Oddly personal note

Pudge is gone for a bit. She's off on vacation with her family for about a month and will be off to HBS afer that. Her being gone has allowed me to do certain things - play Rock Band, stay up really late, eat unhealthily and irregularly - but at the same time, it's strange not having anyone around. Watching TV now feels like a depressing and loserish activity. If it wasn't for the fact that the kids on South Park are now my imaginary best friends, I would probably have to give it up.

In my spare time, I am trying to convert myself from a wad of banana pancake mix into an healthy-looking human being. I am also trying to work up the will to learn things for my personal betterment, but that's not going so well. In any case, I am hoping that this terribly depressing experience will soon reveal itself to be nothing more than an exercise in character development.

Random quote from the Daily Show:
"If there's a can of whup-ass out here, I'm going to open it." - Brian Williams, possibly the best recurring guest ever

Conservatives: Closet nihilists?

I was reading an article by William Kristol on Tony Snow's passing, when I came across this quote:

For quite a while now, optimism has had a bad reputation in intellectual circles. The fashionable books of my youth — and they are good books — were darkly foreboding ones like Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” and George Orwell’s “1984.” Young conservatives of the era were much taken by Whittaker Chambers’s gloomy memoir, “Witness.” We who read Albert Camus — and if you had any pretensions to being a non-Marxist intellectual, you read Camus — loved the melancholy close of his essay “The Myth of Sisyphus”: “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

The basic attitude one derived from these works was that pessimism is deeper than optimism, and existential angst more profound than cheerful confidence. This attitude remains powerful, perhaps dominant, among many thoughtful people today — perhaps especially among conservatives, reacting against a facile liberal belief in progress.
I will freely admit that for a long time, my thinking was very similar to that in the previous paragraphs. I had an implicit belief that people who smiled too much were probably too stupid to recognize all the reasons that they should be unhappy. My mom referred to me as "being a bit of a Raskolnikov." It was all very high school and I'm very glad that I've moved past that point.

So, I'm definitely a bit puzzled by the fact that Kristol has politicized this point of view, tentatively claiming it for conservatives. Especially if this type of overly intellectualized brooding is rooted in particular books, my immediate thought would be that it's more of a matter of one's education. I mean isn't wearing black, smoking a bunch of cigarettes and talking about nihilism more in the domain of liberals with artsy-fartsy degrees in existentialism. It seems much less well-suited to Southern baptists or libertarians. Anyway, just my thoughts.

That Dancing video

It's been written up in the Times. Congratulations, Pudge! Timely posting, just a few weeks ahead of the curve. I'm not sure that the article is really worth reading - you learn a bit about Matt Harding, the guy who made the video - but at the end, you come out not really knowing much more than when you began. Here's one of the few things I found interesting:

... the newly formed Stride chewing gum compan ... offered to underwrite Mr. Harding’s subsequent travels, virtually no strings attached. (In the 2006 version the Stride name pops up in the corner of the screen every now and then, and, in the newest video, the company is acknowledged at the very end, but amazingly, in this era of shameless commercial tie-ins, Mr. Harding is not obliged to wear a Stride T-shirt or deliver a little pitch for the product. Exactly what connection the company sees between gum and a guy dancing, but not chewing, remains a bit of a mystery.)
I understand the logic behind the italicized comment - Stride is owned by Cadbury-Schweppes, which as a public company has a duty to maximize returns for its shareholders, blah blah blah. But what irritates me about the comment is that it sort of unthinkingly criticizes the people that funded the video, subtly implying that the marketing guys at Stride are perhaps not putting their ad dollars to good use. Never mind that companies used to sponsor ostensibly unrelated TV shows back in the day, e.g. the Colgate comedy hour didn't really have much to do with toothpaste. I guess in a day when I look at pretty much every advertising engagement as being a crass ploy for my attention, I actually appreciate that a company went out and sponsored something interesting, regardless of whether or not it had anything to do with their product. And let's be honest, what are you really going to tell me about a piece of gum that's so damn interesting?

Anyway, that's a lot to say about just one line of text, which was probably more intended to convey puzzlement than anything else. But, my rant being done, I'm just glad that some company out there is actually funding something that's interesting, rather than the usual schlock out there.

Op-Eds from the Past

This is a cut-and-paste of an Op-Ed I found pasted at the Big Picture. It's sort of at the cross-section of economics and politics, with more emphasis on the economics. For those of you that whip out your "nerd-alert!" signs whenever you hear the word "inflation" or "%," this may not be for you, although I would still encourage you to read. Italics added by me:

Pricing in a Bush Presidency?
Wall Street Journal, July 9th 2000

Stocks sold off again today as the markets is pricing in the likely impact of a George W. Bush presidency.

Since Bush has emerged as the polling leader in March, stocks have been hit hard. The NASDAQ has fallen 37%, while the S&P500 and the Dow are both down 20%, placing equities squarely in bear market territory.

Various Wall Street strategists have expressed concern regarding how a new set of Bush monetary and overseas policies could impact equities.

"My biggest concern is that the promised Bush tax cuts will be in extremely expensive. That would create huge deficits and be extremely inflationary" said Peter Leslie, a trader on the CBOT floor." Governor Bush has promised to reduce captial gains and dividend taxes, and lower the marginal rates on the nation's biggest earners. He has not explained how these tax cuts will be funded.

Maverick Capital fund manager Henry Carlyle is more concerned with government spending than Tax cuts. The Dallas resident stated "I have followed Governor Bush in Texas, and fiscal discipline is not his strong suit." Cabot expects a big increase in federal spending and budget deficits that will have ramifications for both inflation and an interest rates.

Vanguard chief John Bogle is more concerned with a lax regulatory environment: "A return to the sort of crony capitalism that we've seen in the past would wreak havoc with investor confidence. We need a strong SEC to make sure companies are transparent, and report their accounting fully and fairly. We should not throw the individual investor to a wild and woolly free market that is totally lacking in supervision." The Vanguard chief has long been a proponent of a strong regulatory environment for the protection of individual investors. "I do not see that sort of regime under a President Bush."

Robert Rubin, the Treasury Secretary under Presdient Clinton who retired last year to join the Board of Citigroup, focused on the Federal Reserve. "The next president needs to make sure that the Federal Reserve fulfills its obligations as bank supervisor. I am concerned that Governor Bush, as President, would move away from strict regulation of markets for ideological reasons." Rubin, a Democrat, warned of negative repercussions for the housing and financial sectors. "[Since joining Citigroup], I have been looking into the issue of derivatives. This is another area that requires close scrutiny from both the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve. I see Bush lacking expertise in this crucial area."

Goldman Sachs chief investment strategist Robert Hormat, was even blunter in his assessment of a Bush Presidency: "I am looking for a market crash as a reaction to the election of George W. Bush. Investors should brace themselves for losses of 50% or more -- and even worse in the Tech sector -- should he be elected."

Legendary legendary oil trader T. Boone Pickens is more optimistic. "We should expect several military conflicts in the Middle East under President Bush[!!!], and while this may not be great for the economy it will be terrific for my energy holdings." If Bush gets elected, Pickens plans on opening a new oil based hedge fund, and is forecasting 100% increase in the price of oil to $40. "I'm an Oil, George is an Oil man, and his VP Dick Cheney is an Oil man. I expect energy returns to significantly outperform equity markets over the next eight years" he said.

For those of you that noticed, this article was written in July of 2000 and pretty much everything that I highlighted - which was almost the entire article - has actually came true. We now have huge deficits, rampant inflation, "crony capitalism" paired with a weak SEC, excessive deregulation which may have lead to our current economic crisis, as well as military conflicts in the Middle East. Oh yeah, and as for T. Boone Pickens's Oil fund, if he was expecting a 100% increase to get him to $40, then...


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