Monday, February 18, 2008

Subprime Stick Figures

By coincidence, Jen was asking me to explain the whole subprime mess to her yesterday. It was a few minutes of me rambling on the drive from wherever we were to her apartment. Today, Megan McArdle had the same explanation...told in stick figures!

You can click on that above embedded link, but I found it unusably small to read the text. Instead, it's much easier if you follow this link to view the Google Docs presentation at full size: The Subprime Primer

Apparently, Norwegian stick figures have hats that make them look like Canadian Mounties.

Friday, February 15, 2008

"Undiscovered Talent?"

Jen told me that one of the girls on this season of American Idol turned out to not actually be an amateur; she'd already had a real record out. Jen thought she heard it was Kristy Lee Cook, the girl currently hailing from Selma, OR (the one riding horses and such in the color piece on her).

I came across a link at Yahoo Music a few minutes ago talking about how one of the contestants already had a deal in the past. I clicked it, thinking I'd get the full story on the Cook girl..but no, it turned out to be about Carly, the Irish girl with tons of tats.

In the comments on that Yahoo Music page, I saw a link to a whole other page. This page details all of the Top 24's past brushes with commercial success (or lack thereof)...there are a lot of contestants who aren't exactly out of the blue, never seen before talent.

White Chocolate Margarita Mousse

I meant to post this shortly after the Super Bowl, but Jen had my camera in her purse (as usual). I made a white chocolate margarita mousse to take to the party we went to (at Eric & Jen's). I've made this recipe before; it is out of the Chocolate Passion book that I've had for a few years.

Here is a bunch (22 oz, if I recall) of El Rey, waiting to be melted down:

Of course, there were a ton of eggs (copious amounts of heavy cream not pictured):

A whole bunch of lime zest (I hate zesting!) mixed in -- it ended up looking like chives!

And of course, the ingredient most people cared about:

Finally, assembling them at the party: sugaring the glass rims, putting in a dollop of mousse, and topping with a candied lime slice.

And no, I have no idea why I forgot to take a picture of a finished one!

Valentine's Dinner

...turned out pretty much right on the money. Rather than go out for dinner this year, Jen wanted us to stay in and cook.

Jen found an awesome recipe on allrecipes that came out just right: Crab-Stuffed Filet Mignon with Whiskey Peppercorn Sauce. I should have taken pictures. Anyway, it came out great, although we now agree with the people who commented on the recipe, stating that the listed duration is pretty optimistic. We were pretty close: I think it took us about 2 hours, and that included me running out to Bed Bath & Beyond to pick up a large cast-iron skillet (somehow I didn't own one yet). I thought I'd find a bunch of Lodge cast iron stuff at L&T and BBB...but no! It seems cast iron is more scarce than I thought: L&T only had an Emeril cast iron square grill that was only available as a freebie when purchasing a whole Emeril set. I ended up finding the same item for sale separately at BBB (but still no Lodge). Cheap, in any case: $20 for a 10" skillet, $25 for the square grill version of the same thing.

We also made a spinach salad that we make often (toasted pumpkin seeds, red onion, dried tart cherries, and -- this time -- avocado (normally peppered goat cheese, but I forgot to pick it up), all in an oil and dijon dressing.

I also got out a nice Chateauneuf du Pape that I'd had on the rack for years. I tried to bring it to my birthday dinner at The Driskill this year, but they don't allow corkage anymore. It turned out to have mellowed nicely. It was a 1996 Paul Coulon et Fils 'Boisrenard':

I then mentioned that I had a hankering for ice cream, and was about to grab some vanilla out of the freezer. Jen told me no, and made me go read at the computer for 'about 10 minutes'. When she called me back in, this was on the counter:

It is a chocolate ginger bundt cake with a bourbon sauce on top and was damn good. I had forwarded this recipe along months ago when I first saw it, and I guess Jen filed it away for later use! All of the flower petals around it for decoration were apparently courtesy of Matt (apparently he had some fading tulips at his place...maybe from the big weekend prior? ;)

Land Use Restrictions: The Hard Dollars

I'd often heard that advocates of highly restrictive land use policies could be motivated by more than environmentalist and idealized urban planning goals: the increase in the value of their own homes due to the housing scarcity that this creates (see: the Bay Area).

I came across this link talking about a study done on Seattle housing prices in recent years. It concluded that roughtly $200,000 of the rise in the average home cost was due to land use restrictions (that's 88% of the total average cost increase)!

Friday, February 08, 2008

Economic Madness

If anyone doubts how far left Hillary and Obama can be on some things, check out this crazy tidbit from the WSJ (emphasis added):

There are actually two versions of comparable worth legislation, the Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act. The former is co-sponsored by Sen. Barack Obama; the principal sponsor of the latter is Sen. Hillary Clinton (Mr. Obama is a co-sponsor). Both would push companies to set wages based not on supply and demand -- that is the free market -- but on some notion of social utility. The goal is to ensure that jobs performed mostly by men (say, truck drivers) are not paid more than those performed mostly by women (paralegals, perhaps).

And I thought the 'living wage' people were pushing clueless economics!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Candidate Alignment

Chocolate Thunder took this poll at his wife's suggestion, so I followed the link and tried the same. See the results below:

76% John McCain
70% Mike Huckabee
69% Rudy Giuliani
67% Mitt Romney
64% Bill Richardson
61% Fred Thompson
56% Hillary Clinton
55% Tom Tancredo
55% Chris Dodd
53% Barack Obama
53% Ron Paul
52% John Edwards
44% Mike Gravel
40% Joe Biden
39% Dennis Kucinich

2008 Presidential Candidate Matching Quiz

I am a bit wary of these results. While I can't say I'm surprised that it came out with McCain as most aligned, the fact that it has a populist, wary-of-free-trade, religion on his sleeve (he only made it a few sentences in his post-Super Tuesday speech before quoting Scripture, no joke) candidate as the second most aligned makes me cast some doubt on the scoring methodology. I could not vote for that joker under any circumstances; he is the John "Two Americas!" Edwards of the Republican side.

In The Bag For McCain

Well, the primary is in the bag, at least.

Romney's out: CNN story.

Easterly Tell 'Em

I am not sure if William Easterly knows who Souljah Boy is, but he's doin' it right in his rebuff of some of Bill Gates' rather leftward-drifting comments the other week about how we need a 'new kind of capitalism.' Gates' comments received some media coverage when he made them a few weeks ago, actually. Basically, he said that capitalism as it stands today has no incentive to come up with solutions to better the life of people with no money to buy products or services (all of the x million people living on 'less than $2/day' or whatever metric you like). I've read some of Easterly's past work and mentioned it here (wow, longer ago than I remembered!), and have his newer book queued up on Amazon. His work is often seen as a bit of the flipside to the lofty idealism (of the 'give a zillion more dollars in aid and Africa's problems will be solved' variety) seen in Jeffery Sachs' well-known book that I covered in this post.

A relevant segment from Easterley's WSJ piece follows (although I recommend reading all of it, particularly the commentary on favoring of specific industries at the end):

Mr. Gates seems to believe that the solution is to persuade for-profit companies to meet the poor's needs by boosting the "recognition" of corporate philanthropy. But the dossier of historical evidence to suggest this would work is as thin as Kate Moss on a diet. First of all, the recognition motive has proven to be awfully weak compared to the profit motive. Otherwise we would have had a lot more than the $5.1 billion of annual American corporate philanthropy to the Third World (as of 2005, which has the most recent reliable figures). That was four one-hundredths of 1% of the $12.4 trillion of U.S. production for the free market. Is it really the poor's only hope that the Gap will donate a few pennies per sexy T-shirt for AIDS treatment in Africa?

Profit-motivated capitalism, on the other hand, has done wonders for poor workers. Self-interested capitalist factory owners buy machines that increase production, and thus profits. Capitalists search for technological breakthroughs that make it possible to get more output for the same amount of input. Working with more machinery and better technology, workers produce more output per hour. In a competitive labor market, the demand for these more productive workers increases, driving up their wages. The steady increase in wages for unskilled labor lifts the workers out of poverty.

The number of poor people who can't afford food for their children is a lot smaller than it used to be -- thanks to capitalism. Capitalism didn't create malnutrition, it reduced it. The globalization of capitalism from 1950 to the present has increased annual average income in the world to $7,000 from $2,000. Contrary to popular legend, poor countries grew at about the same rate as the rich ones. This growth gave us the greatest mass exit from poverty in world history.

The parts of the world that are still poor are suffering from too little capitalism. Foreign direct investment in Africa today, although rising, amounts to only 1% of global flows. That's because the environment for private business in Africa is still hostile. There are some industry and country success stories in Africa, but not enough.

Contest: Status Update

Currently at -4.7%, and in the lead!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Video: How To Get Laid

I was lucky enough to find this linked off of a TechCrunch article about an instructional video site (Howcast, which, according to the story, just got $8 million in funding) founded by a bunch of ex-Google people. This was one of their videos:

Lou Dobbs Notwithstanding

This is a pretty entertaining and good (albeit relying heavily on anecdote to make its point) piece that Drew Carey did on the 'vanishing middle class'. It's about 8 minutes long. The short summary: purchasing power is very high compared to the past, and standard of living that people are benchmarking against for what should be the norm for the middle class has moved upward.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Maybe Slightly More Fertile?

Having blue/green eyes, maybe this means I'm slightly more kid-producing than someone with no blue whatsoever?

The question really is, 'Why did we go from having nobody on Earth with blue eyes 10,000 years ago to having 20 or 40 percent of Europeans having blue eyes now?" Hawks said. "This gene does something good for people. It makes them have more kids.

Can't Say I'm Shocked...

I'm sure Hillary and Obama won't be calling any attention to this, but -- lo and behold -- the Massachusetts universal health care plan (upon which both the Clinton and Obama proposals are modeled) is costing a crapload of money. It's on track to be nearly double the size and several hundred million dollars larger than expected within 3 years. The overruns are apparently because way more people are enrolling than had been forecast; how much of this is due to bad initial forecasts of the number of uninsured, or due to (I haven't seen this mentioned at all) people opting for it rather than continuing with existing private care they were previously paying for. The boosters in the Boston Globe piece seem to suggest that a lot of this was because the program hasn't been pursuing cost reductions. Color me a skeptical that they would have found nearly half a billion in 'cost savings' to be had over the next 3 years.

From what I understand, Commonwealth Care does have a mandate (everyone is required to have a policy -- either privately purchased or the state-subsidized Commonwealth Care), which is what Hillary is pushing as well (Obama's does not have a mandate)...but that the penalty imposed by MA for noncompliance is so small as to not have any real teeth. I don't know what numbers Hillary is tossing around (if she is tossing around numbers at all) as how much she will fine people for noncompliance. The only thing along I've heard mentioned around this is that she has talked about garnishing wages to impose such fines...but I don't know how large the fines are to be.

In any case: if the overrun was this large in a relatively small, wealthy state, I'd be scared to see the numbers involved in a national version of he same program.

Monday, February 04, 2008

No More Yahoo Music?

Damn. I had read that this day would come, but hadn't seen anything definitive. As I listened to my Yahoo Music-driven LAUNCHcast radio station, I read this TechCrunch piece. Apparently I'm going to become a Rhapsody subscriber, whether I like it or not. Has anyone else used Rhapsody? It costs a few bucks more a month than Yahoo Music, as well...

Dewey Wins!

I guess this book won't make it onto store shelves!

Friday, February 01, 2008

More Square Footage Leads To More Kiddos?

I saw commentary on this piece in today's NYT on a few sites today. It makes an interesting argument: the rise in average house square footage (or, in other words, the relative ease with which a give amount of space can be had by the population, on average) has provided the means (not sure if they are going as far as to say 'an incentive') for American families to have more children.

In most developed countries (of the OECD variety), fertility rates are markedly lower than in the US. The cost of housing is also much higher, making it difficult for young couples to afford much space in which to raise a family...possibly leading to having fewer kids. One big example would be Italy; housing is markedly more expensive (not so much housing stock to go around) there and the economy is not exactly going gangbusters...which has led to -- get this -- 82% of men under 30 still living with their parents. Talk about mommas' boys! They also have an abysmal fertility rate: 1.29. In comparison, the US is at 2.1 (roughly replacement rate).

UCLA prof Matthew Kahn is quoted too (his blog is worth reading), with a different argument: so many of these newer, high square footage homes in the US are in outlying areas (where land is cheap), leading to longer commute times, serving as a drag on the return to the workforce of women post-child...leading to more of them staying out of the workforce once they get out, and having more babies.