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Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Out at Home

 That last post barked. Mostly days out of date, except for a few links I threw in at the end when I finished it off. This post will be focused unified, less dependent on the rush of current events. About current events all I can say is that at the end of the day you ought to try to protect real money. Money that represents someone's earnings in exchange for labor, or a home they are living in. Fake money, bubble investment money, you let evaporate  Is credit crisis truly so dire, lawmakers ask | Towards this end use whatever means are provident, fiscal policy - the government's ability to affect aggregate labor and material demand, financial policy - policies affecting interest rates and the money supply. But you don't play chicken with credit doubt. Credit, inflation, and unemployment interact in powerful ways that extend beyond the ability of governments to control. If the tap gets turned off we might not be able to turn it back on for years  Economic Scene: Lesson From a Crisis: When Trust Vanishes, Worry.

 Now on to my real concern: Baseball in DC. Specifically Washington DC and the Nationals. Is DC the Nats' true home?  You might think so given that they are called the Washington Nationals, perhaps I should refer to them as the former Montreal Expos instead. I was always dubious but now I'm giving way to open skepticism.

  Admittedly I'm biased. The O's are my preferred team. I came here during a period when they were the accepted home team. This was a long time ago. I was still in the Navy and had just transferred out of CRAW One (RVAH-7 had decommissioned) in NAS Key West to the Pentagon. I first went up to Memorial stadium to see a game in 1980. The Orioles were still sporting the cartoon version of their mascot. I miss that bird. Baltimore was a familiar American League East team Baltimore Orioles - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Easy for someone who grew up as a Red Sox fan in Massachusetts, to fall in with. The Orioles had Ripkins beyond count, Dempseys, Murrarys. They had Mussina - a 20 game winner this year; although, not with Baltimore. Hot L Baltimore indeed!

   Washington's papers and tv covered the O's in deep and sympathetic detail. Not anymore. They don't broadcast any O's games, heck they barely broadcast any Nat's games. Of course we're talking regular tv here which I realize no one is supposed to watch anymore. All this doesn't bother my Dad as much who grew up in St. Louis before moving to Boston, and doesn't mind people yabbering on about the National League. Plus he has cable. Although I recall it was the Sox getting into the 1967 world series that inspired him to finally buy a new tv after the old one had broken a year or two earlier.

 At any rate I've had enough. People's exhibit No. 1: the Nationals home won-lost record: 34-46 Major League Baseball Standings -  A  .74 completion rate. This is the worst in Major League Baseball. Compare with the Red Sox  2.24,  56 games won against 25 lost in Fenway Park. That's how a team plays at home. No team with a record as abysmal as the Nationals can really be in their true home. My advice: Keep moving. South.  Richmond maybe, or Virginia Beach, even, perhaps especially, Raleigh-Durham.  Roanoke I hear is nice, and a happening place. The south bank of the Potomac as a minimum. They could call themselves the Mount Vernon Vetivers. Think of it as quest. As far as the new stadium in DC is concerned, we could see if it can be used for cricket, or we could always try to get the Pope back, maybe talk him into some kind of residency.  Next season I go back to being an Orioles fan.

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Monday, September 22, 2008
Pariah Mutual

 Another week gone by and I haven't anything more to offer than this, essentially a repeat of last weeks post. Ah repetition in the morning it smells like... Victory? Teen Spirit? No, more like... coffee and chlorine really. Get me rewrite! I've been stuck in a rut trying to understand the parameters of this credit crisis  (Robert Reichs take:  TPMCafe | Talking Points Memo | The Bailout To End All Bailouts). But that may be a mistake. It may not be my job. Consider this, Walter Lippman writing in 1925:

 "We must assume that the members of a public will not anticipate a problem much before it's crisis becomes obvious, nor stay with a problem long after it's crisis becomes past. They will not know the antecedent events, will not have seen the issue as it developed will not have thought out or willed a program, and will not be able to predict the consequences of acting on that program."

 Walter Lippman. "The Phantom Public," in Propaganda ed. Robert Jackall. 1995

  Bailing out an entire economic system must necessarily be a science. You wouldn't want to just gun deck this quickly with just scraps and rumors of information  Behind Closed Doors, Warnings of Calamity - My grandfather bailed out his rowboat, a desperately ancient wooden beast that could take on enough water overnight that it would just leave two oarlocks sticking out of Pocasset sound in the morning. He would bail it out with a bleach bottle with the bottom cut out to form a scoop. We went through a lot of these until he replaced that boat. Always had a couple of new ones on hand. Possibly people in earlier times used a lot more bleach.

 This present matter is an unprecedented economic crisis to occur during a election season  Paulson plan could cost $1 trillion - Mike Allen - As such it cannot help but be politicized, in obvious and less obvious ways. It will be utter poison to congress, however their positioning on this will be largely over semantics. The plan as it was initially presented had the drawback as a selling point that it needs the bad debt to be bought out of these Wall Street concerns not at its current weak value which might be a bargain Japanese Go Bargain-Hunting on Wall Street - , but rather at the value it should have if the streets logic had made sense (the idea is eventually it will return to this fuller value). It is little wonder it has such limited popularity No deal - Paul Krugman - Op-Ed Columnist - New York Times Blog. All this has been well covered. I like all the lesser covered cranky angles that have fellow traveled with this.

 The Russian angle. This is the Russian belief that the credit crisis is artificial and was created to screw with them FT Alphaville - Blog Archive - The other crisis. While it is true that the Russian stock exchange went into the most severe drop last week. so much that trading had to be formally suspended Russia moves to stem crisis; stock markets closed - MarketWatch. It is all together too serious, too confusing and beyond administrative fiat, requiring of action from congress, to be merely demonstrative of the fictive aspects of de-linking. The Russian's problems are mostly of their own making. Russian stocks resume trading -

    There is the Power Grab Angle. At first blush the Fed's plan is an enormous assumption of power by the federal government. This has set off intense bi partisan alarm. Even so much so that VP. Cheney was told to take a hike. It however, simply seems to be an overreach by Secretary Paulson, and Chairman Bernanke, their native instinct to be executive minded. A tin-eared big fix A Professor and a Banker Bury Old Dogma on Markets -

    Another is the Money Market/Hedge Fund angle. In the wake of the first dire warning over institutions that held leveraged mortgage debt. There was some very differentiated discussion on whether money markets were a good bet, or whether they were all that safe themselves Money-Market, Similar Funds Appear Solid Amid Carnage - There was enough of this discussion to lend some to wonder whether beyond the current credit crisis and forclosures, the next step repercussions were what was really on some peoples minds. Big wealth in peril  Continuing credit crisis could cripple economy.

    Last the Complexity Angle. Or too much math, not enough mathematicians. Much of the debt in the market is hidden to varying degrees. Derivative financial products derivative markets. These markets their commodity the behavior of other markets draw in a lot of dollars and can be traded by computer fairly effortlessly, but they don't lend themselves to real-time spot valuation. or easy human approximation of their price. Not when everything begins moving at once.

 This complexity also hides a perverse extensively each initial dollar of trade the subject of numerous subsequent transaction. Essentially just disguised gambling. It is as though at the race track there were windows for placing bets for picking the winner, win and place, and win place and show. Window four pays out for how the owners did. Window five on whether they bet on their own horse. Window six pays on how many will tear up tickets and damn a horses hide after each race. Window seven on whether they wear hats. Plenty of action but only so much actual cash. There are probably much better analogies for the modern financial markets. However, there would be few or no defaulting sub-prime loans if clever people hadn't cut up and bundled these loans to make it seem that there was more money available that peoples earnings would ever cover.

    In the next paragraph of the same essay from the earlier quote Lippman reformulates his idea more succinctly

 "The Public will arrive in the middle of the third act and leave just before the last curtain  having stayed just long enough perhaps to decide who is the hero and who the villain of the piece"

  Rosencranz and Guildenstern are dead. Having McCain play Polonius was an inspired touch, but I've seen all I need to see.  I'm beating the traffic home. 

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Song of the Bailing Man

 (Or Ubu Roi, King of Wall Street.) Somewhere in New York City a man is bailing a boat. Somehow, perhaps when I wasn't looking one of those Atlantic hurricanes or something like it must have snuck by and whirled into Manhattan - to the very steps of Wall Street  Steven Pearlstein - Financial Rescues Show That Faith in Free Market Is Shaken - Merdre! Now the man's boat is soggy and sinking low, so he bails and as he bails he sings this song:

Stormy weather,
it might get better in a week,
or in the wink of an eye.
It's clearing off by Monday,
that's what the weathermen say.
It's good for ducks,
So don't complain,
when the rain comes tapping on the window panes.
David Thomas and the Cleveland band Pere Ubu from their 1982 record, Song of the Bailing Man.

 Some thoughts on the matter that come to me.  The real lasting danger is that in the stampede to solution to a cascade of overextended loans, we form a colossal statuary out of some new indelible material. Dedicated to mammon engraved in the name of moral hazard. The forces of radical deregulation and laissez faire, rampant, have no objection to moral hazard, or monopoly Days of wine and Porsches over. No objection for others paying for their aggrandizement and greed. The past twenty years of U S Government inclinations towards the economy and the modern corporate entity illustrates no other point.  The system that exists has eroded the flood walls that separated banks from savings and loans, from brokerages, and other financial institutions.  It has pursued financial instruments that bend assets and risk around in rococo labyrinths until it is not possible to know what lies where unless all is slowly and clinically disentangled. The only genuine principle in play is: that which concentrates wealth is good, that which distributes, or disperses it bad GLOBAL MARKETS-Stocks rally on plan to end crisis, bonds rise

 I would not want to suggest that wealth disperse along lines of the value of labor in an item or service.  That sounds like the talk of unrepentant marxism or worse, a social justice congregationalist. Besides Labor is so very hard to value, and the rod of measure held by those who would have to loose the strings of capital purse on its pay. The former head of the bankrupt Lehmans had received a bonus of $22 million for a recent year. As much as I might make in 740 years, or nearly twenty working lifetimes. He must be one hell-of-a-man Lehman CEO Fuld's hubris contributed to meltdown

 The difference between a Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, Lehmans or AIG, between who is bailed out, and who isn't. This seems to lie in the tangle of desperate phone calls and last minute appeals. A measure of favor and connection to the political realm. Or at least it gives that appearance.

 I have a shallow dichotomy I find useful at times. That the world is full of people who tend to see themselves, and others, as either wolves or sheep, the need government differing and amending between these. The Big Dogs, the leading figures of the corporate and financial worlds, see themselves as able to arrange their games and affairs suitably on their own. With only such rules and laws as they maintain among themselves. They believe they do not need government and make no real attempt to live inside it. They have created the material world and all its value, and it belongs to them. They take as they see fit. The world of the governed, the world of governments they leave to those who they believe need order, stricture, confinement. But when the rains come and the shadows of real wolves are seen on the edge of the forrest, they run for cover as quickly as anyone.

 In only partial tangent. I find it difficult to come to terms with this Melamine Disconnect. The use of this plastic melamine to boost apparent nutrition measure in food. This is what sickened and killed pet cats and dogs across the US and other countries half a year ago. This was the subject of much news attention here, though possibly not in places where the media is yoked to shoulders of progress and passivity. Now the very same melamine is found widely in formula for infants, not animals but poison in our own children, our own babies Baby Formula Sickened Many More, China Says -

 There can only be a view here that the end of the corporate endeavor lies in simply producing and marketing some object for high return. That no moral obligation follows this point. That in fact there is nothing beyond this. That somehow its reality ceases when a product goes out the door and accounts receiving records the transaction. The Market so conceived is short of fully realized, is not part of and certainly does not constitute a ethical system of living. Only madness and destruction lies in attempting to believe so.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008
Small Things

 Several months ago a book on the September 11, 2001 Terrorists Attacks on the Pentagon came through my unit at the library (a copy cataloging unit). I didn't remember the book exactly but it came through the Government documents work flow so it was likely that it was this book from the historian of the Secretary of Defense  Pentagon 9/11 []. The glyph form, 9/11, either spoken or written has no reverberation for me, overused as it has been. A mere percussion beat by grasping fools. A signifier that meaning is lent to. The day we are told the world changed.  Not the world perhaps, which absorbs human tragedy on scales uncounted with great and continuing regularity. But our world, our partial world certainly, became colder in the moments of those incomprehensible tragedies, and moved closer to the edge of an indeterminate abyss that day.

  I was glad to see this book. Being a federal book depository we get books like this which are unlikely to make it to the corner mall bookstore. Most government documents we get in advance to the fourth floor where they lie peacefully undisturbed on their shelves for centuries.  Except for the County Soil Surveys which are enormously popular.

 I looked through the table of contents with interested, but also conflicted feeling. This book might answer one question I've had since that day. I knew from the papers the next day and later that week that my old office, the office where I had once worked 20 years before, a watch section in the CNO's office, had been hit and that many of the personnel had died. I wanted to know what happened to the Petty Officer of the Watch. The person who held my job.

  What I remember most from those days was being in the grip of an ornery twenty-four hour watch cycle which was always changing from twelve to eight hour watches, with occasional special weekend sub-schedules thrown in. The Pentagon was a strange place filled with very strange people, And I arrived there after spending most of the previous year at sea on an aircraft carrier. Frankly it amount to two fairly disorienting years. Which I made the best of. Overnight shifts in a empty Pentagon with the better part of a mile to walk to pick up various documents from various message centers. I and the operations e-5 who had a job similar to mine would race the Widgets up and down the long hall ways of the D-corridor. Widgets were these little yellow electric mail carts which as I recall them looked like three wheeled Segways with big wire baskets on them. These were left in the hallway plugged into wall sockets. They generally belonged to offices manned by self-important civilians. I'm sure I've told this story before. I tell it again so these people know why their carts were never charged in the morning. And never will be.

   One of the other things I remember was one of our Lieutenants. He had come (with the intervention of officer candidate school) from a librarian job at the Boston Public Library. There, he would occasionally explain, he had been plagued by vague feelings of stifflement. He would illustrate this point by hopping up on the phone bank console and delivering a speech about standing on the leading edge of the ramparts of freedom.This is what the Navy gave him, the chance to stand there. Then he would quietly and with dignity get back down because this was the Pentagon and that sort of behavior was not to be tolerated. It was somewhere right about then I decided I wanted to get a college education. His path took him from a large library to the Navy. Mine took me from the Navy to a near meaningless clerical job at a large library. There was no notable intent to this. One thing about the past when it becomes long past is that even the future from the past is often simply more indifferent past.

 The book, after I had scanned chapters and flipped through enough pages gave up an answer. The Petty Officer of the Watch; he lived through the day and with only minor injuries. Despite being in a hall section that was otherwise utterly destroyed. A small thing, but one that left me with a strangely odd sense of relief.

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Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Autonomous regions

 In the past few weeks and not without coincidence at a time when a new administration is slowly taking form in Pakistan, the U S is stepping up its war on the Taliban insurgency 6 Reported Dead in U.S. Afghan Strike.   They do this incorporating the risks of increased use of airpower U.S. Officials Describe Afghan Airstrike - They do this at the risk of cross border raids across the somewhat fanciful notion of a Afghan-Pakistan border US-Led Forces Accused in Pakistan Attack. . They, we, I should say, do this to stem a situation in Afghanistan which increasing is picking up an unstable wobble as events go around Is Afghanistan a Narco-State? - And there are indications we do it with increasing urgency in suppression of a re-coalescing al Qaeda al Qaeda Repeats Threat to Danes. The only thing which is clear enough not to draw dispute is that the heart of this fight is in the trans-borderland area of Pakistan. Mostly the Federally Administered Tribal Areas U.S. Analyst Depicts Al Qaeda as Secure in Pakistan and More Potent Than Last Year -

 Questions are being raised on the interest and engagement of the Pakistan government in this fight.  Using an old phrase the flaming datum laid against Pakistan include the Afghan Government's insistence (quietly seconded by U S intelligence of the ISI's  (Pakistan's intelligence and national security bureau) involvement in the recent bombing of Indian embassy in Kabul India and Afghanistan Are Wary Of New Tensions With Pakistan. In addition to the more mundane safety, protection and outright assistance given to the various insurgencies by Pakistan security forces. Some are becoming increasingly suspicious given the increased confidence of the Taliban  The Globe and Mail: Taliban learning how to win key propaganda battles that there may be a standing relation between the taliban and parts of the Pakistani government AFP: India warns Pakistan over terror 61 years after partition.

    The Taliban is the product developed by Pakistan's security forces, sold to various generals and politicians as a strategic counterbalance to India. In a similar manner it could be argued that Al Qaeda is the by-product. As the more virulent and particular forms of the extreme fundamentalist Islamic movements grow among the idle travelers and disaffected along the edges of more straightforward and nationalist movements in this war. Pakistan's security forces are walking along  a narrow ledge in attempt to aid potentially useful violent groups and dissuade ones that would throw over Pakistan's secular government as much as Afghanistan's.

  All this gently begs a question. What does a guerilla force need to be effective? What I suppose could be termed Corps Competencies. What is the source of efficacy in small wars? How much depends on outside help? The basics sufficient to fight an occupying ground or police force are simply volunteers, small arms, and a body of proven doctrine. The later is largely open source after the last half century People's war, People's Army; the Viet Cong insurrection manual for underdeveloped countries. Nguyen Giap Vo []. Particularly though we are looking at a guerilla force differentiated against a modern networked terrorist-guerilla force like Hamas or Hezbollah as much as the near mythic al Qeada. Beyond the basics this type of force needs advanced weapons. Ideally anti-armor, anti-aircraft, night vision equipment, and sniper rifles, plastic explosives. Additionally it needs protocols for securing, encrypting, communication, and securing its leadership. Advanced tactics for coordinated attacks against an opponent with clear C3 advantages. At the least it needs developed tactics for using improvised weapons: Among these the car bomb (poor mans cruise missile), suicide bombs, Improvised Explosive Devices (old artillery shells for the main part), and Explosively Formed Penetrators. The last of these deceptively primitive in reality sophisticated and devastating Explosively formed penetrator - Wikipedia. At the very least the internet with only nominal care aides such a force as an unlimited networked source of information and with some further care a limited avenue of communication.


    An imperfect but still useful metaphor for looking at this is to see in this a retail and wholesale warfare. Retail: cash transaction warfare. You buy your guns, your pick-up trucks with 50 cal. machine guns welded onto a pipe in the back. Your capital investment completed, jihadist or warlord, you're in business.  Wholesale is indicative of a more thorough if obscured and possibly dysfunctional relationship. The resources of a state are made available. The effectiveness of a terrorist force is in correlation to its current or former sponsorship by state level institutions.  A professional military, or clandestine service bureau. A general staff for doctrine, commissioned and noncommissioned officers to transmit careers worth of professional experience and technical know how. Time space and expertise needed to train enthusiasts into a coherent military force. An exterior civil society capable of supplying engineering, and advanced materials. I acknowledge the caveat of the crucible of war. If you are winning a small war you will gain critical experience as a resource and become less dependent on exterior powers, if you're  not winning you are losing such resources and become more dependent.  All of this is to say that I have always been dubious of the ability of so-called non state or sub state entities, a franchise terrorism notwithstanding the ferocity of the ideology, to pose a grave and existential threat to world order. Generally in small wars against extremism seeking to win local opinion, combating that should be about engaging the ideology as much as the gun. In territory occupying revolutionary or irredentist ambition, it is worthwhile to identify the enabling patron, who will exist, and turn some attention in that direction.

    After I had written or a least worked out the bulk of this piece the New York Times saw fit to publish a lengthy and detailed article on this very subject (as have others as this subject increasingly surfaces into news cycles) Right at the Edge - Special Report - This was distressingly timed on their part but an excellent article.

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