FM newswire for 9 January, hot articles for your morning reading

Today’s links to interesting news and analysis…

  1. We are slow learners:  “New Research on Mortgage Modifications and Principal Reduction“, Calculated Risk, 6 January 2010 —  Two years of futile policy measures lead to research that shows what was already known before the mortgage crisis began in 2007 (% equity is the best predictor of default rates).  We’ll have to get sharper if we hope to survive (let alone prosper) in the 21st century.
  2. Let’s close our eyes and pretend: “Eurabian Follies – The shoddy and just plain wrong genre that refuses to die“, Justin Vaïsse, Foreign Policy, January/February 2010 — Europe’s culture is already changing in response to a small fraction (5%?) of Muslins; the author sees no reason a 2x or 3x increase would accellerate that rate of change.
  3. Mark Steyn responds to Vaïsse:  “Nothing to See Here“, National Review Online, 6 January 2010
  4. Both parties are dying.  Today’s example of Republican insanity:   “The party of crazy“, Steve Benen, Washington Monthly, 6 January 2010.
  5. Here’s another, even better, example:  “Style over Substance“, Steve Benen, Washington Monthly, 6 January 2010.
  6. It’s really a government problem, not a military one (NASA has it also):  “The Military’s PowerPoint Problem“, Matthew Yglesias, blog of ThinkProgress, 6 January 2010.  Read the comments, esp the links to other articles here.
  7. The Second Decade – The World in 2020“, Michael T. Klare, TomDispatch, 5 January 2010 — Sound thinking about geopolitics, ending with fashionable doomster speculation about climate.

Quote of the day

“Irrigation of the land with seawater desalinated by fusion power is ancient. It’s called ‘rain’.”
— attributed to Michael McClary (no source found)

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12 thoughts on “FM newswire for 9 January, hot articles for your morning reading

  1. Bruce Sterling’s State of the World interview on the WELL proves worth reading in its entirety.

    “Most of my Twitter tweeple, in expressing their mild hopes for the decade, seem obscurely terrified. `Well, it couldn’t possibly be any worse than last year,’ seems to be the consensus notion. I haven’t seen any Scrooge-like spoilsport remarking on the prospect that the twenty-teens could easily be MUCH, MUCH worse than the zeroes. The Depression of the 1930s was followed by the 1940s, right? It’s casino thinking to imagine that the next poker hand is bound to be great just because you lost your ass in the last one.”

    Now there’s a sobering thought. Personally, I expect the 2010s to be significantly worse than the 2000s. How? Well, let’s count the ways:

    [1] Mass global migrations of displaced impoverished populations in the third world turned into refugees by massive droughts and floods give rise to global pandemics because, y’know, refugee camps don’t have great sanitation…and then these pandemics drift over to the developed world. Say hello to Mr. Spanish Flu part deux.

    [2] We haven’t even hit the commercial real estate collapse and that’s gonna be _much_ worse than the housing meltdown because there’s a lot more money involved. People will really go broke in the next round.

    [3] Outsourcing hasn’t really gotten going full blast yet. When it does, look for essentially American every job that isn’t hands-on to get shipped overseas. That means if you’re an accountant or a programmer or if you’re middle management or if you do graphic design or if you work in any office anywhere sitting around looking at a computer screen, your job is going away. That’s most of the U.S. middle class right there.

    [4] We’re enjoying a respite from skyrocketing gasoline prices because the global economy’s in the toilet right now. When it starts to pull out, gasoline will resume its relentless upward climb and that’s when the real hysteria will start in places that depend heavily on cars, like Southern California. If you think LoCal is falling apart now, just wait till gas hits $10 a gallon. Prediction: you’re going to see mass human waves of migration in the form of entire familes trundling along all their possessions on handcarts walking out of California.

    [5] The big joker is global warming. It’s taking place faster than anyone predicted. At this rate the dry brown dead zone that’s currently taking in Georgia and the deep south will start marching northward, and if it does, our food production plummets. That won’t be fun, lemme tell ya.

    I’m not seeing a lotta good news in the coming decade.
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    FM reply: much of this is IMO grossly overstated.

    (1) “prospect that the twenty-teens could easily be MUCH, MUCH worse than the zeroes”

    This implies the zeros were a bad decade for the world. False. Even including the 2008-09, the full decade was one of rapid growth. The 5 years before the recession saw some of the fastest global growth since the invention of fire (global growth of roughly 5%, including the formerly Red block and 3rd world).

    “casino thinking to imagine that the next poker hand is bound to be great just because you lost your ass in the last one”

    (1) No. The consensus optimism about the recovery has a basis, the fact that every previous post-WWII recession (of which this is the longest and deepest) was followed immediately by a strong recovery. A minority (including me) believe this recession is different, hence the consesus is probably wrong — but that’s a guess. If we’re correct, there will be a second downturn in the global recession. After 2 years of recession, the major developed nations are weak — with many households and businesses having exhaused their reserves. Japan, Europe, and the US (for different reasons) could all suffer greatly if the recession continues into 2010.

    (2) Much of this assumes worse weather. Since there has been no warming in the last ten years, claims that warming is accellerating seem unfounded. As I have shown in other posts, claims of massive weather disruptions have been common since the early 1970’s — cooling, warming, more hurricanes. All proven false, so far.

    (2) “Outsourcing hasn’t really gotten going full blast yet.”

    Outsourcing is largely a result of an overvalued US dollar. The decline of the dollar to the post-WWII lows has reduced this. The only substantial overvaluation remaining is to the US dollar pegged Asian currencies, esp China’s RMB. That will probably end during the next few years, as China starts to experience the inevitable ill effects — esp inflation.

  2. THE UNPARALLELED INVASION, Jack London (1914) — Excerpt:

    The real danger lay in the fecundity of her loins, and it was in 1970 that the first cry of alarm was raised. For some time all territories adjacent to China had been grumbling at Chinese immigration; but now it suddenly came home to the world that China’s population was 500,000,000. She had increased by a hundred millions since her awakening. Burchaldter called attention to the fact that there were more Chinese in existence than white-skinned people. He performed a simple sum in arithmetic. He added together the populations of the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, England, France, Germany, Italy, Austria, European Russia, and all Scandinavia. The result was 495,000,000. And the population of China overtopped this tremendous total by 5,000,000. Burchaldter’s figures went round the world, and the world shivered.

  3. Forget Osama, THIS is the most insidious peril of them all

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-EqQOuXGRDo&hl=en_US&fs=1&]

  4. #4, “The Party of Crazy” amounts to name calling (“extreme right wing”) and has no substance. The fight in Florida has little to do with “purging” and mostly to do with the party establishment’s unseemly early backing of Crist, the establishment good ol’ boy over young and conservative (and probably more electable) Mario Rubio.

    There are several fissures, few of which can be responsibly described as the “crazies” taking over the party. They are playing out as the frustrations of the Tea Party sympathizers with the K-Street establishment are reaching a boiling point. The establishment isn’t willing to acknowledge the bankruptcy of Bush-big-spending-Republicanism, although the chairman of the RNC seemed to allude to it the other day. The fault lines are:

    1. (Secular) social libertarians vs. (religious) social conservatives, the argument being whether social conservatism (i.e. emphasis on traditional family structures) is inseparable from conservatism in general, or if Individual Freedom takes priority in all things. This also plays out in discussions about drug legalization.

    2. National security hawks vs. national security isolationists, the argument being whether defense of the country is best served by an assertive foreign policy or a non-interventionist FP.

    3. “Crunchy-con” AGW believers vs. the drill-baby-drill, AGW is BS majority.

    4. Wall Street and Big Business crony-capitalists who want their share of the federal pie vs. Main Street small business capitalists who trying to survive.

    Benen’s article is cartoon characture. But hey, it’s just easier to call them “crazies” then to do the hard work of understanding what’s really going on.
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    FM reply: While I agree with your analysis about the fissures, specific doctrines are not the salient point. The substantial numbers regarding Palin as a sensible candidate for … any … office are crazy IMO (not in a clinical sense, of course) — a symptom of deep dysfunctionality in the Republican Party. As are the ongoing attempts to purge centrist (insufficiently ideological) viewpoints.

  5. A few years ago a Jewish Frenchman was kidnapped and tortured to death in a French housing high rise. Rather than rescue him, the police feigned incompetence, pretended to be unable to trace calls from his kidnappers, and LET HIM DIE.

    And the nation by and large shrugged this off. It’s not just that there is a sizeable Muslim minority in Europe. It’s that the majority population is too stupidly bigoted to integrate those Muslims and make citizens of them, AND too cowardly to repress the militants who emerge out of the Muslim minority in response.
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    FM reply: I’d like to see more evidence for this. For a summary see the Wikipedia entry for Illan Halimi (use Wikipedia with care on these things, relying on the links rather than the text). His mother’s says the police misinterpreted the crime, not that they ignored it: “Murdered man’s mother blames police“, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 2 April 2009:

    In her book “24 Days,” released Thursday, Ruth Halimi writes that French police never suspected her son’s kidnappers would kill the 23-year-old after three weeks in captivity in 2006, partly because they would not face the anti-Semitic character of the crime, the French daily Le Figaro reported Wednesday. … Book co-author Emilie Freche explained that “by denying the anti-Semitic character, [police] did not figure out the profile of the gang,” Le Figaro reported.

    Ilan Halimi’s parents were instructed to stay silent during the three weeks of his capture and could not seek aid in order to pay the ransom, nor show their son’s photo to people who might have come forward with information about his whereabouts, according to reports. “The police were completely off the mark,” said Ruth Halimi in a March 27 interview with Elle magazine. “They thought they were dealing with classic bandits, but these people were beyond the norm.”

    Regarding the French people’s reaction, the Wikipedia entry says (but with no specific citation):

    The case has found an enormous echo in the French media and in the French public. Six French associations called for a mass demonstration against racism and antisemitism in Paris on Sunday, 26 February. Between 33,000 (as estimated by police) and 80,000 to 200,000 (as estimated by the organizers) people participated in Paris, as well as thousands around the country. Also present were public figures such as Nicolas Sarkozy, Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger and Lionel Jospin. Right-wing politician Philippe de Villiers was booed by far-left militants and had to leave under police guard.

  6. I found this comment intriguing.

    Fallows was talking about John Boyd, a fighter pilot responsible for some of the math behind the evaluation of fighter planes, the F-15, F-16, scathing critiques of the Pentagon in the 70s and 80s, a time-based theory of warfare, and possibly some Gulf War I strategy. Here’s the book. Anyway, Boyd was a master presenter, poring hours over his slideshows, doing literally hundreds of revisions of talks he gave over the years. Why? Because the Air Force (and the military generally) was an oral culture, according to the author. Giving a good presentation was key to getting heard. Does that jibe with your experience @6?

    I find the topic of oral tradition to be fascination and have even developed an Amazon.com list on thie subject. Briefly stated, this field posits that oral communication and written communication are two different beasts which must be studied two different ways.

    Leading theorist, John Miles Foley, in How to Read an Oral Poem posits that modern hypertext and other forms of electronic communication actually contain features that hearken back to oral forms of communication, differing from written norms that have emerged particularly in the post-Gutenberg era. ( Although written communication predates Gutenberg; and one major scholar, Eric Havelock, essentially agues that Plato represents a literary revolution against the Homeric bards.

    Anyhow, this whole Powerpoint brouhaha strikes me as an assault by literary types against an oral culture. ( note the reference to Microsoft Word ). There’s nothing inherently superior or inferior about what mode one uses. Lousy bureaucratic memos are legion and well known.

    It seems to me the objective should be howto use electronic media, including possibly Powerpoint, to facilitate oral presentations. Learning classical rhetoric might help us here.
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    FM reply: I don’t believe this accurately captures the complaints about substituting on Powerpoint for detailed engineering reports (e.g., at NASA, as described in the Challenger report by Edward Tufte) or detailed military orders (e.g., General Franks using powerpoint slides for mission orders, which would General Grant would have conisidered incompetent). Neither of these are suitable for oral transmission, and have not been considered as such for centuries. Powerpoint is inappropriately used as a written form of communication when it is, as you state, a great tool to facilitate verbal presentations.

  7. FM: “detailed military orders (e.g., General Franks using powerpoint slides for mission orders, which would General Grant would have conisidered incompetent). Neither of these are suitable for oral transmission, and have not been considered as such for centuries.

    Actually, Havelock cites certain episodes in Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom as illustrations of orality analogous to that which he asserts was present in Homer. He also cites certain exchanges between Turks and the British during Gallipoli to contend that the Turks were far more oral – as opposed to the literary orientation of the British.
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    FM reply: However interesting, citing Turk or ancient Greek practice cuts little weight in discussions of modern professional methods. Would you accept that from your doctor or denist? Contractor for your office building (as in “I don’t like to work from plans; just describe what you want”)

  8. Contractor for your office building (as in “I don’t like to work from plans; just describe what you want”)

    Actually, John Ruskin, in The Stones of Venice, while discussing the true meaning of the Gothic, celebrated the Gothic style for its allowing versatility and improvisation from workers, who not merely mechanically followed directions but contributed input. This he contrasts with the Renaissance style, which demanded blind obedience to instructions.

    By analogy, to the extent that soldiers are merely little marching idiots, they should follow the Renaissance style. To the extent they should demonstrate initiative, they should be rather more Gothic. And the Gothic bears greater semblance to Boyd or to T. E. Lawrence, both of whom are purportedly otherwise celebrated in this blog and both of whom – as you and everyone else reading this thread knows very well – I have already cited.
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    FM replies: I suspect you are discussing what the miilitary calls mission-type orders, developed by the Prussian Army almost 2 centuries ago (see Wikipedia). They still must be written, but specifying the mission — not the details as to how it should be accomplished.

    Also, the military has given considerable thought to how orders should be written. See the Wikipedia entry for an Operations Order and (for smalll units) the Five Paragraph Order. Printing out powerpoint slides instead of proper orders is bizarre.

    While I admire the scholarship and poetry of your response, but I wish you much-needed luck when you need a new commercial building!

  9. Ave, Fabius. Regarding Ilan Halimi, you miss the point entirely. Whether the kidnapping was motivated by antisemitism or not is entirely immaterial. What is important is what happens in the vast majority of kidnappings: the murder of the quarry regardless of whether or not a ransom is paid. Kidnapping an adult is a difficult, dangerous task. Kidnapping him without harming him, much more difficult. And when a gang of incompetents does it, the risk to the quarry is greater than when a competent mafia crew does it.

    The French police knew where Halimi was kept. They knew the kidnappers were brainless thugs. They knew he was being tortured. They knew the literature in criminology about how these things end up. They did not rescue Halimi because he was kept in an area where police incursions generally spark riots, and they did not see Halimi as being worth the risk to their front line officers.

    The kidnappers were antisemitic. So were the police. And the subsequent political gestures do little to jide it.
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    FM reply: As I said to your first comment, do you have any citations for these assertions? For example, “The French police knew where Halimi was kept” and “they did not see Halimi as being worth the risk to their front line officers.” I dont’ even see his mother making such accusations, in my very brief reading about the case.

  10. Why do Americans seem to get so exercised by the whole eurabian panic? looking around, European culture suffered far more damage post world war 2 from American culture than anything from the east. As a child in Ireland I thought I would grow up to live in a big white house and be a millionaire, I’m still learning to cope with the ensuing disappointment. If I been reared on European movies I’d have grown up thankful for small mercies.
    Were still counting the cost of the psychic damage done to a generation of small children by a wall of American schlock… We’ve been colonized far more successfully by America than we will ever be by Muslims.

  11. FM remarks: “This implies the zeros were a bad decade for the world. False. Even including the 2008-09, the full decade was one of rapid growth.

    I think Bruce Sterling is talking about America here. The last decade was not a good one for America. It was terrible for Japan. But it was pretty good for Australia, excellent for China, and outstanding for India. So the picture is mixed.

    FM goes on comment: “No. The consensus optimism about the recovery has a basis, the fact that every previous post-WWII recession (of which this is the longest and deepest) was followed immediately by a strong recovery. A minority (including me) believe this recession is different, hence the consesus is probably wrong…

    That seems to agree with Sterling’s point that thinking the next decade will go better for America because the last one was terrible is “casino thinking.”

    FM claims “Outsourcing is largely a result of an overvalued US dollar.

    That’s an oversimplification. Outsourcing actually depends on global wage arbitrage. Part of that results from the relative value of the U.S. dollar — but a very big part of U.S. wages also depend on the value of massively inflated assets in America, such as housing prices, the cost of rent (pushed up insanely by the housing bubble) and so on. A recent government study showed that minimum wage workers could not afford the cheapest apartments in any of the major U.S. cities, which tells us something is terribly out of wack with the U.S. economy. Clearly many assets in America are extremely overvalued. The bubble has not yet fully deflated — businesses are still paying absurdly high rents, the cost of everything else is grossly inflated compared to pre-bubble American economy.

    Moreover, the spiking cost of gasoline feeds into the entire U.S. economy and pushes costs up disproportionately because America is unusually dependent on long-distance trucking to get goods to market. Dense urban areas like, say, Europe don’t suffer the same kind of knock-on inflationary effects from high gasoline prices. So dismissing the entire U.S. wage difference with the rest of the world as an overvalued U.S. dollar simply doesn’t reflect the economic reality. There’s a lot more going on.
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    FM reply: I agree with most of these points. But not a few important ones.

    (1) “That seems to agree with Sterling’s point that thinking the next decade will go better for America because the last one was terrible is “casino thinking.”
    Not really. There is no alternation of decades. Analysts are applying a template of post-WWII recessions to the current downturn. It’s a method that has worked in the past, as post-WWII recessions resulted largely from Fed tightening and inventory cycles. Unfortunately, this is a different kind of downturn — a credit cycle.

    (2) “That’s an oversimplification. Outsourcing actually depends on global wage arbitrage.”
    You’re correct, of course. It is a gross oversimplification, and the global wage-productivity arbitrage is another key dynamic. We have to increase US productivity to sustain our high wages, or resort to barriers of some sort. For a detailed look at these things see Globalization and free trade – wonders of a past era, now enemies of America.

    (3) “very big part of U.S. wages also depend on the value of massively inflated assets in America”
    I dont’ believe this is true. Do you have any supporting citations?

    “dismissing the entire U.S. wage difference with the rest of the world as an overvalued U.S. dollar”
    No, I didn’t say anything remotely like that. Much of our higher wages results from US productivity (and other causes). I said that our loss of relative competitiveness is largely (not exclusively) a result of an overvalued currency — much like the UK after WWI.

  12. Thanks for posting that Michael T. Klare piece, “The Second Decade – The World in 2020”. It is good to see specific predictions made in writing about geopolitics. In 10 years I can look back on that piece and see if he was right!

    Also, this paragraph in particular jumped out at me:

    Inevitably, the global South will also play a conspicuous role in a series of potentially devastating developments. Combine persistent deep poverty, economic desperation, population growth, and intensifying climate degradation and you have a recipe for political unrest, insurgency, religious extremism, increased criminality, mass migrations, and the spread of disease. The global North will seek to immunize itself from these disorders by building fences of every sort, but through sheer numbers alone, the inhabitants of the South will make their presence felt, one way or another.

    This reminded me of a graphic I had seen which suggests “The West” is already fencing itself off: “The Walled World“, a graphic on TD-Architects, some kind of architecture site.
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    FM reply: The upper class in America is already fencing itself off, from the rest of us. Note the increased number of gated communitiies.

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