Politics, open government, and safe streets. And the constant incursion of cycling.

Month: March 2009 Page 2 of 4

Adding a Lightbox

If all goes as planned, any photos I post from now on will be clickable, expanding into a lightbox. Like this one:

Worried that the sizing may be a bit too big.

Surf Photography

Wow.  You know, I was going to post a few of my surf shots this week, perhaps with some accompanying whinging about how hard it is to illustrate scale when shooting waves, but after this series by Clark Little?  I think I’ll just be quiet.

Chinese Investment in South Africa Paying Off

So, there’s a:

peace conference [to be held in South Africa, that is] billed as an opportunity to showcase South Africa’s role as a human-rights champion ahead of its hosting of soccer’s World Cup next year. It was to bring together Noble Laureates and top soccer officials. In addition to Tutu and De Klerk, laureates Nelson Mandela and Martti Ahtisaar, Sepp Blatter, president of soccer’s international governing body, and actress Charlize Theron were invited to attend. The event had the blessing of the Nobel Committee.

Okay, sounds like a good idea.  Except:

South Africa has refused the Dalai Lama a visa to attend [the] peace conference in Johannesburg this week, a presidential spokesman said.

The Tibetan spiritual leader and Nobel Laureate did not receive a visa because it was not in South Africa’s interest for him to attend, said Thabo Masebe.

Nice job, guys.

Warner Music? Forget Them.

You’ve seen my occasional grumbling about Warner going out of its way to pull down music videos in which it has some rights from YouTube.  Well, it seems they’ve really stepped it up, now:

In early December, Juliet Weybret, a high school sophomore and aspiring rock star from Lodi, Calif., recorded a video of herself playing the piano and singing “Winter Wonderland,” and she posted it on YouTube.

Weeks later, she received an e-mail message from YouTube: her video was being removed “as a result of a third-party notification by the Warner Music Group,” which owns the copyright to the Christmas carol.

[ . . . ]

In addition to Ms. Weybret’s video, family home videos that included a portion of a song playing in the background have been removed, as have any number of videos that use music in goofy ways, from montages to mash-ups.

When a man posted a video of himself using music to teach sign language, the audio was switched off because he lacked the proper copyright clearance to use Foreigner’s 1980s song “Waiting for a Girl Like You.”

Yeah.  Next time you’re tempted to buy a CD or download a track from iTunes/Amazon, check out the publisher/label, and decide if you want to reward this kind of behaviour.

(Financial) Literacy Is (Political) Power

Much longer piece coming on Matt Taibbi’s Rolling Stone article about the mess we’re in, but I had to share this as soon as I read it:

As complex as all the finances are, the politics aren’t hard to follow. By creating an urgent crisis that can only be solved by those fluent in a language too complex for ordinary people to understand, the Wall Street crowd has turned the vast majority of Americans into non-participants in their own political future. There is a reason it used to be a crime in the Confederate states to teach a slave to read: Literacy is power. In the age of the CDS and CDO, most of us are financial illiterates. By making an already too-complex economy even more complex, Wall Street has used the crisis to effect a historic, revolutionary change in our political system — transforming a democracy into a two-tiered state, one with plugged-in financial bureaucrats above and clueless customers below.

Dead on.

This is the Big Financial Plan?

So you’ve seen the leaked financial plan from Treasury?  Not good:

The Treasury Department is expected to unveil early next week its long-delayed plan to buy as much as $1 trillion in troubled mortgages and related assets from financial institutions, according to people close to the talks.

The plan is likely to offer generous subsidies, in the form of low-interest loans, to coax investors to form partnerships with the government to buy toxic assets from banks.

To help protect taxpayers, who would pay for the bulk of the purchases, the plan calls for auctioning assets to the highest bidders.

Look at that again.  To “protect” the taxpayer, they’re going to try to make sure that the highest possible price is paid for these assets.  But look at the paragraph before that for how that purchase price is actually paid – with generous subsidies (i.e., taxpayer money).  Clever, no?  No.  Paul Krugman:

To this end the plan proposes to create funds in which private investors put in a small amount of their own money, and in return get large, non-recourse loans from the taxpayer, with which to buy bad — I mean misunderstood — assets. This is supposed to lead to fair prices because the funds will engage in competitive bidding.

But it’s immediately obvious, if you think about it, that these funds will have skewed incentives. In effect, Treasury will be creating — deliberately! — the functional equivalent of Texas S&Ls in the 1980s: financial operations with very little capital but lots of government-guaranteed liabilities. For the private investors, this is an open invitation to play heads I win, tails the taxpayers lose. So sure, these investors will be ready to pay high prices for toxic waste. After all, the stuff might be worth something; and if it isn’t, that’s someone else’s problem.

Or to put it another way, Treasury has decided that what we have is nothing but a confidence problem, which it proposes to cure by creating massive moral hazard.

Krugman too shrill for you?  Let’s go to the folks at Calculated Risk:

With almost no skin in the game, these investors can pay a higher than market price for the toxic assets (since there is little downside risk). This amounts to a direct subsidy from the taxpayers to the banks.

And at Naked Capitalism:

So presumably, the point of a competitive process (assuming enough parties show up to produce that result at any particular auction) is to elicit a high enough price that it might reach the bank’s reserve, which would be the value on the bank’s books now.

And notice the utter dishonesty: a competitive bidding process will protect taxpayers. Huh? A competitive bidding process will elicit a higher price which is BAD for taxpayers!

Dear God, the Administration really thinks the public is full of idiots. But there are so many components to the program, and a lot of moving parts in each, they no doubt expect everyone’s eyes to glaze over.

Now watch the noise machine go into full crisis mode, telling us that ThisIsTheONLYWAY.

Friday Music, PM Edition


Friday Notes: Lite Edition

The first daffodil of the season opened up, this morning:


Came across this nifty little Philip Greenspun article on tourists as photo subjects.  If you’ve ever stood in a crowd of people waiting to get a fanny-pack free shot of a landmark, you’ll probably enjoy it.


Harder. Better. Faster. Stronger.


Really enjoyed Annie Kevan’s All The Presidents Girls, a collection of watercolors of the mistresses of US presidents.  When you’re done with that, click on “Paintings” and then “Boys”.


My Life With Cables.


Also rather clever – Replacing World Landmarks with Cheap Souvenirs.

Friday AM Music: So Fresh, So Clean

[Nevermind.  Disabled hours after I embedded it, despite the fact that it’s been up for a couple of years now.  Link here, because I like Outkast, and think you should, too.  But don’t ever buy another CD from a Sony label.]



NoRuz Greetings / Happy New Year

Today is the beginning of NoRuz.  What’s that?  Here’s a short cut and paste:

[NoRuz] is the traditional Iranian new year holiday celebrated by Iranian peoples, having its roots in Ancient Iran. Apart from the Iranian cultural continent (Greater Iran), the celebration has spread in many other parts of the world, including parts of Central Asia, South Asia, Northwestern China, the Crimea, and some ethnic groups in Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo and the Republic of Macedonia.

Nowruz marks the first day of spring and the beginning of the Iranian year and is a secular holiday. It is celebrated on the day of the astronomical vernal equinox, which usually occurs on March 21 or the previous/following day depending on where it is observed. As well as being a Zoroastrian holiday and having significance amongst the Zoroastrian ancestors of modern Iranians. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the Jewish festival of Purim, is probably adopted from the Persian New Year.  It is also a holy day for Ismailis, Alawites, Alevis, and adherents of the Bahá’í Faith.

Now, I’m not one for holidays (religious or otherwise), but I can really appreciate a celebration of the Spring Equinox.

(Something tells me that I’ll be getting corrections, shortly . . . )

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