SocraticGadfly: 12/4/11 - 12/11/11

December 10, 2011

#Whatsinyourwallet Mitt? Maybe more than the #DNC

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Critiquing the "top 50 atheists"

Via a Facebook friend, I saw this list of 50 top atheists, listed in part for influence and "seriousness." Comments of a critical nature (meant in the journalistic sense) are hereby offered about a few of them, based on their numeric ranking in the list. In some cases, my comment is a critique of the website more than the person

50. David Silverman. Until American Atheists' president officially disclaims its Muslim-bashing tendencies, he tars a lot of the Gnu Atheist movement. I'll pass on liking him.
46. P.Z. Myers. Isn't it a bit ego-deflating to only be No. 46, P.Z.?
43. Michael Newdow. He might have had a case on general principles, but he had a case for provoking revulsion on general principles by exploiting a child. Sue over an invocation at a city council meeting rather than the Pledge of Allegiance at your daughter's school, especially when you're a divorced parent who isn't primary custodian.
42. Greta Christina. Just.No. Were I Chris Hitchens, you'd get a boatload of snark of various sorts, including, were I Snitchens, some of it gender-based. But, I'm not Hitchens, for which I'm thankful.
41. Ophelia Benson. Hypocrite, for a reason which I'll show by quoting from her blurb on the website: "(B)est known for editing the atheist web site Butterflies and Wheels (the title refers to Alexander Pope’s counsel against rhetorical overkill, “Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?”)." This Gnu has broken plenty a butterfly in the name of Gnu Atheism.
30. Ray Kurzweil. Wrong. Not him (though he IS wrong), but the website, which says: "(H)is ideas are the logical extension of premises most atheists share." Totally untrue statement. Most atheists don't share most of his ideas and there's no logical extension from them to him, either.
26. Jennifer Michael Hecht. She teaches WRITING at Columbia? Her book "Doubt" has a number of its vs it's errors and other grammatical problems. The atheist Peter Principle at play. I did learn about Eastern "doubt" from her book, but, it could have been better in other ways, too.
24. Jerry Coyne. Opposed on general Gnu grounds.
23. Robert Wright. A one-trick pony as an author; "The Evolution of God" would have been bad enough without him trying to shoehorn other ideas inside that of his non-zero-sum games theory.
22. Richard Carrier. Deserves kudos as being the probable leader in the latest "nonhistoricity of Jesus" studies. I await his new book.
20. Steve Pinker. Pop Ev Psycher. And, I think his influence as an atheist is overrated by this website's ranking.
15. David Sloane Wilson. Someday, more group selection ideas will get better reception. He's a creative thinker.
13. Sam Harris. Just.Shoot.Me. But, first, lock him in a room with a couple of Iranian ayatollahs or something.
10. Christopher Hitchens. I've said plenty about him, the good, the bad and the ugly, elsewhere.
8. Steven Weinberg. A salute for an existentialist atheist outlook on life.
5. Dan Dennett. Didn't you used to be insightful, before you started recycling all your own shit? Daniel Wegner and others have WAY surpassed you in theorizing about consciousness. And, evolution is NOT algorithmic.
2. Kai Nielsen. A grand old man of modern atheism.
1. Peter Singer. WTF? He may be the world's most influential animal rights activist; he is NOT the most influential or most important atheist. Not even close.

Finally, it may miss entirely the person who could be the world's most influential atheist.

If, as I think may well be correct, the Dalai Lama doesn't believe in any of the gods or demons of some types of Tibetan Buddhism, then he's an atheist. Now, as a believer in reincarnation, he's still a metaphysician, and he's obviously religious. BUT, if I'm correct in my guess, he is nonetheless an atheist.

And indeed more influential than anybody on this list, in all likelihood.

Interesting that this was posted on a website for evaluating college choices. I'd be skeptical of some of their recommendations there, going by this.

In the third #CO2 corner in Durban, it's India, with climate #deniers

Will we finally, potentially, get a handle on Chinese emissions?/NY Times
That's the latest word from the Durban, South Africa climate talks: New Delhi wants to water down a seemingly watered-down "agreement" even further, one that seems to have brought China and the U.S. at least baby steps closer together. Here's the key point:
India is emerging as the country leading opposition to a strong binding deal on climate change at the annual UN talks in South Africa.
Other important countries including the US are prepared to negotiate an emission-curbing "legal instrument" by 2015, taking effect by 2020.
India is holding out for a start after 2020, and the weaker "legal outcome."
 My guess? India thinks it won't be able to catch up to China enough on industrialization by 2020. This from a country that shows the disorganization perils of democracy for more than 1 billion people, that adds to those perils with a level of corruption that probably, on a petty scale, at least, rides well above China's, and still has the semi-official, climate-harming goal, of passing China in population, and preferably sooner rather than later.

In short, it's a country that, towards Beijing, has a kinder, gentler form of the same sort of paranoia that Pakistan shows toward it.

It's true that papering over disagreements between China and America may turn out to be nothing other than kicking the can down the road five years. But, if there's a glimmer of hope that China (and Brazil) are agreeable to being treated as "top-tier developing nations" and not just "developing nations," with a plea for more time to work out details, then that is progress of some sort.

And, it's clear that even that is unacceptable to some denialists, big business interests or somebody:
What delayed matters further was a fake text issued apparently by the South African presidency after consultation with the EU, US, Brazil, India and China.
It contained weaker targets and longer timescales, and was initially greeted with consternation by the EU, Aosis and the LDCs, which have been pressing hardest for a strong deal.
The consternation turned to fury when it was discovered that the text was fake. European officials said it appeared to be a deliberate attempt to stall negotiations.
The perpetrator has not been identified. But it appears likely that the aim was to fracture the ad-hoc partnership between the EU and its developing world allies.
Meanwhile, beyond paranoia over China, it seems India wants to have its cake, of acting like it's a top-tier developing nation, and eat it, too, by still trying to act like "just a developing nation."

Well, a lot of China's economic growth may be little more than bubbles; its population control may have been too harsh, and its limited political liberalization may be largely unacceptable within its borders to its own residents as well as outside, but, it's showing a level of activity India isn't.

That said, the proposed agreement may be little more than papering over issues and kicking the can of U.S.-Chinese loggerheads down the road. Perhaps that's why U.S. climate negotiator Todd Stern is so supportive of it.
Speakers from many developed countries said the package of documents more than 100 pages thick did not go far enough to help poor nations and did not require industrial countries to make more immediate and serious cuts in their carbon emissions. But most said they would accept it for lack of a better option. ...

A separate document obliges major developing nations like China and India, excluded under Kyoto, to accept legally binding emissions targets in the future, by 2020 at the latest.

Together, the two documents overhaul a system designed 20 years ago that divide the world into a handful of wealthy countries facing legal obligations to reduce emissions, and the rest of the world which could undertake voluntary efforts to control carbon.
I have blogged going back at least two international climate conferences that the world needed a three-tiered, not two-tiered, set of nations, with "top-level developing nations" considered separate from the Botswanas and similar countries.
Now, we tentatively have it. Let's see both China and the United States grow up in climate change responsibility, and see India stop engaging in its new-found petulance.

It's regrettable that it took at least one, if not two, additional climate conferences than it should have to get even this much done, but the realist part of me will take it, even if it takes until 2020 to define what the in-between BRICs and others will have to meet in terns of emissions targets.

Another advantage of that is that, assuming China agrees to said targets, is it stops dirtier U.S. businesses from exporting quite so much pollution.

More thoughts below the fold.

#Pujols wears a Halo: #Stlcards fans, team try to adapt

OK, it's officially official, no photoshopping needed. I didn't link his FB page, for those who don't follow it, but did a screen grab of ESPN video from the Los Angeles Angeles of Anaheim and Ticket Turnstiles introducing Albert Pujols today. He's a Angel.

Fans, and fan bloggers, are trying to deal with this in various ways.

On the on-the-field side, one suggests standing pat. Bad idea. With Allan Craig out for some time, things hopeful but not guaranteed on Adam Wainwright, the injury history of Chris Carpenter and all of us still somewhat unsure of just what Jaime Garcia's ceiling is, doing nothing, especially on the batting side (the pitching side is deep and has plenty of prospects in the minors) is not an option.

What IS? Well, Jimmy Rollins is likely to stay in Philly. And, if he wants five years, isn't the answer anyway. Carlos Beltran actually might be, but ... only if the base contract is no more than two years, unless a three-year contract is cheap. If he wants any big money, I wouldn't do it for more than two years. (I'm OK with one, even two, option years.)

Smart could have been resigning Rafael Furcal. Dumb is resigning him ... at $14M for two years. If you're going to nickel-and-dime on Pujols, then you shouldn't waste some of the saved nickels on another contract that's iffy. (Of course, that means Rollins is officially out of the picture now.)

Per Yahoo's free-agent tracker, Michael Cuddyer is another option. So is Josh Willingham. Maybe Jason Kubel. Ryan Ludwick? Only if cheap.

And, that's the bottom line. Pay low where warranted. Look ahead to next year's free agents if you recognize this year is a "gap plugging" year. But, don't insult Cards' fans intelligence by doing nothing, on the one hand, or making cheap bad deals on the other.

Next, by June, wrap up Yadier Molina. Anything reasonable for a great defensive and pitch-calling catcher with a reasonable bat in a pitcher-friendly ballpark is worth it.

Oh, and by the end of 2012, figure out what David Freese is worth, determine if he can avoid nagging injury, and wrap him up for at least the medium term. Determine how healthy Waino is by the end of 2012, too, and see if you can't wrap him up now. But, don't try to lowball him, either.

Off the field? Threatening the Pujols statue? Giving Cards jerseys away for free? Dumb. Move on. But, give yourself some honest reflections, too. This list of Pujols first and lasts as a Redbird is a good starting point.

At the same time, I'm willing to agree, whether from Post-Dispatch insider Bernie Miklasz or SI's Jeff Pearlman, a Pujols ax-grinder, that Pujols was a "load." He did, per the World Series game 2 incident, get "La Russa good old boy" treatment. He was a prima donna. Some of his claimed religiosity may be hypocritical, or at least self-serving.

"I'm Rick Perry and ... "

Having seen the "Strong" video and a few parodies, I'm going to riff on some words-only parodies of my own.

1. I'm Rick Perry and I'm a "top."
2. I'm Rick Perry and I'm a "bottom."
3. I'm Rick Perry now; soon, I'll be Melanie Perry.
4. I'm Rick Perry, you're not, and you're probably glad as hell.
5. I'm Rick Perry, and you should know three things about me. I'm Republican, I'm governor, and, and, and ... dammit, what was No. 3?
6. I'm Rick Perry, but I play Kay Bailey Hutchison on TV.
7. I'm Rick Perry, and I'm running for sexual spymaster.
8. I'm Rick Perry; don't let Roger Williams see this gay-bashing ad. Tell him I'll make it up to him later.

And, in a case of poetic justice mixed with wingnut idiocy and moral blindness, apparently a gay Jew, Aaron Copeland, wrote the music for Perry's ad.

The actual important elections since 1860

Contra one Newton Gingrich, who claims the current election is the most important since 1860, there are several others that stand in front of this one. (Though that's not to say this one is unimportant.)

Obviously, four years later, 1864 was more important. Gen. McClellen might, as Lincoln feared, have undone the Emancipation Proclamation.

After that, none of the elections for the rest of the 19th century were that important. One, 1876, was certainly controversial. But, since Democrat Tilden would have ended Reconstruction had he won, it wasn't that important in its results.

1912 might stand as the next truly important election. Wilson, standing for a quasi-Progressivism filtered through Democratic orthodoxy, beat out TR, standing for a quasi-Progressivism filtered through ... TR. Taft was in the dust. Debs drew decently as the truly progressive Socialist candidate. More importantly than any of this, though, arguably was TR hijacking truer non-socialist progressivism of LaFollette and others.

I won't call 1932 that important, really. FDR was clearly going to win. It was important in what he did while winning, so, it was important in that way, of course.

Next? 1948. Had Dewey won, and had coattails to keep a GOP Congress in place, more of the New Deal would have been undone. Less Fair Deal would have been enacted. Armed forces desegregation might have waited years. Had Henry Wallace been FDR's Veep in 1944, would Dewey had won a three-way race, assuming Thurmond still bolting the Dems?

Next? 1960. But NOT for the Camelot myth. Rather, we got the only president to have an inaugural address 100 percent devoted to foreign policy, one who ramped up the Cold War and many other things.

Next? 1980, of course. But, paired with it, 1976. Carter truly parlayed his "outsider" claim to the hilt in 1976, but, it was real enough that his frayed relations with a Democratic Congress hurt him even before the Iranian hostage crisis.

Actually, in many years, primaries have been more important than general elections.

1864: Lincoln accepting necessity, the alleged necessity of War Democrat Andrew Johnson as his Veep.

1896: Bryan watering down Populism through the filter of Democratic orthodoxy. See Wilson in 1912. On the GOP side, "Czar" Reed refusing to stoop to the level of McKinley/Hanna.

1912: The Taft-TR fight.

1932: The last Democratic primary with the two-thirds rule, which forced FDR to accept Garner as his No. 2.

1944: The Democratic Veep fight.

1952: Tricky Dick Nixon undercutting Calif. Gov. Earl Warren's chances against Ike in exchange for the Veep slot.

1976: The Ford-Reagan battle, and myriad Democrats fighting to take on a wounded Ford.

'Czar' Reed done a disservice

Mr. Speaker!: The Life and Times of Thomas B. Reed The Man Who Broke the Filibuster Mr. Speaker!: The Life and Times of Thomas B. Reed The Man Who Broke the Filibuster by James Grant

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Cut it one-third and it would be better. Cut that another one-third and add some new stuff and it would be better yet.

James Grant, founder of Grant's Interest Rate Review, adds little to any in-depth understanding of one of our seminal Speakers of the House, Thomas B. "Czar" Reed.

He DOES, though, take the Panic of 1873 and the Panic of 1893 to repeatedly give discourses on monetarism, the gold standard, bimetallism, etc., almost as if he were a kinder, gentler, more academic Ron Paul speaking to the world of today.

Beyond that, Grant buys the "historical party line" on McKinley, a McKinley who in reality was looking to annex the Philippines from the time of his inauguration.

I wasn't thoroughly disappointed, but, I wasn't much more than that, either.

Reed needs a better, more comprehensive account than this, and one that looks at this history of his times in their own right, rather than a cheap didactic sounding board.

View all my reviews

Oh, and I have noticed that Amazon has officially killed its "classic review" ranking. I figured that two months ago, but "nice" of Jeff Bezos, aka Steve Jobs Jr., not to tell people like me.

December 09, 2011

Cat, meet New Ager

I'm sure at least a few of you have heard by now about Daniel, the cat with 26 toes.

Here's the part of the story I "love":
"I've always been a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and this is definitely the case," said Amy Rowell, owner of Milwaukee Animal Rescue Center in Greendale.
Other than to say that, in this case, the "reason" was genetic mutation, in all likelihood, followed by possibly epigenetic mutation, no further comment is needed, or warranted.

This then gets to issues of Gnu Atheism vs. secular humanism. I'd not go out of my way to prick Ms. Rowell's bubble, but, had she said that to a group of which I was a party, I would have either made the serious comment above in a sarcastic voice, or else asked the sarcastic rhetorical question, "And the reason was?"

Assuming she answered "god" or "higher power" or whatever, I would then disabuse her of that. Or disabuse her of the idea that was a rational thought.

And, I can catblog instead of scatblog on a Friday!

Back to ground zero on Texas redistricting

SCOTUS says the federal district court should have taken GOP mapping into account. (Corrected blog below; it's SCOTUS, not the original court, doing the hearing.)

A new hearing is set for Jan. 9, by the nine in black.

So, should we expect a delayed primary? And, wouldn't that affect the presidential primary, too?

I would think the Supreme Court would be able to give a more-than-cursory glance, address the discrimination claims-related issues, hopefully stand with lower courts on findings of discrimination, make some halfway concessions in a few districts, wrap up its ruling in appropriate language, and get that all done in a week. Nonetheless, between that, and appeals, we are probably looking at a push-back to later than March 6.

And, since the Supremes decided to hear all the redistricting cases themselves, rather than remanding them, the hoped-for resolution in the above paragraph is not anywhere near being guaranteed. 

Much more here from Scotusblog, which notes there's little precedent to wonder how this will play out. Will SCOTUS draw new maps itself? Tell the three-judge district panel to do that? Entertain a special session of the Lege, even? Who knows.

And, assuming Texas doesn't want the expense of two primary dates, it could have presidential repercussions, depending on who all is left and how close the race is. Would the state do a split primary system instead?

Obama: Jobless could hit 8%

That's the claim Dear Leader will make on "60 Minutes" Sunday, according to CBS transcript excerpts.

How realistic is this? With what caveats? And, what would that mean for his re-election?

The last first.

No-brainer against a wingnut. Solid winning odds against a Romney, unless the Mittster actually shows some creativity somewhere.

Now, the first and second.questions.

It's moderately realistic. If hopes get up, more people who have removed themselves from job hunting will get back in the game. My guess? September 2010 will be at 8.2 or 8.3 percent. Still improvement. Some increase in hope. Obama will take it and, of course, spin it.

Speaking of "spin," how much of this will be in the interview?
“For individual Americans, who are struggling right now, they have every reason to be impatient. Reversing structural problems in our economy that have been building up for two decades, that was going to take time. It was going to take more than a year. It was going to take more than two years. It was going to take more than one term. Probably takes more than one president.”
Reversing structural problems? This from the man who has given the back of his hand to Occupy Wall Street? From the president who rejected calls for direct jobs programs as part of his stimulus package? From the health care president who let insurers write much of Obamacare? Not to mention the man who's repeatedly caved to Republicans. AND, the president who thinks more people going to college is the answer when, in many cases, we have a glut of college grads right now.


The caveats? I mentioned one already, more people looking for work again. Others include the eurozone and oil prices. I think the economy can still limp on at up to $110/bbl, but not above that.

That, in turn gets back to what many Peak Oil watchers have been saying, that whenever the whole world seems to start to ramp up at once, it gets tripped up again by surging oil prices.

So, Obama's re-election prospects are in the hands of OPEC, followed by China and the EU, quite possibly. We know there will be no new U.S. structural reform to help.

#Pujols, Bonds and the record books

Now that Albert Pujols has agreed to sign with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Ticket Turnstiles, what does this mean for the possibility of him chasing down Barry Bonds' 762 career home runs or other records?

First, a glance at Pujols' stats in the biggest counting and sabermetric areas, outside WAR. Apologies for the imperfect lineup of the columns. Couldn't quite get what I wanted from Baseball-Reference, but it should work well enough for our purposes.



Second, the big question No. 1: Was Pujols' 2011 season an immediate sign of things to come, or was it, as I say, an outlier for a few years still, from a mix of nagging injuries and him "pressing" because of contract issues (despite his denial) and a newish batting roster with the likes of Lance Berkman and Allan Craig, and also the absence of Adam Wainwright?

I say it was more him "pressing."

In fact, even if the Angels' lineup isn't perfect, I wouldn't be surprised for Pujols to personally bounce back and post a 7 WAR year next year. And maybe more after that.

Here's part of why: park factor.

Per ESPN, before 2010, Angels Stadium was moderately a hitters' park for the second half of the 2000s decade. New Busch, for its full existence from 2006 on, has been a pitchers' park.

The biggest question, of course, is can Pujols catch Bonds? And, I say: It's possible. Details on that and more below the fold.

The UK must choose

It's clear that a 30-year period of reckoning for Great Britain vis-a-vis the EU has finally come due. Britain must choose whether to be part of a more financially integrated EU, even if it stays out of the Eurozone, or decide what it wants to do outside of that.

And, of course, this is all complicated by politics within the UK.

Assuming that financial services is that much a part of the British economy, I think Tories have to ask whether it will shrink more as part of the new EU or outside of it.

Frankly, a tighter monetary EU will, eventually, boost the Continent's role in finances, especially if any directives from Brussels are ultimately influenced by glances at Berlin. So, if Prime Minister David Cameron wants to walk around in EU purgatory, or even, as Tory backbenchers clearly want, leave the Union entirely, I think he's an idiot.

Sign on. Britain's financial sector will take some sort of hit, true. But, not immediately, and not in a way that Cameron, if he has any brains (questionable) can't actually fulfill his talk about leading a new type of Conservative Party.

The option of playing at the EU edges? Assuming Merkel and Sarkozy can pull something off, that's not a long-term option.

Cameron's stiff upper lip talk otherwise, larger EU-27 institutions will lose relative power if the narrower eurozone gets new financial strength, new financial regulations strength and, above all, is less unwieldy and more open to easier reform of governance. Eventually, the other "outsiders," even those already given tentative eurozone approval, will have to sign off on the bottom line, too. So, unless Britain can convince a minority of "outsider 10" to follow it, a two-tiered EU just doesn't sound that plausible.

So, ditching the EU entirely? Unhelpful. Despite new openness on banking, Switzerland's tight world would make it equal to an independent UK as an EU counterweight. The rest of the Commonwealth? Canada's tied to the US. Australia is largely independent. Other countries matter less.

Labour would, albeit reluctantly, surely take the plunge, also liking more of Brussels' regulatory powers and ideas.

Per Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail, choose wisely, Mr. Cameron. You may not get a second chance.

And, per U.S. conservatives, don't root for Cameron to choose to opt out. The "special relationship" will only be diminished if Britain itself is.

At least not at the head of a government.

That said, if this leads to a referendum, Labour won't be able to do any "straddling" itself.

And, whoever leads the country, if Britain winds up in financial outer darkness, does it wind up as more a "lapdog of the US"? Thoughts for all British political leaders.

It's not the choice of the EU vs. a more independent UK. That ultimate 30-year reckoning on alignment may be coming due.

Roger Cohen agrees about that and about Cameron's short-sighted stupidity.

TPWD asks wrong folks for money

Instead of appealing to we the people in Texas to make up money shortcomings, Texas Parks and Wildlife should be talking to Gov. Rick Perry and Texas Republicans.

We can start with putting 100 percent of the fees from hunting and fishing licenses into TPWD funding. That might force the Lege to get more serious about fixing the franchise tax and other things.

We need to resist such "smiley-faced dunning" as TPWD proposes, especially since, after 17 years of GOP gubernatorial control, its leadership is all Republican anyway.

So, TPWD, look in the partisan mirror.

December 08, 2011

It's all in your RNA

No, it's not all in your genes, unless, per this story on the latest RNA findings, we expand what we define as a "gene." And, this isn't about epigenetic controls on DNA, it's about what previously might have been called "junk RNA." So, it may not "all" be in your RNA, but more of "it" may be there than previously thought.
Only now have scientists begun identifying the previously invisible contractors who make sure that materials get where they are supposed to be and in the right order to build a human being or any other creature. Some of these little-known workers belong to a class of molecules called long intergenic noncoding RNAs.
Scientists used to think that these “linc­RNAs” were worthless. As their name suggests, these molecules — at least 200 chemical letters long — do not encode information that the body’s manufacturing machinery can use to cobble together proteins. And the lincRNAs originate in what scientists used to view as barren wastelands between protein-coding genes. But new research is showing that these formerly underappreciated workers have important roles in projects both large and microscopic.
“They regulate every process under the sun,” says John Rinn, an RNA researcher at Harvard Medical School.
It seems this lincRNA works in a way similar to epigenetic markers on DNA, but more closely connected with "coding" RNA than epigenetic markers are with genes.

To me, this says even more. It raises in more depth the question about what the "original replicator" was, just how "alive" we should consider viruses to be and more. Per the late Lynn Margulis, we may have hints of a new, lower level of co-evolution or symbiosis than she demonstrated with the eukaryotic cell.

Was there some evolutionary competition as well as co-evolution? Etc., etc.

And, do we need to worry about RNA mutations as well as DNA mutations, more than previously thought? Per the story, probably so.

Meanwhile, another story on noncoding RNA is just out, too, from Public Library of Science. This one says that noncoding RNA might be one of the factors that accelerated human brain development beyond other primates. It's at the eye-glazing level of microbiology for me, much more so than a story about string theory (absent too, too much math) would be. And, it sounds a bit speculative, per comments about it on Google+. But, the fact that noncoding RNA is being tentatively linked to specific evolutionary development reinforces the possibility of some of the ideas I draw from the Science News story.

The flip side? If genes, environmentally-influenced epigenetics, other environmental factors, and noncoding RNA all have roles to play in human development, things like a "cure for cancer" just faded further into the distance, and on similar lines, the idea of "genetic medicine" both got more complex and of less immediate potential. Somebody alert Ray Kurzweil and other futurists.

Obama: It's 'morning-before' election season

Latest sign? President Obama backs HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius in overruling the FDA on making the morning-after pill available to minors without a prescription.

He reportedly cited his role as a father. And used that to draw this word picture:
“And as I understand it, the reason Kathleen made this decision was she could not be confident that a 10-year-old or an 11-year-old going into a drugstore should be able — alongside bubble gum or batteries — be able to buy a medication that potentially, if not used properly, could end up having an adverse effect.  And I think most parents would probably feel the same way.” 
Dear Dear Leader: If, even with problems in low-income minority areas, you believe 10-year old pregnancies are common, you've got a lot more rebuilding to do in America. If, despite your campaign pledges in 2008 to follow science, you believe there's enough 10-year-old knowledge of the pharmaceutical industry and of modern science to cause a rush of sexually active 10-year-olds to Walmart's pharmacy counter, you've got to hit the science textbooks. And, if you think we really believe this has nothing to do with politics, you've got to do a better job of lying.

I mean, as a word picture, your paragraph above is simply laughable.

Here's the reality:
“Where is an 11-year-old going to get the $50 to buy this product?” asked James Trussell, director of the Office of Population Research at Princeton University. “Why would they want to? It’s all nonsense.”
Internally, of course, Obama cited his role as a neocentrist Democrat chasing semi-conservative independent voters.

Here's even more reality, per the Nation's Katha Pollitt and her blistering attack on both Sibelius and Obama: The actual instructions that an 11-year-old supposedly can't understand.
“Plan B One-Step dosage consists of a single tablet taken once. A second tablet or dose is not required. The Plan B One-Step tablet should be taken as soon as possible and not more than 72 hours (3 days) after unprotected intercourse or contraceptive failure."
Doesn't seem like that could be that hard to understand at age 11, no.

And, beyond conservative-pandering sexual politics, it's hard to disagree with Pollitt that this is anti-female conservative-pandering sexual politics.
Needless to say, no one suggests that underage boys get a prescription if they want to use condoms, or that grown men have to ask the pharmacist for them and maybe get a lecture about the evils of birth control and promiscuity.
That said, I don't know about Pollitt's personal voting, but hell will freeze over before the Nation ever endorses a Green, Socialist, or other truly progressive presidential candidate instead of the default Democrat.

Good fucking doorknob, this is going to be a long election season, at least the part of it with the stupidity, pandering and other intelligence insulting of both Obama and whomever the GOP nominates.

I trust the Greens won't insult my intelligence. Or, were the party in Texas, the Socialists. Hell, maybe even the Libertarians won't insult my intelligence quite so blatantly.

But, they probably will.

American inequalities abound

Other than the obvious, if not to OWS, inequalities of black-white wages and employment, there's others that may pass below their radar screen.

For example, OWSers wanting an $18-20/hour minimum wage must be oblivious to a whole range of inequalities between rural/small town areas and urban/suburban/exurban ones.

Those include:
1. Income levels;
2. Job opportunity levels;
3. Entertainment levels;
4. And, somewhat related to all of those, perhaps, in our 21st century, is "connectedness" levels, i.e., broadband Internet.

That's probably why, with few exceptions, we didn't hear about things like Occupy Sioux Falls. Again, not snarky, but just saying "welcome to the world," kids of helicopter parents, to the degree that you, including the 20-percent plus with grad degrees, probably don't totally fit the profile of either inner-city minorities or rural red staters.

Here's a different one, even as conservatives try to privatize Social Security and liberals say it's fine. Why are SS benefits based on your 35 best years of income? Yes, it's halfway to being "socialistic," but far from all the way. Considering many of the people with lower earnings fall into the less well-off demographics just mentioned, can't we tweak this? Especially as growing income inequality is only going to make this worse in the future.

That's not to say that OWS concerns over job prospects or student loan repayments aren't real and aren't significant. It's just to put them into perspective.

But, just like there's no Occupy Sioux Falls, folks from Adbusters and Anonymous probably have done very little on-the-ground traveling in flyover territory.

OK, I stand corrected on the existence of Occupy Sioux Falls, on a technicality, per links from Sheldon's comment. Ten people in attendance at the latest meeting? I don't stand corrected on the spirit of what I said.

As for "cynical," I stand by my stance that it's skeptical first, and while I may be getting cynical as well as skeptical, I'm not alone.

Beyond that, my point isn't only to be skeptical about OWS. It's to get OWS to broaden itself, to wonder why it doesn't have more support in rural areas, to wonder why it doesn't have more support from minorities, especially blacks. And, given other posts, I'd like OWS to be realistic at times, too.

The "other inequalities" were listed precisely to show that there are other perspectives that don't feel they align with OWS.

A movement that continues to be seen as being to a fair degree the project of white privilege that's hit a road bump needs to do more on the marketing. I'm not perfect on recognizing non-white (outside of minority Ivy Leaguers and their legacies) lack of privilege, but I try.

This relates also to my post earlier this week about "flippers" being a major cause of the mortgage bubble. It's like the, say, 2-20 percent, which has in the past largely aligned itself with either Republicanism or the most neoliberal thoughts within the Democratic party, is having the shoe pinch. And, to some degree, thinks its pain is unique.

Related to that is the Occupy movement's failure to get longshoremen on board with blocking the port of Oakland.
“Support is one thing, organization from outside groups attempting to co-opt our struggle in order to advance a broader agenda is quite another,” Robert McEllrath wrote in a Dec. 6 letter to ILWU locals.
I'm not a fan of all unions, and I know that AFL-CIO unions have long been "co-opted" in various ways, ever since the 1950s and establishing foreign unions under CIA control. But, per the story, the ILWU isn't a union like that. And, among their issues is one that goes back to trucking deregulation under Carter. (Yes, not Reagan.)

Anyway, I'm not in the 2-20 percent, and probably never will be, this side of me and six lottery numbers coming into harmony.

That said, Sheldon, we'll see in the spring. Maybe Kalle Lasn will see his shadow Feb. 2, maybe he won't. But, is it really THAT "cynical" to say, in essense, "I agree with your issues, but, at the same time, wake up and smell the decades-old coffee?"

#EPA: #Fracking fouls Wyoming water

The Environmental Protection Agency has come out with what is indeed a strong statement for that organzation, saying it's pretty clear that hydrofracking for natural gas has contaminated groundwater, including drinking water, in and around Pavilion, Wyo.

EPA does say its findings are specific to this area, due in part to the closeness of natural-gas wells and groundwater. Nonetheless, this is news that gas companies aren't going to like to hear. Well, too bad. Drill and frack cleanly.

The AP has now led a story on the announcement.
Environmentalists welcomed the news of the EPA report, calling it an important turning point in the fracking debate.
"This is an important first indication there are potential problems with fracking that can impact domestic water wells. It's I think a clarion call to industry to make sure they take a great deal of care in their drilling practices," said Steve Jones with the Wyoming Outdoor Council.
Pavillion resident John Fenton, chairman of the group Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens, applauded the EPA for listening to the homeowners with contaminated water.
"Those of us who suffer the impacts from the unchecked development in our community are extremely happy the contamination source is being identified," Fenton said.
Pavilion gas field owner Encana ... of leaky pipelines fame, no less .. is trying to play this finding wayyyy down.

Crap: It's the Angels for Pujols

Albert Pujols hits his record-tying third home run in Game 3 of the 2010 World Series./From Yahoo Sports

To ESPN, it may have been unexpected. But, I had the Los Angeles Angels of I-5 as a prime suitor a year ago, and didn't waver in that, even after the Vernon Wells trade.

So, not totally unexpected in these quarters, to see Albert Pujols head to the Los Angeles Angels for 10 years and a whopping $260 million.

That said, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that, allowing for Florida having no state income tax, the Marlins' last offer was technically higher. (Why didn't the Rangers use Texas not having an income tax to get in the chase themselves?)

First, even with Kendrys Morales, even with signing Wells, I said Angels owners Arte Moreno still had money to burn. That's why the Angels were listed on my poll at right.

If you want details, the Angels have several contracts that run out soon, including Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu after 2012. (Or the Haloes apparently have a buyout now on Abreu's contract; that said, for $9M, he might be OK still.) Some of their money will go to resigning Dan Haren or Ervin Santana in all likelihood. (I don't expect both to be kept, though.) Wells is around for two more years, but, with a deeper lineup and less pressure, may be come an acceptable 3.5 WAR guy for the rest of that contract. Unless Morales can bounce back and find a new position, he's gone. That frees up money for a midgrade outfielder and a midgrade middle infielder.

As for finding positions for people, we all see that Morales didn't bounce back last year from his 2010 broken leg. So, there's not such a "logjam" for the Angels after all, potentially.

Second, it's a team with a history of winning and a chance to win again, now. Mike Sciosia is a better manager than Ron Washington, and, in the AL West, Jon Daniels will likely regret not making a move. That's doubly true with the Halos taking C.J. Wilson away from him.

Speaking of, per that ESPN story linked up top:
Asked whether life in the American League West had just gotten a little more fun, Rangers assistant GM Thad Levine retorted: "How liberal is your definition of the word 'fun?'
"We just saw him for seven games [in the World Series]," Levine went on. "I think it's safe to say we haven't exactly figured him out yet."
Third, with the Dodgers still in limbo, now was the time for Moreno to strike. I can easily see the Angels drawing 3.5 million next year or more, or near max of 3.65 million in their park.

Add in: Higher TV $$ on next local contract (the Angels were already negotiating a new deal with Fox); Pujols' Angels uniform and other marketing sales; possible hike in ticket prices, etc. Trust me, Moreno will get at least $3-4M a year of this contract back.

Fourth, as far as Pujols' performance, the Angels' ballpark is at least as hitter-friendly as Busch. Per ESPN, new Busch was a smidgen better the last two years, but before that, Angels Stadium was a lot better, probably due to a better lineup. Give him an injury free year, the AL, hitting in parks like Arlington, Boston and New York, and an occasional "rest" day at DH, and I expect his stats to go up. Could be good news for him in career counting stats.

Fifth, let's look at the Cardinals more. As I called it more than a year ago, the "insurance plan" comes into play for the Cards as Lance Berkman shifts to first base. (And, some other Cards bloggers laughed at me a year ago when I said that.)

Sixth, my comment that, based on ticket sales vs. possible dropoff, the Cards had money to do a deal even in this range? Especially if either Adam Wainwright isn't back 100 percent or Chris Carpenter has an "on for injuries" year, adding in the seriousness of Allan Craig's injury, and the Cards lose 200K fans this year.

Seventh, as a Cards fan, it's sad. I don't know, other than straight dollars, what Pujols felt he wasn't getting from the Cardinals, since the offer a year ago reportedly included a small piece of the franchise. Maybe La Russa's retirement was a factor. Maybe he wanted a split marketing deal on milestone memorabilia. Maybe he felt he wasn't being stroked enough. Maybe he felt agent Dan Lozano wasn't being stroked enough. After the Matt Holliday contract, I think all of this is true.

ESPN weighs in, indirectly, on that. It's clear the Cards weren't budging much higher. If Mo/Bill DeWitt refused to modify Pujols' old contract after the Holliday signing, they've reaped the whirlwind.
The Cardinals had planned to talk with Pujols' agent one more time Thursday before heading home. But sources told ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney that the Cardinals' latest offer was for nine years and a little less than $200 million. That would have made him the fourth-highest paid first baseman. With the Angels deal, he is tops.
One source who spoke with Pujols' camp Wednesday came away with the impression the two sides were farther apart than had been widely portrayed earlier in the day.
Penny wise and pound foolish in St. Louis, perhaps.

Eighth, on the assumption that Prince Fielder is gone from Milwaukee, and NOT to the Cubs, Cincinnati is the default NL Central favorite for 2012 in my book. And, there's a one-in-three chance the Cardinals don't get the wild card, even. (The second WC doesn't happen until 2013.) Add in the fact that Berkman's just signed for one more year, and has indicated he could decide to retire after that, and the Cardinals, while pitching-rich in the minors, may find themselves scuffing and struggling for some time.

Now, some reflections along with analysis, and a look at the St. Louis reaction, below the fold:

December 07, 2011

A #MASH RIP for Harry Morgan

I'm a huge fan of the TV show, which was possibly the greatest sitcom ever, and certainly the most popular. In terms of audience share, the two-hour farewell TV movie still tops all Super Bowls as the most-watched broadcast ever.

And, so, with sadness, I see that cast standout Harry Morgan, also famous from Dragnet, "Inherit the Wind," B-movie Westerns and many other roles, has died at 96.

Of course, MASH was really about Vietnam, and he as Col. Potter gave an anchor of Regular Army reality to his role that the Col. Blake/Maclean Stevenson role just didn't do. MASH was a solid show, but it took off when Morgan joined, along with Mike Farrell as BJ Hunnicutt replacing Wayne Rogers as Trapper John and playing more of a straight man role. Speaking of:
He was one of the “foundational pieces of the industry,” said “M-A-S-H” star Mike Farrell, who tried to gain Morgan a lifetime achievement award from the Screen Actors Guild. Such honors routinely go to stars but also belong to Morgan and other character actors who provide “the grit and the substance and the context” for so many films and TV shows, Farrell said Wednesday.
Indeed. That "grit" made him a good character actor.
And Morgan knew what counted in life, as he proved at a news conference held when “M-A-S-H” ended in 1983. He was asked if working with the show’s cast had made him a better actor, and Farrell recalled Morgan’s reply: “I don’t know about that, but it’s made me a better human being.”
I listed just a few of his roles; the New York Times obit notes many others.
On television, he played Officer Bill Gannon with a phlegmatic but light touch to Jack Webb’s always-by-the-book Sgt. Joe Friday in the updated “Dragnet,” from 1967 to 1970. He starred as Pete Porter, a harried husband, in the situation comedy “Pete and Gladys” (1960-62), reprising a role he had played on “December Bride” (1954-59). He was also a regular on “The Richard Boone Show” (1963-64), “Kentucky Jones” (1964-65), “The D.A.” (1971-72), “Hec Ramsey” (1972-74) and “Blacke’s Magic” (1986).
Col. Potter was, in a way, without a "Leave it to Beaver" saccharine edge, a kind of father figure, or uncle figure, or grandfather figure. His goodbye to Radar scene was one of many that showed that.

And, from other character roles he had played, that were generally no-nonsense types, MASH let Harry Morgan show a new side of himself, too, to us.

In other words, "simple without being simplistic," even as, with all of our technology, many of us would like occasional increases in simplicity and slowness in our lives.

Now, the word "son," nuanced by voice in many, many different ways, will never be quite the same.

And, the L.A. Times has more on that "focal point" angle that I mentioned above.
(In MASH), he was the still point amid the pandemonium, a flinty corrective both to its silliness and its sentimentality. In (Dragnet), he was the subtly comical sidekick to Webb's very straight straight man, a little licking flame of human warmth to animate the overarching deadpan.
I'll have to give a MASH DVD a watch at home tonight. And perhaps shed a tear or two.

As for my fandom? I've been to Hannibal, Mo., Potter's hometown, as well as that of Mark Twain, and also to Mill Valley, Calif., Toledo, Ohio, Fort Ord, Calif. and other characters' hometowns, all real life except for Hawkeye's Crabapple Cove, Maine. And, Alan Alda's Hawkeye and Groucho Marx are far and away the top two bad-pun influences in my life.

Marlins overpay for Reyes; meaning for Pujols?

UPDATE, Dec. 8: It's the Angels! For details of what this means for the Angels, for the Cardinals and for Pujols, go here.

UPDATE, Dec. 7: With the Marlins reportedly signing Mark Buehrle for four years, $58 million, on top of the Reyes (and Bell) signings, it means that Miami "officially":
A. Is out of the Pujols chase and
B. Has a drunken sailor owner.

Actually, the price for Buehrle is probably more reasonable than for either Reyes or Bell. But, the total contracts, for a team that's never had huge fan/market support? They're paying just a shade over $40 million for their three new acquisitions. $20 mil for the rest of their roster puts them at $60 mil. That seems like a "healthy" payroll for this team. A trade or a B-list free agent puts them in good competitive territory with the second wild card for, say $65M.

And, is 10/$220 from Mozeliak enough to get Pujols to sign? Are the Cubs for real? The Angels are reportedly sniffing around. That said, the new deal isn't worth more on a per-year basis than the Cards' old one, but, because that deal would have included his 2011 option year, it IS two years longer.

And, there's still no word on sidebar issues, like a no-trade clause, joint marketing dollars for career milestone memorabilia, etc. That could possibly add another $10-$20 million to the Pujols contract, at least if it's with the Cardinals, where such things would mean more.

ORIGINAL POST: Sorry Miami/Florida Marlins. Sorry, Jeff Loria. Sorry, taxpayers to whom Loria is trying to justify stiffing you for that new stadium. (That would be the stadium whose stinky funding is now under SEC investigation. How bout THEM apples, Bud Selig?) BUT ... Jose Reyes is NOT worth six years and $106 million. This year was a career year for Reyes, I think, and if he bats over .300 again, or has an OPS over .850, and I'll eat my hat. At least, if he does that over 150 games or more, given nagging and non-nagging injuries of the past three years and that he's just replacement value, or below, defensively at shortstop.

Yahoo's blog tries to tout the deal, claiming Reyes could be a person to build around. Right.

This is after signing Heath Bell for three years and $27 million, a clear overpay for a reliever who won't be the same in Miami.

Jeff Brown speculates this means the Marlins are still in the running for Albert Pujols. Rather, I'd say it means Miami has about spent itself out. Prince Albert and Dan Lozano, seeing those two paydays, won't settle for anything close to the Marlins' original 9/$200 offer, and I don't think Loria is going to do, say, 9/$240. But, maybe he will. If the Marlins are spending like drunken sailors, there's always hope for another big payday. ESPN's Jayson Stark even claims the Marlins are prepared to up their offer. And, in terms of years, at least, the team now has, weighing in with a 10-year offer.

However, Jeff Passan agrees with me; the Reyes signing means it's time for Pujols to focus elsewhere. In fact, Passan calls the Pujols market "stagnant."

Another POV than #OWS on UC Davis #pepperspray

I'm still not justifying Lt. Pike's actions, but, there's other video, besides what the Occupy folks showed a couple of weeks ago. Protestors, the whole group, not just the small number sprayed while on the ground, were given several warnings to disperse. AND, other Occupyers were apparently trying to prevent police from removing from the scene.

Click here for a video compilation with on-screen narrative. Or just click the screen: 

Yes, I've been hinted as being a former supporter of Occupy Wall Street, or wavering, or whatever.

Well, as a skeptic, including a skeptical left-liberal, I try to hold to the grounds of realism. That said, whether it's the right on global warming, sections of the left on alt-med, or far-left and right on conspiracy theories, it's hard to get a lot of Americans to attach to that.

Again, I'm not justifying Lt. Pike. I am saying there's a larger context to the UC Davis actions than OWS brief clips have shown. And, I say below, OWS people had options.

So, will you watch this?

OK, to boost part of my comment to Sheldon to the body of the post. I, personally, as an antiwar protester, was of the "kinder, gentler" sort, I'll admit. So, I personally wouldn't have done this. Second, the larger crowd could have passively resisted to the eventual point of going limp and waiting for arrest.

Third, we have plenty to see of police brutality in Oakland, already. A partial meme like this looked "great," but, to the degree this "corrective" catches up with it, it could backfire.

Fourth, I'm not going to argue it's not still excessive force. But, it is arguable that there are degrees of excessiveness, and that this is "less excessive" than it seemed two weeks ago. 

It also could "backfire" on the messaging angle in other ways. Take the Portland pepper spraying picture that was infamous before this. Now I'm wondering just what that picture didn't show, as well as what it showed. Maybe we're not missing anything. But, maybe we are.

Fifth, assuming there's nothing we're "missing" from the Portland photo, we have it, the NYC photos, the Oakland photos and more. This doesn't rise to the level of Photoshopping a fake march crowd at the start of OWS, of course, but, if statistics follow damned lies, photos and videos aren't that far behind at times.

That said, per another blog, here's one way the police could have handled this better, without violence, without bad PR and without other things. Of course, I don't know if the St. Louis encampment was that comparable to the Davis one. In short, even if something is 95 percent "black" on a black-and-white scale, it still isn't 100 percent black and white. And, given Bay Area California's relatively mild year-round weather, and that this was on a university campus, it's quite possible we can't take too much from the St. Louis situation.

Sixth, to the degree police can be thugs, this is nothing new. It's a commonplace of the War on Drugs. Again, not excusing cops, but for Occupiers, poorer whites, and certainly minorities, have faced this, too, for years if not decades. Per Balko's column, yes, the Davis students are lucky they weren't Tased. That probably relates to the amount of publicity involved already.

So, OWS, if you want to cut back this brutality, add reforming the War on Drugs to your list.

And, while it may not make much sense, among other things, to call Wall Street leaders sociopaths, it may well make more sense to call cops that.


That all said, I definitely agree with the content of the link in Sheldon's second comment. Guilt-tripping 99ers, even if they are a bit too commercialistic at times, about their Christmas shopping will be counterproductive. Before OWS, most Americans hadn't even heard of Adbusters,

December 06, 2011

Adderall: At a Brave New Word office near you?

Who uses Adderall off-label? Potheads at Harvard are among highly likely candidates. NOT the A-listers, but the B/B-minus students who think they should be doing better. Especially if in fraternities. In other words, George W. Bush, back to the future.

But, not just the B-list Ivies. The story also cites using low-grade legal speed at the workplace, or even a 52-year-old married man, in night school, looking for that "edge." Or, a 74-year-old, apparently an archaeologist, who admitted to using modafinil as part of a letter to the editor at Nature. So, 5-10 years from now, is the workplace going to be a war zone, with different people looking for the right mix of Adderall, Ritalin and other such drugs?

Now, the article is more than two years old, but with our ongoing economic stagnation it is, if anything, even more relevant now than then.

Speaking of the office place, should we be worried? Are we going to have 55-year-olds having Ritalin-induced panic attacks? Or even mild coronaries? If "he's" taking 25 mg of X, shouldn't I be taking 35 mg? What happens when 35 mg of X "just isn't doing it" any more? (But, I can't be "addicted." Why? Because it's not supposed to be addicting.)

And, yeah, that friendly bit of advice, along with all the other stuff we now see with things like antidepressants, will be coming, too, if some people can make it happen. There's already marketing groups, groups to advise investment in different drug makers and more.

That said, there are stories at the high-school level about A-listers, not B-listers, using them. However, they're probably getting less benefit:
Martha Farah told me, “These drugs will definitely help some technically normal people—that is, people who don’t meet the diagnostic criteria for A.D.H.D. or any kind of cognitive impairment.” But, she emphasized, “they will help people in the lower end of the ability range more than in the higher end.”
As for other possible marketing claims, sorry, but the feds have already started studying the addiction possibiliy of modafinil (Provigil).

Meanwhile, since upper-middle-class and rich people can afford such things better, is this type of use of Adderall, etc., unethical? A form of "cheating"? Or, per another line in the story, especially here in America, could passing out these pills to high schoolers to stimulate focus be another quick fix, just like passing out the same pills to elementary students already is, to some degree?

Friend Leo Lincourt picks up on the "always on" issue for adults at the office, or flaking stone knappers at the archaeology field site. Especially the office, if if's in a field that's heavily globalized.

That's the problem ... the "always on," in the biz world, mixed with globalization, etc. Great. The coworker next to you is first running circles around you, then having a panic attack. The "uppers" side of Brave New World, eh?

And, per the end of the article, putting down some of the damned gadgets and simplifying our lives more might help some, eh?

Iran and our missing CIA drone -- big issues

First, it's clear that the drone that was lost over Iran is a CIA plane.

This leads to many, many other questions.

1. Why don't these drones have GPS limiters that, when humans screw up, get inattentive, etc., can limit their flights, self-destruct the planes, etc.? The absence of anything like that just sounds stupid. This isn't Francis Gary Powers, where you're relying on a human to off himself in his U-2.
2. This particular drone appears more swanky than a "base" model, including having some sort of stealth technology. How easy will it be for Iran to reverse-engineer that and thereby end our easy drone flights? The spook shack says Iran can't learn much, but ... surreee ...
3. Can't anybody in the CIA lie better? This plane was NOT surveilling in Afghanistan. And, if you can't lie better, can't you just shut up? It now is unofficially admitted by one and all that it was spying on Iran.
4. Back to No. 1 ... just how good, or bad, of pilot quality does the CIA have?
5. Can Iran determine what we were learning from this and other drones?
6. Is the CIA lying about a crash rather than a shoot-down?

And, add this thought: What if Iranian and Chinese intelligence, notorious spies on the U.S., are partnered?

"Flippers" an important factor in housing bubble

The NY Fed says "flippers" were an important part of the housing bubble. There maybe some CYA here for the NY Fed, a *private* institution, on its failure to get Wall Street to rein itself in. But, I largely agree with the idea, substantiated by some research. And, I'm guessing a fair amount of these flippers were 2-20 percent, not just 1 percenters.

To put the header on the graphs above in plain English, each bar represents people who had at least one mortgage already on their hands when they took out another one during the year in question. Note that in the four "ground zero" states of the bubble, the percentage of people with multiple mortgages was nearly half!

Now, some of the people with just one mortgage on the books already may well have been movers, not flippers. Fair enough. Knock out two-thirds of the people with two mortgages, and at the height of the boom, in the four ground zero states, you still have 30 percent of buyers who are likely flippers.

Everything else adds up, then. At first, presumably because they had more money, "flippers" were better risks. But ... when the bubble started bursting, as bubbles do, they became worse risks.

And, as a later chart shows, many of these flippers' loans were securitized, as they were rushing to get in on the bubble. Hence, their troubles, as much as subprime first-time buyers' troubles, became Wall Street's troubles. And, their speculative buying hurt others:
We conclude that investors were much more important in the housing boom and bust during the 2000s than previously thought. The availability of low- and no-down-payment mortgages in the nonprime sector enabled investors to make these bets. This may have allowed the bubble to inflate further, which caused millions of owner-occupants to pay more if they wanted to buy a home for their family.
As noted above, I'm guessing a fair amount of these people were in the 2-20 percent. The Fed doesn't do an income breakout, but I can't believe that that many spec buyers were 1 percenters. Certainly not fractional groups within the 1 percent.

Finally, this is why I am against blanket-type amnesties or modifications of loans. Many people, whether using subprime loans of some sort to do so or not, were deliberately buying houses to flip them. They had at least one mortgage before, therefore, in addition to taking responsibility for investments in general, had some idea already of what the loan process was.

These people deserve no mercy. We don't give a do-over on bad stock purchases, either.

Loan modifications MUST BE on an individualized basis. Here, as well as elsewhere, we need realism from folks like Occupy Wall Street.

Why I don't own a smartphone

And likely never will. Julian Assange spells out well all the snooping problems.

That said, I worry more about Big Business, either working on its own, or sucking off the Big Government teat, than I do about Big Government on its own. (I've always said that "Brave New World" will prove to be an even more prescient novel than "1984.")

There's several reasons for this, all related to the almighty dollar. And I say dollar, not yen, euro or even pound, because the U.S. is Ground Zero for hypercapitalism.

First is the "branding issue," most notably with Apple. When iPhone users are confronted with the type of information an Assange presents, cognitive dissonance sets in as many iPhone users await some bulletin from Apple to spin away all of Assange's claims.

Second is Google Ads for mobile phones, coupled with the latest GPS, etc. There's already talk about how, either partnered with straight-up coupon companies, a Groupon, or something even worse, an Android phone will spit out an on-screen coupon for the restaurant you're walking past. In the mall? Well, with Google Maps going inside them now, that's no escape.

Add in the rumored Amazon and Facebook smartphones of next year, and we have this problem in spades.

Reading a magazine at Barnes & Noble, with an Amazon phone in your pocket? Amazon spits out an ad saying you can get that mag for $XX on Kindle for smartphone. Meanwhile, even with its privacy agreement with the FTC, what if Facebook puts auto-updating software in its smartphone? I.e., Facebook creates its own "Yelp" and it's opt-out, not opt-in.

And, all these companies will do the marketing and branding, telling you how their smartphones are better at others on delivering those coupons, at ... "reading your mind," though they won't put it so crassly.

Got a smartphone already? Detox. Get away from the addiction.

December 05, 2011

In the land of the twice credit-downrated ...

The once-downrated is king?

That's why the threat by credit rating agencie S&P to downgrade most countries of the Eurozone, even Germany, should be taken with a grain of salt. The U.S. downgrade by one of the three ratings agencies has shown little fallout so far. (That said, a day later, the S&P has now said its credit downgrade threat includes the Eurozone bailout fund, not just member nation economies.)

I agree that the Eurozone needs reframing. Whether Sarkozy and Merkel are doing a lot more than window dressing is another question. But, if there's a threat of a two-notch downgrade, they will do more than window dressing.

And, given Germany's notorious inflation fears, just what would a downgrade mean there, internally?

Anyway, for now, at least, the court of general public opinion will surely recognize that Germany, and even France, aren't Italy.

December 04, 2011

#CO2: 2010 worst year ever

Carbon-dioxide emissions rose 5.9 percent last year, the worst recorded jump on record. And, we're likely not in for great news in future years:
The researchers said the high growth rate reflected a bounce-back from the 1.4 percent drop in emissions in 2009, the year the recession had its biggest impact.
They do not expect the extraordinary growth to persist, but do expect emissions to return to something closer to the 3 percent yearly growth of the last decade, still a worrisome figure that signifies little progress in limiting greenhouse gases. The growth rate in the 1990s was closer to 1 percent yearly.

The combustion of coal represented more than half of the growth in emissions, the report found. 
If we connect the dots on paragraphs two and three, it's clear that China, followed by India, will fuel the surge in CO2 emissions in general and coal-generated CO2 in particular. Frankly, I'd be surprised (assuming the usual blather-and-inaction results at Durban, South Africa) if we hold that to just 3 percent over the next decade.

And, no the West is not simon pure:
On the surface, the figures of recent years suggest that wealthy countries have made headway in stabilizing their emissions. But Dr. Peters pointed out that in a sense, the rich countries have simply exported some of them.
The fast rise in developing countries has been caused to a large extent by the growth of energy-intensive manufacturing industries that make goods that rich countries import. “All that has changed is the location in which the emissions are being produced,” Dr. Peters said. 
And, with that exporting, let's not forget the carbon dioxide emissions costs of shipping, too.

Although Americans cringe at the idea, our one hope may be for oil to get back to or above its 2008 high of $147 a barrel, and stay there, if that doesn't totally wreck the world economy. Folks like Walmart and its various suppliers have indicated that oil prices that high would put enough of a burden on shipping costs that a lot of production would have to be relocated to the U.S. to be profitable.

It's an even "tougher" version of what James Hanson said about how we absolutely need to get away from coal-fired power plants in the future. We're at least moving in that direction. Such oil prices, by lessening Chinese manufacturing, would idle some other coal-fired electricity.

Politically, there's theoretically one other hope. The U.S. imposes carbon taxes internally, which then gives it the legal right to impose carbon tariffs externally. But, don't hold your breath over that.

We need to have something, though. As Nature Geoscience shows, including with plenty of pretty pictures, the evidence continues to mount for both global warming and the anthropogenic cause of it.

Beyond the "feedback loops" in general, of a warming climate putting more water vapor, a greenhouse gas itself, in the atmosphere, and causing permafrost to release methane, yet another greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere, there's other feedback loops.

For example, in the U.S., with the shift of more population to the hot, long summer world of the Sunbelt, we're talking more and more air conditioning use. That, in turn creates urban heat islands, which create a microclimate additional feedback loop.

Plus, in the Southwest, we're headed toward drier as well as hotter. That means energy for desalinization plants, deeper wells, and reduced hydroelectric power.

Now, it is true that the atmosphere may not be quite as sensitive to CO2 as previously feared. That said, other than being on the lookout for wingnuts claiming this is more reason to reject "the cult of global warming" (actually, it's just the opposite, as it shows climate scientists at their best), it's important to remember a few other things:
A. The difference between a 5F and 7F warming over, say, 100 years, isn't enough to use this as an excuse for inaction as normal;
B. This study does nothing to look at how current warming is starting to force methane out of permafrost;
C. This study does nothing to look at how modern pollutants like, say, nitrogen oxides, may contribute to the problem.

New media fluffers profit from dissing old media?

Just wow .... Columbia Journalism Review takes Clay Shirky, Jay Rosen, Jeff Jarvis, et al, to the cleaners. And, the article is very good overall, not just in the claim that these and other new media fluffer leaders, through consulting fees, teaching at public universities, etc., profit, and perhaps hypocritically, by being old media dissers.

And, it's one thing to disagree on what the future of media should be. It's another to profit off of saying what the media SHOULD be, while pretending to be disinterested. And, it's yet another to ignore "concentration" in social media, ethics issues at some social media, and other factors.

Item No. 2 in the paragraph above is why I largely not just mistrust but actually dislike new media fluffers, at least the new media fluffing part of their personalities. Hey, I'm not denying the right to make a buck. BUT, be honest that your new media fluffing is anything but disinterested.

Anway, let's take a look at CJR.

I'm going to run a string of a few quotes, then start commenting;
The establishment is gloomy and old; the (Future Of Newspapers) consensus is hopeful and young (or purports to represent youth). The establishment has no plan. The FON consensus says no plan is the plan. The establishment drones on about rules and standards; the FON thinkers talk about freedom and informality. FON says “cheap” and “free”; the establishment asks for your credit card number. FON talks about “networks,” “communities,” and “love”; the establishment mutters about “institutions,” like The New York Times or mental hospitals....

The problem is that journalism’s true value-creating work, the keystone of American journalism, the principle around which it is organized, is public-interest reporting; the kind that is usually expensive, risky, stressful, and time-consuming. ...

Not only does the FON consensus have little to say about public-service journalism, it is in many ways antithetical to it. For one thing, its anti-institutionalism would disempower journalism. Jarvis and Shirky in particular have reveled in the role of intellectual undertakers/grief counselors to the newspaper industry, which, for all its many failings, has traditionally carried the public-service load.
So far, I'm in total agreement. The FON crowd largely ignores costs and overheads, as do many of their fellow travelers. And, by over-touting social media, etc., can trivialize news. (See below.)

And, is there a solution? Solutions?
Many of Shirky’s prescriptions for the economics of journalism are commonsensical and even wise. A point I find inarguable is that while some news models have been found to work in some contexts-—The Wall Street Journal’s pay wall, ProPublica’s fund-raising model (basically, one big donor), Talking Points Memo’s online ad-based system—nothing to date is scalable. There is no news business “model” at all. And who can argue with his call for constant experimentation?
I would tend to agree. And, that's why I'm not always as hard on this aspect of Shirky's thought as on Rosen's or Jarvis'.

Meanwhile, is the FON crowd counter-cultural? The story suggests so:
If some aspects of peer-production theory and its FON offshoot sound familiar—anti-institutionalism; communitarianism laced with libertarianism; a millennial, Age-of-Aquarius vibe; a certain militancy—some scholars have traced its roots to 1960s counterculture.
I'd say look to today, instead; Shirky, et al, sound like the utopian wing of Occupy Wall Street.

Meanwhile, CJR gets to "throwing under the bus" time, saying Jarvis, as example, and most the FON crowd are ... hypocritical leeches:
Like other FON thinkers, he lives the contradiction of extolling peer production and volunteerism from the security of an institution. It is doubly jarring in Jarvis’s case; an opponent of publicly funded journalism, his journalistic entrepreneurialism is, in fact, publicly subsidized. The “C” in CUNY stands for “City.”
CJR then raises a related issue: the claim that news is a commodity. Of course, the FON crowd starts with one half of Steward Brand's famous quote:
Information wants to be free. Information also wants to be expensive. Information wants to be free because it has become so cheap to distribute, copy, and recombine - too cheap to meter. It wants to be expensive because it can be immeasurably valuable to the recipient. That tension will not go away. It leads to endless wrenching debate about price, copyright, 'intellectual property', the moral rightness of casual distribution, because each round of new devices makes the tension worse, not better.
And, of course, the FON crowd is coming down emphatically, and simplistically, IMO, on the "free" side. That's why they fight paywalls, diss micropayments and other things.  But, as the CJR story notes, paywalls are working, and getting adopted by more and more dailies.

Meanwhile, here's more of that intellectual dishonesty:
I would note that there’s a point at which predicting institutional decline blurs into rooting for it, and then morphs into hastening it along, as the anti-pay wall debate shows. ... “We need the new news environment to be chaotic” to facilitate experimentation, Shirky writes. In fact, though, only consultants “need” the news environment to be chaotic.
CJN's Starkman goes on to say he expects some "media establishment" to remain in place for quite some time.
I’m going to make a bold leap and predict—eenie meenie chili beanie—that for a long time the Future of News is going to look unnervingly like the Present of News: hobbled news organizations, limping along, supplemented by swarms of new media outlets doing their best. It’s not sexy, but that’s journalism for you. 
And, here's why he's at least halfway comfortable with that statement:
It pays to remember that the most triumphalist FON works were written in 2008 and 2009, during journalism’s time of maximum panic. But now, panic time is over.
It is ... and as he says, "muddling" time continues. And, that is no thanks to the FON crowd:
The cruel truth of the emerging networked news environment is that reporters are as disempowered as they have ever been, writing more often, under more pressure, with less autonomy, about more trivial things than under the previous monopolistic regime. Indeed, if one were looking for ways to undermine reporters in their work, FON ideas would be a good place to start.
Indeed, especially about the trivialization. Working at a newspaper that thinks Facebook and Twitter posting will magically fix things seems to illustrate that. When everything is news, nothing is.

Finally, Starkman says that what he calls "Neo-institutional journalism" can be rebuilt, but that it will take work.

Shirky responds, but, IMO, as a kinder, gentler Jarvis more than anything else.

Beyond that, the new media fluffers fail to address how social media, Internet 2.0, etc. threaten us all, not just journalists, with being crushed beneath the wheel, whether like in Hesse's novel of that name or some other way.

Finally, related to this discussion, check out my  "dark side of the Internet" series of posts. None of the "new media fluffers" will fully and seriously engage with a Evgeny Morozov, Nicholas Carr or Jarod Lanier.