October 25, 2010
Update on the missing 727
Remember that Boeing 727 stolen from an Angola airport in May 2003? Well, it's still missing.
The Air & Space Smithsonian has an interesting update on this saga in its September 2010 edition.
December 03, 2009
A long, dusty drive to global warming...
Thinking about global warming (with Climate-gate being in the news), I remember visiting the amazing Roman ruins at Ephesus, an ancient city near the Turkish sea-side resort Kuşadası. It always struck me as odd that Ephesus had been a major port city that in 100 AD had a population of nearly half a million people and was second only to Rome in importance. Why odd? Because the ancient port of Ephesus is located more than 3.5 miles from the eastern edge of the present-day Mediterranean Sea. Somehow, over the last 1,900 years, the waters of the Eastern Med have receded and this onetime port is now a long, dusty drive from the nearest water.My conclusion from this? Our planet's climate has changed throughout history, on its own, without human intervention. Is it continuing to change? Absolutely. Is human activity contributing to these changes? Almost certainly. But do we know enough about climate science to understand what course these changes will take and how to influence them to our species' advantage? I sincerely doubt it.
For more great pictures of this incredible archaeological site, visit fotopedia here.
November 06, 2009
Expected News From Unexpected Sources
The UK Guardian and the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report that <gasp> Iran has been conducting experiments on highly advanced aspects of nuclear warhead development. (Whocoodanode?)
The UN's nuclear watchdog has asked Iran to explain evidence suggesting that Iranian scientists have experimented with an advanced nuclear warhead design, the Guardian has learned.
The very existence of the technology, known as a "two-point implosion" device, is officially secret in both the US and Britain... The development was today described by nuclear experts as "breathtaking" and has added urgency to the effort to find a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis.
I see an interesting winter in our future (and not interesting in a good way.)
November 03, 2009
Iran to Obama: "Fuck you, strong letter to follow..."
Today's WaPo has an interesting piece reporting on a speech Tuesday by Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
"Iran's supreme leader, spurning what he described as several personal overtures from President Obama, warned Tuesday that negotiating with the United States would be "naive and perverted" and that Iranian politicians should not be "deceived" into starting such talks."
So much for diplomacy. . .
March 22, 2009
What the hell IS an investment banker, anyway?
Who are these greedy bastards that have destroyed our financial system and cost the taxpayers billions? What do these Wall Street guys (and girls) do to command such exorbitant bonuses? Well, I'll tell you.
First of all, you need to understand that there are four major functional areas in an investment bank, all with very different jobs and responsibilities:
- Senior management: the top 15 or so executives who run the company and make strategic decisions (like how to allocate capital and resources),
- Sales & Trading: the folks you see sitting in front of rows of screens, yelling into headsets, this group can also include retail brokers and research analysts,
- Investment Bankers: the people in suits who get hired by other corporations to help them raise capital or advise them on acquisitions and other financial matters, and
- Operations: the "back office" people who support the rest of the firm in clearing trades, IT, accounting, facilities management, etc.
When people rail against greedy investment bankers, these are generally the people they are thinking about. These are the CEOs that have been called in to testify before Congress and the heads of divisions who authorize major commitments of the firm's capital. They are also the recipients of big company perks like cars and drivers, use of the corporate aircraft, etc. In publicly held companies, the total compensation of the top five corporate officers is published in the annual proxy statement, which can be found on the SEC's Edgar site. If anyone is "responsible" for having caused this mess, it is these senior managers. However, many of the executives who were in charge during the bubble period have been fired or otherwise lost their jobs.
Sales & Trading
The guys on the trading floor who devised many of the financial products that have become "toxic" assets (CDOs, credit default swaps, etc.) also bear some of the responsibility for the mess we're in. But the number of people involved in these esoteric securities was fairly limited. Most traders, salesmen, and brokers spent most of their time on "plain vanilla" products like stocks, bonds, currencies, futures and options and commodities. And while many of these "Master of the Universe" types were paid multi-million dollar bonuses, they also worked very hard for their money; putting in long, stress-filled days on the trading floor, and hours of research and reading at home.
The banker's job is to call on corporate clients seeking to be retained for financings (debt or equity) or for financial advisory assignments like mergers and acquisitions or restructurings. They bear little responsibility for the current financial crisis. In fact, their job has remained largely the same for the last quarter century; 70 to 90 hour weeks spent building financial models and preparing presentations for senior management at client firms. These folks usually travel extensively (3 to 4 days a week on the road is not uncommon) and spent many (most?) nights and weekends in the office or on a never ending series of conference calls with clients and colleagues. While the level of activity among their clients is down, this business remains highly profitable since it makes only limited use of their firm's risk capital.
These employees had virtually nothing to do with the current problems. They perform jobs similar to their equivalents in non-financial firms, though their compensation levels (and hours worked) tend to be higher than in other large corporations.
*** Bonuses ***
Nothing is less well-understood than Wall Street's compensation system. In most American businesses, workers receive a salary based on hours or weeks worked. In some companies, at the end of the year, some or all employees may be paid a "bonus" based on their individual performance or the firm's level of profitability. In addition, people in sales related jobs are often paid on a commission basis, based on sales volumes. However, on Wall Street, things are completely different.
In virtually all investment banks, only senior management have large annual salaries (with large bonuses often contractually specified as well). Mid and lower-level professionals are paid standard, modest salaries based upon their titles; for example, all Managing Directors might have base salaries of $200k and all VPs might have base salaries of $125k. At the end of the year, based upon their individual performance, the profitability of their group and the profitability of the firm as a whole, they are awarded a bonus which comprises the bulk of their total compensation. These bonuses are typically paid in January or February of the following year. Managing Directors (a title awarded after 7 to 10+ years of increasing responsibility in an "up or out" hierarchy) typically receive total compensation of between $1 and $5mm per year, based upon the net revenues they were able to produce for their firm. MD level compensation in many firms is approximately 10 percent of the net revenue generated by each senior professional.
Of course, especially for senior bankers, a significant portion of their annual bonus is paid in restricted company stock. This stock typically vests over a three or four year period and is forfeit if you leave to join a competitor. For investment bankers who were unfortunate enough to have worked for firms receiving TARP funds, this stock is generally worth a small fraction of its original value.
Finally, most Americans don't understand the cost of living in the NYC area. In most parts of the country, if you are earning $250k per year, you are living in the best part of town in a big beautiful house. In Manhattan, it is hard to buy a 3 bedroom apartment for less than $2mm. In most of the country, the suburban public schools are considered excellent. In Manhattan, most middle class professionals try to send their kids to private schools where annual tuition is $30k. While there are a few excellent public schools, this is not a viable option for most people. Renting a parking space for your car in Manhattan costs $500 a month -- in many parts of the country you can rent an apartment for less. One could go on and on (but I won't.)
This is not to say that we should feel sorry for those poor, misunderstood investment bankers. Most of them are doing quite well. However, if you are an employee of a firm receiving TARP investments from the feds and you had nothing to do with the activities that caused these massive write-downs, you can be forgiven for not understanding why you should have to hand over to the government more than 100% of last year's bonus. (The House bill that passed last week called for taxing bonuses above $250k at big TARP firms at 90% (plus Medicare tax of 1.45% and NYC state and local income taxes of 10.5%), bringing the total for NYC residents to 101.95%.)
January 19, 2009
Dropping a DIME on Hamas
Israel has been accused of dropping Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME) bombs on Hamas positions in Gaza. This new type of munition is designed to limit the shrapnel and blast effects to a very small area, thereby reducing the risk of collateral damage to non-combatants.
Naturally, the usual suspects are complaining about possible war crimes. (I suppose it is better to drop conventional high explosive munitions that will destroy an entire building, civilians and all.)
October 24, 2008
Boycott United Internet AG and 1&1 Hosting
Respected LA blogger and lawyer Patterico has had his domain name stolen by his hosting service "1&1". 1&1 are a subsidiary of the German internet firm United Internet AG, who coincidentally just happen to own sedo who is auctioning off the domain name.
Pretty despicable, if you ask me.
October 22, 2008
Remember John Kennedy O'Hara?
... the Brooklyn Democratic gadfly who was railroaded by Crooklyn DA Charles Hynes? (For some background, see posts here, here and here.) Anyway, he dropped me a note the other day alerting me to a new website seeking to gain him a pardon from Governor Paterson.
It's a colorful, amusing site, and worth a visit. Even Sex and the City's Mr. Big has come out in support of O'Hara. Be sure to sign the online petition asking the Governor to remedy this cruel injustice. Free John O'Hara!
September 02, 2008
It was an exciting night at the Repub's convention. Fred Thompson made a good speech endorsing McCain's character. The last Democratic nominee for Vice President, Joe Lieberman, made a solid speech endorsing McCain as the man to trust with the Presidency.
Yeah, yeah. However, I am underwhelmed by the choice of Sarah Palin as McCain's understudy. Sure she's cute. A bonafide MILF. And a good shot. But a stone cold light weight. The "bridge to nowhere" flip flop. The limited profile in the public eye. Of course, she does have more executive experience than either Obama or McCain. But a heartbeat away from the Presidency? I don't think so.
I'm not an Obama fan. He is an old-school liberal dressed up in post-partisan camouflage. He is also seriously in love with the sound of his own voice, which is not an attractive quality. That said, there may be some advantages to having him in the White House these next four years.
Firstly, the next four years promise to be very difficult from an economic point of view. The fallout from the real estate bubble will take time to work itself out. The impact on financial institution's balance sheets will provide a real drag on any recovery. As will the overstretched state of household balance sheets. In short, the American consumer is hitting up against the limits of debt availability, and our financial institutions are facing massive pressures to reduce their lending exposure.
If you buy this premise, being the next President of the US of A is not going to be a fun gig. Yeah, sure, you will be able to appoint a Supreme or two, as well as sign into law provisions that will make it very hard for large businesses to avoid unionization. But overall, it is likely to be a bummer.
On the plus side, if Obama wins, GWB has nearly two months in office as a legless duck. (Think Lame Duck to the 3rd power.) This is a golden opportunity for Dubya to go medieval on Iran's nuclear program. The US can commit multiple sorties to take out all of the Iranian nuclear enrichment sites, while the incoming Administration wrings its hands and protests ineffectually. After the damage is done, Obama becomes President and apologizes sincerely.
May 25, 2008
Best of the Worst
Funny music videos are an endless source of amusement for some of us. Here are three of the best:
- Tommy Seebach's Apache: Seebach was a Danish pop star who died from alcoholism in 2003. (NB: the link shown at the bottom of the screen in the video is to an unrelated porn site. Definitely NSFW.)
- The Leningrad Cowboys cover of Sweet Home Alabama: with backing from the Red Army Chorus, no less. Simply awesome.
- Mohammad Rafi's Jaan Pehechaan Ho: think Bobby Darin meets Bollywood. (You may have seen this as part of the opening credits in Ghost World.) Very catchy tune.
December 19, 2007
Update on Steven Vincent & Nour Khal
Today's LAT has an excellent feature by Erika Hayasaki following up on the Steven Vincent story. Vincent, as you may remember, was an independent journalist murdered in Iraq by radical Shiite militiamen in Basra during August 2005. He was also the author of In The Red Zone, which chronicled his travels in Iraq. If you haven't already read it, it is worth a look.
The story is accompanied by several great photos by Carolyn Cole of Vincent's widow, Lisa Ramaci, and Nour Khal, his friend and translator who was seriously wounded when Vincent was killed. Khal is now living with Ramaci in the East Village apartment she and Vincent had shared.
October 05, 2007
Viva La France
Proof that elections matter; the French government has volunteered to begin protecting UN ships carrying food aid from pirates off the coast of Somalia.
The United Nations (UN) World Food Programme (WFP) has accepted France's offer to protect its ships from Somali pirates as its vessels carry food aid to needy Somalis. In a WFP press release, Executive Director Josette Sheeran states, "We are grateful to the Government of France for this generous offer, which would reduce the threat of piracy and allow WFP to feed more hungry people in Somalia."
September 21, 2007
Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!
Well, Pinch finally woke up and smelled the coffee, pulling the plug on TimesSelect. Like many, I predicted the inevitable, but underestimated (by some eighteen months!) how long it would take the Times management to join the "reality based" community.
As usual, Mickey Kaus (the thinking person's favorite liberal pundit) was all over this story from the beginning.
November 21, 2006
Our Man in Al Queda
Sunday's UK Times featured an excerpt from a book written by a former Al Queda trainee, "Omar Nasiri" (a psuedonym). If the excerpt is representative of the rest of the book, Inside the Jihad: My Life with Al Qaeda: A Spy's Story, looks to be an interesting read. Here is a taste:
Abu Hamza looked at me with his one good eye as we were introduced. “Masha’Allah, brother,” he said. “Can you meet me in the office after prayers?” “Of course,” I told him.
When prayers were finished I stood outside the office on the first floor of the Finsbury Park mosque in north London. Hamza approached with a young boy by his side. He gestured with his hook and the boy opened the door for him. We sat on the floor and Hamza asked the boy to bring us tea.
Hamza asked me which of the camps in Afghanistan I had been in, and I told him. Then I leant forward slightly. “I met someone you know,” I said in a conspiratorial voice. Hamza raised his brow just slightly.
“I trained with Assad Allah,” I told him. “He told me about the nitroglycerine, and how you lost your hands.” Hamza looked away. “Brother,” he whispered, not meeting my gaze, “please don’t share that story with anyone.”
As I was to learn later, Hamza claimed he had lost his hands defusing a landmine on the front lines in Afghanistan. I knew the real story.
October 19, 2006
New Thinking on Iraq
Jonah Goldberg has an excellent column in today's LAT with some new ideas regarding Iraq. Essentially, he suggests holding a referendum in Iraq on whether or not US troops should remain in that country until the Iraqi government decides they are no longer needed or to leave immediately.
It's an interesting idea.
October 03, 2006
Death of a Hero
Marine Lance Corporal Christopher Adlesperger was killed during combat operations in Fallujah in December last year. He has been nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery under fire during the battle to retake the city the previous month. If his nomination is approved, he will be the first Marine awarded the Medal since Vietnam.
The LAT's Tony Perry has an excellent piece describing Corporal Adlesperger's life and how he risked his life to protect fellow Marines. It is well worth reading.
August 30, 2006
Hamas, blaming the victims!
From today's UK Telegraph:
Ghazi Hamad, the Hamas government's official spokesman, said Palestinians had been "attacked by the bacteria of stupidity".
"The anarchy, chaos, pointless murders, the plundering of lands, family feuds … what do all of these have to do with the occupation?" he asked in the opinion piece published in the Palestinian newspaper, al-Ayyam. "We have always been accustomed to pinning our failures on others, and conspiratorial thinking is still widespread among us."
He was particularly scathing about the failure of the Palestinians to make a success of the Gaza Strip, the territory that Israel effectively surrendered a year ago.
"When you walk around in Gaza, you cannot help but avert your eyes from what you see: indescribable anarchy, policemen that nobody cares about, youth proudly carrying weapons. From time to time you hear that so-and-so was murdered in the middle of the night, and the response comes quickly the next morning. Large families carry weapons in tribal wars against other families.
"The reality in which we are living in Gaza can only be described as miserable and wretched, and as a failure in every sense of the word."
August 26, 2006
City of Brotherly Love vs Military Service in Iraq
According to an analysis in the Washington Post, being a young black man in Philadelphia is more dangerous than being a US soldier in Iraq. . .
August 17, 2006
Today's WaPo runs a Reuters story by Parisa Hafezi reporting on the opening of Iran's holocaust cartoon contest at the Museum of Palestine Contemporary Art in Teheran. (You remember this contest, which had been announced by one of Iran's leading newspapers in the wake of the furore over Muslim protests of the Danish Islamic cartoons.) According to Masoud Shojai, the head of Iran's Cartoon House, the contest "is a test of the boundaries of free speech espoused by Western countries."
While the exhibit consists of more than 200 cartoons, the only one shown on the organizer's web site is pretty tame:
While there are plenty of links to photos of various Iranian dignitaries touring the exhibition (including Iran's Minister of Culture, who appeared to be enjoying himself), it's hard to find any images of the actual cartoons. (Perhaps because most of them are terrible, but I suppose the murder of more than 6 million people is tough material for any cartoonist to work with.) However, I did manage to track down some of the cartoons at an Iranian website called IRFP.
If the Iranian editors expect these cartoons to provoke outraged public demonstrations against Iran, violent riots, and mobs of angry Zionists burning down Iranian embassies throughout the world, they are going to be sadly disappointed. (The IRFP's website has this amusing warning: "Attention Regarding to clarification of the issue of "Holocaust" this website possibly will be closed by United States, in this case please refer to the following address: www.irancartoon.com www.adlroom.com www.sharifnews.com [sic]")
As far as I can tell, the only Israeli reaction has come from the privately run Israel News Agency, which has launched a marketing campaign to ensure that people searching for "iran holocaust cartoons" will be directed to the INA's web site where holocaust cartoons are interspersed with photos and facts about the real holocaust. Also worthy of note is the Anti-Defamation League's web page showing examples of the Arab media's routine portrayals of jews and Israel.
I guess the Western commitment to free speech and religious tolerance has withstood this "test."
August 11, 2006
Old time religion
You've gotta love how becoming a devout Muslim seems to often lead directly to study of bomb-making techniques.
This fellow Mohammed (pbuh) has a lot to answer for.