Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Unusual 19th century women dept.

UPDATE: My Jan. 3 interview with Gabe Wisdom is available as a podcast here.

UPDATE: I'll be on the Gabe Wisdom Show to discuss this article on Mon., Jan. 3 at 7pm ET.

My article in the January issue of Research magazine is now online: "Wall Street's First Woman," about Victoria Woodhull, stockbroker, suffragist, paranormalist and presidential candidate. Excerpt:
Victoria Claflin Woodhull (1838-1927) led a weird, tumultuous life, marked by wild ups and downs, scandal and acclaim and the distinction of being, among other firsts, the first woman to run for president of the United States and co-founder (with her sister Tennessee Claflin) of the first female-run brokerage firm.

The latter role is what first brought her to wide public attention. When Woodhull, Claflin & Co. opened its doors in 1870, the press took excited notice, providing the sisters with such labels as “Queens of Finance” and “Bewitching Brokers.” A New York Sun headline put Wall Street bulls and bears on notice that there were now “Petticoats Among the Bovine and Ursine Animals.”
The firm had financial backing from shipping and railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, one of the wealthiest men in America, who had taken to receiving investment tips from Woodhull while she was in a seeming trance communing with the spirit world.

Victoria had dabbled in such mysterious matters since she was a girl in Ohio. Her father, Buck Claflin, was a huckster who promoted his children’s purported paranormal powers. Victoria’s specialty was channeling the ancient Greek statesman Demosthenes.
Whole thing here.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Libertarian triumphalism

Over at FrumForum, I ask: "Is the Libertarian Revolution Finally Here?" Excerpt:
Ron Paul gets considerable play in the New York article as an exemplar of libertarianism (and Reason has largely embraced him as such too, despite some past qualms). It is highly debatable whether Paul’s political prominence signifies a “libertarian moment” or rather just a tragedy whereby libertarianism becomes conflated with a particular strain of illiberal, conspiracy-minded twaddle. It is also quite questionable whether Paul’s particular policy preferences (such as, notably, ending the Fed) will have any substantial impact on actual policy (as the New York article acknowledges).
Whole thing here. UPDATE: Title changed to "Libertarian Revolution? Not Exactly."

UPDATE 12/28: The Atlantic has a roundup regarding the Beam piece, with a summary of my article but my name misspelled. Ah, fame, so fleeting....

UPDATE 1/2: If interested in any of the above, don't miss David Frum's piece "Were the Founding Fathers Libertarian?"

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Toward 2011

It's a busy moment for me, what with weather, visitors (and cancelled flights), professional obligations and more. Posting here can be expected to be light. However, I believe FrumForum will run a symposium tomorrow, including my contribution, on what Congress's priority in 2011 should be.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Black Swan

by Dan Summer

Black Swan is a new film by Darren Aronofsky, who directed the Wrestler, Pi, Fountainhead, and Requiem for a Dream. It incorporates ideas of swan lake with a psychedelic twist. Natalie Portman (who does a better job in this than as Queen Amadala) is the lead as a ballet dancer in a prestigious dance company. The creative director is a narcissistic womanizer, who tries to push her to the limits in playing both the white and black swan.

Like other films of Aronofsky's, its a study of the human condition, especially the human psyche when facing pressure to be the best. It is a film that keeps you interested the whole time. What is real, what is made up? Anyway I highly recommend it, especially if you like some mild erotica and want to be aroused. Just don't bring your mother.

Geography books redux

Various FrumForum contributors and readers, myself included, discuss "Our Favorite Books of 2010." My section, with links added:

For the reader interested in how the world geopolitical map is changing, I recommend two recent books.
Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power, by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House) argues for the growing economic, military and political centrality of the Indian Ocean and surrounding lands, as China and India assert their interests in what for centuries was a Western-dominated region.
The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Civilization's Northern Future, by Laurence C. Smith (Dutton) argues that the Arctic and its environs will be of growing importance, because of climate change, demographics, globalization and a scramble for resources.

There is less tension between these two theses than it might appear. I saw Kaplan on Fareed Zakaria’s show say that China will be a greater power than Russia because the latter is stuck up there in the Arctic (or words to that effect). But Smith’s thinking is similar, in that he suggests that an ascendant China someday might buy – or even forcibly take – thinly populated sections of Russia’s East and North.

Together, the books make a solid case that the 21st-century strategist shouldn’t be too much of a Europhile or Pacific Rim aficionado, since big things are happening elsewhere in the world.
Whole thing here.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Three years of blogging

Tomorrow marks the third anniversary of QuickSilber, a blog that's covered topics ranging from pure-strain gold to Clinton Road, from the Royal Bengal tiger to Sarah Palin, from Newt Gingrich to Who Really Wrote the Bible, and sundry other topics often having something to do with politics, economics, history, science or some combo thereof. It's been fun and I intend to continue posting here, while also blogging for FrumForum, writing regular articles for Research magazine, and contributing to various other publications (some listed at the right). I enjoy the spontaneity and timeliness of blogging, and even as I've branched out onto Twitter, I continue to find that non-micro-blogging has a role. Thanks to my co-bloggers Gil Weinreich, Dan McCleary, Dan Summer, Mitch Johnson and Mike Battaglia for their explicit and implicit contributions, and thanks for reading.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ron Paul's monetary oddities

Ron Paul, incoming chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees U.S. monetary policy, holds monetary views that don't make any sense. Here's an excerpt of an interview by Wall Street Journal reporter Sudeep Reddy:
The panel you’ll be leading hasn’t gotten much attention in the past. What can a subcommittee chairman really do?
I think it’s more calling attention and getting information and acting as oversight. There will be legislation that we can talk about. We can talk about auditing the Fed. Even in the other committees, everything is a reflection of popular demand. There’s getting to be a bigger demand now for more information. I’d certainly like to have competition with the Fed to legalize competing currencies. That’s not going to happen, but we sure can talk about it. Most people recognize that the dollar reserve standard, there’s nothing permanent about it. Even the international bankers are talking about a new currency or using gold even. The big question is should we move further away from national sovereignty and our constitution and give it to an international body and try some crazy Bretton Woods standard again, which is doomed to fail. Or should we look to our traditions and have sound money.
Me: The gold standard historically depended strongly on international cooperation, as is discussed in vast detail in Barry Eichengreen's book Golden Fetters. Central banks engaged in frequent, coordinated actions to stabilize the price of gold vis-a-vis their respective currencies and maintain a set of fixed exchange rates. It was a souped-up version of the later Bretton Woods system, which Paul in this same paragraph decries. What exactly is his problem with Bretton Woods -- that it required too much international cooperation? The classical gold standard required more cooperation. He's worried about national sovereignty, so therefore he wants to make the dollar readily convertible into gold? Does it occur to him that maybe China would say "OK, convert all our vast dollar holdings into gold"? No, it doesn't, apparently.

As for "competing currencies," let's leave aside the huge unanswered question of whether having to change currencies or calculate rates multiple times a day could make for an efficient monetary system -- let's focus instead on what it has to do with national sovereignty, which Paul claims to want to protect. How exactly would having various currencies issued by various entities -- say, the Citibank Citidollar, the Walmart Wally, the Ken Silber Silver Peso -- enhance the sovereignty of the United States? Would the federal government accept tax payments in all these currencies? Would China, again, not have enhanced clout in the international monetary system now that there is no substantial U.S. monetary authority to counterbalance it? Of course, if you want an anarchocapitalist society, as some of Paul's supporters do, then you might not care about national sovereignty, but Paul claims it's sovereignty he's defending. This is the gold standard of self-contradiction.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Republican scientists re-redux

Daniel Sarewitz at Slate recently caused a kerfluffle with his "Lab Politics" article bemoaning the dearth of Republican scientists. See responses from Mother Jones, Salon, and Discover. For now, I'll just point readers back to my own article at FrumForum in response to the same poll Sarewitz discusses. Also see my posts here and here. I'm sure it's a subject I'll be looking at again in due course.

UPDATE: Also see this post at Commentary,which suggests the AAAS poll sample was skewed. There may well be some truth to that, but it would have to have been very skewed -- implausibly so -- to turn any sizable number of Republican scientists into 6 percent.

Radio note

I'll be on the Gabe Wisdom Show on Monday night at 7:30 pm Eastern to talk about financial history. For some previous radio appearances, scroll through the list here.

UPDATE: Here's the podcast.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Mildred Fish Harnack

By Mitch Johnson

The University of Wisconsin Hillel center just closed a moving exhibit on Mildred Harnack, the only American woman executed by the Nazis. I was lucky enough to see it on a recent visit, but if you missed it, there may be a second incarnation: a documentary is being made by Wisconsin Public Television for a possible release in the fall of 2011.

Mildred Fish was born in Milwaukee, WI in 1902, completed her Bachlor’s and Master’s degrees in English and Literature at the UW Madison in 1926, and became engaged to the German Economist Arvid Harnack at Picnic Point, also in 1926.

Mildred and Arvid moved to Berlin in the 1930s, where they eventually became part of an underground resistance network that the Gestapo named the Red Orchestra. Arvid passed sensitive information to the Soviet, British, and American embassies, and Mildred is believed to have done the same while a tutor for the American ambassador’s son.

In 1942, the Harnacks were arrested and subjected to secret trials with no legal representation. Arvid was hanged in December, and though Mildred’s initial sentence was for 6-years hard labor, archival records indicate that Hitler may have personally intervened in the case and ordered a retrail. She was executed by guillotine in February 1943. She spent her last day translating Goethe. Her last words were, “.. and I have loved Germany so much.”

I’m happy to know that people in Wisconsin are giving one of their heroines some much deserved attention.

There are some terrific photographs and documents at: There’s also a biography here:

(Any family members looking for last-minute gift ideas for me, take note!)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Tax deal analysis

What do I think of the tax deal? Better than just letting the tax cuts expire in an ailing economy. But the long-run U.S. economic future requires a more through revamp of the tax system than anything in prospect now. Neither party has any stomach for a VAT or carbon tax currently, even as part of a package that would reduce or eliminate the income tax. Nor do the parties have much interest in needed entitlement reforms or discretionary spending cuts. Meanwhile, many Republicans want to radically reform the monetary system, an area where the measures contemplated would be counterproductive in the extreme. So the current deal is better than nothing and may have the benefit of keeping politicians distracted from matters where they could do real harm.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Financial past, future

UPDATE: I'm slated to be on the Gabe Wisdom Show on Dec. 13 at  7:30 pm ET to discuss the article linked below.

For three years I've been writing a regular feature for Research magazine on financial history, for an audience of financial advisors but often with material that has broader interest. In the December issue I have some thoughts based on this work: "Excavating Finance's Past." Excerpt:
In the wake of the Great Meltdown, financial innovation is viewed with great suspicion. Some innovations turned out to be duds, or at least to have problems and exposures that were poorly disclosed and understood. The auction-rate securities market is effectively dead, for example, and few would argue these days that its benefits justified its risks.

The history of financial innovation, however, is not some one-sided litany of duds and debacles. Rather, many products and techniques that were cutting-edge for their time have done much good. One wonders, for instance, how companies would have coped with floating exchange rates without the currency futures pioneered by Leo Melamed at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in the 1970s with inspiration from Milton Friedman.
Whole thing here.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Cosmic genius and dumb article

I happened across the Atlantic at the supermarket and read “The Danger of Cosmic Genius,” Kenneth Brower’s critique of physicist Freeman Dyson, summed up in this line: “How could someone as brilliant as Freeman Dyson take the positions he does on global warming and other environmental issues?” I found it an obnoxious article, what with Brower throwing around various theories before seeming to settle on the idea that Dyson’s driven by a quasi-religious faith in the power of science and technology.

Instead of trying to explain that Dyson’s wrong about the environment, Brower mostly takes this as a given, and shifts to questions about whether he could be senile or not mean it, etc. Instead of focusing on any factual statements Dyson’s made that might be disproven, Brower hones in on something Dyson said once on Charlie Rose to the effect that we humans have largely been kind to the planet, or at least often repair the damage we do. That’s a rather vague and interpretive statement, but Brower treats it as if Dyson said the sun goes around the Earth.

Further lame tendentiousness lies in Brower’s complaint that Dyson’s speculations about ordinary people, including housewives and kindergartners, someday playing biotech games that might require regulations, show that “Dyson has misjudged the desperation of housewives, the dark anarchy in the hearts of kindergarten kids, the efficacy of rules and regulations, and, most problematic of all, the deliberation with which Darwinian evolution shapes the authentic organisms of Creation, assuring the world of plants and animals that make sense in their respective biomes.”

I don’t know what Brower thinks he’s saying about desperate housewives, and the last bit about Darwinian “deliberation” reads as if it came from some planet where there haven’t been domesticated plants and animals for thousands of years. Is Dyson the one who’s out of touch with reality?

And for all Brower’s speculations about how Dyson’s long career shaped his skepticism of environmentalism, he never gets to Dyson’s writings about the debate over nuclear winter (see Infinite in All Directions, ch. 15). In that debate, Dyson found that scientists were receptive to the nuclear winter theory not necessarily because facts showed it to be true but because they wanted it to be true so as to provide an impetus for disarmament. And he, Dyson, softpedaled his skepticism because he too shared that political perspective. I suspect Dyson’s experience with nuclear winter shaped his later skepticism about the consensus that global warming is catastrophic, as he saw this consensus too had a political element.

I write all the above as someone who has no interest in touting climate change skepticism, but who thinks Freeman Dyson deserved a better article than this sugarcoated hit piece in the Atlantic.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Political gratitude

FrumForum has a symposium on "What Are We Politically Most Thankful for?" My contribution:

Rand Paul’s victory in the Senate race in Kentucky fulfilled my unenthusiastic pre-election wish, which was driven by aversion to Paul’s opponent, the guy with the Aqua Buddha commercial.

One thing I’m thankful for politically is that the Intelligent Design movement remains politically moribund, five years after the landmark Kitzmiller decision ruled ID a form of creationism that has no place in public-school science classes. Yes, there are still skirmishes at textbook boards and local school boards as creationists try to insert anti-evolutionism under the guise of “academic freedom” without offering a theologically based alternative. Overall, though, public-school science classes have been confirmed as places where science is taught.

And yes, the abovementioned Rand Paul declined to comment on the age of the Earth during the election campaign. Fortunately, it’s a topic Sen. Paul doesn’t need to know much about.
Whole symposium here.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

"We are [not] all Austrians now"

Some economics-related items I've found interesting:

Over at Marginal Revolution, a good debate, possibly not yet over, about whether we need the Fed. Start with this by Alex Tabarrok and don't miss this by Tyler Cowen. For a round-up of a good deal of what I've written on this subject, see here and here.

Two items on Austrian economics, pro and con, both of which I suspect exaggerate its current influence or at least the endurance thereof. Amusing to see a commentor (#2) on the pro article who seems to think Austrian economics has to do with economics in Austria.

Some interesting background on Austrian economics and Tyler Cowen here.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Fed and the GOP

My latest at FrumForum: "The Fed and the GOP Weren't Always Enemies." Excerpt:
As it happened, Reagan, no stranger to hard-money conservative thought, had doubts as to whether the Fed was actually needed. He’d asked that question of both Volcker and his own economic advisors in 1981. Moreover, the president’s political advisors were largely hostile to Volcker, seeing him as a danger to Reagan’s reelection.

But Reagan put sound policy ahead of political considerations. If we were to have a Fed, he realized, it needed to have an independent ability to make monetary decisions regardless of whether they yielded short-term benefits for incumbent politicians.
Whole thing here.

Some further reading on the Fed and related matters:
“Ron Paul’s New Book: More Exaggeration and Conspiracy-Mongering"
“The Fed and Its Enemies”
“The Tumultuous 19th Century"
“T.R. vs. J.P.”
“Stocks, Gold and War”
“The Gleam of Gold”

UPDATE: For those who think the Fed doesn't know how to have fun.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Jersey City story

Story of a House: my friend Kevin chronicles his experiences navigating the regulatory and practical challenges of renovating a residence in Jersey City.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Monsoon review

I finally got around to finishing Robert D. Kaplan's Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power, which I’d mentioned a few times recently. It’s certainly a book worth reading; it’s hard to imagine what reader would not learn a great deal from it, as the subject matter ranges across thousands of miles and hundreds of years. Kaplan’s known for writing that combines far-flung travelogue with geopolitical strategy. In the past, some of his work has had a hawkish cast. Less so this book, which focuses on soft power and gives China’s government more of a benefit of a doubt than it probably deserves, in light of its stepped-up assertiveness in the past year.

Kaplan is surely right that the Indian Ocean will be highly important -- politically, economically, militarily – throughout this century, though I share the Washington Post reviewer's suspicion that he’s conflating places he finds interesting with those that are or will be important in the wider world. Having spent time in some wonderful places in Nepal and northern India last year, I can see how easy it would be to blur that distinction. Nevertheless, this is a valuable book about a vast region that’s too readily relegated to the bottom of our mental maps.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Connect the dots

Three pieces of news:

NASA's Chandra Finds Youngest Nearby Black Hole
"Astronomers using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory have found evidence of the youngest black hole known to exist in our cosmic neighborhood. The 30-year-old black hole provides a unique opportunity to watch this type of object develop from infancy."

Better Dead Than 'Fed'
"While Paul’s anti-Fed crusade is widely thought of as economic libertarianism, the roots of this combat lie in a theocratic reading of the Bible..."

Information Gained from Comet Hartley Already Written About in the Bible
"Long before the photos of Comet Hartley, the Bible correctly refers to the vents ('mouths') in an active comet's crust, and then correctly tells how these vents can powerfully spew out poisonous gas that can kill men (Revelation 9:17-19)."


What does it all mean? Could it be that 30 years ago, during the Volcker era, a black hole was divinely created to spew out poisonous comets and smite the Federal Reserve if it returned to its inflationary ways?

Saturday, November 13, 2010


Some recommended weekend readings:

"Post-Tea-Party Nation," by David Frum, New York Times Magazine.

"Deficit commission proposes axing commercial spaceflight without knowing what it is," by John Matson, Scientific American.

"Catholic Exorcism Conference Turns Heads," Slate. Note the curious reference to the Federal Reserve. My thoughts from a few years ago: "Exorcising the Alien Predators."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tax wobble

My latest at FrumForum: "Deficit Panel Goes Wobbly on Tax Overhaul." Excerpt:
When it comes to tax reform, the bipartisan deficit commission needs to think more boldly. The co-chairs’ draft report includes options for a simpler income tax structure with lower rates and fewer deductions. That would be nice, and would repeat the basic thrust of the 1986 bipartisan tax reform (which was a significant achievement but one watered down in subsequent tax code changes).

Co-chairs Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson raise politically sensitive possibilities such as reducing or eliminating the mortgage interest deduction and the child tax credit. They offer the interesting idea of an automatic trigger that would reduce loopholes if broad tax reform is not enacted by end-2012.

In other words, Bowles and Simpson don’t seem to be afraid of shaking things up, which raises the question of why their proposals ultimately amount to fiddling with the current tax system rather than replacing it with something fundamentally different.
Whole thing here.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Geographical challenge

Reading Robert D. Kaplan's Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power (which I still hope to comment on at some point) makes me want to put some of our actual and would-be political leaders (and I include a certain monetary expert) in front of a map of Asia with the national borders delineated but no identification of the countries, and see how many of them could find, say, Indonesia. On a brighter note, this NPR interview with Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo) makes it clear he would pass the test.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Hedge fund history [updated]

I'm slated to be on the Gabe Wisdom Show on Mon., Nov. 8 Wed., Nov. 10 at 7 pm Eastern to talk about "The Birth of Hedge Funds."

UPDATE 11-11: The podcast is temporarily available here, and will find a more permanent home later.

UPDATE 11-17: Podcast is now here.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Flying saucer initiative downed

Over at FrumForum, I discuss Denver's Initiative 300:
UFO conspiracy theorists have little to celebrate in last night’s election results. Denver voters overwhelmingly rejected Initiative 300, a proposal to create an Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission “to help ensure the health, safety, and cultural awareness of Denver residents and visitors in relation to potential encounters or interactions with extraterrestrial intelligent beings or their vehicles.”

Anyone reading the proposal’s full text received a probe full of paranoia, including such statements as “Evidence of extraterrestrial beings has been known by United States presidents since President Franklin Roosevelt” and “The United States government has suppressed, and withheld from the public, evidence of advanced clean energy, transportation and other technologies of extraterrestrial origin.”

If such an initiative could not take off in today’s anti-government atmosphere, when could it?
UPDATE 12 noon: I'm pleased to see my analysis getting attention in India.

Monday, November 1, 2010

NY politics, aliens

FrumForum has posted a symposium of contributors' election predictions. I weigh in on the New York state governor and comptroller races, as well as Denver's Initiative 300 to create an Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission. I'm also planning to do some blogging for FF during election night.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Capt. Picard escapes

I was pleased to attend a function at Flanders House tonight for My Countdown: The Story Behind My Husband's Spaceflight, meet some nice people, and get the book autographed by the author Lena De Winne and her cosmonaut spouse Frank De Winne. My only regret is not managing to ask Sir Patrick Stewart to sign it as well.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How hedge funds began

My November article in Research magazine on "The Birth of Hedge Funds" is out, about how Alfred Winslow Jones created a new financial industry. The piece is online at the magazine's partner portal AdvisorOne. Excerpt:
Alfred Winslow Jones was a financial journalist before he became a wildly successful investor who would be known as the father of the hedge fund industry. The moment of transition is captured in a March 1949 Fortune magazine article Jones wrote, titled “Fashions in Forecasting.”
A brief intro to the piece mentioned that Jones’s “initial interest in the new methods of market analysis described in this article came from a small investment in one of the services mentioned,” an outfit known as Market Action. That gave a hint that Jones was inclined to be not only a journalistic observer of the investment world, but a participant.
Whole thing here.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Rand Paul for Senate

A number of FrumForum contributors offer their one wish for the midterm elections. Here's mine: victory for Rand Paul. Excerpt:
I’ve never been to Kentucky (unless you count a few minutes between planes in the Greater Cincinnati Airport) but from the New Jersey suburbs I choose the Kentucky Senate contest. My wish is for Rand Paul to win. This is not because I am an enthusiast for the candidate — who seems to have inherited a conspiracy-minded ideology from his father, given it not much thought, and then modified it for political expediency. Rand Paul’s remarks about how “In 1923, when they destroyed the currency, they elected Hitler,” struck me as a notable descent into inanity.
Perhaps not the most ringing endorsement, but there's more.

UPDATE 10/26: "Paul Debate Stomping Caps an Odd Campaign." Sadly, some of my fellow Paul supporters are thugs and cretins.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Ideological flux links

Several diverse links that promote some needed rethinking of ideological labels and categories:

"Neoconservatives: The True Centrists," by Mark Cantora, American Thinker. I don't agree with all of this, as I think some neoconservative thinking on foreign policy is indeed immoderate; but leftists who think "neocons" are the far right may benefit from some historical and ideological reorientation.

"The Populist-Progressive Grudge Match," by David Frum, part of a fascinating series at FrumForum on two terms often resurrected, conflated and distorted.

"Introducing 'climate hawks'," by David Roberts, Grist, and "Climate Hawks Take Wing," by John Rennie, PLoS Blogs. These involve an interesting attempt to relabel and rebrand those who think (as I do) that climate change poses serious risks that need to be addressed. I hope the term has some effect in getting Republicans and conservatives to rethink the climate issue, but I'm not sure it will--especially if the "Climate Hawks" show a reflexive contempt for the right. We'll see.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Paranormal Jimmy Carter

The skeptics' movement that first arose in the 1970s in opposition to paranormalism has always tended to have a somewhat liberalish, Democratic political coloration. Perhaps that would have been different if Skeptical Inquirer magazine and its allies had known about this:
Even with all of the press coverage of Jimmy Carter's latest book, "White House Diary," a strange and interesting nugget of history went ignored: Carter, as president, was enthralled by and impressed with the Central Intelligence Agency's use of parapsychology in intelligence gathering (the field and practice of parapsychology explores various psychic abilities).

Hide and Sikh

C'mon, Barack Obama. This is lame:
Barack Obama has become a Sikh joke. The 44th president of the United States, a man who offered himself up to the world as the cosmopolitan alternative to the Little Americanism of the Bush years, has dropped plans to visit the Golden Temple in Amritsar—the Vatican, as it were, of the Sikh religion—on his state visit to India in early November. As The New York Times reports, the president would have had to cover his head with a knotted handkerchief on his visit to the shrine, in keeping with Sikh religious tradition, so the White House invertebrates scuttled plans to go there out of fear that images of Obama with a cloth on his head would reignite rumors that he is a Muslim.
I visited the Sikh Temple in Delhi last year. Do I have more leadership potential than the president of the United States?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Monsoon book

Review copy received: Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power, by Robert D. Kaplan, for which I'd been waiting. I've just started it but it's already very absorbing and now has priority on my reading list; I hope to write about it before long.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Non-wingnut readings, cont.

A couple of very worthwhile political readings:

"What the Tea Partiers Really Want: The passion behind the populist insurgency is less about liberty than a particularly American idea of karma," by Jonathan Haidt, WSJ. I guess I didn't get the right kind of karma when I was drinking Kangra tea last year.

"The Roots of Lunacy: How not to understand Obama," Andrew Ferguson, The Weekly Standard, taking on the book-length version of the risible Dinesh D'Souza thesis recently praised by Newt Gingrich.

Friday, October 15, 2010

No-nonsense type

One sign of a respect-worthy politician is a willingness to tell potential supporters things the latter need to hear but don't want to hear, and which don't flatter them at all. Case in point: "Daniels Tells Tea Party: Cool the Rhetoric."

UPDATE 10/18: And some further evidence Daniels is on the right track: "Norquist Compares Daniels to Nazi Reenactor." There will and should be a backlash against Grover Norquist instructing Republicans on the range of acceptable thought.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Knepper redux

One more note about Alex Knepper. As I've mentioned, I support David Frum's decision to discontinue Knepper's work for FrumForum. A writer should be an asset, not a liability, to a publication for which he writes, and the uncovering of genuinely offensive material posted elsewhere by Knepper makes that impossible at present. But I'm glad to see Knepper getting his side of the story out now. Moreover, as I've written, it seems to me plausible that this will become a legal case, and I hope that any parties that have made legally actionable statements will be held accountable. In that regard, while I'd become jaded about most of Ann Coulter's "shock" statements, I am genuinely shocked that she, a lawyer by training, would tweet about someone being an "actual pedophile" with an evident lack of regard as to whether that's a factual statement.

UPDATE 10/15: also see Michael Tracey's take on all this at HuffingtonPost.

Forward thinkers and non-wingnuts

Here are a few items that show some people are thinking beyond our current cramped political, economic and technological options:

"A Centrist Gets Fighting Mad," by Mark McKinnon, The Daily Beast. This is a 12-point program with a lot of appealing ideas.

"Post-Partisan Power," by Steven F. Hayward, American Enterprise Institute, Mark Muro, Brookings Institution, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, Breakthrough Institute. This is a report on energy by an ideologically diverse alliance.

"Air Force cedes the Green lead--and the lede--to Navy," by Craig Hooper, Next Navy. There's nothing granola about alternative energy these days (and I like granola, by the way).

"Why a GOP Landslide Won't Save the Party," by David Frum, FrumForum/The Week. Beware the post-election-victory debacle.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Possible future lawsuit

Regarding the unfortunate and unpleasant subject of NewsRealBlog vs. Alex Knepper, I have some comments here and here.

UPDATE: Or possibly here; keeping a permanent link to a specific comment there seems to be tricky.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Publicity-seeking schmegegge

Nassim Nicholas Taleb says investors should sue the Nobel Committee for awarding prizes to economists he thinks contributed to the financial crisis (as if they forced people to use Modern Portfolio Theory), and that if no one else does, he'll sue the committee himself. Maybe I should've contacted my lawyer to sue Taleb rather than just review his overblown book.

Reading list

Current reading: The Flatiron: The New York Landmark and the Incomparable City That Arose with It, by Alice Sparberg Alexiou. About a building at which an extremely important moment of my life occurred. Very interesting so far.

Next up: Washington: A Life, by Ron Chernow, whose histories of Hamilton and the House of Morgan are great.

Skimming but finding much good material: Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Going Noble redux

Joe Marier, whose blog Going Noble initially seemed like it had been tossed nonchalantly by the side of the road, now is updating on a regular basis (and I guess I'm in no position to criticize anyone for not updating their blog often enough). There's a lot of interesting stuff there, including a recent post on centrist third parties. I still don't know what the blog's name means, but I suppose I can live with that mystery, for now.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Columbus Day radio

I'm slated to be on the Gabe Wisdom Show on Business Talk Radio on Monday, Oct. 11, at 7 pm Eastern to talk about "Just Technicalities?," my Research magazine piece on stock-market technical analysis.

UPDATE: The podcast is here.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Brief right note

Recommended reading for those interested in the prospects and schisms of the right: "Right as Ever: How conservative critics of conservatism are explaining the right's comeback," by David Weigel, Slate.

UPDATE: Also see "Why There Are No Reformers in the Conservative Comeback," by Max Fisher, the AtlanticWire (a site that has terrible tagline "What Everybody's Thinking"). It gives an ominous sense of a not-so-distant post-election-victory debacle for a revivified-but-not-smart-enough right.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Selling off AIG

My latest at FrumForum: "AIG Exit Plan Proves Obama's No Socialist." Excerpt:
Winston Churchill once entered a men’s room where his Labour Party rival Clement Attlee was standing at a urinal. As Churchill moved to the far end of the room, Attlee asked: “Feeling standoffish today, are we, Winston?”

Churchill’s reply went down in history: “That’s right. Every time you see something big, you want to nationalize it.”

Attlee’s mid-20th-century Labourites advocated (and implemented) the nationalization of industries including railroads, coal, electricity, gas and steel. That was what made them socialists. It was also why Churchill’s riposte was funny.

But it’s not a joke that would make sense if applied to U.S. politics today.
Whole thing here.

UPDATE: "Socialist Obama Already Abandoning Socialism."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Technical history

The history of technical analysis is the subject of my latest piece at Research magazine: "Just Technicalities?" Excerpt:
The late Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Samuelson, key figure in his profession and author of its biggest-selling textbook, wrote scornfully about “gypsy tea-leaf readers, Wall Street soothsayers and chartist technicians.” He referred to technical analysts’ efforts to anticipate financial price moves based on charts of earlier market data as “esoteric,” and he did not mean that in a good way.
Technical analysis flew in the face of the efficient-markets hypothesis, which dominated late-20th-century academic finance, and which Samuelson helped develop. If markets rapidly assimilate information relevant to prices, as the hypothesis holds, then prices would move in a “random walk” based on unexpected events. Such randomness, in this view, would defeat any efforts to extrapolate the future by charting the past. 
The attitude of academic finance theorists toward technical analysis often has been likened to that of astronomers regarding astrology. But whereas astronomy Ph.D.s still show approximately zero interest in horoscopes, technical analysis increasingly has gotten some recognition — as at least worth discussing, if not embracing — from the academic world.
The article is currently located here.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Quick links

Recommended weekend reading at the intersection of lifestyle and politics:

"Thoughts from a Country Mouse," by Walter Russell Mead, The American Interest.

"No Free Locavore Lunch," by Virginia Postrel, the first of her new column in the Wall Street Journal.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Rhino calf

Given my affinities for rhinos, babies and RINOs, I should note this piece of good news from Nepal: a baby rhino was born in Nepal's Bardia National Park earlier this month. One of the best things about our trip to Chitwan National Park last year was the up-close views of the one-horned rhinos. (See pic to right below.)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Rand Paul's Hitler twaddle

Here's Rand Paul, demonstrating how ideology can imprison a mind and foster historical ignorance:
"In 1923, when they destroyed the currency, they elected Hitler. And so they elected somebody who vilified one group of people, but he promised them, 'I will give you security if you give me your liberty,' and they voted him in. And that's not to mean that anybody around is Hitler, but it's to mean that you don't want chaos in your country. And we could have chaos, not just because of the Democrats, but because the Democrats and the Republicans have all been spending us into oblivion."
Some problems:

1. Hitler did not come to power in 1923; rather it was 1933.
2. Hitler was never elected, though he was initially appointed by a democratically elected government.
3. When Hitler did come to power, the major economic problem in Germany was not destruction of the currency or hyperinflation but rather that the Depression had begun and unemployment was soaring.
4. Hitler has no particular relevance to the spending policies of the Democrats and Republicans.

UPDATE: This post was previously titled "Rand Paul's gibberish," but I felt that could refer to too many other things.

Presidential reading

I find this passage, from a National Review column by Tevi Troy that's excerpted on today's WSJ op-ed page, not very persuasive:
If you look at President Obama's reading list over the years, it has a clear ideological tilt. He has read a host of books by such liberal authors as Thomas Friedman, but precious few books by conservative ones. Bush, on the other hand, often mixed liberal authors, including Kurlansky and even Camus, in with his Natan Sharansky ("The Case for Democracy") and Eliot Cohen ("Supreme Command").
If Bush's "liberal authors" were Camus -- who wrote philosophical novels, was to the right of many French intellectuals of his time and is long dead -- and Kurlansky, who writes microhistories about subjects such as salt and codfish, then Bush was hardly immersing himself in liberal policy analysis. It doesn't seem to me that either Bush or Obama is very well-versed in writings that disagree with their own preconceptions -- but then, how many of us are nowadays?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Price of greatness

Thought for the day:
The price of greatness is responsibility. If the people of the United States had continued in a mediocre station, struggling with the wilderness, absorbed in their own affairs, and a factor of no consequence in the movement of the world, they might have remained forgotten and undisturbed beyond their protecting oceans: but one cannot rise to be in many ways the leading community in the civilised world without being involved in its problems, without being convulsed by its agonies and inspired by its causes.
-- Winston Churchill, 1943

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Meanwhile in the multiverse

This just in from somewhere very far away: "GOP Gets It Right ... In Alternate Universe." My latest at FrumForum. Excerpt:
Following the recent GOP primary victories, the Responsibility Movement appears poised for further gains in the November elections. The grassroots movement has unified Republicans by emphasizing fiscal responsibility, personal responsibility, thoughtful rhetoric and sober policy analysis.

Meanwhile, Democrats are dismayed at public perceptions that they are the party of irresponsibility. The Obama administration is on the defensive against charges that its expansions of government spending and debt are reckless. Moderate Democratic voters increasingly are crossing party lines to join the Responsibles, as the movement’s activists are known.
Whole thing here.


C'mon Time magazine. I open the Sept. 20 issue looking for something to read over breakfast and there's a history (mostly not online) of book burnings that includes this:
1650 A subversive theological text written by William Pynchon is torched in Boston Common--the U.S.'s first known book burning.
Why didn't they respect the First Amendment back in 1650?

Monday, September 13, 2010

How to really save the moon

Science writer Alan Burdick wants to "Save the Moon." Excerpt:
The moon, already busy with probes and satellites, will surely get busier. At least five countries aim to send astronauts there in the next 10 to 20 years. Valuable minerals, including helium-3 and perhaps uranium, await exploitation. Lately when the moon hits my eye, it looks the way Antarctica looked not so long ago: like both a natural marvel and a tantalizing morsel, rich with subsurface resources -- if only we could easily extract them. So I'm thinking: what the moon needs is its own Antarctic Treaty. Make it off-limits to everyone but scientists. Let's save the moon, before it's too late.
In other words, "save the moon" so it can be the exclusive province of a tiny handful of scientists. This is grossly inequitable (what about the rest of humanity and the moon's many possible uses?) and also ultimately self-defeating. It would leave the moon subject to the Tragedy of the Commons where the lack of ownership provides incentives to misuse and abuse assets. In fact, such problems have been manifest in Antarctica, as well as in the oceans, in the atmosphere and in debris-cluttered low-Earth orbit.

A better approach: allow property rights on the moon (as I discuss here and here). Yes, there should be nature reserves, parks and heritage sites (and a thriving ecotourism industry to support them). But there should also be areas open for mining helium-3, digging up material for solar arrays -- make the moon part of an extraterrestrial clean-energy industry -- and more. Save the moon by regulating its uses and by making it economically valuable.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

RINO reflections

My exercise in political autobiography: "How I Joined the Vast RINO Conspiracy." Excerpt:
I don’t recall any secret initiation rites or mysterious handshakes, but I once was a member in good standing of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. How then did I become a so-called Republican in Name Only — a dreaded RINO, by the right’s current lights?

Having been involved in political journalism (as well as economic journalism and science journalism) for about two decades, I’m inclined to look back and try to figure out what’s changed in the last couple of years. Is it me, the right, or both?
Whole thing at FrumForum.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Park Place addendum

Cathy Young, whom I'm delighted to see writing for FrumForum, provides what strikes me as an eminently fair-minded analysis of Imam Rauf, the founder of the much-debated mosque/Islamic center that may or may not ever come into existence: "Who is this Imam Fooling?"

The upshot, as I see it: no "stealth jihadi" but not a clearly appealing figure either. And this ambiguity makes me think a little more about the anti-mosque campaign: The campaigners don't like or trust Rauf, but they're appealing to him to move the planned project, and if he builds it there anyway, apparently that will be a "defeat" for the United States. Thus, the anti-mosque campaigners have given Rauf a degree of power he certainly never would have had were it not for the massive publicity stirred up by the anti-mosque campaign.

UPDATE: And a very good piece at RealClearMarkets by Steven Malanga: "The Real Debacle at Ground Zero." Upshot: "Twelve years is a long time to bring back to the site what was its essential component when it was attacked: commerce."

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Space talk

My August 31 interview on the Gabe Wisdom Show about space commerce, including the prospects for doing business on the moon and asteroids, is temporarily available here and will soon join the podcasts here.

Friday, September 3, 2010

A tradition with a bad track record

Ron Paul:
A return to the traditional U.S. foreign policy of active private engagement but government noninterventionism is the only alternative that can restore our moral and fiscal health.
Sure, because it worked so well in the run-up to World War II.

Hello readers

Greetings to the hundreds of people who came to this blog from FrumForum yesterday (and especially to those of you who are back today), along with all others. Quicksilber is updated reasonably regularly, albeit not with the compulsive frequency that makes top bloggers what they are. There are also links, to the right, of some of my published work, including at FrumForum where I hope to keep up a decent pace in the coming months. In addition, I maintain a Twitter feed. Many thanks for reading.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Geography books

Review copy received: The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Civilization's Northern Future, by Laurence C. Smith. The thesis evidently involves global warming making the Arctic more important in geopolitics. Interestingly, I recently saw Robert Kaplan on Fareed Zakaria's excellent new show GPS, discussing his book Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power (of which I've also requested a review copy) and making a case that Russia willl be a lesser power than China because the latter has a long warm-water coastline and the former is stuck up there in the Arctic. They can't both be right.

UPDATE 9/20: Actually, the Smith book suggests that China eventually might buy -- or even just take -- thinly populated sections of Russia for itself, so maybe the two books are not so contradictory. Monsoon publisher, am still waiting for my review copy.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Temple Grandin movie

Highly recommended: Temple Grandin, the HBO movie. Grandin's book Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior, which I reviewed for Scientific American Mind five years ago, was fascinating but didn't hint at the struggles she had to go through earlier in life, though on reflection it makes perfect sense. This movie, based on other books of hers, tells that background story well, including through imaginative use of visual imagery to convey how she thinks. Also, Claire Danes is terrific.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Common sense overrated

Interesting blog discovery: "Yet Another Weird SF Fan," with subtitle: "I'm a mathematician, a libertarian, and a science-fiction fan. Common sense? What's that?" Just shows what kind of interesting stuff you might find (in this case, a few years after the fact) when you search on your own name.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Quiet late August

Posting here may continue to be light, as I focus on various projects, though in this era of social-media microblogging, my Twitter feed just might show continued signs of life. One note: I'm slated to be on the Gabe Wisdom Show on Tues., Aug. 31 at 7 pm ET to discuss my Research magazine article on space commerce and perhaps related matters involving the moon and more.

UPDATE: On the other hand, "Shock revelation: Microblogging Meaningless Waste of Time!"

Friday, August 20, 2010

Requiem for Lehman Bros.

My latest at FrumForum: "How Lehman Went Bust," about The Last of the Imperious Rich: Lehman Brothers, 1844-2008. Excerpt:
A century and a half earlier, immigrant Henry Lehman had built up a solid reputation as a seller of reliable goods to the farmers he served as a traveling peddler in the antebellum South. In our time, the firm that bore the distinguished Lehman name proved willing to sell junk — toxic financial instruments that flew in the face of both propriety and prudence — and to do so knowingly, with deceptive marketing and accounting.
Whole thing here. See also the NYT review here.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Gingrich Park Place disgrace

Until recently, I had a certain amount of respect for Newt Gingrich. I thought him a flawed and abrasive personality, true, but also an interesting and creative policymaker and analyst (as with his interest in space exploration). But I can scarcely believe the crudity and cynicism of Gingrich's stance on the "Ground Zero mosque," as Jacob Sullum describes well here and here.

I can understand people being discomfited or opposed to an Islamic center being located on Park Place in lower Manhattan, even though I don't share that discomfiture or that opposition. But the hysteria, authoritarianism and outright bigotry Gingrich has displayed on this issue is detestable. May he never again wield any more political power than any other fatuous, rabble-rousing, politically impotent talking head.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Space commerce

An early look at my Sept. article in Research magazine: "Space Commerce's New Dawn." Excerpt:
Ever since the U.S. government scrambled to set up NASA in response to the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of the Sputnik I satellite, political and military considerations have tended to outweigh commercial motives in getting space hardware off the ground. The Apollo moon missions, for instance, were implemented in a spare-no-expense manner that would have been a poor model for any cost-conscious private-sector effort.

Even so, dreams of extraterrestrial profit bubbled up even at the height of the space race. In the summer of 1969, as NASA landed men on the moon, Pan Am began taking reservations for a lunar flight scheduled for the year 2000. As it happened, Pan Am would not stay in business that long, let alone fly to the moon, but it did sign up over 90,000 would-be passengers including Ronald Reagan, then California’s governor.
Whole thing here. Related: my recent FrumForum moon piece here.

Aug. misc. cont.

A couple more items of interest, found in between trying to learn how to surf and going to a water park:

John Horgan explains why he is "becoming a pro-nuke nut," at Scientific American, in one example of what I'd bet will be a major and consequential political realignment in the next decade or so.

David Frum doesn't like Destiny Disrupted as much as I did, though our impressions are not altogther different.

Friday, August 13, 2010

August misc.

Things are busier than one might expect in August, though I intend to continue contributing a higher-than-usual volume to FrumForum. Meanwhile, here are various items I've found noteworthy of late:

"Cable News: Where Being Loud Trumps Being Wrong," by Radley Balko. About a talking head I've only vaguely heard of and hope never to see.

"The Point of No Return," by Jeffrey Goldberg. About Israel and Iran.

"Man Scrawls World’s Biggest Message With GPS ‘Pen’," about an Ayn Rand enthusiast with apparently a lot of time on his hands -- how productive is he, really?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Deputy mayor watch

I had not realized, until I heard something on the radio this morning, that Stephen Goldsmith, whom I recall as the rising-star Republican mayor of Indianapolis in the 1990s, recently became deputy mayor of New York City. That should be interesting, as he was and presumably still is one of the more innovative policy types around. In any event, my own research techniques have evolved since the 90s; I'll follow him on Twitter.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Back to the moon

My latest at Frum Forum: "Getting America Back to the Moon." Excerpt:
What’s no less worrisome, however, is that a large, important celestial object has been eclipsed in current policymaking and political debate: the moon. Perhaps as a means of distancing itself as far as possible from the Bush approach, the Obama White House has discarded Earth’s natural satellite as a target for human exploration and development.

Consider these goals stated in the National Space Policy document, released in June: “By 2025, begin crewed missions beyond the moon, including sending humans to an asteroid. By the mid-2030s, send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth.” That “beyond the moon” is actually the only mention of the moon in the 14-page document.
Whole thing here.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Deadliest Warrior analysis

Over at FrumForum, I speak up "In Praise of Deadliest Warrior." Excerpt:
Spike TV’s series Deadliest Warrior is presumably aimed at a demographic that’s fairly young and mostly male. The show investigates such questions as who would win in a fight to the death between a Spartan and a Ninja, or Navy SEALs versus Israeli commandos—and in the relevant weapons testing splatters some pig carcasses or head-shaped gelatin models.
But that’s not to say it’s a frivolous show. It’s actually quite thought-provoking, offering insights into military history, strategy and philosophy, while giving a sense of the power (and limits) of scientific empirical testing and of computer simulations. That Deadliest Warrior is fun and sometimes tasteless should not distract from its intellectually stimulating content.
Whole thing here.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Radio note

I'll be on the Gabe Wisdom Show on Tues., Aug. 10 at 7 pm ET to discuss "Reawakening the Dragon," my piece on China's stock market history. For podcasts of previous appearances, see here.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Behavioral econ brief

Monkeys make bad economic decisions. So do humans.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Shutter Island Darwin

This weekend's movie rentals made for an odd juxtaposition. First there was Shutter Island, the weird melodrama of which borders on laughable (or perhaps more than borders) for much of the film -- until you find out what's actually going on. Then there was Creation, about Charles Darwin, which has a notably similar hallucinatory quality, such that it could have been called "Charles Darwin Goes to Shutter Island." Despite, or -- let's face it -- because of, all the bizarreness, I'd recommend both, particularly with a glass of Lagavulin.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Tibetan six-pack

From a Reason piece on Tibetan Buddhism:
You soon realize that no Tibetan Buddhist sits cross-legged on cushions all day long while staring into space and thinking about the universe. No, worshipping Buddha is a full-on physical workout. At the Lamaling Temple on a hillside in Nyingchi County in south-east Tibet, I saw women in their 50s doing the prostration thing, like an archaic version of a Jane Fonda workout.
I can vouch for this. Doing the seven ritual prostrations in the temple at Chobar, Nepal last year made my abs hurt for a week.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What misleading videos get you

Tom Tomorrow, whose work I've rarely found enjoyable or even interesting, sums up the Sherrod matter nicely.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Journalists and cliques

Cliquishness is part of human nature. And it's a part of human nature that's saliently on display in journalism, filled as the sector is with people who are verbally adroit, at least somewhat socially inclined and in more than a few cases less independent-minded than they think they are. As someone who's spent his career mostly in the distinct but occasionally overlapping fields of political journalism, financial journalism and science journalism, I can vouch that cliques form readily in all three. (In fact, financial journalism being the most diffuse, with a broad range of publications and audiences, may be the least susceptible of the three.) And while cliquishness can encourage intellectual laziness, or just a tendency to retweet your friends' not particularly well-considered tweets, it can also foster useful collaborations, and in any event it is, as I mentioned, part of human nature and so not going away anytime soon.

All of which is by way of recommending Reihan Salam's Daily Beast post on JournoList and "What Liberal Bloggers Can Teach the Right."

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Wolfman repellent

Just watched The Wolfman movie. It was unquestionably superior to The Sky Has Fallen, but the remarkable thing is that the one even reminded me of the other, without the excuse of unknown actors (Anthony Hopkins!) and a miniscule budget.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

China stocks

My article in the August issue of Research magazine is on the history of China's stock market: "Reawakening the Dragon." Excerpt:
In 1978, with Chairman Mao dead and hard-line Maoists in political eclipse, China began experimenting with economic reforms. Stock trading did not immediately appear on the agenda, as early reforms focused on more basic matters such as allowing farmers to sell crops grown on household plots rather than collective land. By the mid-1980s, though, some state-owned companies were edging toward making equity offerings.

A milestone was reached in November 1984 when the Shanghai Feile Acoustics Company issued shares. Soon, over-the-counter share trading was under way in a room at the Shanghai Trust Company. In 1986, John Phelan, chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, visited this nascent operation and pointed out that his sprawling institution had begun without even so much as a room, under a Wall Street buttonwood tree in 1792.
Whole thing here. More financial history articles here. More blogging to come.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Some notes from my mountain retreat

Bruce Lee died 37 years ago today. I memorialized him at the three-decade mark for National Review Online.

Count von Stauffenberg made his valiant attempt 66 years ago today, and died early the next morning.

Friday, July 16, 2010

FrumForum mission

I expect to do a good deal more writing at FrumForum in the near future, particularly in August. In the meantime, here's the start of an interesting discussion about defining, in a sentence, what that site's all about.

UPDATE 7/17: More here.

UPDATE 7/19: And here.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

B&B recommendations

Well, Bikers' Week in Gettysburg went fine, as did driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway and visiting Roanoke, Floyd and Harrisonburg, Virginia. Here are two recommended Bed & Breakfasts:

Battlefield Bed & Breakfast (Gettysburg, Pa.). Puts you right where the action was.

By the Side of the Road (Harrisonburg, Va.). A very friendly and well-run place.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

DeWitt the elder

Over at FrumForum, I look at my son's ancestor and namesake: "DeWitt Clinton's Legacy." Excerpt:
DeWitt Clinton (1769-1828) was one of the most important American politicians of the early 19th century. He was at various times governor of New York, mayor of New York City, U.S. senator and presidential candidate. He was the driving force behind getting the Erie Canal built, the achievement for which he is best remembered by history. But his career was multifaceted — his interests ranged from laying out Manhattan’s street grid to delving into the natural science and history of North America.

That career included much that’s worth contemplating, and even emulating, in the context of early 21st century politics. While DeWitt Clinton is not exactly an unfamiliar name today — it’s emblazoned for instance on a Bronx high school and a Manhattan park, among other locales — his importance and relevance are underappreciated, even at a time when the founding fathers and other early politicians (such as Andrew Jackson) are more in vogue than they have been for some time.

Early American politicians often get enlisted in today’s ideological causes — Thomas Jefferson as hero to liberals and libertarians, Alexander Hamilton or John Adams as paragons for conservatives (notably, with Hamilton, conservatives not of a strongly decentralist bent). Often, the fit between the historical figure and the current-day cause is less than perfect, but there is some affinity. Clinton fits only awkwardly into our current-day polarized politics — and therein is a key part of his relevance.
Whole thing here.

UPDATE 7/8: Over at Hot Air, Ed Morrisey discusses the Erie Canal, federalism and Obama. Also, for readers particularly interested in the canal's financial ramifications, my Research magazine piece is here.

Monday, July 5, 2010

NASA to help Muslims feel good

I've long thought that promoting scientific rationalism is an important way in which the West should be engaging the Islamic world, including through celebration of historic Islamic achievements in science and math. But for the head of NASA to say that his mandate from the president is "perhaps foremost" to "engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution..." is surely the strangest statement from a NASA official I can remember. The fact that the other things Obama apparently tasked Bolden with (reinspiring children and building international relationships) are also ancillary to anything that actually happens in space is a disturbing indicator of what the Obama-era space agency is up to, or not up to.

UPDATE: In Twitter-based discussion, Julian Sanchez contended that the three objectives Bolden stated were new, or additional, priorities for NASA, not that they're the top priorities. Whether or not that's so, it still reflects some muddled thinking on Bolden's part, as two of the objectives surely aren't new. None of the above, however, means I endorse the reactions of the lathered-up simpletons here.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

July 4 tugboat memory

I have an entry at FrumForum on "My Most Memorable 4th of July." Excerpt:
On July 4, 1986 I was on a tugboat in New York harbor to see the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty’s centennial restoration. A friend of my father had given the family tickets. The tugboat wove its way around luxury yachts and Navy warships. At one point, the captain informed us that an aircraft carrier had radioed us to keep more distance. At another moment, the tugboat almost backed into a sleek pleasure craft that, according to rumor, served as quarters for the president of France. I recall a uniformed officer of some sort emerging on the deck of that pleasure craft to angrily wave us away.
I'll have more of historical/personal interest at FrumForum soon.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Misc. work

On the Gabe Wisdom Show tonight at 7:30 pm ET, I'll be discussing "The Resurgent Fifties," about how the stock market recovered in that decade and its relevance to today.

Coming this July 4 weekend: a new piece at FrumForum, on a matter of historical and personal interest.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Well, I couldn't resolve a minor technical issue, so instead I opted for a complete site redesign. That's a less dramatic move than it sounds, in that it took me literally about 60 seconds with Blogger's new templates. Maybe I'll redesign it again after lunch.

Technical issue

Attaching screenshot as part of effort to iron out some glitches on site.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Stocks in the '50s

My latest at Research magazine: "The Resurgent Fifties," a decade in which the stock market recovered, and which holds lessons for today. Excerpt:

In 1952, the New York Stock Exchange conducted a survey to see how many Americans participated in the stock market. The findings were sobering: just 6.5 million individuals owned shares in publicly traded companies — a mere 6 percent of the adult population.

By contrast, in the century’s first three decades, the number of individual shareholders had risen from some 1 million to 10 million, all in a less populous America.

The Great Crash of 1929 still cast a long shadow in the early 1950s. The Dow Jones Industrial Average remained below its pre-Crash high. Savings bonds were the investment of choice, while stocks retained a dicey reputation. Nearly 70 percent of families with annual incomes over $3,000 said they were opposed to buying stocks.
Whole thing here.

UPDATE: I'll be discussing this article on the Gabe Wisdom Show on Tues., 6/29 at 7:30 p.m. ET. Options for listening live or via the archive are available at the show's website, and the interview will later be available here.

Brainwave monitors

Most of the press releases that crowd into my work email account are uninteresting as well as irrelevant. Here's the opening of one whose relevance I'm not sure of, but which does catch my interest:

NeuroSky, the world’s leader in wearable consumer brainwave technology, announced that it has closed a $11.8 Million Series C round of funding led by Taicom Capital. All previous lead investors participated, including W.R. Hambrecht, bringing the total amount raised to $18.6M since the company’s inception in 2004.
Some more on this topic here.

On a vaguely related note, I see that Ryan Sager has ended his Neuroworld blog at True/Slant.

On a more or less unrelated note, I see that my own blog, when viewed in Internet Explorer, now at least sometimes has the letters "ents," as in the end of "comments," mysteriously appended to the end of posts. I hope this glitch goes away by itself, and it's a reminder that technology's imperfections require some cautions in, for example, brain-related applications.

Horgan's cross-check

Iconoclastic science writer John Horgan, whose work I've followed with great interest for some two decades, has a lively new blog at Scientific American called Cross-Check. A look back: I reviewed Horgan's The End Of Sciencefor Reason in 1996, and his Rational Mysticism for what was then TCSDaily in 2003.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Salon on Frum

Note to self: Never write a piece expressing one's loathing for the people at a cocktail party to which one wasn't invited. That can't make the author look good, and doesn't in the case of Salon's Gabriel Winant on a recent event at David Frum's house.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Am I a carbon chauvinist?

Weird things you find when you Google your own name: I'm on a Facebook page devoted to "Carbon Chauvinism." It stems from this not-recent article where I quoted Victor Stenger using that term (which article, incidentally, shows up garbled at Reason's website).

Beethoven online

It can't be a bad morning when you discover there's a vast storehouse of Beethoven and other classical music in the public domain ready to be downloaded at will. Co-blogger Mitch, did you know about this? (Via a Marginal Revolution link to a 1942 performance of the 9th Symphony.)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Shanghai skylines

I'm doing some research on the history of the Chinese stock market, and these pictures are probably worth a couple thousand words.

Friday, June 11, 2010

My early endorsement

"He played golf for several months using a garden glove from home instead of a store-bought golf glove--'I didn't want to buy one until I knew I was going to like the game enough to stick with it'."

A look at the fiscal conservative who could and should be the next president of the United States here.

UPDATE: And more reason to like him here.

UPDATE 6/15: Even more reason.

Really Wrote on Medved

Since the recent release of Who Really Wrote the Bible? (see here and here), Gil Weinreich and Eyal Rav-Noy have appeared on numerous radio shows to promote the book. On Thursday, June 17, from 1 to 2 PM Pacific Time, Gil and Eyal will be on Michael Medved's show, one of the most important in the country, to discuss the book at some length. Options for listening live by radio or Internet, or listening later via the archives, are available at the show's website.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Dreaming of Chitwan

Another busy week has started, making me wish we were in Nepal's Chitwan National Park instead. Not that that's exactly an idyllic place -- problems continued with poaching, and for some time last year, amid Maoist-fomented turbulence, Nepal's government was stalling on relicensing the lodges. Still, it doesn't get much better than this.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Ideas in Action

My old haunt TCSDaily has morphed into a TV show called Ideas in Action. I'll be interested to see how that goes. I have fond memories of when TCS, or Tech central Station as it was once called, was in full swing and I wrote for it on subjects ranging from MacArthur to the Strad.

Contemplating e-books

"'Vanity' Press Goes Digital," enthusiastic article about self-publishing e-books in today's Wall Street Journal (which publication, incidentally, I read on paper after picking up from the end of a fairly long driveway), makes me want to self-publish some e-books based on ideas I've had, including ones I've not yet even run by a publisher. The world has changed, and based on my experience of publishing-industry gatekeepers, their eclipse is not much of a loss.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Glamour tradeoffs

Recommended reading: Virginia Postrel on glamour, Obama, health insurance, wigs and more in an interview at Reason. One great thing about Virginia's work is the combination of diverse subject matter and unifying themes, and another is that her writing never gets caught in a rut.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Crisis of 2025

Contrary to Jeremy Stein's scenario, I'd think a financial crisis of 2025 would have more to do with out-of-control entitlements and downgraded sovereign debt than with windpower derivatives (unless perhaps that crisis will already have hit when the windpower one arrives). Excerpt:
Washington, D.C., May 27, 2025. Just four months into his first term, President Scott P. Brown faces what is rapidly becoming a severe financial crisis, with the collapse yesterday of yet another Stable Wind Farm Trust. The failed institution, Magna-SWIFT, is the largest thus far, with over $90 billion in assets. Rumors also continued to swirl about the condition of the Houston Power House, one of the nation’s largest clearinghouses specializing in weather and power derivatives. Experts warned that a major clearinghouse failure could have devastating implications.
More here.