30 December 2008

Crime "wave"

Crime is up!, we're doomed! or not

It is funny what experts do with numbers. In this case, it seems pretty obvious that population increases in a criminally susceptible population (from lack of employment, education, etc) would cause a rise in violent crime. And of course it did. That there's some additional crime may or may not be statistically relevant (it doesn't appear to be).

The real issue is the hockey stick graph method. I hate how people present trends as coming out of nowhere or totally disproportionate to their actual natures. There was a very slight uptick in murders by/of black youths. But on the NYT, it looks like the return of our vaunted super criminals from the early 90s. Naturally it doesn't even come close to that. Which makes me wonder why Fox is calling for a major push of dollars for criminal enforcement or whatnot. (Maybe he got burned by Wall St and needs money?).

And naturally, thinking often as an economist as I often do now, it doesn't appear to be a good idea to keep pushing the war on drugs either. But given my recent (online) arguments in this arena, it appears to be an entrenched emotional problem. People who have known addicts or had them in their own families tend to be overly protective and do not want to allow a legal market. I realize there's some pain involved. That doesn't change the objective facts. It is quite clear that what we have been doing isn't the way to cure that pain for others.

Also. I need more egg nog. That stuff IS addictive.

25 December 2008

good signs

trade is good

In case anyone is wondering. The holiday season tends to drain out free time for my prolonged thought processes. I've had trouble even getting around to finishing several books. Not that I had much actual shopping to do, seeing as I know few people and mostly have cousins to buy for. I think it's mostly a palpable weight that it assumes on my thoughts. Either that or the cold does it and I'm spending my time like Lewis Black with thoughts that fade out into "It's cold", with perhaps more or less profane additions involved depending on the thermometer and my ability to devise a word for my displeasure of frigid air.

In the actual news, this was a good sign. Especially for Vietnam, but more generally, restrictive trade policies are part of the underlying causes of the Great Depression (or at least, they certainly didn't help it). I should hope that we follow this example, particularly since Japan already had a credit crunch and real estate/stock meltdown over a decade ago.

19 December 2008

discombobulated parts

Who had Tony Parker/Longoria and Brandon Roy as the first two 50 point games of the year?

I've been following at some distance the scandal with the hedge fund fellow. I'm not that surprised to see a system used to scam billionaires, I'm just surprised it took the total economic meltdown of the stock market for people to figure out they were being scammed. I may look into it further, but it sounds more or less like any confidence scam, just conducted on a very large scale and with a supposed official status as a "hedge fund".

These sorts of things come up more and more often with a society that continues to extend the limits of the mobility of the concept of 'identity'. It was one thing when there are dozens of "John Smiths". It's another when there are dozens of the same "John Smith". It's not like that cloning technology is coming around the bend just yet. The fungible nature of who we are and who we can trust is becoming a marketable commodity. In some ways it may be good to have a market on trust. But like many other brand competitions, it relies on having someone else independently valuable worth trusting also. And the whole thing then relies on a sort of chicken/egg scam. "You can trust us" Why? "Because they said so". Why should I trust them? "Because we said so".

In the particular case, it works basically like that. "You can trust me because I work on Wall St and nobody seems to think I'm capable of doing anything wrong (even the people whose job it is to see if I was doing anything wrong)". Yes...quite a load of crap. Bullshit is rampant in reality and it seems better not to bother trusting people with such things (asking questions is really an annoying hobby to have if you want people to get along with you, I'm willing to hazard it at least). I guess it's good to see it get caught once in a while. But it doesn't mean we should let the burden for our inability to ask questions be shouldered only by a federal regulatory body (which also dropped the ball).

15 December 2008

honestly who throws a shoe?

Good work..sort of

I'm not sure a shoe would be nearly sufficient to accomplish anything (which I guess is the point). At least it is funny.

13 December 2008

So terrorists are bad right?

Uh, why didn't they check a few years ago?

I'm not sure why this particular headline was picked. It makes it sound like we were doing in part what I have suggested has been lacking from our overall anti-terror strategy. Namely, what is so troubling about American or American-"ism" that it fosters the growth of international terrorist cells in other countries (or in the US itself). I have to wonder why this question has been fundamentally rejected as unimportant. It does not rule out the prospect of invading sovereign nations as our game of nations rulers are wont to do. It does not rule out the possibility of non-interventionism, as many Americans used to be wont to do. It just asks some formative questions about the particular enemy we are engaging before committing to a strategic game of maneuver. Or as we are apparently willing to do, fumble around with troops in hostile territory without a clear idea what will pacify the natives, and play read and react with the terrorist's mail by over-analyzing everything that shows up on Al-Jazeera.

Since the actual article basically says what everyone should have known: that the American strategy is unchanged and still inflexible. It's pretty boring. One weirdo factor out of our Iranian experience was that assassinations are no good for creating foreign policy regime changes. Apparently that leaves on the table: embargoes (which don't work one iota on tyrannical societies and require multilateral support to have any effect at all) or full-out invasions (which seems mostly to induce advanced societies to produce enriched uranium while the little guys can get flattened if we care enough to bomb them). That should not be our only two options and having them as the only "out" cards in the deck seems to suggest we've made some fundamental errors in reaching them.

12 December 2008

politics are weird

It's amusing media types try to get around phrases like 'ass backwards'. Verbal contortions are quite silly. Bass ackwards?

10 December 2008

education for education

What are the criteria when there are no criteria?
There were a couple nuggets in here that sounded interesting (if not surprising).

"estimates that the students of a very bad teacher will learn, on average, half a year’s worth of material in one school year. The students in the class of a very good teacher will learn a year and a half’s worth of material." This is a crucial understanding to make. It very probably explains why so many teachers have to begin a year with a segment of review. Because their predecessors are by general measures terrible by comparison and didn't get to several important steps. There is also a reverse effect that needs better accounting: students who would get through an extra year's work in a subject. Both are possibly good calls for more flexible understandings of grade levels.

"Teacher effects are also much stronger than class-size effects. You’d have to cut the average class almost in half to get the same boost that you’d get if you switched from an average teacher to a teacher in the eighty-fifth percentile." -- Of course, we don't know really what a teacher in the 85th percentile is just by looking, or even through testing standards. But Gladwell naturally went on to state that the cost of an average teacher is the same as that of a good one. I would propose that it shouldn't be. Under a market system, we would probably see the same sort of guesswork and investigative research that goes into evaluating future quarterbacks or starting pitchers in sports, but we would also see better teachers commanding better pay over time, and less of a demand for smaller classrooms.

"have investigated whether it helps to have a teacher who has earned a teaching certification or a master’s degree. Both are expensive, time-consuming credentials that almost every district expects teachers to acquire; neither makes a difference in the classroom." -- This doesn't surprise me at all. Education majoring isn't as useful as majoring in the subject material and then understanding how to communicate that subject to a given body (small children, teens, whatever).

The prospect is offered later in the article that raising the standards on who gets to teach is ridiculous. What instead is needed is a sort of training camp for teachers after they are admitted, to shake out the good ones from the bad. That makes sense, is probably cheaper than our alternatives (requiring degrees and so forth, which raises the pay scale). Of course, the reasons for the rising hiring standards are generally the license systems being controlled by the unions rather than the educational boards. But that's a side issue. Further included as options: getting rid of or curtailing tenured positions. The flexible pay that I proposed. The general trend of economic thinking and evaluation isn't necessarily a progress to society, but I offer that it will allow some advantages...and this is most definitely one of them if we can revamp our educational system into something that works.

"What does it say about a society that it devotes more care and patience to the selection of those who handle its money than of those who handle its children?" -- I think it says that one industry is allowed to operate under a market economy and the other is not. But then that's only my opinion. The financial industry has has decades to develop a system of sorts in evaluating the people who enter and succeed at it. Football or baseball drafts are similarly confused, in part because of the draft system. But mainly they are still new evaluational processes, conducted under duress. At least baseball has a minor league system which allows the development (potentially) of prospects. Football players would probably demand much, much higher salaries for professional players than they already do if they had a similar apprenticeship system. Teachers on the other hand can teach for decades, just like a good financial planner. The impact they have is (possibly) measurable, and ideally greater than that of a good planner. Yet we have a virtually impenetrable wall in front of this means of growing and harnessing the great teachers and culling them out from terrible ones. I'd say it says the society has a fundamental problem with how it has organized itself along these crucial lines.

07 December 2008

more activity

This one is the Frankenstein type idea. The last one was my own.

It is likely that with a voucher type system (I'd prefer a tax credit system rather than a voucher, the tax credit is more individually flexible and evades the goofy problems of private schools often being parochial, for now), that competitive schools would emerge to challenge the public school monopoly. Right now with tax dollars forced to go to one location, there are no feasible economic reasons to create additional/different schools to meet a prospective demand for such. Only those parents capable of meeting through their own independent means fund their demand for a higher standard of education, hence only two private schools (the back and forth responses indicated there are only two private schools in the other fella's home state). If indeed we are speaking of collections of people so small that a demand would not be economically viable, then there is a problem. There are few such communities left. The answer is not to get better teachers only in public schools, but to have better teachers available period and have parents/students able to select them through a market process rather than through a (union controlled) license system.

This was unsurprisingly met with the resistance that is deserved for supporting vouchers even partially. "When vouchers have been implemented, it has been shown it works as a tax cut for the people already going to private school. The problem is they can accept any one they want. They can not let in poor people or minorities or any kids that achieve at a low level. This would cause the public schools to be the schools of last resort and only house the lowest achieving children, and no teachers would want to go there. This downward spiral, i fear, would create a illiterate class in our society, something much worse than the status quo." So I had to defend my actual position: tax credits used to create a totally private market for education. My position is unfortunately too radical to be popular (much like privatizing OASI), but I have no problems with that.

There are several fundamental problems with this, but since many of them are caused by my previous vague preferences, I must be more clear: I very much prefer a tax credit system to a voucher program. A voucher leaves in place the current problems and places at their side an option which doesn't really offer much. A tax credit does more what I want; kill off the public school system monopoly and create a marketplace for education.

For my purposes the essential problems are that there are 'government/public schools' and 'private schools'. My interest is that there should be 'a school' or 'a better school', or 'an affordable school'. There should be no "public school system" at all. This is not to say that there would not be (extensive) public subsidy involved, but my preference would be that the subsidy of education is actually executed by the free choice of individuals given tax credit by government(s) for spending money to foster educational growth in others. No preference should be exercised for a state monopoly on education as this severely limits the ability of individuals to supply education for their progeny.

1) The current status quo you are defending is precisely the spiraling scenario you are afraid of. Some public school districts are ALREADY a school of last resort whose students are generally poorly educated (if they are still attending) and whose districts are generally composed of the poor or minorities. In strict terms, families are stuck there because they cannot execute the choices available to them to improve the education of their children. They cannot afford a private school, even with a voucher system, and they cannot afford to move to a more affluent neighborhood with a genuinely useful public school system because the property values are much too high. Their children must suffer with what they have, and in many cases, suffer they do. Under a non-monopoly system, there would be options available to them to spend whatever funds they can desire to do so for education and a basic requirement that those funds afford for their children at least a minimally competent education (most essentially issues like basic math and literacy along with a smattering of civic awareness, but certainly there are many other issues which might be considered of value to the public utility of education). There is no accountability in the present system owing to the government monopoly over school systems in many locations and we should expect no responsiveness, adaptivity, or improvements so long as a monopoly remains firmly in education.

2) As previously discussed, a person without cannot make these choices. But to put it quite plainly, a person with means can already perfectly execute the system you are describing as happening only under a voucher or tax credit system. They can, if they choose, send their children to 'a better school' by moving to an affluent district or paying for private schooling. If it is their wish, and unfortunately this is still true of many, they can send their children to a school with very little in the way of minority attendance (and that very often more or less only Asians, depending on local demographics). A monopoly is naturally more discriminatory than a free market as it imposes fewer internal costs on discrimination (of any prejudicial format), where as the market imposes the costs of discrimination directly. A system which allows favorable preferences to be expressed for higher values placed on education ONLY by people of means is necessarily unfair for everyone else, as is a system which naturally excludes minorities. Such systems impose a social cost of vigilance against that minority or illiterate underclass and deprivation of the diverse contributions and scholarship potentially provided by such. Education in its pure ability can become a meritocracy where people can achieve through their innate ability or interest, regardless of means or race. Right now it does not achieve this end. I propose that it would most nearly do so under a responsive market circumstance and propose to abolish the state monopoly, not merely place alongside it an attractive option for people already able to manipulate it to their advantage.

3) I am not sure that I understand the significance of objection to accepting or rejecting 'low achievement'. The issue of education should be one of supply and demand. The demand of parents is for their children to get an education, generally speaking, and a supply will be made to meet it. Even low achievement students will therefore have options, such as schools or teachers which specialize in such 'problem students' or special needs (a name which should really apply both to students of minimal or exceptional ability). As undesirable as these options are in the present circumstances, they can be accounted for. Teachers might expect (and receive) better pay and have better administrative support in exchange for tackling these problems. I would also presume that the necessary involvement of parents could improve where they are more responsible for the decisions of where their children will attend and where they are aware of the immediate costs of that attendance (even if they are re-compensated). This factor can be overvalued but is of some consequence. Right now it is of no significance.

Or alternatively/alongside we could have more practical educational options combined with a re-accessible education system all along its length, at least beyond primary education, which should probably be mandated to about 7th grade. Either high school or the first two years of college are a joke, and many people shouldn't be doing both. Nor am I at all ready to be convinced that a high school diploma is somehow essential. In any event, academic achievement is often, by itself, useless except to other academics. The assumption that all students should be at least adequate academics is a value judgment which isn't realistic. Not everyone likes reading Shakespeare or studying WWII while commenting on politics, as I do. If we assume that they should be competent in such things in order to be considered literate or educated, then I have to suggest a functional disagreement with what the aims of education should be. Namely that it should provide a desire and ability to learn, provide some basic tools to do so, then to help feed whatever hunger for knowledge and wisdom that creates. Naturally some subjects will be disagreeable to the individual or their ability and they may be of low achievement in these arenas. I'm not how sure that's the state's problem to resolve to the exclusion of other agencies and, more importantly, without the option of choice by the individual and their parents on how to resolve it.

activity responses

Since I've been busy lately arguing over some various political questions I'll re-post some ideas I sketched out. One of them is actually mine, one is basically my adaptation of several old ideas.

"Should the government become the spender of last resort and have a massive stimulus to boost the economy?" -- Further clarification of this relies on the idea that the government could just buy up cars or TVs, or whatever in order to inject spending in the system. A direct stimulus check to the public it is argued would go into savings or debt, or mortgages and wouldn't cycle as much as spending does. There's a lot of problem with the idea that we should be spending (even though not spending is what causes recessions in part..and it means I've been spending because everything is so damn cheap). I was also very worried that this sort of idea was basically a soft price floor which price controls are generally a horrid economic idea.

I'd propose something a little different if his (Blankley's) idea is to have government buy stuff. Take people who are currently filing for unemployment and ask them if they'd like to have something to do for a little extra cash. Tell them it doesn't involve bombs or guns (which may dismay some). Give them a mission to go out and purchase a car or TV, or whatever it is the government wants them to buy on their behalf with a pre-paid credit card. If they spend less than the amount necessary to get the item(s), then they get a commission on the difference and still collect unemployment as usual. If they spend the amount or more, they get unemployment (and I guess the difference), but nothing else. They should have plenty of time to bargain hunt. If they spend the credit card on strippers or whatever, it's gone (they don't have to repay it), but they get nothing. They forfeit unemployment benefits and obviously no commissions. It should be spent on the requested item(s) only. That gets around the price floor from negotiated government spending, gives unemployed people something to do in the 'make work' tradition of FDR (and I'd have no problem extending unemployment out for a reasonable time of service in this task), and it still injects some money into the economy by force feeding spending. I'm not fully in favor of this idea either, but I find it much preferred to a price control system created by massive non-defense government purchases in consumer arenas.

I'm not seeing a reason to use a price floor as consumers won't buy below their market price which merely encourages more people not to produce (or adds to the inventory surpluses of manufacturers/retailers, which would create a massive price war between MSRP and retail except for the Supreme court's decision last year). Consumer spending makes up something like 70% of GDP, not the government's budget. If they don't buy, there is no way the government can make up the difference. That's many trillions of dollars we're talking about.

05 December 2008

college costs alot, news at eleven

Somehow I don't think this was a breaking news story. College has generally always been the expensive province of the wealthy, with some exceptions made for the gifted few. Even today with our expanded demand for college educated persons to do everything, despite the fact that few professions have better than a tenuous link to what a college education provided historically, the actual percentage of people attending what are perceived as prestigious universities (those which would therefore actually have some supposed impact on future earnings, again a tenuous link) is still roughly the same as it always has been. Roughly 10% used to get a college degree, it's roughly 10% who get either an advanced degree or attend a 'top school', even though the percentage of graduates increased to almost 30%. Virtually millions of people are effectively scammed into believing they need a college degree for...something.

To me, the fact that tuition has increased dramatically isn't surprising at all, it's predicted by basic economics. In an issue of supply and demand, where the supply is roughly fixed by the amount of people able and interested in teaching at a university level (consider for example that to do so, one should be actually versed in the subject, rather than what we often do for public schools), and the demand keeps going up and up, the price would naturally go up and up. We have made this worse by demanding through public policy that we expand the amounts of people going to college and by thus throwing money into it. A college which knows people will pay any price to go, even if it means leveraging their future earnings for a long, long time, will be able to charge any price. The results are somewhat disappointing. Of course, there are some professions which are less than concerning when this creates a strange over supply of people training in them. But what it does to say, the medicinal arts, is park a large portion of people in less than their favorable choice of specialty (or even a specialty period) in order to pay off their financial aid.

There are other issues with this that make less sense. For example, most people generally attend school/college once. They pay it back, if they must do so (some of us get scholarships or pay while working), over a long period of time during which time they have (hopefully) improved their earnings potential by going to school. The amount of money for an advanced degree may be roughly comparable to that of a home mortgage. And yet the amount of money it may potentially gain may be many thousands more than this (though this is a fishy calculation used to advertise going to college in the first place). More over, most people don't just buy one home in their lifetime, or especially, one car, which is roughly comparable to an undergraduate degree at a subsidized state college. It is assumed somehow that the price tag for college should be somehow 'cheaper'? Why? If it is both valuable enough to make a priority for people to do it, then why should it be 'affordable' in the view of the public. It should represent a cost or at best, a costly investment in human capital.

Most of the 'alternatives' that exist are perfectly reasonable. For example, going to a two year school to blow through all the gen ed requirements is both cheaper and possibly more useful. Testing out of them entirely is probably the most efficient bang for the buck, but not everyone can do that. Most people can attend a subsidized two year college, blast through a series of what would otherwise be boring classes that would cost ten times as much at another school, then transfer off to that 'another school' and finish out their degree. There is nothing wrong with this decision. Virtually all gen ed classes are the same whether they are at Harvard or Cape Cod Community College. The difference is in price and perception. It might be assumed that at Harvard, more is expected of a student (ie, the 'professor' doesn't do much actual teaching). But otherwise the distinctions are meaningless for an undergraduate.

The final problem is that is a burden on poverty. I agree with the conclusion that making college ever more expensive provides a cyclical situation, especially as we make our claims that somehow everything requires a college education to get a job in it. There are simple economic solutions to this. Freidman basically proposed a garnishment system on future earnings, sort of like a direct investment in human capital and its associated returns. I'm not totally certain we should be subsidizing the cost of higher education, but if we must do so, the premise should actually be consistent with the effect. The effect of providing loans and subsidies to universities has been to raise the effective cost of entry. As with health care, a subsidized system may be necessary or desirable to gain positive externalities for the rest of us. But the effects of such a system have proven to gain very unintended negative problems without a simple transparent system working to help control costs.

While a university education may be seen as an intrinsic good, it is effectively difficult to place an actual price tag on how we value it (sort of like a mastercard commercial: priceless). Hence we seem to be willing to find some way to bear any burden, this despite any reasonable measures on what that burden actually gains. It is difficult to quantify what an undergraduate degree gains for the person who attains it. A college graduate is apt to be a person of some natural intellect, and some natural ambitions already. Such a person might very well be capable of making, through their own exertions, plenty of money. Or it is entirely possible that only through whatever specialized training they sought and became certified in were they going to make money. Personally I suspect that the actual economic effectiveness in college education is through the networking that develops. Placing ourselves in contact with other people of similar means and goals allows us a framework to find support in as we take on the new tasks of finding gainful employment later. These casual links with professors and other students are very useful for this purpose. I highly doubt that the actual learning could not occur outside of an academic setting, particularly in some courses and that such activities are really a cover for the actual purpose of a college: academic research or scholarship. As a result, I'm not sold that such things are necessary good for the entire American adult population or that such benefits are not generally to be taken as intrinsic to the individual partaking of them, rather than as some general social good to be sought after and attained. Education in and of itself is a valuable commodity, worthy of subsidy and public supports. Higher education seems to me to be a valuable commodity to the person and individual, rather than always a socially migratory good of others.

02 December 2008

Maybe now somebody will listen

Economists take over

I still remain cautious in my judgments of the incoming administration and its potential plans to aid our ailing economy. But indeed things like this make for considerable appeal. Someone willing to call out a stupid political gimmick as a meaningless economic gesture (the gas tax holiday) may be able to avoid doing most of the other political gimmicks that presided over previous economic problems (namely populist mandates such as price controls, further contractions of money supply, endless indictments and recriminations of CEOs, etc).

There are indeed some interesting problems emerging, in that it will be possible to use the economic injections to pass several Obama reforms in relatively unrelated areas, such as infrastructure or environmental infrastructure, neither of which will 'create new jobs' as is suspected. But there are tempting conclusions being proffered by these incoming economists and the elected Obama camp that suggest some of his campaign rhetoric was just that. Considering the general ignorance of the public on economics, it may even be possible to basically say we as a country are doing one thing (and harness whatever placebo effectiveness that has on the country's economic psyche), but do something different. This to me represents the scene in Idiocracy where Joe claims he can talk to plants in order to convince the dolts that water was needed.

It confuses me greatly where a large contingent of either major party is chronically anti-intellectual and thus virtually ignorant of issues that relate to empirical data (in this case, economics, but certainly the other major sciences can offer dozens of similar examples) and yet they seem still to want intellectuals to solve their problems. That strikes me also as a serious problem.

28 November 2008

report from the front

Shopping/holiday season is going to bomb. Or else they're going to need much better sales as it goes along. It was possible to walk straight into Best Buy within 10 minutes of it's opening, and possible then to walk around in the store without impediment, then possible to find most anything still (except the very best deals on high end items). Usually that 10 minute frenzy means the next wave is picking over the bones already. There was a TV crew setting up, but since they had room to setup and no one was throwing anything over their heads, I'd be worried their copy will be more alarmist than mine.

This was quite a bit more pathetic than what I am accustomed to as a contact sport of black friday ad fulfillment. I may have had to go to Wal-Mart to experience the full fury, but that is a rather risky proposition. Risky as in physical injury or hospital trips become more than likely. Not as in I didn't find what I wanted while jostling with dozens of overweight parents screaming over something or other.

On the plus side, I added 6 DVDs with an average imdb score over 8.0 to my collection for under $30. I'd say I'm satisfied with my shopping spree (if I could have found "Das Boot" more easily I'd have been more satisfied. That was less fun). The new TV will wait.

I suppose I could also point out here that I'm in the enviable position of not carrying any debts right now, so I'm less screwed than most Americans (or globally speaking, just about anyone), and so buying stuff is actually an improvement over my normal habits of sitting on and not spending money (or investing it).

Edit: I was not kidding about the Wal-Mart injury risks, but apparently I was all too predictive. In this case, a death was caused by the frenzy of shoppers BREAKING down the doors and charging in. Sounds pretty normal apart from the trampling of a human being (or several).

25 November 2008

pardon me

"convicted for unlawful use of a telephone in a narcotics felony."

What exactly is an unlawful use of a telephone? Did it become a projectile or were they somehow using it to make cocaine by smashing coco leaves with it? This would be an interesting problem.

I see 3 pardons relating to the drug trafficking issue. I'm not sure that's progress.

pardon list 2008

disjointed ramblings of the old man

In other news, it occurs to me that I should probably figure out what the hell I'm doing. I'm not a big fan of Lewis Carroll, but sometimes the Red Queen sprint is nothing if not apt. The world doesn't change much, except it gets a whole lot less interesting without people of interest. It's pretty easy to follow along without ever glancing up to pay attention because the song remains the same. Once in a while, it would be nice if we could hit shuffle and mix up the play list.

It doesn't surprise me that I meet few people who are distinguished in my new old world. I just wish I will meet fewer people from whom I am distinguished.

I haven't figured out yet what a "normal" life would mean for me, but from what I have observed, it doesn't seem very appetizing. So that leaves what, an abnormal life?...which would in fact require me to actually be distinguished around people I have more respect for than those people who would be so foolish as to consider me a person of some accord.

21 November 2008

setting sun

told you so

Pretty sure I predicted this as a teenager (I wasn't the only one). I still haven't gotten around to learning Chinese though. Or Hindi.

The key stopping measure is the importance of breaking the Cold War mentality that has seemed to dominate American policy since...the Cold War ended almost two decades ago. The resuming of multi-lateral thinking which both requires and includes other nations in the decision making process, while preserving our interests, is the way to go to preserve our prestige in this post-world order (and seems to be what China has been doing for decades). Having grown up in the Cold War, most of the cold warriors stayed stuck there. Some people thought it meant the end of history, in a way. But unsurprisingly they simply continued as though that history hadn't happened at all.

That we have acted as the bully on the block rather than the cop on the block isn't all that surprising either. Sometimes a bully is a useful thing, as in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. But those were countries used to Russia's bullying and found ours usually more agreeable. Plus they were all prosperous in adopting capitalist reforms, in some cases more extreme than we do here (Czechs and Poland). Central Asia and Africa are different cases.


Stimulus response

This is not as in depth as the UCLA study on FDR's New Deal policies, but the same basic conclusion recurs. Whatever FDR was doing it was relatively unsuccessful. That modern people are still confused into thinking otherwise is a testimony to the popularity of FDR as a President, and the lack of appreciation for federal economic policies that did in fact work.

The first part of the article deals with public works and social welfare programs, both of which FDR instituted in large numbers. Those same social welfare programs, now expanded into other arenas, are basically the reason that using large public works programs wouldn't have much impact on our economy in real terms. Instead of needing even a "crappy" job building a dam or road, people can instead take unemployment insurance, go (back) to school, and get a better job. In theory. If the evidence is mixed even with massive unemployment that government spending in this area still created crowding effects, I would be rather concerned as far as creating any growth by a similar program to re-build our infrastructure with our more modest levels of unemployment, as was sometimes claimed on the campaigns. The importance is generally that we haven't usually rebuilt our infrastructure since the New Deal or even during the 20th century in some places, not that we could use that as a position to grow our economy out of recession. I don't see a major problem contracting to re-lay sewage or water lines or build new alternative energy power sources, but it's clearly not going to fund growth in the economy by itself.

The more interesting part to me was the second part. Keynesian economics basically demonstrates that a war is a vast government outlay of money, and Keynes writings on the economic consequences of peace essentially predicted a powerful recession. This was in part based on the effects of price controls and the deflation occurring from pre-war levels of monetary value, which obviously didn't apply to Great Depression "value". Keynes also apparently didn't quite understand the value of personal savings and the demand for personal consumption that goes quite starved during a time of privation such as a major patriotic war where everyone must sacrifice to win. We on the other hand are in a global (currently two front) war, without a clear victory (I would argue no clear victory possible in combat terms) and without a population that either is accustomed to sacrificing or that is being required to. As a result, the economic impact of peace might be quite different, and again, quite useful. Suppose that soldiers deployed to the front come home to military bases in the states or resume their normal day jobs from National Guard duty, couldn't that inject money back into local economies? I have no statistics however on the savings rates of military families, and it could be quite possible that deprived of combat pay, some would in fact regress. But it seems worth a thought that the public money spent on combat deployments would be resupplied elsewhere (infrastructure?), but the private money currently spent by those deployed combat troops would be spent here.

20 November 2008



It should come as no surprise that spam is a destructive economic activity. I'm not sure advertising (as we do it) is a productive process, but spam definitely is not. If the response rate is so minute as to produce a modest few billions as an industry, and that industry causes one hundred billion of dollars in losses, that's not a productive industry.

The bigger question to me seems to be how desperate are people who actually use spam and purchase things like viagra that has been cut with other substances (making it harmful).

19 November 2008

musical chairs


I was informed, somewhat jokingly I presume, that I am in fact a black man by music affiliations. That I listen to rap, jazz, or R&B is the cause of this jest (one I was not at all offended to receive). So it was not to my surprise to read this humorous article on a general tendency to like ancient or abandoned black music (jazz, blues, or old-school rap). I am not certain that my interest is any different, but then again I rarely see a need to express to other people that I've been listening to the Birdman or Nas in the past hour (and for myself prefer doing so to watching TV, which genuinely destroys my ability to ruminate and bores me to no end). I do agree with the sentiment of commercialized rap music being usually crap music. I can recall the ironic scene in "Crash" where Ludacris' character decries the mumbling nonsense of today's radio rappers (a charge he himself is often guilty of) and find fervent agreement in that problem. At some point hip-hop became about glamorizing an image, an image that doesn't actually exist in any ghetto, rather than talking about what was going on and deciding the message was less important than the beats (and the dollars that came with them). Maybe the one is more depressing (and that might explain my personal attraction to it, along with blues music), but that hardly justifies trying to drown it out in a sea of meaningless nonsense.

18 November 2008

Wake me when they're dead

GM isn't dead yet?

While I wasn't all that keen on the economic bailout package for Wall St/banking sectors, there are pointy-head economic reasons to do some of what was done. I can think of no reasons to bailout the automobile industry. The supposition is that those companies will fail and millions will lose their jobs (or at least hundreds of thousands). The reality is that they will file for bankruptcy protections, cancel their egregious union contracts and have to reorganize by closing unproductive factories. Some thousands of jobs would be lost, others would receive paycuts or lose benefits. Those are bad things. Giving money to the companies that caused that necessity to happen by running themselves into the ground, much worse.

The statement made by GM's CEO: "we were well on the road to turning our North American business around." is not factually accurate. Outside of SUVs or trucks, there are no GM cars in the top 10 of sales for last year, and naturally SUVs/trucks tanked last year during a gasoline price crunch. In other words, the credit crunch isn't what is killing GM as they claim, but rather the lack of marketable products. Toyota has been gaining at a prodigious rate by selling marketable products (and making them in America). The assumption seems to be still a hangover of 'what's good for Detroit is good for America'. The reality is that Detroit no longer matters all that much as "the Big Three" only account for 50% of US domestic automobile manufacturing, and less than that in sales. Let them declare bankruptcy if they have to (GM and Chrysler seem to be in this boat, Ford is a bit more stable somehow), and they won't cease to exist. If anything they'll have a better shot at becoming viable companies again. They are not going to 'fail' or cease to exist out of this. That's not how bankruptcy works in this country.

What I did see is that the amount of money they're supposedly in need of is already available through a capital goods loan for fuel-efficient vehicle manufacture. Why this money is no good to Democratic leaders is unclear. I'm not sure that money should exist either, but I can't imagine why it has to be a separate issue. Obama has already proposed billions of dollars for fuel-efficiency improvements or alternative energy. I'm pretty sure that 25B is coming back if it has to be used in the short term.

Santa: you're fired.


It's a rather odd way to check on the health of the economy. I can only assume that things like alcohol sales would be up (I haven't checked, and I haven't talked to an internet psychic). The story on internet psychics I heard about a few days ago and found it amusing, if in a sad way. It is strange what people turn into when the chips are out (not just down, but gone). There are all kinds of studies on the amounts of money people spend on lottery tickets for example. I'd have to wonder if a similar disposition is present by poor people spending on psychic hotlines et al, or if this is merely an indicator of general stress and anxiety throughout the greater economy. I'm guessing Santas being fired is however more distressing than the news of people browsing other fake trends proposed by people making mystical sounding guesses.

Also: is-france-due-for-riots/ This one requires more thought. While France's diligent refusals to acknowledge multicultural trends are on the one hand a difficult line that effectively disenfranchises its immigrant class, there's probably a good reason in the line run to do it.. If the implication is that French culture is more important than immigrant rational stability. The real crazy part is not that France conducts no demographic reporting (something we go wayyyyy over on), but that their establishment seem unaware of the caustic anger brewing within those demographics. I guess they do have a history of not paying attention to the underlings of their society, but Parisian riots were not that far off in their history and were made predominately by North African Muslim immigrants. It does not seem impossible to ask what that demographic is upset over (namely the lack of French acknowledgement).

In America we insist on hyphenated Americans to a ludicrous accounting of 'diversity', without regard to what actually consists of diversity or what measures it can be important in (at least we mostly killed quotas, an impossibility in a free market system). In France it would appear the trend is to insist on French people and then to ignore those people who aren't quite French enough and pretend they are perfectly happy being outsiders living in France. I suspect there is a middle position that would work better for both countries; both to suppress the need for civilian riots and to encourage the need for diverse opinions and toleration.

07 November 2008


FCC hates Sesame Street, or America needs to grow up

I'm still confused as to how people can supposedly be schooled in law and then make 'arguments' like this one: Garre said, children could see "Big Bird dropping the F-bomb on Sesame Street." I see similar arguments involving decriminalization or outright legalization of narcotics and the supposed prevalence of TV ads during the Super Bowl for a then successful marijuana producer. Since tobacco and beer companies have been raking billions on marketing their own ads for decades, I'm not sure that's as big a stretch as a profane yellow bird (though I suppose the analogy might have sounded better if they picked the grouchy one instead).

Still, a guy who is supposed to be the Solicitor General ought to be able to make a legal case founded on reasonable expectations. An educational show for children is not likely to successfully market its product by including words which have little educational value. It is reasonable to assume that most production companies would be sensitive to the demands of parents (those too lazy to pay attention to what their children are watching...or downloading) and market materials design to appease these sheltering folk from the ravaging effects of an occasional f-bomb.

I'm quite certain that these words do not conjure up sexual or excretory behavior at every use. And in fact, one will find that TV productions can use considerable creativity to conjure such things up anyway by using imagery or different (unbanned) words. Should they wish to do so. That specific words with more flexible meanings are instead banned from public airwaves is quite bizarre. Studying language in an amateurish sense, I have found that it is just as important the intention of the message than the words chosen to convey it. And broadly understood words, like the Carlin Seven, are pretty damn convenient used in circumstances where there becomes a near universal appreciation for those circumstances. Most commonly not in situations of sexual activity or human waste removal, but instead in situations of joy, pain, or anger beyond our normal abilities to clearly and precisely communicate our feeling. If those more universal moments have to be subtly contrived in concealment while the specific purposes of the ban can be more openly displayed (generally sex for our prudish American nature; excrement is a cheap laugh in turn of phrase but generally not something people really want to physically witness), then yes the exercise in creativity is useful, but the general public does not then understand the reason for that exercise.

It might be enough to outlay the specific reasons for a ban, but the reality becomes that such bans are ultimately useless. If parents or 'society' does not approve of certain words, or behaviors, then it is incumbent upon them to demonstrate positively what behavior should be upheld. I find myself that such language is not particularly useful in most situations and I still hold to a maxim that a man swears because he does not have the words to say what is on his mind. But I find that it would be no moral decay to have a society which understands the need for such words (because the concepts involved clearly exist in physical form) and tolerates their usage. Parents rather than restricting access should probably find the time to illuminate on the purpose of such words, rather than often treating them as some forbidden fruits and the consequence being a rather uninspiring folk of "ill-mannered teens" discovering 'adulthood' by using words and concepts that they don't understand (this is of course true of all words).

04 November 2008

election results prognostication

I'd recommend fivethirtyeight.com/
The guy running it (Nate Silver) is a baseball stat-head (like me only with a lot more mathematical statistical adjustments than I make). I'd say someone who spends all day during the baseball season running around playing with numbers and making projections based on them is on pretty solid ground to make predictive stabs and analyze statistical polling data (for the inherent skew). I made a much less statistical call back 3 months ago or so with what appears to be the same result. Though I did base it on the statistical value of libertarian type voters in western states. Specifically those fed up with the Bush policies of invasion of privacy, non-existent fiscal controls, and a silly two-front war (in Asia... never, ever fight a land war in Asia). Anyway, Obama has now a 99% victory chance. And the Senate will stay out of the 60-40 territory. If anyone cares.

Also, as a literary fellow I found this was included for people who volunteered and worked on the election in one of their posts today. While it does conjure up Easy Company (and it is a speech on war), it is perhaps fitting given the long and arduous campaign. We really need to re-do these election seasons so they only last about a month. For myself, I lost interest until the silly lady showed up to screw up the plan for intelligent and attractive women to dominate the world. Not a good idea to piss off women, especially when Palin is one. As an anti-social male, even I know better than to draw the ire of a lady.

That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian.'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispian's day.'
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

-- William Shakespeare, Henry the DXXXVIII

I don't personally care who wins. I will be playing Fallout 3 all evening instead of watching anything. Let me know tomorrow morning when it's all over. Or preferably let me know how the FCC case goes in the Supreme Court.

30 October 2008

summed it up perfectly

"It's that it supplants a real debate, so that by the time the election actually happens and a victor is declared, it's not entirely clear what we all collectively just decided. Did we just vote for universal health care, or against that cranky old man and his dimwitted running mate?"

On the perils of the modern political system, it's not at all clear what a vote FOR Obama means, at least not to me. It is clear usually the reasons to vote AGAINST and this is true regardless of which party it is Obama has very real detraction in key economic areas, not because he's a 'socialist' but because he's a Democrat and therefore protective of unions. McCain obviously has passed by his better days, whatever those were. Very few politicians use debates and public air time to discuss ideas during an election season (which lasts longer and longer these days, this one went on for almost 2 years). The Obama infomercial was a nice idea, and probably a good use of his money in a political sense, but I, as a idea seeking person, was still left with the gnawing feeling of: so? What does that mean? What exactly are you wanting to do about this?

Obama's rhetorical style often marks him as thoughtful and the race debate issue that came up during the primaries gave him a rare opportunity to address the nation in an adult fashion and lay out plainly the problems within it. I've yet to see him use the same system to attack a problem, merely to use that discourse to define one. When that's the sort of information that we're left to make decisions on, it's not a sufficient, quality debate.

The one politician I recall actually outlining plans was Ron Paul, with naturally some being kooky. And others being too far out of step with the current hillbilly wing of the GOP to secure any votes. But there was plenty of money rolling in for his campaign. I think that suggests there's some hope. The last time that happened Perot didn't need anybody else's money and used his own to run infomercials on the economy, during a time period when it was no where near as painful as now. There's some hope that Obama the President would use this skill to explain in somewhat useful terms the painful truths and their proposed solutions. Maybe that's the hope portion of people. I'm not sure he's supposed to be the saving factor or that any one person is supposed to have that power in the American federalist system. He might. I shall have to hope there's some use for good, but I also haven't been given any shreds of evidence there will be.

29 October 2008


As the lone interaction with most people on a yearly basis, I somehow get enthralled with basketball. But it usually sort of sneaks up on me that it's basketball season. Considering all the overly complicated statistical resources I've been reading all summer, it didn't this time. Plus I was watching the Olympic team to boot (that final game should never again be aired, if you didn't stay up/get up for a 2am tip off that's your problem).

So aside from trying to find a place to play and compatriots in reasonable shape to play with, I yearly dedicate a small portion of the day to running a fantasy team. I tried this with football and as noted before, discovered I don't follow football enough to manage one. And baseball is much more fun to run teams with say Ruth, Mays, Walter, Wagner on them. Pujols is pretty good though. Basketball is generally fairly easy to do by contrast. The players tend to be statistically predictable. The question marks are rookies, old guys, and injuries. Otherwise, it's reasonably consistent from year to year what you get from a player.

I joined what is supposed to be a more competitive league. Though there were a few eyebrow raising events during the draft. And the fact that people have been waiving and signing people all week before a game was even tipped basically told me that either I was paying better attention all summer or these were some very skittish people. I basically surrendered 3 pointers in exchange for trying to win the %s (FG/FT). Dwight Howard was a rebounding machine but damn if my FT% sucked last year. Otherwise I felt pretty solid with my picks this year. I went 7th, I like being in the middle of the draft better than the ends.

Deron W (hurt to start, ouch, incidentally Utah or New Orleans may beat LA)
Maggette (I don't know how he slips every year)
Love (should be one of the top 3 or 4 rookies)
Brewer (I better win steals)
Collison (I decided I won't be cutting him too early this year)
Conley (Sleepy pick, I'm betting on a Deron like emergence)
Louis W (not sure what I was thinking here, I could have used a 3 pt guy)

The team with Joe Johnson 1st round (?) and with Yi and Eric Gordon is probably the bottom feeder. He did sneak in Pierce and Rondo (and Ray Allen, which won't play as well). The team with Dirk and the one with Kobe are vaguely frightening. The Amare team is really scary as the middle picks were smarter than these other two, though they all got some heavy lifters for their starting 5.

28 October 2008

absolute power

Stevens: no!

As a frequent interjectionist on the Daily Show (infamous for his boisterous NO!s), many people may not be familiar with Alaska's favored bacon maker. The principle reason to attack pork isn't the waste of taxpayer money (which is indeed bad, but is only the skimmed portion on top of the spoiled milk that is our budget), but rather the principle that such monies usually generate large profits for whoever gets use of them. Economic studies will suggest that 'campaign donations' result in about 100 times that cost in additional revenues from these pork projects or from corporate advantages written in for some politician's favored donors. Sometimes more. The natural result of so much extra money in play is that a politician will feel an entitlement to a personal cut. Not satisfied with a massive political war chest and the doling out of political favoritism (such as the bridge to nowhere), eventually the take will become personal. That's where the problem lies: the ethical considerations inherent to the exercise of power.

What is telling in Stevens' case is that he feels no wrong was committed, something which was also apparent when he rammed through the money for his earmark while billions of dollars were needed for the fallout of Katrina. Alaska may or may not re-elect the man (he was trailing on 538's list, barely). But they should also be aware that such practices are indicative of abuse of power. They are placated only so long as those abuses turn in their favor, but such power as it grows and expands eventually is only used for the favor of its owner. As it appears this is the case. Stevens is hardly a lone actor in this farcical play. Keep that in mind.

26 October 2008

world series

I somehow stumbled into rooting for the Phillies (thanks much to the Cubs for predictably losing). The picking of the two ratings busters (Philly and Tampa?, who cares...) wasn't hard, and Philly should be the winning team of those two (hence the 'rooting', I look better when my predictions go as I say). Philly hasn't hit all that well to guarantee that pick, but they seem to be managing.

Aside from the late start on Game 3, the best part is the Rays using 5 infielders in the 9th inning. (Generally, there are 4...). Since I am watching as this plays out, I'm interested in seeing whether it works out or not. Balfour pitching for the Rays does have a 100mph fastball, so it may not matter whether he has any infielders or not. Update: it didn't work all that well. A shallow chopper drives in a run, after a wild pitch/error, weird.

24 October 2008

underground economy and sickly animals


The curious part here is the Swedish purchase law. It reminds me of the Dutch possession laws on pot (on the opposite spectrum). I'm not sure that either party is necessarily in the wrong. As pointed out, the real issue with prostitution isn't the actual commercial transaction, but rather the problems with how people get involved (and of course, left unregulated, problems with STD epidemics). If that's the case, I'm not sure that punishing the 'john' is more important than punishing the actual prostitutes (the 'suppliers' may be a different issue here).

It would be interesting to see why people actually oppose this. Much like the drug war, there really isn't a good reason to do it. An unregulated black market more or less guarantees violent behaviors, human trafficking, and the potential risks of disease (with additional spin-off problems such as drug addictions caused by pimps to control their women). I'm fairly sure these are all worse than trying to understand the demand for paid sexual relations by individuals and attack that. It's possible the anti-john law in Sweden is effective at attacking demand (because of the shame factor), and there are similar efforts here in America. But I'm not sure this actually addresses demand and really only forces a degree of circumspect behaviors to avoid detection. In the same way that a black market for drugs is not generally run in an open air market, I would expect a market for prostitutes to be much more privately maintained in order to continue to meet demand. Forcing the market back underground sort of defeats the purpose of not punishing suppliers of sex, because now their behaviors are not openly observable (not literally of course). I'm referring to the transparency of the market as well as the potential for individual problems of abuse still in an underground economy.

The other story on freakeconomics yesterday of amusement was how hedge funds should be blowing up, which was quickly followed by an editor's note that hedge funds are blowing up (or about to).

Also I appear to have a cat with a cold. The former dog sneezed from time to time, but these sniffles are much common.

23 October 2008

knowledgable people


Somehow I'm not surprised that NPR or New Yorker are the top dogs here..although those 3 questions are pretty lame. Colbert pointed out the amusing factoid that his viewers knew the PM of Britain at a higher clip than the BBC viewers...who would tend to live in Britain..There were several vague categories that I'm not sure what they mean: political magazines, business magazines, online news, etc.

This reminds me of 'the economy' being the top issue. It would be helpful if this were broken down, or at least broken down after the fact. Into things like this
1) my job
2) my retirement
3) my savings
4) future prospects
5) home value/real estate/mortgage
6) gdp growth
7) foreign trade
etc. All of those are specific elements which are somewhat more accurate than 'the economy'. I would even find it amusing if there were a question comparing 'this economy' to 'the economy'. Why don't they do this?...because of the next section of the poll: the average education and age of the viewers

Only NPR, New Yorker, or 'business magazines' were the only ones that surpassed 50% college graduates. The amusing part is the less than 'elitist' measures of say, Rush Limbaugh, Hannity, Daily Show (Colbert was higher...hmm), which were all pretty close to that 28% national average. Maybe that's not a clear indication of the likely intellectual abilities, but it may indicate the type of intellectual interested in such shows. Other statistical quirks: apparently only angry old men watch Lou Dobbs. Which explains the appeal of his persistent xenophobic messages. And almost no old people are watching Daily Show/Colbert (or getting news online). Also Katie Couric isn't doing so well at educating her viewers in basic information.
So if the base audience isn't 'educated' (28% nationally?..no wonder they push the go to college angle every year...and fail), they're not going to sell news for the educated. New Yorker or NPR more or less exist to feed the need of educated viewers for news. I'm guessing the other outlets exist for other audiences, but not for the purpose of informing their viewers/listeners/eyeballs.

Also..I have decided to comment on two commercials. The nike football one with the Good/Bad/Ugly song in it amuses me because I like the song..but don't watch the commercial (because I can't tell what the commercial is for).. and those stupid i deserve a car commercials. Which also doesn't have much to do with what they're selling (considering the entire commercial is guy shouting, a url, and a half naked lady. I've had quite enough of commercials.

21 October 2008

halloween movies, or hollywood drivel

There are two franchises of horror movies that really don't have a logical conclusion and could be remade ad nauseum. The Saw movies, which were basically gore festivals and Final Destination movies. Both basically rely on very simple plots and very silly fears. Pretty much everyone is afraid of weird looking clowns, malfunctioning roller coasters or airplanes (all for no apparent reason). It's pretty boring predictable fare. I'm not quite sure how people fall for it every year. The flip side is to make movies which are basically torture porn, like say Hostel (Saw may have gone this direction, I only saw the first one, ha). These might be good for the squeamish, but it's basically boring for anyone else.

Fear, for whatever reason, is pretty predictable, meaning the movies marketed to it are predictable. Creative ways of killing people doesn't require us to flock to see people slaughtered in 'disgusting' means. And the creation of actual (lasting) fear requires imagination. Where people disappear and the causes of death are mysterious (and perhaps creative). One of the more terrifying movie characters is possibly Hannibal Lecter, but in the first movie only the death of a pair of guards is shown. The dismemberment afterward is not (though the results are). The fear is created through creepy behaviors and stares. Imagination provides the rest where we are left to wonder "what is going on back there?". The recent incarnation of the Joker was a similar disposition as there was a series of creepy behaviors or nervous tics that just were a touch off. Maybe this is just me, where fear is channeled by witnessing people that have a defined lack of rational behavior, but it seems to me that imagination is a sorely lacking tactic in film making. Or at least, it isn't all that common in horror genres anymore (see: Hitchcock).

palin snl, etc

actually sort of funny

I wasn't all that surprised this happened. And it was, in the typical SNL fashion, almost (but not really) funny. (Alec also needs to learn to memorize lines).
I also wasn't surprised to hear that Palin endorsed the anti-gay marriage amendment. The basic problems of the GOP seems to be an attempt to hijack the party by the redneck wing of America. Obama's contextual argument that many Americans are clinging to their guns, bible, etc isn't all that far off the mark in these cases. That doesn't mean it wasn't inappropriate, because it's possible that religion is of some value to some of these people, but I've yet to see a substantive example of a person who opposes Obama from this population of people who could actually cite any issue and deconstruct it. That's vaguely frightening. Adlai Stevenson when running for President in '52 was informed "You will have the vote of every thinking person in America" To which he replied, "That's fine, but I need a majority." If that was true in the 1950s, it isn't any less true now.

Palin's appeal is precisely to this 'real America'. But I'm rather tired of two Americas. There once was, and of course, the 'other America' lost that war. (I still am confused as to the whole display of a Confederate flag as some issue of pride in heritage, don't you people know you lost?). There is not and never has been two Americas since that time. We create these distinctions of rich versus poor, religious vs secular, liberal vs conservative, black vs white, but the realities are that we have no (well, few) easy categories and instead a continuum of reality across that spectrum. Most Americans are generally in the middle of these 'battles' between two Americas. And there are few enough who would claim that their little part of America is somehow 'a fake America'.

Jon Stewart pointed this out with deliberation by creating a simple quiz with such illustrative points as: favourite amendment is a) the 1st or b) the 2nd (the use of the British sp is intentional on my part). And of course, concluded with, if you answered any of these questions, you are watching the Daily Show, and are a fake American. The implications of this new version of 'religious townie vs college educated city folk' are not difficult to track in an electoral college way, but they in no way demonstrate a division between Americans. There are plenty of church going people who hold liberal social policies, such as anti-poverty measures or tolerance on issues like abortion or homosexuality, just as there are plenty of ultra-conservatives living in our largest urban centers who despise taxes and somehow applaud conservative judges overturning public freedoms. The quaint manner of publicly dividing these sectors is annoying and should be regarded as an insult to any intelligent person.

If there is a 'real America' peopled with people whose intellect is insufficient to understand that their way of life is in no way superior to that of others and is marred with just as much hypocrisy or delusion as any other American's, then I am not at all sorry to be not counted among them.

20 October 2008



It is funny how often this gets complained about. The other flip side is that our colleges/universities are still considered to be the overwhelming cream of the crop. Most of our top 100 are ranked by other nations as superior to their own (save some like Oxford). Students from around the world come here to get their degrees in engineering, medicine, or physics for example (all math and science). Do they all return home? Nope.

The essential point should be that basic mathematical skill (by Americans) is in decline and should be developed. I hardly see the need to give everyone a thorough going over in calculus, organic chemistry or geology (despite the fact that I find these subjects occasionally diverting and thoroughly useless for myself). I'm not sure what the average grade is measuring, but I can say that 1) I got rather poorer grades in high school math/science because I didn't do homework or lab reports with good reason. Because 2) I still got insanely high scores on aptitude tests, proficiency exams or placement tests. My concern wasn't get good grades; it was learn the material and understand the processes involved. If they are speaking of these aptitude or proficiency tests, then perhaps there is a problem. If they're speaking of grades, motivation to learn useless material is a problem. Education has to also be about teaching people things they will actually want to use and learn. Diagramming sentences and burning magnesium strips is only going to get a student so far, but not everyone out there is designed as an academic. Some people are electricians or, as our Presidential debate recently reminded us, plumbers.

17 October 2008

more witches!

we've found a witch may we burn her?

Sadly, Americans don't seem to have as big a role in agricultural income shocks as Tanzanian rural residents do. But the idea that economic downturns produces a higher order of witch hunts is by itself interesting to examine. It may even be possible to tie this to the variety of stories run in the past weeks on rising crime rates in general during economic recessionary periods.

It's not merely the rise in idle people, but rather the likelihood in ascribing external forces as the cause of that idleness and the subsequent need to strike out at those external aggressors, violently if necessary. When the economy is good, and people can't find a job, that's easier to attribute to some personal deficiency (excepting things like racism or local economic conditions, like industrial plant closings). "The economy" as some mysterious figure can't be lashed out at. But the agents who continue to prosper in spite of some personal sufferings on our part can be. It might even be presumed that they are prospering because we are suffering (much as the witch theory would run) and thus deserve our vengeance in no small measure. While this makes for great fun watching crime rates and people running about bolting doors, it really doesn't absolve the people involved from working to find solutions to their (shared) dilemmas. In Tanzania, the problem could be building irrigation or rotating crops. Instead, the problem becomes: where can we find more witches! We've killed all the old women in our village. In America, it would appear the problem becomes: where can we find more booze/crack and whose house do I have to vandalize to get more of it? This is considered civilized progress I guess.

google makes us dumb

Smart people lack focus?

I don't seem to suffer this problem. I can suspect that doing things like playing complex computer games (CIV?) which can require longer periods of attention and focus have helped. And of course, my tendencies to write these ridiculously long blogs from time to time. Maybe this is a specific flaw of certain personal traits, where people with more than natural focus can use the powers of the internet and hyperlinks galore to absorb new information both at a skim and in depth pace.

The paragraph on Nietzsche has some instructive quality to as well. I've virtually always composed my thoughts where they flow most easily: on a computer. My handwriting was inherited from a doctor, therefore, it is best avoided. If I hadn't written some jotted notes myself from papers I dig up from ages ago, I'm not sure I'd know what I was talking about. And the shorthanded way I go about documenting everything now seems destined to confuse anyone who dares take interest in my various research paths. So the idea that the ease with which I compose online or through a word processor also feeds the idea that my style has been forced into some unique page of the written word (or typed as it were).

As for clocks, I am still trying to live in a world without them. If I become sufficiently important, I probably won't use them, but where others still determine some of my comings and goings, things must proceed on a measured timescale. I like my days off, but when it is pointed out the hours spent on some task there is a sense of frustration at the need for documented time.

The story of Taylor is a mixed bag as a result. I enjoy processing efficient functions at places of work. Or in the activities I take part in, there's a natural process that my minds seeks out of a more chaotic environment. It wants to find ways to do something quicker, easier, or with less effort, even to the point of finding long term ways to cut down on the amounts of work inputs needed. But at the same time, I reject the necessity of these imposed time orders. The de-humanization I noticed in frequent office jobs for example where processes were so lacking in actual human capital is a direct result of Taylor's work. Specification of tasks makes people naturally efficient, but it also makes them essentially just cogs in the machine. There's no room for style, or even for a person to seek out individual improvements to their tasks through experimentation. It becomes routine, boring, and stifling to any natural evolution of order. In fact, I might argue that the routine means of breaking down functions becomes an evolutionary dead end where creativity stops. Human creativity is a natural function and hallmark of a chaotic environment. Stifling the chaotic by stamping any possibility of diversion or improvement out becomes a serious waste of potential. The availability of the internet through google et al allows people like me to seek out those chaotic problems more easily and divest our energy into proposing or echoing our solutions. But it also spreads a sense of universality to these ruminations by providing immediate access to the thoughts of hundreds of previous generations. I'm not sure yet if this sense of routine is a portion of my problems with thought, or if the potential for creativity from the relative wild west nature of the Net allows ever expanding room for human capital to grow in new and unexpected ways. But lately I am less than optimistic.

The example of google's work on AI for example doesn't really impress upon me a necessity of uniqueness or intellectual diversity, but rather a continuing movement toward sameness and boredom. If everyone has access to all the information of a computer search, wouldn't they start thinking in virtually the same ways? How fun would that world be to live in? It's far more diverting to try to use the force of reason or data to compel during arguments or disagreements. If people have access to more and more information, then what's the point? There's a potential here for expanding creativity as the human mind through AI could conceivably process massive amounts of data and more easily conform to something like rational behavior. Which doesn't necessarily mean uniformity, but at least removes a good deal of random unethical behavior that continues to pose problems. Just as writing became a substitute for memory (Diamond's book explored the encyclopedic knowledge of native flora or fauna by primitive societies without writing), I would worry that AI would become a substitute for thought. In which case, google makes us dumber.

16 October 2008

pleased to eat

eating to compensate

This is unsurprising. There are plenty of correlations with people who eat/drink/dope/smoke because of depression or anxiety disorders. Both would very likely interact with something like dopamine receptors and the amount of pleasure people derive from an activity as basic as tasty food. The 'impulsive' nature of such people, as indicated as an alternative interpretation, is very likely a compensation for the lack of easily defined pleasures in life (because of the lack of dopamine activity in someone with clinical depression for example). Exercise can solve many of these problems by kicking up the active levels of the body. But if the type of person who needs the exercise the most can't get up any attraction to it, then obviously they're not going to stick with exercise to resolve this by natural means.

I'm not sure this is an appeal to impulsive behavior in other words. But rather, it suggests that there are specific traces that can be observed (genetically) for people with various 'problems'. If that's the case, it shouldn't be too much of a stretch to design some form of medical prescriptions which attack the root of the problem in a bio-chemical sense and allow people to then institute their desired habits instead (assuming of course that people still recognize that being an obese drunken crack addict smoking on a street corner is a bad idea).

15 October 2008

stupid is as stupid does.

"Can we cut spending on education? We TRIED pouring money into that sinking ship, and it’s clearly not working. Stupid people are everywhere. Let’s just cut our losses"

In reference to the debate, and what we should cut spending on. Considering people keep saying we can't cut spending in it, this might almost be a serious question to raise. Stupidity is spreading a lot faster than knowledge and wisdom. And it might be a function of the public educational system that it is doing so. Maybe cheaper to admit stupidity exists.

real debating takes place with bears

debates cracked style

I particularly liked #2 (MST3K) #15 (Mute) #13 (chance of mortal danger: priceless), #9 (those muppet critics are harsh)

or #20 RPS at this point probably should decide our President, let me know when two people who are actually different are running.

And of course #14 (the bear-knife fight)
If I actually liked Halo, that'd be an acceptable one too.

so there is a method to the madness

As a followup to the question of sand importation, which quite obviously seems ridiculous, I found several quick reasons sand would be need to be imported.
1) the general quality of sand in Iraq is too coarse to make concrete with. I suppose they could import concrete mixes, but that's probably less easy to ship.
2) There are areas of Iraqi/Kuwaiti sand that are contaminated with depleted uranium shells; ie radioactive sand. THAT sand is being exported..here, but also went to Iraq from Kuwait.
3) Construction projects, such as those in Saudi Arabia, for land reclamation. Iraq doesn't have much of a coastline. I suppose they could be doing stuff with the rivers, but there's plenty of land (sand) already there to build on without needing land reclamation projects yet.


So according to the Colbert interview tonight, we're shipping sand from Kuwait to Iraq? I'd have to wonder why they couldn't just ship sand from Iraq to Iraq. Or just wait for a dust storm.

11 October 2008

i'm gonna riot, who's with me!

So the basic storyline is that McCain's supporters want a no-holds barred assault on Obama. The only problem being that most of the things that they want him to say are not even close to being true, and most of the things they themselves are saying are breaching toward violent acts (Kill em, traitor, and so forth). I'm not surprised by this, not because the typical republican is violent or stupid enough to think in such ways, but because the typical fundamentalist republican is. Extremism tends to breed zealots. My only hope is that the zealots will weed themselves out by either throwing a riot that no one else comes to, or they'll weed out into their own party after this election and something more reasonable will come along for people who actually don't like statism (ie populism).

I noticed that basically both major parties, despite having no major differences between them were busy putting into their leadership people with major polarizing effects (ideologues): Democrats with Pelosi, Obama and Republicans with Palin, W, and previously with Gingrich (though he, like Obama, always tries to come across as thoughtful rather than crazy). I'm not sure how this works, because it seems to me the typical success in politics is to play to the middle ground, not to antagonize the pool so much that there is no middle ground. So basically my hope is that this means one or both major parties splinter in the near future. The other hope would have to be that McCain in the Senate and Obama work productively as non-partisan foes over issues of importance, but that's just a fool's hope.

10 October 2008

and we're done here too

so the point is what?

Not sure what they're doing here. Combining two companies that are poorly run and without sufficient capital to advance new and desirable products during an economic collapse makes..perfect sense? Not really. The story even points out, it's really quite stupid to combine when both companies are struggling. But considering the manner that the two ended up in this predicament, I can't rule it out. Stupidity doesn't end, it reproduces.

check and mate

and we're done here

I guess I was wrong, Palin didn't get vetted nearly as much as I suspected and things went south enough to demonstrate an abuse of power. So from the past few weeks I have seen her demonstrate behavior of 'certainty' in uncertain situations and now she apparently has the propensity of dividing people into 'loyal minions' and 'those out to get me'. Good times. I suspect it's possible we may see a substitution. Except that the GOP cupboard is really quite bare with no good candidates anywhere, and this is much like putting a mop-up relief pitcher in while down 5 runs, so I won't actually go so far as to say it would happen.

baseball commercials

Aside from the annoying parade of Frank TV ads during these playoffs, I just noticed another one which twitched some actual numbers in my head. A razor blade was advertised as 'a dollar a week on razors, that's money well spent'. There's a major problem with this: It is actually a waste of money. It's entirely possible to re-use the blades for a year or more provided they are dried off after use. The blades wear down because of oxidation from water/soap molecules, not from merely cutting hair follicles. There's even some clever chap who came up with a device that now sells in some pharmacy chains that dries the blades for you (without having to go through some tedious use of a blow dryer or tapping it with a towel in the lazy method). I'm not sure how the disposable razor blade industry somehow convinced people that steel somehow breaks down from cutting hair, but I'm impressed that this is such a profitable marketing angle in spite of metallurgical evidence to the contrary.

Therefore, even buying a single of even those blades for say, 5 bucks, is not 'a dollar a week'. It's 10 cents a week. I realize those extra 45 dollars a year doesn't sound like much, but it's still money being wasted, not money being 'well spent'.

09 October 2008

more anti-market madness

Chavez piping

It's true this is a mess. It's not a free market mess, much as people like Hugo Chavez would like the world to think. It's a government mess, with an invented and misconstrued market being created in part because of government intervention in the free market. In other words, the market invented itself and wasn't understood by either the regulatory agents or the players involved, and this can't be denied in the 'blame game'. But the government policies of extending credit and implied loan benefits for low-income, high credit risk buyers is not a free market policy. It's a government social engineering program that the free market mistakenly tried to profit off of. Because as currently designed, profits are very, very risky in such a market, not because 'greed' is bad. This was delicately stated with "Chavez may be overstating his case". Because it is apparent that free market principles do not actually apply to almost any nation, and more to the point, the American system that collapsed was more a government operation than it appears. The largest failures were the Mac banks which were an implied government banking system for mortgage securities. They were never a free market player as evidenced by the headquarters of these banks in DC (not NYC). The nationalization of such agencies is merely the next logical step when an agency is half in bed with government but doesn't seem to be spending the tax dollars it gets very intelligently.

AIG is a different story, and there is plenty of misapplication of funds and senseless decision making on the part of Wall St players to go around. The lasting point that "The lesson being that markets left entirely on their own don't always work in a country's best interests.", is a valuable idea to raise. But it's a point that Americans actually recognized early on in the 20th century. The basic idea of regulatory agents or anti-trust laws, etc is to remind the market players that they do need to behave and not abuse the markets they control. In the present case, it's apparent that some did. Others seem to have merely tried to compete in a market that they didn't create but was lucrative for reasons that nobody really understood. That is another lesson that should be taken away from all this (one that has been repeated ad nausem in the history of economic panics).

the real drug wars

heroin and the Taliban

So, as expected, we're busy pushing an interdiction strategy. There are several major factors at play.

1) The general illegal nature of opiates/heroin because of American dominated foreign policy on the issue of drugs. The relative value of the black market crops is disproportionate to any actual market value, and thus a major cash crop for people with no money and acreage to raise poppies instead of say, wheat.

2) The insistence of American farmers for subsidies leads also to the purchase of surplus crops for use in foreign aid. The result however is that where farms in Afghanistan were productive for wheat the wheat went un-purchased by American firms or government agencies (or international aid agencies). A record crop collapsed the price and basically broke the farmers who acceded to the demands of the American installed government. The ones that didn't then successfully purchased more land and acreage to disguise their less favorable productions. There was a major story on how famines in Africa could have been more readily supplied with Afghani wheat crops than waiting for Americans to get the boats over there, but American farm lobbies would have none of it.

The result of policies like these mean our foreign policy/farm trade policies result in far more conflict than is necessary internally in other nations who could otherwise produce more moderate quantities of narcotics alongside large quantities of more useful commodities, such as coffee or wheat. It's a messy business. As usual when our misguided sense of righteousness gets involved. So it's not surprising to see something like this in the story: "...Germany, Italy and Spain worry that a counter-narcotics campaign could spark a backlash against international troops". Because Europe tends to be more accommodating as far as narcotics traffic and criminalization goes (though they also have fewer problems with use). It looks to me like a waste of time. It would be easier to simply track the funds used by narco-terrorists than attack the production of drugs. The long-run would be easiest to make the violent defense of narcotic production less necessary and the result being that violent players get phased out and ties to violent organizations (such as al Qaeda) die out in a ploy for legitimacy in an international market.

imf summary

Summary of banking crisis

This is so complete a history and includes both a summary of how bad things are, and how bad they are in perspective. Ie, the things that are being done (at least up to the 'bailout') are consistent with things that have worked in the past. The bailout/rescue is perhaps a larger scale of recapitalization than we would have anticipated, but it still contains the problem as a fraction of the total GDP (though higher than the N.Rock fraction in the UK).

The biggest key issue that was overlooked until about a week or two ago is the international ripple for foreign banks that snapped up a piece of the strange mortgage pie that was made here, and are subsequently being crushed and have to be bailed out by their central banks. The next thing was that the interest rates stayed low for far too long after the recovery period from the '01 recession. Since the problem now is the lack of liquidity and credit in the markets (because nobody is really sure what they have or what exposure they have), the money supply will naturally be expanded in a global and coordinated effort to stabilized the banking systems. But they should realize that they can't keep the rate down to juice the mortgage rates, and then create mysterious programs to sell off the unstable mortgage assets. As usual, the motto becomes, do you understand what you are buying? Generally the answer for most consumers has been no. They (the people) still don't seem to understand what is actually going on without some background of economic study. That's as big a problem in the long run, but something that can't be addressed by throwing money at it in the way the banks can be.

The bottom end has a series of charts that will no doubt appear Greek to most people, but they do at least summarize the data set to show that things being done are consistent with previously useful macroeconomic policies.

07 October 2008

attraction or idiocracy


I'd have to point out two things.
One: men (and women) will go for the dumb one that tans well, or some other such meaningless physical element first. Especially if there are no other criteria involved (ie, if most everyone is stupid and boring anyway). It's rather important to have both, but most people will take looks and will assume that other features come with them or will overlook the vast flaws that everyone has because they're hooked up with someone smoldering hot.

Second: the conclusion that intelligence is prized is not surprising. Again, conducting studies to show things that I figured out long ago, thanks but I don't need help making these conclusions. In general those 'quick hookups' are based on being able to make oneself appealing quickly, which looks certainly helps, but things like being funny or witty help just as much. The issue I take is with the last paragraph in the original link: "in a world of limited resources, not every woman gets what she wants, and some are bound to fall for ugly, unintelligent and uncreative men. "There's always other people out there that find everything attractive,""
Think about that for a second. Let it sink in. Yes, that's right, they concluded that there are people who will find EVERYTHING attractive. Or is it rather that they don't find anything attractive.. I think that suggests more about that individual and the prospective need for relationship supports than it does about some general trend for finding hideous/boring/stupid people attractive. Even 'attractive enough' as a low standard really doesn't do much. And besides, this seems contrary to any evolutionary principle to give people who have no brain, no looks and no talents some hope that they too can breed. This reminds me of the Carlin skit with 'ugly people' being renamed 'those with severe appearance deficits'. Whatever that means.

Go get something to use in the battle to reproduce scumbags and quit interacting with each other. Start to move up the gene pool in other words instead of wallowing in the filth of humanity. The rest of us could use the help.

06 October 2008

trickle up?

trickling uphill

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Ford's example is striking. And didn't require government intervention to make use of it. Paying people more money or offering more money/benefits induces higher quality workers to come and work at a company. Or it induces otherwise lazier people to feel like the company actually gives a damn and thus work harder; if for no other reason than that they might get fired if they don't (and then have to find a comparable job with comparable pay in a competing firm). What Ford did then was not pay his workers so "they could afford his cars", but pay his workers so they could make him rich by working harder, innovating, etc. The net result was Ford made a pile of money so obscenely high that even his idiot progeny currently running the company haven't run out. There are other examples throughout the corporate landscape. Home Depot skyrocketed upward until they sort of abandoned this corporate model (take care of employees first). The investment made in better workers or better working conditions usually pays off. Mark Cuban, in running the Dallas Mavericks, has spent a pile of money on perks and better facilities to entice free agents and to keep his core players happier. He still runs a profit despite one of the highest payrolls in the league. This goes on at some length; several of the top grocery chains run this way. Credit unions usually do. Etc.

There are really two problems with this. One, it only divests into human capital by companies who structure their business around human capital. Plenty of companies treat employees as replaceable or interchangeable assets; the expendable warm bodies plan. These companies tend to operate on very low costs of labor and extremely high turnover rates, in order to keep from paying anyone that much. With the bulk of the labor market being dominated by both unenlightened employers and employees who are disillusioned and thus unproductive, no peace accord where more employers treat their work force with dignity is likely, particularly when the economy seems to be going south and labor will shortly become more competitive (as even crappy jobs become easier to fill). So the actual problem is that money is not distributed to create human capital by a good many corporate/business entities, even when it naturally benefits a company to produce sophisticated consumers/employees. They can sell either more goods or more high quality goods (often with fewer higher quality employees) instead of relying on thin profit margins created by selling lots of low quality goods with lots of low quality employees.

Maybe that's just not the American business model, but it seems to me that there are enough examples out there to make it a legitimately competitive model. Particularly when the alternative is to have government seize profits and funds (even from those firms which do invest in human capital) and distribute them without effective concern to actually creating human capital (namely, by spending on ineffective educational programs, wars, pork, etc). I'd rather know the money is going to fund the college education (and training) of a well-regarded employee (or their children) than to bankroll some politician's latest scam. Some insistence in knowing what precisely our tax dollars are being spent on might encourage more anger and diligence on the part of the citizenry.