Texas Adopts New Social Studies Curriculum

I love being from Texas. The state has no income tax and it seems Texas politicians are always doing something to keep me entertained. Take their latest handy work, for instance. The Texas Education Board approved a new social studies curriculum that makes the following changes:

  • No longer requires students to learn about Thomas Jefferson. Instead, they now need to learn about John Calvin and Thomas Aquinas.
  • No longer requires students to learn that the US Government prohibits favoring one religion over another. Instead, the students are to learn the religious inspiration behind many of the American founders (except, I suppose, Jefferson).
  • Learn about Israeli leader Golda Meir.
  • And how the erosion of the US Dollar has occurred ever since we abandoned the gold standard.

Fortunately, Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is not part of Social Studies. I can only thank my lucky stars for that one. Texas politics is driven by religion, at least, it always was in my lifetime. Republicans (who dominate the state’s politics) always seems to try to prove how close to Godliness they are by using the power of the state to attempt to create God’s Kingdom on Earth. Strangely, of the religious friends I have, none of them really seem to favor these politician moves. Texas may be religious, but it also has a strong tradition of saying, “To each, his own.” Continue reading Texas Adopts New Social Studies Curriculum

The Politics of Market Research

Back in 2006, I was working fairly closely with my mother’s company, Market Research Dallas and that included attending Market Research conventions. The Southwest Market Research Association (SWMRA) always meet in Las Vegas around March or so, and, being a gambler at heart, I was always more than happy to attend this conference. Melissa Pepper of Tammadge Market Research in Austin recommended that we have a round table discussion of the book, Applebee’s America. So I read it.

The basic thesis of the book is that American’s tend to organize themselves into groups that hold a similar lifestyle and “gut values” (a term which the authors return to ad nauseam through every aggravating chapter) and that 90% of the people in these groups are sheep which will look to the leaders of these lifestyle oriented cliques to learn (according to the book):

  • Where they should live
  • What products they should use
  • And who they should vote for

The book reeks of the typical business book whereby most traditional business processes like customer relations are suddenly reinvented in the author’s particular paradigm to become never before seen concepts that sound amazing, but, upon reflection, are really just a slick repackaging of the same ideas. The book comes back to the term “Gut Values Connection” over and over again as the way to build customer relations, and by that it means that what you do is not as important to people as what you stand for. The book goes into explicit detail of George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election strategy and boils it down to the idea that the majority of Americans disagreed with Bush’s decisions, but that he was able to win American’s over by what he stood for in their minds.

The book recounts a number of conversations between people who seem to have voted for Bush despite not agreeing with the War on Terror or his fiscal policies because his campaign presented him as a straight-forward and simple man of principle as opposed to Kerry who was a elitist flip-flopper. The also recount a number of other conversations about people who voted for Bush simply because they wanted to belong with the group their neighbors belonged to (i.e. The Republicans) and voting for Bush allowed them to do that in their minds.

Of course, I hated Bush then and I hate him now. I had a difficult time reading accounts of Americans who voted for him either just because everyone else was or because his marketing presented him as a trustworthy guy when any close scrutiny of his administration’s policies as compared to his campaign pledges or his willingness to simply lie to get the country behind him made me want to pull my hair out. The book confirmed for me again and again that Americans were sheep who were being lead to the slaughter, but I’m now recounting this book, not as someone who is disgusted with American politics, but someone who is interested in marketing.

In essence, this book says to that how you appear to people is far more important than how you actually are; a truism that’s nothing new to marketing. But it gives different reasons than the traditional marketing textbook. According to them, it’s not your advertising or your product that determines whether you win or lose but how you relate to the community you’re trying to serve and how the image you project intersects with their core values. Their other primary example is Applebee’s restaurant which grew to dominate the casual dining business despite the fact that their food continually rated behind their competitors. They did this by building relationships with their surrounding community by doing things such as:

  • Putting plaques and trophies of the local little league sports team in the restaurant
  • Putting up pictures of their regular customers by the tables they liked to sit at
  • And endeavoring to learn the quirky preferences of their customers and make them feel at home by having their quirky preferences on hand when they arrived. (The example from the book was the Coronatini, a Corona beer served with olives, that a customer always ordered and how hard the Applebees worked to ensure that it always had olives ready, to the point of driving to the local grocery when they saw him arrive).

The disconnectedness of modern Americans is what the book keeps coming back to. Applebee’s was able to grow is restaurant business despite having worse food than its competitors by giving them a place to feel connected to their community. Similarly, megachurchs (which the book also spends a good deal of time on) allow for small groups to form which engender a sense of belonging and shared values. If one can appeal to these communities and their shared values, then one can win over the consumers despite having a less than stellar offering.

Furthermore, the book argues that roughly one in ten members of these communities tell the other nine how to think, what to buy, and who to vote for and that Bush’s 2004 re-election was made possible only by reaching out the these “navigators” and turning them onto George Bush. Finding and communicating with these navigators then (according to them anyway) is the key to controlling the members of a given community and, thereby, the key to controlling the nation. Therefore, according to the book, to gain ultimate control of the nations populace all one has to do is monitor the consumptive trends of certain demographic groups, use market research to find out what these demographics “gut values” are, and maintain a dialogue with the various group’s navigators. Given that this is an extremely market research intensive process, it’s little wonder we were reading it as part of a market research conference.

The predictions of this book have not been borne out by later events. At least, not for the Republicans. Applebee’s Ameican says that the Republicans had a huge lead on the Democrats in terms of using their “life targeting” techniques to identify navigators and in different cultural niches and that the Democrats would have to catch up or be left behind. However, D Magazine reported that the Republicans faired very poorly in the 2006 election despite (or perhaps because of) their dependance on this new way of thinking. Election consultants said that the North Texas Republican efforts were “too fancy” and that it cost them a lot of positions to the Democrats.

Of course, I’m going to assume that the authors of Applebee’s America would say that this is simply because the Republican party was no longer making a “gut values connection” with voters anymore, but the horror stories of Republican door-to-door vote canvassers who were finding a hostile audience of non-Republicans who “kicked them off their driveways and yelled at them.” That indicates a fundamental disconnect between the people that they were trying to reach and the people whose doors they were ringing, and that would indicate a flawed methodology.

Is Obama Misplaying His Hand?

Kevin, good friend and loyal blog reader, recently posed me this question:

I was reading the May 6th issue of _Cardplayer_ magazine today, and Roy Cooke’s column, which always sports excellent advice, had this quote about Limit Hold-Em:

“The larger the pot and the greater the risk you are taking, the less you should try to obtain extra bets and the more you should focus on playing your hand in a manner to win the pot with as little risk taken as possible.”

I thought that was superb advice, since taking any large hit to your stack is actually meaningful, whereas you can afford to take several small hits and continue on your way.

Then, I suddenly got chills up my spine, and thought, what if Obama’s overplaying his hand? I know the economy *seems* like a No-Limit game when the government (especially the Feds) has your money, but it’s really closer to Limit poker than it is to NL [As an example of a No-Limit Hold-Em government game, think cold-war military spending in the ’80s, and S.D.I. as the all-in move. Thank G-d Russia folded.]

“The larger the pot and the greater the risk” — sounds like a bajillion-dollar already-failing business bailout, doesn’t it? “The less you should try to obtain extra bets” — such as Nationalized Health Care — “and the more you should focus on playing your hand in a manner to win the pot” — a healthy United States economy — “with as little risk taken as possible” — such as giving a bajillion dollars to prop-up already-failing businesses instead of giving every taxpaying adult in this country a $17,000 tax rebate? Imagine all the cars that we’d be buying from those now-failing Detroit businesses if we all had $17,000 in our pockets! Imagine all the companies now in financial distress that Bank of America wouldn’t be allowed to buy! And the $17,000 play would definitely minimize O’s risk, since it would correct the economy (at least for now), guarantee his party’s dominance in the elections a year-and-a-half from now, and almost certainly set him up for the final table (his second term as President). That’d be playing your hand, O. My advice: Don’t give up your day job.


Just so people understand the poker principle at work, the idea is that sometimes you should play your hand differently than math would dictate to add deception as to what you have. However, as the size of the pot grows, deception loses its value in comparison to playing a strong hand in a straight forward way in order to win the pot since the value of a large pot begins to outweigh the value of additional money won through deception.

The analogy is a bit stretched here, because we’re not talking about Obama being deceptive per se. Rather Kevin is saying that saving the American economy is of tremendous importance and Obama should not waste precious time and effort trying to get pet projects approved. This is true. However, it also highlights an classic area where our elected officials have a significantly different interest than the citizenry. For citizens, political crises are caused by disruption and are to be avoided if possible. For politicians, political crises are their opportunity to pass far reaching laws that expand the scope of their purview. “Never waste a crisis,” as the saying goes. In this regard, Obama is acting like you’d expect a Socialist politician to act; he’s using the crisis to pass his agenda.

In terms of ending this recession, Obama’s actions are doomed to fail. Kevin is correct in pointing out that the bailout bill of $17,000 per adult would be far better spent as a tax rebate then as a bailout given in the form of a loan or an equity share in auto companies. Of course, it would be better still if the government did the opposite of Keynes’s advice and began to cut spending altogether rather than expand it, but austerity has fallen out of fashion in government circles. Cutting back on spending was a tried and true method for restarting a stalled economy from time immemorial, and a method that has an unparalleled level of success.

Spending our way out of a deficit, unfortunately, has very little to show for itself in terms of ending recessions. It didn’t end America’s Great Depression of the 1930s, nor did it end Japan’s ongoing depression. It really has very little in terms of economic history to suggest that it will work at all. To return to the poker analogy, this seems like the kind of self-destructive behavior you see losing players engage in all the time: they make plays they shouldn’t make, but feel they’re a good player despite never having seriously studied the game and being a consistent loser at it. Sadly, we the taxpayers have decided to stake this losing player with as much money as he needs. No one would be foolish enough to do this in the poker world, but that’s why government is such a wonderful invention- it allows us to collectively act far dumber than any one individual ever would.

Former Bush Administration Officials Shameless in Defending Torture

I’m amazed, but somehow the former Bush Administration still has the power to piss me off. Back when Bush was in office, the official word was that American didn’t use torture. Except that Bush officials gave a bit of a wink and a nod when the topic came up and Bush himself added a signing statement to the anti-torture bill saying, in effect, “It’s only torture if we say it is.”

Now that Barack Obama has released official memoranda that show that we were, in fact, engaged in torture, two former Bush Administration officials have come out in opposition to the release. From Bloomberg:

But in an editorial in The Wall Street Journal, former CIA director Michael Hayden and former attorney general Michael Mukasey charged that disclosure of the memos “was unnecessary as a legal matter, and is unsound as a matter of policy.”

We can always count on the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page to be the mouthpiece of whatever BS the Neo-Conservatives want to heap onto us next. Continue reading Former Bush Administration Officials Shameless in Defending Torture

Murder-Suicide Rates on the Rise as Economy Slumps

You may have noticed some stories lately about entire families being wiped out by the husband. Just today I saw a story in Alabama where the husband killed his wife, daughter, and two others. This story might have reminded you of some others recently, such as a music teacher in Florida (killed himself plus three), or the executive MBA in California (killed himself plus five). Based on nothing more than circumstance, I’d say that this economic downturn has caused a dramatic increase in murder-suicides among family members. But the scientist in me demands that I find someone else who observes the same link, so here’s the Christian Science Monitor to tell us:

On a broader level, however, such incidents may be happening more often because an increasing number of Americans feel desperate pressure from job losses and other economic hardship, criminologists say.
“Most of these mass killings are precipitated by some catastrophic loss, and when the economy goes south, there are simply more of these losses,” says Jack Levin, a noted criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston.
Direct correlation between economic cycles and homicides is difficult to prove, cautions Shawn Bushway, a criminologist at the University at Albany in New York. But an economic downturn of this breadth and depth hasn’t been seen since data began to be collected after World War II, he also points out. “This is not the average situation,” Mr. Bushway says.
Still, criminologists do say that certain kinds of violent crimes have risen during specific economic downturns. The recession in the early 1990s “saw a dramatic increase in workplace violence committed by vengeful ex-workers who decided to come back and get even with their boss and their co-workers through the barrel of an AK-47,” Mr. Levin says.
And in the midst of this downturn, one study released Monday in Florida finds a link between domestic violence and economic tragedies like job loss and foreclosures. The Sunshine State saw an almost 40 percent jump in demand for domestic-violence centers, an increase related to the state of the economy, the study says. George Sheldon, secretary of Florida’s Department of Children and Families, calls the situation “the worst I’ve seen in years,” according to the Associated Press. Continue reading Murder-Suicide Rates on the Rise as Economy Slumps

“The Dollar Sucks!” Says China’s Central Bank

Increasingly various Chinese sources have been going on about their dollar woes. A year ago it was just an academic. Freedom of expression is a limited commodity in totalitarian China, so if you see an academic coming out making statements critical of China’s trading partner you can probably surmise that that message is coming from higher up’s in China’s chain of command. Having a lesser known academic figure make the statement was a way to distance the criticism from the official channels.

But that kind of subtle criticism didn’t seem to have made much of an impact. In fact, we spent the next year attempting to solve every round of bad news by borrowing or printing more money. Last month, the Premier himself said that he was concerned about the value of his country’s investment in the US Dollar. No longer relying in mere academic to hurl criticism, the Chinese wanted us to know on no uncertain terms that they were starting to get a little peeved. We responded to that proclamation by having Helicopter Ben print up $200 Billion or so and start buying US Treasuries- the highest form of inflationary money printing there is.

Now, China’s pissed. “How pissed?” you ask. So pissed that their central bank just came out and called for a new reserve currency. Having the central bank of your major trading partner and holder of close to $2 trillion in your country’s debt come out and call for a new currency to replace yours is not usually considered a good sign. It’s a bit like taking a woman out on a date and having her say that she would very much like to have children someday… with someone who is almost completely unlike you. Rocky times are clearly ahead for this relationship.

But you wouldn’t know that by looking at the US Stock market. Both the Dow and the NASDAQ were up 6.8% today. Continue reading “The Dollar Sucks!” Says China’s Central Bank

Gold Mining or Gold Bullion for 2009?

Given the massive amount of money being pumped into the global economic system, higher prices down the road are a given. It’s possible that prices may fall in the short term, but no currency can withstand a determined onslaught by its own central bank and national government for long. I consider gold a no brainer in this environment. It’s a store of value that does well both in inflationary times and, as we saw last year, in deflationary times.   

But I’m not content just to park my money in physical gold and leave it at that. The trader in me wants to make a leveraged play to make the most off of gold’s bright future. Gold mining shares would seem an excellent play then. Not only do you get exposure to the gold market, but you get the benefits of stock ownership. In the past, whenever I would introduce the idea of owning gold as a form of investment, people would laugh my suggestion off because they just couldn’t imagine how anything would be better than owning “stocks for the long run.” Of course, they aren’t saying that anymore. 

Gold mining shares are a nice compromise in terms of investment philosophy. If the American dollar does fall from grace as we goldbugs suggest then owning shares of a gold mining company will be a tremendous boon. If the dollar continues to stubbornly hang on, and we somehow manage to resume normal economic growth, then I still own equities and should get the traditional benefits of equity appreciation. Continue reading Gold Mining or Gold Bullion for 2009?

Obama’s Budget Attempts to Create “The Great Society”

The politicians and bankers of this nation have historically been quite content to enjoy the inflationary good times brought on by easy money; particularly if the deflationary crunch will happen on someone else’s watch. These days it doesn’t raise an eyebrow when the President announces a budgets that shows deficits as far as the eye can see, but that furnish a projection that the deficit can be cut dramatically cut in half a few years down the road… on someone else’s watch. Every President in modern history has done the same, and making excuses for our financial irresponsibility has just become part of the political process. 

By that measure, Obama’s budget is hardly a surprise. It has lots of government spending on pet issues while not making any hard choices about where to cut back in order to pay for it. Like other Presidents before him, Obama is promising that once the investments that his budget is making in this country come to fruition, that America will become a great nation once again. It comes as no surprise to anyone that Obama will be long gone by the projected time that these “investments” come to fruition and therefore he has no accountability in the outcome. Taking action that seems like a bad idea at the time, but claiming that history will show your wisdom in the long run is just part of being President. Bush did it so much you’d have thought that the historians of the future were his main political base.  So much of Obama’s budget just seems to be politics as usual. 

What does strike me as strange is the fervor and hype with which the Democrats are touting it.   Continue reading Obama’s Budget Attempts to Create “The Great Society”

Reaction to Barack Obama’s Speech


Newsweek Cover
Newsweek Cover

I started a three part series “Exploring the Myths of the Consumer-Driven Economy” a couple of days ago, and I intend to get back to that. But yesterday was a day full of events that just demand comment. Ben Bernanke gave assurances and the recession might end this year, and it sent the stock market up and gold solidly down. Then later that day, Barack Obama addressed the nation and reaffirmed what Newsweek had already declared on its cover. We are all Socialists now. 


It was a long hard road to get America here; we have a strong tendency towards individualism and an inherent distrust of the powers of government. At least, we used to once upon a time. Not anymore. Now we have to depend on the powers of the state to correct the excesses of the free market, and we can not rely on the forces of free enterprise to get us out of this crisis. It is only through the intervention of government that we can put this crisis to a end. Or, in the words of our new President:

Continue reading Reaction to Barack Obama’s Speech

Historians Mark Out to President Lincoln

Yahoo! News ran a story today that 65 historians rated Lincoln’s administration as their favorite. I’ve always been at odds with the Presidents that historians seem to prefer. There’s top five Presidents of all time are:

  1. Abraham Lincoln
  2. George Washington
  3. Franklin D Roosevelt
  4. Theodore Roosevelt
  5. Harry S Truman

Wow. Thomas Jefferson didn’t even make the top 5. For some reason, historians prefer Harry S Truman, the President that ended the second World War by the unnecessary use of nuclear weapons and threw the US into the Cold War. I’m not sure how that beats out authoring the Bill of Rights, but who do I know.

For that matter, FDR? The man failed miserably in his attempt to end The Great Depression and introduced many laws and policies that were clearly inspired by Communism and smacked of totalitarian authority. As I asked in my book, where in the Constitution does it say that the government has the power to confiscate the gold of all US citizens? 
Continue reading Historians Mark Out to President Lincoln