us from a big depression, other depression specialists, like Anna Jacobson Schwartz (Milton Friedman's co-author on the depression) have a very detailed and professional critique of his policies:

Mr. Bernanke seems to know only two amounts: zero and trillions. Before 2008 there were only moderate increases in the Federal Reserve’s aggregate balance sheet numbers, but since then the balance sheet has exploded by trillions of dollars. The increase was spurred by the Fed’s loans to troubled institutions and purchases of securities.

Why is easy monetary policy such a sin? Because in such an environment, loans are cheap and borrowers can finance every project that they dream up. This results in excesses, and also increases the severity of the recession that inevitably follows when the bubble bursts.
Roubini, though, beside praising Bernankes handling of the crisis once it happened, also states that Bernanke failed to do anything to prevent the crisis in the two years he reigned prior to it's outburst, when many, including Roubini, were predicting it.
I'm not optimistic about the economic recovery.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


A compelling and lucid article claims that much of modern economics is quackery. Given the mad stampede of money printing that all governments are engaged in, nowadays, I don't see how anybody could believe otherwise.
Here are some quotes:
The 20th century was the century of quack everything. Perhaps most infamous was the great Soviet quack-geneticist, Trofim Lysenko.

No, the postwar Western university is our true Valhalla of quack. The sad fact is that almost everything studied and taught in Western universities today is quackery. The only exceptions are some areas of science and engineering.

And then there's economics.
Pretty much everyone thinks of 20th-century economics as a seething nest of quackery. Including most 20th-century economists. All they disagree on is who the quacks are

It is incontrovertible that quack economics is alive and well in the world today. It is possible that the Austrian, Chicago, George Mason, New Keynesian, and "post-autistic" schools of economics are all quack. It is certainly not possible that they are all nonquack.

So we can reframe our quack detector by declaring that there are two kinds of economists: those who believe that monetary dilution is essential, and those who believe it is inessential.

And this is why dilutionists are quacks. Dilutionists are quacks because it is impossible to imagine a way in which the systematic pilfering of wallets could somehow be essential to commerce and industry.

Basically, what we're looking at here is the harsh but necessary process of waking up from the last century. There is a reason that quackery, in economics and poetry and nutrition and painting and history and psychology and paleoclimatology and computer science and just about any other department you can name, did so well in the 20th-century university system. Reality knows no master, but quackery is useful. Sometimes it's even profitable.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The impossibility of perpetual forcing.

At a talk given by J. Hansen at the Climate Change Congress, “Global Risks, Challenges &Decisions”, Copenhagen, Denmark, March 11, 2009, he said (inter alia):

The planet’s present energy imbalance, at least to first order, determines the change of climate forcings needed to stabilize climate. Climate models, using typical presumed scenarios of climate forcings for the past century, suggest that the planet should be out of energy balance by +0.75 ± 0.25 W/m2, … (absorbed solar energy exceeding heat radiation to space).
If all other forcings were fixed, a reduction of CO2 amount to 350 ppm would restore the planet’s energy balance, assuming that the present imbalance is 0.5 W/m2. If fossil fuel emissions continue at anything approaching “business-as-usual” scenarios, it is not feasible to restore planetary energy balance and stabilize climate.

How Can Climate be Stabilized?
Must Restore Planet’s Energy Balance
Imbalance: +0.5 ± 0.25 W/m2
Requirement Might be Met Via:
Reducing CO2 to 350 ppm or less &
Reducing non-CO2 forcing ~ 0.25 W/m2

Dr. Hansen seems to me to be saying the following: The energy imbalance caused by CO2 (and other greenhouse gases [GHG]) – causes the earth to warm up. (So far, ok). As long as the imbalance continues – warming will continue – ad infinitum. (That is, as other alarmist say – until Earth turns into Venus – 900 deg. C hot). The only way to eliminate the imbalance is to reduce CO2 (and GHG) back to their pre-industrial levels (or to 350 ppm). All this based solely on GHG considerations – ignoring feedbacks. (Dr. Hansen doesn't mention feedbacks in the presentation.)

This seems to me fundamentally flawed – glaringly false – based on elementary, trivial, physical principles:
Forcing – or imbalance - is a relative term, relative to some previous state. It is not absolute. Suppose CO2 goes from 280 to 560 ppm. This will cause the earth to warm, due to the "forcing", but, in the new, warmer state, the earth will emit more IR radiation into space, until a new balance is reached and the "forcing" canceled. The earth will be warmer – but the forcing will stop, and no additional warming will occur (unless GHG keep growing). Infinite forcing is an absurdity.

This can be shown by an analogy: suppose we have a big pot of water, and a small flame under it. The flame forces the water to warm, until the amount of heat introduced by the flame is canceled out by the amount lost to the surrounding air. At this point the water stays at a constant temperature, and doesn't heat up more, despite the flame. Now, we increase somewhat the flame. An imbalance, or new forcing is introduced (relative to the previous state of balance). The water will warm up some more, until a new balance is reached, and then stop warming.

To "stabilize" the climate – all we have to do is stop the GHG increase. Once CO2 is stabilized, at whatever level, a new heat balance will be reached, and "forcing" will stop. Thus, reducing CO2 back to pre-industrial levels is not the ONLY way climate can be stabilized. I'm not discussing the temperature magnitude at the new balance level (climate sensitivity), only the fact that forcing cannot continue ad Venusum, or even until the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps have melted.

Also, due to the logarithmic heat absorption curve of GHG – temperature will stabilize at SOME level, even if GHG continue to increase – which makes the notion of perpetual forcing doubly absurd.
Dr. Hansen claims that the ONLY way to stabilize climate is to go back to 350 ppm of CO2 , else –> Venus. This seems bizarre to me.
I can't believe Dr. Hansen could make such a primitive mistake.

I know I'm talking about an extremely simplified scenario where there is nothing but GHG. I know there are feedbacks in the world, and there is big uncertainty about their magnitude and even their sign. But Dr. Hansen doesn't mention feedbacks. He seems to say that just GHG cause infinite forcing. This is impossible.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Not liberals, marxists.

Roger Simon is writing about TBDS - Tea Party Derangement Syndrome - the opposition of the liberals to the tea party protests. People are protesting the enormous waste of public money by Obama's "simulation" plan. Curiously, or not so curiously, many on the left can't understand that this is a legitimate and reasonable protest and are starting to cry "racists", "bigots", "fascists" and all their usual cuss words.

Remarkable is the following comment on that thread:
Victor Erimita:

The Left is no longer composed of liberals, for the most part, and I wish people like Rush would stop calling them that. They aren’t any more.

Today’s Left is composed of Marxists, conscious or unconscious, people whose unexamined, knee-jerk opposition to enterprise and individualism has mostly been absorbed by cultural osmosis, not thought or analysis. They wear their politics like jewelry. Mix that college dorm Marxism with narcissism and immaturity, and you get tantruming at the audacity of any other expressed views.

Another strain of contemporary leftism is an ironically quasi-religious contempt for humans and individual endeavor, a kind of New Age of asceticism (always to be practiced by others) expressed in “environmentalism,” the so-called animal rights movement, the hatred of automobiles, the suburbs and other symbols of individualism. Half-baked notions of “The Planet,” big government and collectivist symbols like mass transportation have replaced God and the spiritually transcendent in the unformed minds of these solipsistic rejectors of the only kind of organized religion they can see—like Bill Maher they can only see the rigidly formed worldviews of others, not their own, and certainly not their own metaphysical assumptions. Tea Parties are an expression of the celebration of individual endeavor, a sin against their secular god of the state (or The Planet,) so they see it as evil, beneath civilized discourse, which ironically they themselves are no longer capable of.

Lloyd Marcus and his American Tea Party Anthem.

An amazing story about the singer (and painter) Lloyd Marcus. He was 19 years an alcoholic, and 15 years homeless, and now he became the star of the Tea Party protest movement in the US.

Read the story, it is an amazing story of sudden personal success.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The meaning of Sarah Palin

An excellent article by Yuval Levin capturing the meaning and potential of Sarah Palin.

The reaction of the intellectual elite to Sarah Palin was far more provincial than Palin herself ever has been, and those who reacted so viscerally against her evinced little or no appreciation for an essential premise of democracy: that practical wisdom matters at least as much as formal education, and that leadership can emerge from utterly unexpected places. The presumption that the only road to power passes through the Ivy League and its tributaries is neither democratic nor sensible, and is, moreover, a sharp and wrongheaded break from the American tradition of citizen governance.

Either way, the Palin moment shed a powerful light on the power, the potential, and the ultimate inadequacy of a conservatism grounded solely in cultural populism. It also exposed the vulnerability of the Left to a challenge to its most cherished claims—as the sole representative of the interests of the working class and the only legitimate path to political power for an ambitious woman.

And, perhaps even more telling, it revealed the unfortunate and unattractive propensity of the American cultural elite to treat those who are not deemed part of the elect with condescension and contumely. (my bold).

The intense, visceral hatred with which Palin was treated by the liberals was amazing, surprising and shocking. I kept telling myself: these people are crazy. Yuval Levin does a good job of explaining it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A President runs a war.

Here are some comments on the book "Tried by war" about the way President Lincoln run the Civil War, mostly about the military side.
Let's start with Donald Rumsfeld's remark "You make war with the army you have" - yes - and with the President you have. Lincoln didn't have any military experience at all, neither did he have any army. The Federal Army counted just 16,000 troops, deployed on western forts. The General-in-Chief was Winfield Scott, famous hero of the Mexican war, but 75 years old, and frail of health, he didn't help much and retired soon.
An army of 637,000 volunteers was raised, equipped and trained by April 1862, one year after the start of the war. You need also Generals, 583 Generals were commissioned during the war, many by political patronage, a method as good as any. General Grant was sponsored by Elihu B. Washburne, chairman of the House Military Affairs Committee and General Sherman by his brother John, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, without it they might have languished in obscurity.
For the post of commander of the Army of the Potomac (the biggest and most important army) Lincolm found the natural, proffesional, candidate 34 year old George B. McClellan, ranked second in his class at West Point, energetic, charismatic, adored by the soldiers, a good organizer, a good trainer of troops. Newspapers at the time called him "Young Napoleon". He was named to his command in July 1861, and soon after (November) General-in-Chief too. The only trouble with him is - he didn't like to fight. He was never ready, he always needed more troops, more horses or something. He never innitialized any battle, and never won one.
In July 1862 Lincoln named Henry W. Hallek General-in-Cheif (McClellan staying with the army of the Potomac). Hallek had written some books and was known as "Old Brains", he had a good administrative ability, but he was indecisive, and lacked the power to take control, impose his way and run things. Lincoln said he was a good clerck, and he needed him, so he kept him to the end of the war. In 1864, General Grant was named General-in-Chief, but Grant prefered to locate his headquartes in the field, near the army, so Hallek stayed on in Washington, as Chief-of-Staff.
It is remarkable how Lincoln couldn't find any military figure to run the war, and had to do it himself, single handed (at least until 1864, when he found Grant).
The problem wasn't solely the incompetece of the generals - there was plenty of that, but it also was much deeper - philisophical - about the aims of the war, the means to acheive them - derived from the aims. Lincoln believed you must seek out the enemy's army, engage it in battle and never let up until you destroy it. McClellan understood it would be an extreemly cruel, bloody enterprise. He had no stomach for such a total war of annihilation against fellow Americans. In the end, as presidential candidate in 1864, McCllelan embraced a settlement with the Confederacy. But Lincoln's aims were clear and firm, and undebatable: no independence to southern states and an end to slavery. He wouldn't settle on anything less, so no settlement was possible, and the bloodbath inevitable.
General Grant pursued the war as Lincoln wanted, not so much with brilliance, but with tenacity. He never rested, never let up, and the results followed - victory, but slowly - he suffered some bad settback at first - and at a terrible cost. Some called Grand a butcher. For example - in one two week period there were 30,000 casualties; in his first two months on the Potomac - some 90,000 (like McClellan suffered in 2 years). At first there weren't many gains to show for all these losses, and the impatient public seemed to sway toward the settlement.
Another interesting point is the question of strategy: the war's aims can, maybe, also be acheived by the indirect approach, by attacking not the enemy's main army, but his soft spots, untill you throw him off balance. This way you can acheive your aims with less losses. General McArthur employed this approach in WW2, he called it "hit them were they ain't". The approach wasn't known, or considered by Lincoln and his Generals, but was employed anyway, thanks to the brilliant initiative of General Sherman, who took an army of 60,000 veterans on a raid from Atalanta, Georgia, 287 miles, to the sea, at Savannah. Sherman raided the heart of the Confederacy hiterland, it's base of supply and economic and moral support. He renounced the securing of supply lines, lived off the country cut off from the Union, destroyed everything in his path. He outmaneuvered and outrun the enemy's army that was trying to stop him, he didn't seek battles, but rather succeded in avoiding them, acheiving his purpose without battles. He suffered almost no losses, but civilians in his path did suffer, mostly material losses. No wonder Sherman was the most intensly hated person in the South (maybe second only to Lincoln). Some say Sherman's raid was the decisive factor in ending the war.
The story of how Lincoln the inexperienced, unprepared politician run the whole war, including the military part, by himself, almost unaided, is fascinating.

What I missed in this book is a more objective approach to Lincoln, pointing out his mistakes, his missjudgements (if any). The Civil War was a very important, fundamental event, possitively: it abolished slavery, and maintained the Union. But it was also a terrible tragedy - more than 600,000 losses, and Lincoln presided over that too.
The book is an easy and absorbing read, it doesn't go into any details of military operations, but shows the events at the intersection between Lincoln and the military.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Obama and the communist program

The communist parties, these days, have changed. They no longer advocate the things they used to: nationalizing all means of production, or at least "key" industries, violent revolution, or the dictatorship of the proletariat. (As recent as 1980, Francois Miterand, socialist president of France nationalized many industries, which have been re-privatized since, and Neil Kinock, leader of British Labor party advocaqted nationalizations too).
Nowadays the communist have an updated program. See the election flyer of the CPUSA (communist party of USA). They advocate:
Massive public works job creation, major clean energy developement projects (by government, of course), forced worplace unionization, government health insurance (i.e. - nationalization of health care services).
The sweetness & light blog concludes correctly:
Sound familiar?
Remember, this is the agenda of the Communist Party of the United States.
And Barack Obama’s.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

What caused the crisis

An incredible tale from an insider about the clueless, scandalous, ignorant way the banking system works.
"The era that defined Wall Street is finally, officially over. Michael Lewis, who chronicled its excess in Liar’s Poker, returns to his old haunt to figure out what went wrong."

"I’d never taken an accounting course, never run a business, never even had savings of my own to manage. I stumbled into a job at Salomon Brothers in 1985 and stumbled out much richer three years later, and even though I wrote a book about the experience, the whole thing still strikes me as preposterous—which is one of the reasons the money was so easy to walk away from. I figured the situation was unsustainable. Sooner rather than later, someone was going to identify me, along with a lot of people more or less like me, as a fraud. Sooner rather than later, there would come a Great Reckoning when Wall Street would wake up and hundreds if not thousands of young people like me, who had no business making huge bets with other people’s money, would be expelled from finance."
"I thought I was writing a period piece about the 1980s in America. Not for a moment did I suspect that the financial 1980s would last two full decades longer or that the difference in degree between Wall Street and ordinary life would swell into a difference in kind. I expected readers of the future to be outraged that back in 1986, the C.E.O. of Salomon Brothers, John Gutfreund, was paid $3.1 million; I expected them to gape in horror when I reported that one of our traders, Howie Rubin, had moved to Merrill Lynch, where he lost $250 million; I assumed they’d be shocked to learn that a Wall Street C.E.O. had only the vaguest idea of the risks his traders were running."

"Then came Meredith Whitney with news. Whitney was an obscure analyst of financial firms for Oppenheimer Securities who, on October 31, 2007, ceased to be obscure. On that day, she predicted that Citigroup had so mismanaged its affairs that it would need to slash its dividend or go bust. It’s never entirely clear on any given day what causes what in the stock market, but it was pretty obvious that on October 31, Meredith Whitney caused the market in financial stocks to crash. By the end of the trading day, a woman whom basically no one had ever heard of had shaved $369 billion off the value of financial firms in the market. Four days later, Citigroup’s C.E.O., Chuck Prince, resigned. In January, Citigroup slashed its dividend."

An amazing, long, story.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Vaclav Klaus against warm-mongers.

An important speech by Vaclav Klaus, president of the Czhech Republic.

...the well-known Oregon petition which warned and keeps warning against the irrationality and one-sidedness of the global warming campaign. Rational people know that the warming we experience is well within the range of what seems to have been a natural fluctuation over the last ten thousand years. We should keep saying this very loudly. ...
I will try to argue and to convince you that even the global warming issue is about freedom. It is not about temperature or CO2. It is, therefore, not necessary to discuss either climatology, or any other related natural science but the implications of the global warming panic upon us, upon our freedom, our prosperity, our institutions and our legislation. It is part of a bigger story....
The explicitly stated intentions of global warming activists are frightening. They want to change us, to change the whole mankind, to change human behavior, to change the structure and functioning of society, to change the whole system of values which has been gradually established during centuries. These intentions are dangerous and their consequences far-reaching. These people want to restrict our freedom. It is our duty to say NO....
I know that its propagandists have been using all possible obstructions to avoid exposure to rational arguments and I know that the substance of their arguments is not science. It represents, on the contrary, an abuse of science by a non-liberal, extremely authoritarian, freedom and prosperity endangering ideology of environmentalism....
In the past, the market was undermined mostly by means of socialist arguments with slogans like: “stop the immiseration of the masses”. Now, the attack is led under the slogan: stop the immiseration (or perhaps destruction) of the Planet....
For the same reason I consider environmentalism to be the most effective and, therefore, the most dangerous vehicle for advocating large scale government intervention and unprecedented suppression of human freedom at this very moment.....

Read the whole hing.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Artists toe the party line.

That's the name of an article in the NYTimes about an art exhibition in NY showing art from China's past, from the time of the murderous rule of Mao Zedong (or Mao Tse Tung as we knew him).

The painter Chen Danqing, active as a young artist during the revolutionary era, does not exaggerate when he says in the show’s catalog, “At the time I felt there was no difference between me and the Renaissance painters: they painted Jesus; I painted Mao.”
There is a difference.
Under totalitarian regimes you couldn't say what you wanted, you had to parrot the party line. And you couldn't paint as you wanted. You had to paint as they told you, in both substance and style. Those who tried to do otherwise were sent to "reeducation" camps. The communists had no use for art unless it served for propaganda. Any other kind was forbidden (a waste of time...).

Under Reneissance painters painted what they wanted. Some did Jesuses out of religious conviction, or because that's what their patrons (mostly the clergy) wanted and paid for. Others painted scenery, or portraits of other patrons. No painter was burned at the stake by the Inquisition, as far as I know (at least not for "incorrect" painting).

Still, a beautiful painting.