Restoring Order

The violence in Baltimore has gutted the city far more than can be seen by charred hulks of cars and buildings. A general riot like this demonstrates how a complete breakdown in order is always close to the surface – and how “order” itself is always a manufactured concept. It has to be made, it has to be worked at by everyone every day. It is hard work sometimes, too, and it starts with basic civility and respect.

Ask anyone in Baltimore, especially in the affected areas, if they are surprised by this. I doubt you’ll find a single person who is. Baltimore City Council Member Brandon Scott cited “a long, long, longstanding issue with young African-Americans.” It was a long time coming, and it will be a long time before it is repaired.  But away from the teevee cameras there is a genuine movement, and it will be better.  It’s going to take your help, however – even if you live far from Baltimore.

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From Net Collector to Payer

We’ve discussed many times before how the Federal Reserve sets the interest rates for everything from used car loans to mortgages to savings accounts across the US. The task has always fallen to the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee (FOMC) and its “Fed Funds Rate”. As far as anyone can tell they perform a calculation based on the prevailing conditions as to what the optimal rate should be. They balance out the need for more jobs (favored by cheap money, or low rates) with a desire to keep inflation in check (with high rates) and a rate is published. From that baseline for the cost of no-risk money a premium is added by a bank based on the risk (low for a mortgage, high for a used car) or subtracted (the value of savings) and all is good.

Except for one small detail – that mechanism has been horribly broken since 2008 when every calculation suggested the optimal rate was below zero. As long as rates are near zero and there’s a flood of cash in the financial world (not that you are getting any) we have what’s known as a “liquidity trap”. And the way interest rates are going to be set in the near future is going to turn on some far more obscure things such as the “Reverse Repo Rate”.

Yes, it’s complicated.

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Brother’s Keeper

“Everyone is an idiot, not just the people with low SAT scores. The only differences among us is that we’re idiots about different things at different times. No matter how smart you are, you spend much of your day being an idiot.”

– Scott Adams, “The Dilbert Principle”

We all know someone who just can’t handle something we consider part of daily life. The guy who simply doesn’t “get” facebook, the woman with no interest in a cell phone, and in urban areas like St Paul even people who refuse to drive. These are all complications that are a bit too much for their simple life.

There are limits for everyone in this world of increasing complexity. We all hit them constantly, too. For many people, however, life itself just gets past them.

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If God really spoke to us today, what would he say? It’s a question for either prophets or heretics, and neither has a good fate before them. Unless they wind up on teevee – that washes away all the sins apparently. But this question came to my mind on a sleepless night rendered suddenly still after a bumpy ride through the earthly wake left behind by my brother’s passing. If you know Mark Twain’s “Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven” this won’t seem so strange. So forgive my heresy.

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Cinco de Mayo

In just two weeks, we celebrate a holiday somewhat more popular in the US than in Mexico. That’s just as well because it’s a classic North American kind of holiday in many ways.

It started as invasion by France to collect a debt, but the larger and better equipped French invasion force was defeated by a ragged group of Mexicans, some armed with little more than machetes and pitchforks.  The Battle of Puebla on 5 May 1862 was 150 years ago this Saturday.  It was not decisive, needing a few years before the colorful armies and politicians could sort it all out.  But the victory at Puebla is a story deep at the heart of Mexican character – a determination and toughness that the great continent of North America shares as a very odd, sometimes dysfunctional family.

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