Brandon Starr's blog. Updated daily since March 2003. Welcome. Make yourself comfortable. Have a hot chocolate.

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It's your fault now, and don't blame me when it all goes terribly, terribly wrong.


New fiction story! Click here for "The Voice of Cassandra."

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Click here for my new investing blog, "Adroit Investor"

Click here for my anti-Bush shirts.

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Update notification by email available below.

Some fun/useful/useless links:

The Internet Movie Database

My cousin back from Iraq, and how it changed me (my current favorite entry on this blog)

Zazzle.com

My Zazzle.com product page

Fun blogs:

infinitus opinio

Siren's Song

the mechanical jive

The Strange World

Thunderstorms in the Imajica

Librarianguish

Elven Sarah

Random Musings (Catcher)

Certifiable Princess (Sarah 2)
   

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Wednesday, November 10, 2004
Fallujah falls...ujah.

U.S. says it holds 70% of Fallujah already (AP & Reuters, via MSNBC)

All this means is that most of the insurgents left while the U.S. made its wholly obvious preparations for invasion.

As if we needed more proof of it...

1) Insurgents have been "reduced to small pockets" already.
 
2)  None of the nine hostages have been found.  (Yet.  Maybe they will be.  But I'm thinking they're gone with most of the insurgents.)

Meanwhile, because so many troops have been moved to the Fallujah attack, insurgency attacks elsewhere in the country are higher.

And when Fallujah is completely "controlled?"

“We anticipate that in Fallujah, in addition to whatever damage might happen during the fighting, that there’s been a state of neglect and damage over time over the last few months that has to be repaired,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters.

“Once it’s back in government hands, we’ll be able to get on with these projects very quickly,” he added.

Trouble is, they haven't been able to "get on with these projects very quickly" ANYWHERE--spending on reconstruction projects, as I've linked to here before, has been reduced to a trickle because of the insurgency threat.

Remind anyone of any other wars the U.S. has been involved with in, say, the last forty years?  Where brute force could clear an area, and where every major battle was won, yet the war itself was lost?

Posted at 06:18 pm by brandonstarr
Your thoughts?  

Happy birthday, Carl Stalling!

Carl Stalling was born November 10th, 1891.
Stalling was, as I'm sure many of you remember, the writer and conductor of the music of all of the great Warner Brothers cartoon shorts.

You may not know he started out at Disney, where he scored such famous shorts as "Plane Crazy (1928)," (one of the very first Mickey shorts), "Haunted House (1929)" and "The Skeleton Dance (1929)."  Those last two are famous for their use of music to create mood in such early animation.

He was with Warner Brothers until the late 1950s.  The Warner Brothers shorts were never the same after he left.  Such composers as Bill Lava tried to emulate the formula, but it always rang hollow.

Stalling was a master of several things:

1)  Use of music to create mood.

2)  Use of classical music and the large Warner Brothers portfolio of songs to use music people already knew in a parodic or evocative way.

3)  Use of music to add to what was being seen on the screen.

4)  Use of silence when it was a better choice than music.

5)  Use of instruments to mimic voices.

6)  Use of music as a faux sound effect.

7)  Taking advantage of the full orchestra on Warner Brothers' staff.  Not many cartoons even COULD sound as good as Stalling-directed ones, even if they had a genius of Stalling's caliber on staff, for this reason alone.

Plus, he was a pioneer.  He perfected the art of having a copy of the cartoon playing while he was conducting, to make sure that the sound was matching the visuals.  This is something used even today, as "making of the movie" documentaries amply demonstrate.

He invented something used by many musicians to this day--he had the orchestra wear headphones, which would play a metronomic tone to keep everyone together.

It was well-known that the musicians LOVED playing for Stalling.  His music was interesting, fun, and unbelievably challenging.  It always included multiple time shifts, unusual pauses, changes in playing technique, and other difficult devices.

Stalling was the reason for generations of kids to fall in love with classical and orchestral music, or at least to have a basic understanding of it.  Who hasn't laughed along to the music in "The Rabbit of Seville" or "What's Opera, Doc?"

If you've never heard "The Carl Stalling Project" or other CD compilations of Stalling's, check them out.

Posted at 09:17 am by brandonstarr
Your thoughts?  

Tuesday, November 09, 2004
For Ariana--on libertarianism

Ariana asked for some links to libertarian sites, and so on.

Well, I don't have any that I go to regularly.  But there are some that spell out the basics.

For those who want the lowdown without clicking:

Libertarians, politically, believe in smaller government.  They do usually for one or both of the following two reasons:

1)  Distrust of big government,

2)  Big government creates winners and losers through its complicated tax and pork-barrel structures.  Government shouldn't be in the business of making winners and losers in its population.

How to connect this to standard liberal/conservative stances?

Liberals tend to believe in less government when it comes to social issues--abortion rights, free speech, minority rights, gay rights, and so on.  They tend to believe in more government when it comes to fiscal issues--Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, affirmative action, and so on.  This is a simplification, but you get the picture.

Conservatives tend to believe in more government when it comes to social issues--abortion rights, prayer in schools and other tear-down-the-wall-between-religion-and-state issues.  They tend to believe in less government when it comes to fiscal issues--lowering taxes even when it causes deficit spending, privatizing Social Security, mandating work and setting other limits on welfare, and so on.  Where massive corporate subsidies fit in, I don't know--maybe that's more of a neocon thing.  Anyway, another simplification, but there you have it.

For years, I didn't even know about libertarianism.  When asked, I'd say, "I'm socially liberal and fiscally conservative."  I didn't know for a long time that when that's your belief, you're a classic libertarian.  In both cases, you want less government.  (The converse would be a statist.  Statism has autocracy, dictatorship, or bureaucracy as its ideal form of government.)

The Libertarian Party is the largest third party in the history of the United States, and is also the most well-entrenched.  It has a very hard time breaking through the Democrat/Republican stronghold, though.  I think that's for three reasons:

1)  The Dems and Repubs have set up the system to make it hard for third parties to get funding or on the ballot, let alone elected.  Partly this is momentum--power leading to power.  Partly it is through adding laws that make it tough for third parties to get visibility of any kind.  Unlike the Greens, the Reformers, etc., Libertarians have had Presidential candidates on the ballot in all 50 states for decades, now, yet they are never allowed into the "Presidential debates."

2)  It's tough to find the right kind of candidate--you have to find someone who wants the office, yet believes in small government.  Similarly, it's tough to find funding--the Democrats have the unions and the lawyers, the Republicans have the rich and the corporations.  Not many groups want to fund a party whose main philosophy and claim is, "We won't favor anyone over anyone else."  Nice and ethical, but not attractive for funding.  Power groups would rather fund someone who claims, "We'll favor YOU over EVERYONE else."

3)  To a degree, they have the same problem as every other out-of-power third party:  the only ones active in the party are the "true believers."  This leads to a tendency to extremism, when the U.S. has historically favored balance and centrism, November 2004 excepted.

Anyway, here are some links on libertarianism:

Libertarian.org

The home page of the Libertarian Party--including a "where do you fit?" quiz to help you figure out if you're liberal, conservative, or libertarian-leaning, based on how you answer questions about issues.  The paper version of this quiz is what led me to realize there was a political stance and a party that actually fit my beliefs almost completely, instead of half-and-half.  And it's fair, too--it'll tell you if you're liberal or centrist or whatever, it doesn't stack it in favor of libertarianism.  You can just click here to go right to the quiz.

The Free State Project--Libertarian thinkers across the country decided to move en masse to a small, already freedom-friendly state, and really try to make a difference in that one state.  The state they voted on?  New Hampshire--"Live Free or Die" indeed.  The Free State Project is now underway.  Interesting idea, anyway.  I don't plan on moving from my beloved Pacific Northwest, but I love utopian and dystopian literature, and this is like a utopian libertarian experiment.

Posted at 01:59 pm by brandonstarr
Comments (4)  

Monday, November 08, 2004
You can't get pregnant from...

...giving a hand job, or can you?

Abdomen-to-arm ovary transplant a success
The woman should be fertile after having cancer, getting an "autotransplant" of her ovary from its normal position to her arm, and soon having the ovary put back in its normal place.

I've heard of a similar technique used to save parts of the cranium for someone who is undergoing brain surgeries.  The cap of the skull is removed and put elsewhere in the body to keep it alive.  After everything is finished, the piece of the cranium is replaced.

In the case of the ovary, a technique which removed the ovary and froze it to accomplish the same thing (later pregnancy after cancer treatments that would have caused permanent infertility) has been successful, but can damage the ovarian tissue.

If the ovary can be verified cancer-free, this should be a very viable option for a lot of women.  I hope, I hope, I hope that a similar technique will never be used in men.* 

* Fortunately, I don't think it ever will be.  The ovary is nearly unattached to any other part of the body, releasing eggs into the fallopian tube without being connected directly.  In fact, eggs sometimes travel across the body and travel down the other fallopian tube!  Indeed, this may have led to my own wife's very lucky pregnancy.  Anyway, the ovarian situation is far different from the setup in the testes.

Posted at 09:25 am by brandonstarr
Comments (1)  

Sunday, November 07, 2004
Man disturbed by Bush's reelection...

...apparently commits shotgun suicide at World Trade Center
Protest or not, this is what I would call "the wrong reaction."

Don't let them win by taking you out of the game--whether that means suicide or removing yourself to a foreign country.  To me, one is almost the same as the other--that's how much I want to remain a U.S. citizen.

Don't forget the old philosophical adage:  thesis, antithesis, synthesis.  That is, things often move by a strong new force coming onto the scene, then the antithesis to that force, then a synthesis of the two.  In other words, 9/11 has led to a groundswell of Republican voting.  This will lead to a backlash, which will eventually settle out into an unevenly equal settlement--until the next major force comes along.

Posted at 02:04 pm by brandonstarr
Comments (4)  

Saturday, November 06, 2004
About the picture...

I was updating this blog a bit yesterday, and I decided to finally add a picture.

Just the one.  I still think of my blog as all about the writing.

It's a picture of my son, Declan.  It was taken a little over a year ago, on the monorail at Disneyland.

Something about the hope and wonder in his face in that picture makes me...happy.

I felt I needed an emotional restart following the election.  That picture of my son is a part of it.
 

Posted at 08:29 am by brandonstarr
Comments (4)  

Friday, November 05, 2004
A couple more thoughts on predictions

A couple of thoughts on predictions...

FIRST....

I mentioned Google as a stock that might benefit from the continued rise of the internet.  While I believe that's true, I forgot to mention that I have a bearish position in Google (but not the other 'net stocks).  In plain English, I think the price will go down.  Why?  Because it's wildly overvalued right now (200+ PE) and because the "lockup period" is ending over the next few months.

What is a lockup period?

When a company goes public, some of the stock goes onto the open market.  But usually, it's not ALL of the company stock.  Much of it is still held by the founders, pre-IPO investors, and so on.  In Google's case, only about 10% of the company stock went onto the open market.  Because the stock was popular, this scarcity really helped drive up the price.  Now, not all of the private stock will go onto the open market.  But some of it undoubtedly will.  And when you increase supply without an increase in demand, the price must go down.  Though I don't like Google as a stock, I still like it as a company in the longer term.

SECOND....

The market will, I think, do what I thought likely--UNLESS!

Bush and the Republicans are thinking about making Social Security a private-account venture, at least for the young.  If that happens, billions and billions of dollars will pour into the stock market (and the bond market) at some time in the future.  Now, in the long term, the stock market values everything according to its underlying value.  But in the short to medium term, this would drive prices upward as those billions snap up stocks.  Also, as Congress starts to move on such a bill, and as it starts to look more likely to happen, the market will start to rise in anticipation of all the coming demand.  In other words, the market will start to go up even before a SS privatization bill hits Bush's desk.  ALSO, this means that brokerage and bank stocks will go up even more:  partly because they always go up when the stock market goes up and interest rates fall (because money is pouring into bonds, too, remember), and partly because they are going to make BILLIONS managing all those Private Social Security accounts, no matter how small the managing percentage is.  FULL DISCLOSURE:  I have a long position in brokerage firm Charles Schwab & Co., though not for this reason.  I bought it when they lowered their fees to head off competition and their stock got punished.

P.S.  To all the nice liberals who have been following me while I beefed up Kerry and bashed Bush:  privatizing Social Security is one of those issues that, because I'm a small-government Libertarian, I actually tend to side with the Republicans on.  It'll depend on the details, though:  I don't want anyone to get hosed during the switchover.  Yes, it means some folks'll be taking on risk.  But really, over a long period it's nearly impossible to do worse with bonds or stocks than you do under Social Security as it now stands--that's why it shouldn't be privatized for folks who are already receiving or soon will receive Social Security.  And the disability part of SS?  That's one of the details we'll need to see.

Posted at 09:11 am by brandonstarr
Comments (4)  

Thursday, November 04, 2004
Predictions of trends for the next four years

These are some early thoughts on likely trends for the next four years under Bush.

I will refrain from the gloom-and-doom scenarios of massive terror attacks and so on that could happen under such an incompetent leader.  Actually, any massive disaster would pretty much wipe out these predictions anyway.

Let us be thankful that, unlike a king, we get a chance at new leadership every four years--assuming the Republican-built Diebold machine counts your votes.

Anyway, I'll start with the ones of general interest and end with the more arcane investing ones.

ENTERTAINMENT:

I think you'll see a couple of major trends here.

One is a trend towards escapist fare.  Thus comedies, musicals, and heroic war stories will do very well.  Horror can, too, if it doesn't require one to think too much.  This will be in place for as long as we're at war in Iraq and Afghanistan--that is, a good long time.  Sports will also do well, as a bastion for those who like fair play and rooting for the team.

Another is a trend towards pay systems.  Cable and satellite radio will do well, because they are free from the ever-more-oppressive FCC, which has been squeezing the "public airwave" broadcasters of all edginess.  Howard Stern will be the first, but he will hardly be the last of the major entertainment stars who will no longer be available free of charge.  We've already seen this trend in cable, where HBO wins massive numbers of Emmys and major audiences because their programming is free of the hand of the censors.  Note that freedom from censorship doesn't have to mean near-porn:  just look at "The Sopranos," for instance, which does have violence and occasional nudity, but is mostly a talky drama.  FULL DISCLOSURE:  I have some stock in Sirius Satellite Radio.

The internet will continue to gain steam as a major entertainment source.  It's been a little longer in coming than some folks thought, but broadband is nearing the tipping point, where enough people have it that some major new ways of presenting entertainment will be possible.  Also, the number of people on the internet in the U.S. and abroad will continue to climb, benefitting those companies such as Amazon, eBay, Yahoo! and Google, who already have a critical mass which gives them major advantages over their competitors.  FULL DISCLOSURE:  I have a bullish position in eBay.  Digital media, such as digital camcorders and cameras, will continue to eat away the traditional film media, which eventually will be relegated to artistic professionals and those who cannot  afford computers or refuse to switch.  FULL DISCLOSURE:  I have a bearish position in Eastman Kodak, which is a chemical film company trying to become a digital media company--I don't think they'll succeed well, but maybe I'm wrong.

POLITICS:

A little too ugly to write about now.  I will say this:  every major shift brings the seeds of its own backlash.  I have a hunch that, as damaging as the next four years will be, it will bring about a major move in the opposite direction.  We shall see.

BUSINESS:

Oil:  Supply is trying to come on line.  But for now, demand is still right at the supply limits.  Perhaps we've seen the short-term high for now, but it wouldn't take much of a supply crunch to make prices jump right back up.  And I highly doubt they'll settle in nearly as low as they did before the Iraq war--that is, the high twenties, or even where some experts seem to find likely, the mid thirties.  World demand is still climbing, and major oil finds are rare.  Only the fact that oil location and drilling technology continues to improve is keeping supply as good as it is.  Add to that the fact that we have a (failed) oil man as President, and I don't think we'll be seeing demand slipping due to alternative energy sources, even though he gave it lip service during the campaign.  FULL DISCLOSURE:  I have a position in Maverick Pipeline, which sells the pipes that will provide this new world oil supplies.

Interest rates:  Because oil has been expensive and slowing the economy, the Fed hasn't had to raise interest rates as quickly.  This means that:  1) housing stocks should do better than one would expect in a rising interest rate environment, 2) credit will remain cheap, 3) the dollar will remain weak, 4) because of the weak dollar, gold, silver and other commodities including oil will remain expensive.

Stocks:  I refuse to submit to my baser instincts and predict a market crater just because of Bush.  Actually, it's likely that stocks will do better--they almost couldn't do worse.  The low interest rates will help; the economic recovery has been very creaky, but hasn't yet slipped into a double-dip recession.  Jobs are still a concern; companies are still trying to improve efficiencies rather than hire on new people, which means they are still skeptical about the economy.  Oil stocks should do well; I don't think auto companies, which are highly dependent on gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs will do as well.  FULL DISCLOSURE: See oil disclosure.  Also, I have a bearish position in Ford.  The markets love Republican Presidents in the short term; that's why the market rallied today.  But historically the stock market does far better under Democratic Presidents.  Overall, I think the market will rise, but slower than the historic rate of 9% or so per year.  If inflation remains low, it'll be acceptable to most people, but hardly as good as the Clinton 90s.  The stock market is notoriously hard to predict in anything but the very long term; if I'm right, I'll be almost as surprised as anyone.  My method is to try to buy good companies cheaply, and I don't see any reason not to continue that general practice.

Silver:  As I mentioned above, I think the dollar will remain fairly weak.  This will help all commodities.  Silver is still operating at a net supply deficit--that is, the amount used up in manufacturing and jewelry is more than is pulled out of the ground in a year.  This deficit is expected to be 61 million ounces in 2005, and will be the 16th straight year with a deficit.  FULL DISCLOSURE:  I have a position in Silver Standard Resources, Inc., whose newsletter is linked above.

That's enough for now.  If I think of more later I'll do an entry on it.
 

Posted at 02:50 pm by brandonstarr
Your thoughts?  

Wednesday, November 03, 2004
Kerry calls to concede

Kerry calls to concede; Bush is gracious while reigning from on high

Osama bin Laden called the White House to congratulate his candidate on the victory.

This is also a victory for the irrational* and the poorly educated, both of whom vote Republican as though it were a reflex action.

And to the college kids who voted in numbers barely larger than last election:  enjoy paying off Bush's deficit for the rest of your life while having the specter of a draft bearing down on you.

So, now we'll have a conservative Supreme Court tearing down civil rights and allowing the increep of theocracy; we'll have a Republican Congress passing whatever they want in the way of protofascist corporate governance; and we'll have a President who makes mistakes as often as most people drink glasses of water, whom every other country in the world despises except Iran and Russia, and who enriches his cronies while running the most secretive Administration in history.

When I do my "what's next" entry, I'll cool down so I can keep this sort of Bush-bashing to a minimum, but I can't do it now.

This is going to have some ugly repercussions for our increasingly weakening democracy.

* Regular readers know that "irrational" means "religious," but also refers to others who go against reason, such as psychics, cultists, and so on.  In this context, it mainly refers to church-going irrationalists.

Posted at 10:02 am by brandonstarr
Comments (9)  

Interesting market reaction

Interestingly, my presumptions from last night have...well, not exactly been borne out.

Despite there being no winner, the markets are up.  Why?

Because the markets are presuming a Bush win.  That's the same reason the oil futures were up overnight.  I should've thought of that--if they're presuming for oil, they'd presume for stocks, too.

Believe me, if the election turns unknown again, the market will go down.  They're just figuring that because Bush is ahead in Ohio, and that's the important state left, that Bush will take the Presidency.

I wouldn't be too surprised if either the absentee votes or the provisional votes change things in one or more states.  I'm not sure what'll happen, exactly, but I'm having to let myself distance a bit emotionally--the cold I barely had the last couple of days is now full-blown.

Posted at 07:13 am by brandonstarr
Your thoughts?  

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