What follows are excerpts of posts from 2008. It was a busy year.
George Bush and Karl Rove were masters of politics and the two stooges of policy, a frightening reminder that voters can be easier to seduce than reality.
Why not build the Escher Expressway – build all roads to slope downhill as a means to improve gas mileage?
The wild success of the iPod: is it just a coincidence that the first generation to be discovered by sonogram would so eager to embrace a product that envelopes them in sound?
"Violence is down in the city of Fallujah. So is freedom. Entry into the city is like entry into an airport – residents wait in line to pass by guards and scanners. This is how we bring democracy into the Middle East?
Our need for narrative is stronger than our need for facts. We can’t take reality in its naked form – it is shapeless and void. ‘In the beginning was a great void, and then God spoke,’ Bernard said, loosely quoting Genesis. “Narrative made reality – before that it was a buzz of noise and confusion and temporality. We don’t want facts – we want a story. So people prefer to believe that their lives are controlled by conspiratorial cabals rather than dare to think that we live near the abyss of "things just happen," of random events that even the experts can’t predict or properly explain.
New Year's Resolutions can too easily be attempts to be like someone we admire rather than self actualize. It takes a great deal of effort just to be good at what we're good at.
A stimulus package seems like such an expensive and vague way to address real and specific problems.
And besides, it's not as though no one in Washington has already thought to cut taxes and increase spending in the last 7 years. If that is really what we needed, it's hard to explain how we got here.
In early January, The New York Stock Exchange bought the American Stock Exchange in exchange for stock. Is it any wonder that stock prices have fallen since?
To put his stimulus plan in perspective, Bush is spending $100 billion a year in Iraq - a country whose economy is about $90 billion. He wants to pump about $150 billion into the US, where annual GDP is about $13 trillion. His annual "stimulus" in Iraq is more than 100%. To avert a recession, he wants a stimulus of about 1% for the US. If this sounds inadequate to you, don't feel alone. It failed to impress thousands of investors.
Instead of having the candidates answer questions in debates, put them into simulations. They sit at a laptop or with a joy stick in hand, and are fed scenarios: dollar in free fall, terrorist attack in Miami, find the balance between environmental sustainability and economic prosperity, president of France marries your sister ...
Decoding Bush’s state of the union:
“The budget that I'll submit will keep America on track for a surplus in 2012.”
This is the presidential equivalent of assuring your heirs that once you’ve been dead for 4 years, your finances should be in order.
Bad governments come in at least two forms: they put up bureaucratic obstacles to those who are pushing beyond the current norms and / or they ignore the plight of those who are failing.
10 percent of Americans say they are willing to have an Internet-access device implanted in their brains.
We've turned our media into the modern coliseum, a place where celebrities can be made and then destroyed.
I've heard more than a few folks express shock at the fact that Barack Obama's middle name is Hussein. "Just like Saddam's last name!" they exclaim.
And that matters. Almost as much as it matters that once we had gained our independence from King George we turned around and elected George Washington.
We can call 411 for information. We can call 911 for emergencies. Why not a 711 number that people can call when they spot aberrant behavior - something they find odd or outrageous? Wives could report their husbands, children their parents, and anyone could call to report on those in public.
Motherhood is a confusing performance, like painting for the legally blind, the preoccupied audience of husband and children caught up in their own drama or anomie and chronically unaware of the great effort expended on their behalf.
While philosophers love the idea of humanity, it is mothers who navigate the real mess of it, the humanity of little people who leave in their wake lost shoes and scuffed walls. A woman whose charm, beauty, and intelligence has given her a variety of romantic options suddenly finds herself confined to home with a big-headed creature who, if he could talk, would go on at length about the flavor of the couch.
I think I may have just watched Barack Obama win the presidency.
Bernard: “How else are you going to define yourself? By sitcoms and bowling leagues? Gucci shoes? Pursuing your gift is how you rescue you from anonymity.”
“But if it doesn’t make you famous, you’re still anonymous.”
“Not from yourself, you twit. This is about learning who you are. Follow your gift and when you get to where it leads you, you’ll find you. Right there. At the end of the trail.”
Stendhal's Cures for Love was at turns amusing and provocative. (And really, there is, of course, no cure for love. It simply has to run its course.)
You can't tell voters that religion matters and then tell them that your religion doesn't matter. Romney’s failed bid might have been just that simple.
In simpler land based economies, dogmatic assertions structure life. In more complex information and entrepreneurial economies, dogma merely obstructs the deal making, problem solving, and creativity necessary to creating wealth.
Ann Coulter has done well for herself. She doesn't have the looks to be a model, the wit to be a shock jock, or the intelligence to be a political pundit, but she's somehow turned these 3 short comings into a successful career.
Bernard: You fall in love in hours and then spend years negotiating what it was you fell into.
Relationships – love in particular – are projections. We project something on to someone else. If they feel like indulging us, they play that role. If not, they rebuff us. Love is an act of playing a role that matches their inevitably misguided notion of us.
Love puts life at a level we can comprehend.
Maddie: Do you know why men are so fascinated by sports? A guy can plop down into a chair in front of the TV and in 15 seconds know the score, know who is winning and who is doing well. He can sit in a relationship for 15 years and never once have a clue about any of that. He’s not even sure he’s shooting into the right basket.
Love is the certainty that fills you with doubt.
Unreasonable is what we want, Bernie. When a woman tells a man to be reasonable, it is just her way of saying that she wants him to love her differently or better. We don’t want reasonable. We want someone who goes straight to the heart.
We make food producers disclose contents and list nutritional information. Why not do it with pundits?
Let's say that Bill Kristol is earnestly arguing that Iran is a threat and that we should take military action against them. Whether in print or on screen, there should be a little scorecard below his name or face that indicates his track record. (e.g., Predictions Made: 308. Predictions Right: 11. "Facts" asserted: 1,052. "Facts" that could be verified: 104.)
Bernard: Accept some coaching. You either change feedback or it changes you.
You look up the meaning of a word and what do you find? Other words. Meaning comes out of the interaction of one word with other words. Meaning comes out of relationships. This is just like life.
You don't love because deserve to be loved. You love because it gives your life meaning. No philosophy can save you from a failure to love.”
I think it would be interesting to have a ventriloquist at my funeral. It is true that I deserve accolades - everyone does, particularly once one is dead. It's also true that I am not all that. So, my vague and fuzzy plan is to have someone deliver a wonderful and glowing eulogy while hosting a dummy (with a face like mine) on his knee - a dummy less reverent than the average funeral speaker and less inclined to spin my life in a positive direction.
And yet today’s economy is global. We live in a post-national economy. Many Americans are about to receive checks as part of a stimulus package that gained broad support among all parties in DC. This package will be financed by loans from China and will be used to buy goods from China. Keynesian economics might not work as planned.
The Bush Administration initially estimated that the Iraq invasion and occupation would cost $50 to $60 billion. White House economist Larry Lindsay said it would cost $100 to $200 billion and was fired for his effrontery. The total cost of the invasion and occupation is now estimated to exceed $3,000,000,000,000 - $3 trillion.
To put it in perspective, this would be equivalent to a car mechanic estimating a repair at $739 and then charging you $44,340 when you came to pick up the car. (“$3 trillion! For that much I could have bought a NEW country!”) To miss an estimate this badly is ludicrous; to miss it on such an astronomically huge amount is insane.
Rather than dumb down their message, Buckley and Galbriath expected their audience to smarten up.
Historians will likely use the deaths of Buckley and Galbraith to signal the death of a particular kind of punditry. The voice of the right now sounds more like Rush Limbaugh than William F. Buckley; the voice of the left now sounds more like James Carville than John Kenneth Galbraith. This new media seems more designed to appeal to entrenched feelings than to challenge conventional thinking. Such a pity.
It’s hard to imagine that women will have a better shot at the presidency than Hillary’s candidacy any time soon, and after 200+ years, they apparently still have not come up with a candidate worthy of the job. One wonders how long it’ll be before we join the 40+ countries that have already had female heads of state. (Among them Muslim countries like Indonesia and Pakistan
Like an angry diner on a bad date cursing the waiter ("I did not order this heart break!"), the political machinery in Washington continues to try sending back the recession it did not order. But reality has its sense of humor, insisting that a prolonged recession is the perfect "cherry on top" for Bush's 8 years as leader of the free (for all) world.
Crude oil prices continued their rise past $100 a barrel; sophisticated oil prices, by contrast, had already slipped past $150 a barrel months ago.
Of course, the whole idea of voting is based on some fallacious notion about probability. You have better odds of buying a winning lottery ticket than you do of casting the deciding vote and I can pretty much guarantee that you are not going to win the lottery. Given that it is simply not rational to think that your vote will make a difference, only irrational people actually vote.
Wait. That seems to explain so much, doesn't it?
I suspect that returns to capital will drop considerably over the next few decades. As returns drop, it'll be easier for entrepreneurs to get money. Companies that expect to compete on the basis of returns to capital can expect to lag an already poor performing market. By contrast, companies able to foster a culture more like that of an incubator will prosper. For them, the cheap capital will be a boon, enabling them to seed even more ventures. These companies - and the investors who hold stocks in them - will be the big winners in this coming period of cheaper capital.
Facebook's 23 year-old founder Mark Zuckerberg is perhaps the world's youngest self-made billionaire.
With all that money, it is probably no wonder that Zuckerberg would need to create a social network site like Facebook. Many friends can be had for considerably less than a billion and someone with this much money would need some way to keep track of them all.
Mike Huckabee bowed out of the Republican primary contest. This has nonetheless been a boon to his career. He'll be starring in a new Broadway Musical: Gomer Pyle, New Mayor of Mayberry. The drama revolves around the mayor's move to outlaw evolution in the town; that Gomer Pyle is mayor seems evidence that he has succeeded.
Spitzer's political career may be over. It seems that the reformer met up with a high-priced prostitute when in DC. (No word yet about how aspiring politicians are supposed to tell the difference between high-priced prostitutes and cheap politicians.)
In the last couple of decades, there has been a surge in the percentage of households that own stock (whether directly or through mutual and pension funds). To leave this money sloshing around without some regulatory oversight is to invite a series of ENRON-like fiascoes in which senior executives and financial representatives easily manipulate the average investor. Imagine how ugly any sport would get after decades without a referee and you get an idea of what Wall Street could become – has at times become.
Spitzer was one of the few politicians who seemed able and wiling to go after the Wall Street’s coarser elements, protecting the average investor.
Bernard: “The defining thing about life is that it ends. You have to keep that in mind. Most everything bad you do – from sloth to cruelty – seems to stem from forgetting this simple fact.
You take away the social constructs and what you are left with is ingenuity and love.
Regarding CIA director George Tenet's advice to George Bush about invading Iraq: When an aging, short, overweight, bureaucrat in a suit tells you that something is "a slam dunk," what he really means is that it cannot be done.
We should try a new kind of stimulus program. Random ATM withdrawals enhancement program (RAWEP) sounds like it would be a hit with a polity that has made gambling a multi-billion dollar industry. You go to the ATM to withdraw $100 and you just might get $1,000. Tell me that wouldn’t stimulate consumption.
My six word meme for my life: As if I had a clue.
All education is prediction about the future. If you teach a child about spelling, you are predicting that he'll be writing and not live in a world of massively available voice recognition systems.
Trying to impress working class voters in Pennsylvania, Barack Obama bowled a 37. On a related note, trying to appeal to college-aged voters, McCain ran the 200 meter hurdles in just under an hour.
Reality is a swirl of possibilities at any time – we’re always at a place of near infinite possibility that is open, to varying levels, to our influence. It is not that we create reality, at some level – we just tune in to particular channels. The channels are always there: our choices might determine whether we get horror or drama or dread or chortles. We don't so much create our own reality as choose the dimension of it we live in.
But of course, I could be way off on this. My notion that our lives are works of fiction might, itself, be a work of fiction. (And if so, have I just proved my point?)
McCain has basically embraced Bush's record. If that is not an indictment of the man, I don't know of one. 81% of the country thinks that we're on the wrong track. 81% makes up everyone but the illiterate, those recovering from traumatic head wounds, and people who still think that all-you-can-eat buffets represent the pinnacle of progress.
The only effective way to change a piece of a system is to change the whole system it is part of.
If Barack Obama can offer a compelling vision of the world and America's role in it, he can deliver the change he promises. If he shrinks from that - if he limits himself to defining the presidency and government only - he'll fail to change the very piece on which he focuses.
Whole system change always sweeps up the pieces with it. Piece-meal change always gets overwhelmed by un-moving, un-responsive, and larger systems. To effect change, you have to speak over the head of the what you want to change. We need a conversation about the society we want to create.
The value of financial derivatives is estimated to be about $500 trillion. To put this in perspective, the total, global GDP is about $70 trillion. So, a swing in derivatives of just 15% will equal GDP for the entire planet.
One can easily tell who the head of the Catholic Church is. The Pope has the tallest hat. I like the idea of using such a simple signal to indicate who is in charge and think that all organizations – from pre-schools to corporations and nation-states - should use the “taller the hat, the more authority” system.
Last week, airlines stranded about 3.7 million travelers. (Okay, perhaps I exaggerate, but does the actual number really matter?) And yet they persist in scheduling flights for 8:07 PM arrivals, even as they miss scheduled times by a matter of days. There ought to be a rule: an airline has to be exactly on time on at least two consecutive days before they can pretend to be so accurate. Meanwhile, why not just say, “We’ll arrive sometime after 8 PM. We hope.”
Random fictional excerpts:
* Love seemed like too strong a word to use, but it was not her idea. This was tennis. When you have nothing, they call it love. She shrugged, stretched to her full height and began her serve.
* It was not as though Oswald woke up that morning intending to start a fire in his French Literature class. But in retrospect, it seemed like the turning point in his life.
* His research into longevity was inspired by his love for Bjork. The thought of her dying – of her growing old, even – was more than he could bear. The Noble Prize seemed almost incidental.
First of all, lowering taxes while increasing spending is a ruse. It is like paying less on your credit card while spending just as much each month. The ultimate cost is higher than "pay as you go" options.
It is worth remembering that Sweden's total tax rate is 50.5% and Mexico's is only 18%. Low taxes do not automatically translate into high incomes any more than high taxes automatically translate into low quality of life.
Although it surprised her, Sylvia was oddly pleased by the stimulus package the Bush Administration sent out. She had not been expecting baby oil, erotica, and candles.
There is a big brouhaha about the newest release of Grand Theft Auto. Like the earlier versions, it is violent, triggering concern among critics that this somehow degrades behavior. And nothing could be more obvious, really, than this: the history of mankind shows millennia of peace and prosperity and then, with the introduction of video games, a sudden spike in violence.
I'm sitting somewhere the other day, noting how many people have iPods or variants on them. Why can't they double as credit cards / wallets? Why not use them for purchases? When will Apple essentially become a bank?