Saturday, February 28, 2009
In February the top search engine term for my blog was “Facebook Stalking” by a factor of six. That’s just great.
In February the top search engine term for my blog was “Facebook Stalking” by a factor of six. That’s just great.
One of the unintended benefits of the new administration is that Andrew Sullivan has mostly returned to thoughtful political commentary. His analysis of Obama’s political strategy as contrasted with Karl Rove’s is worth a read. An excerpt:
Smart, isn’t he? He won the stimulus debate long before the Republicans realized it (they were busy doing tap-dances of victory on talk radio, while he was building a new coalition without them). And now, after presenting such a centrist, bi-partisan, moderate and personally trustworthy front, he gets to unveil a radical long-term agenda that really will soak the very rich and invest in the poor. Given the crisis, he has seized this moment for more radicalism than might have seemed possible only a couple of months ago.
The risk is, at least, a transparent risk. If none of this works, he will have taken a massive gamble and failed. The country will be bankrupt and he will have one term. His gamble with the economy may come to seem like Bush’s gamble in Iraq. But if any of it works, if the economy recovers, and if the GOP continues to be utterly deaf and blind to the new landscape we live in, then we’re talking less Reagan than FDR in long-term impact.
I’m not a huge fan of the massive gamble with our economic lives, of course. But Sullivan is right that at least Obama’s going for the jugular right from day one, and that he’s being transparent about it.
Sounds like coverage for cell phone services other than just Verizon may be available in some DC metro stations by year’s end. It’s about damn time!
So the House and Senate have now both passed versions of the DC Voting Rights Act, which regular readers of my blog are well aware that I oppose for being a politically expedient constitutional end-around.
Wayan at We Love DC thinks the bill doesn’t go far enough, but more interestingly, makes a compelling case for Puerto Rico status:
Give us Statehood or give us Puerto Rico!
Personally, I’m all for Puerto Rico. They get full governmental benefits but are exempt from Federal income taxes. If DC were to have the same setup, our standard of living would jump waaay up. All those tax-avoidance diehards who lurk in NoVA would jump the Potomoc overnight, sending property values, population density, and economic activity into the sky. Oh and I would save up to $14,000 on my tax bill.
By the way, before my DC-loving friends get all bent out of shape, go back and read my arguments against the DC Voting Rights Act. Basically, I find any of the following more ethically compelling than this cheap, constitutionally dubious, end-justifies-the-means political compromise: eliminating federal income taxes for DC residents, retrocession, subsidizing residents who want to move out of the District, amending the Constitution, or admitting DC as the 51st state.
But we will do none of these things, because they are hard. And proponents of DC voting rights will cheer nonetheless, because why care about the sanctity of process or the rule of law when you have the opportunity to score a political victory?
The Freakonomics blog held a contest to choose a new six-word motto for the United States, and the results are in!
The finalists were:
1. Consumption’s the Cure That Ails Us.
2. We Will Get It Right, Eventually.
3. We Are Too Big to Fail.
4. The Streets Are Paved With CASH4GOLD.COM.
5. Learn to Live Within Your Means.
6. Wow, Can You Believe This Place?
In an incontrovertible landslide — it’s a motto we can believe in — the winner was:
We Are Too Big to Fail.
In related news, I have to say that I strongly identified with David Brooks’ column on Monday. He’s very concerned that “we’re operating far beyond our economic knowledge” and I share the same fear.
I worry that we’re operating far beyond our economic knowledge. Every time the administration releases an initiative, I read 20 different economists with 20 different opinions. I worry that we lack the political structures to regain fiscal control. Deficits are exploding, and the president clearly wants to restrain them. But there’s no evidence that Democrats and Republicans in Congress have the courage or the mutual trust required to share the blame when taxes have to rise and benefits have to be cut.
All in all, I can see why the markets are nervous and dropping. And it’s also clear that we’re on the cusp of the biggest political experiment of our lifetimes. If Obama is mostly successful, then the epistemological skepticism natural to conservatives will have been discredited. We will know that highly trained government experts are capable of quickly designing and executing top-down transformational change. If they mostly fail, then liberalism will suffer a grievous blow, and conservatives will be called upon to restore order and sanity.
It’ll be interesting to see who’s right. But I can’t even root for my own vindication. The costs are too high. I have to go to the keyboard each morning hoping Barack Obama is going to prove me wrong.
Like Brooks, I’m living in this surreal state where I maintain a high degree of confidence that not only are we pursuing economic policies that will worsen the crisis, but that the structure of politics makes it impossible to avoid committing ourselves to prolonged economic disaster — and yet I am forced to hope, against tall odds, that my beliefs will be proven spectacularly wrong.
Gene’s op-ed describes the effect of a president who is willing and able to use the bully pulpit:
Today’s president is a constitutional monstrosity: a national talk-show host with nuclear weapons. When the president dominates the airwaves, promising to cure all manner of economic and social ills, that leads the public to expect a presidential rescue plan for anything that ails the body politic.
The predictable result is an executive branch that rides roughshod over congressional prerogatives. The mortgage bailout Obama announced last week is a case in point, since the bulk of the plan, which has enormous repercussions for the U.S. economy, is being enacted without any action by Congress. A less vocal, less omnipresent president might help us right the constitutional balance of powers.
For more on this subject, read Going Public, which chronicles the rise of executive office power through effective use of the media and direct appeals to the public.
Via Craig Newmark, here are 10 things more than three-quarters of economists surveyed agree on. And by my back-of-the-envelope count, I am willing to bet that in this term Congress will pass and the president will sign into law the direct opposite of what economists believe on at least seven of these issues. Thank you, public choice economics, for teaching me why this occurs; now if only you could teach me what to do about it…
Around Christmas I posted about my intention to slowly begin stocking a home bar, and after a couple of months I thought I’d provide a brief update.
In my beginner’s bar, I now possess the following equipment: Boston shaker (which was surprisingly hard to get at a reasonable price), Hawthorne strainer, jigger, mini angled measuring cup, muddler, corkscrew, cocktail book. I’m still desperately missing 5-6 oz. martini glasses (I only have one) and more rocks and highball glasses.
Missing but don’t care that much yet: juicer, channel knife, paring knife, grater. Pretty much anything that requires me to prepare fresh fruit or spices is not of concern to me at this juncture; I’m not yet at a stage where I have to worry about whether the garnish makes or breaks the drink.
Regarding spirits, I suppose it’s unsurprising that my home bar is in constant need of base liquor replenishment — particularly bourbon, gin, and cognac. I finally am keeping healthy supplies of cointreau, grenadine, bitters, lemon and lime juice, and tonic and soda water. I haven’t needed many other liqueurs because I still have a healthy stash of randomness from previous parties and experiments. I do finally possess vermouth but I keep finding I have dry when I want sweet and then vice versa the next time, plus I need to get better about storing it properly. Argh.
The two ingredients I don’t have that are just killing me in terms of my preferred drinks are orange bitters and maraschino liqueur. I don’t even know where to find orange bitters. I’ve reached the stage where I can measure and pour a decent drink if I have the recipe and all the ingredients, but because I don’t have a solid grounding in the fundamentals every drink I try to improvise I end up destroying.
All of this is to say that I’m getting there, but I’m not there yet. And don’t worry — I’m still a beer connoisseur and I’m not giving up my first love, just expanding my horizons a bit.
Well it’s about time! Looks like PepsiCo is (re)introducing two sugar cane soft drinks into its lineup, which shall be known as Pepsi Throwback and Mountain Dew Throwback.
When Jacob tipped me to this development, he noted his displeasure with the names. I concur: in particular, I resent the notion that sugar cane drinks are some kind of retro novelty. (In fact, the article says that the Mexican version is actually called Pepsi Retro!) However, I do kind of like the name of the UK product: Pepsi Raw.
I propose the name Pepsi Righteous. I bet it would go well with Pepsi’s new “drink our soda because our ads make you think of Obama” campaign!
Now I just need all the people who like Pepsi to buy enough of this stuff that Coca-Cola will realize it has to get in the game, because I bet at the end of the day I’m still gonna hate it cause it tastes like Pepsi.
A sugar cane Mountain Dew, though? That’s change I can believe in!
I’ve been out of town so I’m a little behind on this, but as I gather, we’ve decided to buy our way out of the housing crisis without much learning from our mistakes. Tyler gives the plan a fair shake and isn’t impressed. His deal-killer really is a pretty awful thought:
We should not be helping people stay in their homes if their mortgage payments are at 43 percent of their income. (The bill requires banks, in such cases, to lower interest rates until monthly payments are at 38 percent of income. The government then steps in to lower payments to 31 percent of income.) I don’t feel moral outrage (although it is morally outrageous), I just don’t think it is a good use of money. I also wonder how it works when your income is quite variable year to year. Are they sure there is no way to game this?
It will in the short run prevent some (enough to matter?) foreclosures. But it won’t keep up the long-term price of homes or prevent eventual foreclosures when the home has negative equity. It adjusts interest rates on the payments, not principal on the loans (thank goodness).
Most of all it is a bad precedent which we will live to regret. It is a significant move away from the idea of commercial decisions based on contract.
One source, by the way, suggests that lenders will have veto rights over these “renegotiations” by choosing to foreclose instead of accepting the lower payments. But foreclosure is quite costly for the bank, so I don’t feel so much better.
By the way, aren’t we trying to help the banks?
Peter Klein is upset too, among others, and tacks on the moral hazard argument:
I am bewildered. But, more than that, I am angry. I can’t count how many news accounts I’ve seen about the poor, struggling homeowners who can’t make the monthly mortgage payment, are about to be foreclosed, and risk losing the family home, yard, white picket fence, and piece of the American Dream. But I haven’t heard one word about the poor, struggling renters, the ones who scrimped and saved and put money away each month towards a down payment, who kept the credit cards paid off, stayed out of trouble, and lived modestly, and thought that maybe, just maybe, the fall in housing prices meant that they, finally, could afford a house — maybe one of those foreclosed units down the street. These people are Bastiat’s unseen. For them, Obama’s housing plan is a giant slap in the face. To hell with the prudent. Party on, profligate! Now that’s what I call moral hazard.
I know there are people out there who are struggling through no fault of their own. I really do. But I’m starting to get the feeling that the best way for a person to ensure their own well-being, even at the expense of other people’s attempts to improve their lot in life, is to do something insanely stupid and then ask the Obama administration to cut them a check to make it better.
Rays the Steaks, the best quality-for-value steak place in the DC area, has moved to the Navy League Building near Court House Metro… and their former location between Court House and Rosslyn will soon house their new restaurant called Rays the Catch! Their recent venture from steaks to burgers, Rays Hell Burger, will stay in its present location. Both Rays the Steaks and Rays Hell Burger are reasonably priced and fantastic, and in my opinion there’s a surprising dearth of good seafood restaurants in DC, so if the new place lives up to their brand I’m going to be extremely pleased with the recent food developments in my stomping grounds.
There are many interesting things about Jacob’s post on twitter users that I could comment on — most notably seconding the motion that Jacob has no life — but I ended up reflecting the most on the importance of my morning routine to my new media well-being.
What Jacob fails to mention in defending Twitter is the sheer amount of time it takes to manage your information once you decide to become “socially networked.” Skimming tweets from 100 followers isn’t that difficult by itself — but tack on 700 Facebook friends, 100 RSS feeds, 10 news outlets, and an attempt to blog with relative consistency, and that’s quite the daily time commitment. I figure people who are serious about keeping up have to be devoting a minimum of 1-2 hours a day to the task, and if you skip more than a couple of days you may as well clear out your feeds and start over because catching up on the gossip from 72 hours ago just ain’t gonna be worth the time suck.
Most people, of course, don’t devote this kind of time to social networking. They couldn’t even if they wanted to. It’s no accident that the people I know who use Twitter most frequently are new media professionals and freelance writers. It’s no accident that the most prolific blogs are written by journalists and public intellectuals (who get news pushed to them and are sometimes paid in part to devote time to blogging) or are group blogs (diluting the time commitment). And believe me when I say claiming to “read 100 RSS feeds daily” is the same as a philosophy PhD claiming to have read every book they’ve ever been assigned — they’re confident they caught the highlights. Step outside the highly skewed world of the self-professed social networker and the next unit down is a steep drop: probably someone who sets their homepage to CNN.com, reads three gossip blogs, and spends a little too much time stalking friends on Facebook.
I’m not calling out Jacob any more than I’m calling out myself: this is just the way it works. I’d be interested in learning more about whether the social networking boom was made possible in part by the effects of TV and video games on childrens’ ability to process complex information from multiple sources.
But I digress. The excellent social networkers I know seem to fall into one of two categories: their daily lives allow them to be continually immersed in the stream (e.g. journalists and new media professionals) or they have generally well-defined routines. Routines are hard to get into, and they are complicated by job and lifestyle choices. It’s also pretty clear that morning routines can be a key determinant of whether or not a person has a productive day — and when you’ve got to find 2 hours a day to keep up with the cyber-Joneses, that extra due diligence is practically a requirement.
It’s too early to tell whether Twitter is going to adapt and survive or end up as just another fad, and maybe it’s even too early to predict the lifespan of Facebook. I live in one of those
cosmopolitan wannabe cities where every dumb new trend is hailed as the wave of the future even though it’s usually dead before my friends in the Midwest ever learned of its existence, so maybe I’m just seeing a more exhaustive slice of the pie than what actually ends up surviving. But I do believe that the sheer commitment of time and energy will overwhelm even the early adopters before too long, and if there is some sort of shift toward a more sensible equilibrium, I’m not certain that “to each his own” will be the form it takes.
I’m not a big fan of daily links, but today I read more good stuff than I have time to write about.
Here’s George Will in today’s Post:
Not yet a third of the way through the president’s “first 100 days,” he and we should remember that it was not FDR’s initial burst of activity in 1933 that put the phrase “100 days” into the Western lexicon. It was Napoleon’s frenetic trajectory in 1815 that began with his escape from Elba and ended near the Belgian village of Waterloo.
Here’s P.J. O’Rourke via Russ Roberts:
The free market is dead. It was killed by the Bolshevik Revolution, fascist dirigisme, Keynesianism, the Great Depression, the second world war economic controls, the Labour party victory of 1945, Keynesianism again, the Arab oil embargo, Anthony Giddens’s “third way” and the current financial crisis. The free market has died at least 10 times in the past century. And whenever the market expires people want to know what Adam Smith would say. It is a moment of, “Hello, God, how’s my atheism going?”
Adam Smith would be laughing too hard to say anything. Smith spotted the precise cause of our economic calamity not just before it happened but 232 years before – probably a record for going short.
And here’s Ezra Klein, commenting on the absolutely ridiculous Times article about how hard it will be for banking executives to live in Manhattan on the $500,000 salary cap Obama has imposed:
And these are, of course, people who should be unemployed. If you’re taking the taxpayer’s money, it’s because your ban is insolvent. If your bank is insolvent, it would collapse without the federal support. And you’d be out of a job. In effect, the $500,000 in compensation is executive welfare. Can’t have them running around the streets, after all. Never know the sort of mischief they might get into. Soon enough you’ll see Dick Fuld tossing bags of mortgage-backed securities at cars and smoking cigarettes.
Say what you want about the tragically absurd government intervention we’re experiencing — at least the journalists and bloggers are actually breathing fire about policy rather than Bush or election garbage for a change. I’m going to enjoy these six months or so before the 2012 campaign begins.
Slate has looked at data from the Facebook “25 Random Things” phenomenon and determined that the pattern closely resembles the spread of any organic infection.
I believe I was first tagged on or around January 23 and seriously contemplated writing a note of my own, but I got distracted by other priorities, and three days later so many people had done it that it didn’t feel novel anymore. Little did I know that I was still in the “early adopter” period… not that I would have reconsidered.