Prague Twin

Friday, August 31, 2007

How Many Dead Americans is Saddam Worth?

One of the points I try to make about America being caught off-gaurd in Iraq is that even a crazy ex-pat with a B.A. in political science saw the chaos coming. Why didn't they? They are either stupid or evil. Those are your choices. So which is it? Are they so stupid they didn't see it coming? Or, are they evil and had ulterior motives and just didn't care what happened to Iraq or to the American soldiers?

I think this pretty much answers the question.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

In Case You Haven't Seen It

Click it, and it gets bigger.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Reality Sets In

But not everyone wants to admit it. With the major averages correcting and an impending (or already real) credit crunch bearing down, some pundits are blaming the Fed for not cutting rates months ago. I just don't understand this thinking. With inflation remaining above the stated comfort level, the Dow setting new record high after new record high, and unemployment extremely low, the Fed was supposed to cut rates?

Reality for the markets is finally setting in, and this is a good thing. In my view, low rates let the markets get out of control by letting the housing market get too hot, and flooding the system with liquidity. The sheer momentum of the move pushed the markets well beyond their logical top.

Now I think we will continue to see high volatility with the Dow ranging between 12K and 14K until the end of the year.

Housing prices will start to drop fairly rapidly and another big chunk of wealth we be transferred from the overextended to the flush as bargain hunters "save" us.

I don't believe that the Fed will cut rates anytime soon....for the record.

I've been wrong before.


Saturday, August 25, 2007

Lessons Not Learned

You have probably heard about president Bush's recent speech which is, in my view, an astounding misinterpretation of history's lessons, even for president Bush. I think this analysis cuts to the quick on Bush's mistakes and motives.

Bush's consistent critics didn't waste any time hammering him for his clear desperation. I particularly enjoyed reading Vietnam's official reaction to this train-wreck of a speech. They make it clear that their resistance to the Americans was justified. They hope for the best for Iraq but do not say the insurgents are unjustified in their struggle. I wonder if they think the Americans should not have pulled out. I wonder, would the struggle still be going on today had they not? Would that be a better version of history than our present one?

And speaking of Vietnam, I have to say that the one analogy that president Bush employed which struck me as particularly strange is the reference to Alden Pyle in Graham Greene's classic The Quiet American. If you haven't read the book, you may have missed the reference as being as naive and misguided as, well, Alden Pyle. Here you can read a very good analysis of why this comparison is so hopelessly misguided.

I'm not sure what is sadder: the politicians who conjure up this type of drivel, or the masses who consume it as if it was fine wine.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Issue(s) that Won't Go Away

Now that Russia has declared that the Czech plans to host an American/Nato missile defense radar system are a "big mistake", it is hard to ignore the significance. I've talked about this many times as this is clearly the local issue here that garners the most international attention.

To review, a majority of Czechs oppose this plan, according to polls. However, the most respected Czech, our former president, Vaclav Havel not only supports it, but went so far as to sign a petition in support of the plan.

One of the most convincing arguments in support of the plan which I came up with myself but also heard echoed by a villager on television is this: "The communists are against it, so therefore I'm for it." That seems pretty logical.

But in any case, this is an issue with many dimensions and pitfalls and solutions are not forthcoming with ease. I'd be very pleased to hear your thoughts on this.

P.S. I'm very sorry for not getting back to your very thoughtful comments. Rest assured that I'm reading them and I appreciate them very much. I simply haven't time to keep up with them or with regular blogging.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Bush in Albania

A couple of months ago I reported that Bush was in Prague. I mean, it wasn't a secret, so obviously it wasn't much of a scoop. While here, no one was able to get close to him. In fact, they kept his location a secret, blocking off many areas where he wasn't in an effort to obfuscate his enemies. Everyone knew he was in Prague 6 where the diplomats hang out. But they had the area around the Hilton hotel blocked off one day. We all know damn well he wasn't there, but the secret service was doing their job.

This evening I met a young Czech lady who told me about the morning when she couldn't get to work because of Bush's non-presence at the Hilton. Not a big fan of Bush anyway, she was infuriated that she had to drive around the other way, park her car, and then walk some 2.5 miles to get to work (nearly an hour late) to avoid the place where Bush wasn't.

And while no one here or in the United States could get within several hundred yards of him, Bush mingled with massive crowds in Albania where "they love him." Everyone here laughs at the undisputable fact that someone in the crowd stole his watch. Although the White House denies it, Serbian television has the footage. It happens just before 1 minute into the video. Judge for yourself.

Sidenote: although the American press reported that the Albanians "adore him" keep in mind that whistles in this part of the world are not considered friendly in any way.

Yeah, they love him so much, they wanted a souvenir to remember him by.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


I am a horrible procrastinator. The upside of this is that I perform quite well under pressure. As an example, I've had well over a month to write a measly 4 page paper on Jon Krakauer's book, Into Thin Air, a gripping tale of the 1996 Everest disaster. I tore through the book within 2 days of receiving it and put off writing the paper until the final day. It is now 1am on the due date, and I've just finished. I even wasted all weekend thinking I would write the paper during that time (I did think about it a lot, which made tonight's task easier). So now I'm all wound up and I have to go to work tomorrow morning. Uhg!

Anyway, the point here is that I have a question for you. I rarely ask questions, so I hope you will all indulge me here. The assignment was to identify effective and ineffective leaders in the book. So without doing the background reading, I'd love to get your thoughts on this.

What characterizes an effective leader?

I will probably be quite busy for a while, so blogging will be sporadic in the meantime.


Sunday, August 12, 2007

Cleaning House

Similar to Kvatch's series, "Bloggers I Have Known" this post is sad farewell to those who have disappeared over the last several months. Before I erase them, I'd like to say goodbye (despite the fact that not one of them bothered to say goodbye to their readers. What is up with that?).

Thumping the Tub, written by Michael from Scotland has been inactive for 2 and one half months. My only link to Scotland is gone.

The regulatory, formerly "Cold Goat Eyes" was introduced to me by Expatbrian, who writes World Gone Mad. My favorite post here was a (not so)steady cam operated by the author coming home to his flat in Taiwan. I really felt like I was there. Inactive now for over two months.

Edit Copy. This one hurts. EC, as I liked to call him, wrote a genuinely intelligent blog. There was a cryptic goodbye of sorts in that we (his readers) were informed of his decision to join the army as a specialist (although we never got the strait story). His last post (Feb 15) was titled, "Should I Stay or Should I go." I guess he left.

I had just started reading Millicent Frastley when her sister tragically died in January. Since then, she has posted once. She is getting married and I wish her the best.

Brickburner is just gone. A true peace-freak, I will miss him.

American Citizen Soldier was written by a non-com officer who fought both in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was intelligent and engaging and left his blog four months ago with a hit piece on Al Gore. What a sad end to an illustrious blogging life.

Finally, on a positive note, Politics, Parenting, and other Hazardous Pastimes has been reborn as Pondering in Purple.

So my blog rolls reflect these changes. Any of you are welcome back anytime. Best of luck!

Update: The Regulatory is back in action. Within minutes of this posting, I was taken to task. I wonder if anyone else will come out of the woodwork.

Update 2: Michael, the Tubthumper can be found here. (Why don't people announce these things?)



It has been a while since I saw any. Let me just say, the sport is still progressing. I saw this year's contest. This is two years old, but it is the best I could find.

If you want to see more....

Here is the 25 minute version. What is that language? Swiss German? Anyone?


Friday, August 10, 2007

Friday Economic Report

It has been many months since I did one of these, so the name hardly holds meaning. However, it is Friday, and a report is certainly overdue.

I'm sure the markets are all over the news. More important than the huge losses we saw yesterday is the extreme volatility we are seeing. After all, the major indices are up for the week, and well up for the year. But there is a lot of fear going around. Is it warranted? Probably not.

It was just a few days ago that the Fed decided to leave the target rate at 5.25%. If there really was a huge problem with liquidity, we would have expected to see a rate cut. Having said that, they did inject $38 billion in three separate moves today. Central banks around the world injected over $300 billion in similar moves. This was done to prevent a crisis in short term liquidity. If these moves are not enough, the Fed may consider cutting rates in September, but I still doubt they will.

Instead, the Fed is saying that they will support the banks, that there is no reason to panic, but also that liquidity is a bit short. The overriding issue in all of this, of course, is the failing sub-prime mortgage sector in the United States. I have been tracking this problem since last summer when I realized that over the next couple of years, defaults would be commonplace, and the American consumer would be affected.

I still believe that in this interconnected world the sub-prime mortgage situation (I'll call it a crisis in about 6 months) will bleed into the larger economy and create a feedback effect that will affect everything. Am I saying the sky is falling? No. But this is not going to go away anytime soon. I suspect that we will continue to see this issue evolve over the next 12 to 18 months, and the full extent of the fallout won't be seen for a couple of years.

For the next six months, I expect the stock market to be unpredictable. The Dow will probably stay between 12 and 14,000, but will it be 12, 13, or 14? I have no idea. 12,200 looks to be very strong support, and with all the money people have made over the last several years, the bargain hunters should keep things afloat.

But the easy times are over. I feel sorry for the poor suckers who bought those high-yielding instruments thinking they were buying something safe. Well, maybe "feeling sorry" isn't really the word for it. But I pity them nonetheless.

"Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do."

And no one is going to inject liquidity into these peoples' bank accounts, unlike like the treatment that the financial institutions are getting.

And the financial institutions should have known better. Of course, they knew all the while that they would get bailed out, should thing go a bit sour.

Today's events prove they were right.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

This Could be Interesting

In an effort to be more balanced, or simply as an oversight, the UN has invited president Klaus to the Global Warming Conference.

Klaus promises to spice up the evening saying....

It will be a gathering of 'Gore-ites,' so they're going to be shocked that they invited me 'by mistake,' too. And I'm going to give a very tough speech.

That ought to be interesting.

Klaus garnered global attention earlier this summer with this article. This marks the first time that anyone has paid attention to what a Czech leader has said.

If only people would pay the same attention to Vaclav Havel.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Why I'm Against the Patriot Act

Here is one reason anyway: this article which was buried on page A17 in the Washington Post, just found it's way into my possession quite by chance. Here is a taste:

I resent being conscripted as a secret informer for the government and being made to mislead those who are close to me, especially because I have doubts about the legitimacy of the underlying investigation.

The author is describing the situation he finds himself in after being served with a National Security Letter (ACLU description if you prefer). The reason I used the above quote is that "being conscripted as a secret informer" is exactly the position in which many honest, law-abiding citizens of the country in which I now live, found themselves during communist times. Much like the author of this article, these folks were conscripted against their will to inform on others on which they possessed information. Much like the author, these folks were forbidden from discussing their coerced compliance.

This coercion has been highlighted as one of the horrors of communist rule.

Now it is reality in the United States of America.

How sad is that?


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Vilnuis (Lithuania)

So here, first of all, is a fairly decent view of the center of Vilnius from on high. The prominent building in the center is a church that is right next door from where we were staying.

Here you can see a nice pub by the river where I had some authentic Lithuanian food and beer.

This is a traditional white beer. Usually white beers are much too sweet for me, but this one was well balanced and spicy. It went down very smooth on this hot day while I enjoyed the cooling effects of the canopy and the running water below. I detected a hint of clove amongst the spicy flavors in this wonderful beer. ($2)

This is certainly the most well known Lithuanian dish. The two blimps you see are aptly named "Zepplins" (don't ask me how you say that in Lithuanian, the language is quite a mystery). Basically you have a potato dumpling encasing a bit of minced-meat topped with grilled onions. On the side you get a huge dallop of sour cream and what can only be described as a pool of oil. Not exactly health food.

There are so many historical sites that this one isn't even considered one of the major ones. But you can't miss this church when you come to Vilnius. I saw a Russian couple getting married here.

Now this is a historical site. The Golden Virgin Mary above the only existing gate left from the original city wall is considered a miracle by the traditionally minded. Back in the day, men would take their hats off and bow before passing under. Today, only the most pious of the elderly cross themselves before going under.

Here you can see the whole gate. Originally there were (I believe) 5 of them. This is the only remaining.

As an example of the destruction of artifacts, here you see the crosses on the hill that the Russians knocked down....

Here is the story. (Click to make bigger)

This plaque commemorates George W Bush's visit to Lithuania (the first American president to do so). It is proudly displayed on City Hall. If you look close, you can see where someone threw something at it. Click on it and see what it says. All I can say is, "yeah right. And what?"
Didn't WWI take off because of excessive treaties? That is a rhetorical question.