December 14, 2012

So how much was Seward Lincoln's eminence grise?


Seward: Lincoln's Indispensable ManSeward: Lincoln's Indispensable Man by Walter Stahr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Excellent read, especially in light of the new Lincoln movie

I had never read a full bio of Seward before, and this was great.

First, looking near the end of his life, I did not know he was such a conservative on Reconstruction. Indeed, while not a racist like Andrew Johnson, he fully supported the generally conservative nature of his approach. He appears not to care much for the fate of post-war Southern blacks, and also, ironically at least, fretted about too much federal intervention in states' rights. It made me wonder if he would have tried to influence Lincoln that way, had Lincoln lived.

Oh, and other things that kind of connect to the Lincoln movie?

Apparently, a fair amount of bribery was used to get the treaty of purchasing Alaska approved by the Senate; shades of 13th Amendment passage. (And, speaking of, which the movie doesn't tell us, Kentucky's Rep. Yeaman? Was named minister to Denmark for his vote swap; that's a pretty big payoff.)

Anyway, beyond that, it's stuff like this, and other stuff by Seward's "Karl Rove," Thurlow Weed, that make this a very good read.

View all my reviews

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Meanwhile, related to my posts about the Lincoln movie, some of its issues with historical nuance and depth, and Lincoln's claw-like attachment to colonization, makes one further wonder just how much different Lincoln would have been from Andrew Johnson on Reconstruction. Maybe he, like Seward, would have found the Freedman's Bureau too much government meddling. Would have rejected Reconstruction military districts.

I don't know. We do know that he pocket-vetoed the Wade-Davis bill, which called for stringent Reconstruction.

Czechs in West, Texas now have St. Nick


It's the "real" St. Nicholas in West, Texas. And, this is also the "real" to do high dynamic range photography without overdoing it. It took me no more than 10 minutes or so to get this right, to make a creative, dynamic photo without overdoing the HDR effects.

This weekend is the last weekend for West's Christmas festival. It's the first year for Christmas-related Czech-themed activities in the small town just north of Waco, which for years and years has had a Labor Day Czechfest.

So, if you're anywhere in the area, and want some good small-town East European "ethnic" holiday fun, with kolaches, sausage and shopping, you know where to go.

For other photos from the area, hit this photo album of mine.

Hutchison going wingnut on 'saving' Social Security

Over the past several years, Kay Bailey Hutchison had developed and cultivated an image as a moderate conservative Republican, that is a non-wingnut conservative.

As she heads toward retirement pasturelands, she seems determined to gut that.

The latest? Her plan to "protect" Social Security.
I have put forth a plan, the Defend and Save Social Security Act, to preserve and strengthen Social Security.  My approach is sensible, fair, and easy to implement.

First, as Americans live longer, it makes sense to increase the retirement age gradually – without impacting those who are about to retire.  Under my bill, anyone who is currently 59 years or older would not be affected.

For everyone else, both the normal retirement age and early retirement age would increase by three months each year, starting in 2016. That means the normal retirement age would reach 67 by2019, 68 by 2023, 69 by 2027 and 70 by 2031. The early retirement age would also be gradually increased to 63 by 2019 and 64 by 2023.
Reality? Kay Bailey Cheerleader is all wet in numerous ways.

First, as anybody who knows one iota about Social Security knows, FICA taxes have zip to do with the general budget, and so does Social Security's expenditures.

Second, life expectancy is more and more nearly plateauing.

Third, related to that, life expectancy may already be flat for anybody not in the 1 percent.

But wait, that's not all! Any year the COLA would be above 1 percent, her act would trim 1 percent off the COLA.

Of course, the Big Question is not about KBH — it's about what sort of "negotiations" Dear Leader will do with allegedly "sensible conservatives" like her.

December 13, 2012

Hamilton to Angels - time for that all-LA Freeway Series

Josh Hamilton/ESPN photo
Well, it didn't take the Los Angeles Angels very long to get over losing Zack Greinke. They just signed Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton for 5 years, $125 million.

First, the batting order? Mike Trout followed by Hamilton and Albert Pujols, in whatever order? Crap, that's a killer order. Throw in anybody else you want. Kendrys Morales had half a comeback last year, at least, from his broken leg and complications. Mark Trumbo will surely become more of a contributor. Vernon Wells just has to not be a fuck-up. Of course, he could soon be on the trade block, if he doesn't at least hit .260, depending on how much of his salary the Angels will eat. I mean, he's clearly the fourth outfielder, unless Mike Scioscia tries to move Trumbo to 3B. (That said, he did play a few games at the hot corner last year; it's a possibility they try to move him there permanently.) If Erick Aybar and other position players just "maintain," this is clearly the best offense in baseball.

And, the Angels can move Hamilton to RF, with Trout in center, to boot. This gives them hands-down the best defensive outfield around, overall, too.

Second, the deals?

Hamilton for 5/125 is, in my opinion, definitely a better deal than Greinke for 6/147. So, I think the Angels, by this deal and by stealing from within the division, are first in line for that potential freeway series.

Yes, Hamilton had issues this past year, while any issues that Greinke has had appear to be in the past. Yes, Hamilton is three years older.

Nonetheless, besides his top year, Hamilton has three other years of 3 WAR or more, including one 5-WAR year. Besides his top year, Greinke only has one other 3-WAR year. Related to that, Greinke has, really, a one-year peak; maybe a two-year, if you also count 2008. Meanwhile, throw out Hamilton's bad 2008, and every year he's played has been 2.5 WAR or better.

Finally, I think the fresh start will help. True, LA might be an issue of sorts for Hamilton, with his substance abuse history, rather than Greinke with his social anxiety, which is further in the past.

However, with Pujols there, Hamilton doesn't have to be the No. 1 bat. With Trout there as well, he doesn't even have to be the No. 2.

The Dodgers, on the other hand, signed Greinke to be their ace. Unless the trade they made with Boston last year shows dividends, spotlight's on him as leader of their pitching staff.

Intl court: El-Masri was tortured

It's about time this is on the record. The European Court for Human Rights has officially ruled that Khaled el-Masri was kidnapped by Macedonian police, apparently tortured by them, then "rendered" to the CIA and certainly tortured by it in some way, all a case of badly mistaken identity under the War on Terror.

It's nice his case has been legally recognized, and that he's getting a bit of compensation.

On the other hand, who cares, really, about the government of Macedonia having to pay 60K Euros? El-Masri needs to do intellectual judo on the War on Terror by taking a page out of the US War on Drugs, and start filing for asset seizure forfeitures of US property abroad.

December 12, 2012

Leave it to ESPN to fluff Greinke — a No. 2 starter

So, the Ddodgers decided to pay nearly $25M per year, or clear No. 1 starter money, for a guy in Zack Greinke who, except for one year in 2009, has never shown better than No. 2 numbers, if that.

The Baseball-Reference numbers tell us that, out side of 2009, Greinke has never had more than 3.5 WAR. That's No. 2 starter territory, and borderline at that. Yet the fluff machine at ESPN is all over touting how he's worth  every penny. 

Add in that Greinke's career year was three years ago, going on four and, IMO, he's never going to be more than a No. 2 starter. Yes, they're a big-market team in LA, adn doesn 't spending work? Look at the Yanbkees, right? 

Wrong. The Yankees spent and spent and spent from the mid-80s to the mid-90s and went nowhere.

I'll bet Greinke never busts 4 WAR in a year in the first half of the contract and never busts 3 WAR in the second half.

Assuming that's the case, with a payroll already likely to be at $220M next year, and assuming this means Clayton Kershaw gets at least $30M a year if the Dodgers want to keep him, I can see monetary sand being pounded down ratholes right now.

Comparing the two pitchers? Kershaw has, year in and out, had a higher Wins Above Average than Greinke has had Wins Above Replacement. That's a HUGE difference.

I just haven't gotten the sports media's "love" for Greinke in general. ESPN is the worst on this, but I think he's generally been overrated.

It's not just that the Dodgers have an actual No. 1 in Kershaw. Grienke might have been a default No. 1 with the Royals or the Brewers, but he simply is not an "ace."

Update, Dec. 13: The Angels, meanwhile, made a better deal in landing Josh Hamilton.

Big Brother may be spying on your bus ride

Photo via Wired.
Is Wired promoting a conspiracy theory mindset, or should there be a legitimate concern? Related to that, is it being too alarmist (as in stereotypical media) about how it raises such concern?

Given that at least some of the money is from DHS, first, that's one reason to be legitimately concerned. Second, having the surveillance hyper-visible is often something deliberate, whether just to get people more mannerly, or to deliberately remind them of Big Brother, or to even encourage snooping.

Third, remember the school district that was remotely viewing students via laptop cams? True, that was not the "public square" and this is; nonetheless, it does raise some parallels.

As for the ideas raised under my "second" point, I raised the issue of the Overton window when a friend posted this on Facebook, before I shared it. And I was accused of pop-sociology bullshit.

Sorry, but I disagree. In matters of propaganda and similar, the government has, in WWI, WWII, the War on Drugs, and the War on Terror shows a repeated desire to shift the window on what it wants the public to consider as legitimate surveillance, whether the legitimacy factor is one of legality or one of ethics. In the War on Terror, let's not forget waterboarding, warrantless wiretaps, drone warfare with kill lists and more. And, again, let's not forget that on all but the first, Obama has pushed that window further than Bush.

And, per "public square" arguments that say the government has a right to do this, whether Big Brother is the government (in this case) or Big Business, "legal" does not equal "ethical."  Per Wired, the fact that in one case, a local government had constitutional worries show that this isn't being overhyped.

Gay? It’s in the epigenetics as well as the genes — no #gaygene, no #popevpsych

This new research and meta-research, summarized here, indicating that tendencies toward being gay or lesbian are a matter of epigenetics more than genetics in general, and ruling out the idea of a “gay gene,” makes a lot of sense to me.

The idea that it has at least a fair amount to do with epigenetic issues in the womb makes HUGE sense to me, as statistical studies show consecutive male births (no intervening females) increase the likelihood of each successive male being gay:

Here’s the key info:
Writing in The Quarterly Review of Biology, researchers William Rice, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Urban Friberg, a professor at Uppsala University in Sweden, believe that homosexuality can be explained by the presence of epi-marks — temporary switches that control how our genes are expressed during gestation and after we're born.

Specifically, the researchers discovered sex-specific epi-marks which, unlike most genetic switches, get passed down from father to daughter or mother to son. Most epi-marks don't normally pass between generations and are essentially "erased." Rice and Friberg say this explains why homosexuality appears to run in families, yet has no real genetic underpinning.

Epigenetic mechanisms can be seen as an added layer of information that clings to our DNA. Epi-marks regulate the expression of genes according to the strength of external cues. Genes are basically the instruction book, while epi-marks direct how those instructions get carried out. For example, they can determine when, where, and how much of a gene gets expressed.

Moreover, epi-marks are usually produced from scratch with each generation — but new evidence is showing that they can sometimes carryover from parent to child. It's this phenomenon that gives the impression of having shared genes with relatives.
That said, at the same time, the io9 story looks like a bit of oversell, past the headline. I wouldn't go so far as to say homosexuality is not genetic; I would certainly say it's not solely genetic, and might say it's not primarily genetic.

And, just because you rule in epigenetic influences, you can’t rule out genetic ones by fiat.

At the same time, this theory is hugely explanatory for why a trait that reduces evolutionary fitness continues to perpetuate, too.

And, it also relates to other issues, such as gender identity problems.

Epigenetics in general also undercuts the ideas of Pop Evolutionary Psychology, especially its vaunted Enivironment of Evolutionary Adaptedness.

That’s because epigenetic influences are themselves subject to outside environmental influences. And, as the io9 story notes, and as we’ve seen in other issues like obesity, epigenetic influences can be passed on from generation to generation.

So between heredity of nongenetic factors that are environmentally determined, and such factors rapidly shifting, the EEA is all wet, again.

December 11, 2012

AA CEO living in dream world

American Airlines CEO Thomas Horton must be smoking the good stuff. He says he and his management team deserve to continue running the show after a likely merger with US Airways. (I will give him reality check credit for admitting a takeover is likely, even if he wants to call it a "merger.")

Reality? American's on-time performance, customer service and safety wee all sinking to new lows even before it entered Chapter 11.

The other reality is that, even if American is improving, it's still the lesser player in any deal.

And, Horton was CFO since 2006, until last year. If he's making all these alleged major changes to American now, was he asleep at the wheel for five years before that? The high labor costs (or "high," if you will) maybe couldn't be fully addressed until recently, but other issues?

December 10, 2012

A #reality-community second-term plea for #Obamiacs (updated)

Updated, Dec. 10: Given that the Washington rumor mill, as reported here by Joan Walsh, says Obama's willing to raise the Medicare eligibility age as part of avoiding the fiscal cliff, how much will diehard Obamiacs continue to defend him? 
There are so many things wrong with raising the eligibility age that I still can’t believe it’s under consideration. That’s not doubting Klein; it’s just a failure on my part to imagine that data-driven leaders — Republican or Democrat — would propose it. It doesn’t save money; it’s a shell game that just pushes costs around. While it’s possible that lower-income 65 and 66 year olds would be eligible for Obamacare, that means we’d be subsidizing them anyway. Besides there’s no guarantee such subsidies will exist: Republican governors are refusing to expand Medicaid or create the insurance exchanges to make it possible. Even Obama’s new GOP BFF, Chris Christie, says he won’t do it in the blue state of New Jersey. Remember, too, that Obamacare works through the private insurance industry, which has at least five times the administrative costs of Medicare. 
That's the problem in a nutshell. Lower-income seniors at the mercy of insurers (while they/we can't be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions, age as a general factor is a different story). 

Frankly, I think Walsh is spot on ... on a hint she has near the end of the column — this could be the opening move to a discussion of privatizing Medicare entirely, even though she thinks this is just a trial balloon.

That said, Joan, what if the GOP says, "OK, we love it!" Then, will the public think it's now his fault, not the GOP's, if we go over an alleged fiscal cliff? There's other signs, such as his talk about how much Latinos will lose, and making such presentations to Latino groups, that Obama may be, if not quite blinking yet, getting kind of twitchy.

Also, "shock me" that Jon Chait thinks this is a good idea. He's got a track record as a neoliberal fellator of Obama. Further "shock me" that he describes it as "a bone to throw the right," rather than "throwing poorer senior citizens under the bus."

The reality? The Washington Post, of all "insiders," actually has a good answer to Lindsay Graham (and Chait, and Obama). While Medicare is in worse shape than Social Security, it's not going bankrupt now, or even 20 years from now. And, even then, only the hospital bills portion of Medicare faces any near-term problems.
Indeed, the Medicare Part A fund from its inception has been on the brink of going “bankrupt.” The Congressional Research Service, in a report titled “Medicare: History of Insolvency Projections,” shows that in 1970 it was due to go “bankrupt” in 1972.
So, these worries have been around for decades. Or, these "worries."

And now, with Obama looking to a second term, and with an ongoing Democratic majority in the Senate, but less than 60 votes, and a GOP majority remaining in the House, talk is turning to what Dear Leader plans for a second-term agenda, and how likely it is to succeed, beyond, but including, "fiscal cliff" negotations.

In light of his first-term agenda, and how much he did or did not get past Congress, of course, he struggled with GOP obstructionism.

However, while that’s the greater part of the tale, it’s not all of it.

He also struggled with himself, including an unrealistic, arguably even self-delusional, belief in himself and the magical, mystical, messianic (doorknob, I love alliteration) healing powers of himself, his persona, and his voice.

Well, not only was the GOP not going to listen, it made that clear early on.

But, again, that’s not all the tale, just the majority of it.

The fact is, that in general, and specifically on the magical, mystical, messianic healing powers of himself, his persona, and his voice, Barack Obama simply is not all that he or true-blue Obamiac disciples crack him(self) up to be. Period. End of story.

So, I’d like at least a few Obamiac Democrats to admit that at least part of his problems with the GOP in the last four years have been self-inflicted due to the combination of A: Lacking testicles and/or backbone and B: Believing too much in the power of his own allegedly magical voice. Bonus points for admitting nothing major is likely to change on his side as well as on the GOP side in the next four years. C'mon, you science-based/reality-community Obamiacs, time for you, too, to put your money or your Facebook postings where your beliefs are.

Dear Leader isn’t likely to change his second-term stripes. What about you?

Oh, and while you’re at it, would you please have a small bit of admission that he benefited, ironically considering who coined the phrase, from the “soft bigotry of low expectations” in following George W. Bush?