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Beer, Robots, Babes

I just saw this on TV and had to look it up on Youtube.

Only in America.


The Era of Brandons


Yes, it's that time again, the most wonderful time of year. The sun starts to set a bit earlier and the sky is just a little bit bluer. Weekends start on Thusday night, and in a little corner of southwest Virginia, the mountains rumble in anticipation. The students are back in school, and football season is once again upon us.

Steeped in the tragedy of the past year, all eyes will be on the campus of green and gray. The football team has a chance to do something special, both in having a great season on the field and in giving the Hokie nation the opportunity to put the events of last April behind us.

When Hokie fans think back to the mid-2000s, they'll think back to an era defined by a bunch of dudes named Brandon. 2007 is no different. Of course, the most famous Brandon of them all is Branden Ore. Emerging from seemingly nowhere last year, he put the team on his back and carried them to victory against Clemson and Miami. Though he started summer practice at the bottom of the depth chart for coming in out of shape, he's once again the starter and ready to go. Depth is a big issue if Ore was to go down with injury as he did at the end of last season. Kenny Lewis, Jr is adequate though I think he's too small to run between the tackles. I'll be keeping my eye on Jahre Cheeseman, someone who reminds me of a smaller Shyrone Stith. I think he takes over the #2 spot as the season goes along.

Perhaps the biggest question-mark on the team is the offensive line. Cue Brandon Holland. Perhaps no unit has struggled as much during a highly successful stretch of seasons than the offensive line. Years and years of recruiting struggles led to the patchwork quilt of last year. VT's woes were typified by man-moutain Brandon Gore (mind the "G"), a huge guy who struggled with his weight and only became a serviceable player in his final year in the program. All signs point to improvement in this seasons line, anchored by super-athlete Duane Brown and super-soph Sergio Render. I'd feel a lot better had Ed Wang not gone down with an injury in the preseason, but I think overall, there's hope for optimism.

Turn to Brandon Flowers, who I consider the best cornerback in VT history. Yes, this includes Fastest Man in the NFL and Bane (Whipping boy?) of Ocho Cinco DeAngelo Hall. Though Flowers isn't the world class athlete Hall is, simply put, he's the most instinctive cornerback ever to don the orange and maroon. He's a one-man microcosm of the entire defense, which for the first time ever, has no weakness. All past VT defenses had weakness, whether it was safety play in 1999 or lack of defensive line depth in 2004. There are no holes this year. Hall and Adibi are ready to show the nation the best linebacker combination in the land. Kam Chancellor and Cam Martin are young but ready to fill the holes at Rover and Whip. They hype is building about the defense, which if they match the last two seasons' records as tops in the country, will start whispers about being one of the all-time great units.

Brandon Pace graduated last year as the most consistent VT kicker ever. The unit of Jud Dunlevy, Jared Develli, and Brent Bowden have to fill some the shoes of Pace and Nic Schmitt. Experience is what they're lacking most.

Brandon Dillard is fighting his way up the depth chart at receiver. Unfortunately for him, this is the last year for the most talented unit VT has have had. I'm not sure Eddie Royal ever regained the speed he showed as a freshman, but he has one last season to show it off. Josh Hyman made the biggest splash in the early games of 2004, but he's left the radar the past couple of seasons. Josh Morgan is a well-built receiver who is tough to bring down once the ball is in his hands. Perhaps the most talented, and oddly, the least utilized of the bunch is Justin Harper, a tall lanky fellow with long strides.

Of course, no VT preview can end without a comment on the QB. I'll be honest. I know Sean Glennon is supposed to have improved his game in the offseason. And I like how he never complains about all the flack he catches. But I'm not sold on him leading VT to the promised land. Tyrod Taylor is the future. If he is not going to be redshirted, play him now, play him early, and play him often. Otherwise, redshirt him. Don't wait till Glennon has an awful game and bring Taylor into a pressure situation. Get him ready.

It's a funny situation the Hokies are in. They've played for the MNC, they won the Sugar Bowl and been to numerous BCS bowls, and had the number one pick in the NFL draft. But they've never been picked to win their conference like they are this year. That's how high the expectations are. Predictions:

  • Overall record: Two losses: LSU and one of Miami or Georgia Tech.
  • Best newcomer: Jason Worilds
  • Breakout player: Kam Chancellor
  • Defensive MVP: Vince Hall (who else?)
  • Offensive MVP: Branden Ore, who will become a VT legend this season
  • Sweet, sweet release: Beating FSU. It's been a long time coming. I bet it gets ugly.

Lastly, a word about the significance of football. Much has been made of what the season means beyond simply scores and bowl games. Frank Beamer told the team that they have a chance to be a feel good story for the country. I think that, like it or not, VT football is fundamentally intertwined with the university as a whole. There are many universities out there of similar size and resources; most are not known as well as VT. Thank the football program for a large part of that. A lot of memorials are planned for the ECU game and the remainder of the season, but I am ready to go back to trying to show everyone, clear of recent events, how great a university VT is. For me, as someone who did know anyone who was killed that April day, as an alumnus, as a football fan who will be watching from a thousand miles away, the game is about moving on as much as anything else.


So many levels of irony


Self-Learning

There was a piece on last night's 60 minutes about a guy named Nicholas Negroponte who 'invented' a $100 laptop that he's taken to third world countries like Cambodia and Brazil. The computers look like little toys, have great wi-fi reception, are waterproof, and can be charged with manual cranks if needed in places without reliable power. The kids pick up the basics of the computer pretty fast. Negroponte says it takes a child who has never seen a computer about 3 minutes to figure out how to use basic functions when taught by another child. Lesley Stahl oohed and aahed over Negroponte's claim that the kids don't need a teacher to learn how to use a computer; they can figure it out themselves. They showed clips of munchkins teaching each other how to do things.

I'd go much further than Negroponte:

  • Not only do kids not need teachers to figure out computers, kids don't need teachers for much at all.
  • Kids are voracious learners; it's in their nature. Schools stifle this natural instinct by turning them into passive receptacles instead of active searchers.

Hypothetical (you'll know my answer because I'm asking it):

I spent 8 hours a day for 12 years in a building sitting at a desk with most of that time spent as someone talked at me. Periodically, I would write stuff down, take a test, walk in a line to big room to eat something, or run around kicking a ball.

Would I have been better off or worse off today had I spent 8 hours a day for 12 years in the following conditions?

  • Access to a computer/internet
  • Told to "learn whatever you want"
  • Ability to associate with other kids of various ages at my choosing
  • Minimal other rules

Edit:  Sam Bhagwat responds


North Korea and Al Qaeda working together

I have a feeling this is going to be a disaster.

The first was great; why ruin it? (Though the clip is funny.)


One each day

Nice chart showing mortgage lenders going under.


Moral Hazard

Just like in 1998 with the Long Term Capital Management bailout, central bankers have recently shown a willingness to intervene in the financial markets during downturns. And just like in 1998, the result will be the creation of a moral hazard. Based on what happened in 1998, the following sequence of events should happen:

  1. high volatility decline in the equities markets / acute levels of fear and panic far above baseline
  2. a turning point where the Street concludes that the Fed will save the day
  3. furious rally follows
  4. the moral hazard created from bailing out poor decision makers results in even poorer decisions in the next couple of years
  5. mania sets in
  6. blowoff top
  7. tough love from the market

I firmly believe that the excesses of the markets from late 1998 till early 2000 were the result of the moral hazard created by the 1998 LTCM bailout. Markets need poor decision makers to fail in order to work properly. It's part of the process. Those who take excessive risk and engage in reckless speculation should suffer the consequences. Else, the ones who are wise suffer. And when the wise suffer, perverse incentives are created and everyone suffers.

Larry Kudlow said last night...

I have come to believe now the Federal Reserve should be pumping in tens of billions of additional cash into the economy right away. The bond market and the credit freeze-up are telling the Fed to ease...It's time for the Fed to start doing what the Europeans are doing and the Canadians are doing. Let them take more collateral as they pump in more reserves. I want them to buy subprime mortgages, I want them to buy jumbo mortgage loans. I want them to buy asset-based commercial paper so good healthy commercial credit-worthy banks and lenders don't get crushed as the baby is thrown out wit the bath water

...once again proving that if there are no atheists in foxholes, there are very few free marketeers in market downturns.

I believe today we're at or very close to step #2. In 1998, I owned puts when the Fed saved the day. Today I know better. The Fed once more play the part of heroes. There's blood in them streets. This is the time to wade into the darkness. This is the time to be a contrarian. This is the time to grows balls of steel and ride the coming moral hazard tidal wave.


Wet to dry

Athens, Alabama may be bringing back prohibition

Voters have a chance on Tuesday to return this northern Alabama city to the days of Prohibition.

A measure to end the sale of alcohol in Athens is up for a citywide vote, a rare instance where voters could overturn a previous vote to allow sales. Business interests are against repeal, but church leaders who helped organize the petition drive that got the measure on the ballot are asking members to pray and fast in support of a ban.

...

Gooch isn't worried about the city losing businesses or tax revenues if alcohol sales are banned. Normal economic growth and God will make up any difference if residents dump the bottle, he said.

"We believe that God will honor and bless our city," Gooch said.

While I think the law would be a huge step backwards for the city, at least it's limited to a small locality. Let them suffer the consequences and reap the rewards.

The fact that wine and liquor can't be sold in grocery stores in New York or that alcohol sales were prohibited on Sundays in Massachusetts is different from what the Athens, Alabama government is proposing only by a matter of degree.


Troubles in the Celestial Kingdom

Chinese toothpaste recalled.  Chinese Elmos recalled.  CEO committs suicide.

Axl, release Chinese Democracy.  A billion people need you!


Old School Gaming

Interesting article in the NY Times. I recognized that screen in the picture instantly; it was my first game on my first system: Colecovision. I also "flipped" Zaxxon six times in a single sitting - a 10 hour marathon session - which I firmly believe would have been some sort of world record if anyone was keeping track at the time.


Pirate Ships, Anarchy, Reputation, and Fractals

I finally got around to reading Peter Leeson's essay in the current edition of Cato Unbound. Lots of good stuff there, especially about how African producers turned the tables on the middleman and protected themselves from plunder.

Here’s how the credit institution worked: Producers would not produce anything today but would instead wait for middlemen to arrive in their villages looking for goods to plunder. With nothing available to steal the middlemen had two options: return to the coast empty-handed after having made a trip to the interior, or make an agreement with producers to supply the goods they required on the basis of credit. In light of the costliness of their trip to the interior, middlemen frequently chose the latter

According to their credit arrangements, middlemen advanced payment to producers and agreed to return later to collect the goods they were owed. When they returned for this purpose all that was available for taking was what they were owed, so stealing was not an option. Instead, middlemen frequently renewed the credit agreement, which initiated a subsequent round of credit-based trade, and so on.

This simple arrangement performed two critical functions in allowing producers to overcome the threat of force that middlemen presented. First, it enabled them to avoid being plundered, as though they had not produced anything at all, but also to realize the gains from trade, as though middlemen did not pose a threat of violence. Second, it transformed producers in the eyes of middlemen from targets of banditry into valuable assets they had an interest in protecting. If middlemen wanted to be repaid they needed to ensure that their debtors remained alive and well enough to produce. This meant abstaining from violence against producers and protecting producers against the predation of others.

I would add that the institution of "reputation assessment" was created. Middlemen who provided protection to their current producer-clients would be able to demonstrate future potential producer-clients that they live up to promises. Similarly, producers who developed quality goods in a timely manner would demonstrate to future middlemen that they are worth dealing with.

On the topic of pirate ships, Lesson arguest that these were examples of "anarchy".

Even by modern standards the institutions pirates devised for this purpose were remarkably sophisticated. Pirates created one of the earliest forms of written constitutions they called their “articles, which codified many of the rules that governed their ships, as well as punishments for rule breakers. These included rules specifying the division of booty, “laws” against theft, and even workman’s compensation insurance to support crew members injured in battle.

To apply punishments and resolve disputes between crew members, pirates created an office called the “quartermaster.” Crew members controlled quartermasters both through their articles, which prescribed the “laws” quartermasters could apply, and by democratically electing crew members to this office.

The office of the quartermaster allowed pirates to overcome another obstacle anarchy posed for their organization—restraining potentially abusive pirate captains. A captain endowed with unlimited authority would be able to prey on his crew, skimming booty, mistreating crew members, and so on. To check such abuse pirates initiated one of the earliest systems of divided power, which transferred authorities susceptible to captain abuse to the quartermaster instead. In conjunction with also democratically electing their captains, pirate checks and balances overcame the threat of captain predation.

I believe arguments like this are susceptible to, for lack of a better label, "fractal" criticisms. When you zoom in on certain types of fractals, you keep seeing the same pattern no matter how far you zoom in.

Similarly, when you zoom in on a world dominated by states, you keep seeing states, even if they have labels like "homeowners assocations", "Bloods and Crips", or "pirate ships".


Humberto Fontova on Che Guevara

Interview with Humberto Fontova, author of Exposing the Real Che Guevara and the Useful Idiots Who Idolize Him. Some snippets:

Cybercast News Service: They think Che's just a cool guy?

Humberto Fontova: Yes, let's face it. If you see it from afar, his image, and you're not very knowledgeable in history - and most people in this country are not - you say, "hey, that's a cool picture, that's a cool-looking guy." And then you hear, vaguely, that he was an anti-establishment rebel and you say, "that's pretty cool." I tell kids, you know, that they may hear that Che Guevara "fought The Man, he fought The Man." No, no, no, he was The Man that rebellious, freedom-loving people fought against. The ironies are so rich - a regime where, if you listened to rock music or tried to grow long hair, you went to prison. A regime that tells you what and how much you can eat, that you cannot travel without police-state papers, that you get machine-gunned if you try to leave, a regime that tells you what you can read. It basically tells you what you can think and say in public. The emblem of that regime is Che Guevara. And you see the image on people who consider themselves free spirits. You have to develop a sense of humor after a while.

...

Cybercast News Service: There's a quote in your book about Che's views on black people.

Humberto Fontova: Yes, that comes from his diaries. Che says the black "is indolent and lazy" and the European is "forward-looking and intelligent." That was also somehow omitted from that heart-warming movie by Robert Redford.

...

Cybercast News Service: What sort of policies was Che implementing?

Humberto Fontova: Massive nationalization. Rene Dumont, a French socialist economist, went to Cuba to advise the regime and told them, good grief, you've done more radicalization, more nationalization in two years than the Chinese revolution did in eight years. They were nationalizing everything, stealing all private property, turning farms into state farms - and that naturally would get rid of any potential capitalist rival. This was accomplished by 1964-65. And Che Guevara had made such a mess of it, the Soviets told Castro "enough!" They told him to remove Che Guevara, to lay him off, do something else with him. The Soviet Union poured the equivalent of eight Marshall Plans into Cuba. Think about it: One Marshall Plan, $9 billion, sent to war-raved Europe with 300 million people, and it worked. Eight of these plans, $72 billion, sent to Cuba, a country of 6.5 million people, who formerly had a better per capita income than half of Europe, and the place is poorer than Haiti today. That defies not just the laws of economics but also the laws of physics.

Che worship is the ultimate in trendy leftism - good feelings, image above substance, ignorance about the facts, and vague claims of "fighting the system".


Meta-Review

Two articles of note in the NY Times. The first is about how subconscious choices affect our everyday actions and choices without us realizing it at a conscious level.

"When it comes to our behavior from moment to moment, the big question is, ‘What to do next?’ " said John A. Bargh, a professor of psychology at Yale and a co-author, with Lawrence Williams, of the coffee study, which was presented at a recent psychology conference. "Well, we’re finding that we have these unconscious behavioral guidance systems that are continually furnishing suggestions through the day about what to do next, and the brain is considering and often acting on those, all before conscious awareness."

...

The study participants, college students, had no idea that their social instincts were being deliberately manipulated. On the way to the laboratory, they had bumped into a laboratory assistant, who was holding textbooks, a clipboard, papers and a cup of hot or iced coffee — and asked for a hand with the cup.

That was all it took: The students who held a cup of iced coffee rated a hypothetical person they later read about as being much colder, less social and more selfish than did their fellow students, who had momentarily held a cup of hot java.

The second article is by John Tierney about a list compiled by David Buss of the reasons people have sex.

For now, thanks to psychologists at the University of Texas at Austin, we can at last count the whys. After asking nearly 2,000 people why they’d had sex, the researchers have assembled and categorized a total of 237 reasons — everything from "I wanted to feel closer to God" to "I was drunk." They even found a few people who claimed to have been motivated by the desire to have a child.

The researchers, Cindy M. Meston and David M. Buss, believe their list, published in the August issue of Archives of Sexual Behavior, is the most thorough taxonomy of sexual motivation ever compiled. This seems entirely plausible.

I'd be skeptical of the list of reasons because of the findings of the first article: I don't take survey responses about sex at face value. Not because I think people have a reason to lie, but rather because I don't think people really know why they do what they do in their sex lives. Their motivations are subconscious and hidden from their conscious minds. Of course, I have no proof of this.


Our better half

There's a lot of great stuff on the reader blog aggregator. If you haven't visited recently, take a gander. Click on "Community" at the top of the page. The feed for the aggregator is:

http://distributedrepublic.net/journals/feed

Also, if you've signed up, don't be shy about contributing. More current events, especially, would be nice.


Karmic Relief

Looks like there's going to be a substantial payout, state-financed, to the VT shooting victims' families. A private fund set up in the wake of the shootings, the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund, has already received $7 million, but apparently, this is not enough.

The administrator of the $7 million Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund, which Virginia Tech created to receive donations from the public in the days after the shootings, has drawn up recommendations to pay each of the families of those killed at Virginia Tech $150,000. Injured students could receive between $25,000 and $75,000.

Last week, more than a dozen family members of slain students issued a joint statement saying, "The university and the commonwealth will need to address the ongoing needs of victims and families, which will exceed the resources of the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund."

I don't see the justification for a state-financed award. The only way it might make sense is if the state was culpable for the deaths of the victims, and this payoff would represent an out-of-court settlement. Based on my evaluation of what happened on 4/16, the state acted appropriately. But the reasoning doesn't seem to be based on culpability.

Andrew Goddard, whose son Colin survived after being shot four times in Norris Hall, said, "We would like to see Virginia Tech step up in some way to recognize the suffering."

"My son is carrying metal in his body for the rest of his life. He has a rod in his leg and is carrying around three of the four bullets," Goddard said. "A lot of people don't know the full extent of their injuries. . . . I don't want to be fighting something [in court] for five years."

(bold mine)

In other words, karmic justification: "Something bad happened to us. We deserve money." From where I sit, this is a bogus excuse. The VT shootings were a discontinuous event. Nobody could have reasonably predicted something like that would happen. Forgive me for sounding heartless, but sometimes, bad things just happen. The only person to blame is already dead.