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November 2009
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January 2010

Fifteen Minutes

Law is not quantum physics, but nonetheless requires some heavy lifting.  Why then do lawyers check e-mail and phone messages constantly?  

In a recent study, a group of Microsoft workers took, on average, 15 minutes to return to serious mental tasks, like writing reports or computer code, after responding to incoming e-mail or instant messages. They strayed off to reply to other messages or browse news, sports or entertainment Web sites.

Yes, multi-tasking is a myth.  Why does the myth persist?  Like all myths, multi-tasking lives on because it's personally comforting, and expressive of wider culture.

Hard work is hard.  It's comforting to think we're working hard, without actually exerting ourselves.  Switching back-and-forth between mindless tasks to real work makes us feel productive without actually getting the headaches that accompany actual work.  We have a personal incentive for believing in the myth of multi-tasking.  As narcissists, we can have the self-image of a productive worker without the productivity.

Multi-tasking also exists because of social pressures.  

When doing serious legal writing, I disable e-mail notification; shut down IM; and do not answer my phone.  Aside from better work product, I create angry people.  

In a society of narcissists, "checking out" is rude.  How dare you not be present when I beckon you?!  How dare you not eat lunch with everyone else?  Do you think you're above that?  What are you, anti-social?  

It is, of course, possible to like the same people that you ignore.  Want to take a walk in the park/grab a cigar/hit the gym to talk about life?  Sure.  Just leave me alone while I work.  And don't talk to me during my sets.

In a world of narcissism, every petty tyrant feels entitled to access you.  Multi-tasking gives them the intellectual justification to impose upon your time.  Often the idiots will mockingly say, "What?!  You can't do two things at once?"  Well, of course I can't; and neither can you - at least if you want to play a level above pee-wee league baseball.

I don't make New Year's Resolutions.  I do, however, reflect on the prior year.  In 2009, I spent too much time distracted.  It's time to cull the blog subscriptions, turn the cell phone off, and stop reading newspaper articles about world events that I don't shape.  

Before one is able to check in, he must first check out.

Happy New Year.

Media Ethics and Checkbook Journalism

Most outrage results in an attack on the power structure.  Thus, people are outraged that one of the men who subdued the Nigerian fire starter wants paid for his story.  Paying someone for his story is "unethical," and is referred to as "checkbook journalism."

 Mr. Schuringa ... was, of course, one of the passengers on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 who helped subdue the man who tried to detonate an explosive on the plane on Christmas Day.The Dutchman was quick to contact the media with his 'hero' status, willing to tell his story in exchange for what now appears to be certain 'considerations.'

He wanted paid.  Why shouldn't be have been paid?  

Let's understand what popular media about.  It's about ad revenue.  It is about profiting from "news."  

A person who subdues a terrorist is good for ratings.  Greater ratings equals greater ad rates equals greater revenue...Fatter checkbooks, in other words.

Why is it ethical to profit off of a hero, but unethical for the hero to profit off of himself?

As with most "ethical questions," there is no logic in the answer - only power.  The media has the power to profit from the news.  They want to keep all of that power.  People who are actually covered in the news asking for money is a direct attack on the power structure.

There is indeed an ethical problem with "checkbook journalism."  It is indeed unethical for news organizations to profit off of the heroism of others.  It's time to open up the checkbooks, and to start sharing ad revenue.

Terrorism and the Bailouts

On September 10, 2001, Donald Rumsfeld appeared before Congress with some shocking news:

[Military] auditors admit the military cannot account for 25 percent of what it spends.

"According to some estimates we cannot track $2.3 trillion in transactions," Rumsfeld admitted.

In a world before the Bailouts, $2.3 trillion was real money.  On September 11, 2001...We all know what happened.  Among other things, people stopped asking about that $2.3 trillion.

On December 24, 2009, it was reported that the United States Government guaranteed all of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's debt.  That is a several-trillion-dollar liability.  Meanwhile, the same Fannie and Freddie will give multi-million-dollar bonuses to its executives.

On December 25, 2009, some Nigerian lit his pants on fire.  We are now being told by the same folks responsible for the bailouts that Al-Qaeda is to blame.

Why do you believe them?  That's not a rhetorical question.  Why do you believe anything that the same people responsible for the Bailouts, tell you?  

The Bailouts have proven that Washington cannot be trusted with taxpayer money. Politicians will lie to the American public when it will enrich private interests. Americans don't matter to Washington, so long as Goldman Sachs will be able to pay record bonuses.

Ideas that I'd assign a low probability to now seem much more probable.  Who was responsible for 9/11?  Before the Bailouts, I'd say that there was a very low (say 1-5%) chance that people in the federal government were responsible.  Post-Bailouts, should we think it more likely or less like that someone from the inside was involved?

Oh, but stealing money from taxpayers is different from killing Americans.  To a sociopath, there is no difference.  But let's accept your premise as true: The government wouldn't kill Americans for profit.

What of the Iraq War?  It's now a fact that WMDs were not in Iraq.  Fact.  No inferences.  It's also a fact that the Bush Administration did not really believe that Iraq had WMDs.

How many thousands of Americans have died in Iraq?  Still want to claim that the sociopaths in the White House wouldn't murder Americans for profit?

The Department of Defense Budget is over $500 billion each year.  Will this latest "terrorist attack" make it more likely or less likely that the budget will increase?

It's time to stop dismissing controversial ideas as mere conspiracy theories.  The Bailouts, after all, were a conspiracy theory.

Except...The Bailouts actually happened. Trillions went to Wall Street. TARP was sold as a way to increase lending, although it’s been proven that Paulson never intended to use TARP to increase lending. Goldman Sachs will pay record bonuses using taxpayer money while there is 10% official unemployment - though the books that aren't cooked put the number closer to 17%.

Wall Street banks are borrowing money from the Federal Reserve at .25% interest, and loaning that same money to the U.S. Government (through the purchase of Treasuries) for 4.5% - at ten times leverage. With $1 billion in equity, a bank can borrow $10 billion.  Then loan that $10 billion back to the Federal Government. All of that stuff is actually happening.

No one needs to draw any inferences.  Facts. Trillions gone from government to Wall Street.  Money is loaned to banks virtually interest-free; and the banks loan that same money back to the Federal Government at 4.5% interest. 

In light of the Bailouts, how can anyone take what the government says about terrorism seriously? 

Is Monex a Fraud?

Monex sued two web site proprietors for publishing truthful information, such as this: 

Under the injunction, the [web site] cannot publicize, for example, the accurate fact that the Better Business Bureau currently gives Monex a rating grade of F, which a BBB site says means, "We strongly question the company's reliability." In the past, Monex has dismissed the BBB appraisal as uninformed.

That's not all:

Nor could the Gilliams publicize how the IRS is building its tax case against Monex with the help of informant James V. Spondello, who provided 25 boxes of old company records that are the subject of a court fight.

There is more information about Monex in this article.

Nigerian Fire Starter (Might Not Be) Al-Qaeda (UPDATED)

Some idiot lights himself on fire.  Must be Al-Qaeda.  The Administration was willing to run with that theme.  Scare everyone.  It didn't work.

On Facebook, the sentiment was mixed between eye-rolling and outrage...Am I supposed to believe this?  How dare the government try to make this seem like a terrorist plot!  Most everyone is realizing that terrorism is a lie.  "Because everything I was ever told was a lie..."

For years many derided my views as "conspiracy theories."  This latest attack, though, was odd: The fact that the attack was a farce was accepted.  People now understand that even if the government doesn't put the "terrorists" on the plane, the government will attempt to terrify Americans by turning a random idiot into a member of a terrorist organization.

Not this time.

What has changed?  I think the Bailouts were, for many, a game changer.  TARP was a farce, and entered into under false pretense.  Remember when TARP was about lending?  Well, there's no lending.  Trillions of dollars went to Wall Street.   Goldman Sachs will pay taxpayer-funded, record bonuses while many Americans do not have jobs.  

After the bailouts, can any rational person dismiss controversial ideas as mere "conspiracy theories"?  The Bailouts, after all, are a conspiracy theory - that happen to be true.

But imagine a world without blogs.  People who claimed that the former CEO of Goldman Sachs transferred to trillions to Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street banks would have been derided.  A nut job!  Yet we witnessed what would have dismissed as a conspiracy theory.

In real-time, we witnessed one of the greatest conspiracy theories in U.S. History: The Bailouts.  Blogs made this possible.  It took the mainstream media several months to start digging into the Bailouts.  Had blogs not forced their hands, Reuters et al. would have gladly kow-towed to their rich friends.

We now know who are real enemies are...Or at least we're starting to see.  The fools among us throw around labels like "Democrat" and "Republican" as if those terms have any more intellectual significance than "Yankees" and "Red Sox."  It's human nature to be part of a team.  What happens when your team turns against you, and starts stealing money from you and your children?

Democrats and Republicans serve the same interests - and those interests are not your interests.  Well, most of you.  (Hi, Goldman PR guys who check-in daily!)

Now that we know who the real enemies are...What are we going to do?  Once we've answered that question, there will be hope and change in America.

UPDATE: So there was another idiot in Detroit.  That idiot is not being spun as Al-Qaeda.  How the Nigerian fire cracker will be spun remains to be seen.

Self-Reliance or Helplessness?

What is the moral of the failed "terrorist" attack?  The moral is simple: Take responsibility for your own life.  Don't expect the police to help.  Yet what message is actually being preached?  More security!  More government!

Give the man who detained the Nigerian fire bomber a medal.  Encourage a culture of self-reliance and independence.  Yet that is not what the United States government wants.  

Here is our current culture:

Christmas Presents

The best presents we receive are spiritual gifts from people.  Each year it's helpful to think of what others have done for you, and to thank them.  

Many people have trouble with this.  Expressing sentiment is troublesome in our culture of narcissism.  Expressing gratitude requires one to become in touch with her emotions - her true self.  Thanking others, too, forces us to realize that we are not just a product of our own choices: We are also a product of those who make choices to help us.  

Get dopey.  Get sentimental.  Express gratitude to those who have done kind things for you.  Don't assume the person knows that you are grateful. 

It's been a tough year for a lot of people.  Maybe your thanks will be the best gift the recipient has received all year.

Christmas Blogging

When I was five years old, I told everyone on the school bus that Santa Claus did not exist.  Everyone told me I was wrong, because their parents said that Santa Clause existed.  Three decades later, and it seems my life hasn't changed.

Thanks for reading, and Merry Christmas.

Megan McArdle is Humiliated

In response to the argument that homeowners - i.e., regular working stiffs - owed banks no moral obligation to pay mortgages on an underwater property, Megan McArdle flipped out.  Of course people should!  In this very polite slate essay, Daniel Gross explains why McArdle is an embarrassment to thinking people everywhere:

Blogger Megan McArdle expressed disdain for people who chose to indulge themselves on consumer goods and services while not keeping current with their mortgages.

Um, do any of these people read the Wall Street Journal? Strategic defaults are the American way, and I'm not talking about strapped middle-class borrowers who prefer spending money on vacations to staying current on their payments. Deep-pocketed companies, billionaires, and institutions that can afford to stay current on payments strategically default all the time.

That's exactly right.  People used to take McArdle seriously, but are not beginning to see her for the pro-banking shill that she is.  She believes that people who borrow money from banks should play by different rules than the banks themselves.  

McArdle like other moralists, isn't actually interested in creating what we consider morality.  Instead, she wants to create a morality that blesses banks for the same conduct we'd condemn individuals for.  This is slave morality.

To people like McArdle a bank that defaults on a debt is a rational economic actor.  Indeed, banks should default on bad deals, since it leads to great market efficiency.  People who default on loans with banks deserve to burn in Hell.

As is usually the case with moral questions, one must always ask: Whose morality is this, anyway?  McArdle's morality is banker's morality.  What's good for the banks is moral, and what is bad for the banks is immoral.

Is Tiger Woods on Steroids?

I don't care about Tiger Woods, but I do care about steroids and performance enhancing drugs.  It seems that Tiger Woods is at least peripherally linked to performance enhancing drugs.  Many thus wonder: Is Tiger on "juice"?  Well, of course he is. 

The dominate theme about steroids (one class of performance-enhancing drugs) is that people use PEDs to get more muscular.  Thus, people will debate Tiger Woods' alleged steroid use by citing his body mass, athleticism, and alleged weightlifting feats.  Those are all red herrings.

Professional athletes often do not take performance enhancing drugs to get gain muscle mass.  Rather, PEDs are used to increase recovery.  Think about it.

To be the best, you must practice.  At the pro level, the guys have similar "genetic" skill levels.  The person who puts the most time in is the one who is going to lose.  It's a lot like law.  Put the hours in.

As an athlete ages, his recovery time decrease.  Most of you won't recover as quickly after a workout than you would have in your 20s. That's because you have lower levels of testosterone and human growth hormone.

If you can recover faster, then you can have more practices. More practices equals more opportunity to improve skill.

With HGH, you regrow ligaments. Joint swelling is reduced. If you or I are a little sore after golfing, big deal. It's not how we earn our living. If it's Tiger Woods, sore joints impeded practice. You can't afford to not practice.  

Thus, a person who is "juicing" Thus, a person might gain almost no muscle mass, but still be on PEDs. Indeed, in boxing and mixed martial arts, nearly every guy is on something. Keep in mind that in MMA and boxing, you do not want to gain weight. You usually want to stay in the lowest weight class possible.

Thus, you take a low dose of testosterone and a low dose of HGH. Test and HGH speed recovery, and thus ensure that you're able to have more sessions in the gym.

The irony is that people say using PEDs is "taking the easy way out." That just shows sloppy thinking. Professional athletes use PEDs so that they may work harder. They want more sessions in the gym or field. They want their sessions to be more intense. PED users want to work harder, and thus are certainly not seeking the easy way out.

I would wager anyone here that Tiger Woods is on a low dose of HGH. He's probably taking 1 iu or so daily.  That Woods isn't "jacked" or "diesel" tells us nothing about his drug use.  That he recovered so quickly from knee surgery - and was able to train through such knee pain - tells us much more.