Thursday, June 28, 2012


Bend over, here it comes again!
Losses on JPMorgan Chase’s bungled trade could total as much as $9 billion, far exceeding earlier public estimates, according to people who have been briefed on the situation.


“Essentially, JPMorgan has been operating a hedge fund with federal insured deposits within a bank,” said Mark Williams, a professor of finance at Boston University, who also served as a Federal Reserve bank examiner.

A spokesman for the bank declined to comment.
 Gee, I wonder what Jamie Dimon's thoughts are on what the function of regulators should be.

Affordable Care Act

Most pundits expect the Supreme Court to overturn the Affordable Care Act – or large parts of it. As I write, announcement of the decision is still 3 hours away.

This morning the NY Times' Linda Greenhouse has a prediction:
The most useful way to read a Supreme Court decision, I figured out years ago, is to start with the dissents. That way, you can proceed to the majority opinion as a better informed reader, with the full range of possibilities in view: What arguments did the majority reject? Which did it respond to, and which did it not even bother to acknowledge? Most important, what was the disagreement really about?


Since this column will be coexisting in cyberspace with the court’s Affordable Care Act ruling, due on Thursday morning, it’s undoubtedly foolhardy to repeat my prediction that the court will uphold the law. Well there, I just did.
And who does she see as the deciding vote? Chief Justice Roberts.

If she's right, I think we can expect Scalia to actually pop!

Friday, June 22, 2012


I'm usually a big tipper. Usually more than 20%.

Why? I was once a cab driver, and I learned how important tips are to people in jobs that are tipped.

But I didn't know this:  the minimum wage for tipped workers is $2.13 an hour. And it hasn't changed since 1996, thanks to Herman Cain. Remember him?

Read about it here.

How Do YOU Spell Freedom?

Maybe, like me, you've listened to some Tea Party paranoiac bemoan his loss of freedom and wonder what the hell he's talking about. This should shed some light on that.

They closed his Hooters!

Mattie Lyon Breed

Here's a light rabbit hole story for you. I recently picked up this photograph of a very attractive lady, identified on the back as Mattie Lyon Breed and Mrs. R. E. Breed.

Mattie Lyon Breed

The actual photo is somewhat faded, so I've darkened it a bit to make it clearer. Here's the back:


Before we start researching her name, what can we say about the photograph? Well, first of all, it's what was called a carte de visite, which was – for all intents and purposes – the first commercially successful photograph that could be reproduced in limitless numbers. Cartes de visite were the size of a modern business card, and were commonly passed out like calling cards among friends. You can see on the back, at the bottom, that the cards were usually sold by the dozen. They were quite the rage for a decade or so, and people often collected their friends' cartes de visite in albums. Sort of the original Facebook. Photographers would often take portraits of famous persons, then sell their images as cartes de visite. They were so commonplace that many "original" carte de visite portraits of Abraham Lincoln, for example, are still available for modest sums.

Cartes de visite were very popular in the 1860's, but generally died out in the 1870's as the larger cabinet cards appeared, though they continued to appear even in the 1890's. So here we have a general time-frame for the portrait.

An unusual item in the picture, as it turns out, is the bow. I looked through quite a number of 19th century pictures while researching this portrait, and the only time I saw big bows under the ladies' chins have been within a few years of 1870. That doesn't exactly nail the date, but it's suggestive.

Finally, there's the photographer: Graham, at 93 Wood St., Pittsburgh.  The Pittsburgh City Directory for 1867 contains this entry:

Pittsburgh City Directory, 1867

There was no Directory entry for Thomas Graham in 1866 or 1868, so we would be justified in thinking this portrait was taken in about 1867. A puddler, by the way, was someone who held a difficult and dangerous job in the iron industry.

So we've established a reasonable timeframe for this portrait; let's flip the back of the photo 90ยบ and consider what's written on it.

This is a portrait of Mattie Lyon Breed, also known as Mrs. R.E. Breed, who was the mother of "flnfer" Breed. (I just can't make that out; can you?)

As luck would have it, there WAS a Mattie Breed married to an R. Breed, and only one, who lived in Pittsburgh at about this time. We find them both in the 1870 Census:

1870 Census of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
If you look carefully, you'll see that Mattie Breed, the mother of three regularly-spaced children, was 32 years old in 1870, which would make her about 29 in the picture. Richard Breed, her husband, had real estate valued at $40,000 and a personal estate valued at $10,000, both of which were a LOT of money in 1870. I mean, a LOT! So maybe it's not surprising that they had a cook, a chamber maid, and a gardener living with them; because they had a LOT of money.

Throughout the 1860's, Richard E. Breed is listed in the Pittsburgh Directory as a dealer in china, glass, and "queensware," a type of Wedgwood china. In the census above you can barely make out the word "merchant" in his occupation field.

At some time in the next 30 years Richard and Mattie moved to Marion, Indiana, with their son, Richard E. Breed, where the younger Richard took up glassmaking on a large scale and became president and treasurer of the Marion Flint Glass Co.

Boys work here but the boss would not permit any photographing.
If you Google "Marion Flint Glass Co." you will find several pages of reference to a 1908 photograph taken there by Lewis Hine, with Hine's annotation, "Boys work here but the boss would not permit any photographing."

Hine took other photographs of Indiana glassworkers, however.

The Ball Team, composed mainly of glass workers. Indiana, 1908, by Lewis Hine

Midnight at the Glassworks, Indiana, 1908, by Lewis Hine

By 1900, Richard, Sr., was owner of a general insurance agency named Breed & Ball. When you say the name Ball in Indiana, it means something. Ball jars may seem mundane today, but they made the Ball family very comfortable financially, and quite the philanthropists. Though I haven't researched it, it seems very likely, with his son in the glass business, that Richard Breed Sr.'s partner was connected to the Ball family.

The 1900 Census showed Richard and Mattie still living in Marion, but reading between the lines there's more than a hint of sadness. Mattie, or Martha, as she's called here, is shown as the mother of six children, of whom only four are still living. Sadly, this would not be considered unusual at the time.

Whether it was the deaths of her children or another cause, Mattie's health deteriorated to the point that in 1910 the census taker found her a patient at the Norway's Sanitorium in Indianapolis.

Norway's Sanitorium
The website Historic Indianapolis describes Norway's Sanitorium:
Neurologist Dr. Albert E. Sterne ... opened Norways, a private sanatorium, in 1898. It was a hospital for people with nervous and mental disorders at a time when mental illness was starting to be understood as a disease. The facility attracted customers from across the country and, at an average price of $50 per week by 1918, this was an expensive stay. Advertising mentions that the sanatorium was for people who were “used to luxury.” Attendants treated all forms of “constitutional maladies,” (including rheumatism, diabetes, stomach and kidney troubles, paralysis, and drug addictions) particularly those cured by the use of electricity, baths, massage, diet, and rest.
I can't say it's typical, but when the census taker arrived there on April 18, she recorded 28 employees in residence (counting Dr. Sterne) – and two patients.

1910 Census of Norway Sanitorium (partial)

Online genealogies of the Breed family say Mattie died in Nashville, Indiana, in 1917, and is buried in Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh. Her husband, Richard, died in 1923. Online genealogies are notoriously unreliable. These particular ones are unsourced or poorly sourced, and I was unable to confirm the dates, but think that in this case they may be correct.

In 1906 Mattie's son, Richard E., Jr., the employer of child labor, was an original investor/partner in the American Gas and Electric Co., later to become the American Electric Power Co., and was well on his way to joining the meritocracy.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Jon Stewart Does It Again

Last month the NY Times' Bill Keller had a column titled Murdoch's Pride is America's Poison. "At last!" I cried, "Somebody is about to do an Edward R. Murrow on Fox News."

I was being delusional, of course. The column was milquetoast in comparison to Murrow.

So for the time being, we still have to depend on a comedian to let us know that Fox hasn't changed a bit.

Mitch McConnell Lies. Imagine That.

There was once a time in America when facts and truth mattered. Then the modern Republican Party happened. And now everything is corrupted.

Kevin Drum:
From Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, describing the Obama campaign on Fox News last Friday:
What they’re trying to do is intimidate donors to outside groups that are critical of the administration. The campaign has rifled through donors' divorce records. They’ve got the IRS, the SEC and other agencies going after contributors trying to frighten people and intimidate them out of exercising their rights to participate in the American political discourse....Of course, the temptation of anybody in power is to try to silence your critics.
If that were true, I'd be the first to call for Obama's impeachment. But it's not, of course. McConnell just figures he can say whatever he wants and no one will really call him on it. And he's right about that.
I would add, unnecessarily, that Fox News is the absolutely best place to tell lies. After all, Fox News watchers know less about current events than people who watch no news at all. Imagine that.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

St. Paul of Krugman

Politico is not a place I like to be, but they have done a real service by collecting 13 of Paul Krugman's best GOP zingers.

My favorites:

"Sometimes you do wonder if these guys are moles, Manchurian candidates for I don't know who, if their real job is to bring down America because they really are doing the best they can.” — May 18, 2012, on MSNBC's “Martin Bashir,” speaking about House Speaker John Boehner’s and other Republican leaders’ economic policies.

“I have a structural hypothesis here. You have a Republican ideology, which Mitt Romney obviously doesn’t believe in. He just oozes insincerity, that’s just so obvious. But all of the others are fools and clowns. And there is a question here, my hypothesis is that maybe this is an ideology that only fools and clowns can actually believe in, and that’s the Republican problem.” — Nov. 20, 2011, on ABC’s “This Week,” speaking about the 2012 Republican presidential contenders. 

“All he does is make scary noises about the deficit, with mood music, with organ music in the background about how ominous it is, and then propose a plan that would in fact increase the deficit.” — May 3, 2012, speaking with TPM about Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI).

“Just how stupid does Mitt Romney think we are? If you’ve been following his campaign from the beginning, that’s a question you have probably asked many times.” — April 22, 2012, in a column titled “The Amnesia Candidate.” 

“If you don’t know multiple people who are suffering, then you must be living in a very rarefied environment. You must be maybe a member of the Romney clan, or something.” — June 9, 2012, speaking at the Netroots Nation conference.

“It was his time, the Republican base does not want Romney and they keep on looking for an alternative, and Newt — although somebody said ‘he’s a stupid man’s idea of what a smart person sounds like,’ but he is more plausible than the other guys that they’ve been pushing up.” — Nov. 20, 2011, on ABC's "This Week," speaking about Newt Gingrich’s surge in the 2012 race.

“The odds are that one of these years the world’s greatest nation will find itself ruled by a party that is aggressively anti-science, indeed anti-knowledge. And, in a time of severe challenges — environmental, economic, and more — that’s a terrifying prospect.” — Aug. 28, 2011, in a column titled “Republicans Against Science.” 

“Stop, hey, what’s that sound? Actually, it’s the noise a great political party makes when it loses what’s left of its mind. And it happened — where else? — on Fox News on Sunday, when Mitt Romney bought fully into the claim that gas prices are high thanks to an Obama administration plot.” — March 22, 2012, in a column titled “Paranoia Strikes Deeper."

“If Ron Paul got on TV and said ‘Gah gah goo goo debasement! theft!’ — which is a rough summary of what he actually did say — his supporters would say that he won the debate hands down.” — May 1, 2012, blogging “On the Uselessness of Debates.”

“In fact, all four significant Republican presidential candidates still standing are fiscal phonies. They issue apocalyptic warnings about the dangers of government debt and, in the name of deficit reduction, demand savage cuts in programs that protect the middle class and the poor. But then they propose squandering all the money thereby saved — and much, much more — on tax cuts for the rich.” — — March 1, 2012, in a column, “Four Fiscal Phonies,” about Romney's warning of a "Greece-style collapse" under Obama. 

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Ray Bradbury

I'm not a big reader of science fiction, but this article made me realize what a loss Ray Bradbury's death was. A sample:
... [I]t is worth pausing, on the occasion of Ray Bradbury’s death, to notice how uncannily accurate was his vision of the numb, cruel future we now inhabit. 
Mr. Bradbury’s most famous novel, “Fahrenheit 451,” features wall-size television screens that are the centerpieces of “parlors” where people spend their evenings watching interactive soaps and vicious slapstick, live police chases and true-crime dramatizations that invite viewers to help catch the criminals. People wear “seashell” transistor radios that fit into their ears. Note the perversion of quaint terms like “parlor” and “seashell,” harking back to bygone days and vanished places, where people might visit with their neighbors or listen for the sound of the sea in a chambered nautilus.

Mr. Bradbury didn’t just extrapolate the evolution of gadgetry; he foresaw how it would stunt and deform our psyches. “It’s easy to say the wrong thing on telephones; the telephone changes your meaning on you,” says the protagonist of the prophetic short story “The Murderer.” “First thing you know, you’ve made an enemy.” 

Anyone who’s had his intended tone flattened out or irony deleted by e-mail and had to explain himself knows what he means. The character complains that he’s relentlessly pestered with calls from friends and employers, salesmen and pollsters, people calling simply because they can. Mr. Bradbury’s vision of “tired commuters with their wrist radios, talking to their wives, saying, ‘Now I’m at Forty-third, now I’m at Forty-fourth, here I am at Forty-ninth, now turning at Sixty-first” has gone from science-fiction satire to dreary realism. 

“It was all so enchanting at first,” muses our protagonist. “They were almost toys, to be played with, but the people got too involved, went too far, and got wrapped up in a pattern of social behavior and couldn’t get out, couldn’t admit they were in, even.” 

Most of all, Mr. Bradbury knew how the future would feel: louder, faster, stupider, meaner, increasingly inane and violent. Collective cultural amnesia, anhedonia, isolation. The hysterical censoriousness of political correctness. Teenagers killing one another for kicks. Grown-ups reading comic books. A postliterate populace. “I remember the newspapers dying like huge moths,” says the fire captain in “Fahrenheit,” written in 1953. “No one wanted them back. No one missed them.” Civilization drowned out and obliterated by electronic chatter.
The rest of the article is here.

You probably figured out the meaning of anhedonia.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Thinking Like Descartes

The key to understanding Republicans lies in understanding that Republicans are ununderstandable.

Rene Descartes had it pretty well summed up:

Get it? SUMmed up? Careful, this video has bad language in it.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Austerity vs Stimulus

In this BBC discussion with austerity advocates in Britain, Paul Krugman promises to be a fiscal hawk when the Lesser Depression is over. Actually, a pretty succinct encapsulation of the austerity vs stimulus argument, with both sides making their points.

And reasonably short.

Krugman is right that the austerity advocates here base their solution on ideology rather than empirical evidence, but he just couldn't stop himself from being insulting about it.