Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Friday, October 17, 2008

i made bread

my wife has the camera, so i have no way to prove it, but i made bread. 

full disclosure: a friend of ours mixed up all the dry ingredients and gave me directions for the rest of the stuff, but i mixed it together and baked it. it tasted good. take that!

Thursday, October 09, 2008


(the rules of the internet say "give credit where credit is due": this picture is from this website)

I will admit it, this essay is a bit alarmist and paranoid but I love alarmist paranoia. I love post-Apocalypse fiction, so why wouldn't I absolutely adore post-Apocalypse non-fiction!? This was a suggested read from an ACTUAL librarian. I believe this is from a speech by James Kunstler given in 2005. Kunstler gives us an idea of what the United States of America will look like when (there is no "if" in his scenario) we run out of oil. He talks about the end of corporations and cities, the revitalization of small communities, living locally, and relying on ourselves when the central government is no longer able to exist in its current powerful state. Per usual, I recommend reading the entire piece here it really is a fantastic read in every sense of the word.

Here is a sample :

"Downscaling America doesn't mean we become a lesser people. It means that the scale at which we conduct the work of American daily life will have to be adjusted to fit the requirements of a post-globalist, post-cheap-oil age.

We are going to have to live a lot more locally and a lot more intensively on that local level. Industrial agriculture, as represented by the Archer Daniels Midland / soda pop and cheez doodle model of doing things, will not survive the end of the cheap oil economy. The implication of this is enormous. Successful human ecologies in the near future will have to be supported by intensively farmed agricultural hinterlands. Places that can't do this will fail. Say goodbye to Phoenix and Las Vegas.

I'm not optimistic about most of our big cities. They are going to have to contract severely. They achieved their current scale during the most exuberant years of the cheap oil fiesta, and they will have enormous problems remaining viable afterward.  Any mega-structure, whether it is a skyscraper or a landscraper - buildings that depend on huge amounts of natural gas and electricity - may not be usable a decade or two in the future.

What goes for the scale of places will be equally true for the scale of social organization. All large-scale enterprises, including many types of corporations and governments will function very poorly in the post-cheap oil world. Do not make assumptions based on things like national chain retail continuing to exist as it has."

Friday, October 03, 2008

rebooting democracy - "Professional Politicians Beware!"

As I continue to read "rebooting america: Ideas for Redesigning American Democracy for the Internet Age" I keep finding even more interesting ideas. The next one comes from the essay "Professional Politicans Beware!" by Aaron Swartz

This essay presents the idea of participatory politics or ParPolity. Aaron's idea is that we should have nested councils at each level of government and each council should have about 50 members. So you would get together with 50 of your neighbors and talk about the issues. Then you would elect one representative to go to the next level where that person would meet with 50 other neighborhood representatives and so on. I love the idea of direct, face-to-face interaction with policy makers. 

Here's how Aaron describes it:

"So, to begin with, let us imagine a council of you and your 40 closest neighbors—perhaps the other people in your apartment building or on your block. You get together every so often to discuss the issues that concern you and your neighborhood. And you may vote to set policy for the area which the council covers.

But your council has another function: it selects one of its own to send as a representative to the next council up. There the process repeats itself: the representative from your block and its 40 closest neighbors meet every so often to discuss the political issues that concern the area. And, of course, your representative reports back to the group, gets your recommendations on difficult questions, and takes suggestions for issues to raise at the next area council meeting.

By the power of exponents, just five levels of councils, each consisting of only fifty people, is enough to cover over three hundred million people. But—and this is the truly clever bit—at the area council the whole process repeats itself. Just as each block council nominates a representative to the area council, each area council nominates a representative to the city council, and each city council to the state council, each state council to the national council, and so on.

Shalom discusses a number of further details—provisions for voting, recalls, and delegation—but it’s the idea of nesting that’s key. Under such a system, there are only four representatives who stand between you and the people setting national policy, each of whom is forced to account to their constituents in regular, small face-to-face meetings. Politicians in such a system could not be elected through empty appeals to mass emotions. Instead, they would have to sit down, face-to-face, with a council of their peers and persuade them that they are best suited to represent their interests and positions."

Thursday, October 02, 2008

rebooting democracy - "Small d Democracy"

I have read about half of the collection of essays called "rebooting america: Ideas for Redesigning American Democracy for the Internet Age." You can find it here for free. Each essay presents an idea for improving our democracy based on the tools made available by the Internet and new technology.

The first idea that I found worthwhile is from the essay titled "Small d Democracy" by Susan Crawford (page 92 of the pdf, if you are following along). Ms. Crawford's idea to improve our democracy is to develop a website that would track all the upcoming decisions being made by local government. We would then be able to read about these decisions and share our opinions with our leaders and with our neighbors. In this way we would know what was going on and our leaders would know how we feel about it. She does not mention it, I assume it is implied, but I would add that we should also be able to see how our leaders decided and then track how often we agreed/disagreed with our leaders. This would give us some basis to know who we should vote for in the next local elections. The website associated with this collection of essays allows you to comment on each of the essays, so I have made my suggestions to Susan Crawford. 

In her own words:

"If it were possible to pay attention every once in a while, between elections, to what our representatives or agency heads were about to do in an area of interest to us—and register our reaction to that proposed action—that would be useful.

This is a modest goal. Americans want to feel that our lives have been made more significant through participation in governance. Voting in elections is important, but it is not enough, and it need not be the ceiling for participation. With a little experimentation, we could be doing much more for ourselves.

For example: localities could generate radar-screens of issues coming before the city council or the mayor. With the weather report (something everyone seems to be interested in) on a local page could come a small radar visualization, with pulsing dots showing what matters were likely to have an effect on your neighborhood. If you were interested, you could click through and do a short amount of reading—perhaps just Twitter-length—about what was about to happen. And then act in some effective way (such as sharing the information with others, writing about it, or showing up at the meeting), with feedback showing how your action had been assessed/aggregated by others."

Translation of the last post "Jimmy or Warren" Pt. 2

Go here to see the quotes I previously posted on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Fannie and Freddie are pseudo-government agencies. The pseudo part is because they are backed by government funds, they have a government housing mission, and they are supposedly heavily regulated. The problem with having a mission to make more money for shareholders and a mission to provide affordable housing as a government directive is that you can easily get the two confused. If you have a never ending supply of money, you can take what you need when you need it so that the accounting looks good at the end of each year. This is where the regulation is needed to make sure that doesn't happen. 

200 regulators, assigned exclusively to these two companies, could not keep Freddie and Fannie from screwing with their financial statements. Warren Buffet got out of Fannie and Freddie in 2000 and 2001 because he (his company) suspected some accounting problems.  If a single person (granted, a very smart and motivated person) can evaluate these two companies accurately, why can't 200 people keep track of them? This just goes to show that more regulation is not always the right answer, especially if current regulation is not working.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

I love Jonah Hill

Update: My wife tells me that this is celebrity propaganda. To be honest I didn't really pay attention. I was just waiting for Jonah Hill to come on the screen. And maybe Sarah Sliverman. She's kind of funny too.

Translation of the last post "Jimmy or Warren" Pt. 1

I finished working last night at about 12:30 or 1 am. Then I thought it was necessary to post a blog. It was a lot of cut and paste without much explanation. Not to mention my level of coherence after 10pm is typically low. (You can imagine the quality of work my employer gets at those late hours) So I'm offering my readership a translation in a few bite size chunks.

On patience and farsightedness:
"Well, I think in any personal activity, business activity or certainly governmental activity, you know, there should be -you should be thinking plenty about what happens down the road."

We are currently in one of the largest economic crises the world has ever seen. A lot of the current problems are due to short-sightedness on the part of lenders, consumers, and the government. At this point there is not much we can do to influence what happens next, we can only prepare. We should be thinking of what happens down the road. We should be thinking about 5-10 years from now and where we want to be. What kind of humans do we want our children to be? What kind of humans do WE want to be? What kind of job do we want? What kind of financial security do we want? What kind of disasters do we want to be prepared for? What do we want to contribute to our neighbors and communities?

The ever eloquent Chris Jones wrote about this bailout business here. He has some fantastic thoughts on this whole financial crisis and what happens next. Pay special attention to point #8 and his ideas on preparation. 

jimmy or warren?

"...I think I said one time that, you know, you only find out who's been swimming naked when the tide goes out. Well, we found out that Wall Street has been kind of a nudist beach." -Warren Buffet, CNBC Squawk Box August 22, 2008

I deserve to be laughed at. When I first heard the name Warren Buffet a few years ago, I said to myself, "Who knew that the guy that sang Margaritaville, was an investment genius?" I just read this long transcript from August 22, 2008 when Warren Buffet was on CNBC. He had some very enlightening things to say about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I tried to find some video to post, but my googlizing skills failed me. My full notes are here. Below are a few excerpts that I found especially interesting, they are a little bit long but give me a break the transcript was from a 3 hour interview.

On patience and farsightedness:
"Well, I think in any personal activity, business activity or certainly governmental activity, you know, there should be--you should be thinking plenty about what happens down the road."

On regulators at Fannie and Freddie:
"Well, it's really an incredible case study in regulation because something called OFHEO was set up in 1992 by Congress, and the sole job of OFHEO was to watch over Fannie and Freddie, someone to watch over them. And they were there to evaluate the soundness and the accounting and all of that. Two companies were all they had to regulate. OFHEO has over 200 employees now. They have a budget now that's $65 million a year, and all they have to do is look at two companies. I mean, you know, I look at more than two companies. 
And they sat there, made reports to the Congress, you can get them on the Internet, every year. And, in fact, they reported to Sarbanes and Oxley every year. And they went--wrote 100 page reports, and they said, `We've looked at these people and their standards are fine and their directors are fine and everything was fine.' And then all of a sudden you had two of the greatest accounting misstatements in history. You had all kinds of management malfeasance, and it all came out. 
And, of course, the classic thing was that after it all came out, OFHEO wrote a 350--340 page report examining what went wrong, and they blamed the management, they blamed the directors, they blamed the audit committee. They didn't have a word in there about themselves, and they're the ones that 200 people were going to work every day with just two companies to think about. It just shows the problems of regulation."

More on Fannie and Freddie and their dual business goals:
"Well, how they got here was they had two businesses, basically. They insured mortgages on a huge scale, trillions, and then they ran sort of a hedge fund, a carry trade where they bought mortgages and borrowed extensively against them. And because they had really the backing of the United States government--and everybody assumed they had the backing. I assumed it. And the truth is they do have the backing of the United States government in terms of their debt, not in terms of their equity--they were able to borrow without any normal restraints in terms of capital or margin requirements or anything of the sort. They had a blank-check from the federal government. 
And they also had an added problem in that they had a dual mission. The government expected them to promote housing and the stockholders expected them to raise the earnings substantially every year. And as the years went by, they emphasized the latter more and more. They started talking about "steady Freddie," and Fannie Mae said, `We're going to increase the earnings at 15 percent a year.' Any large financial institution that tells you that sort of thing is giving you a line of baloney. I mean, they may do it for a while, but when they can't do it with operations, they do it with accounting and they cheat. And that's what happened at both those places on a huge, huge scale. 
And we have this--they're so wound up with national housing policy, that they're a national problem and, with this dual situation, you know, Lincoln said a house divided against itself, you know, must fall. And they existed half-slave, half-free for a long time, and then the motivations became in conflict, and when they got on the 15 percent a year merry-go-round and said, you know, `We're going to deliver earnings up every quarter, and we'll meet them to the penny,' when they can't do it operationally, they do it with accounting."

On why he divested in Freddie and Fannie in 2000 or 2001:
“...it became so apparent to me that they were intent on trying to report quarterly gains to please Wall Street, and there are all--if you've got the government behind you and you can borrow money in unlimited amounts, you can report earnings for any given quarter that you want to. I mean, the chickens don't come home to roost till later. And the management was intent on that. They started doing things on the asset side they shouldn't have done, they made promises they shouldn't have made, and so we got out.”