June 2012 Archives

I just read Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (yes, I was embarrassed to buy it at the airport) and it was quite entertaining except for one point: it continued the ongoing weakening of the vampire mythos.

Everyone knows that vampires are powerful and can defeat almost any human one-on-one, but what makes vampires interesting are their vulnerabilities. The only logical reason that vampires don't take over the world is that they have to sleep during the day and die almost instantly in sunlight. Even as recently as even 10 years ago (see: Buffy the Vampire Slayer) the literature held to this simple formula. Because of this huge weakness vampires must depend on secrecy to protect themselves from humans. In Interview with the Vampire (Vampire Chronicles) Louis destroys the entire Paris coven by burning their theater down around them just as the sun is coming up.

Without extreme vulnerability to sunlight we get inane garbage like Twilight wherein vampires sparkle in the sun and have little reason to hide their existence from humanity. It's dumb.

Other vampire weaknesses (e.g., crosses, garlic, holy water) can fall by the wayside because they aren't really critical to the mechanics of the mythology. It's sunlight that keeps humanity alive, and no vampire story should forget it.

The Supreme Court upheld Obamacare, and it strikes me as extremely unlikely to be repealed by Congress. Even if Romney wins the election the Democrats in the Senate will filibuster any attempts at repeal.

It's no surprise that the stock prices for the major health insurance companies are shooting up now that they're guaranteed a bunch of new customers by law.

I think the ruling is likely to be very bad from an employment standpoint, and it's going to be bad for Obama politically.

As a healthcare consumer with (knock on wood) excellent insurance it's hard to see how I and my family won't be hurt by the ruling.

From an analysis standpoint: The four dissenting justices all co-authored a single opinion (as opposed to "joining" an opinion), which is very unusual for a dissent. It seems that the popular theory now is that the dissenting opinion was expected to be in the majority, but that Roberts didn't want to overturn Obamacare with a party-line 5-4 vote because he was concerned about what such a ruling would do to the Supreme Court politically and in the public's eye. So when the conservatives failed to attract even a single liberal justice Roberts decided to flip and write the majority opinion himself (which is his right as the Chief Justice). He wrote it pretty narrowly and upheld the individual mandate as a tax, getting the majority to specifically reject the argument that the mandate was allowable under the Commerce Clause. That alone is very politically significant: none of the supporters of Obamacare wanted to call the individual mandate penalties a "tax", because that makes Obamacare the largest tax increase in American history.

Mitt Romney is going to address the NAACP and I really hope he is able to make the case that black voters should seriously consider the Republicans in 2012. More blacks are starting small businesses than ever, and the Republicans are definitely on the side of the small business owner. Social Security transfers a huge amount of wealth from working black men to white women (who tend to live much longer). While only 12% of the population is black, more than 36% of abortions are of black babies. The list goes on.

Mark Steyn nails the problem with our soaring national debt: we've got nothing to show for it.

Self-pity is never an attractive quality, and in an elected head of state even less so. Obama whines that his opponents say it's all his fault. One can argue about whose fault it is, but not, as my colleagues at National Review pointed out, whose responsibility it is: It's his. He's the only president we have. And he made things worse. He increased the national debt by some 70 percent, and what do we have to show for it? No dams, no railroads, no moon shots. Just government, and bureaucracy, and regulation, unto national bankruptcy.

Don't forget persistent unemployment, inflation, and a housing market on life support.

To step back in Steyn's essay:

Take, for example, the attempt at soaring rhetoric: "That's how we built this country - together. We constructed railroads and highways, the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge. We did those things together," he said, in a passage that was presumably meant to be inspirational but was delivered with the faintly petulant air of a great man resentful at having to point out the obvious, yet again. "Together, we touched the surface of the moon, unlocked the mystery of the atom, connected the world through our own science and imagination. We haven't done these things as Democrats or Republicans. We've done them as Americans."

Can anyone really imagine America accomplishing any of these things now? Ask yourself why not. Impoverishing ourselves to employ zillions of bureaucrats is reason number one.

First, let me say that I completely support the right of private organizations to give scholarships to anyone they want using any selection criteria the organization prefers. However, I think it's unfortunate that an organization named after Martin Luther King would be disturbed by accidentally giving a scholarship to a white kid.

A hush, followed by some giggles, enveloped the Martin Luther King High School gym in Riverside, Calif., when it was announced on senior awards night that Warren was the winner of the scholarship awarded by the local Martin Luther King Senior Citizens Club.

The $1,000 scholarship, one of two awarded annually by the seniors club, is meant for African-American students. Club members didn't know Warren is white until he rose to receive the award.

"We just couldn't believe it at the outset. It was really something. There was a mixed feeling in the crowd," recalled Etta Brown, chairwoman of the club's scholarship committee, of the May 22 ceremony.

Martin Luther King isn't just an inspiration to blacks, he's an inspiration to all Americans. His defining premise was that we should all be judged on the content of our character rather than the color of our skin.

Jeffrey Warren decided to return the scholarship, and I don't really blame him considering the social pressure he and his family must have faced.

The student loan bubble is the result of government policy.

Just as the government sought to engineer people into houses, it now seeks to engineer them into higher education. Congress established Sallie Mae in 1972 to encourage banks to loan more money for college. The Affordable Care Act of 2010 allowed the government to loan money directly to students. The following year the Taxpayer Relief Act extended tax breaks to student loan borrowers. Predictably, the Federal Reserve kept interest rates at historically low levels, making college loans cheaper.

And the price of a college education soared--just as one would expect from a market flooded with cheap money. By law, lenders cannot even deny Stafford and Perkins loans (types of federal student loans) based on the borrower's credit or employment status. What other reason is there to deny a loan? And just as home buyers took out loans to speculate on houses they could never hope to afford, students are taking out loans to cover educations they often cannot complete and which often do not hold value in the market even when completed. Government meddling has again separated profit from risk. Universities get to keep the tuition profits while taxpayers are forced to shoulder the risk of students not paying back their loans. ...

From 1976 to 2010, the prices of all commodities rose 280 percent. The price of homes rose 400 percent. Private education? A whopping 1,000 percent.

When the student loan bubble pops it will be worse than the end of the housing bubble.

In the end, this bubble will be worse than the last. Even when homeowners got hopelessly behind on their mortgages, two options helped. First, they could declare bankruptcy and free themselves of their crippling debt; second, they could sell their houses to pay down most of their loans.

Students don't have either of these options. It's illegal to absolve student loan debt through bankruptcy, and you can't sell back an education.

The result is predictable: anything that can't go on forever, won't. The cost of education will drop. Congress will make student loans will be made dischargable. Many colleges and universities will go out of business.

Fortunately for the country, unlike the end of housing bubble, middle-class Americans won't be the ones who see their wealth evaporate. Many college degrees are already worthless, no matter what the balance is of the debt incurred to pay for the education.

Has anyone done more to rehabilitate Bill Clinton's reputation than Barack Obama? Well, maybe George W. Bush....

The stories the chart tells are amazing.

The first is how much government spending fell during President Bill Clinton's eight years in office and how low it was when he left office. When he became president in 1992, government spending was 23.5% of GDP, and when he left in 2001 it was 19.5% of GDP. President Clinton, in conjunction with a solid Republican Congress, cut government spending by more than any other president in modern times, and oversaw one of the greatest periods of economic growth and prosperity in U.S. history.

Sadly for fiscal conservatives, the biggest surge in government spending came during the last two years of President George W. Bush's eight years in office (2007-2008). A weakened Republican president dealing with a strident Democratic Congress, led by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, resulted in an orgy of spending.

I confess: when Bill Clinton was president I loathed him. I was wrong.

Dana Milbank recounts the horrible June the Obama Administration is facing.

Job growth has stalled, the Democrats have been humiliated in Wisconsin, the attorney general is facing a contempt-of-Congress citation, talks with Pakistan have broken down, Bill Clinton is contradicting Obama, Mitt Romney is outraising him, Democrats and Republicans alike are complaining about a "cascade" of national-security leaks from his administration, and he is now on record as saying that the "private sector is doing fine."

Could it get any worse?

Early Monday morning, Obama learned that it could. His aides delivered the news to him that his commerce secretary had been cited for a felony hit-and-run after allegedly crashing his car three times over the weekend. In one incident, the previously obscure Cabinet officer apparently rear-ended a Buick, spoke to the car's occupants, then hit the vehicle again as he left.

Hey, the month is only one-third over! Things are sure to look up for the President. Isn't the Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare soon?

Unions and public employees shouldn't mix.

There was a time when even pro-labor Democrats like Franklin D. Roosevelt would have regarded it as obvious that collective bargaining was incompatible with public employment. Even the legendary AFL-CIO leader George Meany once took it for granted that there could be no "right" to bargain collectively with the government.

When unions bargain with management in the private sector, both sides are contending for a share of the private profits that labor helps produce -- and both sides are constrained by the pressures of market discipline. Managers can't ignore the company's bottom line. Unions know that if they demand too much, they may cost the company its competitive edge.

But when labor and management bargain in the public sector, they are divvying up public funds, not private profits. Government bureaucrats don't have to worry about losing business to their competitors; state agencies can't relocate to another part of the country. There is little incentive to hold down wages and benefits, since the taxpayers who will be picking up the tab have no seat at the table. On the other hand, government managers have a powerful motivation to yield to government unions: Union members vote.

Public employee unions are simply money laundering operations that (a) transfer taxpayer dollars to unions who (b) give a cut to the Democrats who then (c) pass laws to strengthen the unions. There's no logical reason for this scheme to be legal.

Peggy Noonan has the best line of the day:

And where is the president in all this? On his way to Anna Wintour's house. He's busy. He's running for president.

But why? He could be president now if he wanted to be.

I've long wished that Google Maps would allow you to enter a list of destinations and then optimize a route for you to visit all of them. Only recently did I realize the obvious reason that Google doesn't include this functionality!

Such route/destination optimization is basically a (slight) variant of the travelling salesman problem (TSP), which is NP-hard. This means that every NP-complete problem could be solved in polynomial time if one had access to a TSP oracle.

If Google Maps would solve TSP for you, it wouldn't exactly be an oracle but it would likely be a lot faster than the computer you've got at your desk. People would quickly hack Google Maps' web interface to use Google's vast server farms to solve NP-complete problems. Even a small number of complex TSP problems could bring Google's servers to a crawl and disrupt service for millions of other users.

Hence, Google Maps won't optimize the order that you visit your destinations.

(Note: even if Google limited the number of destinations that could be optimized or put other trivial restrictions on how you could use the algorithm, users could bypass these restrictions by chaining calls in various ways.)

Now you can play Diablo 3 in your web browser!

(HT: Kotaku.)

Apparently the New York Federal Reserve possesses 216 million troy ounces of gold. Based on a density of 19.32 grams per cubic centimetre, that would be almost 348 cubit meters -- a cube approximately seven meters long, wide, and tall. For comparison, the shallowest Olympic swimming pool has a volume of 2,500 cubic meters.

Social Security needs to dramatically raise the retirement age.

In 1935, when the Social Security Act was passed, the average American lifespan was 61.7 years.

Today, it's 81.7.

Suddenly, keeping the retirement age at 60 doesn't make much sense. Or so says AIG Chairman Robert Benmosche, who favors increasing the retirement age to 80. An economy with a rapidly aging workforce can only survive, he argues, if it "keeps pensions and medical services affordable . . . [to] take the burden off the youth." This means pruning the roster of costly retirees.

Where I disagree with Mead is in his assertion that the change needs to be gradual:

These wars against the young and against arithmetic are undesirable and unsustainable. If European and American pensions and social security benefits are to continue, we will eventually have to link national retirement ages to expected longevity. This doesn't mean we should do it all at once; reforms should be gradual and made with sensitivity to current and prospective retirees, who have planned their lives based on the old system.

I agree that rapid changes to the retirement system will be disruptive for current and near-term retirees, but I don't care. Just because they've built their lives around the prospect of looting and pillaging my generation doesn't mean that they're entitled to succeed. They're attempting to use democracy to transfer a massive amount of wealth from my generation to theirs by borrowing money to spend on themselves that we are going to have to pay back. I say no! I say that we link the Social Security retirement age to longevity and push it back dramatically effective immediately.

Making any decision is often better than analysis paralysis:

The kids with the wealthy, well-educated parents who graduated near the top of their high school class tended to make more money as adults than the blue collar kids who figured out early on that formal school wasn't really their bag.

But Judge and Hurst also looked at something else. This is where things get interesting. A unique subset of people in the study did not follow this pattern. By the time they reached their middle years, some sons and daughters of roofers and plumbers whose grades (ahem) made the top half of the class possible, still ended up making 30-60 percent more money each year than many of their more privileged peers. What this select breed of underdogs had in common was nothing but a unique set of personal beliefs (stemming from emotional stability, internal locus of control, self-efficacy, and self-esteem) about their ability to shape the future. Those beliefs translate into the ability to choose one course of action (entrepreneurship, less prestigious career path, etc.) while quitting others.

Making any decision now is better than making the "right" decision late or never.

(Bonus question: does this bother you? If so, why?)

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This page is an archive of entries from June 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

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