Links 4/23/10

Dear patient readers, it looks like I will returning to the US late on Sunday, keep your fingers crossed. I have heard stories of people who will not be able to return till mid May.

Here’s what we do Magtastic Blogsplosion

Chimpanzees Prefer Fair Play To Reaping An Unjust Reward Science Blogs

Asking a Better Question About Who to Blame for the Financial Crisis Tim Iacono

This is an open call to designers, writers, photographers, illustrators, art directors and anyone else who is stranded by the ash cloud, and would like something to do.

Clever New Caledonian crows can use three tools BBC

Human Jawbone Grown From Stem Cells By Scientists At Columbia (VIDEO) Huffington Post (hat tip reader John D)

TR10: Solar Fuel MIT Technology Review (hat tip reader emca)

Blackstone Said to Weigh Reworking $4.9 in EOP Debt Bloomberg. This deal was seen as being the peak of the commercial real estate market.

SqueezePlay: Euro to Fail? BNN

Benjamin Netanyahu defies Barack Obama’s demands over East Jerusalem Telegraph

“>PRMIA DC Event: Issues in Securitization Symposium, May 3, 2010. If you are in the DC area, you should consider attending this event

Bill Black Interview: The Great Global Bank Robbery, Part 2 New Deal 2.0

Challenges to Goldman are still kept to a whisper Gillian Tett, Financial Times

America must face up to the dangers of derivatives George Soros, Financial Times

Antidote du jour:

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  1. Glen

    Yves, glad to hear you finally got a flight. I’m surprised that the cruise lines have not pressed a few large ships into service for Atlantic crossings for stranded people. Certainly this is a better option for the airlines than just putting people up in hotels (I assume that is the current practice) until the ash clears up.

  2. Jojo

    That crow story was really cool! Watch out if evolution gives these birds arms and hands with an opposing thumb.

  3. attempter


    After all, there is merit to the argument that capitalism is, by its nature, prone to bubbles, so, maybe it would be a good idea to learn how to stop them.

    Not just prone to bubbles; in its monopoly-finance terminal stage, so-called capitalism can’t function at all except by blowing bubbles. There’s simply too little productive investment left (from the capitalist point of view), so they have no choice. Look how quickly the one legitimate new sector of recent decades, IT, reached “capitalist” maturity and then had to be blown up into the dotcom bubble. Suburban sprawl, on the other hand, was as patently bogus and unproductive an orgy as civilian mankind has ever embarked upon.

    All American economic “growth” has been fraudulent for many years now.

    So this bubble, like the previous one and like the next, terminal one, is endemic to the system. No group vested in the system will do anything but try to facilitate it and resist attempts to criticize it.

    And so Iacono comes to the right conclusion, even if he fails render its logic explicit:

    If there is one thing that can be learned from the events of the last few years and more recent efforts to institute meaningful financial reform, it is that the system, as currently designed, is incapable of fixing itself.

    The implication is clear. You can follow through on the full destructive and self-destructive logic of monopoly-finance capitalism, or you can get rid of it. But you can never “reform” it.

    1. NS

      Great post!

      Human/social progress is hobbled by bubble blowing rapid growth/expansion models for enrichment of a few. Spock opined on this. What exists today is not rational.

      I hope I live to see the day justice is served up, but I seriously doubt I will.

  4. Sundog

    Thanks for pointing to the Tett piece.

    “The near-stranglehold of banks over the legal world has been impressive.”

    Hey journalists reading NC, run with this and see where it takes you.

  5. Ray Duray

    Daily Antidote Anecdote:

    Filed under “There Goes The Neighborhood”–bushlibrary-feralcats,0,5906606.story

    Quote: “Unwelcome neighbors where George W. Bush’s presidential library is planned in Dallas are losing their homes.

    Some feral cats have lived in the Southern Methodist University area for years. SMU in 2005 began a feral cat removal program, in an effort to control the cat colony….”

    Interested readers will pursue this devolution theme at “Planet of Weeds” by David Quammen.

    Economists will note that this is Gresham’s Law in action (with a Rachel Carsonian/Earth In the Lurch twist):

    Friends have recently wondered if we ought to rename our species. Arrogantly, some propose, we’ve taken to calling our selves Home Sapiens Sapiens, the Wise Wise Guys. Those who are skeptical of this sociopathic narcissism suggest Homo Stultus Stupidorum, the Stultified Stupid Ones.

    I’m tending to see the wisdom of this revanchist revisionism.

    Can George Bush’s library possibly replace this?

  6. fresno dan

    “Chimpanzees Prefer Fair Play To Reaping An Unjust Reward Science Blogs”

    OK, I hope when I say that I am voting only for monkeys from now on, evevyone knows I mean that literally.

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      It shows that evolution doesn’t always go forward as we Homo Not-So-Sapiens Not-So-Sapiens seem to have lost what chimps still possess.

  7. Hu Flung Pu

    I’m stuck in London, too. Was supposed to leave last Thursday… now I’m leaving Monday. Pure insanity.

    1. craazyman

      Hey Quentin,

      I’m Benjy and I post here from time to time too. Just posted a stream of my mind on money yesterday, while Luster was chopping wood. Ha ha ha.

      Oxford Miss.

  8. Tim

    Bet against Goldman Sachs for charity.

    Love this!

    From Ritholz at The Big Picture:

    Ten Things You Don’t Know (or were misinformed by the Media) About the GS Case

    When you prosecute mass murderers who use guns and bombs and threaten your life, and you kick their asses anyway, you ain’t afraid of a group of billionaire bankers and their spreadsheets. He is the shit.

    I have $1,000 against any and all comers that GS does not win — they settle or lose in court. Any takers? My money is already in escrow — waiting for yours to join it. Winnings go to the charity of the winners choice.

  9. pmr9

    The MIT storey is just more hype about using genetically engineered algae to make biofuel. For an explanation of why this is unlikely to work, see In brief, the laws of physics limit the efficiency with which solar energy can be captured by photosynthesis (even using CO2 from power station exhaust gases) to about 10%, and only about half this energy is available as lipid for biodiesel. The costs of maintaining gigantic contamination-free photobioreactors in sunny regions and supplying them with CO2 and water are prohibitive.

    Far cheaper alternative is to use solar thermal plants in deserts to generate electricity, HVDC to transmit this across continents, and rely on electrified railways and electric vehicles. Solar thermal in deserts can achieve about 25% efficency in converting solar energy to electricity, and electric motors are twice as efficient as diesel engines. So one-tenth as much land use for the same energy delivered to wheels.

    1. alex

      “rely on electrified railways and electric vehicles”

      Won’t do much for airplanes though (the airline/aircraft industry has a big interest in microorganism produced liquid fuels for this reason). Even for cars and trucks, batteries are still a severe limitation.

      The analysis you cite is specifically directed at GreenFuel Technologies and some of their excessive hype (lies?). That may explain why the company died about a year ago.

      The author Krassen Dimitrov is no crank, and raised some very valid points. However, even to the extent that his estimates can be generalized to similar approaches, they should be taken with a grain of salt. His estimates on capital costs were basically SWAGs (scientific wild ass guesses) at best. In all fairness to him his analysis was a “for fun” project rather than anything he had funding for. Being directed specifically at GreenFuel Technologies, he only looked at closed photobioreactors. Alternatives include open ponds and hybrid approaches (start closed and dump the starter mix into open ponds).

      Undoubtedly there is plenty of hype and borderline scams in a field like this, but I wouldn’t write it off. The DoE’s aquatic species program had some pretty good results before it was shut down in the late 1990’s (due to lack of interest while oil prices were low, not lack of technical success).

      If you want to talk about real dead end ideas, consider any bio-fuels not based on microorganisms. Corn ethanol is certainly the most ridiculous, but even cellulosic ethanol has lots of problems.

      One thing that’s clear is that developing microorganism based biofuels to the point where they’re commercially viable will require lots of capital. The tens of millions available by the traditional VC route is maybe enough to bring something to the small pilot plant level. But the energy industry is very capital intensive – a new refinery costs something like $10B. My guess is you’ll need something like that to start actual production, and that will be something of a gamble. Even pilot plants may need several iterations, and hence much deeper pockets than VC’s can provide.

  10. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    Fine, they can grown human jawbones.

    One day, they will grow human hearts.

    But they will never know the hearts they grow are evil hearts or kind hearts. Science is that imcompotent.

  11. Dikaios Logos

    Hearing the comments about travelers being stranded until May, I wonder if there isn’t some questionable behavior on the part of airlines. I know some folks who were stuck in the UK after their 4/16 flight was canceled. They eventually flew back to the Baltimore on BA’s 4/21 flight: but it had dozens of empty seats. When those tickets were purchased, the agent made a fuss about the flight being almost full. Perhaps that was just incompetence, but I hope someone does some serious reporting on the airlines’ treatment of customers.

  12. Sundog

    Here’s a long and interesting piece on the history of debt, by anthropologist David Graeber who is writing a book on the subject.

    “The first and overwhelming conclusion of this project is that in studying economic history, we tend to systematically ignore the role of violence, the absolutely central role of war and slavery in creating and shaping the basic institutions of what we now call “the economy”. What’s more, origins matter.”

    “Credit systems seem to arise, and to become dominant, in periods of relative social peace, across networks of trust, whether created by states or, in most periods, transnational institutions, whilst precious metals replace them in periods characterised by widespread plunder.”

    “Interest rates, fixed at 20 percent, remained stable for 2,000 years. (This was not a sign of government control of the market: at this stage, institutions like this were what made markets possible.)”

    “Coinage, certainly, was not invented to facilitate trade (the Phoenicians, consummate traders of the ancient world, were among the last to adopt it). It appears to have been first invented to pay soldiers, probably first of all by rulers of Lydia in Asia Minor to pay their Greek mercenaries. Carthage, another great trading nation, only started minting coins very late, and then explicitly to pay its foreign soldiers.”

    “The most remarkable pattern, though, is the emergence, in almost the exact times and places where one also sees the early spread of coinage, of what were to become modern world religions: prophetic Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism, Confucianism, Taoism, and eventually, Islam.”

    “The fact that we have cast such institutions in a language of freedom does not mean that what we now think of as economic freedom does not ultimately rest on a logic that has for most of human history been considered the very essence of slavery.”

    David Graeber, Debt: The first five thousand years

  13. Jack Parsons

    The spookiest part of these stories is always a throwaway bit: first the crow/raven/other corvid examined the situation for a minute or two or five, then executed the solution perfectly.

    That’s a lot of cogitation and planning. Most people can’t look at a problem for that long.

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