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The Bee Problem

by das monde Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 06:55:28 AM EST

This news broke, up to some prominence, a few weeks ago. It was discussed briefly here at ET as well. This time I quote "Der Spiegel":

A mysterious decimation of bee populations has German beekeepers worried, while a similar phenomenon in the United States is gradually assuming catastrophic proportions. The consequences for agriculture and the economy could be enormous. [...]

Felix Kriechbaum, an official with a regional beekeepers' association in Bavaria, recently reported a decline of almost 12 percent in local bee populations. When "bee populations disappear without a trace," says Kriechbaum, it is difficult to investigate the causes, because "most bees don't die in the beehive." There are many diseases that can cause bees to lose their sense of orientation so they can no longer find their way back to their hives.

Manfred Hederer, the president of the German Beekeepers Association, almost simultaneously reported a 25 percent drop in bee populations throughout Germany. In isolated cases, says Hederer, declines of up to 80 percent have been reported. He speculates that "a particular toxin, some agent with which we are not familiar," is killing the bees.

[Since] last November, the US has seen a decline in bee populations so dramatic that it eclipses all previous incidences of mass mortality. Beekeepers on the east coast of the United States complain that they have lost more than 70 percent of their stock since late last year, while the west coast has seen a decline of up to 60 percent.

From the diaries - whataboutbob

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Hyman Minsky on financial crises

by das monde Thu Mar 22nd, 2007 at 10:20:48 AM EST

Recently, I wrote a diary with one of speculations that speculative markets (such as stock and real estate markets) tend to behave like pyramid schemes at certain stages (like now). The crucial feature is the point when the market valuation grows predominantly because of outsiders entering the market with expectations of profitting from the steadily growing market. When the market volume has nowhere to grow, the latest entrants (if only) suffer dearly.

I am content to find out that my suspicion is not a wack unseen to human mind. Please enter Prof. Hyman Minsky (1919-1996), and his Financial Instability Hypothesis.

From the diaries ~ whataboutbob

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Is Civilisation A Pyramid Scheme?

by das monde Tue Mar 6th, 2007 at 04:17:53 AM EST

As this diary originated from a discussion of real estate markets, we will eventually get to financial matters of today. The sweeping bottom question is: how can an apparently steady growth or progress be possibly halted, or even voided? Do civilisations collapse often, and how? Do they just meet bad luck or barbaric invaders sooner or later,  or do they always collapse once they fully employ a "no-brainer" affluence strategy, like greed or self-indulgence? Can gains of globalization and free markets increase forever, or will they abruptly end just "around a corner"?

Globalization must have the limits of the globe, or not? It works all fine while new markets open and expand, while masses of new individuals enter speculative markets, either directly or via inescapably more aggressive pension funds. Will the global economy continue to prosper when the stream of eager new buyers will dry out?

Deep down, it is not exceptionally remarkable that evaluation of the markets grows while their volume rapidly expands. You can run a pyramid scheme with the same effect!

From the diaries - afew

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Iraq and Yugoslavia

by das monde Thu Feb 22nd, 2007 at 05:57:47 AM EST

For once, pro-war LA Times commentator Max Boot put up a reasonable article in his column:

Is Iraq turning into Yugoslavia?

[...] In the former Yugoslavia, as in Iraq, ethnic groups have clashed over the years, but they also have had long periods of peaceful coexistence -- and not only under the heavy hand of a Tito or Saddam Hussein. Croats, Bosnians, Slovenians, Kosovars, Macedonians, Montenegrins and Serbs lived together for centuries under the relatively benign Ottoman and Habsburg empires and later under their own monarchy. So did Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis in Mesopotamia.

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How the World Works

by das monde Wed Jan 31st, 2007 at 05:08:14 AM EST

No, this diary is not an over-ambitious manual for the World... "How the World Works" is the name of a daily blog (by Andrew Leonard) within the webjournal Salon.com.

The postings (and reader's comments) are often really interesting -- frequently sadly exciting. But I just love the postings, so here I present some of today's dish. (All postings, together with reference links, can be read after viewing a short web-commercial. Or if you happen to be a Salon.com subscriber, you can read everything immediately.)

I hope Salon.com will view this occasional diary more as advertisement of their website than a copyright problem ;-)

Read more... (10 comments, 1406 words in story)

Licensing monster born?

by das monde Wed Nov 1st, 2006 at 12:46:42 AM EST

I found an interesting article at The New Republic, by Clay Risen. It refers to law professor Elizabeth Winston of Catolic University of America, and the article Why Sell What You Can License?: Contracting Around Statutory Protection of Intellectual Property, published in George Mason Law Review.

The TNR article is under subscription for most, possibly. Ironically or not, I dare to post some excerpts from it. The matter may be important to many.

Do you own a Canon EOS-1D, one of the most popular digital SLR cameras on the market? Really? Think again. While you might own the plastic, glass, and metal in the camera, you don't actually own the software that makes it run - you only have a license to it. And that license is pretty restrictive. If you let anyone outside your immediate family use the camera - if you lend it to a friend for the weekend or even ask a stranger to take a picture of you and your wife - Canon could technically sue you for breach of contract. Canon, in other words, isn't interested in selling cameras anymore. It's interested in licensing the software inside them, along very favorable terms - for Canon, at least.

Canon isn't alone. Consider the case of Homan McFarling, a Mississippi farmer who bought genetically modified soybean seeds from Monsanto. He planted a crop, collected the seeds from it, and planted another - it's a standard, environmentally friendly, practice. But Monsanto claimed that it had only granted McFarling a "limited use license" to use the seeds for one generation. The company sued - and won.

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The New Middle East

by das monde Thu Aug 24th, 2006 at 10:42:06 PM EST

Are you interested in what an Egyptian democracy activist and professor of political sociology at the American University in Cairo has to say about the New emerging Middle East? Read Saad Eddin Ibrahim in Washington Post. Here are snippets from there:

President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may be quite right about a new Middle East being born. [But] it will not be exactly the baby they have longed for. [It] will be neither secular nor friendly to the United States.
The law of unintended consequences is very strong for violent meassures - as if no one had guessed that.

Read more... (3 comments, 856 words in story)

Capitalism the Virtuous?!

by das monde Tue Aug 8th, 2006 at 06:37:27 AM EST

Capitalism has made us better people - morally better. That is the core claim of the thick (over 500 pages) book

The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce

by the economist prof. Deirdre N. McCloskey.

And that is only the first of the planned four books, where she is going to prove that all the "left and right intelligentsia" are wrong to criticize capitalism for corruption, social alienation and anti-cultural consumerism.

At best, we have another academic exercise in advocating a particular system to the highest philosophical, and even moral, grounds. How successful is Prof. McCloskey? How different is she from Karl Marx, for example? At worst, this book signals a neo-neo-calvinistic ideology for emerging David Brooksian class of "supermoral" lords, where all morality is decided lonely by the size of the bank account, regardless how the money is earned or spent.

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The Discovery of Global Warming

by das monde Tue Aug 1st, 2006 at 03:55:35 AM EST

The Discovery of Global Warming - This is the title of a rather new book by Spencer  Weart. There is also his website, which is actually a more extensive and hyperlinked version of the book. Were these things covered on ET?

Read more... (6 comments, 396 words in story)

Climate bites?

by das monde Wed Jul 19th, 2006 at 03:25:42 AM EST

The born Dutch ET-ers can tell more about this event, undoubtedly. Here is what happened this time:

2 Die During Major Dutch Event Due To Extreme Temperatures
by Michael van der Galien

The following needs some explanation: there is a major event in the Netherlands called the Nijmeegse vierdaagse (Four days of Nijmegen (name of city)). Contestants walk/hike great distances (the maximum is 50 kilometers per day I believe) four days in a row. It's fun, it's a challenge, it's one big party (with bands playing at each side of the road all day long, lots of 'fans' cheering on the contestants, etc).

Today was the first day of this year's Vierdaagse and it wasn't as big as a party as it was meant to be. It's quite hot in The Netherlands these days with temperatures well above 30 degrees Celsius. In the area of Nijmegen even around 35 degrees Celsius.

Many contestants couldn't cope with the heat. According to NOS Journaal 300 people got ill due to the heat, of whom 30 had to go to the hospital. Five of them needed to be reanimated (in an attempt to get the heart back to beating), sadly two of them died.

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How to avoid penalty shootouts

by das monde Tue Jul 11th, 2006 at 10:04:40 PM EST

While we are still discussing footbal...

Deciding a World Cup (or other big competition) on penalty shootouts is widely viewed as very unfitting and cruel way to determine the winners. But nothing changes for ages, and old footbal fans come to accept the harsh logic of penalty lottery. Nevertheless, many new fans (like Aussies I am with now) rightly wonder. Is it not a good time to discuss our brilliant ideas?

My favourite proposal is based on the following two principal rule changes for the extra time:

  1. Each team must always keep at least 3 players on the attacking side.
  2. Offsides are called only on players within 16.5 meters from the goal line (that is, from the front line of the penalty box).

These measures would reduce defencive capacity of both teams, and increase freedom of attacking players. That should be enough for more goals, and give more opportunities for nice plays.  

Read more... (31 comments, 716 words in story)

Russia's patrimonial tradition

by das monde Tue Jun 20th, 2006 at 04:43:29 AM EST

This is an accidental continuation of the discussion in poemless' diary Who Needs a Strong Leader. The people interested in Russia's history, should notice the following new book, Conservativism in Russia. The author is Richard Pipes, a Polish-Jewish expert in Russian history, and a former Security adviser of Reagan. I noticed the book about a week ago in a book store, and today I found a review of it. I will take the freedom to copy some excerpts from that review:

[In Pipes' view], Russia differed from all other European countries because, even after the monumental attempt of Peter the Great to transform it in conformity with the Western model, its rulers clung stubbornly and immutably to their own autocratic privileges instead of evolving along representative and democratic lines. In an influential book, Russia Under the Old Regime, which appeared in 1974, Pipes expounded a wide-ranging theory that endeavored to explain this anomaly.

From the diaries - whataboutbob

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G. Palast: Iraq as planned

by das monde Fri Jun 16th, 2006 at 03:08:19 AM EST

This point of view may look shocking and uber-cynical even for ready conspiracy believers. But the logic is hardly surprising or new. Yet the scale is chilling, and there is little discussion of this. There is a dissonance of this perspective with Peak Oil worries. But if you know the game theory anecdote about killing the last whale for maximal profit, there is no paradox.

I had to check it today: my last DailyKos diary so far is of 3 months ago. It was on the article of investigative journalist Greg Palast, where he was making a case that Iraq operation is indeed being accomplished as planned by the Bush administration. Yeah, right: all those bombings, absence of government control, civil victims and US military casualities - in a wicked way, all of this is a part of the plan.

So what is the plan? It is simple: keeping Iraqi oil production very low. (As DeAnander pointed out, we should speak of oil extraction, not production. But I keep the economic jargon this time.)

Wow, you would say... Does Bush administration  care about oil for our descendants after all?.. Nope. This is all for the profit of the few.

Iraq's output in 2003, 2004 and 2005 was less than produced under the restrictive Oil-for-Food Program. Whether by design or happenstance, this decline in output has resulted in tripling the profits of the five U.S. oil majors to $89 billion for a single year, 2005, compared to pre-invasion 2002. That suggests an interesting arithmetic equation. Big Oil's profits are up $89 billion a year in the same period the oil industry boosted contributions to Mr. Bush's reelection campaign to roughly $40 million.

That would make our president "Mr. 0.05%."

This is an excerpt from a new article of Greg Palast, on the same.

Read more... (8 comments, 973 words in story)

Ultimate Match Points

by das monde Tue May 23rd, 2006 at 03:14:14 AM EST

About a week ago I was travelling between different corners of the world, so there was plenty time to check a few films and other inflight entertainment features. Here I wish to talk about one film I was watching, Woody Allen's "The Match Point". If you still a fan of Woody Allen after all those years, you should see and enjoy this film. It is clearly better than a series of his last productions: a smart plot, good acting, and as usual aesthetically made, easy going. Regretfully, I have to say that this diary is a flat spoiler of the film. I hope that enough bloggers here already saw this film, and wish to say or read something about it (and the ways the world works).

Read more... (2 comments, 1218 words in story)

Working harder for pensions?

by das monde Wed Apr 26th, 2006 at 04:35:18 AM EST

Pension funds are active players in stock markets, and this can be expected. But recently I heard that pension funds are becoming dominant players: they hold 2/3rds of shares in some big multinational companies. I cannot check this claim by a simple Google search, because there are too many general articles with "shareholders pension funds" or similar words. Nor I can find discussions of this issue. But the questions look important:

What is the portion of shares held by pension funds? Was this portion increasing in the last 10 years?

Read more... (6 comments, 252 words in story)

Europe down down??

by das monde Mon Mar 27th, 2006 at 10:02:46 PM EST

What a scary doomsday post at the conservative NRO blog:

Europe is in trouble. For an overview of the situation in France, see For the French, Joie de Vivre Fades Into Fear. France’s troubles come from it’s bloated welfare state. Although the country will face a demographic crunch when the baby boomers retire, France is actually doing reasonably well demographically.

Germany, on the other hand, seems to be the first European country experiencing real effects from a demographic deficit. See Politicians Discuss Pension Cuts for Childless Germans which says that new statistics on the country’s declining birthrate “have sent Germany into a state of panic.” This piece seems to confirm Philip Longman’s claim in The Empty Cradle that the emerging demographic crunch is going to build pressure for pro-natalist legislation.

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G. Palast: the Iraq Operation was accomplished!

by das monde Tue Mar 21st, 2006 at 11:44:29 PM EST

Greg Palast is back as The Guardian columnist, hillariously.

On the third anniversary of the tanks rolling over Iraq's border, most of the 59 million Homer Simpsons who voted for Bush are beginning to doubt if his mission was accomplished.

But don't kid yourself -- [Bush and Cheney] accomplished exactly what they set out to do. In case you've forgotten what their real mission was, let me remind you of White House spokesman Ari Fleisher's original announcement, three years ago, launching of what he called,

"Operation
Iraqi
Liberation."

O.I.L. How droll of them, how cute.

Read more... (445 words in story)

Growing baby rich

by das monde Thu Feb 2nd, 2006 at 05:33:19 AM EST

Ain't this funny, the industry of serving rich families with babies:

"Babies know so little about what's going on, sweetie," says posh infant-togs designer Lucy Sykes of the new compulsion among urbanites to pamper their indifferent newborns in luxury. "It's really for the parents." A former fashion editor and socialite sister to "Bergdorf Blondes" author Plum, she has a point: To date, no infant has actually requested a $45 bottle of Burberry Baby Touch Eau de Toilette Spray. Or signaled his approval of the $1,240 Louis Vuitton Diaper bag. Or wept because Citibabes, the new private club for New York City parents with a $2,000 annual fee, declined to let him crawl into its prestigious walls. Still, as Sykes, who describes her fall/winter line as perfect for "a nice baby tea at the Carlyle Hotel," confesses, "A lot of my Manhattan friends are spending so much on their babies they can't afford to go out for dinner anymore!"

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Why do liberals love America?

by das monde Thu Jan 26th, 2006 at 01:31:44 AM EST

Some say you can't make the world better than it is. They say you ought to be sceptical about human nature, yet they urge you not to question potentially abusive conduct of the powerful. They say you hate America if you want to give extra opportunities to the less fortunate. Conservativism is bigotry of low expectations.

But what drives us, liberals, to care not only about own well being, but about quality of life of others as well? Are we personally hurt by seeing injustice by abuse of political or economic power? Is it very satisfying to seek optimal social gains by collaboration? Are we concerned that uncurbed greed will have catastrophic consequences to everyone?

Do we think that America is the foremost developer of achievements of the Western Enlightenment? Are we certain that America's success had been assured by an effective balance of civil powers?

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The Dutch turned right?

by das monde Tue Jan 10th, 2006 at 06:06:03 AM EST

One might say, The New Republic journal "the liberal counterpart" of the conservative National Review. If so, it is very Lieberman-lite liberalism at best.

The New Republic has this article now:

THE NETHERLANDS IS NO LONGER A PARAGON OF ALL THINGS LIBERAL
Right Turn
by Abigail R. Esman  

"Open" has long been a catchword for the Netherlands, referring to everything from the flat, low-lying fields of Zuid-Holland and the curtainless windows of Amsterdam and The Hague to the country's liberal stances on marijuana and prostitution, both of which are enjoyed freely and legally in cheerful "coffee shops" and red-lighted bordellos throughout the country. To many, the country has long seemed the apotheosis of a free, liberal, and democratic state.  

But, these days, Filip Dewinter, leader of one of Europe's most extreme far-right political parties, Belgium's Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest), has had nothing but praise for his liberal neighbors to the north. In speech after speech over the past months, Dewinter has repeated the same refrain: "Once, Holland was the model country for everything left and progressive. Now, it is the model for the right and conservative powers."

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