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Meditations - ta eis heauton

Location: Austin, Texas, United States

I'm a software engineer / partner working for a young company in Austin, Texas, USA. I spend most of my free time hanging out with friends and family, eating out, and partying in the Warehouse District. I should spend more time working on my house....

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Source of our country's problems?

Our President is delusional. He has a tendancy to think he cannot be unsuccessful and if the evidence suggests otherwise he rejects the evidence. That is the first thing that came to my head reading this New York Times article about how rich people end up in bancruptcy:
“The rich are different from you and me: they are more egotistical,” says Theodore R. Aronson, managing principal of Aronson Johnson Ortiz, an investment firm in Philadelphia. “Psychologically, I think the rich, because of their egos, think they know everything. Well, they don’t, and many of them repeatedly make horrible investments — because they can.”

Financial success can breed its own peculiar set of vulnerabilities. “People who are very successful develop elevated sensibilities about their skills, and when things turn on them they won’t admit they’re wrong because their self-confidence has held them up so long,” says Arnold S. Wood, chief executive of Martingale Asset Management in Boston. “In the face of evidence, even subjective evidence, that suggests that something bad is about to happen to someone, a funny thing happens: They reject the evidence.

“These kinds of people just continue spending because they think the money will keep coming in because they’re so successful,” adds Mr. Wood, who says he is fascinated by the possible neurological and social underpinnings of financial delusion and decision-making. He believes that gender plays a strong role in financial ruin because, he says, women tend to be more risk averse than men when it comes to money. Some interesting research backs this up.

Brad M. Barber and Terrance Odean, two business professors at the University of California, Berkeley, noted in an analysis in 2001 of stock trading, “Boys Will Be Boys,” that psychological studies demonstrated that men tended to be more overconfident than women. Financial data supported the same point. “Models of investor overconfidence predict that men will trade more and perform worse than women,” the professors’ study concluded.


“Someone who goes broke, or someone who goes into debt, is really somebody who isn’t comfortable having their money,” Ms. Gurney says. “Yes, it appears as a lack of discipline. But the lack of discipline comes from an emotional place that causes them to be undisciplined. It’s not about the money. It’s about our emotional relationship to money.

“The people who are out there just running through money have failed because they haven’t come to terms with who they are and what they want the money to do for them,” she adds. “I see a lot of baby boomers beginning to panic because they haven’t figured this out.”

Does this sound at all like the guy who is running the company right now? The guy who was never a successful businessman yet, thanks to help from Daddy's friends, always ended up in better shape after his failures.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Faith vs. Science

I don't have a problem with religion. I have a problem with willful ignorance. An essay in today's New York Times by Lawrence M. Krauss makes this point well:

But perhaps more worrisome than a political movement against science is plain old ignorance. The people determining the curriculum of our children in many states remain scientifically illiterate. And Kansas is a good case in point.

The chairman of the school board, Dr. Steve Abrams, a veterinarian, is not merely a strict creationist. He has openly stated that he believes that God created the universe 6,500 years ago, although he was quoted in The New York Times this month as saying that his personal faith “doesn’t have anything to do with science.”

“I can separate them,” he continued, adding, “My personal views of Scripture have no room in the science classroom.”

A key concern should not be whether Dr. Abrams’s religious views have a place in the classroom, but rather how someone whose religious views require a denial of essentially all modern scientific knowledge can be chairman of a state school board.

I have recently been criticized by some for strenuously objecting in print to what I believe are scientifically inappropriate attempts by some scientists to discredit the religious faith of others. However, the age of the earth, and the universe, is no more a matter of religious faith than is the question of whether or not the earth is flat.

It is a matter of overwhelming scientific evidence. To maintain a belief in a 6,000-year-old earth requires a denial of essentially all the results of modern physics, chemistry, astronomy, biology and geology. It is to imply that airplanes and automobiles work by divine magic, rather than by empirically testable laws.

The reason why people of science and reason struggle against such ignorance is not because we hate religion. It is because we are disgusted by the idea that willful ignorance is not only acceptable, but should be promoted by schools and society. Have faith if you wish, but recognize that it is faith, not proof, not evidence, not truth.
  1. Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.
  2. Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.
  3. ....

Religious faith is truthiness not truth.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Is Ken Lay really dead?

I posed this question at our ritual Starbucks stop after lunch and the barrista immediately said "No way". I wonder. I am not saying I actually think it happened, but I think the concern is legitimate. Lay had the financial resources and social/political connections to accomplish such a thing. He had enormous incentive. It would be a fairly amazing step for him to have faked his death, but he was looking at spending the rest of his life in prison, a very scary thing, especially for someone with his background and lifestyle. A number of checks should be done to prove that the body autopsied is really his.

Apparently this 'conspiracy theory' exists far and wide (It occurred to me when I read first read the news). This CNN article suggests there are extensive and varied the conspiracies about Lay's death. Of course, if he is dead all of this speculation must make the suffering of his family that much tougher...

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Immigration and the Economy

I had a couple of conversations over the weekend about immigration and its effects on the economy. Unfortunately none of US were economists so everything was hearsay. That is why I am so glad the Freakonomics blog pointed me to this blog post from they guys over at Marginal Revolution. The post is basically an open letter about what many economists believe are the effects of immigration. Read the whole thing.

Overall, immigration has been a net gain for existing American citizens, though a modest one in proportion to the size of our 13 trillion-dollar economy.

Immigrants do not take American jobs. The American economy can create as many jobs as there are workers willing to work so long as labor markets remain free, flexible and open to all workers on an equal basis.

Immigration in recent decades of low-skilled workers may have lowered the wages of domestic low-skilled workers, but the effect is likely to be small, with estimates of wage reductions for high-school dropouts ranging from eight percent to as little as zero percent.

While a small percentage of native-born Americans may be harmed by immigration, vastly more Americans benefit from the contributions that immigrants make to our economy, including lower consumer prices. As with trade in goods and services, the gains from immigration outweigh the losses. The effect of all immigration on low-skilled workers is very likely positive as many immigrants bring skills, capital and entrepreneurship to the American economy.

Legitimate concerns about the impact of immigration on the poorest Americans should not be addressed by penalizing even poorer immigrants. Instead, we should promote policies, such as improving our education system that enables Americans to be more productive with high-wage skills.

We must not forget that the gains to immigrants from coming to the United States are immense. Immigration is the greatest anti-poverty program ever devised. The American dream is a reality for many immigrants who not only increase their own living standards but who also send billions of dollars of their money back to their families in their home countries—a form of truly effective foreign aid..

America is a generous and open country and these qualities make America a beacon to the world. We should not let exaggerated fears dim that beacon.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Republican Craponomics

For over two decades Republican politicians have argued that cutting taxes actually increases government revenues. As stupid as it sounds on its face this argument is based on supply-side economics theory, specifically the Laffer Curve. I call this a theory although, to the best of my knowledge, the evidence to back up the "theory" is so marginal it would more appropriately be called a hypothesis. Regardless, as this Washington Post editorial describes, some research has been done by conservative economists on just how much increase in revenue could be expected from giving a tax cut. The answer, not much:
... N. Gregory Mankiw of Harvard, a proponent of tax cuts who chaired the Council of Economic Advisers in the Bush White House. Mankiw is a top-notch economist hired by Bush and Cheney to advise them. And last year he published a paper on how far tax cuts pay for themselves, reporting enthusiastically that this self-financing effect is "surprisingly large."

How large, exactly? Mankiw reckons that over the long run (the long run being generous to his argument), cuts on capital taxes generate enough extra growth to pay for half of the lost revenue. Hello, Mr. President, that means that the other half of the lost revenue translates into bigger deficits. Mankiw also calculates that the comparable figure for cuts in taxes on wages is 17 percent. Yes, Mr. President, that means every $1 trillion in tax cuts is going to add $830 billion to the national debt.

But, wait there is more!

...Douglas Holtz-Eakin, another conservative economist who worked in the Bush White House and who went on to run the Congressional Budget Office.

In a study published under Holtz-Eakin's direction last December, the CBO estimated the extent to which a 10 percent reduction in personal taxes might pay for itself. The conclusions confirm that the free-lunch mantra is just plain wrong. On the most optimistic assumptions it could muster, the CBO found that tax cuts would stimulate enough economic growth to replace 22 percent of lost revenue in the first five years and 32 percent in the second five. On pessimistic assumptions, the growth effects of tax cuts did nothing to offset revenue loss.

So Mankiw isn't with them. Holtz-Eakin isn't with them. Which raises a question: When top Republicans go around claiming that tax cuts pay for themselves, which economic authorities are they relying on? None, is the answer. These people's approach to government is to make economics up.

Hat tip to Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

You are either with us or against us

This is disgusting:

"He had made every effort to get a contract with HUD for 10 years," Jackson said of the prospective contractor. "He made a heck of a proposal and was on the (General Services Administration) list, so we selected him. He came to see me and thank me for selecting him. Then he said something ... he said, 'I have a problem with your president.'


"He didn't get the contract," Jackson continued. "Why should I reward someone who doesn't like the president, so they can use funds to try to campaign against the president? Logic says they don't get the contract. That's the way I believe."

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Had Enough? Vote Democratic!

I totally agree with the Tim Roemer op-ed in the NY Times today.
AMERICANS have clearly had enough of the Bush administration's record: 7 in 10 say the nation is headed in the wrong direction. But with the 2006 Congressional elections fast approaching, Democrats must not get so irrationally exuberant that they lapse into old, bad habits.


In 1946, Karl Frost, an advertising executive, suggested a simple slogan to the Massachusetts Republican Committee: "Had Enough? Vote Republican!" Frost recognized that these simple words could unite his national party and blame its opponents, who controlled Congress, for causing or failing to solve the many problems facing the country, including meat shortages, economic difficulties and labor unrest. The strategy worked: in 1946, both houses of Congress flipped.

Sixty years later, Democrats would be smart to turn Karl Frost's slogan on Karl Rove's strategy.

"Had Enough? Vote Democratic!" is a slogan that spotlights the many mistakes in Iraq, the mismanagement of Hurricane Katrina and the mangling of fiscal responsibility with "bridges to nowhere."...


"Had Enough?" also pre-empts Democrats' worst habits. Too often we've made campaigns complicated and policy-heavy. We love to unveil 40-page position papers and wonky diagrams. "Had Enough?" clears a broad path through such minutiae. "Public sentiment is everything," Abraham Lincoln said 150 years ago. "With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed."

Karl Frost's simple words can serve as the cavalry charge to help win the coming electoral battles — something Democrats are in an incredibly strong position to do. But make no mistake: new ideas matter. Democrats will also need the artillery of a disciplined, focused set of core proposals to complement their criticism of Republican excesses.

As we head into the midterm elections, Democrats should finally understand, as Lincoln and Frost did before, that you must win the majority before you can make public policy.

Where do I get my t-shirt and bumper sticker?

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Futurist blogging

Futurist David Houle has a new blog Evolution Shift and has some interesting preditions out there for all of us to pick through. One of his most recent "Remember When Gas Was Cheap" is an interesting look at the world from the year 2009 discussing the effects of increased oil and gas prices on the economy and politics. As I mention in my comment to the post I generally think most of the predictions for the next year are pretty accurate based on what we know at this point, but I think he gets a bit unrealistic starting in April 2007.

April 2007 Congress overwhelmingly passed an energy bill that had several key components: a gasoline tax that started at $.25 a gallon, increasing to a $1.00 over four years, new stringent guidelines on average mpg for all automotive manufacturing companies, and investment tax credits for practically any type of alternative energy ideas and companies. At the last minute, the $2.500 surcharge on all SUVs and non-commercial use pick-up trucks were taken out of the bill, as GM said that it would have no recourse but to enter bankruptcy and immediately lay-off 50,000 workers, and few politicians had stomach for the economic impact of that probability. So many Republicans, getting the message from the fall elections, voted for these bills that it was clear that a Bush veto would be easily overridden.

I just don't think the country will have moved that far politically in a year. Not without a major oil shock (like prices shooting to over $125 a barrel, gas at say $5-$6/gallon for at least a few weeks).

I would actually like to see some of his preditions come to pass since I think in the long run they would be good for the country and the planet. I just don't think they can happen with out a significant "shock" like event. A 9-11 for energy policy. Anything less will just be seen as the something political leaders shouldn't expend effort on when the results will be so hard on the economy.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Bush leaking Classified information for political purposes

Articles yesterday and today in the NY Times tell us that President Bush approved the leaking of classified information to reporters for political purposes. I realize that according to executive orders the President can declassify anything he wants, but the timeline is the problem here. If I understand it correctly the President said it was ok to leak the information around July 8th, ten days before the document was officially declassified. Not to mention the fact that the only logic behind the declassification was political.

Maybe I am too much of a freedom of information fan, but it seems to me that there are only two reasonable states that a government document should be in, publically available or classified and only available to those with the appropriate authorization. In my opionion all documents should be assumed public and should have to be proven to need classification. Even at that point I feel like only the portions of the document that relate to national security (or other confidentiality requirements) should be excised and the rest should continue to be public. I will certainly grant that this would be a complex process, but it would put the situation in the right perspective. Any document produced by the goverment was produced using my tax dollars and was made by people either elected by or appointed to serve me. I should have access to their work.

Update: Apparently the judge in the Moussaoui case has similiar feelings about classified documents.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Go Horns!

Wow, what a great end to the Texas-West Virginia Sweet 16 matchup. Texas dominated the first half getting ahead by as many as 15 before leading by 12 at the half. West Virginia came out in the second half shooting great and breaking down the Texas defense. Texas regained its composure shortly after West Virginia took a late lead and the game went back and forth until West Virginia tied it on a 3 point shot with around 8 seconds left. AJ Abrams tore down the floor and found Kenton Paulino a solid 3 feet outside the 3-point line on the left side. Paulino put up the shot with less than a second left and it rattled home as the clock expired. Awesome.

Amazingly that wasn't the only great game last night. The top ranked Duke team was overwhelmed by a stifling LSU defense and Gonzaga's win was snatched from their grasp by poor ball-handling (and IMHO poor officiating). I'm not terribly interested in the other side of the bracket although I have always like Georgetown. My Final Four matchup assumes the #1s, UConn and Villinova, win out so I hope that happens, but after the loss of Duke and Gonzaga some of the best storylines of the tournament have lost their thread.

Then again I think it would be a great storyline to talk about Texas holding the National Championships in Baseball, Football and Basketball all at the same time. That has never happened before. :-)

Hook'em Horns!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Arresting drunks.. in the bar

A friend sent me an article on CNN's website about how the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission is now sending undercover agents into bars to arrest people for public intoxication:
Texas has begun sending undercover agents into bars to arrest drinkers for being drunk, a spokeswoman for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission said Wednesday.

The first sting operation was conducted recently in a Dallas suburb where agents infiltrated 36 bars and arrested 30 people for public intoxication, said the commission's Carolyn Beck.

Being in a bar does not exempt one from the state laws against public drunkenness, Beck said.

My gut reaction is I don't like it, but I understand the logic behind it. As they mention in the article:
The goal, she said, was to detain drunks before they leave a bar and go do something dangerous like drive a car.

"We feel that the only way we're going to get at the drunk driving problem and the problem of people hurting each other while drunk is by crackdowns like this," she said.

"There are a lot of dangerous and stupid things people do when they're intoxicated, other than get behind the wheel of a car," Beck said. "People walk out into traffic and get run over, people jump off of balconies trying to reach a swimming pool and miss."

I think this is an abuse of power. Bars are public places and thus drunks in them fall under the public intoxication statutes, but I think it is just wrong. Unless the management of the bar (or other patrons) complain, the individual should be left alone. Obviously measures should be taken to ensure that the individual doesn't leave the bar drunk and certainly doesn't drive drunk, but pre-emptive action seems unjust.

A more reasonable action, IMHO, was Austin police asking drunken driving suspects where they last drank, then if over a long period of time specific bars showed up again and again work to reduce that problem from the specific "trouble" locations and if necessary consider specific undercover actions at that location. Care must be taken to recognize that the number of patrons at the bar will cause this number to naturally be higher for a bar that holds 500 than a bar that holds 50.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Defenders of the Faith

A cool editorial in the NY Times by Slavoj Zizek, the international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, is the author, most recently, of "The Parallax View." The editorial is primarily about the importance of the atheist legacy in Europe and how that legacy can inform the concerns about Muslim integration in Europe and the rest of the world:
During the Seventh Crusade, led by St. Louis, Yves le Breton reported how he once encountered an old woman who wandered down the street with a dish full of fire in her right hand and a bowl full of water in her left hand. Asked why she carried the two bowls, she answered that with the fire she would burn up Paradise until nothing remained of it, and with the water she would put out the fires of Hell until nothing remained of them: "Because I want no one to do good in order to receive the reward of Paradise, or from fear of Hell; but solely out of love for God." Today, this properly Christian ethical stance survives mostly in atheism.

Fundamentalists do what they perceive as good deeds in order to fulfill God's will and to earn salvation; atheists do them simply because it is the right thing to do. Is this also not our most elementary experience of morality? When I do a good deed, I do so not with an eye toward gaining God's favor; I do it because if I did not, I could not look at myself in the mirror. A moral deed is by definition its own reward. David Hume, a believer, made this point in a very poignant way, when he wrote that the only way to show true respect for God is to act morally while ignoring God's existence.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Whitlock is witless

This idiotic hit piece on the espn website is annoying me. In the article Jason Whitlock, a columnist for The Kansas City Star, basically rips into Vince Young who, if you follow Whitlock's logic, should probably not even be drafted. Whitlock argues that Vince's choice of Agent and Wonderlick score are evidence that Vince lack's "humility", shows questionable "willingness to prepare", is "arrogant", "foolish", and has questionable "decision-making and maturity".

I do think the Whitlock article makes a few salient points. Vince's choice of agent that is a family friend and not an experienced professional might be a poor decision. However, Major Adams is a family friend, a lawyer and someone Vince trusts. He is not some idiot entertainer/businessman/promoter like Master P who's disastrous agent work is still affecting Ricky Williams career. Vince's choice at least makes sense. He knows he can trust his agent, something someone with his fame will have a hard time with for the rest of his life.

I also think Vince's Wonderlic troubles are unfortunate, mostly because of notoriety rather than the actual score he ended up with. Hopefully he will study for it more and end up with a decent score.

For a little more detail about Wonderlic scores:
NFL past and present quarterback prospect Wonderlic scores
Taking your Wonderlics
A true look at Wonderlic results

The rest of Whitlock's column is crap. "Humility is the No. 1 ingredient." to being a great NFL quarterback? Tell that to Joe Namath.

"Young's success in the NFL will hinge almost exclusively on his willingness to prepare." Does Whitlock know anything about Young's training regimen and preparation for the game? Does he mention quotes by anyone that does? Then he should shut up about it.

"Didn't Redskins running back Tim Smith and Cowboys cornerback Larry Brown have big games on football's biggest stage and later prove to be frauds?" This line is proof that Whitlock knows nothing about Vince Young. What about the Ohio State game? What about Michigan? What about Oklahoma State comebacks? This guy seems to have zero knowledge about Vince's actual experience and success.

Whitlock was doing a hit job on Vince Young. I wonder how much Matt Leinart and Jay Cutler's agents are paying him. Or is it just ESPN trying to bring down Young since they desperately wanted USC to win the Rose Bowl (Threepeat!). What a load of crap.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Because it is not funny.

In an editorial today Kathleen Parker spends her entire column ranting about the fact that Hillary didn't laugh at the President's joke last night.

Bush was discussing stresses to the Social Security system and mentioned that the first baby boomers were turning 60, including two of his father's favorite people. We're waiting to hear George and maybe Jeb Bush when he says, "Me and President Bill Clinton."

Badaboom! Pan to Hillary.

Nothing, nada, zip. Cheekbones bouncing light back to the fluorescent gods, her ruby lips a door slammed shut for all eternity to the minions of mirth. My mind immediately free-associates to the ancient vampires in Anne Rice's "Vampire Chronicles," who, cold and bloodless through the ages, had turned to stone. Clinton was the sphinx the joker couldn't budge. If eyes could emasculate, Hillary's would send a man into the high octaves.

First, I have seen video of the event and Hillary didn't laugh, but did give a mild smirk. You know the kind of bored smirk that someone who had access the speech long before the President gave it and knew the lame joke was coming? Yeah, that kind of smirk.

Second, who gives a crap whether or not Hillary smiles at a lame joke? Why should anyone care about this? Parker seems to suggest that this inability to laugh at lame jokes is a character defect that couldn't be tolerated in a President:

Truthfully, I'm pulling for everyone deep down. I have no bone to pick with Hillary Clinton, no wish to see her stumble. But I admit to being fascinated, and I watch her closely. I especially watch her when she's out of sight; listen when she's quiet. You learn a lot about people not just by what they say, but by what they don't say.

Or by what they don't do, where they don't show up. With a Clinton, no move is accidental. And she is, of course, considered the most likely Democratic candidate for president in 2008. Could she win?

... snip ....

I don't know what was going through Clinton's mind in that moment, but her expression said, "Bug off," or sentiments to that effect. What we do know is that Bill Clinton would have loved it. And laughed. And reminded Americans of his humanness and his ready sense of humor. His wife, by defining contrast, showed the world that she is something else. That thing -- what is it? It is what she isn't: human, gracious and humorous.

Is she serious? Clinton doesn't laugh at a mediocre scripted joke and suddenly she is inhuman, ungracious and humorless? Give me a break!

Conservatives hated Bill Clinton's affable charm. Liberals hate Bush's folksy friendliness. The other side always feels that the opposition leader is faking it. Maybe we should be thankful that Hillary isn't quite so fake?

To make a long commentary longer, my biggest problem with this column -- it was a giant waste of space. There are many much bigger problems in the world we should be worrying about. In response I wrote the following letter to the Statesman:

In Tuesday’s editorial “The night Hillary's funny bone went missing”, Parker spends 732 words on Hillary Clinton not laughing at the President’s joke that President Clinton and he are his father’s favorite people.

Over 2,250 US soldiers have died in a war that is projected to cost the country between 1 and 2 trillion dollars. The most recent CBO estimate says the budget deficit will climb to $423 billion this fiscal year, on top of the over $8,000,000,000,000 ($8,000 billion) national debt already earning interest. The President has basically admitted to breaking a law he didn’t like, Congressional statutes be damned. Muslims are rioting around the world about a cartoon. Nearly 46 million Americans live without health insurance. The hurricane ravaged gulf coast is being ignored. Kathleen Parker, however, felt the best use of her syndicated column’s 732 words was to quibble about Clinton’s reaction to a scripted joke.