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Monthly Archives: August 2013

JD Salinger: Zombie Author

August 31st, 2013 - 2:16 pm

Well, not really — but close.

SALINGER

The authors of a new JD Salinger biography claim they have cracked one of publishing’s greatest mysteries: what the author of The Catcher in the Rye was working on during the last half century of his life.

A series of posthumous Salinger releases are planned after 2015, according to David Shields and Shane Salerno, whose book Salinger will be published on 3 September. The Associated Press obtained an early copy. Salerno’s documentary on the author is scheduled to come out 6 September.

Just like high school, I look forward to reading the Cliffs Notes.

Falcons at the Ready

August 31st, 2013 - 12:33 pm

Falcons Ready

Via StrategyPage, a nice shot of five Falcons from our 8th Fighter Wing in South Korea. I always love pictures like this, because they warn the other guy that this is how expertly we just park these planes.

The Bomb that Almost Grounded Apollo

August 31st, 2013 - 8:15 am

Whoa:

Nine seconds after 11 o’clock on the night of July 8, 1962, a 2,200-pound W-49 nuclear weapon detonated 248 miles above a tiny island to the west of Hawaii. The blast, which yielded 1.4 megatons, instantly turned the night sky daylight-bright. As the flash dissipated, electrons from the explosion interacted with the Earth’s magnetic field to create an artificial aurora thousands of miles long. The residual light danced across the sky for seven minutes. The blast’s accompanying electromagnetic pulse knocked out street lamps 800 miles away.

The explosion that night wasn’t hostile; it was an American weapons test called Starfish Prime. The Department of Defense and the Atomic Energy Commission were running a program designed to study the effects of nuclear warfare on the atmosphere. The effects the program found were far more profound than a light show. Starfish Prime created an artificial radiation belt that enveloped the Earth and intensified the Van Allen belts, fallout NASA quickly realized could threaten its Apollo program in the race to the Moon. For a brief period, it wasn’t clear whether manned space flight could continue at all.

Lots more from Ars Technica.

Friday Night Videos

August 30th, 2013 - 10:20 pm

Depeche Mode and I got off on the wrong foot. Freshman year at Mizzou, I was dating a lovely Stephens College girl (no jokes, please — I’ve heard them all) who introduced me to them with what is easily the band’s Worst. Song. Ever. I’ve kept myself ruthlessly ignorant of the name of the song in the intervening 26 (???) years. What I do remember is that it was a guy whining and droning about what a good boyfriend he could be, if only he weren’t so whiny and droning. It goes a little like this:

Blah blah blah BLAH blah BLAH BLAH
Blah blah blah BLAH blah BLAH BLAH
Blah blah blah BLAH BLAH blah BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH

The only thing that tops it for unrelenting tedium is Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away.”

She meant well, she really did. The song was important to her and so she needed me to hear it. Nice girl, and I even remember her name, though I refuse to remember the name of the song. But it was aimed way more at sensitive women’s college sophomores than it was at horny male frosh.*

A couple years later I found myself working mornings at KXGO in Arcata, California when Depeche Mode released “Personal Jesus” off the album Violator. Over the next few months, we played the heck out of the four radio single releases, including tonight’s selection, “World In My Eyes.” The video is overdone, but what else do you expect from Depeche Mode?

I took DJ Privilege with Violator, and liberated one of our promotional copies from the prize bin behind the receptionist’s desk. The stuff in the bin is supposed to be reserved for listener contest giveaways, but low-wage small-town jox always seem to end up with private collections of free CDs and concert t-shirts. (I suspect that’s also true of the high-wage big-city jox.) So I brought Violator home to the Spooky Chick and it immediately joined our regular rotation of The Cure’s Disintegration and Peter Murphy’s Deep. Good times, good tunes.

Over the next decade or so I went through the band’s back catalog, and found they’d actually recorded quite a few quality singles I really enjoy. But the only complete album of theirs I ever liked is Violator, even though about half the songs are really just filler. So maybe it was the music, maybe it was just the times, but this one stuck with me.
(more…)

Promise: This Is My Last Miley Cyrus Post

August 30th, 2013 - 2:14 pm

The Finger

I thought for sure this was a headline from The Onion, but no.

So This Will End Well

August 30th, 2013 - 12:51 pm

Michael Totten on Syria:

This is about enforcing Obama’s red line on the use of chemical weapons. He told Assad there’d be hell to pay if he used them, and if he doesn’t enforce it, he’ll lose credibility. It’s really not okay if a state sponsor of international terrorism thinks he has a green light to use weapons of mass destruction against civilians. It’s not okay if anyone does. Even if you don’t care a fig about Syrians, well, they aren’t the only ones within range.

If Obama doesn’t enforce this, he’ll also lose credibility on the other red line he’s drawn in the Middle East—the one against Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.

Just a couple of years ago I would have bought that argument. But this Administration’s actions have me convinced that they’re willing to tolerate a nuclear Iran, as a counterbalance to overweening American power, and perhaps as a chip to play against the Israelis to get a “peace” accord with the Palestinians.

Required Reading

August 30th, 2013 - 11:29 am

An Open Letter on ObamaCare.”

Go read it, the whole thing.

I’m Batman!

August 30th, 2013 - 10:02 am

Trifecta: Batman in Love and taking all the fun out of boyhood — and the manliness out of men.

News You Can Use

August 30th, 2013 - 8:22 am

From Australia:

A NAKED man was arrested yesterday morning after throwing a didgeridoo at a police car.

The incident occurred between 9am and 9.30am in Ambleside Crescent, Mildura. Police were in the area responding to an unrelated fire, when the man, 30, was reported to police.

Mildura Police Sergeant Patrick Bell said police responded to reports of a shirtless man “baring his backside” at passing motorists.

Sgt Bell said when police arrived, the man proceeded to undress completely and threw the didgeridoo at the car.

“He was completely naked – not even any socks,” Sgt Bell said. “He was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, but he has mental health issues.”

You don’t say.

Googliness vs Appliness

August 30th, 2013 - 6:45 am

I don’t know how I managed to miss this gem from Horace Dediu a couple weeks ago, but it’s timeless humor.

Googliness vs Appliness

Full background here.

Boy Band Basement Brew

August 30th, 2013 - 5:13 am

Remember Hanson? You do? Sorry about that. I’d never heard of them, but then I spent the second half of the ’90s really honing my Tony Bennett collection. But here’s the beer story anyway:

It’s been a minute since we’ve heard from Hanson, the ’90s boy band known for never knowing when to get a hair cut and their incessant use of the term “Mmmbop.” The boys are back — now men over the age of 21 — and they’re making beer.

Yes, the little baby-faced one, Zac, is old enough to drink. If that doesn’t make a ’90s kid feel old, I don’t know what will.

The beer is appropriately called Mmmhops. That’s the real name. And it’s being marketed on the website as “from the guys that invented Mmmbop.”

Thanks, but I’ll have an Old Fashioned.

No More Steves!

August 29th, 2013 - 3:15 pm

Duh. I should have seen this coming. Ladbrokes is laying odds on the next Microsoft CEO:

The Next Ballmer

Tight? I should hope to shout, “Developers! Developers! Developers!”

Three, Three Posts in One!

August 29th, 2013 - 2:04 pm

Things are moving quickly enough on Syria that it’s time to condense stuff. First up, Ralph Peters:

Chemical weapons use? Horrible and illegal, a war crime. So is the mass slaughter of civilians. Is it really so much worse to be gassed than tortured to death by al Qaeda or burned alive in your church? Which is more important, the number of dead, or the means that killed them?

Islamist terrorists have killed tens, if not hundreds, of thousands, of innocent Muslims. Aren’t they the real enemies of civilization?

Mr. President, do you really think it’s wise to send our missiles and aircraft to provide fire support for al Qaeda? That is exactly what you’ll be doing, if you hit Assad.

This is where I fall on the issue. You see the pictures of dead women and children, and you really — really — want to start launching Tomahawks and rain down Hellfires on whoever was responsible. But an Assad loss is an al Qaeda win at this point. And while killing civilians by the hundreds is something like a desperate hobby for Assad, it’s al Qaeda’s stock-in-trade. They already have a foothold in Libya, their Muslim Brotherhood forefathers are still popular with the worst parts of Egyptian society — let’s not give them Syria, too.

Onward now to Michael Weiss:

U.S. President Barack Obama should rearticulate his policy of regime change for Syria, which he first announced in the summer of 2011 and has quietly revised and rescinded ever since. And he should gear any intervention toward furthering that policy, in accordance with what key American allies have said is their own preferred method for dislodging the 40-year dynastic dictatorship: the opposition’s gradual assertion of control. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, there are already examples that this can work in Syria.

Isn’t this what got us into Iraq? I was for the Iraq War. Not because of WMD, which I discounted in an column or three, but to change the geopolitical picture in the Middle East — to upset some applecarts in need of upsetting. I warned it would take 50 years of occupation, but we got nine (thanks to Obama) and screwed up two of those (thank to Bush). Iraq is better than it was, but not what it could have been. And any Syria operation won’t have anything like the public support enjoyed at the outset of the Iraq War, so our staying power is zilch. And that’s assuming we put boots on the ground, which I pray we won’t. If Weiss represents the conventional wisdom — and writing for Foreign Affairs he almost certainly does — then I’m afraid we’re in for the worst.

Actually, I take that back. Here’s the worst, courtesy of Ian Hurd in the NYT:

If the White House takes international law seriously — as the State Department does — it cannot try to have it both ways. It must either argue that an “illegal but legitimate” intervention is better than doing nothing, or assert that international law has changed — strategies that I call “constructive noncompliance.” In the case of Syria, I vote for the latter.

Since Russia and China won’t help, Mr. Obama and allied leaders should declare that international law has evolved and that they don’t need Security Council approval to intervene in Syria.

Authorization from Congress? How quaint. A Security Council vote? So 2003. All we really have is Britain and France — and they could do this one, legally, on their own.

I would council against them taking action, but it’s their call to make. In our country, that’s the job of Congress, but this current Administration is as lawless as the last one was often accused of being.

I Hope That Clears Things Up

August 29th, 2013 - 12:50 pm

Video at the link, but the gist is Chris Matthews says Republicans’ problem with President Obama is that he’s black. As a registered independent, maybe I don’t get a say, but my problem with Chris Matthews is that he’s a spittle-encrusted lying hack.

21st Century Sex

August 29th, 2013 - 11:25 am

Trifecta: The Slane Girl, slut-shaming, and a little self-respect.

News You Can Use

August 29th, 2013 - 10:10 am

China’s brand is pretty much “cheap fake crap,” and this story won’t help with that at all:

The zoo in the People’s Park of Luohe, in the central province of Henan, replaced exotic exhibits with common species, according to the state-run Beijing Youth Daily.

It quoted a customer surnamed Liu who wanted to show her son the different sounds animals made – but he pointed out that the animal in the cage labelled ‘African lion’ was barking.

The beast was in fact a Tibetan mastiff – a large and long-haired breed of dog.

“The zoo is absolutely cheating us,” the paper quoted Liu, who was charged 15 yuan ($2.45) for the ticket, as saying.

“They are trying to disguise the dogs as lions.”

You know you’re not supposed to do that, right?

The Lion's Share

I am lion, hear me roar.

A Mini Rant

August 29th, 2013 - 8:40 am

Somebody needs to lay down the law on screen proportions, because there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. So by the legal authority vested in me by nobody in particular, here they are.

• TV screens shall be 16:9. That’s what TV shows are almost universally recorded in, and most movies fit without too much top-and-bottom letterboxing. I think everybody is already on board with this one already, so my work here is done.

• Desktop computer monitors shall be 16:10. Apple had standardized on this proportion for a few years, until they gave it up with their 16:9 27″ display. They should go back to it. The reason is simple. When performing video editing, 16:10 allows you to view your work fullscreen, with a little extra space at the top or bottom for edit function buttons. Why anyone at Apple (or anywhere else for that matter) thought that 16:9 was a smart move, I have no idea. Let’s get it right from now on.

• Laptops shall also be 16:9, and for the same reason. Exceptions can and should be made for 11″ and under ultraportables.

• Tablets shall be 4:3, just like pre-Panavision movies and pre-HD televisions. Widescreen tablets are too skinny when held in portrait, especially for typing. And in landscape orientation, there’s hardly any screen left when the keyboard pops up. Besides, you think there’s some great widescreen effect from something small enough to rest in your hand? Enough already. 4:3 it is.

• Phones shall be… whatevs. So many different hands, so many different needs. Go wild. Just keep them under 4.5″. Those silly phablet phones make people look like they’re holding waffles up to the sides of their heads. And the last thing tech geeks need to be a given is another way to make themselves look ridiculous — I should know.

So VodkaPundit has written, so let it be done.

Hirsute Hipsters Have Harrowing Habits

August 29th, 2013 - 6:35 am

FuturHarrowing, that is, if you’re in the business of selling disposable razors:

Procter & Gamble (PG), which rules the category with Mach-3-maker Gillette, said its razor sales are falling in developed markets. This followed yesterday’s announcement by Energizer (ENR) that unit sales of its Schick men’s razors have dropped 10 percent in the past year—a literal decimation.

Energizer blames the sales slide on aggressive promotions, specifically P&G’s. Meanwhile, P&G focused on its gains abroad and glossed over its losses in major markets. Euromonitor points to another culprit: “the vogue for stubble” and a “growing acceptance of the unshaven look in the workplace.” In other words: hairy dudes. And this is one market where China may not save the day; Euromonitor claims Chinese men are relatively “nonhairy.”

I’ll tell you what’s really killing them, and that’s $4 razor cartridges. If you’re a kid in your 20s, stuck living at home because of Obamanomics, you’ll save money wherever you can — and there’s a good chance your boss at your McJob doesn’t care if you have stubble or not. The worst part for manufacturers is, how they gonna get those kids back on the cartridge farm, once they’ve seen hairy Par-ee?

I haven’t shaved with a disposable in years, and it was the price (and the promise of a better shave) that chased me away. I used to go through two Fusion cartridges each and every week, for a total annual bill of almost $420 on blades alone. But if you’re willing to take a few extra minutes in the morning, and a few weeks to learn a new skill, you can save a bundle by switching to old-school double edge safety razors.

FeatherThe very best, most expensive DE blades you can buy is Japan’s Feather brand. Purchased in bulk on Amazon, 100 blades will set you back about 30 dollars — and last you 100 weeks. I used to go through about $800 worth of Gillette’s crap in that same amount of time. Or you can get even cheaper blades and save even more. The Personna brand from Israel comes recommended by people I trust and will run you about 15 cents each.

I used some of the savings on a very nice badger tail shave brush which ought to last a lifetime, and a little more of it on Proraso shave soap and Truefitt & Hill shave oil. If your curious, I love Merkur’s Futur razor and can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s adjustable, so you teach yourself to shave on the safest setting, and dial it up as you get better at it. After about a year, I got mine dialed up to 5 — it goes up to 6. The 5 setting provides such a close, fast shave, that 6 frankly scares me. Maybe 6 is what you use if you ever find yourself trapped in the jungle without a machete.

Anyway, buying the best of the best products was about $200 up front to get in, then annual expenses of about $100 or so a year. You could easily spend just half of that, if you really wanted to save the money. The razor and the brush will both outlive their owner, so the buy-in expense amortizes down to almost zero. In my case I’m spending 25% of what I used to spend just on cartridges, while getting a shave almost equal to the one you’d get from a professional barber. The only trick is, taking some time to learn a new skill.

Will the young hipsters ever bother to go through all that? They might, once they realize they need to move up to McManagement if they ever want to move out of their parents’ basements.

The World’s Tallest Oops

August 29th, 2013 - 5:05 am

IntempoThere’s a new skyscraper under construction in Spain, but it has one teensy little problem:

Initially designed to be a mere 20 storeys tall, the developers got over-excited and pushed the height way up: now it boasts 47 storeys, and will include 269 homes.

But that push for more accommodation came at a cost. The original design obviously included specifications for an elevator big enough for a 20-storey building. In the process of scaling things up, however, nobody thought to redesign the elevator system—and, naturally, a 47-storey building requires more space for its lifts and motor equipment. Sadly, that space doesn’t exist.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the architects working on the project have resigned, and it remains unclear exactly how the developers will solve the problem.

I’m sure the view from the 47th floor is gorgeous, but your calves are going to look even better.

Xbox One (Big Chip)

August 28th, 2013 - 4:16 pm

One Big-Ass ChipWhoa:

Physically, the system-on-a-chip at the heart of the Xbox One is 363 square millimeters. But the real whopper is the amount of logic integrated within it: 5 billion transistors. Although Wikipedia isn’t necessarily the final arbiter, the Xbox One is possibly the largest chip manufactured to date, with a comparable number to Intel’s 64-core Xeon Phi coprocessor for supercomputers, and easily topping Intel’s 8-core “Poulsen” Itanium that the chip maker launched in 2012.

I was a happy Xbox 360 owner, even though I used mine so infrequently that my first-gen model didn’t suffer the infamous Red Ring of Death until just last year. But that big-ass chip in the new one (which I plan to buy “for the kids”, BTW) has me worried about heat dispensation issues. At the very least, until Microsoft gets the die-shrink shrunk, the fan noise is going to make that One very loud box.

We Don’t Even Have an Entrance Strategy

August 28th, 2013 - 2:28 pm

John Glaser:

Is the goal to bomb the Assad regime’s stockpiles of chemical weapons so that he can never again use them on his own people? According to Mark Thompson at Time, taking out Syria’s chemical weapons caches “is fraught with perils,” because not only is the U.S. unsure of where they are located, but bombing them could create “plumes of deadly vapors that could kill civilians downwind of such attacks.” If Obama takes this route, he’ll kill more civilians with chemical weapons than would have died without a U.S. military response.

Instead, Obama may target “military, and command and control, targets — including artillery and missile units that could be used to launch chemical weapons — instead of the bunkers believed to contain them.” Ok, and what appreciable effect will this have? On the one hand, such strikes wouldn’t amount to leveling Assad’s entire military infrastructure since Obama is intent to “maintain the functions of the state” in order to avoid a power vacuum that would boost the al-Qaeda-linked rebels and possibly allow them to get their hands on Assad’s chemical weapons (which they have said they would use). As Phil Giraldi, former CIA intelligence officer, told me back in March, “Obama has come around to the view that regime change is more fraught with dangers than letting Assad remain.”

President Obama’s foreign policy has descended from feckless to vapid. No other word will do.

Let’s (Not) Talk

August 28th, 2013 - 1:18 pm

LEW

And here’s the story from Matt Yglesias:

Late Monday, the Treasury Department announced that the federal government will hit the statutory debt ceiling in the middle of October, setting the rough date for the next political/economic crisis. Republicans have been offering a lot of wild theories about their negotiating strategy around this, but on CNBC this morning Secretary Jack Lew said the right thing about the administration’s bargaining strategy—there is no strategy because there is no bargain.

Getting sucked into a negotiation over raising the debt ceiling back in 2011 is one of the biggest mistakes the Obama administration ever made. It’s one they avoided repeating the second time around and should never try to repeat again.

“Mistake” in the sense that the sequester took the cookie jar away from a President with his mouth still jammed full of Thin Mints he has no intention of ever paying for, and setting us on a path towards something nearly resembling fiscal sanity. So, if promoting the country’s fiscal and economic health is a “mistake,” then, yes, we know exactly where Obama stands. Yglesias, too.

So what does Boehner do? If it were me, I’d adjourn. Pack up, go home, and tell Lew Congress will reconvene when he’s ready to negotiate.

Because until then, what is there to talk about?

News You Can Use

August 28th, 2013 - 11:58 am

There’s no need for one of these here at Casa Verde, but I’m sure it would be a welcome addition to many other homes:

Do you spend too much time on Facebook? Why not administer non-lethal shocks to your body when you click over to your News Feed! Two Ph.D. candidates at MIT, Robert R. Morris and Dan McDuff, did just that when they realized that they were spending over 50 hours on the service per week combined, and the results – and questions their project raises – are quite interesting.

“The shock’s unpleasant but it’s not dangerous,” said co-creator McDuff. However, they do hurt. The system watches your actions and sends a signal to an Arduino board that, in turn, administers the shock. Over time the user will tend to avoid Facebook and/or rock silently in the corner, quietly weeping. The system uses a specially wired keyboard rest to send the pain.

Did it work?

Not very well, apparently. I’d make the time limit shorter. And more random. It might not work any better, but it would sure be a lot more fun.

A Pre-Post-Mortem Revisited

August 28th, 2013 - 10:33 am

One more thing about Steve Ballmer, and then I have to wash my hands of that big mess — until at least tomorrow. Maybe. Anyway, here’s John Gruber take on a strategic memo issued by Ballmer to his troops:

The inherent bravado in Ballmer’s statement-as-fact that Microsoft “will out-innovate Google in key areas” sets off alarm bells. That’s a goal, not a fact. And his mockery of Google’s search as “a white page with 10 blue links” indicates that he has no idea why Google has been so successful. I’d wager that if anyone is ever going to gain on Google in search, it will be by presenting even more focused results — less clutter, fewer distractions, more emphasis on making the results easily scanned. The old Microsoft could recognize good ideas and copy them; now Microsoft can’t even recognize genius.

That memo, and Gruber’s response date back to 2008, which makes it even more damning. Microsoft had it all: The marketshare, the profits, and in the iPhone a new product to rip off. They’ve had five years to change course, and yet they’re still getting it wrong with this pig-headed “Windows everywhere” strategy.

Meanwhile, today’s big gadget news is that Microsoft’s Finnish twin, Nokia, is introducing its own Windows RT tablet. Redmond can’t sell the things at a loss, but they can sure still arm-twist their partner-in-suckitude into making even more of them.

Even worse, maybe Nokia volunteered.

He Did What He Had To

August 28th, 2013 - 9:01 am

Horace Dediu:

Steve Ballmer’s only failing was delivering sustaining growth (from $20 to over $70 billion in sales.) He did exactly what all managers are incentivized to do and avoided all the wasteful cannibalization for which they are punished.

If anything, Steve Ballmer avoided The Innovator’s Curse. Being successful with new market innovations would probably have led to an even shorter tenure. Destroying prematurely the pipeline of Windows in favor for a profit-free mobile future would have been a fireable offense. Where established large companies are concerned, markets punish disruptors and reward sustainers.

Steve Ballmer will not be remembered as favorably as the man who created Microsoft. But at least he won’t be remembered as the fool who killed it. That epitaph is reserved for his successor.

Maybe instead it’s the board that should quit within 12 months.

The line that really stood out at me though was, “Where established large companies are concerned, markets punish disruptors and reward sustainers.” That might explain why AAPL retreated from its highs and has mostly stayed retreated, with a dismal P/E.

Trade In That Ugly Old Slow Useless iPhone 4S

August 28th, 2013 - 7:50 am

That’s the bandwagon Apple is jumping on:

Gazelle’s purchase process is simple for an iPhone: Specify your model, memory and carrier on-line, then chose its condition: broken, good or flawless. Gazelle immediately displays their purchase offer. If you accept the offer they’ll mail you a box. When they receive and confirm your iPhone’s condition, you’re paid by check, PayPal or Amazon gift card.

Earlier this year Apple decided to join the iPhone trade-in market. In fact, on Monday insiders reported that some Apple stores have alerady been testing the program at select stores. Training for the chain-wide roll-out of trade-ins is about to begin, the reports say.

Details are slim on exactly how Apple’s program will work, only that it will be in conjunction with Brightstar . But it seems that unlike Gazelle’s program, Apple will only be offering you credit towards the purchase of a new iPhone, not cash. And reportedly, you can only use the credit if you’re eligible for an iPhone upgrade from a cellular carrier.

Apple’s program sounds too limited for my tastes — I’ve always preferred a fistful of dollars to store credit, and I’ve already budgeted in (for the rest of my life) two new iPhone upgrades on every “tock” upgrade cycle.

Besides, the headline is a total lie. Our kids will get Melissa’s and my old iPhone 4S models next week, in kid-proof cases, to use as iPod Touches. (iPods Touch? Anyway.) They’ll be happy because they’re still using our discarded iPhone 3GS from 2009. We even still have a fully-functioning 2007 original iPhone. How many handheld electronics do you own that still work after six years? We’d have two of them, but one got left in a water spill and part of the screen fried. It didn’t seem worth repairing — but it’s in a drawer somewhere in case we ever change our minds.

So we could take the cash from Gazelle or the store credit from Apple, but then we’d lose the hours and hours of peace and quiet over the next two years, that we buy by handing down our old iPhones. It’s a fair trade.

Follow Me as I Lead from Behind (Reprise)

August 28th, 2013 - 6:33 am

Trifecta: War drums for Syria — here we go again.

The Perils of Pershing

August 28th, 2013 - 5:06 am

WSJ is pulling no punches with this lede:

Hedge-fund manager Bill Ackman moved to dump his entire stake in J.C. Penney Co., JCP -1.12% ending a failed bet on the retailer that cost his fund more than $600 million, resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs and left the 1,100-store chain still struggling to right itself.

It’s not every day you lose more than half a billion dollars. At least, one would hope not.

More:

Mr. Ackman’s Pershing Square Capital Management LP is unloading its 39 million shares—nearly 18% of Penney’s stock—with help from Citigroup Inc., C -0.46% which underwrote the sale.

Citigroup reached agreements to sell the shares to new buyers at $12.90 each, a person familiar with the matter said. That was well below their closing price Monday of $13.35 and close to half the roughly $25 apiece that Pershing Square paid for the shares, mostly in 2010 and 2011.

Ackman and his investors took a huge hit on a bad bet on an outmoded retailer which hired the wrong CEO.

Late Night Rambling

August 28th, 2013 - 12:17 am

LiaoningChina is attempting to do something only one other nation has managed to do in modern history: Transform itself from an agricultural-continental power into a trading-naval power. It’s a tough act, on par with the flying from one trapeze to the other, without a net, blindfolded and wearing ankle weights.

The most recent Great Power to try such a thing was the Soviet Union, and they only tried to do it halfway. During the ’70s and ’80s, the Soviets embarked on a massive naval construction program, but without the maritime trade to finance it, and without the maritime experience to make for good ships with knowledgable crews. Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, most of the old Soviet navy rusted away at port, unused and unloved. Navies are expensive, large navies are more expensive still — and can be afforded only by the most far-flung of trading empires.

Decades earlier, Imperial Germany tried to have its Kuchen and eat it, too. Under Kaiser Wilhelm I, Germany pursued a mostly defensive foreign policy devised by Bismarck. It consisted of keeping the French isolated (easy enough, given that they’re French) and not worrying the British too much. With the French down and the Brits nonplussed, all Berlin has to do was keep a lid on the Continent with help from the Russians and the Austro-Hungarians.

Kaiser Wilhelm II was a meddlesome bully with big dreams of imperial expansion. So he needed an Army big enough to defeat France and Russia at once — and a Navy big enough to take on Britain. The result was the First World War, and we’re still paying for that one. It’s no coincidence that the two chief naval powers of the last three centuries (the UK and US) have usually had comparatively small armies: Navies are damn expensive, but you can raise armies fast and (sort of) on the cheap.

But trading powers require strong navies, or they don’t remain trading powers for long.

Britain’s navy and Britain’s domination of global trade declined hand-in-hand, and I’m not sure you can clearly determine which was the cause and which was the effect. Our country has almost always maintained the biggest and best Navy it could afford, but we didn’t become a real trading power until the dawn of the 20th Century and the construction of the Great White Fleet. Before that America was focused mostly inward, on settling the frontier with farms. But then we began to fill up our great cities, and our attention and our trade slowly turned outward. By the end of the Second World War, we were the first power to own two world-class navies, one for each side of the globe.

China is now on a similar track, although perhaps more self-consciously than we were a century ago. Chinese peasants are becoming Chinese city-dwellers, with global trade and global tastes. They need a Navy to match, and they’ve been busy building one — with varying degrees of success.

However, China faces difficulties today that we were largely immune to during our rise to global power.

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Lambert Comes to the Defense of Cyrus

August 27th, 2013 - 4:29 pm

LAMBERT

Lambert is famous for pretending to perform orally (not the singing kind) on members of his band onstage, and even he won’t actually admit to liking what Miley did at the VMAs.

I didn’t see the show, and I don’t think I’ve watched the VMA since I was still working in Top 40 radio twenty-mumble years ago.