Sophont
Saturday, July 23, 2005
 
Who killed Richard Cullen?
Guardian Unlimited Money : "An image keeps popping into my head. It's the old days. A customer in need sits down with their bank manager who says, '£1,000? You must be crazy!' I wonder: is there some economic sage out there who effectively invented the new way - someone who drew up a utopian image where banks would fall over each other to loan money to whoever wanted it.

And so I call Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach. He's the vice chair-man of Goldman Sachs International, a former director of the Bank of England, and once the head of Margaret Thatcher's Domestic Policy Unit. I'd been told that if anyone could answer that question, he could.

I ask him if this whole mess can be traced back to one man. I expect him to say something like, 'Oh no, it's far more complicated than that. It is a gradual shift. Nobody is to blame.' But he doesn't. Instead, he says, 'I hate to say it, but I was one of the people who argued strongly in favour of it.'

'When was this?' I ask.

'December 1970,' he says. 'At that time, the banks were a classic cartel, very much a middle-class preserve, and I believed that the democratisation of credit had to be a good thing. Everyone in principle should have access to credit.'

So, in December 1970, he says, he wrote a paper for the Institute of Economic Affairs advocating a revolution in banking. The report - Competition In Banking - concluded: 'The only way in which to make banking a competitive industry is to remove all obstacles to potential new entrants into the industry.' It was, by all accounts, a key factor in the subsequent deregulation of UK banking.

It becomes obvious during my conversation with Lord Griffiths that he has come to believe that he inadvertently unleashed some kind of monster. He says he never could have predicted 'the dynamism' with which the lenders would pursue his ideas. 'The dynamism,' he says. 'The innovation.' I've never heard these words uttered with such sadness. 'I don't think anyone would have foreseen how innovative and aggressive and competitive the financial services would become in their techniques,' he says. 'The whole lot of them are to blame.' He pauses. 'I'm not advocating a return to the status quo. But the pendulum has swung much too far.'

Now Lord Griffiths has just published a new report - What Price Credit? - which has this somewhat apocalyptic conclusion: 'The sheer scale of consumer debt [£1 trillion] has made millions of households extremely vulnerable to shocks to the economy ... such as oil price rises, acts of terrorism and wars ... Debt is a time-bomb for the 15 million people who struggle with repayments.'

I tell Lord Griffiths about Richard Cullen's suicide, and he sighs. 'I had a friend,' he replies. 'A clergyman. I met him for dinner one night. He was suffering from cancer. He broke down over dinner and confessed to me that he had 32 credit cards. He said he was using each card to pay off the charges on the others. He told me about the shame he felt. You could just sense the emotional pressure. I'm no doctor ... ' Lord Griffiths pauses, then says, 'He died soon afterwards.'

Then he says that a friend of his recently compared the credit card industry to slavery - that the lenders are the new slave masters and the borrowers the slaves. I ask if he's bombarded with credit card junk mail, and he says, 'Oh yes - I probably get one every fortnight.' I tell him the Cullens were sometimes getting three or four a day."

Friday, July 22, 2005
 
Of Knowing And Not Knowing
Fred: ".......Trouble comes when the sciences overstep their bounds. It is one thing to study physical phenomena, another to say that only physical phenomena exist. Here science blurs into ideology, an ideology being a systematic and emotionally held way of misunderstanding the world. A science is open and descriptive, an ideology closed and prescriptive. A scientists says, in principle at least, “Give me the facts and I will endeavor to derive a theory that describes them.” The ideologist says, “I have the theory, and nothing that does not fit it can be a fact.” Having chosen his rut, he never sees beyond it. This has not been the way of the greats of science, but of the middle ranks, adequate to swell a progress or work in a laboratory.


In the limitless confidence of this physics-is-all ideology there is a phenomenal arrogance. Perhaps we overestimate ourselves. As temporary phenomena ourselves in a strange universe we don’t really understand, here for reasons we do not know, waiting to go somewhere or nowhere as may be, we might display a more becoming humility. But won’t.


Long ago in a computer lab that I frequented late at night, a white mouse lived. It had escaped from the biology people. As I labored over a keypunch, the wee beastie scurried about behind the line-printer. It seemed to know where to find water, where the fragments of potato chips lay, and where it could sleep warmly.


I reflected that it probably thought it understood its world, which consisted of power supplies, magnetic-core memory, address buses, and the arcana of assembly-language programming. I’d estimate that humanity just about knows where the potato chips are."

Saturday, July 16, 2005
 
Life... and Death is Just a Bowl of Cherries....

Inspector falls into cherry vat and dies
: " Co-workers found Mendoza, 38, in a large vat of cherries and brine just after 7 p.m. Tuesday at the company's Kroupa Road facility, said Grand Traverse County sheriff's Capt. Tom Emerson.
      Emerson said Mendoza, a long-term employee at the company who worked as a quality control inspector, was pulled from the wooden container and given CPR before she was transported to Munson Medical Center.
      'My understanding is that her job was to inspect the vats when they fill them full of cherries,' Emerson said. 'Apparently, she was on a steel walkway on top of these things looking down into them when the accident happened.'"

Friday, July 15, 2005
 
Terrorism Lessons From 1870
TCS: Tech Central Station: ".....'And because I think that would be a disaster, it is essential that the Muslim world wake up to the fact that it has a jihadist death cult in its midst. If it does not fight that death cult, that cancer, within its own body politic, it is going to infect Muslim-Western relations everywhere. Only the Muslim world can root out that death cult. It takes a village.

Friedman's point of view seems eminently reasonable and logical. He is calling on moderate Muslims, for the sake of self-preservation, to do something to stop the barbaric theatrical gestures of the terrorists.

Up to this point, however, moderate Muslims have seemed paralyzed. We might wonder why this is the case.

In Fools Crow, there are moderate native Americans. However, they, too, are paralyzed. Their failure to restrain a small group of terrorists is what leads to the massacre. Perhaps James Welch, writing from the native American point of view, can offer some insights into the reasons for this paralysis. Here are some ideas that I took away from the novel.

1. The native Americans felt they were in a no-win situation. They saw fighting the white man as futile. However, they saw peace with the white man as being on terms that would make it impossible for native Americans to pursue their traditional way of life....."

Sunday, July 10, 2005
 
Andy Rooney is a security idiot
jaynote: I was taping 60 minutes tonight because they had a segment on new flying machines, so I saw Rooney's bit.
He did a list of things that are true, and one of them was;
"Numbers are longer than they used to be. There's something wrong with a personal identification number on a credit card or a bank check that is larger than the number of people that there are in the world."

no no no Mr. Rooney, there is nothing wrong with that. Suppose the number of id numbers was twice the population. This gives 2 problems; a 50% chance that any random number would be valid, and when the population grows you run out of numbers (like we are with Vehicle Identification Numbers in 2011)

With 12 digits for a credit card individual account identifier there's a trillion (10 raised to the 12th power, or 1,000,000,000,000) possible account numbers, so odds are a valid number can't be guessed, nor will we run out of numbers in the near future.

Friday, July 01, 2005
 
Professor says Bush administration is keeping a species off the endangered list.
OrlandoSentinel.com: "In May the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it could not declare the Miami Blue an endangered species, even though the butterfly met the criteria, because it lacked the staff and money to protect it. The Center for Biological Diversity, a non-profit group based in Tucson, Ariz., on Thursday filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the service over the decision.

In announcing its decision, the wildlife service claimed that scientists had failed in their attempts to reintroduce the butterfly to its former range.

Since releasing Miami Blues at Biscayne and Everglades national parks, researchers detected only 'an inconsistent or sporadic presence of only a small number of individuals,' stated the agency's written evaluation, published May 11 in the Federal Register. 'Monitoring results do not indicate that the Miami Blue has become established at any of the release sites.'

Thomas Emmel, professor of zoology and entomology at the University of Florida and director of the Miami Blue reintroduction project, said this assessment was completely false.

'That's just plain Bush administration manipulation of the data,' he exclaimed, after hearing the service's evaluation of his team's work. 'That's just another example of how politics drives biological observations.'

Emmel said his team has established 12 breeding colonies at Biscayne and Everglades national parks.

These colonies have all successfully reproduced through several generations in the wild. The total number of butterflies in the colonies ranges from about 50 to 500, with numbers hitting the low end of the range when most of the butterflies are in their larval stage.

'The reintroduction efforts are going quite well,' Emmel said.

He accused the Fish and Wildlife Service of deliberately minimizing the success of the team's work in order to make it appear that it would be too difficult to save the butterfly.

'What they're trying to do is justify why they're not supporting this,' he said. 'It's an attempt to suppress knowledge of any recovery of a new species.'
Emmel, author of 35 books, is among the world's leading experts on butterflies. He is director of the University of Florida's McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, which holds the world's second largest collection of butterflies and moths."


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