Tuesday, November 30, 2010

180º Role Reversals

The ACC/Big 10(+2) Challenge is officially on, and the Big 12(-2)/Pac 10(+2) Hardwood Series is coming soon. The Big 12(-2) has done pretty well over the course of the four year series - particularly last year when it won 9-3, but let one slip away as A&M fell to Washington following a freak broken leg suffered by guard Derrick Roland (42 seconds in - not for the squeamish).

Unfortunately, this series is coming to an end, though we'll refrain from calling sour grapes resulting from the squabbles of this past summer. What I what to see is a full bore, Big East/SEC challenge. In football and basketball. The Big East would go 1-7 in the fall, with Vanderbilt providing the fodder to prevent a skunk. Then, an equally embarrassing record would befall the SEC's basketball teams on the hardwood.

I do envision one major obstacle to this set up. It's not ratings - people would watch Florida/Georgetown or LSU/UConn. More problematic is getting every SEC school to schedule at least one BCS team in football. Burn.

Good and Evil

The Wikileaks releases have been juicier than I anticipated, which makes me appreciate them for no other reason than selfish indulgence. What's interesting about society is that apparently these cables have all the power to hurt, and do nothing to help. Secret meetings, personal opinions, and pointed criticisms are now exposed that threaten to undermine diplomatic relations. Anti-US sentiment in Pakistan is booming. Evil.

Here's where it's interesting: you also have top diplomats on record saying 'gee Mr. President, maybe you should radically change your Middle East policy because as it stands, you're fomenting attitudes that will actually cause more Americans to be killed.' But Americans don't want to hear that, because it doesn't fit within their ignorant understanding of the world. So this leak could never result in any sort of policy shift.

In conclusion we see that Wikileaks's media grab is bad as it relates to putting lives at risk. We also see that it is worthless in demonstrating how offensive the Bush Doctrine really was, because people just don't want to hear that. 'Merica!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Hippies, Shock Therapy, and Peas.

Today I forwent an 8 mile cab ride, and navigated the Albany bus system for just over two hours to save $22. I also probably saved like .0025 carbon credits or something. I got home, threw on a stained hoodie, curled under the blankets in my freezing basement apartment, and sipped loose-leaf tea while reading Naomi Klein's book on The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. I also took time to apply Malibu Hemp® moisturizer to my dry skin (a result of standing outside in the cold, waiting for the bus). I also haven't shaved in a week and my hair's starting to get shaggy again. Showered, but it was the only time this weekend. My only salvageable feature: bought a new suit at Jos A. Bank on Black Friday; I'm still a part of the consumer class, though hangin' by a thread.

I've always been intrigued when the mind/body's perception/reaction set directly contradict logic and reality. Food aversions are the classic example (I've associated whipped cream with pills for 14 years now - it still tastes like the nasty medicine embedded inside a gelcap). I've encountered a new example recently. I've been hooked up to a heart monitor about two weeks, with four little pads attached to wires that essentially provide a 24/7 EKG heart read-out for my doctor. I sometimes get these phantom seizures where the electrodes are attached, presumably a holdover from physical therapy history. In high school I underwent electrical stimulation to heal a badly sprained thumb and then for shin splints to continue running throughout my senior season. I also had several sessions over the past year as part of my therapy regimen for my back.

Due to this extensive history, I think the electrodes generate the anticipation of shocking a muscle group. It's not constant, but sometimes I'll be sitting around and my chest will exhibit a random little spasm. It's intriguing, though provides about as much evolutionary advantage as disliking peas because you once ate them before drinking half a bottle of Jäger. Conclusion: the body is as logical as Glen Beck sometimes.

For the record, I still like peas. Especially frozen peas. I love me some frozen peas with butter. Or just eating them frozen. Love'em. I've never really liked Jäger.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Corporations Aren't People (Don't Tax Them)

I don't like corporate income taxes, and would prefer them to be reduced if not eliminated. I justify this with a desire to also retool marginal income tax rates and taxes on dividends that, while not empirically driven, does a good job conforming to my world view. I'm more than happy to tell you about why I'm pretty sure I'm more right than other people on this if you like.

One interesting aspect of my modification is the implication on capital investments. Currently, firms can write off the depreciation in value of their capital purchases (e.g., computers, trucks, and machinery). This would be eliminated when no taxes are ever paid. The new equilibrium probably has a different bundle with fewer capital inputs - there's less comparative advantage to buying more things.

However, I'm more curious about the implications for economic stimulus. Governments will temporarily grant accelerated depreciation schedules so that firms can write off investments sooner, making the investment 'cheaper' and spurring economic growth. As the Obama Administration continues debating how to give companies breaks that encourage economic development, it would be interesting to see how the discussion changes once you can no longer write off depreciation (because you're not paying taxes in the first place).

Other methods to use tax breaks to induce growth still exist - the biggest being payroll tax reductions. This year, stimulus policy provided the opportunity to avoid payroll taxes on new hires that had been previously unemployed. Making this the only option (since you can't depreciate your capital) means that we can encourage firms to hire, but not necessarily make things. Given the likelihood the government actually goes along with this (none), I say we make Delaware our own personal laboratory for implementing different tax schemes every five years and assessing the impact. If we find a successful formula, awesome. If things go horribly wrong, no worries - nobody cares about Delaware.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Nothing is Wrong With Kansas - I Just Don't Want to Live There

Frank Thomas, the (in)famous author of What's the Matter with Kansas?, is perplexed why Kansans consistently vote against their self-interest (as defined by Thomas). He's wrong, obviously. Kansas voted in Republicans for the Governorship, both Senators, and all four Representatives (you don't even want to see how decisively they swept the state house) hoping to further their self-interest. Fortunately, none of them support small government. They're anti-free market (witness massive subsidy programs), love interventionalist policies (Iraq, anyone?), and siphon wasteful pork barrel spending to the state every year by propping up Boeing and Raytheon. Increasing the Pentagon's budget is awesome as far as Wichita and Riley County are concerned. Don't even get me started on Cuban policy (boycotts for everything except wheat!) and foreign food aid. We don't vote against our interests because we simply don't vote conservative - he just doesn't like that we don't vote Democratic. And yes, I still sent in my Kansas absentee ballot this year.

It seriously benefits Kansas to vote for big government Republicans. If you subtract taxes paid from federal funds received, Kansas gets over 19K more than it pays in taxes PER PERSON. We don't even have 3 million people (ranking 33rd), but rank 25th in payments from the federal government. You know who pays more in taxes than they get? Democratic voting states. We totally vote to give ourselves money all the time - we just don't want to share it.

I'm amazed at how many educated people have actually read this book. Not only read it, but were impacted by it. I tell academic Democrats that I'm from Kansas, and a solid 50% of them mention this book. The myriad converses are not true (e.g., conservatives do not care to mention this book, taxi drivers do not mention this book, etc.) I've never read a book about another state's politics; my birthplace is obviously more interesting than yours. I went to listen to Thomas speak while attending Washburn. He's smarter than I am. It's not that he said anything profound, but I could hear it in his tone. When people talk down to you, they're operating on a higher level. They're also not pro-democracy. "The best argument against democracy is a 5 minute conversation with the average voter." - Winston Churchill

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The NBA is Boring

Really, it is. I don't agree with those who prefer the NFL over college football, but can at least understand their position. There's no excuse for their basketball counterparts. The only hope they had was for Miami to win about 85% percent of their games - creating a villain to root against that's power enough to maintain intrigue but not so powerful as to squander hope and thus interest.

Starting the season 6-5, this didn't happen. Not yet. Maybe it's true, they simply need time to jell. And maybe Miami doesn't deserve a great team. I don't know why, but I don't think they do. I really hate the Heat right now. It's inexplicable - I often root for the Celts. I was stoked when Garnett and Ray Allen ended up in Boston. This was another powerful trio colluding to win The Finals with star power. Yet I find them lovable, with Big Baby making the most acrobatic plays a doughboy can while Rondo displays the greatest disparity between talent around the basket and talent around the three point line since Shaq. Who's also now with Boston, and is the definition of lovable. When Nate Robinson steps onto the floor, the only thing I can think of is Matt Alemu and Sunday Morning Hoops. If Jason Kidd was 6 inches shorter, a Kidd/Robinson square-off would be the professional version of Adornato/Alemu. What's not to love?

I've never been a fan of Paul Pierce, KU phenom or not. He excites me as much as Chris Bosh does, which puts the two teams on equal footing. Can't fault Lebron for wanting to be on a great team; I'd also want to play on a great team. I'd even rather be the #5 runner on a great XC team than the #1 runner on a crappy one. Maybe it's because Wade already has his ring - superteams are meant for great players that have been denied their rightful place on top. Nowitski/Lebron/Bosh? That would be more acceptable, with Kidd running point. It still wouldn't excite me. Maybe it's because I don't really like Bosh. And maybe it's because I will always love KG's passion. The point is, I quit caring about the Hornets after they moved to New Orleans, and will never care for the Bobcats. I find myself rooting for a team from Boston instead, which is cause for getting my head checked.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

To Staying Ranked!

Having nothing better to do with my Saturday but lick my ER wounds, I sat down to watch the K-State/Texas game with the intent of attempting an actual report on it. A purely intrinsic pursuit, I thought it might be interesting to try a full write-up, encapsulating the holistic experience much the same way ESPN.com might cover a top-10 matchup with national intrigue.

What happened: I got bored after K-State went up 31-0. When that expanded to 39-0 in the 3rd, I zoned out; casually glancing back to revel in the beat down before becoming bored again and flipping to another channel. (That eight point expansion courtesy a 2-point conversion after Josh Cherry had his PAT blocked, picked it up off the bounce, and ran it in. Beautiful). Yet as embarrassed as Texas was, I'm still trying to grapple with how dominating the performance can be considered.

K-State only completed 2/4 passes for nine yards (2.3 yards/attempt) - yet this was a rushing attack Air Force and Georgia Tech have consistently used to annihilate opponents in the era of spread. As Taylor Martinez has shown, one needn't air it out to score points. UT did outgain K-State in yardage, 412-270. The game summary:

This makes it difficult to gauge the showing. Clean game on both sides, though a couple stupid UT mistakes allowed KSU to continue otherwise stalled drives. We were horrible on 3rd down. But five interceptions is AWESOME, especially against a heralded quarterback. Should we be disturbed that the defense caught 250% more passes than the offense? As of today (Thursday), Snyder still refuses to anoint a starting QB (an historically familiar bugaboo for purple fans). This means Mizzou has no idea what to expect. Carson Coffman had been displaying precision accuracy over his past two games while running for a couple touchdowns. Backup Collin Klein also runs - but with speed. He ran for 127 yards against UT. Mizzou must spend half the week's practice preparing for the option, half on nickel coverage. Which makes me not want to dwell on the past, so much as get really excited for the future.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Why the US Chamber of Commerce (Should) Support Clean Tech

Inconsistent tax policies are bad for business growth. This is a regular contention, explaining frustration when state governments provide tax breaks one year and revoke them the next. An uncertain business climate isn't good for encouraging investment. The transitive connection is that any economic uncertainty hampers business growth, ranging from serious debates over minimum wage increases to energy costs.

This creates a fascinating argument for increasing renewable energy development in the utility sector. According to the NY Times, wind energy development this year has dropped 72% from 2009. Renewable energy costs continue to drop, but the decrease in demand for fossil fuels during the recession has caused coal, oil, and gas prices to drop faster. However, once the economy begins growing again, we expect fossil fuel prices to reverse trend and escalate.

Reliance on natural gas and coal will always portend varying energy price inputs. This is particularly true for natural gas - coal is a more stable commodity. Therefore, coal would theoretically produce a better business climate. Yet renewable energy options provide even greater stability (wind turbines always cost the same amount to spin).

Following this logic, clean energy should enhance GDP growth, ceteris paribus. We can accept this if renewable energy costs are, on average, the same as that from coal or gas over time, because they provide more consistency. There should also be a comparative advantage if wind energy is slightly more expensive than the average cost of fossil fuel energy, because it's still providing that consistent climate that business investors love. The question is, how much more expensive before this is no longer the case? 3¢ per kWh? 1¢? So low that, although existent, it is negligible for all but the most energy intensive industries?

We know that fossil fuel scarcity will continue pushing coal and gas prices up over time. We also know that technological breakthroughs will continue to bend the cost curve of clean tech development down. So as clean and dirty options become increasingly cost competitive, the attractiveness of providing consistent input prices should push the case for wind, solar, and other options over the top for the business community. The caveat here is the necessity of foresight. Wind power is still more expensive to development today. The question is whether this justifies not planning for tomorrow.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Bush on Katrina

"It's always my fault. I mean, I was the one who should have said: 'A) Don't take my picture, B) Let's land in Baton Rouge, La., C) Let's don't even come close to the area.' The next place to be seen is in Washington at a command center. I mean it was my fault."

George Bush has described this picture as a huge mistake, which caused him to appear "detached and uncaring," according to Huffpo:

I have no recollection of this photo damaging his reputation. Maybe it did, and I simply wasn't paying attention. Personally, it doesn't bother me. If anything, it's the image of a man deeply troubled by the disaster that took more American lives than any given year of the Iraqi invasion. He's now personally confronted with this destruction and its implications. But really, I don't care much for pictures.

Attempting to encapsulate a man with one picture can be telling, but is rarely fair. I don't care about the photo. I also don't think much of photos used against politicians for having hugged unpopular Presidents - you don't snub the President. If papa wants a hug, you give papa a hug.

The saddest part of this is that Bush said he was hurt when the public reacted poorly to a picture and Kanye stated Bush didn't like black people. If you want to demonstrate remorse, this is about the most insubstantial thing to regret. Politicizing a once important and effective program by putting Brown in charge of FEMA - now that's the decision you should regret. Because people died. The pathetic, delayed reaction was directly responsible for the death of Americans. And human life is infinitely more precious than public perception of a fucking picture. Memoirs are put up or shut up time; man up and accept fault for something more substantial than a superficial portrayal.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Split Chambers

It's just after ten pm, electioneering night. Looks safe to say expectations will be confirmed: Dems keep the Senate, Repubs take the House and the legislatures in about 75 states. Gerrymandering will be brought to you by the elephants for the second consecutive decade, so congrats if you happen to swing that way. No word yet on who gets the unenviable task of directing New York's State Senate.

In the finest example yet that the Tea Party movement really has no idea what 'representing the constitution' means, Russ Feingold is getting destroyed in Wisconsin. I mean absolutely annihilated. It's not about the country's betterment - it's jingoism and politics for the sake of jingoism in politics.