Thursday, November 29, 2007

More Harrassing Larry

Look who's responsible for taking out and dealing with the trash at the hotels. The poorest, least educated, least thoughtful. Go behind a hotel in Norway and you'll see the trash dealt with in some eco-sensitive and expensive way. Which has everything to do with Norwegians being rich, educated, and highly socialized compared to Fijians.

I didn't say anything about how to get from Fijian social and economic conditions (which are actually quite good by third world standards) to Norwegian conditions.

But I think no good argument can be made against the proposition that the incomes of the workers are more likely to rise when the gross national income is rising. It does not follow that our only option is to hope that the workers will get their fair share by trickle down and do nothing else. Measures short of revolution and redistribution by force have been applied by capitalist societies with mixed success for more than a century. And they have always been most successful when the overall economy was growing.

The economic principles of the imperialist societies of a century ago appear to remain valid, but today they are stood on their heads in the application. For example, in 1907 the US and the British Empire wanted influence in China because they hoped to make it a market for their industrial goods. The rivalries among the empires was for overseas markets. The terms of trade were such that the poorer countries always got screwed and their people impoverished by foreign trade.

In 2007 the capitalist countries seek to gain influence by providing (or withholding) access to their own economies as markets for the goods of the poorer countries. The terms of trade are such as to enrich the poorer countries. The obvious example is China and the Tiger economies - Japan, Korea, Thailand, Taiwan. Sometimes, as with OPEC, the relationship is involuntary.

What provokes so much controversy and resistance is that the resulting increase in wealth in the exporting countries is rarely distributed fairly. The resulting development is rarely attractive or socially desirable. In short, the developing countries are in the same situation as the developed ones. Rising wealth is a precondition of increasing incomes and improved living conditions for the workers, but by no means guarantees it.

Even so, opposing growth of national incomes and infrastructure development seems to me to be always and everywhere a mistake. Romanticizing poverty and backwardness is always and everywhere a mistake. What is wanted is fairer distribution and redistribution of wealth, not less wealth. What is wanted is more social controls on development, not less development. This is true both at home and abroad.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Letter to Larry

Such a pessimist. You won't like hearing this but the solution is right there in front of you. The hotels clean up the garbage because a) their guests have been educated or conditioned not to want crap on the beach, and b) because they can afford to pay to have it done. When everybody in Fiji is as rich and educated as the customers in the hotels, all the beaches will be as clean as the ones in the hotels.

The rest of the solution is in the evolution of our consumerism. My tenant is moving out because I have evicted her and has moved her internet access account to her new address. So I have been shopping for a new provider, either cable or dsl. It will cost something but with the latest and greatest it will be worth it. How much material will I be consuming with it every month? The electronic boxes are small light and an afterthought. The same is true of cellphones and all the ringtones and mpg bullshit that goes with it. The television I got last year has only a fraction of the materials my television had ten years ago. Most of what I paid for is HD which is fancy electronics, not material, and for loser football teams like the 49'ers, which is arguably a service and not a product.

With the decline in the size and material content of our goods the resources needed to transport them will decline as well. We still have to find more efficient ways to transport our ever-burgeoning asses from continent to continent because tourism is a big consumption item among wealthy societies. Education and medical care are also ever bigger items among rich aging populations and neither is natural resource intensive.

In the long run the pressure on the environment comes from low-tech more than from high-tech. We have to get the fuckers (other fuckers) out of their (our) carbon-belching mobiles and into something small light, yes, plastic, and non carbon-emitting. The possible future that does not involve the collapse of the world economy and large scale starvation, is not to go from our current mix of low and high tech to no tech, but to get the whole damned world on the highest of high tech. With luck we should be able to replace the main hardships in human life, want and disease, with bad technical support and failed fashion risks by the end of the century.

Only airheads find the meaning of life in rock song lyrics...

when everybody knows it is in cartoons.

Bangladesh is drowning; 3,000 have died

Millions are homeless. Yet no Israeli emergency relief aid or personnel have arrived. Bangladesh is a Muslim country and they do not permit Jews there. So they have refused aid from Israel.

Moral: Whom the gods would destroy they first make stupid and bigoted so they will deserve what they get.

86 to 9

In last evening's rioting by largely Muslim youth in the Paris suburb of Villiers le Bel, 86 policemen were injured, two severely by gunfire. One lost an eye, the other had his shoulder shattered by a bullet. There were 9 arrests. 9. It may be that it was something like a battle and the police lost. One rarely has time to make arrests while being beaten up. Notably the police responded to live gunfire with tear gas -- for fear of hurting anybody.

Unless France is willing to send representatives to Annapolis to cede Villiers le Bel to the Muslims alongside the Israeli delegation there preparing to cede eastern Jerusalem to them, the police and government will have to do more. One has to hope that when President Sarkozy returns from China tomorrow a more responsive policy will be forthcoming. I think France and the Muslim rioters both deserve one.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Jukebox

Here's a nifty site. It plays a bunch of top 40 tunes from 1950 to 1982, and will play in the background while one is in a different window. The 1950 collection includes the hora 'Tsana Tsana' sung in English.

http://www.tropicalglen.com/

Monday, November 19, 2007

Despicable



Just because his middle name is Hussein, his father was a Muslim, he was raised in a Muslim country, he went to a Muslim school, and his mother kept copies of the Koran around the house, why would anybody think he's a Muslim?

This is like thinking Senator Larry Craig is gay even after he's denied it.

What We've Always Suspected

From the New York Times, Monday 19 November 2007

[Goldman Sachs was the only major Wall Street firm to see the subprime mortgage disaster coming. They positioned themselves to make money on it.]

“There is no mystery, or secret handshake,” said Stephen Friedman, a former co-chairman and now a Goldman director. “We did a lot of work to build a culture here in the 1980s, and now people are playing on the balls of their feet. We just have a damn good talent pool.”

That pool has allowed Goldman to extend its reach across Wall Street and beyond.

Last week, John A. Thain, a former Goldman co-president, accepted the top position at Merrill Lynch, while a fellow Goldman alumnus, Duncan L. Niederauer, took Mr. Thain’s job running the New York Stock Exchange. Another fellow veteran trader, Daniel Och, took his $30 billion hedge fund public.

Meanwhile, two Goldman managing directors helped bring Alex Rodriguez back to the Yankees, a deal that could enhance the value of Goldman’s 40 percent stake in the YES cable network — which it is trying to sell — while also pleasing Yankee fans. The symmetry was perfect: like the Yankees, Goldman, more than any other bank on Wall Street, is both hated and revered.

Robert E. Rubin, a former Goldman head, [and former Secretary of the Treasury] is the new chairman of Citigroup. In Washington, another former chief, Henry M. Paulson Jr., is the Treasury secretary, having been recruited by Joshua B. Bolten, the White House chief of staff and yet another former Goldman executive.

The heads of the Canadian and Italian central banks are Goldman alumni. The World Bank president, Robert B. Zoellick, is another. Jon S. Corzine, once a co-chairman, is the governor of New Jersey. And in academia, Robert S. Kaplan, a former vice chairman, has just been picked as the interim head of Harvard University’s $35 billion endowment.


This ought to put an end to the myth that Wall Street bankers run the country...

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The News from El Cerrito

I have discovered that the chronic backache I have had more or less constantly since I got back has a cause. And it is not just being old and fat. Last night I slept on the floor instead of on my supposedly excellent and firm mattress. This morning I feel, if not good, better, for the first time in weeks.

It is not exclusively age related either. I remember now that I used to sleep either on the floor or on a piece of carpeted plywood in the bed. That was when I lived on La Loma in the 1980's. I was in my late 30's, early 40's, then. I no longer remember what became of the futon I slept on for many years after La Loma. But it is time to either sleep on the floor again or to shop for another futon.

I am so pleased to learn that the rest of my life will not be spent hunched over in pain as this past month has been.

The News from Shanghai

I have been watching the the ATP Masters Tournament in Shanghai. I just saw Rafael Nadal play some of the best tennis I have ever seen anyone play. His serve was consistent, fast and live. His gets were swift, agile, and wide-ranging. His ground strokes were powerful deep, accurate, and varied with all kinds of spins and angles on them. His play at net was quick and impeccable.

Even with all that, to say that Roger Federer wiped the court with him would be to make the match sound closer than it actually was. Federer is universally recognized as by far the best player in tennis, and even so is still under-estimated.

We might still be living in the Space Age, the Computer Age, the American Century, or some such. But it is also the Age of Roger Federer. It is a real joy to watch anybody being that good at anything.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Text from an old GeoCities website - 2001

How I Spent My Summer Vacation
or
Is Zimbabwe the One on the Left?

The solar eclipse of 2001 crossed southern Africa on June 21, the Southern Hemisphere's winter solstice. The viewing site choices were Angola (bloody endless civil war), Madagascar (no roads near path of eclipse), Mozambique (failed Marxist regime clings to power, nothing works), Zambia and Zimbabwe. By impression, Zambia is like Guatemala - the government is stable, but for all the wrong reasons, and is poor, backward and corrupt.

Zimbabwe is to South Africa as Canada is to the US - smaller, socially similar, about equally prosperous and developed, nominally independent. It is a safe and reasonable place to go - or so I thought.

I took my bicycle and camping gear, expecting to tour the country by bicycle. It didn't happen. I assumed that the farm occupations that we had read about during the past year or so would be none of my concern since I don't own a farm. That turned out to be an over-simplification. The farm occupations have been one part of a rising wave of social unrest, manifesting itself not only as farm seizures, but also as demonstrations, occasional riots, assaults, and robberies. Ironically even the wave of violence shows how fundamentally civilized Zimbabwe is - only one person has been killed in a year of unrest.


Even so, there are soldiers, police, and security guards absolutely everywhere. There are frequent police roadblocks and car searches for weapons,which takes some getting used to. Our Fourth Amendment looks pretty good when you've had your car searched by the police without a warrant or probable cause. Anyway, I chickened out and decided to tour by rented car.

Bad Stuff about Zimbabwe
By standard definitions, unemployment has reached 50% (although of course there is marginal employment which mitigates the rate), a one party government which has won every parliamentary and presidential election since independence, vast disparities in wealth between the suburban middle class and the working class, at least as great disparities between town and country. Suburbanites drive SUV's, use cellphones, shop at malls, have three car garages and servants. Suburban Harare would look familiar to folks from Marin County, except for three quarters of the faces being black. The working class suburb of Chinowidze would make residents of East Oakland wish they were home. Zimbabwe now has the highest reported rate of HIV infection in the world. Life expectancy has fallen to 27 years. Population growth has fallen to zero in spite of a staggeringly high birth rate. Every woman in the country has a baby on her back. The currency is not convertible and all tourist prices are also quoted in US dollars. There is almost no foreign currency reserve left and everyone is blaming someone else for it. Almost no one seems interested in the most likely culprits: inflation and a fixed exchange rate. Rural areas lack electricity, running water, sewer lines, telephone, and the roads are unpaved and poor.

Good Stuff about Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe is pleasant and still prosperous. The Shona and Matabele people are friendly, polite, and have missionary school manners. The police appear honest and the judicial system is apparently real and honest as well. There are schools, particularly vocational schools, everywhere. Medical care is widespread and free. I saw no one who appeared hungry nor anyone in rags. Rural housing is the traditional round one-room houses with thatched rooves, but everyone seems to have one, possibly because the government provides that they will. There is endless thievery but apparently little violence, at least now that the police, army, and guards are everywhere. The roads are excellent (albeit lacking shoulders for bicycling) and there is regular bus service everywhere. There seems to be high levels of literacy throughout the country, including in English which is the national language, as well as Shona and Ndebele. There is substantial light industry which produces most ordinary consumer goods. Most of what one buys in a supermarket is both grown in Zimbabwe and processed or canned there. Clothing and most small household objects are manufactured there. When they get past this period of instability, Zimbabwe will again be a fine place to go.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Debate

Interestingly the best Democratic debaters were Kucinich, Obama, and Biden. Biden looked good because he knew what he was talking about. Kucinich looked very good because he has the radical's advantage of being consistent and having been consistent, and having to make no fine distinctions. Obama sounded good because he looks good. More than the others he looks and sounds presidential.

The debate was skewed by the Clinton campaign having succeeded in packing the hall with Clinton partisans.

There was an electrifying moment during the exchange over the payroll tax which is currently paid against only the first $97K of income. Obama wants to remove the cap. Clinton opposed removing the cap. She said it would be a trillion dollar increase on the middle class. Clinton having sounded the clarion in the night by saying the word "class" - Obama said that only 6% of Americans make more than $97K. He said that those 6% are the upper class, not the middle class.

So we have a choice of a schwartze from Harvard, a Yenta from Wellesley, a Carolina Gomer , a rich greaseball banker, a Cleveland Bolshie, a Connecticut alte kocker, and Joe Biden.

The Good Life

So I get a couple of 24-ouncers, one for each half, and a roast beef sandwich. I discover that my fancy television can get the 49er game in HD, which is actually pretty good. I turn it on, am impressed with the picture, the beer, and the sandwich. But in spite of all the makings of a fine Monday Night at home, I discover two things are missing -- the offense and the defense. Steve Young shows up to save the day, but now he is an announcer. The Niners go on to tie a league low for fewest first downs. The only cheers from the stands are the fans yelling, "Feh!"

The Faithful are back to the time the local eleven received the kickoff in the first play of the first game of the season, fumbled, and had the visitors run it back for a touchdown. Whereupon Herb Caen reported the earliest ever cry of "Wait 'til next year!" Sigh.

More About Joe Hill, er, Biden

Senator Biden, the only candidate in either party who seems to know his tokhas from second base about foreign policy is polling a solid 3 to 5 percent of Democrats. Right now he would lose in Iowa to Osama bin Laden. But if I can root for the 49'ers, I can root for Biden. If Obama were arrested in a men's room, Hilary were to use the N' word, and Edwards were to defend OJ, Biden would have a shot.

It Isn't?

Contrary to my prior impression, I have just learned that Cunnilingus is NOT a village in Ireland.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Trouble with Outsourcing

I was depressed last night so I called Lifeline.

Got a call center in Pakistan.

I told them I was suicidal.

They got all excited and asked if I could fly a plane.

Sound of Penny Dropping

Reading the Washington Post in preference to the New York Times is starting to pay off. I read about the disaster with sub-prime mortgages and finally got it. I suppose what is happening was clearer to others but I finally have been let in on the news.

I had assumed that the problem was that there had been so many defaults and foreclosures. That is not the problem. The problem is that there are still so many mortgages, millions, out there in homeowner land with built-in interest rate resets scheduled to reset soon. The problem is that we have an absolute guarantee that there are going to be far more defaults and foreclosures in the near future.

Some are merely adjustables which transfer the risk of interest rate fluctuation from the lender to the borrower. These the Federal Reserve Board has tried to protect by lowering interest rates with two consecutive rate cuts so that the index rates on which they are based will stay low. They have made these cuts by risking inflation in the overall economy exactly when overall inflation pressures are mounting.

As the dollar sinks, the prices of imported goods, particularly oil, will rise. Domestic goods sellers, faced with reduced price competition from foreign goods will raise their prices too. So the Federal Reserve, faced with the risk of inflation by adding interest rate cuts to other inflationary pressures, and the risk of millions of additional defaults and foreclosures, has chosen to risk the inflation rather than the foreclosures.

[I know well how this works and how it feels. But I was lucky enough to have got an adjustable mortgage in the 1990's, an era of declining interest rates. I refinanced to a fixed at a low rate just as I had hoped I someday would. My strategy has always been to rely on dumb luck.]

Other mortgages reset to higher rates automatically just with the passage of time. These are not transferring risk, they are closer to outright fraud. People are able and encouraged to buy a house, i.e. a mortgage, with interest rates of 4% or 3%. How they will pay 7%, 8%, or 11% in two, three, or five years is left up to "somehow" and "we'll think about it then" or "maybe we will be able to refinance later".

The Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, has proposed to Congress that the government fund the hoped-for refinances in a variety of ways. With pressures from the banking industry pushing in ways that people with souls can't even imagine, and an election coming up, there is no knowing what Congress will do. But too little too late would be a good bet.

Monday, November 05, 2007

This you call Yiddish humor?

Morris returns from a long business trip and finds out that his wife
has been unfaithful during his time away.

"Who was it!!!???" he yells. "That alta kakker Goldstein?"

"No," replied his wife. "It wasn't Goldstein."

"Was it Feldman, that dirty old man?"

"No, not him."

"Aha! Then it must have been that idiot Rabinovich!"

"No, it wasn't Rabinovich either..."

Morris was now fuming. "What's the matter?" he cried. "None of my
friends are good enough for you?"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A Doctor was addressing a large audience in Tampa .

"The material we put into our stomachs is enough to have killed most
of us sitting here, years ago. Red meat is awful. Soft drinks corrode
your stomach lining. Chinese food is loaded with MSG. High fat diets
can be disastrous, and none of us realizes the long-term harm caused
by the germs in our drinking water.

"But there is one thing that is the most dangerous of all, and we all
have, or will, eat it. Would anyone care to guess what food causes the
most grief and suffering for years after eating it?"

After several seconds of quiet, a small 75-year-old Jewish man in the
front row, raised his hand and said, "Vedding Cake?"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Miriam was dying and on her deathbed, she gave final instructions to
her husband Sidney.

"Sidney , you've been so good to me all these years. I know you never
even thought about another woman. But now that I'm going, I want you
to marry again as soon as is possible and I want you to give your new
wife all my expensive clothes."

"I can't do that, darling," Sidney said. "You're a size 16 and she's only a 10."

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Problem with Joe Biden

The problem with electing Joe Biden is the same as with selecting a doctor. I don't know squat about medicine so how am I to know which doctor is more competent? Here's a quote in which Senator Biden mocks Rudy Giuliani:

Rudy was saying that Clinton and Obama weren't qualified on foreign policy. And here's a man who several months ago said, in a public statement reported in the New York Times, 'I don't know who's further ahead on nuclear weapons, Iran or Korea.'


Senator Biden annihilated Giuliani as having no foreign policy credentials whatever while walking down a street eating a sandwich. Film here

I am retired and have plenty of time to waste reading newspapers so I happen to know why that is a devastating remark i.e. that Giuliani didn't know the United States, China, Japan and several other countries have been working hard for months to pressure North Korea not to sell nuclear technology to Iran. People engaged in more useful pursuits are unlikely to have any clue what Biden is talking about. So Giuliani leads in the polls and Biden is a lame fourth.

One of the major problems of a democracy is that the people are generally ill-informed. And even when we are informed, we are generally a bunch of numbnuts with poor judgment. So we wind up voting for a woman because she is woman, a black because he is a black, or somebody from our home state for no particular reason at all.