Archive for September 2012

Kindergarten & First Grade in Michigan   Leave a comment

The neighborhood I lived in in Michigan when I was 5 years old was a quiet subdivision. At the edge of it was the elementary school. So for my first day of kindergarten, we only had to walk about 3 blocks to get to school
Everybody’s mom brought them. There was food for everybody, but it was grown-up food for the moms. Coffee, which I didn’t drink, and cheesecake, which I didn’t (and still don’t) like.
It was a huge social occasion for our moms. They were all talking to each other like crazy, pretty oblivious to the kids. I found Bob, a kid I knew who lived down the block from me. When you’re 5 years old, it’s really hard to understand adult conversation, so we couldn’t really follow what was going on between our moms, and when you did follow it, it was uninteresting.
I said to Bob “This is boring. Let’s leave.”. So Bob and I left and headed up the large open hill back toward where we lived, probably to go to my back yard and play on the swing set or in the sandbox. Then someone was calling us from back at the school. I guess that was when I learned that you can’t leave school any time you feel like it.
Our teacher was Miss Whipple. I thought she was the most beautiful thing in the world. I remember one time she asked me if I would do something, and I answered “I’ll do anything for you, baby!”. I’d gotten that line from a cartoon. She thought that was cute.
At some point I got in trouble, I don’t remember what for, and for a punishment I had to sit under her desk. And then she sat at her desk. She had a skirt on, so I was in there with her bare legs. I did not feel very punished.
Around Christmas time, we had to learn a song, “The Little Drummer Boy”. Miss Whipple said “Here’s how the song goes:” and she sang it. It seemed so long, I thought “I’ll never be able to remember all that.”. So when everybody sang it I tried to fake it, just opening my mouth and closing it again. But she figured out what I was doing. Miss Whipple was smart.
In first grade we had Mrs. Miller. I remember that year we had a substitute teacher at some point, and everybody misbehaved. I was in the bathroom, and in an open revolt, all the girls ran into the boys’ bathroom to see what it was like. In retaliation I went into the girls bathroom. I was surprised at how different it was — there were more stalls than in the boys’ bathroom, and no urinals.
The substitute teacher somehow restored order and the boys had to lie on the floor in various places around the classroom. I remember Karl was crying but I figured we couldn’t be in too much trouble because there were so many of us involved.

Posted September 14, 2012 by xyquarx in Uncategorized

Movie Review: Inside Job   Leave a comment

“Inside Job” is the movie “Capitalism: A Love Story” tried to be.  See my review of that other movie here.  The movie is a very mean-spirited expose of Wall Street and the 2008 financial crisis.

The purpose of the movie, like the other one, is to vilify Wall Street as much as possible.  This movie is a lot less stupid than the other one, but just as nasty.

There is an assumption, that isn’t really supported very well, that better regulation would have prevented the meltdown.  This is not clear — limits on how leveraged banks can become might have helped reduce the stress the banking sector experienced, but it wouldn’t have prevented real estate from becoming a ridiculous bubble.  Any time 95% of the players in a market get convinced that prices can do nothing but rise, as was the case with real estate before 2006, there will be a bubble.  And when it bursts, there will be a huge loss of wealth, and that will probably put severe strains on the financial sector.

The movie is very one-sided.  Never anywhere does it mention that, by the time the movie came out, most of the big banks had repaid the TARP bailout money they were forced to take, and most of them paid it back as soon as the government permitted them to.  Neither does it ever mention that Vikram Pandit, the CEO of Citigroup, was working for $1 per year of total compensation until Citi was profitable again.

It does explain some things about how mortgage bonds worked, but not as well as could have been done.

They interview some of the bankers they wanted to vilify, and the style of showing these interviews was pretty offensive to me.  The bankers rarely got to say more than one sentence at a time, sometimes the sound bites were less than a complete sentence.  It was clear that anything they said that made Wall Street look good wound up on the cutting room floor and didn’t make it into the movie.  A lot of major players refused to be interviewed, it was clear what was happening — when they did interview someone and put him through the wringer, he would warn all his friends not to talk to the people making the movie.

There was a lot of talk about hookers and cocaine, which I see as irrelevant — it was a way to make Wall Street look bad, but I don’t think it has anything to do with the meltdown.  The movie industry is well-known to be rife with vice, and it would be nice to do a documentary about how Hollywood movies that portray history are usually full of wildly inaccurate distortions and complete lies.

There was a lot of talk about economics professors at universities failing to disclose, when they publish papers and testify before congress, money they have received while consulting at banks.  The analogy that is made is that a doctor who recommends a drug is expected to disclose any funds he has received from the manufacturer of the drug.  But it’s not a good analogy.  If an economics professor comments about a specific bank, then, yes, he should disclose his relationship with that bank.  But an economics professor making general statements about deregulation is like a doctor who is testifying that “Exercise and eating right are good for you.” — is such a doctor ethically compelled to mention consulting fees he has received from working for drug companies?
Another factor is that if an economics professor gets a reputation for saying things that are stupid, banks are not going to pay him large fees for his advice.  Banks pay such large fees to people they think are smart and who are going to be able to help the bank make more money.

There aren’t a lot of recommendations about how the system could be modified to prevent such a problem from happening again.  There is a very vague and sweeping implication that deregulation was the main culprit, but there isn’t much specific in suggestions about what new regulations should be imposed.

One valid point they make is that most of the people on Wall Street are paid for short-term results, and are not really held accountable for long-term results.  I’m not sure how this can be corrected, especially in the mortgage market.  Mortgage loans are typically for 30 years.  A lot of bankers are in their sixties.  They aren’t going to be willing to wait 30 years to collect all their pay.  People typically want to be paid NOW.  And no one wants to be paid in such a way that they’ll have to give the money back if anything goes wrong — you would never feel safe spending your paycheck if there was always a risk that you might have to give it back at any time over the next 30 years.

For my take on the mortgage meltdown, click here.

Posted September 11, 2012 by xyquarx in Uncategorized

Movie Review: 2016: Obama’s America by Dinesh D’Souza   Leave a comment

This movie is just terrible.

There is hardly any discussion of Obama’s policies, and the consequences of those policies.  The movie consists almost entirely of ad-hominem attacks and wild speculation about Obama’s psyche.

I’ve never read Obama’s book “Dreams of My Father”.  I didn’t care about Obama’s father.  In this movie, Dinesh D’Souza really focuses on that book, and on the nature of Barrack Obama Sr, who was pretty much a scuzzbag.  Obama’s other book “The Audacity of Hope”, which I did read, is never mentioned in the movie.

At one point, the movie questions Obama’s policy toward Israel.  Obama has been licking the ass of the Jewish Lobby with the best of them.  At one point, he expressed the opinion that the building of Jewish civilian settlements in the West Bank “must end”.  That has actually been the policy of all American presidents, Democrat and Republican, since the building of those settlements began.  Obama has just said so a little more forcefully.  And why not?  Those settlements are the biggest obstacle to peace in Palestine.
And D’Souza describes Israel as “America’s closest ally”.  “Ally” really isn’t the right word.  Alliances are mutually beneficial.  Our relationship with Israel consists of the US constantly bending over backward on Israel’s behalf, and Israel almost never being in a position to do anything beneficial for the US.  The relationship is not symbiotic, it is parasitic.  Israel is not a useful ally, therefore it is not an important ally.
And why does Dinesh D’Souza, born in India, give a rat’s ass about Israel?  I doubt he really does, but the goal of the movie is to cost Obama as many votes as possible, and he can’t pass up the opportunity to make that dig.

There is a lot of talk about Obama’s associations with unsavory leftists.  I think any intellectual is going to have a repertoire of associations from across the political spectrum.  I was a Libertarian in college, but I remember shaking hands with the president of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade, who advocated the violent overthrow of the US government.  I also remember getting to know a neo-Nazi very well.

I knew I would disagree with this movie before I saw it, but it is very important to me to expose myself to input from across the political spectrum.  But this movie is a waste of time.  It is almost completely lacking in policy content, consisting of ridiculous, wild speculation and ad-hominem attacks.

Posted September 8, 2012 by xyquarx in Uncategorized