Thursday, March 29, 2007

Why People Don't Trust Big Business

Despite my lean to the left on most issues, I have always been hesitant to bash market capitalism because I think it essentially makes our way of life possible. But I always take exception to other market proponents who suggest that the government should have no role in correcting the problems caused by the same markets. It just isn't realistic. I agree that government control is a bad solution, but that isn't the same as government oversight. The metaphor I would use is that of a train. You don't want government to be the locomotive, but it would be nice for it to provide effective rails to make sure the train stays on track.

The Washington Post had a story today that again displays the need for such guide rails. It seems Circuit City has decided to fire 3,400 employees for the egregious error of making as much money as Circuit City previously deemed they were worth. The workers that were laid off made from $11 to $18 an hour.

What could the government do about it? I don't know. But it is a healthy reminder that when left to their own devices, markets can create all kinds of bad behavior.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

2007, a year of promise Pt. 2

Like music, movies were sub par in 2006. Actually, movies were much worse. I remember thinking when the Oscar nominees came out, "These were the best movies of this year?" Apparently someone thought so. I thought Pan's Labyrinth was the only really great movie of 2006, and it wasn't even nominated for Best Picture. Of course, I had to see it in 2007 because of the interminable drag between first release dates and release dates here. In related news, why isn't anyone talking about that great new movie The Godfather that just opened. Kidding. Sort of. I will be seeing The Lives of Others this weekend, so maybe I will be able to add one to the list. I must admit I'm torn whether to put movies on the list of the year I saw them or the year they were officially released (especially when it is almost April).

Anyway, even if I give 2006 all it's official releases, the list of movies I really liked is pretty short. Top 5:

1. Pan's Labyrinth
2. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
3. The Matador
4. Borat
5. The Departed

And only the first three would make my top ten lists from the past few years. Granted, I went to the movies a lot less in 2006. I counted it up and I went to about 15 fewer movies in 2006 than in any of the three previous years. But I think that says something about how excited I was to see any of the movies that were coming out.

By comparison, 2007 is a ray of hope. Granted, I haven't seen anything really great yet. Actually I have, but as I said I am still catching up on the movies released at the end of 2006. Nevertheless I feel like 2007 offers hope, if for no other reason than it isn't 2006.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

2007, a year of promise Pt. 1

2006 was a pretty blase year (I still don't how to make the appropriate accent mark on blase). I don't mean for me personally. For me, 2006 was a year of large events both good and bad. But not for the world of entertainment. Movies and music both had a rough go in 2006 after a pretty decent 2005.

In music the year saw very few great releases from established bands. And there weren't many promising new bands to take up the slack. I'm a Bob Dylan fan, but I wasn't completely sharing the love for Modern Times. If I had to put out a top 5 albums they would go like this:

1. Tapes n' Tapes The Loon
2. Pearl Jam Pearl Jam
3. TV on the Radio Return to Cookie Mountain
4. Yeah Yeah Yeahs Show Your Bones
5. The Hold Steady Boys and Girls in America

These were five good albums, but the only one that has earned a permanent spot in the rotation is The Loon. I listen to the others quite a bit, but they tend to show up far less in any mix lists. I don't think that's a good sign.

But here comes 2007. As I type I am listening to Modest Mouse's newest album, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. It seems a return to form after the more popular, but less interesting Good News for People Who Love Bad News. Also out already are new albums from Bloc Party and The Arcade Fire. I've heard some of each and they both sound very promising. But those are just the tip of the iceberg. The next week will bring with it Because of the Times from The Kings of Leon. I have heard several of the tracks from this one, and it seems to me that it will be another shift with similarly outstanding results. Later this year we should also see new albums from Spoon, Wilco, and Interpol. There is also at least one debut that I am excited about. That is Costello Music from The Fratellis (the guys who do the song from the itunes commercial). It's the kind of energetic, funny music you can't help but enjoy. None of this means 2007 will be a musical juggernaut, but hey it'll probably be better than 2006.

I'll address the same issue with movies sometime soon.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

A Bad Sign

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, sometimes a meaningless offhand comment really brings a much larger (and possibly unrelated) issue squarely into focus. Last week's Economist magazine had a story about the demise of Research and Development within corporate world. The story was interesting, and abandoning research and development activities certainly seems like a rather blatant example of the ever-increasing corporate preference for profits today over progress tomorrow.

But the paragraph in the story that really stood out to me was as follows:

In Redmond, Washington, Microsoft Research houses 400 researchers; it boasts another 300 around the world. Nearly all of their budget is spent on commercially orientated projects. In a windowless office Steven Drucker, a researcher on media applications, is unable to get his laptop to work with the projector. So he explains the future of home entertainment with a video on the computer screen.

Maybe I don't even need to make a comment about it, but this paragraph told me a lot about the world. Steven Drucker is a computer scientist and he is unable to get his laptop to work with his projector. At first, it made me feel better about my feeble attempts to get one piece of technology to work with another. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that what I might be seeing was proof that we have made so much progress so quickly that even scientists have troubel keeping up. Perhaps research and development could take a seat for awhile. But I, and perhaps Steven Drucker, really would like to see at least some of the resulting savings go to researching and developing the consumer experience.

(I hope that all made sense. I'm typing while watching little guys Davidson take an 8 point lead over ACC brute Maryland. Go little guys!)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


I really wanted to a post today about an article I read in the Economist, but I am having log-in issues on their website, so hopeful I can get back on track tomorrow. Not that it will be very important mind you. It's just that some things so clearly illustrate a point that you don't want to miss an opportunity.

Anyway in lieu of that post, I would like to go ahead and declare that this is one of my favorite times of the year. As an avid basketball fan, I am of course partial to tourney week. It isn't just that though. Last night, my wife and I got to spend some time relaxing on the porch, enjoying the warmer weather. I wouldn't say that spring is my favorite season, but I will say that there is no other time of the year that contains as many uncontrollable outbursts of optimism.

As for the tourney and my brackets, I am doomed to terrible picks this year. I know this because I immediately filled out my bracket on Sunday night and vowed I would not change it no matter what. Since that moment, I have seen several "expert" picks that unbelievably coincide with my own. Since they are never right, I suppose I can expect to be wrong this year as well (you know unlike all those years I have been right).

For the record, my final four is Kansas (I am not a Jayhawk fan by the way), Florida, Georgetown, and Texas A&M. Watch for at least one of these schools to be finished before the weekend is out.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Poverty in the Metro

Last week I received a piece of literature from LINC titled "The Suburbanization of Poverty in K.C. Area School Districts." The point was to show that poverty was spreading out as the city spreads out. But after looking at it for a while I noticed that there seems to be a much more disturbing trend than poverty dispersion. What is really scary is that poverty is simply growing. It isn't really moving from one area to another. It is just growing everywhere.

The table that LINC sent along showed numbers from 2002-2006. It used kids receiving free or reduced school lunches as the poverty measure. In 2002, 35.3% of students in the metropolitan area (MO only) received some type of lunch assistance. In 2006, the percentage had grown to 41.7%. And it wasn't just a few inner districts dragging down the average. To the contrary, of the 22 school districts surveyed, only one (Lone Jack) didn't see it's percentage grow. Lee's Summit has more poverty. Blue Springs has more poverty. And Kansas City has more despite seemingly being so high (77.8%) that they couldn't possibly have gone up anymore.

This has all happened even as the federal poverty threshold (which is used as the basis for the lunch numbers) has increased at a slower rate than either median income or inflation. That would seem to indicate that the numbers aren't a statistical flaw, but a true picture of growing poverty. But what does that mean?

I suppose you cannot completely rule out the possibility that middle-class and wealthy families are moving to Kansas at a continually high pace. I would like to see comparative data for the Kansas side. But it seems unlikely that could account for the whole picture. What this would really seem to indicate to me (and my rather novice understanding of economic demographics) is that we are seeing a rather precipitous increase in income inequality in our area. That would fit with the way I understand the national picture, but this seems like a particularly vivid example of the local effect.

Friday, March 2, 2007


There are places in the world that I would love to go just because of how bizarre they would seem to me. This video of a conservative convention shows me that I could find one those places right here in our own capital.

I'm sure the speakers would be great, but what would really be interesting would be just talking to the convention goers. What would the topics be? Would they fit into my stereotypes? I actually suspect that I could go to something like the Kos convention and feel the same way.

Sidebar: The Brownback supporter in the video claims that Brownback is "for the choice of a flat tax or a progressive tax, whichever helps you more." Either he's completely wrong or there is something I fundamentally misunderstand about how any tax system would need to work (I suppose it could also have been a Freudian slip.)

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