October 10, 2009

Make yourself aware about child sexual abuse

A good column, as far as it went, by Charles Blow. Would like to have seen more explicit discussion of the prevalence of incest. Let's definitely take child abuse in general more seriously, unlike Joe Paterno. Let's remember the likes of Laveranues Coles, specifically on incest.

Capitalist stupidity finalized in China

Tengzhong has completed its deal to buy Hummer. Maybe like we got the Japanese in the 1980s to buy overvalued U.S. real estate, we can get the Chinese to buy overvalued U.S. companies.

Shale natural gas coming to Europe

The same shale-drilling techniques that are used in Texas and Pennsylvania could soon find a home in Germany and Italy. These and other western European countries would love to be less dependent on Russian gas supplies.

October 09, 2009

One small step for Citigroup

And, probably further gutting, sadly, of commodities trading law reform, with Citi selling its controversial energy trading unit.

More thoughts on Obama and the Peace Prize

We won't actually have all our troops out of Iraq for years, if not a decade. Obama still is considering sending more troops to A-stan without a clear vision.

If he gets the Peace Price, then should Goldman Sachs his campaign financier, or Larry Summers, architect of Democratic Party neoliberalism, or Tim Geithner, presiding officer of the financial meltdown, get the economics prize?

Surely, out of the record 205 nominations, somebody was more deserving, even if the Nobel Peace Prize committee wanted to make a political statement — a political statement about the Bush Administration — as part of the award.

Give the Nobel to the ACLU, Human Rights Watch or the Center for Constitutional Rights.

If Obama really is deemed worth of the Nobel Peace Prize..

Barack Obama is a decent human being, and has certainlysaid enough of the right things so far in international forums, but the Peace Prize? Will Larry Summers or Tim Geithner then get the econ prize? Goldman Sachs?

October 08, 2009

Entering the ‘era of limits’

Ed Cohen has some very good reflections that many Americans of many different political stripes probably don’t want to read. Those limits may not be great, but they will become more and more clear and evident to those willing to see them.

Chinese drywall could exacerbate housing bubble bust

Is Chinese-made drywall pollutant contaminated? If so, as the story shows, it’s a legal nightmare just starting to unfold.

AI, computers, minds, algorithms, evolution, Dennett

If even artificial intelligence advocates have largely abandoned the idea that AI is ultimately algorithmic, it’s time to question a lot of related assumptions, some of which I already have.

First, the human mind, then, is clearly not algorithmic. And, it’s likely even less algorithmic than a computer.

Second, being “kludged” together by evolution, it’s most surely not a black box, like a modern software program, routine, or subroutine.

Third, running off that point, contra Dan Dennett, evolution is most assuredly not algorithmic, either, as I’ve said before.

Fourth, the Turing test, as stipulated by Alan Turing himself, was NOT about whether a machine could think, but about whether a machine could simulate thinking. In other words, in modern philosophy terminology, Turing was a functionalist, as is Dennett (on this issue, at least), even as he continues to deny it.

Anyway, read the full story linked above.

Antonin Scalia, tombstone expert; Team Obama, enabler

In arguments over whether a massive, clearly Christian, cross belongs on federal land in the Mojave Natioanl Preserver, the Supreme Court justice claims a cross is an interfaith symbol because it represents all war veterans.

Hey, Nino, right across the river from your office is a place called Arlington National Cemetery. Want to actually investigate how many crosses you’ll see on the tombstones of Jewish war veterans?

Indeed, he got called out on that ground, at that moment in argument:
(ACLU lawyer Peter) Eliasberg objected: “I have been in Jewish cemeteries. There is never a cross on a tombstone of a Jew.”

Scalia shot back: “I don’t think you can leap from that to the conclusion that the only war dead that the cross honors are the Christian war dead. I think that’s an outrageous conclusion.”

Oh, yes, in Tombstone Nino’s mind, one Jew, Buddhist or whatever with a cross on his or her tombstone, even if placed there by someone else’s request, and not the dead person’s, would justify his belief, at least in his own UNoriginal mind.

YOUR conclusion is outrageous.

Also outrageous is the Obama Administration being an enabler of breaking of the First Amendment. But, since Prez Kumbaya has actually expanded Bush’s faith-based initiatives, I’m not surprised and neither should you be.

October 07, 2009

No, newspapers aren’t dead yet, and they probably aren’t that close

Which is why I get frustrated by people both well-meaning and intelligent who want to bury newspapers, especially the hardcopy versions thereof.

First, yes, newspaper readership has been stagnant since what, the early 1960s? But, if you throw out illegal immigration, and even a fair chunk of first-generation legal immigrants, as a percentage of the populace, readership didn’t decline that much until the age of the Internet.

Second, half of the revenue decline of the last 2-3 years is due to the recession, pure and simple. Much of the ad losses will bounce back, except for some car and some real estate dinero.

More proof that a fair part of what does ail newspapers is recession-related? The rumors of an impending CBS bankruptcy, whether true or not — sparked by CBS’s ad sales dropoff.

That said, it is also frustrating when someone talks more specifically about the pending death of *newspapers,* gets Tweeted the CBS link above, and claims that this is irrelevant to the question of newspaper demise or not.

Meanwhile, Eric Schmidt doesn’t know what he’s talking about. First of all, Herr Freeloader (albeit abetted by the clueless chairman of the AP, Dean Singleton), there’s a difference between “news” and “information.” And, except when Google links to AP, Reuters or AFP news stories, you provide information, not news.

(Also, side note to Schmidt: Stop lying about how much China censors the Internet and how much you self-censor Google there. That alone makes the rest of your claims less believable.

And, while you’re at it, tell us if Jeff Jarvis gets paid a retainer by you.)

And, none of this mentions Google becoming the new Microslob, a point I've blogged about before.

Now, back to why newspapers are still going to be around.

Especially in smaller markets, businesses need a vehicle for advertising. Radio usually doesn’t cut it, and TV is too expensive for too many local advertisers.

That leaves a conventional newspaper vs. a shopper.

Shoppers are all ads; the worse aren’t even fully disambiguated by type of product, etc.

Newspapers have style and design, and news, which people want to read about local and regional events, to set off ads.

More proof that newspapers aren’t so bad off? The New York Times has plans to start a Chicago regional issue and maybe others.

Online ads? Thanks to Herr Schmidt, the margin on them is sinking out of sight, and newspapers are finally wising up that advertising-only is NOT a profit angle for online newspapers. Add in the fact that between hosts files, ad blockers, etc., that those in the know can block most online ads, and that there’s also a fine, and usually violently crossed, border between “creative” and “annoying” with online ads, and they don’t work for most advertisers, either.

Now, what are newspapers doing WRONG?

Plenty. Details after the jump.


One, most still don’t have paywalls, though more are talking about them again. And, those that are going beyond talk are often pricing them high, to which I say GOOD! Casual readers can go away. Real ones will pay for online-only, or else will buy a hardcopy subscription with a free online one with that.

Two, it’s possible that, at all but the biggest dailies, a lot of ad salespeople still don’t know how to sell online ads. It’s wholly different. At the minimum, instead of taking a couple of pages of spec sheets, if you want to show something to a customer, you have to take a laptop computer. And, you have to be “Internet intuitive” in some way.

Three, though, is that many newspaper corporations/execs have been incompetent, mainly in running up massive debt. That debt came from buying other overvalued newspapers 7-10 years ago, buying back their own then-overvalued stock, etc. Per the lines of pre-deregulation utilities, they need to accept smaller profit margins, look for “steadiness,” stop trying to buy each other out, and go from there.

That said, even with some of these chains in Chapter 11, let’s note that almost all individual daily papers in the U.S. still have decent, or better, profit margins. And, with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune coming out of Chapter 11 pretty decently on its debt restructuring, if its new management (unfortunately, primarily from LBOs) remembers the points I just stressed, it should do OK in the future.

Four, tying points two and three immediately above together, many of those same CEOs are clueless, still, about how the Net likely never will be monetized for newspapers on an ads-only basis. In hardcopy, for pay newspapers, circulation traditionally paid one-quarter the freight. Why, instead of a TV model, didn’t newspapers take their own financial model to the Net in the start?


Five, is it too late today to install a paywall? No. First, see the AJR column I linked. Second, if Dean Singleton had more brains, he would implement mandatory paywalls for AP content as part of new AP content package contracts.

He would then, instead of haggling with Google about a few dinky ads, would quadruple or quintuple the rates AP charges it, and have an exclusivity sidebar in there which would force Google to treat AFP and Reuters the same to avoid the freeloader problem.

The price would be set so high that, even after negotiated downward, Google couldn’t afford to cover it with ads alone, unless it wanted to do so as a major loss leader. In other words, if Dean-o had brains, he would force Google, Yahoo and MSN to paywall also.

But, while he may have built MediaNews into an empire, I’ve never accused Dean Singleton of having brains while running the AP.

As for online-only newspapers, if they don’t paywall, they have to depend on donations from individuals, non-profit foundations, or both. The latter puts you at the whim of non-profit interests, or potentially so. The former has worked for a couple of blogs that have expanded into reporting, like Talking Points Memo, but only (so far) for narrow, focused political news. Ditto for online papers.

Will people donate for bonus local sports coverage? Hell, no, is my intuitive answer. Ditto for feature stories. Will they donate for something as mundane as community calendar listings?

So, online newspapers, without paywalls, will simply balkanize the situation further.

(Note: This paywall issue and related parts will be posted again, separately.)

FBI gets thuggish with G-20 arrest

Arrested for Twittering police activities in Pittsburgh?

Unless there’s something that TruthDig isn’t telling us, I give Obama himself until the end of the week to actually do something, or else give more ammo to populist foes of him on the right as well as the left.

Barack Hussein Hoover

Read Ted Rall, out early this week.
When Bush flew home to Texas, we thought we were getting an FDR to replace a Hoover. Instead, we got another Hoover.

Of course, per your newest column, I knew that more than 20 months ago, which is why, already then, I planned on voting Green again.

But, Rall is only warming up.
Even if we had a president willing and able to offer the bold and decisive leadership that FDR offered in the 1930s, the challenge posed by the fiscal crisis would be daunting. But we're not as lucky as our grandparents. We're stuck with a small-minded schmuck with the vision of a small-time Chicago alderman. Think about it: this is a guy who thinks tinkering with the tax code is going to save American capitalism!

Read Ted Rall, and don’t enable Obama quite so much.

Feingold on the mark on WH ‘czars’

Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold hit it out of the park with his opening statement on White House ‘czars’ yesterday. He carefully distinguished between three classes of individuals, and said he was only concerned about one.

And, I think he had just the right amount of chiding for the Obama Administration, and by not naming the president individually, for not cooperating, so far, with his committee.

In response, the White House claims, essentially “move along, nothing here to see.”

I disagree. And, yes, it’s true every White House has done it, but not for the reasons the Obama Administration claims. Rather, it’s to avoid Congressional oversight, the very thing the statement claims is not an issue.

That said, is Feingold worried about re-election in a swing state? Not that much. Remember, and \ it’s not a thing he trumpets out of vanity — this is the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act.

So, if The Plum Line wants to run Washington Post flak for the White House, in its commentary on the Obama statement it links, I’m not surprised. But, that doesn’t mean the flak is true, because it’s not.

At the same time, the WH should be appreciative that Feingold, by his careful tripartite distinction, is working hard to take air out of the Faux News balloon on this issue.

That’s also part of Michael Sherer’s take at Time; it’s worth a read.

China: The Afghanistan freeloader

Beijing may well stand to benefit more than anyone else from a US/NATO-stabilized Afghanistan government. So, why isn’t it shouldering some of the load? For that matter, why isn’t Washington wanting it involved in shouldering some of that load, as long as it is clearly kept a junior partner?

Newspapers - pretty alive for a 'dying' industry

More proof that newspapers aren’t so bad off? The New York Times has plans to start a Chicago regional issue and maybe others.

More proof that a fair part of what does ail newspapers is recession-related? The rumors of an impending CBS bankruptcy, whether true or not — sparked by CBS’s ad sales dropoff.

Michael Moore, meet Goldman Sachs (hypocrisy alert)

I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you had already met Goldman and millions of its dollars. Maybe “Capitalism: A Love Story” isn’t an ironic title, but a true one?

That said, I disagree with one thing in the link. Moore is NOT as tough on Democrats as Republicans in the movie, certainly not on the Kumbayer-in-Chief.

And, though I’ve not seen the movie, reviews tell me that what Moore really wants is the 1950s. And, if that’s true, he’s overlooking that the unions that allowed single-income jobs to flourish in his hometown of Flint, Mich., had plenty of racial issues still, at that time, at the union local level, that sexism was plenty rampant behind those single-income jobs, that bored, repressed women were drinking and drugging themselves silly, etc.

Add on his diminishing-returns schtick, and why see this movie?

October 06, 2009

The ‘bobo’ look at Hume vs. Bentham in the USA

David Brooks has a decent look at PART (though not as big a part as he presents) about the current divide on how to solve healthcare and other American problems:
The polarizers on cable TV think it’s going to be a debate between socialism and free-market purism. But it’s really going to be a debate about how to promote innovation.

And, he squares off thumbnail sketch versions of Jeremy Bentham and David Hume for purposes of illustration.

I think there is a degree of truth, in that this reflects many conservatives' distrust of government accuracy as well as government size. But, it goes far beyond the Hume vs. Bentham angle.

Why healthcare co-ops won’t work – Texas again the top screw-up

They’ve already been proven not to work in Texas, California and elsewhere.

A serious look at anxiety

The NYTimes mag has a long story, focused on the work of Harvard psychologist Jerome Kagan, of much of our current knowledge about anxiety.

Blogger has another problem - tag/label overload

I am maxed out on tags at 2,000. C'mon, that's not that many, Google. Up the allowable max!

OPEC fleeing the dollar

According to Robert Fisk at the Independent, who should know, with his degree of connectedness in the Middle East, Gulf Arab states, working with Russia, China (no surprise on those two) Japan and France, are going to stop pricing oil in dollars. Gold, the euro, and a new inter-Gulf currency will be used as a “basket” currency instead.

Reuters has some in-depth analysis.
But apart from the strong political links between Gulf nations and the United States, the lack of convertibility for many Gulf currencies and China's yuan tops the list of practical hurdles for making such a shift.

"First, they will need to select a basket of currencies and issues surrounding that are: which are the currencies to be included in the basket and what ratios to use," said Victor Shum, an energy analyst at Purvin & Gertz Consultancy in Singapore.

"It's already a big hurdle just to move oil from one currency to another, let alone a basket of currencies. If there was already a significant proportion of global oil trade being priced in non-U.S. dollar now, than perhaps there would be more pressure to price crude in another currency. But we're still far from that."

So, let’s see how this plays out, and how much China is behind it, for that matter.

October 05, 2009

Gates to McChrystal – shut UP!

And, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has fired generals before, so, even if McChrystal thinks he can amplify the leaking pressure, he probably should pay attention to his boss instead, and stop his borderline unconstitutional behavior.

Douthat officially jumps the shark

I had halfway agreed with an occasional column of his since the NYTimes hired him, but now he’s just ludicrous. Beyond the lazy pseudo-intellectual catchphrase of “lazy liberal,” he tells the lazy pseudo-intellectual lie of “slow growth socialistic Europe,” even as France and Germany have already come back out of recession.

Forget it, Russ. Not reading you any more.

Robert Samuelson actually kind to Team Obama?

Well, it’s only a backhanded compliment, but even that is surprising.

Is Michael Moore playing with anti-Semitic fire?

An observation or two toward that end about his new movie, “Capitalism,” by Ann Althouse. She may well be overstating the case, but to the degree Moore has allowed the appearance of that to be that obvious, it’s yet another “tell” against him as an auteur.

Mike (because your constant wearing of your baseball hat everywhere makes you “Mike” and not “Michael”) it’s time to hang up both the cap and the old, worn-out schtick, which is about entertainment (it’s schtick!) as much as information, anyway.

No climate deal in Copenhagen this year

Denmark’s climate minister says there won’t be a deal without more U.S. action, and we know how likely that is.

So, why don’t we save the carbon emissions, cancel now, let the EU create carbon tariffs, get more opprobrium dumped on the U.S., and go from there?

Carbon tariffs imposed from abroad is the ONLY thing that will prod the United States at this point, anyway.

That said, Connie Hedegaard said China and India need to step up to the plate, too.

Why you really shouldn’t eat hamburger

The New York Times has an in-depth story (that an online-only paper probably wouldn’t produce) about how E coli gets spread around and around. Imagine hamburger coming from three U.S. states plus Uruguay, all humped into one batch, and possibly none of it tested, and you start to get the idea.

If that is not enough, throw in the "fatty biproducts," bread crumb fillers, unnamed spice fillers, and it's a wonder that we haven't yet seen more mad cow disease, as well as E coli, in our hamburger.

Obama PO-ed at McChrystal

And, about time the U.S. commander in Afghanistan got called on the carpet, even if but mildly.

The Golden State becoming a “failed state”?

You look at some of the figures cited in this Guardian article (which also shows the value of outside media covering one’s own country), and it’s hard to argue against it. Yes, a green jobs explosion would help, but, there’s not that many green jobs. Nor would even they offset a dysfunctional, Prop. 13-saddled government.

October 04, 2009

Paywall, paywall, paywall for online newspapers!!!

No, I don’t normally use triple exclamation points.

But, in this breakout and expansion of part of an initial post on why newspapers, including the “old” hardcopy versions thereof, aren’t dead yet, it’s needed.

Let’s look at the paywall issues.

First, most newspapers still don’t have paywalls, though more are talking about them again. And, those that are going beyond talk are often pricing them high, to which I say GOOD! Casual readers can go away. Real ones will pay for online-only, or else will buy a hardcopy subscription with a free online one with that.

Many newspaper executives, in addition to being incompetent on other issues, have never really “gotten” this one. CEOs are clueless, still, about how the Net likely never will be monetized for newspapers on an ads-only basis. In hardcopy, for pay newspapers, circulation traditionally paid one-quarter the freight. Why, instead of a TV model, didn’t newspapers take their own financial model to the Net in the start?

I have no idea, but, they didn’t.

Second, as far as what newspapers are doing “wrong” in the online world, it’s possible that, at all but the biggest dailies, a lot of ad salespeople still don’t know how to sell online ads. It’s wholly different. At the minimum, instead of taking a couple of pages of spec sheets, if you want to show something to a customer, you have to take a laptop computer. And, you have to be “Internet intuitive” in some way.

Third, the cost savings of online vs. hardcopy versions? Yes, you don’t have to pay for copy editors, although you do need web design editors as well as content ones, and many papers have hired people who don’t know a lot about how to do that. And, I’m not talking small dailies; I mean big ones.

And, because the Internet is NOT a good vehicle for newspaper-type display ads, in smaller markets, if the daily goes online only, a shopper WILL spring up. So, if you make ANY additional profit by running a hardcopy version, even with paying paper, pressmen, copy editors and route drivers, it’s worth doing it.

Fourth, is it too late today to install a paywall? No. First, see the AJR column I linked. Second, if Dean Singleton had more brains, he would implement mandatory paywalls for AP content as part of new AP content package contracts.

He would then, instead of haggling with Google about a few dinky ads, would quadruple or quintuple the rates AP charges it, and have an exclusivity sidebar in there which would force Google to treat AFP and Reuters the same to avoid the freeloader problem.

The price would be set so high that, even after negotiated downward, Google couldn’t afford to cover it with ads alone, unless it wanted to do so as a major loss leader. In other words, if Dean-o had brains, he would force Google, Yahoo and MSN to paywall also.

But, while he may have built MediaNews into an empire, I’ve never accused Dean Singleton of having brains while running the AP.

As for online-only newspapers, if they don’t paywall, they have to depend on donations from individuals, non-profit foundations, or both. The latter puts you at the whim of non-profit interests, or potentially so. The former has worked for a couple of blogs that have expanded into reporting, like Talking Points Memo, but only (so far) for narrow, focused political news. Ditto for online papers.

Will people donate for bonus local sports coverage? Hell, no, is my intuitive answer. Ditto for feature stories. Will they donate for something as mundane as community calendar listings?

So, online-only newspapers, without paywalls, will likely simply balkanize the situation further.

Gen. Jones tells McCain to stop lying

What, the Schmuck Talk Express™ is lying? Retired Marine Gen. James Jones says, absolutely, he is, in claiming Jones’ advice to President Barack Obama is driven by politics.

British general agrees with McChrystal on A-stan

Sir David Roberts, Great Britain’s commander in Afghanistan, agrees with US commander Stanley McChrystal that the answer is a sizeable troop increase, which he says Britain would support, and not US Vice President Joe Biden’s counterinsurgency angle.

He says the Taliban needs to see some Western muscle.

I’m not sure on that one. The USSR showed plenty of muscle and look what happened.

Of course, on the flip side, we were arming the Taliban. Other than a few Gulf sheiks (who we need to clamp down on, period), no outsiders are arming them today.

UN sat on Afghan election fraud

Even to the point of firing a UN elections overseer, then lying about why he was fired.

Ted Rall may be right about the need for us to build infrastructure for the real Afghanistan people (and not Karzai’s hacks) before we leave, but he’s even more right about the bottom line of leaving.

“Our man” Karzai is a crook, the Northern Alliance remnants are smaller crooks only because they don’t run the government, the Taliban is thugs, and we likely can’t find a better replacement who wants to risk his or her neck, and who would be trusted to not be a US toady.
-END-

Couple of new Amazon reviews up

Including a great book on the history of modern, democratic India.

Ireland vote for EU bollixes British Tories

Just as election prospects looked more and more rosy for Conservatives, Ireland’s yes vote for the Lisbon Treaty threatens to split the party.

Yes, women are also child sex abusers

To the tune of at least an estimated 5 percent, and possibly as high as 20 percent of all sexual abusers in Great Britain.