28 November 2008

report from the front

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

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

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

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

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

25 November 2008

pardon me

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

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

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

pardon list 2008

disjointed ramblings of the old man

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

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

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

21 November 2008

setting sun

told you so

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

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

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


Stimulus response

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

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

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

20 November 2008



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

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

19 November 2008

musical chairs


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

18 November 2008

Wake me when they're dead

GM isn't dead yet?

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

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

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

Santa: you're fired.


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

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

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

07 November 2008


FCC hates Sesame Street, or America needs to grow up

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

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

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

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

04 November 2008

election results prognostication

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

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

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

-- William Shakespeare, Henry the DXXXVIII

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