Keeping the Process Legitimate

I have not been reading Kevin Drum for long, but I enjoy his blog.  His post on the California Supreme Court’s ruling on Prop 8 is an excellent example.  Yes, Prop 8, which bans same sex marriage, is loathsome, but it needs to be thrown out on the basis of being unconstitutional, not on a technicality.

I appreciate Kevin’s willingness to cheer a proper result that is good for a terrible law, at least (hopefully!) in the short term.

Carl Kasell

Debby and I attended a talk by Carl Kasell at IPFW last night. Kasell was the news announcer for NPR’s Morning Edition for 30 years.   He has been the official judge and scorekeeper for Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! since 1998.   Being a late sleeper* and hardly ever hearing Morning Edition, I mostly know him from Wait Wait. It was clear that this was true for most of the audience.

Kasell spent a period of time talking before taking questions.  Much of his talk was based on a few notes or just given off the top of his head.  Now and then he would return to a prepared speech from which he’d read a paragraph or two and then find a hook off of which to ad lib.  The prepared speech was long version of the virtues of public radio and the importance of the public’s support. His reading of this was not all that good for a man who has been reading for a living for over thirty years.  So that was strange.

I’m guessing he talked for thirty minutes or more and answered questions for awhile, but he really did not have all that much to say.  A few anecdotes and talk about how this or that happened, but only in the most superficial aspects.

When discussing 9/11, he said that he said that the first plane hit the north tower at 8:46 and a few moments later he saw the replay of hit on the television.  This can not possibly be right, video of the first hit did not come to light for several hours (maybe even a day or two).  The man is 77 years old, so I guess I can forgive a mistaken memory.

Later in the talk he started to tell us who would be on the panel of the up coming Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! He mentioned Roy Blount, Jr. and Faith Seeley (sp?) but then he could not remember the third name.  I thought he was mocking Governor Perry and started to laugh (I believe you can hear me in the audio just after the 25 minute mark, but only for a moment).  I immediately perceived that he was not intentionally being funny and that I seemed to be the only member of the audience who was amused, so I stifled myself.

He answered all questions before he wrapped things up.

*At one point, Kasell related how he once told someone he awoke at 1:05 in the morning.  When asked why 1:05 as opposed to 1:00 he answered “I like to sleep in.”

And It Always Will

Over at the Matador Network, there is a posting on 23 incredible new technologies you’ll see by 2021.  Included in the outlook for 2013 is the “Eye of Gaia, a billion-pixel telescope.”  Eye of Gaia

will look far beyond our own galaxy, even as far as the end of the (observable) universe.

I believe that as long as there has been sight on the planet earth, the possessor of the best sight has been able to see as far as the end of the (observable) universe.  Once telescopes came into existence, the best telescope was able to “see” as far as the end of the (observable) universe.

And it will always be so.


Hat tip to my son who liked the posting on Facebook (if my memory serves).


About as Much Substance as You’d Expect

…from a ghost.

Continuing the “time to fit the books into the bookcases” project, I read Arthur C. Clarke’s The Ghost From the Grand Banks.  I believe I picked this up a few years ago at a library book sale where one walked out with a grocery sack of books for a dollar or two.  I own many books by Clarke and he was certainly a favorite when I was young and that is why I bought this.

It turns out that I have read this previously, but it is so forgettable that I forgot.

Briefly, the book covers the race between two enterprises to raise the Titanic in 2012, the 100 year anniversary of the sinking.  Clarke comes up with two completely different concepts on how the ship might be raised.  I’ll refrain from giving away how and whether they work.  There is little character development and the slightest bit of suspense.

A few weeks ago, I caught some parts of an old movie on TCM, the title of which I do not remember.   I do remember a scene where the literary critic renders his verdict on the protagonist’s just published novel.  The critic spent some time on how the book was filled out with wide margins and other tricks to at least look like a real novel even though it was barely more than a short story.

The Ghost From the Grand Banks runs 253 pages with ten pages of title, copyright, contents, etc.; seven plus pages of Sources and Acknowledgments and a twelve page appendix that is adapted from a lecture Clarke gave on Mandelbrot numbers.  Mandelbrot numbers do appear in the book, but not in any way that is necessary to the plot.

So the book runs 284 pages.  There are four parts, each of which is begun with a full page for the title of the part.  There are 44 chapters with each chapter title taking up half a page.  There are 28 completely blank pages found between the chapters, inserted wherever necessary to push the  new chapter to the odd numbered page.  That totals 54 of the 284 pages that are blank.  The margins are wide.  Many chapters end with just a few lines on the last page.

Finally, the paper is thick.  The Complete Poetical Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning is a bit less than one eighth of an inch thicker and it runs 566 pages (double). The Plutarch volume of the Great Books of the Western World series is the same thickness and it runs 905 pages (triple).

I would say that it is too bad The Ghost of the Grand Banks did not go to the same length as the publisher went to to hide it’s brevity, but more of this book would not be better.

Isn’t That Enough?

As the scandal swirls around Herman Cain,Victor Davis Hanson comes to Cain’s defense in The National Review.  Yes, in terms of what we know (or what I know at this writing), Cain seems guilty only of being a borish lout.*   And  yes, Clinton got away with work place sexual harassment (probably because Monica didn’t complain).

It is not likely that the Democrats are behind the scandal.  I do not know how Gloria Allred and Sharon Bialek got together, but it is certainly possible (likely in my book) that Ms. Bialek sought her ought and politics is not at issue.   Beyond that, most Democrats would be gleeful to see Cain get the Republican nomination.

Mr Hanson writes:

Cain also wins greater scrutiny, not exemption, because he is black — or at least a certain sort of black. In addition to his conservatism, his voice, bearing, grammar, and diction, even his showy black cowboy hat, bother liberals in much the same way that Joe Frazier was not Muhammad Ali and Clarence Thomas was not Anita Hill.

Mr. Hanson, Cain’s conservatism, his marketing approach to policy (9,9,9), and his disdain for foreign policy ( Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan) are more than enough for us to not like Herman Cain.  His color has nothing to do with it.


Hat tip:  Kevin Drum

Update:  ABL at Angry Black Lady Chronicles does the work to take down Mr. Hanson’s defense of Cain much more thoroughly than my laziness allowed above.

*Though we do not have any details of the complaints about him when he was head of the Restaurant Association.


So, last night Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain had a debate.  At one point Gingrich asked Cain “what about the campaign has most surprised him”.

“The nit-pickingness of the media,” Cain said, explaining that he had known “I would have to work hard, I knew I would have to study hard,” but that he was not fully prepared for the media onslaught — especially as it occurs when a candidate rises in the polls.

Good grief!  Mr. Cain, you are not qualified to be President if you are not able to even anticipate that running for president would cause you to be subject to the media’s scrutiny.

Just Because It Is in the Wall Street Journal…

doesn’t mean it makes sense.


The link is to an article titled Four Reasons Keynesians Keep Getting It Wrong.

Well, someone is wrong four times.

1)  big increases in spending and government deficits raise the prospect of future tax increases.

Actually, another good dose of stimulus would probably push the economy into real growth.  The most powerful way to diminish the deficit (and lessen the need for tax increases) is to grow the economy.

2)   most of the government spending programs redistribute income from workers to the unemployed.

In the first place, I seriously doubt this is true.  Or rather, I am certain that the percentage of the federal budget that goes to the unemployed is actually rather small.*   It may be possible to define “spending programs” in such a way that “most” of them redistribute income from workers to the unemployed, but there is some game playing going on there.

In the second place, money to the unemployed is money that gets spent, and fast.  Tax cuts for the wealthy do not get spent.  They get saved.

3)   Keynesian models totally ignore the negative effects of the stream of costly new regulations that pour out of the Obama bureaucracy.

Assuming it is true that the stream of costly new regulations are having significant negative effects on the economy (and I’m not convinced it is true**), this does not in any way mean that Kenyesian policies do not work.

4)   U.S. fiscal and monetary policies are mainly directed at getting a near-term result.

Well, yes and no.  They should be aimed as much as possible at a near term result.  But it is not true that the positive effects (the jobs) disappear as soon as the stimulus ends.  One only has to look at the last stimulus.   Over two million jobs were created while those stimulus dollars were being spent.  Now that those dollars have run out (or are down to a trickle),  the jobs have not disappeared.


I think there was a time when the Wall Street Journal was not just a propaganda organ for the conservative right.  But today it is owned by Rupert Murdoch.



Safety net programs: About 14 percent of the federal budget in 2010, or $496 billion, went to support programs that provide aid (other than health insurance or Social Security benefits) to individuals and families facing hardship.

These programs include: the refundable portion of the earned-income and child tax credits, which assist low- and moderate-income working families through the tax code; programs that provide cash payments to eligible individuals or households, including Supplemental Security Income for the elderly or disabled poor and unemployment insurance; various forms of in-kind assistance for low-income families and individuals, including food stamps, school meals, low-income housing assistance, child-care assistance, and assistance in meeting home energy bills; and various other programs such as those that aid abused and neglected children.

Note that much of that 14% is not going to the unemployed.


**  If regulations are causing so many difficulties, why are equipment and software investments outpacing previous recoveries.  Why do only 13% of small business owners say that regulations are the biggest problem they face.  Also, remember that when a study says that a given regulation is going to cost a given sum of money,  that money is still circulating in the economy and it likely results in jobs.  Finally, to not have the regulations is to accept that economic growth is more important than a clean environment and worker and public protections.  Note that lack of environmental protection is likely to lead to tax increases at a later date to pay for the clean up.


Hat tip:  Althouse

Up the Walls of the World

I am continuing my way through old science fiction as I look to lower the number of books I own to what fits on existing shelves (this will take forever).  Up the Walls of the World is by James Tiptree, Jr. which is a pseudonym for Alice Bradley Sheldon.  According to Wikipedia, Tiptree’s true identity (and sex) was revealed in 1977.  Up the Walls of the World, by James Tiptree, Jr.  was published in 1978 and the author’s photo is on the back of the dust jacket.  Presumably the pen name was retained to attract existing fans.

The most interesting thing about this book is how much a central concept has in common with the primary plot of Star Trek the Motion Picture.  An extremely large space faring entity absorbs a Voyager spacecraft and poses a threat to life.  The female lead merges with the entity as part of the solution.

Another similarity is the book seems to go on and on in an effort to describe the entity with the same effect as the endless trip through V’ger in the movie.  That effect being the reader’s (viewer’s) thought “Can we get on with this?”.

The movie is just one year after the book so clearly the movie did not steal the plot directly.  Over at IMDB, the trivia on the movie includes:

Writers who contributed ideas or draft scripts in 1975-77 included Gene Roddenberry, Jon Povill, Robert Silverberg, John D.F. Black, Harlan Ellison, Theodore Sturgeon, and Ray Bradbury.

One might posit that one or more of these authors knew Tiptree and was made aware of the outline of her current work.  But Tiptree’s identity was unknown and Silverberg and Ellison were both on the record with their belief that Tiptree was a man.  Perhaps Up the Walls of the World was an expansion of an earlier short work by Tiptree.

Other than the Star Trek “connection”, Up the Wall of the World is not all that interesting.

The Catholic Church and the Weakening of Kinship

This is a couple of weeks old, but I found it interesting.    This is Kevin Drum at Mother Jones discussing Francis Fukuyama’s The Origins of Political Order:

But how do strong central authorities evolve in the first place? Fukuyama spends a great deal of time talking about kinship structures and the way they interfere with state building (thus the brief foray into primate psychology at the beginning of the book). Loyalty to family and tribe is naturally strong, he argues, and tearing down that loyalty is crucial to building an effective state with adequately strong central authority. This, again, isn’t an especially novel observation, but his application of this observation to early Christian history was new to me. “The Catholic church,” he writes, “took a strong stand against four practices: marriages between close kin, marriages to the widows of dead relatives (the so-called levirate), the adoption of children, and divorce.” All of these are things that help kinship groups keep property within the group, and by systematically cutting them off, and then promoting the voluntary donation of land and property to the church itself, the Catholic church enhanced its own power. Later on, rules like priestly celibacy were designed to prevent kinship groupswithin the church from interfering with the central power in Rome. All of this strengthened the power of the church at the expense of kinship ties, and while undermining the family may or may not have been a deliberate strategy, that was the end result. Tribal and family connections in Western Europe became (and remain) much weaker than in much of the rest of the world.

Of course, there are other good reasons to take a stand against marriage between close kin and I am not clear on how divorce helps kinship groups keep property within the group (and I’m a bit hazy on how the adoption of children accomplishes same).   Maybe someday I’ll read the book….


The Trilateral Commission

The Trilateral Commission was created in 1973.  I was eighteen.  It could not have taken long for some people to be talking about how the elites controlled the world and we, the people, were just given enough to keep us complacent, and that the Trilateral Commission existed for that purpose.  Or some such line of thought.  I feel like I have been hearing such talk my entire life.

In my memory this theory was usually put forth by a clean cut, wire rim wearing, pot smoking socialist…but maybe I’m just making that up.  I don’t even know.

At any rate, I was not too inclined to accept the idea that the world was controlled by elites (though now I suspect it is…though I have no idea if the Trilateral Commission has anything to do with it) and even if it was, I looked around and thought to myself  “This isn’t such a bad deal.”

Sure, there were economic difficulties and there was no end of injustices going on, but life in the US for the vast majority of people was pretty damn good.  If the elites wanted to control the world and this is how they allowed the masses to live so they could do that, well, I was fine with it.   Maybe the alternative was how the masses have lived throughout history and I was sure nobody wanted that.

Assuming that those clean cut, wire rim wearing, pot smoking socialists were correct, you have to give credit to those elites.  Running the world can’t be all that easy and, on balance, they did a fair job of it for quite awhile.

I’m guessing the next generation of elites has not been up to the task.  Things have gone rotten here in the US.   Even though the recession has ended and corporations are making lots of money, nothing has trickled down.  People are out of work or afraid of becoming out of work after ten or twenty years of income stagflation and the value of homes plummeting.   Which brings us to the Occupy protests.

The most interesting thing about the Occupy protests is watching everybody try to determine who is actually protesting and what do they want, and what does it mean.  Probably no one answer to any of those questions.

Well, maybe to the “what does it mean” question.

It means that the national economy no longer functions as it once did.  The masses, who once had it pretty good, are now struggling.  To listen to some of what is said in Washington, the elites still have no idea what the problem is.

It is simple, return us to the good old days when the elites controlled the world and allowed the masses to live in relative and increasing prosperity.   Is it too much to ask?