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31.Jan.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Mitch McConnell is a big, fat liar Permalink to this item

"Even by Washington's lax standards," as Sahil Kapur puts it on TPM. McConnell is taking a new tack toward his prime directive of making Obama a one-term president, gushing about how Obama "got everything he wanted from a completely compliant Congress" for his first two years of office.

You don't say.

The Senate Minority Leader is counting on the populace having a seriously defective memory, but he's got a hard sell ahead of him. Congress isn't the problem, you say? Because for two years they played along with the President? So it's all his fault. He's also counting on people being really, really stupid, it would seem. Maybe this is Kentucky Karisma, but it's hard to imagine it having persuasive power on a larger stage.

30.Jan.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The incredible richness of being Newt Permalink to this item

Garlic chives in winter It's really only a matter of time before Gingrich is fully hoist on his petard, given how much historical material he has provided. He's definitely come up with some big ideas over his storied career. "Big" is not a synonym for "good" as has been amply illustrated, such as by Johanna Neuman's 2009 op-ed in the LA Times, and a new piece in The Nation, How Newt Gingrich Crippled Congress. Regardless of who gets the Republican nod (Magic 8-ball has gone back to doubtful on Newt's chances), Obama is certain to run against the ineffective, unpopular, minority-obstructed Congress. If Gingrich is his opponent, slather on the irony of it being Mr. Speaker's creature from the black lagoon.

James Salzer's piece for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, down where they've known Gingrich the longest, describes how his language set a new course of relentless demonization that made him what he was. No wonder his "positive campaign" for the Republican nomination was a brief respite before the return of the wild and woolly.

Terrance Heath provides a ton of links and much, much more on the epic struggle of Newt v. Newt, wherein our protagonist comes to resemble the image in his opponents' attack ads ever more closely.

28.Jan.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Keystone was a dud anyway Permalink to this item

A Fox News contributor lists six reasons Keystone XL was a bad deal all along and "deserved to be rejected," so... does that mean it was actually a good idea? Now I'm confused. But the favorite talking point of the decriers was that see, Obama's not serious about creating jobs! because he got sucked into the sped-up decision timeline and said no, without time to evaluate this properly we're not going to do it.

TransCanada's sales job had magically inflated their estimate of 3,500-4,200 temporary jobs to 20,000... "person-years of employment," based on... their forecast model, and undisclosed inputs.

Tar Sands Action has more on the subject, with a link to the National Wildlife Federation's fact sheet on TransCanada's exaggerated jobs claims. The NWF puts the "most conservative estimate" at a couple hundred temporary jobs for local workers, fewer than a couple thousand jobs altogether.

Not waiting for Superman Permalink to this item

If I'd hung in for more of Mitch Daniels' Debbie Downer routine after the State of the Union speech on Tuesday, I see from Paul Krugman's latest column that I would have heard him extol the accomplishments of Steve Jobs as a job creator. He was that, but as Krugman points out, most of those jobs (by a factor closer to 20 than 10) are in other countries. It's not just about cheap labor:

"[T]he advantages of industrial clusters—in which producers, specialized suppliers, and workers huddle together to their mutual benefit—have been a running theme [in economic geogrpahy] since the 19th century."

This country's industrial cluster around the Great Lakes has been a mainstay of the country's economy, and the actions taken at the end of the Bush administration and the beginning of the Obama administration (bipartisan action in many regards) at least put the brakes on its precipitous decline, and may well have turned things around. Michigan's unemployment rate going from 14.1% down to 9.3% is a Huge Deal; Republicans would be a lot smarter to celebrate and share credit for the accomplishment than to try to belittle and disown it.

"[Mr. Daniels' remarks Tuesday got the facts wrong, but highlighted] an important philosophical difference between the parties. One side believes that economies succeed solely thanks to heroic entrepreneurs; the other has nothing against entrepreneurs, but believes that entrepreneurs need a supportive environment, and that sometimes government has to help create or sustain that supportive environment."

27.Jan.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Déjà vu Permalink to this item

Refreshes and shines Tipped to the jolly game of seeing if Google can guess your age and gender (and finding that they recognize me as wise beyond my years), and reading up on their latest advertising and privacy policy, I had a flashback to my hoary Ad Attack! column, now well more than a decade old, and predating Google's buyout of DoubleClick.

"Anyone may opt out of the DoubleClick cookie (for AdSense partner sites, DoubleClick ad serving, and certain Google services using the DoubleClick cookie) at any time by clicking the button above...."

they now say, even though there is no button above that I can see. I don't suppose the previous three or five times I opted out of DoubleClick have persisted? They do offer an advertising cookie opt-out plugin, which seems vaguely sinister but might work. There's also a link to the Network Advertising Initiative opt-out tool, which I'm also pretty sure I've used at least once in the past, serving up a bunch of broken status images, and exactly ONE (out of 84 member companies) that it sees me as having opted out of.

Select All, Submit. And wait to see how many of the 83 confirm. Looks like more than a quarter didn't do as they were told on the first try. So much for voluntary compliance.

So how 'bout that, seven dozen companies, most you haven't heard of, tracking your on-line behavior in order to target marketing, or who knows what? How many do you suppose are fronts for, or otherwise connected to the NSA?

Not that we're paranoid or anything.

Running with losers Permalink to this item

Not sure why the WSJ let it out from behind their paywall (free ticket from Facebook, maybe?), but Bret Stephens' opinion that the Republicans deserve to lose is an entertaining, sly, vituperative lament. If his opening paragraph is really the litany of what the right wing finds so objectionable about the current president, one has to pity their pathetic (and slightly unhinged) rage. Obama "thinks ATMs are weapons of employment destruction"? How does that even make sense?

"...maybe Republicans will [figure] out that if they don't want to lose, they shouldn't run with losers."

But the core element is that Obama "cynically betrayed his core promise as a candidate to be a unifying president," who knew? Given Obama's centrist and status quo decisions on most major issues, the only translation for this that I can imagine is that Obama failed to capitulate as fully as the ruling class would have preferred. The president's "pragmatism" is but a "veneer" over what he stand for, which isn't named, but you know doesn't have to be. (Haven't you been following? He's a Socialist!) Still, well-played with this:

"As for the current GOP field, it's like confronting a terminal diagnosis. There may be an apparent range of treatments: conventional (Romney), experimental (Gingrich), homeopathic (Paul) or prayerful (Santorum). But none will avail you in the end. Just try to exit laughing."

And what better way to go out laughing than to nominate Newt Gingrich? "A primary ballot for Mr. Gingrich is a vote for an entertaining election, not a Republican in the White House."

What a shame we missed out on "the GOP A-Team" of Mitch Daniels (he of the "grave" rebuttal), Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and Haley Barbour, shirking their duty because they won't work hard and have reluctant spouses. It's going to be all their fault.

25.Jan.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

You're not from around here, are you? Permalink to this item

News of the Weird has got nothing on the Idaho town of Burley and the Twin Falls Times-News with a story of a woman from Texas who spent the better part of a week parked in a dairy wastewater settling pond.

"Don't worry, it's a rental."

The story says she took a "wrong turn," and thought "water by a dairy" "was the river she needed to cross" to get to a hotel in north Burley. The river being the Snake River, which flows through the Snake River Plain, visible from space and covering ten or twenty thousand square miles.

According to the address, she ended up a mile out of town and on the north side of the river... so confusion seems to be rampant.

But still. A week. Damn!

Fundamentally flawed Permalink to this item

Michael Gerson has a pair of interesting columns about Newt Gingrich. On Jan. 12, before Romney's epic stumble on releasing his tax returns, Gingrich's epic beat-down of another journalist bringing up the Speaker's checkered past, and Gingrich's convincing win in South Carolina, describes the short-lived "respectful and constructive" phase of the resurrection, before we returned to the "forever 14" candidate. (Seventh grade, 14? Never mind that.)

"The man who knows too much" is Gerson's latest, about the now larger-than-life ambassador of grandiosity. He praises Gingrich's abilities as a "diagnostician," "specializing in the vivid explanation of public challenges," but sees him going off the rails when going from that to prescription.

"Nearly every problem that crosses the threshold of his attention becomes historically urgent, requiring a fundamental solution. This is the reason for his most revealing verbal habit. Systems are 'fundamentally broken' and require 'fundamental change.' Opposing views are 'fundamentally a lie' and 'fundamentally alien to American tradition.' Only the biggest ideas are sufficient to his self-regard."

There is a wealth of material to work with, but Gerson highlights one of the more important: Gingrich's intemperate attack on a whole branch of government. Abolish a few circuit courts, you say?

"When Gingrich was called out by conservative legal scholars on the radical implications of his proposal, his response was both typical and alarming. He doubled down. After all, he said, 'I taught a short course in this at the University of Georgia Law School.' And this: 'I would suggest to you, actually as a historian, I may understand this better than lawyers.'"

24.Jan.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Newt Gingrich rebuttal Permalink to this item

Thank you, Maurice Sendak (and The Colbert Report).

Colbert: Newt Gingrich said it: children don't have a work ethic.

Sendak: But Newt Gingrich is an idiot, of great renown, I'll give him that.

Colbert: He's a historian.

Sendak: Yes, but there is something so hopelessly gross and vile about him that it's hard to take him seriously, so let's not take him seriously.

State of the Union rebuttal Permalink to this item

Mitch Daniels got stuck with the rebuttal, I guess because he gave up on the run for president so early? Starts with the positive for the little bits he liked. Then the mind-reading:

"When President Obama claims the state of our union is anything but 'grave', he must know in his heart that it's not true."

He went on, I assume. But it turns out the President spoke so long, it went past the slot I set on the DVR, and the required switch to Comedy Central flushed the buffer. (Sorry Mitch; The Daily Show is a lot more entertaining.)

State of the Union Permalink to this item

Pretty much a great speech to my listening. Not perfect, of course. A bit on the long side. But not too long.

Lead with the military. Positive, positive, positive. "Imagine what we could accomplish if we followed their example." Singing the praises of fairness and the middle class.

"Let's remember how we got here."

And by the way, we're not going back where we came from. We're going for a renewal of American values, starting with manufacturing. Have I mentioned that GM is number 1 again? Even John Boehner had to clap a little for that.

Let's talk about insourcing.

"It's time to stop rewarding businesses that ship jobs overseas, and start rewarding companies that create jobs right here in America."


Teachers matter. Student loan interest rates shouldn't double. Bankers should be encouraged to be useful.

"I bet most Americans are thinking the same thing right now: Nothing will get done this year, or next year, or maybe even the year after that, because Washington is broken. Can you blame them for feeling a little cynical?"

Go ahead Congress, make our day. Prove that wrong.

State of the Union preamble Permalink to this item

The party out of power has never been enthusiastic about the President's annual address to Congress, but I can't remember one getting as much venom before it's even delivered as tonight's did. The Speaker of the House said on Sunday he thought it was going to be "pathetic," the Senate Minority leader was "disappointed" before it even started (at its supposed partisanship, if you can believe that from the guy who's been a broken record about limiting the President to one term), and the top two contenders on the campaign trail are lobbing cheap shots. The "best" of those is Mitt Romney complaining about how the President will be "divisive." Riiight.

Out of control Permalink to this item

I'm old enough to remember Barry Goldwater's run for the presidency, even if not quite old enough to have had a full grasp on the issues of the day. What I remember is that he'd expressed more bluster regarding using atomic weapons, and that was scary. I suppose it had more to do with effective advertising than his actual position, but in the heyday of Mutually Assured Destruction being the only thing between a regular school day and doing duck and cover for real, that seemed like no contest to me. Not that my opinion mattered; it would be three more elections before I voted.

With Gingrich in Act III of his political career, Goldwater comparisons are in fashion, such as Steve Kornacki's recap of when a party flirts with suicide, what happens with the elite insiders lose control of the candidate selection. It's definitely looking out of control at the moment!

No small part of that was having the CNN and Fox News purposely position the debates they hosted as audience-participation reality TV. Kornacki notes that Newt was considerably less impressive in a non-circus environment, no bloodthirsty crowd to cheer him on for attacking the messenger for questions Gingrich didn't want to answer.

23.Jan.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

He'll get back to us on that Permalink to this item

So much for the grandiose debate performance: Gingrich did not want to "spend the evening trying to chase Governor Romney's misinformation" but he's sure his team can find at least four things that weren't true and get them posted on his website tomorrow.

He gave up being Speaker because he "took responsibility for the fact that our results weren't as good as they should be," but he likes all the achievements.

It's confusing.

Ron Paul, who has been in the Congress forever, give or take, including during Gingrich's terms, had a more direct explanation: "He didn't have the votes."

Buried lede Permalink to this item

You have to get all the way down to the bottom of CNN's rundown of today's Romney v. Gingrich skirmishes to get to the punchline: that whole ethics flap that ended his last political career was his lawyer's fault. Seems as if there's always someone—else—to blame for his shortcomings.

Job destroyers Permalink to this item

Once upon a time, there were real-live battles with workers, agitators, company thugs and the occasional detachment of the U.S. Army. An uneasy peace eventually came about with the rise of union power, but that, too, is starting to fade into once upon a time. The power to eliminate jobs, or to ship them to cheaper and more controlled labor force has brought us back to an asymmetric contest once again. Perhaps Republican saint Ronald Reagan's quashing of the air traffic controllers was a turning point, but for whatever reasons, "the number of strikes has declined to just one-sixth the annual level of two decades ago."

Lockouts, on the other hand, are the new new thing, "grown to a record percentage of the nation's work stoppages." Equal opportunity unemployers mentioned in the NYT piece include Ohio's Cooper Tire Factory, the New York City Opera, Sotheby's, the NHL, NFL, NBA, and especially American Crystal Sugar, putting the squeeze on workers in the midwest.

Poor communicator Permalink to this item

I've been the job interviewer about as often as I've been an interviewee over the course of my career. I know a few things about the process, but really, only a very few. I wouldn't presume to try to "how interviewers think," because how would I know? I can tell you what crossed my mind, which may or may not be helpful.

What crossed my mind while reading Charlie Balmer's piece for LifeHacker (Why I won't hire you) first of all, was why in the world would I want to work for this person? Does he really interview more than 99 people for every one he hires? With such a lame screening process, it's no wonder he's surly grump.

And what's up with his supposed job title, "blogger, consultant, and hirer"? That just screams "run away" to me. Still, since his latest company "is a cloud based website security scanning application for IT departments and security professionals," he knows how to sling a buzzword or three. Even if there's a bit of subject-verb-object confusion to be had.

If nothing else, it's worth reading through the article to provide context for Tim Gray's comment afterwards, Why I won't apply for your job.

Banging against the wall Permalink to this item

That'd be the paywall, of the New York Times. Are we prepared to limit ourselves to 20 articles a month? (If they count reliably, we'd burn through that in a couple days.) Or sign up for $3.75/week for unlimited access? Probably not a coincidence that the print newspaper we're having delivered adds up to about $200/year also. Maybe we should drop that, read it online, and starting paying for the real newspaper instead.

Subscribers to the paper paper get digital access bundled in, and the Sunday Times is only $3.90 per week... for the first 8 weeks. Years ago, we did try to get delivery, but the local carrier never actually succeeded in the task. $7.80 for the Sunday newspaper, really? While I was thinking about that on their website, a customer agent chat window fired up, and "David" cheerily reiterated sales pitch text, with a responsiveness suggesting he was looking after a hundred or so chat sessions at the moment.

We'll think about it. And in the meantime, start paying attention to all the other interesting things to read that aren't being paywalled. Yet.

And if you don't understand statistics, you're going straight into marketing Permalink to this item

Or you could try your hand at writing books, I guess. It's working for "marketing guru" Seth Godin, who says if you're an average worker, you're going straight to the bottom. Still, it's true enough that someone else might be willing to do what you do for less money. With the right marketing, you can get paid more for less; you just need to make it sound more interesting, eh. Be "different somehow" and "make yourself unique."

"Then people will find you and pay you more." But "don't wait for someone else to pick you ... pick yourself!"

22.Jan.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Instant messaging Permalink to this item

Nice day for a trip down memory lane, Doc Searls digs up a pre-Cluetrain post from 1998 to have a look at the Ancient present, when marketing people might say they have "a collection of quality properties that are segmented into best-of-breed categories, and our reach has been catapulting."

Gotta love the catapulting reach.

Among the ten facts about highly effective markets Searls provided:

"There is no demand for messages. To get what this means, imagine what would happen if mute buttons on remote controls delivered 'we don’t want to hear this' messages directly back to advertisers."

Hmm, here it is a decade and some later, and we still don't have that feature on our remote controls. But we do have DVRs, and we do not watch most ads. (Sorry.)

21.Jan.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Native son Permalink to this item

More entertaining than the take in the Washington Times, where opinionater Eric Golub concluded that Stephen Colbert "is insanse," Melinda Henneberger's piece for the Washington Post gave the Stephen Colbert / Herman Cain rally in South Carolina the slack it was due. Never mind the people of South Carolina, I don't think it was "100 percent sure" that "the Her-man with a plan, the Mad Max of the flat tax, my brother from another mother" knew the "Rock Me Like a Herman Cain South Cain-olina Primary" was satire.

Exit poll Permalink to this item

"I think Mitt Romney is a good man," said Harold Wade, 85, leaving a polling place in [Greenville,] this picturesque seaside suburb outside Charleston. "But I think we’ve reached a point where we need someone who's mean."

Gingrich definitely fits that bill, and now the G.O.P. in the state where the Civil War was started has shown that they think meanness trumps family values by a good margin.

Improper benefits Permalink to this item

Boise State's still embroiled in the flap over so-called "major violations," its appeal of sanctions wending its way through the kangaroo outback, for settling the particulars of "public reprimand and censure," probation, changing of previous scores, reduction in scholarships, practice opportunities, recuriting visits, recruiters, and oh what the hell toss give us $5,000, too.

I'd say more about the specifics of the infractions, but the NCAA's See For Yourself link is 404. That's ok, you'd need a lawyer to explain the arcana of the rules that were broken.

Even with the cliff-hanger for the 2nd half on Tuesday, Joe Nocera makes a convincing case that something is seriously rotten in this system: Guilty Until Proved Innocent.

The larger picture of the shame of college sports was in the Atlantic in October, civil rights historian Taylor Branch's analysis of "the real scandal" in "the very structure of college sports, wherein student-athletes generate billions of dollars for universities and private companies while earning nothing for themselves." The resolution is probably going to be in the real justice system, rather than the NCAA's internals.

"Big-time college sports are fully commercialized. Billions of dollars flow through them each year. The NCAA makes money, and enables universities and corporations to make money, from the unpaid labor of young athletes."

Pop psychology Permalink to this item

We're on the cusp of freedom, as our first year free deal with the NYT ran out, and we passed on the first four months for 99¢ deal, and now Jeanette ran into the game over screen and a first four weeks for 99¢ offer. Back when they did the first paywall experiment, we paid up for access to their columnists. It would be hard to go without them. Such as... the inimitable Gail Collins, on opening Newt's marriage. Coffee alert.

She includes reference to Fox News' "medical A-team" psychiatrist opining that Gingrich's three marriages might make him a stronger president. "Really," as it says in the headline, which doesn't necessarily mean it's not a send-up.

It is a send-up, isn't it?

But Fox News, you never know. What's "really" to them may not be realio-trulio.

When it comes to psychoanalyzing Newt Gingrich, I'm more in the Santorum School, just worried "something's going to pop."

20.Jan.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

From one Turkey to another Permalink to this item

I wasn't drinking anything so I didn't spit up when Rick Perry started blathering about the "terrorists" running Turkey these days. I guess if I followed Fox's "News" more closely it would all make sense? But here, the Ambassador of Turkey responded, with the hope that the episode would "[lead] to a better informed foreign policy discussion among the Republican Party candidates, one where long-standing allies are treated with respect not disdain."

Sending Rick Perry back to Texas was a start.

Four way Permalink to this item

Interesting times in the right half of the presidential race. Iowa turns a razor thin margin into "whoops nobody won and a dog peed on eight of our precincts." (State party quote of the day: "There is no perfect election.") So much for the history-making "win" in both Iowa and New Hampshire.

The Romney team lowers expectations, both for Saturday's South Carolina primary and for any hint of timely disclosure of Mitt's tax returns giving particular shape to his tales of capitalist heroism and the surprisingly low tax rates our super-rich enjoy. David Cay Johnston notes that "a tax return says a lot about a man," which is exactly why Romney would prefer to have the nomination contest settled before he rolls out his 2010, or 2011 returns, and will almost certainly not give us all a detailed look at his success at making money through Bain Capital. We want a man to act just like the man that was dear old dad:

"Back in 1968, another Republican businessman seeking his party's presidential nomination disclosed 12 years of tax returns. That man was George Romney, Mitt's father, who said it was the right thing to do."

Newt Gingrich's second wife touched the third rail of family values, recounting his idea of "opening" up their marriage to wider dalliance. When CNN's John King invited Newt to comment, Gingrich unloaded both barrels on—yes, that's right—the Press! Despicable! Is there nothing they won't stoop to? The South Carolina right-wing partisans went wild. They hate the press, too.

The Speaker is busy inviting everyone else or at least Rick Santorum to get the hell out of his way so that he can supplant presumptiveness in a front-runner, but back at the ranch three out of four self-styled "conservatives" are going for Santorum, rather than "just another establishment Republican."

Then there's Congressman Ron Paul, certainly not just another establishment Republican, and leading his cadre of staunch supports even as he laments sometimes becoming an afterthought. (Sometimes?)

Did I miss anything?

Oh right right right, Rick Perry threw in the towel. He may be slow, but he's not completely stupid, finally concluding "that there is no viable path forward for me in this 2012 campaign," which was just about obvious when he came up one part short of a trio umpteen debates ago. And he likes Newt Gingrich, so 'nuff said.

18.Jan.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Snow day Permalink to this item

Outside our window this morning Finally! Condolences to Seattle and Portland, who I'm sure want nothing to do with this, and to the urban denizens of Boise who aren't all that keen on it either, but we've been desperately dry this winter, and this is long overdue. A couple feet in the central mountains, and we hope more feet are coming. Our local ski hill, Bogus Basin, has long shot past "latest opening ever" and had to have been wondering about whether in addition to the weather.

Their Get Louder for Powder! "support party" scheduled for tonight was near-exquisitely timed. Yesterday would've been perfect; tonight, there might be a bit of a problem having folks drive into downtown for "an evening of live music, food, beer and wine with special deals for valued season pass holders." The suggested costume of ski clothes and goggles will be perfect, however.

The Folklore of Capitalism Permalink to this item

That's the title of a book, by T.W. Arnold, first published in 1937 by Yale University Press, and recently cited by Jeanette as one of the seminal influences upon her, out of her mother's library. What's old is new again (and 75 years on, I see it's still in print, and on offer. The title of chapter 8 is "The Personification of Corporations," "In which it is explained how great organizations can be treated as individuals, and the curious ceremonies which attend this way of thinking." Looking through the table of contents, I was drawn first to an earlier chapter, "The Folklore of 1937." A brief excerpt:

"The effect of the peculiar folklore of 1937 was to encourage the type of organization known as industry or business and discourage the type known as government. Under the protection of this folklore the achievements of American business were remarkable. There was no questioing of myths which supported independent empires by those engaged in those enterprises. So-called private institutions like General Motors never lost their direction through philosophical debate. The pioneer efforts at industrial organization in this country had been wasteful beyond belief, but bold and confident.

"With respect to political government, however, our superstitions had the opposite effect. They were not a cohesive force, but a destructive and disintegrating one. The pioneer efforts of the Government were timid, indecisive, and ineffective. When it became necessary for the Government to fill gaps in the national structure in which private business enterprise was an obvious failure, the myths and folklore of the time hampered practical organization at every turn. ... Mystical attacks on practical measures achieved an astonishing degree of success."

Such "success" as Republicans in the Congress are enjoying, and sharing with us even today, and which will be the focus of the presidential campaign this year.

17.Jan.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Tax breaks been good to him Permalink to this item

Hasn't taken the trouble to tote it all up, but Mitt Romney thinks his tax rate is "probably" 15%.

"I got a little bit of income from my book, but I gave that all away," Mr. Romney told reporters after an event in Florence, SC. "And then I get speakers' fees from time to time, but not very much." The New York Times reports that

"financial disclosure forms that candidates are required to file annually shows that Mr. Romney earned $374,327.62 in speakers’ fees from February of 2010 to February of 2011, at an average of $41,592 per speech."

Just to calibrate what "not very much" means to Mr. Romney. I suppose his speaking fee income has taken a hit from this run for president, but hey, I wouldn't mind making three hundred seventy-four thousand three hundred and twenty-seven dollars (and sixty-two cents) every other year, or every third year. Even if I had to give 9 speeches to get it.

And if I were going to vote in the South Carolina primary, I wouldn't mind a look at his tax return for 2010 beforehand, even if it's not "up to date." If you're a proud capitalist, show us what you've got to be proud of, Mitt.

Martin Luther King Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

Our Christian nation, and Dr. King is weeping Permalink to this item

Ron Paul: "If another country does to us what we do to others, we're not going to like it very much. I like to say maybe we ought to consider a Golden Rule in foreign policy: don't do to other nations what we don't want to have them do to us."

The crowd boos. Shouts.

There are a few people in the crowd who agree with Paul that "this country does not need another war." Not all that many.

Work ethic Permalink to this item

Juan Williams: "Speaker Gingrich, you recently said black Americans should demand jobs not food stamps. You also said poor kids lack a strong work ethic and proposed having them work as janitors in their schools. Can't you see that this is viewed, at a minimum, as insulting to all Americans, but particularly to black Americans?"

Newt Gingrich: "No. I don't see that."

The crowd eats it up. Don't back down. Don't apologize. He sings his peaen to children working. Williams presses the question. The crows boos him.

The crowd—what do you know, they're pretty much all white people—gives the Speaker a standing ovation.

So, unemployment is so high, and so persistent because people don't want to work, is that what you're saying Newt? They just don't have good habits? But you're willing to teach...

Maybe no worse way to celebrate the holiday Permalink to this item

Watching the debate on Fox News, and the failure that is Rick Perry, pandering to the South Carolina crowd.

Juan Williams: "Governor Perry, last month the Department of Justice challenged SC's new law requiring registered voters to show state-issued identification before they can vote. Governor Haley has pledged to fight the federal government all the way to the Supreme Court. You sided with the Governor..."

Switch to camera three, showing Nikki Haley's 100 Watt smile, and the head of the SC GOP chortling through his chins. The crowd goes wild.

"Now, Gov. Perry, are you suggesting on this Martin Luther King Day that the federal government has no business scrutinizing the voting laws of states where minorities were once denied the right to vote?"

Rick Perry: "I'm saying, I'm saying that, uh, the state uh, of, of [sic] Texas, uh, is under assault by federal government. I'm saying also that South Carolina, uh, is at war with this federal government and this administration."


Governor Haley is nodding her head as she shares affirmation with everyone sitting around her, smiling and clapping.

No better way to celebrate the holiday Permalink to this item

Then to listen to the wisdom of 10-year-olds, and to hear their voices speaking Dr. King's words

Value-added education Permalink to this item

Michael Winerup read between the lines in the hot-off-the-presses study by three economists, tracking 2½ million studendts from fourth grade into adulthood seeking to quantify the benefits of quantifying learning. As he inferred (and confirmed with the study's authors), what they quantified comes from before the advent of high-stakes testing used to leave no child's test performance uncounted, back in the 90's, when his child could recall that "the tests were kind of fun; he got to miss his regular classes."

"The results have created a big stir because they seem to say that no matter what we think of all the standardized testing going on in education today, the scores are at least a measure of what matters in the long run."

Meanwhile back in the high-stakes testing-obsessed world, the anti-government Idaho Freedom Foundation's news outlet digested a television report of a survey of state education agency officials to explain Idaho's back-of-the-pack performance by saying "Much of [it] has to do with the system not having teacher merit pay." But hey, we're going to fix that! We passed a law! (Even though we didn't actually budget any funding for a boost.)

Maybe the MSNBC forked over the $4.95 for the PDF copy of Idaho's report? (I'm guessing the Idaho Reporter couldn't afford it. If they can, and did, their terse summary suggests they didn't get good value for their investment in education.) But no, the short story seems to be based on some Idaho official imagining that pay-for-performance will make a difference, and since we got dinged for not having it, once we get it in place, we'll be all set.

The Education Week survey graded on a curve, but they invite readers to change the curve if they like, for what looks to me like 70 dimensions, lumped into 17 categories, in 6 groups. That should provide enough levers to produce pretty much any result you might want. "Pay for performance" is one input, looks like a true/false test.

Except that... derating the "Incentives and allocation" category of the "Teaching profession" group to zero doesn't actually improve Idaho's grade from the lowest-tier gentleman's C-. (I didn't cheat, I just looked at "what if" we pegged that particular meter.)

15.Jan.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Full Sail what? Permalink to this item

Full Sail's for drinking, not for studying, I say. But opinions differ, and I see here there's a Full Sail University in Florida, something about " the entertainment field," and according to Mitt Romney, they're "[holding] down the cost of education" by, I don't know, charging $80,000 "for a 21-month program in 'video game art.'"

I tell you what, I think a half rack of Amber is a better deal.

14.Jan.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The omnious voiceover Permalink to this item

Garlic chives in winter Glenn Kessler splats the "King of Bain" video with four, count 'em four Pinocchios on WaPo, which will make the anti-Romney SuperPAC's ad campaign... precisely as effective as it was before. It's not about the facts, it's about the atmospherics. And hey, if you didn't like that particular video (or have half an hour to kill to watch the whole thing), there's more coming! What part about "unlimited spending from donors who won't be revealed until after it's too late to do anything about it" wasn't clear? Can we really be shocked, shocked that

"at least some of the interviews of ordinary citizens appear to have been conducted under misleading pretenses and have been selectively edited to leave a false impression."

And no one disputes that "private equity revolutionized American business," it's just that the benefits of the revolution have been distributed to a very select few, Mitt Romney unquestionably among them. Has a rising tide lifted all boats, the economic benefits trickling down upon the masses like blessed rain? Kessler demurs from answering that question, suggesting The Atlantic's non-answer of all the essential questions as "a good primer." Really?

On the question Do private equity buyouts hurt workers? that piece concludes that "the stereotype of massive net job losses isn't necessarily accurate." Just "much more turnover—or 'job reallocation' as the academics put it—but only a net decrease in employment of about 1% compared to other businesses.

Only a net decrease of 1%, great. (The bad news is, you just got robbed; the good news is, they only took 1%.) But you don't need a good primer to get the bottom line, which happens to be the same message that the drama of "King of Bain" expresses:

"Private equity firms are known to regularly take a 20% cut of profits. Lo and behold, once the researchers accounted for fees, private equity thoroughly outperformed stocks. Apparently, quite a lot of value winds up with the private equity guys, themselves."

But hey, the Romneys do not have fifteen homes, just three. (Which is good, because it's easy to remember "three," and being unsure of how many homes you actually have is a proven negative even if the answer is only in single digits.) There's the 5,400 square foot New Hampshire lake house on 11 acres (which made him a "quasi-native son" for the primary), the 3,000 (soon to be 11,000) sq. ft. scraper in La Jolla, California, and the townhouse outside of Boston. The 6,400 sq.ft. colonial in Belmont, Mass. and the 9,500 sq.ft. Deer Valley, Utah ski lodge have both been sold. So just the three now.

Friday the 13th Permanent URL to this day's entry

Looking for legitimate criticism Permalink to this item

I'm not sure I believe Gail Collins and David Brooks actually support the headline of their pas de deux asking for More Dullness, Please. What would they write about if such a wish came true? But I believe she means what she said:

"I was very happy to see Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum get skunked in New Hampshire. They're both mean, awful candidates. Santorum keeps telling these stories about his stillborn son and ailing daughter, and I respect his family's pain. But it doesn’t seem to have made him a larger man.

"It drives me nuts that he can't criticize Barack Obama without ascribing sinister motives to the president. You can be opposed to his health care plan without claiming that Obama proposed it just to make himself more powerful. And for somebody who doesn't believe in speaking ill of other Republicans, Newt Gingrich is incredibly good at it."

What she says about Santorum is true—in spades—about Rick Perry as well, but Perry is fading (more quickly) to irrelevance. David Brooks criticizing Huntsman for being the "emperor of banality" is rather rich gumbo. Speaking as one of the courtiers?

"In the wrong hands, some of those American dreams can turn into nightmares."
voiceover from When Mitt Romney Came to Town

Minor props to Newt Gingrich for pushing back on his secret SuperPAC pals for the "inaccuracies" in the hit piece they've put out on Romney. We can understand some "pressure from Republicans and conservatives" to dial it back, given that Romney will be standing after Gingrich has fallen for good.

Romney is right to speak up for capitalism, but whether he can make a persuasive case that his role in big business wheeling and dealing is central to what makes America great remains to be seen. We know it's working out well—fabulously well—for those on top, but that's a tough sell for most of the 99%.

The attack is "not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee" (even though it shows a picture of Gingrich "remaining focused" above its contribution form for the SuperPAC), which doesn't detract from how interesting it is. I can't imagine it doing anything useful for Gingrich (whether or not whatever inaccuracies it contains are tidied up), or any other Republican candidate. We need capitalists. We need successful capitalists. And for the long run, successful capitalists need employed workers. The problem is that in the short run, there are lots of ways to make money just by taking advantage of people.

12.Jan.12 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Climate boom or bust Permalink to this item

Yesterday's sun dog: the biggest and fattest I've ever seen Followed a LinkedIn teaser to Dan Miller's presentation to the Commonwealth Club, with video: Climate Boom or Bust? I watched his presentation of about 30 min., skipped the additional half-hour interview. The latter noted that Miller is the Managing Director of The Roda Group, a venture capital firm.

The short version of Miller's talk is his introductory statement that "climate change is the most important thing that is going to dominate our world in the next century. It's a very big risk, and it's also a tremendous opportunity."

I took a bunch of notes, read through the give and take in the LinkedIn comments (which I think you can see without an account) until the inevitable and tireless skeptic started sucking up all the oxygen.

His big idea is to implement a wellhead tax on CO2 in such a way that it's revenue-neutral. Call it the CLEAN ENERGY DIVIDEND, and pay back the "small but increasing fee" on a per capita basis. Most people would come out ahead, big energy users would be strongly encouraged to change their behavior, and he figures it would drive a new economy, and increase our security.

That was actually at the end of his list of suggested individual, and collective actions. The first thing for individuals to do is to "ask your children for forgiveness." Then do what you can to reduce your carbon footprint, and "Believe, learn, engage" with family, friends, and elected leaders.

Collectively, he says we need to come up with carbon-free electricity generation within a decade, keep the Canadian tar sands in the ground, and expand research into geo-engineering.

Flogging a brand Permalink to this item

A friend sent me the link to an interesting "Macroscope" piece in the American Scientist by Andrew Gelman and Kasier Fung, Freakonomics: What Went Wrong? As a business proposition, I'm guessing not much, after starting out as a column in the New York Times Magazine, the popular-statistics storytelling has burgeoned to an industry, complete with bestseller, turned into a movie (which I happen to have queued in the DVR, but haven't seen yet) and a sequel with "Super" in the title.

Freakonomics as an entertainment phenomenon makes me think of Malcolm Gladwell mashed up with Clayton Christensen: successful popularization of post hoc explanations aspiring to be scientific-seeming entertainment. Not that there's anything wrong with an "anecdotal, narrative style" if it's used to communicate useful scholarship. Every form of communication is storytelling, eventually. And my heart goes out to anyone who would write the sentence, "as the authors of statistics-themed books for general audiences, we can attest that Levitt and Dubner's success is not easily attained."

Gelman and Kung do provide a useful analysis of the many ways that things go wrong, without getting after one of the most pernicious: once an idea is popularized (whether it's contrarian science or a catchy campaign meme), it is damnably hard to displace from popular thinking. They offer suggestions for "solutions" to the problems. And a bibliography. This is so not bestseller material, but still, worthwhile reading.

"Don't uncritically accept the work of friends and colleagues" seems to be the main prescription. And do your homework. Don't believe everything you read. Question authority. Reduce your economic risk by borrowing stuff from the library.

10.Jan.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Deconstructing stumps Permalink to this item

Interesting feature on the NYT, Anatomy of a Stump Speech. Haven't been watching many whole speeches, and it's nice to have the transcript, a pause button, and sure why not, cartoon bubble commentary floating by too. I started with the front runner, a man who I don't care for, not least because he pretends to be a nice guy, but isn't, really. He embodies the blame game that Jon Hunstman criticized the other night, the attitude that's "exactly what's wrong with this country." Like so:

"We are Americans. And we will not surrender our dreams to the failures of this President. We are bigger than the misguided policies and weak leadership of one man. America is bigger than Barack Obama’s failures."

This from a man with a relatively thin record, all told, a big headstart in life, wealthy as Croesus from manipulating other people's work, and with enough smug attitude to power a bus.

He complains about a system in which "those that have the resources and make the rules get to take care of their friends." And the "entitlement society," as if... he was going to fix all that?

No mistaking that irony is still alive and kicking when this man speaks.

Primary handicapping Permalink to this item

Listening to the radio while driving today, heard a sound bite from a NH polling station, "the pencils are in the booths." Pencils, seriously? They're voting with pencils? That just doesn't sound right.

Speaking of not sounding right, that little quip from Romney is still ringing around the Granite State. He can complain all he wants about it being taken out of context, but I saw the context, and yeah, I understand that when you're an unsatisfied customer, you want to go do business with someone else.

But I would not express this by saying "I like to fire people," any more than I would call never doing business with a company again is "firing" them. (Maybe that's because I've never been a "job creator," but content to muddle along as a worker bee all these years.)

So Mitt flip-flapped the shade on the roller, threw open the sash and exposed a significant part of the way he thinks with that little mal mot turn of phrase. Still, I understand he's projected to win big, doubling the next two in line, expected to be Ron Paul (fading) and Jon Huntsman (on the way up, finally). Gingrich behind Santorum maybe, but bound to light up some more with a fresh shot of $5 million from one his rich friends (a really rich friend, as it turns out) feeding into the nasty-as-we-wanna-be SuperPAC pipeline.

Rick Perry on life support, hoping for a big shot from South Carolina (after he collects a small single digit of the New Hampshire vote) because... he sounds southern? Because that's where the Civil War started? And wasn't Texas going to secede, anyway? Why is Rick Perry still in the race?

9.Jan.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

A shining Mitt-ism Permalink to this item

You can't make this stuff up. The Republican fight is getting nastier by the day, and the nastiest of it all is the simple direct quote:

"I like being able to fire people who provide services to me."

So sayeth Mitt Romney.

Losing game Permalink to this item

Marc Johnson's got a decent analysis of the phony "crisis" over Obama's was-it-really-recess appointment to kick start the CFPB, but one mystery to me: John Yoo's opinion? Seriously? John Yoo is an embarrassment to the University of California and legal profession and there is no reason to give a flying donut for his opinion about anything, let alone his spent tool notion that this time a president went too far.


This is the man who participated in the team effort to provide deep cover for the Bush-Cheney torture program, writing secret memorandum to say if something truly scary happens, then the President can do whatever he or she wants to. But here, now, appointing a director to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureua is a bridge too far.

Please. Sit down and shut up.

Five to start the work week Permalink to this item

LinkedIn did something not many e-pubs do for me these days: went 5 for 5 in its teasers (dubbed "things you need to know in the news this week," but let that be). Just wish they wouldn't fork others' links in their silly frame and waste me a R/T getting rid of that.

CNN says Apple, Google, Amazon and IBM are the reigning "four horseman" of tech. (Yes, the allusion is to the Apocalypse, and no, it doesn't actually make sense, it's just "catchy.") Used to be Intel, Microsoft, Dell and Cisco, back in the 1990s, so mark the transition from cheap computer power and connectivity to a focus on user interface, electronic shopping, and knowledge engineering.

In between times, my alma mater, HP managed to become "the largest computer company in the world" (I read it on the internet recently, so it must be true) without ever making a Big Four list.

Mark Fidelman deconstructs half of the top four to explain why every company needs to be more like IBM and less like Apple. It's been more than 10 years since I was actively engaged with anybody from IBM, but back then I would have needed a coffee alert before reading that

"Today's Big Blue is the antithesis of Big Brother. It's 'Big Open.' A transparent, nimble, collaborative organization known more for listening and engaging customers than for dictating to them."

I'm not saying that couldn't be true, I've just never seen any medium-sized (let alone large) organization for which "transparent" or "nimble" could be applied with a straight face. (In the late 1990s, the IBM I experienced could only be described with those words with boffo ironic humor.) Collaboration is possible... but for a whole corporation, and one of the world's behemoths besides? I'm guessing a large number of its 400,000 employees are reading about their "free[dom] to create circumstances that enable their associates to build on each other's ideas" with some amusement.

But actions speak louder than words, and +40% share price in the last two years, and Warren Buffett's endorsement are good action. (Outperforming the S&P, HP, or getting trash-talk from Larry Ellison don't count though: anybody can do that.)

Eric Jackson's Seven Habits of Spectacularly Unsuccessful Executives combines the tried-and-true methods of piggy-backing on someone else's success (sequel!) and reverse brainstorming: if we wanted this be a spectacular failure, what would we do? I skimmed. Shorter: "Lose the hubris."

Joe Reynolds says you should give your employees unlimited vacation days. Don't laugh, it's working for him!

"[E]very last Red Frog employee is unflinchingly focused and devoted to our mission. Producing vast amounts of quality work is the norm, so we reward them with unlimited vacation and they, in return, reward Red Frog with outstanding work that blows me away every single day."

Whoops, there is a bit of fine print: "Simply make sure your work is getting done and make sure you're covered while you're away." Can we read an article from the employee who's taking unlimited vacaction while convincing other people to do his or her work? Yes we can.

"I lead by example. I worked more 100 hours last week, but this week, as I write this column, I'm watching surfers and sipping a delicious Hawaiian brew."

Finally, Tom Groenfeldt writes for Forbes to say that the Bigs are getting together (and smoking cigars, one must assume): Big Money Says Big Data is a Paradigm Buster. "Gartner predicts that data will grow 800% over the next five years and 80% of the data will be unstructured."

This includes your photos, your video, your tweets, your Facebook posts, your tweets of Facebook posts with photos, the GPS coordinates from which you tweet and post, the adstream Facebook runs down the righthand side while you tweet, post, and "film" the minutiae of daily life. And the marketing firms and credit agencies aggregating information about your behavior, and the NSA aggregating information about your behavior and their behavior (and for all we know about their own behavior too; who watches the watchers?).

But it doesn't include those things individually, because they're not big enough. We're not talking gigabytes, we're talking terabytes, and beyond. Genomes. Climate models. You can't just grab a "sample" and try out your analysis, "that defeats the value of Big Data with all its potentially informative outliers." "Big" = more than can be kept in main memory with a single CPU to access it.

"Big" is so big it busts your paradigms. Q.E.D.

8.Jan.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Nightmare of Guantánamo Permalink to this item

The Op-Ed in today's New York Times by Lakhdar Boumediene is titled My Guantánamo Nightmare, and it surely was his, but there are others, not least the 171 who remain in the US' detention camp in Cuba. But mostly it is our nightmare, the legacy of fear itself, a blot on our Constitution and the ideals we profess to hold dear.

The Fail that is Rick Perry Permalink to this item

The question that was not asked of the Rick Perry in today's Meet the Press debate: Governor, why are you still here?

The question that was asked, by Boston's WHDH political editor, Andy Hiller: "Governor Perry, your party's last nominee wrote in an Op-Ed in the Washington Post about a year ago, his words,"

"I disagree with many of the President's policies, but I believe he is a patriot, sincerely intent on using his time in office to advance our country's cause. I reject accusations that his policies and beliefs make him unworthy to lead America, or opposed to its founding ideals."


It's a softball, a gimme, can of corn, easy pickins, low hanging fruit. Is Rick Perry man enough, smart enough, gracious enough to do the right thing, to answer the question succinctly and in the affirmative?

"Uh, I make a very proud statement and a fact that we have a president that's a socialist. I don't think our founding fathers wanted America to be a socialist country, so I disagree with that premise that somehow or another that, uh, President Obama reflects our founding fathers. He doesn't. He talks about having a more powerful, more centralized, more consuming and costly federal government. I am a tenth amendment believing governor...."

You make a very proud statement and a fact?! You make a proud, vaguely incoherent, intemperate, and ingracious statement, Governor. Thank you. You're excused to return to the great state of Texas.

Let's do Permalink to this item

Watching the debate today on Meet the Press, I heard Newt Gingrich say "can we just drop the pious baloney?"

Ron Paul observes that "this whole discussion has been very superficial."

We noticed.

Mitt Romney seems to think he needs to say increasingly outrageous things. Like that the current President of the United States, 3 years into his first term, is "not a leader."


It gets attention, but only because it's so flat-out stupid.

"This nation is divided because of statements like that," Jon Huntsman said, and he's exactly right. It's not at all clear that the rest of the Repbulican field, or the voters they're courting agree with his implication that we should try to unite the country, however.

Newt: let's get the crooks! Get out the pitchforks and torches! "I think a sound approach is to actually improve the government, not to punish the American people because of the failure of the political class to have any sense of cleverness."

Such as this here Class of 2012 eh. Mitch McConnell's Prime Directive is to punish the American people as much as it takes to unelect Barack Obama. I'm not ready for the punishment that would result from the resurrection of Gingrich's spent political career.

Scrolling by, from Facebook, someboday named Dennis Jones writes to ask:

"If tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations are the answer to reinvigorating the 'job creators' then why did the 1.3 trillion Bush tax cuts result in a net loss of 7 million jobs?"

A good question that didn't get asked of the candidates.

7.Jan.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Which syllable of mer-cen-ar-y is unclear? Permalink to this item

and pass the popcorn! Gingrich fires for effect.

The film is called "When Mitt Romney Came to Town."

"Capitalism made America great," the narrator intones. "But in the wrong hands, some of those dreams can turn into nightmares."

At least it wasn't Rick Perry comin' to town! Meanwhile, back at the ranch:

"In an unusual [sic] twist, it was made by Jason Killian Meath, who worked on the Romney campaign in 2008 and is a former colleague of one of Mr. Romney’s top strategists today..."

Saturday banking Permalink to this item

Gneiss, from the Salmon River canyon It must be a habit that started when I used to work regular hours, Monday through Friday; Saturday is often the day I get around to taking care of bills and accounting and taxes and statements and such. Back when bills had to be paid "by hand," with checks and stubs and envelopes and stamps, it required more regular attention than it does now, with the greatly appreciated convenience of electronic bill paying. A quick glance to make sure nothing crazy is happening, and throw it in the "accounting later" stack, get back to it... in a week, month, quarter. Some stuff I see I haven't dispatched half a year or a whole year later. The taxes do have to get done annually, I remember that.

Fetching our December checking account statement from Key Bank this morning, the item in the "KeyNotes" happened to catch my eye:

6. Payment of Items; Overdrafts; Substitute Checks. Withdrawals by check are permitted only on Checking Accounts and on Savings Accounts with checkwriting privileges. You agree that, when a check or other item drawn on or payable from your Account is presented for payment, we can disregard any legends on the check (such as "void after 60 days", "paid in full" or "void over $100"), any restrictive endorsements or other information, instructions and disclaimers that would limit or tend to limit the negotiability of the check or other item. We may process items in any order that we choose. ...

You might not catch that in the middle of two pages of italicized blah blah blah that mostly isn't very interesting.

we can disregard any legends on the check (such as "void after 60 days")

Or... after 6 months, the timespan after which a bank is not obligated to honor a check presented for payment according the Uniform Commercial Code. They can if they want to, or if they feel like it, or if gee, we hardly noticed that someone walked in with a check more than 2 years old that they told you was lost in the mail and for which we charged you $30 for a Stop Payment order (only good for 6 months, because that's all the UCC says we have to do, and did you want to pay another $30 for the next 6 months, or not?) and for which their demand for payment is actually fraudulent, but hey we don't have to care, because see, it's not our problem, it's your problem. Good luck with that. Let us know if you want to keep paying $30 (apiece) for 6 month stop payment orders on as many items as you like.

As you might infer, this did in fact happen to me, with a check drawn on this same bank. Just once upon a time in my whole life, but with enough money at issue to hold my attention for a long time. Long enough to have


printed on our checks the next time I bought some. Now KeyBank National Association wants me to know that they're free to ignore that, too. I sent them an inquiry:

Please tell me why I should not close my account with you immediately and take my business elsewhere.

I can think of an answer on my own, of course: ha ha, knock yourself out. Every other bank does exactly the same thing, because they can. It'll be interesting to see how they word it.

Epiphany Permanent URL to this day's entry

It's today! Permalink to this item

Photo of Gneiss personalized license In my personal liturgical calendar, today is one of the highest High Holy Days. In the Christian calendar, the Epiphany is a "feast day," celebrating the revelation that the baby Jesus was God incarnate. (Those links are to Wikipedia... which also informs me that Johann Sebastian Bach provided a sound track for us for this day, part VI of his Christmas oratorio.)

My holiday is in the sense of the lower-case epiphany (which maybe crossed Edward Estlin Cummings' mind once or twice), that feeling of comprehension, aha! when pieces of a puzzle click together. I disagree with the Wikipedia entry for this sense of the word, that "epiphanies are only a rare occurrence." (I'd edit the entry... but those before me are too invested in their notion of seeming magic that happens only by dint of "significant labor." I did at least edit the sentence that had "significant labor" in it twice.)

Epiphanies come in all sizes, I say. There's the once-in-a-millennium flash of insight heralded by choruses of angels and dumbstruck shepherds, drawing wise men from the East to recognize that we all have the potential for divinity, our own imagination of what is true, pure, good, merciful, knowing, and powerful. And then there is the everyday epiphany, recognizing a more efficient path through the daily commute, two ingredients you've never put together for dinner that have a tasty synergy, an analogy that sparks an understanding, solves the riddle.

Not just one day a year, but one day to remind us as we swing around the sun, insights lie all around us, calling our names.

Vicissitudes Permalink to this item

Jeanette volunteers at the Boise Public Library! every week, and in addition to the perquisite of sorting through donated books, there are the found objects that make their way through the years. She's collecting. One item:

A card, size and shape of a large playing card, as from a Tarot deck. The back is a symmetric, straight-on, birds-eye view of the center of a poppy flower, the fat pistil looking like a vaguely chartreuse pupil, surrounded by the black tinted center of the corolla (that's a collective noun, not a car), flecked with the circle of chartreuse anthers, in a field of poppy petal red. Obverse, text:

The Eight Vicissitudes

According to the Buddha,
we will experience these
vicissitudes throughout our lives,
no matter what our intentions
or actions.

(see Appendix G)


My notion of what the 'v' word meant was more like 'troubles', so I looked it up, old school, in the 4th edition of the American Heritage Dictionary, our favorite. It comes right after vicious circle, how about that for lexicographic synchronicity?

n. 1a. A change or variation. b. The quality of being changeable; mutability. 2. One of the sudden or unexpected changes or shifts often encountered in one's life, activities, or surroundings. Often used in the plural. See synonyms at difficulty.

The Buddha says vicissitudes are expected. Four pair of changes, back and forth, up and down.

4.Jan.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

A punchline I will not miss Permalink to this item

Let us join Microsoft in bidding farewell to IE 6, the once "most popular" and bug-infested evidence of that company's fading monopoly. The director of Internet Explorer marketing says "we've been as eager as anyone to see it go away," but he may be misunderestimating.

War on Congress Permalink to this item

Oh, they're pulling out the stops today. "Unconstitutional," "brazen," "arrogantly circumvented the American people," "extraordinary," and "entirely unprecedented power grab," "defies centuries of practice."

"The precedent that would be set by this cavalier action would have a devastating effect on the checks and balances that are enshrined in our Constitution."

John, John, John, the Iraq War is over, so what if the Congress never got around to declaring it.

Wait, what's that—you're talking about Obama's recess appointments to allow him to carry out the expressed will of the Legislative branch to have a (brand new) Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and to get the (76½ year-old) National Labor Relations Board functioning again?

There was some discussion, and calls for the President to act. Rather than the 10 day "tradition," or the 3 days of recent legal opinions, perhaps he could do what T.R. did and employ "the 15-Second option," the breathless moment of official recess between the first and second sessions of this Congress, on Tuesday. Or even more interesting, use his Constitutional power to declare Congress adjourned (and then argue what constituted the individual bodies' failure to agree on adjournment).

But Obama apparently leaned on neither that precedent nor the Constitution and waited until today. Yes, we're in the middle of an effective recess, and yes, the charade of pro-forma sessions of both the House and Senate has made the Congress not technically in recess. (And yes, Harry Reid was the one who started this, back in 2007, to block George W. Bush's appointments.)

Shall we have lawyers dance on the head of a pin and debate before the Nine to decide the issue? (In what, three or seven months' time?) The Washington Times rises apoplectic to suggest "the move threatened to become a declaration of war against Congress."

Or maybe just a campaign against Congress, for which Obama has a 5-to-1 headstart, and has to like his chances. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky:

"Breaking from this precedent lands this appointee in uncertain legal territory, threatens the confirmation process and fundamentally endangers the Congress's role in providing a check on the excesses of the executive branch."

Our checks and balances always have an element of uncertain territory, but this current move is about the excesses of the legislative branch more than the executive. The Republicans in Congress seem to have overplayed a weak hand.

Update: TPM explains why Wednesday instead of Tuesday.

3.Jan.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Win, lose, draw Permalink to this item

Huntsman wins because the highly ambiguous Iowa result leaves no one with momentum and focus quickly shifts to New Hampshire. Well, no one with positive momentum except perhaps Santorum, who peaked at the perfect moment for Iowa, tying the inevitable Mitt Romney.

Gingrich sliding, Perry appealing to just 1 in 10, and 5th place. Bachmann, done. Ron Paul a close enough third to claim victory. Along with Romney, Santorum and why not, Newt "I could be the nominee" Gingrich. He made double digits anyway.

Say WHA'?! Permalink to this item

David Brooks, on tonight's Newshour: Rick Santorum is "not only getting the social conservatives, he's doing a lot better among people without high school degrees who make up the majority of the electorate among Republicans, and Mitt Romney, nationwide, has always had trouble with those people."

The majority of Republicans don't have a high school degree? That's hard to believe. What's the H.S. graduation rate? Searching... this 2010 post on Economix says 75% of the 2004 freshman graduated on time.

That cites the National Center for Education Statistics (part of one of those departments Rick Perry says he'd do away with), and they say this:

"Between 1975 and 2010, the educational attainment of 25- to 29-year-olds increased. ... In 2010, for example, 89% of 25- to 29-year-olds had received at least a high school diploma or equivalency certificate, a 6 percentage point increase from 1975. The high school completion rate has remained between 85 and 89% since 1980."

You want stats, we got stats. Brooks must've been thinking of people without college degrees, not high school.

Lead, follow, or get out of the way Permalink to this item

I read the Governor's guest opinion when it ran in print, and after Dave Oliveria's follow-on blog post about Richert's follow-on about the Dems' response to Otter's grousing got me to thinking how fascinating it is that the opposing parties can fight so tirelessly over a meta-issue.

We're not talking about health, or healthcare, or even healthcare insurance, but about a healthcare insurance exchange. A clearinghouse for information.

It's another universe, where an insurance salesman magically turns into a "producer." Or was it a "navigator"?

Otter insists we need "IDAHO solutions." Is it something in the water? Do Idahoans have a unique metabolism or sensibility that makes them need different care, insurance, or access to information? There is the fact that the state regulates insurance companies, and insurance salesman, and lots of other people.

But why?

How is our health, our healthcare, our healthcare insurance or our access to information about all that improved by having 50 state bureaucracies (aka "laboratories") reinventing wheels? (Maybe in Idaho, we're still reinventing the travois?) Otter claims that

"long before the passage of the law, Idaho was exploring ways to create its own exchange emphasizing free-market principles and creating a competitive marketplace that would improve access to coverage and keep insurance decisions between Idaho patients and insurance providers."

Yes, we've always been explorers here in the wild west, but were there any nuggets in the pan? I've been a "consumer" of healthcare insurance during this historical period he speaks about, and there were no, zero, nada, zip, zilch benefits from this exploration of principles he says happened. My choice of insurance companies was (and is) very limited (as in "two") and premiums ratcheting up by large amounts year after year, not because my claims were higher (they were non-existent, in fact) but because the companies' expenses were, and I was a captive audience.

Governor, you don't need to make excuses for accepting federal money; we all know Idaho is one of the United States (and one of the states that gets back more than it pays in, thanks to our geography and demographics), and we wish you all the best in producing a better system.

But if you can't manage that, do please work on one of the state's other problems and get out of the way.

Let your own voice be heard Permalink to this item

The fundraising emails rise to a crescendo right before the ends of quarters and years, as if candidates' reporting deadlines would motivate us to give more. Least effective sales pitch EVAR. "I've got to make quota, I'm desperate!" I don't suppose a car salesman is stupid enough to try an angle that screams "make a ridiculous lowball offer, I'm liable to take it!" With a fundraising email, that offer would be ZERO, a.k.a. DELETE. (OTOH, the other tack, subject "Seriously: not another fundraising email" wasn't a good idea either, because all I saw was "fundraising email" and the DELETE came down even faster.)

But here, the RNC up early in the new year, inviting me to "join our online fight against Barack Obama" by signing on to social media. Forget about plain old robocalls, they want to wire up their firehose to my mobile phone. W00t!

"We want to share with you exclusive content that will be distributed online or through mobile phones, and by doing so help make your own voice heard."

As in, "your voice," rebroadcasting our message. Priceless. The perfect gift for someone with nothing to say.

Iowa caucuses TODAY! Permalink to this item

Watching a snippet of The Early Show (courtesy of the L.A. Times), I was wondering what a "telephone town hall meeting with 16,000 people" means, really. (Coincidentally a robot rang my phone just then... but it was a happy call, from the Library!, telling us one of our requested books was in.) I'm thinking the folks in Iowa are excited, but will be glad when it's done tomorrow, and the robots stop calling them to "meetings."

Newt's going "back to Waterloo" this afternoon. Seriously.

The lively commentator wanted to know what happened to you "riding on top of the polls," and what's up with the "spectacular crash (in the polls)?" And the "scolding"? What she said you said: "someone who will like to you to get to be president will lie to you when they are president."

"Are you calling Mitt Romney a liar?"


Ok, kudos for the direct answer. We don't see a lot of that in politics these days.

"This is a man whose staff created the PAC, his millionaire friends fund the PAC, he pretends he has nothing to do with the PAC. It's baloney."

But the worst criticism Mr. Speaker leveled was that Romney's a phony conservative, a "Massachusetts moderate," god save us.

Still, if Romney does turn out to be the party's nominee, Gingrich says he'd hold his nose and vote for him rather than Barack Obama. Based on the estimate that he'd be "less destructive."

2.Jan.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

What you don't know definitely could hurt you Permalink to this item

H/t to Tim O'Reilly on Google+ for another sorry story out of last year's political circus.

"A typical year in this country features three or four weather disasters whose costs exceed $1 billion each. But this year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has tallied a dozen such events, including wildfires in the Southwest, floods in multiple regions of the country and a deadly spring tornado season. And the agency has not finished counting. The final costs are certain to exceed $50 billion."

My emphasis. The Weather Underground website's cofounder says he's "never seen a year that comes close to matching 2011 for the number of astounding, extreme weather events" in his 30 year career in meteorology, and "looking back in the historical record, which goes back to the late 1800s, I can't find anything that compares, either."

And here's the punchline, the haymaker, the whack upside the head, the left uppercut coming your way in you-can't-believe-this-is-actually-happening super slow-mo:

"This year, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tried to push through a reorganization that would have provided better climate forecasts to businesses, citizens and local governments, Republicans in the House of Representatives blocked it. The idea had originated in the Bush administration, was strongly endorsed by an outside review panel and would have cost no extra money. But the House Republicans, many of whom reject the overwhelming scientific consensus about the causes of global warming, labeled the plan an attempt by the Obama administration to start a 'propaganda' arm on climate."

This just in, from Supreme Leader

That would be the Supreme Leader of North Korea, courtesy of the Borowitz Report. The letter to the people of Iowa is much funnier than anything I'm going to come up with on New Year's Day (observed).

New Year's Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

Sunrise, sunset Permalink to this item

New Year's Day sunrise out our bedroom window

New Year's Day sunset from our front porch

Swiftly flow the years.


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Monday, 17-Dec-2012 16:23:52 MST