"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Friday, September 30, 2011

Drink More Coffee, Dear!

A new study from Harvard apparently has found that drinking more coffee helps cut down on depression in women.   Who knew?

Girl of the Day - Just Because We're A Free Country And I Can (Esti Ginzburg)

Given the two stories below, on the evil of Iran in threatening to execute a Christian cleric solely for practicing his religion (a religion of peace), and the justice of America's assassination of a radical Islamic cleric/terrorist for practicing his (a perversion of religion or, if you will, a religion of war), I thought I'd celebrate Western freedom and the one democracy in the Middle East, Israel, by having Esti Ginzburg of Tel Aviv back as our Girl of the Day.  

Better than a burqa, no?    I think this is her third time on the blog, so she probably trails only Marilyn Monroe on the Regular Guy's dirty-old-man meter. 

The Assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki

Al Qaeda terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki was apparently assassinated by American drones firing Hellfire missiles somewhere in Yemen today.   I use the word "assassinated" advisedly.   Anwar al-Awlaki was a terrorist, to be sure:  he helped plan multiple attacks on the U.S., including the failed 2009 Christmas bombing, and he inspired the Fort Hood shooting by Nidal Hasan, which resulted in the deaths of 13 people. 

But... he was an American citizen (born in New Mexico), he was in a country with which we are not at war, and there's obviously no evidence that American authorities attempted to apprehend him.   We assassinated him, period.  

Which I guess I'm all right with.   Although we are not at war with al Qaeda, a terrorist organization, not a nation-state, they are at war with us, and so I don't have any problem with trying to disrupt their organization by decapitating their leadership.    I think it sends the right message to the Middle East -- don't mess with the U.S.

On the other hand, I find it very interesting that the same people (liberals like Obama) who won't let us dunk a guy's head under water to get information without otherwise harming him, much less killing him; and who think that terrorists we've detained must have access to the full panoply of legal rights, including jury trials in federal court; nevertheless appear to think targeted extra-judicial assassinations around the world are just peachy.

Just sayin'.  


Oh, and by the way, the whole trope that poverty in the Middle East causes people to be drawn to radical Islam has always been hogwash, but it's particularly hogwash now.    Al-Awlaki was born in New Mexico to Yemeni parents who were educated; as a child his family moved back to Yemen, where he father served as a professor at Sanaa University and as the agriculture minister.   And al-Awlaki himself studied civil engineering at Colorado State University, education at San Diego State University, and did doctoral work at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., undoubtedly all on scholarships he obtained as a beneficiary of the schools' diversity programs.   This wasn't a poor person angry because he didn't have basic needs.   This was a middle-class or upper-middle-class, educated child of the elite in his country, who simply hated America and the West out of a virulent ideology.

A Scandal On the Verge of Tragedy - Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani

Iran is preparing to execute a Christian cleric for the crime of being a Christian, supposedly because, although he has never been a Muslim, he has Muslim "heritage," and thus his Christianity is considered apostasy, punishable under sharia.   The man's name is Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, leader of the Church of Iran denomination in Rasht.   Here is a picture of him:

Please keep him in your prayers.   And, whenever you can, talk to people about his plight.   Only an upswelling of outrage from America will stop this tragedy.


Oh, and here's what I'd like to do: I'd send NYC policemen and FBI agents into the United Nations with guns drawn and arrest the Iranian ambassador and his entire staff for crimes against humanity.   Then I'd threaten to try them in a military commission (a la Nuremburg), seeking the death penalty.   Might get their attention.

My old man had a simpler view of these sorts of things.   His default position was to tell America's enemies to stop doing X (whatever X was), or their biggest city would "be no more after noon tomorrow."   As in, "release Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani immediately or Tehran will be no more."

So, you see, I'm the moderate in our family.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

It Doesn't Get Any Better Than This

One of the best nights of my life in terms of watching baseball.   As Harry Caray would have said when I was a kid and he was still calling Cardinals games, "Holy Cow!"

Or, as Jack Buck would have said, "That's a winner!"

Now that that's over, how about we just go ahead and win the whole thing?


Here's a cool chart from a website called "coolstandings.com" that shows the Cardinals' chances of making the playoffs throughout the season.  

As it shows, the Cardinals had practically no chance in late August, and only really got close to having a decent chance in the past few days.   The blue line represents our chances of winning the division, which were nil by late August and stayed nil as the Brewers pulled away.   But the red line was our chance of making the playoffs (as a wild card, which is represented by the black line).   As we kept winning and the Braves collapsed, our chances skyrocketed.

Which is to say, echoing Churchill, never ever ever ever ever give up.   

File This Under You Gotta Be Kidding Me...

Not chastened by the Solyndra scandal, the Obama Administration is apparently pushing ahead with another billion dollars of "loan guarantees" to solar power companies, including one that is connected to the brother-in-law of former Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi:

DOE announced a $737 million loan guarantee to help finance construction of the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project, a 110-megawatt solar-power-generating facility in Nye County, Nev. The project is sponsored by Tonopah Solar, a subsidiary of California-based SolarReserve.

The Energy Department said the project will result in 600 construction jobs and 45 permanent jobs.
Once again, the Regular Guy feels compelled to do some math and ask some questions.   First, the math:  at $737 million for 600 temporary jobs in construction and 45 "permanent" jobs (ask the folks at Solyndra how permanent jobs in the solar industry are), we're looking at -- I know this math might be difficult for the average government bureaucrat -- more than a million dollars per f***ing job!  Putting aside the permanent jobs for the moment, let's say the construction of the facility takes two full years.   We're still spending more than $500,000 a year per construction worker.   If we're doing this just for stimulus purposes, why wouldn't just handing out, say $50,000 per year in cash to ten times as many people do the trick?   Or $5,000 per year to a hundred times as many people (that would be 60,000 people getting $5k they could spend as consumers under the Keynesianism the administration believes so fervently in)?

Now the big question:  is solar power economically efficient, i.e., is it a good investment?   The answer is pretty clearly no:

Hydroelectric is the most cost effective at $0.03 per kWh. Hydroelectric production is naturally limited by the number of feasible geographic locations and the huge environmental infringement caused by the construction of a dam. Nuclear and coal are tied at $0.04 per kWh. This comes as a bit of a surprise because coal is typically regarded as the cheapest form of energy production. Another surprise is that wind power ($0.08 per kWh) came in slightly cheaper than natural gas ($0.10 per kWh). Solar power was by far the most expensive at $0.22 per kWh—and that only represents construction costs because I could not find reliable data on production costs. Also, there is a higher degree of uncertainty in cost with wind and solar energy due to poor and varying data regarding the useful life of the facilities and their capacity factors. For this analysis the average of the data points are used in the calculations.

Put bluntly, by definition if an investment is worth making, private investors would already be making it.   And, conversely, if an investment requires government subsidies, it's because the marketplace, filled with savvy people acting on good information and putting their own money at risk, has already decided that its a bad investment.

Government needs to get out of the business of subsidizing selected businesses, period.   It's bad economics, since they invariably will only subsidize bad investments that the private sector has concluded aren't going to produce good returns; and it's bad for our civilization, since it's so obviously an opportunity for graft and corruption.

Girls of the Day - Elvis' Girls

For a kid like me who grew up in the 1960s, Saturday TV meant watching a lot of Elvis movies.   I suspect that most are unwatchable today, but at the time I thought Elvis was extra cool (didn't every extra cool guy break out into song spontaneously, with the added advantage of an unseen orchestra?).   So I thought I'd look back at the more obscure girls from some of his movies as my girls of the day.

First, there's Joan Blackman from Blue Hawaii:

Next, we have Anne Helm from Follow That Dream:

And here's Laurel Goodwin from Girls Girls Girls, with Elvis:

Next, here's Joan O'Brien from It Happened at the World's Fair:

Finally, here's Yvonne Craig from Kissin' Cousins:

If there's a pattern, I guess I'd have to say that someone was very consciously casting girls who were attractive in a wholesome way, but not so attractive that they would ever ever upstage Presley.   Joan O'Brien I remember vaguely from another movie, Operation Petticoat, where she played Tony Curtis' love interest, and Yvonne Craig later went on to be Batgirl on Batman, but other than that, they've pretty much all receded into obscurity, their fifteen minutes of fame (and reflected fame at that, overshadowed by Elvis) up.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


I shouldn't jinx the Cardinals by blogging about them.   They have been an incredibly frustrating team this year, losing so many games that they should have won.   Their starting pitching has been mediocre; their bullpen, especially late in games was horrific, at least in the beginning of the year; their stars, Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday, have had down years; their middle-infield defense for most of the season was terrible, particularly in a town where the standard was set by Ozzie Smith; their best pitcher, Adam Wainwright, missed the whole year with Tommie John surgery, etc., etc.   And yet, if they win today and the Braves lose, the Cardinals would enter the playoffs on a roll, and go to Philadelphia, where they just beat the Phillies on the road 3 out of 4 games.   Then, perhaps, miraculously, the Cardinals might play the Brewers in the NLCS.   A month ago, this was all a pipe dream, when the Cardinals were 10.5 games back of the Braves.   Now they're tied, and it all might come true.  Or they might just give us one more frustration.

Here's what we've learned this year about the Cardinals:

1.  Albert Pujols is human.   Which means he might just be gone, because he's not going to be worth $25-30 million a year in his decline phase.
2.  Lance Berkman can still play.   Which affects #1, since Berkman would move to first if Pujols leaves.
3.   Allen Craig can really, really hit.   Which also affects #1, since Craig would move to right if Berkman moves to first.   Craig, incidentally, would have power numbers as good or better than Pujols if you extrapolated to give him Pujols' ABs.   And he's getting paid $400,000 this year.   Just sayin'.
4.  Jason Motte, Lance Lynn, Eduardo Sanchez, Fernando Salas, Mitchell Boggs, and Kyle McLellan are really really good out of the bullpen.   Too bad Tony LaRussa felt obliged to let Ryan Franklin close for the first two months of the season.
5.  Jon Jay is secretly better than Colby Rasmus.
6.  David Freese, if he can just stay healthy, is really really good at third base.
7.   Yadier Molina has taught himself how to hit (which is a good thing, since his defense is slipping).

Anyway, it's been a fun ride.   It'd be great if we could keep it going for another three or four weeks.

Israel's Ambassador... A Serious Man

I have long been impressed with the men and women who represent Israel.   They are serious people, because they have to be, because their nation faces real and imminent danger every day.   American leaders, by contrast, often seem frivolous.   We are not serious because we don't have to be. 

Israel's Ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, is a serious man.   In a terrific interview yesterday with the redoubtable Hugh Hewitt, Oren makes two chilling points.   The first is about the motivation for the Palestinian Authority's attempt to get the UN to ratify its "state":

HH: Now in the Wall Street Journal op-ed, Mr. Ambassador, which I’ve got linked over at Hughhewitt.com, you wrote that, “Understanding the Palestinians’ decision requires a review not only of the past week’s events, but of one that occurred 64 years ago.” And I’d like to actually, in this segment and next, in fifteen minutes, try and review with you, given your status as an accomplished historian, what you mean by you have to go back 64 years to understand what happened yesterday.
MO: Well, to understand it, this is the not the first time we’ve seen this played out. It goes back to 1947 when the United Nations proposed a two-state solution – a Jewish state living side by side with an Arab state in perfect peace. There was even an economic union between the two states. And we, the Jews, the Israelis, we accepted that proposal, and the Palestinians rejected it. And they rejected it because the price of getting a Palestinian state was accepting a Jewish state. And they were unwilling to pay the price. And in fact, they were so unwilling, that they joined with the armies of five Arab states in attacking the new Israeli state and trying to destroy it. Fortunately, they failed. But the same thing happened in the Year 2000. In the Year 2000, then-Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, met with then-Palestinian president, Yasser Arafat, at Camp David, under the auspices of President Bill Clinton, and once again, there was a two-state solution offered. Ehud Barak offered, basically met all of the Palestinian demands for a Palestinian state in Gaza, in virtually all of the West Bank, and even in East Jerusalem, the first Israeli, probably the first leader in the world to volunteer to divide his nation’s capitol with another country, with another people. And Yasser Arafat turned it down. They turned around and walked away, because the price of accepting the Palestinian state was accepting the Jewish state. Flash forward eight more years to 2008, you have and Israeli prime minister by the name of Ehud Olmert, meeting with Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. And Olmert went even a little further than Barak went in meeting the Palestinian demands – a Palestinian state in Gaza, and virtually all of the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, and Abu Mazen simply ignored the offer. He never even got back to Ehud Olmert. And so now the same, Mahmoud Abbas, three years later, is turning around and going to the U.N. The reason he didn’t get back to Ehud Olmert in 2008 was not because of settlements, it wasn’t because of Jerusalem, it wasn’t because of borders. It was because the price of creating a Palestinian state was accepting a Jewish state. This is just what happened in the U.N. last week.
What Western liberals in Europe and America don't understand is that the Palestinians are best understood, not as an "oppressed" people, but as anti-Semites.   It's really that simple.   And it's not like we don't have centuries of evidence of anti-Semitism, including, most obviously, the Holocaust, which is still within the living memory of millions.   They will not accept peace with Israel because their main motivation is hatred and the desire to exterminate Jews.   That's why real liberals ought to remain steadfast allies of Israel -- otherwise, and no matter what patina of race-class-gender left-liberal academic horseshit you paint it with -- you're siding with the Nazis and against the victims of the Holocaust.  

And Why Exactly Isn't This a Major Scandal?

Ace of Spades is highlighting the fact, unknown to most, that the laws against securities fraud, and specifically the laws against insider trading do not apply to Congress.    With predictable results, I might add:

A pair of recent academic studies found that House members beat the market in their personal stock trading by about 6 percent, and Senators beat the market by about 10 percent.

In the 2011 study “Abnormal Returns From the Common Stock Investments of Members of the U.S. House of Representatives,” four university professors found that a portfolio that mimics the purchases of House Members beats the market by 55 basis points per month, or approximately 6 percent annually. That study looked at 16,000 common stock transactions made by approximately 300 House delegates from 1985 to 2001.

“Overall we find that the common stocks purchased by Members of the U.S. House of Representatives earn statistically significant positive abnormal returns. Our results indicate that Representatives, like Senators, also trade with a substantial information advantage,” wrote the study’s authors, Alan J. Ziobrowski of Georgia State University, James W. Boyd, of Lindenwood University, Ping Cheng of Florida Atlantic University and Brigitte J. Ziobrowski of Augusta State University.

The group also noted that stocks purchased by Democrats outperform stocks purchased by Republicans.

This ought to be a major, major scandal, if the media were doing it's job.   And, from a legal perspective, while this may not be securities fraud, I have a hard time believing that trading on insider information you obtain as a Congressman isn't a crime.   Information is valuable, and obtaining something of value in relation to issues you vote on is corruption by definition.  

Moreover, trading on such information (and doing better than the general public) is akin to a trustee self-dealing in matters affecting a trust.   It's a breach of fiduciary duty.   After all, consider that every time a Congressman buys a stock, someone else sells it; every time a Congressman sells, someone else buys.   If Congressman are doing better than the norm on their trades, that means that the people they are trading with (let's call them "citizens") are doing worse.  

In short, the Congressman who trades on insider information is willfully screwing the public he has sworn an oath to serve.   

Girl of the Day - Mira Sorvino

I was looking for interesting birthdays today -- Confucious was apparently born today, although I'm not sure how anyone would know that -- and I noticed that the actress Mira Sorvino was turning 44.   That seems remarkable to me:  actresses seem to be the next new young thing and then, a blink later, are 44 and you wonder what happened to them.   Sorvino won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1995 in the Woody Allen film Mighty Aphrodite, and she's done a lot of mostly forgettable movies since, but what she's really done (and I think this is typical, and explains not just why actresses tend to disappear, but why the phenomenon we describe inaccurately as the "glass ceiling" for women in business occurs) is have three children.   Good for her.  

I also noted with interest that Sorvino is a Harvard grad with a degree in East Asian Studies, and that she speaks fluid Mandarin.   She seems like a cool person too in other words and not just a piece of cheesecake.

That being said, this feature is what it is (an almost purely cynical attempt to drive traffic to The Regular Guy Believes... okay, I said it):

Confucius saying: "I have never seen a man as fond of virtue as of women."  

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Nice Little Car Company You've Got There. Shame If Something Happened To It.

Ford has been airing these great TV ads recently that point out that Ford, unlike GM or Chrysler, didn't take bailout money, and making the argument (a good one) that car buyers ought to prefer a company that can stand on its own without government subsidies.  

Now the Obama administration has apparently pressured Ford into pulling the ads.   

How can this be anything other than unfair political pressure against an American company that employs hundreds of thousands of people, simply because the company had the audacity to highlight something that might make the Obama administration look bad?   They were good ads, and they were persuasive to potential customers.   What else other than pressure from the government could make Ford pull them?  

If George Bush had done this, they'd call it fascism.  

Other Candidates? Not likely.

Michael Barone, a repository of inside-the-beltway conventional wisdom, has a column up today at NRO expressing his conviction that the current GOP field is inadequate to the task of defeating Barack Obama, and suggesting that there's still time for others to get in to the race, including Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, and Mitch Daniels, the governor of Indiana who pulled out of a bid earlier this year based on family concerns.   Yesterday I talked about why Chris Christie shouldn't run.   I feel the same way about Paul Ryan -- he's more valuable in Congress; he lacks executive experience; and, at 41, with small children, he has other responsibilities, which I like about him.   As he says here, "I think there are other good people who can do this job.   But there are not other good people who can raise my kids."   Good stuff from a good guy.   But he's sincere when he says he's not running.

That leaves Daniels or Sarah Palin as top tier Republicans who might jump in.   Palin, for reasons that seem obvious, couldn't win and would be a liability to the GOP.   Daniels could, and he has a background and record that would serve him well in a Presidential campaign.   He has serious business experience, director of OMB, and a very good record as governor, especially on budget issues.   He's Perry without the swagger, Romney without the Romneycare baggage, Herman Cain with political experience.   But he's not in the race, and I've seen nothing other than Barone's hint that suggests he's reconsidering.  (Although he did turn up on CBS' The Early Show on Monday morning to talk about the race.... hmmmm.)

That being said, I think we are probably stuck with the group we have now:   Romney, Perry, Cain, Bachmann, Santorum, Johnson (who?), Paul (yuck!), and Huntsman (double yuck!).   Given that field, it's Perry's to lose (which he appears to be doing), with Romney as the fallback, hold-your-nose pick.  Nobody else makes the cut.  

If I had to bet right now, I'd say it's going to be Romney, and that he'd select Marco Rubio as his Vice President to assuage the fears of the right wing of the party.

Birthday Today - Bud Powell

Bud Powell, born in 1924 (d. 1966), was probably the greatest bebop pianist, adapting the idioms and musical ideas of Charlie Parker to the piano in the late 1940s and early 1950s.   His tune, "Un Poco Loco," was included by critic Harold Bloom in his list of the greatest American works of art of the 20th Century; the complexity of the playing on the song by Powell is astonishing to anyone who has every played piano and tried to make music.

Powell was tormented by mental illness throughout his life, and died at age 42 of malnutrition, alcoholism and tuberculosis.   As I do these birthday tributes -- and the girls of the day -- it's astonishing and sad to me how many people died young of drink or drugs or suicide who might have been saved had their mental illnesses been identified.   But, then again, maybe they were, and maybe some people are just self-destructive.   There's a line in the great novella, A River Runs Through It, where the sane brother laments about his not-so-sane brother (the Brad Pitt character in the movie) that "why is it that the ones who need our help the most won't ask for it?"   A hard question about people who, like Powell, for whatever reason, make their lives harder than they need to be.  

Girl of the Day - More Life Magazine, Please!

Continuing yesterday's theme of looking at old Life covers, I thought I'd look to see what the young men returning home from World War II in Europe might have read in, say, July 1945.    They might have seen this May 1945 cover of starlet Barbara Bates (completely unknown to me... I guess this starlet never became a star):

Or they might have seen this July 1945 cover shot of an unknown model.   (Note:  I am not without sympathy for young men on a ship full of men after years of war with nothing more than a Life magazine to comfort them.)

Finally, if they happened to look inside the July 1945 magazine with a cover shot of hero Audie Murphy, they would have found this picture of Rita Hayworth:

Goodness gracious.   That sort of thing ought to be outlawed.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Quick Thoughts on "Moneyball"

OK, I loved this movie.   I am a big-time stat geek as a baseball fan, and this film was right in my wheelhouse.   Brad Pitt was great as Billy Bean, the Oakland A's GM who was one of the first to use advanced statistical metrics (OBP, OPS, WAR) to judge baseball talent.   And Jonah Hill was even better as his nerdy assistant who crunches the numbers.  

But, but, but.... as much as I like it, I feel compelled to add:   ARE YOU KIDDING ME!   The 2002 A's had almost by accident struck gold in the form of three great young starting pitchers who were right at the top of their game that year in Barry Zito (23-5, 2.75 ERA), Mark Mulder (19-7, 3.47 ERA), and Tim Hudson (15-9, 2.98 ERA).   Forget about on base percentage and finding Scott Hatteberg to play first base (15 HRs, 61 RBIs).   Good pitching, which has very little to do with the type of statistics, was what won 103 games for the 2002 A's, and they were able to do it on the cheap only because Zito, Mulder and Hudson were young at the time, and were on their first contracts.   By the time they were ready for their second contracts, the A's had to trade them or let them go as free agents.   That ended up being a good deal for them:   Mulder ended up a Cardinal, had one good year, then blew out his arm;   Hudson has been a decent starter for the Braves since 2005, but nothing special and certainly not worth the $15 million per year they paid him; and Zito got a big contract with San Francisco and has proceeded to be terrible for five years.   But let's not confuse what made them a 100-win team in 2002.

Oh, by the way, in 2002 the A's also had Miguel Tejada at shortstop, who won the MVP and hit 34 HRs and drove in 131 RBIs.   I don't think the movie mentioned him more than once.  

And, oh, by the way again, the A's haven't been back to the postseason since 2006.  

Christie Chatter

There's lots of chatter today about Chris Christie, the Governor of New Jersey, supposedly re-considering running for President.    I've got a problem with this.

I like Christie a lot, or at least what little I know of him.  But one of our main, principled criticisms of Obama is that he lacked experience coming into the White House, and has been incompetent because of it.   I don't see how pumping up a guy who's been Governor of New Jersey for less than two years, and before that was a garden-variety USA, helps that argument.   Christie is not ready, and if he ran we'd be doing exactly what we said the Democrats did in foisting Obama on us -- turning to someone who has charisma, but not much else.  

Moreover, here's what I don't know sitting here today about Chris Christie:

1.   His position on illegal immigration from Mexico.
2.   His position on abortion.
3.   His position on man-made global warming.
4.   His position on Obamacare.
5.   His position on same-sex marriage.
6.   His position on school-choice.
7.   His position on the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
8.   His position on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
9.   What he would do if Iran goes nuclear.
10.  What he would do if the PIIGS default.
11.  What does he think about China?  
12.  What does he think about Russia?  

I do know that I like what I've heard from him about taking on the teachers' unions and public employee unions in New Jersey.   I do know that I like what he's done in terms of reining in New Jersey's budget.   But I could say the same about Scott Walker of Wisconsin, and Walker has significantly more executive experience (County executive of Milwaukee County for eight years before becoming Wisconsin's governor).
If Christie ran, people would start talking about how disappointing he was in the debates when pushed outside of his rhetorical comfort zone into questions he likely hasn't ever answered before.

Not.   Ready.   To.   Be.   President.   

Girls of the Day - Phyllis Calvert, Joanne Connelly, Brenda Frazier

One of my guilty pleasures is looking at Life magazines from half a century ago.   It's always amazing to me how people who were famous enough to make the cover are all forgotten now, although in the photographs they seem so young and vital.   Here's one, of a young British actress who was playing Peter Pan on Broadway, Phyllis Calvert:

Here's another, of a debutante named Joanne Connelly, who unfortunately died very young, at 27:

Here's the last, one of the more famous debutantes ever, Brenda Frazier, who also led a rather sad life:

Sic transit gloria mundi.

Madness! Madness!

There's a scene in the great Italian movie we just saw over the weekend, The First Beautiful Thing, where, for some reason, the movie The Bridge on the River Kwai is playing on the TV in the background.   It's the scene where Alec Guiness, who plays the British colonel who has built the bridge for the Japanese in a misguided attempt to buck up his troops' morale, realizes that he's committed treason, and mutters "what have I done?" before falling, shot dead, across a plunger that blows up the bridge.   On the hill above, the camp's doctor says the film's final line, "Madness!  Madness!" 

Anyway, I thought about that scene when I read this paragraph from Mark Steyn's latest doomsaying:

The Obama administration has just released a document called “Living Within Our Means and Investing in the Future: The President’s Plan for Economic Growth and Deficit Reduction.” If you’re curious about the first part of the title — “Living Within Our Means” — Veronique de Rugy pointed out at National Review that under this plan debt held by the public will grow from just over $10 trillion to $17.7 trillion by 2021. In other words, the president’s definition of “Living Within Our Means” is to burn through the equivalent of the entire German, French, and British economies in new debt between now and the end of the decade. You can try this yourself next time your bank manager politely suggests you should try “living within your means”: Tell him you’ve got an ingenious plan to get your spending under control by near doubling your present debt in the course of a mere decade. He’s sure to be impressed.

Birthdays Today

The Regular Son and I often talk about Bruce Springsteen.   One of our comments about his career has to do with the double album The River, which came out in 1980, following his great, dark masterpiece, Darkness on the Edge of Town.   On The River he still have dark songs -- "Point Blank" is about as dark as anything he ever did -- but he also has happy, fun songs like "Sherry Darling" that capture the flip side of life.   Life is not all one thing, I tell the boy, but many things; not all darkness but also light.   A line from "Sherry Darling" captures this:  

Let there be sunlight, let there be rain,
Let the broken-hearted love again.


Anyway, today's birthdays represent two sides of artists' reaction to the 20th Century, just as Springsteen's The River offers two sides of rock-and-roll.   The first is the great poet, T.S. Eliot, born in St. Louis in 1888.   Eliot is best known for his agonized reaction to post-World War I Europe, "The Waste Land":

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),               
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

On the other hand, working at about the same time in the 1920s, there was George Gershwin, born in 1899.   Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" was first performed in 1924 by Paul Whiteman's orchestra, and its mixture of jazz idioms and classical instrumentation is one of the most joyous, miraculous pieces ever -- one of those creative accomplishments where you sit back in awe and say to yourself, wow, this is what beauty human beings are capable of:

Science is Never "Settled"

Scientists at CERN in Switzerland have recently announced results of an experiment in which they believe they measured a neutrino going faster than the speed of light.   Not much faster -- one sixty-billionth of a second faster -- but still.   This has the capacity of turn physics on its head, since the speed of light in physics since Einstein has been an absolute (in that way, it's not different than the uniformity of space and time in the Newtonian world-view that Einstein himself overturned).   Michio Kaku makes the essential point in the WSJ today:  

Reputations may rise and fall. But in the end, this is a victory for science. No theory is carved in stone. Science is merciless when it comes to testing all theories over and over, at any time, in any place. Unlike religion or politics, science is ultimately decided by experiments, done repeatedly in every form. There are no sacred cows. In science, 100 authorities count for nothing. Experiment counts for everything.

The same laboratory, CERN, of course, announced this summer that they had conducted experiments showing that cosmic rays had a much greater effect on climate change than man.   (I know:  imagine that you need scientists to tell you that the sun makes the earth warm!)   But the scientists then were ridiculed for daring to contradict the religion of global warming.   Better that they had listened to Kaku:  science is merciless; science is experimental; science is falsifiable; science is never, ever "settled."

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Girl of the Day - Micaela Ramazzotti

The Regular Wife and I went to the Milwaukee Film Festival last night, which is fast becoming one of our favorite annual events.   The movie we saw was an Italian comedy-drama called The First Beautiful Thing, about a misanthropic teacher who returns home when his crazy/beautiful mother is dying of cancer.   Most of the movie is told in flashbacks to when the teacher was a boy and his mother a mystery -- ditzy, beautiful, possibly a prostitute, struggling to keep her children fed and clothed, constantly dissembling.   All of the performances were wonderful, particularly by the young actress you plays the mother to the hilt, Micaela Ramazzotti, shown above.

Here's the trailer for the film, in case it's something you might want to download at some point.   A really beautiful movie.  

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Solyndra Executives Take the Fifth

Their right?   Of course.   Good optics for the Obama Administration?   Of course not.

Girl of the Day - Shalane Flanagan

Just got back from the Regular Son's cross country meet.   The boy got another personal best today, so we're improving steadily, which is good.   And what a wonderful, wholesome sport -- so many nice kids trying so hard and doing something so well.   When you see your own child running three miles in eighteen minutes or so, it's an amazing thing.  How did he become that person?  

Anyway, for a girl of the day I thought I'd find a great long-distance runner, and the best female American runner today by far is Shalane Flanagan, who won bronze in the 2008 Olympics at 10,000 meters, and currently holds the American records at every distance, including 3,000 meters, 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters, and who also is a very pretty girl.   The only downside is that she went to UNC-Chapel Hill, which we Dukies do.  Not.   Like.  

Friday, September 23, 2011


The Regular Son, who wrote the last entry on the Regular Guy Believes, is all of 14.   Pretty good stuff for a kid, or, really, for anyone.   What could be better?   

Birthdays-The Boss! (Guest written)

As any inane "celebrity birthdays" section in a newspaper or a blog will tell you, today is the birthday of rock legend Bruce Springsteen, our personal idol here at "The Regular Guy Believes". The Boss has had some fun birthdays-on September 23, 1978, a giant cake was sent up to the stage for a Passaic, NJ concert-a bikini-clad blonde emerged, she and Bruce disappeared behind the stage and were not seen again that night. One year later, for Bruce's 30th birthday, he was far less jovial, and when another, smaller cake was brought upstage, he heaved it into the crowd (somewhat jokingly, probably) and growled, "Send me the cleaning bill". And now...he's hosting an hourlong special on a satellite radio station dedicated to him. No concerts, no cake, no backstage beast with two backs.

So what happened?

Bruce turns 62 today, and it's time to face facts, if we hadn't already done that on 1995's "The Ghost of Tom Joad" with "melodies so listless that you wonder why he didn't make a spoken word record"--the Boss is getting old. He's not yet frail, but his voice is going, going, gone-he can no longer soar above the blistering arrangement on "Badlands" or tear open the evening air in the epic verses of "Thunder Road". Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons are already gone (sniff), and Max looked like he was about to keel over while pounding on a big-band rendition of "Ramrod" that rocked so hard that even Bruce would be proud.

So I have come to the sad conclusion that I don't think he will tour again, mostly because I don't think he wants to do this without the Big Man. Watching the Hammersmith Odeon concert in 1975, he always seems happiest when he's doin' stuff with Clarence. If he doesn't tour or make records again, we are left to wonder, what will be the legacy of Bruce Springsteen?

Musicians are always more legendary after they're gone. Springsteen is already a legend, but when he's gone (knock on wood) I think he will be remembered as quite possibly the best ever.

Let's look at why: Springsteen has had a longer career than any other frontline rocker. Between 1973's "Greetings from Asbury Park" and 2009's "Working on a Dream", Springsteen's career has spanned 37 years. He is the most prolific rock songwriter ever, with a massive wealth of released and unreleased material. He is consistent--unlike Bob Dylan, Springsteen's valley only really spanned 2 albums, the simultaneously released Lucky Town and especially the spectacularly, catastrophically bad Human Touch.

Springsteen revolutionized the world of music in 1975 with the epic "Born to Run". He set a new standard in pop and rock music with the melodic, grandiose songs, a new expectation for dramatic storytelling in folk, and created one of the finest expressions of good old rock and roll ever with the opening chords of the title track. But his ballads, as on "Darkness", were revolutionary as well. No one had sung with such passion and aggression, yet with elegance and beauty as well. The Boss had fused pop-romance with the lure and threat of the night and the open summer road to create a true American epic.

Bruce became an absolute superstar with 1984's "Born in the U.S.A.". Springsteen mirrored the ambition of his early albums while retaining the toughness and strength of voice that emerged on Nebraska, and reflecting a wide pallette of life as he did on "The River". "Tunnel of Love" examined romance in a way he had not yet done, "Greetings" and "The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle" celebrated the fury and vigor of Jersey youth, "The Rising" examined closely feelings of faith and redemption, "Devils and Dust" studied doubt and disbelief.

His live shows, though, really define him, and that's what Bruce is all about. He performs with so much passion and energy. He gives it absolutely everything he's got, every song. And the E Street Band has proved to me that they are perhaps the finest American rock and roll group ever assembled. Live 1975/85 may have been watered down with songs such as "This Land is Your Land", but the Hammersmith Odeon was perhaps the most wonderfully exuberant performance I've ever heard. And that's still true today.

Springsteen shows us, again and again, with his passion, commitment, and sheer songwriting mastery, that "it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive".

Happy Birthday, Boss!

Guest Blogger of the Day

The Regular Guy was out of town today at a conference giving a talk on "Actuarial Malpractice and the Pension Deficit Explosion" which was just as boring as it sounds.    So the Regular Son will guest-blog, presumably on the birthday of his hero, Bruce Springsteen.   Take it away, son!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Preference Cascade Update

I could have predicted this:

The percentage of American men saying they approve of the way Barack Obama is handling his job as president hit an all-time low of 36 percent in the Gallup poll last week.

That is down from a peak of 64 percent approval among men that Obama received in the seven-day period that ended on Jan. 25, 2009, the week he was inaugurated.

It's not surprising that American men disapprove that a knee-jerk liberal, affirmative action baby, throw-like-a-girl pansy, particularly where his "stimulus" packages seem to stimulate jobs for sit-on-their-asses government paper-pushers, all the while the "mancession" continues in which blue-collar working men can't find real work in business or manufacturing or construction.   It's even less surprising when you consider that the one thing men look for in other men is to not be full of shit, and Obama, if anything, is the king of bullshitters.   He's like the geek in school who always had a canned answer for the teachers' questions, and got good grades, but never said anything interesting, then sat back in his chair with his perfectly-creased pants and a self-satisfied look on his nerdy face.   He's Urkel without the glasses.   Real men beat up guys like that in the locker room after intramurals.   

By way of jogging our collective memory, here's both Bush and Obama throwing out a first pitch. Compare and contrast:


Solyndra Update

Today's news?   Well, the headline to this story has to do with Solyndra employees telling reporters that they thought the company started spending money in a reckless way right after the company received $535 million in federal loan guarantees:

Former employees of Solyndra, the shuttered solar company that exhausted half a billion dollars of taxpayer money, said they saw questionable spending by management almost as soon as a federal agency approved a $535 million government-backed loan for the start-up.

A new factory built with public money boasted a gleaming conference room with glass walls that, with the flip of a switch, turned a smoky gray to conceal the room’s occupants. Hastily purchased state-of-the-art equipment ended up being sold for pennies on the dollar, still in its plastic wrap, employees said.

As the $344 million factory went up just down the road from the company’s leased plant in Fremont, Calif., workers watched as pallets of unsold solar panels stacked up in storage. Many wondered: Was the factory needed?

“After we got the loan guarantee, they were just spending money left and right,” said former Solyndra engineer Lindsey Eastburn. “Because we were doing well, nobody cared. Because of that infusion of money, it made people sloppy.” 
But the real story in the article is buried later.   It's called lying to Congress: 
In a July 13 letter to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, then probing his company’s loan, Harrison insisted that the company’s future was bright.... Bankruptcy filings show the company was at the time desperately looking for bridge financing to keep its doors open. It shut down six weeks later.

Birthday Today - Paul Muni

Paul Muni, one of the greatest Hollywood actors of the 1930s, and easily the most forgotten today, was born today in 1895.   Muni was nominated for six Academy Awards, and won one, for The Story of Louis Pasteur.   His most famous role, however, was undoubtedly 1932's original Scarface.   Muni was an incredibly shy person in real life supposedly, but was one of the precursor's of the "method" acting school, immersing himself in his characters through deep research.   He later acted on stage with a young Brando, which seems fitting.   Here he is as Scarface:

Girl of the Day - Rickie Lee Jones

Obviously not a great beauty, but I remember really loving her songs in the 1980s, and they still sound good today:

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ron Johnson is the Real Deal

I heard Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson on a local talk show this morning at around 6:00, talking about his plan to cut the federal budget by $1.4 trillion over the next ten years just by addressing issues that fall under his Senate sub-committee (Oversight of Goverment Management and the Federal Workforce).   It includes $248 billion from attrition of 10% of the federal workforce from retirement; $133 billion from requiring federal employees to match the government's contribution to their defined benefit plan; $50 billion from eliminating bonuses to federal government management personnel; and all the way down to $115 million for reducing the size of the government's limousine fleet.  It's freaking brilliant, not least because it addresses the fundamental philosophical issue -- that we have a bloated governing class living high on the hog on the nickels and dimes paid in taxes by the rest of us, who usually don't have it so good.   The whole plan is here

All of which begs the question, however:  why do we have people getting paid bonuses and riding in limousines when we have to borrow from freaking China to pay for them?

Cardinals Getting Fun

The Cardinals have now won 18 of their last 24 and 11 of their last 13 games to pull to within 2.5 games of the wild-card leading Atlanta Braves.   The Cards have 8 games left, the Braves only seven.   If the Cards go 6 and 2 (about what their pace has been over the past month), they would need the Braves to go 3-4 for us to tie, which is very doable.   I'd rather they win 7 of 8 or 8 of 8 and have the Braves go belly up, so it's not a one-game playoff, but man is it fun to still be in the race.   I thought they were dead in the middle of August.  

Here's a great clip from a couple of days ago when the Cardinals clubhouse heard that the Marlins had hit a two-out, walk-off homerun to beat the Braves in the ninth inning.   Tony LaRussa's face is priceless:

"Ponzi" Scheme Revisited

Rick Perry has taken heat for calling Social Security a "Ponzi" scheme.   I don't see why.   A Ponzi scheme, by definition, is an investment scheme in which the first generation of investors is promised high returns that will be paid by funds paid in by later generations, with the understanding (albeit unstated and immoral) that the later generations will eventually get stiffed.  I don't see how any rational person doesn't view Social Security as a similar scheme.   People who've retired in the past have gotten high returns on what they paid in for the most part, while younger generations will get much less than they paid in, and the youngest (people 40 and under) are right to expect to get nothing.   The money's not there.   If it were a private investment scheme run by, say, Bernie Madoff, someone would have been frog-marched in cuffs out of an office building with the cameras rolling by now.

Don't believe me?   Then take the word of Thomas Sowell, writing today in NRO:
Good enough for Dr. Sowell, it's good enough for me.
Social Security worked fine when the small generation from the 1930s received pensions from the money being paid in by the larger and more prosperous “baby boom” generation that followed. It worked fine when the average life expectancy of the first generation was not long enough for most of them to collect Social Security checks for more than a few years — if at all.

Declining birth rates and greatly increasing lifespans have created havoc with Social Security’s finances, which are based on having the first generation’s pensions paid with money collected from the second generation — and the second generation’s pensions paid by the next generation, etc.

Any private financial scheme set up in a similar way would be illegal. That is why Charles Ponzi went to prison.

Birthday Today - It's in the Hole!

Very few people can say that things that they uttered have entered into the common vocabulary.   The things we say, no matter how witty, pass into the ether, and are gone, forgotten by us, much less remembered by anyone else.   How does it happen that throwaway lines in a vulgar comedy thirty plus years ago now are uttered at least once every time a group of men play golf, which is probably hundreds of thousands of times a day, every day, all over the country?   Magic.

Bill Murray turns 61 today.   Caddyshack is 31, and still going strong:

Girl of the Day - If the Secretaries Are Talking About a New Show...

... there's a good chance it's going to be a hit.   The secretaries outside my office just now were talking about Zooey Deschanel's new show, "The New Girl."   This is how hit shows get made:  the premiere episode gets hyped enough to get people to watch, and then well-respected people in large offices (usually the long-term secretaries) talk about it the next day.  

I've always really liked Zooey Deschanel in movies, so this might be a fun show to watch, even though the premise -- extraordinarily cute girl gets dumped by boyfriend and has to move in with three guys as new roommates -- is idiotic.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

In Case You Forgot About Obamacare

Oh, and in case you forgot about Obamacare -- which ought to be another "scandal" and impeachable if blatant lying about a proposed piece of legislation is still considered to be a crime by a President -- here's an article today quoting the former head of the DNC, Howard Dean, saying that he believes that upwards of 30% of employers will dump their health care plans and push their employees onto the government exchanges.   Note the nugget buried at the end:

Former Democratic National Committee Chairman, and doctor, Howard Dean backed a McKinsey & Co. survey today that found that almost a third of private-sector employers will drop their employee health insurance coverage when Obamacare's government-managed insurance exchanges come online.

Dean told Morning Joe, "The fact is it is very good for small business. There was a McKinsey study, which the Democrats don't like, but I do, and I think its true. Most small businesses are not going to be in the health insurance business anymore after this thing goes into effect."

The reason Democrats fought so hard to dismiss the McKinsey survey when it was released is because its conclusion undermines two major claims  Obama made during health care debate: "If you like your health plan, you can keep it" and "It will not add one penny to the deficit."

Fellow Morning Joe guest former New York Gov. George Pataki immediately hit the first point: "The only way its a help is if they drop coverage and their employees would all of a sudden have to go on the exchange, which is what of course the president promised wouldn't happen."

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) premised their Obamacare score on the assumption that only 7 percent of employers would drop their employee health plans. If the percentage is closer to the 30 percent, as the McKinsey survey results predict, Obamacare's price tag would rise by almost $1 trillion.

Solyndra Update - Holy F***ing Shit!

Apparently the Solyndra executives who were asked to testify before Congress are going to take the fifth and refuse to testify.   This is a huge deal, and will only accelerate the public's growing sense that this was a criminal deal that reached all the way to the White House.   

The Obama Tax the Rich Plan

Obama has proposed a new tax plan that has no chance of passing Congress, and is solely designed to create an election-year theme that the "rich" do not pay their "fair share" of taxes.    It's pure demogoguery, of course, because the facts are so obviously the opposite.   Even the Associated Press couldn't let him get away with it today:

In his White House address on Monday, Obama called on Congress to increase taxes by $1.5 trillion as part of a 10-year deficit reduction package totaling more than $3 trillion. He proposed that Congress overhaul the tax code and impose what he called the "Buffett rule," named for the billionaire investor.

The rule says, "People making more than $1 million a year should not pay a smaller share of their income in taxes than middle-class families pay." Buffett wrote in a recent piece for The New York Times that the tax rate he paid last year was lower than that paid by any of the other 20 people in his office.

"Middle-class families shouldn't pay higher taxes than millionaires and billionaires," Obama said. "That's pretty straightforward. It's hard to argue against that."

There may be individual millionaires who pay taxes at rates lower than middle-income workers. In 2009, 1,470 households filed tax returns with incomes above $1 million yet paid no federal income tax, according to the Internal Revenue Service. But that's less than 1% of the nearly 237,000 returns with incomes above $1 million.

This year, households making more than $1 million will pay an average 29.1% of their income in federal taxes, including income taxes, payroll taxes and other taxes, according to the Tax Policy Center, a Washington think tank.

Households making between $50,000 and $75,000 will pay an average of 15% of their income in federal taxes.

Lower-income households will pay less. For example, households making between $40,000 and $50,000 will pay an average of 12.5% of their income in federal taxes. Households making between $20,000 and $30,000 will pay 5.7%.
Not sure how they calculate this, whether it's adjusted gross income (AGI) or total income.   On an AGI basis, the Regular Guy last year paid 26.9% of income to the federal government; on a total income basis it was 21.3%.   Hard to see how I'm not paying my fair share if for every dollar I make I have to ship a quarter off to Obama.   But then maybe Warren Buffett's smarter than I am -- after all, he hires a ton of lawyers to shelter his income in trusts and foundations.   On the other hand, it's pretty hypocritical to be worth $50 billion or so, hire whole law firms to shelter your wealth, and then support a tax plan that would raise taxes on a guy like me struggling to send three kids to Catholic school. 

P.S. If I add on state income tax (high in Wisconsin), property tax (ditto), and tax paid to other states (because our law partnership has offices elsewhere), I'm up around 36% of AGI and 28% of total income.   And that's before sales tax, tolls, fees, and all the costs of items I want to buy that are themselves inflated by the cut that government takes out of the businesses that I buy from!   Is the government really worth something between 35 and 45% of every dollar I earn?   Is that really fair?   I guess I don't think so, but it's a wonder to me why anyone would think so.  Put differently, is the government really worth 3 or 4 hours of my time every day, where the government confiscates the fruits of my labor?   We used to call that slavery or servitude.   Now they call it "progressive."

File This Under "If Obama's Lost X, He's A Goner" - Part X

David Brooks, who frankly has been near gay in his adoration for Obama, tells us this morning that he feels like he's been a sap:

When the president unveiled the second half of his stimulus it became clear that this package has nothing to do with helping people right away or averting a double dip. This is a campaign marker, not a jobs bill.

It recycles ideas that couldn’t get passed even when Democrats controlled Congress. In his remarks Monday the president didn’t try to win Republicans to even some parts of his measures. He repeated the populist cries that fire up liberals but are designed to enrage moderates and conservatives.

He claimed we can afford future Medicare costs if we raise taxes on the rich. He repeated the old half-truth about millionaires not paying as much in taxes as their secretaries. (In reality, the top 10 percent of earners pay nearly 70 percent of all income taxes, according to the I.R.S. People in the richest 1 percent pay 31 percent of their income to the federal government while the average worker pays less than 14 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office.)

This wasn’t a speech to get something done. This was the sort of speech that sounded better when Ted Kennedy was delivering it. The result is that we will get neither short-term stimulus nor long-term debt reduction anytime soon, and I’m a sap for thinking it was possible.

Yes, I’m a sap. I believed Obama when he said he wanted to move beyond the stale ideological debates that have paralyzed this country. I always believe that Obama is on the verge of breaking out of the conventional categories and embracing one of the many bipartisan reform packages that are floating around.

But remember, I’m a sap. The White House has clearly decided that in a town of intransigent Republicans and mean ideologues, it has to be mean and intransigent too. The president was stung by the liberal charge that he was outmaneuvered during the debt-ceiling fight. So the White House has moved away from the Reasonable Man approach or the centrist Clinton approach.

It has gone back, as an appreciative Ezra Klein of The Washington Post conceded, to politics as usual. The president is sounding like the Al Gore for President campaign, but without the earth tones. Tax increases for the rich! Protect entitlements! People versus the powerful! I was hoping the president would give a cynical nation something unconventional, but, as you know, I’m a sap.

We're All Californians Now

Victor Davis Hanson has a brave and chilling article up in which he riffs on his experiences as a farmer in the Central Valley of California, and the current wave of drive-by thefts that is terrorizing its citizens, analogizing the decline of California to the decline of America to the Decline of the West and, ultimately, back in time, to the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.   Here's a taste, but read the whole thing if you want to be depressed and angry:

I have been on the lookout around my farm for a predatory, nearly new, grey/silver Toyota truck that drives in and then speeds out — always a day or so before the nocturnal theft....

One of the stranger things in the California Corridor is to periodically walk around a barnyard and notice: “Hmm, that set of rusted furrowers is gone? Hmmm, what happened to those sections of 2-inch pipe? Hmmm, didn’t I have an old compressor next to the shed? Have I got dementia, or wasn’t there once upon a time three metal ladders leaning against the shop?” It is as if they became animate, grew legs, and quietly walked off in the sunset.
Twice I ran into the barnyard to see the truck, with its two gangbanger youths, peel off in clouds of dust....  The Toyota is always around when theft occurs, and always speeding off when anyone spots it....   I know of no neighboring farm that has not been broken into or fought/scared off such intruders.

So it is that in 1935 poor people scraped and saved to cast a bronze plaque for their Depression-era new city hall, and in 2011 rather more affluent people ripped it off to melt it down for a layaway payment on some chrome rims or another round of meth.

Birthday Today - Jelly Roll Morton

Jelly Roll Morton, one of the great jazz composers and pianists of the 1920s, was born today in 1885.   Along with Bix Beiderbecke, Jelly Roll Morton was my Dad's favorite jazz artist.   Here he is, playing one of his greatest songs, "Grandpa's Spells":

Girl of the Day - Sometimes the Bear Eats You Version (Marilyn Monroe)

Another obscure Monroe picture, this time in Baniff, Alberta.   Not sure what the bear is thinking:

Monday, September 19, 2011

Obama's Disapproval Rating...

... has crossed species lines.   This hound just found out about Obama's $1.5 trillion tax plan.

Needless to say, he's not amused.

Hugh Hewitt Interviews Justice Steven Breyer

Hugh Hewitt does really good interviews, particularly of people who've written books he's touting, because he always reads them thoroughly and prepares his questions thoroughly, just as any good lawyer would.   Over the weekend he posted an interview with Justice Steven Breyer about his new book,    It's all very interesting, particularly for lawyers like me, but the most interesting part is how differently he describes the inner workings of the Court compared to what many imagine it to be (with an evil Scalia and Thomas at constant battle with the good liberals on the Court):

HH: In conference, is there one justice who will remain nameless who dominates conversations?
SB: No, no. The interesting thing about the conference? In the 17 years I’ve been there, I’ve never once heard a voice raised in anger. Never. I have never heard one judge say something rude about another, not even as a joke. Despite the controversy and disagreement, people are professional, they say what their reasons are, they listen to each other, and they try to contribute something that will make a difference to the others.
HH: One of the students asked a very interesting question in that regard. Does the fact you’re going to be there for your lifetime appointment, years and years, and decades, even, with people, does that impact your daily discussions and relationships with each other?
SB: Yes, it does.
HH: How so?
SB: Because it means we had better get along with people. And even as a practical matter, you better listen to what other people say. And one of the, there are two great unwritten rules, and you won’t find them in any book, about that conference. Rule one, nobody speaks twice until everyone has spoken once. That’s a fabulous rule for any small group of people. The people at the end don’t feel they’re being not listened to. Second rule, tomorrow is another day. You and I might have been the greatest allies on case one that’s ever been. And we get case two, and we’re totally at loggerheads. And the fact that you were an ally on case one does not affect the decision on case two. It is not a political logrolling institution. Each case is considered on its merits. Tomorrow is another day.

As much as we might criticize certain rulings of the Court (Roe v. Wade comes to mind), it is actually an institution that has worked quite well over a long period of time and for reasons that have as much to do with the "unwritten" traditions of English-speaking peoples going back to the English common law as to anything else.

Birthdays Today - Fat and Skinny Version

Today is "Mama Cass" Elliott's birthday, the great singer from the Mamas and the Papas, who died very young.   Known for being fat in an era where Twiggy was the ideal fashion model, Cass Elliott had a smooth, beautiful voice that was, to me, wasted on the pop songs she sang -- she could have been a great singer of jazz standards.   Here she is with one of the Mamas and the Papas biggest hits.   No one else in the group can touch her, and they owed her their careers.

Cass Elliott, amazingly, would have been 70 today.


It's also Jeremy Irons' 63rd birthday.   Irons is one of our great actors, a strange, haunting, almost Ichabod Crane-like presence on stage and in film.   He's probably best at vaguely spooky roles, but my favorite is still the first thing he would have been seen in in America, his role in Brideshead Revisited, which is still probably the best British mini-series ever:  

Doctor Jazz

The old man passed away a year and a half ago, and we miss him every day, but particularly today, which would have been his 81st birthday.   Grandpa is much on the minds of the Regular Guy and, especially, the Regular Son, who has mythologized his grandfather to the point where nearly every situation involving a choice of how to act requires us to ask the question WWGD... What Would Grandpa Do?   Many a hard day would have been better over the past eighteen months with his wise counsel, and many a good day -- like this weekend's excellent cross country race by the Regular Son, or the Regular Daughters' Irish dance triumphs -- would have been made brighter by being able to tell him the good news.  

Anyway, not to wax too nostalgic, but here's a casual film made of one of Dad's favorites, Turk Murphy, playing at a house party in 1981.   The song is one that Dad occasionally would sing when I was a kid, "Doctor Jazz":

A Very Small Factoid That Says A Lot

From today's WSJ, in an article about how art critics used their positions at New York newspapers to further their own careers, there's this snippet, which seems to come from another planet:

In 1940 there were eight daily newspapers in New York, most of which employed full-time classical-music critics.

The amount of remedial education we would need to be able to even understand a newspaper article about classical music!   And that was a country coming out of a deep Depression, where very few people went to college, much less graduate school.   Yet it was a country where the "popular" culture included classical music, and a country where to be acceptably middle-class required a functional vocabulary in discussing serious art and music and, usually, required your children to take years of piano lessons.   Amazing!  

Of course, they didn't have TV and video games and the Internet.   Hmmm... I wonder if there's a connection. 

Three Notes on Solyndra

Congressman Brian Bilbray (R - Cal.) made the following key points during the Solyndra hearings last week, as related by Andrew Stiles in NRO.   All of the points go, not to the potential corruption of the deal, but to the sheer stupidity of it:
  • "Why did the government choose to invest in Solyndra’s 'thin-film' solar-panel technology in the first place, when it has historically proven to be one of the most complex, and therefore riskiest, forms of solar technology?"   By contrast, China is subsidizing its solar industry, but betting heavily on the polycrystalline variety, which is not as efficient as thin-film but is less risky and vastly cheaper to produce.
Answer:  because the White House "deciders" are political animals, not businessmen.   Risk doesn't enter into their thinking, nor does profitability; the only thing that matters is the "optics" of the deal.   For Obama and his ilk, "thin-film" solar sounds cool, so let's invest in it.   Using other people's money, of course.
  • Why build a new plant in California?  "Electricity costs in California are twice as high as in Midwestern states like Ohio, and nearly four times as expensive as in China.  On top of that, California has some of the strictest state and local regulatory regimes in the country in regard to air quality, water quality, storm runoff, occupational safety, hazardous-waste generation, and so on.   Yet Solyndra proposed to build on 30 acres of virgin farmland in Fremont, Calif. (in the Bay area), on a site that was classified by the EPA as a 'non-attainment zone,' meaning that air quality did not meet certain federal standards."
Answer:  Here's where the corruption comes in.   California is a "blue" state, and the Bay Area is the bluest of the blue.   California is also a key source of campaign funds.   That's why you build a plant in California, regardless of the costs or bureaucratic impediments, if you're Obama.   After all, again, it's other people's money. 

  • Why build a plant at all when you could lease space or buy a vacant building?    "Bilbray is astonished that no one appears to have second-guessed the decision to build a new facility in the first place, which he calls 'absurd.' With the number of Bay-Area start-ups constantly in flux, and with businesses 'fleeing the state' in search of more favorable economic conditions, there is no shortage of facilities available to be rented or retrofitted to accommodate even high-tech companies like Solyndra."
Answer:  because making that kind of rational business decision doesn't give you a chance to subsidize the local construction industry, a two-fer that would have been attractive to the union-dependent Obama administration.

Bilbray is doing good work getting to the bottom of this.  But what I fear is that Solyndra is not an isolated scandal, but simply an example of how business gets done in Washington, and how far we would have to go to get back to a truly free market.

Ponzi? You wish!

Robert Tracinski has a powerful article up today arguing that Social Security is actually much worse than a Ponzi scheme (Rick Perry's description).   Here's the peroration of the piece, but read the whole thing:

[W]e have a system that is fraudulent and unsustainable in its design, which suppresses capital accumulation for individuals and economic growth for the economy as a whole, and which reduces a self-sufficient majority to supplicants of the state. The whole system is intellectually dishonest, economically destructive, and morally corrupting.

A mere Ponzi scheme? We should be so lucky.

Obama the Bore

"Obama the Bore" is (or should be) the new meme, and I suspect it will soon be received wisdom across the country, largely because it's so true.   Here's George Will with the inside-the-beltway verdict:

He went to Massachusetts to campaign against Scott Brown; Brown is now a senator. He went to New Jersey to campaign against Chris Christie, who’s now governor. He went to Virginia to campaign against Bob McDonnell, who’s now governor. He campaigned for the health-care plan extensively, it became less popular. He campaigned in 2010 for the Democrats, they were shellacked. He began, in a sense, his presidency flying to Copenhagen to get Chicago the Olympics; Chicago was the first city eliminated. There is no evidence that the man has the rhetorical powers that he is relying on.