Water Bottle

April 30, 2009

Anyone who’s spent time in Iraq will recognize this:

Water Bottle

Now that summer heat is arriving, everyone goes through a couple of these a day.  Uses I have seen for empty water bottles:

  • Cut down, as scoops for laundry detergent
  • As bumpers for hand-operated steel automobile barriers
  • Filled with sand, as counterweights for improvised self-closing doors
  • As floats for the ropes separating lanes in a swimming pool
  • With holes punched in the cap, to spray water on the short-order grill
  • Full of water, in shrink-wrapped packs of 12, as temporary furniture

Iraq Stock Exchange Starts Electronic Trading

April 20, 2009

A signal day.  Without fanfare, the ISX has opened electronic trading in five companies, with more to follow.  Here are Reuters and USA Today.

“This is an important step to opening ourselves up to foreign investment,” said Taha Ahmed Abdul Salam, chief executive of the exchange. “We are starting to create the transparency and systems that will make Iraq attractive to investors outside of Iraq.”  [That’s from USA Today.  The AP got the CEO mixed up with the head regulator.]



March 19, 2009

Grant Achatz is blogging at The Atlantic.

Would You Do It Again?

March 4, 2009

A Blackfive reader asks a great question: Infantrymen: Would You Do It Again?

I have been seriously thinking of re-upping after 20 years… I have all the questions any deploying soldier would have…effects on kids, family, of course. The question is, if you were offered the chance, would you do it again?

Our community of diplomats, development professionals, and contractors is a little different.  For many, Iraq is another difficult post in a long career.  Others are putting their professional and private lives on hold for this one mission.  My colleagues range in age from 28 to 70.  We have different training and missions than our military comrades.  Many of us serve (deploy) for 2 or more years at a stretch.

What about it, diplomats and development guys in Iraq and Afghanistan… would you do it again?

First I Was a Hippie

March 3, 2009

… then I was a stockbroker, now I am a hippie again.

In the words of The Bobs.

Here is the album.

A Modest Proposal for the Prevention of Stock Price Bubbles

February 19, 2009

A modest proposal to reduce the probability of future stock bubbles.

This is inspired by commenter sociologicalimagination on this post by Tyler Cowen:

mid-term question: how many NBER papers on the efficient market hypothesis could I print out every week (with my stimulus money) that have been proven utterly false in the past 6 months?

The efficient-market hypothesis comes in three flavors: strong, semi-strong, and weak.  Strong says that prices reflect all information, public and private, so no one can earn “excess returns” (better-than-average returns gained by crafty trading).  Semi-strong says that prices adjust rapidly and completely to newly-available public information, so no one can earn excess returns by analyzing public information or past prices.  Weak says only that future prices cannot be predicted from past prices.

I take sociologicalimagination’s comment to mean that the strong form is certainly false.  A lot of firms took on risk that very few recognized or understood.  What could protect us from future emperor-has-no-clothes moments with the likes of Bear, Lehman, AIG, and Countrywide?

We need a better way to let the people inside those firms let us know when something bad (or good) is happening.  Let’s legalize insider trading so they can send us price signals.  And to be safe, let’s let them short their employers’ stocks too.  That would get us closer to an efficient market.

I don’t know whether insiders could have sent a strong enough signal to head off the crashes of 2008.  (If they did, we wouldn’t know we had dodged a bullet.)  Insiders can herd just like independent investors.  Maybe the risks were too systemic, and simply not visible from the perspective of any one firm.  Some insiders will probably make unfair profits by selling ahead of bad news.  And we’ll have to appologize to Martha Stewart.  But think of how much we’re going to pay for extra enforcement over the next few years.  Wouldn’t it be better to give millions of dollars over years to insiders, in exchange for braking the market, rather than losing hundreds of billions in destroyed market value and future taxation?

(Brief sojourn into non-Iraq economics blogging.  As always, not the opinion of the U.S. Dept. of State or any other entity.  Semi-regular Iraq blogging to return soon, I hope.)


February 8, 2009

I was on vacation.

On the way back, sitting in the pax terminal at BIAP, I saw a sergeant with a big gray teddy bear strapped to her backpack. A Christmas present I guess. With that and her M4 she was armed for every contingency. Attended by the spirits of Teddy Roosevelt and Samuel Colt.

Happy New Year.

Three from Totten

December 19, 2008

Michael Totten’s posts are always widely linked, but that won’t stop us from pointing you to his gripping post on the hunt for a terrorist leader:

“If your men conduct any raids,” I said to Captain Todd Looney at Combat Outpost Ford on the outskirts of Sadr City, Baghdad, “I want to go.”

I have to disagree with this comment though: “Baghdad at night from the air looks more like a constellation of Christmas lights than, say, the brightly lit circuit board of Los Angeles.”  The electrical grid certainly is in poor condition but I am always surprised at the regular grids of fluorescent yard lights.  From the air at night, some parts of Baghdad don’t look terribly different from the flat suburban plains surrounding Midwestern American cities.

Since returning to Baghdad, Michael has also published two shorter pieces in Commentary magazine:

  • What’s Next in Iraq: “For the past two weeks I’ve been embedded with the United States Army in Baghdad, and I find myself unable to figure out what to make of this place.”
  • Iraq at the End of the Surge: “[M]y [last] piece was gloomy while [Michael] Yon’s piece was not, but Iraq is complex. Iraq produces good news and bad at the same time.”

500,000 Visitors per Day at Zawra Park

December 13, 2008

Gateway Pundit: “THOUSANDS Celebrate In Baghdad As Violence Falls.”  I’ve driven by that park.  Looks like fun.

Read the whole thing.

Elizabeth Warnock Fernea

December 10, 2008

Elizabeth Warnock Fernea, the pioneering scholar of Arab women and the Middle East, has died.  We reviewed her excellent Guests of the Sheikh here last month. The Los Angeles Times has a sympatheic obituary:

[W]hen she left [the Iraqi village of El Nahra] two years later, she had won over the women and the village with her efforts to learn their language and culture.

In “500 Great Books by Women” (1994), reviewer Rebecca Sullivan wrote, “The story of her life among the Iraqis is eye-opening, written with intellectual honesty as well as love and respect for the seemingly impenetrable society.”

Here is Guests of the Sheikh on Amazon, and here is the quasi-sequel, The Arab World. Here are her pages on Librarything and Wikipedia. Dr. Fernea wrote several books about women and Arab society and served as director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas.

I spend some of my time in the rural areas south of metropolitan Baghdad.  Dr. Fernea’s book, which I read only a few weeks ago, opened a vital window onto rural Iraqi society.  Its acute observation and spare prose make it an American classic, like Dr. Fernea herself.