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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Humane-ness

There's a very clever and effective billboard up in my neighborhood. Its a photo of a parent shaking their child by the arms in a super market and screaming at them. The parent's face is all twisted with rage and falling-apart-ness; and the child is cringing in fear (you can't see their face). You get the impression that whatever the kid did, it probably didn't warrant the reaction.

The tagline is: 'Be Human, be humane. Say something'

Its an effective public service announcement, and I think its worthy to combat the indignation of the ''Are you telling me how to raise my kid???'' response to somone interfereing in such a situation. ''Well yes,'' one might respond ''Thats exactly what I'm trying to do. I can't actually take your kid out of your inept hands, so for their sake the least I can do is socially censure you for being a bad parent.''

The impact is a little dampened by the subheading, though: ''Protect children and animals from abuse.'' *chuckle* Kids and animals are equivalent, eh? I'm all about protecting animals as well, but the choice of wording isn't the best. Might throw in a ''neuter and release kids and animals to prevent suffering'' bit. You wouln't be wrong, exactly, but clearly not right either.
At anyrate, my purpose in commenting on the billboard isn't to nit-pick the copywriting, its to commend it for encouraging the bravery of 'saying somthing.' I would suggest that the advice should be applied broadly, across all levels. You should object when you see a right being violated, whatever it is.

An appaling question now comes to mind: do people in general even know injustice when they see it? Just like how most people would look away from the supermarket scene and wrongly say 'its not my place;' how many other injustices have we become accustomed to overlooking? Shouldn't we object when we're cheated or stolen from? And worse, can we even tell? And is there anyone to cry out to?

Bipartisianship

One of those words that seems to get tossed in when politicians need something vauge and positive-sounding is bipartisian. The idea, I guess, beind an homage to that central idea of democracy: meeting in the middle and compromising.

But, like most newspeak, bipartisian is a word to be feared. Again, look at the admirable bipartisian co-operation on the housing front going back at least twenty years. Conservatives wanted to promote home ownership becasue (for whatever reasons) they believed it promoted family values. Liberals wanted to increase the standard of living by giving people things. Imagine the flash of bipartisian insight! "Gentlemen, I think we can work together. We'll pretend to give people houses, both parties are satisfied, and nobody looses unless we run out of rungs on the pyramid, in which case we can blame it on the banks that own the houses."

I think its a Jefferson quote that says: "No citezen's life, liberty, or property are safe while congress is in session. "

Match that with Franklin's quip: "when the public realizes that they can vote themselves money, the republic is doomed."

... and we have cause for pessemism. Oh those insightful old fogies, if only they had been insightful enough to, ah... prevent all this. How? Well they certainly couldnt have forseen any of the specifics, but stronger restrictions on government power would have been nice. I understand that both those guys above advocated for exactly that, they just didn't fully with the argument. Oh compromise, you strumpet!

As far as where we're going from here, see this terse and un-hopeful analysis on Overcoming Bias.

And with regards to the comparison of Obama to FDR (and the negative consequences of government meddling in private affairs), this op-ed from the WSJ offers a take on what we've seen so far. You could state the obvious and object that the Wall Stree Journal has a distinct adgenda to promote, but that fact alone doesn't invalidate their logic. If you're brave enough to set aside your own bias (however temporarily) and investigate the validity of their claims, I think in most cases you'll find that the answer is "disturbingly so."

Maybe filling the blogosphere with discontent will have some tiny effect on the environment. Come on, everyone, do your part!

Change in Perspective


"My fellow Americans! We must unite in common purpose to keep housing expensive! Homeowners are suffering! Their property is loosing value through no fault of their own!"

That seems to be the prevailing perspective on the collapse of the real estate market. But consider: mortgage holders are not "homeowners." They are debtors, paying the owner of the property for the privilage of using it. The cause of their suffering is having taken on a risk with a downside for which they're not prepared in the form of a contract that obligates them to continue paying for their privilage for the majority of their useful lives.

Some of the upper crust have had to come to the realization that they have been the victims of a classic ponzi/pyramid-scheme in the Bernie Madoff case. Its as old as the "borrowing from Peter to pay Paul" cliche, though I can't honestly say I'm sure that the saying dates back as far as the actual Peter and Paul. Eventually, the general populace will have to come to the same realization about our housing situation. We've been signing contracts to work our entire lives for an asset on the assumption that it will get more valuable; and that assumption is based on... what? That other people will buy it for more later? Why would they? Unless there's scarcity of supply, there's no reason that the price of something should continue to rise. Land is relatively plentiful in the US outside the major urban centers. As the population becomes more distributed, there's less pressure even on those dense areas. And as the overall economic competetiveness of the nation declines relative to the other up-and-coming areas of the world, we can count less on immigration to increase the demand for housing.

The bottom line: the house as an ever-more-valuable peice of property was a trumpted-up dream, sold to the populace by an elite with a social adgenda.

So stepping back from the poorly-advised contracts that the unwitting have been encouraged to sign; shouldn't we be cheering decreasing home prices? More income for productive investments and leisure, right? Well, unfortunately for everyone with a mortgage the picture doesn't look so sunny; they're locked in to the inflated rate.

Moral of the story: as the future gets more uncertain, we should be scaling back the length of time over which we're confortable making binding commitments.