Reading in the real world

While I admire the generous purpose behind John Scalzi’s The Big Idea posts, in which he provides space to an author to explain The Big Idea underlying his newly published book, I have to admit that I have tended to have little interest in most of books that have been featured there because I simply don’t read much SF/F anymore. I increasingly find that I’d rather play it.

Since John doesn’t do much the way of non-fiction at Whatever and because the Ilk tend to be more interested in exposure to more serious subjects than the latest attempt to adultize angst-filled teen vampire/wereseal novels, it occurs to me that a similar feature might be welcome here, especially in light of how Mr. Rockwell was kind enough to provide me with space at his site to introduce RGD the week it was published. So, if you are the author of a non-fiction book in the field of history, politics, economics, or science that has been published since August 2009, I’d like to invite you to email me a 500 to 2,000-word account of what you believe to be worthy of note about your new book accompanied by a link to an image of the cover.

On a barely tangential note, this afternoon I had what I thought to be a fantastic idea for my next non-fiction book. Reflecting on the missing Life of Epaminondas, I completely cracked up over the thought of writing Godwin’s Lives, which would be a set of parallel Lives ala Plutarch purporting to compare one classic historical figure with a modern one, albeit every classic figure would be compared to Hitler. Needless to say, this is why Spacebunny seldom asks me to share what I’m thinking.

And to return to the subject, more or less, I’m presently reading Makers of Ancient Strategy, edited by Victor Davis Hanson. It’s a very good collection of essays and I will post a review of the book next week. However, it was a little startling to encounter VDH’s brief rebuttal – a fairly effective one, to be honest – addressed to the “many commenters” who had referenced the Athenian attack on Syracuse in criticizing the American invasion of Iraq. I suspect he may have had this column in particular in mind.

Letter to Vox Day VIII

Luke continues our dialogue. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, this isn’t going to end anytime soon. I will respond before the end of the month, but in the meantime, I will put a few of Luke’s commenters straight:

1. Vox happens to be a genius by the dictionary’s numerical definition. Nevertheless, Vox does not believe he is a genius because he rejects that definition in favor of alternative and less specific definitions that are based upon uniquely superlative intellectual accomplishments. Writing the occasional novel, demolishing the central New Atheist arguments, and correctly anticipating the global financial crisis are certainly intellectual accomplishments, but they are neither unique nor superlative.

2. As will eventually become clear, Vox is not rejecting any of the suggested criteria out of concern for their potential effect on his theories. As a general rule, it is a mistake to project one’s own predilection for intellectual dishonesty on others; at the very least, one should wait to see what the justifications are before passing judgment.

3. Vox has no authority on these matters and has no problem whatsoever with having his epistemology examined or exposed. This accusation is ironic, for as Luke and many of the VP readers know, it is usually the atheist camp that prefers to avoid epistemological examinations.

4. The fact that you don’t understand a point Vox made is not prima facie evidence that Vox is being obscure or even insufficiently clear. If a majority of the readers understood it without any trouble, logic dictates that you consider the probability you are either insufficiently informed or insufficiently intelligent to understand it.

Above the law

It’s a “gimmick” when banksters do it. It’s criminal fraud whenever anyone else does:

Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc used accounting gimmicks and had been insolvent for weeks before it filed for bankruptcy in September 2008, but there was not extensive wrongdoing, a court-appointed examiner has found.

In a 2,200-page report made public on Thursday, examiner Anton Valukas, chairman of law firm Jenner & Block, reported the results of his more than year-long investigation into who could be blamed for the firm’s collapse, which deepened the global financial crisis.

The examiner said that while some of Lehman’s management’s decisions “can be questioned in retrospect” and the firm’s valuation procedures for its assets “may have been wanting,” those responsible for the firm had used their business judgment and were largely not liable for the firm’s collapse.

So, Lehman’s management ran the company into insolvency, then committed weeks of fraud to hide that fact, but somehow they “were largely not liable” for the collapse of the company? How is that even remotely credible? Especially in light of how the FDIC has made it perfectly clear that most banks are fraudulently hiding their present insolvency by assigning hugely exaggerated values to their assets. Even by the FDIC’s overly conservative measure of “estimated losses”, it is obvious that there is a huge gap between reported assets and actual assets.

This can be computed by subtracting the average FDIC-seized bank’s deposit liabilities from its reported assets, then adding the estimated losses. In 2009, this average asset gap was $505 million against reported assets of $1,229 million, or 41.1%. In 2010, the average asset gap is presently running $272 million against reported assets of $638 million, or 43.7%. This indicates that the smaller banks are every bit as insolvent as the bigger banks. As are the giant banks; Karl Denninger explained the probable extent of their balance sheet fraud a few days ago:

So let’s be generous and assume that the “big banks” are over-valuing their assets by 25% – the lower end of the range of what the FDIC says is, through actual experience, what’s going on, and add it all up.

Bank of America shows $2.25 trillion in assets.

Citibank shows $1.89 trillion in assets.

JP Morgan/Chase shows $2.04 trillion in assets.

And Wells Fargo shows $1.31 trillion in assets.

This totals $7.49 trillion smackers.

The FDIC’s experience with seizing banks thus far suggests quite strongly that all four of these entities are lying about these valuations, and that were they to be seized the loss embedded in them (and for which you, the taxpayer would be responsible) is somewhere between $1.49 and $2.99 trillion dollars.

Based on the last two years of data, the actual gap between the assets and liabilities of the Big Four is actually more like $3.2 trillion, or roughly the size of Citibank and Wells Fargo put together. Despite their failure to act, the FDIC obviously knows about this. By way of evidence, here was the FDIC’s response to one of the Market Ticker’s readers who asked about the difference between bank-reported assets and FDIC-reported estimated losses: “That’s the value the bank had them on their books on their year-end financials, but the true value is much less. It is similar to someone in Las Vegas saying that their house is worth $300,000 because that’s what they paid for it three years ago, but the reality is, if they had to sell it in today’s market, they’d only get $250,000 for it. The FDIC has to sell assets in today’s market.”