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Cholera as Biological Weapon?

[ 0 ] December 13, 2008 |

Zimbabwe, it is fair to say, is a nation poorly served by its government:

The cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe which has left hundreds dead was caused by the UK, an ally of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has said. Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu described the outbreak as a “genocidal onslaught on the people of Zimbabwe by the British”.

On Thursday, Mr Mugabe said the spread of cholera had been halted. But aid workers warned that the situation was worsening and the outbreak could last for months.

In his comments to media in Harare, Mr Ndlovu likened the appearance of cholera in Zimbabwe to a “serious biological chemical weapon” used by the British. The Zimbabwean minister for information blames Britain for the cholera outbreak
He described it as “a calculated, racist, terrorist attack on Zimbabwe”.

Mr Mugabe has already accused Western powers of plotting to use cholera as an excuse to invade and overthrow him.

Giant Ponzi Scheme, Eh?

[ 0 ] December 12, 2008 |

Oh, dear:

Bernard L. Madoff, a former chairman of the Nasdaq Stock Market and a force in Wall Street trading for nearly 50 years, was arrested by federal agents Thursday, a day after his sons turned him in for running what they said their father called “a giant Ponzi scheme.”

The Securities and Exchange Commission, in a civil complaint, said it was an ongoing $50 billion swindle, and asked a judge to seize the firm and its assets. “Our complaint alleges a stunning fraud that appears to be of epic proportions,” said Andrew M. Calamari, associate director of enforcement in the SEC’s New York office…

Both complaints say Mr. Madoff told his sons he believed losses from his fraud exceeded $50 billion. That figure couldn’t be confirmed. But such a loss is plausible, had money been flowing in and out for years: At the beginning of 2008, according to the SEC filing, his operation had more than $17 billion under management.

Such a scheme would dwarf past Ponzi schemes. It would also be nearly five times larger than the accounting fraud that drove telecom company WorldCom into bankruptcy proceedings in 2002.

The criminal complaint said that when Mr. Cacioppi and another agent went to Mr. Madoff’s apartment Thursday, Mr. Madoff told them: “There is no innocent explanation.” Mr. Madoff told the agents that “he paid investors with money that wasn’t there,” adding that he was “broke” and had decided “it could not go on.” He said he expected to go to jail.

Tragedy

[ 0 ] December 12, 2008 |

My heart cries out:

It is impossible to quantify how many affluent parents have trimmed allowances in recent months — or how many of their offspring, in turn, have sought either formal employment or odd jobs. But interviews with dozens of teenagers, parents, educators and employers suggest that many youngsters from well-to-do families seem to have found a new work ethic as the economic crisis that has pummeled their family stock portfolios and jeopardized their parents’ jobs has also led to less spending money for Saturday night movies or binges at Abercrombie & Fitch.

And this may be one of the least shattering insights ever provided to the readers of the New York Times:

“Research shows that the bigger allowance you get from mom and dad,” explained Andrew M. Sum, director of Northeastern’s center, “the less likely you are to work.”

Indeed; I’d like to see the hard data backing that up.

How many millions of dollars will the Yankees pay for each C.C. Sabathia win?

[ 0 ] December 11, 2008 |

There are a bunch of ways to analyze this. One is to compare the most similar players to Sabathia at the same age. The most similar is Dave McNally, who at the same point in his career had 70 wins left in his arm. So that would be about $2.4 million per win. But that’s actually one of the most optimistic comparisons for Sabathia’s hypothetical future. The most similar pitcher to Sabathia overall, without regard to age, is Freddy Garcia. The first eight years of Garcia’s career look uncannily like the first eight years of Sabathia’s. Garcia has won two games in the last two years and it’s unclear whether his career will continue. So that would be $85 million per win.

Another very similar pitcher is John Tudor: he had 22 wins left when he had thrown a similar number of innings. So that’s $8 million per win. Then there’s Alex Fernandez: he had 11 wins left in his arm. The list goes on: Denny McClain, Teddy Higuera, Jack McDowell . . . it’s a pretty grim set of stat lines for sinking $170 million into one player (the one really similar pitcher who would have been “worth” this kind of contract in current dollars is/was Greg Maddux).

Sabathia’s future is also clouded by the closely related “pitching 1000 MLB innings before you’re 25 rule” (the rule is that this is generally a very negative indicator for what a pitcher will end up doing once he starts approaching 30).

But hey it’s only money . . .

Putz deal

[ 0 ] December 11, 2008 |

Perhaps Scott will have something to say about this deal from the other side. I’ve got some mixed feelings about it, but I think it’s a small net positive for my Mariners. First and foremost, I’m just thrilled that the our new GM actually understands the team he’s running. Gutierrez is, by all accounts, a pretty spectactular defensive outfielder with a pretty questionable bat, which makes for a so-so player. But Zduriencik is aware that he’s got overpriced mediocre pitch to contact flyballers in the rotation that he probably can’t unload. The read coup here would be if the ridiculously good defensive outfield allowed Silva or Washburn to luck into a good ERA and he manages to unload them to someone in a pitching panic. But a high-end CF with little offense is of unusual value to this team. Heilman and Green seem like a pretty even swap of slightly better than average replaceable bullpen arms, with Vargas being a notch below but useable. Endy Chavez? We could have used him the last few years when the team needed a defensive 4th OF. This year he seems largely unnecessary.

Trading Putz is a great idea, and I’m now optimistic enough about our new GM to think he probably won’t foolishly return Morrow to the bullpen because we “need” a “closer”. Use the Beane model, create closers and trade ‘em. Watching him on the mound last year, my hunch is that he’s lost something beyond being hampered by a temporary injury. I’m skeptical 2007 is ever coming back.

What makes my feelings a bit mixed is Valbuena. I admit to a bit of irrationality here, but I just don’t like Lopez at 2B going forward. He’s got talent, but he seems unusually susceptible to lengthy funks at the plate and in the field. Betencourt’s defensive collapse is a bigger problem, but if we remain stuck with him 2B defense is even more important. I’d allowed myself to become optimistic about Valbuena and I’m sad to see him go. Hopefully we get more out of this deal then the last time we sent a talented infield prospect to Cleveland.

The Mariners also get three more minor leaguers, at least one of whom (Carp) is an OK prospect. If they get anything from the minor leaguers, or Gutierrez hits like 2007, it’s a pretty good trade for the M’s. But even if they don’t it’s not a disaster.

From the Mets angle, after the K-Rod signing, it’s hard to see precisely what the Mets are up to. A lot of work and money seems to be going into modest Bullpen improvements, but for a high price and with a potential loss of depth, as they loose Vargas, Smith (to Cleveland) and Heilman and get back only Putz and Green. They didn’t give up that much, but it’s still hard to see the point. Looks pretty good from Cleveland’s end, but I’m high on Valbuena.

Feminism Stole My Car Keys!

[ 0 ] December 11, 2008 |

Public health scare edition.

Exciting Canadian Blogging: The Good and Bad Iggy

[ 0 ] December 11, 2008 |


I had only been to MSG once before, so it was very nice last weekend to see the Flames somehow eke out a victory despite barely leaving their own zone in the second period thoroughly dominate the hopelessly overmatched Rangers. After such an abect humilation you go to the box and you feel shame. I think Berube forgetting his jersey was entirely responsible for the outcome, although it must be conceded that he was vastly superior in the post-game ad hoc darts contest.

On the other hand, I was disappointed to see that Canada’s bad Iggy, a charter Wanker Caucus member, has effectively handed the Liberal leadership. I’m not looking forward to this, and this doesn’t really seem like a good strategic move, but who knows, maybe he’s learned something. I guess this is low-risk-low-reward for the Liberals; Ignatieff seems more likely to stop a Conservative majority than Rae, but also seems less likely to stop Liberal bleeding to the NDP and Greens. Which I guess could be a decent outcome.

A Little More Prohibition Will Put Out That Fire!

[ 0 ] December 11, 2008 |

The War on (Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs continues its roaring success:

Killings linked to Mexico’s drug war have more than doubled this year compared with 2007 and are likely to grow even further before they begin to fall, Attorney General Eduardo Medina-Mora said Monday.

The prosecutor tied the sharp increase in deaths to a battle for control among cartels and a power vacuum created by a series of high-profile arrests and seizures.

The number of gangland killings reached 5,376 from the beginning of the year until Dec. 2, a 117 percent increase over the 2,477 killings in the same period in 2007, Mr. Medina-Mora said in a luncheon meeting with foreign correspondents.

The bulk of the killings have occurred in the border states of Chihuahua and Baja California, where traffickers have sought to wipe out rivals on the streets of Juárez and Tijuana, and in Sinaloa, where one of the country’s most powerful cartels has its base.

“These criminal organizations don’t have limits,” said Mr. Medina-Mora, who previously served as Mexico’s public safety director and spy chief. “They certainly have an enormous power of intimidation.”

Mission accomplished! In fairness, it must be said that this violence is trivial compared to the turf wars between Busch and Coors…

5 Provosts in 7 Years?

[ 0 ] December 11, 2008 |

Leaving aside his wanktastic politics, one thing that was never clear to me was exactly what credentials Bob Kerrey had to run a university. I know fundraising is very important to a modern university president, but…

More at the COHE.

Too much stupid for just one fork

[ 0 ] December 10, 2008 |

The Most Inane Punditry of 2008.

I’m glad to say I’d never even heard of some of these items. For example:

“Well, here’s the other thing that we saw on the tape, Chris, is that, when Obama went in, he was offered coffee, and he said, ‘I’ll have orange juice.’ ” Matthews replied, “No,” to which Shuster responded: “He did.” Shuster continued: “And it’s just one of those sort of weird things. You know, when the owner of the diner says, ‘Here, have some coffee,’ you say, ‘Yes, thank you,’ and, ‘Oh, can I also please have some orange juice, in addition to this?’ You don’t just say, ‘No, I’ll take orange juice,’ and then turn away and start shaking hands.”

Duly noted! You know, without wealthy television pundits to instruct us, we’d probably spend most of our time slitting each others’ throats over the finer breaches of Regular Guy Etiquette.

Not a hard decision at all, actually

[ 0 ] December 10, 2008 |

If Ben Wittes is indeed serving as an adviser to the Obama transition team, let’s hope the President-elect has the good sense not to listen to anything he has to say.

That Wittes would invoke Qahtani in support of his proposal for expanded detention authority is, in a word, astonishing. Qahtani — who U.S. officials believe may have been the intended “20th hijacker” — was subjected to perhaps the most meticulous and brutal torture protocol of any Guantánamo detainee: his “interrogation logs” for a 50-day period in 2002 and 2003, leaked to and published by Time magazine, make for harrowing reading. Qahtani was strapped down, injected with fluids, and forced to urinate on himself; he was subjected to prolonged sleep deprivation, often woken in the middle of the night by dripping water or blaring pop music; his head and beard were forcibly shaved; he was left naked in a frigid room and forced to stand for prolonged periods; he was sexually humiliated by female interrogators; he was menaced by dogs and was himself led around on a leash and forced to bark like one.

So far as Wittes is concerned, the Obama administration faces a “hard decision” about whether to maintain Bush administration policies regarding indefinite detention, military commissions, and coerced interrogations. (By this logic, I suppose Obama faces “hard decisions” as well about whether to maintain the Bush administration’s disastrous environmental policies; after all, it’s going to be very difficult to halt the approval of new oil and gas drilling sites, or to propose new fuel economy standards, or to keep mining companies from polluting the water, or to strengthen rules regarding the reporting of toxic industrial emissions, etc., etc.) For ordinary people, ejecting the Bush record is not a difficult decision at all. Of course, ordinary people probably wouldn’t argue that Bush v. Gore carries greater legitimacy than Roe v. Wade, either.

Jaffer and Wizner make an exceedingly sane case that the only “difficult” question is whether hand-wringers like Wittes and Jack Goldsmith will ever perceive the abomination of developing a new carceral system that essentially rewards the Bush administration for violating the law. It’s obvious, of course, that Bush will leave behind a vast, wrecked landscape when they leave office next month; cleaning it all up will take a generation of labor, but there’s no need to begin the effort by essentially ratifying a legal disgrace exceeded in the nation’s history only by the policy of Indian removal and the Japanese-American internment.

F-22 as Economic Stimulus?

[ 0 ] December 10, 2008 |

Is the F-22 Raptor too big to fail in these tough economic times?

Without further spending for the F-22, companies that supply critical components for it would begin shutting down soon. The chairmen and ranking Republicans on both the House and Senate defense appropriations subcommittees recently wrote to Mr. Gates to voice their support for the F-22, cautioning that “the last thing our nation needs is to terminate jobs in this time of such economic uncertainty.”

Like many big weapons systems, the plane, which relies on 1,000 parts suppliers in 44 states, has strong support in Congress, which recently provided up to $140 million in bridge financing for some of the suppliers.

Without having done the analysis, I’m guessing that spending $200 million each for F-22s is not the most cost-effective form of economic stimulus that the Obama administration can engage in. Robert Gates hostility to the F-22 (and the Air Force more generally) is one of his most appealing characteristics; it would be a pity if Congress critters can use the financial crisis as an excuse to save the over-priced, under-missioned fighter aircraft.