Dow 6,700

March 3rd, 2009

Well, my prediction of a January bounce appears to have been wholly incorrect, but my accompanying prediction of a subsequent collapse seems downright prescient. When the market had its first dizzying one-week plummet late last year we yanked more or less all of our liquid investments out into cash; there was some worry we were selling at the bottom and the market would turn right around. That worry has certainly evaporated now!

In any case, I maintain that there's no reason to anticipate the stock market rising until there is some reason for it to do so, and I see no such reason. Economic indicators are still crumbling, jobs are being lost, there's no sexy new technologies to rush to invest in... at some point, things will turn around. But not soon.

I do wonder how low the Dow will go. 6,000? Probably. 5,000? A rather frightening possibility. 3,000? It seems laughable, but...

Bureaucracy done right

February 26th, 2009

I was at the Department of Motor Vehicles about a month ago, and I have to say, my experience was really very positive. Here's a thumbs-up to the CA DMV.

When the end of the year rolled around, we received in the mail the re-registration form for the Camry, which we duly paid and got our 2009 sticker and applied said sticker to the license plate. The re-registration for the truck, however, never arrived.

2009 rolled around and still no sticker, so I made an appointment at the Concord DMV and went in to ask them what was wrong. The appointment system is very nice - I had a 10:45 appointment and despite the DMV being quite busy I was already being helped by 10:50.

It turns out that, in December of 2007, at the time we re-registered both cars in the state of CA, there was a snafu in the truck's paperwork. The DMV sent a notice (which I did not get), and after a few months they simply called the whole re-registration thing off and mailed all the paperwork back to me (paperwork which I also did not get).

I had been entirely unaware of this, and drove around with my apparently invalid 2008 registration sticker quite happily all year, accruing invisible penalties and fines, etc.

At any rate, what I must now do is: do it all over again, i.e. get together the pink slip and smog certificate etc and re-re-register the truck here in CA. Yes, it's a pain.

I drove over to the Walnut Creek DMV on the off chance they would still have the original paperwork. This time, despite my not having an appointment, they were again helping me not ten minutes after I came in the door.

The woman, upon hearing the story, not only waived all the fees and penalties - since I had not actually received any notice - but set me up with a valid-through-April registration (upon payment of the base registration fee) and gave me all the necessary paperwork to get a new copy of the title, etc.

I was impressed. Most impressed, I think, by the fact that the woman assisting me had the power to waive the fees. She didn't have to ask her manager or fill out special forms or any other rigamarole, she was empowered to make that decision on her own. And I was impressed with the DMV in general - it really felt that they were there to assist me in navigating through the rules, and tried their best to be helpful and accomodating.

I contrast this with the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, which when I last went was a surly, time-serving pit of grumpy can't-do-its.

Two Weeks?

February 24th, 2009

So I've been sick. Not just any sick, but out of work for an entire week sick. It began with deep chest coughing last Monday, turned rapidly into fever, and I remained in bed with fever from Monday afternoon through Thursday morning. Now it's Tuesday of the following week and I am still not back to my usual energy level. On the other hand, I feel great leaps better than I did while still sick; last week I spent most of the time lying in bed thinking about maybe playing a video game or reading a book and then dismissing the proposal as far too exhausting.

I went to the Urgent Care facility in Danville on Thursday, on the basis that any fever lasting more than a few days should get checked out, and the doctor diagnosed influenza. "I do not call it 'the flu'," he said with a Russian accent. "'The flu' makes it sound trivial. Influenza kills more people during the season than automobile accidents." But it wasn't pneumonia so he sent me home.

Aside from the chills, which I get quite badly when I have a fever, there were some really frustrating hallucinations; for some reason I was in charge of famine relief in some major Indian state, and I never had enough supplies, was unable to prepare for future famines, and just generally met with stonewalling and bureaucratic rules that foiled me at every turn. I woke up cursing India and demanding to be let out of the country.

Primary Source

February 11th, 2009

When I was writing high school papers, I was instructed that I could use an encyclopedia for reference but not as a primary source. Being as this was Before The Internet(tm), this meant some amount of time spent in libraries.

Were I teaching a high school or college level course today, I would assign a paper on a relatively obscure subject and spend part of my lecture stressing the need for good primary sources and specifically addressing the need to not use encyclopedias.

I would then go edit the Wikipedia page on the topic to include a few very specific and quite erroneous facts, and see how many of them subsequently turned up on students' papers.

Yes, yes, I'd change Wikipedia back later.

Amoral by Design

February 6th, 2009

If you'd like a good quick burst of indignation, check out this story. In its essentials: A woman passes away, and her son is wrapping up her estate. She has effectively no real assets, and a small (less than $1000) credit card debt. He calls Bank of America out of courtesy to inform them that she has died.

Paul Kelleher: Yes, I'm calling to inform you that my mom died on the 24th of January.

Bank of America Estates representative: I'm sorry. Oh, it looks like she never even missed a payment. That's too bad. Well, how are you planning to take care of her balance?

PK: I'm not going to. She has no estate to speak of, but you should feel free to just go through the standard probate procedure. I'm certainly not legally obligated to pay for her.

BOA: You mean you're not going to help her out?

PK: I wouldn't be helping her out -- she's dead. I'd be helping you out.

BOA: Oh, that's really not the way to look at it. I know that if it were my mother, I'd pay it. That's why we're in the banking crisis we're in: banks having to write off defaulted loans.

Now here's the thing - this isn't some insensitive jerk. This is a BofA employee doing exactly what they are supposed to do. And BofA itself is also doing what it's supposed to do. Everything in this scenario is the way it should be. At least according to our current rulesystem.

Once again I would like to point out the heretical truth that corporations are unnatural, and our embrace of them as the most powerful entities in our socioeconomic world is bizarre and ultimately foolish.

Capitalism is good, markets work, and the limited liability corporation is an awesome and useful tool.

But corporations are *not* people, and our obsequious treatment of them is wrong and bad. Just as we look back at medicinal bloodletting with a sense of quizzical superiority, humans 500 years from now will wonder what the hell we were thinking, creating artificial entities whose sole goal is to make profit and then endowing them with all the rights of actual people, in addition to immortality and wealth beyond the reach of any individual.

Anyhow, this is one small example of the unnatural nature of our corporatist system peeking out around the edges of the "normality" we've all gotten used to.