Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Imagining Numbers: a recommendation

OK, you are desperate to read a good math book, but you don't want to do any heavy duty math. You are in luck. Barry Mazur meditates on imagination, art, and mathematics in his charming Imagining Numbers (particularly the square root of minus fifteen).

As he says in the preface:
This book began as a letter to my friend Michel Chaouli. The two of us had been musing about whether or not one could "feel" the workings of the imagination in its various labors.

The only math background you need is knowing how to multiply and recalling from high school algebra that X is the unknown quantity.

From the back cover of the book:
Barry Mazur invites lovers of poetry to make a leap into mathematics. Through discussions of the role of the imagination and imagery in both poetry and mathematics. Mazur reviews the writings of the early mathematical explorers and reveals the bafflement of these Renaissance thinkers faced with imaginary numbers. Then he shows us, step-by-step, how to begin imagining these strange mathematical objects ourselves.

Gamma: a recommendation

Julian Havil's Gamma: exploring Euler's constant is a charming mathematics book filled with interesting results on every page. A good calculus course will prepare you for most of the material.

One of the things I particularly like about the book is that at the end he presents a very elegant and accessible account of the Prime Number Theorem and the Riemann Hypothesis. On top of that he gives the necessary background in complex function theory required for the Riemann Hypothesis in an appendix. I have never seen a better brief.

So if you looking for a really good math book on summer vacation, and you like playing with numbers, then check this one out.

Some late night sports

Wow. It is almost 4 in the morning. Tempus fugit.

My impressions from yesterday have to do with sports. I don't think that is all bad.

England beat Hungary 3-1 in a friendly match tune up before the World Cup. The match was nil nil at the half. England scored two goals in the first five minutes of the second period. That made it academic the rest of the way out.

The press has fixated on Rooney's broken foot, but I say that England has a honey of a football team and is a threat to go all the way in the World Cup.

Meanwhile, in Chicago, the Cubs beat the Reds for the second day in a row. After the Cubs not winning a game last week, I am stoked about a two game winning streak this week for my beloved Cubs.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

New Treasury Secretary

Henry Paulson will succeed John Snow as Treasury Secretary. The change is meaningless.

The Treasury Secretary has no clout within the Bush Administration. The Secretary must promote politically motivated economic policies originating from the White House, and otherwise keep out of the way.

As has been reported and discussed, those economic policies include tax cuts for the wealthy, big government spending to support special business interests and privileged classes, and slashing programs that benefit low and middle income workers.

Continue to keep both eyes and both hands on your wallet.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

No museum pieces

When I was a sophomore in college I took an art course. I already knew from painful experience in my previous school art classes I had no talent for it. I may have done it because my roommate that year was an art major.

I didn't do very well, but it was a welcome break from the other courses, such as math, I was taking. I never missed a class, and I worked hard on my final project, which I recall was a tile print of some sort. I forget the lingo you call it by. The most embarrassing experience was the week we had to draw a model. My drawing was a stick woman with no clothes on.

I got a B in the course, so I was happy about that. It ruined my perfect 4.0 grade point average I maintained at the time. For some perverse reason I remain glad I took the course.

In the immortal words of Tom Cruise in Risky Business--sometimes, you just have to say what the fuck.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Out on the town, or not

One of the nice things about living in downtown Chicago is that if you want to go out on the town, you are already in town. The option is always comfortably there.

However, I am home watching the Heat/Pistons game tonight. I don't like to go out on Saturday nights anymore as I once did. I sometimes like being joyously alone.

Friday, May 26, 2006

I forgot

Super spook General Hayden has been confirmed as the new CIA Director. The Senate rolled over as was to be expected. I found it truly touching during the hearings when Hayden was asked whether he had the wherewithal to speak the truth to power. One should always remember that when speaking the truth to power, power often already knows the truth and does not care. Such is the case with the Bush Administration.

On a brighter note, it has been fun watching Speaker Hastert take on President Bush over the raid and theft of documents from a Congressional office. President Bush had to intervene when ace law enforcement official Attorney General Gonzales failed to blow away the opposition. The documents are supposed to be sealed for forty five days. That is like closing the barn door after the horse has galloped merrily down the road and out of sight.

Finally, Lay and Skilling were found guilty on all charges. Their stupidity defense kind of backfired. Remember the old Steve Martin comedy routine. "When you are in court and none of your defenses are working, just look the judge straight in the eye and say, I forgot."

Have a good weekend and don't forget to boogie.

Some questions concerning Capital volume 1

I have been preoccupied with questions about Karl Marx's Capital volume 1. One question seems frivolous, but I think it has merit. Where should one place Capital on the bookshelf?

I have seen it in the philosophy, economics, and the politics sections of the large bookstores. I prefer to think of it as a book of politics. Marx presents a guide to thinking about working class exploitation, one he hoped would aid in overthrowing the capitalist regime of his time.

There are other elementary questions that may appear frivolous, but I think have merit.

Who are the proletariat today? The cook at the local restaurant earning $14,000 per annum is definitely in. The factory worker earning $40,000 per annum is in. The computer programmer who knows the current hot technology and earns $180,000 per annum may or may not be in. The CEO earning $10,000,000 per annum definitely is not in even though he works for wages.

Who are the capitalists today? The person who owns 10 shares of Coca Cola stock doesn't appear to be much of a capitalist. The person who owns 1,000,000 shares of Coca Cola stock seems a likely candidate for capitalist even though he takes no active part in running the company and his stake is small compared to all shares outstanding.

What is the status of the notion of surplus value given the current state of economic knowledge? How does it translate into modern parlance? These are important questions if one wants to use Capital as a guide to political action.

Whether frivolous or not, these are questions Marx asked and answered. He is dead though. That leaves us to answer the questions without his help. To further complicate matters, the world has changed since his time. Capital does not offer much in the way of practical advice in organizing a modern state and economy. That may sound like heresy to some, but the notion of "from each according to his ability and to each according to his needs" has never been easy to resolve when it comes to cases.

Even though I read Capital a few months ago, I will be reading it again this summer. I have too many unanswered questions.


I took the lead in my fantasy baseball league the third week of the season. My team is far ahead of the second place team. All my players are having good years and many are having all star years.

I had reservations about playing this year. It takes a bit of work each day if you want to win. With the Cubs playing abysmally, I am glad I did. The season is already over for the Cubs, but not for me.

And isn't that what fantasy is all about? We all like to believe we have a shot at doing well and with some luck winning something.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

At the Moment

A summer-like day. Partly overcast, warm, and humid.

Thoughts about the past and future don't count for much at midday. Only the moment matters. Time to pack a book, a notebook, and a pen in a canvas bag, and go out for lunch. After that, find a place to write for a spell.

I admit my failure as a writer, yet I cannot see beyond doing it for one more day.

Last year, I took a quiz on the Internet that predicted how long I would live given my life style and health habits. It predicted I should be dead. Now, I'm one year older, and with my cold lingering on far too long I wonder just how close I am from being gone.

Certainty is a very interesting question. I am almost certain that I will live in and for the moment this afternoon. But who can really say?

These days when I am relaxed at my work don't happen very often. I must take advantage of them.

Teaching Alternative Global Financial Games

I began reading Robert Rubin’s In an Uncertain World last night. I’ve been meaning to read it for two years. It has me thinking about global financial games and how they are taught.

Rubin devotes the first chapter to the Mexican financial crisis of 94-95 when he first became Secretary of the Treasury. Those familiar with the crisis won’t learn much new in the way of details about what happened. I pressed on into the second chapter.

In the second chapter, Rubin explains what he did when he first joined the Goldman Sachs arbitrage department when he was 28 years old. He played the mergers and acquisitions arbitrage game. He does a reasonably good job of explaining arbitrage in general and M&A arbitrage in particular.

I taught myself how to play the M&A arbitrage game back in the Nineties. I was involved in several acquisitions at the company where I worked during the Eighties and Nineties. My curiosity was aroused by how acquisitions were chosen and how the deals got done. But most of all, I wanted to know how one makes money off of the business deals. By the way, I never did any insider trading. That’s illegal and you can go to jail for a long time unless you can afford very expensive legal counsel.

I’ve played the M&A arbitrage game for my own account for the past seven years. I have reasonably sophisticated models that help me decide whether to bet or stay on the sidelines. The models are plugged into the latest financial data of companies around the world. I lose money most of the time, yet when I win, I make pretty good money for a guy goofing around on his computer.

I haven’t bet on anything for almost a year. Maybe, I have become risk averse in my old age.

The global capital game seems to tap into some sort of primal gambling instinct in many of us. As has been said many times before, it is not the money but the desire to win—the desire to beat one’s opponents and the system—that drives a player to the game.

Schools teach the global financial game at an early age. Students participate in fantasy stock market leagues where the players get play money and compete to see who can accumulate the most money over a given period of time. Schools have used this method to teach the elements of the stock market to students since I was a schoolboy. Thus are certain values subtly taught us in our youth.

One can imagine another kind of global financial game used for teaching purposes. The students would be the leaders of a rich country. The object of the game would be to see how much they, as a rich country, could improve the living standards of a destitute country. The team that helps the destitute country the most wins the game.

It would seem the alternative game could teach a different and important set of values.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Coming soon: a bridge too far

The storming of the Congressional office of Rep. William Jefferson by FBI agents has angered Republican Congressional leadership. Even they claim that the Executive has exceeded its powers and violated Constitutional separation of powers. The vast majority of Constitutional scholars have claimed this for some time.

The raid on a Democrat creates issues of partisan politics that the Republicans don't need before Congressional elections and would surely like to avoid.

Attorney General Gonzales claims it was necessary to move his criminal investigation along. History refutes his assertion. No Attorney General has ever raided the United States Congress. The raid smacks of police state tactics; Republican Congressional leaders know it.

The Bush Administration does not care. That will eventually land them in bigger trouble than they expect. They will abuse their powers again during the remainder of President Bush's term. At some point they will go too far. Congress will be left with no choice but to begin impeachment proceedings.

It has been well documented, by insiders and outsiders, that President Bush does not possess the mental acuity to deal with complex and ambiguous issues. Most likely he suffers from adult attention deficit disorder. He must rely on the advice of those whose goal is to weaken the Constitutional authority of Congress and the Supreme Court. His inability to analyze even the simplest cases, such as the raid on Congress, indicates the severity of the problem.

Instead of surrounding himself with advisors who could render his weaknesses more tolerable, he has surrounded himself with those who prey upon his weaknesses and prejudices. This creates the conditions for the perfect storm. An ineffective President teamed with a ruthless group of advisors making the ultimate power grab. They will not resist the temptation to spy on political opponents. They will eventually be caught in the act.

The Bush Administration does not practice prudence. It will eventually be their undoing. President Bush will be impeached and removed from office.

A Cold

I have a cold. I'm watching X-Files reruns in the middle of the night. I thought I had kicked that habit.

I'm sure things will work out for the best all the same.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Doing the Deal in Iraq

Joshua Holland has a nice article in Alternet, The Great Iraq Oil Grab.

For those who don't understand how multi-national corporations in the resource, engineering, construction, and finance businesses work their magic in resource rich countries, the article presents a great primer in how things get done.

The so called development of Iraq fits what is by now a classic model for exploiting a resource rich country to the maximum. One suspects the Iraqi people will not benefit from Iraq's wealth after one looks at the history of how these deals have been made in other countries around the world and who has ultimately benefited. Highly lucrative deals for multi-national corporations have already been cut with the Iraqi government. The multi-national corporations who come into poor countries to develop the resources of the country receive the major benefits.

We regrettably have had to fight an expensive and bloody war in Iraq to pave the way to riches for the powerful few. Don't you just hate it when that happens?

I'm not saying blood for oil. Nobody wants to fight when they can plunder at will without violence, or at least on a small or invisible scale. Sometimes it just doesn't work out that way.

Cubs Chances - 2006 Edition

As you know, we do it at State Street so you don't have to.

Now that the season has passed the quarter way mark, what are the Cubs chances of righting the ship and making the playoffs?

I ran a 25 trial Monte Carlo simulation on the Cubs remaining 119 games. The Cubs winning percentage stands at .419. The Cincinnati Reds stand at .568 and would get the Wild Card spot if the season ended today. So I used a p-value of .419 for the Bernoulli trials and assumed that the Cubs needed to win enough games for a .568 winning percentage.

In 25 trials the Cubs did not finish over .500 once let alone achieve a .568 winning percentage.

If you are betting the Cubs to win the World Series, you better be asking for some seriously long odds. I see the Cubs have fallen to 50-1 to win the World Series in the betting futures. Those odds may not be good enough to take the bet.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Cubs vs. White Sox - day three

The Cubs lost to the White Sox 7-0 yesterday. The game was highlighted by a second inning bench clearing brawl, which I won't describe.

I am headed back out to Sox Park this afternoon to cheer for the Cubs. It appears it will take a miracle for the Cubs to win, but stranger things have happened.

Reality and Honesty

The stock market took a tumble this past week. One wonders if the market is predicting dire things to come, or is, itself, catching up to reality.

The Bush Administration has been touting a 3.8% increase in wages over the past year. However, when Secretary of the Treasury Snow was questioned before Congress, he admitted the numbers were not adjusted for inflation. When one undertakes that standard adjustment for all economic numbers involving prices, all of the gains in wages disappear. The misinformation coming from the White House manages to be both patently and absurdly false and dishonest.

Another piece of dishonesty coming from the Bush Administration is that tax cuts have spurred investment. However, when you exclude housing investment, you find that business investment has stagnated.

Thus, we come around to the basic fact that the economy has grown because of consumer spending. This consumer spending has been fueled by the housing sector through a combination of low interest rates and personal, public, and international debt at unsustainable levels.

Honest folks who study and comment on these things, be they socialist or conservative or somewhere in between, all agree on the basic numbers and facts. Naturally, predictions and prescriptions vary, but the facts are seldom in dispute.

That is unless it comes from the Bush Administration, all of whom appear to be ignorant or dishonest or both.

Oh, did I just say the unspeakable? I called people who tell lies liars.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Cubs vs. White Sox

I'm going to the Cubs/White Sox game at Sox park today. It's always great at the ballpark. However, I'm a Cubs fan, the Cubs stink, and the White Sox are playing very well. I'd be deliriously happy if the Cubs got their act together today, but I'm not counting on it.

What are you going to do? That's baseball, and there is no crying in baseball.

Friday, May 19, 2006

On Debunking

I have been reading Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins. The book has lived up to the hype and its bestseller status. I quote from the back cover of the book.
“Economic hit men,” John Perkins writes, “are highly paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars. Their tools include fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, payoffs, extortion, sex, and murder. They play a game as old as Empire but one that has taken on terrifying dimensions during this time of globalization.”

John Perkins should know—as an economic hit man for an international consulting firm, he convinced developing countries to accept enormous loans and to funnel that money to U.S. corporations. The American government and international aid agencies then requested their “pound of flesh,” including access to natural resources, military cooperation, and political support.

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man is the story of one man’s experiences inside the intrigue, greed, corruption, and little-known government and corporate activities that America has been involved in since World War II, and which have dire consequences for the future of democracy and the world.

The book is one of those stories that presents the difference between myth and reality when it comes to topics economical such as international development. First, there is a theory. Second, there is how the deeds actually get done. Theory and action often do not coincide.

Debunking myths and illustrating the difference between myth and reality have their claims to scientific methodology along with other scientific methodological tools. Regardless of where one’s economic and political sentiments lie, it never hurts to be clear how things actually get done.

We are never free from economic prejudices, which often coincide with our economic self interest. This seems a mundane and indisputable fact, although many try to forget it. Reading the economic news with an orthodox economics textbook by one’s side proves instructive. Trying to explain events on the basis of the orthodoxy is often no easy chore.

One reason why this is the case is because government is persuaded to intervene on the side of one privileged and favored economic interest. That is not to say that this is a bad thing. Despite what some people say there are such things as public goods that government should supply. The burden of paying for these public goods does not fall upon everyone equally.

The economic actor who bellies up to the public trough will often explain his need in glowing ideological terms that also happen to coincide with the public good. That is why the request should always be measured against the ideology to see if they match. For instance, Conservatives have been highly successful in convincing the media, policy makers, and the public that they are merely proposing free market ideas when they are doing no such thing. The truth is that they have been using government to achieve favored economic outcomes for certain groups at the public expense, and in many cases an increase in the size of government.

Keynes may have been right when he claimed the hard headed business man who eschews economics may, all the same, be influenced by the ideas some long dead economist. Adam Smith and Karl Marx were the two most influential economists in history. They arguably are the least read also. That leaves one wondering exactly what economic dogma rolls around in the mind of the busy business person.

The motives of business people vacillate between the egoistic and the altruistic. John Perkins points that out in his case. One can always rationalize one’s actions no matter what damage they cause others. That is another reason why it is important to not only listen to the ideology coming from mouths, but also to look at the actions of the bodies espousing the ideology.

Fortunately, sorting through myth and reality is a scientific endeavor that one does not have to be a specialist to do. In fact, in a democracy the citizen is expected to reason herself to conclusions about what is myth and what is reality. Not to do so is to give up the status of sovereign ruler.

Professional economists have lamented the woeful state of economic literacy in the United States. Maybe, the goal of economic literacy should be to arm the citizen with the basic tools to debunk economic myths, and not merely at the expense of keeping certain privileged myths unquestioned and in place. We all have our opinions on the way the world ought to be. Explaining why things often do not turn out that way is a valuable activity too.

Three cheers for debunking.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Just a hired hand getting his just reward

Tyler Cowen, economist and co-author of the interesting and valuable econ blog Marginal Revolution, takes a contrarian position on CEO compensation in his NYT article, A Contrarian Look at Whether U.S. Chief Executives Are Overpaid. He cites a paper recently published by economists Xavier Gabaix and Augustin Landier.
Their core argument is simple. If we look at recent history, compensation for executives has risen with the market capitalization of the largest companies. For instance, from 1980 to 2003, the average value of the top 500 companies rose by a factor of six. Two commonly used indexes of chief executive compensation show close to a proportional sixfold matching increase (the correlation coefficients are 0.93 and 0.97, respectively; 1.0 would be a perfect match).

Cowen does not discuss what has happened to the average worker's compensation during this same time period. Without looking it up, I'd bet that it did not rise by a factor of six.

One theory says that CEOs are merely hired hands increasing shareholder value for their shareholders. If compensation is dependent on shareholder value, doesn't that apply to the other workers also?

The Conservative Nanny State

Yesterday's great find on the Internet was The Conservative Nanny State by Dean Baker of The Center for Economic and Policy Research. The book is free and available in PDF and HTML formats.
In his new book, economist Dean Baker debunks the myth that conservatives favor the market over government intervention. In fact, conservatives rely on a range of “nanny state” policies that ensure the rich get richer while leaving most Americans worse off. It’s time for the rules to change. Sound economic policy should harness the market in ways that produce desirable social outcomes – decent wages, good jobs and affordable health care.

Conservatives are every much in favor of big government as those on the left. Where they differ is on who gets the benefit. Conservatives favor the rich. Those on the left favor the middle and lower income classes.

One needn't go farther than reading the brutal facts and numbers in today's NYT piece, House Pass's a $2.7 Trillion Spending Plan by Edmund L. Andrews, for a graphic illustration of the point.

Meanwhile, down at the border

Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution is soliciting signatures from economists to a letter to President Bush on the immigration issue. The letter states that immigration has provided modest yet net benefit to Americans. He already has signatures from prominent economists on the left and right. That's the good news.

Meanwhile, in Washington D. C., the President and Congress want to build a hi-tech virtual wall along the border. Round up the usual suspects: large defense contractors. Here they are as reported in the NYT.
Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman, three of the largest, are among the companies that said they would submit bids within two weeks for a multibillion-dollar federal contract to build what the administration calls a "virtual fence" along the nation's land borders.

These technologies have been tried with varying degrees of success and abject failure around the world. The oversight for this spending will come from Homeland Security, the agency we have grown to love and respect.

This once again indicates the complete failure of governance coming from Washington D. C. Instead of tackling the difficult economic issues that would benefit both American and Mexican workers, the government will buy some expensive gee whiz technology, and retire for cocktails with their favorite lobbyist and contractor.

Everyone's conscience is assuaged. And at least a few people continue to grow rich.

One is left wondering where the real border lies in this country.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Platitudes and profound truth

The other day, I was reading a review of John Kenneth Galbraith's work written by some economist, but I'll be darned if I remember who. He was not much impressed with Galbraith's work. He claimed that part of it was merely mouthing some Marxist platitude.

Let's see. Everything Marx wrote was a platitude. Everything contained in an orthodox economic textbook is profound scientific truth.

Galbraith was fond of saying that one could approach economic truth by discovering where the vested economic interests lie.

That does not seem a controversial way of explaining events. Or am I mouthing another Marxist platitude?

The savvy executive and the immigration issue

Let’s stalk the immigration issue in its native habitat to see what we find. That might prove a workable methodology.

The issue has been framed as the United States being threatened and challenged by alien hordes come to sack the Republic. Throw in a dash of terrorism for seasoning. Bake until well overheated. Bring in the National Guard. Then serve while hot.

Agreements such as NAFTA were supposed to bring economic prosperity for all living in North America. The two richest countries have stayed that way. The poorest has stayed that way too. Although agreements such as NAFTA are called free trade agreements, they are designed to fix market outcomes in favor of one privileged party. That privileged party is not the North American worker.

When in doubt, playing the blame game is sometimes useful. Much has been written about Mexico’s need to reform its economy. The incentives work against it. The opportunistic Mexican politician can do very well by catering to the needs of United States business interests without getting into all the messy details of economic reform. Besides, there is a dangerous trend toward leftist and populist reform south of the border. Nobody wants to open that can of worms in Mexico.

Doing business in China and other less developed countries is not as easy as it sounds. Producing over there carries more risk than in the United States. The smart or lucky executive who has found a ready pool of low wage labor in the United States has to think twice about going overseas when he can execute the same business model close to the elegant and rich suburb in which he resides.

You don’t see a lot of top CEOs weighing in on the immigration issue—either pro or con. The savvy CEO is more than willing to sit on the sidelines until the “secure the borders” hysteria subsides. Actually, the CEO can’t lose, for he will get low wage labor either from Mexico or from a severely chastened pool of American workers who will work for the same low wage.

When the smoke clears the battlefield and all the wounded are decently shot, the North American worker will be the loser. The immigration debate has been framed to guarantee precisely that outcome.

It could have been me

I was strolling home from McDonald's early in the AM last night when I witnessed a mugging and robbery on State Street just a few blocks from where I live. Once I recognized what was going on, I rushed to the victim's aid. He lost his money and cell phone, but the two guys who assaulted him left him his wallet. Nice guys.

I called 911 and checked his head for blood of which there was none. Two squad cars arrived on the scene within 60 seconds since this is a well patrolled part of town. They checked my ID and whisked away the victim in their squad car after that.

I was lucky. If he had not been walking along State Stree at the same time as me, then his fate would have been mine.

I'm home tonight at a decent hour.

Arsenal vs. Barca

Don't forget that tomorrow is the Arsenal vs. Barca Champions League final. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2 at 1:30 PM Central time.

Barcelona is the favorite, but don't count Arsenal out. They have played very good D in the Champions League, plus they have been on a roll.

I'm picking Arsenal and betting on them too.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Blowing up frogs with firecrackers

One of the things I have recently learned about President Bush is that he enjoyed blowing up frogs with firecrackers when he was a boy.

Ah, impetuous youth.

More open

President Bush has agreed to be more open with Congress about his spy programs. This comes in advance of Thursday's Senate hearings to confirm General Hayden as the top spook at the CIA.

I can't wait to see how all that transpires. My expectations are rather low, but I've been wrong before.

Independent thinking

I once took one of those Internet quizzes that is supposed to tell you what your personality is. I was required to pick an abstract painting from a group of abstract paintings. Once that was done, I was told I was independent, unfettered, and unconventional. I was pleased since it fit the false image I had of myself as a rebel bad boy. The fact that I spent my career in corporate America gave the lie to the notion.

However, I often delude myself by believing I am an independent thinker. Independent thinking is an arduous and dangerous chore not well suited to my lazy work habits. Blind and bland conformity to a received orthodoxy might fit me better.

My corporate days created a lot of tension and frustration since it seemed I was always struggling between conformity and rebellion. However, the corporate world added much needed discipline and structure to my life, which most likely would have been spent making idle speculations such as this.

Today's resolution is to work harder at being an independent thinker.

NAFTA, immigration, free trade, and comparative advantage

I think I have part of this right.

When NAFTA went into effect, North America was supposed to receive the benefits of free trade. Comparative advantage would work its magic, and all people in North America, even in Mexico, would be rolling in the gravy.

So what is the big deal about illegal immigration? It is the result of free trade and comparative advantage. Things are working perfectly. People are going where the jobs are. Businesses are employing those workers at low wage jobs.

Mexico has unfortunately not prospered as expected. They've been under bid by countries such as China for United States business. Agriculture in the United States is still subsidized which has meant that Mexican agriculture can't compete with it. Displaced Mexican farmers can't find jobs in Mexican industry because the U. S. has sent those jobs to Asia. Meanwhile U. S. businesses are happy as pigs in slop with the newly found pool of low wage labor streaming across the border from Mexico.

Things have not worked out exactly as planned by the market fundamentalists who preach free trade and comparative advantage, but free trade and comparative advantage are alive and well. That is unless you take into account such things as social and public costs. Let's face it, even the illegal worker needs some social services from the country in which she works. After all, you don't want all those dead bodies piling up in front of the gates of suburbia. Not only is it unsightly, but it is also down right unsanitary.

Of course, this being the good old United States, nobody wants to pick up the tab for those social and public costs. It is sort of like the Iraq War. Well I have a solution for the costs of immigration. Let's just pass it on to the next couple of generations. I am sure things will sort themselves out by then.

Like I said, I think I have part of this right. But I will continue the search for the truth anyway.

Monday, May 15, 2006

A complicated woman

I met a woman last week who is a bartender on one of the Amtrak lines. She told me she voted for President Bush twice, but now regrets it because she thinks he is trying to destroy Amtrak. When I asked her whether she had any other reasons to regret voting for President Bush, she said no.

We talked for at least four hours. She is forty years old, attractive, and a single mom with 16 and 22 year old boys. She smokes, drinks, and uses marijuana. She is saved and does missionary work overseas. She has a 30 year old lover and has had a stunningly large number of lovers before that.

She asked me some advice about dealing with her boyfriend. I told her not to get pregnant and to protect herself at all times since she was in the prime of life. That is the best I could do with my simple mind.

Google searching for the economic causes of illegal immigration and illegal employment practices

President Bush is set to speak about immigration to the nation tonight. My expectations are not high, not because it is President Bush speaking, but because, by all accounts, he will be delivering the consensus opinion we've already heard from Republicans and Democrats so far this year.

Let's revisit a basic fact. People from Mexico are willing to take the risk of entering the United States illegally to find work. Americans are willing to take the risk of illegally hiring them. That might indicate that there is some fundamental economic cause of these twin events.

However, when I Googled the news for illegal immigration, NAFTA, and economic consequences, I didn't find much discussion in the news outlets about what fundamental economic events might be causing illegal immigration and illegal employment practices.

I remain ignorant about economic cause, effect, and consequences, but it appears I am not alone. I suppose I'll have to work much harder at finding meaningful analysis, although I suspect I already know a good part of it. I'll reserve judgment until I am better informed.

My fiction picks for the past 25 years

The New York Times published their list of the best works of fiction over the past 25 years. The Times canvassed a panel of 125 distinguished experts of one sort or another to gather their results. Toni Morrison's Beloved came out on top.

I pick both American Tabloid by James Ellroy and Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. Our world is awash in blood. The worlds created in these two novels are awash in blood too. These books hold a mirror to an unpleasant truth.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Does Bush President have political problems?

The news is once again filled with reports of President Bush's political problems given the most recent public opinion polls showing he has dropped to historically low ratings. But does he really have problems?

He is not standing for reelection. His agenda for consolidating power in the Executive Branch remains unscathed despite criticism about destroying the balance of power. Congress acquiesces to all his demands unless massive unfavorable public opinion about specific issues forces their opposition. Think the Dubai ports deal, immigration, and social security. He has already stated he will not remove troops from Iraq during his remaining term.

There have always been critics on the Left who said President Bush was not interested in policy making, especially domestic policy. Conservative Republican voices have now joined that chorus. That is not the kind of criticism that moves President Bush.

Certain Republicans in Congress might have a much more difficult time being reelected this Fall, but that does not seem the kind of thing that will move President Bush to amend his position. I can't imagine how in President Bush's mind or the minds of his administration loyalists they feel have a problem. Unfavorable public opinion is only a problem when it causes you not to get what you want.

Impeachment proceedings might change everything. However, the Democratic leadership in Congress has already said they won't do it even if they gain control of Congress in the next election.

All of this is sad news to those of us who feel that President Bush has done more than enough to be tried and removed from office. But it remains the brutal fact.

We have a government where elected officials do not recognize the goals, aspirations, and sovereignty of its citizens. When, if ever, that will change is anybodies guess given the deplorable state we've come to.

Bush on the Couch

I started reading Bush on the Couch by Justin A. Frank, M. D. Doctor Frank is clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry at George Washington University Medical Center.

Frank uses the methods of applied psychiatry to analyze President Bush. Applied psychiatry has been used and pioneered by the CIA to build psychological profiles of world leaders.

The book, highly controversial since first published, presents a picture of President Bush as a person of many unresolved conflicts and dangerous behavioral tendencies, tendencies which may have been made worse by his reelection in 2004. The book is relentless in tracing President Bush's sadistic, paranoid, delusional, and megalomaniac behavior.

Beyond the political and philosophical issues with the Bush Administration, we measure the man in power, as is only natural. Doctor Frank continues a long tradition, one stretching back to the likes of Plutarch, and uses the methods of modern psychiatry for treating patients with mental disturbances. President Bush appears as a person dangerous to the world, not because he is evil, but because he is ill, and his illness continues to go untreated.

The NSA, spooks, and social pressure

For some, me included, the revelations about NSA intelligence gathering comes as no surprise. Distrust of the Bush administration confirmed by the Iraq invasion led me to low expectations about what else they might be up to.

I doubt if the Bush administration expected to keep NSA spy programs secret forever. They are probably elated that they made it through 2004 without anyone spilling the beans. High level administration leaders and loyalists can be expected to keep their mouths shut. However, the sheer number of workers implementing the programs, both inside the NSA and corporate America, practically assured leaks would occur.

My natural involuntary inclination is to consider folks involved in these spy programs as spooks. That sort of cumulative pressure could also assure that some of those implementing the program would eventually reveal these secret programs.

Each day more is revealed about what happened and when it occurred, who questioned the legality of programs, and who did not. The history will be littered with heroes, villains, and those caught in the middle.

For the remainder of the programs, the folks implementing the programs will be branded as spooks, for that is a natural reaction people have when they are being spied upon. Social pressure will leave open the possibility that the truth will eventually be known.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Pardres 4 Cubs 3

I went to the Chicago Cubs game today. The temperature was in the mid forties and the sky was overcast. We were fortunate that the wind was not blowing in from the lake. That made it tolerable.

The Cubs blew a two run lead to the San Diego Padres in the top of the ninth on Mike Piazza's three run home run.

The Cubs have lost 14 out of their last 17 games and fallen 6 games under .500. It seems as though they will definitely lose more than they will win this season.

Cubs starting pitcher Kerry Wood is scheduled to return this week. With Derek Lee out until August and Mark Prior out until whenever, I don't think Kerry's return will right the ship.

I needed to say all this just to get it out of my system, and prepare myself for grim reality.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Blumenthal on the CIA

Sidney Blumenthal has a terrific article, Killing the CIA, at Salon.

In Goss, Bush found the perfect hatchet man to take vengeance on a despised agency. Now Goss is gone, scandal looms -- and the CIA is ruined.

Free Fallin'

And I'm free, I'm free fallin'.

Tom Petty

It is cold and raining in Chicago today, but doesn't feel that way. I've just learned President Bush's approval rating has fallen to 29% in the latest Harris Poll.

Time for lunch.

What's in you wallet?

Congress's grand exercise in statesmanship yesterday was extending the Bush dividend and capital gains tax cuts from 2008 to 2010. Here is some of the arithmetic as reported by Edmund L. Andrews in today's NYT piece, Senate Approves Extension of Bush Tax Cuts.
The Senate voted 54 to 44 on Thursday to pass almost $70 billion in tax cuts, mostly for the nation's wealthiest taxpayers. The action ensures that virtually all of President Bush's tax cuts will be locked in place until after the next presidential election.

The vote went along party lines.
The overwhelming share of the tax cuts the Senate voted to extend will flow to the wealthiest taxpayers. People earning $1 million a year would save about $42,700, and reap about 22 percent of the total tax cut, according to the Tax Policy Center, a research group in Washington. People earning $40,000 to $50,000 a year would save about $47 and receive less than 1 percent of the benefits.

The devotees of trickle down economics are dancing in the streets right now. The sad part is that most of these devotees are shoveling shit for doodly squat and own 10 shares of stock that they inherited from their Aunt Millie. As for the rich devotees of trickle down economics they are dancing on their yachts, an act, which to them, is more seemly than some ugly public lower middle class display. But I digress.

Then there are the folks in the double taxation school. They are more sophisticated than the trickle down economics crowd. The argument goes that the rich owners of financial assets are double taxed, once through corporate income taxes, and twice via dividends and capital gains taxes. But we all know about double, triple, and quadruple taxation of income. There is no reason why excusing returns to capital from double taxation should be privileged over excusing double taxation on returns to labor. Both forms of taxation provide the basic public services we have come to enjoy and expect. Both forms of taxation provide disincentives to work, invest, and save. In a universe filled to the brim with cosmic justice there would be neither death nor taxes. However, I digress again.

Meanwhile, the Congress hopelessly grapples with the real public finance issues. The tax cuts will be paid for by cuts to programs such as Medicaid and other services that hit the low and middle income worker the hardest. That, as mean spirited as it may be, is small compared to the train wreck known as the U. S. Federal debt.

One is left wondering why tax cuts not set to expire until 2008 received the top priority. One of the first answers that comes to mind is that Republicans may see the writing on the wall as far as controlling Congress and the White House past 2008. Whether it is fair or not to compare a $47 tax cut for the average worker against a $42,700 tax cut for the millionaire, the size of the numbers startles the eye.

I predict that this particular visible form of greed will adversely affect those who voted for it. Even in country renowned for its economic illiteracy, most people can still tell what is in their wallets and what isn't.

To those who say I am being unfair and mean spirited, I reply, "compared to whom?"

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Who has more guts?

In the wake of the news that the large telecom companies have been turning over their domestic phone records to the NSA, President Bush has reiterated that he is doing nothing illegal with his domestic spying program.

Several prominent Republican Congressional leaders have expressed grave doubts about the Michael Hayden nomination. Those hearings provide the perfect opportunity to come down hard on President Bush's spying activities and his less than forthright discussion of them.

Do the Democrats have the stomach and backbone to do the job though? Or will they continue with what Senator Durbin calls, "benign neglect and blissful ignorance?"

The questions just keep getting more simple and easy.

On the conventional wisdom and the saying that every dog will have its day

Michiko Kakutani provides a useful survey and essay of the books written about the Bush administration in her All the President's Books. Kakutani canvasses a broad range of books both favorable and unfavorable toward the Bush administration.

What has emerged from all the President's books is further validation of an administration consisting of a small core of loyalists who are not much interested in the intricacies of policy making, don't care much about expert opinion unless it provides evidence supporting preconceived notions, consider the consequences of their actions as merely messy details for someone else to clean up later, and who sell the management and execution of policy at a deep discount against their vision of the world.

The authors of books criticizing the Bush administration form an impressive array of journalists, generals, high level policy makers, intelligence experts, economists, and political thinkers. Apologists for President Bush would dearly love to paint these folks as part of a dangerous and irresponsible radical left, but a review of these author's credentials, careers, and political preferences refutes that assertion. As one who sympathizes with the radical left, I smile each time I hear the assertion made. It isn't good propaganda when the great unwashed laugh at it.

Bush loyalists paint him as a strong leader boldly implementing visionary ideas others, such as policy experts and professionals, can't grasp, either because they are part of a large left wing conspiracy or too wedded to the bureaucratic conventional wisdom. Ah, the conventional wisdom.

Where does the conventional wisdom reside and how does it manifest itself? The conventional wisdom often resides in the seats of power. It manifests itself by the utterances and actions deriving from those seats of power. The rabble out of doors criticizing what is going on inside doors has the better claim to bucking the conventional wisdom than those who live inside.

Many of us are elated by the bad poll numbers the Bush administration is receiving. Of course, we know that bad poll numbers by themselves will not return the United States to its historical path and vision of freedom, justice, and prosperity for all.

It is a lot more fun waking up in the morning to discover that President Bush's popularity continues in free fall rather than the other way round. It's fun to read books by authors, with whom I share few political sympathies, that confirm my view of the Bush administration and how it operates.

It may not be true that every dog will have his day. But some dogs will.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Nice Fromm/Marx Reissue

While surfing Amazon for books this afternoon, I was pleased to find that there is a reissue of Erich Fromm's Marx's Concept of Man. The book consists of an introductory essay by Erich Fromm, Marx's Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, a selection from German Ideology, Preface to a Contribution to the Critiques of Political Economy, Introduction to the Critiques of Hegel's Philosophy of Law, Critique of Religion, and various reminiscences of Marx.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Trading Places

Peter Drucker published an article, Trading Places, in The National Interest shortly before he died. The article is well worth reading regardless of where one falls along the political spectrum.

From the introduction.

The New world economy is fundamentally different from that of the fifty years following World War II. The United States may well remain the political and military leader for decades to come. It is likely also to remain the world's richest and most productive national economy for a long time (though the European Union as a whole is both larger and more productive). But the U.S. economy is no longer the single dominant economy.

The emerging world economy is a pluralist one, with a substantial number of economic "blocs." Eventually there may be six or seven blocs, of which the U.S.-dominated NAFTA is likely to be only one, coexisting and competing with the European Union (EU), MERCOSUR in Latin America, ASEAN in the Far East, and nation-states that are blocs by themselves, China and India. These blocs are neither "free trade" nor "protectionist", but both at the same time.

Even more novel is that what is emerging is not one but four world economies: a world economy of information; of money; of multinationals (one no longer dominated by American enterprises); and a mercantilist world economy of goods, services and trade. These world economies overlap and interact with one another. But each is distinct with different members, a different scope, different values and different institutions. Let us examine each in turn.

On being a piss poor Epicurean

I can barely type this morning. Each keystroke is an act of concentration and premeditation. I attribute the cause of my sluggishness to watching too much TV last night: Gilda starring Rita Hayworth and Glen Ford (“put the blame on Mame, boys”), Desperate Housewives, Jericho on Mystery, Master and Commander, and Edward Scissorhands. I admit my reasoning is hardly scientific.

Epicureans should take all their pleasures in moderation. Last night’s TV orgy, like other things I do to excess, seemed fun while I was doing it. I guess I’m a piss poor Epicurean too.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Galbraith on Marx

In homage to Karl Marx’s birthday on May 5 and the recent passing of John Kenneth Galbraith, I read Galbraith’s The Massive Dissent of Karl Marx in The Essential Galbraith (originally published in The Age of Uncertainty).

Here is Galbraith citing and commenting on Marx.

Marx, during these years, was not only gathering ideas but considering the role of ideas themselves. For John Maynard Keynes ideas were the motivating force in historical change. Marx, while not denying the importance of ideas, carried the proposition a step further back. The accepted ideas of any period are singularly those that serve the dominant economic interest:

. . . intellectual production changes its character in proportion as material production is changed. The ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of the ruling class.
I have never thought Marx wrong on this. Nothing more reliably characterizes great social truth, economic truth in particular, than its tendency to be agreeable to the significant economic interest. What economists believe and teach is rarely hostile to the institutions that reflect the dominant economic power. Not to notice this takes effort, although many succeed.

The loneliness of the long distance reader

One of the ways to read a Great Book is—well—to just read the text. You set aside secondary texts about the Great Book. You read the Great Book without benefit of an instructor to guide you. Whether your can do it completely on your own without someone with whom to discuss your reading is more problematic. However, you will not always be favored with acquaintances who happen to share your interest in a specific Great Book at the same time as yourself.

What I am talking about is doing something akin to setting off on a long journey without benefit of a map or a guide. You bring some knowledge to the expedition such as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. You know the shortest distance to your destination lies either to the east or west. You have heard that there will be rivers and mountains and deserts you must pass over or through during your travel. You may even recall a map that charts the best way to go.

I do not recommend the method under discussion as a better way to read a Great Book than having a learned and expert guide to instruct you about the Great Book. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have Aristotle at your disposal when reading his Politics? We admire the self taught, yet the self taught possess a flawed erudition.

Despite that, a mystique surrounds the solitary reader. We see her as intrepid, independent, unfettered, and unconventional. These are not virtues, but matters of temperament, yet these temperaments have their place in our lives, and may even assist us in being happy and fulfilled. Playing the part of a rebel often provides relief from the oppression and conformity required to participate in the mundane and ordinary.

It is not always good that our questions receive immediate answers. Hasty judgments are sometimes not the best judgments. Some questions have never been answered to everyone’s satisfaction. Solitary reading can often be an antidote to making hasty judgments. Bewilderment is the norm rather than the exception when it comes to the Great Ideas.

Let us not discount the value of a solitary reading of a Great Book because it leaves too much to the reader’s imagination rather than her understanding. Our understanding is built from ideas we firstly imagine and secondly discover to be true.

My recommendation is that you read one Great Book by yourself, that is, if you have a desire to read a Great Book. You can always stop if you don’t find it productive or pleasing.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Simple and easy things

Sometimes all I want to write about are easy and simple things such as how nice is to have discovered Biker Bar Radio on the Internet; or that even though melancholy has nestled beside me tonight while sitting home alone, I don't really mind all that much because it's only memories that bring it around.

Postponed notes on being a piss poor marxist

Many people think I am a piss poor marxist-both real marxists and unrepentant capitalists. It could be true. I was going to post a few notes about it commensurate with Saturday night blogging. Once I started writing up my notes, I realized I was trying to canvass much of philosophy. So I stopped.

How the notions of creativity, progress, and the ever elusive future state fit together in a Marxian framework seems the most interesting question at the moment. Until I make some progress on that question, I don’t see myself accomplishing much with my notes.

Being saddled with being a piss poor marxist will have to be my lot for now. Worse things could happen.

No free C-notes

It appears we won't be getting $100 from Uncle Sam to compensate us for high gas prices. I thought the idea was beyond half baked; in fact, I thought it all baked. I didn't want to say it at the time it was proposed because I thought Congress might be dumb enough to actually do it. I could have gotten a couple of tickets to the ballgame with that money.

The real issue though with rising energy prices is how working Americans at the low end of the economic scale are going to get back and forth to work without falling even farther behind. In the current system the answer is obvious. They are going to suffer.


I read Carl Schmitt's long essay, The Theory of the Partisan, over coffee this morning. I hadn't intended to read it all in one sitting, but I was captivated by it.

The upcoming discussion of it at Long Sunday ought to be interesting.

Watch your wallet if you still have one

I scrambled to the the Economic Policy Institute Web site after the latest economic reports and the claims made by the White House that all is well with the American economy. I always reach to see if my wallet is still in my pocket when they make that announcement.

If you are a CEO, it's true, all is still well with the American economy. If you are a member of the working class, disposable income, job growth, and real wages have stagnated compared to other business cycles and other countries.

For instance, here is a summary of data obtained at the EPI.

* Job growth for the Bush administration economic recovery continues at 200,000 jobs per month compared to 300,000 during the Clinton administration. That's a whopping 1.2 million jobs per year.

* During the Bush years disposable income has increased 8.4% compared to an average of 11.1% for comparable previoius business cycles.

* Median family income has fallen 2.9% or $1,500 during the Bush administration. This has occured during a time of high productivity growth.

* The U. S. created 1.2 million jobs in four and a half years compared to the EU's 7.87 million jobs.

* The ratio of employed to population fell 2.86% for the U. S. while the EU's increased 2.47%.

* Average hourly and weekly earnings remain at the same level as the beginning of 2001.

The Bush administration is demonstrably, by any reasonable measure or standard, the least working class friendly administration in the past 60 years. Anxiety over high gas prices and rising health care costs are merely the symptoms of an economy that no longer rewards working class Americans for their productivity gains.

Friday, May 05, 2006

A Football Theory

This is the final weekend for English Premier League play. I have a theory about picking winners in this kind of situation. You pick good teams who still have something to play for over unsuccessful teams who have nothing to play for. For instance,

* Arsenal 1.27 (home) over Wigan. Arsenal still has a shot at fourth place and qualifying for next season's Champions League even if they lose to Barcelona in this year's Champions League final.

* Manchester United 1.24 (home) over Charlton. Man U. can secure second place and obtain an automatic berth in the group stage of next season's Champions League.

* Liverpool 1.66 (away) over Portsmouth. Liverpool still has a shot at finishing second and securing a Champions League group stage berth.

* Tottenham 1.75 (away) over West Ham. A win secures a Champions League spot for Tottenham by virtue of finishing in fourth place.

I hope I'm right about this since that is how I'm betting.

Nagel on Williams

Thomas Nagel has an interesting survey of the philosophy of Bernard Williams, The View from Here and Now, in the London Review of Books.

An old saw has it that all politics is local. Williams believed that political theory, too, should be in a sense local, rather than universal, because it must be addressed to individuals in a particular place and time, and must offer them a justification for the exercise of political power that has persuasive force in the light of standards that are accessible to them.

Williams believed that the distinction between illegitimate and legitimate states depends on whether their exercise of power over their subjects is sheer coercion or not. But whether a society can meet this ‘Basic Legitimation Demand’ depends on whether its justification for the exercise of power will be morally persuasive in that historical situation. The requirement cannot be for justification sub specie aeternitatis. What is legitimate at one time may not be so at another. This is the meaning of Williams’s title, ‘In the Beginning Was the Deed’, taken from Goethe’s Faust: ‘No political theory, liberal or other, can determine by itself its own application. The conditions in which the theory or any given interpretation of it makes sense to intelligent people are determined by an opaque aggregation of many actions and forces.’


Yesterday, Secretary Rumsfeld said he was not in the intelligence business. More than a few people have called it a remarkable statement. I would say that even in an era of hyperbole this one really is remarkable.

I could search my heart and mind through all eternity and never find a single reason to believe him regardless of what he says. It is not my fault. It's his.

The end of history

The genius of the human species derives from its imaginative powers. Its imagination and its ability to culturally transmit new knowledge makes it a formidable species often mystified and awed by its own powers.

Humans have invented many different ways to politically organize societies: theocracy, liberal democracy, communism, dictatorship, etc. Has the human imaginative genius invented the whole of politics, or will someone come along and dream of something new? Is there an end of history in the sense that all the systems have been invented? Is a sublime recapitulation of various favored positions all that is left to future generations?

Do these questions even matter anymore? Humans have found many ways to completely annihilate themselves. The end of history might be literally that annihilation.

Crisis management could be the norm for the rest of time although the sublime recapitulations will endure.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Walk Like an Egyptian

I walked down to the State of Illinois Building in the Loop and renewed my drivers license. During the walk the song Walk Like an Egyptian by the Bangles played in my mind.

I found $80 wedged behind my old drivers license when I surrendered it. My new license picture turned out OK. I'm still mighty cute after all these years.

I treated myself to a slice of sausage pizza and a Pepsi with my new found money before walking home. The food court in the State of Illinois Building was nearly deserted.

During the walk home the song Goodbye to You by Scandal played in my mind.

I got home in time to see the end of the Man City vs. Arsenal game. Arsenal just won.

And now what? I just don't know, but I'll figure something out.

An oddly momentous number

I turned 58 years old today. So far, the day is bright and sparkling and everything you could hope for in early May. Hope evenly balances against anxiety. Grand schemes compete with mundane chores. For instance, my driver’s license expires today, so I damn well better get it renewed. Nothing else matters until that chore is completed.

I usually try to let my birthday pass without mentioning it. Such is not the case this year for some reason I have yet to discern. Maybe it is because 58 seems an oddly momentous number. However, when you factor 58 into primes it’s just 2 x 29 which is very uninteresting.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


From Reuters:
Iran threatened on Tuesday to attack Israel in response to any "evil" act by the United States and said it had enriched uranium to a level close to the maximum compatible with civilian use in power stations.

I propose a debate on evil. President Bush versus President Ahmadinejad. I'll bring the popcorn and beer. You relax and enjoy the ride.

Where is Iraq?

From Reuters:

Fewer than 4 in 10 Americans aged 18-24 in a survey could place Iraq on an unlabeled map of the Middle East, a study conducted for National Geographic found. Only about one-quarter of respondents could find Iran and Israel on the same map.

Laser Surgery

I was talking to three women at the bar last night. One of them said they had just come from having laser surgery on their body hair. I asked them whether they had all their pubic hair removed. They all left some, but not much. I asked them what it was like, and they told me about it. I will spare you the details since they remain fuzzy. They may have been pulling my pisser anyway.

Somehow, two of the women began discussing religion. I tried to listen, but I couldn’t understand what they were talking about. I suppose it was because I was thinking about their pubic hair. Anyway, I went to the jukebox to play some music. The most talkative of the three women followed me. She played all her husband’s favorite songs on my dime. A couple of the songs weren’t too bad. One of them was a Rolling Stones song, but I can’t remember which.

It was something new for a change. I usually don’t have conversations with women about that sort of thing—pubic hair that is. Maybe, I should be bolder in the future. Who knows? Some woman out there, even at this very moment, might be dying to talk to a geezer about her pubic hair.

Monday, May 01, 2006

One more time: the nature of MSM

The political Right does not like MSM and neither does the Left.

But what is MSM? MSM is a collection of news outlets controlled and operated by large global corporations. And what do large global corporations do? They try to turn a profit each quarter. MSM does it by attracting large amounts of advertising dollars from other large global corporations via share of audience.

The right wing market fundamentalist often forgets this not so subtle fact. You see, the market fundamentalist only believes in the market when the market issues an appropriate reward. Any failure or loss is seen as something subverting the market outcome. When the polls show the market fundamentalist’s boy on top, then MSM should announce the poll numbers, and pronounce that all is well in the republic. When the polls show their boy on the bottom, then it must be because MSM is manipulating some left wing agenda to spin the numbers.

MSM is, however, a part of large global capitalism, which has no politics per se, except what is good for large global capitalism. However MSM reports the Iraq war it will be distasteful to somebody’s political sensibility. MSM only cares about that part of it to the extent it can homogenize or differentiate the news to fit the temper of the times.

If anything, MSM shields the public from unpalatable news such as wars gone bad. Take Iraq for instance. For a long time MSM was bought into the mission accomplished announcement made by President Bush. Then the terrible and tragic facts surfaced from reporters, soldiers, politicians, government officials, civilian workers, and citizens actually working in and for Iraq—all of whom decided to speak out against things gone tragically wrong.

MSM knows that bad news sells well too, especially when it comes in the form of a tsunami of irrefutable facts. Now, they report the tsunami. Even the most rabid right wing bloggers don’t talk much about things gone right in Iraq, for there are none. They talk about grand concepts like patriotism and kill ratios.

The right wing market fundamentalist is once again crying foul. It’s not fair that his boy is unpopular because the facts don’t fit his apologetics. When the market turns against the right wing market fundamentalist, then it must be because some Commie bastard has subverted the market.

But let’s never forget that both the Right and the Left do not like MSM. Let’s not forget that MSM loves us one and all—right down to the last penny in our pocketbooks.

And for golly sakes, if you are going to criticize the beast, at least learn the nature of it. It’s business and nothing personal.

Full Circle

I caught my obligatory Spring cold last week. I had a bad cough and sore lungs for several days.

This weekend I watched a lot of TV: movies, Miami Vice on TV Land (they ran 48 hours worth), and sports. I continued to dawdle over my big book of Orwell essays too. I couldn’t think to write.

This morning I have arrived full circle. I’m sneezing and my sinuses are congested even though my lungs have healed. I’ve been writing since the sun came up. Watching TV is far from my mind.

My body encumbers me as if it no longer cares about me. But it is a big mistake to think that way, for I am my body and nothing else.