Tuesday, July 29, 2008

If you read only one article today (Obamanomics)

A prominent economist runs the numbers on Obama's economic policies. Verdict: not even remotely good.

I really like Obama's newness, breath of fresh air, and some of his policies, such as getting the US out of Iraq. I really want to vote Obama (and did in the primary), but his policies for business and the economy completely negate the positives.

(I'm indirectly saying that the economy is a more important issue than Iraq. To me, it is not even close.)

I hoped - and keep hoping - that Obama will seek more mainstream policies and tilt towards the center, if not the right. I really thought his positions would moderate after the primaries, but he is obstinate in pursuing higher taxes, protectionism, and increased regulation.

I'll leave the gory details to the article in today's WSJ editorial "Obamanomics is a recipe for recession," but suffice to say, it's an economic policy akin to shifting from 5th gear to reverse. (Or, given today's economy, from 2nd gear to reverse. No, we're not in recession, I'll probably expound on this in another post.) After reading the article, you'll see that everyone's taxes will be rising. This is certainly not a plan that only affects "the rich."

In addition to the economic points in the article, I'm also dismayed by the philosophy underlying the proposals. I have yet to see Obama offer the rationale that suggests these policies will grow the economy more than current policy. All I ever hear as rationale for rolling back NAFTA or the tax increases is "fairness," and occasionally admissions that the additional tax revenue is necessary to pay for expanded government programs.

Select quotes from the article:

On NAFTA, after a litany of statistics: "it would be hard, on balance, for any objective person to argue that Nafta has injured the U.S. economy, reduced U.S. wages, destroyed American manufacturing, harmed our agriculture, damaged Mexican labor, failed to expand trade, or worsened the border environment"

In summary: "History teaches us that high taxes and protectionism are not conducive to a thriving economy, the extreme case being the higher taxes and tariffs that deepened the Great Depression."

Worth repeating and amplifying.....(Oil, John Edwards, and HUD)

Worth amplifying: per Larry Kudlow, the price of oil has dropped $30 per barrel since the proposal to expand drilling in offshore spots (and others) was issued. (2 months ago, I think.)

Worth amplifying: an outstanding economist (Sudhir Venkatesh)- who lived in the Chicago housing projects for more than a year, suggests in an NYT editorial that HUD (the department of housing and urban development) should be closed. Here's a sample of his argument:

"WITH the nation embroiled in a housing crisis, one would expect the Department of Housing and Urban Development to be playing a central role. But HUD is a marginal player. Although its Federal Housing Administration division has agreed to underwrite new mortgages, it is merely following the leadership of the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department.

This is no accident. HUD’s sidelined role is a product of its anachronistic approach to both housing and cities. It might be best to simply close the agency and create a new cabinet-level commitment to urban development."

Good points all around, and a reinforcement of the notion that while many government programs are based on great intentions, a good many should be closed and canceled.

Here's some additional comments on the idea of dismantling HUD from Freakonomics author Steven Leavitt.

Worth repeating: A politician doing something very naughty that is getting very little attention in the press: John Edwards apparently has cheated on his wife and fathered a child with his mistress.

(Another Edwards ditty: I saw Edwards in Dulles airport 3 months ago. I was surprised at how regular he looked, and how short he was (5'9" at best.) I was also stunned at how desperate he was for attention. As I watched, he gravitated to the highest traffic area of the concourse, and proceeded to speak loudly on his Blackberry, until someone came over to shake his hand.)

Quote worth repeating (John Adams on Congress)

"I have come to the conclusion, that one useless man is a Disgrace, two are a law firm and three or more are called a Congress."--John Adams, "1776"

via WSJ editorial by former Delaware governor Pete DuPont. Read the editorial if you don't think Congress is packed with useless gits. don't read the article if you do - it will only make you more upset.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Oh, this is scary (Obama policy)

Sen. Obama announced a plan to funnel $25B in low-interest loans to US automakers. Yes, the automakers are in sad shape, and yes, thousands of voters ( are in jeopardy, but this is just a downright bad idea, and more importantly, if this is representative of Obama's administration, we would be taking a seriously wrong turn towards national industrial policy, and state primacy over commerce.

My objection isn't the amount of money involved - through leverage, the cost of the $25B program is only $4B, which really isn't much money in government terms (though, keep in mind, the combined market cap of Ford & GM is only $18B - maybe the government should just buy these two companies?)

What really irks me are two things:

1) the activist notion of the Obama policy that government can and should influence business outcomes. There's a plethora of evidence that government activism is at best a zero-sum exercise. (Which reminds me: why should we want the governement to provide healthcare?) Why would business ever benefit from the participation (read: invasion) of government? How can politicizing commerce be a positive?

Worse, this smacks of industrial policy - in a nutshell, the notion that government can/should pick commercial winners. This was most readily used by Japan during the 1980's, and for a while, pundits thought it might be "Japan Inc.'s" secret to success. Suffice to say, the last ~15 years of Japanese recession have debunked industrial policy as value-creating.

2) that political policies should enforce the status quo. The current crisis - and resulting Obama auto loans - are the latest chapter in a 30+ year long decline of the US auto industry. The problems in the auto industry run deep. They are structural, and based on 30 years of history, not on the verge of being solved. The Obama loans are bandaids, and would likely just prolong the problems of the industry.

There are few industries beyond the auto industry in such dire need for change, and while the loans could fund the development of a few new models, the loans would just continue the status quo. This is quite odd for someone who's political message is change.

Project the Obama policy forward, and before you know it, there'll be another industry in bad shape, and in line for loans and federal oversight. (My early guess here is the pharmaceutical industry.) Eventually, government participation reduces business performance to mean, and ultimate business success or failure has more to do with the discretion of the government, and less about innovation and hard work.

Striking out.......

It's been an exciting week. On Tuesday, I committed to starting and running a new biotech company with two brilliant scientists at the University of Virginia. Our new company, Key Genomics, will develop and apply proprietary software to predict patient chemotherapeutic response. This is in the area of pharmacogenomics - how genetic differences affect drug response.

The sky is the limit for this company, and I'm very, very excited to be a part of making it happen. What makes this even more exciting is knowing that if successful, our technology will - through better (personalized) treatment decisions - improve the outcomes for many cancer patients.

It will be years, though, before our technology earns regulatory approval and is used in the clinic. Until then, we'll be swinging for the fences.

In spite of the big career move, I'd still say that the most exciting thing for me this week occurred Monday night, at the tail end of a meaningless baseball game.

For those who don't know, I'm a baseball nut and player. I have enjoyed continuing my post-college playing career in the local 18-and-over men's league, though at 38yrs old, I'm on the downside of my career.

For most of my career, I've been a catcher, though from time-to-time I've taken the mound to pitch. I think this may have less to do with having pitching talent, and more to do with my coach indulging every catcher who thinks he can pitch, possibly for a good laugh, possibly to remind said catcher how hard it is to pitch.

You can probably see where this going: I got to pitch in a game on Monday.

I took the mound in the last inning against the Orioles. I started off by walking the first hitter on 4 pitches - not good.

Next up was the cleanup hitter, and at this point, I realized that I had nothing in my arsenal except a fastball. I like to think I can throw a curveball, and on the sidelines I have a decent change-up, but for whatever reason - jitters, lack of talent, bad atmosphereic conditions (!?!), all I had was a fastball.

Fresh off the leadoff walk, I threw another ball. At this point, I was thinking this might be a short outing, as I'd told our coach Joe Hart that he ought to hook me if I walked 2 guys.

Luckily, while I didn't have great control, I had loads of movement on the fastball, and with nothing to lose, I just concentrated on pumping fastballs. I came back from the 1-0 count on the second hitter to strike him out swinging.

And then, unbelievably, I struck the 3rd hitter out (swinging), all on fastballs.

I was hoping when taking the mound to throw strikes and hopefully the hitters would put the ball in play on my terms - and with no expectations at all for a strikeout.

So, you can imagine my surprise, when I struck out the next hitter swinging too!

I sure won't win any awards for my performance the rest of the way, though. I went to two strikes on the 4th hitter, and then promptly plunked him. (I'll bet he's got a real nice bruise - I got him mid-thigh.) The 5th hitter hit a hard single to left, scoring both runners. The next hitter popped out to end the inning.

So, no Cy Young award for me, but loads of fun, and what a rush it was to strike out two hitters.

This is my last year of playing baseball competitively. I expect that age, injury, and my commitment to Key Genomics will take precedence next season, but I will definitely be replaying my strike outs against the Orioles over and over again in my mind for a long time, alongside some of the other great times I had on the field. I'll miss the game, but I'll miss my teammates even more. Check out some pictures of them in action here.

So, I have a few more games to enjoy this season. I doubt I'll get back on the pitching mound, but at the plate, and with Key Genomics, I'll be swinging for the fences.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Q: What do Ichiro, Pete Carroll and Robot Chicken have in common?

A: they're all covered in this catch-up post.

Here's a bunch of interesting links to explore:

Ever seen Robot Chicken? It's an animated show that goes even further than South Park, if that's possible. Check it out on the Cartoon Network's online home. (Btw: it's got nothing to do with chicken or robots.)

Here's a view of Charlottesville from visitors from a big-time football school. Southern Cal (USC) is coming to Charlottesville to humiliate the Hoos (note: I'm a Hoo fan) next month, and their advanced report on the area is posted on Pete Carroll's website.

Finally, a story that amused me: apparently Ichiro Suzuki, a 5'7" Japanese baseball player fires up the American League all-stars with a wild, profanity laced (English) pep tal. It must work, as Ichiro hasn't lost once in 8 years. The story is here.

FUN: Fork Union Drive-In

For a great way to spend a summer weekend night, check out the Fork Union Drive-In movie theater.

I had seen mention of the Fork Union Drive-In on movie listing for the last few years, but never much about the drive-in. There isn't a website for the theater, and no one I knew had been there, but I've always been intrigued by this slice of Americana that has almost disappeared, so I finally tried it out.

Drive-ins have mostly gone the way of the dodo because of rising real estate costs. (With any population nearby, the land is worth more as a strip mall than a theatre used 35-40 times per year.) There's still a few hidden in corners of Virginia, and finally I had a weekend where intent, schedule, and weather all synced up to make for a great night at the drive-in.

I finally went this past Saturday to the Fork Union Drive-In, located about 25 miles from Cville in Fluvanna. (Hull's Drive-In, the other drive-in located an easy drive from Cville, is located in Lexington.) The theater is open every weekend for a double-feature starting @ dusk. On Saturday, we saw The Incredible Hulk and Wanted. The Hulk was OK, and Wanted officially sucked (though I'm in the minority here- 15,000 Yahoo users rated the movie a collective B+.) The important thing here is that the Drive-In has two first run films for only $8.50 (total) per person.

A full concession stand offers all of the movie favorites (including very yummy fresh popcorn with real butter), plus hot dogs, BBQ, and ice cream. Prices are very reasonable (I think I paid $2.50 for a large soda - it'd be $5 at an indoor theater), plus, in spite of rules against it, you can bring drinks in via coolers - if the other moviegoers are any indication.

The crowd was a mix of families in minivans and folks in pick-up trucks on a date. (Pick-ups make for great seating arrangements if you park away from the screen.) There's plenty of grass for kids to play on pre-film. With 2 films running until midnight, some families left after the first movie. The audio and visual for the movies was solid - audio is available from both traditional wired speaker boxes and via radio broadcast - just tune your car radio. ;The gate opens @ 7:30, with movies starting @ 8:45. I'd say the drive-in was 80% full on a perfect night weather-wise.

The crowd must have been extreme locals (including Lake Monticello), as there's no marketing for the drive-in, as far as I can tell. I really think that the drive-in could be packed every weekend with more awareness in Albemarle County (or even the West End of Richmond) - what better way to entertain a minivan full of kids on a Friday or Saturday night? Of course, with the theater 80% full, the proprietors are probably just as happy keeping things local.

The drive-in's mailing address is "Rural Route 6," which means that you can't map it's exact location in Google in order to get driving directions. To get there from Cville, take Rt. 15 south 15 miles to a right on Rt. 6. Drive through Fork Union, past FUMA, and take a right just past a BP gas station. The theater is about 100 yards ahead. Careful: there don't seem to be any signs for the theater, keeping with the general trend of not marketing the Drive-In.

I highly recommend the Fork Union Drive-In experience, and will head back a few more times this summer.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Catch-up post (What do Robot Chicken, Pete Carroll, and Ichiro Suzuki have in common?)

Here's a bunch of interesting links to explore:

Ever seen Robot Chicken? It's an animated show that goes even further than South Park, if that's possible. Check it out on the Cartoon Network's online home. (Btw: it's got nothing to do with chicken or robots.)

Here's a view of Charlottesville from visitors from a big-time football school. Southern Cal (USC) is coming to Charlottesville to humiliate the Hoos (note: I'm a Hoo fan) next month, and their advanced report on the area is posted on Pete Carroll's website.

Finally, a story that amused me: apparently Ichiro Suzuki, a 5'7" Japanese baseball player fires up the American League all-stars with a wild, profanity laced (English) pep tal. It must work, as Ichiro hasn't lost once in 8 years. The story is here.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Congress Has Lowest Approval Rating EVER

Lost in all of the (justified) dumping on 'W' is the fact that Congress has been alternatively inept, ineffective and incompetent for....well, since about 1998.

It seems the public has noticed, as this recent Gallup poll reports - only 12% of all respondents are confident in Congress. This is the story that's getting the most attention, but take a look at some of the other lower scorers:

Public schools - 33% (maybe the Dems should be a little careful before defending education status quo).

Mass media news - 24% (tv news & newspapers - even the masses realize that mass media is choosing ratings over veritas.)

Unions - 20% - considering that only 12% of all Americans belong to a union, it looks like the only people who care are those with a financial relationship with the unions (members, plus retirees and extended family.)

Finally, it is interesting to note 2 disconnects:

Small businesses are well-received (60%) while big business scores poorly (20%). Relatively speaking, the same dynamic exists between the the medical system (35%) and HMOs (13%.)

Hat tip: Club for Growth blog

Monday, July 07, 2008

Bizarre image of the day......

Apparently the Chinese anti-terrorist squad will be deploying during the Olympics on Segways. Better hope no bad guys can run faster than 12 mph!

China is widely publicizing it's anti-terror precautions during the Olypmics as much inside the country as externally, as I noticed on a TV segment featuring such a team (riding SUVs, not Segways) on TV during my last trip to China last fall. Though China is often perceived to be passive internally, and therefore more concerned about external terror threats, IMHO, internal terror group pose as big of a threat, as China is anything but a homogeneous country.

Hat tip: Deadspin.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

video from Jefferson's draft of Declaration of Independence

Happy 4th of July, and happy birthday America!

In honor of this auspicious day, here's an illustration of one of the key moments in the birth of our nation.

This clip comes from the HBO John Adams series which, from the parts I saw, was excellent. One of the highlights was Jefferson, played extremely well by Stephen Dillane. I'd really like to see him in a Jefferson-centric feature.

Hat tip: the Club for Growth Blog

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Another baseball vid.....

OK, I'm definitely overdoing it on the baseball-themed YouTube vids, but take a look at this one:

If you haven't already figured it out, the vid was totally staged and the ballgirl had a lot of help climbing the wall. Still, it's pretty cool.....

With my new friends on the Great Wall of China

With my new friends on the Great Wall of China
Click to go to my online photography

World sun clock

Uncommon Man's Creed

"I do not choose to be a common man. It is my right to be uncommon -- if I can. I seek opportunity -- not security. I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the state look after me. I wish to take the calculated risk; to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed. I refuse to barter incentive for a dole, I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence; the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of utopia. I will not trade freedom for beneficence, nor my dignity for a handout. I will never cower before any master, nor bend to any threat. It is my heritage to stand erect, proud, and unafraid, to think and act for myself, to enjoy the benefit of my creations, and to face the world boldly and say, "this I have done." All this is what it means to be an American." -- Anonymous