Okay, so last time I explained why (part) big banks are going under. Now to the housing market. That's what started things, after all.

First, houses had cost more than they were worth, in a lot of places. Especially in some parts of the country. But everybody assumed house prices would keep going up. That's why we built too many of them, way too far out from where people actually worked. Because "everybody wanted" McMansions, on tiny plots of land, because a house was an "investment", and houses always gained value, that's what "everybody knew". This couldn't keep on forever. And many people pointed this out. But while you're in that game, even if you know it won't go on forever, you don't know it's going to end NOW, so to keep up, you have to play the game.

Now yes, I hear people say "Well they should have known better, they should have done their own research." And yes, people should think things out for themselves, but when the banker, the real estate guy, and your investment guy, plus all the peoples on the teevee are telling you something, are you sure you want to argue with them, and bet they're all wrong? Are you going to risk your family's house and income and future prospects on your suspicion that these guys might be full of crap? When for the past decade or so they've been right?

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is bubble thinking. Play the game, make your bucks, and pass it on to some other sucker before the music stops. Except this time it wasn't a ball, it was houses, that people live in. Which even people who don't want to play the game have to buy. And when the bubble burst, suddenly many people were stuck with houses with shoddy construction, an hour from anything, with mortgages higher than the house was now worth. And with all the foreclosed and for sale houses out there, the market for new homes dried up. And with that, the market for people to build those homes dried up too, and many many lots of construction workers lost their jobs. Which means they didn't have as much money to spend, so sales and other kinds of work went down, so then the stores laid people off, so then those people have less money to spend, wash, rinse, repeat.

But even here, we're not at the bottom of the rabbit hole. Because the housing bubble burst caused things, but it also had spent years helping cover one of the fundamentals. Which I'll get to in the next one of these.
The Federal Reserve is stealing their MO from Dr. Evil. (The resemblance is uncanny.) Why do we need to give $700,000,000,000 to Wall Street "geniuses" who lost trillions of dollars already?  Why that particular amount? "It's not based on any particular data point," a Treasury spokeswoman told Forbes.com Tuesday. "We just wanted to choose a really large number." Dr. Henry Paulson will hold the world hostage with the threat of RECESSION NOW! (while last week the "fundamentals of our economy were sound" of course) unless we give him SEVEN HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS!  MWAHAHAHAHAHA! No. Just, no.
There's a lot of talk about how corn ethanol subsidies are "responsible" for part of the way food prices have run up lately. And there's some truth to that, and besides, corn ethanol is pretty much a boondoggle anyway. But it's hardly the end of the story, it's just an easy target, especially for politicians who're opposed to sustainability.

But you know what consumes a lot more grain than biofuels?

Growing corn and wheat and so on to feed concentrated grain to livestock which are grown for their meat. That's not touching on any of the other problems that come with modern factory farming methods, such as the waste, spread of diseases, breeding of antibiotic resistant bacteria, mad cow, and the ethical issues with the way many of the animals are raised.

Plus, if America cut back on meat by about 20%, it'd save as much CO2 as if we all drove cars that got 50+ miles to the gallon.

We have so many systems in our civilization that need complete overhauls, or just to be junked and replaced with something better.
Astronauts to Work on Giant Robot

I bet the editor who got to pen that was filled with glee.

(stolen from [livejournal.com profile] vanmojo)
Now, I realize the Catholic Church is heavily invested in maintaining the power of traditional hierarchies, since they are one. But this is really goofy. VATICAN CITY (RNS) Nuclear arms proliferation, environmental pollution and economic inequality are threats to world peace -- but so are abortion, birth control and same-sex marriage, Pope Benedict XVI said in a statement released by the Vatican Tuesday (Dec. 11).

Here's the actual document.

I've never understood that argument. How having gay people marry is "violence" toward "the family", instead of, y'know, allowing more kinds of families. I've never understood the Catholic opposition to birth control either, since they say it thwarts God's will, but I'd kinda figure an omnipitent, omniescent God like the Catholic Church says they believe in wouldn't be foiled by some hormones or a little bit of rubber, if you REALLY were supposed to have a kid.

Aside from that, and the fact I'm not entirely sure what he's trying to get at in regards to the section on "moral law" other than as a plea to go back to "traditional norms" of some kind, the rest of it's pretty good. But dude. Gay Marriage, birth control, and abortion are "threats to peace"?
So the Republican presidential candidates had another debate that featured plenty of posturing and attempts to out-tough guy each other.

And included plenty of flat-out lies, like this bit where Rudy Giuliani sure looks like he's claiming Iran already has nuclear weapons.

"GIULIANI: Part of the premise of talking to Iran has to be that they have to know very clearly that it is unacceptable to the United States that they have nuclear power. I think it could be done with conventional weapons, but you can't rule out anything and you shouldn't take any option off the table.

And during the debate the other night, the Democrats seemed to be back in the 1990s. They don't seem to have gotten beyond the Cold War. Iran is a threat, a nuclear threat, not just because they can deliver a nuclear warhead with missiles. They're a nuclear threat because they are the biggest state sponsor of terrorism and they can hand nuclear materials to terrorists.

And we just saw it just last week in New York, an attempt by Islamist terrorists to attack JFK airport; three weeks ago, an attempt to attack Fort Dix."

Via Obsidian Wings and the redoubtable hilzoy.

That man? Has no business being President. He's either completely ignorant, or a liar, or probably both. Which makes him a perfect successor for George W. Bush.

But seriously, the entire Republican leadership is completely disconnected from reality and so busy trying to prove who's "tougher" they don't know or care if what they say or do actually makes anyone safer. It's all about fearmongering and lies and ohnoes teh gay! Is that really what US politics has descended to? And the Democrats in Congress are so scared of Bush calling them mean to the troops they won't even stand up at all to try and end the pointless and counterproductive occupation of Iraq. A position, I might add, that a majority of the country supports, and was what helped drive them into the positions of power they have now.
It's amazing how much really really really easy stuff gets neglected just because people don't do it. Like people who throw paper towels on the floor when the trash can is less than three steps away. Or people who work retail and can't bother to do the most basic freaking parts of their jobs. I work retail. I know it sucks. It really does. Most of retail work is utterly and completely pointless in the grand scheme of things, you're trying to sell people stuff they don't need, to make money for the company, and the money doesn't go to you hardly at all.

Man, put that way, I wonder why I even bother to do any work. Retail is thankless and mind-numbing and repetitive and lots of other things, but it's about a hundred times better than the kind of work most of humanity had to do to get by for most of history. So it irritates me when somebody doesn't bother to do something that takes all of like two minutes and is really easy. Especially when I have to do that thing, on top of all the other things I'm already doing.

Now to seemingly switch tangents.

One of the most marvelous creations of the Enlightenment is bureaucracy. The vast and rules-bound strata that, run properly, ensure that everybody has to fill out the same annoying forms to get things done. Lord or pauper, you still need to fill out these forms. The entire idea of a professional, neutral, staff of administrators and others is STAGGERING when you compare it to the way everything had been run before, which was based on nepotism and political infighting. Not that either of those are absent in a professional bureaucracy, but they're greatly reduced when run well.

Many of the greatest problems of bureaucracy come from the fact it's run by people, the same kind of people who are too lazy to put their paper towels in the trash or to clean up the section they're assigned to in the store. But in general, when people are hired to do a job, they do it, at least to some extent. Otherwise they get fired.

So when I get annoyed by people who don't manage to do the very easy tasks of their jobs that nothing much really depends on, imagine what I think when I see a headline like this: Most Katrina Aid From Overseas Went Unclaimed.

This isn't a matter of simple incompetence. This is, at best, STAGGERING incompetence. This wasn't just money they turned down. They turned down offers of search and rescue teams. Medical care, housing, all sorts of things. Yeah, there's lots of offers of aid that couldn't really help, like Greece's offer of cruise ships for hospitals that wouldn't get there for months. And y'know, this is the US, we're the richest damn country in the world, we should have had the resources to do this all. And we did. But due to the same staggering incompetence (being generous), a major US city was effectively destroyed and people were stranded without rescue or supplies for days.

But there's a very simple reason why this happened. Most of the people who were chosen to be in charge of emergency response, along with man of the other bureaucracies and other professional civil service agencies of the government, weren't picked for their competence. They were picked for personal loyalty, or for favors. And they weren't just given bullshit posts they couldn't screw up, like ambassador to San Marino. They were put in positions where people's lives were at stake. And guess what. They fucked it up.

The people in charge of our government don't believe in the idea of neutral and professional civil servants. That's why they try to turn "bureaucracy" into a dirty word. That's why they don't care if the people they appoint are even slightly competent for the post they're given. They are, at heart, aristocrats, as petty and venal as any seventeenth century lord. They don't want professionals giving unbiased opinions or evaluations, because those might disagree with what they want. And because it's something beyond their control. So they try to destroy it, first by saying it's useless, and then by trying to prove it's useless once they get power, by not even pretending to care how well things are done.

"Government can't do anything right! Elect us, and we'll prove it!"
So the FDA is testing all sorts of food we get from China to make sure it wasn't shipped over in bags that used to hold pesticides and that sort of thing now, after the pet food and reports from South Africa and so on.

The question is though, why are we importing so much food from China? Especially things like wheat, which grows perfectly fine in the US. I can see importing foods that grow better elsewhere, but why stuff like wheat and corn where we grow so much the government pays farmers to throw it out?
So much of the US media seems to be consumed by clueless wankery. Look at this week's cover of Time. "What the Imus affair tells us about who can say what" is their cover story.

Okay, let's see. Don Imus, millionaire shock jock (which is basically someone paid to be an asshole), throws a n offhand slur at a bunch of college basketball students who just won their division, right after his producer does the same. And now CBS has fired him. The sad part is he'll end up with some other radio show soon, probably six months or so to let the furor die down, I bet. So. That's not even getting into the rest of the asshole stuff Don Imus has said, because he's PAID TO BE AN ASSHOLE. But that wouldn't be an excuse for wankery.

Why doesn't Time hire somebody like Phil Nugent, whose blog post I linked to does a much better job of analysis, including how Don Imus broke the power equation of comedy, plus how the Republican party's pandering to racists gets ignored as "just politics".

It's amazingly lame how so many journalists manage to get themselves so wrapped up in their little circle of people and stuff they can ignore the bloody obvious right in front of their noses.
So the shootings at Virginia Tech are all over the news. Like, ALL over every news. And I haven't been watching it. I don't have any direct connection to things, and there's not anything I can do related to anything, anyway. But it feels kinda weird to just be going about life, doing homework and reading the Internet. There's no point to sitting and listening to the news reports repeating over and over the nothing they know yet, either. I know that's what some people do, but that just seems like a recipe for bad to me.

I was going to try and make a philosophical point with this, I think, but I can't really. So here.

Um, What?

Mar. 8th, 2007 07:22 pm
It's more than a trifle unnerving to hear the US general in charge of forces in Iraq talking about "catching bad guys" in an actual real live press conference. Those exact words. Is Adam West in charge over there now?
Lately, when I read the news, and think about the lunatics who're in charge right now, I get this sinking feeling. The kind where I think the general state of the world we've all taken for granted is fairly likely to not continue into the future.

Especially if the idiots start a war with Iran.
I'm sure everybody's seen the news already one place or another. Steve Irwin died today, stung through the heart by a stingray.

Man. I never saw much of his show, without cable, but the guy was endlessly cheerful and enthusiastic about everything he did. And he spent most of his life doing awesome stuff. And y'know, barring dying in bed at like a hundred and surrounded by family, this is probably how he'd have wanted to go.

Man. Here's somebody's memorial drawing I saw in one of the comments on [livejournal.com profile] ursulav's.
So, the British have charged fifteen of the guys they arrested in the wake of the "airline plot". Four have been released, and five are being held awaiting charges, which the British government has to do within seven days or release them.

An Article from the LA Times

And yet...so?

First of all, the hype around the arrests? Ten planes, "unimaginable destruction"? No. It's perfectly imaginable. Ten planes fall out of the sky, somewhere probably between 1,000 and 2,000 people total on board.

Except... "British and European counter-terrorism officials said they now believe the suspects planned to down about six jets, perhaps fewer."

And "Dozens of searches turned up six videos in which suspects described their reasons for participating in a plot to smuggle aboard materials to make liquid explosives while in flight, British and European officials said."

Okay. So, these guys didn't have passports, but they were busy screwing around and making "martyrdom videos" with a camcorder and webcams. With "bombs" that would take a lot of time and care to make in an airport bathroom. Which would be interrupted by the line of angry people waiting to go to the bathroom. Seriously, this is the kind of plot we're supposed to wet ourselves and run from? These guys who were approaching it like a bunch of fratboys psyching themselves up by taping each other? THIS is the great existential threat to our nation?

Sweet fucking Christmas. I can't take a bottle of hand lotion on a plane because of these yahoos? I dread to think of how our governments would react to a terrorist threat that wasn't run by complete morons.
Looks like Kraft also got a new CEO


Google News


World Fitness
A minor billing dispute between the Pentagon and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is threatening operations throughout the U.S. national security community.

Last month, OPM -- which currently handles background investigations and issues security clearances for the defense/intelligence community -- abruptly announced it was shutting down the clearance process for new employees.


So, um. The Pentagon doesn't want to pay the Office of Personnel Management $40 million, so they've stopped doing security clearances. So they can't hire new people for any job requiring security clearances. Over $40 million. Which is an assload of money, but the Pentagon misplaces that much money every morning. Who put people that incompetent in charge?

Oh yeah.
The United States is still holding people in secret jails and torturing them.

Pining for the days when we were a civilized country.

Technorati Tags: Politics, News, Evil
Much as I'd like to watch Patrick Fitzgerald indict the corrupt bunch running DC right now, I can't see it happening. I mean, these guys were happy to lie us into a war, lie about their budgets, tax cuts, opponents, and their own policies. They've continually put their own power and their party ahead of the interests of the nation. So of COURSE Bush is going to end up pardoning everybody involved, just like his daddy pardoned all the Iran-Contra people before they could testify about his involvement in selling weapons to terrorists. And there's no way in hell the Republicans in Congress would impeach Bush Jr.

It's really pretty depressing.

Technorati Tags: Politics, News, Evil
Heck, just go to http://www.onegoodmove.org/1gm. That's where I've been getting them from. And here's today's bits.

Day of Shunning, and Go F**k Yourself, Mr. Cheney

Brian Williams, NBC's anchorman.
My alarm clock is set to NPR, because that's the channel that came in best. So I woke up this morning to the Diane Rehm Show. She has two people on talking about the "economic implications of Katrina." I'm pretty sure the one I'm mad at was Stephen Moore, who's apparently a "member of the Wall Street Journal's editorial board and
former President of the Club for Growth and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute." In other words, a fundamentalist "libertarian free-market" type. And what was he saying when I woke up? He was saying (paraphrased) "If you look at major companies, they evacuated most of their people, and some of their goods, as opposed to the government's incompetence." NO. You stupid @$!#. Private enterprise is NOT able to to disaster relief well. It's not big enough, there's no profit motive, etc. And the government's incompetence in the case of Katrina is not a natural result of government, it's a natural result of incompetent ideologues in power who spend all of their time "cutting" taxes and giving trillions away to their friends.

And yes, he tried to blame environmentalists for high gas prices too. More on that here.

And what'd he say just now? That Katrina means we need to cut taxes! OW MY FUCKING BRAIN.

Technorati Tags: Politics, Economics, News, WTF?, Everyday Evil

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