Friday, December 29, 2006

What is America's total net worth?

Total value of all publicly traded American companies - about $15 trillion

Total value of America's natural resources - around $3 trillion?

Total value of American real estate - around $40 trillion?

But publicly traded companies own a large share of our natural resources and real estate, so that value is already reflected in their share price....hmmm.

Total value of America's infrastructure - $10 trillon?

Minus around $8 trillion in public debt and $2 trillion in consumer debt

Looks like a first-pass estimate/guess of America's total net worth is around $50-60 trillion.

That comes to around $200,000 per American.

Your share may vary, of course, but with America's per capita income of around $40,000...that would mean a 20% annual "return" on the average American's $200,000.

Not bad.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Neocon Year Zero

I've seen a few neocon pundits who have decided to pretend that Iraq, budget deficits and the recent election never happened and have begun to recycle their rhetoric from around 2002.

Interesting strategy.

Will the neocons formally split into those who feel nothing has changed and those whose outlook has been modified by the results of their policies being enacted?

Neo-neocons and paleo-neocons?

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Two for One

The world's population hit 3.25 billion during the Kennedy administration.

Pax America now has to guarantee peace for twice that many people.

With a 6.5 billion population, there are now 6 acres of land per person.

If you leave out deserts and mountains and such...each person has about one third of an acre of arable land to support them.

What would Thomas Malthus say these days?

The debate has shifted from whether everyone can survive to whether everyone can enjoy a first world lifestyle.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Maximizing Data Presentation

Suppose you have a set of data and you want to present it in an order that maximizes its positive impact, how do you go about it?

Is there a science to it?

Say you have five pieces of info:

5 - really impressive
4 - fairly impressive
3 - mildly impressive
2 - not very impressive at all
1 - bad, actually

If your data set is stars appearing in a movie, the rule seems to be a straight descending order: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

The best presentation order when you are competing for the attention of a customer in a crowded market, perhaps? If you've only got a few seconds of their attention, better start with you most impressive piece of data?

Another obvious way is a straight ascending order: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Build to a big finish.

Good if you've already got someone's attention and you're trying to build to a sale or have them leave your presentation with a positive opinion? Make sure the last thing they remember is your best peice of data, and your worst is already fading from their memory?

Another way is to mix up the good and bad data: 3, 1, 4, 2, 5.

Perhaps the best presentation order if you've got someone's attention but you need them to pay attention for a long time...sprinkle in the good data at regular intervals? Still, finish on a high note...

Wonder if this could be applied to blogs somehow?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Local Hero Protectionism

In the days before the Industrial Revolution, when the vast majority of people lived in rural areas and rarely traveled far from home...everyone in the village had a good chance of being the best at something...a local hero. You could easily be the tallest, strongest, richest, prettiest person around without being particularly tall or strong or rich or pretty.

But the migration to urban areas coupled with improved communication and literacy rates raised the bar considerably. Odds were slim you were the richest person in a city of 100,000 or more. Odds are slimmer still now that you're better looking than Brad Pitt.

America, though, has done a remarkable job of keeping its local heroes safe from foreign competition. While the rest of the world watches Formula One racing and cheers on David Beckham, we have crappy NASCAR and American Football. We may import good foreign movies or TV shows, but they are almost always recast with American stars.

Foreigners occasionally gain fame in America (The Beatles, Yao Ming), but most foreigners famous in America are either dead (Winston Churchill) or villains that our local heroes fight (Osama bin Laden).

How long will our heroes be able to compete safely in our little village?

How long before the heroes of the global village come knocking?

Which living foreigner is most admired by Americans today?

Simon Cowell from American Idol, maybe? He's really playing the traditional villain role.

Tony Blair? Popular once perhaps, but now really just Bush's unpopular poodle now.

I'm sure there's someone obvious I'm forgetting...I just can't come up with their name.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

An Ill Wind

A rather large storm hit my little bubble of prosperity.

The next day brought out rude, self-centered behavior in people as they struggled to find food and gas for their cars at the few merchants that still had power...we even had modest amounts of violence.

If a few days without power can bring about such things in the land of millionaires and billionaires...what chance did Iraq really have?

When you are powerless to feed or even protect your family, you will take any offer that promises you a chance to do so, no matter what that offer is.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


Something changes about a period of history when the last person to live during it dies.

Not sure what it is...but it does.

It's like the point where the wake of a great ship fades and becomes indistinguishable from the surrounding ocean...

Elizebeth Bolden, born August 15, 1890, R.I.P.

The baton passes to Emiliano Mercado del Toro and August 21, 1891.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Propaganda: A Siege Weapon Only?

Propaganda can help you seize power.

It doesn't work nearly as well once you've stormed the castle, though.

Then the peasants expect a few results...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Pair of Aces

Why are so many successful tech companies founded by two people?

Bill Gates and Paul Allen
Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak
Larry Page and Sergey Brin

Bill Hewlitt and David Packard

Probably because the ability to:

1. Come up with a good idea for a tech product
2. Raise the money to develop the product
3. Actually make the product
4. Market the product

...rarely resides in a single nerd.

To make a tech company go, you really need a charismatic visionary type to raise money and market your product...and you need a hermitic, insanely focused tech guy to actually make the product. Designing the product seems to require both types.

At least that's my guess.

An online matchmaking service for budding tech billionaires might be a valuable service for countries trying to enter the worldwide tech marketplace:

Shy software genius seeks outgoing type who can raise $10 million with just a smile, a handshake and this doodle I made on a cocktail napkin...

Monday, December 11, 2006

Peep Your Enthusiasm

I caught an episode of the British comedy Peep Show on BBC America over the weekend and actually laughed out loud several times. I went to Amazon to order the DVD and, sadly, they don't sell the flavor that works in American DVD players yet.

I think the closest American comedy show to it is Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Thanks to YouTube, I managed to see a bit more of this show. Here's the most representative I could find:

And here's the shows website:

NSFW and only for those with a...twisted...sense of humor.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

When Echo Chambers are Okay

Some people, when faced with an argument or some data that challenges their beliefs, simply get angry. I'm not a psychologist, so I don't know if there's a name for this, but I assume it is why some people have to take anger management classes.

These people are out there, though.

They are physically incapable of engaging in rational discussions.

In cases where most people would reconsider their beliefs or formulate a counter-argument, these people can only respond with rage.

It would be interesting to see how this type of person form their opinions in the first place.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Avengers

I haven't thought that much about the nature of evil until recently. I suppose if I was asked to name someone who was evil, I'd come up the usual list: Ted Bundy, Hitler, etc. A person would have to be very bad indeed before they made my list. A supreme indifference to human suffering coupled with many acts of violence against innocents for personal gain or worse yet, for pleasure.

I would just dismiss rhetoric like "Axis of Evil" as political grandstanding not meant to be taken seriously.

But it has come to my attention that some people do take evil very seriously and they don't set the bar very high at all.

They view themselves as avenging angels who must seek out and punish "evil."

The confronting of evil to them is life's highest calling and must be carried out even if many innocents suffer in the process.

Is this what' going on in Iraq right now?

The Avengers see an evil that must be wiped out no matter what the cost?

Pointing out civilian deaths to the Avengers is meaningless in that case...a sad but necessary sacrifice in their eyes.

The security of America isn't even a factor to the Avengers, evil simply must be confronted.

A question beyond rational debate?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Asymmetrical Monetary Warfare

A recently leaked report from the U.S. government shows the Iraqi insurgency is operating on around $100 million a year.

The U.S. is spending about $100 billion a year to station troops there.

So, America is spending 1000 times as much as the insurgents and can only achieve "not winning" against them...troubling.

These numbers imply the insurgents would only need a modest increase in their funding to offset any majorAmerican effort.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Should historical examples come with expiration dates?

Or should that be a sell-by date or a half-life?

While the political antics of Ancient Greece may bear some resemblance to the modern world of politics, surely there are other factors that have changed so much that the comparison is nearly meaningless now.

At the very least, people who use historical examples to support their position concerning modern dilemmas should be forced to use all the examples from a period, not just the ones that back up their arguments.

If you're a free trader who also supports the privatization of Social Security, for example...

If you're gonna use the evils of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 to rail against protectionism...

...shouldn't you also have to admit that investors who put their money in the stock market in 1929 saw their investment fall in value and they didn't break even for another35-40 years?

In other words...1930 era economic examples (if anything) teach us:

1. Tariffs are always bad.
2. Stock markets can have very long down periods.

If there are indeed some historic examples that have longer expiration dates that can you tell which ones have gone moldy and should be tossed out...

...and which ones are keepers?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Zune Zune Zune

Wow, the Zune is bad!

A clunky iPod brown.

Maybe Microsoft will get serious about its consumer electronic products when it stops making billions from its older product lines.

Monday, December 04, 2006

JFK on Truth

The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.

Is Hollywood the Last Bastion of Capitalism?

Hollywood is frequently attacked as a Marxist enclave, but what American business sector is more purely capitalistic?

The defense industry is almost wholly dependent on government money.

Agriculture receives huge government subsidies.

Medicine relies on many types of government funding.

The oil and gas industries derive much of their income from resources extracted from government land, much of it below market value.

Housing and utilities rely on government-supplied roads, dams, sewers, etc.

Even the most "modern" American industries (software, computers, jet aircraft, the internet, biotech, etc.) were built on top of massive government-funded research and development efforts.

Outside of a little money for PBS, I can't think of any support Hollywood gets from the government. In true capitalistic fashion, studios risks tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars on projects, then cross their fingers and release them into the purest market in America.

Today, the spirit of Adam Smith lives on more in Hollywood than anywhere else in America.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Unintended Consequences: America and Japan

When Commodore Matthew Perry forced Japan to join the modern world in 1854, I doubt he expected they would grow strong enough to attack America 87 years later...but they did.

And when America's WWII military leaders encouraged the Soviets to help us finish off the now-modern Japan in 1945, I doubt they realized it would lead to America having to deal with a nuclear-armed North Korea 60 years later...but it did.

What future problems will arise from America's current struggle to turn Iraq into a "modern" country?

Guess we'll have to wait and see...

Saturday, December 02, 2006

If America is attacked again...

Will the next terrorist attack on America add weight to the arguments of the pro-war or anti-war people?

Sartre on Truth

Like all dreamers I confuse disenchantment with truth.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Reach for an Aphorism?

What causes you to start digging into the nuts and bolts of an issue instead of just relying on an aphorism to form an opinion about it?

Hindsight is 20/20 explains most bad decisions people make under pressure.

Yet even if you believe this aphorism, you may feel compelled to look more deeply into bad decisions people made under pressure.


A pattern of similar bad decisions in the past by the person would be one reason.

The person who made the bad deicsion gained something from it is another reason.

You yourself stand to gain something if you can show the person who made the bad decsion was actually acting in bad faith.


Use acts by individual opponents to smear all your opponents.

Dismiss acts by individual allies as the work of a few bad apples.