July 31, 2009

Why True Capitalism and Anarchy Don't Exist, Or, Why We Should Let the Government Regulate a Little

Anarchy is, simply put, the absence of any rule or regulation. Some would label the capitalistic economic system anarchic (I won't call it our system because we, of course, don't live in a society of strict capitalism, contrary to popular opinion). After all, pure capitalism leaves no room for regulation or rules or laws, does it? The rich and enterprising grow richer and are not mandated to help the poor; they have no obligation apart from their own humanity to feel compassion.

But even if we did, we could never escape some kind of regulation...

In every society and every economic system there is a leader, and there are followers; there is an optimal life, and there are less than optimal lives; there are things that must be done, and rules that must be obeyed. In a world of true capitalism one would always end up applying the always-useful old-fashioned dog-eat-dog code. This code would serve as a primitive form of law. In other words, capitalism cannot be anarchic because someone always triumphs, and the triumphant all too often form a sort of governing body. And governing bodies, in one way or another, always regulate...

What I mean to say is that there is no true anarchy, and there is no true capitalism. Capitalism and anarchy both are like most ideological things: somewhat beautiful and ruthless but forever unattainable.

Perhaps if both are so unattainable it would be better for us to stop striving for them. By which I mean to say that many Americans nowadays wish for the good old days back when the government didn't regulate the economy or even the very, very good very, very old days back when we all threw tea into the ocean to get rid of government regulation of the economy- but these wishes are useless, because attempting to find a system (even a capitalist system) with no regulation is impossible. Someone will always rule; we will always be regulated. That someone regulating us might as well be our good old elected officials, instead of the highest bidder.

Therefore, maybe we should all stop complaining about government regulation and instead find a way to make it work. I would suggest finding out the details; I am of course referring to our great government's latest attempt at regulating health care. I think you knew that because that's all anyone talks about these days, that and Michael Jackson.

So. Don't moan about how this country's losing its edge to socialism; if you want to do something useful, write a letter to your Congressperson and try and find us the most recent copy of that health care plan!

Or, write a letter to the Webster's Dictionary people letting them know that, solely for the purposes of general morale and not letting the American public subscribe to pipe dreams, they should delete "capitalism" and "anarchy" from the dictionary.

Was a Nurse Forced to Perform an Abortion?

A pro-life Catholic nurse is in the news for allegedly being forced to provide an abortion. The nurse in question is Catherina Cenzon-DeCarlo. Here’s how the situation unfolded...

To read the rest of this post, go here.

July 30, 2009

What the Media Can Do

The news media is a very important thing. That goes without saying. From the newspapers, television, radio and Internet (yours truly can't forget that last one), we obtain our knowledge of what's going on in the world. We get the facts.

But we also get so much more.

Almost every source is biased, whether to an individual (-cough- Sarah Palin's website) or to a party or a party's general ideology (i.e., most major news stations and oftentimes this blogger's posts). But we can sometimes calculate for bias, if we pay enough attention. No, the media has a power yet more subtle that can oh-so-quietly change our minds. Because the media can, instead of openly endorsing a certain school of thought, lead our minds in certain directions...

Take today's New York Times headline, for example: "New Poll Finds Growing Unease On Health Plan." This is of course true, and the poll legitimate; if it wasn't we'd lose faith in the Times, wouldn't we? But the part that makes me a tad uneasy (and a bit in awe of the Times' not-so-slight subtlety) is that just by reading this headline, I almost felt myself growing more uneasy about the health plan. Why? Because we as Americans and as people are generally influenced by majority rule. If the Times says the majority is becoming uneasy, then we become uneasy.

Of course the news must be reported and discomfort with the giant healthcare reform probably is indeed the trend of popular opinion; but isn't it true that by choosing which popular opinions and which stories to report the media can influence our thoughts on certain issues? If, for example, the Times had run a story explaining the complete confidence President Obama has in his health plan, perhaps the American public would have found more confidence instead of less in the aforementioned health reform.

This, my dear readers, is what the media can do...

The Democrats Are in Trouble

The Democrats are in trouble. New polls show them losing ground when matched up with the Republicans. An NPR poll showed Republicans leading Democrats in the generic congressional vote by 1%. A Rasmussen poll had the margin at 3%. At the same time, the NPR poll gives President Obama a 53% approval rating while Rasmussen gives him only a 49% rating, with 50% disapproving.

To read the rest of this post, go here.

July 29, 2009

Obsession... Taken Too Far?

Apparently, old-fashioned romance has been replaced... by pillowcases. According to a few manga-character-loving Japanese, called "2-D lovers," they turn to depictions of video game characters to fill the space of a human loving partner.

There has long been a trend among the Japanese (and many others) to appreciate manga and the characters within it. Otaku, as it is called, is a sort of obsession with manga and anime and accompanying video games; the 2-D lovers are an extraordinary extension of that culture.

People who fall in love and think they have relationships with inanimate objects are called "objectum sexual" and have been around for a long time. Example- the lady who fell in love with the Eiffel Tower...

But apparently these "2-D lovers" are different. For one thing, the images they worship are actually human, as opposed to the Eiffel Tower; and for another thing, the images are often of children.

When I read of this phenomenon in the New York Times magazine today, my first reaction was to cringe back and think it was some kind of joke. Then I remembered that "objectum sexual" oftentimes have little choice in their preferences. But then I read on...

It seems that some if not most of the "2-D lovers" (that is, the actually 2-D kind) are images of prepubescent children. I don't know about you but I leave people to their own preferences- but only until child pornography is involved. Then I object. Strongly.

By writing on this subject I don't hope to dissuade the "2-D lovers" from their lifestyle, because I realize they'll probably never read this post. I simply think that such a story is worth a mention... and a thought. When do freedom of expression and of lifestyle stretch too far? 

I'd say, when kids start being involved.

REVIEW: Hopelessly Devoted @ Capital Fringe

Never before have I seen a show that was so irreverent while being so tasteful. "Hopelessly Devoted" features a Chicagoan comedy duo reflecting on the the lighter side of the catholic experience. Their show consists of a series of skits ranging from one-liners to 10 minute impromptu productions involving, if at first unwillingly, members of the audience (just their luck, they got an atheist). The bits span jokes to embellished real life stories, the fanciful to the so seriously real you can't help but laugh.

The enjoyment of the show comes from the duo's ability to relate to the audience and the universality of their experiences. They are common people who can perfectly capture the mundane suffering of catholic life perfectly and in ways that show pride in their religion. The saying goes that comedy is tragedy plus time and no where is that more in evidence than here. The writing is tight and their delivery is perfect. For likely being a regional plug that changes from place to place, their Georgetown v. Catholic University skits were very well received. The couple even dated at one point making their catholic-husband-and-wife bits all the more believable, if (as they point out) slightly awkward.

Hopelessly Devoted was the best comedy act I saw at the Fringe and well deserved the praise other media outlets have given them. For people of every religious affiliation, this pair is a must see.

The Moral Case for Universal Healthcare

I thought Ezra Klein of the Washington Post had an interesting post yesterday. In it, he wondered why Democrats were not making the moral case for healthcare as much as the economic case.

To read the rest of this post, go here.

Off to the Races!- Breaking News in North Carolina

The most confusing wing of a political party is the North Carolina Democratic Party.

Why do I say that?

Because they have yet to realize that they need to capitalize on their party's momentum and get Richard Burr out of the United States Senate. You may remember in my last blog post when I mentioned that Mike McIntyre was the party's best known potential candidate? Well, he decided to decline to run today. That's right, a man who polled within 5 points of the incumbent with a full 16 months before the election decided NOT to run.

In fact, the primary is in 10 months and there are TWO announced Democratic candidates, neither of whom are considered serious candidates or have even held elected office. The list of Democrats who have declined to run pretty much includes almost every prominent Democrat in the state. Former State Senator Cal Cunningham, State Senator (and current chair of the Duke University Board of Trustees) Dan Blue, Chapel Hill mayor Kevin Foy and Secretary of State Elaine Marshall are the only prominent Democrats who have yet to make a decision.

Here are some facts about these candidates:
  • Marshall and Blue have already made failed attempts at the Democratic NOMINATION for the Senate.
  • Recent polls have Burr ahead of Marshall 43%-35%
  • Foy may be hurt by his public opposition to gun control and being mayor of the city that Sen. Jesse Helms once said a wall should be built around in order to contain its liberalism.
  • There's nothing too bad about Cunningham: He left the North Carolina Senate in 2002 because of partisan redistricting, joined the military and served two active duty tours in Iraq. He served as a lawyer and was deployed to serve as legal counsel. He's also only 35. The downside is that he has only two years of political experience, which could prove to be a non-factor given that the last Democratic senator to occupy Burr's seat had no experience whatsoever. Before knowing anything about his political beliefs, he looks like the most viable remaining candidate IF he can gain name recognition. The most recent poll that pairs him with Burr has him losing 46%-27%. Granted this poll was done in February but I can't see much of a change happening since then.

Note that none of these people have announced yet, they are merely doing what McIntyre was doing prior to today, "considering." They could very well turn the opportunity down and continue in their current careers.

How vulnerable is Richard Burr? A recent poll done by Public Policy Polling showed that only 34% of North Carolinians approve of the job that Burr is doing with 35% disapproving and the rest unsure. In a race between Burr and a "Democratic opponent," the Democrat leads 41%-38%.

Of course, it's worth mentioning that Kay Hagan similarly denied plans to run against Elizabeth Dole before ultimately announcing her candidacy on October 30, 2007. In fact, it took a whole 3 and a half weeks for Hagan to change her mind. Maybe the prominent North Carolina Democrats playing the same game this time. If they are then they are wasting valuable fundraising time and time to gain more name recognition. In a hotly contested race, time is valuable. A concept seemingly lost on the North Carolina Democrats.

Been a busy week for me, I'll try to get the South Carolina/Florida edition of "Off to the Races!" up by the end of the week. Let me know what you think of the circumstances surrounding the North Carolina Senate race. Maybe I'm just confused because I decided to write a blog entry at midnight.

July 28, 2009

Out of the Mouths of Babes

So there's this girl named Phoebe. She lives in San Francisco. And this year, she helped raise enough money to feed more than 17000 people.

And she's five years old.

Apparently Phoebe was being driven to preschool one day and saw a homeless person outside her window, begging for money to buy food. She asked her teacher about it and her teacher explained what some would call the facts of life: Some people don't have anywhere to live. Some people don't have enough to eat. Some people don't have any money or property or Barbie dolls.

That explanation should be enough to bring tears to anyone's eyes, and thoughts of action to anyone's mind. The extraordinary thing about Pheobe is that she did take action. The five-year-old started a campaign to collect cans in order to collect the accompanying five-cent deposits. She wanted to reach a goal of one thousand dollars earned. (In five cent increments! One thousand dollars!)

She ended up reaching a grand total of $3736.30, almost quadruple her original goal. Since a few good Samaritans from the area were kind enough to offer to match her funds, Phoebe's efforts led to a total of almost thirty-four thousand dollars in food being donated to the San Francisco Food Bank.

And Phoebe is only five. I mean, if your heart isn't touched by this story, shouldn't your pride be rattled? A five-year-old can raise thirty-four thousand dollars to feed the hungry in only a few weeks! Shouldn't we as adults be able to do ten times more?

Out of the mouths of babes oft times come gems... Let's follow Phoebe's example, because her story sure is a gem.

To see a video of Phoebe and the people who helped her along the way, follow this link:


Fuzzy Math

Watch Bill O'Reilly explain why Canadians have a longer life expectancy using some iron-clad math.

What Republicans Got Out of the Sotomayor Hearings

Sonia Sotomayor will be confirmed to the Supreme Court. That is a given, as I’ve detailed before on this blog. So what, if anything, did Republicans get out of the confirmation hearings?

To read the rest of this post, go here.

THE DARTMOUTH: The Way it Was.

My contribution to The D today:

Of the recent celebrity death parade that has streamed across newspaper headlines and the bottom of CNN, none of the late American icons has had such a profound effect on the course of American history and thought as broadcasting legend Walter Cronkite. After his passing on July 17, notable reporters from a bygone generation poured out to pay respects to their distinguished colleague, and younger news anchors have done the same for him as their esteemed mentor.

Absent in this period of retrospection and public mourning have been the voices of today’s youth. Yet oddly enough we are the ones who gobble down more news than Cronkite in his heyday could likely handle, who can use the Internet to customize flows of information from a diverse network of decentralized sources, instead of relying on a single news network as our parents once did.

Now I can’t really offer any meaningful “remembrance” of Cronkite — he retired before I was born. But what I can do is speak to the legacy he has given us, the generation his viewers begot. Keep Reading.

July 27, 2009

What We Want

"We want to live, and our children not to blow up."

This is a quote from Mr. Pindrus, the former mayor of Beitar Illit, one of the settlements expanding precariously close to the currently (and only relatively) accepted Israeli border on the West Bank. He is a Haredi, an ultra-Orthodox Jew currently living in the Palestinian-Israeli war zone that most of us cringe back from on the evening news.

The paradox of Palestine is a quandary that has haunted both Jews and Arabs, and the rest of the politically active world, for decades. To put it simply, quite a few people want to live in those hotly contested 10000 square miles, and most of them seem to want to hurt each other very badly.

But things might not be quite as they seem in that respect.

Many Jews are outraged at the Palestinians' actions. Many Palestinians are similarly outraged at the Jews' actions. (I think they should all be outraged at Britain's actions in promising both groups the same piece of land after World War One, but I guess that part got forgotten in the shuffle.) There are religious and socioeconomic differences aplenty that contribute to the ongoing (and ongoing, and ongoing) conflict.

But if I could take a closer look at the root of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, maybe I would see one simple thought: "We want to live, and our children not to blow up." That is a sentiment with which I can sympathize, indeed a sentiment with which every human on this earth can sympathize.

Maybe I'm wrong and it's all down to religious differences and whether the gates we walk through have pearls on them or not... But regardless, when I read Mr. Pindrus' words in the New York Times today, I was struck by just how similar all we humans are, and just how awful it is that we end up killing each other's children.

Because, really, we just "want to live, and our children not to blow up." 

Here's the NYTimes link: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/27/world/middleeast/27settlers.html?pagewanted=4&_r=1&ref=todayspaper

REVIEW: The Honest-To-God True Story of the Atheist @ Capital Fringe

Somewhere between the Viagra advertisement and the bleeding plastic nativity scene statue, they lost me. The Honest-To-God True Story of the Atheist attempts to explore one man's godly doubt through a series of seemingly unrelated and certainly underdeveloped skits bound together by a single plot. If you ever read about the urban legends on Snopes.com, a lot of the plot will not be new to you. In cases, the dialogue is word for word.

The plot centers around one atheist's rebellion against gods and expressions thereof using rather unlikely premises and 100% impossible results. Think fantasy without the funny. We're told that the atheist's story ends not with the ending he would have wanted for himself, but instead with the ending we would want would want for him. And while it is no conclusion Walt Disney would have wrote, he does find faith in something, though I'd label it consumer confidence.

The actors clearly have the ability to be funny, but choose to exercise it sparingly. I found some parts of some skits extremely enjoyable, but they were tempered by long periods of awkward seriousness and absolute dryness. There is no philosophy in the show, nor is there really any "atheistic" content, which wouldn't necessarily been a bad thing hadn't they labeled it a "comedy," which it clearly wasn't.

The Gadson Review Tackle's The Latest Developments in the Gates Saga

The arrest of Henry Louis Gates has ballooned into a much bigger controversy than I expected, so I couldn’t help weighing in on the latest developments. There are a few issues I want to address...

To read the rest of the post, click here.

July 26, 2009

The Melting Pot (Present Day)

Let's face it. This country doesn't really have the best history in dealing with immigrants, both legal and illegal. There was that whole nasty discrimination thing in the 1840s (German- and Irish-Americans loved that) and then there was the Gentleman's Agreement in 1908 that basically ruined anyone Japanese's chance of coming to the States. And then there's today. We newly enlightened Americans are letting our foreign cousins in without discrimination- right?

Apparently not.

Illegal immigration is a crime. That's true. But is it really the worst crime? I don't think so. I think a more serious crime is the discrimination that millions of people face because they are suspected or proven of falling into the "illegal immigrant" category. After all, how would you like it if you decided to move to another country to avoid war and poverty and fatal illnesses- and not only was it impossible to get papers, but even if you got them you were shunned and despised by the native-born residents of that country?

I would guess it's not a pleasant feeling.

I don't know about you but I kind of thought that once President Obama took office, the immigration situation would be at least slightly resolved. I thought we'd see a few more bouts of amnesty granted to the "illegals" already living in this country, and then some immigration reform passed that would make it a lot easier to come in, or at least easier to stay.

But of course then the recession showed up, and then distrust of foreigners skyrocketed even more than it already had, and then there were (as always) those constantly-present jingoists who insist that because America is America and because apple pie and football are important only Americans can live here.

And hey, it would be nice if we could fix up the bureaucracy enough to let in the immigrants without making them wait ten thousand years. But that's going to take a while. And meanwhile we, the enlightened American citizens of the post-racism age, might want to think a little bit more about what we could do to help our neighbors.

July 25, 2009

Keeping Up Appearances

Every country's government has a line they will not cross. For the government of the United States of America, this line is apparently the use of the military to arrest suspected terrorists with US citizenship. Apparently that violates the Fourth Amendment-- no unreasonable searches and seizures without probable cause.

Okay, sounds good. We like our constitutional rights. The problem with this is that while using the military to arrest citizens is off-limits, using the FBI to arrest them and then transferring them to military custody for "interrogation" is completely fine.

I'm referring to the case of Jose Ibrahim Padilla, a United States citizen arrested on United States soil. He was first detained by FBI agents- that part was very important to President Bush- and not by US soldiers. In 2002, against his vice president's wishes, President Bush decided that it was not allowable for US troops to arrest other US citizens; FBI agents could still exercise that power.

Padilla's detainment was justified by the Iraq Resolution of 2002, which states that the president can "use all necessary force against... such nations, organzations, or persons"; supposedly Padilla also qualified officially as an "enemy combatant" and was thus stripped of certain unalienable rights.

What worries me about the whole situation is President Bush's reason for keeping the military, for all appearances, restrained. While soldiers weren't actually knocking on citizens' doors, Bush could pretend that citizens were afforded their constitutional protections. But Padilla was held without any formal charges against him. And he was transferred to military custody. So, what's the difference?

Appearances is the key word here. If the troops had started banging on our doors we'd have known we were living in a military state controlled by our governing body's will. As it was, the government managed to convince us that we were still safe, with our constitutional rights intact.

All of this leaves me with two thoughts: one, that perhaps paying attention to appearances is the only reason President Bush wasn't faced with complete widespread civil unrest in this country, back in the Dark Ages of his and Cheney's reign (did those phone taps ever get lifted?); and two, that maybe we should start paying more attention to the removal of our constitutional rights.

July 24, 2009

I'm Just a Bill... Yes, I'm Only a Bill...

There's been so much debate about this new health care reform bill. Everyone seems to have a strong opinion and be rather vocal about it, too. But there's just one small problem...

...How many people have actually read it?

I know I haven't. I tried to find it online today, determined to sit down and read at least a few parts of it. It may be one of the most important initiatives of this country's government in years, and I felt it would be unconscionable of me to remain in ignorance. But when I surfed the Net trying to find the House and Senate drafts of the bill, I realized that one was 852 pages long, and the other 615. Which makes sense, I suppose, given the bill's complexity-- but how many people have read every single one of those 1467 pages? Or even, for that matter, one of them?

It turns out that not only was I wrong that there were easily accessible drafts of the bill out there (they took me a while to find), but according to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D- Maryland) I was also wrong in my opinion that my Congressmen and -women had read those drafts themselves. Apparently the bill would end up with "very few votes" if every Congressperson had to read it before voting. Okay, so I don't have the strongest faith in the United States government, but up until today I'd at least given them credit for reading legislation before voting it into law!

Even President Obama seems to not have read the whole lengthy text, which is somewhat understandable in that it is hundreds of pages long- but not at all understandable in that he is its most vocal and prominent advocate. Shouldn't he be aware of what he's promoting? Shouldn't we all be aware of the content of a bill that could change the way this country operates- possibly permanently?

Now, I'm not saying I'm against the reform; but neither can I endorse it, for the one good reason that I haven't had the time to read all 1467 pages yet. I'd be happy to lend my support or (perhaps more likely) my constructive criticism- but if I haven't read it I can't really report on it, now can I?

This whole situation reminds me of fourth-graders on Thursday nights, searching for CliffNotes because they haven't read the book on which they're supposed to be writing a report.

Only this is a whole lot more important.

Here are the long-sought and hard-won URL addresses for drafts of the bill from the House of Representatives and the Senate, respectively:

REVIEW: The Terrorism of Everyday Life @ Capital Fringe

Don't let the poster fool you. There is no scary green man in a gas mask, only this kindly-looking wrinkly one with an unusually dirty mouth and an even dirtier mind. Half stand-up comedy show, half one-man jam session, Ed Hamell's Terrorism of Every Day Life is a witty, vulgar, and honest look at the way life spends its time scaring us sh*tless.

Hamell is clearly polished; he's that old kind of comic that is well rehearsed at being spontaneous. Drifting from story to story -- from a childhood encounter with a potty-mouthed member of The Beatles, to his awkward adolescence, to having to ask the difficult questions of his own son -- Hamell is always cool, always authentic. He sometimes turning away from the microphone, mid-joke, to tell the audience things as if they're not on the record, things our parents in the next room wouldn't want us to hear. Not an easy task, especially when you're talking as fast as you can to complete your bit in only 60 minutes. (he did)

When Hamell's not being our cool uncle, telling us all the nasty (and funny) truths from which our parents have for so long been protecting us, he's blasting the life out of his worn guitar. For a guy that looks like a retired Mr. Clean, he rocks impressively hard and really keeps the show moving, varied, and engaging. He even has a naughty song or two that will make things between the girls sitting around you just a little bit awkward. His act is definitely worth seeing (without children, for the love of god). He even won an award at the large and illustrious Edinburgh Fringe Festival and he doesn't even mention it (well, maybe once or twice).

The Naked Family At The Mall

Your bizarre news for the day.
  1. In its continued attempt to become the classiest state in the union, Florida installs a naked sculpture of a family outside a Delray Beach mall. Question: does the statue's meaning make it any less strange for it to be outside a mall and near a school?
  2. Goat crowned King of Ireland.
  3. NC cops get free Corvette and use it to pull over speeders. I bet they fight over who gets it everyday.
  4. Naked activist wants to attack the Queen of the Netherlands, has a gun.
  5. 16-year-old strippers? Sounds good, legally that is.

The Taxman Cometh

This will be a long and slightly-econny post, so skip to the end if you want to avoid the thought process.

President Obama announced this week that he was considering a tax on “far-out transactions”, probably because everyone's quite peeved at Goldman's ostentatiously large compensation reserve. It’s not very clear yet what falls under the category of “far-out”; are we talking about all classes of derivatives, new financial instruments that have yet to be invented, or simply anything that the layperson can’t understand? The last might pose a slight challenge to our financial system, but it seems like this would be a good plan if we can set up a few caveats.

One of the nice underpinnings of this plan is that it reverts to the idea of rational choice models and incentive alignments. Codified regulation has always been a tricky proposition, especially when it comes to the financial system. What works for the courts and public life won’t necessarily work for the banks and the funds. Finance necessarily moves at a much faster pace than everyday life, rendering a system of law and arbitration less useful. The more elegant solution would be to tell financial institutions: Eat what you want, as long as you pay for your own dinner (and hospital costs if you get food poisoning).

In its current, inchoate form, the proposed exotic-instruments tax might basically be that banks pay an extra tax on revenue generated from origination, structuring and sale of such instruments. This doesn’t seem like it would be too hard to implement, as long as we can adequately define what comes under the category of exotic instruments (more on that later). We also would tax only institutions that originate the products, not upstream or downstream entities. For example, Company A has a cool stream of revenue coming in from intellectual property royalties. Bank B decides that it could package this stream of royalties and sell off tranches to different investors. We’d tax Bank B, on the idea that they’re the one creating the risk and that the effect would be shared across the supply side in the form of higher bank fees. If Bank C buys Bank B’s stuff, and repackages THAT with something else, that’s when we’d tax Bank C as well.

Some might argue that this effectively chills financial innovation and creativity. This, however, is precisely the idea: That institutions are forced to internalize the systemic risk their activities create. It seems like a win-win situation (in a closed system; no time to discuss external competitors). When tax payments are squeezing profits from these instruments such that the marginal cost of origination and risk-assumption outweigh the tax-effected profits, we should get a lower level of risk. BUT when banks decide that, hey, this fancy new idea we’ve come up with is absolutely so profitable that even post-tax, its still a great idea, we’ll have something in the kitty to plug the hole if they screw up. And if they don’t, maybe that’s Obama’s next 10 years of healthcare funding right there.

All of this is, of course, a superficial application of Econ 1, so it’s not going to be perfect analysis. Here’s the other main challenge: How do we know what an “exotic instrument” is?

The problem with simply saying that we’ll let rational actors decide whether or not something is profitable, is that the externality blade cuts both ways. An overly broad definition of “exotic” would, in the short-run, reduce the level of beneficial innovation as well. Yet a too-narrow definition of such would be equally useless, bogged down by endless petitions and searching for loopholes. One compromise might be to capitalize off our existing infrastructure.

We already have a mechanism in place for evaluating the risk of securities on a periodic basis: Our much maligned notables, the ratings agencies. A tax could be applied based on the ratings that securities receive, with higher supply-side taxes on more risky securities. So let’s take a real life example at look at the securitization of California’s IOUs. The first time a securitization like that is performed, ratings agency A will assess the relevant factors, including a projection X years out, and rate the security. Proceeds from that will be taxed at a proportional rate. However, let’s say New Hampshire likes the idea and decides to try the same trick. Assuming that 1) new information has come to light or 2) the increase in securitized IOUs somehow makes EVERYTHING more risky, all the outstanding IOU-backed securities get downgraded, but only NH-issues get taxed since California already paid their dues. “Good” innovation, in the long-run, will become cheaper to issue, and “bad” innovation will become more expensive.

The nub of this is that it comes back down to the ratings agencies, which have, to put it mildly, not done a great job. The second piece of the plan might be to set up a government-sponsored ratings agency, which would remove all the incentive problems associated with agencies and the banks they rate, and also incentivize them to clean up their act. It’s hard to see how independent raters could stay in business if they had to compete with a government agency and the immense legitimacy it would possess. It also gives the government a great degree of control over the growth of the financial sector, which is going to be absolutely wonderful or stupid as hell, depending on the size of your paycheck.

I like the idea of a ratings-based tax because it straddles the middle ground between free choice and paternalism. Under the current system, we try to control demand by disseminating information on securities and letting consumers make their own choices. However, markets are imperfect, people are irrational, and greed always wins. Banks are simply do not have to pay enough for their crappy securities. Which is why we’re suddenly seeing such an active market in high-yields, despite investors having been kicked in the ass a few months ago. Conversely, imposing a ban on securities is much too rigid and will be full of loopholes that smarty-pants bankers will exploit. Combining market forces with some state-directed supply control will fine tune financial markets and possibly provide some much needed revenue for all the people with restless leg syndrome we need to treat in the future.

The taxman cometh to solve our problems?

Sins and Assassins

What’s so bad about assassination, anyway?

Cheney probably shouldn’t have instructed the CIA to keep secrets from Congress. But it seems unlikely that he did it because he enjoyed telling people ‘I know something you don’t~’. Rather, it’s far more likely he foresaw that Congress, and the public at large, would somehow impute a glaring disconnect between targeted killings using Predator missiles, and targeted killings using actual people.

This distinction is clearly problematic. As a general rule, we now have a sliding spectrum of acceptable wartime actions, where selective strikes such as remote-drone eliminations are excellent (as demonstrated our gleeful reporting of such through media channels); mass, anonymous war with civilian casualties is “regrettable”, and targeted killings are barely a step above from war crimes.

The moral argument against assassination is shaky at best. From a utilitarian perspective, collateral damage on both sides should be dramatically reduced, were we to use trained teams to take out targets, rather than carpet-bombing an area or blowing up those unsuspecting wedding caravans that so frequently traipse across Afghanistan. Unless there’s some sort of moral imperative to give targets a fair chance (and even then, it’s not obvious that you have a better chance against a missile than an assassin squad), the alternative that reduces loss of innocent live would dominate.

Maybe then, we should consider the slippery-slope argument. If a major world player were to publicly sanction the use of assassination to resolve conflicts, it might lead to two detrimental outcomes. First, said player might end up using targeted assassinations more and more, on less and less important targets. Second, countries all over might follow this lead and establish targeted killings as a norm, leading to a War of Assassins (shoutout to those who get the reference).

But this again begs the question: Why is this bad? For the first scenario, we would need a persuasive reason to believe that the ability to legally use this option would dramatically increase the illegal use of the option. If the government could legally take out dictators in the Middle East, they, having tasted of the forbidden fruit, would be unable to restrain themselves from using it on, say, Rush Limbaugh. This seems unlikely, for the same reason that legalizing police sting operations hasn’t translated into policemen lurking in toilets waiting to catch ALL of us (only horny senators).

For the second, I’ll take a radical stance. Having assassination become a norm might actually be a pretty good thing. Are we fed up to the ears yet with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in? At a first approximation, you would have less young people dying, since surgical strikes would be the order of the day. But what’s really interesting about it is that it might offer a great disincentive to leaders all over the world who wage war. The barriers to entry for creating an assassination squad are simply so much lower than that of raising an army, developing nuclear weapons, or even planning a terror strike. The main problem probably lies in insertion of the squad into the target location. However, one possible consequence of the normalization of “targeted killings” might be that leaders take significantly more care in their relationships with each other, since the possibility of extrajudicial action is increased due to the lower cost of conflict resolution through violent means. Another way of putting it would be that leaders are now forced to bear the full cost of the negative externalities generated by their actions.

What She Said

I normally don't look to CNN's iReport for engaging commentary, but I think this woman really hits the nail on the head with the Henry Louis Gates controversy.

Here's her basic argument
  1. Gates's neighbor likely racially profiled him, but the police did not. Gates should direct his anger at his spiteful neighbor instead of the dutiful police officers.
  2. The arresting officer did not act wrongly, but likely was swayed emotionally in his decision to arrest Gates by Gates's extremely rude and confrontational behavior.
  3. We, the American public, don't yet have all the information and therefore should not prejudge the situation. Obama was wrong and ignorant to say the officer acted "stupidly."
  4. Gates's economic class is being ignored in favor of talking about his race. The correct question to act is not "Would a white man would have also been arrested?" (I'd say, yes they would... I watch a lot of "COPS"), it is, "Would a poor black man have been similarly let off?" The news media rarely focus on the plight of poor black victims of racial injustice.
  5. Race politics are dominated by "pseudo-black leaders" and academics who profit off of and exploit tensions instead of ameliorating them. Gates has based his career on this and is now moving to cash in on his present situation.


Is Healthcare a Right?

In the discussions about healthcare reform, some conservatives are making an interesting claim. They say that healthcare is not a right, and that we are not obligated to provide it. For an example of such an argument, read this article.

To read the rest of this post, go here.

Goose Egg.

SPOTTED: at the 2009 College Democrats of America & the Democratic National Committee Youth Council at Tabaq in Washington D.C.-- Congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH). The 36-year old, 4-term, single (ladies...) representative was very approachable, earnest, and easy-going. At the behest of a few USC people who wished to shake his hand but lacked the basic alcoholic confidence to go up to him, I introduced myself and the group and he and I proceeded to talk, quite naturally, for about 10 minutes. Here's the recap.
  • Responding to my question of what the chance is that the health care bill would pass Congress before the August recess, he put his hand to his eye in the shape of a zero. Even if the House busted their hump and passed their version on time, Ryan believes the Senate would drag its feet and screw up anyway.
  • After learning that I work in counter-narcotics, he simply said "legalize it."
  • And he seemed quite receptive to my shameless promotion of the Merida Initiative. (something from work. google it.)

Ryan seemed like a great guy and Tabaq is well worth checking out, especially the green-house-esque roof deck that lit up with every lightening strike. Very cool.

July 23, 2009

A Tale of Two Court Cases

There are two sides to every story, or so the ancient adage tells us. But hardly any story is so straightforward, as every five-year-old and most of our politicians should know by now. Black and white don't exist, only shades of gray...

But in this crazy supposedly-post-racism era, it seems, oddly, that black and white do still exist- and are loaded words, especially in the courtroom.

Take, for example, the two recent court cases surrounding fire department exams, one in New York City and one in New Haven. In the New York City court case, decided on Wednesday in a federal district court, it was ruled that tests used by the Fire Department of New York were discriminatory to minority test-takers; here I quote presiding Judge Nicholas Garaufis: "These examinations unfairly excluded hundreds of qualified people of color from the opportunity to serve as New York City firefighters." The good judge wrote in his ruling that the FDNY was still "monochromatic" even in the face of an overwhelmingly diverse population. And this from the melting pot of America?

On the other hand, the recent Supreme Court case Ricci v. DiStefano concluded with a verdict in New Haven's white firefighters' favor- tests cannot be thrown out simply because the fire department fears lawsuits from minority applicants when the tests yield disproportionate racial results. Incidentally, our new Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor had originally ruled in favor of the tests' dismissal (which makes her situation just that more complicated, especially since she is Hispanic). Also incidentally, Ricci v. DiStefano was a 5-4 decision: five traditionally conservative justices to four traditionally liberal justices (which makes the situation still decidedly old-fashioned in a way-- remember back when the liberals wanted equality for minorities and the conservatives dragged their feet?).

What does this tell us? For one, that accusations of racism have become a double-edged sword; it used to be that minorities were discriminated against in almost all cases (see as an example New Haven). Now, some think that whites are discriminated against, in prevention of discrimination against minorities (take a look at New York).

The race card is definitely not as simple to play as it used to be, that's for sure.

REVIEW: Diamond Dead (Continued...) @ Capital Fringe

Imagine my horror, attending this show, knowing it was musical and nature but entirely unsure what to expect. After showing the first installment of a MTV/VH1 style documentary showing a couple of extremely goth superfans bussed out to see their idols, The Diamond Dead, the band takes the stage. Dressed in shiny leather platform army boots, black trenchcoats, neon mesh leggings, death masks, and even an external fake spinal cord, the band announces that they are, in fact, the first, and finest, actually dead death metal band and proceed to sing a song about necrophilia. I immediately thought that I had gotten way over my head and started scanning the crowd hoping to find some indication that I wasn't completely out of place.

However, it immediately became clear that this was no serious act and was instead a Death Metal Band in the same vein of Spinaltap. The video clips were clearly meant to be mockumentary in nature, the songs were way over the top, and the performers were self-deprecating satirical. For example, the only "living" member of the band was not shy to admit her crush on the dead front man, who refuses to make a move on her due his personal stance against necrophilia.

The songs were catchy and well performed (hats off to the drummer), the video clips were funny and witty, and the story line (which included cameo appearances from Death, the dethroned Ms. California, and a certain recently resigned Alaskan governor) was engaging and surprising. The enthusiastic standing ovation lasted more than five minutes before the band came out to explain that they had to clean-up immediately and would not be able to play an encore because another act was coming in. Simply put, a terrific show, the best of what I've seen at the Fringe so far.

Off to the Races!

In 2010, the Democrats hope to build on their momentum by capturing more Senate seats to add to their 60-seat majority. Given the current state of the national GOP, that seems somewhat likely. However, is it as likely as we think? Could the Republican start their comeback in 2010? Well, let's take a look at a couple of states with Republican incumbents (or retiring Republicans) and see how it's looking:

North Carolina: The Democrats are hoping to unseat Senator Richard Burr in 2010 and continue to build on their momentum in the Tar Heel State. They did after all manage to capture the state for the first time since 1976 (and only the second time since 1968). Democrats have historically done well in North Carolina on a state level, the state has only had one two term Republican governor in its history (and he was elected for the first time in 1984, riding the coattails of Ronald Reagan).

The seat occupied by Burr has seen quite a bit of turnover since the retirement of Democratic Senator Sam Ervin in 1974 with Burr as the 7th Senator to occupy that seat in just 35 years. Of the seven Senators to occupy the seat, two were Democrats (Terry Sanford and John Edwards). It's worth nothing that since Ervin's retirement, no one has won re-election to his seat.

One hinderance to the Democrats could prove to be Governor Bev Perdue's approval rating. It currently sits at just 25%. Her popularity was caused by some controversal budget cuts that she had to make in order to keep the state functioning and the diversion of funds from the North Carolina Education Lottery away from education and into the general state budget in order to help cover expenses. The lottery is extremely controversial in North Carolina and was only passed in 2000 because of a promise that it would help fund schools. Perdue's popularity could prove to be a problem for Democrats throughout North Carolina.

Another hinderance could be the on-going investigation into former Governor Mike Easley's potential abuse of power in getting his wife Mary a lucrative job at North Carolina State University and his potential use of taxpayer dollars to fund lucrative trips (he traveled WITH his wife unlike his neighbor to the south). A grand jury recently convened to investigate Easley's dealings.

Also a hinderance is the fact that NOBODY of note is running against Richard Burr. The Democrats have yet to name a big name challenger and the top 5 choices for the national Democrats have all shown little interest. Even favorite Heath Shuler denied any interest in running. While there are candidates in the race, almost all of them lack name recognition. Of course, it's worth nothing that Kay Hagan was just a state senator with no name recognition who ended up defeating Elizabeth Dole by 9 points. The biggest name mulling a run at the Senate seat is Rep. Mike McIntyre of the 7th Congressional District. However, while extremely popular in southeastern N.C., he lacks name recognition statewide. Kay Hagan proved that name recognition isn't everything so it'll be interesting to see if anyone can duplicate what she pulled off in 2008.

Verdict: The Democrats stand a chance in the Tar Heel State if they can distance themselves from Governors Perdue and Easley. It would be wise of them to go ahead and rally behind a candidate because none of the announced candidates have name recognition and with the Democrats no longer as popular in NC as they once were, name recognition and the building of trust between the candidate and the voters will be extremely important.

New Hampshire: Historically a Republican stronghold, the Granite State has trended Democratic recently starting with John Kerry winning the state in 2004 (the only formerly Bush state to switch parties). In 2006, the momentum really picked up as Paul Hodes and Carol Shea-Porter defeated Republican incumbents to become New Hampshire's two United States Representatives and the Democrats even took control of the New Hampshire House of Representatives for the first time since 1923.

Governor John Lynch enjoys great popularity throughout the state, the latest polls have his approval rating at 63% so he will certainly be no problem to any potential Democratic Senators.

With incumbent Judd Gregg retiring, this becomes an open seat. As of now, Democratic congressman Paul Hodes of the 2nd Congressional District and former Republican Attorney General Kelly Ayotte are the leading candidates in their parties. Ayotte presents a great challenge to Hodes as she is popular statewide and could potentially reverse the momentum of the Republicans in the state. The New Hampshire Republican Party recently put former Governor John H. Sununu in charge in hopes of doing just that. This will be Sununu's first election as party chair so it'll be interesting to see if he has any effectiveness.

Recent polls have shown that a large number of voters remain undecided in a Ayotte/Hodes race. A poll conducted by Research 2000 showed Ayotte leads Hodes 39%-38% with 21% of the electorate undecided.

Verdict: This is a wide open race. Both candidates have name recognition so the Democrats in NH aren't fighting the same battle as the Democrats in NC. With a popular governor and increasingly Democratic populace, it'll be Hodes' challenge to try to keep the wave of momentum that he rode into the House going and let it carry him to the Senate. If Ayotte wins this race, it could mark the end of the Democratic wave and the start of a Republican revival. The Senate race in New Hampshire will certainly be one to watch.

I'll possibly do more of these in future. I may use different states or possibly continue to update you guys on the North Carolina and New Hampshire Senate races. If you have any suggestions, post them in the comments section.

UPDATE- I've decided to do different states each post until I've completed all of the Republican held seats. Then I may either switch to Democrats or just do updates. Next up will be South Carolina and Florida. Any comments about my analysis are welcome.

Are States Hurting the Economic Recovery?

James Surrowieki has an interesting article in the New Yorker about the financial crisis and how it's affecting the states. I think Surrowieki is right in noting that states could retard the process of recovery. Most states are required by law to balance the budget.

To read the rest of this post, go here:

Henry Louis Gates, Revisited.

The curious story of Henry Louis Gates just got a bit bigger with President Obama's comment last night that the police involve acted "stupidly". Gates, the notable African Studies professor at Harvard (and friend of the President), was arrested for disorderly conduct by Cambridge police responding to a call that two men were breaking into Gate's home, one of which turned out to be Gates himself. When the story hit the national presses, it immediately was framed as one racist police arresting a black man in his own home. (The charges were subsequently dropped)

However, the newly released Cambridge Police Report paints a much different story: one damning to Gate's allegations of racist misconduct by police, his prestige as an Ivy Leage academic, and his credibility as an individual. It was so bad that the Boston Globe removed it from their website for some reason, probably because it hurts the sensationalism of the story.

Our colleague Marcus Gadson of The Gadson Review wrote an article laying out three criteria for us to examine this incident: (1) should Gates have been arrested for his conduct?, (2) what would have befallen him if he was a poor black man instead of a well-known one-- would the charges still have been dropped?, and (3) would a white Professor have been similarly arrested in the same situation?

Post your answers in the comments section. Here's the report:

...When I arrived at Ware Street I radioed ECC and asked that they have the caller meet me at the front door to this residence. I was told that the caller was already outside. As I was getting this information, I climbed the porch stairs toward the front door. As [reached the door, a female voice called out to me. I looked in the direction of the voice and observed a white female, later identified {} who was standing on the sidewalk in front of the residence, held a wireless telephone in her hand arid told me that it was she who called. She went on to tell me that she observed what appeared to be two black males with backpacks on the porch of• Ware Street. She told me that her suspicions were aroused when she observed one of the men wedging his shoulder into the door as if he was trying to force entry. Since I was the only police officer on location and had my back to the front door as I spoke with her, I asked that she wait for other responding officers while I investigated further.

As I turned and faced the door, I could see an older black male standing in the foyer of {} Ware Street. I made this observation through the glass paned front door. As I stood in plain view of this man, later identified as Gates, I asked if he would step out onto the porch and speak with me. He replied “no I will not”. He then demanded to know who I was. I told him that I was “Sgt. Crowley from the Cambridge Police” and that I was “investigating a report of a break in progress” at the residence. While I was making this statement, Gates opened the front door and exclaimed “why, because I’m a black man in America?”. I then asked Gates if there was anyone else in the residence. While yelling, he told me that it was none of my business and accused me of being a racist police officer. I assured Gates that I was responding to a citizen’s call to the Cambridge Police and that the caller was outside as we spoke. Gates seemed to ignore me and picked up a cordless telephone and dialed an unknown telephone number. As he did so, I radioed on channel I that I was off in the residence with someone who appeared to be a resident but very uncooperative. I then overheard Gates asking the person on the other end of his telephone call to “get the chief’ and “whats the chiefs name?’. Gates was telling the person on the other end of the call that he was dealing with a racist police officer in his home. Gates then turned to me and told me that I had no idea who I was “messing” with and that I had not heard the last of it. While I was led to believe that Gates was lawfully in the residence, I was quite surprised and confused with the behavior he exhibited toward me. I asked Gates to provide me with photo identification so that I could verify that he resided at Ware Street and so that I could radio my findings to ECC. Gates initially refused, demanding that I show him identification but then did supply me with a Harvard University identification card. Upon learning that Gates was affiliated with Harvard, I radioed and requested the presence of the Harvard University Police.

With the Harvard University identification in hand, I radioed my findings to ECC on channel two and prepared to leave. Gates again asked for my name which I began to provide. Gates began to yell over my spoken words by accusing me of being a racist police officer and leveling threats that he wasn’t someone to mess with. At some point during this exchange, I became aware that Off. Carlos Figueroa was standing behind me. When Gates asked a third time for my name, I explained to him that I had provided it at his request two separate times. Gates continued to yell at me. I told Gates that I was leaving his residence and that if he had any other questions regarding the matter, I would speak with him outside of the residence.

As I began walking through the foyer toward the front door, I could hear Gates agai,n demanding my name. I again told Gates that I would speak with him outside. My reason for wanting to leave the residence was that Gates was yelling very loud and the acoustics of the kitchen and foyer were making it difficult for me to transmit pertinent information to ECC or other responding units. His reply was “ya, I’ll speak with your mama outside”. When I left the residence, I noted that there were several Cambridge and Harvard University police officers assembled on the sidewalk in front of the residence. Additionally, the caller, md at least seven unidentified passers-by were looking in the direction of Gates, who had followed me outside of the residence.

As I descended the stairs to the sidewalk, Gates continued to yell at me, accusing me of racial bias and continued to tell me that I had not heard the last of him. Due to the tumultuous manner Gates had exhibited in his residence as well as his continued tumultuous behavior outside the residence, in view of the public, I warned Gates that he was becoming disorderly. Gates ignored my warning and continued to yell, which drew the attention of both the police officers and citizens, who appeared surprised and alarmed by Gates’s outburst. For a second time I warned Gates to calm down while I withdrew my department issued handcuffs from their carrying case. Gates again ignored my warning and continued to yell at me. It was at this time that I informed Gates that he was under arrest. I then stepped up the stairs, onto the porch and attempted to place handcuffs on Gates. Gates initially resisted my attempt to handcuff him, yelling that he was “disabled” and would fall without his cane. After the handcuffs were property applied, Gates complained that they were too tight. I ordered Off. Ivey, who was among the responding officers, to handcuff Gates with his arms in front of him for his comfort while I secured a cane for Gates from within the residence. I then asked Gates if he would like an officer to take possession of his house key and secure his front door, which he left wide open. Gates told me that the door was un securable due to a previous break attempt at the residence. Shortly thereafter, a Harvard University maintenance person arrived on scene and appeared familiar with Gates. I asked Gates if he was comfortable with this Harvard University maintenance person securing his residence. He told me that he was.

Update 1: Sgt. Crowley, the arresting officer has the full support of his union and is unapologetic (and quite professional in the interview).

July 22, 2009

That Way Madness Lies...

The modern world is one obsessed with technogadgets. That is something we all have to accept, along with the dangers of such an obsession. Record players and even old-fashioned radios have fallen by the wayside- soon to follow may be those things we used to have, made of paper, what are they called again? Oh, yes. Books.

But even scarier than the total domination of the newest gadgets and iGadgets in the marketplace is the total domination such technological advances can have over our lives. Take, for example, an Internet-obsessed teenager (and there are many, not excluding present company), or a grown man wearing out his thumbs on the newest full-keypad phone even during important business meetings (I know quite a few of those, too). These people can waste their time away staring at tiny screens without realizing that important things are happening in the world around them.

However, this interest in up-to-date technology is reasonable, or at least acceptable, to a point. But where is that point?

Case in point, Sun Danyong, a twenty-five-year-old (now-ex-)employee of Apple, or more specifically Foxconn, the company that manufactures Apple's ultra-popular iPhones. Danyong was responsible for sixteen prototype iPhones. Something happened- no one seems to know exactly what- and one of the precious sixteen went missing.

On July 16th, 2009, Sun Danyong committed suicide.

Reports vary, but most sources seem pretty certain that a few Foxconn security guards visited Danyong after he reported the gadget missing on July 13, and possibly "interrogated" him (it's very sad but possibly not too far of a conclusion to leap to that my mind immediately jumps to the thought of torture). At any rate, Danyong is dead by twelve-story fall, and Apple is facing inquiries about their incredibly secretive procedures.

It's up to us to decide just how far we'd like to take our obsession with technology. But if we're reaching the point where young people are committing suicide because of the loss of a technogadget- albeit a very expensive technogadget- don't we have a problem?

The Careless Whispers of Mark Sanford

I was listening to this song and thought it fit the whole Sanford situation perfectly: 

The meaning- I had to actually look up a good way to word this one but here it goes, from Yahoo Answers

"In several of George Michael's songs, he used dancing as a metaphor for a relationship. A "careless whisper" could be gossip, or could be a betrayed confidence, or even a metaphor for a bigger kind of betrayal. So I'd say that he's singing about realizing that he has carelessly betrayed a lover, and now he's seeing how badly he's hurt someone he cares about. He's at the point where he realizes that he's destroyed something that matters, and there's not a thing he can do to make it better."

Kind of fits Sanford's situation in both his personal life (with his wife) and his public life (with the office of governor). And well, since Sanford met his mistress at a dance party, it seems all that much more appropriate. 

I am a Real American

The issue continues to come up.........

Is Barack Obama a natural born American citizen?

He absolutely is...........unless you believe that the State of Hawaii, Kenya, Honolulu Advertiser and Star Bulletin (two different newspapers) are all in on a conspiracy theory to somehow put a Kenyan in the White House. After all, Hawaii would have had to authorize a false birth certificate then the Honolulu Advertiser and Star Bulletin would have had to announce a birth that took place thousands of miles away then the Kenyan government would have had to figure out how to smuggle young Barack out of the country without any paperwork to prove that he was there AND then they would've had to hope that America elects a black man with name Barack Hussein Obama to the presidency. Yes, I am aware that that is the world's most convoluted run on sentence but the point is that if Kenya and Hawaii wanted to share the White House, surely there had to be an easier way to do it.

The right wing nutjobs (known as "Birthers") who continue to spread this theory seem to have no concept of how difficult all of this would be to pull off. The world isn't some summer popcorn flick where the bad guys pull off seemingly improbable feats, it's real life where something like this would leave a paper trail a mile long. It's incredibly sad that there are people out there who support this theory and use it as a means to demean our President and question the legitimacy of his work.

That video makes me sad. Not because I support Obama (which I do) but because I'd like to believe that stupidity like this doesn't exist in the world. Wouldn't it be a wiser use of our time to support our President (whether you agree with him politically or not) as he tries to get us out of this recession? After all, Obama has proven that he is a natural born American citizen. Instead of tying up the court system with lawsuits over our President's legitimacy, it'd probably be wiser for these people to brush up on their analytical skills or at very least stop watching so many espionage movies.

The Henry Louis Gates Saga

The biggest news this week was the arrest of Henry Louis Gates under suspicious circumstances. Last Thursday, Gates had trouble unlocking a jammed door when a neighbor called the police to report a possible break-in.

To read the rest of the story, go here:

July 21, 2009

For the love of money.

As if we needed more proof, a PayScale study shows that a Dartmouth education is the best investment in town. Yet again, Dartmouth College alumni have the highest median mid-career salary of any University in America.

Other highlights of note:
  • Name brands matter. Ivy League schools make up 5 of the top 10 earners.
  • Engineering schools aren't bad either for starting salaries.
  • Quantitative majors make bank over qualitative ones. (wish I knew that sooner)
  • The lowest earning majors include: Spanish, theology, education, fine arts, and drama.
  • US News and World Report is a third-rate magazine and its rankings are nonsensical.
Read the full article here.

The Latest on Sarah Palin

It's long been known that people in the public eye tend to have skeletons in their closets. Well, everyone has a few skeletons-- people with more to lose just pile 'em up faster.

Take, for example, everyone's favorite Republican Barbie (cough), Sarah Palin. There was that whole unpleasant incident with her daughter's boyfriend's mother- which, frankly, the press could've stayed out of. But then again, if the press stayed out of politicians' personal lives what would we Americans have to do with our free time?

Ignoring the personal scandals, though, Palin may have messed up her track record for good this time (or so some of us self-respecting women hope). The Alaska Fund Trust, which she established to fundraise for her legal fees, has not turned out to be the best idea. For one thing, there's that whole unpleasant using-public-office-for-personal-gain thing that makes certain American politicians look so bad sometimes.

Well, time will tell if Palin's fund will be shut down- according to the Washington Post, it's still accepting donations- but it sure sounds fishy to me. Doesn't Palin have enough money of her own without using her political clout to grab some more?

Maybe she's trying to get a head start on fundraising for her possible 2012 presidential bid... Though I doubt the Alaska Fund Trust will look like much more than lemonade-stand change in the face of President Obama's campaign fundraising records. The Obama campaign raised $150 million dollars in September 2008 alone.

Take that, Republican Barbie.

Post on Sotomayor's Abortion views

Continuing yesterday’s abortion theme, I wanted to consider what Sonia Sotomayor really thinks about abortion. Both Democrats and Republicans were anxious to hear her opinions on the subject.

To read the rest of this post, go here

New Contributors

In addition to the illustrious Laura Neill, Arnold Tungsten, and Chris Chavis, the brillant Marcus Gadson will be contributing parts of his articles from The Gadson Review, which I'd encourage you all to check out. We also have a few more contributors lined up, but I'll refrain from saying who they are exactly on the off-chance they will be contributing anonymously.

Copyrights and Child Services

The curious case of the at home murder of a Beulah, Florida couple who adopted 13 children (many of them special needs) keeps getting stranger. So far seven people have been charged in connection with the murder after the attackers overlooked the home's video surveillance system, despite casing the property for a month. At present, police have found no cogent motive for the crime, but even more bizarre were the actions of the late father, Byrd Billings.

Additional documents released Monday from the Florida Department of Children and Families show a bizarre attempt by Byrd Billings to copyright the children's names and request money from the department for their use.

A department attorney, Katie George, told the Pensacola News-Journal that every time the agency sent Billings a letter referencing the children by name, he would reply with an invoice demanding millions in copyright infringement. In one document released by the department, he demands $10 million in silver or federal reserve notes of equal value.

In a sharply worded letter of December 2005, another department attorney, Richard Cserep, wrote to Billings, "you reference a wide variety of law in connection with this claim" for damages.

"This includes copyright violations, trademark violations, contract violations, admiralty and maritime law, libel and the Truth in Lending Act," the letter said. "At no time in any of your correspondence have you made a plain demand for damages under a clear and cognizable theory of liability."

A handwritten note on the letter says that no further correspondence was received from Billings after that letter.

read more here at CNN.

REVIEW: Bargain Basement Game Show @ Capital Fringe.

Bargain Basement Game Show aims to be a game show of "high-brow trivia and low-brow humor" where everyone in the audience is a contestant. Upon arriving, every person is issued a score card, showing boxes numbered 0 through 40, a stack of cards reading "A", "B", "C", and "D", and a booklet overviewing the rules and directions. The plucky host then takes the stage with his lovely quasi-Vanna White assistant in a flowing red dress, and another comical female stage assistant. Questions are presented on three-sided poster boards (you know... from the 8th grade science fair?) and the audience members show their answers by raising the appropriately lettered card. The squirrely host then examines the answers, chides the few who are holding ones that are obviously wrong, and announces the correct one. Note: every person he called out gets free stuff so it might be a good idea to flunk on an easy answer to get a t-shirt.

His gang of helpers then jump out and cross off boxes on the correct cards according to the number of points the question was worth. Interspersed between the questions are witty dialogue, the host character's buffoonery (to the chagrin his straight-woman assistant), and theatrical productions designed to introduce clues to future answers. It becomes quite clear early on that the host's geekishness is not a production and is instead his authentic self -- evidenced by clumsiness and propensity to chortle at his own jokes -- but he is able to walk the fine line of comedy, preventing the show's inherent corniness from ever becoming awkward. There were a few goof-ups. Some lines were missed that weren't critical to the show's understanding, and a few subtle clues written into the sketches between the questions did not lead up to anything in the end. But the lovability of the cast smooths out any holes and makes it just another part of the show.

Even if quirky comedy isn't your thing, the show is full of wonderful prizes. First prize was a $50 gift card to best buy, second prize was $25 to Barnes and Noble, and third was $15 to Starbucks. The next five or so got 2GB flash drives. After handing all that out, they looked to hand out pieces of their set as prizes too and the first things that stuck out to them was the giant prop "NO" sign that stayed on stage the entire time. As the lucky man in 9th place, I won the sign and, taped to the back, there I found a $25 gift certificate to Amazon.com.

Quite a bargain indeed.

July 20, 2009

What Else? ...The Moon Landing

Everyone in America has heard about the moon landing. Everyone in America knows that today's the fortieth anniversary. Everyone in America is reading up on that famous event today- right?

Well, sure. Lots of people are. But everyone? ...I don't think so. Some people are more busy reading up on more important things, like the news that Jon Gosselin didn't actually cheat on Kate and the sudden revelation that some bloggers have enough time and few enough scruples to post questionably obtained footage of Erin Andrews in her hotel room. And then of course there's the seemingly ever-present coverage of Michael Jackson's love child(ren)- I wonder how many millions the TV networks are making off of that never-before-heard development?

I won't deny that this stuff is interesting. Like every other good American citizen, I occasionally indulge myself by reading the "Entertainment" sections on the news websites. Entertainment. Yeah.

But today? Armstrong and Aldrin and everyone involved in making the moon landing happen would probably appreciate it if we also took a look at some lunar-related news. Here's a (long) article refuting pretty much every conspiracy theory ever concocted involving the landing:


Since I've never really read up on the conspiracy theories before, this article actually made me think about the possibility that the theories could be right-- but only for about a millisecond. I feel enough pride for Armstrong and pride plus pity for Aldrin (the second man to walk on the moon!) to believe NASA's story. Either way, this article seems to have its sources for both sides listed at the bottom of the page, so whether you  feel like becoming very, very educated about the moon landing or want to indulge in the conspiracy-theory kind of "Entertainment," go right ahead.

Buzz-izzle and the Rocket Experience

In honor of the 40th anniversary of the lunar landing, which was celebrated last night and will be again tonight at the National Air and Space Museum, Buzz Aldrin has released documentation of his latest career adventure: rap music.

The guy is 79 years old and still kicking it, jet-setting across the world, giving lectures, and pushing the government to commit to manned missions to Mars in the coming decade. Buzz is a beast in every way. He wrote the thesis for his Doctorate of Science at MIT on "Line-of-sight guidance techniques for manned orbital rendezvous", an unheard-of topic at the time, and then used that knowledge to dock Gemini 12 manually -- a feat mission control didn't think was possible -- when the computer system failed.

He is also a big proponent of world-wide cooperation and, according to my sources, wanted to include a line in his speech last night asking for Iran to be included in future US space missions, but was convinced against it.