Monday, March 31, 2008

New Al Gore Video (voiced by William H. Macy!)

link
We didn't wait for someone else to storm the beaches at Normandy
We didn't wait for someone else to guarantee civil rights
Or put a man on the moon
And we can't wait for someone else to solve the global climate crisis. We need to act, and we need to act now.
Join us. Together we can solve the climate crisis. Take one minute. Go to WeCanSolveIt.org, and make your voice heard today.
Would it be overly critical to point out that while we went ahead and stormed the beach at Normandy, it was after waiting perhaps longer than it took to see that the Europeans couldn't take out their own trash (Oh, yes I did, you Nazi sympathizers!)? And we really took our sweet time guaranteeing those civil rights. For someone else to do it really would have meant invading and occupying our country. I don't think we can claim any points for celerity there.

Frankly? Putting a man on the moon was maybe not the best use of resources, and we did it quickly to keep the Soviets from beating us. It would have happened if we didn't do it. I'm proud of the moon landing -- the first manned mission to the moon, while not a landing, launched in my birth year, which is one of the reasons I'm better than you. However, since President Bush is hung up on this moronic-hypermuscular-shadow-of-his-betters persona, it did indirectly create the "manned mission to Mars," a disastrous boondoggle. We didn't wait for someone else to put a man on the moon, but if someone else were breathing down our necks with a solution to the climate crisis, that'd be swell.

So, I reject all the analogies, but I suspect they're a good-hearted attempt by liberals to enroll mouth-breathers in the service of humanity. Cynical, but praiseworthy. So, you go, Al.

Obama calls for Cesar Chavez Day

link
  1. I think this is a great idea.
  2. I don't think this should be an 'Independence Day' day-off type day. It should be more of a 'only Grammar School kids are aware of it' day like Flag Day.
We don't need any more legal holidays. I just found out that Good Friday's not a federal holiday, so I have to suspect that the next legal holiday's going to take Christmas out.

But, maybe we should start 'Cesar Chavez Day' traditions, so that adults are aware of it, like St. Patrick's Day, St. Valentine's Day and Secretary's Day (which is coming up, btw). We could ask for a day of demonstrations. Or! If companies were required to post how much direct labor they produced, versus how much they passed on to contractors, that would honor his memory pretty well.

Cesar Chavez Day disclosure! Anybody for a march?

Update: I should clarify that while honoring laborers deserves a day off, I think we do it on Labor Day already. I know it seems unfair that war dead get two days off while laborers -- who are more important and more populous -- only get one, but the war dead died, ostensibly defending our interests, while laborers generally get to live until black lung gets them.

Some Consolation

link
Have you ever been kind of interested in maybe dating a particular girl? And have that girl scoff at the idea? Did she do it in public? Well, she almost certainly didn't do it in the New York Times Magazine.
But Fredell did not laugh. “No!” she erupted, and with increasing volume, “No! No! No! I can’t emphasize enough that there is nothing between me and Leo! It’s just that we’re not compatible in that regard.”
Now, Janie Fredell can't be blamed for her dismissal of her paramour's arena. It's the reporter - whose name is best forgotten -- who is being the jerk here. But, what a jerk! This is one more thing that I'm very pleased has never happened to me.

Update: That's a pretty poorly written prepositional phrase, "for her dismissal of her paramour's arena." Ah... "for the arena in which she dismissed her paramour's [attentions.]" Something.

Another great boon to Science

link
via Schneier on Security:
Engineers, biologists, and marine scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara, have joined forces to discover how the soft, gelatinous squid can operate its knife-like beak without tearing itself to pieces.

UC Santa Barbara is a mecca for this type of interdisciplinary study, and draws scientists and engineers from all over the world to grapple with questions that cross a wide range of science and engineering disciplines.
...
According to [Herb Waite, co-author and professor of biology at UC Santa Barbara], the researchers were helped by the fact that squid seem to be moving north from areas where they have been traditionally concentrated, for example deep waters off the coast of Acapulco, Mexico. Recently however Humboldt squid have been found in numbers in Southern California waters. Dozens of dead squid have recently washed up on campus beaches, providing the researchers with more beaks to study.
Um, yay? I guess if tropical animals are forced by changing ocean dynamics to latitudes closer to major research institutions, we're all better off? So, if you're looking for benefits to climate change, well, there you go.

Repression

There's no link.
I was just suggesting to a friend that we join in using the euphemism 'deep and long recession' for 'depression,' and she came back with the portmanteau word 'repression.'

I thought that was pretty funny, although I haven't spent enough time thinking about how well it works.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Al Gore: How Americans Avoid Despondency

link
Al Gore sent me a letter to pass on to you. Now he only needs 76 more people to sign up to hit his March goal of one million! If only one in ten of my readers did, he'd only need 75.9 more.

Dear Friend,

The world's scientists are calling for immediate and urgent action on global warming. The good news is that we have the science, technologies and policies necessary to stop it. What's needed is action by concerned people like you and me.

That's why I've joined with Al Gore and others across the country and around the world who want to halt global warming.

We're on the verge of being over one million strong and I'm asking you to join us. Please click here today to become part of the solutions to global warming: http://wecansolveit.org/alliance

We need to come together and demand our leaders take the steps necessary to ensure our children and their children have a positive future. That's why I'm asking you to get involved today:

http://wecansolveit.org/alliance

Together, we can stop global warming.

So, I want to keep repeating these two points about fighting global warming, as I don't want to get anyone depressed by the idea that global persistent catastrophe is inevitable. (1) Doing something about hopeless problems is how Americans stay engaged! It's what makes this a nation of poor planners! It's our culture -- don't fight it, and (2) Mitigating our carbon inputs now will really have an effect on how possible it is for some people to live in the future. It could be the difference between 200,000 people in 2200 and none. So, put that in your pipe and set it carefully aside.

Another investment tip

link
Note that First American REO Outsourcing is the sort of company I've been saying will do well. It's a division of First American (ticker FAF,) but I'd probably wait until it's spun off.
See for example First American Announces Rebranding of Default Division to First American Default Information Services
First American recognizes how beneficial counter-cyclically driven default revenue is to the future growth of the corporation, said Chris Leavell, chief operating officer of First American Real Estate Information Services.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Foreclosure Standoffs Have Begun

via Housing Bubble Blog:
Yesterday, [Joseph] Vignolo, 53, protested as a brief auction was held at the property. During the brief event, the home was sold back to the bank, according to an auctioneer from Daniel J. Flynn & Co. of Quincy, Mass. The property has an assessed value of $319,900, according to property records.... Vignolo remained at the property after the auction. He said he'll stay put until he's forced out, but he won't resort to violence.
...
Vignolo said he could've made a deal and walked away with money, but he decided to make a statement instead.
If his home couldn't sell out at a foreclosure auction, how much money could he have walked away with? But, in any case, I feel a folk song coming on. What rhymes with Vignolo?
In 30 years I said I'd pay
off 33 Gervaise
But 20 in I did get lay
'd off and I lost the place
Ah... we'll work on this later.

11 Seconds in 225 square inches

I'm a little cursed. So, I'm reading this New York Times article about the discovery and playback of Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville's phonautograms, which he made up to 17 years before Thomas Alva Edison recorded "Mary had a little lamb." And, what pops into my mind is this image...
(Scott triumphantly emerges from the curtain of his sound recording booth at a Parisian nightclub)
Scott: I have done it! I have successfully recorded the human voice! These 11 seconds of “Au Clair de la Lune” will be available to the posterity of France forever!
Mssr. Jeroblume: Most excellent, sir! When can we listen to it?
Scott: What do you mean?
Update:I should clarify a few things. One is that Mssr. Jeroblume is a made-up character. Two is that I don't know what a Mssr. is, but I'm pretty sure it's a French honorific. Three is that the reason this is funny is that Scott's recordings couldn't be played back -- they were visual representations of sound. The article is about somebody putting a lot of work into making one playable, and Scott resented Edison for making the intuitive leap that users might want to get that data back out of their archive.

Glossary Entry: NEWCAG

There's no link. I was thinking yesterday that it's probably not obvious that there's almost always a link, but that's a discussion for another time.

It's currently my intent to replace the words 'Alan Greenspan' with the acronym 'NEWCAG', for 'Noted Economic War Criminal Alan Greenspan' and a link back to this posting. The title comes out of a Citizen Joe meeting last night, but the acronym's mine.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Crap II

People who have more belly fat during middle age, even those considered to be of normal weight, have higher rates of dementia when they reach old age, according to a study in the journal Neurology. The link highlights a body of work showing that health is affected by not just overall body weight but how the weight is distributed.
...

They found that just being overweight or obese nearly doubles one's risk of dementia in old age, even after taking into account other risk factors such as diabetes and heart disease.

But having high levels of central-body fat increases the risk more, boosting an obese person's risk 3.6 times higher than a normal-weight individual with low belly fat. And, as a group, normal-weight individuals with high levels of belly fat showed an elevated risk of dementia.

This is just great. I've got, what, 40 % body fat? And it's all in my belly.

Update: Forgot to mention my man boobs, but I don't think the fat they keep out of my belly is going to save me.

How the foreclosure crisis really happened

OK. I think this'll work better. The last time I posted this, Google Docs required you to log in. That's no longer the case.


Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Does this article fail to communicate the correct amount of panic?

So...
Glaciologist Ted Scambos of the University of Colorado ... alerted colleagues at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) that it looked like the entire ice shelf — about 6,180 square miles (about the size of Northern Ireland)— was at risk of collapsing
...
David Vaughan of the BAS had predicted in 1993 that the northern part of the Wilkins Ice Shelf was likely to be lost within 30 years if warming on the Peninsula continued at the same rate.
That's bad, right? Ice shelves are supported by land -- the melting of the Antarctic Ice Shelves is supposed to raise sea level 20 feet, right? So, should we expect a several inch rise in the next few weeks? I live on a sea-level island, and I'm only planning on leaving it for other sea-level islands in the next six weeks. Should I be doing something? Like panicking?

Update: Here's an email exchange I've just had in light of this post.
Q: So what exactly does it mean in practical terms? What would be the initial ramifications?
A: It'll drop off, we'll get a tsunami warning, we'll have to evacuate the city. Tidal waves will crash against the coastlines globally, and we'll be able to return to Manhattan after a few days.
I fully expect the global tsunami scenario to pan out. On the other hand, I expect Manhattan to weather this first batch of tidal waves -- most of our construction is pretty sturdy, although some places will suffer pretty devastating damage. Like Long Island. And South Carolina. And Morocco. And South Africa. And Indonesia. And Hawai'i. And pretty much everywhere on a coastline that's not built of stone and steel.

One more thing I'm apparently doing wrong

Via Online Dating Magazine, which in turn I reached via Red Herring.
This study examined the impact of the Internet on personal and sexual safety for women meeting men through online ads.... Thirty percent of respondents engaged in sexual activity on their first encounter. Seventy-seven percent of respondents who met an online partner did not use condoms for their first sexual encounter.
This hasn't been my experience, but there you go.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Quick Note on the CSFB ARM Reset chart

The link's a chart you've probably seen before -- what CSFB said the outlook for adjustable rate mortgage resets looked like 15 months ago. At that time, we were looking at a lot of resets through the end of 2011, and so probably artificially supported housing prices through 2013. But,
The green bars are option ARMs. Option ARMs let you dig your hole deeper by recapitalizing interest. Banks are enforcing the limits on underpaying since the credit crunch, so these homeowners will fail sooner than they expect.
Nouriel Roubini's jingle mail tsunami, in which underwater 'home owners' walk away from their houses, will eliminate a lot of these mortgages. The loan takers are stretching to pay the mortgages typically, so probably won't stick around another three or four years to watch their home values deflate.
I really think the adjustment will be mostly over in the next two or three years, and after that inflation will bring home values back in line with incomes and rents.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Bal d'Europe pictures

I'm in 29, 43, Group shots 119 - 124 and 132-135, Table shot 288, Dancing the Quadrille in 318, 381 & 382, 546, Introduction 732, Grand March 792, Viennese Waltz 803, Quadrilling with the audience 893.

Yeah, there's some backstory.

You should be satisfied with your penis

Another spam title. It's like I'm being castigated for thinking it should be ribbed for pleasure, or might want to have hooks for an ostomy bag. I imagine the message itself has something to do with penile enlargement, but wouldn't the worry be that others wouldn't be satisfied with your penis? I guess I'm not so familiar with the psychology of penile dissatisfaction.

Anyway, that's not really what I want to talk about. I want to talk about my scrotum. I just ran 20 miles, and it's rather abraded. So, I looked up 'jockstrap' on Wikipedia -- which let me in on the interesting fact that 'jock' is a slang work for 'penis' -- and it pointed to an article in Slate discussing why we don't use them anymore. Really, it's entirely possible that every other man in Manhattan wears a jockstrap when he runs, and has just never mentioned it to me. Of course, this problem only seems to kick in over ten miles, so maybe not.
Jocks don't do much. Bike claims the contraption was invented in 1874 as "support for the bicycle jockeys riding the cobblestone streets of Boston." The manly wisdom that has prevailed in locker rooms for more than a century is that wearing an athletic supporter protects you from getting a hernia. The doctors I spoke to told me that's "an old athlete's tale."

"They kind of keep the genitalia from flopping around, is the best I could tell you," says Dr. William O. Roberts, a past president of the American College of Sports Medicine.

Jocks offer no protection against the relatively common inguinal hernia, in which a portion of the gut descends through the canal that contains the spermatic cord. They also won't protect you from what's known as a "sports hernia," a painful tearing or weakness of the muscles or tendons in the pubis area that's also known as "athletic pubalgia."

Right. Really, all I want to avoid is callusing of my balls. The not flopping around of them seems like a major step in the right direction.
Indeed, jockstraps do a fine job of holding your balls out of harm's way and preventing the scrotal sac from getting all (ouch!) tangled up.
Indeed, I'm glad my Father wasn't a writer. I now know the Daniels Akst's sons, unlike the rest of their team, wear athletic cups. Active.com's Cool Running has a more running-oriented article.
Whatever your preference, it's no longer necessary to wear the old-style bulky cotton jockstrap. Most running shorts now have light-weight CoolMax briefs built in that will do the job without the chafing. Or, if you prefer, separate sports briefs or jock straps are also available in Lycra or CoolMax fabrics. The advantage of these fabrics over old-fashioned fabrics is not only that they wick moisture away from the skin, but also that they tend to retain their shape and stretch better.
Google sends me to InternationalJock.com. Maybe rubber or leather I could see, but denim? I can't imagine that's going to help. Anyway, I now have two of these babies winging their way to me.

Oh, and have a reflective Good Friday.

I can't afford to hate people; I haven't got that kind of time

Still loving Ikiru. It's worth watching just for the faces Takashi Shimura makes, although it effectively makes the point that giving up my television was for naught if I'm just going to watch DVDs all night. My NetFlix queue is so long, though!

So, guy gets stomach cancer; guy takes some time off work to reflect on mortality; guy has night on town with novelist he meets in bar; guy starts spending time with a girl who's quite the Public Affairs office, of which guy is section chief; guy interrogates girl as to why she seems so alive, which guy has resolved to feel, to which she responds that she makes stuff; guy resolves to make something.

Then it skips to the wake. The deputy mayor and various section chiefs poo poo the idea that Watanabe-san (which is guy's name) turned this open cesspool into a public park on his own, and as the cast of characters at the wake shifts, we get a series of flashbacks as to the process by which he'd made the park. It's a nice narrative device! The blog post title is from a comment Watanabe-san made after being dissed by Administration, which he was trying to get to approve a budget.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Cute "A Recession of Choice" phrase by Lakshman Achuthan

You'll recall I mentioned how we chose this depression in 2001. Lakshman Achuthan, the managing director of the Economic Cycle Research Institute, is now echoing me.
Congress and the Federal Reserve missed their chance to keep the country from falling into recession by acting too slowly, according to a well-respected economist.

Lakshman Achuthan, the managing director of the Economic Cycle Research Institute, said the economy has now fallen into what he calls "a recession of choice."

He argues that the economic stimulus package passed by Congress this year is too late to help many consumers and businesses and that the Federal Reserve was too timid when it started trimming interest rates last fall.

Since then the Fed has aggressively cut rates, most recently lowering them by three-quarters of a percentage point at its meeting Tuesday.

"If they had done all this in the fourth quarter, I think we'd be having a different discussion," he said. "We might not have had Bear," he added, referring to the fire sale purchase of brokerage firm Bear Stearns (BSC, Fortune 500) by JPMorgan Chase (JPM, Fortune 500) that the Fed helped arrange over the weekend to avoid a collapse of Bear Stearns.

So, we disagree by about six years, but the basic point is the same. I'm not sure how Mr. Achuthan thinks all that imaginary housing wealth and its dependent financial instruments could have been rescued by a rate cut in the Fourth Quarter, but he agrees with me on the basic issue that the "recession" was avoidable.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Finally a little focus on our regulatory failures

via The Housing Bubble Blog.

The reason that we had a housing bubble in the Greenspan years, that this didn't happen before, is that from the end of the (previous) Great Depression to the end of the 20th Century, we had a Federal Government.
``It's really speaking to the lack of good supervision by the SEC,'' said David Hendler, an analyst at CreditSights Inc. in New York. ``They're not really a real regulator staying on top of things.''
...
The SEC and the Fed ``are both equally guilty on regulatory blame for being asleep at the switch,'' said Anthony Sabino, a business-law professor at St. John's University in New York and head of Sabino & Sabino, a securities litigation firm.
The article also mentions the Treasury Department and "the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the private regulator that oversees U.S. brokerages," but not as aggressively as I think is warranted.

New Competition for Stupidest Idea Ever

You thought we'd already found it. I really think these devices are ways to avoid the inheritance tax -- come up with a dumb idea, have your parents fund it, and pay yourself out of it. They take a loss, you get a salary, less money goes to the government. And you look like you have a job. Well, here it is:
Brring! is a new service that lets you earn money every time someone calls you. First, we hook you up with a free phone number that rings through to your normal phone. When your friends call your new Brring! number they'll hear a short, 10 second ad. For each ad played, you earn up to $1!
Does anybody see the problem?

Paulson & Bush

I just love this picture.

Henry Paulson is trying to cram the last few hundred billion dollars of taxpayer money he can down the craw of the various investment banks, and gets alarmed when the president chatters on clearly clueless about he's done to our financial infrastructure.

Proud, loud incompetence is the last thing you want from your enablers when you're engaged in a corrupt scheme. It tends to foment investigation.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

BSC pops a hole in the Manhamptons bubble

Remember the foreclosures in the Hamptons? See how with a clever portmanteau word in my title I linked the property values here and there? We can start expecting short sales.

Across [Bear Sterns], executives and employees... expressed raw dismay, their voices heavy with sadness and shock.

“My life has been flushed down the drain,” said one person. There was talk Monday that with their life savings nearly depleted, some executives had moved quickly, putting their weekend homes on the market.

You know the life of a New York investment banker is a history of firings, where you collect your severance, take a world tour or buy a boat, and start on the next job. It's getting through that that's got limited currency.
“Basically we’re all wondering first, if we’ll keep our jobs, second, if we’ll get severance if we don’t,” said an investment banker on a cigarette break outside Bear’s headquarters, declining to give his name. “And then we’re hoping that Lehman won’t go under because then there will be way too many bankers looking for jobs.”
He's not even worried about my ETF. It's all about the people and the jobs.

Quick Note on BWX

5 months in, BWX is up 13%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down about as much, and a 5% savings account would have given us 2% -- actually less, because nobody's been paying 5% for months. So, we'll do a fuller review at six months, but I bring it up because there's a problem.

BWX is a Lehman Brothers ETF tracking a basket of foreign treasury bonds. Lehman might not last the week. What'll happen to my ETF?

More 20th Century Hangover

From Slate's Today's Papers:
The Los Angeles Times leads with a look at how many are wondering whether the Fed is taking on too much risk and for how long it can keep pumping money into the economy in its attempt to save the country from a deep recession without hurting the nation's overall finances.
I'm pretty sure the Bush strategy is to go ahead and default on the national debt. It makes sense to dig that hole as deep as possible!

Monday, March 17, 2008

When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race

Via Salon.
Do you want to be judged by the Sierra Club on how green a bicycle rider you are? Then this link's for you. Actually, I've ridden very little since coming to New York City -- it's all about carlessness, which the City enables in other ways. This may be a problem for me in my upcoming Half Ironman Triathlon.

We've passed the Age of Reason


And it's XKCD that provides the unmistakable proof. Randall Munroe couldn't think of anyone living who represented rationality, so had to introduce Zombie Dick Feynman as a character.

In more "dead guys in the comics" news, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., had a nice quote in This Modern World today from A Man Without A Country.
There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don't know what can be done to fix it. This is it: only nut cases want to be president.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Drinking this expensive sake is like paying myself back with poison

For the way I have lived all these years. In other words, I mean, it feels awful, but it feels good at the same time.
Random Guy In Bar: I understand.
I'm loving Kurosawa's "Ikiru." Normal guy, normal (while mortal) problem, nothing particularly exciting is promised to happen. I can see why it's not one of Kurosawa's better known films. "Rashomon," "Seven Samurai", "Ran" and "Yojimbo" had a lot of swordfights -- well, Rashomon didn't have so many, but there were swords around -- and a lot of iconism and moral, well, if not moral clarity than clear moral issues. "Ikiru" has a bureaucrat dying of stomach cancer who decided to help a women's group build a playground. It's very quotidian.

But, it's a killer movie. Lots of angst and conflict. Lots of shame and human pain.

Another advantage for the women

Specifically for women who have sex with men. Or teenage boys. I remember the first girl who fellated me saying, "Now you do me." No good came of that. I'm not saying it's super obvious what to do with a penis? But, the general outline of putting it in your mouth is pretty straightforward.
I don't expect that women who have sex with teenage boys look to this blog for guidance, but I'm open to the possibility, so I'm telling you they need a fair amount of explicit instruction if you're going to want cunnilingus.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The not taking seriously of safety

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said four people have died in a Manhattan crane accident Saturday.

The crane, mounted to the side of a skyscraper under construction, toppled with a roar, smashing into a block of apartment buildings and setting off a scramble for survivors in the rubble. The collapsing crane demolished parts of several buildings on Manhattan's East Side, appeared to have pulverized one small, brick apartment building, and sent up a huge dust cloud over the neighborhood.
...
A piece of steel fell and sheared off one of the ties holding it to the building, causing it to detach and topple, said Stephen Kaplan, an owner of the Reliance Construction Group.

"It was an absolute freak accident," Kaplan said. "All the piece of steel had to do was fall slightly left or right, and nothing would have happened."

Kaplan said the company had subcontracted the work to different companies and was not in charge of the crane. He wasn't sure if any workers at the site were among those killed.
(1) Again, the reasons that you use contractors are multifold, but include the fact that you can deny explicit knowledge of their not being correctly insured and bonded. It's what makes them cheaper. As long as "What? I'm supposed to check on everyone working on one of my projects?" is a valid legal defense, these kinds of regulation are unenforceable.
(2) Stephen Kaplan's wishful thinking contributed to the deaths of these people. The fact of the matter is that usually when things fall, they don't hit anybody. I'm always amazed at the failure of incredibly bad things to happen when you'd think they would. But, the reason that you avoid creating those situations is that sometimes the bad things do happen.
If he's saying "Wow. A little to the left or right and nobody would have died," now, you have to figure he was not super uptight about keeping cranes from falling previously. It could be an unfortunate quote, but it sounds like a mindset to me.

Update: The wire article I linked to is a little different from the one I read. Although it still contains the Kaplan quote, it gets a little more explicit about the unsafe practices at this site, making my reading a little less insightful.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Midlife Crisis Quiz

OK. I just started this quiz. I got the first question wrong. The application actually visually and aurally castigated me for saying that my youthful dreams and desires didn't seem foolish. "Stay out of prison; seduce Princess Stephanie." What's foolish about those?
[A]cross the globe, people in their 40s are in their lowest level of life satisfaction.
It's fine that that doesn't apply? But, it's funny that my answer gets marked wrong. Fun! I apparently cheated despondency a little by not having a wife and children. I get 0/10.
You know where you are in life and have accepted that you may not always know what happens next. Keep up this outlook and you'll transition through midlife without too much drama.
I fudged a little bit when it asked me if I accepted if I were closer to death now. I've been keenly aware that I was one falling anvil away from the hereafter since I was about 10 years old, so I really feel that death's been keeping a constant distance.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

I should be able to do 27 push-ups

Based on national averages, a 40-year-old woman should be able to do 16 push-ups and a man the same age should be able to do 27. By the age of 60, those numbers drop to 17 for men and 6 for women. Those numbers are just slightly less than what is required of Army soldiers who are subjected to regular push-up tests.
I'll get back to you.

Retail sales plunge by 0.6 percent

Now, you hear various pundits and talking heads talking about media alarmism creating various features of 'the slowdown,' but think to yourself, "Aren't bad things really happening?"

I think this is what they mean. 0.6 % is a plunge? What word are you going to use when they're thirty percent less?

Governor Spitzer's Call Girl

"Call Girl" sounds so much nicer than, well, some other terms. Anyway, "Kristen" is clearly a professional name. It just sounds like a girl you'd have sex with. "Kristen" is easy to remember, very accessible, more or less anonymous, and the sybilant 's' and the end stopped 't' work together to make it a little sensuous. A great name for a prostitute. Or call girl.

So, her real name? Or, not to be all righteous, her given name? Ashley. What, did her parents plan this?

I'm not going to contribute to the hounding of Ms. Youmas or Ms. Dupre any more than this. Apparently,
The past few months have been a roller coaster with so called friends, lovers, and family ... but its something you have to deal with and confront in order to move on ...
The past few months? How long has the Bush Justice Department had its hooks in her? Not to imply anything untoward.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

So much for handing hedge funds $200B

Now, I've repeatedly mentioned that mortgages are secured debt. If you don't want to pay them, you can just hand over the house. That's fair, right? Banks should be at least as good at determining the current and predicting the future values of your house as you are, so it's not like you're pulling a fast one.

But, say that you held a large number of Class 3 Assets. Class 1, recall, was mark to market, or what you could sell it for. Class 2 was mark to model, or what you thought it would be worth in some abstract way. Class 3 Assets are mark to make believe. I'll give you an example. My mother and I dropped off some old CPUs and keyboards at Goodwill on Saturday. The guy asked us how much we wanted the receipt for.

"Twenty-five thousand dollars," I averred. Mom thought $50 was more reasonable, and it's her deduction, so that's what we got. But, there was no way we could sell these things, -- which is what I guess Goodwill plans to do, throwing a wrench in my metaphor -- and no good model for valuing them. So, their value was whatever we said it was.

Mortgage backed securities and their collateralized debt obligations are the same kind of thing. Unsellable, no easily determined value, Class 3 mark to make believe assets. The Fed just lent two hundred billion dollars in cash to 'financial institutions' secured by 'assets involving mortgage backed securities and their derived instruments.'

They don't have to pay that money back any more than you have to pay off your house. They can keep the money, and stick the taxpayer with the imaginary assets. This was all to create a temporary bump in the market, presumably because Barbara Bush still had some money in US-based securities. That's gone now; she's all set. I guess you can go back to shorting.

Closing the barn door

JP Morgan Chase is shocked -- shocked! -- to learn that there's been gambling in this establishment.
"[Home-equity loans were] meant to help people do construction on their house, [and] do debt consolidation -- not to take out every last dollar of equity in their home to finance a different kind of lifestyle," [Charles Scharf, head of J.P. Morgan's retail business] said. J.P. Morgan is "rolling our changes back to represent that kind of product."
Really, you'd think he could have mentioned this earlier.

Democrats.com asked me to write Governor Spitzer a note

So I did.
Governor Spitzer,
I know that you're ashamed by your conduct. From what I've read in the news, that's reasonable. And I assume that you're ashamed by your hypocrisy. Your history of closing down prostitution rings and passing anti-sex-trade laws is legendary. But, in order to stay effective as our Governor -- and who would replace you? -- you have to cut yourself some slack.
I wish that our whole political class was populated by people with the drive, commitment and wherewithal to pursue financial criminals. I would like to let you crawl away from your office in shame and sorrow. But, I can not. Your political career is important to America, it is important to New York, and it is important to me.
I do not believe that there is anyone who wants you to resign now that did not want you to resign three days ago. You have many powerful and loud enemies, but you made them for the right reasons. I am asking you to stay in office and to live with this public shame for the greater good.
RFM
I know that at this point it seems like I'll write anything anyone asks me. And that's more or less true. I'm like an internet startup. I hope they'll eventually send money.

24: Season Three

I love 24. It makes the defense of the nation seem so capricious and arbitrary. Also, these people are insanely bad communicators. They'll have everything that they're supposed to have covered either covered or suppressed, but Jack's daughter didn't know Jack's (female) sidekick didn't have a baby although she's worked with her for three years. This is not a toddler. It's a baby. It's not even clear that this baby can crawl. I'm not a particularly clueful guy, and the babies have been coming fast and furious at work, but I can point out who's borne one and who hasn't.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Hey!

Studies showed that children with odd names got worse grades and were less popular than other classmates in elementary school. In college they were more likely to flunk out or become “psychoneurotic.” Prospective bosses spurned their résumés. They were overrepresented among emotionally disturbed children and psychiatric patients.
What‽ What studies? I don't know what psychoneurotic means, but it doesn't sound good.

Greek Teenage Billionaire Topless Pics

OK. This was the subject line of the most recent spam message I received. Are they now trying to get me to not open them?

Spitzer

I'm of two minds about prostitution. While I don't think sex is something you should sell, I think it's definitely something you should be able to buy. I understand that that's conflicted. The point is that I don't have a firm stance one way or another on call girl rings.

I did watch enough television in the 70s to know that mobsters use prostitutes to ensnare politicians. And that only way that our politicians will stop being responsive to mobsters that so ensnare them is for us to shrug our shoulders when they're exposed.

So, I'm shrugging my shoulders.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Krugman's Wrong Again

Nobody wants to put taxpayers on the hook for the financial industry’s follies.
Um, excuse me? I think a lot of people have been basing their careers and the strategies of their companies on exactly that. What else does 'privatize profits, socialize risk' mean? When 'nobody' includes every strategic decision maker in finance, and every financial policy maker in the Bush Administration, I think you're stretching the concept, somewhat.

Unrealistic

via Slate Today's Papers:
The task of cutting greenhouse gas emissions enough to avert a dangerous rise in global temperatures may be far more difficult than previous research suggested, say scientists who have just published studies indicating that it would require the world to cease carbon emissions altogether within a matter of decades.
...
"People aren't reducing emissions at all, let alone debating whether 88 percent or 99 percent is sufficient," said Gavin A. Schmidt, of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. "It's like you're starting off on a road trip from New York to California, and before you even start, you're arguing about where you're going to park at the end."
...
When it comes to deciding how drastically to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, [Brian O'Neill of the National Center for Atmospheric Research] said, "in the end, this is a value judgment, it's not a scientific question." The idea of shifting to a carbon-free society, he added, "appears to be technically feasible. The question is whether it's politically feasible or economically feasible."
Which is kind of funny. I'd use the analogy instead that you're told that you need to affix your parachute with four stays, and you argue that you can really only manage three. "You simply can't expect me to do the absolute minimum required for my survival."
No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die.
Again, we have a critical need for leadership that we're not getting. Barbara Boxer is touching in her faith in the Democrats.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who is shepherding climate legislation through the Senate as chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said the new findings "make it clear we must act now to address global warming."

"It won't be easy, given the makeup of the Senate, but the science is compelling," she said. "It is hard for me to see how my colleagues can duck this issue and live with themselves."
I'm glad I'm not alone in that and all, but I don't see how changing the makeup of the Senate would help. Of course, I'm interpreting that as Barbara Boxer wanting a veto-proof majority of Democrats. For all I know, she'd like deeper change.

But, articles like this always have a laugh-out-loud line. I think it's a rule of journalism that you have to break up downer pieces with jokes, and this article has a pretty good one.
European Union Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, in Washington last week for meetings with administration officials, said he and his colleagues are operating on the assumption that developed nations must cut emissions 60 to 80 percent by mid-century, with an overall global reduction of 50 percent. "If that is not enough, common sense is that we would not let the planet be destroyed," he said.
I don't think that's what common sense says. Common sense is heuristic problem solving based on your previous experiences with analogous problems. Common sense says we're all going to die.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Leaping to the Administration's Defense

In his sermon today, an associate pastor mentioned that many evangelical churches were opposing the administration, with initiatives against The War, human trafficking and torture.

I really do believe that the Bush Administration is not engaged in human trafficking. I'm just saying. Yes, they torture and embroil us in wars of choice. But, everything I've heard from them on slavery-related issues has been more or less consistent with 21st Century American Christian churches, who maintain that slavery's bad and human trafficking is wrong.

I bring this up to support my thesis that I'm fair minded. I don't attack these people all the time out of some arbitrarily selected bias against them. I attack these people because they're wrong. Although not supportive, again, of human trafficking. As far as I know.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Home Ec Had a Purpose!

My late high school math teacher... once taught a personal finance class to the remedial math students.... It was simple stuff, interest rates, balancing a checkbook, that kind of stuff. What half of home ec used to be, the other half being how to do household work so you can be frugal–prepare your own meals, sew/repair clothes, clean things, economize.
Really? I never understood why they called the pillow and brownie class Home Economics. But, apparently there used to be a little personal finance component to it. Who knew?

TSA Ganstaz

Via Schneier on Security. I'd hate for any of you to miss this.

The Wolves! They're gone!

As I'm writing a screenplay about a climate change disaster, I thought I should watch "The Day After Tomorrow". I'm about halfway through. That's a great line. I wonder if we'll see those timber wolves again?

Update: Prep school girl is separated from her friends. She hears a cop yell to a family trapped inside a taxicab, "I don't speak French!" Da da dahh! Prep school girl to the rescue!

Plus Update: Parts of Florida that aren't flooded?

Double Plus Update: Are there teenage boys that kiss like that? I'm not looking for one! I just wonder.

Plus Double Plus Update: Presidents say 'I was wrong?' What is this, science fiction?

Double Plus Double Plus Update:
Space Station Guy 1: Look at that!
Space Station Guy 2: What?
Frankly? From SSG2's tone of voice, SSG1 had been saying "Look at that" kind of a lot, recently.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Samantha Power Says Hillary is a monster

Which I only bring up to mention again how hot I think Samantha Power is. But, as long as we're jawboning about horse race Democratic politics, Joshua Micah Marshall mentions something that's been befuddling me. Hillary Clinton is claiming crisis -- geopolitical crisis -- leadership experience. She's been claiming all sorts of experience. And Barack Obama's been letting people think he's more progressive.

So, we have the experienced candidate against the progressive candidate. But, I don't see the support for either claim.

What in tarnation do political reporters do? "Oh, candidate X says he's a purple turtle dove, he must be a purple turtle dove." Don't the editors look at Google News and start to understand that if they don't start adding value that they'll be replaced by machines?

Silver Lining

So, about two months ago, the Dow crossed 12,000. And it's about ready to do it tomorrow morning -- there was no end-of-day save today, so those may be over. Or maybe it's Thursdays. Or maybe they just try to fake you out by not pumping money in at the end of the day every now and then, whoever they are. But, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is at 12,040. The low tomorrow's going to be below 12. Again, I expect it to hang around ten for a few years.

I like reading 'Today's Markets" in the Wall Street Journal because it explains market movements so neatly. It's like hanging out with Dark Ages physicists, "Well, you see, birds stay aloft because of the intrinsaec (they used 'ae' a lot in the Dark Ages) attraction between feathers and clouds. Fluffy attracts Fluffy -- It's a Charaecteristic of the Third Elemental Ring."

But, just think what the Dow would be doing if the dollar weren't deflating like crazy! It's much cheaper for a sovereign wealth fund to pump 6 billion dollars into our stock market than it would have been ten years ago!

10.3 percent of homes will have zero or negative equity by the end of the month

Just in case you were still thinking we'd be all right.
Homeowners' portion of equity slipped to downwardly revised 49.6 percent in the second quarter of 2007, the central bank reported in its quarterly U.S. Flow of Funds Accounts, and declined further to 47.9 percent in the fourth quarter — the third straight quarter it was under 50 percent.
...
Moody's Economy.com estimates that 8.8 million homeowners, or about 10.3 percent of homes, will have zero or negative equity by the end of the month. Even more disturbing, about 13.8 million households, or 15.9 percent, will be "upside down" if prices fall 20 percent from their peak.

The latest Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller index showed U.S. home prices plunging 8.9 percent in the final quarter of 2007 compared with a year ago, the steepest decline in the 20-year history of the index.

The news follows a report from the Mortgage Bankers Association on Thursday that home foreclosures skyrocketed to an all-time high in the final quarter of last year. The proportion of all mortgages nationwide that fell into foreclosure surged to a record of 0.83 percent, while the percentage of adjustable-rate mortgages to borrowers with risky credit that entered the foreclosure process soared to a record of 5.29 percent.
Ten per cent of houses is a lot. It's one in every ten. If each of your fingers were a house, one of your fingers would be under water.

It makes a certain amount of sense that our total equity has dropped below half, because the most expensive houses should be the ones to go through zero first. If I pony up $20,000 in fees and you give me a $4M house, I have zero equity. If my twenty neighbors own their $200K houses outright, our neighborhood has 50% equity.

So, OK. To stay out of a depression, we have to leave the country. But, where isn't there a housing bubble? Brazil, Spain, South Africa, anywhere you might think of going seems similarly hosed, even outside the fact that they'll lose the US as a market.

Ideas, anyone?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Jim Hansen -- The Earth may be headed into an ice age

via Gristmill:
The reason to show these [plots of "monthly fluctuations of global or near-global temperature, as well as the trend over recent decades"] is to expose the recent nonsense that has appeared in the blogosphere, to the effect that recent cooling has wiped out global warming of the past century, and the Earth may be headed into an ice age. On the contrary, these misleaders have foolishly (or devilishly) fixated on a natural fluctuation that will soon disappear.
I'm just playing with selective quoting, obviously. He does throw a little preview in at the end...
We are going to have to figure out a way to keep climate zones pretty much where they are now (winters will continue to happen, as always). It is possible that we can still do that – just barely. But I digress – that will be in our next paper, almost finished.
Oh, I'm all excited. I'll try to follow up with that.

E. Gary Gygax is dead

I don't expect you to know who that is. But, if you do, you're not alone in your grief.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Just 16 more $250 McKinney donations in New York State needed!

To qualify for matching funds, that is. As of a month ago. From the official campaign site:
Our appreciation to the following states who's residents have already given $5,000 or more in qualifying contributions toward our efforts to qualify for Federal Matching Funds: California, Illinois and Oregon; as well as the following states which are on their way towards that goal: Florida ($1.2k), Michigan ($1.2k), Minnesota ($2.5k), New York ($1.2k), Oklahoma ($1k), Texas ($3.5k), Washington ($2.5k) and Wisconsin ($1.6k). Please make sure your state helps qualify us to double the first $250 of every individual contribution! (Figures current through January 31st, 2008)
Do you notice how we're eighth? So donate. If you're in California, Illinois or Oregon, you'll no longer double your money. But, at least you'll be contributing.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Treasury Secretary Paulson wants bankrupt ex-homeowners?

Via The Housing Bubble Blog:
Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson had a tough message for homeowners: Don't think about walking away from your mortgage if you can afford the payments. In a speech to the National Association for Business Economics, Paulson said people who can afford their mortgage payments but decide to walk away from their homes because of falling home prices were nothing more than "speculators." Economists are concerned that many homeowners will choose in coming months to take part in "jingle mail" or mail their house keys back to the bank because of the falling value or rising payments as their adjustable rate loans reset.
If you bought a house with a mortgage, then you were in one sense gambling that it would rise in value in partnership with the bank. You put your downpayment at risk, along with what little you'd been able to pay off in the months since, and the bank put up the remainder. It would seem like the earlier you acknowledged that loss, the better off you'd both be.

But, Secretary Paulson would rather people stick with their underwater mortgages? The UK Telegraph interviews Bay Area short sales & foreclosure agent Heidi Mueller about what happens then.
[M]illions [of families are] faced each year with a sudden increase in their mortgage rates as the cheap deals they signed up to expire and they are shifted onto exorbitant rates. It is these so-called mortgage resets which are triggering each year, bringing forcing more troubled families to sell their homes in a rush at knock-down prices or face having them repossessed. Given that 2005 and 2006 marked the peak of the US housing boom, it is this year and next's vintages which will be the most miserable.

"If it had just doubled that wouldn't have been so bad - at least they could rent an extra room out," says Mueller. "That's what most families do to make up the difference. Then when that fails they try to do it with credit cards. Sooner or later they end up coming to see me.
Which I guess explains why it was so important to make bankruptcy harder to navigate in the earlier part of the decade. Mortgage lenders knew that in a cultural hangover from the Twentieth Century, homeowners would try to make their mortgage payment by hook or by crook, including getting unsecured debt to pay off secured debt. With secured debt, you can just hand over the security and you're done with it. With unsecured debt, the credit card agencies will hound you with the aid of a complicit government. So, you really don't want to go about turning one into the other. The huge benefit of credit cards is that you have a credit limit. Your heirs should be able to pay off whatever you borrow by the ends of their lives -- there's no such implication in mortgages.

But, there are positive signs of our emerging glorious socialist future in the Redding Record Searchlight.
Since January, [Redding Code Enforcement Supervisor Debra] Wright's office has posted about 20 compliance orders on foreclosed homes in Redding. That's the most in Wright's 20 years - four as supervisor - with the city.
...
In Stockton, home to some of the highest foreclosure rates in the country, the city issued 800 code enforcement orders on homes in February, Wright said.
...
Fed up with lenders seizing homes and then leaving them to rot, Chula Vista in July adopted a program that forces lenders to maintain homes they've taken back and to register the abandoned houses with the city.
Do you see where I'm going with this? The lender forecloses. The 'homeowner' is evicted. The lender has to maintain the property, or face fines several times the normal property tax. The obvious solution is to foreclose on a property, and let the homeowner stay there as long as they keep the house up to code. They need someone staying there! Maybe they could rent it back, or something, but I suspect many of these houses are incredibly inconvenient -- people only moved into them for the promise of a huge payout in the future. Now that that's gone, pretty much all you can ask is that they stay there for free, and keep the garden up.

Then, in the mythical future when they've collected a 20% down payment and the market's stabilized -- call it 2015 -- whoever currently owns the lenders' assets can sell it back to them!

On the New York City Cabs, Check Your Tip

So, I started using the 'credit card in cabs' system now mandatory in New York. I want to say, the video they play on the TV is pretty distracting, so now I
  1. Get into a cab
  2. Give the driver instructions
  3. Stare fixedly at the screen
  4. Push the 'Off' button when it comes on
I don't feel this -- referring to steps 3 and 4 -- is a good use of my time or attention. And a friend told me today that if I were to listen to the newscasts, I'd discover they were out of date. But, we've known about that part.

What I discovered paying with a credit card (besides the fact that the RFID chip in my card scarily enough works, so now I have to be careful not to walk too near readers,) is that the machines themselves... well, I don't want to generalize based on one experience. But, I had a $5 tab. I hit the '20% tip' button, as it was easier than typing in $1, and that was what I would have given him anyway. It popped up as $2. I confirmed this was happening with a few more stabs at the touch screen, and then manually typed in the $1 tip.

So, these probably have a year or two to go before they're trustworthy.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

I wrote a poem

I used to have a pencil
A pencil made of wood
I'd get another pencil
but pencils don't write good
The don't record the horror
They can't write how it stays
They won't track all the hours
They can't capture the days

So I should get a camera
Perhaps a video
Affixed atop my head or hat
On everywhere I go
It would know naught of feelings
And couldn't show the pain
And can't distinguish sincere acts
from actions we all feign

Everything's internal
and nothing can be shared
I can't know if I'm alone in this
Is everyone this scared?
I see a veil of normalcy
And everything seems fine
Is apprehension everywhere
Or is it only mine?

Perhaps we all should just ignore
All these internal sights
And only hold the things we see
To be what's true and right
It's unfair to posterity
And gets well in our way
To live lives unrecordable
So let's throw those away
---
I was just walking through Union Square Station, and this young lady said, "You know how when old people read poetry? That's just stupid." I thought I'd try some. The first four lines were divinely inspired, but I felt it should be longer, so I added more words in the meter and rhyming scheme.