Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Fearmongering at Fox

Stephen Colbert shows me almost more of what's going on at Fox than I can stand. But if you want to see what the dictionary definition of idiot is, Colbert has some great examples.

[Sorry, but the video that was linked here has been removed from its source page. Thanks to Chip for letting me know. (Sigh) You just can't trust the internet anymore.]

You can laugh, but consider: there are people who voluntarily watch this kind of blather.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Maureen Dowd

I had pretty much the same reaction to this as did Kevin Drum in a post named "How is Robin Williams Like Hillary Clinton?":
Tonight's Maureen Dowd column begins with an anecdote about an interview she once did with Robin Williams:
As our interview ended, I was telling him about my friend Michael Kelly’s idea for a 1-900 number, not one to call Asian beauties or Swedish babes, but where you’d have an amorous chat with a repressed Irish woman. Williams delightedly riffed on the caricature, playing the role of an older Irish woman answering the sex line in a brusque brogue, ordering a horny caller to go to the devil with his impure thoughts and disgusting desire.
I couldn’t wait to play the tape for Kelly, who doubled over in laughter.
So when I think of Williams, I think of Kelly. And when I think of Kelly, I think of Hillary, because Michael was the first American reporter to die in the Iraq invasion, and Hillary Clinton was one of the 29 Democratic senators who voted to authorize that baloney war.
That's, um, quite a segue. I wonder if there's anything left in the world that doesn't remind Dowd of Hillary Clinton?

Monday, August 04, 2014

Thinking about Social Security

Social Security's main problem right now is not the state of the trust funds, but a toxic political climate that is being manipulated by people who would like to do away with the program entirely. Much of this is coming from Wall Street, which covets the commissions that would come from a privatized Social Security. Some of the manipulation is coming from people who have some kind of "philosophical" objection to any government program. There are other groups with agendas that have nothing to do with preserving Social Security, but all the groups love to couch their agenda in sober, adult-sounding words of concern about the national debt.

The essential selfishness of those groups' motives makes it difficult for people of good will to make their arguments, especially if their argument is that we need to reduce Social Security benefits. Why should anyone believe they are honestly trying to think this through, when they are making the same argument as groups who are not being honest (even, for that matter, sometimes citing them as authorities)?

Last week the Social Security Trustees released their annual assessment of the trust funds, which resulted (as always) in a rash of obligatory, thinly thought out op-eds and editorials.  Predictably, some of these were by people with agendas other than providing financial security for older Americans.

A prominent example is an op-ed by Laurence Kotlikoff in the New York Times. Mr. Kotlikoff is a professor of economics at Boston University who in 2012 offered himself as a presidential candidate to an ambitious group called "Americans Elect" (after which Americans Elect decided not to field a presidential candidate). He is also a proponent of a weird little field of economics called "generational accounting."

In his NY Times op-ed, Mr. Kotlikoff chose to buttress his argument by citing a segment of the Trustee's Report which predicts the anticipated trust fund shortfall "through the infinite horizon." The "infinite horizon" concept was introduced to the Trustee's Report in the George W. Bush administration, as part of its unsuccessful attempt to dismantle Social Security.  At the time, an alarmed open letter from The American Academy of Actuaries warned:
The new measures provide little if any useful information about the program’s long-range finances and indeed are likely to mislead anyone lacking technical expertise in the demographic, economic and actuarial aspects of the program’s finances into believing the program is in far worse financial condition than is actually indicated. [My emphasis]
As an economist, Mr. Kotlikoff surely knows this, so we now have to be suspicious of his motives.

Good for us.

Postscript: If you're interested in a refutation of Mr. Kotlikoff's op-ed,  I point you to Dean Baker, who is isn't scared. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

An Appreciation of Joe Biden

Cross-posted from Charles Pierce's blog at Esquire:
DETROIT -- Joe Biden, tanned and in very good voice -- which, as we know, is very good voice indeed -- was interrupted briefly during his address to the Netroots Nation confab by some immigration activists who chanted, "Stop deporting our families!" until they were escorted from the hall. As they left, some people applauded.
"You should," said Biden. "You should applaud those young people. Imagine what it must be like to come home one day and find your family gone."
Imagine was a big word for Biden yesterday. Imagine, he asked, a country where domestic violence was no longer called that, was no longer treated as a family matter. "Imagine," he said, " a country where we don't lead with the example of our power but, instead, we lead by the power of our example." There aren't four politicians in America who can pull off that line and not sound like the precinct captain in Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. But Biden is so transparently sincere in his bombast that people applauded him. The abiding characteristic of the persona that Joe Biden has created for himself over the last six years is that he draws the principle response of, "Holy god, he really believes this stuff." It is not the Obama-cool talk about being the change you want to be in the world. There's an undercurrent of principled hilarity in what he does, a feeling that he's in on every joke you can tell about him, and that, in fact, he's in on every joke he can tell about himself. He creates no distance, even when he's declaiming, which is often, and even when his fervor outruns his sentences, as it did when he talked about closing down the Earned Income Tax Credit (bad) instead of the Carried Interest Loophole (good). He smiled and held his forehead for a moment, and then he moved right along, because nobody is more amused by Joe Biden Moments than Joe Biden himself.
(There was one jarring note, however. In talking about the battles he fought, he referred to the "fight that kept (Robert) Bork off the court, and the fights to try and keep Thomas, Alito, and Roberts off the court. In fact, in the lowest moment of his career, Biden took a dive on Thomas during the Anita Hill brouhaha, declining to call other women who could testify similarly to Hill as regards Thomas's basic skeeviness, and leaving Hill out there in the wind to twist. Bad days.)
His speech was delayed because, between the downing of the Malaysian jetliner and the fact that Israel had invaded Gaza with ground troops, the world elsewhere was climbing into the handbasket again. He touched on the situation in the Ukraine, briefly, saying that, as far as he could tell, the plane had been "blown out of the sky." After which, he moved on to his address which, like many Biden speeches, was constructed like a beach house whose architect had been very high throughout the planning stages. Themes rolled out, only to come to a complete stop when some other thought struck him. When it was time to declaim and denounce, he declaimed and denounced, even though what he was declaiming was fairly banal, and what he was denouncing was completely unclear. But the message shone through as it always does -- as it did when he confronted Paul Ryan, the zombie-eyed granny starver from the state of Wisconsin, in the vice-presidential debate in 2012, and Ryan started doing his earnest I-Had-Ayn-Rand-In-Preschool student government bit, and Biden simply threw up his hands and laughed. This is the message that always shines through -- Joe Biden loves this sh**.  [This is still a classy blog.]
No kidding. He's one of the last politicians I know who really enjoys getting up and doing this, who really enjoys jumping through the preposterous hoops that are set up for every national candidate. The general feeling here is that Biden will not run for president if Hillary Clinton does. This is unfortunate. If there was ever a contrast to be made with the dour, mechanized, winning-through-effort style of the former Secretary of State, it is Biden's Humphrey-esque joie de pancake breakfast. As much as he deplored the politics of division in this country, which he did throughout the last third of his speech, Biden finds in politics the kind of joy and the kind of outlet for the goofier angels of our nature that have been bred out of our politicians by four generations of political consultants. Biden is Lyndon with his beagles, and FDR with a cocktail shaker. He is the last real eccentric, and he knows it, and he plays it to the hilt because it is so much of what he is. Tattered and worn and old as it is. Joe Biden's freak flag still flies high and proud.

Scott Walker

Cross-posted from Charles Pierce's blog at Esquire:
Any doubts about whether or not there's a presidential campaign a-brewin' on behalf of Scott Walker, the google-eyed homunculus hired by Koch Industries to supervise its Midwest subsidiary formerly known as the state of Wisconsin, and any doubts about whether he's fearful that his career may be turned to pulp by a hail of writs, were all allayed yesterday. Walker decided that he would play to da crazees in The Base by asking his pet legislature to repeal Wisconsin's commitments to the Common Core standards in education. Wisconsin, it should be noted, has already invested $25 million to implement the standards that Walker now wants to blow up. Fiscal responsibility!
Anyway, this has caught even some Republicans in Wisconsin by surprise, although why anything Walker does at this point surprises anyone is beyond me.
However, the governor's surprise move prompted the state superintendent and a leading lawmaker on education issues - who is a member of the governor's own party - to suggest political motivations. "It may work well for the political end of things, but it's sending messages to our kids that our system is chaotic, and it's not," state Superintendent Tony Evers said late Thursday. "The idea that they'd just be able to replace the standards at the beginning of the legislative session is absurd," said Steve Kestell (R-Elkhart Lake), the chair of the Assembly's Education Committee. "We're in an election season. People desperate to be re-elected will say anything."
There are any number of good reasons to be dubious about Common Core, but this decision fairly reeks of pure politics. Walker is trolling for votes, not from the people who question Common Core's reliance on standardized testing, but from the people who think that Common Core is a multinational plot to indoctrinate their children in the ways of Kenyan one-worldism. Or something. There are a lot of these people who vote Republican in Iowa, and in New Hampshire, and in Wisconsin. To run for president, he's got to get re-elected this fall. This is a two-fer here.

Thursday, June 05, 2014


I have two articles to recommend on the Bergdahl business:

David Brooks takes a stand [OMG! David Brooks takes a stand on something!] in President Obama Was Right.

And the NY Times gives a good rundown on The Rush to Demonize Sgt. Bergdahl. The main stuff:
Four months ago, Senator John McCain said he would support the exchange of five hard-core Taliban leaders for the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. “I would support,” he told CNN. “Obviously I’d have to know the details, but I would support ways of bringing him home and if exchange was one of them I think that would be something I think we should seriously consider.”

But the instant the Obama administration actually made that trade, Mr. McCain, as he has so often in the past, switched positions for maximum political advantage. “I would not have made this deal,” he said a few days ago. Suddenly the prisoner exchange is “troubling” and “poses a great threat” to service members. Hearings must be held, he said, and sharp questions asked.


Republican operatives have arranged for soldiers in his unit to tell reporters that he was a deserter who cost the lives of several soldiers searching for him. In fact, a review of casualty reports by Charlie Savage and Andrew Lehren of The Times showed there is no clear link between any military deaths and the search.

And a classified military report shows that Sergeant Bergdahl had walked away from assigned areas at least twice before and had returned, according to a report in The Times on Thursday. It describes him as a free-spirited young man who asked many questions but gave no indication of being a deserter, let alone the turncoat that Mr. Obama’s opponents are now trying to create.

If anything, the report suggests that the army unit’s lack of security and discipline was as much to blame for the disappearance, given the sergeant’s history.

Thousands of soldiers desert during every war, including 50,000 American soldiers during World War II. As many as 4,000 a year were absent without leave for extended periods during the Iraq war. They leave for a variety of reasons, including psychological trauma, but whatever their mental state, it is the military’s duty to get them back if they are taken prisoner. That’s what the Obama administration did in this case, and there was a particular sense of urgency because a video showed that Sergeant Bergdahl’s life might be in danger.

But the critics seeking political advantage don’t care about the life or mental state of a particular soldier, or of a principle of loyalty that should provide comfort to any soldier in danger of capture. They live only for the attack.
Obama did the right thing, but handled the political end of it miserably.  We are talking about an American soldier here – a POW, for the love of Pete – and the Republicans are seriously suggesting we should have just left him there. If you can't win THAT fight, Barack, give us Hillary.

A Postcard from Screwtape*

Got an unusual postcard the other day:

"Wow!" methinks. "Only one percent of the Humane Society's budget goes to pet shelters? Where does the rest of it go? Oh, I know – into their pockets! Hah!"

Reading on, I see:

"You can be sure of THAT!" says I, and make a mental note to cross them off my charity list. Well, okay, I've never really actually given money to the Humane Society, but now I never would! That'll teach those skunks. Good thing there are folks keeping an eye on these crooks.

And then I forgot about it . . . until I got another postcard from the same people. And that's when the "You're Being Played for a Dummy!" alarm finally went off.

Wwwwaaaaaaiiiiiiiittttttttt a minute! Who's sending me these cards? Is supporting animal shelters the only way to help animals? Wouldn't that just be dogs and cats? Oh, yeah, and bunnies? What about horses? And cattle, hogs, and sheep raised for food? And before I got these postcards, did I really think the Humane Society's main mission was supporting local animal shelters?

The postcard says to go to the web site of something called HumaneWatch.

Oh, my! HumaneWatch turns out to be a front for the Center for Consumer Freedom, which is run by a person named Richard Berman. Mr. Berman acts, talks, and quacks like a libertarian. He says he is against the "nanny state".  And to demonstrate his noble displeasure, he raises millions from corporations to perform public relations hits on non-profits that are causing them trouble

According to a spokesman, John Doyle, the purpose of the CCF is to "draw attention to our enemies: just about every consumer and environmental group, chef, legislator or doctor who raises objections to things like pesticide use, genetic engineering of crops, or antibiotic use in beef and poultry."

Or, in the case of the Humane Society of the United States, organizations that are trying to improve the treatment of factory farm animals and keep sick animals from winding up in your steak or hamburger.

Some corporations, like Kraft and Pepsico, will have nothing to do with Mr. Berman. I guess they want their children to be proud of them – or at least not ashamed of them.

The same does not apply to Coca-Cola, Cargill, Monsanto, Tyson Foods, Outback Steakhouse (take a good look at that steak next time you're there), Anheuser-Busch, Phillip Morris, Davidoff (cigars), Overhill Farms, and Bruss Company (steaks and chops), all of whom have been named as donors to the Center for Consumer Freedom. Quite a rogue's gallery.

I never liked Outback, anyway.

Net Neutrality

In case you missed the buzz, John Oliver did a bit on the FCC's plan to end net neutrality that managed to send so many commenters to the FCC web site that it brought down their server. To which I can only say: Good!

Another instant classic:

And while we're on the subject, if AT&T tries to convince you to give up your DSL and sign on to U-verse, politely decline. It is so bad I actually started googling to find a class action suit I could join. Although I am paying for speeds "up to" 6 mbs, I can no longer stream movies at night (or most days) because their infrastructure is so poor. And they knew it when they sold it to me.

The class action suit? Well, I certainly wasn't the first to think of it. But it seems there's something in that fine print of their contract that says if they commit fraud, I will not sue them, but will take it to arbitration.

Anyway, enjoy the John Oliver video.

Monday, June 02, 2014

The NRA and Gun Control

So it wasn't just my imagination. Once upon a time, in my life-time even, the National Rifle Association wasn't a bunch of wild-eyed paranoids. They were responsible people who promoted gun safety and advocated common sense gun control.

And did Ronald Reagan really say he saw "no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons" and that legislation restricting it "would work no hardship on the honest citizen"?

My, how things have changed.

Fundamentals of Coaching Basketball

The Washington Post has a fascinating story up about bankruptcies among professional athletes.
The data on professional athletes are startling: Shortly after they retire, nearly four of five NFL players are bankrupt or under financial stress, according to Sports Illustrated. Joblessness and divorce are the main reasons. It’s marginally better in the National Basketball Association, where after retirement nearly two of three players are broke within five years.
Consider this chart:

It's really sad.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Timothy Geithner for Wonks

Once again, Jon Stewart makes "real" journalists look like uneducated chumps.

Here's a link to a 42-minute interview Stewart had with former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. (We couldn't get the embed to work.) I would say my attitude toward Geithner is about 51% positive. There's a lot about Stewart's approach to be critical of, like his tendency to cut off Geithner whenever he's trying to make a substantive point. But I've never seen a major media newsman as well informed and comfortable with talking about derivatives as Stewart is here.

I don't recommend this video if you're not particularly interested in the subject matter, but if you are, I think you'll find it entertaining.

The link is here.

The News Hour, India Style

While searching for results of the Idaho gubernatorial debate the other day, we inexplicably found ourselves directed to a link to an Indian program called News Hour (obviously not the venerable MacNeill-Lehrer offering). The segment was a debate concerning remarks the Pakistani Interior Minister had made about Norendra Modi, the newly elected Prime Minister of India, and Modi's remarks about a criminal Pakistan is harboring named Dawood Ibrahim.

When I was in junior high school, my mother subscribed to a weekly, 8-page news summary called India News (I think). I can't remember the background on how she came across it, but I'm certain that the subscription was intended to give my brother(s) and me a window to a different world. It certainly did. I read it occasionally, but not often enough to make sense of the cricket stories.

Since I was later a PolySci major, with some interest in international governments, and with this "deep" background in Indian politics, when the hour-long News Hour debate showed up, I thought, "Sure, why not?"

And wow.

Just see for yourself. Try to watch five minutes of it. It starts out slowly. The first person to talk is the moderator, for the love of Pete.

So I was pretty delighted to find that the Colbert Report's Jason Jones had discovered the state of Indian journalism, too, and filed this report (start it at 5 minutes, unless you want to watch the whole show).

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Idaho GOP

In reference to an earlier post about the Idaho GOP gubernatorial debate, the sentient reader might wonder how it came to be that two "non-normal" persons were included in the debate. It was, depending on how you look at it, a generous gesture of democratization by Idaho Governor Butch Otter, a brilliant political move by the governor, or a craven political move by a governor who had no respect for the voters in his state.

The background is that state Senator Russ Fulcher is going after two-term Governor Otter, on the basis that Otter is just not Tea Party enough, and challenged him to a debate. Otter agreed to the debate on the condition that the two other men who had qualified for the ballot be included, thus reducing by half the amount of time Fulcher would have to attack him.

The Idaho primary is today (Tuesday, May 20). It will be interesting to see what effect the exposure for Messrs. Harley Brown and Walt Bayes will have on the outcome. Stay tuned.

Another Reason to be Glad You Live in Minnesota

Earlier this Spring, we had the spectacle of an armed mob pointing guns at, and otherwise threatening, Bureau of Land Management employees in Bunkerville, Nevada.

The craziness is continuing in Texas, where a group calling itself Open Carry Texas likes to terrorize people in fast food restaurants. They do this by showing up en masse brandishing military weaponry it is allegedly their Constitutional right to carry anywhere they wish. When they showed up at a Jack-in-the-Box, Fort Worth police said, the store employees "locked themselves inside a freezer for protection out of fear the rifle-carrying men would rob them."

THAT was such a good time for Open Carry Texas that they followed the visit up a few days later with a group trip to their local Chipotle. Make sure you scroll down on the link to that one, for pictures of our Constitutional scholars.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The GOP: Always Good for a Laugh

Don't miss the video of Wednesday night's GOP gubernatorial candidate debate. For a taste, here are the final five minutes, via Steve Benen:

Check it out here.

My money's on Harley Brown.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

In Today's Mailbag

A letter I didn't finish reading:
Dear Robert,

As most of you know, it was my privilege to take office as the president of Coe College last July.
Some of me knows that, maybe, but not really most of me.

Kohawks: Am I correct in thinking that the legendary Signi would have kicked his butt?

Another Notch in the NRA's Belt

From this morning's Chicago Sun-Times:
Monday afternoon, a 14-year-old girl pulled a gun from her waistband, authorities said, and aimed it at Endia Martin to settle a dispute over a boy that started on Facebook.

When the teen pulled the trigger, it jammed.

She handed the gun to someone in the group she was with who fixed the weapon and handed it back to the girl, who then fatally shot Endia, also 14, in the back, prosecutors alleged.

The victim and the alleged shooter once were friends, one of Endia's cousins said.


The gun used in the shooting, a legal .38-caliber revolver, was kept in the owner's car but was reported stolen April 14, [Chicago Police Superintendent] McCarthy said. Police departments don't let officers store their guns in their cars, but under the state's concealed carry law, individuals who are properly permitted can. [My emphasis.]
What happened, folks? For 150 years, concealed carry was considered a threat to public safety at best, and cowardly at worst. When was it, exactly, that we lost our minds?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

John Oliver is Brilliant

A segment from John Oliver's new show. Did you know there's a big election going on in India? Probably not.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Good News for All But a Few Birds

I was glad to see this Kevin Drum link to a Bloomberg article about the danger of wind turbines to birds. The patter among some environmentalists is that they are responsible for massive bird kills.

Estimates from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Wildlife Society don't support that.

What's amazing to me is the high number of fatalities caused by birds flying into buildings and windows. When I was working in downtown Chicago, there were mornings when I'd find 5 or 6 dead or stunned birds outside just one building. They saw nothing but blue sky and clouds in front of them, not realizing that they were flying into a glass building, and the sky was behind them.

Not many birds, it seems, die of old age.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Krugman on the Retirement Age

From Paul Krugman's blog:

I was pleased to see this article by Annie Lowrey documenting the growing disparity in life expectancy between the haves and the have-nots. It’s kind of frustrating, however, that this is apparently coming as news not just to many readers but to many policymakers and pundits. Many of us have been trying for years to get this point across — to point out that when people call for raising the Social Security and Medicare ages, they’re basically saying that janitors must keep working because corporate lawyers are living longer. Yet it never seems to sink in.
Maybe this article will change that. But my guess is that in a week or two we will once again hear a supposed wise man saying that we need to raise the retirement age to 67 because of higher life expectancy, unaware that (a) life expectancy hasn’t risen much for half of workers (b) we’ve already raised the retirement age to 67.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Taking PSA's in a New Direction

When I heard the usual suspects squealing about President Obama's appearance on the mock interview show, Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis, I had to see it.

Turns out it's a Public Service Announcement for the Affordable Care Act, aimed at 20-somethings.

Let's see, we had Nixon doing "Sock it to me" on Laugh-in, and Dubya looking for WMD's under his Oval Office desk ....  I'd say it's quite a few steps above both.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

A History of Slavery

The NY Times tells a fascinating story in today's edition about the history of slavery in Brazil. As Rio de Janeiro prepares for the World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, remnants of the city's slave port are being unearthed. This is leading to a reexamination of the role of slavery in that country's history.

Things that raised my eyebrows:
  • It is estimated that 4.9 million slaves were imported by Brazil, which did not abolish slavery until 1888. 
  • This compares to about 389,000 received in North America.
  • Brazilian slaves came largely from the area of modern Angola. North American slaves came from further north (which makes sense – it's closer).
The article links to a worthy project at Emory University, the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database.  (The database can be confusing unless you download the 40-page guide.)

Monday, March 03, 2014

Jacqueline du Pré

Just now discovering cellist Jacqueline du Pré. Born in 1945; developed multiple sclerosis in 1971; retired from performing in 1973 (aged 28); died in 1987.

She was married to Daniel Barenboim.

According to Wikipedia, "She is particularly associated with Elgar's Cello Concerto in E Minor, her interpretation of which has been described as 'definitive' and 'legendary.'"

Here's a taste:

Why has it taken me this long?

Saturday, March 01, 2014


Kevin Drum lets us know what's going to happen with Ukraine, and he gets it just right:
  1. Vladimir Putin will do something belligerent. (Already done.)
  2. Republicans will demand that we show strength in the face of Putin's provocation. Whatever it is that we're doing, we should do more.
  3. President Obama will denounce whatever it is that Putin does. But regardless of how unequivocal his condemnation is, Bill Kristol will insist that he's failing to support the democratic aspirations of the Ukrainian people.
  4. Journalists will write a variety of thumbsuckers pointing out that our options are extremely limited, what with Ukraine being 5,000 miles away and all.
  5. John McCain will appear on a bunch of Sunday chat shows to bemoan the fact that Obama is weak and no one fears America anymore.
  6. Having written all the "options are limited" thumbsuckers, journalists and columnists will follow McCain's lead and start declaring that the crisis in Ukraine is the greatest foreign policy test of Obama's presidency. It will thus supplant Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Iran, and North Korea for this honor.
  7. In spite of all the trees felled and words spoken about this, nobody will have any good ideas about what kind of action might actually make a difference. There will be scattered calls to impose a few sanctions here and there, introduce a ban on Russian vodka imports, convene NATO, demand a UN Security Council vote, etc. None of this will have any material effect.
  8. Obama will continue to denounce Putin. Perhaps he will convene NATO. For their part, Republicans will continue to insist that he's showing weakness and needs to get serious.
  9. This will all continue for a while.
  10. In the end, it will all settle down into a stalemate, with Russia having thrown its weight around in its near abroad—just like it always has—and the West not having the leverage to do much about it.

    Thursday, February 20, 2014

    The Olympics

    Haven't been much enthused about the Olympics this year. Snowboarding as an Olympic sport just doesn't make it for me, and everything seems tawdry. And how about those Cossacks? Reminds me of the alley scene from Cabaret.

    Oh, well – to a wet philosopher, all is wetness.

    Maybe my opinion is being influenced by the passage below from Those Angry Days by Lynne Olson, a recent book about the lead-up to American involvement in World War II.

    People my age will remember Avery Brundage, who was president of the International Olympic Committee from 1952 to 1972. He was treated with such respect and deference. Speaking of an organization called America First, which tried to keep America neutral while Hitler was bombing London, Olson writes:
    [America First's] leaders created some of their own problems by appointing to the national committee two men who were regarded as flagrantly anti-Semitic.
    The first was Avery Brundage, a wealthy Chicago construction executive who was also president of the U.S. Olympic Committee. In 1936, Brundage had created a national furor as a result of his actions at that year's summer Olympic games in Nazi Germany. Not only did he reject proposals from American Jewish organizations and other religious groups to boycott the Berlin Olympics, he gave in to German pressure to prevent Jewish athletes from participating in the games. At Brundage's insistence, the only two Jews on the U.S. teams – both of them track and field athletes – were replaced just before the 400-meter relay race. Shortly after the Olympics were over, Hitler's government awarded Brundage's construction company a contract to build a new German embassy in Washington.

    (Incidentally, the second "flagrant anti-Semite" on America First's national committee was Henry Ford, who was certainly that.)

    Lest we be too miserable about the Brundage Olympics poo, Olson adds a footnote:

    "One of the substitutes was Jesse Owens, the black track and field superstar who won four gold medals in Berlin, including one for the 400-meter relay."

    Wednesday, February 19, 2014

    The American Corporation Bill of Rights

    Esquire's Charles P. Pierce has a great piece on the Supreme Court's decision to hear a case about whether the Affordable Care Act provision requiring large employers to cover birth control in their health insurance is a violation of an employer's freedom of religion.

    I'll quote at length:
    I say this as a lifelong Papist, this is what happens when you get too many ultramontane, Pius XII Catholics on the high court. The Church has been slug-nutty on birth control for 50 years, and the anti-choice people hate the form of birth control in question because it deprives them of clinic doors to which they can glue their heads. The principle at stake here is a joke; not even by the preposterous standards of this court as regarding corporate personhood, a corporation cannot reasonably be said to have a First Amendment right to freedom of religion. The people who run it certainly do, but they cannot reasonably argue that their freedom of religion is being curtailed because their employees can get their ladyparts medicine covered under the Affordable Care Act, unless your argument is that an employer has a right to subject employees to the employer's religious beliefs, which is an obvious contradiction, unless you're prepared to decide that an employer's First Amendment rights trump those of his employees. Wait. Forget I said that. This action should have been laughed out of the system two courts ago. Now, once again, common sense hangs on the weathervane that is Anthony Kennedy's intellect.
    The obvious retort to this absurd cause of action is to ask whether or not the court would listen to a similar objection on behalf of a company owned by Jehovah's Witnesses that didn't want to cover blood transfusions for its employees. (Let us not even begin to get into Christian Science at this point.) However, members of this court, most notably Antonin (Short Time) Scalia, were notably unimpressed in 1990 when some Native Americans tried to argue that peyote was a vital to their religious rituals, pointing out that peyote had been an element in their liturgies for longer than bread had been a part of the Catholic Mass, and that, therefore, their use of it should not disqualify them from receiving benefits under Oregon law. There are people on this court who are more than willing to decide a case based on what is a real religion and what is not, and let's just say that none of them are Zoroastrians.
    The entire piece is here.

    Wednesday, February 05, 2014

    Kitty Riot

    I was amazed by these two young ladies from the Russian band called Kitty Riot. They've spent time in prison, and still have a sense of humor.

    Colbert is obviously having fun.

    If the videos don't show up here, look for them here.

    The Colbert Report
    Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Video Archive

    The Colbert Report
    Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Video Archive

    Sunday, January 26, 2014

    In paradisum

    Lydia Vinour Miller 1916-2014

    In paradisum deducant angeli;
    in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres
    et perducant te in civitatem sanctam
    Chorus angelorum te suspipiat
    et cum Lazaro, quondam paupere,
    aeternam habeas requiem.

    May the angels lead you into paradise;
    may the martyrs receive you at your coming
    and lead you into the holy city
         of Jersusalem.
    May the choir of angels receive you
    and with Lazarus, once poor,
    may you have eternal rest.

    REQUIEM, Gabriel Fauré

    Hear it beautifully sung here.

    Sunday, January 12, 2014

    A Powerful PSA

    Virginia Ted sent me a link to a great economics/finance blog call The Big Picture. As I was perusing its offerings, I came across this powerful public service announcement from New Zealand. Please watch it.

    This ad should be reproduced in the USA. Maybe the insurance companies can get together and finance it.

    Thursday, January 09, 2014

    Books on Social Security

    I'm embarking on a reading program of books about Social Security, and thought you might enjoy this little illustration of the dangers of believing the blurbs on the backs of books.

    The book I'm looking at is called The Looting of Social Security, by Allen Smith.

    The blurb on the book comes from Publishers Weekly and says:
    Smith, a retired ecomomics professor, presents what is at heart a straightforward grievance: for more than a decade, political leaders from both parties have used various accounting tricks to shift the Social Security surplus into the general budget, in violation of federal law, and have lied about the nation's financial status, with the probably (sic) result, Smith says, that they'll run Social Security into the ground by 2018 ...
    Checking the Publishers Weekly review, that truly is the first sentence of the review (minus turning probable into an adverb).

    But the next two sentences of the review take a slightly different tone:
    He propounds every point of that grievance over and over, even quoting the same speeches in separate chapters. The text is further padded by long excerpts from the Congressional Record, an entire AP dispatch about Smith's exploits driving around Florida in a "debtmobile" covered in slogans, even the complete transcript of a CNN appearance to promote his previous book (The Alleged Budget Surplus ).
    I haven't started reading yet, but will try to give him a fair hearing. As an antidote, next up is Social Security: the Phony Crisis, by Dean Baker and Mark Weisbrot.

    Stewart Does Christie

    A classic. Forget the text and just scroll down to the video.

    You're welcome.

    Addendum: If you're really interested in this issue, I recommend this interview with the mayor of Fort Lee, Mark Sokolich, who should be considering becoming New Jersey's next governor.

    Monday, January 06, 2014

    I Must Have Been More Discreet Than I Thought!

    A journal called Crime and Delinquency has published a study that finds that, by age 23, 49 percent of African-American males, 44 percent of Hispanic males, and 40 percent of white males HAVE BEEN ARRESTED for something other than a traffic violation.

    Yeowie Zowie! Also:
    While the prevalence of arrest increased for females from age 18 to 23, the variation between races was slight. At age 18, arrest rates were 12 percent for white females and 11.8 percent and 11.9 percent for Hispanic and black females, respectively. By age 23, arrest rates were 20 percent for white females and 18 percent and 16 percent for Hispanic and black females, respectively.
    Does not look good on a resumé.

    Do they still have resumés?

    Thursday, January 02, 2014