Friday, October 31, 2008

Turkeys in the Yard

A few minutes ago I was making coffee while watching turkeys in the yard from our Cambria kitchen window. If you look hard, you can see one of them in the picture above.

Where the Economy Is

According to data released yesterday, consumer spending began declining before the current economic crisis truly began. It's reasonable to assume that the decline continued or even accelerated through October. Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman writes about it this morning.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

How Might President Obama Govern?

Some thoughts from the San Luis Obispo Tribune.

Thunderstorm in Lebanon

Unexpected Endorsement

"Somehow Ronald Reagan’s party of western individualism and limited government has ended up not just increasing the size of the state but turning it into a tool of southern-fried moralism."

"There is no getting around the fact that Mr Obama’s résumé is thin for the world’s biggest job. But the exceptionally assured way in which he has run his campaign is a considerable comfort. It is not just that he has more than held his own against Mr McCain in the debates. A man who started with no money and few supporters has out-thought, out-organised and outfought the two mightiest machines in American politics—the Clintons and the conservative right."

--The Economist, endorsing Barack Obama for President.

An Early Voter Speaks

"Voted early on Monday evening in Georgia. Took 2 hours but waiting in line with my fellow Georgians reminded me that no matter what happens, there are a lot of really wonderful people out there. Even though this country seems to be ripping itself apart via party lines, it's obvious to me that at some point, we'll remember that we're all in this boat together.

"To Jackie in West Palm, who posted that she couldn't check her status, she should see if she can do that online. The Georgia Secretary of State website allows you to check your status online - very efficient to do before heading to the polls!"

— runrachelrun, Atlanta, GA (from Droves Vote Early)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Fallacy of the Day

"But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown."
--Carl Sagan

I love this quote, because it highlights a fallacy under which so many of us live. Sorry I can't remember the name of the fallacy. I know it has a name, but we're going to have to use a pseudonym. Let's call it Fred.

I've told the story before of the radio producer I used to work with. He had a sign over his desk which said "A Clean Desk is the Sign of a Sick Mind." Clever, yes. Contains an element of truth, yes.

But because he prided himself on archeological layers of paper and debris on his desk, I often assumed that his interpretation of the sign was the implied reverse. That is, he saw himself as the picture of perfect mental health.

Which, I'm here to tell you, was not the case.

Rents On the Rise

More from the Boston Globe. Is this a national trend?

Thrills, Dread and High Ratings

What should pop up on Google News this morning but this headline from "Obama Poised for Landslide?." This incites thrills in fervent Obama supporters and dread in fervent McCain supporters. Among everyone else, there is much more interest than usual.

Tuesday night's election coverage will have the biggest TV audience of any news programming this year. Indeed, since 9/11.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Very Ugly Side to America

Examples of extremism are accumulating as election day approaches. One of the most notorious was last week, reported by the Las Vegas Sun. Their site was bogged down for days following. In case you missed it, here it is.

Theology and Economic Failure

Quote of the day:
“I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms.”
--Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve

This is a more-revealing statement than first appears. Greenspan has an eminently reasonable and thoughtful response to the financial crisis and what caused it. There are those who say it's all his fault, because, as always, we need to have someone or something to blame for our problems, especially the serious ones. And he certainly bears significant responsibility.

But there is something much bigger at work, and David Brooks describes it here.

Economic matters are always talked about as a set of rational processes with clear explanations. We attempt to make judgments based on our understanding of these processes. But not really, as it turns out.

We actually make decisions based on our perceptions, which are quite tricky. It is this way in religion, too. We think we are religious or not religious based on rational, thoughtful analysis of some kind. We don't realize that we begin with perceptions involving complex, underlying, unconscious assumptions. What we see we see through these filters.

From a theological standpoint, a key underlying assumption is either "I can trust people" or "I can't trust people." None of us are aware of how our perceptions are shaped unless we examine ourselves honestly.

Alan Greenspan's assumption was "I can trust people"--that is, people and institutions would work efficiently in attempting to make money for themselves and their shareholders.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

More Evidence We Live in a Golden Age

I was so pleased to learn a few weeks ago that my shaving cream had oatmeal in it. Really. Now I can combine shaving and breakfast.

Saying "No-Yes"

Have you ever noticed that when someone says "Needless to say" they always then say to us what they consider needless to say?

Newspaper Endorsements

Here's an interactive map of newspaper endorsements for President nationwide.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Essential Dilbert, Especially for Unfortunate iPhone Haters

The woman with the triangular hair is my favorite character.

View From Here

Memorable Blog Accusations

We all know that outrageous claims are made and scandalous rumors spread about political candidates on the internet. There's an interesting sort-of summary of those about Obama in this blog post.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

McCain Accidentally Left on Bus

John McCain Accidentally Left On Campaign Bus Overnight

Proposition 8

Proposition 8 is essentially a civil rights matter. If you believe the California constitution should be amended to restrict the legal rights of committed gay and lesbian couples, vote yes. This would not be on the ballot, and the California Supreme Court would not have acted if it were possible for committed gay and lesbian couples to receive equal legal rights as married heterosexual couples. But years of experience has proven it is not possible.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Newspaper in Second-Reddest State Endorses Obama

Yesterday The Salt Lake City Tribune endorsed Obama.

Joe The Plumber is Not a Victim

"We may be fascinated by Wall Street, and bogus yarns like Joe the Plumber’s. But the real story in this country right now is the increasingly dire plight of those heading toward the bottom of that ladder...."

--Bob Herbert, in yesterday's New York Times

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Sage of Omaha Speaks

In the many years I've been reading about Warren Buffett, and reading his Berkshire Hathaway shareholder letter (always very entertaining), I've never heard him say what he says in today's New York Times.

A lot of attention has been paid to Buffett over the last few months, especially since he is an advisor to Barack Obama.  He is amusing, self-effacing and, incredibly, manages consistently to both talk and act rationally about investing.

His column is really worth a read.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Daily Observation

"Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for - in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it."

--Ellen Goodman (1941 - )

Let's Hear it For Oscar Wilde

Today is his birthday.  A great quote: "The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on.  It is never any use to oneself."

Monday, October 13, 2008

Crackly Dry

The picture is Aurora Borealis over Whiteknife.  Here in San Diego, much of our day has been spectacularly windy and quite dry.  I'm sneezing and my lips are dry.

We are on fire watch, as is most of southern California.

On that note, a bit more dp (disaster preparedness).  The Red Cross ( sells a variety of prepackaged dp kits for people like me who don't like to be re-preparing every three months or so.  You can get them for your car, workplace and home.  There are also organizations that sell packaged water that will keep for a few years.

Bit number two: have at least one fire extinguisher and know how to use it (1. Pull, 2. Squeeze).  

Saturday, October 11, 2008

They may not do well in the next several months, but looking ahead two or three years, investors may see some of the best opportunities of their lives

The title is a quote from an interesting article in Barron's.  Number one rule of investing: If you're losing sleep over your investments, something's not right.  This is quite literally an excellent rule.  The idea is to take just enough risk to make you a teeny bit uneasy from time to time.  But you shouldn't be losing sleep, even at times like this.

If you are that fearful or obsessed about your paper losses over the last month, you need to do something.  Maybe it's simply to cal your financial advisor.  Maybe it's to change your allocation.  It's okay to do whatever you need to sleep better.

Remember that, just like at any time, any decision you make now will carry consequences and risks, so be sure to have as clear a picture as you can of what those are.  Also be clear with yourself that your account balance is what you see in front of you--it isn't what it was a month or a year ago.

Stocks may go much lower, or they may bounce around for months.  Or, they may go higher.  No one knows.  Try to be rational, and take the severe doom-and-gloomers with a grain of salt.  Virtually all of them are long-time gloom-and-doomers and, like the proverbial broken clock that is right twice a day, they have now, finally, been right.  This doesn't mean they are correct in what they predict now.

The Barron's piece provides some perspective.  For the supremely rational, there are some interesting opportunities.

Voting Has Consequences

Bob Herbert makes the case for how profoundly and demonstrably wrong conservative Republicans have been over the last 30 years.  At the same time, they have been able to convince a huge number of voters to join their cause.  Read Herbert's piece here.

West-Coast Hurricane

Today Hurricane Norbert is hitting Baja California.  We are in the middle of a world-wide economic crisis.  Governor Schwarzenegger has announced the arrival of our wildfire season this weekend.

Time for a cup of coffee.  Make it a good one.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Disaster Preparedness: Give Me a Break

When I hear the words "Disaster Preparedness," my eyes glaze over.  What inevitably follows the enunciation of these words is the recitation of an impossibly long list of commandments assembled by someone with OCD and too much time on his hands.  To do these things requires a full day's work once a week!

There is always not enough attention to priorities--for example, what is the most important thing to do to get ready?  Do you have any idea?

I'm part of a joint effort by the Episcopal Diocese and the United Methodist Churches of San Diego to both continue to rebuild from October 2007, and to prepare for the 2008 fire season, which is upon us.  So I'll pass along some simple and easy things I've learned.  Just time for one right now.

What is the most important thing to prepare for?  What is the highest-probability "disaster"?  It's a power outage.  In virtually any natural disaster situation, the power will go off, and stay off.  And, of course, we have power outages when there's no natural disaster.  So we need to be prepared for the power to be off for at least three days.

That's enough for now.

Should I Move Everything to Cash?

Excellent piece yesterday in the NY Times considering the temptation that all of us feel to simply sell all investments and put the money in  a mattress or something.  It might feel good, but it's probably a bad idea.  Read it here.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

News Mantra of the Day

"Is it going to be enough?"  Referring to the "700 billion dollar bailout."  I have heard this approximately 438 times in the last 48 hours, and I haven't even had the news on that much.

I know the answer, and I think we all do.  The answer is "we don't know."  Nobody knows.  But we keep asking the question, expecting a definite answer.

Right now, books are being written comparing this economic crisis to 1929.  And there are striking similarities.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

I'm Back

What a fine headline that is.  Back, indeed.  My problem is that I set impossibly high standards for myself that I can't keep up with.

Yesterday voting began at the San Diego Registrar's office.  I'm pleased to announce that I am in the process of deciding how I will vote on our propositions.  I plan to vote for everything labeled a "scheme" in a TV spot.  I love schemes.

I will also vote for everything labeled "big."  Especially "big oil."

I also like corrupt politicians.  Call one corrupt, I'll vote for him/her.

I'm also beginning to favor anything using the "Wall Street" label, especially when it is compared to that nasty "Main Street."

This morning on CNN, I was immensely pleased to see an interview with Joe Six-Pack.  The real, actual Joe Six-Pack.  I'm thinking of writing him in.

I always thought the Maverick was a stupendously ordinary compact car from Ford back in the 1970s.

Aren't you glad I'm back?