Category: Current Events

Thoughts on the Somali Pirates

Stratfor’s podcast on the seizure of that Saudi oil tanker contained a fascinating tidbit: merchant ships are no longer allowed to carry arms at all, which, of course, makes piracy far easier. This is a dramatic transformation of the rights of merchant ships. Historically, private ships carried weapons when sailing far out of their own waters, and such weapons were an important deterrent to piracy.

As the nation state has claimed primacy over other entities, and exclusivity on the use of force, it has also worked an inter-national system based on the idea that only the state may employ violence. Entities which aren’t governments, say shipping conglomerates, don’t get a vote.

I didn’t realize that extended as far as officers of ships being unable to carry sidearms. I had wondered why ships sailing the Gulf of Eden didn’t convoy for mutual protection, and apparently the answer is that they can’t offer each other any. A few small machine guns would dramatically alter the payoff choices that pirates make. As is, they’re restricted to non-lethal means like water cannon.

Of course, to maintain it’s monopoly on the legitimate use of force, the state cannot allow even sidearms on ships. It also seems that it’s become hard to capture pirates. The Royal Navy has gone from hanging them to not capturing them to avoid claims of asylum in the UK. (Hanging pirates was in part a practical measure, given the lack of a secure brig on a smaller naval vessel, and the risk that the pirates would escape and capture their captors.) Of course, cheers for the Indian Navy have subsided somewhat, given that the pirate mothership they destroyed was a Thai ship with its crew held hostage inside.)

The fundamental trade, where the state has a monopoly on violence in exchange for preventing everyone else from employing violence, is a pretty good one when it works. (Assuming that rights including self-defense are not abrogated.)

But Somali pirates are only one of the ways in which the Westphillian system of national primacy is breaking down. Terrorism is another, as are the failure to deal with genocides in the Sudan or Congo.

Evidence of Time Travel Found in China

The twain meeting

According to Ananova, a Swiss watch-ring has been found covered in dirt in a four-hundred year old Ming dynasty tomb. The watch was found, covered in dirt. It was stopped at the time 10:06 and has the word, “Swiss” engraved on the back.

The archaeologists on the dig have requested archaeologists from Beijing to help them unravel the mystery.

Emergent Chaos contacted the Hong Kong representatives of Allied Epochs, a time-travel law enforcement agency, who told us that an investigation into the matter is already ongoing, but no report on the incident is available yet.

I Was On NPR, An Unmasking of Sorts

Okay so for a long time now, I’ve been blogging as Arthur. It all started as an excuse to blog without the company I worked for at the time having to worry about anything I said being a reflection on them. Almost three years ago they were acquired by Oracle and I have long since moved on to other pastures. Many of you already know who I am and since I really want to share the story below, I am no longer to going to hide who Arthur really is. Listen to the audio linked below if the picture hasn’t already given me away completely.
On Monday I went to early vote. Well, I live in Columbus, OH where there was a big push to vote early. Since I was driving to Chicago the next day to speak at Information Security Decisions, I figured I’d knock it out a day early and get it over with. What I didn’t expect was that I would be standing on line for four hours to cast my ballot.
What I also didn’t expect was to be interviewed by Neal Conan on Talk of the Nation. So there I was, three and half hours into my wait, when I was approached by Mandy Trimble of WOSU, the local NPR affiliate. Anyways, to make a long story short (I know, too late!), I ended up on the air nationwide talking about how to pass time in line at the polls. My bit is about 4:00 minutes in.

It’s Morning in America

It’s hard to know what to say after an election that feels so momentous in so many different ways. So, I’ll start from the simple: congratulations to Obama on being elected the 44th President of the United States.

Obama Makes History headline

Next, let’s add some chaos here and see what emerges. So what’s on your mind?

And please, keep it civil in this election open thread.

Studs Terkel, 1912-2008

No Chicagoan stood up for the common man like Studs Terkel, although Nelson Algren was probably in the running.
A security-related anecdote, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune:

In 1997 he went to the White House to receive the National Humanities Medal and the National Medal of Arts with a group including Jason Robards, Angela Lansbury, conductor James Levine, Chicago religion scholar Martin Marty and Chicago arts patron Richard Franke. He was stopped at the White House gate and asked for identification. Studs, who had never driven a car, did not have a driver’s license. The only thing he could come up with to appease the White House guards was his CTA seniors pass. They let him in.

Emergent Chaos: For McCain Palin

images.jpegAs we come to the close of the longest campaign in American history, it is time to make a call on who to vote for. In these turbulent and chaotic times, America needs a candidate who will cause more chaos to emerge. Now is not the time for calm and reasoned leadership. Now is not the time for thoughtfulness. Now is the time for chaos that makes us gasp. Chaos that makes us cry. Chaos that makes us question the ability of government to solve problems.

There is only one ticket which has the experience and proven ability to generate chaos on that sort of scale, and that is McCain/Palin.

There are many reasons to be optimistic about an Obama administration. But Obama is young, and has never had cancer. We have little reason to believe that in the course of a major crisis, Obama would need to be hospitalized. If he is, we can expect Joe Biden to move in relatively smoothly, with perhaps a few minor verbal gaffes. Similarly,
there’s no hope of Obama being distracted by a “bimbo eruption” or
made-for-tabloids divorce capable of taking his administration (and the
country) in an thrilling, unpredictable direction.

Obama has a proven ability to step through the sorts of crises which would sink other candidates, like associations with Ayers and Wright. His steadfast refusal to sling mud at ‘first dude’ and secessionist Mr. Palin shows a worrisome focus on issues and agendas, as does his decision not to highlight Governor Palin’s gleeful commingling of personal and political agendas – as evidenced in the “Troopergate” and rape kit controversies.

On issues of liberty which matter deeply to us, neither candidate has a strong record. McCain was once proud of a bill which bears his name and restricts his spending, and we applaud his willingness to now find every loophole he can.

If America wants chaos to emerge on an unprecedented scale, there is a clear and obvious choice.

Buffett Vs Paulson

I was listening to Joseph Stiglitz on NPR this morning, and he had a very interesting comparison. (Quoting from an op-ed in the Guardian):

For all the show of toughness, the details suggest the US taxpayer got a raw deal. There is no comparison with the terms that Warren Buffett secured when he provided capital to Goldman Sachs. Buffett got a warrant – the right to buy in the future at a price that was even below the depressed price at the time. Paulson got for the US a warrant to buy in the future – at whatever the prevailing price at the time. The whole point of the warrant is so we participate in some of the upside, as the economy recovers from the crisis, and as the financial system starts to work.

The Paulson plan responded to Congress’s demand to have something like a warrant, but as a matter of form, not substance. Buffett got warrants equal to 100% of the value of what he put in. America’s taxpayers got just 15%. Moreover, as George Soros has pointed out, in a few years time, when the economy is recovered, the banks shouldn’t need to turn to the government for capital. The government should have issued convertible shares that gave the right to the government to automatically share in the gain in share price.

He also mentioned (as I recall) that Buffett got an end to dividend payments during the crisis and a higher deferred payment than Paulson imposed.

Interesting listening.

Investing in the finance crisis

The Wall Street domino has toppled just about everything in sight: U.S. stocks large and small, within the financial industry and outside of it; foreign stocks; oil and other commodities; real-estate investment trusts; formerly booming emerging markets like India and China. Even gold, although it has inched up lately, has lost 10% from its highs earlier this year. Not even cash seems entirely safe, as money-market funds barely averted a “run on the bank.”

So reads the Wall St Journal’s “Intelligent Investor” for September 30th. Me, I’ve paid off my car loan–I figure JPMorganChaseLehmanWashigtonMutual could really use some more cash, and it’s a guaranteed 6% for me.

But that was my last debt, which means that I have no other safe returns. As I think about the crisis, one element that jumps out is how poorly the financial sector has matched money to risk. But I figure I might be able to do better. So I started looking at the well-publicized Kiva, to make loans, but it seems that these loans are all of the ‘feel-good’ variety, which is to say there’s no premium or return. And while I might place some money through Kiva for feel-goodness, I don’t want my best outcome for investing to be “and I don’t lose money.” So I’m looking at organizations like Prosper or Zopa (personal loans) or Fynanz (student loans).

I like the dis-intermediation aspects of these services and their chaotic and libertarian nature. Do any of our readers have experience with these, or services like them? Should I instead look to loan to people I know?

It seems that as the entire financial system of the US is consolidated into three institutions, there’s room and demand for some interesting and new structures to emerge from the chaos.