30 October 2008

summed it up perfectly

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

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

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

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

29 October 2008


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

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

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

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

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

28 October 2008

absolute power

Stevens: no!

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

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

26 October 2008

world series

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

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

24 October 2008

underground economy and sickly animals


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

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

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

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

23 October 2008

knowledgable people


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

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

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

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

21 October 2008

halloween movies, or hollywood drivel

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

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

palin snl, etc

actually sort of funny

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

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

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

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

20 October 2008



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

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

17 October 2008

more witches!

we've found a witch may we burn her?

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

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

google makes us dumb

Smart people lack focus?

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

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

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

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

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

16 October 2008

pleased to eat

eating to compensate

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

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

15 October 2008

stupid is as stupid does.

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

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

real debating takes place with bears

debates cracked style

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

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

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

so there is a method to the madness

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


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

11 October 2008

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

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

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

10 October 2008

and we're done here too

so the point is what?

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

check and mate

and we're done here

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

baseball commercials

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

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

09 October 2008

more anti-market madness

Chavez piping

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

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

the real drug wars

heroin and the Taliban

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

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

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

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

imf summary

Summary of banking crisis

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

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

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

07 October 2008

attraction or idiocracy


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

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

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

06 October 2008

trickle up?

trickling uphill

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

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

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

03 October 2008

beating the dead horse economically

summary of plans

Aside from the use of the term 'ATM machine', this was a useful article.

Since I have often sided with the Chicago school on economic thought (which is a typical libertarian train), I can see this as a better expression of my own frustrations with the bills/bailouts that have been proposed. Economically thinking, it was far, far better to come up with something that addresses the particular issues that are straining the financial system right now and in the short term future to allow the market time to clear out its own mess. The proposals that were coming in remind me instead of our institutional thinking on education; ie throw money at the problem. It had the distinct look of being a panicky response without any forethought and with long-lasting implications, none of them potentially good. Some regulatory oversight and business watchdog type operations would seem useful, but these already existed (and went largely ignored). The last thing we should need is new regulatory agencies to slow down the now un-greased wheels of Wall St's engines. Instead, carefully defusing the bomb by allowing some institutions to fail (by being bought out by interested parties) and loans to those agencies which only need short term viability to clear portions of their silly business practices while the real estate market crumbles should be sufficient. It then makes sense, as suggested to create functional limits on banking practices of short term loans to finance long-term debts. Banks are not supposed to be in the business of risk.

I thought one of the other elements was that the crisis has been going on for almost a year now, with things like the Bear Stearns buyout raising some eyebrows but not inducing a total panic. In reflection, the continued reduced discount rates the Fed was offering basically allowed banks to keep borrowing money in the habit of robbing their future to pay their past, thus staying afloat a little while longer. Eventually enough major banks however began running out of time in this game of musical chairs, and the music stopped. Ordinary people finally became wise to the problem, without understanding it, and seeing it as a sudden and unnatural occasion (in otherwords, greed! corruption! scandal!). It was indeed unnatural and based on some unusual, often unethical, business practices. I think it would take far too long to explain such things to the average voter. And it has taken far too long to explain that yes, the government should be doing something, and yes, you will get screwed eventually if nothing at all happens. Corruption on Wall Street is a far bigger issue than corruption in DC. Dc corruption costs us some economic freedoms, and a few billion dollars here or there. It's a headache, or maybe a virus like a cold. We've all gotten sick off of it, but it's a manageable and known quantity. Corrupt business practices by investment firms or massive banks however becomes like a heart attack, with sudden and immediate panics by the masses. Without some effective treatment, the financial system becomes totally insolvent and prone to monopolize itself (thus defeating the competitive banking system we've come to rely on). Fortunately, there are still foreign banks and credit unions with solvent positions and several major US banks (ie, Bank of America, JPM, or Citi) are still perfectly fine with very minimal exposure to the crazy mortgage markets (and that mostly by buying up dead banks).

colbert sex and business

The formidable opponent skit tonight was a quite succinct summary of the situation..through an analogy which seems to fit and is rather funny to boot. Plus he used a Shakespeare quote followed by "Don't fuck with me" when interviewing a writer/expert on Shakespeare.

When they post links/video online, they're going up. And here they are:
Business Syphilis
Once more into the breach dear friends

What I did not appreciate was the appearance of Naomi Klein. She's basically an ideologue opposing the Chicago free market system. She truly loathes capitalism. And she seems blind to the fact that both socialist movements and quasi-capitalist ones create profitable industry off of the politics of disaster. Chaos is often used as an excuse to expand the reach and use of government. How often do we hear through the media calls for more regulation or some new government agency to resolve a crisis? There are even political strategies that exist which are designed to create chaos, by deliberately engineering a crisis in some political/financial system (such as welfare or some other entitlement) in order to expand its reach and so create a larger political base. Affirmative action often suffers this problem by inducing people to declare weak racial/ethnic affiliations.

The Bush adminstration, far from being a mostly capitalist enterprise, used both tactics. Creating laws like the PATRIOT act, the formation of homeland security, and the invasion of a foreign country on the one side. To funneling money to Halliburton, Blackwater, "faith-based initiatives", or pharmaceutical firms on the other. Both essentially increase the power of the people in charge. That's the entire point she should be able to reach, that both expanding the power of government and expanding the power of specific and private agents (by removing government oversight entirely or creating government mandates) can be construed as bad for the people and their available choices or freedoms. She instead dedicates a significant portion of her books to attacking Milton Friedman. While he does seem like a callous jerk in some interviews I've seen (because he himself was an ideologue for the free market), I don't think what we're seeing is the actual introduction of the free market by collapsing barriers to entry, something he would advocate. We're instead seeing the introduction of new barriers by forming independent/private agencies to perform previously public tasks in a monopolistic fashion. That's not classic Chicago school thinking; that's something else, and something she does dedicate portions examining through the Bush policies.

The manipulation of the masses into taking very large, very unwieldy proposes at face value in the absence of debate and without precautionary measures against unchecked power is indeed a valuable insight. But it's an insight which extends to both the people who would claim to 'serve the masses' and those who serve themselves first. To be a fair assessment such questions would need to be asked, and one should be able to clearly distinguish between the machinations of the free market system that defines capitalism and the machinations of political systems designed to profit from the disasters or failures that the people are suffering through. When someone instead prominently plasters the two words "Disaster" and "Capitalism" in the same phrase it suggests they have another agenda that they are not themselves giving voice to; namely that they wish to make a broad assault on the free market system without understanding what they are actually attacking is something else entirely.

Basically the system we have is not at all free market capitalism because powerful agents use their influence on government to game the system regularly. While we have a relatively high corporate income tax, there are specific tax breaks written into it for prominent corporations within some specific industry. These have the effect of lowering their competitive costs within that industry and inducing political corruption by virtually requiring their competitors to do the same. Without applying tax breaks, there are other barriers which are used, such as intellectual property rights through the patent system and its long term profitable effects (usually drug companies are the most prominent example). The government itself, because of its large operational costs, then can use the guise of privatization to sell off to its bidders (ie bribers) the operations of some specific industry that is generally most efficient in a competitive free market. It instead becomes a privatized monopoly (phone or power companies operated this way for decades and the airlines had a cartel). Klein's observations essentially indicate that it is privatizing industries that is a bad idea. Actually what we usually see is if it is done appropriately, the introduction of privatization is an introduction of competition, not merely handing over the keys to some large corporation. They're supposed to have to fight for it. The result in the airline industry has been a number of bankruptcies and mergers by the major carriers while new players, like Southwest, have prospered by offering lower fares to consumers. Everyone benefits except the old guard who was in charge.

I would prefer a fairer treatment of this idea or it be proposed by someone who wasn't blind to their biases. Socialism or the socialization of some industries becomes somewhat useful and the concept of anarcho-socialism in a small scale society is actually appealing to me. It is not however any remedy to the effectiveness of the market when we actually have one that is truly free and competitive where the society is a large and diverse one.

02 October 2008

more depression era comparisons

The realities of Hooverism

It might be well to consider (as I did during my drug war essay) the events which occurred during the Depression; even when there is little as yet linking them to our present predicaments. So with that in mind, consider what was done.

1) Issue a protective tariff and institute a trade war with restricted import-export. Obama's 'keep companies from sending jobs overseas banter sounds suspiciously like this and is one major reason I can't support the guy. People who pander to unions without actually understanding the economics which support the people in them do not get my vote. People who basically say 'we must keep our shitty jobs here' also do not understand the situation. I'd rather we create a marketplace with higher quality workers who are then induced to pursue some basic education to improve their standing, or to take risks by founding businesses/trades with skills they already possess. Making regulations which make international trade or production more difficult is not a good idea at this time (or at any time).

2) Raise taxes. Obama isn't proposing a major tax increase. In fact the numbers between Obama's and McCain's tax plans with raw income tax are roughly the same (about 80B separation). What he is proposing is a tax increase on corporations and the highest income brackets (which were all that existed in Hoover's time). The results of such ideas are shown to be usually historically stupid. It may be possible economically to raise, slightly, the income taxes and not see a major restriction of capital in the general economy (because again, the Laffer curve of spending). I don't think raising one of the highest corporate income taxes in the world is a good idea to encourage business growth however. In fact, I would foresee very little business expansion, and a resulting restriction of available capital. During a time when our economy clearly needs fresh capital. In fact, much like the capital gains rates, it might be possible to cut the damn tax and get more income from it. Again, Obama's economic plan makes no sense at this time, and more to the point, it's the exact opposite of what makes the most economic sense at this time.

3) Restrict money supplies through the federal reserve rates, fund rates, essentially raising interest rates. I haven't seen Obama make suggestions here, which is good, the Fed is supposed to be non-political. And it seems to have been trying to expand the money supply beyond what we needed through the 'stimulus' package, the lowering of interest rates, etc. While that did help induce the problem by making credit too accessible during the boom times of the real estate market, it does seem like a necessary move to keep money moving through the economy when that market crashes and people can run around saying the emperor has no clothes.

Unfortunately, what the Fed and its related agencies didn't do was check up on how Wall St banks/firms were managing the real estate markets. By issuing these crazy derivatives on what were in essence, fraudulent loans, and expecting to rake in massive profits by leveraging capital at ridiculous rates. And then selling these off to people who didn't understand the fundamental risks they were taking. Much like during the internet bubble where stocks with no real value went up at rocketship highs for no apparent reason, because people bought hype. The various regulatory agencies could have blown the whistle on these behaviors. The bond rating agencies could have studied the bonds being sold and issued lower ratings. Nobody cared because they were all getting rich. I think it's important when one invests money to understand what they are actually investing in. Maybe this is a crazy idea for people to grasp, but there are several credible economic minds who think the same way here who give such advice all the time. I don't think it's a common behavior for investment firms to give however. Hype and circumstance make too much noise.

As a result, a number of larger institutions are being wiped out and our Congress/Treasury Secretary are basically engineering a crazy plan to save them from their stupid short-sightedness, or at least, to save the remaining players before things get out of hand. Stewart last night said something basically accurate, "the people said to them no, we don't trust you to handle this". I think it's more accurate that people don't understand what they are doing, much as they didn't understand what their 401ks were invested in, and as a result are finally starting to ask "why should we do this". I can see a reason for doing something like they are proposing, namely to infuse capital into a major banking crisis where money has frozen up and nobody wants to make loans before such a freeze induces a major economic calamity. I don't see a reason for doing precisely what they proposed doing and I certainly don't see a reason for the House bill which died.

And I don't see reasons for doing what the likely next President wants to do either. Good times all around.

01 October 2008

economists weighing in

scroll down to the bottom

Unless you're a sucker for statistical evaluation of NBA prospects (which I sometimes am, though I don't use that system exactly), you can skip the bulk of that.

Basically the point is this: STOP COMPARING THIS TO THE DEPRESSION!. It's not even close. The factors involved that created, then extended, the greatest global economic catastrophe in history are not in play (excessive protectionism, restriction of the money supply etc). There are indeed various problems that can be weighed as major, perhaps even exceeding problems during the Depression (such as real estate).

The second point is that the debate over whether to do a bailout or not really requires better reasoning. The reason most people (commoners) are opposed to it is that the money has been described repeatedly as a bailout of Wall Street...which is not really true, is drastically over-simplifying the issue, and really doesn't sell well on Main St America. For myself I disagree because it is a fascist system, not a 'socialist' one where profits still exist but risks are distributed in order to feed large government operations (usually a military...hmmm...).

I haven't agreed with most of the moves being made, but I can understand why they are being made in what is otherwise a free market system. Because the crunch of available credit is a problem that did exist and did go on during the Depression. People would be well-served to note that the restriction of money/credit occurred after the Stock Crash, and especially once FDR took office..ie, he didn't help fix the problem much with his fiddling around. So if these moves are being made in order to free up or inject necessary capital to keep the economy from beginning to freeze up (like an engine without oil), then I'd guess I am okay with it. That's not where the money is being directed however. And where the money is in play, quasi-government agencies should be brought more fully into government control then broken off and sold to these private enterprises that are still afloat (the way WaMu went to JPM from FDIC control). Again, it doesn't quite sound like this is the plan so I am against it on economic grounds. They can and maybe should spend some money, but not the money they're proposing to spend. It sounds like the Senate bill is a slight improvement but only because it also addresses unrelated problems like tax reform (which was necessary only what, 5-6 years ago?)