Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Economic Statistics for 6 Nov 11

The MBA reports that mortgage applications fell -7.0% last week, with purchases falling -5.0% and refinancings -8.0%. The index is now at its lowest reading of the year.

The Challenger Job-Cut Report shows that layoffs are trending up, with 45,730 in October. Layoffs have averaged more than 45,000 per month for the last three months, vice the previous four months, when layoffs averaged under 38,000.

The Gallup U.S. Job Creation Index fell 2 points to 19 in October.

The Conference Board’s index of Leading Indicators rose 0.7% for the second straight month.


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A long time fan of the book reviews the “Ender’s Game” movie

Movies made from books seem to have the odds stacked against them, especially science fiction books. My favorite author, Robert Heinlein, wrote two books that were made into movies after his death, and both sucked toxic waste: Puppet Masters and Starship Troopers

There have been a few excellent movie adaptations, mostly in other genres. Hopscotch and Being There come to mind. In both cases, even the book author liked the result.

More recently, the last Harry Potter movie did quite a good job of adapting the book. I started reading that series to my then-young children when it came out. Most of the movie adaptations in the series were fair, but the last one was worthy of several repeated viewings. Many Tolkien fans swear by the Lord of the Rings trilogy. They’ll sit through twelve hour marathons to watch all three movies again.

I wish I could say Ender’s Game is in the same league, but I can’t.

I’m assuming most readers have read the book at some point, so I’m not worried about spoilers. For those of you who have not read the book, I suggest that you don’t bother with this movie. It will probably feel like another generic “kid saves the universe” story, with special effects trying to carry a sketchy plot. If you plan to see it despite this advice, then you might want to stop reading now.

For those who have read the book, let me explain my mixed feelings about this movie.

If you already understand the story, this movie isn’t awful. It’s nowhere near as bad as the Heinlein adaptations I mentioned earlier. It has generally good casting and good special effects. If you are a really big fan of the book, as I am, it’s worth a viewing. It really works to stay faithful to the book.

In fact, the movie’s biggest problem is that it tries too hard to stay faithful to the book.

I cited Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 because it is an excellent example of adapting the story to the needs of a movie. There are many things that depart from the book. For example, in the book, Voldemort can’t feel when a Horcrux is destroyed, and Harry can’t just sense their presence. But the movie needed those shortcuts for dramatic effect, and they work very, very well in the film.

Ender’s Game feels like a Cliff’s Notes version of the book. Or perhaps a Cliff’s Notes version with every other page missing.

Every major theme and turning point is included, but most of them are in matchstick drawings instead of fleshed out drama. For example, the battle room scenes are well done from a production standpoint. But there are not many of those scenes. The development of Ender’s skills and leadership is compressed to a mishmash, with one battle against other teams mashing together several battles in the book, simply extracting key scenes from each one. The result feels disconnected and contrived.

When the script does depart from the book, it’s done badly. They obviously wanted the character of Petra in that major battle room scene, so they contrived a sprained ankle by a team member and a dispensation from Graff to get her there. But just before that, it’s explained that Ender’s team is a bunch of misfits anyway. At that point, Petra doesn’t have her own army, so why not just put her in Ender’s and skip the contrivance? That’s the kind of spackling over a problem that makes a movie adaptation smooth.

The final battle is fairly well done. The set for it was perfect, and the use of holographic technology and gestures was as good as any movie I’ve ever seen.

Then that was spoiled with a heavy handed resolution about the battle being real instead of a simulation. That entire part of the movie bends over backwards to slap people in the face with the supposed peaceful nature of the buggers, and how terribly awful it was to kill all of them. As the book made clear, they started the conflict and killed many millions of people. When the survival of one’s species is on the line, giving the benefit of the doubt to an enemy who attacked first is mushy, politically correct sillyness.

Casting is reasonably good. They apparently wanted the gruff version of Harrison Ford here, so that’s what they got the entire movie. They could have done lots worse for the role of Graff. Ben Kingsley was fine as Mazer Rackham.

Most of the kids are good enough to get by. The actress in the role of Petra turned in a good performance, but she looked too soft for my vision of Petra. Plus, she resembled the actress playing Valentine enough that I got confused at least once about which one Ender was talking to.

I have no idea if the kid playing Bean is any good, because they didn’t give him enough of a part to find out. I realize the story had to focus on Ender, and Bean was pushed to the background to allow that. It still grated on me to see one of my favorite characters reduced to wallpaper.

Bottom line: this movie isn’t awful, but it isn’t great either. As I said, if you really liked the book, you’ll probably want to see the movie at some point. You probably won’t be shouting at the screen in rage the way I did at Starship Troopers. But unless you liked it better than I did, you won’t be watching it twice.

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The March to Slavery Continues

Well, I suppose this was inevitable.

FYI last night at the Great Falls Grange debate, Democrat delegate candidate Kathleen Murphy said that since many doctors are not accepting Medicaid and Medicare patients, she advocates making it a legal requirement for those people to be accepted. 

But of course she is. What other option could there possibly be but forcing doctors to see those patients? It’s clearly not possible to pay doctors an economically justifiable payment for seeing such patients. I mean, if you’re not willing to take substandard payment for Medicare patients, you probably shouldn’t be a doctor anyway, what with being a greedy bastard and all. You have a $250,000 annual malpractice insurance payment? Too bad. You got a couple of nurses that cost you $100,000 per year, and $50,000 a year in office rent? That’s on you, bucko.  You’ll take my $50 Medicare payment and be happy to get it, or maybe we’ll just levy some really serious fines on you.

If you’re a doctor—and really, if you’re, well, anyone—you belong to the state. Oh, we might not lower the boom on you until we really need to, but let’s make no mistake. The collective has a claim on you. Your labor. Your income. Maybe we let you keep most of it. Maybe we don’t. Either way, if we need your stuff, we’ll take it, because we have a right to it. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one, man. And if you don’t think so, we can always just clap you in prison to help you come around to the right way of thinking.

We’re gonna get our medical care. And our unemployment benefits and food stamps. And our social security. Somebody’s gotta pay for it. If we decide that somebody is you, then you just need to suck it up. That’s what we got the law for, after all: to make you suck it up whenever we say.


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Economic Statistics for 5 Nov 13

In weekly retail sales, Redbook reports a strong 3.8% increase in same-store sales from the last year. ICSC-Goldman’s chain-sample is much weaker, with a weekly sales decrease of -0.6%, and only a 1.9% increase on a year-over-year basis.

Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index fell a sharp 16 points to -35 in October, the sharpest monthly drop since 2008, when the index began.

The ISM Non-Manufacturing Index rose a point in October to 55.4.


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The “pause” that could last 20 more years

Even though the “consensus” described in the IPCC report says it won’t. Gee, who to believe – the IPCC who has been badly off the mark since it began reporting or other scientists who actually research the climate, like Prof. Judith Curry from Georgia Tech?

The 17-year pause in global warming is likely to last into the 2030s and the Arctic sea ice has already started to recover, according to new research.

A paper in the peer-reviewed journal Climate Dynamics – by Professor Judith Curry of the Georgia Institute of Technology and Dr Marcia Wyatt – amounts to a stunning challenge to climate science orthodoxy.

Not only does it explain the unexpected pause, it suggests that the scientific majority – whose views are represented by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – have underestimated the role of natural cycles and exaggerated that of greenhouse gases.

Yeah, I’ll go with Prof. Curry if you don’t mind.

My favorite line from the article is one of vast understatement:

The research comes amid mounting evidence that the computer models on which the IPCC based the gloomy forecasts of a rapidly warming planet in its latest report, published in September, are diverging widely from reality.

You think!? They haven’t been close to correct for years. In fact, they can’t even recreate the past with any fidelity. Here’s the reality:

The pause means there has been no statistically significant increase in world average surface temperatures since the beginning of 1997, despite the models’ projection of a steeply rising trend.

According to Dr Hawkins, the divergence is now so great that the world’s climate is cooler than what the models collectively predicted with ‘five to 95 per cent certainty’.

Curry and Wyatt say they have identified a climatic ‘stadium wave’ – the phenomenon known in Britain as a Mexican wave, in which the crowd at a stadium stand and sit so that a wave seems to circle the audience.

In similar fashion, a number of cycles in the temperature of air and oceans, and the level of Arctic ice, take place across the Northern hemisphere over decades. Curry and Wyatt say there is evidence of this going back at least 300 years.

According to Curry and Wyatt, the theory may explain both the warming pause and why the computer models did not forecast it.

It also means that a large proportion of the warming that did occur in the years before the pause was due not to greenhouse gas emissions, but to the same cyclical wave.

‘The stadium wave signal predicts that the current pause in global warming could extend into the 2030s,’ said Wyatt. This is in sharp contrast with the IPCC’s report, which predicts warming of between 0.3 and 0.7C by 2035.

Wyatt added: ‘The stadium wave forecasts that sea ice will recover from its recent minimum.’ The record low seen in 2012, followed by the large increase in 2013, is consistent with the theory, she said.

So now we have a viable theory that doesn’t rely on forced and fudged numbers (or hiding the decline) and has a history of at least 300 years.

I imagine the “chicken little” crowd will ignore it as they ignore all studies that refute or at least question their insistence that man is the cause of any warming going on. After all, if they don’t, if they admit their wrong, how in the world can government use their power of taxation to literally create revenue out of thin air?

Of course they can’t. So they’ll ignore the new science and resort to calling those who are doing it and supporting it “deniers”, demonize them as ignorant neanderthals all the while conspiring to pass laws to relieve you of your money in the name of saving the world.  This isn’t about science.

Just watch.

~McQ

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Oh, goodie – a rerun

And it has all the ear-markings of the usual failure.  New York mayoral race:

Since the days of Bill Clinton and the New Democrats, it has been a totem of faith in some liberal-progressive circles that the key to lifting up the lower ranks lies in downplaying social and economic conflicts, cozying up to business interests, and tackling inequality covertly, through largely invisible subsidies such as the Earned Income Tax Credit. De Blasio, in pledging to raise taxes on the rich to finance his education programs, has challenged this formula, and turned himself into the standard-bearer for what some see as a new era of urban populism.

Yes indeed, a “new era of urban populism”, or as those who view the idea just a little differently, a new era of class warfare in which the demonized class gets robbed and the proceeds of the theft are supposedly redistributed for the benefit of the “proletariat”. It’s not like we don’t spend enough on education now. You’d think a smart mayoral candidate would consider the possibility that money isn’t the problem. But that’s too difficult and besides, when you’re supported by teachers unions, well, it’s easier to go after the rich.

And, of course, the author of this article is quite excited about it. It’s like this has never happened recently in, oh, I don’t know, France? You know … where they decided those filthy rich should pay for everything. It certainly wasn’t a matter of “urban” populism per se, but it was a matter of socialist populism – same thing. Result? The rich started moving elsewhere. Imagine that.

Of course De Blasio would have to get this past the state legislature – not likely anytime soon. And, as the author mentions, it’s not a huge tax raise so it’s likely not to get much coverage even if it is passed. But the point of course is the left never learns. Ever. They’re committed to the same failed policies and same failed solutions as they always have been.

Most remarkable is the apparent surprise they register when the predictable happens. It is like they’re geese and they wake up in a new world every day? Unfortunately we have to share the world with them and they’re making it progressively unlivable.

~McQ

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You Can’t Sabotage a Disaster

The Democrats’ newest line in the peeling onion of fail that is Obamacare is that its failure is all the Republicans’ fault because…they sabotaged it. This line has been taken up by Politico in an article by Todd S. Purdum.

From the moment the bill was introduced, Republican leaders in both houses of Congress announced their intention to kill it. Republican troops pressed this cause all the way to the Supreme Court — which upheld the law, but weakened a key part of it by giving states the option to reject an expansion of Medicaid. The GOP faithful then kept up their crusade past the president’s reelection, in a pattern of “massive resistance” not seen since the Southern states’ defiance of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954…

Most Republican governors declined to create their own state insurance exchanges — an option inserted in the bill in the Senate to appeal to the classic conservative preference for local control — forcing the federal government to take at least partial responsibility for creating marketplaces serving 36 states — far more than ever intended.

Then congressional Republicans refused repeatedly to appropriate dedicated funds to do all that extra work, leaving the Health and Human Services Department and other agencies to cobble together HealthCare.gov by redirecting funds from existing programs. On top of that, nearly half of the states declined to expand their Medicaid programs using federal funds, as the law envisioned.

Then, in the months leading up to the program’s debut, some states refused to do anything at all to educate the public about the law. And congressional Republicans sent so many burdensome queries to local hospitals and nonprofits gearing up to help consumers navigate the new system face-to-face that at least two such groups returned their federal grants and gave up the effort.

So, political opposition to a law that Republicans always opposed is now "sabotage’. That’s simply nonsense on stilts. The law was passed without a single Republican vote. That should’ve been a big signal to Democrats that the law was going to be on shaky ground, but of course, in their arrogance, it didn’t.

Back in 1993, when Hillary Clinton was working on Health Care Reform, Daniel Patrick Moynihan gave her some sage advice. He told her that without support from a large, non-partisan majority, no large-scale reform can ever be successfully concluded. She ignored him at the time, just as Democrats ignored that advice when they passed Obamacare on a strictly party-line vote.

But no Congress can ever bind a succeeding Congress. This has been a black-letter principle of American politics for two centuries. The only way a succeeding congress can be bound is if the support for a particular law is widespread and bi-partisan. And in the case of Obamacare, not only have the Republicans been opposed since the beginning so has a majority of the American people. Obamacare has never polled with majority support among the electorate, and as its implementation date has drawn closer, the majority of the electorate that opposes it has increased.

Howard Dean, recently suggested that Republican opposition to Obamacare is a sign that Republicans have  "forgotten that they’re actually supposed to serve the American people." But since, by all the polling results I’ve ever seen, a substantial majority of the public opposes Obamacare, it would seem to me that Republican opposition is actually the precise opposite of what Howard Dean suggests.

Defining opposition to Obamacare as "sabotage" is simply sour grapes from an arrogant political party that imposed an unpopular law against the apparent wishes of the electorate.

Obamacare is a disaster. I predicted it was an unworkable disaster before it was passed, as did anyone who took the time to look at the perverse incentives it created. The amount of wishful thinking that went in to passing this stupid law is incomprehensible to me. It could not have been more clearly prone to failure if it had been intentionally designed to fail.

Make no mistake: if you support Obamacare, you are a complete dolt, or so lacking in fundamental knowledge that your opinion about it is irrelevant. It is a law that literally cannot accomplish its stated purpose, because it ignores essential and fundamental economic and political realities. Moreover, it was passed in opposition to a majority of Americans.

Opposition to this disaster is not sabotage. It is the only rational response to the utter stupidity it encapsulates.

But framing opposition as sabotage does have a darker, more nefarious purpose. The whole point of such charges is to delegitimize the opposition. Frankly, it’s part of what I see as an ongoing Democratic strategy to define opposition to any policy they support as un-American, at the very least, if not somehow criminal. The Left in this country could not be doing more to foment a civil war if they were intentionally trying to do so.

I have very little hope for the future of this country. I have very little left but anger.


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