Bailouts are bad

Beware Bailouts: Financial Page: The New Yorker

Nine years later, it’s been another terrible August on Wall Street. The meltdown of the market in subprime loans, which over the past six months has led to the shuttering of many home lenders and mortgage brokers, has spilled over into the broader credit market.

The wife linked to this article in the comments of my earlier post, and I thought it was a good article.  In fact, it’s the article I would have written if it weren’t much easier to just type up an uninformed rant because you don’t really know all the details.

The Fed’s decision to flood the system with cheap money will create a textbook case of what’s usually called moral hazard: insulating fund managers from the consequences of their errors will encourage similarly risky bets in the future.

All of these mortgage lenders SHOULD be going under.  They took on too much risk, and it came back to bite them.  That’s how risk works.  If you balance it, you make money.  If you take on too much, you go broke.

The article goes on to talk about how the subprime mortgage implosion may or may not hurt the broader economy.  I would be more inclined to see government intervention to mitigate the adverse effects on the broader economy – we are innocent, and having the government help out because someone else screwed up the economy is much more palatable to economic conservatives such as myself.

Anyway, it’s an interesting article.  Thanks to the wife for pointing it out.

No one gets the internet like the porn industry

My new laptop just shipped, and I’m very excited, and compulsively checking the UPS tracking every four seconds.  You know how you can plug a tracking number from UPS, FedEx, USPS, whatever, into Google, and it will take you to the tracking info?  This is hugely helpful, and is one of the things I love about Google.

Anyway, I plugged in the tracking number, and the first result was a link to UPS, as expected.

The second link was to a porn site.  This is absolutely brilliant, and I almost want to go give the porn site some money just to express my admiration.  I’m not going to, though. 

But if you’re reading this,, you all are pretty much the best search engine optimizers ever.

Worst street in Columbia Heights?

Two more shot on Girard Street last night.  One died, one in the hospital.  I park on that street occasionally when our block is full, and it really doesn’t seem that bad.  And there are frequently police cars around.

It kind of puts parking tickets in perspective, I guess.  I get pretty worked up over the city’s campaign to make me sell my car, but at the same time, there are a lot more important things going on.

A first response

Thank you for writing Councilmember Graham.  The Councilmember is in El Salvador at the invitation of the Mayor of San Salvador for meetings of mutual interest.  On Aug. 1, he was presented the key to the city by the Council and the Mayor.  He has participated in many meetings, as well as two parades.

In his absence, I am forwarding your message to Jonathan Kass, on his staff.


Jason Yuckenberg Public Information Officer Office of Councilmember Jim Graham

Should the government bail out the mortgage industry?

Over at Express, they have a poll asking if the mortgage industry deserves a federal bailout. Actually, they don’t word it like that – the industry clearly does NOT deserve any help. They’ve brought this on themselves by extending too many loans to risky borrowers, banking on a strong market to counteract the risks. Having worked at Fannie Mae, I can promise you that some very smart economists told management that this was a bad, bad idea.

But should we bail out the industry for the sake of the rest of the country? I don’t think we should. However, it’s easy for me to say that, as the wife and I make enough money to support ourselves comfortably, and aren’t really feeling the effects of the economic downturn. I would probably feel differently if I were one of the tens of thousands in the mortgage industry who have lost their jobs (While former Fannie CEO Frank Raines rolls around in his golden parachute – I bet a good chunk of this is his fault).

The problem is that the mortgage market must be a huge factor in the economy.  For how many people is the home the most money they have ever or will ever spend on anything?  It follows that the mortgage market must be important to a lot of people.  So what do we do with that?  Do we allow it to move up and down with minimal oversight?  Or do we regulate it strictly to make sure that the people at the bottom don’t lose their homes?

I know the issue isn’t so black and white.  There’s a huge gray area.  But I think things are better when we’re at the less regulatory end of the spectrum, and I’d like to see us stay there.  I know this means that people are going to lose their homes when the market is bad.  But you really can’t save everyone.

In any event, I’ve totally lost my train of thought.  So far, 87% of Express readers agree with me.  I expect 75% of those are no more than the minimally informed that I am.  But that’s the nature of online polls.

Lets get the Councilmember involved

I wrote to Jim Graham today.  I’m looking for a little help on my parking ticket problems.  I figure that taking up Graham’s time is more efficient than taking up the time of a clerk in the DC traffic courts – Graham’s time is billed at a much higher rate, and it will take less time to reach the $60 they’re trying to take from me.

When I hear back, I’ll let you all know.  And then I’ll contest my tickets.

Appeal to Councilmember Graham

Councilmember Graham –

Is the city of DC required to give notice of changes to parking restrictions beyond simply changing the signs?  In particular, is there a process for notifying residents that an un-zoned street is becoming zoned?

I ask because I received two tickets that I do not think I deserved, and I would like to know the law before I contest them.

I moved to the 1400 block of Harvard Street in February.  This block was not zoned when I registered my car.  Sometime in the last few weeks, our block became Zone 1.  I received no notification.  I do not make a habit of checking the parking signs every time I park on my block to make sure they have not changed.

The first notification I received about the change was a parking ticket last Wednesday the 15th of August.  I looked at the signs, and sure enough, they had been changed.  The DMV was already closed for the day, so there was no way to fix this situation, and I do not have off-street parking.

I left a note on the car for the parking enforcement officials, explaining the situation.  I told them that I was a resident of the block, that I had just discovered the change in zoning, and that I was going to the DMV that day.  Then I thanked them for their understanding.

When I returned home after work to apply my new zone 1 parking permit, less than 24 hours after the first ticket, I had another, sitting just above the note I had left.

I know the DMV has a helpful online form for requesting a new parking permit.  Had I known even a few weeks in advance of the change, I would have paid for my new permit online, saving my time, and saving the District’s time.  But because I wasn’t given the courtesy of any notice, I had to take two hours out of my day to go to the DMV.  And I have to take some of your time, and some of the court’s time as I contest these tickets.  From various sources at DDOT and the DMV, I have heard varying measures for zoning a street – anywhere from 15 signatures to 90% of the residents on the street.  My downstairs neighbor was approached about having our street zoned, but no one asked me.  No one informed me it was in progress.

I have been driving for thirteen years.  In that time, I have received six parking tickets.  Five of those have been in the District in the last year and a half.  Four have been in the last four months while my car was parked within fifty feet of my front door.  I understand that we have parking restrictions for a reason, and parking tickets are the way these restrictions are enforced.  But these restrictions were not put in place to persecute District residents.

I appreciate your attention to this matter.



Oh, the poor, misguided anti-complainers

How to Stop Complaining via Lifehacker

It’s been said that the mind is like a hyperactive monkey. The more you fight with the monkey, the more hyper it becomes. So instead just relax and observe the monkey until it wears itself out.

It’s so cute that this guy thinks he can stop people from complaining by wrestling monkeys.  I just want to pat him on his head and say, “There, there”.

I ‘m mostly kidding.  But the article might as well be about how to reverse rotation of the Earth.  I could no sooner stop complaining than stop breathing.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I will stop doing both of those things at exactly the same time, although I’m not certain which will be the cause of the other.

Still, perhaps his article will be of some use to those of you who don’t entirely embrace the art of incessant complaining.

Automatic weapons with Legos

Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories – Book Review (and build!): Forbidden Lego

Forbidden Lego written by a pair of Lego master builders, who used to work in designing advanced Lego sets (e.g., Mindstorms). While they obviously got to work on lots of cool things while they were there, there were certain projects that just turned not to be suitable to be made into kits released by the Lego company. They wrote the book to give some kind of a tantalizing hint at the kinds of things that go on behind the scenes at Lego, and the kinds of neat things that might get released in a world without product liability suits.

If you don’t want to read the article (Which you should, but I know you’re lazy), just watch the YouTube video linked within.  It’s pretty much the best YouTube video ever.  Well, maybe not.  But it won’t get stuck in your head like Chocolate Rain.

The book includes instructions on how to make automatic weapons with Legos.  What could possibly be cooler than that?  Anyone not intrigued by a self-loading Lego catapult is no friend of mine.

Spying on ourselves is bad

Boing Boing: Police camera spying on the rise in California

Backed by millions in Homeland Security dollars, California law enforcement authorities are quickly expanding video surveillance camera spying in public rights of way, a move the American Civil Liberties Union says is stripping away privacy rights while failing to dent the intended purpose: crime.

We were just talking about this last night, in the context of the hit-and-run accident early Sunday morning. The wife and I saw the victim lying in the middle of 16th Street, face down. The driver has not been caught.

We were talking about the trade-offs: privacy vs. safety. Would you be okay with more cameras in public spaces? When something like this happens, and we want to catch the driver, and more cameras would certainly help.

But, on the other hand, do you really want to be on camera all the time?  It’s not that I want to be able to break the law and not get caught.  It’s just that I don’t want to be watched all the time.  I don’t mind if there’s a camera at the ATM, or if I walk past a monument and I’m in some tourist’s vacation photo.  What I have a problem with is being watched all the time.  While cameras on 16th Street probably could have gotten the license plate of the speeding white SUV that hit this guy, they’d also catch all sorts of other things.  I know you don’t have any reasonable expectation of privacy in the middle of the city, but you have a reasonable expectation of not being filmed every moment you’re out of your house.

So, what’s the proper balance between safety and privacy?  Well, the current administration hasn’t found it yet, although by all indications they aren’t actually looking for balance.  Ideally, there would be a camera on everyone committing a serious crime, and no cameras anywhere else.  I don’t suppose that’s really feasible, though.

And, as you can see above, the ACLU doesn’t think that it’s helping to stop crime.  I don’t know what the ACLU knows about crime rates.  They certainly know a lot about protecting civil liberties, like the freedom to not be on camera all the time.