Wednesday, 9 November 2011

By on November 9th, 2011 in biology, government, politics, writing

07:18 – So, how do I know when I’ve been writing too long? Here’s an example. By late afternoon yesterday, I was getting pretty tired, after more than eight hours of heads-down writing with only a few short breaks to walk Colin. I was writing a lab session about succession in pond-water microcosms, giving a detailed procedure for observing and documenting the microorganisms present in various parts of the microcosms. I mentioned adding a drop of methylcellulose, which is added to water to reduce the motility of some organisms. I actually found myself writing this sentence: “Some of these little fuckers are FAST.” (I actually intended to write “suckers” but I apparently experienced a Freudian slap.)

Now, it’s true that we’re often complimented on our informal writing style, but I thought that was a bit too informal even for us. After thinking about it, I left the sentence as is for then and decided to knock off for the day. I’ll fix it this morning.

08:34 – Ruh-roh. When I checked Italian bond yields this morning, I found they’d already touched 7.4% and seem likely to continue climbing. That’s very, very bad for a country that has about $3 trillion in outstanding sovereign debt, with about a sixth of that coming due in the next twelve months. About the only good thing that can be said is that, at six or seven years, Italy’s average maturity is longer than average for the eurozone. Still, there’s no way it’s sustainable to have to finance half a trillion dollars a year at the current rates Italy has to pay.

The fear all along, of course, has been that Italy is “too big to bail” and that fear is about to come home to roost. The ECB is legally prohibited from helping. In fact, their purchases of Italian and Spanish bonds are illegal, and the ECB is getting very nervous about that. Nor can the EFSF “bailout fund” help. Although it’s usually reported as having a €440 billion war chest, the fact is that it doesn’t really have any money to speak of. In terms of actual cash in the bank, it might have €4 billion. The remainder is in the form of promises from EU governments to commit funds to the EFSF. And one of the major guarantors of the EFSF is–you guessed it–Italy. Other EFSF guarantors include such already-bankrupt nations as Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and … Greece. The only currently-solvent nations backing the EFSF to any significant extent are France–which itself is likely to a bailout candidate–and Germany. In effect, the EU nations are cosigning loans to themselves.

25 Comments and discussion on "Wednesday, 9 November 2011"

  1. OFD says:

    Better have Mrs. T. or someone read through it before you send it off. And watch out for them Freudian slaps.

  2. Miles_Teg says:

    Leave it in. The editors and proofreaders at O’Reilly have to earn their corn somehow.

  3. OFD says:

    Yes, but no one should have to read that sort of vulgar language, and quite frankly I am rather surprised and dismayed that not only Robert would let such a slip occur, but that you, Greg, out on the outposts of Anglo civilization and the continuance of our glorious culture, would render such counsel.

    Shame on you both!

  4. Robert Bruce Thompson says:

    You know, it’s interesting how prejudices that originated a thousand years ago remain today. After 1066, the Norman French and their language dominated the British upper classes, replacing the Anglo-Saxons. Old Anglo-Saxon words, mostly monosyllabic, came to be considered lower-class, crude, and even obscene, replaced by multisyllabic high-class French imports. Perfectly good words like piss and shit became socially unacceptable, and were replaced by acceptable substitutes like urinate and defecate. (Actually, I consider “urinate” to be unspeakably crude; I micturate.)

  5. Miles_Teg says:

    OFD wrote:

    “Yes, but no one should have to read that sort of vulgar language…”

    I take it you’re going to wash your mouth out with soap and water and tone down your language here… 🙂

  6. Miles_Teg says:

    RBT wrote:

    “(Actually, I consider “urinate” to be unspeakably crude; I micturate.)”

    You’re such a high class, posh poseur…

    I pee, have a slash, let go and 101 other things, but I never micturate. I wouldn’t want people having to look up a dictionary.

  7. ech says:

    I go take a whiz or visit the head. (Dad was in the navy.)

  8. brad says:

    Italy has obviously been in the news a lot here, being our southern neighbor. One point that the news-folk made: while Italy is a mess, it is a very different mess than Greece. While Greek debt is largely held by banks outside of Greece, Italian debt is largely held within Italy. I haven’t checked this myself, but if true, it is interesting.

    The point being: for better or for worse, Italy’s fate is largely in Italy’s hands. All the more so because one of the countries guaranteeing billions for the EU bailout fund is Italy itself.

  9. Robert Bruce Thompson says:

    It is true that a larger percentage of Italian sovereign debt is held in Italy by Italians (individuals and banks), but the Italian debt pile is so huge that even the remainder is more than enough to sink every bank in the EU.

    Although it is true that Italy’s fate is in its own hands, that’s not going to help. The sad fact is that Italy, like Greece, is so constipated economically that its growth is and has historically been the lowest by far in the EU (including even Greece). Italian government bureaucracy and unions tie up the public and private sectors so badly that there’s really no hope at this point.

    Italy’s problem, like the other PIIGS (excluding Ireland, whose problems are quite dissimilar albeit very real nonetheless), is that it uses the same currency as Germany and the other FANG nations, but is only about 50% as productive. In the past, Italy could simply devalue the lira, but since it joined the euro 10 years ago that’s no longer an option. Now it has to “devalue internally”, which basically means cutting salaries, pensions, and raising prices. For the last decade, Italy and the other PIIGS have been enjoying German standards of living on borrowed money. They’ve made their last trip to that well, and the only remaining solution is for them to cut their standard of living with a meat-axe. As in 50% over the very short term. That means salaries and pensions get cut big time, benefits go on the chopping block, and prices start to skyrocket. That’s what’s going to happen in Italy.

  10. Robert Bruce Thompson says:

    Incidentally, when I said that the southern tier EU nations were going to re-join the third world, I wasn’t exaggerating. I was speaking literally.

  11. Dave B. says:

    Incidentally, when I said that the southern tier EU nations were going to re-join the third world, I wasn’t exaggerating. I was speaking literally.

    Displaying your usual optimism. I note that the current politically correct phrase for third-world countries is developing countries. I don’t see any developing in southern EU countries for some time.

  12. Chuck Waggoner says:

    Whoa — high winds in Tiny Town at the moment. Never heard those when I lived underground in basement apartments, which is why an earth shelter location attracts me.

    I am not so sure that we are not facing becoming a third world country in the US — for me, right here in Tiny Town. We just had 4 years of a mayor who took a large deficit, paid it off, balanced the budget entirely, managed to get every city service out of deficit-running territory (with an increase in utilities but no tax increases) and his party (Republican) was just thrown out by one of the largest margins in local politics. Who wants to be a candidate for anything? All you have facing you is a hard life of fixing previous excesses, then being given a boot in the butt for being responsible if you succeed.

    Yesterday was an all-day video job over in the booming Metropolis, and I just barely got back to Tiny Town in time to vote. When I entered the polling place, the EMT folks were hauling off somebody who apparently got too excited by the act of voting and had to be rushed away by professionals.

    Not many bothered to vote — while they flipped through page after page of voter records to find me, I could see there were only a couple signatures on each page, and only one other on my page, out of about a dozen.

    For many years now, I have voted only for Libertarians or non-Republicans and non-Democrats (unless it is a Libertarian running as Republican) or people I know personally and trust, and refrained from voting for offices that did not meet those requirements. That meant the Independent got my vote for mayor, and one other person down the street that I know personally, who was running for city council. None of my candidates won. Why bother?

    We vote by a giant touch-tablet screen. I thought the computer was not going to accept my vote. When I was finished voting for my candidates — leaving six blank, — it kept giving me a screen that said I had not voted for all offices. The only option I could see was “Return to Ballot”. After repeating that cycle several times, I finally noticed another dialog choice, in the far opposite corner of the screen, that said “Confirm Vote”. Leave it to Micro$oft to demand that we must vote for every office or face a puzzle about how to actually cast the vote. I never had a mechanical machine, or paper ballot, refuse to accept my vote when I did not vote for every office.

  13. OFD says:

    And there are some who think, and can argue accordingly, that the Western Anglo-American tier will also drift back into the Turd Whirled, too, eventually.

    Speaking of turds, I see that Lady MacBeth of Little Rock saw fit to deposit one of her boogers on some kid’s t-shirt the other day. Classy broad.

    Let’s see, taking a whizz, taking a piss, and then there’s the English slang that involves taking the piss, which means something different than here in the land of the twee and home of the knaves. Taking a shit, taking a dump, dropping a load, etc. Dad was in the Coasties during The Good War but didn’t curse much, not like his oldest, reprobate son. OFD can turn the air blue at the drop of a hat but is trying to cut down on that shit. I done quit everything else, should be able to drop that, too.

    OTOH, though, these are great Anglo-Saxon words, in use well before the smarmy sons of pigs and dogs from Normandy, not to mention William the Bastard, came over to yon scepter’d Isle and corrupted it with their multi-syllabic trash and Latinate constructions. Bastard sons and daughters of cutthroat thieves, murderers, rapists, and slavers, the Norse. No doubt Mrs. OFD and myself have some of their blood, as well, how on earth could it be helped?

    Southern tier in the Mediterranean probably toast by Easter, if not Christmas. And they have a great head start on becoming Third World, too, having for many years now let in so many millions of Third World peoples. The northern tier and Perfidious Albion are not far behind. And we have our Camp of the Saints from beyond our southern borders. Good times ahead! Habla Espanol all youse to our south? Meanwhile, I guess I better study up some on them Norman constructions spoken of above…bon soir, mes amis…

  14. Miles_Teg says:


    Made a post here and it didn’t show up. Tried to post again and it says duplicate post detected…

  15. Miles_Teg says:

    This is completely weird. I just made the post again (it was about one of Chuck’s posts) and made a minor change to avoid it being flagged as a duplicate. No error message (as before), no dupe warning and no post.

  16. OFD says:

    I had to adjust the settings to keep your Anglo-Australian bad language and suchlike out. Plus your multiple allusions to the alleged sexiness and allure of Sandra Bullock had to go.


  17. Stu Nicol says:

    “Incidentally, when I said that the southern tier EU nations were going to re-join the third world, I wasn’t exaggerating. I was speaking literally.”

    I appreciate your use of third world instead of the euphamism “developing countries.” What a fraud, there is nothing developing about them. They have been on a tailspin to oblivion since decolonization.

  18. OFD says:

    i.e., since the evil patriarchal, racist and imperialist colonial powers left. They are SO much better off now. Just look at Uganda, the Congo, Zimbabwe, etc. Good thing those rotten English, French and German bastards got out to open up freedom, liberty and democracy, etc.

    I had thought the term “developing countries” went out with Panama hats. The only things being developed in some of them are squalor, totalitarianism, genocides and cannibalism. And if we play our cards right, we can have all that right here. Check out Jerry Pournelle’s “Lucifer’s Hammer,” timely now that a gigantic asteroid has just come within a hair’s breadth of our Gaia. Or so the media wizards would tell us.

  19. Miles_Teg says:

    OFD wrote:

    “Plus your multiple allusions to the alleged sexiness and allure of Sandra Bullock had to go.”

    Alleged? Tell me Dave, how long have you had such terrible eyesight? Sandy’s not the *most* beautiful woman in the world, but she’s in the top 0.01%.

  20. Miles_Teg says:

    This is weird. I tried to make the above post from Firefix and it said it detected a duplicate post. Worked fine from IE.

  21. Miles_Teg says:

    I think we should just leave those people alone, rather than try to improve them. They’ll work things out on their own without our “help”.

  22. Don Armstrong says:

    “Some of these little fuckers are FAST.”

    I thought you were still talking politics there for a while.
    I read it as “Some of these little suckers are daft“.
    Of course, that would be understating the case.
    With regard to poly tickians, most of them are waste, deserve to be cast,
    and ALL the people who vote for them are daft.

    I wouldn’t want people having to look up a dictionary.

    Let alone anything else that might enter their… head… while they were looking for a possible source of micture.

  23. Don Armstrong says:

    Robert, when assessing replacements for the execrable WordPress, I most strongly recommend the ability for people to edit their posts as a “must have, lack disqualifying” criterion.

  24. Robert Bruce Thompson says:

    I think (I’m not sure) that anyone with a WordPress account (from WordPress directly) can log in and is then able to edit his own posts.

  25. Dave B. says:

    I think (I’m not sure) that anyone with a WordPress account (from WordPress directly) can log in and is then able to edit his own posts.

    I think that would only work if your blog were hosted at

    There are plugins that would add the capability to edit comments. I don’t have one to recommend, but they are out there.

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