29 March, 2009

The Private Sector

As I'm sure we all saw in the news today, GM's CEO Rick Wagoner has resigned at the request of the Obama administration. I am by no means among the informed on issues of this sort, but it seems this could be construed as a serious overstepping of bounds on the part of the government with regard to business. Alternatively, it could certainly also be construed as a reasonable part of a deal struck between Washington/the taxpayers and car companies. Is the media blowing Obama's request out of proportion by saying he is "forcing" Wagoner out?

GM. Discuss.

27 March, 2009

Guitar Logic

Just wanted to put it out there that I'm playing an acoustic live show at the Trempeleau Hotel tomorrow night with a couple hip cats under the name Guitar Logic--should be cool if anyone can make the 2+ hour flight out here!

Granted, it's all cover tunes, but I'll submit that we do some pretty creative renditions of few, with mandolin and different percussion backgrounds. My favorites might be:

Van Morrison - Sweet Thing
Eddie Vedder - You've Got to Hide Your Love Away
The Marshall Tucker Band - Can't You See
Ray Lamontagne - Barfly
Paul Simon - Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard

Wish me luck!

24 March, 2009

It's Aboot Freedom!

This was thought provoking.

Apparently, this sitting member of British Parliament and noted anti-war speaker was banned from entering Canada. The reason? He "supports" Hamas. More specifically, he led a mission of volunteers into Gaza with relief material for the people there who were under 20+ days of bombardment and are now for all intents and purposes under siege and delivered those materials to whom? Oh yeah, the government that the people of Gaza elected to represent them: Hamas.

So as I gather, we now live in a world where Humanitarian Aid = Material Support for Terrorist Organizations. Did I mention that the Canadian minister who pushed for this is a big W supporter? I wonder if an ideologue who has a personal interest in all things anti-Hamas would have an ulterior motive in blocking an anti-war humanitarian who thinks we ought to work constructively in Israel/Palestine?

Now, I see why the ban held enough water with the label of "material support of a terrorist organization" and why that poses a security threat--knowing that Canada labels Hamas a terrorist group--but I still think this is silly. It's plausible that Galloway was attempting to draw out just this situation to point out the silliness of this thinking. He has said multiple times that he does not support Hamas, but that he supports the people of Gaza's right to elect their own representatives.

I think this is a great counter-point from Mr. Galloway--though perhaps a bit one-sided. So, here's a litte something about Jason Kenney.

23 March, 2009

Just a thought

So, we elect a divisive and petty leader who summons to his side a cabal of religious zealots, corporate ne'er-do-wells, and sinister henchmen. Things do not go well and the people are outraged. Eight years later, we elect a great leader, who gathers together the very best thinkers and administrators in all of the land to help him bring prosperity to the country. But things do not go well and the people are still outraged.

It must be that either (a) something is seriously wrong with our system of government that we keep putting such incompetent, plutocratic fools into positions of power, or (b) those who are outraged do not really understand the constraints that policymakers face. I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine which one I think is more plausible.

22 March, 2009

14 March, 2009

Cramer v. Stewart

While incredibly entertaining, I think that the recent back-and-forth (feud? discussion? argument?) between Jon Stewart and Jim Cramer has been problematic for a few reasons.

First, there's no serious treatment of uncertainty by either side. The stock market is probabilistic. Stock picks are just those stocks that the picker thinks are going to outperform the market on average. Some of them will outperform and some will underperform; it's random! This is why letting your life savings ride on one stock (or five) is not such a good idea. Both sides err on this count. CNBC sells Cramer as picking sure things with his trader's intuition and 29 years of experience. In fact, studies have found that Cramer's picks underperform the market on average. (Of course, this is hardly surprising to financial economists, but...)

On the other hand, Stewart "turd mines" a few terrible stock picks and draws the general conclusion that Cramer is a snake-oil salesman. But that doesn't follow from the fact that Cramer made a few terrible picks. It does follow from the studies I mentioned above, but these are never discussed. So Stewart provides the impression that the stock markets are deterministic and if Cramer is providing faulty picks, he must be in on the conspiracy. (Yes, there is the more subtle argument I made above, that Cramer should be up front about the uncertainty involved, but Stewart does not explicitly say this.)

This leads in to a point that Megan McArdle recently made. Stewart defends his turd mining because he claims the Daily Show is up front about it: "that's what we do!" But while the Daily Show is nominally a comedy show, it has a serious amount of real influence. Stewart, when called out on pieces that are plainly lacking in journalistic integrity, whips out the "just comedy" defense with alarming speed. This argument was applicable when the Daily Show was mostly making fun of small towns and people with weird names, but now it's driving a large segment of public opinion. The standard for responsibility should be the amount of real influence wielded, not claims about nominal distinctions between the "real" media and the "fake" media.

So, I don't think Stewart should turn into the BBC, but if he claims that Cramer can't run and hide behind his "entertainment" defense, Stewart should not be able to either.

10 March, 2009

Economists for EFCA

So, while I'm busy having no life in preparation for this weekend, here I am reading about union mobilization in Latin America and it reminds me of the renewed debate over unions here in the US. Brad DeLong provides the text of a pro-Employee Free Choice Act letter, signed by a raft of economists. It makes the essentially progressive argument that a more pro-labor negotiating framework is not just good for self-interested union bosses and their patsies in electoral politics, but also for broad and sustained economic growth. Soaring productivity and stagnating wages means that the gains from productivity are being funnelled almost exclusivly upward to executives who do things like invest in high-risk financial bubbles rather than to middle-class workers who invest in things like homes, cars, health care and consumer goods.

I just thought the collection of economists was interesting. Some outright progressives like Dean Baker and James Galbraith, but also a lot who I would call more liberal/centrist in their politics such as DeLong, Rodrik, and Sachs. Also notable are Jagdish Bhagwati and Robert Solow. There is also quite the raft of MIT signers...but no Krugman!

09 March, 2009

Moral bankruptcy

It is very, very difficult for me to see how an organization that makes this particular moral trade-off is in any way deserving of respect. I understand a general opposition to abortion, even as I disagree with it, but a refusal to budge on a case this brutal and extreme shows a deep intellectual and moral rot. I really don't know what else to say.

On a less emotional note, I don't see, doctrinally or theologically, why this is the right call. Doesn't the doctrine of double effect allow for the commission of incidental (i.e. non-desired) sins in the course of serving a good cause? This is what, in Catholic Just War theory, allows for the foreseen-yet-unintentional killing of innocent civilians in military operations. Why doesn't the same apply to saving the life of an innocent mother?

07 March, 2009

More controversial than abortion

I stumbled mentally yesterday as I saw a headline for the NYTimes that was not about jobs or the economy, but rather about stem cell research.

It covered the usual notes about how embryonic stem cell research can be seen as a way to get at "real science" or as the destruction of a human soul. For me, it's much more controversial than abortion. After working in a hospital this past summer with many opportunities to discuss ethical practices as well as where the questions of ethics are going in the next few years, I have added hundreds of questions with very few answers. (So bear with me; I'm hoping for some open dialogue to work through my thoughts)

My culture supports the sciences and I do think it's amazing what has been achieved in the minimal years I've even been around; my religious conviction supports the reverence of all life. Still I don't find myself wondering if abortion should be legalized (although many of my feelings about abortion stem--no pun intended--from the following view). My concern is based off of our control issues: How much control are we allowed before life becomes unnatural?

One main example from the past summer was a man's father who had a defibrillator, which shocks his heart back into action when it stops. At first, his family rejoiced because no one felt their dad/grandpa should've been held down by a faulty heart, but now...he isn't so sure of the choice. His dad is getting older and it's possible that his time has come but technology has come further.

The two sides are confusing and controversial for me--I want to hold onto my loved ones but at what cost?

Theologically, I would never want to be in the "God's position," although many subconsciously hold that as their spiritual goal. I've found it more exhausting than fulfilling when I've tried. Culturally, I find death to be another hurdle (that last 10 pounds to go before you've reached the perfect weight--a metaphor for another day) to jump before we can make it on our own. We don't honor it as a beautiful fact and fulfillment in life to celebrate.

Why? Because we don't want to believe the one thing we know is true--we are going to die. Just as (and I know I'm being very inclusive with my language) we don't want to believe that we need to depend on someone other than ourselves, ESPECIALLY when that "person" has been presented as something other than the well-educated doctor or scientist that has a tangible cure.

It is why I have a hard time saying whether abortion should be allowed (in many cases), or that embryos should be used for something other than fertilization. When should one expect science to do the living...and do they die in doing so?

06 March, 2009

This is amazing...

A metaphor-by-metaphor deconstruction of one Thomas Friedman:

Remember Friedman's take on Bush's Iraq policy? "It's OK to throw out your steering wheel," he wrote, "as long as you remember you're driving without one." Picture that for a minute. Or how about Friedman's analysis of America's foreign policy outlook last May: "The first rule of holes is when you're in one, stop digging. When you're in three, bring a lot of shovels."

On the subject of desert mountain ranges...

This was an interesting bit over at the The Vine.

Whatever your stance on nuclear power in general, this move prompts interesting policy questions. Because the government has the legal obligation to accept and store spent nuclear fuel, what to do without Yucca Mountain? Transportation of waste wasn't slated to begin until around 2017, pending certain legislation--which is now pretty much kaput. Looking at that time frame, what short-term options do we have about which Mr. Chu is so confident? As I understand it, there is a substantial cooling period for these spent fuels where they essentialy must remain on site--and even after that the main storage problem is the latent btu's canisters will crank out, necessitating certain space and ventilation regulations. Currently operating nuclear facilities are equipped to deal with their own waste for now, but at +2000 tons a year nationally that won't last. And really, they went into business with the expectation that the government would be taking it off their hands at some point.

I'd like to see some specifics from Obama and the Energy Dept. about their alternatives. I know that Nevada wasn't entirely happy about Yucca, but we've invested billions and years into the project that by all accounts would be an acceptable storage facility--why scrap it now? Looking to the future, I suppose it makes some sense that the taxpayer who is enjoying the cheap nuclear energy should share in the cost of storing and transporting the waste. I expect that as time goes on even with that small extra cost nuclear power will be cheaper than any fossil fuels. Then there's the classic "not in my backyard" objection--which is entirely valid in this situation. Allison Macfarlane in the first linked article points out the three requirements for good storage facilities--and I'll submit that Inglis, the author, is not entirely correct in his assessment that Yucca only meets one. It is in an isolated hydrological basin, yes, but it is not in a tectonically active area, and I don't know why the environment couldn't be made into a non-oxidizing one (isn't that the purpose of developing the facility beyond just a hole in the ground?).

I just wonder if the administration has a better, cheaper place in mind already, of it they may be stalling to figure something out in the meantime. At any rate, some interesting things to come, I'm sure.

Update: Boyce Watkins was on WPR and couldn't answer my question--they told me they'd talk about it next week...

02 March, 2009

Music Taste = Smarts?

Apparently listening to Sufjan Stevens and Radiohead are signs of intelligence. Who knew?