Tuesday, June 30, 2009

More on Debt & Healthcare Reform

I'm catching up on my RSS clippings this week. This op-ed was published by Ken Rogoff in the Financial Times on 6/17.(HT: WSJ's Real Time Economics) If I were president, Rogoff would be head of my CEA or Treasury Secretary or my next Fed appointment.
(update: see a Mark Thoma rebuttal of Rogoff's argument. Thoma disagrees with the conventional wisdom of the "demographic timebomb" problem).

Rogoff's concern is that health care reform won't succeed in lowering the cost of health care, and will therefore break the bank. In other words: If we don't get health care reform right and soon, we're completely hosed:

Make no mistake, the US and much of the developed world is in a frighteningly precarious fiscal state. Exploding debt levels have remained manageable in no small part thanks to the extraordinarily low level of global real interest rates. Should the general level of global interest rates rise substantially, perhaps owing to a pick-up in emerging market growth over the next few years, a number of developed countries, including the US, may have to tighten their belts sharply in order to maintain stable debt ratios. Countries that fail to do so will suffer severe consequences, including spiralling interest rates and, ultimately, default by direct means or through high inflation.

It is a disgrace that the world’s richest country cannot provide reliable basic care for its poorest citizens. But if the politics of reform produces too extravagant a plan when the nation’s fiscal health is already so weak, the US may experience a form of financial crisis even more virulent than the one it is recovering from. Any healthcare plan would then be dead on arrival.


On Debt or the Long-Term Budget Outlook

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) requires the director to keep a blog. Douglas Elmendorf has the job of being "the skunk at the garden party." I'm just going to paste this post from last Thursday about the long-term picture.
As I've written here before, the current deficits created by the stimulus are not the problem. The fall in tax revenues due to the recession and the exponentially projected debt as a percentage of GDP due to the "demographic timebomb" of Baby Boomers retiring and health care costs rising rapidly.

Elmendorf (with bolding by me):

Today CBO released the Long-Term Budget Outlook. Under current law, the federal budget is on an unsustainable path—meaning that federal debt will continue to grow much faster than the economy over the long run. Although great uncertainty surrounds long-term fiscal projections, rising costs for health care and the aging of the U.S. population will cause federal spending to increase rapidly under any plausible scenario. Unless tax revenues increase just as rapidly, the rise in spending will produce growing budget deficits and accumulating debt. Large budget deficits would reduce national saving, leading to more borrowing from abroad and less domestic investment, which in turn would depress income growth in the United States.

Keeping deficits and debt from reaching levels that could cause substantial harm to the economy would require increasing revenues significantly as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP), decreasing projected spending sharply, or some combination of the two. Making such changes sooner rather than later would lessen the risks that current fiscal policy poses to the economy. Although the policy choices that will be necessary are difficult, CBO’s long-term budget projections make clear that doing nothing is not an option: Legislation must ultimately be adopted that raises revenue or reduces spending or both. Moreover, delaying action simply exacerbates the challenge, as is discussed in the report.

For decades, spending on the federal government’s major health care programs, Medicare and Medicaid, has been growing faster than the economy (as has health care spending in the private sector). CBO projects that if current laws do not change, federal spending on Medicare and Medicaid combined will grow from almost 5 percent of GDP today to almost 10 percent by calendar year 2035 and to more than 17 percent of GDP by 2080. That projection means that in 2080, if there are no changes in policy, the federal government would be spending almost as much, as a share of the economy, on just its two major health care programs as it has spent on all of its programs and services in recent years. Constraining the costs of those health care programs will be a key to developing a sustainable fiscal policy. Social Security has a smaller effect on the budget outlook: CBO projects that Social Security spending will increase from less than 5 percent of GDP today to about 6 percent in 2035 and then roughly stabilize at that rate through 2080.

The current recession contributes to the long-term fiscal imbalance by raising the debt burden of the federal government and shortening the period during which policymakers can enact measures that would correct the imbalances. CBO estimates that in the next two years, the federal government will record its largest budget deficits as a share of GDP since shortly after World War II. As a result of those deficits, federal debt held by the public will soar from 41 percent of GDP at the end of fiscal year 2008 to 60 percent at the end of fiscal year 2010. The higher debt results in permanently higher spending to pay interest on that debt (unless the debt is later paid off).


Me again:
So, the question you should be asking your congressman is: What are you doing about health care costs? If you oppose the Obama plan and don't think it will lead to a lesser rate of growth in the cost of health care, what do you propose in its place to keep costs down? Doing nothing appears to be NOT an option.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Book Review (#8 of 2009)

The Subprime Solution: How Today's Global Financial Crisis Happened and What to Do about It by Bob Shiller.


Shiller of the S&P/Case-Shiller home price index that's so closely watched. Shiller published this book in mid 2008, before much of the bad stuff happened. The books is very short with very large margins, so it's a quick read. I'll simply link to Ian Ayres review of the book on the Freakonomics blog as he has valid criticisms.

Shiller basically believes that information is the #1 solution for keeping such a crisis from occuring again. The government should basically subsidize financial education, subsidize financial advisers (have them charge a standard hourly fee), etc. Establish national databases of personal and business financial data so that things like FICO scores aren't so important.

He supports the creation of more markets-- home equity insurance, income insurance (in case you lose your job), continuously worked-out mortgages, and an expanded derivatives market (which he helped create) for things like home values in cities.

About the only thing that the Administration seems to have proposed that fits with what Shiller suggested is the sort of "Consumer Lending Safety Commission" that would regulate home loans, credit cards, student loans, etc.

Overall, a good simple economist's view to preventing future crises.

I give it 2.5 stars out of 5. A quick read, you should check it out sometime.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Remember when?

Remember when James Dobson and Jerry Falwell tried to talk Mark Sanford into running for President in '08 because they were upset with a potential McCain nomination and wanted a true Christian Conservative? (I blogged on this stuff here back then). Remember last December when Sanford was a hero and the FOX news folks speculated about him in 2012? Here's his Intrade market entry/odds.

Now he becomes the second Republican in a week to relinquish a GOP leadership position (though still not resign his elected one!) because of marital unfaithfulness. And it turns out he and Ensign were both apparently members of the same secretive Bible study.

The Republican party seems to have come to stand for one thing: Hypocrisy (and maybe stupidity, seriously did you think you'd take a week out of the country and no one would care/notice? Looks like his staff hung him out to dry today after what he put them through this week).

I guess that makes Sarah Palin a more likely contender for 2012. I am seriously on the verge of switching registration to Independent.

My wife got me Ross Douthat's Grand New Party for Father's Day, it's been on my must-read list for a year. If I don't like what I see in the book, or think that the old hands in the GOP will never enact their sound proposals then I will probably make a trip down to the court house.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Alcohol

Our friend Keith Walters has a very well-written blog that needs some love. Today's post is entitled "Bottoms Up: Reflections on Alcohol and the Word of God." It's a great read. I assume he wrote it in honor of the SBC's annual convention in Louisville this week.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Book Review (#7 of 2009)

Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds by Stephen Kinzer (Revised and Expanded Edition).
Read this in preparation for going to Turkey in August. Kinzer is a former NY Times correspondent who has written several books. Seems like he is a good journalist who learned the language and culture very well and was granted access to important figures.

One passage from his inter-chapter interludes got me particularly excited, Kinzer talks about the countless historically and archeologically significant sites that no one even knows about:
"Even the discovered sites are so remote and widely scattered that many are rarely visited. In Turkey I have followed routes taken by Julius Ceasar and Saint Peter, walked among weird monoliths carved by Hittite sculptors three thousand years ago, crawled into caves used as churches by early Christians and climbed rocky hills up to crusaders' castles. Once I took a drive through eastern Turkey that in the space of just four days took me to unforgettable ruins from half a dozen great cultures."
The book is a pretty quick read and focuses on some of the history and current events (up to last year) that have shaped Turkey profoundly. I learned a lot and highly recommend it. He does a good job of showing the conflicts and contradictions of the nation as well as its hopes.

One thing I gleaned from reading it is that Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's Prime Minister, reminds me a lot of Barack Obama. Erdogan was elected under deep suspicion from the old guard and has since tried to prove himself to be a more moderate-leaning democrat while trying to move Turkey forward toward the EU. In fact, I just found a recent Turkish news article off Kinzer's website that quotes Kinzer as saying "Turkey's new identity fits with Obama's view of the world."

4 stars out of 5.

There are other protestors not in the news...

As I read today's updates from Tehran from the NY Times' The Lede blog, I'm pleased with the attention now being given to Iran.

However, Joshua Foust at Registan.net, the Central Asian chronicle, points out that residents of Georgia have been protesting and rioting for months over democracy issues with no media attention. Full disclosure, I wrote extensively on the Georgia-Russia conflict on this blog and maintained a pro-Georgian slant. I don't keep up with many Georgia and Ossetia blogs anymore and the ones I do read have conflicting reports about the president. It appears that Saak is clinging to power by threads.

Foust points out that the difference is that Georgia is a U.S-subsidized ally, one that Dick Cheney flew to and pledged a billion more dollars to immediately after the conflict. Americans apparently must not want to know if that money is propping up a regime choosing autocratic tactics to keep its power. They'd rather know if one that chants "death to America" every Friday is about to collapse.

And the Opposition in Georgia perhaps aren't utilizing Twitter or Facebook as they might...? I don't claim to have any information, just always like it when someone directs me to news that the media have ignored.

Friday, June 19, 2009

How to spell Jesus

Took this pic with my Nokia e63. It's a church near campus.
Granted, this sign might have been put together in 105 degree heat. But if Jesus is the foundation for your church then I think you should spell his name correctly.

If I were deciding whether to visit this church or another, I would choose the other after seeing this sign. Especially given that the staff can see this sign every day yet don't care enough to change it.

My wife's brother-in-law has been doing a series of posts entitled "Jesus has a branding problem." (Here's the latest one) His main point (I think) is that most people don't know who the real Jesus is and most of Jesus' customers (Christians) don't do a good job of promoting the real Jesus. Kind of like when people call all soft drinks "Coke," or all photocopies "Xerox," you dilute the importance of the distinct brand name.

Economists don't believe in marketing because most of our models assume that people already have complete information about a product. Seeing Lebron James wear Nike doesn't transmit any more information about the quality, fundamentals, and price of Nike shoes or the company, so Lebron's commercials are a pointless misuse of funds.

But obviously marketing is a multi-billion dollar industry, so maybe those models aren't realistic. The fact that we were given the "Great Commission" means there are clearly people without instantaneous access to complete information about Jesus.

My point: This church has used their sign to transmit some very important information about themselves. I'd rather have that information before I walk in the door than after I've already taken my seat.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Touching

I just got a (robo) phone call from Pat Robertson of the 700 Club. He and his staff are going to be praying for my financial needs in this time of economic uncertainty. There'll be a live webcast next Monday. He doesn't want me to have fear or torment.

Funny how he's never called to offer to pray for any of my non-financial needs.

Storm Story and Product Review - Weather Underground

On Tuesday around 6am I was lying in bed deciding whether or not to get up to check on Elias, who was making noise. Then the tornado siren sounded. There was no rain or noise, but looking out the window I could see that there were two skies- the distant gray sky and the sky right above us, a dark black shelf cloud. "Uh oh."

While Joni took Elias to shelter, my first step was to immediately call up my Weather Underground NEXRAD bookmark on my Nokia e63. WUnderground is a very powerful resource, you have access to a lot more NEXRAD data than on other sites. The radar map showed me the individual cells coming toward us, the probability and size of hail, the wind speed, and how much precipitation the cell was dropping. Here's an example (the details on the labels are below the radar, not pictured here):
Sure enough, we had the purple triangle representing a tornado vortex signature with an arrow pointing right at Bolivar, and not far away. I immediately turned on my "police" scanner and heard the dispatchers announce the tornado was 5 minutes out. The sirens had blown before emergency services had announced the warning, which is great (it didn't happen that way last time). Storm spotters were being scrambled, but being 6am no one was on the spot at the time. the NWS' HAM radio StormNet was up but with little spotter activity.

WUnderground allows you to look at different data. You can see which directions winds within the cells are moving, so you can see if there's rotation. You can look at how high up the storm goes to determine its scope. You can look at how big the core of the cell is. The radar FAQ are located here. There is also a weather station active in Bolivar, so we can get up-to-the-second local conditions.

There is also a Wundermap that syncs with Google Maps to give you a specific view, but it appears that the NEXRAD map is not properly laid onto the Google coordinates so it may say it's raining over your house when it's really not there yet. Wundermap is sort of a gimmick, it's their NEXRAD stuff where the real power is located.

Wunderground has its own Wiki page. You can also create a blog, upload pictures, and share stories with your neighbors on the site. Pretty cool community.

To view Wunderground's archived radar loop of that system, click here. The bad part of Tuesday's storm just missed us, there were 80mph winds just west of the county line and a lot of flooding everywhere. We had some dime sized hail.

If you want to be prepared-- use Weather Underground. The information you get from TV is usually old and unhelpful, especially if they don't want to interrupt GMA(!).

I've also decided to get my HAM radio operator's license this summer so I can also participate in the StormNet. This last storm has left me disgruntled with the local HAM folk as they seem clueless on how to get quick information from places like Weather Underground and Twitter.

I'm also likely going to pay the $10 to view Weather Underground ad-free for a year. This will make it load faster on my mobile.

Monday, June 15, 2009

When Twitter is good

So, this isn't an "I hate Twitter" post. I'm really liking Twitter the last 48 hours. It's the only way to get instantaneous updates from Iran. I've only been following JimSciuttoABC, who is an ABC reporter on the ground there. He and Nick Kristof have been retweeting others' posts, and of course you can hashtag search. #iranelectionPicture source: Boston.com

The cable news media failed. CNN and Fox did very little coverage of the Iranian election results. Old friend The Great Moose has a couple posts on it here and here, including more people you can follow.

I also got the news about Jodie Meeks not returning to UK directly from Coach Cal via Twitter.

And I'm enjoying John Piper's posts.

Friday, June 12, 2009

On DTV deadline

Sorely lacking on the evening news discussions this evening was the plight of all the people who will not be able to see their regular channels tomorrow even though they've upgraded to DTV. Even PBS' NewsHour missed this tonight, the first time I've ever seen Jeffrey Brown blow it.

If, as the Commerce Dept. stated, the reason it's urgent to switch everyone to DTV is so they can still receive emergency updates, then what about the millions of DTV upgradees who still can't receive signal?

Like my parents in rural Kentucky. Even with a large outdoor antenna they would be unable to receive anything but PBS with their DTV rig. So, they bought a satellite dish. The problem with this comes in the case of weather emergencies-- they lose signal when it rains! So, they wouldn't know that the radar says a tornado is bearing down on them. (They have a weather radio, but what about those who don't?). I don't know if the cable company ever fixed the cable TV service out there, it was out for weeks after the ice storm and there was mass exodus to satellite.

My point is that in emergencies analog TV was the best way to get information updates for everyone in the U.S., and now it's gone. DTV signals don't reach everyone.

But I guess I'm the only one upset about this.

(*note* I understand the logic that we need to free up bandwidth for emergency services... but I wonder if this whole thing wasn't lobbied for by the cable & sattelite companies to force people to switch to their services).

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The End is Not so Nigh?

Yesterday there was a debacle in the bond market, the Treasury Department's auctioning off of $19 billion of 10-year notes went badly with the yield hitting 4% at one point. It added fuel to Niall Ferguson and John Taylor's arguments that the rise in interest rates signal that investors are signaling the government that they're not eager to lend it money in the face of fiscal irresponsibility (and do not simply signal optimism about economic growth).

There was much anticipation to see what would happen when Treasury issued $11 billion in 30-year notes today. Jansen predicted more gloom. However, the auction went relatively well. The yield declined (price rose) from overnight levels and 50% of the issue was reportedly bought by foreign central banks. This is huge because some economists have been making noise about foreign governments shying away from longer-term U.S. securities. If they're still buying, that is a huge vote of confidence in the U.S.

Jansen also reports that corporate bonds are in high demand today. So, it appears that today was not the beginning of the end of the world. Perhaps the steepening of the yield curve really does signal optimism about economic growth and not simply fears about monetary and fiscal policies.

Financial economist Scott Grannis argues that the rising yields are a good thing and supports the claim made by Martin Wolf and others that borrowing costs aren't really rising and that mortgage rates are still low by fairly recent measures. The key thing now is reading what the TIPS tells us about expected inflation. So long as expectations don't rise above the 2-3% range, things look good.

Matt McKee retweeted this USA Today article where they unveil a new forecasting index created by IHS Global Insight. 7 of their 11 leading indicators are positive (hard to tell from their charts). Basically, the indication is that we might have hit bottom and are now rebounding.

Nouriel Roubini cautions that these "green shoots" might be "yellow weeds" (HT: David Beckworth). Time will tell.

What do I think? Well, the data say that we've likely already hit bottom. But, it doesn't mean that the recovery will be as steep as we'd like. Many economists, including Ben Bernanke, are predicting below-average growth for at least a couple years. The unemployment rate will continue to rise through 2010 and will take years to get back to 5%. We've still not completely fixed the problems in the financial market that gave rise to the recession and housing prices have not hit bottom in several cities. Some areas (Nevada, Michigan, California) will be struggling economically for a while. Other countries are in worse shape than we are, so global recovery will take a long time.

The Fed's unwinding of their inflated balance sheet could pose some potential problems, they'll be charting new territory there. The fear recently has been that inflation was a problem so the Fed was going to have to tighten policy sooner than anticipated, potentially dampening economic recovery. Some of those fears can be quelled if today's bond market results really do indicate positive feelings toward strong recovery.

One big question: Do we return to the status quo as a nation of non-savers borrowing from other countries to fuel our consumption? Do China, Russia, and everyone else return to the same dance as before? Those questions have yet to be answered. If the answer is "no" then our economy will fundamentally change.

Medicare's potential insolvency after 2017 and the debt-to-GDP projected thereafter is still a huge problem. So, while growth may be positive the next couple years it is a little like saying it will be mostly sunny before the big tornado hits.

Profound Words from David Brooks

David Brooks and Gail Collins co-author a blog called The Conversation. The posts are nothing spectacular, I read them mostly for personal insights about Brooks (because I'm weird like that).

In the most recent post Brooks remarks about how he's having difficulty coming up with anything relevant to say as keynote speaker to the graduating class at his former high school. Brooks rights these remarkably profound paragraphs:

At the moment, I’m thinking of talking about the chief way our society is messed up. That is to say, it is structured to distract people from the decisions that have a huge impact on happiness in order to focus attention on the decisions that have a marginal impact on happiness.

The most important decision any of us make is who we marry. Yet there are no courses on how to choose a spouse. There’s no graduate department in spouse selection studies. Institutions of higher learning devote more resources to semiotics than love.

The most important talent any person can possess is the ability to make and keep friends. And yet here too there is no curriculum for this.

The most important skill a person can possess is the ability to control one’s impulses. Here too, we’re pretty much on our own.

These are all things with a provable relationship to human happiness. Instead, society is busy preparing us for all the decisions that have a marginal effect on human happiness. There are guidance offices to help people in the monumental task of selecting a college. There are business schools offering lavish career placement services. There is a vast media apparatus offering minute advice on how to furnish your home or expand your deck.

To get information on private affairs, you have to go down-market to Oprah or Dr. Phil. Why are they the ones who have access to information on meeting life’s vital needs? I think I know why this situation came about. Men. Because of our habitual flight from intimacy, we men have spent thousands of years structuring elite public discourse so more attention is paid to the World Trade Organization than the parts of life that really matter.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Book Review (#6 of 2009)

Only 6 reviews in 6 months? Yes, that's the sad life of someone who spends most of his time reading textbooks... because he has to.

Quality With Soul: How Six Premier Colleges and Universities Keep Faith with Their Religious Traditions by Robert Benne.

This was one of two books I was required to read by my department (the first was the much more thorough one by Marsden). It chronicles how Calvin, Baylor, Valparaiso, Notre Dame, St. Olaf's, and Wheaton are maintaining (or losing) their Christian foundations.

Benne is Lutheran, and makes the case that the Lutheran approach to education is the best, but also shows how the Lutheran schools he chronicles are quickly becoming secular. So goes this book.
I didn't find his research to be consistent or very good at any of the universities studied. The Baylor he described is quite a bit different than the one I observed when I attended there. He published the book in 2001 and still lists Baylor as being a "proud" member of the SBC, which it no longer is (and hadn't been "proud" of in a looong time).
In fact, he missed so many marks on Baylor that I figure he didn't do much better anywhere else.

But the info on Calvin was interesting as it's still hardcore Reformed and producing very solidly intellectual students.

2 stars out of 5. I think I only know 1 person who would be midly interested in this one.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Reading the yield curve like tea leaves...

So, the past few weeks have seen the yield curve become much more vertical and is now drawing a lot of attention. Namely, long-term interest rates are rising at a rate that is alarming even the Federal Reserve. The question everyone, including the Fed, is asking is "why?"
It typically indicates that investors expect future economic growth and inflation that comes with it. It means that more risk-averse investors are moving away from the safety of bonds and into stocks instead.

I read John Jansen's blog faithfully as he chronicles the bond market, he gives several explanations.

The big question is: Is the bond market passing verdict on the U.S.' rapid accumulation of debt, expected to be 89% of GDP by 2019?

Nations that run up that much debt tend to monetize it. They have their central banks purchase the debt by creating more money, which depreciates the value of the money. This creates inflation (prices are the measure of the value of a dollar) and reduces the real cost of the debt (the dollars we pay China are now worth less than before). So, investors knowing that will demand much higher interest rates from the government they're lending to in order to not lose out because of the interest payments being paid with dollars worth less.

Daniel Gross of Newsweek sums up the current online (and in print) debate between Niall Ferguson and Paul Krugman. Martin Wolf also summed it up well in the Financial Times this week siding with Krugman (as does Gross). Krugman has argued that there were plenty of excess funds sitting idly by because of the lack of consumption and investment, which means that the government could fiscally stimulate and not drive up interest rates. Ferguson argues that investors are demanding higher interest rates for continuing to loan the government money, that government borrowing is now crowding out domestic investment. Ferguson and others point out that the Fed is now purchasing long-term securities, effectively monetizing the debt.

Martin Wolf points out that the interest rate on TIPS indicate inflation expectations of 1.6%, which isn't bad (simply means we're no long expecting deflation, a serious concern 6 months ago) and that corporate bond spreads have narrowed from last year, meaning investors are less fearful than before and expecting economic growth. So, inflation expectations have not gotten out of hand yet, which is important (Rebecca Wilder). So long as the U.S. economy grows at a good pace, the debt is not something of great concern, so Wolf and others argue it's a good thing that investors are expecting growth.

But this past week Ben Bernanke predicted "below average" growth for the near term. The Fed has already ballooned its balance sheet to over $900 billion, something that has many people thinking eventual inflation, even though the Fed disagrees.

This is hotly debated, with even German Chancellor Angela Merkel getting involved yesterday, railing at central banks' actions. Some speculate that the Fed will respond to inflationary expectations by raising interest rates (Fed funds futures market currently gives a 50% of a rate hike at the end of this year) before the recovery is complete, meaning possible stagflation.

While I understand the argument of Krugman, Gross, and others, I'm starting to wonder:
The biggest long-term threat the government faces is the increase in entitlement spending for Medicare due to retiring Baby Boomers and rising health care costs. Doesn't matter who is president, or really what the deficit is today. The debt is projected to be well beyond 100% of GDP for as long as you want to project the model. And economic growth isn't going to eliminate this problem. Therefore, long-term interest rates SHOULD be higher, MUCH higher than what they are now. Unless everyone expects that we'll fix the Medicare issue and get health care costs reigned in (which there is no real plan for now). As David Beckworth asks: "What is the U.S. Debt-to-GDP number that is too big?" Everyone, including Krugman, knows this is a central issue, but Keynesians tend to focus on the short run.

So, the debate will continue. I guess we'll find out in 10 years or so who was right and whether we're all screwed or not. As we approach "then," look for more people to check the yield curve for some indications.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

John Piper "leans" toward Twitter

Two thoughts on Twitter tonight.

The good:
John Piper has decided to Twitter after using it anonymously for a month. He has a thoughtful blog post about why.

I am not inclined to tweet that at 10AM the cat pulled the curtains down. But it might remind me that the Lion of Judah will roll up the heavens like a garment, and blow out the sun like a candle, because he just turned the light on. That tweet might distract someone from pornography and make them look up.
His tweets are the first I've seen that aren't about "me."

The bad:
Today marked the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacres and there was a lot of reminiscing about it on the news tonight, Nick Kristof had a couple tweets bringing attention to it. China blocked Google searches for "June 4" as well as blocked Facebook and Twitter. The press were forbidden from filming in the square today.

And then Coach John Calipari tweets from China this evening (which is Friday in China, I guess the Chinese lifted their ban on Twitter).
"Will get morning runs in at Tianamen Square." He's there meeting with b-ball agents and working to find Kentucky a 7-footer.

Priorities of both men are clear.

Still hatin' on Twitter (continued)


This is a real t-shirt with a Venn diagram on it (click to enlarge). I love it. I've seen a lot of Venn diagrams lately while studying probability.

HT: Jeff Sommer, NY Times' business editor.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Book Review (#5 of 2009)

Was As I knew It: Gen. George S. Patton.
This was another of my $1 garage sale audio books. While Patton didn't exactly write an autobiography, this book is entirely made up of his journal entries, memoirs, letters home, and copies of orders given. As such, it's all in the first person and reads like a personal history of WWII.

Since much of it deals with commands given, areas taken, tactics used, and suggestions for future Army organization, it is pretty boring for a non-soldier to read. But sprinkled throughout are Patton's philosophies, personal stories, jokes, and historical reflections that make it worthwhile.

Much of the beginning of the book, the North Africa campaign, isn't about fighting but rather about the people he met and visited. Patton had an incredibly detailed knowledge of ancient history. He knew more about the sites he visited during the war than the tour guides he encountered. The last book he mentions reading before landing in North Africa is the Koran. He reads the Norman Invasion as he prepares to take the Third Army across Europe.

The last chapter deals with personal stories from war, including serving under General Pershing while chasing Poncho Villa into Mexico. He illustrates what he learned, and how various decisions shaped him as an officer. I'm guessing some of this book has been made into a leadership guide for corporate CEOs. "Never take counsel of your fears" is a recurring Patton maxim.

I was curious how the stories matched up with the famous Patton film. Not very well. Patton's dialogue with the Third Army Chaplain about devising a prayer for good weather is about the only part that matches up almost word-for-word.

The movie makes much of him slapping a battle fatigued soldier, suggesting it was controversial in the States and led him to almost be sacked. Patton only mentions such an incident in the last chapter, and never suggests any repercussions from it.

The man probably never intended for his journals to be published as they were, but they're historically great. Patton was a very intelligent man in many ways. Very little of his foul-mouthed reputation comes out in the book, but he mentions a few times where he (always to achieve a specific purpose) cursed people out.

Overall, I give it 2.5 stars.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Why I hate Twitter (continued--TMI edition)

I actually like a couple things about Twitter. Anything with a link attached to it is nice... people sharing information.

But there is such a thing as too much information (TMI). Transparency is a good and necessary thing, especially for Christians. But, some of the transparency people put forth really bothers me. Call it hypocritical, but I expect more out of persons in authority than I do from average Joe. I don't want to post or tweet things that my students would think less of me for. It's okay if they say "He's a dork," but not okay if they say "He's a bad example of __________."

Example #1: What people are listening to, usually posting their playlist.
One of my pastors was just listening to Queen's "Fat Bottomed Girls," which he added to his own Blip.fm online radio station for everyone to listen to, and felt that was significant enough to tell everyone via Twitter. I would rather have not known that. I see pastors tweeting songs and advertising albums that I'd rather pastors not listen to.

Does it make me a hypocrite if I listen to those songs? Maybe. Maybe I expect my pastor to be less of a sinner than I am? (Music is a bad example because I really don't listen to any).

Example #2: What people are spending their money on.
Some pastors seem to spend a lot of money at Starbucks. Is it harsh of me to prefer a pastor to buy cheap coffee because that's what I do?

One specific pastor recently accepted donations because he didn't have enough money for an important item during an emergency. However, Twitter indicates that this pastor goes to Starbucks every day. If we assume he's paying $5 a visit to Starbucks and visiting 5 days a week then this comes out to about $1300 a year. That's money he could have used instead of asking for donations. If he were to switch to 74 cent gas station refills, he could save hundreds of dollars...

This is the type of thinking I pound into my Personal Financial Planning students. Maybe this pastor has properly budgeted the $5 a day and it isn't a problem. But knowing that he recently had a financial shortfall, it would help me feel better if I saw him tightening his belt, you know? I see this a lot.

Example #3: Random "here I am" tweets.
I don't want to know that you're in the bathroom, or looking at a menu, or stuck in traffic unless that affects me directly (ie: letting me know there's a traffic jam ahead that I should avoid). I could repost that video I linked to a few weeks ago that sums this up.

Am I guilty of this? Yes, I am. Very few of my recent tweets have links in them. And I'm sorry.