Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Santelli Rant and Who's to Blame

I admit, when I first saw the rant above by Rick Santelli opposing the Obama mortgage plan, my emotions were stirred and I had to agree with the spirit of his frustration. People like Brian Beutler, Ryan Avent, and Matt Yglesias dismissed the rant in part because Santelli (and the traders who empathize with him) didn't publicly oppose the various bank bailouts. In the eyes of Beutler and Yglesias, Santelli and the traders were hypocrites and narrow-minded members of the wealthy class...always willing to blame the little guy (individual homeowners) but never refusing to accept a free money or political favors (i.e. the various bailouts). I think Yglesias' thoughts are neatly captured in this excerpt:

When someone applies for a mortgage, there are two parties to the transaction. On one side of it is a teacher or a blogger or an electrician or a lawyer or a nurse or a guy who manages a Home Depot. On the side is a guy who, for a living, as a professional, works in the “deciding on what terms to offer people mortgages” business who works, for a living, at a financial services business...That, to repeat, wasn’t the judgment of electricians and store managers; it was the judgment of people who were professional mortgage-offerers.

While Yglesias is happy to excoriate the big financial firms for being over-leveraged (borrowing more than they could pay back if housing values started to drop) because they should have known better, what Yglesias fails to address is the culpability of individual borrowers in their very own version of over-leveraging: applying for a mortgage that was beyond the amount they could reasonably afford. I think this is the crux of the Santelli/Yglesias divide.

Which is why, emotionally at least, I have to side with Santelli. Yes, it was tempting for individual homeowners to keep up with the Joneses, but individual adults cannot be expected to have no self-control over their temptations. Individual adults (wealthy, poor, or middle class) fell victim to their temptations and made stupid decisions. Yes, they were tempted (and it seems that the people doing the tempting sometimes broke the law), but they still made a bad decision. So why should the people who made good decisions have to pay for the people who made bad decisions?!?! That's how I feel from an emotional standpoint, at least.

Now, all that being said, I'm not an economist, so I can't really weigh in on whether Obama's mortgage plan makes sense for the overall US economy. But as an individual adult, it is extremely frustrating to think that there may be two sets of rules: one for the reckless and irresponsible and one for the calm and prudent.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Meta Analysis: The Constitution During the Civil War

Via Information Aesthetics comes this Wordle-like data visualization tool that shows the frequency with which certain words are used in a big word cloud. One thing that jumped out at me was the difference between Abraham Lincoln's first and second inaugural addresses. Here's the word cloud from his first address:

And here's the word cloud from his second address:

The thing I thought interesting was that the most prominent word in Lincoln's first address is "constitution." However, in his second address (when victory over the South was imminent but while his suspension habeas corpus was still in effect), one of the most conspicuously absent words is "constitution." I don't really know what to make of this, but I thought it was interesting for there to be such a huge change. I guess Lincoln didn't think anybody wanted to hear about the Constitution in the second address? Maybe he didn't have time? Maybe he knew in the back of his mind that suspension of habeas corpus was unconstitutional? Who knows...

Designing Product Experiences vs. Designing Product Messaging

I love this quote from Brian Thomas Collins:

Brilliant design cuts out the marketing middleman – the traditional art directors and copywriters – and creates its own media. Like Occam’s Razor, it whittles the marketing equation down to simplest principles: the best experience wins.

Not the best promise. Not the cleverest copy. Not the Big Idea or the biggest budget. The best experience wins.

Via Good Experience.

Monday, February 16, 2009

How Context Changes the Perception of What's Good

This is a very interesting clip showing some capuchin (monkey) behavior. The first part shows capuchins working together to accomplish a task, which is itself quite interesting. But the second part is also very interesting. It shows two capuchins, one which receives a dry biscuit for completing a task and one which receives a succulent grape (apparently more desirable for capuchins) for completing the same task. The first capuchin is alright with receiving the biscuit until he sees the other capuchin recieve a grape. Once he sees that, he refuses to accept the biscuit and holds out for a grape.

What would be interesting would be to see how the capuchins behave when a biscuit is the reward for a simple task and a grape is the reward for a complex task. Would the capuchins grasp that harder work is deserving of a more desirable reward?

Via the Nudge blog.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Do it by design

This encouraging story of the redesign of a plaza in Montgomery, Alabama is a great example of how roadway safety can be built-in to a design instead of relying (in vain) on ineffective techniques such as signs and pavement markings.

Hall, for its part, describes the lack of markings as a kind of symbiotic relationship. As they note on their website: “HPE designers assured the city that a design speed of 25 mph would make explicit pavement markings, or guide lines, unnecessary. The lack of extensive markings would, in fact, help manage the vehicle speeds to the pedestrian friendly 20 to 25 mph range. Rough pavement texture and traffic enforcement will also help manage vehicle speeds.”

And the safety? “Drivers for the most part act as Rick predicted they would. The occasional driver goes the wrong way, but since the plaza is wide open and the speeds are so low, no accidents have resulted. There has actually not been a single accident involving vehicles or pedestrians due to the plaza concept.

Not only is the plaza, safer, but it looks like an actual [European] plaza! Every city in the United States should be doing this.

Via Twin Cities Streets for People.