SocraticGadfly: 5/20/12 - 5/27/12

May 26, 2012

#Douthat: There ain't much money in that there Internet

And, by and large, he's damned right. Ross Douthat has written what has to be his best column ever. A couple of takeouts:
(T)he more purely digital a company’s product, the fewer jobs it tends to create and the fewer dollars it can earn per user — a reality that journalists have become all too familiar with these last 10 years, and that Facebook’s investors collided with last week.
So, once again, in the media world, I utter the word "paywall."

Yeah, other bloggers may not like that word, but, you know? Unless you're going to the city council or school board meeting yourself and writing your own damned story, tough shit. Paying a newspaper (or broadcast media station) a few cents to link to their article is nothing.

Otherwise, here's the second takeout:
The “new economy,” in this sense, isn’t always even a commercial economy at all. Instead, as Slate’s Matthew Yglesias has suggested, it’s a kind of hobbyist’s paradise, one that’s subsidized by surpluses from the old economy it was supposed to gradually replace. 

A glance at the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent unemployment numbers bears this reality out. Despite nearly two decades of dot-com enthusiasm, the information sector is still quite small relative to other sectors of the economy; it currently has one of the nation’s higher unemployment rates; and it’s one of the few sectors where unemployment has actually risen over the last year. 
That's the "bottom line" of the bottom line. Well put. And, barring incredible luck, neither I with this blog nor you with yours is going to get on the gravy train. And, if very early adopters, or people who just got damned lucky, accuse me of sour grapes, well, I have an anatomical suggestion or two.

A reporter/blogger at Britain's Telegraph largely agrees with Douthat, including noting the economic hollowing out, but ...

Then he goes further and accuses those of us who worry about this of being Luddites.

I disagree, and strongly, and not just because I'm a newspaper editor. (I decry NAFTA and the WTO even though I'm not a factory worker.)

Something can be beneficial to certain individuals, even individuals not of high incomes, and yet injurious to society as a whole. The decline of media, even with sometimes-deserved snide comments about the "mainstream media" as a whole is injurious to society. The rise of social media brings up privacy rights issues, especially here in an America where enforcement by both Republicans and neoliberal Democrats is slim to none.

And, back to the first paragraph of my second pull quote from Douthat.

What happens when the surpluses from the old economy run dry? In Washington, the Post is propped up by a for-profit college company, also being given wink-and-a-nod regulation by both parties, including Dear Leader. What if the parent company pulls the plug? Its "competition" the Times is propped up by the dubious financing of the family of a religious cultist.

Or look at, say, an Amazon. Yes, Mr. Davies, it may extend convenience and money savings to us. But, here in the U.S., at least, it undercuts local and state sales taxes, thereby forcing cuts in services, etc. It's not in any way Luddite to bemoan that.

What the Internet has really done is broken a lot of business models. In my own industry, "gurus" Clay Shirky and Jay Rosen refuse to face the reality of how deeply they're broken, while at the same time refusing to countenance models (paywalls) that would inconvenience them as part of the high-level blogetariat.

And, perhaps that's part of the problem. Not in the way tea partiers claim with those damned blacks and Mexicas, but maybe the Internet has encouraged a form of America parasitism.

Why I vote Green but don't register Green

The Green Party, and people who use the more generic label of "green," rightly chastise climate change deniers for not "following the science."

But, you can't make that claim, and then have official support for "alt-med" (often, it's really pseudo-med) in your official 2004 and 2008 party platform, without leaving yourself open to charges of hypocrisy, even rank hypocrisy. (I have emailed state-level Green representatives, months ago; we'll see if anything changes this year.)

That's somewhat the same on issues of modern agriculture. Setting aside the fact that organic agriculture, even non-corporatized organic, uses pesticides and herbicides in many cases, and that many of these are actually more toxic than commercial varieties, then, there's the blanket opposition to genetic engineering.

Mike at Science Blogs does a generally good job of getting at this issue. I think he could have addressed greens' concerns a bit more, but he's generally on the right track. Not every GMO change creates a "Frankenfood," not every GMO or other change is under the control of a Monsanto, though a number are, and, an ongoing (note that stress, because we've done that for decades) scientific approach to agriculture is still the best bet for future world food needs, closely seconded by better political stability in many places for food distribution. (Organics, per acre, generally have a lower yield, meaning that it's going to take more land to feed them to more people.)

So, why do I vote Green?

I do believe in many of the party's official positions. Plus, the Democrats, especially nationally, but also here in Texas, largely continue to drift, if not actively move, further right. And, there's the combination of protest vote and punishment vote.

So, I'll continue to vote Green, and continue to tout Greens vs. Democrats. I won't necessarily avidly tout Greens by their own lights, though.

But, what's really needed is per a blog I started several years ago: a "Science and Reason Party." Behavioral economics shows how wrong and unscientific modern conservative American economic theories are; modern social sciences show how unscientific most religious right shibboleths are; modern hard science shows how wrong the anti-science not only of the far right but the "woo" people of the left is.

Some Texas primary predictions

1. The GOP will go to a runoff in the Senate race, Dewhurst vs. Cruz; sorry, Tom Leppert, but you're the odd man out.

2. Paul Sadler will get the Democratic nod. He's the only one of the four Dems with close to name recognition.

3. The 10-man GOP field in the 25th Congressional will definitely go to a runoff, with nobody breaking 25 percent. Geez, what a race. A semi-rural district bringing tea partiers out of the woodwork.

4. No Democrats will win county-level races in Burnet or Llano counties because, as I blogged before, nobody filed!

5. Domingo Garcia will get his hat handed to him in the 33rd Congressional Democratic primary. His career will be dead for good this time, and Elba Garcia will have to look at a blown opportunity of the wrong Garcia running (assuming she wants to move beyond the Dallas County Commissioners Court).

6. The Green Party convention early next month will have less bland candidates than many Democrats. Paul Sadler? Really? If nothing else, you can run for gov in two years, and keep the bland Democrats streak alive there.

May 25, 2012

Another #SamHarris fail: #Muslim profiling by #TSA at airport

Sam Harris is, more and more, becoming a parody of a scientist, or certainly, a parody of a social scientist. He talks about his secular liberal friends, but between his Islamophobia and his cluelessness about human nature and free will (not to mention his cluelessness about philosophy and his practicing of scientism), I'm surprised Faux News hasn't given him a gig yet; after all, his "they look Muslim and so they scare me" is the same schtick that helped get Juan Williams booted from NPR, then welcomed with open arms at Faux.

Having read his latest argument for Muslim profiling, which is largely and easily shot down by Bruce Schneier to the satisfaction of most people not named Sam Harris and his pseudo-liberal Gnu Atheist fellow travelers, I think I have to agree with Facebook friend Michael McRae:

the more I read of Harris, the more I think he develops his opinions half baked based on how he feels things should be rather than how they are.

And, I'll add that he's willing to stack the deck, too. Anybody who is supposed to be as educated as he is, and will claim with a straight face, as he did in "The End of Faith," that Buddhism is just a psychology clearly is cutting corners. (And, no, don't try to claim that I'm wrong; whether an individual soul or a "life force," if something metaphysical is being reincarnated based on metaphysical guiding principles, it's more than just a psychology.)

But, back to the argument between Harris and Schneier. First, based on previous emails, Harris seems to whine that it's bad pool for Schneier to have brought up Tim McVeigh or the Unabomber. And why? AFTER 9/11, we had the tax protester Andrew Joseph Stack in Austin, Texas, highly akin to the likes of McVeigh, fly a private plane into the Austin IRS office. Before 9/11, we had the Libyans bombing the Lockerbie plane for nationalistic reasons, albeit not while flying.

And, of course, as Harris  knows but refuses to rationally discuss, the religiously Hindu Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka, not Muslims, invented the modern idea of suicide bombings. Here's his irrational dismissal:

And I am not proposing a mere correlation between extremist Islam and suicidal terrorism. I am claiming that the relationship is causal. There are many ways to see this, and not too many ways to credibly deny it (though Robert Pape keeps at it by skewing his data with the Tamil Tigers).

So, it's causal. But, it's not ONLY causal for extremist Muslims. We just happen to be the U.S., with huge numbers of airplanes, not Sri Lanka.

That said, Harris is, arguably, either clueless or deceived about the reality of American airport security in general and the Transportation Security Agency in particular, as Schneier readily points out:

 Your intuition on the efficacy of an airport profiling system is wrong.  The psychology of security is complex, and there is a great deal of of research about how our brains systematically get security decisions wrong.  This is an example of that.  Profiling at airports gives us less security at greater cost.

Harris then tries to conflate behavioral and ethnic profiling, only for Schneier to bust him again:
You can disagree, but I assure you that the Israelis understand the difference between ethnic profiling and behavioral profiling.  Yes, they do both together, but that doesn’t mean you can confuse them. 
Beyond the competency level of the TSA in general is the American idea of solving problems with technical fixes rather than spending money on human operations. We could possibly do real profiling, like Israel, but the U.S. Congress would refuse to spend the necessary money to do that intense of personal screening albeit while not profiling on religion. Let's also not forget that, again speaking of people, the NSA possibly, and the CIA possibly, could have prevented 9/11. The NSA could have done that with other cases, if it had the people to pay for all of the data sorting that's needed. Harris and Schneier both appear not to focus on this issue, but it's an additional part of the puzzle.

Anyway, back to the looking Muslim. Anybody who has followed revelations about al-Qaeda in general, and who knows that what Harris is getting at is "looking Arab," also knows that Osama bin Laden was recruiting non-Arab, non-Arab-looking Muslims for exactly this reason. And, as far as names falling under "sounding Muslim"? Jose Padilla didn't look Muslim and "Jose Padilla" doesn't sound that way. Neither does "Richard Reid."

Worldwide, off the top of my head, I'd say that a solid one-third of Muslims are of non-Arab ethnicity, to a degree that they wouldn't look Arab. I include Indonesians, Uighurs in China, Turks in Turkey and Turkic people in central Asia, sub-Saharan blacks and more.

And, because Islamophobia runs so strong and deep among A-list Gnu Atheists, Sam Harris' vapid maunderings show, or hint at, the degree of intellectual bankruptcy among Gnus. It's a long read, but, if you want to see how clearly Harris refuses to admit he's wrong, consistently moves goalposts and other things, read his whole blog post.

To put it another way,  he's engaging in what Dan Dennett has repeatedly, in other areas of human mentality, called "folk psychology." And, as Dennett also noted, folk psychology is often wrong. (Of course, Dennett himself is a Gnu who lied about why he and Richard Dawkins devised the word "bright," but that's another story altogether.)

Mourning #NOLA, demanding paywalls

For those who haven't heard, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, which survived Hurricane Katrina, and famously websiting at, is cutting back to just three days a week of print publication.

(Three other Newhouse papers, in Huntsville, Birmingham, and Mobile, Ala., are doing the same.)

Sure, you’ll save a bunch of money in print costs, and on fired copy editors and graphic artists, but, speaking of graphic artists, you’re going to lose a boatload on hardcopy ads.

And, not just local ROP, but national, and national inserts. I don''t care if Newhouse is doing this based on having done it in Ann Arbor, Mich. That is a small city in Detroit's shadow. New Orleans (and Birmingham) are actual major metro areas. If you're halfway giving up on your print paper, why should a struggling retailer, say, a JCPenney, continue to insert or run ROP with you?)

And, speaking of business-side issues, Newhouse is doing this while letting the online version stay 100-percent free.

And, that’s the problem. Where’s the paywall?

That's why David Simon (of "The Wire") is right. Where's the paywall? 

But, a real paywall is needed. Not a fake one, like the New York Times one that can be busted with a Javascript workaround. (Simon was wrong to say it has a real paywall.) Nor a semi-fake like the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which gives you a full 20 free articles then charges just 99 cents a week after that.

And, frankly, it's kind of sad that I and others like me know more about the business side of newspapers than do their owners, whether they're publicly traded or family concerns. It's also sad that too many of these owners are listening to the likes of Jay Rosen and Clay Shirky on opposing paywalls and other things.

#Stlcards at quarter pole — early optimism fading

More than a year ago, when the St. Louis Cardinals signed Lance Berkman, I predicted that John Mozeliak might just be looking at that as a longer-term move, giving him the freedom of playing contract hardball with Albert Pujols, if necessary.

Well, more than a year later, here we are. Berkman is at first base instead of right field and Pujols is … er, struggling, to put it mildly, as I have described in detail. (My theory? A mix of “pressing,” the  absence of the Tony La Russa security blanket, and still getting up to speed on American League pitching.)

So, up until earlier this week, it sounded good. Berkman was doing well, second-tier free agent Carlos Beltran was leading the National League in homers, and despite Adam Wainwright having a poor regular-season return from Tommy John surgery (except AFTER I bench him in my fantasy league), the pitching staff looked great.

Well, not so fast.

Berkman’s on the DL for the second time. So is Matt Carpenter, who had been doing solid short-term replacement work for him. Beltran’s historically balky legs are looking a bit balky. Allen Craig’s return from the DL has been pushed back. That means it's hard to give Beltran a lot of rest. While Yadier Molina is having a great year for average, he’s not a big bopper for power. If Beltran gets hurt, or simply struggles, that leaves just David Freese, who so far in his career has been a walking injury machine.

Meanwhile, the pitching will surely show some regression to the mean.

So, what will the remaining six furlongs reveal?

Before the start of the season, I predicted that the Cards, even with the second wild card, would not make the playoffs this year. Add in that Berkman is now facing surgery for at least a torn meniscus, and possibly an ACL to boot, and trouble looms; preliminary word has him out until the end of July at the earliest. I may turn out to be wrong, especially if Matt Holliday stays healthy all year and lights up, but I’ll still stand by it as a reasonable proposition.

Let's also not forget that  he and Waino are on the far side of 30, too. Beltran's at 35. So, rebuilding may be coming up in years ahead.

Oh, and sorry, Cards fans that became Pujols haters — he is going to bounce back.

May 24, 2012

#Jesus #crucifixion date NOT proven - no #GoodFriday

OK, let's spot the errors in this story that claims paleogeology, or whatever the word, proves Jesus was crucified on April 3, 33 CE.

Error No. 1? Geologists treading WAY beyond their area of expertise.

Error No. 2? Geologists taking what is poetic license, at least, as literal truth.

Error No. 3? Geologists taking a story with legendary elements, at least, to be literally true, if even in parts.

Error No. 4? Taking the New Testament Gospels as anything close to history. That includes assuming that Jesus was crucified over a Passover period. If the “Palm Sunday” story is true, this would actually fit other festivals more closely, as Hyam Maccoby, among others, has argued.

Error No. 4A? Assuming that (outside of Luke, who still blows it) these books were written to be taken as documents of history, not polemic.

Error No. 5? Assuming that a Yeshua bar Yusuf, if he existed, had the approximate life and death dates that literalists and semi-literalists claim.

Error No. 6? Assuming we can know enough about this Yeshua, from the Christian New Testament, to even guess at facts that might mitigate Error No. 5.

Error No. 7: Assuming that this Yeshua was a historic personage.

Ohhh, other than THAT, there’s nothing wrong with geologists, on what’s probably shaky (pun highly intended) evidence, assuming that something from the geological record proves a Jew named Jesus was crucified on April 3, 33 CE.

Now, they do leave the door to the world of rationality cracked open a small bit:

In terms of the earthquake data alone, (Jefferson) Williams and his team acknowledge that the seismic activity associated with the crucifixion could refer to “an earthquake that occurred sometime before or after the crucifixion and was in effect ‘borrowed’ by the author of the Gospel of Matthew, and a local earthquake between 26 and 36 A.D. that was sufficiently energetic to deform the sediments of Ein Gedi but not energetic enough to produce a still extant and extra-biblical historical record.” 

“If the last possibility is true, this would mean that the report of an earthquake in the Gospel of Matthew is a type of allegory,” they write. 
Only to then shut it even more firmly:
Williams is studying yet another possible natural happening associated with the crucifixion — darkness. 

Three of the four canonical gospels report darkness from noon to 3 p.m. after the crucifixion. Such darkness could have been caused by a duststorm, he believes. 

Williams is investigating if there are dust storm deposits in the sediments coincident with the earthquake that took place in the Jerusalem region during the early first century.
Go BACK to studying sedimentary rocks, Mr. Williams, and stay there.


#Southwest enters new era

America's largest domestic-only airline has finalized an agreement with the city of Houston for international gates at Hobby Airport. The recently merged United-Continental, with the old Continental hub at Bush Intercontinental in Houston, is understandably (and sadly) peeved.

Per one person interviewed for the story,  it's still a duopoly for Latin American travel, but, that's better than a monopoly. And, it's with Southwest, not a legacy carrier, as one of the two companies.

ANd, it doesn't just challenge United-Continental, or benefit only Houston.With Southwest’s major presence at Dallas Love, DFW flyers to Latin America will also hugely benefit. And, American, the American that continues to struggle, with its hub at D/FW International, will be challenged by this move almost as much as United-Continental. And, don't forget that American also has a Latin American hub of sorts at Miami. The Double-A can't be liking this a lot, either.

And, given that Southwest actually has its busiest site at Las Vegas, there’s one other city that could benefit. It’s going to be a while, but low-budget Hispanic gamblers could head to Sin City.

#Facebook flop - a social media bubble ahead?

Yes, per the first-day playout of a number of other highly touted IPOs, we must say that Facebook had a Friday flop, and that Mark Zuckerberg had a black Friday. I mean, when your stock gets tagged with a “sell” order on opening day, it’s pretty sad. Facebook is what, the Chicago Cubs of IPOs?

But, let’s look beyond Facebook.

Zynga fell 13 percent. Yelp went down 12 percent. Groupon was off 7 percent and LinkedIn slid 5 percent.

Yes, all three major exchanges were off today but the NASDAQ only fell 1.24 percent.

So, is there a social media bubble? It’s arguable that Zynga is highly dependent on Facebook’s valuation and Yelp somewhat so, but Groupon is only modestly dependent on it and LinkedIn not at all.

So, what gives?

Maybe there is a social media bubble. What that says for larger economic issues, I have no idea. But it probably isn't good. If this means more “bricks and mortar” companies follow GM’s lead and stop advertising on Facebook, that will likely have fallout with ad agencies, PR agencies and possibly other business fields.

That said, it’s surprising, though kind of nice, to see GM make two smart ad decisions in a row. The second? Deciding to ditch the Super Bowl.

Is there a bubble there waiting to burst? If so … that would certainly have further effects in the ad world. Stay tuned.

What it has to say for American social psychology may be that there’s a psychological social media bubble, too.

Update, May 23: Meanwhile, as of the end of day May 22, FB stock had sunk to $31 a share. 

Update May 24: Facebook and Morgan Stanley, its IPO underwriter, are being sued for allegedly knowing that FB had lowered earnings projections and did not reveal this pre-IPO. Shock me once again about Zuckerberg.

Dear #ESPN - #Berkman is NOT a #HOF candidate

Once again, ESPN's "fluffers" for the Baseball Hall of Fame are busy fluffing away.

This time, it's David Schoenfield, who's done it before.

No, David, Lance Berkman is not even on a HOF bubble. And, no, contra your fluffery, he wasn't on a HOF bubble even before this year's multiple injuries, and he certainly isn't now. (Especially not with knee surgery putting him on the shelf through at least the end of July. He's not on the bubble now, and never will get there.)

He doesn't even have 2,000 hits, in the counting stats, and he's not yet at 1,200 runs or RBIs. In sabermetric stats, he's just barely at 50 oWAR (weak for someone with 1B as their primary spot) and has more than 11 dWAR to the negative.

And yes, per a comment you make, I am insulted you'd write something like this.

Let's do the "look test," too. Or the "name test." When you look at, or talk about, Lance Berkman, do you really think "Hall of Famer"? Didn't think so.

This is why I've said for some time that Yahoo Sports is generally better than ESPN. The fact that 60 percent of voters on the poll attached to the post actually agree with Schoenfield shows that Yahoo Sports probably has better fans reading it, too.

Oh, and if supposedly knowledgeable Cards fans were doing ballot box stuffing on that poll, you should be ashamed of yourselves.

May 23, 2012

#Google worse than #Microsoft? – The dark side of the Net

Maybe Google is a giant Pacman trying to devour all the data it can.
Five years ago, the idea that Google was worse than Microsoft, whether for problems of sheer size, using its size in quasi-monopolistic ways, having poor ethics on some issues, or specifically, badly handling personal data, would have seemed laughable. Two years ago, even, it wouldn’t have gotten serious consideration.

Today? The answer is arguably yes.

The master domino, tumbling all others, seems to be Google Street View. A secondary domino is Google’s new no-opt-out terms of service, combined with its plan (and, so far febrile attempts) to make Google Plus a “platform” for the full range of Google products and services.

The secret Street View data collection led to inquiries in at least a dozen countries, including four in the United States alone. But Google has yet to give a complete explanation of why the data was collected and who at the company knew about it.
To continue the comparison, that’s arrogance of a Bill Gates level, to not be talking more.

That’s compounded by U.S. regulators being slower, lazier, or more neoliberal than their European counterparts:
No regulator in the United States has ever seen the information that Google’s cars gathered from American citizens.
It seems to be a mix of factors here in the U.S.:
Michael Copps, who last year ended a 10-year term as a commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, said regulators were overwhelmed. “The industry has gotten more powerful, the technology has gotten more pervasive and it’s getting to the point where we can’t do too much about it,” he said.
But, Dear Leader, Barack Obama, has yet to propose more enforcement powers, money or anything else. Since he’s expanded his spying on American citizens, that may be of a piece, but that’s a whole nother subject.

And yet, per a friend of a friend on Facebook, many people blithely take the Jeff Jarvis attitude and don’t worry about such things.

Back to the subject matter at hand.

Next, we have Google engaging in old Microsoft levels of lying, if not worse:
When German regulators forced the company to admit that the cars were sweeping up unencrypted Internet data from wireless networks, the company blamed a programming mistake where an engineer’s experimental software was accidentally included in Street View. It stressed that the data was never intended for any Google products.
Not true:
The F.C.C. did not see it Google’s way, saying last month the engineer “intended to collect, store and review” the data “for possible use in other Google products.” It also said the engineer shared his software code and a “design document” with other members of the Street View team.
On privacy issues, with Microsoft, it was just the suckiness of various versions of the Windows OS. With Google, it’s deliberate snooping.

Of course, back to Michael Copps’ lament and my observation about Dear Leader, with Google only being fined $25,000 for this particular nefariousness, it’s no wonder it does it.

Declining to answer questions for an article like this doesn’t make you look good, either.

More on the problem below the fold.

May 22, 2012

Wallis and Edward VIII

That Woman: The
 Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor. Was she the scandalous woman who nearly toppled the British monarchy? Or rather, was she the fulcrum to lead to a long-considered idea by King Edward VIII? And, just what bound them together?

It seems, per my Goodreads review below, that she was at least not fully blameful. And that the future King George VI and Queen Mary (the "beloved" Queen Mum of so many later years) certainly had little cause for that.

At the same time, while Edward wasn't "pro-Nazi," Britain was surely better served with George on the throne.

Anyway, "That Woman" tells far more, in a generally sympathetic manner:

That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor. by Anne Sebba

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Interesting, thought-provoking, and perhaps a bit envelope-pushing on the psychologizing. It is, overall, a "sympathetic" bio of both Dutchess of Windsor Wallis Warfield Simpson, and to the degree he is covered, the Duke, the former Edward VIII.

Sebba is by no means the first or only person to note the "mannish" appearance of Wallis. She speculates this was from in utero, an androgen sensitivity disorder. She speculates that Edward, who reportedly had very little body hair, may have had some sexual identity issues, too, as well as the emotional neglect he appears to have suffered from his parents.

From there, Sebba says that perhaps both had adult sexuality issues that led them to feel, in their own ways, sympatico with each other.

That is all the "speculative" part. It may well be true, but there's no way of knowing for sure.

Otherwise, Sebba doesn't totally reveal whether she thought Wallis was treated shabbily by the rest of the royal family, but leans that way. She also seems to indicate that the constitutional crisis could have been better handled by some parliamentary leaders who were "concerned" but not, at least at first, totally against the marriage. Interestingly, the idea of a morganatic marriage was floated to prime ministers of some of the dominions, who nixed it.

Otherwise, though, it appears the royals were in general petty and shabby, even if Wallis' brashness drew such reaction.

And, as for Princess Mary's complaint that her husband Albert (Bertie), who became George VI, was so unprepared for the throne? Sebba notes that more than once, well before meeting Wallis, Edward had hinted that he would some day advocate, and likely sooner rather than later. Also, George V said, not too long before his death, that he wouldn't be surprised if Edward bollixed everything up within 18 months, and if he abdicated.

Point? Mary, George VI and other royals had no business blaming Wallis for the abdication; it was likely to happen anyway. Indeed, Sebba shows that Wallis saw the likely denouement quicker and more clearly than Edward, and in fact, begged off, even as the divorce proceedings from husband No. 2 were in midstream.

So, even if you don't see eye-to-eye with Sebba's psychosexual speculations, this is still a good read otherwise.

And, it may have been an "interesting" form of love, but love of some sort it was.

View all my reviews

May 21, 2012

#DavidBrooks jumps a whole sea of sharks

So, an Obama campaign ad against Bain Capital being a vampire is turning its back on 40 years of American good?

It is, if you're David Brooks.

The only thing I might agree with is the Obama ad didn't focus on the worst victim of Bain.

Contra Brooks, venture capitalists are often vampires. And, often, bad-management ones themselves. The old TXU hasn't made money one single year since Texas Pacific bought it out.

Of course, if National Review is your prime research source on private equity, you'll utter inanities like this.

Instead, he should have watched videos/ads of some of Romney's fellow Republicans.

As for the claim that banks wouldn't lend money to corporate looters, I say:

David Brooks, meet subprime bubble.

Even by Brooks' standards, this column is pure idiocy.

#Amazon to start sales tax fight?

OK, for the past few years, here in Texas and elsewhere, states have been trying to get Amazon, wherever it has a shipping or packaging center, to cough up sales taxes. And, Amazon has steadfastly resisted.

But, recently, deals have been made and cut.

However, what’s happening in California shows that silver clouds may have leaden linings for governments, and certainly for citizens.

Here's the basics:
As part of a pact reached last year with state lawmakers, some online retailers agreed to begin collecting sales taxes this fall. About half of the projected $316 million raised in the first full year is expected to come from merchandise sold by Amazon, which is also setting up two California fulfillment centers that will employ at least 1,000 workers each.

San Bernardino and Patterson, where the centers will be located, will gain not only jobs but also a tax bonanza: Sales to Amazon customers throughout California will be deemed to take place there, so all the sales tax earmarked for local government operations will go to those two cities. It's a windfall so lucrative — about $8 million a year initially for each city — that local officials are preparing to give Amazon the lion's share of their take as a reward for setting up shop there.
OK, picture that happening in Texas.

California, like Texas, has localities having about 10 percent of the total sales tax "bite." 

But ... Texas, and most other Southern states, have one additional angle, at least as an option, at the municipal level.

The old economic development tax. AND, incentive funds from said tax, while ultimately approved by a city council, get preliminary approval from an appointed economic development corporation, one usually controlled by the council.

Can you see where I'm headed?

Especially if Texas courts rule that all Amazon sales from a "fulfillment center" or whatever in Texas are from that point, Amazon's got huge incentive to lobby for economic development funds, knowing that cities are going to get a local sales tax gravy train, and fight for it.

And, Amazon would therefore also have huge incentive to intervene in local council elections. And, to make sure candidates stay bought, etc.