My Zunivers

31 October 2008

Cute Things The Kid Has Been Doing

And let me preface by saying... no, I don't think she is the only kid to ever do these things.

She's now walking, and can take herself to her chair for supper, or to her bedroom for bedtime. That lets me do things like cook and gather books to read before bed.

She is willing to fall asleep with me around once again. In fact, when she has been fed and watered and her mother isn't around (like last Thursday night, or Sunday afternoon), she is quite happy to fall over on me and take a nap. And as long as I'm gentle she is happy to stay asleep after I drop her somewhere else.

What do sheep say? "Bah!"

Current song motions, sometimes spontaneously performed, especially at dinner, include "Da Moose," "I'm a Little Teapot," and "Itsy Bitsy Spider" (minus the dihedral rotation part). These are sometimes conflated, and frequently occur during the course supper.

Current body part vocabulary includes knees, hair, bellies, elbows, heads, ears, feet, toes, tongue, mouth, teeth, and nose. Diaper, ceiling, and floor also seem to have gotten mixed in as body parts. We're working on cheeks, forehead, hands, fingers, and the still elusive eyes. I threw in hip tonight for good measure.

Foods of note include sausage, beef, chicken, potatoes, and bananas. At the grocery store, the kid sits in the shopping cart and points happily to the bananas, feet swinging excitedly, and says "Eee? Eee? Eee?" When I fed her sausage last week on Thursday, she couldn't get enough of it. Tonight the pork was tough and she puked from having too much in her mouth. She will reluctantly eat soft vegetables if fed to her, but doesn't much like picking them up on her own. She pleaded for more brown rice tonight, and I even helped her use her spoon herself. (I recently gave up on letting her eat rice by hand, so I figured the time to start spoon training was before we got used to the rice staying off the floor.) She seems more attracted to savory than sweet, but she makes me share my ice cream.

Books end up in my lap constantly. I finally have a reason I can publicly declare for not working at home. At my office I am not asked to stop what I am doing and read the same books over and over and over and over and over and over....

Some of the neighbors have dogs. When The Kid hears a peep of noise form the hall outside our apartment, she looks to the door, sometimes pointing, and starts making dog noises.

If it has four legs, it is currently a dog in The Kid's mind. We spent some time tonight looking at the Wikipedia page for sheep, and her dog sound demeanor did change from "Look at the puppies!!!" to "I think that's a puppy? But Daddy is saying 'baaaaa'? So how can I tell sheep and dogs apart?" The book "Duck and His Friends" is proving helpful as well.

Speaking of kids books, I've found one or two good ones. "Bear Snores On" has introduced me to the world of Bear, Hare, Mouse, Badger, and all the friends. I like the book because it builds a good bit of tension. Happily, I have found that there are other books in the Bear series, and they all have similarly nice plot twists. I've also met the DK "my first abc board book" which has a picture of a teddy bear ("Bowowowow!"), sheep ("Bowowowow!"), bear ("Bowowowow!"), rabbit ("Bowowowow!"), cow ("Bowowowow!"), kangaroo ("Bowowowow!"), lion ("Bowowowow!"), tiger("Bowowowow!"), camel ("Bowowowow!"), and fox ("Bowowowow!" but I'll give her that one).

The Kid met winter weather. We had an incredibly nice graupel shower and I took the kid outside to catch some rime ice pellets. That was fun.

Me: [calling to my wife in the bedroom the apartment] "We're going outside to see the graupel!"

Wifey: "The what? It's cold outside! Put the baby's pants on!"

Me: "She doesn't need pants! I'll hold her!"

It was fun. We got to stick our hands out and feel the graupel, and we got to taste it, and we got to feel the wind on our faces. The kid loves getting into bed with me in the mornings to wake me up because I have a fan running. She stands up next to me while I'm lying in the bed, leans over me facing the fan, and then throws herself backwards onto her backside and giggles furiously. It's enough to keep me from being annoyed at fellow human presence while I've still got melatonin in circulation.

Tonight the kid helped me put her pajamas on. That was weird. I helped get the shorts started over her backside diaper bump, but she did most of the pulling. Then I put the shirt over her head, and she tried her best to finish. She got it pulled down a good bit and even got one arm almost through the right armhole. I'm waiting for her to realize there is more fun to be had in trying to make sure this, and other things in which she is compliant, are made more difficult rather than less.

Peek-a-boo is fading, but there is still dancing going on. Any upbeat music will inspire it.

I'm due to break out the camera and take a few more pictures.

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29 October 2008

The Phillies

Finally won the world series!

My guess? Because I had a kid :) The last time was the first season after I was born.

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Presidential Polls

So what's the big deal with this constant reporting of the changes in the poll results? Sure, the numbers are moving around a little day to day. But I don't see the numbers moving in steps greater than the poll accuracy. If a margin of error is +/- 3 points, unsustained changes of fewer than 3 points are pretty much meaningless. For one sampling, there is no way to distinguish a real change of that size from an accidental change due to using a different sample.

Sadly, the commentators who sit around saying "Hey, that's just statistical scatter and doesn't mean anything" get bumped off the TV pretty quickly. That's not news, that's book learnin'. In their place we find people who fill hours of news time talking about how that one point drop for McCain was because of some speech he gave, or that extra point today for Obama was because some segment of the population is ignoring what Biden said getting into his car yesterday.

Irrelevant.

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28 October 2008

Another Paper

My fourth paper was published today. I was a data gopher, only working on that project on the side while I worked on my real project. (My real project is unpublishable, unless some kind soul from our collaboration decides to pick it up and wants to thank me for saving months of research time showing what does not work. That or if I pick it back up someday.)

In true nerd form, I celebrated by opening all four of my e-mail inboxes at the same time. I was saving that one for a really special occasion.

24 October 2008

Baseball Meets Medicine

[This post has been edited because I realized that I hadn't completed one or two thoughts.]

What do you get when you mix Newt Gingrich, John Kerry, Billy Beane, and the New York Times? You get something about health care that makes sense.

Data-driven baseball has produced surprising results. Michael Lewis writes in “Moneyball” that the Oakland A’s have won games and division titles at one-sixth the cost of the most profligate teams. This season, the New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers and New York Mets — the three teams with the highest payrolls, a combined $486 million — are watching the playoffs on television, while the Tampa Bay Rays, a franchise that uses a data-driven approach and has the second-lowest payroll in baseball at $44 million, are in the World Series (a sad reality for one of us).

Remarkably, a doctor today can get more data on the starting third baseman on his fantasy baseball team than on the effectiveness of life-and-death medical procedures. Studies have shown that most health care is not based on clinical studies of what works best and what does not — be it a test, treatment, drug or technology. Instead, most care is based on informed opinion, personal observation or tradition.


That last part is true. I could give you a good number of examples from myself and my family and friends, but I'll give you the most recent. My wife has had a bum thyroid for years, and she recently had two tests of her thyroid hormones. The results fall outside the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists guidelines for what is considered normal levels for thyroid hormones. My wife's doctor doesn't much care, however, because in medical school my wife's doctor learned different numbers. Compared to those numbers my wife's results are normal. When my wife told her that the results were not within the definition of normal updated by recent research, her doctor's solution was to tell my wife to see an endocrinologist.

This whole situation is a complete waste of resources. If my wife's doctor would be in touch with reality, she would accept that since the time she was in medical school there has been new research and that the new research resulted in new guidelines. Instead, nothing at all will happen without our insurance company wasting at least $150 for at least one visit to a specialist. Beyond that, we live in a small town that is not bursting at the seams with endocrinologists, so to see one we will need to travel, which costs us. And beyond even that, there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of people whose story starts just like my wife's and ends with a series of endocrinologists ignoring the new research, endorsed by their own professional organization, and using old guidelines to decide, based on their opinion and experience, that there is nothing wrong.

It's money, money, and more money going down the drain while people still get poor care.

I'm not saying that doctors do not care about their patients. I'm certainly not saying doctors should throw away their experience. I am asking them to be flexible enough to realize that medicine is a living, breathing discipline. Doctors should stop using their experience to make their own decisions about the validity of new research and instead focus on applying their experience in the deployment of new results and recommendations. If experience is used to evaluate new research based on whether it matches the past, it will simply reject a lot of new research and never advance. But what we now, or at any time, know as best practice might be informed by research with small samples, or have missed some factor in screening the control group, or be incomplete because of a physiological process we have not yet discovered. If experience is used to properly implement new research into action, we can then get somewhere better than where we are.

I cannot speak for what doctors do to keep track of medical advances, but many of my own doctors in the past did not seem to know more about my health problems than what I know from reading and watching the news. Can't they do better?

To begin, I would like to know if countries with better overall health for less money, such as in Europe, are better because of their socialized system covers more people or because their doctors (because of or in spite of the system, whichever it is) stay in touch with medical advances. Everyone I know who discusses health care systems in different countries gets political and discusses the former, but we could learn more from the latter. Of course, political punditry outside politics is a hobby of the masses. Science punditry is the realm of involved professionals and those of us who aren't afraid of nerds and words who stick our noses into it anyway. So I'm not saying we need to get Americans interested in how European doctors continue their education. I am saying that policy makers need to remember the potential importance of nerds and words above political rhetoric.

Some good solid statistical analysis might be a good start. It could improve health care and save money.

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23 October 2008

Impulse Buying

I went to the water fountain near my office today to fill my water bottle. I do this a few times each day, and for a while I've been watching how other people use the fountain. (It is also along the way to the restrooms, the locker room, other people's offices, the loading dock/building kitchen, and so on. I go by it at least twice as often as I go to it.) I've noticed some things that seemed normal, but I had a thought that surprised me.

Most of the users do not fill a bottle, they stop for a direct drink. That wasn't a surprise, based on experience seeing people using water fountains.

When people come to the water fountain they usually drink fewer than six ounces of water. I'm not surprised about the small amounts of water I see consumed. People don't need a lot of water (the "eight glasses a day" myth has an interesting history).

A lot of the people seem to be stopping on the way form one place to another. I am not too surprised. That is efficient.

What did surprise me is a thought that maybe-- maybe-- some of these people had no intention of getting water when they set out on whatever path they were taking to do what they did plan to do. For some people it might be a habit to get a drink there every day when they leave the building or go to the restrooms. For others, it might be something more like making an impulse purchase at a store. The person sets out on a task-- go to the main office to drop off mail, go to the restroom, go to the library-- and only upon seeing the water fountain decides to have what the water fountain offers.

So how many people are stopping by because they planned, and how many out of habit, and how many on impulse? Is there any way to measure this without screwing up the results? Any starving social science grad students out there who want to do a literature search and, if nothing turns up, design a study?

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20 October 2008

This Just In...

I found my headphones in a box that I hadn't unpacked!

Did I finish unpacking? No, that would be too easy. I put everything back into the box and put the box back into the closet.

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18 October 2008

Welcome to the Weekend

I've been kind of bored lately. There's some stuff on my mind, and some other stuff on my mind, and some other stuff on my mind. And that other stuff, too. You see, that's what's so annoying about it. It's not that I can't talk about it, it's that I shouldn't. It's simply not stuff to post on a blog. And when I have a lot on my mind, I get bored, because I don't think about anything else, and I need to think to prevent boredom.

On the other hand, I hope that Penn State can hand Michigan a licking tomorrow. Or maybe the other way around? It would be satisfying to live through the local frenzy if the Bitty Wittle Wions have a good season. It would be a different thing to see the Bitty Wittle Wion fans forced to eat their humble pie. So I have hope for the game to simply turn out. That's encouraging, because I can't lose. Let's ignore that I also can't win.

Switching gears, I need to find some good way to listen to music. My headphones disappeared when we moved. Granted, they're probably just in a box I haven't unpacked. But until I have those, I can't waste batteries listening to loud music on the portable CD player. Music is something that makes me feel... satisfied? My favorite music does something to make me feel better. With a sleeping baby and no headphones, I can't really listen to it.

Speaking of music, I just heard the Queen song The Millionaire Waltz tonight, for the first time in a long while. Good stuff, that, what with the guitar solo and its hints of Winnie the Pooh singing his part as a little black raincloud.

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15 October 2008

Speaking of Rants

This rant is a rant after my own heart (or something just as catchy sounding that actually makes sense). It can't be mined for quotes because it's one giant quotable.

The only thing I want to point out is that in the third paragraph (the one after the first quote) I think the author, Bob Herbert, either made a writing mistake or has no understanding of sarcasm.

The idea that the U.S. won’t even properly develop the skills of young people who could perform at the highest intellectual levels is breathtaking — breathtakingly stupid, that is.

The entire paragraph is one sentence, with "idea" as the subject and then a bunch of crap before the verb "is." Based on context of the article, I think Herbert meant for the noun clause ("that the U. S. ... levels") to be the subject of the sentence, not the word "idea." If you simply drop the words "The idea" and re-read the sentence, you'll see what I'm thinking he really meant to say. I don't think he's saying the idea that we do not teach properly is stupid, which would mean that he thinks it is stupid to suggest that we do not teach math. I think that he's trying to say that we're stupid for not teaching math properly, which fits well with the theme of things not being done properly. If you can come up with some other explanation for the wording, let me know.

As I have alluded, this is only a jumping-off point for the rest of the article, which talks about missing questions that matter, infrastructure, health care, wealth distribution, media incompetence, and a little No Child Left Behind thrown in at the end for good measure. It is incoherent on the surface yet has a theme that you cannot quite articulate. That is ranting at its finest. So go read it.

What the heck!

I didn't say keep reading this post! I said go read the darn New York Times!

Geeesh!

If I had a proverbial dollar for every time someone I know who reads a post here claims not to have time to read the real newspaper, I'd be able to buy some crazy cool proverbial crap. The fact is that I don't actually have any of those dollars because they're proverbial. And newspapers will make you a better person than I ever will. So read them. Please. If you don't, you're just part of the problem that inspired the column that got me to write this post which got us to this point in the first place. Apathy is a vicious cycle.

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13 October 2008

Almost Enough?

My local congressional candidates weigh in on health care.

The Democrat and the Republican both jaw on about insurance coverage and government doing this or that to help people have it. The Libertarian, on the other hand, seems to have a handle, even if only implicitly, on the problem of insurance masking heath care costs and making them unmanageable.

Jim Fryman, Libertarian

There are many problems with our method of paying for health care but the health care itself is good in spite of the insurance problems. The federal government should not take over health care or health care insurance; it would only make things worse.

One part is tort reform. We have to allow judges to overrule excessive jury awards to keep down the cost of defensive medicine and we must consider all options, including banning the sale of health insurance except for catastrophic expenses.


Health care in this country is good, but paying for it is the problem, he says. Exactly! Tort reform? Yes, it's needed, not to cover up negligence but to let negligence be negligence while letting medicine that didn't work simply be medicine that didn't work. And he says that banning insurance except for catastrophic expenses-- in other words making it really be insurance-- is an option. That's one I have been saying for years, and I've never before heard it from someone running for a state or federal office. (There is a lot I don't hear, I admit.)

Obviously we're voting for congress member, not health care representative. But unless he's nuts in other ways, I can vote for that. Where can I get some campaign buttons?

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12 October 2008

Schadenfreude

In the past two weeks I've had a chance to catch up with a few friends and otherwise from The Worst Church on earth, which I attended for a year when I was going to the affiliated Worst Private School (until I got pneumonia and had to drop out, proving to me that there is a loving God). This place was conservative legalism central and had no respect for me. Likewise, I'll take on a pen of angry pigs before going back there again. It might smell worse but it couldn't possibly hurt as much.

Anyway, the kids were only as deeply involved in all of that as kids can be, so I decided to get in touch with these people since I had found them. I've noted a few fun things about this group of former school-and-church mates....

Many of them who had higher education ended up at Pensacola, Bob Jones, or Liberty. Some of them never managed to move away from those places.

What about one of the two guys who epitomized my problems with the kids there? Oh, yeah. We had the most amiable conversation so far in our lives. He done become grown up finally! He is married, has two kids, and is following his dad's path of starting a business. (His dad was the CEO of a major corporation once upon a time.)

The internet shows me that these people have loosened up to an extent that should make their judgmental legalistic parents cry. I've seen beer, R rated movies, and even references to-- horrors!-- rock and roll music. I sure hope their parents don't know. Of course, most of the kids are far enough from home that they are not affiliated with that church anymore, so maybe in their adulthood they've been corrupted a little? If true, good for them, I say.

It's neat to see grown up versions of people you knew for a year in middle school. They've become nurses, accountants, laborers, entrepreneurs, and other cool things. I've found that I'm the only PhD out of the lot. God forgive me if that makes me arrogant. (I guess more properly I should say "God forgive me if it feeds the still existing arrogance over the fact that I was from day one crushing the academic egos of the historical top echelon of the school.")

The cheerleader who sat behind me in homeroom and wanted to be my girlfriend? She's now married and apparently happy. I've always wanted to apologize for being unkind to her during that situation. I should apologize to myself, too. My meanness defused her so swiftly that most of the class outside the cheerleaders and my gossip stringers never knew. It was only a few years later that one of my friends pointed out that a nerd passing up a cheerleader is a nerd passing up a mountain of social capital large enough to remain even after he gets dumped. For the record, she was and is neither buxom nor blond. And honey-- I'm waaaaay over her.

Hey, these backwards people's kids figured out the internet in 2007! Good for them! I bet they saw computers for the first time around 1998 when they went to college, and finding the internet took only another five or so years from there.

No matter what they thought of me back then, they're all at least kind enough to say hello now. (I count accepting a Facebook friend request as talking.) Heck, they probably don't even remember what they thought of me back then. I'm the crazy social connector initializing contact with my past like a wannabe stalker on bad mushrooms. I mean, what would you do if some random large guy with a beard said "Hey, for thirteen weeks in 1992 I think we ate lunch together at school. If you are who I'm thinking about, you had a dog named Tigger and you lived in Delaware County all your life until you moved to Honey Brook in 1990." You either say "I remember him!" or "Hey, that's me... and who is this freak who knows so much about my life?" I remember people easily, but I don't expect anyone else to do the same.

So, fun times. And just a little Schadenfreude.

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11 October 2008

A Basic Economics Lesson

From the AP of all places.

Trillions in stock market value — gone. Trillions in retirement savings — gone. A huge chunk of the money you paid for your house, the money you're saving for college, the money your boss needs to make payroll — gone, gone, gone.

Whether you're a stock broker or Joe Six-pack, if you have a 401(k), a mutual fund or a college savings plan, tumbling stock markets and sagging home prices mean you've lost a whole lot of the money that was right there on your account statements just a few months ago.

But if you no longer have that money, who does? The fat cats on Wall Street? Some oil baron in Saudi Arabia? The government of China?

Or is it just — gone?


I know that some of my readers don't know this stuff, so it's worth their reading this article.

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10 October 2008

Creation of a What?

I've added a link on the sidebar to a blog I found a few months ago, Mike Beidler's The Creation of an Evolutionist. People who grew up as young earth creationists and who later "jumped ark" so to speak will find a lot in common with him, especially reading the Step in the Journey series that he has on his sidebar.

Of particular interest to me are the posts mid-late in the series on John Walton's reading of Genesis 1. I haven't read any of Walton's work, I just have it second and third hand. I should fix that. But what I've heard seems to me to be based on a good understanding of both ancient near eastern thought patterns and ancient near eastern thoughts. I've seen a lot of people make attempts to harmonize Genesis 1 with scientific observations by correctly using the both/and sort of approach in the ancient near eastern thinking, but I find that lacking when it pays more attention to putting modern ideas into that approach than in putting in the ideas the people in the ancient near east would have used within that approach. In other words, it sometimes seems like people today correctly identify the hermeneutical camel but go on feed it gasoline because it's mental transportation instead of water because it's a camel. (That example makes sense to me anyway....)

Go forth and read.

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07 October 2008

Creative Arts

A news story about creativity and mood disorders.

Terence Ketter is professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Stanford University.

Ketter and his colleagues compared a healthy control group with bipolar patients, depression patients, and a control group of graduate students in writing and the arts.

They found that people with bipolar disorder scored better -- up to about 50 percent higher -- on creativity tests than the healthy control group. The creative control group had about the same increase in score relative to the healthy control group.

But more research is needed, says Ketter. The study does not explain the connection or show a causal relationship, he said.


This article isn't terribly informative for anyone who spends time in academia, where neuroticism abounds in many forms and occasionally some creativity comes through. But there is one thing that cheeses me off about people who study "creativity"-- an obsession with arts. Scientists get left out of a lot of the research on creativity, and I think that is a mistake. Parts of analyzing human creativity are going to be lost if entire classes of creative people are systematically ignored because they don't fit into some paint splattering endlessly blathering Shakespeare loving hoity-toity artsy-fartsy mold. Yes, scientists are a creative lot. No, they are not artists. If that doesn't make sense to you, you need a brain realignment.

Of course, given the Science Wars and such, most scientists are perfectly happy to be left out of the discussion. Can we just all get along, maybe?

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05 October 2008

Speaking of Fuzz

My kid is in this fuzzy area between being able to walk and not being able to walk. How many steps are needed in order to count? Must the trip end with some stability? Do half sideways steps count? How big must the steps be? Is a "step" the motion of one foot in front of the other, or the motion of one foot in front of the other and then the other in front of the one foot?

Friday the kid took a single step twice, once ending up on her rear end and once ending with her arms on the sofa (preventing her face from falling into it). Saturday evening the kid took two half sideways steps and then sat down. Today she was standing, took three little steps, and remained upright at the end.

Is anyone going to say this isn't walking or can I stop watching her every move for you?

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October Surprise

George Bush sings U2?

Hilarious.

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03 October 2008

Hyperforeignism

It's real. But wacky. I mispronounce some of the French words mentioned while I am speaking English, but not while I am speaking French.

When I'm in "English mode" I don't want to pronounce French words as the French do. For one, it leads people to think I'm haughty (which is true, but why flaunt it?*). For another, French has some pretty weird sounds. And too often people "correct" me, which is perfectly right of them. Nobody said that words from language X absorbed into language Y must be pronounced as in language X by speakers of language Y. Well, someone who told me that Sartre doesn't have an "r" at the end once told me that, irony of linguistic ironies. But really, the ability to understand, especially spoken language, is what makes the language, not some set of rules. I try to pronounce personal names of foreigners as they pronounce them for themselves, and welcome them to the English way of mutilating it on everything else.

If you need help with the phonetic alphabet, there's been a link link over on the sidebar for years....

[* Yeah, I have a blog. For cryin' out loud let me make some jokes, okay?]

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02 October 2008

A Video

Jon Stewart speaks his mind, which includes some of mine. It gets better as it goes along. I dare you to watch the whole thing and then tell me that humor isn't a good way to tell the truth.

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Goodbye Shea Stadium

This is too good to pass up.

La Guardia is one of the few airports in the country where pilots use land markers instead of instruments to guide their landings, along with Seattle (a shopping mall) and Washington (a river). Shea Stadium, which from the sky looks like a blue circle with a green center, is a primary runway guidepost. For one of the more common landing routes, pilots are instructed to follow the Long Island Expressway until they arrive at the eastern side of the stadium, at which point they bank the plane left around the outfield wall and head straight for Runway 31.

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01 October 2008

You've Probably Been Wondering

I've been pretty quiet about this economic thing, save for a draft of this post that I sent to friend. Now revised, you get to read it.

I would be happy for the government to drop a trillion dollars to keep the economy going. That's not chicken change, but the people who print the money can swing it. They'll lose that much in tax revenue if the economy goes down really badly anyway. And I would be okay with them buying derivatives in order to do that, if the derivatives could be valued based on the assets they contain.

Yes, I said derivatives. Big fancy word. Half of you don't even know what's going on about this economy business in the news, probably thinking that the government wants to hand a trillion dollars to rich people and it is all about the stock market. Fault the news for that. They act like the stock market is the measure of the economy. Gross domestic product and consumer confidence are among the real measures. Have you ever heard of those? No, they aren't spectacular daily events.

I wish I had time to give more explanation-- I'm going into teaching mode -- but you'll need to be happy with the short version. Hey, it will at least define some terms for you, so you can understand the news that you're either ignoring or scared about.

-- There are mortgages out there. Some are "good," meaning that the homeowners will be able to pay and the mortgage owner (not the house owner, the mortgage owner, which is the original bank or some person or company who bought the mortgage from the original bank) will end up collecting all the expected interest and fees. Others are "bad" and will default, leading to foreclose. That is bad news for the bank if the foreclosed house cannot be sold to regain the total profit that would have been made, and really bad new when the house cannot even be sold for the amount of money left as the principal balance on the loan.

-- The good and bad mortgages have gotten mixed together into "derivative" thingies, sort of like a mutual fund (but not quite; I'll get to that). A mutual fund might have as part of its portfolio 10,000 shares of Company X and 5,000 shares of company Y, and lots of other stuff, whose value is all split between 200,000 investors. No individual could directly buy 0.076 shares of Company X, but someone can buy into the mutual fund and own some non-whole number of shares of company X, along with half as big a piece of Company Y and part of everything else. Like a mutual fund, I think these derivative thingies can returned both income and growth gains, but I'm short on details.

-- These mixed together mortgage thingies are not given a price the same way as a mutual fund. Mutual funds are valued based on the value of companies and other things held in the fund portfolio, things traded independently like stocks and bonds and that get their value practically independently of the fund's existence. In contrast, these mixed together mortgage things are sold on supply and demand just like another stocks and bonds and commodities. That's the "derivative" part. If people want more of these mortgage mix-up things, the price of these mortgage mix-up things increases without consideration of the value of the contents (the money to be made through the mortgages, by fees, foreclosures, or any other means). If people want less, the price goes down. What motivated people to buy and sell these things was general trends in house prices; general trends are not the same as tabulations of the value of the houses in the mix. (By the way... by "people" I here mean a company, bank, hedge fund, private equity firm... any entity that can buy and sell these mortgage things.)

-- Because lots of people could get loans easily from 2001 until 2007 or so, the prices of homes were going up. Because the prices of homes were going up, banks and such bought these mortgage derivative thingies, increasing the value of the thingies.

-- Some of the mortgages were bad, and as that started to show itself the banks and such decided to sell the mortgage derivative thingies. But that drove the prices of the thingies down. Way down. It drove them down so much that they are worth basically nothing; nobody will take them for free for fear that that particular mortgage thingie might have too many bad loans compared to good ones.

--The banks paid money for these thingies, and now they have these thingies that are worth no money. They no longer have the money, and they can't sell the mortgage thingies to get it back as cold hard cash or any other asset. (This is basically what happened in 1929, except then at that time it was the stock market, not the mortgage derivative market, that crashed and took away the money.)

-- Because the banks have lost all that money, they don't have cash to lend to businesses and individuals. If it bad enough, they don't even have assets to give people the cash deposited in their individual accounts. (When that happens, the federal government, in the form of the FDIC, will try to find a buyer for the bank and, if that doesn't work, take over the bank and give every depositor their money.) Not having money to lend is what this "credit crunch" thing is.

-- Without lending, the economy gets smaller. This has practical consequences for everyone. Companies cannot operate through a short term cash crunch by taking a loan, so they end up closing. That means the total number of people on the street with jobs goes down. Those people spend less, which makes other businesses face hard times because they aren't getting money, but they can't go get a loan for a while either, and ... you can see where this can go. The economy is made up of money moving around in exchange for stuff getting done. When the movement of money slows down, stuff doesn't get done and we have what is called a "recession." A "depression" is a really bad, really long recession.

So that's the problem. (Yes, that is the short version. Its so short that it's actually not completely accurate. Some things in life are really complicated even after they are made as simple as possible. I recommend dealing with it and trying to learn rather than throwing your hands up in the air in disgust, but if you want to hide I can't stop you.)

I'm confused as to why someone would have a practical reason not to care. It sucks when greedy rich people do reckless things on the back of materialistic consumers, like making derivatives based on pie-in-the-sky mortgages that stupid Americans used to buy houses they don't need. It sounds bad to reward those rich creeps by giving them anything. But there is a risk that "screw the rich" could lead to "screw everyone." It's detestable to prop these rich people back up in any way whatsoever, but given the choice between that and knowing the economy can support me having a job to buy food next year, I prefer the job. If you aren't convinced by me, read this. If anarchy would be the end result, that would be fine by me. But if the manure really hits the spreader we'll likely still have laws and a government, just as in every other economic depression, but with no money to operate within those boundaries.

Now, what was I saying about the government buying these derivative thingies?

Even though these derivative thingies are worth less than nothing, they are made of mortgages, which each in the end each have value of some kind (positive, negative, or whatever). The problem is that the value is unknown. It would be a monumental task to actually collect all the mortgages in all the thingies, look at the mortgage holders incomes and lifestyles and credit, and then come to a conclusion about how much money each mortgage will make in the end. But because the value cannot be determined, I don't think that the government should just buy the derivative thingies. Various people including congressmen have said the same thing, which you'll find worded in ways like "The government should buy the mortgages directly, not the securities."

So I say bring on what George Soros is proposing. He is going to one root of the problem, banks not having money on hand to loan, and saying that the government should use its cash to buy a share of ownership in the banks instead of buying something else like mortgages or mortgage derivative thingies. The banks keep running and in return for the cash We the People own shares of the banks. I wouldn't mind seeing some penalties in there about how much the people who run the banks can be paid and stiff like that. Rich mamby pambies will want their caviar back eventually, so maybe they'll shape up a bit.

There is another root of the problem, which is the bad mortgages. Frankly, I'm willing to let as many of those people rot as possible. But if in the end it comes down to BANKRUPT marks on their credit reports and they keep their houses, oh well. They signed the papers, so they should at least have to deal with something worse then those of us who didn't do that.

We have plenty of ideologues sitting around making bold generalizations about free markets and the like taking care of themselves. For them, I have a news flash-- the free markets caused this. Banks were allowed to lend to some people who couldn't pay, and because they were not stuck with the loan but could easily sell it, the banks just went and did it. As a result, the free market was allowed to artificially create wealth out of nowhere. That has gone sour, and the whole economy is going to atrophy because the free market isn't moving money. We have anti-trust law to prevent monopolies because monopolies can prevent money from moving around properly, tanking the economy. In this case, we have the money not moving for a different reason. Somebody's got to get it unstuck, but I don't see any private enterprise coming along with the free market answer. (Save for Warren Buffet, I admit, who along with his holding company Berkshire Hathaway is on a buying a streak. But that's only a few drops in the bucket.)

I'm libertarian enough to take the free market answer, but I'm not so libertarian that I'm going to sit smugly on some supposed moral high place taking the free market silence. In God I trust, not webs of greedy money making entities. Frankly, I like to be able to sleep in a dry place and eat a hot supper every night. If there is means to keep that, free market or government or whatever, screw ideology and lets do it.

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