Links 10/6/09

Aquacalypse Now: The End of Fish New Republic. A must read (hat tip reader John D).

The top ten things you didn’t know about Iran Juan Cole, Salon (hat tip reader Skippy)

7 Glow-in-the-Dark Mushroom Species Discovered Wired

An ACORN Amendment for Pfizer The Nation (hat tip reader John D)

New Yorker Rewrites Economic History Dean Baker. I was SOOO disgusted with the New Yorker story (hagiography of Larry Summers) that I could not stomach finishing it. Good for Baker for doing the heavy lifting of shredding it.

The Elusive Leverage Ratio Rolfe Winkler

Bankers Gone Bad: Financial Crisis Making The Threat Worse Information Week

Hollywood studios in midst of their own horror show LA Times (hat tip DoctoRx)

Shhh, I’m Trying to Listen to My Heartbeat Here Paul Kedrosky

The “Naked Short Sale” In Taibbi’s Video Was Actually Rejected! Clusterstock

Defending Schumpeter from Krugman Robert Waldmann, Angry Bear

Goldman Sachs: The “Smart” Money?! Michael Panzner

Iceland’s steamy waters Financial Times

Conde Nast magazines shut as review bites Reuters

Antidote du jour:

Picture 45

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  1. fresno dan

    “Hollywood studios in midst of their own horror show”
    I am such an outlier – I can never, never understand why someone would buy a DVD. I love movies, and renting DVD’s from Netflix, but once you have seen a movie, you know the story, you know the surprizes, you know the ending. Plus 2$ to rent a movie versus 16$ to own it? Shades of the housing bubble

    I imagine with technology and on demand movies, the rationale for owning a DVD versus renting will decrease further.

  2. fresno dan

    “Goldman Sachs: The “Smart” Money?!”
    Seems like typical stock analysts – advise you to sell after a 90% stock decline, and advise you to buy after a 90% price increase.
    To evaluate Goldman, you only have to ask one question, “Where are the customers’ yachts?”

  3. Diego

    fresno dan,

    if you buy a DVD, you can lend it to family and friends, watch it as many times over as you want, and watch it in different languages and with different subtitle languages (which may be unpalatable for monolingual US public, but not so in Europe).

    Don’t you share DVDs over there or what?

    Now, would you rent a digital book to save the cost of buying a physical book? As with DVDs, it depends on the book.

  4. Richard Smith

    Naked short sales…

    Yes, would be interesting to know where the video came from. Wonder if its the usual mob (Judd Bagley et al). Traditionally they broadcast via the right wing conspiracy theorists: the schtick is that shareholders are harmed by short selling.

    But Naked Capitalism recently linked to a Daily Kos article that claimed that naked short-selling threatened jobs ( The evidence adduced was dodgy and a lot of the references had a strong flavor. So it looks as if can co-opt the left as easily as the right.

    Not sure if this is deliberate tactics by

    Now we have Taibbi getting co-opted by more dodgy evidence. Not a pattern yet but it might be a good idea for Taibbi to look for an link. All the brawlers in this space love pseudonyms (see for a glimpse) but there is a signature obsession of the people: they don’t like Gary Weiss (aka Tom Sykes and many others) very much. I think if you can get from Taibbi’s source to a Gary Weiss hater you have the connection.

  5. Richard Smith

    …oh…after a bit more of a dig, Taibbi is sort-of vindicated: his story is actually about how little effect pre-borrow requirements would have on naked shorting.

    Clusterstock got it wrong. As soon as you go back to the primary source Taibbi’s story starts to make sense.

  6. DownSouth

    Dave Raithel,

    Let me use a quote from the Juan Cole story as a hook to follow up on a discussion you and I were having a month or so ago in regards to the New Atheists and their role in the war. Also, if you happened to have missed it, Yves linked an absolutely superb story a couple of weeks ago about Afghanistan that is a must read for anyone interested in US militarism and is also germane to this discussion:

    Juan Cole said:

    Belief: Isn’t the Iranian regime irrational and crazed, so that a doctrine of mutually assured destruction just would not work with them?

    I believe that the New Atheists, although nominally “anti-war,” nevertheless propagate and encourage this belief that Cole speaks of, and therefore are less than helpful in the anti-war campaign. I read the Dawkins and the Dennett pieces you linked:
    What I found most striking about both is how uncritically and unquestioningly they allow reality to be replaced by illusion.

    If we look back over the long run of history, one truth that emerges is that the sword almost always comes cloaked in piety, whether that piety be the cross or some putative secular goodness such as capitalism, democracy or freedom. Plunder, on the other hand, is seldom used as a justification for war. Conspicuously missing from both Dawkins’ and Dennett’s columns is any mention of oil. And yet, as Edward Said surmised: “[W]ere Iraq to have been the world’s largest exporter of bananas or oranges, surely there would have been no war.” Is it possible that Dennett and Dawkins are so naïve as to not know this? I hardly think so. And yet there it is! They not only bought carte blanche into the fiction peddled by the Bush administration that the war was fought for religious and/or moral reasons, but they wallow in it, repeating it over and over again, giving it a new life with their own readers. This is only one of several ways I believe Dawkins and Dennett served as enablers for the Bush administration, helping distract attention away from the dominant reason we went to war—oil.

    The New Atheists posit that a person does not have to be religious to be moral, and I agree with that. I also agree with them that many religious people are immoral. What I do not agree with, however, is that religious faith necessarily makes a person immoral. And yet it is this latter conviction that taints practically everything Dawkins and Dennett write, dragging them into propaganda and causing them to deny the devout their humanity.

    Dennett thus tells us that “our leaders have ‘listened to God’ instead of listening to the knowledgeable secular advisors who have warned them, repeatedly, of the follies they were embarking on.” The administration’s “faith in faith” over “faith in facts,” he adds, “has probably been the principle cause of the moral calamity that now confronts us.”

    Dawkins’ portrayal of the war is that of some grand Manichean struggle between wild-eyed Christian fanatics and equally fiendish Muslims. It’s Bush vs. bin Laden, reborn Christian crusaders vs. Islamic jihadists, “St. Michael’s angels” vs.” the forces of Lucifer.” “So let’s go and kick Arab ass,“ he parodies. “Those 9/11 terrorists were Muslims, right? Right. And Iraqis are Muslims, right? Right. That does it.” Muslims, likewise, don’t get off any lighter. “The Islamic world will be plunged into a seething stew of humiliated resentment,” he ominously warns, “from which generations of ‘martyrs’ will rise, led by new Usamas.”

    For both Dawkins and Dennett, this narrative fits nicely into their ideology, which, as David Sloan Wilson so concisely summed it up, is to “blame religion for everything.” But how does this square with factual reality?

  7. DownSouth


    Looking at the United States, there were three principal constituencies that coalesced in support of the war:

    •The security-industrial complex (this includes the defense as well as the petroleum industries)
    •Right-wing Christian Evangelicals (This does not include many of the mainstream Christian sects, such as the Catholic Church, which voiced opposition to the war )
    •Zionists (Not to be confused with Jews. Polls show that “Even on the eve of the war, fewer American Jews than other Americans were supportive of the prospect of going to war with Iraq.” )

    Real politic and calculated self-interest were, without a doubt, what motivated the security-industrial complex. Religious zealotry played little, if any, part in spurring it to war. And I think to a large degree the same can be said of the Zionists. So that leaves the right-wing Christian evangelicals as the sole constituency principally motivated by religion. Now, if we can just set aside all the political theater for a moment, which of these three groups do you believe really curried most favor with the Bush administration, especially with its most powerful figure, Dick Cheney?

    A plethora of other factors undoubtedly weighed on people’s minds in their decision to support the war. There were anger, wounded pride and fear. There were nationalism and tribal loyalties. There were self-defense and, of course, those infamous “mushroom clouds.” But none of these merited mention by Dawkins and Dennett.

    (There are two excellent texts that explore in great detail the coalition that propelled the US to war. One is Greg Grandin’s Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States and the Rise of the New Imperialism. The other is Andrew Bacevich’s The New American Imperialism: How Americans Are Seduced by War.)

    And there’s another nagging problem. For if we listen to what Dawkins has to say, what’s the difference between what he’s peddling and what is being peddled by the likes of Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami, described in great detail by Said:

    The major influences on George W. Bush’s Pentagon and National Security Council were men such as Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami, experts on the Arab and Islamic world who helped the American hawks think about such preposterous phenomena as the Arab mind and centuries-old Islamic decline that only American power could reverse. Today, bookstores in the United States are filled with shabby screeds bearing screaming headlines about Islam and terror, Islam exposed, the Arab threat, and the Muslim menace, all of them written by political polemicists pretending to knowledge imparted to them and others by experts who have supposedly penetrated to the heart of these strange Oriental peoples over there who have been such a terrible thorn in “our” flesh. Accompanying such warmongering expertise have been the omnipresent CNNs and Fox News Channels of this world, plus myriad numbers of evangelical and right-wing radio hosts, plus innumerable tabloids and even middlebrow journals, all of them recycling the same unverifiable fictions and vast generalizations so as to stir up “America” against the foreign devil…

    So from the very same directorate of paid professional scholars enlisted by the Dutch conquerors of Malaysia and Indonesia, the British armies of India, Mesopotamia, Egypt, West Africa, the French armies of Indochina and North Africa, came the American advisers to the Pentagon and the White House, using the same clichés, the same demeaning stereotypes, the same justification for power and violence…
    –Edward Said, Orientalism, Preface to 25th Anniversary Edition

  8. DownSouth


    I would also ask you to consider Dawkins’ well known “red in tooth and claw” worldview. Dawkins asserts that Iraq was invaded for religious reasons, and that the war cannot be won because of the obduracy of religious resistance. His objections to the war derive from these assumptions and are based on purely practical grounds. But what if the Bush administration had declared the reason for invading Iraq was to seize its oil, and if the situation were different such that the war could have easily been won? Would that then have made the war OK?

    And Dennett, in the quote you cited, says: “…even a war initiated with just intentions can be betrayed by conduct of war that violates principles of morality. It is this, more than anything else, that utterly disqualifies the fiasco in Iraq as a candidate for just war.” So let me get this straight. We initiated the war “with just intentions” but it is our execution of it that “violates principles of morality.” Now which “intentions” could Dennett be speaking of? Is he speaking of the “intentions” of self-defense? Is he speaking of the “intentions” of the Christian crusaders and end-timers? Is he speaking of the “intentions” of the Zionists? Is he speaking of the “intentions” to free a country from a brutal dictator and bring it the blessings of free-market capitalism and democracy? Or is he speaking of the “intentions” of securing oil for the US? And assuming any of these “intentions” can be justified, just exactly how does he suggest that the war could have been conducted without “violating principles of morality”?

    So peering at the world through Dawkins’ and Dennett’s ideologically tinted lens, what we get is a distorted view of people’s motivations for supporting the war, and no moral clarity. In essence, Dawkins and Dennet, blinded by their anti-religious bigotry, become the mirror image of the very thing they condemn. Their hollow and easily refuted arguments only add to the cacophony, creating even more misinformation in an already confused world. And for those trying to make sense of the world on the basis of factual reality and sound moral reasoning, what Dennett and Dawkins give us, instead of the light of dawn, is more of the darkness of night.

    1. Dave Raithel

      This exchange will likely pester the readers here only for finance – but they can scroll down.

      I re-read what I’d linked to make sure we’d read the same things. As best as I can summarize your main point – and I do not intend to be rude or intemperate – it is this: Neither Dawkins nor Dennett articulate the true reasons one should have opposed the invasion of Iraq; consequently, their inapt critique strengthened the pro-war factions …

      Now, there’s more detail to your argument, granted, but I don’t think I am generally unfair with my characterization.

      I won’t dispute that different political actors and interests moved for war; but neither should we dispute (now that W is gone and foreign heads of state speak more freely about him) that W really did think he was God’s agent on Earth. Oil needed the useful idiot, but his idiocy was his faith.

      So are we disputing relevance, or the weight of factors? (As an aside that I really shouldn’t pursue here, but only to confess my conflicted thinking – between reality and false consciousness, I’m usually one to give weight to material factors over what people believe. But that whole argument fills libraries, and I cannot get past the simple pragmatism that Marvin Harris expresses even as he denies what pragmatism has become in Rorty, et al: To say that someone has a belief, if that means anything, is to say that the someone acts in certain ways rather than others given identifiable circumstances about them. Action, then becomes the material force … )

      As I originally did write – I think – something like this: Categorical pacifism is logically consistent, but I don’t believe it is morally responsible. It’s a kind of nihilism. So, from that point, one will eventually get to some Just War Doctrine. I find nothing in the texts referenced to suggest that the authors would take oil interests to strengthen an argument for war.

      I take Dennett more literally than you: Even if the conditions for waging a Just War had been satisfied, a Just War has not been waged. (Intentions, rights, motives, all matter – and so do the actual consequences, the actual waging.) I don’t know that Dennett believes the conditions had been met, and says they usually are not.

      Dawkins’ position is more morally ambiguous – but is he only expressing his own delusions as he tries to distinguish his reasons from those that amount to blood lust? Surely you do not deny that some people thought as he parodies? But that those people are mostly irrelevant? I really am in Columbia, Missouri. I can see the Bible Belt. Consider the more subtle way that Tom Friedman put it: (Paraphrased, but accurate) – This shows to the Arab World, as they watch Al Jazeera and see young Americans kicking in doors and going into homes and arresting people, that we will not be abused. We will come and find you, those of you who do us wrong …

      And from where, demographically, did most those door kickers come? Not even the Heritage Foundation can get around that recruits are disproportionately rural and Southern ( Somebody somewhere is doing a chi-square correlating that to Evangelicals. Point: Religious faith is relevant, not just to acquire the useful idiot, but also the combatants executing his idiot goals. (I’m the oldest of four brothers; raised as Southern Baptists; we all did stints in some service or other. In Fly-over country, this is just a more culturally normative way to surpass one’s current opportunities. Yeah, I used to be religious. Now, I can be accused of projecting; or this could be a first-person report of the kind that anthropologists mine.)

      As to your point here: “What I do not agree with, however, is that religious faith necessarily makes a person immoral. And yet it is this latter conviction that taints practically everything Dawkins and Dennett write, dragging them into propaganda and causing them to deny the devout their humanity.” I’ll confess ignorance on this, you’ve been reading more of them than me, as I’ve yet to read or hear either of them say that religious faith necessarily makes a person immoral. Such an inference strikes me as uncharacteristic for such disciplined minds. I believe no such thing – I simply believe that some people have religious beliefs which, when put into action, are immoral acts.

      And almost just to post a bona fides, or some such thing: I truly am only concerned with your contention that these New Atheists somehow (this is all so deconstructionist for me) promoted the war when expressing their moral doubts about it. (We previously set Hitchens one place and Harris more ambivalently another.) The Iraq War was not a Just War. I don’t even believe that the invasion of Afghanistan was moral – I can document that I’ve had belief, somewhere in the archives of the Columbia Daily Tribune, if necessary, as my wife and I bought a quarter page advertisement to promote the “Bomb Them With Butter” campaign. In fact, I called in every favor I thought I could from friends and acquaintances in the media (e.g., The Washington Post, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch) for help – nothing. A nation gone mad in grief wanted “justice”, regardless of cost to innocents; and once “we” started down that road to perdition, Iraq was but around the corner. Disposed to misanthropy to begin with, I’m sure, a lack of faith in people complemented my lack of faith in a god …

      Religious nonsense, connected to and viscerally constitutive (in part) of some Tribal American Identity, was not irrelevant to that. I concur, again, that faith does not necessarily make one immoral. Here I’ll cite two references that just came to me: 1) I heard a Freemason on NPR a few weeks back explaining their basic principle: People can agree there is a God, and then having agreed on that, get past it and go about doing good in their community. They don’t have to agree on anything else but that there is a God. (I really know nothing about Freemasonry, I really don’t care, but it’s a quite reasonable principle none the less.) 2) I read Sarah Vowel’s book, “The Wordy Shipmates” a few months back. She popped onto the Daily Show last night, reminded us of Roger Williams’ political philosophy re state and religion: You’re wrong in what you believe, you’ll burn in Hell for it, and that’s all the punishment you’re due. We will otherwise live together and leave one another alone on all things Religious …

      But try selling that to anyone whose religious doctrines require them to use the State as the expression of their God’s will.

      Yes, I read the Juan Cole piece. It will be stupid and immoral to make war on Iran, but I have finally learned to never under-estimate how stupid someone might act. I glanced over the other link re Afghanistan – but, well, I know, as much as anyone can “know” such a thing, that it will not end well, no matter what anybody does.

      … But I bet ya somebody somewhere is making book to make some money on it no matter how it goes down …Clarity and light is where ya find it, I guess…

      1. DownSouth


        Thank you for your response.

        Let me just state very quickly that, when I look for guidance in the Middle East, I find analyses like those by Ann Jones to be much more believable than those by Dennett or Dawkins. “The Taliban fight for something they believe — that their country should be freed from foreign occupation,” she writes. To me this seems like a lot more realistic assessment than portraying the Taliban as a bunch of religious nut cases.

        I also find analyses like those of John Gray to be much more informative and knowledgeable than those of Dennett or Dawkins. Gray traces the roots of radical Islam back to Abdul Ala Maududi and Sayyid Qutb and concludes that the “intellectual roots of radical Islam are in European Counter-Enlightenment” and “the revolutionary vanguard Qutb advocates does not have an Islamic pedigree…The vanguard is a concept imported from Europe, through a lineage that also stretches back to the Jacobins, through the Bolsheviks and latter-day Marxist guerillas such as the Baader-Meinhof gang” (John Gray, Al Qaeda and What it Means to be Modern). That means Radical Islam is not so much a religious belief system as a secular one, and its roots lie not so much in the Middle East as they do in Europe. What does that do to Dawkins’ and Dennett’s framing of the issue?

  9. Paul

    Juan Cole makes me feel so much better. Since Russia agreed to supply the fuel for their reactors, I’d thought that the only reason for an economic basket case to enrich its own uranium was for weapons. It turns out everything is fine! Thanks, Juan!

  10. Peripheral Visionary

    Re: The End of Fish

    The “fishing-industrial complex” may be a reality, but if so, the author has left out two critically important constituencies: nutritionists and gourmands. Nutritionists, in particular, have driven the move toward higher consumption of fish by demonizing red meats and glorifying white meats, particularly fish, as the healthier alternative.

    And fish may very well be the healthier alternative, but sustainable it is not. For all the inefficiencies and unhealthiness of red meats, they are eminently sustainable; but fish, for the most part, need to be extracted from the wild environment, rather than being raised in a sustainable farming environment. Farmed fish have similarly been demonized (even the author joins in in criticizing the practice), when they arguably have less of an impact on the fragile ocean stocks.

    And, of course, the large mammal in the room that the author declines to so much as mention would be the whale. The Japanese are absolutely convinced that whales, as competitors of or predators of fish, put pressure on the fish stocks, and they are likely correct. The dramatic reduction in whaling has resulted in a major rebound in whale populations, but in all likelihood those same populations are themselves putting pressure on the fish populations.

    There are few good choices here, and we need to be very honest about that fact. As I see it, to preserve the ocean’s stock of fish, we need to significantly reduce consumption of fish and increase the use of farmed fish, leaving ocean fishing to relatively limited catches of selected stocks. The nutritionists and the gourmands will not be happy, but at this point, the rate of consumption of wild fish is threatening the ocean’s ecology, and either we make changes or face an even larger collapse in ocean stocks.

  11. Nobody Important

    I don’t know anything about Clusterstock or, and I don’t understand everything in the video or everything Richard Smith said, but there are a couple of things that make me doubt Clusterstock.

    The story was taken without credit from two reader’s comments (Sam and Joe Weisenthal) on a previous Clusterstock story (in fact, the one linked with the text: “we weren’t skeptical enough”). Plagarism’s not a good start for an attack article.

    And there’s Taibbi’s response:

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