Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Netanyahu to Obama: Stop Iran—Or I Will
Sign of the Times - Recession

First, there were media reports of recession. Second, AIG/Lehman/Bear Sterns went belly up. Third, the stock market plummeted. Fourth, I hear many secondary stories from friends and family getting laid off. Fifth, I make a phone call today and learn it's the last day of someone we work with because his firm is cutting back.

The next steps are the following:

Close friends or family losing their jobs. Me losing my job.

*They say a recession is when your friend loses his/her job and a depression is when you lose yours.
Rules For Record/Vinyl Purchases and Listening

1. No purchases from record stores or online - only garage sales or second hand shops.

2. No "best of" or "movie soundtrack" albums.

3. Make concerted effort to explore easily neglected genres - such as folk, classical, jazz, and soul.

4. $2 max for a single record purchase. $5 max for multi-record set.

5. If an album goes on, you must listen to at least the entire side and generally, the entire thing.

Other suggestions welcome.
Bye Bye Books

I don't think Kindle will render books obsolete, but TPM thinks it will. He cites print newspapers as an example of how quickly established media can quickly come to pass.

On the flip side, I just bought hardcopies of McKee's STORY and Woodward's THE WAR WITHIN from the Salvation Army for $2 each. I also bought SOME GIRLS and EVERYONE KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE, amongst other records for $1 each at a garage sale.

I'm perfectly happy for the world to hand away incredible work - stuff which will entertain and educate me for days for the same cost of a beer at Finn McCools.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Exec Ass for Head of New Prod Comp

What does the above subject line of an email mean to people?
Local Food Recs

I'm not a fan of British food, except for a few specific things - clotted cream, crumpets, good chips, yorkshire pudding, and British Breakfast - baked beans, bangers, bacon, eggs, cooked tomato, and toast. Yummy - but it can also be disgusting if prepared wrong. Ye Olds Kings Head makes a damn fine British bfast.

Cora's burger is good as advertised by Jonathan Gold.
Blogging vs. Tweeting

One more reason I'm suspicious of Rachel Maddow.
Wikipedia Entry of the Day: Bonobo

Fascinating stuff.

Sexual intercourse plays a major role in bonobo society observed in captivity, being used as what some scientists perceive as a greeting, a means of conflict resolution, and post-conflict reconciliation. With the exception of a pair of Cohan gorillas observed doing so,[19] Bonobos were thought to be the only non-human animal to have been observed engaging in all of the following sexual activities: face-to-face genital sex, tongue kissing, and oral sex.[20] In scientific literature, the female-female behavior of touching genitals together is often is referred to as GG rubbing or genital-genital rubbing. This behavior, however, has not been established as any more sexual in nature than a friendly greeting.[6]

The sexual activity happens within the immediate family as well as outside it.[21] Bonobos never form permanent relationships with individual partners. They also do not seem to discriminate in their sexual behavior by gender or age, with the possible exception of abstaining from sexual intercourse between mothers and their adult sons; some observers believe these pairings are taboo. When Bonobos come upon a new food source or feeding ground, the increased excitement will usually lead to communal sexual activity, presumably decreasing tension and allowing for peaceful feeding.[22]

Bonobo males frequently engage in various forms of male-male genital behavior, which is perceived by some scientists as being sexual (frot).[23][24] In one form, two males hang from a tree limb face-to-face while "penis fencing".[25][26] Frot also may occur when two males rub their penises together while in face-to-face position. A special form of frot called "rump rubbing" occurs to express reconciliation between two males after a conflict, when they stand back-to-back and rub their scrotal sacs together. These practices, however, have only been observed in captivity. There is little knowledge of the Bonobos' sexual behavior in their natural habitat.

Bonobo females also engage in female-female genital behavior, (tribadism), possibly to bond socially with each other, thus forming a female nucleus of Bonobo society. The bonding among females allows them to dominate Bonobo society - although male Bonobos are individually stronger, they cannot stand alone against a united group of females.[26] Adolescent females often leave their native community to join another community. Sexual bonding with other females establishes the new females as members of the group. This migration mixes the Bonobo gene pools, providing genetic diversity.

I don't like the sound of bonobo society. A bunch of orgiastic, incestuous, homos where the women all gang up on the men. Yikes!

The upside: they know about make up sex and oral.

Why I'm attracted to this car, I do not know.

I'm curious about the drone attacks on AQ in Pakistan myself.

Are we kicking AQ's ass with drones right now?

If so, do we need all those extra troops?
I Do Too

Get the heebie jeebies when politicians make business decisions.

Judging by the press, Obama administration really wanted credit for forcing the GM president to resign.

Prediction: whether or not GM becomes a viable company again will have nothing to do with government intervention. Either they'll find a way to reimagine their car design and/or cut costs, or they'll just be one giant welfare mom.
Maybe Because Hollywood Actually Makes Something

And doesn't ask for bailouts.
Kindle Deals

$0.50 for an issue of Newsweek. Or $1.50 for a months subscription. $10 for a monthly subscription to the Wall Street Journal.

This is incredibly cheap, although I suspect you can find similar deals for the print edition.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


On the "what the hell effect." Pretty interesting study.

I wish someone would do a study about spending to save, where money spent/invested in certain items at precise times lead to long term savings. One example might be purchasing a new car vs. a used car because it lasts longer with less maintenence. Or grocery shopping in bulk.
Andrew Sullivan Is A Drama Queen

But he's right nonetheless on the torture question.

Using torture against AQ is stupid, immoral, and useless. He's right - we didn't torture in a scenario anywhere close to the ticking time bomb. It was a dumb play rooted in - you guessed it - intelligence failures...thinking certain detainees know more than they do. What a bunch of fools. Not to mention it appears the adoption of torture-as-a-policy was never debated thoroughly. It just sorta slipped in there and it seems like no one made a strong strategic argument against it (within the circles of power - I understand we aren't exactly going to have a national debate over it).

But selling our souls? Calm down, Andrew, this is the real world.
Deal Making Weekend

Happened upon a garage sale this weekend and an old dude was selling incredible records for $1 a piece. Problem: I don't own a record player. It didn't stop me from purchasing several awesome albums. I have an amp and two speakers sitting in my living room, unhooked for the past year and a half. I drive around with Phil looking for a record player at a garage sale, but cannot find a suitable one. I look on craigslist and find mostly dj turntables - a bit more than I need. Finally, I locate a dude in WestHo who collects turntables and wants to sell a basic old school technics (best brand). Cost - $50. I try to negotiate down - but he says no wiggle room because he paid $30 to fix it himself. Fine. I got some "found" money the other day, so I'm not bothered. Last night, I was up and running with $10 worth of records and my $50 turntable. A lot of fun. And while I was on my craigslist binge, I decide to finally try and sell my old TV - the first TV I ever bought - a 27" Toshiba for $300 in 2001 when I moved into my apartment in San Fran. It served me well for seven years until I moved into my Santa Monica apartment and there was already a TV. It sat in my room unhooked for over a year. I put it up for $50 to pay for the turntables. A couple of recent grads from LMU offered me $39 - good bargainers these young ladies - and I just wanted it out of my room for the space and took the dough. Overall, I'm up a turntable with some sweet records and extra space in my room and down an old TV and $20.

Trade is good.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Double Down

In light of Obama's speech today about Afghanistan, Sullivan has a bunch of interesting posts. I'm not entirely sure our strategy in Afghanistan can be considered a failure. We've lost less than a thousand troops and removed AQ's ability to operate training camps - thus far - the prerequisite for launching a big attack against the US. Further, it is not clear to me we aren't winning a war of attrition against Al Queda.

We did fail to dismantle the Taliban - but are the Taliban our target? If the Taliban exists without protecting Al Queda, isn't this something we can live with?

And a pretty spot on comment here.

The fact that Obama is instituting Iraq-honed practices in Afghanistan refutes the assertion that the Iraq War was a fatal distraction from the war in Afghanistan. Vindicated, on the other hand, is Christopher Hitchens, who has repeatedly made the case that the Iraq War would provide invaluable instruction in fighting jihadists going forward.
A Fine Book

One of my favorite sports books - Blood in the Cage - coming out in May. The LA Times article.

"MMA is a stiff jab to the overprotective social engineers waging 'the war against boys,' as a recent book calls it," Wertheim writes. "It's a sport for Hemingways in a culture of Dr. Phils. In the Octagon, no one gives a . . . about your satirical blog or the updates to your Facebook profile or your iPod playlist. It's you and another guy fighting."

I Must Be Mean

Because I find this story funny:

Gilla Roos, a 35-year-old talent agency specializing in commercials and print advertisements, has gone bust, and its owner, David Roos, is in hiding.

As a result, at least 75 actors and models say they are missing back wages totaling at least $150,000 and probably much more. The exact amount can't be determined yet, but at least two estimates put the loss at about $3,000 a person. Based on that, the agency might have lost close to $250,000 of its clients' money.

According to more than a dozen Gilla Roos clients as well as legal and industry sources, Roos shuttered his business Feb. 20. He has not filed for bankruptcy protection for himself or his business.

Roos has not returned several messages seeking comment, but client Danny Fischer said he has spoken with him a few times since the agency collapsed.

"He says he's bankrupt, he's homeless, he can't pay, he can't feed his two daughters,
I Guess They Didn't Get the Memo, Either

Feds raid SF weed house.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Westside Woop Woop

Best beer bars in LA.
Did They Get the Memo?

The war is over, dudes. Why are they still blowing shit up?

On the recession "narrative."

We all do the “narrative thing,” so this post isn’t an indictment of the practice. Heck, this post and this blog (like all opinion-driven media) are exercises in cherry picking things that “confirm” what I observe and believe.

Thing is, events also effect narrative understanding...it's not as if I just sit around looking for stuff to confirm what I already believe. Generally, what I believe to be true is born out of what I witness, read, and generally experience. If all of a sudden good pitching ceases to be the vital component to winning baseball games - I'll be the first to say it. But it simply isn't true.

(one caveat I'll add - one of the reasons the A's are so lucky in terms of getting good young pitching has to do with the ballpark. With the wide foul territories, the Coliseum is a pitching friendly park. This is one reason why these great young pitchers go elsewhere, they don't perform as well. Shhh - don't tell any GMs)

As for the recession - well, I see my stocks falling 35-50% and my friends and family losing their jobs and a ton of "for rent" signs around the neighborhood, and well, it doesn't take a genius to know the obvious.
Remembrance of Things Past

Bird v. Magic 30 years ago.

I admit, I didn't appreciate Bird enough in his day.
Pretty Remarkable

It's pretty remarkable to have the president taking online questions from folks all around America in a virtual town hall.

I got no problem with Obama making marijuana jokes, either.
Details on the Possible WMA-Endeavor Merger

I don't know about the accuracy of this information, but the dynamics sound pretty interesting.
Emerging Technology Blog

Neat stuff
Necessity Is the Mother Of Invention

Need a job - make one up.

Why not?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Great Stock

You want to see how a stock history ought to look - check out Exxon Mobil.

Click on the "max" view.
Kooks On Both Sides

Obviously there are kooks on both the left and right.

The patience the left shows Obama is obviously partisan given their impatience with Bush. Bush gets shit for responding too slow to a natural frigging disaster - is accused of purposefully neglecting the people of New Orleans and leaving them to rot. Meanwhile, we got a man-made economic disaster with people losing their homes and life savings, tumbling the entire world into an economic abyss. The long term ramifications to this economic crisis are scary and unknown and persist day in and day out. These types of events destabilize major countries and institutions and can effect the course of history. And instead of freaking out, the left, in general, is pretty much willing to give Obama a blank check to spend ourselves out of this disaster.

If you ask me, the WOT and this economic crisis are two issues too important to be partisan. We need to be smart and diligent and lucky.
A Thought From The Silent Cinema Guys

As for SXSW, didn't see too much I was excited about; I am fascinated by the attempt to find a film equivalent of college radio, and can't resist watching any "mumblecore" made-on-video by attractive hipster 20-something-year-olds, but generally not too into the results. I think it just takes longer for a filmmaker to get good than a musician. I won't go into specifics, cause I don't see much point of digging a film out of obscurity just to dis it. That said, there were a couple nice finds. Hopefully you'll be seeing them in upcoming calendars. For now, I'll just say WINNEBAGO MAN, EGGSHELLS, and BEST WORST MOVIE.

John Galt

For the record, I only got halfway through Atlas Shrugged.

An op-ed from a now former AIG financial services employee.

After 12 months of hard work dismantling the company — during which A.I.G. reassured us many times we would be rewarded in March 2009 — we in the financial products unit have been betrayed by A.I.G. and are being unfairly persecuted by elected officials. In response to this, I will now leave the company and donate my entire post-tax retention payment to those suffering from the global economic downturn. My intent is to keep none of the money myself.

I take this action after 11 years of dedicated, honorable service to A.I.G. I can no longer effectively perform my duties in this dysfunctional environment, nor am I being paid to do so. Like you, I was asked to work for an annual salary of $1, and I agreed out of a sense of duty to the company and to the public officials who have come to its aid. Having now been let down by both, I can no longer justify spending 10, 12, 14 hours a day away from my family for the benefit of those who have let me down.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Chicago on Obama

The influence of U Chicago on Obama. Fairly interesting article. Some thoughts from the end concern me:

"Obama comes from the tradition that thinks you can get your way on social justice and economic issues without affecting productivity very much—and that's simply living in a dream world," he says. Obama and his economics team "are very smart, but the problem is these high-IQ guys always think they can square the circle; they always believe they can beat the system with a cleverer system, and they always fail."

Thoughts on Consumption and Eating Habits

This weekend I briefly spoke with my grandmother about eating habits. She asked whether I cooked much. I explained how although I like to cook, cooking for one is quite a lot of work - going to the store, cooking, and cleaning up after. In some ways it is more efficient just to get take out. She completely agreed.

I don't know how my grandmother and aunt eat on a day to day basis, but they minimize the work. All their dishes go into the dishwasher. They try not to make or buy more than they eat. And they are incredibly efficient when it comes to feeding a large group of seven total visitors. On the first night, she made a nice salad, a ham, a sweet potato dish, and asparagus. We ate everything except about 1/2 of the ham and 1/2 the sweet potato dish.

For lunch the next day, we ate ham sandwiches with fruit and chips.

For dinner that night, we ate steak, a salad, roast veggies, and leftover sweet potato dish.

For breakfast the next day we used the final bits of ham to make omelette's with cheese and tomatoes.

For lunch the next day, we make leftover steak sandwiches.

Overall, I would guess we fed seven people eating nice round, healthy, tasty meals over the entire weekend for under $150. It wasn't luxury by any stretch, granted. But it was certainly not skimping either.

I realized they approach meals a bit differently than I approach meals. Rather than thinking "what do I want to eat," as I do every day, they think, "what do I have to eat." I don't know if this is a generational thing (depression vs. gen x/y), a regional thing (west coast vs. midwest), an age thing (93 vs. 30), an income thing (some type of fixed income vs. salary with presumably bright future), an access to food thing (suburbs vs. cities with easier food access), but whatever core reason for the difference, we approach eating differently.

I know I am not going drastically change how I eat - nor do I want to. I keep it pretty reasonable and I like my food, have access to the good stuff, so I figure why not try to live right? But...this week I did take a bit of a cue from grandmother...I went to the grocery store after work on Monday and instead of buying food for dinner that night and maybe bfast the next day, I got some pasta and sauce and cereal and fruit and veggies and milk and snacks for the week. The whole thing only cost me $20. And tonight, although I wanted Mediterranean take out after my soccer game, I knew I had pasta and broccoli at home waiting. So far, I've eaten two dinners and one bfast and I figure I have two more bfasts and one more dinner (not to mention snacks) from all the food I bought. I calculate I will get a total of three dinners (take out costs around $10) and three bfasts ($3-4 average cost) for a total of $20 this week. By that calculation, I cut my cost in half.

I know the rest of the week will not be as impressive since time and plans come into factor. But I think the early week and the weekend bfasts can start being about what I have in the fridge more than what I "feel" like eating. It's not really about saving money, because to be honest, these costs are pretty nominal. I think it's more about a philosophical approach to consumption. Eat what's in the fridge and don't let food go bad vs. eating what I feel like all the time. I do too much of the later.

I know I can't do anything about the financial crisis, but have a gut instinct all this stuff is rooted in a basic principal - individuals becoming habituated to consuming more than they create. Buying whatever they want. Refusing to utter the phrase "I can't afford it." On a financial level it is simple - spend less than you make. It took a whole hell of a lot of people not abiding by this principal to get us where we are. Maybe if we all ate what was in the fridge, things would be different.

A Rolling Stone article on AIG and what the hell happened to the financial system. Get past the bitter beginning and it does a fairly good job of explaining the backstory. Hat tip, Naveen.

After all this, there will be a movement to re-regulate the banking industry and I'm sure it will go too far and the political bureaucrats will insist on having too much "hand" in the proceedings. It'll probably make things worse for awhile. Smart regulation is the right response, but the chances of that are about as likely as smart, ethical management in the first place. A better bet is the Cub's winning the world series.

What I think the world needs right now is a little boost of shame. What - in general - stops power grubbing tyrants from infecting the world with their miserable schemes? I think social shame should play a larger factor. I remember a moment in ALL THE PRESIDENTS MEN when a man comes forward to tell the truth about Nixon's cronies - and does so because his wife threatens to leave him if he doesn't. What happened to people like that? (I know it's a movie...but the point remains...)

All these guys running these crazy schemes and obviously getting paid tons of money to create nothing but paper wealth...everyone knows it's a scam, especially the people involved. Clearly, we need banks and insurance companies, blah, blah, we all know that. But the level of excess over these past 10 years (and prior) was obvious to all those involved and both a high and medium level. I mean, these dudes taking home millions a year must ask themselves at night - what did I add to the world over the course of this year to justify this amount of money? To be honest - I ask myself the same damn question and am making shit money and secretly suspect I might be overpaid. But then again, I'm a bit weird and feel guilty every time I see a cop and in every job I work am pretty sure think I'm about to be fired. But enough about me.

Who are these people's parents? Friends? Siblings? Significant others?

Cassano should fear his father's shame when he tells him the disgusting amount of money he's being paid to package bad loans together and disguise it as good debt. His father should say, "Don't you work at an insurance company? What the hell are you guys doing making loans?" But long prior to that, who are these people who reward the guy for being an out of control gambler with no accountability? Can't you tell what you're getting when you hire a guy like that? When you train him to be CEO? Shit, his grade school teachers should of been harder on him. His poker opponents should of wiped him out with his over aggressive betting.

As for the entire brain trust at AIG - they ought to fear their wives withholding sex for their bad behavior. They should fear their children's shame at school. These fears should motivate people working at these companies to "do the right thing." Other businessmen should refuse to do business with them.

But instead, as a society, we kiss the asses of these paper tigers. We call them risk takers. High earners. And we all take the money - the kids, the wives, the mistresses, the restaurants, the business partners, and the employees.
To Put In Perspective

In addition to my office pool, CBS brackets invited me into their big NCAA pool. I joined and learned I am in 546,121 place. In contrast, Public Musings is ranked 142,199 in the blogosphere ecosystem.

Monday, March 23, 2009


Due to travel, this is probably the least watched NCAA tournament in modern Greg history. I am also last in my office pool and I realize that I have never won a real solid sports bet in my entire life. Which is probably why I don't bet on sports.

A new government website entitled Financialstability.gov. Note it is coming soon.
More on AIG Bonuses

I was railing last week about how stupid and petty the whole AIG bonuses thing was. And although this may be true, my dad pointed out a pretty obvious point this weekend when I asked him why people got so mad over it.

Because people can understand it.

I think this is right. People are frustrated, angry, and confused about the whole economic situation. No one understands it. And further, no one has any confidence our business or political elites understand or know how to fix it either. But the bonuses they understand. They understand roughly 70 people get to split 160 mil for leading their company into failure and taking down the entire world financial system. This explains the outrage.
Things Not So Bad

Some bloggy thoughts.

I teach youngsters for a living and I am continually impressed by their resolve and courage. They are plenty smart but one thing I have learned I think is that character you can never have too much of, while intelligence you need enough of but after a certain amount it is almost irrelevant, if you are not an astrophysicist or something.

I just returned from a short trip to Chicago. Always refreshing to hang with the different generations. My grandmother is moving into a retirement place and was giving away old books. I took a super old copy of Sherlock Holmes, Hound of the Baskerville's that was printed in 1901. She's read the book five times. Amazing. I also took a copy of Mein Kampf printed in 1942 in English. Also, an old Charlie Brown graphic novel and a few pulpy Fu-Manchu stories.

Chicago seems like the most normal and livable of the great American cities (NY and Los Angeles being the other two). In a parallel life I could see myself living there. Although, I'm not sure I'd last through the winter knowing what I know about California. I think Henry Miller was right when he talks about people living in warm weather climates...once you've lived this way, it seems slightly insane to live where weather can be such a burden.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Thank George Lucas

Nikki Finke gives the MPTF shit for giving dough to USC.

Does NF think she's a labor lawyer or something?
Thugs on the Economic Bailout

A great series.

Portis, 42 years old and with a six-year grand larceny prison sentence under his belt, answered for Shine. “There’s two kinds of brains you need to run a good business. Sometimes you need “Sleepy Heads.” You know, the ones who pick up the money from the crews; the ones who make sure everyone got ammo; the ones who just do their job, don’t cause no trouble. Then you need bona fide Killers. The Killers like watching you bleed to death while they are eating a plate of ham and collard greens. You understand?”

“What does that have to do with the financial situation?!” I asked, exasperated.

“See, by the time there’s a crisis, the Sleepy Heads are already gone. They’re the ones who keep the books, so they know where the money is, and they know when trouble starts. So they usually get out first. But at this point, in most of these companies, all you got left is the Killers. They’re the ones who like hanging around, who ain’t got no home life, who just love the blood, and the guts, who love the pain!”

“Again,” I interrupted, “what does that have to do–”

“Never lose your killers. Never let them go, because you’ll need them when things gets better. You can always get the Sleepy Heads back. They’re hiding under a rock anyway. But the Killers! Those folks are hard to find, so you got to give up the money. Pay the ones at the top, the one’s who like to smell blood. Let the Sleepy Heads go, but keep the Killers.”

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Oy Vey

Kim Jong Il brings pizza to the North Korea masses after ten years.

Whenever I read about it - North Korea resembles an alien society. What's weird is that it isn't hard to imagine if history had taken some different turns most human beings could be living this way or some other completely foreign way with totally different technology, etc.

Dodd and Obama apologize separately for the bonus issue.

Ahhh...not really the point. See, I'm not the hugest fan of going around in circles over the bonus thing. It seems like a pointless distraction to me. I wish Obama would say - look, folks, I understand the frustration, but the bonus issue isn't what matters. What matters is getting the financial system back on it's feet and stemming job losses and this is what we're doing about it. The bonus issue is a tiny drop in the bucket and not something we need to fret over. In short - sack up and worry about yourself.

UPDATE: The banality of outrage. Honestly, the bonus thing didn't surprise me and I don't particularly care. Shit, if they got the thing to work again, they deserve the frigging bonus.
We Can't Be Expected to Read!

Per the stimulus bill, Congress allowed for the AIG bonuses.

How dare we expect them to know what laws they are passing!

Very few people are coming out looking good in this whole mess.
Ok, Fine

A helmet is probably a good idea.
Fight In Lebanon

An accurate account of how Chris Hitchens and Michael Totten got attacked in Lebanon.

There were rumors about what happened circling the blogosphere a couple months ago, but I never got a full account. This seems like a good account.

Obviously, it's easy to talk about this type of thing from afar, writing on the internet, etc. In hindsight, it's pretty obvious they should of kicked the shit out of the first dude who was hanging onto Hitchens while waiting for his "back up" to arrive and gotten the hell out of there. The guy was defacto holding them prisoner. What did they expect to happen? The thugs could of easily busted out a weapon and in hindsight what actually occurred - an old fashioned jumping - was probably the mildest of responses one could reasonably expect.

It's good to hear Hitchen's spirit is unchanged:

“Once you credit them like that,” he said, “you do all their work for them. They should have been worried about us. Let them worry. Let them wonder if we're carrying a tool or if we have a crew. I'd like to go back, do it properly, deface the thing with red paint so there's no swastika visible. You can't have the main street, a shopping and commercial street, in a civilized city patrolled by intimidators who work for a Nazi organization. It is not humanly possible to live like that. One must not do that. There may be more important problems in Lebanon, but if people on Hamra don't dare criticize the SSNP, well fuck. That's occupation.”

It's too bad this happened. But if the most we hear about these fuck-schlubs is a jumping of a journalist now and again, it's pretty clear we're winning and their resorting to mild thuggery.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Watchman Review

I don't entirely agree with it, but worth reading.
I'm Not Wrong

People are losing their minds over this AIG bonus issue.

Sen. Charles Grassley is standing by his earlier comments suggesting some embattled AIG executives should "resign or commit suicide," but told CNN Tuesday he was merely speaking rhetorically.

Not funny.

Is it just me or our elites - political and business - handling this whole crisis with very little grace?

Housing marketing seems to be plateauing in Los Angeles.

A Chapman soccer player abruptly dies in a pick up game
. In college, Chapman was in our league and generally had a decent team tough to beat on their home field.
Oh Boy

By One Definition

Andrew Sullivan points out the happy states are the gayest states.

I could give a crap about people's self rating of their own happiness. Delusion idiots can be happy. I'll be happy when this whole the point of life is "happiness" fad is over.
Tips on Saving

From a cheapskate. His arguments apply to families and I don't think apply to a single person like myself.

Two reasonable suggestions for families that don't apply to singles:

1. Go without a cell phone. I spend a lot per month on a cell phone, but I also don't have a landline. In the world of single-dom, this scenario works quite well.
2. Eat out less. I'm not convinced preparing food for an individual is cheaper than take out. And once you factor in quality and freshness...yeah, you can't convince me of this. Sure, I can eat like shit for cheap, but who wants to do that?

But he makes a pretty sharp point:

Collins: All right. And finally, give up college room and board. You want the kids to live at home forever?

Yeager: This is a big one, you know? Back in my day, if you have a child in school, consider having them live at home while they go to school. It's been a huge generational shift.

Back in my days, lots of people, including myself, lived at home when we went to college. Therefore, we didn't take out any college student loans. Now, of course, most kids go away to school, take out student loans. When they graduate, what do they do? They move back home with mom and dad! Let's skip the money step!

We all (AIG executives included) have grown used to some pretty expensive habits.
Economists vs. Common Sense

"Common" meaning low.
Smoking Crack

If you ask me. They are trying to make a movie studio into a lifestyle brand. What the hell is a lifestyle brand?

The Rogue lifestyle brand launches today claiming to embrace "the convergence of pop culture, music, and fashion. Like these culturally, artistically, and digitally enlightened trendsetters, Rogue embraces culture, history, and style with a smirk. With the ability to harness the pop culture-making power of the big screen and directly connect it with the mass grassroots (mass-roots) communication power of social networking, the Rogue brand provides the ultimate in digital connectivity."

Sounds impossibly stupid and vague. But I'm not in the age bracket.
Bipartisan Idiocy

Republican lawmakers are now jumping on the bandwagon of AIG bonus grandstanding. In the past, I was a proponent of more down the middle bipartisanship, thinking consensus meant people were operating rationally. I now realize rather than rational consensus, bipartisanship is just as likely to reflect across the board stupidity, emotionally fueled reactions, and cynical grandstanding to base, populist instincts.

This Seems Odd

Notice how much money from AIG got funneled to banks like Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, and France's Societe Generale.

Over half the total bailout. Huh?

Now that's a lot of money - and not petty - like the 165 mil in bonuses. At least that goes into people's pockets.

I suppose this is what a bailout is. I was never convinced it was a good idea - just told that it was vitally necessary. Or else...

Monday, March 16, 2009

More Complex Than I Care About, But...

Details on the AIG bonus issue. A point worth thinking about:

Joe Cassano, who ultimately emerged as the leader of AIG FP after several rounds of managerial changes, was one of several contenders for the top post. His rivals, some of whom may have had serious disagreements with his personal style and professional judgments, could elect to stay on in senior posts at the satellite offices in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Wilton, Paris, and wherever, or they could leave for high paying jobs at hedge funds or other investment banks. Some stayed.

In the spring of 2008 it was clear that the Cassano-led charge into credit derivatives was an impending disaster and Cassano was on the way out. Would it better for the AIG board to (a) sack Cassano and let his disgruntled rivals quit for jobs at other firms, or (b) sack Cassano and guarantee a bonus pool to those who agreed to stay on and attempt to pick up the pieces?

The idea that the only correct answer is (a) is absurd. Now, in attempting to pick up the pieces the AIG board may have erred in not fully separating the wheat from the chaff; I have no doubt that some of the people collecting guaranteed bonuses were part of the Cassano problem, just as I am sure that many were not. That said, the firm is down to 370 employees from 450 in the spring of 2008 (again, from the letter), so some sort of right-sizing is happening. As a political matter Republicans would be insane to rise up in defense of this people. However, folks interested in a post-partisan understanding of the issues might want to reflect before condemning.

Every news outlet and station is talking about this nonsense. Stoking the flames. Pissing people off. Make them angry and self pitying. Yes - this was the hope and change I was hoping for. Jesus.

This sounds positively awful. Perhaps due to the "close-to-home" factor.

I left a job in journalism last year to focus on my own personal writing. As 2008 wore on, I found it harder and harder to find work until finally the money completely dried up. My wife's salary is small but just enough to keep us chugging along (as we have no kids), but it certainly led to plenty of strain between us. In the fall, I accepted an offer to go and work for the Obama campaign in a state halfway across the country. While I was away, my wife cheated on me.

The rest of the piece goes on to talk about how they decided to stick together, are working things out and discovered new, beautiful things about their relationship they didn't previously.

(cough, cough) Bullshit. Dude - your wife cheated on you and there are no kids in the equation. Kick her ass to the curb. And get your shit together - don't do your "personal" writing on someone else's coin - people tend to resent that.

Sorry, I know it's mean, but come off it.
Oh Boy

And here we go. The outrage at AIG is getting stoked by Obama. I thought he was the cool, rational President. I don't like this AT ALL. It confirms one thing - Obama is not above being petty. Going after Limbaugh was petty. Now this. Once is a mistake. Twice is a pattern.

And it's even pettier than I initially thought. We gave AIG 175 bill and they're using about 175 mil in bonuses. It's like loaning somone $1000 and questioning their purchase of a $1 candy bar.

All image, no substance. I was worried about this. Not as if McCain would handle it any better, though.
In Case I'm Unclear

I totally agree with this premise from Fareed Zakaria:

The problem with American foreign policy goes beyond George Bush. It includes a Washington establishment that has gotten comfortable with the exercise of American hegemony and treats compromise as treason and negotiations as appeasement. Other countries can have no legitimate interests of their own. The only way to deal with them is by issuing a series of maximalist demands. This is not foreign policy; it's imperial policy. And it isn't likely to work in today's world.

Surely within the establishment there is an impulse to exercise American power - but this is an impulse that needs - in general - to be restrained and used only in crucial moments. Consistently erring on the Maximalist side is incredibly stupid business. There are times when that power will be needed. I think post 9/11 was one of those moments.

But knowing the FP establishment has problems is not the same as subscribing to loopy-doopy liberal ideas such as humanitarian interventions (only) and the accession of influence to aggressive states around the world.
Populist Backlash

From Levine News (why they send me news updates, I don't know)

OBAMA TELLS GEITHNER TO BLOCK A.I.G. BONUSES: President Obama has instructed the Treasury secretary to try to stop the faltering insurance giant American International Group from paying out hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses to executives, as the administration scrambled to avert a populist backlash against banks and Wall Street that could complicate Mr. Obama's economic recovery agenda.

I am incredibly wary of this attitude. First off, it's not important from an economic perspective. Whether companies pay bonuses is an independent issue from their viability and whether they are deserving or in need of government bailout. I don't know enough about how the pay structures at these places work to be a judge and I'm sure most Americans expressing outrage don't either. Some pay packages are based around bonuses to give companies flexibility. The term "bonus" makes it seems as though it's "extra," but I think people in fields where a bonus is a significant part of the pay don't see it that way. Secondly, this AIG news doesn't seem like a big deal. A hundred mil in bonuses seems insignificant compared to the $85 billion dollar bailout. It's as if you loaned someone $850 and then griped about them buying a $2 coffee with your "loan."

This is a news story because it has a dramatic and ironic "hook." Look at these companies "we're" paying for giving away hundreds of millions of "our" money. We hear about this stuff because of the drama, not because it matters or is of importance. It's a stupid distraction.

This is a political issue - an issue of populist outrage and anger. And if we think the solution to the financial crisis will be the populist demanding that the government come in and run these companies the "right" and "morally correct" way it'll resemble Prop 8 supporters and opponents running insurance companies. The sure result of succumbing to this impulse will be massive and ugly failure.

One thing I learned these past 8 years - things can always get worse. Populist backlash will not help solve these questions.
At Least One Country Is Doing Ok

Widespread optimism
spreading throughout Iraq...according to ABC News.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Not A Burden

Cities good for low carbon emission?

When I lived and worked in downtown SF, I barely drove during the week. Now - as I live and work in Santa Monica - I drive about 5 minutes to work every day. All in all, I don't create much pollution at all. Maybe we should consider a subsidy program to get people to live closer to their work (I suppose gas costs work a bit like this already).

Partying With Celebs

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Current Challenge

This week my boss got into Twitter and raved about it all week.

Something has changed since I was a kid - or even in college. At one time, there was an issue of access. I grew up reading only the San Francisco Chronicle. Now, I realize the Chronicle is a second (maybe third) rate local newspaper. But when I was young, the Chronicle was the way I accessed the rest of the world. The small, local paper was the Marin IJ which covered high school sports and local news and in contrast, the Chronicle seemed worldly.

My world of movies was the few movie theaters in town and the local video store. Music was the local Warehouse Music Store. On TV, at one time, we had 13 channels. When I was young, I'd listen to the A's on the radio at night because they weren't always on TV.

My freshman year in college, I paid $25 for a bootlegged Nirvana concert. My friends and I used to order "Dick's Picks" CDs through the mail to get awesome old Grateful Dead shows. Woody Allen was about as arty as it got for films - not only could I not see Renoir or Hawks - I had no way of even reading about these guys and discovering them.

Today access is not the problem. I can read every newspaper in the world (or at least sections of it) online. I can read hundreds of blogs commenting on all the newspapers. With Netflix, etc, I can access almost any movie - at least any movie on DVD. I can Twitter, Facebook, Blog, Friendster, Napster, Itunes, Gchat, Imovie, IPhone, watch/record every TV show on hundreds of channels, listen to every song ever recorded, read every classic book ever printed for free on cheap on google books or kindle, I can order any poster, any lamp, any car, any bottle of wine, any pair of jeans, buy any bike, or listen to any concert online for free bootlegged by someone on the band itself.

In short, there is too much access. The challenge, now, is to LIMIT oneself. How much time is there in the day? How can anyone possibly do all the following: Twitter, Facebook, Blog, Email, watch 30 Rock, Friday Night Lights, The Office, Eastbound and Down, Flight of the Conchords, United States of Tara, Lost, and God-knows-what-other shows are out there, keep up with the NBA, college basketball, NFL, and MLB, go to the gym, play recreational sports, read books, go to work and do a good job, socialize with friends, internet date, go on vacation, go visit home and relatives, listen to new music - live and on itunes or via cd, sleep, eat right, get your car fixed, see new movies, take a class for self improvement, write a screenplay, design a board game, read the newspaper, go on hikes, clean your room, make your bed, recycle your waste, find a girlfriend, attend high school reunions, pay the bills, and occasionally play a round of golf.

This doesn't even mention the bigger things - getting married and raising kids - or anything political or social or trying to make the world a little better, etc.

There is simply too much to do. So now, the question is - where do you draw the line?

I will not be joining Twitter.
Pump Up the Volume

Reading a great novel coming out in June for work about an associate editor who jumps around working for various small enthusiast magazines. One is a magazine about short wave radio enthusiasts and it got me thinking about how short wave pirate radio is a precursor to the small, personal blog.
Want to Make God Laugh?

Tell him your plans...

Mounting criticism of Obama's handling of the financial crisis. Good quote:

"(W)hen your house is on fire, you don't water the lawn."

The issue: Obama is trying to push through all sorts of promised legislation regarding healthcare and global warming and unionizing that have nothing to do with the current financial crisis. The mounting criticism from Warren Buffett, David Brooks, and William Galston, is to pause on these non-urgent matters to deal with the financial crisis and toxic asset issues first.
Recession Suggestion

Today we switched the cable/internet time warner into my name because my roommate is moving away for a year. In doing so, the cable company offered us their current promotional prices and we lowered our monthly cable/internet cost from 143 to 94 dollars. We gave up Showtime and got Cinemax...which is fine by me because I don't watch any Showtime shows and if I were to start, it would be with Weeds on DVD. Or Dexter, also on DVD. This is a $50 a month savings - pretty significant for not giving up anything of importance.

The sad part - we could of done this 6 months ago.

Another good deal - Starbucks now offers a McDonalds style deal on their bfast sandwich + coffee for $4. Not bad if you're already getting coffee anyway.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A's Looking Promising

Interesting story about the A's this year. I love this organization. Lew Wolff - the owner - apparently told Beane to "win now." This prompted the off season spending spree (able to do so because of the past couple seasons selling). My favorite bit:

Billy did a tremendous job. He got Holliday, Giambi, Cabrera and Springer for what the Dodgers paid for Manny

The A's should consider signing Bonds.

Our pitching - for once - is the question mark. Although, supposedly we have three new young prospects who are supposed to be good. If one or two end up being good enough - I'm sure our pitching rotation will be good enough to contend for playoffs.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Errol Morris commercials.

Wikipedia Entry of the Day

The Greater Fool Theory. It seems as though for most of my post-college life, this theory predominated the markets and explains why we got in this giant speculative bubble.

Interestingly, Modern Art is a super example of the competing forces between Contrarian Investing and Greater Fool Investing. I would guess the outcome of Modern Art games are split roughly 45/45 between players adhering to one theory or the other and about a 10% split to weird, anomaly winners who essentially win on accident by the game ending at a fortunate moment.
Bravo If You Can Understand This

Roubini discusses how the stock market will fare depending on whether we are in a U shaped recession or an L shaped near depression. Yeah, I don't know what that means.

UPDATE: A little explanation of L shaped depression vs. U shaped recession.
Merely Human

GE gets downgraded to AA+ (vs. AAA which allowed it to borrow money for as cheap as the Federal Government) and the stock price goes up. Explain that? Well, clearly the market had already factored in the downgrade. Since I bought GE recently, it has cut the dividend and got it's rating lowered. Bad signs, right?

I don't think so. I think it reflects a pragmatic realism and that the company has the power and means to make adjustments in trying times. I like how Immelt bought up more shares and forsook his bonus this year. It shows character. I also like how Buffett bought stock in the company. His logic - better to overpay for a good company than underpay for a bad or mediocre company. In the long term, this makes sense to me.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bruce Lee Strength

This is the type of work out shit I'm into.

I hate the gym like I hate Kobe Bryant - irrationally. But I suspect there is something rational and scientific about this emotional distrust...working out at the gym is designed to give people hot looking bodies, but not functional strength. The idea of body weight strength training and total fitness is a much more pragmatic and useful (and hot, if you ask me) way to be in shape.

I know this because when I perform exercise at a high level - in a soccer game or skiing or basketball, or biking, etc, I get sore in all sorts of weird, inexplicable places. Even if I'm in tip top running shape - I'm totally sore and wiped after a long day of skiing. Because exercise like that tests all sorts of muscles you forget you have. So I'm all in favor of doing a mixture of fun exercise that stresses different muscles and skills. Except for metrosexual bs like yoga. Or weirdo mental stuff like karate. But to each our own...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Who Are The Elites?

Are our ruling elites letting us down?

In the midst of the biggest economic crisis in most everyone's lives, we see petty, partisan bickering in Washington and Wall Street asking for handouts. America's never had nobility, but that shouldn't stop elites from acting noble.

How to describe this movie? Phil called it a high concept film...but I think it is the complete opposite. Yes, it is from a comic book and yes, it can be advertised as a big studio blockbuster movie. It also has a one-liner (all movies have one liners) - Someone is killing Super heroes...but to me a high concept movie is a movie you "get" in one line or very short description. A perfect example is The 40 Year Old Virgin. The tone, plot, and character are summed up in the title. That is a high concept movie. Batman Begins is a high concept movie - we know Batman and we get it will be about his origins. You cannot accurately describe The Watchmen in one sentence. It is a super hero movie, with super heroes you've never heard of (unless you've read the book) and without super powers (save one). Narratively, you are introduced to these characters like any other characters in movies...it's not like Superman or Sonny Crocket or Batman or Spiderman where the character is already embedded into popular culture.

Watchmen is a lot of things - a super hero movie, an ensemble story, an alternative history, and a detective story. It fits squarely into post modern american literature and could be read in a college course with Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon. At risk of being too much of a blowhard, I'd argue this type of literature eschews the pleasures of story in favor of something someone more "intelligent" than me might call deconstruction. The 'ole unwriting the story (with a dashing preoccupation with nuclear holocaust). I myself prefer my stories straight - I'll take Grapes of Wrath over White Noise any day - but if you like your milk warm and your cocktails ironic and footnotes and references and Ornette Coleman, this is a pretty damn good one. So to the extent the Watchmen - as a movie - fails, I think, has to do with two things - 1) the general failure of post modern stories to deliver narrative pleasure and 2) an oddly long anatomy of scenes, sequences, and overall story. I'll try to explain 2 via the opening credit sequence. It begins with the first few chords of Bob Dylan's "Times They Are A Changin," and my initial reaction was - Really? Are they seriously going to use this song...are we in Forest Gump or something...and then it builds and builds and builds and we learn through a very arty, original, and cool way about the alternative history and the "world" of the Watchmen. And during it, I suddenly realize, HOLY SHIT, this is freaking awesome! I'm watching a goddamn art movie disguised as a comic book blockbuster.* And then, it goes on too long and for my taste and a bit over the top. But I still appreciate the effort, like watching a basketball team work their ass off only to clumsily turn the ball over. It's not the same as hitting the game winning shot, but I still enjoy watching.

Watchmen is a challenging film. I noticed three people walk out of the movie around the midpoint. It is incredibly violent. You will see boobs. The characters are flawed - even repulsive at times. The ending is famously unsatisfactory. But let's be clear - this is a movie is worth talking about. The film entrusts the audience enough to pose some difficult questions and refuses to wrap everything up in a neat tidy bow. Unlike the other celebrated comic book film this year - The Dark Knight - the discussion will not be a shouting contest centered around how freaking awesome the movie was - this was a movie and not a ride. Most comic book movies don't want to be discussed or engage with their audience. They are an experience - a ride - that you simply go on and are supposed to jump up and down afterwards like a geeky virgin after Space Mountain. Watchmen is not this - it willingly distances itself at times and is not readily accessible** - this is seafood, not McDonalds.

I stand up and lightly clap for this movie, "bravo, bravo." Good work.

*side note to write about the impulse to make art movies and with the over-saturation and underfunding of the indy film market, how this impulse ends up creeping into main stream hollywood fare such as miami vice, the watchmen, and pirates of the carribean 3 and how similar problems that occur with indy art movies can be found equally found in these art movies disguised as pop culture.

**there is a cost to making a commercial, 4 quad, movie...in that, by trying to appeal to everyone, you must, by definition appeal to baser qualities. see david foster wallace's essay on entertainment in a supposedly funny thing i'll never do again.

Buffett slams Obama on TV and MSM isn't covering it up the ass.

BUFFETT: I think--I think a lot of things should be--job one is to win the war, job--the economic war, job two is to win the economic war, and job three. And you can't expect people to unite behind you if you're trying to jam a whole bunch of things down their throat. So I would--I would absolutely say for the--for the interim, till we get this one solved, I would not be pushing a lot of things that are--you know are contentious, and I also--I also would do no finger-pointing whatsoever. I would--you know, I would not say, you know, `George'--`the previous administration got us into this.' Forget it. I mean, you know, the Navy made a mistake at Pearl Harbor and had too many ships there. But the idea that we'd spend our time after that, you know, pointing fingers at the Navy, we needed the Navy. So I would--I would--I would--no finger-pointing, no vengeance, none of that stuff. Just look forward. ..[snip] ...

I'm not so sure war is the right kind of language to describe the economic situation. But then again, I'm not a multi-billionaire and the most successful investor of all time.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Buffet Says

The economy has gone over a cliff. And his "worse case scenario" prediction from 6 months ago pretty much came true.

Oh well.

Obama gives a gift to the British PM - top 25 afi movies of all time.

Seems like an odd gift to me and I'm not sure why...I guess I kind of like it cerebrally, but not emotionally. How much better would a gift of Obama's 25 favorite movies or 25 movies he personally likes?

Is Obama a movie buff? I know Clinton was a big movie buff. I'm sure Reagan watched a ton of movies in his time. This would be an interesting tidbit of knowledge - which president was the biggest movie buff. Anyone know?

Sunday, March 08, 2009

I Don't Recommend

Skiing + Soccer Game on 30 year old legs. I will be pleased if I can walk tomorrow.
Obama's Indifference on Stocks

I hope this isn't true.

Certainly, it is not only the rich who own stocks (or are effected by the losses in the market), and secondly, you can't possibly characterize what's happened over the past couple months as "obsession with daily fluctuations in the market." We just lost 12 years of growth. That is enormous. That is the prime of some people's lives and tremendous amount of work and hard earned money flushed down the toilet.

It'll come back, but it'll take a really, really long time (and hopefully this time it won't be built on speculation, but productivity).

Lastly, I know this crisis isn't Obama's making in the same way the WOT wasn't Bush's making. But how he handles it is going to define his Presidency. And had we known economics was going to be the prime issue facing America in '09-'12 - would we - as a country - elected Obama?

Lastly again, this goes without saying, but if Bush were Pres these past couple months, can you imagine the daily battering he would be taking for incompetence, etc? Is this worth pointing out at all?
Potential A's Line Up

Some of these guys are old - and some of them will get injured - but check out the possibilities in the A's line up this year:

Jason Giambi, Nomar Garciaparra, Orlando Cabrera, Matt Holliday, Eric Chavez, Bobby Crosby, Jack Cust, Mark Ellis, Kurt Suzuki. All of these guys can hit. Even if 5 of the 9 can hit .280 or above, we'll be in pretty good shape.
Face Value

The other day on Charlie Rose several economists discussing the economic crisis seemed to agree: the only way out of the housing crisis is to lower the face value of a high percentage of the bad loans. For instance, someone borrows 500,000 that they can never pay back, somehow the loan will need to be restructured to 300,000 or whatever amount the person can reasonably expect to pay. (point is - it isn't just about reworking the monthly rates). They all seemed to agree there was simply no other option.

What I don't understand is who eats the 200,000 difference? And do these people get full equity? It is all confusing to me...because I look around and it's not like homes that were selling for 800,000 are suddenly worth 400,000. At least not around Los Angeles or San Francisco, the only places I pay attention to home prices. And yet, people are routinely losing over 50% of their stock portfolio or 401ks. Why do we bail out the homeowners and keep the real estate prices artificially high? I just find the whole thing confusing....I suppose I understand that massive numbers of foreclosures create compounding societal problems, but these massive foreclosures must be occurring in very specific locations (because from what I read, it isn't happening in a large number of states and I certainly don't see it in prime real estate areas). If this is the case, it seems to me, the foreclosure problems are LOCAL problems and can be dealt with by a mix of temporary financial assistance to specific local real estate markets (to stem foreclosures and the compounding problems - crime, homelessness, etc) combined with Federally sponsored work programs in those areas (or incentives to businesses to open up offices in depressed real estate areas, etc) to assist with the job markets in those local areas. Shit - just in my business - give incentives to a movie or TV production to move to Detroit or Phoenix or Vegas and they could help give a nice little boost to the economy - all the food, hotel, office workers, actors, etc.

But broad, nationwide bailouts of overleveraged homeowners doesn't seem fair or useful. Let the houses get dumped on the market and people with good credit buy for what they're worth. What's wrong with that?
Thank You!

Someone else agrees MILK is overrated.

I long for the day when it is okay to attack mediocre movie for being mediocre even if it features a disadvantaged minority.
A Nice Perspective

On the recession.

I am more confident than ever that I made the right decision when I abandoned my safe career to taste the broader glories of life. Because, as is now so overwhelmingly clear, nothing is ever truly safe.

If this recession serves as anything, hopefully it will be a reminder that you should never compromise your ambitions in favor of the chimera of financial security. If you are inevitably going to end up in the poorhouse, you might as well get there by chasing the wildest of your dreams.
Getting Out of the Financial Crisis

Ouch...steps you can do to help your family.

Friday, March 06, 2009


I'll just cut and paste:

This is pretty much in the same vein as all of the appointees of President Obama who were very much for increased taxes and government spending, yet somehow managed to underpay their own taxes. Somehow, according to Mr Taylor, it’s just plain wrong for people who advocate lower tax rates to try to find legal methods to avoid higher taxes, but there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about people who advocate higher taxes, for the good of the country, don’t you know, illegally failing to pay all of their taxes.

Do as I say, not as I do.

Side note - in most tax discussions people seem to be in favor of taxing other people more.

I have a suggestion - make it possible to voluntarily pay more taxes and whatever rate you think is appropriate above and beyond your current rate. I'd like to see how many folks contribute. And should one have to contribute if they advocate higher taxes for others? Just an idea...

Thursday, March 05, 2009

GM Update

Looks like even despite government support, GM will probably go bankrupt. I'd say that was a waste of $25 bill.
An Outrage

You can get a prostitute on craigslist! Who knew! What an outrage. President Obama - let's change this immediately.
Bad Writing

Yipes. This angry article actually got published in the newspaper? It sounds like one of my blog rants. The end:

And the fact that his extraordinary, nation-altering agenda is right now infuriating the hard right and the hard left, exasperating the Wall Street sycophants and confounding armies of TV pundits and prognosticators, even as he inspires millions of "regular" Americans to get off their butts and do more with their lives, well, this is perhaps the truest sign of all.

What evidence is there to suggest "regular" Americans are getting off their butts and doing more with their lives? Is that statement anyway provable?
A Tip

On how to personalize and understand government spending increases.

A trillion dollars is about the total amount collected in income taxes by the U.S. federal government in fiscal year 2006-- $1.04 trillion, if you're curious to use the exact number. That gives me a simple rule of thumb for personalizing these numbers. If I want to know what an additional trillion dollars in government borrowing or spending will mean for me, I just imagine what it would be like to pay twice as much in federal income taxes for one year.

The stimulus+the bailouts must exceed a trillion. Therefore, we if we were to pay for it today, everyone would pay double in taxes. But since we aren't, that amount is collecting interest. It's basically like the whole country just took out a student loan the size of their tax payment.
Eastbound and Down

I've caught a bit of all three episodes, but not watched one in entirety. But I like it. I laughed my ass off during the scene when he tries to express his feeling for his lady-friend interest. I'm going to get caught up and will give more thoughts - but it's surely nice to find a new HBO show to get excited about.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Let The Big Three Go

Or so argues this guy. Growth will come from a bunch of small firms tinkering, not propping up old big firms with huge lobby support in the government.
New Terminator

I'm skeptical McG has a good Terminator movie in him, but I'll be damned if the trailers don't look good.

It looks like they made it into a war movie (great idea) and the casting of Christian Bale is solid. He'll be a better John Connor than Batman, methinks.

In the preview, however, it made it seem like the machines were just developing the Terminator idea (skinned covered machines to look like humans). Wouldn't Connor already know about this plan? Just getting all the logic right with the prior movies must be a screenwriting nightmare.

VDH gives Obama some advise. He doesn't seem to think Obama is off to a good start.

I know he hasn't been in office long, but with the incredible amount and breadth of legislation thus far, Obama can no longer be in the laizze faire - let him get his sea legs and bite our tongues on criticism mode. That's for sure.
I Can't Argue With This

SI rips the 49er organization a new one for going after Kurt Warner.

Key point: Did the Niners really believe Warner would swap Pro Bowl receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin for Brandon Jones and Josh Morgan, whose 12 career combined touchdown catches are 11 fewer than Fitzgerald and Boldin had last year?

Jed York is like 29 years old. He's a trust fund kid...I have no faith he's going to run the 49ers well.


Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Charlie Rose Is The Best

Finally caught the AO Scott-David Denby discussion on the Oscars. Great discussion.

AO Scott rips the Reader apart and it's fucking brilliant. It is a perfect dissection of the fundamental problems with the movie. In fact, I'd go so far as to say makes the whole experience of watching the movie worthwhile just to cheer at AO's diatribe on it. Harvey Weinstein - you owe AO Scott the $12 you previously owed me.

And they say a lot of smart, interesting other things as well about Sean Penn's performance, Slumdog, Frost-Nixon (very, very good comments), and others... But every year I find myself strongly disagreeing with the "the New York critic" consensus on a few key movies. My impression of New York movie critics - they specialize in explaining why bad Hollywood (LA) movies don't work. But I don't think they are particularly good at identifying...PLEASURABLE (and not necessarily good) movies. Perhaps there is a reason they are critics...

This year, the movie is Rachel Getting Married. Denby loved it. He gushes about it. But this movie is firstly a bore and secondly, a sloppy mess. I'd rather take a slap in the balls before rewatching it. The only good part is Rachel DeWitt (on that we can agree), but the movie has some seriously gaping retarded elements. Denby likes how they handle the DeWitt interracial marriage by not making anything of it. But his comment reminds me a little bit of George Costanza in the Seinfeld episode where he tries to find a black friend to prove he's not a racist. At one point George says, "Oh, you're black? I didn't even notice. I don't see race." Denby - you doth protest too much. Rachel DeWitt would NEVER marry the man cast as her husband in the movie. Not because she wouldn't marry a black man, but she wouldn't marry THAT black man - a quiet, almost mute, dude who sits around most of the movie with a slightly out of place grin...whereas she is this cute beyond belief in her early 30s, charmer. I've never seen a couple exhibit such little chemistry - and believe me - that looked like THAT. Some ladies critique Sideways because never in a million years do they imagine Virginia Madson going for Giamatti. If you think that coupling is a stretch, let me tell you, Rachel Getting Married is beyond ridiculous. But beyond that, they never mention the father is miscast - he's gayer than Liberace and doesn't have the decency to act around it. Where's Sean Penn when you need him? And it's not like this movie style is new - for crissake - The Celebration is over ten years old now. No one can seem to get close to it.

Last year, it was Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, a lame ass bore of movie (also with an improbably couple - Marisa Tomei as a hotass 40 year old with Phillip Seymour playing a disgusting and uncharming version of himself). I can't even remember why this movie was so bad - but it was pretty much interminable.

Now...there is another movie I disagree with them about: Milk. But I may be wrong about this one (I'm definitely not wrong about RGM or BTDKYD). Milk is a highly overrated film. Biopics in general are overrated and milk is no exception. Sloppy, sloppy writing. A real lame "philosophy" in the movie, suggesting Milk's killer was a closeted homo. I mean, come on. I know a lot of dull gay dudes think the rest of the world is in the closet, but we're talking Gus Van Sant here. The man is a baller. And to try to explain away the killing of Milk through such a silly devise - I mean - it's almost anathema to some of the rest of Van Sant's work. Take Elephant where he deals with Columbine and doesn't moralize or try to find the "rosebud" reason for why those two dudes shot up the school. It's a brilliant movie and I'd watch it again over Milk any day. Fine, Sean Penn's technical performance is great. I can see that. His physical ticks, etc. But it's not more impressive to me that Meryl Streep in Doubt or Heath in Brokeback and a performance alone does not make a movie. And as good as Sean Penn is, no way you can tell me - gay or straight - we as an audience enjoy seeing his old ass wrinkled face making out with pretty boy James Franco. GROSS!!!!
Credit Card Follow Up

Okay, so I freaked out previously when my credit card account disappeared. It returned. It was probably a computer glitch.

But I noticed a change - on my account they no longer list the "payment due by" date. This too, could be a glitch, but I suspect not. In fact, I read something about this a couple weeks ago. Credit card companies found that when they listed a "minimum payment due" their customers tended to pay LESS of their balance. It's some sort of odd psychological thing. If the card company listed the amount of extra interest customers are paying for every day they don't pay the balance, I'm sure more customers would pay. But CC companies aren't in the business of customers paying their balance. In fact, they're in the opposite business, trying to keep customers in debt.

Well, now they're trying a new tactic on me because they haven't been successful with their other tactics. Now, by not listing the payment due date, I think they are trying to trick me into forgetting to pay on time. Sure, I still have my paper statement, so I can figure it out, but I don't trust these CC people any more than I trust a loan shark.
On Torture

I finally read a fresh perspective on torture. Normally, the discussion is so lame and moralistic. Here is an experiment a psychology department did on folks:

You have a train on the track and the brakes fail and doing nothing will result in 15 people dying. Or you could switch the train to another track and it'll kill 1 person, what do you do? Across cultures, everywhere in the world, people say they'd switch the tracks and willfully kill 1 person because this is what any rational person, thinking with the rational side of their brain would do.

But if you modify the question - what if instead of killing the 1 person - the train would injure 1 person rather than kill 15, then what do you do? People say - what a stupid question, of course, I'd choose to injure the 1 person.

But then, if you ask, well, what if you have to purposefully injure the one person - in fact, you need to torture the person to prevent the deaths of 15. Suddenly, people stop using the rational side of their brains and their emotional sides of their brains get triggered and a lot of them say, "Oh, I would never torture anyone."

This little analogy perfectly explains the torture debate. Andrew Sullivan and his ilk are speaking emotionally whereas torture advocates are speaking rationally.

***However, there is a better argument against legalizing torture beyond this intellectual exercise - which is merely a variant of the ticking time bomb scenario - and I guess it is a two pronged solution:

1. There is no point to legalizing torture. If the ticking time bomb scenario were to occur, legal issues would evaporate and the moral imperative to torture would apply even if torture were illegal.

2. There are no concrete examples of terrorist attacks that could have been prevented with the use of torture.
Buy Back the Movie Business

Once the movie studios were run by movie people. Now, they are run by middle managers from business or law backgrounds. Why? I have no idea. Software companies are run by computer people. Car companies are run by car people. Most sports organizations are run by sports people. But for some reason, the movie people sold out to big mega corporations and now, movies are run by businessmen. That's why marketing departments look at scripts and we get tentpole action comic book movies up the ass. Sure, good movies get made, but almost as an anomaly, rather than the standard. And a lot of great movies are made by people who literally go on a suicide mission to get them made. It shouldn't be this way.

I guess the reason is simple: money. The movie business took the big, safe, comfortable money...and it trickles all the way down. But wouldn't it be nice if the job of the movie studios was to make good movies and the job of marketing departments to market the product?

These corporations bought a brand and a production (hollywood movies) and are sucking it dry for every penny they can squeeze out each year to bump the stock price and return to the shareholders. They don't give a shit about the product - they care about the return. And even if they do care about the product in a basic, good businessman way, they don't get the product in the same way Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or Lee Iacocca or Irving Thalberg or Darryl Zanuck does/did.

Anyhow, now is the time to do something about it. With the corps reeling and in need of cash, why couldn't a saavy movie person buy a studio at a bargain price and shape how movies are made for the next 10-20 years? A few suggestions: make good movies at a price. If you keep costs down on a good idea, chances are you'll make money. Hit singles and don't swing for the fences every time. Don't overpay stars. Make projects that give you the tingley-boner feeling. If you suspect a script/movie will suck, but all numbers say it'll be good, don't make it.

Problem is - this would require balls. And the movie business cuts the balls of people - because, yes, you will fail and fail in front of a lot of people. The businessman have balls and no taste. The movie people have taste and no balls. Tricky, tricky, tricky.
Answer Me This

I know it's not a quid pro quo, blah, blah, blah, but the deal is: Obama offers an end to missile defense if the Russians ensure the Iranians don't get the bomb. Okay. But what if Russia says "No." Then is Obama prepared to go ahead with missile defense? And then how exactly is Obama proposing anything different from Bush? And if he's still not willing to move ahead on missile defense then why do the Russians agree to help with the Iranians?
Happy Square Root Day

Who knew?

Monday, March 02, 2009

Bad Signs

The Dow keeps dropping AFTER the stimulus package was announced. Certainly is not a good sign. But this is worse: anecdotal evidence that entrepreneurs and small business owners are looking into cutting back productivity to fit under Obama's $250,000 threshold.

An issue not largely discussed - heavily progressive taxation often pits the super rich (billionaires) against the merely rich (millionaires). You often hear of folks like George Soros or Jeff Bezos or Bill Clinton ask publicly be taxed more. The reason they acquiesce to such personal tax increases is simple - they have more money than they or their offspring can spend in multiple lifetimes. For them, walk around money does not matter. If you have a billion dollars and you get taxed 75%, who cares? But if you have a million, a tax of 75% is freaking painful.

(*granted Clinton isn't a billionaire, but he'll never want for money, the issue for this "class" is public perception, not paying for things)

For the millionaire class - yes - they are rich by any standard, but they still have to pay for things. Fine, those things might be privileged things - vacations, second/third/fourth homes, luxury cars, private schools, and golf memberships. But these people presumably are productive members of society, do we want to de-incentivize their work?
Rush, McCain, and Conservatives in General

They're getting their verve back with all the stimulus stuff. And they might be right about the blowback to excessive spending.

But isn't there an irony is that conservatives get their verve from being the party out of power. Seriously, when these guys get power they reveal themselves to be at the very least - incompetents.

Rush doesn't care - he's an entertainer.
Worrying About the Kindle

An essayist worries about the Kindle.

I agree with his overall sentiment about being careful and resistant to certain technology, however, I disagree with his specific argument about the Kindle. The Kindle is no different from reading something off a computer and believe me, it isn't replacing books.
These People Suck

Why does politics attract such douche bags? Rush Limbaugh openly wishes for the stimulus to fail and Lee Stranahan admits to wishing the Iraq War failed.

These people have lost it. Obviously, one can disagree and think a policy won't work. But what's the point of rooting for something not to work? I don't get it. It's not a sport.
We're So Sorry, Iran!

Iran criticizes Hollywood and demands an apology.

We're obviously dealing with a bunch of clowns. I just prefer clowns not to have nukes.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Heathcare is Killing The Economy

I'm obviously not the first to say it, but I'm only now coming to understand how deeply healthcare costs are killing the economy. It's a total joke.

Andrew Sullivan is doing a pretty good series of individual recession stories (harkening FDR reading letters to understand the Great Depression). This is what happens - folks are living paycheck to paycheck with debt - credit card, etc and then boom - some health issue comes up. Not only are the costs potentially exorbitant, but you can't work and earn. Basically, if you already have debt and something like this happens - you're going to be bankrupt. And this situation can be expended on more macro or more micro levels.

On a micro level - I actually have pretty good health coverage for working at a small company - a PPO with a $500 deductible. I go in once a year for physical. Last time, my doctor suggests doing blood tests. Not because anything was wrong, just to be safe/preventative, etc. I say, sure, why not. Those tests ended up costing $500. Now, I'm not making a ton of money, but I can afford the $500. But it sets me back a couple months of savings. And I'm perfectly healthy! I'm being set back on healthcare costs and I'm not even sick!

What happens if I get into a car accident or just have a car repair that costs in the $1000s? Or something worse health wise where I can't work? And I'm a single dude without a family or many expenses at all. How do others function? I suppose a lot of people make good money and can get by - but I think a lot don't make good money. How do they get by. It's freaking confusing.

On the macro level - the costs must absolutely kill companies - particularly small ones with not huge profit margins and also big one's with an expensive workforce (GM). Companies have two choices - pay it and become less competitive or pass along the costs to the employees.

What happened? In the computer industry, every year you can get more bang for your buck. Technology improves cars, computers, food...everything. How come in healthcare, we're getting less bang for our buck? Something is ridiculously wrong.
Value Cars

Best value cars
, ie costs over several years, including gas maintenance and resale value. Prius is first. Mini Cooper is high. The rest is pretty much what you'd expect.

I really like the Cooper's. From what I understand, they get great gas mileage, are fun to drive, and are surprisingly safe for the size. I just wish they weren't so damn trendy and hip.
Obama and Iraq

The other day I caught part of Obama's speech on Iraq. I'm impressed. The perception needs to be clear - America is no longer occupying Iraq - and the circumstances are as good as we can reasonably hope for at this present moment. It is true, Obama's official position is barely different from what Bush agreed to in the status of forces agreement last fall. But Obama's opposition to the war bonafides and Bush's decision to surge in 2007 combined pose a unique opportunity for a consensus draw down - in short - a moderate and calm way out where both sides can claim a sort of "victory."

Granted - it might not work. There's always that possibility. But we can't occupy Iraq forever, either. We simply cannot afford to - financially, militarily, or morally. We made our play and now's the time to let the chips fall as they may.