Monday, June 29, 2009

Cherry Blossoms


If this German film ever spent time on American screens other than at film festivals, I didn't know of it. I probably would have skipped it anyway, as the description makes it sound very sensitive, and I'm not.

However, based on good reviews at Netflix, I borrowed the DVD and watching it was rewarding. It's hard to describe the story without including spoilers; if you want, though, IMDb will give you the particulars.

The writer and director,
Doris Dörrie — new to me, although she has previous credits — could hardly have been more ambitious with Cherry Blossoms. It takes on the big themes: aging, the loss of a marriage partner through death, strained relationships between parents and adult children, art (in this case, Japanese ritual dance) as consolation, an East-West cross-cultural meeting of hearts, beauty as transcendence. It takes each of these seriously, with no easy "hugging" resolutions.


I don't mean to make Cherry Blossoms sound like a solemn downer. It has its uncomfortable moments, which are integral to the drama, but for the most part is honestly bittersweet, and sometimes radiant. The script is somewhat contrived, in that it's unlikely the events would happen this way in the non-cinematic world, but within its own frame of reference the connections between people and events make sense.

All the actors are just fine, and in lead roles Elmar Wepper, Hannelore Elsner, and the enchanting Aya Irizuki are no better than perfect. The last 45 minutes or so of Cherry Blossoms are as close to pure poetry as you are likely to see in a long time.


Friday, June 26, 2009

The joy of annual reports

You would think reading about what your money has been doing in the past year would be jolly interesting, yes? Not when the explanation arrives via most annual reports of companies or funds, though.

Although the financial statement is the heart of an annual report, for most shareholders that is a little too esoteric. The one part of the report likely to be read is the letter from the CEO, usually at the beginning of the book. Nine of 10 of them seem to have been generated by a computer program, like the software that you can use to write your will. I expect the first question AnnualReportMaker 5.6 asks the CEO (more likely the head of shareholder relations) is, "Did your company stock go up or down last year?"

The template for "no" is usually the more impressive as an exercise in distraction, like the stage magician who keeps your attention occupied elsewhere while he performs the mechanics of the trick.

AnnualReportMaker's basic format for the letter from the hapless CEO of the company whose stock has sunk goes like this:

Dear Investor,

This has been a challenging year for all of us. As you know, these are difficult times in the market. Our team of dedicated employees has worked diligently to meet our customers' needs and gain market share. I am pleased to report that production of acetylformaquinine has risen from 48 gl/MGt to 66 gl/MGt, throughput grew at a rate of 4% year over year, and our cost per rgb has been reduced to $7.30, partially as the result of our acquisition of Treadsoftly Laboratories for $88 billion in cash and securities last March.

It was our misfortune that Charles Undergroth, our chief financial officer, left that same month to pursue other opportunities, followed a day later by Polly Morphus, head of accounting. We wish them the best in their new ventures.

[etc., etc.]

Faced with these unprecedented difficulties, the company experienced a slack year in revenue growth. Common stock was off by 70 percent on December 31 compared with the previous year, a situation we are certain is temporary. We appreciate your patience …

Occasionally, though, you run across an annual report that appears to be the work of human beings, able to write good English and speak candidly about what they did right and what they did wrong with the money people invested in the company. I was pleased to discover such a report written by Ian Cumming, chairman, and Joseph Steinberg, president, of Leucadia National Corporation.

Leucadia is a holding company that specializes in distressed businesses that it believes are selling for much less than they are potentially worth. According to Amit Wadhwany, portfolio manager of the Third Avenue International Value Fund (which owns Leucadia stock), Leucadia "carries one of the country's most impressive long-term investing track records. … Since its founding in the late 1970s, Leucadia has been run by Ian Cumming and Joe Steinberg, who are responsible for having compounded the net asset value of the company's portfolio by slightly less than 20% per annum, over the last 29 years."

A few samples from the letter from the chairman and president in the 2008 annual report:
In 2008, Leucadia reported a loss of $2,535,425,000 after tax, which is $11.00 per share fully diluted. In 1992, following a fire in Windsor Castle and marital problems for most of her children, the Queen of England in a speech marking the 40th anniversary of her Accession referred to the past year as “annus horribilis.” 2008 was just such a year.
They go on to explain the accounting line items that represent losses for 2008.
• “All Other, Net” is a dog’s breakfast of income and losses that resulted in a net $22.1 million loss.
• “Consolidated Business Results” is the net result of all operating companies that we control. To a man, the operating companies also had an annus horribilis. More on this later.
• “Corporate Interest Expense” is the interest we pay on our corporate debts.
• “Mark Down of Investment Securities and Associated Company Losses” include the mark to market losses of companies in which we own securities but do not exercise control. Several of these companies represent substantial investments by Leucadia which we believe are likely to have greater value in the future than today’s market price.
The market price of the securities of these companies has been savaged by the current financial crisis, along with Leucadia’s stock price which as of this writing has fallen 72% from its high. We will discuss each of our major investments later in our letter.
They proceed to describe each of the businesses Leucadia owns an interest in, what the business does, what's working and what isn't, and what the prospects are. They make these explanations as understandable as possible, quite a feat considering some are by their nature complex enough to make you dizzy.

Some choice quotes:
Jefferies, listed on the NYSE (symbol: JEF), is a full-service global investment bank and institutional securities firm. Jefferies offers its customers capital markets, merger and acquisition, restructuring and other financial advisory services. …

Jefferies is not in trouble, not a ward of the U.S. Government, not burdened by toxic assets and not overleveraged. Its employees own a substantial interest in the firm and their pay expectations are being managed with the best interests of the firm in mind. Jefferies has successfully hired talented individuals from troubled or failing firms and recently acquired a muni trading and underwriting business. Trading volumes have been good, their restructuring business busy, but their capital markets and mergers and acquisition businesses remain lethargic. This will inevitably improve, but timing is uncertain.

As of December 31, 2008, we acquired approximately 25% of the outstanding common shares of AmeriCredit Corp., a company listed on the NYSE (symbol: ACF) … . ACF is an independent auto finance company that is in the business of purchasing and servicing automobile sales finance contracts, historically for consumers who are typically unable to obtain financing; this segment of the business is known as subprime.

Years ago we owned a similar business and as a result carefully followed ACF. We observed that their large volume and efficient processing and underwriting abilities made them a fierce competitor. We also observed that when a recession hit ACF went through a period of poor results, but when a recovery began they were able to make very large profits by being able to select more credit worthy customers and to charge more for loans.
Much of the above remains true; however, we began to buy the stock too soon and paid too much. The recession has been much harder and much deeper than we anticipated, though ACF is succeeding in acquiring more credit worthy customers and is able to charge higher rates. The fly in the ointment has been that it has been almost impossible to secure additional funding to make loans. Securitizations, which were the lifeblood of their financing, are in rigor mortis.
The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi has had a hard life! It was scheduled to open to the public on August 31, 2005, two days after Hurricane Katrina hit the Mississippi coast. The wind broke many of the windows and water drenched nearly everything inside. By law, the casino sat on a floating barge in the Gulf of Mexico up against the hotel. The tidal surge set the casino and all of its contents free of its mooring and it sunk into the briny deep. [The previous year they wrote, "The tidal durge from Katrina sent it and all the contents into the briny deep to entertain Neptune."]

The Hard Rock has had a rough time fighting for market share among a crowded Mississippi Gulf Coast market, but has made slow and steady progress and is now getting its fair share of gaming revenues based on available hotel rooms. To fill its gaming tables the Hard Rock needs additional hotel rooms, for which we own the land, but for the time being and in light of the recession expansion plans are on the back burner.

Were we to do it again we wouldn’t! We are struggling ahead with small single digit returns on our investment.
With this kind of honesty in their letter to shareholders, I can believe Messrs. Cumming and Steinberg when they summarize the situation, under the heading "Fortress Leucadia":
“Fortress Leucadia” is a draconian look into the future and a basis for defensive planning. It assumes we will not make any more investments, continue watching our expenses, keep only assets that are promising and slowly turn everything into cash which will be used first to retire or pay down debt, while always maintaining at least $500 million in cash or liquid assets.

That is the theory. The reality is we will continue to look for companies to buy, but only consider companies that earn money, have a bright future and are durable! In these troubled times there are sure to be good opportunities for investment and we will remain on the hunt. We can recognize a good deal when we see one and will strive to execute.
I am considering a small investment in Leucadia — small being all I can afford — but I hesitate. In general, I don't like conglomerates. Even brilliant businesspeople have a hard time understanding many different, unrelated industries. I like very focused companies where they know everything there is to know about one line of work.

Still, Leucadia's record speaks for itself. But my other concern is that I don't see this as a good time for turnarounds, which is essentially what Leucadia manages. We have seen a serious rally in stocks since the March lows, but the economy — related to, but different from, the stock market — seems to me in no significant way better off. The problems are still there, masked somewhat by government intervention and political rhetoric. When and if the economy exhibits genuine healing, Leucadia should be a good bet.

Disclaimer: I have no qualifications as a financial advisor and have often been wrong.


Two views of South Carolina recreational possibilities



"I'm Governor Mark Sanford, and I was blown away
by how much I could do in South Carolina."


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Taking leave of our senses

When our nation and world are in deep crisis, it's especially worth remembering that our senses, the information they provide and the thoughts based on that information do not tell us everything about reality. No matter how bad things are or we fear they will be, there are finer and deeper realities. In some of them, there is no crisis, no problem.

We can have entrée into other worlds, which our ordinary senses block out. Some of them are psychic or "astral," with no particular spiritual importance, but they demonstrate that phenomena exist that cannot be understood through the official present worldview of scientific materialism -- what the late Dr. Arthur Ellison, who was twice president of the Society for Psychical Research, called "naïve realism."


Paranormal experiences (including telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, apparitions, out-of-body experiences, and much else) are a fact. They happen to people, and not just to eccentrics or professed psychics. The evidence is overwhelming to the point that denying it can be done only by rejecting solid evidence. If you're not yet convinced, spend some time reviewing the sites linked to in the blogroll (Man and the Unknown is a good starting place) or read a few good books on parapsychology.

Arthur Ellison was the kind of psychical researcher that skeptics hate: there was no way to accuse him of being easily duped. His background was in a "hard science," electrical engineering. He headed the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at City University, London, wrote electrical engineering textbooks and learned papers. He was dubious about many claims of Spiritualists -- not that he doubted the reality of the phenomena they produced, but he didn't believe most of their messages were from spirits of the deceased in the "Great Beyond."


Yet Ellison, a scientist to the core, spent 50 years studying paranormal phenomena. He went to countless séances, observed experiments in which people altered physical reality through purely mental means (psychokinesis), and observed "impossible" events. He was one of the three SPR investigators of the Scole Experiment (see here and here).

Ellison had previously been, I believe, a lukewarm believer in survival of death. Perhaps what he saw at Scole firsthand clinched it for him. A parenthetical note: He died only a week or two before the first SPR annual conference I attended six or seven years ago. At the conference opening, the session leader -- I seem to remember it was David Fontana -- spoke an informal eulogy. Instead of ending it with the usual deep-sense-of-loss and will-be-sorely-missed platitudes, he concluded: "If anyone receives what they believe is a message from Arthur, please let the Society know."

Ellison wrote:
Many people think that science is the business of describing the physical world 'out there' with ever increasing accuracy. That scientists are, with the aid of various tools such as microscopes and telescopes, together with all the paraphernalia of the modern scientific laboratory, achieving ever greater accuracy in their pictures of the physical world.

This view of science is completely, utterly and fundamentally wrong! In fact science is instead merely the process by which we build mental models to represent our experiences.
If experiences appear to be representations or derivations from a solid world external to the experiencer, which is what most people perceive most of the time, then science's "mental models" will reflect that. And the models will have no room for experiences of a different sort, the kind we call paranormal.

Yet people (and by no means only "believers") do keep having experiences in which they perceive or know things that they could not have acquired through the normal senses. The choices are to ignore them, brand the experiencers as mentally off base, or study them. Psychical research, writes Ellison, "is much more exacting than many other scientific subjects. It forces one to examine the very basis of one's views about consciousness and the universe."


James Hillman is a psychologist, though not a parapsychologist. (He is also that rare bird, a psychologist who writes elegantly and un-academically.) But he too believes that many of our difficulties arise from the refusal to allow into consciousness the awareness of non-material phenomena.

I've been reading his book The Soul's Code: In Search of Character and Calling. Hillman has been much influenced by C.G. Jung -- I wouldn't demean Hillman by calling him a "disciple" -- and his work has been dedicated to turning psychology back to its transcendent element. He believes scientific reductionism has impoverished us mentally and spiritually. We need to pay attention to the invisible as much as the visible.

"In the kindgom (or is it a mall?) of the West, consciousness has lifted the transcendent ever higher and farther away from actual life," Hillman writes. "The bridgeable chasm has become a cosmic void."


In prior ages, almost every human society took seriously unseen presences -- gods, angelic beings, spirits of place, ancestors who had passed out of the body. The seen was an extension of the unseen, the known of the unknown. Today, thanks not only to science but to the arts of commercial promotion, the pleasures and objects of the senses are what call to us. We are mesmerized by things. (Ideas, including religious and political ones, also come to revolve around things: burqas, flags, carbon dioxide, products.)

"Once invisibility has been removed from backing all the things we live among ... all our accumulated 'goods' have become mere 'stuff,' deaf and dumb and dead consumables," Hillman says.


The Soul's Code seems to me a frustrating book, alternately revelatory and exasperating -- sometimes in the same sentence. Like his inspirer Jung, who in my view went haywire with meaningless notions like "sychronicity" (a cause that isn't a cause) and eventually saw everything, including flying saucers, as archetypes, Hillman tends to reify metaphors.

In this book, his theme is the daimon, a kind of guiding spirit who urges the individual to follow his or her path chosen before birth. He includes silly descriptions of celebrities' lives as examples of people who succeeded because their daimon made them succeed. What about people whose lives end in failure? I guess there are a number of underachieving daimons, or daimons whose own daimons are asleep at the switch. He writes about the daimon almost as though he's describing an elf that sits on your shoulder and boxes your ears when you stray from your life's path.


But Hillman has an important larger vision. He wants us to rediscover that the visible derives its meaning from the invisible.

"When the invisible forsakes the actual world -- as it deserts Job, leaving him plagued with every sort of physical disaster -- then the visible world no longer sustains life, because life is no longer invisibly backed," he writes. "Then the world tears you apart."

One dimension of the invisible is Spirit. It is there, ours to rise to, when the world tears us apart.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Bail out journalists, says Rosa Brooks

Los Angeles Times editorial staff tests new bailout plan.

This column reads like a parody of the leftist, soft-totalitarian mentality. But it is from the Los Angeles Times, and the LAT doesn't joke about such things. It can't afford to.

Rosa Brooks is a sometime columnist for the paper, but you are to understand that she is of a higher class than your common journalist. She explains:
This will be my last column for the L.A. Times. After four years, I'll soon be starting a stint at the Pentagon as an advisor to the undersecretary of Defense for policy. Some might say I have a "new job," but because I'll be escaping a dying industry -- and your tax dollars will shortly be paying my salary -- I prefer to think of it as my personal government bailout.
If I happened to be leaving for a nest lined with IRS-suctioned dollars, I don't think I'd be quite so quick to wave it like a flag in front of my readers. Above all, I doubt that I would chortle about my "personal government bailout." Then again, I lack her qualifications. Her personal bailout is hers by right, as is her taxpayer-supported underpolicymaking position. After all, as her bio note tells us, she is
... a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center. Prior to joining the Georgetown faculty, Brooks taught at the University of Virginia and at Yale. She has also served as a senior advisor at the U.S. Department of State, a consultant for Human Rights Watch, a board member of Amnesty International USA, a fellow of the Kennedy School of Government's Carr Center, a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a member of the Executive Council of the American Society of International Law. Her government and NGO work has involved extensive travel and field research in countries ranging from Iraq and Kosovo to Indonesia and Sierra Leone.
Can't get much more Liberal Establishment than that. Other than membership in CAIR, what better qualifications could anyone have for advising on defense? As she puts it, "At this moment in history, I can't imagine anything more rewarding than being part of the new team that's shaping U.S. policy." There can be no doubt she will be well rewarded by the taxpayers.

But our Ms. Brooks has a sense of
noblesse oblige, and don't you forget it. Because she has the nobility, and you (assuming you are one of those tiresome drudges who works for the government's living) have the obligation. In a fine burst of conscience, she reminds you of your duty to bail out her less privileged colleagues back at the LAT.
It's time for a government bailout of journalism. If we're willing to use taxpayer money to build roads, pay teachers and maintain a military; if we're willing to bail out banks and insurance companies and failing automakers, we should be willing to part with some public funds to keep journalism alive too. ... If the thought of government subsidization of journalism seems novel, it shouldn't. Most other democracies provide far more direct government support for public media than the U.S. does (Canada spends 16 times as much per capita; Britain spends 60 times as much).
Yes, in quasi-socialist countries such as Canada and Britain, they subsidize the media to a pretty tune. A good thing, too; we all know how the Canadian Broadcasting Company and the BBC range freely through the full spectrum of political and social opinion, giving all sides a chance to offer their views in the marketplace of ideas. Funny old thing how all the thought merchants who express their fiercely independent positions via the CBC and BBC have no time for anything but views that are stress-tested to be politically correct.
Years of foolish policies have left us with a choice: We can bail out journalism, using tax dollars and granting licenses in ways that encourage robust and independent reporting and commentary, or we can watch, wringing our hands, as more and more top journalists are laid off or bail out, leaving us with nothing in our newspapers but ads, entertainment features and crossword puzzles.
Foolish policies and no mistake. It's hard to credit that the United States has, on the whole, thrived for well past two centuries with newspapers having to attract readers by offering something worth their money and time. Thank our lucky stars we have such beacons of robust, independent reporting as the LAT, WaPo, and New York Times.

A lass -- excuse me, I mean alas (what could I have been thinking of?), vast numbers of irresponsible people have learned to doubt the all-knowing wisdom of these churches and their "top journalist" priesthood. Barack, as long as you're up, would you get them a bailout?

Nothing like having your paycheck come from the government to ensure fearless, hard hitting reporting on issues like, oh, the government. And the government can never have too many ways to get its message out to the people.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The "s" word can now be mentioned in polite company


The Wall Street Journal
has published an article about the potential devolution of the United States. Surprisingly, it is respectful, even somewhat favorable to the idea.

Paul Starobin writes, "Picture an America that is run not, as now, by a top-heavy Washington autocracy but, in freewheeling style, by an assemblage of largely autonomous regional republics reflecting the eclectic economic and cultural character of the society."

For such a thought to be permitted to draw breath in the WSJ, you've got to believe devolution is entering the mainstream, or at least several tributaries of the mainstream. And it is. Individual states passing resolutions declaring their sovereignty -- legally inconsequential, but symbolically important -- is as trendy as twittering.

Searching on Google for solid information about how many states have such urges is frustrating. The big legacy media, true to their calling ("if we decide you should know, we'll tell you"), seem disinclined to recognize the secessionist cause. And I'm not willing to take the word of just any blog for it.


MarketWatch, also part of the WSJ network, says that nine states have declared their sovereignty. They are Washington, New Hampshire, Arizona, Montana, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, California -- California! -- and Georgia. Its story adds that "possibly" Colorado, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, Montana, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Alaska, Kansas, Alabama, Nevada, Maine, Illinois will follow.

The relationship between the states and the federal government has been controversial throughout our history. The struggle to devise a Constitution, and the first few election campaigns, were fraught with disagreement between the federalists and the anti-federalists. School textbooks claim the Civil War settled the issue forever. Wrong. It settled the issue for its time through brute military force, but the ideal of a country where power was divided among a central government, states, and localities has never died, for the simple reason that it is one of the finest political ideas of all time -- a brilliant stroke against potential tyranny.

In his WSJ article, Starobin says:
Devolved America is a vision faithful both to certain postindustrial realities as well as to the pluralistic heart of the American political tradition—a tradition that has been betrayed by the creeping centralization of power in Washington over the decades but may yet reassert itself as an animating spirit for the future. Consider this proposition: America of the 21st century, propelled by currents of modernity that tend to favor the little over the big, may trace a long circle back to the original small-government ideas of the American experiment. The present-day American Goliath may turn out to be a freak of a waning age of politics and economics as conducted on a super-sized scale—too large to make any rational sense in an emerging age of personal empowerment that harks back to the era of the yeoman farmer of America’s early days. The society may find blessed new life, as paradoxical as this may sound, in a return to a smaller form.
If truth were temporarily in fashion, we would admit that there is no longer a "United States," and hasn't been for 40 years. That's approximately how long the "country" has been deeply split along ideological lines.

I have no wish at the moment to argue for one side or the other. The present point is that with such a wide gulf between sectors of the citizenry, Congress has been increasingly paralyzed. If not for other factors, I'd say that's a good thing on the whole: self-serving as they are, our representatives (to use the quaint old term) have such a dismal record of serving the public weal that for them to do nothing instead of something is usually a blessing.


But a power vacuum never lasts long. The federal legislative branch's dysfunction has allowed its powers to be usurped, de facto, by the executive (presidential) and judicial (federal court) branches of government. Presidents now feel not a twitch of hesitation in sending American armed forces off to fight without a congressional declaration of war (Afghanistan and Iraq are only the most recent manifestations of this constitutionally abhorrent practice, which goes back at least to Harry Truman and the Korean war). The federal courts have the ultimate trump card in their (also unconstitutional) assumed power to declare the will of the people (or of their state legislative or Congressional avatars, anyway) unconstitutional because they don't agree with it. There is no appeal. Look up the definition of "oligarchy."

I'm not entirely on-board with Starobin, who seems to see the secession question through the usual
WSJ lens of economics and pro-immigrationism:
California? America’s broke, ill-governed and way-too-big nation-like state might be saved, truly saved, not by an emergency federal bailout, but by a merciful carve-up into a trio of republics that would rely on their own ingenuity in making their connections to the wider world. And while we’re at it, let’s make this project bi-national—economic logic suggests a natural multilingual combination between Greater San Diego and Mexico’s Northern Baja, and, to the Pacific north, between Seattle and Vancouver in a megaregion already dubbed “Cascadia” by economic cartographers.
I would really hate to see any part of the present-day United States unite with utterly corrupt Mexico, dominated by criminal narcotics gangs. Or Canada, while our northern neighbor is in its current cultural Marxist dreamland. Still, part of the rationale for devolution is that local wishes should have far more scope than they do now, which is virtually zero. California has already in essence agreed, with the encouragement of the federal government, to become an annex of Mexico. To me it's an insane choice, but I'll accept it if California and similar bi-coastal states no longer have the power to enforce their ideology on states that reject it.


Obviously there are many practical problems that would attend secession of one or more areas. The causes for our national divided house are no longer mainly geographic. In a devolution, some people would have to move if they wanted to be where they would feel most comfortable, and some because of lack of means, age, health, or other reasons would be unable to. But many people of "blue" leanings find themselves in "red" regions and vice versa now. Naturally, it is to be hoped that each of the ex-U.S. regions would provide full civil rights including freedom of speech and the press for all its political minorities.

There are no perfect solutions to most problems, especially political ones. I cannot see that secession would create any more tension than there is now. To prevent it, the Washington Leviathan will have to tighten the screws on local government and individual liberty continually. More than anything, secession is the best opportunity to stop the insatiable appetite for growth of a federal government that is becoming an ultimate, unaccountable power over every aspect of our lives.

We should be working out the constitutional rules for peaceful, legal seccession now. Or we can risk having to deal with the wish of large and apparently growing numbers of Americans to leave the union the way we dealt with it in 1861-1865.


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Currency exchange


U.S. paper money is widely derided as being drab and uninspiring in appearance. The Dollar ReDe$ign Project wants to fix that.

Some 25 redesign submissions have been made so far, ranging from the presumably serious to the satirical. They might, if you want to look at it that way, say something about what people today think about the country's currency, or the country. Here is a selection of the entries.

In Technology We Trust. If we can't make it, which mostly we can't anymore, we'll import it and sell it. This certificate may be exchanged for Best Buy units.

Legal tender in the North American Union. Honoring Jorge W. Bush-Gonzales, who made it all possible.

Nobody is going to confuse these with Euros. I love the graduated colors in the background.

Kewl. But Im like, what, one dollar? R U kiddin me? Y not call it one iTune? & U get back in change one of those little round things, what do U call em, senses or something?

Hey, Americans! You're special, you know, all of you! You don't have to be smart to be creative! Just open your Crayons On Line software and you're off and running! You're so special! Look what Keeeeleeeey of Omega Park sent in!

The person who designed this obviously belongs to the Deflationary School of economic prognostication.

Immigration nation currency. Comes with a special bar code for wiring to Mexico.

Rather nifty neo-traditional look, what?

The designs below are far and beyond my favorites. Hot colors subtly juxtaposed, contemporary, but respectful of the past in the line-engraving-style background:




Now that many Americans are cutting back on their use of credit cards -- with or without the encouragement of their card issuers -- these last three designs could at least make cash transactions more enjoyable.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Terrorist suspects were aboard Air France 447



In a June
2 posting, I groused about the panting haste with which various official and unofficial parties assured us that the there was no evidence of terrorism in the fatal accident involving Air France 447, which mysteriously plunged into the ocean from cruising altitude, an extremely rare accident script. Technically they were correct; there was no evidence of terrorism. There was no evidence of any causal factors, period. What sense does it make to rule out possible causes when there is as yet nothing to go on? Now we learn that
Two passengers with names linked to Islamic terrorism were on board the Air France flight which crashed and killed 228, it emerged today.

French secret service staff established the connection while working through the list of those who boarded the Airbus 330-200 in Rio de Janeiro on 31 May.

(Tip of the hat: Gates of Vienna)


They established that the two passengers were on highly-classified French documents listing radical Muslims considered to be a threat. A security service source said the link was "highly significant".

Proof of a suicide bombing? Of course not. Significant? I agree with the French security agency: yes. You might even call it newsworthy.

I'll wait right here while you look for this information in the Washington Post. Or the New York Times.

What, nothing? Come on — zero, rien, nada, niente?

No, the WaPo is predictably devoting most of the home page of its Web edition to stories about the psychopath who killed a guard at the Holocaust Museum. (They'll be dining out on this for weeks, with dark hints that all gun owners and conservatives are like the nutter who did the killing, mark my words.) It's a legitimate news story about an ugly event. But the possibility that 228 people (compared with one in the Holocaust Museum) were murdered might also be worth a mention.

The latest Times follow-up limits its revelations to:

Two pieces of evidence have emerged that lend new credence to the theory that the Air France jet that crashed more than a week ago broke up in flight.

That isn't necessarily evidence of terrorism. Airplanes have been known to break up when for some reason they exceed their performance envelope. But it's unusual, particularly in the case of large airliners flown by seasoned crews.

Anyway, I'm glad to see that the French security service was thinking along the same lines as I was on June 2 when I suggested that the backgrounds of every passenger be thoroughly checked.


6/12 A later story said that the French security service withdrew its claim that two men with terrorist histories had been on the plane — confusion caused by the passengers having the same names as "persons of interest." I can sympathize with all anti-terrorist agencies: there are said to be 1.2 billion Muslims in the world, so that's about 600 million males, and maybe a third of them are named Mohammed. I think there are many common family names, too. It's strange to read in the news about, say, Omar Khayyam.

If the revised story isn't disinformation (for instance, to encourage a cell under surveillance to be complacent), then it was a false lead. It doesn't change the main point of my postings, which is that governments and crash investigators have no business ruling out terrorism until they have a reasonable basis for doing so.


Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The yin crowd

… after decades of promoting yin (i.e. the cosmic female element) and suppressing yang (i.e. the cosmic male element), the West now suffers from yin toxemia. As per Chinese Taoist precepts, this produces an overabundance of the soft, wet, squishy, sweet, flabby, irrational, diffuse energy that characterizes yin, and a shortage of the hard, dry, salty, muscular, rational and compacting male (i.e. yang) energy that could rectify this imbalance.

The yin-soaked West rests on a foundation of feelings. It feels for the plight of the female trapped in a male body, the Somali who has never seen indoor plumbing, and the abandoned son of a Kenyan exchange student who made good. That all such feelings translate into actions that dismantle the West financially, demographically and culturally no longer registers, for reason no longer registers, nor does survival. This is the age of I feel, therefore I am. The essence of yin.

— Takuan Seiyo, "From Meccania to Atlantis, Part 12"

I expect most regular readers of Reflecting Light have followed the series in Brussels Journal. If not, it won't do any harm to start with Part 12, the most recent.

Mr. Seiyo (an acknowledged nom de blog) can be infuriating. Mostly, the fury he arouses is directed at the trends he portrays, but at times he — well, "infuriates" is too strong, but he annoys me.


The exaggeration, the one-sidedness, in his writing can be of a muchness. Whether he realizes it or not, Seiyo is a caricaturist. Caricatures are not false, or need not be: great caricaturists (e.g., Hogarth or Thomas Rowlandson) are extreme examples of the saying that "art is the lie that gives the truth." By heightening impressions — okay, exaggerating, if you wish — they cut through an infinite number of stimuli to reveal something of the essence.


I too in this blog am inclined toward my own species of caricature. As a fellow practitioner, or serial exaggerator, I have to admire his way with words, even when they are not literally true or are not the only truth on the subject:
Leviathan as manifest in Snatchland – i.e. all of the West -- exists only to perpetuate itself, and it perverts the social contract any way it can in pursuit of that goal. Like the whale sucking in krill for sustenance, it prospers (until the day of reckoning) by sucking in new groups of dependents. Some of these it creates internally, like the single mothers on welfare who increase their income in proportion to the number of fatherless children they breed with a parade of male pollinators passing through the drunken night. Others are imported aliens from all corners of the globe -- the foreigner and more primitive the better.

There is no better way to fatten Leviathan than by importing people useless to the modern economy and hopeless as prospects for melting in Western society. What excitement at the thought of the many more civil servants who will have to be hired per each 1000 newcomers, to administer ever-larger public welfare and wealth-transfer programs!

Mostly, I don't hold Seiyo's wild-eyed jests against him. But he has so much fun bashing the Western world's guilt baths and wishful thinking that he doesn't seem to have much energy left for pondering how to counteract the pathology. More than a few prominent social conservatives (Mark Steyn, Theodore Dalrymple, for instance) enjoy the Dance of Death enough that they don't want the music to stop, or can't imagine that it ever could.


Seiyo seems to imply that a remnant of civilization will have to create its own Atlantean colony to escape the tyranny of the centralized all-powerful bureaucratic State, but if he is serious — I suspect it is no more than a pose — we need to hear a lot more details from him about how that could work.


His over-the-top caricature is, admittedly, bracingly savage invective. But enough. If even half of what he writes is basically true, and I think it is, having a right old time watching the collapse of liberty and justice can take us only so far. We need, as Mark Steyn might say in one of his showbiz metaphors, to turn the beat around.


Sunday, June 07, 2009

Don't run for governor of NY if you're white

So says a blowhard New York Democrat, more or less.
Rep. Charles Rangel Friday warned of "racial polarization" if Attorney General Andrew Cuomo challenges Gov. Paterson in a primary next year. Rangel, who is close to the poll-challenged Paterson, ripped Cuomo on New York 1 last night for flatly not ruling out a run for governor next year. ...

Should Cuomo run, Rangel said, it would create a divide that could be "devastating" to New York Democrats. "I think that there might be an inclination for racial polarization in a primary in the state of New York," Rangel said. "Since we have most African-Americans registered as Democrats, and since you would be making an appeal for Democrats, it would be devastating in my opinion."
What can Cuomo be thinking? Doesn't he understand the rules of the modern multi-cultural state? We have made so much progress in race relations that you are expected to vote only for someone of your own melanin tone or ethnicity. And once an office is captured by a member of a tribe, the only challenge can come from a member of the same tribe. Or, to stretch a point, from a member of a different tribe, but never a white person.

Balkanization, thou hast triumphed.


Why do news sources even bother with the traditional party affiliations -- you know, "Flim Plunder (R-Ohio)" sort of thing? They're all Republicrats, or anti-Republic rats, anyway. Unless a district in Vermont has sent its traditional gift wrapped Socialist or Green to the House.

We can pay homage to reality in this year of our Lord Obama and start labeling politicians with the only ID that matters, their genetic or ancestral quotient. Since that will not be, in all cases, evident from a politician's appearance or name, to avoid embarrassing mistakes they could all be tagged on the ear like cattle.


Under the new and more honest nomenclature, news stories about election campaigns would refer to Flim Plunder (White-Ohio) being challenged by John Henry (Black-Ohio). Voters would need to read no further to know where their loyalties would lie.

Of course some politicans are of mixed race or background, so a more precise system would involve a percentage breakdown. Common abbreviations might include, besides the obvious, A for Asian, I for Italian, P for Portuguese, IR for Irish, PAC for Pacific islander, etc. Thus we would have Lucinda Lucerna (75 H, 15 W, 10 A-California), Marcello Marchese (80 IW, 20 H-Rhode Island), Howard Glimmer (50 J, 50 IRW-Massachusetts).


This would also make it far easier for busy presidents, cabinet officials, and election committees to assign weights to various contenders along affirmative action principles. Think of the electioneering possibilities. Obama addressing La Raza's political action committee banquet: "I will raise the vote-count weighting to 1.5 for every H!" Addressing the Jewish Action League: "I will make sure that people of the Jewish faith are overweighted -- excuse me? No, no, ma'am, not overweight, overweighted in the vote count -- at 1.25!" To the CAIR Central Committee: "No longer will our imperialistic country arrogantly assign one vote to one Muslim. I say, to bring peace to the Mideast, an M weighting of 2.0!"

But, hang about, we're forgetting several critical variables. Gender! Sexual orientation! We mustn't fail to plot those on the grid.


"Thank you, thank you for your applause. I'm Flim Plunder, and I want to be your next Senator. My ID -- it says so, right here dangling from my ear -- is M 100 (sorry about that), W 65 (dreadful sorry), but now get this: H 20, yes, twenty! And another 5: Are you ready for this? J! And two more fives: IR, yes, IR! And last and certainly not least ... 5 M! Where are you going to find a combination like that?

"And if all that doesn't distinguish me enough, check out this -- G 50! G, I'm telling you! Fifty percent gay! And, of course, that means I'm 50 percent certified, ready-to-rock heterosexual. Now, it's true my opponent has a strong B component, but when you think of my H and my J
and my IR and my M, plus my G, you'll see I'm the most qualified by a mile!"