Monday, October 31, 2011
Eugene Volokh nails what Occupy Wall Street is really all about.
The OWS protestors are a revolt — a shrill, cri-de-coeur wail at the betrayal of class solidarity — of the lower tier New Class against the upper tier New Class. It was, after all, the upper tier New Class, the private-public finance consortium, that created the student loan business and inflated the bubble in which these lower tier would-be professionals borrowed the money. It’s a securitization machine, not so very different from the subprime mortgage machine. The asset bubble pops, but the upper tier New Class, having insulated itself and, as with subprime, having taken its cut upfront and passed the risk along, is still doing pretty well. It’s not populism versus the bankers so much as internecine warfare between two tiers of elites.
It's well worth reading the whole thing.
Andrew Sullivan on why we worship Steve Jobs despite evidence he was a dick.
Hmmm...well...I don't worship Steve Jobs, but I don't care whether he was a dick or not. He isn't my relative. I didn't even know the guy. I could give a shit what kind of person he was. I don't buy Apple products because of Steve Jobs. I buy them because they make the most sense for what I need. I like listening to an Ipad in the car. I like writing on my Mac laptop. That's it. People are so frigging strange.
He says sexual harassment claim unbased.
I sort of think this will only enhance his image amongst his fans. It certainly doesn't make me think less of him. My issue with Cain is simple: the guy has never held political office. Crazy to elect someone like that - much as I may like him - to be President. It would be like when the Niners hired Mike Singletary to be their coach before ever head coaching a team at any level. And that was a disaster. The fact that people like discussing the guy and spend energy doing so only makes me take it all less seriously. American politics devolving into American Idol. There is always an element of that to it...but it used to be the parties would not put forward joke candidates...now...political parties don't even have any control. They need to follow the people who are popular to stay relevant.
Niners are most efficient team as scoring points per yards gained (1 point for every 10.87 yards gained). Additionally, they are most efficient at not allowing points per yards gained on defense (20.76).
The statistics suggest the Niners get better field position than their opponents (the product of good special teams and turnovers) and they score more points and allow fewer in the red zone. Now - I'm not sure what the stat means - either the Niners have been lucky or good. Either way, the stat alone isn't necessary the cause of winning and success, it could be the other way around as well - successful teams will tend to get better field position and score in the red zone. So anyway, it is a correlation/causation thing.
UPDATE: A WSJ piece on Delanie Walker, the 49ers utility guy on offense.
Sunday, October 30, 2011
Friday, October 28, 2011
It is a whole series.
I think some of lessons are applicable to anything in life, which is why I know it is good advice:
Some copped advice:
I don’t know who the characters are at the beginning, I don’t know the story, but I do know the stage of the theater. I find the characters by simply showing up at the ‘theater.’ As I spend more time in there, they emerge. It’s almost as if I imagine them, and then, they mysteriously appear.
Interesting. Because I actually think fiction is similar...
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Film: Die Hard
It's hard not to watch when it beckons on Neflix instant amidst all the shit. The great action movies in the 1980s often had really good button scenes at the end. Die Hard's is awesome. The only one that tops it is Point Break. I even enjoy the Lethal Weapon button scene when Mel Gibson and Gary Busey fight, although it makes a lot less sense than the other two I mentioned.
The reason they work is because these movies took care with developing side characters and had serious underlying themes. I watch these new ABC comedy shows which are trying to make some sort of point about emasculated males losing their place in society like Man Up and this midseason replacement Work It (where men dress as women to get jobs). Jesus, have these people seen Die Hard? This is the treatise on the subject.
Kitchen workers stage counter-revolution.
The Occupy Wall Street volunteer kitchen staff launched a “counter” revolution yesterday -- because they’re angry about working 18-hour days to provide food for “professional homeless” people and ex-cons masquerading as protesters.
The brains and talent flocking to these festivities is amazing. I'm puzzled why employers aren't rushing out to hire all these folks.
Put the educational institutions that cashed the student loan checks on the hook for 10% of the loans that end up in bankruptcy.
TV: Man Up, Modern Family (last year's halloween episode), Free Agents, Happy Endings
Man Up is lame. What is this trend of trying to reclaim masculinity in network TV? Very unmasculine. I wish they didn't cancel Free Agents - it is the only new show I enjoy. Watching this much TV in one night almost made me vomit.
Obama's master plan will save average grad less than $10 a month.
Another example of pointless, impotent, government meddling to score political points. This is basically the M.O. of the Obama Administrations domestic agenda. If they really wanted to do something about the long term problem, they would have a beer summit of college presidents and force them to lower tuition by 10% next year (not that the government could actually do such a thing). Or the government could just simply get out of the business of student loans tomorrow and force the college to cope. This is actually probably one of the better long-term options.
As for the existing loans - it's just like the mortgage crisis. What the fuck can be done? People bought these houses and took these loans - most of them will have to pay it back or some large percentage of it. Or declare bankruptcy.
But back to the article, the statistics are astounding - student loans increased 511% over the past decade. The rate of loans vs. disposable income is ridiculous. The parents have lost the value in the house and the kids are hamstrung with debt. Bad times.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Normally, I can't get behind charges of racism in TV shows and movies. I hate all the PC bullshit. But 2 Broke Girls is getting some criticism, and in this rare case, I'm leaning towards siding with the critics.
Well, part of the issue is the show sucks. This - without a doubt - leaves less wiggle room and forgiveness. But beyond this, it is actually a broader critique of hispterism and what hispterism has become.
I remember in college I knew this girl who very much was a preview of what hipsters have become today. Into Modest Mouse, the onion, and other ironic things. But she was smart. She once complained to be about the hipster guys she hung around were basically no different than the stereotypical drunk ass groping frat boy. She argued they would get wasted "ironically" and descend into the same sort of misogynistic, groping, pathetic behavior she associated with alcoholic fat dudes...and in a way, were worse about it because they weren't self-consciousness and thought they were really cool. She said - an alcoholic dumbass is no different than an ironic alcoholic dumbass.
It also reminds me of a critique I once read about Colbert which said the same thing - being an ironic right-wing blowhard isn't so much different from being a right-wing blowhard. What does the prior stand for in contrast to the other?
Now, 2 Broke Girls is the low-water point for the hipster movement. Hipsterism is now a sitcom on CBS. How far has this movement fallen since the days Jack White? But back to the point - how is an ironic racial stereotype different from an actual racial stereotype? Herein lies the hipster dilemma - it is a style and movement without anything to say. It is pose, first and foremost, and when forced to produce something resembling art - it can only dig into the only thing it knows - the self and the various ways one can pose. Hipsters are broke because work isn't cool. To try isn't cool. What's cool is to bang on drums and to treat your significant other like shit.
The Korean dude in 2 Broke Girls isn't a character. He is a hipster dream of what a funny immigrant looks and behaves like in a solipsistic mind. In this way, it is different from classical racism, which basically believes the races are inherently different - some inferior and others superior and justifies all sorts of legal and social segregation, and so forth. Hipsters don't believe certain races are inferior - they believe everyone who isn't a hipster is inferior. And deep inside, they believe themselves to be the most inferior of all. (armchair pysch alert - but am I wrong?)
The hipster movement started worshiping real talent - The Onion, Jack White, The Strokes first album, etc - and sure, it was a justifiable reaction against reality tv and the annoyingness main stream pop culture. But hey, Islamic Fascism is a reaction against Arab Nationalist autocrats. Who cares? Ideas must stand on their own at some point. Something has to matter. And honestly, who the fuck wants to wear used clothes all the time?
Here is a chart of median and average home prices in the United States.
I was prompted to look this up because of an article about median home prices dropping to a 3 month low.
Right now, median = 204,400 and average = 243,900
I am more curious about the total loss rather than just the 3 month span, so I went back up the chart. The highest prices are:
March 2007, median = 262,600 and average = 329,400
Doing quick math, that suggest a drop in 22% of the median and a 26% drop in average price -- over 4.5 years.
Don't get me wrong - this is a significant drop. No one wants to lose 20 plus percent in one of their biggest investments. However, should losing 25% of the value of something really be catastrophic? This would drive someone living on the edge over the edge, certainly. But in a healthy financial situation, people ought to be able to recover. Just as an alternative example - cars routinely lose most of their value over time - and you lose at least 25% of the value the moment you drive it off the lot. It's not even totally clear to me why we view housing as an investment as opposed to something we use (like a car). What is really worrisome about the economic crisis is how many people were living on the edge, not the loss in housing prices.
Movie: Assault on Precinct 13
The original. Great example of a B-movie. Great example of a variation of the home invasion movie. Not my favorite Carpenter film, but enjoyable. Told myself I'd watch the first 30 minutes before I went to bed and ended up watching the entire thing. Must mean something good.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Obama offers convoluted plan to help students loan debtors.
Given that Obama shows no success in creating jobs for recent graduates, this plan will succeed in helping a small group of people a very small amount and more importantly, make it appear as though Obama is doing something for the younger voters who helped him into office. The income plan superficially makes sense, but I can't help but think it costs a lot more to live in New York than in Arkansas and so don't know how seizing 15% of income over the 16,000 amount is fair to anyone living in a more expensive location.
Also, this is tucked in at the end:
Another benefit for student loan borrowers who convert into direct loans is that they'd qualify for other debt forgiveness programs if they work in public service or at nonprofits for ten years.
Why? It's not like students who pursue careers in those fields provide a more valuable service to society than the budding entrepreneur who might create a business and hundreds of jobs. This is just one of the many problems with the big bloated federal government trying to nudge people towards what a giant bureaucracy values - not rocking the boat.
The long term outlook still looks good for America.
Since it was inevitable we were going to have this housing crisis at some point (prices relative to income were too wonky) and also inevitable that the Middle East would someday have to revolt against the various autocrats, the major problems in the world are at least being acknowledged and dealt with. Once we get over these twin humps, I imagine the world will be looking pretty good again. We need to fix higher education prices - maybe we can do it without a crisis - knowing what we know about housing, but I doubt it. Too many entrenched interests make it impossible to fix problems with their being some cataclysmic event. And I'm not convinced healthcare is quite as big a crisis as we make out. Problems in the system might fix themselves with more focus and pressure put on the industry and if America undergoes a period of strong economic growth, healthcare costs will shrink relative to income.
All that said, I'd guess we'll come out the great recession in the next 2-5 years (note: that is a long time for people without jobs) and then America's global position will likely be as strong as it was in the mid 90s. We'll be sharper about bubbles and entitlements and other costs and the global freedom index will likely be considerably higher. It should be good.
Perry's tax plan is stupid. Here is the gist:
Rick Perry has said he wants to scrap the tax code and make taxes simpler.
That may be what he wants. But what he proposed on Tuesday is to keep the federal tax code intact and add an optional flat tax.
Inherently that makes the tax code more complex, not less.
Uh, yeah. Just put yourself in the shoes of someone who you know - pays taxes. Now you need to not only figure out your tax bill, but then compare it to the 20% flat tax and see whether you are getting a better deal. Man, are these people retarded or what? If you want to simply the tax code - SIMPLY THE FUCKING TAX CODE. My god, none of these people are qualified for office, I swear.
Newt thinks Republican candidates actually need to actually start knowing stuff vs. talking points.
Knowing stuff is good.
The Atlantic seems to think Netflix is now a good stock buy. Sure it is, if you view stocks like you view clothes, as a cool trendy things to purchase and it has dropped from nearly $300 a share to $77.
They say "Netflix made a mistake, everyone makes mistakes." But to me, the mistake signaled something significant: Netflix is desperate and doesn't know what it is. This is what is worrisome. Neflix's strength was their competence and their move demonstrated incompetence. The technology of Neflix is not unique. Others can and will stream as effectively soon. And when that happens, it just comes down to content and Neflix already suffers from having lame content streaming. I'd say only 10-20% of things I want to watch are available on Neflix streaming. I only do it because it is relatively cheap and I watch a lot of content and I have an HD tv that can view it. Also, I still use blockbuster and Vidiots and I'll use Itunes if I need something right away that isn't on Netflix. They might have the biggest market share at the moment, but Blockbuster refuses to die, Redbox exits, and there is Apple out there, I just don't think they are as in as strong as a position as they and trendy tech-people think. This is why they did a desperate move and aren't in a good long term position.
Monday, October 24, 2011
On Tinker Tailor:
During the writing of an early draft of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," recalls John le Carré in an introduction to his classic spy novel, now reissued by Penguin Books along with a selection of his other works, he was banging his head against the wall. For a long time, he tried to make the story of a quest to ferret out a double agent in the British secret service succeed without flashbacks.
After months of frustration, Le Carré took the manuscript into his garden and burned it. Such is the diligence of the master craftsman. Then he went back to work with a new take. The version of the book that he completed and published in 1974 — now regarded as perhaps the greatest spy novel written — is so complex precisely because its form itself is a journey of exploration into the "inside-out logic of the double-agent operation," into the past and into the complex natures of loyalty and betrayal.
There are times as a writer when stories come easy. If I remember correctly, Le Carre wrote The Spy Who Came In From the Cold in a mere 6 weeks. But it is important to remember some things don't come easily and take time to develop. One isn't better than the other. Certainly one is more pleasurable than the other, but perhaps those one's you struggle with become the one's you love the most. Tinker Tailor is most certainly Le Carre's best work (not that I've read all, but I find it almost impossible to imagine a better one), on any short list of the best spy novel ever written, and one of the master works of all 20th century novels.
I certainly see the logic of trying to do the story without flashback. Flashback is a lame device in movies, too. But sometimes, when the story begs for it, it works.
Rising gas prices have wiped out the entire value of the stimulus to American families.
I'm not sure this makes sense exactly. If you are a beneficiary of the stimulus, ie your job was saved or created, you are still much better off. But sure, if you are only a passive beneficiary of the stimulus, in that somehow the stimulus prevented the economy from grinding to a total halt, maybe the effects are negligible.
Saturday, October 22, 2011
You gotta give credit where credit is due - Obama is doing a surprisingly good job at foreign policy. From the killing of Osama and Al-Awalki, to the toppling of Gahdaffi and Mubarak on the cheap, to the pull down of troops in Iraq. Let's be the clear - the record is pretty good. Now, if you want to be critical, you can argue he is simply reaping the dividend of the Bush Adminstration's hard choices such as the Iraq and Afghanistan War and use of clones and the pull down in Iraq is technically more the result of a dispute between Iraq and the US over legal oversight of US troops. But if you want to pin the bad economy on Obama - for it hasn't done well on his watch - you also have to give credit where he has had success - foreign policy.
Friday, October 21, 2011
Great interview. He finally asks one great question I've been asking for over a year now and no one in the media or elsewhere seems to be talking about:
How much of a role do you think the so-called “democracy promotion” efforts of the United States under President George W. Bush, including the invasion of Iraq, played in the increasing instability of the Arab regimes, and how much of their collapse was the result of their own senility?
I will pretend that this is an easy question; it’s not. The easy answer is that Bush and the Bush Administration for a brief period of less than two years were on a democracy-promotion binge. They used a pickax and attacked a wall, seemingly making an impression, and perhaps they caused some structural damage. The Iraq War, with the defeat, humbling, and execution of a dictator, was a big blow with a pickax. On the other hand, when the regime becomes sufficiently involuted as to become hereditary, which is what happened in Syria and appeared to be happening in Egypt, then you are dealing with senility of the regime embodied: “The dictator is old.” So, both answers are true.
I don't think the Arab spring happens when it happened if it weren't for Iraq. These dictators have been old for years. It took the fall of Saddam for people to think - jeez - these guys are really straw men.
Gadhafi is dead and the only thought I can summon is: I'm surprised how long it took. I realize that thought can only occur after he died - it would never have happened prior. But you think about this guy and Saddam and Castro and they are really the last of the dictators, who in retrospect, were very much creatures of the Cold War. Very few of these guys, after the initial coming-to-power stage, ever possessed much legitimacy. But they were able to survive through fear and this umbrella protection from one of the super-powers trying to maintain influence in particular regions at the expense of the other super-power. Since the Soviet Union collapsed, the power of these dictators was a lot less. It was proven to be so in the first Gulf war with the completely underwhelming performance of Saddam's army. Although we didn't exactly realize it, I think the dictators saw the clock ticking on their reigns. Particularly Saddam who took steps like invading Kuwait and trying to build nukes in order to prolong his power. The irony, of course, is these steps ultimately led to his demise and the demise of the dictator. Once Saddam was gone, the rest of these guys seemed weak in comparison. It is now just a matter of time. Even the less problematic dictators - the Assad types - are troubled.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
On Charlie Rose talking about the glory of writing and directing.
I don't love his middle work as much as his early work, but I love listening to the guy talk about making movies. In this, he discusses what it means to be a writer-director vs. just a director (like Fincher), and how it means something more to have started from the blank page vs. looking for scripts out there and books an other forms of adaptation. Interesting.
Why is anything tax deductible?
Herman Cain has got me thinking about taxes. Although I don't think his 9-9-9 plan will work, nor is it fair, I think the idea of blowing up the tax code and making it uber simple isn't a fundamentally bad idea. Seriously, why not simply have 5-10-20 as the tax rate for three different brackets? Or fine, 5-10-20-30, even for the above $1 million earners. No deductions. No credits. No nothing. I understand this would make people unhappy because they love trying to game the system with deductions, etc, but let's not fool ourselves: this is unproductive activity and only serves to mask the cost of government.
I guess the argument in favor of deductions is to promote certain private activities that are good for society like buying homes and having children. But do we really think people buy homes and have children because of the tax deductions? Come on. These are bribes to middle class voters who live "normal" lifestyles. Food and water aren't tax deductible. I'd say those are more important - especially to poor families - than child income tax credits and mortgage interest deductions to people buying a ski house.
Plus, the mortgage tax deduction doesn't even end up helping anyone in the long run. It just props housing prices higher because it's get factored into the cost of the house.
Just make it simple, predictable, and easy. You can still have deductions for business expenses, obviously, but the cost of starting a business should be small and easy as well.
In 1883 a comet may have come super close to wiping out life on the planet.
Makes my problems feel small.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Wow. Student loans have doubled since 10 years ago (about when I went to college). And that's adjusting for inflation. I'm sure the mortgage crisis has led more families to student loans since that money is available and credit on their houses is not. Very scary.
"Students who borrow too much end up delaying life-cycle events such as buying a car, buying a home, getting married (and) having children," says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid.org.
We ought to also talk about the psychological toll taken on people with big debts hanging over their heads. It is a horrible thing only made acceptable because so many other people go through the same thing. A mortgage is bad enough, but couple it with student loans and car payments, jesus, when is anyone going to make enough money to get ahead, have some savings and investments?
How to write about yourself:
There’s a difference between making everything about you and infusing yourself into everything you write. The former is lazy, narcissistic and all too common. The latter is how you develop and define the unique voice that endears you to an audience and makes your words instantly recognizable in a sea of sameness. It’s difficult to strike a balance between TMI and being a cipher, but being compelling involves putting some of yourself (even if it’s only obliquely so) on the page. You need to figure out how to make that work in your genre through a trial and error process.
Read the whole thing.
Film: The English Patient
It must mean something that I have seen this movie before and couldn't remember much from it. So much so when it was referenced to me the other day, I felt the need to re-watch. Still, I liked it. An adult drama. It's like a quaint little thing from the past now as I read on deadline about Paranormal Activity 3 being the big savior for Hollywood this weekend. Jesus. Who gets into the movie business to make Paranormal 3?
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Someone lays into the Atlantic article about so few eligible men. Her best point:
I really do think that this is a story that makes perfect sense to what is in context a tiny sliver of people, and would seem totally inscrutable to a lot of other people. That's just my intuition. I think if you are among a certain social strata and you live in a particular kind of urban enclave with particular dating dynamics and particular assumptions about gender roles and a particular type of educated, socially liberal, and ambitious participants, this all sounds like the world around you. I think for most Americans, let alone most of the world, this kind of article causes people to say "...what?" The most glaring problem with American media is that it is written by people who genuinely believe that their neighborhood is the world. And most of them live in the same half-dozen neighborhoods.
Yeah, it's a strange article.
Occupy Wall Street suffers from thieves taking their stuff.
Who’d have thought that a crowd of people demanding the seizure of wealth from banks, corporations, and the wealthy might also have a few thieves? I’m shocked, shocked to find theft occurring in a group that has hijacked private property it refuses to leave. I can’t imagine that a crowd that demands free higher education and the forgiveness of tens of thousands in student debt would also think of someone’s Mac or an iPhone as equally as communal as a college education.
Monday, October 17, 2011
No executive experience.
Back in 2008, National Review editor Rich Lowry talked about a Republican "competence primary." That year, the Republican field was dominated by candidates who could claim some huge success in government: Romney; New York's crime-fighting former Mayor Rudy Giuliani; and the very effective three-term governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee. The race was won by John McCain, the man who had devised and pushed the "surge" strategy that turned around the Iraq war.
This time, apparently, the competence primary has been canceled. Too bad. In the depths of the worst economic crisis since the Depression, competence is needed more than ever.
If it were available, I'd buy stock in "competence" and sell "values."
Sunday, October 16, 2011
I don't want to get ahead myself, but I just perused the 49ers future schedule. The only really tough games are Baltimore and Pittsburgh. We have the lowly NFC West, including 4 games against Arizona and St. Louis. Other out of conference games: Cleveland, NY Giants. We are getting Braylon Edwards back soon. We are improving each game. If all continues, we could possibly get a number 2 seed in the playoffs, meaning a bye. It is stupid to look this far ahead because injuries can happen or Alex Smith could turn into Alex Smith...any number of things. But we are 5-1 right now, with the toughest out of conference games over with - Eagles, Lions, and Tampa. Never would have expected this. It is not unreasonable to see us going 12-4 or 13-3.
Saturday, October 15, 2011
Film: The Thing
Not terrible, but not good. Fun 2nd act if you have the right attitude going in.
TV: Parks and Recreation
Easily the best network show in TV. The 4th episode this season with the Pawnee Rangers is one of the greatest P&R episodes of all time, similar to the bring your daughter to work day episode of the Office. One of the best digs yet - Adam Scott is bummed out and Donna asks him "What's wrong, did they cancel Game of Thrones?" Adam Scott protests too much, "No. (beat) They would never cancel Game of Thrones. It's a crossover hit. It isn't fantasy, it is a human drama set in a..." Donna and Aziz just look at him blankly. Hilarious.
Thursday, October 13, 2011
If this Iranian plot to kill the Saudi Ambassador had happened during the Bush Administration, many liberals would glom onto what analysts are saying about it not bearing the sophistication of the QUODs force and would literally suspect the Bush Admin of staging the plot themselves.
This of course, would not have been anymore true whether Bush or Obama was President, but liberals ought to acknowledge this would be the case.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
TV: Two Broke Girls
A terrible show despite Kat Dennings ginormous tits. Good lord. She is a hefty girl that Kat Dennings. She should shot put. She and Christina Hendricks need to do a sister show or something one day. But seriously, this show is ridiculously hacky. I watched it followed by The Big Bang Theory just to get out all the bullshit 3-cam sit coms out of my system and I was surprised how good The Big Bang Theory was simply from a craft perspective. It isn't my style. I won't watch or tivo it or anything, but if someone forced me to watch one of those CBS shows, I'd pick Big Bang in a second over anything else I've seen.
This Whitney Cummings is like the Jonathan Safron Foer of tv sitcom writing...ridiculously overrated and overpraised. Someone ought to do a study one day on these overrated celebrity/writer people and what sort of personality traits they share. It is probably something similar to cult leaders.
A little note in the below futurist predictions from the mid 1960s.
But perhaps some people were more on the mark. A RAND report, as paraphrased in the book Your Flying Car Awaits, foretold a future in which "just 2 percent of the population would be needed to produce everything society needed, and only 'elites' would be able to find gainful employment."
We are headed in that direction. Good thing someone invented Facebook - it gives the masses something to do for free other than stir up revolution.
Am I the only one growing tired of the endless articles about marriage and dating? I started reading this and felt like I've read the same article a hundred times before. It is about how people are getting married later and later and how men are falling behind women and how the article writer can't find a date. Boo hoo.
More and more these things read like complex self-justifications for extraordinarily narcissistic people. I wish they'd stick to facebook.
Richard Vedder on forgiving student loans being the second dumbest idea in the world:
Why should we give a break to this particular group of individuals, who disproportionately come from prosperous families to begin with? Why give them assistance while those who have dutifully repaid their loans get none? An arguably more equitable and efficient method of stimulus would be to drop dollars out of airplanes over low-income areas.
Moreover, this idea has ominous implications for the macro economy. Who would take the loss from the unanticipated non-repayment of a trillion dollars? If private financial institutions are liable for some of it, it could kill them, triggering another financial crisis. If the federal government shoulders the entire burden, we are adding a trillion or so more dollars in liabilities to a government already grievously overextended (upwards of $100 trillion in liabilities counting Medicare, Social Security, and the national debt), almost certainly leading to more debt downgrades, which could trigger investor panic. This idea is breathtaking in terms of its naïveté and stupidity.
The demonstrators say that selfish plutocrats are ruining our economy and creating an unjust society. Rather, a group of predominantly rather spoiled and coddled young persons, long favored and subsidized by the American taxpayer, are complaining that society has not given them enough — they want the taxpayer to foot the bill for their years of limited learning and heavy partying while in college. Hopefully, this burst of dimwittery should not pass muster even in our often dysfunctional Congress.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
From the Atlantic:
Ron Kessler, Ph.D., the Harvard researcher who headed much of the WHO’s mental health research, says that by and large people in less-developed countries are less depressed: After all, he says, when you’re literally trying to survive, who has time for depression? Americans, on the other hand, many of whom lead relatively comfortable lives, blow other nations away in the depression factor, leading some to suggest that depression is a “luxury disorder.”
It well may be, doesn't mean it isn't a problem. Just maybe not a public health priority.
Herman Cain's 9-9-9 tax plan.
The government uses the tax plan to nudge people towards all sorts of behavior - like buying houses, going to college, and redistributing wealth from high income earners to low income earners. Questions: First - are they effective? Second - are they just?
I'd prefer a super simple plan that doesn't try to game everything. I fix taxes to be an unnecessary headache and I always feel like I'm paying too much because I don't do anything fancy.
Monday, October 10, 2011
TV: Breaking Bad, Season 4 finale.
For a moment, I was thinking Breaking Bad was losing it. There is a gigantic logic problem with a lot of Season 4 towards the end. But it was almost made up for with a totally holy-fucking-shit-I-can't-believe-they-did-that moment in the final episode. I rarely have a reaction to a shot/moment in a tv show like I did just now.
Some liberal arts colleges are looking into capping tuition increases and examining how to give better value to students. This is precisely what liberal arts colleges ought to be doing. Since the Ivy's and prestigious public institutions are basically too big and too embedded to do these things, liberals arts colleges ought to. I might just write to the President of Pomona.
UPDATE: One little detail that stood out in the article - this idea of colleges charging tuition for student internship classes. USC did this. If this isn't one of the most corrupt rackets in the history of labor, I don't know what is. USC charges tuition to students to do an internship - say $2-4 grand per a semester - and then if the students learn anything it is from the employer. Think about this system - the college cashes checks from the parents (possibly borrowed money) so that the student can work a shit job that for the most part, you don't learn much from (since you aren't there every day), and the businesses get free labor. What a horribly corrupt system.
UPDATE 2: One scary reactionary possibility to the college cost thing is for-profit and vocational schools. These places are fine, but they aren't really educational. The problem with American students isn't too much education, it is still too little and too result-oriented. When I was in school, kids were too concerned about grades. They weren't as concerned with learning for learnings sake. This might sound stupid and righteous, but it really shouldn't be a radical idea. Learning is fun when presented in the right way. And the only way innovate things truly happen is when people love what they do and work really hard without a guarantee of a reward. These are the values liberal arts colleges are supposed to instill. We shouldn't run away from the values, just make them affordable, which they are.
Sunday, October 09, 2011
On student loan debt.
If any other industry lured 18-year-olds into lifetime debt based on misrepresentations about the value of what it was selling, the executives would already be social pariahs and criminal defendants.
It's partially right...parents and kids also bear some responsibility...they see the numbers when they sign on the dotted line. They might feel trapped into borrowing because of the American dream, college, et al, but hey, this is America, you're responsible for your choices even when they are dumb ones.
Friday, October 07, 2011
Why not enable student loans to be part of bankruptcy?
Seems reasonable to me.
Also, if I were asked by the Wall Street Protesters where they ought to focus, my suggestion would be education cost. I would argue the main goal of colleges should be to cut tuition cost by 1/3 over the course of the next ten years. Our goal with college ought to be zero-debt for graduates and return to a system whereby a motivated student could work his or her way through college with minimal debt afterward. I believe such a system is feasible and would involve cutting administrative costs, stopping all construction on fancy new facilities, and cutting other things like food options and fancy dorms/apartments. There would be no cuts to professors or classroom functioning or books or other school-related materials. The facilities would not be as nice, but students would be getting the same education and they'd just have to tough it out.
Also, colleges would essentially get out of the business of financial aid. There would still be scholarships and grants administered by a much smaller group, but by cheapening the overall tuition, financial aid would become increasingly less important and less necessary.
One way to motivate colleges to reach such goals would be a protest of paying tuition. Cutting off the money would give colleges a good incentive to get their acts together and commit to the principle.
Also, colleges could take it upon themselves to do this without the consumer backlash. They might take a hit in test scores or quality of students, but they might make more successful, happy, enriched graduates. It is question of what is important - the service/education provided or the status of the institution.
From Levine breaking news:
DENMARK’S “FAT TAX” A FIRST:In an effort to curb residents’ unhealthy eating habits, Denmark has introduced a new tax on foods that contain more than 2.3 percent saturated fat. The “fat tax,” believed to be the first of its kind in the world, will raise the prices of foods like butter, milk, cheese, pizza, meat, and oil. Still, some question whether the tax will actually deter people from buying the products, and others question whether saturated fat was the wisest food component to target, given that salt, sugar, and refined carbohydrates can also be detrimental to people’s health.
I suspect we'll see more of this.
But education is an industry where we measure performance backwards: We gauge school performance not by outputs, but by inputs. If quality falls, we say we didn't pay teachers enough or we need smaller class sizes or newer schools. If education had undergone the same productivity revolution that manufacturing has, we would have half as many educators, smaller school budgets, and higher graduation rates and test scores.
I'm not sure that Jobs was trying to signal anything as much as he was offering very good advice . . . for Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs', um, job, is to tell graduates how they could be Steve Jobs. And if they are to have any chance, they do indeed need to follow their bliss and take risks rather than settling down to a degree in accounting.I swear it isn't a bad idea to talk to moderately successful people about career ideas, they probably have more practical knowledge than uber-successes.But not everyone has the potential to be Steve Jobs. Not just because most people are rather more ordinary, but because there are a limited number of jobs that are really fun, greatly admired, and fairly well remunerated, which is what most people want.The problem is, the people who give these sorts of speeches are the outliers: the folks who have made a name for themselves in some very challenging, competitive, and high-status field. No one ever brings in the regional sales manager for a medical supplies firm to say, "Yeah, I didn't get to be CEO. But I wake up happy most mornings, my kids are great, and my golf game gets better every year."
That is why the Wall Street protesters are foolish and petulant. American households levered a $6 trillion net inflow of foreign savings during the decade 1998 through 2007 into a bubble that benefited them far more than it did Wall Street. The impact of the bubble on the household balance sheet exceeds the growth in real-estate assets, moreover, because most small business expansion followed the housing bubble.
For fifteen years we rode a tsunami of foreign capital pouring into American markets. We didn’t save a penny. Why should we? Our home equity was our retirement account. Our smartest kids got MBAs and went to Wall Street derivatives desks. Engineering was for dummies. Home prices rose so fast that local governments swam with tax revenues and hired with abandon. Everybody went to the party. Now everybody has a hangover, especially the bankers. We thought we were geniuses because we won the lottery. Now we actually have to produce and export things, and we have to play catch-up. Our kids are competing with Asian kids who go to cram school and practice the violin in the afternoon. This isn’t going to be easy, and the sooner we decide to roll up our sleeves and get back to work instead of looking for bankers to blame, the better our chances of coming back.
True that. Better to understand this as a hangover that needs to be slept off rather than something we can return to. If I were Obama, that'd be my message. Of course, he can't run on that message, because he already ran on "time for a change."
Thursday, October 06, 2011
Here is a spooky thought. Physicist Lawrence Krauss of Arizona State University calculates that three trillions years from now -- about the time the federal budget is expected to be balanced -- dark energy will have accelerated the universe to such speeds that no galaxy will be able to see any other galaxy. Intercourse between galaxies will become unimaginable, even if Captain Kirk's warpdrive is invented. Each galaxy will perceive itself as the whole of creation, a lonely cluster of stars surrounded by infinite emptiness. At this far-future point, all traces of the Big Bang will have dissipated from the cosmos. Any intelligent beings evolving under those circumstances would not be able to figure out how the universe formed. We're lucky, Krauss thinks, to have come into existence while the cosmos is "young," and dark energy has not yet hurled away all the clues about why we are here.
Wednesday, October 05, 2011
Tuesday, October 04, 2011
Monday, October 03, 2011
This is the most poorly written article I can remember appearing on the Atlantic website.
It is about internet dating. Money quote:
We used to get drunk or go to prom or have arranged marriages. People formed relationships based on family ties, based on proximity, based on debts owed.I prefer the old fashioned ways.
In Helmut Schoeck's Envy, he discusses the dysfunctional cultures all have an excess of undisguised envy. An extreme example are the Navaho, who reportedly have no concept of luck or of personal achievement, and believe that one person's success can only come at another's expense. This kind of attitude effectively discourages people in such a society from adopting a better way of growing crops, etc. This may explain why James Madison insisted that no democracy has not committed suicide, is that there is a constant push to greater taxation until the productivity created by these elites evaporates, because nothing hits as directly at envy as progressive tax increases. Functional cultures are not so defensive, and so adopt better ways even if not invented there, allowing countries like Japan to move quickly into modernity with all the advantages that wealth brings, by emulating a superior western technology, thus acknowledging their backwardness. What is so remarkable is how rare the Japanese strategy has been.
We should not be so naïve to believe most government policy is about making institutions safer, efficient, or more fair, as these are incidental means to an end, and that end is an envy-based redistribution. In some cases, base motives can lead to good outcomes, as when our efforts to maximize our status lead a business owner to treat customers well. However, government policies enacted out of envy have no beneficial results because it merely rearranges status based on political power, and not the productivity that leads to so much progress in science, leisure, art, and health. If our base assumption that self-interest is not simply maximizing wealth, but rather, status, the future is a far less rosey place. An economists' current view of human nature implies that societal and self-interest are in sync via the invisible hand (with varying amounts of regulation), and is the source of much libertarian optimism. Would that it were true. We will be much better off navigating the future with a more accurate concept of human nature.
Sunday, October 02, 2011
“An African-American mother of two, Ms. Williams-Bolar last year used her father’s address to enroll her two daughters in a better public school outside of their neighborhood. After spending nine days behind bars charged with grand theft, the single mother was convicted of two felony counts. Not only did this stain her spotless record, but it threatened her ability to earn the teacher’s license she had been working on. . . .That's what you call an outrage.
Saturday, October 01, 2011
When everyone has a laptop and connection to the world, then everyone owns a factory. Instead of coming together physically, we have the ability to come together virtually, to earn attention, to connect labor and resources, to deliver value.
Stressful? Of course it is. No one is trained in how to do this, in how to initiate, to visualize, to solve interesting problems and then deliver. Some see the new work as a hodgepodge of little projects, a pale imitation of a 'real' job. Others realize that this is a platform for a kind of art, a far more level playing field in which owning a factory isn't a birthright for a tiny minority but something that hundreds of millions of people have the chance to do.
Gears are going to be shifted regardless. In one direction is lowered expectations and plenty of burger flipping... in the other is a race to the top, in which individuals who are awaiting instructions begin to give them instead.
So no, this isn’t much like a VC. Or anything else that makes financial sense in the private sector. It’s like . . . the government giving money to companies that sound whizzy.