Archive for February, 2009

In which I show how heartless I am

I get lots of flattering pub because of my philanthropic activities, and people have recently said – in my hearing – that I’m one of the most generous people they know.  So, in the interest of stopping this right now, let me offer the following:

First, read this article.  For the lazy, it’s about how a Good Samaritan was ticketed for jaywalking after helping some old ladies across the street in a snowstorm.  He was hit and hospitalized after pushing the ladies out of the way of an oncoming truck.

Finished?  Make you blood boil?  Great.  Glad to hear it.  Because I’m going to argue that the ticket is justified, because that’s the way we have chosen to handle these kinds of situations.  It’s the wrong way, and there’s a better way, but this is the one we chose and as long as we have it, it needs to be followed.

Let’s try this another way. Suppose the pickup driver had MISSED them, but totaled his truck trying to avoid people wandering around in the middle of the street in a snowstorm. Who should compensate the driver for his truck? Obviously, if you injure someone or damage their property, even if you’re Mother Teresa, you have to take responsibility for that injury. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t mean to. It doesn’t matter if you were averting a greater injury. If you cause damage to someone through your actions, you should compensate the injured party for that damage.

And yes, the driver is being held to that same standard, and his bill is going to be a lot higher.

Of course, it must be said, the system we suffer under isn’t constructed to handle property-rights claims in the simple way I have outlined above. Under the current system, only the GOVERNMENT will get compensated, through ticket revenue and fines. The driver will not have to pay for the medical bills of the guy he hit, and the guy he hit will not have to compensate the driver for the damage to his truck. The injured parties will have to deal with the government instead of each other. There is nothing whatever of justice in it.

But then, I advocate a system where the government doesn’t have a role in these sorts of things.  The court system is where these kinds of competing claims ought to be administered, but that would require a very different court system to the one we currently “enjoy”, and a significantly greater percentage of the population to qualify as adults.  I’m not holding my breath.

In my town, a lay judge, someone agreed on by both parties as being fair and impartial, would take the busted truck and the busted guy, weigh the circumstances, judge according to the available evidence, and render a decision that would have compensation to the injured parties.  No tickets need to be issued (what does the city have to do with this, anyway?), and no police involved (there aren’t any crminals here, no one that is dangerous and has to be restrained).  Simple justice, meted out by a judge so that everyone gets a fair shake.

It requires a twist to the current way of thinking, but it would work.  It has worked.  It DOES work.

Slumdog Millionaire, or “I thought we didn’t see R-rated movies”

A fellow on Cougarboard, one of my favorite hangouts, asks why so many of his brethren on the site seem to have seen Slumdog Millionaire, which is an R-rated movie.  For those not in the know, LDS (Mormons) have been admonished not to go see movies rated R.  It’s not a commandment.  But it is a piece of counsel.

There’s a good deal of debate about it, whether it’s okay to go or not, and lots of self-justification, which is the guilty person’s way of letting everyone know it’s not his fault he’s betraying himself.  There hasn’t been much thoughtful comment.

As the father of 8 and a member of one of the more movie-savvy families on earth, here’s what I said:

Through this movie, I’m going to invite some strangers over to my house to hang out with me, and give me their philosophy on life, for a couple of hours.  What are the chances that I would actually do that if these people were physically there?  Are the people in the film, the things they do, the kinds of people they are, the sort of people I want to tell my kids I like to be around?

Most “kiddie” comedies are out.  I don’t like those kinds of unserious, flatulent, irresponsible people and I don’t want my kids to think I do.  Most R movies are out, because the sorts of things that make them R are the things I can’t condone.  But some R movies are not like that.  The Matrix series featured mainly people I WOULD like and DO like, people doing their best against horrific odds, and especially against the almost-omnipotent System.  Same with V for Vendetta, though it wasn’t as much fun.

Thus Norbit is out, and Saving Private Ryan is – on an edited basis, and with the TV guardian stripping out the language – in.  I have something like 60 movies in my Netflix queue, from old silent movies to Herbie to Dr. Who episodes (the Tom Baker Dr. Who).  There’s no shortage of stuff to see, and even great stuff.

I think I’d like to see Slumdog, but I probably won’t.  I’d probably enjoy it, but I wouldn’t be able to watch it with the family, so likely it won’t happen.  I don’t watch movies to escape from anything – my life is plenty interesting – I watch them to spend time with my family (and yes, we do pause them and talk about what’s going on, etc.).  The people in the movie therefore need to be people I want to invite to join us.

RateWatch Feb 24 – Still in Kansas

Since I started this RateWatch we have had gigantic levels of volatility in the bond markets.  Of the 20 most-volatile trading days in history, 16 of them are in the last two years.  It’s like coming through the Rockies on the I-70, up and down and up and down and up and down all the way through western Colorado.  And then, as if by magic, it all goes away and before you is Kansas.  Not a hill to be seen for 400 miles.
This appears to be the area we have entered, market-wise.  [Technical Analysis Alert: skip this paragraph if you're just browsing]  For illustration, I have an automatic alert on my phone and my email if the FNMA 4.5% coupon changes more than 15 bps from the time lenders send out pricing.  At one stretch, I got an alert 23 days in a row (this fall).  Over the last two years, there has not been one stretch of 5 days without an alert.  Then there was one in January.  We are, as of today, on a stretch with just 3 alerts in 16 days.  Mortgage-backed securities have not deviated more than 50 bps (usually corresponds to .3/.4% to the pricing, or about .125% on rates for mortgages) from the January 29 close.
In one sense that’s really nice, because it means that I don’t have meetings interrupted by the necessity of flying back to the office to lock a batch of leans before we lose the pricing we need.  On the other hand, many of you are waiting for that trophy rate of 4.875%, and we just don’t quite have it.  Bonds are teasing us.  Doing it again today.
A break will come, my friends, one way or the other, and when it does, we’ll have very little time to react.  Are you ready?  Do you have your information to us so that the minute things go the way you need them to, you can take advantage? It only takes a minute, and it could save you thousands.
5% today on some FHA, and some very specific conventional loans.  More likely you’re looking at 5.25%.
Chris Jones
Branch Manager
City 1st Mortgage Services


Why I Love Facebook

I’m a recent Facebook convert, and because of the letter I got yesterday, I will be a dedicated FB user for years.  I think the fellows at FB have hit on something quite powerful, and I hope it makes them rich and happy.

Twenty years ago, approximately, I knew a fellow named Jim Hicks.  Haven’t seen him in two decades, but we hooked up on Facebook a month ago and have exchanged a few messages.  Then, yesterday, he sends me this:


I thought about you just a minute ago when I notice about one of my FB friends joining a FB group came up on the Live Feed.

One of the things that is so shocking about this FB is seeing people become almost militant in their socio-political beliefs.

The people on my friendlist run the political spectrum from diehard christian conservative to very liberal democrat. Growing up where we did, I’m sure you’ve got as many different political beliefs represented on your friendlist as I do.

But what is shocking to me today is a guy I knew in High School (he was 2 years ahead of us on the football team) that is now living in California joining a FB group entitled “1,000,000 strong to Strip the Mormon Church of It’s Tax Exempt status” to which he comments “Bigots Suck”. I couldn’t believe it. (I thought he was a little too militant on the whole Obama thing, but this was just off the reservation).

Personally, I’m a conservative non-denominational Christian (much closer to Baptist) if someone had to brand me with a title. But for the life of me I’ve never seen this level of hate be so blatant since ….Nazi Germany, maybe?

I don’t know how aware you are of this kind of crap, I don’t even know how involved in the LDS church you are – but as one of the few people I know that is LDS, I felt led to let you know that not all “non LDS” folks are hatemongers against your church.

Truly, it breaks my heart.

Yours in Christ,


Many of you – most of you, I’d guess – know that I am a Latter-day Saint, what most people call a Mormon.  This isn’t an accident.  I profess this faith on purpose.  But as those of you that grew up with me in Virginia know, I’m a sucker for Catholic mass and a Baptist choir.  I know a great deal about “mainstream” Christianity, and respect those that profess it honestly.  I work with them and I love them for their commitment to Christ.  I also work with and love those that profess no religion, or a religion significantly different, though I don’t understand them.

There’s a huge amount of hatred in the world today.  And no matter what God you profess – and especially if you worship NO god – that’s a bad thing.  Jim Hicks showed me a ray of hope yesterday, and I won’t soon forget it.

And that’s why Facebook is so incredibly fantastic.

I’m Stimulated, How about You?

We now have a “stimulus” package (I suspect that the word “stimulus” has been written more in the last year than in all of human history combined), and its impact has been to drop the stock market by 9% in the past week.  The Obama people have gone out of their way to make sure we all understand that the package is not a quick fix, and that we shouldn’t expect overnight miracles.  This is a common – and smart – political tactic, whereby you lower expectations so you can avoid being criticized for not being successful.
The danger is that you lower them so much that you can’t take credit if something goes right.  I believe that’s where we are.  Yesterday Geithner, et al made the rounds telling us that if we saw job losses decline from 500,000 a week to 250,000 a week, that would be an indication that the package was working.  Sorry, let me do the math here.  There are 300 million people in the US.  Of that number about 150 million are or could be expected to be in the workforce.  Over the past year more than 5 million people applied for unemployment, which is a huge number.  And now we are told that if we start losing only a million jobs a month, we should view that as a success.  Low expectations indeed.
Basic epidemiology shows us that the most susceptible people contract a disease first, then the general population gets it in explosive numbers, then the disease kills everyone it can and the numbers tail off.  Unemployment expansion follows this precise pattern, as business sheds most of the jobs that were marginal in the first place, then the numbers tail off as business tries to hold onto those workers it has to have to survive.  In other words, we’re in the midst of reporting the huge boom of unemployment that epidemiology predicts, and unless the disease is a universal killer – and no disease ever has been, thank Heaven – the numbers HAVE to tail off.  Which the Obama Administration will duly take credit for.  Be educated on this.  Doing nothing would have produced precisely the same result, only faster.

In the short run, there is nothing – not one thing – in this bill that will make a significant impact to anyone that doesn’t work for the government, or have the government as its chief source of revenue.  The markets noticed.