< meta name="DC.Date.Valid.End" content="20050825"> Amendment Nine: May 2006

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Chicken Shit

More on the human-human case of bird flu in Indonesia.
The initial case in the cluster was a 37-year-old woman who sold fruits and chillies at a market in the village of Tigapanah. Her stand was located about 15 metres away from a stand where live chickens were sold. The investigation uncovered no reports of poultry die-offs in the market. However, the woman kept a small number of backyard chickens, allowed into the house at night. Three of her chickens reportedly died before she became ill. She is also known to have used chicken faeces from these household chickens as fertilizer in her garden.
Again the culprit appears to be chicken feces as fertilizer. That's one hell of a vector. Good news is after multiple chances for the disease to spread to other non-family members, no spread is reported.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Jesus Christ

Pope Benedict XIV travels to Poland.
Rain fell over Auschwitz until the main ceremony, when the skies cleared and a rainbow appeared.

The Pope said it was almost impossible, particularly for a German pope, to speak at "the place of the Shoah [Holocaust]".

"In a place like this words fail," he said. "In the end there can only be a dread silence, a silence which is a heartfelt cry to God: 'Why, Lord, did you remain silent? How could you tolerate all this'?

"Where was God in those days? Why was he silent? How could he permit this endless slaughter, this triumph of evil?"

The Pope, one of the church's leading theologians, said humans could not "peer into God's mysterious plan" to understand such evil but only "cry out humbly yet insistently to God: 'Rouse yourself. Do not forget mankind, your creature'."
And of course, the eternal prophetic voice...
"But dost thou know what will be to-morrow? I know not who Thou art and care not to know whether it is Thou or only a semblance of Him, but to-morrow I shall condemn Thee and burn Thee at the stake as the worst of heretics. And the very people who have to-day kissed Thy feet, to-morrow at the faintest sign from me will rush to heap up the embers of Thy fire. Knowest Thou that? Yes, maybe Thou knowest it,' he added with thoughtful penetration, never for a moment taking his eyes off the Prisoner."
Indeed. Words do not fail.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


John Robb points to this story, scoffing at the oil industry's "whining". But even though many of us can't stand some of the stupidity the oil industry has been engaged in lately, we should be clear about something. The House of Representatives is returning the country, full circle, to the days of Nixon and his rather, shall we say, "un"orthodox economic formulae.

George Bresiger over at Mises hits the ball out of the park with this post. All of this oil industry finger pointing, all of the spikes in inflation hedges, all of the criticisms against hedge funds, and the slow, steady drumbeat heard for more protectionism, more tariffs, more controls, are all a direct result of George W. Bush's economic policies... which for the most part, are the economic policies of Richard Milhous Nixon.

It is a long post, but I commend it to all A9 readers. The Mises blog, a favorite of A9 blogger Mitya K., always delivers exceptional work, but this essay is one of their best. I'll give some highlights below, but please, read the whole thing for yourself and let George know you appreciate his work.

The story of price controls begins, as it usually does, in wartime. A government can't pay the bills through direct taxation and tries inflation. Soon, its trading partners and some of its citizens realize what's happening and start dumping its currency. [...]

Inflation and unemployment started to become a problem, with both running at about five percent midway through Nixon's first term in 1970.

There was a run on the dollar as the federal government ran deficits. That was because it was paying for both the Vietnam War and the expanding welfare state by printing money. [...]

While there is always debate about the gold standard, few economists will disagree about the Nixon administration's wage and price controls. They were — as thousands of previous episodes with controls — a disaster. The stock market declined some 50 percent in an eighteen-month period of 1973-74.

Our nation was in a brutal recession through most of 1973-1975. But Nixon, and most of the incumbents in Congress who voted for increased spending, were re-elected. [...]

How did a "conservative Republican" administration give the nation wage and price controls? The Nixon administration — like the Bush administration today — was never fiscally conservative. [...]

We should also understand that Bush, like Nixon, cannot resist the political temptation of public-sector spending and various price controls to achieve short-term political goals. Bush, backed into a political corner, may well re-impose wage and price controls. [...]

Nixon's economic problems — like George Bush's — stemmed from his embrace of inflation as an economic cure-all. He increased state spending at the same time that he pressured the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board to expand the money supply.
Like I said in the intro, this post links all the things you're seeing happening right now into a cohesive whole, with the benefit of being one of the simplest explanations available... To pay for war governments inflate the economy and steal what they need to afford their plans. It is a trick tried a thousand times. Shame on us for not throwing the entire federal government out of their jobs.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Barnett Bites Back?

The amount of slams of Tom Barnett lately have increased in both their number and their precision. The consensus of the critique seems to be that Barnett's PNM thesis, and specifically CORE/GAP dichotomy fails the Iraq test. Whoda thunk?

Some bloggers have even gone so far as to argue that Barnett's theories are shrouded in a deliberate inattention to real world events in order to make it an easier sell. But we'll let those bloggers remain nameless at this point, though I know of at least three.

Barnett bites back today though, at least he shows his teeth to John Robb in this post. In the short jab, Barnett manages to get in:
... Robb straw-mans opposing views too often, reducing them to absurdity...
... Robb's being silly and mechanistic ...
... Robb is being rhetorically obtuse ...
... Robb prefers to fight straw-men ...
... This is very weak Robb today...
... He usually performs better ...
Somewhere in that post there is a criticism which deals with Robb's work, but I'm still looking. Of course, he should have stopped there, but Tom has an uncanny ability to say a little too much. Love to play poker with the guy at some point. He ends with this:
I find a lot of it has to do with your daily confidence level.
I'll call.

What Spreads Bird Flu?

First let's backtrack. Over a year ago the wildbirds at Qinghai Lake were devastated by birdflu. This scared the piss out of everyone cause once you get this in migratory bird populations, you have a major problem.

But so far, this isn't what happend. The spread of bird flu so far has not correlated to any known migratory pattern. Instead, the outbreaks are centered around poultry farms, and major transport routes. Continued study seems to confirm the theory that the vectors for bird flu are commercial poultry products.

According to a well placed source I know, the idea that bird flu was introduced by man is not at all absurd given the disease dispersion and rate of outbreak over the last 12 months. At any rate, even if its not designed by man, it is beginning to look like it is a by product of modern man and his food system. This makes the outbreak at Qinghai all the more puzzling. How'd this "domesticated" disease get wild all of a sudden?

Deeper research into the vector borne disease has yielded the new theory which so far is gaining the most traction: the outbreak of bird flu in migratory birds at Qinghai was caused by a widespread practice of feeding fish farms (hold your stomach) chicken dung from poultry farms. This practice is especially prevalent in Chinese poultry farms, and it is thought this was how bird flu entered into the migratory bird population. A similar occurrence somewhere in the world could spell disaster.

No shit... as the saying goes.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Truth and Treason

Emptywheel has his finger on the trigger today: BushCo operatives had no problem with Wilson's report; only three months later did Cheney start wanting to savage Wilson.

So ASSUMING the motive of Cheney's vendetta was not to damage Joe Wilson; THEN IT FOLLOWS that his/their motive was to damage Valerie Plame--thereby to disable her cover company, Brewster-Jennings, from surveillance of Iraq and Iran, thereby be free either to plant weapons or prevent the CIA, at least temporarily, from certifying there were none. Political motives seem obvious, but financial ones can't be ruled out.

Quite a charade--all the way to handwritten notes by Cheney on the Wilson document. Blame plame on pique, or politics, while the truth is to disable our front line defenses against WMD. If it's true, it's Treason. Life in prison should be the sentencing minimum.

Although some of this this has been said before many times many ways, it started out seeming a bit fanciful or paranoid. Still, even at the beginning we had to admit that they knew the consequence of outing Plame would be to disable Brewster-Jennings so it was hard not conclude that to be their motive. With emptywheel's revelation today, though, it's getting harder to explain the facts any other way. it's moving from fancy (even paranoia) closer to Truth and Treason.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Inflation & Hedging

Everyone is worried about inflation (except for those who believe inflation isn't measured by consumer price levels). And for good reason. But I think its a consensus view that the bleed into core consumer price levels is taking longer than anticipated. One reason for this might be that corporations, especially industrials, heavily hedge their energy purchases (much moreso than in the past). The upshot of this for consumers is that price levels have remained relatively tame (or at least not so volatile) in an environment of surging energy costs since the cost to production has trailed, significantly, the market price.

But we don't care about the major trend. No one makes money there. Where you make money is predicting what will happen next. And the old adage, what goes up must come down, rings a bell does it not?

When (not if, but when) oil prices come back down, the corporations who so wisely hedged their gas and other energy purchases are likely to be losing money... big time. Like any hedge, at some point you have to go back to the open market when your hedged the wrong way. In my opinion, there are a lot of companies out there right now who should be switching over from mainly hedged to mainly open market. If they don't, they could make a lot of vultures rich.

Friday, May 12, 2006

(ii) Liberal Education in a Nutshell

In this, the second part of a developing series on Liberal Education, I will quote extensively from Jacob Klein's essays: The Idea of Liberal Education and On Liberal Education. For those of you not up to speed on Klein's role in the New Program at St. John's College, please see the Wikipedia entry on St. John's College for a description therein.

Also, many A9 commenters are likely to bring up the "friendship" or "feud" (depending on one's point of view) between Leo Strauss and Klein, as well as the relationship they had with their teacher, Martin Heidegger. All of this biographical information, interesting and entertaining as it may be, is very well beyond the point of this meager post.

Liberal education is the education of free people for the purpose of nothing but its own sake, that is, for the purpose of knowing.
From the very beginning one detects an ambiguity in the meaning of "free men." In ancient times free men are contrasted with slaves and, morevover, with men who, though not slaves, are engaged in menial labor and have to do that to cope with the necessities of life. [...]

To bring up children to the level of free men means to bring them up for the enjoyment and duties of a life which, secure in its subsistence, is attuned to the pleasures of bodily, sensual and intellectual exercises and to the challenges of military and political activity. Such life tends, however, to move along traditional lines, be it in games, in polite conversation or in the turmoil of public affairs. Its freedom is endangered by the dominance of accepted opinions, the "idols of the market-place," in Baconian terminology. However "free" the free man may be, he has thus still to free himself from the shackles of conventional views which pass for the truth of things. He has to cultivate pursuits in which the truth of things is truly made an attainable goal. These pursuits constitute the arts of freedom, the "liberal arts."
Klein, Lectures and Essays, 261-262 (1985).

To be a free man [for the Greeks] meant to be a man enjoying leisure - that is, precisely, a man not under any necessity or compulsion to do servile work. [...]

To study for the enjoyment of leisure and in leisure means to be engaged in liberal education. It is an arduous task. This kind of education does not look for some goal or good beyond itself. [...]

What this understanding of liberal education assumes is that man's most proper and specific character is his desire to know. Only in pursuing this goal is man really man and really free. To acquire the various means that enable man to persist in this pursuit is to cultivate the arts of freedom.
Id. at 165.

Liberal education is not subject matter specific, but procedure specific: to liberally educate one means to lead them to a place where they have only aporia (without a way).
The idea of liberal education, then, whether you accept or reject it, is not definable in terms of some peculiar subject matter. Some applied sciences may well fall outside its scope. But, by and large, any formal discipline may form its vehicle and basis. It is not the subject matter that determines the character of studies as liberal studies. It is rather the way in which a formal discipline, a subject matter, is taken up that is decisive: whenever it is being studied for its own sake, whenever the metatstrophic way of questioning is upheld, whenever genuine wonderment is present, liberal education is taking place.
Id. at 166.

Liberal education is impeded by the modern academy as an institution.
Since time immemorial, institutions of learning, especially higher learning, have been established, called "schools" -- and the ambiguity of the term becomes immediately apparent. Institutionalization means ordering of activities into classes, schedules, courses, curriculums, examinations, degress, and all venerable and sometimes ridiculous paraphernalia of academic life. The point is that such institutionalization cannot be avoided. [...] And yet we all know how this schedule routine can interfere with the spontaneity of questioning and of learning and the occurrence of genuine wonderment. A student may never become aware that there is the possiblity of spontaneous learning which depneds merely on himself and on nobody and nothing else. Once the institutional character of learning tends to prevail, the goal of liberal education may be completely lost sight of, whatever other goals may be successfully reached.
Id. at 166-67.

Liberal education is impeded by the very progress in knowledge it helps maintain
Each generation adds something to what has been previously built and preserved. We are proud of this fact and call it progress. And, indeed, such progress does exist in definite areas. But this very fact confronts us with the ever-present danger of sedimentation, fossilization, or petrification of our knowledge. We are fond of pointing to the European universities of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries which exhibit those petrifying tendencies rather clearly and are prone to exalt the fresh wind of the Renaissance and Humanism that blew all the accumulated dust away. But it behooves us to look at our own insitutions of higher learning and to discern these same tendencies among us. We are not immune.
Id. at 167.

Liberal education is in conflict with the political community, especially its elite
The demands of the political community to which we belong are indeed inexorable. It is important to understand, however, that the idea of liberal education cannot be easily reconciled with those demands. It is important to see that there is a definite tension between the exigencies of political life and the self-sustained goal of liberal education. [...]

I can hardly think of a better illustration of that tension than the story of Archimedes' death, which I shall recount by way of conclusion.

There are many versions of that story. It seems, at any rate, that Archimedes took an active an even decisive part in the defense of Syracuse, his home town, when it was besieged by the enemy, and he contrived, by means of ingenious machinery, to repel the attacker. He was fulfiling his civic duty. His end came when a Roman soldier stepped close to the place where he was drawing his figures on the sand. This is how Plutarch relates one of the versions: "A Roman soldier, running upon him with a drawn sword, offered to kill him... Archimedes, looking back, earnestly besought him to hold his hand a little while, that he might not leave what he was then at work upon inconclusive and imperfect; but the soldier, nothing moved by the entreaty, instantly killed him."
Id. at 169.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Financial Literacy

It occurred to me today (actually, it has occurred to much earlier, but I've never put it down on paper) that having little or no financial education today is akin to having little or no computer education in the 80s and 90s. Or perhaps little or no literacy in the 60s and 70s. It just puts you at such a disadvantage that there is really no getting around it. I just spoke to my father on the phone. His financial background is sparse and outdated. At a certain point the conversation was almost unintelligible to me. Luckily, he's smart. In our conversation he quickly figured out he was artificially limiting the impact of market forces for no good reason (other than tradition). But most people aren't that smart. They must think today's talk of default swaps, derivatives, PIPES, and other financial instruments is some sort of alchemy or dark art.

Yankees v. Red Sox

At Yankee Stadium, early May, a nip in the air. God I wish was at the game, but watching it with a cool glass of Old Rip Van Winkle is alright as well. Go Yanks!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Secondo Pars: L’un Globo – A Dialogue

Capolio: I’m not sure I agree with that. But I do know that there is only peace through arms. The paese must be defended through force, or more violence and bloodshed will befall us. We will not let threats mount, but will smite them before they menance.

Debolio: You are right Capolio, that there may be no peace without arms to enforce it. But you miss that the paese is more than a two-armed animal. Our trade, our letters, and our laws are the envy of all. They form three arms, to which there is no defense.

Niccolo: The chief foundations of all states, new as well as old or composite, are good laws and good arms; and as there cannot be good laws where the state is not well armed, it follows that where they are well armed they have good laws.

Debolio: I understand that, but trade is an important extension of good laws. Trade is an interest that our allies and we have in common. We should exploit it. Raise an army with those with which we share common dreams. A coalition is less costly, and it makes the enemy even more isolated. Let us call on them now.

Niccolo: These arms [Auxiliaries] may be useful and good in themselves, but for him who calls them in they are always disadvantageous; for losing, one is undone, and winning, one is their captive.

Capolio: You are right Niccolo. We cannot become captive to our friends. No! We will not let this paese become but one of many. Our prerogative is ours alone, and we will pursue it no matter the cost. If we have to, we will hire private armies to help us. In this way, we can make our numbers more, and vanquish the enemy wherever he may hide.

Niccolo: I wish to demonstrate further the infelicity of these [Mercenary] arms. The mercenary captains are either capable men or they are not; if they are, you cannot trust them, because they always aspire to their own greatness, either by oppressing you, who are their master, or others contrary to your intentions; but if the captain is not skilful, you are ruined in the usual way.

Capolio: Both choices of arms seem ill advised?

Niccolo: Mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous; and if one holds his state based on these arms, he will stand neither firm nor safe; for they are disunited, ambitious and without discipline, unfaithful, valiant before friends, cowardly before enemies; they have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to men, and destruction is deferred only so long as the attack is; for in peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Prima Pars: L’un Globo – A Dialogue

Niccolo: You wish to take this state?

Capolio: We will take out the evil tyrant, and install a friendly regime. This will be a lesson to others who may threaten us. Afterall, the people of the state love freedom, and by bringing them freedom they will love us, so long as we do all we can to avoid bringing them undue harm.

Debolio: But there is no reason to take this state. We could isolate them. Make them weak. They are no harm to us. Eventually we could entice them out of isolation, through a series of promises and agreements, for in their weakness they will become poor, and through agreements with us, they may become rich. What in your opinion must we do?

Niccolo: In seizing a state, the usurper ought to examine closely into all those injuries which it is necessary for him to inflict, and to do them all at one stroke so as not to have to repeat them daily; and thus by not unsettling men he will be able to reassure them, and win them to himself by benefits. He who does otherwise, either from timidity or evil advice, is always compelled to keep the knife in his hand.

Debolio: By showing restraint, offering things of value to those who would disturb our peace, we will gain influence and respect. We cannot rule through fear alone. This violates our own most sacredly held beliefs, and it is the foundation of our laws and trade. Were we to sacrifice that, we would have nothing left.

Capolio: I agree Debolio. We are known as a gentle paese. A place where liberty and equality before the law can be found. To sacrifice such a value would be the ruin of our moral superiority, the blessings of the generations to precede us.

Niccolo: It appears to me more appropriate to follow up the real truth of a matter than the imagination of it; for many have pictured republics and principalities which in fact have never been known or seen, because how one lives is so far distant from how one ought to live, that he who neglects what is done for what ought to be done, sooner effects his ruin than his preservation; for a man who wishes to act entirely up to his professions of virtue soon meets with what destroys him among so much that is evil.