Friday, February 27, 2009

Limited crisis timeline

This looks like it will be interesting:
New York, NY – On Wednesday, March 25, the Museum of American Finance will open “Tracking the Credit Crisis: A Timeline,” to trace the development of the current financial crisis, the most severe and complex economic and financial challenge in modern experience. Presented as a monumental 8’ x 20’ graphical wall accompanied by a video presentation, the timeline begins with the bursting of the U.S. housing bubble in late 2006 through the unprecedented trillions being guaranteed and injected into the private sector in 2008-2009 by the government. President Barack Obama’s stimulus package of almost $800 billion is part of the stabilization effort to forestall a financial collapse, in a global environment in which some $40 trillion in wealth has been lost (on paper) in the last 18 months. The U.S. government’s actions represent a watershed in American economic and political history.
But if you want to understand this crisis, you have to go further back than 2006.

If only...

Something for the editors of Reason magazine to contemplate: If McCain had been elected, we'd probably have an Iraq withdrawal plan not that different from Obama's, and a budget that doesn't have the federal government swallowing up the economy. But of course, there'd be plenty for libertarians to complain about on supercritical issues such as steroids and poker.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

One and a half predictions

This guy's going to be the Republican nominee in 2012, and just might win.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Alien census: 361+

It seems like a suspiciously exact number.
In a paper published recently in the International Journal of Astrobiology, the researchers concluded that based on what they saw, at least 361 intelligent civilizations have emerged in the Milky Way since its creation, and as many as 38,000 may have formed.
How do we know it wasn't, say, 360?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Blogging will continue to be light, nonexistent or just plain unpredictable for some time, as I attend to various other projects.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Evening at Lolita's

The audience at Lolita Bar voted no, the right has not hit bottom yet (i.e., has further to fall), notwithstanding my arguments to the contrary and invocation of Jeff Goldblum dripping glop from his mouth in the movie The Fly to illustrate the "insect politics" (rigid behavior and mindless hostility) that we can and should avoid. I may have more on this debate another time, but right now I've gotten nowhere near the bottom of the work I need to do, including a pile of tax paperwork. (Did I mention that tax simplification is a key opportunity for the right?)

Kudos to my opponent Ryan Sager, who made good arguments, and with whom I agree on a lot of political issues. If I were running for president, I would not choose Ryan as my running mate, since he wouldn't add enough balance to the ticket.

UPDATE: Ryan's take on the evening.

UPDATE: Listen.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Today's special is deadly peanuts

I was at a conference in Boston recently where, at lunch, the waiter gave us a detailed description of possible allergens in the food he was about to serve. Now I know why.

Space travel visionary

In the 1990s, when I was writing about space far more regularly than I currently do, I found a valuable source of information and ideas to be Tom Rogers, scientist, former Defense official and founder of the Space Transportation Association. Rogers, who has now passed away, was a visionary of private-sector space travel, an idea that, as Rand Simberg points out, is taken a lot more seriously because of Rogers' work.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

GOP farm team

One more piece of background reading for tomorrow's debate: "White House Cheat Sheet: Searching for the GOP Alternative." Keep an eye on one Governor of South Carolina.

A small opportunity

If the recent horribly gruesome attack by a chimpanzee is something you find amusing, then you too can be one of Ann Althouse's cretinous commentors.

Debate aversion

Greg Mankiw notes that academics often don't like debate formats. As someone who loves debates, whether as participant or observer, I find such aversion a bit puzzling (why wouldn't you want to test and perhaps sharpen your ideas?) but I also think it's found well beyond academia. Some business conferences I've been to would have been enlivened had people on the panel aired their disagreements, rather than ignored them or hinted at them obliquely. In particular, I suspect if more financial conferences had featured debates about the newest incomprehensible instruments, the crisis would not have been quite as much of a surprise.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Conservative denial

Some more background reading for the future-of-the-right debate, from Rick Moran at Next Right: "CPAC Agenda Shows Conservatives Still in Denial." Not surprising that some conservatives have blinders on and a white-knuckled grip on their institutions, but a few years ago there wouldn't have been websites like Next Right and New Majority to criticize them.

Facebook follies

I've become a fan of Facebook. But if Facebook raises concerns about the rights to the stuff you post there (found via Instapundit), then Facebook may find out how fast a social network can become moribund. I'd like to see something a friend of mine suggested, a Lolita debate about Facebook's merits (e.g., does it encourage or discourage social interaction, on balance?).

On a more-or-less unrelated point, I'd also like to see a debate on whether computers will become smarter than humans (in our lifetime or in this century, say, to leave the unfathomable far future out of it).

Monday, February 16, 2009

Right regroup

More background reading for this week's debate: "A Party Fractured, GOP Conservatives Regroup."

UPDATE: Debate announcement here.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Battlestar self-help

I won't give any spoilers, but I think what started ebbing away in last night's Battlestar was the sense that powerful forces are at work in a vast cosmic drama. Instead, it seems to be boiling down to some Cylon domestic difficulties. I hope it gets better.

UPDATE: I liked it more on second viewing. Also, I've always thought Boomer would end up being the heroine of the series.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Darwin bicentennial (updated: and Lincoln)

Happy 200th to Charles Darwin, and may some of his detractors show up at Lolita Bar to keep things chaotic.

And same to Abraham Lincoln. Maybe some of his detractors will be there as well.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Toy regulation follies

Some 10 years ago, I pitched a story idea about radon regulation to the Weekly Standard. They turned it down, one of the editors telling me on the phone that for now they were only interested in (I kid you not) the Monica Lewinsky scandal. I subsequently wrote the story for Reason magazine, which at the time made a point of covering unsexy but important regulatory issues.

Now, here's Virginia Postrel (who was then editor of Reason) pointing out a dreadful regulatory development in the toy industry that's gotten almost zero attention from right-wing blogs and magazines. One sign of the right's health will be whether it can overcome its boredom and attention deficit problems to grapple with the grim new era of regulatory overreach.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Some financial futurism

I'm in Boston at a conference on "Managing Retirement Income." There was a noteworthy talk by futurist/sci fi author Bruce Sterling on financial crises (he pointed out that what's happening now is a long way from Mad Max, or the 1990s Balkans) and the future of the elderly, who he thinks are going to become more involved in providing "networked social capital" (doing things that keep themselves useful but that may have little or no financial reward; making a neighborhood more energy-efficient, for example).

He also had some things to say that seemed aimed at discomfiting the assembled financial advisors, such as would their clients, if required to choose only one, opt for a good financial advisor over, say, Google or Facebook? And, he noted, there used to be people who handled the equivalent of finance in Communist countries -- and were smart -- and who vanished as a group.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Recession comparison

This is an interesting graph. Nobody knows how bad the current recession is going to be. But it's noteworthy just how bad the early '80s recession was, and how mild the early '90s one was ("the worst economy in 50 years," Clinton and Gore used to say). (Via Greg Mankiw.)

UPDATE 1/14/10: See here.

Radio: early stocks, bonds

I'll be on the Gabe Wisdom Show on Business Talk Radio at 7:30 PM ET tonight to discuss "The Earliest Securities Markets."

UPDATE 7:55 PM: I was just on, and my segment followed Ivan Eland of the Independent Institute, whose ranking of the presidents puts Confederate sympathizer John Tyler at No. 1. I had a chance to comment on this example of small-government ideology turned pathological.

Bureaucracy video

A video mocking bureaucratic stagnation at NASA. More grim than funny. (Via Michael Battaglia.)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Crisis foresight

Peter Wallison, whose prescience about the financial crisis I noted in my look at the '90s, is profiled in Research magazine, and has a piece on the crisis' origins in The American Spectator.

Friday, February 6, 2009


Current reading: Agincourt. Rather gruesome but I guess that's about right. A WSJ review of it is here.

Accelerated edition

An Obama semi-meltdown? Maybe. And we'll probably get a raft of stories about his amazing comeback by, say, late next week.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Buzz chasing

I wonder if any class-action lawyers are mulling over the emotional damages Bill Gates might have wrought by unleashing a swarm of mosquitoes upon an unsuspecting crowd.

Gloom, doom

Some background reading for the Feb. 19 debate on whether the right's hit bottom: "Conservatism is Dead," by Sam Tanenhaus, with links to some responses here.

UPDATE: There's plenty more, including posts by David Frum and Andrew Sullivan.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Art debate outcome

The Intelligence Squared debate on whether the art market is less ethical than the stock market was very interesting. However, in my perception, neither side had any knockout punches, so the audience's large shift (from initially being roughly evenly split to having many more saying yes, the art market is less ethical) strikes me as a bit suspect. One wonders if some in the audience pretended to be undecided (David Biello suspected such strategic voting at an earlier debate). I do think a weak point for the no side was when art critic Jerry Saltz scoffed at the idea that the art market could be less ethical than that which has caused the "worst thing in America in 45 years" (or wording to that effect), which is not just overblown but an undue conflation of the stock market with the subprime mortgage and mortgage-backed securities markets.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Financial reports

Jim Picerno, a sophisticated market observer with whom I shared an office for a while in the financial journalism world, maintains a blog called The Capital Spectator and, for those who are really serious, now writes a monthly newsletter called The Beta Investment Report.

Singularity University?

It sounds to me rather single-minded. A school for futurists might not be a bad idea, but it should make some space for competing views about the future, and for skepticism about the singularity.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Pajama trouble

Being an obscure latecomer to the blogosphere has its advantages. For one thing, it means I never had a chance to get involved with the apparently capsizing Pajamas Media, nor did I dare to dream that blogging could provide more than the slightest trace of an income. (I get fees if people buy Amazon products through this site. Results: er, let's talk about that later.)

Moreover, as I am the optimist on the right's future in an upcoming Lolita Debate, I suppose some might present PJM's troubles as a counterargument. But if the goal is bringing fresh thinking to the right, it seems to me that PJM has been pretty expendable from the start.

Early markets

My piece on "The Earliest Securities Markets" is up at Research magazine's revamped website. Excerpt:

Shares of Ancient Rome?

There is little consensus among scholars as to when corporate stock was first traded. Some see the key event as the Dutch East India Company’s founding in 1602, while others point to earlier developments. Economist Ulrike Malmendier of the University of California at Berkeley argues that a share market existed as far back as ancient Rome.

In the Roman Republic, which existed for centuries before the Empire was founded, there were societas publicanorum, organizations of contractors or leaseholders who performed temple-building and other services for the government. One such service was the feeding of geese on the Capitoline Hill as a reward to the birds after their honking warned of a Gallic invasion in 390 B.C.

Participants in such organizations had partes or shares, a concept mentioned various times by the statesman and orator Cicero. In one speech, Cicero mentions “shares that had a very high price at the time.” Such evidence, in Malmendier’s view, suggests the instruments were tradable, with fluctuating values based on an organization’s success.

The societas declined into obscurity in the time of the emperors, as most of their services were taken over by direct agents of the state.