December 03, 2011

Herman Cain lies even to the end

C'mon, Herman, you're not "suspending" your campaign, except in some sort of legal sense to try to troll for funds still, or a psychological sense to try to promote your sure-to-flop book.

You're quitting. And, as with much else in your campaign, you're lying to yourself about it.

Ultimately, by proving yourself an Uncle Tom over Rick Perry's hunting lease, you lived up to caricatures of what a black Republican should be like. Hyperconservative even by tea party standards to prove yourself true blue.

And, speaking of ...

You've lied to yourself about the reality of their depth of support.

Just as many of them are probably lying by Bradley effect about the depth of that support.

Saturday Night Live will miss you as a comic foil, and that's about it.

#OWS: Does it help to call Wall Street 'sociopaths'?

This meme seems to be doing nothing but gaining energy the last couple of months. It's the claim that leaders of Goldman Sachs, JPMorganChase, top hedge fund managers, etc., are all sociopaths. But, the claim is usually much more scattershot than that. Rather, it's that about anybody who works on Wall Street is a sociopath.

First, this seems to be a pop psychology, rather than real psychology, use of the word "sociopath." In short, it's not a lot better than name-calling. Let's take a look at the actual personality disorder.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition (DSM IV-TR), defines antisocial personality disorder (in Axis II Cluster B) as:[1]
A) There is a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others occurring since age 15 years, as indicated by three or more of the following:
  1. failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest;
  2. deception, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure;
  3. impulsiveness or failure to plan ahead;
  4. irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults;
  5. reckless disregard for safety of self or others;
  6. consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations;
  7. lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another;
B) The individual is at least age 18 years.
C) There is evidence of conduct disorder with onset before age 15 years.
D) The occurrence of antisocial behavior is not exclusively during the course of schizophrenia or a manic episode.
Now, it's certainly possible that a fair number of people on Wall Street, or business CEOs in general, meet that definition. But, do all of the "bad ones" qualify as sociopaths?

A. Were they acting this way since high school?
B. Did they meet three of the subcategories under A in definitions? Probably not No. 1. Probably No. 2. Probably not No. 3 or 4. No. 5, maybe or maybe not, depending on exact definitions. No. 6, no, unless breach of fiduciary duty to shareholders. No. 7, yes, in many cases, as in Loyd Blankfein "doing god's work."

So, that leaves us with one semi-definite, on No. 2, one definite, on No. 7, and some maybes. That's not clear-cut. So, unless high school friends of Loyd Blankfein, Jamie Dimon and others pop up with tales from their high school days of setting cats on fire or something, they're probably not sociopaths in a clinical sense.

Which is ... GOOD!

No, not good in the sense of justifying their behavior, but exactly opposite.

If they're NOT sociopaths, then, they DON'T have a clinical mental illness as an excuse for their behavior. At least not in any measurable sense. Surely, even the most latitudinarian judge, in terms of responsibility and mental health, would not allow narcissistic personality disorder to be a defense at either criminal or civil trial.

That said, this also shows the limitations of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Other than psychotic disorders being worse than neurotic ones, the DSM doesn't attempt to put disorders on any sort of gradient.

Second, a person can be greedy to the point of hypergreedy, if you'll allow me to invent a term, without being sociopathic. If, you hold along with me, that morality isn't necessarily rooted in gods, theology or metaphysics, and per the Euthyphro Dilemma, can't be, then, you should also accept that a secular equivalent of sin in general, and the "Seven Deadly Sins" in particular, is capable of being postulated.

So, let's just call these folks Greedy with a capital G. Then, let's stop trying to explain them in terms of mental illness and start explaining them in terms of immorality. Period.

Or, per a Wired story that says nice guys often do finish "last" financially, let's call them assholes. Or capital-A Assholes:
(B)eing disagreeable doesn’t mean you behave like Ari Gold. It doesn’t mean you are a sociopath or intentionally inflict pain on others. Instead, those on the disagreeable spectrum are generally pretty decent folks, described by their peers as mostly amiable. However, these disagreeable people do consistently exhibit one special trait: They are willing to “aggressively advocate for their position during conflicts.” While more agreeable people are quick to compromise for the good of the group — conflict is never fun — their disagreeable colleagues insist on holding firm. They don’t mind fighting for what they want.
Again, being an asshole is NOT the same as being a sociopath. But for men at least, it's worth an extra $7,500 a year, on average, the story says.

Anyway, psychopathologizing Wall Street leaders just doesn't fly in my book. It's not that the worst of Wall Streeters are amoral in some mental illness sense. Rather, they usually know they're being exploitative, they don't give a fuck, and they simply don't give a fuck that you're mad they don't give a fuck.

In the land where all morals are reduced to issues of mental health, the merely neurotic instead of psychotic will be kind.

December 02, 2011

Just.Another.White.Presidential.Politician.™

The Atlantic summarizes well why Barack Obama means nothing new to American Indians.
Congress is no friend of the American Indian. Surely this Supreme Court isn't, either. And there was a need to clarify the rules on eagle feathers. But is this really the best President Obama can do?
Well, it seems like the best he wants to try to do. It's better than Bush, but once again on that count, Obama benefits from the soft bigotry of low post-Bush expectations.

And, I'm curious how many people will click this link thinking this post is about a GOP presidential candidate and not Obama.

Will an Obamacare 'bomb' force us toward single-payer?

Rick Ungar, a health care journalist who writes for places like Washington Monthly, says an emphatic yes.


First, the bomb. It's not secret, or in fine print. It's the requirement that health insurers spend at least 80 percent of their revenues, or 85 percent for the giants, on actual health care.
That would be the provision of the law, called the medical loss ratio, that requires health insurance companies to spend 80% of the consumers’ premium dollars they collect—85% for large group insurers—on actual medical care rather than overhead, marketing expenses and profit. Failure on the part of insurers to meet this requirement will result in the insurers having to send their customers a rebate check representing the amount in which they underspend on actual medical care.
This is the true ‘bomb’ contained in Obamacare and the one item that will have more impact on the future of how medical care is paid for in this country than anything we’ve seen in quite some time.  Indeed, it is this aspect of the law that represents the true ‘death panel’ found in Obamacare—but not one that is going to lead to the death of American consumers. Rather, the medical loss ration will, ultimately, lead to the death of large parts of the private, for-profit health insurance industry.
Ungar notes that today was the day the "bomb" officially exploded, and that, so far, the Department of Health and Human Services has been strict on the rule. (For example, it rejected waiver requests from the states of Indiana and Louisiana earlier this week.) Ungar, in his column, notes that individual insurers have been denied laughable attempts to claim sales commissions as a business expense.

That said, I'm not as sanguine as Ungar about this meaning the end of for-profit private insurers or anything near that. He says:
There is absolutely no way for-profit health insurers are going to be able to learn how to get by and still make a profit while being forced to spend at least 80 percent of their receipts providing their customers with the coverage for which they paid.
He neglects some obvious private-sector possibilities, including:
1. Putting salespeople on straight salary;
2. Using computers to "sell" more policies;
3. Jacking rates yet higher, to have a bigger pool for that "80 percent";
4. Insurance company consolidation/takeovers.

That said, Ungar claims that parent companies of many insurers are trying to get out of the business. If that leads to consolidation, it could hurt or help. It could lead to more fraud. It could lead to health insurers "too big to fail." Or to many other things.

So, Ungar may be right, half right or not at all.

Finally, it's absurd to make a prediction like this before SCOTUS has made its highly-anticipated ruling on the bill. And, as much opposition as Obamacare faced, I seriously doubt that the GOP totally overlooked this provision in the bill's writing, or that Obama (given that he doesn't care about single-payer) had the provision put in there as a backdoor attempt at single-payer.

So, contra a Facebook dialogue and other things, I'd prefer not to read into this provision what may well not be there. I'll be glad to be pleasantly surprised, but won't hold my breath.

Humanism doesn't have to be opposed to science

That's true whether it's an unlabeled humanism, a "secular" humanism, a "Christian" humanism or something else.

I enjoy reading the often-insighful, almost-always-stimulating long-form blogging of R.Joseph Hoffmann.

With his background, per his Wikipedia link, he's well positioned to comment on Gnu Atheism, the academic study of religion and issues of humanism and philosophy in general.

I largely agree with his take on Gnu Atheism, especially concerns over its combativeness, narrowness of focus and evangelistic propensities.

On larger humanistic issues, I agree with concerns about "scientism," especially but not only found in some Gnu Atheists, and beyond that, a move beyond the classical and Renaissance devotion to the arts.

But, at times, he seems to come close to a false dilemma, positing that one must focus more on the arts and less on science -- science, not "scientism."

Let's take one matter where science, philosophy and overarching humanist principles meet: consciousness.

A good neuroscientist, informed by as well as informing of, philosophy, knows that MRIs don't directly measure consciousness or even close to that, and that they're not (yet) that accurate.

BUT ... a good philosopher who is informed by as well as informing of neuroscience knows that those MRIs are measuring some brain activity, brain activity happening at roughly the same time as mental activity and in parts of the brain we have tentatively identified by other research as being associated with certain types of mental activity.

So, a good philosopher of mind will welcome good scientific research that helps him or her posit further questions on the nature of mind, of consciousness and of free will, including scientific research that then helps him or her help neuroscientists.

But Hoffmann seems to fear, to some degree, actual science, not a philosophy of "scientism." He seems to fear methodological naturalism. He seems to fear a "mechanistic" take on life that undercuts its wonder and mystery.

Well, even an ascerbic existentialist phyisicist like Steven Weinberg still seems to have some degree of appreciation for some sort of magic in life, Mr. Hoffmann.

I may be overstating what I perceive his issues to be, but I don't think by too much.

Then, there are people, including some of his regular readers, who wonder why we have to specify "secular" humanism vs. just humanism.

Because, as Hoffmann notes from even a less "materialistic" era, already by the Enlightenment, non-Christian forms of humanism were arising, even if an open split was not being voiced. And, today, getting back to that neuroscience, and what it tells us about consciousness ... and things like a "soul" and its existence or likely nonexistence, Christian humanism and secular humanism will split on some metaphysical issues of major import, that in turn will affect their understanding of what issues, angles and points of view are most important within humanism.

8.6 percent and 2012

First, even allowing for more people dropping out of the work force, the unemployment numbers are good. And, while I know government economists are spinmeisters, nonetheless, the background news about rising sales in many areas is true, I know.

Meanwhile, this has big import for 2012. If unemployment is down to 8.5 percent in mid-summer, especially if some of the teachers and such get hired back, comparing the two mainstream parties, I give Obama more than a 50 percent chance even against Romney and well over that against other GOP candidates.

The lower unemployment rate could have short-term negatives, though. The GOP is likely to push even harder against another extension of long-term unemployment benefits. But, at the same time, more people back to work, paying taxes, etc., will slowly cut the deficit again.

If the projected 2013 deficit gets below $1 trillion by midsummer 2012, then Obama's really in the gravy, if the unemployment scenario I listed above holds true.

December 01, 2011

David Brooks' rose-colored fiscal morality

Brooks, in comparing the U.S. and Germany (wo bist du, Herr Bobo?) says this nuttery:
Why are nations like Germany and the U.S. rich?...
It’s because many people in these countries, as Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute has noted, believe in a simple moral formula: effort should lead to reward as often as possible.
People who work hard and play by the rules should have a fair shot at prosperity. Money should go to people on the basis of merit and enterprise. Self-control should be rewarded while laziness and self-indulgence should not. Community institutions should nurture responsibility and fairness. 
Well, lemme see, the 1 percenters believe exactly nothing of that, David! And, to be honest, a certain amount of non-1 percenters probably have the same unbelief.

Beyond that, long before the meltdown, America's economy, more than Germany's, was built NOT on "self-control" but self-indulgence.

That said, while Brooks is right about Greece, and somewhat right about Italy, Krugman has a more nuanced picture of the whole Eurozone. And, labor retrenching of the last decade aside, Germany in general still rewards regular old labor better than the U.S. in many ways.

And, neither one of them has totally tackled this issue: Many Germans' lingering fears of 90-year-ago hyperinflation means that Germany is not liable to go too far in working with even non-Greek parts of the eurozone. Booting Greece from the zone might work. But, the rest of the eurozone would be hugely weakened without Germany.

And, all the fractions of blame that lay out there, it's clear both on this side of the pond and inside Europe that the whole eurozone is in trouble. Most economic pundits are saying if Italy caves, that's it; that's too much burden for the eurozone.

That said, I'm not a professional economist, and I don't play one on TV. But, I don't think a eurozone collapse is as bad as the 2008 global financial turmoil. Now, coming on top of a slow recovery from that, it could extend a "lost decade" in fair parts of both Europe and the U.S.

On the other side, China has said it wants to invest sovereign wealth fund money in both areas, in infrastructure improvements. One hundred and fifty years ago, their labor built our railroads; now, their money might rebuild them.

Do preteens actually believe in Santa?

I'm trying to remember when I "lost my faith" in Jolly Old St. Nick, but I'm pretty sure I had by the time I was 9 years old. But, per this AP story, I guess not all kids do. (Or maybe this one in the story thinks he can gift double-dip by pretending to still believe.) The latter is a possibility, I think:
Kyla Kelim of Fairhope, Ala., caught her oldest, a 9-year-old boy, on her iPad playing Santa sleuth a week or so ago. “We’re so close with him this year, not believing,” she said. “He was Googling ‘Santa,’ and I saw him type the word ‘myth’ when I grabbed it and said no electronics. I’m constantly having to follow my phone and iPad and stuff around right now. We’re trying not to debunk Santa for our 7-year-old.”
It's tough when you have kids a couple of years apart. Even more so when there's a gap of several years. I think my three older brothers still got "Santa gifts" until both I and my sister, a year younger, realized the truth. (I think I was 8, but held out another year, for the "double dipping" reason.

That said, even 9 isn't too old, in some cases:
Other parents, though, are finding that in some ways, it was easier to maintain the Santa myth before high-speed Internet.
When Kimberly Porrazzo’s boys, now in their 20s, were little, she and her husband jingled sleigh bells outside their kids’ bedroom windows on Christmas Eve, and Dad took to the roof to make scampering hoof sounds.
When one of the boys was still a believer at 12, she broke the news — gently — before some playground skeptic did it for her. The Lake Forest, Calif., mother turned the experience into a little book she self-published, “The Santa Secret: The Truth About Santa Claus.”
So, comments? Any of you remember how old you were when you stopped believing? Was the issue influenced by younger siblings? And, if you have kids at home now, how do you handle it?

The other "month-to-month bills" help recipient

With multiple days to cogitate on how to respond to Ginger White's claims, THIS is the best Herman Cain can do? It's the dumbest public opinion thing since Larry Sandusky agreed to talk to Bob Costas on TV.

Yeah, how high WERE those "utility bills"? Cain won't say, "on advice of his attorney."

That said, maybe Cain is hiding something deeper:
Cain said White reached out to him this fall, sending him about 70 text messages from Oct. 22 through Nov. 18 asking for financial assistance.
As in ... extortion? It takes two to tango; why is Ginger White coming out now, after 13 years? Extortion can be easier if the stakes are higher. Maybe White had been getting support and felt entitled to more. And, per a new Gail Collins column, it's clear this isn't the first time she's traded sex (not even romance, so much) for money.

Hey, write a tell-all book instead, Ginger.

This one, nobody's going to end up smelling like a rose. Not White, not Cain, and not Cain's wife, who either has pulled a Tammy Wynette for  her own monetary reasons, is self-delusional, or else really is clueless. Cain says she didn't know about the "payments." Guess he's lucky he never left his cell phone unattended. (And, if you were a married man with a roving eye, would you? Would you get a second phone?)

Robofiling gets sued

More than the Nevada attorney general's lawsuit a few weeks ago, which indicted two people for robo-signing, the rubber is now really hitting the road.

Massachusetts AG Martha Coakley has sued not only five lenders, but MERS, the robo-signing agency for all the big lenders. And, on expected grounds: MERS violates state law on paper trails for mortgages and related issues. 


And, there's bigger issues yet behind all of this:
Officials at all of the banks issued statements saying they would fight the suit. Most of them also indicated dismay that Massachusetts had taken action during negotiations to reach a settlement over the types of practices highlighted in the case.
“We are disappointed that Massachusetts would take this action now,” said Tom Kelly, a Chase spokesman, “when negotiations are ongoing with the attorneys general and the federal government on a broader settlement that could bring immediate relief to Massachusetts borrowers rather than years of contested legal proceedings.”
Lawrence Grayson, a Bank of America spokesman, said: “We continue to believe that collaborative resolution rather than continued litigation will most quickly heal the housing market and help drive economic recovery.”
And Vickee Adams of Wells Fargo said, “Regrettably, the action announced in Massachusetts today will do little to help Massachusetts homeowners or the recovery of the housing economy in the Commonwealth.”
But as Ms. Coakley made clear during the news conference, her office had come to view as unacceptable the negotiating stance taken by the banks in the protracted settlement talks.
“When those negotiations began over a year ago, I was hopeful that we would be able to reach a strong and effective solution,” she said. “It is over a year later and I believe the banks have failed to offer meaningful relief to homeowners.” 
So, now, the first AG, more than in Nevada, is breaking ranks from settlement talks. It's clear banks are hoping two things:
1. Campaign cash for Obama (or Romney, or both) and high-dollar-level electoral politics, will get the feds to push harder on a mortgage issues settlement that favors big and predatory lenders.
2. They can run out the clock on some things, on statutes of limitations, and probably "scrub up and clean up" on others.

And, even if Coakley ran a lame Senate campaign in 2010, she now has become, for now, at least, the biggest political player in 2012.

Read and parse carefully words by Obama substitutes on this issue, including which substitutes he chooses before speaking himself.

Meanwhile, we've had the first fallout. GMAC is abandoning any new MERS-based mortgages in the state and other "brokered" mortgages, which Massachusetts (rightly) calls an admission.

The lost decade? Since Enron, we've already been in it

We don't need worries about Japan-type deflation. This excellent AP story, for the 10th anniversary of Enron's collapse, titled "The Decade of Lost Faith," says we're already there, if you read to the bottom:
Stocks have barely moved in the decade of lost faith. On the Friday before the Enron bankruptcy, the S&P 500 closed at 1,139. Last Friday it closed 19 points above that. The incomes of many middle-class Americans haven't kept up with inflation. Home prices are still falling.
Yep, that about sums it up. But the rich who were a bit more sneaky, or had better connections than Kenny Boy Lay (though he had connections enough) Bernie Ebbers and Dennis Koslowski, made out like bandits.

Abetted by St. Alan of Greenspan's bubble-inflating, Wall Street was behind the housing shenanigans (and many others):
Wall Street was gripped by what chronicler Roger Lowenstein called a "mad, Strangelovian" logic. Not content to bundle thousands of subprime mortgages into mortgage securities, banks bundled the bundles into something called collateralized debt obligations, or CDOs. Next, they created bundles of bundles of bundles, called CDO-squared.
But, we're at the end now. Not just domestically, but from globalization. As Al Jazeera notes (although it somewhat overlook sub-Saharan Africa) globally, the world is becoming more and more urbanized. And, if there's money to be made by manipulation, developing world sovereign wealth funds will likely want to call the shots themselves.

We had a chance to make the WTO and globalization work for real people in both China and the U.S. Instead, so far, it looks like it's working for neither.

At least for right now, we appear to be about halfway through a lost generation, apologies to Hemingway, Fitzgerald and others aside.
"The big picture here is this is an unwinding of a 20-year debt bubble," said Peter Dixon, global financial economist at Commerzbank. "It's going to be painful, and it's going to be nasty. What policymakers are aiming for is a smoothing of the path."
The bigger picture is that neoliberal economics, and world leaders worshiping at its altar, will struggle to control whose past is smoothest (if they care at all).

Stop the dunes sagebrush lizard hysteria

Center for Biological Diversity says that, even on oil-drilling lands, the lizard, a candidate for Endangered Species Act protection, has habitat on only about 5 percent of the land.

In other words, this is just more ardent red-state pushback against regulations in general.

That's even as U.S. Fish and Wildlife is pushing back an ESA decision by six months.

What does #OWS want?

The AP has a long story on the idea of a "platform" for Occupy Wall Street and what it might entail.

It's interesting enough, but this short sidebar, quoted in full, is actually more important:
Some of the leading proposals to solve the country's economic and political problems, offered by members of the Occupy movement who were interviewed by The Associated Press:
— Impose a 1 percent “Robin Hood” tax on large financial transactions, and use the money to support social programs.
— Reinstate portions of the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act that were repealed in 1999. The act had prevented bank holding companies from getting into certain other types of financial ventures, effectively separating investment banking and commercial banking.
— Freeze all property foreclosures; cap interest charges at 6 percent or less.
— Reduce military spending; stop wars that drain financial resources.
— Reparations; make government payments to the descendants of African slaves to reset a broken, unbalanced economy.
— Ban big corporate donations to campaigns and set equal spending limits.
— Instill a fair conscience and a sense of morality into the minds of big decision makers.
— Revamp the tax code to take a higher percentage of multimillionaires’ earnings. Ensure that Wall Street and big companies pay higher business taxes.
— Equalize public education by paying fairly and proportionately for the entire U.S. population, regulating spending by student and not by school district.
— Pass congressional legislation that returns bankruptcy protection to student loans.
— End corporate personhood.
— Ensure equal-access health care for all Americans.
It's a mix of stuff, which I'm sure comes from a mix of the "reformer" and "utopian" wings that I blogged about earlier this week.

The first four I agree with.

After that, we get more dicey. And, I'll now pick out the less desirable ones.

Most major black civil rights groups have already moved beyond "reparations." And, there's no guarantee that such reparations would reset the economy anyway.

"Instill a fair conscience"? What is this, OWS is now Clockwork Orange?

Equality in public school education/spending? Now we're at Lake Wobegon. The rich, and not just the rich, the 2-20 percentile, would build private schools so fast it might actually stimulate the economy. And, the 20-plus percent of OWSers who have grad degrees probably benefited from unequal school spending. Besides, that much federal intervention in schooling would provoke other backlashes. Oh, it's a nice idea. (And a "pull the ladder up after me idea" to a degree.) Not close to realistic. And, how do you adjust for areas that have different standards of living?

And, ending corporate personhood? Rather, let's reform the corporate tax code, restore  more shareholder rights, and keep legitimate corporate protections.

November 30, 2011

2012 MLB HOF ballot: Anybody deserving?

Here's the details on this year's Hall of Fame ballot.

Bernie Williams tops the new players, and that doesn't say a lot. Less than 2,500 hits on counting stats, oWAR below 60 and bad defensive numbers ... NOT a HOF-er, not first or subsequent years. (Leave it to ESPN to promote his candidacy, though, because: A. Many of ESPN's baseball writers are kind of clueless and B: Many of ESPN's baseball writers are Yankee homers.)

So, the big questions are last year's top two first-year candidates, Barry Larkin and Jeff Bagwell.

Larkin was hurt, pun intended, on counting stats by injuries throughout his career. On sabermetric stats, playing in the Cal Ripken era, then the Alex Rodriguez era, he was overshadowed at shortstop. On the defensive side, he was no Ozzie Smith; he wasn't even a Ripken.

Probably gets in this year, probably should. I wouldn't die if he had to wait another year, but, if he doesn't make it this year, it could be several years.

Bagwell should have gotten in last year. I don't think he roided, he was decent or better on the defensive side, and was definitely a good baserunner for a first baseman. Get him in.

Will Jack Morris, among other holdovers, get any Bert Blyleven type love? Let's hope not.

Edgar Martinez? If you get the "luxury" of playing DH, you have to do better on both sabermetric stats and especially on counting stats than you actually did. Sorry.

So, I'd like to see Bagwell, for sure. Maybe Larkin. And that's it.

Dems still don't get messaging

Dave Weigel makes that clear, in terms of the debt supercommittee.

Why didn't the six Democrats on the supercommittee write a joint op-ed themselves? Stupid not to have done so. Why didn't they even think about the idea?

I blogged last week about Jon Chait's NY Mag piece, about Democratic disorganization. No, it's not, or not just, "disorganization." It's stuff like this. It's failure to "brand" both yourself and the other side more. It's failure to plan to do that. It's failure to see that's how politics in America works today, sadly.

Cubs deal selves in on Pujols chase

Well, this news, if any, should officially wake up John Mozeliak, as well as Bill DeWitt's checkbook: the Cubs are "all in" on the Albert Pujols hunt. Especially given that Tom Ricketts has given a 110 percent endorsement of whatever Epstein thinks he needs to do in the free agent market, Theo officially has carte blanche to spend. Oh, and ignore the "and Prince Fielder" in these stories. Theo's seen David Ortiz occasionally play 1B in Boston; he's not interested in a repeat of that on a regular basis in three-four years, so Fielder is definitely Plan B in the Windy City, I'm thinking.

Theo, remember, is club president, not "just" GM. So, there's also the angle of which free-agent first baseman would bring more butts back to Wrigley seats, sell Cubs swag, etc. Again, no question, no contest there.

And, there's the question of which player would boost the Cubs more. Because Pujols is a Gold Glove defender, and arguably more of an overall team leader, again, we know who leads this.

Finally, there's the matter of addition by subtraction. Fielder's likely leaving the Brewers no matter what. And, the Brewers have just one year at the top of the division heap. But, year in and year out, the Cards are the team to beat, and No. 5 is a lot of the reason why.

Price?

I can honestly see Theo going as high as 10/$275. That won't be his initial offer, of course. Something around 8/$210 is more like it. But, he's here to play. And pay.

That's if this is real interest. Jeff Passan says, in a good column, says that likely this is mutual "playing around." Pujols is using the Cubs' interest to jack a higher contract out of the Cards, which the Cubs have no problem doing. Passan adds that interest in Pujols MLB-wide is a bit thin in part due to that perception.

But, what if it's real? Or, what if Pujols does a 1-year contract somewhere, but not with the Cards, as I speculated earlier, and signs that 1-year deal elsewhere in part to show that he'll move, he's serious, etc.?

November 29, 2011

#OWS: Reformers vs utopians

Excellent Charlie Rose episode Tuesday night, with the first segment being about Occupy Wall Street: A reporter from NY Mag said there's a radical utopian wing (think Adbusters) and a radical reformer wing (think European social democrats here in America). I've not phrased it that way, but my blogging on that issue falls exactly on those lines. My critiques of segments within OWS has been about the radical utopian wing, while pushing to strengthening the radical reformer wing, with actual, and transparent leadership, formulation of specific ideas, etc.

That said, a note to the radical utopian wing, per previous blogging. If you do want to overthrow the current structure, your utopian ideas about structureless society are simply wrong. So, what NEW structure do you, or will you, propose to replace the current one after it collapses, or you should collapse it?

The NY Mag reporter went on to compare this, in possible political impact, to 1968, and how the antiwar movement wound up hurting Humphrey, noting the Occupy movement could hurt Obama, either by undercutting the enthusiasm of 2008 or pushing away independents.

Knowing Obama, I know he'll take his gamble on being hurt by the true left rather than independent voters.

Meanwhile, the New York Review reporter on the show said that Obama might be partially dinged by 16 years (yes, Clinton as well as Bush) of diminution of the office of the president. That might be a bit possible, but, Obama had the biggest victory since old man Bush in 1988, arguably, and had something on which to build, and failed.

Meanwhile, the still-stagnant economy will likely play some action in how Obama (speaking of Clinton) tries to "triangulate" off of Occupy Wall Street.

Anyway, go to PBS and find the link. It's good stuff.

Cain's fall, Newt's rise, tea party stupidity

I would agree with National Journal that if Herman Cain bows out of the GOP race, Newt Gingrich benefits most (and Mitt Romney suffers most).

Tea partier stupidity? The article says Newt is their favorite among those in the race. Not Cain, though he runs a close second. And not Bachmann, either.

Even before Newt's brazen lies about how much Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac paid him, and why, it was clear that the man's a brazen creature of Washington, an almost perfect caricature of a conservative twin of Tip O'Neill.

And, actually, beyond that, the rise of Newt means the real political winner is ... again, Barack Obama. And, the real political loser is sensible voters like you and I.

Speaking of Dear Leader, another article notes that he could take a page from former Calif. Gov. Gray Davis and try to pick his opponent, though he would have to proceed more carefully at the federal level. Again, from the point of view of political chess games, I agree. Or, Team Obama could try to split the bet by subtly pushing Newt, but also, say, Perry, the only other candidate in the race with a realistic shot at winning.

Obama caught trying to have his religious cake and eat it too

I rarely link to conservative websites, but since The Daily Caller has video from a campaign speech Obama gave for a Democrat, Representative-to-be Patrick Murphy, in 2006, I don't have a problem doing that.

The Daily Caller is making a big deal out of how Obama admitted "stealing" the line, "The Audacity of Hope," from Rev. Jeremiah Wright. To me, that's nothing,a throaway.

The key, instead, is that, at this time, he says he rarely goes to church there. Now, in my blogging in 2008 about how Obama struggled to distance himself from Wright's politically incendiary, but sometimes perceptive, heated sermonizing, I said I suspected that's why Obama hadn't done "oppo research" on Wright -- he'd been such a rare churchgoer he'd missed most of this.

Where we actually are is confirmation of hypocrisy. Before Wright became a problem, but when Obama's middle name and alleged non-Christianity WERE problems, he repeatedly talked about making a commitment to Jesus and praising him, etc., all via the church and leadership of Wright.

Now, 15 years ago, maybe that was true. But, by 2006, or even 2004, it seems that commitment had ... faded.

At the same time, you have a president more liberal than Bush, at least, who has "doubled down" on faith-based initiatives. All trying to play the "religiosity card" in today's America, even if he forgot that during his Thanksgiving Tweets.

Facebook admits to "playing around with you"

Marky Mark Zuckerberg has FINALLY agreed to a privacy rights settlement with the Federal Trade Commission. The Facebook founder officially admits to doing what we all know he's been doing: changing privacy setting and other things on accounts without user permission. So, maybe you or I don't read those terms of service agreements, but, in some cases, the people who write them just ignore them.

Coming on top of the FTC's settlement with Google last year, over Buzz, this is good news for all of us. And, while it doesn't go so far as to view social networking (or the Internet in general) as a quasi-utility, multiple settlements set some sort of precedent.

DON'T throw a #TARP over the #Eurozone

Stop me if you've heard this before:
If (it) fails, bank lending would freeze, stock markets would likely crash, and ... economies would crater. Nations ... could see their economic output fall temporarily by as much as X percent, according to ... forecasters. The financial and economic pain would spread west and east as (Europe) and Asia get ensnared in the credit freeze and their exports ... collapse.
Oh, yeah, October 2008. Wall Street's collapse was going to destroy America.

Only now, the Eurozone's collapse is going to destroy Europe.

Of course, Wall Street wasn't allowed to collapse.

BUT, while I don't agree with tea partiers about not having acted in 2008, as well as disagreeing with the idea of running a nation without some sort of central banking system, it's clear that the no-strings TARP "cure" for Wall Street wasn't a cure for the American economy in general, either in 2008 or 2001.

So, let's hope that Western Europe's version of paper-pushing technocrats attaches some strings to Eurozone reform. If Greece needs the boot, then boot it. If the European Central Bank, or the degree of "federalism" emanating from Brussels, needs to be strengthened, then strengthen it. And, if member nations can't agree to that, then wind down the Eurozone.

We probably could have "wound down" Wall Street, too, if its kleptocrats refused to accept tight strings as part of TARP. Unfortunately, the corruption of mainstream bipartisan American politicians, including in having deliberately reduced shareholders' power to sue corporate boards, meant that the wind-down option here in America wasn't that viable. A Darwinian Goldman Sachs and JPMorganChase likely would have survived. A vulture-like low-feeding George Soros would have repeated his 1998 international exploits on an even grander scale.

That said, because Europe's crisis is in part a monetarist crisis, or so it seems, failure to achieve a good resolution one way or the other probably will enable the Soroses of the world even more than the Goldman Sachses.

At the same time, because the Eurozone "project" isn't the same as the U.S., the whispered-about possible cataclysm isn't likely, should Eurozone ministers "fail."

I actually see the current crisis as worse, from the financial world POV, and from member nations' POV, than the U.S. debt supercommission, but not as serious as TARP. Germany IS too big to fail. The U.K., which has problems enough of its own, is outside the Eurozone. The Netherlands is fine. If push comes to shove, for France, Nicolas Sarkozy will perform financial cunnilingus on Angela Merkel, if necessary, to bind Gaul that tightly to the Deutschland. Both Euro and non-Euro parts of Scandanavia are doing well, too, as is Switzerland.

That all said, per my one poll on the left, it is indeed possible that the combined European Union economy, including Eurozone and non-Eurozone members, will fall behind the U.S. as a result. It is even vaguely possible that the EU, not just the Eurozone, could at least "reformulate," if not break up.

And, maybe it needs to.

Just don't throw a TARP over it.

If nothing else, maybe the U.S. can still teach Europe a thing or two -- about what not to do.

Are you living your life well?

Normally, between his "boboes" and misreporting of middle-class America through there eyes, and his generally bland, droning, mind-numbing version of "moderate conservativism," a little David Brooks goes a long way for me.

But, then, he does something like this.

In one of his columns, he asked readers over the age of 70 to send him "life reports" -- autobiographical essays about their own lives.


He has a webpage with two-three paragraph summaries of each, with individual essays expandable by clickable links. It's worth a read, and, while allowing for his own distilled observation that too much rumination can be bad, a bit of it isn't so bad.

Even if you don't agree with the idea of Brooks asking each respondent to grade himself or herself, or the particular grades they issue on themselves, or the subject-matter basis of their grades, but that, too, seems to be part of the story of their stories.

November 28, 2011

Now in print: The Bell Curve 2.0 reviewed

You may have thought Charles Murray was somnolent, in a quasi-academic back room of the American Enterprise Institute. And, how wrong you would be. (Reposted Nov. 28, 2011 due to Sully, on the sad-but serious side, being unable to avoid putting his foot in his mouth on race-intelligence issues. See below for details.)

For the past several years, Murray has been working on a shocking sequel to his shocking-enough book about race and intelligence, “The Bell Curve.”

Murray worked on the book from two angles, both designed to try to refute his critics, who said he woefully underestimated environmental influences of various types on expressions of intelligence, as well as the class-based structure of common IQ tests.

Murray’s first angle was to look at class and intelligence. Believing that America is still today a relatively classless society, he decided to go to the most class-based Western nation he could find — Great Britain. To “blind” his analysis, he decided to look at people moving from class-based Great Britain to the United States.

Murray’s second angle was to analyze people from a clearly genetically-controlled population, one readily definable and not subject to social changed. For a man not afraid of controversy, homosexuals made an ideal population group.

Looking at homosexuals moving from Great Britain to the United States, with a focus on intelligence, Murray naturally had Andrew Sullivan squarely in his cross-hairs.

Of course, a reputable researcher would recognize a huge conflict of interest was involved since Sullivan, when editor of The New Republic, forced his broadly and highly supportive view of Murray’s “blacks are naturally dumb” thesis down the throat of TNR editorial staff, eventually coming close to wrecking the magazine before, ironically, seeing it become a breeding ground of neoconservative bedbugs, known to constantly crawl over Sullivan’s later foreign-policy commentary.

No matter.

Murray thought he could attain more than sufficient detachment to continue the study. And he did.

To the point of producing results that stunned him.

An outside observer probably could have told Murrray, based on Sullivan’s uncritical TNR support of his original book, just how uniquely and self-blindly stupid Sullivan could be at times.

But, Murray wasn’t convinced until his own studies showed him Sully was more self-delusionally stupid than anything Murray thought he had shown about blacks in “The Bell Curve.”

And, you, my friends, see pictured at left the published results of Murray’s latest and greatest research.

And, the first conservative critic in agreement with Murray has now weighed in, his blogging, with link, is wrapped inside of my analysis.

First excerpts from the book are available here.

UPDATE, Nov. 28, 2011: Jokes aside, Sully is still, apparently, a full-on racialist. Ta-Nehesi Coates has a roundup of reaction to his pseudointellectual bigotry.

No, Andrew, there is NO "pc egalitarian conspiracy" to hide allegations, which are not true, that blacks are, on average and due to genes, intellectually inferior. And, I have the feeling that the postdoctoral researcher who makes these claims has shot his academic career dead, unless racialist ringleader J. Philippe Rushton gets a position for him at the University of Western Ontario.

Meanwhile, Gawker has a great, and hilarious, Sully racialist timeline.

Anyway, given Sully's original support for The Bell Curve, and his laughably wrong claims about the goals of scientific research, it's clear this is no "slip." He was a racialist, and still is. He's just trying to be a kinder, gentler an oilier, more slippery one than Murray, let alone Rushton.

Therefore, this is why I never cite or link to Sully as an "enemy of my enemy" type person on the occasional times he wanders off the reservation of his high-church British version of conservative orthodoxy. Don't be fooled by appearances. And, sometimes, "the enemy of my enemy" is not my friend, or even a "fellow traveler"; rather, his trail is just, for the moment, less than 100 percent perpendicular to yours.

The "branding"of #OWS or #OccupyWallStreet by #Adbusters

Or, I should more precisely say, the branding of #OccupyWallStreet.

The New York Times has a good story about Adbusters founder Kalle Lasn and the "branding" of Occupy Wall Street, including his invention of that Twitter hashtag (the spelled-out version) back in July.

It has other insights with which I agree:
He has also been accused of playing off the image-oriented culture that dominates advertising, instead of rejecting it outright. But Mr. Lasn said he believed in the power of media to subvert traditional power structures. 

“If you’re able to come up with a very sexy sounding hash tag like we did for Occupy Wall Street, and you come up with a very magical looking poster that seems to have something very profound about it, these devices push these memes, these meta memes, into the public imagination in a very powerful way,” he said.
I'd agree with the accusations. In fact, it's precisely that insight that parallels mine from 15 years ago.

I agree even more with the following insight:
Some critics contend that Mr. Lasn believes his work is more influential than it is. 

“There’s nothing wrong with making fun of ads, but it’s not revolutionary,” said Joseph Heath, a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto, who wrote critically of Adbusters in a 2004 book, “Nation of Rebels.” “I don’t think that has revolutionary political implications, whereas Adbusters thinks it has revolutionary implications.” 

“If you want to do politics,” Professor Heath added, “you have to do good old-fashioned politics.”
That said, the story goes on to note that Heath says Adbusters is now doing politics. Well, it did have its "one demand," of a Robin Hood tax of some sort. And a couple other pretty important ones, like repealing Glass-Steagall.

But, there's nothing "revolutionary" about any of that. Plenty of liberal to left-liberal types had been calling for that even before the 2008 collapse. People like me.

And, Lasn's talk about "memes" sounds like more postmodernism of some sort.
“This is what Adbusters has done for the past 20 years, to come up with these memes and to propagate them,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about: may the best memes win.”
The reality, as Apple commercials show, is that the "best" memes, in the branding world, often do NOT win. Whether Lasn is naive, self-delusional, or what, I'm not sure.

That said, I'm glad he says he doesn't want a leadership role, because the movement needs better leadership. And, per Mr. Heath, it needs leadership willing to engage in political nuts-and-bolts work.

And maybe Lasn recognizes that to claim leadership would be hypocritical given the anarchist nature of a fair amount of early .. er ... leaders of OWS. If not hypocritical, ironic to the point of petard-hoisting. Which is kind of where I think the "leaderless" part of Occupy's self-branding is at in general.

November 27, 2011

#OWS had leaders - let's stop the BS mythmaking

Thanks to reader/online friend Sheldon pointing out a new article on Adbusters' role in Occupy Wall Street, that much is clear:
In theory, the job of facilitating the meetings rotated among the eighty or so attendees. In practice, facilitation fell to a much smaller set of people who had experience with the general-assembly process. The leaderless movement was developing leaders. ...


David Graeber, a fifty-year-old professor at the University of London and an anarchist theorist who helped facilitate the first meeting ... Graeber was among this first rank of equals, as was Marisa Holmes, a twenty-five-year-old anarchist and filmmaker. ...
Despite the movement’s taboo on leaders, many in this group had accrued a sort of power. “Marisa is a quiet leader,” Marina Sitrin, an occasional facilitator and the author of a book about horizontalism in Argentina, says.
Also confirmed, apparently, is the anarchist nature of the Adbusters' wing of OWS. So, it's not that demands are antithetical to its style of organization as much as what demands it might want. Anarchists can and do make demands.
Like most of Occupy Wall Street’s core organizers, P. is an anarchist, meaning that he is “dedicated to the eradication of any unjust or illegitimate system. At the very least, that means the eradication of capitalism and the state.” He does not smash bank windows, though he said that he does not necessarily disapprove of people who do.
And, while not a demand, a desire to get rid of the state is a pretty big issue.

And, replace it with what? Hobbes' pre-civilization "war of all against all"? Or anarchist bullshit about all of us living in a Rousellian "state of nature"? And that without the benefits, as well as the drawbacks, of civilization.

Hey, you want "state of nature," fine. Live without private property. Soon, like Leninist Russia, you'll find you have "leaders." Or else, like "The Gods Must be Crazy," you'll start arguing over a Coke bottle.

And, if you want a pre-agricultural "state of nature," which 90 percent of you are volunteering to die, since that's about the earth's pre-agricultural carrying capacity?

But, back to the leadership angle.

OWS has a "tactical committee," we read. More "insiders" making decisions for others, myths of fingers silently turned up or down notwithstanding. Other committees are described.

And, no, a mass social movement isn't like creative different versions of Linux. Bad analogy.

Leadership can be more horizontal or more vertical without being at either absolute pole. I welcome a social movement that is truly progressive in nature and relatively horizontal in structure, while nonetheless having leadership - and leadership that is more transparent and more organized than what Adbusters appears to offer.

I think many non-anarchists whose left-leaning politics go beyond "Daily Show" levels of true progressive thought would likely agree. A few additional thoughts below the fold.

Men on Mars: Why it won't happen soon

Wikipedia has an entry entitled "Manned mission to Mars." Since I started writing my thoughts independently of looking at it, I'm going by what I have written, with brief references to it.

Shorter take? Illustrations of such a trip look great, don't they? Well, drool away, because those illustrations are about as close as we're getting in your lifetime or mine to landing people on Mars, in my opinion.

There's three main reasons why that image is all we'll be seeing in the foreseeable future. They're called space psychology, space safety and space engineering.

And, most of those are connected with the idea that, at minimum, we're talking 1.5 years of travel, with distances far greater than lunar travel. And, the low-fuel journey, for one-quarter of what the "fast" trip takes, involves 2.8 years, more than half of that on Mars.

This will tax engineering, certainly tax human psychology, and without massive advances in shielding from cosmic rays, will kill astronauts -- not on the actual trip, but more surely, and with at least as much life reduction on average, as smoking two packs of Camels a day.

In short, until we address all of this, we're not even close to sending a manned mission to Mars. We're at least 30 years away, in my opinion, and that's plenty of time for improvements in robotics in particular, and unmanned spaceflight in general, to push that timeline back even further.

Details on the "why" of all of this below the fold, updated to reflect how NASA's current manned mission planning is woefully inadequate, starting with the spacecraft.


"Arguably" very good overall but not great

ArguablyArguably by Christopher Hitchens

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Five stars for the content, four to four-plus for what is revealed about Hitchens.

Many of the essays in here are great. On matters religious, Hitchens postulates that Ben Franklin was an atheist, not a deist, that Lincoln was even more skeptical about organized religion than has been portrayed in the past and other things.

Much of this comes from reviews of books from various magazines. I read most of these, though skipping a few about modern British authors.

His take on Gore Vidal is great; Vidal was, indeed, "all that" until 9/11, when he went in the "truther" bin, among other things.

That said, some of his essays are clunkers, and others reflect that Hitch refuses to shine the light of logic on his own positions at times.

Take his continued "bleeding heart" stance on behalf of the Kurds, and using this to justify Bush's invasion of Iraq. Well, in all of his American reading, I'm sure he's heard the old phrase, "You dance with them what brung you." How he can excoriate Bush in other posts (yet not understand how this could, even without other evidence, fuel some "Truthers") yet defend not just an invasion of Iraq in the abstract but by George W. Bush is one of those places where logic and self-awareness fail him. (As does Realpolitik; he does mention that Kurds are a higher percentage of the population in Turkey than in either Iraq or Iran, but won't admit that the PKK is a terrorist group, nor will he wrestle with what a Greater Kurdistan might cause in the larger Middle East.)

And, he can erect the occasional straw man. Like Sam Harris, he now seems to believe that all left liberals are ethical relativists who won't "stand up to Islam." He raises this canard in his essay on Ayaan Hirsi Ali's "Infidel," claiming first that, and second that many said left-liberals have gone on to call her a fundamentalist.

No, Hitch, we've taken her to task for going to bed with the same neocons you have. If there's been more essays of this nature in the book, it would have gotten downgraded a star. Or more.



View all my reviews

Are atheists more charitable? Maybe, maybe not

I was kind of sorry to see Skeptic's Dictionary author/editor Bob Carroll to post a link to a site that made that claim on less-than-rigorous evidence.
Atheists, non-believers, secular humanists, skeptics—the whole gamut of the godless have emerged in recent years as inarguably the most generous benefactors on the globe. 
Inarguable, eh? It would be one thing, and possibly bad enough, to say that was an arguable claim. But, to say it's inarguable is even worse. The site goes on.
The current most charitable individuals in the United States, based on “Estimated Lifetime Giving,” are:
1) Warren Buffett (atheist, donated $40.785 billion to “health, education, humanitarian causes”) 2) Bill & Melinda Gates (atheists, donated $27.602 billion to “global health and development, education”) 3) George Soros (atheist, donated $6.936 billion to “open and democratic societies”)
A century ago, one of the USA’s leading philanthropists was Andrew Carnegie, atheist.
Sorry, but, this sounds like cherry-picking. Picking out the top couple of individuals, and noting their religious belief, is different than general research polling. Gates and Buffett are the two richest people in America, as well as being atheists. (If they are. Many "famous atheist" websites either don't have them or list them as agnostic.) Beyond that, and also per the post, there are relatively few "secular" aid charities, so a place like Kiva will likely attract a higher concentration of secularists. It's no big deal for secularists to outraise Christians there. Similar might be true at a place like The Heifer Project.

Arthur Brooks, at Hoover, claims the religious are more charitable even to non-religious charities. However, Ilya Somin at the Volokh Conspiracy shoots down his methodology.

Some people like Brooks claim that the religious invest more time in charities, too. Well, religious, or non-religious but moral-based charities (like pro-life groups) expect that. Certainly, explicitly religious groups do.

This all said, the little I can find on this question to "settle" it one way or the other.

Of course, that gets back to the link Bob Carroll posted. Since there is little evidence one way or the other, it's an unsupported claim. And, per the comment below, and knowing that Bob Carroll IS a good skeptic and is NOT a Gnu Atheist, I don't know why he posted this link in the first place.

UPDATE, Dec. 12: Moneybombing one particular charity is another reason we should be wary of claiming atheists are more charitable than the religious. From networked atheists deciding whom to moneybomb, an unscientific poll, being selective about charities, follows like clockwork.

If moneybombs really meant anything, Ron Paul would have been elected President three years ago. And, per the story being reposted on Facebook, I'm surprised to see that even non-Gnu atheists who also identify themselves as skeptics "liked" the post.