The World & Beyond

The writings of a global transient.

Author: Gordon Haave (page 3 of 3)

Public Transportation in The Caribbean

I love to travel, but like everything else it has its ups and downs. One of the things that causes me the greatest anxiety is using taxis in new places. Frankly, I dont like getting ripped off.

Dont get me wrong: I understand that in Panama there is going to be a gringo premium. I dont really mind paying 3 dollars for a ride that would have cost a local 2 dollars. Similarly in Kenya I didnt not mind paying 300 shillings for a ride that would have cost a local 200 shillings.

When I was in Kenya almost every night I used to walk from the apartment to the same group of cab drivers about 50 yards down the road to take a mile or so ride to a street corner that had my favorite restaurant in Nairobi on it (Cedars). On the rare occasion I was bored with Cedars I could go nearby to Osteria. Also on that corner was the night club Casablanca.

I had made this trip (and then back) at least 50 or 60 times with the same cab drivers. Yet every time I got it and said Cedars they would say 400 shillings. I would then have to say no, 200 shillings and then we would settle on 300 shillings. On the way back it was the same thing only I didnt have to tell them where I was going because they knew.

In my last week in Nairobi I went through this same routine. It was a little bit late when I was coming back and I didnt feel like arguing with the guy. He said 400 shillings. I said ok.

With that, the new price had been set. I could not argue at all with any of them anymore. They knew I had paid 400 shillings for that ride once, and they were going to make sure that was what I paid from now on.

Fortunately I only had to deal with that 3 times or so as it was my last week.

Which brings me to tst lucia bushe Caribbean. Taxis in the Caribbean are expensive and it is a constant hassle to deal with them. I went to St. Lucia last month and decided I would learn the bus system. Check out the picture to the side. Every one of those minivans with a green license plate is a public bus they are everywhere. They seem to have some pre-arranged stops but also you can just flag the down wherever you want and ask the to let you out wherever. I cant quite figure out precisely how the pricing works, but every 5 miles or so costs you a 1.50. I had no problems.

On my recent trip to Anguilla I got done with work a day early and so decided to spend the night in St. Martin which I had not done before. Looking around on the internet it looked like it would be 25-30 dollars to take a taxi from the airport to Philipsburg, and that I would have to haggle with the cab driver. Unwilling to do that I decided to try taking the bus. Im glad I did. It was an adventure and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

It turns out taking the bus was easy, and it only cost me 2 dollars for the 30 minute ride to Philipsburg.

Below is the view from the minivan.

IMG_5579

And yes, did manage to hang out at the end of the runway in St. Martin. I did not get to see a 747, but I shot this video that is pretty cool:

How the Fed Got Us to Accept Inflation

Paul Krugman and the Austrians go at it over inflation. He scores a run but loses the game.

 

Published on 21/7/14 Paul Krugman takes on the Austrians over inflation

 

Let’s look at the underlying issue. Mainstream economists define inflation as something along the lines of “a general increase in prices and fall in the purchasing power of money”. There are many different ways to measure this, but for our purposes we will stick to the most common measurement, the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

 

The consumer price index measures changes in the price of a market basket of consumer goods and services purchased by households.

 

Actually measuring the CPI is quite difficult. It sounds simple to take a market basket of goods in one year and then measure the price of those same goods the next year, but that does not really represent the true experiences that consumers felt during the course of the year. For example, consumer preferences change during the course of the year. At the end of the first year consumers might be purchasing a different basked of goods merely because there preferences have changed. Or, beef prices might have gone up during the year by 20%, but consumers might not have experienced such a hit because they switched to an alternative instead. Additionally, products get better over time. TV prices might have gone done 10% during the course of the year, but at the same time it’s not the same TV being purchase. This one is even better than the common model made the year before.

 

Of course the government attempts to deal with this, but the overarching point is that CPI is a difficult number to calculate and then to interpret what it really means to the average household.

 

On top of that, there are many who allege that the government fudges the numbers and that inflation is running far higher than the official government statistics. The publisher of www.shadowstats.com takes such a view and offers his alternative data as a subscription service.

 

The Austrian School of Economics sees things differently. The Austrian School of Economics defines inflation simply as an increase in the money supply. The logic behind this is simple: If you have X number of dollars chasing Y number of goods, then by definition if you increase X while keeping Y stable, each unit of X has less purchasing power.

 

This actually coincides nicely with the second part of the mainstream definition above: “.. fall in the purchasing power of money”. That an increase in the money supply leads to a fall in the purchasing power of money is simply a mathematical certainty.

 

So where exactly is the discrepancy between mainstream economists and Austrians? The discrepancy lies in what is being measured. Mainstream economists are simply measuring a basket of household goods. Austrians are measuring the overall purchasing power of the dollar in the economy. Why is there a difference? Because the nature of inflation has changed since the world has gone completely to fiat currencies.

 

Inflation has a long history. Since man first minted coin, those who control those coins have sought to de-value them in order to capture wealth for themselves.

 

The Roman Emperors routinely devalued the currency. In one famous incident the emperor devalued the Denari from 84 Denari per pound of silver to 96 Denari per pound of silver. The result of course was that the Emperor was able to simply spend more money at the expense of everyone else in Rome. (in other words, there was an increase in X despite Y staying the same). As a result there was a general price inflation.

 

It’s important to ask however how this extra money entered the system. It entered through purchases by the emperor of goods and services. In that manner the price of goods and services increased.

 

Had there been mainstream and Austrian economists observing at the time, there would have been little divergence between the increase in the money supply and the increase in general prices.

 

This relationship would stay true for close to 2,000 years. It all changed however in the 1980’s.

 

The 1970’s saw a general price inflation as the Nixon administration printed money in order to fund excessive government spending (Yes, I know that the government doesn’t technically print the money, but for purposes of this analysis it is the same thing). Money was created and it was channeled into goods and services. General prices rose. The people were angry. Part of the problem was also the idiotic belief by mainstream economists that inflation was good for employment (due to their belief in the misguided Phillips Curve). The print and spend polices continued into the Carter era and helped contribute to his defeat.

 

There was to be no more inflation after that. The people wouldn’t stand for it, and if the people won’t stand for it then the government won’t stand for it either less the next election turn out poorly.

 

Enter the Fed and Wall Street. The Greenspan discovered (whether accidentally or on purpose) that by making the rate at which banks accessed money artificially low, the banks would ultimately channel those dollars into asset purchases, and lending to people who purchased such assets. Furthermore, it was made clear that if those assets declined in value that the banks in general (if not a few specific ones) would be bailed out. This was the beginning of the boom and bust asset cycle that we still see today.

 

As the printing press was turned on in the 1980’s Austrians bemoaned loudly that inflation or even hyperinflation was coming. However looking at CPI it never really came (or at least not at the dire levels predicted). What happened instead was the asset bubbles which is turns out the people don’t have such a problem with as long as they participate in some manner.

 

So back to Krugman: Krugman correctly understands that there is simply a difference in the definition of inflation between mainstream and Austrian economists. He does however raise a good point saying “So when Austrians were predicting runaway inflation, they didn’t actually mean consumer prices”?

 

He has a good point. Many if not most Austrians failed to predict the way that the newly printed would be channeled into narrow asset classes. While Austrian economists understand this today, many casual followers still do not.

 

All the being said though, the Austrians are still correct in their measure of inflation. Each dollar today has seen a dramatic “fall in purchasing power”. Even if the fall and purchasing power for groceries is not that great, it certainly is for most assets, particularly financial assets which are not properly covered by the CPI

LC=BP

Im generally not a fan of motivational speakers, but Tony Robbins has some good stuff.  Depression is something that almost everyone deals with sometime in their life.  For some it is transitory, for others is is a crippling life long disease.

What is depression?  I dont know where I heard the following; it is probably someone famous and I am blanking on the name; but depression was once explained to me in the following manner:  Imagine you have been attacked by a wild animal.  You have been gutted and will die over the next ten minutes.  As you lay there dying you think about various regrets.  Specifically, things that you wish you had done in your life, things that you did do but didnt because they harmed your career, time you wish you had spent with you children but didnt.

A depressed person feels this way ALL THE TIME.

When this was told to me I was not depressed.  I have not been for many years, but when this was told to me it sure hit home because it certainly describes how I felt the times that I have been depressed.

Ive done some more studying on the subject and I basically agree with Tony Robbins formula.  We are unhappy when our Life Conditions (LC) Fall short of our Blueprint (BP).

That is, we have mapped out in our heads a Blueprint for our lives and when we fall behind that we get depressed.  This explains the stark unhappiness of many of my peers that I grew up with in Greenwich.  For most of them their parents were so successful that there was almost no chance of their life conditions meeting their blueprint (which was merely being the same as their parents).  Of course, not all of those I went to school with are depressed.  Those who are happy are the few that met their Blueprint and are very successful, but most of my old friends who are happy are  the people who changed their blueprint.  They are people who realized that happiness is a choice and that it does not come from material possessions, club memberships and the like.

When our life conditions do not meet our blueprint we essentially have 3 options:  Change our life conditions, change our blueprint, our blame ourselves and get depressed.

My belief is to go for the first two at the same time.  You can change your life conditions and change your blueprint at the same time.  Changing your life conditions is hard work, but everyone can do it.  At the same time, changing your blueprints is easy on the surface:  just lower your needs.  However, it requires years of de-programming.

I was fortunate to be introduced to a form of shock therapy when it came to my blueprint.  Having grown up with every possible advantage I still was not generally a very happy person.  Travel, however, changed everything.  Witnessing extreme poverty in Kenya and especially Sout Sudan had a great impact on me.   I also witnessed it all while living with only my laptop, kindle, and a suitcase full of clothes.

That is when it impacted me that everything I previously felt was important was in fact immaterial to my own well-being and happiness.

Changing your Life Conditions is also positively impacted by travel.  Most Americans are horribly entitled when it comes to work and effort.  Although I had a successful career, I thought it was actually difficult until I started traveling.  In Kenya, for example, I used to walk through Uhuru Park every day.  While walking through I would see scores of people in their best suit sleeping on the grass.  These were people who saved up enough money to take the bus into the city because they had a potential job interview or two.  They couldnt even afford to sit in a coffee shop to kill time in-between interviews.

In Albania, which is not much more developed than Kenya, on every street corner is a kid with a hose looking to wash your car, or a woman with cherries she picked herself that she is trying to sell, or if you are near a lake someone who caught some fish who is trying to sell them just to feed his family for the night.

Its a very humbling experience and has allowed me to work through situations where when I was younger I might have otherwise felt sorry for myself.  Whenever I feel tempted to complain to myself about a task I dont really want to do, I remember the people I have seen who will do anything for a days wage.  (The downside of this of course is whenever an unemployed friend in the US complains that there are no jobs I want to kick him/her in the ass.  There are jobs, you just dont want to do them).

Remember, happiness is a choice.  If you dont understand why you are unhappy it is because your Life Conditions are not meeting your Blue Print.  Work to change both.  Life is too short to spend it depressed.

Who is a Terrorist? An Objective Look.

Words mean things, or at least they should.  One of the most overused words these days is terrorist.  Originally it had what I might consider to be a traditional meaning like this one from dictionary.com:

a person, usually a member of a group, who uses or advocates terrorism.

Which then requires us to look at their definition of terrorism:

the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes. 

This is, or was, a seemingly useful definition.  At my age of course I recall the hijacking of various airlines or the bombing of Pan Am 103 of Lockerbie when I was a kid.  Those would seem to fit the bill for a definition of terrorism.lockerbie


However if we think about it a little bit more then that definition does not quite work.  After all, governments engage in the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purpose all the time.  In fact, the primary job of US Secretaries  of state seems to be the use of violence and threats to intimidate.  Which brings us back the original definition of terrorism:  a person, usually a member of a group. .  Aha, so when a government threatens another government that is not considered terrorism.

However, the general consensus in the world I would think is that Iran has certainly engaged in terrorism by funding various groups that have engaged in the bombing and kidnapping of civilians.   However, the US and recently Israel are often engaged in the bombing of civilians.  The difference (by general consensus) seems to be that the US and Israel do not intentionally target civilians.  Rather the civilians are collateral damage to legitimate military targets.  Whats more, it is often said (particularly in the Israeli/Palestinian issue) that many of these casualties are the result of terrorists purposefully hiding amongst civilians in order to increase civilian casualties so that they can be used for propaganda purposes.hamburg-bombing

So far we have a working definition of terrorist as:

a person, group, or occasionally a government that intentionally targets civilians in order to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.

Who exactly does that leave as terrorists today?  Terrorism has become somewhat of a cavalier word, being thrown around by anyone and everyone.  For example, Ukraine continually references pro-Russian separatists as terrorists.  Assuming for a second that MH17 was not intentional, then that definition would seem not to apply.   On the other hand, nobody seems to be calling the government of Ukraine terrorists despite some actions that would appear to be directly targeting civilians (Ukraines Fiery Inferno).


Of course Israel labels Hamas as terrorists, even those Hamas men who appear on the field of battle with rifle in hand.  At the same time, none of Israels actions such as ordering the evacuation of entire city blocks and then demolishing them are considered terrorism.

So our working definition of terrorism seems a bit off.

Furthermore, over time various countries countries that today point their finger at terrorists have engaged in behavior that would seem to fit the definition of terrorism.  For example, while the 8th Air Force originally attempted precision bombing in Germany, it was quickly realized that precision bombing just wasnt going to work and that mass attacks on civilians were the way to go.  Israelis of course also resorted to terrorism when it was convenient (King David Hotel Bombing).

So what then is a useful, working definition of terrorism?  I submit it is the following:

When the weaker of two parties in an engagement does not fight by the rules set down by the stronger of two parties.

Why is the definition important?  Clausewitz said War is Politics by Other Means.  Given our working definition of terrorism, perhaps we should add the Haave Corollary Terrorism is War By Other Means.

This perhaps leads us to the ghastly conclusions that perhaps terrorists dont hate us for our freedoms but perhaps are at war with us and simply are fighting with the only tools at their disposal.  Perhaps its time to consider why exactly they are at war with us.

The Myth Of The Great War Book Review

I recently finished the book The Myth of the Great War by John Mosier.

This is a revisionist book by a revisionist historian. While there are certainly some issues with the book there are also some broad themes that I agree with. It reads well, although would be better with maps.

The basic message of the book is as follows:

Everything you think you know about WW1 is wrong.

There was no Schlieffen plan. Schliffen knew he didnt have enough troops or rail for it and it was forgotten.

Moltke looked at it and knew there were not enough troops for it.

One step however for the Schlieffen plan would have been the reduction of the Belgian forts. So, Germany had been developing new artillery pieces as had Austria.

The Germany artillery was vastly superior to the allied artillery at the start of the war.

The idea that Germany tried to knock out France and then Russia was not true. Not only did Germany know they could not pull of a Schlieffen plan, they actually anticipated not 2 but 3 fronts (the Balkans).

Its also not true that Germany expected the Russians to take 90 days to mobilize. Germany expected two weeks.

Germany had less armed men than France at the start, but more manpower to draw on.

Most of Frances Industry was in the North, particularly since its major trading partner was Belgium.

So, plan was to occupy northern France and Belgium to put France at a disadvantage in a long war.

The allies suffered by deluding/lying to their government and themselves about the state of affairs.

The German attack on Belgium was stunningly successful yet allies thought Germans were held up and being massacred so did not react quickly.

After fall of Belgium there was maneuver warfare that Germany dominated in. Casualties were 3-1 in Germanys favor.

THERE WAS NO BATTLE OF THE MARNE. It didnt exist. Its a complete fiction. Its a marketing ploy by the Allies. The Germans never moved on Paris and never had orders to. They were trying to outmaneuver the French Army in field as they had done in 1870.

As soon as this failed they settled into strong defensive positions.

The notion of WW1 as masses of troops charging machine guns is only partly true. It is true of the first few months of the war, but that after the winter of 1914-1915 it was true primarily just of the English and French.

When formations met up the Germans went to ground immediately and massacred British and French formations with artillery.

Throughout 1915 the Germans mastered new combined arms techniques in the Argonne and exported this new knowledge throughout the Army.
Because the Argonne was forest their Artillery firepower was weakened so they developed grenades, mortars, and the tactics to use them.

At this point German infantry units at the lowest level have massive amounts of firepower available to them, whereas to the extent British and French troops had firepower it was in separate commands and hard to coordinate.

Casualties continue to be insane on the allies side. the French throw wave after wave of men into pointless battles.

When the French attacks are really strong, the local German commanders are allowed to retreat.

A typical battle is as follows: The French get slaughtered taking a position the Germans retreat from.
The French put out a press release of the great victory. German counterattack take back the position the next morning.

At this point the German infantry hardly fights with rifles at all.
They fight with satchels of explosives, shovels, grenades, and flamflowers backed by massive artillery power.

GermansVerdunNote the lack of rifles in this picture of Germans attacking at Verdun

This new massive amount and use of firepower allows the Germans to cut the amount of infantry men in divisions and send them east. The British and the French, seeing the decline in manpower in the Divisions interpret it as a reinforcement of the belief that they are winning when by any standard they are losing.

They are convinced that German casualties are twice allied casualties when in reality they are half. They see the troop transports to the east as proof that the Germans are weakening in the west when in reality they are stronger than ever.

If the Germans are so weak the Entente powers wonder why their attacks against Germany have been so unsuccessful. They decide that it must be because the Germans are more efficient at shuttling troops around (the Germans carefully took positions with good lateral rail tracks).

The solution then, must be one massive attack across the whole front.
The French dont have the manpower for it so they have to wait for the British to have 1 million + men ready.

So thus the battle of the Somme which did double duty as a means to take pressure of the French at Verdun where conventional wisdom is also wrong. Contrary to conventional wisdom at Verdun,while a bloodbath, the Germans seized a lot of ground that was important for their defenses.

At the Somme, the British and French attacked a strategically useless piece of land. The British were utterly slaughtered. The French performed better because they had started changing their tactics and also their artillery was starting to catch up with the Germans. the employment of tanks was a disaster. However it did cause the Germans to stop operations in Verdun.

1917 is a total disaster for the allies as Romanias quick entry into the war ceases. Italy is smashed, and Russia comes to terms with the Germans. In some places the French do better as they are using better tactics.

However the Americans are on the way. The Germans have to knock out the Allies before America is ready which they think is summer 1918 at the earliest.

They launch the big March 1918 offensive with the goal of smashing the english and then the french.

Its totally successful. They smash the british and whole battalions melt away and then turn and do the same on the French. Casualties are worse than 1914.

The war is won.

However Pershing already has 500,000 men in France. Pershing was smart and astute although a pain in the ass, but his commanders under him were good. The French and British hated him and feared he would steal the glory. They wanted Americans to be cannon fodder in their divisions but Pershing said no way and insisted that they be employed as an American Army.

As the Germans were smashing the British, and then the French, The americans attack at Belleau Wood. Casualties were huge, but the Americans force the Germans out.

This was profoundly disturbing to the Germans. They basically realized that with 2 million Americans on the way they can no longer win the war. Unwilling to sacrifice their men like the allies did, they decide to retreat to their 1917 start line where they have strong defensive positions The Germans have room to retreat all the while inflicting casualties on attackers.

Contrary to popular myth the Americans were well trained. Most were trained by the shattered French Alpine troops who had learned the lessons. Some though were trained by the British in the old way. As a result American casualties were more like the German than the allied.

As the Germans retreat, myth has it that the British made a decisive advance that broke the German front. Nothing is further than the truth. In the last 5 months of the war the British had three times as many killed as it the Somme.

The one and only difference was the highly successful American Army.

As the Germans retreat, the British want to attack through Belgium which is a bad idea because as they retreat the German line would shrink there, meaning that for each km of advance the Germans line becomes shorter and shorter and the Entente longer and longer.
Pershing and Petain together realize the only way is to smash the center with the Americans leading as they have the only fresh troops.

Foch is horrified at the plan because it is clear the Americans will win the war basically on their own. So he goes to Pershing and suggests that the American units be split up and dispersed among the French.

Pershing tells him no way again.

So the Americans attach at St. Michel and gain a decisive victory.
The Americans then attack and the Argonne where the casualties are heavy but progress is made. However the Germans are defending with everything they have. The English and French make progress elsewhere as the Germans retreat in those sectors.

As the Americans advance the Germans panic, and Germany decides to get out of the war. Wilson has offered the 14 points. Germany contacts Wilson to surrender. The French and British are horrified. They have no intention of letting people in occupied countries have a say in their own form of government.

But Wilson says Hey the Germans agree with the points, if you dont, we will stop fighting so the British and French have no choice.

An armistice is reached. The defeated French and British wind up imposing ridiculous terms.

Then the book ends:

Personal comment: If all of this is really true, its impossible NOT to see how Germany would have been itching to re-start the war at a later date. That being said, I have differing views over some of Mosiers assertions. My biggest concern is his portrayal of Verdun as some sort of success for the Germans. Yes they gained some land, and yes they inflicted massive casualties on the French, but it was still not productive. Those troops could have been used productively in the east. The most controversial of his assertions are that there was no Schlieffen Plan and no Battle of the Marne. There is plenty of records of German Officers themselves blaming Moltke for the failure of the Schlieffen Plan, so they at least thought it was in effect. I do agree though that there is nothing really that can be described as a Battle of the Marne and that the German Offensive simply petered out and the Germans withdrew to commanding defensive positions.

All in all its a very readable book and I recommend it highly.

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