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I'm in the vast middle between "can't find Syria on the map" and "glued to it" but there's something for everyone to find "confusing and difficult to follow," and plenty to learn from Max Fisher's Washington Post piece, 9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask. Start with the annotated map, showing "approximate areas with a rebel presence" including essentially all of the Euphrates valley between Turkey and Iraq. (Yes, that same Euphrates that irrigated the birth of civilization. "Civilization" for thousands of years and here we are.)
"First, a disclaimer: Syria and its history are really complicated; this is not an exhaustive or definitive account of that entire story, just some background..."
Along with informative, Fisher's writing is breezy, darkly funny and horrific. As befits the situation, I guess?
"6. Why hasn't the United States fixed this yet?
Because it canít. There are no viable options. Sorry."
In Fisher's explainer, he talks about why it's important to make some sort of response to maintain the not-yet century-old "norm" against the use of chemical weapons. True, that. But James Fallows emphasizes the flip side: responding to atrocities with some combination of bombers, cruise missiles, and drones does not necessarily amount to a "solution." We have a lot more answers to the question "what could go wrong?" than we did ten or twenty years ago.
There's a connection between the destructive impulse to watch a carefuly laid tower of blocks crash to the floor and the largest of man-made calamities, I'm thinking. If the kicker is not the builder, the cheap thrill is more or less free, so why care about the effort involved in the building? (In the usual childhood scenario, there can be an element of sadism as well. Mild sadism, granted. Call it Schadenfreude if you want to be more genteel. But that's beyond my scope this morning.)
Taken to the violent extreme, war applies destruction completely out of proportion to any possible gain for the victors. As our leaders contemplate just what sort of pedagogical or punitive explosives to deliver to Syria to let them know we don't want them to use chemical weapons again, the only certainty is that more innocent people are going to suffer in greater measure than any lesson or benefit earned.
And in the vast territory between those extremes, what brings the topic to mind, there is the exploitation of the beautiful infrastructure of the internet for the purposes of making a little bit of money (and/or sadistic pleasure) out of widespread abuse and havoc distributed through malicious software.
After I'd updated a page for one of the sites I maintain and uploaded it to the server, I called it up in my browser to check my work. My antivirus software, AVG, announced that it had blocked some sort of exploit, and nothing to worry about. This didn't make sense to me; I'd just written that HTML and I knew it was benign. But it did distract me just enough to put me off that task and on to something offline.
Nasty stuff. To what end? Spreading mindless destruction? Taking over individual PCs to add to a zombie network capable of more mindless destruction? Keylogging and stealing financial information and access credentials for fraud and theft? The payload was the "most popular variant" of the Neutrino Exploit Kit (AVG Threat Labs' tracking), "type 1717," which showed up in March, and had a resurgent spike in early August, and another just now. TrendMicro's Security Intelligence blog entry in March describes it in some detail, down to the features the people who market it on underground forums tout, such as a "user friendly control panel." You can rent the kit, run it on their servers, "with server maintenance services."
Seems a bit iffy doing business with such people, doesn't it? But on the receiving end of this thing, and as the person responsible for some of "server maintenance" after the infection, what strikes me most is that the destructive power is totally out of proportion to the potential reward. I don't think they ultimately got anything out of us or our users, but can't know for sure. In the helpful collection of advice, instruction and tools that Google provides as webmasters help for hacked sites, they say they see 10,000 sites hacked per day. Don't take it personally.
Floyd Norris: In Markets' Tuned-Up Machinery, Stubborn Ghosts Remain
Having Nasdaq go down for three hours is not actually a calamity, although you wouldn't know if you asked any of the tech support that were in a mad scramble to find and fix the problem. The people who make their daily bread with millisecond (or microsecond) timing must have been apoplectic, but who cares?
Sometimes you just need a timeout. Shutting everything down until you can get it fixed is a better idea than soldiering on when "a computer error at Goldman Sachs caused it to send out ridiculous trade orders for options on stocks whose ticker symbols began with the letters I, J or K," or an electronic exchange is "unable to report trades on Nasdaq stocks whose ticker symbols came after TACT in the alphabet," say.
"Myron Scholes, who shared a Nobel Prize for developing the Black-Scholes options pricing model, told the Financial Times this week that no options trades should be canceled. If Goldman and other firms 'internalized all of the losses associated with program errors and bad algorithms, they would be more careful,' he said."
Without, um, finding out who's actually responsible? That would leave any individual investors who get hammered by having market or limit or stop loss orders executed at glitch prices as collateral damage. Pretty casual academic position to take.
It seems rather incredible that we're still on this subject, but consider the powerful op-ed by professor of physics and astronomy, Adam Frank: Welcome to the Age of Denial.
"Today, however, it is politically effective, and socially acceptable, to deny scientific fact. Narrowly defined, 'creationism' was a minor current in American thinking for much of the 20th century. But in the years since I was a student, a well-funded effort has skillfully rebranded that ideology as 'creation science' and pushed it into classrooms across the country. Though transparently unscientific, denying evolution has become a litmus test for some conservative politicians, even at the highest levels.
"Meanwhile, climate deniers, taking pages from the creationists' PR playbook, have manufactured doubt about fundamental issues in climate science that were decided scientifically decades ago. And anti-vaccine campaigners brandish a few long-discredited studies to make unproven claims about links between autism and vaccination.
"The list goes on. North Carolina has banned state planners from using climate data in their projections of future sea levels. ..."
I don't think that's likely to turn out well, actually.
It would be like a congressman from Arizona trying to prohibit the National Science Foundation from funding research on climate change (because it's a big myth, don't you know), and looking the other way when fire season in his state starts in February, on the way to becoming year-round.
From the proxy statement supplemental to the first one from Dell:
"At the reconvened special meeting on August 2, 2013, the Company adjourned the special meeting, which was initially convened on July 18, 2013, and then adjourned to July 24, 2013 and further adjourned to August 2, 2013, to permit the solicitation of additional votes in favor of the proposal to adopt the amended merger agreement, and to provide its stockholders additional time to (i) consider Amendment No. 1 to the original merger agreement..."
in which the offer was raised by a dime, plus a 13 cent special dividend. Here's a quarter people, now go away.
"The special meeting will be reconvened on September 12, 2013 at 9:00 a.m. Central Daylight Time at the Dell Round Rock Campus, Building No. 2, Houston-Dallas conference room, 501 Dell Way, Round Rock, Texas 78682."
And if they still can't round up a majority to vote in favor of Michael Dell taking his company back private, will they adjourn the meeting again? One of the three items to vote on is to approve adjourning the meeting "if necessary or appropriate" if they don't have enough votes to do what they want, but last time when they didn't have the votes, I'm pretty sure they didn't check the balloting on proposal #3, they just went ahead and adjourned the meeting, for the third time.
Maybe the fourth time will be the charm.
Are you a registered Idaho voter? Would like to sign a non-partisan petition for a ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage?
That doesn't seem that hard to ask, and it wasn't, but grabbing and holding the attention of fair-goers going by one of a zillion booths meant spitting it out pretty quickly, and making sure I got all the key words out was a little challenging.
There were some folks who weren't interested, and/or weren't won over by my friendly smile. There were some folks who were negative, but no one went past curt to outright hostility. One CenturyLink subcontractor found the issue easier to see from his corporate benefactor's point of view than his own. A higher minimum wage means more customers for pretty much all basic services, including the ones he's involved in. But I didn't argue with him. There were plenty of better prospects.
A small percentage of folks just needed a brief informational nudge, but most of the ones who made eye contact and weren't put off by us being on a table next to the full-on Ada County Democrats, engaged and were eager to sign. A few people weren't registered, but were ready to do that (which would have to be processed before they could sign the petition), and one guy said "I can't vote, I have a felony."
If RaiseIdaho can line up the 50,000-some valid signatures they need (they're shooting for 84,000 to have margin), we all could vote in 2014 on ratcheting the minimum wage up to $9.80 an hour by 2017, and indexed to inflation after that. (Tipped workers—currently at $3.35—would go up to $5.90/hr by 2017.)
Chances are it would pass by a wide margin.
As one guy's wife eagerly signed the petition, her husband spluttered in the background, "Non-partisan, right." I said no, it is non-partisan. Everyone would get to vote on it. "Ada County Democrats," he said. I just smiled. "Just watch, now we're going to start getting junk mail," he said. I laughed, at his crazy sideburns, at his staunch derision, at the comedy of having his wife writing her name and their address in a firm hand while he complained.
"Look, he's laughing because he knows it's true!" was the last thing I remember him saying. At some point I asked "is he with you?" and she reluctantly admitted that he was.
And as with all the other good folks of Ada and Canyon county who signed the petition, I thanked her warmly.
The Dems booth was just around the corner from the Republicans, and one woman asked if we had any water—as they did. We were sorry, we didn't, but suggested she should certainly go drink the Republicans' water. "I don't think it would be very clean," she said.
One attractive young girl went wide-eyed when she saw the big sign over the booth next to us, "Whoa, the Ada County Democrats. I didn't know they exist!" I thought it was youthful sarcasm, but as I pointed her out to Jeanette, I heard her saying, with a big smile, "this makes me feel so good."
And one couple passing by in the main aisle without stopping, he: "Do you really want to see any more?"
She: "Yeah, yeah I do!"
So did we, after our two-hour shift. We saw a few booths, got some Republican water, looked at the huge collection of photographs entered in the various content divisions, the pigeons, chickens and turkeys, the petting tent, the afternoon thunderstorms building up, and a little rain shower for our bike ride home.
Never mind Ronald Reagan, it's getting less and less clear that Abraham Lincoln would be accepted into today's Republican Party. You could make this up I guess, but no one would believe you. On September 10, at the Morrison Center in Boise Idaho, the Ralph Smeed Foundation (late of highway billboard fame) is sponsoring, as they put it on the Facebook event page,
"an exciting debate between noted Lincoln scholar and critic Thomas DiLorenzo and Idaho's own Lincoln expert David Leroy on the truth about Abraham Lincoln and whether he was actually a friend or foe of freedom. The debate will be moderated by Idaho morning talk show host Austin Hill."
Leroy is a long-time fixture of Idaho's political scene, making it as far as Lieutenant Governor in the 80s, and having the bad timing to try for Governor against Cecil Andrus, and the inexplicable misfortune of losing a bid for Congress to Helen Chenoweth. DiLorenzo's day job is in economics, with sidelines in opinionating for the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and pugnacity. From Wikipedia just now:
In 2002, DiLorenzo debated Harry V. Jaffa on the merits of Abraham Lincoln's statesmanship before and during the civil war. Political scientists Michael M. Uhlmann and Thomas L. Krannawitter wrote that in the debate "DiLorenzo displayed new heights of ignorance about the most basic problems of constitutional government, as well as the basic history of America."
Sisyphus Idaho explains:
"I mean really, where else in contemporary America are you going to find a real live secessionist tell us what he thinks of Lincoln. And then you'll have Leroy trying to explain to a hostile audience how the author of the thirteenth amendment really wasn't that bad of a guy. All gussied up as a academic debate with the pretense that all sides are being represented. This is just asking to be mocked."
I could definitely expand my circle of "friends" from the people who have told Facebook they're going.
New York mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to know why is Obama caving on tobacco? and it seems a reasonable question to ask. I'm on Bloomberg's side.
"Tobacco use causes more deaths around the world than HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. If nothing is done, one billion people will die of tobacco use by the end of this century."
That's the bad news. This is the good news:
"Countries (and cities) that have adopted such regulations have had great success reducing smoking rates and saving lives. In New York City, where we have adopted some of the most comprehensive tobacco policies in the world, the smoking rate among adults has fallen by nearly one-third, and among high school students it has been cut in half."
with my emphasis. High school students (and younger) are the industry's target demographic, whether their marketing is explicit or implicit. If you make it through your teen years without getting hooked, you'll probably be smart enough to never do it.
The lawyers can argue what is and isn't restraint of trade, but this is one sort of trade that would be well restrained.
"[A] deal that sells out our national commitment to public health, and forfeits our sovereign authority over our tobacco laws, does not merit the support of Mr. Obama; of the Senate, which would have to ratify it; [nor] of the American people."
The idea of the racing to hike the Idaho Centennial Trail in 40 days sounded a little crazy and unattractive to me, but if I were still young and strong and preparing for my second session in the state legislature, I might look at it differently. Of course, these days, we all get to share vicariously in the adventure as Rep. Mat Erpelding hits the trail, with all kinds of social media, including a two-way texting satellite phone showing his location on a topo map. He's got a long way to go as of this morning's red dot, north of Mt. Pend Oreille.
Two items in the update from the Idaho Democrats' blog struck chords with my times in the woods: noting that northerly parts of the Centennial Trail need work, Erpelding said "I bushwacked for about four hours through downed trees, spider webs and lots of bear scat saying 'Hey Bear' the whole time." Been there, and done that, and the one time I actually did encounter a (black) bear on a trail, in Glacier National Park, I came over a small rise to see it at a comfortable distance (in retrospect!) and shout "Boo Bear!" We both then turned and loped off in opposite directions. It doesn't take me all day to look at a bear-infested trail. Then this:
"He didn't meet any bears but darn near jumped out of skin when a couple moose broke out of the brush in the Selkirks. You ever met a moose up close and unexpected in the mountains? Alarm is a reasonable reaction."
As a matter of fact, my granddaughter and I did meet a moose up close and unexpected in the Selkirks a couple years ago. The lineup was me, her, trailhead, moose, and I'll never forget the look on her face with eyes as wide as dinner plates. I calculated time, distance and predilection, moved into the lead with arms waving to help us all move along our respective trails.
It was good that we had different places to go.
Daniel Ellsberg is uniquely well-positioned to comment on Bradley Manning's actions and his fate. Timothy Lee's interview of Ellsberg for The Washington Post back in June is no less relevant today than it was then. Regarding the "tolerance of secrecy":
"There was a period after the Vietnam war, partly due to the Pentagon Papers, and largely due to Watergate, that made people much less tolerant of being lied to, much more aware of how often they were lied to and how the system operated to make that lying possible without accountability. We got the Freedom of Information Act. The FISA court was set up. The FBI was reined in a great deal. The NSA was forbidden to do overhearing of American citizens without a court warrant. That lasted for some years.
"But 40 years have passed, and after 9/11 in particular, all of those lessons have been lost. There's been very great tolerance that if the magic words 'national security,' or the new words 'homeland security' are invoked, Congress has given the president virtually a free hand in deciding what information they will know as well as the public. I wouldn't count on the current court with its current makeup making the same ruling with the Pentagon Papers as they did 40 years ago. I'm sure that President Obama would have sought a life sentence in my case."
On one of the good things that has resulted from Manning's disclosures:
"I believe there's strong reason to believe that without Bradley Manning's revelations, some 20,000 to 30,000 troops would be in Iraq right now. That had been Obama's plan. He was negotiating to that end. But the disclosure by Bradley Manning of a cable that disclosed that the State Department was aware of an atrocity that we had officially denied, and was neither investigating it further nor prosecuting it, made it politically impossible for the prime minister in Iraq to allow Americans to stay in Iraq with immunity from Iraqi courts.
"In the face of that revelation, [pressure from] the political opposition and his own party in Iraq meant that [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki] could not allow the troops to remain, because he couldn't grant immunity as President Obama was seeking."
The headline's inspired by the weekly dose of Crabb, in which he makes some more or less objective observations about something or other and winds up with the conclusion that less government intervention will solve the problem, whatever it may be. In this week's episode, he explains that we're stuck in a rut, along with a helpful discursion on where that expression comes from. (Horse-drawn buggies, who knew?)
Never mind "nine quarters of positive growth in U.S. gross domestic product, higher corporate profits, rebounding house prices and new stock market highs," the bad news remains, that "the labor market remains very weak." How can this be?
"A structural change has occurred in the labor market, but not in our economic policies."
He almost conceded that Keynesian economic theory's approach of government stimulus has something useful to offer, in which case he'd have to provide some statistics about how much, when, and whether we've done enough, or not. Opinions do differ, but more than a few economists have long maintained we didn't stimulate enough to produce a recovery in employment. That matters because to know which way to turn, you have to know where you are, first of all. "Always turn right" makes for a curious set of directions.
"Drop the short-term policies and get out of the rut. With less government interference, businesses will be able to hire the full-time workers they need."
I was going to skip commenting on the weekly non sequitur but then I saw Jared Bernstein's piece on Economix responding to the same issue: stubbornly high post-recession unemployment. Rather than compare current policy with an abstract ideal, Bernstein compares the US and Germany, and includes a dramatic, worth-a-thousand-words graphic of the two countries' GDP and employment from 2007-2011.
"It shows real gross domestic product and employment trends in the United States and Germany over the great recession, which, as the G.D.P. lines show, hit just about as hard in both countries. Yet note the difference in the employment trends. German policy makers protected against job losses far more than we did. German unemployment, at 5.5 percent, is now two percentage points below that in the United States."
And the policy choices he thinks made the difference:
"These trends reflect policy choices. Germans used 'work sharing' to great effect, spreading the loss of growth and demand around by reducing workers hours, compensating them for some of their lost earnings, and keeping them on the job. In the United States, we usefully applied Keynesian stimulus, but much of that went to tax cuts, little went to direct job creation or protection, and when the stimulus prematurely faded, we'd already made the pivot to deficit reduction."
This doesn't refute Crabb's generic thesis, that no intervention is the best policy, because no one is actually willing to try the full-on "do nothing" approach from dire straits. But it does establish that there is probably a better policy course than we're on, if lower unemployment is what we're after.
A court opinion should be based on solid facts and beyond question of veracity. So when the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court "says the government misrepresented its surveillance efforts at least three times from 2008 to 2011," you can be pretty sure that's literally true. At least three times in four years. Or rather at least three times in less than three years, as quoted by NPR. The court seems to have had the notion that the NSA was after some emails, and some suspects, which no doubt they were, but it wasn't as clear that the method of obtaining some stuff was to funnel up everything, and sift through it all.
"[T]he quantity of incidentally-acquired, non-target, protected communications being acquired by NSA through its upstream collection is, in absolute terms, very large, and the resulting intrusion is, in each instance, likewise very substantial."
Blaming the west for its subversive currents coursing toward China seems like a convenient distraction for Xi Jinping, under pressure due to the slowing of China's economic growth. The manifesto with the inevitable Beatles soundtrack, Document No. 9 lists "Western constitutional democracy as the first of "seven perils." They like the business just fine, but the political imports, not so much.
The NYT report makes it sound as if requiring government officials to disclose their wealth might be the most alarming idea in the mix, "a plot to subvert the party," which it surely would do.
"But Mr. Xi and his colleagues were victims of expectations that they themselves encouraged, rather than a foreign conspiracy, analysts said. The citizen-activists demanding that party officials reveal their family wealth cited Mr. Xi's own vows to end official corruption and deliver more candid government. Likewise, scholars and lawyers who have campaigned for limiting party power under the rule of law have also invoked Mr. Xi's promise to honor China's Constitution."
Yeah, who even knew they had one. Has it worn out its welcome?
"Constitutionalism belongs only to capitalism," said one commentary in the overseas edition of the People's Daily. Constitutionalism "is a weapon for information and psychological warfare used by the magnates of American monopoly capitalism and their proxies in China to subvert China's socialist system," said another commentary in the paper.
Just received notice from the Amazon Associates program (which I've participated in since Hector was a pup, vacuuming up spare advertising change worth a few books over the course of a decade+) that they're changing their terms. They provide a helpful comparison of the August 28 version versus the August 1 version (which I don't remember comparing to whatever came before that). There's some inoffensive (to me) exclusions for things they don't want to be a party to (sexually explicit materials, violence, libel, discrimination, illegal activities and such), and...
The answer is: "Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, and Rhode Island."
What are... the seven states in which residents are ineligible to participate in the Program?
That is correct. Since Idaho's not on the list, I don't have to care why, but I am curious. Something to do with... sales tax maybe? Sounds like, from this paper by an OSU law student last year: How Battles over Collection of Sales Taxes on Online Sales Will Affect Small Businesses—Especially Affiliates of Large Sellers Like Amazon.com. It includes an anecdote about "a mother in North Carolina" who "made $40,000 a year [!] from her websites, most of that from affiliate programs with Amazon and another online company."
That's about four orders of magnitude more return than I'm getting, but then I'm not trying very hard. Tracking down the story from the footnote, I see this is quite old news. It was June 2009 that Amazon emailed its program participants in NC to say no más.
Yes, it's too early to be talking about the 2016 presidential election, but I did find Myra Adams' speculation for The Daily Beast on the question of whether a Republican can ever win 270 electoral votes pretty interesting. She's a self-proclaimed "conservative Republican," and is leaning "no," given that "terminally blue" states give the Democratic candidate (whoever she may be) 91% of the college.
I'm not knowledgeable enough to be so sure, myself, or even to take heart that my home state of Wisconsin is one of those terminals.
"Every four years the Republican mindset says Wisconsin will be a swing state. Then, a few months into the campaign the state loses its coveted 'battleground' status as polls begin to show its 'blue' reality. The truth is that not since 1984, when Reagan won in a landslide against Walter Mondale, has Wisconsin seen red."
Plenty of time to revise foregone conclusions, but where we sit right now, it's hard to dispute this observation:
"Also, let me state that the concept of nominating someone more conservative than ever in 2016 is a foregone conclusion among the Republican base. That is to say, I would be totally shocked if New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie won the nomination, because he is perceived as a moderate in the losing mold of Dole '96, McCain '08, and Romney '12."
Adams' suggestion is that Republicans should work hard to change the rules in their favor... and get that more conservative than ever candidate elected? Be careful what you wish for.
Glenn Greenwald comments on the 9-hour, extra-legal detention of his partner, transiting through Heathrow, under supposed cover of Schedule 7 of the UK's Terrorism Act of 2000.
"[T]hey obviously had zero suspicion that David was associated with a terrorist organization or involved in any terrorist plot. Instead, they spent their time interrogating him about the NSA reporting which Laura Poitras, the Guardian and I are doing, as well the content of the electronic products he was carrying. They completely abused their own terrorism law for reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism: a potent reminder of how often governments lie when they claim that they need powers to stop 'the terrorists', and how dangerous it is to vest unchecked power with political officials in its name. ...
"This is obviously a rather profound escalation of their attacks on the news-gathering process and journalism. It's bad enough to prosecute and imprison sources. It's worse still to imprison journalists who report the truth. But to start detaining the family members and loved ones of journalists is simply despotic. Even the Mafia had ethical rules against targeting the family members of people they felt threatened by. But the UK puppets and their owners in the US national security state obviously are unconstrained by even those minimal scruples."
It's an odd coincidence and/or synchronicity that his partner's surname is Miranda. Regardless of what warnings or rights he enjoyed during his 9 hours of dentention with no access to a lawyer or anyone else of his choosing, Miranda's property, "including his laptop, his cellphone, various video game consoles, DVDs, USB sticks, and other materials" enjoys no rights, and no word on "when they would return any of it, or if they would."
Update: The BBC reports "senior politicians and an independent reviewer have said police must explain why David Miranda was detained for nine hours at Heathrow Airport."
You know you're getting on when... you didn't get the memo about something that happened 15 or 20 years ago. In The Case for Working with Your Hands (4 years old itself), this:
High-school shop-class programs were widely dismantled in the 1990s as educators prepared students to become "knowledge workers."
I don't think I actually took shop class myself, but no doubt you can't learn how to spin a pencil in Architectural Drawing these days, either. The author has a motorcyle repair shop, giving a nice connection to my memory of reading Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance about the time I was doing some of that, and some of meta-that, and before my brief stint in a bicycle repair shop. He also has a license to wax philosophic, with a doctorate in political philosophy from the University of Chicago.
My coming of age was in summer (rather than winter), tearing down an old Bridgestone (rather than a Honda) and rebuilding it. "The physicality of it, and the clear specificity of what the project required of me, was a balm." As was any day in my life on the cube farm when I could come up with time and an excuse to go to the engineer's shop and "make chips" to fabricate a prototype of something, or a tool, or just to satisfy my curiosity about the way metal bends and breaks to inform my pixel-pushing computer-aided design work.
There is no Fred Cousins of Triple O that springs to my memory, but rather a long chain of mechanics who knew something I had yet to learn, and who were happy to share a skill or information or special tool. Earlier this month when I was about to ride my bike to get some plumbing hardware, I was reminded of the bemused and avuncular folks at Powell Plumbing in Moscow who used to answer my questions and dole out the puzzle pieces for my education in elementary fluid mechanics. (I'm long gone, but they're still there, on Main Street.)
"Ultimately it is enlightened self-interest, then, not a harangue about humility or public-spiritedness, that will compel us to take a fresh look at the trades. The good life comes in a variety of forms. This variety has become difficult to see; our field of aspiration has narrowed into certain channels. But the current perplexity in the economy seems to be softening our gaze. Our peripheral vision is perhaps recovering, allowing us to consider the full range of lives worth choosing. For anyone who feels ill suited by disposition to spend his days sitting in an office, the question of what a good job looks like is now wide open."
Now off to the library to borrow a copy of Crawford's 2009 book, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work.
Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive, arrested for "obstruction" when in fact he was observing Wisconsin's Capitol police making more arrests for expressions that are arguably protected by the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment. In a story about the particulars in Madison, Rebecca Kemble reported:
"eight ... misdemeanor charges leveled against people gathering at the capitol at noon since July 24, 2013. The Capitol Police have issued 223 citations that come with a $200.50 fine in that time period as well."
It's to the point that a day without arrests can make a headline.
So what were the "Raging Grannies" singing about? They're anticipating the fall legislative session,
"when more controversial bills concerning private school vouchers, women's reproductive rights and restriction of voting rights are expected to be taken up by lawmakers. It seems that the Walker Administration is doing everything it thinks it can get away with to create a hostile environment for people to express their concerns publicly about these highly unpopular hot button policy issues."
It's an unpleasant admission of failure to walk out of a show you've paid good money for, and I've only a done it a few times in my life. Last night was one. The opening act was good, anyway, and Jeanette gave the ticket takers with time on their hands their first sale for their jewelry craft work, and it was a lovely warm (and not too smoky) evening for a walk downtown. Here's the good part:
Last night, after The Milk Carton Kids had finished their charming and delightful warm-up act, I reflected on some of the unexpected pleasures those had brought over the years. Pure Prairie League ahead of John Prine was a good one; Ry Cooder starting before Randy Newman was probably the best. Two for the price of one! Last night's acoustic duo seemed to fit perfectly in the old Egyptian Theater and as a fairly low-key appetizer for a (locally) Big Name and a (small) stage full of instruments. Two guys picking acoustic guitars and singing with lovely harmonies, more intro-patter than I thought I'd like, but entertaining throughout, and they didn't play too long, recognizing their role in the proceedings. (You can find out if you might like 'em, with their first two albums free for downloading from their website.)
The rest of the evening is in an Amusical review.
A useful recommendation from a friend on Facebook (who says he's "one of those half-deaf DJ types anyway"): carry drummer earplugs that "attenuate well (2 filters to choose from) without damping everything," "available at any reputable music store for about $20."
Out here on the right fringe, we've heard a lot of arguments against the Affordable Care Act (invariably referred to as Obamacare) in general, and some of its particulars. And after "financial innovators" blew up the economy five years ago, we were provided some object lessons in "moral hazard," mostly of the "heads I win, tails you lose" variety of investments. Bundling liar's loans into derivatives no one understands but that ratings agencies were happy to bless, and then betting on failure with other people's money, that is some serious moral hazard that we're still paying for.
Professor Crabb found an unexpected way to combine the two ideas in his column for the Idaho Statesman Business Insider this week, observing that the new health exchanges could boost incentives to take risks. "People respond to incentives," he says, truly enough. And I agree with him that "success in this market should be measured by how much consumers' health improves and how much overall spending on health care declines." We shall see. But then, into rarified air:
"If more people buy insurance, there is actually a risk that consumers will be less healthy and spend too much on health services. The health care insurance market is subject to an incentive problem called moral hazard. This adverse market condition occurs when the buyers of a particular product take greater risks because they have less incentive to be careful about their losses."
Yes, that's right, because my medical insurance covers major surgery at a fraction of the actual cost, why should I bother looking both ways before I cross the street? If a car smacks into me, it'll hardly cost me anything to get patched up. In fact, he uses car insurance to amplify the point:
"For example, after buying car insurance, people tend to drive more aggressively than they would if they were fully responsible for the costs of an accident. But you don't see your insurance agent following you around to see if you are driving safely. The insurance company just can't keep close tabs on you."
Given that 47 of 50 states have compulsory auto insurance (and the other three have alternative requirements or a fee), the comparison would be between law-abiding vehicle owners and those willing to break the law from the get-go. Imagining the former category as likely more "aggressive" is a thought experiment with no basis in actual practice.
And Crabb may be interested to know that insurance companies can "follow you around" these days. It's relatively old news that voluntary tracking technology can get you a discount on your car insurance. He could have made a more interesting column by talking about that, and extrapolating to how medical tracking technology could be applied to the same problem.
Your iPhone (and some indicator strips) can do urinalysis these days, in case an Intelligence Toilet is too expensive (or creepy) for you, 8 years after it made the news on CNN.
Back to this week's column, Crabb's argument is not actually about the health exchange in the headline it was given, but about insurance in general, and health insurance in particular. Making health insurance compulsory is predicted to make us all careless about our health, especially those young people who already "know" (as in "think") they're low risk, and wouldn't buy insurance, but once they're covered, "their incentive to take care of themselves declines."
I'm a little worried that with focus as narrow as he shows in his columns, the absent-minded professor would be at some risk in traffic. Perhaps the Northwest Nazarene University could do him a favor (and save themselves some expense!) by cutting off his health insurance.
It's a good bet that if someone calls something "common sense," they don't have much of an argument for their position. That came to mind in the set up of the setup of the PBS Newshour segment they labeled Is North Carolina's Voter ID Law "Common Sense" Policy or Discrimination?—not because of their headline, but because the Governor's sound bite established the baseline:
"Protecting the integrity of every vote cast is among the most important duties I have as governor. And it's why I signed these commonsense, commonplace protections into law."
And no, "commonplace" doesn't make it any stronger. In the discussion between Republican State Representative Tom Murry (a co-author of the measure), and Democratic U.S. Representative and former North Carolina Supreme Court justice G.K. Butterfield, Murry used the non-argument "common sense" no fewer than six times. (After the first three, Jeanette and I were both laughing, and she said "he's going to say it three more times." BINGO!)
The people working so hard to prevent voter fraud struggle to come up with even a single example of the malady they're seeking to prevent. If all they've got is empty to palaver to support their position, it seems reasonable to assume Butterfield's observation that this is "a pretext for voter supression" is closer to the truth.
Thanks to Betsy Russell for digging through Idaho's high school WiFi contracting details. Her latest blog post reports the rather bizarre manipulation of the bids' costs to smooth out differences to the point where the other two, fuzzier categories of "technology" and "company overview and experience" decided the result.
From a business point of view, the equal weighting of cost with the other two categories is nearly inexplicable. But a cost scoring formula that minimized the differences in the bid pretty much assured that the cost would not matter in the selection process. Whichever company carried the day in the other two categories would have the winning bid, almost regardless of their price.
Some way to invert the scoring from price is needed, so that lower cost gives a higher score, but for a reason I can't discern, they chose to normalize the differences by the "total of all bids":
2,500 points x (1 - (5-yr bid)/(total of all 5-yr bids))
If there had been just two bids, one for $10 million, and one for $40 million, the scores would have been 2,000 and 500; divvying up "points" in the same proportion as the dollars. But there were ten bids, and even though the high bid was nearly five times higher than the low ($40M+ vs. $8.245M), the off-the-chart bid was only penalized 20% in its cost score: 2381 to 1915. Talk about grading on the curve!
Here's the way the cost and its scoring went, followed by a stacked bar chart of the total scoring for the ten bidders:
R. Glenn Hubbard and Tim Kane provide the first one in their op-ed, Republicans and Democrats Both Miscalculated, leading with the observation by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff two years ago that the debt was the "single biggest threat to our national security." Mullen's observation would have been more admirable if it had been the preamble for a description of how he proposed to wind down a military that has grown so oversized that its previous commander in chief could start an unnecessary war with no visible means of financial support.
Hubbard and Kane are promoting the "common sense" idea that budgets should be balanced, and starting on the spending side (this time) because doggone it, that old "starve the beast" program may provide lower taxes for those who care about them the most, but "deficits create a 'fiscal illusion' that public goods and transfer payments are less expensive than they are." That only encourages politicians to spend more.
A selection of variations of the second view (that Hubbard and Kane are full of it) is in the comments following the piece; I read a handful of the highly recommended ones, including these bon mots from Jack Mahoney of Maine:
"Just like baseball cards have always listed the player's statistics and former as well as current teams, so economists should have to display the efficacy of previous predictions along with the teams for which that economist has played. Mr. Hubbard was the Chairman of GWB's Council of Economic Advisors from 2001 to 2003, a period during which tax cuts undermined the government's solvency. ...
"Clearly, to Mr. Hubbard and his ilk, deficits incurred to purchase an ever-larger military machine so as to fight two unnecessary wars don't matter. However, under a Democratic president deficits incurred to stave off depression, feed poor children, and fix antiquated infrastructure somehow becomes a crime against future generations.
"The other alternative is that Mr. Hubbard played second base for the Atlanta Braves from 1978-1987. If that's the case, his economic track record is not nearly so tainted, so perhaps we should listen to him."
Others note the op-ed as "shockingly curious" and "amazingly short sighted and totally disingenous." Jason, from Miami:
"In this alternative universe our current high deficits are a result of profligate spending, not the utter collapse of the financial system, record high unemployment, and the single worst recession since the depression.
"[A]nyone who compares a city government whose population has collapsed by 50% in as many years, and the wealthiest sovereign nation in the history of the world, with all of its debt denominated in the world reserve currency (that it singularly and unilaterally controls), is frankly absurd. Detroit can't print 'Detroit Rands' to pay off its debt, the US can print $."
The downside to "printing money" is the risk of inflation. And the downsides to over-controlling inflation are (1) high unemployment, and (2) the risk of the worse maladay of deflation. It looks to me like persistently high unemployment and the demise of the middle class is a more pressing issue than the debt, actually. But instead of any jobs programs coming out of Congress (or state governments, for that matter), anti-jobs programs seem to be more popular with the ruling class. The disparity between outsized profits and opportunities for the working class may prove to be a larger threat to security than our federal debt.
If we were playing Jeopardy, the answer might be under Computer maladies for $1000: Made for pumping popularity, exacting revenge, auto-rebuttal, silencing critics and making money fast.
What are social bots?
"Last year, the number of Twitter accounts topped 500 million. Some researchers estimate that only 35 percent of the average Twitter user's followers are real people."
Think of it as the computer version of your microbiome, mostly friendly bacteria and what-not who are living large at your expense. Or maybe your well-being (real or imagined)?
The "co-founder and general manager of OkCupid, said that when his dating site recently bought and redesigned a smaller site, they witnessed not just a sharp decline in bots, but also a sudden 15% drop in use of the new site by real people. This decrease in traffic occurred, he maintains, because the flirtatious messages and automated 'likes' that bots had been posting to membersí pages had imbued the former site with a false sense of intimacy and activity. 'Love was in the air,' Mr. Rudder said. 'Robot love.'"
Idaho's backcountry drama ended quickly, summarized by the subhead of the lead story: "dropped by helicopter, FBI teams surround camp, end ordeal." It wasn't quite as tidy as a drone strike, but pretty close. In spite of the penultimate human contact being an exchange of trail pleasantries, with two already dead in San Diego, this was deemed a "hostage situation," calling for an overwhelming paramilitary force. Authorities remain tight-lipped about just went down and how, other than that they shot the guy, and the girl is safe.
While we do have a lot of remote territory in this neck of the woods, the media seem to be working harder than usual to play up the "strenuous" angle. Pete Zimowsky has plenty of first-hand experience, which he enthusiastically shares in the Outdoors section, most days. But just now, it's rugged and challenging. True enough, but "some of the roads require as much as eight miles of driving on gravel and dirt, and in some cases four-wheel drive"?
It's not actually that challenging to drive 8 miles on gravel and dirt. I did almost twice that last weekend, on a low-speed donut spare, after I'd picked up a nail on the way up to the trailhead and hiked out to find a flat tire. My right foot was slightly fatigued from working the accelerator and brake pedal, but not so much as you'd notice.
"Elevation gains and losses of between 3,000 and 4,000 feet," ok, that's some strenuous hiking. But in spite of it being better country for horses than hikers, and "no outposts where you can buy groceries" (except for Buckskin Bill's place), one does not need to be superhuman to get in, hike around, and get lost.
If 300 law enforcement agents from the FBI, two counties' Sheriff Departments, Idaho State Police, U.S. Marshals, and the U.S. Border Patrol are looking for you, it may be harder to get lost, even as smoky as it may be from the full-on fire season at the moment. Never mind that the Cascade Fire Chief of 37 years avers that "it's not for the faint of heart or a day backpacker." (A "day backpacker"?)
"The Frank Church is filled with steep, rugged mountains, gorges deeper than the Grand Canyon..."
They say that about Hell's Canyon too, but I've been to the Frank (along the river anyway), to the bottom and the top of Hell's Canyon (if not on the same trip), and likewise to the Grand, and I would not make that wild comparison, regardless of the topological extrema. The hike from the overpopulated South Rim down to the Colorado River is more than 4,000 feet down in 8 miles.
Anyway. The L.A. Times now has a story with "daring rescue" in the headline (and "Idaho wilderness" close to the top), but the coverage so far has featured more about the forces brought to bear than much that sounded "daring." Fighting fires in the mountains this time of year is daring.
Gave a try to (virtually) attending the Idaho Legislature's Federal Lands Interim Committee hearing today. I was thinking I'd go down to the statehouse, but then saw they had an all-day agenda (that was to start in about 5 minutes from when I saw it), so tapped into the audio feed from Idaho Public TV instead.
I got as far as the first half of Prof. Jay O'Laughlin's presentation, nominally "the history and analysis of federally administered lands," but more of a very quick, hand-waving slide-whipping through more than a century of public lands management history. 40-some slides, many of which were outline/excerpts from his (and others') 1998 report by that title.
The committee members have a lot of reading to do; a dozen or more detailed documents linked to the committee page. This year's House Concurrent Resolution 21 charges them with what co-chair Sen. Chuck Winder characterized as "a very narrow task,"
"to undertake and complete a study of the process for the State of Idaho to acquire title to and control of public lands controlled by the federal government"
but their final report isn't due until the 2015 legislative session, so plenty of time for due dilligence. Winder also pointed out why they're still going to do this work in spite of HCR 22 being passed by this year's legislature, seven pages of WHEREASes reciting the federal government's "past and continuing breaches of its solemn promises" and resolving that
"the State of Idaho demands that the federal government imminently transfer title to all of the public lands within Idaho's borders directly to the State of Idaho."
Obviously, everyone involved knows that HCR 22 was a fully meaningless, symbolic gesture. Well, maybe everybody except Pete Nielsen and a few of the north Idaho wingjobs. So... let's have more study! There's quite a bit to study, too. Only Nevada and Utah have a higher proportion of their territory publicly owned than Idaho. In the March 2013 map from the Idaho Department of Lands excerpted here, only the white interstices are privately owned.
The nice thing about having a Winco grocery story nearby (no longer convenient walking distance, but an easy bike ride) is that we can enjoy shopping at "[maybe] the best retailer in the Western U.S." The bad thing is, I guess we're spoiled by that. Pretty darn cool to see Time magazine's story on the business, featuring a photograph from the store where we shop. Privately held, low-key, and employee-owned.
"...WinCo has a reputation for doing right by employees. It provides health benefits to all staffers who work at least 24 hours per week. The company also has a pension, with employees getting an amount equal to 20% of their annual salary..."
Not sure exactly why, but I seem to have more interest than usual in the T&C before I give Spotify the go-ahead to yes, please send some new music my way. I tweeted a link to yesterday's blog post to see if it might get their attention, and sure enough, @SpotifyCares was right on it, discerning that "You seem to have just received our auto-response there." (Maybe the headline "Worst auto-response EVER" gave that away.)
I said yes I was "happy" (as they put it, overstating my enthusiasm) "for us to troubleshoot this" on Twitter.
"Thanks Tom, we'll try to impress! The T&Cs pop-up uses Flash so I think you're right about Flashblock. Can you try without?"
I didn't ask about billing them my usual hourly rate to debug their software, but at any rate, turning off Flashblock didn't make any difference. I saw that it failed on another machine... and perhaps because I refuse Flash cookies as a matter of course. They want to give me a cookie before they'll show their legal?
As regards to signing up via Facebook,
"If you connect to the Service using your Facebook credentials, you authorise us to collect your authentication information, such as your username, encrypted access credentials, and other information that may be available on or through your Facebook account, including your name, profile picture, country, hometown, e-mail address, date of birth, gender, friends' names and profile pictures and networks. We may store this information so that it can be used for the purposes explained in Section 3 and may verify your credentials with Facebook."
Which I guess is far enough for me to decide that my general operating principle to just say no to Facebook apps applies. At the same time... I apparently was not quite so careful, at least once, and when I look at those pages on spotify.com, I see that I already do have an account, and they have already mined all that information out of Facebook, cataloged it under a userID they've assigned, and are showing me my own profile picture (which somewhat ironically is currently an eye that never sleeps... and creepily, pulling the image off of a server for akamaihd.net where they, or Facebook put a copy).
So why didn't they just play the blasted song I asked for?
If they had, I would have happily (really happily, not the faux "happy to" accept their preference for communication medium for their software debugging) burbled on under the contract we established, instead of throwing blog darts at this fat target. They have impressed, but I wouldn't think in the way they'd hoped.
Maybe that's overstated, but at least the worst one I've seen lately. Yet another Spotify-generated post hinting at some music a Facebook friend liked, I wanted to hear some too... but first the legal agreement. What I sent in with their form, categorized as "I can't log in to Spotify":
"I think I signed up once, I don't know. Anyway, trying to follow a link, I'm confronted with a 'legal' that has two buttons, 'Don't agree' and 'Agree' at the bottom of a blank—utterly blank—dialogue box. Perhaps you rely on Flash to 'play' your legal agreement? And my Flashblock installation in Firefox prevents me from seeing it? I don't know. I think I'd like your service, but I don't know what you're after, or with what legalese you intend to obtain it. So, fail."
I didn't expect much, but my expectations were not met. The auto-ack
(from "email@example.com; on behalf of; Contacting the Spotify
"If you have a question about Spotify, your first stop should be the Spotify Community for support from other users. This is also a great place to read up on any company updates that might affect your service as well as posting your own ideas and feedback.
"Then check out our Help pages. The FAQs contain solutions to the most common queries and guides on how to use Spotify's features.
"You can also now follow or Tweet our Spotify Customer Service Team @Spotifycares for all things Spotify.
"We're sure that these solutions will help you with your query. Remember that we'll keep you in the loop on any major service updates via our Twitter: @Spotifystatus"
For this week's dose of Crabb, I jumped to the end to see which way he'd swing at the Federal Reserve in his punchline, but no! It's "slow growth" that is the enemy and "level of investment" that we need more of. Investment fuels productivity and productivity makes our standard of living double and then we're better off than our parents and grandparents. Which we must be for all to be well. Theory and experience agree that
"productivity is determined by the amount of physical capital, human capital and natural resources each worker has at his or her disposal, along with the technological knowledge to use all these resources. When businesses invest in these resources and develop new technologies to use them, productivity grows faster."
And then? There is the potential for rising living standards, at least. But space and/or Crabb's inclination did not permit a consideration of what was graphed by the Economic Policy Institute, showing how productivity and compensation growth (for "production/nonsupervisory workers") have diverged since the early 1970s. Even using the picture to save a thousand words would have left the need for some explaining.
The chewy center for Crabb's weekly platitude is a garbled explanation of the so-called "Rule of 72", an arithmetic shortcut for estimating exponential growth:
"The rule of 72 is process [sic] of division used to obtain the approximate number of periods required for doubling any variable. In economic terms, the rule of 72 is used to determine when a country's standard of living will double—how long will it be before our way of life is twice as good."
Or... if some parameter is increasing exponentially at a uniform rate, the "rule of 72" can be used to estimate how long it will take to double. 72 divided by the annual growth rate in percent is the number of years to double. 1% growth doubles in 72 years (ish), 2% in 36, and so on. You can follow the math in the Wikipedia entry if you like, but the shorter explanation of why this is so is that the natural logarithm of 2 (for doubling) is 0.693... and 72 divides easier than 69.
But doubling productivity won't double your (or your grandchildren's) standard of living if someone else makes off with the profit your work generates, any more than an arithmetic shortcut translates to truth in economics. Improving one's "way of life" is not as simple as doubling one's matter and energy throughput. We've been over this already.
The headline is simultaneously too long and too short, in print and online, another example of growthmania error: "Slowed productivity impedes..." lacks the key word growth, since productivity has not slowed. Crabb asserts "when it comes to economic analysis, the rate of change is often more important than the current level of any variable," nicely capturing the confusion economists suffer from when they observe something is "often" true, and then proceed to assume it's invariably true.
Slow start blogging this month, thanks to a lovely, long weekend removed from electronic communications, sharing the company of son and grandson in one of our national treasures, the Hells Canyon Wilderness. We were on the high side, in Idaho's Seven Devils, where mountain goats live. More pictures and story to come, but start here:
Tom von Alten tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org