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Guest Post By Girl X: The Stupid Ugly Bird

Posted by Alameida
on 04.05.14

Once there was a stupid ugly bird. Now, unlike in most stories, this bird wasn't kind, friendly, sweet, and merely misunderstood. This little bird's ugliness was not just skin-deep; it went straight to its core. The little bird was vain, rude, uncouth, and selfish, as well as many other things. This was truly an ugly bird.

One day when the ugly bird was feeding, a group of swans found it. Now, the swans weren't all super-pretty, or pretty at all on the outside, but they were all truly beautiful on the inside. They looked upon the ugly bird not with contempt and scorn, but with love and affection. "It's adorable! Let's take it in!" one exclaimed. It wasn't blind or lying or any of that sort of thing. It's just that all of them saw the good and beauty in others. Even when it wasn't there. And in the ugly bird it certainly was not. They took it in, and cherished it, played with it, cleaned up its messes, loved it. But still the ugly bird was ugly inside and outside. They told it stories, taught it skills, gave it books, but still it was ugly inside.

The ugly bird never became beautiful anywhere and never became a swan. But the other swans loved it anyway. The ugly bird never realized it, but it was truly blessed. Which just shows the extent of its stupidity and pessimism. The ugly bird never tried to reflect on or change its actions or its heart, which is why it is still stupid and ugly to this day. That is why it never became a swan.

To: My Swans

Thanks For Everything

X. Y. Z. Lastname

Special note from Al: I found this on the ground when I got up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night at our hotel in Lombok, and I was like, wow, the insomnia Girl X experienced after Girl Y and I fell happily asleep at 9 drove her to suicide after a period of prolonged low self-esteem! But then I realized she was bored so she wrote her first post on Unfogged. She is interested to hear there will be comments, but doesn't want them to be mean ones like from her English teacher. (?! One wonders.)


 

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Guest Post - Oakland Pukers

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 04.04.14

Grumbles grumbles: In San Francisco, we dress up in clown suits, stilt-walk, and generally make a party out of it. There was a broken window at the last demo, though. In Oakland, well, this was pretty tame - no cracked skulls or tear gas.

I took the Emery-go-Round, a free shuttle from the BART station where the below happened, to work in Emeryville for close to three years a long time ago. (It still exists, and is great if you need to get to or from the Amtrak station.) In a lot of ways, it was the spiritual forerunner of the massive shuttles to the Valley that now have everyone so upset. I think the Valley shuttles are on net positive, but I understand why people are upset.

It is really the usual gentrification story - area close to good transport attracts artsy types who want cheap, possibly illegal, space; rich people follow; past residents kicked out. I used to live on the block on which the SF demonstration mentioned took place - it used to be a very different place, not entirely safe at night, but really not bad, where my housemates and I (two white guys and a black woman) were definitely minority, but welcome - the other non-Latino folk were artist-types, bartenders, that sort of thing. The tech money really is replacing generations of Latino families with young, rich, (mostly) white (mostly) men. I think this bubble will burst in the next year or so, and a lot of those people will leave, but the disruption has already happened. So it goes, but I would be angry at seeing my neighborhood destroyed, too.

I guess my bottom line is SF still wins on style points, and you still don't fuck with Oakland.


 

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Guest Post - Sadsacks

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 04.03.14

Knecht writes: I bet the Mineshaft has other nominees.

Heebie wonders: I can't remember if "sacks" was a funny word to me before Unfogged.


 

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Three things

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 04.03.14

1. It is 101° in Laredo today. 101 goddamn °. I mentioned this is in the comments and everyone's jaw failed to drop.

2. Fuck Your Naguchi Coffee Table is not a new site, but I clicked through to it and was reminded that it drenches me in ennui.

First off, I enjoy decorating my house to an almost embarrassing degree. Second, the aesthetic that they're mocking isn't quite my aesthetic, but narcissism of small differences, etc. But mostly it makes me feel like the world is spinning too fast - "Stop mocking those things, I haven't gotten there yet. You're going too fast. But it's funny that you're mocking those things because it's spot on. I just want to stay aside from the mocking. What if you mock me next."

Also the ennui arises because the people being mocked are so earnest, and trying to create a beautiful space, and I think that's rather nice. But also funny. And also me.

3. I know whenever we discuss Citizens United and now McCutcheon, everyone smart says "None of these campaign limits ever limited anything anyway." But the whole thing is still depressing. Not as depressing as mocking my air plants, but semi-depressing.


 

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Hijinks

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 04.02.14

JRoth writes: via Atrios, massive assholery by UPenn students. Key para, buried at the end:

The Daily Pennsylvanian also reported that student groups affiliated with Penn's Wharton School are already banned from making reservations at Fado due to past unruly conduct, including allegations of cocaine use in the bathrooms and urinating on the bar.

Potentially fruitful discussion angles:

- Performed by certain other demographic groups, this behavior would be enough for a month's worth of Fox outrage and Good Liberal chin-stroking about cultural residue and paths to success

- Ivy Leaguers are the worst

- Second tier Ivy Leaguers are the worst

-Cheesy Irish "Pubs" are asking for it

Heebie's take:

Neff told the student newspaper that a group of about 50 people attending a lacrosse team event shattered a glass light fixture, stole a bottle of liquor from the bar and smoked marijuana in the bathroom. The group also allegedly exposed a female student's genitals to patrons and left a paltry tip of less than 4 percent on a $1,300 tab.


 

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Guest Post - The Big Short

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 04.02.14

Dave W. writes: Has anyone else read The Big Short by Michael Lewis (author of Moneyball and Liar's Poker)? He's got some pretty good insights into some of the dynamics that led up to the crash. While mortgage securitization may have been a good idea in the beginning, providing would-be homeowners access to more capital than the banks were willing to provide, there were plenty of examples where the people coming up with these deals were gaming/exploiting the weaknesses of the ratings agencies to get their junk more highly rated so they could sell it to pension funds and European bankers. From his chapter "How to Harvest a Migrant Worker," he explains examples like how a Mexican strawberry picker with an annual income of $14,000 was given a loan to buy a $724,000 house:

The problem with FICO scores was overshadowed by the way they were misused by the rating agencies. Moody's and S&P asked the loan packagers not for a list of the FICO scores of all the borrowers, but for the average FICO score of the pool. To meet the rating agencies' standards - to maximize the percentage of triple-A-rated bonds created from any given pool of loans - the average FICO score of the borrowers in the pool needed to be around 615. There was more than one way to arrive at that average number. And therin lay a huge opportunity. A pool of loans composed of borrowers all of whom had a FICO score of 615 was far less likely to suffer huge losses than a pool of loans composed of borrowers half of whom had FICO scores of 550 and half of whom had FICO scores of 680. A person with a FICO score of 550 was virtually certain to default and should never have been lent money in the first place. But the hole in the ratings agencies' models enabled the loan to be made, as long as a borrower with a FICO score of 680 could be found to offset the deadbeat, and keep the average at 615.
Where to find the borrowers with high FICO scores? Here the Wall Street bond trading desks exploited another blind spot in the rating agencies' models. Apparently the agencies didn't grasp the difference between a "thin-file" FICO score and a "thick-file" FICO score. A thin-file FICO score implied, as it sounds, a short credit history. The file was thin because the borrower hadn't done much borrowing. Immigrants who had never failed to repay a debt, because they had never been given a loan, often had surprisingly high thin-file FICO scores. Thus a Jamaican baby nurse or Mexican strawberry picker with an income of $14,000 looking to borrow three-quarters of a million dollars, when filtered through the models at Moody's and S&P, became suddenly more useful, from a credit-rigging point of view. They might actually improve the perceived quality of the pool of loans and increase the percentage that could be declared triple-A. The Mexican harvested strawberries; Wall Street harvested his FICO score.

The models used by the rating agencies were riddled with these sorts of opportunities. The trick was finding them before others did - finding, for example, that both Moody's and S&P favord floating-rate mortgages with low teaser rates over fixed-rate ones. Or that they didn't care if a loan had been made in a booming real estate market or a quiet one. Or that they were seemingly oblivious to the fraud implicit in no-doc loans. Or that they were blind to the presence of "silent seconds" - secon mortgages that left the homeowner with no equity in his home and thus no financial incentive not to hand the keys to the bank and walk away from it. Every time some smart Wall Street mortgage bond packager discovered another example of the rating agencies' idiocy or neglect, he had himself an edge in the marketplace: Crappier pools of loans were cheaper to buy than less crappy pools. Barbell-shaped loan pools, with lots of very low and very high FICO scores in them, were a bargain compared to pools clustered around the 615 average - at least until the rest of Wall Street caught on to the hole in the brains of the rating agencies and bid up their prices. Before that happened, the Wall Street firm enjoyed a perverse monopoly. They'd phone up an originator and say, "Don't tell anybody, but if you bring me a pool of loans teeming with high thin-file FICO scores I'll pay you more for it than anyone else." The more egregious the rating agencies' mistakes, the bigger the opportunity for the Wall Street trading desks.
The right-wing narrative has tended to blame the loan bubble either on the government (for encouraging loans to minorities, or using Freddie Mac/Fanny Mae to buy up subprime loans) or on the subprime borrowers themselves for borrowing money they had no realistic prospects of repaying. The role of Wall Street, the rating agencies, and the banks in all this is curiously absent from that narrative, except as passive victims. This passage from Lewis helps highlight how much these loans were being driven by a pure profit motive, pushed by the banks, incentivized by the Wall Street traders. The banks were actively pushing these loans to unsophisticated borrowers, incentivized by the requirements coming from Wall Street. The banks didn't care if the loans would ever get repaid as long as they could sell them to the Wall Street trading desks. The trading desks didn't care if the loans could be repaid as long as they could get their packages rated highly enough to sell the tranches off to institutional investors who trusted in their rating. The rating agencies should have cared, but they were being paid by the number of deals they rated, which favored quick, simple, and potentially exploitable models over more involved due diligence. And hardly anybody wanted to look too closely at all this as long as the money kept rolling in.

(Further note: Lewis has a new book coming out on high-speed trading that was excerpted here.)

Heebie's take: Wait, do we have several Dave Ws too? What is going on in this world.


 

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Bad Design

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 04.02.14

I love these, probably more than they warrant. I love how they're tastefully photographed. Classical music is probably playing in the background. (This song.)

Somehow they remind me of those anti-jokes, like the priest and the rabbi who enter a bar and have a meaningful conversation about their philosophical differences, and leave with a deeper appreciation for the other's worldview.

The badly designed products aren't anti-jokes, so maybe the two have nothing in common except my amusement.


 

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At least I feel fine.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 04.01.14

Growing up, I knew people were allergic to cats or kiwi or something, and I had no allergies, and that was that.

When I moved to Austin, I learned that everyone has pollen allergies (except me!) and if you live here long enough, you will definitely develop pollen allergies (except me!)

In the fourteen years since, I've learned that the entire country has pollen allergies, including my hometown. Has something changed?
Possibilities:
1. Everyone always had pollen allergies, but kids didn't complain very vociferously around me when I was younger.
2. Everyone used to suppress their complaints, but then it became a thing to talk about allergies and we all gained shared comraderie. Pollen counts are the new weather.
3. Not so many people used to suffer, but climate change has made the pollen worse.
4. Not so many people used to suffer, but people are now developing allergies at higher rates because corporate greed.
5. Not so many people are currently suffering, but many more people are now giant whiners.

So what is it?


 

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Privilege

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 04.01.14

Last night, I participated in a conversation on privilege with about 20 undergraduates. It was split about 1/3 white, 1/3 hispanic, and 1/3 black. The small group that I was in was mostly white. My group was pretty comfortable acknowledging that privilege exists, but focused on "so what's a white person to do? I guess nothing." The other two groups kept circling around messages of personal ambition being the key, and believing in yourself, and that sort of thing (to the chagrin of the highly thoughtful other faculty and staff in these groups).

Afterwards, I was talking with another faculty member who advises the black student organization, and he described that when a student comes in to his office, upset and describing a racial injustice, he has to be very careful to help the student focus on what they can control about the situation - "you'll have to work twice as hard" sorts of message - lest the student otherwise descend into a tailspin and begin to fall apart in the face of the ways that the deck is stacked against them. On separate occasions he wants to grow their understanding of systematic racial injustice - but in the moment that the student is having a crisis, he has to return a sense of control back to them.

On the one hand, you want the student to be aware of reality, and have some anger and drive to fight on the side of good. On the other hand, you don't want the student to be crushed by that same knowledge. It's tricky business.


 

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Aid

Posted by Ogged
on 04.01.14

This is by a lawyer, so it's probably full of lies, but if it's not, it's a very clear explanation of both what's involved in the American college financial aid process, and what's wrong with it.


 

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Preach

Posted by Ogged
on 03.31.14

You don't often see the New York Times with quite this much bite.

It's hard to imagine a political spectacle more loathsome than the parade of Republican presidential candidates who spent the last few days bowing and scraping before the mighty bank account of the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

And it gets better from there. Good stuff.


 

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Making All The Difference

Posted by Ogged
on 03.31.14

I'm more thinking out loud here than making a coherent point, but as I watch the middle-class disappear and become disempowered, the immigrant and parent in me really wants my kids to make it, with making it defined very conventionally as going to good colleges, getting high-paying jobs, and feeling perfectly at home among those who feel entitled to run things. We're in a position to set them on that path, and yet, and yet...not only do I worry about the kind of people they'll become if they succeed, but the effort itself, with the high stress, homework, tests, activities, and all the rest of it, sure looks like robbing them of a happy childhood and adolescence.

We've moved to the town I grew up in. If we stay, they'll go to the schools I attended. It's a pdf, but just look at the list of activities offered at the high school. It's a school with almost 4000 students; all those clubs have members and do cool stuff--if my kids need help, the resources are there; if they're brilliant, there will be other kids just the same, and resources for them, too.

Our place is a medium-sized, workable condo; we paid a quarter of the median home price here for it. Without financial stress, we're in one of the best public school districts in the country. The kids are set.

And yet, when gswift posts pictures of the West, and when I'm standing next to Maserati douchebag--who is hardly alone in the conspicuousness of his consumption or dickishness--and when I think that my kids will fully inhabit the ethos of success in America circa 2014, I want to get far away from here, to the end of a country road, not quite as remote as our place in NM, but with space to go for walks, and play with sticks, and go to pretty good schools, and not worry about whether taking the harder Calc class will put their weighted GPA and class rank in jeopardy.

I'm not asking for help making the decision; things will shake out one way or the other, but I'd love to hear y'all's thoughts. Of the regulars, I'm pretty sure Sifu and Den. E. attended similar schools/lived in similar places growing up. It'd be great to hear from them, too.


 

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The Bidens

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 03.31.14

Joe on Jill:

"Like for example, one April Fool's Day... we get in Air Force Two, we're flying and I'm saying, 'where the hell is Jill?'" Biden said. "And I open up the baggage compartment on top, above, you know? And she jumps out of the compartment. This is the Second Lady of the United States of America jumping out of the overhead baggage compartment."

I think Jill Biden might need an Onion caricature as well.


 

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Culture of Shmuckerty

Posted by Ogged
on 03.31.14

Behind me in line yesterday at a local place was a guy around my age who had just gotten out of his Maserati. The guy in front of us took slightly longer than normal with his order, and when Maserati was done texting compulsively, he started with the muttered "Christ, come on" impatience.

That's annoying even if you've lived here all your life, but I couldn't help but contrast it with out little grocery on the rez, where someone might well take twenty minutes as they brought their stuff to the register and worked out with the cashier what was allowed per their government aid, and then decided what to replace and how much they could afford. And no one, not once, so much as looked at a watch or tapped a foot.

I'll come back to this one.


 

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Labor Classes

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 03.31.14
Michigan State University could risk losing $500,000 if it does not stop offering courses that allegedly promote unionization.
A state Senate panel approved a measure Thursday banning courses at public universities that promote or discourage organizing efforts. It's a reaction to MSU's recent decision to take over some programs from the National Labor College. Republicans say those courses violate the proposed rule.

Well this seems unreasonable.


 

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Guest Post - whoops

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 03.31.14

E. Messily writes: I love homeopathy. With other quackery or new-age cultishness, I have a relatively low threshold at which I stop finding it funny and start feeling very depressed about the state of the world. But homeopathy is so dumb that I just find it hilarious all the way no matter what.

Heebie's take: The headline alone is pretty great.


 

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