Charles Taylor converts to Judaism

Madonna was bad enough, but this is really beyond the pale.

Former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, currently imprisoned at the Hague awaiting trial for war crimes in Sierra Leone, has apparently decided to convert to Judaisim, one of his wives tells BBC radio (my transcript):

Q. So he's now a practicing Jew?

A. He's now a Jew. He's practicing Judaism. 

Q. Tells us about that? What led him to that?

A. Because of the difficulties, he always wanted to know God in a very diffent and special way. From a very small boy -- because we talk about his childhood a whole lot -- he asked himself questions about Christianity. Too many questions about why certain things happened. And why, this one and that one. Just too many question in Christianity and the whole thing about Christ because he does believe in Christ. When he got to the Hague, he got to know that he really, really wanted to be a Jew. Wanted to convert to Judaism. And that...

Q. Does that mean he has rejected Christianity then? Because that's quite a radical departure.

A. No, no, no he hasn't rejected Christianity. He has always been a Christian. He just decided to become a Jew. He wants to follow the two religions.

Least. Welcome. Convert. Ever.

I also can't help wondering if he got this idea from George Bluth on Arrested Development.

(Hat tip: Shelby Grossman via Chris Blattman)



U.S. employment cratering at a less breakneck speed

New U.S. employment numbers out this morning indicate things are getting worse at a less-breakneck pace. A mere 345,000 Americans lost their jobs in the month of May.

The New York Times sunnily reports that the numbers are "a welcome sign that the decline in the job market would not continue forever."

People will say this means the recession is bottoming out. They will call it a green shoot. They will glass-half-full it. Pollyannaism is Pollyannaism. 

But the report is dismal: that graph on the front web page of the New York Times shows change, not the absolute unemployment. The employment-to-population ratio is under 60 percent, the underemployment number is 16.4 percent, and unemployment is worse than the provisional numbers used the stress tests. 

Plus, a Deutsche Bank report notes, "the length of the workweek declined by 0.1 hour to 33.1 hours, which is the aggregate hour equivalent of an additional loss of about 350k jobs" -- making May look much more like April.  

Still, there are signs that even if the employment numbers in the U.S. are really bad, things worse elsewhere. Here's a fascinating graph from Stratfor:



The chart is missing a few key countries, most notably China. (Stratfor says it did not include China because its economy is too different to compare. Fair point.) Stratfor argues the recession is hitting the U.S. much more softly because "the American system is far more stable, durable and flexible than most of the other global economies, in large part thanks to the country’s geography."

It makes some sense: each country's economy grows to take advantage of its geography. Russia, with its massive oil and gas reserves, benefited from the massive surge in commodity prices through 2008; it has been hit hard since because the economy is highly dependent on that one industry. The U.S. economy is much more resource- and industry-diverse.

I wonder what Robert D. Kaplan would have to say about all of this...which countries' have advantageous geographies for downturns? Is this why Australia seems to be doing relatively well?

(h/t The Monkey Cage and Ezra Klein)