By Daniel Tencer | October 17, 2009 - 2:40 pm - Posted in Antics and Pedantics

The Financial Times reviews Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff’s This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly.

The final lesson is that financial liberalisation and financial crises go together like a horse and carriage. It is no surprise, therefore, that the last 30 years have seen waves of financial crises, of which the latest one is merely the biggest. The current crisis is the worst since the Great Depression. Yet, argue the authors, no one should have been surprised by this outcome. The US showed all the classic symptoms of a country heading for crisis: a huge current account deficit; soaring house prices; headlong credit growth; and, let us not forget, excessively complacent regulators.

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From CalculatedRiskBlog, a comparison chart of US job loss, in percentage, in post-World War II recessions.

If we were to assume a similar pattern for the current recession as happened in the 1990 and 2001 recessions, that suggests roughly a 90-month recovery cycle, meaning US employment won’t return to 2007 levels until about the first half of 2015.

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By Daniel Tencer | - 2:39 pm - Posted in Antics and Pedantics

As Rupert Murdoch prepares to destroy his newspaper holdings by putting them behind subscriber walls, his biographer, Richard Wolff, explains why:

Murdoch can almost single-handedly take apart and re-assemble a complex printing press, but his digital-technology acumen and interest is practically zero. Murdoch’s abiding love of newspapers has turned into a personal antipathy to the Internet: for him it’s a place for porn, thievery, and hackers. In 2005, not long after News Corp. bought MySpace, when it still seemed like a brilliant purchase—before its fortunes sank under News Corp.’s inability to keep pace with advances in social-network technology—I congratulated him on the acquisition. “Now,” he said, “we’re in the stalking business.”

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By Daniel Tencer | - 2:39 pm - Posted in Antics and Pedantics

“The debasement of language, which Shakespeare understood was a prelude to violence, is the curse of modernity,” writes Chris Hedges:

How do you respond to “Islam is the solution” or “Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior”? How do you converse with someone who justifies the war in Iraq—as Christopher Hitchens does—with the tautology that we have to “kill them over there so they do not kill us over here”? Those who speak in these thought-terminating clichés banish rational discussion. Their minds are shut. They sputter and rant like a demented Othello. The paucity of public discourse in our culture, even among those deemed to be public intellectuals, is matched by the paucity of public discourse in the Arab world.

This emptiness of language is a gift to demagogues and the corporations that saturate the landscape with manipulated images and the idiom of mass culture. Manufactured phrases inflame passions and distort reality. The collective chants, jargon and epithets permit people to surrender their moral autonomy to the heady excitement of the crowd. “The crowd doesn’t have to know,” Mussolini often said. “It must believe. … If only we can give them faith that mountains can be moved, they will accept the illusion that mountains are moveable, and thus an illusion may become reality.” Always, he said, be “electric and explosive.” Belief can triumph over knowledge.

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By Daniel Tencer | - 2:38 pm - Posted in Antics and Pedantics

A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that there may be selfish reasons for altruism — in the case of termites, anyway. Wired explains:

When a warring termite colony loses its king and queen — the only members capable of reproduction — then its survivors merge with the victor colony, treating genetically unrelated former enemies as if they were siblings.

In the short term, this seems to make no sense. But in the long term, because replacement royalty is recruited from among worker bugs, it’s the losers’ best shot at eventually reproducing.

“You could go off and start your own colony, but that’s risky,” said Philip Johns, a Bard College evolutionary biologist. “This way, there’s a good chance a king or queen may die, and then you have a chance at taking over.”

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By Daniel Tencer | - 2:37 pm - Posted in Antics and Pedantics

From The Independent’s interview with Gore Vidal:

Yet now, he says, it is clear the American experiment has been “a failure”. It was all for nothing. Soon the country will be ranked “somewhere between Brazil and Argentina, where it belongs.” The Empire will collapse militarily in Afghanistan; the nation will collapse internally when Obama is broken “by the madhouse” and the Chinese call in the country’s debts. A ruined United States will then be “the Yellow Man’s Burden”, and “they’ll have us running the coolie cars, or whatever it is they have in the way of transport”.

A Scotch is fetched for him as he is wheeled into the corner of the bar. “I was like everyone else when Obama was elected – optimistic. Everything we had been saying about racial integration was vindicated,” he says, “but he’s incompetent. He will be defeated for re-election. It’s a pity because he’s the first intellectual president we’ve had in many years, but he can’t hack it. He’s not up to it. He’s overwhelmed. And who wouldn’t be? The United States is a madhouse. The country should be put away – and we’re being told to go away. Nothing makes any sense.” The President “wants to be liked by everybody, and he thought all he had to do was talk reason. But remember – the Republican Party is not a political party. It’s a mindset, like Hitler Youth. It’s full of hatred. You’re not going to get them aboard. Don’t even try. The only way to handle them is to terrify them. He’s too delicate for that.”

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Manchester Airport is about to go live with a full-body scanner that creates a nude image of every air traveler, complete with detailed outlines of genitals and even breast implants.

Scholars & Rogues has pointed out a slight problem with this plan:

“Rodney Deegen was surprised alone in his security booth where he was pleasuring himself while staring at ghost-like images of naked children. He was arrested immediately. Investigators suspect that he may have distributed some 350,000 images of naked people over the past 18 months.”

You remember that story, don’t you? Was all over the press in July 2012? Oh, wait, that hasn’t happened yet. Still to come, so to say.

So now it appears the folks at Manchester Airport have cottoned on to this problem.

Manchester Airport has been forced to rethink trials of its invasive new X-ray machine after claims the “naked” images of airline passengers could violate child pornography laws.
Manchester Airport initially argued that its scanner was lawful and exempt from the child pornography laws because it was used for the “prevention and detection of crime”. ARCH said a good reason was required to qualify for this exemption.

The airport admitted on Thursday that it might be illegal for children to use the scanner. It said it would not allow anyone under 18 to use the device if it is advised the practice is unlawful.

Hold on a sec here. Let me see if I understand this. They’re instituting a policy of taking a nude photo of every person who gets on an airplane, presumably to prevent terrorists from sneaking a bomb onto an airplane. But, since nude photos of children are illegal, they’re not going to photograph anyone under 18. So, from now on, does this mean the way to sneak a bomb onto an airplane in Manchester is to get a 17-year-old to do it?

Regardless of how they work out the crimp in their plan, I would say the first victims of this policy will be celebrities. How long do you think it will take for some airport security guard in L.A. or New York or London to figure out how to transfer that image of Angelina Jolie or Tom Cruise from the scanner to his cellphone, and then on to the Internet?

Not very long, methinks, and when it happens the lawsuits are going to fly fast and furious.

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