Archive for December, 2008

Dec 14 2008

New York Times Can’t Even Keep Up With Iraqi Press Shoe-Throwing

Published by under Government,Islam,Politics

Belatedly reacting to an Iraqi journalist’s poorly-aimed footwear assault on President Bush during a news conference today, the New York Times asserted that it “had been working on a Presidential shoe-throwing, but our plummeting subscription rates and reduced revenues had cut our training budgets.”

Internal reports from the New York Times painted a portrait of disarray and ineffective practice sessions.  The first reporters selected for a domestic Presidential shoe-throwing refused to part with their own shoes, with several reportedly exclaiming “Are you SERIOUS?  These are Ferragamos!”  Offered substitute shoes specifically chosen for throwability, these same reporters refused “to be caught dead in those monstrosities.”

The Times resorted to stringers, but practice sessions went poorly.  Reporters willing to work for the Times had eschewed sports and other physical endeavors since grade school, rendering them woefully unprepared for a high-profile shoe-throwing.  “Their throws were embarrassing,” summed up one disgusted trainer.  “They’d give these limp-wristed heaves that looked like they were throwing a bank safe, and the shoe would just plop down two feet in front of them.  It was like watching Mr. Burns from ‘The Simpsons’ trying to throw a medicine ball.”

Eventually some journalists who were reputed to be “buff” — as journalists go — were located, but they turned out to be yoga or T’ai Chi specialists, and so their throws were either unnecessarily contorted or incredibly slow, and in either case ineffective.

The Times almost considered abandoning the Presidential shoe-throwing endeavor, but “our remaining readers were really demanding it, and we were all up for it too, so we just closed another bureau desk and reallocated the resources to a physical fitness program for the planned footwear-heavers.”

But alas, the Iraqi press beat them to it.

“Damn it!” groused an editor.  “All that effort for nothing.  And we would have succeeded, too — it looked like the Secret Service decided to finish their lunch before trying to come after the guy.  He got to throw both his shoes!  And those were big honkin’ sweaty Middle-Eastern shoes, too.  Hey!  That gives me an idea!  I bet Helen Thomas would be up for a repeat attempt!  We should call her….”

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Dec 12 2008

Why People Object to Car Maker Bailouts Even Though The Bank Bailouts Went Through

Two simple reasons:

1) Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.

2) Everyone understands, at the gut level, how aggravating an overpriced, shoddy car is, especially when coupled with an unpleasant purchasing experience and unscrupulous dealer service.  Few average joes have time to delve into the intricacies of credit default swaps, legislative and regulatory history, and financial modeling.  A bad car, we get.

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Dec 11 2008

Hey – Let’s Borrow from GM!

So you’d like a new car, but you’re in really bad financial shape.  You’ve borrowed way too much money, you’ve made some really bad business deals you can’t get out of, and your old car, which is critical for maintaining what little cash flow you have — even though your ongoing debt payments exceed whatever money you’ve got coming in and whatever you’re likely to make in the next twenty years — is about to permanently break down.

So you run into GM, pick out a shiny new SUV, and ask for 100% financing.  The sales guy runs a credit check, and his computer almost bursts into flames from trying to process a negative number.

“But I need this SUV!” you protest.  “Otherwise I won’t be able to pay off my debts and feed myself and my family!”

“But you won’t be able to pay us back for the SUV,” the sales guy points out.  “Are you expecting to triple your income in the next few years?  Because that’s the only way you’d be able to even think about making your payments to us.”

“Well, no,” you reply.  “In fact, my income has been on a steady downward spiral for the last 25 years.  But I don’t want to change the way I do things!  I think blacksmithing is really going to make a comeback!  I promise I’ll come up with a plan after you’ve lent me the money.”

“I don’t think so,” he says.  “Everything you’ve done and said indicates you’re an incredibly bad risk.  We’re not really responsible for your bad judgment.”

“But if you don’t give me the loan, my creditors will get hurt, and my blacksmith apprentices will lose their jobs, and I’ll bet they’d blame you for it.  You don’t want that, do you?” you cajole.

Think they’d give you the loan?

No way.

So why should we give them one?


Follow-up: Keep an eye on them…

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Dec 09 2008

Rock On!

Once again, I feel like a mosquito at a nudist colony — I have so many options, I just don’t know where to begin!  Auto maker bailouts!  Corruptocratic politicians in Illinois!  International intrigue!

So of course, I’m going to talk a little bit about floating rocks.

I guess it’s a sign of either our sophistication or utter ignorance that we seem to be indifferent to the fact that the universe is filled with huge flippin’ rocks, many of them mountain-sized, just randomly floating around above our heads, with the occasional one just taking it into its rock-hard head to plunge to Earth in a roaring fireball, hopefully only taking out an abandoned mud-hut in Siberia, but every once in a while triggering a mass extinction event.

For some reason, I’ve witnessed three visible meteor strikes in my lifetime (which might explain my super powers), and even though these were insignificant little measured-in-pounds meteor runts, they’re still damn impressive to a hairless ape looking up at the display, mouth agape, from the ground.  Events like this make you start thinking about how very wrong it would be if you were taken out, utterly at random, by one of those suckers (Well, maybe for some of us — “Hey!  You hear about Mind Scalpel?” “What?  What???”  “Killed by a meteor strike!” . . . “Really?  Somehow that makes a strange sort of sense….”).

Anyway, good ol’ Ron Reagan famously speculated that the only way humanity would unite for the common good was if we were faced with a common enemy, like invading space aliens.  His critics had a field day twisting this, of course, but fundamentally he was right on — there’s nothing we’re quite so up for as a good rabble-rousing focused on demonized “others.”  Especially when we don’t have to scare up the torches and pitchforks ourselves — we’ve already funded the military with our tax dollars, after all.

But we only seem to get all het up when we’re able to put some face on the enemy.  If we were told an actual alien intelligence had malevolently set a bunch of mountains floating around, with one of them scheduled to hit Earth cataclysmically every few millenia, we’d come boiling up out of our gravity well in fleets of nuclear-powered space warships like army ants looking for honey.

But since they’re just randomly floating around for no apparent reason, well, hell, someone else can deal with it.  Maybe we’ll make a really crappy movie out of the potential for a world-ending meteor hitting us, but the production of that really crappy movie and the money thrown away on it will far exceed the money we’ll spend dealing with this potential problem.

“What’s the big deal?” you ask?  “The odds of a huge asteroid destroying the human race are minimal, like a fraction of a percent.”

First, I’d point out that they’re asteroids when they’re just floating around in space, minding their own airless business — they only become meteors when they enter our atmosphere intent on whacking us.  Second, quick lesson in risk management!  One has to consider both the probability of a particular adverse event happening, and the magnitude of the event if it happens.  Otherwise, you’re just dealing with one-half of the equation.

So someone hears that the frequency of a meteor strike with an explosive force of 10 megatons (roughly equivalent to 70 Hiroshima-sized nuclear bombs) is about once every 1000 years, and figures “hey, no big deal” — because he’s just focusing on frequency.  Let’s say there’s only about a 1 in 20 chance of that strike encompassing a major population center (let’s say Los Angeles).  Even better, right?  Oversimplifying the math, we can call it a 1 in 20,000 chance in any particular year that such an event will occur.

But…Los Angeles has about 10 million people in it.  Let’s assume they’d all be vaporized by such a strike.

So every year there’s a 1 in 20,000 possibility that 10 million people will be vaporized by Big Pappy Meteor.  Working the averages, that means that on average, we’ll lose about 500 people per year to such meteor strikes.

And this does not factor in the secondary effects of such an enormous event — disruptions in the economy, food supplies, distribution, shipping and communications networks.  Such an event could potentially end a nation the size of the United States.  If the credit default swap market doesn’t finish the job first, that is.

And by the way, meteors with an explosive force of 1 megaton (a mere 7 times a Hiroshima-killer) enter our atmosphere every 100 years.  Let’s say there’s only a 1 in 50 chance that one of these will hit an L.A.-sized target (smaller blast radius).  That still works out to 2000 people per year, on average, killed by meteors (yeah, yeah, all you probability and statistics people — I know the exact number’s a bit different — lighten up!  When you’re dealing with nukes you don’t need pinpoint accuracy!).

And if we’re talking about a world-ender, well, even if something like that only happens every million years, there are maybe 6.75 billion people on Earth, so that translates into about 6,750 people annually being killed by such an event (on average, not factoring in population growth).

So maybe a little prevention’s worth it.

Then again, I do believe in the wisdom of crowds.  Maybe there’s a hidden reason people might be willing to risk a meteor strike without any means of defense.

I know!  They figure the possibility that a medium-sized meteor will take out Washington, D.C., however slim, makes it a gamble worth taking….

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