Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Joost Posthuma update

Time for an update on Joost Posthuma. You'll recall that he was hit by a car while on a training ride last summer. His injuries mended and he recovered his form late in the season. He generally served the Rabobank team in a supporting role through the fall races, but won one race in September, the Sachsen Tour.

Early winter, he took a holiday in Egypt and then went to the team training camp in Spain where he showed himself to be one of the better riders on this very strong team. He gave an Interview in January in which he said he expected his 2008 season to be much like 2007's with the addition of the Olympics. In answers to questions about illegal performance enhancing he said he's sorry drugs have given the sport a bad name and said he supports the stepped-up enforcement that's taking place this year. Concerning his role as support rider rather than team leader he said he likes Rabobank because, though he's not one of the stars, there are still races in which he gets to be the team leader (the protected rider).

He caught the 'flu during one of the season's first races. On recovering, he regained his form and was designated as the team leader for the Tirreno-Adriatico. In this race, a couple days after his 27th birthday, one of the riders in front of him crashed, bringing him down hard and causing a serious injury to his shoulder. He's since recovered from that injury and again regained his form. Today, in his first day back in on the team, he rode very aggressively in an extremely tough race, the Dwars door Vlaanderen. On a cold, wet, and windy day, he kept close to the front of the pack through most of the race then pushed forward to join a group of eight riders who were chasing down a leading group of three. The chase group came very close to closing the gap and in the end Joost made a highly respectable ninth.

Some Joost photos here.

Here are a few from his own web site and other sources (via Google image search):

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

a process of mutual understanding

It's been quite a while since I wrote a post here on financial matters. In fact, though the US is in the midst of a meltdown and on the cusp of recession, there hasn't been much change in the global situation. It's simply becoming more clear that there are serious problems which are not being addressed. The oil-producing states are more than ever awash in US dollars, but haven't shown inclination to redirect their investment of these dollars in the economies of third-world developing nations. The developing nations haven't reformed themselves enough, in fact, to give the oil-rich nations much inclination to invest in them. The newly-rich nations on whom Americans rely for cheap imports and off-shore contract services -- China and India -- haven't been able to lessen their dependence on export of goods and services to the US. The US hasn't reduced its dependence on foreigners to cover its deficits. And the old industrial nations of Europe continue to suffer from low productivity growth.

It seems obvious that concerted international action is needed to make the changes necessary to bring international imbalances into a new dynamic equilibrium in which the US has greater household savings, reduced importation of oil, and stable export growth; in which China has lower household savings and is finally able to cease artificially enhancing the value of its currency; in which Japan solves its interest-rate problems; in which Europe reduces its government-funded social entitlements; and of course in which economic growth in the third-world is sustained by investments by oil producers. But there's little effort being made, that I can see, toward coordinated action to achieve this obvious set of goals.

A Bloomberg reporter named Rich Miller has put together a neat summary of financial difficulties facing Americans at the moment: Recession in U.S. Sows Slower Growth, Weaker Dollar. It's too compact to lend itself to summarizing, so just click and read.

Notice that it almost entirely ignores the global implications of US policy. Difficult though our domestic situation may be, it's made that much more difficult by the interconnectedness of the world's economies. There's great risk in policy decisions which ignore this fact of life.

The biggest of these risks is also one of the least likely, at least in the short run. That is the abandonment of the US dollar as the defacto international standard monetary unit. The existence of this defacto standard permits the US Federal Reserve to undermine the value of the dollar by reducing interest rates and helping to rescue the failing financial system. Foreigners -- the oil producers, export giants, and our partners in the Euro-area -- are all hurt by this devaluation. They see this unilateral action as arrogant and selfish, but -- at least this time around -- there's not much they can do about it.

It's a open question what lesson they will learn from it. If they follow the lead of the US and they too behave defensively, protectively, and selfishly, all will lose. They understand this, but circumstances may make it impossible, or maybe just imprudent, for them to act collectively to solve mutual problems. When one economic entity fosters its own economy at the expense of others, its international partners -- all the world's other economic entities -- come under pressure to do the same.

Isn't this what happened when the US adopted protectionism in the 1920s and didn't the world economy then fall apart in the 1930s? I'm not saying the current situation has much in common with that one, but the same sequence of unilaterality could now be disastrous as it was then.

A book review in the New Yorker calls attention to the need for global ethics. It's germane since world financial polices are a major aspect of these ethics. The book is The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama by Pico Iyer. Here are extracts from the review:
In his public appearances before English-speaking audiences, he prefers to speak of “global ethics” rather than of the abstruse Buddhist concept of Nirvana. Doubtless he doesn’t want to put off the largely secular middle-class Americans in weekend casuals who crowd Central Park to listen to him, but, as Iyer points out, this is also a reaffirmation of a Buddhist philosophical vision in which all existence is deeply interconnected. Indeed, this notion may be why the Dalai Lama was early to grasp the existential and political challenges of globalized human existence, decades before they were underlined by the disasters of climate change.

“For the first time in history,” Hannah Arendt wrote in 1957, “all peoples on earth have a common present. . . . Every country has become the almost immediate neighbor of every other country, and every man feels the shock of events which take place at the other end of the globe.” Arendt feared that this new “unity of the world” would be a largely negative phenomenon if it wasn’t accompanied by the “renunciation, not of one’s own tradition and national past, but of the binding authority and universal validity which tradition and past have always claimed.” . . . .

As China grows unassailable, it is easy to become pessimistic about Tibet, and to imagine its spiritual leader becoming increasingly prey to fatalism. The Dalai Lama’s retreat from the exclusivist claims of ancestral religion and the nation-state can seem the reflex of someone who, since he first copied out his predecessor’s prophecy, has helplessly watched his country’s landmarks disappear. The bracing virtue of Iyer’s thoughtful essay, however, is that it allows us to imagine the Dalai Lama as something of an intellectual and spiritual adventurer, exploring fresh sources of individual identity and belonging in the newly united world.

Certainly, Arendt’s “solidarity of mankind,” enforced by capitalism and technology, has become, as she observed, “an unbearable burden,” provoking “political apathy, isolationist nationalism, or desperate rebellion against all powers that be.” There are few things that Tibetans lashing out at the Chinese presence in Lhasa today fear more than absorption into the ruthless new economy and culture of China. Iyer’s book makes it plausible that the boy from the Tibetan backwoods may be outlining, in his own frequently Forrest Gumpish way, “a process of mutual understanding and progressing self-clarification on a gigantic scale” — the process that Arendt believed necessary for halting the “tremendous increase in mutual hatred and a somewhat universal irritability of everybody against everybody else.” It is hard to see the Dalai Lama bringing about mutual understanding in the world at large when he has failed to bring it about between China and Tibet. Such, however, are the advantages of being a simple Buddhist monk that he is less likely—indeed, less able—than most politicians to compromise his noble ends with dubious means, even as he, following the Buddha’s deathbed exhortation, diligently strives on.

{Photo source: The New Yorker}

a sky full of stars

Ralph Waldo Emerson complained that America -- the generation of Americans born after Independence -- needed to find its own voice, needed to stop parroting English masters. And many came who did just that, men such as Walt Whitman and Emerson himself. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was of this generation, but his originality quotient was low. His epic poem, The Song of Hiawatha, ought to be a soaring, mythic tribute to native Americans, but is instead an embarrassment of sentimentality written in an attempt at native American dance meter which comes off as military-march time. (By the shores of Gitche Gumee, / By the shining Big-Sea-Water, / Stood the wigwam of Nokomis, / Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.)

So it surprises me to find that I can not only read but actually like one of his poems. Maybe that's because it speaks to me in my present situation. Not great, but quite good. He wrote:
What then? Shall we sit idly down and say
The night hath come; it is no longer day?
The night hath not yet come; we are not quite
Cut off from labor by the failing light;
Something remains for us to do or dare;
Even the oldest tree some fruit may bear;
Not Oedipus Coloneus, or Greek Ode,
Or tales of pilgrims that one morning rode
Out of the gateway of the Tabard Inn,
But other something, would we but begin;
For age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in another dress,
And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.

This comes from Morituri Salutamus.

Friday, March 21, 2008


I'm fond of RaySoda a photosite by a community of amateur and professional photographers, most of them Korean. The subject matter is amazingly various and artistic merit generally excellent. Many images have conventional design values; many have interesting eccentricities. These images show something of the site's breadth and depth. Click to view full size.

$40 billion per year

The widget on top of the right-hand panel shows the cost of the war in Iraq. The numbers include ongoing costs that are directly attributable to the war. They include combat pay, but not regular pay of armed forces. They don't include the cost of interest on the federal deficit that the war makes necessary. They include some replacement of equipment as it wears out in the field. But they do not include the cost of rebuilding military armament as equipment ages throughout the armed forces.

This article in the National Journal explains this last set of costs:
On the sea and in the air, military bills come due, by Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. National Journal March 20, 2008.


On the sea and in the air, America has coasted for two decades on investments made in the 1980s.

Now, after a generation of heavy use around the globe, from Somalia and the Balkans in the 1990s to Afghanistan and Iraq today, hardware bought during the Reagan buildup is simply wearing out.

The chief of the Air Force has said publicly that he needs an extra $20 billion -- per year -- beyond the administration's requested budget to restock his arsenal. Outside analysts suggest that the less-outspoken Navy needs about the same amount. But the services are laying that $40 billion charge for future weapons on a country that is increasingly chafing under the costs of the current war.

With the end of the Cold War, defense spending dropped by $42 billion between 1990 and 1994. Some $39 billion of that came out of the research, development, and procurement budget. So, while the military's expenditures for operations, maintenance, and personnel stayed about level, even as the size of the armed forces shrank, the Pentagon had only about half as much to spend on new equipment.

The services weathered this "procurement holiday" in different ways. The average age of the Air Force's fighter fleet doubled, from less than 10 years old in 1991 to more than 20 today. The Navy made ends meet by retiring older, expensive-to-maintain vessels ahead of schedule, keeping the fleet relatively young at the price of halving its size.

The bottom line for both services was the same: Major new purchases were delayed, stretched out, or cut. This was a stopgap, not a solution. Throughout the 1990s, a growing chorus of defense analysts warned of a coming train wreck, when all of the deferred modernization bills would arrive at once. What they did not expect was that those bills would come due during America's biggest and most expensive war since Vietnam.

It is hard for Defense officials to make a case for supersonic stealth fighters and warships bristling with missiles when policy makers are grilling them about body armor and mine-resistant trucks for troops in battle every day.

The air and sea services certainly make the case for their own relevance. Whether these long-term arguments will shake an extra $40 billion out of Congress is an open question. And whether the services' planned purchases are the right investments for the future is another question altogether.

{Image source: wikimedia}

This article explains military spending estimates in the President's proposed budget for fiscal year 2009: Feeding the military monster warps our spending priorities. It says:
Studies agree that the U.S. spends more on our military than the rest of the world combined. Our Fiscal Year 2008 military budget of some $623 billion is well above the entire rest of the world, which will spend about $500 billion in FY 2008.

For FY 2009, President George W. Bush proposed a military budget of $515 billion, plus $70 billion — at least — for Iraq and Afghanistan; total: at least $585 billion. But even before the ink was dry on the FY 2009 budget, Defense Secretary Robert Gates admitted the total would be closer to $685 billion. What's a hundred billion between friends?

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

"he drew great mud"

I came across a review of a book on Bill Mauldin and thought I'd show off some of his cartoons. Famous for the Willie and Joe panels that appeared in the Army newspaper, Stars and Stripes, during World War II, he became a successful editorial cartoonist in later life.

Here's the lead of the review:
‘He Drew Great Mud’ by DAVID MICHAELIS
Published: March 2, 2008

Until surprisingly late in World War II, Army cartooning consisted of gags about mean old drill sergeants and raw recruits on K.P. duty. Then came Bill Mauldin, an impish rifleman from the 180th Infantry Regiment, who volunteered as a cartoonist for The 45th Division News. On July 10, 1943, he stumbled ashore, pistol drawn, in the Allied invasion of Sicily and went on to fight in the Italian campaign while turning the raw material of the front into captioned panel cartoons, often at the expense of superiors in the rear. Mauldin listened to his fellow dogfaces in their foxholes and sketched quickly, sometimes rendering finished work on the back of whatever scrap he could find in the rubble.
I hope these explain themselves. I've tried not to put in anything that's explicitly in copyright and claim fair use where I'm mistaken.

Fresh, spirited American troops, flushed with victory,
are bringing in thousands of hungry, ragged,
battle-weary prisoners. (News item)

"Radio th' ol' man we'll be late on account of a thousand-mile detour."

"Them buttons wuz shot off when I took this town, sir."

"Able Fox Five to Able Fox. I got a target but ya gotta be patient."

"I'll let ya know if I find th' one wot invented th' 88."

"Nonsense. S-2 reported that machine gun silenced hours ago. Stop wiggling your fingers at me."

"You blokes leave an awfully messy battlefield."

"Ya don't git combat pay 'cause ya don't fight."