Archive for February, 2009

Live Nude Mormons

February 28, 2009

There’s a new study of online porn consumption, based on credit card receipts.  Turns out there’s almost no correlation between political geography and porn consumption.  That is, deep red states consume about the same amount of online porn as blue states — slightly more, actually.  Nor did the researchers find any correlation with church attendance.  Churchgoers consume the same amount of porn as the irreligious.  They do consume slightly less on Sunday, but they make up for it the rest of the week.  (It’s Sunday, but Friday’s coming!)

Oh, and the state with the highest online porn consumption?  Utah.

Arbitrating Sports

February 28, 2009

Pepperdine’s School of Law (and Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution) hosted a symposium on “Arbitrating Sports” yesterday, and many of the big players came to town. I decided to attend and found it to be an interesting event.

It was not what a non-academic such as myself would have expected. When I think of arbitrating sports, I think of mega-contracts with major stars, but in reality the discussion involved athletes on the poor side – think Olympians in sports like women’s field hockey. There was lots and lots of talk about “doping” accusations, along with a myriad of references to the Floyd Landis (cycling, if you’ve forgotten) public arbitration that Pepperdine hosted a couple of years ago.

There was a “poor athlete” versus mean ol’ WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) vibe that ran throughout the day, partly because it seems WADA is a screwed-up organization, but mostly because there were lots of folks on the athletes’ side in attendance (read: their lawyers).

One of the major arguments is that testing labs are presumed correct in arbitrations over doping. In the Landis case, two labs came to diametrically opposite results (the Paris lab said “dirty,” and the UCLA lab would have said “clean”), and overcoming this scientific presumption is fairly impossible for an athlete – especially for athletes w/o funds to fight it.

It really should make us all think when we hear of someone testing positive for doping. We might ought to start with that crazy notion of jurisprudence that says “innocent until proven guilty,” and then go one step further and consider that several might be innocent even after being proven guilty.

Attorney Howard Jacobs mentioned a couple of prime examples:
#1: Zach Lund (skeleton), who was denied the opportuntiy to compete in the 2006 Olympics because of his positive doping test that came from taking Propecia for male-pattern baldness.
#2: Alain Baxter (alpine skiing), who was stripped of a bronze medal from the 2006 Games in Salt Lake City after picking up a Vick’s inhaler from a local convenience store and testing positive for methamphetamine.

But I especially enjoyed hearing Michael Lenard’s panel at the end of the day. Lenard is a board member of the International Court of Arbitration for Sport, and a straight-shooter. Without attempting to exonerate WADA (and its American version, USADA), he basically said What did you expect? Everyone wanted an independent agency to deal with these matters, created an international one, told them doping was bad, and set them loose on the world of sport. As he pointed out, the world doesn’t have an effective international body to deal with war crimes yet – do we expect a beautiful one to deal with doping issues in sport?

Then, after all was (practically) said and done, I found it most interesting when Lenard said that doping isn’t really the big issue on the horizon of sport. In his presentation on “The Future of Sports Dispute Resolution,” he said that “citizenship” is the biggie. He spoke briefly of countries buying athletes’ citizenship, and I remembered high school – moving the stud into town so he can play for your team. Lenard argued that “integrity of the outcome” is the most important value to protect because, if we think the game is rigged, we’ll quit watching.

All in all, it was in interesting day. I’m not really interested in pursuing a career in sports arbitration, but it was fun to take a break from studying law for grades, and engage in a study of law just for the sake of learning something – which is a novel idea all by itself.

Still Not Getting It

February 27, 2009

Economic stimulus.  It’s not that complex a notion.  When the economy enters a deep recession, such that a lot of our output capacity goes idle because demand has dropped off, it’s useful for the federal government to increase its spending, thus bringing demand back up and employing that idle capacity.

It almost doesn’t matter what the feds spend the money on.  Certainly, some things are more stimulative than others, but the fundamental mechanism of economic stimulus is dead simple: spend a lot of money.

Yet the GOP and the “Blue Dog” Democrats have had difficulty grasping that pillar of macroeconomics.  It seems to be news to them, despite its being a fundamental concept in every Econ101 course in every college in every capitalist nation for the past 75 years.

They keep criticizing the stimulus bill as big-gummint big spending  — “There they go again, spending your money!”  Well, duh.  As a somewhat flummoxed President Obama said, “That’s kinda the point.”  How, exactly, is it a criticism of a bill whose fundamental purpose is to spend a lot of money — a bill that exists solely for that purpose — to say that it spends a lot of money?

Then they said, “What about fiscal discipline?  What about the deficit?  We’re spending our children’s money!”  They can’t seem to comprehend that if we don’t stimulate our economy, there’s a good chance the one we hand to our children will look like 1931.  They also seem not to realize that right now is the best time, ever, for the U.S. government to borrow money.  With the entire global economy in the crapper, people are willing to loan us money at extremely low interest.  For a while, U.S. Treasury securities were selling like hotcakes at 0% interest — that’s zero.  The only other people getting terms that good on a loan are Habitat for Humanity families.  If we’re ever going to borrow money, now is definitely the time to do it.

The newest complaint from conservatives (GOP, Blue Dog, and otherwise) is that we can’t possibly spend $770 billion dollars (though they keep calling it $1 trillion, for some reason, and I just heard one GOP congresswoman say it was $1.5 trillion — twice the actual spending in the bill) without waste and fraud.

They’re right.  We can’t possibly spend hundreds of billions of dollars without some waste and fraud.  Here’s the thing, though: it does. not. matter.  In brute economic terms, all that matters is that the money gets spent.  If some of it gets wasted or even skimmed, it still stimulates the economy.  It still raises demand.  Which is the whole blessed point.

Now, obviously, we’d like to both stimulate the economy and end up with [public] goods and services whose value roughly equal what we spent.  Nobody likes to see taxpayer money wasted; nobody likes graft.  So the feds will be watching out for that stuff, with incomplete success.  But even if they weren’t, even if they turned a completely blind eye (as the Bush administration did with billions of dollars in cash handed over to the Pakistani government), the stimulus bill would still be the right thing to do.

This isn’t a normal spending bill, folks.  The point of a normal spending bill is to buy things the country needs.  Waste and fraud defeat the purpose.  That’s not the case here.  This is a stimulus bill.  The point of spending the money is not to obtain goods and services we need.  The point of spending the money is to spend the money.  If some of it goes to waste and fraud, that’s unfortunate, but the money still got spent, and it still stimulates the economy.

Currently Reading

February 27, 2009

I’m off for Spring Break in a few hours. One more class. I’m mean. I’m giving a quiz in a 2:00 class on the Friday Spring Break begins. When did I become that professor?

A few things I’m reading lately. Flannery O’Connor’s Wiseblood, which I’ve read a couple times before. It’s eat-up with good. I made a deal with myself round about the new year that I would read a little of William Vollmann’s Europe Central everyday. It’s a long-ish book, and it’s not an easy read, and I would never make time to just sit down and read it at the beach. So I’m slowly making my way through it. It’s more or less about the period between the two world wars. It tells the lives of a few people from both Russia and Germany. Artists. I’m not sure why, yet, but he focuses on artists of some sort or other. This isn’t the easiest of reads, which I don’t mind. What I do mind is that it’s not all that enjoyable. But a deal is a deal, and if I keep reading 4 or 5 pages a day, I should finish in July or August.

And then there’s another book I’m re-reading. I assigned Helen Dewitt’s The Last Samurai for my classes this semester, so I’m reading it along with them. It is genius, I think. (My students really, really disagree with me.) But the story of a young prodigy (speaks / reads several languages [such as Greek and Japanese] by the age of 4). So it’s the story of him growing up with a single mom who refuses to tell him who his father is. It is genius and enjoyable to read. Unless you’re a student who is forced to read it by a professor who gives quizzes the day spring break begins.

And seems like there was something else.

The LA Times usually has something interesting to say. I just read the Wednesday edition and thought the following three articles were interesting.

For fans of The Wire or Fringe or Lost, there is a brief interview with / article about Lance Reddick. I wish it were longer. He’s a very talented actor, and he seems intelligent and someone you’d like to know more about. Although, why do actors feel the need to become musicians?

Everyone always thinks they are taxed more than everyone else. Californians are no different. And when we finally got a budget last week (over halfway through the fiscal year), they announced a tax hike. And people started screaming about how we were already taxed more than anyone else. Turns out they were wrong. We’re only the 19th on the list of most-taxed states.

And finally. Tap water. Somewhere in New York City, some genius decided to bottle actual tap water and sell it for $1.50. And he’s making a killing. Why didn’t I think of that?

Happy Spring Break, everyone.

Knights Who Say…

February 26, 2009

Alas, it seems President Obama has not caught up with me, Bernanke, Yglesias, Paulson, Spitzer, Klein, Volcker, and Simon Johnson:

financial institutions that pose serious risks, systemic risks, to our market should be subject to serious oversight by the government. And here’s why. When the Federal Reserve steps in as a lender of last resort, which it’s had to do repeatedly since this financial crisis began, it’s providing an insurance policy underwritten by the American taxpayer. And taxpayers should be assured that the Fed thoroughly understands the institutions that it is effectively insuring and actively monitoring them to make sure that they’re not taking risks that will cost taxpayers in the long term.

He’s got the right reasons, but fetches up at the wrong policy — or, better said, an incomplete policy.  Banks clearly do need to be better regulated.  But banks (and other institutions) also need to be prevented from getting so big that they “pose serious risks, systemic risks, to our market.”  Obama’s emphasis seems to still be on the “to fail” part of too big to fail, when it needs to be on the “too big” part.

Sky is Blue

February 25, 2009

I’m working on a meatier post about supply-side economics, since the GOP has tossed it up as a better alternative to what Obama is doing, but I haven’t had time to finish it.

In the meantime, I’ll just note how odd it is that a guy as smart as Matt Yglesias is surprised to discover that a) America is not a geographically small, culturally homogeneous European country, and b) oil is valuable.  Now, I absolutely agree that the American government needs to function better than it has, especially in recent years, but I don’t get why he expects large policy changes to happen as smoothly in America as in Finland.

Oh, and in this age of extreme political polarization, it’s nice to find something that liberals and conservatives can all agree on: Bobby Jindal’s speech was a charlie foxtrot.

Hit Me With Your Best Shot

February 21, 2009

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So our daughter, Hillary, was Seussed out after night two of the middle school musical at Malibu High (Seussical: The Musical). But it was another great performance. And she is finally getting a chance to sleep in this morning.

Our friends, Nathan and Lauren, came last night and had a really good time. We had an especially good time talking to them in the parking lot after the show, in large part swapping stories of star sightings. We’re from small town Arkansas/Mississippi, and they are from small town Tennessee, so we share a common bond in this strange land called Malibu.

Our discussion was prompted because Jody spotted Pat Benatar at the musical last night. Jody is a Pat Benatar fan from way back (claims she got her through some bad relationships in the ’80s) and was pretty pumped about it. Jody noticed that she went backstage during intermission and then was talking to the director after the performance. Hillary was listening to Jody talk about her with Nathan and Lauren in the parking lot and asked who they were talking about. Jody described her, and Hillary said, “Oh, I know her.”

Turns out Pat Benatar is the costume alterations lady for the middle school musical! (She goes by her husband’s name, or we would have noticed it in the program!)

So Jody & I got on YouTube and Wikipedia as soon as we got home and had a little ’80s party. She’s known as the Queen of Rock. She’s a member of the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame and was voted the best female rock vocalist of all time by Billboard magazine. Hers was the second video ever on MTV (right after “Video Killed the Radio Star”). And she’s our little girl’s costume alterations lady.

Turn up the volume and enjoy, Pat (Benatar) Giraldo.

Don’t Go for the Blonde

February 17, 2009

“If we all go for the blonde, we block each other and make the other girls mad at us.”

That’s how John Nash’s great insight into “governing dynamics” came to him, according to the movie A Beautiful Mind.  His insight was that Adam Smith’s fundamental model — the one capitalism is based on — was flawed.  Contra Smith, the best outcome doesn’t come from every individual acting purely on rational self-interest; it comes from every individual acting rationally in the interest of both self and the group.

That’s the lesson our Wall Street bankers need to learn.

As this article details, the banks receiving billions of taxpayer dollars under TARP are not lending that money out, as congress had hoped (maybe even intended); instead, they’re hanging onto it.  Why?  Because that’s what maximizes each bank’s own individual interests: in an unstable, recessionary economy, you hang on to the money you’ve got; you don’t put it at risk.

Looked at strictly on an individual level, that is the rational thing to do.  It’s what best serves your bank’s shareholders.  However, looked at on a collective level, it’s ultimately devastating to all the banks’ shareholders, along with the rest of us.  A continuing credit crunch further weakens demand.  Weakened demand causes a shrinking GDP.  And that, ladies and gents, is a recession.  Which causes banks to be even more tightfisted and risk-averse.  Which makes the recession still worse, and so on.  And that, ladies and gents, is a recession spiraling into a depression.   Everybody loses, including — maybe especially — banks and their shareholders.

It’s a textbook collective action problem.  The thing that’s best for the group as a whole is not the thing that’s best for each player individually.  As long as everybody is acting purely on rational self-interest, the thing that would be best for everybody never happens.  In fact, everybody will end up in the crapper.

So how do we get the banks to do what’s best for everybody, instead of what’s best for each of them individually?

The Great Emancipator

February 12, 2009

Abraham Lincoln turns 200 today, and all you got was this stupid post.

(I meant to post something about Lincoln, but was overtaken by events.  Get over it.)

Welcome to the desert of the real.

February 12, 2009

George Packer catches a small, fleeting glimpse of the problem I talked about most recently in my filibuster post, but have talked about before.  Quoth George:

The landscape of the future seems more favorable to Democrats than Republicans. And the country seems at risk of dividing into wealthier, better educated, more liberal cities, where new populations will flow, and poorer, less educated, more conservative suburbs and rural areas, where the populations will grow sparser. This transformation might usher in a new era of liberal ascendancy, but it will bring new problems, new inequalities, new resentments.

Packer is one of those wealthier, better educated, more liberal city-dwellers.  He’s part of an entire class of such people, who don’t realize that the new problems, inequalities, and resentments he foresees won’t be new.  They’re already here.  They have been for a long time.

What I think Packer is right about is: they will get worse.

And the more the rules of governance — be it filibuster rules or electoral college rules or senatorial representation rules — get changed to better represent the large population centers peopled by Packer’s class, the more those poorer, less educated, more conservative people out in the hinterlands are going to feel shut out, put out, and pissed off.