Friday, December 23, 2011
Monday, July 25, 2011
Friday, May 06, 2011
Writers' Conference and Intensives The Writers’ Conference, now at Hunter College, is widely considered one of the finest fiction and non-fiction conferences. In addition to keynote speakers Nelson DeMille and Walter Mosley, the Writers’ Conference will feature twelve panels with a total of seventy distinguished writers, editors, publicists and literary agents promoting hope for the new age of publishing. Meg Wolitzer, Betsey Lerner, and Bruce Friedman will be conducting intensive workshops in the days leading up to the conference.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
It was the third time this week the reporter had stood in the middle of the street to report a bank robbery by saying, “The alleged perpetrator exited the building, hopped in a getaway car and took off at a high rate of speed and is still at large.” The first time I heard this I laughed. This was a professional reporter whose eloquence is supposed to set an example. Where did this guy learn his English? By the third time he said this I called the station to complain. There must be hundreds of English teachers cringing every time they turn on the news and listen to a reporter trying to sound as tough (and as stupid) as the first cop on the scene. “The alleged perpetrator of the crime,” he said. Is he really questioning the commission of a crime? According to Merriam-Webster word alleged means “said without proof, to have taken place.” He could have just said, “After robbing the bank the perpetrator hopped in a car and left the scene.” Not as dramatic but more accurate if you actually believe the cops that someone robbed the bank.
Why did the perpetrator have to take off at a “high rate of speed?” Allow me to parse this abomination. Speed is already a rate as measured in miles per hour, inches per second, etc. So a high rate of speed should mean that the speed is changing quickly. Isn’t that called acceleration? The reporter could have said: “The robber ran out of the bank, hopped in his getaway car and got away leaving a trail of burning rubber in his wake.”
He could have said that but then he would have sounded smarter than the cop he interviewed.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
The Libyans are considered to be the hillbillies of the Arab world; in general the Libyans aren’t well educated, they still live in a tribal culture and generally behave like spoiled children when traveling abroad in other Arab countries. They are not well liked. What is well liked is Libyan money and they have a lot of it. So much that it attracted petroleum engineers from around the world more than willing to violate their own government’s embargoes to go work there. A Texan once said, “Oh yeah, the US government is going to tell me where I can and can’t work. Right! Can they tell me where I’m going to find a job in Dallas? No!”
There is no native Middle Class in Libya. The professional classes are imported from other Arab countries as guest workers or are members of the now permanent Palestinian Diaspora. It’s these last that form the bulk of the Libyan professional infrastructure. Having no place to go home to so these Palestinians have taken root in Libya and form the bulk of middle management in both industry and the Libyan military. Indeed while the majority of the officers in the Libyan army are members of the tribes loyal to Kaddafi it is also true that the bulk of the non-commissioned officer ranks, the sergeants, are well trained and disciplined Palestinian mercenaries. Their loyalties are clear; their well being is, for the present, tied to Kaddafi. Change that and you change the outcome of the civil war in Libya.
When the revolt began there were reports of large numbers of military units defecting to the opposition only to turn into the undisciplined rabble being reported in the media today. There should be little wonder why this happened when most of the officers as well as all the NCO up and left leaving a hollow core of undisciplined recruits.
So why hasn’t Kaddafi crushed the revolt? I suspect the revolution is as much a palace revolt as it is a genuine uprising and Kaddafi is reluctant to let any large army assemble so he is content, for the moment, to use his mostly mercenary air force on obvious targets while allowing small units of his Army to prove their loyalty by local butchery. If I’m right then Libya will descend into the kind of lawless chaos we see in Somalia. I think one of Kaddafi’s sons said as much.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
A “normal” business cycle is relatively simple; it’s a swing between short term inventory and employment. When the supply of goods is low (relative to demand) then the demand for workers to create those goods goes up and with that wages and prices and demand. This pushes both inflation and inventory until inventory is appropriate for demand at which point excess labor is shed and the house of cards tumbles only to be regenerated as inventories shrink to below a minimal demand. This is the “normal” five to seven year business cycle. On a Swan diagram it looks like a circle over time.
He key to the business cycle is short term (consumable) inventory. One can go on forever (and some do) about what consumable inventory means from a business cycle perspective but the average Joe knows, it’s what he finds at the average store in the mall, stuff you buy that has a short lifespan.
That’s not the end of the story. Simon Kuznetz discovered that the economy also had a periodic cycle of about 20 years superimposed on the business cycle. Kuznetz suggested that his cycle revolved around the construction industry. Jay Forrester suggested that by substituting durable goods (washing machines, refrigerators, industrial stoves, etc., items with a lifetime over 10 years) for consumable inventory in a business cycle model a Kuznetz cycle would be the natural outcome. This might suggest that the housing bubble is the high inventory, low employment segment of a Kuznetz business cycle and it might be true but the story still doesn’t end there.
In the 1920’s Nikolai Kondratiev published a paper arguing for longer, fifty year, business cycles, the so called Kondratiev wave. When Forrester substituted Capital Goods (Hoover dams, houses) for durable goods in the same models he used for the business cycle a forty to seventy year cycle emerged. Kondratiev himself was able to show cycles going back into the late eighteenth century and Vilfredo Pareto showed (a bit before Kondratiev) that there were long wave cycles going well into the middle ages (known then as Goldsmith Crisises) and hints of the same in Roman times.
The Goldsmith Crisises were characterized by enormous unpayable debts and equally enormous paper wealth. Few people realize that in an age that accepted only species currency (gold) that a goldsmith could create fiat money by issuing promissory notes. Imagine an era when a peasant wants to borrow money to hire laborers to dig a well so he can irrigate his fields. He promises to pay the loan back from the increased production from his fields. Soon everyone of his neighbors do the same but the increased production drives prices down so no one can repay the debt. Substitute your favorite Capital Good here and you see what is happening today.
There are hints this may phenomenon may have been well understood by the ancients who had data running over multiple millennia rather than just a few centuries. The Bible tells of the Jubilee cycle, a roughly 50 year cycle at the end of which all debts are forgiven. One suspects forgiving debts was the obvious solution to what amounted to mass bankruptcy. There is also the dictate to let slaves go after 7 years and to let the ground lie fallow for a year. That would institutionally get rid of excess inventory and avert the typical business cycle.
However that’s a digression. Economics ultimately is a psychological endeavor, how people respond to economic conditions and perceived trends is what drives the real world economy. At the depth of a business cycle businessmen are loath to hire new workers until the business picks up and demand increases. Typically, inventories are high relative to demand, income is low and since no one wants to spend money the velocity of money is also low, people save if they can. Credit evaporates and the money supply (in the largest sense) declines.
We are in the trough of the first Kondratieff wave after the Great Depression. Our Capital stock has never been larger. Here in Boston the Big Dig is over as is the building boom. While some of our older infrastructure is in dire need of repair we don’t need any new roads, bridges, dams or other massive Capital projects. Industrial capacity is at an all time high even if demand is low. Our collective debt is greater than it’s ever been and with a soured economy repaying of that debt looks doubtful. Our instinct is to cut back even further to weather this storm. We tighten out collective belts and watch the economy shrivel still further.
We are, presented with several solutions. We can continue to tighten out belts and hope that free enterprise jump starts the economy or we could declare the equivalent of a Jubilee and simply wipe out all debts corporate, personal and national. Based on historical precedents, we will surreptitiously cancel our debts through monetary inflation. We’ve done it before. We monetized the Vietnam War and Cold Wars and look what it gave us the: the 1990’s.