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March 16, 2008


if anyone knows a good explanation of the current economic problems

With regards to the subprime crisis, there's the Subprime Primer, and also John Bird and John Fortune on YouTube.

http://calculatedrisk.blogspot.com/>calculated risk covers a pretty good swath of the disaster in progress.

Numerian at Agonist seems to put the basics in clear view -


A "tiny" link, just in case -

Bear Stearns’s clients and counterparties should feel secure that JPMorgan is guaranteeing Bear Stearns’s counterparty risk.

Read: the Federal Government guarantees Bear Stearn's counterparty risk (i.e., Bear Stearn's obligation's will be paid, at least to the extent of JPMorgan/USGov't ability to do so). That might be an overstatement, but:

The NYTimes: the Fed had agreed to fund up to $30 billion of Bear Stearns’s “less-liquid assets.”

the full quote from the press release:

In addition to the financing the Federal Reserve ordinarily provides through its Discount Window, the Fed will provide special financing in connection with this transaction. The Fed has agreed to fund up to $30 billion of Bear Stearns' less liquid assets.

I have no idea what it means to "fund" an asset. One might think that an "asset" that needs "funding" is more appropriately characterized as a "liability".

I guess in this context it might mean that if someone wants to sell a "less liquid" asset, the Fed will buy it and then hold it until a private buyer can be found. Which may mean in practice that the Fed is willing to buy $30 billion worth of Bear Stearns' assets at their face value, or whatever they were last valued on Bear Stearn's balance sheet at the end of their 11/30/07 fiscal year, no matter the assets' actual worth.

Is there some sort of SEC filing deadline for Bear Stearns' first quarter on Monday that they were trying to beat in order to value Stearns' assest as of their fiscal year end?

Well, as easy as it would be to write this off as part of the larger problem entirely, Bear Stearns is a unique bird, they were the most likely of the five largest investment banks in the U.S. to succumb to the risk/reward of subprime loans and basically unsafe financial ventures.

I worked as a market analyst for a brokerage firm in Chicago, Bear's guys are the macho guys (I mean, sure, they're all macho, but these guys are regularly nuts) and they're all about going where no other brokerage group will go to make money. It worked for them for over 20 years, they made money hand over fist in a lot of questionable moves, and now it's caught up to them.

I am surprised that the offer they accepted was the $236 million from JP Morgan Chase, but I think the reason they chose this was because their counterparty risk looks much safer to their old customers in the hands of JP than it would with some unknown or smaller company. Anybody exposed to Bear breathes a little easier if it's under the Chase name than if it were under inexperienced leadership (this is all obviously based purely on their personal speculation, because it's fear that caused this whole run on Bear Stearns to begin with).

You're going to hear a lot about how this failure is indicative of market direction and that there's going to be more like it, but really, Bear was always the biggest risk-taker, so it makes sense that they'd fall first and hardest.

While it was a death knell for Bear Stearns that the Fed would offer discount window funds on Friday to them, that kind of aggressive, transparent, immediate action will assure a lot of big investors that the Fed will do everything within its power to keep the system running, and since a lot of these markets run high on spec of the Fed, that can have actual positive affect.

To sum up, most of this is caused by fear; this was an old fashioned run on a bank, something the world financial system has suffered before. It might not be good for those who are at the top now, but smart firms like Goldman & Sachs never got involved and will survive a lot of this on the quantitative side.

I blame my floating apostrophe's on the apostropher.

The Subprime Primer mentioned above is highly recommended.

Or you could just google "Minsky Moment".

In short, what has happened is a normal part of a cycle.

1) Jerks borrow money at short term rates with long term assets as collateral. The jerks must continually renew the short term loans to continue to hold the asset being used as collateral. The risk is that lenders might become unwilling to continue to renew the loans under certain circumstances, and the collateral would need to be sold to pay off the loan.

The jerks justify their strategy by coming up with predictive models based on completely unrealistic assumptions about the mathematical distribution of future events. Specifically, they assume that the distribution in the future will be the same as the one in the past. The reality is that the nature of said distribution may completely change within a short time period in ways that are impossible to predict.

2) As long as asset prices are going up, the strategy described above works. The longer the strategy works, the more the jerks borrow. Some of the jerks leverage their assets 32 times or more. This means that if the assets they are holding fall in price by a few percent, they are going to be bankrupt. People who know this is all going to end in tears call for more regulation of jerk-like behavior. They are derided by the jerks, who claim that their strategy is bringing uncountable benefits to the financial world, and that soon people with no jobs, income, or assets will be able to purchase large mansions to live in while investors in impoverished countries provide the financing for people in rich countries to lead completely unproductive lives. Any government intervention, the jerks say, would doom the world to being plunged irrevocably back into the dark ages.

3) Prices of the collateral begin to fall. The jerks say they are astounded that their mathematical models have failed. They try to sell off their collateral, but since nobody but a jerk would buy the assets at the prices being paid, there is no one to sell to. The jerks are technically bankrupt, as are the lenders that lent to the jerks, and the lenders that lent to those lenders, and so on.

But the jerks are only technically bankrupt. As long as nobody sells, everyone can claim that their assets are worth what they were worth a few months ago.

4) The jerks, having run off a cliff, are in a perfectly stable situation, as long as no one looks down. "Nobody look down!" the jerks say. Eventually, some jerk looks down. What did you expect from a jerk?

5) The jerks demand immediate and massive government intervention to ameliorate the situation, and claim that any delay in that intervention will doom the world to being plunged irrevocably back into the dark ages.

All that is part of a completely normal financial cycle that, from time to time, provides amusement to the readers of the financial press. Anyone who knows what LTCM stands for, or who has read The Black Swan, or who knows the history of Japanese real estate has been completely unsurprised by the events of the last year or so.

The only new twist is that the Federal Reserve has abandoned all but the slightest pretense to abide by their legal and stated mission, which is the, "pursuit of maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates".

With their behavior of the last 3 months, they have pretty much admitted to being nothing more than a charity ward for overpaid but mathematically and morally deficient jerks.

Hope that helps! Enjoy your stagflation!

The way this seems to work is as follows: JPMC gets to buy BS for less than the value of the office building because $30B of "less liquid assets" (i.e. crap) are being unloaded on Uncle Sam (i.e. the taxpayers) as part of the deal. All the people at BS who contributed mightily to making this mess get to keep practically all that they "earned" - whether it's a million for a broker or a billion for an executive - while the people they already screwed once by wielding such power over the economy get screwed again by the bailout. All of this is allowed to occur because it would just be terrible to let their bankruptcy cause problems for their friends at the other banks, brokerages, hedge funds, etc.

Cynical? You bet. I know there would be bad effects for everyone if we let BS go bankrupt. There were bad effects from letting them get into this position too, many people knew that and warned about it, but the voices of laissez-faire absolutism prevented any ounce of prevention. To those absolutists, therefore, we must attribute some of the blame. They were wrong, but they will neither acknowledge that fact nor change a single thing they're doing as a result.

I blame my floating apostrophe's on the apostropher.

Yeah? and what about "assest", on whom are you going to foist that one off?

I have done consulting work at "Bear's soaring headquarters on Madison Ave." (Note that there are not any actual bears to be found there.) This sure seems to have come up all of a sudden. I wonder how people are going to be reacting tomorrow.

All the people at BS who contributed mightily to making this mess get to keep practically all that they "earned" - whether it's a million for a broker or a billion for an executive"

Given that 1/3 of the company was owned by the employees, and that the company had a market cap of $8 billion or so 72 hours ago and is now worth what, 1/40th of that, should we really be so harsh towards the employees of that prestigious and storied institution?

Haha, I almost kept a straight face.

the jerks who leveraged their assets into vapor are the assest of all jerks.

Yeah? and what about "assest", on whom are you going to foist that one off?

Damn! I was hoping that one would slide.

Hmmm... thinking back on the deals I've been involved in, the idea that the counterparty bank would default on its obligations was generally never priced into the deals. It was accounted for in the documents, of course (we're lawyers!), but was never treated as a realistic possibility for purposes of who got what.

That's going to change.

And, as if on cue, a rate cut.

A run on the banks. Incredible.

What would the onset of a fiscal depression look and feel like?

This looks like not a bad place to start as per Amos. I wouldn’t say they’re brimming with optimism. Nice clear humane voice.
’Nother nugget from over there is The Carlyle Group that folded last week is a major repository of the Bush family fortune. Also, Lehman Bros. may be the next to go.
What I wonder is what about the Sovereign Funds, Gulf states and China and all. How does that effect the brew?

This is a piece that I take to be useful, from Alternet.

``The dollar is facing a credibility crisis,'' said Koji Fukaya, a senior currency strategist at Deutsche Securities, the Tokyo unit of Deutsche Bank AG, the world's largest currency trader. ``All the markets are entering a vicious cycle.''

The">http://snipurl.com/21wv4">The money shot from Bloomberg.

Damn you Now_What. I was going to add my two cents, but it looks like you allready beat me by a dollar.

I guess I should just get used to comment inflation.

Thanks, everyone. -- The subprime part was the part I more or less understood, at least in a dim, "I am not an economist" sort of way. But at a certain point in my understanding, sometime after housing prices begin to fall, foreclosures skyrocket, and mortgage-backed securities go toxic, there was the sentence: "and then it ramifies in horrible ways".

Some of these ways I had some idea of -- e.g., people have been using their homes as piggy banks; without rising home prices, no taking money out through refis, and thus a lot less demand for everything. Likewise, big trouble for highly leveraged holders of mortgage-backed securities. Some parts I got only vaguely (e.g., "big credit crunch": how would this work, exactly? Details hazy.)

But some parts were utterly opaque (wtf are variable rate auction securities? I have no clue. Likewise, the details of how this spreads from one market to another: I like to know enough to say something more than: well, somehow, it does.)

The links were very helpful. Thanks

Card #1: Sub-prime mortgages (populist policies, greed);
Card #2: All mortgages (upside down borrowers);
Card #3: Municipal bonds (falling tax base, unrealistic due diligence projections, fraud);
Card #4: Small banks (See #1-#3)
Card #5: Dollar ($400+ billion printed this week. Fed will not allow large banks to fail for civilizational reasons)
Card #6: Public pensions
Card #7: Federal credit rating

Goldman Sachs originated a good percentage of the CDOs when Paulson was in charge. When the CDOs popped, Goldman Sachs was not holding them. Meaning Paulson knew what others didn’t.

If there was fraud involved in the CDO disclosures (there was), Goldman Sachs would have to buy them back at face value. Paulson does not want that to happen for personal and corporate reasons. Thus the pay cut to be the people’s representative.

Funny how the taxpayer is left holding the mortgage bag isn’t it.

Won’t comment inflation lead eventually to an attention deficit? I’m already nervous about the amount of risk involved in enlarged verbal bubbles.
And does that mean we have to comment more in order to reach the same level of communication? Do we have to seek out new infomarkets to sustain growth?
What does it all mean?
It all ends when my mind goes Pop!. Right?

hilzoy: The key point for me, I think -- and I share much of your confusion -- was understanding that no one yet has a good grasp on the value of the underlying assets, partially due to the unprecedented way in which the securities were sliced, diced, and recombined. So not only are the assets obviously overleveraged, we simply don't know by how much.

In normal situations, we might expect those prices to restabilize naturally, but since no one knows where the bottom is, we're faced with the run-on-the-bank scenario where everybody tries to liquefy all their assets, which basically means guaranteed disaster for all the usual reasons -- the entire economy runs on leveraged capital and a run on bank means a cascade effect everywhere.

Compounding the problem is that there's also be an overproliferation of CDOs and other insurance-type securities which are at an even higher risk of cascade-type effects, because they're triggered by credit defaults and the assumptions which were used to price those risks (in addition to being highly speculative to begin with, I think) now no longer hold true at all, so there's a double-whammy of creditors having to liquefy a bunch of committed assets and then pay because they bet on the stability of those debts.

At least, that's my understanding. Not an economist, YMMV, etc. Information Processing has had some good links explaining the issue, I think.

In response to this, though:

if anyone knows a good explanation of the current economic problems -- a sort of overview, neither way oversimplified nor requiring extensive knowledge of economics, especially the more technical parts -- please let me know.

"Screwed" is probably a good explanation, I think.

Here’s a stab at the value of the underlying assets:

Goldman Sachs has put out a ‘worst case’ meltdown number of $300 billion. That number would correspond with a 3% drop in home prices and is BS.

There was $20 trillion of residential real estate value at the peak, equally split between mortgages and owner equity. This does not include commercial property.

My corner of the world is down 35% plus from the peak, and inventory is still rising. 30% of $20 trillion is $6 trillion. Assume equally split between mortgage losses and equity losses, that is current bank loss of $3 trillion (T), not Goldman Sach’s $300 billion (B).

I’d throw in another trillion or two on the commercial side.

I'll read the links listed above.

You guys might want to head to MSN MONEY, click on "Investing" and down a little ways on the left-hand side you'll see "Jubak's Journal", by Jim Jubak and "Supermodels" by Jon Markman.

Both have a series of articles over the past few months explaining what has happened, and what might be ahead.

Also, bond maven Bill Gross at PIMCO (Google it), the big mutual fund company, has a post up every few weeks. He's level-headed.

"Blackhedd", at Redstate, who works on Wall Street, I believe, has been posting on this thing for months and he's pretty good. Don't read the comments -- it's all Hillary's, no, Obama's, who's ahead at the moment?, and Pelosi's fault.

felix culpa: Some of the sovereign funds have been buyers of the funky paper floating (sinking, more like it) around and have injected capital into Citigroup and some other investment banks.

Also, it was Carlyle Capital, a subsidiary of Carlyle Group, that pretty much folded.
Still, not good.

now_what: Bear Stearns common was @$160 a share little more than 12 or 14 months ago. Friday's close at @$33 is interesting.

As in, if anyone tells you the market looks ahead six months, or that it has all of the information, or that it KNOWs, don't listen.

The market is a dumbass. JPMorgan, Bear Stearns, and the Federal Reserve, among others, knew Bear Stearns common was worth $2 a share before Friday's close. Very little of that information was transmitted via prices.

Also, regarding Fed behavior: be very afraid, not because Bill tells you to be afraid ;) but because the Federal Reserve is very afraid. Because of leverage and financial innovation, mostly at the margin, this financial contagion has its tentacles everywhere.

Paper (mortgage backed bonds, many municipal bonds, all kinds of weird crap with odd names), is untradable, frozen in money market accounts, bond funds, etc., probably mine and yours.

The Fed is cutting rates drastically, but market rates (mortgage rates, for example) aren't falling and many are rising, some drastically.

The system is seizing up. Yeah, there's lots of moral hazard in the Fed's behavior, but you do not want to see the alternative.

Three more points: Do not listen to Jim Cramer. Yes, he is good for reasons too complicated to go into here, but on Wednesday, I think, he told a caller on his show that it would be very foolish to take his money out of Bear Stearns account. He says EVERYTHING at least once a week.

Also, think about this the next time someone tells you the stock market will save Social Security. The Standard and Poor's 500, not including dividends (@1.8% yield at the moment) has returned exactly zip, zero, nadda over the past ten years.

Yes, other indexes, international and small cap have returned more, but if you retired ten years ago and you had a good portion of your money in the S@P 500 purchased ten years ago, you didn't get much.

Dollar-cost averaging ameliorates the situation, but ...

Last point: Let's hope this is opportunity in the making for everyone.

PS. Tell me again who had a great big fall last week. Was it Elliot Spitzer? I hope he didn't catch anything from the many Bear Stearns geniuses who used the same service.

Won’t comment inflation lead eventually to an attention deficit? I’m already nervous about the amount of risk involved in enlarged verbal bubbles.

Well, any individual comment can be stupid. But, statistically speaking, if you bundle all the comments together, the stupidity or lack thereof will average out.

So we can collect the comments of Obsidian Wings, and make a few different books out of them.

The first book will have only the top 30%, ranked by astuteness, of the comments that are made here. We'll shop that around to the top-tier publishing houses, and it will be a highly-rated bestseller and make some money.

The second book will have the middle 40% of the comments. We can use that one to teach the concept of "fallacious reasoning" to developmentally disabled 3rd graders.

The third book will have the bottom 30% of the comments. We'll call that one "RedTraunche". No attempt will be made to derive any commercial value from it.

JPMorgan, Bear Stearns, and the Federal Reserve, among others, knew Bear Stearns common was worth $2 a share before Friday's close. Very little of that information was transmitted via prices.

If you looked at the put options being bought in the middle of the week, that information was being transmitted. Although presumably the transmitters of it are under SEC investigation at the moment.

And if you think ten years of 0 returns is a travesty, don't click on this thing. That's what happens when people play a game of, "pretend the banks aren't bankrupt".

2$ for the common shares.
My question - what did the preferred shares, if any get. That's where a certain class of investors get first draw at the payout bucket. Did that include founders, or other bigwigs?

Robert Reich has been doing a reasonable job on these topics on his blog recently: http://robertreich.blogspot.com/

John, you certainly keep your ranking. Thanks.

So how much is there to the meme that the financial center of gravity is shifting away from North America, and does that mean something tectonic to the culture?
Are we to be feasting on schadenfreude?

&, any opinion on the Markit operation?
And I’ve got a pain in my left knee...

…does that mean something tectonic to the culture? -f.c.

Robert Reich is a politician and a dummy. It doesn’t matter if we’re heading into a severe recession or a depression. In 1929, zero percent of the federal budget was spent on social programs. Social programs consist of upwards of seventy percent of spending in 2008. Rising fast. Economic friction creating no value.

The credit agencies have already put our government on notice. The downturn associated with a severe recession or a depression would grant the federal government the same status as the Port Authority of New York: unable to borrow.

Plato knew this long ago:

"The probable outcome of too much freedom is only too much slavery in the individual and the state. Probably, then, tyranny develops out of no other constitution than democracy--from the height of liberty, I take it, the fiercest extreme of servitude.”

Cheers to an interesting century.

The market is a dumbass. JPMorgan, Bear Stearns, and the Federal Reserve, among others, knew Bear Stearns common was worth $2 a share before Friday's close. Very little of that information was transmitted via prices.

John, I'm sorry, but you don't know what you're talking about. I mean, look at how the market corrected for Enron. You can't hide things from the invisible hand.

Here’s a stab at the value of the underlying assets:

Here's a fun thought experiment: per the Atlantic Monthly last month, many recently-built new homes are being abandoned and falling apart due to foreclosures and so forth, and many of those new McMansion housing developments are turning into suburban ghettos.

Consider what happens if the value of the underlying assets is steadily eroded by the downturn itself, and just how that'll impact the market volatility and any potential correction.

Another good site for analysis not already mentioned (if I've managed to outrun comment inflation that is) is Yves Smith at www.nakedcapitalism.com

The much broader context I would add from a very non-technical perspective (i.e. I'm not a finance or econ guy, I just read around a lot) is that lagging incomes and deficit spending here in the US (both public and private sector) have contributed to slowly building up a very large solvency crisis (i.e., we're a lot closer to being broke than we realize) which has been concealed by an equally large credit bubble.

The deflation of the credit bubble is now exposing the solvency crisis, which when combined with the opacity of our credit markets and the very complex Rube Goldberg contraptions they've created to package and sell ever larger amounts of liquidity, is having the effect of destroying confidence that all (or even a substantial fraction) of the money which has been loaned out during the credit bubble will get paid back or even how to value it [insert lyrics from All Along The Watchtower here], and that is in turn accelerating the destruction of liquidity.

There is a systemic risk of a runaway feedback loop here. IIRC Warren Buffett was the one who said that when the tide goes out you find out who has been swimming naked. The risk here is that the naked people are going to get trampled as everyone stampedes back to the bathhouse to get dressed all at the same time, because everyone at risk knows that at some point the doors are going to be locked and anyone left outside is finished.

One way the Fed is trying to help is by making some technical features of their system available to actors in the credit markets (who would normally not qualify) so they can temporarily exchange questionable assets for cash. This has the effect of postponing mark-to-market valuations (which say that assets have to be valued at what somebody will pay for them now, not what you wish they were worth) because the assets posted as collateral are temporarily removed from the market for about a month or so. Hopefully this will act a brake to prevent any short-term panic from gathering steam.

The really worrisome problem is that the Fed is running out of things it can do, and most of the tools they have are designed to manage liquidity not solvency. They can drive interest rates into the ground and basically print money out of thin air but all that does is devalue the dollar. To fix a solvency crisis you need to create wealth, not just hand out money. The Fed cannot do that. A bigger worry is that if the Fed tries too hard for too long to use liquidity tools to fix a solvency problem they could trigger Weimar style hyperinflation.

I tried to write this for non-econ folks, I hope the smarter and better informed here will correct all of the mistakes that I've made. Also, I'm extremely bearish on the subject of macro-level systemic risks. Others will be much more optimistic than this. YMMV.

Adam, I think we finally find ourselves in agreement. But it’s not all bad. Homemade bread is far better than that crap they sell in stores. Here’s a recipe for late-night sandwich rolls:

500g high-protein flour
300g water
1.5 tablespoon yeast
1.5 tablespoon oil*
½ tsp salt
½ tsp sugar

A hotter oven is better, at least 500F. A brick oven is best, if you dare click on ‘Bill’. Yields 8 wonderful fluffy rolls. Costs next to zero. Bring your own meat.

* As a working prole, I use olive oil. If necessary, you can boil a squirrel and skim the surface.

these links and comments have been great - very informative.

someone correct me if i'm wrong please, but isn't this all more of an insolvency problem than an illiquidity problem? and if so, is the Fed simply prolonging the inevitable?

Yes. And yes.

JT asks "PS. Tell me again who had a great big fall last week. Was it Elliot Spitzer? I hope he didn't catch anything from the many Bear Stearns geniuses who used the same service."

His hooker at least insisted on protection which was smarter than most of the people who have had dealings with Bear Stearns acted.

So they would only have problems if they shared the same condom. Now that I think about it, that does seem like the kind of thing people in the financial community think is a good idea as cost saving measure.

someone correct me if i'm wrong please, but isn't this all more of an insolvency problem than an illiquidity problem? and if so, is the Fed simply prolonging the inevitable?

Others on this thread are far more technically competent than I am, but my take is that the Fed is looking at trying to steer a course because the risk that the credit markets will lock up and the alternative of orchestrating a replay of 1990's Japan style stagnation, with the latter looking like the better option if push comes to shove.

Some of their moves, like opening up the TAF and accepting what is rumored to be mortgage backed collateral, smell an awful lot like mark-to-model in disguise. The question is, will they offer a safe harbor from mark-to-market only for a short period to stop a panic from getting out of hand, or will it stretch out longer and longer.

Bill, can I create a Collateralized Yeast Obligation to divide up the tranches of your bread production and secure my preferred level of flavor and fluffiness? What are the coefficients for your Li cupola defining the cutoff between tranches? It this your initial offering and have you completed your SEC Registration Statement yet for the sale of these securities, or is this a purely private placement for bread?

John Lanchester had a

"John Lanchester had a"

Had a what? If he had the answer to life, I've once again just missed it.


"John, I'm sorry, you don't know what you are talking about."

No apology necessary, Adam. I'll take a lash to my roomful of chimps sitting at computer terminals. Obviously, they are not typing fast enough.

However, the $33/share closing price of Bear Stearns stock on Friday afternoon reminds me John Lanchester, quoted above by Ginger Yellow ---- cut off in mid-price discovery.

Remember, Bear Stearns opened at around that price on Friday morning and remained there all day, while guys on conference calls bandied about a $2/share price.

Generally speaking, I should rephrase my remarks. The market may know what's up but it ain't gonna tell you until it's too late.

not Adam, for that first quote, but rather Ginger Yellow.

Now, do better next time you doggoned monkeys, or I'll .... I don't know what!

John --

Just deadpanning, of course, as usual. If your monkeys can read a 10-K (or, you know, Forbes), they probably would have caught Enron before the financial markets did :D


Heck, most of the monkeys sitting down the hall from Kenneth Lay read the 10-K and kept the stock in their retirement plans, even though they wrote the 10-K.


Well, what could go wrong? If anything happens, it's that JEDI company that'll take the hit. I hear they can use the Force. Or those Raptor dudes. They sound tough. What the heck does that have to do with me working here at Enron? And why is this Swedish accountant yelling at me?

(OK, he says his name's Vince and he's actually from Poland. What should I tell him? Sincerely, Concerned Citizen.)

Houston, we have a problem - Bankruptcy!

Jack: "What is happening in the US?! So, as we all know Bear Stearns more or less went bankrupt... Then JPMorgan buys them for 2 Dollars a share before the markets even open on monday! And the FED cuts rates by 0.25% on sunday?"

John: "Oh, I guess you didn't get the memo? I think we just went bankrupt, those dollars you were using are now worthless, it's time to launch the lifeboats!"

Jack: "Holly, Holly, Holly, John, we are 300 milles over Atlantic and without oxygen!"

Sorry, screwed up the HTML. Lanchester had a good overview article in the LRB a while back, but it's very much from a UK perspective. Calculated Risk is definitely the best online resource for US readers.

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