Monday, January 31, 2011

From Larry Summers,...

...the former president of Harvard University:

“Which two freshmen at Harvard have arguably been most transformative of the world in the last 25 years? You can make a reasonable case for Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, neither of whom graduated.”

According to the Chicago Tribune,...

...the National Weather Service:

has issued an unusually dire blizzard watch, calling a storm expected to arrive Tuesday afternoon over much of northern Illinois and Northwest Indiana "dangerous, multifaceted and potentially life-threatening."


Good thing the Trib has some helpful guidelines on how to survive the storm:

Eat regularly and drink ample fluids, but avoid caffeine and alcohol.

You're kidding. I can't have a cup of coffee tomorrow?

Maintain ventilation when using kerosene heaters to avoid build-up of toxic fumes. Refuel kerosene heaters outside and keep them at least three feet from flammable objects.

Kerosene heaters? Where do the Trib's readers live, in log cabins?

If you are driving when the storm hits, the Trib advises that you "pull off the highway" and "remain in your vehicle where rescuers are most likely to find you." That makes sense, but then the Trib urges you to:

Exercise to maintain body heat, but avoid overexertion.

Exercise? I don't know about you, but my car's a little small for jumping jacks.

Now for the confusing part:

Be careful not to waste battery power.


Turn on the inside light so work crews or rescuers can see you.


If stranded in a remote area, stomp large block letters in an open area spelling out HELP or SOS ... to attract the attention of rescue personnel who may be surveying the area by airplane.

An airplane could see letters you made with your feet, but not see your car?

Here's some suggestions that would apply to me:

Avoid overexertion when shoveling snow... If you must shovel snow, stretch before going outside.

That's where those jumping jacks would come in handy.

And finally, for some guys' wives (but certainly not mine):

Cover your mouth ... Try not to speak unless absolutely necessary.

To give you some perspective...

...on Egypt's economy, last year its GDP was $217 billion, a little larger than the state of Michigan's (or Argentina's) and a little smaller than that of Connecticut (or Greece).

In another example...

...of just how difficult it is to judge talent and predict future success in football (particularly at the quarterback position), Aaron Rodgers did not receive a Division I scholarship offer when he was a senior in high school.

In Ross Douthat's column..., "The Devil We Know," he makes a few points at the end that echo my distrust of ideologies of any kind (my emphasis):

We take refuge in foreign policy systems: liberal internationalism or realpolitik, neoconservatism or noninterventionism. We have theories, and expect the facts to fall into line behind them. Support democracy, and stability will take care of itself. Don’t meddle, and nobody will meddle with you. International institutions will keep the peace. No, balance-of-power politics will do it.

But history makes fools of us all. We make deals with dictators, and reap the whirlwind of terrorism. We promote democracy, and watch Islamists gain power from Iraq to Palestine. We leap into humanitarian interventions, and get bloodied in Somalia. We stay out, and watch genocide engulf Rwanda. We intervene in Afghanistan and then depart, and watch the Taliban take over. We intervene in Afghanistan and stay, and end up trapped there, with no end in sight.

Sooner or later, the theories always fail. The world is too complicated for them, and too tragic. History has its upward arcs, but most crises require weighing unknowns against unknowns, and choosing between competing evils.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Last year, there were almost...

...400 players in the NFL who weighed over 300 pounds.

In 1970 there was one.

As long as I'm on the subject...

...of maps, here's another one I found interesting. It breaks down the GDP of the United States into the GDPs of each individual state and then compares them to the GDPs of other countries.

(Sorry it's so hard to read; here's a link to the original.)

In case you were wondering...

...about Dennis Kucinich, he settled his lawsuit on Friday. The Ohio Congressman had sought $150,000 in damages after biting into an olive pit in a sandwich wrap at a Capitol Hill cafeteria. The suit was settled for an undisclosed amount.

The song of the day... by the Marvelettes, whose lead singer, Gladys Horton, died on Wednesday. "Please Mr. Postman" was the first No. 1 hit for Motown Records.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Here's a Very Important Map...

...from an article by Patrick Ottenhoff in the Atlantic, "Where Does the South Begin?" It illustrates, county by county, the Slaw Line of West Virginia: the geographic dispersion of HDJ's (hot dog joints) that serve with slaw and without.

Over the course...

...of seven summers, writes Ron Reagan in his new book, My Father at 100, Ronald Reagan rescued an astonishing 77 people as a lifeguard on the Rock River near Dixon, Illinois. That's an average of eleven per year! These people didn't need a lifeguard; they needed a swimming instructor.

I've been complaining about...

...the Wall Street Journal for years now, particularly its habit of spinning the truth to support its free market religion. (Even when I was a libertarian, I remember thinking, "These guys are trying too hard.")

This morning, Paul Krugman says (well) what I've been thinking for a long time:

American conservatives have long had their own private Europe of the imagination — a place of economic stagnation and terrible health care, a collapsing society groaning under the weight of Big Government. The fact that Europe isn’t actually like that — did you know that adults in their prime working years are more likely to be employed in Europe than they are in the United States? — hasn’t deterred them.

I went to Starbuck's last night...

...and I noticed a new brand of coffee on a chalkboard behind the register. It was called "Guatemala Casi Cielo," and I found out later that "Casi Cielo" means "almost heaven." (This is coffee we're talking about.)

Anyway, it was described as "Enticingly complex with a lemony flourish and dark cocoa notes." And I thought, can you imagine having that sensitive a palate?

"This coffee is delicious! Do I detect a note of cocoa?"

"Yes! Light or dark?"

Now I like Starbuck's as much as the next guy, but to me it all just tastes like ... coffee.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Everyone knows that Mitt Romney...

...and Tim Pawlenty are running for president in 2012. (Although Pawlenty may actually be running for running mate and/or to position himself for 2016.) But what about the rest of the field? Times a wastin'. Here are my predictions:

Won't run: Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee. They're both making too much money, are both long-shots, and they know it.

Don't be fooled by Palin -- she's as dumb as a fox. The former governor is milking her fame for all its worth. She's far too thin-skinned (and ill-prepared) for a White House run. Palin will be much happier as the GOP kingmaker. (But her sell-by date is November, 2012; after that she'll fade quickly into oblivion.)

As for Huck, he's already been there, done that. 2008 was a long slog for him and he doesn't seem to have the fire in the belly for another run. His campaign manager from 2008, Chip Saltsman, is working for somebody else and Huck's building a trophy house in Florida. After two years of raising money, eating rubber chicken and sleeping on couches in Iowa, all the Arkansas governor ended up with was a (lucrative) gig on Fox. I'll say he stays there.

Will probably run, but who cares?: Haley Barbour, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.

Will probably run to position himself for 2016 (besides Pawlenty): Mitch Daniels and John Thune.

Will wait for 2016 (good idea): Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Mike Pence, Bobby Jindal and Jon Huntsman.

May run for the attention (and to position herself for a U. S. Senate race against Amy Klobuchar): Michele Bachman.

Again, no comment.

Another story...

...that requires no comment from me:

Kucinich Sues Over Olive Pit

Representative Dennis J. Kucinich, Democrat of Ohio, has sued a Congressional cafeteria for dental damage he says he suffered after biting into an olive pit in a sandwich wrap. The lawsuit, seeking $150,000 in damages from companies involved with the Longworth House Office Building cafeteria, says the wrap, bought in April 2008, “contained dangerous substances, namely an olive pit” that a consumer would not reasonably expect to find in the wrap. It says that Mr. Kucinich suffered “serious and permanent” injuries requiring multiple surgical and dental procedures.

Dennis Oppenheim, a pioneer...

...of earthworks, body art and Conceptual art, died at age 72 (my emphasis):

Belonging to a generation of artists who saw portable painting and sculpture as obsolete, Mr. Oppenheim started out in the realm of the esoteric, the immaterial and the chronically unsalable. But he was always a showman, not averse to the circuslike, or to courting danger. For “Rocked Circle — Fear,” a 1971 body art piece, he stood at the center of a five-foot-wide circle painted on a New York sidewalk while a friend dropped fist-size stones from three stories above, aiming for inside the circle without hitting the artist. There were no mishaps.

Mr. Oppenheim's survivors include his third wife, Amy Van Winkle Plumb.

Charlie Louvin (right), who...

...with his brother Ira made up the country music duo the Louvin Brothers, died on Wednesday at age 83. The close-harmony singers influenced such artists as the Everly Brothers, the Byrds, Emmylou Harris, Elvis Costello, Uncle Tupelo, the Raconteurs and Cake.

World War II...

...(and the spending it required) is often credited with lifting the United States out of the Great Depression. After the war ended, many experts feared the economy would suffer. (Montgomery Ward, to take one famous example, refused to expand into the burgeoning suburbs while its main competitor, Sears Roebuck, did. It was a fateful decision, but that's the subject of another post.)

After World War II came Korea, of course, followed by the Cold War, Vietnam, and, well, you know the rest. And it makes me wonder, sometimes, if the U. S. ever really converted back to a peacetime economy. Are we dependent, like a drug addict, on military spending to keep our economy going? After all, the U. S. spends more on defense than all other countries in the world, combined. What would happen if we stopped, or even slowed down?

Some in the tea party movement want to explore this possibility and take a closer look at the Defense Department's budget. But can it realistically be cut?

According to a story in today's Times, Secretary Robert Gates (my emphasis):

...plans to cut military spending by $78 billion over five years, the first serious proposed reductions in the budget since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and a response to White House pressure to squeeze spending during what Mr. Gates called a time of “extreme fiscal duress.” But the Pentagon’s operating budget for 2012 is expected to be about $553 billion, which would still reflect real growth.

(That's a cut of less than 3%, by my reckoning. The technical term for that is: rounding error.)

But Representative Howard McKeon, Republican from California who leads the House Armed Services Committee:

...fought back against proposed cuts in the Pentagon budget even as fledgling committee members supported by the Tea Party said that the nation’s debts amounted to a national security risk.

“I cannot say it strongly enough: I will not support any measures that stress our forces and jeopardize the lives of our men and women in uniform,” Mr. McKeon said in an opening statement that followed up on a letter to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates urging him not to stop work on the Marines’ $14.4. billion Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, a combined landing craft and tank for amphibious assaults that Mr. Gates canceled this month.

"Jeopardize the lives of our men and women in uniform." Who could argue with that? But then the article goes on to say:

Mr. McKeon represents a California district that is home to major defense contractors [and] was the single biggest recipient in the House of campaign contributions from military aerospace companies and their employees.


In public remarks at the hearing on Wednesday, [several tea party-backed members of the Committee] spoke up in favor of favorite military programs or of protecting military installations at home, illustrating the difficulty of balancing their overarching philosophy and goals with the immediate concerns of their districts.

Representative Vicky Hartzler, a freshman Republican from Missouri who was backed by former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, said ... “I will be a staunch defender of military installations in my district ...”

And finally,

Representative Scott Rigell, a Republican newcomer from Virginia [who] represents a district that is economically dependent on its military installations, spoke against plans to move one of five nuclear aircraft carriers based in Norfolk to Florida, taking with it 10,000 jobs.

So my question is, how dependent is the economy on military spending? Given the realities, can we really cut the DoD's budget in any meaningful way? And is this just representative of the federal budget as a whole? In other words, does every spending project have a constituency? Can any of it really be cut, or are we just kidding ourselves?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Strength Time... a personal training franchise in my area. Their motto is "Slow-Movement Personal Training." Beautiful.

I ran into an old friend of mine today...

...on my lunch hour. We did the "Stop and Chat," as Larry David calls it, and he told me he'd been retired for three years and was "still getting used to it." I remember when he "retired," and it was more like getting forced out in a high-level management shake-up. (Don't feel too bad for the guy; he's about 63 and still has his First Communion money.) But I could tell from the look on his face that he would rather have been anywhere else at that moment than talking to me at the grocery store. (I didn't take it personally.)

What did cross my mind was that this guy, whom I remember as a highly intelligent, creative and energetic individual, should be working. He seemed completely lost at Dominick's on a gloomy Wednesday afternoon. What's more, I can think of at least two other guys I know -- off the top of my head -- who are out of work and should be working. And I'd bet they're all desperate to get back to work. (I know I was on the occasions that I was between jobs -- it's one of the worst feelings in the world.)

My next thought was, what the heck is wrong with this country when smart, capable people who want to work can't find a job? (I don't pretend to have the answer.)

And finally, I thought about something Paul Ryan said in his rebuttal to the State of the Union speech last night. (You knew I was going to pick on poor Mr. Ryan sooner or later.) My emphasis:

...This is a future in which we will transform our social safety net into a hammock, which lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency.

Now, as I said, I couldn't wait to get back to work when I was unemployed. And I've never met anyone who felt differently. Being out of work is a horrible experience. So enough with the hammock references, Mr. Ryan (and that silly "Roadmap" of yours). How about getting serious about America's serious un- and under-employment problem?

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

Last night, Paul Ryan...

...compared the United States to, among other countries, Ireland:

They didn’t act soon enough; and now their government [has] been forced to impose painful austerity measures: large benefit cuts to seniors and huge tax increases on everybody.

But as Paul Krugman points out:

Ireland was running a budget surplus on the eve of the crisis, and had quite low debt. Its problems now have nothing to do with fiscal irresponsibility in the past; they’re the consequence of weak financial regulation and the government’s too-generous bank bailout.

Here's a picture...

...that illustrates two (only two?) of my (many) pet peeves: wearing a hat indoors -- especially in a restaurant -- and wearing a hat to cover a receding hairline. (How do I know this guy is losing his hair? Why else would he wear a ridiculous-looking hat like that?)

As for the first, I'll say this: at least he's not wearing a baseball cap. I can't tell you all the times my wife and I have gone out to dinner only to be seated next to some lout who looks like he just got off his John Deere tractor.

Men of America, hear this: shave, shower, put on a clean shirt, and take off that #$%! hat when you're in a restaurant.

Secondly, as a (slightly) balding man, I have a message for this guy and others like him: it's okay to lose your hair. Sure, we'd all like to have a thick, lustrous mane -- heck, I'd like to be 6'3", too, but that just wasn't in the genetic cards for me. But we had a good run -- my hair and me -- and now it's drawing to a close. And you know what? It's going to be okay. We'll survive it. Besides, when you try so obviously to hide your baldness, it only draws attention to it.

So relax, buddy; take off that stupid-looking hat and enjoy the meal.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

In 2008, President Obama...

...carried 28 states and the District of Columbia for a total of 365 electoral votes. According to Chris Cillizza, in 2012 the president could lose six of those states -- Ohio, Florida, Indiana, Virginia, North Carolina and Nevada -- and still win reelection with 273 electoral votes.

Sorry, but Tim Pawlenty... still boring.

Congressman Paul Ryan...

...of Wisconsin is scheduled to deliver the Republican response to the president's State of the Union Address tonight. Ryan is the chairman of the House Budget Committee and is expected to talk about the GOP's intention to reduce spending and begin a push for budget cuts and more fiscal responsibility.

Ryan is widely considered to be one of the Republican Party's next great leaders. His "Roadmap for America's Future" has been much talked about as a solution to America's fiscal challenges. What people may not know (but are likely to find out soon) is that Ryan's "Roadmap" wouldn't balance the federal budget until ... 2063!

Monday, January 24, 2011

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

Despite "ruining [his] image,"... he used to say, Jack LaLanne (finally) died yesterday at age 96:

At 60 [LaLanne] swam from Alcatraz Island to Fisherman’s Wharf handcuffed, shackled and towing a 1,000-pound boat. At 70, handcuffed and shackled again, he towed 70 boats, carrying a total of 70 people, a mile and a half through Long Beach Harbor.

Apple founder Steve Jobs...

...has come to be recognized for his long-sleeve black T-shirt and jeans; it's all part of his "high-tech, Silicon Valley entrepreneur schtick." That's okay; he's certainly earned it.

But requiring your other employees to dress that way is another story. In the picture above, new COO Timothy Cook, left, and Product Marketing EVP Phil Schiller, right, look just a little uncomfortable in what they're wearing. Doesn't Cook, especially, look like he should be wearing a blue suit? And Schiller, well, let's just say there's a reason men used to wear jackets to work.

Quintin Cheeseborough, 57, is a...

...self-employed resident of Los Angeles.

I can't decide if that's a good name or a bad one.

Once again, the future of journalism... blogging:

Daniel Cavanagh (above), a computer consultant who was born and raised in Gerritsen Beach (Brooklyn), started his blog in 2006 because his neighborhood — population about 5,000 — was rarely in the newspapers. So he started covering local meetings, photographing events and running to crime scenes.

Now you may not care about Gerritsen Beach, but Mr. Cavanagh’s site "typically gets 900 or so page views a day and [has] earned him the title of 'Vigilante Blogger' from Gawker."