Saturday, January 31, 2009

Retail Seasonality Stinks

A few years ago some intrepid retailers figured out that most people don't want to buy sweaters in July or shorts in January. Lo and behold, their store sales numbers improved. That lesson seems to have been unlearned.

Despite the indisputable fact that K-mart sucks, I had reason to go there for an item that they carry exclusively and that I rather like. Of course, when I got there the item was not in stock. K-mart continues to suck.

But that wasn't the end of my retail adventure today. I also needed to replace the windshield ice-scraper that I broke this week. Still at K-mart, I picked up one of the last two ice scrapers in stock -- a ginormous one that resembles some sort of medieval weapon--, and one of the last few cans of de-icer spray.

I understand that retailers don't want to be loading up on toboggan hats just as the spring flowers are starting to poke through the ground, but retailers need to have some greater awareness of their customers' needs. I mean, it's still January, there's snow on the ground, and I broke my friggin' ice scraper with this week's lousy weather.

Yet JCPenney has shorts and summer polos in stock. K-mart had patio furniture and BBQ grills on display. The Bon Ton was a little better, but decided that empty floor space was better than having a few ski jackets.

Are people really building their summer wardrobes in the coldest weather of the year and with the economy on the rocks? Or do they just want to pick up another pair of black leather gloves?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

If you accidentally invented AIDS might want to leave that off your resume... And other extremely helpful tips.


Forget Fake Voters

We've got fake candidates. Winning.

No need for voter registration reform, folks, nothing to see here.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Starcraft 101

Berzerkely is offering a for-credit course on the now-classic computer game Starcraft. (via slashdot) The game is over a decade old! I guess that makes it simple enough to analyze, but it also speaks to the game's enduring appeal.

The part of me that played way too much of this game says AWESOME, even though deep down I know this is a massive waste of time and resources.

Since I'm geeking out in this post anyway...

I'll probably be skipping out entirely on Vista, going straight for Windows 7, which I'm hoping against hope that they don't let the marketing department rename as something lame. As such, I just ordered some RAM for my XP laptop since TweetDeck (on Adobe Air) sucks about 80-90 Megs by itself. I would say it may as well be a Java program, but at least it's responsive.

Three Pct in 12 mos - Bachmann on Beck

Only 3% of the stimulus is to be spent in the first 12 mos?!?

Check out Rep. Michele Bachmann on the (new) Glen Beck show (see 2:10 for the 3% citation):

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The stimulus is too big

Not necessarily too big in an absolute sense, though surely one could argue that. In fact, I have no particular insight as to "how big" an absolute value on any stimulus should be.

We can tell it's too big because they can't think of enough quality stuff to put into it.

This contraception bit is just the tip of the iceberg. There's tons of crap in there that is not rightfully stimulus, and some of it not even defensible... it's a bill chock full o' run of the mill spending Democratic members have wanted for years.

The size of the stimulus "recovery" package is showcasing the fundamental error implicit in central planning. As the complexity of the economic system increases it becomes that much more difficult for the Central Committee Congress to control or plan efficiently.

Woz on Mac-25

Video at the Guardian.

As Woz says, the Mac was the Model-T of personal computing.

I had an Apple II-GS growing up (with a limited edition "Woz" signature print), which was sort of the bastard child of the Mac and the Apple II line. Since there was so much Apple II software out there, and because my school district used Apple II until I was in 6th grade it was a great machine for a kid to have at the time. But when Apple went Mac-only, the II-GS's similarity to the Mac was revealed to be very superficial. Sure they made a GS version of Hypercard, a special GS version of Appleworks, and they eventually made the GS/OS pretty decent for what it was, but it was never a Mac, and even the older Mac classic ended up having better forward compatibility than the GS.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Obama to "lose" Colombia?

Quote of the day -- Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos (said last year, bold added):
Colombia plays such a vital role in the continent for U.S. interests that it would be geostrategic suicide to make a decision like that. I wonder who wants to be the one who loses Colombia like they lost China in the 1950s.

I've been irritated by this for quite some time.

Here's a screen shot of the Colombia Tariff ticker before the O-bots realize it's hosted on a .gov server and shut it down:

Colombia TFA tariff losses

Basically, $1.5 billion dollars. Small in comparison to the total economy, but a billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking about significant numbers of American jobs.

But worse than the job issue, as pointed out in that IBD editorial, is the fact that we're insulting an ally, and doing our enemy's bidding.

At least we know whom to blame for losing Colombia.

(H/T HotAir)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Other Rep Young on Gitmo detainees

CQ Reports "Rep. Young: Send Detainees to Pelosi’s District"

Alcatraz, specifically.

At first I thought CQ was referring to Rep. Don Young of Alaska. Nope. Bill Young of Florida.

Oh well, good idea anyway. Of course, Pelosi may actually want the prisoners if she's anything like her bosom buddy Jack Murtha.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

LF on the Authoritarian Third Way

I had to put down Liberal Fascism for a while due to the hectic nature of life, so I haven't made nearly the progress on it that I'd hoped for.

I thought I'd share this passage from the chapter on FDR. In sharp contrast to the rest of the book, this passage contains no citations, so I must assume it is wholly Goldberg's voice. Nevertheless, it is a theme he has touched upon several times and I'm curious to see how Goldberg might develop the Third Way analysis through the rest of the book.

LF, pg 130
The "middle way" sounds moderate and un-radical. Its appeal is that it sounds unideological and freethinking. But philosophically the Third Way is not mere difference splitting; it is utopian and authoritarian. Its utopian aspect becomes manifest in its antagonism to the idea that politics is about trade-offs. The Third Wayer says that there are no false choices -- "I refuse to accept that X should come at the expense off Y." The Third Way holds that we can have capitalism and socialism, individual liberty and absolute unity. Fascist movements are implicitly utopian because they -- like communist and heretical Christian movements -- assume that with just the right arrangement of policies, all contradictions can be rectified. This is a political siren song; life can never be made perfect, because man is imperfect. This is why the Third Way is also authoritarian. It assumes that the right man -- or, in the case of Leninists, the right party -- can resolve all of these contradictions through sheer will. The populist demagogue takes on the role of the parent telling the childlike masses that he can make everything "all better" if they just trust him.

I'll note that when Goldberg wrote this Hillary Clinton was poised to be the 2008 Democratic Presidential nominee. Mrs. Clinton has numerous references in the index, and her name appears in the title of Chapter 9 ("Brave New Village: Hillary Clinton and the Meaning of Liberal Fascism").

Conversely, Barack Obama has only two index references. Yet the above passage seems remarkably prescient in terms of political rhetoric. Consider Obama's recent pre-inaugural Philadelphia speech:
What is required is a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives — from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry — an appeal not to our easy instincts but to our better angels.
I believed that our future is our choice and that if we could just recognize ourselves in one another and bring everyone together [...] then not only would we restore hope and opportunity in places that yearned for both, but maybe, just maybe, we might perfect our union in the process.
Starting now, let's take up in our own lives the work of perfecting our union.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

MN Recount Unconstitutional

This law prof thinks the Minnesota recount violated Bush v. Gore via the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Consider the inconsistencies: One county "found" 100 new votes for Mr. Franken, due to an asserted clerical error. Decision? Add them. Ramsey County (St. Paul) ended up with 177 more votes than were recorded election day. Decision? Count them. Hennepin County (Minneapolis, where I voted -- once, to my knowledge) came up with 133 fewer votes than were recorded by the machines. Decision? Go with the machines' tally. All told, the recount in 25 precincts ended up producing more votes than voters who signed in that day.

Then there's Minnesota's (first, so far) state Supreme Court decision, Coleman v. Ritchie, decided by a vote of 3-2 on Dec. 18. (Two justices recused themselves because they were members of the state canvassing board.) While not as bad as Florida's interventions, the Minnesota Supreme Court ordered local boards to count some previously excluded absentee ballots but not others. Astonishingly, the court left the decision as to which votes to count to the two competing campaigns and forbade local election officials to correct errors on their own.

(H/T, K-Lo at The Corner)

The whole thing stinks to high heaven.

TARP Two, the reckoning

So some Repubs are skittish about releasing the second half of the TARP?

It's almost like I saw this happening back in September.

Nobody ever asks the Sowellian question, "... and then what happens next?"

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Black Sphere

Over the top? Maybe.

pelosi the witch

Hilarious? Oh my yes!

Friday, January 09, 2009

Dems pare back SCHIP???

The deuce, you say?

House Democrats are scaling back plans to reauthorize the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, as budget scoring problems and rising costs make a five-year bill unlikely.

Instead, they likely will pursue a shorter reauthorization, leaving states that depend on SCHIP money less certain about future funding.

If I'm reading the article correctly, they're not really cutting back, they're just playing budget games. Of course, if they were really cutting back we'd hear about how the Democrats hate the children and want them to be sick. (They'd report that, right?)

President Bush twice vetoed reauthorization bills in the 110th Congress that would have expanded the program by $35 billion over five years, to $60 billion.

Since then, however, the costs of the program have grown and the revenue-raising ability of the 61-cent-per-pack tobacco tax that would have funded it has shrunk.

"The budget window has changed and with it the numbers," said a senior aide the House Democratic leadership.

So... dare I say it - chalk this one up for Bush?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Obama-ology the new Kremlinology

[Disclaimer - I'm not actually trying to call Obama a socialist this time, or anything else like that. This is a simple comparison to the vagueness with which he's been speaking, and the contortions of the media interpreters.]

"Kremlinology is the study and analysis of Soviet (and today, Russian) politics and policies based on efforts to understand the inner workings of an extremely opaque central government...

"During the Cold War, lack of reliable information about the country forced Western analysts to "read between the lines" and to use the tiniest tidbits, such as the removal of portraits, the rearranging of chairs, positions at the reviewing stand for parades in Red Square, and other indirect signs to try to understand what was happening in internal Soviet politics."

Economics reporters are killing themselves trying to read the tea leaves as to what Obama might have planned regarding the elimination or non-elimination of certain Bush tax cuts. Obama-ites are giving any number of non-committals to questions of taxation. Reporters think they have things figured out, but you never know for sure.

"BO appointed abc and xyz to these key economic posts, so that probably means..."

We're getting the run-around on Gitmo too. He's going to close it. Soon. Maybe. The order to figure out how to do it will go out on Day One. But it will be hard. Check back in a year or so.

And he's opposed to gay marriage. Except when he wasn't before, and later when he opposed Prop-8. However, Rick Warren is cool -- just not that cool. And we'll have some big lib preacher guy too.

Obama-ology is the new Kremlinology.

We never had this problem with Dubya to any serious extent. If you could parse his mangled sentences you knew what he meant.

Obama likes to hear himself talk

I didn't hear much substantial (and even less new) in Obama's supposedly major press conference on the economy. It was mostly a re-hash of his old material, just with added filler.

Part of me is glad he didn't introduce any significant new plans that would introduce further economic uncertainty, but this also reinforces my perception that Obama has no idea what he's talking about.

I'll repeat something I said before, to the limited extent that Obama has given us anything specific, some of those things are worth doing to some degree. Improving the electrical grid is probably a good idea, improving federal facilities for efficiency is probably a good idea in a very generic sense, etc. But most of it can't rightly be considered particularly stimulative to the labor market or the economy generally.

One of the few new things is just stupid:
To finally spark the creation of a clean energy economy, we will double the production of alternative energy in the next three years. We will modernize more than 75% of federal buildings and improve the energy efficiency of two million American homes, saving consumers and taxpayers billions on our energy bills. In the process, we will put Americans to work in new jobs that pay well and can’t be outsourced – jobs building solar panels and wind turbines; constructing fuel-efficient cars and buildings; and developing the new energy technologies that will lead to even more jobs, more savings, and a cleaner, safer planet in the bargain.

Ok, there's a reason so few wanted to install these things, even when oil was a hundred dollars a barrel more expensive than it is now. For the most part, solar and wind aren't economical. To make matters worse, subsidizing the manufacture and installation of the not-quite-there technologies is an unwarranted diversion from the business of making the right stuff possible.

"Alternative" energy is a pretty vague term. To say we'll double production is at best meaningless, and at worst colossally stupid. Ethanol anybody? Remember, Tom Vilsack will be the Ag. Sec.

Jobs to make fuel efficient cars... that nobody wants to buy? Translation - The Big Three will become permanent wards of the Federal Government, because these mandates will guarantee their failure in the free market.

There's a lot of hyperbolic crap in the speech, but I have to call this one out:
I understand that some might be skeptical of this plan. Our government has already spent a good deal of money, but we haven’t yet seen that translate into more jobs or higher incomes or renewed confidence in our economy. That’s why the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan won’t just throw money at our problems – we’ll invest in what works. The true test of the policies we’ll pursue won’t be whether they’re Democratic or Republican ideas, but whether they create jobs, grow our economy, and put the American Dream within reach of the American people.

Difficult though it may be to believe, there are signs that the TARP has had a meaningful effect on confidence in the financial sector. And the $250bn bank capital program should, though fractional reserve banking, support about $2 trillion in bank loan assets. Why do I get the feeling that Obama's $750 bn - $1 tn plan won't give us the same economic multiple?

In my mind a "success" would be a multiple of one -- just enough extra stimulus to offset the inefficiencies of debt and future taxation. So the best I'm hoping for is that the plan has little to no lasting effect. And there's actually a decent possibility that could happen, so I won't go as far as to say we should just light the money on fire.

"We'll invest in what works"? Actually, you're poo-pooing the one thing that sorta kinda worked, and you're going to be engaged in a lot of stuff that has never worked before in the past.

And while I'm at it, all of this bi-partisan non-ideological pragmatic talk is still just code for saying what Obama says is right, and if you disagree with him you're being ideological.

Others have said this too, so I'm not expressing a novel idea here, but ideology is just another way of saying "a model for how the world works". There's no such thing as non-ideological. So-called pragmatism is itself an ideological position that assumes the Agent has an accurate model of the world. Some of what Obama says will be right, some wrong, but to disagree with him "ideologically" will not necessarily be an assault on reason itself.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Not so fast, Bush haters

As Democrats (and a few Republicans) take their final jabs at Dubya for allegedly being the worst US President in history, a few of them are thanking their one or more gods or fewer that Bush didn't "privatize" Social Security.

Slow down there, cowboys (and cowgirls).

The first person to attempt to mix Social Security with the stock market was -get this- Bill Clinton in his 1999 State of the Union address. But Clinton didn't want private accounts, he wanted to put part of the trust fund directly into the market. Yikes.

Bush's partial privatization plan (a.k.a. "personal accounts") would have allowed younger workers the option to divert a few percent of their total withholding to one of several "Chinese menu" items designed to roughly reflect a spectrum of risk and volatility, to be adjusted over time as a worker approached retirement. Nobody within ten years of retirement would have had any of their Social Security "privatized", and nobody would have been forced to do anything.

Let us recall that Al Gore's plan was "Social Security Plus", and Dubya's 2000 platform was "minus". Though ideologically very different, the long term implications of both plans were probably indistinguishable since benefits are expected to be cut in the future.

Let us also recall that Social Security private accounts were really a second-term agenda item. Projecting out ten years, nobody retiring before the year 2015 would have been affected, and even then it would only have been with a small fraction of their total expected benefit. At the end of January 2005 the S&P 500 was at 1181. Get back to me in 2015 and see where the S&P is then.

To summarize:
  • Optional
  • No older workers
  • Risk tolerance menu
  • Fractional investment
  • Jury is still out on the hypothetical outcome

Monday, January 05, 2009

So much for openness

[edit: Haiku version!]

Hope, Change, Openness
No Liberal Fascism!
Cabela's beckons

[h/t NRO]

Going Olby on Franken

It seems that Minnesota is going to be awarded to Franken, Dino Rossi-style.

With all the "inconsistencies" pointed out by the WSJ, I think it's time to borrow a time-tested Keith Olberman tactic used on GWB.

Al Franken will not be "Senator Franken". He's "Mister Franken". And he was "selected" to the office he purports to hold.

Why the heck can't we figure out how to run an election in this country?

(On a tangentially related note, my trip to Cabela's is long overdue.)

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Hoyer doubletalk on EFCA

Steny Hoyer engaged in some stupefying doubletalk about Card Check on Fox News Sunday.

Clip 1:
Chris Wallace: Are you prepared to take away the secret ballot?

Hoyer: Again, let me stress, Chris, nobody's going to take away the secret ballot. The employees currently have and will have the opportunity to opt for a secret ballot. They don't have to sign the card. They can say, "look, we'll have an election -- we may vote." But they have that choice and will continue to have that choice.
Ah yes, the opportunity to not sign the card! Because organizers won't be, shall we say "persistent" getting those last few signatures they need.

Clip 2:
Hoyer: ... And again, I want to stress, nobody is precluding having a secret ballot. What we are saying is that an alternative route will be available, and if employees choose to sign -- over 50% of the employees sign a card saying "we want to be represented by the union," that that will be effective.
So, they wouldn't be precluding a secret ballot, unless of course they do.

And by "not taking away the secret ballot", they mean "making it very unlikely that any secret elections will actually take place" and "forcing certain people to join a union without having the opportunity to vote on the matter".

Sounds like a "free choice" to me!

I'm still working on Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism, but this part jumped out at me with respect to EFCA and the apparently tenuous relationship between "good" or "desirable" outcomes and democratic institutions:
Bismark's motive was to forestall demands for more democracy by giving the people the sort of thing they might ask for at the polls. His top-down socialism was a Machiavellian masterstroke because it made the middle class dependent upon the state. The middle class took away from this the lesson that enlightened government was not the product of democracy, but an alternative to it. Such logic proved disastrous little more than a generation later. But it was precisely this logic that appealed to the progressives. As Wilson put it, the essence of Progressivism was that the individual "marry his interests to the state." [LF, pg 96 - bold added]