Monday, October 27, 2008

Creepy Packaging!

Check out this broccoli package...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Homeland Security Theater

More on huge gaping holes in the idiotic airport security system at The Atlantic. Here's the opening paragraph:
If I were a terrorist, and I’m not, but if I were a terrorist—a frosty, tough-like-Chuck-Norris terrorist, say a C-title jihadist with Hezbollah or, more likely, a donkey-work operative with the Judean People’s Front—I would not do what I did in the bathroom of the Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport, which was to place myself in front of a sink in open view of the male American flying public and ostentatiously rip up a sheaf of counterfeit boarding passes that had been created for me by a frenetic and acerbic security expert named Bruce Schnei­er. He had made these boarding passes in his sophisticated underground forgery works, which consists of a Sony Vaio laptop and an HP LaserJet printer, in order to prove that the Transportation Security Administration, which is meant to protect American aviation from al-Qaeda, represents an egregious waste of tax dollars, dollars that could otherwise be used to catch terrorists before they arrive at the Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport, by which time it is, generally speaking, too late.

Offsetting Penalties?

You know how sometimes in football both teams will screw up on the same play and the penalties will offset? We've just found the fraud version of that situation. Three men brought a laptop computer box to Walmart and said that they'd been sold an empty box. Walmart thought they were being scammed, so they called the police. That's when all hell broke loose.

When the police arrived on the scene, one of the three men ran away, dropping credit cards on the ground. It turns out that these credit cards were fakes encoded with real stolen credit card numbers. The men were arrested and there's now an ongoing investigation as to the origin of the numbers... but here's the hilarious part — Walmart actually did sell these guys an empty box instead of a laptop.

TRON in real life?

This is hilarious, in an incredibly geeky sort of way.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Greed is NOT a valid answer... the question of what caused the current financial "crisis." Don Boudreaux put it well here:
Saying that "greed" caused today's problems is like saying that gravity caused the death of someone pushed from the top floor of the Empire State building. Some things are sufficiently constant in human affairs - and self-interest, even greed, is among them - that they explain nothing....

Any compelling explanation of any observed economic reality must take "greed" as a given while identifying the specific incentives provided by prevailing social institutions.
The problem is not that people were greedy. The problem was that they were awful at being greedy, and it backfired rather horribly.

And now, for your daily dose of cute

Miniature Pigs!

Monday, October 13, 2008

All Your URLs are Belong to Us

This is apalling:

Kentucky’s pro-gambling governor is looking to make sure all bets are off for more than 140 online gambling Web sites that operate in the state known for the world’s biggest horse race.

Gov. Steve Beshear said his administration has asked a Franklin County Circuit Court judge to give the state control of 141 gambling Web site domain names. Beshear said he’s looking to restrict Kentuckians’ access to Web sites with names that include some of the most popular gambling sites for U.S. players:, and

What's with the naked power grab? And would this count as a taking under the fifth amendment? I'm not sure, but it seems highly unjust, regardless of the legality of the move.

(Post title shamelessly stolen from Radley Balko)

More Indy Voters than Indy Residents?

This does not look good:
In [the Oct. 7] Indianapolis Star, Brendan O'Shaughnessy reports that as of Monday evening 677,401 people in Marion County have registered to vote....

According to STATSIndiana, In 2007, Indianapolis/Marion County had an estimated population of 876,804. Of that number 232,607 were below 18 years of age, for a total of 644,197 people in Marion County/Indianapolis 18 or over and thus eligible to vote. (Indiana allows felons to vote as long as they are not incarcerated).

So we have 644,197 people eligible to be registered in Marion County/Indianapolis, and 677,401 people registered. Congratulations go to Indianapolis for having 105% of its residents registered!
Can you say voting fraud?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Mail Goggles

Cut back on all those idiocy and/or inebriation-induced emails you send at three in the morning with Gmail's new "Mail Goggles" feature:
When you enable Mail Goggles, it will check that you're really sure you want to send that late night Friday email. And what better way to check than by making you solve a few simple math problems after you click send to verify you're in the right state of mind?
If you can't solve a couple of simple arithmetic problems, you should probably wait and write it again in the morning...

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

I Just Got My Copy

Scalzi's blog-book Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded just came out, and he's thrilled with the picture of himself on the cover. It really captures the evil, don't you think?

Wha' Happened?

For those of you wondering how the economy has been imploding recently, here's a decent summary post.

Mysterious Financial Instruments


Sunday, October 05, 2008

Scalzi on the Bailout Bill

I seldom agree with John Scalzi on politics, but this is what he has to say on the recently revised bailout bill:
I’m opposed to calling bribes to recalcitrant legislators “sweeteners.” High fructose corn syrup is a “sweetener.” The Senate lardering up a novel’s worth of incentives to get the House to change its mind on a bill it bounced just days before is a goddamn bribe. Please let’s all just call it what it is. Thank you in advance for your cooperation.
Hear, hear!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

New and "improved" bailout

Here is a (partial) list of some of the "improvements" for the revised bailout bill:
* Sec. 105. Energy credit for geothermal heat pump systems.
* Sec. 111. Expansion and modification of advanced coal project investment credit.
* Sec. 113. Temporary increase in coal excise tax; funding of Black Lung Disability Trust Fund.
* Sec. 115. Tax credit for carbon dioxide sequestration.
* Sec. 205. Credit for new qualified plug-in electric drive motor vehicles.
* Sec. 405. Increase and extension of Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund tax.
* Sec. 309. Extension of economic development credit for American Samoa.
* Sec. 317. Seven-year cost recovery period for motorsports racing track facility.
* Sec. 501. $8,500 income threshold used to calculate refundable portion of child tax credit.
* Sec. 503 Exemption from excise tax for certain wooden arrows designed for use by children.
Like I said before, I'll believe the crisis is that bad when the politicians start treating it less like an opportunity for graft and more like a crisis.

What are they actually saying?

Clearly it's the latter:

2 Congressional Democrats in Support of Porn-Free Internet Alternative:

Despite resistance from public interest groups and free-speech advocates, two Congressional democrats have expressed their support for a proposal that would create a free Internet alternative that has zero adult content.
Let's put aside for a moment any arguments related to freedom of speech or the propriety of pornography. Does "Internet alternative" make sense to anyone else? Is this some independent network, unconnected to the Internet? Is it some new backbone system? Is it just going to be an ISP with content filters? Or is this just incoherent nonsense spewing from the mouths of congressmen?

Geek/Politics Joke

If you get this, it's hilarious. If not, it's probably incomprehensible.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

My thoughts on the bailout situation

A friend of mine has asked me for my feel on "the whole bailout thing." If you don't know what he's referring to, feel free to crawl back under your rock. If you don't care, don't bother to read the rest of this; you won't find it interesting.

My interpretation is that nobody has a freaking clue what's going on. But here are my detailed thoughts:

1) Is a bailout necessary?
I have no idea. I don't pretend to understand complicated financial markets well. I tend to trust McMegan's judgment on economic issues, and she's somewhat ambivalently in favor of it, but I remain somewhat skeptical. But none of the powerful people pushing for the bailout have ever tried to convince me of it's necessity. The congresscritters, bankers, and other people calling for a bailout are merely running about screaming "the sky is falling!" and trying to get something passed before anyone can look closely at it. This does not inspire confidence. To top it off, Pelosi used her speech leading up to the vote on the last proposal to take partisan potshots, which is hardly going to convince me of the gravity of the situation. Politicians: if it actually is a crisis, start freaking acting like it's a crisis.

2) Is this bailout necessary?
I doubt it. We don't even really have a plan. The plan is just "give Paulson $700B and he'll figure out how to use it to buy stuff to fix things." This raises several questions:
2a) What are we buying?
The only description I've seen is "distressed assets." This means that we'll be buying the crap that banks can't offload because nobody will touch it. They're almost certainly undervalued in many cases, but nobody's sure which ones are undervalued and which ones are stinky crap. These are risky assets, which is why markets have locked up.
2b) What are we paying for it?
Yes, I know, $700B total. But on any given transaction, how are we going to price the assets? Nobody wants to buy them, so there is no "market price" above zero. The only serious suggestion I've seen is to use a reverse auction, in which the government buys the distressed assets from the people willing to take the least money for them. It is very difficult to make an "apples to apples" comparison with securities this weird and complicated, so you end up with a decently sized asymettrical information problem. This method also takes a long time, contra the chicken-little attitude displayed thus far. This also presents a third question:
2c) From whom are we buying?
This is an important question. This is a bailout, and so the point is not to get the most assets for our dollar, but to prop up as many of the most important firms as we can for our dollar. This is in clear conflict with (2b), where the money is suggested to go to whoever will take the least for their pile o' crap. (2b) almost certainly ensures that at least a few otherwise solvent firms will offload their crap to Uncle Sam for a pittance to clean up their balance sheets, leaving less money to help the liquidity of the firms who truly need it. How many will be truly distressed and how many will be opportunists cleaning house, we have no real way of knowing a priori. I see no easy or straightforward way to reconcile (2b) and (2c).

3) How are we trying to avoid creating a moral hazard issue here?
As far as I can tell, the government isn't even trying. We should be aiming to prevent banks from out-and-out failing, while still forcing them to take heavy losses to punish the idiotic behavior that but for our intervention would have killed them, in order to discourage such risky behavior in the future. No plan seems to have any mechanism for preventing banks from metaphorically walking off unscathed.

To sum up, I am (tentatively) against any of the bailout plans that fail to seriously address the above questions. Get back to me once our politicians start thinking of this less like a naked power grab and opportunity for graft and more like a mission to prevent the economy from exploding.