Archive for September 2012

Kevin Drum Does Not Like Being Called A Moocher

Apparently, he things "moocher" is unfair.  So I will remind you what he wrote a while back:

...for the first time that I can remember, this means that I have a personal stake in the election. It's not just that I find one side's policies more congenial in the abstract, but that one policy in particular could have a substantial impact on my life.

You see, I've never really intended to keep blogging until I'm 65. I might, of course. Blogging is a pretty nice job. But I'd really like to have a choice, and without Obamacare I probably won't. That's because I'm normal: I'm in my mid-50s, I have high blood pressure and high cholesterol, a family history of heart trouble, and a variety of other smallish ailments. Nothing serious, but serious enough that it's unlikely any insurance company would ever take me on. So if I decided to quit blogging when I turned 60, I'd be out of luck. I couldn't afford to be entirely without health insurance (the 4x multiplier that hospitals charge the uninsured would doom me all by itself), and no one would sell me an individual policy. I could try navigating the high-risk pool labyrinth, but that's a crapshoot. Maybe it would work, maybe it wouldn't.

But if Obamacare stays on the books, I have all the flexibility in the world. If I want to keep working, I keep working. If I don't, I head off to the exchange and buy a policy that suits me. No muss, no fuss.

Attempting to remind him of these comments, I commented today:

I'm confused here.  A few weeks ago, didn't you say you support Obamacare because it let you retire early?  You said you could not afford to quit working early without Obamacare, because you would need your work and income to pay for, what to you, is a vital good.   Obamacare allows you to quit working earlier, presumably because other people, rather than you, will pay for at least a part of your health care with their labor.

I understand no one likes the word "moocher."  But you came on these pages really proudly announcing that Obamacare allowed you to retire early while others labored to support your needs.  What word would you suggest as an alternative, then, to describe this behavior?

(Yeah, I can predict the response.  It's not the subsidy you want, just the community rating.  Well, high premiums for 55-year-olds with pre-existing conditions are not some evil conspiracy, they reflect true cost to serve.  Having a government mandate that you pay the premiums of a healthy 25-year-old when you are 60 and sick is still a subsidy, paid for with someone else's labor.  As a minimum, 25-year-old minimum wage workers just entering the work force pay more when they are healthy so you can lead a life of indolence).

2012 Drought in Perspective

I don't know if this is a result of the severity of the drought being overblown or of the continued improvement of farming technology, or a bit of both.   Here is the recent data on 2012:

"As anticipated, lower projected production for both corn and soybeans was reported this month," said AFBF economist Todd Davis. "It will be some time before the long-term effects of the 2012 drought are fully played out. But it appears likely that continued strong worldwide demand for corn and soybeans will lead to higher projected prices."

USDA forecast corn production at 10.7 billion bushels. The average yield for corn was forecast at 122.8 bushels per acre this year, down slightly from the August prediction. Once harvest is complete, if the average corn yield comes in at 122.8 bushels per acre, it would be the smallest average yield since 2003.

I am glad I don't deal day to day with grain yield numbers, because every source I checked seems to be 3-5% off the other sources for historic numbers.  There must be some definitional issues I don't understand with acres vs. net acres.  But taking 2012 equal to to 2003, which is the worst-case way to interpret the above statement, we get this chart:

So, down 15-20% from the last several years, which is not good, but a number that still would be nearly an all-time high until about 2000.  Even at this lower number, US yields will be more than twice the corn yield per acre in the rest of the world.   Disasters are relative, I suppose, but this is a long way from the 1930's.

Enforcing the Emerging Right Not To Be Offended

What I wish Obama had said day one:

I didn't care for this particular YouTube video.  I don't think many in my State Department would agree with it in any way.  But in this country, that does not matter.  In this country, we allow people to speak their minds, whether or not they agree with those of us in office.  No, that's not quite right.  We protect their right to speak particularly when they don't agree with those of us in office.  I have sworn an oath to do so.  Browse YouTube and you will see hundreds of videos charicaturing me personally in ways I find hurtful.  You will find videos supporting and attacking nearly every religion, political party, or idea you can imagine.

Many nations are sometimes awed, overwhelmed, angry, envious at the power and wealth of this country.  But this did not happen by accident.  We are wealthy and successful because we hold ourselves consistently to a set of principles, and among the most important of these is freedom of expression.

Free Speech Asymmetry

I think the fact that there is an asymmetry between how critiques of Islam are received by US intellectuals and how critiques of Christianity are received is so obvious I am not even going to bother to prove it.  Suffice it to say that the same folks who refrained from even printing the fairly tame Danish Mohammed cartoons embrace satire of Christianity that is far more harsh, e.g. the Book of Mormon.

So accepting this asymmetry as nearly an axiom, I want to ask instead:  Is this asymmetry an exception being made for Islam, or an exception being made for Christianity.  In other words:

  • Do these folks support criticisms of all religions except Islam, because Islam is somehow different, perhaps out of a fear of violence?  If so, aren't we just encouraging anyone who is butt-hurt to resort to violence by giving folks with a Molotov cocktail an effective veto over speech?
  • Or, do these folks oppose criticisms of all religions except Christianity, perhaps because Republicans and Texans are Christians and intellectuals really don't like those guys.  In some ways this is parallel to the asymmetric way the "right not to be offended" is enforced on most campuses, with everyone afraid to offend a black woman but with no punishments assessed for offending white males.

Either answer, by the way, is absolutely unacceptable.  People who want to limit speech in a way to favor their own in-group should wonder what might happen when their group is no longer "in".

New Google Feature

THIS is why the Internet was invented.  Google has a new search feature so you can quickly find out how many degrees of separation any actor has from Kevin Bacon

It is hard to push the number much higher, for any reasonable value of "actor."  For God sakes, Charlie Chaplin is a 2.  I got a three with Humphrey Bogart and Butterfly McQueen.  Not even sure how to get a four.

Well, I Was Wrong

I have been a stock market bear for some months now.  I don't really think the US economy is going to double dip on its own, but I felt like Europe and Asia would bring us down.  Well, I simply underestimated both the Fed's and the ECB's willingness to goose financial assets.  If the Fed and ECB are going to inflate our way out of, uh, whatever it is we are in, then I certainly don't want to be holding bonds, particularly at these absurdly low interest rates.  Stocks are not as good of an inflation hedge as some hard assets, but they are a hell of a lot better than most bonds.  I'm  certainly not going to buy back in the current euphoric highs, but I am giving up on trying to predict that market based on fundamentals.  It seems that fundamentals are a suckers game, and you better not be timing the market unless you have an inside line to government policy, because that seems to be what drives the train.

PS-  I wish Milton Friedman were still around.  QE was as much his idea as anyone else's.   I wonder what he would have thought of the results, or of this particular implementation.

Insane Reverse-Privatization at the Arizona DMV

Arizona has always had a pretty intelligent rule that driving schools that have been certified by the state can actually give kids their written and driving tests.    They get a certificate they take to the DMV where they then get issued the physical license.   Kids who can't afford the school can certainly go into the DMV to take the tests, but since our DMV is swamped with insane waits, it is nice to have an alternative.

Until now.  Apparently, for reasons that entirely escape me except perhaps to pander to state employees' unions, all kids must now take their tests, written and driving, at the DMV.  So, the DMV's solution to insane waits is to... increase demand on their services.  Awesome.  Sounds eerily similar to Obamacare's solution to ER waits.

Rename the Chevy Volt to the Chevy Bastiat

Quick - in your last fill up, how much did you pay for gas?  About how many gallons did you use?

If you are like most people, you can probably come pretty close to this.  I paid somewhere just north of $4.00 for about 18 gallons.

OK, second set of questions:  On your last electric bill, how much did you pay per KwH?  How many KwH did it take to run your dishwasher last night?

Don't know?  I don't think you are alone.  I don't know the answers to the last questions.   Part of the reason is that gas prices are posted on every corner, and we stare at a dial showing us fuel used every time we fill up.  There is nothing comparable for electricity -- particularly for an electric car.

I understand some inherent appeals to electric cars.  They are fun to drive, kind of quiet and stealthy like KIT from Knight Rider.  They are really torquy and have nice acceleration.  There is no transmission and gear changing.  All cool and awesome reasons to buy an electric car.

However, my sense is that the main appeal of electric cars is that because we don't see the fuel price on the corner, and because we don't stare at a spinning dial as electrons are flowed into the car, we pretend it is not costing us anything to fill up.  Out of sight is out of mind.  Heck, even experienced car guys who should know better take this attitude.  Popular Mechanics editor Jim Meigs wrote to Glenn Reynolds, re: the Volt:

Others might like the notion of going a month or two without filling the tank

This drives me crazy.  Of COURSE you are filling the freaking tank.  You are just filling the lead-acid (or lithium-ion) one with electrons rather than filling the hollow steel one with hydrocarbon molecules.  The only difference is that you don't stand there watching the meter spin.   But that should not mean that we pretend we are not filling the car and paying a cost to do so.

By the way, if you have read me before, you know I also have a problem with the EPA equivalent mileage standards for electric cars, which basically inflate the numbers by a factor of three by ignoring the second law of thermodynamics.  This fraudulent mileage number, combined with the EPA's crazy-high new mileage standards, represents an implicit subsidy, almost a mandate, for electric cars that gets little attention.  And that will have zero effect on energy usage because the numbers are gamed.


Creative Destruction

I thought this was an interesting example of creative destruction.  Five years ago, Time and Newsweek were running cover stories about the "Blackberry" culture and how ubiquitous the device was in modern business.  Now, people are making fun of it for being outdated tech.  If only we could get the average voter to truly appreciate creative destruction.  We might have fewer bailouts and more economic growth.

By the way, Canada says it won't bail out Blackberry, which is good, but is interesting given that it did bail out the Canadian automotive sector just a few years ago.  In terms of total market value I would guess the Canadian automotive sector is way smaller than Blackberry at its peak.  Only a cynic would suggest the difference is that the auto sector is unionized and therefore politically organized to generate campaign donations and grass roots get-out-the-vote efforts, while RIM is not.  That would imply that bailouts were due to political pull rather than sound and consistent economic reasoning, which I am sure can't possibly be true.

PS- there are still good and valid reasons for enterprises, like the Administration and government agencies, to use the Blackberry over smartphones.  Just because they are out of favor with 16-year-old girls does not mean they don't have utility. Oddly, though, given this particular niche and comparative advantage, RIM seems to be obsoleting its installed base of enterprise servers.   I am not an expert, but I think a lot of enterprises would stick with Blackberry for quite a while just out of inertia and lack of desire to change.  But now that Blackberry is forcing them to rethink their whole enterprise platform anyway, it seems to allow other competitors solutions into play.  Or am I missing something?

Update:  Apparently RIM is saying the previous paragraph is incorrect, that the new servers will support all the old devices ... except for email, calendar, and contacts.  Unfortunately, this seems to encompass the entire Blackberry functionality.  I have had one or two of the devices, and you are a nut if you are trying to surf the web on one as your main usage.

Because They Are Humanitarians

I used to scoff at how Ayn Rand turned the word "humanitarian" in the Fountainhead into a term of derision.  I didn't think it was justified to assume anyone adopting the humanitarian title had to be evil.  Surely, for example, Andrew Carnegie with his philanthropy and opposition to war could be considered a positive humanitarian?

But maybe she was on to something.  At least as far as Greenpeace is concerned:

According to the World Health Organization between 250,000 to 500,000 children become blind every year due to vitamin A deficiency, half of whom die within a year of becoming blind. Millions of other people suffer from various debilitating conditions due to the lack of this essential nutrient.[2]

Golden Rice is a genetically modified form of rice that, unlike conventional rice, contains beta-Carotene in the rice kernel. Beta-Carotene is converted to vitamin A in humans and is important for eyesight, the immune system, and general good health.[3] Swiss scientist and humanitarian Dr. Ingo Potrykus and his colleagues developed Golden Rice in 1998. It has been demonstrated in numerous studies that golden rice can eliminate vitamin A deficiency.[4]

Greenpeace and its allies have successfully blocked the introduction of golden rice for over a decade, claiming it may have “environmental and health risks” without ever elaborating on what those risks might be. After years of effort the Golden Rice Humanitarian Project, led by Dr. Potrykus, The Rockefeller Foundation and others were unable to break through the political opposition to golden rice that was generated directly by Greenpeace and its followers.[5]

To their credit, Bill and Melinda Gates are giving it another try.

You Can't Use Voluntary Action to Try to Stop Government Coersion

Or so says California's Gavin Newsom, in a great Reuters quote found by Zero Hedge:

California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom says he wants the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate "threats" against local communities considering using eminent domain to seize and restructure poorly performing mortgages to benefit cash-strapped homeowners.

Newsom sent a letter on Monday to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asking federal prosecutors to investigate any attempts by Wall Street investors and government agencies to "boycott" California communities that are considering such moves.

"I am most disturbed by threats leveled by the mortgage industry and some in the federal government who have coercively urged local governments to reject consideration" of eminent domain," he wrote in a letter, a copy of which was provided to Reuters.

Newsom, a Democrat who was previously mayor of San Francisco, warned the influential Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association in July to "cease making threats to the local officials of San Bernardino County" over the proposed plan to seize underwater mortgages from private investors.

Some towns in San Bernardino County, which is located east of Los Angeles, have set up a joint authority that is looking into the idea of using eminent domain to forcibly purchase distressed mortgages. Rather than evict homeowners through foreclosure, the public-private entity would offer residents new mortgages with reduced debts.

Newsom said in the letter on Monday that while he is not endorsing the use of eminent domain at this time, he wants communities in California to be able to "explore every option" for solving their mortgage burdens "without fear of illegal reprisal by the mortgage industry or federal government agencies."

This quote is so rich with irony that it is just delicious.   Certainly ceasing to do business in a community that threatens to steal all your property strikes me as a perfectly reasonable, sane response.   Calling such a response an actionable threat requiring Federal investigation just demonstrates how little respect California officials, in particular, have for private activity and individual rights.

The third paragraph might be worth an essay all by itself, classifying a voluntary private boycott as illegally coercive while treating use of eminent domain, intended for things like road building, to seize private mortgages as so sensible that it should be sheltered from any public criticism.

A New Way To Film An Event

Wither the camera operator?  I thought this was interesting - super-high-resolution cameras in fixed positions that cover the whole field, with broadcast shot selected as a zoom/clipping window withing the larger picture.

All These Years I Was Driving Right Past...

Apparently, the home in which L. Ron Hubbard invented Scientology is right here in Phoenix.  In fact, it is right by my kids' school and I drive past it almost every day.  In the next few days I will take a camera and snap a picture or two.

I was a fan of Hubbard's "Battlefield Earth"  (the book, not the movie) as a young adult -- it is a classic example of 1950's pulp science fiction -- though I picked it up a few years ago out of nostalgia and found that it did not wear very well.  I do not know much about Scientology, though I wonder why folks who go all-in for it aren't at least a bit suspicious of a religion involving ancient aliens that was cooked up by a science fiction writer.

The whole thing makes for a fascinating story, and I think it would be fabulous book material for someone who is not either a proselytizing Scientologist or an angry ex-Scientologist with an ax to grind.

So How Did It Go?

Since I blogged on the colonoscopy run-up, I supposed I am obligated to close the loop.  As Dave Barry warns, the prep is the bad part.  A day of eating lime jello combined with five or six hours of massive diarrhea.  Uncomfortable, mildly embarrassing, but quite manageable. The good part is that you know it is coming, you can prepare for it, and you know it is going to be over by the end of the day.

The procedure was a breeze.  The drugs are like a time machine.  One minute you are laying down, with the IV inserted and the next minute you are teleported 45 minutes into the future and in recovery with the whole thing done, feeling mellow.  No pain, before or afterwards.

Only two after-effects.  One, they apparently inflate your colon with air, like a bicycle tire tube, so they can see better.  Once I woke up, I passed gas in epic style, reminiscent of Peter Griffin in a Family Guy episode.  Second, I was freaking ravenous, since I hadn't eaten anything solid for 36 hours and anything at all for 12 hours.  That was solved by picking up the largest steak I could find at Whole Foods on the way home.

All is well medically, by the way.

Enjoy the NFL This Weekend, You May Not Have It For Long

I think Walter Olson is dead on with this:

Steve Chapman at the Chicago Tribune looks at the cultural and legal responses to the mounting evidence that professional football inflicts brain damage on many of its players. He quotes my view that if the litigation system carries over to football the legal principles it applies to other industries, the game isn’t likely to survive in its current form.  [sorry for quoting the whole thing Walter, I just couldn't figure out how to excerpt it]

There is a very good chance that the NFL could go the way of Johns Manville or Dow Corning.  Those companies still exist after being sued into bankruptcy, but that is only because they had other businesses to shift into.  The NFL just has football.  And after reading the concussion stories recently, plaintiff's lawyers are going to have a hell of a lot better scientific case than they had with breast implants.    I honestly think it will take an act of Congress to keep the NFL alive, giving them some sort of liability exemption similar to what ski resorts got years ago.

And don't think the NFL does not know this.  If you are wondering why they handed out insanely over-the-top penalties for bounty-gate in New Orleans, this is why.  They are working to establish a paper trail of extreme diligence on player safety issues for future litigation.

As an aside, I find it frustrating that there is not a better helmet solution.

As a second aside, there is a guy here in Phoenix who was showing off an accelerometer for football helmets, with some kind of maximum single g-force or cumulative g-force trigger that would cause a player to be pulled from a game, sort of like how a radiation badge works.  Good idea.  Look for these to be mandatory equipment in high schools in colleges.    Takes the absurd guess work out of concussion diagnosis today, particularly since this diagnosis is done by people (the player and their team) who have strong incentives to decide that there was no concussion.

As a third aside, there are those who argue helmets are the problem.  Just as people drive less safely with seat belts and air bags in cars, helmets lead to less care on the field.  I will say I played rugby for years (without a helmet of course) and never had one concussion, or any head hit anywhere close to a concussion.  In amateur rugby in the leagues I played in, reckless behavior that might lead to injuries was strongly frowned upon and punished by the group.  Teams that played this way quickly found themselves without a game.  There were plenty of ways to demonstrate toughness without trying to injure people.


I was just reading my colonoscopy prep instructions for tomorrow.  I have to take four pills of one laxative and 238 grams of another laxative dissolved in liquid.  According to the packaging for these two products, this represents 17 days worth of laxative consumption, all to be taken in 60 minutes.

Using XBMC For A Home Movie System

Because this is a topic that will only be interesting to some, and because it has gotten so long that it fills most of the home page, I am putting the article on how I ripped my home movies and created a video streaming system around XBMC below the fold.  For those who are not sure if they want to bother clicking through, here are some teaser photos of the media center I ended up with:

By the way, I know that in 10 5 years, this will all likely be superseded by streaming accounts.  For the time being, I have fun with this.

Continue reading ‘Using XBMC For A Home Movie System’ »

Sorry to Send You To Harvard With Unhappy Thoughts

I was looking at the searches that brought visitors to Coyote Blog, and in August and early September I had a surge of folks searching Peabody Terrace.   This seemed odd.  Then I realized that this must be young grad students who have been assigned Peabody Terrace as their housing and want to learn about it.  I feel bad that I have to spoil some of their anticipation, but this is what they will find on my site:

And, in case you are one who supports government "redevelopment" and mandates on aesthetics but think that it would all work out fine if architectural experts and committees of academics made the decisions, here is the hideous Peabody Terrace at Harvard University, presumably vetted by the finest architectural academic minds in the country:


These buildings, where Harvard stuck me for a full year, were transported right out of East Berlin, right down to the elevators that only stopped on every third floor for efficiency sake (efficiency of the builder, obviously, not the occupant).  The interior walls were bare cast concrete and no amount of heat could warm them in the winter.  It was the most depressing place, bar none, I have every lived.  But the "experts" loved them, and wished that this vision could have been forced by urban planners on all of America:

Leland Cott, an adjunct professor of urban design at the [Harvard] GSD, calls Peabody Terrace 'a model of design efficiency, economy, and attention to scale.'

Fortunately, someone gets it:

The magazine Architecture Boston has focused attention on the controversial aspects of Sert's work by devoting its July/August 2003 issue to an examination of Peabody Terrace, expressing the essential disagreement about the work in the form of a stark conundrum: "Architects love Peabody Terrace. The public hates it."

In fact, the public's hostility to the structures may be in proportion to its degree of proximity, with the most intense feelings confined to those households on the front lines of the town/gown divide....

Otile McManus, in a companion essay, discusses the reactions of many Cambridge residents, who have described the complex as "monstrous," "cold," "uninviting," "overwhelming," and "hostile," and have compared it to Soviet housing.

Actually, the most intense feeling were by those who lived there, who really, really hated it  (though I will admit there were several third world students who loved it -- must have been nostalgic for them).  The article goes on to accuse detractors of being anti-modernist.  Which is a laugh, since my house is one of the most starkly modern in the area, so modern I could not sell it several years ago.  I am not anti-modern.  I am anti-bad-design.

Wow!  I am kindof amazed at the hostility I still feel fifteen years after the fact.  I had started out just to link TJIC's post, and here I am in full-blown rant mode.  Sorry.

A blogger once described the Boston City Hall as "a poured concrete Vogon love poem."  I wish I had said that about Peabody Terrace.

The other thing excited, young Harvard grad students might find at my site is an excerpt from my novel.  This portion is entirely autobiographical (except for not being a girl) and describes my year at Peabody Terrace.

Where's Coyote?

Off for my, uh, purge and then colonoscopy.  I will leave you with this Dave Barry article to describe the process.  My dad used to say derisively that toilet humor was the cheapest laugh you could get.  But all due respect to my dad, that Dave Barry piece is the most laugh-out-loud funny article I can remember ever reading.

Dispatches from California

1.  On the lighter side, a customer came into our establishment in California the other day with a horse.  Claimed it was a "therapy animal" and therefore it would be a violation of the ADA to not allow the horse in.  Not knowing the law but with some experience with California, my managers rightly let the animal in, then researched it later.  It appears that we are safe denying entry to animals that are not licensed service animals, but this is an evolving part of the law, apparently.  Since it costs us about $25,000 a pop to get even the craziest suits dismissed in California, we will continue to err on the side of caution.

2.  Perhaps even crazier, we recently were forced to institute an HR policy in California that working through lunch is a firing offense.  One warning, then you are gone.  Why?  California has a crazy law that allows employees to collect substantial ex post facto compensation if they claim they were denied a 10 minute break every four hours or a thirty minute unpaid lunch break after five.  Suffice it to say we have spent years honestly trying to comply with this law.   The 10-minute break portion is less of a compliance hurdle, but the lunch break portion has caused us no end of trouble.   Theoretically, under the law, the employee has a choice - work through lunch paid, eating at the job post  (e.g. in a gatehouse of a campground) or leave the job post for 30 minutes for an unpaid lunch break.   As background, every one of our employees have always begged to have the paid lunch because they are from a poorer area and need the extra 30 minutes of pay.

Unfortunately, it does not matter what preferences the employee expressed on the job site.  In the future, the employee can go to the labor department and claim he or she did not get their break, and even if they did not want it at the time, and never complained to the employer about not getting it, the employer always, always, always loses a he-said-she-said disagreement in a California Court or review board.  Always.  Sure, it takes someone utterly without honor to make this claim in Court, but there seems to be no shortage of those.  So, we took a series of approaches to getting people on-paper, on-the-record as having asked to work through lunch.  Unfortunately, one court case after another has demolished each safe harbor we thought we had.

A few weeks ago I was advised by a senior case-worker at the California Department of Labor that the only safe harbor left for employers is to FORCE employees to take an unpaid lunch.  This means they clock in and back out, this means they have to leave the job site (because if a customer happens to ask them a question, then they are "working"), and this means we have to ruthlessly enforce it.  Or we are liable for scads of penalties.  So, we find ourselves at the bizarre crossroads of making working through lunch a firing offense, and employees who generally want to work an extra thirty minutes each day to earn more money are not allowed to do so.  Yet another example of laws that are supposed to be "empowering" to employees actually ending up limiting their choices.

The Medicare Problem -- A Reminder

There is no free lunch.

As I have written before, the problem with Social Security is not a mismatch of taxes and benefits - it's simply that 40 years of Congresses have spent the premiums, and now they no longer exist to pay benefits.

The problem with Medicare is actually more difficult.  By these numbers, Medicare taxes are not even a third of what they need to be to pay for actual benefits.  There are only two solutions that don't involve running up Federal debt:  1)  Triple Medicare taxes.  or 2) Cut back benefits and/or eligibility by 2/3.

Interestingly, neither party is suggesting either of these solutions, which makes all the light and noise from the Conventions totally meaningless on this issue.  The Left's notion that cost control will close the gap is sheer fantasy -- already Medicare is getting an effective cross-subsidy from non-Medicare customers and price controls have gone about as far as they can.  In fact, the cost mismatch above is understated as many Medicare costs (e.g. buildings, revenue collection) are actually not charged to the program but to other agencies.  The Right's pitch that small cuts around the edges that Grandma won't notice at all will balance the budget are equally a fantasy.

Believe it or not, I have come around to the solution that we need to raise the Medicare tax.  I would like to privatize the whole thing, and in particular see a reintroduction of individual shopping and out-of-pocket expenditure to the system.  But in the interim we have to acknowledge that there is no way substantial changes to Medicare benefits or delivery is going to happen.  The program remains incredibly popular, though one reason for this is that it is priced wrong.  I am sure Aston-Martin sports cars would be staggeringly popular if sold for a third of their true cost.  In my mind, there is nothing more dangerous to an economy than an artificially incorrect price, and Medicare prices are WAY off.  We need to raise taxes to match the current benefits package, and THEN let's talk about reforming the program.

When Video Works as an Education Tool

Generally, I get turned off by education video because I find the information bandwidth is often way too low.  I can read it faster, and get 99% of the benefit.

But this is a case where video explains in 60 seconds more than one could in a whole lecture.

Kubrick // One-Point Perspective from kogonada on Vimeo.

Link via Hit and Run

This Really Struck a Nerve

Kevin Drum writes:

...for the first time that I can remember, this means that I have a personal stake in the election. It's not just that I find one side's policies more congenial in the abstract, but that one policy in particular could have a substantial impact on my life.

You see, I've never really intended to keep blogging until I'm 65. I might, of course. Blogging is a pretty nice job. But I'd really like to have a choice, and without Obamacare I probably won't. That's because I'm normal: I'm in my mid-50s, I have high blood pressure and high cholesterol, a family history of heart trouble, and a variety of other smallish ailments. Nothing serious, but serious enough that it's unlikely any insurance company would ever take me on. So if I decided to quit blogging when I turned 60, I'd be out of luck. I couldn't afford to be entirely without health insurance (the 4x multiplier that hospitals charge the uninsured would doom me all by itself), and no one would sell me an individual policy. I could try navigating the high-risk pool labyrinth, but that's a crapshoot. Maybe it would work, maybe it wouldn't.

But if Obamacare stays on the books, I have all the flexibility in the world. If I want to keep working, I keep working. If I don't, I head off to the exchange and buy a policy that suits me. No muss, no fuss.

So yes, this election matters, and it matters in a very personal way. It does to me, anyway. It's not just about gridlock as far as the eye can see.

I usually have a pretty thick skin for this type of stuff, but this got to me.  I wrote:

Great.  Those of us who are comfortable actually, you know, working to support ourselves look forward to subsidizing your future indolence.
Sorry, I am not usually that much of a snarky jerk, but really, that is what you are celebrating.  You are not celebrating some medical or scientific breakthrough that allows you to stay healthy at a lower cost.  You are celebrating a system to force other people to pay for your body's maintenance.  All so you don't have to support yourself for over a quarter of your life.

If you were to say that, "wow the health dice really rolled against me and I need help," few would begrudge you the help.  But this notion of an indolent retirement is radically new.  It is a product of our century's and our country's great wealth.  Retirement is a luxury good.  I have no problem with anyone consuming this luxury good out of their savings, but consuming it out of mine, and then crowing about it to my face, is highly irritating.

If I were a Republican, or if I had one iota of trust in them, I might write that this is what the election is about.  Since I don't have such trust, I will instead merely highlight Drum's thoughts as a good representation of modern entitled thinking.  For God sakes this guy is not even trying to use my money to escape, say, a coal mine early.  He wants my cash to escape blogging early, perhaps the cushiest job there is (as indicated by the fact that many of us do it for no compensation what-so-ever).

I Am More Worried About How They Got There In The First Place

A lot of folks are criticizing the FBI for losing about 12 million ipod/iphone/ipad records, many of which included user name and addresses as well as their device's unique identifier.

What I would like to know is how all that ended up on an FBI laptop in the first place.  I know there are those who have rooted on Jack Bauer for 6 or 7 seasons who expect that the FBI should have all this data -- but this is not the case.  I know of no law that grants the FBI automatic access to all cell phone records or Apple accounts.

Risks of QE

So far, I have mainly been concerned about inflationary risks from quantitative easing, which is effectively a fancy term for substituting printed money for government debt (I know there are folks out there that swear up and down that QE does not involve printing (electronically of course) money, but it simply has to.  Operation Twist, the more recent Fed action, is different, and does not involve printing money but essentially involves the Fed taking on longer-term debt in exchange for putting more shorter term debt on the market.

Scott Minder in the Financial Times highlights another potential problem:

In 2008, just before the first of two rounds of quantitative easing, the Federal Reserve had $41bn in capital and roughly $872bn in liabilities, resulting in a debt to equity ratio of roughly 21-to-one. The Federal Reserve’s portfolio had $480bn in Treasury securities with an asset duration of about 2.5 years. Therefore, a 100 basis point increase in interest rates would have caused the value of its portfolio to fall by 2.5 per cent, or $12bn. A loss of that magnitude would have been severe but not devastating.

By 2011, the Fed’s portfolio consisted of more than $2.6tn in Treasury and agency securities, mortgage bonds and other fixed income assets, and its debt-to-equity ratio had dramatically increased to 51-to-one. Under Operation Twist, the Fed swapped its short-term securities holdings for longer-term ones, thereby extending the duration of its portfolio to more than eight years. Now, a 100 basis point increase in interest rates would cause the market value of the Federal Reserve’s assets to fall by about 8 per cent, or $200bn, leaving it insolvent, with a capital deficit of about $150bn. Hypothetically, a 5 per cent rise in interest rates could cause a trillion dollar decline in the value of the Federal Reserve’s assets.

As the economy continues to expand, the Federal Reserve will eventually seek to normalise monetary policy, resulting in higher interest rates. In this scenario, the central bank could find that the market value of its portfolio has declined to the point where it no longer has enough sellable assets to adequately reduce the money supply and maintain the purchasing power of the dollar. Given US dependence on foreign capital flows, if the stability of the dollar is drawn into question, the ability of the US to finance its deficits may falter. The Federal Reserve could then find itself the buyer of last resort for Treasury securities. In doing so, the government would become hostage to its printing press, and a currency crisis or runaway inflation could take hold.

George Dorgan observes, on the pages of Zero Hedge, that European countries are taking even large balance sheet risks.  The most surprising is the Swiss.