31 May 2008
One odd aspect to the story, in the second paragraph, reporter Tom Wright refers to Indonesia as "Asia's only OPEC member." Presumably he meant "East Asia" there. Obviously, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, etc. are in Asia. I wonder how that got past the editors.
Jeff Matthews, on his blog, employs this announcement as an object lesson in "peak oil," the theory that the world has passed the peak in oil production, it's all downhill from here.
Indonesia's oil fields were once quite a big deal in the over-all global industry. They were the foundation of Royal Dutch/Shell. Indonesia's production peak came in 1977 in 1977, when it was extracting 1.7 million barrels a day of the best stuff: more formally known as "light sweet crude."
Indonesia's remaining production is 0.2 million barrels a day. Simle arithmetic gives us a difference of 1.5 million barrels -- or the loss of as much oil as we get from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.
The planet Earth isn't a donut with a huge jelly-like center of light sweet crude. Get used to it, people!
30 May 2008
It is a noble aspiration, but it is largely a failure. Because it is that aspiration that turns much of this book into a dull slog for long stretches -- just one darn thing after another.
Consider chapter 8, about the war in China. Here are some facts:
* a sixteen year old Japanese boy was sent in 1941 by his family from Japan to occupied Manchuria to help manage an uncle's motorcycle-repair business there. Hastings apparently interviewed him -- Souhei Nakamura -- as part of his research for the book, and Nakamura recounted that times were good for the occupiers. All he had to do at the repair shop was "keep an eye on the Chinese doing the real work." (p. 193)
*of course Japanese troops moved south and west from that Manchurian base. The British concession of Tianjin, southeast of Beijing, was a "precarious island of safety amidst the rising Japanese tide." An engineer's son who was growing up in Tianjin, named Xu Yongqjiang, said: "Every morning we watched corpses drifting downriver to the sea." (p. 194).
* The Japanese army in China had a biological warfare unit, Unit 731, based near Harbin, which subjected hundreds of Chinese prisoners to experimentation, invariably fatal. (p. 201).
* Among the Nationalist soldiers of Chiang Kai-shek circa 1944, desertion was common. "Eight hundred recruits once set off from Gansu to join a U.S. Army training programme in Yunnan. Two hundred died en route, and a further three hundred deserted." (p. 208).
That will give you but a slight taste of the relentless "tree after tree" nature of this book, and how easy it is in all of that to lose any grasp of the forest, and then to lose interest and give up reading.
The human mind is designed for learning by narrative, and the narrative in works of history is given its shape by the extraordinary individuals, not by the motorcycle repair shop managers or anonymous numbered deserters.
In political/military history, the shape of the narrative comes from above. Those activities are inherently, distressingly, hierarchical. That is not a good reason to think well of them (quite the contrary) but it does rather constrain how many of the above listed sort of granular facts "from below" a historian can get away with.
29 May 2008
As the subtitle indicates, the subject is the Asian/Pacific theatre (or theatres) of the Second World War, in their final year, beginning roughly with a summit meeting in Hawaii in July 1944.
At that meeting, held as the Marines were securing the Marianas islands, FDR asked MacArthur, Nimitz, and Halsey: Where do we go from here? The most direct route to Japan involved continued island-hopping across the center of the Pacific. From the Marianas to Iwo Jimi to Okinawa. And there was a southern-Pacific variant, one that would let MacArthur make good on his vow to return to the Phillipines.
Roosevelt, rather characteristically, made no choice, and both the south and the central Pacific campaigns proceeded.
Insofar as Hastings has a 'big picture' point to make, it is that this was probably a mistake, that the Phillipines campaign was redundant and humanly a disaster. The war could have been brought to a quicker end had all the available resources been channeled through the ocean's center.
But then, Hastings' heart really isn't in making a big picture point at all. His heart is in the idea of history from below, history that deliberately foresakes the task of mapping the forest for the detailed description of lots of otherwise inconspicuous trees. I'll say something about that aspect of the book tomorrow.
25 May 2008
Sandler plays a Mossad agent turned hairdresser.
Of course the allusion of the headline is on the one hand to this movie and on the other hand to this one.
I'm reminded of a phone conversation I once had with the pr guy for a Canadian company called Mosaid Technologies, a company in the business of developing and licensing semiconductor-related intellectual property.
I first pronounced the company "Mossad." He told me that it's "moss-aid, we're not the Israeli secret service." I apologized. "It's all right. We're confused with Mossad all the time."
24 May 2008
Mr. Wright, it seems clear to meas it seemed clear to the jury, was scamming people out of millions of dollars, purporting to run a hedge fund when all he was running was a lavish lifestyle.
It is, of course, legal to solicit money to invest and then to make bad investments and lose that money. It is even legal to compensate yourself handsomely while the suckers stand for it. Caveat emptor. What isn't legal is lying about what you're doing and how well or poorly you're doing it, which is what Wright did. He sent out professional-looking account statements that persuaded his clients that their money was secure and growing.
Then came the inevitable day when some of those clients started receiving their redemptions in rubber checks....
At the two-week trial this month, Wright's attorneys were prepared to offer an "empty chair defense." What's that? In a classic empty-chair defense, Butch Cassidy is arrested. The Sundance Kid either escapes or, perhaps, has turned state's evidence and entered the witness protection program. Since the prosecution has Butch dead to rights on the merits, a lawyer might seek to play to jury sentiment by putting an empty chair at the defense table, and telling the jury dramatically, "that is where the Sundance Kid ought to be sitting."
The tactic is, precisely, a play on sentiment. Jurors often feel that it is unfair to punish Butch if they can't punish Sundance too. The way to relieve that sense of unfairness: acquit Butch!
To make the "empty chair" argument where it is clear that Butch is guilty is to appeal to the jury to nullify the law, because no law requires all possible defendants in the same crime to be brought to trial if any of them are.
Anyway, this was Kirk Wright's attorneys' plan. I don't think they planned literally to put the empty chair there, but they did want to argue to the jury that Wright had accomplices, with responsibility equal to or greater than his own for the production of the phony statements to clients that were the root of his criminal liability.
The prosecution successfully requested what's known as an order in limine, barring defense counsel from making that argument.
Assume the defense has successfully preserved a basis for appeal on this issue, and that they do argue to an appellate court that they should have been permitted to make the empty-chair/nullification appeal.
Does anybody want to play appellate-judge-for-a-day here and render a decision on that point for my benefit?
23 May 2008
The judge is supposed to instruct the jurors on the law, the jury is supposed to deliberate on the facts of the case and apply those facts to the instructions in order to reach a verdict, but it doesn't always happen that way.
What you'll decide about the rightness or wrongness of this matter depends upon your broader ethical/political principles. You might fear "runaway juries" as sources of chaos. You might believe that if the laws are made by a process you consider legitimate (a democratically-elected legislature) and the judge's instructions on them are accurate, then any independence a jury shows must by definition by illegitimate.
On the other hand, you might think the jurors themselves a more reliable vox populi than that elected legislature. Consider a drug bust. The police officer testifies, "I found a bag of controlled substance X on the body of the suspect." The suspect testifies, "No, the officer planted the X on me -- I'm innocent." This is a classic dispute over fact, not law. The judge instructs the jury, "If you find that the accused had X when he was first approached by the officer, then you must find him guilty."
Inside the jury room, someone may say, "X isn't really a big deal. I've done some X myself." Someone else, "we really don't need to be sending our community's young men away to prison for matters like this." They're not arguing on the factual question nominally submitted to them -- they're arguing for nullification.
As I say: this happens. It is a fact, not a theory. No informed person disputes that. How often does it happen? That's hard to say.
From a policy point of view, one hotly contested question is: should lawyers for the defendant be allowed to ask the jury to nullify? Should the appeal "yes, our client possessed X, but we ask you to acquit anyway," be permitted by officers of the court?
I'll speak more of that, and of the contemporary litigation that brings it to mind, tomorrow.
22 May 2008
Scholem's two best-known works are: MAJOR TRENDS IN JEWISH MYSTICISM (1941) and SABBATAI SEVI: The MYSTICAL MESSIAH (1957).
The historical scope of the first of those works is daunting -- Scholem begins with the "Second Temple era," the period beginning around 353 BCE, when Darius allowed the Jews to building their temple. That First Temple had been destroyed at the start of the Babylonian exile seventy years before.
The ideas of exile and return are at the heart of Jewish mysticism through the centuries as Scholem portrays it. The soul of the mystic sees itself as in a state of exile from God, and sees the cause of that exile as a vast cosmological crisis -- a Babylonian captivity writ large.
One crucial text for mysticism -- both Jewish and Christian -- is the first chapter of Ezekiel, a prophet of that period of exile. Ezekiel begins his book with a dramatic vision of God, in the form of a man, driving a flying chariot, carried by four living creatures with wings and bovine hooves.
Such vivid imagery of the chapter calls out for interpretation, indeed for multiple layers of interpretation, each available to a narrower circle of adepts than the one before.
All the manifestations of religion -- the scholarly, the mystical, the scholarly/mystical -- are ineradicably part of human experience, and to know ourselves at all we must open ourselves thereto. I think the "village atheist" pose of a Hitchens, which simply sneers at such material, is itself as much a sign of the superficiality of our time as ... say ... a pop star/diva's enthusiasm about it.
18 May 2008
The reviewer make the point that Scholem's scholarly interest in Judaism was itself something of a youthful rebellion, one which (combined with his anti-war opinions) got him evicted from his family home in Berlin in February 1917.
The new edition is a publication of the Harvard University Press, of the journals Scholem kept betwen 1913 and 1919, under the title "Lamentations of Youth." There isn't much there about the eviction, though. Only a cryptic entry in which he says he has "experienced something."
Two books generally regarded as masterpieces define Scholem's achievement, MAJOR TRENDS IN JEWISH MYSTICISM (1941) and SABBATAI SEVI: The MYSTICAL MESSIAH (1957).
I'll leave that as a teaser for now. I'll be back Thursday and continue this train of thought.
17 May 2008
To be technical, I don't know when the relevant issue of TNR actually hit newsstands or went out in the mail to subscribers, but the date it had on it was "May 18, 1998". So we'll take tomorrow as the anniversary.
This was the beginning of the end for Glass' spectacular career of fabrications.
Here's a link to a piece by Adam Penenberg that unravelled it and spoke to the issue of how such things can be unravelled, how difficult it can be to prove a negative. That of course is the difficulty upon which the Glass' of the world play for as long as they can manage.
There had been incidents, earlier in Glass' brief career, that might have served as red flags. But the Penenberg riposte proved effective, and Glass was soon unemployed and in disgrace. That September, his rise and fall was the subject of a lengthy profile in Vanity Fair "Shattered Glass" which referred to Hack Heaven in particular as "the most sustained fraud in modern journalism."
Glass is periodically the subject of "where are they now" stories which tell us -- last I knew -- that he is a paralegal somewhere, and/or a member of a comedy troup.
There are some psychologically intriguing aspects to the story. More so, IMHO, that there are to certain other journalistic scandals. Most fraud in this area comes from the unfortunate but not-at-all-mysterious combination of ambition and sloth. It's easier to make stuff up than to do the work, collect the facts, and then write up a story that stays true to them.
And it's a LOT easier to end up with a compelling end product if one makes it up. The problem with doing the spadework is that it doesn't necessarily uncover hidden treasure at all. You can dig a deep hole where your metal detector went off, sweating all the way, and end up with nothing more than a rusty old metal pipe.
If you combine ambition with sloth then, you want the big story and ... you make it up. Or maybe you've got a legitimate story but you feel compelled to make stuff up to fill in compelling details. Such were the relatively uninteresting -- though high-profile -- fabrications of a Jayson Blair.
But in Glass' case the vice of "sloth" makes no appearance. In creating back-up for Hack Heaven, he created a shell website and a voice-mail account for a company he had invented. He had fake business cards printed up for that company's supposed executives. He created "interview" notes. A more slothful person might have actually preferred researching and writing a true story to doing all this work for a phony one.
The lesson: maybe sloth has its upside? Nay ... there has to be a better lesson in there than that. On Thursday I wrote about the movie "Hoop Dreams," and the aesthetics of the documentary film -- the challenge of creating structure and preserving focus without straying from the facts -- and the challenge of accepting the loose ends that inevitably arise in such works.
What is true of film is true in print as well. The art of veracity is inherently tricky. There is always the danger that the product won't be artful enough, that it will end up dry-as-dust and/or derivative. The extreme of this danger is plagiarism. On the other hand, there is also the danger that the product will be too artful, that it wil fly off into fantasy. The extreme of this danger is ... Stephen Glass.
16 May 2008
I haven't seen the movie and don't plan to. But because I've attempted (in my other blog, and in HedgeWorld) to expose the badness of some of Stein's ideas on finance, I've become curious about the blogospheric controversy over this movie.
The two subjects are related. In Stein's case, at least, a predisposition to believe in "intelligent design" can't be the result of a Christian fundamentalist upbringing. What is its source. then?
I believe that Stein has adopted the premise that every body of systematic knowledge is a fraud. Darwinian stands on the same footing as modern financial/economic theory. He thinks that by piercing the veil of either of them -- charging that each is a conspiratorial mask -- he is proving his own superior wisdom.
But specifically: I understand that the movie claims that a former editor of the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington (PBSW) was "terrorized," that his "life was nearly ruined," because he posted a pro-intelligent-design article by Stephen C. Meyer.
"The paper ignited a firestorm of controversy merely because it suggested intelligent design might be able to explain how life began," says Stein in the movie.
Still talking second-or-third hand here, though: what kind of "firestorm" would be generated by the publishing decisions of a small academic journal by an unpaid editor? A rather contained fire, I'm guessing.
A little googling showed me that the disputed article wasn't about "how life began." It was about the Cambrian explosion, which Mr. Meyer considers "biology's big bang." Leaving "young earth" theories to the side, the origin of life is conventionally dated to somewhere around 3.6 billion years ago ["billion" in the US sense, a thousand million]. The Cambrian explosion began about half a billion years ago. Quite the difference.
Meyer's contention seems to have been that the conventional chronology is more-or-less right, but that natural selection does not suffice to explain the sudden appearance of so many different variants half a billion years ago, leaving open the possibility of intelligent guidance. That's an anti-Darwinian view although by definition it's an old-earth and in some sense a pro-evolution view.
The mis-statement about the point of the paper is Stein's fault, of course, not Meyer's. But it does seem like a big one, and an indication of carelessness.
For those who'd like to study the issue of Darwinian versus anti-Darwinian readings of the Cambrian explosion further, knock yourselves out.
15 May 2008
I enjoy documentaries -- a fact I've mentioned in this blog before.
The underlying challenge is to stay true to fact, while giving the movie structure and focus.
A friend of mine told me that she doesn't generally enjoy documentaries, for roughly this reason -- the true-to-fact part spills out over whatever aesthetic structure is created to contain it, and the devices by which it is contained are rather too transparent for her to enjoy them.
This was the same friend who urged me once to watch "Jesus Camp," so you might take that comment with the flavoring it warrants.
At any rate: Hoop Dreams was a superb movie. As everyone knows, the filmmakers followed two young men in inner-city Chicago, each of whom saw his skills on the basketball court as his way out.
One of the young man had, at first, marked success. He got onto the varsity team of a suburban prep school and looked like he would become a star, going "down state" to the Illinois championships. The other one: well ... he was briefly in the suburban school as wel, but didn't get on to the Varsity team and no financial angel appeared to allow his fimily to keep him there, so it was back to the central-Chicago high school.
There are twists after that, which I won't spill. I recommend that you view Hoop Dreams for yourself -- it isn't hard to obtain -- and that you then resist any temptation to ask yourself whatever hapened to the two young men it portrays after the credits rolled. What happened, happened. Their lives have continued in the ordinary sloppy way. Leave that be. Laissez-faire.
11 May 2008
REFLECTIONS ON THE DAWN OF CONSCIOUSNESS: JULIAN JAYNES'S BICAMERAL MIND THEORY REVISITED.
Fortunately, this is one of the books at amazon with the neat "search inside" feature, so you can see the table of contents without further ado.
I've got lots of other things on my "to do" list, so buying, or even library borrowing, this book can't get any very high place.
It would be interesting to learn what they say in reply to some of the objections that have been posed to their Master's theories over the years though.
10 May 2008
Congratulations are due to him, not just on securing the nomination as it appears he has, but on dealing a blow to Clinton family influence in the nation and in its largest political party.
I have to say that I agree entirely with hawkish blogger Andrew Sullivan on one point: there's been far too much talk about how Hillary's persistence in this campaign constitutes admirable grit or determination or whatever. It constitutes nothing admirable.
"One request at least," Sullivan says, "can we retire from the dicourse the notion that there is anything even faintly admirable about the Clintons' refusal to accept that they have lost the nomination. This isn't tenacity or pluck or spunk. It's vindictive, sore-loser narcissism. And someone senior in the party needs to call it like it is."
She has been saying, in effect, that if she can't have the nomination she will at least render it valueless.
I suggest dropping out of the electoral system. That's the anarcho-capitalist way. Still, I admit that the Clinton crowd turns my stomach in a uniquely knotted manner.
09 May 2008
A war broke out and our protagonist put on his newly acquired metal plating and headed toward the battlefields. But his body had become so weak from semi-starvation that he could not bear the weight of the armor, and one of the enemies soon cut him down.
A pointless little story ... yes? Well, maybe not. Okita Saburo used to tell that tale. He was an economic planner under Japan's prime minister Yoshida in the 1950s, and his listeners all knew what the story meant.
It meant that Japan should take its MacArthur-imposed Constitution and its disavowal of armed force seriously. Not as a matter of newly discovered pacifist principle but because if Japan gave up the hope of wearing a suit of armor any time soon it could instead feed itself, and develop the sinews of industrial might that our imaginary samarai forfeited so unwisely.
I just thought I'd pass that along. Guns and butter. Not a new subject of contrast, but a perhaps a valuable shift of frame for it.
08 May 2008
James has at this point established what he means by "indeterminism," in contradiction to both the hard and the soft forms of determinism.
But, he asks, is indeterminism compatible with theism? If we are the creatures of an all-knowing Creator, then the knowledge of that creator of what we will do next Tuesday surely implies that on next Tuesday we will do something now already determined, doesn't it?
"Suppose two men before a chessboard, -- the one a novice, the other an expert player of the game. The expert intends to beat. But he cannot foresee exactly what any one move of his adversary may be. He knows, however, all the possible moves of the latter; and he knows in advance how to meet each of them by a move of his own which leads in the direction of victory. And the victory infallibly arrives, after no matter how devious a course, in the one predestined form of check-mate to the novice's king."
Likewise, then, even an infinitely powerful mind could be working through time and despite indeterminist elements in a situation to achieve that Mind's end.
In a footnote, he acknowledges that this (the sort of idea that long after James' death became known as "process theology") may well be considered heterodox.
"This of course leaves the creative mind subject to the law of time. And to any one who insists on the timelessness of that mind I have no reply to make....To say that time is an illusory appearance is only a roundabout manner of saying that there is no real plurality, and that the frame of things is an absolute unit. Admit plurality, and time may be its form."
04 May 2008
"There is ... wide resentment among the poor Tibetans due to the economic disparity between the elite -- comprised of enterprising Chinese migrants and upper-class Tibetans -- and the impoverished masses. With the billions of dollars that China has flooded into Tibet over the past decade, many upper-class Tibetans and Chinese migrant entrepreneurs prospered greatly. The majority of Tibetans, however, were left out of the economic prosperity.
"The Tibet economy has grown around 12% per year for the past seven years. But due to the region's harsh environment and weak economy, Tibet is still one of the most underdeveloped regions in China."
It sounds like Mr. Hsu is buying the Chinese government's 'line' here. The growth of 12% a year would be a pointless abstraction to most of those "impoverished masses" if they aren't sharing in it.
Also, why has China (meaning, presumably, the government of China) "flooded" those billions of dollars into Tibet, if the "harsh environment" condemns the economy to weakness anyway? Is it a continuing subsidy for the "Chinese migrant entrepreneurs?
I often find Mr. Hsu's newsletter informative (though I don't personally invest in China and don't suggest it unless you really have money you could do without) -- still ... still, I think his discussion of Tibet/China politics leaves much to be desired.
SFAIK, all the real development in China in recent years has taken place along the Pacific coast -- the further from the coast one gets, with Tibet as the limit, the less visible the 21st century itself becomes. If the government is actually putting billions into Tibetan development, it will almost certainly fail, and accordingly to the facts as Mr. Hsu states them IS failing, to achieve any effect other than the enrichment of some of its cronies. Furthermore, logically the money for such a transfer must be coming from the dynamic economies of the coast -- youcan only take wealth from where it is. So the 'development' plans might be killing the proverbial goose.
'Tis ever thus.
03 May 2008
March 24, the lighting ceremony in Greece, followed by six days of relays within that country, before the torch bearer flies to Russia. The final day's events have to be cut short due to Tibet-related protests.
April 6, Britain. The first major disruption as the flame is passing through London. Bobbies make 37 arrests.
April 9, the US. Authorities make a last-minute change in the route through San Francisco (the only US city visited) in order to confuse protestors.
April 10, The president of the IOC dismisses suggestions that the relay be curtailed.
April 13, Tanzania, The only stop on the continent of Africa. Itinerary takes torch through the capital city, Dar es Salaam. No incidents.
April 17, India. At least 170 Tibetan monks are arrested near the relay route in New Delhi.
April 22, Indonesia. The torch paraded at an invitation-only event in Jakarta held under very heavy security. It sputters out and has to be re-lit.
April 26, Japan. There are scuffles in the ski-resort town of Nagano, where more than 85,000 people packed the streets, and at least 4 people were injured, despite the presence of 3,000 police.
May 2, China. Flame arrives at the destination country (though there's a good deal of travelling ahead for it.) Hong Kong.
May 3, Macau. (This was yesterday, as I'm typing these words on the other side of the date line from Macau.) No disruptions -- the torch was guarded through Macau by two columns of paramilitary police. Spectators chanting "Go China."
The flame is scheduled to visit Tibet in the middle of June. That may be interesting.
02 May 2008
I'll miss him, although I understand he will continue to make television appearances in his usual venue, CNBC. Still, this will be one less blog whence I can steal story ideas. The tube just isn't the same. This'll leave me that much more reliant on Felix Salmon, Greg Newton, Ellen Podgor, and other remaining crystals amongst the salts of the earth.
Greenberg is moving on to found, with a friend, a new research firm, which will be known as GreenbergMeritz Research & Analytics. (Way to get first billing on the office door!)
Best of luck to them.
01 May 2008
I enjoy a good period drama now and then, especialy one that draws on the rich materials of English history. I'm also willing to award a lot of latitude to those who take liberties with history. Shakespeare in Love was a great movie, as was The Knight's Tale, though they both took such liberties.
This movie ... sorry. There were some good things in it, but not enough of them.
Natalie Portman as the doomed Anne Boleyn, and Scarlett Johanssen as her sister Mary who lives to tell the tale, are both pretty enough. But the materials demand gravitas, and neither could muster much of that.
The movie's king and the first of its queens, Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, played by Eric Bana and Ana Torrent, were the best performers on the screen. Ms Torrent was compelling even though the screenplay didn't make nearly as much use of her as it might have.
But this movie ought to have been a visual feast. Castle exteriors! castle interiors! Kentish countryside! ... we get no sense of any of it.
If you feel any temptation to watch this movie yourself, feel free. But watch A Man for All Seasons (1966), or Anne of the Thousand Days (1969) first, so you'll know what you're missing.
Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.