Sunday, June 6, 2010


How pension funds are exploiting credit default swaps.

Is Germany’s economic strength a mirage?

“Narco-tecture” in Afghanistan:
But unlike the roads and schools being built, the "poppy palaces" are so garishly incongruous that some observers view them as more cultural erosion in an oft-invaded nation. Traditional Afghan residences are low-slung mud brick with internal courtyards and little external embellishment. Poppy houses, critics grumble, are imported Pakistani designs, with Arab, or simply alien, influences.

"I mix designs from the U.S. and U.K. -- I create my own!" said Haji Akram Mughal, a Pakistani architect who works out of a second-story Sherpur office. On a recent day he displayed blueprints for two mansions he designed for Afghan air force generals, one of which resembled a plantation from the American South.

The United Nations says more than one-third of the Afghan population lives in "absolute poverty," and in most of the country mud walls and no running water remain the norm. That also prevailed in Sherpur until seven years ago, when local authorities bulldozed rudimentary houses and gave the land to senior government workers. In their place now stand houses that mimic Roman ruins, the White House and a cruise ship.
Then there are the rooftop birds: Atop two domiciles sit giant statues of eagles, their wings spread.

The lost decade is coming.

An interesting point:
Obviously at the moment we have a large number of unemployed people in this country. And in a more enduring way, we have a lot of retired people in this country. And with every passing year we have more. In a lot of ways, I think retirees are going to prove to be the killer ap of digital content creation. It’s just that at the moment relatively few retired people are all that comfortable with digital media. Ten, twenty, thirty years from now that’ll be very different. Obviously someone who’s affiliated with a larger institution will always have certain advantages over an amateur, and the blogosphere gives heavy advantages to early adopters, but I think a lot is going to continue to change on the internet as demographic change continues.

The dark side of Dubai (somewhat old):
Karen Andrews can't speak. Every time she starts to tell her story, she puts her head down and crumples. She is slim and angular and has the faded radiance of the once-rich, even though her clothes are as creased as her forehead. I find her in the car park of one of Dubai's finest international hotels, where she is living, in her Range Rover. She has been sleeping here for months, thanks to the kindness of the Bangladeshi car park attendants who don't have the heart to move her on. This is not where she thought her Dubai dream would end.

Her story comes out in stutters, over four hours. At times, her old voice – witty and warm – breaks through. Karen came here from Canada when her husband was offered a job in the senior division of a famous multinational. "When he said Dubai, I said – if you want me to wear black and quit booze, baby, you've got the wrong girl. But he asked me to give it a chance. And I loved him."

Volunteer smog checkers in Hong Kong.

The Eurozone is offering a common, zone-wide bond. Very interesting and weird step: apparently the only thing to do about a structure that caused the crisis…is to give it more power and money!

I think this NYT article about the peak oil people is pretty unworthy: it seems to me it mostly makes fun of the subject and the people in it (“In bleak times, there is a boom in doom”—one step above a knock-knock joke) and doesn’t take a serious look at the issue. It neither explores the statistics nor the science behind the proposition and simply asserts the most noncontroversial possible angle of this story: some people are preparing for the worst. It says stuff like “such-and-such group” has experienced rapid growth, but never, you know, provides any statistics. So the central idea of the piece might be overblown for all we know. I mean, if the best you can do is to bring out the I’ve-bought-gold-and-guns-to-prepare-for-the-apocalypse guy, then, really, you need to reexamine your article: it’s probably the worst kind of trend piece. It takes a serious idea, trivializes it and then trivializes the execution of it. The worst part about this is that I’m actually interested in the issue and would like to know what the state of the peak oil theory is worldwide.

A note: posting will be light tomorrow—I’m taking the LSAT. Ugh.

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