Friday, December 11, 2009

The Second Coming

The Poem by William Butler Yeats: The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming!

Hardly are those words out

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

Is moving its slow thighs, while all around it

Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again; but now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

American Dream 2: Default, Then Rent

I was reading this article in the Wall Street Journal this morning:

Not surprisingly, people will default on loans where they owe a lot more on their house than it's worth. A couple of thoughts come to mind: If you could afford a $500,000 loan when you purchased a house, assuming that you still have the same income, you should still be able to meet the payments If it drops in value to $250,000 this has no bearing on the affordability of the payments. But why would you do that when you could default and then rent or buy the house across the street, which now only costs $250,000 and is just as nice as the one you are in?

A few of the people in the piece were offered slightly better mortgage terms from their lender, but nothing close to as good as just walking away from their home. So the banks end up having to sell a house for $250,000 that they're owed $500,000 on.

Here is a proposal which would help everyone: The bank decreases the principal on the above home to $225,000. The owners now have every motive to stay and the bank is more-or-less in the same situation as if there was a default. Here is the added twist: The terms of the agreement are that if the house is ever sold, the bank gets the first $25,000 of profit plus 50% of any additional gain. The 25k is to recapture the 10% equity granted to the homeowners (the house was valued at 250k, but principle was reset to 225k). The remaining 50/50 split incents the owners to stay put for the long-term and yet allows the bank to recapture some of its losses if the house ever regains value.

It seems win-win to me: The owners save the trouble and expense of moving and a hit to their credit and still get the lower monthly bills they could get by defaulting and then renting. Banks initially loose about as much as they are loosing anyway, but they have a long-term chance of getting a bunch of it back instead of no chance of getting it back.

Crikey! I should patent this!

A little speech commentary

Before the commentary about the content of the speech, here is an astute take on the whole event:

Roger J. said... I am curious about why one would even want to listen to an "acceptance" speech for an award that was not deserved and proffered only to make a political point about a previous administration. (From Althouse)

Now that is out of the way here is some selected commentary with the caveat that I am only looking at a couple chunks of it and am not up for a full Fisking. Indeed, there are many parts of it that I like. So, here goes:

But perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the Commander-in-Chief of a nation in the midst of two wars. One of these wars is winding down. The other is a conflict that America did not seek; one in which we are joined by 43 other countries — including Norway — in an effort to defend ourselves and all nations from further attacks.

Clearly what he means is that we did not seek war in Afghanistan but did in Iraq. I think this is an artificial distinction: In both cases a country was offending us in some way, we made demands which were unmet and we responded by invading.

Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct. And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe that the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength. (1)That is why I prohibited torture. (2)That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. (3)And that is why I have reaffirmed Americas commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions.

(I added the numbers since I want to write about each of these things)

(1) The previous administration did not allow torture either. There are different definitions of torture, but for the record, nothing defined by the administration as torture was ever allowed.

(2) King Canute ordered the tide to stay out as well and with as much effect, though his point was the opposite of president Obama's. For the president it doesn't matter that the prison remains just as open now as it did when he ordered it closed. Words, actions, what's the difference? Incidentally, I was listening to NPR commentary on the speech and they actually misspoke that Obama had "closed Guantánamo," I guess words and actions have no distinction with NPR either.

(3) The United States has never renounced the Geneva Conventions. The view of the previous administration was that conferring the benefits of the convention to enemy combatants who do not abide by any of the rules of war corrodes the Conventions. That is, why should any group sign the treaty when they already can expect all of the benefits without having to follow any pesky rules themselves?

Logic and Gaia

I am well aware that finding logical inconsistencies in environmentalist positions is like shooting fish in a barrel, but this thought just occurred to me:

We know that there have been vast changes in climate in the past, most notably ice ages and periods of warmer climate in between. One would presume that in the absence of mankind, these shifts in climate would continue. Now, if one can encapsulate a general philosophy of environmentalists, it is that they think Man should have as little impact on nature as possible.

The current issue of man-made global warming (AGW) would seem to fit into their philosophy well: We are causing the planet to warm due to our use of fossil fuels and therefore should take efforts to counteract the changes we are causing. Here is the rub: The data are unclear about warming*, but let's offer a hypothetical--What if there was unequivocal data indicating that the Earth was cooling? By this I mean such clear-cut evidence that there was no doubt in the mind of anyone that the planet was cooling-off by a lot. Whatever the actual cause, does anyone doubt that conservationists would be utterly convinced that Mankind is to blame and that therefore we should take (economy-crushing) steps?

In other words; any detectable change will be opposed by the pro-nature crowd and yet this would seem to violate their basic philosophy. They would have the Earth locked in amber, as if this period in time just happens to be the perfect and ideal climate--when what is natural is for the climate to constantly shift over time.

*Warming or cooling seems to depend a lot on what the baseline is. If you start at the end of the little ice age 1850, then we have been warming. If you start in the warm year of 1998, then we have been cooling etc.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Tales from the land of mixed blessings...

I signed up for the Boston Marathon a couple of days after running the NYC Marathon. I didn't want to sign up earlier because the tail-end of a marathon can be unpleasant and it only adds to the unpleasantness when you know that another run is scheduled.

I just found out that the Boston Marathon closed its registration in the middle of November, so it is awfully lucky that I signed up early!

On the other hand; my injuries are not healed and it is unclear that they will heal in time for me to train for an early Spring marathon. So, I may have spent a lot of money for nothing.

We shall see.