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Joshua Sharf

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August 28, 2007

Receivables Securitization II

Naturally, the first company I look at isn't publicly traded. Land O'Lakes is a cooperative, with widely-held shares, but whose 10-Q states that it's not publicly traded and it ain't gonna be. You want to hold shares? Become a farmer.

Naturally, they're also an example of the right way to securitize receivables. They maintain a $200 million credit line, secured at a floating LIBOR+87.5 basis points. Their receivables are 50% above that at $300 million in the last period, They list it under outstanding debt, and currently have no balance. Eagle Materials (EXP) used much the same mechanism, although they closed out their facility in 2006.

Why is this the right way? Well, receivables are an asset, so in theory, there's nothing the matter with selling them. But when you become dependent on getting that cash early, so much so that you're willing to pay interest to get it, you put yourself doubly at risk during a downturn. You won't have as many receivables to collect, and you'll probably have to pay a higher rate to get them. And remember, this is operating cash flow, boys.

By turning it into a line of credit, it's apparent ahead of time when you're dipping into it, and it's going to show up as a financing cash flow.

Now, I need to find guys doing it the wrong way.

Silver Dollar Lake

Just In! From this Sunday's jaunt up to Silver Dollar Lake near Guanella Pass. As always, click to enlarge.


August 27, 2007

Receivables Securitization

Over at the Three-Letter Monte, the CFA Blog, I have a posting discussing securitization of accounts receivables, and its location within the Statement of Cash Flows. I'm not sure this is a particularly widespread problem, but it may well be a more serious one for certain companies.

Here's the issue. Some companies have gotten into the habit of packaging their receivables and selling them off at some discount to a buyer. You know those ads where Orson Bean asks you why you should have to wait for a settlement or a lottery annuity? Well these companies apparently feel the same way. So they collect the money now from a third party, buy their hambuger, and then pay the third party back next Tuesday when their customers pay them.

Typically, companies will publish a schedule of their receivables, if not how long they're outstanding, then how long they expect them to be. This gives the purchaser some idea of the historical collections record, how long they can expect to take to collect what's outstanding, and how much they might expect to have to write off.

The buyer could take an annuity, some percentage of the receivables over time, or some percentage at the beginning. Any of these arrangements can be considered borrowing at some interest rate. As a result, they should be listed on the statement of cash flows under financing cash flows. But because the revenue is secured by receivables, which are part of operating cash flows, many companies categorize them there.

Now, the notional interest rates some of these companies pay will rise, if they can find buyers at all. Their operating cash flows will shrink, and valuations based on those cash flows will fall substantially. In fact, there's reason to suspect that those companies that place this financing under operations are the ones that are most likely to need the cash.

Next step: find a list of such companies.

August 24, 2007


I know these people personally:

Susan Rosenfeld's marriage wasn't what you'd call romantic. She was thrown up against a wall, doused with a bucket of cold water in bed, and, toward the end, became her husband's punching bag. "Since I wear long sleeves, no one really knew," she says. Looking back, Ms. Rosenfeld regrets keeping the abuse a secret. But "in the Jewish community, you don't call the police on your husband."

In her mid-30s, Ms. Rosenfeld hopes to remarry and build a new life for herself. But as an Orthodox Jew, a civil divorce is not sufficient. For Ms. Rosenfeld to be officially released from her vows, her husband has to grant her a Jewish bill of divorce, called a get. The document, which certifies the termination of the marriage--the Aramaic text declares "you are hereby permitted to marry any man"--not only allows women to remarry, but ensures that future children will not be deemed mamzerim (bastards able to marry only other mamzerim).

Two years have passed and Ariel HaCohen, Ms. Rosenfeld's husband, has refused to grant her the get. This makes Ms. Rosenfeld an aguna--literally, an anchored woman--trapped in a dead marriage.

Read the whole thing. And get angry. Really angry. Ariel (and I want to word this carefully) is behaving like a jackass. There are no children. There are no assets to which he's entitled. They've been separated for years.

I would venture that 90% of the rabbis in America want a smoothly functioning solution to this problem. But in a system that works by consensus, progress comes at the pace of the most reluctant. Remember, if a significant minority of rabbis don't accept the validity of the divorce, and if those rabbis' opinions carry weight in the orthodox world, then having such a divorce could end up being as useless as not having a divorce at all.

Sometimes the law is impotent, even American law is impotent. But in a system that had to essentially abandon legislative activity 1900 years ago, there ought to be room for some sort of judicial innovation.

The Modern Lyceum Movement

The Wall Street Journal carries a fawning review of one of my favorite companies, The Teaching Company, the modern incarnation of the Lyceum Movement. The length of the lectures and the level of engagement required is pitch-perfect. I've had particular luck with the music courses and the history courses, but the only reason the literature courses haven't worked as well is that I rarely have had time to read the books.

The bus ride has been devoted to CFA studying, in fact it has become a primary reason for taking the bus when I can. Although come to think of it, that course on Byzantium is probably the ideal accompaniment to floor tiling.

August 22, 2007


Old Man Summer is finally beginning to see a little weakening here. The humidity has been sealing in the heat until later, but it takes more and more effort for the sun to warm things up in the morning, and it has less and less time to do so. Yeah, the highs are still in the 90s, but they come later and later, and then drop off 30 degrees before sunrise. The whole curve has shifted to later in the day.

In the meantime, I've finally discovered a diner I can go to before work. It's called the 20th Street Cafe, and it look across 20th Street at the part of downtown that's been rebuilt. Which means it's on the side that hasn't. Still, it's quiet, friendly, they don't care if all I have is coffee. Sitting at a table in a restaurant and guzzling coffee while reading the blogs or working is a pleasure exceeded only by doing the same on that restaurant's patio. And there's a place in Aurora called "Dozens," which has a patio.

Meanwhile, at about 8:25, the police apparently decided to do away with a volatile substance by blowing it up. In a school parking lot about 100 yards from where I live. The ka-THUM is unmistakable for any other sound, and I went to the back door to see if I could see anything. Although, in retrospect, if I had been able to see anything, outside would probably have been the last place I wanted to be, since I would have seen the sun rising in the west.

In the meantime, the lawnmower repair shop called to say that the mower was fixed. Ahhh, just in time. Well, yes, really. It's actually nice to sit outside and type this stuff into the evening, and I'm planning on keeping it that way this time.

In the meantime, it's impossible to believe that Elul is a week old, and that Rosh Hashanah is only three weeks away. Some years I've really looked forward to them, other years I faintly dread them. These are intense holidays, devoted to introspection and self-examination, much of it unfavorable, fed by the onrushing fall. This year, given the variety of changes, it's likely to be even more intense.

Ah well, it's late, and tomorrow is a day full of debugging, tiling, and studying.

August 20, 2007

The Weekend

Sunday was Chore Day. All day. For the first time since the sod went it, I cut it. Naturally, it was so high that the lawnmower kept cutting out. So I'd cut a few inches, back up, cut a few more inches, back up, etc. It was like cutting grass with a battering ram. Sometimes, I would restart the mower, and it would cut off just as I set it down. After 90 minutes out there in the sun, I can't begin to describe what a patience-building exercise that was. As for the grass, it's in good shape, but I can see where I'll want to fertilize as soon as I can.

After that, it was Back To The Tile. I've laid all the center tile, the tile I don't have to cut. Now, it was time to cut the edge tile. Break out the wet saw! Woohoo!

It was more tedious than hard. Since I was off just slightly from square to the walls, and since the walls themselves are off slightly from square, I had to measure each tile to cut separately. Down to measure, grab a tile, set the saw, and push it through. I will say that I've gotten pretty good at guiding a tile through by hand, without the guide, cutting along the pencil line. You have no idea how useful that is when you need to shave the tile down by 1/16", or just the width of the blade. And so, after four hours of turning all that tile back into clay (think ceramic dust + water), the edge tile is done, except for the pantry area. Not laid down permanenetly, but placed to measure. Pictures to follow soon.

Sunday evening was wall-to-wall wall-themed bumper music, in honor of our imported disingenuous lefty blogger, as opposed to the homegrown kind. My personal favorite was "Cry Me a River" by singer Kathy Wall, but there's plenty to choose from.

So what about Friday afternoon?


What happens when you naively believe that Sprint will simply do what they say, and exchange the phone at a store? Exactly what I should have expected from a company who only promised to exchange the phone in the first place to make up for lousy customer service. What should have been a 20 minute exercise turned into an hour ordeal.

I walked into the store, waited a few minutes for my turn, and then explained to the salesman that customer service had promised to exchange my phone. No dice, I was told. I needed to go to one of their newly consolidated Customer Service stores for that. And here's a handy map to help you find them!

I extended the salesman the courtesy of arguing with him briefly, then put the map back on the pile with all those other maps, and asked for his manager.

< Rod Serling Voice >Mr. Cole, sales manager of Store #506 at Cherry Creek North. Mr. Cole is a quiet, unassuming young man, just starting to make his way in the world. He earns a large portion of his compensation by making sure that no exchanges take place in his store. Little does he suspect that he is about to place a call to...the Twilight Zone.< /Rod Serling Voice >

In short order, I am told by Mr. Cole that, 1) he can't exchange the phone because he's not a service center, 2) he can't call customer service because 3) he won't have access to my account records, 4) there will be a $55 service charge at the service center for exchanging the phone, and that customer service won't be able to waive the charge.

That's four whoppers in only a few minutes. I informed Mr. Cole that I had no intention of arguing with him longer than it would take for me to drive to the Park Meadows service center, and that I had no intention of driving to the Park Meadows service center. No luck. As I was ready to walk out of the store, I went back, got his card, and called customer service from my phone.

Long story short - he called customer service himself (2), brought up my records on his computer (3), exchanged the phone (1), and had them reverse the service charge on my account (4). Short on time, I refrained from asking Mr. Cole what he had accomplished by stonewalling, since he did everything, anyway.

This is clearly the result of some insane incentive system that Sprint has set up. I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but Omni magazine had a story about 25 years ago, maybe a little longer, about a game where government bureaucrats compete to see who can most frustrate and enrage the citizenry foolish enough to show up at their offices. Sprint must offer very large prizes to the winners.

August 19, 2007

You're So Vain

Haveil Havalim #130 is up! Full of rich, Judeo-blogging goodness.

August 17, 2007

Zero-Sum War

From lefty activist David Sirota today's Denver Post PoliticsWest site, and the Gang of Four Blog:

I will say, John, that I do think what's telling/frightening about your outlook is your assertion that winning automatically means "somebody else loses." That's called zero-sum thinking - the exact kind of thinking that got us into this mess in the first place. We are in the middle of a civil war in Iraq - it's hard to frame the quagmire (not my words - Dick Cheney's) in the conventional terms of us "winning" and someone else "losing" because frankly, I don't hope that the Iraqis lose (while you might). I do, however, think us getting out of Iraq will hurt Osama bin Laden's cause because it's no secret that he's been using the Iraq War as a huge recruiting tool for Al Qaeda.

Oh yeah, when I originally answered your question about Iraq I forgot to add that I also think us "winning" means fewer American men and women coming home in body bags or with arms and legs blown off.

This argument doesn't just border on the incoherent. It's taken up residency and is applying for an H1-B.

What he's trying to say, in his own, hyper-partisan sort of way, is that while territorial war is zero-sum, and the results of elections may be zero-sum, the result of the political process is not zero-sum, and that the war in Iraq is now essentially an exercise in Iraqi civil politics.

He then does the not-so-subtle switcheroo when he talks about us winning and "the Iraqis" losing. But in a civil war, it's perfectly ok if some Iraqis lose in order for the rest of the Iraqis to win. That's what's happened in Baquaba and Anbar. I would characterize the al-Qaeda-affiliated Iraqis (and their foreign leadership) as most definitive "losers." I would characterize Iraqi civilians who no longer have to worry about their lungs being ripped out for smoking as, "winners." (Unless Baghdad civil government imposes a single-payer health care system, then they'll be "losers," too.)

I would say that the Iraqis living near Baqubah were losers, until we arrived and helped the Iraqi Army turn them into winners. If we help to stabilize the place and give ordinary Iraqis a role in their own political life, then both we and (most) Iraqis will be "winners," and al-Qaeda will be losers.

As for Iraq as a recruitment tool for bin Laden, even if this assertion were true, it wouldn't be true where it mattered - Iraq. The fact is that the al-Qaeda-in-Iraq leadership is foreign, sent in by Syria on one border and allowed in by Saudi Arabia on another. This is because al-Qaeda has made itself so unpopular it can't get Iraqis to lead it, it can't even persuade Iraqis to fight for it. (Blackmail and coecion don't count as, "persuasion.") So if legions are flocking to bin Laden because of our involvement in Iraq, it's news to the Iraqis.

As for his history lesson, I suppose he's technically right. The only reason that Germany was able to fight itself to the brink of world domination twice in 25 years was that it had stopped fighting itself. But I think if you go back to the 1000s and 1100s, you'll find plenty of Franks fighting Germans and Franks fighting Anglo-Saxons and Anglo Normans.

I should point out that the group blog membership is balanced between left and right, so that's why this isn't a post about media bias.

Subprime Subpar

The Wall Street Journal carried a page-1 case study of a family with a subprime problem (subscription required). The whole thing is terribly sad. People possibly losing their home and businessmen losing their investments. Commenters at the site, on other stories, who've casually thrown out that people who default probably shouldn't have been in their homes in the first place are right, but miss the point. These people could have continued to rent and build savings. Instead, they're liable to lose both their homes and everything they've paid into them. You don't have to advocate some sort of massive bailout in order to feel sorry for them.

This, though, caught my eye:

The price was a major stretch at $567,000. But the couple, who had sold a home a few years earlier to move to a better area, was tired of renting. Mr. and Mrs. Montes convened a meeting with their two teenage daughters around the kitchen table to hash out the implications. "We agreed we wanted to be homeowners again," says Mr. Montes, "even if it meant the end of vacations and not eating out as often."

Like many people who jumped into the rising housing market in recent years, they had little money for a down payment and chose a loan that would hold their monthly payments down for the first two years, then "reset" to a much higher level. Mr. and Mrs. Montes say their mortgage broker assured them they would be able to refinance in a couple of years to keep their payments affordable.


Until recently, the Montes family didn't seem like the type that would find itself faced with foreclosure. They live in a solid neighborhood and are both employed and in good health. "My wife and I make pretty good money," says Mr. Montes. Mrs. Montes works as a school secretary. Together, they earned nearly $90,000 last year.

A family of four qualified for a $550,000 mortgage on a $90,000 income? Good freaking grief. Now, read that second paragraph again: "Mr. and Mrs. Montes say their mortgage broker assured them they would be able to refinance in a couple of years to keep their payments affordable."

Someone put these people into a loan they knew they wouldn't be able to afford. This is the kind of behavior that leads people to think that the whole system is crooked. People who behave this way deserve to lose their investment.

But they told them they wouldn't be able to afford it. And the couple were rightly nervous about it. This was no starry-eyed couple trying to make ends meet with help from Mom and Dad. This was a couple who had been around long enough to know that things change.

I was nervous about paying for a $215,000 FHA mortgage on that much income seven years ago. Yes, it was 30-yr fixed (since refinanced down a couple of times), but it was predictable, and since the government was co-signing, the interest rate was pretty good. I was told that, since the rule of thumb was House = 3 x Salary, there was plenty of room. I also consoled myself with the knowledge that they wouldn't lend me the money if I couldn't pay it back. There was a reason for every flaming hoop I had to jump through. Look, nothing's guaranteed, and I've made my share of bad investments. But there's also investment and then there's roulette.

Now, for worse for now, for better eventually, there is no such comfort. People are perfectly willing to loan you money they know you can't pay back, and to tell you that, and to count on your signing, anyway. They we willing to do this because nobody in that room, except the buyer, was going to have to live with that loan for very long. The seller gets paid, the real estate agents gets his commission, and the loan company sells the loan to someone else. The reason mortgage rates are higher now is that there aren't any buyers, which means that the mortgage brokers are either charging higher interest or playing with (gasp) their own money. And the reason so many of them went under is because they suddenly found themselves with a bunch of loans they couldn't re-sell, which put a serious crimp into their cash flow.

You need to walk in with a calculator and CFP and a budget. You need to know what your tax bracket is and how much of that mortgage interest you'll be seeing come back each April. And for God's sake don't take a mortgage that you need to escape to be able to afford. Because at the end of the day, you are still signing a piece of paper, and it's your responsibility to know what the hell you're signing up for.

August 15, 2007

The New Republic's Ostrich Strategy

For some reason - probably a long-forgotten registration - I'm on the New Republic's monthly distribution list. Here's the latest, somewhat abbreviated, but leaving out no stories.

Our cover story for this issue is a fascinating essay about genealogy by Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker. ... What Pinker calls "the geometric decay of relatedness" suggests that, for all the fun we might have with genealogy, discovering where we came from isn't nearly as important as we would like it to be.

Also in this issue, Paul Berman traces the career of noted Italian liberal--and convicted murderer--Piero Fassino. The piece continues a story that Berman began telling in our pages six years ago: the story of the European left and how it has changed over the past 40 years....

Plus, don't miss Michael Crowley on the demise of John McCain; Eliza Griswold on Ethiopia's occupation of Somalia; Andrew Bacevich on David Petraeus; Edward Luttwak on the late Jeane Kirkpatrick's new book; and a photo essay from Iraq by Ashley Gilbertson.

While scratching my head trying to figure out what's missing, I found myself wondering if that photo essay included any pictures of Bradleys running over dogs.

No, come to think of it, probably not.

Suicide Killers

Last night, the Claremont Institute, with a little help from Larry Mizel and others, and with sponsorship from ActionIsrael and Americans Against Terrorism, hosted a showing Pierre Rehov's "Suicide Killers." Inside the mind of a suicide bomber isn't necessarily a place most of us want to go. But it's a place worth touring if we're to understand why explosive one-time belts are the Palestinians' leading export.

The film goes a long way towards dispelling the myths about why teenagers - usually male teenagers - volunteer for these missions. It's because they're carefully taught. By schools, state-sponsored mullahs and broadcasts, parents, street signs. You think of it, they've got it.

It's not money. Money is mentioned only in the context of needing it to get married (more about that later). The very first on-camera personality, a hooded volunteer, explains that he's happy to go on this mission because he knows his children lack for nothing. And the fact is that, even in the West Bank, towns like Ramallah, Jenin, and Nablus have infrastructure and utilities courtesy of Israel, that citizens of other countries would kill for. So to speak. It makes the academic who prattles on about economic deprivation sound as though he's from another galaxy.

Remarkably, in Israeli prison, as at Guantanamo, the radicals hopped-up on Islam are able to have communal prayers. Since they derive their strength and their identity from their religion, it would seem that any good deprogramming effort would first take that away from them. Freedom of religion is a principle, not a fetish. After all, they're in prison, without freedom of speech, freedom to bear arms, freedom from search and seizure, you know, all the basics.

Much of this we've seen before. Rehov's most powerful and most disturbing point is that Palestinian society operates under a radical deformation of relations between the sexes.

Notions of democracy and equality, of course, threaten the status quo, where men run the place with an iron fist. One of the biggest laughs came from a clip of Saudi TV of an imam of some sort saying that "if it were my sister, and her husband, he would completely and totally oppose beating her, except in one case..." (pregnant pause) "...and that is if she did something to deserve being beaten." Another mullah explained that women's rights meant that women went out of the house naked.

Women and women's bodies are quite literally demonized. There is complete and utter inaccessability of girls to boys, and young women to young men, in a society whose average age is a hormone-flooded 16. Actually scraping together enough money to get married is hard. Having to live next door to Israeli beaches makes it harder. Pushing a button and getting 72 wives is a lot easier.

And here's where Rehov made one of his few mis-steps. The fact is, Israel isn't any more permissive than the average Western society. But when he cuts from a mullah denouncing western nudity to a beach where there's not much left to the imagination, he actually gives some credence to Islamist complaints. It's worse that the pop song they're dancing to mocks, "...God, the Blessed, we are all students." I don't want to chance to appease murderous fanatics, but I wouldn't mind changing, nonetheless.

The movie was probably about 20 minutes too long, and a little repetitive, as well. But it's well worth seeing, and dragging your friends to see, since it probably won't be showing at the multiplex any time soon.

John Andrews and Kathleen LeCrone did a great job putting this together at the last minute, and wec can only hope that the performance is repeated in other cities.

See Ben DeGrow's take for better insight.

August 13, 2007

Dinner With Pierre Rehov

In advance of tomorrow night's screening of Suicide Killers, John Andrews & the Claremonteers took the event sponsors and one blogger out to dinner with director Pierre Rehov.

Rehov is a dual French-Israeli citizen, whose family came to France after the Algerian revolt and subsequent independence. Prior to that, they had been chased out of Spain - 500 years ago. It was his knowledge of Arabic and Arab society that let him infiltrate Jenin and other Palestinian camps for his film, "Road to Jenin," debunking the myth of the Jenin massacre.

Rehov was one of the first to expose the Mohammad Al-Dura farce, used to such great propaganda effect by Arafat and Jacques Chirac. He has a couple of other projects in the works, including one looking at the sad fate of Arab Christians at the hands of a re-energized Islamist community.

Tomorrow night promises to be interesting.

So It Begins...

The only way I was going to get this done was if I passed the point of no return:

I'd say that pretty much commits me to finishing.

At first, I thought I would pry the linoleum off the underlayment. That was, until I had to chisel it off using a spreader at the rate of about 1 square foot per hour. Figuring that that would take me until Sprint figured out how to take payment, I looked back over the instruction. Hey! You can put ceramic tile right over the linoleum! Moreover, the linoleum has a line pattern on it, so I don't even have to put down a grid myself. How cool is that?

So, one large tub of Type I adhesive and vaarious muscle aches later, the middle tiles, the ones that go in the middle of the floor and don't require any trimming, are about 75% done. Yes, I'm going to roll the fridge out and tile under it, and the oven is around the corner, so it still needs to be moved back, too. The hardest part isn't that, it's going to be cutting the tile as it wraps around the pantry doorway. And maybe, having to cut the pantry door itself down by 1/4".

And there's no going back.

Customer Service

The weather's still muggy, but now the monsoons are a little less reliable. So now, it's the triple threat: heat and humidity, and you still have to run the sprinklers.

Apparently, the Sprint-Nextel merger isn't going so well. I went to the Sprint website to pay the bill, and found that while Sprint may have known who I was, Sprint-Nextel had apparently come down with corporate Alzheimer's and I had to re-register. All of which went fine. Except they have you enter your password, and your Social Security Numberin the clear. Apparently, it hasn't occurred to the people who run the company that someone might try to use their wireless internet card to pay their bill, you know, in a public place.

Then, the dreaded, "Double Secret Probation Security Question." You get to choose your question, so I picked, "First Elementary School." Answer: Mosby Woods. Evidently, whatever software, and I use that term advisedly, they're using to run this website, thinks that a space is a special character, which rules out something like half the schools in the country. "Street where you grew up" isn't much better, but since the name of that street was "Northwood-that's-one-word-northwood," I took it.

You get a confirmation text message, enter the secret code telling you to drink Ovaltine, and you're resgisered! Here's the text of the message I got:

Subject: --- Put the subject of the mail here --- ---Put the body here and put a 'VqBvGKmk' where the validation code goes----

How these people survived Y2K without routing all of our calls through Russia is a deep, deep mystery.

So, I decided to call customer service, figuring that of all companies whose bills I could pay by phone, the phone company would be one. Guess again.

Remember that sketch where Mike Nichols tries to get a phone number from Elaine May? This was about the same. *4, Account Information, wanted a PIN, and cut me off when I couldn't remember it. *2, Customer Service did the same, but referred me to *3, Bill Pay.

Which also required the PIN Which Cannot Be Named. And this time, finally, I got to talk to a real person. Who asked for the phone number. And my name.

And the PIN.

It took rounds with two other customer service people before I found someone who could override the damn computer and take the payment for my bill. Yes, remember? They were sufficiently determined not to take my money that they turned what should have been a five minute job into a half-hour adventure.

People, if anyone reading this is in charge of customer service, don't do this.

August 10, 2007

Another CFA Post

Wherein the CFA Econ book abandons empirical observation, choosing instead to count 5 chambers in the heart...

An Evening With Harvey Mansfield

Last night, courtesy of John Andrews and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute's Miller Center, I had the pleasure of attending the Boulder stop on the great Harvey Mansfield's Jefferson Lecture Barnstorming Tour.

It's one thing to read the speech, but, as with Shakespeare's plays, it's really intended to be performed for an audience.

It's impossible to sum up a learned hour-long speech in a few sentences, but I'll give it a go. Mansfield's main thesis was that politics, properly practiced, is about what - and as importantly, whom - will be important in a society, and that the what and the whom are inseparable. The attempt to reduce politics to "political science" does a disservice to both politics and science. Individual humans, and human ego and human ambition are simply not reducible to mass "forces" and averages.

As a result, politics, properly practiced, in a dynamic political culture, is confrontation not negotiation, and the negotiated accomodations of current European politics, where the vanilla center-left parties negotiate over spoils rather than contest policy, and something to be feared rather than aspired to. Mansfield's biggest laugh of the night came here:

The demand for civility in our politics should instead be focused on improving the quality of our insults, using wit, rather than blandness. I recall Senator Harry Reid claiming that he, "wasn't going to get into a name-calling contest with an attack dog."

It may be the only laugh Reid's gotten in his whole career.

Personally, I think Mansfield's got the problem right but the source of the infection wrong. Rather than blame "social science" for trying to level mankind, a complaint that's been around since the early 18th century, Mansfield should instead blame the academic left for trying to shut off debate that threatens its orthodoxies. The European stagnation exists - and its challengers are so toxic - precisely because its ruling elites have ruled so many topics out of bounds for discussion in polite society that the peasantry quickly turns impolite.

Likewise, he significantly overplays science's "collective enterprise." The rush to establish priority for publication gives the lie to any submission to anonymity. Newton, Hooke, and the rest of the early modern scientists had egos every bit as large as Bella Abzug or John Kerry, and it's strange than Mansfield, steeped in academia, would fail to recognize the self-importance floating around the physics departments of Harvard and MIT.

Still, these are quibbles. Politics is a human contact sport, and Mansfield's basic point - that politics and politicians have more to learn about the practice of their profession from Shakespeare than from Einstein is self-evident.

The ISI is one of the great academic institutions operating in the US today; they have, at least, made the right enemies. And John had this to say about the Center for Western Civilization, something marginalized in contemporary academic life as only, well, western civilization can be:

...[the] tiny Center for Western Civilization begun at the university as a solo effort by classics professor Christian Kopff. "The permanent things, embedded in tradition, are good things for human life," his defiant prospectus continues. He invites students to join "in the fruitful exploration of the benefits and significance of Western Culture, from the ancient Greeks to the American Founding." For perspective on the center's pathetic $86,000 budget (just increased by Brown, with touching gratitude from Kopff), consider that CU spends $22 million annually on diversity programs.

If they keep bringing in speakers of this quality, it'll be money well spent.

August 8, 2007

Immigration Fear Factor

Apparently, the Undocumented-American community is having a tough time of it. No, really.

A year after state lawmakers passed what they called the toughest illegal-immigration laws in the nation, there is no proof illegal immigrants have been caught taking advantage of taxpayers. Instead, there are abundant stories of citizens eligible for services who can't prove it because they lack the required ID.

Of one side, the side that wants to prevent illegal aliens from taking our tax dollars, "proof" is demanded. From the other, anecdotal evidence comprising "abundant stories" is sufficient. Of course, abundance is also in the eye of the reporter.

"We have nothing to show that this law is doing what it was intended to do," said Maureen Farrell, executive director of the Colorado Center on Law and Policy. "The reality is that more citizens appear to be impacted than illegal immigrants."

The Post, as freuqently happens when referencing liberal think tanks, fails to identify them as such. The CCLP's mission: "The Colorado Center on Law and Policy's mission is to promote justice and economic security for all Coloradans, particularly lower income people. CCLP advocates on behalf of the the poor, working poor and other vulnerable populations though legislative, administrative and legal advocacy." Maybe so you won't notice there's no "balancing" conservative opinion.

Beyond the effects on hospitals and social-service providers, businesses have also complained that the anti- immigrant fervor generated by HB 1023 and other laws has made it harder to find employees.

Ah, that's why! There is no balancing conservative opinion! Or at least no balanced conservative opinion. There's merely, "fervor." Fervor all through the Right. Fervor! Funnily enough, it's actually generated by the law in question, rather than helping to generate it. Oh, and note that it's no longer about illegal immigrants, but all immigrants.

Other lawmakers, meanwhile, argue HB 1023 doesn't go far enough.

Sen. David Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs, said tales of how the law is hurting the homeless and indigent are a diversion tactic by social-service providers.

"That is being used as an excuse to make sure that this procedure is loose enough to ensure that anyone can apply," he said.

Schultheis never actually says the laws don't go far enough. What he does say is that social service providers want to, well, provide services, and that their claims are misleading.

Others argue that such immigrants were never draining Colorado coffers.

"People who are undocumented are here to work - not use social services," said Deb DeBoutez with the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.

Except for the gang members who are here to funnel drug money to jihadists, that is. They're fine, law-abiding illegals.

State agencies reported this year that the package of immigration laws cost them about $2 million to put in place. But they found no cost savings through kicking illegal immigrants off of state rolls.

This is the WMD method of argument. Fine enough for a Presidential debate, not so good for what supposed to pass for journalism. In fact, cost savings was only one reason for this law. Perhaps more important was taking away a reason for people to come here.

It is estimated there are nearly 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. and about 225,000 to 275,000 in Colorado.

If this doesn't conjure up images of Drew Carey standing on a stage, asking these reporters to make a guess, with the audience yelling, as one, "higher, higher!" There's no source for the national numbers, they're clearly at the low end of the range. Apparently, the numbers for Colorado come from a study by the left-leaning Pew Hispanic Center, but you wouldn't know this, either.

A large number of those who are affected, especially in the case of health care, are indigent citizens. Just try mentioning that mentally ill homeless should be put in state facilities, though, and see how many syllables make it out before, "warehousing!"

Denver Health, which serves a large percentage of the indigent and homeless population, has spent nearly $2 million in the past year treating indigent patients who don't have enough identification to prove they are legal residents. The hospital cannot include such charges in its application for a refund through the Colorado Indigent Care Program.

"It means that we have $2 million less in our operating budget," said Bobbi Barrow, a spokeswoman for Denver Health.

A shooting victim who arrived at Denver Health's emergency room without insurance or state-approved ID stayed for more than a month, leaving behind a $182,000 medical bill.

Denver Health's loss will not save the state any money.

Hospitals are refunded a percentage of the money they spend each year on indigent patients. But there is a fixed amount of grant money each year, and the state divides it up among the hospitals. So just because a hospital spent more money on indigent care, it doesn't mean that it will get a bigger check from the state.

This is simply incoherent. According to the logic, they weren't going to be able to recover the money, anyway, because there's a cap on how much the state pays out. We're not told what the algorithm for dividing up the money is (did the reporters even bother to ask?), so we have no idea whether spending more or less is better.

There's more, largely about the amount of paperwork the rule is causing non-profits. Don't hold your breath waiting for the paper to endorse a flat tax.

Oh, and that "fear factor" headline. Apparently Jim Spencer was able to find work after the buyout, after all.

August 7, 2007

Doggie Discount

Am I the only one who's noticed the sign on the Astros' right-field wall: "H-E-B: Driving Prices Lower"?

Anyway, it's August, which means that Monsoon Season has arrived here in Colorado. Some afternoons, it's even possible to swim from work to the bus stop. It also means it's the perfect weather to start energy-intensive indoor home-improvement projects, like installing new kitchen flooring.

The first step in any project is, naturally, to buy stuff. So last night it was off to Lowe's to pick up the first set of tiles, some adhesive, and some assorted tools. As usual, the dog came along as company and entertainment for the other shoppers.

And the checkout ladies. Who spent so much time admiring How Big The Dog Is(TM), that they completely forgot to ring up about half the order. Don't look at me like that. What am I, a thief? Of course I took it back in and got it scanned. But it does suggest that 1) these women were somewhat less than fully-invested in the company's success, and b) the company paid way too much for those expensive exit-scanner that are supposed to sound like a nuclear attack at CTU when you walk out with an extra pack of gum.

This is the second time this has happened - the first being at Home Depot a few weeks ago, under similar circumstances. At least at Home Depot, they thanked me for my honesty rather than scowling at me for implicitly impugning their work. If I wanted, I could probably do the project for half the price by bringing the dog along and putting items on the bottom of the cart. But that would be wrong, that's for sure.

August 6, 2007

Gompers They Ain't

A union is basically an attempts to form a monopoly over labor. As with any monopoly, it needs two things to work: 1) A "moat," or a non-reproducible qualitative advantage, and 2) high barriers to entry. Blogging has neither, which is its appeal. There's little that bloggers - even the best - do that can't be done by a million other people with time and interest. And the blogging universe exists precisely because there are virtually no barriers to entry.

What on earth a blogging picket line would look like, anyway? Denial-of-service attacks?

Then there's the fact that such a monopoly would produce what all monopolies produce - a lower-quality, lower-quantity, less-responsive, less-innovative product than we had before. Kind of like the MSM>

Which is also why we have blogging.

There must be a reason why there aren't any well-read economics or business bloggers behind this idea of a "Bloggers' Union." Aside from the obvious.

August 1, 2007

Macro v. Micro

In studying for the CFA, the Economics section has eight readings (about a week's worth) on Microeconomics, and eight readings on Macroeonomics. It seems to me that while economic illiteracy abounds, especially among the political and journalistic classes, it manifests itself somewhat differently between the two subjects. Most of the juice is around macro stuff, because that's where policy decisions lay. But most of the action is in micro, because that's where businesses actually have to operate.

Illiteracy about macroeconomics leads people to assume that price rises mean inflation. Inflation is a monetary phenomenon. Illiteracy about microeconomics leads people to ignore how poorly gate space is allocated at DIA. Gates are not offered by competitive bid, leading to all sorts of market distortions. Historically, I would guess that micro-illiteracy is dangerous all the time, while macro-illiteracy is mostly dangerous on four- and two-year cycles.

But when politicians talk about 'windfall' taxes on oil companies, then complain about lack of slack in refinery capacity, or when they shut down drilling on the Roan Plateau, then complain about natural gas prices, it's dangerous micro-illiteracy. Or demagoguery taking advantage of it, which amounts to the same thing.

Cross-Posted over at CFA Blog.

Suicide Killers

On Tuesday night, August 14, the Claremont Institute, Americans Against Terrorism, and Action Israel will sponsor a free showing of Pierre Rehov's Suicide Killers, examining the mind and motivations of the Arab world's most influential innovation of the last 500 years. It'll be shown at 7:30 at the Colorado History Museum, and Mr. Rehov himself will be on hand for a Q&A session afterwards. See the trailer, and then go to Backbone America to register, or buy the video and invite some friends over to see it.

The Saudis Recognize Israel?

Not exactly. Now now. Likely, not ever. And recognizing Israel was supposed to be one of the preconditions for attending President Bush's proposed Middle East railroading peace conference later this year. That requirement was the linchpin of the usually reliable Michael Oren's argument in the WSJ, where he claimed that this was not a fundamental change in the administration's Mideast policy. So, this from the AP:

Saudi Arabia will attend a Middle East peace conference proposed by President Bush for later this year, the Saudi foreign minister said Wednesday.

"We are interested in the peace conference," Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said at a joint news conference with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

"When we get an invitation from the minister (Rice) to attend, when this takes place, we will discuss it and we will make sure that we attend" the conference, al-Faisal said.

Saudi Arabia has no diplomatic relations with Israel and its presence at a peace conference with the Jewish state would be a diplomatic breakthrough (emphasis added).

Yes, for the Saudis. I believe that we had diplomatic relations with the Japanese right up until kickoff of the Redskins-Giants game that Sunday.

It's good to see Rice holding form firm from the get-go.


Power, Faith, and Fantasy

Six Days of War

An Army of Davids

Learning to Read Midrash

Size Matters

Deals From Hell

A War Like No Other


A Civil War

Supreme Command

The (Mis)Behavior of Markets

The Wisdom of Crowds

Inventing Money

When Genius Failed

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Back in Action : An American Soldier's Story of Courage, Faith and Fortitude

How Would You Move Mt. Fuji?

Good to Great

Built to Last

Financial Fine Print

The Day the Universe Changed


The Multiple Identities of the Middle-East

The Case for Democracy

A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam

The Italians

Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory

Beyond the Verse: Talmudic Readings and Lectures

Reading Levinas/Reading Talmud