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Topics - el jefe

General Discussion / home buying advice
I'm doing this for the first time, and I'm hoping for advice.  I'll write out what I think I know.  please tell me if it's flawed or incomplete.  also, please feel free to add any other advice you have. 

my understanding of the whole thing is based mostly on the book, Home Buying For Dummies.  I've complemented that with googling specific issues for elaboration and other points of view.

we think we know what we want in a house, and roughly *where* we want it. we have a pretty good understanding of our finances and what we can really afford.  I think I have a rough but decent grasp of what the buying process looks like, overall.

here are key points I want to bounce off people


loans and lenders

mortgage brokers vs lenders:
- brokers are a mixed bag.  can save you time and headache, and generally find you a good mortgage, but you pay for it with a ~1% markup on the loan.  if you use them, be sure to look closely at them and their terms - and don't be afraid to shop around with other people while you're talking to them.  ....   because brokers are middlemen, they are charging you for something you can theoretically do yourself.   still, there are some good ones, and working with one can still be a good move.

type of loan:
fixed costs more but is nice and predictable.  ARMs, on average, will *tend* to save you money, IF you budget properly to handle changes in rates and payments.

DO NOT use an ARM just to get a bigger loan than you can qualify for with a fixed.  set your loan amount based on what you can afford with a fixed.

in general, remember what you qualify for =/= what you can afford

pay a little more now, to pay a lot less long term.  seems like a no-brainer.


house status

foreclosure, at auction:
don't touch, if you're not an expert.  these are a legal and financial minefield.  possibly a good deal, but very high risk.  don't think of doing it unless you are a professional flipper / investor or someone who knows what they are doing, not just wrt repairs and inspecting, but also legally and financially.

foreclosure, owned by bank:
avoids most of the dangers with auction foreclosures.  but the prices tend to be competitive with non-distressed houses.  so typically not much of a bargain.

possibly a good deal, but complex and time-consuming.  also there is a risk of wasting a large investment of time, if a buyer with a better offer scoops you.

can be a good deal, IF you have a reliable ability to judge what needs to be done and are realistic about what it will cost in time and money.  people, especially newbs, tend to grossly underestimate both.

for sale by owner:
possible great deal that cuts out middlemen, and which some realtors won't show you.  trade offs are possibly messier negotiations or stingey sellers

realtors and agents

contrary to popular belief, the buyer's agent doesn't work for the buyer.  they are paid by the seller.  and they make more, the higher the price the buyer pays.  laws, the need to get you to agree to the deal, and the need for good referrals will tend to discourage them from blatantly backstabbing the buyers.  also, they do a lot of important and annoying work for you, behind the scenes.  but they do have significant conflicts of interest.  and in subtle ways they can screw the buyer out of thousands of dollars, e.g. by not advising you well in negotiations, by tipping off the seller than you're in a hurry or have your heart set on the house (thus weakening your negotiating position), or by rushing you to finish the deal.

certainly don't work with agents who have relationships with the sellers or sellers agents.

minimize these conflicts of interest by getting an exclusive buyer's agent.  this is someone with a written guarantee that they have no relationships with sellers, sellers' agents, brokers, etc., and promises to work in your best interest.

house prices

highest in summer, lowest in winter.  slow but generally steady gain over the long term (2008 notwithstanding).  but levels and trends are very region-specific.

individual houses typically go on the market significantly higher than what they end up selling for.  obviously asks will be higher than bids.  but also many sellers start off very unrealistic, and need time to learn what the market thinks their house is really worth.  thus, some houses for sale are "ripe" and some are not.  amount of time on market is a rough guide, though some sellers start off realistic, and others stay in denial for a year or more.

bidding and under contract

be as informed as possible at every step.  take a hard look at comps, appraisals, inspections, and terms.  make sure you're satisfied with accuracy and understand what's in all of them.

negotiations are a complex, stressful, and scary process.  be patient, punctual, and diligent.  be assertive, but not unreasonable.  don't fail to empathize with the seller, if only to have a good understanding of the situation.  but never be totally afraid to walk away.


then, what?

once you have bought the house, turn around and sell it for twice what you paid.  if no one wants to buy it, then raise the price higher.  say it's just going to keep getting higher and higher if they don't BUY NOW.  next, try yelling at them to buy your house.  keep yelling louder and louder until they buy it.  eventually i assume someone will have had enough and buy your house at a ridiculous markup.  the perfect crime.
first he was defending Cohen on air, without disclosing that he was a client of Cohen's.  now this.

he's been caught plugging a HUD program, without disclosing to the audience that he has been using it to get rich.
Politics and Current Events / Americans are idiots
or rather, here's an additional reason to think so

The survey also found that 74 percent of respondents believe in a "deep state" when it is described as a collection of unelected officials running policy. Twenty-one percent said they do not believe this kind of group exists.
nyt opinion piece on cleaning up the ethical and normative mess after trump is gone
Science / uncool / cold one call out thread
trying to teach myself QFT here.  still early days.   a few questions....

should I picture a Fock space as an infinite triangular matrix in some kind of fucked up outer product with a Hilbert space?  i.e., the first column is 1-particle states, and has only one nonzero element.  the second column has two nonzero elements, for the states of each of two particles.  etc.  and corresponding to every element of the matrix is an entire copy of the Hilbert space.  so there's sort of a third index for the eigenfunctions of the space, or something like that.

why does every book on QFT make you learn the klein-gordon and Dirac equations after acknowledging they were both wrong/flawed?
Politics and Current Events / dubya uncensored

fwiw, here's his take on the idea that Cheney and/or rumsfeld secretly pulled the strings
"The fact that there was any doubt in anyone's mind about who the president was blows my mind," adding that Cheney and Rumsfeld "didn't make one fucking decision."

eta: I've decided that politico is good at getting candid interviews out of retired republicans
Arts and Entertainment / blacklist
RIP Dembe :(
Politics and Current Events / this 401(k) shit
so, as part of their tax "reform" bill, the gop is considering sharply lowering the annual contribution cap for 401(k)s

fyi for non-americans: 401(k)s are a tax shelter for retirement savings which are commonly used by the middle class.  people plan their lives around them.

I long assumed 401(k)s would be safe from political shenanigans, because there would be blood in the streets if congress touched them.  but the gop is talking itself into largely eliminating the middle class's main vehicle for retirement savings.  though in retrospect, I guess it makes some sense that they found themselves here.

as a bedrock principle, they want to cut taxes for rich people and big business.  it is the main purpose of the republican party.  however, enough of their members still insist on a balanced budget, that they have to pay for the lost tax revenue, somehow.  so they claim the tax cuts will pay for themselves through the magic of dynamic scoring, but too many of their own members don't buy it, given the history of such claims not panning out. 

so they could try spending cuts.  however, none of the options work.  they sort of realize that cutting rich people's taxes and paying for it with cuts to entitlement would be politically risky, so too many of them don't want to do that.  defense is a magical special area that it would be unpatriotic to cut; spending 10 times the rest of the world put together would be irresponsible when we have the option of spending 20 times as much.  and non-defense discretionary has already been cut so deep during the tea party years, that even tea partiers on the appropriations committees were starting to push back and say this is getting ridiculous.

thus, by process of elimination, they have talked themselves into paying for their tax cuts for rich people and big business by mostly closing a middle class tax shelter.

this is so dumb and obviously perverse, both as policy and politics, that I have to think they won't actually do it.  that they are even considering it shows desperation, I think.  I smell the same desperate, flailing stupidity that led to crap like skinny repeal of the aca and reasoning like "here, pass this garbage bill now - we promise we'll fix it later."
- they tried (and possibly succeeded) at influencing our election, in multiple ways. 

- they seem to have sketchy connections with our president and his friends. 

- they are friendly with a new nationalist movement that has upended our politics. 

- they have apparently hacked the shit out of US government information systems, often by coming in the front door with Kaspersky Antivirus software

- and now we're hearing that they bought (or at least tried to buy) half our uranium industry


what.  the.  fuck.

what is going on here?  how did this happen?

first I'd heard of this effort

I had thought that criminal justice reform was dead, despite popular support and a broad coalition of congresspeople, behind it, including republicans of both the moderate and libertarian flavors, because trump is strangely against it.  I guess with crime at record lows we need to get tougher than ever.

but no, they're going ahead with this.  and if it it passes with big enough majorities, they can govern around trump whether he vetoes it or not.
until now, I haven't bothered learning enough about public education to know what to look for in public schools.  but, now that I am a father and may be moving in the near future, I want to know what to think of the whole topic.  looking especially for opinions of parents and any educators here.

I don't even have a clear sense of what good education is.  (though I do know there's no consensus on it).  I know there are a few things I want to avoid:  obviously no veiled creationism or "climate skeptic" propaganda, and no christian sermons during sex ed.  also, obviously, I don't want a school where the teachers are idiots who don't understand their own subject matter and/or can't explain things to save their lives.  ....  I think I want schools that are "ranked" or "rated" highly, though I'm not sure, because I don't know what any ratings or rankings are based on and whether it really makes sense to go by all that.

what should I look for in a public school?

what constitutes "good" education?

what metrics or resources are good to rely on for judging schools?  and why?

are there any rude awakenings or surprise issues that come with choosing schools that you wish you were warned about ahead of time?

are private schools better?  are they worth the cost?  what about montessori schools?

is there any merit to the whole charter school thing?  or is it just politically - inspired garbage? (i.e., the latest gimmick for creationists to teach their pseudoscience with public money, and/or conservative market worship)

any help is appreciated.
first question:

is the theory of linkages taken seriously?

serious researchers mainly use tree and wave models, because the epistemology behind them is most solid, and you need that solidity because reconstructing prehistoric languages is so uncertain and difficult to test, it necessarily borders on pseudoscience.  however, both models have inherent limitations and are known to be too simple to capture some observed phenomena.  so people start with tree and/or wave, and then deal with remaining issues (borrowing, typological reasonability, etc.) on an ad hoc basis.

I get the sense people recognize the need for something that does what linkages try to do, but I am guessing are super cautious about any particular idea.  ....  so how are linkages seen?  serious business?  "lol pseudoscience"?  ok, but flawed?  promising, but people need more time to digest the idea?  never heard of them?
Arts and Entertainment / puff the magic dragon
is poignant af

that is all
yes, it's still 18 months away, but we do have some tentative early evidence of how it will go

no, not the polls.  they may look good for the democrats atm, but they really are meaningless this far out.

I'm talking about the lay of the land:  retirements, recruitments, redistricting, and which offices are up for election. 

there is a self-fulfilling dynamic that takes place with recruitments in particular.  if it is perceived that one party is likely to do well, then they will be better able to recruit the best candidates for various offices.  if the party isn't expected to do well, the best people will not want to waste time and reputation on a losing race, and the party will be stuck with non-name losers.  well, the perception so far this cycle is that the democrats will probably do at least ok, if not well.  and, accordingly, they are currently crushing the gop at the recruitments game.


the gop enters this cycle with its senate majority probably safe, because the democrats are defending a large number of vulnerable seats, compared with only 1 or 2 vulnerable republicans.  however, the gop has largely failed to recruit good candidates to run against the vulnerable democrats.  that will probably translate into a loss of some seats for them.  we've seen time and again with senate races that the candidates matter, and a shitty one can very easily blow a winnable race.  it's not just about the letter next to their name.


the republicans start with a bigger majority in this chamber, percentagewise.  however, they don't have the same structural advantage they have in the senate, since all house seats are up for election.  the democrats are killing them in recruitments here, like in the senate.  the gop has 8 retirements so far, to the democrats' 4 (though it looks like only one of each is a competitive district).  lastly, the courts have recently struck down three republican gerrymanders, in wisconsin, texas, and alabama.  don't know the details, but if compliant maps are drawn in time, that could lead to a gain of another seat or two.


lastly, there is the historic tendency for the party not in the white house to gain seats during the midterms.  it is not a hard rule; it's had exceptions.  and it seems to benefit republicans more than democrats (gop voters are better about still showing up).  moreover as a line of evidence, it is not totally independent of the points above, and is somewhat already reflected in them.  that said, it still bolsters the case.

in conclusion, the democrats are headed for catastrophic losses in both the house and the senate, not to mention governors' mansions and state legislatures.  guapo's odds: 100%
Arts and Entertainment / the leftovers
anyone else watching this?

I was iffy first season.  couldn't decide whether I liked it.   but something made me keep watching.  it really grew on me second season.  loved the season 2 finale.

now we're on the 3rd and final season.  had been intrigued like second season.  but this most recent episode really pissed me off, on multiple levels.  with only a few episodes left, all this better pay off.

the clean power plan (CPP) is obama's carbon dioxide regulation regime, which significantly restricts emissions from power plants, the source of more than 1/3 of US carbon emissions.  it is far and away the biggest effort ever made by the US to curb CO2 emissions.  obama issued the regulations under statutory authority granted by a creative but defensible interpretation of the clean air act. 

(important footnote: their argument relies on something called Chevron deference, which is a precedent saying roughly that, where the law granting authority to issue regulations is ambiguous, the executive gets the broadest authority consistent with the law.)

a few days after the rules were finalized, in august 2015, a bunch of coal companies and hillbilly states sued the EPA, saying the regulations are illegal and need to be struck down.  then in February 2016, the supreme court granted a stay preventing the rules from going into effect before a lower court rules on the merits.  (this was one of the last votes cast by a certain ideological fatass justice, who couldn't have died a week earlier for the good of the planet.)  in September 2016, a circuit court (middle tier of federal court system) heard oral arguments in the case, en banc.  we are still awaiting their decision, which could come any day.

then of course we were all stunned at the result of the general election, the winner of which was an anti-science climate conspiracist who plans to rescind the CPP.  worse yet, he appointed a fossil fuel industry shill (pruitt) to head the EPA.  worser yet, his appointee to replace the dead ideological fatass on the supreme court is openly opposed to the Chevron precedent that the CPP relies on.  worstest yet, climate "skeptics" now make up both sides of the pending lawsuit against the CPP, which gives them a lot of possible approaches to throwing the suit to the plaintiffs and thereby scrapping the regulations.


but it's not over yet.  the CPP cannot be simply and immediately disappeared by any course of action over which the administration has total control.

we are still waiting on the circuit court ruling.  they are probably going to rule (given how long they've spent chewing on it), and they are expected to rule in favor of the defense (even if said defense is now trying to lose) because the court is 7-3 democratic appointees, thus upholding the rules and allowing them to go into effect.  the trump administration could have, on day 1, filed a motion called a voluntary remand, basically saying the defense gives up and will rewrite the rule.  however, they curiously have not done that (incompetence?), and it is considered unlikely the circuit court would grant such a motion now at this late stage.  ....  if, as expected, the defense wins and the rules survive (for the moment), the plaintiffs will probably appeal to the supreme court.  I am guessing a voluntary remand by the administration is still a legal possibility at the supreme court as well, but iiuc scotus would have to agree to hear the case first.  and scotus could easily decline to hear the case, especially since there would already be a full en banc circuit ruling.  also, the administration could neglect to make the motion, for whatever reason they neglected to do it at the circuit court level.  or, they could make the motion, and the supreme court could simply dismiss it, if they feel the case is important enough and needs their input.  and, having dismissed the motion, they could conceivably rule in favor of the defendants (despite their best efforts to lose, lol), if, e.g., Kennedy decides saving the planet is more important than coal company profits.

the other big development happening right now is that trump and pruitt are beginning the process of rescinding the CPP.  this will not be quick or easy for them.  the law requires that they go through the same pain-in-the-ass formal procedure that obama had to go through to issue the CPP in the first place.  it will take at least a year, and can and will be tied up by law suits from activists, probably stretching it to several years.  with some luck, trump might be out of office and replaced by a democrat before the courts are done.

interestingly, they are not (yet) planning to go after the endangerment finding that underpins the CPP in the first place.  back in 2009, at the beginning of obama's term, the EPA formally determined that CO2 is a pollutant that endangers public health.  having made that determination, they have since been obligated by statute to regulate it.  reportedly, pruitt does not plan to try to reverse the endangerment finding, but to interpret it differently than obama's EPA administrator did, such that CO2 endangers public health when it comes from tailpipes, but not when it comes from smoke stacks....?  (seems nonsensical, but not surprising from an antiscientific shithead.  hopefully they legally commit themselves to this argument before someone explains to them how stupid it is.)  well, that would be subject to law suits over whether it "regulates co2", and if pruitt and trump lose, they'll have to rewrite the rule and make it legitimately better in some way 

pruitt didn't want to go after the endangerment finding itself, because he saw too many legal pitfalls.  they would have to go through a lengthy formal process for that as well.  assuming they could get career EPA scientists to say in writing "nevermind, CO2 is fine!  climate change is not a problem after all!", that new finding would still be subject to lawsuits.  and climate deniers are extra dumb if they welcome the prospect of putting climate science itself on trial.  it will force the federal courts to more or less unanimously say they're wrong.  even many conservative judges will be like "look, the courts run on evidence.  they have a lot.  you have none."  they will get humiliated much like the creationists.

btw, pruitt is getting flack from the climate conspiracists over this decision.  he's not being aggressive enough for them.  they want a full court press attacking every part of the CPP and its legal foundation.  they are also accusing him of slacking off and being more concerned with possibly running for the senate in oklahoma.


anyway, several unknown variables and moving parts here.  there are plenty of ways trump and pruitt could still screw up their attempt to undo the CPP.

I had never heard of this before.  I was about the right age (5) when they aired, and I did watch a lot of Mr Rogers when I was little.  so, it's very possible I watched one or more of these episodes and the political significance went over my head.

update to that ^^ blog post:  YouTube took down the two videos.  however, someone else reposted one of them, and if hasn't been taken down yet:

the swipes at reagan are clear and awesome swiftian satire.  the good stuff is about 15:00 to 23:45.

if true, this is highly wtf

I'm sure the spin will be "he was just kidding around, lighten up!" and "i'm sure it was in no way meant to intimidate Williams as punishment for just having argued with him on air".  it's a basic rule of gun safety: don't point it at anything you don't plan to kill.
- obama accomplishes the old progressive goal of (near) universal health insurance coverage, but does it by enacting a bill that borrows so heavily from old republican proposals that the left barely recognizes it.  still, it buys insurance for a lot of working class people, and makes insurance accessible for the first time for a lot of high-risk patients.
- for 7 years, the gop ran around in circles, screaming that obamacare was (somehow) the end of the world and had to be repealed or omg we're all going to die omg omg.
- trump surprises everyone by first winning the gop nomination then the fucking general election.  during the campaign he said he wanted to repeal the ACA, but also repeatedly made confusing comments suggesting he'd replace it with... single payer?  that of course is far to the left of the aca, and is what the left wanted all along before settling for the aca.
- ryan, mcconnel, and republicans of both establishment and tea party persuasion all said "yay trump", and then promptly ignored his health care comments, pledging to repeal the aca and replace it with a lecture about self-reliance and the magic of the free market.
- the same congressional republicans rolled out their aca replacement proposal, which, sure enough, replaces the aca mostly with a lecture about self-reliance and the magic of the free market, but with a sort of tapering off of public assistance for poor people, rather than an immediate cut.
- it is instantly rejected by more than enough republican senators to kill it, both on the right and the left.  and their positions on the subsidy cuts appear irreconcilable.
- the white house and congressional leadership get to work trying to sell the bill and ram it through congress as quickly as possible.
- iirc, gunnerj hates bullet points

that brings us up to speed

here's the new development I find interesting.  it appears all their efforts to pick up votes are aimed at moderates and even democrats.  they are possibly even writing off the tea party.  here is what has happened after the initial resistance to the bill:

- they've softened the subsidy cuts further, and actually made the tax credit semi-refundable (which means it actually helps people who weren't making enough to owe taxes in the first place)
- trump met with a couple democrats who want to negotiate drugs prices more rationally and straight up endorsed their proposal
- was it true that gunnerj hates bullet points, or did I confuse him with someone else?
- after initially telling the tea partiers he was ok with speeding up the medicaid roll back, trump has now backed away from it

nothing here should be construed as suggesting anything about this repeal bill isn't terrible, it's all just to analyze their strategy.  I find it interesting that they are possibly tacking centerward, a little bit.  I don't know if it helps them, though.  they will lose the tea party for sure, and I don't think they'll pick up any democrats, and probably not enough moderate republicans to offset the likely losses on the right.

what they might try to do is this: push a tea party bill through the house, and a more moderate one through the senate.  (though both are tall orders).  then the conference committee will work out a compromise that one or both of the tea party and the moderates not only dislike but find unacceptable, and then send it back for quick votes in both houses and hope everyone just sort of goes along with it.

why might that work?   supposedly, it is the case that people are often willing to vote for conference bills after voting against the initial bill.  the logic I've heard is that voters are dumb, so voting against the original bill allows them to tell the voters back home that they "voted against it", but voting for it in the final vote delivers for leadership and the president where it counts.  however, I am guessing the extent to which congresspeople attempt that two-facedness depends on factors like how closely the legislation is being watched, how much they care about the given issue, and why they care about it (to please voters?  to do a favor for interests?  honestly giving a shit?).   ....   however, those factors don't bode well for the bill in this case.  EVERYONE is watching this.  and say what you want about the tea party, but they are wide-eyed zealots who want to kill the aca completely as well as every dime of public assistance more generally, and will vote like they mean it.
hopefully someone here is a structural engineer or knows one or at least knows something about the topic.

my parents' house is having issues with the load - bearing basement walls.  the wall has a protruding (convex) corner, which supports one of the main I-beams supporting the entire house.  the corner is bowing inward and cracked.  obviously, this is really serious and needs to be dealt with asap.

based on some googling, foundation wall anchors seem like a reasonable and cost-effective solution.  but here are the structural engineer questions...

1) will foundation anchors be good enough, given that the portion of wall in question is not just a foundation wall, but in particular supports a major I-beam?

2) my dad (who's being a little irrational, imo) is worried that if he has an engineer come and look at the house, he might condemn it on the spot (based only on this one, apparently fixable foundation problem?).  is this a realistic concern?

any help is appreciated.  my parents have very little retirement savings but they do have this house.  their retirement plan is to sell the house, move into something much smaller, and live off the proceeds.
this is a 33 year old discussion hosted by some Columbia law professor, discussing powers and decision making in regard to covert ops and conduct of war.  it is part of a series.

it's impressive in that they got several relatively big names to attend, from all three branches of government, including a former president (ford).  some has-beens, some rising stars with their careers ahead of them.

curiously, despite the closeness in time (< 10 years later), relevance of some of the material, and the presence in the room of several watergate players, the topic of Watergate never comes up.  guessing it was on people's minds but too soon and too sore a topic.

also, this discussion was oddly prescient in several ways, because president reagan was soon (if not already) abusing many of the powers discussed.
says they are bad and have to stop.  (which is somehow a controversial statement).  in a break with longstanding US practice, obama refrained from using our veto to protect them.

next someone should also bring a resolution to the floor giving Palestine full membership status, essentially giving them recognition as a state, as far as the UN is concerned.  and obama should not veto that either.
can't find a thing for it