Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Taleb and Black Swans

In the NYTimes today, David Brooks uses the basic tenants of Fooled by Randomness and Black Swan to make some good points about the financial mess we're in...

"...0ur tendency to see data that confirm our prejudices more vividly than data that contradict them; our tendency to overvalue recent events when anticipating future possibilities; our tendency to spin concurring facts into a single causal narrative; our tendency to applaud our own supposed skill in circumstances when we’ve actually benefited from dumb luck."

I also thought that Taleb's work, applies to politics just as well... Consider the prevalence of the 'pull yourself up by the bootstraps' and Horatio Alger Myth mentality of many on the right. Their thinking goes something like this, "Well, I pulled my self up by my own bootstraps, so everybody else can too..." When in fact they had a lot of help along the way and were very often the benefit of dumb luck as well...

I also think it's part of the Palin craze... How many people with low self-esteem do you know that are big Palin fans? I think the majority have a common thought, she's a lot like me... I like her... and I could be a good VP if I wanted to... whereas a more rational thought would be along the lines of... I don't have a clue about how the economy works, global warming, or Constitutional law... I've never been out of the United States and wouldn't it make more sense to hire somebody to run the country who is smarter than me?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Phony outrage

Bob Herbert has an important piece in this morning's NYTimes, in which he calls the Republicans out on their campaign against Acorn and their continuing effort to stir up anxiety, if not pure hatred amongst their base... obviously it's working when you look at the drivel that's coming from many of their supporters.

It's the same simplist line they've been using for years...they called it up after 9/11 too... they hate us because of our freedom... in this case there's a red in the closet, those who oppose them are the unamerican socialist who will raise taxes and take your freedom...

This from a party that brought to us the collapse of the United States of America. Trillion dollar war, Trillion dollar bailouts, Torture, Secret Prisons, Haliburton, high paid vigilantes fighting wars in our name, the Walter Reed travesty, Brownie and the Katrina response, the Orwellian Department of Homeland Security, 9/11, saddling our children with unprecedented debt, Gilded Age gaps in the wealth of the wealthiest to the poorest, the collapse of our banking industry, asking nothing more of us than to shop,
200 major rollbacks of Americans environmental laws, a crumbling infrastructure, a war on science and reason, the No Child Left Behind Act that left every child behind their counter parts throughout the world. This list could go on for ever, because everything they have done has been wrong. At this time in history when we have seen unprecedented competition from the the dynamic global economy, they failed us and left this country in complete shambles.

And the Republican Party's response is to grasp at power by continuing to split this country based on outright lies and fear mongering. And frankly it will work. The emaciated schools have been grooming an obedient class for years, what passes for culture on our television has 'tranquilized us with the trivial' and like children's play toe we are easily molded into the rapid hatemongers they need us to be for election days... then we will quietly sulk away... more reality shows to watch, more Cheetos to buy at Walmart, until we're called on again in four years...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Blog post I can only aspire to...

Eric Alterman posted his picks for the best blog post he's read... I'd reverse his order, but they're both excellent. Perhaps I would reverse his order because the Larry David post reminds me of someone I know...

Here's Eric's post:
"I got a note this morning calling this the best blog post ever.

But Henry thinks it's this.

I still think it's this, with this as a close second."

Click below to order books by Eric Alterman:

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

It's a theme... or perhaps an obsession

It would be hard to expand on Matt Taibbi's piece as linked yesterday, with spot on quotes like this, what else can you say?

"The great insight of the Palin VP choice is that huge chunks of American voters no longer even demand that their candidates actually have policy positions; they simply consume them as media entertainment, rooting for or against them according to the reflexive prejudices of their demographic, as they would for reality-show contestants or sitcom characters. Hicks root for hicks, moms for moms, born-agains for born-agains. Sure, there was politics in the Palin speech, but it was all either silly lies or merely incidental fluffery buttressing the theatrical performance. A classic example of what was at work here came when Palin proudly introduced her Down syndrome baby, Trig, then stared into the camera and somberly promised parents of special-needs kids that they would "have a friend and advocate in the White House." This was about a half-hour before she raised her hands in triumph with McCain, a man who voted against increasing funding for special-needs education.
Palin's charge that "government is too big" and that Obama "wants to grow it" was similarly preposterous. Not only did her party just preside over the largest government expansion since LBJ, but Palin herself has been a typical Bush-era Republican, borrowing and spending beyond her means. Her great legacy as mayor of Wasilla was the construction of a $14.7 million hockey arena in a city with an annual budget of $20 million; Palin OK'd a bond issue for the project before the land had been secured, leading to a protracted legal mess that ultimately forced taxpayers to pay more than six times the original market price for property the city ended up having to seize from a private citizen using eminent domain. Better yet, Palin ended up paying for the fucking thing with a 25 percent increase in the city sales tax. But in her speech, of course, Palin presented herself as the enemy of tax increases, righteously bemoaning that "taxes are too high," and Obama "wants to raise them.""

Well, Thomas Friedman had a good piece today... albeit a bit more nuanced than Matt's but they obviously come at it from different angles... all the while reaching the same conclusion...

"And please also don’t tell me she is an “energy expert.” She is an energy expert exactly the same way the king of Saudi Arabia is an energy expert — by accident of residence. Palin happens to be governor of the Saudi Arabia of America — Alaska — and the only energy expertise she has is the same as the king of Saudi Arabia’s. It’s about how the windfall profits from the oil in their respective kingdoms should be divided between the oil companies and the people.
At least the king of Saudi Arabia, in advocating “drill baby drill,” is serving his country’s interests — by prolonging America’s dependence on oil. My problem with Palin is that she is also serving his country’s interests — by prolonging America’s dependence on oil. That’s not patriotic. Patriotic is offering a plan to build our economy — not by tax cuts or punching more holes in the ground, but by empowering more Americans to work in productive and innovative jobs. If Palin has that kind of a plan, I haven’t heard it. "

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Matt Taibbi - Mad Dog Palin

This article from Matt Taibbi is just awesome and shows why he's been compared by many to Hunter S. Thompson...

"Sarah Palin is a symbol of everything that is wrong with the modern United States. As a representative of our political system, she's a new low in reptilian villainy, the ultimate cynical masterwork of puppeteers like Karl Rove. But more than that, she is a horrifying symbol of how little we ask for in return for the total surrender of our political power.

Not only is Sarah Palin a fraud, she's the tawdriest, most half-assed fraud imaginable, 20 floors below the lowest common denominator, a character too dumb even for daytime TV -and this country is going to eat her up, cheering her every step of the way. All because most Americans no longer have the energy to do anything but lie back and allow ourselves to be jacked off by the calculating thieves who run this grasping consumer paradise we call a nation."

Following up on a theme

Keith Olbermann in another of his series of excellent commentaries...

And an excellent article by Bob Herbert, who doesn't get the publicity that some of his collegues at the NYTimes, but who is consistently a rational voice in the main stream media.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Silly Season

A couple headlines from today's news:

1 in 4 Mammals Threatened, Study Says
New York Times -
By JAMES KANTER BARCELONA - An “extinction crisis” is under way, with one in four mammals in danger of disappearing because of habitat loss, hunting and climate change, a leading global conservation body warned on Monday.

Bank of America CEO says in the toughest market he's seen
MarketWatch -
By Greg Morcroft , , ) CEO Ken Lewis said on Monday afternoon that the current banking climate is as tough as he has seen in his career.

Dow Jones slump could begin to threaten global markets
guardian.co.uk -
The US financial markets teetered on the brink of a record-breaking slump today as Wall Street took fright at signs that the credit crunch is spiralling out of control to threaten the stability of economies around the globe.

Then there is the price of gas, $700B for our financial system, the lost lives and trillions of dollars wasted in Iraq, as Christopher Hitchens points out a growing quagmire in Afghanistan and a
dynamic global economy that is experiencing tremendous structural changes. All of which means that we are increasing dependent on collaboration, cooperation and consensus building to succeed, as Thomas Friedman pointed out yesterday, "As the old saying goes: He who has the gold makes the rules. Well, we no longer have as much gold, and until we get some, we will have to pay more heed to the rules of those who lend us theirs. At a time when the U.S. government gets half its borrowings from abroad, at a time when the U.S. household savings rate is hovering around zero and China alone is already holding around $1 trillion in U.S. Treasury notes and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bonds — yes, that’s how you got that cheap subprime mortgage — it can’t be any other way."

Friedman goes on to suggest that, "Of course, neither Barack Obama nor John McCain dare talk about this now. They want to pretend nothing has really changed."
Sarah Palin says they're going to "take the gloves off" and McCain wants to "turn the page" so they attack Obama on Ayers? Ayer's is an issue? Wright is an issue? It's outrageous... yet, we'll hear a whole lot more about these issues over the coming weeks than we will our hideous education and workforce systems that continue to prepare people to compete for the jobs of the late 19th Century. Friedman laments that they don't dare talk about it... well, don't give them a choice, starting tomorrow at the debate... ask questions that matter. And if they try a Palin like deflection, hold their feet to the fire, ask them again and again and again.

In golf after the last official tour event of the year, the professionals play in some non-PGA sanctioned tournaments... Skin's Game, Father-Son tournament, other kinds of made for T.V. events... it's all meaningless really, although it does pad the pockets of the participants, T.V. networks and sponsors... It's called the Silly Season, apparently the media and other sports use the phrase similarly... The wikipedia page definition should include the period of time when Americans choose a President.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Public Service Announcements...

A couple of reports out this morning that the Republicans are getting ready to hit Obama hard on the 'character' issue...

I'm reminded of this quote from Pat Buchanan on MSNBC in May, he said " I do agree with this: they have to take down Barack Obama. Eighty one percent of the country thinks we are on the wrong course. They have to make the change agent unacceptable. That‘s why these Swift Boat ads, by the end of this election, will look like public service announcements. "

A good piece in the NYTimes this morning about Obama's relationship with Ayers... in my mind it's an absurd connection to try and make, as Obama has pointed out, he was 8 years old when Ayers was with the Weathermen... and when Obama met and served on a foundation board with Ayers he was a respected college professor. Not to suggest that the ad's won't work, in fact they probably will. Ayer's and Rev. Wright have opinion's and worldviews that swing voters don't come into contact with very often... which in itself means there's a good chance the politics of fear will win out with a number of people.

It would be refreshing, and probably politically ill advised, if Obama tackled the 'character' issue straight on. I'd love for him to spend a couple of campaign stops reminding people that he is the Horation Alger story in this race... he did exactly what he was 'told' to do - he worked hard, pulled him self up by his boot straps, played by their rules, and became 'successful'. Yet, now the Republican's suggest it's his character we should fear. As the email I received last week suggested, perhaps they would prefer it if he had cheated on then divorced his wife and made his fortune from wife number two? Or if he hadn't been smart enough, or worked hard enough, to excel at Harvard and instead had gotten in school because of his family connections and then finished near the bottom of his class? Or perhaps if his daughter became pregnant out of wedlock... maybe that would make those concerned with his morals and character feel better?

A really good radio spot for Obama, done by the great Ralph Stanley... Obama should play this spot all across rural America...