Thursday, November 27, 2008

Increasingly, the future is NOW. Tomorrow, the future will be yesterday's news.

Via Drudge, I read a report that British security will be using software to scan the CCTV cameras they have trained on everyone in Britain. Software will single out suspicious behavior, and suspects may have to answer to the police. (The software had originally been tested here in the US. (U!S!A! U!S!A!)

Via Amba, I see a report that the Denver police department will be using brain scans to determine whether or not their officers have racial bias.

Soon they'll be able to watch everyone's every move in an effort to protect society from 'suspicious behavior'. And if someone is suspiciously un-suspicious, they will be able to scan that person's head to figure out what they're really up to - or at the very least, to determine if they have any unpopular 'biases' that may lead to dangerous behavior.

Fun world, huh?

"Paging Jerry Della Femina...

"Paging Jerry Della Femina. Oval Office on Line One."

I can't help but think of the title to Della Femina's book when thinking about Obama's economic team. Well, at least I'm not the only one having some doubts.

Monday, November 24, 2008

For future reference...

Charlie Munger (Warren Buffet's long-time financial partner) gave an interesting talk several years back entitled "Academic Economics: Strengths and Faults After Considering Interdisciplinary Needs". Here's a link to the transcript. Some of Munger's ideas have really stuck with me, especially the stuff he discussed with George Schultz:

Another example of not thinking through the consequences of the consequences is the standard reaction in economics to Ricardo’s law of comparative advantage giving benefit on both sides of trade. Ricardo came up with a wonderful, non-obvious explanation that was so powerful that people were charmed with it, and they still are, because it’s a very useful idea. Everybody in economics understands that comparative advantage is a big deal, when one considers first order advantages in trade from the Ricardo effect. But suppose you’ve got a very talented ethnic group, like the Chinese, and they’re very poor and backward, and you’re an advanced nation, and you create free trade with China, and it goes on for a long time.

Now let’s follow and second and third order consequences: You are more prosperous than you would have been if you hadn’t traded with China in terms of average well-being in the United States, right? Ricardo proved it. But which nation is going to be growing faster in economic terms? It’s obviously China. They’re absorbing all the modern technology of the world through this great facilitator in free trade, and, like the Asian Tigers have proved, they will get ahead fast. Look at Hong Kong. Look at Taiwan. Look at early Japan. So, you start in a place where you’ve got a weak nation of backward peasants, a billion and a quarter of them, and in the end they’re going to be a much bigger, stronger nation than you are, maybe even having more and better atomic bombs. Well, Ricardo did not prove that that’s a wonderful outcome for the former leading nation. He didn’t try to determine second order and higher order effects.

If you try and talk like this to an economics professor, and I’ve done this three times, they shrink in horror and offense because they don’t like this kind of talk. It really gums up this nice discipline of theirs, which is so much simpler when you ignore second and third order consequences.

The best answer I ever got on that subject – in three tries – was from George Schultz. He said, "Charlie, the way I figure it is if we stop trading with China, the other advanced nations will do it anyway, and we wouldn’t stop the ascent of China compared to us, and we’d lose the Ricardo-diagnosed advantages of trade." Which is obviously correct. And I said, "Well George, you’ve just invented a new form of the tragedy of the commons. You’re locked in this system and you can’t fix it. You’re going to go to a tragic hell in a handbasket, if going to hell involves being once the great leader of the world and finally going to the shallows in terms of leadership." And he said, "Charlie, I do not want to think about this." I think he’s wise. He’s even older than I am, and maybe I should learn from him.
Mostly I am highlighting this so I don't have to keep looking for the talk every time I want to link to it. That seems as good a reason for a blog post as any.

In particular I'm reminded of second and third order consequences when two articles about the bailouts sent to me by a friend:

General Motors to Invest $1 Billion in Brazil Operations -- Money to Come from U.S. Rescue Program

Bill Richardson, GM, Citibank: Where is the Bail-Out Debate on Offshoring Middle Class Jobs Overseas?

There are a lot of assumptions that aren't being questioned right now that SHOULD be questioned. If I have time I will try to point to a few of them in coming days. (Oddly enough, it seems like I have less free time now that I'm unemployed than when I was employed.)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Another sign of the failure of US government

The piracy happening along the coast of Somalia is a failure of American government, an inattention to detail that will eventually end us.

Sometime during WWII, the USA became the greatest naval power on the planet. So keeping the seas free and open is our responsibility, both as the hegemon and because of our commitment to free trade. Personally I think we should send a US Naval Tsk Force (complete with a sufficiently large contingent of Marines) to the coast of Africa to kick ass and take names. We've done it before, and back then we didn't have anywhere near the power projection capabilities we do now. Billions for defense, not one penny for tribute or ransom.

Note: We should settle for nothing less than a decisive victory. All we need to do is kill the pirates and sink their ships. NO MORE NATION BUILDING!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Here's an excellent idea for the new President/Congress

End the "Don't ask, don't tell" law. I knew Bill Clinton didn't have any guts when he caved on this issue early in his Presidency. Perhaps we can get one good thing out of the next crop.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Now I get it....

The reason Obama wants to 'appoint' Hillary is so that he has an excuse to dig up and publicize dirt on Bill Clinton. From the New York Times:

President-elect Barack Obama’s advisers have begun reviewing former President Bill Clinton’s finances and activities to see whether they would preclude the appointment of his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, as secretary of state, Democrats close to the situation said Sunday.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The scariest news you'll read today!

USA may lose its 'AAA' rating

And the article attached to it is probably worse than the headline suggests.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

How's that campaign finance reform thing working out for you, John?

It turns out that McCain's Presidential campaign will get the full screwing from the FEC, while Obama, who illegally raised tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars, won't be investigated at all. To the victor belong the spoils!

Expect Obama to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for his reelection campaign by the end of 2009 - he may even raise some of it honestly! Expect that some of THAT will be used to repeal the the XXII Amendment, so that Obama can rule in perpetuity. Once the Chicago Machine has control of the federal government they won't ever allow another free election in this country. The Era of Big Man Politics in the USA has begun.

In other news....

Dems are attempting to steal another election, this time in Minnesota. Anyone want to bet on whether or not Obama's Justice Department investigates?

The media shows their pro-Obama bias again, this time in a headline. Someone tried to fix it later, but Google's cache caught them. In other news, this is a day that ends in "y".

Finally, why is this news coming out now?

Setting an example for his whole party....

Democrat city councilman pisses on the little people in public. I'm sure it won't be the last time we get pissed on by the Dems.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Interesting reading

Here and here. Intolerance isn't just on the Right. Plus, I hope the Dems enjoy their circular firing squad.

Bacon makes everything better.

Too bad Bacon didn't run for the US Congress. Even a Democratic Congress would have to be better with bacon.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

I don't want to say, "I told ya so..."

Ah, heck, yes I do.

I had said that I expected election turnout to be low, and it appears that I was correct. Outside of a couple of subsets of the population, people weren't that excited about these candidates.

On another front, I told 'em so, but they didn't listen. I was the only analyst in the biggest division at the company that predicted this, and they didn't listen. Ha, ha, HA.

Why I support NOT supporting President Obama.

OR: Politics, Prisoners & Iterated Games

I'll try to make this brief. [Much later: HA!] Barack Obama won the Presidency last Tuesday, and now the opposition has to decide how to react to him. Victor David Hanson offers a well considered and even tempered point of view:

It seems to me that conservatives have a golden opportunity to offer criticism and advice in a manner that many liberals did not during the last eight years. By that I mean I hope there are no conservative versions of the Nicholson Baker Knopf-published ‘novel’ Checkpoint, the creepy documentary by Gerald Range, the attempt to name a sewer plant after an American President, or the celebrity outbursts that we have witnessed with the tired refrain of Hitler/Nazi Bush—that all have cheapened political discourse. When I hear a partisan insider like Paul Begala urging at the 11th hour that we now rally around lame-duck Bush in his last few days, I detect a sense of apprehension that no Democrats would wish conservatives to treat Obama as they did Bush for eight years. [H/T: Glenn Reynolds]
All very charitable and grown up. Also mostly wrong. For the last eight years, with the exception of about one month, Republicans and conservatives have been getting savaged by Democrats and leftists. No charge has been too scurrilous for these people to pass up, everything from the 9/11 Truthers who think Bush personally planned the 9/11 attacks from his ranch in Crawford, to the more recent attacks on Sarah Palin, which have included attacks on her children and unborn grandchild.

These attacks should not be rewarded by courtesy from the new minority party.

Game theory helps explain the situation. Consider the Prisoner's Dilemma:
[I]magine two criminals arrested under the suspicion of having committed a crime together. However, the police does not have sufficient proof in order to have them convicted. The two prisoners are isolated from each other, and the police visit each of them and offer a deal: the one who offers evidence against the other one will be freed. If none of them accepts the offer, they are in fact cooperating against the police, and both of them will get only a small punishment because of lack of proof. They both gain. However, if one of them betrays the other one, by confessing to the police, the defector will gain more, since he is freed; the one who remained silent, on the other hand, will receive the full punishment, since he did not help the police, and there is sufficient proof. If both betray, both will be punished, but less severely than if they had refused to talk. The dilemma resides in the fact that each prisoner has a choice between only two options, but cannot make a good decision without knowing what the other one will do.
Interestingly, if the game is played once, then rational decision makers would always defect. Thus, if both prisoners are rational, they will get a sub-optimal outcome - both will serve time, although for reduced sentences. But if both are irrational, they can co-operate and thus avoid serious punishment. Yes, one can get sub-optimal outcomes even if everyone is a rational actor.

A more interesting case arises from the Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma. In this game, the Prisoner's Dilemma is repeated an indeterminate number of times, with each player having knowledge of at least the previous outcome. Ultimately, if both players NEVER defect, they will achieve the best outcome. However, there is always a temptation to defect. It turns out that one of the best strategies is "Tit-for-Tat" - cooperate on the first round of play, and then repeat whatever your opponent does. Thus, if your opponent defected last round, you defect this round.

There are better strategies, but this one is the best "simple" strategy for the IPD.

Now back to the current situation. This isn't the Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma, but it bears some similarities:
  • we're stuck with the other side, and they with us
  • the political system has periodic elections, thus iterative
  • we have no idea how they will behave (either now, or in some imagined future when they're in the minority)
  • but we do know how they have behaved in the past.
The prime difference is that no outside arbiter exists to mete out a set amount of sentences/punishments. You may think at first that "Reality" plays the roll of the policeman, but that isn't so. The policeman is offering a set amount of punishment, to be meted out according to the rules of the game. Reality doesn't care about the rules, nor about a set amount of punishment. In the "real world", we can all behave completely cooperatively, and still get punished. The magnitude of the punishment can far exceed the magnitude of the crime, or we can even be punished if we do nothing but good works. This is the "Life Ain't Fair" Rule writ LARGE.

But that still leaves us with an iterated game to play. And I suggest that there are a certain amount of set punishments that we dole out to ourselves. Mainly this - everyone feels worse when we have higher levels of vitriol and rancor. If we choose to completely cooperate and the other guys did too, then we could all have nice civil disagreements about policy. But we just played this game, and the other side didn't cooperate. In fact, they went about as far as they could short of armed insurrection. (That may be because our side has all the guns.)

I mentioned earlier that "Tit-for-Tat" is the optimal simple strategy for the IPD. There are better, more complicated strategies. Among them is "Tit-for-Tat with forgiveness". In this strategy, if one player defects, the other player sometimes cooperates the next round anyway. This allows for a recovery from an endless cycle of defections.

We could take a chance on civility, and cooperate this time. However, I don't think that's optimal. For one thing it will require a lot of us to swallow not only our own bile, but to have to mop up the bile of the other side for them, and that just ain't right. Furthermore the Democrats now have a virtual lock on the federal government. There is no reason for them to play nice now, and cooperating on all matters will simply look like rolling over and playing dead. Even couching our disagreements in polite terms will make us look like supplicants begging for scraps.

No, if we have any hope of opposing Obama and the Dems, we have to make a forceful, sharp case. That means a certain level of viciousness. I suggest that we go after them with both bores blazing, with these exceptions

First, leave their strictly personal lives out of it. So, where they trashed the Bush daughters, we never mention Obama's daughters. Where they made fun of Bush's ears (Chimpy BusHitler), we will refrain from mentioning that Obama's ears are also silly. Spouses are a slightly different matter. If the spouse stays out of political affairs, then hands off. If Michelle Obama turns out to be more like Hillary Clinton, then all is fair so long as we follow the rules above. All criticisms of spouses should be strictly about matters that actually pertain to public life. (Actually these rules can apply to grown children who have entered the arena - Biden's lobbyist son, for example.)

Secondly, keep the absolute lunacy to a minimum. Thus, if another terrorist attack occurs on American soil, then we shouldn't accuse Obama of being behind it. Moon-bat-ery should be held in check as much as possible.

But on political matters, hammer them. Call them out for corruption, malfeasance, and bad policy, and be nasty about it. Challenge their philosophy in scathing terms. Be willing to spew some bile. Where tone is concerned, it's not just the least we can do, it's the best we can do.

Bad-ass, off the field and on it.

Good luck, Myron!

ADDED: SI's front page has a REACT that asks, "Rolle's Future: Would you choose football or academics?"

In Rolle's case, it depends on whether or not he gets the Rhodes Scholarship - if he does he should definitely pursue academics. He would be a First Round pick in the NFL draft next spring, so he would be passing up serious money. (He's a third year player at FSU, but won't be back regardless - he graduated in two and a half years with a 3,75 GPA in Pre-Med.) But as he is set on becoming a doctor the money becomes less of a consideration - Rolle will be set if he walks away from athletics permanently, he'll just make his fortune another way. Beyond that, if he takes one year off for his study in England, he can come back for next year's draft, or even wait for a supplemental draft, which might be better for him anyway. He might lose a few spots on draft boards, but shouldn't fall below the second round, which is still good money.

Coincidentally, there are 32 picks in the First Round of the NFL Draft, and 32 Rhodes Scholarships handed out annually so the rewards are comparably rare.

But this is an interesting question for other athletes as well: Should star athletes stay in school to graduate, or should they leave school early to get rich? Each circumstance is different, and each player should make their own choice, but generally I feel that star football players should definitely leave early if they are certain of a good pay-off. Football is a violent sport, and every play can end your career. Passing up the money is usually too big of a risk.

Because nothing says fun ...

... quite like gorilla colon.


No, really!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

How much do you want to bet ...

... that Bush's White House staff DOESN'T rip allof the 'O's from the computer keyboards?

Where have the voters gone?

I expected that turnout wouldn't be as high as had been predicted. I may be correct. As the totals stand now (see date stamp below) Obama has about 1 million more votes than Bush had in 2004. McCain has about 3 million LESS than Kerry had in 2004. So that's a net loss of 2 million votes from 2004 to 2008.

Other votes cast in 2004 amounted to about 1.2 million votes. I can't find current totals for that, but I doubt those numbers have gone up substantially.

In other words, how is it that some sources are reporting 130 million votes cast when that hasn't shown up in the totals? Over 99% of precincts are reporting, according to the data I can find. Are there really ten million provisional and absentee ballots remaining to be counted?

Aside: Even if the total hits 130 million votes cast, that still isn't that great an increase over 2004 - just a 6.3% increase. Where'd everybody go?

Note that the 64% figure in the linked article can't be correct. According to the FEC, 56.7% of eligible voters cast a ballot in 2004. That was out of an estimated voting age population of 215.7M. For the 64% figure to be correct on 130M votes, the US voting age population would have to be 203.1M. Surely the country hasn't lost over 12.6M voting age citizens in the last four years?

Totals for 2004 can be found here.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Welcome to Barack Obama's America


I was in and out of my polling place in ten minutes today. I went around Noon, and had to stand in a 'line' of three people to get my ballot. I had to pause briefly to get into a booth. Once again I am happy to report that Orange County uses optical scan ballots, which are the best kind.

One other observation is that the poll workers weren't that old in aggregate. Two women looked to be in the 60s, there was a man that looked to be about 55, a woman in her 40s and a couple of women younger than that.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Final Decision

I'm going to hold my nose and vote for McCain. I hate to do it, for reasons stated previously, and I'll probably be sick afterwards. Should McCain win I believe he will be a bad President. Obama will be even worse.

Incidentally, it is trivial to demonstrate that neither man can be a good President. Neither has shown any ability to adjust their policy goals to meet current conditions – that is what the financial crisis has taught us. McCain's inflexibility can be blamed (probably incorrectly) on age, but what's Obama's excuse? Obama’s lack of flexibility shouldn’t surprise though. He has shown remarkably little mental suppleness, as evidenced by his inability to acknowledge that the misnamed Surge worked in Iraq. He decided in 2002 that America must fail in Iraq, and no amount of evidence will convince him otherwise. I expect Obama will fire Petraeus by July 2009.

But that’s not what drove me to vote for McCain - my reasons for doing so are personal, and therefore petty.

Today I drove over to my mother’s house. I do that most days, given my Mom’s health issues and my brother’s cancer. The posts I wrote about the political yard signs were inspired by those drives. But I have not mentioned yard signs in Mom’s neighborhood. That’s because there haven’t been any – until today. As I turned onto Mom’s street this morning I noticed two yard signs, both for Obama. One yard sported the “OBAMA” sign, and the other sported the “CHANGE” sign. (The “CHANGE” signs make me want to pull over and throw pennies at them whenever I see them.)

I actually felt like I had been hit in the gut when I saw them. The “OBAMA” sign was in front of the house that breeds pit bulls for dog fighting. But the “CHANGE” sign, that really got me. It is in front of the house two doors down from Mom’s house. That is where the leader of the gang that invaded Mom’s house in March lived. He doesn’t appear to live there anymore, as his gang isn’t hanging around now. If there’s any justice he’s dead, or at least in jail somewhere. But his family still lives there, as I recognize the cars. I saw “CHANGE” and thought, “Fuck you!” The change I want would see everyone living in that house in jail for aiding and abetting. Everyone living on the street knew that the leader of the home invaders (they struck several houses in the neighborhood, not just Mom’s) lived there, but the police were too goddamned cowardly to do anything about it. (Never trust the police, especially not in a poor neighborhood.) And now they have the goddamned unmitigated gall to call for “CHANGE”? Fuck them, and fuck their candidate. I’m voting for McCain.

In passing I will note that I shouldn’t be shocked at their support for Obama – they also believe in “spreading the wealth around”. Obama – the candidate of dog fighters and home invaders!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

One decision down, one to go.

I've changed my mind on the Presidential race. I'm definitely going to vote against Obama. What I haven't decided is whether or not Obama has done the impossible - has he convinced me to vote for McCain? I don't know the answer to that yet.

On the one hand, I disagree with Obama on most everything. But that would be true of any generic Democrat. But the views he discussed in the 2001 interview are anathema to me. (The interview in question was referenced in a prior post.) He values some concept of "social justice" above everything else, including personal liberty. (Wealth can only be redistributed if the state has absolute authority over every person's possessions. Hence there can not be, must not be, any restraints on state power. Hence, no personal liberty.) When I add the political thuggery, the financial cheating, and all the rest, to his political philosophy, I can't help but oppose him. But that doesn't mean an automatic vote for McCain.

Voting for McCain would (again) be rewarding the Republican Party. But not for choosing a good candidate, or even a flawed candidate with problems, but for choosing a terrible candidate. McCain's most redeeming characteristic as a candidate is that he ISN'T Barack Obama. In similar circumstances I have voted for similarly bad candidates. It didn't work out so well. Twice I voted for George W. Bush because the other options (Gore, Kerry) were dreadful. As a result, I encouraged the Republican Party to run liberal big government programs (Medicare Part D, for example) and to practice crony politics (see the career of Tom Delay). The result has not only been a party that lacks any true impulse for small government, but a party that has made such ideas look bad while doing the exact opposite.

By rewarding bad candidates in the past, I have begged for, and received, another lousy candidate. In addition, the party is about to be slaughtered in this election. The party will soon return to permanent minority status, if not complete irrelevancy. If the Dems get 60 Senators, they will be able to do as they whilst. That includes putting tens of millions of Americans on the welfare rolls (under the guise of tax reform), as well as destroying entire industries for ideological reasons. And let's not forget that Dems also want to end secret ballots for union organizing. How soon before they end secret ballots for all elections?

But the Dems would not be facing this political bounty if the Republicans had stood for anything other than getting re-elected by any lousy means necessary. So, can I reward them one last time (and would it be just one last time?) for failing to stand on principles in the past?

I don't know the answer to that, and I imagine that I will feel sick however I end up voting Tuesday. The absolute worst of it is that my vote DOES count, and probably more than that most who read this - I live in one of the two most important swing counties in the most important swing state. I don't have the luxury I had when living in Maryland of knowing that the state will go one way or another regardless of how I vote.

Add to this the shocking uniformity in my own family this election cycle. Everyone in my family that can vote is voting for McCain. Even my mother, who has never voted for a Republican for President before, has voted for McCain! (Yes, she has already voted, as has my wife.) And my sister has decided to vote for McCain as well - I think she may have voted for a Republican Presidential candidate once or twice, but I'm not positive about that.

Anyway, it's late and I'm tired. There's more to discuss, but I need to decide which points, if any, I can make publicly at this point. And before I can do that I need sleep, time to think, and perhaps time to write.

Barack Obama: Destroying America one industry at a time....

Now we know that Obama was lying in his Nomination Acceptance speech when he said he wanted to invest in clean coal technology. Un-fucking-believable. If Obama wins West Virginia Tuesday then we'll know he cheated his way to the White House, 'cause no coal miner would vote for this son of a bitch.

The End Times

The world is coming to an end. We know this because of the signs. For example, there were no murders in the city of Miami in the month of October. MIAMI! This is insanity....

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Erica Jong provides the most stupid election commentary yet.

Erica Jong gave an interview in Italy. Wow, what a colossal idiot! Courtesy of the New York Observer, here are some selected comments.

  • "The record shows that voting machines in America are rigged." [No, the record doesn't. The record DOES show massive voter registration fraud by Democrats, however.]
  • "Bush has transformed America into a police state, from torture to the imprisonment of reporters, to the Patriot Act." [Um, reporters have been imprisoned for not revealing the sources that 'outed' Valerie Plame - in other words, they've been imprisoned for not ratting out the Bush Administration. Can Jong get any dumber? Yes she can!]
  • "My friends Ken Follett and Susan Cheever are extremely worried. Naomi Wolf calls me every day. Yesterday, Jane Fonda sent me an email to tell me that she cried all night and can't cure her ailing back for all the stress that has reduces her to a bundle of nerves."
  • "My back is also suffering from spasms, so much so that I had to see an acupuncturist and get prescriptions for Valium."
  • "If Obama loses it will spark the second American Civil War. Blood will run in the streets, believe me. And it's not a coincidence that President Bush recalled soldiers from Iraq for Dick Cheney to lead against American citizens in the streets."

This last quote is the best. I can't decide which image is funnier - Dick Cheney riding down the middle of Broadway in a tank to crush the rebellion, or the image of Erica Jong, Naomi Wolf and Jane Fonda manning the barricades. Probably the latter. Hell, Jong can't even function (such as it is) unless she's drugged up and stuck with pins! How the Hell is that moron going to lead a rebellion?

Also, as I have written and said elsewhere, if this does lead to a Second Civil War, then it will be the shortest civil war ever fought. The Right owns all the guns in the country, and everyone on the Left wet themselves at the mere mention of the NRA.