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Archive for October, 2008

Predictions are hard, especially about the future, but I have proved my worth. Here’s what I said two weeks ago:

My keen observation of the ruling American zeitgeist in the past few months permits me to make the following predictions vis-à-vis Halloween costumes:

  • For the ladies, the most desired will be Sarah Palin.
  • For the gentle-men, the most desired will be the Joker.

And what to my wondering eyes does appear, but a newspaper headline with a validation most clear:

Looking for Halloween ideas? Joker and Palin costumes are hot

To be honest, I suspected I had powers of clairvoyance ever since a woman vaguely resembling Roma Downey bumped up against me on a Germany subway, but now I’m sure of it and must give warning:

Stan Lazarus, of Muncie, Indiana: today, you and Phil from accounts receivable will decide on Scotty’s Brewhouse for lunch and hop in your truck. As you make the turn out of the Duffy Tool parking lot onto Kilgore, Phil will try to turn the radio on. DO NOT LET HIM DO THIS! You accidentally left the volume on after rocking to the oldies on WERK 104.9 last night, and when Phil switches the radio on, the Righteous Brothers’ version of Unchained Melody will come on with such force that you will involuntarily jerk the wheel and clip the curb, taking out a traffic sign and doing several thousand dollars worth of damage to the grill and chassis of your Ram.

Also, Scotty’s will overcook your burger, so order it rare.

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Balancing Act

Sometimes all it takes to swing from loss to profit is the stroke of a pen:

Changes in accounting rules allowed Deutsche Bank to avoid a loss for the third quarter.

The new rules enabled the bank to reduce its write-downs by nearly $1 billion, giving it a net profit of 435 million euros, or $573 million. Analysts had widely expected a loss.

Many people have a perception of accounting as being a tedious but straightforward and formulaic process, but the truth of the matter is that accounting rules are necessarily based on subjective assumptions; whether a company realizes a loss or profit can be entirely dependent on nothing more than how it is thought things should be accounted for.

This idea became clear to me when I thought about the accounting I do for my own budget. Let’s say that in December, for example, I make a big purchase with my credit card such that I spend more than I earn in the month. Since I made the purchase in December, I could record the expense in December and realize the loss. However, because I made the purchase with my credit card, I’m not actually spending any money until when the bill comes due in January, so I might choose to log the expense when I pay the bill rather than when I made the purchase. If I choose this second option, I’ll realize a profit in December rather than a loss, and the only difference was how I recorded the expense:

Option 1

December

January

Income

1,000

1,000

Less Expenses (350 on Credit)

1250

600

= Profit/(Loss)

(250)

400

Option 2

December

January

Income

1,000

1,000

Less Expenses  (350 on Credit)

900

950

= Profit/(Loss)

100

50

Deutsche Bank, probably mindful of Enron and Germany’s high intolerance for perceived corporate duplicity, did to its credit make certain in its statement to make clear the profit was due to a rule change:

Deutsche Bank reclassified certain assets, for which no active market existed in the third quarter and which management intends to hold for the foreseeable future, out of trading assets and assets available for sale and into loans. If these reclassifications had not been made, the income statement for the quarter would have included negative fair value movements relating to the reclassified assets of 845 million euros.

My example is not strictly analogous to what Deutsche Bank did (which has to do with this), but I’ll save that lesson for another time.

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Voting Vagaries

My poll was a success, dear readers!

After examining the votes cast in my poll, I have arrived at a decision as to who will be my write-in candidate. Though the plurality of votes went to Stephen Colbert, in the end one person’s vote made all the difference–touché, Hollywood celebs!

My choice for write-in candidate will be John Galt.

Now, I want to be clear that I am not randy for Rand (if you will), nor did I particularly enjoy The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged, even if I think each contains a lot of sense. To the extent I know anything about Objectivism, which is admittedly not much, I don’t favor its epistemology. Nonetheless, I like John Galt because the name is widely-known and carries definite enough connotations that I’m confident my general sentiment will be communicated.

But even though he is my preferred presidential candidate, I won’t be voting for John Galt next Tuesday, because South Carolina doesn’t allow write-ins for presidential elections, a fact which may well persuade me not to bother voting. My motivation for voting is expressive and somewhat moral, so taking away my ability to vote expressively takes away my main reason for visiting the polls.

If I do cast a ballot next Tuesday, my selection for President will be “none of the above.” If that is not possible, I will leave that part of the ballot blank. In either case, I will most likely be brusque to the polling staff and scowl at the voting machine for several seconds before submitting my ballot—I’ve got to get my expressiveness in there somehow.

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Vote for the Vote

With the most important election in human or non-human history just days away, I am still one of the undecided voters whom political operatives consider to be abjectly stupid.  My indecisiveness is, however, of a different flavor than many others, for I was long ago decided not to vote for any main party nominee, instead opting to write in a candidate of my choosing. Thus the decision which before me lies is quite open-ended, in contrast to the 50/50 proposition with which other undecideds are faced.

I turn to you, dear readers, to resolve this for me. Below is a poll with a few suggestions, but I am far more interested in hearing what your thoughts are.  Silliness is not my goal, but if that’s what the people want, that’s what the people shall get, ’cause that’s democracy.

Vote early, and vote often.

Addendum: I do have the ability to see your write-ins for my write-in, and I may share those after voting has completed.

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The Long Tale

In my post on Paul Flagon-man, I pledged that his book, Peddling Prosperity, would be the next on my reading list. Unfortunately the county library does not carry this particular work of his, and though Amazon is peddling the book, I would rather wait for another paycheck to make the purchase. What’s more, after just having read three nonfiction books–and not liking Thomas Friedman’s book much at all–I am primed for some good ol’ yarn spinning, and soon settle upon Ender’s Game, a sci-fi classic, as my next pick.

Much to my joy, the book is carried by the branch library just a short walk from my abode, which is unusual since the library is small. Once there, however, and despite the assurances of the electronic catalog to the contrary, I discover that the book is nowhere to be found among Orson Scott Card’s other works. No matter, think I, for it will not take long to snag something suitable with my title-trawling eye.

Aha–my eye catches on Vonnegut. I’ve always meant to read Slaughterhouse-Five, and here it is….not. Just some of his other books. Drat!

What’s this, Orwell! His 1984 has been a hole in my literacy for ages! O frabjous day! But I am foiled again. Though other oeuvres are to be seen, the chef has left the shelf.

And, within a few minutes more, I find Umberto Eco but no The Name of the Rose, and realize that Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude must be living somewhere in isolation, perhaps for fear of catching cholera.

Why a library would stock only the lesser-known works of famous authors puzzles me like an inapt simile; perhaps a clue lies somewhere in the text of The Satanic Verses, the one exception I am able finally to check out.

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A good rule of thumb when educating yourself about the current financial situation is to avoid sources that use terms like “free market fundamentalism” and “socialism.” Usually these words are used as nothing more than pejoratives, and one suspects that many of the people who use them couldn’t even provide a good definition of either concept.

Such as here, for instance:

Sarah Palin derided Barack Obama’s and Joe Biden’s tax policies yesterday, telling a rally in New Mexico, “Friends, now is no time to experiment with socialism.” Note: Sarah Palin is the governor of a state that practices collective ownership of oil and other natural resources, and equally distributes the state’s cut of the revenues to every citizen.

Good write-ups on free markets and socialism can be found here and here, respectively. Ironically, I think socialism is a lot easier to define than is a free market.

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A Houston Chronicle article has brought a unique practice to my attention:

Tens of thousands of teachers are blocking highways and seizing government buildings across Mexico to protest a federal education reform ending their longtime practice of selling their jobs or giving them to their children.

Having ownership of a particular job seems strange at first blush, but then again, politicians are always talking about “American jobs” being shipped overseas, which carries the same implication, no matter how odd.

A job is a task or series of tasks, like mowing the lawn or debugging software. So to claim a job is American is to claim that certain tasks are American, which—excepting many government jobs— is so inscrutable as to be meaningless. You might as well start claiming that certain jobs are cobalt or Jeffish. Similarly, ownership of a job implies ownership of a particular task, which is inescapably silly.

What people do own is their labor, and a job results when a seller of labor comes to a mutually agreeable arrangement with someone who wants to buy that labor. A job is the vessel, shaped by both buyer and seller, into which labor is poured and from which the buyer’s desired good or service emerges. Without these powers combined, the vessel ceases to be, much like Captain Planet without one of his rings.

And everyone knows you can’t sell Captain Planet, no matter how eager the nefarious Hoggish Greedly might be to make the purchase.

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