Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The $700 billion "do-over"

I must admit that I have not followed this mess as closely as some, and I must also admit immediately that I am not at all trying to downplay the suffering which some Americans have felt. What I do want to say, however, is that anyone who plays the market knew at the outset that the stock market is volatile, and there are no guarantees. It was a risk, and it was a risk they felt was sufficiently small (or, at least, acceptable). So when the market turns and people everywhere throw up their hands in grief and exasperation, crying, "help us, we've lost all our money!" - when that day comes, you will hopefully excuse me for being a bit disconcerted. NPR's writer put it this way:
The Bush administration's plan to bail out the nation's financial institutions represents an unprecedented intervention in free markets. If the Wall Street bailout is adopted, Republican Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky said last week, "the free market for all intents and purposes is dead in America."

A fundamental principle of free-market capitalism is that investors take on big risks to reap big rewards — but they also assume any losses that occur. The government's plan would radically alter that model, leaving profits private while making losses public.

The Bush administration wants the $700 billion buyout so that those upper-middle-class Americans who so deftly tend to think they are "above" the market can continue living in the manner to which they are accustomed. Wake up, people! If you can't afford to lose money in the stock market, you can't afford to make money in the stock market. Why should my taxed be raised such that people with three cars and a nice home and a yard and 2.5 children and a golden retriever be able to continue their weekly shopping trip to the mall? I work hard and I save my money. I should not be penalized because a bunch of people who are well-off and comfortable feel less so because of mistakes they made themselves. Don't buy a house you can't afford! Don't opt for an adjustable rate mortgage! Don't put thousands of dollars into the stock market that you can't afford to lose! Why do we treat stupidity like an incurable disease?

I know there are many people out there who are - or will be - negatively affected by the downturn in the market, including (probably) family members. I knew people who lost thousands when the proverbial bubble burst back in the late nineties. And I know that it is decidedly un-Christian to complain about helping others. But we need to understand where the true need lies. Helping those in middle-class suburbia who vote Republican and want to have the nicest landscaped lawn on South Walden Street get out of their self-imposed debts is not the real need. Providing food, water, medical care, clothing and shelter ("basic necessities," for those of you who can't remember) for those who have nothing, those who live on the street or in homeless shelters or squeeze a dozen to an apartment in dirty buildings just a few blocks from the flashy facades of Wall Street, it is these poor souls who need are help. Put the $700 billion into better public schools, into soup kitchens, into grants to help the underprivileged get their GED and get a job. Put it into buying seed and livestock for dirt-poor farmers in developing countries and into providing cheap medical insurance and daycare for single parents.

If my ranting seems decidedly socialist, I apologize. I have no problem with capitalism, as long as those - and only those - who choose to play the game are forced to abide by the rules. A $700 billion buyout, funded by the tax dollars of someone like me, is not the solution.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

GRB

A record for the SWIFT telescope - they've observed a gamma-ray burst a whopping 12.8 billion lightyears distant. I wonder if this is a good time to mention 18F....

Thursday, September 18, 2008

...ps

I suppose I should also mention that on Friday, September 12th, I successfully defended my PhD thesis, and this week have completed all of the necessary paperwork for the degree.

...That makes me a doctor! Huzzah!

Feels like home

Anyone who didn't see this coming, raise your hand. What can I say? Life at a physics lab.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Singularity

Here's to the LHC - tomorrow will be a day of great scientific progress. As has been said: "the end of the world is not nigh."

UPDATE (September 10th): here

Snakes!

I love road trips like this one. The kind that remind you that all across Middle America there are Best Westerns with individual names, Holidomes with themed indoor pools, stands of cottonwoods and Russian olive that betray the presence of water, signs for "Adult Superstore" and "Gateway Fundamental Bible Church" juxtaposed across the interstate, and long stretches of highway that are so straight and so flat and so relentlessly windswept that they are often closed during inclement weather. There is a world unto itself that exists only within the two-mile wide swath of land that follows the course of the Eisenhower Interstate System across the country.
Last night included a stopover in Topeka, in a hotel full of army recruits and a marriage counseling seminar. I arrived late, but got a room. I slept on a superfluous pile of pillows. I was reminded of how the Holiday Inn hospitality facial soap smells a little bit like Fruit Loops.
I awoke in the night in a cold sweat, heart pounding, breath shallow. I awoke from a dream in which I was desperately trying to kill, or otherwise escape, a rattlesnake. It is unpleasant enough to dream of having a poisonous rattler twining around your ankles and striking at your heels, as you vainly throw rocks at its head. But when the dream is only one in a string over a week long of unsettling (if not explicitly violent) dreams which wake you and prevent you from returning to a restful slumber, then something is wrong. Needless to say, something is wrong with me.
I am preparing for my dissertation defense. Maybe that's it.