The Big Short

I just finished listening to The Big Short, which was pretty good. It was odd not to hear the least mention of the role of the Community Reinvestment Act in the mania to issue loans that no one seriously expected to  be repaid.  It also was odd, in all the discussion of the confusion of guys going short who wondered "who are the crazy people who are taking the long side of this bet?"--never hearing any mention of the appetite of Fannie Mae et al. in buying up the junk mortgages.  Possibly they had a smaller role than I had gathered.  In every other ways, it's a very informative discussion of how structured finance worked and how deliberately opaque all the terms were.  There is a more comprehensible explanation of how badly the rating agencies dropped the ball, and the consequences of their dereliction, than I've seen before.

Back on this Side of the Sea

The trip to the desert went as well as could be hoped, and better than expected. I’ve touched down on American soil, and with one more hop will be home.

Special thanks to Thomas for remembering Zell Miller. Though I never met him, he was an important man in my life. I wish we had many more like him. He will be missed. His kind is passing from the world. They will all be missed.

A Nice Set and an Interview with Nathaniel Rateliffe

Earlier this month, Seattle KEXP had the band on to play a few tunes and to interview them. Apparently, they were getting ready to pack it in and get jobs when the song SOB took off. The songs are from the new album, I believe.

A two-minute hate for "privatization" and "Kochs"

This Politico coverage of the sacking of VA secretary Shulkin is bizarre.  I must be so far in the conservative echo chamber that I'd lost sight of how even moderately leftist people view the dangers of allowing vets to go outside the nonfunctional VA system to get actual care from actual private doctors.  To Politico, apparently, this is "privatizing VA benefits while leaving taxpayers with the bill."  If the point is to provide vets with benefits, I'm at a loss to see what's wrong with using taxpayer funds to pay private doctors.  Isn't that what Medicare does, or theoretically does?  Usually we see complaints about the juxtaposition of "privatizing" with "taxpayer" funds when it's a pseudo-investment, as in infrastructure, and the upside is on the private side while the downside is left to the taxpayers.

Google Actually Has More Data on Us than My Paranoia Had Suggested

Over in The Guardian, Dylan Curran goes through many of the different kinds of data Google has on its users and how that data is collected. Some interesting bits:

Google stores your location (if you have location tracking turned on) every time you turn on your phone. You can see a timeline of where you’ve been from the very first day you started using Google on your phone. ...
Google stores search history across all your devices. That can mean that, even if you delete your search history and phone history on one device, it may still have data saved from other devices. ...
Google stores all of your YouTube history ... 
Google offers an option to download all of the data it stores about you. I’ve requested to download it and the file is 5.5GB big, which is roughly 3m Word documents. 
This link includes your bookmarks, emails, contacts, your Google Drive files, all of the above information, your YouTube videos, the photos you’ve taken on your phone, the businesses you’ve bought from, the products you’ve bought through Google … 
They also have data from your calendar, your Google hangout sessions, your location history, the music you listen to, the Google books you’ve purchased, the Google groups you’re in, the websites you’ve created, the phones you’ve owned, the pages you’ve shared, how many steps you walk in a day …

He gives links to see Google's files on you for each of these kinds of data, and others. Creepily, Google apparently keeps information you have deleted.

And then ...

Manage to gain access to someone’s Google account? Perfect, you have a chronological diary of everything that person has done for the last 10 years.
I thought I might have avoided some of this by not being logged in to Google most of the time, which is a good step. Then I noticed that when I visit this blog, I always have the option to post, and thus must be signed in. Oh well. Guess I'll change that now.

Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats Have a New Album Out

Falconry, Kidnapping, and Syria

Robert F. Worth has an interesting article in the New York Times about a band of kidnapped Qatari falconers and the ransom paid for them. Here is a taste:

A week later, the money still impounded, the Qatari team left Baghdad in the same jet that had brought them. They were now accompanied by two dozen Qataris, including members of the ruling Al Thani family, who had been kidnapped during a hunting trip in southern Iraq 16 months earlier. The story of what happened on that trip has not been reported until now. It entails a ransom deal of staggering size and complexity in which the Qataris paid vast sums to terrorists on both sides of the Middle East’s sectarian divide, fueling the region’s spiraling civil wars. 
To Arab falconers, the houbara bustard — a bug-eyed, long-legged creature about the size of a large chicken — is the king of game birds. It is a fast flier with an unusual defense: When cornered, it vomits an oily green substance that can temporarily blind an attacking falcon or hobble its wings. In the days before oil was discovered in the Arabian desert, the houbara’s seasonal return every fall was met with celebratory poetry and long hunts on camelback. The Land Rover made things a lot easier, but chasing the houbara, whose stringy flesh is said to be an aphrodisiac, remains one of the hallowed pursuits — along with thoroughbred stallions, huge yachts and French chateaus — that occupy the minds of Persian Gulf royalty. 
In late November 2015, a large group of Qatari falcon hunters left Doha in a column of 4-by-4 vehicles and headed south. Crossing the Saudi border, the convoy turned north, traversing a portion of Kuwait and continuing on to their destination, the southern desert of Iraq, 450 miles from Doha ...

Rest in Peace, Zell Miller

Zell Miller passed away last Friday.

Miller served his nation in the Marines, then served the State of Georgia as a state senator, lt. governor, governor, and US senator. He was a lifelong Democrat who, in my opinion, did what he believed was best for the nation rather than his party.

He also wrote some interesting books. Two that might interest those at the Hall are A National Party No More: The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat and Purt Nigh Gone: The Old Mountain Ways, a book about Appalachian history and culture.