Friday, October 31, 2008
Question of the Day: If Godless Americans ...
If Godless Americans threw a party in your honor, would you go? —North Carolina Senator Elizabeth Dole's campaign ad, as quoted by Ian Swanson in "Dole attacks Democrat with second 'Godless' ad"
If there was to be money, wine and canapés, I think I might be persuaded to attend—along with the majority of North Carolinians.
Republican desperation is a sad sight to behold. We must hope they'll be put out of their misery soon so they'll have more time to associate with their fellow theists. But if they're not careful about whom they choose to befriend, they won't get any wine.
Poem of the Day: Halloween
O goblin with your yellow fiery eyes
and jagged mouth that frightened me to carve,
glaring out of our window at the street,
protect us from the candidates for mayor.
Homespun of Oatmeal Gray (1969)
Poem of the Day (12/06/07)
Thursday, October 30, 2008
The Depression Chronicles – 6: Fall of the GDP
The U.S. economy jolted into reverse during the third quarter as consumers cut back on their spending by the biggest amount in 28 years, the strongest signal yet the country has hurtled into recession.
The broadest barometer of U.S. economic health, gross domestic product, shrank at a 0.3 percent annual rate in the July-September quarter, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.
—Associated Press reporting in "Economy shrinks in 3Q, signaling recession"
The GDP, or gross domestic product, appears to be a somewhat inflated measure of the national economy—which is to say that if the measure falls, you may trust that fewer trips are being made to Wal-Mart, fewer cars are being sold to get there and fewer light bulbs are being lit.
I am always amazed at the endless discussions on the news channels as to whether the U.S. is in a recession. It's like wondering whether a hurricane has hit without looking out the window.
"Recession" itself is economic jargon—a term that allows economists to pontificate and the talking heads of TV something to speculate about. What the word tries to capture is that the economy (whatever that is) has not been doing so well. But realistically—unless you have just parachuted out of your latest financial boondoggle—you know that it has not.
Unfortunately the obvious is so difficult for economists to determine that they have a board set up to tell us, only after the fact, that a recession has occurred. The National Board of Economic Research (NBER) will let you know—eventually.
Meanwhile economist Nouriel Roubini, now known affectionately as "Dr. Doom" since he was one of the few of his ilk to predict the global crackup, has been in great demand lately by "think tanks" and government advisory committees.
With the release of the GDP figures, Roubini has scored again. Two months ago in a piece titled "The Coming US Consumption Bust: 12 Reasons Why the US Consumer is in Serious Trouble and Faltering" Roubini
... expect to see a contraction of GDP in quarterly figures already in Q3 of this year and all the way until the middle of 2009. Since the US recession started in Q1 of this year (based on the five indicators used by the NBER) the 18 month U-shaped recession will be a W-shaped recession given the blip in GDP in Q2 following the tax rebates and an unsustainable improvement in net exports....
A shopped-out, saving-less and debt-burdened US consumer is now stretched like never before, at its tipping point and starting to falter and contract spending. Since we have not seen a fall in consumption – even for a single quarter - for the last 18 years the effects of this sharp retrenchment of US consumption will be severe and cause a protracted and sharp US recession, at least a 18 months recession rather than the 6 months recession predicted by a delusional economic consensus.
Roubini broke with his fellow economists (the "delusional economic consensus") here and boldly declared that the "recession" began in the first quarter of this year. Still, as he reveals in this forecast, what an optimist he is!
The Depression Chronicles – 3: Money market funds (5/06/08)
The Depression Chronicles – 5: Consumer spending (5/13/08)
Understatement of the Day: A failing economy and an ignorant public (5/26/08)
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Health risks of free-market medicine — 1: The blood supply
The US does not allow the use of blood stored for longer than 42 days - in the UK this is lower, at 35 days. —BBC News in "Old blood 'boosts infection risk'"
I mention this only because the American public is so consistently lied to about the inferiority of "socialized medicine"—a phrase I would encourage you to use in conversation so long as your lip doesn't turn up.
A study conducted in the U.S. found that the risk of infection doubles when blood older than 29 days is transfused into a patient. The cause of this is hypothesized to be the release of certain chemicals after blood has been stored beyond two weeks.
The rational consequence of this finding, you might think, would be to set medical standards to require disposal of older blood. But it's not so simple in the U.S. A shortage might result—
Dr David Gerber, who led the research, and presented the results at the American College of Chest Physicians conference in Philadelphia, said that any change to the time limit could lead to a blood shortage.
"More cautious utilisation of blood might help to alleviate, at in least part, a diminished blood supply that might result from such a change in policy."
Here's one way to ease the shortage.
France to permit gay blood donations (7/12/06)
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
"First" of the Day: The attack on Syria
In Washington an unnamed military official told the Associated Press the raid had targeted elements of a "foreign fighter logistics network", and that, due to Syrian inaction, the US was "taking matters into our own hands". It was the first known American attack on Syrian soil.
This was a "first" attack upon Syria only in a limited sense. As Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker were careful to
The American military has on occasion mounted attacks on Syrian soil to support its military operations in Iraq, but they mostly have been cross-border missile strikes, and there was a rare case of ground forces briefly crossing the frontier in hot pursuit of insurgents.
So we must distinguish among missile attacks, ground force attacks in "hot pursuit" and finally ground force attacks that are admitted to have been planned and authorized by Washington.
It might just as well have been reported that "There has been an escalation in military attacks on Syria," but such a fact would probably not have been well received by a public eager to see American soldiers coming home from Iraq.
Instead the reporters simply turned the presentation of the matter over to the government. Here's their lede sentence in the
A raid into Syria on Sunday was carried out by American Special Operations forces who killed an Iraqi militant responsible for running weapons, money and foreign fighters across the border into Iraq ...
You had to be alert to catch the last four words of that opening—
..., American officials said Monday.
Am I the only person who thinks it remarkable that the NY Times allows the most important sentence of a news report to be turned over to the government?