Wednesday, November 30, 2011

From the Mouths of Boobs Comes Wisdom, Part II

You've got to hand it Newt Gingrich – like a broken clock, twice a day he tells the truth in spite of himself:

“One of the real changes that comes when you start running for president — as opposed to being an analyst on Fox — is I have to actually know what I’m talking about.”

h/t to Steven Benen, who saw it at Think Progress.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How I Became a Philanthropist, Chapter 1

If you own just one square inch of New York City land, how rich could you be? Depending on where the inch was located, I imagine you could be very rich, indeed. If that square inch found itself in the middle of a piece of land that Donald Trump wanted to build on, and he owned all the land around it, you might be able to set some kind of record for cost per square foot with your little square inch.

"Gee, I don't know, Donald. I've always had a sentimental attachment to this square inch of land, and was hoping to pass it down to my nephews and nieces."

That was something like the reverie that went through my mind when I remembered, for no particular reason, that I am the owner of a square inch of land in Klondike gold country.

I am not kidding you. It was deeded to me in the 1950's by the Klondike Big Inch Land Co, Inc. The deed came in a box of Quaker Puffed Wheat, a cereal that tastes like gritty styrofoam. My kid brother couldn't read yet, so he didn't realize the extreme value of this gold-edged piece of paper. But I was a loyal watcher of Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, so I knew all about the Gold Rush. I'm sure I gave him a good cover story. It was mine, and it was a beautiful thing to behold.

Now, more than 50 years later, it was clear that all I needed to do was find the deed, notify Exxon Mobil that I was willing to talk business, and I could make all my loved ones rich beyond their wildest dreams. Because, you see, when I have fantasies about having a lot of money, I'm always giving it away to my adoring family and friends. Because that's just the kind of person I am.

I haven't found the deed yet (the picture above was stolen from another site [because that's really the kind of person that I am]), but I don't intend to bother. Looking for instructions on how best to manage my Canadian Empire (Larry McMurtry will probably be interested in taking notes from the beginning) I happened upon this article on the web site of what is essentially the Yukon Territories tourist bureau. It's a good read, with interesting links. But here are the best bits:
...long after all the rocket rings and plastic submarines and other cereal-box prizes were lost, millions of those official-looking, legal-sounding, gold-embossed deeds to a square inch of Yukon land remained in drawers, albums, safe deposit boxes, scrapbooks, vaults and, more importantly, in the memory of a generation of men and women not so young anymore [Was that really necessary?].

And given the ravages of the years and the current uncertain economic times, a steadily mounting stream of these former children, their attorneys [my aghast emphasis], their widows and their executors are writing to inquire after their “property,” which they assume has increased in value over all these years.

But, alas, the replies carry sad news. Not only do these people not own the land now. They never did, because each individual deed was never formally registered. The Klondike Big Inch Land Co., an Illinois subsidiary established to handle the cereal’s land affairs, has gone out of business. And anyway, the Canadian government repossessed all the land back in 1965 for nonpayment of $37.20 in property taxes.

But still, the cereal saga won’t die. Thousands of “owners” have written to officials in the Yukon. A vast, sparsely populated area that is one of two of Canada’s northern territories. “Please tell them to stop.” pleaded Cheryl Lefevre. a land-office clerk who stores the Yukon’s files on the matter, files now more than 18 inches thick.

There were always some “owners” writing for information. But it built to a flood more recently, involving Canadian consuls general in the United States, the Yukon and even the prime minister’s office in Ottawa.

Steven Spoerl wrote Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau to announce he was declaring the formal independence of his four square inches.
Each writer gets a polite reply that refers to Quaker’s “promotional gimmick” and suggests they write Chicago.

“The deeds were not meant to have any intrinsic value,” Quaker now says, “but rather to give the consumer the romantic appeal of being the owner of a square inch of land in the Yukon.”

Ironically, there are reports that ... those 7-by-5-inch deeds that were 35 times larger than the piece of land they represented, are bringing upwards of $40 in some antique shops.
A recent check of eBay found certificates being offered for $24.24 to $31. One enthusiastic person writes,
Hi...You dont mention in your description...but it looks like its in very good condition....correct??....and it is also unsigned...these deeds are worth much more unsigned...thank you
Yeah, instead of $24.24, they're worth $31.

Dear friends, nephews and nieces: don't despair. I am constantly thinking of new ways to get fabulously wealthy, and share my good fortune with you. It's just a matter of time.

Love, Uncle Bob

Deja Vu All Over Again

The High Priestess of Hate Mongering, Pam Geller, was given space the other day on an anti-Obama site that calls itself  "American Thinker" to present her latest evidence of the Muslim plan to take over America.

If you're not familiar with Geller, count yourself among the formerly lucky ones ("formerly" because those days are now over). She is author of a charming book called, Stop the Islamization of America: A Practical Guide to the Resistance, and numerous articles around the web that combine racism, anti-Obama hysteria, and fear of the unknown in entirely new ways.

Here's a sample via
So why not tell the truth about Obama and his reported strange sexual predilections? My question is, it is well known that Obama allegedly was involved with a crack whore in his youth. Very seedy stuff. Why aren’t they pursuing that story? Find the ho, give her a show!
Classy stuff.

My favorite is her attempt to prove that President Obama is the love child of Malcolm X.
Barack Hussein Obama Jr Malcolm X Barack Hussein Obama Sr. Barack Hussein Obama Sr., Tom Mboya, and Philip Ochieng, all share common physical features of the Kenyan Luo tribe: Modest stature under six feet, round faces, small chins, wide set eyes, slanted back foreheads, and retracted hairlines…none of these features are shared by Malcolm X and Barack Hussein Obama Jr.
So we are talking about serious derangement here. She's very influential in the Fox News crowd.

Geller's "American Thinker" article takes a seemingly bizarre fact and spins a conspiracy out of it: apparently, whole Butterball turkeys are halal, or slaughtered according to Islamic law.  Or so Butterball would have us believe. I hesitate to do this to you, but maybe you should read Geller's article, here.

Without getting too deeply into the specifics, an animal that is halal has been slaughtered with a sharp knife cut across its neck, and bled to death. To someone standing on the sidelines, it is very similar to kosher, except where it is not. Some sources say the slaughter must be done by an observant Muslim, and a prayer to Allah said as the knife is applied. A purist will argue with me, but after reading around quite a bit on this, I rather like the way Wikipedia puts it:
Whether Muslims' factory-slaughtered meats meet halal standards is an ongoing debate, and the answer depends largely on the individual being asked.
And, indeed, there is some question about whether Butterball turkeys really are halal. But Butterball certainly wanted people who cared (formerly, only Muslims) to think so. That is, until Geller's little treatise. Butterball has apparently backed off their halal claims.

But it raises the question: Why? Why would a company like Butterball bother with something like halal?  Are their owners religious Muslims? Are they really part of a vast Muslim conspiracy to force us, against our will, to eat meat sacrificed to Allah? Is creeping Islam, like creeping communism, destroying us from within?

And then it dawned on me:

Capitalism!! Of course!

Butterball's web site lays it out:
Butterball is one of the largest global turkey providers in the world. For more than 25 years, Butterball® has been providing quality turkey to markets around the globe. Currently, exporting over 100 million pounds of turkey products annually to over 50 countries, it’s no wonder that Butterball is one of the most celebrated choices for turkey. Butterball is committed to developing the best new products to specifically cater to all international cultures. [My emphasis]
For customers around the world who care, Butterball felt – for whatever reason – they could say their turkeys are halal. And those who didn't care ... didn't care. Until now. Butterball is clearly worried that they'll be the next Proctor & Gamble logo conspiracy.

Incidentally, there are other companies you may have heard of that offer halal meats. McDonald's, for instance, offers halal chicken nuggets in Dearborn, Michigan. I'll bet none of that halal chicken winds up in Detroit, though.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Bad News from Europe

It seems like every week the European Central Bank does something to quell fears of the Euro's demise. For a few days it works, and then it doesn't.

From today's Der Spiegel, in an editorial titled, A Continent Stares into the Abyss:
Investors have lost confidence in the euro-zone countries and in their ability to rescue the common currency. Not even the recent changes of government in Italy, Greece and Spain have been enough to persuade them otherwise.

There is a growing sense of fear, both in the financial markets and in government offices. Even serious bankers who exude confidence in public admit privately that the monetary union could soon fall apart.

The previous bailout attempts have been worthless, they say, noting that Europe must finally reach for the only weapon whose firepower is endless, the European Central Bank. The ECB must finance the debtor nations, even if its own constitution bars it from doing so. The central bank has enough money, and it can also print money if necessary.

Most European leaders share this realization by now -- all except Merkel. She remains resistant, concerned about the central bank's independence and monetary stability. She is also staunchly opposed to all attempts to pool the debts of euro nations through jointly issued debt known as euro bonds.

The German chancellor is increasingly isolated. At home, she must defend any concessions to save the euro against her coalition partners, the business-friendly Free Democratic Party and the conservative Christian Social Union (the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's Christian Democratic Union). She must convince members of parliament from her own party and abide by the rules set by Germany's Constitutional Court in its far-reaching decisions on the euro crisis. The FDP is creating alarm by polling its members on the party's position on the crisis. In other countries, Merkel is seen as a stubborn defender of German interests who hasn't recognized how serious the situation is -- and is therefore jeopardizing the entire monetary union.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Good News

From today's NY Times:
AS North Carolina Republicans tell it, the Obama for America volunteers stole in under cover of night and stayed, undetected — noticed belatedly only because of election results across the state.

“It was very scary,” said Chris Sinclair, a strategist for Billie Redmond, the Republican candidate for mayor in Raleigh. “You don’t know what’s going on until you wake up after Election Day and go, ‘Oh my gosh, what happened?’ ”

What happened was that candidates supported by Democrats trounced Republicans in the Raleigh and Charlotte mayoral races this fall, and even wrested control of the Wake County school board from Republicans associated with the Tea Party.

It was only after the damage was done that local party leaders learned of the hidden hand of thousands of Obama for America volunteers and staff members. Never publicizing their work, they went door-to-door across the state, successfully getting their voters out to the polls in a highly effective dry run for 2012.

“I have said to all of my Republican friends, ‘This is real,’ ” Mr. Sinclair said of the Obama organization. “I’ve seen it; I’m coming off the front lines — it ain’t fun and we better be ready.”
Now, don't you feel better already?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving Thanks

There's a lot to be thankful for. Gail Collins gives thanks for the Republican presidential debates.
My favorite this week was the Thanksgiving Family Forum, in which everybody in the race who isn’t a Mormon went to Iowa to compete for the love of the Christian right. This was the one in which Rick Perry assured the audience that because of his strong anti-abortion stance he would immediately end the policy of sending China “billions of dollars” in American foreign aid.

Who knew? Truly, it was the most interesting TV moment since I watched somebody bid way too much money for an abandoned storage locker containing fake leather furniture and a portrait of cats with big eyes.
The whole thing is here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Just Wondering

Why is it that the people who are most excited about American Exceptionalism are usually people who have no problem with torture, as long as it's done by Americans?

I guess that's one area where we're no longer an exception.

The Forces of Deceit

Cyrano de Romney? Or Geppetto's latest creation?

By now you've read that Mitt Romney signaled the quality-type guy he is by including, in his first campaign commercial, a tape of President Obama saying, "If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose."

The problem with the commercial, of course, was that the statement was taken out of context: The statement was made in 2008, and Obama was explicitly quoting an aide to John McCain. So the entire quote is:
Even as we face the most serious economic crisis of our time, even as you are worried about keeping your jobs or paying your bills or staying in your homes, my opponent's campaign announced earlier this month that they want to ‘turn the page’ on the discussion about our economy so they can spend the final weeks of this election attacking me instead. Sen. McCain's campaign actually said, and I quote, ‘If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose.’
When challenged about how dishonest the ad was, Romney senior advisor Tom Roth answered, "He did say the words. That's his voice."

Wow, talk about your moral relativism!

So the folks at Think Progress decided to make a little video of Mitt, using only words he really said, in his own voice:

Maybe the Obama campaign should run it, as an obvious object lesson. Nah.

It has been encouraging, though, to see the news media responding to this ad. I've been very critical of them in the past, so fair is fair:  for once, they're pretty much calling it like it is:

"Misleading" – CBS News

"... the second time in as many weeks that Romney has taken an Obama quote out of context." – the Associated Press

"Ridiculously misleading" – Politifact

Think of it: "He did say the words. That's his voice." Why does anybody take these people seriously? They're not taking themselves seriously.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

JFK Assassination - 48 Years Later

I had a great time Saturday at Dave and Trudy's – a wonderful pre-Thanksgiving dinner and lively conversation with informed, interesting people.

At one point the discussion got around to the the John F. Kennedy assassination in Dallas. Dave had recently been to Dallas and visited Dealy Plaza, where the assassination took place. He was surprised, he said, by how close the Texas Book Depository (where Oswald shot from) was to the point where the bullet hit President Kennedy.

I was interested to hear that, because it mirrored my own reaction when I visited the site about 8 years ago. One of the talking points of conspiracy theorists has been that the distance between the two was so great that firing with such accuracy was unlikely, even for a trained marksman such as Oswald.

It's been 48 years since the assassination. (So long that I need to explain what I mean by "Dealy Plaza" and "Texas Book Depository." If you're above a certain age, these need no explanation.)  But the assassination continues to fascinate.

The NY Times today has an interesting little video about "The Umbrella Man," a bystander who figured in some conspiracy theories. Entertaining, and definitely worth watching.

You'll find it here.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Musical Interlude

Iris DeMent. A thinking person's Country: Let the Mystery Be.

Secret Recording Shows Gingrich Terrified of Winning GOP Nomination

Cambridge, Mass – A secretly made video recording of an emergency campaign meeting Thursday night depicts an hysterial Newt Gingrich, apparently fearful that he might actually win the Republican Presidential nod. The former House Speaker is one of eight candidates permitted to participate in the series of Republican presidential debates, most of which have been televised or made available through online streaming.

The individual who made the video is a Gingrich staff member, but would show it to reporters only on condition of anonymity. Four reporters were allowed to view, but not copy, the recording.

The emergency campaign meeting was called in response to a New Hampshire Journal poll, announced Friday, but of which the Gingrich team had advance notice, which showed Gingrich running neck-and-neck with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in the Granite State. The poll, conducted by Magellan Strategies, a Republican-associated firm, found Gingrich to the be choice of 27 percent of votes, with Romney at 29 percent. The difference, however, was well within the poll's 4 percent margin of error.

"This is ridiculous!" Gingrich is seen and heard screaming at his campaign team. "Three months ago these same nitwits polled me with a 60 percent unfavorable rating!

"I've had three religions! I've had three wives, and cheated on two of them, for Christ's sake! I've been reprimanded and fined $300,000 for House ethics violations! Are people in New Hampshire out of their *&%#ing minds?"

The video then shows a pedagogical Gingrich explaining the basis of his campaign.

"It's sad that the news media doesn't report accurately how the Washington economy works! Do you know how much the President of the United States is paid? $400,000 a year! Why would anyone in their right mind work for $400,000 a year? What am I, a school janitor?"

One off-screen staff member is heard asking whether Gingrich didn't think it his patriotic duty to serve as President, if actually nominated and elected.

"I love humor disguised as a question," Gingrich responds. "That's terrific!"

"Look, we are in this for one thing and one thing only: to attract bigger contracts to Gingrich Group. We do that by getting me free television time on these debates so I can look like a principled conservative.  If I get elected, the D.C. cash cow pulls its teats out of our mouths for 4 years! In the last 6 years I got $2 million just from Freddie Mac for 'historical advice,' and nobody looked twice! It doesn't work like that for Presidents!"

"Instead of playing Micky Mouse games, let's make some money!" he shouted at his staff.

"Nobody leaves this room until I have a plan that keeps me in the campaign as long as possible, but guarantees I will never be the nominee!"

Upon which Gingrich is seen storming out the door to his waiting wife, Callista.


Politico reports:
Newt Gingrich tonight said at an address at Harvard that child work laws "entrap" poor children into poverty - and suggested that a better way to handle failing schools is to fire the janitors, hire the local students and let them get paid for upkeep.

The comment came in response to an undergrad's question about income equality during his talk at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Another Update

See this discussion on Rachel Maddow, which sounds about right. Hat tip to Andrew Tobias.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Negative Vortex

Things in Europe are getting really dangerous.  It's going to be harder and harder to step back from the edge. From today's NY Times:
Nervous investors around the globe are accelerating their exit from the debt of European governments and banks, increasing the risk of a credit squeeze that could set off a downward spiral.

Financial institutions are dumping their vast holdings of European government debt and spurning new bond issues by countries like Spain and Italy. And many have decided not to renew short-term loans to European banks, which are needed to finance day-to-day operations.

If this trend continues, it risks creating a vicious cycle of rising borrowing costs, deeper spending cuts and slowing growth, which is hard to get out of, especially as some European banks are having trouble meeting their financing needs.

“It’s a pretty terrible spiral,” said Peter R. Fisher, vice chairman of the asset manager BlackRock and a former senior Treasury official in the Clinton administration.

The pullback — which is increasing almost daily — is driven by worries that some European countries may not be able to fully repay their bond borrowings, which in turn would damage banks that own large amounts of those bonds. It also increases the already rising pressure on the European Central Bank to take more aggressive action. 
The flight from European sovereign debt and banks has spanned the globe. European institutions like the Royal Bank of Scotland and pension funds in the Netherlands have been heavy sellers in recent days. And earlier this month, Kokusai Asset Management in Japan unloaded nearly $1 billion in Italian debt.

At the same time, American institutions are pulling back on loans to even the sturdiest banks in Europe. When a $300 million certificate of deposit held by Vanguard’s $114 billion Prime Money Market Fund from Rabobank in the Netherlands came due on Nov. 9, Vanguard decided to let the loan expire and move the money out of Europe. Rabobank enjoys a AAA-credit rating and is considered one of the strongest banks in the world.  [My emphasis]
Uh-oh. This is starting to sound way too familiar. The whole article is here.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Chicago Botanic Garden

Several friends have made a concerted effort to keep me engaged with life after Suellen's death last year. I haven't made it easy for them, but they persevere. Thank you, all.

Sue, one of Suellen's dearest friends, started taking me out to the Chicago Botanic Garden about once a month. We would walk around the grounds and share memories of Suellen, or just talk about things going on in our lives. Or politics!

A few months ago Sue lost her mother, and I hope our walks have helped her as much as they helped me.

Tuesday we went on another walk, and I finally grabbed a camera as we were headed out the door. It has been a leisurely Fall in Chicago, with temperatures dropping below freezing for the first time just last night. Most of the leaves at the Garden had fallen, but it was still a beautiful place.

I had no idea artichokes could grow in Chicago.

 Wikipedia says, "the Chicago Botanic Garden is a 385-acre (156 ha) living plant museum situated on nine islands featuring 24 display gardens and surrounded by four natural habitats: McDonald Woods, Dixon Prairie, Skokie River Corridor, and Lakes and Shores."

Admission is free, but parking is $20. I was going to say something snide about that until I remembered other places where I've paid $20 or more for parking. This was definitely the best deal.

The guy above was putting Christmas lights on the tree.

The Chicago Botanic Garden has a very nice cafeteria where you can sit inside or, on a nice day like this, out on the large deck that overhangs the water. Or you can take your lunch along a path and eat while regarding a gorgeous view, thinking deep thoughts.

Sue and I agreed that we're willing to go back in the winter.


Can Gingrich's 15 minutes be up already? Reason would dictate it, but reason dictates nothing in the Republican Party. Barney Frank is having great fun with Newt:

Let's assume the Wingnuts are already backing off their infatuation with Gingrich. It might be assuming too much (see second sentence of this post), but he has a record that will catch up to him eventually. So where does that leave the GOP in their search for Anybody-but-Mitt?

Let's go back to our list:

Donald Trump

Michele Bachmann

Rick Perry

Herman Cain

Rick Santorum

Newt Gingrich

Ron Paul

Jon Huntsman (hey, he's a Mormon, not a True Christian)

Can anybody construct a scenario in which Ron Paul gets the nomination? I can't.

So Santorum is in a great position (last man standing), but doesn't seem to have the smarts to figure out what he needs to do. Okay, so he's against abortion and gays, but that's the price of admission to the GOP. Does he think about anything else? Obama's birth certificate? Obama's grades? Any of the other important issues facing our country?

It's up to you, Rick. Carpe diem.

For all the inevitability in which some commentators wrap Mitt's nomination, it remains to be seen if the guy will be able to pull together a majority at the convention.

Gallup has this analysis:
Romney is generally acknowledged as a front-runner, if not the leading candidate, based on nomination preference polls as well as his fundraising totals and prior experience in running for president. But Romney remains a fairly weak front-runner in three respects.

First, in most prior GOP nominating contests, the front-running candidate had a large lead over the rest of the field, whereas Romney has had at best only slight leads over his rivals.

Second, the percentage of Republicans who prefer Romney as the party's nominee has failed to grow over the course of the campaign, even as prominent challengers such as Mike Huckabee declined to run and as some of Romney's current rivals, including Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, gained in the polls earlier in the campaign only to lose much of their support as they became better known.

Third, his lower Positive Intensity Scores indicate he is not generating a lot of enthusiasm among Republicans.

A Republican convention that goes through several ballots before deciding on the standard bearer can't be ruled out. Multiple ballot conventions used to be fairly common. Thomas Dewey won the nomination in 3 ballots in 1948. Wendell Willkie took 6 ballots in 1940.  And every political junkie's favorite, the 1924 Democratic Convention, took 103 ballots to decide who was going to lose to Calvin Coolidge.

Are desperate, pleading phone calls once again being made to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie? Is John McCain plotting a comeback?

Pass the popcorn, please.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Via Talking Points Memo we get to see a new Rick Perry ad, called "Lazy." In it, Perry takes an excerpt from a statement by President Obama:
We’ve been a little bit lazy over the last couple of decades. We’ve kind of taken for granted — ‘Well, people would want to come here’ — and we aren’t out there hungry, selling America and trying to attract new businesses into America.
Let's see what Perry does with that:

Now, don't get upset. What did you expect? If you showed this ad to a Tea Partier he'd probably pop a blood vessel in anger at Obama. Nothing new here.

Except maybe this:

Does Rick Perry seem even stupider than usual in this ad? Even without knowing that his point is stupid?  Is this Rick Perry doing his imitation of Will Ferrell doing his imitation of George W. Bush?

And While I'm on the Subject ...

This year I sent a large contribution to Chicago's classical radio station, WFMT. It is, as far as I know, the best classical music station in the country. You can give them a listen online, and tell me if I'm wrong.

Anyway, they were so grateful for my enormous gift, which could only be described as philanthropic, that they sent me two CD collections: The Complete Works of Mozart and The Complete Works of Beethoven. I've enjoyed CD's from both sets, though I'm not sure I'll make my way all the way through either of them. (Did I mention that it was a large contribution? I could have bought a congressman!)

There was something about the collections that got my attention, even before I played the first CD. Can you guess what it was?

Beethoven lived for 56½ years, Mozart for almost 36. Making no statement on the relative quality (as if I could), the surviving body of Mozart's work is almost exactly twice as large.

"Too many notes," indeed.

And there could be no better time to recall Tom Lehrer's profound observation, many years ago now, that, "It is a sobering thought that when Mozart was my age, he had been dead for 2 years."

I might have exaggerated the size of my contribution a little bit. Except for the part about buying a Congressman.

Ensemble Rameau

Monday night I was torn. I had the opportunity to attend a Hard Art Groop concert at the Merit School of Music, in the West Loop area of Chicago, or travel to Evanston to hear a Baroque quartet, Ensemble Rameau.

I have reported previously about the Hard Art Groop. I love them. And the West Loop is pretty accessible from anywhere once the rush hour traffic clears out. All Chicago highways lead to the Loop.

Evanston, on the other hand, was designed to be inaccessible from anywhere but Winnetka. A Chicagoan wishing to go to Evanston by any conveyance except the Red or Purple lines is consigned to congested city streets. If you are patient, you will get there eventually. But it will be time to head home.

Nevertheless, I opted for Evanston that night. I'd been feeling a little frayed lately, and thought some chamber music was likely to sooth my soul. I was right.

The concert venue was as interesting as the music. A "temporary, experimental lending library," The Mighty Twig is a store-front establishment founded as a response to the City of Evanston's closing of the nearly 100-year-old South Branch of the Evanston Public Library. Not so willing as the city to signal its own demise,  a group of citizens banded together to create a lending library in the same part of town. In less than a year, more than 3,000 families have joined up.

Ensemble Rameau are four musicians who play Baroque music on period instruments. Because the music was quiet and intricate, I could take pictures only while they were tuning their instruments, when the slapping of my camera's mirror wouldn't compete.

The ensemble played pieces from two musicians, Tommaso Giordani (1730-1806) and Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767).  Of Telemann, the program notes said, "He went from being the most renowned composer in Europe during his lifetime, to practically unknown by the mid-20th century," though his works have received more attention since then.

As is usual at things like this, I managed to make a fool of myself. After the performance, the musicians happily talked to the audience about the music and their instruments. Having read in the program that, "In Paris, the most popular works of Telemann were his quartets for flute, violin, viola da gamba, and continuo," I checked off the instuments I figured were a flute, violin, and viola, then asked the gentleman above if his instrument was a continuo.

"No, it's cello."

He then kindly explained what a continuo is/was, but I heard nothing because the blood rushing to my face produced a loud ringing sensation in my ears.

I learned from this young lady that Ensemble Rameau may be offering a concert of French Baroque Christmas music next month. That would be something to look forward to. 

I already knew Andrew, above. In addition to being a musician, he is a painter. In fact, I own three of Andrew's paintings, including one of a man playing a violin. Or is it a viola? I'm pretty sure it's not a continuo. Or am I?

Do I need to point out the tie?

The thing about Evanston that makes it worth overcoming all the obstacles it has thrown in your path for getting there is concerts like this. A cozy group of musicians, in a cozy venue, with a comfortable and attentive audience. I'm sorry you missed it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Flavor of the Week

Uh-oh, Talking Points Memo was right, and I was wrong.

The successor to the Trump Bachmann Perry Cain Anybody-but-Mitt crown looks to be Newt!

Not a Moment of Thought

E. J. Dionne writes about Rick Perry's "oops" moment in last week's debate:
What really matters is the subject that sent Perry’s brain into lockdown. He was in the middle of describing sweeping changes in the federal bureaucracy closely connected to his spare vision of American government. One presumes a candidate for president ponders such proposals carefully, discusses them with advisers and understands their implications.
Forgetting an idea at the heart of your program, in other words, is not the same as forgetting a phone number, a friend’s name, a football score or the title of a recently read book.

Perry’s memory lapse showed that he wasn’t asserting anything that he is truly serious about because he is not serious about what government does, or ought not to do. For him, governing seems a casual undertaking.

“And I will tell you,” he declared, “it’s three agencies of government when I get there that are gone: Commerce, Education and the — what’s the third one there? Let’s see.”

Yes, let’s see what “gone” might imply. Would Perry end all federal aid to education? Would he do away with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the part of the Commerce Department that, among other things, tracks hurricanes? Energy was the department he forgot. Would he scrap the department’s 17 national labs, including such world-class facilities as Los Alamos, N.M., Oak Ridge, Tenn., or — there’s that primary coming up — Aiken, S.C.?

I’m not accusing Perry of wanting to do any of these things because I don’t believe he has given them a moment of thought. And that’s the problem for conservatives. Their movement has been overtaken by a quite literally mindless opposition to government. Perry, correctly, thought he had a winning sound bite, had he managed to blurt it out, because if you just say you want to scrap government departments (and three is a nice, round number), many conservatives will cheer without asking questions.

This is a long way from the conservatism I used to respect. Although I often disagreed with conservatives, I admired their prudence, their affection for tradition and their understanding that the intricate bonds of community are established with great difficulty over time and not easy to reweave once they are torn asunder. At their best, conservatives forced us to think harder. Now, many in the ranks seem to have decided that hard and nuanced thinking is a telltale sign of liberalism.
 That sounds right.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Not a Pretty Picture II

I've never made a study of it, but my understanding is that the standard defense in a rape trial – especially when the accused is actually guilty – is to attack the woman making the accusation. She was a tease. She's a slut. She's a divorcĂ©e, and you know what they're like. In high school she was considered "loose".

So if Sharon Bialek's "celebrity lawyer," Gloria Allred, is a decent person (not to mention a good lawyer), she should have strongly warned Bialek what she would be in for if she went public with her accusations about Herman Cain.

And sure enough, within 12 hours we found out:
Records show she twice has filed for personal bankruptcy, first in 1991 and then again in 2001. In the latter case, she claimed $5,700 in assets and more than $36,000 in liabilities. Among the creditors seeking payment was a management firm demanding back rent of $4,500, four credit card companies and a lawyer asking for his legal fees.
The IRS filed a tax lien against her in 2009 for nearly $5,200. In August, the Illinois Department of Revenue claimed Bialek owed the state more than $4,300, including penalties and interest, relating to income taxes from 2004, according to county records.
And I think this much is fair. Bialek came out of nowhere to make these accusations. We have no idea who she is, or how to weigh the credibility of her statements.

For his part, Herman Cain says he can't remember Bialek. He doesn't remember her name, he doesn't remember the occasion. He doesn't remember her even after seeing her picture. Luckily, a New York Post columnist was in the back seat, taking notes. Bialek, says Andrea Peyser, "flirted like a tart" at her meeting with Cain. The meeting that Cain can't remember, but Peyser confirms took place.

I was not there, so I won't pretend to know what really happened. What I do know doesn't sound good for either of them.

Update:  In the middle of the Cain campaign's all-out effort to destroy Sharon Bialek, Cain's attorney has issued a threat to other women who may be considering stepping forward:  they should "think twice" before doing so.  Cain's attorney has represented Kobe Bryant and the family of JonBenet Ramsey, but I have yet to see him described as a "celebrity lawyer." I'm not sure what the rules are for that.

Not a Pretty Picture

Via Andrew Tobias, Robert J. Shapiro describes what November might be like if Italy defaults.
Ground zero of the European sovereign crisis has moved from Greece to Italy, and that’s very bad news for Europe, the United States, and most everywhere else....
In a period of worst case scenarios, here’s what could well happen later this month. Start with the fact that Italy alone has $2 trillion in outstanding government debt. Most of those bonds are held by Italian, French and German banks, including the biggest banks in the world. Anything approaching an Italian default would wipe out the capital of those banks, leaving them insolvent; and most of the Eurozone economies would grind to a halt.

It gets worse, because a financial meltdown centered on sovereign debt is much more dangerous than one triggered by mortgage-backed securities. In effect, a sovereign debt crisis strips sovereigns of their ability to act to contain the crisis. With Italy and Greece in default, for example, who will believe those governments as they move to head off general bank runs by, say, guaranteeing money market balances as the United States did successfully in the days after Lehman?  And if the biggest banks in France and Germany go down, Sarkozy and Merkel wouldn’t have the credibility to do much about it either.

The bad news doesn’t end with Europe. Our own big financial institutions, along with those in Britain and Japan, have thousands of deals going that involve the major banks in Germany, France and Italy. Overnight, all of those deals become suspect, which could spread financial panic beyond the Eurozone. And remember the credit default swaps that destroyed AIG?  No one knows precisely how many of those “guarantees” are out today against Italian government bonds and the commercial paper of French, German and Italian banks. The fact that no one knows could be a big problem in itself, since that, too, could breed a broader financial panic. In any case, there’s little doubt that those credit default swaps involve, at a minimum, hundreds of billions of dollars, Euros and pounds. That would leave American, European and Japanese financial institutions on the hook for those losses. And if they can’t make good on them, they could go down as well. Their only hope would be another bailout — if Congress could approve one before the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street folks pick up their pitchforks.
Read the whole thing here.

There is a strong self-fulfilling aspect to these prophecies. Bear Stearns had enough cash to get them though the last crisis – until the people they did business with started worrying that they didn't.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Lightning and Thunder

The problem with a global economy is that something happening "over there," over which we have no control, can have a very big effect over here. It's nothing new. There was the Long Depression of 1873-96, which was called the Great Depression until a greater depression came along (sort of like the "Great War" became "World War I.") That one was felt in the United States and Europe. But our economies are much more intertwined now than they were then.

Today comes news that Italian 10-year government bonds are trading above 7 percent, which with Greece was the bail-out trigger. Things seem to be falling apart rapidly over there.

Paul Krugman:
This is the way the euro ends.

This is the way the euro ends.

Not with a bang but with bunga-bunga.

Seriously, with Italian 10-years now well above 7 percent, we’re now in territory where all the vicious circles get into gear — and European leaders seem like deer caught in the headlights. And as Martin Wolf says today, the unthinkable — a euro breakup — has become all too thinkable ....


I still find it hard to believe that the euro will fail; but it seems equally hard to believe that Europe will do what’s needed to avoid that failure. Irresistible force, meet immovable object — and watch the explosion.
Krugman seems to be right about things economic most of the time, and he's very smug about it. I hope somebody is working out an orderly way for European countries to exit the Euro. If there even is such a thing.

But I have decided that, just to be safe, I will not buy any 10-year Italian government bonds.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Joao Silva Update

For the past year I've been following the progress of photographer Joao Silva, one of two surviving members of the Bang Bang Club. Last October, while covering the war in Afghanistan, Silva stepped on a land mine.

Yesterday he competed in the New York Marathon.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

"Distinguished members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee ..."

Paul Krugman today offers a public service announcement that should be required reading for all journalists and journalism classes:
Look, let me make a public service announcement: if you rely on bought and paid for sources on income inequality, you’re going to embarrass yourself again and again. These people never get it right, because their whole reason for being is to obfuscate. You should never, ever, trust what they say on this issue. [My emphasis.]
Krugman appears to be limiting his warning to "sources on income inequality," but let me tell you: that's a phrase that could be easily replaced by one word: anything.

He's talking here about the Tax Foundation, but the rule applies to The Hudson Institution, The American Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, and the Heritage Foundation. Although they like to call themselves "scholars" and "fellows," no real scholar would have anything to do with them. Not because of their views, but because of their predetermined results. They are propagandists; no more, no less.

I talked about this briefly here (and offer it as evidence of my last statement), beating Krugman by nearly 2 years. I have made sure the Committee has my phone number.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Who's Next?

Okay, Herman Cain is toast. Even though the wingnuts were out in force yesterday, defending him before they actually had any facts about the allegations against him (my personal favorite, Ann Coulter's "Our blacks are so much better than their blacks ... The only racism you hear in America is against conservative blacks"), it turns out that folks in the Perry camp have known about the allegations since Day One.

Talking Points Memo reports:
According to [Perry pollster Chris] Wilson, the main incident occurred at a DC-area restaurant and that “everybody was aware of it,” but that for legal reasons he can’t discuss the details. But he added that if Cain’s accuser comes forward — and one of the two women who reportedly received a settlement has expressed interest in doing just that — her story won’t be pretty. “If she talks about it, I think it’ll be the end of his campaign,” he said.

 “It was only a matter of time because so many people were aware of what took place, so many people were aware of her situation, the fact she left—-everybody knew with the campaign that this would eventually come up,” Wilson said.
So Herman Cain's 15 minutes are up. As are Michele Bachmann's and Rick Perry's.

Do you think I'm counting Perry out too quickly? Oh, sorry, I didn't know you've been out of the country:

So let's see .... Who will the wingnuts turn to next to protect them from Mitt the Mormon?

Michele Bachmann

Rick Perry

Herman Cain

Rick Santorum

Newt Gingrich

Ron Paul

Jon Huntsman - Let's face it, this is the wingnuts' year to choose the candidate. Without gobs of money, like Romney, Huntsman never had a chance.

My money's on Santorum.

Nov. 3 Update:

Talking Points Memo thinks recent polls, taken before Cainegeddon, are pointing to Gingrich. And so they are. But I have trouble believing The Wingnuts will go from a surprise sleazeball directly to a known sleazeball. But then, they're not The Wingnuts for nothin'.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Greece in a Nutshell

Kevin Drum has an outstanding explanation of what's going on with Greece – and the rest of Euro Europe – here.

Anybody see a way out? The Greeks and Germans would love to hear about it.

This is not looking good.

For Some People, Facts Just Don't Count

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (above) has got it all figured out:
“I hear your complaints,” Bloomberg said. “Some of them are totally unfounded. It was not the banks that created the mortgage crisis. It was, plain and simple, Congress who forced everybody to go and give mortgages to people who were on the cusp. Now, I’m not saying I’m sure that was terrible policy, because a lot of those people who got homes still have them and they wouldn’t have gotten them without that.

“But they were the ones who pushed Fannie and Freddie to make a bunch of loans that were imprudent, if you will. They were the ones that pushed the banks to loan to everybody. And now we want to go vilify the banks because it’s one target, it’s easy to blame them and congress certainly isn’t going to blame themselves."

You'd think he'd be better informed than that. But I guess you'd be wrong.