Thursday, June 30, 2011

Something New

I have been posting on The National Party Times for over three years. Like most things, I feel this has run its course. As I explore some other more collaborative outlets for my poor writing skills, I will probably stop posting here.

While the new potential projects are likely to be less introspective (and hopefully better written -- I really am a Photoshop guy after all), I will miss exercising my personal experiences and thoughts into words. (See: The Hawaiian Tour Guide Part I and Part II.) I will also miss trying to convince everyone how damn smart I am.(See: More Thoughts on Bill Gates -- via Milton Friedman.) I will also miss the guest posts. (See: I think Mark Twain knew what he was doing by Brother Dan; What the Heck is a Duck Fart? by Budsy Jean; or Sarah Palin is a twit! by Marna.)

Thanks for sharing some of your time with me over the last three years. It has been fun. Now it is time for something new.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

US Housing Remains In The Toilet

A headline on the BBC today states that "US house prices [are] below 2009 low”. In fact, according to the report by the people who put together The Case-Shiller housing index, “Home prices continue on their downward spiral with no relief in sight.” (Great chart here.)

Since the market started its decline in 2006, why are we still here? More importantly, why are things not getting better? The answer is really quite simple. Nobody knows where the bottom is. Until people are comfortable that we have found the bottom, things will not improve.

So what is stopping the market from finding the “real” bottom? Government “stimulus” has made everyone wary of jumping into an artificially propped-up market. Like taking a “hair-of-the-dog” drink in the morning to cure a hang-over from the night before, “stimulus” has failed to fix anything. In the end, it has only made things worse, increased debt obligations, strung out those who can least afford it and prolonged the pain.

The answer? John Papola said it best in a FB post this morning, “Let em crash and find a real bottom. Fake stimulus is like an afternoon shot of espresso. It gets you through the evening, keeps you up way too late, and makes tomorrow even worse than today.”

And consider this, if the government is so concerned about helping the poor and really wanted everyone to have access to affordable housing, why is it fighting to keep prices artificially high?

A better tomorrow means finding the real bottom in this housing market. That won’t happen until people are satisfied that government meddling is no longer artificially propping up prices.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Niall Ferguson on Democracy vs. The Rule of Law

Recently, I was listening to a BBC Radio show called Start The Week with Andrew Marr where he interviewed Harvard History Professor Niall Ferguson about how the West came to triumph over the empires of the East, and whether that ascendancy is in permanent decline.

In the interview, Ferguson defined 6 “killer apps” that made the West dominant: competition, science, the rule of law, medicine, consumerism and work ethic.

In further research about Ferguson’s killer apps, I found that one blog listed ‘democracy’ in place of ‘the rule of law’. They are wrong. In fact, in the previously mentioned interview, Ferguson himself said, “For me the rule of law is more important than democracy, per se. It is more important on how you keep politicians under legal control than how you elect them or choose them.”

Democracy is over-rated. More importantly, we do ourselves and our society a disservice by equating democracy with the rule of law. After all, many tyrants have come to be through popular election. Rights on the other hand, transcend the popular vote. As for the concept of majority rule equating justice, we only need to remember the old saying (often wrongly attributed to Ben Franklin, so I will borrow from Marvin Simkin): “Democracy is not freedom. Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to eat for lunch. Freedom comes from the recognition of certain rights which may not be taken, not even by a 99% vote... Voters and politicians alike would do well to take a look at the rights we each hold, which must never be chipped away by the whim of the majority.”

From my view, science, medicine, consumerism and work ethic can be found in many societies, but it is really competition and our system of justice -- although often bastardized by political influence -- that define the West’s truly unique “killer apps”.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

When Our Heroes Were Not Steroid Users

The great Harmon Killebrew passed away this week. At the time he retired from baseball in the 1970’s, only Babe Ruth had more home runs as an American Leaguer.

He now rates 11th on the all-time MLB Home Run List. As I have frequently stated, he would still rate higher than that if we eliminated the Steroid Era players. Referencing The Steroid Era blog as my source, let us do just that: eliminate the steroid-enhanced players and see where Harmon Killebrew would stand:

First, here is the list:

1 Barry Bonds 762
2 Hank Aaron 755
3 Babe Ruth 714
4 Willie Mays 660
5 Ken Griffey, Jr. 630
6 Alex Rodriguez 621
7 Sammy Sosa 609
8 Jim Thome 591
9 Frank Robinson 586
10 Mark McGwire 583
11 Harmon Killebrew 573

Now, here is the list without the steroid-laden crew (Since this is a thought exercise and carries no claim of exact accuracy, I omitted those implicated along with those who have admitted steroid use.):

1 Hank Aaron 755
2 Babe Ruth 714
3 Willie Mays 660
4 Ken Griffey, Jr. 630
5 Jim Thome 591
6 Frank Robinson 586
7 Harmon Killebrew 573

So in the record books Harmon may be number 11, but when we remove the asterisks, he moves up to number 7.

Thanks for the memories Mr. Killebrew.

...and say hello to The Babe for me.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Keynes vs. Hayek Round Two

Who knew a recipe for success could include two skinny white guys playing dead economists in a ten-minute hip-hop video?

strikes again. Creators John Papola and Russ Roberts have created a masterpiece follow-up to their original video, Fear the Boom and Bust.

With as much economic education as you can fit into a ten minute music video, Fight of the Century: Keynes vs. Hayek Round Two is sure to surpass the over two million views the original has garnered on YouTube.

The guys playing Keynes and Hayek? Billy and Adam.

Edutainment at its finest.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

John Berryman Couldn't Fly

I have had the wonderful opportunity to see the Hold Steady four times. I have even had the chance to chat Minnesota Twin’s baseball with lead singer Craig Finn. (I think Rod Carew or Harmon Killebrew is the best Twin’s players ever. He preferred Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek -- at least that night.) Mr. Finn also recounted meeting his real hero at a Twin’s game, former Replacement’s singer Paul Westerberg. (He was really short.)

Although I have always been sucked into The Hold Steady’s tunes by Tad Kubler’s straight-forward power chord guitar playing, Craig Finn’s lyrics frequently haunt me -- especially one song in particular: Stuck Between Stations.

I don’t know poetry. I don’t understand it. And until this song came out, I didn’t know who John Berryman was.

I stumbled upon this old interview, published on the Paris Review site, taken from the original issue published in the winter of 1972. In it, among other things, Berryman explains his life as a poet and poetry in academia. (“It’s a harmless industry. It gets people degrees. I don’t feel against it, and I don’t feel for it. I sympathize with the students.”) He was asked to rank the poets of his day. (“...most of these characters are personal friends of mine, and you just don’t sit around ranking your friends.”) But even more interesting were his thoughts on what it takes to be a truly great poet:

“My idea is this: The artist is extremely lucky who is presented with the worst possible ordeal which will not actually kill him. At that point, he’s in business. Beethoven’s deafness, Goya’s deafness, Milton’s blindness, that kind of thing. And I think that what happens in my poetic work in the future will probably largely depend not on my sitting calmly on my ass as I think, “Hmm, hmm, a long poem again? Hmm,” but on being knocked in the face, and thrown flat, and given cancer, and all kinds of other things short of senile dementia. At that point, I’m out, but short of that, I don’t know. I hope to be nearly crucified.”

John Barryman never lived to be crucified. On a cold morning in January of 1972, he threw himself off the Washington Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The devil and John Berryman
Took a walk together.
They ended up on Washington
Talking to the river.
He said “I’ve surrounded myself with doctors
And deep thinkers.
But big heads with soft bodies
Make for lousy lovers.”
There was that night that we thought John Berryman could fly.
But he didn’t

So he died.
She said “You’re pretty good with words
But words won’t save your life.”
And they didn’t.
So he died.

He was drunk and exhausted but he was critically acclaimed and respected.
He loved the Golden Gophers but he hated all the drawn out winters.
He likes the warm feeling but he’s tired of all the dehydration
Most nights were kind of fuzzy
But that last night he had total retention.

These Twin Cities kisses
Sound like clicks and hisses.
We all tumbled down and
Drowned in the Mississippi River.

We drink
We dry up
Then we crumble to dust

From: Stuck Between Stations by The Hold Steady

No poetry for me.

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