painpill
2/13/2003

00:52  
Don't know what I think of this. They're redoing one up the street from me here on the U of C campus, but as far as I know they're sticking to the original blueprints. Did Frank Lloyd Wright mean for his houses to be "museum pieces" - for public consumption? His obsession with functionality makes these kinds of modifications seem appropriate, but not if you view the house as a national treasure.


00:40  
I'll definitely be watching the 300th episode of The Simpsons this Sunday, notwithstanding Chris Sullenthorpe's dirge on Slate. I don't watch the show often enough to have any sense of its decline - I'm probably watching reruns most of the time anyway. But it's a great show, and Sullenthorpe reminds us why. A friend of mine recently told me that The Simpsons was like South Park, but he was wrong. South Park is hilarious, but it just doesn't have the power to touch us the way the Simpsons do. Here's to the next 300 episodes.


00:35  
Back at the alma mater they're protesting the cancellation of Laura Bush's little poetry get-together at the White House... this is happening all over of course, but it warms my heart to see it at IU. I was actually part of that scene when I was there, although the magazine my friend and I published (which, amazingly enough given the long years it's been defunct, is still online) deliberately excluded poetry, in favor of prose. It's hard for me to get excited about the cancellation as a freedom of speech/expression issue, but I do think it's hilarious to see the nation's artistic elite reject the first lady's heartfelt advances. It's too bad American poetry is in such decline.


00:30  
This is interesting.


00:30  
It looks like Carol Moseley-Braun may actually run for president in 2004. I don't know much about her, but I've always had a somewhat negative view of her, I guess because of the "ethical impropriety" that eventually led to her losing that Senate seat to Republican Peter Fitzgerald in 1998 (this is starting to remind me of another disgraced former senator considering a run...). I'm not sure about the implications of her candidacy for the Democratic primaries, but I'm glad she's doing it if it means she won't run for the Senate seat. Fitzgerald is relatively weak, and her exit should clear the way for Barack Obama to claim the Democratic nomination.


2/12/2003

17:38  
I was puzzled last week when Hugo Chavez imposed new currency controls. According to this article, Venezuela's currency reserves were down to $2B at the time, which is a critical level; but Chavez actually increased the value of the Bolivar when he imposed the currency controls. Venezuela must somehow control all currency exchange -otherwise, how could it keep the value stable without more hard currency? Also, querying the exchange rate with the New York Times or the Economist gets you the values of Chavez's controls, but the same thing on Yahoo finance gets you a much higher exchange rate. What's going on?


09:11  
Ted Barlow still can't make sense of Colin Powell's claims about Al Qaeda's partnership with Iraq, or Glenn Reynolds' bizarre response. To me it looks more like a statement of sympathy than one of collusion. But there's also the issue of how Powell was able to mention the tape before Al Jazeera even received it. Is this just good intelligence work? Or did the US somehow supply the tape?

One possibility - that Al Jazeera had the tape but hadn't mentioned it yet - has all kinds of implications about the relationship between Al Qaeda and Al Jazeera.


2/11/2003

23:51  
British troops at Heathrow are apparently trying to stop another SAM attack on a passenger jet a la Mombasa last November. They're definitely taking this seriously - according to the Guardian, they were even considering closing Heathrow, which is the world's busiest airport.

The article mentions the Mombasa attack, but it doesn't clear up the issue of why that attack was ineffective. There were widespread rumors at the time that the airliner operated an anti-missle system, but I don't see how that's possible - according to this article, El Al is the only airline to operate such a system, and the flight in Mombasa was Arkia Airlines. The article does suggest commercial airliners are harder to hit than military aircraft, because they don't generate as much heat.


12:09  
This is definitely looking like a message to the Bush admin. The consensus against their budget is incredible... apparently hundreds of economists - including some real heavy-hitters - have come out with a statement attacking it. Who exactly is coming up with this stuff?

UPDATE: You can find the complete text of Greenspan's statement here.


12:00  
Greenspan hasn't mentioned the dividend tax yet, but apparently he's telling Congress to hold down the deficit - so, either cut spending or limit the tax cut. This is a good sign. I wonder if he read Krugman's column last week.


10:27  
Ted Barlow has several good quotes and links regarding the Bush budget.


10:21  
Alan Greenspan is testifying this morning; according to WP he's going to support the dividend tax cut. It's not clear whether Greenspan's support would change the minds of the many dissenting Republicans, but surely it will bring some of them on board.

On its own merits, a dividend tax cut doesn't seem like such a bad idea. Stocks that pay dividends are actually quite rare - even if a company is profitable, it's unlikely to pay dividends on its stock. This means that to make money, investors have to speculate on which stocks will increase in value, rather than which stocks will be profitable. We've seen this disconnect cause all kinds of mayhem in the past year, in cases where companies aren't profitable (in fact, they're fundamentally unsound) but their stock value has gone through the roof for some reason. Eliminating the dividend tax would encourage investors to purchase stocks that pay dividends and therefore create an incentive for companies to pay dividends rather than look to inflate their stock price.

There are two problems with this. First, the Bush people are trying to sell the dividend tax as an economic stimulus. But how would it foster additional investment? It's not as if people are spending moeny they would otherwise invest because of the dividend tax. People may start investing in stocks that pay dividends, but won't that just draw investment away from stocks that don't pay dividends? While this might be a worthy goal in and of itself, it's hard to see how this will stimulate the economy. The other big problem, of course, is it's expensive! They're projecting the dividend tax cut will cost $385B over the next 10 years, when we're running a deficit of about $300B.

UPDATE: Take a look at the Economic Policy Institute's statement against bush's proposed budget. There isn't much analysis there (I guess because they wanted it to fit neatly on a page), but they do break the dividend tax cut issue into two parts:

The permanent dividend tax cut, in particular, is not credible as a short term economic stimulus. As tax reform, the dividend tax cut is misdirected in that it targets individuals rather than corporations, is overly complex, and could be, but is not, part of a revenue-neutral tax reform effort.
As I understand it, corporate profits are taxed at the level of the corporation, and dividends are taxed separately (hence all the hype about "double taxation"). Shifting all of that tax to the corporation (a revenue-neutral policy) would increase the corporation's tax burden, with this burden ultimately passed on to shareholders either in the form of smaller dividends or a lower stock price. So individual investors would be in the same boat they're in now, except that the incentives for stocks to inflate their stock prices rather than pay dividends would be gone.



01:13  
I just spent some time reformatting the site. I'm still up in the air about the look - especially the colors - but I've always gone for simple things, so this should work for me. Obviously I'm still settling into the whole process of writing a blog... it's something that doesn't come naturally to me, in the sense that I've never been one to broadcast my views. As time goes on and I settle into my voice, I'm sure I'll end up making whatever changes seem appropriate. For now, though, criticism/praise (hell, even a reader or two) would be greatly appreciated. My email addr is conveniently located on the right, near the bottom.


2/10/2003

18:44  
I talked to a friend - my main chess connection, actually - about the match, and his reaction was concern about whether chess competition has a serious future, given that it has been "solved." This, to me, is a really strange reaction, especially for someone who really understands the nuances of chess. For people at least, a sharp distinction gets drawn between tactical and positional ability. Good tactics have more to do with calculation and move order, but position is something much harder to throw a processor at. Programs like Deep Junior have been only been able to approximate positional play with the help of endless tweaking by human grandmasters, who can assign values to particular positional circumstances. In a sense, Kasparov played against the combined chess knowledge of all the grandmasters involved with the project, backed up by a processor that never makes mistakes.

Saying the game has been "solved" admits none of this nuance. I don't know whether chess programs will be able to reliably beat grandmasters down the road, but I'm not willing to give up the ghost just yet.


18:30  
CNN has an interview with Kasparov today, and he sounds a lot more upbeat about the match than what I read Saturday. I'm still disappointed by the change in him, but it seems like there's still some fight left... he talked about winning the human competition this year and coming back for another round. And it's true that he didn't lose. I guess we'll see what happens next year.





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