November 19, 2011

Let's not just blame #MBA grads for our hypercapitalism

Forbes has a good column about problems with manufacturing companies, specifically high-tech ones, focusing on the bottom line, even to the extent they "part themselves out" more and more.

It primarily blames business schools and MBAs for this problem, but that's not the total story as I see it.

The problem is far more. It's the physics PhDs who became "quants." It's the computer programmers inventing new programs, and the hardware engineers inventing new computers, to trade microseconds faster based on those quants' ideas, in part. It's the portion of Occupy Wall Street who was tempted to work for those high-dollar jobs before later, after being laid off or never hired, discovering that Wall Street is evil.

Beyond that, I'd argue that the story doesn't go far enough, and goes in somewhat wrong directions. "Continuous innovation"? Sounds nice, but, in the hands of an Apple, becomes instead the groundwork for sped-up planned obsolescence, or, even more *alleged* planned-up obsolescence in the name of addictive hypercapitalism. Steve Jobs didn't have an MBA and neither does Michael Dell. In both cases, they're "leaderly" enough to run their companies in a less hypercapitalist fashion, should they so choose.

And, it's the consumers, driven by often-irrational human nature, who buy into this hypercapitalism, whether it's "Having" to own the latest iPhone, having to have the bigger house, etc., who help cause this, too.

We all need to learn to say "no" to hyperconsumerism more. And we have to be honest about just how embedded in American life it has become.

We need to be paying people more to develop ideas. And contra the Amazon/Apple/Google "infowars" battle, we need to be paying people to more freely share these ideas.

November 18, 2011

American exceptionalism on decline? Maybe, maybe not

The New York Times columnist Charles Blow has a good column about American exceptionlism and its possible decline. He notes that a Pew poll had just 49 percent of respondents saying the U.S. was "exceptional." Among those aged 18-29, the percent saying America was exceptional was less than their counterparts in Germany, Spain and Britain.

Unfortunately, two kinder, gentler neocons, Reuel Marc Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz, seemed to have missed the message vis-a-vis Iran. The duo is kinder and gentler because they aren't calling for nuking the shit out of Iran, but for "smarter sanctions."
Here's where they still indulge in American exceptionalism -- claiming that we can dictate the terms of future sanctions against Iran.

Meanwhile, despite neocons' general claims to be about a New World Morality, this duo is willing to co-opt China:
(W)e should allow companies from countries that have little interest in Iran’s nuclear program, or its pro-democracy Green Movement, and that are willing to risk their access to American markets — mainly Chinese companies — to continue buying Iranian crude in whatever quantity they desire.
First, how this would be smarter sanctions, I don't know, even with this claim:
This would reduce the number of buyers of Iranian petroleum, without reducing the quantity of oil on the market. With fewer buyers to compete with, the Chinese companies would have significant negotiating leverage with which to extract discounts from Tehran. The government could lose out on tens of billions of dollars in oil revenue, loosening its hold on power. 
In case the Iraq War didn't make it clear, this should. Neocons are generally DUMB as well as amoral. (That's the subject of another post.

That said, the narrow-minded focus on U.S. oil prices the duo betrays is an example of American exceptionalism, namely that we can opt out of world marketplaces just because we say so. Behind that is the American exceptionalist idea that we can lead China around by the nose. That wasn't true when neocons were dumb enough to push to invade Iraq in 2003 and it certainly isn't true now.

UPDATE, Nov. 21: Here's the reality of the U.S.'s cobbled-together sanctions, world opposition to them included.
More proof that American exceptionalism is alive and well? Business immorality, your latest example coming courtesy of the Baum law firm in Buffalo.

Remember the mortgage foreclosure law firm in Buffalo? The one with the Halloween party about coming dressed as your favorite foreclosed tenant? Yeah, THAT Baum law firm, Steven J. Baum PC. Well, now, it's picking a fight with the NYT columnist who helped publicize its evil:
“There is blood on your hands for this one, Joe,” (Steven J. Baum) wrote at the end of that second e-mail. “I will never, ever forgive you for this.” 
But, per New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, people like this, as well as Wall Street bankers, had nothing to do with our financial meltdown.

There's the next part of American exceptionalism that's still alive and well. I think that, in much of the world, even the developed democratic world, politicians expect the public expects they're lying much of the time. In America, land of moral self-righteousness, many politicians still think the public actually believes them.

Finally, when American companies that may support SOPA complain about Chinese web censorship, we now have American exceptionalism entering the online world.

Amazon ups the ante on "infowars"

Forget the quality of the Kindle Fire. (Wired's in-depth review  probably nails it: good for a few things, so-so for a lot, and crappy for a few; that's a sentiment that at least one other reviewer agrees with.)  Let's look at its real purpose. (All while pondering what Amazon will learn from the Fire for a rumored Amazon smartphone, if that doesn't make you crap your pants.)

The Fire is a "delivery device," if you will, for proprietary information being sold by Amazon, with CEO Jeff Bezos wanting to chain buyers to that information thread. And, that's not just me. Bezos calls it a "media service"; the pullout from Wired at left illustrates how Bezos sees this.

It's a big salvo in online information control "infowars," shaping up as being fought between Steve Jobs Jr.'s Amazon, post-Steve Jobs Apple, and the folks at Google, while Facebook remains a lightweight, and will be even more so after the eventual settlement of a privacy rights agreement with the Federal Trade Commission.

Anyway, back to Amazon's shot across the infowars bow. Wired has an in-depth interview with Bezos, focused on that salvo.

Surprisingly, per the Wired interview, Google's Eric Schmidt includes Facebook as a "fourth horseman," and Bezos counts Microsoft as a fifth, but I disagree. Maybe both of them are trying to avoid monopoly or near-monopoly claims and fears.

Bezos is a charming deceiver, but deceiver he is. Here's one example:
For your typical consumer book—I’m not talking about textbooks or anything specialized—$9.99 is really the highest price that’s reasonable for customers to pay.
Really? Then why don't you charge $9.99, instead of $12.99 or whatever? And, why don't you discount "used" e-books to match price drops in used hardcopy?

Also, per the interview, let's not forget the muscle Amazon has from web server hosting, demonstrated by the Wired pullout at right. Certainly, Julian Assange, Wikileaks, and civil liberties supporters won't. The interviewer notes one person called Amazon here " the Coke of the field, and there’s no Pepsi"

Bezos isn't done yet, either. He's got an eye on the social media world, but says he "we haven't found anything that we thing is exciting yet."

And, in terms of sheer commercialism, there's this exchange:
Levy: For years you’ve been touting e-ink as superior to a backlit device for reading. But the Fire is backlit. Why should Kindle users switch?
Bezos: They should buy both. When you’re reading long-form, there’s no comparison. You want the e-ink. But you can’t watch a movie with that. And you can’t play Android games. And so on.

Meanwhile, the Fire is "only" a $3 loss leader, says one analyst, although another claims, in this in-depth story, that the Fire is a definite profit-margin winner. Interesting. That probably says both that it's not that great, as reviews are saying, and that Bezos, aka Steve Jobs Jr., knows exactly what he's doing.

Especially if, as PC Mag reports, sales could hit 4 million by Christmas. And that Bezos' Fire has hooked customer interest as much as the iPad.

The second price-point review story about Fire costs is much more than that, though.
On Thursday, Citigroup analyst Mark Mahaney reported that Amazon is working on a Kindle smartphone for release before the holiday shopping season for 2012.
Can you say "holy crap"?

Apple can. It's revised a lawsuit against Amazon, basically hinging on whether or not "Appstore" infringes on "App Store." Frankly, if "app" is short for "application" and not "Apple," you can't trademark non-brandname English, and were I a patent judge, I'd kick Apple in its collective nuts.

UPDATE, Nov. 25: Amazon is also apparently continuing to rip off major publishers. Prime members can read an e-book a month for free from a selection of titles. Major publishers don't participate, but their books were still being included, a policy denounced as illegal by the Authors Guild, per an AP story.

Sociology, social networking and AI

My friend Leo Lincourt linked to a very insightful (and perhaps a bit inciteful) article about social media sites like Facebook and Google+ and their attempts to codify (in the literal sense, of XML coding, as well as more figuratively) how social networks work, and can be modeled.

Leo notes that Maciej Ceglowski's bottom-line point is that any attempts to codify the social graph are 1) inherently incomplete and 2) political in nature.

I'm not sure that codification attempts are "political" in nature in the narrow sense of party politics. Now, if it's being used in the mistranslated version of Aristotle's "political," better translated as man is a social (or sociological) animal, I'd definitely agree.

Ceglowski notes that coding for social networks doesn't distinguish between degrees of relationships, like the difference between "friend" and "acquaintance" or between "acquaintance" and "contact," let alone between, say "boss" and "employee." It also doesn't distinguish between degrees of reciprocity. (I'm interested to see how this develops further at Google+, since "circling" there, unlike "Friending" on Facebook, is not a mutual activity.

Second, social media network coding only allows for "positive" relationships. There's a reason FB doesn't have an "unlike" or G+ a "-1" buttom.

Beyond all that, here's the real problem:
Social networks exist to sell you crap. The icky feeling you get when your friend starts to talk to you about Amway, or when you spot someone passing out business cards at a birthday party, is the entire driving force behind a site like Facebook. 

Because their collection methods are kind of primitive, these sites have to coax you into doing as much of your social interaction as possible while logged in, so they can see it. It's as if an ad agency built a nationwide chain of pubs and night clubs in the hopes that people would spend all their time there, rigging the place with microphones and cameras to keep abreast of the latest trends (and staffing it, of course, with that Mormon bartender). 

We're used to talking about how disturbing this in the context of privacy, but it's worth pointing out how weirdly unsocial it is, too. How are you supposed to feel at home when you know a place is full of one-way mirrors? 

We have a name for the kind of person who collects a detailed, permanent dossier on everyone they interact with, with the intent of using it to manipulate others for personal advantage - we call that person a sociopath. And both Google and Facebook have gone deep into stalker territory with their attempts to track our every action. Even if you have faith in their good intentions, you feel misgivings about stepping into the elaborate shrine they've built to document your entire online life.

All of this is why I continue to hope Firefox browser creator Mozilla, as a nonprofit, develops its own social network someday. I'll be there in a New York minute.

Whether that explicitly, Ceglowski knows something different is needed:

Right now the social networking sites occupy a similar position to CompuServe, Prodigy, or AOL in the mid 90's. At that time each company was trying to figure out how to become a mass-market gateway to the Internet. Looking back now, their early attempts look ridiculous and doomed to failure. ...


But at the time no one knew what it would feel like to have a big global network. We were all waiting for the Information Superhighway to arrive in our TV set, and meanwhile these big sites were trying to design an online experience from the ground up. Thank God we left ourselves the freedom to blunder into the series of fortuitous decisions that gave us the Web. 

My hope is that whatever replaces Facebook and Google+ will look equally inevitable, and that our kids will think we were complete rubes for ever having thrown a sheep or clicked a +1 button. It's just a matter of waiting things out, and leaving ourselves enough freedom to find some interesting, organic, and human ways to bring our social lives online. 
I somewhat, but not totally, agree. I think the freedom to wait things out really needs a nudge to move the Net in general and social media networking in particular into a more non/post-capitalist direction. Hence, my hopes for Mozilla. Homo sapiens doesn't always develop intuitive, organic solutions for issues.

That said, I know the article wasn't addressing AI at all, but it just provoked me into the thought that this is going to be another portion of a real Turing test: the ability to distinguish kinds of relationships, degrees of intensity of relationships and more. And, beyond differences between serial vs. parallel operations, this is another thing that computers (even Jeopardy-winner Watson) just can't do yet. And probably won't be able to do for some time.

November 17, 2011

What went wrong at the Mercury News?

An early online innovator. Great reporting by the likes of Gary Webb (before the Merc threw him under the bus). A booming market. Mediocre papers in San Francisco.

So, what went wrong? That's the theme of this in-depth piece by Columbia Journalism Review. (H/t to my friend Leo Lincourt.)

My reaction? It nails the main points of what went wrong not just at the Merc, but to some degree, the industry in general:

First, I didn't realize that the Merc had, at the start, "paywalled" its website, only to abandon it later. Related to that, as Leo notes, is its failure to find "niche" reporting worthy of being paywalled, or to realize what it had in Silicon Valley. Especially after Steve Jobs' return to Apple, the Merc, even with national media "discovering" Silicon Valley, could have had the angle on premium, paywalled content. The WSJ is partially paywalled even with the New York Times in its backyard, after all.

Second, specific to the Merc, Dean Singleton is an idiot, and certainly had a hand in the Merc's demise, as he has in the AP focusing first on news aggregators and many other things that have hurt the industry. The story doesn't at all look at him, but it's too bad it didn't. (That said, Deano's injuriousness to the industry, while being Example No. 1 of not "getting" the online newspaper world, could make a separate story of equal length all by itself.

Third, per many other observers, we see the problems with newspapers trading on the NYSE and focusing on short-term profits. The stock-zooming 1990s has had its payback, with newspapers doubling down on new purchases while ignoring the destructiveness of the Net:
(General manager Dan) Finnigan explained that either they were going to cannibalize their own businesses or someone else would. 
This was at a meeting of Knight-Ridder publishers, where he tried to get them on board with investing in ...

CareerBuilder! (K-R/The Merc also took a whiff at buying into eBay.)

This was even as people were warning that newspapers should accept lower profit margins and maybe even initial losses for investments in some new technology, websites, etc.

In that way, newspapers (those publicly traded and especially those, like Knight-Ridder but unlike the NYT, with one-level stock structure) are emblematic of what's wrong with hypercapitalist America today.

That said, one commenter there, who holds up the nonprofit Poynter Institute, with its ownership of the St. Petersberg Times as a model? Dunno about Poynter or that paper, but, in the UK the Stott Foundation has admitted that, over the past several years, it's hemorrhaged hundreds of millions of dollars/pounds on The Guardian's highly touted but non-paywalled website.

The St. Pete Times also has no paywall, which leads me to say, nonprofit ownership guarantees nothing in the modern newspaper industry, especially if you have a stupid business model.

The "cannibalization" is also another argument for paywalls. Especially at smaller, more regional papers, paywalls not only are a way to make more money off of online operations, but keep people from leaving hardcopy and its ads, which are still the largest revenue producer.

Related to that, how many industries bemoan making "only" a 9 percent profit? As noted, the Merc's margin had fallen to 9 percent by 2006. Even today, if you throw out debt service (mainly from the buying-up binges of 1995-2005) papers are still profitable; just not at 20-plus percent.

In the story, Tony Ridder comes off as a bean-counter, but one who honestly was doing so within "old newspaper" mentality.

One complaint, though. The story throws Gary Webb and his well-known reporting on the Nicaraguan Contras-cocaine-CIA connection kind of, or more than kind of, under the bus, at least by implication. On the purely editorial side, I'd have to agree with one commenter that slicing and dicing Webb was far more egregious than any of the business/editorial/Internet inter-departmental screw-ups.

Anyway, give the whole thing a read.

Why the GOP prez race won't be done soon

First, with Newt Gingrich now replacing Herman Cain, who previously replaced Rick Perry, at the top of the GOP polling list, it's clear that likely primary voters are still in an anybody-but-Romney mood.

And, since no GOP primary before April 1 can be winner-take-all, there's plenty of reason for every wingnut candidate to hang in there. Especially since "Super Tuesday," which was in February in 2008, will be in March this year. I'll come back to this point as the Iowa caucuses get near, then we get past that and approach the New Hampshire primary.

Even with the one-month pushback on Super Tuesday, which includes Texas, Perry has money enough to stay around until then with recent belt-tightening. However, as Paul Burka notes, Perry's problems ultimately, in many cases, trace back to his insularity. And, I seriously doubt he can overcome that, even if he can hang on enough to make it to the Texas primary. And Herman Cain's latest gaffe, not on falsehoods or groping, but blowing off New Hampshire's GOP kingmaker, the Manchester Union-Leader, will push him out of the race soon enough.

Now that we're learning Newt Gingrich got almost $2 million from Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac for "strategic advice," how long before he gets hammered on this? Yes, some pundits have noted he has had past "heresies" from orthodox wingnut GOP doctrine, like challenging Paul Ryan's Medicare ideas.

But, he's surged to No. 1 in GOP polling because he's supposed to be the last, best hope of wingnuts who want somebody orthodox and pure to take out the flip-flopping Mitt Romney  Update (via Burka): Another rat is leaving Perry's ship ... and headed to Gingrich's. And, yes, that's what's driving this process.

Given that the tea party line on Fannie/Freddie is that "ebil Democrats made it sell a bunch of houses to poor, unworthy black folks," how can they digest him getting nearly $2M for helping spread that advice? More on the issues facing Newt here.

Newt won't do well in Iowa because the Religious Right doesn't trust him. But, if he can "spin" enough in New Hampshire, he might remain a player. Paul, if he can appear non-nutbar, will appeal to libertarians there, unless Gary Johnson can leapfrog him.

New Hampshire also allows crossover voting. Since Obama is unopposed on the GOP side, this allows for possible mischief making, too. Don't expect the head of New Hampshire's Democrats to say anything official, though!

And a New York Times article on how tea partiers' destructive influence on primaries is undercutting the GOP's chance of regaining control of the Senate applies perfectly to this year's presidential primaries.
Fears of ideologically divisive primaries often keep the best candidates from running, some Republican officials said.
“We are having trouble recruiting,” said Martha Breene, the chairwoman of the Venango County Republican party in Pennsylvania. “You often are not getting what you hope you could be getting, and then there is the Tea Party factor. A lot of them have good intent but it is sort of like they are the police men of all things and they aren’t going to let other Republicans matter.” 
Yep, sounds like the presidential primaries.

Which would give Romney a narrow plurality over a muddle of everybody else. But, that muddle is going to go on for a while.

And this gets more fun yet. With Paul also gaining poll steam, would he consider a replay of 1988, as the Libertarian standard-bearer, and launch a third-party campaign? Would somebody else? (I've long speculated that Jon Huntsman would be "ideal" for the web-only Tom Friedman wet dream "centrist" party, Americans Elect.) Would a Santorum give an eye to the Religious Right's Constitution Party?

And, speaking of all this, Gary Johnson is, overall, less nutbar than Paul. Buddy Roemer is less nutbar than anybody this side of Romney and Huntsman. So, why won't GOP honchos, or media moguls, invite either of them to debates?

Not to a brokered GOP convention. Sit down, Chris Christie and Mitch Daniels. But ... the muddle will go on a while.

Whjy does Slate hate #Google+ ?


I swear, I've seen several columns about G+ on Slate, and every one has had the same theme: It's dying, it "blew it" with Facebook, etc. Most, like the latest, are written by Slate tech columnist Farhad Manjoo and similar self-appointed gurus; it's gotten to the point that, just as I once, only semi-facetiously, wondered if Jeff Jarvis was on Google's payroll, I wonder if Manjoo gets checks from Facebook. (That's OK; as long as he stays off G+, let FB pay him!)

Reality? FB traffic has declined recently as well. Zuckerberg has abandoned his latest, most controversial changes to FB. He's made others that are deliberate G+ copycats. (The face that Marky Mark has started a G+ page, apparently just to spy out what contacts users of both platforms have on G+ that they don't on FB, underscores this.)

Anyway, here's Manjoo's nutgraf:
And yet, I’ve been surprised by just how dreary the site has become. Although Google seems determined to keep adding new features, I suspect there’s little it can do to prevent Google+ from becoming a ghost town. Google might not know it yet, but from the outside, it’s clear that G+ has started to die—it will hang on for a year, maybe two, but at some point Google will have to put it out of its misery.
Really?

I find most conversations on G+ that get posts going on them get more extensive than ones on FB. I find that there are fewer "ditto" reshares of posts. Because G+ does things with its search that FB doesn't, "Sparks" was reformulated. Etc., etc.

It's true that G+ had bad first impressions, as he notes. But, it's addressing (albeit slowly) the pseudonymity issue. It's throwing more resources into G+ in general. It's got Pages set up in a way to kind of segregate businesses and individuals. And, it's throwing more resources into the issue in general.

And, those extra resources are producing some impressive new features.

That said, Manjoo is also right that Google should have looked at G+ more like Twitter and not been so heavy-handed. But, I've blogged about the second part myself, as have many others. An issue? Yes. Is it killling Google? No.

As for Google staffers not being into G+? That's a red herring. Since Google does so much more than "just social media," of course there's going to be staffers, even senior execs, who don't use it. It's not like they're using Bing for searches.

Actually, as long as Zuckerberg remains in charge of Facebook, with the possibility of further arrogant, arbitrary changes, G+ will always have at least some degree of life. OR, maybe not ... as Marky Mark is about to come to a privacy settlement with the FTC over doing just that.

Anyway, G+ is NOT "dying." Period.
Detractors don’t realize one very important point: Google does not see Google+ as a separate product; to the company, Google+ is the product. 


Sure, Google hopes to build a social network that competes with Facebook, Twitter and other social services, but that is not the main reason the company has put so many resources behind Google+. Instead, Google+ is a social layer that has always been intended to sit on top of the company’s flagship product: search.
And, as long as people like Manjoo aren't on G+, that's fine by me.

And, I suspect the initial commenter here maybe had G+ consider his website a business, which it could well be, and therefore removed a business page he had started on G+.

Meanwhile, it appears Harvard Business Review doesn't totally get G+, either. By encouraging more targeted posting, arguably, Google will learn MORE about its users than Facebook will, and will be able to apply that across the board to Google ad presentations.

November 16, 2011

#OWS officially loses contact with reality

OK, Occupy Wall Street has posted a list of demands, talking points, or whatever. Let's not get into semantics, let's just analyze them.

1. Repeal Taft-Hartley? Absolutely. One of the few smart things on this list.
2. An $18/hour minimum wage? How idiotically stupid, clueless and uninformed can you be? That would be economically iffy in NYC or San Francisco. In Chicago, it would be harmful. In a Dallas or Atlanta, it would be destructive. Per state-by-state figures, the state of Mississippi, if everybody is working full-time, has a median household income of $18/hour. Household. A number of states are below the $18 an hour for per-capita individual income, and the U.S. as a nation is just barely over that. In short, OWS is proposing communism.
3. Six weeks of paid vacation? Not even Western European countries have more than four or five.
4. A six-hour workday? Even France's old 35-hour work week didn't go that low.
5. Allow workers to elect their own supervisors? We tried that with the volunteer Army in the Civil War and it took the better part of two years to weed out most "political" officers.
6. Lower the retirement age to 55? Social Security WILL, no hyperbole, be headed toward bankruptcy.
7. Reduce the age of majority to 16? Even as Gen Y takes even longer to grow up? (And, as the iGeneration folks who wrote this manifesto show, still haven't fully grown up.)
8. A "negative tax"? We already have that; it's the earned income credit.
9. A 5 percent wealth tax on top of a 90 percent top marginal rate?
10. Make homeschooling illegal? First, it's not just the religious right that homeschools. Second, for a movement that wants to be libertarian on social issues, that one certainly isn't.
11. Ban the private ownership of land? Really? You been watching "The Gods Must Be Crazy" too many times at OWS Friday Night at the Movies, right?

That's not to mention stupidities like a maximum wage.

That said, there's the disclaimer at top: "This content is user submitted and not an official statement." At the same time, the post is three weeks old and was originally in a subforum, so SOMEBODY boosted it to the main page. Why? C'mon, fess up, anybody who knows OWS internal machinations. WHO promoted this to the top of the main page.

In other words, OWS is trying to have it both ways again on the myths of leaderlessness and related ones.

And, beyond that, a laundry list like that does nothing but underscore my contention that a fair amount of OWS is precisely labeled by the term "iGeneration," deliberate riff on Steve Jobs and all. We can all work for more equality in life, yet bluntly admit that, even besides semi-sociopathic CEOs, life is still going to be unequal, lack guarantees, and at times, boil down to elements of luck and contingency. Too bad your helicopter mom parents, or your later half of Gen X trickle downs, led you to believe the world was not only your oyster, but an oyster that would come to you on a plate without much effort on your part, or without a heaping helping of luck.

Related to this, per this great podcast by left-liberal journalist and economist Doug Henwood, OWS has little nuance, little depth of understanding of fiscal realities in a country of 310 million and, yes, has leaders .... specifically, "a small cabal." Henwood has a summary of part of the podcast, in text form, here. (Basically, he says, moving your money to a credit union won't solve much.)

Speaking of OWS, too ... will it actually do anything for the two-month "anniversary" tomorrow? Odds are 2,000 people occupy the subways and at least one gets punched in the face, and that anybody causing any trouble in front of the NYSE gets arrested on New York's version of "engaging in organized criminal activity" or something. Update: I may have been generous. News accounts list "hundreds" and not more in the financial district.

I'm beginning to think that OWS is in a race with the medieval Children's Crusade for level of childishness. Yes, I "drifted" through most my 20s, but it was while working, most of that time, or else working through a boatload of family psychology.

That said, I'm not unsympathetic to at least part of OWS "rank and file." Not only am I not unsympathetic to non-Communist, reality-based OWS ideas, I'd like for them to succeed. As I told several people during a Facebook conversation thread, that's how OWS's "backers" differ from, say, the 1960s civil rights movement.

What that movement had was A: Plenty of leadership. B. Leadership in the open. C. Leadership willing to take responsibility. None of that, IMO, describes Adbusters or Anonymous, nor will it in weeks and months ahead. If OWS is to wind up accomplishing anything, it will have to move in the direction of A/B/C and without Adbusters/Anonymous leaderless underground "leadership." I truly hope OWS can do that. But ... I won't hold my breath. In part, that's because it is such a youth movement. Even for Obama 08, youth voting rates in the US didn't tick upward all that much. (That's as much a myth as is his "small donors" campaign fundraising in 2008.)

Again, I'd love for it to succeed. But, I'm not holding my breath. And, this is why I'm skeptical about my own left-liberal political world, too.

The #robosigning dam on mortgage fraud may be breaking

The Nevada AG's office has indicted two people for more than 600 charges of robosigning:
A Clark County District Court judge issued warrants for California residents Gary Randall Trafford, 49, and Geraldine Ann Sheppard, 62, after a grand jury handed up the 439-page indictment. Their hometowns were unavailable, and they could not be immediately located for comment.
The indictment says that between 2005 and 2008, Trafford and Sheppard directed employees to forge their names on foreclosure documents, then notarize the signatures they just forged. The defendants then had the employees file the fraudulent notices of default with the county recorder's office to begin foreclosures on homes.
Trafford and Sheppard face more than 200 felony charges of offering a false instrument and false certification of an instrument, and more than 100 misdemeanor notarization charges, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto said.
This is BIG. The feds (that's YOU, Dear Leader) and the big banks have been, well, co-conspirators in trying to ram a mortgage reset agreement down states' throats, and it looks like one state, at least, may be getting tired.

Michigan's started down the criminal proceedings road, too, but nothing like this. And, California AG Kamela Harris has now subpoenaed Fannie and Freddie officials. She's already refused to sign off on Team Obama's cramdown-for-states "negotiations" with the banksters.

Now, technically, this isn't robosigning, as in using autopens, etc., or doing computerized filing instead of paper documents, but, this is a warning shot about that, at least.

Given how both mainstream parties colluded in this fraud, let's see if, like Occupy Wall Street, this becomes a hot potato/hand grenade, and how much of one.

Part of that will depend on whom the GOP nominates. If it's Romney, Obama will have the tough choice of either sucking up to Wall Street even harder than he is now, or tacking/pandering further "left" while trying to sound both more truthful and more convincing about this than before.

Most other GOP candidates? Given that Cain is too nuts to be trusted by Wall Street, and Perry, Bachmann and Paul have all pledged to junk the Fed and to let too big to fail banks ... fail. Gingrich might get a fair cut of Wall Street money, but, I'm not sure tea partiers trust him as much as Bachmann, or even Paul, despite his apostasy on foreign policy. Huntsman, Santorum and Johnson aren't going to get the nomination.

And, since no GOP primary before April 1 can be winner-take-all, there's plenty of reason for every wingnut candidate to hang in there. Especially since "Super Tuesday," which was in February in 2008, will be in March this year. I'll come back to this point as the Iowa caucuses get near, then we get past that and approach the New Hampshire primary.

Newt's meltdown could be here

Now that we're learning Newt Gingrich got almost $2 million from Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac for "strategic advice," how long before he gets hammered on this? Yes, some pundits have noted he has had past "heresies" from orthodox wingnut GOP doctrine, like challenging Paul Ryan's Medicare ideas.

But, he's surged to No. 1 in GOP polling because he's supposed to be the last, best hope of wingnuts who want somebody orthodox and pure to take out the flip-flopping Mitt Romney. And, yes, that's what's driving this process.

Given that the tea party line on Fannie/Freddie is that "ebil Democrats made it sell a bunch of houses to poor, unworthy black folks," how can they digest him getting nearly $2M for helping spread that advice?

Fannie/Freddie insiders are already challenging his version of what that advice was. And, as for the claim he didn't do lobbying? The DC line between lobbying and "public policy advice" is often so thin as to depend on whether the "advice" was passed out at Capitol Hill or at the agency or think tank's HQ.

Since this isn't quite gay sex with Rush Limbaugh, and the next Mittster alternative for wingnuts is either Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, or a fuller embrace of Michele Bachmann, he may not totally tank.

More on the issues facing Newt here.

While Paul starts to rise. Nobody has ever accused him of sexual or financial lapses; he's just a nutbar. If any sort of Paul surge holds up, this could really be "fun."

And a New York Times article on how tea partiers' destructive influence on primaries is undercutting the GOP's chance of regaining control of the Senate applies perfectly to this year's presidential primaries.
Fears of ideologically divisive primaries often keep the best candidates from running, some Republican officials said.
“We are having trouble recruiting,” said Martha Breene, the chairwoman of the Venango County Republican party in Pennsylvania. “You often are not getting what you hope you could be getting, and then there is the Tea Party factor. A lot of them have good intent but it is sort of like they are the police men of all things and they aren’t going to let other Republicans matter.” 
Yep, sounds like the presidential primaries.

Which would give Romney a narrow plurality over a muddle of everybody else.

A MUST-READ on male child sexual abuse

 I don't know who Rick Reilly interviewed for this totally insightful piece, but a comment like this is very true:
Many men who were sexually abused as children have ruinous relationships with women. They begin to think they are dirty to the core, shameful and dangerous to women. They're terrified they can't be trusted not to hurt women, so they run from them.
Reilly includes longer excerpts of a specific "survivor" story, about incest, in fact, not stranger or even trusted neighbor, child sexual abuse.

The symptom he mentions is one of the biggest, and totally dispels the lie that abuse turns most survivors into perpetrators themselves.

Besides loss of trust, the single biggest other symptom is loss/non-development of self-esteem and self-confidence. A world in which one feels and seems totally powerless, especially if the abuse is at home, can tend to have that type of ongoing effect.

Meanwhile, Howard Bryant notes that celebrity athletes who served on the board of Second Mile, Jerry Sandusky's charity (or "grooming front" for new boys to abuse) are running like hell from it ... BUT ... without speaking out for the victims.

Reilly is right. There is more hope for survivors than before. That said, understand that healing will never be perfect. And sometimes it won't be close.

#OWS - why police don't think they're the 99 percent

In the light of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's raid on Zucotti Park in New York City, ground zero of Occupy Wall Street, along with actions by the Oakland PD and mayors in other cities, many Occupy supporters, even if not directly involved with the movement, wonder why the police aren't on their side. (This sets aside places like Albany, N.Y., where police are more supportive.) And, it's clear that in NYC, and in other places, police are NOT on the side of Occupiers.

There's several reasons:
1. Police are generally conservative on most social issues, and therefore don't feel that they "relate" very well to the Occupy types.
2. Police often live in suburbs, even if they work in central cities and therefore don't feel so connected to "the urban plight."
3. Police unions are generally connected with narrow issues of pay/collective bargaining. The move to repeal SB 2 in Ohio last month shows this; anybody trying to draw inspiration for anything from Obama's re-election chances to widening support for the Occupy movement needs to get a clue.
4. Power corrupts. As a reporter and editor myself, I know this is true. Link it to what side of one's bread is being buttered by whom, and many cops not only like their own power, they like sucking up the chain of command, not just in the police department, but in municipal government.

Anyway, there's reasons beyond these that the police, without being "bought" by Citigroup et al in NYC, just don't totally relate to Occupiers.

Finally, file this under "not getting the concept." Unless this is a deliberate head fake, announcing that you're going to show up at a certain time and place to try to "occupy" Wall Street itself is stupid. Of course, given that "Anonymous" made a weak-tea threat against Mexico's Zeta's drug cartel a couple weeks back, then quickly withdrew it, this doesn't surprise me.

November 15, 2011

RIP for #OWS?

So, what will happen to Occupy Wall Street now that Mayor Bloomberg has given it the boot, and in somewhat goonish style? Will protesters file a legal appeal? Will they reassemble? Will they negotiate with both Bloomberg and Zucotti Park owners for a compromise? Given that one legal ruling's already gone Bloomberg's way, the court process might be iffy. And, given that Bloomberg's NYPD was goonish enough to arrest members of the press and injure a city councilman, he's not in a big negotiating frame of mind, I'm sure. (Especially when his staff is now claiming OWS was making weapons. Surprised the "of mass destruction" didn't get tagged on.)

And elsewhere? The weekend saw crackdowns in Portland, Denver and elsewhere. Will Bloomberg's actions only accelerate a crackdown elsewhere?

 I'd definitely say yes to that last rhetorical question.

What about Barack Obama, who has said he understands OWS, but hasn't even gone so far as to say he feels their pain?


Nope.


Per al Jazeera's live blog of related events, Dear Leader has now come out and said that dealing with OWS, whether in NYC or elsewhere, is purely a decision of local governments. So, any Obamiac types within OWS expecting "leadership" from him? Forget it.


In NYC, I'll say that some protesters try to reassemble, period. Others will file a further legal appeal, probably while undertaking negotiations at the same time.

Meanwhile, why did Bloomberg do this? As a New Yorker blog notes, a fair amount of OWS action was outside of Zucotti anyway. As for the encampment, let colder weather drive more away and the start of the holiday shopping season sap it of attention. At the same time, John Cassidy notes that the tensions inherent in the movement will now get pushed to the fore.

However, the New York Times says Bloomberg didn't think weather would drive Occupy protesters away: 
City officials could not imagine how the protesters would leave voluntarily — even with winter approaching — because other demonstrators were watching from around the world and there was no way for the New York group to simply declare victory and walk away.
That's certainly believable, that understanding, and possibly true. Did OWS want to "declare victory"? Did it want to provoke a confrontation Thursday on subways and at the NYSE?

Adbusters, interestingly, disagrees:
On Monday, Adbusters, the Canadian anti-corporate magazine that conceived of the movement, indicated that the protesters should “declare victory” and head indoors to strategize.
That, then, leads to the question of who's more obnoxious: Adbusters or Bloomberg? And, Adbusters lovers need to read Doug Henwood, linked below. That said, I agree with Adbusters' take, and think Bloomberg is definitely stupider.

But, the latest story indicates that Adbusters isn't exactly smart:
Kalle Lasn, co-founder of Adbusters, ... said the "original magic" faded somewhat as news coverage of the encampments around the country began to focus less on the participants' youthful idealism and more on drugs, violence and homelessness.
"Somehow, we lost the high ground, we lost the narrative," he said. "Tactically, the moment was right to declare victory, have a big global party and come back swinging next spring."
I highly doubt that a fair amount of the physical Occupiers will turn out next spring, either to physically occupy more spaces on a regular basis, or do other things, unless they get .... leadership, leadership that is visible, and a program.

Anyway, I hope they, the non-Adbusters/Anonymous portion of the movement, whom I might just call a "we" some day, succeed in some way, shape or form.


And LEARN, dammit. More on that below the fold.

It's Newt's turn to implode


First, Rick Perry was surging past Mitt Romney, then he crashed and burned. Herman Cain then passed the Mittster only to start self-destructing (an ongoing process).

And now, a known serial adulterer has passed an alleged serial groper as the GOP's preferred candidate.

So, how long before Fig Newton implodes? And, over what?

Another Tiffany's charge account, this one covered by the People's Republic of China?

Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac sweetheart mortgages for his "historic perspective" advice?

A mistress we don't yet know about?

Please, Newt, give us something new and original.

In other news from that poll, it's nice to see that the one real libertarian in the GOP race, Gary Johnson, is now actually drawing polling numbers, and at least equal to Santorum. Will we see him in the next debate?

And, Huntsman rising? This is all too rational. We can't have that.

Gay sex with Rush Limbaugh would be fantastic.

November 14, 2011

Asymmetry and handedness ... not correlated, IMO

However, that is a possible opinion of Live Science, which suggests human preference for right-handedness may be related to bilateral asymmetry of internal organs.

Really? I believe our primate kin, who split 50-50 on preference for one particular hand over the other, are also bilaterally asymmetrical.

Beyond that, as many researchers try to relate human handedness asymmetry to brain function hemispheric asymmetry, we don't know whether the chicken or egg came first there.

You know, Live Science seems to spit out about one clunker a week.

Dystopian novels not quite dystopian enough?

I just got done reading Cormac McCarthy's "The Road," second in renown only to "No Country for Old Men" above his works. In general, I like an occasional dystopian novel, but, I really wish this one had been MORE dystopian.

The RoadThe Road by Cormac McCarthy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Very good, but not dystopian enough. The wrong person dies at the wrong time, instead of giving us an almost-formulaic ending that we actually get.



I don't totally get McCarthy's style, either. (This is his first book I've read.) I get that he's going for a dystopian writing style, but, I think MORE adjectives actually would have helped. As it is, at times, it's like he's trying to win the annual Hemingway writing contest.



Pluses are that some things are hinted at, like the degree of the boy's growth, his age and other things. It's a book that encourages us to use our imaginations.



View all my reviews

It's like Crime and Punishment. If Dostoyevsky had really done it right, Sonya would never had waited for Raskolnikov to get out of prison and head to Siberian exile; she would have married somebody else instead.

That said, while "The Road" is dystopian enough, McCarthy's no Huxley, nor an Orwell. And not a Dostoyevsky, either.

Should we be fearing Chinese cyberwar?

America the Vulnerable: New Technology and the Next Theat to National SecurityAmerica the Vulnerable: New Technology and the Next Theat to National Security by Joel Brenner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


At first, seeing this was written by a national security “insider,” I was leery. Fortunately, I read on. Joel Brenner tells us why we need to be more worried about China, the Russian mafia, and international drug smugglers, among others, conducting cyberespionage and other things.



China stands No. 1, because “war” and “peace” aren’t polar opposites there.  Brenner adds that many of these attacks are against private business, not just defense contractors, but financial agencies and also non-defense contractors for the federal government. Add in the amount of products these companies had that are at least partially made in China, and we have a problem indeed, he says.



Brenner recommends solutions while also looking at some possible bad-case scenarios of Chinese blackmail a decade or two ahead.



A bit of hyperbole here and there about some of the possible threats, but, given that both major political parties don't want to address this, maybe some hyperbole is needed.





View all my reviews

Amazon does NOT Kindle a Fire for me

Wired's in-depth review of the Kindle Fire probably nails it: good for a few things, so-so for a lot, and crappy for a few; that's a sentiment that at least one other reviewer agrees with. About 2.5 stars out of 5, it seems; the second review, interestingly, notes it's kind of heavy and hard to hold with one hand, which undercuts the smaller size making it cheaper.

Now, none of these reviews include the "chain you to our information" angle that Amazon has behind the Fire, which is of course Jeff Bezos' ramped-up salvo in the "infowars" of today's online world. Of course, Wired has an in-depth interview with him, focused on that salvo.

Meanwhile, the Fire is "only" a $3 loss leader, says one analyst, although another claims, in this in-depth story, that the Fire is a definite profit-margin winner. Interesting. That probably says both that it's not that great, as reviews are saying, and that Bezos, aka Steve Jobs Jr., knows exactly what he's doing: 

That said, if customer service on the Fire turns out to be as crappy as with this particular on-hiatus book reviewer, Amazon's in trouble, anyway. And, I hope it is.

November 13, 2011

Bill Keller hearts Romney with a tin ear

I think I'm beginning to understand why the New York Times has so many idiotic op-ed writers: Bill Keller hired them.

In his latest column, the former executive editor of the old puce lady lays out the case for how Mitt Romney can beat Barack Obama, with a series of talking points.

First, an idiot could make the "not-Obama" case.

But, really, Keller? You think Romney running as the "CEO President," as Occupy Wall Street sits practically outside your office window, is a good strategy?

The "taming Congress" case? If the GOP maintained control, in a Romney win, Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan in the House would hold Romney as a tea party hostage.

This just shows the stupidity of the inside-the-Beltway media establishment, as Keller and Teapot Tommy Friedman continue to whore after a fictitious "centrism."

Don't forget, this is the same Bill Keller who's either a liar or an idiot about the NYT having a paywall, when six months after a two-bit Javascript hack was invented to defeat it, the Times has done zip to upgrade.

Why? As I blogged here, fear of loss of influence.

#Stlcards: Matheny is it to replace #TLR

You can't vote in my poll on the right-hand side: Mike Matheny, the former catcher, is reportedly the choice to replace Tony La Russa as St. Louis Cardinals' manager. (You can vote in a new one, about whether or not you like the decision.)

Should his lack of managerial experience, or even coaching experience at the major-league level, be held against him? John Mozeliak apparently didn't think so:
Matheny told the Post-Dispatch after interviewing with the Cardinals earlier this month that his lack of managerial experience was "the elephant that walked in with me" to the interview. But that proved not to be a major point of contention, he said.
"That was defused right away. They made it clear that this is a leadership position and that what they were looking for to fill the role is a leader," Matheny said at the time, according to the Post-Dispatch. "Yes, there are the baseball things and the knowledge of baseball, but we talked a lot about the characteristics that are necessary to be a leader at this level and a leader of that clubhouse."
I'm leery. And so is Ken Rosenthal. I think Mo was looking for a way to put his stamp on the team. And, that poll may get changed to ask your opinion on the move.

Joe Strauss at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a long profile of the decision. Good news, overall? Jose Oquendo wants to stay on the coaching staff. Leery factor? At 41, Matheny is the joungest manager in baseball, as well as its second-least experienced. (I put him ahead of Ventura.)

On the age factor, this blog has a full list of Cards managers, by date of birth, but with age of starting also included.