Friday, October 2, 2009

HEADlines

The strangest link I've probably ever seen on a website (courtesy of ESPN):

"Report: Ted Williams' frozen head abused in lab"

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Your Civics Lesson

I'm teaching intermediate macro-economics this semester. One thing that keeps coming up in this class is the generally low level of knowledge regarding the role and relationship of various actors in the government. This is not some screed about how "kids are so dumb these days", I know plenty of adults who are similarly uninformed about how things work. So here is a quick primer for you:

Confirmation

This should have been really obvious before, but I wanted to make sure you all knew what a colossal geek I am. This summer Sig and I finally agreed to a split in the Lego cache that my mom has been holding onto for all these years.  Not only did I spend a fair amount of time building a Lego town (for the kids, really), but I took pictures.


More importantly, I learned a few things about playing with Lego as an adult:
1. I was a very dirty child. Soiled. Some of these pieces are disgusting. The white bricks aren't so much white as kind of a grayish-brown.
2. You can *always* find a few more pieces to put together a new building.
3. Abby and Madeline don't really share my personal aesthetic regarding Lego towns. (i.e. they play Lego *wrong*)
4. I can totally see how people end up spending lots of money on this. I can think of about 500 things I wanted to add to the town.

Right now the town is back down (playgroup, etc. were not kind to it), but this weekend we're supposed to build a big castle (surprise, surprise).  I will keep my Lego-starved public informed of the progress.

Aunt Siggy Cute

She has cats! Yeah! (Unless you're Kirstin, then Boo!)

Sleepy in Pittsburgh Cute

With Greta, Wyatt, and Max (I think Gavin was still at work):

Anchorwoman Cute

From the children's museum in St. Louis

Please Don't Throw Up Cute

Apparently they both have good stomachs:

Beach Cute

From the Jersey Shore:



Visiting Cape Cod Cute



From Tick Point, one of Kirstin's favorite spots on the planet.

Visting Boston Cute

Here are the girls (yes, that's Abby in the back) with Kira and Owen, some old friends from Houston who've moved up to NH.


Are you still there?

Alright, I have been really bad about updating the blog since just before our big summer trip. (Sorry mom). I'm going to try and get a better routine down for this starting this month.  So this is just to warn that a quick on-rush of material is about to be regurgitated onto your screen.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Summer Geography

Some of you will be intrigued by where we drove, what states we visited, what highways we took (I'm looking at you, Andy).

We went a total of 6050 miles (roughly). We rolled through TX, OK, MO, IL, WI, IN, OH, PA, NY, CT, RI, MA, NH, MD, WV, VA, TN, and AK. 19 total states. We spent significant time on interstates 45, 44, 55, 39, 90, 80, 76, 78, 95, 93, 81, 40, and 30.

We actually stayed the night in 11 different places. Muskogee, St. Louis, Madison, Northbrook, Pittsburgh, Plainfield, Boston, Beach Haven, Lodi, Abingdon, Memphis.

Here's a little map of the adventure:


View Summer Trip 2009 in a larger map








What I did on summer vacation...

Despite appearances, I haven't completely forgotten about this blog. There was a bunch of stuff going on this spring and summer so I wasn't posting as much. Then the great Vollrath family trek occurred, starting July 1st and ending August 9th.

So to catch the world up on our lives, let's get a rundown of our 40 day trip all over the U.S.

On our trip:
- We ate the best BBQ baked beans ever in Muskogee, OK
- We visited the Magic House children's museum in St. Louis
- We got to play with 4 cats at Aunt Siggy's house
- Kirstin got to take lots of Claritin (see above)
- Grandma made lots of hot chocolate with little marshmallows
- Abby went down her first solo water-slide (which was a pitch black tube, no less)
- Maddie got to decorate Great-grandma's birthday cake
- We had to replace our car battery
- We got to play with Dryden's massive Lego collection
- We went to a Brewers game with Andy and his son Scott
- I found out that Derek Gau - a guy I went to HS with - lives almost next door to Andy and Heather outside Chicago
- We got to play with Greta, Wyatt, Max, and Gavin at the McVerry's house in Pittsburgh
- We got to swim in Eck's pool and eat pizza
- We got to attend a pig roast in Pittsburgh (140 pounds of pork!)
- We stayed in the hotel in Boston and ate dinner in bed
- Kir, Abby, and Maddie got to hand out with Karen, Kira, and Owen in Boston
- Kir, Abby, and Maddie got to visit great-grandma on the Cape
- I got to nod off repeatedly during conference sessions
- We drove up to Manchester and saw Eric, Wendy, Nolan, and Carly (with guest appearance by some of the Pease family)
- We spent a week with GG in New Jersey
- We got to visit Flax (uh, Mamlet) in NYC
- We went in a castle, played on a playground, and rode the carousel in Central Park
- Abby and Maddie got to see where Eloise lives in the Plaza
- Abby and Maddie rode their first roller coaster at Sesame Place along with Matt
- Maddie got her picture with Zoe
- Abby went down like a million water slides
- We ate lobster for Kirstin's birthday (and Abby took down most of a claw)
- Maddie fell out of bed and may have mildly concussed herself
- Abby started going off by herself to read books (where'd she pick up that habit?)
- Maddie played about 8000 games of Candy Land
- We got to go to the beach every day we were on the shore
- We found a giant sand crab, thousands of little clams, and a jellyfish
- Kirstin got tan and I took a couple waves to the face trying to body surf in rough water
- Kir and I went up to the Seneca Lake wine region in NY for our anniversary
- We ended up with over a case of wine in the car (how'd that happen?)
- We saw a hot-air balloon festival in Virginia
- I ate BBQ spaghetti in Memphis (and seriously, why has no one told me about this before?)
- We got a flat tire north of Longview, TX and got to hang out at Wal-mart on the last day of our trip
- We found out our upstairs AC was broken when we got home
- We were incredibly happy to have our own stuff and all of our toys around us again.

It was a great trip (but the kind that almost requires another vacation to recover from).  If you let us breeze through your house on the trip, thanks. If you didn't, beware. We will be planning next year's trip before long.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Camel Cute

Not from New Orleans, here they are at the end of year picnic at pre-school. I wish I could impress on you all how nasty a camel smells.

Mom Cute

All the ladies in the house say "whoop whoop"!

Wedding Cute

From the actual ceremony:

Cafe du Monde Cute

We were in New Orleans last weekend for Jason Lee's wedding. Let's just say that some people enjoyed dressing up, riding in a carriage, eating donuts for breakfast, and swimming in the hotel pool.  Here's a few shots of the girls first beignets:

Crash and burn

So speaking of 80's movies, Top Gun was on the other day.  And I reached one inescapable conclusion while viewing it: Top Gun is the gayest movie of all time.  Not "gayest" as is shitty, but "gayest" as in I'm expecting a gay porno to bust out at any minute.

We all know the volleyball scene was just an excuse to get Cruise and Kilmer shirtless, and for a long time I thought this was just for the ladies. Then I think I realized that it had this really homo-erotic jive going with the slow-motion hugs and sweaty pectorals.  But the whole movie now watches like it's a big inside joke.

Kelly McGillis? One of the all-time worst action movie girlfriends in one of the least-believable on-screen couples ever. But Maverick and Iceman? That, my friends, is some sexual tension. Why do you think Iceman is always sniffing when Mav is around?  Pheremones, baby.  He's horny.  Watch some time and see how closely all the men stand to each other in every scene. They're essentially doing the samba.

I think some day we'll look back at the progress in gay rights and point to two important cultural touchstones that turned public opinion in its favor. One, Top Gun will be seen as making people comfortable with male lust. Two, Bert and Ernie will be seen as making people comfortable with two dudes getting married. Trust me on this.  It's no different than Scooby-doo getting people to accept marijuana usage as no big deal.

Bouncy Sun

Just play it -

Desire

Like there aren't already enough Lego sets I want. Now they're planning on setting up a line of "Lego Architecture" sets.  Apparently they're going to start with sets of the Guggenheim and Wright's Fallingwater house. I think Lego has officially moved over to producing for the over 30 crowd.

The all think he's a righteous dude

For some reason I've been seeing a lot of really great (read: crappy) 80's movies on TV lately. Which makes this real estate listing tug at whatever remaining strings are still attached to my heart.

You can actually own Cameron's house.  Do you think the corvette is still down there in the ravine?  

Something for next time I'm really drunk...

.... a really bad unicorn tattoo!   Because what says "tough guy with a heart of gold" quite like some of these fantastic bits of cheese-a-riffic skin art.

It's hard to have a favorite, but here goes:

Someone walked into a tattoo parlor and said the following: "I'd like a picture of a unicorn fucking a dolphin on my arm.  Oh, I also want a rainbow in the background.  You know, so it'll look classy."

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Disturbing Headlines

Should I be scared?


Zombie fire ants are studied in Texas


Seriously - WTF?

A pricing problem...

Here's an interesting comparison:


Reader Gary Cicio, NYC podiatrist, did the research, and asks us to choose one of the two options to see a Mariners-Yankees game this season, and from the very best seats:
Option 1: Two tickets to Tuesday night, June 30, Mariners at Yanks, cost for just the tickets, $5,000.
Option 2: Two round-trip airline tickets to Seattle, Friday, Aug. 14, return Sunday the 16th, rental car for three days, two-night double occupancy stay in four-star hotel, two top tickets to both the Saturday and Sunday Yanks-Mariners games, two best-restaurant-in-town dinners for two. Total cost, $2,800. Plus-frequent flyer miles.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Omar

A top 5 moment from a top 5 all-time great TV character.  Omar on the stand.  Shockingly - not a single curse-word.

Food Skepticism

An interesting post about the idea that we should be eating more like our ancestors. (To me, the most confusing part is that people advocating this seem to presume that our moms all ate live cavemen.  They're old, but they're not THAT old, are they?)

High Snark

Bill Easterly is an economist whose work I enjoy, and who is fantastically derisive with regards to the international aid community.  Here, he offers a skewering of the latest useless summit that is supposed to solve developing country problems. (You every notice these summits never actually take place IN developing countries?)

A sample:

The IGD has been around since 2003, and includes a lineup of really big names from the worlds of business, government, and aid. Chairpersons Albright and Powell were able to distill all of this experience and talent in their signature Journal oped yesterday into new ideas like “we have to focus our efforts where they can have maximum impact, and draw on the strengths of the public and private sectors alike.”
(Maybe we should subject this statement to the NOT test for meaningful content we discussed in a previous blog post: Briefly consider whether there is anyone arguing “we need to focus our efforts where they can have MINIMUM impact, and draw on the WEAKNESSES of the public and private sectors alike.”)

Attention Font Nerds...

...I mean you, Sig. You'll enjoy this:


More Sites I Wish I Had Thought Of

This is some priceless schlock. Thanks to "Awkward Family Photos" I can imagine what it would have been like to have been a dad in the early 80's:
Or just a regular old creepy early-80's Pepsi-drinking freak-job of a twin:


Sometimes, I love me the interweb.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Laws of Stupidity

Maybe not the exact ones I'd have written down, but here you go:


1. Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation (agreed)
2. The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person (absolutely)
3. A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses. (Okay, not sure I agree here. I'd say a stupid person is someone who acts with absolute disregard for a) other people and/or b) the future. And by future I mean anything longer than five minutes from now)
4. Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. (The triumph of hope over experience)
5. A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person. (Totally correct: the inconsistency and randomness of stupid people are what make them so destructive.) 

Don't chew so fast...

Maybe mom was onto something.  Here's a fun chart, in all of its un-identified causal relationship glory.


So, do people get fat because they eat quickly (which likely means they are eating quickly processed foods) or do they eat quickly because they are fat already and really like food?

Second - if I take Mexico and the U.S. out of the graph, is there even a relationship left?

Real Life 1. Comedy 0.

You cannot make this kind of crap up:

"Afghanistan's Only Pig Quarantined in Flu Fear"

Hockey. Hockey. Hockey.

The playoffs are in full swing, and now that I've figured out where Versus HD is on our TV (channel 1705, hello) I've been able to watch a good amount of action. Lots of observations

1) Friggin Anaheim. And you know what? It's not the Ducks, it's Scott Niedermayer. He's been doing this to the Wings for 14 years, ever since he scored on that bank shot off the end-boards against them in 95 while he was with the Devils.  I'd hate him, but he's really a great player.  At this point, doesn't he belong in the discussion about best defensemen not named Orr, Potvin, Robinson, or Borque?  If those guys are the AAA level, and you've got Lidstrom, Langway, Harvey at AA, then isn't Niedermayer in the A level with guys like Stevens, MacInnis, the wildly-overrated Paul Coffey, Larry Murphy, and Brad Park?  He's gotta be a lock for the HOF at this point. He's got the best old-guy playoff beard going. He still looks like the fastest, smoothest skater on the ice when he's playing.

2) Speaking of fast, smooth skaters, Sergei Federov is still getting it done. Honestly, he can still push off twice in his own zone and then somehow accelerate through the neutral zone without moving his feet.  From what I can tell, he's the only guy to ever win both the Selke and the Hart trophies.  You forget how freaking good he was in the mid-90's.  He was everything that Eric Lindros was supposed to be.

3) At what point do we agree that Malkin is a playoff choker?  What's he done this year to dispel the rumors last year that he was soft when it mattered? What's he done to help the Pen's so far?

4) The best thing to happen in the NHL recently is the Pens/Caps rivalry. I love that Crosby and Ovechkin don't like each other. I love that they openly admit it. I love that they are visibly pissed off by the other guy.  It's awesome. Their games have become must-watch hockey.

5) Ovechkin should be illegal. Seriously, if he can snap a wrist-shot to the upper corner at about 90 miles an hour while leaning away from the shot and being fronted by a defenseman, then what hope do you have?  On his last goal of the hat trick Monday, Gonchar played perfect defense - what else should he have done? And still Ovechkin gets off a killer wrister that Fleury had no chance on.

6) I'd actually like to watch Caps/Blackhawks in the Finals, if only because we could do away with all this bothersome defense and just watch two teams skate at full speed, all the time.

7) Did Boston/Carolina start playing?  What, they did? It's 1-1? Did they play on the moon?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Congratulations North Carolina..

You at one point made John Edwards a Senator.  Now we have the following headline:

"Feds probing if Edwards used campaign funds to hide affair"

Why doesn't he just kick a puppy while he's at it?

Hmmmmm...

So I was watching Gladiator the other night.  I'm sure I'm not the only person to have been bothered by this in the past, but here are a few things that occurred to me:

- Maximus is commanding the legions in Germania when Commodus orders him killed. Maximus escapes and hurries to his home to make sure his family is okay.  That home, he says earlier to Marcus Aurelius, is in Spain (and more on that later).  If he was on the borders of the Roman Empire in Germania in A.D. 180 (the year Marcus died), then that puts him, generously, near Frankfurt today.  If we give Maximus the benefit of the doubt, then his home in Spain would be right over the border with France in northern Spain.  He says he grows olives and grapes, so he's probably near the Mediterranean, so let's call it Barcelona. That's about 798 miles.  A horse can travel about 30-40 miles per day, assuming decent conditions.  Even Roman roads were not that great, and Maximus has to assume Commodus is having him followed.  So a really gracious estimate is that it took Maximus 21 days to reach his home.  So here's my question:  why is the wound on his arm still bleeding?  If it was a bad infection, then he'd be dead already.  If it wasn't infected, it should have scabbed over most of the way.  Yet when he's picked up by the slavers he's still in some kind of feverish haze with an open wound.  I don't buy it.

- More annoyingly, in A.D. 180 there was no such place as "Spain", so there is no way Maximus would have been called "Spaniard".  Hispania was the name of the Roman province that covered Iberia.  I'd buy "Iberian" or "Hispanic", but not "Spaniard".  In the 400's, the eastern emperors had an enclave named Spania, but that's 200 years later.  There is no such thing as "Spain" until 1492 when Ferdinand and Isabella (yes, the same ones) unite Castile and Aragon into a joint kingdom.

Uninsured

Maps rock.  Here is a map, by county, of the percent of people uninsured in the U.S.  It's hard to infer numbers of uninsured, because 5% of a heavily populated county is a lot more people without insurance than 15% of a county is western Wyoming.  But you can see pretty clearly that state policies matter.

It makes me think about people who complain about becoming "European socialists".  The upper Midwest is a lot like living in the Netherlands or Sweden (not surprisingly).  Relatively high taxation (although still low relative to those countries), high levels of social services and education, all publicly funded.   Yet Wisconsin and Iowa exist within a very lightly regulated capitalist society.  Having high levels of public services is not the same thing as being socialist.

I love my job...

But apparently this mom does not.  From "Postcards from Yo Mama", here is a recent text message from a mom to her daughter after the daughter got a D on an economics exam:

"Honey, econ is for boring and ugly people. You shouldn’t be in that class, you’re too pretty and creative.  I’m sick of these hard classes. Next semester sign up for gym classes."



Swine Flu. Catch it.

Onward Christian Soldiers

Here's a fun nugget:
"More than half of people who attend services at least once a week -- 54 percent -- said the use of torture against suspected terrorists is "often" or "sometimes" justified. Only 42 percent of people who "seldom or never" go to services agreed, according the analysis released Wednesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life."

Just so we're clear.  Going to church correlates with supporting torture.  Seriously?  In the same survey, they found that only 28 percent of white Southern evangelicals relied on Christian teaching or belief to inform their views on torture.

So you can use the Bible to claim that gay people can't get married, but if I bring up "turn the other cheek" to you when I'm talking about waterboarding brown people, that's not relevant?

Crop Subsidies

I know, I know.  How could it have taken me this long to post something about the fascinating world of crop subsidies. This site goes over some of the existing mis-information regarding agricultural subsidies.  The most interesting thing to note - farmers are rich.  As the author says, they are not Titan of Wall Street rich (but neither are those titans any more), but they are much better off than the average American.

Why are they rich? Because we pay them to stay on their farms with subsidies.  But we don't pay subsidies to keep them out of the poor-house. All the crappy farmers have moved to the city already.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dude.

How long do you have to practice to do this?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A depressing timeline

I'll stop with this for a few days. But this what I've put together from the recently released "Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainess in U.S. Custody" report put out by the Senate Committee on Armed Services.

Sep. 11, 2001 - you know

Dec. 2001 - Dept of Defense general counsel's office solicits information on "exploitation" of detainees from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) - a unit whose mission was to train Americans how to withstand interrogation techniques considered illegal under the Geneva Conventions.  JPRA trains personnel to withstand torture based on the techniques used by Communist China to "elicit false confessions during the Korean war", including stress positions, nudity, disrupting sleep, treatment like animals, loud music, extreme temperatures.  This training also "included waterboarding".

Feb. 7, 2002 - Bush signs a memo stating that the 3rd Geneva Convention did not apply to al Qeada or the Taliban.

Mar 28, 2002 - Abu Zabayah (a high-ranking Al Qaeda member) is captured

Spring, 2002 - "Members of the Presidents Cabinet and other senior officials attended meetings in the White House where specific interrogation techniques were discussed." This includes Condoleezza Rica, George Tenet, and Donald Rumsfeld.

July, 2002 - the JPRA provides the department of Defense with documents including lists of physical and psychological pressures used in their training, and a memo from a psychologist assessing the long-term effects of the training.  The deputy counsel of the department of defense confirms that they obtained this information so that they could "reverse engineer"  the torture techniques that we were training our troops to resist

August 1, 2002 - Justice department issues the two memos used to justify the legality of waterboarding and other torture techniques. They were issued after consultation with Alberto Gonzales (White House Counsel) and David Addington (Counsel to the Vice President).

August, 2002 - Abu Zubayah is waterboarded 83 times in a month.

Sept. 11, 2002 - Ramzi Binalshibh (the "20th hijacker" of 9/11) is captured

Oct. 2, 2002 - Jonathan Freedman, chief counsel for the CIA's Counterterrorist Center, attends a metting of Gitmo staff. Mr. Freedman says in the meeting, regarding the legality of the torture techniques - "It is basically subject to perception. If the detainee dies you're doing it wrong."

Late 2002 - early 2003 - U.S. Army psychiatrist Major Charles Burney testifies that during this time period interrogators were under pressure to provide evidence of a link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.  "The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link...there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results."

Oct 11, 2002 - Maj. Gen. Michael Dunlavey, commander at Gitmo, requests authority to use "aggresive interrogation techniques" including waterboarding, hooding, deprivation of light and sound, and stress positions (which, you'll remember, we had copied from Communist China to train our troops to resist).

Nov, 2002 - a series of memos are produced by different elements in the military raising concerns that they were being asked to violate the law and torture detainees.

Dec 2, 2002 - Donald Rumsfeld signs onto a recommendation by department of defense chief counsel Jim Haynes that Gitmo interrogators be allowed to torture. Haynes' recommendation indicates that he had discussed the issue with Paul Wolfowitz and Doug Feith - deputy and under secretaries for Defense. The legal basis for Hayne's recommendation is based on what military lawyers considered "legally insufficient" legal analysis. Rumself signs the recommendation - including a comment in the margins "I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?" in regards to 'stress positions'.

Dec 30, 2002 - Two Navy instructors from the JRPA arrive in Gitmo and conduct a session explaining the torture techniques to personnel there. They explain to the personnel that these techniques were developed by the Communist Chinese dictatorship to elicit false confessions.

Jan 15, 2003 - In response to a memo by Navy general counsel Alberto Mora that questioned the legality of the interrogation, and suggesting that it was torture, Rumsfeld rescinds authority for the the interrogation techniques he signed on Dec. 2nd, 2002. Rumsfeld establishes a working group to review the techniques.

March 1st, 2003 - Khalid Shiek-Mohammed, the planner of the 9/11 attackes, is captured.   During this month - he is waterboarded 183 times. That is not quite 6 times a day.  Note that this torture begins immediately upon capture - not after a period in which we tried normal interrogation techniques first. We *started* with the torture.

Mar 14, 2003 - The working group Rumsfeld set up on Jan 15th rejects the opinions of senior military officers and counsels in favor of a legal opinion from Justice Department's John Yoo.  Yoo states that criminal laws do not apply to military interrogations and that the Dept. of Justice could not prosecute the interrogators, in his opinion.

March 20th, 2003 - Citing the existence of weapons of mass destruction (since shown to be false) and a tie between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein (elicited as false confessions from detainees being tortured) President Bush orders the invasion of Iraq. To date, approximately 4,500 Americans have lost their lives. The estimated Iraqi death toll from invasion and inter-sect warfare since the invasion is close to 1,000,000.

August , 2003 - an email from staff headquarters of the Joint Task Force in Iraq (responsible for prisoners and intelligence) requests that subordinate units provide a "wish list" of interrogation techniques, and stated "the gloves are coming off" and "we want these detainees broken".  Also in August, a team from Gitmo arrives in Iraq to train the Joint Task Force interrogators on the new techniques.

Sep 14, 2003 - Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez approves the use of stress positions, sleep deprivation, and the use of dogs in interrogations.

Late 2003 - Interrogators at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq torture detainees.  The commander of Abu Ghraib at the time, Janis Karpinsky, estimates that "90% of the detainees were innocent".

Early 2004 - 60 Minutes and the New Yorker publish the pictures from Abu Ghraib and several of the staff are court martialled.

We. Tortured. People.  Repeat that with me. We. Tortured. People.

This did not make us safer - it led to an ill-fated invasion of a country that, while despotic, posed no clear and present danger to the U.S..

Finally...

A Republican hack utters truth by accident....

"Last week, they released these memos outlining torture techniques. That was clearly a political decision and ignored the advice of their Director of National Intelligence and their CIA director," Boehner said at a press conference in the Capitol.


That would be John Boehner, the Republican House Minority Leader.  Even this guy isn't able to maintain the farce that we "did not torture".

Not just corrupt, but incompetent

So now that we have clear evidence that the U.S. tortured prisoners, the whole "we have to save the U.S. from another 9/11" premise of the torture is shown to be a complete sham.  From an editorial by an FBI agent who actually was part of the interrogation team at Gitmo before he refused to torture prisoners and left.  There was no legal justification to torture, and not even a valid "ends justifies the means" justification. It was cowardly and wrong.

"One of the most striking parts of the memos is the false premises on which they are based. The first, dated August 2002, grants authorization to use harsh interrogation techniques on a high-ranking terrorist, Abu Zubaydah, on the grounds that previous methods hadn’t been working. The next three memos cite the successes of those methods as a justification for their continued use.
It is inaccurate, however, to say that Abu Zubaydah had been uncooperative. Along with another F.B.I. agent, and with several C.I.A. officers present, I questioned him from March to June 2002, before the harsh techniques were introduced later in August. Under traditional interrogation methods, he provided us with important actionable intelligence.
We discovered, for example, that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Abu Zubaydah also told us about Jose Padilla, the so-called dirty bomber. This experience fit what I had found throughout my counterterrorism career: traditional interrogation techniques are successful in identifying operatives, uncovering plots and saving lives.
There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics. "

Job Losses

This is interesting - in that whole watching-a-car-accident-in-slow-motion is interesting.  Take a look at Michigan - and watch the decline in jobs even before the recession comes.

Cool Pictures

These are from a satellite near Saturn. You can see disruptions in the rings as moons pass by and distort the gravity.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

News Alert

Dead dolphin found near Bon Jovi's house

Is he a suspect?

For Sale

Girl. 2005. Fixer-upper. Pink tutu incl. Syrup fueled. $500 OBO. Call 555-1212, ask for Dad.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Call it what you want, it's torture

The Administration released several memos written by the Bush Justice department to assess the legality of torturing prisoners. You can go here and get links to the full PDFs.  The didn't redact much, mainly the names of individuals involved in the torture itself.  Just to be clear, these memos were written for the head of the CIA. The idea torture happened without knowledge of the higher-ups is patently false.

Highlights:
"In this phase, you would like to employ ten techniques that you believe will dislocate his expectations regarding the treatment he believes he will receive and encourage him to disclose the crucial information mentioned above. These ten techniques are: (1) attention grasp, (2) walling, (3) facial hold, (4) facial slap, (5) cramped confinement, (6) wall standing, (7) stress positions, (8) sleep deprivation, (9) insects placed in a confinement box, and (10) the waterboard."  [By the way, it turns out that Abu Zubayah, didn't actually have any useful information]

"Finally, you would like to use a technique called 'the waterboard'. In this procedure, the individual is bound securely to an inclined bench, which is approximately four feet by seven feet. The individual's feet are generally elevated. A cloth is placed over the forehead and eyes. Water is then applied to the cloth in a controlled manner. As this is done, the cloth is lowered until covers both the nose and mouth. ....This effort plus the cloth produces the perception of 'suffocation and incipient panic', i.e. the perception of drowning.....After this period, the cloth is lifted, and the individual is allowed to breathe unimpeded for three or four full breaths....The procedure may then be repeated."

"Section 2340A [of the U.S. code] defines torture as: an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody of physical control."

"The waterboard, which inflicts no pain or actual harm whatsoever, does not, in our view inflict 'severe pain or suffering'."  


Just for some context - this is one of the pictures in a Cambodian museum that commemorates the torture done to citizens under the Khmer Rouge.  




From Scott (2007) - A History of Torture through the Ages, water-boarding was called the 'Spanish Water Torture' during the Inquisition, when it was used to illicit conversions or confessions of heresy.   From Delarue (1964) - The Gestapo: A History of Horror, the German secret police used to use water-boarding to extract (mainly false) confessions.


Good company to be in: Khmer Rough, Inquisition, Nazis.   A proud moment for America.

A Vow

I vow to never, ever, bother reading George Will again. For a long time he seemed like a quasi-reasonable commentator.  Then he writes this screed regarding the cultural evils of .........jeans.  I'm shocked that he did not refer to them as "dungarees" to truly illustrate his desire to climb back into the white-washed womb of 1954.

Will says: "But the appearances that people choose to present in public are cues from which we make inferences about their maturity and respect for those to whom they are presenting themselves."

Let's ignore the fact that making inferences from appearances is intellectually lazy.  The sartorial code of what constitutes maturity and respect *changes* over time along with, oh, everything else. (George Will's bow-tie, I'm sure, is supposed to indicate his maturity and worthiness of respect. Mostly, of course, it screams "I'm an arrogant douchebag", but let's let that slide for the moment).  In the 40's, the uniform of the mature male was a three-piece suit and a hat. In the mid 1800's the uniform was a black suit and top hat. In 1700 the most respected and powerful man in Europe, Louis XIV, looked like this:

So why doesn't George Will write an article about the cultural evils of top hats, bowler hats, and black suits?  I mean, obviously, the most appropriate mature and respectful uniform for a male involves a) panty-hose, b) chunky heels, c) an Austin Powers cravatte, and d) a bedspread draped over your shoulders.

George Will despairs over jeans because the world is not identical to the world he grew up in.  And he, like all of us, have a hard time dealing with that kind of dissonance.  The difference is that most of us realize that its our problem, not a problem with the rest of the world.  And it certainly is not an indication of cultural decay.  George, shit changes. Cinch up the bow tie and get over it.

Nice...

Don't worry, there is no way that the government could possibly abuse the power to tap phones or read e-mails. I mean, they're only looking for terrorists, right?

The NSA had the authority to tap communications between Americans and foreign countries, except that it turns out its easy to get confused and end up tapping communications between Americans.  Something that, I'm pretty sure, is supposed to be illegal.

Your Patriot Act at work! Just trust the authorities, they have your best interests at heart.  Really.  Speak freely. Except about things we find objectionable.

Good for this kid..

An 18-year old in South Carolina filed a suit with the state Supreme Court to have them decide who has authority over the stimulus money that the S.C. governor is threatening to turn down.  80% of the stimulus money S.C. receives would have to be spent on education.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Inquiring Christians want to know....

....to tattoo or not to tattoo?  Honestly, this has been driving me nuts for years.  What would Jesus say about a some bicep-circling barbed wire?  Hmmmmmm........

F*$& Disneyland

We're going to "Holy Land Experience" in Florida.  Check out here for a map of this Christ-astic theme park. Do the kids want to visit "Calvary's Garden Tomb" to see a recreation of where Jesus was buried?  Or maybe they would like the "Dead Sea Qumram Caves".

But you really cannot miss the re-enactment of the crucifixion.  "Look kids, Jesus is being beaten by the Romans and bleeding from the head! Let's join in!"

And by the way, I shit you negative, they really do re-enact the crucifixion.  See color photographs on this page.

Definitions

By the way, claiming that the Obama administration is "socialist" is stupid.  It is evidence only that you do not know what the word socialism means.

Socialism refers to a system in which the government owns the means of production. In other words, the government owns capital employed in production (factories and office buildings).  There are still property rights for individual property (homes, cars, etc..).

[Communism, by the way, refers to a system in which the government owns *everything*. There are no property rights because there is no such thing as individual property.]

It's unclear what about the Obama administration is supposed to be "socialist".  I suppose that if they have to nationalize banks, that would constitute a socialist situation.

However, it seems like people are confusing higher tax rates on relatively high-income individuals with socialism.  There is nothing about the tax rate that has meaning in socialism.  You can have a low-tax socialist country or a high-tax socialist country.

Regulation is not equal to socialism.  We've been a capitalist country for a long time, and always had regulation of some kind or the other.  Government spending is not equal to socialism.  We've been a capitalist country for a long time, and always had some government spending of some kind or the other.

If you want to argue for less regulation and less government spending - fine.  But don't be an idiot and call the opposite "socialism".

Earmarks

We're talking about government spending in class this week.  One thing that is interesting to do is....actually look at the government budget.  You can download it from the White House website.

One thing that people rail at a lot is earmarks. John McCain is on fire with this recently.  Remember the "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska?  Earmark.  So just how insidious are these possibly frivolous items?  Several watchdog groups put the total amount of earmarks at nearly $18 billion dollars.  That's a lot of money that is allegedly wasted (not every earmark is by definition a stupid use of money).

But relative to the entire government budget, earmarks are essentially a rounding error.  Total spending in the Obama administration 2009 budget is just under $4.0 trillion dollars.  So earmarks make up under one-half of one percent of the entire budget.  In comparison, defense spending is $666 billion, social security is $662 billion, and Medicare is $425 billion.  If you really want to address the size of government spending, you have to address these areas.  (Also an interesting comparison - all the other agencies of the government: Housing, Agriculture, Interior, Veterans, the FDA, the SEC, etc. etc... add up to a total of $613 billion).

Also, you have to realize that earmarks do not *add* money to the budget, they allocate money in the budget. If you removed all earmarks, the government spending would not fall - it would just leave $18 billion to the discretion of the agencies to spend.  If you want spending to fall, you have to actually, you know, cut spending.

Because you all love college hockey

Why is it that nearly every year the championship game in college hockey comes down to the last minute of play, or overtime.  This year, BU scored *twice* in the last minute to tie the game at 3 with Miami (OH), and then won it on a weird deflection in overtime.

I guess that I've paid less intense attention recently, but here are games that were either one-goal differences in regulation, or went to OT.

2009: BU over Miami 4-3 (OT)
2006: Wisc over BC 2-1
2004: Denver over Maine 1-0
2002: Minn. over Maine 4-3 (OT)
2001: BC over N. Dak 3-2 (OT)
1999: Maine over UNH 3-2 (OT)
1998: Mich over BC 3-2 (OT)
1996: Mich over Col College 3-2 (OT)
1993: Maine over LSSU 5-4
1991: N. Mich over BU 8-7 (3 OT)  - for my money, the best hockey game I've every watched

Maybe next year Michigan can avoid losing to the #4 seed.  f$*#&$)$*#*#&*&

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Did I miss something?

It's becoming more and more apparent to me that the theory of multiple universes must be true.  That could be the only explanation for the following commentary:

"There is a rising tide of pink fascism in this country, and it comes as a result of the election of Barack Hussein Obama. Obama has signaled that during his reign it will be acceptable to impose gay marriage on the people of the United States. He's being very cleverly used as a tool of the gay puppet masters. He is personally masculine, has a beautiful family and was used by the gay mafia to convince real American families that they should support him.
And now that Obama the Trojan horse has been taken inside the gates, so to speak, the contagion from within his administration is spreading throughout the country. One state at a time seems to be falling. Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, California is teetering on the brink. Will Texas be next? Will Obama say that in order to make up for the oppression caused by slavery that the Deep South will now have to accept gay marriage under duress? Is this a sexual reconstruction of the entire country? Don't ask, because Obama won't tell"  

From Michael Savage here.  

Honestly, what kind of fantasy world do you have to live in to believe in a) a gigantic gay conspiracy, b) that has the resources and influence to fix the election of a U.S. President, c) gay marriage = fascism, d) gay marriage = reparations for slavery.  I mean, if I substituted the words "alien" for "gay", wouldn't this be some weird X-files episode?  If Michael Savage was spouting off about alien marriage and slavery, wouldn't we think hard about upping his meds or putting him in an institution for the disturbed? 

Can someone explain to me what scares them so much about gay people?  

I, for one, welcome our new gay overlords. I'm pretty sure that the new gay imperium will be able to provide free government hair treatments and cut-price tickets to Broadway shows. Huzzah!

Note to self..

Always.  No, wait.  Never, ever, piss off Roger Ebert.

Squeaky the Chicago Mouse?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Twenty five years too late....

And where was this during the Christmas shopping season of 1984?  Hello?


Yes, that is a Tauntaun sleeping bag.  Note the detail - the outline of intestines on the interior is what makes this priceless.  Do you think that when you get in you have to say, "And I thought they smelled bad....on the outside"?

Shiny, happy Midwesterners

This site has some really cool maps of personality traits.  I have no idea how well-thought out the measures are, or how they got this kind of data.  But, it's kind of fun to see the patterns.  Nice, agreeable people (i.e. mind-numbingly dull helpful types) all over the middle of the country.  Neurotic, open-minded types (i.e. interesting wack-jobs) on the coasts.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Ironwoman

Saturday also was Kirstin's first triathlon.  You can check out here to see the official standings (scroll down to the women 35-39 category - you'll find her).  She kicked some ass.  And considering she did this with a dumpy old mountain bike, it's really impressive.

There is already rumblings of another tri in the works.  You may all be called upon to contribute to the fancy bike fund if this is going to become habitual.

It all seems like a lot of work to get a free t-shirt, but it was really cool to watch Kir finish this after 6 months of training.

How do you score this one?

Saturday afternoon we were outside and Madeline all of the sudden figured out how to pump on a swing. The technique is still a little sloppy, but the concept has taken hold.  Freedom beckons.

On the other hand, Kirstin managed to find about 5-6 white hairs on my head.

It's unclear whether Saturday was a net gain or loss.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Brilliant or Evil

Not sure what to think about this.  It's fantastically morbid.  The site offers "Free Funerals from Laptops Direct" and they will help offset the cost of burying your loved one in return for some marketing considerations.

This would be creepy by itself, but you have to check out the price list.  It's almost inexplicable.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Find your happy place

That last post was pretty rough.  I feel like I need to get myself into a better mindset:

Radiohead sucks
Radiohead sucks
Radiohead sucks
Radiohead sucks
Radiohead sucks
Radiohead sucks

Mmmmmmmm........................

It's not China's fault

We're going over international trade in my intermediate class.  This means that we're going over all the stupid notions people have about trade.  This is frustrating enough for me that I thought I would point them all out so you know not to say these things in my presence:

1) "We have a trade deficit because other countries cheat" - No.  We have a trade deficit because we would like to consume lots of stuff *right now*.  We can't produce all the stuff we want to consume *right now*.  So we pay the Chinese and Japanese to make it for us.  How do we pay?  By agreeing to pay them back tomorrow.

Trading with China is no different than "trading" with Sears for a new refrigerator, bought on credit.  Sears loans you the money ("no payments until 2010!") to buy the refrigerator.  You get the fridge *right now*, and will slowly pay back Sears over the next three years, say.  Equivalently, China loans us the money ("just pay us back in interest payments on U.S. bonds in 2010!") to buy boxes full of cheap plastic Disney princess crap. We get the Disney princess crap *right now*, and will pay them back over the next 3, 7, or 10 years depending on what kind of bonds the Chinese are holding.

Saying that China is "cheating" is like saying that Sears is "cheating".  How dare they allow you to freely purchase goods and services that you enjoy!!   Those bastards.

2) "The Chinese are going to own America."   Really.  China holds, by current estimates, about $740 billion in U.S. treasury bonds.  Japan owns about $640 billion.  That's a lot.  U.S. GDP in 2009, in the middle of the worst recession since the early 1980's, will be about $12 trillion.  That's a LOT more.

And you know what we own that they don't?  Printing presses and the master plates that allow us to rip off all the copies of George Washington that we want.  You know what all those U.S. bonds say on the front?  They say that the interest and principal is payable in U.S. dollars, and U.S. dollars ONLY.  If we wanted to, we could print off $1.38 trillion in new bills and ship them off to China and Japan to pay off all those bonds --- and there is nothing they can do about it.

You think they have us by the balls? No.  Imagine that you could pay off your mortgage and credit card debt by shipping a box full of old newspaper to your bank.  Who do you think would lay awake worrying about that happening - you or the bank?

3) "Trade deficits are bad."  I only have one question for you.  Why?  Give me one coherent reason that does not appeal to the fact that the people with the trade surpluses have funny-shaped eyes and live somewhere else.

4) "We need a strong exchange rate." Okay, that's great.  A strong exchange rate means that your dollars can buy a lot of euros, yen, or yuan.  With all those euros, yen, and yuan, you can buy up lots of Belgian beer, Sony DVD players, and more cheap Disney princess crap.  Oh, and you know what?  That means you'll be running a bigger trade deficit.  Exchange rate up, trade deficit up.  Exchange rate down, trade deficit down.

So shut up about your strong exchange rate and your whining about the trade deficit until you understand that these are mutually inconsistent.

5) "The U.S. doesn't make anything anymore."  Oh, really?  What do you do all day, pick your ass?  Well, for some of you, that's probably true. The rest of us are doing high-skilled jobs that people pay a lot of money for. We're the richest f***ing country on earth for a reason - we are better at pretty much everything than every other country.  You know what we make?  The original Disney movie that spawned all that cheap Disney princess crap.  You know what the Chinese get for injection-molding another Cinderella doll?  About 25 cents.  You know what Disney gets when they sell that cheap plastic piece of crap to me so that I can let Abby pretend that some day she'll have ankles the size of toothpicks?  About $10.  Do the math.

6) "Indians are taking all of our jobs."  Right. Because a lot of you are really dying to answer help-desk calls from Donna the receptionist who can't get her mouse-thingy to do the clicky thing to make the invites for the company picnic print out sideways ("why do they call it landscape, you think? It's not like there's any grass on it? He he.").  In the next 5 years, American companies will probably hire about 3,000,000 foreigners to answer calls and do back-office work.

In a non-recession year, you know how many jobs American companies "destroy" every MONTH through simple attrition and turnover?  Just about 2,000,000.  Every MONTH.  That means in the next 5 years there will be about 120,000,000 jobs destroyed by American companies.  During the same period, American companies will create about 140,000,000 new jobs.

Outsourcing is a rounding error for the American economy. So shut up.

GM

So this article says that the new GM chief is really going to buckle down and provide a real turn-around plan for the hopeless car company.  I understand that trying to change the course of a super-tanker sized company like GM can't be done immediately.  But it seems to me that this super-tanker has actually run aground, and Fritz Henderson can pull on the tiller all he wants, the company isn't going anywhere.

It's done. Let it die.  Auction off the different brands to Toyota, Honda, VW, etc.. and let them pick over the wreckage to salvage as much value as possible.  But stop pretending that GM is a viable company.

Not that this in any way, shape, or form should be seen as supporting the fact that the President of the U.S. fired the CEO of a company.  That is just not right.

Best. Picture. Ever.

So who's the bravest one involved in this?  The kid, the dad who threw him, or the mom who took the picture rather than leaping to catch the kid?

Go Blah...

I don't even know how to bring up the NCAA hockey tournament without vomiting in my own mouth.  We outshoot Air Force 43-12 and *lose* 2-0?  It's the friggin Air Force team.  Seriously?  I am only barely consoled by the fact that both Notre Dame and Denver lost as #1 seeds as well.  Okay, so I am pretty happy Notre Dame lost.

What a weird set of games.  Thanks to the magic of ESPNU, ESPN2, and ESPN 8 (The Ocho), I think I got to watch parts of four different games.  I have honestly no idea what happened to college hockey this year.  I'd say BU has this thing wrapped up, but Bemidji State, Miami, and Vermont all had to beat "better" teams to get here, so who knows.

Bemidji, honestly?

Monday, March 23, 2009

College Hocky Tourney

The brackets for the NCAA hockey tournament went up last night.  Michigan is #1 in the East (along with Alaska, Vermont, and Yale), playing in Bridgeport, CT.  See here for the full bracket.  Things get cranking this weekend.  BU is the overall number 1, and along with them and Michigan the other #1's are Notre Dame and Denver.

Now, does Billy Sauer even get to put on a uniform for the Wolverines?  Or do they conveinently forget to tell him when the bus is leaving? Can Hogan do it without coughing up a hairball?

Standards of scientific proof

There are so many wonderfully stupid things about this.  My favorite is that someone who insists on Biblical inerrancy, and therefore believes that dinosaurs and Jesus walked the Earth at the same time, is willing to state that Jesus probably rode those dinosaurs.  If there isn't a definitive statement to that effect in the Bible, how could you possibly say that?

How much do you want to see the rest of that coloring book?  Oh, and where do I get my pack of Crayola's that includes "Flesh of Christ" and "Omnipotent Yellow"?   Burnt umber can kiss my ass.

More smart takes on Geithner

Here is Brad DeLong's Q&A about the plan and its potential .  He comes down on the positive side, but noting that this is "part of the plan", not "THE plan".  That is, this will not magically fix everything wrong with the economy.

The rationale for the Geithner plan is roughly as follows:
a) "toxic" assets (mortgage-backed securities) are worth less than they originally were, but they are not worthless.
b) Normally, we'd see different financial groups (hedge funds, private equity funds) buying up these toxic assets for pennies on the dollar, and making a handsome profit as either i) the market comes to its senses and they can resell these assets for more pennies, or ii) they just hold the assets to maturity, banking the monthly mortgage payments that fund these assets.
c) Times are not normal, and no financial groups are stepping up to buy these toxic assets. Mainly because they cannot secure funding from the major banks.
d) The Treasury is going to step in and buy up these assets. To manage this, they are going to hire the financial groups (hedge funds and private equity funds) to do the actual purchasing.  They'll pay these financial groups by giving them a share of the profits that the Treasury thinks it could make by buying up the assets for pennies.
e) By buying up these assets from the major banks, the major banks will no longer look like hedge funds and will be able to resume acting like real, boring, regular, banks.

It's important to note that we are not buying these toxic assets for the hedge fund managers.  We are buying them for ourselves.  We're paying the hedge funds to do the buying, and giving them a cut.  It's like engaging a realtor to buy a house. They get a cut of the transaction - you get the house.

Could the Treasury make money on this?  Yes.  Will they?  Don't know.  Why bother?  Because it gets the toxic assets off the bank balance sheets, and therefore banks can go back to being banks. That will help the regular economy get moving.

Toxic Asset Plans

Geithner announced the governments public/private plan to buy off toxic assets from banks, using private investors as a mechanism to figure out the "right" prices.

This post has a nice example of what the situation looks like, told as a story about a car dealership that has a number of lemons in its stock of cars.  I think it gets you the idea of what the problems and potential solutions are.

The upshot - there is no plan that can "fix" the financial system without putting taxpayer money at risk.  If you do not want any taxpayer money at risk, then you have to wait for the financial system to fix itself.  That's a legitimate position - but you might want to ask the Japanese how that worked out for them over the last 10-12 years.

Friday, March 20, 2009

AIG

More economic fun!  Lot's of anger over AIG managers getting bonuses even though they've basically burned through the whole $170 billion we gave them to keep them from blowing up.  Now Congress wants to tax the bonuses at 90%.  A few thoughts on this:

a) I'm really nervous about Congress making retroactive tax changes.  This is just larceny, but legal.  If they want to prevent *future* bonuses of this kind, fine.  But given this precedent, what's to stop them from re-taxing income from 2007, and asking me for an additional $100 or $200?

b) With that caveat in mind, I'm not sympathetic at all to the argument coming from the financial industry in general, and AIG in particular.  They will say that they have to pay these bonuses to keep the upper management types around who actually know what's going on in these companies and are capable of cleaning up the mess.  I'm calling bullshit on this one.

Upper management types at financial companies (and I know I'm grossly over-generalizing here) are not the "best and the brightest" of the world.  They are, by and large, those really fun guys you knew in college who always were scoring chicks and getting C's.  They're salesmen.  While they do know the details of the contracts they wrote, it's quite clear from the past two years that they didn't actually know what they were doing.  So why exactly do I want them "fixing" this mess?

I explicitly want new people to go in and clean up AIG.  I want people without emotional attachments to the business, and in particular, without personal ties to anyone involved in the contract.  I want cold-blooded killer CPA's with a mean streak and some repressed daddy-issues. 

I want to get *rid* of the golf-course financial deal-makers who couldn't be bothered to think about the risk implications of their deal-making.  They were never hired to be good risk-managers.  They were hired because they knew how to stroke pension-fund managers and were a good time in the corporate box at the Super Bowl. 

If those kinds of guys are going to leave AIG, or any other financial company, because their bonuses are going to be taxed away, then let them leave. 

Quantitative Easing

The Fed announced yesterday that they would begin buying up close to $1.2 trillion in long-term debt - mortgages, 10-year Treasury bonds, etc.  So 1) why did they do this, and 2) why might you care?

1) Why do this?  The Fed has the long-run objectives of keeping inflation low and maintaining the economy at close to full employment.  In normal times, they pursue these objectives by setting short-term interest rates - the rate of interest that banks charge each other for short-term loans (short-term as in overnight or for one-month). If the Fed wants the interest rate to fall, they buy up short-term Treasury bills from banks.  To pay for these T-bills, they credit the banks reserve account at the Fed.  In normal times, these additional reserves allow the banks to lend more money to the economy - meaning that there is a higher supply of loans, and their cost (i.e. the interest rate on your car loan) goes down.

But these are not normal times.  The Fed has very aggressively cut interest rates by buying up lots and lots of short-term T-bills from banks.  They have paid for these by crediting the banks reserve accounts.  The banks have taken these reserves.......and done nothing with them.  The reserves are "piling up" in the bank vault, rather than being loaned out to you to buy a new car or to a business to expand their factory.  (They don't really have piles of physical money, just entries in a computer, but it's more fun to think of the Fed operating like Gringott's in Harry Potter, with little Alan Greenspan-cloned goblins moving mining cars full of gold back and forth.)

So the Fed has driven the short-term interest rate down to essentially 0 percent, but the banks have simply sat on their new pile of reserves.  We do not get the expansion of credit that the economy could use to get economic activity moving more quickly again.

This is a rare problem.  The Fed cannot lower short-term interest rates below zero (imagine if they did - this would be like a bank offering to pay you back $98 dollars in a year if you deposited $100 today - not a good deal).  But the Fed would still like to generate more economic activity by driving down interest rates. 

The interest rates that tend to matter to you and me are long-run rates like a) mortgage rates, b) car loan rates, c) student loan rates, d) long-run Treasury bonds (because they matter for retirement accounts and influence stock returns).  So the Fed is going to try to more directly affect long-run rates.  They're going to start by buying up T-bonds, mortgages, and packages of car loans and student loans.  Their increased purchases raise demand for these products, which raises their price.  If the price of a bond or mortgage goes up, the effective interest rate on bonds and mortgages goes down.  The Fed is trying to drive down the rates available on new loans and mortgages, so that you, me, and firms will undertake new investment projects (like re-doing your kitchen or building a new factory).  If we start doing this, it drives up demand for goods and services and the economy recovers. 

2) Why might you care?  Well, for one you can probably score lower rates on any new loans.  So buying a new car or house just got less expensive.  That's pretty cool. 

Perhaps more of an issue is that this quantitative easing contains within it the seeds of higher inflation. Why is this?  Well, the Fed is going to buy up lots of bonds and mortgages.  How do they pay for this?  They "print" money.  Bernanke doesn't literally call down to the boys in the basement and yell "fire up the presses!!".  He "prints" money by crediting the bank acounts of those people from whom it bought the securities. 

So this is similar to just printing about $1.2 trillion in new dollar bills and spreading them around.  Now in a slack economy like the U.S., this should increase economy activity rather than drive up prices.  But if the Fed printed too much money (and they don't really know what the "right" amount is) then some of this additional money will simply go towards driving up prices. 

Why do you care about inflation?  No, not because it makes things more expensive.  Inflation is a general increase in prices, and that includes wages.  So inflation by itself doesn't necessarily make you worse off.  In fact, if you are like me and a) young (ish) and b) in debt, then inflation can actually be good for you.  Those mortgage payments don't rise with inflation, but wages do. So in the long-run, big inflation can actually make me better off.

The problem with potentially high inflation is that it generates uncertainty about the future (how long will my dollars be worth anything?) and therefore tends to stifle economic activity and - perversely - will generate higher interest rates in the long-run.

So you should be worried that the Fed is going too big and too strong, and will ignite large inflation rates that will screw us over in the long-run.  At this point, I can see why the Fed is willing to make this kind of bet.  But it is a bet - not a certainty.  This could go wrong.  My first gut reaction, though, is that this will not turn us into Zimbabwe or Weimar Germany (i.e. places with 1000% inflation rates).

Friday, March 13, 2009

Sexy Sexy

Another website I wished I had thought of.  Scroll down for a personal favorite: Wayne and Jeffrey. They've obviously been told that they will be eating asparagus again for dinner.

And I don't want to implicate anyone - but I'm thinking that somewhere I've got some prom picture of my sister that should show up on this site.  And before you get all indignant, I'll submit it right after I send along my 7th grade yearbook picture. Nerdariffic!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

God Bless Ricky Gervais

He gets to ask Elmo what I've always wanted to: "Do you know what necrophilia is?"  Kudos to someone with absolutely NO shame.

How do I get on this list?

I will need to work harder to make my class stand out.  These are the 15 strangest college courses in America. 

They all sound pretty dumb - but honestly, I can see how some of them came about. Trying to explain the financial crisis, the IS/LM model, and the role of inflationary expectations to my intermediate macro class, I have appealed to the following references:  "The Negotiator" with Samuel L. Jackson, the underpants gnomes of South Park, and Spicoli from "Fast Times at Ridgemont High".  So using the Simpsons to teach history doesn't sound that crazy.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Time on your hands....

So I guess this recession is really starting to bite.  These guys had the time to go ahead and remake - shot for shot - the video for Journey's "Separate Ways".  It's either brilliant or sad.  I'm torn.  I think the terrible rug on the lead singer tips the balance towards brilliant.  Steve Perry, eat your heart out.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Dog-sitting Cute

To atone for the lack of pictures lately, here's a bonus from when we dog-sat Bucho.

Overdue Cute

Been too long since I posted one of these:

Lego Farming

Alright, it took them almost 30 (yikes) years, but Lego finally is producing farm sets.  But honestly, the barns I built from loose bricks can kick this barn's ass.  Seriously, could you fit maybe 2 cows in the new Lego barn?  I had a friggin herd, baby, and a full hay-mow that I could drive the tractor into.  This is weak s***.

On the other hand, the combine is pretty sweet. I don't think I could have knocked that out when I was 7.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Don't believe me yet....

Wow, who would have thought that the Bush administration could have considered tearing up the Constitution?  It's almost as if they tried to keep things secret. 

Latest: "In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the Justice Department secretly gave the green light for the U.S. military to attack apartment buildings and office complexes inside the United States, deploy high-tech surveillance against U.S. citizens and potentially suspend First Amendment freedom-of-the-press rights in order to combat the terror threat, according to a memo released Monday."

Here's the memo, in case you think this is a case of the press over-playing the story.

Just to be clear, the chief law enforcement officer of the United States of America, the Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, issued a memo suggesting that the President has the authority to revoke the first amendment to the Constitution at his own discretion.  Not to mention that the President had the authority to use the military to attack domestic locations.  It took the Administration seven years to reject the memo.

So far no invoices for jackboots or brown shirts.  I'll keep you posted.

Sigh.

I guess I shouldn't care that some people are so galactically stupid, but come on.  This article is about people who are planning on lowering their income below $250,000 a year so that they can avoid the tax increase proposed by the Obama administration.

Stop. Think about it for a minute.  Take a look at your tax packet from the IRS.   If the tax rate on income ABOVE $250,000 goes up, that doesn't mean that tax rates on income under $250,000 go up.  If you make $300,000 a year, your total tax bill will go up and your take-home income will go down.  If you lower your income to $249,999.99 a year, your income will go down by MORE.

You can't make more by making less.  But maybe the idiots in this article deserve to make less.