Friday, December 31, 2010

She's finished 

My cousin completed her blog project in celebration of her 50th year, being outside to greet the rising sun every day of 2010. She concludes with some reflections on the project, and some more pictures of Maine in winter. Click through and congratulate her!

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How to respond to a nastygram 

Ever get a ridiculous letter from a lawyer trying to set you up? The world would be a better place if more people responded this way.

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A question for our readers: What are your favorite charities? 

It is New Year's Eve, and because I am a huge procrastinator I do a big chunk of my annual charitable giving on this day. Via credit card, obviously, so that I can bag that all-important deduction in the current year, which -- thank you GOP voters! -- is now in my interest since my marginal rates will not be increasing in 2011. This year I have been particularly disorganized and therefore have accomplished less than half of my giving objectives, so I need all the help I can get. While I will re-up for last year's charities, I hope to do a bit more. What causes or institutions do you support, and why?

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Thursday, December 30, 2010

A reason to go to Vietnam 

A friend of mine said the other day that she wanted to visit Vietnam. While I would also be interested in going there some day, there are many other places I would see first. But that was before I saw these spectacular pictures.

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Other precincts heard from: Regarding the "war on Christmas" 

For reasons that are not entirely clear, erstwhile TigerHawk housemate, classmate, and lefty comment troll Christopher Chambers has become a go-to commentator for RT, Russia's English-language international cable news channel. Here he takes on the "war on Christmas." I actually agree with most of it, and regular readers who have engaged with Chris in the comments here may be amused.

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Annals of climate activism: Predictions that have not come true 

Lest you thought that predictions of global climatic disaster are something new, here are eight rather wrong climate predictions from heretofore credible people over the last generation. As the pace of such predictions have increased considerably, it will be interesting to see whether such a list written in, say, 2025 is much longer and even more hilarious.

You know, if humanity survives that long.

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Your regulators at work: All you trailing spouses had better get a job 

Turns out that last year's Credit Card Act is -- brace yourselves -- making it a lot harder for stores to offer credit to people who are only married to people with jobs.

The Credit Card Act signed into law last year was supposed to stop financial institutions from sleazy antics. But instead, some retailers say, it may restrict stay-at-home moms.

Dress Barn Inc., Home Depot Inc., Citigroup Inc. and other companies are urging the Federal Reserve to drop a proposed rule that would require credit-card issuers to consider only a borrower's "independent" income rather than household income. The new standard, which would apply to new credit-card accounts and requests to increase limits on existing accounts, could make it difficult for some customers to get credit on the spot, especially stay-at-home moms.

Whenever anybody points out that regulatory policy is hurting business, deterring employment, and blunting the effectiveness of stimulative fiscal policy, "progressives" demand examples. Well, here is one teensy-weensy little example. But never mind that. Is this good social policy?

These rules, apparently, are meant to prevent people from borrowing more money than they can repay. Instead, they prevent a non-working spouse from borrowing from retailers on the credit of the working spouse. There are at least three obvious consequences of the proposed rule.

First, it will limit the financial autonomy of non-working spouses, who will now have to go hat-in-hand to the working spouse to make a purchase on store credit. If President Obama intended that when he signed the Credit Card Act, did he discuss it with Michelle first?

Second, it will drive borrowing from retailer lenders, which lend less money and only for the purchase of their own products, to bank credit card issuers. Since it is a lot easier to get overextended on MasterCard and Visa than on a Dress Barn account, the rule would seem to undermine even the paternalistic objectives of the Credit Card Act.

Third, the rule mocks the idea that a marriage creates a single economic unit, spreading the risks and rewards between the spouses. Er, if President Obama intended that when he signed the Credit Card Act, did he discuss it with Michelle first?

All of these consequences are both probable and foreseeable, but when these rules are enacted and the consequences actually occur, the media will call them "unintended." Is a consequence really "unintended" when it is obvious ex ante?

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"Why are you protesting against Israel?" 

I'm sure that posting this makes me a Likudnick shill...

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Small good news 

In the category of small good news, the prices of lithium-ion batteries are now expected to fall substantially over the next decade. If, like me, you enjoy small and entertaining electronic gizmos, you, too, ought to rejoice.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Mystery Photo! 

For TigerHawk Points, bragging rights, and glory among those who count, tell us what this is a picture of. Specificity matters. Oh, and if you are one of my Facebook friends, please do not spill the beans.

Mystery Photo

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My 50th orbit 

Today I begin my 50th orbit around the sun. I hope it goes smoothly for all of us.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Sitting in Lola's dumping of the tabs 

In Lola Savannah's on Bee Cave Road in Austin, listening to venture capital being raised, or at least pitched, at the next table. We need more of that, in more places.

Anyway, I have accumulated a huge pile of tabs, which I hereby disgorge. As usual, I do not remember where I found all this stuff -- it has been piling up for days -- so you may have seen much of it elsewhere.

Among the several states, population growth and the burden of taxation are inversely correlated. Note the relative positions of Texas and New Jersey, for instance.

Fifteen "surprises" for 2011, mostly related to investing and geopolitics. I simultaneously love lists like this and take them with a huge grain of salt.

The best performing American real estate markets of the last ten years. Washington D.C. leads the way, a gift at the expense of the rest of us from George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama.

Remembering Michael Bilandic.

I'll be rooting against the Tigers tonight.

Headlines from 1980: Will silver hit $50? Of course, a dollar isn't what it once was.

Regarding forgiveness, a taxonomy of sorts. A thought-provoking essay for the New Year.

The ten most "UNbelievable" moments at the United Nations in the year now concluding. The United Nations is a wholly contemptible organization. I acknowledge that it may be expedient for the United States to participate and even host it in New York City, but that does not make it any less offensive as a moral matter.


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Stratfor: Making sense of the START debate 

I'm a bit too busy at the moment to blog on my own self, but I thought that Stratfor's analysis of the New START was worthy of republication and would in any case be fodder for lively argument in the comments. Release the hounds. - ed.

By George Friedman

Last week, the U.S. Senate gave its advice and consent to the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which had been signed in April. The Russian legislature still has to provide final approval of the treaty, but it is likely to do so, and therefore a New START is set to go into force. That leaves two questions to discuss. First, what exactly have the two sides agreed to and, second, what does it mean? Let’s begin with the first.

The original START was signed July 31, 1991, and reductions were completed in 2001. The treaty put a cap on the number of nuclear warheads that could be deployed. In addition to limiting the number of land- and submarine-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and strategic bombers, it capped the number of warheads that were available to launch at 6,000. The fact that this is a staggering number of nuclear weapons should give you some idea of the staggering number in existence prior to START. START I lapsed in 2009, and the new treaty is essentially designed to reinstate it.

It is important to remember that Ronald Reagan first proposed START. His initial proposal focused on reducing the number of ICBMs. Given that the Soviets did not have an effective intercontinental bomber force and the United States had a massive B-52 force and follow-on bombers in the works, the treaty he proposed would have decreased the Soviet quantitative advantage in missile-based systems without meaningfully reducing the U.S. advantage in bombers. The Soviets, of course, objected, and a more balanced treaty emerged.

What is striking is that START was signed just before the Soviet Union collapsed and implemented long after it was gone. It derived from the political realities that existed during the early 1980s. One of the things the signers of both the original START and the New START have ignored is that nuclear weapons by themselves are not the issue. The issue is the geopolitical relationship between the two powers. The number of weapons may affect budgetary considerations and theoretical targeting metrics, but the danger of nuclear war does not derive from the number of weapons but from the political relationship between nations.

The Importance of the Political Relationship

I like to use this example. There are two countries that are historical enemies. They have fought wars for centuries, and in many ways, they still don’t like each other. Both are today, as they have been for decades, significant nuclear powers. Yet neither side maintains detection systems to protect against the other, and neither has made plans for nuclear war with the other. This example is from the real world; I am speaking of Britain and France. There are no treaties between them regulating nuclear weapons in spite of the fact that each has enough to devastate the other. This is because the possession of nuclear weapons is not the issue. The political relationship between Britain and France is the issue and, therefore, the careful calibration of the Franco-British nuclear balance is irrelevant and unnecessary.

The political relationship that existed between the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1980s is not the same as the relationship that exists today. Starting in the 1950s, the United States and Soviet Union were in a state of near-war. The differences between them were geopolitically profound. The United States was afraid that the Soviets would seize Western Europe in an attack in order to change the global balance of power. Given that the balance of power ran against the Soviet Union, it was seen as possible that they would try to rectify it by war.

Since the United States had guaranteed Europe’s security with troops and the promise that it would use nuclear weapons against the Soviet Union to block the conquest of Europe, it followed that the Soviet Union would initiate war by attempting to neutralize the American nuclear capability. This would require a surprise attack on the United States with Soviet missiles. It also followed that the United States, in order to protect Europe, might launch a pre-emptive strike against the Soviet military capability in order to protect the United States and the balance of power.

Until the 1960s, the United States had an overwhelming advantage. Its bomber force gave it the ability to strike the Soviet Union from the United States. The Soviets chose not to build a significant bomber force, relying instead on a missile capability that really wasn’t in place and reliable until the mid-1960s. The Cuban missile crisis derived in part from this imbalance. The Soviets wanted Cuba because they could place shorter-range missiles there, threatening the B-52 fleet by reducing warning time and threatening the American population should the B-52s strike the Soviet Union.

A complex game emerged after Cuba. Both sides created reliable missiles that could reach the other side, and both turned to a pure counter-force strategy, designed to destroy not cities but enemy missiles. The missiles were dispersed and placed in hardened silos. Nuclear submarines, less accurate but holding cities hostage, were deployed. Accuracy increased. From the mid-1960s on the nuclear balance was seen as the foundation of the global balance of power.

The threat to global peace was that one side or the other would gain a decisive advantage in the global balance. Knowledge of the imbalance on both sides would enable the side with the advantage to impose its political will on the other, which would be forced to capitulate in any showdown.

The Russo-American Strategic Balance

Therefore, both sides were obsessed with preventing the other side from gaining a nuclear advantage. This created the nuclear arms race. The desire to end the race was not based on the fear that more nuclear weapons were dangerous but on the fear that any disequilibrium in weapons, or the perception of disequilibrium, might trigger a war. Rather than a dynamic equilibrium, with both sides matching or overmatching the other’s perceived capability, the concept of a treaty-based solution emerged, in which the equilibrium became static. This concept itself was dangerous because it depended on verification of compliance with treaties and led to the development of space-based reconnaissance systems.

The treaties did not eliminate anxiety. Both sides continued to obsessively watch for a surprise attack, and both sides conducted angry internal debates about whether the other side was violating the treaties. Similarly, the deployment of new systems not covered by the treaties created internal political struggles, particularly in the West. When the Pershing II medium-range ballistic missiles were deployed in Europe in the 1980s, major resistance to their deployment from the European left emerged. The fear was that the new systems would destabilize the nuclear balance, giving the United States an advantage that might lead to nuclear war.

This was also the foundation for the Soviets’ objection to the Reagan administration’s Strategic Defense Initiative, dubbed “Star Wars.” Although Star Wars seemed useful and harmless, the Soviets argued that if the United States were able to defend itself against Soviet attack, then this would give the United States an advantage in the nuclear balance, allowing it to strike at the Soviet Union and giving it massive political leverage. This has always been the official basis of the Russian objection to ballistic-missile defense (BMD) — they said it upset the nuclear balance.

The United States never wanted to include tactical nuclear weapons in these treaties. The Soviet conventional force appeared substantially greater than the American alliance’s, and tactical nuclear weapons seemed the only way to defeat a Soviet force. The Soviets, for their part, would never agree to a treaty limiting conventional forces. That was their great advantage, and if they agreed to parity there it would permanently remove the one lever they had. There was no agreement on this until just before the Soviet Union collapsed, and then it no longer mattered. Thus, while both powers wanted strategic stability, the struggle continued on the tactical level. Treaties could not contain the political tension between the United States and the Soviet Union.

And now we get to the fundamental problem with the idea of a nuclear balance. The threat of nuclear war derived not from some bloodthirsty desire to annihilate humanity but from a profound geopolitical competition by the two great powers following the collapse of European power. The United States had contained the Soviet Union, and the Soviet Union was desperately searching for a way out of its encirclement, whether by subversion or war. The Soviet Union had a much more substantial conventional military force than the United States. The Americans compensated with nuclear weapons to block Soviet moves. As the Soviets increased their strategic nuclear capability, the American limit on their conventional forces decreased, compensated for by sub-strategic nuclear forces.

But it was all about the geopolitical situation. With the fall of the Soviet Union, the Soviets lost the Cold War. Military conquest was neither an option nor a requirement. Therefore, the U.S.-Soviet nuclear balance became meaningless. If the Russians attacked Georgia the United States wasn’t about to launch a nuclear war. The Caucasus is not Western Europe. START was not about reducing nuclear forces alone. It was about reducing them in a carefully calibrated manner so that no side gained a strategic and therefore political advantage.

New START is therefore as archaic as the Treaty of Versailles. It neither increases nor decreases security. It addresses a security issue that last had meaning more than 20 years ago in a different geopolitical universe. If a case can be made for reducing nuclear weapons, it must be made in the current geopolitical situation. Arguing for strategic arms reduction may have merit, but trying to express it in the context of an archaic treaty makes little sense.

New START’s Relevance

So why has this emerged? It is not because anyone is trying to calibrate the American and Russian nuclear arsenals. Rather, it goes back to the fiasco over the famous “reset button” that Hillary Clinton brought to Moscow last March. Tensions over substantial but sub-nuclear issues had damaged U.S.-Russian relations. The Russians saw the Americans as wanting to create a new containment alliance around the Russian Federation. The Americans saw the Russians as trying to create a sphere of influence that would be the foundation of a new Moscow-based regional system. Each side had a reasonable sense of the other’s intentions. Clinton wanted to reset relations. The Russians didn’t. They did not see the past as the model they wanted, and they saw the American vision of a reset as a threat. The situation grew worse, not better.

An idea emerged in Washington that there needed to be confidence-building measures. One way to build confidence, so the diplomats sometimes think, is to achieve small successes and build on them. The New START was seen as such a small success, taking a non-objectionable treaty of little relevance and effectively renewing it. From here, other successes would follow. No one really thought that this treaty mattered in its own right. But some thought that building confidence right now sent the wrong signal to Moscow.

U.S. opposition was divided into two groups. One, particularly Republicans, saw this as a political opportunity to embarrass the president. Another argued, not particularly coherently, that using an archaic issue as a foundation for building a relationship with Russia allowed both sides to evade the serious issues dividing the two sides: the role of Russia in the former Soviet Union, NATO and EU expansion, Russia’s use of energy to dominate European neighbors, the future of BMD against Iran, Russia’s role in the Middle East and so on.

Rather than building confidence between the two countries, a New START would give the illusion of success while leaving fundamental issues to fester. The counter-argument was that with this success others would follow. The counter to that was that by spending energy on a New START, the United States delayed and ignored more fundamental issues. The debate is worth having, and both sides have a case, but the idea that START in itself mattered is not part of that debate.

In the end, the issue boiled down to this. START was marginal at best. But if President Barack Obama couldn’t deliver on START his credibility with the Russians would collapse. It wasn’t so much that a New START would build confidence as it was that a failure to pass a New START would destroy confidence. It was on that basis that the U.S. Senate approved the treaty. Its opponents argued that it left out discussions of BMD and tactical nuclear weapons. Their more powerful argument was that the United States just negotiated a slightly modified version of a treaty that Ronald Reagan proposed a quarter century ago and it had nothing to do with contemporary geopolitical reality.

Passage allowed Obama to dodge a bullet, but it leaves open a question that he does not want to answer: What is American strategy toward Russia? He has mimicked American strategy from a quarter century ago, not defined what it will be.

Making Sense of the START Debate is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Self-parody watch: Hef gets engaged again 

Much as I think of Hugh Hefner and his influence as a net positive and chary as I am to question true love, I wonder whether a 60-year difference in age is healthy at any level. It is definitely gross, and probably cynical.

Yes, I am a judger.

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Bristol Palin's real estate anecdote 

According to the New York Times, which has apparently and without irony calculated that the Palin family is of great interest to its readers, all Phoenix is "abuzz" that dancing daughter Bristol has bought a house there. Somehow I doubt that even Phoenix is such a celebrity-deprived backwater that it is in fact "abuzz" over Bristol's arrival -- more probably this is just another example of the Gray Lady's bottomless capacity for projection -- but the recent transactional history of her new house does tell an American tale:

Property records from Pinal County show that Ms. Palin bought a brown stucco house in the Cobblestone Farms development several weeks ago for $172,000 in cash. The price was not bad considering the house has 3,900 square feet and a three-car garage and sold for almost $330,000 four years ago.

The house went into foreclosure in January and was bought by investors from North Dakota for $137,200. They spruced it up for resale.

That right there, Gentle Readers, is how we will get ourselves out of the present real estate jam, one house at a time. There are going to be big losers, including the people who paid too much for their homes and the people who own the default risk on the mortgage loans, and there will be big winners, too: "Investors from North Dakota" and their ilk, people who do not yet own a house. Young folk who are just starting out and have managed to hold their job a save some money -- a tall order, to be sure -- are getting far better deals than their older brothers and sisters did a few years ago. Good for them.

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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Cantabrigian Christmas 

From Cambridge University, "Oh Come All Ye Faithful":

"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing":

"The First Nowell"

Peace on earth.

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Friday, December 24, 2010

The citizen armies of America 

Food for thought for the gun controllers out there:

The state of Wisconsin has gone an entire deer hunting season without someone getting killed. That’s great. There were over 600,000 hunters.

Allow me to restate that number. Over the last two months, the eighth largest army in the world – more men under arms than Iran; more than France and Germany combined – deployed to the woods of a single American state to help keep the deer menace at bay.

But that pales in comparison to the 750,000 who are in the woods of Pennsylvania this week. Michigan’s 700,000 hunters have now returned home. Toss in a quarter million hunters in West Virginia, and it is literally the case that the hunters of those four states alone would comprise the largest army in the world.

These numbers are part of why those of us who grew up in rural parts of the country simply don’t comprehend the gun-grabbing impulses of some. Every single year, millions of Americans carry high power rifles into the woods and more or less do as they please – some shoot at deer, some just drink a lot – and it is a complete non-story. The number of people injured and killed by these guns will pale in comparison to those injured and killed in driving accidents during the same time period.

And, of course, we make for a hard target. Who would want to invade such a country?

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Warm wishes 

A holiday message from a law firm with a sense of humor.

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In re Santa Claus 

Timely advice from the Boss, more than thirty years ago.

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Thursday, December 23, 2010


This week's O'Quiz is brutal -- I felt myself guessing on virtually every question -- but I still eked out a barely passing 6 out of 10, against an average of 5.27. So, well, good luck.

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Distribution, redistribution, and tax policy 

Finally, a dude who carries my water. "Taxes and the Top-Percentile Myth": Read the whole thing.

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Americana: Bevo and the kickline 

I love American icons, and I especially love it when two of them incongruously occupy the same point in the space-time continuum. So it was last week, when the Radio City Rockettes were in Austin to perform their "Christmas Spectacular" (which the TH Daughter and I saw in New York two Sundays ago). Naturally, the glamorous ladies of the kickline could not miss the chance to pose with Bevo, the longhorn mascot of the University of Texas.

Rockette and Bevo

He does not look nearly as excited as I would have been.

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Dawn in Colorado 

My cousin, who is close to the end of a year-long blog project, to be outside at dawn every day of 2010, is in Colorado this week. Her photographs of the Colorado dawn and related matters are really nice. Go to the main page and scroll.

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Focus, man, FOCUS! 

Matt Drudge has a little fun with history at the expense of our president.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A numismatic Christmas miracle! 

Longtime readers know that I have collected coins with fluctuating passion since I was but a wee bairn, and that as a result I habitually scan my change for interesting or valuable coins. Alas, Gresham's law has driven most everything valuable from circulation, although -- no law being perfectly enforced -- I have found one silver dime in the last year.

At any rate, this morning in the Starbucks on Nassau Street I encountered a numismatic miracle: I found in my change three pre-1959 Lincoln cents -- "wheaties" in the art. Other than at a coin dealer, who occasionally hand out wheaties in change to bring the young folks in to the hobby, I am not sure I remember that happening ever. So you can imagine my excitement. Photographic evidence:

Numismatic miracle:  Three wheaties in my change

For those of you who do the same thing, the dates are 1945, 1956, and 1958-D. Non-collectors who have made it this far perhaps might not know that from 1944-1946 the government minted cents from expended ammunition cartridges. The metal in that cent formerly housed a bullet or shell that might, if it was very lucky, have whacked a Nawzi or a kamikaze.

The final question, of course, is why there were three wheaties -- and perhaps many more -- in the cash register at the Nassau Street Starbucks. Probably some grandmother -- or grandmother's heir -- found and "cashed in" an ancient jar of "pennies," which were then rolled by machine and supplied to the local merchants for change, never imagining that he or she would deliver childlike joy into the heart of an old coin collector.

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Indefinite detention: We knew this was coming 

The Obama administration has prepared an executive order laying the groundwork for the indefinite detention of certain detainees at Gitmo. The lefties are not amused. Most of us here hawks, though, knew all along that the Bush administration was not taking all that flack for nothing, and that there is no practical alternative in dealing with unlawful combatants in a stateless war. The smart people on both sides including, I think, the Obama campaign, knew this was going to happen, but only the Republicans were honest about it. The sophisticated media also knew, of course, but was never going to admit it.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010


As of now, the time stamp of this post, the days are getting longer. Not by much, mind you. Tomorrow we add less than a second of daylight, but, as my sainted grandmother used to say about money, "every little bit helps."

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Thought for the day 

The question is whether the cause of this difference is hypocrisy, bigotry, stupidity, or cowardice. All four, I suspect, but in all cases a moral failure.

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Brian Aitken is home 

Brian Aitken, just freed by Governor Awesome, posted the following statement on his Facebook page about five minutes ago:

Hi Everyone,

I wanted to briefly thank a few people individually for all of their hard work--and I couldn't think of a better place to do so than here (my very own Facebook Page, crazy)!

Governor Christie, thank you. Seriously. I understand the risk you assume while making any decision that affects the People of New Jersey and that this was no trivial decision for you. In the days and years that will come to pass I am positive you will find yourself proud of your decision... and if you heard that quote about me running against you for President; I was just kidding. :)

Dennis Malloy, thank you. You've helped deliver an amazing gift this Christmas for a very loving and deserving family. I wouldn't be typing these words right now if it wasn't for you.

Richard Gilbert & Evan Nappen, thank you. You've been amazing counsel through this all and I'm proud to have you represent me in this case.

To the 15,000+ Facebook supporters, thank you. To each and every person who wrote the Governor, thank you. To each and every person who wrote to me and sent me hope... thank you.

To the Soldiers, Airmen, and Marines who wrote me from overseas - thank you for your kind words and your dedication to our country. The work you do amasses a debt that can never be repaid and I am humbled that you supported me from bases and War Zones around the globe. Thank you.

Lastly, thank you to my family, friends and beautiful fiancee. I'm lucky to have you all in my life.

There is a great deal of work yet to be done but, in the meantime, I hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas.

My very best,

Brian D. Aitken

And, of course, we are all grateful to the American Civil Liberties Union for standing up for Brian's rights under the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.

Oh, wait. My bad.

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Climate propaganda: A case study 

For a fascinating deconstruction of climate activist propaganda, read this. Note particularly the different treatment of "no data" areas in the Arctic vs. other areas.

If the weather is weird, you can be sure that some climate scientist somewhere will claim it is the result of anthropogenic global warming. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but how do they know that all of them are? If their models are that precise in drawing cause to effect, where is my forecast for President's Day?

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Public service announcement: Tools! 

It would be remiss of me, the corporate tool of the blogosphere, to deprive you of the link to Amazon's 50%-off sale on tools and home improvement items. You know you "need" some of that stuff, and what better time to get it? Nobody will even notice, what with all the packages arriving all the time.

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Monday, December 20, 2010


Everything you need to know about tonight's total eclipse of the moon. Maybe I'll even get up for it...

MORE: The TigerHawk Teenager (who, by the way, is almost 20) and I did indeed get up and spent about 45 minutes watching the eclipse transition from partial to total. It was very nice. My own photography failed for various technical reasons, but a Facebook friend (and regular TigerHawk commenter) K. Paul Boyev did get a nice one:

Lunar Eclipse

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Governor Awesome's Christmas moment: Brian Aitken is free! 

UPDATE (3 pm Tuesday): Brian is home with his family!

New Jersey's governor Chris Christie set Brian Aitken free today, correcting a great injustice at the hands of New Jersey police, prosecutors, and courts.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gave the Aitken family all they wanted for Christmas Monday.

Christie signed a letter ordering Brian Aitken, a New Jersey man sentenced to seven years in jail for having weapons he legally purchased in Colorado, to be released from Mid-State Correctional Facility as soon as possible.

Justice is served.

Oh, and Merry Christmas to Brian and the rest of the Aitken family.

MORE: Our original post on the subject, among the first in the blogosphere to take up the cause. Thank you, Governor Christie.

STILL MORE: Glenn Reynolds and Hot Air ask "Why commute his sentence instead of pardoning him outright?" Well, I can think of two reasons, neither of which are particularly principled, but nor are they unexpected. First, Chris Christie is a prosecutor down to the bone with a reputation for being uncompromising. He believes in enforcement of the law, and the Aitken case is a troubling intersection of aggressive policing (good, in the Christie view), aggressive prosecution (also good, but perhaps we need more nuance), lame judging (bad), and a really stupid but popular law. Second, never underestimate how popular gun control laws are in crowded urban states like New Jersey (the most densely populated state in the union for those of you reading this blog from elsewhere). Aitken may or may not be guilty of the law as written, however asinine it is, and the law as written may or may not violate the Second Amendment. The safest course for Christie is to let Aitken out without actually exonerating him. In other words, at the risk of sounding sizeist, Governor Awesome is having his cake and eating it too.

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The dangerous lives of men 

While hunting around for something else, I stumbled across this factoid: In 2008, 93% of American workplace fatalities were men even though males accounted for only 57% of the total hours worked.

I, for one, am grateful, because if women died disproportionately at work we'd never hear the end of it.

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

How is that climate propaganda holding up? 

Drudge has a nice juxtaposition up on his home page:

This year has been "coldest December since records began" in the UK.

Compare to this bit of "news" from March 2000:

Britain's winter ends tomorrow with further indications of a striking environmental change: snow is starting to disappear from our lives.

Sledges, snowmen, snowballs and the excitement of waking to find that the stuff has settled outside are all a rapidly diminishing part of Britain's culture, as warmer winters - which scientists are attributing to global climate change - produce not only fewer white Christmases, but fewer white Januaries and Februaries...

According to Dr David Viner, a senior research scientist at the climatic research unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia, within a few years winter snowfall will become "a very rare and exciting event".

"Children just aren't going to know what snow is," he said.

Yes, that would be the same Climate Research Unit that was caught up in the "ClimateGate" email scandal last year.

Whatever the science around climate change, many of the scientists who practice in the field have done us and those who would make public policy an enormous disservice by having become publicity hounds. With the long memory of the internet, hyperbolic scaremongers -- children just aren't going to know what snow is -- in positions of authority have damaged the credibility of the lot of them. It is tragic. If they are right, we will not enact the policies to save ourselves. If they are wrong, we have already burdened ourselves and our posterity for no good reason. Does David Vilner and his ilk even begin to comprehend the costs of their irresponsibility and intellectual dishonesty?

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Even Julian Assange is against certain leaks 

It is nice to know that Wikileaks Julian Assange is reasonable, and believes that certain "leaks" offend law and morality. Nuance in such things is important.

Yes, even I, for whom the milk of human kindness flows freely, occasionally succumbs to schadenfreude.

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So, how did that lame duck session turn out? 

Really quite well. I agree with all of these assessments. I support START ratification, though -- at least until you guys talk me out of it, which has not happened yet -- and am worried about that in the next Congress.

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Are you on Medicare? 

If you are on Medicare, here is some food for thought for the holiday season.

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Self-portrait in mylar 

Waiting for a meeting yesterday in a Houston conference room, I took a picture through the window and caught a reflection in the mylar. I thought it was rather artsy. You know, for a phone camera shot of a dude in a suit.

Self portrait in mylar

I call it "Tool in a window."

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Lest you were getting optimistic... 

...I commend to you a slideshow describing the most hideous economic conditions ever endured by any American under the age of 75. Y'all discuss it in the comments while I run out and buy shotguns and canned food.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

You think you know how to handle a bike? 

You really don't.

That's the coolest video I've seen in months.

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Model behavior 

I can't say I understand the insurance charges going on here, but the recruitment of tissue donors seems like as good a use of models as any.

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

So, this morning while driving through Dallas... 

...I came across some guys who were, no doubt, just then concocting their story to explain this:



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Charlie Wang's war? 

Ever read Charlie Wilson's War? If so (and you should), you know how it turned out. We've seen this story before. Indeed, we wrote it:

Chinese advisers are believed to be working with Afghan Taliban groups who are now in combat with NATO forces, prompting concerns that China might become the conduit for shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, improved communications and additional small arms to the fundamentalist Muslim fighters.

A British military official contends that Chinese specialists have been seen training Taliban fighters in the use of infrared-guided surface-to-air missiles. This is supported by a May 13, 2008, classified U.S. State Department document released by WikiLeaks telling U.S. officials to confront Chinese officials about missile proliferation.

Now, there may be less to this than meets the eye -- read the whole thing -- but if the story is true we should get out of there before the Chinese train and arm too many Taliban. Because once they are trained and armed with modern weapons somebody is going to have go back and kill them.

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Decision Points: Katrina flashback 

I'm now most of the way through George W. Bush's presidential memoir, Decision Points (still #1 on Amazon). The book has great strengths and weaknesses, some of which I will probably write up in a short review in the next few days. It is certainly a reflective book, full of admissions of error and regret alongside the defense of certain unpopular decisions and quite unlike the usual politician's fare. Bush's account generally rings true (even if incomplete in certain obvious respects), both in Bush's measure of himself and his generous assessment of others. When he hammers somebody, you can really feel his frustration.

The chapter on Katrina not surprisingly contains no small measure of regret, but it is uncharacteristically savage in its depiction of Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco and Mayor Ray Nagin:

"Who's in charge of security in New Orleans?" I asked.

My question silenced the raucous discussion in the Air Force One conference room on Friday, September 2, 2005. "The governor is in charge," Mayor Ray Nagin said, pointing across the dark wood table at Governor Kathleen Blanco.

Every head pivoted in her direction. The Louisiana governor froze. She looked agitated and exhausted. "I think it's the mayor," she said non-committally.


The tone started out tense and got worse. The governor and mayor bickered. Everyone blasted the Federal Emergency Management Agency for failing to meet their needs. Congressman Bobby Jindal pointed out that FEMA had asked people to email their requests, despite the lack of electricity in the city. I shook my head. "We'll fix it," I said, looking at FEMA director Mike Brown. Senator Mary Landrieu interrupted with unproductive emotional outbursts. "Would you please be quiet?" I had to say to her at one point.

I asked to speak to Governor Blanco privately. We walked out of the conference room, through a narrow passageway, and into the small cabin at the front tip of Air Force One. I told her it was clear the state and local response forces had been overwhelmed. "Governor," I pressed, "you need to authorize the federal government to take charge of the response."

She told me she needed twenty-four hours to think it over.

"We don't have twenty-four hours," I snapped. "We've waited too long already."

The governor refused to give an answer.

Next I asked to meet privately with Mayor Nagin. He had spent four days since Katrina holed up in a downtown hotel. He hadn't bathed or eaten a hot meal until he used my shower and ate breakfast on Air Force One. In a radio interview the previous evening, he had vented his frustration with the federal government. "Get off your asses and do something," he said, "and let's fix the biggest goddamn crisis in the history of this country." Then he broke down in tears. When I met him on that plane, Ray whispered an apology for his outburst and explained that he was exhausted.

I asked the mayor what he thought about federalizing the responses. He supported it. "Nobody's in charge," he said. "We need a clear chain of command." But only the governor could request that the federal government assume control of the emergency.

"The Louisiana governor froze." There are few worse condemnations of an executive. One gets the sense that if, say, Rudy Giuliani or Rich Daley had been running New Orleans and just about anybody else had been running Louisiana the human costs of Katrina would have been vastly less. Voters would do well to remember that in electing politicians to executive positions they are choosing the people who will make the first crucial decisions in a local, regional, or national crisis.

In any case, Bush's discussion of the entire cavalcade of screw-ups during Katrina, which is unsparing in self-criticism, is one of the more illuminating chapters in the book.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010


In the Big D for the night, at the Rosewood Crescent Hotel, which is quite nice. Fired up the television and surfed to O'Reilly, which put it in my mind to take this week's O'Quiz. It is a tough one -- the average score as of this writing is 5.77, and it has been up for more than two days -- but I guessed my way to 8 out of 10. Take the O'Quiz and report your score like the man or woman you are.

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Making the list 

The Right Wing News list of "40 best" conservative blogs for the fourth quarter of 2010 is up, and against all odds we made the list. We blush, and thank you for your support.

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Climate watch: Where are the tropical storms? 

Remember how anthropogenic global warming was going to lead to an increase in tropical storms? Er, maybe the models need another little tweak. You know, to make them conform to actual reality.

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My whereabouts, and a note on President O's meeting with "top CEOs" 

Where have I been? Busy as all get out. I hope that you all have been well, though.

My morning wish: That when Barack Obama decides he needs the advice of the business "community" (an abuse of the word "community" if there ever was one), he consult somebody other than "top CEOs." Most if not all of these companies have reduced their U.S. headcount in the last two years. Worse, many of these CEOs are too political and too removed from details to explain to the president, with a painful and granular itemization, how his regulatory policies are stifling the animal spirits of American enterprise. Which, of course, most big companies do not have in the first place.

My company has grown its American headcount in each of the last two years. We would have grown it even faster if it were not for the massive incremental regulatory burden of the Obama State. That is a fact. I know, I participated in the decisions. Now, you might say that we needed more regulation. Fine, perhaps we did according to your taste, but do not then argue that activist regulation has had no influence on employment.

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

A day in New York 

I'm home again -- "preparing" for a colonoscopy, actually, if you must know -- after a nice day in New York with the TH Daughter. We walked, shopped, and took in the "Radio City Christmas Spectacular". I took a few pictures along the way.

Macy's at Christmas

The Empire State Building, into the clouds...

Empire in the clouds


Radio City Christmas Spectacular

Radio City Christmas Spectacular


Rock Center after the show...

Rock Center

Buying raspberry "sour belts" at Dylan's Candy Bar...

Rasberry sour belts at Dylan's

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Annals of Islamic law: Eye for an eye 

I'm a little judgmental, and I judge every aspect of this story to reflect poorly on Iran and Islam:

IRAN'S supreme court has upheld a sentence of blinding with acid for a man who blinded his lover's husband, under the Islamic "eye-for-an-eye" justice code, a government daily said today.

The convict, named only as Mojtaba, 25, threw acid in the face of Alireza, 25, a taxi driver in Iran's clerical hub city of Qom, after an "illicit affair" with the victim's wife, Mojdeh, also 25, said the newspaper Iran.

The supreme court has upheld a lower court ruling that Mojtaba be blinded with drops of acid, in line with Islamic justice, which allows for "qisas," or eye-for-an-eye retribution, in cases of violent crime, it said.

Set aside for a moment the horrific sentence -- perhaps it does fit the crime. But what about the crime? What kind of crazed sicko blinds another dude with acid out of spite, even over adultery? Even allowing for the honor culture nonsense that precipitates violent retaliation, what kind of wussy throws acid? Find a pair, Mojtaba, and throw a punch when your woman steps out. You'll feel better, you'll look like a tough guy to the macho clowns you call friends and family, and under the eye-for-an-eye rule the ultimate punishment won't even be all that bad.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

One from the archives 

Geese on Lake Carnegie in the rising sun, April 2008. I like this one.

Geese at sunrise on Lake Carnegie

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Friday night Governor Awesome: "Turning Trenton upside down" 

New Jersey Democrats are talking about business tax cuts, which this state sorely needs. It's morning in New Jersey.

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Friday night one hit wonder watch 

Come on, Eileen. No, seriously? Twenty-eight years ago? Goddamn.

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The United States of Google Autocomplete 

Apparently, this is what happens if you use Google autocomplete to title the states:

United States of Autocomplete

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The Venezuelan missile crisis 

Mettle will be tested. We will soon learn whether Barack Obama is indeed the heir to John F. Kennedy:

Iran is planning to place medium-range missiles on Venezuelan soil, based on western information sources[1], according to an article in the German daily, Die Welt, of November 25, 2010. According to the article, an agreement between the two countries was signed during the last visit o Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to Tehran on October19, 2010. The previously undisclosed contract provides for the establishment of a jointly operated military base in Venezuela, and the joint development of ground-to-ground missiles.

At a moment when NATO members found an agreement, in the recent Lisbon summit (19-20 November 2010), to develop a Missile Defence capability to protect NATO's populations and territories in Europe against ballistic missile attacks from the East (namely, Iran), Iran's counter-move consists in establishing a strategic base in the South American continent - in the United States's soft underbelly.

It seems to me that there is no scenario under which the president of the United States can permit this. Iran is effectively in a state of war, via proxies, with the United States and its allies. Venezuela needs to understand, in private if not in public, that we will not permit the establishment of an Iranian base in Venezuela and will take any required steps to prevent it.

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Public service announcement 

Sure, some of you bought your Christmas presents weeks ago, but others of you are going down in flames unless you get off the dime. Here's your chance: Amazon's "top holiday deals". Don't blow it.

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Thursday, December 09, 2010

Brian Aitken update 

A couple of weeks ago we called upon Governor Awesome (i.e., New Jersey's Governor Chris Christie) to free Brian Aitken, an honest man who ran afoul of New Jersey's ridiculous gun regulation. Governor Christie has now spoken on the subject for (I believe) the first time, and has said he will decide by Christmas:

Glenn Reynolds is on the case.

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Can Atlas Shrugged be a good movie? 

Adaptations of iconic novels in to film are always tricky, because good books inspire the imaginations of the people who read them. I had my own images of Aragorn and Elrond and Frodo Baggins and my own feelings about their story, and before Peter Jackson turned the The Lord of the Rings in to a movie those images and feelings were different from everybody else's. Now, after Jackson, they are much more similar, and most of us do not feel as though something was taking from us in the process. Jackson supplemented and deepened the images we imagined instead of discrediting them. That is the trick in adaptation.

The question is, can it be done with Atlas Shrugged, a story that straddles reality and fantasy rather than clearly occupying either realm? The novel's setting is a world that looks a bit like ours, but nobody would ever confuse it with the real world. Neither, though, is it really fantastical. There are no dragons running around, or elves, or magical trees. Adaptation of Shrugged to the big screen, and the preservation of the images and feelings of the novel's passionate fans, will be no mean feat. There is, however, hope. Here is a review of the Atlas Shrugged movie's first ten minutes from such a passionate fan. The dream is, allegedly, alive.

FURTHER THOUGHT: Atlas Shrugged defines a clear moral difference between enterprise, which it celebrates, and the political axis between big business and the government, which it denounces. This is a distinction that is lost in most of today's discourse -- our politicians and pundits denounce or applaud "corporations" or "banks" or the "pharmaceutical industry" without paying much attention to the moral gulf between the James Taggarts and the Hank Reardens. The movie will be a great triumph if it popularizes the national understanding of the differences between the two.

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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Study aid of the week 

A comprehensive list of the world's capital cities.

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"Peak oil" becomes "oil peak" 

North America. Is there anything it can't do?

This is good news, unless you are against large supplies of domestic energy:

The American Petroleum Institute reports that the United States produced more crude oil in October than it has ever produced in a single month, “peak oil” or not.

This reversal of trend helps explain why U.S. domestic production for the year will be 140,000 barrels a day higher than last year (which was 410,000 barrels a day higher than 2008).

Our petroleum engineers continue to be smarter and harder working than our "limits to growth" enemies of progress. That has been true my entire sentient life, and I expect it to continue to be true more or less until the end of time. Or at least my time.

UPDATE: Rats! A commenter points out that the online edition of the linked story has now been corrected to take out the fun part:
Correction: U.S. domestic crude oil production reached 5.5 million barrels a day in October, half the production of the U.S. “peak oil” high in 1970. Incorrect information was published in this online and in the print versions of this column.

You can't just believe everything you read, you know.

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The return of the "Gore effect" 

You can't make this stuff up: Record low temperatures in Cancun during the big climate confab.

Reference here.

Of course, weather is not climate.

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"Rubber rooms": Another joy of government schools 

It is, apparently, as hard to fire incompetent public school teachers in New York as anywhere else:

For her first assignment of the school year, Verona Gill, a $100,000-a-year special education teacher whom the city is trying to fire, sat around education offices in Lower Manhattan for two weeks, waiting to be told what to do.

For her second assignment, she was sent to a district office in the Bronx and told to hand out language exams to anyone who came to pick them up. Few did.

Now, Ms. Gill reports to a cubicle in Downtown Brooklyn with a broken computer and waits for it to be fixed. Periodically, her supervisor comes by to tell her she is still working on the problem. It has been this way since Oct. 8.

“I have no projects to do, so I sit there until 2:50 p.m. — that’s six hours and 50 minutes,” the official length of the teacher workday, she said. “And then I swipe out.”

It gets worse from there.

Manhattan voters are far more likely to support governmental rather than private action than most Americans, yet New York government -- at all levels -- is, frankly, appallingly expensive and inefficient compared to the governments of all but a couple other states. California, which is one of those other states, just re-elected a slate of "more government" Democrats. Both states are full of putatively smart people who, apparently, are so enamored of the theoretical virtues of big government that they are blind to its actual lumbering, bloated, and sweaty incompetence.

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Morning optimism 

Troubling as the future may seem at the moment, look at how the world has progressed in the last two hundred years, notwithstanding catastrophic man-made and natural disaster. History gives us great reason for optimism, unless we let the enemies of progress -- not progressivism, but actual progress in the sense your grandparents meant it -- win.

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A short note on Warren Buffett and the estate tax 

Far be it from me to say that the "sage of Omaha" is disingenuous, but Warren Buffett's support for a big estate tax is well-aligned with the interests of his company, Berkshire Hathaway. Without the estate tax, the big-dollar life insurance business loses much of its raison d'etre.

That said, Buffett has long said that he will leave most of his money to charity and his kids "just enough so that they would feel that they could do anything, but not so much that they would feel like doing nothing." Whatever that means. So perhaps Buffett has invested according to his political conviction, rather than shaped his political conviction to the circumstances of his investments. For most people who align their investing and public policy gum-flapping, each motive is a little bit chicken, a little bit egg.

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Beef for Christmas 

Today, I gave the gift of steaks and burgers to one relative, and got some awesome sausage and cheese from another. Great food is a nice Christmas present in our much too-cluttered world, especially to people who are either particularly affluent or in financial distress. You can now buy Omaha Steaks through Amazon, and here is a link to the page.

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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Some Muslims are so thin-skinned... 

...that they are offended by yodeling.

Stories like this usefully remind us that even social democratic European countries are not free in the same way that the United States are. So far.

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The presser (updated) 

In case you were looking for the link, here's the video of the president's much-discussed press conference this afternoon. Whatever one thinks, he is clearly one very frustrated fellow, including and even especially at his own side. Which is not really surprising, given the reaction of the fellow travelers to the tax deal.

Liberals, apparently, are even less practical allies than conservatives. Perhaps that is because conservatives, who in their day jobs often manage people in organizations, know from quotidian experience that few important things happen without bargaining and compromise.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

MORE: Michael Barone explores the roots of Democratic rage, and President Obama's unconcealed irritation:
Reality strikes. President Obama spurned the advice of columnists Paul Krugman and Katrina vanden Heuvel and agreed with Republicans to extend the current income tax rates -- the so-called Bush tax cuts -- for another two years...

But he recognized the reality that in order to prevent a tax increase on those with incomes under $250,000 he had to prevent a tax increase on those over that line as well.

This has infuriated liberal Democrats like outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., but they share some of the blame themselves. They probably could have passed their version of the tax bill earlier this year, before the economic recovery stalled in the spring.

But with the economy faltering, there's a strong argument against raising anyone's taxes -- strong enough to have persuaded many congressional Democrats.

Obama had to abandon his goal of raising taxes on high earners not because Republicans opposed it but because not enough Democrats supported it. Pelosi couldn't summon up a majority on the issue back in September, and Harry Reid could get only 53 of the needed 60 votes this month.

Democrats, not Republicans, are responsible for extension of all the "Bush tax cuts."

Still, Obama in his surly statement Monday evening and his unusually brief press conference Tuesday afternoon was at pains to attack Republicans.

Schadenfreude is me.

Meanwhile, Ezra Klein says that Obama got the better of the GOP, at least on the numbers. Well worth reading for a fairly dispassionate look from the lefty narrative. Money graphs:
If you're worried about stimulus, joblessness and the working poor, this is probably a better deal than you thought you were going to get. "It’s a bigger deal than anyone expected," says Bob Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "Both sides gave more expected and both sides got more than expected." The White House walked out of the negotiations with more stimulus than anyone had seen coming. But they did it in a way that made their staunchest allies feel left behind, and in many cases, utterly betrayed.

That the Obama administration has turned out to be fairly good at the inside Washington game of negotiations and legislative compromise and quite bad at communicating to the public and keeping their base excited is not what most would have predicted during the 2008 campaign. But it's true.

The big losers, obviously, are deficit hawks, who are importantly different from small-government conservatives. Deficit hawks will usually give up higher taxes in return for spending cuts. Here we got lower taxes in return for no spending cuts and substantial incremental spending. The small-government victory is embedded in the means -- stimulus via payroll tax cuts and unemployment insurance (sort of a payroll credit for unemployed people), rather than by direct government hiring and other affirmative spending, but the deficit is getting bigger unless you believe that this is the stimulus that will finally kick the economy in to gear. My own view (obviously) is that will not happen as long as regulatory policy is working against fiscal and monetary policy.

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Found on my phone 

I snapped this picture on my Blackberry the Tuesday morning before Thanksgiving in the Forrestal Village outside Princeton. Looking at it on the larger screen, I thought it was not too shabby for a phone camera.


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Marketing fail 

Seen, allegedly, by a friend of a friend at a Wal-Mart:

Kosher ham

Egads, how do you get that one wrong? Maybe it is indeed true that you can take Wal-Mart out of Arkansas but you can't take the Arkansas out of Wal-Mart.

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If you're Barack Obama, this has gotta hurt. And a good question:

Exit question via Politico: Does this poll signal the end of the White House blaming its problems on Bush? They can continue to do so, but they’re not getting much mileage out of it anymore.

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Question of the morning, for your discussion 

As security failures go, is it worse to miss an entire multi-carrier task force and leave your planes lined up wing-tip to wing-tip in tight, easily-targeted clusters, or fail to detect a subversive multi-plane suicide attack because we ordered different agencies of the same federal government not to share information with each other? I admit, I go back and forth on that one.

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Monday, December 06, 2010

It is snowing in Maine 

My cousin's year-long blog project is in the home stretch, only 25 days to go. My question: Will she ever be able to sleep past dawn again?

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Wonkery: The mortgage interest deduction may do more harm than good 

A hard look at the mortgage-interest deduction, and why it may do more harm than good. I have argued for years that we ought to phase it out as part of a broader package of tax reforms. Of course, your results may vary.

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Sunday, December 05, 2010

Responsibility in government, and the opposite 

Good government, and not so good. It is not hard to tell the difference.

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Landing at EWR 

I snapped this picture through my windshield on the NJTP, just south of 13A, about 2 pm this afternoon. Not bad for a Blackberry camera through curved glass.

Landing at EWR

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One from the archives 

Scrolling through the archives, I came upon this picture from a couple of years ago. For some reason, tonight it appealed to me.


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Saturday, December 04, 2010

The limits of vice taxes 

Taxing vice has its limits. Among other things, it has made bootlegging profitable again.

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Thursday, December 02, 2010

The eye of the storm 

Don't get caught out in a storm like this.

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"Racist" lenders: Our collective memory gets even shorter 

Could our collective memory get any shorter? Because I could swear I've seen this movie before.

Apparently requiring credit scores slightly above the legal minimum is both "racist" and potentially offensive to federal law.

Banks will be accused of employing discriminatory credit standards when making mortgages in a series of fair housing complaints that a national consumer coalition plans to file beginning next week.

The National Community Reinvestment Coalition plans to challenge the widespread practice of requiring borrowers asking for FHA-backed loans to have higher FICO scores than the minimum required by the FHA, according to a report from Ken Harney at New Times...

The NCRC says that the higher FICO requirements disproportionately discriminate against African-American and Latino borrowers, many of whom have credit scores above the 580 threshold set by FHA but below the higher minimums set by banks.

It argues that because the FHA insures the loans, there is "no legitimate business justification" for rejecting applicants on the basis of FICO scores that are acceptable to FHA.

Not surprisingly, this new Alinskyesque agitation is the result -- we are no doubt shocked to learn -- of new regulation:
The irony is that until October, the FHA did not set a minimum FICO score. The FICO requirement was put in place in an attempt to reduce the risk the FHA was taking on as it has greatly expanded its balance sheet to fill the gap created in lending to risky borrowers by the collapse of the subprime mortgage market.

Now what was intended to be a floor that applied only to a government program is being flipped over and turned into a ceiling for private lenders. If things go as planned by the NCRC, banks will be forced to make loans to risky borrowers to avoid charges of discrimination.

Remember this the next time somebody argues that the government does not promote risky lending practices.

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Retail sales 

I have been observing locally and anecdotally for some weeks that there seem to be a great number of people out shopping, perhaps more than I would expect, given the significant economic uncertainties the U.S. and the major world economies are facing. That observation was validated today when retail sales were reported:
Major retailers reported sales in November that were stronger than analysts expected. Increased spending during the holiday season would be a strong signal that consumers are feeling more confident.

"Any sign that the consumer is doing better means that the economy will be doing better," said Drew Matus, a senior economist at UBS.

Costco Wholesale Corp., Target Corp. and Limited Brands Inc. all beat Wall Street sales forecasts. Teen retailer Abercrombie & Fitch Co. jumped 11 percent after reporting that its sales soared 32 percent.

"The consumer is strong and month after month retailing has been very strong," said Ryan Detrick, the chief technical strategist at Schaeffer's Investment Research. "If you take a step back it's clear that the U.S. economy continues to slowly expand."
Since consumers are presumably no longer using the equity in their homes as an ATM (as was the case for much of the past decade, before 2008), there must be enough personal liquidity to help fund increased retail purchases. The increases are off of relatively weak baselines, so it is perhaps not the best of times, and certainly not if you happen to be part of the still high unemployment statistic.

Still, this is probably the best Christmas present the Obama administration could receive -- that good retail sales could support a number of consecutive quarters of reasonable GDP growth, and that the trend will continue during 2011. An economy tumbling back into recession would not be the best backdrop for the start of a re-election campaign. However,the difference between a weak month or quarter and a strong month or quarter can be thin. I am always reminded of the Crash Davis analysis in Bull Durham on the margin of excellence:
You know what the difference is between hitting .250 and hitting .300? I got it figured out. Twenty-five hits a year in 500 at bats is 50 points. Okay? There's 6 months in a season, that's about 25 weeks -- you get one extra flare a week--just one--a gork, a ground ball with eyes, a dying quail-- just one more dying quail a week and you're in Yankee Stadium!
It is actually not all that different for many retailers (especially small shops) -- a couple of extra big customers per week walk in and lay a Platinum card on the counter, and it is the difference between a good month and a so-so one.

One hopes that consumers are spending their money in a responsible and prudent fashion. Once bitten, twice shy, and all that. I will not root against the American consumer, regardless of which party or candidates derive benefit from consumer strength or weakness. At a minimum, though, President Obama will need sustained positive GDP growth in the second half of 2011 and into 2012 to have a solid chance of defeating the Republican nominee, and for him to duplicate his point spread vs. McCain in 2008, he will need robust growth and a weak opponent.

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GM propaganda 

On the one hand, this accelerated video of the Chevy Volt assembly line makes General Motors actually appear to be an efficient high-tech manufacturer, which we know not to be true. On the other hand, I like watching pretty much any assembly line.

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Pulling the ayatollah's beard: A practical joke for the age 

In the category of practical jokes, you really can't do better than this.

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Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Client Number 9 still sucks the air out of the room 

In news that will surprise nobody who has followed Eliot Spitzer's career, Client Number 9 is apparently bumming out Kathleen Parker, the co-host of the "Parker Spitzer" show.

Eliot Spitzer's TV sidekick is so fed up with playing second fiddle to the hooker-loving ex-gov that she's threatening to walk, sources told The Post yesterday.

Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker actually stormed off the set of the "Parker Spitzer" show during a pre-taping a few weeks ago -- furious that her co-host is continually allowed to take charge of their nightly CNN chat-fest, the insiders said.
Although still fuming, Parker did return to wrap up the segment, they said.

Eliot Spitzer is no garden-variety ego-maniac.

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Your evening Governor Awesome video: Regarding school superintendents 

New Jersey's Governor Awesome speaking at the Foundation for Excellence in Education dinner, yesterday:

More than a year after his election, I enjoy Chris Christie more than I have ever enjoyed an American politician. That surprises me, because as a prosecutor he went after my own industry with hammer and tongs, and you know how I get about that. But boy am I glad he is our governor.

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Stimulus!: The animated map 

Here is an animated map of "prime recipient awards" under "The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act," the big stimulus law that brought you all those dug up roads last summer. It is interesting that Iowa and Indiana popped up as big recipients before most other states. Was that because of Washington politics, or because those relatively competently run states reacted quickly to the federal opportunity? I suspect the latter, insofar as Iowa received a mere $1.9 billion out of $787 billion authorized by the law, less than a third of its proportionate share by population.

CWCID: The Big Picture.

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Snark of the day 

Responding to the Pentagon's claim that it "could have shut down Wikileaks but chose not to," Allahpundit scored a direct hit:

I hope he’s telling the truth. Because if our cyberwar unit is so weak that they can’t hit a few servers in Sweden, then I, for one, welcome our new Chinese overlords.

The rest of it is both sharp and comedy gold, so you need to click through.

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The new O'Quiz! 

The excitement continues apace. The new O'Quiz is up. There are trick questions, and apparent trick questions. I scored 7 out of 10, a hair's breadth above the average score of 6.41 (as of this writing).

Take the toughest current events trivia quiz on the web, and report your scores in the comments.

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