30 September 2008

more mortgage numbers

"That's why the loose credit policies of the Bush years turned into higher home prices in California than in Texas. To be precise, a Los Angeles home averaged 2.6 times the price of a Dallas home in 2001 and 4.7 times in 2005. Even in 2005, the median Dallas home only cost a sane 2.8 times the local annual income, while the median Los Angeles home cost a ridiculous 12.7 times what the median Angeleno was making."

Typically banks make mortgages at the 3 to one ratio or less (I'd prefer a loan in the neighbourhood of 2-1, but its easy to live a cheap lifestyle and have a nicer home as a result). The basis goes that a person with means/income can afford easily such a loan and will pay it off in a reasonable, predictable fashion. It's possible to still get decent loans above this, if one has collateral, other assets, or partners in the loan itself. But given that most people who are first time home buyers do not have much of anything, this isn't the case for most people. Previously noted there was the accompanying comparison of what a rich actor/athlete might pay for a Beverly Hills mansion versus the insanely jacked up value of a middle class home and the variation between one who has assets and one which does not. Those mansions are about 20 times the price of the average home value in LA, but logically the average person makes far, far, far less than the average entertainer, usually well below 20x. Ergo, what were these banks banking on happening? It would seem they somehow expected to make enough money off of higher interest floating loans than would be humanly possible to expect. Somehow I am not surprised when people who have no money can't pay. Why the banks were suggests a root of the problem.

29 September 2008

djia crash

To put this in perspective:
history of crashes

It is the largest one day drop, in raw numbers (777 is still a lot). In terms of percentages, both '29 and '87 are much, much worse. But this has been a sustained issue over the past few weeks, much as those were. So at least a recession is likely. (Wall St either was blinded to this for a while or in denial).

I'm only pleased they didn't pass that weirdo bill. Capitalism doesn't work very well if the losses are public instead of private. Let them suffer and if the government uses its unlimited money power to buy out some things, then they should get the profits of whatever is in there.

As to the mortgage associated problem here, it's been a long, long time coming. Very smart economic minds have been avoiding a fair number of banks or trading firms because of the amount of leverage and wacky loaning going on. Most of the very smart minds unfortunately were too busy trying to ride the waves instead of getting out of the water. I say to that: too damn bad. A few people may lose their homes because of the issues with multiple owners of the loans. Most people with simple one mortgage loans or at least two with the same company should be fine. It will be easy with banks in desperate straits for capital to come up with arrangements to keep paying them something so they don't have to sit on an unsold (and unmovable) property for months paying taxes et al on it.

28 September 2008

strange dreams continue

I had a strange dream dealing with racism. I think it was set in the 50s. I think it involved basketball. And the particular racist decided to sit down and protest after being scored on. He then launched into a sputtering and meaningless explanation postgame. There was more to it before that. But these things are always weird.

26 September 2008

money can work

Macroeconomic summary

This is fairly good at summarizing from a true economic perspective (ie, plus and minus). The key problem is that 'plus' and 'minus' are still very subjective terms. A 2% gain in home ownership, or the access to necessary credit to support people as they attempt to move up the socio-economic scale is a subjective gain. The cost of massive loans to make those gains, to people who couldn't actually afford them, and the repackaging of these unstable loans as investments (investments that most risk assessment firms failed to understand until too late) is also subjective, but as we are seeing, a very stiff price to pay for those gains.

It is worth considering how much it will cost to 'fix' and how much it costs to adapt. In the case of financial information, the key question is transparency. When the public doesn't know what they are buying (either as a mortgage product or as a security traded mortgage investment), then its pretty clear that the market can misbehave. Health care and its insurance agents have the same issue. So some level of (enforced) regulation becomes appropriate. Supposedly we passed a law (Sarbanes-Oxley) a few years ago, after the Enron scandals, that required better disclosure information. Obviously it hasn't worked out all that well. It is worth trying to discern why that might be. Much like our income tax system, the costs of compliance should be streamlined as to be minimal (or even non-existent). A company should naturally want to know its economic standing and because of the usefulness of reporting its relative successes (when it should have such) on Wall St to attract new capital, most necessary fiscal statements are basically already compiled.

The trick with this situation is that the fiscal statements did not tell the whole story. For example, WaMu bank was just bought out by JPMorgan. The reason: the massive profits they were raking in for the earlier part of this decade came from loans and credit issued to people who couldn't afford it. Hence they were raking in high interest payments from unstable creditees. Eventually giving money to poor people and saddling them with higher risk assessed interest rates (and payments) as a profit bearing industry has to collapse. Few were commenting on this type of practice and those who were, such as this article suggests, seemed to think it was a good idea. In practice, some level of consumption or credit should be available to people, even those who have questionable credit history or impoverished incomes. I think the issue is how to set up a means of providing it without the associated marketplace being an unstable profit-death spiral in need of repeated bailouts or failing banks.

Of more utility is long term thinking here. People in minimal economic circumstances presently should be provided the opportunity to move up as their abilities allow. That basically happens because access to credit can allow people to begin reducing consumptive habits and debt spending, not because access to credit gives a license to expand personal lifestyle. It basically becomes an offset for financial emergencies and creates a safety net for unemployment or slow work cycles, but this is not how it is universally treated. For example, young people with new credit routinely overextend and pile up debts in both credit, student loans and new mortgages. Managing this complicated affair is not taught in basic education and few parents lived through the experience themselves. But instead of providing responsible methods of use, the credit card industry simply thought of this as a profit generating cash cow, or the golden goose. It was of course, a way to eventually starve and kill the golden goose by dragging it down with debts, not a way to profit.

arguments of nothing

fact don't matter


As usual, the lack of intellectual skepticism or cognitive dissonance in our population is not surprising, but remains a serious challenge.

I did find amusing the abnormally large percentage of NPR/PBS news followers who actually realized that Saddam has no credible links to Al Qaeda, while the bulk of the population, or at least significant minorities who followed other news media were convinced (despite there being no reason for this strange bedfellows association). A simple question, why would he do that, would have sufficed to put it to bed until some shred of evidence was used to support it. There has been no evidence, and the point was quietly abandoned after Saddam's trial/execution (during which time nobody bothered to publicly inquire if he was working with bin Laden or his surrogates).

So basically, as I'm fond of pointing out when I do a study on a divided issue, the facts are parsed and truth is ignored. Only previously held ideological points matter to most people. I usually try to side with the side that uses less deceptive tactics or fewer baldfaced lies to make their case. Truth doesn't need desperation in its defence.

The second article has several points of use. Those familiar with the laws of human stupidity will not be surprised. The interesting kicker (again, not surprising to those acquainted) is that intelligence has some flaws of assessment.
Basically, idiots aren't bright enough to realize they are incompetent. And generally do not know enough to judge the characteristics of the people who are competent. Consequently I find it very easy to recognize the behavioral patterns of idiots and seek to avoid them. The key issue is that intelligent people, considered competent for the purposes of the study, tend to presume that other people are at least marginally as competent as they are and tend to underestimate the level of incompetence. Which naturally presents problems when tasks are delegated by competent people to incompetent ones, where the competence of each is not known or assessed. This means that the likelihood of picking incompetent leaders is heightened by a basic assumption on the part of intelligent, competent, political independents that someone running for public office must be at least marginally qualified. The ideological factors involved basically already create affirmation biases on the part of the rest, whose votes are easily cataloged on the basis of their voter affiliations. There are exceptions but these are largely made up of people who have significant research on particular topics and reach conclusions that are outside the norms of their political party (such Democratic economists and their views on trade or Republican ones and their views on drugs). In other words, there are required levels of competence needed to overcome ideological bias in the first place. If we appropriately assume a fixed ratio of incompetence, then the inevitable conclusion is that there are significant numbers of people whose opinions are based on zero factual evidence, at least as high as 50% on any given issue.

That article essentially reached the same conclusions as the book on Presidential rankings I recently read. That certainty is distinct from vision, and that intellectual curiosity, the need for advice from people much more skilled in specific arenas of public policy, and the ability to flexibly manage these advisers by selecting those most competent, is far more important than most of the silly things the media reports on, even most factual matters. We don't want certainty, we want someone who can both lead and react. There should be an idea, some clear vision of where we want to go, but the President should be able to flexibly define how to get there by using good advice. This is something we should have been able to observe from the previous 8 years. So basically, for those who haven't made up their minds, the best idea is to vote for the guy who seems least certain and most willing to proclaim their ignorance on some particular topic (but who still has some idea where to go).

osu wins

And oh yeah, OSU beat USC tonight. Except the OSU was Oregon State and not Ohio State, which makes the victory all the sweeter for someone stuck in Ohio but from another state.

I really wish they'd drop the pretentious 'The ...'. It makes the likely philosophy grad school attendance so much more embarrassing. Hopefully a few more prominent losses in the semi-pro world of collegiate athletics (basketball and football at most schools) will do the trick.

barr, or tina fey

The more I think about it, the more I wonder why McCain didn't just nominate Tina Fey as his VP. I suspect she's probably smarter than his actual choice and basically looks the same. Would have been that hard to get people not to notice the Governor of .. Alaska? That Canadian accent thing isn't that hard to do. I switch accents all the time, surely a trained comedian does accents, no? Plus she's basically the only funny part on SNL, when I've bothered to catch any of it. Wouldn't that have shook up Washington more than picking a theocrat in a dress?

I looked at the political compass today to see where Palin rated (Biden was a Dem candidate early on and was already a known quantity). To my alarm, I confirmed several things that I was already aware of.

1) McCain has himself been moving up the social chain (in the wrong direction as far as I'm concerned).
2) He's still not as high as Bush v2, Romney or Palin. (Romney is the top dog in that fight, though Palin is pretty close).
3) Obama sort of moved since Iowa. McCain really moved, but usually these people move toward the 'center' (ie, center of American politics). Apparently I really underestimated the need to mobilize the religious right in national politics. In which case, I've really underestimated the growing amount of such people in voter rolls (and may be fairly alarmed in about another decade if these trends continue). The pull of statist/free marketeers in America is incredibly high. That seems totally contradictory, but then Turkey did just have a party like that win their election.
4) I don't have a candidate. I've been concerned since Barr somehow got the Libertarian nomination, but after more closely looking at him specifically I have to wonder how the hell they did that. He's basically a slightly more socially liberal Republican and not a libertarian in any meaningful way. His position relative to McCain's starting point is striking.
5) For all the complaining people might do about Barr, if people actually noted most of his politics, there's not enough difference there to attract voters away from McCain. By contrast, Nader and the other real 'leftists' are out there to attract attention away from Obama (if that's possible). Only if McCain continues to tie himself further to this right-wing statism (ie, fascism) will Barr resume any significant appeal.

I don't really like that 'right-wingers' (ie, classical liberal/libertarians) don't have choices in this campaign at all (although fortunately Josef Stalin isn't running either, so there's always that). Yet somehow there are these significant differences between Obama and McCain that we're supposed to choose one of them? I think not. For all the blogs I've done on this, each has felt like I've had to boil the tea leaves in order to see which is which (reading them is just not satisfying). The closest people I've had in the game from an ideological perspective have been Paul and then to a lesser extent (much lesser), Obama. On most of the 'key' issues, say education, health care, national defense/foreign affairs, there's really not much of a gap. Even the current economic 'crisis' and oil et al, there's not much to speak of. These side factors like abortion and very, very slight differences in tax policy are about all there is. Whoopie.

I think the best option for me right now is to go around the day before the election and talk to people who are over 35, then write in the name of the most sensible person I meet (who is a legal citizen and not an ex-con, I'm not old enough yet to write myself in). Otherwise, give me a guy talking about crazy things in a serious manner any day of the week (Paul and his rally for the gold standard for example). At least it shakes things up and presents a real outsider perspective to most issues.

Based on Barr's website (which is hardly a reliable indicator of his policies I know)
Pros: budget hawk
for private/free market systems on health care
against corn ethanol subsidies (or other energy subsidies, including the oil ones we currently have)
Against Iraq War and massive defense spending (world military presence still needed?, against who?)
Mediums: against PATRIOT act and FISA (now anyway, late to the party)
Against Dept of Education..but his educational plan is basically the return of the 500 Polish lords: return the power to local school boards. I'm not certain that parents know any better how to educate their children than the teacher's unions. And they for damn sure don't know how to tell whether their children are learning anything meaningful and potentially instructive for later use. But at least he's against NCLB and the bloated education budget.

Quite frankly the only way education will eventually be fixed is to focus it not on the demands of parents, but on the demands of students. And no, I don't mean students get to pick the erotic subjects that interest the typical teenager. I mean the individual student has more sway over what they get into and how involved they are in their own education. After elementary school, there's very little new information that couldn't be gleaned privately through a cultivated habit of self-directed learning. The involvement of parents is then to coach the child on how to approach these decisions and to either provide funds (through tax credits/scholarships) or to select an appropriate academy to help harness the natural academic gifts of an individual (should they have such).

:Opposes gun laws, but it's not clear whether he opposes them on some constitutional basis or because there's no need for them. I'd prefer that they pick a middle ground here, where guns can be controlled sometimes for specific reasons, but not for wide-spread bans. It's possible a handgun ban can have useful effects for example, but there are negative unintended consequences that can result as well (such as the potential need for armed resistance of a runaway national government, something that hasn't been seriously attempted in over a century)
: opposes affirmative action. There's economic basis for doing this, namely that it doesn't really work. The effective target for the bend back method is not race, but poverty. It's really poverty that reduces opportunity. Race is a visible reminder of the nature of who comprises the poor, but isn't necessarily the main factor of determinations of personal achievement. I would argue the relative poverty and, in particular, the relative poverty of educational resources from a young age usually brought about by poverty are a more significant problem that would go much further to aiding people of any race or distinguished subset of society. But there's still some positive externality to be raised by having a public means of achieving this and to distribute some levels of equal opportunity (and not equality of result). So long as there exists a public institution, there exists the need for that institution to distribute positive externalities on some level (education, roads, defense, fire/police, for examples). Some levels of social welfare or insurance can be considered in this category, but there is a careful balance needed between 'encouraging' idleness and providing genuine assistance.

Immigration policy is baloney. I'm tired of our country being run by xenophobes.

Marriage issue being left to states is inherently going to create some fuzzy issues. In particular, it might be possible for people to use the old 'bloody Kansas' self-determination system of Stephen Douglas to stack the ballots in different states. I can't see that playing out well and it does not adequately protect the rights of the individual. While I recognize that 'marriage' as a legal term should remain distinct from 'marriage' as a religious term, there's absolutely no legal reason for any state or local entity to enact laws which discriminate on the basis of these unions being homosexual. There are only discomforting personal reasons or religious animosity, neither of which is a necessary call to impose populist will against the rights of the individual.

Federal Reserve opposition. The fractional reserve system we have in place is at least marginally effective. The problems it has caused have generally been studied and learned from. The principle issue has been the lack of effective oversight (when needed) and the lack of effective economic policies by successive administrations, often countering the advice given by members of the Federal reserve or providing less than adequate free market conditions (such as creating artificial barriers to competition). This sort of thing, and the populist opposition to it, goes back all the way to Jefferson, certainly to Andrew Jackson. I don't get it coming from a party of economists however. I'll have to get around to reading Hayek.

25 September 2008

Only in America

Only in America is it possible to compare each new instance to events that far surpass it in scale or grandeur. The current method is to compare our economy, which is in some level of disarray and or tatters, to the Great Depression. Only in a country where no one understands history is it possible to put an event in scope beyond its true nature and attempt to place it some higher historical context (which it doesn't actually analogize to). To be sure there are occasions where I have seen something which actually impressed upon me as a great(er) event equal to its predecessor, but calling our current economy on a precipice to the Great Depression I have not seen. That's a totally different ballgame..one which we are indeed attempting to enter into (by doing these silly bailout schemes), but one which is going to have to require some serious and deliberate attempts in order to recreate anything like it.

Attempts to call this are basically like those which make Bush's presidency out to be the worst in history. It's bad, but there's a difference between sort of fucked and totally fucked. I guess it's just hard for some people to tell the difference while its going on right in front of them. It's even harder when the media's efforts to cover things are basically to describe the rape rather than to ask questions which might interpose the people in a cause of right action to intervene.

24 September 2008

must ...kill...pennies!

Still calling for the death of the worthless penny

It'd be nice if we did this. As for how it works, things get rounded off to the nickel. Prices will probably shift somewhat (though the advertising value of $.99 instead of $1.00 is significant). I'd also like to see the end of the dollar bill. Such as I've heard, even strip clubs use two dollar bills now. That should be a good indicator that a dollar isn't worth the printing if even strippers won't take them.

22 September 2008

vet committee ballots

Hall of Fame Vets vote on these guys.

Santo -- yes
Torre -- iffy yes (catching helps)
Hodges - no
Allen - yes
Kaat - no
Tiant - no, but close
Oliva - no (Outfield is crowded in Cooperstown)
Oliver - no
Wills - no, but close
Pinson - no

And these guys have a special panel
Dahlen - yes
Magee - yes
Ferrell - no
Gordon - no, closest outsider (better him than Jim Rice)
Mays - no
Reynolds - no
White, Deacon - no
Stephens - no
Vernon - no
Walters - no, but possibly the best pitcher on these lists.

middle class economics


What's funny here is that I've been saying that our educational system and its 'desired' outcomes totally ignores the vast majority of occupations and their educational requirements for a while now. And that using vocational/apprentice type training is more than satisfactory to compensate for this problem.

summary of events


This seems like the best summary of things that happened from a pure financial perspective. There were political events involved in the two Macs for example that aren't discussed (and quite possibly provide reasons they were 'weakly supervised'). But by and large this is very in depth explanations for the federal reserve activities of the past few months.

AIG bailout and the current Congressional push for a major bailout both raise some significant questions over what the intention is. I'm not sure if it's create and foster stability (by injecting needed capital investments) or get people to assess risk more appropriately on the financial scene. And the long term effects are probably worse than the present 'cure'. It is unlikely that even with some major investment firms/insurance companies running into trouble in specific elements of their portfolios that the entire American/world economy would go into total chaos. I admit it would be unpleasant, but what would happen is that the 'good' parts of their portfolios would be sold off to competitors in order to secure capital to service the debt portions. People who invested in the companies who acted strangely will get hosed and in the short term we'd have some economic problems (of either FDIC problems or huge amounts of debt piling up that cannot possibly be serviced).

The principle short term fallout is the impending credit crunch, something that's been coming for decades. I suspect that will help curb inflation at least, but will result in some unpleasantness for many people (either trying to buy things or trying to keep their ailing jobs). If that's better than letting this sort of thing play out, I'm willing to see..but in the long run it's almost certainly dumber.

review of Dilbert economist survey

the raw please

So this was the great thing I missed last week... a survey which wasn't by itself terribly useful at discerning the opinions of people. What I did find useful was the list of 'top' issues. (I, unlike Scott Adams, was aware most economists are Democrats, thanks be to Cato and the Carter administration).

1) Education. It's not clear whether this was meant as public education on financial matters or education in general, both, what. It's rather a vague subject. I'd definitely support a candidate who made some basic financial literacy a position point; if they were otherwise sound and sane. And I'd definitely agree this is probably one of the actual top issues of the campaign (not the faked top issues that the media has covered instead). As far as my own opinions, I don't think either candidate has put forth a plan that I feel addresses our national educational problems. I'd say neither of the two will make a difference here. Obama's plans are mostly to provide incentives for people after college. That however does not address the fact that most people in college shouldn't be there (they should be getting training more directly). Nor does it address the problems of how so many people arrived with "high school level" educations and the inability to then proceed further in higher education. I haven't really heard McCain talk at all about education but they both seem to be okay with NCLB..which means neither of them get any bonus points from me. Verdict: Both suck.

2) Health Care. McCain has a more free market approach here but it doesn't really create any short term solutions. If you are middle class or up in income you should probably have been moving your insurance toward privatization anyway. Tax benefits would help. If you are just poor enough to be not really dirt poor, then nothing in McCain's plan is going to make health care/insurance more affordable in the immediate future. Obama's plan is somewhat more palatable than say, the Clinton plan, but it still makes the basic assumptions that a) health care is a right (without defining either rights or health care) and b) that people should value it over other priorities. I'm not sold on those assumptions, hence I'm not a big fan of government mandates for health care. Nor am I convinced they reduce the costs by themselves anyway; there's plenty of evidence the contrary. Again, this is probably a neither vote. Both plans have some attractive elements and address different parts of the general health care problem; neither resolves it or presents a long term understanding of 'cost'. And yes, this should be one of the top issues. Verdict: both pretty weak

3) International trade: McCain. The union endorsed anti-free trade stance that is virtually required of a Democrat ticket is pretty obviously unpopular with economists. And most educated people come to think of it, which makes Obama's overall popularity with such people surprising. Obviously the non-economist educated folk have other higher priorities they value instead (I might not put in the top 3, but it's certainly the top 5 or 6). I'm not unequivocally in McCain's camp here. I'd prefer to see tariffs on sugar/sugar ethanol removed and most farm subsidies removed to facilitate freer trade on food for example. I haven't seen anything to suggest that farming is going to be opened up to the free market yet from GOP candidates either, but at least the whole 'must keep our shitty jobs here' mantra isn't on the ticket. Verdict: McCain, not even close.

4) Energy. This one probably should be ahead of trade, if only because parts of the trade pertain to energy developments (for example sugar tariffs). I'd have to say Obama is more likely to have a sensible plan here but neither one has a significantly different plan from the other. The one element I haven't liked is that Obama isn't very keen on nuclear power. But then unless we quit wasting the spent rods by burying them in mountains and waiting for the radioactive waste to kill humans off in a few hundred years, I guess I wouldn't be very keen on it either. Obama does put more of a premium on conservation, which is appealing, but isn't really an enforceable agenda (incentives maybe?) Verdict: Obama, sort of.

5) Encouraging tech/innovation. That's a pretty vague subset. I should think this is part of 'education' in a way. I'm not really hearing anything from either that they will enact some means that will spur creative energy beyond what is already taking place. In fact, in historical terms the creative energies of the free market are usually well ahead of government encouragements. What instead happens is the government steps in afterward and either 'endorses' the development by adopting it as a public works initiative or stifles it by not understanding it (such as they have tried to do with the internet and the radio spectrum at turns). I'm pretty sure things like solar power or wind have been funded by major corporations for decades (along with some government research). The idea that a President 'encourages' such behavior or that they even can do so is silly. Verdict: Economists aren't historians.

6) Wars/Homeland Security. Much as McCain at least demonstrated one instance of strategic thought, my basic impression is that he has not illustrated a strategy. Instead he has illustrated the problems and threats and promises to deal with them, in some vague undetermined way which is somehow obviously better than Obama's way. While Obama has his usual vagueness in answering questions dealing with these subjects, the hints of strategy are more promising (to me) for international security. Verdict: Obama.

7) Mortgage/housing crisis. Obviously Bushv2 has no clue what to do here. I don't think either of the candidates do either. Since this is to me a ludicrously simple problem, it should be higher on the list (easy solutions). I have several suggestions which I've read or cobbled together from my fragmented economic research.
7a) break up the big banks so we can't get into this 'too big to fail' business.
7b) actually enforce regulations on the books
7c) including those which pertain to making loans to people who obviously can't afford them.
7d) don't bail anybody out unless through FDIC. Banks or individuals.
7e) make the loan documents standardized with an easy summary page for consumers.
Since I have heard instead a very vague message of 'reform and regulate', I'd like to know what that means. But I'm pretty sure neither of them will make a difference because it's pretty clear neither of them knows what to do (other than that Bush/Bernake isn't doing it). Verdict: The idiots win

8) Social security. It's pretty obvious that the short term solution is to either cut benefits for people on the top end or increase the payroll tax for people on the top end. The long term is to get rid of the thing by phasing it out to a private retirement system, but nobody is willing to do this. While Obama has suggested raising the cap on the payroll taxes, it's not like this is really addressing the core problem. Verdict: Obama, but mostly a push.

9) Environmental policy. Obama. Duh. What is funny here is that McCain used to make a bigger deal about being a hawk on the whole global warming issue...and still was crushed in the survey by Obama. Despite my reservations on things like Al Gore's plans or Kyoto, I am perfectly willing to see regulations and incentives in place to deal with pollution. If for no other reasons than to deal with the problems of property rights and public health.

10) Budget. Obviously the economists know something or other here, they aren't all that keen on Obama's ability to control spending. Because of the partisan nature of the survey, a 3% edge is a defeat or at best a push. Even with a recessionary period, it's still necessary not to spend for the sake of spending. Obama has so many initiatives proposed that I'm curious to see how much they'd cost and how this would be fiscally appropriate or responsible. McCain at least has a rather more direct means to attempt to slash the budget deficit (pork, with presumably cuts in domestic spending). Verdict: McCain, sort of. (This depends on whether social programs are more valuable than budgetary policies)

11) Immigration. Funny how this one was so much lower when educated people are asked to rate it's importance. It's also basically the only Issue of the Ignorant that made it into the list. And, not surprisingly, there's not much of a difference between the two anyway. Verdict: push.

12) Increasing taxes on wealthy. Obama will obviously do this. He won't be doing it in the way McCain's ads suggest he will (by raising them on 'middle-class Americans', right...). It's debatable whether this is important or not, but considering this is America (where we throw tea away rather than pay taxes).... I'd suggest that it's important only because it's an issue the normal voter might understand (but won't because they don't pay enough attention). As far as what they should do.. I'd be pushing a total tax reform with a sales tax instead. It seems to actually make more money anyway than the alternative (Virginia for example did this recently). This would in fact be a much greater increase in taxes on 'the wealthy' simply because it's so easy for 'the wealthy' to not be earning taxable income in the first place while there's no way for money being spent to not be taxed under that type of system. There's still a big language problem between 'wealth' and 'income' in this country. Verdict: Obama will do this, but I'd prefer he do something else. McCain won't do anything useful-- push.

13) Reducing waste (pork). So basically the populist type messages got in on the tail end of the economist's lists. I consider this a useful thing, but not a very important thing. And it's McCain's wheelhouse (obviously the economists think so anyway). I suspect it's mostly show because there are still other ways to garner political support from 'boosters' without giving out pet projects, but even if it isn't, he won't be able to stem the entire flood of monies pouring out on this crap. Verdict: McCain, but I'm too cynical to think it will matter.

One will note that issues like abortion, gay marriage, and creationism did not appear. It should be no surprise that the GOP is losing so much support outside of these 'core' issues where the population is becoming more 'educated'.

blank checks

blank check to who?

Uh yes, it might also be a good time to consider whether handing over a 700 billion dollar blank check to Congress is a good idea.

Wall Street has its problems, but it would do well to remember that some of these were induced by government pushes for home ownership rate increases. The specific crazy motives and the idiocy of repackaging speculative loans (which come to think of it, is only stupid when it is done as dishonestly as it was) is Wall Street's problem. The policy shifts that made such moves possible is government's. I'd prefer to think that both should be punished in some manner rather than the many 'responsible' taxpayers who didn't decide to take out silly loans and aren't buried in credit debt who will be instead (or their children/grandchildren will be).

21 September 2008

less whining is needed


Incidentally, the people of Ohio can shut it as far as complaining about power outages from a wind storm. I think Texas is a bit ahead of us on the bitch list.

save social security?


The funny thing is that this isn't a new concept. Smoking has the same (well, similar) effect on general mortality as heavy alcoholic consumption. There are two flaws with the assumptions: 1) Social security will remain as it is. I highly doubt that. And 2) heavy drinkers are essentially distributed throughout the general population at random, which studies have shown is usually not the case.

In fact heavy drinkers are generally distributed in mostly lower income jobs after college (not that rich people can't be alcoholics, but rather that they are statistically of a different sort than beer drinkers). Rather than redistributing 'wealth' from heavy drinkers to non-heavies, it basically redistributes scraps. Drinking in general, as has been known, is not by itself a cause of un-health, rather its extreme is. And this extreme is basically taken into effect by people who are too poor to deal with the effects (often referred to as 'college students'). In other words, even if they generate several billion dollars of extra social security monies that they won't live to see, wouldn't they also generate several billion dollars of other social costs; such as health care, lost productivity, accidental damages, and insurance claims? Wouldn't these off-set the positive externality of people dying off too fast to get their money?

so why exactly are we protecting these jobs?


They both get it in this one of course, but McCain has to wait his turn.

20 September 2008

the variety of rantings of a week long suspension

During the week of internet absenteeism caused by a few puffs of wind and falling debris, I had good cause to review a number of books. Given that it is rather difficult to read by candlelight, I probably didn't go through these as efficiently as usual. But I did have a number of interesting reflections. To me anyway.

One was that there are a surprising number of inventions that Americans take for granted, even to the point of assuming them as 'necessities' in a basic standard of living, that didn't even exist 100 years ago, don't exist at all in some parts of the world still, or are being replaced by new forms and new inventions that serve the same purposes. The basic facts of history and the inventive markets that were produced are not surprising (I've known about this sort of thing since I was a teenager). It is the subsequent review of them, in concert, that creates this startling reflection. Some of them even couldn't exist without other innovative processes developing in tandem; such as the current availability of fresh meats or vegetables with the specializing growth of cattle ranches, refrigeration, and canning all going on basically at once and in separate chains of development. I mention that one particularly because naturally without refrigeration, all I had on hand was canned/packaged goods that generally aren't very tasty without cooking (which I also couldn't do what with an electric stove).

I was therefore somewhat surprised, what with our uninformed public, to not see more agitation on the part of that public when the power was out for the better part of a week in many private homes. While I was somewhat disturbed by being removed from my more cosmopolitan concerns in esoteric issues (like the AIG buyout and federal bailouts or news from abroad), it wasn't like the world out there stopped existing. Merely that the direct and immediate surroundings took on a shocking importance, namely in my case that I couldn't really interact and communicate my thoughts with others (being as I am not employed by really intelligent collaborators to converse on weighty issues of the day). But I had to consider the following as causes of concern for others:
1) stoplights, I witnessed a number of major intersections where upon people were drastically confused by the absence of signals directing their meek driving behaviors. I've noted previously the specific absence of signage in other countries and the subsequent improvements in the ability of driving habits. Americans on the other hand did not generally acquit themselves well without civic reminders to treat such intersections as four way stops (really they should be seen as yield signs where stopping is a highly likely option). That people then stopped at any out of function signal was more amusing still, even those without traffic to oppose movement such as three way intersections with shared left turn (where one side should have continued unabated forward).
2) Cable TV. I think people were able to mollify this demand for 'entertainment', such as TV is capable of providing it, by attending movies or organizing communal events (barbecues for example). But considering the amazing near universal capacity of television and its various forms, I'm surprised people didn't complain as much. I guess food is sort of more important than TV. The one movie I attended was naturally quite a bit busier than I would have expected normally (Burn after Reading which had been out a while). I'm not quite sure what to make of this as a social matter in its effects.

Incidentally, I liked the movie and found greater amusement in the fact that several people, at its end, actually loudly proclaimed "What?!", as though they hadn't seen a Coen brothers movie before and therefore hadn't been paying attention as events unfolded. It was a bit formulaic and predictable in many ways, but it was worth the diversion. And Pitt was ridiculously funny as the village idiot sort.

3) Refrigeration. Since there were some dining establishments with power available, people of some means were able to continue eating fresh foods (albeit with some wait and greater expense). But there were still plenty of extension cords running across roads, presumably for at least the personal purpose of cooling food. Since that seems trivially idiotic (couldn't they instead pool their refrigeration units and food for a week?), not to mention potentially dangerous, people didn't really react to this private inconvenience with great esteem.

Things to do instead:
1) read and/or converse with others, spend time with loved ones or friends. I guess people did this. Eventually it gets old for most without the ever present diversions of modern technology. Reading I wasn't all that disappointed with. My options for socializing are somewhat limited.
2) Exercise. I didn't see very many people running or otherwise 'playing outside'. Most of the people picking up debris were either actively employed in that industry or were children employed by neighbours to aid. I was aware there were people who owned chainsaws helping hack apart larger debris for the first day or so, but there are still plenty of trees laying as if discarded on the front lawns of many a property. I myself availed the freedom from discourse to reactivate my exercise regimen with more gusto. I could always use candles to read with and without technological diversions available late at night, it was better to be tired earlier and so use less of the darkness. I can't say that was necessarily more enjoyable, but I survived being up early/ier. If nothing else, the breaking of a comfortable routine was a useful feature of this more primitive lifestyle.
3) Wander around and observe devastation. Plenty of people were doing this the first two days gawking from the middle of roads while others were trying to maneuver their vehicles around these unsightly mobs. I did little of this, being unsurprised when high winds cause a branch or tree to displace. Mainly I saw such things as increasing the amount of work necessary to attend to mowing a lawn or to restore electricity. It is not as though our region is a stranger to the disasters of wind (via the tornado or blizzard).

Edit: I spoke too soon. I noticed some old ladies in wheelchairs 'protesting' along a major thoroughfare with the eloquent phrase "DP&L sucks" on their signs. But there were only two of them. Also, the entire thing was pretty anti-climatic. The (my) power was restored after they played around with the transformer down the street and some associated debris for about 20 minutes. I presume there were some downed lines somewhere along the way that made that possible, but the actual work in my vision was pitifully simple.

surivival of the candlelighted

So after a week with no power and some eye strains from candlelight reading vigils (I'd rather read than not sleep), the internet is restored to me. I have a good deal to catch up on in worldly affairs.

Edit: In the future, I shall not disparage CNN's coverage of hurricanes. At least, I will not rant actively about it. The week of 19th century history reading was inspirational, but not particularly necessary to re-enact.

14 September 2008

spore piracy


"You have the power to make this the most pirated game ever, to give corporate bastards a virtual punch in the face."

The funny part of security features is that they tend to be annoying to people who actually legitimately do something and tend to be either easy to bypass or a major incentive to hackers to create an easy way around. Since security features are usually just lines of code in a dll, or within the executable files, it's been common for cracks to be around for decades. I prefer them to digging through and finding the CD myself and given that I'm accustomed to using them, there's a system of backing up files for updating purposes, etc. About the only thing I find more annoying than a cumbersome security protocol on a game is a series of advertising/intro movies. None of which obscure any actual loading of files going on, it's just random crap running on my screen. But again, that's an easy fix (usually deleting/renaming those movie files works in some form or another). The iTunes DRM on music files is also a joke. I suspect it's there to keep people prisoner to Apple. Again it's rather easy to get around.

What's the point of security that simply annoys people?

I would be more interested to see how many copies of Spore were downloaded before it was officially released. Since I haven't gotten it or played it, I can't say how effective a fresh copy a month ahead of time would have been. That's usually the true test of a good pirate. Getting around security is one thing. Getting a product to market ahead of its release, totally different.

13 September 2008

drug use banned in video games?


Yes, that's a bit strange. Apparently Australia has a tougher convention on video games than America does with a wide ban on several games. But if having real world drugs in a game, with similar to real life effects (both positive and negative) is a no-no, then I don't see the reason for a ban. Based on previous fallout game versions, taking various drugs had temporary positive buffs and then longer term negative penalties...plus the risk of addiction which would cause health penalties periodically if you couldn't come up with the specific drug you had become addicted to. That sounds more or less like the real world elements and provides people with the specific choice of 'risk long term problems for potential short term gains'. Usually the best option was to carry the things around and sell them to merchants for cash because of the weight ratio of drugs usually being almost zero. My impression therein was not that the drug use was encouraged out of hand, but that it demonstrated a tactical/strategic gameplay choice (as it would in the real world in a sense).

So instead, it is necessary to use "fictional drugs" even though people could very easily extract the actual drug from the effects if they wanted to think on it seriously.

And yeah, I'll probably be getting that game..but not because of a silly ban.

oil spill comedy


Check out many others by these two: Clarke & Dawe. Aussies tend to do British style comedy better than Americans.

12 September 2008

I mean come on, they must think you’re stupid

"I mean come on, they must think you’re stupid"

Since that was the tail end of an Obama line post GOP convention (about a week ago), I have to answer: They don't think you're stupid, they know it. Did we miss the study in the Post, the basic 'person on the street', where people are in fact, stupid. I don't think the campaign strategists did.

hurricane force

Why is it necessary to send reporters around to be blown about and rained on to report on a hurricane. I'm not surprised that they volunteer for this, because they did so for wars as well (to be shot at or have bombs go off outside the window)...but seriously..I think we've been through a bad storm at some point in our lives. Just multiply that by a very high number for intensity and add a very long time and there's your hurricane. Instead we get "quick everyone get out of town, CNN is coming to film the devastation".

rating gwb

Since I finished the ratings game book I was reading I decided to finish it further by putting up a preliminary rating of GW.

Character: 2. This would be somewhat higher because it seems like he suffers from the same delusions that Reagan did (the whole god loves America thing), which makes some of his poorly implemented policies at least understandable (not justified, explained). But the trouble here is rampant cronyism, a series of minor to major scandals, and the basic deceptive use of language. When Hollywood is making movies with weird titles and political themes, something is amiss. What exactly is rendition protocol? Or enhanced interrogation? The plus side was he never ran anyone over in a drunk driving accident like say Pierce or had a former fiancee disappear under mysterious circumstances like Buchanan. I suspect he at least got into politics because it was the family business and thought he was supposed to/do something good (whatever good was). That's a positive.

Vision: I'm not quite sure how to rate this one. I think he has something like a vision so it should be a 4...but he's so poor at communicating that it isn't really clear what he's trying to accomplish or if he was trying to accomplish some of it before he got in office. I'll go with 3. I could go lower because it also doesn't seem like he's totally in reality with what he has accomplished either. This is not necessarily surprising as there are plenty of Presidents who implement policies with 'good intentions' and don't quite understand what they've accomplished. Assuming their intentions will be carried out isn't the same as executing the office.

Competence: 1. This can rise, if any of his policies ever turn out better than I think they will (esp the foreign policy). What he was good at was ramrodding things through that he wanted, with the exception of privatized social security and immigration reforms. Tax cuts, the war (both of them), NCLB, etc. The fact that almost all of it was obviously bad policy didn't matter (although immigration reform would have been decent). What he was bad at was managing events through his surrogates..or picking good surrogates who would manage events for him. I can think of maybe two people in his cabinet over the entire 8 years who were at least remotely decent (including his VP, who wasn't). That's usually a hallmark of incompetence; have poor advice..even worse, seek only advice that secures what plan you want in the first place. Part of how JFK got through the Cuban missile crisis was having a variety of options from hawks, doves, and things in between. Bush basically has a lot of people telling him what he wants to hear.

Economics: 2. He would be higher, except there are a number of things that happened on his watch that aren't very useful for economic growth (and hence, we're in a hampered growth period). The regulation sleepwalk on housing for example, and the devaluation of American currency from massive deficit spending and inflation. Tax cuts weren't a terrible idea, and in part they were useful for a time. It's possible he'll drop to a 1 after his term once it becomes clear how much damage was done, but the fact is the economy isn't doing terribly (as we've been told), it's just different. I'd also have to see precisely what sort of ratings system was used on the raw data by the author. There was for example GDP growth after recovering from an early recession, but the budget was mismanaged badly along the way. FDR has a similar record. With lots of things going on, some very good, many bad. 3 sounds good. 2 sounds more accurate though.

Civil Liberties: 1. I wouldn't call him the worst record here in history. But it's pretty ugly. Patriot Act, FISA, wiretapping, torture, 'enemy combatants', excessive security checkpoints at airplanes, bizarre FCC guidelines, blurring of faith and state (essentially a lack of freedom of religion). He reminds me of Adams the First. I guess if one includes the expansion of liberties to Iraqis, this is much higher...except the cost of that has been all these meaningless restrictions at home.

Foreign policy: 1. There are big issues here that could make it higher or lower in about a decade. While he clearly had a plan of sorts, it wasn't a very coherent plan or particularly useful strategy to implement. There was too much brawn and no brain in it. Strong-arm diplomacy is America circa 1900 in Latin America (See TR's revolt in Panama and the 'Banana Republics'). We never really used it during the Cold War until Reagan directly did so with Russia. I guess it worked ok then, but we're not dealing with a single nation or organization to fight against now..so why it would work now makes no sense. Not to mention that the two countries I would have targeted were Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, which were supposedly allies during all this mess. If it's up to me, this is a 1...but to be somewhat objective there are some improvements as a result of his actions. I'm not sure whether to attribute them to some sort of master plan though. So 1 it is.

And no, this overall rating (2) doesn't put Bush as the worst US President in history, just in the bottom 5. His 'hero' Truman comes in the top 10, for good reasons (his only problems being some crony scandals and petty firings, plus poor economic policies). Bush comes in around Van Buren and other such luminaries as Nixon, Hoover, and Andrew Johnson.

11 September 2008



Not to be too rude, but wouldn't their God be the same one? I'm not sure that Christians generally accept some premise that there are other gods that people are running about and worshiping instead. So it would be, to be theologically consistent, either a false god or the same one. Second point would be that they didn't take innocent lives in the name of their god anyway. They took innocent lives because they were programmed and trained to attack Americans by someone who told them that it was the will of Allah. I suspect if one believes in god, there's a huge difference between having some sort of faith that god actually wants you to do something (even if it is genuinely horrible) and simply trying to live your life in accordance with your beliefs.

I was somewhat pleased to see McCain/Obama suspend their campaigns and show up at least. Even if some New Yorkers weren't.

the disturbing news of the uninformed majority


A funny thing happens when you walk out your own little world. The people you encounter are instantly ignorant, unenlightened, or just plain stupid.

A few points.
1) "voters are actually basically stupid".. cato and various other think tanks have demonstrated the repeated ignorance on social and economic policies of the general public. I think MIB had it right here. A person is smart, people are dumb, frightened...and you know it. I'd vote for a candidate who admitted this fundamental flaw in our republic (or who called it a republic for starters). The actual stats: "war is god's way of teaching American's geography", only rather poorly since people can't find Iraq on a map. Or know that we're the only nuclear power to have actually used one in combat. And if people are actually watching these silly commercials and basing their decisions on them, I feel extremely distressed.

2) O'Reilly and Stewart really don't have much difference anyway. Stewart does have more of a tendency to be even handed and make fun of both 'liberal' media and whatever it is that O'Reilly is. But to imagine that the people who watch are in some way distinctly aware of the situation is preposterous. Both are humorists poking at the silly world we live in, just in very, very different ways. I find one to be hilarious and the other to be a raving lunatic (best parodied by Stewart's alternative in Colbert). Quite simply, people who watch these types of shows (instead of say, Idol..shudder) are going to be reasonably more informed than the average person otherwise they won't understand what is going on.

3) It would be nice if we did actually give people facts when reporting. Instead people pay far too much attention to spin doctored speeches and politicking rather than the actual messages and specific facts that are outlined. The fact that Americans were deceived by Bush et al into going to war with/in Iraq doesn't mean Bush was a moron by itself, because he couldn't have done so without the media not bothering to ask for information it now conveniently ignores whilst commenting on the war's uncertain progress. If people are so uninformed as to make these weird conclusions, there's only really one agency to blame: the media. The average person doesn't have the time to ask questions and follow up on them. And they probably don't have the intellectual capacity to wonder as broadly as they'd need to in order to ask them in the first place. If something sounds plausible, they accept it in good faith.

4) Nostalgia is a nice concept. I suspect two things. One the average voter was probably better informed than they are now, but wasn't yet as jaded and therefore less likely to be an average voter. I'd like to see the propensity of intelligent people who vote rather than the propensity of business people who do (not all of whom are inherently smart). And two our education system isn't nearly as good, even though it tries to be more universal than it's predecessors.

5) ? 40% of young people weren't following the 9/11 attacks? That's one of the few times I can recall being parked in front of a TV all morning watching news. Another being when there was an attempting coup in Russia after the Soviet Union was collapsing and tanks were parked in front of the Kremlin..pointing in. I do recall watching 'news' a lot when the last shuttle exploded, but it really became repetitive nonsense. Same with Katrina. So what then were people following instead of 9/11? I have no idea, but I realize that after a couple hours (once the towers collapsed) there really wasn't new news on it. It was then time to try to piece together what had happened and start acting, something our government did rather poorly (unsurprisingly, we elected through our incompetence, a representative of incredible incompetence).

10 September 2008

mvp debates getting silly, again

So in the past week I've heard Dustin Pedroia come up as an AL MVP candidate, when he's not the best player on his own team (Youkilis). And now I've heard Carlos Delgado come up as an NL candidate, again, not the best player on his own team.

I'm not sure what the convention is, but it sounds like "Have good September on contending team when people are finally paying attention to baseball, or have such a monster season that nobody is even close and your team is still pretty good". A-Rod did this last year with one of the best seasons in history and had the AL MVP wrapped up by about June. Albert Pujols is having a similarly very good year (while playing hurt) but Lance Berkman is right there with him, and so his team. Both aren't necessarily even going to make the playoffs. As a result, they're busy putting other options up.

Pujols could probably win the NL MVP just about every year, so that would get boring. It would be better (palatable) if they were proposing people who should be in the debate (and not Delgado). That would be Carlos Beltran if it had to be a Met. Or Jose Reyes, again, if it has to be a Met. Delgado is basically racking up RBIs because he's got those two on base..and Beltran has almost as many RBI anyway. Or David Wright...again a Met with a ton of RBI.. so yes, Delgado is a good player having a good year (or half year-depending on how you look at it). But he has three players who are better than he is on his own team, plus probably a pitcher (Johan Santana). How he can come up in an MVP debate at all is beyond my ability to comprehend. If Manny Ramirez had been traded sooner, I'd suggest he's the best option for this "Have a great stretch run on contending team" candidate that people seem to want to vote on. (Hitting almost .400 as of today for LA).

Personally it looks to me like it should be Pujols anyway, and Berkman if not him. They are both on good teams competing in a tough division for post season potential (albeit slipping away) and neither has much in the way of supporting cast players. Take them away, the teams they are on suddenly suck. That sounds pretty valuable. Take Delgado off the Mets and they're still a very good team (with four very good players at least). That does not.

readings and musings

So I've been reading this: The Leaders We Deserved

I decided it was a sensible way to evaluate the relative merits of Presidents. Even if we are still free to disagree on the actual ranks the author put forth on historical Presidencies. (Notably it reads in some parts like it was clearly written by a Reagan conservative Democrat, though I'm rather likely to admit Reagan is clearly a far more effective President than most were. Even Obama said as much).
The basic assessment categories were:
Character -- basically if politician doesn't put private benefits over the national interest, or use the political power for the benefit of political cronies, this is considered good.
Vision: Do we have a plan?
Competence: Can we get that plan followed up on with administrative action, or is this plan so bad that we're all screwed?
Economic Policy: Is the economy going to get better or worse because of your policies (or lack thereof).
Civil Liberty/Human Rights: Are we to respect rule of law and extend the practice of that to each equally, or get bogged down in petty fights over race, gender, and creed.
Foreign policy/national defense: Are we at war and do we need to be?

One key issue which was addressed during this was where the prestige and power of the executive office was expanded or expended, was this by itself a good thing or was it used inappropriately. We have a jackass on our $20 in part because far too much respect is paid to Jackson for expanding and redefining the executive branch (he was literally called this and that's why we have a donkey as a party mascot). Essentially saying we want our Presidents to act like kings and not respect or work within the frames of our government in order to get things done. Rather than accept this as historical truth, it was necessary to arrive at reasoned categorical variables on which to base the quality of each administration rather than to use arbitrary political leanings to grind against one President's misgivings but forgive another for similar problems (Truman v Grant is instructive here). It's also instructive to consider that certain valuable members of our founding were less than effective as executives. Jefferson was the model philosopher-king by his own design, but he became rather petty when he couldn't resolve external problems (the Napoleonic War). He belongs on Rushmore for other reasons (him or Franklin, Ben got the money and some bad rap songs instead) but he was basically an above average president, not a great one. Madison on the other hand was a unmitigated disaster in most ways.

First there was the subjective and unusual term we hear bandied about "character". The author suggested that most Presidents were of decent enough stuff with the main exceptions being: Nixon, Buchanan, Polk, Pierce. And a few others (Clinton among them) who were of weaker stuff also. As an assessment of character, basically not whining and creating associative groups of 'those out to get me' and 'those who are my loyal minions' was the basic touchstone. The high mark was given to taking and expressing viewpoints that may be unpopular and tolerating the opposing viewpoints in an intellectually curious manner. Something not considered is whatever 'character' means now as it regards the private lives and usual sexual affairs while exercising political authority (unless it somehow became a major issue or especially a legal issue). This means Clinton's low mark (he's basically average otherwise) is probably based on other nefarious dealings and not his legal maneuvers during his embarrassing sex scandal. Oh, and this was the only good mark Carter got. Congratulations.

Basically people who get into politics as a manner of creating change (not in the buzzword sense, but in the Gandhi sense), as opposed to people who get into politics because they like being powerful are considered good character candidates. Buchanan for instance became a public official because he thought it would enhance his lawyer clientele, which seems like a rather shady reasoning to me. Once in office, using power for petty personal matters as opposed to resolving the business of the nation and the office it has appointed this person to execute is also a no-no. Clinton and Nixon are two very prominent examples here.
Had Mrs Clinton won the Democratic nomination, this Clinton sort of whiny attitude would have persisted and lends itself to suggesting she would make poor Presidential stuff anyway (vast right wing conspiracy, who cares?). Obama reacts differently to attacks on his character and demonstrates some distinct version of integrity. I'm not sure that it qualifies as 'strong character' because he so rarely works productively around people with opposing views (based on his voting records). Wilson had this problem. Because of his experience in Constitutional law and civil rights however, it does suggest Obama is accustomed to unpopular views intellectually (as indicated by his toeing the line of responsibility/government). Again, it's not clear where he's going with this. The media seems willing to paint him as someone out to work for the little guy (rather than himself). That type of politicking has been around since at least the time of Caesar. I demand results, not rhetoric, to determine the difference. Here his lack of experience is actually a detriment, something where there might be a record of accomplishments in this area to back up his statements. In other arenas, I usually don't care about political experience for the simple fact that people like Buchanan or George Wallace had plenty of it in resume fodder. They were still world-class scumbags undeserving of our attentions and respect.

McCain on the other hand seems willing to 'sacrifice' his popularity to accomplish things. As recent history demonstrates, this can be very, very bad. Lincoln, Washington and a few others however did this to the longer term benefit of the nation. I doubt Bush's exploits will come to be seen in this light, largely because his policymakers were of the sort of 'yes man' mentality that got Nixon et al into hot water. McCain didn't previously strike me as this sort of resistant thinker, because of his political adaptability, but this new version that he's been trotting out since he wrapped up the GOP nomination isn't very reassuring. About the only thing he is suggesting which is truly unpopular is his stand on campaign ethics, and that's only unpopular with Washington insiders and free speech advocates, not with the public en masse. Besides nobody important seriously thinks anything productive will come of it (because it would require legislators to actually represent the people who vote for them, not the people who get them elected). The war itself is no longer as divisive an issue as it was some months ago. Taxes are sort of divisive, but nobody really wants them to go up anyway. Abortion and other issues are strongly divided, but for reasons that no debate can ever resolve rationally. Where economists could be called upon to prevail upon some value in the tax code restructuring, there are no such experts on the value of the human 'soul' or who can attest to the state of attainment of 'personhood' (something Obama got himself into political hot water by pointing out).

Vision: What is it that a candidate wants to get done. Or, if unforeseen events alter the ability or priority, how well will they respond/adapt to this new situation and craft a new vision. Something always put in social psychology is the ability of a leader with a vision to manipulate others into following it. It is good and well if that vision entails certain benefits for the society without major deterrence to some of its members. Hitler for example would score 'well' on vision but the fact that his vision was inherently doomed based as it was on deep seated violent hatred. The fact that his economic policies created a booming war machine in the short term suggests that his powerful personality wasn't so different from the 'force of nature' type that typically governs in American politics. He was just more of an asshole. The book in effect compares Andrew Jackson's appeal to mainstream historians for decades to the mass hysteria that Hitler whipped up...because they both seriously abused the power granted them to commit atrocities. We didn't have industrialism and German efficiency around to gas the Cherokee out of existence, but we could march them away at gun point against our own laws.

Basically what this means it that an effective President should have a mission, somewhat broad in scope (but not excessively broad like LBJ). They should not be simply an administer of men, managing events as they go on without a plan as to how things can be shaped or an agenda that they would like to see implemented. Reagan was the essential modern President in this regard, possessing only vision and the wit to get others to make use of it. It is said that he had basically one speech and only four or five ideas. Obama has something like a vision, but nobody really knows what it is (his acceptance speech was really the first reliable hints of policies he's made). McCain seems to believe that either DC should be accountable to the public or the public should be able to trust DC to deal with matters that it wants attended to. That's at least a vision. I'm not sure it's either realistic or something he really believes himself. If he's willing to work to gain some level of trust, fine. I don't think that people should necessarily 'trust' their government, in the sense that they can rely upon it. I suspect it is best if people are at least suspicious of it, enough to be aware and probing into its activity, but reasonably assured that it is doing what we put it to task for (namely the establishment/maintenance of a reasonably organized society with few distractions from our freedoms posed by maniacs who don't understand that freedom doesn't mean getting to pee on restaurant booths and their patrons).

I would basically define the 'competence' of a President as this: someone who understands that there are always two Americas; the one that is too stupid to know what it wants and the one that is too snobby and disaffected to care what it gets. The mission of the Presidency is to get things done in spite of people always getting in the way from both directions. This was the one area Jackson was especially good at because he used his political capital so effectively to do things he wanted to (despite the fact that they were singularly stupid). I suspect Bush may be viewed in much the same way because his basic policy objectives since he took office have been carried out even though few of them make any sense or come without some sort of strange religious attachments (AIDs funding for example).

It is unclear what, if anything, that Obama has as a vision or some essential message that he wants done. His specific policies are so far somewhat reminiscent of progressivism and Keynesian systems. What we can rely on is this: who he has picked to be advisors in both his past and his VP choice (a de facto cabinet member). I don't see people of angular views who will obstruct his initiatives, but I also don't see people who will present sound advice, even if it is contrary to party lines. Biden is pretty much a hardcore liberal in the American sense of the word. McCain by contrast has shown an ability or willingness to try to get things done while in the Senate. That's a good thing..but he's now re-imagining himself as this conservative party ideologue of sorts by nominating a stealthy hardliner on social issues like abortion. I'm not sure that America really needs more concern over our sex lives as a significant portion of public policy discourse with some headaches in economics and some festering problems with Islamic free radicals, not to mention being in two shooting wars already. True, the sort of people likely to support McCain policies are likely to support these social causes and see a clear distinction between himself and Obama (and thereby mobilize in greater numbers the way they did for Bush). But it doesn't bode well for his ability to focus in on key problems or to set important national priorities for his administration.

Economics is basically a hazy subject for the common person. Bush-McCain (yes there's not much difference here), is fairly straight-forward. Tax less, regulate less, hope the free market figures it out. Roosevelt (Teddy, Franklin was an economic moron) had what I see as an appropriate view. The market will eventually figure out what is in the best long term interests, but not quickly enough to prevent major social problems from emerging. Intervening should be used as a friendly reminder to both labor and capital to work in the collective interest of the whole and not simply in the interest and self-interest of the present. Long term prosperity is far superior to short term indulgences or excesses. I think from what I've heard Obama kind of understands this essential message, but hasn't quite figured out how to make it work. For example, the simplest way to fix the housing markets is to make the loan documents standardized into a simple summary page. The actual legal stuff that we all sign can be specific..but people really need a way to boil down the actual terms that they're signing into without reading 30 pages of legalese (and then suffering a Yoda induced migraine). Instead, we get bailout loans?
While it might make some economic sense to (slightly) raise tax on the highest incomes (because of obscure economic premises like the Laffer curve), Obama's failure to understand that 1) spending increases while cutting taxes is a bigger issue because it guarantees inflation and stabs economic growth in the heart..and 2) capital gains tax revenue most definitely increased when the taxes were cut..suggest there's a problem with how he'd actually address the labor-capital dilemma as well as national budget policies in general. For those interested, this was the one area Clinton did well in, he was mostly unremarkable/average except for his personal excesses. The author gave "great" to Washington, Lincoln, TR, and Reagan. Ike, Clinton, JFK and Coolidge did fine (among others). The usual suspects adorn the terrible: Jackson/Van Buren and Hoover presiding over the worst Depressions we've had, Nixon and Carter over the worst inflation while also exacerbating the crisis and Madison-Monroe who were apparently just unconcerned with money.

Civil rights: Obama was a civil rights/constitutional lawyer for a time. This is the one arena he gets significant support from libertarians. His answers to the types of questions, even when unscripted, sound sensible, thought-out, and most importantly they are consistent with an essential belief in the importance of both rule of law and civilian/minority rights within that context. The freedom of all must be secured for the freedom of any to be maintained. McCain gets/got some support because he opposes torture (for obvious personal reasons). But simply not torturing someone while otherwise evading our rule of law is not quite the same thing as protecting civil liberties. Considering the laundry list of reckless things Bush v2 has done in this area, it's clearly an important issue worth seeking out the opinions and agendas of prospective candidates. The author rated only 3 Presidents with a 'great' tag here: Lincoln, LBJ, and Grant. Most of the bad seeds are during a long run of mediocrity around Lincoln and Grant, with only Ben Harrison and TR getting a 'good' and everybody else from Jackson to Wilson getting smacked as poor or worse and only Nixon coming outside this run. Considering most of the important work was done by Congress during that stretch anyway, the only thing a President needed to do was push things along privately. None did so, and some even pushed the wrong way (Buchanan or Wilson).

Foreign policy. This is for me the biggest reason to pick a Presidential candidate. Everything else is potentially set and enacted by Congress (or at least, it's supposed to be. The Executive Orders log is pretty extensive now days). But foreign policy tones and the representation of the nation occurs, in part, through the central public figure and elected representative of that nation. I give some respect to McCain for helping force some marginally useful public changes in the course and conduct of the Iraq war, but I don't think it was wise public policy to get involved in the first place. While Obama seems quite popular in Europe, that's not necessarily any indication that his policies will be or that his appointed agents and manner of dealing with foreign entanglements will be any better than McCain's. The issue with McCain is that he basically has assumed the mantle of foreign policy expert on the basis of being shot down in a war and held captive. That gives him some very necessary insights and very traumatic memories I am sure. I'm not sure that it gives him any credible geo-political maneuvering skills. It's funny watching Bush try to emulate Reagan for this reason. Reagan had experience in bargaining from his days as a union leader and various other offices. Bush basically does the opposite of bargain. Reagan never quite did either, but he at least was able to make concessions where they were needed to get other parts of his agenda through and to respect (at least publicly) his opposition. Bush basically mocks or blames his (for reasons at turns both petty and insightful, simply mocking Bush's stupidity without sound proposals of your own isn't very useful opposition). There were plenty of good ones here to draw examples from, so the key was to avoid the stupid ones: Madison, Carter, LBJ, Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover. Basically don't be uninvolved (the 20s guys) but don't be too aggressive (Madison/LBJ). And don't be a ninny (Jimmy).

The book basically had two feels. One reminds me of a story Tolstoy tells about meeting a remote tribe and encountering their unexpected reverence for the great "Lincoln". Lincoln is argued as "the best President" precisely because he did so well in very trying times and probably would have done just as well in other times..though not to be so highly and broadly regarded. Considering the two preceding Presidents and his successor are the bottom 3, the entire situation probably should have been averted to begin with (by picking some better candidates).

And the second is to establish important criteria for making electoral decisions by observing some key distinctive traits of both good Presidential material and bad. After basically summarizing these, Obama comes out looking ok, but certainly not great (probably better than Clinton, but that's no bragging rights). McCain comes out looking decent in some areas, but has demonstrated a curious and disturbing sentiment in making the principle elective issues the War and abortion (Taxes everybody votes against anyway). Since he is not qualified enough to make distinctive and useful observations about foreign policy, it would be interesting to know how he intends to make further conclusions and who he chooses to advise him. Bush v2 picked some disastrously idiotic people and ignored/politically neutered the one guy who had some credibility in his administration (Powell). And being rather restrictive of social policies on which he has shown little personal interest seems rather strange as well. At least Obama manages to seem thoughtful about these topics, even when they're not useful discourse for our public policy makers.

05 September 2008

magnetic cows and McCain 2000

Listening to the economist, observation made of McCain: He sounds increasingly like Bush 3, we preferred McCain 1. I think that sums it up.

Something unaccounted for is that with this sort of political maneuvering (and picking a 'right-wing' VP), he's energized that base of people, a group not as large as the moderate/independent voter but far more likely voters who previously weren't all that excited about his campaign. In other words, he became the rock star (I suppose this could be called the Christian rock star) candidate at least last week. It would be interesting to see how that fares over the last two months. Because if Palin becomes polarizing rather than defined as the reformist outsider that they seem to want to portray, there will be a backlash to this. I have some doubts already about the viability of that message, much will depend on her. Still, there was an unprecedented number of people (~37 million) watching a Vice Presidential candidate's speech two nights ago. It's not clear what they all thought, but there's an old saying: "There is no such thing as bad press". McCain probably knows this better than most, having been available in the press more than most and being generally known for his sarcastic quips and not his speech making abilities. It will be interesting to see whether it's more important to energize his base at the cost of possibly alienating moderates or to appeal to more moderate positions; still the challenge of Obama's camp as well, given the rather liberal voting records, vs rhetoric, of Obama-Biden. I'm realizing I'm becoming a detached observer in yet another arena: politics, because I have no horse to bet on with a shot of winning. In a campaign that's usually about appealing to moderates (President), there are disappointingly few moderate positions.

Also, cows apparently like having a north-south orientation along the magnetic poles. And that study was carried out with the help of Google Earth's photos to examine cattle ranches. I'm not sure whether to be delighted or concerned.

04 September 2008



No, that's not me or another blog of mine. We Steves tend to all be annoying political pundits of some vein or another... That one at least is aware that Georgia invaded Russia first (as apparently John McCain was not during his speech tonight).
Since I had on occasion had debates over what to refer to Frisbee golf as, because that's clearly not a snappy or short enough title...this seems like a good start: Frolf. F-Golf just suggests derision with the game (or it's alternate titling system). Golf suggests something different to people unfamiliar with this alternative. Frisbee suggests a hippie commune (based on having been called a hippie by a past neighbour for throwing around a Frisbee in the common yard area, an activity he joined in with). This by contrast is a distinct 'word'.

I imagine the idea that someone should be marketing specially manufactured towels for that specific purpose of wiping sweat, grass, dirt, etc off of Frisbee discs after each throw hasn't occurred to anyone. It's probably a good thing. The activity already has grown to resemble a cross between 'cheaper competitive version of golf' and 'stoner past time'. I'm not sure what that makes it, because it's not physically intense enough to be on the X-games anytime soon like snowboarding vs skiing was. I suppose it resembles a pick-up basketball game with the usual mishmash of people who are ultra competitive and just looking for something marginally athletic to focus their energy into and people just looking to socialize while participating in exercise. I found it entertaining at least, but I haven't gone and sunk money into my own set of discs and a large bag to carry them. I'm either too broke or too cheap.

I can't recall very many women playing it from my own excursions (I imagine there's a similar dynamic to playing golf, something I have done much, much less of). While I'm fairly sure the differences of competitive intensity and social interaction to celebrate as such aren't quite as stark as monastic men in focused intensity vs jovial women in carefree endeavours, there's probably a reason that there are fewer women playing these types of individual sports. I'm pretty sure I would have noticed if it were otherwise.



Why was this not a bigger story. I'd like to also know what the outcome of it has been, should anyone be following it. When I have more time, I will look into the particulars.

While the story makes it sound like the protest was organized or suggested by a corrupting teacher, that to me actually seems like a good idea. Teaching to standardized tests has no basis on how people learn nor is it an effective method of education. People can very easily learn techniques to cram information into their short term memories and then "forget" what they learned a few minutes after. I've seen people try to cram vocabulary words for SATs for example. What's the point? What the tests were originally designed for is to measure the relative academic meritocracy of individuals who have some academic aptitude (as determined by college admissions boards that is). Not to enforce upon people a standardized means of education.

In any case, this silly notion has actually gained credibility in BOTH political parties. Meaning our education system is probably good and fucked for the foreseeable future. I realize there is importance in defining a 'bad' school district or 'bad' teachers and some reason to hold such things accountable. However, in the absence of meaningful educational choices for parents (and their children), such accountability is worthless. We have such choices in some level for college, made more flexible by the awarding of scholarships or financial aid.

Somehow this meritocracy system for college has not translated downward. Instead we are infected socially with the ideas that 1) all children are inherently capable of being academically valuable. and 2) all schools are/should be equally capable of creating this in a uniform and standardized way. The first notion is quite obviously idiotic. People are naturally different in their skills and developmental abilities, and of course, our social system is set up to repress actual academia (despite parental wishes for future Nobel laureates). And the second problem is that schools should not be uniform. It should be rather easy to compare to one another, yes. But there are methods to compare universities to one another without them using the same basic means of imparting knowledge and experience to their respective student bodies (namely that some schools are known for specific strains of academic thought). Why can't we somehow adopt a similar notion for primary education beyond the basic necessities (which ought to be done by elementary school anyway, certainly by middle school).

the drug war continues


There's several key points that are easy to mock.

"The earlier you use drugs, alcohol and cigarettes, the more likely you are to have a lifelong problem," Walters said.

Since I have a doctor parent, I've long since known this is incorrect, at least slightly. The actual likelihood for having a lifelong problem is typically inherent to your person and genetics. It has nothing to do with when you pick up a drug habit, whether it is at 12 or 47. If you pick it up at a young age, you are more likely to continue, but not because you were young when you started. It's simply a matter of whether you are the type of person that becomes addicted to substance(s). Usually this is easily determined from family histories. It does mean that if you start as a child and are this type of person you will have a difficult lifelong problem to deal with. There are vast, overwhelming numbers of experimental teens and young adults who never again try these substances. I think that suggests there's something else that makes a drug habit appear other than when one experiments with it. The fact that someone who is in charge of the administration's drug policy (Walters) thinks otherwise bothers me, because it isn't consistent with the facts.

"A World Health Organization survey of 17 countries this year showed that people in the U.S. were more likely than people elsewhere to have tried illicit drugs. The U.S. tied New Zealand for the highest rate of marijuana use and far outpaced other countries on cocaine use, the survey found."
-- Duh. I'm not sure if the survey included England or Holland (presumably). But my own studies of those countries found that their progressive treatment/distribution attitudes actually resulted in far lower drug abuse levels than we have here and, more importantly, less crime as a result of drug abuse and drug trafficking. England and Switzerland give out methadone or even heroin to addicts (and in far greater personal quantities than we do) and have far less heroin users than we do. More importantly, they're usually functional people capable of having jobs or conducting daily affairs because their addiction is being monitored and more or less under control.

"higher levels of alcohol...a higher minimum legal alcohol drinking age than many comparable developed countries" -- I still don't understand why alcohol is considered a separate agent from narcotics. It has distinct physiological effects, yes, but the sociological ones are roughly similar (if one considers what happens when say alcohol distribution is banned or restricted). More importantly, the fact that alcohol consumption is illegal at those younger ages puts a higher contact rate with other illicit activities (such as those illegal narcotics). As I've put forth previously, it would be a far wiser course to bring up children with a sense of moderation as it pertains to substances. If they don't like them, so be it. If you (as a parent or concerned citizen) don't want them to partake, you are welcome to that opinion and are free to express the reasons for such restraint. I'm not sure that it's always necessary to totally abstain. I personally find drunk/stoned people annoying, but there are other anti-social factors involved in my determination, meaning there are probably times where it can be an exercise of relatively harmless fun for other people (and not around me). There are similar social problems as far as human sexuality. A topic for other times.

"More than half the people who tried drugs for the first time in 2007 used marijuana"
The only reason alcohol or marijuana is at all a 'gateway' drug is because it creates market connections with people who sell other varieties of mind-altering substances. If not directly, then certainly by proxy (such as wandering through the neighbourhood to find the pot contact). The type of people willing to experiment with harder substances would have done so anyway (see addiction studies). One would expect a much higher number of variations of drug use if marijuana was somehow 'not good enough' for the average drug user as the gateway theory implies. The average drug addict, perhaps. In the average drug experimenter, it seems to work just fine.

There are reasons to be relatively concerned with the amount of narcotics and alcohol individuals consume. There are plenty of social problems which I see cause for alarm or disdain (not least of which is because I don't participate in such things). That doesn't mean our first line of defence should be interdiction and distributive bans. Or that our defensive tactics should ignore basic medical knowledge about drugs/drug addiction and the extended social consequences of our policies. There is greater danger in asserting that abstaining from such substances, even by force, is the correct method of living. Not everyone feels/thinks that way, for reasons which are too numerous to elaborate on.