Bernie Sanders and the Great Leap of Faith

In Kill Bill 2, our heroine is buried in a coffin 6 feet under and we know there is no realistic way for her to escape.  So what does director Quentin Tarantino do?  An interlude to years of hard training under martial arts master Pai Mei.  After this interlude our heroine remembers her training and uses her martial arts skills to break the coffin!  Now all she has to do is to somehow shift the ungainly large planks she has fractured out of the way, keep the dirt out of her nostrils so she doesn’t suffocate, and dig up 6 feet to get to the surface.  How does Tarantino gonna convince us she can do that?  He doesn’t!!  After she breaks the first piece of the coffin, next thing we see is her surfacing and we take the leap of faith that somehow the middle worked its way out.  Show we air our doubt…she really probably would have suffocated…No!!  Its a goddam movie.  Accept it.

Unfortunately Tarantino is playing on a kind of gullibility we often fall victim too.  People often make judgements such as, George W. Bush has been a conservative all his life so he’ll probably implements some good conservative policies like smaller more efficient government.  What happened instead?  The Department of Homeland Security.

In this year’s election, nowhere is the leap of faith greater than on Bernie Sanders.  Bernie has spent his political career championing  the working man, the little guy – and by all appearance he truly believe he wants to help them.  So shouldn’t it be natural to assume President Bernie would help the working man?  Before you make the leap of faith, maybe you should take a tiny look at his positions.

Bernie’s  ideas on helping the working man involve things like throttling trade and stronger labor protections.  Both are highly suspect.  On trade, even Paul Krugman trying his very best to be conscientiously liberal statesAnd if we go all protectionist, that will shatter the hard-won achievements of 70 years of trade negotiations” .  And if you are conscientious enough to do a little research, you’ll see the argument that protectionism helps workers is a huge leap, and the opposite is probably the case.

Europe has very strong labor protections of the type Sander’s argues for and, probably not coincidentally, double-digit unemployment rates.  Strong labor protections, which make companies reluctant to hire works they can’t fire if things don’t work out, are particularly harmful to those looking for work, such as the young.  Youth unemployment rates are high across Europe, and in Spain and Greece, close to 50%.  Ironic, given the droves of young Americans taking the Bernie leap of faith.   If he does get elected, they’re the ones most likely to feel a very different kind of burn.

Print me a razor, or a new bike frame

Talk about disruptive technology.  Imagine a machine that allows you to print up a new razor, or new bike frame on demand, which allows you to change the design to better meet your needs, and share those designs.  Look out for alot of newer, better products, and alot of factories and stores going to the scrap heap (which of course is a good thing since can reuse those resources for other things :-)  ).

Print me a Stradivarius
How a new manufacturing technology will change the world
Feb 10th 2011 | from the print edition

THE industrial revolution of the late 18th century made possible the mass production of goods, thereby creating economies of scale which changed the economy—and society—in ways that nobody could have imagined at the time. Now a new manufacturing technology has emerged which does the opposite. Three-dimensional printing makes it as cheap to create single items as it is to produce thousands and thus undermines economies of scale. It may have as profound an impact on the world as the coming of the factory did.

It works like this. First you call up a blueprint on your computer screen and tinker with its shape and colour where necessary. Then you press print. A machine nearby whirrs into life and builds up the object gradually, either by depositing material from a nozzle, or by selectively solidifying a thin layer of plastic or metal dust using tiny drops of glue or a tightly focused beam. Products are thus built up by progressively adding material, one layer at a time: hence the technology’s other name, additive manufacturing. Eventually the object in question—a spare part for your car, a lampshade, a violin—pops out. The beauty of the technology is that it does not need to happen in a factory. Small items can be made by a machine like a desktop printer, in the corner of an office, a shop or even a house; big items—bicycle frames, panels for cars, aircraft parts—need a larger machine, and a bit more space.

Healthcare just got (a tad) less expensive

Apparently there is an easy at home cure for tennis elbow which will run you all of $20 instead of expensive treatment hours with a specialist.

While this will probably only lower the nations healthcare bill by some %0.001 or something, whatever new healthcare system we get should be encouraging discovery and development of techniques such as these.  I’m not sure the current proposals on offer do anything to encourage innovation of this type.  Unfortunate.

From the New York Times:

Phys Ed: An Easy Fix for Tennis Elbow?

By Gretchen Reynolds

August 25, 2009, 11:54 pm
In a medical advance inspired by recessionary thinking, researchers from the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City announced last month that they’ve developed an effective and supremely cheap treatment for chronic tennis elbow. Huddling a while back to brainstorm about inexpensive methods for combating the injury, the scientists glanced around their offices and noticed a homely, low-tech rubber bar, about 8 inches long, which, at the time, was being used for general physical therapy programs. The researchers wondered whether the ribbed, pliable bars, available for less than $20, might be re-purposed to treat tennis elbow. The answer, it soon become clear, was a resounding yes. ….

See full article

Prepare to Pay More for Tires

The Obama administration decided on September 11th to put steep tariffs on China tires.  The measure was at the behest of the US Steelworkers Union and, notably, opposed by the US tire industry.

The rationale was not a specific accusation of dumping or market manipulation, but rather a “safeguard” clause which seems to apply only to China as a condition of their entry into the WTO.  Under the safeguard provision, American companies or workers harmed by imports from China can ask the government for protection simply by demonstrating that American producers have suffered a “market disruption” or a “surge” in imports from China.

Hmm.  So according to this “safeguard clause”, if the Chinese develop near zero cost solar panels then while the rest of the world enjoys almost free energy, our solar panel producers will have the right to say no you have to buy our panels instead and pay X times the amount of dirty coal for your energy.  Which means we would still be using coal for most of our energy, spewing out pollution, and still paying more for our energy.

Hypothetical example yes, but at the margins these policies mean our consumers will suffer.  And these consumers include industries who consume tariffed goods, meaning they will be less competitive, less profitable, and employ less workers.

Read more on tire tariffs.


It rained hard the night of September 10, 2001.  My friend Tim and I went to see Apocalypse Now Redux at the Astoria, New York City’s largest theater.  The rain was torrential and we ran along 44th Street from awning to awning to get to our destination.  The inside of the theater was over air-conditioned as NYC theaters often are.  To keep warm we covered our arms with napkins.  Apocalypse Now was one of our favorite movies — we often spoke together in lines from it — but Redux is real long and I fell asleep at parts.  By the time we left, the rains had stopped.  I took the bus, but Tim insisted on walking. With his long strides and the post-rain congestion, he keep pace for quite a while.

When I woke up the next day, my thoughts were dominated by the proposal I was to give that Friday at Schering-Plough.  I was working at a company called Cysive, an internet development consulting firm born of the dotcom era and destined  to die with it.  Already the bust had set in, and projects were sparse.  I hadn’t worked on anything since joining the firm in December and this represented a huge opportunity for the office.

My commute involved riding the 1/9 train down from 72nd Street to South Ferry.  Our office was at 17 State Street, on the tip of Manhattan right next to the building which looks like a tin can.  I often hopped on the express from 72nd Street to Chambers but don’t recall if I did that day.  We arrived at the Cortlandt Street– World Trade Center station and everyone got off normally.  But then there was some shouting.  I thought I heard someone yell “HE’S GOT A GUN”.  People rushed back onto the train, then things calmed down and about half of the returnees got off again.  I didn’t think much of it  – this was after all New York.  It was about 8:50.

My first real inkling that something unusual had happened was when I got out of the South Ferry Station and saw I had several messages.  One call was from Karla, my former girlfriend.  After three years together, we had broken up earlier in the summer.  I was on a low minutes plan so was gonna wait till I got to the office to listen to the messages.  When I arrived, a couple of my co-workers, Peter and Sunil and my boss Pat immediately greeted me with the news that there was a fire or something in the World Trade Center, maybe caused by a small plane crash.  Their description didn’t seem like a major world event, and I now had another thing on my mind besides the proposal — that I really needed to go to the bathroom.

The bathroom in our building was in the middle of the building and the concrete gave the sense of a bomb shelter.  I passed a few minutes, gave the toilet a big flush, then returned to the office.  Again I was greeted with news but this time with much more urgency.  There had been a big explosion at the World Trade Center (I had heard absolutely nothing in the bathroom).  Slowly the Schering proposal’s urgency began to recede.

We went downstairs and people were milling around, agitated.  Some were crying.  I remember hugging some black woman.  But I didn’t understand the tears yet.

We started walking up Broadway.  I remember being with Pat and Lloyd Bacani.   I was thinking of Karla, who worked in the World Financial Center.  As we passed the Fidelity office, I could see that on the television Bush was speaking and it had been confirmed a terrorist attack.  Paper was strewn everywhere and was still floating down from the heavens like confetti.  There were other items intermingled: pictures, personal items, a shoe (this being New York I wondered whether it was from the towers or had been there already).

We reached the corner of Liberty Street and stopped.  Before us stood the towers.  Both with huge black smoking holes edged with a ring of fire.  The atmosphere was calm.  Police, people all stood looking up in shock.  There was no crying, hardly any talking I could even recall.  Just shock.  To see something so iconic, so expected, so everyday to the eyes of a New Yorker suddenly in a state so unthinkable was, well,  shocking.

It was even more personal for me because I had worked in both towers: during college as an intern at Shearson Lehman Hutton on the 102nd Floor of Tower 1, and on the 95-96th Floor of Tower 2 in 1993-94 at Sumitomo Bank (before I left them they had moved the office to 277 Park because of the earlier Trade Center bombing).  And I had friends working there too.  I had worked as a consultant at Marsh and McClennan several years back.  At the time their office was in midtown, but several mergers later and they were on my old 96th floor of Tower Two.  I had talked with my old boss, Sue Clyne, about a year earlier about a consulting assignment with them, but nothing had come of it.  As it turned out, Sue was already dead.  The other person I thought about was Jim, another consultant I had become close to during my stint and Marsh.  Luckily, he had been late that morning and saw the events from the Jersey side.

As we stood there, shocked, someone jumped.  It was in the distance, but he seemed a somewhat heavyset man in a yellow shirt.  In my mind I picture John Candy.  I think I heard him scream.  The shock was broken and the crowd cried out in horror.  I now understood the crying.

After about twenty minutes, Lloyd looked at me, forlorn, and said let’s go back.  I nodded.  I still thought we’d give our presentation of Friday and the proposal began to again grip my thoughts.  But not for long.  We hadn’t gone two or three blocks back down Broadway when we heard I giant crash.  Another plane?  But we had heard all planes had been grounded right?  People were running panicked and yelling.  Then came the big brown rumbling cloud of brown smoke from the first fallen tower.  I was still young and in good shape and as I cantered away at 3/4 speed, I felt the strength of my legs and disdain  for the smoke cloud I knew I could outrun and all those caught behind.  But then the smoke came around the block  and was before us as well.  We were trapped.  In the seconds in took to enclose us I wondered whether I would be able to breath or would it suffocate us.

The smoke closed around me and suddenly everything was white and I was alone, not being able to see more than a few feet in front of my.  I made my way to the left side of the street then groped my way along it.  There was a woman in front of me in a skirt also tottering along.  I reached the entrance of the building and entered.  It had a large open atrium where a crowd was taking refuge.  A lone janitor was trying to tell people they couldn’t stay and at one point opened a door to try to usher people out before he was angrily shouted down.

I made my way to the lobby kiosk.  It was attended by an Indian lady who was crying and giving out tissues.  I wondered if anyone grouped her with the terrorists.  I wondered if she wondered that and was crying out of sorrow or fear or both.

I spent about half an hour in the building.  The staff was giving out masks but becoming more adamant that people couldn’t stay.  Anyway the air was clearing.  I made my way back down to our office and met my colleagues outside.  Already there was bitter jest about I don’t remember what and we had adjusted to our circumstances.  When we heard the second tower fall, we barely looked up.  The air began to thicken again, though, so we headed  to the shelter in the building basement.

After about another half hour, we returned to our office where we got on the Internet, emailed headquarters we were alright, and tried to contact our loved ones.  I had an emotional message from my sister asking if I were alright.  I couldn’t reach her but left a message.   Karla called me from a pay phone she had stopped at on her way home.  There was a big line.  She was distraught.  Her office was right near the towers and she had seen many people jump.  She had taken refuge in a church or something near my office for a while but had gotten trampled, and though she didn’t know it yet, had broken her foot.  She said she was heading home.  I thought of going up there to make sure she was alright.

We passed some time in the office on the Net.  Outside our building ambulances began to line up.  As it turned out they had little to do.  It was a mostly binary event.

It must have been 2 or 3 when Peter and I decided to leave the office and try to walk home to my aparment on West 82nd Street.  The subways were all stopped so it would have been a long trek to his apartment in Brooklyn.  We set out up through Battery Park City determined to walk past the towers from along the water.  Battery Park City looked like a war zone, covered in white chalky dust everywhere.  We hardly passed a soul, but as we made our way to the walkway along the water we were stopped by police.  They told us we couldn’t go through, and worse, that we had to get on a boat and get ferried over to Jersey.  When we objected, they said either get on the boat or get arrested.  We got on the boat.

The boat had its share of personalities.  An old Irish lady and her daughter.  The lady was having an anxiety attack and quietly murmuring about getting her medicines.  Some drunk guy kept saying “parking lot, parking lot”, meaning that’s what we should turn the Arab Middle East into and that Palestinians were celebrating in the streets.  He kept throwing beer cans into the river which struck me as somewhat less than patriotic.  No one else shared his anger and at least one quietly whispered to me how silly he thought the things he was saying.

The boat made its way to the center of the Hudson.  We were in the midst of a perfect late summer day, temperatures in the 70s, hardly a cloud in the sky… except for the huge brown smoke clouds around the towers.  It reminded me of the pictures of smoking ships at Pearl Harbor.  While we were on the water I reached my dad and he gave me the latest about the other attacks and rumors of planes still unaccounted for.

For some reason our boat wasn’t getting permission to land at Jersey City so they told us they’d try for midtown, which was fine with us, but that was disallowed too, so we ended up at Weehawken.  There we were given the opportunity to ride buses to Giants Stadium, which we politely ignored.  Luckily we were able to get a ride back to Manhattan from a ferry boat whose captain didn’t seem to care much.  Besides us the only one heading that way was a photographer who had been in town to cover a fashion show and found himself photographing the attacks instead.

When we got to midtown, contrary to our expectations, empty cabs were lined up waiting for passengers.  We got in with a Nigerian driver who laughlingly told us about how he couldn’t get into Manhattan from the Bronx and how his silly supervisor wouldn’t cut him any slack despite the extraordinary circumstances.  Reminded me of the janitors in the building still stuck in everyday mode.

We got to my aparment and I reached my sister.  She asked me for a nearby pharmacy so she could get me an antibiotics prescription just in case the planes had been carrying anything.

Peter and I went to the drugstore on 79th Street, then sat down for dinner outside at Cafe con Leche on Amsterdam Ave.  Everyone was on their cellphones, reassuring friends and loved ones and relating events.  The voices were calm and measured — very un-New York.

The trains were running again so Peter went home.  I heard volunteers were needed so that night I rode my bike downtown but was stopped at 14th Street and told this was not the case.  This repeated.  In the aftermath, the desire to help out far exceeded the need.

The next few days were muddled.  The air quality downtown was bad so we all stayed home.  Emails came from near and far, particularly Japan where I have friends.

A couple of weeks later I did the annual New York Cycle Club Escape New York century ride.  Its name took on added significance.  There we exchanged wild stories such as that of someone who had been on the roof of the towers and floated down on a metal plate.

At karaoke, someone chose New York New York and everyone sang from the heart.

Marsh and McClennan had a memorial service and we recalled many who had died.  Besides Sue I wasn’t particularly close to any of them, but I remembered their faces, their mannerisms.  Someone told how a couple of them stuck in the towers had been on the phone, saying how they were desperately trying to use wet paper towels to keep the smoke from coming thru the door.

The events of 9/11 dominated most every conversation for weeks and it was several months before I recalled spending a whole day where it didn’t come up.  New York was a different place in the aftermath.  People were soft-spoken — you could feel a reserve, and sympathy in much greater degree than usual.  People gave each other the benefit of the doubt.  I guess it had been brought home to us, on a very elemental level, that there were things much more important, and terrible, than the petty jostling and conflicts of our everyday lives.  We had survived, and were wiser.

Obama’s Health Care Proposals

I didn’t listen to the speech, but here’s an analysis by a friend of mine who studies healthcare for a living.

From Healthcare Economist

Obama’s Health Care Speech Critique

September 9, 2009 in Current Events, Public Policy

Today, President Obama made a speech calling for healthcare reform. To sum up, Obama is proposing:

  • creating a health insurance exchange,
  • an individual mandate,
  • guaranteed renewability of health insurance,
  • subsidies for individuals and small businesses to purchase insurance, and
  • public option/co-op.

Below are some highlights from the speech [with my comments in brackets].

…..[see whole post]

Idiotic Sex Offender Laws

While the Philip Garrido’s of the world are able to hide kidnap victims for years, precious resources are wasted on supposed sex offenders like the 17-year described below, who on the suggestion of a classmate gave him a blowjob during a movie in a darkened classroom.  This New York Times article describes the resource problem:

“The sheer numbers of sex offenders on the registries in all 50 states — an estimated 674,000 across the country — are overwhelming to local police departments and, at times, to the public, who may not easily distinguish between those who must register because they have repeatedly raped children and those convicted of nonviolent or less serious crimes, like exposing themselves in public.”

Its time to distinguish between people who are an actual danger to society and those who are just victims of idiotic laws.  Law enforcement and community resources should be concentrated on the former and not wasted tracking the latter.

More from the Economist (full article here):

Unjust and ineffective

Aug 6th 2009 | HARLEM, GEORGIA
From The Economist print edition

ONE day in 1996 the lights went off in a classroom in Georgia so that the students could watch a video. Wendy Whitaker, a 17-year-old pupil at the time, was sitting near the back. The boy next to her suggested that, since it was dark, she could perform oral sex on him without anyone noticing. She obliged. And that single teenage fumble wrecked her life.

Her classmate was three weeks shy of his 16th birthday. That made Ms Whitaker a criminal. She was arrested and charged with sodomy, which in Georgia can refer to oral sex. She met her court-appointed lawyer five minutes before the hearing. He told her to plead guilty. She did not really understand what was going on, so she did as she was told.

She was sentenced to five years on probation. Not being the most organised of people, she failed to meet all the conditions, such as checking in regularly with her probation officer. For a series of technical violations, she was incarcerated for more than a year, in the county jail, the state women’s prison and a boot camp. “I was in there with people who killed people. It’s crazy,” she says.

She finished her probation in 2002. But her ordeal continues. Georgia puts sex offenders on a public registry. Ms Whitaker’s name, photograph and address are easily accessible online, along with the information that she was convicted of “sodomy”. The website does not explain what she actually did. But since it describes itself as a list of people who have “been convicted of a criminal offence against a victim who is a minor or any dangerous sexual offence”, it makes it sound as if she did something terrible to a helpless child. She sees people whispering, and parents pulling their children indoors when she walks by.

(full article)

More on Clunkers

Another good perspective on clunkers and indeed any evaluation of an economic policy, i.e., you gotta consider the opportunity cost.  And a reference at the end to Bastiat‘s Parable of the broken window.  See the full article here.

Did Cash For Clunkers Work?
By Matthew Bandyk
On Thursday August 20, 2009, 4:46 pm EDT

At Slate’s Big Money, Matthew DeBord declares that cash-for-clunkers (and the broader auto bailout) is victorious:

The U.S. industrial economy is moving again. Workers are going back to work. Consumers are able to buy large and expensive forms of personal transportation, into which they will put gasoline provided by giant international oil companies. Loans are being made. Money is changing hands. In the real economy, not the elite casino located in Bubbleville, aka Lower Manhattan.

…Maybe what’s good for General Motors, and the rest of the U.S. auto industry, is still good for the United States.

But wait a minute–the fact that money is exchanging hands does not immediately lead to the conclusion that these programs are good for the economy. continue…