Wednesday, May 26, 2004

The AP reports on a, frankly, laughable new 'report' from the "International Institute of Strategic Studies". The IISS reportedly is "considered the most important security think tank outside the United States". Scary.

Before I unload on the report, let me note with disgusted resignation the disconnect between the estimates given and the title of the AP piece. The ISS pegs the current number of al Qaida at 18,000. The arrived at that figure by estimating an original number of at least 20,000, and subtracting an estimated 2000 being killed or captured over the last 2-3 years of the War on Terror. So they are saying that al Qaida has been cut by at least 10%. So what does the AP title the piece? Why 'Report: al-Qaida Ranks Swelling Worldwide' of course. Only a journalist could categorize a 10% reduction as a "swelling".

More later....

Friday, May 14, 2004

Don Luskin is continuing to fact check Krugman. He just nailed him on a non-correction correction regarding some claims he made regarding the world's oil supply.

Even if he had made the noted correction in an appropriate manner, it still would have been woefully lacking. Why? Because it doesn't address the fundemental dishonesty of Krugman's original statement. He chose his formulation, "no major oil field have been found", with care to support his contention of dwindling oil supplies. However, even if those new fields in Kazikstan didn't exist, he would still not have a leg to stand on. In typical Krugman fashion, instead of changing his position (or just finding something else to write about) he instead finds a way to try to twist the facts to support his Bush bash de jure.

Why talk about discoveries of "major oil fields" at all? Who cares? Why not talk about the relevant figure (and thus the usual measure used when discussing the issue) of proven oil reserves, or estimates of total recoverable oil? Could it be because if he used this data he wouldn't have had a column left? Instead of falling, oil reserves increase just about every year, and have done so for the last 100+ years. As one of Luskin's readers earlier noted, Saudi Arabia alone has recently revised it's estimate of recoverable petroleum from 261 billion to 1.2 TRILLION! (Though I have to say that a significant degree of caution is in order regarding the 1.2 trillion figure.)

In 2002, after consuming ~ 1.5 billion barrels of domestic oil, US proven reserves INCREASED from 22,446 million barrels to 22,677 million barrels. While we "only" discovered 300 million barrels of oil in new fields, expanding existing fields added over a billion barrels. This is the typical reason reserves increase, not from "major new fields", but from new discoveries of oil in existing fields, and more efficient methods of extracting it.

Finally, all those who claim the Mad Max world of no fuel is on it's way have always conveniently ignored the non-conventional sources of oil that are excluded from reserve estimates because of the (currently) prohibitive costs of extraction. If prices rose sufficiently due to supposed scarcity of current oil reserves, the Venezuelan Orozco belt of "heavy oil" estimated at roughly 1.2 trillion barrels would be much more attractive. The estimated 2 trillion barrels of oil - in the US alone - locked up in shale deposits would also become profitable to mine.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Eugene Volokh has some typically insightful comments regarding a student at UNLV who is being accused of anti-Semitism:

It seems to me perfectly proper to condemn ethnic groups -- Jews or not -- for being too focused on their ethnicity, and even for discriminating (albeit in perfectly legal ways) in their social and romantic decisions. Of course, if Chomintra condemns only Jews for that but thinks that it's just fine when other groups do that, that seems an anti-Semitic double standard; and if his point was that "you're a sad, pathetic, weak organism" if being Jewish "determine[s] how you shape your life," but you're just fine if being Irish or Hispanic shapes your life, that too suggests hostility to Jews. But absent such evidence, this seems to be a slam against perceived excessive focus on one's ethnic identity, not an expression of hatred or hostility to Jews as such. In fact, Chomintra equally condemns (though rather less politely than I would have preferred) people who think that Jews are "anything less or anything more than anyone else" (emphasis mine) -- more consistent with "people shouldn't care about ethnic identity" than "Jews are evil."

One can of course disagree with Chomintra on the merits, and conclude that it's right for people to be focused on their ethnic identity (or in the case of some but not all Jews who focus a great deal on their Jewishness, on their religious identity).

However, he didn't discuss one possibility that jumped out at me: that the comments in question arose out of being dumped by his (previous) girlfriend - who is Jewish. In addition, it seems that the reason that he was dumped (or at least the reason that he believes he was dumped) was that he was not Jewish.

Some of the quotes that lead me to this belief:

The comments ... were published by Chomintra ... about a former girlfriend.

He also criticized a Jewish student for "not wanting Jews to associate or date non-Jews," and for "blindly celebrating being Jewish." . . .

It seems to me that this is the likely sequence of events:

1. He was dating a Jewish girl.
2. She broke up with him.
3. He believed (rightly or wrongly) that this was due to his not being Jewish.
4. He also believed that a friend of hers had talked her into the break-up, also on the grounds of his not being Jewish.
5. Rather understandably angry and upset, he lashed out on his "web log".
6. After calming down, he deleted the angry tirade.

If this is what really happened, then this would indicate a couple of things.

1. Make it unlikely (though not impossible) that he is truly anti-Semitic. Dating a Jew would strongly suggest that you do not hate them.
2. If anything, he is the victim of discrimination. Again, this would make his evident anger more understandable.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Have you ever wondered why that stupid Nigerian scam has kept going on for so long? It was so obviously a scam that it's impossible that anyone would ever buy into it, right? At least anyone with any intelligence and/or money. Maybe not:

A former Dana-Farber Cancer Institute researcher and Harvard University professor is scheduled to be arraigned today in Roxbury District Court on charges of bilking coworkers, students, and friends out of $600,000 they invested in a bogus Internet research company he claimed to have started in China to fight SARS, Boston police said.


When he was arrested, Xu told police he was investing the money in a Nigerian business venture in which he expected a $50 million return.

"I tried to tell him he had been scammed," said Detective Steve Blair, speaking at a press conference last night at Boston police headquarters. "His plan all along was this Nigerian investment."

Incredible. I wonder how many more Nigerian conmen will be encouraged to continue the scam, and for how many more years by this score.

Ben Franklin called Harvard students of his day "great blockheads". Obviously, at least one of the Harvard professors of today fits that bill.
Via Pejmanesque:

The Guardian reports:

[S]cientists ... are confident that people will soon be able to replace lost teeth by growing new ones.
Instead of false teeth, a small ball of cells capable of growing into a new tooth will be implanted where the missing one used to be.

The procedure needs only a local anaesthetic and the new tooth should be fully formed within a few months of the cells being implanted.

Monday, May 03, 2004

On The Corner, Peter Robinson made the following rather alarming claim:

It's one matter to be vaguely aware that the Chinese economy is expanding. It's another to come across a statistic such as this: With just over fifth of the world's population, China last year consumed 55 percent of the world's total output of concrete.

Luckily, the actual figure (and circumstances) seem to be quite different. In this article in the Chicago Tribune it states that "by one account" China consumed 40% of the world's concrete in 2003. By the way it was written it leads me to believe that this estimate was the largest found. Still a huge amount, but considerably less than 55%.

In addition to the uncertainty as to how much concrete China is actually consuming, the article also goes on to consider the possibility that all this concrete may be due to a "bubble" economy, in which unneeded buildings are being thrown up with abandon, only to sit empty and abandoned:

Government officials estimate 1 million construction workers are on the job in Beijing, spread across thousands of projects. Condominiums, office blocks, luxury hotels, shopping malls: All are going up in the frenzied rush of a giddy economic boom, fueling fears that this is the most indulgent, overly optimistic speculative fever since the U.S. dot-com debacle or the great real estate crash of Japan.

Beijing already has one new ghost town, a redeveloped street of shopping malls that stands empty and unwanted just south of Tiananmen Square.

And to bolster the possibility that this is at least partially the result of a huge property bubble that could collapse like a dotcom stock:

China ordered its banks to restrict real estate industry lending that totaled US$222 billion at the end of April in a move to reduce loan risk, avoid fraud and cool an overheated property market.

The People's Bank of China, in a statement on its Web site, said banks will be prohibited from making loans to developers for land purchases and from lending more than 70 percent of the value of property projects.

It also said loans for luxury villas and expensive apartments, which are in oversupply, will be curtailed.

The order is part of a government crackdown on property-related lending after former Premier Zhu Rongji warned last October that an expanding property bubble threatens the nation's economy and financial industry.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

The post on Real Clear Politics that first alerted me to the Kerry Cayman Islands tax scheme (I need to come up with something shorter and catchier. Caymangate? Ugh.) mentioned Kerry's "Benedict Arnold" theme and it's possible relevance. If you look at what Kerry and his campaign have said, it is clear that Kerry is, by his own definition, a "Benedict Arnold", or a traitor to America.

He first started with a rather broad standard, and a mini-scandal arose about the fact that by Kerry's statement many of his close supporters could be considered "Benedict Arnolds" (let me hasten to add that as far as I'm aware, they are all legitimate businesses with legitimate oversea operations). The definition was therefore 'clarified' to be more restrictive. As reported by MSNBC:

When asked for the definition of a "Benedict Arnold" company or CEO, Stephanie Cutter, Kerry's spokeswoman, said: "Companies that take advantage of tax loopholes to set up bank accounts or move jobs abroad simply to avoid taxes."

So, to reiterate - Kerry and his campaign have stated that those who "take advantage of tax loopholes to set up bank accounts ... abroad simply to avoid taxes" are "Benedict Arnolds", or traitors.

Now let's consider what he told the Boston Globe just last year. When asked about why he got into his Cayman Island fiasco, he told them:

Kerry said he wanted to protect some of the money at tax time, and, on advice of some of his fund-raisers, jumped into the commodities investment.

"I thought it was a way to try to minimize tax consequences," he said.

So Kerry set up business(es) and (presumably) bank accounts overseas simply in an effort to avoid taxes. A traitor, by his own definition.

It sort of gives the phrase "the politics of personal destruction" a whole new meaning, doesn't it? While he has been fatuously accusing Bush, Cheney and a "right wing smear campaign" of questioning his patriotism, the only person who has truly questioned Kerry's patriotism is Kerry himself.