Archive for May, 2008
Given that Athens and the surrounding Greek islands are to be my home this summer, I’ve been doing some research on Greek history. One name that keeps popping up is Eleftherios Venizelos, a prolific Greek statesman who was at the country’s helm as Crete revolted from Ottoman rule and became a part of Greece. Venizelos was the deciding factor in Greece’s decision to side with the allies (the Triple Entente) in World War I. The Greek King, Constantine, was related by blood to the German monarchy and hence supported the Central Powers. The fact that Venizelos was able to prevail over his own King speaks of his power and tact. Due to Mr. Venizelos’ alliance with the Entente, he was granted a seat at the Treaty of Paris, where the winners of the war divided up the spoils. Greece then received the Dodecanese Islands, some coastal areas in West Turkey (Smyrna/Izmir and Thrace), which brought the newly enlarged Greek empire to the Constantinople’s doorstep (the Greeks had long dreamed of owning an empire that included Constantinople and coastal Anatolia).
When I first came upon his surname, Venizelos, I thought it must’ve been an ancient progenitor of the name of modern Venezuela (many cities in South America are named after cities in Europe). I found the true story to be much more interesting: Amerigo Vespucci, upon seeing villages built atop stilts in South America, was reminded of Venice’s homes and decreed that the land was to be called Venezuola, meaning “little Venice” in Italian. It was later hispanicized using a Spanish diminutive form -zuela, and hasn’t changed since.
Politico just leaked deets on former Press Secretery Scott McClellan’s new tell-all book:
Bush was “clearly irritated, … steamed,” when McClellan informed him that chief economic adviser Larry Lindsey had told The Wall Street Journal that a possible war in Iraq could cost from $100 billion to $200 billion: “‘It’s unacceptable,’ Bush continued, his voice rising. ‘He shouldn’t be talking about that.’”
Mr. Lindsey was then fired because his estimate was double Bush’s estimate ($50 billion).
The cost of the Iraq war stands at $523 billion, and will reach $600 billion by the end of 2008, according to the Congressional Budget Office. It has cost $1,738 per American. It’s 1200% over-budget using Bush’s initial war-cost estimate, or 261% over-budget when using Mr. Lindsey’s.
If Bush was angry at his economic adviser for projecting a $200 billion war, imagine how steamed he’d be if the true cost was known and reported back then.
Most economists and analysts estimate that the final cost of the Iraq war will exceed $1 trillion. When accounting for externalities like the increased price of oil and long-term care for war veterans, the cost rises to an incredible $4 trillion (~30% of U.S. GDP).
Perhaps police officers will always be hated. They don’t do themselves any favors when they enforce laws in cases where no harm is being done.
A prime example: cops busted into a private art showing/gala in the Hamptons and asked the host to stop serving alcohol. She refused. Moments later, up to nine police cars and more than a dozen officers descended on the gallery and arrested [the host]. Then they carted out crates of fancy Champagne, wine and Grey Goose vodka.
Laws need to be removed and/or edited to ensure that they’re enforced only when someone is harmed. Also, police officers need to be non-confrontational and problem-solving, as opposed to their seemingly usual cavalier incitement of violence.
“Surfer Bruce Grimes from Texas was bitten on the arm on Saturday off nearby Playa Linda beach. Grimes, 49, said he paddled madly toward shore on his board after feeling the unmistakable sandy skin of a shark glide across the bottom of his feet as he straddled his surfboard.
“Then it bumped me really hard. I thought, ‘That’s definitely a big shark.’ I took about three more strokes and he grabbed my arm,” said Grimes, who pulled himself free and made it to the beach. He managed to drive himself to a hospital, where he received 100 stitches.”
Two attacks in April and May killed a Mexican and an American — the first shark deaths off Mexico’s Pacific coast in 30 years.
“Uribe, elected in 2002 on the promise to crush [rebel insurgent group FARC], has boosted troop strength by 44 percent and driven the group into a strategic retreat from Colombia’s highways and major cities. Thanks to the offensive, kidnappings fell by 83 percent to 486 last year and terrorist attacks by 76 percent to 387 in 2007, the Defense Ministry says.”
I’m glad we don’t have that kind of violence where I live.
Perusing candidates’ positions can be time consuming, but I strongly recommend you do it. Even to the candidate whose party you haven’t supported in the past.
Here are some excerpts found at Barack Obama’s site:
Provide a Tax Cut for Working Families: Obama will restore fairness to the tax code and provide 150 million workers the tax relief they need. Obama will create a new “Making Work Pay” tax credit of up to $500 per person, or $1,000 per working family. The “Making Work Pay” tax credit will completely eliminate income taxes for 10 million Americans.
No way! A Democrat whose top priority is to cut taxes!? Awesome.
Obama will work to ban the permanent replacement of striking workers, so workers can stand up for themselves without worrying about losing their livelihoods.
I really don’t support this; it’s just anti-business. If you’ve got employees and they don’t want to work for you anymore, let them leave. If they strike, find replacements who will work. This is an area that the government has no business regulating. Interventionist regulation is often heavy handed and over-reaching. Toss this one in the garbage bin, Barack.
Barack Obama will raise the minimum wage, index it to inflation….
Indexing the minimum wage to inflation is genius — I don’t see why it hasn’t been instituted in the past.
However, it’s conceivable that there could be negative effects. For example, imagine a period of stagflation (recession and high inflation at the same time) like the one the U.S. experienced in the 1970′s: the recession would mean layoffs for workers as business slows down. When inflation picks up, businesses won’t be able to afford the higher labor costs (labor costs would track rising inflation) and you’ll see even more layoffs, all at the worst possible moment, creating a vicious cycle.
Support Job Creation: We need to double federal funding for basic research and make the research and development tax credit permanent to help create high-paying, secure jobs. Obama will also make long-term investments in education, training, and workforce development so that Americans can leverage our strengths – our ingenuity and entrepreneurialism – to create new high-wage jobs and prosper in a world economy.
Good call on the support for increased investment in education. Hopefully, the increased research budgets will pay dividends. My question: where is he going to get the money to do this? Hopefully it’s not a pipe dream.
Deploy Next-Generation Broadband: Obama believes we can get broadband to every community in America through a combination of reform of the Universal Service Fund, better use of the nation’s wireless spectrum, promotion of next-generation facilities, technologies and applications, and new tax and loan incentives.
The bi-partisan 21st Century G.I. Bill is one of the most progressive spending packages I’ve come across. It provides access to a college education for American armed forces veterans. Under the previous system, a veteran could receive up to $9,600/year for four years, which covered only 60-70% of the average cost of four years at a public college or university, or less than two years at a typical private college. The bill covers 100% of a public education, and matches dollar-for-dollar any scholarships given when attending a private institution. It also calls for a housing stipend, which varies by geographical area.
The new G.I. bill is projected to cost about $2.5 billion per year, roughly the cost of U.S. operations in Iraq for one week. Veterans organizations pointed out that a 1988 Congressional study showing that every dollar spent on educational benefits under the original GI Bill added seven dollars to the national economy in terms of productivity, consumer spending and tax revenue.
Seems like a good investment to me.
The bill passed the senate with a veto-proof 75-22 vote.
Kudos to both parties.
The LG Decoy has the honor of being the only phone with a built-in bluetooth headset, so you don’t lose it.
Via Engadget Mobile
A lot of people are unfamiliar with the impetus for the fighting between pro-government forces and Hezbollah last week: telecommunications equipment.
Excerpts from the WSJ:
“Hezbollah was secretly expanding a [fiber-optic] network that could provide secure communications in times of battle.
The drama began developing late last year when engineers working for Lebanon’s telecommunications minister got an odd tip: Someone was mysteriously burying spools of fiber-optic cable near a village in southern Lebanon. Then came a call from the mayor of Choueifat, a suburb of the capital. “There are strange works, unknown to the municipality…on public and private lands,” he said, according to Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh. He sent engineers to investigate, and soon determined that Hezbollah had a network stretching for more than 200 miles — in a nation only about 140 miles long. It had wireless transmitters, Mr. Hamadeh said, and redundancies so communications could continue even if part of it was damaged.
The government long knew Hezbollah had a network of some sort, but thought it was limited and of little threat to central authority. But after the 2006 war, the government told the U.N., Hezbollah secretly expanded it under the guise of postwar reconstruction, burying cables beneath newly paved roads. The work, the government added, was done with the “participation in the field” of the Iranian Headquarters for the Reconstruction of Lebanon, an Iranian agency that has claimed credit for hundreds of rebuilding projects since the 2006 war. It wasn’t reachable for comment.
For government officials critical of Hezbollah, the system was a clear sign of Hezbollah’s worrisome ambitions. “This,” declared Mr. Hamadeh, pointing to a hand-drawn map of the network, “is the takeover of Lebanon.”
Since the government’s public challenge to the network, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has left little doubt of its importance: he’s defended it as a vital weapon against Israel, whose occupation of southern Lebanon from 1982 to 2000 helped give rise to Hezbollah. Calling the system Hezbollah’s “No. 1 weapon,” the black-turbaned leader declared that “it is forbidden to touch [anything] linked to the networks, whether an engineer, a company or a mayor. Touching them is like touching me.”
The more rudimentary system that existed at the time of the 2006 war was considered vital in Hezbollah’s military successes against Israel. Some independent analysts and diplomats worried that enhancement of the network meant Hezbollah is gearing up for another confrontation with Israel.
Mr. Hamadeh, the telecom minister, says his engineers had discovered a Hezbollah fiber-optic cable in the heart of Beirut last year, he said. Confronted about it, Hezbollah reluctantly agreed to remove it from that area, and “things went quiet for a while.” But then, when his engineers investigated the tips from Beirut suburbs and southern Lebanon, they found a greatly expanded Hezbollah system.
On a hand-drawn map, Mr. Hamadeh traced the network’s route: a line south from Beirut to the port of Tyre, then to myriad sites in the southern tip of Lebanon, then north through central Bekaa Valley. Off the main trunk, he sketched what he said were several new branches, reaching toward Christian areas in the north, pro-Syrian Palestinian bases in refugee camps and to areas east of Beirut controlled by the Druze, another sect. His final line reached to a tiny border own called Tufayel, where, he said, the secure network starts to connect with Syria.
Mr. Hamadeh said the government tried three weeks ago to negotiate secretly with Hezbollah about dismantling the network, working through the army intelligence chief and the head of internal security. He said Hezbollah confirmed the existence of the expanded system but “absolutely refused to dismantle it, directing threats against officials” involved.“
Word has just come that Monaco is considering reclaiming some of the Mediterranean to add to its 1-square mile size, a la Dubai. This comes soon after PayPal co-founder and hedge fund manager Peter Thiel went ahead and funded The Seasteading Institute, which aims to build floating libertarian cities beginning soon with a pilot in San Francisco Bay. Their slogan: “Mark Twain, 1800′s: ‘Buy land. They’ve stopped making it.‘ Seasteading Institute, 2008: ‘Production resuming.‘”
Perhaps someday the UN will have to monitor and regulate these intrepid Seasteaders, especially if they start using up large swaths of sea.
Also, I came across an interesting article from the Hamilton Spectator:
An American TV reporter compared those who question the Kyoto Protocol to Holocaust deniers, which prompted a hippie into rethinking global warming. He wrote a book detailing those who stood up against climate pseudo-science called The Deniers: The World-Renowned Scientists Who Stood Up Against Global Warming Hysteria, Political Persecution, And Fraud (And Those Who Are Too Fearful To Do So). The author, Lawrence Solomon, debunks the garbage science and hideous methods used by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, noting that the panel was banned from investigating the sun (the biggest determinant of our climate) as a culprit, and was therefore designed to produce a biased finding.
My question to you: do you believe that climate change is natural, and largely solar-driven, or do you find yourself in agreement with the IPCC and believe that greenhouse gas emissions are responsible for the global temperature rise from 1965-1998?
Huntington Hartford inherited The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, a 16,000 locations-strong national retailer akin to a modern-day Wal-Mart.
He’s more known, however, for squandering his fortune on a series of unfortunate investments. He bought what is now Paradise Island (that of Atlantis fame) and then sold it at a loss. He built the Gallery of Modern Art in New York City, and spent similarly large amounts trying to get his laggard magazine Show off the ground.
At one point, Hartford declared bankruptcy, but had a $500,000/year trust to keep him living the good life.
Yesterday, Mr. Hartford died at 97 years of age in the Bahamas.
Curiously, the man who successfully developed Paradise Island into what it is today, Sol Kerzner, has had just about the opposite life experience as the often failing Mr. Hartford.
Kerzner began life not as an heir but as the youngest of 4 children in a family of Jewish Russian immigrants. He put together a successful hotel chain, Sun International, and then got into development of gambling resorts. Since, he’s put together some of the most successful on earth, including Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun and Paradise Island’s Atlantis, in addition to building a luxury hotel portfolio with his One&Only hotels group (famous for their Cabo San Lucas resort of the same name).
He’s had 4 marriages, including former Miss World 1974 Anneline Kriel, and his current wife, the stunning Heather Murphy.
Great life for Mr. Kerzner, but quite the polar opposite of the first developer of Paradise Island, Mr. Hartford.
Just goes to show that it’s not about what straw you draw, it’s the fight inside you that determines your contribution in life.
None of this prepared me for the sad state of South Ossetia. A breakaway republic formerly part of Georgia, it is not recognized by any foreign governments except for Russia and Abkhazia, its sister breakaway republic. Foreign journalists are harassed, arrested, and often told they need to return to Georgia. Russian troops walk the streets, and much of the population works for the security services or in law enforcement to squelch dissent and end demonstrations. The “security” is paid for by the Russian government. The rest of the population is forced into subsistence farming.
You ought to read the article. The word “former” in the title is, I believe, an attempt at humor:
NetFlix allows members paying $8.95/month or higher to stream movies from its library to a computer of their choice. The natural next step is to stream that content to the TV.
Over the last year, intrepid hackers have pieced together one solution that allows NetFlix content to be streamed to the TV using the XBOX 360 Windows Media Center.
If you don’t have an XBOX 360, you’re out of luck.
NetFlix’s plans of dominating the living room have begun, with the introduction of a $99 box by Roku that slices, dices, and streams video without a hitch. Wired Magazine calls it “just shy of totally amazing.”
The player has access to more than 10,000 movies and TV shows, and will expand to close in on the nearly 100,000 that NetFlix offers in traditional DVD format.
Its competition, the Apple iTV, costs $229, but sports a hard drive, which the Roku box is without. Another competitor, Vudu, costs $295.
Apple is going with the a la carte model for media, but perhaps in this race, $8.95/month will win out. We’ll have to wait and see.
The United States is a nation of a debtors, and a debtor nation, sporting large budget and trade deficits. We’ve yet to default on our debts.
Don’t ever lend money to Russia, though. Russia famously defaulted on their foreign debt obligations in 1998, sending the world economy into a tailspin.
They’ve avoided payment on other obligations as well.
During the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905, the French underwrote much of the Russian war effort with bonds. These bonds became worthless in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. French bondholders made noise about the issue for years, but to no avail. Finally, when a post-Communist Russia re-emerged in the 1990′s and wanted access to global debt markets, Russia needed to convince Europe (and the world) that they could be trusted to pay their debts. Russia paid off its debt to France with a one-time $400 million gift in 1996 — equal to roughly 1.5% of what the bonds would have been worth with 79 years of interest.
Don’t get caught in the same deal.
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