Friday, May 06, 2011

Marvellous Article On AF447

Getting closer to unravelling this deep mystery:
As Flight 447 began its journey toward Tasil Point, the skies seemed reassuringly clear. In the cockpit, the pilots chattered with Brazilian air traffic control, calling out altitude and radio frequencies. Sometime around midnight, the waxing moon, which had been gleaming through the port-side windows, dropped below the horizon, and Flight 447 was alone in the sky.

At 1:35, the pilots called Brazil to read off their altitude and flight plan. Three seconds later, controllers called back to ask when they would reach Tasil Point. Seven seconds passed, and Brazil called again. Another six seconds, and again. Flight 447 was gone.

Healthy Lunch

Let's see: fried chicken, potato wedgies, biscuit, spice drops, and diet soda. Fat, salt, starch, sugar, AND grease: the five major food groups! But no roughage. God forbid roughage!

For Those Who Want To Do Old-School Aerobics On "Good Day, Sacramento"

Be at Pepper's Step One studio wearing your 'Flashback' duds at about 4:45 a.m. on Friday, May 13th. 'Coco' is televising!

Oh, and prepared to work out....

And that's A.M., as in roughly-about dawn!

[UPDATE: Kate and Nancy are excited by this]

Kate: Marc, are you going??

Nancy: Oh, how I would LOVE to do this! BUT not at 4:45 am…

Marc: I “want” to go, but at that hour, the flesh is particularly weak. Still, I will try (and also try to stay awake for the Friday morning meeting afterwards). It’s free face time on the teevee!

Kate: What time does the show come on? It’s not live, is it?

Marc: Yes, it will be live, apparently from the 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. hour (although I wouldn’t be surprised if it extended to the 7 a.m. hour too). Apparently they are showcasing different local studios on different days for Old-School Aerobics, and Pepper’s day is Friday. I guess our over-caffeinated, under-rested example is supposed to motivate the rest of Sacramento to hop out of bed. I just hope we don’t look like we are likely to feel (zombies on endorphins).

Nancy: I assume you will post on YouTube so we who are too lazy to watch live can catch the fun at a more civilized hour?

Marc: Exercise by proxy: America’s favorite activity! Yes, if I can obtain that video, I will post….

Nancy: Oh, ouch! I will exercise along with the video—just a little later in the day.

Marc: No problem! (I just hope we set a good example!)

Kate: The big question for Marc is…do you have a headband and leg warmers? :)

Marc: Believe it or not, I have a headband! Sadly, I have no leg warmers. (Wait a minute – I think I might, buried in the drawer.)

Nancy: Oh, God, when I think of the outfits I used to wear…. Of course I was much younger then…

Troops In Afghanistan Get Their Britney Groove On

Michelle writes:
Check out this YouTube video made by an Albuquerque native, Marine Cpl. Andrew Tarin, who is in the marines in Afghanistan. There was a front page article on this guy in the 4/27/2011 Abq Journal....

A Plethora Of Goslings

Springtime in Indiana (from Jerry).

"Judas" - Lady Gaga

Lawrence O'Donnell's Testy Interview With Condi Rice

Rice still reiterates that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the United States! The zombie lies of the Bush Administration live on!

Thursday, May 05, 2011

The "Big Secret" Is Killing Me

So, I'll entertain myself with this instead....

Bramlett "How To Succeed" Photos Are Up!

Brittany forwarded this on!

Interview With Musharraf

Interesting interview:

Regarding Obama's OBL Death Pix Decision

I'm all in favor of keeping the pictures under wraps. The pictures would prove nothing to a conspiracy theorist, but they would aggravate people, and serve as good Al Qaeda propaganda. Not good for what we hope to build: a decent society. Good enough reason to keep them under wraps.

This Week, The B3ta QOTW Concerned 'Winning'

This works for me! (imagery from the Resident Loon).

Dubya In Retirement

The Last WWI Veteran

He's the last of his combat generation:

Claude Stanley Choules, the last known combat veteran of World War I, died on Thursday in a nursing home in Western Australia. He was 110.

...World War I was raging when Mr. Choules began training with the British Royal Navy, just one month after he turned 14. In 1917 he joined the battleship HMS Revenge, from which he watched the 1918 surrender of the German High Seas Fleet, the main battle fleet of the German Navy during the war.

...Mr. Choules and another Briton, Florence Green, became the war’s last known surviving service members after the death of Frank Buckles, an American, in February, according to the Order of the First World War, a United States-based group that tracks veterans. Ms. Green, who turned 110 in February, was a waitress in the Women’s Royal Air Force.

...Mr. Choules eventually settled in Australia and served in the Navy there until his retirement in 1956.

During World War II, he was the acting torpedo officer in Fremantle, Western Australia, and chief demolition officer for the western side of the Australian continent. Mr. Choules disposed of the first mine to wash ashore in Australia during the war.

Despite the fame his military service (and longevity) brought him, Mr. Choules became a pacifist later in life, refusing to participate in anything that glorified war.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Honor Thy Father?

Well, maybe not:
A 10-year-old Riverside boy charged with fatally shooting his father, local neo-Nazi leader Jeffrey R. Hall, had past problems with aggression and violence after being caught in the middle of a bitter divorce fraught with abuse allegations, court records show.

Tyler Robinson On "The Voice"

Go Folsom, CA! And very much part of the local musical theater scene too: "Personals, The Musical", and RSP's "Rent", among other recent shows!

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

THIS Is Why I'm Glad Obama Won In 2008!

John McCain's and Hilary Clinton's faith in the good intentions of the leadership of Pakistan was misplaced. Who looks naive now?

It's also important to give credit to Obama's national security team for the success of the Abbottabad mission. They are better, in general than Clinton's or Carter's teams were. Part of that improvement is due simply to experience, since so much Obama's team once worked for Clinton.

The Abbottabad mission was simpler than the Iranian hostage rescue mission of 1979. For one, there were shorter travel distances (because we now have access to bases in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan), and that helped. Obama gave the military what they needed to do their jobs, unlike Carter. The 1979 helicopter collision killed that hostage-rescue mission, but the 2011 helicopter crash did not kill this mission, which reveals greater depth of capability and planning. Carter had a nearly-neurotic obsession with keeping his mission secret, for strategic reasons, and kept downsizing the mission to lower its profile, so in the end there was no room for error and mishap. Obama had a nearly-neurotic obsession with keeping his mission secret too, but for tactical reasons, because he knew he could not trust the Pakistanis.

What tended to give the Republicans the national security edge for so many years, particularly after the conclusion of the Vietnam War, was their depth of experience in all matters of national security. But, as in all things involving ideology, rigidity has slowly-impaired the GOP, to the point where they no longer have that critical edge. The results speak for themselves: Bush let Osama escape at Tora Bora in 2002, because he and his team trusted the Pakistanis too much, by allowing them to set up the (highly-porous) perimeter at Tora Bora. That hard lesson still hadn't penetrated through GOP skulls as late as 2008, as the video gives witness. Obama repaired that disastrous, naive, puppy-dog trust at Abbottabad in 2011.

Americans like success. Obama brings America success. Americans will like Obama all the better for it. And the 2012 election isn't too far away either....

"Dumb" - Natalia Flores

Natalia Flores has "Dumb" out now on I-Tunes.

"How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying" - DMTC - Second Sunday

"How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying" - DMTC - Dress Rehearsal

Who Is Osama bin Laden?

Trying to educate and inform the younger generation:
Who is Osama Bin Laden? Is he in a band aswell? :/x

Not Impressed With The Party

Work to be done:
Of all the U.S. military families who have served in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, few have done more than the Kellys.

Marine Lt. Gen. John F. Kelly led Marines into Baghdad and Tikrit in 2003 and Fallouja in early 2004 and later served a year as the top Marine in Afghanistan. Now he's a top military aide to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Marine Capt. John Kelly, the oldest son of the general and his wife, Karen, served in combat in Iraq. And the younger son, Marine Lt. Robert Kelly, also served in combat there as an enlisted Marine, including during the bloody fight in Fallouja in late 2004.
On Nov. 9, Robert Kelly, 29, was killed while leading a patrol in the Sangin district of Afghanistan. He was with the Camp Pendleton-based 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment: one of 25 Marines killed during the battalion's seven-month deployment.

Like most other Americans, the Kelly family is pleased at Osama bin Laden's fate. But the general warns that the fight against Al Qaeda is long from finished.

"He's in hell now with the rest of his kind," Kelly said. "That said, Al Qaeda has metastasized and is a many-headed snake -- so killing Osama will weaken but not eliminate the threat of extremism against America and the world."

"This is a decades-long war that will ebb and flow. We will succeed only so long as we don't run out of the kind of men like the ones Sunday night that are willing to go into the darkest and most dangerous places on Earth and hunt down and kill those who would do us harm."

As for the young people celebrating the news in front of the White House and Times Square, Kelly says they were "carrying on like fools" and "might consider making a real difference and joining the Marines or Army and lending a hand."

The Tamiflu Scandal

I remember when the H1N1 flu hit, and a foreign friend living in the U.S. asked me whether he should get vaccinated. Based on my impression that public health officials tend to overreact to flu (particularly the 1976 swine flu), I suggested no, but he had an infant daughter to worry about and was inclined not to take chances.

As it turns out, my skepticism was warranted. Once again, we have proof that commerce and science do not mix, and that people suffer direct harm as Big Pharma lunges for the money:
Dr. Rokuro Hama runs the Japan Institute of Pharmacovigilance, an Osaka-based nonprofit group that monitors pharmaceutical product safety. In 2002, shortly after Tamiflu was introduced in Japan, he received a number of case reports of children who had begun behaving strangely within hours of taking it. A fourteen-year-old boy wandered out of his family’s ninth-floor apartment and jumped over an exterior railing to his death; a seventeen-year-old boy ran out of his house onto a nearby freeway, where he was killed by a speeding truck; a thirty-nine-year-old man and two three-year-old boys died suddenly in their sleep.

...Hama reanalyzed the Yokohama data and estimated that Tamiflu resulted in a fourfold increase in the frequency of hallucinations and other neuropsychiatric side effects in children with influenza. A journalist later alerted Hama to the fact that Chugai, the Roche subsidiary that markets Tamiflu in Japan, had provided funds for research to two of the scientists who worked on the Yokohama study. While there is no evidence of wrongdoing, such funding always raises the possibility of a conflict of interest.

...While Kaiser’s finding seemed powerful, Hayashi was concerned that the drug’s entire reputation seemed to rest on this one article and a small number of others. He contacted Tom Jefferson, a British influenza expert with the Cochrane Collaboration, a British government–funded network of epidemiologists that conducts independent reviews of medical research. The Cochrane group had published a favorable review of Tamiflu in 2006, based largely on the same articles that Hayashi had read.

When Jefferson and his colleagues read Hayashi’s letter, they too began to wonder whether their initial assessment had been correct. They noticed several ambiguities and errors in Kaiser’s article that they hadn’t recognized before. For example, the definition of “complications related to influenza” used by the doctors in the study was imprecise, which made it difficult to tell what the study was actually measuring; in addition, the high rate of influenza seen in the clinics where the trials were carried out also seemed odd. Normally, only about 15 percent of what seem like “flu” cases are actually found upon lab testing to be caused by the influenza virus—the others are caused by some other microbe. But in the clinics where the Tamiflu trials were conducted, up to 80 percent of flu-like illnesses were reported to have been caused by influenza itself, raising the possibility that the patients had been selected for some reason that wasn’t made clear in the article.

...In Kaiser’s case, one blunder was obvious: the authors had combined the results of several smaller studies to come to the conclusion that Tamiflu reduced complications and hospitalizations. Combining the studies in that way destroyed the “randomization” so the placebo and Tamiflu groups were no longer necessarily similar.

...When Jefferson became aware of the problems with Kaiser’s article and other papers on Tamiflu, he asked the authors for their original raw data so that he and his colleagues could redo the analysis themselves. But Kaiser and the others said that they couldn’t find the data, and suggested that he contact the company. After a delay of several months, Roche officials sent the Cochrane group a set of “research summaries” that essentially restated the results presented in the articles he was concerned about.

...Meanwhile, the Cochrane team, which had by then grown to seven members, spent much of 2010 sifting through the heap of documents—some 3,200 pages in all—that Roche made available to them. They also assembled a dossier of information on Tamiflu from various other sources, including the FDA and other national drug regulators. In doing so, they noticed yet more discrepancies between the articles that had appeared in scientific journals and Roche’s internal documents, many concerning the drug’s safety. According to published articles, no potentially drug-related serious side effects—or “serious adverse events” as they are called—were reported in the papers describing two Roche-sponsored clinical trials in which 908 people took Tamiflu; but according to Roche’s unpublished documents, three “serious adverse events” that were possibly related to Tamiflu occurred in these trials.

In 2008, an article in the journal Drug Safety, signed by a group of Roche authors, claimed that rats and mice, both given a very high dose of Tamiflu, showed no ill effect. But according to documents submitted to the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare by Chugai, the Japanese Roche subsidiary, the exact same dose of Tamiflu killed more than half of the animals. As they died, the rats exhibited many of the same central nervous system symptoms that Hama had described in his case series on the Japanese children.

The Cochrane group found, moreover, that cases of hallucination and weird accidents have been fairly commonly reported in Roche’s post-marketing surveillance of Tamiflu. An article in The International Journal of Clinical Practice claimed that these symptoms were just as common in influenza patients who did not take Tamiflu. However, the data on which that observation is based have not been made public.

...During the ten years leading up to the pandemic declaration of 2009, scientists associated with the companies that were to profit from the WHO’s “pandemic preparedness” programs, including Roche and GlaxoSmithKline, were involved at virtually every stage of the development of those programs. The companies funded the documents giving guidance on preparing for the influenza pandemic, in which the WHO recommended the stockpiling of Tamiflu and Relenza. Consultants drafted parts of these documents and joined WHO officials in fund-raising for the Tamiflu stockpile. Industry-supported scientists were also on the committee that issued the “pandemic emergency declaration.” That announcement caused developing countries to request assistance from the WHO’s Tamiflu stockpile fund, and these requests contributed to a tripling of the drug’s sales in 2009. By declaring a pandemic and linking the response to Tamiflu stockpiling, the WHO could not have done a better job of promoting Roche’s interests. Until Roche shares more information on Tamiflu with independent researchers, we won’t know whether the agency did so at the expense of the rest of us.

From Now On, I Will Legally Enslave Everyone I Meet

It's much more convenient to have everyone you meet sign a release that grants you complete authority over everything they've ever done, or thought, or dreamed about in their entire lives. Saves a lot of hassle.:
Yet, the stage is set in Sacramento federal court for an epic clash between Deck, a Nevada County resident and Nevada Union High School senior who will soon be 18, and Emerson Spartz, another whiz kid of the cyber era, over what intellectual property rights mean in the burgeoning universe of social media.

...Deck said he created @OMGFacts in 2009 as a Twitter feed providing a steady stream of information, with an emphasis on celebrities, pop culture, history and commerce.

...Deck said Spartz approached him in early 2010 with assurances that he had the know-how to make Deck's brainchild "a much bigger presence." After a number of Skype meetings, Deck joined Spartz's rapidly growing social media network.

...The contract also purports that Deck assigned to Spartz Inc. "any copyright in any existing or future works," including those he made prior to the April 2010 pact.

"Thus, apparently for less than $100 … (Deck) conveyed all of his preexisting intellectual property to Spartz, and any corresponding rights (he) had or may now have in OMG Facts," the complaint says. "On that basis alone, the contract is unconscionable and unenforceable under applicable law."

Pundit Scorecard

For many pundits, particularly the officeholders, who are more-likely to judge events based on self-interest and dated ideological criteria, one would do better by flipping coins:
The Hamilton students sampled the predictions of 26 individuals who wrote columns in major print media and who appeared on the three major Sunday news shows – Face the Nation, Meet the Press, and This Week – and evaluated the accuracy of 472 predictions made during the 16-month period. They used a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being “will not happen, 5 being “will absolutely happen”) to rate the accuracy of each, and then divided them into three categories: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

...The top prognosticators – led by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman – scored above five points and were labeled “Good,” while those scoring between zero and five were “Bad.” Anyone scoring less than zero (which was possible because prognosticators lost points for inaccurate predictions) were put into “The Ugly” category. Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas came up short and scored the lowest of the 26.

Even when the students eliminated political predictions and looked only at predictions for the economy and social issues, they found that liberals still do better than conservatives at prediction. After Krugman, the most accurate pundits were Maureen Dowd of The New York Times, former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – all Democrats and/or liberals. Also landing in the “Good” category, however, were conservative columnists Kathleen Parker and David Brooks, along with Bush Administration Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. Left-leaning columnist Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post rounded out the “good” list.

Those scoring lowest – “The Ugly” – with negative tallies were conservative columnist Cal Thomas; U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC); U.S. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI); U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman, a McCain supporter and Democrat-turned-Independent from Connecticut; Sam Donaldson of ABC; and conservative columnist George Will.

Landing between the two extremes – “The Bad” – were Howard Wolfson, communications director for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign; former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a hopeful in the 2008 Republican primary; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican; Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic nominee for president in 2004; liberal columnist Bob Herbert of The New York Times; Andrea Mitchell of NBC; New York Times columnist Tom Friedman; the late David Broder, former columnist for The Washington Post; Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page; New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof; and Hillary Clinton.

...Finally, those prognosticators with a law degree were more likely to be wrong.

Osama's Place

Nice home located in the semi-rural countryside of Abbottabad. The sort of place where people generally stay out of their neighbors' business. Nice; defensible. Reminiscent of places in my hometown of Corrales....

Located at (via Google Earth) NAD 83 UTM coordinates 43S, 338016.25 m E; 3782325.52 m N.

Probably now for sale....

[UPDATE: Apparently they now have the downed helicopter on-site. That's also reminiscent of Corrales, where people like to stash all sorts of things in the back yard: buckboards, broken cars, railroad cars, cabooses, unridden horses, tennis courts, you-name-it! A great playground for children!]

'Nobody's Side' - "Chess" - DMTC

On Facebook, Laura posted this - um; interpretive dance - from DMTC's stage-right wing during last January's production of "Chess". Just fun!

The Mother Of All Lost And Founds

Perusing the Facebook page Pictures and Documents found after the April 27, 2011 Tornadoes.

Those tornadoes picked up tons of materials and scattered them over tens of thousands of square miles! Suspension, dispersion, and deposition on a really-dramatic scale!

Tsunami Stones

Warnings from the past were often unheeded, but were nonetheless effective where they were heeded. People just tend to forget:
ANEYOSHI, Japan — The stone tablet has stood on this forested hillside since before they were born, but the villagers have faithfully obeyed the stark warning carved on its weathered face: “Do not build your homes below this point!”

...Hundreds of so-called tsunami stones, some more than six centuries old, dot the coast of Japan, silent testimony to the past destruction that these lethal waves have frequented upon this earthquake-prone nation. But modern Japan, confident that advanced technology and higher seawalls would protect vulnerable areas, came to forget or ignore these ancient warnings, dooming it to repeat bitter experiences when the recent tsunami struck.

...The flat stones, some as tall as 10 feet, are a common sight along Japan’s northeastern shore, which bore the brunt of the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami on March 11 that left almost 29,000 people dead or missing.

...Some stones were swept away by last month’s tsunami, which scientists say was the largest to strike Japan since the Jogan earthquake in 869, whose waves left sand deposits miles inland.

...Local scholars said only a handful of villages like Aneyoshi heeded these old warnings by keeping their houses safely on high ground. More commonly, the stones and other warnings were disregarded as coastal towns grew in the boom years after World War II. Even communities that had moved to high ground eventually relocated to the seaside to be nearer their boats and nets.

“As time passes, people inevitably forget, until another tsunami comes that kills 10,000 more people,” said Fumio Yamashita, an amateur historian in Iwate Prefecture, where Aneyoshi is situated. He has written 10 books about tsunamis.

Mr. Yamashita, 87, who survived the recent tsunami by clinging to a curtain after waters flooded the hospital where he was bedridden, said Japan had neglected to teach its tsunami lore in schools. He said the nation had put too much store instead in new tsunami walls and other modern concrete barriers, which the waves easily overwhelmed last month.

Still, he and other local experts said that the stones and other old teachings did contribute to the overall awareness of tsunamis, as seen in the annual evacuation drills that many credit with keeping the death toll from rising even higher last month.

...Mr. Kimura, a fisherman who lost his boat in the tsunami, said the village first moved its dwellings uphill after the 1896 tsunami, which left only two survivors. Aneyoshi was repopulated and moved back to the shore a few years later, only to be devastated again by a tsunami in 1933 that left four survivors.

After that, the village was moved uphill for good, and the stone was placed. Mr. Kimura said none of the 34 residents in the village today know who set up the stone, which they credit with saving the village once before, from a tsunami in 1960.

“That tsunami stone was a way to warn descendants for the next 100 years that another tsunami will definitely come,” he said.

For most Japanese today, the stones appear relics of a bygone era, whose language can often seem impenetrably archaic. However, some experts say the stones have inspired them to create new monuments that can serve as tsunami warnings, but are more suited to a visual era of Internet and television.

...“We need a modern version of the tsunami stones,” said Masayuki Oishi, a geologist at the Iwate Prefectural Museum in Morioka.

...The village’s mostly older residents said they regretted not making more of an effort to teach younger residents such tsunami-survival basics as always to seek higher ground.

“We are proud of following our ancestors,” the children’s grandfather, Isamu Aneishi, 69, said, “but our tsunami stone can’t save us from everything.”

The Burden Of The "Big Secret"

This week, the burden is especially heavy. Like carrying a sandstone slab out of the Grand Canyon.

Memory, 'Truthiness', And The Recession

Great essay about the role of painstakingly-assembling facts as a way to police the economy, and what happens, like now, when people just let stuff slide:

During the second half of the 19th century, the world's biggest economies endured a series of brutal recessions. At the time, most forms of reliable economic knowledge were organized within feudal, patrimonial, and tribal relationships. If you wanted to know who owned land or owed a debt, it was a fact recorded locally—and most likely shielded from outsiders.

...To prevent the breakdown of industrial and commercial progress, hundreds of creative reformers concluded that the world needed a shared set of facts.

...The result was the invention of the first massive "public memory systems" to record and classify—in rule-bound, certified, and publicly accessible registries, titles, balance sheets, and statements of account—all the relevant knowledge available, whether intangible (stocks, commercial paper, deeds, ledgers, contracts, patents, companies, and promissory notes), or tangible (land, buildings, boats, machines, etc.). Knowing who owned and owed, and fixing that information in public records, made it possible for investors to infer value, take risks, and track results. The final product was a revolutionary form of knowledge: "economic facts."

Over the past 20 years, Americans and Europeans have quietly gone about destroying these facts. The very systems that could have provided markets and governments with the means to understand the global financial crisis—and to prevent another one—are being eroded. Governments have allowed shadow markets to develop and reach a size beyond comprehension. Mortgages have been granted and recorded with such inattention that homeowners and banks often don't know and can't prove who owns their homes. In a few short decades the West undercut 150 years of legal reforms that made the global economy possible.

The results are hardly surprising. In the U.S., trust has broken down between banks and subprime mortgage holders; between foreclosing agents and courts; between banks and their investors—even between banks and other banks. Overall, credit (from the Latin for "trust") continues to flow steadily, but closer examination shows that nongovernment credit has contracted. Private lending has dropped 21 percent since 2007. Outstanding loans to small businesses dropped more than 6 percent over the past year, while lending to large businesses, measured in commercial loans of more than $1 million, fell nearly 9 percent.

...Without standardization, the values of assets and relationships are so variable that they can't be used to guarantee credit, to generate mortgages and bundle them into securities, to represent them in shares to raise capital. Nor do they fit the standard slots required to enter global markets.

...Three weeks later, when I asked American friends why Paulson had switched strategies and was injecting hundreds of billions of dollars into struggling financial institutions, I was told that there were so many idiosyncratic types of paper scattered around the world that no one had any clear idea of how many there were, where they were, how to value them, or who was holding the risk. These securities had slipped outside the recorded memory systems and were no longer easy to connect to the assets from which they had originally been derived. Oh, and their notional value was somewhere between $600 trillion and $700 trillion dollars, 10 times the annual production of the entire world.

...So let's look sector by sector at the sorry state of facts in the financial system.

1) Mortgage Bundling. Banks that have tried to foreclose on nonperforming mortgages have discovered that in many cases they can't collect the debts. Why? Because some companies that pooled, packaged, and converted those mortgages into liquid securities had dispensed with the usual procedures to record mortgage owners and passed the property to a shell company called MERS, which pretended to own the mortgages. The intent was to streamline what many real estate experts recognize are outdated, disaggregated, and cumbersome processes. The result, however, is that today, says professor Christopher L. Peterson of the University of Utah, "about 60 percent of the U.S.'s residential mortgages are now recorded in the name of MERS rather than the bank, trust, or company that actually has a meaningful economic interest in the repayment of the debt. For the first time in the nation's history, there is no longer an authoritative, public record of who owns land in each county."

Already the lack of facts is being felt around the U.S.: Courts from Kansas to New York have decided that foreclosures have been improper, and some authorities can't figure out whom to tax. Without facts, credit will continue to be scarce, the value of bonds backed by mortgages will be at best doubtful, the value of houses is likely to slide further, foreclosure backlogs should increase, and banks will see their balance sheets burdened by more nonperforming paper.

Monday, May 02, 2011

David Frum On Obama

Hoping to move on:
Here’s hoping that we have at last seen the end of this ugly insinuation that there is something less than fully American about the black president with the exotic name.

On Friday came the release of the long-form birth certificate that provided the final decisive refutation of the birther lie that President Obama was born elsewhere than the United States.

On Saturday at the White House Correspondents dinner, the most visible proponent of that lie, the blowhard TV tycoon Donald Trump, was publicly ridiculed in front of an audience of 3,000 people – without a voice to excuse or defend him.

And then late Sunday, the president told the nation of the successful execution of his order to shoot and kill Osama bin Laden.

The success of the bin Laden operation is a great moment for the United States – and not only for the United States.

But it is also a deservedly bad moment for some of the destructive forces in American public life: for those who have substituted for ordinary politics a sustained campaign to brand President Obama as an outsider, as un-American, as non-American.

...President Obama has performed the first job of an American president: he has used the power of the nation well to defeat the nation’s enemies and defend the nation’s people. After an interval for celebration of yesterday’s accomplishment, it will be back to politics as usual. But let’s hope that this time, the usual will have this difference: that the administration can be criticized as “liberal” without being libeled as “alien.”

He Cuts His Beard!

It was time for a shave:
EAST WENATCHEE, Wash. - A teacher who vowed nearly 10 years ago not to cut his beard until Osama bin Laden was captured or proven dead said he cried Sunday night upon hearing of the terrorist's death.

"I spent my first five minutes crying and then I couldn't get it off fast enough," said Gary Weddle, 50, who lives in East Wenatchee but teaches middle school science in Ephrata.

...Weddle was a substitute teacher in Wenatchee when the infamous al-Qaeda terrorist attack occurred on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, killing 3,000 Americans. Weddle was so caught up in the news that he neglected to shave. A week or so later, he vowed not to shave until bin Laden was captured or proven dead. He figured it would just be a month or two.

At the start of each school year, Weddle told his students the beard was a reminder of the attack. He frequently said he didn't understand how anyone could use the name of his God to justify murder.

...He cut the beard and was shaving the stubble even before President Obama addressed the nation about bin Laden's demise.

Friends and neighbors celebrated with him, watching him cut his beard. He got a little bloodied, having become somewhat inexperienced in shaving. He expressed amazement at feel of his face.

Weddle was 41 when he made his vow. The Weddle's daughter was 13 and their twin daughters were 12. Now they're 23 and 22.

Spontaneous Celebration Of Osama bin Laden's Death At The California State Capitol

Sally called and said the local TV stations were reporting a small celebration at the California State Capitol mirroring the much-larger spontaneous celebrations in New York City and Washington, D.C. over the report of Osama bin Laden's death. So, at about 11 p.m., I went down to check it out.

There was a dominant group of about ten Anglos waving flags, and a smaller group of about three Hispanic conspiracy theorists also waving flags, with about thirteen others milling about taking pictures of them. So, not the largest demonstration ever to occur at that site. Everyone would break out into patriotic song now and then (I sang the 'Star-Spangled Banner' with them) with hoots and hollers when passing motorists honked.

As soon as the singing stopped, the disunity between the two components would surface. The larger group seemed goofily-giddy with happiness. The smaller group muttered about the naivete of the larger group, and attempted to persuade anyone who would listen that Osama bin Laden had been killed eight years ago and that his body had been frozen in anticipation of this moment. They also spoke darkly of the World Trade Center having been brought down by explosives, a point with which I do not concur, because of contrary evidence (explosives leave impossible-to-miss aerosol fingerprints that were not found). But as soon as the singing started again, unity triumphed above all else, and everyone sang together in happy unison.

One of the flag wavers from the dominant Anglo group wandered over through the darkness to try and read the hastily-written sign of the smaller Hispanic group. His attitude was one of simple curiosity. There was no hostility at all, just a willingness to try and figure out the political position of his fellow celebrants.

For about three months after 9/11, there was a brief detente between Red and Blue America, which featured a willingness of both sides to listen to the other. I sensed that maybe we might have such a moment again. Already, there are forces working against a detente. Rush Limbaugh speculated darkly this morning on the radio as to why people in D.C. and NYC might have been able to obtain American flags so quickly on a Sunday evening (Rush, they own them) and he also started spinning stories regarding Obama's plodding pace on this military action. Nevertheless, I sensed Rush was thrown off his normal rhythm by the pace of events. We are, after all, the United States of America, under God, and indivisible. Sometimes that matters more than anything; sometimes even more than Rush!

I've also sensed a sort of backlash to the celebration of Osama bin Laden's death. It masquerades in some quarters as a liberal backlash, but I suspect it's more of a religious backlash, particularly among Catholics, or people influenced one way or another by Catholic teaching. According to Gabe, Sunday was the Octave of Easter, when one proclaims God's mercy. Plus, there was also the beatification of John Paul II going on simultaneously. A celebration of death on this particular Sunday did not go down well with traditional Catholics, and maybe other religious people too.

For myself, leftie liberal that I am, I thought a celebration was highly-appropriate. We've lost a lot in this war against Al Qaeda - our constitutional protections, the lives of our servicemen and women and huge amounts of treasure. We've suffered endless amounts of wasted time, air travel inconvenience, and lost some of our dignity as human beings, etc., etc., and we've had very little to show for it. It's time for a concrete victory, and a party!

First Thoughts Regarding The Demise Of Osama bin Laden

John writes:
Hey Marc,

Your speculation about bin Laden still being alive was correct. I couldn't believe that such an egotistical ass would be able to stay silent and live in the wilderness. But, in fact, he was living the life of the rich pig that he was, very likely with the full knowledge and cooperation of the Pakistan military. I hope US military observers kept a close watch for a few weeks of who paid visits to that compound.

I reply:
Hi John:

I claim no credit. Like Donald Rumsfeld might have said, the absence of evidence did not mean the evidence of absence. This was a difficult mission: invading a fortified compound in a city without local support is the very definition of a military nightmare. Pakistan is SO treacherous! The ISI and the U.S. DO NOT see eye to eye at all! It will be interesting to see what happens now....