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  1. Skyfall (2012)

    It was enjoyable. By and large I agree with Javier Bardem: "you live in a ruin, Mr Bond". It was a nice showcase of said ruins, physical and moral, the remnants of something once great, that collapsed because it gave evil a finger and evil ended up with the whole arm. A recent visit confirmed this feeling (they were very good at cleaning everything up in the movie, actually). I just miss Connery, no matter how bad the special effects of the time. Dr No was scarier. Bardem was smart, but not a match for No's meticulous psychosis. I now see what Dan R meant by the lack of sophistication of the character. "Moneypenny" seems to have been cast to meet PC requirements. She was terrible throughout.
  2. Skyfall (2012)

    Agents are supposed to look more like soldiers and less like diplomats. I cannot speak for MI6, but the members of the various French Service Action are recruited amongst paratroopers and marine commandos, not Cambridge graduates, because that is where you find people with the toughness to spend months behind enemy lines in occasionally harrowing conditions. I much prefer both Craig's Bond - a modern day SAS-turned-spook - and Sean Connery's - the absolute tough officer gentleman, perhaps similar to the legendary "Chesty" Puller who read 16 books on Korea between boarding his troop transport and arriving there - to Brosnan's new-rich wannabe "culture" (Brioni suits? really? Connery had the decency of a Row tailor as befits a British officer, and it costs the same), Moore's simply all-around ridiculous characters (a Bond in his 60s... yes, that's the spirit) and even Dalton's concerned policeman (although I did think his character was closer to a real life Bond, he did not have the daring playfulness of the original - this was just a standard action service officer). I've watched them all, from the gentle humour of the originals to the ridiculous antics of the Moore era, to the toothpaste ad era. I agree with Arnold - the more time passes, the more the content of the movie is removed to give the public what they "want" - movie fast food. Whenever there is a touch of content, as in Casino Royale (said touch deftly removed for Quantum of Solace, a 1.5 hour ad for Omega watches) they somehow manage to display uncomfortably awkward values for a character whose story is the very definition of "good vs evil" (down to the eponymous Doctor). Where Casino Royale was masterly was in its depiction of Bond's crafting his values (a theme followed by the gradual build up of the famous theme until it resplendishes in the glorious gunning down of Mr White). I have not watched Skyfall yet. Thank you for the advance warning.
  3. Economic Growth in China

    Re: outsourcing workers, it's a simple cost/profit equation (mostly on the cost side). It costs you less to build, costs you less to maintain, costs you less to match regulations, and costs you less to hire and train staff. However, it costs you more to retain staff and have them work productively, costs you more to ship stuff across the world, costs you more to sort out quality issues, and costs you more to get your factory confiscated, destroyed or closed down (this risk can be priced), funding funneled to the local Party member or other crook, managers imprisoned, or goods impounded for illogical reasons. For as long as the addition of these cost differentials favour making things out of the US, things will get made out of the US. As China gets more expensive, they'll go to South East Asia. As South East Asia gets more expensive, it will go to whichever African place is close to a sea route and safe. In every case a Democrat somewhere is going to complain about the loss of American jobs. These jobs aren't "American". It costs a certain amount to build something, and if your competitor is selling the same thing cheaper, you go out of business. This is, by the way, the same dilemma facing banks as the Feds moved into their markets. As Fannie Mae was taking over the mortgage market by lending way below cost, you had a choice between staying, and hoping for a bailout when it blew up, and closing shop, and hoping it would blow up soon so you could raise funds and restart. I suggest anybody interested in understanding the pressures undergone by management in those days read the RBS annual reports from 2004 to 2008 included.
  4. Economic Growth in China

    Are the Chinese responsible for 100% of the supply chain, no. Can Chinese firms manufacture excellent products, yes. Can Chinese firms take over most of the supply chain right up to design, and eventually, R&D investment, yes. Is China ever going to overtake the US in innovation? Clearly not. Most important innovation will continue to occur in countries where property rights are respected and with a history and network of supporting knowledge (stand on the shoulders of giants, et al.). The vast majority of patents are useless. But the story of China as the eternal source of cheap bad quality stuff, is similar to the 1970s story of Japan as the eternal source of cheap bad quality stuff. Those Honda bikes mentioned by Clayton Christensen in his various innovation books led to cars that completely destroyed the competition for decades (much as the Koreans are starting to do) in terms of value for money. Re: IP, it starts with copying. I am quite worried that Comac could copy a complete A319 with impunity. The saying in industry is don't build a factory in China unless you want a Chinese competitor to spring up within a month. Re: high quality, you'd be amazed what you can get in Shanghai. It's like everywhere - good companies, bad companies. People then fit anecdotes in the mental framework they feel most comfortable with. If China will fail, it will not be through the lack of skill or drive of its entrepreneurs but because of its political structure and classic high level of corruption and dysfunctional governance, coupled with a lack of clear property and individual rights.
  5. Economic Growth in China

    China is the biggest malinvestment case the modern world has seen, dwarfing Japan and even the US mortgage bubble. It follows a classical pattern of booming markets for a while giving the illusion of a "superior system" as FDI flows in, followed by an economic collapse as the FDI flows back out like a herd. It's tough to sum up why in a post. I would like to do it but have short time (the time for my washing machine to finish) and little inclination for oversimplifying a mix of good and bad. I found the following frameworks for thinking about China helpful: - http://www.bwater.co...hine-works.aspx - especially Why Countries Succeed and Fail Economically; - The Alchemy of Finance, by George Soros, showing a few concrete examples of what it is like to be at the heart of a few bubble cycles; - Why Nations Fail by Acemoglu/Robinson: so far the most successful attempt at linking with examples political and economic freedom, and economic success, and a favourite in the hedge fund world (amongst the better ones especially); - the famous Rogoff/Reinhart study "This Time is Different", worth buying as a book, which looks at 600 years of malinvestment cases (the style is still quite academic making this a hard read); - Clissold's "Mr China", showing juicy real life examples of attempting to operate as a foreign investor in China; - Lee Kuan Yew's "From third world to First", not directly related, but one of the best if not the best book written on taking a country from third to first world status in a single generation, with thoughts regarding neighbours and analysis of China's position; - "Red Capitalism" by Walter, exploring the way in which Chinese endeavours are financed, which is chilling for anybody versed in sovereign investing; - many of the books on Japan, such as Tett's excellent "Saving the Sun" (warning: heavy on financials; if you are not a fan, don't bother). Understanding why China is broken requires some economic knowledge and awareness; it's about understanding beyond the headlines grabbing "look at these dead activists" part and focusing on why bank deposits at 4.5% are a form of highway robbery, or why the Shanghai exchange has moved only a fraction of the real value of companies on it. From personal experience, I can confirm much of what is said in the above and have many juicy anecdotes which unfortunately cannot be retold here. Let's just say we prefer operating in Nigeria, and even Myanmar, than the PRC. Fraud is systematic, business partners actively want to harm you, and the local laws overwhelmingly favour the locals. Property rights, if you do not have a Chinese passport, are a temporary favour granted to you in exchange for you blowing more money locally. Touching on points made earlier: Untrue. Many Chinese companies are excellent at manufacturing - where is your iPhone made? It's a question of catching up with the status quo, and if you continue to be overinvested in and have cash to burn, taking over. We haven't seen this in China, much, yet, but companies like Foxconn in B2B show it's possible locally. Internationally, look at South Korea: Samsung and Hyundai both started off making terrible products, ate through the learning curve in an accelerated manner, and now compete globally with the market leaders. (there is however a world of difference between South Korea and China; South Korea, together with Singapore and Israel, is actually an exception to the usual pattern). If you want to short China, avoid exposure to Chinese things, instead, look for high correlated things like Korea or Australia. The price of Chinese things is manipulated locally, and even should you manage to make money on paper, you will not be allowed to collect it.
  6. That was my point - the greatest industrialists of today, with a few exceptions like John Allison and perhaps Ray Dalio (although he just took a bribe from Stamford government), are much closer to government than is comfortable. I loved Bill Gates pre-the lawsuit, though, and suspect his later behaviour is a form of self defense.
  7. It is a shame it is men like Siegel who are put forward as the ambassadors for capitalism. He didn't build wealth - he levered up and when the tide went out, was exposed swimming naked. This smells like trying to put a spin on an upcoming bankrupcy. Just my cynical former trader self speaking. We need Steve Jobs and Bill Gates writing these letters, not Siegels.
  8. Because in large scale conflicts, large hospitals filled to the brims were more expensive than leaving corpses in No Man's Land...
  9. "Bush reportedly rejected Israeli plea to raid Iran"

    A man with vast experience of warfare was General Marcel Bigeard, the most decorated French soldier and a veteran of three of the 20th century largest wars (WWII, where he led commandos behind enemy lines and captured several thousand Vlassov SS with 20 men; Indochina, where he made Dien Bien Phu last 3 months instead of 5 days, and where he hunted the Viet bare footed hundreds of km behind enemy lines with kill to killed ratios of over 200 to 1; and Algeria, where he pioneered the use of helicopters for troop transport, and reversed the course of the Algiers rebellion, captured hundreds of bombs, and one of the three key leaders of the Algerian resistance, Ben M'Hidi). He also has experience in government as he was named Secretary of Defence by French President Giscard d'Estaing. Bigeard has said in almost every single one of his numerous books on his experience on all battlefields that HUMINT is by far the best, and most crucial aspect of intelligence, especially against an enemy used to subversive warfare and terrorism (although he points out that back in the days, the Islamists didn't use suicide bombers; they are even more determined today). He believes that HUMINT will be the only way in which this war will be won and influenced Petraeus with whom he had discussions on Iraq strategy. By this he meant all kinds including clandestine operations. A good book about HUMINT in practice is Ewan Bergot's "Commandos de Choc en Algerie" (unfortunately not translated), tracing back the use of intelligence services by the French against the Islamists during the war, and especially their actions in supposedly neutral territories like Switzerland and Germany which were free running grounds for the Islamists and their former SS weapons dealers. The French would collect evidence and then destroy key targets, including a ship in Hamburg harbour (alas in Kindle format, I cannot just search for the name of the ship and it escapes me). Another amusing anecdote was one subordinate asking his chief why they expensed a mink coat in New York; he said they bought a vote in the UN with it, that one UN delegate now had a happier wife; the subordinate answers "why not a sports car then" to which his chief responds "could have had the Soviet codes in Tangiers with an Alfa Romeo, but I already had them via other sources". Several weapons shipments to Algeria were destroyed or otherwise impaired because a French agent was engaged to the daughter of the most important weapons dealer.
  10. 2012 Presidential Poll for October 2012

    From daily interactions with Dems and centrists, I don't see support for Obama wavering. Additionally, the numbers are on his side (cf Romney's 47%). There are simply too many people with too much to lose from a perceived more freedom oriented administration (although the President has precious little influence on the internal affairs of the USA, with the House and Senate, as well as the Federal civil servants, holding the power) for Obama not to win. Which is a shame, because Romney put up a very good fight so far (especially in the debate) and I like him a lot more now than 6 months ago. Voting for anybody NOT Romney at this point would be undesirable. The stakes are too high to "show the Republicans" with another 4% for a Libertarian, 4% less in the fight against the socialist candidate.
  11. The non-use of hollow point ammo in warfare comes from the Hague convention: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hollow-point_bullet#Legality What the article does not mention is that the ammunition was used in warfare to overload the capacity of hospitals and corpsmen on the field, by creating large number of wounds which took much longer to fix (due to the fragmentation of the bullet upon entrance in the body and the shape of the wound). This was the reason for their use prior to the ban.
  12. View of Galt's Gulch?

    If you are ever in Sydney, take the Manly-Circular Quay ferry at sunset and watch the sun going down between glass towers unaffected by post modernist "humour". The valley in which Zurich airport is placed is another good one.
  13. Going Galt

    That was my experience going around the world. Everywhere, including in the US, there are passive people who just "wait for death". But in the US much more so than in any other place in the world, people are driven, to quote Thatcher in the movie that came out recently, "to just "do" something". I love hiring US citizens because they invariably work much harder and smarter, and tend to have higher standards. It's a compound interest thing, every generation, the gap digs itself further. The brain drain continues unabated despite the best efforts of the media to portray discouraged Indian and Chinese students returning home to build their futures. I am myself waiting for the right moment and opportunity.
  14. Going Galt

    It is a shame (but also a testimony to Miss Rand as a writer) that every individual (myself included) who reads Atlas Shrugged immediately feels the need to go on strike against "those damn looters" and "let it all collapse". The fight between looters and capitalists has been going on since the dawn of humanity. There was probably a guy in the caves who justified not going hunting but eating mammoth anyway to be "fair". She made a great point in her book, and it was a wonderful explanation of brain drain as occurred in her native Soviet Union (herself being the first example) and in my native France, where anybody topping a class in a somewhat scientific subject will probably be living in London, Switzerland or the US within a year of graduation. But the US IS Galt's Gulch. It remains the only country in the world - and I say this having visited, worked in or at least lived in over 40 countries spanning 4 continents from the lowest to the highest GDP per capita on the planet - that respects individual rights from an idealistic standpoint, and where the creation of wealth is quite literally the highest value one can obtain. If you are indeed an exceptional entrepreneur or engineer, you should not "go on strike" but innovate ahead of the pack of rabid dogs so fast that they do not have time to impede you. Two examples are the internet, which is now so widespread that the most recent attempt to gain jurisdiction on it failed, and generally electronics, whose lack of regulation means Moore's law continues to show us how it's done. There were more media people present than protesters (of which there were 10) at the Apple protest in New York yesterday. No politician in his right mind will attack such a company. Innovate, build, think, play the game and win. You are smarter than them. And honestly, the trend has been in the right direction. Pre-Reagan/Thatcher, income tax rates in the civilised world were in the high 80s. Now they are 25% in the US to maybe 45% in Australia or 50% in Britain. And no serious politician is advocating communism anymore. Have hope already. Look at Clint Eastwood - ignoring the Chrysler part of the now famous ad - he is in his late 80s, he is on the door of death, he has had an amazingly productive life which spanned some of the most troublesome times of civilisation, and here he is showing us his great optimism and hope for the future, and pointing out that it is up to us to get it done. Sorry for lack of posts recently - been applying my own advice.
  15. Embassies

    I agree, although it would not be the military but the country's political balance which would be affected. Kill a few students and they go from hairy vandals to martyrs justifying strigent measures and further apologizing and unjustified rewards from Western governments. I shudder to think what would have happened should the British shoot Iranian invaders, even if it was in their right to do so. Look at how the shooting of a few Pakistani soldiers in a war zone has lit a US foreign policy fire. Remember how Kaddafi organised for Lockerbie in retaliation for Western action. The Iranians have proven they are willing to act anywhere in the world - they even blew up Jewish Argentinians in Buenos Aires with impunity! I strongly suspect the students were if not manipulated, at least encouraged by the Iranian authorities. I think Iran is playing the same game Hitler was with Chamberlain. There's no real solution, other than not to have embassies in places which are quite clearly unsuitable for any kind of political relations. We seem, however, to be better politicians nowadays. Previous displays of strength served merely as excuses to turn allies against us (see e.g. how Turkey has used the flotilla as an excuse to sever relationships with Israel). This time, "someone" appears to be waging a covert war against Iran using their methods: IT piracy (a worm incapacitating their nuclear production facilities), assassination of key scientists (either outright, or through manipulation of the Iranian secret police into doing it themselves), and now large explosions in key places. This is encouraging and I hope this effort succeeds without widespread nuclear warfare, which would invariably have negative side effects both direct (radiation clouds, etc.) and indirect (the Straight of Hormuz, if closed/damaged, will drive oil to 200+).