Last night I started reading Hank Paulson’s book, Dealing With China. I’m still in the Introduction, and distracted by the howlers.

For example, Mr. Paulson to the contrary, China is not the largest holder of US debt — the US is. There’s slightly over $18 trillion of US debt. Foreign holders have only $6 trillion of that, or about one-third. The other two-thirds Americans owe to each other. Even among foreign holders, Japan is the largest holder, although that just happened in February of this year, and given long lead times for books Mr. Paulson may be forgiven for that specific oversight.

He also claims the US relationship with China is “our most important bilateral relationship.” Given who our largest trading partner is, and that we share a 5500 mile peaceful border with them, I’m fairly sure our most important bilateral relationship is with Canada, not China. Especially on a military basis — the fact our border hardly needs protecting because we’re so secure with Canada as a neighbor gives us a huge advantage over states not so fortunate.

And while it’s not a howler as such… In over 100 visits, Mr. Paulson says he’s learned no Chinese. Even I recognize 中国, and 你好. No intellectual curiosity at all, eh, Hank?


My wife and I were eating in our local taquería. They had the television tuned to Univision, as they usually do.

I saw a commercial for Microsoft Windows. From Microsoft, en Español.

Which was very strange to me, because when I was most familiar with Microsoft’s internal structure, I knew they had no Spanish-language product support.

According to this phone list at their web site, they still don’t. Moreover, Microsoft’s Spanish-language website isn’t based in the Western Hemisphere, but in Spain.

It continues to confound me how Microsoft can show such contempt to a large segment of the US market — one they’re advertising to, no less.

Don’t Fence Me In

Americans seem to get twitchy when their Executive has very mild instances of trespass. It seems like only yesterday when the White House had to deal with party crashers. Now it’s a man with a knife. Did he intend to use the knife? Hey, who knows… Although, if he meant Mr. Obama harm, it’s tough to see why he would have left “800 rounds of ammunition, two hatchets and a machete in his car,” when he went on his fence climb. Now, reportedly, the Secret Service wants to screen “tourists and other visitors at checkpoints before they enter the public areas in front of the White House.” Not that such a method would have had any effect on the intruder, but in these kinds of circumstances the syllogism is frequently, “We need to do something; this is something; therefore let’s do it.”

Like last time, Leopold Kohr hangs heavy in the air, writing in 1957 in The Breakdown of Nations:

A citizen of the Principality of Liechtenstein, whose population numbers less than fourteen thousand, (in 1957 when Kohr was writing) desirous to see His Serene Highness the Prince and Sovereign, Bearer of many exalted orders and Defender of many exalted things, can do so by ringing the bell at his castle gate. However serene His Highness may be, he is never an inaccessible stranger. A citizen of the massive American republic, on the other hand, encounters untold obstacles in a similar enterprise. Trying to see his fellow citizen President, whose function is to be his servant, not his master, he may be sent to an insane asylum for observation or, if found sane, to a court on charges of disorderly conduct. Both happened in 1950… You will say that in a large power such as the United States informal relationships such as exist between government and citizen in small countries are technically unfeasible. This is quite true. But this is exactly it. Democracy in its full meaning is impossible in a large state which, as Aristotle already observed, is ‘almost incapable of constitutional government’. (pg. 99-100)

What’s very strange is how, this time, many people (up to and including Congress) seem to want even more distance between the President and the people he serves, even more of a bubble cutting him (or her) off.

Of course, we’re a bigger country than we were even in 2009, so I suppose Kohr would not be surprised.

Is It Hot In Here?

I’ve been saying for years it’s a very curious thing US businesspeople are so averse to environmentalism in general, and mitigating climate change in particular. My reasoning is, almost all the measures to do such mitigation boil down to doing more with less — and isn’t that the classic definition of increased productivity, and thus profits?

Well, I now have some company in this view: the New Climate Economy Project, the International Monetary Fund, and an economist who’s won the Nobel that isn’t a Nobel.

A fairly interesting bunch with whom to kibitz.

Bitcoin Shakes Its Mighty Fist Again

From this LinkedIn thinly-veiled advertisement:

“Bitcoin is digitized money… Bitcoin is eliminating or dematerializing the use of physical money (bills and coins), even credit cards.”

My reply:

US Annual GDP: $15.68 trillion
Actual physical cash in circulation (M0): $4.1 trillion
“Dematerialized” money that circulates every year: $11.6 trillion, or 74% of GDP

There already is a dematerialized, digitized currency, one in wide circulation, and nearly universally accepted by the market. It’s called the US Dollar.

I know, I know… You’re all in favor of the free market. Right up until the market disagrees with you.

Oh, BTW:
Total value of circulating Bitcoin: $6.2 billion.
Percentage of the value of M0 dollars in circulation: 0.2
Percentage of value of US GDP ($15.68T): 0.03
Percentage of value of global economic product (given that Bitcoin isn’t tied to any one state, and thus competes in a global market) ($71.83T): 0.008

To rephrase a newspaper headline of the 1970s: “Free market to Bitcoin: Drop dead.”

The Worm Turns

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has a fascinating post up, “Why Russia calls a limited nuclear strike “de-escalation””.

See, the US (and NATO more broadly) developed the category of “tactical” nuclear weapons in the 1980s to counter perceived USSR conventional superiority. (Notably the Pershing II missile, from 1981-89.) The Soviets were having none of that — their stated policy was that any use of nuclear weapons would be considered a full-on strategic strike, and would be retaliated against accordingly.

In our time, though, the Russians are saying they might resort to tactical nuclear strikes, because of US conventional superiority, as demonstrated in Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.

“De-escalation,” indeed.

(h/t, Elisabeth Eaves, on Twitter.)