Counting Cats in Zanzibar Rotating Header Image

Uncategorized

The Book of Sidney.

The Gospel According to

Sidney

Recent excavations in the Holy Land have brought to human cognizance this fragment, the only page extant of the Book of Sidney

[FRAGMENT BEGINS]

spoke unto him out of the window in a voice of thunder saying, Begone 8 Ace who is begat of 32 Eiger.
34 And he took up his tins and dwelt in his shed.

CHAPTER 14.

And it came to pass that on the seventh day there came from the North East Sidney, who was begat of his mam who dwelt in the land of Byker.
2 And he came down unto the town of New Castle to go to the pub to seek his friends.
3 And he came upon Joe who is begat of Big Joe and Bob and Barry, who is called Baz. And they looked upon their glasses and saw that they were barren. And Sidney was cast forth unto the bar that they be replenished even unto the fourth pint. For it was written that it was His shout.
4 And Sidney did buy the round and some crisps of salt and vinegar and cheeses and onions and the scratchings of the swine of the fields, even unto two bags. And the others who were gathered looked upon the round and they saw that it was good.
5 So they sat back and did drink deeply of the lagers and were becalmed. And they began to cast their lecherous eyes upon the women of the pub and they were tempted for they had fashioned their garments one cubit above the knee and did leave little to the imagination, I can tell you.
6 And their heads were full of unclean thoughts. And Sidney beheld a woman’s jugs and did covet them for they were indeed smashing. And he nudged Barry who is called Baz and passed adulterous comment and blasphemed saying he wouldn’t mind a faceful of them.
7 But Baz did mock him, saying that he was virgin and chaste and celibate, and that he hath known not a woman though he be one score and eight.
8 Yet did Sidney answer and spake unto those who sat with him, saying these words were untrue, and that the women he hath known were multitude and numbered more than the lilies of the field or the birds of the air.
9 But his friends laughed and reproached him saying, cease with these falsehoods, Sidney, for we are wise to your ways. And they accused him saying that he did take up the Freeman’s catalogue and seek the bra pages and spill his seed upon the ground. And they pointed at him and sang cherry boy, cherry boy.
10 And Sidney rose up and great was his anger.
11 And he rebuked them in a terrible voice, saying that they were all a bunch of cunts. But yet did they mock him and great was his woe for he knew in his heart that it was true.
12 And in his wrath he did spill the pint of Dave, who is called Mental who sat at the table on his right hand and his pint was cast upon the sticky carpet. And Mental who had a head of skin looked upon it and great was his displeasure. And Sidney spake to him a parable; Behold, for I want not any trouble. But Mental had got the mist, and lo, the mist was red. And he smiled not upon Sidney, but smote him an mighty blow in the teeth.
13 And again.
14 And thrice did he lamp Sidney whose fall was as that of a sack of spuds and great was his suffering.
15 And they heard the voice of the LANDLORD standing behind the bar. And he was sore vexed and spake unto them in a loud voice saying, Yeez lot, oot.
16 And Sidney and Joe who is begat of Big Joe and Bob and Barry who is called Baz were cast out into the car park. And there was much cursing of the name of Sidney and much gnashing of teeth and they wished pestilence upon his head.

CHAPTER 15.

And it came to pass that after holding counsel they did reach a covenant that they maketh their passage to the house of Ke-Bab, by the bus station. And so they did.
2 And they entered the house. And they looked upon the kebab revolving on the altar and did ask of themselves what was in it.
3 And Baz spoke saying that it was made of the nads and the lips and eyelids of the goat and the cow and the sheep and the cat and all the unclean parts thereof, even unto the chopper and ringpiece.
4 And great was the plague of flies upon the kebab. And the price of the kebabs was one pound and nine and ninety.
5 And Sidney and Joe who is begat of Big Joe and Bob and Barry who is called Baz spoke saying, Four kebabs pal. And the shopkeeper was called Stavros.
6 And Stavros said, Seven pound and six and ninety, matey peeps. And he began preparations for their feast and he did scratch his nuts and take the unleavened bread.
7 And Sidney spoke another parable unto his three disciples; Verily I say unto you, That Dave who is called Mental was geet lucky, for had the LANDLORD not stepped in, yea would I surely have slain the baldy fucker.
8 And they heard a voice and the voice said, Oh yeah? And they turned about them and beheld Dave who is called Mental, for he had likewise journeyed to the house of Ke-Bab.
9 And Sidney’s raiments of Levi became besoiled.
10 And he spoke another parable saying; Hello Dave who is called Mental. I was just talking about another Dave who is called Mental.
11 But Dave who is called Mental believed not Sidney’s falsehood and great was his wrath.
12 And mighty was the smoting that Sidney took up the bracket and elsewise. And Joe who is begat of Big Joe and Bob and Barry who is called Baz stepped not in for Sidney, but did look upon their footwear. They denied Sidney and He was forsaken.

CHAPTER 16.

And it came to pass that Sidney was put upon a litter. And Joe who is begat of Big Joe and Bob and Barry who is called Baz did journey with him to the land of the Royal General Infirmary, whereupon…

[END OF FRAGMENT]

Basically that is Viz and that is what made me. And if I’m a sweary Geordie then that is what I am. I hope I am funny. I really hope so because I have fuck all else to bring to the party. “Ace” by the way is lager that is pure piss made by the Federation “brewery” in Gateshead. It is a step below Carling. It is Rankensteinwasser. I’m not sure they make it anymore so thank fuck for small mercies if that is true.

Via heretical.com

Libertarianism and Conservativism – foes or friends?

F.A. Hayek at the end of his “Constitution of Liberty” (1960) wrote “Why I am not a Conservative” – which is odd as Hayek had (perhaps without knowing it) a good grasp of what actually is a positive conception of conservatism, and a poor grasp of libertarianism.

Hayek rejected the word “libertarian” as “artificial” which is just as well as he was not a libertarian – philosophically or politically.

Philosophically Hayek was a determinist (like so many 19th century and early 20th century thinkers, he assumed that “science” mandated determinism). Hayek took David Hume literally (whether Hume should really be taken literally is a hotly contested issue), the “I” (the human person) is an illusion, as is human choice – a thought does NOT mean a thinker (a reasoning “I”) and as there is no agent (no human being – no reasoning “I”) there is no agency (no free will), actions are predetermined by a series of causes and effects that go back to the start of the universe – and humans (who are not beings) can do no other than we do (we could not have done otherwise – as choice is an illusion).

Politically Hayek claimed to an “Old Whig”, but is hard to see how his philosophical views are compatible with the Whig point of view – which was based on the MORAL value of human free will (it is not an accident that David Hume was not a Whig) . The determinist (such as the Thomas Hobbes) holds that “freedom” is just an absence of external restraint – for example when a dam fails the water is “free” to rush out and destroy towns and so on. “Freedom” (in the determinist view) is not a matter of moral choice (remember choice is an “illusion”) so “freedom” is like taking one’s hand off a clockwork mouse and letting this clockwork mouse go around on the floor. It is hard to see how this “freedom” can be of any moral importance at all – if any view of politics can be based upon it would be a politics of tyranny (exactly the politics that Hobbes did base upon it), after all walls of water from broken dams (and so on) does not sound very nice.

Still does Hayek say anything else about his politics? Yes he does – again in the “Constitution of Liberty” we are told that he supports the “limited state” not the “minimal state”, because (according to Hayek) the minimal state can not be defined and the limited state can be defined.

Hayek is just wrong – the minimal state is easy to define (although very hard to achieve or maintain – an anarchist would argue impossible to maintain or achieve). The definition of a minimal state is one that just uses force only against the violation of the non aggression principle (attacks on the bodies or goods of people or groups of people). It is actually the “limited state” that is hard to define. Limited to what?

Hayek does make some vague efforts to define the “limited state” – for example he says that such a state applies “general rules” that apply to everyone.

O.K. then – everyone is to have their head cut off. Is that a good example of a “limited state”?

Hayek also says that a limited state does not seek to have a monopoly of any service.

O.K. then – everyone but the children of Mr Smith of 25 Silver Street to go to a state school?

Unfair example? O.K. – how about the state hands education and healthcare “free” (at the expense of the taxpayers), but you are free to pay twice (i.e. pay again on top of taxation) to go private? Is this the limited state?

How about you can go to any doctor you like and send your children to any school you like, but the state pays the bill (no matter how big it is), is that the limited state?

Such a state (one that seeks to provide or pay for education, healthcare, old age provision and on and on) will end up spending half the entire economy (and still fail). That does not sound very limited or sustainable – and Hayek (in his attack on the Welfare State) shows he understands this. However, his “limited state” is not defined in a way that prevents it.

Oh dear this post seems to have turned into “why Hayek is crap” which is unfair as anyone (even the best of us) looks terrible if one just concentrates on errors and weaknesses. I will leave the above out if I ever give a talk on this subject (because it sounds terribly negative) – but it needed to be put on record.

So why is Hayek (perhaps without knowing it) insightful about Conservatism?

Hayek’s own definition of Conservatism (given in “Why I am Not a Conservative”) is not good. He just defines it as being opposed to change – so (for example) a North Korean conservative now would be a socialist (or that is the system they have) and a British conservative I (say) 1870 would be a free market person – as this was the system of the time.

Whatever Hayek may have believed that is not a serious definition of Conservatism. But Hayek (again perhaps without knowing it) does give a description of Conservatism – in “Constitution of Liberty”, “Law. Legislation and Liberty” (and other works).

Cosmos not Taxis – spontaneous order (evolved over time) not top down planning. What Hayek called the results of “human action not human design” (it would be have been better to say the results of voluntary action not forced action – but Hayek had philosophical problems with even voluntary design).

Or (in the language of the conservative writer M.J. Oakeshott) a Civil Association not Enterprise Association, a Societas not a Universitas.

Institutions and customs that evolve over time often without people knowing the reasons they are useful – till they are broken.

As Tolkien’s (Tolkien being a Catholic Conservative) character “Gandalf” puts it in the “Lord of the Rings” – “he who breaks a thing to find out what it is, has left the path of wisdom”.

This is what Conservatism is about – a preference for evolved custom and ways of doing things (ways of living) over imposed “rational” planning by the state.

The state (in the Conservative view) is like the Thrain of the Shire (Tolkien’s) and the Mayor.

The Thrain does nothing in peacetime (in war it is different) – he just farms his estate. And the Mayor is the leading figure at formal dinners (like those of the old Closed Corporations that were the only “urban local government” before the Act of 1835 in England and Wales), he does not order folk about. Families govern their own affairs and do not attack each other (police forces were not compulsory on the counties of England and Wales till 1856). There is plenty of (moral – traditional) authority, but little naked “power”.

I think it is obvious show this view of Conservatism is close to libertarianism (hence “Tory Anarchist”) – a friend not a foe. But is it tied to Hayek and his philosophical opinions?

No it is not – which is why I mentioned Oakeshott and Tolkien (two Conservatives with very different philosophical opinions to Hayek). Both Oakeshott and Tolkien believed in free will (agency – moral responsibility, the ability to choose to do otherwise).

Even in the 18th century Conservatives did not follow the philosophical opinions of David Hume (again IF they were his opinions – I repeat this is hotly contested). Neither the Tory Conservative Dr Johnson or the Old Whig Conservative Edmund Burke (a real Old Whig – unlike Hayek) accepted determinism and the denial of human personhood (moral choice – the ability to choose to do otherwise). Edmund Burke and Dr Johnson (the Whig and the Tory) both believed in free will (agency – moral responsibility, the ability to choose to do otherwise) and were moral universalists (not just Dr Johnson – but Edmund Burke also, for the T. Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson view of his is totally wrong, to Burke it did not matter if something happened in the Middle Ages or right now, in India or America – right was right and wrong was wrong).

Is this the only view of Conservatism?

Of course not – there are other views of Conservatism. For example the statism of Disraeli (with his life long commitment to “social reform” – yuk).

However, that is hardly “doing nothing” (against those who do not themselves aggress against others). The Tauist Old King Log sitting in the shade – rather than Young King Stork “helping” his subjects by eating them.

Obama and Putin: Playing the Same Game

The War of the Community Organizers. Mr. Greenfield explains that both of them need their enemies, in order to ensure their power.

Obama and Putin: Two Totalitarians, One Game
March 27, 2014 by Daniel Greenfield
86 Comments

[ ... ]

Every time a battle is won and an election ends, a new source of social conflict is dug up and deployed for war.

As a domestic radical, divisiveness is his natural weapon. Obama plays on fragmented identities, assembling coalitions to wage war against some phantom white heteronormative patriarchy consisting of a middle class barely able to pay its bills.

[ ... ]

[Obama's coalition] needs an enemy to give it meaning. Without a common enemy it will tear itself apart and die.

The same is true of the anti-American coalition that Putin has cobbled together out of Marxist dictators in Latin America, Shiite fanatics in Iran, a North Korean prep school grad who starves his people to build nukes and radical American leftists convinced that every war is a CIA conspiracy. Like allying the NAACP, AFL-CIO and GLAAD; it’s an odd conclave, but as long as everyone focuses on a common foe, they can all be herded in the right direction.

Obama is an adequate national community organizer, but Putin is a global community organizer.

It’s not just that Obama is weak and inept, but he’s using a rulebook that Moscow is entirely familiar with because its men helped write it. The KGB vets running the show understand Obama intimately because they understood his mentors. The tactics that Obama and his people imagine are clever and innovative are minor examples of the tactics that the USSR was using abroad before he was even born.

Obama isn’t isolating Putin. Putin is isolating Obama. He’s doing it in the same way that Obama did it to Republicans.

Anti-Americanism has nothing to with America. Anti-Americanism creates a phantom enemy.

[ ... ]

Obama needs a Republican enemy to keep his people in line. Putin needs an American enemy to keep his people in line. If Obama understood this, he would also understand that Putin is as likely to work with him to defuse the conflict, as Obama would with John Boehner.

Putin and Obama are both deeply corrupt men whose former popularity has waned and are badly in need of distractions.

[ ... ]

Obama thinks globally and acts locally. Putin thinks locally and acts globally.

Putin is determined to score points from the post-American transition. Reducing American power and influence worldwide was a move that the foreign policy left believed would defuse tensions. Instead it has turned into a gold rush for every petty tyrant and terrorist eager to count coup by humiliating the United States.

Obama wanted a peaceful post-American transition. Instead he’s getting worldwide chaos and war.

Putin seeks out a conflict with the United States for the same reason that Obama seeks one out with Republicans….

[...SNIP...]

New Drugs May Transform Down Syndrome

It’s rather shocking to me how many presumably-intelligent people say neuroscience is “quack science.” In the first place it’s still a young science, as sciences go. But if many theories (or “sub-theories”) turn out to be wrong, or severely incomplete, that doesn’t disqualify the validity of neuroscience, which is the study of how the nervous system — including the brain — works. Scientists develop theories about this, and prove, improve, or disprove them depending on new discoveries that they make. And then, of course, we utilize the results.

Great stuff has already come out of neuroscience. And speaking from personal experience, that includes some of the much-maligned anti-depressant medications, which can turn a life that has become extremely unpleasant into one that can be downright enjoyable and experienced as being worth the living.

This is wonderful news indeed.

From Scientific American.

New Drugs May Transform Down Syndrome

Recent breakthroughs may lead to pharmacological treatments for the chromosomal disorder

Mar 1, 2014 |By Jenni Laidman

‘People born with Down syndrome have always been considered to be incurably developmentally delayed—until now. In the past few years a number of laboratories have uncovered critical drug targets within disabled chemical pathways in the brain that might be restored with medication. At least two clinical trials are currently studying the effects of such treatments on people with Down syndrome. Now geneticist Roger Reeves of Johns Hopkins University may have stumbled on another drug target—this one with the potential to correct the learning and memory deficits so central to the condition.

‘Down syndrome occurs in about one in 1,000 births annually worldwide. It arises from an extra copy of chromosome 21 and the overexpression of each of the 300 to 500 genes the chromosome carries. “If you go back even as recently as 2004, researchers didn’t have much of a clue about the mechanisms involved in this developmental disability,” says Michael Harpold, chief scientific officer with the Down Syndrome Research and Treatment Foundation. But all that has changed. “In the past six or seven years there have been several breakthroughs—and ‘breakthroughs’ is not by any means too big a word—in understanding the neurochemistry in Down syndrome,” Reeves says. [ ... ]‘

Scientific American The article continues with a description of the subject research.

Finally the truth is out, we are just like Zimbabwe

It wasn’t widely reported, but a landmark event took place in UK monetary policy last week.  Perhaps it would be more accurate to say, the truth was finally admitted. 

Mark Carney was appearing before the Treasury Select Committee and he confirmed that the £375B worth of gilts the Bank of England bought as part of the QE program would not in fact be sold back to the market as previously claimed.  This is shattering stuff; it means the fig-leaf which separated the BoE from the Bank of Zimbabwe is now gone.  They are both monetise debt, they just differ in degree. 

Carney went on to play Nostradamus by claiming he expects rates to rise to about 3% in the next three years.  Quite why anyone takes BoE economic forecasts seriously any more escapes me.  Their record is unimpressive.  Perhaps what he was actually expressing was an aspiration rather than a prediction. 

Now it’s true, the Monetary Policy Committee can set rates at any level they want regardless of relevance, but I wonder if the long-dormant inflationary dragon might make a fool of Carney.

Quantitative Easing didn’t cause much in the way of inflation*contrary to my expectations.  To some extent this was because policy makers were pushing on a string.  The demand for consumer credit was neutered and banks just used the QE cash to repair their balance sheets or buy gilts as above.  It also held up UK house prices and set a fire under stocks as investors chased dividend yields.  

But this money hasn’t substantially gone away. If you printed a trillion pounds in cash then buried it in your back garden, it would have no impact on inflation.  The impact would come when you start spending (and therefore circulating it to increase the money supply).

So what does the future hold?  Like everyone else on the planet, I don’t know, but the combination of current economics and future politics leads me to believe the following:  the BoE will tolerate higher inflation as banks start to loan again.  They may well tolerate a negative real interest rate for years to come.  This is because the national debt simply isn’t payable, so they will erode it with inflation crypto-tax. 

House prices will probably zoom on for a while, certainly until 2015.  No-one will want to rock the boat in an election year, and the way you get the floating voters to give you their loyalty is to convince ‘em they are rich by means of rising house prices.  And I suspect there will be some momentum in this.  But sooner or later around 2016/7 there must be another serious correction as inflation is well and truly out of control and beyond even Carney’s capacity to ignore.  At this point, interest rates have to go close to real terms parity.  Even rates as low as six or seven** percent would slaughter lots of recent highly leveraged buyers and rates may need to be higher than that.  This beats the hell out of UK property prices, bank balance sheets, companies etc

This period will be very ugly indeed and I think we might see some full on financial repression and possibly civil disorder.  So don’t keep much cash in the bank because I think Ed Balls might just help himself “in the national interest, to protect the most vulnerable, because of the actions of greedy bankers” etc 

As ever, this is not financial advice, make your own decisions yadda, yadda.

* Except insofar as we probably would have experienced deflation which debtors fear, but is good for the rest of us because it just means falling prices, i.e. things getting cheaper.

** Contrary to Radio 5’s assertions, we have not seen the end of high interest rates.  I recall building society interest rates of 17% in the early 1980’s  The normally quite sane, if curmudgeonly financial guy went on to rail about bitcoins because they are not backed by anything (true) unlike the pound (sic)  What the fuck is the pound backed by?  Fiat currency much?  It is paper with pictures of dead guys on it, nothing more.  It is simply more widely accepted at the moment.

  

Why I am Moving to California

I’d say $ 10,000,000 in gold coins is a good reason…wouldn’t you?

Couple who found $10 million in gold coins may have to pay half to taxman

A couple who unearthed America’s biggest buried treasure trove may have to split their jackpot with the tax authorities

null

One of the coins, a so-called 1866-S No Motto Double Eagle, is said to be valued at $1 million on its own Photo: AFP

By Nick Allen, Los Angeles

2:43PM GMT 28 Feb 2014

A California couple who discovered $10 million worth of gold coins while walking their dog on their property, the greatest ever buried treasure find in the United States, could lose nearly half of their windfall in tax.

[SNIP discussion of tax situation]

In the latest find, 1,400 mint condition gold coins, dating to the mid-to-late 1800s, were discovered in eight decaying metal cans in Northern California’s so-called Gold Country, where the 1849 Gold Rush took place.

The finders want to remain anonymous amid fears of having their property swamped by treasure hunters.

One of the coins, a so-called 1866-S No Motto Double Eagle, is said to be valued at $1 million on its own.

The couple took their find to Don Kagin, a renowned coin dealer near San Francisco, who said about 90 per cent of the coins would be sold on Amazon.

In an anonymous interview released by Mr Kagin, in which the couple were called “John” and “Mary”, they told of their shock.

Mary said: “I was looking down in the right spot and saw the side of the can. I bent over to scrape some moss off and noticed that it had both ends on it. John used a stick to dig up the first can. We took it back to the house, it was very heavy.”

John added: “Heavy enough that we needed to take a little breather before getting back to the house. It was getting towards evening and the light was fading. I said to Mary ‘Wow, this thing is heavy. It must be full of lead paint’. I couldn’t figure out what in the world would weigh that much.

“Right after making the comment about it possibly being paint, the lid cracked off and exposed a rib of a single gold coin. I knew what I was looking at immediately. I looked around over my shoulder to see if someone was looking at me. I had the idea of someone on horseback in my head. It’s impossible to describe really, the strange reality of that moment.

“I clamped the lid back on. I had found a can of gold coins and I thought there was a zero percent chance of Mary believing me. When I told her, there was a look of bewilderment. Her mouth was so wide open flies could have flown in and out several times.

“Of course, it was a very surreal moment. It was very hard to believe at first. I thought any second an old miner with a mule was going to appear.

“Like a lot of people lately we’ve had some financial trials. I feel extreme gratitude that we can keep our beloved property. I dug a hole under the wood pile and got a slab of green board to cover it, put the coins in plastic bags, then put them in a box inside an old ice chest and buried them. Yeah, the old-timers had it right – it’s safer than in a bank.”

Mary said: “We went back to the site and a foot to the left of the first can we broke into another can. In the process we used a small hand shovel and a few coins scattered. It was so decomposed only half of that can was left. It was like looking at a pocket of coins. It was like finding a wonderful hot potato. It took us awhile to get the guts to Google what coins we had.

“Whatever answers you seek, they might be right at home. The answer to our difficulties was right there under our feet for years. Don’t be above bending over to check on a rusty can.”

Assets of the Ayatollah

A three-part article from Reuters, disabusing us of the notion that to hold a Highly Clerical (not to say Priestly) position is automatically to render one uninterested in the contents of the piggy bank. Well, perhaps in this case that’s not the best term for it. Perhaps I should say, the value of the portfolio. Of course, as Reuters reports below,

“Reuters found no evidence that Khamenei puts these assets to personal use. Instead, Setad’s holdings underpin his power over Iran.”

Meanwhile, Rand Paul believes that we should reason peacefully with Iran, whereas Ted Cruz advises stronger sanctions.

. . .

Assets of the Ayatollah
Khamenei controls massive financial empire built on property seizures

By Steve Stecklow, Babak Dehghanpisheh and Yeganeh Torbati

Filed November 11, 2013

Part 1: A Reuters investigation details a key to the supreme leader’s power: a little-known organization created to help the poor that morphed into a business juggernaut worth tens of billions of dollars.

The 82-year-old Iranian woman keeps the documents that upended her life in an old suitcase near her bed. She removes them carefully and peers at the tiny Persian script.

There’s the court order authorizing the takeover of her children’s three Tehran apartments in a multi-story building the family had owned for years. There’s the letter announcing the sale of one of the units. And there’s the notice demanding she pay rent on her own apartment on the top floor.

Pari Vahdat-e-Hagh ultimately lost her property. It was taken by an organization that is controlled by the most powerful man in Iran: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. She now lives alone in a cramped, three-room apartment in Europe, thousands of miles from Tehran.

The Persian name of the organization that hounded her for years is “Setad Ejraiye Farmane Hazrate Emam” – Headquarters for Executing the Order of the Imam. The name refers to an edict signed by the Islamic Republic’s first leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, shortly before his death in 1989. His order spawned a new entity to manage and sell properties abandoned in the chaotic years after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Setad has become one of the most powerful organizations in Iran, though many Iranians, and the wider world, know very little about it. In the past six years, it has morphed into a business juggernaut that now holds stakes in nearly every sector of Iranian industry, including finance, oil, telecommunications, the production of birth-control pills and even ostrich farming.

The organization’s total worth is difficult to pinpoint because of the secrecy of its accounts. But Setad’s holdings of real estate, corporate stakes and other assets total about $95 billion, Reuters has calculated. That estimate is based on an analysis of statements by Setad officials, data from the Tehran Stock Exchange and company websites, and information from the U.S. Treasury Department.

Just one person controls that economic empire – Khamenei. As Iran’s top cleric, he has the final say on all governmental matters.

[SNIP]

Part 2: An organization controlled by Iran’s supreme leader generates billions of dollars a year, helping to solidify his control over a country hobbled by sanctions.

Seven years ago, the United Nations and Western powers began subjecting Tehran to steadily harsher economic sanctions. Around the same time, an organization controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei started to study how some developing economies managed to grow fast.

Setad, as the organization is known, had amassed billions of dollars in property seized from Iranian citizens. What Iran lacked and needed, Setad decided, was conglomerates on a par with those of South Korea, Japan, Brazil and the United States.

According to an account this year by a senior official in the unit that oversees Setad’s financial investments, Ali Ashraf Afkhami, the organization also picked the perfect candidate to create an Iranian national champion: Setad itself.

The ayatollah’s organization would go on to acquire stakes in a major bank by 2007 and in Iran’s largest telecommunications company in 2009. Among dozens of other investments, it took over a giant holding company in 2010.

An organizational chart labeled “SETAD at a Glance,” prepared in 2010 by one of Setad’s companies and seen by Reuters, illustrates how big it had grown. The document shows holdings in major banks, a brokerage, an insurance company, power plants, energy and construction firms, a refinery, a cement company and soft drinks manufacturing.

Today, Setad’s vast operations provide an independent source of revenue and patronage for Supreme Leader Khamenei, even as the West squeezes the Iranian economy harder with sanctions in an attempt to end the nuclear-development program he controls.

“He has a huge sum at his disposal that he can spend,” says Mohsen Sazegara, a co-founder of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps military force, who is now living in exile in the United States. “When you have this much money, that’s power itself.”

Even as Setad was gaining ever-greater control over the Iranian economy in recent years, the Western powers knew of the organization and its connection to the supreme leader – the one man with the power to halt Tehran’s uranium-enrichment program. But they moved cautiously. ….

[SNIP]

Part 3: On the supreme leader’s watch, Iran conducted a systematic campaign to legalize and safeguard the seizure of assets on which Setad’s wealth was built.

Two months before his death in 1989, Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini tried to solve a problem unleashed by the revolution he led a decade earlier.

Land and other assets were being seized en masse from purported enemies of the young theocratic state. Khomeini issued a two-paragraph order asking two trusted aides to ensure that much of the proceeds from the sale of the properties would go to charity.

The result was a new organization – known as Setad, or “The Headquarters” – that reported to Iran’s supreme leader. As one of the aides later recounted, Setad was intended to oversee the confiscations and then wind down after two years.

Twenty-four years later, Setad is an economic giant. Khomeini’s successor as supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has used it to amass assets worth tens of billions of dollars, rivaling the holdings of the late shah. Setad’s portfolio includes banks, farms, cement companies, a licensed contraceptives maker, apartments seized from Iranians living abroad and much more.

Reuters found no evidence that Khamenei puts these assets to personal use. Instead, Setad’s holdings underpin his power over Iran.

To make Setad’s asset acquisitions possible, governments under Khamenei’s watch systematically legitimized the practice of confiscation and gave the organization control over much of the seized wealth, a Reuters investigation has found. The supreme leader, judges and parliament over the years have issued a series of bureaucratic edicts, constitutional interpretations and judicial decisions bolstering Setad. The most recent of these declarations came in June, just after the election of Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani.

The thinking behind this painstaking legal effort is unclear. The Iranian president’s office and the foreign ministry didn’t respond to requests for comment. Iran’s embassy in the United Arab Emirates issued a statement calling Reuters’ findings “scattered and disparate” and said “none has any basis.” It didn’t elaborate.

Setad’s director general of public relations, Hamid Vaezi, said in an email that the Reuters series is “far from realities and is not correct” but didn’t go into specifics. He said Setad plans to challenge sanctions imposed on it earlier this year by the U.S. Treasury Department.

But the legal machinations served several purposes. The decrees enabled Setad to beat back rival institutions seeking to take property in the name of the supreme leader. A ruling on the constitutionality of privatizations smoothed Setad’s expansion beyond real estate and into owning and investing in companies.

The attention to legal procedure also allows Setad and Khamenei to justify a practice that Khomeini had cited as a reason for overthrowing the shah in 1979: property confiscations. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the former king, inherited his fortune from his father, who enriched himself in the first half of the 20th century by expropriating vast amounts of land from his subjects. In October 2010, Khamenei invoked that memory in a speech.

[SNIP]

FAQ:
How the supreme leader rules Iran

Who runs Iran?

The country is a combination of theocracy and democracy. The head of state and leading cleric is the supreme leader, currently Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who exerts widespread political influence and controls key military, judicial, foreign-policy and commercial institutions, such as Setad, the focus of this series, which Reuters estimates to be worth about $95 billion.

How is the supreme leader chosen?

The position was created after the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979 and is appointed for life by the Assembly of Experts, a body of theologians elected from lists of candidates vetted by the powerful Guardian Council. The first holder of the post was Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a theologian who led the 1979 revolution. He died in 1989 and was succeeded that year by Khamenei.

What about the Revolutionary Guards?

The 125,000-strong Revolutionary Guards, a military force which has accumulated great economic and political power, report directly to Khamenei. Their commanders, such as Major General Qassem Suleimani, head of the elite Quds force, exert powerful influence, but many owe their careers to Khamenei.

What is Khamenei’s background?

Born in 1939, Khamenei became a cleric and was one of Khomeini’s supporters in his struggle against the shah. He was arrested and imprisoned during the shah’s rule, and after the revolution became one of Khomeini’s inner circle. He served as Iran’s president from 1981 to 1989.

Where does democracy come into it?

As well as the supreme leader, Iran also has a president and the Islamic Consultative Assembly, or Majles, a parliament consisting of 290 seats. Members are elected to serve four-year terms. In June, Hassan Rouhani, a relatively moderate cleric, was elected president with 50.7 percent of the vote.

Why has the West imposed sanctions on Iran?

Some sanctions began after the 1979 revolution that toppled the shah. More recently, sanctions have been used to put pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear development program, which Iran says is for peaceful purposes, but the West believes is aimed at producing weapons. In 2006, the United Nations passed a resolution demanding that Iran stop its program of uranium enrichment.

Who calls the shots on the nuclear program?

The president and top Revolutionary Guard commanders are important, but ultimately the supreme leader makes the decisions.

EPILOGUE

Iran shakes up foundation controlled by Ayatollah’s business empire

By Steve Stecklow | Reuters – Thu, Nov 28, 2013

[Complete story. --J.]

LONDON (Reuters) – A multi-billion dollar organization controlled by Iran’s supreme leader shook up the management of its charity division, appointing as its new chief a man involved in the confiscation of thousands of properties from Iranian citizens.

Aref Norozi was named director general of the Barakat Foundation, Iran’s state news agency reported on Wednesday. The foundation is a unit of a massive business empire controlled by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that is known as Setad Ejraiye Farmane Hazrate Emam.

The report by the Islamic Republic News Agency stated that Setad’s president, Mohammad Mokhber, had ordered the appointment of Norozi, who once headed Setad’s real-estate division and served on the boards of several Setad-linked companies.

As a result of Norozi’s professional experience, the report said, “It is expected that the Barakat Foundation’s activities will be more extensive than before.”

Reuters this month published a three-part series entitled Assets of the Ayatollah (http://www.reuters.com/investigates/iran/) detailing how Setad has become one of the most powerful institutions in Iran through the systematic seizure and sale of thousands of properties belonging to ordinary Iranians.

The series reported Norozi had stated at a press conference in 2008 that Setad’s properties were then worth about $52 billion.

Setad’s total worth is difficult to pinpoint because of the secrecy of its accounts. But its holdings of real estate, corporate stakes in a variety of industries and other assets total about $95 billion, Reuters has calculated. Through Setad, Khamenei has at his disposal financial resources whose value rivals the holdings of the shah, the late Western-backed monarch who was overthrown in 1979.

Setad also controls the Barakat Foundation, a charity focused on economic development projects in rural areas and that has stakes in the country’s pharmaceutical industry.

A Setad official said in April that through Barakat, Setad had spent more than $1.6 billion in the past five years on development projects. But Setad’s claims about its charity spending are impossible to verify because its accounts are not publicly available.

IRNA last week denounced the Reuters series as “disinformation” intended to undermine public trust in the Islamic Republic’s institutions. A Reuters spokesperson said the news agency stood by the accuracy and fairness of its stories.

IRNA said that in the past five years Barakat has been involved in numerous economic development projects, including building schools, roads, housing units and mosques, as well as providing water and electricity.

According to IRNA, Barakat was created following an order Khamenei gave to the head of Setad. “Solving the problems of the deprived has been on my mind,” IRNA quoted Iran’s supreme leader as saying. “For example, solve the problems of 1,000 villages. It would be good to develop 1,000 places or to build 1,000 schools. Prepare this organisation for this task.”

A spokesman for Setad did not respond to a request for comment about Norozi’s appointment.

(This version of the story fixes a typo in Norozi’s name in the second paragraph.)

(Additional reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Edited by Michael Williams and Simon Robinson)

Totten: The Lost World, Part I

Michael Totten describes his visit to Cuba. He was on his own, not a guest of Señor Castro or his minions. Longish, interesting, and lots of photos.

The Lost World, Part I

20 January 2014

I needed to go on a road trip in a country where hardly anyone can go on a road trip.

“Don’t even think about driving in Cuba.”

That’s what I was told by an American man and travel industry pro who has visited the Caribbean people’s republic more times than I’ve left my home country combined.

“But I’ve driven in Lebanon,” I said. “And Albania.” No one drives as badly as the Lebanese and Albanians, bless their hearts. Even the Iraqis and Israelis drive like Canadians by comparison. “Besides, Cuba hardly has any cars. How bad could the traffic possibly be?”

“The roads are dark at night and filled with pedestrians, bicycles, and animals,” he said. “There are no signs and you’ll be arrested if you get in an accident.”

Getting arrested in a communist police state ranks on my to-do list alongside being stricken with cancer and getting snatched off a Middle Eastern street by Al Qaeda.
[SNIP]

Follow the link to finish Part I; at the bottom, there’s a link to Part II.

$2,400 “Introduction to Linux” course from the Linux Foundation will be free online this summer

From Arstechnica:

$2,400 “Introduction to Linux” course will be free and online this summer
The Linux Foundation is putting its training materials up on edX’s platform.

by Megan Geuss – Mar 8 2014, 3:00pm CST

Earlier this week, The Linux Foundation announced that it would be working with edX, a non-profit online learning site governed by Harvard and MIT, to make its “Introduction to Linux” course free and open to all.

The Linux Foundation has long offered a wide variety of training courses through its website, but those can generally cost upwards of $2,000. This introductory class, which usually costs $2,400, will be the first from the Linux Foundation to run as a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). There is no limit on enrollment through edX’s platform.

The course will be held this summer, although an official start date has not been posted yet. ….

[SNIP of further details on auditing option, more]

DHS: German Homeschooling Romeike Family Will Be Allowed to Stay in U.S.

I’m SO happy about this! I can’t believe it! *applause*

From Glenn Beck:

Tuesday, Mar 4, 2014 at 11:54 AM CST

UPDATE: In a surprising turn of events, the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) announced this afternoon that the Romeike family will now be allowed to stay in America. A post on the HSLDA’s Facebook wall signed by the organization’s chairman explains the change:

Today, a Supervisor with the Department of Homeland Security called a member of our legal team to inform us that the Romeike family has been granted “indefinite deferred status”. This means that the Romeikes can stay in the United States permanently (unless they are convicted of a crime, etc.) ….

[SNIP]

An Exchange of E-Mails

Source is an image, but the whole thing is too good, too inspirational, not to share. Dedicated particularly to Nick, and any other Kitty-Kounting Konsultants from Zanzibar. :>)))

“I Wish I Worked with This Man”

Speaking of the Minimum Wage …

Minimum Wage

Thanks to Mark Alexander’s Patriot Post.

How Not to Be a Libertarian

I put the money quote in boldface ….

‘Anyone advocating government officials or anyone else coercively taxing some people against their will and giving that money to others [is] guilty of advocating coercion and intimidation. Such people are not libertarians based on the ZAP criteria.

Such people are also guilty of fraud if they claim to be “libertarians.”’

–Commenter Garry Reed | December 7, 2013, 9:36 pm

…in response to the posting ‘U.S. “Libertarians” Debate Basic Income,’ which links to several pieces, pro- and not-so, on the topic by various Shining and Less-Shining Lights. These include a podcast interview by somebody at Cato of our pal Zwolinski, whose allegedly libertarian heart regularly bleeds, though not for people who think charity and justice are two different things, and also a piece by somebody at Reason, who tells us how much less demeaning such a program would be. (I guess people are still, underneath it all, not proud of being unable to look after themselves — not even in the face of catastrophe.)

I thought this last article might be a satirical debunking of the idea, but no such luck.

D. Greenfield / Sultan Knish: The Green Socialists of Mars

A most interesting, longish piece in which Daniel Greenfield discusses the place of Climate-Alarmism, and of turn-of-the-20th-century SF, in what one might call “The Project for Social Change” (cue the Usual Suspects). Follow the Kitties to Zanzibar: Read the whole thing.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Green Socialists of Mars

Posted by Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog — 14 Comments

We live in a strange world in which the weather is a subject of furious political debate. People have been arguing about the weather ever since the first rainstorm caught the first man without the umbrella that he did not yet know how to make, but they didn’t hold political debates over it.

For the last fifty years, the anti-weather side has been insisting that the world is headed toward a Frostean apocalypse of ice or fire. …. The end of weather was here.

[ ... ]

The original error of climate researchers was their assumption that planets were more fragile than they truly are and could be undone by a nuclear exchange or even by a few coal plants. Carl Sagan, who had done much to popularize unscientific paranoia about nuclear winter and global warming, warned that the Gulf War’s oil fires would lead to a miniature nuclear winter.

They did not.

The mingling of philosophical paranoia over a godless universe and political pacifism disguised as science shaped not only Sagan’s musings, but the entire ideology of weather apocalypses which derived from the conviction that ungoverned man was bound to destroy his environment.

[ ... ]

Socialist science fiction had become a booming field in the late 19th century. Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward had envisioned time travel to a Socialist American utopia in the year 2000. It was a bad book, but a popular bestseller because it used the frame of pseudoscience to depict Socialism as both a practical model and inevitable. …

Novels such as “Politics and Life in Mars”, “Unveiling a Parallel”, “To Mars via the Moon”, “A Prophetic Romance” and “Red Star” envisioned culturally superior Martians demonstrating their advanced Socialist societies with income equality, planetary labor unions and pacifism to the human race.

In the Russian “Red Star,” the Lowellian canals are a Communist triumph over inhospitable nature anticipating the USSR and Communist China’s disastrous dam projects. The German writer of “Two Planets” envisioned the advanced Martians invading Earth to impose their superior Socialist society on human beings.

The Martians, like Global Warming, were a tool of radical social change.

[ ... SNIP]

Richard A. Epstein: When, How Should Courts Override Legislatures?

Please, do not miss this 1:26:33 of Prof. Epstein’s inimitable and marvellous discourse. Indescribably educational, and, of course, fascinating; and this one is particularly wide-ranging. My quibble-quotient here is tiny and is swamped by the education effect. The UT description:

Published on May 21, 2012

Richard A. Epstein, legal scholar and author, visits the Dole Institute to discuss courts grounds to invalidate the constitution.

Filmed on October 19, 2006 at the Dole Institute of Politics.

%d bloggers like this: