Wednesday, November 26, 2008

For Your Holiday Viewing Pleasure

Pictures of Swedish Dance Bands of the 70's

All TV Series Must End (Warning: Yo Gabba Goes Geek)

I had a rough day yesterday, TV wise. I finished off the last episode of Veronica Mars at the gym in the morning. This turned out to be a fantastic show that critics absolutely loved but went the way of Arrested Development, etc. (Except I can’t complain because I never watched it when it was initially on TV either.) I strongly recommend this series.

Then I watched the series finale of the Shield- absolutely amazing. Talk about staying true to the characters, theme, and entire premise of the show. The Wire is the best show of all time because it was true to life and true to the characters, but the Shield really vaulted itself up the list into the coveted YGG top 10 with that finale. It was like the creators knew from episode 1 where this would end. I recall the heinous act our protagonist Vic Mackey commits in episode 1 and thinking, this show has to be a mini-series because it can’t go on. Instead, it carried this story through, and the consequences of this act hit home hard in the finale. The show had a few lurches and a digressions, but overall, there was a strong central arc. I loved this show, especially because of the ending.

IMHO, the importance of a perfect ending to a show’s legacy cannot be understated. Sopranos was a top 10 show, but it meandered too long and then told the viewers to fuck off for complaining and as punishment, wouldn’t even end the show . Artistic? perhaps. Good? Hell, no. Battlestar Galactica may make it; the first two seasons clearly merit classic status, but the ending so far is spotty. Here’s hoping for a good conclusion. Ditto with Deadwood. Six Feet Under was pretty weak by the end, but its ending was very strong, vaulting it into the top 25.

Even worse than a bad ending is the lack of an ending. All shows end (except ER, apparently, or maybe it did, I don’t know), but if you don’t know where it is going to end, the show will eventually suck (see, ER). Lost was heading down this path and the creators wisely gave an ultimatum to the network and said, we need a date certain to tie this up, and the network agreed. Lost is back on track. We’ll see how they end it, but chances are it will finish in the much coveted YGG top 10. Heroes had an outside shot after season 1, but they got so greedy to spin off series and characters, that it is now comically bad (pun intended). Clearly, to be a great TV show, you need an ending in sight and you need the entire series to move toward that ending, maybe not directly, but in some manner. Sticking with the comic theme, it’s the difference between Watchmen and Spiderman. One is a classic that sticks with you, the other is popular and may have some neat storylines between the 800 comics and 20 movies and TV shows, but it is not a classic.

Moral of the story is to have an ending in sight and aim the entire series toward it. Otherwise, the cracks will eventually show. The BBC caught onto this pretty early on, and now the US viewers (if not the networks) are following suit. BBC’s Life on Mars was a pretty good show with an absolutely amazing ending- goes to top 10. Had that show dragged on for three extra seasons and then ended like that, it would have been miserable. (Tellingly, that is probably what the US network hopes to do with its remake.)

Tying up the Veronica Mars reference with a slight digression, there is apparently a huge fandom out there crying for a movie, and it may happen. Season 3 ended without the creators not knowing if there would be a season 4, but it also ended pretty damn well. The show was about “noir in high school” (and then college in season 3), and the ending was pure noir. I’d like to give the creators a shot at tying everything up neatly, but given the themes and character, I’m not sure it didn’t end pretty damn well. (Firefly is a good analogy, it was a very good show, but its lack of conclusion due to early cancellation hurt it. The movie tied up a lot of loose ends.) I'm not a big fan of ending a show with a movie. X-Files was pretty weak (although I wasn't a big fan of the show either. I'll give Sex and the City some props for doing what it did, but again, not a big fan of the show or movie.)

Without further ado, the YGG Top 10 One Hour Dramas…obviously slanted to modern TV because TV is simply better today. Also subject to revision since I’m doing this off the top of my head while at work. Asterisks mean the series has not ended, and thus, could move up or down.

1. Wire
2. Battlestar Galactica*
3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
4. The Shield
5. Veronica Mars
6. Lost
7. Dexter*/Sopranos (tie)
8. Rescue Me*
9. Deadwood*
10. Rome/Life on Mars (BBC version) (tie)

Free Market Utopia

The conventional wisdom on KP seems to be that individuals are better suited to efficiently allocate their wealth than the Federal Government.  I submit that if you goal is to maximize individual utility, KP is right.  If, however, your goals are to help the economy to regain its feet and to foster long-term economic growth, then KP is wrong. 

Maximizing Individual Utility

If there is one thing that Americans do particularly well, it's doing stuff that is going to make them feel good.  Americans are self interested machines, both rapacious and ruthlessly efficient.  We see that in the Country's spending trends.  For example, as the US's coffee pallet has become more refined, our need for fine coffee outlets has increased dramatically.  As a result, we have channeled our dollars and focused our spending to facilitate the creation of a vast, private coffee delivery infrastructure never thought possible in this country.  Our Starbucks-to-consumer ratio that is the envy of the java swilling world. 

Similarly, many Americans are exceptionally good at making money.  Eschewing such antiquated asset valuation models like the CAPM, our brave equity warriors learned that intrinsic asset value is much less important that perceived value.  Of course, the obviously excessive P/E rations of the .com era served to stem some of the irrational exuberance inherent to the greater fool model.  Thus, traders came to rely upon delicate, intricate, and sophisticated computer models put together by some of the best quants money could buy.  The realities of stated income loans, interest-only ARMs, and refinance opportunities without end took a back seat to the highly crafted superior wisdom bestowed upon the few by their eight flat panel monitor arrays: these were worth something and there was money to be made. 

But even those Americans who may not be financial wizards know how to make for a happy holiday.  Both parents and their kids can recite from memory the relative merits of newest generation of ipod nanos when compared to say, the Zune or even the Touch.  Both are probably aware of the new "it" toy, i.e. that toy which is most calculated to bring delight to the kids and make them the envy of their classmates.  Never mind if the kid's 529 hasn't seen a contribution in 18 months.  Never mind if you have to finance the purchase.  It's the holidays: a time during which we are all entitled to a little joy.

Okay, you get the point.  The truth is that people aren't even good at maximizing their own individual long term utility.  If behavioral economics has shown us anything, it's that people will usually take the quick payoff at the expense of greater reward in the future.  CEOs do it.  Traders do it. Everyone does it.  Compounding the issue is that people, at times, don't even know what will make them happy.  They underestimate the utility of future rewards and over estimate the pain of certain trade offs.  Sometimes, it's not their fault - they lack sufficient information about their consequences of their choices. 

The Truth

And here is ugly truth for all of those libertarians who want to live in a country of hundreds of millions: people make bad decisions and do it often.  Efficient market theories assume perfect information and rational actors.  Neither exist nor will they ever exist.  Dreams of unfettered markets self-regulation are as unrealistic and as Utopian as anything dreamt up by the left.

Case in point: civil suits.  Civil litigation is the ultimate in open market, government-free regulation.  Someone rips you off or sells you a bum steer - don't go to government for help!  Rather, settle the matter one-on-one, citizen-to-citizen before a neutral with a jury of your rational-acting, efficiently resource-allocating peers.  Worried that some new food additive might cause cancer?  Why wait for the government to waste millions of taxpayer dollars or burden industry with even more regulations when you can rely upon private individuals using private funds to research the issue and arrive at an answer?  Do you think private corporations have a duty to make their products safer with newfangled improvements like seat belts?  Why wait for government to decide the issue when you can quickly create an economic incentive for companies to behave responsively.

The truth is that every single one of KP's so called free market proponents would love nothing more than use more government regulation to reign in the US plaintiffs' bar.  They would love to rip apart privately-negotiated contingency fee agreements and to prevent average Americans from playing their role in the resolution of private disputes.  Somehow the very same people that libertarians believe should make their own decisions about savings, retirement, insurance, and capital investment become blithering idiots once they step into the jury box.

Even with government assistance, the markets failed to allocate sufficient investment in infrastructure and growth to tackle issues such as energy independence, math & science education, and basic road maintenance.  Take energy independence for example.  The markets failed us in the 1970's.  After the embargo and after the Reagan administration took Jimmy Carter's solar panels off the White House's roof, the private failed to allocate sufficient resources to prevent future shocks.  Even after 9/11, SUV sales continued to rise in the US.  Neither the public nor US industry were committed to doing what needed to be done in order to properly tackle the issues. 

I will acknowledge that a number of externatilites may distort the energy markets, so it's not a "pure" example.  But we have one example of a regulation-free market: CDSs.  The government was actually prohibited from regulating this market.  Look where that got us.

Freakonomics does Ron Paul

If Ron Paul is still a bit of a mystery to you or just seems too wacky, check out this interview with the NYT Web column, Freakonomics.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tin Foil, Part Deux

Traders are big on conspiracies. We are endlessly shuffling rumors about who is doing what and why, with the recent financial turmoil and fickle bailout process (AIG saved, Lehman dead) giving us ample red meat on which to chew.

So one of my fellow traders suggested I look at this video about the Kennedy assassination and a link to the Bush family. Ridiculous? Seemed so, but this is a very well-documented video, and it makes some pretty compelling arguments. In any case, it strikes me as something KP could sink its collective teeth into.

Like Loose Change, which was mentioned in GBB's Mark Cuban article, I assume there are strong rebuttals to some of the arguments in the video, but I haven't seen them yet.

Regardless, it does makes for some thought-provoking watching.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Wow, a media organization doing actual journalism!

I missed the first episode of the IFC media project, but as a frequent trasher of the MSM, I am hoping to catch the rest of the series. It's nice to see at least one news organization doing its job.

Financial news organisation Bloomberg has requested the details of who the US
Federal Reserve is lending its trillion dollar bailout cash to under the Freedom
of Information Act, as well as suing the Fed in a bid to force disclosure.

Anyone who still thinks the U.S. government is a champion of the people and is stalwartly striving to better their situation is absolutely deluding themselves. One might argue the Obama administration will act differently, but with many of the same actors taking starring roles, I don't believe it. The looters might have different names, but they will be looters just the same.

To those impressed with my stylish tin foil hat, may I recommend the film Zeitgeist as a good starting point. Some of its suggestions are outlandish and really fringe, but the stuff about banking has a solid basis.

Where's the change?

I thought Obama's whole raison d'etre was bringing change to Washington. So what's with the crew of ex-Clinton cabinet members parading into his administration?

Lawrence Summers is my favorite. For as much as Obama bashed Wall Street, to bring in Summers is a bit breathtaking. He currently is an advisor for a major hedge fund and was one of the architects of the current mess, thwarting the few reasonable attempts that were made to reform some of the most dangerous markets.

I had this vision of Obama bringing in a whole bunch of new faces, but apparently my few days of optimism got the better of my normal cynical, but apparently more accurate, judgement.

Update: An echo of my thoughts here.

Tin Foil Moment

As you guys know, I am rather fond of making wacky and worrisome predictions, so I am going to put on my tin foil hat for a moment to make a prediction for next year.

I am sure you all recall Biden's speech where he mentions a challenging moment that Obama will face early in his term. Fully cognizant that this is an otherwise low probability event, and as such, I am probably making a fool of myself, I am putting it on the record now that I think it will be a major currency crisis involving a collapse in the dollar and/or a collapse in the price of Treasuries. It will be signficant enough to put the survival of the dollar as a reserve currency in doubt and will create severe dislocations throughout the economy, including likely shortages of some goods.

I'll further posit that the government will use the crisis to scare Americans into an otherwise unwise set of policies, like the Patriot Act following 9/11. But considering that pretty much every crisis of the last decade has been greeted with idiotic policies, if an event occurs, foolish legislation seems certain to follow.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Second-Order Economic Effects

One thing I find so disconcerting in most economic discussions taking place right now is the lack of consideration for the second-order effects of policies. Almost every government policy that effects economic policy has some unintended consequence that creates new economic distortions which then create new problems which are then inevitably treated with a new distortive policy, and so if goes.

To that end, it was nice to see an article that discusses one of those distortions.

The truth is that most economic behavior can be distilled to three principles. One, people generally act in their perceived self-interest. Two, people respond to incentives. Three, people are smart enough to apply some level of game theory to the first two principles. That third principle is the source of second-order effects, and it is remarkable how little the third principle is given consideration when policy makers form policy.

Unfortunately, Keynesian thinking has become so ingrained in the government and the media tha the first reaction to any problem is to assume reflexively that a new government policy is needed to combat that problem. Often this policy comes in the form of some new regulation, but while it might feel emotionally satisfying to think that there is an office full of wizened gurus somewhere able to create perfect policy, it is impossible. Not just improbable, but impossible, as any distortive policy will have distortive second-order effects. Of course, even if it was possible, there's not much evidence the government is run by wizened gurus.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Cautious Optimism

I was shocked that Waxman's power play worked, and I feel about it somewhat the same way I feel about Obama winning (minus the history, eloquence, and warm fuzzies associated with Obama). On paper, this should be a good thing; there is no question we needed change, and the last thing we need is someone cozy with Detroit running the House Energy Commission. Still, is Waxman a bit too far left? He is pals with Pelosi, which doesn't give me comfort. Those who know YGG know that I am partial to Green, so if we are going to veer left, I prefer it in this arena. However, I think there is a tremendous opportunity to productively couple the green agenda with good old American capitalism, and I'm not sure Mr. Waxman and Ms. Pelosi are the best fit for that.


An article from the NY Times talks about the potential to regenerate the wooly mammoth with DNA from museum pieces and some pretty hopped-up sequencing machines and techniques. It also makes brief mention of the possibility of bringing back Neanderthal.

First, I'd like a KP reality check here. Some of us are in a better position to answer the question as to whether this is even remotely possible. Please do.

Second, I am not sure how I feel about the Neanderthal idea. On the one hand, it'd be pretty cool just to be able to do it. The issue then becomes ethical/moral. Would Neanderthals be considered people? What rights would they have? I know this sounds terrible but.. could we...ahem... make use of them? If they are considered people, I guess that knocks out some of the, but if they are not people, just think about it. Maybe a little scary.

Anyway, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Can it be done? If so, should it? Discuss.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


For a bit of nostalgia. Restless knows not how to embed video without having the actual file.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Big 3 Auto Makers and Innovation

Mish has a typically good and fiery rant, but I found the most interesting part of it to be the video below...

Watch the video here

It's only three minutes. Not only is it a pretty cool video, but it proves that companies like Ford can be incredibly innovative. Just not on American soil.

A bankruptcy of these companies would be a blessing. Although it would wipe out shareholders and create enormous pain for the U.S. government through the PBGC, the restructured company would have the chance to innovate again. Maybe even in America. Any bailout will just prolong the pain - it is basically a transfer of money from taxpayers to UAW workers and pensioners. One could argue that the government should be helping out these parties, but if you insisted on the POV, it would frankly be better to just write workers a check, rather than flush the money through the existing wealth-destroying engines that are the Big 3.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Et tu, Cubes?

Perhaps I've let my Mavs fandom bias me, but I've always felt Mark Cuban was a decent, honorable "Joe Six Pack" kind of guy who happened to be a billionaire. His blog was regularly, refreshingly honest. How many fans wouldn't love to know their owner's thoughts and views? And how many can say they have exchanged multiple e-mails with their team's owner. So with that background, I'm a bit disappointed, but I'm not necessarily shocked or upset, by the latest.

If the allegations are true, he must have known that what he was doing was illegal. Still, I'm not overly upset. Its an interesting scenario in which the company may have shared the info in order to entrap him from selling his stocks, likely knowing Cuban wouldn't be down with the PIPE but also likely knowing he couldn't sell his massive share of their company once they told him. I'm also not shocked because no one has ever accused Cuban of stoicism and calmness, so I could see a scenario where he got so pissed about the "entrapment," or alternatively, the stupidity of the plan to approach him, that he said, "Screw it. Sell." Well, them's the breaks, and now he has to pay the PIPEr. The question is whether he should face criminal charges like Martha or just pay the heavy civil penalty. I've always hated the NBA's stupid, self interested rules protecting incompetent refs which make every game essentially a crapshoot, and I've loved Cuban's attempts to tear these down....a losing battle except from a PR stance. But the SEC is a different story, and this appears to be a losing battle from a PR stance too. The SEC's rules are there for a reason, so if the allegations are true, I'm disappointed in my man. I think he should come clean and pay the heavy penalty, but it doesn't seem prison time is warranted without a cover up ala Martha.

The ones who will truly be hurt are Cubbies fans who now may lose out on a dynamic, fan based, winning is everything owner. MLB prefers its white collar criminals to be stodgier, and this will be the excuse for Selig to neg Cuban's offer.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

KO with a Special Comment for GammaBoy

Fire: The Next Sharp Stick?

A play in one act, courtesy of McSweeney's:


A Conversation
Among Cavemen.


- - - -

John Hodgman, who has been a McSweeney's friend and contributor since our first issue, is on tour now for his new book, More Information Than You Require. Today, in celebration of the book, we're running the second thing he wrote for us, "Fire: The Next Sharp Stick?," which appeared in McSweeney's Issue 2. John will be at the Echoplex in Los Angeles tonight, along with troubadours John Roderick (of the Long Winters) and Jonathan Coulton (of Massachusetts).

- - - -

Setting: The offices of Ten Men Who Help Each Other But Are Not Brothers, a firm located near the River That's Not as Wide as the Really Wide River.

(ONE WHO HELPS THE HAIRY ONE is seated, going over some notes. Enter MAKER OF FIRE.)

ONE: (Standing.) Hey, it's good to see you. Thanks for coming by.

MAKER: Thank you, One Who Helps the Hairy One. I'm sorry I'm late. Somehow I ended up by the Really Wide River.

ONE: Really? When we met by the Sticky Tree, I thought I said near the River That's Not as Wide as the Really Wide River.

MAKER: That is what you said. I must have gotten turned around at the Sharp Shells.

ONE: Oh, yeah. That happens a lot.

MAKER: I must have just spaced.

ONE: No harm done. Do you want a Stick That Tastes Good to Gnaw On?

MAKER: No, thanks. I just had one. I'm a bear if I don't have one before Hot Part of the Day.

ONE: (Doesn't understand, a little afraid.) Excuse me?

MAKER: (Laughs.) Sorry. Sorry. I'm not actually a bear. I just mean that I'm like a bear if I don't have a Stick That Tastes Good.

ONE: You pretend to be a bear?

MAKER: No. I feel like a bear feels when he wakes up. You know, grumpy, impatient.

ONE: Do you become a bear when you say it?

MAKER: No. I just say it.

ONE: (Still doesn't understand.) Oh. OK. I see. Well, in a way, that's exactly why I asked you to come down here. As you know, Ten Men Who Help Each Other But Are Not Brothers is a very old and established firm.

MAKER: I do know.

ONE: I mean, for me, it's a real honor to be associated with the Hairy One and to be his helper. The Hairy One's a visionary, you know. But he's—how do I say it? He's older than the Old One, and, as a result, I think that Ten Men needs to think about its future and think about how it can stay competitive in changing times.

MAKER: Naturally, I agree.

ONE: When we met by the Sticky Tree, I immediately thought, Here's a guy who's ahead of the curve. Here's a guy who maybe can help Ten Men make the transition into That Day That Isn't This Day but Also Isn't the Day Before or the Day Before That.

MAKER: At the Shallow Pond With a Terrible Odor, we call it "tomorrow."

ONE: Really? "Tomorrow"? Very clever. But the point is, we were talking about fire, and it seemed to me after we spoke that this could be just the thing to carry Ten Men into "tomorrow."

MAKER: Well, there's no question that fire has a lot to offer any firm, Ten Men included, and I'm happy to show you why. But I think you need to think seriously about what your fire needs are. The truth is, this technology is so revolutionary that I think the real question won't be whether fire is right for Ten Men but whether Ten Men is ready for fire.

ONE: (Nodding seriously.) True. True. Well, what I have planned is pretty informal, just a meeting of the minds, so to speak. I've asked the Hairy One to sit in on this meeting, since he'll have to approve anything that might happen Not Now but Another Time. You may have to take it a little slow with him—he's a bit of a Neanderthal when it comes to this sort of thing, if you know what I mean.



(Enter the HAIRY ONE, carrying a sharp stick. ONE immediately stops laughing and falls to the floor completely prostrate, arms and legs spread, face down. MAKER smirks and does not move.)

ONE: (Speaking into the floor.) Oh, hey, Hairy One, how are you? Thanks for coming by.

HAIRY ONE: (Grunts to MAKER.) Where are the Sticks That Taste Good?

MAKER: I think they're over there.

(HAIRY ONE crosses to side table to get a stick and begins gnawing it.)

ONE: (Starting to raise himself.) I just gathered them, Hairy One, so they're fresh. (Pauses. Looks to MAKER.) You know me: I'm a bear if I don't have one before the Time You Tell Us When We Can Eat.

HAIRY ONE: (Stick drops from mouth in fear.) BEAR! BEAR! (Raises sharp stick and crosses to begin hitting ONE with it.)

ONE: No! Not bear! Not bear!

MAKER: It's just a saying.

ONE: It's just a saying!

(HAIRY ONE stops his attack and stares at both of them suspiciously.)

ONE: (Rising, then sitting down.) I'm not a bear.

MAKER: It's just something that he said.

HAIRY ONE: (Completely indifferent.) Whatever. (Retrieves stick and sits down at head of table.)

ONE: Hairy One, Maker of Fire. Maker of Fire, the Hairy One.

MAKER: My pleasure, Hairy One. I've followed your work with Ten Men for a long time. It's a remarkable firm.

HAIRY ONE: So you're the one with the fire?


HAIRY ONE: Is it here?

MAKER: Well, no.

HAIRY ONE: Where is it?

MAKER: Well, in a sense, Hairy One, fire is everywhere. Rather than being an object, say, like your sharp stick, it's really a process, so it can't really be said to exist anywhere. In a sense, fire exists in its own imaginary, virtual space, where we can only talk about what is not fire and what might become fire.

HAIRY ONE: Whoa whoa whoa! English, please!

ONE: I think that what the Maker of Fire is trying to say is that—and let me know if I have it right—while I may have one fire, and you may have another fire in another place, and the One Who Helps the Hairy One may be planning to make a fire, the truth is that it's all fire. It's all the same thing. It's all fire.

MAKER: That's true, in a rudimentary sense, but for our purposes it'll do fine.

ONE: What's great about fire, Hairy One, is that it combines many things in one. Light, heat, pain—all in one. It's all those things. It's multi-thing.

HAIRY ONE: I thought you said it was all the same thing.

ONE: It is!

HAIRY ONE: But now you say it's multi-thing?

(ONE is confused, looks to MAKER OF FIRE.)

MAKER: It is and it isn't. It depends on how you define "thing."

HAIRY ONE: And where does the bear come in?

MAKER: It doesn't.

ONE: That was just something I said.

HAIRY ONE: I get that, OK? I just wanted to know if a bear was involved in fire or not.

MAKER: It isn't.


MAKER: See, the thing about fire is that it's totally interactive. Fire isn't a bear, but if you put fire on a bear, then the bear becomes fire. It's completely responsive to your needs at a given time, reacting specifically to your fuel input and usage paradigm ...

HAIRY ONE: OK, stop right there. Here's the thing. I've heard a lot about this fire already. Everyone is saying how shiny it is and how flickery it is. But you have to agree that that's very specialized. I know you folks at the Shallow Pond With a Terrible Odor are making a whole big deal about this, but we here by the River That's Not as Wide as the Really Wide River, well, we're simple folk. We want to know: what can it do for us? And the thing is, until people really figure out how fire can be used, I just can't see it becoming a staple of everyday life.

ONE: If I can just jump in here for a moment, Hairy One, think of it like the sharp stick. You know, many, many, many nights ago, everyone was using a blunt stick for clubbing and for poking at things we had no name for. We didn't even call it "blunt stick" back then. We just called it "stick."

MAKER: Exactly.

ONE: And then someone came along and said, Hey, let's take this rock and push it on the stick and remove parts of the stick at one end until it's different than it was before. Everyone called this someone Crazy One, until Crazy One took the sharp stick and put it in the Loud One's eye.

HAIRY ONE: Someone didn't do that. I did.

ONE: That's what I'm saying. Once we had the sharp stick, the Loud One became One Eye, and the Crazy One became the Big Hairy One.

HAIRY ONE: I'm the Big Hairy One.

ONE: That's what I'm saying. You don't want to be the One Who Didn't Like Fire. Fire is the sharp stick of ... of ... tomorrow.

HAIRY ONE: What's "tomorrow"?

MAKER: Well, that's not entirely a correct analogy, since fire can't really be compared to anything that isn't fire, but ...

HAIRY ONE: (To ONE.) OK, but I think you're both overlooking an important thing: fire is very, very scary. Even when sharp stick got big, there were a lot of people still using blunt stick because they knew what blunt stick could do. People still love their blunt sticks, and it is many, many days and nights later. So I can't see how this fire thing is going to work until people have a reason not to be scared.

MAKER: Well, before we go on, we all have to accept that not everything is going to appeal to Johnny Blunt Stick.

HAIRY ONE: OK, but let me tell you that it's Johnny Blunt Sticks that made Ten Men one of the top firms by the River That's Not as Wide as the Really Wide River. Johnny Blunt Sticks like me.

MAKER: Look, I didn't mean to offend anyone. Listen, I have to use the dung heap. Why don't I step out for a moment and you two can decide how you want this meeting to go. OK?

HAIRY ONE: No offense, no offense. We'll be here.

(MAKER exits.)

ONE: I'm sure he didn't mean to suggest that ...

HAIRY ONE: I don't care about that. I know how they are by the Shallow Pond. You know I've met him before?

ONE: You have?

HAIRY ONE: Sure. Many, many, many, many nights ago on a business trip. I was over by the Shallow Pond, and all the Shallow Ponders were laughing at him. You know what they used to call him? I mean, before all this "Maker of Fire" bullshit?

ONE: What?

HAIRY ONE: They used to call him the One Who Knocks Two Rocks Together Over Dry, Dead Plants.

ONE: Oh, man, really?

HAIRY ONE: He's a complete lunatic. Not just not like us—not like anybody.

ONE: But what about fire?

HAIRY ONE: Oh, he may have fire, but "Maker of Fire"? He's an idiot. Where did you meet him?

ONE: Over by the Sticky Tree. He wanted to know if Ten Men would want to give him some food and then he would give us some fire.

HAIRY ONE: He what?!

ONE: He called it "barter."

HAIRY ONE: Well, I call it bullshit. He's obviously deranged. I thought he was here to invite us to go to the Shallow Pond and kill everyone and take fire.

ONE: No, he wants to "trade."

HAIRY ONE: Now I just feel sorry for him.

(Re-enter MAKER OF FIRE.)

MAKER: Well, have you thought it over?

HAIRY ONE: Maker of Fire, you do us great honor by traveling so far to visit us two men of the Ten Men Who Help Each Other But Are Not Brothers. But until I get a sense of how fire could ever be useful I'm afraid we're just going to have to muddle along without it.

MAKER: I understand. Not all are fire-ready.

HAIRY ONE: And I'm sorry about the Johnny Blunt Stick business. Please, come over here and join hands.

(MAKER goes to join hands. The HAIRY ONE stabs him with the stick, and then beats him until he is dead.)

ONE: What are you doing?

HAIRY ONE: There, he's out of his misery, poor fellow. Now go through his skins and his magic bag.

ONE: What? Why?

HAIRY ONE: We're looking for fire, my helper! We're looking for fire!

ONE: Oh, you truly are the Wise and Big Hairy One!


Friday, November 14, 2008

The Color of Rage

I know no one in the old KP is a fan of right-wing racism, but I think Michelle Cottle puts some of their bile in context.  I'm willing to bet that some of these folks are former Democrats. 

Not Fair

You know what's not fair?

Alec Baldwin used one of my favorite phrases on 30 Rock last night: "objectively awesome."

Now people will think I'm quoting him when it's really the opposite.  I own that phrase!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Developing the Sensible Party's founding principles

HBS's Michael Porter had an excellent piece in BusinessWeek a couple of weeks ago discussing the need for strategic planning to guide our government's economic decision making. Yes. A thousand times yes.

Instead of taking a position on a laundry list of issues, the Sensible Party needs to take a holistic, strategic view as a starting point. What should our economic strategy be? And besides economic issues, what else is important to us?

New York Times website: July 4, 2009

It's pretty amazing what these guys pulled together. Looks exactly like the real thing.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

As if unions weren't bad enough already

To follow Al's last post about Detroit:

I think it's fair to say that unions have greatly contributed to the Big 3's current situation - excessive wages, pensions, etc.

They've had the same detrimental effect on public education (this is coming from the kid of two teachers no less). The lack of accountability for performance and the difficulty in firing incompetent/criminal teachers is appalling.

So now Obama wants to let unions get more power? He supports the Employee Free Choice Act (complete misnomer) - which makes it easier for unions to organize and increases penalties on employers. Sounds like a great way to jump-start the economy...

Unions had their place 80 years ago. It's time to let them die so they can't continue to hurt business and education.

Loot, Baby, Loot

Aztec didn't understand my outrage at the bailout. I responded to his comment with my own comment, but here is another article that really captures the dynamic that has emerged. A choice paragraph concerning lobbying for the a piece of the bailout pie...

"Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of good news for them individually,"
said Jeb Mason, who as the Treasury's liaison to the business community is the
first port-of-call for lobbyists. "The government shouldn't be in the business
of picking winners and losers among industries." Mason, 32, a lanky
Texan in black cowboy boots who once worked in the White House for Karl Rove,
shook his head over the dozens of phone calls and e-mail messages he gets every
week. "I was telling a friend, 'this must have been how the Politburo felt,' "
he said.

As bad as the original bailout plan was, this torrid scramble for money is even worse. AIG lives. Lehman dies. Is there any law, regulation, or other documented reasoning that led to this decision? No. It was the largely the whim of Bernanke, Paulson and friends. Is there any quantitative basis for the relative amounts of money that have been handed out under the TARP? No. Is any of this actually constitutional? No, probably not.

So now we have a herd of corporate pigs kicking, biting, and scratching to get at the government trough. What are the odds that the money will be doled in a way that is efficient and sensible? Zero. There will be winners and losers, and fundamental merit will have little bearing in discerning between.

Anyone interested in the long-term functioning of the U.S. as a Constitutional democracy should be concerned.

What do we do with Detroit?

Obama is pushing Bush to bail out the Big 3 auto makers. Three millions lost jobs if we don't. If Bush doesn't do it, it looks like Obama/Pelosi/Reid will do it themselves. I ran across this article which quotes no less an authority than Wharton's Jeremy Siegel as saying:

"Any bailout of the auto industry is really a bailout for the health benefits of
the UAW [United Auto Workers]. That's all it is."
So Obama's coziness with unions comes home to roost almost immediately. And we're going to reward horrible management and institutionalized mediocrity. Are the Big 3 really "systemic" and "too big to fail?" Obama talks about using the money to "retool" them to build more fuel-efficient cars--is that really feasible, especially with the crushing union obligations? If we give them money, I hope management is summarily fired.

What about hitting the reset button on the U.S. car industry? Wouldn't you rather spend a fraction of the money and give, say, Elon Musk's Tesla Motors some more growth capital to develop their electric battery and drivetrain and scale their production lines? Maybe force Chrysler to license Tesla's technology and produce a certain number of electric cars? After all, Silicon Valley voted for and funded Obama too.

Do these guys know what they're doing?

While they eventually received wide-ranging powers to do things like recapitalize banks, the initial strategy was to buy up troubled, "toxic" assets from financial institutions to clean up their balance sheets. That's why they named it the "Troubled Asset Relief Plan." In their testimony in front of the Senate Banking Committee, they muttered something about the government being able to help the market with "price discovery" to make these assets liquid again. Here's what I wrote in a private email thread on September 24:
There is a ton of private money that would like to buy loans on the sidelines--my company has about $2B itself. The overall estimate is in the hundreds of billions--lots of people saw this coming and raised vulture funds. The problem is matching buyers and sellers. Buyers need to buy at fire-sale prices to get returns. Sellers can't go too low and fuck up their capital ratios. It's not clear to me at all how the government buying assets at the "Hold-to-Maturity" price (whatever that is) is going to be anything less than a wholesale bailout with zero upside for anyone but the banks who made stupid investments or loans in the first place.
Today Paulson announced that, well...yeah...actually, that part of the plan won't really work.

The problem I have is not with Bernanke and Paulson switching course, and I'm glad they are able to admit when they might have been wrong and something isn't working (unlike, say, Donald Rumsfeld, et al). The problem is that they don't seem to have a very good grasp for what the root causes of the problems are and/or how to devise appropriate solutions. I don't have special powers of prescience. My comments above were just a regurgitation of what everybody in the mortgage industry has been experiencing for over a year. Plus it's common sense. How did Bernanke and Paulson not realize this? They have access to any and all experts and market participants. Paulson ran Goldman Sachs for crying out loud. How is he so clueless on this point? Or was he blindly beholden to conservative ideology until he and Bush finally said, "Screw it, nationalize the whole lot of 'em?"

Come on, Barack. Bring in a pragmatist who knows what he or she is doing.

Lewis on Wall St.

Michael Lewis, of Liar's Poker fame, is back with his take on the Wall St. meltdown.

Otherwise known as looting the treasury

Just doing my normal evening reading, and I came across this fine post from Yves at Naked Capitalism. It goes into a lot of detail that might bore some of you guys, but there are two important points to take from the post.

One, as I feared, the TARP and similar government programs are becoming vehicles for connected parties to get bailed out by taxpayers on an epic scale.

Two, the MSM, caught up in the drama of home foreclosures and the stock market implosion and assuming as always that government intervention is the answer to any problem, is completely missing the story here.

The bailout is not going to fix anything fundamental. It is simply going to allow the government to select a handful of winners at the expense of countless losers, including any company considered expendable and, as always, taxpayers.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

GammaBoy Baby Break

Sorry for the absence of coffee breaks lately, but I have been on a rather intensive baby break. Mother and baby are both healthy and doing well, so I'd like to introduce KP to Daniel Christian GammaBoy Jr.

GammaBoy is, of course, thrilled, as evidenced by this photo of GammaBoy and his new son (with GammaBoy in requisite anonymous blogger/superhero disguise)

GammaBoy Jr. is eating well and seems completely content with his entry to our world. At least that was case until his father explained the likely ramifications of the latest Fannie/Freddie proposal. Daniel's reaction mirrored his father's. Like father, like son.

By Popular Demand

Wonkette readers have taken over the Rebuild the Party website which solicits ideas on how to rebuild the GOP and allows readers to vote on the best ones.  You can see the site by clinking below.

You can see what the number one idea is (sorry Paultards).  And in response to KP requests to post some left winger comments, I offer the following:
  • My dad once told me a story about his days spent in a bamboo hut in a makeshift prison toward the end of the War. It was the 4th of July and his spirits were very low. He wanted to be back behind the wheel of his old '61 Chevy, a beer in his hand, mom's delicate face in his lap. He began to weep. Then a guard approached, knelt, and drew in the dirt outside my father's cell a crude set of TruckNutz
  • Put some Truck Nutz on the elephant.
  •  This is totally unscientific, but a guy I know insists that none of the GOP legislators who lost his seat in 2008 had a pair of trucknutz hanging from his SUV. Those who kept their seats did. Nuff said.
  • I, Ronald Reagan, have risen from the dead to haunt all those who vote against Truck Nutz
  • I can see TruckNutz from my house!
  • Truck nutz is a symbal of how we're gunna take are country back from the half breed muslins
  • I am bitter and I am clinging to my TRUCK NUTZ! And I am hanging them from my bible. To protect against de witches. Oh, yeah, where de witches at?
  • Looking for that perfect wedding gift? Bristol and me are registered at

Say Thanks Today

In honor of Veterans Day I offer the quote below:

Jack Nicholson (Col. Jessup): Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Whose gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinburg? I have more responsibility here than you could possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago, and you curse the marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And that my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. I know deep down in places you dont talk about at parties, you don't want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then question the manner in which I provide it. I prefer you said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand to post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Recent Reading

Here's what the Aztec Tomb has been reading/listening to the past couple of months:

September 2008       

The Universe in a Nutshell, Stephen Hawking (Audio)
Icelander, Dustin Long
World War Z, Max Brooks (Audio)
Notes on Blood Meridian, John Sepich

October 2008

Carry on Jeeves, P.G. Woodehouse (Audio)
Jazz, Geoffrey C. Ward & Ken Burns (Audio)

Obviously, the election took a toll on real reading last month.  Woodehouse is fun for listening to on the run: it's light, entertaining, and meant to be delivered in an English accent.  Icelander was a bit of a disappointment and not worth your time, even if you are Believer-subscribing McSweeney's lover such as myself.  

How much more do we have to pay?

For those who like Obama's rhetoric on taxes and hitting those who make above 250K (from Fortune Magazine, HENRY=High Earning, not rich yet):
Those that make 250K+ already get slammed, frankly as do those who make 100K+. How much more do I have to bleed for government programs?

100% Defense of "Indentured Community Service"

First time I actually get the time to write on the blog.

While I'm somewhat shocked to find I agree with Aztec, I do support Obama's idea of community service. I'm not sure that the economics work out, but in principle I think every American should do some form of service - in fact, I'd take it farther than Obama and make it mandatory, and even link it to getting access to certain benefits, a la "Starship Troopers" (not the horrible movie, the book). Admittedly extending voting priviliges to only those who have served is probably too far, but I think the concept remains sound. To me, it's not about the economic return on such a program, it's about creating a sense of service and duty within most Americans who right now take for granted the benefits we enjoy. It could be military service, Peace Corps, working for the Post Office - whatever.

And yes, I'm well aware of the irony in my conservative self being a proponent of a big government program, especially considering that I think most large government programs are inefficient as hell.

What Did I Tell You?

I was right about Obama's community service program.  You can see the clarification on the website here.

Or Rich People Are Extremely Smart

As my dad said in paraphrasing someone else, "... once 51% of the population figures out that they can vote themselves free money, then you can say goodbye to democracy." Maybe.

However, taxes are but one cost, and I won't even have to get on a high horse about the heartstring value to be attributed to helping those less fortunate, etc. Nope, quantifiable costs such as avoiding an unnecessary war loom large. Just because Bush's fiscal policy was to put off paying such debts doesn't mean they won't become due with interest. $3 trillion is a hefty chunk of change; forget about the economic cost due to lost leverage internationally and other factors. (My cousin, a very productive and successful worker, was called up and sent to Iraq twice and will essentially now lose his job, not to mention he understandably may not have been the most productive worker in between stints. His wife raising three kids on her own may have lost a bit of production too.) I said I wouldn't play heartstrings, but then you must include the cost of human life lost from these bad decisions when voting.

This is not a shot at McCain. I like him and was on board until he picked Palin, but the actual cost of a potential Palin presidency would have far exceeded any tax raise I foresee. Bush lowered taxes and sent out checks, but I still feel like today I would have been richer and more comfortable with someone else in the White House.

"Rich" People are Dumb

Work, family, and life have been intruding on blogging, but you guys seem to be doing fine without me.  Also nice to see KP tackling issues well within KNet areas of expertise - YGG/Climate and Lt. Weinberg/Medical Research.

Last weekend was homecoming at the old alma mater.  Surprisingly, there were a few McCain supporters who, after a few beers or a dozen, decided to vent some of their frustration that had built up since election day.

Smartly, they zeroed in on the absurdity of my voting against my economic self interest.  It appears that I was not alone - not by a long shot.

Of course, they were making reference to my well-worn "What's the Matter with Kansas" diatribe that I had cribbed from Thomas Frank's Harpers article (I never got around to reading the NYT bestselling book).  Frank's thesis is that Red State voters, who otherwise have a strong populist streak in them, continue to vote Republican as part of a cultural backlash against cultural liberalism they see running rampant withing the Democratic party.  Despite the fact that these voters would likely receive personal economic benefit from the economic policies of Democratic Party leadership, they continue to vote against their self interest due to social/cultural issues.

So here I am, a post graduate degree holding, poli/econ major who has spent the last four years or so furrowing my brow and clicking my tongue over the poor choices of rural voters, now faced with the reality that I have made the exact same economic "mistake."

Perhaps I am (as one conservative friend suggested) so besotted with the thought of victory that I would pay any price or any tax levied.  But those who voted themselves tax increases could, honestly, anticipate that their decision could pay long term economic dividends.  Just one example: my firm already does a good amount of transactional and regulatory work for major energy companies' renewable resources projects. We could reasonably anticipate that such work would increase under an Obama administration. Also, with the increases in the earned income tax credit and tax credits for employee health insurance, we may be able to increase our domestic helper's real income and provide her with family health insurance.  Granted, we might be able to do this if we kept those tax dollars, but that wouldn't affect the lot of millions of other domestic workers.  Once again, I consider it an investment in the future of America. 

Thoughts for our Foreign Friends

Tom Friedman had a nice piece in yesterday's NY Times. For those of us with foreign friends, sharing this would be good.

Also, mea culpa for my somewhat atroshus gramer, speling and punktuashon of late. I am newly resolved to proof my posts more thoroughly. Mistakes were made, and I shall be more careful in the future.

Gams, thinking about education policy for the SP, what say I trade you teachers' unions being eliminated for no school vouchers and metropolitan-area based funding(ie MontCo, Arlington and the District in the same ISD)? Deal?

I have been thinking about platform but have not really put pen to paper just yet. We must redouble our efforts.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

KP coming to a Search Engine near you

The kodiak Pyramid gets the first two hits on Google when search for as "Kodiak Pyramid".  I believe Aztec's post on Al's 1% vs. Barry's 95% and some right-wing ravings from a madman among us.  Congrats, K-net.

Fodder for the Sensible Party

David Brooks' column in yesterday's Times is just full of common sense. One of many good nuggets:
Walking into the Obama White House of my dreams will be like walking into the Gates Foundation. The people there will be ostentatiously pragmatic and data-driven. They’ll hunt good ideas like venture capitalists. They’ll have no faith in all-powerful bureaucrats issuing edicts from the center. Instead, they’ll use that language of decentralized networks, bottom-up reform and scalable innovation.

The Black Swan

Yo Gabba Gabba and Gamma Boy's recent tizzy over the effectiveness of models, financial and otherwise is perfect fodder for a book that I am currently reading called The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

I'm only on page 70, but an important point he has made so far is summed up in the story of a Thanksgiving turkey. Say a turkey lives for 1,000 days, he gets fed handsomely every day and life is great. If he were to model his expectations for the rest of his life based on what he knows, he would fail to account for his slaughter on day 1,001.

I highly recommend the book. It'll change the way you think, plus he's a good writer and all-around interesting guy. And his hedge funds are up 65% to 115% this year. Incidentally, I think Black Swan thinking needs to be incorporated somehow into the Sensible Party's platform. It has vast implications for public policy as well as business planning.

I'm touting this book to move the discussion along, not to say that all models are bad. I think we need to be judicious in how we use them. In the case of climate science, they represent our best guess based on what we know. However, we shouldn't ignore the chance that a Black Swan event could invalidate the model completely.

Great Running Songs

Just got back from a run. It's amazing how the right music in your iPod can give you energy you didn't think you had. Shuffle was on fire today. Here are the top 60 from my Running playlist (in alphabetical order). I'd love to learn about others.
  1. "All These Things That I've Done," The Killers
  2. "Best of You," Foo Fighters
  3. "Cain Said to Abel," Bloc Party
  4. "Cherub Rock," Smashing Pumpkins
  5. "City of Blinding Lights," U2
  6. "Crazy in Love," Beyonce featuring Jay-Z
  7. "Crazy Train," Ozzy Osbourne
  8. "Cult of Personality," Living Colour
  9. "Deceptacon," Le Tigre
  10. "Desire," U2
  11. "Does This Mean You're Moving On?," The Airborne Toxic Event
  12. "Don't Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)," Motley Crue
  13. "Enter Sandman," Metallica
  14. "Fuck tha Police," N.W.A.
  15. "Feel Good, Inc. (Album Crossfade)," Gorillaz
  16. "Flagpole Sitta," Harvey Danger
  17. "Guerreiro," Curumin
  18. "Hail, Hail," Pearl Jam
  19. "Happy," Ned's Atomic Dustbin
  20. "Hard Sun," Eddie Vedder
  21. "Hey Man, Nice Shot," Filter
  22. "I Was Wrong," Social Distortion
  23. "In Hiding," Pearl Jam
  24. "It Takes Two," Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock
  25. "Jump," Van Halen
  26. "Kickstart My Heart," Motley Crue
  27. "Kids," MGMT
  28. "L.S.F.," Kasabian
  29. "Laid," James
  30. "Lazy Eye," Silversun Pickups
  31. "Leash," Pearl Jam
  32. "Let Me Ride," Dr. Dre
  33. "Livin' on a Prayer," Bon Jovi
  34. "Lose Yourself," Eminem
  35. "Master of Puppets," Metallica
  36. "Moses," Coldplay
  37. "My Mathematical Mind," Spoon
  38. "The Next Episode," Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg
  39. "Nookie," Limp Bizkit
  40. "Panama," Van Halen
  41. "Porch," Pearl Jam
  42. "Pretend We're Dead," L7
  43. "Rearviewmirror," Pearl Jam
  44. "Run," Snow Patrol
  45. "Sometime Around Midnight," The Airborne Toxic Event
  46. "Stop," Jane's Addiction
  47. "Straight Outta Compton," N.W.A.
  48. "Stronger," Kanye West
  49. "Sunlight Makes Me Paranoid," Elefant
  50. "Take a Picture," Filter
  51. "Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)," Cracker
  52. "Time to Pretend," MGMT
  53. "Two More Years," Bloc Party
  54. "Walk this Way," Run-DMC featuring Aerosmith
  55. "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'," Michael Jackson
  56. "Welcome to the Jungle," Guns N' Roses
  57. "When You Were Young," The Killers
  58. "You Only Live Once," The Strokes
  59. "Young'n," Fabolous
  60. "Youth of the Nation," P.O.D.

Palin Porkin

This post is a couple weeks late, but this is one of many reasons I could never vote for Palin. She attacks "fruit fly research" pork as a waste of money that could be spent on her cause of Autism, oblivious to the fact that fruit fly research has led to advances in the understanding of autism. This is a classic example of how dangerous the anti-evolution conservatives can be. If she really does become the pub front-runner in 2012, we must all remember the real Palin, and not whomever she morphs herself to be... Check out this link after you watch the video.

In case you weren't sufficiently concerned

Sequoia Capital gave this presentation to its portfolio companies' CEOs, so it's a little slanted towards the Silicon Valley tech business. But it's a good general rundown of what we face economically and what to expect going forward.

Sequoia Venture Capital Warning to CEOs - Get more Business Plans

No one who speaks German could be an evil man

It's amazing how many of these Hitler videos there are on YouTube (original hat tip to GammaBoy).

Here's Hitler as GammaBoy and Yo Gabba Gabba:

Here's a great one on the housing mess (hit tip: themessthatgreenspanmade):

There are so many more:

World of Warcraft Hitler
Stolen Car Hitler
Microsoft Vista Hitler
Wrong Bike Hitler
...the list is endless.

I've now watched so many of them I'm starting to understand the German. Good times.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Sensible Party Meeting

By the by, Toughies, we are trying to formulate a party platform for the Third Leg, woops, Third Way.

Let's resign ourselves that President Obama has at least four years and odd days to save the world or wreak his havoc.

Gams, I am counting on you to do the heavy lifting on the platform.

3/4 Hearted Defense of Indentured Community Service

Primarily because of Gammaboy's postings and prior e-mails, I am pessimistic and scared about the state of this country financially- moreso that at any other time in my life. We have been blessed, but I feel like this is our WWII, Vietnam, etc. Given this, I'm not certain that a draft isn't a bad analogy. We're damn lucky that our kids get "drafted" to contribute to society in a productive and safe manner (assuming they are not assigned to ACORN).

Further, I'm pretty damn libertarian, but this doesn't scare me. I liken this to jury duty and other necessary, time consuming tasks that are a fabric of our government, not antithetical to it.

Stalinist Russia was not scary evil because the youth performed socially beneficial acts at the State's direction, it was scary evil because they were indoctrinated to place the State above all else and turn in friends and family for even whispering a concern. (For an entertaining fictional novel about Stalinist Russia, check out Child 44. Some crazy plot twists that are unbelievable, but reads like a great movie and you can't put it down. I had no idea how scary and paranoid that society was.) And if you did whisper such a concern, or simply piss off someone above you in the chain, you were either killed or sent to a gulag...after you named everyone else, usually under torture. On this note, I was much more concerned by the violation of civil liberties in this country over the last 8 years as a part of the war on terror, then I would ever be concerned by forced volunteering of our kids for community service for the war on our country going down the toilet.

A half-hearted defense of indentured servitude for secondary school kids

GammaBoy, as per usual, your argument is lucid and passionate with many great points. I generally agree with your view on this one. After all, I hate being told what to do by anyone, whether it’s my bitch-whore ex-wife or government bureaucrats. If I want to ladle soup for some smelly, toothless vagrant, I’ll do so when I’m good and goddamn ready and not a minute sooner.

In addition, Obama contradicts his own rhetoric. From his website: “When you choose to serve—whether it is your nation, your community, or simply your neighborhood—you are connected to that fundamental American ideal that we want life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, not just for ourselves, but for all Americans.” He fails to say what results when you are forced to serve. I suspect you feel more of a connection to the Maoist ideal.

BUT…let’s look at it another way.

Is requiring 50 hours a year from middle- and high-schoolers inconsistent with their being subjected to other school requirements? After all, I was required to, among other things, go to public school almost every day; pass pathetically easy standardized math and language skills tests; and wear ball-hugger gym shorts. I remember not having much of an option when told to put my hand over my heart and pledge my allegiance to this great nation and its flag. Kids have to jump through a lot of hoops—many of them mandated by the state—in order to graduate from school. Those hoops are there to make sure we have a certain baseline level of education, patriotism, physical fitness, etc. It is a way of indoctrinating our youth into our society and instilling some basic, universally agreed-upon values. Is adding one more hoop for kids to jump through necessarily a bad thing? After all, reasonable people would agree that community service is a positive force in society, and learning to do it as a kid could lead to making it a habit later in life. Good parents already force their kids to do community service anyway.

This line of reasoning breaks down in the requirement for college students. College students are over 18 and beyond the point where society needs them to jump through state-mandated hoops. They are adults and, as such, should have the right to spend their time as they please.

Strangely, the proposal on Obama’s site says college students get a $4,000 tax credit for doing their 100 hours worth of service. When I was in college, I certainly did not make enough income to generate $4,000 in taxes and, therefore, take advantage of a $4,000 tax credit. If I had made enough coin, it would have been in a full-time job; combine that with a rigorous course load, and I’m not sure I would have had time to bang out 100 hours of community service and still get drunk on the weekends. The $4,000 sounds like a lot, especially to college students ($40/hour!), but they will likely see only a fraction of that amount in tax benefit. It’s a little bit of a bait-and-switch. Plus, giving this economic incentive to college students hurts college-age non-students who are paying normal taxes on their larger but still-meager incomes. Why aren’t they allowed to do 100 hours of community service when they can find the time and get the same tax credit? Doesn’t this seem slanted towards rich, full-time students? (My use of the word “slanted” in no way implies that I think all college students are Asian, though many good ones are.)

You cite ACORN and MoveOn as nefarious sorts of community service, but it’s not clear the government intends to dictate what type of service you do (if they do, then we have a problem). If some school administrator wants to force kids to do something sketchy, I’m sure parents would have the discretion to steer their kid elsewhere and into something a little more wholesome, like ladling soup for smelly, toothless vagrants. It’s just like if your gym teacher makes you play soccer, the communist game. Your parents can complain and have you do a self-directed thesis on the spread-option offense instead.

Last point: Obama had no need to put the “requirement” language into his policy. He has millions of people who hang on his every word and could have recruited at least half of them to volunteer simply by snapping his fingers. All of this seems very unnecessary.

Yes We Can

The poster says, "Our youth is hard-working indeed, it is performing notable feats, our youth is devoted to Socialism”

Change the last word to Obamaism, and you have his policy in a nutshell.
Restless, your rebuttal was not to your normal form. WWII was a war, which I would regard as a poor analogy to volunteer service, not least because national defense is one of the explicit functions of the national government. Litter collection is not.
Israel is an even worse analog for countless reasons - it is small, always had citizen army since birth, homogenous, paranoid, etc. I don't think either of us want to model U.S. policies from Israel.
And citing Vietnam makes no sense. You can't say something is good because it is relatively less bad than something really bad. The Vietnam draft was a mistake. Mandatory community service is arguably less of a mistake than the Vietnam draft, but that doesn't make it a good idea.
I am not "wildly opposed" to community service, but I happen to think it should be voluntary. As I understood the Obama platform, he wanted the government to offer tuition assistance in exchange for community service. You volunteer to help the community, the community in return subsidizes your education. I actually thought that was a fine idea in principle (I didn't think the math worked - just how much community service is necessary to make up for $40K in tuition -but the idea had merit). But his platform decrees something completely different. It is no longer voluntary.
In principle, that is un-American. In practice, it creates all kind of potential conflicts (ex. if you are working PT to save for college, do you have take leave from your job to do your community service? If so, how is that good for the economy?)
It seems to come back to a basic liberal conceit with which I disagree. "Community service" is defined as something "good". We (the government) do not trust you as a person to independently do this "good", so we are going to make this "good" mandatory. We know what is best for society better than you do, and not only are we going to inform you of what is better, we are going to require you to live that better life, whether you like it or not.
Apply to charity, education, guns, etc.
Incidentally, I freely admit that there are forces on the right with the same mindset, although their definition of a "good" is usually more personally moralistic (sex, gambling, etc), unlike the left's "goods" which are more societal, but at it's core it is the same thing. The government telling you how to live your life, instead of granting you the liberty to make those decisions for yourself.

Sensible Party and First Blush at GB's Reaction to Service

First of all, in the spirit of sensibility-building, I nicked a list of "issues" from a web site called, funnily enough, I haven't spent the requisite time to know whether the site is crap or lighting in a bottle, but here is the list of "issues" that they have out there to begin to discuss and formulate a Sensible Party platform.

Budget & Economy
Civil Rights
Energy & Oil
Families & Children
Foreign Policy
Free Trade
Government Reform
Gun Control
Health Care
Homeland Security
Infrastructure & Technology
Principles & Values
Social Security
Tax Reform
War & Peace
Welfare & Poverty

I think it is entirely appropriate to respond by not responding to certain elements. For example, "Principles and Values" might receive a resounding "Yes, I do" from the Sensiblists, with little more detail than that. It also might offer the prospective Sensy the opportunity to chime in on movie ratings, gay marriage, man-dog love, all-girl porn, en fin, whatever. Use your imagination to help determine the Principles and Values for which the Sensible Party will come to be known.

My hope is that this provides a framework from which to start to flesh out the SP platform.

Regarding GammaGirl's distaste for national service, I would point to a) the American draft in WWII and b) the Yids in Israel as people who have required service of their young people. We are not talking MoveOn, but voter registration doesn't seem to me to be all that politicized an issue, unless you are unconfortable with those people voting.

Secondly, "What if my son doesn't feel like serving?" or something along those lines. Move to Canada may be an option, as it proved to be for young men not looking to get shot in VietNam. Asking (ok, effectively requiring) young people to serve their community and country in the Green Corps, or the Kumbaya Corps, or the BlowJoy Corps sounds to me like a lot better option than going to 'Nam. Forgive me.

Third, getting back to your politicization argument, how about Federal Government support during the Bush Administration for "faith-based" initiatives, or the use of vouchers to subsidize parochial schools? Establishment Clause be damned, we are going to use YOUR tax dollars to feed the pederast Papists. This idea pisses me off a lot more than the Peace Corps, VISTA, etc.

My sense is that Obama plans to create options for people to serve their communities and then build in some carrots and sticks for young people to actually serve in some capacity. I doubt very seriously that he is going to draft kids to a particluar "branch" of the Federally sponsored services corps, but to require that they give of themselves in some way. Unless you are wildly opposed to the idea of community service (albeit somewhat obligatory) you can't complain that your lazy kid is being "forced" to do something for the good of his country. This little nibble at our freedom to sit on our fat asses and abuse ourselves bothers me miles less than the government tapping my phone, reading my mail and sending my tax dollars to religious organizations.

Anyway, get cracking on the Sensible Party platform, boys and she-males.

Uh, what happened to volunteering?

Well, it's taken all of 48 hours for me to again start to think my hand-wringing about Obama was, in fact, quite necessary.

Assuming I've read it correctly, this is bullshit.

The Obama Administration will call on Americans to serve in order to meet the
nation’s challenges. President-Elect Obama will expand national service programs
like AmeriCorps and Peace Corps and will create a new Classroom Corps to help
teachers in underserved schools, as well as a new Health Corps, Clean Energy
Corps, and Veterans Corps. Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve
America, by developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle
school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year.
Obama will encourage retiring Americans to serve by improving programs available
for individuals over age 55, while at the same time promoting youth programs
such as Youth Build and Head Start.

Require? Are you kidding me? As I recall, he talked about volunteering on the campaign trail. Didn't take long to uncover those tiger stripes.

There are so many things wrong with this proposal that I don't know where to begin.

Let's begin with the basic philosophical fact that in a republic the state is supposed to serve the individual, not the other way around. This is the opposite of liberty. Requiring people to serve the "community" is something you would expect from a fascist or socialist country. That alone should stop anyone from supporting this.

But let's go further and ask who will choose the types of community service that will be on offer. Who draws the line between potentially legitimate, apolitical activities like cleaning up litter and more potentially political activities like registering voters? I am assuming that the same groups who supported Obama will be making these decisions. I can't wait for the day my son finally reaches the age that he is required to assist MoveOn and ACORN.

Finally, there is blatant socialism involved in this program. As I understand it, I will have to pay additional taxes to fund a program that will require my son to do unpaid, volunteer work. I pay extra. He is forced to work for free. We lose on both ends.

And what happens if my son decides he doesn't want to do volunteer work. Obama's policy does not say exactly, but it is not difficult to assume that he would be denied graduation from high school or entry to college.

This is an absolutely terrible idea and whatever euphoria I felt in the after-election glow has completely evaporated. It's worse, actually. This proposal frankly scares the shit out of me. If you intend to rule from the center, you do not publish a proposal requiring labor as one of your first ideas.

On the birght side, it does open the door to an investment opportunity. I just need to find out who manufactures red scarves.

Coffe Break Response

I enjoyed some of Crichton's fiction, (but Congo was atrocious, one of the worst books ever). However, he was best when it was transferred to movies or TV [ER is an all time classic], which is a genius and gift in its own right. I was sad and shocked by his death, but he was what he was. A gifted creator, an entertaining writer - not so much of literature - who happened to have gone to Harvard medical school, and thus, was granted credibility beyond his merit. His attacks on consensus science are well known, and difficult, if not impossible, to refute. How can one argue that consensus science isn't infallible- look at history? No one disputes this. (BTW- linking Sagan's Drake equation to an issue like consensus science is an oustanding tactic, since there is no real science associated with Drake's equation- I just don't think that is 'consensus science' though.) However, I would hardly point to him or his thoughts as reliable on this philosophy.

Quick digression- Gamma, your post somewhat misstates the larger point in the link, there is a distinction between Crichton's bugaboo of consensus science and your problem with model generated data, (although Crichton does also link the two). I respect your point more. Crichton is simply a devil's advocate who says just because everyone believes something doesn't make it true, and it isn't true until its infallibly proven. Computer models are used to support consensus science, but the "mavericks" can just as easily use computer models to refute consensus science. Similarly, computer models are often used to support "real" science. If a computer model based upon theories comes to fruition, the theories are given that much more credibility. Computer models are just that, computer models. A healthy skepticism of computer models is fine because anyone can make a model say anything, its a fancier form for statistics, and recall Twain's axiom of statistics and lies.

Back to it- Now let's look at global warming. Let's say we have a credible (but not infallible) computer model that indicates we are destroying the earth in 50 years. Let's say most every respected scientific mind on the Earth agrees global warming is anthropogenic and the model is most likely correct, but without a control experiment and a variable experiment, this theory is doomed to "consensus science." Oh well, let's ignore it until its proven. Will you write the apology to the next generation when there is extensive agricultural and fishery damage (of course, wars as a result), an increase in natural disasters, etc.? Say, "Sorry, but the science was consensus and based on a model, and I just wasn't 100% sure- you know, Einstein was right (kind of) and he bucked consensus science, so I was following his footsteps. Still, now that I know, I'll leave a note for the next round of humans, so they react accordingly." I could stop there because the easiest argument is, the risk in not acting far outweighs the benefit of being able to say I successfully challenged "consensus science." (BTW- if we all jumped on Crichton's boat, then we are in consensus there is no global warming, so by definition, there suddenly is gloabl warming.)

How many advancements have come from the routine plodding forward of consensus science versus the Eureka moments of the mavericks? I'm wagering 99.9999% of of our lives today result from multiple, like minded scientists working together under set assumptions rather than the genius maverick who bucked the trend. Sorry, attacking consensus science may put you with the cool kids, (yes, I'm talking to you, Penn and Teller and [GammaBoy]), but its still somewhat ridiculous to say we can't rely on it. Just have your healthy skepticism and be done with it.

There are books on global warming- the science and assumptions - so I'm not going to get into it on post. Let's simplify on the macro level- Average temperatures have risen almost 2 degrees since we began taking data around 1880. The rate of increase in temperatures is also increasing at a record rate. Polar ice caps are melting, glaciers and mountains snow caps too, coral reefs (a canary in a coal mine barometer) are being destroyed by ocean temperature change. Okay, now everyone agrees on this (the same naysayers wouldn't even grant these facts until recently), but does it follow that it won't stop on its own or isn't related to human causes?

Well, the greenhouse effect itself is not disputed. That is "real" science. Other than water vapor (which increases b/c of the global warming), the greenhouse effect on earth is primarily caused by methane and CO2. It is undisputed that our human activities, primarily fossil fuel burning and deforestation, lead to increases of these in the atmosphere. So we're still on solid science ground here. We can measure historic gas levels from ice cores and compare to today; we're off the charts from at least 650,000 years, so again, pretty safe science. When it comes down to it, the only real gripe is the differentation in models in just how shitty it will get and how fast. No one disputes it is getting shittier if we don't change; the "deniers" for example, just claim we'll run out of fossil fuel before we get there, and the models fail to take this into account. All I can say is take a look at the various models and see what assumptions you agree and disagree with, and plan for your children accordingly.

As for me, Gamma, you may be the smartest guy I know, but at the end of the day, I'll side with these guys and allow you to hang with Penn, and Crichton and the former tobacco lobbyists.

GammaBoy Coffee Break

The WSJ has published a excerpt of a speech from the late Michael Crichton. I would highly recommend it, as it is one of the few places I have seen a critical discussion of using model-generated data as a proxy for real data. My unwillingness to jump on the environmental bandwagon is largely grounded in this distinction.

And for anyone about to step up and defend those models, may I remind you of the many financial models that helped facilitate the current crisis. If someone can point out a fundamental difference between the two types of models that should make environmental models more trustworthy than financial models, I'd welcome the enlightening.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

An Orgy of Election Data

There's an orgy of interactive election data up on the NYT site.  A few quick thoughts: first, the only areas of of the country that appear to becoming more Republican are the Ozarks and Appalachia.  Hello real America.  Second, while there seems to be a national shift towards the Democratic party vis a vis the 2004 election, compare the shifts between 2008 and 1996.  Even in defeat, the GOP appears to have more supporters now than in the Clinton years.

Finally, it's amazing how much the cities count in carrying the swing states.  If you look at the results on a county by county level, McCain blew Obama away among the dairy and desert electorate. 

Another way of looking at redistribution of wealth

I had seen this study and similar analysis a few years ago, but thought it worth re-examining in light of our recent election. Sure enough, the story holds again. In fact it's even more pronounced now.

Take a look at the Tax Foundation's 2005 analysis of how much states receive in federal funding versus how much they pay out in federal taxes. Any state above $1.00 is getting out more than it is paying in and is, therefore, being subsidized by other states. Conversely, states below $1.00 are subsidizing other states. Not that complicated.

Anyway, what's interesting about this is that, of the top 10 subsidized states, 8 voted Republican in yesterday's election (and the exceptions, New Mexico and Virginia, were red in 2004) . And of the top 10 subsidizing states, all 10 voted Democrat. In fact, only one of the 17 subsidizing states, Texas, voted Republican. In other words, the people who ostensibly believe in smaller government are the biggest beneficiaries of government largess. (So wouldn't they want to vote for larger government?) And, conversely, the people who say they believe in larger government spending do not get a dollar-for-dollar return on their tax dollars. Instead, they end up subsidizing people who, ideologically, seem to imply that they don't see the need for the subsidy.

Strange circular logic. I don't know whether it's hypocrisy, meaningless, or "just plain fucked up."

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Two Months of Recrimination in Less Than 24 Hours

Sure she was dangerously ignorant, but she really fired up the base!

Random Thoughts- Wait, There Was an Election?

Pretty much concur with the prior postings. God Bless the USA. McCain's speech was magnificent and firmly got him back in my good graces. He'll now work with Obama to bridge the partisan gap and properly cement his legacy, which was slightly tarnished, (but not as bad as it could have been as pointed out by Al). I doubt Palin will become a big power player except for the religious side of the GOP, which hopefully will retract its entrenchment from the small government GOP. She supposedly didn't want to be on stage during McCain's speech, which bothers me. I don't think she is that smart; I think she gives good speech; I think she definitely lacks experience (which could be corrected); but if she is ungrateful/bitchy, then that may be the death knell for her career except among Coulter-ites.

Obama's speech. Wow. What a great election all the way around.

Disappointed about Prop 8 in California. Two steps forward as a country, one step back.

I think those who backed the bailout felt a huge sting. I just don't know how I feel about that. How necessary was that bailout? If necessary, I admire their principles. However, they were on the watch when it happened before, so I'm not sad for them. I just don't like hypocrisy to be rewarded, and if the no voters were simply doing the political expedient thing, that bugs.

Hoss- you should respond to Al and Aztec Boy's factual points. I similarly shook my head when you asserted Colin Powell backed Obama only because of skin color. There is probably zero historical evidence of Powell catering to race in his life or career choices. You got to Windex that prism you're looking out of.

Al- Dallas at Washington. I think that could determine which gets the wild card.