May 12, 2012

#GAO smokes crack on #Shaleoil

In what world, other than that of the RAND report it uncritically passed on, does the Government Accountability Office believe 30-60 percent of shale oil on the Western Slope is recoverable?

Ohh, maybe at $300/bbl oil, and the wet dream of southwesterners of tapping the Columbia River, the Great Lakes, or both for water.

Short of that? Not a chance.

Worst modern presidential campaigns

With the 2012 presidential election now set to pair the incumbent, Barack Obama, aka Dear Leader for Obamiacs, vs. Mitt Romney, aka Etch-a-Sketch, even in the political world, for anybody who knows politics, it led me to wonder what some of the worst presidential campaigns in American history have been.

I’m going to break this into a two-parter, and start from 1904, with Teddy Roosevelt being, arguably and with the partial exception of Abraham Lincoln, the first modern president. Plus, the first party primaries came into existence early in the 20th century, so that’s another good reason to make this a break point.

I’m not going to reference every campaign, just the worse ones, along with some interesting ones. We’ll use a five-star system, with five stars representing a theoretically great campaign (think 1860) and one being totally horrific. Of course, none of the campaigns here will get five stars.

Let’s start with 1908, a non-epic showdown between one candidate somewhat forced on his party by his eminently popular predecessor (William Howard Taft, with TR behind the strings) vs. the man who would become just the second three-time loser as a major presidential nominee (William Jennings Bryan following in the wings of Henry Clay). It had a presumed progressive later exposed as somewhat of a fake (Taft) vs. a faux populist already exposed as one to more knowledgeable voters (Bryan). I give this race two stars for its relative blandness.

Next, we go to 1920, truly a doorknob-awful election. It pitted a man who knew he wasn’t qualified for the White House, in Warren G. Harding, vs. a man saddled with Woodrow Wilson, Ohio Gov. James Cox. Cox sadly never had a chance, with Harding ringing up the largest popular vote percentage until LBJ in 1964. Even the strong performance of Socialist Eugene Debs, running from prison, couldn’t boost this above one star, or even one-half star.

The 1924 campaign approaches 1912 in blandness or goes beyond. “Silent Cal” Coolidge faced relative unknown Congressman John W. Davis in what has been called the high tide of conservativism. “Battling Bob” LaFollette gave progressivism a voice, keeping this at two stars, but no more. The Democrats’ own conservative angle helped set up the Great Depression.

For more campaign ratings, look below the fold.

May 11, 2012

'All In' for Gen. #Betrayus

From my Goodreads review of a book you can wait to read:

While there are "sympathetic" biographies in a good sense, like Robert K. Massie's new bio of Catherine the Great, there are sympathetic bios that aren't so good. And this is one of them.

It's not quite craptacular, but it's nowhere near a "critical" study. Written by a West Point grad, and, as one other reviewer notes, some sort of "authorized" bio, it's got enough of a suck-up attitude that it doesn't question him at all. (The type of people who blurb it on the back, starting with Tom Brokaw, also indicate the quasi suck-up nature.)

For example, did the "surge" in Iraq, combined with the Anbar Awakening, really work, in part, because a fair amount of Sunni ethnic cleansing had already played out, and in part because some awakeners were content to take some cold U.S. cash and bide their time? Author Paula Broadwell never asks these questions, either rhetorically or of her subject.

Nor does she address the questions of whether or not Petraeus is a "political general." (Short answer: Every general is, at least within the Army; career bird colonels are the ones who aren't.)

Also, given the subject matter, it's "interesting" that Broadwell apparently made no attempt to see if anybody would talk off the record about Afghanistan, or Iraq, issues. That goes in hand with a quasi-"approved" bio. Surely a two-star or three-star not in the Petraeus mentorship pipeline would have talked anonymously if Broadwell had wanted to pursue that angle.

Beyond that, it's bland in that we don't learn much new from this book. Pass. Wait 10 years, until he retires (I hope) from the CIA, and see if a real bio is out.

Facebook goes slumming for money

Two sure signs Facebook’s IPO is NOT going to fetch nearly what Marky Mark Zuckerberg wants (and which belie his non-materialistic claims).

First, Facebook is currently testing, in New Zealand, a pay-based premium content system. The cost could ride as high as $2.

Can you just picture the spam central this could become? Russian spammers would probably have no problem either establishing fake Paypal accounts, or “legit” ones using stolen credit card information, to scam this one in a Moscow minute.

That said, there’s a ray of silver lining.

The way Facebook screws up so many other things, what's to guarantee it won't flub this? And, since it would involve paid money, what's to prevent a breach of contract lawsuit? So, yes, Facebook, PLEASE introduce this, and please, screw it up!

Anyway, what’s the second sign about Facebook and its IPO? Facebook is pulling an Apple and rolling out its own “app store.” And, at the same monetary split of 30 percent as Apple. 

Given that smart media groups are already seeing that Apple’s deals are onerous AND are not generating general revenue, smart media groups will avoid this like the plague. Of course, there’s plenty of dumb media groups out there, including my previous newspaper company.

Here’s one, right here:

“We’re still gathering information about the App Center, but Atlantic Media currently reaches millions of monthly users via Facebook platform through our brand page and audience sharing, and thus the potential to reach one billion users with Atlantic Media Apps is certainly attractive. The App Center should become an important distribution channel for Atlantic Media as we accelerate our investment in mobile and app development on all platforms, including HTML5,” Scott Havens, SVP of finance and digital operations with Atlantic Media, tells FOLIO.

Per a previous blog post of mine, Mr. Havens would be smart to visit Technology Review and discover how to post mobile content on an app-free, flexible format HTML5 system. (And, based on that, it would be funny if something pushed in part by Microsoft, in part due to Apple’s concerns over Flash, wound up undercutting both Apple and Facebook.)

That said, given that Atlantic has enough in-depth, specialized content it probably should have  paywalled content, but doesn't, Mr. Havens' employer has already indicated it's not the sharpest media knife in the drawer.

'Houston, we have a problem'

And, no, it's not James Lovell or Tom Hanks speaking that to a real or fictitious NASA.

Rather, it's probably an exec at the Houston Chronicle speaking that to a corporate lawyer.

Because, add in a mix of a staff writer who was doing moonlighting as a stripper — and blogging about it, her getting "outed" by Houston's alt-weekly, her getting fired by the Chron, and her now getting represented by Dumpster-diving celebrity lawyer/wannabe celeb herself Gloria Allred, and you've got one fun story.

Really, she has no chance, even if she claims she didn't list this "other job" on her application because it wasn't full time.

First, Tejas is an at-will state.

Second, the Chron surely has a morals clause or two.

That said, with Allred involved, PR, and the bucks from it, are the real angle anyway. Given that the staffer has now had at least one freelance spot on Good Morning America, that proves it.

Sidebar: It was "interesting" that she was a society reporter. Did she see any high-society types ogling her at places outside of high-society parties?

May 10, 2012

I work in the fifth-worst career ... old-fashioned art ideas

My boss said this picture wasn't good as lead art on the front page because there's no people visible.

Tosh. I had an idea for a Page 1 design to get people above the fold but still use this as dominant art.

But, I wasn't asked, and to the degree I tried to "sell" something, I was ignored.

That's basically yet another reason why, within this job, a "newspaper romantic" who never should have gotten back in the business six-seven years ago after being out of it for a full decade before that is a major frustration. He has design ideas, and other things, often still frozen in the 1980s.

May 09, 2012

The "violent ape": #Pinker, #PopEvPsych refuted again

John Horgan does an excellent job of refuting the idea that humans are somehow "naturally violent," which in turn undercuts the thesis of Steve Pinker's new book in a new way. (Pinker is right that private violence has fallen in much of the world, but anybody who looks at modern war knows that his thesis of modern-time drops in violence in general is more tenuous.)

The real problem, somewhat even with non-pop evolutionary psychology, but much more with Pop Ev Psych, is the weight the discipline puts on the environment of evolutionary adaptedness, or EEA. This has four main problems.

First is trying to fix a "starting point" for starting the clock on this; second is getting details of that starting point wrong, which is where Horgan comes. Third is general lack of information. Fourth is a philosophical issue.

Some of this I've blogged before, but some is new.

On the starting point issue, the "tree" of hominid evolution, compared to what we knew 20 years ago, seems to have, well, multiple trunks. Where do we find "one starting point"? Related to that, evolutionary biologists tell us about ancestors of humans and chimpanzees interbreeding after their "split."

The second point? Pop Ev Psychers want to make early members of genus Homo into almost stereotypical burly male hunter-gatherers. The reality? We were, to all appearances, not-so-burly scavenger-gatherers many millennia before. And, for Pop Ev Psychers, this sleight of hand appears to be politically driven, related to wanting to see a high level of nature-driven gender difference today, with many of them being libertarian/conservative. (I specifically noted this in blogging about Pinker's "The Blank Slate." Beyond that are bigger issues yet.

That's point three, the lack of knowledge.

First of all, ancient DNA doesn't generally fossilize. So, we have little information about what drove many evolutionary changes, just that they happened.

Second of all, genes aren't destiny. To the point, in making cross-species comparisons today, we know little about human epigenetics and about bupkis about chimp epigenetics. Relatd to that, did famed "botttleneck" points in human (or chimp) evolution have major epigenetic as well as genetic effects?

Finally, point four — philosophy. Pop Ev Psych appears to ignore Hume's famous is/ought dictum. That often seems to relate to the politics under point two.

On the lack of knowledge/information, I'm just touching lightly.

Obama hearts gay marriage

OK, the interview on ABC has Dear Leader finally following his senior citizen vice president, and the ideas of some young buck named Barack Obama in 1998 and supporting gay marriage.(Apparently the NYT's The Caucus blog hasn't heard of Obama 1998, saying this is the first time he's supported gay marriage. Probably another reason the paper of record doesn't want a real paywall, if it's going to make errors like that in national political coverage.)

Political fallout? 

Polls show a small majority favor it, but I've not seen detailed breakouts of independent voters.

By age, gay marriage is greater among younger people, but they turn out to vote in lower numbers.

Since we've seen North Carolina's vote on the issue, I think it's safe to say it hurts there, and likely Indiana.

I'll call it a bump in Virginia and Colorado, a wash in Nevada, and unknown right now in Ohio.

That said, since Mitt Romney is now "no comment" on the subject, it behooves Obama surrogates to push him on the issue.

#Apps - nothing more than an #Apple scam?

Technology Review doesn't go quite that far, but it does say that apps for newspapers, and mobile versions of websites in general for newspapers, when locked into an app-based system, simply don't make sense.

The gist of the story is that they don't make sense on either the technological or financial end, and I'm going to focus on that second one.

TR publisher Jason Pontin says that many newspapers and magazines were engaged in little more than dreaming, over the idea that mobile versions of websites on an app-based system were seen as a "do-over" for everything they got wrong with the traditional web.

Why is that not surprising? Just as a traditional website isn't an electronic version of a hardcopy newspaper, especially due to the mix of Google and news aggregators, a mobile version isn't that, either. And, it's more akin by far to a website than to a hardcopy newspaper.

So, apps don't sell. Pontin has the details:
A recent Nielsen study reported that while 33 percent of tablet and smart-phone users had downloaded news apps in the previous 30 days, just 19 percent of users had paid for any of them. The paid, expensively developed publishers' app, with its extravagantly produced digital replica, is dead. 
That sounds pretty simple.

He says TR has junked them all for an HTML5 system that is less "constrained." Per that, this probably means that between this and expanding Android tablets, Apple's gravy train in the app world will probably start to dry up, too.

It also means, to get back to an old hobby horse of mine, newspapers and magazines need to look at paywalls. And real ones.

Don't listen to Jay Rosen or Clay Shirky. They're getting paid to tell you otherwise.

May 08, 2012

Should #vegans become #Jains?

Specifically, should they become sky-clad Jains, so called because, in traditional India, they went nude rather than kill even a cotton plant, and eventually starved themselves rather than kill even a lentil or grain of rice or wheat?

The question, and the use of the word "kill" with plants, is deliberate, even while also being facetious.

Why? Some researchers have discovered that, at least with peas, some of the claims about "emotions" and "communication" of plants in the controversial 1973 bestseller "The Secret Life of Plants" may just be true.

A lot of vegetarians may have multiple reasons for vegetarianism, often health-related.

But for full-blown vegans, the moral issue is almost invariably the bottom line.

So, seriously and facetiously both, vegans either need to become sky-clad Jains and starve themselves to death, or else get off their moral high horses, if the research yields more such results.

Even if you don't believe that plants have "secret lives," nonetheless, they are alive. So, unless you want to eat either "meat" or "soybeans" out of a test tube, and, in either case, have the substitute made from non-living substrates, not even the algae or whatever that's being used for meat in a test tube now, let's not be so self-righteous out there in vegan-land.

There's more on the "secret lives of plants," even their "foraging" for food, in a follow-up column at the NYT's "The Stone" philosophy page.

The only way you get a partial pass is if you claim the primary reason for being a vegan is earth's natural resources. (That said, livestock raised entirely on grasses, in places that can't readily grow commercial crops, are still then a viable meat source.)

Beyond that, it's clear that some amount of meat protein accelerated brain development among our hominid ancestors, another reason that veganism doesn't necessarily occupy any moral high ground, unless vegans want to pull the food ladder back up after themselves.

And, a side note: I have never practiced veganism, but I have practiced vegetarianism. And, I didn't spend $7 a pound on soy "burgers." I ate vegetarian foods the way they're commonly meant to be eaten. (And, not tofu, either; blech. I ate soy flour as part of baking, normally.)

#Mayday for May Day, or #Occupy vandalism doesn't work

Atlantic has a great roundup of May Day pix. Unfortunately, especially in Oakland and Seattle (the pix are international, not just US), a fair amount of them show apparently/likely senseless vandalism.

First, a reetail store, or strip mall (both vandalized) aren't the same as big, bad bankster Wells Fargo (a location of it also vandalized).

Frankly, when I see that, I say we're seeing the same vandals for vandalism's sake that have plagued globalization events since the late 1900s G7 in ... Seattle! That's when this whole (to riff on that city) anarcho-grunge movement got started.

Not all "Occupiers" are of such a mindset; nonetheless, it's prevalent enough that non-vandal leaders of OWS (and, yes, as I've blogged before, it has leaders) should denounce such "tactics." Secularists, after all, call on the more liberal-minded religious folks to denounce the more strident stances of fundamentalists. So, why shouldn't the more left-liberal of us politically call on a movement that has energy and potential to officially, or semi-officially, denounce senseless vandalism?

And, actions deliberately designed to provoke police? Equally stupid and senseless. If you're arrested as "collateral damage" that's one thing; to be arrested for being arrested is another.

I'm not claiming I do know what WILL work, just that this doesn't. And, if a "winter of gestation" after the semi-coordinated "pause" on Occupy's side/semi-coordinated "shutdown" on cities' side hasn't provoked more creativity, what will?

Well, in Greece, voters thumbed their noses at both top political parties just after May Day. As I've said before, political involvement here, including third-party involvement, is part of what I see Occupiers need to do. On the far right, Tea Partiers don't get that they're stooges of the GOP and the big business interests that started class warfare. On the left, Occupiers need to learn that Obama won't help them and neither will political apathy.

In other words, check out the Green Party!

Local advertisers next to flee newspapers?

Classified advertisers started leaving years ago, in some cases to Craigslist, in others, to the likes of Monster and CareerBuilder.

Next were the national retailers. Some, years ago, notably Walmart, opted for direct mail only rather than inserts. For page-based, or ROP advertising, company websites became first a supplement to, then more and more a replacement for, the newspaper. Social media accelerated that trend.

And now, even with an economic recovery of some sort, national advertisers are in no hurry to come back. And why should they? Between house websites, social media and Google searches, they have a presence, and will focus more on beating competitors on visibility, branding, etc., there.

That's not just retailers, but individual brands, etc. Especially for service companies, it's a no-brainer.

But, through all of this, allowing for the economic downturn, local advertising had seemed steady.

However, it appears that Pat’s Diner, the local Ford dealer (not just Ford the company), and others are also looking to move on elsewhere.

Not a surprise, overall, from personal knowledge though the amount of decline is, as it looks like local businesses are going to slash newspaper advertising in years ahead.

And, this will affect smaller papers than your major metros, or even mid-sized ones. In fact, it will affect the “community” five-day and six-day dailies, and even non-dailies, perhaps, even more than seven-day dailies.

In this case, it’s a mix of things.

In some cases, small business owners have developed basic website design skills themselves. That’s helped by WordPress remaking itself to be more than just a blogging site.

In other cases, it’s social media, as with bigger companies. In a number of cases, companies aren’t even doing a website, just a Facebook page, or “presence.”

If a small-town, or small-county, Chamber of Commerce has a website, and one with links to member businesses, that’s about all that’s needed to get visibility on the Internet.

Add to that another part of WordPress. It, and Blogger, are letting people start online “newspapers” in small communities to compete with the traditional ones. Sell ad space, or even sell linking, and the newspaper, even as a hobby, is making a few bucks.

So, expect this trend to continue. Even accelerate. 

Next? As recovery stays slow, look for more state governments to change laws about public notice legal advertising in newspapers.

#GaryJohnson ... the real Libertarian, #RonPaul and 2012

The *real* Libertarian, the former New Mexico governor not Ron Paul, has gotten the Libertarian Party presidential nod.

First, per a link inside this Daily Beast overview of what he could do in the race, I love how the WSJ disses his "outside the mainstream" views on gay marriage and legal marijuana, when they're both majoritarian (were I not voting Green, he'd likely be ahead of Dear Leader as my second choice).

Second, it's true that he walks the libertarian walk in a way Ron Paul doesn't. Above all, having been an executive, he had no problem pulling the veto trigger. Paul, of course, has brought bacon a-plenty home to his Congressional district, then offered the same excuse as Ayn Rand did with Social Security.

How "pure" is he? He vetoed a bill passed by the N.M. legislature that, in its initial form, had been pushed by his own wife. Still vetoed it; said it had been changed too much.

Third, he is a social libertarian to a degree far beyond Paul. He doesn't "favor" gay marriage because he doesn't favor the state regulating marriage at all.

That said, he's no Jill Stein.  He still stand well behind her in my affections. He's got "issues" as well as issues.

He was strongly pro-voucher for public schools, built multiple private prisons (including one in Hobbs when I lived there), is big on privatization in general, and, while not anti-environmental, isn't strong on it; Wiki lists his full political positions (which, unlike most politicians, don't change).

May 07, 2012

What's wrong with Texas Democrats? (Updated)

It would be easy to point at state level offices, like uncontested Supreme Court races, or a bland list of U.S. Senate candidates, despite Dems having a few decent names at the Texas Senate level. (Or, to look at the new U.S. House District in the Metroplex and know that, if a Hispanic is to be "the" candidate, the wrong Garcia, Domingo rather than Elba, is running.

But, where the rubber really hits the road is Burnet County.

Yes, pretty conservative. Yes, fairly rural. But, not that far from Austin. And, surely at least a few of the rich retirees on the Highland Lakes would consider voting for a Democrat, seeing the nutty resolutions the Burnet County GOP passed in convention.

But, there are no Democrats running. (Meanwhile, that's not stopping a party "rally"; see below.)

By that, I do not mean that Democrats have no contested local-level primary contests.

I mean that NO DEMOCRATS are running, period, for two county commission seats, sheriff, county attorney, district attorney or district judge. None.

In Burnet County, in all local races, the GOP primary is the general election. (There's no Green or Libertarian candidates listed.)

When you can't get one person to run in more than half a dozen different races, you've got a problem.

Update, May 7: Meanwhile, area Democrats are planning a rally in Marble Falls' Johnson Park May 19.

Really? A rally for what? Or, more accurately, a rally for WHOM?

You have no local candidates.

And, you're holding a rally? What are you rallying for?

May 06, 2012

#Pujols ends drought!

Albert Pujols has finally gotten the monkey off his back. Or the rally squirrel of last year's St. Louis Cardinals, since he hadn't hit a regular-season home run from before it gaining post-season notoriety.

But, HR 446 is now in the record books.

#Israel has a housing bubble

You may be thinking.... what?

"I've not heard a word about such a thing, or about the Israeli economy in general being in trouble."

You haven't, because
A. The bubble hasn't burst yet, and
B. The mainstream business and political media isn't thinking outside the box enough.

All those houses being built in the occupied West Bank/Palestine? THAT is your Israeli housing bubble.

I think a lot of Israeli politicians know that, and, like Social Security used to be in the U.S., it's the "third rail" of Israeli politics. Even more liberal-party politicians there don't want to touch it at all.

Now, people may not be taking out home equity loans against their new settler homes. But, there's already plenty of largely artificial economic stimulus there.

You have:
A. The housing construction itself;
B. The settler village infrastructure construction, of neighborhood water, sewer, electricity and roads;
C. Municipal/village police, civilian government employees, etc.;
D. The Israeli Army.

Per the overall size of Israel, that's actually probably a pretty damned big bubble.

And, nobody inside the Beltway in the U.S. mentions it, either. Why not? They're probably afraid Israel would ask for even more foreign aid money if the bubble even contracted, let alone burst. And, it's an election year.