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Sunday, May 31, 2009

College Choice 

Sorry to leave you guys hanging.

For those of you who don't remember my post about my college choices asking for advice, my
main options were Hofstra, Drexel, Virginia Tech, and Cornell College. I decided not to go to Hofstra, because it seemed less than fantastic, and I received much information that Long Island is not a great place to live (putting it mildly). That left it between Drexel, VTech, and Cornell. Here is a list in the same format as last time.

Cornell:
The outlier. I revisited that college a couple days before May 1st (The Deadline, in title-case), and it seemed to confirm my first impression of it, which was that it is a lot like my high school, George School. The students seemed friendly, and I stayed in a dorm and watched Blood Diamond with them. The place was smaller and the faculty seemed very smart. I attended a Computer Graphics lecture, stayed awake with a bit of effort (it's something I know almost nothing about, so I couldn't talk, so my mind wandered, so I was drowsy, ok?!), talked with them a bit about robotics, and went on my merry way. Overall, I decided not to go there, because there were fewer opportunities and it was in Iowa.

Drexel:
This University was very close to Virginia Tech in a lot of ways. First of all, it is a good engineering-type school. Secondly, it was pretty big, with somewhere around 20,000 people. The main two differences were what made it unique. First of all, it was the only school I got into that was in a big city. The other places were in college-town environments or smaller cities. Philly is a pretty cool place, but I did not like how disjointed Drexel's campus was. Maybe it's a picky issue, but it's one of the things I didn't like about Rutgers. Anyway, there's always something to do in the city, so that's a good thing. Plus, the co-op program at Drexel is a good idea. (They have a GOOGLE co-op!!!) However, it precludes free time or close friends, and it's a 5-year program. Overall, I decided not to go, in favor of:

Virginia Tech:
First of all, may I say that the food at both Cornell and Drexel is of either "meh" quality or actively bad. Virginia Tech has the best state-university food in the country. It also happens to be in a really cool college town, in a state where all of my grandparents live and where 1/3 of my aunts and uncles live, a state that is closer to home, and not Iowa. My cousin also goes there. But enough about the location. It is really famous for its academics and it has a beautiful, contiguous campus. If I went to Cornell, people would constantly be confusing it with the University, and Virginia Tech has far more choices than Cornell does. People at VTech also just seem friendlier than at Drexel. I decided to go here for college for this myriad of reasons.

As Dad would say, "Release the hounds."

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The last survivor 


The last remaining survivor of the sinking of the Titanic died today, on the 98th anniversary of the original launch of the great ship's hull (but not, obviously, the maiden voyage, which was in April 1912).


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Defending Israel and Iran, from one point of view 


Ouch:



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"Date night": It isn't the money, it's the greenhouse gases 


The GOP and any number of righty bloggers are in a high dudgeon over the POTUS and the FLOTUS doing a date night in New York to see a show on Broadway. It is either a waste of taxpayer dollars or offensive in light of the bad economy, depending on your cup of tea.

As a fan of the "imperial presidency," this is one conservative blogger who does not have a problem with our president living the high life. I remember the Carter presidency, what with its hair shirts cardigan sweaters, beige limousines, and all-around oppressive gloom, and I want none of that. Obama is doing it right, as far as I'm concerned, and I have no problem with us paying for it, either. Given the things that politicians spend money on, this does not seem particularly wasteful and it is admirably free of long-term engineer-our-society consequences.

But, I am very much with Rob. If you believe, and President Obama says he does, that the production of greenhouse gases will lead to global catastrophe and therefore that we have a fierce moral urgancy to give up our energy-intensive ways, flying three planes to New York to take in a show is nothing less than outrageous. Imagine the entirely different pro-Gaia message if the Obamas had taken over a few cars on an Accela Express and ridden it up to Penn Station Biden-style?

It is also bad politics; how are voters going to accept fear of climate change as a justification for massively higher energy prices if the president wastes it with public and joyful profligacy? They, like me, will believe it is a crisis when the people who say it is a crisis start acting as if it were one.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.


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Grievances 


Apparently you actually can make a law against petitioning government for redress of grievances. Because, you know, corporate executives might dare to express their point of view.


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Saturday, May 30, 2009

I scream, you scream 



Now that Memorial Day is in the rear view mirror and June is right around the corner, we can start thinking summer thoughts. One of the best things about summer -- at least, in the Mid-Atlantic region and in New England, where I tend to spend most of my summers -- is going out to your local ice cream stand for a treat.

With the assumption that Thomas Sweet is ground zero (since it is in TigerHawk's home town), and using this list as a starting point for reference, please submit the name and location of your favorite place to go for premium ice cream in the United States. While I like Baskin-Robbins and Ben & Jerry's, I am generally looking for ice cream stands that are not part of national or super-regional chains.

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2,063 words about President Obama's Gramps 



The AP has a feature article up entitled "Obama's Gramps: Gazing skyward on D-Day in England." I do salute President Obama's grandfather, Stanley Dunham, and his brother-in-law Charles Payne, and Stanley's brother Ralph, all of whom served in the military during WWII, and any words of wisdom that Stanley passed down to his grandson having to do with maintaining a degree of vigilance against those who have totalitarian designs are certainly positive lessons.

I am not intending to be critical here of the POTUS or any members of his family; I'm just wondering, what's the point of the feature? It just seems to me that the AP piece tries way too hard to make the POTUS seem as though he is descended from a family of American heroes. I don't recall any similar articles about the WWII service of relatives of Presidents Clinton (if any) or George W. Bush over the last 16 years on various D-Day anniversaries. Today's coverage -- which is 2,063 words in length, a long piece by AP standards -- would be slightly more relevant had Stanley Dunham actually participated in the D-Day invasion in a combat role, rather than at "Stoney Cross, England, in the 1830th Ordnance Supply and Maintenance Co., Aviation," and bound for the continent six weeks later (again, in no way diminishing the importance of his service and the service of similarly situated vets). Maybe the AP could have saved this piece for next May's 65th anniversary of V-E Day.

It is almost as if the media (really, the AP specifically) is bending over backwards in this instance to make the POTUS seem more "American" in legacy terms, when, heck, he's the POTUS and a whole bunch of people voted for him -- how much more American does he have to be? So his father was Kenyan, and he spent some time outside of the U.S. growing up -- does it really matter at this point? I don't feel any less American because one of my parents was born outside of the U.S., nor should anyone of a similar mixed-nationality background feel that way or be perceived that way. Nous sommes tous américains.

I think it is accurate to say that the majority of Americans who are roughly President Obama's age (and I include myself in that group) have or had a grandfather, father, uncle or great uncle who served in the military during WWII. All of the WWII vets are heroes in one way or another. As I have posted previously, my father enlisted in the U.S. Navy in the fall of 1940 and finished up his active duty service in October 1945, after V-J Day (I believe he was hunting U-boats in the North Atlantic 65 years ago this week, and did not directly participate in Operation Overlord). Millions of other people roughly my age would have similar family stories, and some would have stories about the Normandy invasion in particular.

If the AP wants to write another 2,000-word piece about D-Day, perhaps some relatives of the 4,400 Allied KIA on June 6, 1944, might be interviewed, or the men who are still with us from the invasion force of 156,000 Allied troops who landed in Normandy that day could be profiled.

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Public service announcement 


Of the many ways I might let you down, few would be more grievous than failing to inform you of Amazon's massive two-day housewares sale. I bought some sheets.


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Worried about the distribution of wealth? Problem solved! 


For years we have been hearing that the growing inequality between rich and poor, or even rich and the rest, is a social problem that in and of itself justifies government intervention into the economy. Well, inequality appears to be well on its way to solving itself:

As I have been writing for the past year, the rich have been hammered by this crisis, largely because of the plunge in the value of their investments and real estate. As a result, the millionaire population (especially the lower end) is taking a dive.


Early estimates say the millionaire population in the U.S. fell 30% last year. Now, it seems Britain’s millionaire population has fallen an astounding 50%.


I suspect that once we have more complete up-to-date information about the distribution of wealth in the United States we will learn that it has narrowed considerably, what with massive losses in the financial markets, the assault on corporate compensation, and the plunging value of real estate. So at least we will have taken that fraudulent reason for confiscatory taxation off the table and adopt the more honest "from each according to his ability, effort, and good fortune, to each according to his political clout."

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Gunning for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad 


In a corner of southeastern Iran, near a part of Pakistan that nobody much controls, somebody tried to blow up the local campaign headquarters of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Obviously, the Great Satan was behind it:


Preelection tensions rose Friday in Iran's religiously and ethnically mixed southeast after gunmen opened fire on the president's campaign office and a radical group claimed responsibility for the bombing of a mosque the day before that killed up to 23 people and injured scores.

Iranian authorities blamed the United States for the violence in Zahedan, on the border with Pakistan.

Right. We cannot find al Qaeda central command, but we have plenty of time to blow up Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's phone bank.

Naturally, I have at least two reactions.


  • Apparently it remains political advantageous, during an Iranian presidential campaign, to blame the United States for anything and everything. This implies that the Iranian electorate is still fairly anti-American (notwithstanding claims to the contrary from Western doves), and that the election of Barack Obama and his numerous overtures have not really altered the political calculus inside Iran. Bashing the Great Satan still gets votes.


  • Wouldn't it be great if we really were blowing stuff up in Iran? Not mosques and campaign headquarters and so forth, but, say, centrifuges, refineries, and power substations? But who am I kidding?

  • Goddamn.

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    Racial preferences and Judge Sotomayor 


    Megan McArdle has a nice post on the relative irrelevance of affirmative action against the many other weighty issues that come before the Supreme Court, with a dancing plethora of interesting comments in response and elaboration.

    For my own part, my first-draft opinion of the Sotomomayor nomination includes at least the following elements:


  • She is eminently qualified, and would be well within the standard for the Supreme Court if she were a middle-aged white male. Her opponents would do well to avoid the claim that she has been cut some break because of her ethnicity, if for no other reason than it will diminish the power of that argument on some future occasion when it might actually apply.


  • It is troubling that she might subscribe to the idea that one's race or ethnicity makes one inherently more capable of understanding racial issues, even if it might be true. Judges need to maintain the appearance of impropriety, and that is manifestly an improper attitude, akin to saying "most people are guilty of something" and the like. Candor is not an asset in a judge, particularly one nominated for the Supreme Court.


  • Republicans are certainly entitled, both procedurally and morally, to vote against Sotomayor's nomination on exactly the same basis that Senator Barack Obama voted against the confirmation of Justice Alito and Chief Justice Roberts. That does not make it any less risky for them to do so.


  • The Ann nails it:
    [T]he media and Democrats seem to find successful Hispanic attorney Sotomayor much more "empathetic" than successful Hispanic attorney Miguel Estrada.

    After aggressively blocking Estrada's nomination to a federal appeals court during Bush's first term solely on the grounds that he is Hispanic and was likely headed for the Supreme Court -- according to Senate Democrat staff memos -- now Democrats have the audacity to rave that Sotomayor will be the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice!

    If Sotomayor is not more empathetic than Estrada, liberals at least consider her more Hispanic -- an interesting conclusion inasmuch as Sotomayor was born in New York and Estrada was born in Honduras.

    Forty-four of 48 Senate Democrats voted to filibuster Estrada's nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, with congressman and professional Hispanic Raul Grijalva assuring them that just because "he happens to be named 'Estrada' does not give him a free ride."

  • Quiz her respectfully but relentlessly, stay away from the suggestion that she is less than fully qualified, and then vote to confirm her because she is going to get confirmed anyway.

    CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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    Friday, May 29, 2009

    Eco post of the day 


    You can do devastating things with Flash video on the web. Here is a moving picture of nine years of deforestation in particularly hard hit corner of the Amazon. It is enough to turn anybody into a conservationist, if not an environmentalist.

    CWCID: Paul Kedrosky.


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    The Second Amendment meets Gitmo detainees 



    A small town in Montana with an unused medium-security jail that "could be fortified" is offering to house the detainees who remain at Gitmo.

    The town council of Hardin, Montana (east of Billings) passed a resolution last month in favor of taking the detainees, but the state's congressional delegation is negative on the idea. Opinion in the town is mixed, but apparently not because people are afraid of attempted prison breaks:
    "The jail's No. 1 promoter, Greg Smith, executive director of Hardin's economic development agency, said the Two Rivers Detention Center could easily be retrofitted to increase security. And while the town hasn't had its own police force since the 1970s, Smith said the jail's well-armed neighbors would constitute an 'unofficial redneck patrol.'"
    Heh. It raises all kinds of possibilities of detainees escaping accidentally on purpose, and BOOM. That would solve President Obama's Group Five problem. I know, bad joke.

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    Pundit advice on Sotomayor 



    From Kimberly Strassel in today's Wall Street Journal:
    "Republicans will be tempted by this history to go ugly. They might instead lay down their own rules, the first being that they will not partake in the tactics of personal destruction that were waged by the left on nominees such as Mr. Thomas or Mr. Alito or Mr. Estrada."

    Peggy Noonan also writes in today's Wall Street Journal, in a column titled "Republicans, Let's Play Grown Up":
    "Barring extraordinary revelations, Judge Sotomayor is going to be confirmed. She's going to win. She does not appear to be as liberal or left-wing as others who could have been picked. She seems reminiscent of the justice she will replace, David Souter. She will likely come across in hearings as smart, spirited, a middle-aged woman who's lived a life of grit, determination and American-dream proving.

    "Republicans can be liberated by the fact that they're outnumbered and likely about to lose. They can step back, breathe in, and use the Sotomayor confirmation hearings to perform a public service: Find out what the future justice thinks and why she thinks it, explain what they think and why they think it, look at the two different philosophies, if that's what they are. Don't make it sparring, make it thinking.

    "Don't grill and grandstand, summon and inform. Show the respect that expresses equality and the equality that is an expression of respect. Ask and listen, get the logic, explain where you think it wrong. Fill the airwaves with thoughtful exchanges."

    In a Politico piece by Ben Smith, Larry Sabato offers this advice for the nominee regarding her "Latina judge" comment of some years ago:
    "Judge Sotomayor would be wise not to tap dance around this. Don’t just 'clarify' the statement, take it back," University of Virginia politics professor Larry Sabato wrote in a posting at POLITICO’s Arena. "Explain that she simply meant to say that we are all a product of our unique backgrounds and experiences and that those backgrounds and experiences inform our decisions. But no one’s gender or ethnic background inherently leads to superior decisions. It would be refreshing to hear a Supreme Court nominee say, 'I’m not perfect. I made a mistake here.'"
    Another way of thinking about the current nomination is that it is in part about the next nomination, which will likely be to replace Justice Ginsburg or Justice Stevens for health or age reasons, and may well happen during President Obama's first term. Obviously, there will not be another Justice Roberts nominated during that term; the question is, will there be another Justice Brennan nominated?


    UPDATE: Yesterday, we learned that TigerHawk and his sibling do not always agree (no surprise there to anyone who has a sibling), but this line from an AP article titled "SPIN METER: 2 sides of Sotomayor" caught my eye:
    "Her brother, Dr. Juan Sotomayor, is a physician in North Syracuse, N.Y., whose practice doesn't accept Medicaid or Medicare — programs for the poor and elderly — according to its Web site."
    Will the POTUS make a statement in the future about doctors who do not accept payment from government-sponsored health insurance, along the lines of "I don't stand with them," or will that even be necessary, since realistically, they won't be able to practice?


    UPDATE #2: The White House says that Judge Sotomayor feels that she chose her words poorly when making the "Latina woman" remark in 2001 (isn't that phraseology redundant, anyway -- is there such a thing as a "Latina man" -- not that I want to second guess a Pyne Prize winner), so Larry Sabato's advice seems to have registered.

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    Another nominee withdraws 


    Beth Garrett has withdrawn as nominee to serve as Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy, apparently because the vetting process has become so harsh. That's a shame; I've known Professor Garrett for a long time, and know that she would have been a very positive addition to the Treasury Department.

    One of the reasons why statism will not succeed in the United States to the extent that it has in many European countries is that so few really good people want to work in government for deep-seated historical reasons. It is therefore unwise, even if politically expedient, for an administration with a manifestly statist program to set up procedures that discourage the few good people who would otherwise work in the government from doing so.


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    Friday morning murals 


    With nothing but paint and the side of a building, what miracles hath this man wrought?

    CWCID: Coyote via Maggie's.


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    What happened Wednesday 

    You might have missed it unless you were trying to lock in a mortgage, but Wednesday the mortgage market went nuts. As described by Mr. Mortgage:

    Yesterday, the mortgage market was so volatile that banks and mortgage bankers across the nation issued multiple midday price changes for the worse, leading many to ultimately shut down the ability to lock loans around 1pm PST. This is not uncommon over the past five months, but not that common either. Lenders that maintained the ability to lock loans had rates UP as much as 75bps in a single day. Jumbo GSE money — $417k - $729,750 — has been blown out completely with some lender’s at 8%. I have seen it all in the mortgage world — well, I thought I had.

    A good friend in the center of all of the mortgage capital markets turmoil said to me yesterday “feels like they [the Fed] have lost the battle…pretty obvious from the start but kind of scary to live through it … today felt like LTCM with respect to liquidity.”
    Read the whole thing.

    In a related post, Tim Duy addresses the question of the steepest yield curve in history. While it would seem to indicate a failure of the Fed's quantitative easing policy, does it also indicate that we are on the verge of an explosive economic recovery (as a steep yield curve might lead one to believe) or does it indicate a lack of investor confidence in the ability of the US to pay back long dated debt?

    The conclusion to his long and very worthwhile post:

    Bottom Line: I want to believe that the rapid reversal of Treasury yields is a benign, even positive, event. This is likely the Fed's view; consequently, the will hold steady on policy. Challenging this benign view is that the reversal appears to be lock step with a return to dynamics seen in 2007 and 2008 - exceedingly low US rates encouraging Dollar outflows, stepping up the pace of foreign central bank reserve accumulation and putting upward pressure on key commodity prices. I worry that policymakers have forgotten the external dynamic that was hidden by the crisis induced flight to Dollars last fall. Indeed, capital outflows (indicated by a foreign central bank effort to reverse those flows) would signal that much work still needs to be done to curtail US consumption to bring the global economy back into balance. Policymakers are unprepared for this possibility.
    Seriously, the whole thing is well worth reading for a better understanding of some of the forces our economy is facing in these unprecedented times.

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    Thursday, May 28, 2009

    Chance encounter with a terrorist of the day 

    A regular TigerHawk reader had a chance encounter with erstwhile domestic terrorist Bill Ayers today. Hilarity ensued.

    I had a little "chat" with none other than domestic terrorist & "distinguished professor" Bill Ayers today at the Amtrak waiting room in New York's Penn Station. He was in his standard issue tee-shirt with a red Chicom-type star, accented by a sports jacket to add a dollop of academic respectability. Perhaps our meeting got off to a rocky start when I told Billy (truthfully) that I was serving at Fort Dix around the same time one of his bombs was intended to blow up people at a dance on the base. Things kind of went downhill from there. Billy denied that he wanted to kill folks back then, mocked my reference to radical lefty-turned-conservative David Horowitz, advised me to read his book, and generally disputed the notion that he has anything for which to apologize. When I asked Billy how that communism stuff is going, he said, "Not too well right now ... but there's still time." He also defended his man-crush on Hugo Chavez, accused the U.S. of - what else - imperialism, and seemed totally unburdened by any guilt for his past acts. At one point I disputed something by saying, "C'mon, you know which way the wind was blowin'." The aging Weather Underground leader thought that was "cute." Imagine, I've been called cute by a guy who set bomb and whose wife once said she "digs" Charlie Manson. All in all, this was not your everyday waiting room conversation. Except for the fact that we did discuss the "weather."

    Impressive. Many people who are such good friends with the President of the United States won't give the average fellow the time of day, much less ride the Amtrak.

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    Give me 200 seconds, and I'll give you the world 

    One hundred of the best movie lines in 200 seconds. More fun than you are likely to have in any 3.33 minute period all day.



    CWCID: Professor Althouse.


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    Annals of advertising 



    Since TigerHawk has been known to complain from time to time about crowded coach seats on airplanes, he should appreciate this ad for Virgin Atlantic Upper Class:


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    Climate activism and the thrilling possibility for totalitarianism 


    Lest the more liberal readers of this blog wonder why we are so emotional in our objection to climate-change hysteria in the press, it is because we suspect that leftists around the world secretly welcome global warming because its mitigation can justify virtually any regulation or intervention. The Speaker of the House did nothing to reassure us today:

    U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged Beijing on Thursday to cooperate on climate change, calling a safe environment a basic human right....

    "I do see this opportunity for climate change to be ... a game-changer," she said at Tsinghua. "It's a place where human rights — looking out for the needs of the poor in terms of climate change and healthy environment — are a human right."

    To achieve this, Pelosi said governments would have to make decisions and choices based on science.

    "They also have to do it with openness, transparency and accountability to the people," she said. "Everyone has to have their situation improved by it."

    In answering a question from a student about how Pelosi was going to get Americans to cut back on their carbon emissions, the leading Democratic lawmaker said it was important to educate children on how to conserve energy and for citizens to build more environmentally friendly homes.

    "We have so much room for improvement," she said. "Every aspect of our lives must be subjected to an inventory ... of how we are taking responsibility." (emphasis added)

    It does not torture the language to observe that only a totalitarian believes that every aspect of our lives must be subjected to an inventory. It may be benign and well-motivated totalitarianism, but so was Communism in its early days. There may be no risk of secret police and old-school oppression, but new technology and norms allows for new-school oppression that does not look at all like the old.

    The question, of course, is whether Pelosi simply misspoke or was taken out of context, or whether this was a rather creepy slipping of the mask. Chatting as she was with the Chinese, she may have felt comfortable letting her rhetorical hair down.

    Either way, I would feel a lot better about the policy response to AGW if the most vocal proponents did not seem to relish the chance for regulation in the abstract. I love the mass consumer, drive everywhere, fly anywhere world in which we live -- I pinch myself every time I get on a plane to go somewhere interesting -- and view the need to regulate greenhouse gases, if there is such a need, as a tragedy for all mankind. Candidly, I think any reasonably affluent person (by which I mean at least the top 50% of Americans and Europeans) who does not feel the same way on this issue is at best a romantic loon who is completely out of touch with the consequences of living off of less inanimate energy, the future that Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama, and countless other lefty politicians seem actually to look forward to. The only reason I can imagine why they want to embrace this dark and cold and joyless future rather than confront it with despair and gloom is that they see it as an opportunity to take "an inventory" of "every aspect of our lives."

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    Recessions and electricity consumption 


    Since the end of World War II, global electricity consumption has grown year by year, through good economic times and bad. Until now. That is, perhaps, one graphic measure of the difficulty of current mess.


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    HuffPo: go get the Forbes 400 



    Les Leopold over at HuffPo posted a piece yesterday that, after citing some of his own "research" indicating that the 400 wealthiest individuals in the U.S. averaged $3.9 billion in wealth in 2008 (or $1.56 trillion in the aggregate, which took me about 30 seconds to find online at Forbes), concluded with a rather startling paragraph:
    "Here's a dangerous thought. What if we had a very steeply progressive wealth/income tax that reduced the net worth of the super-rich to 'only' about $100 million each? You wouldn't be suffering if you had $100 million kicking around. Now do the math: The 400 richest x $100 million each would equal $40 billion. That would leave about $1.52 trillion to help pay back the country for the Wall Street meltdown that we, our children and their children will be subsidizing."
    Mr. Leopold received his master's degree from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton in 1975, so obviously we have to at least examine his proposal here at TigerHawk. Before I do that in any great detail, I think that I might email him to ask him if he is off of his meds, or something. It was nice of him to allow that last $100 million to stay in place, though.

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    News from Germany: The killer was a Commie 


    If you can believe the New York Times, Germany is a socialist country today because of Communist subversion:

    It was called “the shot that changed the republic.”

    The killing in 1967 of an unarmed demonstrator by a police officer in West Berlin set off a left-wing protest movement and put conservative West Germany on course to evolve into the progressive country it has become today.

    Now a discovery in the archives of the East German secret police, known as the Stasi, has upended Germany’s perception of its postwar history. The killer, Karl-Heinz Kurras, though working for the West Berlin police, was at the time also acting as a Stasi spy for East Germany.

    It is as if the shooting deaths of four students at Kent State University by the Ohio National Guard had been committed by an undercover K.G.B. officer, though the reverberations in Germany seemed to have run deeper.

    With every new discovery in the Cold War archives, we are learning that much, even if not all, of that era's right-wing paranoia was actually justified. You know, like the part about the Rosenbergs actually having been traitors.

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    Wednesday, May 27, 2009

    Television alert! 

    The Goode Family, the animated show about a politically correct family in a college town running on ABC right now, is freaking hilarious. Run to your TiVo now and record as much as you can.

    Seriously. If you are a conservative who lives in a college town, or have lived in a college town, you are going to enjoy this.


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    UAW/GM bailout question for the day 

    So, on arriving back to the parking garage at the Trenton train station, I noted that a douchebag had parked so close to my car that I could not open the door. And not because I'm fat. Behold, the douchebag's car:

    Parkingdouche2


    Fortunately, I am limber enough to get in the passenger side and twist over the gear shift, a handy skill in a pinch.

    Anyway, the Obama-supporting inconsiderate parking douchebag got me to thinking: Now that the One has staked his reputation and our dollars on the revival of General Motors, will college town academics and related hangers-on suddenly decide it is chic to buy and drive a Chevrolet? If not, why not?

    Release the hounds.


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    Drive by economics: The limo biz 

    I was in Stamford and Greenwich today visiting institutional investors -- an important part of the day job in these parlous times -- and the investment bank that took me around hired a car to drive me back to the garage by the Trenton train station. I asked the driver, who has been in the radio car game for 15 years, how business was going, and he said that it was down more than 50%. Ouch. I feel for the guy. With the massive reductions in New York area financial services employment, you have to wonder whether the limo biz is ever going to return to its credit bubble highs.


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    In which President Obama takes my advice 


    In the spirit of giving credit when it is due, we note with more than a little interest that the Obama administration wants people to paint their rooftops and other sun-drenched surfaces white to increase the reflectivity of the earth's surface. The idea is to mitigate the greenhouse effect two ways, by reducing the manufactured energy consumed by the air-conditioning of buildings and automobiles and the solar energy absorbed by the planet. It is a great idea, in part because it is completely reversible, but also because I argued for it two years ago!


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    Max Boot tugs on Superman's cape, pulls the mask off the old Lone Ranger 

    Heh. Fortunately for Max Boot, Ann will probably give him the Rick Blaine treatment:

    UGARTE (to Rick, sadly): You despise me, don't you?

    RICK (indifferently): If I gave you any thought, I probably would.

    Anyway, I wrote a comment over at The Other McCain that I decided to turn into a bit of a post.

    I like Max Boot's work. I also like Ann Coulter, both her work and as an individual (regular readers know that we were friends in law school more years ago than she would want published). She is not in any way a "clown," and she is a serious person, so Boot is wrong. However, Ann very much enjoys not being serious, which is a different thing entirely. The same, by the way, can be said of Jon Stewart, for example, or Stephen Colbert.

    Sadly, it is fashionable among certain righty intellectuals to make a point of distancing themselves from Ann Coulter. Too bad, and not because they risk her wrath. She is a great wit, and even if she crosses some imaginary line occasionally -- and what great wit does not? -- she gives conservativism a certain light-hearted vitality that it would not otherwise have.

    The question is, why do righty intellectuals have this need to run from Ann? There are at least two reasons, one offensive and one genuine. The offensive reason, of course, is to establish their bona fides as "reasonable" conservatives so that they do not destroy their social lives. It is, after all, tough enough being a conservative in a university without having to deal with anti-Coulter blowback. So you can both understand their motive and notice that it lacks a certain, well, character.

    The more legitimate reason is that Ann, along with Rush, has been so successful promoting a sort of "low brow" conservativism (see John Derbyshire on this taxonomic classification and Rush Limbaugh's impact on it) that the middle-brow version has been terribly diminished by comparison. This might be the subject of a much longer post (although I'm not sure there is much to add to Derb's effort), but there is something to the idea that conservativism needs to be made safe for amateur (and even professional) intellectuals again, just as it was in the day of William F. Buckley. Ann, by virtue of her huge success and charismatic personality (not to mention her relentless, and largely justified, attacks on academic liberals), makes that much harder.

    Of course, your results may vary.

    (16) Comments

    Things you may not know about orgasm 


    Mary Roach, the author of Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex (which I have not read) and Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (which I have read and highly recommend) delivers a very amusing lecture on the subject of orgasms. Curiously, she is able to weave together material from both books.

    Note that it is probably NSFW, especially if your cubical neighbor might be a jihadi.


    (5) Comments

    The GM capital structure: The union comes before the taxpayers 


    Glenn Reynolds notes that the federal government will own 70% of "Government Motors" when all is said and done, which is not surprising when you consider that it will probably need more than $50 billion in taxpayer money -- including the $20 billion already poured down the rat hole "invested" -- just to turn it around. The UAW is also taking almost 20%, including preferred stock (which appears to pay a dividend) and a note, putting them ahead of the common stockholders, 70% of whom are, well, the half of the U.S. population that pay federal income tax. For some reason we will all struggle to imagine, the United Autoworkers preferred a more senior position in the reorganized company's capital structure to the unlimited "opportunity" of common stock. [Typo fixed.]


    (4) Comments

    More Sotomayor linkage, and a thought 


    Two items worth reading if you are trying to decide whether to weigh in for or against Sonia Sotomayor: Damon Root, who finds much to dislike in the judge's record on affirmative action and the Second Amendment, and Andy McCarthy, who sees in the judge a disturbing attraction to judicial activism and "the rule of lawyers."

    Now a thought. There is obviously much to dislike about Sonia Sotomayor's substantive opinions, and more will come out in the coming weeks. These positions and others certainly provide the basis for a principled opposition to her appointment. The danger, though, is that the left will no doubt attempt to characterize objections to Judge Sotomayor's appointment as racist, sexist, or otherwise ad hominum (attacks on her supposed "mediocrity" will not stick); unfortunately, there will inevitably be conservatives, however unimportant they may be, who will say things that the left and their allies in the press will exploit to establish the point. Too much of that, and the Republicans will lose more than this nomination battle.


    (48) Comments

    Tuesday, May 26, 2009

    Healthy, wealthy, and wise 


    If you enjoy visualizing data, this dynamic depiction of health and wealth around the world in the last 200 years is the best flash movie you are likely to see this month. Very cool.

    MORE: Per a commenter, here is the lecturer, Hans Rosling, in a rousing lecture that promotes the visualization of data. I could watch him speak all day long.


    (1) Comments

    White House press office info on Sotomayor 



    The White House press office (slide 13 of 14) has distributed this picture and text from Sonia Sotomayor's 1976 Princeton yearbook ("The Nassau Herald"):


    Norman Thomas was a member of the Class of 1905 at Princeton, which makes the quote somewhat more relevant in a Princeton yearbook, but he was also the leading figure in the Socialist Party of America during the last century. Thomas was a pacifist, and opposed U.S. entry into both WWI and WWII (as did "conservative" America First members, in the latter case), and his early admiration for the Russian Revolution ultimately soured into staunch anti-Communism.

    Now, I would not want to be hung on my high school or college yearbook quotes, and the Thomas quote is relatively harmless and inspiring in some sense, but it is at least interesting and notable that the White House sees no need to underplay the fact that its nominee for SCOTUS quoted the most significant Socialist Party leader in American history. That is what you call confidence, in terms of believing your nominee will be confirmed.

    (5) Comments

    Sotomayor linkage and excerptification 


    I've been otherwise engaged and am therefore behind on the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the United States Supreme Court, but while on the train to Hartford I've been surveying the rightosphere. Herewith, the stuff I have read thus far...

    Roger Kimball

    There were also some reservations. Jeffrey Rosen, writing on May 4 in The New Republic, for example, noted that “despite the praise from some of her former clerks, and warm words from some of her Second Circuit colleagues, there are also many reservations about Sotomayor.” Rosen mentioned Sotomayor’s temperament (hot) and her intelligence and legal competence (questionable). In short, in the words of one observer, Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic nominee to the Supreme Court, is “not that smart and kind of a bully on the bench.”


    I don’t doubt it. But a lack of brains has never been an obstacle to legal preferment, and I see no reason to change our policy on that now. And as for being a bully: well, Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic nominee to the Supreme Court, won’t be the first bully to don the black robes. Granted, it’s not pretty. It’s not desirable. But I don’t see that it is disqualifying.


    No, I think we have to give her a pass on matters of temperament and general competence. Matters of basic judicial philosophy, on the other hand, are another question. Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic nominee to the Supreme Court, believes that the job of judges is to make the law, not uphold it.


    Don’t believe me? Look at this clip from a 2005 symposium at Duke University. The Court of Appeals, said Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic nominee to the Supreme Court, “is where policy is made.” She went on to note that she shouldn’t say that publicly — after all, cameras were rolling — but that, she said, was the truth of the matter. I hope that video clip is played early and played often. [UPDATE: I hope her 2002 comments at Berkeley about how it is appropriate for judges to draw upon their “experiences as women and people of color" in their judicial decision making are aired often as well. The more one looks into Sotomayor's record, the clearer it is that, as a friend of mine put it, identity politics is her judicial philosophy.]


    To my mind, what Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic nominee to the Supreme Court, said there disqualifies her from her position on the Court of Appeals. It should render her beyond the pale for a position on the Supreme Court of the United States.


    Richard Epstein
    Here is one straw in the wind that does not bode well for a Sotomayor appointment. Justice Stevens of the current court came in for a fair share of criticism (all justified in my view) for his expansive reading in Kelo v. City of New London (2005) of the "public use language." Of course, the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment is as complex as it is short: "Nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." But he was surely done one better in the Summary Order in Didden v. Village of Port Chester issued by the Second Circuit in 2006. Judge Sotomayor was on the panel that issued the unsigned opinion--one that makes Justice Stevens look like a paradigmatic defender of strong property rights.

    I have written about Didden in Forbes. The case involved about as naked an abuse of government power as could be imagined. Bart Didden came up with an idea to build a pharmacy on land he owned in a redevelopment district in Port Chester over which the town of Port Chester had given Greg Wasser control. Wasser told Didden that he would approve the project only if Didden paid him $800,000 or gave him a partnership interest. The "or else" was that the land would be promptly condemned by the village, and Wasser would put up a pharmacy himself. Just that came to pass. But the Second Circuit panel on which Sotomayor sat did not raise an eyebrow. Its entire analysis reads as follows: "We agree with the district court that [Wasser's] voluntary attempt to resolve appellants' demands was neither an unconstitutional exaction in the form of extortion nor an equal protection violation."

    Maybe I am missing something, but American business should shudder in its boots if Judge Sotomayor takes this attitude to the Supreme Court. Justice Stevens wrote that the public deliberations over a comprehensive land use plan is what saved the condemnation of Ms. Kelo's home from constitutional attack. Just that element was missing in the Village of Port Chester fiasco. Indeed, the threats that Wasser made look all too much like the "or else" diplomacy of the Obama administration in business matters. (bold emphasis added)

    Arrgh.

    Walter Olsen
    Some conservatives keep publicizing a YouTube clip where she confides to a panel-discussion audience that appeals courts are "where policy is made." Sorry, but that's a standard observation among legal commentators these days--by no means limited to liberals--and, by my subjective measure, she actually comes off pretty well on that tape....

    Grumbling about "affirmative action picks" will likewise fall flat, if only because everyone knows most Republicans would have stampeded to back a Hispanic female nominee with similar credentials had George W. Bush picked one. Likely to develop more traction is criticism of Sotomayor's actual approach toward affirmative action issues, starting with the now-famous line from her speech to a diversity conference in 2001--"I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion [as a judge] than a white male who hasn't lived that life"--and continuing through the pending New Haven case where some fellow judges thought she gave short shrift to firefighters' complaints of reverse discrimination.

    Prediction: She'll explain away the 2001 line as not reflecting her current thinking, and won't have to discuss the firefighters case since it might land back in her court on remand....

    Issues of business law don't come across as Sotomayor's great passion one way or the other, so it's hard to know what all this portends for the high court's direction on business issues should she be confirmed. As Home Depot's ( HD - news - people ) Bernard Marcus and others have pointed out, for all of David Souter's predictable role on the court's liberal side in most high-profile cases, he in fact steered to middle-of-the-road, hard-to-characterize views on many issues of litigation, liability and procedure, either as a swing vote or as the author of opinions. (Two key issues to watch: what sort of constitutional restraints, if any, there are on punitive damages, and how much scrutiny judges should give to initial pleadings to determine whether a federal lawsuit ought to go forward.)

    Some of her backers say they expect that Sotomayor will emerge as a liberal in the less than fiery, relatively "legalistic" Ginsburg/Breyer mold. Even assuming that happens, some outcomes will soon change in a direction most businesses will find adverse. And in coming weeks, both friends and foes will be going over her published opinions--some with hope, others with dread--for clues to whether she might form the nucleus of some future new and more seriously left-wing faction on the court.

    And, from his own corner of the left, Chris Chambers
    Trivia question, 100 Nat Turner Bonus points: Sonia was apppointed to the federal bench by a REPUBLICAN president. Can you name him, and thus answer why this is a minefield destined to split the wingnuts even further from moderate GOPers?

    More links here, here, and here.

    (13) Comments

    The Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders quiz 



    Seriously. If you want to become a member of the squad that cheers America's Team, you have to have brains and beauty. Of course, as an Eagles fan, all of this just makes me ill.


    1. Where will the Cowboys play their final home game this season?

    2. Where will the Cowboys hold their 2009 summer training camp?

    3. Name the Cowboys legend who served as head coach for the team's first 29 years.

    4. What year was the Cowboys' first season in the NFL?

    (A) 1960

    (B) 1962

    (C) 1964

    (D) 1965


    5. How many stars are on the Cowboys Cheerleaders' uniform?

    6. Who is commissioner of the National Football League?

    7. How many yards are in an NFL end zone?

    (A) 10

    (B) 20

    (C) 30

    (D) 50


    8. Name one country that borders Iraq.



    Answers:


    1. Cowboys Stadium

    2. San Antonio

    3. Tom Landry

    4. (A) 1960

    5. 15

    6. Roger Goodell

    7. (A) 10

    8. Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Iran

    (3) Comments

    A television show that might be worth watching 


    It is at least a little hard to believe that this is going to run on ABC, but it indeed might be worth watching...



    ...if, that is, you are a "South Park conservative.".

    CWCID: IMAO.


    (4) Comments

    Were the Chrysler dealers culled based on campaign contributions? 


    Doug Ross compares the list of axed Chrysler dealers with their campaign contributions, and finds that virtually all of them had given money to Republicans or other Obama opponents -- Hillary, mostly -- in the last election cycle. The question is whether there was some sort of malice aforethought in this result, or if it is an artifact of the political proclivities of car dealers in general. We do not yet know whether the list of retained Chrysler dealers skewed left, or leftier, in its contributions. It would be, frankly, surprising, but if it did we would know that the fix were in. Somebody more enterprising than me needs to look at the political activities of the retained dealers and see if they are systematicaly different from those who were terminated. If reporters or bloggers do not get around to it, you can bet that the lawyers for the terminated dealers will, and they will have the subpoena power at their disposal. If there is anything there, it will come out eventually.


    (6) Comments

    The limits of soaking the rich 


    Maryland learns that it cannot rely on its rich people, who prove they will not long suffer for their soaking.

    Maryland couldn't balance its budget last year, so the state tried to close the shortfall by fleecing the wealthy. Politicians in Annapolis created a millionaire tax bracket, raising the top marginal income-tax rate to 6.25%. And because cities such as Baltimore and Bethesda also impose income taxes, the state-local tax rate can go as high as 9.45%. Governor Martin O'Malley, a dedicated class warrior, declared that these richest 0.3% of filers were "willing and able to pay their fair share." The Baltimore Sun predicted the rich would "grin and bear it."

    One year later, nobody's grinning. One-third of the millionaires have disappeared from Maryland tax rolls. In 2008 roughly 3,000 million-dollar income tax returns were filed by the end of April. This year there were 2,000, which the state comptroller's office concedes is a "substantial decline." On those missing returns, the government collects 6.25% of nothing. Instead of the state coffers gaining the extra $106 million the politicians predicted, millionaires paid $100 million less in taxes than they did last year -- even at higher rates.

    No doubt the majority of that loss in millionaire filings results from the recession. However, this is one reason that depending on the rich to finance government is so ill-advised: Progressive tax rates create mountains of cash during good times that vanish during recessions. For evidence, consult California, New York and New Jersey....

    As much as we conservatives like to complain about the federal government, you have to look to the governments of the big states for truly breathtaking incompetence. As a teenager growing up in honest and well-run Iowa I remember declaring over the dinner table that "the federal government should not do a single thing that could be handled by the states," to which my New York-raised, Harvard-trained father replied, "you might think differently if you lived in Massachusetts, New York, or New Jersey." Once again, father knew best.

    (10) Comments

    Unwarranted 


    With banks moving heaven and earth to repay the TARP funds so that they can shed the ex post facto regulation of compensation and hiring imposed by the populists in Congress and their conductor in the White House, there is the question of the warrants that the United States Treasury received in connection with each TARP "investment." Should the Treasury, which in at least certain cases essentially ordered healthy banks to take the money, capture all the value in those warrants, or should the banks get the chance to buy them back at something below their modeled value?

    Dirk van Dijk, CFA, of the investing blog Seeking Alpha argues that the government should get all the ups. Maybe. That is a normative and policy question that turns on whether you think the TARP and its related baggage was for the benefit of the owners of the banks or for some more social reason, such as to restore confidence in the system as a whole or to use mandatory cheap capital to subsidize lending that would not happen otherwise. If the latter, then perhaps it is a bit harsh for the government to keep all of its vig, especially given the subsequent conditions placed on TARP banks, which were clearly intended to exploit the government's ownership position to achieve a political and social objective rather than a financial or economic one.

    That said, even if I were to agree with van Dijk on the morality of the matter I would not buy his reasoning. I'm no CFA, but this bit makes no sense to me:

    Also, if the warrants were sold on the open market, they would remain outstanding, which means when they were exercised, the bank would get more capital, while buying them back depletes their capital. Given the generally undercapitalized state of the banking system, more capital is better than less capital, even if it means potential dilution to the bank shareholders.

    Call me a bonehead, but if the warrants were extinguished for less than their fair market value, the issuing bank could, almost by definition, issue a like amount of new warrants for more money, thus improving its capital position now. More to the point, the dilution in question is not "potential," it is current. Whatever the merits in allowing the government to keep its profit on those warrants, that is economic value that otherwise would flow to the common stockholders. If those warrants vanished today at no cost to the banks, holding everything else constant the price of the common would go up, and banks would have to sell less of it to raise any given amount of equity capital. Am I missing something?

    (3) Comments

    LFL 



    There is a new sports league forming called the Lingerie Football League. I kid you not. I would be remiss if I did not provide a a link to the tryout photos.

    I assume that this is not a tackle football league, but is two-hand, er, touch.

    (10) Comments

    Monday, May 25, 2009

    Ten great conservative movies 


    Lefty blogger and notorious comment troll Christopher Chambers takes a hard, and mostly serious, look at the best "conservative" movies. It's pretty good stuff. And, besides, he's looking for comments from "wingnuts" so now's your big shot at payback.


    (20) Comments

    Rules for boys and men 


    Rules "for my unborn son." My son -- that means you, TigerHawk Teenager -- ought to take the time to read these. They are very good, I agree with virtually all of them, and it took me years to learn them the old-fashioned way. All you other readers, add your own in the comments!


    (2) Comments

    A thought on watching Patton 


    So, I'm watching "Patton," a movie I have not seen in decades, on AMC. John McCain is the special host for the movie, popping up at station breaks to sing the praises of George S. Patton. I wonder if it bothers him that there would not be room for such a general in today's army, because the press would eat him alive (as it almost did in 1943). In any case, I'm not sure if McCain's claim that Patton "serves as a role model to all Americans" is really true, or even was then.


    (12) Comments

    Nork nukes 



    In testing a second nuclear weapon, the North Koreans have indicated that it does not matter to them who is in the White House, or what resolutions are passed by the U.N., and that Kim Jong Il will continue to do pretty much whatever he wants. No sanctions, no harsh words, and no angry letters will have much of an effect.

    As AP reported:
    "Appearing on the White House steps, Obama said that its latest nuclear underground test and subsequent test firings of short-range ground to air missiles 'pose a grave threat to the peace and security of the world and I strongly condemn their reckless action.'"
    I won't even bother to embed the relevant "Team America" scene, but for those who never tire of viewing it, it is here (NSFW).

    I also won't bother to make snarky comments about where President Obama's magic wand might have gone -- the one that was supposed to make everybody like us again -- although his campaign promise to have direct talks with North Korea without pre-conditions does not matter, and the same can be said of President Bush's efforts during the previous administration. Any military solution that might have even been considered under the Bush administration would have put at risk a great many South Korean lives, simply because of the sheer volume of conventional weaponry lined up on the north side of the DMZ.

    The best scenario for breaking the standoff would probably include the Chinese tiring of Kim Jong Il's antics and reducing Chinese support of the North Koreans, but the Chinese to not want to see a mass refugee problem occur, with hundreds of thousands of North Koreans streaming north into China.

    There is no good military solution to North Korea's intransigence, and there is no good diplomatic solution that does not include a significant Chinese role. Unless the Chinese actually enjoy having Kim Jong Il rattle the cages of the U.S. and Japan and, for that matter, everyone, wouldn't it be in the long-run economic interests of China to use its good offices to persuade the North Korean leadership to climb down from its paranoia and do away with the nuclear program? One indicator of those long-run interests is the extent to which China would like to expand trade with South Korea. Most likely, it is wishful thinking on my part.

    (6) Comments

    Playboy's enduring brand equity and a note on Somalia 

    Just when I'm wondering if Playboy's brand equity has shrunken to a singularity, we get this awesome photograph accompanying an article about Somalia's Sufi Muslims in the New York Times.


    Gun strap of the month


    Teaser:

    Their shrines were being destroyed. Their imams were being murdered. Their tolerant beliefs were under withering attack.

    So the moderate Sufi scholars recently did what so many other men have chosen to do in anarchic Somalia: they picked up guns and entered the killing business, in this case to fight back against the Shabab, one of the most fearsome extremist Muslim groups in Africa.

    Worth your time.

    (8) Comments

    In memorium, and gratitude 


    The best Memorial Day cartoon ever.


    The best Memorial Day cartoon


    Cox and Forkum.

    More Memorial Day images and links here. And here.


    (1) Comments

    Book review paragraph of the week 


    From David Brooks' review of Simon Schama's just-released The American Future: A History:

    But this is very much an outsider’s book, and if Schama doesn’t come from a strictly European perspective, let’s just say he comes from the realm of enlightened High Thinking that exists where The New York Review of Books reaches out and air-kisses The London Review of Books.

    As somebody who has occasionally subscribed to both publications -- I do it for a while, let my subscription lapse when I've burned out on all that self-righteous leftism, and then resume after a suitable convalescence -- Brooks has captured their spirit perfectly.

    (0) Comments

    One cosmetic treatment that is countercyclical 


    The present recession is really hurting plastic surgeons and other doctors who will make you look better for a hefty fee. No surprise there. But one dermatological procedure is flourishing:

    When the Dow is low, the "tramp stamp" has to go.

    Dermatologists across the city are reporting a boom in tattoo laser removals, as body-art fanatics fretting over their professional image rush to erase their inky mistakes.

    "People can't afford to handicap themselves be cause of a tattoo in a tight job market," said Dr. Jeffrey Rand, founder of the Tattoo Removal Center in Midtown. "We're seeing a huge surge right now in people getting rid of their tattoos."

    Mobeen Yasin, a graduate student at Mercy College, said the script tattoo of his first name creeping around his neck is a liability.

    Mobeen, I feel for you because those laser treatments are going to hurt, but a neck tattoo was never a good idea. Some reasonably well-known comedian -- Ron White, perhaps -- has a whole routine about neck tattoos. Apparently you have not heard it.

    Anyway, the article goes on to say that the majority of tattoo-removal customers are middle-aged women. No surprise there, since middle-aged women are also the biggest market for aesthetic surgery.

    (5) Comments

    Sunday, May 24, 2009

    Annals of advertising: Dual branding 


    Playboy is cross-marketing with... Quiznos?



    Back in the day, Playboy was cool. The only reason Playboy could agree to do this ad -- which you probably do not want to play in the office -- is that today it is not. Quiznos must have paid Playboy, rather than the other way around.

    But the ad probably does appeal to teenaged boys well into their thirties. I bet it moves a lot of toasted hoagies.


    (2) Comments

    Powell on his Republicanism, and the aggressive response to 9/11 


    Colin Powell's segment on this morning's "Face the Nation" is worth watching in its entirety for at least two reasons. Notwithstanding criticism of him from the right, he remains, he says, a Republican. He is saying this at a time when Republicans are flat on their back, and there is no apparent advantage in loudly reaffirming his status. More importantly, watch through to the end and listen to what he has to say about the "enhanced interrogation" techniques used in the wake of 9/11. It will be interesting to see whether the media establishment emphasizes his arguments in their coverage.


    (12) Comments

    Mistargeted advertising? 


    From the Fail Blog:


    fail owned pwned pictures
    see more Fail Blog


    My question: Do actual MILFs consciously want to be thought of as such? If so, then I suppose this might work. Please leave your thoughts in the comments, especially, I suppose, if you are a MILF.


    (7) Comments

    Same difference 



    While I agree with TigerHawk's post below that the Gitmo debate is a healthy one, I wonder if, after all of the sturm und drang, the actual substantive differences between President Obama's detainee practices and those of his predecessor might be summarized by this TV ad that ran about a year ago:



    Under President Bush, only the Big Three had been subject to waterboarding, and I believe that no waterboarding had taken place during his second term. President Bush verbalized his desire to eventually shut Gitmo, without providing a time certain. President Bush also recognized that there would be what I have termed a "Group Five" problem (the fifth of five types of detainees that President Obama discussed in his speech) -- that is, detainees who would have to be held even if they could not be formally prosecuted, either through U.S. criminal courts or military commissions.

    President Obama's rhetorical flourishes make for a good speech, and his tweaks to the Group Five problem may help some in the political center feel better (although it does not convince the left), but isn't he basically chopping the air vertically with his hand, just like the executive in the FedEx ad?

    (4) Comments

    The Gitmo argument is just what the doctor ordered 

    The Gitmo argument is just what we needed, and not because it hands the GOP a "wedge issue." For my money, the speech-exchange debate between Barack Obama and Dick Cheney in the last week has been outstanding, and exactly the sort of substantive, challenging, and important argument we need out of our national leaders regardless of the side that you are on. Whatever the partisans and the sound-biters might say about it, I think it was a great and all-too-rare moment in our recent national "conversation." We need more of it, not less, and if Cheney vs. Obama is the vehicle for it, so be it. Clearly the dynamic is better for all of us than "everybody against Bush," the sad pattern of the last few years.


    (29) Comments

    Violating "internal controls" at the New York Times 


    Clark Hoyt is the "public editor" of the New York Times, and it is his job to look in to questions raised by readers and others about editorial decisions and other matters of professionalism and propriety. His column this morning deals with various minor transgressions of columnists, including the circumstances under which they take speaking fees. Toward the end we learn that the Times actually has a policy on the subject that has gone essentially unenforced:

    But the incident highlighted a larger issue: The Times has not been abiding by all its rules on speaking fees for years. For example, the paper requires any staffer making $5,000 or more a year from speaking fees to file an itemized annual accounting of the appearances. Almost no one has been doing so.

    Rosenthal and Bill Keller, the executive editor, sent a memo last week reminding everyone of the rule and acknowledging that they had been lax in enforcing it. I think the rules are vague and need a fresh look. They seem, for example, to be less stringent for staffers on book tours, even if they accept fees.

    At a public company -- which the New York Times Company most certainly is even if the public stockholders are second-class citizens -- this is a violation of "internal controls" and ought to have been picked up by the accounting department or, failing that, internal audit. If I sat on the corporation's audit committee, I would want to know why it was not. If I were the auditor of the corporation (that means you, Ernst & Young) I would want to know why this was not picked up.

    If you say that this is an "immaterial" control I might agree with you, except that it seems rather important to the production of the corporation's product -- credible news and commentary free of hidden conflicts -- and the protection of its brand equity, which is immensely valuable even in these difficult times. And, of course, there is the ceaseless editorializing in support of Sarbanes-Oxley Section 404, the law that requires public companies to maintain a system of "internal controls" lest, well, they fail to follow their own rules.

    It really is very embarrassing, if you think about it. The question is whether any of the New York Times Company directors read Clark Hoyt's column, or are smart enough to spot the issue when they do.

    (6) Comments

    Suddenly, Barack Obama's inexperience is an excuse 


    On the front page of today's New York Times in an article about the Gitmo argument, we get this (bold emphasis added):

    Now the consensus from the campaign trail [that Guantanamo should be closed] has dissolved, leaving Congressional Democrats and Republicans alike at odds with the White House. The conflagration has been fanned by the determined focus of Republican leaders, fed by the alarms of talk-show populists and aided by the miscalculation of a new president who set a date for a closing without announcing a detailed plan for the inmates. The debate now threatens to make it much harder for Mr. Obama to keep his campaign promise.

    I could swear that during the campaign somebody pointed out that Barack Obama's inexperience was not a feature, but a bug. Who knew it was an excuse?

    (8) Comments

    The immense power of Barack Obama 


    If by some small chance you do not agree that Barack Obama is vastly more powerful than either George W. Bush or Bill Clinton ever was, I respectfully submit Exhibit A. Business people who staunchly oppose his policies will not speak out against them, or if they do it is in private or, in my case, behind the shower curtain of blog anonymity (easily penetrated, to be sure, but enough to identify me as a blogger, rather than an executive, for purposes of speaking out). Of course, there is a reason for this. Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats in Congress have expressed an intention to intensively regulate, in one fashion or another, virtually the entire private economy. The only defense is to hope that they cannot shoot at all the targets before their political strength begins to wane, so the goal is to keep your business or industry as far down their list as possible. There is an enormous premium on keeping your head down, more than at any time since FDR went to war against American business in the 1930s.

    CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.


    (14) Comments

    Saturday, May 23, 2009

    The Group Five problem, part deux 



    Christopher Caldwell's op-ed in the Financial Times, aptly titled "The Gordian knot of Guantánamo Bay," addresses more eloquently the problem we blogged about and that President Obama tried to deal with in his speech this week. Caldwell concludes:
    "Bringing Guantánamo prisoners to the US is safe only if you assume they will not receive a fair trial. In a system that guarantees due process, if you cannot charge a person or if a judge finds his interrogation unconstitutional, you release him. Mr Obama’s constitutionalism is underwritten by the Bush war on terror.

    "That is why Mr Cheney’s big push has been successful. It confronts Mr Obama with a Gordian knot that he dare not cut. A constitution that enshrines rights is an asset, but it does not come free. If it did, every country would have one. Eight years ago, Americans reckoned that some rights were worth trading for security. If they want those rights back, they will probably have to trade some security. That is the bargain. Until Mr Obama admits it he will be tangled up in an illogic from which no oratory can extract him."
    Read the whole thing.

    Tom Maguire over at JustOneMinute picked up on our question and nicely "squared the circle," and in doing so, made reference to a theme from a Clint Eastwood movie, Dirty Harry. In that movie (indisputably a key listing in the Canon of Eastwood films), Detective Callahan delivers ransom money to the demented serial killer Scorpio, who is holding a girl hostage in an underground spider hole; Scorpio takes the money and then decides he is going to kill the girl anyway, and is in the process of doing significant harm to Callahan, when of course the tables are turned and a chase ensues -- taking us to the old Kezar Stadium (where the 49ers used to play), and Callahan uses his .44 Magnum ("the most powerful handgun in the world") from extreme distance and gets off a wounding shot, then proceeds to step on Scorpio's wound site to get him to give up information regarding the girl's location. Naturally, all of the information he gathers as a result of this technique is inadmissable in court (and the fact that he had no warrant to search Scorpio's residence, where a rifle used in other killings was found), as Detective Callahan learns in the next scene. By amazing coincidence, I happen to have a clip of that next scene, uploaded to YouTube for your viewing pleasure:



    I think my favorite line in that scene is, "I'm all broken up about that man's rights."

    Clint Eastwood was sensitive to the fact that a number of critics of the film saw him as being favorably predisposed to vigilantism, so the sequel -- Magnum Force -- had him eliminating a rogue group of young motorcycle cops (including officers portrayed by David Soul, the late Robert Urich, and Tim Matheson) who have been whacking bad guys without any due process, in true vigilante fashion, and doing so at the direction of Lt. Briggs, played by Hal Holbrook.

    Clearly, Clint knows where that bright line is between exigent circumstances and trashing the Constitution. Maybe he can take time away from his movie career (and I confess that I have yet to see Gran Torino) to become a special advisor to President Obama on such matters.

    (3) Comments

    What do strong banks, Ken Lewis, Jamie Dimon, Ed Liddy, and Chrysler dealers have in common? 


    They have all been beaten up, prosecuted, and pilloried by the federal government for taking on obligations originally described as in the national interest.

    First, the government twists Bank of America's arm to bail out Merrill Lynch, then Democratic prosecutors in New York and Democratic Congressmen in Washington tear him a new one. Then the Treasury Department makes even the strong banks a TARP offer they could not refuse, whereupon the government imposes ex post facto restrictions on compensation and hiring that damage their ability to do business and deter other banks that might even need the money from taking it. Then there are the people who continued to work at troubled financial firms because they had been promised to be paid, only to find themselves the target of rifle-shot tax legislation and ad hominum demonstrations by Barack Obama's fellow "community organizers." Oh, and do not forget Ed Liddy, who stepped in for free to help the government deal with AIG, only to find himself excoriated in Congressional hearings for bonuses that he had vetted with the same government months before. Not surprisingly, Liddy threw in the towel this week.

    Well, the wheels of the federal government's bus are now rolling over Chrysler's terminated dealers:

    The calls from Chrysler officials were coming nearly every day, sometimes several times a day, right through the final weeks before the company filed for bankruptcy. And the message, said Robert Archer, who runs three Chrysler dealerships in the Houston area, was simple: Take more cars.

    “They tell me, ‘The only way that we can survive is if you order cars, and Fiat and the government see money coming in,’ ” Mr. Archer said.

    He acquiesced, he said, thinking he was doing his part to save the company. “I’m a team player and I don’t want them to go out of business, so I ordered a ton of cars.”

    Then, a week ago, Chrysler told Mr. Archer, a dealer for three decades, that his three stores were among the 789 dealerships the company was eliminating as of June 9. Mr. Archer had 700 new vehicles and $1.7 million in new parts in stock when the letters arrived.

    These dealers were going to get terminated one way or the other because Chrysler has been a zombie for months, but the government intervention in the otherwise natural decline of the business -- intervention to benefit the United Auto Workers -- seems to have incrementally screwed these poor guys. The government conditioned further aid -- life support, really -- on Chrysler showing "viability," which meant that Chrysler's survival and therefore all those union jobs depended on it booking at least some sales to its dealers. Not surprisingly, Chrysler used the government's condition -- that it at least seem viable -- to bludgeon these dealers into buying cars they did not need. They acquiesced, because they did not want to be responsible for taking down Chrysler when the government was trying to save it.

    There are several things that might be said about this.

    First, the government essentially promoted, or at least established conditions that would tend to promote, the fraudulent transfer of wealth from Chrysler's dealers to Chrysler's creditors, including particular the UAW. This is not surprising, because unions support Democrats and small businessmen usually do not and the creditors seem to be the bullet-proof constituency for both parties, but it is shocking nonetheless.

    Second, if this happened in a purely private context we would regard it as fraudulent inducement. How often have creditors or auditors been held liable because the businesses they validated or certified then defrauded a third party? Even if this is slightly different legally, is it any different morally? Ought not public companies who do business with "bailout" targets have to disclose in their risk factors that the terms of their business might change at any time, without notice, regardless of contracted terms? Do not hold your breath for the SEC to start demanding that disclosure.

    Third, what signal does this story and the experience of the banks send to businesses that might otherwise try to support a government program to bail out a company? The obvious answer is that the current federal government is entirely unreliable, and that people and firms who try to help in good faith stand a very good chance of getting run over for their efforts.

    This does not seem like the right way to encourage volunteerism.

    (12) Comments

    Friday, May 22, 2009

    Mocking dictators 


    The Clio award-winning posters for the International Society for Human Rights are cute, but also wishful thinking. Mouse clicks do not terrify those guys. Although perhaps they should.


    (0) Comments

    Daisy redux 


    The Republican National Committee riffs on the most devastating attack ad in the history of American politics:



    See the original here, run by Lyndon Johnson once in the 1964 campaign against Barry Goldwater, who the Democrats successfully positioned as a dangerous warmonger:



    I have at least two reactions. First, that the Republicans picked a poor moment to use that footage -- they should have trotted it out after the next eruption from the Islamic Republic, when "Daisy," interspersed with Iranian mobs chanting "death to America," would have actually been apropos. Second, the RNC pulled its punches. One need only compare the limp GOP ad to the original to know that.


    (6) Comments

    When a Frenchman refers to "the Mexican Army" 


    In a business meeting earlier today, the only Frenchman present referred to "the Mexican Army," meaning in the context a large group of barely organized people. As the meeting broke up you could hear the Americans wondering about the reference to "the Mexican Army" and what it possibly could have meant. I suppose it reflects poorly on our schools, or at least the supplemental materials on menus in Mexican restaurants, that I was the only one who knew that it refers to Cinco de Mayo from, well, the French perspective.


    (4) Comments

    Christie shoots back 


    Jon Corzine and his Democratic allies have been taking shots at Chris Christie, the Republican that the Democrats seem most worried about. Christie's latest web ad points out that this is nothing but same-old same-old.



    What I cannot figure out is why Jon Corzine spent more than $100 million getting elected to Trenton, when he had a perfectly good seat in the United States Senate. That has always seemed like a bad move to me, unless he was trying to set himself up to be president. And that seems really dumb.


    (2) Comments

    The Seattle bar scene 



    In case you are in the Seattle area and have no plans Saturday night, and really like low-brow skank culture, this might be of interest to you.

    But it's probably best to leave your middle school or high school aged sons at home.

    (4) Comments

    Friday afternoon bargain hunting 


    Amazon.com has alerted me to "bargain deals" in virtually every product category. I felt guilty keeping this important information to myself.


    (2) Comments

    Krauthammer on Gitmo 



    Charles Krauthammer has an interesting op-ed in today's WaPo, and his basic theme is that President Obama has adopted many of the Bush/Cheney administration national security policies while saying that he hasn't.
    "Of course, Obama will never admit in word what he's doing in deed. As in his rhetorically brilliant national-security speech yesterday claiming to have undone Bush's moral travesties, the military commissions flip-flop is accompanied by the usual Obama three-step: (a) excoriate the Bush policy, (b) ostentatiously unveil cosmetic changes, (c) adopt the Bush policy...

    "...The genius of democracy is that the rotation of power forces the opposition to come to its senses when it takes over. When the new guys, brought to power by popular will, then adopt the policies of the old guys, a national consensus is forged and a new legitimacy established.

    "That's happening before our eyes. The Bush policies in the war on terror won't have to await vindication by historians. Obama is doing it day by day. His denials mean nothing. Look at his deeds."


    Read the whole thing.

    (5) Comments

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