Miscellaneous musings from the perspective of a lefty (both senses) atheist with a warped sense of humor.

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Location: Madison, WI, United States

I am a geek, but I do have some redeeming social skills. I love other people's dogs, cats, and kids. Snow sucks, but I'm willing to put up with it just to live in Madison.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Japanese Import

How to deal with the CEOs who drove their gargantuan financial institutions into the ground with bad decisions and are now looking for the taxpayers to bail them out?

Golden parachutes? My ass!

Let's demand seppuku!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Felinicide Mea Culpa

Back after the 2005 Super Bowl, you may have been among many people with whom I shared my appreciation for (and possibly my videotape of) the Ameritrade felinicide commercial.

This was a dialog-free domestic scene that was so hilarious it still evoked tears of laffter after re-viewing it half a dozen times. A young guy is preparing a really nice, romantic dinner for his lady, and he's busy dicing the veggies when their super-fluffy white angora cat jumps up on the kitchen table and upends the pot of marinara sauce. The guy gets this alarmed expression on his face, reaches down, and picks up the kitty by the scruff of the neck.

Just then, the young woman opens the door to their apartment, walks in, and sees him standing there holding a knife in one hand and a red-dripping cat in the other. And if you think the expression on HIS face is priceless, you should see HERS! (I couldn't find the ad on YouTube, but I've still got the videotape here somewhere, and I'm willing to lend it out.)

The overtly voiced moral of the story was "Don't judge too quickly. We won't!", and it was from Ameritrade, a financial company promoting its philosophy of being willing to issue mortgages to people whose credit might be a tad shaky, not to say nonexistent. "We're willing to cut you some slack.", they seemed to be saying. I thot that this was pretty praiseworthy, giving young folx just starting out in life a shot at the American Dream even tho they hadn't built up a lot of equity or credit yet.

Little did I suspect at the time that what I was seeing was the early flowering of the come-ons for the kind of subprime mortgages that eventually ended up in the hands of people who not only weren't judged too quickly, they apparently weren't judged at all!

And I remember being charmed that the young couple in the commercial were African Americans. "Finally", I thot to myself, "we've reached the point in this country where you can use nothing but black actors to make a pitch to the whole nation, in all its diversity. Good for them." Ameritrade had earned a lot of good will in my book, and I wasn't shy about saying so to other people (possibly you).

Naive me! In retrospect, this was obviously a totally cynical pitch aimed straight at young black apartment dwellers, the prime audience for those sucker mortgages that they couldn't afford. And, if you issue enuf of those, after a couple of years you get the meltdown in the subprime market that eventually leads to the collapse of huge investment banks, insurance companies, and mortgage lenders that's caused the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression.

So, for whatever small part I may have played in the current debacle by drawing people's attention to the felinicide commercial, I apologize (which is more than you're ever gonna get out of the right-wing speculators, manipulators, and deregulators with a million times more culpability).

But I don't apologize for the ad agency, tho. Damn, that commercial was good! They could sell snow to eskimos.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Wall Street Risk Analysis

I subscribe to the Computer Risks Forum, which provides me with an e-mail digest on a ruffly biweekly basis of all the foibles that can arise in the wonderful world of computing when people don't thoroly think thru the foreseeable consequences of their decisions and actions.

Occasionally the Forum gets to exonerate the computers, too, instead following the HAL 9000 dictum "It's always been human error.". One such message was the best analysis I've seen of the recent meltdown in the financial markets, so I thot I'd share it with y'all.

= = = = = =

From: Martin Ward
Subject: Re: Wall Street; where nothing can go worng wrogn wrgno....

A lot of the comments in RISKS-25.34 seem to imply that the people running the financial firms were stupid and/or careless in not doing a correct risk analysis.

These people are not stupid or careless, merely greedy, unscrupulous and irresponsible. They did a careful risk analysis all right, and then made the decision to deliberately feed false information into the computer models and deliberately create massively complex financial instruments.

Their risk analysis looked like this:

Success: My company hands off the package before it blows up. My company makes a massive profit and I end up fabulously wealthy. (Other companies make massive losses and have to be bailed out by the government, but that is incidental.)

Failure: My company ends up holding the package when it blows up. My company makes a massive loss and ends up having to be bailed out by the government. I end up extremely wealthy.

After careful consideration of all the risks and benefits, I decide to go ahead!

In an ideal world, the risk analysis would look like this:

Success: My company hands off the package before it blows up. My company makes a massive profit and I become fabulously wealthy. Other companies make massive losses and have to be bailed out by the government. My company, and all the others, gets investigated and I end up bankrupt and jailed for many years.

Failure: My company ends up holding the package when it blows up. My company makes a massive loss and ends up having to be bailed out by the government. I become extremely wealthy. My company, and all the others, gets investigated and I end up bankrupt and jailed for many years.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

President You Know Who's Pathetic Claim to Glory

2008 Sep. 18

Letters to the Editor

re: "They dare not speak his name" by Rick Berg, 20080 Sep. 12

Those Republicans! Always looking for glory where none is warranted.

Tommy Thompson redefined welfare-eligibility requirements, then claimed that the 90% drop in AFDC families meant he'd damn near eradicated poverty in the Badger State.

Ronald Reagan happened to be president when Mikhail Gorbachev dismantled the Soviet Union, so naturally the GOP has been having wet dreams ever since about how Reagan conquered the Evil Empire.

I bet that roosters are Republicans, too, because they're quick to take credit every time the Sun comes up.

The latest in this long parade of misplaced accolades was visited upon "President You Know Who" by the GOP's designated apologist, Rick Berg. He points out that we've now gone 7 years without a terrorist attack like the one of 2001 Sep. 11, and he gives credit for that to the guy who happens to be sitting in the White House.

It evidently has escaped his attention that, terrorist-attack-wise, the 7 years SINCE 2001 have been pretty much like the 225 BEFORE it. Terrorism is a very rare thing. Always has been. Your chances of dying from a terrorist attack are minimal, less than half of slipping in the bathtub or falling off a ladder. For details, I've assembled the data here:

No, credit for keeping us safe from terrorist hijackings should go to the people — ordinary American citizens, one and all — of United 93. Until that awful day, the conventional wisdom for hijacked passengers was to sit tight, keep calm, and wait for the plane to land and your government to ransom you back.

But we ordinary citizens are fast learners. Before noon on 9/11, we'd already served notice to the terrorists: New game! Forget our government. Pay no attention to the president. You wanna mess with us, you answer to the PEOPLE! Right now! No waiting. No bureaucracy. No need to stand in line without your shoes.

That attitude has done more to stop the terrorists than another million lies and trillion dollars from the bloodthirsty, war-mongering "President You Know Who" could ever accomplish.

= = = = = =
FDR: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
GWB: The only thing WE have to fear is that YOU aren't afraid enuf!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Numismatic Haruspicy

The US Mint has been issuing state-themed quarters for nearly a decade. It issues 5 quarters a year, in the order in which the states were admitted to the union.

This August, it released the Alaska quarter in honor of State #49.

Sarah Palin is from Alaska. The week her state's quarter came out, she became the surprise nominee for vice-president on the Republican ticket.

The Hawaii quarter, for State #50, is due out in November.

Barack Obama was born in Hawaii. The week HIS state's quarter comes out, he hopes to be elected president of the United States.

Signs and portents. Absolutely irrelevant unless you take this kind of thing seriously, in which case the stars (and the US Mint) clearly want you to vote for Obama.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Guarding the White House in 2009

One sunny day in 2009, an old man approaches the White House from across Pennsylvania Avenue, where he'd been sitting on a park bench.

He walks up to the Marine standing guard and sys "I'd like to go in and meet with President Bush."

The Marine replies "Sir, Mr. Bush is no longer President and doesn't reside here."

The old man says "Okay" and walks away.

The following day, the same man again approaches the White House and says to the same Marine "I want to go inside and meet with President Bush."

The Marine again tells the man "Sir, as I said yesterday, Mr. Bush is not the President any more and doesn't live in the White House."

The man thanks him and again walks away.

The next day, the same man approaches the same Marine and says "May I go in and meet with President Bush?"

The Marine, now starting to fear for the old man's mental health, looks at him and says "Sir, this is the 3rd day in a row you've been here asking to speak to Mr. Bush. I've told you already several times that Mr. Bush isn't President any more. His term was over in January and he moved out. He doesn't live in the White House any more. Don't you understand?"

The old man answers "Oh, I understand you fine, I just love hearing your answer!"

The Marine snaps to attention, salutes, and says "See you tomorrow, sir!"

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Please Share This Meme

palindrone, n., a knee-jerk right-winger who has managed to convince her- or himself that Sarah Palin is actually qualified to be one 72-year-old heartbeat away from the Big Red Button

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Random Thot

Just notice the "Guaranteed Fresh" seal on the back of my bag of Fritos. If they weren't, how could we tell?

Monday, September 01, 2008

The Future of Labor

On Labor Day 2008, I'd like to step WAY back from the present day and take a science-fictional look at the future of labor.

We justly glorify the working men and women who built this amazing industrialized society around us. But it's changing right before our very eyes.

Politicians take pride in standing up in public and saying "Jobs, jobs, jobs. My policies will promote more jobs."

But let's face it. "Labor" and "jobs" are just synonyms for "work", and that's something that's always way more popular in the abstract and for other people than it is in the concrete and for you.

Nobody really likes work. It's a means to a living, that's all.

And we're constantly finding ways to get out of it. The 40-hour work week, child-labor laws, pension plans, early retirement, sick leave, family leave, and other accomplishments of the union movement weren't put in place due to any soppy sentimentality about the nobility of labor.

This effort is succeeding. When you add children, college students, and retirees (and, I suppose, the incarcerated) to the ranks of the unemployed, we discover that we've found a way for over half our population to get out of work.

I contend that this is a good thing, and that in the future we'll find ways (thru automation, robotics, etc.) to save the other half of the population from mundane drudgery as well, so each of us can finally live labor free, pursuing pleasurable creative and recreational activities or just loafing.

Now THAT'LL be worth a holiday!