Life is a Mystery

30 September 2008 . Comments Off

Obama leading

No, I don’t mean in the polls (though I hope that stays the case), I mean in the response to the bailout failure. Yesterday, as the bailout failed, here is what Obama said to a rally in Denver:

There are going to be some bumps and trials and tribulations and ups and downs before we get this rescue package done. It’s important for the American public and for the markets to stay calm because things are never smooth in Congress, and to understand that it will get done.

I know a lot of people are nervous. A lot of people in this audience and a lot of people who may be watching today. But now is not the time for fear. Now is not the time for panic.

I’m confident that we are gonna get there, but it’s gong to be a little rocky. It’s sort of like flying into Denver. You know you’re going to land, but it’s not always fun going over those mountains.

Today we hear Bush:

Yesterday, the House of Representatives voted on a financial rescue plan that had been negotiated by Congressional leaders of both parties and my administration. Unfortunately, the measure was defeated by a narrow margin. I’m disappointed by the outcome, but I assure our citizens and citizens around the world that this is not the end of the legislative process.

Producing legislation is complicated, and it can be contentious. It matters little what a path a bill takes to become law. What matters is that we get a law. We’re at a critical moment for our economy, and we need legislation that decisively address the troubled assets now clogging the financial system, helps lenders resume the flow of credit to consumers and businesses, and allows the American economy to get moving again.

At least Bush seems to be taking cues from a real leader now.

For the record, I was opposed to the bailout and I am glad it was defeated. I also think we absolutely should do something at the federal level to respond to the failure of our financial institutions to do their job. But that action should be aimed at the root of problems, not structured as a hand-out to the top.

I hope Obama can help lead us there. But I don’t expect that until after we get him elected. This is our election, the change we bring will be our own selves to the process. Obama may turn out to be the leader we need, but we should all be the kind of participants this country demands.

29 September 2008 . Comments Off

US Congress 404

TechPresident had a nice summary of something that I ran into this afternoon: many congressional sites went down just as voting on the $700B bailout wrapped up. I was trying to find the roll call at the Clerk’s offfice, which eventually did appear. (Gotta love the bailout’s title: “To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide earnings assistance and tax relief to members of the uniformed services, volunteer firefighters, and Peace Corps volunteers, and for other purposes.” I’d certainly have supported $700B for the Peace Corps!) Oddly, many sites, including house.gov are still down.

27 September 2008 . Comments Off

Endnote (Thompson) sues Zotero

Thompson owns Endnote and has decided to sue the developers of Zotero (George Mason University) for (they claim) violating the EULA (end user license agreement) for Endnote by reverse engineering the Endnote style file format (.ens). This is fascinating on so many levels. (1) Thompson really thinks the way to build a customer base for reference manager software is to sue an academically produced, open source, Firefox plugin? (2) The case seems awfully weak given that the Zotero team has shipped nothing at all derived from .ens files. (3) Just how enforceable will EULAs (those contract terms attached to ripping open a software box or clicking “I read it” on a computer program) turn out to be?

I hope Thompson rots for this kind of behavior. Between this and suing to prevent others from citing law based on the page numbers they add to legal proceedings, I have pretty much decided they are on the wrong side of the IP issues I care about.

27 September 2008 . Comments Off

Low ranking monkey

Is McCain a low-ranking monkey? He seems to have behaved that way during the first presidential debate.

26 September 2008 . Comments Off

FFR: Moderator

Another Google 20% project rears its head. Moderator could help a group of people (say, public at a school board meeting) select the best questions to present. A nifty idea, and an interesting expression of faith in the wisdom of crowds. Still, I wonder how many people at the school board meeting have a computer, and of those that do, who has an internet connection?

26 September 2008 . Comments Off

Convincing Nana

It has been fun to watch Sarah Silverman this season. Now she’s promoting TheGreatSchlep to convince jewish grandparents to vote for Obama.

The Great Schlep from The Great Schlep on Vimeo.

There’s a bit of profanity here, so beware if that bothers you. It never bothered nana in our family, but then she’s a Roman Catholic priest who already supports Obama (though she would have preferred Hillary).

25 September 2008 . Comments Off

Google it all

Librarians keep trying to encourage people to look beyond Google for answers. How many people do you think talk to librarians and how many read David Pouge. Today, David sent out an email telling people to “Use Google search for everything.”

When I want to search my own blog, I type “pogue blog tivo” and click “I’m Feeling Lucky.” Presto! I’m reading the post. Two steps.

In other words, there’s very little point in using the Search box within your favorite sites. Use Google to take you to that site and to the page you want within it. Works for Amazon (“amazon freakonomics”), ebay (“ebay delft figurine”), Define.com (“define ersatz”), Facebok (“facebook amy pomeroy”), any newspaper or magazine, and hundreds of other kinds of sites.

He does not even mention the built in calculator, package tracker, reverse phone directory, or mapping available via Google searches. How do we motivate people to go beyond this one stop shop?

25 September 2008 . Comments Off

Rolling in dough

Here is a wonderful chart from the Sunlight Foundation. You can manipulate the chart to dig into the data, go ahead, play with it a bit. A video tutorial is also available.

This dynamic data presentation appears to derive from Google’s work with Hans Rosling and his UN data at Gapminder. It is just a taste of what will become of data and charts in this compute-enabled time.

24 September 2008 . Comments Off

All the people

Imagine if each person in the world were represented as a grain of rice. This would be the population of the USA.

usa_population.jpg

The facinating exhibit “Of All the People in All the World” grants the viewer a sense of the scale of humanity. A nice description of this show is at Creative Review.

22 September 2008 . Comments Off

Wheels coming off

Andrew pointed to this clear and readable parsing of the financial crisis today. Jim Manzi writes about the situation leading up to last week and the choices before us this week. “The problem we face is often described as mind-bendingly complex, but in its essentials, it is simple.”

The end state that we want to get to is pretty clear.

The price of the average home in America has fallen a lot, and is likely to fall further (although there will be huge regional differences). Some very over-leveraged homeowners are going to declare bankruptcy. Others are going to sell the boat and eat out less in order to avoid this. We need prices to mark to market (which they will eventually do anyway), as rapidly as possible consistent with not causing a depression caused by a collapse of consumer activity.

Many financial institutions have both profitable commercial businesses, and financial instruments that are wildly unprofitable, housed under one roof. We want the executives of these companies to lose their jobs, and the shareholders and bondholders in them to lose their money, while preserving the productive parts of the businesses and preventing a depression caused by a collapse of credit.

I can buy this desired end state. I’d put special stress on that “lose their jobs” and “lose their money” bit about executives and shareholders.

But I’m afraid that what we are actually planning is a way for these folks not to lose their shirts (and pants and socks and shoes). We have watched compensation for certain work spiral out the stratosphere this past decade. This broadening gap between rich and reasonable is clearly, in retrospect, an indicator of theft. The rich, with few exceptions, stole the future from the middle class and poor.

Are we going to make sure they get away with it? It sure feels like we are. Luckily there are some voices of conscience and sanity among our leaders. Check out the recent press release by Bernie Sanders (thanks, Daily Kos):

The people who can best afford to pay and the people who have benefited most from Bush’s economic policies are the people who should provide the funds for the bailout. It would be immoral to ask the middle class, the people whose standard of living has declined under Bush, to pay for this bailout while the rich, once again, avoid their responsibilities. Further, if the government is going to save companies from bankruptcy, the taxpayers of this country should be rewarded for assuming the risk by sharing in the gains that result from this government bailout.

Specifically, to pay for the bailout, which is estimated to cost up to $1 trillion, the government should:

a) Impose a five-year, 10 percent surtax on income over $1 million a year for couples and over $500,000 for single taxpayers. That would raise more than $300 billion in revenue;

b) Ensure that assets purchased from banks are realistically discounted so companies are not rewarded for their risky behavior and taxpayers can recover the amount they paid for them; and

c) Require that taxpayers receive equity stakes in the bailed-out companies so that the assumption of risk is rewarded when companies’ stock goes up.

I love these ideas, but note that there may be many fewer of the wealthy he proposes to tax given this crisis, so we should probably be looking for ways to return some of their haul to federal coffers (some way to tax savings or equity of the super-rich?). Sanders also suggests an employment program, re-regulation, and the breakup of companies that are “too big to fail.”

Yes!

Eric Celeste / Saint Paul, Minnesota / 651.323.2009 / efc@clst.org