Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Question For Liberals

Should American lead?

Per John McCain -

America leads. America is — here we’ve been to these countries and every place we go they are looking to America for leadership, for assistance, for moral support and ratification of the sacrifices they have made in defense of democracy. America should lead.

It isn't clear to me Obama and liberals believe America ought to lead. I've stated here a lot recently that it is important for America to understand these events going on in the Middle East are fundamentally NOT ABOUT US. However, we ought to weigh in on the sides we think are right and fall back upon our core values and the values of the free world. It is delicate.
How To Improve the Oscars

Virginia Postrel offers some ideas.

Saturday, February 26, 2011


Listening to NPR the other day, there was a good segment on why all this political unrest started in Egypt. Some major social and economic factors involving money, jobs, and marriage. Apparently in Egypt, most young people live with their parents until they can afford to get married, and then they move out of their parents and start families of their own. But it is very costly to get married in Egypt - you need a stake of money to get yourself started. In the last generation, basically, college-educated folks were guaranteed decent jobs (enough to pay for a family) and guaranteed good government benefits. Because of this, people started having large families. Now, those young folks are growing up - the population has doubled since the time Mubarack took office from 40mil-80mil and something crazy like 70% of those people are under 30. Not surprisingly, the government alone cannot guarantee jobs and benefits to all these people. They can't afford it. So young folks today are forced to work freelance type of jobs - jobs for which they are overqualified - and having trouble putting together a big enough stake to get married. Now, there are cultural implications here as well because being a conservative middle east/north african country, there isn't a vibrant "dating scene," or other ways for young folks to socialize and have a sex life. So you have this people in their late 20s and early 30s without strong job opportunities and without social and sex lives who are living with their parents and very little hope for the future. Now enter technology and seeing how other folks are living and organizing through facebook, etc, and it helps to explain this massive outpour of anger and frustration.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Obama Dithering

Does Hitchens have a point?

The Obama administration also behaves as if the weight of the United States in world affairs is approximately the same as that of Switzerland. We await developments. We urge caution, even restraint. We hope for the formation of an international consensus. And, just as there is something despicable about the way in which Swiss bankers change horses, so there is something contemptible about the way in which Washington has been affecting—and perhaps helping to bring about—American impotence. Except that, whereas at least the Swiss have the excuse of cynicism, American policy manages to be both cynical and naive.

One the one hand, it's fair not to make this about us, because the Arab people are doing this themselves. On the other hand, if Qadaffi is going to use his air force against his own people, I have no objection to taking out his entire airforce, army, and presidential headquarters while we're at it.

You know it when you hear it.

Fonzo's son, Edward, was 17 and an all-star wrestler with a chance at a college scholarship at the time he landed in Ciavarella's courtroom on a minor drug charge. Though Edward had no prior criminal record, Ciavarella sentenced him to juvenile detention center for several months. As a result, Edward missed his senior year of high school and grew depressed and bitter. Last June, he committed suicide, at the age of 23.

The judge was taking bribes to send juveniles to a for-profit detention center. Yeah. Seriously.
No One Will Miss This Guy

An encounter with Qaddafi. In America, guys like this become 3rd rate rock stars. In the Arab world, they become leaders. No wonder the people are pissed.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Death of the Music Industry

Some insights via charts.

The big takeaway - people spend more on albums than they'll ever spend on singles. A smart industry would have foreseen this and not let the album die. Movie business - take note.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Aye Yye Yye

On why Microsoft, a company sitting on $40 bil in cash, borrows $2 bil in unsecured debt.

David Zion, a tax and accounting analyst at Credit Suisse, estimates that the companies in the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index have "north of $1 trillion" in undistributed foreign earnings, or profits that have been parked overseas to avoid U.S. tax. Not all of that is cash; some is in the form of inventories or other assets.

You'd think that trillion bucks could be used making and building things by hiring people. Jeez.
Bye Bye Miss American Pie

Good article on the day the movies died. Hat tip, Naveen.
Just Weird

A 61 year old gives birth to her own grand-daughter.

Friday, February 18, 2011

On Saving For Retirement

Some pretty good ideas.

To be comfortable in retirement, you need to be saving a lot more, especially if you're planning to, I don't know, have an emergency, do anything large such as renovate the house, or put some kids through college. This is definitely possible--look at the income your parents lived on. How did they do it? Not because those were halcyon days when incomes were better and working men lived like kings. No, if you really think about it, you'll realize that they consumed less stuff than you, and you, especially, consumed less stuff than your kids.

Of course, this was easier to do, because other people were also consuming less stuff; living on less than you make when everyone else is leveraged to the hilt makes you feel poor. But it's the only way to make sure you survive retirement.

Hmmm. I'm already a cheap bastard, maybe I'll be a cheaper one.
Destruction of Human Capital

There is no cost for employers to discriminate against the unemployed.

What's happening to the long term unemployed is tragic. Not only are they becoming less employable as time wears on; they're also losing the economic and social capital that comes from holding a job in our society.

Yup. Handouts don't help the way jobs would.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Recent Movies

Winter's Bone - I enjoyed it. Sort of what I expect from a good indy film - exploring a world Hollywood won't enter. Good acting. Brisk plot. There was some confusing elements and a few miscast characters - but all that is to be expected in something like this. John Hawkes is having a dream career.

Breakdown - Kurt Russell loses his wife and must battle crazy truckers to get her back. A tight, old fashioned action movie. Suffers a bit from a totally absurd plan by the bad guys. Still, enjoyable as a man-needs-to-save woman in crisis movie.

Color of Money - A strange Scorcese film. I must have seen this as a youth, but don't remember it well. A good mentor-apprentice relationship with a hot chick. In watching it this time, if felt very predictable. The twists practically had neon signs waving "guess what, this is going to happen here."

My Own Private Idaho - only watched parts because the DVD was fucked up. Am I homophobic if I don't like this movie very much?

The Warriors - they made a version of the film I hadn't seen before. I think I've seen this film in parts as a youth as it used to be on TNT or other strange cable channels all the time and I would catch segments here and there. So I watched start to finish this time, but they did these strange comic book transitions that I really didn't like that I never remembered from seeing in my youth. "Warriors - you are good. "The best." Yeah!

Breaking Bad - if you've seen all the best HBO shows, Breaking Bad is the logical next step. It's good.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Perils of the Digital

One of my favorite video stores, Vidiots, is having financial troubles. They are encouraging their members to rent movies, which I still do. I like the process of going to the store and picking out movies on impulse. I like the physical act. I don't like sitting around and having everything at my fingertips all the time. But there is a problem - more and more - the dvds at vidiots skip are scratched or otherwise fucked up. The other night, I saw Winter's Bone at the cheap Culver City theater. The print was old and there was some sort of wear mark across the middle of the screen. It wasn't huge, but it was slightly noticeable. It didn't bug me too much. Analog imperfections are tolerable. But digital imperfections are unwatchable. Dvds that skip or stop basically ruin the entire movie. Digital marks or buzz or whatever you call it looks horrible up on screen or at home. Digital purports to be a "perfect replica," yet we see the imperfections constantly. Computers die and stall and break. DVDs don't last. We get excited about the new technologies, the ipads and flat screens and blue ray, but how long will they work for? We spend hard earned money on these devises and they are designed not to last. Planned Obsolescence.

Monday, February 14, 2011


How a small US funded program supporting election monitoring in Egypt laid some groundwork for the protests.

I hesitate about what to think about articles like this...on the one hand, I hate this idea perpetrated by the media that the US is the central player in these world-historic events. We need to acknowledge that we are a supporting role player and the causes of these big events are multilayered and variable and oftentimes inexplicable. On the flip side, I like how small unintended decisions or programs can lead to major events.

It is also interesting to see how US policy has evolved in both big and small ways post-9/11 where the philosophy shifted from backing strong horses for stability to democracy promotion in the region.
Tick Tock

Protests erupt in Iran. The Ayatollah's days are numbered. This social media and internet shit seems to really mess with their game. I'm no face of Facebook, but I'm less of a fan of the Ayatollah's.

Friday, February 11, 2011


Mubarak has resigned.

This could cause chaos. It could cause trouble. Donald Sensing thinks the Muslim Brotherhood will come out on top since there doesn't seem to be any other group with organization and will (other than the army).

But you know what? It is worth a try. I hope Egyptians will ask for our help and help from the rest of the world. There are ways governments can be built and function that are more responsive to the people. It isn't rocket science, but it is delicate.

Sunday, February 06, 2011


Lots of reasons for not blogging recently - mostly trying to finish up a tv pilot. Been reading some on Egypt. I hate the media hysteria surrounding big events like this - there is always an initial wave of "blame" assigned to the US government being caught "flat-footed" on the issue. You have these Monday morning quarterback pundit types who talk as if our government ought to have known these protests were going to erupt. Craziness. The lesson we ought to take away from the past 10 years of US foreign policy is that a lot of what happens in the world is NOT ABOUT US. We are more often an important side-character in these large dramas, but our news media is unable to portray us as anything other than the protagonist. Even 9/11 - which by all means - was a gigantic attack against the United States - is more rooted in an inter-Arab conflict than anything the United States has done to Arab countries.

The events in Egypt are exciting and full of promise. It is inspiring to see people rise up and try to take control of their countries and lives against an autocratic dictator whose time has passed. And it would be foolish not to see how this is connected to democratic reforms in Iraq and Tunisia. However, there is also cause for worry. Gigantic movements like these are often susceptible to clever manipulation by organized and armed groups. In Egypt this can mean the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamicist organizations. Egypt is the birthplace of the Islamicist ideology. Sayeed Qutb is the godfather of Islamicist thought and one of his young disciples was Ayman Zawahiri, Al Queda's number 2. Supposedly it was Zawarhi who got Bin Laden to focus on the "far" enemy (ie, the US), away from the corrupt ruling regimes in the region.

Our "goal" in Egypt should be to see the Egpytians replace their current government with a more democratic and transparent government that is not Islamicist. We ought to do what we can to assure Egypt does not descend into chaos or civil war and at the same time, not allow Mubarack to manipulate the situation and save his skin. The lesson with these thugs is when you get a chance, you need to replace them. You can't err on the side of stability. So I'm arguing at cross purposes...but there is no question...Mubarack needs to go. Then the second question is how to maintain enough stability in order for a functioning, stable government to blossom without empowering Islamicists and other radical organizations. Good luck.